Daisy MacCallum, A Mendocino Matriarch

This is a detail of a rare interior view of the parlor in the Kelley House, circa 1890. Daisy Kelley MacCallum is sitting in a wicker chair with her husband Alex standing behind her, and her daughter Jean sitting at her feet. Her posture seems to indicate she is having some trouble with her spinal injury. (Margaret Kelley Campbell Collection, Kelley House Museum archives)

So much has already been written about Emma Shirley “Daisy” Kelley MacCallum. What more can be said? 

Well, plenty. The recent research we’ve been doing at the Kelley House Museum has given us so much information that it should be made into a documentary, or least a good biography. Any writers out there looking for a fascinating project?

Born in Mendocino in 1859, the oldest of William and Eliza Kelley’s four children, Daisy is fondly remembered as a generous, intelligent, and vital woman that left her mark on Mendocino. The Beacon published a multi-page tribute upon the occasion of her passing in August 1953. Here are a few interesting stories from that time.

“Few knew that from a girl, Mrs. MacCallum suffered slightly from a spinal injury, resulting from an accident caused by a run-away team. For some years she was bedridden, then spent a longer time chained to a wheelchair. One day, with the determination so characteristic of her, she decided that invalidism could have no place in the busy and helpful life she planned. Through operations, steel braces and pain, she carried on until she was rewarded at last by a partial return to health. Her spirit is an inspiration, and her brave fortitude in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, best depicts, perhaps, her indomitable character.”

“As a young matron at Glen Blair, she began purchasing baskets from the Indians, and to the end of her life, never failed to give them food and clothing, whenever they called to see her, which they often did, as many as twenty at one time, in Mendocino. At one time her collection of baskets, now a gift to the Museum at Sacramento, numbered in the hundreds, and was the third largest private collection in the country. Ranging in size from tiny works of art to huge baskets for the carrying of fish and game, they all told a story. Feathered, beaded or plain, they bore their tribal histories woven into each pattern, and it was a source of unending pleasure to Mrs. MacCallum, to see an elderly Indian woman recognize among the collection, the basket and story of her tribe.” (Come see a small portion of Daisy’s collection on loan at Kelley House.)

“Mrs. MacCallum visited the Pyramids and Sphinx, the history of which fascinated her, and its mystery became a subject to which she gave deep study. She was present at the opening of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. One of the greatest and most moving experiences of her life was seeing the removal of the gold encrusted and jeweled chariot, and the fact that she was able to lay her hand on the ancient relic, perhaps the only person to do so, before a guard was thrown around the treasure.”

Finally, here’s one more from that Beacon article published 68 years ago –

“Perhaps the most expressive tribute one could pay to the memory of the last of the early pioneers of Mendocino would be, “She was a lady.”

To know more about Daisy and her life, visit our always fresh “Making History Blog,” found on our website at https://www.kelleyhousemuseum.org/death-claims-daisy-maccallum/