Bessie's Incredible Journey to Witch Creek
Bessie's incredible journey to Witch Creek, California, began in her hometown of Plymouth, England.
Today even in a 747, Plymouth to Burlingame KS is a long slog. Add a return trip to England, then one to Glasgow, Scotland (to meet the future in-laws), then from Glasgow back across the Pond and across the entire U.S. to Witch Creek on the West Coast, and we're talking a boatload of frequent flyer miles.
Except 747s (or any commercial jets, for that matter) didn't exist in the 1890s, and Bessie made those trips in just over two years on steamships and trains.
Whew! Makes me tired just thinking about it!
If Witch Creek sounds familiar...
"Witch Creek" is the name given to the October 2007 wildfire that began on a ridge between Witch Creek, California, and San Ysabel, 5 miles to the east.
But a different type of fire - one of much longer duration - blazed in those hills in the 1890s, fed by the love of Bessie and a Scotsman named James Wood.
It isn't recorded how a 24-year-old English girl from a well-to-do merchant family in Plymouth, Devon, met the Scot almost 12 years her senior from Renfrewshire, Scotland. They could've met while she was a kindergarten teacher in Hammersmith, London.
However, I suspect they hadn't yet met when Bessie sailed from Liverpool for New York on 5 July 1893 on the S.S. Adriatic. The outbound passenger manifest indicates she was traveling alone (as a Second Class passenger) when she boarded, but soon made the acquaintance of two young teachers traveling together, Edith Vinter and Margaret Rogers, as she was listed between them on the arrival manifest at New York.
Another indication she hadn't met James Wood yet was the fact that she only had two pieces of luggage. Even if both were steamer trunks, they would hardly have held the trousseau and such necessary for a future bride's new life in America. More likely, they met on the train coming out from New York.
James had been in America since 1887, but didn't join his younger brother, Thomas J. Wood, in Witch Creek until 1893. Therefore, it's quite possible he was traveling to California on the same train carrying Bessie to Kansas City, where she would've caught one of several daily trains servicing residents of Burlingame and its lucrative coal mining industry.
On that first trip, Bessie may have intentionally packed "light" in anticipation of being gifted with clothes fashioned by her mother's sister, Sophia Window-Filley, a well-known seamstress and milliner in Burlingame, Kansas.
The photo of Bessie and Edward at the top of the hub is only a portion of a much larger photo of the remaining children and grandchildren (minus one not yet born) of Bessie's aunt SophiA, the mother of Edward's mother SophiE who'd died in 1891.
Some photos, they say, are worth a thousand words. This one is an entire mini-series, so I'll stick to the extremely-condensed highlights of the world Bessie Bruford found herself in...but only briefly...in 1893.
SophiE's brother (SophiA's son) Tom Window is the dapper fellow holding a hat and standing behind wife Kate (wearing hat). Their daughter Muriel is the tiny little girl with her finger on her mouth at the bottom of the photo. You'd never guess from this photo that "Little Muriel" became a vaudeville star and a Ziegfeld Girl, traveled the world, and had two incredibly wealthy husbands (of three).
The woman in the droopy faux-Elizabeth I ruff sitting in front of the haggard-looking fellow with his tie askew, hubby Edd Riddle, editor of the local newspaper, is SophiE's sister Rebecca, always called Rebe ("ree bee").
The "baby" decked out in the white bonnet and dress is Rebe and Ed's son, Dudley McDonald Riddle. Believe it or not, Dudley was 5 mos older than Little Muriel...and almost 2 years old when this was taken. That outfit, btw, was the least fussy outfit Dudley was photographed in during his childhood. Can you guess Rebe really wanted a daughter?
Dudley survived his mother's efforts to feminize him and became a great-great-grandfather (on my son-in-law's side) of two of my grandchildren. Ironically, Dudley and wife Jane's two children were girls. Go figure.
The two older girls between Muriel and Dudley are Edward Phillip's sisters, Ruby and Monta. It was through researching my grandkid's paternal ancestors that I met Roberta, Ruby's granddaughter and owner of the original of this photo, and now my good friend.
You're probably wondering why the face of SophiA, matriarch of the clan at the far right holding second husband H.W. Filley's hat, looks a little "odd".
