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 39 of 177)
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perity as well as to individual success. Not only was he a leader in all the enter-
prises that made for the county's upbuilding, but he was widely known in professional
circles of the California bar.

Abraham Schell was born in Schoharie, N. Y., November 9, 1817, the son of
Peter and Sophia (Dominick) Schell, both natives of that state. The mother was
of French descent, her father having been born in Paris. Peter Schell was a lad of
only twelve or fifteen years at the time of the Revolutionary War, when the Schells
took up the cause of the patriots. The Schells of the Mohawk Valley were of the
same blood, and being very prominent, John Christian Schell, his wife and eight sons,
became the special objects of enmity of the Tories, on account of their valiant par-
ticipations in the Revolutionary struggles. History records, as one of the most heroic
affairs of that struggle, the defense of their home by John Christian Schell and his
six sons against the determined onslaught of the celebrated Tory, McDonald, leading
a force of about a hundred Indians and Tories. Two of his sons were captured before
the defense of the house began; assault after assault was made, and the attacking
party resorted to every ruse and subterfuge to overcome the little band of heroes, but
all in vain. When most of the Indians and Tories were killed and severely wounded
and they were sure of defeat, the siege was raised, as a result of a piece of sharp prac-
tice on the part of the beleaguered little garrison. Peter Schell lived to be eighty-four
years old and his wife being eighty-three at the time of her demise.

Abraham Schell was reared in New York and on December 5, 1839, at Coble-
skill, Schoharie County, was married to the girl of his schooldays, Miss Catherine
Bellinger. He engaged in the wholesale grocery business at Albany, N. Y., in company
with a cousin named Daniel Weidman, when news came of the discovery of gold in
California, and being young and impetuous, he, in company with seventeen others from
Albany, started for the El Dorado of the West. They sailed from New York January
13, 1849, with 134 emigrants destined for California, via Cape Horn, in a "dugout"
of 1,000 tons named "Tarolinta," meaning Floating Rose, which was owned by the
Griswolds of New York City and commanded by Capt. Cave, a seasoned old salt.
The boat started amidst the boom of cannon, ringing of bells, and the cheer of thou-
sands who had come to witness their departure, to bid their friends good-bye and god-
speed. They stopped at Rio de Janeiro for about one week ; encountering a severe
storm in the South Atlantic off the coast of Argentina; doubled Cape Horn April 9;
entered the Golden Gate and landed at San Francisco, July 6, 1849. For a while
Mr. Schell engaged in mercantile pursuits, running a large grocery store at Stockton,
Cal., and while there, loaned a large amount of money to the San Joaquin Water
Company for the purpose of completing a mining ditch construction which was to
bring water to the rich placer mines at Knights Ferry. In 1856, he was compelled
to take over the ditch and was the loser to the extent of $25,000 by the company's
failure. The ditch was later employed for sawmill purposes and was known as the
Tulloch ditch. Subsequently it was acquired by the Oakdale Irrigation Company
and now forms the north lateral of the Oakdale Irrigation District.

In 1868 Mr. Schell purchased three and a half leagues of land embraced in the
Spanish Grant known as the "Rancheria Del Rio Estanislao," upon which the town
of Knights Ferry was situated and upon a part of which was developed the celebrated
Red Mountain Vineyard. A. Schell became interested in this vineyard, in 1866, and
at first became a partner with George H. Krause, a viticulturist from the Rhine
Valley in Germany. Mr. Krause died shortly after this partnership was formed,
when A. Schell became sole proprietor. In 1867, he took in his nephew, H. R. Schell,
as a partner and well and ably did they manage this magnificent property. In 1862
a wine vault or tunnel was made, fourteen feet wide and seven feet high, tunneled
into the solid rock eighty-one feet and thence at right angles to the brow of the hill in
the manner of the famed wineries on the Rhine. This vinevard is located in the foot-


