The clipper ship had already made her dangerous voyage around Cape Horn, but the passengers now faced a new peril: greed.
My great-grandfather, Amasa Saunders, had left his home in Maine to make this uncertain journey. It began with a mutiny and ended with a shipwreck.
Planning to establish a sawmill in Oregon, he paid for passage on one of the tall ships. The journey to reach the far coast would be a long and difficult one.
He'd expected many of the problems, but not what happened when the ship neared the waters of the United States.
The captain began holding back more and more of the provisions—food the passengers had paid for when the ship set sail. For an exorbitant price, the captain could sell the food and supplies he'd hoarded after reaching San Francisco.
A restless and bold entrepreneur, Amasa Saunders would not let that outrage pass. He led a mutiny, and the passengers raided the food supplies held by the captain, who seemed to be quite an entrepreneur himself.
Each passenger took custody of some of their rightful provisions. What did my great-grandfather liberate from the captain's plan for wealth? He took a wheel of cheese back to his quarters.
My father told me many of the details about Amasa, but it was my aunt who added the story about the cheese. I found myself laughing, since everyone in my family with Saunders blood has had a particular fondness for this wonderful food through the generations.
I like to think how much Great-Grandfather savored that cheese, perhaps made even more delicious by the action he'd taken.
Sharing the Stories
I would have missed knowing about my great-grandfather's adventures if I had not listened to my family's stories.
This Thanksgiving, a nonprofit oral history organization is sponsoring "The Great Thanksgiving Listen."
StoryCorps has asked young people to record their grandparents' or elders' stories when families gather for Thanksgiving Day.
Using the free StoryCorps app, anyone can record the life story of a loved one using a smartphone. Then, they can upload the conversation to the Library of Congress.
My great-grandfather never made it to Oregon. He was shipwrecked off the California coast near Point Arena. In fact, his name is still part of the story there, since Saunders Reef is named for him in that area.
Amasa decided to stay and established a sawmill and a new life, at least until his restless feet caused him to move on.
He eventually took off to southern California, where he built another sawmill in the Idyllwild area. He also established a ranch in Mexico and went on a cattle drive back to the United States.
Quite a colorful life for a young man who saw all the possibilities of the old-growth forests at the start of his career. Perhaps it is fitting that Saunders Reef is now a State Marine Conservation Area. Unlike his grandfather, my Dad was a long-time conservationist and member of the Sierra Club.
Dad always loved cheese, though.
This Thanksgiving, take time to listen to the stories.