George Henry Tinkham.

History of Stanislaus County California : with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the pres online

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Online LibraryGeorge Henry TinkhamHistory of Stanislaus County California : with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the pres → online text (page 10 of 177)
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fire. W. C. Carmichael says he saw the men smoking, indifferently looking at the
flame. He ran to them and commanded them to assist him in putting out the fire.
He soon saw the danger and running to Colonel Dorsey's house phoned in the alarm.
In a few minutes hundreds of men from Oakdale and other points were hurrying to
the scene, carrying with them wet sacks, pieces of blanket and sticks to beat out the
flames. B. F. Reynolds, on his ranch three miles distant, says the flames at times
lifted by the wind would leap thirty or forty feet into the air. He hastened to the


/ire with his water wagon rilled with water to assist in keeping the sacks wet and
provide the men with water to drink. Another farmer while trying to get his thresh-
ing machine out of the range of the fire was encompassed by a whirlwind of flame and
the two horses were so badly burned that one of them was shot to put him out of his
misery. In a short time dozens of men were seen about Oakdale with their arms
blistered or badly burned and several of them with the hair burned from their heads.
The fire was finally checked by back firing and a long strip of plowed land. The
losses as computed by insurance exceeded $100,000. Caleb Dorsey's loss was $30,000
on grain, besides losing a Shippe combined header and thresher and a steam threshing
machine. Robinson and Carey lost $20,000, insured, $7,000. H. Graney, $4,000;
Isaac Watson, $16,000; Paulsell and Muncey, $16,000. Some of the grain was
insured at seven dollars per acre, but as the yield was very heavy the insurance did
not cover twent}'-five per cent of the loss.



In the hopeful days of gold mining, wildcat schemes and frenzied finance there
were a few men in the territory who believed that they could quickly make a fortune
by establishing ferries along the rivers of the state. In Stanislaus County there were
over a dozen ferries established within six months, these including the George Islip,
the Heath & Emory, the Bailey and the William Knight ferries on the Stanislaus, the
Adams, John W. Laird, Jackson & Horr ferries on the Tuolumne and the Jesse Hill
Ferry on the San Joaquin. Each man believed that he had the best ferry location on
the river and each ferryman believed that the tide of travel would turn his way. But
alas for human hopes and bright dreams, the tide of travel moved from Stockton to
Knights Ferry direct, and then through the mountains, south. Only a few of the
gold seekers went as far south as Mariposa and they, following the stage route,
crossed the Stanislaus River at Leitch and Cottle's Ferry and the Tuolumne River,
high up at the Dickerson Ferry.

The ferryman in his day was as necessary as the locomotive engineer, the chauf-
feur or the sky pilot in 1921. Surrounded as was the county, on three sides by water
at least eight months of the year, it would have been impossible to have entered the
county or traveled out of it during this period. Indeed, even with the ferry boats,
there were times during the highest flood tides when it was impossible to cross the
rivers because of the swift running current. At that time also it was impossible to
reach the ferries because of overflowed lands.

The ferryman of that day was not only a necessity but he was also a jolly good
fellow. He always had something to drink, was a good landlord, a good story teller
and always posted in regard to the news of the day. He was, so to speak, the news
gatherer of his time. Newspapers then off the regular state routes were few and far
between, and as John G. Marvin said, "a newspaper two weeks old was a sensation."
The ferryman's location was such, that meeting hundreds of travelers daily coming and
going, he heard all of the current news and naturally he repeated that news to others.

First Established Ferry
The Heath & Emory Ferrv was the first established ferry in Stanislaus County.
It passed through several hands and was known in 1868 as the Meinecke, and in
1881, as the Taylor Ferry, situated twenty-seven miles from Stockton and about six
miles above the mouth of the Stanislaus River. It was on the direct line of travel
between Sacramento and San Jose passing through Pacheco Pass. The proprietors
as early as March, 1850, advertised their ferry in the Times and in giving a descrip-
tion of their boat said: "It is thirty feet long and nine feet wide and enclosed for
wagons and mules. It will be kept in the cleanest and most perfect order," they de-
clared, "and there is every accommodation offered for the traveler in the tent adjoining


the ferry." The enterprising partners expended over $3,000 in improving the road lead-
ing up to the ferry. This so pleased the travelers and farmers of the vicinity that in a
published card they praised the ferrymen "for the enterprise they have manifested in
the great improvement they have made in the public road, for the new road avoids the
much-dreaded cut-off." The first woman to cross the ferry was a Mrs. Jenkins and
her husband, two of a party of five on their way to Crescent City. The party reached
the ferry about sundown, having left Stockton that morning. In honor of the occasion
the obliging host gave the party at supper time a separate table and served them with
a bottle of wine and an oyster stew in addition to the regular fare of pork, beans;
coffee and bread.

