Grisedale cattle ranchers in California

Posted: June 27, 2015 in Family History
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“Later that night, the Joads come across the Weedpatch camp, a decent, government-sponsored facility where migrants govern themselves, thus avoiding the abuse of corrupt police officers – “The Grapes of Wrath” – John Steinbeck

Today near Bakersfield in Kern County, California there is a large Grisedale cattle ranching family at the Granite Station Ranch. The E in the family name was added after the family first arrived in America in 1908. Back in Westmorland, England, from where they came, they were just Grisdales. Before I tell the story of the family’s trek from a wet sheep farm in the Lake District hills to the sun of California let me start with a very strange coincidence.

On 5th June 1917 two young Grisdale men registered to join the US Army in Bakersfield in Kern County, volunteering for service in the First World War. One was 28 year-old Frank Joseph Grisdale and the other was a 24 year-old called Robert Thornber Grisedale (whose younger brother Francis Thomas had registered just four days before). Although it is unlikely that they met that day, they may have later in or around Bakersfield where they both lived for the rest of their lives. If they did ever meet they might have wondered if they were related given the unusual nature of their name, unusual at least in California at that time. Of course they were related, but they would have to go back to the seventeenth century in Matterdale before their families would have known each other and back to 1600 or earlier to Dowthwaite Head Farm in Matterdale before their two ancestral lines joined.

Kern County Map 1916

Kern County Map 1916

Frank Joseph’s family had first come to Canada from Cumberland in 1816/17. The instigator of the move was Wilfred Grisdale, who I have written about before (see here). Part of his family subsequently moved to Deerfield in Isabella County in Michigan in 1877 (see here) where Wilfred’s great grandson Frank Joseph was born in 1888. Sometime prior to 1910 Frank had been drawn out West, probably hearing of the opportunities in the recently booming oil industry in Kern County. Until his death in 1952 in Bakersfield Frank worked as an oil well digger in Kern County, principally in the Kern River Oil Field. I will tell his story at a later date.

Kern River Oil Field

Kern River Oil Field

Robert Thornber Gris(e)dale was the first son Thomas William Grisdale, a moderately well-to-do sheep farmer in Longsleddale, north of Kendal in Westmorland. Thomas William was born on his father’s Yoad Pot farm in Selside, Westmorland in 1859. In 1892 he married Agnes Thornber, the daughter of Kendal accountant and real estate agent Francis John Thornber and taken on his own farm called Well Foot in Longsleddale. Robert Thornber was born there the next year – being named after his farmer grandfather Robert Grisdale and his mother’s maiden name – followed in 1895 by Francis Thomas, named after his mother’s father, Francis Thornber, and his own father Thomas.

Well Foot Farm, Longsleddale, Westmorland

Well Foot Farm, Longsleddale, Westmorland

I told something of the earlier history of the family in a story about a Robert Edward Grisdale, the son of Thomas William’s brother Richard, who emigrated to Canada (see here). I also wrote about the family a little further back in Matterdale and then in nearby Martindale, Patterdale and Hartsop (see here). There are other related stories on this site, including a murderous one here.

Returning to Thomas William, although he was a successful tenant farmer he couldn’t buy his farm and ‘every time he made any money the landlord would increse the rent’. ‘So after this happened three times they (the family) left for the US where they could buy and own the and they farmed.’ On 6 May 1908 the family boarded the passenger ship RMS Etruria in Liverpool bound for New York, where they arrived nine days later. They gave their ultimate destination as ‘Kern City’ California. Being ‘sponsored’ immigrants they didn’t have to go through Ellis Island.They most likely went to join Agnes Thornber’s younger brother and sister, James Henry Thornber and Elizabeth Thornber, who had emigrated to Montana in 1892. In fact another brother called John Peters Thornber had made the move first, in 1890, ending up in Madison, Iowa.

