#52Ancestors: 2nd Great-Grandfather Leonard Jackson Harless Homesteaded in California

My 25th entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

Amy’s 2015 version of this challenge focuses on a different theme each week.

The theme for week 25 is – The Old Homestead: Have you visited an ancestral home? Do you have photos of an old family house? Do you have homesteading ancestors?

Leonard Jackson HarlessMy 25th ancestor is my husband’s 2nd great-grandfather Leonard Jackson Harless (1858-1946).

About Leonard Jackson

Leonard Jackson was born on the overland journey (possibly in present-day Nebraska or Utah), when his parents emigrated via wagon train from Missouri to California.1 The family crossed from Nevada into California over Ebbett’s Pass, a High Sierras pass that closes during winter each year.2 Last July, my husband and I made a road trip retracing the family’s route from the eastern end of Ebbett’s Pass, following their settlement steps down the western side of the Sierras across the California Central Valley, and then south to Mariposa County.

Born to Miles Washington Harless (1826-1891) and Margaret Daisy Gann (1830-1919), Leonard Jackson was third of eight children, and the oldest of two sons. His 3rd great-grandfather was Johan “John” Philip Harless (1716-1772), the progenitor of the large well-established Harless line in the United States. Leonard Jackson married his second cousin Pauline/Paulina “Lena” Adeline Gann (1860-1938) on 26 August 1889 in Merced County, California.3 The couple spent the majority of their married life in Mariposa County, where they are buried side-by-side at the historic Mariposa District Cemetery.4

Headstone Leonard Jackson Harless and Pauline Adeline Gann
My husband Jeff, standing beside the headstone for his 2nd great-grandparents.

[contentblock id=21 img=html.png]

Homestead Records

Homesteading played a critical role in the settling of the American West. Yet despite being a Western U.S. historian (specializing in California history), I never paid much attention to homestead records because most my ancestors were late-comers to the U.S. who did not even own homes until the early-to-late 1900s. And homesteading (aka the Homestead Acts) just happened back in the 1860s, right? [Wrong.] Most of my people weren’t even in the U.S. at that time. Nor was it a topic discussed in any detail during my college California history classes, or in my own California history research.

California Homesteading

When I saw a session being offered by Jamie Lee McManus Mayhew at the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree this past June on “Homesteading California,” I thought that the California historian in me ought to go learn a bit about this historical era and its records. The information might come in handy when helping library patrons at work, or helping others with their family history. Even if my California ancestors weren’t homesteaders.

Discovering GLO

During her session, Jamie talked about and demonstrated GLO.

While GLO–in genealogy-speak, the Bureau of Land Management’s General Land Office database index and digitized records– was a database I was aware of, I never bothered to actually use the site, since I was certain my ancestors were not homesteaders, and did not think it likely bought any other federal land.

We provide live access to Federal land conveyance records for the Public Land States, including image access to more than five million Federal land title records issued between 1820 and the present. We also have images related to survey plats and field notes, dating back to 1810. Due to organization of documents in the GLO collection, this site does not currently contain every Federal title record issued for the Public Land States.5

Sitting through that introduction to GLO, a thought hit me…

My husband’s ancestors–the Harless and Gann lines who came to California in 1858–had been ranchers and farmers, and might have acquired Homestead land. I started searching for my husband’s Harless line. Bingo! The very first entry I found listed was for my husband’s 2nd great-grandmother Pauline Adeline Gann.

Harless and Gann - Government Land Office - CA
GLO search results for “Harless” patents in California. Leonard Jackson’s entry is highlighted in blue. His wife Paulina’s entries are highlighted in green, and his mother Margaret’s entries are highlighted in pink. It is interesting that there are no entries for Leonard’s father Miles Washington Harless. I do not yet know who William H. Harless is, and if he is any relation to our family.

The second listing for Harless on the GLO index results is for Leonard Jackson Harless himself. And since, unlike that first entry for his wife Pauline, Leonard Jackson’s entry shows that the digitized document is included, I am focusing on his Homestead claim for this post, and to learn more about GLO as well as Homestead laws.

I will definitely revisit the records for his wife Pauline and mother Margaret when I have more time. And identify William H. Harless.

The Land Patent

I will analyze the record details more thoroughly in a later post, but following is my extracted summary, as well as a digitized copy of the original record–the serial patent file.6 I find it interesting that although Leonard Jackson grew up in a California pioneer family during 1860s and 1870s, his particular homestead patent was not purchased and registered until 1912, at 54 years of age.

