I’m a Fischer, spelled with a ‘c’. I almost never have to correct the spelling here in Calaveras County. If someone doesn’t know me personally, there’s a good chance they know some of my extended family, so they know not to forget the ‘c’. I never wondered where that ‘c’ came from. From the time I learned to write my name, I simply accepted the extra letter in a relatively plain last name, just like I accepted being in a large family in Calaveras County. It wasn’t uncommon for me to go to some event with my dad, have an older person walk up to me, and say, “I’m so-an-so. We’re cousins.” At first it was kind of exciting, but over the years, I lost track of who was a cousin, because there were just so many of us, blood and married in. Running into distant relatives wasn’t uncommon growing up. In last week’s Word on the Street, three of the four people I interviewed were distant cousins who all just happened to be at Frank’s at the same time.
It wasn’t until I went to Austria a few years ago that I started to wonder where that ‘c’ came from. Austria, home place of the real Trapp family who inspired one of my favorite musicals The Sound of Music, is a German-speaking country. ‘Fischer’ is a common last name there. I ended up going to a “dance week” where I needed a nametag. Once the Austrians read “Rebecca Fischer” they assumed I was Austrian like them, and spoke German to me automatically. At the time, I knew no German. I got so many reactions when I explained, “No, I’m an American and I don’t speak German.”
“But…you have a German last name!” One woman exclaimed. It was hard for them to comprehend that my last name is the only true German thing about me.
So, how did this American girl end up with a German last name? How did I come to have so many cousins here in Calaveras County?
It all began with a man named Martin Daniel Fischer, my great-great-great grandfather. In an article published in Las Calaveras in January 1999 by George Hoeper, I read that Martin Daniel and his wife Maria Katherina cross over the Sonora Pass in November of 1853 on a wagon train from Missouri. Katherina even gave birth to a child along the way, in a snow encrusted cave in the mountains. They first settled in Stockton, and then moved up to Calaveras County to live on Jesus Maria Road in Mokelumne Hill. Martin didn’t want to be a miner, but he saw a good business opportunity providing a service to them; he became a butcher. As the rush for gold finally began to pan out, he and his family switched to raising livestock instead. Someone who was indebted to Martin deeded him some property on the Calaveras River, which they called Bedrock Ranch and they raised some of their livestock there.
My great-great grandfather Martin Daniel Fischer Jr. was born on Jesus Maria Road. When he grew up, he married the pretty girl-next-door, Rose Ann McQuaid. Her parents, Andrew and Bridget McQuaid, move to San Andreas from Lowell, Massachusetts in 1860 by the Isthmus of Panama. However, Andrew McQuaid was originally from Ireland, and immigrated to the United States sometime in the 1840s. Later in 1871, they got some property abandoned by other miners on the Calaveras River, and named their new home River Ranch. There was some trouble, according to Hoeper, between them and the original miners when they returned to find them there. However, a group of Chinese miners came to their aid and ran the other miners off, enabling the McQuaids to stay. Thus, Martin Daniel Jr. and Rose Ann were able to meet, get married in 1888, and move to Happy Valley in Mokelumne Hill in 1904. During that time, they had six sons, and one daughter.
My branch of the family tree grows from their son Andrew Vivon Fischer. He stood six-foot-two flat footed, but was a gentle giant. In 1924, he went to a picnic in Lily Gap up in West Point, and happened to meet a young woman from San Francisco, who was in the area visiting a friend. Her name was Genevieve; she never grew over five feet tall, and she became my great-grandmother. They married in 1930, and had my grandfather and great-aunt, Jack and Patricia Fischer.
Grandpa Jack then later met my grandma Eloise Hawver—and in case you’re wondering, yes, that branch of my family tree has some influence on the naming of Hawver Road, which serendipitously trails off of Jesus Maria Road. They married and he built her a house off of Highway 26 on a property that used to be a dairy. Along with beef cattle, they raised my dad, my uncle, and my aunt.
To bring this very long story to a close, my dad imported my mom from the Imperial Valley, they married, and had my older sister. Then, in 1992, they had me. And for the next eighteen years, I remained here, growing in Calaveras sunshine, and being asked which Fischer I was related to on a daily basis. I moved away for a short time after high school, but moved back a few years ago. And here I still am.
And that folks is how I, Rebecca Fischer, ended up in Calaveras County five generations after Martin Daniel Fischer Sr. crossed the snowy Sonora Pass.