The International Writers Magazine: First
of Stanford University
TIMES: Master visiting the servants
April 15, 1865
Five-year-old Ellen Brown played in her grandparents front
yard while her grandpa was busy planting two linden trees by the
parlor windows. Signs of early spring were clearly visible: blades
of grass emerging, virgin leaves unfolding. A man ran up, pushed
himself against the white picket fence, and shouted out to Ellens
grandpa, "Dr. Brown! Dr. Brown! Theyve shot Lincoln!
Lincolns dead!" The man turned around and ran off,
continuing down the lane, not waiting for a reply.
Dr. Brown stood
still as a statue with his spade hovering in mid-air. He wasnt
sure whether he had heard the man right and called after him, "Peter!
Peter! What did you say?" By that time, Peter had disappeared from
Inside the house, grandma heard what Peter had shouted and rushed out,
followed by Ellens two aunts who continued down the gravel path
and out the front gate while grandma ran over to where grandpa was standing
with his suspended spade. In loud, startled voices, they asked questions
of one another with no thought of a reply.
"What did Peter say, something about Lincoln?"
"Lincolns dead, shot?"
"Whod do that?"
"The girls will find out
Ellens father ran out of the front door, leaped off the stoop
like a bird in flight, and followed his sisters down the lane. Ellen
went inside the house to find her mother. She was not in the parlor.
The house was cool and quiet, except for the tick, tick, tick of the
mantel clock. Ellen cried out, "Mommy! Mommy! Where are you?"
There was no answer.
After looking throughout the house, Ellen found her mother alone in
the back woodshed. She was crying and saying to no one, Ellen could
see, "Lincoln is dead. Now, there will be more war. What will happen
to us? What will happen to us?"
Ellen had heard her aunts say her mother was from the south. She had
no idea where or what south was.
Later in the afternoon, the Brown family reassembled in the parlor.
All the doors were shut; no one spoke. Holding hands, her father and
mother sat on the dark mohair lounge in the middle of the room. Close
by, completely ignored, Ellen sat on a low, wooden footstool. She folded
her hands, put her head down, her chin touching her chest, and kept
quiet. Abruptly, her grandma arose from her chair, went to the nearby
bay windows, and began pulling down all the shades. Everyone silently
watched, as she went from window to window pulling down shades, altering
the parlor from bright and cheery to gray and somber.
Ellen Brown grew up, but only to four and a half feet. She had wavy
blonde hair that fell to her shoulders. She was petite, a little over
eighty pounds, a pretty, young woman. But what she lacked in stature
she made up in energy, determination, and honesty. Her father said she
had the unfortunate habit of speaking whatever was in her head, mindless
to those who could hear her. Sometimes, that habit got her into trouble.
Unlike most women of the day, who married early and had a family, she
went to Cornell University and studied English. She was planning to
teach English, but while she was at Cornell she met and married Orrin
Leslie Elliott, a young English instructor from Montana. He preferred
to be called Leslie. He was also short, but the opposite of Ellen -
quiet and unassuming. Her girl friends noticed this difference and Ellen
told them, "Opposites attract and he was so handsome. It was love
at first sight."
Ellen and Leslie had a baby boy they named Louis after Ellens
favorite author, Robert Louis Stevenson. In 1889, Leslie got his doctorate
in Economics from Cornell and for two years he unsuccessfully looked
for a position, allowing him to teach Economics. In the early 90s,
there were few teaching positions or, for that matter, any jobs available.
The two young people joked that if nothing turned up, well head
In the middle of March 1891, Ellen Elliott was broiling a thick, juicy
porterhouse steak over a glowing coal fire on the kitchen range in her
home in Ithaca. She was turning the long-handled wire cage holding the
fragrant, browning meat, over and over. Leslie walked in, through the
back screen door, breathlessly, and with a mischievous grin on his face.
He came up behind her, put his arms around her, and whispered in her
ear, "Howd you like to head for California?"
Ellen Elliott, thinking it was still part of their little joke, ignored
him and turned out the steak on a hot platter and continued tending
to it---peppering, salting, and buttering.
Not to be ignored, Leslie pulled out a yellow telegram he was carrying
in his coat pocket and put it in front of Ellens face, inches
from her nose. "Its from Dr. David Starr Jordan, president
of Indiana University. Hes been named president of a university
in California, founded and endowed by Leland Stanford. Dr. Jordan requires
a secretary and hes asked me to come to Bloomington, at once,
to take the post. In June, he wants me to accompany him to California.
If its all right with you, Im going to accept, and were
going to California."
Ellen had dropped her basting spoon. She turned around and began hugging
Leslie. She kissed him full on the mouth and for a few seconds they
Ellen whispered in Leslies ear, "How much will you be paid?"
Leslie whispered back, "He didnt say, but Ill send
him a wire and find out and if its reasonable, I think we should
go. Its a real opportunity for me to teach Economics."
Ellen again whispered, "Well go even if its unreasonable,
my darling Leslie." Her tone of voice indicated she had made up
her mind, but as she said it a tingle of apprehension ran down her spine.
Going to California was like going to another planet.
In April and May of 1891, Ellen and her son, Louis, waited to join Leslie
at her parents home in Burdett, upper New York State. While there,
hints about their potential new home in the far west were sent to her
in Leslies letters from Bloomington, Indiana, where he was working
for Dr. David Starr Jordan.
Ellen read that in California, rose vines grew to over forty feet high
and reached the rooftops. Senator Stanford bred racehorses, some worth
hundreds of thousands of dollars, housed in immaculately clean, whitewashed
stables. Millionaires estates were nearby, and it was easy for
Ellen to imagine gentle and gracious millionaire neighbors dropping
by for tea and to get acquainted with the Elliott family.
Leslie wrote the university would be made up of a series of great quadrangles.
One was already up and others would join it. Stone buildings, tile roofed,
surrounded garden-like courts, and the entire campus would be beautifully
landscaped with sloping, green lawns and curving roadways. Frederick
Olmsted, creator of New Yorks Central Park, had created the site
plans. And what sounded particularly inviting, to Ellens ears,
were stone cottages, also tile roofed, were to be built for the faculty
and, of course, rents would be nominal.
