Arthur Litten leaves Kentucky home for California's riches

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.

El Dorado County pioneer, Arthur Litten, was just following his family's tradition when he left Kentucky for California. This family, many of whom lived to be quite old, was an adventurous bunch. When Arthur's English ancestors came to America, they settled in the area of Botetourt Co., Va. John Richard Litten was born there, sometime after 1750.

By the time John William's son Caleb Wilcoxen Litten was born in 1768, records show the family was living in Virginia. Caleb, who would wed twice, fathered 12 children, one of them being Arthur's father, Solomon, who was born and died in Hopkins Co., Ky. Caleb was a slaveholder, leaving a male and female he valued at $400 and $30, respectively, to his wife, Mary, according to his will, which was dated Dec. 7, 1823.

According to his obituary, written some 79 years after his birth, Arthur, the subject of this sketch, was born Nov. 7, 1831 to Solomon and his wife Ida Babb Litten, near the town that, nine years later, would become Metropolis, Massac Co., Ill. However, other sources, including census forms, claim he was born in Hopkins Co., Ky. Regardless, he did spend his childhood in Massac Co., Ill., so the family did move there at some point.

An interesting bit of trivia: This is the Metropolis that would officially adopt comic and movie hero Superman in 1972. 

Arthur took the normal amount of education offered, three months in the winter, spent seated on a backless, slab seat inside a rough log schoolhouse. The balance of the year was spent in helping his father work the family farm. 

When Arthur was almost 21, strong and tall at 6 feet-1 inch, he set out on his own to find other work. He was ready to start his adult life and ready to establish a family of his own. 

On May 20, 1853, he set out across the plains, leading an ox team, on his way to California, arriving in Placerville in August. For the first few months, Arthur tried his hand at mining, mostly unsuccessfully, in the area of Dry Creek.

When it finally sunk in that he was not going to get lucky with any mining venture, he abandoned that site and relocated along the South Fork of the American River at Rock Bridge. Here he set about, that summer, selling merchandise to the miners who were engaged in fluming the river. 

When winter arrived, Arthur set up his business of selling goods to the miners at Jay Hawk. He must have found success at this because he continued in this venture until 1859, when he sold his business and invested the profits in a 269-acre parcel of land along the road between Folsom, Coloma and Placerville, called White Oak Flat. This piece of property would prove to be valuable, in and of itself, when it was discovered to contain some of the county's most extensive quartz ledges. 

It was about this time that Arthur married, taking Elizabeth Ebbert as his wife on May 27, 1858. Elizabeth, originally from Maryland, was living in Deer Valley. She was the daughter of Louis Ebbert, a native of the grand duchy of Hesse Darmstadt, Germany. Together, Arthur and Elizabeth ran the White Oak Springs Hotel, which dated back to 1852. Just beyond the hotel, the town of Rescue would later be established, but a story about the hotel under its prior ownership overshadowed everything else that happened in the area at the time. It seems that on the evening of April 28, 1852, James Hewlett, an employee of the hotel, was stabbed by a man named Abner Spencer during an altercation. 

Hewlett was injured so badly that he died the next day. However, his murderer had been hanged an hour after the stabbing when a citizens' committee took things into their own hands.

Time passed quickly. Elizabeth gave birth to four daughters. Martha Jane was born at Jay Hawk, followed by Estella on June 10, 1862 and Julia on Dec. 7, 1863. 

By 1880, in addition to his primary business, Arthur was also operating a ranch near Uniontown, raising herds of Angora goats. The census for that year shows that the girls were still living with their parents. In fact, Martha Jane's new husband, Caleb Silverman, a native or Russia, was also there, along with their tiny daughter, Minnie Silverman, who was just a year old. Arthur no doubt employed Caleb, whose occupation was listed as peddler. Estella and Julia were unmarried teenagers. Arthur is also listed as a member of the Masons, Hiram Lodge, No. 43, in Mud Springs, around that same time. Elizabeth's parents, Louis and Fredrica Ebbert were still alive and living in Placer County, at Canada Hill. 

Daughter Julia married John McDonald and in later years, the couple lived on the Litten family ranch. Julia was the last of the family to be buried in the Litten-McDonald family cemetery, which was located on the ranch property. She died on Nov. 29, 1947 in Sacramento and was buried near her husband in the family cemetery. 

Arthur, whose ancestry was filled with long-living and sturdy stock - some of which lived well into their 90s - died June 14, 1910, just a month after he was listed on the 1910 census as the head of household (living with him was his wife Elizabeth and daughter, Estella). He was almost 80. Elizabeth died on May 30, 1913, when she was 74. 

Estella, who is listed in the California Death Index as Stella Litten, died on Jan. 5, 1943 in El Dorado County. She had been listed as living at White Oak with her sister Julia and Julia's son, Litten, age 23, in the 1920 census. 

Today, the old Litten ranch is owned by Mary Cridge Smith and her son. Mary's parents had purchased the ranch from Arthur's daughter Julia shortly before her death.

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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