L to R: Rachael Huckaby Wonacott, Forrest Wonacott, Charles William Wonacott, Dwight Wonacott, Evangeline Wonacott Backert ­ taken 1917 at Old Ranch in Bishop

The Wonacott Family of Bishop

 Photos and text courtesy of Carol Backert.
All text references to "I" or "my" are personal commentary by Forrest (Bud) Backert.
See USE NOTICE on Home Page.

The Wonacott Family, California Pioneers
by Carol Backert

1896 photo taken at Riverside School

Back Row (L to R): Carrie Wonacott, Ray Southern, Jeff Smith, Hattie Wonacott, Don Wonacott, Nina Brown, Marion Brown, Lester Jenkins, Forrest Wonacott, Harvey Hutching, Ruth ?
Front Row (L to R): Albert Wonacott, Dwight Wonacott, ?, Ana Brown, 2 Allison girls, Vernon Jenkins, Robert Hutching

bishop class 1894
Bishop Academy - Graduating Class of 1894

Back Row (L to R): Mary Leidy, Etta Shirley, Ed Dehy, Frankie LeBarge, Joe Inman, Emma Chalfant, Mrs. Mamie Clarke (teacher)
Front Row (L to R): Arthur Shirley, Agnes Chalfant, Libbie Garretson, Jessie Miller, Catherine Cashbaugh, Carrie Wonacott, James Dehy


George and Emily Huckaby and family and Charles Wonacott and wife Rachel (Huckaby) came from the east in a wagon train. They chose the Owens River Valley as their ultimate goal and arrived in 1874 at what was then known as the Love Bridge, now ridges. George homesteaded acreage on Dixon Lane and one tall white silo cylinder is a marker standing just west of U.S. Highway 6 north of Bishop.

Both families lived on the ranch. Then the Huckaby family sold the ranch to Charles Wonacott and moved to land beyond the Owens River until eventually moving to Laws. (This isn't quite the story, actually Rachel's parents, Hiram and Louvicey Huckaby owned the ranch. Hiram died and she left the ranch to the children, James, George and Rachel. And her husband Charles bought out the two Huckaby boys.) George (Huckaby) and Emily (his wife Emily Smith) were the parents of Florence (Huckaby) Smith. Florence Huckaby married Joe Smith, a different Smith and she was in Laws for years. She was postmistress until just before her death and her little post is at the museum at Laws. I always called her aunt Florence, but she wasn't an aunt.) Wonacott built a two-story home on Wonacott Lane, as earlier known. He teamed between Candelaria, Carson City and Bishop Creek and was also busy as carpenter helping build several schools and some of the bridges over the Owens River.

Recently, a pretty, ornate medal the size of a dollar was discovered near the Wonacott, silo by use of a metal detector. The embossed words, "This medal of excellence to Charles Wonacott for a cartridge loader, 1877. The historic piece indicates a sort of contest unknown in 1877.

Charles and Rachel raised eight children. One son, Don, managed the farm in later and built the silo. (Charles sold the ranch to his son Don on August 12, 1924. His name is noted in the Inyo Creamery Papers. The Wonacott children had to hike salt grass fields to attend Riverside school to the north. (The school / the ranch, Charles donated the one acre to the school district for ''as it shall be used for school purposes"). In those days there were no fences from our place clear to town" as told by Albert W. (Bob) Wonacott. Bob liked to tell of the few years he lived in Nevada. His father was then the town undertaker and Bob was employed as a teamster. He drove teams the long trip to and from Sodaville, which was then the end of the railroad from Carson and points north. The route used by stages and the long teams was across the flats by Millers and over the Monte Carlo Range with two night stopovers.

Another interest of Nevada's early days told by Bob was a mode of transportation between Tonopah and Goldfield after the T & G Railroad was completed. Autos were equipped with flanged wheels so they could run on the tracks between train schedules. Passengers were hauled at a cost of $30 per round trip. Holiday time parties would "charter" the rail traveling cars for a special event at Goldfield for a sum anywhere from $30 to $50.

