On a bright Saturday morning during the sesquicentennial year of the nation’s Civil War, Samuel E. Kyburz, a veteran of that war, received a proper military memorial service in the Clarksville Cemetery located on the rocky hill immediately east of El Dorado Hills Town Center, where records show he was laid to rest in 1917 without military ceremony or protocol.
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The Clarksville Region Historical Society remedied that situation on May 11, 2013, 96 years late, with help from high-ranking retired military officers from the U.S. Volunteers, Joint Services Command and the Second California Cavalry, Company F, which honors its original Civil War Company, known as the Sacramento Rangers.
Kyburz spent five years in Company D, defending his county’s western flank from cessationists and keeping the peace, often alongside Company F, before settling down at his family’s ranch near Clarksville, the ranch community that predates El Dorado Hills by more than a century and a half.
Kyburz married and sent out tap roots in a family tree that four generations later has become a forest.
Jennifer Lacey is a fifth-generation branch and has researched her family using recent studies drawn from original sources, including the Mountain Democrat, that reveal how her four-greats uncle, Samuel E.’s father, shaped the history of California.
Kyburz was just 4 years old when his parents left Wisconsin for California, via Independence, Mo., where they outfitted and came west by wagon just a day ahead of the ill-fated Donner Party. Contrary to many accounts, the family only met the Donner survivors after they got to Sutter’s Fort, according to primary sources cited by Lacey in her research.
Kyburz’s father, “Old Sam,” chose the ridge route into the Salt Lake Valley rather than the Webber Canyon Trail that delayed the Donners, according to Mountain Democrat accounts.
The Gold Rush was still a couple of years off, and might have unfolded much differently but for Old Sam. Captain Sutter took a liking to his Swiss countryman early on and made him a foreman shortly after his arrival in 1846, constructing a two-room addition on Sutter’s Fort for the family.
Lacey cites numerous primary sources, including the Mountain Democrat, in her claim that it was Kyburz who recommended the lovely “Culloomah” Valley as the site for Sutter’s proposed lumber mill, while James Marshall, who would eventually discover gold in what became Coloma, lobbied for a Butte Creek site on his personal ranch.
Sutter chose Coloma, then partnered with Marshall on the mill, making Kyburz the forgotten man in Gold Rush history.
The family bounced around during and after the Gold Rush, landing at a roadhouse along modern-day White Rock Road. Sam ran the place while his wife Rebecca kept the house. Captain Sutter caught up with his old friend and gave him 160 acres nearby, where Old Sam spent his golden years.
The ranch expanded over the years, encompassing areas off Payen Road and a large parcel between modern-day El Dorado Hills Boulevard and Ridgeview.
One son, Albert, later purchased a resort along the Silver Fork east of Placerville and gave the local post office the family name.
At the onset of the Civil War, Sam’s eldest son, Samuel E. Kyburz, responded to President Lincoln’s second call to the states for troops. He entered the Second California Volunteer Cavalry at the tender age of 19 in 1861, hoping, ultimately in vain, to be shipped east and participate in the bloodbath.
Few Californians made it east to fight. It turned out there was a lot to do at home in the very-much unsettled new state.
Following the Gold Rush of 1849, the state was overrun by fortune-seeking immigrants, resulting in violent confrontations with a native population who saw a way of life that had gone unchanged for millennia disappear in a decade.
Kyburz’s D Company spent much of its first two years at Camp Independence in the Owens River Valley, chasing Paiute Indians who were poaching cattle to avoid starvation after the flood of 1862. Some accounts say the cattle were grazing on wild grains that had been the Indians’ primary food sources.
The company later deployed in Kern County, Sacramento, Amador County, Colusa, Red Bluff and finally, in July, 1865, to Smoke Creek, Nev., before mustering out in 1866.
A proper sendoff
Their modern-day counterparts were on hand Saturday to give Kyburz a proper cavalry sendoff. Members of the 2nd California Cavalry Company F recreate their Civil War company down to the clothing, weaponry and importantly on Saturday, ceremony.
The cavalry was, by definition, mounted. Six members of Company F delivered a solemn mounted honors ceremony for Kyburz. A seventh horse was saddled but riderless, stirrups bearing the reversed boots that symbolize a fallen soldier. They fired the ceremonial three shots from their breech-loaded carbines; the reload time demonstrating why the cavalry’s primary weapon was its saber.
A graveside honor guard ceremony by the U.S. Volunteers included the playing of taps, an invocation, a ceremonial flag-folding and the presentation of “colors” to Lacey.
Clarksville historian John Thompson played master of ceremonies, framing the event in history, acknowledging the pioneer families and thanking the society’s volunteers.
Likewise, a grateful Lacey, folded flag in hand, thanked the small assemblage for acknowledging her family’s contributions and the efforts to spruce up the old cemetery. Before the ceremony she said she’d never seen it looking so good.
Each rider in the modern-day California Cavalry represents a specific soldier from their original Company. They research their subjects extensively in an effort to fully inhabit the character, said the group’s leader, Don Treco of Auburn, aka Captain Augustus Starr.
They reenact expeditions over the ground the company actually patrolled, up to 100 miles per day. “There’s no doubt we came through Clarksville,” said Treco, or was it Starr? “We eat, sleep and breathe the way they did.”
They particularly enjoy finding a cavalry member like Kyburz who hasn’t received a proper military burial or, better yet, one with no headstone.
The modest Kyburz headstone is in good shape, but many others in the old cemetery have been vandalized over the years.
That’s something John Renwick hates. The fifth generation Joerger now lives above Grass Valley, but his roots go back to the Mormon Tavern, a major stop on the Sacramento-Placerville freight roads in the pre-railroad era.
The inn was converted to a residence for the Joerger family, which had extensive holdings in pre-El Dorado Hills, including present day Town Center and portions of Serrano. The inn, named for its Mormon founder, was located immediately west of Silva Valley Parkway and north of Highway 50. It was burned down in the early 1960s to make way for the road’s expansion.
The county asked the Joergers to take control of the cemetery at some point, according to Renwick, who takes responsibility for the historic couple acres and its upkeep.
He attended with his son Brandon, 21, a sixth-generation Joerger who stands to inherit the responsibility. “It’s in good hands,” he promised.
Father and son posed for pictures by their family grave stones and told family stories long after everyone else was gone. “It’s nice to know where you’re going to end up,” said the senior Renwick.
Renwick said he was willing to work with the local historical society to secure a replacement for the cemetery’s sagging barbed-wire fence, asking simply that they do what they can to prevent any further vandalism.
The Clarksville Region Historical Society was founded in 2006 to preserve and celebrate the people and history of Clarksville and the surrounding region.
The Sacramento Rangers will be at the El Dorado County Fair next month. Visit their Website for information: californiacavalry.us.