Copyright
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

. (page 51 of 177)
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 51 of 177)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


of the reservoirs. The district finally purchased his entire holdings in 1912, and it is
now called the Davis reservoir.

Mr. Davis then located at Modesto and purchased his present commodious and
attractive home at J and Sixteenth streets, where he resides with his family. Seven
children have been born to Mr. and Mr. Davis: Melroy C, who married Miss
Florence Boyd, is ranching near Oakdale ; Pearl is assisting her mother in presiding
over the hospitable home; Cassie is Mrs. Eugene Hinckley of Hickman; Raymond is a
general contractor at Santa Barbara; Rosa is Mrs. Howard Bartlett of Modesto;
Nellie has become Mrs. LeRoy Holverson of Modesto; and Thomas Alfred is with
the Tuolumne Lumber Company and resides with his parents.

For thirty-two years Mr. Davis was trustee of Lafayette school district and was
also clerk of the board for that entire time. In 1888 he was nominated on the
Democratic ticket and elected supervisor of the second district through a majority
of 125 votes; in 1892 he was re-elected by a majority of 237 votes, and again in 1896,
with a majority of 161 votes, serving until January, 1901, after twelve years of
service to the county, being chairman of the board for the last six years of his in-
cumbency; he was not a candidate for the succeeding term. As supervisor Mr. Davis
made a splendid record, being active in the building of good roads and bridges and
doing all that he could to advance the county in importance. The present county
hospital was built while he was serving as supervisor. A real pioneer, he saw the
first house moved from Paradise to Modesto in 1871, and has beheld the great expan-
sion that has taken place since that time.

In 1892 Mr. Davis was made a Mason in Stanislaus Lodge No. 206, Modesto,
and he has been treasurer of the lodge for the past seven years. He was exalted in
Modesto Chapter, No. 49, R. A. M., in 1895 and is past high priest, and has been
treasurer of that lodge for seven years. In June, 1908, he was knighted in Pacific
Commandery No. 3, at Sonora, and demitting with Charles Kinter, he was the
principal in organizing Modesto Commandery No. 57, K. T., and has been the
treasurer from its inception. He is a member of Aahmes Temple, A. A. O. N. M. S.,
at Oakland, and of San Francisco Consistory No. 1, of the 32nd degree, Scottish Rite.
He has been president of the Masonic Temple Association since its organization, now-
serving his fourth term, and superintended the building of the beautiful Masonic
Temple at J and Fifteenth streets. He has been honored with the degree of knight
commander of the Court of Honor, this honor being conferred on him at Sacramento,
November 28, 1919. In 1885, at La Grange, he joined Lafayette Lodge No. 65,
I. O. O. F., and is a past grand of that order and has served as district deputy grand
master. Mr. Davis has also been prominent in the councils of the democratic party,
having served as chairman of the county convention.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Davis enjoy traveling and together they have made three
extended trips East, traveling in nearly every state in the Union. They have also
visited Canada, and were in that country when the first Canadian troops to leave
for the blood)' conflict were starting on their momentous way.



382 HISTORY OF STANISLAUS COUNTY

CLAUS JOHNSON. — One of the leading and influential citizens of Turlock,
and also a very prominent man in Stanislaus County, particularly on account of his
spirited advocacy of the Don Pedro Reservoir, is Claus Johnson, who came to Cali-
fornia immediately after the beginning of this century and soon after his arrival
decided that of all sections of the Golden State, none appealed to him so much as
Turlock. He has improved over 1500 acres in the Turlock Irrigation District, and
has been a director of the same since 1914.

He was born in Smaland, Sweden, on October 29, 1860, but his father died
when he was only two years of age, and he was reared by his mother on the home
farm where she courageously brought up the family. After Claus came to the United
States and Nebraska, he faithfully arranged for her to follow him, in the spring of
1888, and she lived there until 1917, when she passed away at the age of ninety years.
Claus had received an excellent education in the schools of Sweden, and in 1879, when
only eighteen, left home and country, and came to the United States, where he set-
tled in Gladstone, 111., and for three years worked about on farms. Then, for another
three years, he was at Red Oak, Iowa, and after that he removed to Wakefield, Dixon
County, Nebr., where for seven years he engaged in farming. He next went to Wausa,
Nebr., bought land and for twelve years engaged in farming.

