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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father died just after entering the state, and the sons drove the cattle into Stanislaus
County. Two years later, 1852, E. Lodtman, who later located at Knights Ferry, and
F. Meinecke, later a ferryman on the Stanislaus River, went East and returned with a
band of cattle. They wintered at Salt Lake in 1851-52. On arrival in Stanislaus
the cows of the band were sold from $100 to $150 each.

In 1854 William Rutherford crossed the plains with a band of cattle and turned
them out to pasture on the grassy plains of Stanislaus. Along about 1865 cattle de-
creased in value from forty dollars to less than ten dollars per head, so selling his
cattle, he began raising hogs.


Another stockraiser who crossed the Sierras in 1852 driving a band of American
cattle was William J. Kittrell. He located first near Stockton, but a few years later
removed to Stanislaus. Miner Walden, arriving in California in 1851, first kept a
hotel near Sonora. In 1853 he engaged in the cattle business in Stanislaus County,
his ranch being at the confluence of the Stanislaus and San Joaquin rivers.

Some of the losses of the cattlemen may be noted in the experience of William
K. Wallis, who located in the county in 1855. He learned the great value of the
Stanislaus pasture lands while he was engaged in the butcher business at Sullivan's
Creek. In time he and his brother had about 2,000 head of cattle. In 1860 they
concluded to dissolve partnership, but before the dissolution was completed they lost
nearly 1,500 cattle by the flood of 1862 and the drouth of 1864. They recovered from
their losses, however, and then came the no-fence law to completely put them out of
business. Mr. Wallis, in speaking of those days, said: "During this time (1870)
a great change had taken place in California. The land was bought for ranches and
stockmen found it necessary to buy land on which to enclose their stock. Before this
their cattle ran wild over the whole face of the country, the whole San Joaquin Valley
being one immense pasture. It was a serious time for stockraisers. Having more stock
than pasture they were driven at their wits' end to know what to do."

Wheat for the World
Never before in the world's history was wheat so valuable as it has been during
the past three or more years. Valuable, not as a market commodity but as a food for
the starving millions of Europe. The nations of the old world were at war. There
was a clash of arms. The four greatest nations were engaged in the contest. There
was neither time nor men for seedtime and harvest. They must have food, how-
ever, to sustain life, and they called to the United States. Nobly she responded and
the farmers seeded every available acre of land. They harvested immense crops and
ground into flour it was shipped to Europe. In the production of these immense crops
Stanislaus County had no small share.

An Isolated County

As a wheat-producing county Stanislaus did not claim any particular attention
until 1868. Then Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, seemed to have sprung into being,
full-fledged. Giving as a reason why the county's growth was so long delayed, a writer
said: "The progress of settlement had been delayed for many years by the difficulty of
reaching it, except by the slow, tedious route of overland travel. The route was over
treeless plains, pathless wilds, rough, broken country, across unferried streams and only
the direst necessity compelled any one to travel it. Hence the settler gave the country
a wide berth, for, however fertile the soil or salubrious the climate, he could hope to
market none of his products and was isolating himself and family from the world be-
yond, and making himself a home with the prospects of having no other neighbors
than elks and grizzly bears."

A few years later there was a decided change and another writer then wrote,
"That the population is increasing is evident from the fact that the sales of land at the
Stockton land office aggregated 1,017,913 acres up to January."

An Immense Sown Acreage
In February, 1868, a traveler up the San Joaquin River wrote to the press: "On
my trip up the river a most exhilarating sight was that of large teams engaged in plow-
ing in all directions, attached to huge gang plows, turning over hundreds of acres of
soil daily. It also did my heart good to meet with such signs of life in a new country.
Over 20,000 acres of wheat have been sown on the west side of the river. The Para-
dise farmers have also sown a large acreage this year and many of the farmers cultivate
the soil on an extensive scale, among them Capt. John Schrieke, Capt. John Greer,
Timothy Paige and Louis M. Hickman of Stockton, who has in 10,000 acres and is
still plowing. Other large land owners and extensive farmers are Stephen Rodgers and


John W. Mitchell, the last named having in 17,000 acres in wheat, all of which has a
fine appearance. You may not know that Stanislaus is the grain-growing county of
the state." Another astonished person was L. C. Branch, who wrote in his history:
"The writer was last season (1880) traveling through one of the immense wheat fields
of Stanislaus County. We say immense, as we had been traveling for hours through a
vast field of wheat. In every direction was wheat, not a house, tree or object of any
kind in sight for a long time — only wheat, wheat." The No-Fence Law was. the reason
of such vast, unbroken fields of grain and the only dividing fence between lands was
narrow, unplowed strips of soil.

