In February 1861, in a drafty frontier cabin on a farm in the newly-minted state of Minnesota, Clarinda Stokes Vanderwalker died giving birth to her daughter Agnes. Clarinda and husband Isaac Vanderwalker already had five children, four of them girls. They were fourteen year old Elizabeth, twelve year old Helen, ten year old George, six year old Mary, and five year old Clara who was afflicted with dwarfism. The two older girls may have wanted to take care of their new baby sister Agnes, but in the dead of winter in rural Minnesota it could not have been easy. As Agnes’ daughter Helen Wilson Peterson describes in the audio clip below, the best option available to widower Isaac Vanderwalker was to give the baby away to the neighbors who had access to a milk cow.
Only months after Agnes’ birth the Civil War broke out and soon after her first birthday her birth father Isaac Vanderwalker joined the Union Army. He served in the 4th Regiment of Minnesota Volunteers Company K from April 6, 1862 through April 5, 1865, marching around the United States from Missouri to Texas to Georgia to Virginia to Washington, DC. Upon his return to Minnesota in September 1865 he married local widow Carrie Smith and they began a new family.
Meanwhile, Agnes lived with her adopted parents John Call and Mary Fulton Call and her adopted brother Finley Call in Lansing, Minnesota, about 10 miles away from her birth siblings. John Call had been born John McCall June 20th, 1822 in Scotland and had immigrated to the United States as a young man. By the time he had established his shoe making business in Minnesota in the 1850s he had dropped the “Mc” from his name.
It is unknown whether or not Agnes’ siblings maintained a relationship with her as she grew from baby to toddler to young girl. But she was about nine years old when the Call family left Minnesota so it is possible that she had memories of her Vanderwalker siblings. In any event, mail service was spotty and expensive in the mid-1800s and any relationship that may have existed and even memories would have soon faded. So imagine Agnes’ surprise when almost fifty years after she had left Minnesota the following ad appeared in the April 26, 1916 edition of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat:
Mrs. Scofield turned out to be Agnes’ older sister, Helen Vanderwalker who had been about twelve years old when Agnes went to live in the Call household, and about twenty when the Calls left Minnesota in the late 1860s. By that time Helen had married George Scofield, a local clerk in Austin, Mower County, Minnesota. And in the early 1900s the Scofields had relocated to Siskiyou County, California.
The ad in the Santa Rosa newspaper apparently did the trick and it was only a couple of months later when Agnes and her sister were reunited. The July 8, 1916 edition of the Healdsburg Enterprise reported:
SISTERS MEET AFTER SEPARATION FROM YOUTH
Mr. and Mrs. A.A. Wilson returned recently from an enjoyable automobile trip to Red Bluff. The trip to the Sacramento valley city was taken for the purpose of Mrs. Wilson meeting her sister whom she had not seen since a baby. In deference to the family that raised Mrs. Wilson her sister kept her identity a secret until after her own parents had died. When this had occurred the two ladies quickly got in communication with each other. No doubt many reunions will be held by the two now that they know of each other’s whereabouts.
Unfortunately, the story does not have a happy ending. As Helen Vanderwalker Scofield had indicated in her original letter to the Santa Rosa Postmaster, she was seriously ill. The front page of the September 30, 1916 edition of the Healdsburg Enterprise reported:
GOES TO ATTEND SISTER’S FUNERAL
Mrs. A.A. Wilson was called to Red Bluff Tuesday by the death of a sister. Just four months ago Mrs. Wilson heard of her sister’s whereabouts, and the two met for the first time since they were separated when Mrs. Wilson was two years old. During the past summer Mrs. Wilson made a visit to this sister, and she was extremely pleased to renew the sisterly love. It is a sad blow to her that she should lose this sister so soon after finding her.
Helen Vanderwalker Scofield died September 26, 1916 in Red Bluff, California and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in that city. We can only hope that it was a comfort to her to learn that her baby sister Agnes had named her youngest child Helen, perhaps as an unconscious homage to her long lost older sister.
Interview of Helen Wilson Peterson by Maria Buchignani Taeuffer circa: 1979
“History of the Fourth Regiment of Minnesota Infantry Volunteers” by Alonzo L. Brown
Isaac Vanderwalker Compiled Military Record
Clara L. Vanderwalker Civil War Widow’s Pension File 692.026
Mower County Register: 9 January 1868
Santa Rosa Press Democrat: 26 April 1916
Healdsburg Enterprise: 8 July 1916, 30 September 1916
1870 US Census
Find A Grave memorial #10961064 courtesy of Kimberley Terrill
The twentieth century began for Agnes and Albert Wilson with a surprise party to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary. By this time Agnes’ son Claude Congleton had left the family farm on Bailhache Avenue to make his way in San Francisco and her daughter Mae Congleton was engaged to be married to local farmer John Taeuffer. In March 1902, Mae and John were married on the Taeuffer ranch on Magnolia Drive. Their son, Ernest Louis Taeuffer, was born in November of that year. Just as the new grandparents and empty nesters 41 year-old Agnes and 40 year-old Albert were celebrating that joyous event, they received an unexpected surprise when they discovered that they were going to have a baby of their own! Their daughter, Helen Agnes Wilson, was born June 10th, 1903. Mae and John Taeuffer’s daughter, Dorothy, was born the following May, in 1904. Dorothy and Ernest Taeuffer would grow up with Helen Wilson being more like a cousin rather than their aunt.
STEWARDSHIP OF THE BAILHACHE AVENUE FARM
While Agnes kept busy with raising the new baby, Albert focused on improvements to their farm. In 1903 the original 10-acre parcel of land that Agnes’ father John Call had purchased from the Spanish Land Grant holder in 1872 was planted primarily in hops. An opportunity to expand the ranch presented itself in early 1904 when the prune orchard next door became available. Albert purchased the “Wright place,” also known as the “Campbell ranch” that February. But the diversity of the Wilson farm was not limited to hops and prunes. In October 1904, the Healdsburg Tribune reported that Albert Wilson had brought a branch from one of his Tartarian cherry trees into the newspaper office. He did so to demonstrate that his trees were experiencing an unusual second full bloom within a year and that a rare second crop could be expected.
In addition to his talents as a farmer, Albert must have also been a good businessman. In October 1904, he traveled to Santa Rosa to broker sale of the hops from the Bailhache Avenue farm. At a time when the average price being paid for hops was around 15 cents per pound, it was reported that Albert had received 31 cents, “the highest price in the region” for his 3-ton crop. Thus the Wilsons grossed $1,860 that year which was quite a tidy sum for the era.
In August 1908, Agnes’ mother, Grandma Call, celebrated her 82nd birthday. In November she signed over the original 10 acres of “lot 1 of Spurr Survey of Sotoyome rancho” purchased from John Bailhache, holder of the original Spanish Land Grant, into Agnes’ name but leaving Albert off of the new deed. This transaction formally consolidated the ranch holdings and established Agnes as 75% owner of the farm.
ENJOYING FAMILY AND FRIENDS
Despite the time demands of raising a daughter and of making all the improvements to the farm, Agnes and Albert were still able to enjoy many leisure activities. Dinner parties were regular events and served as a way to keep in touch with the extended family. Agnes played hostess to her former sisters-in-law, Jennie Cook (nee Amelia Jane Congleton) and Sarah Greaver (nee Sarah Ann Congleton), and their families on a routine basis. After daughter Mae Congleton married John Taeuffer the parties began to include members of that family as well, including Mae’s mother- and father-in-law, Sophie and Ernest Taeuffer, along with their best friends, Ferdinand and Katherine Grabner. Neighbors were typically present as well, including Anita Fitch, J.B. and Nancy (aka: Auntie B) Brown, Julia Bachman and her brother Emil, and Mr. and Mrs. John Minaglia.