  • Claimant: Leonard J. Harless [index says Leonard Y. Harless]
  • Registered: Sacramento, California
  • Issue Date: 1 July 1912
  • Issued By: President William H. Taft
  • Total Acres: 40
  • County/State: Mariposa County, California
  • Meridian: Mount Diablo
  • Township/Range: 007S – 017E
  • Aliquots/Section Number: SE¼SE¼ – Section 2
  • Patent Number: 281632
  • Land Office: Independence
  • Authority:  April 24, 1820: Sale-Cash Entry (3 Stat. 566).
Leonard Jackson Harless - 1910 Homstead Patent
Homestead land patent to Leonard Jackson Harless.

Here’s a look at where Leonard Jackson’s homestead of 40 acres is located in Mariposa County. I cannot wait to explore this more on Google Earth.

Harless and Gann - CA Homestead Location
Map displayed on the GLO patent record detail. The little tiny orange box (within the larger box), marked with a red arrow, is his 40 acres.


Were My Mexican Ancestors Part of the Elite Landed Hacienda Lifestyle?

On the hacienda in Mexico, SMU Libraries Digital Collections
Photo of a Mexican hacienda, 1900-10. These are likely the children of the hacienda owner. The photo is from the same time my family owned a ranch in Mexico, and is a possible representation of how my great-grandparents and 2nd great-grandparents dressed (in their Sunday best) during that time. Courtesy of DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.1
Maria Aurelia Compean
Maria Aurelia Compean.

I have always heard, from my dad, from his uncle (the only living sibling of my paternal grandfather), and from that great-uncle’s wife that our family had to to flee Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. Losing everything.

Specifically, this refers to Dad’s grandparents Jose Robledo (1878-1937) and Maria Hermalinda Nieto (1887-1972), and great-grandmother Maria Aurelia Compean (1864-1863).

Jose and Maria, along with their two oldest children (very young at the time), immigrated to the U.S. in 1915.2,3,4,5 Maria’s mother Aurelia followed suit in 1919.6

A Lifestyle Lost

What exactly was the “everything” they lost?

The stories I heard growing up always included references to lost family land…a hacienda, and that the family had been well-to-do back in Mexico.

The 1963 U.S. obituary for my 2nd great-grandmother Maria Aurelia (Compean) Nieto talks about Aurelia coming from a well-to-do family in the state of San Luis Potosí. That same obituary claims Aurelia had 21 children.7 My great-aunt, the wife of the sole living child of Jose and Maria Robledo, was quite close after marriage to my great-grandmother Maria and to my 2nd great-grandmother Aurelia. She says that these women often told her stories about their family life back in Mexico. When my great-aunt asked Aurelia how Aurelia was able to manage 21 children, Aurelia told her the family had servants who assisted with the children. This would indeed indicate that the family was financially well off.

Maria Aurelia Compean Scanned Obituary Clipping

Jose Robledo
Jose Robledo

My great-aunt has also mentioned that her father-in-law, my great-grandfather Jose Robledo, never quite recovered from his loss in status. It was a blow to him to come from a lifestyle where he had land and status, to a new country where Mexican immigrants had absolutely no socio-economic status, and to have to struggle to find work that would allow him to provide for the family.

Work opportunities for Mexican immigrants in the 1910s were few. Great-grandfather Jose worked as a dock laborer at the Port of Los Angeles (California) and sometimes as a migrant farm laborer.

The family thinks this blow contributed to his early death.

Maria Nieto
Maria Hermalinda Nieto.

This year, I have learned from others in our extended family network here that Aurelia’s husband, my 2nd great-grandfather Refugio Nieto (1863-1909), committed suicide back in Mexico. I have not found records to verify this claim and these cousins have not provided me with a reason. But I wonder if perhaps the suicide was out of Refugio’s desperation and recognition that the revolutionary changes starting to catch fire in Mexico would soon take away the the family’s land, home, and entire way of life? Did Refugio perhaps have a strong affiliation with the Porfirio Díaz regime–soon to be overthrown? Did he simply suffer from depression? Had he lost his honor?

Refugio supposedly died in 1909.  The Mexican Revolution is generally noted as taking place 1910-1920. Talk about pending revolution surely permeated the country in 1909.

RESEARCH TIP: Search Strategy

How will I try to verify if Refugio committed suicide? By conducting a reasonably exhaustive search among the church records, to see if he was buried by the church, and if a parish death record exists. A suicide is not supposed to get buried in consecrated ground, nor would sacramental last rites have been administered or recorded by the priest. The absence of Refugio from those church death and burial records might not mean anything, but that absence could also provide negative evidence. However, I will first try to locate a death record and the specific date date in the civil registrations.

