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 5 of 177)
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Walthall signed by the Governor and his secretary. In Stanislaus County it seems there
were but five grants of land taken up and these were of some size, a total of 113,135
acres, or over forty-four square miles of territory. The grants confirmed were the
Orestimba, 16,500 acres, to Sebastian Nunez; El Pescadero, 16,148 acres, to Hiram
Grimes & Son; Rancho del Puerto, 13,340 acres, to Reed & Wade; Rancheria del Rio
Estanislao, 36,300 acres, to Pico and Castro, and the Thompson Rancho, 30,852
acres, to A. B. Thompson, after whom it was named. The three grants first named
are located on the west side of the San Joaquin River and include the towns of Grayson,
Patterson, Newman and Crows Landing. The two last named are on the north side
of the Rio del Estanislao or Stanislaus River, and include the territory segregated from
San Joaquin County in 1860. The Thompson grant in early days was owned by
Lieutenant William T. Sherman, a lieutenant under Governor Mason and later a
Civil War general, Frederick Billings, and A. C. Peachy, well-known lawyers of San
Francisco, and Henry W. Halleck, lawyer and later war general. Most of the
Estanislao Rancho was later owned by Abram Schell.

Government Surveys
The first survey of the county was made by Lieut. George Derby, of the U. S.
Topographical Engineers. He was known to fame as the most brilliant wit of his
day and the author of "Phaenixia." His survey, which was merely a cursory outline,
was made in 1850. Four years later, in 1854, the county was surveyed and sectionized
by a surveying party in charge of Surveyor-in-Chief Schmidt of San Francisco. A set-
tler wrote he will "complete it by fall." . . . "It is to be hoped that the land will
soon be brought into market, as we have all of the elements of wealth and prosperity
in the county and if any of your citizens (Stockton) desire a preemption claim, let
him come to Stanislaus." Many of the San Joaquin citizens wanted preemption claims
and the writer knew of hundreds who located thereon.

Stanislaus' First Settlers
Although it was not possible to take up land under the preemption congressional
law, a large number of persons located along the river bottoms and took up land.
In 1853 Congress extended the preemption law over California. It authorized the
settlement on any public lands not yet surveyed, if made within one year. The persons
must be citizens of the United States and over twenty-one years of age. They could
preempt not over 160 acres of land at the government price of one dollar and twenty-
five cents per acre.

Stanislaus County — Its Creation

The geologist tells us that the soil of the valley is the debris that was washed
down from the Sierras in the eons of time; that period when mammoth reptiles
crawled and gigantic animals roamed the earth. In writing of this soil, John Muir,
the well-known California naturalist, said: "God's glacial mills grind slowly, but
they have been kept in motion long enough to grind sufficient soil for an Alpine crop,
though most of the grist has been carried to the lowlands, leaving the high regions
lean and bare."

At one time of the valley creation, it was an immense lake with the Sierra Nevada
as its eastern and the Coast Range its western bounds. Then there came terrible
volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. There is an Indian tradition "that the mountains
burned red. They split asunder at the Golden Gate and the waters rushed out to
meet the sea." Along the base of the mountains there are many indications to a
trained eye that this was once an inland sea. The washings of the waves are clearly


seen. Oyster and clam shells have been found, and upon some rocks imprints of
fishes. "If a person goes from Knights Ferry to Dry Creek," says Branch, "he will
observe along the hillsides three water marks at different heights, just as if it had been
a lake. Those marks can be seen for many miles. When in early days the ground
had not been plowed up, the soil was covered with little knolls of sand just as may
be seen in the bottom of lakes." In corroboration of this fact, E. L. Flower, a native
of Knights Ferry, said, "The cobble stones are all polished by water action and no
rough-edged stones are to be found. Fish imprints have been found and at one time
when a pebble stone was broken open, the imprint of a crab was seen."

The Soil — Its Characteristics and Fertility

The soil of the county is of three different kinds, that known as bottom land,
the upland and the foothill or "hog wallow" lands. The land first named lies just
above the river waters. It is the -richest of soils and is frequently overflowed in the
spring freshets. The upland is high above, flood mark and for the past twenty-five
years has shown extreme fertility under irrigation. The foothill land is good grain
land with sufficient moisture.

