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 9 of 177)
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Mormon Gulch the miners passed a series of resolutions demanding that all foreigners
leave the country within fifteen days or they would be driven out by force. At Sonora
a similar set of resolutions were passed, and all foreigners in Tuolumne County, unless
of respectable character and engaged in business, were required to leave the country
within fifteen days, unless they obtained a permit to remain from the proper authori-
ties. They were also required to turn over all firearms and deadly weapons to the
officials of the county. The resolutions were signed by a committee of seven citizens,
and four of them were from the present Stanislaus County, namely, A. B. Perkins of
the Tuolumne River, John G. Marvin of Empire City, R. H. Hill of the Stanislaus
River and Samuel Crow of the same river. At French Bar the miners refused to pay
the tax and resisted the officers of the law. A large number of deputies were then
sworn in, and fifty of the Frenchmen were arrested. They were taken before Justices of
the Peace C. D. Salter and I. D. Morley and heavily fined for resisting Officer Kelley.


Nestling in the foothills of the Sierras lies the town of La Grange, from whence
flow the waters that fertilized the vast valley below. The town, at one time the
county seat, glories not in its history of the present or the future, but in the history
of the past. Then it was a busy, lively camp, and from its shelter have gone forth
stalwart pioneers who were prominent in the activities of the valley towns. In most
cases, now their memory only remains and their sons and their daughters are carrying
on the splendid work began by the pioneer fathers and mothers. The memory of the
writer's father and mother will ever be his most sacred gift.

The first settler at La Grange was Eli Dye, who in 1852 located a rancho. The
place was of no importance until the Americans began flocking into the rich diggings
of French Bar in August, 1854. Then things began to boom. "Since that time the
town of La Grange has been steadily on the increase, in point of mining importance,
and the population within two months has taken a rapid rise. A plot of ground was
laid off, substantial houses were erected, numerous mechanics and storekeepers came
to the place and last, but not least, a fair sprinkling of the fair sex have arrived." The
correspondent, then giving a description of the new town, said, "It boasts of ten stores,
three boarding houses, three butcher shops, four blacksmith shops, two restaurants, a
livery stable, a barber shop, a billiard saloon and post office. Two sluicing companies
are preparing to bring water onto the lower level for mining purposes and a steam
engine has been put into operation calculated to afford water for eight or ten sluices.
The extent of the mining region cannot be less than twenty miles square and within
those limits there is more gold than can be taken out in twenty years." The camp bar
was worked more and paid better than any other bar in that vicinity. They even
found gold under the town, and, said Walter Kerrick, "The town is honeycombed with
tunnels made by the miners."

Largest Town in County
From 1854 to 1858 La Grange enjoyed its greatest prosperity and "loomed up as
the biggest town in the county." Its merchants included George Buck, Isaac Amsden,
Goshen Clapp, Ben Cohn, George R. Davis, Wm. B. Farwell, A. R. Davis, Cohn &
Co., R. M. Green, G. Goldsmith, J. W. Geist, Harris & Co., Charles Holineans,
Michael Harris, A. Jacobs, Vincent L. Coop, Geo. L. Murdock, Uriah Nelson, Pasche
& Cousins, J. B. Peck, J. Simon, Levi Silverman, Edward Tichenor, Peter Thobard,
and John V'ongero. Albert Elkins and John Willis were justices of the peace, S. P.


Scaniker, H. H. Allen and Wm. M. Stafford were attorneys. The physicians included
L. M. Bath, N de la Tourette, Geo. W. King, Thomas Payne and A. G. White. The
population at this time, 1858, was estimated at 1,000 whites and about the same
number of Chinese. The population consisted largely of young men, ranging in age
from seventeen to forty years, with very few women or children. For transportation
there were three lines of stages running daily except Sunday to Stockton, these lines
including La Grange, Knights Ferry, Sonora, Columbia, Don Pedro's Bar, James-
town, Chinese Camp and Fox's ranch.