The parties usually featured competitive card playing, such as the trick-taking games Progressive Whist and Pedro. Afternoon gatherings of the ladies often provided an opportunity for the musically inclined to entertain the others with voice, violin, and piano. The evening parties would typically end with a sumptuous feast served at midnight. It had also become a Valentines Day tradition to hold a joint birthday party for Agnes and daughter Mae Taeuffer. In February 1910 guests were treated to particularly unique and memorable entertainment at one such party when Albert Wilson captivated the crowd with music played on his newly acquired graphophone.
By the time the second decade of the 20th century was beginning, many members of the younger generation of the pioneer families had left the small hamlet of Healdsburg to seek their fortunes in the bigger cities of San Rafael, Benicia, and other points south. But this only served to present a delightful opportunity to host out-of-town visitors and to enjoy out-of-town excursions. Agnes often would alternately host and visit many of her nieces and nephews, including Bertha Reilly (nee Greaver) in San Francisco and later in Los Angeles, Irene Robinson (nee Greaver) in San Rafael, and Harry Brown in San Francisco.
Another tradition that began around this time was for the Wilsons to spend extended visits to the Pacific coast for camping and fishing. Many excursions to Bodega Bay, Jenner, and Tamales Bay were reported in the local newspapers. Participants included daughter Helen of course, but also Mr. and Mrs. Walter Cook, Mrs. Harry Brown and her daughter Maude, Mae and John Taeuffer, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Greaver, and Agnes’ grandson Claude Congleton. One visit to Dillon’s Beach, made with friends Mr. and Mrs. John Long, in September 1910 was particularly notable because the group had made the trip in the Long’s automobile. Eventually, in 1916, the Wilsons decided they enjoyed spending time at the coast so much that they partnered with a friend, J.C. Green, to build a vacation cabin at Jenner.
In April 1910 some of the ladies living on the South side of Healdsburg formed a sewing club that met twice each month. They dubbed themselves “The Busy Bees” referring to their busy hands as well as to the buzzing of their conversation. Each lady took her turn at hosting the group which followed the rule that no more than two items of refreshment would be provided, usually cake and either ice cream or hot chocolate, depending on the season. Frequently, musically inclined members Miss Julia Bachman, Miss Joey Brown and Mrs. Millie Brown would provide entertainment.
But the ladies did not restrict use of their creative talents to making things for themselves and in January 1912 they sewed quilts to be donated for use by the orphans living at the Lytton Home. By April 1913 they had changed their club name to “The Social Neighbors Club” perhaps to better describe the primary purpose of their congenial gatherings.
Albert Wilson had become involved with the Knights of Pythias lodge in 1900, when he served as Master of Works. Agnes began her active involvement with the women’s auxiliary of that organization, the Pythian Sisters, in 1914, when she was elected Junior of Temple. Two years later she moved up to become Most Excellent Chief, the highest office at the local chapter level. In June 1916 she became Most Excellent Senior, followed in January 1917 when she assumed the role of Past Chief. Card playing was a regular part of the lodge meetings and both Agnes and Albert were frequently listed as the high scorers of the evening in the local press.
CHANGES IN THE FAMILY CONTINUE
Agnes’ son Claude Congleton had married local girl, Eugenia Selistine Hoar, who was called Jenny and who was also known as Birdie, on October 13th, 1903. The young couple had one son, Claude Franklin Congleton on February 13th, 1905, who missed having a shared birthday with his Aunt Mae and Grandmother Agnes by just one day. Unfortunately, tragedy struck on December 2nd, 1906 before the boy had even turned two. His father Claude suffered a severe injury that day in a horrible accident while working as a brakeman on the train running out of Eureka. He passed away the following day, December 3rd, just one day before his own 25th birthday. From then on, Agnes and Albert would take extra care to include their grandson Claude, who would later become known by the nickname “Buster Brown” in their fishing and camping trips. To learn more about his life, please read AKA “Buster Brown”. A number of years later, in 1909, widow Jenny Hoar Congleton would marry George Taeuffer, Mae Congleton Taeuffer’s brother-in-law, linking the two families in a second way that would confuse researchers in later decades.
Life continued for Agnes, Albert and little Helen on the Bailhache Avenue farm. Sadly, Grandma Call’s health went into decline and she began to suffer from a progressive dementia. In early 1911 she took a fall in the garden and broke her femur at the hip. She was not strong enough to recover from her injury and on May 20th she passed away at the age of 84 years. Healdsburg pioneer Mary Call was then laid to rest in Oak Mound Cemetery next to her husband John.
POLITICS ENTERS THE PICTURE
The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, commonly known as simply “The Grange,” was originally established to improve agricultural conditions in the post-Civil War South by teaching modern techniques. The goal of providing education was replaced fairly quickly with the goal of yielding political power, particularly in pursuing regulation of the railroads, but also in supporting temperance, the direct election of Senators, and women’s suffrage. It was also unique for a fraternal society of the time because it did not have a women’s auxiliary associated with it. Instead, it recognized women as members equal to the men. In fact, the by-laws established that four of the elected positions could only be held by women, thereby acknowledging the important role that women played on the family farm.
The Wilsons became involved with the Pomona Grange of Healdsburg in 1907 when Albert agreed to join the Hop Growers’ Union of the Pacific Coast. The goal of the union was to leverage the volume of the crops of multiple growers to improve their ability to negotiate price with the large processing companies. By 1915 it was Agnes who was most closely involved with the organization when in December she was elected Steward for the following year. The main focus of the Healdsburg group in 1916 was to entice the California State Grange to hold their October 1917 annual meeting in Healdsburg. They were successful and the meeting, which focused on both co-operative buying and nationalizing the railroads, was held in town. Agnes served on the all-important banquet committee for the large state meeting.
NEVER ENDING CHANGE
While Agnes and Albert were busy working to unionize the hop growers of California, the world was being plunged into war. The United States avoided participation as long as was possible, but on April 2nd, 1917 President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Germany. Four days later that request was granted and the US joined allies Britain, France, and Russia in fighting the Great War to End all Wars. No one’s life would go untouched by the events to follow.
Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise, and Scimitar; 13 Dec 1900, 24 Jul 1902, 14 Aug 1902, 25 Sep 1902, 6 Oct 1904, 6 Dec 1906, 6 Mar 1910, 27 Apr 1910, 11 May 1910, 25 May 1910, 25 Jan 1912, 24 Apr 1913, 22 Jan 1914, 10 Feb 1916, 20 Jul 1916, 25 Jan 1917, 8 Feb 1917, 15 Feb 1917, 26 Apr 1917
Healdsburg Enterprise; 3 Oct 1903, 6 Feb 1904, 29 Oct 1904, 18 Jul 1908, 19 Feb 1910, 17 Sep 1910, 11 Nov 1911, 25 Nov 1911, 1 Jun 1912, 6 Jul 1912, 20 Jul 1912, 16 Nov 1912, 15 Mar 1913, 10 May 1913, 12 Jul 1913, 17 Jan 1914, 4 Jul 1914, 18 Jul 1914, 3 Jul 1915, 11 Dec 1915, 22 Jan 1916, 8 Apr 1916, 22 Jul 1916, 21 Oct 1916, 4 Nov 1916, 11 Nov 1916, 27 Jan 1917, 10 Feb 1917, 15 Dec 1917
Sotoyome Scimitar; 3 Feb 1904, 20 Jul 1904, 24 Nov 1908
Healdsburg Tribune; 1 Nov 1900, 16 Feb 1910, 31 May 1911, 11 Nov 1915
Press Democrat; 6 Dec 19072
Friends of Historic Butteville
Centennial History of Oregon, 1811 – 1921, vol.1
Museum of Musical Instruments http://www.britannica.com
Arbor Day Foundation
By the time Agnes Vanderwalker Call Congleton was 26 years old, she had already experienced a lifetime of tribulation. She had lost her mother at birth, been given away to the neighbors by her father, been relocated 2,000 miles from home by her adoptive parents, endured a “shotgun marriage” to a handsome ne’er-do-well, given birth to three children, lost a son to illness, and managed to obtain a divorce under the repressive laws of the 1880s. To learn more about these adventures, please read The Early Years and Agnes Makes a Regrettable Choice
As 1888 dawned, 26 year old divorcee and single mother Agnes Congleton was faced with the daunting task of reestablishing herself in respectable Healdsburg society. She and her two surviving children, nine year old Lula Mae and six year old Claude Congleton, had moved back onto her parents’ small farm on Bailhache Avenue just outside of Healdsburg, California. By this time, her father John Call, although only 65 years old, was already experiencing declining health and her mother Mary Fulton Call was glad to have her there to help run the household.