The wonderful fertility of this land was known as early as 1850. The legislative
committee on county boundaries said in their report when giving the origin of county
names, "Tuolumne City is just springing up and it is believed will shortly be a sort of
'Jauja,' the golden city of the fabulous region where rivers of milk and honey flowed,
and farinaceous fruits grew spontaneously." This was certainly a future prophecy
of Stanislaus.

James C. Carson, less poetical but more practical, said in 1852: "The traveler
crossing this valley or traversing it in any direction during the dry season would judge
from its parched appearance that it is a barren waste unfit for any of the purposes of
man. This was my opinion on my first visit, but being a practical farmer I had a
curiosity to examine the soil, and the inducements offered by the general aspects of the
country to agricultural pursuits. There is no portion of the valley from the head of
Tulare Lake to Suisun Bay but is all that the agriculturist could desire when aided
by means of irrigation."

Carson then describes the rivers and says of the Stanislaus River: "Its waters
are sufficient to irrigate the entire plain lying between it and the Calaveras River."
Then looking into the far distant future, as if in a prophetic dream, he wrote: "As
we look on this- — the garden of California — the pride of an American heart makes
our mind to people it with the hardy farmers of our country. We can imagine their
neat cottages peeking out from amidst growing grain. We can see the neat village
with its church spires marking the march of civilization and hear the lowing herds
that browse on the luxuriant grass around."

Area — Nature of Soil — Climate
The county, according to the official figures, contains 1486 square miles or
951,040 acres. It is larger than the state of Rhode Island, nearly as large as Dela-
ware and one-third the size of Connecticut. These acres are sectionized into thirty-
seven townships. Each township has its peculiar characteristics. Regarding the soil,
a writer said in 1878: "On the east side of the San Joaquin River, which intersects
the county from south to north, the land is sandy for many miles, verging to a loamy
character as the foothills are approached. The soil of the west side is of a light sandy
character and of indefinite depth. It is easy of cultivation and although not so prolific
as the soil of the east side, on account of the dryness of its nature, twice the land can
be cultivated with the same amount of labor required on the more tenacious soil."
A citizen who lived in the north end of the valley said in 1876: "A person cannot
contemplate the magnitude or the characteristics of the great valley nor appreciate the
vastness of the country, its great wealth of fertile soil, and the grand possibilities in
store for it in the future, by traveling by rail. I consider myself tolerably familiar
n-ith the general features of the valley, but since I returned from a trip to the 'West
Side' I confess that I knew comparatively nothing. I was greatly surprised at the


quality of the soil. The bulk of the land is of a deep, loamy surface, easily mellowed
by the plowshare, while for miles it stretches away to the horizon, as level as a house
floor, but with sufficient slope to make it easy of irrigation."

Said another writer in 1878, in speaking of the West Side: "The land between
the ferry (Hill's) and the mountains is the richest in the state. It is the deepest rich
soil in the valley and is apparently of the same quality at a depth of from fifty to 100
feet, as at the surface."

Stanislaus Climate

The climate of the county is of that temperature most beneficial to the growth
and maturing of fruits, vegetables and cereals and hence healthful and agreeable to
man. They call it the "sunny Stanislaus" and truly they speak, for it is sunshine
three-fourths of the year. There is scarcely any cloudy or rainy weather from May to
November. The thermometer in the warmest daj's scarcely reaches 104 in the shade,
with an average of 80 degrees. Irrigation since 1900 has played an important part
in cooling the air. In winter the thermometer seldom goes below the freezing point
and heavy frosts are unusual. Said Secretary George T. McCabe in writing of stock:
"The long warm summers and the mild winters in which ice and sleet are absent are
beneficial to the breeding of fine stock."

