Nathan Lincoln and the founding of Bella Vista Ranch

(version 1/25/10)


Nathan Lincoln was born in Chenango Couty, New York on Aug. 8, 1827, the son of a veteran of the War of 1812, who was named Nathan Lincoln (1789-1864) also. His mother was Phebe Hayes (1799-1878). Much of the following story of the life of the younger Nathan is extracted from

Lincoln, William Simpson, 1942,Our Kin, Descendants of Joshua Lincoln and Elizabeth Seekins Lincoln of Taunton, Massachusetts, Olympia News Press, Olympia, Washington, 134 p.

Parts that have been added are in brackets. Parts extracted from first-hand accounts are italicised in quotes.


[pg. 71]

Nathan M. Lincoln at the age of twenty-three and unmarried, together with his brother Harry, age twenty; brother-in-law Govan High, age twenty-seven; and cousin Alonzo Lincoln, left home in Illinois in 1850 and started across the plains for California. . . .

Nathan never returned to his home in Illinois, but made California his home until his death some fifty-five years later [in 1905]. He married in California and was living on a farm when his parents arrived in 1860, making the trip by water and across the Isthmus of Panama. His [first] wife, [who was named Matilda,] died without issue [sometime between 1860 and 1866]. . . .

[Nathan's farm was a 211-acre parcel at the head of the Suisun Valley, and in the westernmost part of the old Tolenas land grant, that he bought from a land investor named Miles Dean on October 18, 1852. His neighbor to the south was Henry Wetmore. A range of hills separated him from his neighbors to the north, the Gordon family who lived in Gordon Valley. Another range of hills separated him from Wooden Valley to the west, and on the east side of Nathan lived David Clayton, for whom Clayton Valley is named.]


[pgs. 77-78]

[There is also a statement written by Nathan's brother] H.L. Lincoln to his nieces, Ethel and Maebelle Jewell, as follows:

"In 1850, I, Harry L. Lincoln started across the plains with Nathan M. Lincoln, my brother; Govan High, my brother-in-law; Alonzo Lincoln, my cousin; and four yoke of oxen and wagon, travelled through the state of Missouri to San Jose. Owing to bad luck with our oxen, one of us had to go back to Bunker Hill, Illinois, with the intention of coming on next year, 1851. I, being the youngest, had to go back, but instead of going to California in 1851, I was married to Ann Fennel, August 20, 1851.

After a few years of prosperity, we sold our place and in 1859 started for California with wife and four children, Anna, Ella, George and Edward. As father and mother could not sell, I brought them and Augustus with us by water, by the Isthmus of Panama, as mother tells in her diary.

We first settled in Gordon Valley [or at the head of Suisun Valley?], Solano County, for a short time; afterwards moved to Capay Valley, Yolo County, and bought two hundred acres of land, prospering there for six years; then moved to San Jose to school the children. Was there three years, then came to Napa Valley in the latter part of 1876 or 1877."

[Nathan by the early part of 1861, and probably prior to January, 1860, had a small house at the head of Suisun Valley, identical in nearly every aspect to a pre-fabricated house that his neighbor Henry Wetmore had shipped around Cape Horn in pieces and reassembled a little more than a mile down the road. This leads to speculation that Nathan and Henry arranged the purchase and shipment of these houses together. The statement above by Henry Lincoln above implies that there may have been another house on the north side of Nathan's land overlooking Gordon Valley, or perhaps Henry is referring to the house on the Suisun Side, and simply confused the name with the adjacent Gordon Valley. In any event, the house on the Suisun side is known for sure to have existed, ant it was still standing until the late 1960's when it was torn down for the Spanish-style ranch house that stands on the site today.]


[pgs. 26-29]

A diary of the trip from Illinois to California was kept by [Harry's and Nathan's mother] Phebe Lincoln and mailed to the children left in Illinois; an excerpt follows:

"My dear children:

Left New York City Nov. 5, 1859, on the Baltic, 2 o'clock P.M. crowded on board like a ship leaving Africa [filled with slaves]. . . .

Sunday the 27th.   Pleasant. In sight of our landing place
-10 o'clock. All bustle. We are in San Francisco.

Monday the 28th.   Sailed to Benicia.

Tuesday the 29th.   We got to Nathan's [ranch at the head of Suisun Valley]. We found all well. . . .

Nathan has got a pretty place with high green peaks all around him. His garden stuff is green. His grape vines were full enough of second crop for us all, a treat. They are the best grapesI ever tasted. It is very pleasant weather. Augustus is going to plowing today, and Nathan is going to get my chest and carry this. I can't write how we can get land yet. . . .

The next letter, you may expect more. We have not been here long enough. Send word to Abel and to William.

January 11, 1860."

