THE LIVES OF TWO FAMILIES INTERSECT
Both John Call and Mary Fulton were born in Scotland in the 1820s. Mary immigrated with her family to Canada while still a child. The family subsequently relocated to Rhode Island where Mary met and married John Call in 1844. They then moved to Massachusetts where their son, Finley, was born in in 1846. But unfortunately, the couple would not be blessed with any additional children of their own.
After about ten years in New England, they relocated to Minnesota Territory on the American frontier. In 1857 they were living in Town 103 N 17, east of the main market town of Albert Lee. The unnamed town, located on the South Fork of the Root River was described as rough and wooded, except for a narrow prairie belt occupying the river bottoms. Nevertheless John Call was able to eke out a living there as a farmer. Life was good, but the small family felt incomplete and the Calls wished in vain for another child.
Meanwhile, New York-born Isaac Vanderwalker and Clarinda Stokes had arrived in Minnesota Territory in 1856 with their five daughters and one son in tow. They were among the first settlers of Austin, Minnesota but by 1860 they had relocated to a small cabin in the tiny town of Moscow located on the border between Mower and Freeborn Counties. Their youngest daughter, Clara, had been born in New York in 1855 and at 39 years of age, her mother Clarinda had assumed her child bearing years were behind her. But in the summer of 1860 she found herself once again in the family way.
The winters are bitter in Minnesota and surely 1861 was no different. The average low temperature in February runs around 12⁰F with an average high around 29⁰F. The average snowfall for the month is over 8 inches. So when forty-year old Clarinda gave birth to baby Agnes on St. Valentine’s Day inside their drafty log cabin in the middle of nowhere, it is not a surprise that she perished the following day, leaving Isaac with six children under the age of 13 to care for.
The Vanderwalker family did not own a cow, so in order to provide milk for baby Agnes, Isaac would have to ride his horse to the nearest neighbor who did. Unfortunately, the jostling of the horse ride back home caused the milk to separate rendering it less than optimum for the infant. It soon became apparent that a different arrangement was needed. Perhaps instead of bringing milk to the baby, it would be more sensible to take the baby to the milk. Enter John and Mary Call.
There is no record as to when Agnes went to live with the Calls and there is no indication that she was ever formally adopted. But in the 1860s, Minnesota was the Western Frontier and it was not always possible to worry about every formal legality. It is likely, however, that the transfer occurred before April 1862 when Isaac Vanderwalker entered the Union Army and left Minnesota to fight in the Civil War. But even though Agnes had become a member of the Call family, her older sister, twelve-year old Helen Vanderwalker, would never forget her.
Agnes’ early years were spent in the village of Lansing, Minnesota where the family attended services at the Methodist Episcopalian (M.E.) Church. Her adopted father, John Call, operated a shoe store that offered boots and shoes as well as custom work of all description. His son, Finley worked with him and was learning to be a cobbler.
Soon after Agnes’ birth father Isaac Vanderwalker returned from the Civil War in 1865, he married local widow, Carrie Smith who brought one small daughter with her to the marriage. The couple soon added two sons to their growing family which now totaled seven children. Since Agnes was happy with the Calls, there really was no reason to wrench her from her new family and everyone went ahead with their lives.
CALIFORNIA, LAND OF OPPORTUNITY
As pleasant as life may have been on the prairie, the lure of the West soon became irresistible to the Calls. Perhaps it was the bitter cold Minnesota winters, or just the limited opportunity in the small town that spurred them to leave. But no sooner was the transcontinental railroad extended to San Francisco Bay in California in November 1869, than the little family was on a train west. Years later, Agnes would tell her daughter, Helen Wilson, how along the way to California the train was stopped and boarded by a group of American Indians. Mary Call was so scared that she pushed 9-year old Agnes under the seat and covered her with a pillow case. The Indians exited the train without incident of course, but it was an exciting experience that Agnes would never forget.
By early 1870, little Agnes was attending school in Healdsburg, California and her father John had set up a new boot shop next door to Hertel’s store on the west side of the Plaza. Things went well for the family and by November 1871, John Call opened a new shoe shop in the Odd Fellows lot on the south side of the Plaza, next door to the Lockwood & VanSlyke bookstore, where he and Finley worked making shoes.