Meanwhile, between 1880 and 1890, Healdsburg had experienced a 30% increase in population, growing from about 1,100 to about 1,500 inhabitants. One eager young man who came to town from Oregon State that decade was Albert Allen Wilson. The lanky Albert was 5’ 8 ¼” tall with brown hair and grey eyes. He had been born October 20th, 1862 in Forest Grove, Washington County, Oregon to John R. Wilson and Miranda McNamer Wilson. His mother had died when Albert was just a young boy and his father had remarried soon thereafter. It was not long before John Wilson had begun a second family with his new wife, Rebecca Tong. So when 25 year old Albert arrived in Healdsburg in 1887 he had left his old life behind and was ready to start a new one. Agnes was also starting a new life and it would only be a matter of time before their paths would cross.
Healdsburg Methodist Church on Haydon Street 1873 Photo courtesy of Sonoma County Library
By 1889, John Call’s health had continued to deteriorate to the point that he was no longer able to participate in the activities of his beloved Masonic Lodge. Agnes’ brother Finley Call, who had arrived from Minnesota to rejoin the family in 1881, was doing his best to run the farm, but due to his physical disability it was more than he could handle on his own. It was clear that someone else would need to take over management of the ranch. Luckily there was a willing candidate available. On October 28th, 1890, 29 year old Agnes Congleton was married to 27 year old Albert Wilson by the Reverend A.R. McCullough of the local Methodist Episcopal Church.
As Agnes and Albert worked on settling into their new family life, changes continued around them. On October 24th, 1892 Agnes’ father John Call, who by this time had become completely blind and an invalid, passed away at the age of 70 years. Five months later, in March of 1893, his 47 year old son Finley joined him in death. This left the three-generational household of Grandmother Mary Call, newlyweds Agnes and Al Wilson, and the youngsters, 14 year old Mae and 11 year old Claude Congleton, living on the Bailhache Avenue farm.
The small family enjoyed socializing with their neighbors, many of whom were prominent members of the community. In January 1894 they attended John Bailhache’s son Temple’s 24th birthday gala. Among the guests were many notable Healdsburg residents including members of the Fitch, Sewell, Norton, Petray, Garrett, Sobranes, and Meyer families. Also in 1894, the newspapers reported on the Valentine’s Day party Agnes and Albert held in honor of daughter May Congleton’s fifteenth birthday, which featured a candy pull and which culminated with a supper at midnight. The Wilsons also began what would become a long tradition of spending leisure time at the Pacific coast, making extended excursions to Jenner with friends and family.
In July 1894 word reached Healdsburg that Agnes’ 36 year old ex-husband George Congleton had been killed in a work place accident in Hollister, California. The local newspaper there reported that his two sisters from Healdsburg, Sarah Congleton Greaver and Jenny Congleton Smith Cook, had declined the opportunity to claim his remains and that he had been buried on Mahoney’s Hill by Benito County as an indigent. Agnes had remained close friends with both of her former sisters-in-law over the years and it was clear that their loyalties lay with her.
In late 1895 the fraternal order of Foresters of America established a chapter in Healdsburg which they named The Sotoyome Court of Foresters, No. 142. In addition to general philanthropic activities, the lodge provided medical attention and free medicine, as well as cash benefits, to members who fell ill. As a charter member, Albert Wilson really began establishing himself in the Healdsburg community. By the time the court was four months old, it boasted seventy-two members. In December of the following year Albert was elected Financial Secretary for the ensuing term. He served again in 1899, this time as Junior Woodward.
In late 1897 an auxiliary organization, Sotoyome Circle, Companions of the Forest, was formed. Among the officers serving the inaugural year were Agnes Wilson, Deputy and her daughter Mae Congleton, Inner Guard. The main activity of that organization appears to have been holding dances every few months. However, an article in October 1898 describing an initiation of new members followed by a banquet is the last mention of the group in the local press. So it apparently was not a long term success. Nevertheless, it had provided Agnes with a path to reestablishing herself as a respectable Healdsburg matron.
Among the most festive and popular fund raising activities sponsored by the Foresters was their annual Masquerade Ball. In the December 30, 1897 edition of the Healdsburg Tribune it was reported that the grand march of those in costume had begun at 9:30 pm followed by dancing until 11:30 pm. After masks were removed and prizes awarded, a supper at the Sotoyome House had then been enjoyed until 1:00 am. After that, more dancing continued until the wee hours of the morning. Among those participating in the Christmas Eve festivities that year were 18 year old Mae Congleton in Evening Dress and 19 year old John Taeuffer dressed as a School Boy. About four years later these two young people would be married.
MORE CHANGES ON THE FARM
Tragedy struck on Saturday, November 7th, 1896 when fire destroyed the two-story home on Bailhache Avenue where John Call had established the family farm in 1874. The fire started between 8:00 pm and 9:00 pm when all members of the family were in town. Neighbor Peter Schmidt discovered the blaze and all the neighbors joined in the effort to remove as many of the Wilson’s possessions as possible before the house was completely engulfed. The reason given that firemen were not called to fight the blaze was that the house was located so far from town. The assumption was made that the origin of the fire was a defective stove pipe in the kitchen. The newspaper estimated the loss of the building and contents at $2,000 and reported that there was insurance in the amount of $1,000.
Work began quickly to replace the Wilson home. The firm of Pierce & Holmes was retained to build a $900 cottage on the property. And in March 1897, Al Wilson and family moved into their new cottage on Bailhache Avenue to make yet another fresh start.
The nineteenth century had provided many adventures for Agnes Vanderwalker Call Congleton Wilson, but she was really just getting started. As the new century dawned, she and Albert began their involvement with a different fraternal organization when in June of 1900 Albert was elected Master of the Work for Friendship Lodge, No 91, Knights of Pythias. The friendships forged at this lodge would last throughout their lifetimes.
In October 1900 the couple’s friends surprised them with a traditional tin ware party to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary. Among the guests sharing in the festive occasion were Mrs. Charles Wickham, Mrs. Lou Barnes, Sophie Taeuffer, Mrs. Kennel and daughter, Katherine Grabner, Anita Fitch, Anna Lannon, Mrs. Andy Greaver, Mary Call and Agnes’ former sisters-in-law, Jenny Cook and Sarah Greaver.
A FRESH CENTURY DAWNS
By mid-1900, Agnes’ son Claude Congleton had moved to San Francisco and was working as a laborer at a Mineral Springs. In March of 1902, her daughter Mae Congleton married John Taeuffer and moved into the new home he had built for her on the Taeuffer Ranch on Magnolia Drive. Grandma Mary Call was slowing down and Agnes and Albert were settling in to the idea of enjoying their empty nest.