Talbot's Flour Mill
Talbot's mill was located on the Tuolumne River, four miles below French Bar,
says one description of it, and another writer located it about five miles above the
Mariposa road where it crossed at Dickerson's Ferry and about a half mile below the
George C. Branch Ferry. It was erected by John Talbot & Company in 1854 and
was capable of running four run of stone and turned out some very superior flour.
It was said to be a good mill in a desirable location, a great convenience to the ranchers,
grinding their wheat into flour, and a source of profit to the proprietors. In the big
spring freshet of 1856 the mill was washed away. It was a great loss to the farmers,
as they were obliged to take their wheat into Sonora for grinding, or to Stockton.

The La Grange Water Supply

Flour is an essential article for food, but water is equally necessary for irrigation,
domestic purposes and mining. Without plenty of water the miners could not have
obtained the gold. In the earliest days the families obtained the water for drinking and
household use from springs under the bluff near the river and they afforded an inex-
haustible supply. Then M. A. Wheaton constructed a dam across the river about a
mile above the town, and the water was used for irrigation. This proved a great
convenience and benefit to the owners of orchards, gardens and vineyards in that
neighborhood. Water was all important to the miners and in 1856, under the leader-
ship of Mr. Pine, a company was formed for the purpose of supplying the miners
with water. About two miles above the town they constructed a rough dam of logs
solidly bolted together and firmly fixed to the sides and bottom of the canyon. It was
twenty-three feet in height and the water was conducted to the miners in long flumes
or troughs. For hydraulic mining, that is, using the water through hose under a heavy
pressure, the water was brought from a dam constructed at Indian Bar, sixteen miles
above La Grange. After La Grange lost the county seat the town rapidly lost its
business and population, and in order to encourage the people and give the town new
life, says Branch, a company was organized in 1871 to bring the water from the
Tuolumne River on to the auriferous mines back of the town. It was a big enter-
prise for that day and the company represented some $5,000,000 and was known as the
La Grange Ditch and Hydraulic Mining Company. They purchased nearly all of
the claims owned by the miners and a large number of town lots. These lots were
dug out, looking for gold, and a great portion of the town nearest the river was
washed out by hydraulic mining. In 1 889 the Wheaton Dam was blasted out, survey
made and a large dam constructed. It was the beginning of the present Modesto and
Turlock District irrigation system.

Removal of County Seat

There are times when a town does not realize its power and strength until it
awakes from its lethargy and starts to do something. When Empire City obtained the
county seat bj a very small vote, La Grange evidently was asleep regarding the benefits
to be derived from that honor. The population in that vicinity was the largest in the
entire county and the principal activities (if the count)' centered around the camp.
I. a Grange found out a few months after the election that the county seat was a good
thing for the town. Again they went through the performance of getting signers for
the removal of the official town to La Grange. The required number were easily
obtained. The petition was presented to Judge Wallis, and he called an election on
December 20, 1855. There were but two aspirants for honors. Empire City and


La Grange. As a result the little valley town was swamped as by a tidal wave,
receiving only 139 votes and La Grange 585. It was the mountains against the
valley and a nice little Christmas gift for La Grange. A few weeks passed. Then
by order of the court the county officials packed the county records and their household
goods in wagons,

Then away to the mountains, where careless and free,
They could dance on the meadow and skip o'er the lea.
La Grange then had no fear of a rival in Knights Ferry, the little mining town
to the north, because it was in an adjoining county, San Joaquin. It was both a min-
ing and an agricultural town. It contained many men of wealth and enterprise,
considerable of a population and had considerable taxable property. The citizens were
not particularly interested in county seats until 1861. At that time Knights Ferry
had been removed into Stanislaus County and they began seeking official recognition.
The election for county seat took place at the time of the presidential election, in
November, 1860. La Grange made a hard fight for the honors but Knights Ferry
out voted them, 422 to 383. The county seat remained at Knights Ferry until 1871,
when it was again moved back to the valley, with Modesto as its home.

Knights Ferry, directly east of Stockton and about forty miles distant, was
founded in 1849 by William Knight, a hunter and trapper. He came to California
in 1844 as a guide to the Fremont expedition. He was familiar with the contour
of the country and the mountain passes and he foresaw that Knights Ferry was
Nature's pathway through the mountains. Locating there, he established a ferry
across the Stanislaus River, built a hotel and store, and commenced business. The
tide of travel turned his way and thousands of anxious gold seekers crossed the ferry,
and lodged over night in the hotel. It was the midway stopping point between the
valley town and Sonora, "the queen of all the^mines," and then, as we remember, the
county seat of Tuolumne Count}. In the early days of the town the Captain died
and in the little cemetery on the summit of the hill, his burial was the first.