In 1908 Bob and Carrie Thompson were married. They raised three children, Thelma, Thomas and Barbara Jean. The family was long known for their dairy business near Bishop and also in the Mammoth Lakes area. Milk and cream were always delivered to the door with a cheerful greeting or a bit of news. Bob and Carrie were very hospitable people Bob welcoming friends with a reminder of early days, "put your horses in the corral and bring in your bedrolls" Family history from the late Bob and Carrie, (Thompson) Wonacott.

wonacott home
Wonacott homestead in Bishop, California circa 1911.
This is the Wonacott-Huckaby family home in Bishop, California. Built by Chas. Wonacott and Hiram Huckaby about 1900. My mother, Evangeline's room was on the second floor, just behind where the people are standing on the balcony. She grew up there, went to Riverside School which was on the ranch. Most of the Wonacott children were either born in this house or married in it. My great grandmother Louvicey Huckaby and my grandmother Rachel both died in this house.

Hiram Huckaby and his wife Louvicey Hicks Huckaby homesteaded the property. After Hiram's death Louvicey gave the house and the 160 acre ranch to her three children, Rachel, George and James. Charles Wonacott bought the two brothers shares and had Rachel quit claim her share, thus he became sole owner of the ranch and house. The City of Los Angles took the water from the valley, the ranch had to be sold to the City, at their price. The house and ranch were abandoned and finally the Indians set it on fire. The only visible reminder of this tragedy is the concrete silo on Dixon Lane, it stands today as mute testimony to avarice and greed As Will Rodgers said, "Los Angeles needed the water to put in their orange juice."

See the ditch [in front of the fence] I played in when I was six years old. The trees are bare in the picture as it is winter, but in the summer it is a cool green place a home where seven children were raised and when the children grew up there were grandchildren. That place was home to all of us.

The house originally had no inside toilet, my grandmother said she didn't want people doing that in her house. There was a hand pump over the kitchen sink and a tank as part of the stove (called a water back). Eventually water was piped into the house and a toilet was added upstairs. The building in the rear was a stone house used to store vegetables and meat, it would be cool in summer and frost free in the winter. Between the house and the stone house was a wash house used for laundry. The washing of clothes was done by Indian women who worked on the ranch and lived there as part of the family.

wonacott home

On the upper balcony from L to R are: Bob W Wonacott, his wife Carrie Thompson-Wonacott, my (Bud Backert's) grandmother Rachel, my grandfather Charles Wonacott. The young woman is Evangeline W Wonacott-Backert, my mother.

On the first floor the figure on the left is Forrest Wonacott, the uncle I was named after. The boy on the right is Dwight Wonacott he too was my uncle.

frank backert
Frank Backert and son Forest Xavier Backert

evangeline wonacott
Evangeline Wonacott

The Wonacotts in 1922

bud backert
Bud Backert Family 1922

rachael wonacott
Rachael Lettitia (Huckaby) Wonacott

Rachael Wonacott was born September 12, 1856, in Cass County, Ill. She died February 1, 1922 in Bishop, California. She is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in Bishop.

The Huckaby Family
The Huckaby family has been traced back in Virginia to about 1720. This work done by Dennis Huckaby, a grandson of George Washington Huckaby, who is currently living in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Virginia Huckaby's are probably related to other Huckaby's that research has turned up in Georgia and Louisiana, there are several spelling variations, but no direct connection has been found.

Our Huckaby family, or at least parts of it, left Virginia sometime after 1800 and went to Tennessee. It looks as if they spent the Civil War there. Hiram Huckaby, the father of Rachel was born there in Campbell County in 1817 or 1813. He was married there in 1859. The Civil War began in 1861 and ended in 1865.

