Craig MacDonald Sierra Heritage Editors Speaks to Sons of American Revolution
Reprinted from
The T h o m a s J e f f e r s o n C h a p t e r

M A Y 2 0 0 8
S O N S  O F  T H E  A M E R I C A N  R E V O L U T I O N


craig macdonald

A record turn out listened to guest speaker Craig MacDonald speak about the Amazing Women of the West. Craig was also the featured speaker at the Sons of the American Revolution State Conference in Concord as well. He spoke about his patriot ancestor Rev. James Caldwell, the Pistol Packing Preacher of Elizabethtown, New Jersey. In both cases his talk was spirited and entertaining.

Secretary’s Minutes
The Thomas Jefferson Chapter held a joint meeting March 22nd with the San Francisco and Redwood Empire chapters. After a buffet lunch of corned beef and cabbage, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.  President Kauffman introduced guest speaker Craig MacDonald, the contributing editor of Sierra Heritage Magazine, often referred to as the “National Geographic of the West”.


Mr. MacDonald is a native Californian, and has written more than 16 books about the California and Nevada history. In researching his books, he has gone through the letters and diaries of people living in the Sierras. He said history could be dull or interesting, depending on the speaker. Whereas most speakers talk on famous people, he tries to find new stories about unknown or little-known people. He said the woman that got closest to running the White House was Jessie Frémont, the wife of General John Charles Frémont, the first Republican Party candidate for president. She wore the pants in her family, and if her husband had been elected, she would have run the country. Her father, Thomas Hart Benton, was a powerful Democrat senator. Her father mentored her in politics, and introduced her to presidents and other famous people. She was taken into the smoke-filled rooms to see how things were done in Washington, DC. When she was 16 years old, Jessie was her father’s secretary and confidant. Mr. MacDonald said there were three reasons why her husband was not elected president:
1. James Buchanan was more qualified,

2. Jessie and John were against slavery, and

3. Thomas Hart Benton was a loyal Democrat and turned on his daughter.


Senator Benton had introduced his 16-year-old daughter Jessie to the older John Frémont, and they fell in love. The senator ordered his daughter to never see Frémont again, but she smuggled letters to him. They eventually eloped to
Washington, DC, and the senator was outraged. He never got over his anger with them. After Frémont lost the election, he and Jessie moved north of Mariposa, where she fell in love with Yosemite. Jessie invited famous newspaper editor Horace Greeley to stay at their home, so the world would learn about the beauty of Yosemite. Jessie’s home at Blackpoint overlooked the Golden Gate. John Frémont named the Golden Gate on his mapping expedition of 1846. He saw the entrance to the bay and thought it looked like the Golden Horn of Istanbul. Jessie started the preservation movement – photographers visited the area and lobbied the government to save the Yosemite area from development. During the War Between the States, John Frémont was an army general for the Western Region, and Jessie started relief societies. Jessie lobbied Lincoln to end slavery and save Yosemite.


In 1864, Lincoln gave the Mariposa Giant Sequoias and Yosemite to the State of California as protected land. After the war, John Frémont fell on hard times– he had invested in a national railroad, and he chose the wrong one. Jessie came to the rescue by writing for Harper’s Magazine about all the famous people she had met, and wrote a series of books. In 1890, John Frémont became sick on a trip to New York and died there. Jessie died in California in 1902. She said of her husband, “out of his campfires sprang cities”. From Jessie sprang the conservation of parklands.

Mr. MacDonald also spoke on Sarah Pellet, a feminist friend of Susan B. Anthony. Sarah was upset that the miners in California were boozers, so she boarded a ship, and headed out to the mine camps of California. She was quite short, so she stood on a box, and began talking in front of saloons. This was a time when there were no women in the camps, and men came from miles to see a woman. She shook her finger, spoke of the evils of alcohol, and promised the miners that if they would give up alcohol, she would bring good women to the camps. Sarah started temperance organizations, and even convinced famous tavern owner John Bidwell to stop serving alcohol.


