Clarke Ranch

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Location: Yolo County, California, United Statesmap
Surnames/tags: Yolo Farmers Ranchers
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Clarke Family Ranch on Road 13 in Yolo County, California, known as “The Buckeye Ranch.”

“There were originally two houses on the Clarke Ranch, probably built by the two Clarke brothers Noble, a carpenter; and William John, a saddle tree maker; and his business partner William Guron Stewart, who covered the saddles with raw-hide.

In the 1860 Census known as the Cache Creek District, James and William Hearny listed as farmers born in England were living with Noble and may have helped in the building project of the Clarke houses, and miscellaneous other buildings. James Hany (Hearney) owned 201.77 acres adjoining Noble, which later was purchased by Isaac W. Jacobs.

Clarke and Stewart purchased the original three hundred and twenty acres, located four miles from Grafton (Knights Landing, Yolo County, California) along Road 13, from H/R Haines in 1850. Haines had erected a stock corral and a little cabin. For this claim Clarke and Stewart paid one thousand dollars ($1,000) in gold dust and two horses, valued at one hundred dollars ($100). At that time there was only one other settler in northern Yolo County. He was David E. Bird, who claimed all the country by right of occupation.

The Clarke Ranch house faced north, as the stage line route ran in front. In later years the family always uses the back door, although there was a side entrance on the east, which opened into the living room. The early roads would cut across section lines making the shortest distance route between stations. The stations from Sacramento into Yolo County were Cache Creek, Lone Tree, which was near the Clarke Ranch, Sycamore Slough, and Colusa. In the early days land along the Sacramento River was swamp land and was always in a flood stage during the wet months. In later years this land was put into a reclamation district, which makes up the rich farming land of today.

In February 1863 William John Clarke, Roadmaster for District 20, was instructed to establish a public highway on the section land between the claims of C.F. Reed and St. Louis and H.L. Gwinn and C. McCormick, commencing at a point where said line crosses the line of the San Francisco and Marysville Railroad and to continue due west on said line to the foot of the hills. This is what now is Road 13 from Knights Landing to Zamora.

By the 1870 Census, now known as East Grafton District, Noble Clarke was married fo Elizabeth Little and they were living in the Clarke Ranch house, which the family is familiar with. Living with Noble, aged 48, and Elizabeth, aged 28, were Margaret Clarke, aged 35, a sister to Noble and William John. She later married widower David Ayers, a native of Ireland, living in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California. Also as part of the family was Samuel Scott, aged 45, a laborer, born in England; Ling Ah, aged 22 a cook, born in China; Eusebria Maggli, aged 34, a female school teacher born in Canada West.

Elizabeth (Little) Clarke died October 15, 1870 and Noble Clarke died December 7, 1878. Both are buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery. According to the Weekly Sun Herald, Noble Clarke’s funeral procession was the largest ever seen in Yolo County, being nearly two miles long. Remember this was in horse and buggy days, and no doubt people even walked.

Margaret Clarke married David Ayers, a widower with five children on December 14, 1875. David’s wife the former Fedelia Ann Gormley died November 14, 1874. Margaret probably married for convenience, as his children were under fifteen years of age. The Ayers children were Clarence, born January 14, 1859; Anna M., born November 26, 1860; Dora R., born February 18, 1863, could not hear nor speak; Charles Robert, born October 4, 1864; George Lemuel, born February 28, 1870. Margaret (Clarke) Ayers died July 21, 1878, and David Ayers dies June 30, 1912. They are both buried in the Sebastapol Memorial Lawn Cemetery, located at Bodega Avenue, Sebastapol, Sonoma County, California.

William John Clarke, aged 48, was also married, having married Catherine (Foster) Tenney around 1865, probably in Alameda County, California. She was listed as aged 28, in the 1870 Census. They were living on the “Buckeye Ranch” near Dunnigan, Yolo County, California. In the family at that time were William “Willie” Dougal Clarke, aged 3; Margaret “Maggie” Clarke, aged 1; Elizabeth “Lizzie” Tenney-Clarke, aged 7; a child of Catherine’s by her first marriage to Willard E. Tenney. Others in the household were James Washington Foster, aged 19, farm laborer, born in Illinois, a brother to Catherine; and Foy Ah, aged 25, a cook, born in China.

