Book Title: History Of Merced County California
EARLY DAYS ON THE WEST SIDE
We have told briefly how Los Banos Creek received its name on account of the
baths (los banos), the pools high up towards the creek's source on the eastern
side of the Diablo Range south of Pacheco Pass, whither the mission fathers from
San Juan Bautista were in the habit of coming in the hot summers to refresh
themselves. It is probable that tucked away somewhere in some old Spanish
chronicle the date of this discovery and naming can be found, but we haven't
The earliest West Side history that is to be found in the records of Merced
County appears to be in the records of the patents to the four Mexican grants
partly or wholly in this county: the San Jon de Santa Rita, San Luis Gonzaga,
Orestimba y las Garzas, and Rancho Panoche de San Juan y Los Carrisalitos. In
the records of the patents to these great ranches there are recitals of the
history of the titles, and it is from these that we learn when the grants were
made, and to whom, and by what Mexican Governors.
A recital of a portion of one of these patents will shed light on them all.
It is from the record as to the Rancho Panoche de San Juan y Los
Carrisalitos—the present Arburua Ranch—and is as follows:
"Rancho Panoche de San Juan y. Los Carrisalitos. The United States of
America. To whom these presents shall come, greeting:
"Whereas, it appears from a duly authenticated transcript filed in the
general land office of the United States, that pursuant to the provisions of the
Act of Congress, approved the third day of March, one thousand eight hundred and
fifty-one, entitled, 'An Act to ascertain and settle the private land claims in
the State of California,' Julian Ursua and Pedro Romo as claimants filed their
petitions on the 2nd day of February, 1853, . . . to five square leagues
situated in the County of San Joaquin and State aforesaid, and founded on a
Mexican grant to Don Julian Ursua made on the 17th day of February, 1844, by
Manuel Micheltorena, then Governor of the Department of California . . ."
The claim was confirmed by the board of land commissioners May 2, 1854; there
was a confirmation of this by the district court of the United States for the
Southern District of California, an appeal to the United States Supreme Court, a
dismissal of the appeal, and a final confirmation by the district court, which
appears to have been made October 13, 1864. The patent, like all the others,
contained a proviso, under the .provisions of the act of Congress mentioned,
that the patent "shall not affect the interests of third parties." The patent is
dated July 13, 1867, and signed by President Johnson. All four patents were
issued after similar proceedings under the same act of Congress, with the
difference that at least one of the claims was rejected by the board of land
commissioners, and that some of the transcripts were filed in the branch of the
land office at San Francisco. All four claims were alike affirmed by the
district court, however, and appeals to all four were dismissed by the supreme
court. The San Juan y Los Carrisalitos Grant was not the earliest, but next to
the latest of the four.
The Santa Rita Grant was the earliest. It was made to Francisco Sobranes on
September 7, 1841, by Juan B. Alvarado, then Governor of the Department of both
Californias, and was to "eleven Spanish square leagues." This claim was rejected
by the land commissioners, but affirmed by the district court. The patent was
dated November 20, 1862, and signed by President Lincoln. The claim was filed
March 1, 1853.
The claim to the San Luis Gonzaga Grant was filed February 12, 1852, by Juan
Perez Pacheco. It was to eleven square leagues, and was founded on a Mexican
grant to Jose Maria Mejia and Juan Perez Pacheco made on the 4th day of
November, 1843, by Manuel Michel-torena, then Governor of the Department of the
Californias. The land is described in the claim as situated in the County of
Mariposa. This claim likewise was rejected by the land commissioners, but
affirmed by the district court, and an appeal was dismissed by the supreme
court. The patent is dated May 16, 1871, and was signed by President Grant.
The claim to the Orestimba y las Garzas Grant was made by Sebastian Nunez
February 12, 1852, to "six Sitios de granada mayor or square leagues," situated
in the County of Tuolumne, founded on a Mexican grant made February 22, 1844, by
Manuel Micheltorena, then Governor of the Department of the Californias. This
claim likewise was rejected by the land commissioners, but affirmed by the
district court, and by the supreme court by the dismissal of an appeal. The
patent was dated July 30, 1863, and signed by President Lincoln.
Only one of the four grants, the Carrisalitos, is wholly within the present
Merced County. It contains 22,173.34 acres. The Santa Rita extends into Fresno
County, and has in Merced County 46,050.68 acres. The Orestimba extends over
into Stanislaus, and has 10,-092.7 acres in Merced County. The San Luis extends
into Santa Clara, and has in Merced County 27,731 acres.
