Gaye LeBaron: Rustic McCormick homestead has a legacy of strong women
The Mayacamas — whether you say Maya-KAM-as or My-YAK-amas — are the mountains that define the eastern boundary of Sonoma County. You might say they are our “friends in high places.” As such, they should be treasured.
And they are.
A mid-November news story about the McCormick Ranch and the Sonoma Land Trust told us of yet another mountaintop saved. And it brought up not only happy memories but one of those “local history” stories that go way beyond our borders.
One memory is of a late November day in 1995 when my photographer husband and I “went four wheeling,” as our kids called it, from the end of Los Alamos Road, following Santa Rosa Creek upstream to its source and beyond, all the way to the top.
It was the day after Thanksgiving and, unlike this year, it was crisp and clear. A “see forever” day.
What we saw, looking west, was the Sonoma Coast. And when we turned and looked east, we saw the snow on the Sierra.
It was not a sight you forget.
Our guides were a mother/daughter team — Edna May “Babe” McCormick Learned and her daughter, Sandra Learned Perry. They owned the McCormick Ranch, all 2,300 acres of it, inherited through five generations of pioneers.
Babe was the great- granddaughter of William McCormick, one of “Los Americanos,” the bold would-be settlers who came to take their chances in the waning days of Mexican California.
From 1841, wagon trains were finding their way to this part of California, many in family groups, others just exploring possibilities.
The political climate was far from welcoming and, as relations became increasingly strained, McCormick went back to Kentucky, leaving before the June, ’46 Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma and the Mexican War, which brought California to the United States.
McCormick, who had seen what this new territory had to offer, brought his family back in 1848. And they’ve never left.
Babe and her sister, Ina, had another claim to historical importance. They were the granddaughters of Mary Hudson, who achieved considerable historical status by being born in the Sonoma Valley on June 13, 1846, one day before a band of ragtag American settlers captured General Vallejo at his Sonoma home and hoisted a homemade flag with a crude drawing of a grizzly bear on it in the plaza of pueblo. Legend says that the white part of the flag was made from a Hudson petticoat.
For her good timing, Mary, called Molly by her family, became known as the “Bear Flag Baby,” which is how her story is writ large. In fact, on the 20th anniversary of the event, in 1866, she was offered a $100 per-year stipend by the Society of California Pioneers.
Up there on Big Hill in 1995, eating our turkey sandwiches, John and I were privileged to hear Babe’s and Sandra’s “grandmother stories.”
Molly, you see, married William’s McCormick’s son, Henry. She was part of the Hudson clan that arrived in California with the Grigsby-Ide wagon train in 1845 and claimed land in the “Guilico” Valley, near present day Kenwood.
You can read Molly’s story in histories, but it was great to hear it “live” as told on-site by Babe and Sandra — how she lost her husband in a hunting accident a dozen years into their marriage, how she ran the ranch and raised her five children alone.