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 7 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 7 of 177)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

in themselves they expected to accomplish great things in the new state, California.
Some of the Argonauts did accomplish great things. They founded cities, erected
great manufactories, established banks, builded railroads and formed great corpora-
tions of industry, but the tens of thousands were disappointed in the realization of
their dreams. Among the disappointed were the town builders of Stanislaus County.
They founded towns on the banks of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers, each
man believing that his town was the head of navigation, that the people would there
locate, and that it would become a big flourishing city outrivaling in wealth and popu-
lation the town of Stockton. There was a mania for town building. Robert Semple
had founded Benicia, Col. Jonathan D. Stevenson, New York-of-the-Pacific, Captain
Weber, Stockton, and John A. Sutter, New Helvetia (Sacramento) ; why could not
they found towns in the new county. They believed that they could, but in less than
two years their dreams were shattered. They found that the Tuolumne River was not
navigable more than eight months of the year and the tide of population and of travel
came not their way.


On the west bank of the San Joaquin River, eight miles above the mouth of the
Tuolumne, lies the town of Grayson, or Graysonville as it was oft times called in
early days. By the early writers it was described as "a beautiful site and not subject
to overflow." The town was founded in 1849 by a company of seven men, including
John Westley Van Benscroten and Andrew J. Grayson. The burg was named after
Grayson, he being the oldest member of the party. The first house, later known as the


"Grayson House," was erected from lumber shipped around Cape Horn. The peo-
ple of that vicinity assembled in February, 1850, and elected a peace officer, called
by the Mexicans an alcalde. In March of that year, the scribe tells us, "three wooden
buildings and a few tents constituted the town." A ferry was established and for a
time the ferryman did a banking business, receiving from tolls across the river
$3,500 in eleven days. Travel, however, soon decreased and the town was dead until
small stern-wheel steamers began plowing their way up the San Joaquin with freight
and passengers as far up the river as Firebaugh's Ferry.

The up-river trade began in 1868, just a year previous to the death of A. J. Gray-
son, who came to California in 1845 overland. He was a skillful bird painter and a
careful student of bird life. After many years he went to Mexico, and during his
leisure hours there devoted his time to the study of Mexican birds. He was an acknowl-
edged authority on the history of birds. He died at Mazatlan, August 17, 1869.

Grayson's First Store
The firm of Grayson & Stephens was first established in San Francisco in 1848.
The following year they removed to Stockton and in the Stockton Times, March 18,
1850, they announced that they had moved their business to Grayson. They stated
that they were prepared in the new and flourishing town with a full stock of goods
from their Stockton and San Francisco stores, comprising groceries, provisions, crockery,
glassware, blankets, stationery, firearms and ammunition, on as reasonable terms as the
town below, and with a line of eight mule teams running daily between Stockton and
Grayson. They also announced that the steamer Georgiana, D. A. Thompkins, master,
would make regular weekly trips from the town below to Grayson.

A Mexican Camp Scene
An excursion party up the river in March, 1850, to Grayson, "were much delight-
ed with the Mexican life on the plains. Far and near at sundown the campfires of
many hundreds of persons blazed, lighting with their reflections the hillside of the Coast
Range. There was a fandango, singing, the serapes were spread upon the earth's
carpet for the players at monte and all went merry as a marriage bell." These Mexican
camps of packers, bound to and from the mines, were very common sights for the first
few years in the

"Days of gold, the days of old, the days of '49."

Grayson in 1878
The rush of travel and of business died as quickly as it came and in 1852 the town
was deserted by all except the ferryman. The extensive travel through the pass had
ceased and the miners traveled direct from Stockton to the mines. Time, however,
changes all things. In 1860 mining was practically dead. The West Side had become
a vast feeding ground for cattle, sheep and horses. Late in the '60s there came another
change. The stock had been relegated to the mountains and "the wide plains were
covered with the cottages of farmers and fields of waving grain." Grayson had again
come to life. In that year it was laid out as a town. Ten years later it boasted of
five saloons, a livery stable, two restaurants, a butcher shop, a Grange hall, one school,
with Mrs. R. B. Purvis as teacher, a temperance lodge, a large warehouse and two
large merchandising stores. One of these stores was owned by Louis Kraffman, who
had moved up from Banta's, the other by J. R. McDonald, who, it was said, supplied
the country around with goods. There were also two stage lines, one running to
Hill's Ferry, the other to Modesto. Both lines carried passengers and did a rushing
business during the summer season. For several years Grayson was an important
shipping point for wheat, but eventually the railroads absorbed all of the business.

