James Askew, Dairyman

El Dorado County dairies improve with imported cattle

James Askew brings first Jersey cow to the area

Written by Joanne Burkett from research taken from Paolo Sioli's History of El Dorado County California, from El Dorado Co. birth, marriage, death and land records and often from interviews.

Pioneer James Askew introduced the first Jersey cattle to El Dorado County when, in the late 1860s, he set out to improve his dairy stock. Soon, a bull calf, Gen. Grant, and three heifers were imported to him, and in 1870 he took all the premiums for Jersey cattle at the El Dorado County Fair and one ribbon at the California State Fair. The following year, his fine cattle earned three more premiums at the state and county fairs. As many as 15,000 admirers would have the opportunity to see this new-to-California breed during the state fair run. Although new to the area, the Jersey was considered one of the oldest breed of cattle. It was said that the handsome creatures were of purebred stock and boasted a 600 year history.

Originally developed on the Isle of Jersey, a small island in the English Channel, just off the coast of France, the Jersey didn't arrive in the United States until the 1850s. Probably the quality that made them most suited for the California foothills was their exceptional tolerance to heat. It also didn't hurt that they could produce more pounds of milk per pound of body weight that any other breed of dairy cattle.

Askew was born on June 23, 1831, to Christian and Ann Askew near Wakefield, in the county of Yorkshire, England. He attended school until the age of 12 when he went to work for the next five years with his father. They toiled daily on the tow paths of the nearby canals, until, at age 17, James took a job as a mate on one of the canal boats. He would spend the next four years there. However, James was an adventurous soul and on Jan. 1, 1853, he sailed out of Liverpool, England on the Ellen Maria, bound for New Orleans. Upon his arrival two months later, on March 7, he gathered supplies and a few days later, he was on his way to St. Louis, Mo., where he conducted a whirlwind courtship with a young woman named Jane Lodge. She accepted his proposal and on April 3, they were married.

Wasting no time, the young newlyweds set out for California, traveling first to Keokuk, Iowa, an assembly spot, and then on to Kanesville (now Council Bluffs), Iowa. Here they joined up with a party of 40 wagons and headed off across the plains. I wonder if they would have made the journey if they had known they would have to survive a deadly snowstorm, not arriving in Salt Lake City until Oct. 9, destitute and nearly starved to death. And, as if that wasn't enough to bear, Jane gave birth to their first child, Emily Jane on Aug. 7, 1855. The baby died soon after birth

The following year, in Ogden, Utah, she gave birth to James Henry on Nov. 11, 1856. Because it was so late in the year by the time they got there, they were forced to stop and were not able to leave again until March 20, 1857, nearly four years since their departure from St. Louis. Although they were the first wagon train to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains that season, they ended up shoveling their way through the snow on the summit. Finally, on June 4, Askew and his bride arrived in El Dorado, which means "The Gilded One" in Spanish. Maybe this was a good sign.

Joining up with a man called "Uncle John," Askew tried his hand, unsuccessfully, at mining in nearby Latrobe. When that proved to be a catastrophe, he returned to El Dorado, where he worked at both mining and teaming for the mines until 1861, when he had enough to buy a ranch a mile from town. Now, in addition to his mining work, he built up a dairy ranch on his property and was soon supplying the town with milk. John Edward Askew was born on Sept. 29, 1858. On Aug. 1, 1860, Walter Lodge was born. Tragically, he would drown in a mining ditch when he was two years old.

The following year, on Jan. 23, another boy, George William was born and then in Aug. 1866, Herbert was born and died soon after. Always restless, Askew traveled throughout California, looking for a better spot to settle. At some point he must have realized he already had a good place, because he returned home sometime in 1866. That's when he started improving his stock. Life went on and on April 6, 1871, Jane gave birth to the couple's last child, Nettie Louvina.

By 1880, James and Jane were still successfully raising their surviving children and building their dairy business in 1880 and, in 1892, James and sons James Henry, John Edward, and George William are listed in the El Dorado County Great Register.

Permission is granted by the author to use or republish this article, but proper attribution to the author -- Joanne Burkett -- is requested.

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