(The following is from an undated article in the Honey Grove Signal-Citizen, with additional information from other sources.)
On January 24, 1848 gold was discovered in California. Soon after a group of men and women from the Honey Grove area and from the western part of Lamar county decided to form up a wagon train and head for California to seek their fortunes. Among them were Dr. John Strentzel and his wife, the former Louisiana Louise Erwin, daughter of Samuel Erwin, Honey Grove's first settler. Louisiana was 28 years old and had two small children.
John Strentzel left behind a Farm and Stock Account Book. The book appears to be an inventory of livestock and other items to be left behind, and it identifies Augustus Erwin as his agent for his property. The book also contains a list of Notes left with Aug. Erwin for collection.
The Strentzel family stopped in San Diego California and settled along the Merced River, where they operated an inn and then a farm. A letter she wrote to her parents on December 19, 1849 from San Diego survives.
After three years they moved to Alhambra Valley near Martinez, California. Source: Sierra Club. Dr. Strentzel bought some land near Martinez and put in a fruit orchard and vineyard containing some fifty acres of fertile land. The Strenzels became pioneers in the development of the grape industry and in the development of orchards and eventually became very wealthy.
In December of 1866, Louise Strentzel wrote to her brother, Jack Erwin, in Honey Grove. Among many other things, she wrote of the illness of her daughter Louisa. Louisa Strentzel later, in 1880, at the age of 32, married John Muir, the famous naturalist who was the founder of the Sierra Club, and who helped preserve Yosemite Valley.
The text of the 1866 letter is below:
Alhambra, December 4, 1866
My Dear Brother:
You letter dated the 14th of September has reached us, and I need not tell you how delighted we all were to receive a letter from you once more and such a long letter. We felt after reading it almost like we had seen you and had a good talk.
It has been more than give years since we received your last letter previous to the war. When I look back upon the terrible incidents of those long, dark, sorrowful years they seem to me now more like a dream than the fearful reality that they were. Although we in California were far away fromthe strife, and comparatively free from the hardships and trials of the war, still I think we suffered as much, and even more, from anxiety and suspense, than those who lived in the midst of the conflict, especially we who had friends in the South, and were unable to hear form them of know their fate, O, the sad hours that we spent during that long period as day after day we would read in the papers the terrible accounts of the battles as they occured and with what dread would we look over the lists of the killed and wounded, fearing to see the name of some dear friend. There was scarcely an American in California who did not have friends and relatives engaged on one side or the other, and many had brothers in both armies fighting against each other. These were indeed troublous times, the like of which we hope and pray never to see again.
We have never yet received but one letter from Bud, and that was early last spring, one from Dr. D'Spain written while he was in Louisville, Kentucky, but none from Missouri altho' we have written to them repeatedly. I do not know what can be the matter we do not get letters from them. I suppose they certainly do write and their letters fail to reach us.
You say you have lately been back at Honey Grove. O Jack, how does the old home look now? Did it not make you feel sad to be there and think of the old times when we were all together? I want you to write to me all about it, tell me of the old landmarks and all of the new improvements and changes. Describe the town, how many people live there, what kind of buildings, who of the old friends are there, etc. Tell me about Bud's children, and the graves of father and mother. I think of so many questions that I would ask if I could see you.
Bud wrote that a great many of our old friends fell in the war, but he did not way who they were. Please give us in your next letter a list of their names as far as you know.
I have just read today in the papers the account of the murder of a Mr. Box of Hopkins county, Texas, by the Indians, and the horrible treatment of his wife and children during their captivity. We suppose by the name that they are relations of the Matthews family. The account is too heartsickening to believe did we not know so well the character of the Indians. The imigrants across the plains have suffered greatly this year by them. It seems that they are ore hostile now than they have ever been before.
The Dr. and myself are both in very good health but Louisa is not well. She has been in bad health for a long time. She had a very severe attack of measles while at school, when she was about fifteen years old, which affected her lungs very much and before she entirely recovered from the measles took the whooping-cough which lasted nearly a year, leaving her lungs in a very weak condition. She still continued to attend school until when she was about eighteen years of age she had a severe spell of inflamation of the lungs, which came near providing fatal. After this she gave up school entirely, and for a great portion of the time her health was comparatively good until last July she had the scarlet-fever and came near dying with it. Since then she has been in a very delicate health and it will require care to prevent her from going into consumption. This is the most fatal disease to which we are subject in this country. We never think of having chills and fever, bilious fever or intermittent fever here (that is in the region of the Bay) but consumption and lung diseases of every kind, putrid sore throat, rheumatism, paralysis, heart disease, etc. are more prevalent than in Texas.
We rejoice to hear of the progress and prosperity of our old Texas, and sincerely hope that she may go ahead of all the other States. We read flourishing accounts from there in all the papers, and people here often come to us making inquires about that country, and some talk of going there to live in perference to California.
You way you want to know how we are getting along, how much we have made, etc. Well I hardly know what to tell you. I asked the Dr. what I should write to you and he says to tell you that we have enough to eat and wear, and that is about as much as anybody gets. We have a fine place, well improved, about fifty acres in orchard and vineyard, nearly all in bearing, raise a fine crop of fruit every year, have a comfortable house, and all necessary furniture, have plenty of stock etc. and are doing what is considered here a "flourishing business," but the Dr. has become dissatisfied and has concluded to sell the place and live a more quiet life. This kind of business requires too much labor and care and attention, and is too harrassing to the mind, and he has resolved to quit it just as soon as he can sell for anything near the value of the place. He has expended a great amount of money on it, and it ought to bring a fine price, but I do not know whether he can ever realize the full value or not. We have not yet decided where we would settle if we sell but probably in San Francisco or some one of the towns around the bay.
There is great excitement here now about the Pacific railroad, and of course every man wants it to run right by his own door. The citizens of Benecia are doing all in their power to have it brought to that place and if they should succeed it will be of great benefit to our little town of Martinez and the surrounding country. Let the railroad run where it may. I hope it may soon be finished, and that we may live to travel home on it. The Dr. says it will be nothing for us to take an occasional excursion then to Honey Grove and back.
Cousin Almira Crisp is living in San Francisco. She is married to a Mr. Davis and has three children, the oldest a daughter 16 years old, the second a boy of 10 years and the youngest a little boy two years old. She cam eto see us last month and stayed two weeks. Her friends are all living in Oregon.
Uncle and Aunt Houston, Ben and Fine Johnson are all dead. Mansel is married and doing very well. Tom Johnson came to see us about three weeks ago, he was then staying in San Francisco and was in very bad health, he remained there a few month afterwards and went away we never could learn where. He told us that he had made a heap of money in the mines, and thought he would go home soon.
We want to send you our photographs when we have some good ones taken, we have some now but they are not very good. You must be sure to send us all of yours.
Pussy sends a heap of love to you and her little cousins, and promises to write to you soon. She says to tell you she would give anything to hear you sing, and if you were here she would play for you on the piano until you were satisfied. She has a splendid piano which cost four hundred dollars, and plays very well indeed.
We rejoice to hear of your good fortune and send you our congratulations and good wishes for your happiness.
Give all our love to Mr. McKenzie and all the family and be sure to write immediately.
Read a Biography of John Theophil Strentzel obtained from the archives of the Bancroft Library, University of California.