But that was not to be. In late 1902, 41 year old Agnes discovered that she and Albert were going to have a baby. The twentieth century was starting out with another new beginning for Agnes.
Sonoma Democrat: 24 January 1874
Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar; 11 January 1894, 22 February 1894, 15 August 1895, 10 October 1895, 26 December 1895, 10 December 1896, 7 January 1897, 9 December 1897, 30 December 1897, 17 February 1898, 14 April 1898, 2 June 1898, 6 October 1898, 18 January 1899, 25 March 1949,
Russian River Flag: 16 June 1881,
Sonoma County Tribune; 30 October 1890, 27 October 1892
Healdsburg Tribune; 12 November 1896, 25 March 1897, 1 November 1900, 6 March 1902
Hollister Free Lance; 13 July 1894
Great Register of Sonoma County, 1892
Early Oregonians Database Index, Oregon State Archives, Salem, Oregon
1870 US Census
1880 US Census
1900 US Census
Free and Accepted Masons Records of the State of California
Oak Mound Cemetery Index Cards, Healdsburg Museum http://www.stichingargus.nt
In 1977, when the mini-series “Roots” took America by storm, thousands of people adopted a new hobby called genealogy. And Maria Buchignani Taeuffer was one of them. One of her first steps was to interview some of the oldest members of her family that she could find. This precious snippet of conversation with her aunt, Louise Giorgi DalColletto, was recorded sometime in the late 1970s and allows us to hear the voice of our beloved Aunt Louise/Nonna one more time…
Maria never had the opportunity to investigate the family members that Louise talked about, but her cousin Frank Belluomini did. He worked with Monica DiPiero at the L’Ufficale dello Stato Civile in the Comune di Villa Basilica to discover the Giorgi family of Boveglio. When he and his family visited the small village in 1998 they were welcomed with open arms.
During that visit Frank was delighted to meet his first cousin once removed, Orazio Cesari, the priest Louise corresponded with. Monsignor Cesari drove the Belluomini family around the area regaling them with family stories – unfortunately all in Italian. The way Frank tells the story of how fast Father Cesari navigated around the narrow, winding, often unpaved mountain roads makes me think that, despite her denials, the motorcycle Louise mentioned may have indeed been his!
The photo below, given to Frank by the Italian branch of the family, is of Louise’s grandparents, Giacinto Giorgi and Daria Ferrari (seated) with their two daughters, Genovieffa and Mustiola (Giacomo Giorgi’s younger sisters who Louise talks about in the interview).
Frank has written a wonderful book detailing his findings, “The Giorgi Family of Boveglio, Lucca, Italy, An Album of Genealogy and Memories, La Nostra Storia.” You will be able to read some of those stories in a future post.
Below is the family of Giacinto Giorgi and Daria Ferrari with the people Louise mentioned highlighted. All of the three brothers who survived into adulthood; Giacomo, Massimo, and Giovanni emigrated to the United States. Their stories will also be detailed in future posts.
Interview between Maria Buchignani Taeuffer and Louise Giorgi DalColletto circa 1978
Monica DiPiero, L’Ufficale dello Stato Civile, Comune di Villa Basilica
“The Giorgi Family of Boveglio, Lucca, Italy, An Album of Genealogy and Memories, La Nostra Storia” by Frank S. Belluomini
Photos from collection of Frank S. Belluomini
My great great grandmother began her life on February 14, 1861 in the tiny snow-bound village of Moscow, Minnesota as Agnes Vanderwalker. Sadly, her mother, Clarinda Stokes Vanderwalker, died in childbirth leaving her father, Isaac Vanderwalker, with six young children. When the Civil War broke out two months later, he decided it would be best to hand the infant over into the care of a local couple who wanted to expand their family. And after being adopted by John and Mary Call who, in 1870, relocated to a farm on Bailhache Avenue outside of Healdsburg, California, Agnes Vanderwalker Call did enjoy an idyllic childhood. [More details here.]
TEENAGERS IN 19TH CENTURY HEALDSBURG
In November 1876, a few months before Agnes’ sixteenth birthday, the Healdsburg Amateur Minstrel Club put on their first show to rave reviews. Many of the townspeople attended the event held to benefit the local library. The show was repeated the next month, this time followed by a dance which lasted past midnight. If Agnes was there, her eye would surely have been drawn to rakish eighteen year-old George Congleton who was playing the Mr. Bones character.
Young George Washington Congleton had been born May 26, 1858 in Petaluma where he lived until the sudden death of his father, John E. Congleton, in January 1863. By 1870, the family had relocated and the widow Almira Almy Congleton was living in Healdsburg with her new husband Sebre Gustin Burgess. Twelve year old George Congleton was living with a tenant farmer in nearby Washington Township where he attended school. By this time his older siblings were all married and living in various parts of Northern California.
Agnes spent her sixteenth year establishing herself in Healdsburg Society. She attended numerous parties along with other young people from locally prominent families and joined the Charity Temple, No. 14, of Junior Templars, serving on the Executive Committee. She even represented the local temple at that organization’s 1877 regional meeting.
A HASTY MARRIAGE
Meanwhile, the Healdsburg Amateur Minstrel Club continued to present shows at various venues around Healdsburg throughout 1877 and George Congleton’s name was always prominently displayed in the reviews. In February 1878, Agnes Call turned seventeen. A few months later she discovered that she was pregnant. In 1878 there was only one thing that could happen next.
The Healdsburg Enterprise reported on their September 8, 1878 Bailhache Avenue wedding in a manner that reflected the devil-may-care personality of the groom, offering special congratulations in appreciation for the wedding cake that had been provided to the newspaper staff.
On February 14, 1879 Lula Mae Congleton was born on her mother Agnes’ eighteenth birthday. The young family moved in with George’s mother, Almira Burgess, now widowed for the second time, in her house on Sherman Street in Healdsburg. Just over a year later, on May 21, 1880, little Mae was joined by a brother, John Easley Congleton, named after his grandfather. Their father, George, was making a living as an apprentice to a painter, specifically a carriage painter.
THE FUN NEVER STOPS
On December 4, 1881, just eighteen months after Johnny Congleton had been born, a second son, Aden “Porter” Claude Congleton, joined the family. Three weeks later, on December 26, 1881, George left his wife and their three children (a 2 year-old, an 18 month-old, and a three week-old), at home to kick up his heels at the grand masquerade ball given by Healdsburg Post 16, G.A.R., at Powell’s Theater. The evening was reportedly a great success and many prizes were awarded for the best costumes and dancers, although, sadly, George’s monkey costume did not win a prize that night.
The fun did not end for Agnes’ husband, as the following May 1882 found him enjoying the huge picnic at Hasset’s Grove held by the Turn Verein and Firemen of Petaluma that was attended by 3,000 people. The day-long program included foot races, a tug-of-war, weight lifting, shooting and equestrian competitions. George Congleton won the Firemen’s prize for running 175 yards. The day was capped off with a dazzling dance that evening in Petaluma. There is no indication that Agnes was there to enjoy the festivities.
PURSUIT OF GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT
By all accounts, George’s wagon painting business seemed to be doing well when in July 1882 the Russian River Flag reported that he may soon be taking over the E.B. McWilliams’ sign-painting business on West Street across from the flouring mill. However, there was no further mention of the deal ever going through to fruition. Then six months later, in January 1883, George’s first publicized brush with the law occurred when he was sentenced to 60 days in jail for disturbing the peace and resisting an officer.
Soon after his release, George contracted with J.H. Biggs to build a peddler’s wagon that was to be stocked by W.L. Griffith, which George planned to drive throughout the countryside selling merchandise. But again, there was no further mention of this scheme which would indicate that the deal had ever gone through. By now Agnes had her hands full raising 4-year old Mae, 3-year old Johnny, and 16-month old Claude.
