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HomeHistory StoriesFrom the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: Ephraim Van Buren Spencer

From the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: Ephraim Van Buren Spencer

by Susan Couso

Ephraim Van Buren Spencer was one of those unique individuals who, when faced with a challenge, just found another way to achieve his goal.

He came to the Honey Lake Valley with his brother, Luther, in 1859. ‘Eff’ and Luther were from a family of eight sons, and then, finally a baby daughter!

The two Spencer boys went to work for Isaac Roop, in Roop’s sawmill on the Susan River, but unfortunately, Eff had his left arm crushed in an accident in the mill. This incident always makes me think about life in Susanville in the middle of the 1800’s.

There were no ‘social services’, and people just had to ‘make do’ without help. They still had expenses, and medical care was not easy to get, but somehow, most of them managed.

E. V. Spencer took the time to think things over and decided that being disabled was not going to stop him. He took the next logical step and figured that he would become an attorney. He borrowed books and studied, and was admitted to the Roop County, Nevada Bar in 1862, and the Lassen County Bar in 1864.

Spencer became Lassen County’s first District Attorney when the county was formed. Eff was well thought of throughout the area and trusted to support the law.

In 1867, Eff Spencer married Lucy Philenda Montgomery, a local schoolteacher, who had started her career when only eighteen years old. She began working in the Spencer law office and was inspired to work for woman’s rights.

Together, Eff and Philenda had three children: Iva, Gladys and Ephraim. Little Ephraim, ‘Ephie’ died at age 14, but the girls went on to make their own place in the politics of the day.

Iva was an artist, who married John Raker. He became a U. S. Congressman, and they lived in Washington, D. C. Gladys married Harry Burroughs, who became an attorney and later a Superior Court judge. Gladys also became an attorney and the second female Superior Court judge in California, along with the first female mayor in the state. She had many other accomplishments in her long career.

The Spencers also raised Jennie and May, the two orphan daughters of Eff’s brother, Luther. Wenonah Madden, a young Native American girl who worked for the Spencers as a servant, was taken in by them. Wenonah was urged by the Spencers to get an education, and she became a nurse.

E. V. Spencer was elected to the California State Assembly and was a member for 17 years. He introduced the bill for woman’s suffrage to the State Assembly, and California eventually became the 6th state in the nation to allow women to vote. His ideas towards the gentler gender could be seen in the accomplishments of the females around him.

Spencer was a member of the Honey Lake Rangers, a local militia group, which was founded in 1864, and was well-known for getting the job done when needed. He was a member of the Lassen County Pioneer Society, which was made up of men who came to what became Lassen County before July 1860. Many of his escapades can be found in Fairfield’s History of Lassen County, by Asa Fairfield.

Eff was a huge proponent of getting the railroad to Susanville. He worked tirelessly, and probably harder than any other person, to bring the advantages of reliable transportation and shipping to the area. The railroad did not reach Susanville before his death in Susanville in 1904, from kidney disease. Ephraim Van Buren Spencer is buried with his family in Susanville’s Pioneer Cemetery on Court Street.

Jeremy Couso
Jeremy Couso Publisher/Editor
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