RMS Etruria at Liverpool

RMS Etruria at Liverpool

Regarding James Thornber, ‘The History of Kern County’ published in 1914 tells his story best:

JAMES H. THORNBER.— The Thornber family descends from Anglo- Saxon ancestry and for generations has been represented in Westmoreland in the north of England, where Francis Joseph and Elizabeth (Peters) Thornber passed their entire lives, the former being engaged as an accountant. The parental family comprised six sons and six daughters and the eighth in order of birth, James H., was born in the village of Kendal, July 3, 1875. Two sons and two daughters are still living and all of them have come to America, the older son, John P., being a resident of Bartlesville, Okla., while the two daughters. Mrs. Agnes Grisdale and Mrs. Elizabeth Marriott, make their home in Kern county, Cal., the headquarters also of the fourth member of the family, James H. The last-named attended the Kendal grammar school in Westmoreland, and later was a student in the Friends’ school at the same place. After he was graduated at the age of fifteen years he was employed in the village until 1892, when he crossed the ocean to the United States and proceeded west to Montana. Securing employment on a ranch near Chinook he soon learned the business of operating a stock farm on the plains. Later he became interested in operating the Black Coulee coal mine, besides which he also engaged in general contracting.

Montana cattle

Montana cattle

Upon selling some of his interests in Montana in October (actually May) of 1908 Mr. Thornber came to Bakersfield. Shortly afterward he purchased one hundred and twenty acres of land in the Weed Patch. The task of transforming the raw acreage into a productive farm was one of great difficulty, but the land was rich and fertile and ultimately produced fruit and alfalfa in paying quantities. Since 1909 he has made his home in East Bakersfield, where he owns a residence at No. 1601 Pacific street. Besides having a real-estate and insurance office at No. 919 Baker Street, he is engaged in the building of cottages and bungalows and these interests, together with the supervision of his Montana ranch, which he still owns, keep him busily occupied.

Ever since he came to this city Mr. Thornber has been connected with the Chesbro Methodist Episcopal Church of East Bakersfield, where at this writing he officiates as president of the board of trustees and president of the adult bible class. With the cooperation of the pastor of this church he organized a Sunday-school at Toltec No. 2 and since then he not only has acted as superintendent, but in addition he has given exceptionally faithful and efficient service in the capacity of local preacher.

Being deeply interested in the religious life of the oil fields, he gives freely of his time, ability and means to promote the cause of Christianity in that particular portion to which he has been called. While living in Montana he was married at Chinook, September 23, 1900, to Miss Alice Greenough, a native of Mechanicsburg, Ohio, and a daughter of the late John K. and Minnie (Currier) Greenough, the former born in Concord, N. H., of Mayflower stock, and the latter a descendant of Scotch forbears. In 1886 the family removed to Chanute, Kans., where Mrs. Thornber was reared and educated, remaining there until 1899. In that year the family located in Chinook, Mont., where the marriage of the young people occurred. Interested in social functions and active in church work, Mrs. Thornber’s deepest affections, however, are centered upon her four children, Chester Harve, Grace Elizabeth, Agnes Myrtle and Alice Celia. Fraternally Mr. Thornber belongs to the Modern Woodmen of America and Bakersfield Lodge No. 224, F. & A. M., also with his wife is identified with Bakersfield Chapter No. 25, Order of the Eastern Star.

Actually James Thornber came to Kern County in May 1908, not October, the same month that the Grisdales were on their way to New York. Obviously the move had been planned in advance. In fact Elizabeth Thornber, having married farmer Edward Allen Marriott in Chinook, Montana in 1899, moved to Bakersfield in Kern County before 1907, so maybe it was her who first attracted her brother and sister and their families to come to California. It is interesting to note that James Thornber having tried his hand at cattle ranching in Montana, and having bought a farm outside Bakersfield, soon abandoned farming and became what his obituary in 1959 called a ‘pioneer realtor’, just like his real estate agent and accountant father back in Kendal in Westmorland.

Jut before leaving England Thomas William Grisdale had sent a lot of money to a local Bakersfield bank for later use to buy land. But when he arrived he found that the bank had misspelt his name as Grisedale and thus Thomas decided it was easier to continue with the misspelling ‘on the account – and everywhere else – rather than to have the bank change the name on an account that was already open’.

