Sunday, June 23, 2013


Compiled by Marilyn Cram Donahue
Lucile Cram Whitecotton Suttle

          John Henry Cram was born in 1788 in Jay, New York, Essex County. This was a rather hilly region west of the Hudson River. He grew up in Jay, New York and, being of a mechanical turn, he learned several trades: cooper, shoemaker, furniture maker, among others.
          In 1810, John Cram married Rebecca Pease at Unity, New Hampshire. She was the daughter of Captain Isaac Pease, who was a navigator whose family had a fleet of ships (whaling vessels and trading ships) during the middle of the 18th century. A log in the possession of the Cram Family gives fascinating information about the trip of the first ship to sail down the coast of South America, around the Horn, and up the west coast as far as San Francisco. (The original copy is now stored in the library of Stanford University with visitation rights by family memters.)
          John Cram and Rebecca Pease Cram began their westward trek from Jay, NY in 1836 when Lewis was about two years old. They first moved the family to the southeastern portion of Michigan just two years before it became a state. When the family pushed on farther west in 1839, three children stayed behind: Mariah, Sanborn, and Chester.
          The John Cram family next stopped in Ohio at Middlebury, Summit Co., in 1839. In 1843, they again pushed farther west, this time stopping in the woods of Illinois at Bushville, Schuyler Co.  There, John Cram started work as a cooper, and, after building a lathe from available material, he began to make wagons, ladders, etc. 
          In 1848, they started for California in company with Daniel H. Rogers, S. S. Reeves, Hankinson Kimball, and a neighboring family named Jackson. They had ox teams and wagons. They went southwest across the Mississippi River at Hannibal, Missouri and across the Missouri River at Booneville. When they reached Independence, they joined others and made up a train of 22 wagons. John Cram made the westward trip in the large covered wagon that he had made himself. In this wagon he transported the lathe all the way from Illinois.
         Daniel H. Rogers was Captain of this wagon train. They started out on the Santa Fe Trail and fell in with a large train of 30 freighting wagons. The caravan of traders that the Cram group joined had heavily loaded wagons, so they wanted to avoid the steep slopes of Raton Pass. Thus they took the dreaded Comanche-infested Cimarron cutoff. Indians hung around their flanks for days, but hesitated to attack an outfit with so many guns. They did get away with a stray mule or two.
          There were between 100 and 200 people in the big wagon train. The Santa Fe traders who had the freighting wagons were “old stagers” who knew the country, so the families who were unfamiliar with the trails and Indian dangers were lucky to be led by the freighters. They made it safely to Santa Fe, where they rested.
          Santa Fe in 1849 was the westward end of practical travel for wheeled vehicles. Only the Mormon Battalion and a few daring caravans had made it to California by the southern route from Santa Fe. Others, mostly pack trains, used the more northerly route of The Old Spanish Trail.
          The large wagon train, including the caravan of traders, broke up in Santa Fe. The Crams, with the wagons of five other daring families, decided to try the southern fork, which descended the Rio Grande, crossed mountains to the pueblo of Tuscan, and headed for Yuma via the Gila River. This was the most dangerous of all 1849 routes to California, with constant attacks by Apaches, and, as soon as Apache country was passed, the Colorado Desert of California had to be crossed . . . an all but waterless expanse.
          This small wagon train, including the Crams, traveled through dry and desolate country, and no member of this group, after leaving Santa Fe, knew anything about the country.
          The Indians (Apaches) followed them all the way. They could see the Indians’ smoke from campfires every night. Lewis Filmore Cram used to stand guard at night when he was only a young boy of 16. (He was 14 when they left Bushville, Illinois.) One night when he was on guard, Lewis heard a terrible scream and thought it was Indians. He got on his horse and found it was a lion that had jumped on one of the horses tied up for the night. It was the scream of the horse that he had heard. They had to shoot the horse, as it was so badly torn up.
