An introduction to

Joan Barriga

The steep dirt road scraped over the hill to Lexington by Maggie Jones’ father has long been forgotten, as have the settlements of Lexington, Alma, and Wrights Station. The stagecoach road leading out of Los Gatos has become Highway 17, and the six-horse Concord stage and Mrs. Paddock’s Lexington House are nothing but memories of a time almost forgotten. The faint trace of railroad ties leading into the dark tunnel-opening at Wrights reminds us that not too many years ago the canyon of Los Gatos Creek echoed and re-echoed to the train whistles. But, through it all, the mountains endured and continued to lure people to make their homes in the canyons and on the ridges. And some of these people were the women who homesteaded and worked in the mountains.

When we consider how sharply individualistic these Santa Cruz Mountain women were, we might wonder if there was any common thread that bound them together. What did poet Sara Bard Field have in common with the widow Mary Ann Brown? Or, for that matter, what common denominator did writer and conservationist Josephine McCrackin share with stagecoach driver Charley Parkhurst, or homesteader Clarissa Burrell?

Actually, they shared something more important than having been pioneers in their individual ways; something even more important than their love of the sometimes harsh and unforgiving mountains where they made their homes. The single shining thread woven through the fabric that each of them shared was courage; courage to be individuals who should be remembered.

From author to reader:

As a long-time resident of the Santa Cruz Mountains it was probably inevitable that my interest and curiosity would be aroused when I came across abandoned cabins, crumbling settlements, sealed-up railroad tunnels and the faint but persistent traces of the old South Pacific Coast’s overgrown roadbed. John V. Young’s tales of the early settlers (Ghost Towns of the Santa Cruz Mountains) and Bruce MacGregor’s very readable South Pacific Coast started me off on what turned out to be a fulfilling and fascinating study of this area and the pioneers who made their homes here. –Where had they come from? --How did they get here? And why did they choose to stay in the mountains, when life would certainly have been easier in the more settled and "civilized" regions? Occasionally, as I read on about the loggers, hunters, railroaders and stagecoach drivers, there was a fleeting allusion to a wife or mother, to the proprietess of a stage stop, or to Southern Pacific’s first woman station agent, and a persistent question began to form in my mind: who were these pioneer women, and what sort of lives did they lead? --Who was cooking the dinner while Mountain Charley was out doing battle with the grizzly bear? (As it turned out, nobody was, because Charley was still a bachelor at this time.)

This was the point of departure; I began researching the lives of the women pioneers. From bits and pieces of information found in larger works, diaries kept by some of the families (Birney Burrell’s "Diary"), letters written to relatives back East (Clarissa Burrell’s letters were a particularly rich source), and published writings (Josephine McCrackin and Eliza Farnham), a more complete picture of their lives began to emerge. One of the most detailed … and thoroughly enjoyable … depictions of day-to-day life in the Santa Cruz Mountains was Emma Garrod’s autobiography, One Life, Mine. I found that the contributions these pioneer women made to the development of this area were an important, though frequently overlooked, contribution to the history of California.

The author lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains, surrounded by early California history. She was a docent at Forbes Mill Regional History Museum in Los Gatos, a participant in "Living History Days" at the San Jose Historical Museum, and, as a special education volunteer, taught local history at elementary schools. Joan hold a B.A. degree in English from the University of New Mexico and a M.A. degree in English from San Jose State University.

Other publications by Joan Barriga

"The Holy City Sideshow" (about Father William E. Riker and his Perfect Christian Divine Way cult that flourished in the Santa Cruz Mountains from 1920 to 1940) published by the Santa Clara County Pioneer Association.

"Lark on a Barbed-Wire Fence" (about Ruth Comfort Mitchell) published by the Steinbeck Research Center at San Jose State University, summer 1989.



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