The First Three Houses
At this time, September, 1850, there was but one road or highway to the ferry.
It was what was later known as the Mariposa or stage road. The road became a well-
defined public highway through the shrewdness of Dr. Chalmers, a Southerner, quite
intimate with the Government officials. Chalmers had settled on the road in San
Joaquin County, at what was later called "Eight-Mile Corner." There he built a
house, and opened a wayside hotel. As he was anxious to induce the public to travel
on that road, he visited his friends, the Government officials, and succeeded in having
the Government wagons pass his way on their trips to Fort Miller. Thus was estab-
lished a Government road. At the time there were but three houses on the highway.
Dr. Chalmers' home, the George Kerr place, known as the Fifteen-Mile House, and
the house at the fern'. As it was impossible to travel this road in winter because of
the deep mud of the adobe soil, a winter road was established to the ferry by the way
of French Camp. The soil was of a sandy nature and a fine road in winter time. On
this road there was but one stopping place, a little zinc house, 12x16, which had been
brought from New York. This was also the stage station.

Ferry Competition

There was considerable competition and rivalry among the ferrymen and each
man proclaimed his ferry the shortest and best route to the southern mines. They also
advertised other exclusive advantages to the traveler. George Islip announced his as
the "lower ferry, six miles below the Heath & Emory Ferry." He stated that he had
just completed "a splendid ferry boat, the banks have been cut down to a level with
the river on the south side, which affords an easy landing. Brakes have been affixed
to the boat to avoid any difficulty to wagons driving on or off. The ferry house is
built for the accommodation of the travelers. The table will be furnished with the
best the market affords and the bar will be well stocked with assorted liquors."

George W. Keeler told where his ferry was located, namely, thirty-five miles
from Stockton by the way of the Twelve-Mile House on the "lone tree" road and
from there to the hill on the Stanislaus River known as the "jumping off" place. The
road, he declared, was an admirable one, "having along it an abundance of good water
and grass." The ferry boats were rudely constructed and were navigated across the
rivers by means of a large manila rope anchored on either side of the stream. In time
these ropes became worn from constant use and liable to break, even in the middle of
the river. After a time wire cables were manufactured and in April, 1869, John W.
Laird advertised that at his ferry on the river at Tuolumne City, he had "put on the
first wire cable and the road had been graded, making it easy of access to the ferry."

The highest ferry on the Tuolumne River was the Indian ranch ferry owned in
1850 by Alden Jackson and Benjamin D. Horr. They claimed to have the largest
boat in California and in one trip it would "cross eight mules and their wagons with
safety and despatch." Their ferry "was the nearest road to Sonora, Mariposa and the
southern mines, and they had a large supply of groceries and provisions on hand and
sold to the wayfaring emigrant and miner at reasonable rates."

The Dickerson Ferry
The Dickerson ferry on the Tuolumne River, about ten miles above Waterford.
was the most popular of all of the ferries. It was established by one of the Dickerson


brothers, all of them being popular men. Like the most of this kind of property, it
passed through many hands in a short period of time. In 1862 it was owned by
C. O. Osborn; that year he sold out to John W. Roberts, who had formerly been
engaged in the butcher business. As the ferry was on the principal route of travel, the
ferry and hotel was a money-making occupation. The hotel, a large building capable
of accommodating some 200 guests, caught fire about midnight, February 22, 1865, and
was entirely destroyed, Mr. Roberts saving only one bed. The ferry was a relay
station for the Stockton and Mariposa stages, the passengers there getting their noon-
day meal, and as the saying goes, the landlord was "up against it." His Yankee pluck
and inventive genius was put to the test, but the following day he fed fifty passengers.
The tables were spread under a large oak tree adjacent to the destroyed building.
Shortly after the fire one of Mr. Roberts' most distinguished guests was Schuyler
Colfax, speaker of the House of Representatives and founder of the Rebekah degree
of Odd Fellows. He was on a visit to the Yosemite Valley. Before the close of the
year a fine two-story brick hotel was erected, and Christmas evening it was dedicated
by a grand ball. It was the event of that day. Several members of the Legislature
were present, and the proprietor cleared over $1,000 from the sale of tickets.