hills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Knights Ferry in Stanislaus County, and
contains many different varieties of wine grapes, such as Muscat of Alexandria, Black
Hamburg, Reine de Nice, White Malaga, Frontignac Golden Chasselas, Zinfandel,
Tenturier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Bouschet, Petit Sierra Tannot, Trousseau,
Matero, and Mission grapes. The soil of this vineyard is volcanic in origin, being
composed of scoria, lava, decomposed iron rock, and alluvium mixed with clay. The
wine house and cellar were constructed on the side of a hill and the distillery is in
another building nearby. Vast oaken casks holding up to 600 gallons each fill the
tunnel, while the winery contained a full complement of fermenting tanks, six in
number, holding 1,400 gallons each. Mr. Schell always prided himself on making the
best of absolutely pure wine. Both the soil and climate of the Red Mountain Vine-
yard were such as to produce a very superior quality of grapes and the bouquet of
the wines from the Red Mountain Vineyard was exceptional ; these wines commanded
the best prices and were sold almost entirely in Mr. Schell's home city, Albany, N. Y..
where they found great favor and were demanded to such an extent that Albany alone
took the entire output.

Thoroughly identified with Stanislaus County from its early days, Mr. Schell
is well remembered for his brilliant mind and forensic ability, not only by the bench
and bar of Stanislaus County, but throughout the state. He was decidedly liberal
in his views and a fighter for liberty and enlightenment, throwing the weight of his
convictions on the side of justice. December 5, 1889, Mr. and Mrs. Schell celebrated
their golden wedding in the fine home at the Red Mountain Vineyard, a stately old
mansion, suggesting both New York and California in its architectural design. Gen-
erous and hospitable, they were royal entertainers, and had a multitude of friends.
not alone because of their genial hospitality, but more particularly on account of
their superior attainments and culture. Although these pioneers have passed away,
Abraham Schell in 1892 and Mrs. Schell a few years later, they will ever live in
the hearts and memory of all those who knew them. Their descendants have an
inspiring example in the record of their kinsman, whose patriotism and loyal support
of the country was manifested not only in the early days of Indian fighting, but
throughout his entire career in his unfaltering support of all those interests which
have had to do with the welfare of the commonwealth.

J. D. SPENCER. — The pioneer journalist of Stanislaus County, J. D. Spencer
was a prominent figure in the early days when the county was formed and Modesto
was established. When it became known that the new railroad town was to be located
on the present site of Modesto, then followed that picturesque and now historic exodus
of people from Paradise, Empire and Tuolumne to grow up with the newly created
metropolis and participate in the golden era of prosperity to follow in its settlement.
Modesto, the hub of the county, grew apace and at the election in the succeeding year,
aided by the vote of the railroad employes, became the county seat.

With the influx of population there came to the town the pioneer newspaper
man in the person of J. D. Spencer, for in those primitive days the journalist responded
to the kaleidoscope changes in cities and conditions and followed the crowd to the more
alluring fields of business activity. After two unsuccessful attempts to publish a news-
paper, there was no paper in the county until 1868. when the Tuolumne City News
made its appearance with J. D. Spencer as its editor. It was Democratic and ex-
pounded Jeffersonian Democracy in a forceful manner and as nearly all of the citizens
of the county were of that political belief, it soon enjoyed a large clientele. Mr.
Spencer wielded a trenchant pen and through his boldness of utterance the county
weekly was closely interwoven with the industrial life of the first settlers. He created
such intense feeling by his exposures that it resulted in the disruption of the crooked
ring that controlled the land office at Stockton ; the paper also urged the repeal of
the pernicious "Fence Law" and by its insistence procured the passage of the "Tres-
pass Law," which saved for the settlers on the plains the heavy expense of building
fences to preserve their crops.


Mr. Spencer was born in West Virginia, July 23, 1840, the son of Wade Hamp-
ton Spencer, who moved to Arkansas in 1844, and in 1845 to Jackson County, Mo.
In 1849, J. D. Spencer crossed the plains with ox-teams with his father and brother.
He returned East in 1851, and in 1853 came back to Oregon and then down into
California, where he followed prospecting and mining. He was reared in the hard
school of experience, lived the life of the typical '49er in the open and encountered
all the trying vicissitudes of the pioneer. A mere lad when he entered the state, his
first impressions were gathered under the most adverse circumstances. The rough
miners among whom he lived, the rude system of law and retaliation which then pre-
vailed, were not conducive to the moral or the mental improvement of the youthful
settler. The crack of the revolver and the shrill cry of the victim were familiar
sounds in his ears; but he possessed a mind not easily overbalanced, and had a religious
training and these deleterious associations failed to have any impression upon him. In
1862 he quit mining and became a photographer, but three years later entered the
journalistic field as editor of the Woodbridge Messenger, later was with the San
Andreas Mountain News.

