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Kaweah Colony | Sequoia and Kings National Parks | Lemon Cove | Woodlake

The History of Three Rivers, California
Stories from the past

by Sophie Britten


Sophie Britten is a resident of Three Rivers

who is in the process of researching and writing a book on local history



Burdick, Abe

Dean, William F., Professor



Abe Burdick: A man who beat the odds

Published in the September 18, 2009, issue

of The Kaweah Commonwealth

Abraham (“Abe”) Burdick, an early Three Rivers settler, has gone down in local history as a legendary figure. A goldsmith by trade in New York City, he was born August 31, 1838, in New Jersey .
Legend has it that when his health began to fail, he moved to San Francisco, leaving his wife and daughter, who chose to stay behind in New York City .
   Arriving in San Francisco, he opened a jewelry store but bad luck was on his trail; that very same night the store burned to the ground! As he was standing in the street despondently contemplating the ruin of his hopes and business, a man approached him asking if he needed employment. When he indicated that this was so, he was hired on the spot to cook for a crew that was to build what the Kaweah Colonists called the Giant Forest Railroad, a project that was doomed to failure since the Colonists opted instead for a wagon road to access the giant sequoias.
   Again out of work, Burdick was finally diagnosed with what was then called consumption — or tuberculosis as we now know it. His doctor told him that he had just a few weeks to live.
   By then, his wealth purportedly consisted of $1.75 and with this he bought a sack of beans and a slab of sowbelly (bacon). He journeyed up to Yucca Creek on the North Fork (called East Branch by the Colonists) and camped under a sloping rock, ostensibly to await his fate.
   However, he did not succumb to his fatal illness; in fact, he lived under the rock for two years at which point he moved farther up the creek and built himself a cabin of hand-hewn alders he had carried up from the creek. Eventually, he developed a small ranch with an apple orchard and some livestock.
   Vowing that sleeping outdoors had saved his life, Burdick continued his habit of sleeping outside in a lean-to shelter for many years. During his lifetime, the Park Service tried many times to obtain his property but according to Colonel John White, then superintendent of Sequoia National Park, he refused to sell.
   Abe had a most famous (or infamous) cat that he named “Jesus.” Harry Britten, who was a park ranger at the time, told the story of the day that he had ridden his horse down the Colony Mill Road on his patrol and as was his custom, stopped at Burdick's ranch to have breakfast.
   As he was riding through the apple orchard, he spotted what he called a “lynx cat” or wildcat. He pulled out his service revolver and shot the cat, thinking to protect Mr. Burdick's chickens.
   He carried the cat by its bob-tail up to the door and when it was opened, Britten showed his trophy to Mr. Burdick who beheld the sight. Burdick promptly became infuriated and shouted that Britten had shot his cat, whereby slamming the door, and not speaking to Harry Britten for many years.
   In later years, the families of Ernest Britten and Ora Welch held a birthday party for the then aged Burdick. Harry was invited to attend, and he presented the tanned hide of the bobcat to Burdick.
   Burdick graciously accepted the peace offering and told Britten that he would send it to his daughter who still lived in New York and had recently contacted him.
   In the 1930s, a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was established on Yucca Creek, and Burdick became acquainted with the camp supervisor John Grunigen and his wife. She took food to Abe, who was then over 90 years old, and the CCCs helped him with the maintenance of his ranch.
   Abe Burdick lived in good health and contentment until his death in June 1935, and the CCC crew buried him on a knoll above his house in the shade of a large oak.
   Obviously, the salubrious air and climate of the Three Rivers environs had allowed him to outlive his sack of beans and slab of sowbelly to reach the age of 96. One man who truly beat the odds!

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William F. Dean:Professor with a purpose

Published in the November 20, 2009, issue

of The Kaweah Commonwealth

  Practically every person who grew up in the Three Rivers area at the end of the 19th century received part, if not all, of their schooling from a gentleman by the name of Professor Dean. The title “Professor” was probably bestowed upon him by courtesy as it was the custom in those days.

  Tulare County school records show that W.F. Dean taught 11 terms at the Three Rivers and Sulphur Springs schools between the years of 1881 and 1900. Old-timers told of his being their teacher at the Cinnamon Creek school, and longtime residents insisted that he taught in the period between the organization of Three Rivers School (then known as Cove School ) in 1873 and the beginning of teaching records in 1881.

  During the latter years of his teaching career, Professor Dean was apt to doze at his desk on a warm spring day. That's when the spit balls would fly!

  When a surreptitiously aimed ball struck his nodding pate, he would rouse with a jerk, only to see an apparently studious group of youngsters with heads buried in their books.

  But the children loved him because he often took them out on hikes to study nature — a subject close to his heart — instead of always teaching the three Rs as the trustees had hired him to do.

  Teaching was not William Dean's only interest. Taxidermy was one of his hobbies.

  He also raised cattle in the mountains and cultivated a small orchard. His close friend, George Welch, a pioneer civil engineer, surveyed the ditches in and out and around the hillsides for Dean's contour planting.

  It was a standing joke with Dean that “Welch did some crooked work for me!”

  The Dean place was located across from where the Community Presbyterian Church now stands and extended down to the river and up the other side where Sam Pusateri lived. Fred Walker's homesite across from the present-day Memorial Building on Highway 198 is on a portion of the old Dean place.

  Jim Barton's father, Bob, said that when he was a boy he enjoyed visiting Professor Dean and looking at his mounted animal heads, bearskins, stuffed birds, and innumerable birds' eggs, all in little boxes with their appropriate labels.

  Bob Barton told this story about Professor Dean: “Overhanging the precipitous old Mineral King Road is a sheer cliff some 500 feet high called Swallow Rock because the swallows always nested there.   Professor Dean was very anxious to get some of those swallow eggs, but there seemed no way to reach the mud nests plastered onto the face of the precipice. Not to be thwarted, this adventurous man let himself down over the cliff on a rope and retrieved the coveted eggs.”

  Professor Dean had very strong political views. Disagreeing with him in a hot argument one summer day was a barefooted, bareheaded socialist of German descent, Shorty Hengst.

  Dean finally became so incensed that he grabbed Shorty by the back of his collar and pushed him down the path to the gate with Shorty protesting all the while, “Not so fast, Mr. Dean, not so fast! Don't you see I vas a'coming.”

  Dean lost his wife when he was a comparatively young man and never remarried. He and she had visited Clough's Cave on the South Fork together, and years after her death when he again went to the cave with a group of friends he found her footprints in the hardened mud. He was so overcome that he wept.

  This pioneer did not finish out his days in Three Rivers. When he became too old to live alone, some of his relatives — the Scoffield family — came out from the East and lived with him for a time, then he went back to Oklahoma and died at the home of his nephew, George Dean, in 1934, at a very advanced age.


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THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, CA 93271
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
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