The Hawkins family hasn’t lived there for over half a century. But here in Alpine County, people still know their early Woodfords homestead as the Hawkins Ranch. If you’re headed south on Hwy 89 from Woodfords, what’s left is a ramshackle collection of buildings to your left. The small residence has recently been upgraded and improved by a coat of paint, but still looks much the same as it has for generations.
John and Mary Hawkins settled at this spot in 1859. And if family lore is to be believed, it was Mary who actually purchased the land, paying $900 to a previous squatter. It was the enterprising Mary who homesteaded it, too, in her own name, in 1864.
It had been a long and winding road that brought Mary and John to early Alpine. Born in Vermont in 1814, John Hawkins had married as a young man, but lost his first wife in 1843 following the birth of his first son, Theodore Perry. John quickly remarried, wedding a 24-year-old Irish widow named Mary McKee Thompson that same year. Mary had lost her husband, a British Army captain, to the First Afghan War, and had emigrated with her baby daughter, Sarah Jane — only to survive a shipwreck on Lake Erie. Her trunks and belongings were stolen after the calamity, and it was only thanks to the kindness of a looter that Mary was brought to shore. As luck would have it, the looter took her to the home of John Hawkins in Perry, Ohio.
Both had lost their spouses, and both had young children needing care. The solution was obvious: the couple soon decided to marry. Their first child together, Daniel Robert, was born in 1846 (or some sources say 1844). A second son, Lester Leander, followed in 1848.
John and Mary had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and in the spring of 1851 they set out from Ohio with their four children as part of a Mormon wagon train, reaching Salt Lake in October. Mary helped herd the oxen along the way, and reportedly carried her youngest child on her back.
The Hawkins family remained in Salt Lake for the next four years. While they were there, another son, George, was born in 1853. In Salt Lake, the Hawkins became acquainted with merchants John and Enoch Reese, who’d established a trading post at what we now call Genoa. And as luck would have it, Reese’s nephew Stephen Kinsey also got acquainted with Mary’s young daughter, Sarah Jane – and eventually proposed.
Kinsey was determined to make his home in Genoa, and John Hawkins came west with him in 1855 to help build a home for the soon-to-be newlyweds. What’s known as the ‘Kinsey Mansion’ still stands at the site on Genoa Lane today, just east of Mormon Station — though the current fine brick home is likely the second house to sit on the site; in 1855, dwellings were generally primitive log or “slab” homes, and the Boyd brickyard (where this brick is said to have been manufactured) was probably not yet in use.
Once the house was finished, John made one last trip to Salt Lake to escort Sarah and the rest of his family west. They arrived in Genoa in July 1856, and Sarah’s wedding to Stephen Kinsey took place that October. (John likely returned later to help build the brick home as well; he is credited with crafting its fine wooden staircase.)
A talented carpenter, John Hawkins turned his efforts next to constructing a sawmill near Franktown for Orson Hyde. Mary and the four remaining children lived in a tent in Washoe Valley for a few months, until the snows came. By now, Mary was pregnant again, and not feeling well. According to family legend, the resourceful Mary traded a cow to the future Mrs. Bowers to pay for the family’s room and board in a log dwelling in Washoe Valley known as Cowan House (now the site of Bowers’ Mansion). Another son, William John, was born in that log cabin in March, 1857.
Although John Hawkins had served as a “Seventy” with the Mormon Church, he eventually fell away from the faith. When the Mormons were recalled to Salt Lake, John Hawkins and his family left Franktown – but didn’t return east. Instead, they moved south to Carson Valley about 1858, operating a dairy ranch near today’s Fredericksburg. And in 1859 they moved south a little farther to the patch of land beside Scott Creek that still bears their name: the Hawkins Ranch. John and his eldest son, Theodore, found work at nearby Carey’s Mill.
As we’ve seen, Mary homesteaded the property in 1864. The ranch quickly became known as a popular “tavern and outfitting station,” where travelers would “fare well” for refreshments. Mary not only supplied plenty of fresh milk and butter, but also kept a flower garden with lilacs and peonies.
John Hawkins continued to work as a carpenter, and in 1863, was hired to survey a ditch for Snowshoe Thompson. But John and Mary were having marital difficulties. They may have separated as early as 1870; by 1877, Mary was suing for divorce, claiming desertion and failure to provide. Whether these allegations were true or simply a legal fiction is hard to say; but the judge granted Mary’s request for a divorce. The enterprising Mary also was granted permission by the Alpine court to conduct business in her own name as a “sole trader.”
John passed away in January, 1882 at the age of 68 in San Francisco, where he had gone to seek medical treatment. His body was returned to Genoa for burial.
Mary lived another 24 years, passing away in 1906 at the age of 87. Her obituary lauded her as a “splendid mother, a good neighbor, and a devoted Christian.” She, too, is buried at Genoa Cemetery. Left behind was the Hawkins name – and the family’s long-lasting mark on Alpine County.