J. D. Spencer was a fluent speaker and a forceful writer and became the acknowl-
edged leader of his party in Stanislaus County — a position he held without question
until his death. Of incorruptible integrity, he was honored with election to the state
assembly and to the state senate. He was quiet and dignified and ever wielded
a strong influence among his colleagues. In the assembly he was the Democratic
candidate for speaker and received a handsome minority vote. He was a hard worker,
always in his seat, and watched even' proposition that appeared in the legislative halls.
He was one of the few anti-railroad representatives who emerged unscathed from the
contaminating influence of the corrupt ring that held sway at Sacramento.

In 1875 Stanislaus County was startled by a political scandal which involved
many of Mr. Spencer's political allies and personal friends. It arose in the senatorial
contest of that year, when R. H. Ward, Democrat, was elected to the senate over
J. M. Montgomery, Republican, by a majority of fifty-five votes. In this county
Ward seemingly secured a majority of 190 votes, which apparently assured his elec-
tion. Upon the legislative contest Montgomery was seated. The evidence showed
that a prominent local politician, with the connivance of a deputy county clerk, had in
the night taken the ballots of a certain precinct from the clerk's office to the back room
of a saloon on Front Street and altered them in such a way as to give Ward a large
majority in the county, and then returned the ballots to the clerk's office. Breaking
with friends of years' standing, oblivious of the effect the disclosure would have in
political circles, Mr. Spencer, in his paper, vigorously denounced the alleged tampering
with the electoral machinery. The individual tampering with the ballots was indicted
by the grand jury and upon trial was convicted. The verdict was reversed by the
supreme court on a technicality of law and when the case was again called for trial
all the evidence and even the marked ballots had mysteriously disappeared.

When in 1885, J. W. McCarthy, clerk of the supreme court, elected in 1882
on the ticket with Governor Stoneman, absconded leaving the affairs of the office in a
chaotic condition and the supreme judges refused to recognize any actions of the
deputies of McCarthy, Governor Stoneman at once appointed Mr. Spencer to fill
the vacancy, to become effective January 6, 1886. His bondsmen were Hon. A. Hewel
and Hon. E. B. Beard. Mr. Spencer was subsequently elected that same year.

When, later in the year 1870, Tuolumne City placed itself on wheels and entered
the race over newly-made stubble fields, Mr. Spencer, with his residence, printshop, type,
presses and forms, joined the caravan moving to Modesto. He located his home at
the corner of I and Eleventh streets and his printing establishment on the adjoining
lot. For the purpose of establishing a newspaper this property had been donated by
the Contract and Finance Company. The Tuolumne City News was transformed
into the Stanislaus County News and the first issue of the paper was December 2, 1870.
It made a neat appearance with its four pages and was well filled with advertising.
Both as a representative piece of journalism, and as a paper, this issue was a curiosity
and so far as known there is but one copy extant. In 1884, the Democrats deemed it

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good policy to publish a daily paper in Modesto and this was the beginning of the
Daily Evening News.

An early advocate of irrigation, Mr. Spencer took a positive stand on this im-
portant question and opened the columns of his paper to a broad discussion of the topic.
He favored the two plans that preceded the Wright Act and he was the clerk of the
supreme court when that body sustained the decision that rendered possible the later
development of this district. Unawed by power, uninfluenced by ambition, the pioneer
editor held the esteem and leadership in the community he loved so well for twenty-
five years and after a long life filled with good deeds he passed to that Great Beyond
in December, 1895, mourned by the wide circle of friends he had gathered about him
during his busy years as an editor, legislator, counselor, friend and companion.

HON. JAMES CARSON NEEDHAM.— Through wise statesmanship and the
promotion of measures for the benefit of the people, Hon. James Carson Needham of
Modesto has gained a reputation which is not limited to the confines of his home city,
nor to the state of California, but to the whole nation, through his services as congress-
man from California, and he is the kind of American this state has always been glad
to welcome arid proud to own. As judge of Department Two, Superior Court of Stan-
islaus County, he wields a strong influence in the legal profession throughout the state.

