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Joe Farnham

Joe Farnham
Amateur Naturalist for 100 Years
On the first of April we always went barefoot and headed for Cache Creek.

Joe Farnham was one of the oldest living residents of Cache Creek.  Born in Yolo County on December 22, 1910, he had seen first-hand many of the changes that have swept through the region.  He shared stories of life along the creek during an interview at the Cache Creek Nature Preserve.



How long has your family been living along Cache Creek?

My granddad bought a place here in 1896.  He didn't live here but he sent his son, who was my dad.  That's where he lived his life, and that's where I was born and raised.

What kind of work did your father do?

 We had a dairy, and he was a small farmer.  We always had fifteen or sixteen cows.  In those days a creaming wagon would come up once a week and pick up the cream.  The farmer who owned the cow would run the milk through a skimmer.  The skim milk went to the hogs and the cream went to the creamery to make butter.  They sent it clear to Sacramento!

Did you spend a lot of time at the creek as a boy?  

Yes, I did.  A great place to have a lot of fun.  Whatever was there we took part in it.  In those days there were more animals—a lot of beavers in there.  We used to sit and watch those beaver.  But then we grew up and got ponies and rode to school, about two miles away. We rode the ponies to school and also to the creek.

What else would you do for fun as a child?

When we were kids we would head for Cache Creek, always barefoot, and we'd all go swimming.  The creek was usually pretty high, even for that time.  We'd go clear out to Madison Bridge, about 3 miles up, carrying a flashboard with us.  We'd lay on the flashboard and ride all the way down.  A free ride!

What did you do when you came of age? 

I left home around 1930 when I was about 19.  I'd come back off and on and help my dad, but I was busy elsewhere.  I joined the navy, and before joining the navy I went to sea.  I visited Australia and New Zealand, and I toured the South Seas.  I'd always come back home again.

Did you marry? 

Well, we celebrated our seventieth in 2003.  We were married seventy years ago, married 1933.  Our wedding was in Seattle; that's where she was from.  I was in the Navy.  We had one son.

What was life like on the Creek when you were a boy? 

The first memories I have of this area are of a Mr. Stevens, a bachelor.  He was a young man; he was single. His nickname was Monk.  He and my dad became fast friends.  When my dad would go to town he would always stop at the local brewery, go inside, and get three or four bottles of steam beer, ice it up, put it in his buggy, and get out here.  He'd meet Monk out here; Monk was always waiting for him to come back. Sitting, talking about whatever's happening.  Just sitting and enjoying each other's company, I guess.  I was probably about 6 or 7 years old at that time.

What did residents of Cache Creek do for a living when you were young? 

There was a person by the name of William Bemmerly and he lived up the creek a ways.  He had 107 acres of land and raised pure-bred heifers.  When I got big enough to work a little bit I went and helped Pedro.  He was given 10 acres for his own and he grew potatoes.  So he hired me to lead his team and drive the potatoes to Sacramento in his Model T truck. On the south side there was an old gentleman named Sam Rom. He had 160 acres and he raised hogs. He had a nice big barn.  He actually lived in half of the barn, and the other half was devoted to his sows.  There were little piggies in there.

Was flooding an issue for you? 

The creek can flood almost every year.  We had a piece of ground next to us which we owned, and across the creek was J.W. Munroe.  He was a sheriff.  Every time the creek would get high it would change the streambed; one year it would be Munroe’s, the next year it belonged to the Farnhams.  They used to josh each other, called it Munroe's Island.  Where Dr. Berrett lived, the water would flood his land and make a gully.  A real trashmover we called it.  The water flooded the Bemmerly place, let his cattle out, and washed a bunch of them downstream.  The cattle were confused, of course, and they went with the high flow of water.   They ended up down here, a number of them dead.  Old Farnham went down on his horse and drove them through the mud and slush to get them back home again.

What other memorable experiences do you have of the creek? 

We found what was left of a hairy mammoth in about 1981.  We had a lot of fun with that.  We notified the university and a paleontologist came over.  He brought his crew with him, young college kids, and they stayed at our house.  They did the work, and we watched and kept out of the way.  While that was going on we were looking around for more mammoth-type things.

Did you find any more?

Mr. Durst, from Capay, read about what we had found and he called me.  He said, 'I've been around here a long time, and when I was a boy about 16 years old'—at the time he made the statement he was maybe 75, 80 years old—'I found this same thing you've got, only in a gully up in Hungry Hollow Hills.  Come on up and I'll show you.'  So we took the paleontologist with us and we went up north to Capay.  We found the perfect specimen of a mammoth.  Mr. Durst said he said he found it in 1916!  The paleontologists were quite eager to find all the bones they could, and they made maps of where they might be or were.

You’ve spent a lot of time living near Cache Creek.  How has the land changed? 

Well I don't know that it's changed, I suppose it has.  People used to come out here in horse and buggy.  Road 20 was not there then.  But when you're around it like I was you kind of forget how it used to be.  All you can thing about is how it is now.  


Joe Farnham passed away shortly after this interview.  We feel fortunate that we were able to record his thoughts and experiences.

Written by: 
David Gonzalez

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