Let’s talk Clovis: The Potter family’s early years, part 1

The Potter family is 1888: Lizzie, Mattie, Kate, John W. and J. Webster (photo courtesy of Clovis Museum).

On Feb. 8, 1956, Kate Potter Clark (1874-1969) edited “A Sketch of the Early Years of the John Potter Family in Fresno County.” Her story begins in this area in 1872. We are sharing portions of her article in two parts.

“My father, John Wesley Potter, lived in Fresno County, in the Clovis area, from 1872 until the time of his death in 1915.

“He was born in Missouri in 1837 and came to California, with the rest of the family, in 1853, at the age of 16 years. His home was near where the town of Linden is, 12 miles northeast of Stockton, until 1872.

“He and a younger brother were partners in farming operations. In that year, 1872, my father moved a flock of sheep they owned jointly, to this county, near where the town of Clovis is now located.

“He preempted 160 acres and homesteaded the adjoining 160 acres. A few years later, he and his brother dissolved partnership. His flock of sheep increased, so he was in need of more pasture. He was able to buy more adjoining land, until he owned 3,200 acres. On these acres, the sheep grazed through the fall, winter and spring months. Late in May, every year, they were taken to the green meadows in the Sierra Mountains, above where Huntington Lake is located.

“There is a trail now, just above the upper end of the lake that is named Potter Trail.

“On Christmas Even, Dec. 24, 1873, he was married to Martha J. Webster of Vacaville, Solano County, who was a native daughter of California, born in Napa County, Oct. 21, 1852.

“After spending a honeymoon in Sacramento and Linden, they came to Fresno. There was just one hotel in the town, so they had difficulty in finding a place to spend the night. At the time, few people lived in Fresno. There was one store, operated by Otto Frolich and a blacksmith shop. Neighbors were miles apart and bandits had roamed the plains, so my mother, who lived in a small town, with near neighbors, felt very much afraid. When at home alone on seeing a stranger coming, she was careful to have the back door open so she could make a hasty get-away if he proved to be unfriendly.

“Three children were born to them, Kate, the writer of this sketch, now Mrs. C. Todd Clark whose home is on part of the acreage of the sheep ranch just about a mile from where the Potters first lived.

“Webster, who now lives in Modesto, and Elizabeth Russell, now deceased, who was married to O.L. Russell.

“After living near the sheep camp several years, we moved two miles north, just about a mile south of Big Dry Creek, to be near the school and children and neighbors. This was in the Mississippi School District, so named because a number of the families living in it had come to California from Mississippi, namely the Shipps, the Major Nelsons and the D.C. Samples and perhaps others.

“All of the activities of the community were held in the school house. The first school house was located in the field, a little way north west from the Major Nelson home. It was built of rough lumber. The desks were homemade of like material. I think there were between 20 and 30 children in the school.

“A new school building was erected about 1885 or 1886 very near Big Dry Creek, close to where the flood control dam is located. It was built of finished lumber by skilled carpenters and it was painted and furnished with commercially built seats and desks.

“We lived about a mile from the creek so we were compelled to cross it to get to school. In the winter, many times quite a stream of water came down and because there was quicksand in the creek bed, it was difficult to cross. My father built a suspension bridge. We used it every day, when there was water in the creek for long as we were in school.”

Kate’s personal description of our rich history will continue in the next edition.

Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.