Betty Kelly came to Gilroy at age three from Manteca, California. She went to Elliot Elementary School then moved up to Jordan Middle School and finally graduated from Gilroy High School. After high school, she was hired by the Gilroy Telephone Company. Betty tells stories and shares her knowledge of her grandparent’s ranch, the Johnson Ranch, which they had owned and operated until her grandfather’s death. She also shares her knowledge of how Gilroy used to be like. Her grandmother’s ranch and the history of Gilroy are the focus of this oral history interview.
Betty Kelly was born on August 27, 1929 in Manteca, California. She is the second child of Bessie Johnson Bowen and George Russell Bowen. Her maternal grandparents were Albert and Kate Johnson. Her paternal grandparents were George and Mary Bowen. She has an older brother named Gordon Russell Bowen. Betty was three years old when she first came to Gilroy. She went to school at Elliot Elementary School for kindergarten through third grade then to Jordan Middle School for fourth to ninth grade. After that she went to Gilroy High School until she graduated in 1947. As a child, Betty loved to go to Moo Cow with her brother and buy a ten cent milkshake that filled up two and half glasses with thick, frothy and creamy milkshake. She also loved to go fishing at a spot just past Carmel called Garrapatas. Betty started driving when she was eighteen years old and her first car was a 1950 Chevy. The Gilroy Telephone Company hired Betty to be their operator right after she graduated from high school and she worked with them for forty years. She retired after forty years and didn’t hold another job but she does volunteer at the museum when she can.
Betty’s grandmother from her mother’s side came from Sydney, Australia while her grandfather from her mother’s side came from Missouri. They met somewhere on the way to California and that led to marriage. Betty’s grandparents worked hard until they were able to afford a ranch. They bought a ranch on Pacheco Pass. They married in 1887 and had fifteen children. Albert died on July, 1912 from a heart attack. After he died, his wife couldn’t manage the ranch so she sold it and moved into a beautiful house on Rosanna Street in Gilroy. Their children would marry and live somewhere else after their dad died, except for a couple of the boys who moved in with their mother to help with chores and also held jobs in town.
On the ranch, they raised cattle, sheep, goats and chickens and kept a garden of their own. Their cattle was most likely branded since that is an common practice according to Roosevelt, The cattle are usually branded on the hip, shoulder, and side with different types of brands (17). Ranching was very heavily based on weather, unusually cold winters usually destroyed crops and made it harder to maintain livestock. According to Roosevelt, unusual storms and droughts can really harm cattle if they aren’t sheltered (78). One of the most important minerals that livestock needed was salt and a woman that Schackel interviewed confirms it, “One of the very important parts of raising livestock is packing salt. (Schackel 25) Farmers often grew their own food and rarely ever needed to go to the store except for toiletries” (Schackel 25). According to Terra, “It’s actually important just like minerals and vitamins [are] for you to have. And the salt’s important for the cattle to have” (Schackel 21).
The girls would wake up way before dawn to get breakfast started. The boys would wake up shortly after and eat breakfast with their whole family. Their breakfast was usually huge because they needed a big meal to start their long day at the ranch. According to Roosevelt, “We breakfast early—before dawn when the nights have grown long, and rarely later than sunrise even in midsummer. Perhaps before this meal, certainly the instant it is over, the man whose duty it is rides off to hunt up and drive in the saddle band” (27).
After breakfast, the boys would go out and start working in the fields and take care of livestock, while the girls would start on cleaning and maintaining a household as well as the barn. A woman that Schackel interviewed, Blunt, complains about the common roles of women back then. “Sons most often inherited management of the land, went into partnership with their fathers, or received the father’s financial support in starting their own farming operations. These opportunities were not available to most women, as Judy Blunt painfully discovered” (29). Betty also confirmed that women did not have many choices to choose from back then. She also mentioned that women was treated unfairly which Betz , a woman that Schackel interviewed confirmed, “I became more aware as we were in college and thought about some of those things because it was in the forefront about women and about how unfairly we had been treated. I really felt this and I could see it more and more all the time” (33). Betz did not like the restrictions that women had to endure because they were made out to be inferior to men “I had always felt that it was unfair when I was growing up that all got to do was sew for 4-H and cook. And I hated sewing; cooking was OK, but I couldn’t have an animal, like all the boys had animals” (33). However, Betty didn’t really seem to mind since she found the job she loved to do and no one really had problems with her doing the job she was doing but she probably would have had problems with it if people didn’t like her doing jobs that were traditionally considered as a man.