All this news gladdened Ellens heart. She could not wait to rejoin
Leslie in Bloomington, travel to Stanford, and begin their new life.
Finally in June, filled with great hope and anticipation, Ellen and
Louis took leave of her parents. They climbed into her fathers
gig and his horse stepped off toward the nearby city of Watkins, where
there was a railroad station and their journey to the West would begin.
Before she left, Ellens mother, with tears in her eyes, told Ellen
she thought she might never see her daughter and grandson again. After
all, California was on the other side of the continent.
Traveling west with the Elliotts to California from Indianapolis in
mid-June, 1891, were eight more travelers. Dr. David Starr Jordan, president
of the university, and his wife Jessie brought two of their three children,
Edith who was eleven years old and Knight, three years old. The third
son, Harold, who was eight, remained with relatives in Indianapolis
because of an illness. Dr. George M. Richardson, who would teach Chemistry
at the university, brought his wife Emily and his mother Mrs. Richardson.
Two young people, Charlotte Rankin and Albert Fletcher, joined the group.
They were going to help with the chores and might become students at
the new university.
Even though they traveled Pullman class with berth accommodations, the
train ride was still hot, long, and confining, and soon the two youngsters
became agitated and bored. Louis was relatively good, but Knight Jordan
was a scamp and started throwing temper tantrums. He hurled himself
to the floor, screaming, "I want to go home. I dont want
to go to California." Leslie felt sorry for Dr. Jordan when he
tried to calm his son and ended up with flailing fists in his face.
During one of these encounters, Dr. Jordan looked over at Leslie and
Leslie was sure he was going to ask his secretary for assistance. He
must have thought better of it; the moment passed.
It took eighteen hours for their train to cross Kansas. For half days
at a time and sometimes overnight, their steam locomotive stopped for
no apparent reason. Was it another train coming? Was it mechanical failure?
Did they need another locomotive? They were never told the reasons for
the delays. Conductors when questioned merely shook their heads and
muttered, "Well soon be underway," and scurried down
the aisles, quickly out of sight.
At Pueblo, Colorado, the party disembarked for six hours. Dr. Jordan
arranged for a large bus-like wagon to transport them to an outlying
area where the ground plan of a city-to-be had been laid out with little
white stakes indicating streets, parks, lampposts, and buildings. Ellen
thought people had to be imagined on the gray stark plain. She could
not imagine herself being one of them.
At another stop, Dr. David Starr Jordan enthusiastically embarked upon
a botanical lecture - picking up small flowers with his thumb and forefinger,
holding them up for all to see, and telling the group their Latin names,
how many petals each had, and how they reproduced.
Ellen looked around and saw prairie dogs sitting on their haunches,
staring at the intruders. Giant cacti, eighteen to twenty feet high,
appearing like unworldly figures with arms held high, surrounded the
travelers. Dr. Jordan told the group their Latin names, too.
They spent a night in a mining camp, Leadville. Dr. Jordan told them
ten million dollars worth of silver was mined there each year,
but Ellen was more in awe of the snow-capped mountains rimming the area
and the crystal blue sky above that, after a stunning sunset, became
an umbrella of stars.
Traveling through the Rockies, Dr. Jordan showed them the exact spot
where a drop of water split, half flowing toward the Pacific and half
toward the Atlantic.
The Royal Gorge impressed Dr. Jordan but not Ellen. She found it lonesome,
wild, barren, and tremendously useless. She couldnt help expressing
her thoughts for others to hear and several of her fellow travelers
nodded their heads in agreement.
But compared with the Great American Desert, they were approaching and
entering, the Royal Gorge was an oasis. The desert was the worst. Gazing
at its vast nothingness, Ellen made the comment, "I dont
believe there is a more desolate spot on earth." Dr. Jordan, within
earshot, agreed with her, "There isnt," he said.
During the night, as they traveled across the desert, Ellen couldnt
sleep and she lifted her berths window shade and looked out upon
a rapidly passing, pale gray desert. It stretched before her disappearing
into nothingness. For the first time, she felt pangs of remorse about
leaving Ithacas green hills. "What had they gotten themselves
into?" She said aloud and looked around, wondering if Dr. Jordan
had heard that remark, too.
After a ten-day trip across the country, they approached the San Francisco
Bay. When they arrived at Benicia, a ferry carried their train in sections
across miles of salt flats. "The salt of the Pacific," Dr.
Jordan told the group. At Oakland, another ferry took them across the
bay, but this time their train section set on the upper deck, forward,
allowing the passengers a grand panoramic view of the shimmering bay.
Ellen looked out and cried out in joy, "I dont believe there
is more beautiful water on earth!"
Again, Dr. Jordan heard her remark and nodded his head in agreement.
"There isnt," he said.
Ellen was beginning to wonder if he purposely stayed close to her to
hear what she said. Perhaps, some of her more disparaging remarks had
gotten back to him. It no longer mattered. They were almost there.
She saw lovely blue water twisting around the harbors capes and
islands. Everywhere there were ships, coming and going. At the wharves
were steam ships or the older two and four mast schooners. Other ferryboats
with Mill Valley or Alviso painted on their sides churned the waters
beside them. Ellen thought the scene brimmed with beauty and bustle.
On Thursday, June 26, Mr. Herbert Nash, Senator Stanfords secretary,
met them at the Third and Townsend Streets Station. Leslie told
Ellen Mr. Nash had been Leland Stanford Jrs tutor. He was the
son who had died prematurely, and the Stanfords had created their university
in his memory.
Nash had already met Dr. David Starr Jordan so they quickly recognized
one another. Even without that advantage, it was easy to pick out the
ragtag group of men and women, dressed in heavy, hot eastern clothes,
dragging two youngsters along with them.
With great consideration, Mr. Nash quickly transferred them and their
baggage to a local train that made its way south to the Menlo station.
There was no station for the Palo Alto Farm - the general name given
to Senator Stanfords home, stock farm, vineyards, orchards, hay
fields and the site of the new university.
There he was, standing on the Menlo Station platform, waiting to greet
them, Senator Leland Stanford; senator of the sovereign state of California,
former governor of that state, part owner and founder of the Central
Pacific Railroads, co-founder with his wife Jane of the University,
a viable candidate for the Presidency of the United States in 92,
and considered by many to be the most popular man in America.
