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A Pioneer Remembered

Montgomery Street, San Francisco, 1850
This year, 1850, was about the time that Michael Stinson Cooke arrived in the United States from Ireland. He spent some brief time in New York and then traveled west. What strikes me about this image is what is missing. You see some concentrated building in the foreground and the hills we know well, bare, in the background. Now imagine far beyond those hills, in the area we now call "the avenues" at the far west end of present-day San Francisco.  That was where Michael and his family settled. Imagine how far that was by wagon from Montgomery Street and what passed for "civilization".  

left: Alene Murphy Solari, top: Eva Piratsky Murphy, bottom: Ann Cooke, right: Mary Anne Cooke

 These are the women of the Cooke family sometime just before 1905 when Mary Ann's mother died. Mary Ann died in 1932, and in October the Oakland Tribune published a remembrance of her remarkable life and memories. Possibly it was largely penned by her husband James. I'm going to transcribe it here because it lends great color to the story of her life.
Oakland Tribune, Sunday, Oct. 2 1932

Of the Old San Francisco

"Of the old San Francisco was Mrs. Mary Ann Piratsky, born here seventy-seven years ago. Her death at Watsonville, where her husband James G Piratsky has been a newspaper publisher for some years, has brought out reviews of an eventful and inspiring life. Daughter of San Francisco pioneers, Michael and Ann Cook, Mrs. Piratsky always claimed the distinction of being the first white child born in that metropolitan area now embraced between Larkin Street, the Golden Gate, Seal Rocks, and Twin Peaks. She often related how the shack in which she was born was built with lumber that, painstakingly, was transported a couple of pieces at a time on the back of a mule over the only trail out to where her father settled. The trail started at the corner of Bush Street and Grant Avenue (just blocks from where the photo was taken) (at that time know at Dupont Street, one of the principal streets of San Francisco) and wound its way over the sand dunes out to the Odd Fellow Cemetery,  which property was then known as "Cook's Milk Ranch". Cook took up considerable land thereabouts, and in partnership with a man named Williams owned all of Lone Mountain, which mountain was sold by Cook to Archbishop Alemany for $150, in later years because a movement was on foot to take over the mountain and on its top bury David Broderick (who had been killed in a duel...), Cook said he did not want the grave to overlook his holdings, and strenuously objected to the proposal. Fearing that the people of San Francisco would take the land away from him, he arranged the sale of the mountain to the bishop, and thus stopped the movement. Archbishop Alemany, in after years, sold off from the base of Lone Mountain over $50,000 worth of lots, and still had the mountain, which the church is now grading off to erect thereon an educational institution.

On the Peralta Rancho

The Cook family, when Mrs. Piratsky was about four years old, moved across the bay and took a lease on a large tract of the Peralta Rancho, about where Berkeley is now located. Cook raise grain on this tract and did so well that he was enabled to return to San Francisco in a year or so, and erect a two-story residence on P. Lobos Avenue (then known as Geary Street) which he occupied until his death, some fifty years afterwards. Thus it will be seen that Mrs. Piratsky lived in a pioneer age. One of her prized possessions was a book "Annals of San Francisco", which was awarded to her as a prize at the Denman Girls' High School, then located at Bush and Mason streets. Especially interesting was the account of the escape of the Irish patriot, Terence Bellew Mc Manus, from Sydney, Australia, where he had been transported by the British Government. McManus was a prominent Irishman, and the British Government was extremely glad when he made his escape in a vessel sent to Australia by the Irish revolutionists. In fact, England didn't care if he never came back. Mc Manus made his escape to San Francisco and was given refuge by Cook, who was also one of the revolutionists. McManus took up and settled upon, as a ranch, the greater portion of what now comprises Golden Gate Park. He died from the hardship incurred in Australia and was taken back in great state to Ireland where he was given an immense funeral. His sister, Isabel McManus, was swindled out of the property by squatters instigated by some of McManus' professed friends. The Cooks befriended Miss McManus until her death. Mrs. Piratsky was at her best describing the McManus affair. Her first school was the Sisters' School, connected with an orphanage attached to St. Patrick's Church, which church was then located on the site now occupied by the Palace Hotel. Across the street, where the Crocker bank now stands was an immense sand-hill. The corner was once offered to Cook for a couple of hundred dollars. The offer was turned down. Also turned down was an offer made Cook that if he would clear off the sand-hill on the corner of Bush and Montgomery (on the same street as the photo) streets, he would be given one of the corner lots. The site was afterwards occupied by the Occidental Hotel.

I love the sleight-of-hand pulled by Michael on the city of San Francisco. They were looking, at the time, for a place to have large cemeteries. Michael foresaw seizure by eminent domain and sold to the bishop for a Catholic cemetery. Later all the cemeteries moved down to Colma. University of San Francisco, a Jesuit college, was built on the spot and remains there to this day.

As to his revolutionary leanings, it would certainly explain his very early exit from Ireland in 1850. He was eldest and would have inherited the lease on the land in Clooningan. That passed to his brother. I don't doubt that he had revolutionary sympathies, but it also wouldn't surprise me to find out that the McManus clan were cousins of some sort. I haven't found any McManus names yet in my tree, but the records may not be there. This was very early.

Mary Ann Cook Piratsky had a remarkable pioneer life in San Francisco. It's always so rewarding to find first-hand accounts in your family history.

This post first appeared on Leaf Twing And Stem, please read the originial post: here

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A Pioneer Remembered


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