The Tedford Family: A Story of Pioneer Life in Gospel Swamp

[Walter B. Tedford (1854-1940) and his family were among the first settlers in what is now Santa Ana. Their ranch was in the South Coast Plaza area—then jokingly known as Gospel Swamp, and later as Greenville. This talk was originally presented in the early 1920s.]

Walter B. Tedford
Orange County History Series, Volume 1 (1931)

William N. Tedford with his wife and five children left Moberly, Missouri, on the eleventh day of April, 1864, bound for California. Equipment, one wagon and three yoke of oxen—many interesting and some very exciting experiences crossing the plains. Arrived in California in October. Six months on the road.

Located for first two years in Solano County, on grain ranch, near a little town called Rockville.

Moved to Monterey County, near Watsonville, in 1866. One of our nearest neighbors at this place was none other than the William H. Spurgeon family—another neighbor was Isaac Williams and family.

In the summer of 1868, Mr. Spurgeon and Mr. Williams came to Southern California in quest of a new country. They had heard of the wonderful country south of the Pueblo of Los Angeles, and came to investigate its possibilities. To see was to be convinced that they had discovered a wonderful land; and at once they made up their minds to invest, Mr. Spurgeon purchasing that portion of the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana on which the City of Santa Ana now stands. Mr. Williams was more impressed with the lower and more fertile lands, and purchased twelve hundred acres of James McFadden of what was known as the McFadden Tract.

After each had made his selection and purchase, they returned to their homes in Monterey County to make preparation for moving their families to their new discovery in the South Land. Both Mr. Spurgeon and Mr. Williams told my father of the wonderful country they had found, and urged him to come with them to this new country. Mr. Williams told him he could have any part of and as much as he wanted of the twelve hundred acres he had purchased, if he would move with his family on to the land and make it his home, and at the price he had paid for the land, namely, $12.00 per acre.

Mr. Spurgeon made my father a proposition to give him a lot in the new townsite if he wanted to build a home there and live on it. This lot might have been one on which the new First National Bank Building now stands—who knows?

Father decided however, that there was a better opportunity to make a living for wife and children on the ranch proposition than on a town lot, so he proceeded to make arrangements to move and started in September, 1868, for the new country.

We crossed the Santa Ana River, which at that time was a real river with an abundance of water in it, in October, 1868, and proceeded to the lands purchased by Mr. Williams. Father made his selection of sixty acres of land. The land was of course, new, in fact a wilderness—no place for a family to live; so my father cast about for winter quarters and finally rented an old adobe house near Burruel Point near where the town of Olive is located.

This old adobe was then known as the Tom Mott adobe, in later years known as the Fletcher place. There my mother with her children spent the winter, while my father and I went to the new home ranch about eight miles away and cleared the lands and plowed and prepared for a crop the following summer.

We would return to the old adobe each weekend for a visit with the family and to get a new supply of food my mother had prepared for us for the next week.

It was while we were all at home in the old adobe one weekend that two strangers rode up to the house and inquired if the Tedfords lived here? After assuring them that this was the Tedford home, they introduced themselves and who should they be but Thomas Tedford and W.H. Tedford, my father’s cousins just arriving from Texas. They spent the winter with us and also purchased homes adjoining.

While many hardships were endured in living in a tent all winter in all kinds of weather, for it certainly did rain that first winter, working hard to get the land in proper condition for a crop, it was not as strenuous a life as the one we led after the crop was planted and growing, for it was then that we had to have someone in the saddle both day and night to guard our crops against the invasion of the Mexican horses and cattle that roamed the plains by the thousands at that time. Many times we would chase these horses and cattle for miles through the dense fogs at night—would lose our way and ride for hours not knowing where we were, but by turning our mounts loose, giving them their own way, they would always finally bring us back home.

In the spring of 1869, a temporary summer house was made and the family moved onto the ranch and things moved along more pleasantly. We had to guard over growing crops for several years until new neighbors came in and made new homes about us.

Mr. Williams’ family moved onto the ranch in 1869, Mr. Spurgeon with his family moved on to his new townsite about the same time.

Among the first neighbors we had in the community was a family by the name of Hickey; the head of that family was Isaac Hickey, a Baptist preacher. There was also a family in the neighborhood by the name of Lynch. In this Lynch family there were two boys by name George and Joe. George was quite a critic and made many comments about the happenings in the community. The Rev. Hickey would frequently hold meetings at his or some neighbor’s house where the people would gather for service. After a few of these meetings had been held, in a gathering of boys one day, the critic George Lynch said, “I have a good name for this community, let’s call it Gospel Swamp.” The name struck the boys as being a good one and of course the news was spread and the name was universally adopted and, as many of you know, it was “Gospel Swamp” for many years, in fact we hear it occasionally yet.