Ellen thought he looked like the many pictures and illustrations she
had seen. A portly man, average height, with long arms and short legs,
a prominent nose, full beard; but it was his dark piercing eyes taking
in all that was going on around him that Ellen found to be his most
prominent characteristic. When he first saw the new arrivals, his eyes
swept from side to side and up and down each individual. It reminded
Ellen of her fathers perusal of horses he was considering buying.
She looked over at the opulent carriage with bright red wheels driven
by a Negro in full livery. Peering out the isinglass window was another
elderly gentleman who appeared to be doing the same kind of sizing up.
Must be his friend, she almost said aloud. She brought the back of her
hand instantly to her lips. She must watch what she said; otherwise,
she might embarrass her quiet, unassuming husband.
Dr. Jordan introduced Senator Stanford to everyone. The Senator acknowledged
each by shaking hands with the gentlemen, and tipping his top hat to
the ladies. The travelers could tell he fully appreciated the difficult
journey they had made. When he saw the two little boys scampering about,
he said, "So this is Knight and Louis." He touched them lightly
on the tops of their heads. Both were too preoccupied to look up. Dr.
Jordan leaned over so they could hear him and insisted, "Knight,
Louis, say hello to Senator Stanford."
The boys ignored him.
The Senator smiled wanly and said, "Boys will be boys. A long trip
is hard on the children."
Even that slight smile and remark was enough for some to recognize his
heart was still broken.
Senator Stanford looked back at Dr. Jordan. "The cottage has been
prepared for you. Ah Sam is the best cook in the valley, better than
ours. I hope you and Mrs. Jordan and your guests find the arrangements
to your liking."
Dr. Jordan drew close to the man now ruling his destiny. "Im
sure we will. And we all appreciate your coming here to greet us."
"After all your trials, it was the very least I could do. I hope
you dont mind but Mrs. Stanford and I will be coming by early
this evening to say hello."
As a group, the response was, "No, no, no, itd be a pleasure
to see you both." Leslie Elliott said the words but, in his heart,
didnt mean them. Why tonight? Give us some time to recuperate
from the journey. He looked over at his wife wondering what she might
say but she had a welcoming smile on her face like all the others. He
breathed a sigh of relief.
Senator Stanford waved his broad hand to encompass them all. "Then
I bid you good-bye and will see you later."
The Senator returned to his carriage. Inside, waiting, the other elderly
man was already talking while the Senator settled in his seat. As the
carriage departed down Menlos dusty dirt roads, Senator Stanford
earnestly began to converse with the man. Ellen guessed he was asking
his friend what he thought of the new arrivals.
The group now dwindled to nine. Dr. Richardson with his wife and mother
left for Cedro Cottage, another of Stanfords cottages located
about a mile and a half south, next to the dry creek.
Mr. Nash loaded the remaining travelers into a carryall with two long
lengthwise seats. He sat up front with another of Stanfords Negro
drivers. He looked back at the assembly of men, women and children,
now seated across from one another, and said, "I know you all want
to get to your destination, but first we must pick up the mail for the
Leslie did not expect the detour. He had worked diligently, right up
to the time he left Bloomington to make certain all the mail for the
University had been answered.
Nash saw from the looks on his charges faces, they were not happy
about the stopover. "The post office is only a few doors down,"
he shouted at them over the creaking of the harnesses and the sounds
of horses hooves. Ellen Elliott had to contain a groan. Leslie
returned her look of dismay with a his own look, which meant in any
language, "Dont say a word."
The carryall maneuvered up narrow dirt roads, and since it was hot outside
and noontime, past empty boardwalks and empty verandas of non-discreet
hotels. Their destination---a small one-storied, white-framed building
with a hand painted, lopsided sign, "Menlo Post Office."
The four men--Mr. Nash, Dr. Jordan, Leslie, and young Mr. Fletcher--went
in and out of the post office countless times with their arms loaded
with mail. They attempted, at first, to stack it in tidy piles on the
floor of the carryall. After the forth trip, tidiness was forgotten.
The ladies, young girl and children found their shoes soon disappearing
under the accumulation of correspondence. It was almost up to their
knees. Knight and Louis, having the time of their lives, literally swam
in it. The ladies were close to hysterics.
Through it all, Leslies face became grimmer and grimmer. Obviously,
most of the mail had not been forwarded to Bloomington. From the look
of it, some of it dated all the way back to last year and had been addressed
directly to the Senator. Leslie questioned to himself why no one had
bothered to go the Post Office and pick it up. Then he realized that
in the Senators eyes, it was their job to do-his and Dr.
Jordans--and no one elses. That was why they were hired.
Now knee-deep in mail, the scruffy group made their way back on to the
county road leading to their future home, already named by Dr. JordanEscondite--Hideaway
Cottage. About a mile to the south, Leslie saw the bare outline of the
university he would help administer.
As they got closer, Dr. Jordan proudly had the carryall stop to point
out his university to the newcomers.
It was far from the splendid sight Ellen Elliott expected. Across a
dry, trampled hay field, she saw the bleak outline of bare single storied
buildings with a tall chimney looming behind them. In the background
were rolling hills, also yellowed and burnt out. No green lawns or gardens--
none of the grandeur her husband had written about. Of course, she thought,
we are seeing the buildings from the outside; the courts and gardens
must be inside. But the first impression remained, particularly with
the tall, domineering chimney-it was the site of a factory and
a bleak one at that. As if sensing his wifes feelings, Leslie
looked at the same dismal scene and mouthed the words, "I didnt
know." Silently, Leslie made a vow to himself. From then on, he
would be chary of Dr. David Starr Jordans inclination to be overly
rapturous in his descriptions and overly optimistic in his anticipations.
Leslie would be the opposite.
After another half mile they were nearing a village that Dr. Jordan
told them was Mayfield. From what they could see, it was a collection
of dusty, weathered, wooden, single storied buildings. No one was disappointed
when on its outskirts; they turned right, and headed south--back into
open fields. Another half mile, and they saw the first signs of cooling
shade---oak, pepper and pine trees. In the midst of these pleasant surroundings
was their destination, Escondite Cottage.