          One day, as they were traveling, there were some pine trees about 100 or 200 yards away. One man from the wagon train came in chewing some pine gum he had gotten from the pine trees. This was considered quite a treat, so another man (a Mr. Crandall) decided to go over to the trees to get some more gum. Just as he got to the clump of pines, Indians rose up all around and filled him with arrows. The Indians then disappeared just as suddenly as they had come.
          Rebecca Pease Cram got the fever (it was probably typhoid, but they called it the mountain fever), and she died just before the wagon train reached a little town or settlement called Peoche in New Mexico. (This may have been close to the Arizona border and by the Gila River.) Some sources say Rebecca was buried on the big bend of the Gila River in Arizona, but Frank Cram (son of Lewis) disputed this. He said his grandfather refused to bury her out on the trail, and they carried her to this little place, Peoche, to bury her. Lewis Cram had shown Frank where Peoche was on the early maps. It does not seem to be listed on present maps.
          Lewis Cram also had the fever and was unconscious at the time of his mother’s death and funeral. He knew nothing about it until he was better. John Cram, the father, did not have the fever.
          Coming across in the covered wagons, they used to churn their butter (they had several cows) by hanging the bucket of cream under a wagon. The jogging and jolting would churn it to butter.
          Later, after Rebecca Cram had died, they had a real bad Indian raid one night. The Indians sneaked in and stampeded all the oxen, horses, and other livestock. They stole a great many of them. It happened about 60 miles before they reached Yuma, Arizona. They had to put milk cows and riding horses in harnesses to pull the wagons. They were so short of animals that they had to unload one of the wagons, and the men took turns in the harness and had to pull the wagon all the way into Yuma. Most of the people had to walk the remainder of the way to Yuma to try to save the animals.
          They had to stop a while in Yuma to try to recover from the losses they had suffered at the hands of the Indians. They had to sell most of their things in order to get the money to get supplies and oxen or horses to make it the rest of the way across the desert.
          In Yuma, the wagon train split in different directions. Some stayed in Yuma. But the Crams sold a lot of their equipment and bought mules and horses and started out for San Diego. They thought that with mules and horses they could go faster and make it across the desert before it got too hot. They underestimated the heat of the desert.
          They started across the Imperial Desert in June. They mostly walked and led the pack mules along. But they had at least the one wagon (which John Cram made himself), for they carried the big lathe, which they later put to good use in their first furniture factory.
          At least one woman was in the group, as Goodcell Cram was married, and his wife didn’t die until after they got to California. They brought three children with them. Some of the friends and neighbors who came with them may have had families also.
          They found the desert deadly, even in June, and the last three days they were without water. However, they sent a scout ahead on horseback to find the Carisse Creek, and this scout was able to make it back with enough water to see them through. One quart of water was portioned to each person. Lewis Cram, who was then about 17, had just taken a swallow of water when a man in the party went berserk and pulled a gun on him. This man took all of Lewis’s water ration and ran off into the desert. They found him the next day, dead. The others in the wagon train all shared their water with Lewis, and he was able to make it all right.
          The group finally arrived at Warner’s Ranch near San Diego about 1851-1852. Their trail was marked with the bodies of their animals that fell on the way.
          When they got to San Diego (1851-1852), they all had to work to try and replenish their, by now, depleted funds. Two of the boys went on ahead and got work at Santa Ana del Chino Rancho. Some of the family found a ranch in or near Puente and rented it for a while, while the whole family worked it.
          John Cram heard of the Mormon Colony that had come to San Bernardino in 1851, so he went over to talk with them. Soon after, the whole family moved over to the Asistencia and were there by 1854.
