QUARTERLY BULLETIN OF THE TULARE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
JUL 9 1991
Allen County Public Library
Oldest house in Tulare county that has been
almost continuously lived in since it was first built near the old stage
road near Deer creek in 1858, is soon to be destroyed by fire as a practice
for county fire fighters.
Juana Maria O'Connor Carothers
Oldest house in Tulare county that has been almost continuously lived in since it was first built near the old stage road near Deer creek in 1858, is soon to be destroyed by fire as a practice for county fire fighters.
By Evelyn Carothers
Another historic landmark disappeared from southern Tulare county this spring with the demolition of the old Carothers house along the Old Stage Road on the north side of Deer Creek.
The house was 132 years old, and the oldest house in Tulare County. With the house went the witness of a colorful past through which it had stood - floods, droughts, earthquakes and Indian Massacre. It had had a variety of transportation pass its doors - horse-drawn buggies, wagons, stagecoaches, progressing to Model T's, then more sleek modern autos, and finally, planes in the sky overhead.
The house was built by Samuel Carothers in 1859. It became the nucleus of a thriving small community, a family of nine children grew up in its rooms, and it became the center of many legends.
The builder, Samuel Carothers, was born 16 November 182O, in Huntington county, Pennsylvania. His grandfather, James, served in the Revolutionary War, and his father, Francis Carothers, was an associate judge. In 1838 Francis, his wife Margaret Fitzsimmons Carothers and their seven children moved to Wood county, Ohio. He bought a large farm, served as a judge in Wood County, and depended on his four sons to run the farm. His wife, Margaret, died in 1839, and in 1841 Francis Carothers married a widow with three sons. Unfortunately, his new wife and Francis' eldest/(James) and third son (Samuel) were not compatible. In 1846 when recruiters come through Wood county, Ohio, seeking young men volunteers for the war with Mexico, both James, age 30, and Samuel, age 26, volunteered, left home and were practically disowned by their father. His anger at their actions was made apparent in his will written in 1847 in which he left his farm to his second and "faithful" son, William, and only five dollars each to his sons James and Samuel, but provided generously to his three daughters.
Samuel and his older brother James joined their companies at El Paso, Chihuahua, Mexico, in April 1847. Samuel was in Col. Donaphin's Regiment, assigned as a teamster in quartermaster's corps. He was set to driving a team hauling a cannon from El Paso to Matamoros, where one of the decisive battles of the war was fought. He was discharged six months later, at New Orleans.
In New Orleans Samuel had met Patrick O'Connor, a freighter, who asked him to join him as a partner in hauling wagons of trade goods from Mexico to California. Samuel agreed, and they prospered in their business of supplying the demand for almost all kinds of goods to the pioneers of California.
In 1853 Samuel married O'Connor's fifteen year old pretty daughter, Juana Maria O'Connor whose mother had previously been married to a wealthy landowner in southern Chihuahua. Seventeen years before they fled to El Paso during a bloody uprising at their rancho, and her husband soon died. The widow married O'Connor as her second husband, and Juana Maria was their only child.
Samuel disolved his partnership with his father-in-law, took his bride and went to Watsonville, California. He bought land and set up ranching operations, but after a couple of trips to the San Joaquin Valley, he decided to move to Tulare county and establish himself in sheep raising.
The land Samuel Carothers chose in southern Tulare County was favorable for raising sheep, and, shrewdly he established water rights one quarter mile on either side of Deer Creek for many miles east and west of his home ranch. After he built the house in 1859, he sent word to his brother, James, who had married and settled in New Mexico, asking him to join him at Deer Creek. James, his wife Reis, and three children moved to the area, and had a house built across the road from that of Samuel and his wife. Both brothers later applied for the 160 acres of land due them for their service in the War with Mexico (family members have copies from National Archives), and finally James did receive his in Fresno County, but Samuel never received his because he had lost his discharge paper given him in New Orleans.
About 1864 Samuel Carothers had a small school house built across the road from his house. He hired a teacher to instruct his three oldest children, three of his brother James' children, and any of their workers' or neighborhood children who were old enough to attend. Samuel had a great respect for education, and paid the teacher's salary from his own funds until his death in 1873 because there was no county allocation for teaching funds in the area. The 1870 census shows that Samuel Carothers employed seven shepherds, one farm laborer, and one housekeeper; his brother James employed six shepherds, all of which gives one an idea of the large extent of their operations at that time.
