Sierra National Forest
The Jessie Blakey Ross Cabin was built in the late 1860's and is one of the oldest standing log cabins in the area. It represents a significant period in the settlement of what is now Madera County. The cabin built by one of the county's first settlers, Jessie Blakey Ross, lies in an area that until the twentieth century, was considered very remote. Access during the nineteenth century was by primitive trail along steep mountainous canyons and ridges. The building's traditional log cabin design exemplifies the pioneer spirit and technology of the mid-nineteenth century.
Jessie Blakey Ross, a native of Missouri, born in April 1835, came west during the Gold Rush. Ross's parents, like many Scotch-Irish, settled in Kentucky as settlement moved west of the Appalachian Mountains. Perhaps it was Ross's parents who provided their son Jessie with the skills of woodsmanship and log cabin construction.
By the 1860's Ross made his way to Mariposa County where he engaged in packing supplies to the mines. It is believed that during the late 1860's Ross located the piece of land where he built his cabin. It was during this time that he began construction on the 1 1/2 story cabin.
According to former Ross cabin owners Doris and Clyde Foster, Jessie Ross was of slight build who stood about five feet eleven inches tall. He had thick dark hair. During one of Ross's trips to the mountains he met his wife, Mary Waspi, a Mono Indian. Not long afterward they were married and bore their only child, Julia Belle Ross, who was born in December 1871. It may have been not long after Julia's birth that Jessie divided the interior of the cabin by adding two separate rooms, one for himself and his wife and one for his new daughter. During the mid-1880's Mary and Jessie split up and Mary returned to her people, never living on the ranch again.
During the 1870's the Ross Ranch was within Fresno County, which was formed from part of Mariposa County. The Fresno County Great Register lists Ross's occupation as a miner until 1890, when he is listed as a farmer. According to the Fosters, Ross planted an extensive orchard near his cabin. The main part of the orchard was planted in red pearmain apples, with some snow apples on the fringe. It is believed that Ross purchased his trees from the Stark Brothers in Louisiana and Missouri, as the latter company had been in existence since 1816.
On November 12, 1900, Ross finally received an official Homestead Patent from the United States Government. During the 1890's Ross engaged in planting wheat and pink beans on his ranch. Thirty to forty tons of beans were harvested every year and sold in Fresno. Many Indian women worked on the ranch during the bean harvests. The beans were threshed with a flail or a round willow pole, and then the Indian women used their native winnowing baskets to separate the chaff from the beans. They also used sticks to thresh the wheat and then winnowed it out in the baskets.
In 1891, Ross's daughter Julia Belle married Frank G. Hallock, 26 years of age and a native of New York. Julia attended Rachel Ward School in Fresno where she met Frank. Julia and Frank bore a son, Homer. In 1900, at the time of Jessie Ross's death, Frank, Julia, Homer, Henry Super (Ross's partner), and an Indian employee named Martin, resided on the property. On February 1902, the property passed on to Julia, who at the time was having health problems. In 1904, the year she died, Julia deeded the property to her husband Frank. Julia was buried beside her father on the ranch. Hallock continued to raise apples and beans on the ranch until 1910 when he sold the ranch to Samuel L. Hogue, who had come from Illinois in 1872. Hogue was the first school teacher in the Selma Schools and also served as Justice of the Peace in Fresno. The Hogues settled in the log house and renamed the ranch, "the Hogue Ranch." Around 1912 Samuel Hogue planted an additional 20 acres in apple trees and continued to raise pink beans, planting them in the orchard rows until the apple trees became too large. Hogue purchased a fanning mill to clean the beans, which replaced the Indian women who winnowed the beans in their baskets.
Hogue also engaged in raising hogs and built a small sawmill powered by a wooden water wheel along Hogue Creek. Mrs. Effie Hogue passed away in 1921 and in 1930 Samuel sold the ranch to Joseph E. Foster and his son Clyde, who had leased the property in 1928. Joseph Foster's father, Overton, like Jessie Ross, was also a native of Missouri, having come west in 1846. When Joseph was 13 years old he moved with his parents to Dunlap. There he engaged in teaming and farming. Joseph homesteaded a ranch eight miles east of Dunlap in Fresno County and planted an apple orchard. Joseph's wife Ida gave birth to five sons and four daughters.
When the Fosters acquired the ranch in 1930 they commenced making improvements, including expanding the orchard, grafting new trees, constructing a seven-foot-high deer fence. During the 1920's the Hogues did little to maintain the old Ross log cabin. Soon after the Fosters purchased the property, they built a new foundation for the cabin, re-roofed it, removed the deteriorated front porch, added a rear porch/shed roof, and remodeled the fireplace by adding a draft, log mantle and mortar around the large cut-granite stones that formed the hearth. The Fosters used the Ross-Hogue Ranch primarily during the summer, wintering at their ranch in Dunlap. They resided in the fog cabin until the 1940's, when they built a new home adjacent to the log cabin. In 1984 the cabin and a portion of the ranch were sold to Richard and Jannetta McClurg, the property's present owners.
Ross Cabin was donated to the Forest Service by the McClurg family so that it could be preserved and enjoyed by the public. Forest Service archaeologists started the process by evaluating the historic significance of the cabin and recording all of the various features that made it unique. One of the first problems was to determine the best method to move the cabin. Since it was on private land it needed to be moved onto National Forest so that the public could visit it. At first it was thought the cabin would have to be disassembled then reassembled at the new location. But after further structural study, moving it in one piece by a commercial house mover appeared to be the best option.
Preparations began in the summer of 1990. First, all parts were numbered and labeled in case any were dislodged during the move. The cabin was reinforced with beams, plywood and cable to stabilize it during the move. Then it was jacked up and placed on I-beams. Large rubber tired dollies were rolled underneath.
The cabin was then towed 1/2 mile south to its new location near Clearwater Station. The new site was selected to give access to the public and keep it in the same environmental setting as the original location. Also, placement in sight of the Station provides protection from vandalism.
In June 1991 the Forest Service offered a class in log cabin stabilization attended by people from throughout the United States. Participants learned the art of restoration while actually working on the cabin. Replacement logs were hand hewn with many of the tools used at the time the cabin was constructed. Stabilization efforts will continue over the next several years until the cabin is fully restored.
Moving Ross Cabin was just the first step in developing this stop on the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway. Several new features will be added over the next several years to help visitors learn about past lifestyles in the mountains. Interpretive signs at the cabin and along two nature trails will portray the life of early settlers and the Mono Indian culture. A restroom has been installed, and a picnic area will be added so that people may further enjoy the area. All facilities will be accessible to the disabled.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication