Provost David Brown perseveres

El Dorado rancher faced many calamities before finding success

Written by Joanne Burkett from research taken from Paolo Sioli's History of El Dorado County California, from El Dorado Co. birth, marriage, death and land records and often from interviews.

During the summer of 1848, the California Gold Rush was a wild rumor of riches beyond all dreams to those back in "the states." Men who caught the "gold fever" used any means imaginable to put distance between themselves and home. They saddled their horses, boarded wagons, struck out on foot and often alone, joined quickly-organized companies or a few equally feverish friends, boarded steamers, or sailed around the Horn -- destination California. They braved inclement weather, Indian attacks, starvation, injury and disease, not to mention mind-numbing exhaustion, to get here.

One such young man was Provost David Brown, who was born in Middlesex County at Brownsville, N. J. on the first day of September, 1824. He was the second of eight children born to Abraham J. Brown and Mary Provost Brown, whose ancestors had settled in New York during the 17th century.

Provost lived the typical life of a young farmer's son, attending the district school in the winter and working on the family farm alongside his father during the summer months. Some years later, during the summer of 1848, news of the California Gold Rush swept through the county; Provost found himself joining up with a band of fellow fortune seekers as they made preparations for a journey to California, where they planned, not to mine for gold, but to provide goods and services for the miners.

Pooling their resources, the 38 members of the newly-formed company purchased a schooner and sailed via the Straits of Magellan toward San Francisco, arriving in June, 1849. Immediately, they proceeded to Sacramento, where they auctioned off the boat and its cargo, retaining six months' worth of needed rations. Merchandise was purchased for a planned retail store, but illness prevented its opening. Undaunted, the partners soon opened an eating establishment and called it the Knickerbocker Restaurant. However, fate continued to frown on them and the restaurant was destroyed first by flood and finally by fire. At this final blow, the men apparently went their separate ways.

Provost had to find a new direction and soon found himself running teams to Long Bar, on the Yuba River, where he bought another restaurant and an interest in two mining claims. Bad luck continued to dog his footsteps, however, and after investing almost everything he had, he lost his dams to flooding. Dedicated, he continued mining bank diggings and earned $17,000, a portion of which he loaned to a friend for the purchase of the Tennessee ranch. When the friend ran into further financial trouble, Brown was obliged to take over the property, located about a mile south of Cool, which he renamed the Knickerbocker ranch.

This move also proved to be unsuccessful and Brown, traveling to the Meadow Lake district, took one more stab at mining, which also failed miserably when a snow slide swept his mill into the lake. At some point, Brown must have sold this piece of property, because records show Loriston Hale Lovejoy as owner in 1864. Other records show he recorded property deeds in1860, 1863, 1881, 1884 and 1887. He had settled in Pilot Hill. The mining tragedy, though, must have been the turning point that led to his well-deserved success as a rancher.

However, fate was not finished with Provost Brown. His family life suffered some severe blows. One wife, probably his first, died after the birth of two sons, Charles C., born June 31, 1857 and Albert E., born April 21, 1859.

On Feb. 28, 1866, Brown married Ellenore Kingsley. She died 10 years later. No children can be found for this marriage. On Dec. 7, 1878, he married the widow, Helen (Nellie) Susan Bancroft Birch, daughter of William Bancroft and Susan Amelia Hopkins Bancroft, of Clipper Gap. Susan gave birth to Philip D. Bancroft on Oct. 2, 1879 and Effie N. on Feb. 19, 1882.

By the early 1880s, Brown was well-known as an established member of the community and was considered a successful cattleman as well as for his grain and fruit growing business. Despite the hardships and setbacks he had suffered, Brown stayed involved in life and its activities. Along the way, he became an active member of the Patrons of Husbandry, becoming the first Grange master in the state (Pilot Hill), as well as a member of the Horticultural Commission.

Politically, he was a member of the Republican Central Committee. Provost Brown packed a lot of experiences into his life before he died on March 2, 1886 at the age of 61.

Permission is granted by the author to use or republish this article, but proper attribution to the author -- Joanne Burkett -- is requested.

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