MORE TROUBLE WITH THE LAW
The next serious brush with the law came in January 1884 when George Congleton was arrested and fined for driving over the 6-mph speed limit established by the newly-adopted charter for the City of Healdsburg. He refused to pay the fine and was jailed. A writ of habeas corpus was successfully processed and George was released, only to be picked up the following month in Petaluma and sentenced to 90 days in jail for again resisting arrest.
Meanwhile, long-suffering Agnes had begun taking in seamstress work to keep her young family fed and the rent on their Piper Street house paid. That house was conveniently located just about a block away from the saloon district where George was known to spend a good deal of his time. On one occasion, when one of her sons was ill, Agnes walked to the saloon to obtain some whiskey that she hoped would ease his suffering. There she found George, in a state of drunkenness.
By the time that 1885 rolled around, George had left Agnes and the children and had set up housekeeping with a prostitute named Carrie. The pair was soon expelled from town by the local constabulary on a charge of vagrancy. Reportedly they headed North to Lakeport where Carrie opened a house of ill repute. When that establishment burned to the ground, they left Lakeport, passing through Healdsburg on their way to points South. George stopped in long enough to visit Agnes and to inform her that he was living the life of an idle gentleman at Carrie’s expense.
FREE AT LAST
Meanwhile, Agnes continued to support herself and her children as best she could. In addition to her work as a seamstress she was now going out to clean people’s houses. And she was saving up every spare penny for the day she would be able to break free.
In the 1880s, a man could sue his wife for divorce claiming a number of grounds including adultery and cruelty. But the only grounds for divorce that a woman was allowed to claim was desertion. And there was a year-long waiting period.
By the end of 1886, Agnes had been abandoned for the requisite year, but she needed to retain the services of an attorney. In addition to the attorney fees, she also would have to pay the Sheriff to serve papers on the defendant. Since by this time George Congleton was living in Santa Clara County, there would be the added cost for the Sheriff’s travel.
In the 1870s, Healdsburg native William Francis Russell had attended grammar school at Mill Creek and had completed High School at Alexander Academy with distinction. He had then obtained his law degree in Ventura County. In early 1884 he set out his shingle across the street from the County Courthouse in Santa Rosa and began looking for clients among his Healdsburg friends. In 1887 he agreed to represent Agnes in her action against husband George. Finally, on July 20, 1887, Agnes Call Congleton was able to file for a divorce.
Agnes testified in her own behalf, relating the sometimes lurid details of her experience with married life. Her friend Vesta F. Clark, respected local matron active in the Pythian Sisters, also testified for Agnes, confirming that she had a good reputation and was a good and devoted mother to her children. A neighbor and friend of defendant George, Jess King, also testified. He confirmed that his friend, George Congleton, had told him he was living with the woman known as Carrie. He agreed that Agnes had a good reputation and was attached to her children. And although he indicated that George was good as far as his work went, he also testified that his morality was very poor. Although the court records are clear that the Santa Clara Sheriff had successfully served George Congleton with the divorce summons, George did not bother to appear or to respond in any way.
On October 3, 1887, Judge Thomas Rutledge decreed that the marriage between Agnes L. Congleton and George W. Congleton was dissolved and that Agnes would be granted the care, custody and control of the minor children.
Tragically, Agnes would not have been in any mood to celebrate her newfound independence because on August 9, 1887, while the court case against her husband was still pending, their seven year-old son Johnny Congleton had died unexpectedly.
Agnes had really been put through the wringer for the better part of ten years. Now she was a 26 year-old single mother with two young children to raise. But she was made of strong stock and was not about to give up. She possessed the resilience to begin anew. Before long she would find the love of her life who would partner with her to raise her children and she would rejoin Healdsburg Society with her head held high. She would even be able to parlay the expert sewing skills that she had honed in order to keep their heads above water during the tough times into a source of enjoyment and camaraderie in later life.
Agnes Wilson Death Certificate
Taylor-DeGood Cemetery in Moscow, Minnesota
Isaac Vanderwalker Civil War Pension File 297,775
1870 U.S. Census
1880 U.S. Census
Free and Accepted Mason Records from California, May 1863
Court Transcript, Agnes L. Congleton vs. George W. Congleton, October 3, 1887, Sonoma County Book C, Page 181
Extreme Genes – America’s Family History and Genealogy Radio Show & Podcast, Episode 162, Judy Russell, “The Legal Genealogist,” On Divorce in the 19th Century
Daily Evening Bulletin, San Francisco: 3 June 1858
Russian River Flag: 27 June 1872, 2 November 1876, 7 December 1876, 4 January 1877, 8 February 1877, 15 March 1877, 19 April 1877, 29 November 1877, 3 June 1880, 8 December 1881, 29 December 1881, 13 July 1882, 20 July 1882, 26 April 1883, 6 December 1883, 24 January 1884, 14 February 1884, 6 March 1884, 17 April 1884
Healdsburg Enterprise: 12 September 1878, 22 May 1879, 18 December 1879, 27 May 1880, 12 August 1887
Sacramento Daily Union: 16 September 1878, 25 February 1879
Petaluma Daily Argus: 4 June 1880
Sonoma Democrat: 29 May 1880, 10 December 1881, 13 May 1882, 27 January 1883, 26 January 1884, 9 February 1884
Petaluma Courier: 14 December 1881
In October 1903, Eugenia Selestine Hoar, daughter of Benjamin Franklin and Eugenia Chichester Hoar of Healdsburg married A. Claude Congleton, son of Agnes Call Congleton Wilson of Bailhache Avenue. The young couple set up housekeeping in Healdsburg and on February 13, 1905 their son Claude Franklin Congleton was born. Eugenia, better known as Jennie or Birdie, and baby Claude kept the home fires burning while Daddy Claude was away working as a brakeman for the Railroad.
Tragedy struck the young family early on when, in December 1906, just one day before his twenty-fifth birthday, A. Claude was killed while working on the train to Eureka, California. Little Claude F. was not even two years old at the time, so he never got the chance to know his father.
AN EXTENDED FAMILY
In June 1909, when Claude was six, his mother married George Taeuffer, who was the
brother-in-law of her late husband’s sister, Mae Congleton Taeuffer. George soon took Claude under his wing and made him a part of the Taeuffer family. In May 1910, the Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar reported that “George Taeuffer and son, Claude, returned to their home over on the West Side Monday after a stay of two weeks with Mr. and Mrs. E. Taeuffer.”
Luckily for Claude, he had two cousins and an aunt who were close to him in age. Cousins Ernest and Dorothy Taeuffer were three years and one year older, respectively. His aunt Helen Wilson was just two years older. The four children were inseparable. Fancy parties were held frequently, particularly for the little girls. In 1910, for example, Dorothy Taeuffer hosted a party for her little friends where “chocolate, bread and butter and cake were served in her own wee dishes.” Birthday parties typically included favors or souvenirs for all in attendance in addition to the traditional cake and ice cream.
In 1912 when Claude was seven, his half-brother, George Edwin Taeuffer was born. Possibly in an effort to give the new mother a little break, Claude began being included in excursions with his grandparents, Agnes and Albert Wilson. In 1913 he enjoyed a two-week trip to the Wilson’s cottage in Jenner along with his aunt Helen. The John Taeuffer family including young Ernest and Dorothy joined the group for a portion of that seaside vacation.
A PROPHETIC NICKNAME
The popular comic strip “Buster Brown”, depicting a conservatively dressed boy who behaved mischievously, created in 1902 by Richard F. Outcault for the New York Herald was in its heyday when Claude was a child. The recurring theme of the comic was that each time the naughty Buster’s misdeeds were discovered he would always promise to behave better, but of course he never did. Claude’s mother chose to dress her son in the style of Buster Brown and he would soon become known by that nickname. The name was so pervasive that his cousin, Mildred Harris Farrell, who was only three when Claude died, would recall it seventy years later.