From Tennessee the family moved to Illinois and from there to Missouri for a short time. On April 10, 1874 they left Independence, Missouri for California. There was a total of seventy-five in the party, it included Hiram Huckaby, Louvicey Hicks-Huckaby, his wife and Moses Smith and his wife Saphrona Herrill (Merrill?) Smith, George Washington Huckaby and his new bride Emily Smith. Charles Wonacott and Rachel Huckaby were married on June 16, 1872 in Osceola (Ritches Mill), Missouri so they were newly wed also, they were members of the immigrant train until it got to Laramie, Wyoming where Rachel's first child, Franklin died, and her second child Carrie Belle was born. The main party arrived in Bishop October.26, 1874, this according to Dennis (Chuck) Huckaby, but Rachel, her husband Charles, and the new baby Carrie didn't arrive in Bishop until November 1875.

Rachel's third child, Don Lester, was born in Bishop December.21, 1876, her fourth child, Albert Warren (Bob), was born in Murphys in 1886. They returned from Murphys to Bishop and Rachel inherited one third of the Huckaby homestead, later the Wonacott ranch on Dixon Lane. She and Charles bought out the other heirs and owned the ranch themselves. When Charles bought out the other Huckaby's he had Rachel quit claim her share to him, including 4 cows and five calves. Don't know why this was done this way, especially in a community property state, but it makes interesting speculation.

Rachel had two brothers, James, who never married and George Washington Huckaby, who married Emily Smith, in Missouri, before coming to California. Emily and George had eleven children: James, Franklin, Charles, Will, Claude, Ray and Raymond the twins, Alice, Ethel, Ella and Florence. Most of them lived in the Laws area and went to school in Laws and Bishop. Emily ran a Hotel in Laws (Dennis Huckaby said he was born in it), Claude had a pool room and a dance hall there. George and his wife Emily owned several pieces of property there.

There is no town of Laws now, not really. The Railroad Museum is there, which is really something worth any of the family seeing, there is a house or two, a commercial plant, a movie set, you might find some concrete work with the name A.O. Adams imprinted in it. The post office that Florence Huckaby-Smith took care of for so many years has been moved to the museum grounds. But really there is no Laws anymore, no ranches around there; no ditch companies bring water to the fields. When you go there you aren't going to see much of anything and you will probably think that Laws is a pretty desolate place to live, no one would want to make a home there or to raise children there, it is just so much sand and sage brush. Near town is the Owens River, now a kind of brackish looking stream, wouldn't drink the water, for sure. Don't care too much to swim in it anymore. But there was a time. It was long ago, in the seventies, no,no, the eighteen seventies, not the nineteen seventies, when the Wonacott's and the Huckaby's and the Smiths came to the Valley there was water, and the water made the Valley bloom. It is hard to believe that there were ranches and fields of grain and schools and stores and people with children, and yes, even signs of prosperity in the latter years as a reward for those who weren't afraid to pioneer the land. The clearest example I can give is the old silo on Dixon Lane (it used to be Wonacott Lane). It is easy to find. Go there. There used to be a home there, a barn, out buildings, an orchard, gardens and trees. It was a working ranch. Over on the other side of the ranch (the next road north) was the Riverside School where many of the Wonacott's and Huckaby's went to school, but now sage brush, sand, nothing. Doesn't even look like it could have ever been anything. It can't, not without the water. It is gone, Laws is gone. The worst part is that that what is left isn't nice and green or pretty. That all went when the water went. Most of the Owens River now flows in a big steel pipe. Go north of Bishop and on the left or east side of the freeway at the bottom of Sherwin Grade is a road that will take you to the Owens River Gorge, where Charles and Rachel had the saw mill, you can look at that nearly dry gorge and at the same time hear the Owens River rushing by in all its purity... in a big steel pipe.

bud & jeanne backert

Forrest and Jeanne Backert (2003).

Photographs courtesy of Rick Olson archives


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This page was last updated on 06 September 2020