Times Past

Dan Krieger: A pioneer’s life, marked by tragedy

‘I have very poor health most of the time, my two little children to take care of and my housework to do ”

Lovina Fidelia Clark Dart was writing her stepdaughter from San Simeon on Jan. 13, 1861. She had come to California at the urging of her brother, E.A. Clark. Joining him in Evergreen, south of San Jose, she met and married Harrison Dart.

Life was hard for the pioneer families living on San Simeon Creek in the early 1860s. Tuberculosis was then called “consumption.” It reached a pandemic stage during the industrial revolution in Europe and the Northeastern United States in the 1830s and ’40s. The disease spread amid the unsanitary conditions of traveling to California aboard crowded ships and wagon trains.

A little more than three years later, in 1864, Lovina died of tuberculosis.

Eleutheros Americus Clark and Lovina’s husband, Harrison Dart, homesteaded in the San Simeon Creek area in 1859.

The open expanse of grassy hills and valleys of the Santa Lucia foothills provided a challenge. The vast herds of mission cattle thrived on the Mexican land grants where fences were unknown. Lovina wrote her stepdaughter in Illinois:

“Your father has had a hard time this past summer and fall in taking care of and securing his crop. This is a stock-raising county and we are surrounded by persons owning hundreds of head of cattle. We had a poor fence owing to the scarcity of timber, and your father had to sleep out nearly every night for six weeks, which nearly used him up, besides losing a great deal of our crop, but he is splitting rails now and making preparation to have a good fence ”

Lovina and her brother, Eleutheros Americus Clark — his name means “American freedom” in Greek — were raised by their grandfather, William Clark, a judge in Eden County, Ohio.

Clark was known as “E.A.” by his friends and associates. His family referred to him as “Old Crooked Jaw.” He arrived in California in 1850, traveling by way of the Isthmus of Nicaragua. He studied both medicine and law and was active in politics throughout his life. He helped found the Republican Party in San Jose in 1856. He became a member of the San Luis Obispo Committee of Vigilance soon after his arrival in the spring of 1858, then homesteaded for a decade on San Simeon Creek in San Luis Obispo County.

His diary reveals that E.A. taught in San Luis Obispo’s only city school, in the mission in 1862, while also doctoring, working as an attorney, serving as acting district attorney and tax assessor for the county, and building a chimney for his San Simeon homestead.

E.A. suffered a great deal of sadness in his life. During his nearly nine years at the San Simeon homestead, tuberculosis took the lives of his wife, Lydia, two daughters, and Lovina. Grief-stricken, he returned to San Jose, where in addition to practicing medicine, law, planting one of the first successful orchards in northern Santa Clara county and selling real estate, he served as superintendent of public schools and postmaster.

His final fling in the political arena found him running for mayor of San Jose in 1894, when death caught up with him.

Clark Colahan, a direct descendent of Dr. E.A. Clark, has spent years collecting the history of his polymath ancestor. He has published E.A.’s diaries and other fascinating original source materials as “On the Banks of San Simeon Creek: San Simeon Pioneers” (Central Coast Books, 2011).

The book will be premiered by the Cambria Historical Society in the gardens of the Cambria Historical Museum, corner of Burton Drive and Center Street just off Main, next Sunday, May 29, from 1 to 4 p.m.

Refreshments will be served and Clark Colahan will autograph copies.

Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.