Helen Eells: A Trip to San Quentin Prison

Helen’s Oral History
Chapter 6
A Trip to San Quentin Prison

Published December, 2010

“My father had a client in the San Quentin Prison. Well, it took all morning to get there and all afternoon to get home. So the servants would get everything ready in the surrey. My sister would get her pony all harnessed. My mother would scout around and fuss and what-have-you to get blankets and all the comforts. And then the luncheon was brought out to us: beautiful, gorgeous fried chicken; and olive and hard-boiled egg and sardine sandwiches, which I still adore. And when we got about halfway there in the surrey, my father would say, ‘Now it’s time to stop and have our picnic.’ And so my mother would spread out the blanket. And we would all sit down and have these wonderful things to eat. And then we could play around in the trees for a little while, until my mother and father felt it was time to leave. And everybody was told to do pee-pee behind the bushes, and be sure to get a drink of water. And my sister got back on her pony, horseback. And we all got in the surrey, and we started off for San Quentin Prison.

“My father’s client was an old, old man, who had killed someone, I can’t remember why. But he had loads of money and my father had to take care of his estate. So he had to go there at least once every two months and sometimes once a month, so this was a terribly exciting thing. When we got back on the road—this was the time when horseless carriages, in other words, the automobile, was just coming into its own. And over the really winding roads in those days (and very narrow at that, and all dirty as I told you, with no macadam) we would start. And my big sister would run ahead in her pony. And she would hear the putt-putt of a car, way far away, and she’d come dashing back, laughing with joy, and she’d say, ‘An automobile is coming, Papa.’

“Well, my father would get red in the face, and he would rein in the horses, against the bank. And my mother would hold tight to the baby. And I would hold tight to her. And my mother would start to say, ‘Oh, Alec, be careful!’ And my father would get red and mad. And he’d say, ‘Oh, Carrie, keep still! We’ll be all right.’ And when the automobile got near us, he would shout, and he would scream at them, ‘How can you have such a dreadful thing with that awful odor? You just be careful! Don’t you get us off the road!’

“And sometimes the horses would raise their whole bodies into the air. And they would whinny. And they would act up so badly that once in a while, one of the horses would get its foot on the shaft! And my father would get out. And he’d be swearing at the top of his lungs, and trying to get that horse off the shaft. Sometimes he had to take all the harness off. And he was yelling and screaming with fury at the modern age. And my mother was saying, ‘Alec, don’t let the children hear you speak like that!’ And so we would go.”

If you have comments or questions about this article or other topics
pertaining to the history of Homestead Valley,
please feel free to e-mail Chuck Oldenburg.