Category Archives: Family History

Friday Fictioneers’ House (this week only)

The Fifteen Mile House

But first, since Friday Fictioneers is all about fiction, I’ve asked Ula Grace if I could use the play she wrote about this house. For those who have followed my blog, they may remember that Ula was Tedbook’s Foreign Correspondent for many years. Now she is a student at Rutgers University (an honor student I might add… that’s what grandparents do) and in her living room, on their hearth, there is a ball and chain from Folsom Prison, she wanted to know all about the history. Here is the story she wrote for a creative writing class. I know it’s over 100 words, live with it…

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Prison Break… by Ula Grace

California, late 1880s. The barn at the Fifteen Mile House, not far from Folsom State Prison. A convict is attempting to saw through the chain holding the ball to the shackle around his ankle. He is wearing black and white prison stripes.

Whilhelmina Deterding walks into the barn. He doesn’t see her.

Convict: (muttering) Almost there, almost there…

Wilhelmina gasps and hides

Convict: (breaking through the metal) Finally!

He turns around and sees her

Wilhelmina: What— 

Convict: (still holding saw) Don’t scream. I won’t hurt you if you cooperate. I’m gonna need new clothes. You’re gonna find ‘em for me. 

Wilhelmina: (pointing to the door of the tool shed) Th-there should be some clothes in there.

Convict: Go git ‘em for me.

Wilhelmina walks to the door of the shed. The convict follows behind. She reaches in and pulls out a pair of coveralls and a coat

Wilhelmina: Here.

Wilhelmina: (quietly) Are you from Folsom? How did you escape the chain gang?

Convict: (taking off his uniform) It’s better if you don’t know.

Wilhelmina averts her eyes as he strips and puts on the coveralls, leaving the striped uniform on the ground next to his shackle

Convict: I’m gonna leave now. Yer not to make a sound or a fuss til I do. Nor leave this barn til ten minutes after I leave, ya hear?

Wilhelmina nods.

Wilhelmina: (to herself) What am I supposed to do with these prison rags…?

The Convict hears her as he leaves with the coat over his arm

Convict: (calling back) Make ‘em into a quilt or something!

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Well, Wilhelmina never did meet the prisoner in real life, but there really was one, and he did escape from Folsom Prison in the late 1800’s and cut off the chain attached to his leg to free him from the heavy ball in the barn at her ranch. He exchanged his striped uniform for a pair of coveralls and that supposedly made it’s way into a quilt she made. 

The Fifteen Mile house was about 16 miles from Sacramento, California and was the second pony express stop from the city going east.

Page from the book ‘History of Sacramento County ~ 1880’

My Great-Great-Grandparents William and Wilhelmina Deterding came to this country from Germany in 1846, traveling across the plains in a covered wagon. They eventually established a ranch in 1857 near what is now the town of Folsom. They had 5 sons and 5 daughters and one of the daughters was my Great-Grandmother Matilda, she was born in that house. In addition to being a pony express stop, stage coaches would stop off there, travelers often staying overnight. Dances were held there too, judging by the ticket stubs we have.

A look at Wilhelmina and William in my sister Marja’s house today. In the center is a hair wreath she made in 1877. It would have been mine, but I made the mistake of wondering how much it might fetch on eBay within earshot of my mother.

We are fortunate to have an actual photograph of The Fifteen Mile House, and when I took a snap with my cell it took on an eerie appearance due to the reflection in the glass. “Perfect for Friday Fictioneers!”

Presently, across from this historical marker, a Costco stands in place of the old house.

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If you would like to read another story by a then 14 year old Ula Grace… Best Friends

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This week Rochelle choose my photo for the Friday Fictioneers writing prompt… always an honor. To read all the stories this old house prompted, click on the frog…


I got an e-mail from one of my cousin’s daughters recently. She is researching her genealogy and going to make a family tree. The only problem… she knew nothing about her maternal grandmother’s family… the Strutz side. It seems someone had filled her head with erroneous information and now it was my job to set her straight. She had come to the right place.I went to one of my filing systems, the attic, and found a box of old Strutz Family photos that my father got from his father when he died, and I got from my father when he died, and one my daughters will end up with someday. My dad had big plans to go through those photos and put them in order when he retired… the only thing is: he never retired. When he got too old to go down to the jewelry store everyday, I think he was around 91, he was not up to the task of tackling the photos. I don’t want to really give the wrong impression here, he didn’t really work all that much, mostly just annoyed the hell out of my sister Marja, who dutifully ran the store… and he could have worked on the photos there… I don’t think he really wanted to do it.But now, this treasure chest of memories has been passed on to me, or I was the one who took the box. Unlike him, though, I do have plans to share the photos. When we would look at them, I would say “Why don’t you give the photos to my cousins? The ones of their parents.” He would say “some day.” But that ‘some day’ only came when he died and I got my hands on the box. I’ve mailed some off, and have scanned and posted some to my cousins… I’m sure some they have never seen before. It’s easier for me than my dad, because he was a little too late to the ‘scanner/computer party’… and I maybe feel a little more responsibility to share.I realize I have a ready source for future stories… and this is the first:

My father’s parents Theodore Edward Strutz and Dessa Averill, left Watertown, South Dakota in 1914, and headed to Alberta, Canada. My grandfather had graduated from the Stone School of Watchmaking in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1912, and Canada was giving away free land to attract settlers to help expand their country. They settled in Hanna, about 30 miles east of Calgary. He would be an Inspector for the Canadian National Railway and open a jewelry store. On Christmas Eve of that year, they were married.

Today, I was processing new books at my library for circulation… I laminate the covers of the paperback books to protect them, plus, a lot of stamping, etc.  The first book I picked up was… MASTERING ONLINE GENEALOGY by W. Daniel Quillen.  I thought “Hey, that’s a good blog topic!”.

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