Also in 1870, living on the “Buckeye Ranch” were John O. Walker, aged 32, born in Norway, known as the Clarke gardener; Joseph Davis, aged 25, born Ohio; Pallas Love, aged 16, born Missouri; Victor Roherdino/Robyero, aged 30, born in Illinois; Richard Arino/Arinfro, aged 43, born in Ireland.

In 1880 James “Jimmy” Washington Foster, aged 29, and his wife Margaret (Gray) Foster, aged 28, were living on “Buckeye Ranch” in North Grafton District. Living with them were Clarence Ayers, aged 21, born in California, son of David Ayers of Santa Rosa, California; James Quinn, aged 24, born in California; William Tenny, aged 40, born in Tennessee; William Steins/Sterns, aged 40, born in Ohio.

Mattie and Foster “Posy” Clarke were living on the “Buckeye Ranch” according to a letter by Jennie (Burgoyne) Hughes dated November 1899. They were still there when their daughter Grace Noble Clarke was born. She was the first newly born girl to be taken to the Woodland Clinic, which had been completed shortly before. She was born on Wednesday, March 27, 1912, in a midwife house close to the clinic. She was then removed to the nursery at the clinic. Brother Wilson was thirteen, and Alice was about eleven at the time.

All the Clarke children attended the Eureka School, located a few miles southeast of the Clarke Ranch, in their elementary days. Alice lived with Maggie and Warfield Powers and their sons Clarke, Shirley, and Keith, for three years while attending Pierce High School in College City, Colusa County, California. Grace and her parents moved to College City when she was in the seventh grade. She also attended Pierce High School.

Mattie Clarke, without Foster knowing, took their ranch grain money out of the bank, and through Ben R. Ragain had negotiated to purchase the William John Clarke home in College City. Katie May (Clarke) Stover had received the property after her mother, Catherine (Foster) Clarke died in 1897. May and her husband, George Stover, has evidently borrowed money from Ben Ragain, as his name was on the deed with the Stovers. The Clarke acreage in College City was deeded to Mattie B. Clarke in January 1919. On June 17, 1920, George Stover sent a letter to Mattie, at Grafton (Knights Landing), which reads like Mattie has verbally agreed to some option for May and George to buy back the place , but they could not come up with the money, and they wanted to renew the option for six more months. From stories about George Stover, he wasn’t a very good business person and worked on others to his advantage. They were probably still living in the home as the letter is headed College City.

Sometime around 1924 when Stafford and Harold were small, Alice and Walter Dawley moved to the Clarke Ranch, where Walt when into the hog-raising business. In most photos of Stafford and Harold, Stafford has his hat on. Elsie Mae, his wife, stated that to this day he still has to have a hat. Posy spent a lot of time at the Ranch, so Mattie decided to move back, and the Dawley family moved back to Arbuckle.

Mattie and Foster were back on the Clarke Ranch when Joyce Dawley was born on Monday, November 26, 1928. The Dawley Family was living on the southeast corner of Second and Magnolia Streets in Arbuckle. Dr. and Mrs. Herbert Powis lived on the northwest corner of Hall and Second Streets, so when Grace took Alice to the Sanitarium, she stopped at the doctor’s house to inform him the baby was on the way. Alice said she had prepared a pork roast dinner on Sunday and expected Mattie and Posy to bring the boys back from the ranch, but no one showed up, so she sat and stuffed herself. Alice was two weeks overdue with Joyce, and when she was born, she thought the baby would die as she was blue and had something wrong with her neck. There were several babies born around that time, and the hospital didn’t have enough room in the nursery, so Joyce was out in a dresser drawer in some senile man’s room. Alice said she fretted all the time, thinking they old man might harm her baby. The doctors finally got Joyce’s neck to straighten out with some kind of manipulation. Alice was also upset about a large birthmark on the baby, which extended up her left arm, over her shoulder, and down her left side over part of her chest. Nobody seems to remember the whereabouts of Walt Dawley when his baby was born. He may have been on one of his fishing trips.

Grace (Clarke) and Harry Kelly were living in the William John Clarke home, while Mattie and Foster went back to the ranch. Joyce stayed with them often and Harry would say there were monkeys upstairs. Grace used to make divinity candy and Joyce would help crack those hard shelled black walnuts to put into the divinity. Grace was also a good maker of root beer. Harry worked for Mr. A.R. McCormack in the hardware store, located in a brick building at Fifth and Lucas Streets in Arbuckle.