Betty mentions that the farm is a great way to raise children due to the amount of work that was shared by family members which instilled work ethic in their children. So farmers raised hard working children and all of the women that Schackel interviewed confirms what Betty said, “All of the women I spoke with had children or stepchildren and uniformly declared that a farm is a great place to raise children. Doing things together is a way of life for agriculture families. No one “sleeps in” in these households.” Betty talked about how her family split up chores between their fifteen children so did the other women as well, “Children rise early to milk cows or do other chores before heading off to school and face more work when they return in the afternoon. Wives get breakfast for the family; put dinner in the Crockpot and head out for the barn or the fields” (11). The Johnson family worked until sunset and they didn’t take any breaks other than lunch and dinner to help them maintain the energy they needed to keep working and once they couldn’t do anymore for the day they all went to bed to rest up for the next day.
Betty’s parents married in Gilroy and had a child, Gordon Russell Bowen, who is Betty’s older brother. Betty’s father then got transferred over to Manteca, where Betty was born. They lived there for a few years until he died. Then Betty’s mother moved back to Gilroy when Betty was only three years old. Betty’s family on her mother’s side were all living in or near Gilroy so her mother moved back to Gilroy after Betty’s feather died. Betty was only three years old when they moved back and her mother had lots of support from her family. Betty talks fondly about her uncle who was always keeping an eye on her and she grew up here and never lived anywhere else after moving back to Gilroy with her mother.
When Betty was a little girl, Gilroy only had roughly four thousand people. So Gilroy was a lot smaller. The boundaries were Sixth Street, Monterey Street, Rosanna Street, and the rail road tracks. When they expanded Gilroy they would not listen to the old timers so the areas past Sixth Street always got flooded until they put in a drain ditch. In the nineteen hundreds most people didn’t have cars; they either walked or rode horses. So there were some businesses that sold saddles, harnesses and other necessities for horse owners (Woollacott 6). Monterey road was paved in 1913 a little before Betty was born, so she wouldn’t remember how Monterey road used to look like (Woollacoot 31). Also before Monterey road was completely paved, the city council required the Gilroy Telephone Company to remove all of the telephone poles from Monterey road so they could add in some sidewalks. The Gilroy Telephone Company ended up putting the wires either underground or they moved it elsewhere (Woollacott 32). The Gilroy historical society formed on April 29th 1966. They were formed so they could preserve Gilroy and the history of Gilroy (Woollacott 63). The Historical society was going to work to preserve the library and the old City Hall by turning the library into a museum and the City Hall into something else (Woollacott 71). But the Historical society never paid the rent for the old city hall so the city ended up restoring the city hall with the help of the local people who raised enough money to meet the condition the city council set forth (Woollacott 74). Betty now volunteers at the Historical Museum to keep the history of Gilroy alive and in turn works with the Historical Society to gather and organize information about Gilroy as well as surrounding local towns. Some of the history that were gathered up and organized was what happened to the old City Hall. The old City Hall turned into a restaurant that was decorated with antique historical artifacts that they agreed to maintain and conserve (Woollacott 79). Unfortunately shortly afterwards, history decided to repeat itself and another major earthquake occurred in 1989, just like it did in 1906 (Woollacott 95). The city then decided to shut down the restaurant in the old city hall indefinitely (Woollacott 95). Gilroy is proud to say that its old city hall is very unique because its structure cannot be matched since there are not any buildings like it anywhere, so it is being appreciated and preserved for its physical merits alone (Woollacott 99). There was a strong outcry and hue to save the building when it was under threat in the 1960s (Woollacott 99). Some people even said that they would scream if anyone talked of demolishing it because it is so unique, they haven’t seen anything else like it anywhere else (Woollacott 99). Betty loves her city so much that she probably was a member of the group who did not want to see the old city hall torn down.
Roosevelt, Theodore. Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, Inc, 1966. Print.
Schackel, Sandra K.. Working the Land. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001. Print.
Angela Woollacoot, Carroll Pursell and Chuck Myer. Cupertino: California History Center and Foundation, De Anza College, 1991. Print.