In 1902, he made a trip to California and bought 260 acres at from twenty-
five to thirty dollars an acre three miles west of Turlock, and in the fall of 1903 he
located here. He then bought 160 acres more in the same vicinity, and he continued
to buy more land until he had over 500 acres, all under the canal west of Turlock.
He engaged in grain farming, leveled and checked the land, and sowed alfalfa; he set
out an orchard, built a residence, and continued to farm there for nine years. Then
he sold out to twenty-three parties. He has since bought and improved several ranches.

Mr. Johnson laid out a tract of 40 acres now almost in the heart of Turlock,
lying north of Olive and west of the Southern Pacific Railroad. This was platted
and laid out into residence lots and sold, and it is now built up, being the North
Broadway section, one of the most beautiful business and residence sections of the
city. He also donated the land for North Broadway Park and this beautiful park is
now much enjoyed by the citizens as well as the visitors to Turlock.

In 1907, Mr. Johnson organized the People's State Bank and was its first
president, and so he continued until he resigned and sold most of his stock; but he is
still a director in the bank. He was a director in the Turlock-Rochdale Company,
and also its president until that was sold and dissolved. He organized the Farmers
Mutual Fire Insurance Company of Stanislaus County and incorporated it, and he
was a director and the president from its organization until it was well started, when
he resigned. He is, however, still a director and an agent of the company, assisting
it to roll up its record of $3,000,000 worth of insurance, representing a saving of
thousands of dollars of insurance to its holders, because the service is offered at a much
lower rate. In 1914, Mr. Johnson was elected director of the Turlock Irrigation
District, which has just voted $4,000,000 of bonds to build the Don Pedro Reservoir,
and expects to put in a power plant giving 20,000 horsepower at a cost of $1,500,000.
The approximate cost of the dam will be about $3,500,000. The height of the dam
will be 279 feet and will impound about 265,000 acre feet of water, and this responsi-
bility he assumes the more gladly because he himself is still interested in ranching
west of Turlock, where he raises alfalfa and goes in for general farming. He was for
ten years a trustee of the Turlock Union high school, and for one year was president
of the board, and during his incumbency the new school building was completed. He
has been a director of the Tidewater & Southern Railroad since its organization.

While in Iowa, Mr. Johnson was married to Miss Lena Warn, a native of
Ostrejotlan, Sweden, by whom he has had eight children. Oscar L. is a rancher near
Turlock; Edward E. farms near by; Martha has become Mrs. Win. Swanson of
Turlock; Anna is Mrs. Theo Sjoquist; Joseph V., also a rancher, was in the Fortieth
Division, serving overseas in the World War ; Esther is a graduate of the high school
and also Heald's Business College of Long Beach, and Emil and Elmer are ranching.
Mr. and Mrs. Johnson attend the Swedish Mission Church, where, from almost the




^bSuuW7nt4^H^^



HISTORY OF STANISLAUS COUNTY 385

start of that congregation in Turlock, Mr. Johnson was a trustee and treasurer when
the church was built. He has been a Sunday school teacher for forty years. He
had also been one of the organizers of the Swedish Mission Church at Wakefield,
Nebr., was for years a trustee, and chairman of the trustees when the church was
built. At Wausa he was active in the organization of the Swedish Mission church ;
beginning with five members it grew to be one of the largest, if not the largest, of that
denomination in Nebraska and during the years of his residence there he served nearly
all the time as chairman of the board of trustees.

WILLIS RUSSELL HIGH.— No fallacy is greater, even when proposed by the
immortal Bard of Avon, than that of supposing that all the good men do lies buried
with their bones, and this is well illustrated in the career and memory of the late
Willis Russell High, president of the Farmers & Merchants Bank, and also of the
board of education of Modesto. He was a self-made, self-educated man, who worked
his way up in the world, but a man who, having attained to affluence, position and
influence himself, found delight and his highest duty in helping others to follow and
to rise, also. He was popularly known as "Russ" High, and it is no exaggeration to
say that the term was one of endearment to those who came to know and appreciate
him at his true value.

He was born in Smith County, Tenn., on March 30, 1860, and while still in his
teens equipped himself for school work and taught for a while in Tennessee. About
1882 or 1883, he came to California, and after working for a short time on ranches
in Stanislaus County, became foreman of the Coffee ranch, in which capacity he
remained for five years. Then, wishing to engage in farming on his own account,
he resigned and leased a large ranch of nearly six sections not far from Minturn, in
Madera County, and there for fifteen years he raised grain with success. He then
moved into Modesto and purchased a ranch on the McHenry Road.

When the Farmers & Merchants Bank was organized in March, 1903, he became
its president and with his exceptional ability built up such a strong and flourishing
institution that he remained at the head of the bank for years. When he came to
Modesto, the irrigation fight was on; and having been one of the few men who realized
that irrigation would not only retrieve the losses to grain farming, but build up cities
and towns, he took the pro side of the controversy, and was an influential factor in
changing the sentiment of the taxpayers and in securing the necessary support of the
project. Afterward, too, he was the mainstay in influencing the still recalcitrant
"antis" and leading them to the adoption of those ways and means that resulted in
the completion of the irrigation system of the district and the placing of water on the
lands. During this latter period he was a member of the board of directors, and for
several years was president of that body. As president, and working incessantly for
practically the wage of a day laborer, he came to know the many problems of the irriga-
tion districts as few if any other citizens hereabouts.

In 1911, when the commission form of government was adopted by Modesto,
Mr. High was elected a member of the board of education, and later was made presi-
dent of the board; and in April, 1913, he was reelected, and was serving his second
term when called by death, on June 20, 1913. He took an unusual interest in the
problems of popular education, and did much to elevate educational standards in
Modesto. On his death, the leading newspaper said of him editorially, "Mr. High
was perhaps the only man of all of us who could go among the taxpayers and obtain
signatures to petitions and subscriptions of money for propositions that would other-
wise have been lost, and his services as president of the school board were well con-
sidered invaluable."

At Modesto, on October 20, 1887, Mr. High was married to Miss Mary Martha
Drake, who was born on the old Drake place, four miles northeast of Modesto, the
daughter of Jacob Drake, a native of Ohio. He was a wheelwright and carpenter,
and came to Illinois, where he married Mary Coffee, who was born in Smith County,
Tenn., and became a school teacher in Illinois. When a young man Mr. Drake had
crossed the plains for the first time, and followed mining in Calaveras County, but he
soon returned to Illinois. After a few years, he again crossed the plains to the mines,



386 HISTORY OF STANISLAUS COUNTY

and was later joined by his wife and their two children, who had crossed the prairies
in an emigrant train. Jacob Drake met them in Nevada, but it was too late to cross
the Sierras, so they wintered in Nevada and arrived in Calaveras County in 1864.
Then they came to Stanislaus County and located on a farm four miles northeast
of what is now Modesto, and he hauled his provisions from Stockton, and delivered his
wheat to the same town. There Mr. Drake died in 1875, leaving a wife and seven
children. Five of these are now living, and among them is Mrs. High, who received
her education in the Stanislaus Count)- schools, and remained at home to assist her
mother until her marriage to Mr. High.

After his death Mrs. High continued to operate the home ranch, which was
devoted to the raising of Malaga grapes and alfalfa, and specializing in pure-bred
Holstein cattle, having some of the finest bred Holstein-Freisians, among them the
Skylock Ormsby strain, and also to manage her mother's old ranch, given up to
dairying ; and in this arduous work she was assisted by her sons, three of the five chil-
dren that blessed her union. Benjamin H. was a graduate of the Modesto high school
and the Los Angeles Business College, after which he studied at the agricultural col-
lege at Davis, and he is now operating the home ranch; Delma is Mrs. Herron of
Modesto ; James, a graduate of the University of Nevada, is farming the Mary Drake
ranch, which Mrs. High still owns; Leslie enlisted in the United States army and
served overseas in the ranks of the engineers and now is a realtor in Modesto ; and
Vera, just returned from a trip abroad, makes her home with her mother. The chil-
dren are all talented, especially in music, and have often favored the people of the
home city with uplifting song. Mrs. High, a talented woman of pleasing personality,
is prominent in civic and social circles, being a member of Modesto lodge of Rebekahs
and a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Modesto; while Mr. High was
a charter member of Modesto Lodge No. 1282, B. P. O. E., and a past grand in
Wildey Lodge, I. O. O. F.

The admirable success of Mrs. High, when thrown upon her own resources,
recalls the equally stimulating example set by her mother, under even more trying
circumstances. When Mr. Drake died, Mrs. Drake continued on the farm and there
reared her family. She was successful in both the making of improvements and the
management of the estate, and there never was a mortgage on the ranch. This was
due in part to her education, above that of the average woman, and to her energy,
resourcefulness and natural business ability. This determination was developed when
her father died while the children were young, leaving the home farm. Mary Coffee
was eighteen when her mother married again, and determined to keep the children
together and to educate them, she ran the home farm with the aid of her brother and
sisters, and at the same time engaged in teaching school. She also wove the cloth for
and made the clothes that the family wore. At the same time, she kept up her reading,
and never seemed to forget what she read ; she was well posted on political questions
and history, as well as on general information, and being a good Bible student, knew
a great part of the Bible by heart. She was a Presbyterian in religion ; but the minis-
ters of all the denominations delighted to listen to her interpretation of the Scriptures.
She kept her mental faculties to the last, and passed away peacefully and full of honors
in 1912, at the age of seventy-eight.

JUDGE JAMES M. KERR.— No history of Stanislaus County would be com-
plete without mention of Judge James M. Kerr, prominent judge, business man and
rancher, who was born in Jackson, Mo., on August 1, 1860, the son of John J. and
Margaret (Braley) Kerr, farmers of Missouri. The family lived for a short time
in Nebraska City, but did not dispose of their holdings in Missouri until they came
to California, where they settled in Contra Costa County near Danville, the father
engaging in grain raising, and here James M. Kerr received his early education and
spent his boyhood days. When he was seventeen years of age his parents removed to
Oregon, where his father took up farming on a ranch near Eugene, while James M.
Kerr attended the University of Oregon. After completing his education in the uni-
versity, he came to the San Joaquin Valley, where he taught school for one year near
old Dutch Corners, just east of the present city of Newman. His father also came




'.A



HISTORY OF STANISLAUS COUNTY 389

South, locating on a farm in the Cottonwood district, in the northern part of Merced
County, where he raised grain, wheat and barley. At the expiration of four years he
sold his farm in Cottonwood district and moved to Fresno, where he died in 1915.

Mr. Kerr also engaged in farming on a small scale in the Cottonwood section, but
in 1887 he removed to Fresno and engaged in grain farming near Coalinga, where
he cultivated about 2,000 acres with mules, as this was before the day of the tractor.
He at first leased large tracts of land, but during his eleven years of residence in this
vicinity acquired 640 acres of land, which he disposed of on moving to Fresno in 1898,
at which time he was elected county recorder, holding this office for four years. For
the next eight years he was employed by the Standard Oil Company at Fresno and in
1910 he came to Patterson, where he and Herman Selback established a hardware
and plumbing business. In 1914 he purchased his partner's interest and the following
year the Kerr Hardware Company was incorporated and a year later bought out the
entire stock of the Taylor & Alcorn Company. The business then embraced hard-
ware, plumbing and farm implements, but in 1917 the plumbing business was sold
to E. L. Fink and shortly after Shimmin Brothers bought out the implement stock,
Mr. Kerr continuing in the hardware business exclusively until disposing of it in 1920
to T. W. McCracken of Berkeley. In 1912 he was appointed judge and two years
later was elected to the same office, in which capacity he has served ever since. In
1919 Judge Kerr formed a partnership with George L. Munson and together they
operate one of Patterson's most up-to-date and live real estate offices.

On June 10, 1908, in the Cottonwood district, Judge Kerr was married to
Grace Edwards, born in Suisun, Cal., the daughter of J. H. and Sarah»(Ish) Edwards,
the mother being a native-born daughter and the father coming to California in the
early days of 1849 via the Panama Canal. In political matters Judge Kerr entertains
liberal and independent views, particularly in local affairs, and fraternally is a Mason,
belonging to the Patterson lodge. Prominent in the activities of the Chamber of
Commerce, Judge Kerr was instrumental in its organization, serving as its first
president for two years.

