Author Archives: Bro Kaser

Bro Kaser

About Bro Kaser

Paul William Kaser grew up in Killbuck and Hilliard Ohio and after service in the Vietnam War, moved to California where he taught in a community college until his recent retirement. He and his wife and two adult sons live in Fresno, California. He lectures and writes on films. See his regular articles at Reel Life With Jane

The Mysteries of ’49er Jesse Morgan: 52 Ancestors #25

Jesse Morgan ( 1805-1850)

By P. W. Kaser

This entry is a guest post by my brother, who followed Jesse to California. But my brother’s journey was more than one hundred years after the Gold Rush, and hopefully transpired without leaving a deserted wife and children behind and dead bodies in his wake.

Sutter's Fort as Jesse Morgan saw it.

Sutter’s Fort  near Sacramentofrom Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion 1840’s.

When Great-Great Grandpa Jesse Morgan was felled by a bullet through the neck during the Sacramento Squatters Riot of August 14, 1850, the family was left with many unanswered questions about his life. It hasn’t all been cleared up yet. Was Jesse a bold pioneer on the Oregon Trail? a horse-trading wanderer? a morally certified Ohio school teacher? a successful gold miner and hotel keeper in old Sacramento? a murderer and bigamist? Could he have been, to some degree, all of the above?

He enters American journalistic history as one of the crowd of squatters who shot down Mayor Bigelow. But did he just threaten the Mayor and never get a shot off? The real story of what happened and why that day at the corner of 4th and J Streets in Sacramento has yet to be fully revealed.

Sacramento where Jesse was shot

Sacramento Foot of J Street C. Parsons ; drawn Dec. 20th 1849 by G.V. Cooper ; lith. of Wm. Endicott & Co., N. York from worldmapsonline.com

Jesse Morgan, originally of New York State, was Grandma Vera Stout Anderson’s grandfather, thanks to his marriage in 1840 to widow Mary Morgan of Killbuck, Ohio. When he married Mary, Jesse was a widower with four children from his former mating. He and Mary had a daughter “Hattie,” still a very young child, when he began making frequent business trips throughout the Midwest.

Eventually and inevitably he succumbed to the pandemic (pun intended) of gold fever of 1849. Mary, back in Killbuck, was left, like so many “California Widows” of the time, with her husband’s optimistic letters and promises, until she received a letter from a New York Cousin of Jesse’s.  The letter enclosed a clipping from a New York newspaper with a notice of his death in Sacaramento.

The story of his earlier horse-trading and other business doings in the Midwest, along with a review of a detailed journal of adventures along the Oregon/California Trail that is attributed to him, will be the subjects of flashback features of this blog site.

When I was ten or eleven I told my Grandma Vera I intended to get to California as soon as I could. She warned, “Be careful not to get shot out there like old Jesse did.” This hardly discouraged me and I wanted to know all the gory details, but my mother and grandmother would say only that Grandpa Jesse was an innocent bystanding victim of a Gold Rush shoot out.

Jesse Morgan on plaque

Squatters Riot Plaque, Sacramento, listing Jesse Morgan, squatter. From Roadside America.com

Judging by all the western movies I had seen, I concluded that claim jumpers must have intentionally shot him to get his rich diggings. It was not until I came to California in 1970 that I began my research into details of this story. Various histories of Sacramento and sensationalizing newspapers reported that one Jesse Morgan lately in from “Millersville [Millersburg], Ohio” had tried to shoot or succeeded in (depending on the account) gunning down the Mayor in a riot perpetrated by a mob of squatters on August 14, 1850.

One of the reports even had a lithograph of the incident, showing Jesse or possibly the Squatter leader, fiery John Maloney, aiming at the hapless Mayor, who eventually died of his wounds. Also shown is Sheriff Joseph McKinney, a bold Wyatt Earp type (he ran a gambling establishment in the city), who was dedicated to the persecution of the Squatters as they tried to fight a gang of greedy local land speculators.

Jesse was one of four squatters killed in the August 14th riot. Five of the Sheriff’s posse were wounded, stats that recall those of the famous O. K. Coral bang up. Later, to an extent, the Squatters were justified in their claims if not their methods. They drew to their cause local businessmen and lawyers, newspaper editor James McClatchy (founder of today’s powerful McClatchy chain), and Dr. Charles Robinson, who, while in jail was nominated and elected to the State Assembly and eventually became Governor of Kansas.