It is not intended here to follow the title of these grants in detail to
later owners. Briefly, it is worth while to note that the Carrisalitos passed in
time to Hernandez and then to Arburua, and that there is a map of the San Luis
filed June 11, 1880, "owned by Mariano Mararin." The Santa Rita, however,
demands further notice, because it appears to have been the only one in which
the clause "shall not affect the interests of third persons" became of practical
importance. On April 9, 1866, between three and four years after the patent to
Francisco Sobranes, there was a decree quieting title entered in an action
entitled Henry Miller and Charles Lux vs. Francisco Sobranes, Valentine Alviso,
et al., in favor of the plaintiffs and against the defendants, and thus Miller &
Lux came into the ranch which came to be called Henry Miller's pride. From the
recitals in the decree quieting title it appears that all of the defendants
except Alviso defaulted, and that he stipulated to the entry of a judgement
We have seen that on the Assessment Roll of 1857 the Carrisalitos was
assessed to Brent & Crittenden (one square league) and Alexander Forbes (four
square leagues), and that the name of Pacheco appears in the index, although the
page containing his assessment is torn out. We also, still earlier (in April,
1844), got a brief glimpse through the eyes of John C. Fremont, across the San
Joaquin River to this country of the West Side, when he tells us that he kept to
the East Side because of the large numbers of wild cattle and horses across the
river among which he did not dare to venture for fear his own half wild stock
would run off.
The Pacheco Pass appears to have been a way through from the Santa Clara
Valley quite early. How early it received the name it now bears is hard to say,
but in view of the fact that Juan Perez Pacheco was one of the grantees of the
San Luis on November 4, 1843 it seems reasonable to assume that the name was
probably applied to the pass as early as the forties. It appears to have been
the way across which the indefatigable Gabriel Moraga passed on more than one of
his numerous expeditions against the valley Indians from 1806 on, though we
gather no hint that the pass then enjoyed the dignity of a name.
One of the first petitions which was presented to the board of supervisors of
the newly organized Merced County, in 1855, was one by A. Firebaugh for
permission to build a toll-road across the pass. Firebaugh, in conjunction with
others, some of them at least in Santa Clara County, planned and built a road
from San Jose across the pass. We find through the minutes of the board of
supervisors during 1855 and 1856 that they extended Firebaugh's time at several
different meetings, for the completion of the road.
Two writers of note have recorded the fact of crossing the pass rather
early—both in the sixties, in fact. Clarence King tells of doing so in his
"Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada," about 1864; and John Muir, in "My First
Summer in the Sierra Nevada," gives an account of crossing it in April, 1868.
Neither of these writers has anything to say of the inhabitants; but it is well
to read Muir especially as an antidote to the impression of the country as
something approaching a desert, which may be suggested by our attempt to guess
the impressions it probably made on Gabriel Moraga and his men on the occasion,
late in the year, when they left a permanent record of their thankfulness in
finding the Merced by naming it "River of Our Lady of Mercy." Such men as John
Montgomery, John Ruddle, and Colonel Stevinson early recognized the East Side as
a desirable cattle country, and drove in cattle from the States; and Henry
Miller found the place he wanted on the West Side. A well-informed stockman made
the statement in 1924 that there were more cattle shipped annually from within a
radius of twenty-five miles of Merced than from any other equal area in the
world; in that year Merced County had over 80,000 stock cattle and over 40,000
dairy cattle, and was surpassed among the counties of the State only by Kern in
number of stock cattle and Stanislaus in number of dairy cattle. It raises also
large numbers of sheep, and a considerable number of hogs.
One reminiscence of Mr. Stockton, which he must necessarily have had at
second hand, recalls Grizzly Adams' story of the stock-killing grizzly. It
relates that a stockman named Davis, on the West Side in the early fifties,
witnessed the killing of three grizzlies one after the other by a bull, and
conceived such a respect for the bull as a fighter that he took it to Stockton,
where fights between bulls and grizzlies were a feature. There, says the story,
the bull was matched against a grizzly which had something like seven bulls to
its credit, and the bull killed the grizzly, and piled up a record of almost a
score of bears, until the brutal promoters, finding they could get no more
matches, hamstrung the champion and let a grizzly kill him. This barbaric sport
had a short life in the State; it was soon prohibited on account of its cruelty.
