December 7, 1821 – December 4, 1895
Daniel “Uncle Dan” Rhoads was born near Paris, Edgar County, Illinois, on December 7, 1821. His grandfather, also named Daniel, served under George Washington in the American Revolutionary War. Rhoads became interested in an account of General John C. Frémont’s first trip to California, and decided to go to the West Coast. In 1846, he and his wife Amanda Esrey and other family members left Missouri and made the 5-month journey across the country, arriving in Wheatland, California, on October 4, where they stayed for about a month before settling near Sutter’s Fort in the Sacramento Valley.
During their trek west, they encountered the Donner Party, who invited Rhoads and others to join their group to take a new route that was supposedly shorter. Preferring not to use an unproven trail, Rhoads declined the offer.
That winter, word of the Donner Party’s plight reached the Sacramento area and Rhoads was a member of the first group of rescuers. They had to carry supplies and provisions on foot for 80 miles through the snow, but were able to find some survivors on February 18, 1847, who greeted them with the question, “Are you men from California or do you come from heaven?” At that time, those people had not eaten for about three weeks. Rhoads and his team led twenty-one people, mostly women and children, out of the Sierra Nevada, but three died along the return trip. The rescuers had left caches of food for use on the way back, but one of them had been eaten by animals, and they had to consume rawhide from their snowshoes for three days until they returned to their base camp. Daniel would later write in a letter sent to Amanda’s relatives that seeing the Donner victims was the “awfullest and most horrible sight that was ever seen.” Read Daniel’s account of the rescue here.
When gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill , launching the California Gold Rush , Rhoads was working at a nearby ranch. Over the next few years, he mined the American River, making about $8,000 in gold. Rhoads and his family returned to Missouri in 1851, but he was not content and returned to California to purchase a ranch outside of Gilroy, California. In February 1852, Amanda’s brother Jonathan arrived with his children and word that his wife had died. Daniel and Amanda raised Jonathan’s four children as their own, becoming “Uncle Dan”. During a drought in 1857, he took his livestock to the Kings River. His family joined him in 1860, moving into an adobe he constructed on 2,000 acres of land in Kingston. El Adobe de los Robles Rancho (“the adobe of the oaks ranch”), which is still standing, is the second oldest adobe in the San Joaquin Valley and has been continuously occupied since its construction. It is registered as California Historical Landmark #206.
During his time in Lemoore, Rhoads became involved with local banks, serving as the vice-president of the Bank of Hanford as well as the president of the Bank of Lemoore. He enjoyed banking so much that he eventually moved to San Francisco, serving as one of the directors of the Grangers’ Bank of San Francisco.
Rhoads died in San Francisco on December 4, 1895, and is interred in the mausoleum at the Rhoads Family Cemetery in Kings county near Lemoore. Laboring for months Daniel Rhoads and family built the mausoleum using granite hauled from above Three Rivers. The interior of the tomb was finished in cut and polished marble with two additional marble plaques place on the outside bearing the names of the deceased.
Amanda Esrey “Grandma” Rhoads was born February 22, 1825 in Clarke county, Illinois. Her father was Jesse Esrey. The family moved to Ray county Missouri where she married Daniel in 1843. She died August 11, 1906 in Hanford. She was interred on the 13th of August in the mausoleum at the Rhoads Family Cemetery in Kings county near Lemoore.
Additional information from a talk given by Donna Crow at the Rhoads’ Cousins Luncheon, Dry Creek Golf Course, Galt, California on 10-26-2002 is available at Daniel And Amanda Rhoads 1846 California Pioneers.