Sarah Seaver Randall

A faded portrait of William E. Randall (left) and Sarah Seaver Randall (right), sitting down and posing for a picture.
William E. Randall and Sarah Seaver Randall.

William Edgar Randall family photographs, BANC PIC 1955.011:002-CASE, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Article Written By Faith Bennett

Sarah Seaver Randall came to California for gold and became a prolific landowner and dairy farmer in Marin County’s Olema Valley. Following the murder of her husband William E. Randall in 1860, she raised five children alone, expanded her family’s ranch, and developed a successful model for commercial dairy sales. The two-story Victorian home she built in 1880 is contained within the Point Reyes National Seashore, where it is home to the rare Townsend’s big-eared bat and the enduring memory of a woman who crossed the continent and eventually found economic security.1

Sarah Seaver was born in East Craftsbury, Vermont in 1826.2 She married William E. Randall, also a Vermonter, in 1849 and headed west as a part of the California Gold Rush. Their trip aboard the ship Hannibal, which docked in San Francisco in May 1850, lasted 163 days.3 In 1853 the Randalls moved to San Jose, and shortly afterwards relocated to Oregon with William Randall’s longtime business partner John Nelson. In Oregon the Randalls and Nelson acquired a herd of dairy cattle and moved back to California in 1857, this time to Olema Valley, where they purchased 1,400 acres of farmland.4 Nelson sold his portion of the land in 1860, but the Randall family, now with five children, lived on a farmstead with Sarah Randall’s two sisters and her brother as well as two oxen, four horses, thirty-two milk cows, forty beef cattle, and nine pigs. By all accounts, their life was idyllic except for the presence of their neighbor, Benjamin Miller. The rancher had long envied their land, which produced potatoes, honey, and butter, and he often tore down the fences that divided their properties to let his animals graze in the Randalls’ pasture. As of 1860, the Randalls had in a few years made improvements to 300 acres of their parcel.5

On the morning of June 7, 1860 William Randall and Daniel Seaver met neighbor Benjamin Miller and his son in their pasture as they attempted to drive Miller’s cattle off their property. Miller and his son were armed with a rifle and shotgun. The men had a dispute that prompted Randall to brandish his own pistol, which resulted in Miller shooting him in the abdomen.6 Randall was fortunate to receive medical attention the same day; however, due to the severity of his wounds, he died that evening.7

Over the next two years, Sarah Randall continued to raise her five young children and manage the Randall property. In 1862, she was involved in another, more formal, land dispute. The Shafter family, who owned a berry farm on the parcel of land bordering hers, claimed that the property sold to the Randall family had been mismeasured and that her ranch and home encroached on their pasture. She took her land claim to court, where her neighbor to the north, Daniel Olds Jr., testified that she was “very industrious and devotes herself incessantly to the care of her family and the conduct of her dairy operation. She knows as little about legal matters as the majority of American matrons.”8 His statement about her legal incompetence was untrue, but it persuaded the judge that Randall should be permitted to remain on her property.

Randall kept a diary to record her industry. In 1864, she wrote that her family experienced a particularly nice winter and noted she was milking eighteen dairy cows.9 In 1866, she decided to expand her property and purchased a portion of an adjoining ranch.10 In the 1870 census she was listed as the Head of Household.11 That year, the Randall dairy produced 5,000 pounds of butter, with 3,000 pounds credited to Randall herself.12 She also harvested oats, wheat, and hay. In 1880, she built the Victorian house where she lived out most of the rest of her life.

In 1907, she succumbed to illness and died in the home of her daughter Fannie J. Tuller. The local newspaper remembered her as “a woman of sterling character. One of the noblest and truest women to ever live.”13 She left the products of her years of work and perseverance--ranch, the dairy, a fruit drying plant, and substantial house--to her children.14 The ranch was sold to the federal government in 1974 and has since been transferred into the care of the Point Reyes National Seashore.15

1 - Anna Guth, “Multi-Agency Research Aims to Fill the Gap in Bat Data,” The Point Reyes Light, February 27, 2020,

2 - “Pioneer Has Entered Rest,” Santa Rosa Republican, January 24, 1907, XXI edition, sec. 20,

3 - Douglas Livingston, A Good Life: Dairy Farming in the Olema Valley: a History of the Dairy and Beef Ranches of the Olema Valley and Lagunitas Canyon, Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, California (San Francisco, CA: National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 1995), 145. “Pioneer Has Entered Rest,”

4 - Livingston, A Good Life, 146.

5 - Livingston, A Good Life, 146.

6 - Livingston, A Good Life, 147; “Murder in Marin County,” The Sacramento Bee, June 14, 1860, p. 4,

7 - “Murder in Marin County,”

8 - Livingston, A Good Life, 148

9 - Livingston, A Good Life, 149.

10 - Livingston, A Good Life, 149.

11 - Year: 1870; Census Place: Bolinas, Marin, California; Roll: M593_74; Page: 3B; Family History Library Film: 545573 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.1870 U.S. census, population schedules. NARA microfilm publication M593, 1,761 rolls. (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); Minnesota census schedules for 1870. NARA microfilm publication T132, 13 rolls (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

12 - Livingston, A Good Life, 150.

13 - “Pioneer Has Entered Rest,”

14 - National Park Service, “Sarah Seaver Randall,” (U.S. Department of the Interior, August 15, 2020),

15 - National Park Service, “Sarah Seaver Randall,


This project was made possible in part by a grant from the National Park Foundation.

This project was conducted in Partnership with the University of California Davis History Department through the Californian Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit, CA# P20AC00946

Part of a series of articles titled Women's History in the Pacific West - California-Great Basin Collection.

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Point Reyes National Seashore

Last updated: February 22, 2022