The Dent Family

Famous in American history is the name of the Dent family, because of the
marriage of their daughter, Julia, in 1848 to Capt. U. S. Grant, later General and
President of these United States. John and Lewis Dent, coming to California in the
first rush, located at the ferry, and in 1854 they laid out the town. Two years previous
a third brother, George W. Dent, arrived in California with his family and he also
settled at Knights Ferry. His arrival caused a great sensation, as his young and
pretty wife was the first white woman in the town. Regarding the families of the
brothers Branch says: "One of the families lived in the 'long house' on a slight eleva-
tion facing the public square, and the other lived in the 'round house,' on the bluff
which faces the road entering the town from Stockton." Like the story of Cain's
wife in the Bible, Branch does not record from whence or when the second wife and
family located in the camp. Presumably it was after George W. Dent's family arrived.
The Dent brothers in their time were quite notable citizens. They managed the ferry,
conducted the hotel, one was postmaster and a justice of the peace, and the other
the appointed Indian agent of the Walla Wallas. Along about 1858, Lewis Dent went
to Stockton and began the practice of law, his brother-in-law, A. C. Baine, being a
judge in that county. In 1862 Lewis Dent went east to join General Grant's staff.
In 1869 he received the appointment as minister to Chile. Knights Ferry became
quite notable in California and was mentioned by some of Grant's biographers because
of the fact that Captain Grant visited that town while his brothers-in-law resided there.
When Grant, as ex-president, arrived at Stockton, September 30, 1879, on the last leg
.of his tour around the world, several persons met him saying: "I knew you in
Knights Ferry in '49." This incorrect statement seemed to annoy the President and
he declared : "As I was never west of the Rocky Mountains except as a soldier in the
Mexican War until 1852 I think I must have been impersonated by some other person.


I was in Knights Ferry three times, once in '52, once in '53 and once in '54. I think
I never remained there at one time longer than one week."

The Knights Ferry Flour Mill
The most prominent industry of Knights Ferry and one that made it famous
throughout the mines was the Stanislaus Flour Mill, constructed in 1854 by Locke
& Dent. The mill and the wooden dam just above it were washed away in the flood
of 1862. The proprietors of the mill at that time were Hestres & Magendie, two
French merchants of Stockton, who lost $30,000. The history of the mill dates back
to 1850. At that time David J. Locke, a shrewd, enterprising Yankee, visiting Knights
Ferry, noticed the fine location for a mill site, and he suggested to the old trapper
the building of a sawmill. Knight knew nothing about sawmills and he said to
Locke: 'You stake out a claim and put up a mill. I will furnish the money." As
Knight did not show any coin, Locke went his way, as he was not a man to trust
anybody's "promise to pay." He returned again to Knights Fern,' in 1853. The old
trapper then lay at rest for all time. Captain Dent, taking from his safe a long, buck-
skin bag well filled with gold, said to Locke: "When Knight told you he would put
up the money for a sawmill, he had two of these bags filled with gold under his bunk
and several more in other places. " A partnership was formed between the two men.
They built a dam made of logs in the Stanislaus River just above the mill site, and
erecting a sawmill, it was ready for work in June, 1854. Four months later a flour
mill constructed of wood, was ready for the grinding of wheat.

Tulloch's Stone Flour Mill
Some years after the flood had washed away the old mill, David J. Tulloch, a
millwright by trade, who had been engaged in mining since 1858, at Knights Ferry
concluded to engage in his former business. At this time there lived in Chinese Camp
a first class stone cutter and brick mason, an Englishman named Thomas Vinson.
"He erected nearly all of the brick buirdings in Chinese Camp," said an old resident,
W. H. Hosmer, "and built the old abutments for the 'old bridge' across the Stanislaus
River, which was swept away by the flood of 1862." Tulloch engaged this man to
construct a stone dam in the river and erect a flour mill of the same material. A
large new water wheel was set up, the water turned on and again the mill began
grinding the wheat into flour. Tulloch employed some of the Indians around the
ferry to assist him in his work. In 1884, however, he had the assistance of his son,
Charles. Tulloch did an extensive business throughout the mines and his sixteen-
mule teams traveled as far south as Mariposa. One of his employees engaged in
teaming was George Webb, now a Stockton resident. The removal of the county
seat from Knight Ferry, the increasing emigration of the people from the mines,
the coming of the Southern Pacific Railroad and the strong opposition of the Valley
Flour Mill made the Stanislaus Mill unprofitable and it was closed. In time Oakdale
became a thriving little town with an increasing population and wealth and in 1899
the mill was removed to the new town. The latest flour making machinery was in-
stalled and electricity used as the motor power, the mill turning out 150 barrels of
flour per day. The motive power came from the power house located in the old
stone mill at Knights Ferry.

