Monday, March 4, 2013

Robert Eccleston (1830-1911) - Founder of Yosemite Valley and Tombstone, Arizona

Gravestone & San Francisco Call obituary photo
PLOT 48, LOT 154

Robert Eccleston (1830-1911), was part of the party credited with discovering Yosemite which he chronicled in a well-known diary.

Eccleston was born on March 4, 1830 in New York City and traveled west during the Gold Rush. He originally settled in an area of the California now known as Butte, Sutter and Place counties and took up mining. He eventually raised cattle in Forbestown in Butte County. While there he married 18-year-old Emily Josephine Young, who had crossed the plains five years earlier.

Eccleston is credited with being one of the founders of Yosemite. He was part of a band of Indian fighters known as the Mariposa Battalion that stumbled into the valley on March 25, 1851* while chasing Indians. The trip into the Valley was so arduous that few tried it again over the next decade despite its amazing natural wonders.

He penned numerous diaries about his experiences and they were compiled into a book entitled “The Mariposa Indian Wars, 1850-1851, The Diaries of Robert Eccleston: The California Gold Rush, Yosemite, and the High Sierra.” They remain one of the best accounts of the early settlements of the period and include illustrations.

Eccleston served with Major James D. Savage under the command of Captain Joseph Kirkpatrick. He tells of Major Savage's remarkable family of twenty-six Indian wives and how he became known as the “Blonde King of the Mariposa’s.” 

Robert Eccleston
His diary recounts their first encounters with Native Americans (who he called “savages”), the customs of the local tribes, local political issues, legal actions to secure property and his wonder at first setting eyes on the spectacular Yosemite valley.

In 1867, Eccleston returned to New York, before heading back west to Arizona around 1870, where for three years he was agent for the Pimo Indians. He was considered one of the founders of Tombstone, Arizona, which in 1881 would become famous for Wyatt Earp and the "Gunfight at the OK Corral." Eccleston was still in Tombstone at the time and probably knew Earp and his brothers, as the town had only 100 people. In 1885, Eccleston and moved to Oregon, where he lived until 1900, when he settled in Oakland for the remainder of his life.

His four sons served as pallbearers at his funeral.

* Some accounts list the date as March 27, 1851 

[Sources: San Francisco Call, Sacramento Daily Union, Oakland Tribune, Eccleston Diaries, Wikipedia]