Great Uncle John Kelly wrote this account in about 1925.


Retyped by family members

Susan Kelly

Lucia Kelly Sippel

Andrea Pasek

Elaina Blankinship


Copyright 2006




John Lincoln Kelly (1867 – 1938) was the seventh child of Matthew and Emily Porter Kelly. Matthew came from the Isle of Man in 1844. Emily came from England to Wisconsin about 1844 where she met and married Matthew. In the next years Matthew crossed to the California goldfields believing that it was easy to pick gold off the ground and get rich quickly. After waiting three years, Emily started for California with her small daughter and her brother. They went to New York and by steamer to Panama, walked across the Isthmus of Panama, then waited for a ship to San Francisco where her husband met them, then on to Deadwood. Deadwood was a small gold mining town in the central Sierra near Michigan Bluff. Matthew did well at blacksmithing work but never discovered much gold. Emily, apparently the only married lady in town, cooked and took in occasional travelers as the situations demanded.


As the children grew older, the parents became concerned about the influence of the surroundings (bars and miners) and began to consider moving. They finally settled in San Diego County in November of 1868. John was 16 months old when they arrived.


In San Diego County they “took up” a homestead adjacent to the 13,311 acre Rancho Agua Hedionda which was being managed by Matthew’s Brother Robert Kelly. Much of the work described here by John, was done on the big ranch as well as on their homestead by Matthew’s children while they were teenagers and later as ranch owners.


It is fortunate that John found the stories of old timers so interesting. That he thought it worth while to write down how work was done on a cattle ranch. Though he planned the account for his own contemporaries about 1921-1926, we of the great grand children’s generation are the ones to appreciate his efforts.


In order to share it with others, we have retyped it as he wrote it only using the computer’s capabilities to correct spelling or typing errors and to produce copies as requested.




There have been a great many stories written about life on a western cattle ranch, and some of them are very interesting reading. But I have thought for a number of years that if someone who had really had the actual experience would write it up in a truthful way, without any false coloring, it would be both interesting and instructive.


In the first place it is a life that is almost a thing of the past. True, there are a few big ranches still, but the ranges are nearly all fenced, and the life of a modern cattle man is entirely different from what it was thirty or forty years ago. I have often thought in looking back over old times that one would really have to go back beyond the year 1880 to get a sample of real western life. With the coming of the railroad everything changed. New people came into this country, and the old open ranges were a thing of the past.


In those early days we thought nothing of a man’s coming into the house and sitting down at the table, or in the room where the family congregated, with a big pistol hanging on his belt. I do not want to give the impression that it was necessary to go armed, or that everyone went about in that way, but if anyone whose business it was to be out in the hills with cattle or other stock, called at the ranch, and was invited in to eat, or to spend an hour or two, it was a matter that would attract no comment if he came in with his side arms on. There were men then who always went armed, and there were also men in this country then who never went armed. My father, Matthew Kelly, came to California in 1851 and lived among the pioneers until his death in 1885, and never carried a revolver. He went about among all sorts of people, and was never afraid to stand up for his rights under any circumstances or conditions, but he never thought it necessary to carry arms to do so.


Every once in a while someone comes back to San Diego who claims to have lived here for awhile “away back in the eighties”, and who tells an awful story of what a bad place it was then and of how men used to take the middle of the street if they had to go down town after dark. I can testify (and any other old-timer who is truthful will bear me out), that the streets of San Diego were just as safe then for people who knew how to behave themselves as they are today. Of course, if one was looking for “rough stuff”, there were plenty of places where he could be accommodated; but if he were peacefully inclined there was no need of his having trouble of any kind. It was the same out in the country among the stock men. If one behaved himself and did not go hunting trouble, he would find the people kind and hospitable. True, there were times when some “outlaw” was at large, when people living away back in the hills, away from any neighbors, would necessarily be a little careful of how they allowed visitors to approach their houses – especially after dark. But any “outlaw” who tried to carry on a “bold bad career” usually met his waterloo before he had gone far.


With most men, especially old men, the story of their lives, if truthfully told, would be very interesting. But how few of the old people you meet can tell a true story.