Miner & Mule 

 Sparrell & Tazewell Woody - American Pioneers in California

Sparrell and Tazewell Woody were the great grandsons of Henry and Susannah Martin Woody of Franklin County, Virginia. Sparrell was born at the family tobacco plantation on Doe Run near Rocky Mount in 1826, the son of Henry V. and Catherine Hughes Woody At the age of seven he accompanied his parents and siblings on an arduous trip to Missouri which was then the frontier of the westward migration from the original states. Tazewell (Taswell, Tazwell) Woody, the younger brother of Sparrell, was born about 1832, shortly after the Woodys arrival in Missouri. Until recently, Tazewell's life  has been an almost complete mystery. Somewhat amazingly, he plays a major role in the recollections of Theodore Roosevelt entitled "In Cowboy-Land" which was published May, 1893 in The Century, a popular magazine of the period. Tazewell's fantastic story is here.

        Family tradition reveals that Sparrell must have been,an exceptional student since, at the age of about 21, he received a degree from the Medical Department of the University of Missouri at CoOld Medical School, University of Missourilumbia. This is entirely plausible since the university was founded in 1839 and the first medical students were accepted in 1845. But in 1848 James W. Marshall discovered gold in Coloma, California and the medical profession seems to have lost its appeal to Dr. Woody. Along with tens of thousands of people from all over the world, Dr. Woody became infected with gold fever and in 1849, accompanied by his younger brother Tazewell, he made his way to California with a wagon train.  Since the Eastern terminus of the Oregon Trail was in Springfield, Missouri, it is most probable that the two Woody's started their journey from that point and, since fifteen miles a day was considered good progress, the trip typically took five or six months.


Sutter's MillIn California, Dr. Woody prospected for several years on the American River where gold had been discovered the year before, but he soon discovered a steadier source of income in the hotel and livery business in Auburn at the very heart of the gold frenzy. His brother, Tazewell, continued on to the gold fields of Australia, where he was involved in a serious incident in 1856. The wanderlust again struck Dr. Woody and, in about 1857, he sold his business, boarded one of the first steamships in the area and made his way to the Sandwich Islands which are now known to us as Hawaii. This was almost ten years before Samuel L. Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, made the same voyage and used his experience as a basis for his first public lecture in San Francisco. This very successful endeavor paved the way for Clemens’ long and successful career as a public speaker.

Dr. Woody worked for a short time in the custom house iYankee Manifestn Honolulu, but on January 21,1859 he sailed for San Francisco on the ship Yankee.  By 1860, he had returned to his farming roots in the area which later became the city of Bakersfield in Kern County. However, in 1861 and 1862, disastrous floods on the Kern River washed away his crops and he pulled up stakes again and moved some 25 miles northeast to 160 acres of higher ground at the base of Blue Mountain in the Greenhorn Mountain Range. This location is very close to the present day Sequoia National Forest. At an elevation of 2000 feet, the summers here are warm and the winter temperatures seldom dip below freezing. The addition of abundant rainfall makes this region ideal grazing land, so Dr. Woody begin to devote more time to cattle ranching, although he continued to produce substantial crops of grain and corn. 


In 1861, Dr. Woody married Sarah Louise, daughter of Christian and Orpheus Green Bonha. Christian was also a pioneer of Kern County and, after the flood of 1862, sold his farm to Colonel Thomas Baker, the man that Woody, Californiawent on to organize the city of Bakersfield on that spot. From time to time, Dr. Woody added additional land to the ranch until the property encompassed some 4000 acres. By 1869, a small community had emerged about three miles from the Woody ranch. Dr. Woody provided assistance in building the first school and church for this village which was latter named Woody in his honor. In 1899 the Woody General Store was built. For many years this store was the focal point of community activities for the nearby ranchers. Today, a California Historical Marker commemorating these events stands at the junction of Highway 155 at Woody Road.

 Although life on the California frontier in the 1860s was undoubtedly primitive by today’s standards, the Spanish missionary Father Francisco Tomás Hermenegildo Garcés explored the same area and, on May 3, 1776, even preformed a baptism very near present day Woody.

Dr. Woody and Sarah Louise were the parents of five children born in the log cabin at the ranch: Eugenia, Nettie, Victoria, Stonewall and Elmer. Sarah Bohna Woody died in 1909 and Sparrell died a year later. Stonewall and Elmer inherited the ranch and increased their holdings to some 6500 acres.

         Cheryl Van Orman has kindly sent us a copy of Life and Genealogy of Henry Woody which was compiled by Inez Louisa Carver and Hannah L. Biggs Smith and self published in 1927. At about the same time, Inez and Hannah also published Life and Genealogy of Christian Bohna. Inez was the granddaughter of Sparrell Woody and Hannah was the granddaughter of Hannah Bohna, the sister of Sparrell's wife Sarah Bohna. This Woody pamphlet contains an interesting narrative concerning the life of Sparrell Woody, as well as, the lineage of Henry V. and Catherine Hughes Woody as it was known in 1927. We were gratified that our research into the lives of Sparrell and Tazewell was confirmed by a close relative of the men. In addition, quite a few individuals were added to the database lineage of Henry and Catherine Woody.


(To be continued)




 A Memorial and Biographical History of the Counties of Fresno, Tulare, and Kern, California, Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago, 1892
"Bathurst Circuit Court", The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney Australia, Sep 27, 1856 (Online: Australia Trove Digitised Newspapers)
California as I Saw It,  (Online: Library of Congress – American Memory)
Carver, Inez Louisa & Smith, Hannah L. Biggs. Life and Genealogy of Henry Woody, self published, Berkeley, California, 1927
Morgan, Wallace Melvin. History of Kern County, California, Historic Record Co., Los Angeles, 1914 (Online: Internet Archives - American Libraries)
Garcés, Francisco Tomás Hermenegildo. On the Trail of a Spanish Pioneer; The Diary of  Francisco Garcés Vol. 1, Translated & edited by Elliot Coues, Francis P. Harper, New York, 1900 (Online: Google Books)
"Passengers", The Friend, Honolulu, Hawaii,  February, 1859 (Online: Genealogy Bank)
Significant Dates in the History of the University of Missouri,
(Online: Archives of the University of Missouri)
Sutter, John.
"Capt. Sutter’s account of the first discovery of the Gold" (Online: The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco)
Woody Family Narrative, (Online: Kern
County Superintendent of Schools – The Learning Center)


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Revised Oct 30, 2013