The John D. Morley Ferry

John D. Morley, who located in Stanislaus County in 1854, established his ferry
about three miles below La Grange. He also had a very profitable ranch from which
he made more money than from ferryage. This ranch of about 700 acres, enclosed
by fences and ditches, produced in a single year 7,000 bushels of wheat, 900 bushels of
barley and 60 tons of hay. He also raised sheep, cattle and chickens and found a ready
sale for his entire product almost at his very door.

County Bridges
These ferries were for the time being the bridges of the county, for they bridged
the streams and made travel and trade possible. They were also great benefactors to
the county, for they did for the commonwealth that which it could not do for itself,
because of the lack of money. The first bridge in the county was at Knights Ferry. It
was washed away in the flood of 1862 and subsequently the present bridge at that point
was built. In 1858 John Lovall, who had a ferry on the Lower Stanislaus, built a
bridge across the stream at a cost of $12,000. This bridge went out on the flood tide
of 1862. The Oakdale bridge was built by the supervisors in 1883 at a cost of $14,739
and the Record said October 12, "and the people will no longer have to pay toll."

The Modesto Toll Bridge
Three enterprising citizens, George Perley, Thomas D. Harp and John McCarty,
seeing the necessity of a bridge at Modesto, applied to the Legislature of 1878 to build
a bridge. The Legislature on March 28 authorized these parties to build said bridge.
It was stipulated that the bridge must be erected within two miles of the railroad and
opposite Modesto, within three years. The franchise was for fifty \ ears and they were
permitted to charge reasonable tolls.

The $120,000 County Bridge
Among the progressive improvement of Stanislaus County, none are of more benefit
than the handsome concrete bridge over the Tuolumne River just south of Modesto.
The supervisors, surmising the fact that the highway would soon become state property,
concluded to construct a bridge that would be not only a credit to the county, but one
of solid worth and permanence. The county surveyor, Edward Annear, was consulted
and he recommended the supervisors to adopt a bridge design patented by John C.
Leonard, the San Francisco bridge architect. His bridge design was selected by the
supervisors, but unfortunately Edward Annear did not live to see it completed. He
marched to the front in the Allied war, was taken sick and returned to New York and
there died. The supervisors June 13, 1916, opened the bids for the construction of the
bridges, sixteen in number. All bids were rejected. On the second call for bids the
lowest figure was Ben E. Cotton of San Francisco. His bid was $110,278, he also


being the lowest bidder the first time. As this road was one of the main highways to
the south, the supervisors constructed a temporary bridge over the lands of G. B. & P.
Podesta and Mrs. M. D. Ingle, the supervisors paying them $183 per month for four
months. The contractor, tearing away the old drawbridge through which many
steamers had passed in the early days, immediately began the consrtuction of the new
bridge. After scarcely two months at work, he found in September that it would take
longer to complete the bridge than he anticipated, and unless he worked his men longer
hours the spring freshet might come and cause him thousands of dollars loss. The con-
tractor was then working his men only eight hours in compliance with the state law.
There was a proviso in the law, however, that in case of emergency a contractor could
increase his hours of work on a state job, provided he obtained the consent of the
supervisors. Their consent was obtained, and the bridge was completed on the evening
of March 16, 1917.

A Bridge Celebration
St. Patrick's Day, March 17, was a memorable day in the history of Stanislaus
County, for on that morning the bridge was formally accepted by the supervisors. Its
acceptance was acknowledged by the supervisors in a body crossing the structure. The
bar was turned aside and in an automobile, with John Clark acting as chauffeur,
Supervisors Johnson, Vaugh, Little and Whitmore, together with the contractor, Ben
E. Cotton, slowly rode across the bridge. Returning to their starting point, they again
crossed over, followed in line by about thirty citizens in automobiles. Thus was for-
mally opened the Tuolumne River bridge, one of the handsomest and most substantial
bridges in California. It was the intention of the Business Men's Association of
Modesto to have a grand celebration, but this was indefinitely postponed because of the
washing away of the temporary bridge February 22. This accident caused a long delay
in the completion of the bridge. It also caused a detour of travel through Empire City,
this causing a loss of thousands of dollars to the Modesto merchants. Therefore, they
concluded to have no further delay in the blocking of business.

