Rachel Hepburn Mitchell Haskell (1833 – 1900) (located in Plat A73, Lot 601, generally near the intersection of Laburnum Avenue, Sylvan Avenue, and Linden Avenue).
Rachel Haskell’s life is an inspiration for her bravery as a mother in early California and for her desire to keep culture and education in her family’s life no matter the rugged circumstances.
Rachel was born Rachel Hepburn Mitchell in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. By the age of 16, she was teaching school, and because of her beauty, was twice selected by visiting United States Presidents to lead the grand march at concerts in a nearby fashionable holiday town. She and fellow schoolteacher Sterling B.F. Clark fell in love, but in 1849, Sterling caught California gold fever. Rachel chose to wait for Sterling while he made his fortune in California, and in fact, Sterling was remarkably successful. Among other ventures, he owned the Union Hotel in Mormon Island. In 1852, Sterling returned to Pennsylvania, and he and Rachel married.
During their return voyage to California, Rachel was pregnant with their first child, and Sterling became critically ill. Sterling died soon after their boat reached San Francisco. Rather than return to Pennsylvania, a pregnant Rachel traveled to Mormon Island to start her life as a widow and new mother in a California that was still wild with the gold rush. At Mormon Island, Rachel gave birth to her daughter, named her Ella, and once again became a schoolteacher by turning her home into the first public school in the community.
In 1854, Rachel married Dudley Haines Haskell, a Sacramento businessman. In the 1860s, the Haskells and their growing family moved to Aurora, Nevada (on the border of California) to build, maintain, and operate a toll road to mining operations. Aurora was a rough mining town with a harsh climate. The Haskells lived in a rustic cabin on a hill that served as the toll house for the road. A visitor to the Haskell’s toll house wrote that the home was “a mere frame shanty of the rudest kind,” but clean, nicely carpeted, decorated with watercolor sketches created by Rachel, and filled with books and cultural periodicals. While living in the toll house, Rachel kept a dairy, a portion of which is preserved in the California State Library. In these private writings, Rachel described her daily life, expressed her motherly and wifely concerns, and revealed how she kept music and literature in the lives of her family. For instance, her entry for a Monday describes:
Looked a bit calmer and cooler, brighter in the morning. Sun shining cheerfully. Work through, gave Ella lesson on new page of Linda March [referring to an opera score]. We have been rather musical today, piano open all the time. Bud played a waltz wonderful, we had no idea he had caught even the air of it. Is very fond of picking out tunes.
Eventually, the family left the toll house when the decline in mining operations made the road less profitable. At the invitation of Judge Crocker, Dudley began working for the Central Pacific Railroad as the person who sited towns along the railroad route, and the family moved to Sacramento. During this time, they purchased their family lot in Sacramento’s Historic City Cemetery. Sometime around 1875, the family moved to San Francisco. In 1900, Rachel died in the Bay Area at the age of 67 and was returned to Sacramento to be buried in the family lot.
Rachel’s dedication to culture and her influence on her children continued beyond her lifetime. Her daughter Ella, the infant she gave birth to shortly after arriving in California and educated about opera in the shanty cabin along a toll road to the mines, was named the First Historian of Literary California by the California State Legislature for her work documenting early California writers. Ella was also an accomplished author, and her writings include The Life and Letters of a Forty-Niner’s Daughter (1928).
The Haskell Family Lot includes Rachel Hepburn Mitchell Haskell, Dudley H. Haskell (husband), Dudley Haines Haskell (child who died at 1 year, 2 months), “Eugenia” Haskell (child who died at 1 year, 7 months in Salmon Falls, CA and was later reinterred in the family lot), John Mitchell “Birdie” Haskell (child who died at 8 years, 6 months), and Harry H. Haskell (child who died at 35 years).
Sources: A Literate Woman in The Mines: The Diary of Rachel Haskell (edited by Richard G. Lillard)(The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 31 (Jun., 1944), pp. 81-98, Oxford University Press)(available in the California State Library); Haskell’s Toll Toad to Aurora (Sue Silver)(fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprd3800737.pdf); Find-A Grave entries for the Haskell family (findagrave.com); Wikipedia entry on Aurora, Nevada, and the burial records available on this website (historicoldcitycemetery.org).