In these early days there was an abundance of wild game and it was no unusual thing for brother Ed and me sometimes with other boys of the neighborhood to take a little hunting trip for over night to the Laguna hills just beyond the old San Joaquin Ranch house at the head of Newport bay and return home the next morning with one or two deer for the home larder. We would sometimes see them in herds of ten to twelve together. For the small game such as quail and rabbits we did not have to go so far and they were plentiful too.

It was in 1870 that the little steamer Vaquero, commanded by Captain Dunnells, came into Newport Bay for the first time, she being a flat bottomed boat was able to steam up the bay to the big basin, where an improvised wharf was made where she could unload and load her cargo.

My father rode down through the tall mustard across the mesa on horseback the day the steamer came in, to arrange for shipping some potatoes to San Diego. On his return home he marked out the road to be to the landing by gathering dry cattle bones and placing them in piles on prominent places along the way to designate the course to the steamer.

When we were ready to deliver our potatoes father rode ahead on horseback and I drove the team, following him; that made our first delivery to the little steamer Vaquero in Newport Harbor. This little steamer burned wood for fuel and John Cubbon and Dan Boyd, both living in Santa Ana today, contracted with Captain Dunnells to supply wood for the return voyage. I remember seeing them pass our home place daily while the steamer was in harbor, driving a “spike team” hauling wood to the steamer.

It was about this time that Alfred T. Cole and family from Downey, California, A.T. Armstrong, T.J. Harlan, H.H. Wakeham with their family moved to our community. Soon after came A.P. Kuffel, M.H. Bear, J.D. Ott, John L. Forbes, W.V. Whisler, Horace Salter, F.E. Grover, J.M. Copeland, C.B. Pulver, F.L. Sexton, Henry Berry, Logan G. Maxwell, the Rev. Johnston and others with their families; then there was built a school house and a little church and we began to realize the primitive comforts of civilization again.1

We soon had our social club and young people’s literary and dramatic society. “The Olio” was the name of the society in which greatest interest centered by the young people. The principal movers in the organization of this society were Mr. Martin, the teacher of our school, Libbie Berry, Emma Tedford, Ida Raine, Katie Tedford, Ed Tedford, Forest Grover, Charles Salter and Walter Tedford. At stated intervals this society would give entertainments for its own amusement and edification and that of the community and became so noted that its audiences were frequently composed of many people from Santa Ana. In fact, by request, its entertainments were repeated several times in Santa Ana.

I cannot close my paper without calling attention to the immense crops grown by my father and his boys on that wonderfully productive land. It was really a veritable Egypt. I have seen corn so tall that a man could scarcely reach the first ear on the stalk with an ordinary walking cane and about ten feet from the ground—yielding as much as one hundred and twenty-five bushels per acre. Such potatoes I have never seen grown before nor since. The ground seemed to be literally full of them—have harvested as many as two hundred and fifty sacks per acre of them. And pumpkins, the ground was actually covered with them. I well remember a two acre patch grown on one corner of father’s ranch and having walked from one side of the patch to the other stepping from one pumpkin to another, never stepping on the ground, and some of them were enormous in size too.

old newport methodist episcopal church 1911
Old Newport Methodist Episcopal Church and Parsonage, 1911
Courtesy the First American Corp.

At this time Bishop Kavanaugh, Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, was visiting our home one morning and father took him over the ranch to show him the crops and in due time they came around to the pumpkin patch. The Bishop selected a big one and asked to have it weighed. Some of the boys got the steel yard and we weighed it. The Bishop looking on, proclaimed, “One hundred and ninety-nine pounds with a buck skin string on the end of the beam.”

Father never took any special interest in politics, never was an office seeker, but, I think it was in 1890, some of his good friends prevailed upon him to run for supervisor of the Fifth District. He consented and made a successful campaign, and served the County in that capacity for four years.

Father and Mother remained on the ranch where they had raised their family of ten children until 1900, when the old homestead was sold. They moved to a home they had acquired in Santa Ana being situated on the northeast corner of Spurgeon and Third Streets where the Yost Theatre now stands.

There they lived until 1905 when father passed away at the age of eighty years. Mother died in 1919 in her eighty-sixth year. The family of ten children are all still living, with the exception of Emma J. Maxwell, the oldest daughter, and Harry A. Tedford, the youngest son.

And thus endeth my story.


  1. The Greenville church, built in 1877 (originally a Methodist Episcopal South church), still stands.