Jesse, of course, did not live to see the outcome of the Squatters’ struggle. But there is much more to his story… Some accounts of the riot included claims that Jesse had a wife and child in Sacramento and had been proprietor of the Oak Grove House, one of several prospering inns that served the freighters to and from the gold diggings. These revelations only deepened the mysteries about Jesse Morgan, the most colorful of our 19th century ancestors.

How We are Related

  • PWK and Vera Marie Badertscher, the son and daughter of
  • Harriette Anderson Kaser, the daughter of
  • Vera Stout Anderson, the daughter of
  • Harriet (Hattie) Morgan Stout, the daughter of
  • Jesse Morgan

Research notes:

  • Research on Jesse Morgan is complicated by the common name Morgan; and more so by lack of official records In California during the chaotic Gold Rush years.  Sacramento only became a city in the fall of 1849, and even then few legal systems were in effect, so records around the time he was there are sketchy.
  • See an image of the Squatters’ Riot plaque bearing Jesse’s Name at Roadside America.
  • Jesse Morgan’s letters to Mary Morgan in author’s possession.
  • Information on birth, marriage and family from family Bibles and memoirs of Harriette Anderson Kaser.
  • An Illustrated history of Sacramento County, California: Containing a History of Sacramento County, by Win. J. Davis (1890) Available on line.

Wild Foods: Berry Foraging in Field and Forest

Foraging Out on the Farm

People in small farm communities up through the 1950s or 60s were not far from our hunter/gatherer ancestors.  We’ll talk about the hunting part on another day, but today I’m thinking in two articles about the gathering wild foods.   Yesterday Grandma Vera Anderson and I went to the woods for mushrooms.  But we could find plenty of other edibles out in the woods or the abandoned fields of the farms. Bre'r Rabbit book coverOf course the wild foods included blackberries and raspberries hiding shyly underneath Br’er Rabbits bramble bushes.  And I’m pretty sure that my Daddy would have wanted to read me a story about Br’er Rabbit as a preface to berry hunting.  I remember going out on the Anderson farm with my Uncle Bill and Uncle Herb and my Dad and some other folks and coming back with berries for cobbler and pie. My brother remembers a different berry hunting story.

Foraging to Earn a Pie of Grass

Contributed by Bro Kaser

My father, Paul Kaser, never believed my mother made enough pies. Once when we lived in a rural area, a neighbor woman came to borrow a rolling pin. I distinctly remember my mother saying as she handed over the implement, “I can’t tell you how many hundreds of pies I’ve made with that.” I remember it distinctly because of what my father said when the woman had gone on down the road, “Oh, Harriette, shame on you. You told that poor innocent country woman you’ve made hundreds of pies and she believed you. What did you do with all those hundreds of pies? I never saw them.”

Foraging for Blackberries

Photo by Memphis CVB at the Jones Orchard

Once, when we had a blackberry bramble patch out back, Mom said to my pie-starved father, “If you and Billy go out there and fill these five cartons with berries, I’ll make you berry pies.” We went out, I’m sure with the best of intentions. If you’ve ever picked blackberries on a hot day, you know that it’s as sticky, jaggy experience that leaves your hands red and itchy. But a berry pie is a soothing reward. We picked until our fingers were anointed with stains and our hands were red with scratches. We picked and picked, but we could not get enough to fill the last two cartons. Finally my father said, “If you want that pie, you’d better do what I do.” He stuffed his last carton with grass and covered the top with a layer of berries. I filled my last box similarly, figuring we would show them, then sneak them away while she made the pies from the full baskets. My mother took away all five cartons before we could pull the switch. That night two pies were presented. “The one over there is for you and Billy,” she said coolly to Dad. “I didn’t have enough berries for that one and had to supplement with the grass you picked by accident.”

A Berry, Berry Good BLACKBERRY Pie

Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook 1953 Although Mother Would not have needed a recipe, this is the way she would have made her blackberry pie. If you have more blackberries than grass in your bucket after picking wild foods, you may want to try this pie. This recipe is adapted from The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook,1953 first edition, a relic of her home economics teaching days. Even the reproduction issue of this edition is now out of print and available only through independent sources. This recipe includes the finishing detail of how mother glazed her fruit pie crust for a beautiful crust.