Sometime after Beverly (Kelly) Cox was born in 1938, Mattie decided the home in College City looked good, as Grace was a good homemaker, so they moved into it with Grace, Harry, Marilyn, and Beverly. Grace and Harry then decided to look for a place of their own. After talking over several options, they worked out an agreement to purchase the Isaac Cain home. Harry died in 1941.

Joyce stayed a few years with Grace’s family and remembered the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. On Sunday, December 7, 1941, Joyce was in Grace’s kitchen washing some dishes and listening to the radio. Later there were movies at the local theatre in Arbuckle about the bombing; there was no television in those days. Grace worked at the Arbuckle Hotel and did janitor work at the College City School and College City Christian Church. Grace bought the dresses for Joyce’s graduation from elementary and from high school as they had a close relationship. Grace later married William Walter, son of Anna and Chris Walter, long time owners of the Arbuckle Bakery.

Stafford had moved in with Mattie and Posy at College City when he was sixteen, after his dad Walter raised hell at home one night and was breaking the door windows to Stafford and Harold’s room which they had built in the garage. Stafford went next door to get Deputy George Leverett Sr., and had his dad taken to jail, that is the little Arbuckle jail behind the Arbuckle Hotel. It must have been winter time because the fire department was called as Walter had broken up the furniture in the jail and started a fire to keep warm. He was held for several hours, and the next day whenever someone came down the alley next to the jail cell, he would yell at them to call his fairy, and nobody knew what he meant. His pet name for his wife Alice was, “my fairy.”

The William John Clarke Family moved to College City sometime before 1879 so the children could attend school. They lived in the Gillaspy house on the corner of 12th Street and College City Road while their new home was being built in west College City. In Greene’s “History of Colusa County” he describes the Clarke home as “a large two-story, fine out buildings, wind mill, tank house, smoke house and other necessary improvements, walks and filled with choice flowers, shrubs and trees. Two fountains send up their clear refreshing spray and add beauty to the scene. The whole place is surrounded with a substantial fence, while the one in front is a picket with arched gateway at the entrance and termination of the drive, which passes in a curve through the yard.” In later years, the fountains were replaced with giant palm trees.

After Mattie and Posy came back to College City, Eula and Wilson moved onto the Clarke Ranch, but the farming agreement didn’t work out, so Mattie wrote to Stafford Dawley, who was stationed at Shepperd Field, Texas as an airplane mechanic, asking him to take over the ranch after he got out of the service.

After Stafford received his discharge from the service he signed an agreement with Mattie and Foster Clarke to farm the Clarke Ranch (lease dated August 15, 1944.) On Saturday, August 12, 1946, Stafford married Elsie Mae Carpenter, in Reno, Nevada. Two sons were born to the couple. They were the last of the William J. Clarke descendants to live on the Clarke Ranch. In June 1965 the ranch was sold to Ashley Payne, and the old ranch house built by the Clarkes and Stewart was burned to clear the land.


The Woodland Democrat in 1947 has an engraving of the home. “Oldest Home in Yolo Photographed” [2]

Oldest Yolo County residence was used as a home until the farm was sold to Ashley Payne in 1965. William John Clarke’s great grandson Stafford W. Dawley, his wife Elsie, and sons Keith and Foster were the last of the Clarke descendants to reside in the home. Mr. Payne burned the home to clear the land.

The home was built in the 1850’s by Mr. Clarke and his farming partner John Guron Stewart.

William J. Clarke acquired a large acreage. In the 1870’s he owned 4380 acres and had 2700 of those under cultivation. Age of the house is shown by materials used in its construction. Large hand-hewn timbers form the foundation and in many places wooden dowels are used instead of nails. An unusual brick fireplace attests to the ingenuity of the builders.


  1. Clarke Ranch Scrapbook: Grafton/Knights Lansing, Yolo, California. Compiled by Joyce E. Dawley, great-granddaughter of William John Clarke, of Arbuckle, Colusa County, California. December 25, 1994.
  2. Woodland Democrat in 1947. Photo taken by W.O. Bernhardt.


This research was done by Joyce E. Dawley, a dedicated genealogist. I have typed this up to be able to post this online, added formatting, and edited parts into third person.

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