The Lady With the Hat

When land baron Lewis Moulton wed a visiting schoolteacher, little did he know that she would become a local heroine.

You’re asking who is that handsome woman in the fancy plumed hat?

Why, it’s the former Nellie Gail, the one and same who married Mr. Lewis Moulton. You know, the man who back around bought up that Spanish land grant known as Rancho Niguel? Now, of course, everyone calls it Moulton Ranch.

How did they meet? Well, it seems that Miss Gail, a schoolteacher from up north in the state of Washington, came down here to visit her widowed father and younger sister. Yes, that’s right—the very same John Gail who moved here from Nebraska and Kansas. Poor man! He’d lost his dear wife back in ’93, and his only son afore that, when the little tyke was but a mere babe.

Anyway, once Mr. Gail saw young Nellie off to school so she could become a teacher, he and his youngest daughter, Carrie, came out to California. That’s because his oldest daughter, who was married, had come down with consumption, causing her and her husband to pick up and move to—oh, Redlands, I believe—and of course he and Carrie wanted to help look after her.

Sad to say, the oldest daughter eventually passed on. But not before Nellie came out to visit her. And then her father, who’d always—no matter where they’d lived—been in the business of running a store ... well, he heard that a place being run by a Mr. James Lucas—that’s right, the El Toro Mercantile, over by the depot—would be needing a new proprietor, so that’s when he and Carrie took on running the store for several years.

Anyway, sometime in ’02 or ’03—when his eldest surviving daughter had a bit of recess from her teaching position—she returned to California, this time of course to El Toro, to visit with her father and younger sister. And as I understand it, right after Miss Nellie got off the train and looked around at our parched brown hillsides, she was heard to say—mind, she’d just come all the way from Washington, where I understand everything is green year-round—“You couldn’t even give me this land!”

Ha! Well, it wasn’t long after that when Mr. Moulton, who was always coming over to the mercantile for one thing or another, laid eyes on the elegant Miss Nellie. And him being such a fine, distinguished-looking gentleman, the son of a famous lawyer in Chicago, and educated back in Boston—I heard he’d been married once before, but no one knows much about it—well, he looked at her and she looked at him, and in no time at all they were affianced and planning a wedding!

If I remember correctly, they married up in Ventura in November 1908, then honeymooned in Honolulu. Imagine that! But I understand she was fearful seasick both going over and coming back. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t until the beginning of 1910 when their first little bundle from heaven, Charlotte, arrived—in a hospital in Los Angeles, no less.  And almost five years later, at the end of 1914, their second little blessing, Louise, was born right at her daddy’s ranch. Maybe that’s why she grew up to be such a one for the roping and riding!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Another time I’ll tell you more about Mrs. Nellie Gail Moulton—how she took up painting with some of those famous artists down in Laguna, and became a president of our local school board, and even helped out Mrs. Lola B. Stanley, the principal, in chaperoning field trips. And also about what happened when she became a widow and had to take up where the late Mr. Moulton had left off—but, well, my dear husband would tell me we’ve been talking long enough, so I suppose it’s time I let you and me finish up our shopping so we can both get on back home.


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