I have no idea what if any bits of truth there are to these stories. Every descendant here of Mexican immigrants from the time of the Revolution wants to believe their family once owned a grand sprawling hacienda. I think it is very likely that my Mexican ancestors did own land there, which may have very well been classified as a hacienda or just a smaller estancia. I doubt I will find that answer out until I visit that area of Mexico next year, where I will hopefully come across old-timers or local historians who may know of the family. I am not well versed enough yet in what type of records might still exist from pre-revolutionary land holdings or might have been created and saved documenting revolutionary land confiscations.

The Hacienda Lifestyle

If my Compean, Nieto, Robledo, and Sanches ancestors had or brought any family photos, paintings, or drawings from Mexico, these either did not survive, or just did not get passed down to my branch of the family lines. So I often seek out imagery that helps me visualize my ancestors’ homes, lifestyles, and travels. Working off the family lore about our ancestors being well-to-do and owning a ranch back in San Luis Potosí, I went looking for photos, videos, and other artwork that depicts life on a hacienda in Mexico from the time of my ancestors.

Hacienda San Diego, Rio Verde, San Luis Potosi
“Hacienda San Diego, Rio Verde, S.L.P. (San Luis Potosí),” November 1909. Courtesy of DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.8
The photo above is a panoramic view of Hacienda San Diego, in another municipality (Rioverde) of San Luis Potosí–the central Mexico state in which my ancestors lived. The photo is dated November 1909. My ancestors were still living in San Luis Potosí at that time, presumably still on their ranch since the Revolution had not yet begun.

Depicted below is a hacienda (Hacienda San Javier) from another central Mexico state (Guanajuato), with the Valencia silver mine in the distance. The photo is dated 1905-09, also from the time when my ancestors still lived in Mexico. Mining was quite prevalent in their home state of San Luis Potosí. I wrote a couple months ago about my great-uncle Juvenal Joseph Nieto (1898-1978)–son of Aurelia Compean and José Nieto, younger brother to Maria Hermalinda Nieto–who left home at a young age to work in the mines of Mexico, eventually making his way up to the copper mines of Butte, Montana by the time he registered for the U.S. World War I draft in 1918.

Courtesy of DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.
Courtesy of DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.9
Closer to my ancestral home, Hacienda Peotillos remained somewhat intact following the Mexican Revolution–particularly the main house–unlike the many haciendas that were destroyed during the war or the post-war land redistribution. Founded in 1863, the hacienda is situated in the municipality of Villa Hidaldo, state of San Luis Potosí, which is the municipality where my 2nd great-grandparents Refugio Nieto and Aurelia (Compean) Nieto married in 1883.10

This photo of Hacienda Peotillos was taken sometime between 1880 and 1897, the time when my 2nd great-grandparents married, and had their first children.

Hacienda Peotillo 1880-1897
“Hacienda Peotillos,” dated between 1880 and 1897. Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.11
The family who still owns the hacienda does not a have surname that I have found in my family lines, so I have no clue if this family may be related to mine. But the geographic proximity to where my family lived means that this family could have been contemporaries and peers of my ancestors, if my family was indeed a member of the landed class. It is currently open for special events, but when Dad and I visit the area next year, I will try to arrange for a tour.

This video–produced by a website about travel and culture in central Mexico–provides a wonderful look at the the geographic area where my family lived, and what their lifestyle might have been like. It also showcases different types of records pertaining to the hacienda, which may prove helpful in my own research.12

The video below provides another look at Hacienda de Peotillas, from a travel reporter.13


#52Ancestors: Is Andrew Jackson Gann One of the Gann’s from Gann’s Meadow?

My 43rd entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks family history blogging challenge.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

I am still playing catch up, from being sick for a big part of this year.

My 43rd ancestor is my husband Jeff’s 3rd great grand uncle, Andrew Jackson Gann (1837-1910). Andrew Jackson was born on 14 November 1837 in Missouri to William Gann (1792-1845) and Leah Gann (1810-1863). He was the youngest brother of my husband’s 3rd great grandmother Margaret Gann (1830-1919), whom I recently profiled in a post about 26 Mile House in Stanislaus County. Andrew Jackson died on 12 May 1910 in Copperopolis, Calaveras County, California.

Gann's Meadow, Ebbetts Pass
The almost missable sign for Gann’s Meadow on Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway. A close up view from the west side.

This post, although attributed to Andrew Jackson since the 52 Ancestors series needs each blog post to profile an ancestor or relation, is really about a location — Gann’s Meadow on Ebbett’s Pass National Scenic Byway (Highway 4), one of California’s trans-Sierra routes. I talked about Ebbett’s Pass and the old emigrant route in detail in my post about Jeff’s 2nd great grandfather Leonard Jackson Harless, who came over the pass as an infant with his family in 1858. Our Harless family’s emigrant group was headed up by a Gann relation, and apparently met up in San Joaquin County with Gann relations who had arrived in California earlier that decade. These Gann-Harless relations can be found living near each other in Castoria (aka French Camp) on the 1860 US Census.

