by Mary Lou Lyon
CCHS Past President and History Teacher, Retired
Sarah Armstrong Montgomery was another member of the
Stephens-Murphy-Townsend Party of 1844, the very first to traverse the
Sierra Nevada with its wagons, two years before the Donner Party.
Sarah Armstrong was born in 1825 in Ohio
but her family moved to St. Joseph County, Missouri, near Indian Territory
when she was five. She married Allen Montgomery, a gunsmith, in 1843 at the
age of 18. In 1844, they joined with the Westering party heading to
California from Council Bluffs, Iowa, led by Elisha Stephens, Martin Murphy
and Dr. Townsend. They split off from the Oregon party at Fort Hall to head
across the Nevada desert following the Mary’s River (Humboldt) to its sink,
then with the aid of Chief Truckee to the Truckee River and on over Truckee
Pass (now called Donner).
Allen Montgomery was one of the three
young men who chose to stay at Donner Summit with half of the wagons.
However, when the heavy snows came and the game left, he and Joseph Foster
made crude snowshoes and started down the mountain towards Sutter’s Fort.
Moses Schallenberger could not make the trip down so he returned to the
crude cabin to await rescue or spring, whichever came first.
Sarah had gone on with the main party
towards the Sacramento Valley. However, a heavy snowstorm and the birth of
Elizabeth Yuba Murphy in a bend on the banks of the Yuba River stopped the
women and children. They stayed with the help of James Miller and Patrick
Martin. The rest of the men went for help and supplies after slaughtering
the oxen to feed the group while they were gone.
In mid-December, Montgomery and Foster
found the party of women and children in their crude shelter, then they,
too, went on in to Sutter’s Fort for help and supplies, arriving just before
Christmas. By March 1, 1845, all of the party had been rescued and brought
to Sutter’s Fort. None had died along the way and they had increased by two
baby girl cousins, Ellen Independence Martin (mother was a Murphy) and
Elizabeth Yuba Murphy. (The first child born of American parents in
California, Martin Murphy, Jr.)
Sutter hired Allen Montgomery to whipsaw
some lumber for him, so he and Sarah went up Sutter Creek to “Pinewoods.”
Before the advent of sawmills, pits were dug with one man standing below and
the other on the log across the pit to saw boards with a two man saw. They
built a small cabin where Sarah had a quilting bee in 1846, probably the
first in the area. Sutter’s diary claimed that all the people in the area
attended. Estimates were as high as 20, mostly women of course.
One of the men at the saw pits on the
Cosumnes River with Allen was James Gregson. He, his wife Eliza and her
mother and children had come to California in 1845 with the Grigsby-Ide
party. Eliza and Sarah were friends there and lived together at Sutter’s
Fort while their husbands participated in the Bear Flag Revolt, helped steal
a herd of horses for Frémont and fought in the Mexican War with Frémont’s
A Mrs. Leahy and her children also shared
their quarters at Sutters Fort. Eliza Gregson taught reading and writing to
the children. Sarah also attended the classes and probably learned to read
at this point. The ladies were at Sutter’s Fort when the Donner Party
survivors were brought in. They helped out as much as they could.
In the Spring of 1847, Allen Montgomery
returned from the Mexican War and apparently deserted his wife. Bancroft
cites that he sailed to Honolulu on the Julia in 1847, then vanished from
sight. They had no children. As a respectable widow, Sarah earned her living
by renting out rooms, feeding boarders and doing sewing and washing for
Sarah married Talbot Green, a prominent,
wealthy merchant in San Francisco in October, 1849, for whom Green Street is
named. Green had been a member of the 1841 Bartleson-Bidwell Party. He had
brought with him a heavy bag of metal he claimed was lead for rifle-balls.
When he ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1851, he was exposed by an old
neighbor as being Paul Geddes, a fugitive bank clerk from Pennsylvania who
had stolen gold from his bank and deserted his wife and children. He left
Sarah, six-and-a-half months pregnant, to go back to Pennsylvania to clear
the matter up. He never returned, but he did send her some money. He wrote
to his partner, Thomas Oliver Larkin, admitting his guilt.
Sarah Armstrong Montgomery Green sued for
divorce. She ran a boarding-house to support herself and her son, Talbot H.
Green. In July, 1854, at age 29, she married a clerk, Joseph S. Wallis whom
she encouraged to study the law. Wallis adopted her son. He became a Justice
of the Peace in 1857 and a State Senator in 1862. He became a prominent
attorney and politician from Santa Clara County. He later became an
Associate Judge of the county’s Court of Sessions.
Judge Wallis had been born in Salem,
Massachusetts on October 24, 1825, descended from Governor Hutchinson. He
came to California in 1849 around the horn on the Capital. He helped open up
some mines in Yuba County, then returned to San Francisco to read law with
William H. Rhodes. He was admitted to the Bar on August 15, 1855, in
Sacramento before the California Supreme Court.
In 1856, Sarah sued one Elisha Crosby for
a $10,000 debt and received title to his 250-acre Mayfield Farm IN HER OWN
NAME ! She and the Judge built a wedding cake house on the property
surrounded by orchards and gardens. They raised five children there. Sarah
became involved in community affairs including bringing the railroad station
to Mayfield and starting the first Women’s Club.
She also lobbied the State Legislature in
Sacramento on Women’s Rights issues including property rights, access to
state colleges for women and allowing women to practice law. She became
President of the California Women’s Suffrage Association in 1870 and
entertained Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1871 at Mayfield
Farm. She also entertained President U.S. Grant there in 1877. The most
successful meetings in the county were held there with crowds of people and
brass bands in attendance. Unfortunately, she died six years before women
were given the vote in California.
In 1878, the Wallises suffered financial
losses, selling Mayfield Farm to Edward Barron, of San Francisco. They moved
to a smaller place nearby at Grant and Ash in Mayfield. Their mansion burned
down in 1936. A state historic plaque marks the site on La Selva Street
where the splendid Gothic house with seven gables and more had stood.
Judge Wallis died in 1898 and Sarah moved
to Los Gatos where she died January 11, 1905. They are both buried at Union
Cemetery in Redwood City near El Camino and Woodside Road in unmarked
Fort Hall remembered
Fort Hall was a trading post near the Snake River in the early 1830s that
was built by a young New Englander, Nathaniel Wyeth. He named the place for
Henry Hall who had backed his venture into the wilderness. The Hudson’s Bay
Company took over the fort in 1836.
For years historians agreed that Fort
Hall had been inundated by the American Falls Dam reservoir. However, in the
early 1940s Dr. Minnie Howard of Pocatello confirmed that in 1916 she, her
husband and an old Indian had gone with Ezra Meeker to a curve on the Snake
River where they dug up wooden foundations and artifacts confirming the
location of the old fort. A monument was placed here in 1920.
Where is Mayfield?
In 1853 a man named Elisha Crosby bought some land in Santa Clara County and
named it Mayfield Farm. Crosby had come to prominence as a member of the
California Constitutional Convention of 1849.
In 1855 the name of Mayfield was given to
the post office and in 1863 to the railroad station. In 1867 William Paul
laid out a town on the acreage which he named Mayfield. In 1925 the area was
annexed to Palo Alto.