The Pastoral Stock Raising Days

Beef, mutton and pork are now exceedingly high in price. There are several
causes for these high prices, but the primary cause is a greater demand and lesser
supply of the two foods first named, because of an ever increasing number of popula-
tion and a decrease of pasture lands. In the days before the "gringos" came, the good
old Mexican days, the horses, cattle and sheep roamed over the millions of any man's
land. Then cattle were of no value except for their hides and tallow and thousands
were killed annually for that object alone. Their carcasses were left upon the plains,
food for the coyotes and the vultures. If any person wanted a choice cut he could
help himself free of cost. Horses then were cheaper than a song. In years of drouth
they were slain by the hundreds to save the pastures for the cattle. There were only
a few sheep and a few hogs, these being bred by the Mission fathers. Then the popu-
lation was about 10,000 and grazing lands everywhere. Now the population far
exceeds 2,000,000 and not an acre of free pasture land in the state. Even the Sierras
are fenced in with a claimant for every acre. The biggest claimant of them all was
Miller & Lux. Wise in their day, they saw the pasture lands rapidly passing and the
crowding of the stockmen from the state by the farmers, and they purchased thousands
of acres. These same two men constructed the first irrigation ditches. This we will
write up in a later chapter.

Sheep Raising in Stanislaus

When the gold seekers arrived there was a great demand for horses, and saddle,
pack and harness animals arose in price from five dollars to fifty dollars and even $100
for any kind of a horse. Beef now became valuable and henceforth it was sold by
weight. There was, however, a large amount of unclaimed territory on the upper San
Joaquin, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers and there the stockraisers located, raising
sheep, cattle, horses and hogs. Sheep raising became one of the principal industries
of the country for the first twenty-five years. The sheep at first obtained from the
Mission fathers were scrawny, small in size and with short coarse wool. In a short
time, however, the breeders began importing better grades and A. J. Patterson of the
West Side is credited with an importation of French Merinos as early as 1858.

The sheepmen soon learned that the climate of Stanislaus was particularly con-
ducive to the health and growth of sheep. The winters were mild, permitting them
to grow throughout the year, and at two years of age they were as large and heavy
as those in the Atlantic States at three years of age.

The business of sheep breeding increased from 3,384 sheep in 1856 to 5,480
(1857), 16,295 (1858), 11,280 (1860), 118,460 (1870), 44,448 (1880), 23,052


(1900) and 23,253 (1910). It will be noted that the record year was in 1870, from
that time they gradually decreased in number ; one reason was that the farmers were
taking up and cultivating the pasture lands. And then came in 1872 a legislative
prohibitive law against the encroachment of sheep upon any grain lands. Away up in
Shasta County, as early as 1857, sheep were there encroaching upon preemption lands,
and that year the Legislature passed a law prohibiting sheep from being pastured on
such land under penalty of being impounded and sold, unless by the property owners'
consent. This law was amended in 1872 so as to include Stanislaus County.

It may be interesting in a local history to name some of the pioneers in the sheep
business, many of them continuing in that profitable occupation for many years. First
comes John Vivian. He had 4,090 acres, mostly pasture land, and a flock of 3,000
sheep, 200 head of cattle and 250 hogs. John Carpenter located on the San Joaquin
River lands in 1857, and his flock of nearly 1,500 sheep grazed upon the river bottom
lands. A. J. Means on his 2,000-acre pasture had 2,500 sheep. Alfred Stonesifer
in 1865 removed from Napa to Stanislaus County and gave his entire attention to
the breeding of fine, blooded sheep. His stock was from the French Merinos, imported
in 1857 from Vermont by Samuel Brannan. He had 3,000 acres of land, over which
his 5,000 Merinos grazed. William Snow was a San Joaquin County farmer, but in
1859 he became a Stanislaus cattle and sheepman. In Calaveras and Stanislaus
counties he had in one body 5,000 acres of land on which he pastured his cattle and
5,000 sheep. Richard M. Wilson, who lived near Hill's Ferry for twenty-five years,
became one of the wealthiest sheepmen in the county. He owned 16,000 acres in
Stanislaus and Merced counties. His sheep ranch, which was known as "Quinto"
ranch, was in Merced County and pastured 7,500 thoroughbreds. Even as late as
1897 men engaged in the sheep-raising business. Thomas Wheeler, who up to that
time had been in the cattle business, took up sheep breeding. He had 7,000 sheep and
one acre of land to each sheep. These men, alike with the cattlemen, had their
trials and troubles, losses by flood, drouth, trespassing and no-fence laws. These we
will notice in the succeeding paragraphs.