Leah Gann Family 1860 US Census Castoria CA
Andrew Jackson Gann and his brother George William Gann on the 1860 US Census in Castoria, San Joaquin County, California. Their mother Leah is listed here as well. A Thomas Gann, who I have not identified, is listed as the head of the household. Thomas is 9 years younger than Leah, so perhaps he was her younger brother. Leah’s husband William died before the family emigrated to California from Missouri.

While preparing for this genealogy camping road trip, I had come across references to Gann’s Meadow when reading up on Ebbetts Pass. I knew there were at least two Gann connections in our Harless family: my husband’s 3rd great grandmother Margaret Gann (referenced above) and his 2nd great grandmother Pauline Adeline Gann (1858-1946). So I made a mental note to stop and photograph that location on our trip. I had no idea how or if the Gann of Gann’s Meadow was related to us, but I had a strong hunch that we were connected.

Gann’s Meadow is located on Ebbetts pass National Scenic Byway, at mile marker 15.7 if heading east from Arnold or mile marker 45.3 if heading west from Markleeville.

Gann’s Meadow was settled in the 1870s by George, Jackson, and William Gann, who arrived in California from Missouri in 1853. First engaged in the cattle business in San Joaquin County, they eventually acquired a ranch in Calaveras County north of Salt Spring Valley on the old road to Spring Valley (near present Valley Springs). Their summer cow camp, located on the Big Tree and Carson Valley Road, soon became known as Gann’s Station.

The 160-acre ranch was homesteaded by Charles A. Gann in 1902 and patented in 1910. A summer home tract, the 38-Mile Tract, consisting of six lots along the western side of the Ebbetts Pass Road, was laid out by the Forest Service in the 1920s. It later became known as the “Gann’s Trespass,” where homes were built on land sold by Charlie Gann in good faith, but actually on national forest lands.

The three stone and frame cabins on the north side of the road are all that remain of Bailey’s Resort, a popular summer recreation area in the 1920s. The main lodge burned in later years, and its location is now beneath the highway. A modern residence and restaurant were built on the southwest end of meadow in the late 1960s to cater to travelers to the Bear Valley Ski Area, but has been vacant for many years. Once the cattle were removed from the area, the meadow, which had previously been kept open by Native American coppicing and burning, as well as natural fires, filled in with native conifers. (Source: Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway)

The same information, pretty much verbatim, is provided on the Calaveras Heritage Council website.

Gann's Meadow on Ebbetts Pass
The turn off to Gann’s Meadow is on the south side of Highway 4. That brown lump on the ground (left side of the photo) between the trees is the sign for Gann’s Meadow. If you’re approaching from the east, it is very easy to miss. We had to double back.
Gann's Meadow on Ebbetts Pass
Not sure what this is, but we found a lot of this on that road that cut off at Gann’s Meadow. It looks like it is the coppicing and natural burn area mentioned at the end of that article (quoted above).
Gann's Meadow on Ebbetts Pass
This looks like the “modern residence and restaurant [that] were built on the southwest end of meadow in the late 1960s” mentioned in the article.
Gann's Meadow on Ebbetts Pass
These seem to be the “three stone and frame cabins on the north side of the road” that were part of popular Bailey’s Resort in the 192s. The cabin on the left looks like it could possibly date back to the lifetime of Charlie Gann or one of the older Gann brothers.

Determined to try to find a specific connection with our Ganns, I spent quite a bit of time this past weekend researching my husband’s Gann line, trying to find male Ganns with these names, in the right place, at the right time. The names William, George, and Charles are pretty common among our Gann ancestors, so I decided to focus on Jackson, which does not appear to be as common a name. And since both the Ebbetts Pass site and the Calaveras Heritage Council sites identify William, George, and Jackson as brothers, I focused on finding sibling sets in our Gann lines with those same names.

The most likely candidates so far are the brothers of Margaret Gann. Margaret had brothers named George William Gann (1834-1923) and Andrew Jackson Gann (the subject of this post), both of whom emigrated to California. Andrew Jackson may have gone by his middle name, Jackson. Both Andrew Jackson and George William died in Calaveras County, not far from Gann’s Meadow. I do not find a brother named William though who lived to adulthood, just George William. However, I am still putting together all of the siblings’ names. So there may still be another brother I haven’t found yet. Those articles about Gann’s Meadow also reference a Charles “Charlie” Gann, who appears to be from a younger generation (perhaps the son of one of the brothers). I have not identified Charlie either.

Needless to say,  I will definitely keep digging more into this part of our Gann family history.

[contentblock id=25 img=html.png]