          At the Asistencia, John Cram and his sons built an undershot water wheel, which they placed in the Zanja. The water powered the lathe, which was the start of the Cram furniture factory. The California homes of this date and area were sparsely furnished. The people had only the few articles they had been able to carry in their wagons and perhaps a few that had come around Cape Horn by ship (very expensive) and a few more pieces made by hand on the spot as needed. So there was a big market for chairs, tables, chests of drawers, etc. The Crams built these items. They made a solid type colonial chair, some with arms, out of turned tree limbs with bottoms of cowhide. They made over 1,000 pieces of furniture. Some enterprising San Bernardino people even bought wagon loads of furniture for resale all over Southern California. The Crams also built wagons for settlers and sold them for $300 each.
          About 1856, the Crams moved farther up the Zanja to the area later known as Crafton, as the water flow was more consistent there.  They established the first water right in that area, set up the lathe and continued manufacturing furniture. Thus was established one of the valley’s oldest water rights. They used a water wheel on the Zanja.
          While the Crams were at the Asistencia (1854-1856), Lewis and Henry Cram walked across to the Highland-East Highland area, which they could see across the Santa Ana River from the Asistencia. That area then looked so pretty to them, there on the slopes of the mountains, that the brothers wanted to investigate the area further. They liked the area so well that they decided it was where they wanted to settle.
          Mormon colonists had reached San Bernardino in 1851 and purchased San Bernardino Rancho, but they found they held a firm title to only half the valley. The United States courts permitted the Mormon colony to select the half they desired to keep, so they chose the town of San Bernardino, the Santa Ana valley (a lush pasture land then), and the Yucaipa Valley. The higher valley sides were not claimed (elevation 1200 to 1400 feet). Thus the Highland-East Highland district was public domain and open for homesteading.
          The Crams obtained their homestead rights of 160 acres in 1859, but Lewis and Henry were in the area before that date . . . about 1856. Lewis died in 1915, and he said he had lived in East Highlands for 59 years.
          In 1858, Lewis and Henry dug a ditch from the mouth of the Santa Ana canyon to their homestead three miles away. They built an earth diversion dam to shunt water into the ditch. The water was used to irrigate their pioneer planting of seedling oranges and other fruit trees. By filing on the Santa Ana river water so early, they established rights prior to those of the Bear Valley water company. Therefore, if the lake went dry, and the stream ran almost dry, the earlier right owners would get whatever water was available.
          Frederick Van Leuven joined with the Crams in using the ditch, which became known as the Cram-Van Leuven Canal. Subsequently, when other diversions had been made, the river flow was apportioned between the users, and the pioneer ditch was allocated one-sixth of the stream. The Cram brothers and Frederick Van Leuven were for some time the only settlers in this area of East Highlands. The Crams were the first white men to settle there. Some early settlers who took lands from the original Cram holdings near the foothills were C.H. Allen, W.R. Randall, and W.T. Noyes.
          The little cluster of early ranches in this area that was homesteaded by Lewis and Henry Cram was known for years as Cramville. This is how it appeared on early railroad maps. 
          Immediately west of the original homestead, Lewis Cram took up land and there built the first school for the district. The school was built on the flat just below the brow of the East Highlands bench. Lewis persuaded a few neighbors to come with hammers and saws to help build the school house. It was a little, one-room, clapboard (vertical planks) building. There were less than a dozen pupils at first. A couple of pupils came walking from north San Bernardino and Del Rosa, and some even came up from Santa Ana Canyon way. Later, the school was moved farther west on 3rd Street near Boulder. Later still, a larger school was built in East Highlands on Elder Gulch Road and East Base Line. This school was also called the Cram School. Later, a modern school building was erected on the same property to replace the old two-story building. It also carried the Cram name. In recent years, this was replaced by the present Cram School, located a little to the east on Water Street.
          The first house Lewis Cram built was originally a three-bedroom, one-story structure. The original part became the upper floor of the east wing of a two-story house. This portion was hoisted on blocks, and the lower story built beneath it. The central and western additions came later.