Grayson's Distinguished Citizens
John Westley Van Benscroten was the "father of Grayson." He came to Cali-
fornia in 1846 with Captain Fremont. His occupation in New York, his native city,
was that of butcher and he made a contract with Fremont to supply his command
with meat. After the gold discovery, Mr. Van Benscroten located in Jamestown and


engaged in the mercantile business, the firm name being Coindreau, Marsis & Van
Benscroten. At this time he was elected as assemblyman from that district, and taking
his seat February 14, 1850, resigned four days later. He then came to Stockton and
took part in the first dramatic performance, later going to Grayson, where he built the
Grayson House, and during the wheat shipping seasons he entertained his friends in
sumptuous style, it being a favorite resort for the up-river grain buyers. During all of
this time he continued operating the ferry and January 12, 1886, he was accidentally
drowned, losing his balance in some manner while crossing the river.

One of the most honored men of Stanislaus County was James R. McDonald, who
lived for over thirty years at Grayson. He came to the state in 1850 and in 1869 he
and W. J. Tilley purchased the Grayson mercantile store. Tilley withdrew in 1874
and McDonald conducted the store alone, he also being the Wells Fargo Express
agent. He farmed over 3,000 acres of land, raised sheep and several good trotting
horses. In 1878 he was the district canal commissioner and wrote several valuable
articles descriptive of the West Side canal. In 1890 he was nominated by the
Republican party as state treasurer and elected. He died October 14, 1902.

Across the San Joaquin River but three miles distant from Grayson was Tuolumne
City. It was founded, said N. W. Wells, by a man named Paxton MacDowell. He
expected to make his embryo city a rival to Stockton. The town was situated on the
north bank of the Tuolumne River about five miles from its junction with the San
Joaquin. MacDowell selected that location, as he believed it the head of navigation as
"the river is navigable for whale boats and other small craft full sixty miles during
the winter and early spring months." The proprietor claimed the following advantages
for his town : "That it was six feet above high water mark, vessels drawing six feet
of water can anchor alongside of the banks and there were good roads to the mines
both summer and winter. These roads extend along high and dry ridges, which are
nearly parallel with the river and are not crossed by sloughs or marshes. Consequently,
under no circumstances can freight reach exorbitant rates, which is of equal value to the
pack mule owner and the people living in the mines. It was also believed that if
Tuolumne City became a town of importance there is no doubt that Sonora, Jamestown,
Sullivan's diggings and all the rich gulches along the river tributaries will draw their
supplies from that town."

Booming the City

Tuolumne City, embracing some 160 acres, was surveyed by that well-known
pioneer politician of the Democratic school, Richard P. Hammond. He was a major
in the Mexican war, the surveyor of Stockton, later port collector of San Francisco,
and the father of the world-renowned civil engineer, John Hays Hammond. The town-
site which he laid off on the banks of the Tuolumne grew rapidly, and a traveler
visiting the place in 1850 "was surprised to see the progress the new and flourishing
city had made. Several new houses had gone up and a quantity of lumber for other
buildings was lying at the landing. We judge from the large number of pack mules
that we saw that a brisk trade is carried on with the mines. There is an extensive
arrival of goods in the town, one gentleman alone having $11,000 invested in staple
articles. Large numbers of persons travel through the place every day, Tuolumne City
lying on the direct route from Pacheco's and Grayson to the Sonorian mines." Many
of the travelers were Mexicans, passing through by the hundreds ; they did considerable
trading, the miners also buying many goods.

