Stories From The Grave
Bradner & Kezia Curtis (Part I)
Final Resting Place Row 3, Plot 19
A splendid granite vault comes into view when you arrive at the IOOF cemetery in Sonora. This impressive vault is the final resting place of Bradner Curtis, his wife Kezia Curtis and at least two of their sons, Frank and Forest Curtis.
Bradner Curtis was born on January 9, 1825 in Williamson, New York. He was the second of nine children born to Alpheus and Clarissa Curtis. On September 23, 1849 Bradner married his cousin Kezia Darwin Benton. One source states that the two met while in school at the Cortland Academy, but it is more likely that they knew each other before as cousins. Kezia’s father Hylan Benton and Bradner’s mother Clarissa Benton Curtis were brother and sister.
When Kezia and Bradner were married he was a pattern maker working for his brother in a foundry that manufactured agricultural implements. Touched with gold fever the newlyweds decided their opportunities would be better out West and decided to leave for California. Kezia may have been supportive because two of her brothers had already journeyed to California and were established in Mormon Gulch near Tuttletown.
The Curtis’s chose the sea voyage around Cape Horn instead of the dangerous overland route by covered wagon. On December 8, 1850, Kezia and Bradner Curtis sailed on the three-masted packet ship Washington Irving on a voyage that would last 209 days. Sailing around Cape Horn was rough and because of an accident to the ship there was a six week delay in Valparaiso. During their voyage, Kezia and Bradner twice crossed the equator and navigated the iceberg-strewn waters around Cape Horn. Their trip is well documented in a diary the Curtis’s maintained which is preserved in the California History Room of the California State Library."
Their dairy begins when they depart New York; there are many gaps in the entry dates. Bradner and Kezia each contribute entries of the voyage. Each entry includes a notation for latitude; most entries are sketchy with comments on the weather and location predominating. Passing ships are noted and there are a few mentions of wildlife and native people encountered: "Along the cost the Natives were all along the cape fishing with boats that looked like hay sacks bottoms called catamarans."
Conditions aboard ship were often recorded, "Today we have all one quart of water a piece out of which we have to find for our tea and coffee and to cook our victuals" - and emotional -- "Nothing of importance has happened to day except the Captain had a fray with one of the Sailors high words and even blows; but all is quiet now." A later entry from Bradner notes that when they reached Valparaiso the Captain brought charges of mutiny against several crew members and registered complaints against some of the passengers for failing to obey ships' rules. The passengers in turn charged the captain with misconduct.
Bradner & Kezia arrived in San Francisco in July of 1851. They waited in San Francisco for two days until Kezia's brothers, Hylan and Byron, arrived from the mines by mule team to take them back to the Tuolumne. After the long ride through the scorching hot valleys and foothills they adjusted to camp life.
Bradner mined for several years while Kezia ran a tent store, the very first possibly to be conducted by a woman in the Southern Mines. Her tent had a wood floor and two scales on the counter for weighing provisions. At that time a person who owned two sets of scales was considered fortunate. Kezia’s pies were in high demand by the miners. Each baking day they sat around the tent store waiting for Mrs. Curtis’s richly browned pies to come out of the oven. The Indians in the vicinity swarmed around the Curtis encampment offering Mrs. Curtis empty hornet nests of fat juicy beetles as a good will token.
In 1853 Kezia gave birth to their first child, Belle Curtis, in her tent store near Tuttletown. The following year the Curtis's decided to leave Tuolumne County and acquired a large ranch property near Stockton and settled there to ranch and farm. They raised four children, Belle Kate Curtis, Frank B. Curtis, Forest D. Curtis, and Fornia Stockton Curtis.
The Curtis family never lived in Sonora, but Bradner visited the town when he attended a funeral at the IOOF Cemetery in Sonora. The funeral was accompanied by a band of music and Bradner admired his surroundings in the pretty cemetery. It was then and there that he resolved that this would be his resting place when life’s fitful fever was o’er.
Bradner Curtis was active in the Odd Fellow Order belonging to a Valley Lodge at the time of his death in 1881. He was only 55 years old. As requested he was buried at the IOOF Cemetery in Sonora and a band played funeral dirges as his remains were conveyed to the cemetery. Bradner had an aversion to burial beneath the ground and several years after his death the massive vault was constructed according to instructions he had left at a cost of upward of $5,000. His casket was disinterred and placed in one of the eight niches.
Kezia Curtis lived to be 101 years, 6 months and 28 days! She died in 1924 and was laid to rest in the family vault along with her husband and two sons who preceded her in death. Forest passed away in 1909 and Frank passed away sometime before 1900.
Written By Denine Urquhart
The city directory shows that Kezia Curtis lived at 1245 N. Center, in Stockton California in her sunset years. Above is a recent picture of the home on N. Center Street which has been converted to multiple apartments. Unit 1245 is upstairs and it’s a small one bedroom and one bath.