We have seen, along through the sixties, when the election returns are given,
or the appointment of election officers, that there seems to have been only the
one precinct of the San Luis Ranch which was wholly on the West Side, and a
second, called Anderson's and apparently later Mears', which presumably was
partly west of the San Joaquin. And the vote in these precincts was not large.
The San Luis Ranch House was a station on the stage route between San Jose
and Visalia pretty early. S. L. Givens mentions the stage stopping there in
1858, when he was a boy going to college at Santa Clara. James Capen Adams
("Grizzly Adams"), who hunted and captured grizzlies on the upper Merced during
the fifties and late in that decade exhibited several of these and some other
animals in San Francisco, and whose life story was written in book form by
Theodore Hittell, evidently passed along the West Side of this county in the
later fifties, and he tells of a grizzly coming out of the bushes somewhere in
that vicinity and rolling on the ground to excite the curiosity of the cattle
until one came near enough for the bear to kill it. Adams was apparently not
concerned about county lines and could not probably have distinguished them, but
we get from him the idea of the West Side as a stock country with a few far
scattered ranch houses.
W. J. Stockton came to the West Side in October, 1872, and Charles W. Smith
in 1874, and to these two pioneer residents of that section we are indebted for
much information about early days there. "When I first came to Los Banos," says
Mr. Stockton, "I hauled timber across the old Toll Road from Gilroy to build me
a house. It took me about a week to haul one load—and such a road! Sometimes we
used to tie a log on to the back of the wagon with a rope to act as a brake, the
road was so steep."
Looking at the picture of Los Banos Village (old Los Banos) in the Elliott
and Moore history of Merced County published in 1881, which shows Sheeline's
grocery, H. Thornton's hotel, a blacksmith shop, a barn, and two smaller
buildings, Mr. Stockton states that in 1872 the only building there was one
small one in the foreground on the right, next to Sheeline's store, and that
this was a store which had been recently established by a German named
Kreyenhagen, to whom Henry Miller had leased a section of land for ten years for
$1 on condition that he would put up a store. This little building was a store
and also a post-office. A man named Moses Korn, a Jew, bought Kreyenhagen out in
1873. Korn added a hotel, which about 1876 he sold to Harry Thornton. Korn
afterwards sold out his store to Sheeline. Sheeline was there only about a year,
and the 1881 history fixes his date pretty closely, unless the picture was not
strictly up to date. Miller bought Sheeline out, and the store, moved to the
present Los Banos when that was established on the coming of the railroad, has
been run by Miller & Lux ever since. Arthur Drum-mond, now a banker at Gustine,
and W. T. White, merchant at Livingston, were early keepers of the Miller & Lux
The West Side, when Mr. Stockton arrived, was a country of a few large stock
ranches for cattle and sheep, as the big grants would indicate. Back in the
hills on the east slope of the Diablo Range, there was a population, he
estimates, of 400 or 500 people of Spanish or Mexican blood. They appear to
have lived on ranchitos and to have kept a few head of stock, including of
course the ever necessary saddle horses, raising, we may imagine, their frijoles
and chilis, getting their wood and their venison from the country, and finding
employment in season at the rodeos and sheep-shearings on the large ranchos.
There were some very large families of them; the Alvarados, up near the head of
Los Banos Creek, had nineteen children, and there were the Soto, Pio, Gonzales,
and Merino families, to name only a few.
An idea of the American population of the section may be gained from the fact
that when the trial of Granice for the killing of Madden was going on at the
county seat in 1875, "there were ninety of us here," as Mr. Stockton relates,
"on the venire, and that was just about all the men on the West Side who were
elegible to jury duty. The total was probably about six times that."
The road across the Pacheco Pass was a toll-road in 1872, and continued so
for two or three years later. Bell, of Bell's Station, owned it. He turned in
his road for about a third interest in a new toll-road over the pass.
Old Los Banos was several miles from the present town. It was about a mile and
half from the present Volta, west of the railroad; and when the railroad came,
some of the buildings were moved down to Volta. About half a mile from old Los
Banos was the rival metropolis known as Dogtown.
