Tales of the Blue Oaks – Chapter Four


The Kindness of Strangers.

TALES OF THE BLUE OAKS © David A. Scharlach

Well, I guess it’s been some time since we sat down under these great oaks.  You may recall that we had previously talked about how Sutter got his huge holdings and how he gave or sold pieces of it away.  And then why the U.S. Supreme Court took it all back again.  Sutter’s Sacayac grant, wherein Rancho Murieta now resides, had first gone to Sutter’s blacksmith, John Chamberland.  You may also recall that after 18 marriages, John took off for Oregon, where land was being given away if only you got married there.  What a sacrifice moving to Oregon must have been for John!

The amount is not quite certain, but it appears that before heading to marital bliss across the state line (perhaps another reason for John to leave), he sold Sacayac to Mr. Perry McCoon in 1846 for $5,000.00.  Not a small sum. 

McCoon worked for Sutter, mostly as the “commander’ of a sloop of ten tons that carried supplies and mail from Yerba Buena (old San Francisco) to Sutter’s Fort.  East Coast newspapers, even a year old, were greatly welcomed at the fort.  McCoon’s boat was called the Indian Queen, about 36 feet over-all with a single mast.  A lot of water had passed under her keel. (Sacramento Daily Union July 25, 1860.)

McCoon, an English sailor, was not the model of respectability, even in the days when standards were really low.  No one disputes that he was a drunk, a gambler and a show-off.  Sutter once caught him stealing calves.  He was also a deserter from the small army Sutter put together for governor Micheltorina to fight the Americano uprising.

Most troubling was that in February 1846, according to Sutter’s logs, he married a young and beautiful widow Lewis, who became pregnant.  It also mentions that Lewis was buried at the fort just four months later.  The memoirs of a visiting doctor would indicate that McCoon had beaten her to death.  Perhaps in a drunken rage. (Naida West, River of Red Gold.)  Sadly, the horrific event was not that uncommon and passed without much concern…  

The tragic story of the Donner Party is engraved deeply into California History and touches McCoon and Rancho de Sacayac.  Trapped for months in the Sierra, the first of three rescue teams brought the toughest of the survivors out.  That was in February 1847.  Among them was George Donner’s teenage daughter Elitha Donner.  There was no Salvation Army or United Way.  Elitha, after having to eat rodents and chew rawhide in the frozen Sierra for months now had to rely on the kindness of strangers to keep alive.  Barely three months later, at the age of fourteen, she would marry Perry McCoon.  They would live in a small house on the Consumes River, a few hundred yards east of the Country Club.

Although she would eventually, and reluctantly, join her sister Eliza in publishing her memoirs of the Donner experience, very little is known of her mercifully brief years married to McCoon.  She did have one daughter, Elizabeth, who died a year after birth. 

McCoon struck it rich with neighbors Bill Daylor, Jared Sheldon and Charles Weber.  While on a cattle drive to Coloma in 1848, these men would discover a trench of gold 100 yards long and 4 feet wide, so rich that they were pulling as much as $17,000 a week from it.  Eventually, that discovery would lead to the founding of the town of Dry Diggings, now Placerville.

But Perry McCoon soon squandered his wealth drinking and gambling.  He ratty dress and lack of hygiene gave self-esteem to the lowest of the down-and-out.  He sold his Sacayac ranch to George McKinstry for $25,000.00.  But all the money likely went to creditors. 

Not long thereafter, January 1851, McCoon was showing off on his horse before a number of spectators, probably a contest.  A hundred yards east of the Yellow Bridge, on now Highway 16, he caught his foot on his leather riata and fell.  He was dragged some distance behind the frighten horse. Naida West tells the story I believe she received from the Granlees family.  Naida had acquired their home on the Cosumnes River.  Here, Perry McCoon had his cabin and here he was buried.  During an exceptionally wet winter, with the river rising, the Granlees were compelled to unearth Perry’s coffin and move it to higher ground.  For reasons not entirely clear, it was necessary to remove the coffin lid.  There, on the underside of the lid, above the desiccated remains, were the multiple indentations of Perry McCoon’s pointed toed boots.