The State Highway Bridge

There was a long discussion in 1899 by the supervisors of San Joaquin and Stanis-
laus counties over a bridge across the Stanislaus River. Two locations were under
consideration, Burney's and Bailey's Ferry. County Surveyor Quail of San Joaquin
County, still in office, was requested to report to the San Joaquin supervisors the cost
of a bridge at either point, and the cost to each county. He reported June 7 that a
bridge at Burney's Ferry would cost, pro rata, San Joaquin $7,655 and Stanislaus
County $5,310, while a bridge at Bailey's Ferry would cost, respectively, $11,275 and
$3,945. A bridge at Bailey's Fern- would accommodate the greater number of people,
as it was a direct route to Modesto and Merced and a bridge was there built. Now,
I have no means at hand of knowing the exact cost or the length of said bridge. It was
not a very substantial structure and after a few years was superseded by the present
bridge, for we read, January 21, 191 1 : "The Bailey Ferry bridge three miles south of
Escalon will be completed in the near future at a cost of $30,000. The bridge has two
eighty-foot spans, one 200-foot span and 500 feet of trestle." It is now a part of the
State Highway, having been taken over by the state and strengthened and replanked
during the present year.

Transportation Now and Then

Safe and rapid transportation is the life of trade. The merchant of Stanislaus
County in the present time receives goods from the seaport within forty-eight hours.
In other days it took from a week to ten days, frequently a longer time, to receive mer-
chandise from the same port. Today the East and the West Side of the county import
and export their goods and products by railroad, but for twenty years the East Side
was compelled to wait the slow-moving pack train or mule team, while the West Side
was dependent altogether upon the unreliable river steamers.


Knights Ferry the Gateway Station

The imports and exports to all points of the county, except Knights Ferry, were
of little importance because of the smallness of the population and the out-of-line of
travel. To the ferry, however, the imports were enormous, thousands of tons each
year. At first the goods were transported upon the backs of mules. Each animal would
be loaded with an average of 300 .pounds, and driven to the mines in bands of from
thirty to fifty in each band, the drivers being Mexicans. These mules would be loaded
with all kinds of merchandise, from barrels of flour to baby buggies. The pack train,
led by its bell mule, soon gave way to the sixteen-mule team, with its jingling bells,
six bells to each mule, the entire team being driven by one line or rein. The wagons
were usually called prairie schooners because of the immense loads they carried, varying
from five to ten tons.

The First Up-River Boats

The earliest record of boating on the rivers of Stanislaus County was in the
winter of 1849. At that time a number of gold seekers, bound for the mines, loaded
about twenty whale boats in San. Francisco with groceries, mining implements, etc.,
and started out. Rowing across the bay up the San Joaquin and the Tuolumne rivers
they landed at Crescent City. From that point they transported their goods overland
to the mines. By traveling with their goods by water as far as possible, they made
quite a saving in freight money. At that time the price of freight from Stockton to
Sonora was seventy-five cents per hundred pounds and to Mariposa one dollar per
hundred pounds. In December, '49, and the spring of 1850, "whaleboats were con-
stantly plying between Stockton, Crescent City and Jacksonville." Other tributaries
of the San Joaquin were not considered navigable under any circumstances.

The Pioneer Steamer
The first boat to sail the upper rivers was the little side-wheel steamer Georgiana,
of perhaps thirty tons register. She had on board a party bound for an excursion to
the up-river towns and the question was asked: "Is the river navigable to Tuolumne
City?" The steamer left Stockton on the afternoon of May 1, 1850, one of the excur-
sionists being the editor and proprietor of the Stockton Times. "After leaving San
Joaquin City that night," wrote the editor, "we cast anchor to a tree and picking out
the softest plank on the deck, wrapped our blankets about us, but the myriads of
mosquitoes buzzing about us made sleep almost impossible. At sunrise we steamed up
the river to Grayson City. After spending an hour there running down stream we
headed up the river to Tuolumne City and were met on our arrival by about 150 per-
sons, with loud and prolonged cheers."