Measuring these wheat fields by miles instead of acres, Henry E. Turner wrote
an article saying: "The wheat ranches reached from the San Joaquin River to the
foothills. We have not gone out of the grain business by any means. There is a
strip twenty miles long and five miles wide west of the San Joaquin and another from
five miles north of the Merced to- about five miles north of the Stanislaus, containing
about 200,000 acres that will be a grain area for a long time to come."

The Banner Wheat County

Naturally, plowing and seeding such a large acreage of land, the farmers would
reap immense crops, if all the conditions were favorable. There were, however, many
dry years and no crops, as we will later note. The yield was very heavy in good years
and Stanislaus deserved rightly her title as the banner wheat county of the state.

Again quoting from press correspondents, for we are dependent upon them for
much of the earlier history, we read that in May, 1868, "the prospects are for the
largest crop ever gathered in this section. Farmers, seeing the necessity of a better
cultivation of the soil, are giving attention to scientific farming. The consequence is
that where before twenty or thirty bushels were raised to the acre, now the yield is
forty, fifty, sometimes seventy bushels to the acre. That part of the county between
the Stanislaus and the Tuolumne Rivers, an area of 125 square miles and known as
'Paradise,' is one unbroken field of grain and will yield a crop of over a million
bushels." The entire county wheat crop of that year was 2,317,652 bushels. The
barley crop was 859,860 bushels and the hay crop, 1,500 tons. It was a very heavy
increase over the crop of eight years previous, 1860: 22,597 bushels of wheat, 33,897
bushels of barley, and 6,238 tons of hay.

The sweet and the bitter was ever present with the farmers, especially those of the
West Side, and in June, 1872, a farmer writing from Grayson declared, "Up to this
time only 6.06 inches of rain and the prospects for a crop are rather gloomy. In 1870
we had 6.34 for the season and there was not a head of grain raised in these parts."
Notwithstanding this gloomy report from the Grayson farmer, it was the banner year
of the county, the soil producing 5,000,000 bushels of wheat. Then followed three dry
years, 1873-74-75, absolutely nothing, said the record, but in 1876 there was an im-
mense crop. We quote from a newspaper which said : "Some idea of the large amount
of wheat raised on the west side of the San Joaquin the present season may be learned
from the following correct figures up to August 5; 176,886 sacks have been shipped
from Hill's Ferry and there remains in the warehouse 20,875 sacks. There has been
shipped from Salt River 12,000 sacks. From Crows Landing there was shipped 50,175
sacks, with 16,000 in the warehouse and 2,000 sacks to arrive. From Upper Grayson
landing 60,000 with 2,000 in storehouse, and Lower Grayson landing 20,251 sacks
with 11,218 in store. From Patterson's Landing 100,000 have been shipped. The
figures foot up all told 236,393 tons, the value at present prices being $1,000,000.
This is only about two-thirds of the amount raised south of San Joaquin City. The
whole amount will foot up 1,500,000 sacks for a district that had absolutely nothing
for the past two or three years. At the same time (1876) there was shipped from
the railroad station at Salida 16,216,251 pounds, from Modesto 20,365,103 pounds,
from Ceres 7,057,050 pounds, from Keyes 4,130,955 pounds and from Turlock
115,152,948 pounds."