Dr. Jordan called it a cottage but Ellen considered the long, low, white-painted
house to be more like a chalet or a single-storied villa. An ancient
oak tree growing from neatly graveled surroundings shaded its front
veranda. A dovecote stood secluded in the foliage, and beyond was a
substantial brick building that had to be the library Dr. Jordan had
mentioned. It was here that Leslie was to establish the first administrative
office. Wearily, the travelers jumped down from the bus and proceeded
to begin the unloading process, including all the mail, which had to
be taken to the brick building.
With barely enough time to wash the dust off their faces, the new arrivals
were ill prepared for Senator and Mrs. Stanfords promised visit.
But at exactly four oclock they arrived and sat on the veranda
with the families, gently conversing about the unseemly hot weather
and the horses the Senator had been training and racing. Much of the
time was taken with silently watching the two young boys constantly
prancing around them. Senator Stanford appeared to enjoy watching their
behavior more than joining in on the conversation. Even while talking
to an adult, his eyes followed the childrens antics.
After the Stanfords had left, in the privacy of their bed, Ellen told
her husband she thought the Stanfords were kind-hearted and unpretentious.
As he turned over on his side, Leslie wondered if Ellen was being totally
honest. Sometimes, she said untruths strictly for his benefit. He could
not fault her because he did not mention his real feelings to her. It
reminded him of the master and mistress visiting the hired help.
Even after three months employment, Leslie was never sure what
Dr. Jordan really thought of him. He remembered the day when he first
arrived in Bloomington, and was greeted at the Jordans residences
doorway by the still president of Indiana University. Dr. Jordan had
hired Leslie solely on the recommendation of Dr. Andrew White, the president
of Cornell. He had, in his capacity as one of Cornells trustees,
briefly seen Leslie hard at work in the Cornell Administrative Office
but never met him and, apparently, Leslie was always seated.
When Dr. Jordan saw Orrin Leslie Elliott standing before him, all 5
2" of him, disappointment like a cloud swept across his face. Leslie
could feel he wanted to deny entrance to little person standing before
him and shut the door in his face. Dr. Jordan, standing 6 2"
in his stocking feet towered over the diminutive Leslie. And worst,
Leslie, although in his early thirtys, with his fine features,
short dark hair and the beginnings of a mustache, appeared five to ten
Instantly the cloud disappeared, replaced by a wide smile of welcome.
Leslie assumed reality set in---the little man was here and was said
to be a hard worker, scrupulous with details. In his deep, melodious
voice, Dr Jordan looked down at the man before him and said, "Welcome
aboard, Dr. Elliott. Come in, come in. Weve lots of work to do."
Leslie was also not sure when he was promoted from secretary to registrar.
In Bloomington, the universitys staff was he and Dr. Jordan, and
Leslie performed all sorts of duties from secretarial and stenographic,
reading and answering letters from schools and applicants across the
nation, sweeping out the temporary office Dr. Jordan had created in
one of the out buildings on his property, and making certain plenty
of cut newspaper was on the hook in a nearby privy.
Before they left for California, Dr. Jordan told Leslie he should hire
a stenographer and Leslie immediately thought of Frank Batchelder, who
had worked for him at Cornell. There was an exchange of letters. Frank
was staying with his parents in New Jersey and expecting to spend the
summer there, but going west and being part of a new university excited
him and it was agreed he would begin working in California on July 1st.
Leslie liked Frank. He was a diligent, accurate stenographer and owned
his own typewriter, which he boxed up and shipped to Palo Alto. He was
a bit talky, never lacking in gossip or lengthy descriptions about what
he had done over the weekend. But Leslie only had to gently suggest
Frank should get back to work and he immediately did so. Leslie also
found some of his gossip to be enlightening-somehow Frank knew
other peoples salaries.
On the way out west, out of the blue, Dr. Jordan started referring to
registrar duties Leslie would perform---responsibility for all admissions,
only seeking Dr. Jordans advice in exceptional cases; and responsibility
for all communications with other colleges and preparatory schools.
And gloriously, he would teach several Economics classes---his special
love. Dr. Jordan mentioned there might be miscellaneous additional duties
he might perform on Dr. Jordans behalf. Leslie could foresee those
duties included anything Dr. Jordan did not like or want to do. From
that moment on, Leslie was the registrar. Ellen was pleased but noted
that no increase in salary was mentioned.
The next day after their arrival at Escontite Cottage, in spite of the
over 500 letters they had picked up the previous day, Leslie decided
he should go back into Menlo and get any additional, incoming mail,
arriving that day. Dr. Jordan took the day off and was using the provided
gig and horse for a trip, alone, over rough mountain roads to Santa
Cruz and a view of the Monterey Bay. Leslie understood the trip was
daunting and dangerous-perfect for Dr. Jordans taste.
There was no other way. In spite of the hot weather, Leslie must hike
the two miles to Menlo and back. Ellen wanted him to wait until Monday
when a gig would be available, but Leslie insisted it must be done today.
Ellen didnt argue with him. She had learned Leslie had an unswerving
allegiance to any task he began. His work, his responsibilities dominated
all other considerations, even his own welfare and at times, his familys.
The unseeming hot spell continued. It was 95 degrees in the shaded cottage
and outside the thermometer read 105 degrees and upwards. Without a
second thought, Leslie in his heavy eastern gear calmly began walking
to Menlo. Two miles and an hour later, when he got to the post office,
he was red-faced and every bit of clothing he wore was wet through with
Mr. Grady, the postmaster, was surprised when Leslie walked in. "What
are you doing back here so soon? You were here yesterday."
Finally in some shade, Leslie wondered why he was there, foolishly doing
this chore. Between breathes, he said, "I thought some more mail
might come in."
"Well, you were right," and Mr. Grady went into the back and
returned with a leather pouch filled with letters.
Leslie immediately slung it over his shoulder. His body noticeably buckled
under its weight. He said good bye, and started back out the door.
As he turned around to leave, Mr. Grady said, "Why dont you
sit down for a moment and have a drink of water or something. You going
right back out into that heat isnt a good idea. You should see
yourself. Face red. Looks like youre about to keel right over."
Leslie hesitated for a moment and answered. "No, thanks. The sooner
I leave, the sooner Ill be home and I want to get back and start
working." Out the door, he retraced his tracks, only thinking about
the welcoming shade at the cottage. As he walked, it became more and
more to occupy his thoughts.