          Lewis and Henry continued in partnership after John Cram, their father, died. In 1858, after digging the irrigation canal, Lewis and Henry planted deciduous fruits on the land and later began grain farming. Apple, peach, and apricot trees were grown, and the brothers also planted vineyards of muscat and mission grapes. The grapes were not only dried and sold to buyers, but the large, juicy muscats were pickled. Pickled grapes were considered a tasty treat, and they were so popular that the children took them to school to trade for other lunchbox items. Grapes were planted on the bench above the mesa because they didn’t require as much water.
          Lewis Cram and Anson Van Leuven are recognized as the men who were responsible for the two original citrus plantings in this section of the country In 1861, Lewis had already planted a few orange trees. In 1869, he added two acres of oranges to his ranch, but he had had orange trees much earlier. Later, early in the 80s, Lewis and Henry planted 16 acres of navel oranges on the bench in East Highlands. The budwood came from the original navel trees in Riverside, and these first generation “offspring” were among the largest anywhere. Such trees usually produce about 12 boxes per tree, but the outside row often averaged 16 boxes. Lewis Cram was awarded a prize at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1869 for the “highest cash return from one acre of land in the entire country.”
          Two of the orange trees planted by Lewis in 1861 were still living and bearing heavily as late as 1945. One tree had a spread of 39 feet with a circumference at the ground of six feet and six inches. It was 42 feet high.
          Lewis Cram was highly skilled at budding and grafting trees. He had learned this skill from his father, John Cram. Few men did that work at that time. That is how Lewis came to get oranges to plant. Every spring Lewis used to go into Los Angeles to help the Wolfskill Nurseries, where he did much of their budding and grafting for them. He got his seedlings from this nursery, a pioneer in its own right.
          In 1865, Lewis Cram married Sarah Wakefield. Lewis met Sarah when she lived on the next ranch in East Highlands. He and a brother were out in a field one afternoon and could hear the laughter and talking of girls over on the next ranch. The boys decided to go over to meet the girls . . . and Lewis later married one of them – Sarah.
          The Wakefields got a Spanish Land grant up at San Jacinto and used to own all that land up there. The father was dead, and the brother (John?) was ranching with his folks. There was some trouble with some men over property lines and surveys, and Sarah’s brother was murdered. As the father was dead, Grandma Wakefield, Sarah’s mother, sold the ranch at San Jacinto and bought a ranch together with another daughter and son-in-law (the Barrs) in Olive. Later, they bought another ranch in Fresno at Malega, and there they had a vineyard. Grandma Wakefield lived with the Barrs until she died of measles.
          The Wakefields had also come to California in wagons. They came from Kentucky. There were four children: Caroline, who married a Van Leuven; Mathilda, who married a Barr; Sarah, who married Lewis Cram; and John.
          Lewis Cram and Sarah Wakefield Cram lived together all the fifty years of their marriage in the old Cram home, enlarging it as their family grew. Sarah continued to live there after Lewis’s death in 1915, and she, too, died there in 1920. It was referred to as the Cliffside Ranch.
Marilyn Cram Donahue
Lucile Cram Whitecotton Suttle


  1. This is a fascinating story! Thank you for the history. I know a family that lives in one of his old craftsmen homes on Base Line Rd. They spoke how Mr. Cram willed the home to his farm hand, Browning. I wish I could pull title records showing such, or find someone who knows the history of this property. I'm not sure which Mr. Cram is was though...

  2. I am a cram from the north east England. Is there any connection to your family?

    1. Yes, there is a definite connection. I will check my papers and get back to you

    2. If you can contact me at, I'll be glad to give you details of the Crams in England.


  3. im a cram from indiana is their any connection to the family

    1. Yes indeed. I can give you more information if you send an email address to

  4. im a cram from indiana is their any connection to the family

  5. My great grandfather Aaron A. Cox came to Calif about 1890 and first settled in Highland area. He first worked with Judge Curtis family. He became a large citrus grower in Rialto and San Bernardino. I became the 4th well hearing the name Henry Cram. Your blog was very interesting and i feel attached to it in a certain way