Hogs — Horses — Cattle

Stanislaus County contained in 1860, according to the Federal census, 5,039
hogs. It held at about that figure until 1870, when the number was increased to
14.595. In 1880 there was but little increase, 14,995; but in 1900 the number of
swine domesticated and of valuable breeds numbered 23,327. The pioneer breed of
swine were long-nosed, slab-sided "porkers" with long, sharp bristles, and known as
"razor backs" because of their sharp backs. They were never fed, but were turned
out to roam at will and "root hog or die." They fed on tules, seeds, grass and roots
and such stuff as they found in the river bottoms. The boars had long tusks and small,
wicked-looking eyes, and feeding in the thick brush, woe to the unarmed footman who
crossed their path, for attacking him, they would soon gash him to death. The sows
and pigs traveled over the plains and when the settlements were formed they became a
daily nuisance. In Modesto they wandered through the streets and alleys, feeding upon
garbage, uprooting plants and flowers, upsetting refuse barrels and sometimes entering
open doors in search of food. Sometimes the cook would throw hot water upon them
and they would run off squealing, but would soon return. At last they became an
intolerable nuisance and the Legislature in March, 1878, amended the hog law of
1856 including within its provisions the town of Modesto. The law permitted any
property owner or town constable to impound hogs running at large and advertise
their impounding. If no owner came forward to claim the swine and pay the dam-
ages, they were sold at auction, any surplus money being turned into the school fund.

Another source of income to the stockbreeders was the raising and sale of the
wild horses of the county. The original breed were the Spanish horses brought over
from Spain in 1519 by Hernando Cortez. They were small, wiry animals, weighing
rot over 700 pounds, nervous and high strung, but exceedingly tough and endurable.
In their wild state they would viciously kick, bite and strike with their fore feet, when
caught and approached by man, and yet when broken to saddle or harness and not


abused they became the gentlest of animals. They made splendid work horses and as
vaquero saddle animals these "mustangs" or "bronchos" were indispensable to the
cattlemen. They were the only animals used in business for many years. The stage
lines made use of them and hundreds of these wild mustangs of the plains were in use
in the overland stages of 1858-60. In the drawing of heavy loads the teamsters!
used mules. It is true, hundreds of horses were driven overland by the pioneers, and
even bands of horses were driven across the mountains, but these domesticated and
high-blooded animals made no great showing until the late '60s. The horses of
Stanislaus numbered 2,320 in 1856 and there was not much of an increase until 1870
when the census reported 100,136. The number dropped back to 21,345 in 1878 and
it was only 5,908 in 1880. Then the free pasture was all cut out, the no-fence law
in force and the railroad crossing the country made the horse less necessary. How-
ever, with three lines of railroads and automobiles by the score, the census of 1900
shows 14,374 horses in the county, valued at over half a million dollars.

One of the most profitable occupations of the county in pioneer days was that of
cattle breeding, as they fed over the vast acres, costing not one cent for feed or care.
They were scarcely ever seen by their owners except in the spring of the year. Then
the annual rodeos took place. The cattle were all rounded up in that section of the
county and the calves branded with the owner's brand. These rodeos, as they were
called, were the gala days for the vaqueros, or cowboys. Sometimes as many as half
a hundred would be assembled in the selected "round up" and they would have great
sport riding wild "bronchos," trick riding and expert rope throwing. At times these
men would perform wonderful feats. A description of these rodeos is unnecessary, as
in the "wild west" shows, so often staged, there can be seen fair representations of
the original.

In writing of this business a writer in 1854 said: "Between the Tuolumne and
Merced (rivers) are large herds of cattle, American and Spanish, there being many
thousand of them. The country is well adapted to the raising of cattle, which is the
exclusive business of many stockmen. They have made large profits but hereafter
their profits will decrease because of the increase of herds and the importations across
the plains."

That it was not very safe to travel on foot across the country at this time was
proven by the experience of Thomas K. Wallis. In relating his narrow escape from
death he says: "On my arrival at Stockton (from San Francisco, April, 1865) I
found there would be no steamer up the San Joaquin River for two weeks and as no
stage or teams were going that way (to his brother's ranch), I concluded to walk.
There were no houses on the plains and wild cattle roamed everywhere. While
walking across the plains between the Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers I saw a band
of wild cattle coming towards me shaking their heads. I immediately lay on the
ground and then crawled a long distance from bush to bush until they lost sight of me.
They were infuriated because they had lately been caught and branded."