Efforts Made to Establish Trade

Finding the river navigable, the captain of the steamer Georgiana advertised that
he would make weekly trips to Grayson and Tuolumne City during the season. The
"steamer will leave Stockton on the arrival of the John A. Sutter from San Francisco."
At Tuolumne City the steamer Georgiana was to make connections with the steamer
Etna for points higher up the river. The steamer Maunsell White was another little
craft advertised to carry freight and passengers. The desertion of the river towns, as
already recorded, killed the river trade and for a period of eighteen months not a
steamer made the trip. In 1852 the captain of the Erastus Corning concluded to run
up river. He had been making tri-weekly trips between San Francisco and Stockton,
but as there were six other boats making the same trips he believed there was more
money for him up-river. It was said great changes had taken place in the amount of
travel between Stockton and Mariposa and that a boat might pay. The captain adver-
tised, August 15, that he would run to Empire City during the winter and would stop
at all intermediate points. These steamers were all independently managed. The
captain, pilot and engineer usually owned the boat and handled all the business, hence
there was a possibility of making money. The boat was run up at a loss, however, and
we hear no more of up-river traffic until 1860.


The Pioneer Freighters
The first of the line of steamers that ran up the rivers for at least twenty-five
years was a little stern-wheel craft called the Eureka. She had a carrying capacity
of about fifty tons and was built by the Ling brothers, two Stockton jewelers. Then
came the "Christiana," named after a daughter of John Schreck, the owner. He had
formerly been a teamster on the road between Stockton and Sonora, then a commission
merchant, and owned large quantities of land on the West Side. The third was the
little steamer Visalia, built in Sacramento and named after the up-country town. This
boat came steaming into Stockton July 3, 1860, from the up-river, having on board
sixty sacks of wool from the San Luis Rancho. The following day she started up-river
again for Fresno City with a consignment of 60,000 pounds of barley for the Overland
Stage Company. The Esmeralda, built in 1864, ran that year up to Sycamore Slough.

Kinds of Merchandise Shipped
In 1866, J. D. Hamilton, formerly proprietor of the twelve-mile stage station and
hotel on the Sonora road, and Joseph Ward, engaged in the steamboat business, built a
steamer called the Alta. Even up to that year there was but little grain raised in
Stanislaus County, and the trade was with the Mexican settlers and vaqueros who had
located along the bank of the river. The steamer would carry up groceries and
such other supplies as were used by the Mexicans, and return with a steamer load of
hides, pelts, tallow, wool and sometimes sheep for the markets. In 1868 there came a
remarkable change. The farmers began settling in the county by the hundreds. They
began the raising of grain and this caused a quick change in the kinds of articles trans-
ported. At this time also they learned that larger steamers could ascend the rivers.
Still the means of transportation was too limited, and then big barges were built and
loaded. They were towed up stream with a long tow line fastened to the tow post of
the steamer. This was in April, 1870, and in that month the steamer Tulare, with
barge, took up river 200 cords of redwood posts, 6,000 feet of lumber and 160 tons of
merchandise, from flour, sugar, bacon and beans to agricultural implements. Six years
later came the crowning event for big loads, when the steamers Harriet and Clara Crow
brought into Stockton 16,000 sacks of wheat, each sack averaging 120 pounds. The
Harriet brought down the largest load, 9,000 sacks.

First Passenger Boat
In the middle sixties the river passenger trade was of considerable importance and
in 1867 Capt. J. D. Hamilton built the Tulare. She was fitted up with a cabin and
staterooms and had all of the passenger conveniences of that day. At one period she
made regular trips from Tuolumne City to San Francisco direct, touching on the way
at Stockton. The passenger list, of course, was not large, but the Harriet on one of
her down trips carried forty-nine passengers. It was quite a number for a small boat
and fifteen of them were on their way overland by rail. The Central Pacific Railroad
track at the time, July, 1869, was within a few miles of Stockton.

Online LibraryGeorge Henry TinkhamHistory of Stanislaus County California : with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the pres → online text (page 10 of 177)