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  • Writer's pictureVeda Dean

‘The cowboy of the Arroyo Seco Grant’

“Lonely, without family or…companions of his own race, his life…cast solely among the whites.” Obituary of Nat Cecil, Amador Ledger, 1907. 

Nat Cecil was one of the first African Americans to come to the Ione valley and his experience of isolation can speak to many People of Color in Amador County today. 

Nat Cecil was born a slave to the Cecil family in Missouri between the years 1835 and 1838, though it is more likely he was born in 1838. The Cecil’s had a total of six slaves including Nat’s mother and father, and siblings. Nat was the property of young Sebastian Cecil but when Polly Cecil passed away, Nat’s family was sent away and he never saw them again. In 1857, the Cecils decided to move to California, and 19 year old Nat looked forward to a new life as a free man out west. When they arrived in Ione, Nat was the only Black man for miles, and it stayed that way until he died in 1907. 

In Sebastian’s obituary, it was said that their journey to California was harrowing, reporting that they were attacked and held captive by Indigenous people. Sebastian recalled that they were saved by a group of passing migrants. 

As soon as he arrived in Amador, Nat started searching for a job. He was hired by 14 year old Billie Whetstone for as a cattle herder and also worked on the Smith and Martin Lumber camp. In just two years, he made the $1,500 he needed to buy himself out of slavery, which is about $56,445 today. As a free man, he continued to work in ranching for about 40 years and was known locally as “the cowboy of the Arroyo Seco Grant.”

Courtesy Amador Gold

Nat worked on J.P Martin’s ranch for a number of years before the property was bought by William Scully in 1883, so he moved to a boarding house and worked as a Teamster in Township 3, now known as Pioneer and Volcano. He made his way back to Ione and was listed as the head of his household on the census.

His funeral was well attended by the community and his obituary states that he was “True to his friends” and  “he was true to those who were true to him.” When he died, he wished for his horse to be turned loose to graze in the fields of the Ione valley.


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