by Susan Couso
Daniel Rice Stark had been born in Indiana on the third of July in 1830 and grew up in a large family. He had married his sweetheart, Rebecca, in 1856 in Michigan.
The Stark family moved around, trying to find a good life, and spent the majority of their married life in Missouri.
Daniel and Rebecca had at least seven children; sons Simeon, Samuel, David, Charles, Alfred, William and a daughter, Elizabeth (Eliza).
Daniel became one of the many thousands of young men who were caught up in the Civil War. He had joined the Illinois Volunteers, Company ‘C’ of the 144th Infantry which mustered in September of 1864 at Alton, Illinois.
The 144th Infantry never saw battle and served at garrisons in the area near St. Louis, Missouri and at a prisoner of war camp at Alton, Illinois.
These soldiers, who never served on the battlefield and probably yearned to go into battle, suffered greatly. Sixty-nine of them died of disease in the close unsanitary conditions of their assignments. War is never easy.
By July of 1865 the war was over, and the 144th Infantry was ‘mustered out’. Daniel went home to Missouri to his wife, Rebecca, and their children.
By the time Daniel finally made his way to Honey Lake Valley, Rebecca was dead. He was a tired and lonely old man who came west to be near his children.
In Honey Lake Valley, the old widower lived with his son David and his daughter-in-law, Maggie, and their family. Eliza lived with them also, until her marriage.
It was a comfortable life, and he was well cared for by his son, but 1900 was a special year. In August in Susanville, Daniel’s only daughter, Eliza, had married Charles Hennings. The new Hennings family settled in Secret Valley.
In 1900, Daniel Rice Stark was looking forward to the holiday season. With his daughter married and a new baby daughter in his son’s family, it was an exciting time. His gift for himself this year was to visit his newlywed daughter, Eliza, and her husband, Charles Hennings, in Secret Valley.
So, Daniel planned to spend Christmas with his daughter. He decided to walk to her home, and he had it all worked out. He would leave his son’s house and head as straight as possible through the desert, to Secret Valley. It was only thirty miles away.
His family, his friends, and everyone he told of his plans, tried to dissuade him from the perilous trip. It was too far for a man of his age, it was December, and it was cold. But Daniel would not listen. He packed his Yuletide gifts for his daughter, and on December 23rd, left Susanville to fulfill his dream of a wonderful Christmas.
On Monday, the 24th of December, the tired old soldier had made his way about 15 miles from Susanville. Charles Hart was on his way to Secret Valley, driving a wagon, and saw him on the road. Hart went on to his destination and notified Charles Henning that his father-in-law was on the way.
Stark’s worried son-in-law hurriedly hitched up his wagon and went to find his new father-in-law, but to no avail. There was no sight of Stark. Hennings went home and wrote a letter to David Stark, letting him know of the situation. That letter didn’t reach David Stark until Thursday evening, December 27th.
The next day David Stark sent a man with a buggy out to look for his father, but the elder Stark was nowhere to be found. Daniel Stark had simply disappeared.
Meanwhile, Charles Hennings arrived in Susanville and he and David Stark summoned a search party.
On Sunday morning, the search party reached the area and found some of Daniel Stark’s old papers from when he lived in Oklahoma and some carefully wrapped Christmas presents that Stark had carried for his daughter. The presents were blood-stained and torn, signs that though injured, the old man had carried them as far as possible. Unfortunately, the search party found no sign of Daniel Stark himself.
There were several sites where he had started small brush fires and footprints where he had paced around the fires and wandered, possibly trying to keep warm in the bitter cold.
He had apparently stumbled helplessly for quite some time, tripping over rocks and tearing his limbs on barbed wire. Signs were everywhere, but there was no Daniel.
One of the warming fires was seen Thursday morning by Albert Brown who had a ranch nearby along Pete’s Valley Road.
With no sign of the old man, the disheartened search party returned to Susanville. It had been over a week now since Daniel left home, and things were serious.
On Tuesday, January 1st, another party from Susanville, including Frank Cady, Augustus Hunsinger, George Long and James H. Riley tried again. They began their search near the fire that had been seen by Albert Brown.
It wasn’t long before they found what they were looking for. Daniel Stark’s body, face down in a pile of rocks, was there. It appeared that he had fallen and made no effort to arrest his fall. A sharp rock had pierced his temple.
Daniel’s last effort was to see his daughter. He was buried in the Susanville Cemetery.
If you are a fan of our weekly history stories you should join the Lassen County Historical Society! It’s a fun way to be a part of our county’s rich history. When you sign up, you’ll receive regular Historical Society newsletters with interesting stories and information. Membership is open to anyone with an interest in area history.
Through your membership you help preserve local history. You can download a membership application by clicking here.