Amid last year’s flurry of research about Cambria’s establishment in 1866, we were reminded of one of Cambria’s earliest American settlers, other than the native population and Don Juliano Estrada. That would be Jeremiah Johnson, (but not the Robert Redford character in the popular film), who settled in the area near Bridge Street at Wall.
Last year, the Native Daughters of the Golden West, El Pinal Parlor No. 163, realized a longtime dream to recognize Johnson as Cambria’s first resident, by placing a boulder with commemorative plaques where he is buried next to his wife, Elizabeth Ann, in the Community Cemetery; their aging wooden markers remain.
Digging through records
We began by verifying facts on ancestry.com, the U.S. Federal Census, Voters’ Registry and www.findagrave.com: Jeremiah was born in 1826 in Ohio and died in Cambria in 1918; we found that Elizabeth was born in England in 1835 and died in Cambria in 1924; and they were married in Cambria in 1879.
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As we double-checked records about Cambria, additional information appeared concerning the Johnsons, which is reserved for “the rest of the story” next month.
Many times, there was contradictory or confounding information, such as when Elizabeth inexplicably was listed as “Manuel” in the 1880 census, and her death date listed in cemetery records as 1957. During that period of history, both Elizabeth Johnson and Jeremiah Johnson were common names. I even found two sets of Jeremiah Johnsons, father and son by that name, but eventually clarified that our Jeremiah was born in Ohio, and his father in Maryland.
Thanks to Dawn Dunlap for keeping the following story alive, which was in Hazel Olmsted’s article in Marcus Waltz’s booklet celebrating Cambria’s 75th anniversary in 1946 — Chronicles of the Cambria Pioneers. The Johnson brothers were typical Americans who sought their fortune in California, first as prospectors and then stockmen, finally coming to our area in 1864 at the urging of Judge Isaac Foster of San Jose, who had a ranch in Adelaida.
In the story, the younger brother (who is unnamed) settled in a lovely valley over the Santa Lucia Mountains at Dry Bone. One day he welcomed two strangers to his cabin with typical country hospitality. After enjoying dinner, a 12-year-old boy in his employ, who was sick in an adjacent room, overheard the men threaten and attack Johnson. The boy ran 10 miles for help, and when they returned to the isolated location the next day, found him dead and the cabin a shambles — the murderers were never identified.
Four Jeremiah Johnsons
Of the four Jeremiah Johnsons in the 1850 U.S. census records across the U.S., one is a 24-year-old in Louisville, El Dorado County, Calif., living with many other bachelor miners on January 18, 1850.
But the Oct. 1, 1850 census records for the Johnson family in Michigan list Jeremiah 58, Margaret 53, Jeremiah, 24, Edward, 22, Jesse, 19, and three younger children.
Did Jeremiah return to Michigan that year to bring his younger brother, Edward?
It is perplexing to piece together the stories and the facts. Next month, we will continue this saga of one of Cambria’s most enterprising businessmen.
About the Museum
The Historical Museum at Burton Drive at Center Street is staffed by volunteers from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday. The Heirloom Gardens are open all day every day.