James Carson Needham was born at Carson City, Nev., September 17, 1864, one
of seven children born to Charles E. and Olive L. (Drake) Needham, who crossed the
plains to California in 1864. The ancestry of Judge J. C. Needham is traced in a
direct line from Anthony Needham, an Englishman, and his wife, Ann Potter Need-
ham, who were charged as Quakers on June 25, 1658, and were duly persecuted.
They were the progenitors of the Needham family in America, which has been traced
in a direct line through succeeding generations to the present time by H. C. Needham,
a well-known attorney of New York City. The Needhams were men of military
habits and, despite his Quaker faith, Anthony, Sr., was corporal of the Salem Old
Troop in 1665. and in 1675 he served during King Philip's War as a lieutenant under
Captain Nicholas Manning of Salem. He had a son Anthony, and it is said that
he was the first white settler within the present town of Wales, Hampden County,
Mass., where he settled in 1726. The next in line was Jeremiah Needham, born in
1741 at South Brimfield, Mass., where he was town clerk in 1765. He was also a
sergeant in Capt. Daniel Winchester's company, Col. Ruggles Woodbridge's regiment,
serving from August 17, 1777, until November 29 of that same year, with the North-
ern Army; he was also a private in Capt. John Carpenter's company of guards from
June 24 to August 4, 1779, and was stationed at Springfield, Mass. Jeremiah had a
son of the same name who moved to Vermont in 1805. The next in line was Charles
Needham, born in 1800, who moved to DeKalb, 111., in 1854, where he engaged in
raising Morgan horses from the famous Black Hawk stock; in 1855, with his son, he
opened up Gibson's Addition of 320 acres to DeKalb, and he also played a prominent
part in the early development of agriculture in that state.

Charles and Minerva (Porter) Needham had a son, Charles E. Needham, the
father of Judge J. C. Needham, and he was born in Vermont on December 1, 1829.
He married Miss Olive L. Drake, born in Crown Point, N. Y., but they both grew
up on Lake Champlain and he crossed the ice in winter to do his courting. In 1862,
leaving his wife and three children in the East, he crossed the plains to California and
engaged in ranching in Santa Clara County, but being a strong Abolitionist, he deter-
mined to go East to lend his aid in freeing the slaves. He did return to Illinois
intending to join the Northern forces but his three children were of tender years and
he was persuaded that his first duty was to his wife and family. With his wife and
family, he set out with an emigrant train for the Golden State, as soon as he could,
and it was en route that our subject was born at Carson City, Nev. They reached
their destination at Mayfield, Santa Clara County in the latter part of 1864, and
Mr. Needham resumed his ranching operations. He was a strong Whig and Re-
publican and was a personal friend of Gen. John C. Fremont. It is said that he wept
bitter'- when he heard of the defeat of Fremont for the presidency in 1856, and he


never shaved his beard thereafter. Besides James Carson, the following children were
born to C. E. and Olive L. Needham: Harry B., employed in the U. S. Customs
office in San Francisco; Cyrus H., a rancher at Patterson; Myrta L. is the wife of
W. G. McKean and resides in Berkeley; Lillian V. is the wife of W. E. Holman,
a rancher near Farmington, San Joaquin County; and Luella G. became the wife of
James T. Holman and also lives near Farmington.

When James Carson Needham was three years of age he was taken by his parents
to Banta, San Joaquin County, where his father took up a homestead, and there the
lad attended the public schools, and at the age of eighteen was graduated from the
San Jose high school. Then he entered the College of the Pacific, where he received
his Ph.B. diploma with the class of '86, although he worked in the harvest fields every
summer until he was twenty-one. He then began reading law and entered the law
department of the University of Michigan, graduating with the class of '89. In
November of the same year he came to Modesto and engaged in the practice of law,
soon after forming a partnership with L. L. Dennett, the firm being styled Needham
& Dennett and they built up a large general practice, the fruits of which are still felt
in substantial decisions obtained.