Meanwhile, Agnes was fitting in well at school in her new town. In the programme presented by the Healdsburg Public Schools on December 3, 1875, 14-year old Agnes gave a presentation called “Young Curiosity Shop” representing Miss McGauahey’s room. Around that same time a missionary school was being held at the home of Mrs. Hugh McLeod, called the “Busy Bee Society.” The children of various Christian faiths were provided instruction in the manufacture of fancy goods in addition to moral guidance. This group put on a Fair at the Presbyterian Plaza Church on October 13, 1876 where they sold the goods they had made to raise funds. Entertainment was also provided and fifteen-year old Agnes Call along with three of her chums, Misses Libbie Jewel, Lizzie Smith, and Ella Laymance, known collectively as “the country cousins,” provided a Dialog.
A BUSY YEAR IN HEALDSBURG SOCIETY
Agnes Call spent 1877 in a whirl of Healdsburg Society. That year witnessed a variety of festive community events. In February, sixteen-year old Agnes enjoyed a well-attended soiree at the elegant “Oakwood Villa” located just southeast of Healdsburg on the road to Windsor. The 47-acre estate sat on an elevation providing views of Fitch Mountain, Mount St. Helena, the Russian River, and the town of Healdsburg. The party was held in the 10-room house which boasted all the modern conveniences, including hot and cold running water. The attendees enjoyed waltzing to the music provided by the young gentlemen of the Sotoyome String Band before partaking of coffee, cakes, fruits, nuts, and candies.
Lest this type of foray into Society go to Agnes’ head, in March 1877 she became one of the 28 charter members of the Charity Temple, No. 14, lodge of Juvenile Templars. Membership required a pledge of “abstinence from malt liquors, wine and cider as beverages, the use of tobacco, and from all profanity.” The lodge was an off-shoot of the IOGT (International Organization of Good Templars), a group that advocated for an alcohol-free life. At the first meeting of the Healdsburg chapter, Agnes was elected to serve on the Executive Committee.
The 1877 May Day celebration hosted by the Grange Association in Healdsburg was quite an elaborate extravaganza. “King Godfrey” played by Captain L.A. Norton presided over a medieval-style tournament between chivalric knights that drew an estimated crowd of 6,000 people to the town whose population hovered around 1,000. In addition to the tilting and ring spearing contests, a harvest feast and hundreds of private luncheons were enjoyed before the crowning of the Queen of May. The day closed with a grand ball held in Powell’s Theatre commencing at 10 o’clock in the evening. Agnes Call was among those ladies attired in beautiful costumes who danced to the tunes of the Santa Rosa String Band.
The social hoopla continued ten days later with a two-day Concert and Festival put on by the Ladies of the Presbyterian Church featuring entertainment, a tree of presents, grab bag, luncheon, lemonade, ice cream and strawberries held in Powell’s Theatre. The program included singing, musical interludes, various tableaux, and a colloquy called “Mrs. Partington’s Tea Party” starring 16-year old Agnes Call as Mrs. Partington. The event netted over $100 that was to be used for the completion of the new parsonage being built on Fitch Street.
Agnes continued her more serious activities as well when in May 1877 she served as one of the Healdsburg delegates to a meeting of the Sonoma County Lodge of Good Templars held at Two-Rock (located between Petaluma and Tomales Bay). The events of that month concluded with a festive party at the home of J. McManus attended by Agnes and many other daughters and sons of prominent Healdsburg families.
A SUDDEN TRANSITION INTO ADULTHOOD
On Valentine’s Day 1878, Agnes turned seventeen. Seven months later she was married to George W. Congleton at her parent’s home on Bailhache Avenue by Rev. William Angwin of the M.E. Church. George was a well-known figure in Healdsburg at the time. He was one of the players in the popular Healdsburg Amateur Minstrel Club and his reputation was that of an easygoing, devil-may-care young buck. Their daughter, Lula Mae Congleton, was born six months later on Agnes’ eighteenth birthday. Thus ended the carefree first chapter in Agnes’ life.