Occupation: Cowboy

1900 Henry Fenton census

Excerpt of page from the 1900 United States Census for Jamul Township, San Diego County, showing household of Henry Fenton.

You can learn a lot from census figures, whether you’re researching someone’s family history or the history of San Diego County. As one who does both for a living, I can vouch for what you can learn about a person, or about life at a particular time or place, from looking at basic records like censuses.

Case in point, the 1900 United States Census for a part of San Diego County then called Jamul Township, and the household of one Henry Fenton.

For those not familiar with census forms, the enumeration for each household begins with the head of the household, and in 1900 Henry Fenton is the head of a household under which some 19 other names were listed. This might seem extraordinary at first glance, especially when one notes that under marital status, Henry is listed with an “S” (for single). But under occupation, Henry is listed as a farmer, and reading further along, one sees that Henry is a renter, rather than an owner, of this particular farm.

Going down to the next line will provide further clarification on this quite populous household. The next resident name, Albert More, is listed as a “boarder,” and his occupation is described as “cowboy.”

Of the next 18 names, 15 are listed as boarders and three as servants, including the lone female in the group, Nannie Van Cleave, whose occupation is listed as “House keeper.”

Of the remaining names for this household, twelve are listed as farm laborers, three as teamsters, one as a cook, and one a gardener. This census asked each occupant’s birthplace, and in the case of this ranch the places of origin of the boarders and servants ranged from Indiana to Mexico to China.

Henry Fenton would come to own a lot of farmland in the county during his life. For now let us note the range of occupations it took to run one farm in San Diego County in 1900. Let’s also note that ethnic and racial diversity in the county is nothing new.

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