Halfway there and he could feel the heft of the pouch starting to dig
into his shoulders flesh. He paused and shifted the satchel from
one side to the other. As he was changing its position, the pouchs
weight pulled him off balance and he had a hard time keeping himself
from pitching forward. With great effort, he regained his footing and
continued on but noticed his stride growing shorter and shorter---slower
So slow, in fact, a black and white dog caught up with him and sniffed
his dusty shoes as if he thought it was a tree trunk. He kicked the
dog off, shouting, "Shoo," at the same time. The dog yelped
and ran away.
So far on the county road going south, the dog had been the only living
creature, Leslie had encountered. Apparently, he thought, only a fool
like himself or a dumb dog ventured out. The song, "Mad Dogs and
Englishmen," came into his mind. He started to hum and sing it
to get his mind off his predicament.
When Leslies eyesight started to blur, he was no long able to
deny the seriousness of his weakened condition. Objects around him were
fuzzy and he could no longer identify where he was or where he should
turn off on the road leading to the cottage. He must have walked straight
past the turn off. For the first time, a tingle of apprehension ran
through his body.
Storefronts and hitching posts loomed up and he knew he was in the middle
of Mayfield, the little desolate village next to the university. He
needed to ask for directions but there was not a soul to be seen. The
first sign of human presence was the sound of laughter coming from a
building to his left, on the corner. With some effort, he stepped up
to the wooden planked sidewalk and heard men laughing, their voices
coming from behind swinging doors. It was a saloon. Leslie hesitated,
but not for long. He needed help. Again, he almost lost his footing,
so he forced himself to go through the doors and stumbled into a cool,
semi-darkened room. The smell of stale cigar smoke and cheap whiskey
was in the air, but still preferable to the scorching heat.
Seated at a bar running the length of the room, he could make out three
scraggly cowboys---dusty and dirty like everything else, Leslie imagined,
in Mayfield. They looked around at Leslie as if he were the Grim Reaper
about to claim their souls. The looks on their faces tempted Leslie
to turn on his heels and go back out into the furnace like heat. He
hesitated, but a stout, bald-headed fellow with a wooden leg came from
behind the bar and approached him. His face showed at least some compassion
at Leslies plight, unlike his companions. He immediately took
Leslies elbow to help him stand erect.
"Young man, are you all right? Id say you should sit down
with that heavy pouch and all. My names Fred Behn and Im
the proprietor of this saloon."
Suddenly the world around Leslie began to spin and swirl and he had
to grasp Mr. Behns arm to keep from falling. Barely he said, "My
names Leslie Elliott and Id shake your hand but Id
fall if I didnt hold your arm."
"Here, give me that pouch." Fred Behn could see from the reaction
on Leslies face he was reluctant to part with it. "Its
all right I wont steal it. Here, Here
" and he took
the heavy mail pouch off Leslies shoulder and pulled a chair out.
"Sit down, Mr. Elliott, and take it easy for a while. Let me get
you a drink of water or beer, if you prefer."
"Water is fine, thank you. Mr. Behn was gone for a second
and returned with water in a tin cup, and Leslie eagerly drank its contents
in one long swig. He had never tasted such cool elixir in his life.
He sat for only a moment, decided he should be on his way, and started
to get back up.
Mr. Behn gently held him back and put his hand on Leslies forehead.
"Whoa there, Mr. Elliott, I think youd better think twice
before you go anywhere. Im sure youve got a high fever.
We call it sunstroke round here, pretty common for this time of
year." Mr. Behn put his index finger to his head, as if in deep
thought, and said, "For some reason, I think youre part of
that eastern crowd moved into the Peter Coutts place yesterday.
Am I right?"
The cowboys at the bar guffawed in unison at Mr. Behns pretended
Leslie had never heard of this Peter Coutt person. He answered, "Im
staying with Dr. Jordan at Escontite Cottage."
"Thats it. I heard this Dr. Jordan was renaming everything
around here with foreign names. So how about me getting my rig out and
taking you over to that "Iscontight" place. I can have you
home in fifteen minutes where you might take lots longer walking, and
Im not so sure youd make it."
Leslie felt better but he knew Mr. Behn was right. He was in no condition
to walk anywhere. Even getting back up on his feet made him dizzy.
Ellen was sitting with Louis on the front veranda when a strange man
pulled up in his rig with Leslie at his side. The man was holding the
reins in one hand and with the other, supporting Leslie. Ellen, startled,
jumped to her feet. Something was wrong with her husband. His face was
red, his eyes, glassy.
The stranger called out to her. "Mam, this here gentlemen is not
feeling well and Im going to need some help getting him out of
the rig. Im afraid if I let him go, hell topple right over.
Nothing serious, hes got sunstroke. Give him some water and put
him to bed for a while and hell be as good as new."
Without saying a word, Ellen rushed into the house and got Mr. Fletcher
and between the two of them they were able to lower Leslie to the ground
and supported him so he could get to the veranda.
The stranger, in spite of his wooden leg, jumped down from his rig,
holding a leather pouch. "Im sure hell want this."
And he put it carefully on the veranda.
Because of her wifely concerns, Ellen had forgotten about the stranger.
She called out to him, "Forgive my bad manners, sir. Hes
my husband. Thank you for getting him home. My names Ellen Elliott.
Whats your name so we can thank you properly, later."
"Fred Behn, Im the proprietor of a saloon in Mayfield. You
and your husband drop by and see me, sometime. In spite of everything
you may hear, we Mayfield people arent such a bad lot."
As she and Mr. Fletcher were struggling to get Leslie inside the doorway,
she said, "Im sure youre not and I can assure you,
we will be seeing you."
The last thing Ellen saw of Mr. Behn was his waving good bye to her
as if she were an old friend.
That night at about ten oclock Dr. Jordan returned from his journey
across the Santa Cruz Mountains. He was elated and immediately regaled
Jessie and Ellen with the beautiful redwood trees he had past through
and Monterey Bays pounding, gorgeous surf. Ellen could tell he
considered his feat almost on a par with his ascent of the Matterhorn,
which he regularly recalled to them. He did not ask about Leslie and
Ellen did not volunteer that Leslie also had an adventure. That night
and over Sunday, Leslie recovered between cool sheets in a darkened
By Wednesday, July 1, he recovered enough to begin his duties as registrar
at the new university. In the morning, three candidates arrived at the
cottage and took their entrance examinations on Escontites veranda---two
passed, one failed.