The original Dos Palos (referring to the two poles, sticks, or trees from
which the place took its name) was further south than the Merced line, in Fresno
County, down towards Firebaugh's Ferry. Dos Palos Colony, in fact, was first
established in Fresno County. It was just about the beginning of the nineties
when Henry Miller established Dos Palos Colony there. When the land proved poor,
Miller packed the colonists up, bag and baggage, and moved them to the present
Dos Palos Colony.
There was Hill's Ferry on the San Joaquin at the mouth of the Merced; there
was Firebaugh's Ferry; there was Chester (one may see the residence and ferry of
G. W. Dickenson there in the 1881 history); and Dover had lived out its brief
life, begun in July, 1868, and was gone by 1872. The Cottonwood vicinity had
already been given that name, and included the present site of Gustine.
The years 1870 and 1871 were both dry years. A settler had taken up 160 acres
at the junction of the San Joaquin River and Fresno Slough. A man from San
Francisco bought him out. The site had immense strategic value as the necessary
head of a canal, and the San Francisco man had conceived the idea of digging
one. At this time Isaac Friedlander, a Jew, of San Francisco, and William S.
Chapman, had bought up all the government land they could in the San Joaquin
Valley. Chapman's name makes its first appearance in Book "A" of Patents in the
records of Merced County, in 1868. Friedlander was the first man who shipped San
Joaquin Valley wheat to Liverpool from San Francisco. They pronounced it as good
wheat as was grown in any country. Friedlander sent to England for the best
engineer to be had, and a man named Brereton was sent out. Brereton made a trip
up the San Joaquin Valley, and went back and made a wonderful report. He
recommended building the old canal —the lower one— and also a larger canal, from
Tulare Lake, which was never built. On the strength of his report a company of
ten men was formed in San Francisco, capitalized at a million shares at a dollar
a share. Henry Miller was one of the ten. They gave the man at the canal head
100,000 shares of non-assessable stock for his land and water rights. They built
the lower canal in 1871 as far as Los Banos.
In the record dry year of 1877 Miller was absent in Germany. On his return he
found that his partners, under pressure of the shortage, had shut off the water
from his land. He equipped himself with an axe, took a Greaser with him, and
went up and chopped down the gates. Three warrants were issued for his arrest;
but by the time they could be placed in the hands of Sheriff Meany and be
served, Miller had bought a controlling interest in the canal.
In 1878 he built the canal on down to Newman, or rather to where Newman was
afterwards to be. Concerning this extension Mr. Stockton says that he saw the
country settle up and unsettle twice. During Cleveland's administration, in
1896, a lot of railroad land which had been held for a line over towards
Hollister which was never built, was forfeited to the Government and thrown open
to settlement. Water, or rather the shortage of it, was the great problem of the
settlers. The settlers held a mass-meeting, and Stockton and another settler
were appointed a committee to interview Henry Miller. He promised to build them
a canal, but made the condition that there should be no land speculation. The
canal was completed, and a celebration was held on May Day, which was Miller's
birthday. One of these May Day celebrations had been held earlier, probably in
1877, when Miller seems to have thought it proper to throw open a warehouse for
a dance after an officious hireling had refused it to the settlers. The May Day
celebration became an established custom, and is still a big day at Los Banos.
The outside canal was not built until much later—about 1894— and the railroad
had been built by that time.
Charles W. Smith came to California from Illinois in 1866, at the age of
twenty, and to Merced County in 1874. He has lived on his present home ranch at
Badger Flat, about three miles north of Los Banos, since 1878. Mrs. Smith was a
daughter of M. F. Robinson. She was born at Napa. Her father came to the West
Side in 1869. The house where Mr. and Mrs. Smith now live enjoys the very rare
distinction of having had the golden^ weddings of a mother and daughter both
celebrated in it. On September 30, 1924, Mr. and Mrs. Smith celebrated the
fiftieth anniversay of their wedding, and thirty-three years earlier, in 1891,
Mrs. Smith's father and mother celebrated theirs.
Mr. Smith worked for Henry Miller for three or four years after his arrival
in 1874. It was in 1875, at the San Luis camp, that he entered Miller's employ.
Miller had a fence from Hill's Ferry to Firebaugh. The Santa Rita Ranch was
Mr. Smith relates that when he settled on his present place in 1878, there
were but three settlers on the way to Newman—Knight, Hardman, and one other.
There were four Knight families, some back from the road. A man named Jordan was
the original patentee of Mr. Smith's place. Others who were there when Smith
came to this place or shortly after were Jeffers, "Billy" Stockton, Bernard
Negra (who came in 1880), Joe Cirimele (who is still living), and Uriah Wood.
