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Nevada City/Grass Valley,

Famous Characters

Photo of Lyman Gilmore in Nevada City and Grass Valley, in the Gold Country of Northern California

Lyman Gilmore










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Lotta Crabtree ... Lester Pelton ... Lyman Gilmore ... Nellie Chapman ... Sarah Davis
Sarah Davis Lyman Gilmore

On May 21, 1850 Sarah Davis left Independence, Missouri in a covered wagon pulled by oxen, and headed for the gold fields of California. She traveled along the Oregon Trail as she headed west and wrote in her diary almost every day. She wrote that she saw many wild animals such as bears, buffalo, geese, and ducks along the trail.

Traveling near the Platte River she wrote about the beautiful view while other people in Sarah's wagon train saw "Indians," wolves, and lots of pioneer graves. Once she wrote about seeing thirteen graves in a day. After her friend died of cholera, she was the only woman in her wagon train. Sarah said she was "very lonely," and wished there was another woman making the journey with her. At Independence Rock, she saw the signatures of other pioneers who had traveled the same route.

The wagon train traveled 10 to 20 miles each day. She wrote about crossing rivers and she described prairies that stretched as far as the eye could see, as well as deserts, and snow covered mountains.

Sometimes the men would walk the oxen five extra miles to find grass for them to eat. The group left the Oregon Trail and headed south along the California Trail toward their destination. They climbed over the 7,000 foot summit of the Sierra Nevada Mountains then came down the ridge into Nevada City on October 19, 1850.
After many months of traveling, Sarah was happy to arrive in Nevada City and said, "It is a sight to see all the miners here."
Sarah Davis was the only pioneer woman in her group to survive the trip from Independence, Missouri to California. She lived in Nevada City for many years and raised her family here. Her husband built one of the first homes in the town. Her pioneer spirit inspired other women to make the trip to California.

Sarah Davis was the first of many pioneer women who tried the adventure of traveling to the mining towns of California. Some of the buildings that were built in 1850. are still standing as historical landmarks today in testament to these early residents.

Lyman Gilmore Jr. was born in the state of Washington on June 11, 1874. He was the sixth of eleven kids. When he was young, he was not interested in farm work. He loved to watch the birds and listen to his mother read the Bible. He also liked to make objects out of paper that looked like birds.

Lyman left Washington in the 1890's because he wanted to prove that men could fly. He moved to Red Bluff, California where he bought a sheep ranch. His first plane was a glider with an eighteen foot wingspan. The glider flew when pulled by a horse. During its first flight, the horse became frightened when he saw the glider flying over him and ran away.

In the 1900's, Gilmore moved to Colfax, California. He kept busy gold mining and inventing an aircraft that he could attach to his newly patented steam engine. In May of 1902, he built a 32 foot plane that successfully flew as it was lifted by his steam-powered engine. There were not very many witnesses present. Therefore, some people did not believe Lyman when he told them of his flight.

Lyman Gilmore claimed that his flight took place months before the Wright Brothers' historic flight at Kitty Hawk. In 1909, he gained the attention of the Union Newspaper who wrote, "Down at Colfax, they boast of a full-fledged aviator who made a flight without breaking his neck."
Gilmore continued to invent aircraft throughout his life. He claimed to have flown his steam-powered aircraft in Grass Valley, California, in 1902. He spent the rest of his life trying to prove that he was the first person to fly a powered aircraft.

His airplanes and hangers burned to the ground in 1935 so there is little evidence remaining today that could prove he was the first person to fly a manned aircraft. Many people have differing opinions about the date and distance of the flight.

There is a film of his famous flight located at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

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