Claude’s experience in grammar school was a mixture of academic struggle and extracurricular fun. He was held back in the second grade and his promotion from fifth to sixth grade was only “conditional.” Yet he participated in the Healdsburg Grammar School Bazaar Mother Goose Pageant held in June 1916 performing “Sing a Song of Sixpence” as part of a chorus of 4th graders and then again as part of the 5th grade “Tinker’s Chorus” the following May. He also recited “Spare That Tree” at the Burbank and Arbor Day Program celebrating both Luther Burbank’s birthday and Arbor Day in March 1918.
His mischievous behavior started catching up to him when in April 1917 it was reported in the newspaper that Deputy Game Warden Henry Lencioni had caught twelve-year old Claude and his friend Fred Mason on Mill Creek fishing before the season had opened. The boys were in possession of a total of 163 trout which were confiscated and taken to the Detention Home were the children there reportedly enjoyed a fine fish dinner. The incident even made it into the California Fish and Game Commission Report for the year where parents were warned that such behavior by youngsters would no longer be tolerated on account of their “tender years” and offenders would be prosecuted without exception.
In June 1920, Claude completed grammar school and was promoted to high school. But academics were not in his future. The following month, at the age of fifteen, he traveled to San Francisco with his mother and step-father to enlist in the U.S. Navy.
THE NAVY WILL MAKE A MAN OUT OF HIM
On July 20, 1920, Claude F. Congleton enlisted in the U.S. Navy for a period of three years. Because he was not yet eighteen, his mother had to sign a consent form. Claude was actually only fifteen at the time, which was apparently too young for enlistment. So Birdie Taeuffer signed an oath swearing that his birth year was 1903 rather than 1905, which would have made him seventeen. At the time he was described as being 5 feet 6 inches tall, 139 lb., with light brown eyes, brown hair and a ruddy complexion. On his insurance paperwork he listed his mother Birdie Taeuffer and his brother George Edwin Taeuffer as his beneficiaries.
After enlistment at the Naval Recruitment Station in San Francisco, California, Claude traveled to the Navel Training Station at Great Lakes, Illinois, arriving on July 31st. There he began his training as an Apprentice Seaman.
On October 11, 1920 Claude began his first assignment on the USS Prairie in San Diego. The ship was originally built in 1890 to be an ocean liner. It was acquired by the U.S. Navy in 1898 and re-fitted. It then would be decommissioned and recommissioned three times before the U.S. entered the Great War in 1917 at which point it was converted into a destroyer tender. Claude served aboard her until her final decommissioning in November 1922. At that time, he was transferred onto the USS Neches where he served the remainder of his 3-year hitch. The USS Neches was a much more modern ship having been commissioned in late 1920.
Claude’s Navy service record does not indicate that he received any academic training nor did he receive any training in small arms or rifles. He did, however, get into a number of scrapes with various offences listed including; being out of uniform, AWOL for a few hours, gambling, using obscene language, wearing a dirty uniform at inspection, repeatedly absent from muster and for sporting a “non-regulation haircut.” His punishments for these offences included being fined, being put on restriction, and even a day of solitary confinement. Considering the fact that he was a 15 to 18 year old boy away from home for the first time in his life, these behaviors could pretty much all fall into the category of youthful transgressions.
But in spite of the list of errors he made, at the end of his 3-year stint, on July 19, 1923 Claude F. Congleton received an honorable discharge with the rank of Seaman 2nd Class and a recommendation for reenlistment. He was discharged at Port Angeles, Washington and given funds to pay for his transportation back to his point of enlistment, San Francisco.
FALLING IN WITH THE WRONG CROWD
After leaving the Navy, Claude made his way from Washington State back to Healdsburg where he just didn’t seem to be able to stay out of trouble. His name was back in the newspaper when in 1925 he was called before the Justice of the Peace on a charge of driving with no tail light.
It was soon thereafter when he found work at the Healdsburg Concrete Pipe Company. Nevertheless, he apparently could not resist the lure of easy money. The state fishing commission suspected that a gang of salmon poachers was operating on the Russian River at that time. It would turn out that Claude was among their number. This choice would prove to be the worst one of Claude’s life.
On the evening of Saturday, December 18, 1926 Claude drove a borrowed Nash roadster to the Tucker Street home of his boss at the concrete plant, Alfred Sousa. He and his friend known only as Shipp had been drinking. They convinced Sousa to drive them to the Grant gravel plant shed about 100 yards upstream from the railroad bridge on the Russian River. There they were met by several other young men, including Delano Grant, in a Ford coupe. Around 11:00 pm Claude proceeded to the shore of the river and got into a small rowboat without oars, determined to collect the illegal net they had set in the river several hours earlier to catch salmon. Sousa tried to dissuade him, urging him to wait for the morning. But it was to no avail, and the young man pushed off into the river. In a few minutes those on the shore heard a splash. A hurried search yielded the empty boat, but no Claude, and it was suggested that perhaps he had crawled to shore and gone home.
Around 12:30 am, Alfred Sousa went to the North Street home of Claude’s parents, George and Birdie Taeuffer, to inform them of the evening’s events. It was 2:00 am when the police were notified. They proceeded immediately to the river where they found the rowboat with the weighted fishing net pulled most of the way inside, lodged against snags and willows under the highway bridge, but no sign of Claude.
At first light on Sunday morning, the search began in earnest. Six local men probed the river with poles, working their way from the railroad bridge to the highway bridge. When that search was unsuccessful, the river was dragged with a net for more than 200 yards. Nat Pettenfill was one of the men who spent all day Sunday working at the river with a ten-foot pole. He returned to his gruesome task the next day and finally, at 9:30 am Monday, Nat Pettenfill of Front Street hooked the coat worn by Claude and pulled his lifeless body to shore.
The Coroner’s inquest was held that afternoon at the funeral parlors of Fred Young & Company. Henry Lencioni, now Captain of the county game wardens, who had arrested Claude nine years earlier for fishing out of season, came up from Santa Rosa to confiscate the net, which would later be destroyed. Other agents of the Fishing Commission scrutinized the crowd in an effort to identify members of the alleged salmon poaching gang. The inquest concluded with a determination that the cause of death had been accidental drowning. The newspapers were full of the grizzly details of the story and the Healdsburg Tribune even went so far as to point out that Claude’s death had come exactly 20 years to the month after his father’s violent death by the train. On Wednesday, December 22, 1926, twenty-one year-old Claude F. Congleton was laid to rest in Oak Mound Cemetery beside his father.
Although there may not have been any great accomplishments that can be attributed to Claude F. Congleton during his short life, it is worth noting that he did receive one posthumous honor. He must have made an impression on his younger half-brother because in 1942 Ed Taeuffer would name his first-born son in memory of his late brother, Claude.
California Marriages, 1850 – 1952
Healdsburg California Death Certificates, 1905 – 1915 http://www.britannia.com
Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar: 5 January 1910, 25 May 1910, 10 July 1913, 23 June 1917, 26 April 1917,
Healdsburg Enterprise: 18 June 1910, 1 June 1912, 15 June 1912, 10 August 1912, 12 October 1912, 12 June 1913, 30 May 1914, 10 June 1916, 12 May 1917, 9 March 1918, 26 June 1920, 24 July 1920, 23 December 1926
Healdsburg Tribune: 15 October 1925, 20 December 1926, 21 December 1926
Sotoyome Scimitar: 21 December 1926
California Fish and Game Commission Report 1917
Conversation with Mildred Harris Farrell
Navy Service Record for Claude Franklin Congleton
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships
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.
