In 1848, as 21-year-old Eduard Baron pressed through the crowd onto the ship that would take him from his native France to America, he must have been overwhelmed by a rush of emotions. Whether he felt elation, anticipation, wanderlust, trepidation, or sadness at leaving loved ones behind, one thing was certain: there was no turning back.
For decades, a sense of unrest had swept the country. France had been in the throes of an economic depression, and the monarchy of Louis Philippe had restricted basic liberties such as the right to work and the right to assemble peacefully.
Barely a month after the French diplomat and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville warned the French Chamber of Deputies that the nation was “sleeping on a volcano,” tensions exploded. Parisian workers marched in the streets protesting high food prices and rising poverty, and violence ensued between protestors and soldiers. The king abdicated and was replaced by a provisional government, marking the birth of what became known as the Second Republic.
When the news of the discovery of gold in California reached France in the midst of all this turmoil, it offered relief from uncertainty and the promise of much-needed prosperity, albeit elsewhere. In the years that followed, over 30,000 French citizens, including Eduard, would leave their country in the hope of striking it rich and making a better life for themselves.
Eduard was my husband’s great-great-grandfather. He was the fourth of seven children born on January 21, 1827, to Louis Baron and Victoire Véronique Moreau in the western city of Nantes, in the Department of Loire Atlántique, on the Loire River. If we read between the lines of various documents such as his petition for naturalization as an American citizen, censuses and vital records, and a brief mention in his daughter’s obituary, we can deduce that he possessed the idealism, ambition, and energy of youth that could make any dream possible for a young man who was determined to succeed.
It is possible that Eduard felt an obligation to lessen the economic burden on his parents by leaving home. Though we do not know whether any of the other Baron children traveled to America, Eduard likely felt more or less reassured that his two older brothers and sister would look after his parents, who would have been in their mid-fifties at the time.
There was more than one way to reach California from Europe. One could sail around Cape Horn to San Francisco; or sail first to New York, Boston, or New Orleans and then join an overland expedition to San Francisco. The first option took about six months, while crossing the country by wagon took about the same amount of time or less, depending on the weather and the time of year.
Most gold-seekers went around the Horn. It seemed a smoother and more leisurely route, but it was far from carefree and meant enduring months of rough weather, lack of fresh food and water, seasickness, and cramped quarters.
Eduard’s 1852 naturalization application tells us that he chose the overland route, arriving in San Francisco on about February 7, 1849. This meant he arrived in the United States early enough in 1848 to find an expedition company that could reach California before the onset of the harsh Sierra winters.
Overland travel was filled with uncertainty, hazards, and midsummer cyclones and storms on the plains and in the desert. Routes stretched as long as 2,000 miles, but companies typically covered only about 10 – 15 miles a day, making progress slow and tedious. Travelers walked a great deal of the way because their wagons were filled with cargo, food, household goods, and other supplies. Accidents and disease were commonplace; about one in ten pioneers died along the way.
Once in California, he made his way to the gold fields to seek his fortune. He might have he found a gold nugget or two, but few people ever struck it rich. He figured out early on that there were other paths to success and headed to San Francisco to try his luck there.
By then, California’s population was teeming with settlers needing houses, stores, churches, and schools. Eduard, by trade a carpenter who learned his skills from his father in France, did not want for work.
By early 1852, he had moved to San Jose, located in the lush, Mediterranean-like Santa Clara Valley, about 50 miles south of San Francisco. There, he shared a house with another French carpenter, Jules Audrain. It was a momentous year for him. He married María de Concepción Celaya, a native of the Mexican state of Sonora and applied to become an American citizen. He was sworn in 14 years later in San Jose on November 5, 1866, four days after the birth of his son, Jose Manuel.
Photo believed to be of Concepción (Celaya) Baron,
date and location unknown. Courtesy of Martie Moreno.
Concepción had arrived in California the same year as Eduard but most likely came with her parents. We do not know whether her family ever returned to Sonora, but Eduard took her back there for a short time. Maybe she wanted to be near family during her pregnancy, or maybe there was uncertainty as to her safety or stability in San Jose.
The couple’s first son, Eduardo, was born in 1853, in Guaymas, Sonora. After his birth they returned to California, where a second son, Adolfo, made his entrance three years later.
On August 4, 1860, a census taker visited the family in Washington Township, in the area now known as Niles, California, where Eduard had become a farmer. Later that same year, he and Concepción welcomed their daughter, Adela, in San Francisco.
Eduard and Concepción returned at least twice to Guaymas for the births of two more children, José Manuel and Teresa, in 1866 and 1870, respectively. Concepción’s desire to be closer to her family seems to have prompted them to settle permanently in Tucson, Arizona, near her hometown of Altar, Sonora, just over the U.S. – Mexico border.
Eduard continued working in carpentry, passing on the trade to his sons. As the years passed, he and Concepción moved in with their daughter Adela and son-in-law, Charles Hoppin Tully. Concepción died in 1915, and Adela died two years later. The days were especially dark after Adela’s death. Suddenly there were two widowers in the Tully household. Eduard’s health had also begun to decline due to his advancing years and ailing heart. As much as each was a comfort to the other, he dreaded the thought of becoming a burden on Charles. His youngest daughter, now Teresa Gómez, invited him to live with her, her husband, and their daughter in Clifton, Arizona, a small copper mining town about 160 miles northeast of Tucson, near the New Mexico border. They lived simply on Eduardo Gómez’ modest earnings as a store barker, but the thought of being surrounded by family again was all it took for Eduard to leave Tucson. He accustomed himself to his new surroundings with the same determination and discipline he had exercised since the early days. Life with a preteen is anything but dull, and a highlight of his day would have been when his 12-year-old granddaughter, Rena, came home from school, breathless with stories of her days in class and on the playground. It is easy to imagine the spellbinding stories he told her about his adventures crossing the ocean to America and his travels across the plains and through California and Mexico. Those tales would open her innocent eyes to the romantic places beyond her dusty little town, while rekindling the light of sweet memory in his own eyes as he relived his days as a young man out to conquer the world. The light in Eduard’s eyes went out on July 11, 1921, just three months short of his 96th birthday. He was buried alongside his beloved Concepción at Holy Hope Cemetery in Tucson.
In daughter Adela Baron Tully’s own obituary, the Arizona Daily Star noted Eduard had distinguished himself as one of the California 49ers and a “pioneer Tucsonan.” He certainly embodied the pioneer spirit of a trailblazer, charting the unknown, enduring hardship, and embracing change; always moving forward and never looking back.* Note: Historical documents reveal that after arriving in the United States from France in 1849, Joseph Edouard Baron dropped his first name so that he was known as “Eduard, ” a simplified variation of his name that left out the “o” from the French spelling. In Arizonan and Mexican historical documents, his name took on the Spanish version of “Eduardo.” This article uses his preferred name, Eduard.