The entry of Mr. Needham into the political arena of Republican politics was
brought about by his ability as an organizer and at a time when the county was a
Democratic stronghold. He and his partner were young and enterprising Republicans
and the only attorneys of that political belief in the county, and they were urged to
take part in selecting candidates by the Republicans outside of Modesto. Mr. Need-
ham became a candidate for the state senate but was defeated ; again he came up for
district attorney and suffered a like fate. In 1894 he was made chairman of the
County Central Committee and here he showed his prowess by calling into conference
members who were strictly representative men of their various districts in the county
and urging upon them the necessity of allowing their names to be presented to the voters
for the various county offices. Heretofore all offices had been filled by the then Demo-
cratic ring with men who were residents of Modesto, where the majority of the votes
were polled, and this was not always satisfactory even to the Democrats living outside
of the "charmed" circle. After herculean efforts being expended, a ticket was made
up of the best Republicans throughout the county and strange to say, and to the sur-
prise of the Democrats, the ticket was elected almost to a man, thus breaking the
stranglehold the opposing party had upon the county offices.

From that period Mr. Needham became the man of the hour and in 1898 he was
elected to Congress from the Seventh Congressional District, then comprising Stan-
islaus, San Benito, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare, Kern, Orange, Riverside,
San Bernardino and San Diego counties. The state was later redistricted and his
became the Sixth district, which covered Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Santa Cruz, Mon-
terey, Merced, Madera, Fresno, San Benito and Kings counties and he was re-elected
every two years and served continuously from March 4, 1899, to March 4, 1913.
While serving in Congress he became well acquainted with McKinley, Roosevelt and
other Republican leaders. Mr. Needham became such a recognized leader in Congress
that he was appointed on the Ways and Means Committee and served for nine years ;
he also served on the committees of Education, Public Lands and Insular Affairs and
did very efficient work on them all. He helped to shape and solve many of the
perplexing questions relating to the Philippines, Hawaii, Porto Rico, Alaska. Panama,
and was particularly active in enacting the laws for the governing of the Philippines.
A warm, personal friend of Roosevelt, he helped shape matters in Panama, and for
the building of the Canal. He became an intimate, steadfast friend of William H.
Taft, while the latter was Governor of the Philippines and President; and he was
on the committee to receive and escort McKinley, Taft and Roosevelt on their various
trips through California. After leaving Washington, Mr. Needham went to San
Diego in 1913, practiced law until 1917, when he decided to return to Modesto,
where he had many interests, in order to look after them ; here he resumed his practice
and continued till on January 1, 1919, when he was appointed Judge of the Superior
Court, Department Two, Stanislaus County, by Governor Stephens, and it is needless


to say that he has more than made good. He was elected in 1920 without opposition.
A man of truly judicial mind, humane instincts, affable manners, an able lawyer, a
forceful speaker, an eloquent orator, Judge Needham has the respect of the people,
the bar and the bench. He has often been called upon to deliver orations on public
occasions, and his Roosevelt memorial address, delivered at Merced when the whole
• nation was bowing its head reverently in honor of the great American, gave him the
finest opportunity to eloquently express his public and personal regard for the patriot.
Judge Needham's marriage in Modesto, on July 1, 1894, to Miss Dora Deetta
Parsons has been productive of much happiness to them both. She is a native of
Montana and the daughter of N. M. Parsons, now deceased. Three children have
resulted from their union: Mildred married Edward T. Taylor, Jr., son of Congress-
man E. T. Taylor of Colorado ; he was a captain in the U. S. Army during the war
and now a resident of Washington, D. C. ; Chauncey E., who married Miss Beatrice
Flatt of Palo Alto, now of Modesto, was commissioned second lieutenant in the army
while he was twenty and a student at Leland Stanford University, and was a combat
flyer in France; Nathalie is living at home. The Judge is a Royal Arch Mason,
affiliated with the Modesto Lodge and Chapter and no one there enjoys a greater or
more deserved popularity.

ALBERT L. CRESSEY.— Distinguished and esteemed as one of the early
pioneers of Central California, Albert L. Cressey, until his death on October 5, 1920,
was one of the halest and heartiest of octogenarians, enjoying the unique honor of
being the strongest advocate of irrigation in the San Joaquin Valley, and therefore
of having given a mighty momentum to the great agricultural industries along the
waiting Pacific. He was born at Conway, N. H., on January 27, 1838, the son of
Curtis Rice Cressey, who was born in the vicinity of the White Mountains and grew
up to be a farmer. Grandfather Cressey was a soldier in the Revolutionary War,

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 39 of 177)