In the afternoon, Leslie accompanied Dr. Jordan, driving his rig, and
Dr. Richardson back to Menlo Station to pick up late arriving luggage
and, of course, more mail. On the way there, they fortuitously bumped
into Frank Batchelder, the newly hired stenographer, hiking south on
the county road, headed toward the cottage. Hot and tired, Frank was
more than willing to let them take his heavy valise while he continued
on to Escontite Cottage.
After leaving Frank and continuing onto Menlo, Dr. Jordan remarked,
"We can temporarily put the young man up with Mr. Fletcher, but
theres no room at the table for him. Hell have to find a
place for board, now, and room, later."
Leslie knew Frank and he did not consider him to be a robust young man.
Others, in the office at Cornell, called him a mothers boy. Living
and eating in Mayfield would not be to his liking. Leslie said, "That
will not please him, Im sure."
Dr. Jordan took his eyes off the road ahead and regarded Leslie. "Sorry,
Leslie, but I can see that all of us will be facing pioneering times."
Leslie let the remark pass without comment.
Next day Frank helped Leslie in the cottages library and they
held the second day of student entrance examinations. Six young people
were tested. Only two passed. Leslie could only think California high
schools were not doing a good job of preparing their student for college.
As soon as space was ready in the Quad, Leslie and Frank moved the administration
into a classroom located in the Quads southeast corner. They occupied
Room #30, destined to be a large romantic languages classroom.
Dr. Jordan, Leslie, and Frank shared the space, at first. Mr. Woodruff,
the librarian; Miss Stillings, another stenographer; and a part-time
fellow, Bert Hoover, recommended by Dr. Swain, a senior member of the
faculty, soon would be joining them. Some space was provided for Irene
Butlers desk where she might persuade parents to send their daughters
to the preparatory school for girls, she and a friend were establishing
at Adelante Villa.
The room would be crowded, but it was anticipated that within two months,
theyd be moving again to their permanent quarters at the entrance
to the university with private offices for the president and registrar.
Ellen knew from the start two families living under the same roof at
the cottage would not work out. Not that she did not try to get along
with Miss Jessie, the domestic name Dr. Jordan had for his wife. Ellen
could understand why Dr. Jordan idolized his wife. Miss Jessie had replaced
his first wife, Susan, who had died four years ago. Even with the spectacles
she constantly wore, she was a striking woman with dark eyes, olive
skin, and straight black hair done in a pompadour. She appeared to have
Spanish ancestry, but she was Middle Western through and through. Quick
and capable, by nature she liked to be in charge. This was fine with
her adoring husband who was happy to leave domestic and, for that matter,
parenting decisions to his wife. University decisions were enough of
But Miss Jessies treatment of Edith, Dr. Jordans older daughter
from his first marriage, was particularly galling for both Ellen and
Leslie. It soon became apparent Miss Jessie considered Edith to be both
a domestic servant and a nanny for Knight, the youngster. Ellen wondered
when Edith had any time for herself. Leslie, in the confines of their
bedchamber, expressed his thoughts that Harold, Ediths brother
and Dr. Jordans eldest son from his first marriage, was not present
because Jessie did not want to bother parenting a child that was not
her own. The story about Harold being ill was a sham. He had noticed
whenever Dr. Jordan spoke of Harold, and it was not often, Leslie sensed
he felt remiss as a parent, which in Leslies mind, he was.
Ellen couldnt tell if her presence threatened Jessie in some way.
At night, under the covers, Leslie whispered that when Ellen and Dr.
Jordan were joking about something or other, Jessie watch intently with
a cold look in her eyes. All of this, of course, created tension. There
were never words between the two of them, but Ellen never felt at ease
in the same room with her. Matters came to a head when Jessie asked
Ah Sam, the cook, to leave. Both Leslie and Ellen were more than pleased
with the bill of fair he presented at each meal and agreed with Senator
Stanford he was the best cook in the area.
But Jessie wanted Ah Sam to be more than a cook. There were beds to
be made, sweeping, and mopping. Ah Sam would have none of it, and eventually
Jessie told him to do what she wanted or leave. Leslie happened to see
him as he was walking out the door for the last time and his parting
words were loud, clear and spoken to anyone within shouting distance,
"I no do beds," he said and he was out the door, never to
return. With him went any thought of good food, well prepared.
Domestic life at Escontite steadily went downhill after that. The ladies
attempted to cook in the small kitchen without success. All they got
was in each others way. The men and children sat waiting for meals
that never came on time and were tasteless and cold when they did.
Whispering at night, Ellen and Leslie discussed the dilemma they found
themselves in. It was obvious they could no longer stay at the cottage.
Leslies career depended upon a good relationship with Dr. Jordan.
If there was any falling out between the two ladies, it might have long
lasting repercussions. Before such a catastrophe ever happened, the
Elliotts must leave. They had no idea where they would go, but there
was no alternative. After all, in a few months, they would move into
the permanent accommodations they had been promised---cottages were
to be built south of Encina Hall, the mens dormitory.
Next day, after breakfast, as they walked over to the Quad, Leslie said
to Dr. Jordan, "Ellen and I talked it over last night and we think
our staying at the cottage is a burden. Jessie and you have done everything
possible to make us comfortable, but its time we moved on."
Leslie was not surprised Dr. Jordan made no effort to change his mind.
He said, "Well, for the next week, Ill be traveling and lecturing
in Southern California. That should give you plenty of time to find
Neither Dr. Jordan nor Leslie made any further comments about the matter.
As simple as that, Leslie thought, they would have to find new accommodations
within the week.
Of course it was Ellen who had to begin looking for new arrangements
for room and board. Leslie was reluctant to ask for any time off when
there were so many things to do at the Quad. Ellen had learned from
experience taking time off from work, other than holidays or vacations,
was something Leslie did not do.
