William Cothrin's California honeymoon

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.

Honeymooning in California in 1849? Sounds like a tall tale, but it wasn't for one young couple from the east. William S. Cothrin, a native of Avon, New York, and his new wife, Caroline Anne Kipp, also a New Yorker, from Nassau, thought a honeymoon in California was just the thing, so they headed west to what they no doubt assumed was a bright future. They couldn't have known the twists and turns their life in California would take before they finally settled in as ranchers, the owners of several large tracts of land totaling more than 6,000 acres in El Dorado and Placer counties.

In Sacramento, that spring and summer of 1849, the land along the Sacramento River was undergoing a tremendous transformation. Businesses were springing up all along Front Street, between J and K. Soon the construction was moving up K to as far as Third Street. Tents and all sorts of frame houses were being thrown up as quickly as possible. A feeling of permanency began to settle over the area. It was into this promising atmosphere that the newlywed Cothrins arrived. The future looked incredibly bright for awhile, but by the following December, their new city was besieged by incessant rain, with the Sacramento and American rivers overflowing their banks by the first week of January 1850 and yet again in March. At this point in time, the business district was made up of at least 300 merchants, with no more than 10 that had a second story to which to move their flooded belongings. The losses were tremendous.

The city's problems escalated when the squatters riots brought violence and bloodshed to town all through the spring and on into August before order could finally be restored, but not before several deaths were recorded. Mayor Biglow was shot four times, but survived.

Then, around the 15th of October, Sacramentans were awakened by the celebratory booming of a cannon, announcing California's admission to the union. Once again, life was good - but only for a short time. Calamity struck this time in the form of the dreaded cholera. By the time 20 days had passed, more than 1,000 in Sacramento had died as well as hundreds in other nearby places and upon the roads.

Assuming the Cothrins had taken up residence in Sacramento before the epidemic struck, they were among the lucky ones that were spared.

The city recovered and the Cothrins, with determination and promise, partnered up with Vermont native, A.H. Potter, starting a business at 83 K Street. They made their home nearby at Fourth and N streets. However, in 1855, fate dealt them a low blow when their store burned down. No doubt dazed, but undaunted, they opened a second store on J Street, but that too was not destined to last. Toward the end of the decade, the store was devastated by yet another flood. Sacramento, it turned out, was not such an easy place to live and prosper, so the Cothrin's, looking for a safer, quieter way of life, packed up and moved to the Latrobe area.

Farming and ranching was difficult in the Latrobe area as a result of the summer droughts. When the local ranchers found they would have to move their stock to higher elevations during the hot summer months, many of them gave up and sold off their land at fairly cheap prices. Cothrin was one of the new wave of ranchers that were there to buy them out, thereby expanding their holdings.

Soon, he owned ranch land not only in the Latrobe area, but at Lake Tahoe and in Placer County.

The Cothrins raised sheep, as well as barley and bran. They cut and shipped wood to Sacramento County from what became known as Cothrin Station. Lime and marble from Henry Cowell's lime and cement company was also shipped from their station.

Life was hard, but rewarding for the Cothrins. They would run their El Dorado County ranching business for nearly 40 years. When Cothrin died in 1898, he had three heirs:   W. K. Cothrin, James L. E. Cothrin and Ada B. Clarke. His wife had preceded him in 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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