First Court Trial
Having elected an alcalde a court of justice was established. It was christened
before it was completed by the trial and conviction of a Mexican for stealing a horse.
When the jury brought in their verdict the crowd present demanded that the prisoner
be severely whipped. That was a common custom often practiced as a punishment —
to tie the man to a tree or post and give him thirty lashes upon the bare back. More


merciful punishment prevailed and the Mexican was fined $150. At the time they
had one other prisoner, but they had no jail. Under the conditions, the culprit was
furnished with meals with the county officials. It was a bailable case and the prisoner
could have given bail, but he was sharp. "If I was out on bail," he said, "I would have
to pay for my own meals and now the county pays for them."
Township Officers

Although in 1850 Tuolumne City was not the county seat it seems to have been
the centering point of the valley settlers. Hence the local elections were held there.
The first township election was held May 18, 1850. The township comprised the
towns of Grayson, Crescent City, Empire and Tuolumne City. The officers elected
were W. F. Swansey, alcalde; George Huntling, coroner; Comfort Barker, constable;
and John G. Marvin and Gustavius Swansey, justices of the peace. The two justices,
as soon as elected, started for the county seat, Sonora, to qualify for their office and be
sworn into office.

The First Marriage

Probably the first marriage in the valley section of Tuolumne County was that of
N. W. Wells, a resident for many years at Tuolumne City. He married January 16,
1851, to Miss Fanny, the eldest daughter of Asa Grunell. Mr. Wells in 1881 related
the story of his marriage and he told it as a joke on himself rather than from any
other reason. There was no minister in any part of the territory at that time and
Mr. Wells sent a messenger to Rev. James Woods, pastor of the First Presbyterian
Church at Stockton, requesting the pastor to come and perform the marriage. The
happy young man of twenty-two years provided the messenger, John Leggett, with
money and two saddle horses, one of them an iron grey, his best vaquero horse. The
unfaithful John came to Stockton, delivered the letter to the pastor and then, keeping
the money, "lit out" for parts unknown, with both horses. After the marriage, Wells
was so hot over the loss of his iron grey that he started on a hunt for the robber bold.
He recovered both animals, but was compelled to come to Stockton and prove his prop-
erty before Judge E. G. Weir, later a resident of Stanislaus County. The sequel to
the story is: "Born October 4, 1852, to the wife of N. W. Wells, a daughter, Fanny."
She was the first-born child in the present county of Stanislaus. She married in early
womanhood and was living in the county in 1881.

An Enterprising Merchant

MacDowell, expecting to make a fortune in his new town, began selling lots and
among the purchasers was Benjamin Lippincott, a young lawyer; George Swansey, the
justice of the peace; Maj. T. M. Lane, John Gallagher and N. W. Wells, who in-
vested $1,300 in real estate. Mr. Wells was an enterprising citizen and merchant. He
had great faith in the future prosperity of Tuolumne City. Visiting San Francisco, he
chartered the steamer Georgiana to transport an assortment of general merchandise to
the new town, paying the captain $6,000 for the service.
The Town Deserted

The little side-wheel steamer now began making weekly trips between San Fran-
cisco, Stockton and Tuolumne City. In a few months, however, the steamer was
compelled to discontinue her trips because of low water. Then the bubble burst.
But before the news was generally known, the lot owners succeeded in unloading over
$60,000 worth of real estate on innocent victims. "It is hardly necessary to say this
was the last of Tuolumne City." All of the inhabitants deserted the place except the
three families of B. M. Shipley, Asa Grunell and John W. Laird. Some time later,
said a writer, notices were posted around Empire City that "All of the lots in Tuolumne
City belonging to the proprietors of that city who 'vamoosed' several years ago are to be
sold February 13, 1854, to satisfy a mortgage on the place. I understand that one
man is willing to buy the entire city at twenty-five cents per lot."
Tuolumne City in 1868

In the early '60s farmers began plowing and seeding the rich and fertile lands
along the Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers. This gave new life to Tuolumne City and


it soon became an important grain shipping point. Steamers were then plying the
rivers and a passenger visiting the town in February, 1868, wrote: "Tuolumne City,
where we tied up our boat for the night, is a flourishing place and represents almost
every branch of the mechanical trades. At the time I am writing, Mr. John B. Covert's
new brick building is filled with pretty misses and their gay cavaliers dancing merrily
to the music of a good band. New buildings are being erected and before long many
business places will be established. Dr. McLean, formerly of Stockton, but later of
Copperopolis, has lately arrived here with his family and will open a first-class drug
store. The Ross House has been open for some time, but its proprietor, C. W. Bailey,
Hied last evening. Next week a paper will be issued by J. D. Spencer, to be called
the 'Tuolumne News.' "