During the next week, Ellen found herself, along with Louis, being driven
about Mayfield by young Albert Fletcher, using Dr. Jordans rig
while he was in San Diego.
From a distance she had seen Mayfield and knew it was not the flowery
village she envisioned from her husbands letters. If anything
it was worse up close. She saw unkempt one-storied houses, shanties
or shotgun houses were the terms used to describe them in the east,
a few shops for fruit and household items, a couple of hotels next to
the county roads, but mostly saloons. She counted fourteen of them.
In their travels, they went past P. F. Behns Saloon and Ellen
thought about stopping by and seeing the peg-legged fellow who had gallantly
saved her husband. She thought better of it and decided to wait until
Leslie was with her.
Ellen with Louis in her arms accompanied by Albert went into one of
the hotels. Strictly men were in the lobby. They glanced at the threesome
with obvious interest---the petite blonde lady with young child and
the accompanying young buck. In Ellens eyes something about their
looks suggested leers. Could they be thinking of them as a threesome?
She tugged at Alberts sleeve and they turned around and walked
They continued to drive along dirt roads, stopping at the homes least
disreputable looking, and found out it was unheard of to take in boarders.
The usual response was, "Why should we take in boarders?"
Doors were shut slowly and eyes peered at them through dirty windows
as they got back into their rig. Albert decided it might be better if
they explained that they came from the east to start up Leland Stanford
Junior University. When they tried this approach at the next house,
an old lady asked, "Oh, do you think Senator Stanford is really
going to start his college?"
Ellen, somewhat surprised at the reaction, answered, "Yes, of course,
Albert was curious and asked, "Why not?"
The old lady laughed and looked at them with pity as if they didnt
know what was going on, "Them workmen been a-building over
there for more years than they aught. Seems they build it up and the
Stanford lady tells em tear it down. Build it. Tear it down."
She smiled slyly, showing wide gaps between her few dark teeth. "Thats
fine with us. Lots of our men folk workin over there." And
she shut the door.
So that was what the residents thought about their university, Ellen
thought, a pipe dream.
Finally, a man at a half-empty shop said he could accommodate the family.
Hed make an eight by ten room for them at the back.
By then, Ellen was desperate. She told the man shed have to consult
with her husband and then let him know. Outside, Albert told her he
thought the mans proposal was impossible. "You cant
live all summer in an eight by ten room, he said. "What would
you eat? Saw dust and shavings?"
Albert was right. They would be sharing accommodations with a carpenters
shop. Ellen decided to give up the idea.
That night, in the privacy of their bedchamber, when Leslie heard about
the old ladys comments, he whispered, "No wonder the workers
treat us as if we are foolish to think this university will ever open
its doors. Up to now its been a plaything to keep Mrs. Stanford
occupied. Something must have happened to give Senator Stanford a sense
of urgency. I wonder what it was?" Ellen had already fallen asleep
so there was no answer to his question. Soon he joined her.
Luckily for the Elliotts, when Dr. Richardson heard of their plight,
he agreed to rent out a bedroom at Cedro Cottage, the temporary dwelling
he and his family occupied. The only problem---the Elliotts would have
to take their daily meals at the Oak Grove Villa Hotel, roughly over
a mile distant from Cedro and Dr. Richardsons mother was due to
arrive, so it was a temporary arrangement.
In mid-August, at noontime, Drs. Leslie Elliott, David Starr Jordan,
and George M. Richardson sat together on a curb next to the administration
offices, facing the completed Quadrangle. On October 1st, six weeks
off, Leland Stanford Junior University would open its doors.
The three men were eating their lunches from lunch pails they brought
that morning. Dr. Jordan had walked the half-mile from Escondite Cottage
to the Quad. Drs. Richardson and Leslie had a longer walk from Cedro
Cottage--a mile. Staying with the Richardsons was still a temporary
arrangement, so Ellen had been looking for another place in Menlo to
live and board---so far without success.
For the gentlemen eating lunch, it was another hot day, with a brilliant
sun and no cooling breeze from the bay. What wind there was, was like
heat from a hot coal fire. Every day had been hot since they arrived,
six weeks before.
At first, the threesome ate in silence, surveying the expanse of the
inner courtyard, almost 600 feet long and nearly 250 feet wide. The
area was covered with black asphalt, hot to the touch, interspersed
by eight circular plots planted with different varieties of three to
four foot high palm trees. It reminded Leslie of a #8 domino. Around
the quadrangle sat twelve, single storied buildings constructed of buff
sandstone topped with reddish tile roofs, joined and shaded by the Romanesque
arcades that Leslie thought, were heaven sent on a hot August day such
Leslie, like the other men, was dressed in dark heavy trousers and a
white cuffed and collared shirt with a thin black tie. Because of the
heat, all of the men had left their jackets in the office but all wore
hats--- Drs. Elliott and Richardson, black bowlers and Dr. Jordan a
soft slouch hat of neutral shade.
At first the only sound was the mens chewing and swallowing. Leslie
spoke quietly, carefully choosing his words, "Dr. Jordan, I hate
to bring up a disagreeable subject during our noon repast, but we must
order books for the library, if we are to have a library. Our Librarian
wont be arriving for a few weeks, and if we wait until then, we
wont have books for the students starting class on October second.
David Starr Jordan did not immediately reply. He continued chewing on
a chicken drumstick Jessie had cooked for him. He had a white handkerchief
in his left hand and a drumstick in the other. Unlike his slimmer, younger
companions, he was in a slightly reclining position with his scuffed
boots spread before him. His intent light blue eyes were concentrating
on the drumstick he was about to stuff through a thin mustache into
his mouth. The mustache growing under his Roman nose hid his mouth but
not his weak chin. Because of the girth of middle age---he was 40 years
old---it was not easy for him to bend in the middle.
After what seemed to be a lengthy period while he chewed the chicken
meat and swallowed it, he answered Leslies question, "Senator
Stanford, from what Charles Lathrop, his Business Manager tells me,
wants only a modest beginning. Mr. Lathrop says the Senator doesnt
want any accumulation of materials or equipment beyond what is needed."
"And whom are we talking to, the Senator or Mr. Lathrop?"
"We are talking to Mr. Lathrop, who says he speaks for Senator
Stanford," was Dr. Jordans reply and he slightly squirmed
in place, as if the position he was in had grown uncomfortable.