Cattle Stealing
Each cattle owner was compelled by law to have some kind of a brand with which
to brand his stock. This brand was registered in the recorder's office of each county
and to duplicate this brand or endeavor to mutilate the brand upon an animal was a
state prison offense. It was difficult to prove the act of mutilation upon any one indi-
vidual and hence thousands of cattle were stolen and rebranded over the original
brand ; on the stolen cattle the markings were changed, others again were stolen
regardless of brands, and it was a common custom to catch and brand the calf of a
cow before the annual rodeo of the owner of the stock took place. Hundreds of cattle
were stolen in the night, hid the following day and then rushed to some slaughter pen,
quickly killed and the brand destroyed. Both white men and Mexicans were among
the cattle thieves and cattle stealing was a common joke among the stockmen. It was
a friendly game, very much like bribery among politicians. Said a cattleman one day
in my hearing: "Oh, you are an honest man until you are found out." Woe, how-
ever, to the Mexican who was caught with the goods. And says William Grenfell:


"Hanging by the mob was then a frequent and richly deserved punishment and many
a poor wretch met his doom at the end of a rope. In 1855, eight or ten men, mostly
Mexicans, were hung mainly for cattle stealing by the 'Vigilantes' of the San Joaquin."

No-Fence Law Destroys Cattle Business
The number of cattle in the county in 1856, as given by the California Register,
was 12,065; in 1857, 16,735; 19,000 in 1858, and 18,562 in 1860. The census report
for 1870 was 2,277 milch cows and 4,299 other cattle. The sudden decrease of the
long-horned, gaunt cattle that could run like a quarter horse was due to the passage
of what was known as the no-fence law. The law had been in force in the northern
counties and in March, 1870, it was amended so as to include all of that portion of
San Joaquin County lying south of the Calaveras River and west of the San Joaquin
River, and to Stanislaus County and all of that portion of Merced lying east of the
San Joaquin River. It compelled all stock owners to inclose their stock and they were
liable for damages if their stock trespassed on the farmers' grain fields. The law
caused considerable excitement and much hard feeling between the stockmen and the
farmers. Regarding this law the Stockton Independent in February, 1871, quoting
from the Tulare paper, said : "The Visalia Delta draws a comparison between the
two counties of Tulare and Stanislaus, as shown bj- the late census report. In 1860,
Tulare stood ahead of its neighbor in the production of wheat, the number of sheep,
and agricultural productions generally. Stanislaus then had 37,952 acres of land
under fence, and Tulare but 20,313. In 1870, Stanislaus yields 3,060,000 bushels
of wheat and Tulare but 62,500. This extraordinary increase is as 135 for Stanislaus
to 1 for Tulare. At the same time Stanislaus has increased the number of her sheep
twenty-five per cent more rapidly than Tulare. Stanislaus has now 62,000 acres
under fence and Tulare 30,000. In 1860 each county raised one acre of wheat for every
twelve acres under fence. Tulare still maintains the same ratio, while Stanislaus
raises 195,000 acres of wheat, or three times as many acres as she has under fence.
Tulare land yields twenty-four bushels of wheat per acre and Stanislaus sixteen
bushels. Tulare yields six bushels of wheat per head for every person in the county,
including Indians and Chinese. Stanislaus yields 470 bushels per capital of its popu-
lation. A large portion of the flour consumed in Tulare bears the brand of the Stanis-
laus, Stockton or Merced mills. Most of the wheat of Stanislaus has been raised on
the open plain without the expense of fencing. The wheat stubble proves to be worth
two or three times as much for sheep pasture as the cultivated land and the $3,000,000
worth of wheat shipped by Stanislaus is set down as clear gain. In Tulare, the
fence law prevails and in Stanislaus, the no-fence law." TheDelta argues that for
such counties as Stanislaus and Tulare the no-fence law is the true policy, and owners
should be compelled to take care of their stock. It says, "It is evident that to depend
upon inclosing land for the production of wheat is to adopt a stand-still policy."

Cattle Men of Stanislaus

Among the first cattlemen of the county we find James, William, Benjamin
and Alfred Crow who located on Orestimba Creek. Their father, Walter Crow,
came to California with another son, Lewis, in 1849, to investigate the conditions
for stock raising. He found them very favorable and, returning to Missouri, came
back with the four sons first mentioned, driving overland 500 head of cattle. The

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 5 of 177)