The two pioneers of Tuolumne City of whom the correspondent writes, John B.
Covert and Dr. Samuel M. McLean, were pioneers of the state. In fact, Mr. Covert
was here long before California became a state. He came to California with Fremont
in 1844. Locating in Tuolumne City, he engaged in the mercantile business. In time
Madison Walthall wooed and won his daughter, Emma Covert. Their offspring was
a bright boy whom they named John M. Walthall, after his grandfather. Graduating
from Hastings Law College in 1898, the week following his graduation he was nom-
inated for district attorney of Stanislaus County by the Democratic county convention,
and elected in November.

The Town Increasing — Prosperity

"The town continued its growth although, in September, lumber was very scarce,
it being shipped in by steamer. At that time Capt. H. G. James had just completed
a large brick building for a meat market and packing house, as he intended to cure
considerable bacon that fall. Mr. James was an extensive cattle and hog raiser.
Julius Dettlebach and H. M. Covert have two fine mercantile stores. Alden &
Grenfal have a well-stocked livery stable and John Grollman can supply them with fine
harness. He has an excellent assortment of harness and saddles. J. H. Hayes keeps
fine boots and shoes. D. S. Husband is conducting a saloon and Mr. Goodrich, an
opposition hotel to the Ross House. Mr. Munson has just finished a large two-story
house and Judge Griffin will soon move into his fine residence on Front Street. The
survey of Griffin's addition to the city was completed last week, and the sale of lots
was rapid. The price of real estate has advanced over 200 per cent in six weeks.
The town had not only water communication with Stockton, but stage communication
as well. A weekly line of stages ran from Stockton to Visalia, passing through Tuol-
umne City, Empire, Hopeton, Snelling and Millerton."

Tuolumne City Has the Smallpox
It will be remembered by old-timers that in 1868 the smallpox was raging
throughout the state. There were several cases of the disease in Tuolumne City and
business was completely demoralized. It was soon brought under control. This was
partly due to the medical treatment of Dr. McLean, who had charge of many cases
in his Stockton hospital in 1850. The Tuolumne News, in its issue of January 9,
1869, said:" "Some weeks since we promised our readers that we would give from
time to time a true report of the ravages of the smallpox at this place without fear or
favor of public opinion. It is our pleasing duty now to announce that the disease has
disappeared from our midst. The yellow flags have all been taken down from our
buildings. Feeling confident that there is no further danger in inviting persons to our
town we extend a public invitation to all to visit our city."

First County Fair
In September, 1869, probably the first county fair was held. It continued in
Tuolumne City for three days, commencing September 22. The pavilion exhibit was
in Covert's Hall. It consisted principally of the handiwork of the ladies and samples
of wheat and barley. There were no big pumpkins, squashes or other vegetables, I
surmise, as the Neiis thought it strange that the people bought all of their vegetables
of peddlers from Stockton, when they had such fertile soil at their very doors capable at


furnishing all kinds of garden truck. There were several trotting and running races at
Judge Walden's race track two miles from the city. Bartholomew's Circus played
the town for two evenings. The special feature of the fair was the ladies' festival
given for the benefit of the schoolhouse fund. A visitor who was present said that
Stanislaus' beautiful daughters were present in large numbers. The festival netted the
ladies fifty dollars.


John W. Mitchell, the wealthy landowner, founded Paradise City. He owned
several thousand acres of land in that vicinity. The town was located four miles above
Tuolumne City and rival towns they were until the Southern Pacific Railroad put them
both out of commission. The town evidently was not founded until 1867-68, for a
description of the place, written in May, 1868, said: "A store and postofRce has gone
up and another building, the foundation of which is ready for the brick, which is in
the kiln cooling. A hardware and tin store is going up and soon will be stocked with
goods. There is also a saddle and harness manufactory and a wheelwright and wagon
shop in connection with a header manufactory, all of which are doing a thriving busi-
ness. There is also a blacksmith shop which runs two forges. A large livery stable
has been established and it is well stocked with horses and buggies. There is a hotel
and the inevitable saloon, in fact, two of them. Steamers run weekly between this
place and Stockton and a tri-weekly four-horse stage runs to trie same place. A kiln
of 250,000 brick has just been burned and the yards cannot keep up with the demand."
Spencer .declared "the place presents a thrifty appearance and must from its location
be a fine starting point for a large and rich section of country. The buildings are
nearly all one-story and show from the river to a good advantage."

