Burdick: A man who beat the odds
in the September 18, 2009, issue
The Kaweah Commonwealth
(“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
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
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
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
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!
F. Dean:Professor with a purpose
in the November 20, 2009, issue
The Kaweah Commonwealth
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.
school records show that W.F. Dean taught 11
terms at the Three
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
(then known as Cove
in 1873 and the beginning of teaching records
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
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
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
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
on Highway 198 is on a portion of the old Dean
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
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.