Weedpatch, Kern County in the Dust Bowl era

Weedpatch, Kern County in the Dust Bowl era

It seems highly likely that when Thomas William Grisdale (or Grisedale as he now was) and his family arrived in Kern County it was they who took on the difficult ‘task of transforming the raw acreage (of James Thornber’s farm in Weedpatch) into a productive farm’ and who ‘ultimately produced fruit and alfalfa in paying quantities’. In the 1910 census Thomas William and his family are living in precisely the Weed Patch area and Thomas was said to be a farmer on a ‘general farm’. Weed Patch, just southeast of Bakersfield, was to have a sad history in the Dust Bowl era in the 1930s and even featured in John Steinbeck’s novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. I’m not sure how long Thomas William continued to farm at Weed Patch; in 1917 when both his sons enlisted in the army his first son Robert Thornber Grisedale was working as a ‘farmer’ on Roland Hill’s cattle station in nearby Tehachapi, while his younger son Francis Thomas was a farmhand working for his father. As both brothers registered for the army in the Vineland precinct of Kern County, which is right next to Weedpatch, and gave their address as East Bakersfield, I presume their father was still farming there. This seems confirmed by the many entries for ‘T W Greisdale’ in the Bakersfield City directory as living on Route 4 well into the 1920s, this road led through Weedpatch – unfortunately I can’t find him in the 1920 census. I’m not certain whether all this is actually as it was. The family say that once Robert Thornber Grisedale went to introduce himself to his Thornber relative in Bakersfield ‘but found him not at all interesting in associating’.

Sadly  while serving in the  US Army (L Company, 364th Infantry, 91st Division) in France, Francis Thomas was killed on 4 October 1918, the very day that the German government sent a message to US President Wilson to negotiate terms on the basis of a recent speech of his and the earlier declared ‘Fouteen Poimts’; Francis was sitting under a tree when hit by a shell. Initially buried  in France, his body was returned to Bakersfield in 1921. I don’t think Robert ever joined the army as later on he said he was not a veteran.

Robert Thornber and Eva (Weller) Grisedale

Robert Thornber and Eva (Weller) Grisedale

Before 1930 Thomas William and Agnes Grisdale had retired to Bakersfield and were living at 118 Douglas Street in Highland Park. Agnes died the same year aged 68 and Thomas the next, aged 72.

Turning now to the only surviving son, Robert Thornber Grisedale; in 1920 he was still in Tehachapi but by now was working in the local oil industry as a ‘Wagon Driver’ for a ‘Wholesale Gas and Oil Station’ having married Michigan girl Eva May Weller the previous year. The couple had a child, Francis Robert, in 1921 but he died the next year. The next child, Grant Edward Grisedale, was born in Bakersfield in 1925 but grew up ‘on his parent’s cattle ranch’. Two more children followed: Frank Weller in 1929 and Mona Jean in 1930. I presume Robert bought his cattle ranch, called the Granite Station Ranch, between 1925 and 1930 when the family were already living there and where their descendants still breed cattle. Perhaps one day one of the family will tell me? The ranch is north east of Bakersfield on Granite Road near Glenville. Westmorland-born Robert Thornber Grisdale died aged 92 in 1986. His son Grant Edward Grisedale, who returned to the ranch in 1958 and eventually took over its management, died in 2010 aged 85. I won’t presume to tell anything more of the family’s recent history – that’s for them.

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Comments
  1. JOAN BORROWSCALE says:

    Thanks again Stephen  –   a good story –  and may be of interest to a ‘cousin’ in USA who has Grisedale in her tree. There are many coincidences in genealogy….. Joan  B PS   If you have found a Jane Grizedale born c. 1679 in Isell – Cumbria    she married John Borranscale at Isel.1703

  2. Chris Dawes says:

    Hi, I am Chris Dawes, grandson of Ann Grisdale who was born at Yoadpot Farm, Selside. She used to correspond with her relations Bob and Eva Grisedale. In the early 1980s, Dale Kilshaw from Vancouver Canada visited several times.

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