A Fine School Building

A visitor in February, 1869, spoke highly of the town's future prospect and said,
"In addition to their fine commercial houses and handsome homes, the citizens have
erected the best schoolhouse in Stanislaus County. It is built of brick, 28x40 feet, and
hard finished. The ladies gave an impromptu party and realized $305 for the school-
house fund. Captain Ward, a former river captain, located in Paradise City and was
surprised at the city's progress in less than three months. During that time old houses
have disappeared and new and costly buildings taken their place. Among the new
buildings, there is a big fine hotel owned by Mr. Hendricks, and W. J. Houston, mov-
ing into a fine two-story brick building, has a large well-stocked assortment of goods."

Free Fen-y

There was great rivalry for business between the merchants of Paradise and
Tuolumne and every inducement was made by each town to attract the farmers of the
vicinity to their city. There was a ferry near Paradise City, but it was a toll ferry.
Two enterprising citizens of Paradise, W. J. Ross and Stephen Rodgers, purchased the
ferry and said in their advertisement, "We not only propose to make the Paradise ferry
free of charge, but the best crossing for teams and loose stock. It is on the' direct line
of travel to Ward's Ferry, Snelling, Hill's Ferry and the whole Paradise country."

Paradise Celebrates Washington's Birthday
Paradise was a wide-awake city, the antitype, no doubt, of the present city of
Modesto. They were not only alive, but patriotic, and they celebrated February 22,
1869, by a ball in Hendricks' Hotel. The hotel was the best in the valley and Mr.
Hendricks and his wife "were just the persons to entertain and please the public." The
hotel had a spacious room, large enough to admit forty couples dancing at one time.
About one hundred of the "angels" of Paradise were present and about an equal
number of gay cavaliers. At midnight, during the hour's intermission, they sat down
to a sumptuous repast furnished by the host. The dance began at eight o'clock and
the writer, paraphrasing the old song, said : "We'll dance all night until broad day-
light, and go home with the girls in the morning." The dance broke up at five a. m.



July Fourth Celebration
The residents of Paradise City celebrated the National holidav in 1869, and
they were joined by the citizens of Empire and Tuolumne City. There was also quite
a large delegation present from Stockton, as the orator of the day, Warren S. Mont-
gomery, was a Stockton attorney and joint senator from Stanislaus and Tuolumne
counties in 1868. The exercises were held in the afternoon, as the orator during the
morning delivered a two-hour address at Stockton. The program began with a selec-
tion by the band, followed by the reading of the Declaration of Independence by
Tames Aull. The president of the occasion then introduced the orator, who was
loudly applauded throughout the address. The oration concluded, the entire crowd
sat down to a free dinner prepared by Mr. Hendricks and his wife. The citizens
then amused themselves until the evening, when the day's enjoyment closed with a ball.

The Paradise Flour Mill

One of the enterprises of Paradise City was its fine flour mill, constructed bv
Herron & Company. It was a brick building, four stories in height, and could be seen
for several miles from the surrounding country. Its massive machinery was propelled
by a sixty-five horsepower engine and the capacity of the mill was 150 barrels of flour
per day. Its construction was begun early in the year and completed in time for the
harvest of 1868. The flour was sold throughout the southern counties and I have
seen it on sale by the Stockton grocers. It changed hands quite often and its senior
partner, Joseph Knowles, died March 16, 1891, at the age of seventy-six years.

The mill is four stories in height, walls at the base twenty inches in thickness.
The engine room is 25x44 feet, with an engine with a sixteen-inch bore and a thirty-
inch stroke. The boiler is sixteen feet long, with a diameter of fifty inches and with
a capacity of eighty pounds steam pressure. There are two run of stone and a barley
mill on the second floor.

Reuel Colt Gridley, Citizen-Patriot

One of the honored citizens of Stanislaus County, a resident of Paradise was

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 7 of 177)