1841 Scotland Census, Ancestry.com
1870 US Census
1905 Minnesota State Census
Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, Vol. XIV, Minnesota Biographies 1655 – 1912
California Great Registers, 1866 – 1910, Ancestry.com
Geological and Natural History Survey of Minnesota – Fifth Annual Report – 1876, Google Books
Remembrances of Helen Wilson Peterson as told to Maria Buchignani Taeuffer
California Digital Newspaper Collection: Russian River Flag; 25 August 1870, 2 November 1871, 23 November 1871, 9 December 1875, 5 October 1876, 19 October 1876, 7 December 1876, 1 February 1877, 29 March 1877, 17 May 1877, 24 May 1877, 31 May 1877
California Digital Newspaper Collection: Sonoma Democrat; 5 May 1877
California Digital Newspaper Collection: Healdsburg Tribune; 31 May 1911
California Digital Newspaper Collection: Sonoma County Tribune; 27 October 1892
Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub: Mower County Register; 9 January 1868
Marriage certificate for George W. Congleton and Agnes Lula Call
Richard Buchignani was 17 years old when he graduated from Healdsburg High School in June of 1942. His first order of business was to begin his attempts to join the military so that he could participate directly in the war effort. He was able to get his mother, Eva Giorgi Buchignani, to sign his under-age application to join the Coast Guard on July 7, 1942. While he waited for that to be processed, he took a job at the shipbuilding facility on Mare Island in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Coast Guard did not avail themselves of the opportunity to induct Richard, so in January 1943 he applied to the local draft board in Healdsburg for voluntary induction into the Navy. But apparently, he did not fit the bill for them either.
Richard Buchignani’s military career finally began in April 1943 when he was inducted into the Army Air Force. He first reported to Laredo, Texas and was then sent to the Army Air Force Technical School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for basic training.
After completion of basic training, Richard was sent to the Army Air field in Tonopah, Nevada in December 1943 to receive training in aerial bombardment aboard a B24 Liberator Bomber. There he met the crew he would serve with in combat. After three months of training, the crew was sent to Hamilton Field near Novato, California. Richard was able to take a short leave to visit with his family in San Francisco and Healdsburg before deploying overseas.
Richard and the rest of the crew joined the 31st Bombardment Group in the South Pacific in early June 1944. After quickly completing their combat training missions in the area, they began flying extended missions against Yap Island in the Caroline Islands on June 27th. It would not be long before their focus shifted to the Palau Island, relocating to a crude tent city on Wakde Island. Each time they relocated their accommodations became increasingly primitive.
In September 1944, the Americans were determined to destroy the oil refineries on Balikpapan that the Japanese Army needed in order to repel an American invasion of the Philippine Islands. So the squadron moved to Noemfoor Island to shorten the distance to their target. The accommodations there were even worse than on Wakde.
Despite the move, the 2,600 mile round trip that the team would have to travel to reach their target was still well beyond what their planes were rated for. All extraneous weight was eliminated from the planes in an effort to maximize their chances of making it back to the temporary field which had been hastily built on the Island of Morotai located about half-way between their target and their home base.
Twenty-four B24s participated in the September 30th raid on Balikpapan. Three did not make it back, including Richard’s. The final transmission received from their plane put them over islands that were controlled by the Japanese. Search parties conducted over the following three days did not reveal any trace of the crew or plane.
The 31st Bombardment Group conducted four more missions against the Balikpapan oil refineries over the following weeks. These raids destroyed the factories and enabled the eventual success of General Douglas McArthur’s return to the Philippines.
Healdsburg High School 1942 Yearbook
Buchignani Family Ephemeral
Richard Buchignani’s service record: National Personnel Records Center, St. Louise, MO
“Courage Before Every Danger, Honor Before All Men” by Joanne Pfannenstiel Emerick 2010
Missing Air Crew Report: Fold3.com
John and Mae Congleton Taeuffer started their married life on March 2, 1902. They set up housekeeping on the Magnolia Drive ranch located south of Healdsburg where John had grown up and where his father, Ernest Taeuffer, still farmed. The couple’s first child was a son, born November 11, 1902. They named him Ernest Louis Taeuffer, after both his grandfather and his late uncle.
When Ernest was just seven months old, his grandmother, Agnes Call Congleton Wilson, gave birth to his aunt, Helen Wilson. A year later, in 1904, his sister, Dorothy Agnes Taeuffer was born. And a year after that, in 1905, his Aunt Birdie Hoar Congleton, gave birth to his cousin, Claude Congleton. These four children who were a mixture of siblings, cousins, and an aunt would spend much of their formative years together as a group.
In the early 20th Century, the first eight years of education were lumped together under an umbrella called Grammar School. Children were grouped according to their progress rather than strictly by age. In 1911, Ernest, Dorothy, and Helen, despite having an age range from 7 to 9 years old, were all in the same “High First Grade” class at Healdsburg Grammar School. As the years went by, Ernest and Helen pulled ahead of Dorothy, as would be expected due to their being older. Claude followed along just a grade or two behind his older cousins. In 1817, at fourteen, Ernest would graduate from Grammar School and head for High School.
Birthday parties for the little ones was a popular pastime in the early 1910s. In June of 1912 the group of four attended not one, but two fancy parties with ice cream, cake, and “dainty little favors” or “souvenirs” to commemorate first Dorothy Taeuffer’s eighth birthday on Magnolia Drive and two weeks later Helen Wilson’s ninth birthday on Bailhache Avenue. Ernest attended a similar birthday party in February 1913 honoring one of this classmates, Miss Leota Van Devere in Dry Creek.
But birthdays were not the only excuse for a party. The extended family and neighbors took pretty much every opportunity to have a gathering. The party may have been for a special occasion, such as John and Mae Taeuffer’s tenth wedding anniversary in 1912 or simply a gathering to play progressive whist (a card game similar to bridge). And the little ones were always included. Many evenings spent playing progressive whist at the Taeuffer’s, the Wilson’s, and various neighbors of both families were reported in the local newspapers. In all cases, the evening would last until refreshments were served around the midnight hour. For the most part these events took place on Saturday nights. But not on school nights.
THE WORLD CHANGES
In 1917 a new type of story began receiving high visibility in the local newspapers – the bond drives organized to finance the United States entry into the Great War. Both Ernest L. and his sister Dorothy were listed as bond subscribers for the four drives held in June 1917, October 1917, April 1918, and October 1918. These official U.S. “Liberty Loan” bond drives were augmented by the YMCA Drive in December 1917 and the United War Work Campaign in November 1918. Ernest Taeuffer’s donations to both of these drives conducted at Healdsburg High School were also documented in the local press.
HEALDSBURG HIGH SCHOOL
Attending High School in Healdsburg in 1918 was an exciting adventure. In September the Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar reported that the entire faculty was engaged in registering pupils to begin school in the newly constructed high school on Grant Street which would open on September 30th. They reported that “as the floors of the new high school building were hardly ready for the tread of many feet, the work of enrollment was performed at the old building on Fitch street.” The total enrollment would be 172; 4 Specials, 25 Seniors, 32 Juniors, 45 Sophomores (including Ernest), and 66 Freshmen.
High School provided the opportunity for Ernest to participate in several extracurricular activities. As a Junior in 1919, he played in the newly formed band led by Professor Numberger. The band entertained their fellow students at lunchtime, playing music at noon, however, as Principal Morehead announced at the February assembly, “NO dancing would be allowed as the health authorities will not allow it.” It was, after all, the time of the influenza pandemic.
That same year right fielder Ernest Taeuffer was unanimously elected captain of the baseball team. That baseball team, however, only won one out of the four games played. They did, however, beat the prior year’s record, when the local team lost every game. They could be forgiven, of course, since in 1918 there had not even been a diamond at the new high school for them to practice on!
