What a piece of work is a man!  How noble in reason!
How infinite in faculties!  In form and moving how
Express and admirable!  In action how like an angle! 
In apprehension how like a god!  The beauty of the
World, the paragon of animals!
---Shakespeare, Hamlet, 11,ii.

A human being is an amazing piece of work, and one may muse that a human is at
one the toughest and most fragile piece of work on earth.  Some people die
from a tiny bump on the head, while others endure being starved, beaten,
twisted and torn, put through tortures and hardships, stretched and squeezed
in manners unimaginable.

There sleeps under a big juniper tree in Jess Valley an extraordinary human
being, now for his grave nearly a hundred years, for Samuel "Tule Dad" Matney
died in 1887, at the age of 104.  Born in the year that George Washington
resigned from the army, 1783, six years old when Washington became the first
president of the United States, Matney lived so long that his lifetime spanned
the most magnificent years of America's development-he lived from the end of
the Revolution to just before the Spanish-American War.  He lived through the
Mexican War, the California Gold Rush, the Civil War, and settling of the Far

James Edwin Addicott, a pioneer teacher at the Jess Valley School, included a
short biography of Matney and some anecdotes from his last years in Prairie
Pioneers, which is essentially reminiscences of Addicott's teaching stint in
Jess Valley.  Addicott says that Matney was born in a log cabin on the
Tennessee frontier about where Nashville now sprawls.  His mother died when he
was born, and he was reared by an uncle.  Around 1789 they moved across the
Ohio River to Illinois, where they re-settled on a rich farming section on the
Kaskaskia River.

Addicott knew Samuel K. Matney only as a venerable old man, so his description
of the frontiersman as a youth had to have come from Matney's recollections of
himself:"...Sam grew to be a handsome blond-a large strong man, 6 ft. 2in
height and weighing over 200 pounds."  The young Matney was a farmer who did
very well, raising livestock, clearing the forests, and extending his
holdings.  Thus he lived until the beginning of the Mexican War.  In his first
attempt to enlist, he gave his true age of 63, but was turned down as too old
for active welfare.

The army underestimated his desire to fight for his country as well as his
frontier know-how.  He applied again, fibbed about his age and made a case on
his frontier experience and excellence as a rifleman.  He enrolled in Company
C in the 3rd Regiment of the Illinois Volunteers and saw active service.  His
records in Washington, D. C. state that he was given an honorable discharge in
the city of New Orleans.

Apparently Matney sold or deserted his farm, either just prior to or during
the California Gold Rush, for in the years following the Mexican War is was in
California, living along the Sacramento River and raising hogs in the tules
and then for a while he was in Arizona scouting for the army.

Addicott states that Matney settled in eastern Siskiyou County, somewhere
northeast of Cedarville, close to the northern end of Middle Lake.  Perhaps
this place was to "civilized" for him, foe he appears to have migrated
southwest to the Lassen County and Nevada boundary country where he re-settled
at the place that bears the name of "Tule Dad" today.  Some say that is where
he first became known as Tule Dad-others have it that he raised hogs in the
tules along the Sacramento and that it was then that he was given the name.

Across the Warners and to the southeast of where his bones rest under the
juniper tree, Samuel K. Matney left his only other monument-the bequest of his
nickname to some wonderful country: Tuledad Canyon,  Tuledad Creek, upper and
lower Tuledad, Tuledad Camp.  If he knew that these names have stuck, he'd
probably like it.

It is not clear just when Tule Dad left his place on the edge of the desert
and moved to Jess Valley, where he had some neighbors.  Addicott tells some of
the story of Tule Dad's last years.  It is a very touching story-the last
scenes of a fantastically long and dramatic life:

"He was 103 when he first visited the District School in Jess Valley, Modoc
County.  He had never entered a schoolhouse before.  Using very few words, he
advised the pupils to study and learn.

"He became an active patron of the school by lending his heavy gold watch to
the teacher, that the school might open and close on time. The district
trustees had not the funds to purchase a clock and the teacher was too poor to
buy a watch.

"Reading, writing, and arithmetic were arts never acquired by Tule Dad.  He
had never written his own name, but used a cross to sign papers or contracts.
This same cross within a circle was used on an iron to brand his cattle before
turning them loose to graze upon the common feeding grounds in the mountains
and on the sagebrush flats.

"Tule Dad was perhaps the oldest pupil who ever walked to and from school.  He
was the guest of honor in this little rustic school during several days before
the storms of winter came.  He was always given the teacher's seat-the
inverted nail keg.  Here he sat by the hour in front of the stove in the
middle of the room, listing, seldom looking up, his head resting upon his
hands as they were folded over the head of his staff, a heavy club from a
mahogany tree cut from the mountainside back of the school.

"He learned but one lesson in school, and that was in geography upon a wall
map of the world.  He could locate on this map his last home in Jess Valley
and his first home in Tennessee.

"Tule Dad was 102 before the cattlemen fully realized he was too old to live
alone and care for himself.  They noted his little dugout near Pitt River
where he slept on the ground and did all his cooking on a campfire during
below zero weather.  When he was 102 he was planning to spend the winter of
1886 in his dugout.  In the fall, he was still getting around and doing some
work.  Tule Dad often passed the school house on the way down and up the
meadow where he turned a hand-fanning mill that cleaned the timothy and red
top clover seeds....But in the winter of 1886 he was made a ward of the
district by county officials and then Bill and Charlotte Cantrall gave him
shelter and board at $20 a month....

"His great strength was gradually leaving him, and he asked me, an 18 - year-
old district school teacher, to write his will.  It was his desire to leave
all his property to the man who had befriended him the most, Bill Cantrall,
one of the three school trustees.

After several attempts, a will was written satisfactory to all concerned.  It
was a sad sight to witness a helpless, ignorant old man signing away all his
belongings by a mere cross.  His eyes were perfect to the end, and a third set
of teeth were beginning to function.

" A few ranchers and their children under the teacher's leadership held a
little service just over the hill, planted a little juniper tree at the head
of the mound, sang a few hymns, offered a short prayer, and then moved
thoughtfully back to feed the livestock and milk the cows."

What a piece of work is a man. What an extraordinary piece of work was Samuel
K. Matney, native of Tennessee, whose second nickname, "Uncle Sam," was most
appropriate, for he was the embodiment of the ideal westering American-strong
as a bull,  fierce and fearless as a cougar, restless as the wind, and tough
as a pine knot.  God grant him peace in his resting place in Jess Valley-one
of the most beautiful and fascinating spots in the world.

From:  The Journal of the Modoc County Historical Society
             Number 8--1986, Pages 89-92