Wednesday, November 14, 2007

In Aug 2004, eight years into my job in Central California, I was exploring (as usual) the closed Army base once called Fort Ord during lunch time, when I spotted a tall white cross protruding through the fog, and then what looked like a cemetery. Always fascinated by the macabre, I pulled my car onto the gravelly road across from several large cement buildings and hiked down the hill to a tiny cemetery I didn’t know existed. In it were five gravestones.

Floria Elvira Whitcher
July 19, 1866 – February 17, 1875
“Returned to God, who gave her.”

Harry Whitcher
August 5, 1875 – September 16, 1875
“Quit acheing.”

Ned Eliger Whitcher
November 8, 1862 – April 29, 1879
“Ceased Breathing.”

Mary H. Pearson 1899 – 1935

And the initials H. W. on a baby-sized marker set in concrete. At first I thought the “quit acheing” epitaph marked the final resting spot of some odd fellow with arthritis, but on closer examination discovered that a child was buried there. The unknown cemetery was intriguing enough for my thirst-starved imagination, but the inscriptions were maddening.

Truth be told, it took 132 years for Thomas Rose Whitcher’s life to be known. He once owned 2500 acres of land across Monterey County, even the land John Steinbeck wrote about in Pastures of Heaven, and the short story, The Murder, in The Long Valley. In 1914, Cecil B. Demille filmed a movie, Rose of the Rancho, on his land. Part of his original farmhouse is still there in a privately owned exclusive subdivision called Markham Ranch. It’s a gated community. No one’s allowed in unless they live there, and the homestead can’t be seen from Corral de Tierra Road, except in a small book called Steinbeck Country-Exploring the Settings for the Stories.

I can tell you his story though.

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