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Publication Date: Friday, January 04, 2002

A trailblazer who relished 'rattlesnake ragout' A trailblazer who relished 'rattlesnake ragout' (January 04, 2002)

By Lisa Windes

Stevens Creek, the Old Mountain View Neighborhood's southernmost border, was a recreation area for Mountain View's earlier residents. Prospectors discovered gold in the creek in the 1860s, but it was too little to mine for profit.

The townspeople of new Mountain View valued the creek for fine picnic spots and fishing. There is a fish ladder in the creek to this day under the Evelyn bridge. Many people in new Mountain View maintained summer cabins in the foothills above where Stevens Creek Reservoir now stands.

Stevens Creek was named after Captain Elisha Stephens, the first man to lead a wagon train across the Sierras in 1844. All 50 of the pioneers survived the trip, as well as two infants born during the journey.

The pass through the Sierras later became famous as the route taken by John C. Fremont, "Pathfinder of the West." Stephens bitterly rejoined, "Yes, he found the path I made." The ill-fated Donner Party followed the same trans-Sierra trail in 1846.

In 1848, Stephens settled east of the creek that bears his name. The 160-acre homestead, called Blackberry Farm, still exists today by Stevens Creek Boulevard in Monta Vista.

Widely regarded as an eccentric, Stephens befriended two inventors who cluttered his yard with perpetual motion machines and steam-driven plows.

Neighbors, such as Frank Grant (Grant Road), politely declined his invitations to dinner because the main course was usually rattlesnake. Stephens claimed, "You don't know what's good! Rattlesnakes beat frogs all to pieces." Popular legend credited Stephens with capturing and eating most of the rattlesnakes around Stevens Creek. The Mountain View Press Register called his recipe "Rattlesnake Ragout."

Stephens moved to Kern County, near Bakersfield, where he died in 1887. Elisha Stephens never married or had children. Until recently, only our creek honored his accomplishments.

In September of 1994, Elisha Stephens received some long-overdue recognition when a 7,250-foot peak overlooking Donner Pass, the trail he blazed, was named Mount Stephens.

This article originally appeared in the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association newsletter, and is reprinted with the association's permission.


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