Dianne Keller, great-granddaughter of Charles F. Keller; her son, Eric Covington; and his wife and three children recently visited Three Rivers to look up physical remnants of family history that exist in Kaweah, Three Rivers, and Sequoia National Park. Dianne is writing a family history based on information from published books, Internet research, and family photos and documents.
“The visit was designed to show us the landscape in which our relatives lived and to add more detail to our family story,” explained Dianne.
Charles Keller was one of the founders of the Kaweah Colony in 1885 and was surveyor and foreman during construction of the Colony Mill Road from 1886 to 1888. Charles’s wife, Caroline, who was the camp cook and their two sons, Carl, 11, and Robert, 9, were also part of Colony life.
Although Charles left Tulare County before the Colony dissolved in 1891, the family returned in 1905 and lived in Kaweah (next to the present-day location of the Post Office) until 1918. At the turn of the 20th century, son Robert was a local rancher and builder.
The Keller family has record of Robert building the Kaweah Post Office and Sulphur Springs School. The school building is now a private residence at 42612 Kaweah River Drive.
The Keller family also has photographs and a contract showing Robert reconstructed the Marble Fork Bridge on the Crystal Cave Road in Sequoia National Park and the River Inn Bridge in Three Rivers (which spans the Middle Fork to provide access from Highway 198 to North Fork Drive).
Dianne and family visited from Oregon specifically to see the two buildings and the sites of the two bridges that Grandfather Robert had built and also to drive and walk along the Colony Mill Road that great-grandfather Charles worked on.
“I prearranged to meet Kathleen McCleary, the current owner of the Kaweah Post Office, and she gave us a wonderful tour of the Post Office and her property,” said Dianne. “She filled me in on Post Office history and let me look through a scrapbook containing a chronicle of events surrounding the Post Office made by Three Rivers teacher Suzanne Rich. After Kathleen saw the Keller family photo of the family home circa 1915 she pointed out the likely site where it had been located based on terrain and vegetation.”
Dianne also made an appointment with Sequoia National Park historian/curator Ward Eldredge to share with him some family photos of the first reconstruction of the Marble Fork Bridge and to find out more about its history. Internet research showed the original wooden bridge had been built by the U.S. Cavalry in 1901, was rotten to the extent it needed replacing 10 years later, and then record of a contract and rebuilding of a new bridge in the same location in 1919.
Missing from the public record is what bridge was being used between approximately 1909 to 1919. Ward provided copies of Sequoia National Park’s annual reports from 1891 to 1932, letters from Charles Keller, and oral interviews by Dan Tobin’s son and Carl Keller’s son.
“With this information, I hope to document the year Robert reconstructed the Marble Fork Bridge,” Dianne said.
Dianne’s grandfather, Robert, was not the only Keller that made history in Sequoia National Park. Robert’s brother, Carl, was a park ranger there from about 1905 to 1924.
Carl’s daughter, Erma, married Daniel Tobin, who was the assistant superintendent of Sequoia during the period of time that John White served as park superintendent (July 14, 1920, to January 1, 1939). The copies of park documents received will now assist Dianne on her quest to fill in details on Carl and son-in-law Daniel Tobin’s lives during that period of time and complete her mission of documenting her family members who made Kaweah Country history.
Dianne Keller submitted information for this article.