Leslie recognized the signs. He was getting into dangerous territory
but he forged on. "And what does Mr. Lathrop say about the library
on the Senators behalf?"
"He thinks a library such as a gentleman might maintain should
be adequate--a library costing in the area of four to five thousand
"And what do you think?"
Dr. Jordan took the final bite of his drumstick, swallowed it, and wiped
his mustache and mouth with his white cotton handkerchief. He pulled
a green apple from the lunch pail and began to peal it, slowly and methodically,
with a large jackknife he always used on such occasions. Leslie knew
Jordans perennial goal was to make one continuous peal. While
attempting to accomplish this feat, he pulled himself to a sitting position
and devoted most of his attention to pealing rather that a reply to
his secretarys question.
"I think we need a library similar to what we had at Indiana University."
Pausing for a tricky movement with his knife, he resumed. "Such
a library should cost two or three times what the good Business Manager
mentioned. I think we need to begin to lay the broad foundation of an
academic library that will adequately support our students search
for knowledge. That is what I think."
This time he paused, again, and looked at Leslie. "But as you know,
we must get approval for all monies expended from the Business Office
in San Francisco. Im sure there will be a great deal of correspondence
between myself and Mr. Lathrop on this matter, but Im also sure
that Senator Stanford will eventually agree with my requests."
The apple was ready to eat. Dr. Jordan dropped the single peal into
his pail and looked over at Leslie with obvious satisfaction at his
victory over the elements.
"And how will the Senator ever learn of your requests when his
brother-in-law is the go between?" Leslie was not to be dissuaded.
Dr. Jordans wariness of the questioning showed in the tone of
his voice. "Leslie, at the right time and right moment I will make
the Senator aware of my intentions. In the meantime, we will make purchases
of books that meet my goals, not Mr. Lathrops"
Leslie decided he had spoken enough about the library, for the moment,
but he had not given up. If books were not ordered, he would bring it
up again at a more appropriate time when a new member of the faculty
was not present.
Dr. Richardson was not as attuned to Dr. Jordans changing moods
because he decided to follow Leslies example. He bluntly asked,
"And what about apparatus for the chemical laboratories?"
Richardson was the only member of the Chemistry Department presently
on campus. He, like Leslie, was about thirty years old, but he had the
makings of a full beard that made him look much older. "So far
I see only enough for minimal instruction. It appears, from what Dr.
Elliott has told me, that numerous students have indicated an interest
in Chemistry; and if we are going to have to purchase more equipment,
it must be high quality. We dont want to have an explosion like
the University of Pacific."
Leslie was surprised when Dr. Richardson spoke up like he did. Unlike
most of the other young faculty men who David Starr Jordan had selected
and known personally, Richardson was still an unknown quantity, and
because of that, Leslie knew, Dr. Jordan had to be careful what he said
Speaking slowly and clearly, Dr. Jordan said, "Dr. Richardson,
what we need, well get, but first well need to educate Senator
Stanford and, Im sorry to say, that will not happen overnight.
" He abruptly stopped speaking.
There was a lengthy moment of silence as Dr. Jordan carefully resumed
his original semi-reclining position, began to eat the pared apple,
and put the jackknife back into his lunch pail. He rummaged in it to
see what else Miss Jessie might have prepared and looked disappointed
when he found nothing.
Dr. Elliott continued to eat in silence, but Dr. Richardson in this
moment of honesty decided to bring up another tender subject he had
on his mind. "I understand Coliss Huntington has referred to our
university as "Senator Stanfords circus."
Dr. Jordans face showed no expression as he said, "Yes, Ive
heard the same phrase, and knowing Huntington and his lack of affection
for his business partner, Senator Stanford, Im sure he is correctly
quoted. But gentlemen," and here Jordans expression became
expansive as he theatrically looked beyond his companions and said,
"look at the broad expanse of our inner courtyard and the buff
buildings with their red tile roofs framed by blue skies. Its
like a stage setting. All we need are the players---the students and
faculty." Leslie could tell Jordan was about to make some dramatic
statement. The man always appeared to be on stage. Jordans right
hand made an all encompassing gesture as he said," And from this
setting will come men and women who will be our future lawyers, doctors,
scientists. We may even produce presidents, and senators, congressmen,
Supreme Court justices. Gentlemen, I will tell you this, if we are to
be a circus, Im certain we will be a magnificent one."
Leslie Elliott smiled. It was an apt expression. He cocked his head
slightly to one side and said, "Thats well put---a good phrase,
Dr. Jordan. You should write it down."
Jordan had already taken a small tablet from his vest pocket. "I
am," he said.
Leslie "Ill try to eliminate the villains, Dr. Jordan, but
Im certain we will have our share."
Dr. Jordan smiled, knowingly. "Who knows, he may be our president."
He looked over at the young professor and decided to change the subject,
"Dr. Richardson, any interest in the study of Ichthyology?"
"The study of fish-- being a chemistry fellow, I never really thought
about it, but it might be a jolly interesting minor."
Ah, hah, the dear boy may still make it into Dr. Jordans good
graces, Leslie thought.
The lunching doctors conversation was interrupted by Frank Batchelders
hurrying over to where they were seated. "Dr. Jordan, your daughter
brought a note. Youre to call the Business Office. Something about
needing the Senators approval for your new hires."
Jordan pulled himself up. He was instantly angry. "You know what
this means. Im going to have to walk all the way back to Escondite.
Why wont they let us install telephones at the university?"
Dr. Richardson had to say it. "Too expensive, Dr. Jordan?"
With the energy it took to arise plus his anger, Dr. Jordans face
had considerably reddened. "And I guess my time isnt."
He was also angry with Lathrop that he discussed the topic of the call
with Edith, and with Batchelder who read her note and announced its
contents to the world. He hastily gathered up the leavings from his
lunch and with a great show of haste, strode back to the office, accompanied
by Batchelder, trying to catch up with him.
Drs. Elliott and Richardson were silent for a moment, then resumed eating
the remnants of their lunch and making casual conversation about Ellens
on-going, unsuccessful attempts to find new living accommodations in
© Jerry Franks April 2006
This is the first chapter of Jerry Franks book.
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