The Chinese, Miners and Gardeners
The Chinese were among the first miners of the Sierras, coming there from
Hong Kong as early as 1851. There are now at Knights Ferry a few Chinamen who
have been there for the past sixty years. As miners they were of considerable benefit
to the state, as satisfied with small "pickings," they dug for gold in the claims aban-
doned by the white men. In this way they obtained thousands of dollars in gold
dust that would have been lost. A large number of Chinese lived upon the hillside
in low, adobe hovels. In the rear of each house was a garden of flowers and vegetables.
These gardens, it is said, supplied the town with vegetables and other garden truck.
The water for these gardens and for household purposes came from Six Mile Bar, above
the town. It was conveyed along the upper side of the hill and a small ditch supplied


each house. The best class of citizens had large barrels or cisterns through which they
filtered the water over charcoal. Later the Stanislaus and San Joaquin Ditch Com-
pany built a reservoir on the summit of the hill and the water was conducted to the
homes in pipes. As the reservoir was some 300 feet above the town it gave a high
pressure to the fire department in case of fire.

Stage Transportation

Knights Ferry from its first existence has always been more fortunate in the way
of transportation than the other river towns, as she has had daily transportation, Sun-
days excepted, with the seaport cities. It was, as has been recorded, on the highway
to the mountain camps. At first individual conveyances were run from Stockton.
Then came the M. J. Dooly Company with its splendid four-horse coaches, running
on schedule time. They left Stockton at six o'clock, after the arrival of the steamer
from San Francisco; a second coach returning connected with the four o'clock steamer
for the bay. The fare to Knights Ferry was somewhere around four dollars. Some-
times there would be an opposition line started. It would run for two or three
months and then the fare would Come down to two dollars the trip. After Dooly's
death, Charles H. Sisson continued the line. Then came the railroad to Milton and
the big lines of staging went out of business. Then the Southern Pacific road came
to Oakdale, 1872, and this destroyed completely all systematized stage lines. Lewis
Voyle, however, who owned a livery stable at Knights Ferry, put on a two-horse line
between Modesto, Oakdale and the mountain camps.

The Story of a Court House
One of the relics of Knights Ferry, perhaps the most interesting, was the old
;ourt house. It was a large two-story brick building erected in 1861 as a hotel by
a man named Fisher. When the people voted Knights Ferry the county seat, the
board of supervisors, P. B. Nagle, Thomas H. Leggett and E. D. Giddings, purchased
this building for the holding of the county court, jail and county offices. The only
judge of the Superior Court holding sessions in that building was Judge A. Elkins, as
the county seat was again moved at the expiration of his term of office. During two-
rhirds of the time this building was used as a hotel and court house. When Knights
Ferry became of official importance, Major Lane, a well-known citizen, opened a
large hotel at the entrance of the town. The building in 1864 was destroyed by fire.
The supervisors, thinking it a good business proposition, rented the first story of the
court house to the Major as there was "plenty of space for a court room, jail and
offices for the various county officers." After the removal of the county seat the
building was sold to Adolphus L. Hewel, who had been the county clerk in 1865.
In later years the building was deserted and probably set on fire, was destroyed, the
walls crumbling and falling to the ground.

