Untethered

Week 34: #52 Ancestors – Tragedy

By Eilene Lyon

October 26, 1891 seemed a normal fall day at the Jones ranch. Situated on one of the most scenic and rugged coastlines in North America, it was a dream fulfilled for Samuel and Eliza B. Jones.

After a life of gold mining, milling, shop-keeping and farming, Sam homesteaded a little over 140 acres on the ocean.1 It lay south of Carmel-by-the-Sea and just north of Big Sur. It was his gentleman’s ranch, with some cattle to graze it and a stunning view to take in during his leisure time.

Sam and Eliza’s unmarried children, Edwin and Florence, purchased government land nearby. Florence had 40 acres adjacent to her parents, while Edwin selected a 120-acre parcel in the coastal range not far away.2 They all owned homes in Monterey/Pacific Grove as well. A married daughter, Josephine Porter, lived in town, too. The family all had comfortable lives. This day, though, was Florence’s.

Florence R. Jones was born in Blackford or Jay County, Indiana, in January 1854, between her father’s two trips to the California gold mines.3 After her daddy returned home to Barnesville, Ohio, from the second trip in 1856, the family moved to a farm in Effingham County, Illinois, where Sam bought a mill and eventually owned a mercantile establishment.4

Around the time Florence turned 17, the family made a permanent move to California. Only the eldest daughter, Emma (Jones) Getz, remained in Illinois (for the time being). Florence said goodbye to her three little Getz nephews.

The Joneses settled in Greenwood, El Dorado County, in the gold-mining region. Sam’s taste for gold wasn’t entirely snuffed and he engaged in a mining partnership. Somewhere on his path through life, he’d become involved in the church, and like his cousin, Robert Ransom, served as a lay preacher. People around town knew him as Parson Jones. Undoubtedly, his sideline had some bearing on Florence’s relationship with religious ideas.

Florence’s sister, Josephine, married in Greenwood and soon Florence was auntie again to the three Porter girls and three Porter boys. Exactly when everyone moved to Monterey County isn’t certain, but most likely in the mid- to late-1880s.

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In May 1891, Florence was 37 years old when she purchased her 40 acres. It seems likely that her parents had some expectation that this single woman, the youngest child, would be their caregiver as they headed into their twilight years. It was not to be.

On this Monday morning in October, Florence awoke at 5 a.m. with a purpose. Sam would say she had lately seemed a bit deranged about religion. He also rose early to do his chores and noted a wild look in his daughter’s eyes, but suspected nothing.5

Hearing a scream, he looked around to see Florence hurtling toward the cliffs that made up the western edge of the property.

“After running a short distance, the demented woman suddenly stopped and looked back. The father also stopped and called coaxingly to her to return. Again she started toward the precipice but stopped again, her father doing likewise for fear of crowding her over the brink into the angry waves below.”

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Florence then turned and ran down into a gulch, as she hesitated at the water’s edge, Sam clutched at her arm and managed to turn her around and take her back to the house. There, he and Eliza put her to bed and got her calmed. Believing the situation under control, Sam went off to milk the cows.

Shortly after her father had left the room, Florence leapt from the bed. Eliza struggled to control her grown daughter, but Florence had a fierce determination to carry through with her plan. Sam heard the shrieks of the struggling women, then saw Florence break free of Eliza’s grip and once again she ran for the cliffs.

“He again gave chase but was too late. The woman paused but an instant on the brink of the precipice and plunged headlong into the seething billows below and instantly disappeared from view. When the tide went out in the evening the body was discovered wedged between the rocks.”

It wasn’t until the following day that they lowered a man on a rope with a grappling hook to Florence’s corpse to haul her back up to the ranch. A casket had been brought down from Monterey and Florence was buried on Wednesday, October 28.

Sam and Eliza probably buried her there on the homestead, but the gravesite is a mystery for now. It’s also unknown where Samuel and Eliza B. Jones are buried. I hope the three are together in their eternal rest, wherever that may be.

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Until I found the probate record for Florence at the Monterey County Historical Society, I didn’t know the month/year that she died. I only knew it was between May 1891 and 1900. If she hadn’t owned real estate in her name, I may never have found her story.

Feature image: Big Sur coastline (E. Lyon 2011)


  1. Homestead Cert. 3852, California Vol. 42, p. 331. BLM General Land Office records online. 
  2. Cert. 15506, California Vol. 25, p. 3. and Cert. 12947, California Vol. 21, p. 233. BLM General Land Office records online. 
  3. Florence’s birth date from the Samuel Jones family Bible (courtesy J.W. Beck). Her birth place could be Barnesville, Ohio, but most likely Blackford or Jay County, Indiana. Samuel and Eliza were in Blackford County in January 1854 signing the deed selling their land. From there they returned to Barnesville, as per E. D. Pierce’s memoir. One census says Florence was born in Ohio. Two say Indiana. 
  4. S. Jones. Year: 1860; Census Place: Township 8 N Range 4 E, Effingham, Illinois; Roll: M653_176; Page: 1067; Family History Library Film: 803176 – via Ancestry.com. AND Samuel Jones. Year: 1870; Census Place: Moccasin, Effingham, Illinois; Roll: M593_219; Page: 480A; Family History Library Film: 545718 – via Ancestry.com. 
  5. The balance of this story comes from “A Woman’s Suicide” Pacific Grove Review, October 31, 1891. Microfilm at UC-Berkeley Library Newspaper Room. 

33 thoughts on “Untethered

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    1. I do not understand suicide at all. In this case it may have been mental illness, or perhaps a deep despair over how her life had turned out and a sense of helplessness to change it. But I know nothing of her daily life.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. OK, this is probably the most horrific story yet. Geez. How perfectly terrible. You couldn’t recover from seeing that and being powerless to stop it.
    And such a gorgeous place, too. I wish my ancestors had thought to get land there . . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Family history has no shortage of tragic tales. Florence’s sister, Josephine, has two granddaughters (one named Florence BTW) whose tales disturb me too much to write. Plus, they have living family who are pretty close to that, so I wouldn’t anyway for their sake.

      Yeah, why didn’t my ancestor get some land on the ocean?!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A sad story, but one that brings to mind how unusual it was for a woman to own land and that it is only because she was unusual that you know some of the details of her tragic end. There’s a message of some sort there…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder where her funds came from – if she had some sort of work or if it came from her parents. Oddly, the probate case only lists her real estate assets, not one single piece of personal property.

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      1. That is odd. Were there laws at the time that would have made it financially prudent for her parents to put the land in her name? Thereby saving on taxes… or mortgage interest… or something? 🤔

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I have a similar story of depression when one of my mother’s ancestors calmly returned from church and chugged down a bottle of carbolic acid. Nobody knows exactly why but it is safe to say that diagnosing depression was and still is out of reach of most physicians.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a shame, isn’t it? I think it’s also related to how few rights women used to have in taking charge of their own lives. I am grateful to live in a time of autonomy for women (if not exactly equality).

      Liked by 1 person

    1. What on earth could have driven her to such a drastic ending? Florence’s untethered life was dramatically brief – and violent. Then they reeled her in at the end. Maybe it was her only shot at freedom, as she saw it.

      Liked by 1 person

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