But Ernest did not allow his extracurricular activities to deter him from his studies. In December 1917 he was listed in the Honor Roll category “None below C” and in February 1918 in the category “One below B.” In March 1919 they dispensed with the categories and he was simply listed as having made the Honor Roll as a Sophomore. His scholastic efforts were rewarded when he was able to complete his High School education in just three years to graduate with the Class of 1920.
In the 1920 Ye Sotoyome Yearbook, Ernest’s Class Horoscope indicated that his nickname was “Earney,” his favorite expression “Yep!” his hobby “Selling stocks,” his ambition “Broker,” and his destiny “Lawyer.” He was once again captain of the baseball team, still paying right field. The team did not have a good winning record, but they did have “a swell new outfit of suits.” The yearbook also made note that “Influenza visited our town this year and gave us several weeks vacation not saying how much hard work we had to make up. We can consider ourselves lucky that we did not have to wear those horrid masks this year.”
Ernest graduated Healdsburg High School in June 1920 with 33 other scholars, one of the largest graduating classes in the history of the school. The ceremony was held in the auditorium and was celebrated with a program including musical numbers and an address by Professor C.E. Rough of the University of California. A reception for the graduates along with their parents and friends followed the program.
After high school, Ernest spent his time working with his father and grandfather on the Magnolia Drive ranch. But farm work was not enough to keep him completely out of mischief. In March 1923 Game Warden Henry Lencioni arrested him for illegally fishing for steelhead trout out of season on Dry Creek. The fine imposed by the justice court in Santa Rosa was $25. A pretty high price for some admittedly delicious trout.
LOVE ENTERS THE PICTURE
In 1921, Bird and Virgie Garrett relocated from Ukiah to upper Dry Creek with their four sons and four daughters. Their eldest daughter, pretty and vivacious seventeen year old Mae Garrett immediately caught Ernest Taeuffer’s eye. In August 1922 Ernest and his sister Dorothy attended a “forfeit” party thrown by Mae Garrett and in that same month all attended a birthday party for one of Mae’s Dry Creek neighbors. Still in August, Mae joined Ernest and Dorothy, their little brother Norman, parents John and Mae Taeuffer, and Dorothy’s sweetheart George Harris on a hunting trip. The two families became close very quickly with the three Taeuffer siblings visiting the Garretts’ home in Dry Creek and two of Mae’s brothers, Walter and Harry, even spending the summer on the Taeuffer ranch.
Meanwhile, a tall, lanky stranger who had come to town to work on the bridge construction turned out to be too charming for Dorothy Taeuffer to resist, so after completing just two years of high school, she married George Harris in October 1922. Ernest Taeuffer and Mae Garrett served as their best man and bridesmaid. Everyone assumed they would be the next couple to be joined in holy matrimony.
The parties continued into 1923 when, in April, the Taeuffer, Harris, and Garrett families all attended a multi-generational masquerade party in Dry Creek. Two months later Mae Garrett graduated from Healdsburg High School. That November, Ernest celebrated his 21st birthday. He received a handsome pocket watch to mark his having reached adulthood.
Tragedy struck a month before Ernest’s 22nd birthday. In September 1924, Ernest’s fifteen month old nephew Bobby Harris was suffering with a bout of the dreaded poliomyelitis virus. Bobby would survive his illness with only one unusually small foot to show for it. In children, paralysis would occur for only about one out of every thousand afflicted. The rate in adults, on the other hand, was one in seventy-five. The virus lives in the throat and intestines and is spread through waste, or sneezes and coughs. The contagious period lasts about 7 to 10 days from onset and the incubation period is anywhere from one to three weeks. Family members could act as unwitting carriers. Caring for an infant with the virus was a hazardous undertaking, indeed.
It was not long before Ernest fell ill with what initially seemed like a bout of the flu which, in those times, was not a trivial ailment in itself. The October 7 edition of the Healdsburg Tribune reported that Ernest was at home suffering from an attack of influenza. Two days later the Tribune reported that he was in critical condition.
Quickly, the diagnosis would take a more serious turn. Like his tiny nephew, Ernest had contracted polio, specifically bulbar polio which attacks the medulla oblongata (brain stem). Within three days of onset patients will exhibit difficulty swallowing, speaking and breathing. This was the case with Ernest and it was only a few days before he became paralyzed. Just before dawn on October 10th, Ernest Taeuffer perished.
There was an outpouring of grief from the town. The October 10 Tribune reported “Just attaining to man’s estate, Ernest Taeuffer counted among his scores of friends not only those of this own age, but his elders as well. He was a carefree young man of amiable disposition, with a smiling greeting for all that had made him widely loved in the community where he made his home.”
The funeral service was held from the Fred Young parlors with Rev. D.J. Donnan officiating. It was “attended by scores of relatives and close friends of the deceased and his family, and a great offering of flowers was made it tribute to the memory of the youth.” Ernest was laid to rest in Healdsburg’s Oak Mound Cemetery.
As the October 16 Healdsburg Enterprise stated “Ernest Taeuffer… was called by the Angel of Death Friday morning, after an illness of but a few days. Apparently in the best of health, the young man was suddenly stricken with infantile paralysis and all that medical science could do was of no avail.” Indeed, even in the 21st Century there is no cure for polio. The treatment is still just bed rest, pain relievers, portable ventilators, and a nutritious diet. It would be 31 years after Ernest’s death before the first polio vaccine would become available and mothers could cease their annual worry.
Ernest’s death may have prevented Mae Garrett from becoming an official Taeuffer, but she would be known within the family as “Aunt Mae” for the rest of her life. In 1926 she served as Helen Wilson Frey’s maid of honor at her marriage to Redding Peterson. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s she would attend many of the celebrations and parties held on Magnolia Drive, and even traveled on vacations with the Taeuffer family.
After high school, Mae had started working as secretary for Principal Morehead of the Healdsburg High School. In 1927, he took a job as Vice Principal at the larger high school in Monterey, California. When he was promoted to Principal two years later, Mae moved to Monterey to take a position as secretary and stenographer for her former boss.
Mae continued in that role for many years. But she did not forget her “family” in Healdsburg. In December 1944 Mae brought San Franciscan Don McKillop to Healdsburg for a visit with Dorothy Taeuffer Harris. The couple would soon be married. They adopted a son, Ronald, in the late 1940s and relocated to Diamond Springs, California where Don started a roofing business. Years later they returned to Monterey. The visits to and from Healdsburg continued until 1973 when Mae Garrett McKillop passed away due to complications of a life-long heart condition at 68 years of age.
Healdsburg Enterprise: 17 June 1911, 16 March 1912, 28 June 1913, 6 February 1915, 1 May 1915, 13 May 1915, 19 June 1915, 24 June 1916, 23 June 1917, 27 October 1917, 8 December 1917, 20 April 1918. 12 October 1918, 22 December 1917, 9 February 1918, 1 February 1919, 15 March 1919, 26 June 1920, 16 October 1924, 9 June 1927
Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar: 4 July 1912, 10 July 1913, 18 March 1915, 6 May 1915, 15 May 1915, 14 June 1917, 1 November 1917, 18 April 1918, 19 September 1918, 28 November 1918, 31 August 1922, 19 October 1922, 22 March 1923, 1 December 1944, 14 June 1951
Healdsburg Tribune: 22 June 1920, 23 June 1920, 25 June 1920, 11 August 1922, 28 August 1922, 2 April 1923, 7 October 1924, 9 October 1924, 10 October 1924, 14 October 1924, 10 June 1929
Ye Sotoyoman Yearbook 1919
Ye Sotoyoman Yearbook 1920
Ye Sotoyoman Yearbook 1923
Library of Congress
Taeuffer Family Lore