Last Halloween, I shared the story of George Amos Gritton, the coroner–and, eventually, treasurer–of Amador County, California. He was born on February 4, 1852 in Henderson, Illinois to George Amos Gritton, Sr., and Lucy Nation, and at the age of 18, he set out west to follow the California Gold Rush. That’s where he met Margaret Johnson, a young woman from Skåne län in Sweden who had followed her own parents, William and Ellen (Erickson) Johnson, to California in search of gold. Last Halloween, I shared Amos’ story; and now, I think it’s Margaret’s turn.
Margaret Johnson was born on July 28, 1850 in Skåne län, Sweden, and she and her parents (and sister, Ellen) left for Ellis Island two years later. Unlike most of my family, who settled in small towns along Lake Erie and worked for Brooks Locomotive Works, the Johnson’s decided to move to Galesburg, Illinois and try their hand at farming. But it didn’t stick, and on May 1, 1859, they left Galesburg with a party of three covered wagons for Salt Lake City, Utah. According to her daughter, “When a train of twenty-four wagons was formed, they ventured on. The train ahead of them and the train following were all massacred along the way, and [Margaret’s] brave pioneer mother sat with a rifle across her knees prepared to defend her dear ones in the event of an attack.” The family stayed in El Dorado County for three weeks before going on to the gold camps of Amador County.
Once in Amador County, Margaret started working as a schoolteacher–and then she met Amos. He was young and hardworking and ambitious, and it’s no wonder that she fell head-over-heels in love. Amos and Margaret were married on August 12, 1881 in Jackson County, California–he was 29, and she was 31–and had two daughters–Ellen Alta (b. 1881) and Lucy Georgina (b. 1883)–who were incredibly close throughout their lives. Margaret continued to teach school and work on the family farm, while Amos was elected to be Amador County’s coroner (and, eventually, treasurer). In later years, the Gritton’s opened their own gravel mine and employed young men who had traveled from all over–like Amos and Margaret themselves–in search of wealth in the gold fields.
Margaret was tough–a true “pioneer woman,” just like her mother before her–who single-handedly ran the family farm while caring for her husband and children. When Amos came down with appendicitis, she loaded him into a wagon and drove dozens miles to the city to find a doctor that could save him. Margaret stayed with him in the hospital for months and arranged for a few friends–and her daughters, when they could–to run the mine and the treasury office while Amos was recovering. She lived to be 84 years old–passing away on September 13, 1934 in Volcano, California–and her obituary sings her praises–which is completely to be expected:
Margaret Gritton was a woman of brilliant mentality with a keen interest in current events, and even when she became so ill she could no longer read the newspapers, she would ask that her daughters read them to her. Until her last illness she was active physically, and at the age of eighty-two years she walked many miles over mountain trails to Fort Ann to spend the seventy-third anniversary of her departure from that place.
Amos was a remarkable man, but Margaret’s resilience is just as inspiring. And I think the poem dedicated to her in the local newspaper–entitled “The Road to You” by Ronald Barrett Kirk–sums up her story beautifully:
A long road–a swift road–
And it shall lead me home:
Ever a dream of all my dreams
Where winds of twilight roam.
The dusk at my journey’s end,
And fair the star-lit skies–
A dim road–but, O, for me,
A path to paradise.
And flowers shall star the way, dear,
Through valleys lush with dew;
A little road–a white road–
To bring me safe to you!