A small community had grown up around the Carothers home- barns, shearing sheds, blacksmith shop, corrals, James and Reis' house across the road, the schoolhouse, and all the workers' and their families' cabins in the bottom land along Deer Creek. The wives of the shepherds tended large gardens in the fertile soil to supply them with fresh vegetables, and a large orchard behind the big house bore various fruits in season.
One of the farm laborer's jobs was to raise large fields of grain in the acreage north of the house. These were the fields where the wild geese from Tulare Lake made hungry raids on, and, according to a first hand report from one of the youngest Carothers children (as an old man, 90 yrs.) remembered catching some of the greedy birds by an ingenious method. The boys soaked handfulls of wheat in brandy overnight, then strewed it on the sprouting grain fields. The geese flew in, gobbled up the grain, and some of the greediest birds became too drunk to fly and escape from the children who ran them down and carried them home for eating.
When the three oldest Carothers sons, James, Jr., Emmanuel (Nell) and John finished the eighth grade in the little school across the road, their father sent them to a boarding school, the Academy of the Precious Blood, at Rohnervil1e, near Eureka, California. One of the instructors there was Fr. Daniel Dade, the Pioneer priest, "Apostle of the Valley", formerly stationed at Visalia, and a longtime friend of the Carothers family. Fr. Dade had made regular visits to the Carothers home in his spring and summer circuit riding visits to offer Mass in the family parlor for all the families of the settlement. He also stopped at the Gilligan home in "Irishtown" (Woodville) before traveling to Deer Creek.
A boat came from Stockton up the waterways to Tulare Lake and went back loaded with hides and wool each season after shearing season. Later, when railroads were built, the ranchers shipped wool, cattle and sheep to Stockton by rail for fall sales. It was the custom for these ranchers to gather after their business was concluded and attend dinner meetings, catching up on news and political events. Samuel Carothers made his fall trip in October 1873, met with his friends, and came home with a tidy sum of about $60,000 from sale of his wool and stock.
No one in the area had any use for banks in those days. Money was either carried on the person or buried, so, the following morning Samuel, who was experiencing a severe attack of indigestion as an aftermath of the rich food and drink at the city banquets, asked one of his workers to help him bury the money.
According to all family accounts, told through the ensuing, years, the man helped Samuel carry the bags of gold coins to a spot in the orchard back of the house, was dismissed, and after he left, Samuel buried the money.
Unfortunately, Samuel's indigestion problem did not improve-it became worse, and within two days, on October 25, 1873, he died.
Jane (Juana Maria) Carothers, his widow, had his funeral Mass in St. Mary's Church in Visalia because there was no Catholic church nearer, and he was buried in the Visalia cemetery where the couple had purchased two lots sometime earlier. (They later bought several lots also in the Vandalia cemetery near Porterville, and most members of the family, as well as Samuel's brother, James his wife and children, are buried there.) However, Samuel and his oldest son, James Patrick Carothers who died in 1876, are the sole occupants to date of the Visalia lots in the old portion of the Visalia cemetery.
Following Samuel's death the three sons who were at the Academy at Rohnerville were brought home, and set to helping their uncle James run the ranching operations. However, problems of the times began to beset the families: the "no fence" law was passed, necessitating huge funds for fencing; the Australian embargo on wool was lifted, and prices fell accordingly, and as an added sorrow, in 1876, Reis, James' wife died. Then, when things began to settle down, 22 February, 1879, James, too, died.
Jane's (Juana Maria's) and Samuel's sons were still quite young and she realized she was not competent to the job of running the ranch. She had been experienced only in managing her household, and even that, always with the help of a housekeeper. So, she hired a ranch foreman who was charming, but not too efficient. Before the year was past, 1880, the forman had persuaded the well-to-do widow to marry him. His courtly manners (according to first hand report by and old rneighbor, Frank Howeth) soon were laid aside as he took control, selling land gambling away ready money, and finally mortgaging all the holdings that were left.
The ranch was taken by unpaid mortgages, and ownership passed from the family. One thing remained - Jane's own cattlebrand!
Many efforts have been made since 1873 to locate the I buried gold, even in recent times, but, so far as the family knows it has never been found.
Down through the years two Carothers sons of Samuel, and a grandson, made offers to purchase at least a portion of the land and the house, not for the elusive buried treasure, but for a sentimental and possessive feeling. All were refused. Ownership of the Carothers land changed hands three times during the 132 years since Samuel built the house, and with its passing goes a large segment of colorful Valley history, memories and legends.
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