He also spoke about Charley Parkhurst, who was born in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Charley was orphaned at a young age, and had to get a job working in a livery stable, where Charley learned to ride horses and drive stagecoaches. Charley was so good that Charley was hired by rich families to drive their stagecoaches on the eastern seaboard. The trails in California were some of the most difficult in the country, and The California Stage Company offered Charley a job. One time, Charley was held up by an outlaw, who Charley promptly shot dead. In 1868, Charley traveled to Soquel to vote for Ulysses S. Grant for President, a man whom Charley had met when Grant was stationed as a lieutenant in the army in Benecia. When Charley died near Watsonville in 1879, the world was shocked to find out that she was a woman. Charley had always dressed as a stagecoach driver, and no one noticed that Charley was a woman born as Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst. Locked in a trunk under her bed was a child’s red  dress. She had given birth to a child, but no one knows what happened to the child. The Soquel Fire Department has a plaque commemorating Charley’s vote, as it may have been the first vote by a woman.


Mr. MacDonald also spoke on Lee Summers Whipple-Haslam, the daughter of miner Franklin Summers. Her father struck it rich in California, and brought his family there in 1852. Her mother kept a boarding house near a mining camp while her father was prospecting. Her father died, and she helped her mother with the boarding house. One famous boarder was Samuel Clemens, who told her that he would one day be a famous writer. Her father’s friend, Leland Stanford, wrote a letter of recommendation for Lee to get a job with a stagecoach company. She did not have an education, but she had a lot of moxie. The company put her to work as an undercover agent to collect information on the outlaws robbing the stagecoaches. When the stagecoaches were robbed, she pretended to be naïve, and got detailed information about the bandits. The sheriff was able to track them down based upon her description, and send them to jail.


Mr. MacDonald also mentioned Clara, a waitress in Nevada who married George Crowell. Her husband was a sheriff, and when he died, Clara became sheriff. Once, she went undercover dressed as an Indian to catch people illegally selling alcohol to Indians.


He also mentioned Ferminia Sarras, who arrived in San Francisco from Nicaragua in 1876 as a penniless single mother. She left her children with neighbors, and began a career as a miner, living east of Bishop, Nevada. She never found much gold, but she did find large amounts of copper, which was quite valuable at the time. She would sell her copper
in San Francisco, live it up until all her money was exhausted, and then return to mining. She became known as the “copper queen” of Nevada. She would bury her money under chicken coops, and much of it remains hidden to this day. She liked younger men, and married five times. Each of her husbands died defending her mining claims. Ferminia died
in 1915 in her seventies.


Mr. MacDonald mentioned Josephine Smith, the daughter of Agnes Coolbrith and Don Carlos Smith (brother of Mormon leader Joseph Smith). After her father died, her mother married her brother-in-law Joseph Smith. Her mother left her polygamous marriage, and took her daughter to St. Louis, and then to California in 1850. Josephine changed her surname to Coolbrith to avoid identification with the Mormons. She started writing poetry when she was a teenager. She was in a bad marriage, so she left Los Angeles and fled to San Francisco in 1862, where she changed her name to Ina Coolbrith. Through her poetry, she became friends with Alfred Tennyson, Samuel Clemens, Bret Harte, and others. In 1873, she became the librarian of the Oakland Free Library, where she became the mentor for a young boy named Jack London in 1895. She died in 1928, and was buried in the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland.


Craig MacDonald was available after the meeting to sign copies of his book.

Craig MacDonald captivated the SAR audience at the State Conference in Concord and received a standing ovation following the talk on his ancestor Reverend James Caldwell, known as the High Priest of the Rebellion by the British. Caldwell’s wife was murdered by a British soldier, and he passionately espoused the cause of American Independence. In 1781, Caldwell was assassinated by an American sentry who was bribed by the British to kill the rebel priest.