Berry Pie

  • 2/3-1 C sugar
  • 4 T flour
  • 3 C fresh berries
  • pastry for pie crust
  • 3 T milk (for crust)
  • 2 tsp sugar (for crust)

Mix flour and sugar, clean berries, pour sugar/flour mixture over berries. Put pastry in bottom of pie pan, fill with berry mixture. Cut slots in top pie crust and put over berries. Moisten the edge of the bottom crust with water, and seal the top crust to the bottom crust around the edge. Brush top crust lightly with milk and sprinkle sugar on top for a sparkly glaze.

For those who would prefer their wild foods a little tangier instead of the sweetness of pie–read about digging up weeds.

For Father’s Day, Bro Remembers Paul Kaser’s Humor

Paul Kaser circa 1980

Paul Kaser (circa 1980)

As I mentioned in my other article about my memories of Dad–he had wit and was a story teller. My brother gives us a couple of examples.

Bro, who inherited my father’s literary and imaginative gifts, sent me the first story on Father’s Day in 2003, with a note, “You probably remember that this was one of his favorite true stories.”  I think we have to allow some leeway in the definition of “true” although Paul Kaser did most definitely work and hang out at the Alderman Hardware store in Killbuck, Ohio.  He and the owner and others had a bottle of whisky in the back storeroom and they would gather around and tell stories until the cows came home.

By Bro Kaser

A Paul Kaser Story: A Thoughtful Gift

chopping wood

chopping wood

The time was somewhere between the great wars in a small Midwestern country town.  The place was somewhere between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi, where I had found a job as a clerk in a hardware store.  Our stock in trade included such items as hammers, horse collars, picks, saws, fence-stretchers, and axes.  It was the latter item which provided this story and many a laugh for the store’s owner and me.

The personae dramatis for our story lived a few miles from town and up the “holler.”  The one -room board and batten house was complete with leaning porch where the men of the family found room for relaxation and reverie.  And what men—there was not one among the father and several sons who was less than six feet tall or weighted less than two hundred pounds, all lean hard muscle and tough bone.

One of these sons of the disappearing frontier came into the hardware on a summer day and asked to see an axe.  He was promptly shown the heavier, double-bladed.

“Too heavy,” was his surprising comment.

A slightly lighter, single-bit brought the same response.

Unable to understand why this Paul Bunyan would want anything less than a man-sized axe, the clerk invited him to examine the whole stock of axes in the warehouse, and in a few minutes he returned with a small, very lightweight axe and asked the price.

“That one sells for $1.49.  What good will such a dinky tool as that do you?” the clerk could not help asking.

“Oh, it’s not for me.  It’s Mother’s birthday.  I just got plumb tired watching her chop stove wood with Pa’s big old heavy axe.”

And Bro also sent me his own recollection of working alongside Dad.

Dad’s Gardens of Delight and Deception

Family Photo of Garden

Paul Kaser’s carefully planned garden in Columbus Ohio, Circa 1950.

Whether we lived on a small suburban plot or on a country acre outside of town, Dad never missed a chance to build and maintain a neatly engineered and well tended garden.

Picking Peas for Dumbo

I have a vivid memory of desperately picking peas when I was about five years old. If I accumulated enough, I would be taken to see the new release of Dumbo. I kept looking eastward where the sky was purpling toward dusk. Soon I began to believe it was all going to be in vain. I’d never reach my quota before dark. The bucket grew cruelly large. I’d never be able to fill it in time.

Downtown, the movie had probably already started. I began to hate the monotonous ping of the peas I flung into the pail behind me. But somehow Dad must have secretly contributed part of his pickings because when I looked again, the bucket was full to the victory line. Thinking back, I assume now that Dad had wanted to see Dumbo almost as much as I had. But then, with some of the dirt still under my fingernails and my hands still smelling of peas as I watched the wonders of Disney unfold, I was sure I had earned this all by myself.

Dumbo the Elephant

Dumbo the Elephant, photo by Lauren Javier

That’s why Dumbo was more memorable in its way than any of the hundreds of films I have seen since and which provided me with a second profession. [Note: Bro Kaser reviews and lectures on movies]. You never know where picking a few peas (with the help of a empathetic parent) will take you.

The Dumbo picture and the chopping wood picture come from Flickr. You can click on the photo to learn more about the photographer. Other photos are the property of Ancestors in Aprons.