Well, tradition has it that Annie Phillips, the girl sitting between Bessie and Rebe, absolutely hated SophiA (although nobody ever knew why) and entertained herself by taking a needle to SophiA's face in every photo she could get her hands on. Luckily for SophiA's descendants, not very many. (I have an unscratched copy of this photo, but have no idea where it is at the moment. Sorry.)
Annie, who never married and was forever known as "Aunt Annie", was one of the twin sisters of John Edwards Phillips, widower of SophiE and (by then) absent father of Edward, Ruby and Monta (and Fred, standing next to Tom Window, behind Kate). John brought Annie over from their parents' home in Wales when she was just 17 to be the live-in nanny to the Phillips children, thereby depriving her of any further opportunity to disrupt twin sister Tillie's engagement to the boy Annie had her eye on.
Told you it was a mini-series...
But on to Witch Creek!
Witch Creek, like Burlingame in the 1880s and '90s, had been settled by British ex-pats. So many, in fact, that Witch Creek was often called "New London".
According to San Diego County Place Names A-Z, by Leland Fetzer, Thomas J. Wood's account of how Witch Creek got its name seems the most plausible:
"The Indians who lived here called it a name that sounded to us like 'Sissero' or 'Sissera'. I believe they were mispronouncing the Spanish word 'hechicero' or 'hechicera' which means wizard or witch, enchanter or bewitcher. We translated their word as 'witch', however, and that is the origin of the present name Witch Creek".
An unfortunate translation, in hindsight, in that the name became the basis of stories that the area is "hexed", lending credence to the tale that Indians in the area wouldn't cross the creek at night because it was "bewitched".
Thomas Wood, a Baptist minister and brother of James, had arrived in the Ballena ("VI yen neh") Valley from Scotland in 1884, and built a church in 1888. According to a 6 Nov 2008 article by Darrell Beck in the Ramona Home Journal titled "A Place Called Witch Creek", Rev. Wood "wielded a lasting influence" in the mountainous region, and "won the respect and confidence of both sinners and saints".
Witch Creek soon looked like a budding small town. There was a schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, a church, a butcher shop, and a 2-story hotel called Fred Fisher's. After James Wood arrived in 1893, it also had a post office, of which he was postmaster until his death in 1938. Besides postmastering, James engaged in farming (vineyards and orchards), and sold merchandise from the side of the road.
So this was the other world Bessie Fisher Bruford became a permanent part of on arriving from Glasgow in the spring of 1895.
On the second voyage to America, Bessie made the crossing on the S.S. State of Nebraska as one of only fifteen First Class passengers (as opposed to 159 Steerage passengers). That she was leaving the UK for good is evidenced by six pieces of luggage this time, and rather than the ubiquitous "protracted sojourn" with no specific destination, the arrival manifest at New York City lists her destination as "Witch Creek, Ca".
Inexplicably, however, instead of being married by James's brother Thomas at the church in Witch Creek in San Diego County, Bessie and James married in Los Angeles County, on 8 May 1895.
In addition to being newly married, James became a Naturalized U.S. Citizen on 3rd August, 1895.
Three sons soon arrived to make them a family of five:
- Douglass Bruford Wood in September 1896. ("Douglass" with the Scottish double "s".)
- Stanley Bruford Wood in March 1899 (named for Bessie's only brother, John Stanley Bruford, who died at age 17 in the summer of 1897).
- William W. Wood in July 1901.
Now for the part that always makes me wish my only knowledge of Bessie was the young woman reigning in her Cousin SophiE's son, Edward Phillips, in the photo at the top of this hub.
On 26 Oct 1901, when baby William was two days shy of three months old, Bessie Fisher (Bruford) Wood died. A life full of hope and promise was over at 34. Back in England, her mother Fanny Hunt (Fisher) Bruford would also be dead within the year.
James Wood never remarried. He and Bessie are buried side by side at the Nuevo Memory Gardens in Ramona, San Diego Co, CA. All of their sons married but oddly, as of the 1930 census, none had had children, and I can find no evidence of any born after 1930.
So there you have the story of Bessie's incredible journey to Witch Creek.