The year 1878 was another year of fine crops and the Modesto Neu's said on
August 12: "Our town for the past two weeks daily has presented a lively appearance


and around the warehouses and city front all is life. However, the rush has not yet
begun, but threshing will commence in earnest next week and for many weeks to come
large amounts of grain may be expected." The record yield of the county for wheat
seems to have been in 1881, as the rains came timely for a big crop and the farmers the
previous fall had seeded an immense acreage. Henry Cavill said that was the banner
year and it is estimated that the county produced nearly 7,000,000 bushels of wheat.
The crop of 1884 was also a bumper and said Henry E. Turner in 1914: "There are
some who remember the past glories of the days of grain in Stanislaus County and well
they may, for Stanislaus was the banner wheat county of California, raising in 1884 no
less than 125,000 tons (tons, not bushels, mind you) which was a tenth of the total
crop of the state." From this time on there was a decrease in the production of
cereals, for many of the farmers had engaged in horticulture and dairying. Taking
the census of 1900, we find the county producing only 258,121 bushels of wheat,
828,628 bushels of barley and 137,214 tons of alfalfa.

Raising Grain in Dry Climate
Among the pioneers who arrived in California in 1849-50 there were many
farmers who disbelieved that the state was a grain producing state. They came from
the farming lands of the Middle States and they laughed at the idea that grain could
be produced in a country rainless from May until October. They declared that the
climate was too dry and hot and if the grain grew it would never mature, as it would
wither up and blow away. Other farmers said, "The Mission Fathers raised grain all
along the coast. Captain Sutter raised grain on his ranch, the New Helvetia on the
Sacramento River, and grain has been raised at Weberville, now Stockton ; why not
in other parts of the valley?" James C. Carson was not at all doubtful regarding the
production of grain in the valley and he stated in 1852: "I saw in 1850 a crop of
barley raised on the Tulare plains equal to any I ever saw in the country. It was
grown on a barren-looking spot where there never was any water except during the
periods of the rains. It was sown in December and harvested in June." By 1854 the
doubting Thomases had all become believers, for there was undoubted proof at the
locality now Oakdale and Empire City that grain could be profitably raised. Writing
from French Bar (La Grange) a correspondent said: "Two miles below the mining
camp agricultural developments begin ; fields of grain exhibiting their carpets of rich,
dark green, are seen for miles in extent. Some farms have 700 to 800 acres in wheat.
With a good crop and the advantages of Talbot's grist mill to grind their wheat,
farmers in this section cannot help reaping a rich harvest." In June the farmers at
Empire City began harvesting their crops, estimated at not less than 600,000 bushels,
and a large amount of corn and garden vegetables.

Primitive Harvesting Days

The Mission priests in plowing their land used the same kind of a plow as
the Egyptians on the banks of the Nile. When the grain was ready for the harvest it
was cut with short sickles, by the Indian converts. Then a hard spot of ground was
selected and around it was built a circular fence. The grain was then piled in the
enclosure and a band of horses were driven round and round over the wheat, tramping
it out. On a day of heavy wind the Indians would then gather the wheat and chaff
in large shallow baskets and, tossing it up, the chaff would be blown from the wheat.

Seed Time and Harvest

Reaping and threshing grain by such primitive methods as this would be impossible
where there were thousands of acres of land sown, and certain men of inventive ability
invented agricultural implements that would plow the land and thresh the grain in a
short period of time. The Stanislaus farmers first used a single plow to turn the
furrow. Then came the double plow, following by the gang plow that plowed a
furrow three and more feet wide. In time of harvest, in place of the reaper and binder
used in the Eastern and Middle States they used a header propelled by six horses, the
header running in front of the animals. The machine with its sickle bar rapidly
running cut a swath of grain twenty-four feet in width. It fell in a continuous


shower upon an endless draper which lifted the grain into a header barge running
along side of the header. The grain was then taken to a selected spot and lifted by
derrick forks on to a huge stack, there to await the harvesting crew. These headers
were used on the West Side in the harvesting of the crops of 1869, for said the re-
porter, "Al Bronson has just commenced harvesting his wheat crop on the West Side.
He has bought and shipped a twelve horsepower steam engine, a Baxter self-feeder
and self-measuring separator and three thirteen-foot Haines headers, and will run eight
header wagons with the three headers."

The Threshing Machine

The threshing machine was invented by Cyrus Hall McCormick along in the
early '50s. It was too expensive for a small farmer to purchase and individuals would
obtain a machine and travel over the country threshing grain by contract at so much
per bushel. The thresher was first run by horse power, four or six horses walking
in a treadway. Then came the steam power, and with it at times terrible accidents.
The steam was produced by burning wood, but in time a California genius invented
a straw burner thresher, which was a great saving to the farmer. Before this time
many farmers had been wasteful of their straw and destroyed it by fire. These thresh-
ing machines did splendid work and in 1878, Thomas Young, using a Hoadley straw-
burning engine and a thirty-six-inch separator, accomplished one of the greatest
harvesting feats on record. He threshed in one day 1,535 sacks of wheat, or 3,435
bushels, each sack holding two bushels and a peck.

The Harvesting Crew

Each harvester was managed by a single individual and he employed all of the
laborers. The men before these days of high wages received from two dollars and
fifty cents to six dollars a day, according to the work in which they were engaged,
together with board. Lodgings were not counted in, for each man was expected to
furnish his own blankets and sleep out; as Turner states it, "your bedroom was as
broad as the ranch and canopied by the stars." The men labored from sunrise until
near dark, and it was all hard work. The women did the cooking then and they had
their hands full. Women and children got nothing until after the men were fed.
Eight hours? Sure! Eight hours before dinner and eight after. After a time this was
changed and the harvesters had a cook wagon, which went with them from place to
place with a Chinese cook. Henceforth there was no more dinner at the ranch house
in harvest time and the women had a rest. The men worked from sun to sun and it
was hard work. Paid off on a Saturday night, they would visit the nearest town,
Modesto or Hill's Ferry, and as a rule gamble and drink until their money was all
spent, or they were as "drunk as a lord." Monday morning came and many of them
failed to show up for work ; then the boss would start for town and if possible gather
up his crew. Finding those partly under the influence or dead drunk he would throw
them into the header bed, and away he would drive for camp, the horses on the run.

But the time came when the farmer was not so much dependent for help on this
"floating population," as the politician styles them. The combined header and har-
vester was introduced into the grain field, and drawn by thirty-six animals and operated
by six or eight men, it cut and threshed the grain, leaving behind a long trail of
filled grain sacks. Now these machines are run by their own power.

The Historic Grain Fire

From various causes the county during the past years has lost by fire thousands
of dollars. In none of these fires, however, was the loss as great as in the West Side
fire of July 7, 1906. It broke out near Newman late Saturday night, and before it
burned itself out, it destroyed over 2,500 acres of standing wheat and barley, 20,000
acres of pasture land, together with stacks of hay, farming implements and ranch
buildings. The farmers and citizens turned out en masse and with wet sacks, water
wagons, gang plows, and by back firing, endeavored to check the flames, but the fire
ran before the wind with the speed of a race horse and they were powerless. The fire


extended along Jorgias and Orestimba creeks on both sides and then ran along the foot
hills into Merced County. It burned for nearly ten days and the smoke was plainly
seen from the house tops and high lands around Modesto. The loss was over $50,000
and the insurance was about $20,000. In stating the losses the Newman Index said
that C. P. Eachus, George Sparks, H. P. Peterson, each lost 160 acres of wheat, W. A.
Dunning and Allen Brothers and Frank Snyder each lost 200 acres of wheat. The
Brown brothers lost 320 acres of wheat, 4,000 new sacks, farming implements and
ranch buildings. The Newman Company, Howard estate and Taft Brothers, the
Middletons, Jason Pennell and Peter Miller lost thousands of acres of good pasture
land. At Crows Landing, by a singular coincidence, another grain fire broke out Satur-
day evening, July 11. The entire populace turned out to fight the flames. They were
successful, but not, however, before it had destroyed over 1,000 acres of wheat belong-
ing to Ora Munson, Charles Nicewonger and Messrs. Throm, Baker and Van Winkle.
The wheat and barley promised a record-breaking crop, hence the loss was heavy.

The Californian Fear of Drought

The greatest fear of the Californian is the fear of a drought. It affects alike the
laborer, the mechanic, the merchant, the banker and the manufacturer, for all classes
and all conditions of life are dependent upon the farmer and his growing crops, and the
horticulturist and the products of his orchard. Hence during the months following
September to March, we watch and ofttimes pray for rain, if the timely showers have
not fallen upon the thirsty earth. Never but once, however, in the history of the state,
has there been a complete failure of crops throughout the state. This was the year
following the flood of 1861-62. At that time business was at a standstill, merchants
were compelled to give credit to their customers for an unknown time, and men of
money were compelled to curtail every expense. The fear of a rainless season is less
dreaded than it was feared thirty years ago because of the large manufacturing interests
and the ability to irrigate grain lands from mountain streams and orchards by means of
one of the most helpful of inventions, the gas engine.

The Drought of 1877

Stanislaus County was not affected to any great extent by the "hard times" of
1 863 because of her small population. Four years later there was an abundant crop,
it verifying the oft-repeated saying, "that the West Side gets a crop only once in four
years." Then came the year 1877 in which the crop was a complete failure and there
was much suffering among many of the farmers. Many of them had located on the
West Side without any capital, under the misrepresentations of unscrupulous large land-
holders, and as they had invested all they possessed in agricultural implements, seeds,
etc., the drought impoverished many families. The cry of despair was first heard in
January, 1877, a writer then saying: "It is dry weather with no prospects or signs
of rain and as a consequence the merchants are closing down on the impecunious. God
help our people unless it rains shortly. The poor will suffer terribly." The Herald
in its issue of January 13, flippantly said, "The farmers are growing bluish and the
weather is dryish and the local barometer heralds no approaching storm, outside of the
whisky' shop." Another writer, a passenger later in the season traveling from Banta's
to Hill's Ferrv, said, "In the forty-two miles there is not a spear of green grass nor a
blade of wheat to be seen. The isolated farmhouses presented an aspect of hopeless
poverty. Many of them are deserted and the farmers and their families have gone to
other places to find employment. Some of the farmers, more fortunate, have wells of
water and their farms are quite thrifty around their dwellings. A German colony
south of Banta's are doing well, as they are thrifty and depending not on wheat alone,
but raise chickens and vegetables, sell eggs and make butter."

Hatfield, the Rain Maker
In the meantime, the West Side had its ups and downs, its lean and its fat
seasons, pending the irrigation of the Miller & Lux canal. Crows Landing, it seems,
was not in the canal district and in 1905 Charles Hatfield, the so-called rain maker,


made a contract with the Crows Landing farmers to draw from the clouds a certain
amount of rain, enough showers to insure a crop. "Hatfield's method of operating to
produce rain by artificial means," says Charles A. Byers in Sunset, "is based on the
use of certain chemicals, the character of which constitutes his secret. These are con-
tained in large vats elevated on towers approximately thirty-five feet high and are
evaporated by a system of heating. Their evaporation and escape into the atmosphere
creates, he claims, the influences which attract the air's stored-up moisture to that
particular locality, and at the same time result in its being condensed to the precipi-
tation point." Late in September he drew rain from the air at Grass Valley. The press
laughed and scoffed at his assertion and said the rain was only a coincidence of his
work. In December he began work at Crows Landing and was successful. The
farmers of that vicinity were so pleased with his work that a third contract was
made with him in 1907. He contracted that year to produce twelve inches of
rain in that section of the county between November 15 and April 15 of the follow-
ing year. If he produced that number of inches of rain he was to receive $3,000, which
they figured was three cents per acre. If he failed to bring the stated amount he
received not a cent. It was a bargain in which the farmers could not possibly lose a
penny. Hatfield, with a positive belief in his ability to produce the required amount
of rain, doubled the capacity of his rain towers, constructing four towers instead of two,
with which he made his former success. As he predicted, he fulfilled his contract in
February, six weeks before the time limit expired. The following clipping is from a
local paper: "Feb. 15. — Anxiety over the continued drought this winter has induced
farmers and merchants on the West Side to engage the services of C. M. Hatfield, the
'rainmaker,' in a final effort to secure a drenching for their crops before the warm
weather begins. Hatfield has signed an agreement under which he will be paid $1,000
for each two inches of rain, provided, however, that he shall receive no pay for all rain
over six inches. The agreement further stipulates that 'he must produce at least two
inches of rain before April 10.' "


The pioneers, as a rule, were the most hopeful and buoyant of men. They were a
band of adventurers, young, ambitious and of undaunted courage and with full faith

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 6 of 177)