Business Firms of Early Days
The cost of transportation is always a very important item with business men
and the cost of transporting goods to Knights Ferry was high, especially in the winter
season. All goods were transported from Stockton, arriving there by steamers. Each
merchant had in Stockton a commission agent to receive the goods or place them in
storage until later called for. In the earliest days the goods were taken to Knights
Ferry and other points on the backs of mules. These mules would be handled by
Mexicans, from thirty to fifty in each pack team. Then followed the big mule teams,
each team carrying about five tons and hauled by from sixteen to twenty-four mules.
Some of the merchants who received these goods at Knights Fern' were Hestres &
Magendie, merchandise; Charles Mooney, boots and shoes; Bartlett & Jamison,
saddlery goods ; French & Matthews, tinware ; J. E.Coleman, furniture ; H. Lind, cloth-
ing; S. Honigsberger, merchandise; C. S. S. Hill, merchandise; Connor & Dakin, black-
smiths, and Lodtman & Brother, saloonists. McLean & Brother kept the Placer
Hotel; Robert L. Gardner, the Gardner House, and N. Buddington, the Central
House. J. E. W. Coleman sold wall paper, paints and oils. Dr. John Coleman con-
ducted a drug store, and L. C. Van Allen had a book store. The express business was


represented by John H. Everett. He traveled through the mountains to the various
camps on foot, carrying on his back mail matter, packages, newspapers and such other
articles as were entrusted to him. He made regular trips from Knights Ferry twice
a week, passing through Two Mile Bar, Spanish Bar, O'Brien's Ferry, the Crimea
House, Scorpion Gulch, Ramsey's Flats, Green Springs and Salt Spring Valley. One
day the express messenger failed to return. Search being made for him, he was found
near Two Mile Bar, drowned in an old mining shaft half filled with water.

Abraham Schell — Enterprising Citizen
It may be well, perhaps, to close this account of Knights Ferry's history with a
brief sketch of its most enterprising citizen, Abraham Schell. I knew him well when
a little shaver and saw him daily. He was then engaged in the grocery business at
Stockton with H. O. Matthews, the Farmers and Merchants bank building now stand-
ing on the site. He removed to Knights Ferry in 1856 and loaning the San Joaquin
Water Company money to complete their mining ditch, lost $25,000 in the speculation.
A lawyer by profession, he and Adolphus Hewel entered into partnership in 1866 and
continuing until 1872. Then Judge Hewel removed to Modesto and Judge Schell
retired from practice. In the late '60s he built a beautiful home on the hillside just
beyond the bridge and there he entertained many distinguished guests visiting or
passing through Knights Ferry. At this time he was one of the town bankers and
interested in school work, libraries, secret societies and any progressive measure help-
ful to the camp. He purchased three and a half leagues of the Rancheria del Rio
Estanislao — the ranch on the River Stanislaus — in 1866, and setting out vines, fruit
and orange trees, he began cultivating the wonderful vineyard and establishing a
winery that made Knights Ferry famous down to the present time. He interested
George H. Krause, a German from the Rhine Valley, in the possibilities of grape
culture. Grape cuttings were imported and 10,000 cuttings were planted in the foot-
hills below the town. At a cost of $20,000 the two men built a wine cellar that was
a marvelous piece of work. It was a tunnel eighty feet long cut through the solid
rock of the side hill. In this cellar were stored thousands of gallons of wine awaiting
shipment to New York. Indians were employed in the vineyard and the winery. After
Mr. Schell's death his nephew, H. R. Schell, took charge of the place and still resides
at the famous "Red Mountain Vineyard" and ranch.

The following clipping from a local paper is of interest:

"The dry wave has already put out of existence one of the famous old wineries
of California, the Red Mountain Vineyard, near Knights Fern'. This vineyard, oper-
ated for many years by H. R. Schell, has made no wine for several years, and is now
shipping out the last of the liquors which have been stored in the historic spot for
many years. The wine grapes have been uprooted and the rich land is being planted
to alfalfa and other crops. This winery was established in 1866."

The Big Grain Fire, July, 1884
Grain fires are numerous but perhaps one of the largest in financial loss was the
fire of July 20, 1884. It occurred near the Burnett railroad station and fully 5,000
' acres of grain were destroyed, involving a loss in insurance figures of over $100,000,
with only $22,000 insurance. How the fire started is not known ; it was first noticed
in a corner of Colonel Caleb Dorsey's ranch, and as a heavy wind was blowing it
spread rapidly. Two men from the McHews' harvesting crew going into Oakdale
filled up on liquor and returning to the thresher stopped at the corner and lighted
their pipes. Carelessly they threw their matches away and this probably started 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 9 of 177)