JOHN R. WILLMS. — A pioneer who was considered one of the foremost farm-
ers and stockraisers near the city of Knights Ferry was the late John R. Willms,
who was born in Hanover, Germany, December 17, 1829, came to America with his
parents when six years of age and settled in Illinois. At the age of twenty, he joined
the gold rush to California, crossing the plains with some friends, and after traveling
for about six months, meeting many Indians on the way but always on friendly terms,
landed in Sacramento, October 12, 1849. He spent some time in the Southern mines.
Then, too, in partnership with John H. Kappelmann who came West with him, he
engaged in the hotel and butcher business at Buena Vista, Stanislaus County, and
later, in company with Mr. Kappelmann and John Dent, a brother-in-law of U. S.
Grant, conducted a trading post on the Stanislaus River near Knights Ferry. Mr.
Willms and Mr. Kappelmann built the Table Mountain Water Company ditch
which was six or eight miles long and in those days quite an undertaking, the water
being used for mining in the Buena Vista gravel mines. In 1852 they settled on the
old Willms homestead which is about two miles from Knights Ferry on the La Grange
Road, where they took up what claims they could and bought out claims from other
settlers until they had a tract of 3,600 acres where they engaged in the raising of
horses for the market, each year driving them across the mountains to Virginia City
and Bodie to market. After the death of Mr. Kappelmann in 1881, Mr. Willms
carried on the business by himself. He later went into the cattle business and kept
increasing his holdings until at the time of his death, he was the owner of 8,600 acres
and a large herd of cattle.

In 1867, he was married to Elizabeth Kappelmann, who became the mother of
seven children: John H. Willms, is a resident of Woodbridge, San Joaquin County,
operating a fruit ranch ; Etta A. is the wife of A. L. McMillan, an extensive wheat
grower east of Waterford, Stanislaus County, but for the purpose of schooling her
children, she is temporarily living in San Jose, with her sister, Miss Clara Willms,
who is also a resident there; Fred H. passed away in 1909; Arthur F. and Walter B.



390 HISTORY OF STANISLAUS COUNTY

are residents of Oakdale, Stanislaus County ; and Camilla L, who passed away in
1914. John R. Willms' death occurred in 1910 at the age of eighty-one years, his
wife having passed away in 1898. Two sisters of Mrs. Willms, Mrs. Henrietta Lowe
and Mrs. Fredricka Maxwell, reside at Oakdale.

About a year before his demise, Mr. Willms, desiring his holdings should be
held intact, incorporated the Willms Land and Cattle Company in 1909. The
present officers are Walter B. Willms, president; Arthur F. Willms, secretary, and
John H. Willms, treasurer, and the additional stockholders are Mrs. A. L. McMillan
and Miss Clara Willms. The holdings of the Willms Land and Cattle Company
now comprise a little over 10,000 acres of land and an extensive herd of cattle. A
man of greater foresight and better judgment could not be found and the community
in which he lived is proud to have had such a man in their midst.

MINER WALDEN. — An historic character of the early days of Stanislaus
County and of Modesto, was Miner Walden, a man who yielded a strong influence
in the early political circles, as he did in business affairs. A native of New York, he
was born in Schoharie County, May 23, 1823, the son of Hiram Walden, who served
in the state legislature. The lad grew up in his home county, attended the public
schools there and made that section his home until in 1850, when he came to Cali-
fornia by way of the Panama route in search of gold. It was soon after that he ap-
peared upon the scenes in the San Joaquin Valley and here he lived and labored.

In August, 1855, Miner Walden was united in marriage with Miss Lucinda
Hildebrand, a native of Indiana, where she was born on April 17, 1840. Her father
was Abraham Hildebrand, a Pennsylvanian of Dutch extraction and he settled in
Indiana at an early day and carried on farming with the aid of oxen. With the tide
of emigration he went into Iowa when that was a virgin country, and still later, in
1853, came overland to California with his family. They used oxen-drawn wagons
and took six months to make the journey. They left the Platte River to cross the
plains and mountains to Salt Lake City, Lucinda walking much of the way bare-
footed, beside the wagon. Fortunately they were not molested by Indians and their
trip was without incident. They came by Strawberry Flats, took the Walker Route
to Sonora, where they spent a few months in the gold mines. In 1854 they moved to
Stanislaus County and settled on the north side of the river at Knights Ferry and Oak-
dale, where Indians predominated. They were well treated by the miners, however,
who found in them some true friends. A sister of Mrs. Walden is a survivor of that
eventful trip, Mrs. Eliza Wilson, of Gilroy, and she has three brothers in California;
Valentine is at San Jose, Thomas is in San Francisco, and Stephen is living in Lodi.

In 1857 Miner Walden and his happy wife came to the Junction Ranch, consist-
ing of 3,000 acres, which Mr. Walden had acquired on the east side of the San



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 51 of 177)