The Van Dyke Farm

Francis Van Dyke, born in Knoxville, Iowa in the 1800s arrived in Sutter County, California in December of 1898 by way of the train. He was married to Nancy Sherwood. 

The original farm was in Pleasant Grove, California, standing at 195 acres. 

The application to be recognized by CA Century Farms was submitted by Harlan M. Van Dyke, the grandson to Francis Van Dyke. Present owners and operators are the great grandchildren of Francis; Jim Van Dyke, Steve Van Dyke, Connie Jeronie, and Jason Dunbar. 

Family History: 

Francis M. Van Dyke (1847-1944) of Knoxville, Iowa, was the fifth child in the family of eight children; four boys and four girls. 

Francis married Nancy Sherwood in 1879. This union produced four children, Effie (1872-1935), Ralph (1875-1922), Francis (1880-1954), and David Clarke (1885-1982). Francis Sr. and Nancy lived in Knoxville for three years.

In 1873 the Federal Government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs hired Francis to teach Native Americans to farm and raise cattle. Francis was assigned to the Visalia Reservation, near Visalia, Ca, and relocated by train. It was in Visalia where Effie was born. 

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, in 1875, reassigned Francis to the Round Valley Reservation near the town of Covello, Ca, in Mendicino County. Francis and Nancy resided in Covello for twenty-one years. During their tenure here, Nancy gave birth to the remainder of their children. 

According to documents provided by the Van Dyke Family, Francis believed that the Round Valley Indians were unruly and violent. He took it upon himself to carry a firearm in order to protect himself against potential bodily harm. The alleged underlying unrest was because Native American men considered farming and manual labor “women’s work.” This ran contrary to Euro-American beliefs systems and Francis was tasked with introducing men into the agricultural field. 

Francis began by taking both the men and women to the Eel River in Mendicino County to catch and cure salmon. This practice became a staple of their winter diet which was supplemented by beef, sheep, and deer meat. 

Francis and the Natives also drove cattle and sheep to Point Reyes, CA, where they were loaded on boats and shipped to market. The profits furthered the tribe’s financial and agricultural success. 

Francis’s son, Ralph, sustained a head injury during one of these drives. As a result, the family packed up and moved to Livermore, CA, as a doctor there was willing to attend the Ralph’s injury. They remained there for two years and then moved onto Pleasant Grove. 

The family arrived in Pleasant Grove, Ca, in the middle of a harsh winter. Francis purchased a small ranch, known as the Parker Place, but was not able to farm until the first thaw. The family credits their survival to an abundance of cottage cheese, as there was no other food available. 

Francis Sr. and his family were envied for their successful production of vegetables and cattle. They were self sustainable, and always had enough food to donate to their neighbors during dry periods. 

Francis Jr. did not immediately migrate to Sutter County with the rest of his family. However, when he eventually joined his parents and siblings, he purchased Home Place, directly across from the Parker Place. This was the first of many acreage acquisitions that the family made. Francis Sr., Ralph, Clarke, and Francis Jr. continued to expand their successful farm until it was several thousand acres. 

Later, the older generation took a back seat and allowed their children to operate the land. In 1920, Nancy, Francis’s wife of fifty years and nine months, passed away peacefully in their home. Francis Jr. died two years later, on the eight of June 1922, as a result of his previous head injury. Francis Sr. passed away in his sleep on May 15, 1944. The three were laid to rest in the family plot in Lincoln, CA. Francis Sr. was buried as a free and accepted Mason with Masonic Rights, as he was a member for over fifty years. His family, neighbors, and friends noted that his passing left a large void in the community. 

The farm was bequeathed to the long time manager, and youngest son, David Clarke Van Dyke. The line of ownership has be passed on through David’s bloodline. 

The narrative will be continued as more information comes to light. 

A brief note: The information currently presented in this section was recorded by the family. The experiences and beliefs do not reflect the opinions of the Community Memorial Museum of Sutter County or CA Century Farms. 


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