[Nathan's father Nathan Sr. was recorded as living with his son and daughter-in-law Matilda at the Suisun Valley house during the U.S. Census of 1860. Interestingly, the census does not record Phebe Lincoln. Sometime after the census was taken, Matilda died, but there is no official record of her death or burial. Many years later, the obituary of Nathan, Jr. in the Woodland Daily Democrat identifies his first wife as Matilda Benedict and states that her death took place in 1863. His father Nathan Sr. died in 1864 and was buried in the old Vacaville-Elmira cemetery. Phebe Lincoln died in 1878, and she is buried beside her husband Nathan, Sr.]


[pgs. 71-73]

When Caroline [Nelson, Nathan Lincoln's second wife] was eighty-nine years old she gave a brief sketch of [her] trip across the plains. Her account of the trip is given here as [she] gave it to her granddaughter, Bernice May Pomber.

"On April 18, 1864, Grandma Caroline, eighteen years old, left Ottumwa, Wapello County, Iowa, with her father and mother and her sister Angeline. . . .

So they started in their covered wagon drawn by two yoke of oxen bound for Oregon. . .

Before reaching Salt Lake City, Utah, the Nelsons changed their minds bout going to Oregon, deciding in favor of sunny California. So they parted from the Caravan and friends they had made and started. Another wagon went with them as far as Virginia City and from there on they traveled alone to their destination. This part of the journey was safe and pleasant. On the twenty-fifth day of September, 1864, five months and seven days from their departure from Ottumwa, Iowa, they arrived at Suisun Valley. Here they rented a place from Mr. E. Blake on Suisun Creek. At this time Mr. Blake decided to go back to Virginia, so Mr. Nelson sold him their two yoke of oxen and wagon. . . .

The Nelsons moved from the Blake place after they had lived there for a year. They rented a place at the head of Suisun Valley, seven miles from Suisun City, belonging to Nathan Lincoln. This was where Grandma met her husband to be, Mr. Nathan Lincoln. They were married and had family of their own. To her little group of children one can well imagine that Grandma told and retold this journey across the plains, which never grows dim in her memory."


[Nathan Lincoln and Caroline Nelson were married in Vacaville, California on March 15, 1866. They raised three children at the Suisun Valley ranch, until Nathan sold out to Joseph Wolfskill, their neighbor to the south, on June 29, 1873. Wolfskill had earlier purchased the old Wetmore ranch. Nathan and Caroline then relocated to Dunnigan, where they had six more children. Nathan died near Dunnigan in Woodland, California on Sept. 7, 1905.]

Obituary in the Woodland Daily Democrat of Thursday, September 07, 1905


For Thirty Yeats a Respected
Resident of Yolo.

Had Been Ill for a Long Time and
Was Unconscious Day and Two
Nights Preceding Death.

Nathan M. Lincoln died at the family residence this morning about 5:30 o'clock. He had been in ill health for the past ten years and confined to his bed since the 18th of August He was unconscious after Tuesday afternoon. His affliction was general debility.

The funeral will be held Friday afternoon. Services will be conducted in the M. E. church by Rev. R. E. Wenk. Interment will be in the city cemetery.

Deceased was a native of New York and was born August 8, 1827. He was therefore 78 years and 29 days old.

He came to California In 1851 and first located in Suisun valley, where he engaged in farming. While he resided in Solano county he was married to a Mrs. [Matilda] Benedict, but we have been unable to learn any of the particulars of this marriage. His first wife died in 1863. No children were born to them.

In 1866 he was married in Vacavllle to Miss Carrie N. Nelson, of Missouri. To them nine children were born. They are Mrs. L. E. Hambleton of Guinda, Mrs. George A. Wells of Tucson, Arizona, Mrs. W. A. Bender of Woodland, Miss May Lincoln of this city, William Lincoln of Pendleton Oregon, Grant Lincoln of Upper Lake, Albert, Charles and Marion Lincoln all of Woodland. He also leaves a sister, Mrs. J. G. High of Woodland and three brothers, H. L. of Calistoga, Edward M. and Edgar E. of Los Angeles.

About 30 years ago Mr. Lincoln left Suisun valley and located near Duningan, where for 24 years he was engaged in farming. Six years ago he retired from active life and removed to Guinda. He remained there about two years, after which he came to Woodland, taking up his residence on the corner of Elliott and Walnut streets, where he died.

Mr. Lincoln was a devout member of the M. E. church. His frankness, his courage, his honesty and his genial courtesy gained for him the respect and esteem of all who knew him. By those who knew him he was well beloved. He was a good citizen and as a neighbor he was of an openhearted, cordial temperament. He was affectionate as a husband and father and there was no greater pleasure for him than to be in the bosom of his family. His death will be deeply lamented and his loss will be sincerely mourned.