When Mr. Smith settled on this place he could go straight from his own fence
corner to Hill's Ferry, twenty miles, without a fence to stop him or turn him
Uriah Wood entered seven sections just south of Smith. Wood secured this land
by beating Henry Miller in an exciting race to the land office at Stockton; he
gave the ferryman five dollars, it is said, to hold the ferry boat on the east
side of the San Joaquin at San Joaquin City until Wood could be sure of start
enough to reach Stockton first. The seven sections, says Mr. Smith, cost Wood
about forty-five cents an acre. Wood did some farming on this land.
There were two Portuguese settlers on the West Side when Smith came, Caton
and Silva. They were both sheep men.
In 1878 old Los Banos and Hill's Ferry were the only West Side towns. At
Hill's Ferry there were two stores, Newman's and Kahn's. A man named Charles
Harris had a lumber yard at Hill's Ferry. There was a school there, called the
Orestimba School. There was also a Cottonwood School when Mr. and Mrs. Smith
settled on their ranch. At Los Banos, Mose Korn had a store, and Harry Thornton
a hotel and saloon. There was also a blacksmith shop. In all, there were about a
dozen people. Thornton, Mr. Smith says, was there as early as 1874, perhaps
earlier. Dogtown was about the same size as Los Banos. Adolph Whitman owned the
store there. The two towns were about half a mile apart. Dogtown didn't start up
much until they put the canal in, about 1876.
The canal was finished down to Los Banos Creek in 1874. In 1878 it was
finished to Newman. The outside canal was built just a short time before the
railroad. As bearing upon the water supply, Mr. Smith states that 1924 was the
first year since he has been on this place when he did not have water enough.
Mr. Smith estimates that when he arrived there were probably not over two
hundred people on the West Side, exclusive of Miller's men, though probably
more, with them.
The place where the Dos Palos colonists were first located was old
Shingletown, between Ora Loma and the San Joaquin River, in Fresno County, from
which, as has already been said, they were moved further north into this county
when it was found that the land at the original location was not good.
A Merced County man was once a candidate for President of the United States,
but unquestionably the man whose career has left the greatest mark on the
history of the county was Henry Miller. The Presidential candidate was P. D.
Wigginton, who ran on the American ticket in 1884, when Cleveland was elected on
the Democratic ticket, and when Blaine ran on the Republican, and John P. St.
John of Kansas on the Prohibition and Benjamin F. Butler on the Greenback
ticket. We may dismiss Wigginton's candidacy with this brief statement, but
Miller has left a mark that calls for further notice.
Miller was born in Brackenheim, Wurtemburg, on July 21, 1827, it is said.
That appears to dispose of the story that they celebrate Miller's birthday when
they hold their May Day festival annually on the West Side—at least that they
celebrate it on the anniversay of his birth. Miller arrived in New York when he
was fourteen, and among the early jobs he had was one turning a sausage machine,
which may possibly be said to have been the first step towards his becoming the
future cattle baron of California. At any rate we find that by the time he was
eighteen he had a butcher business of his own in New York, in which he employed
a hundred men and ran a boat out to schooners in the harbor to supply them with
meat. He had made $30,000 by the time he was eighteen, and he then closed out
his business and returned to Germany. But he left the Fatherland shortly to
avoid military service, and two years later turns up at Panama, where he is in
some business, just what does not appear, with a partner. Panama fever and bad
management on the part of the partner led to his settling up this business; and
young Miller found himself with a ticket to California, $5 in money, and a cane
which his weakened condition made necessary. He landed in San Francisco in 1850
with his $5 and his walking-stick, and went down the street asking at each place
of business he came to for employment. One of the exceedingly temporary jobs
which he seems always to have remembered with distaste was one at washing
dishes; but he soon got work at a butcher's —it is said he came to a place where
there were men needed to skin a lot of lambs, and that he made $14 that day. He
soon had a shop of his own, and then several shops.
And now begins his contact with the San Joaquin Valley. He went down into
this country to buy cattle, and drove them to San Francisco for slaughter. He
became well acquainted with cattle-raisers. In 1857 he went through the whole
cattle country south to Tehachapi and secured options on all the fat beef.
Charles Lux was one of several large wholesale butchers in San Francisco at that
time. When Lux's buyers learned of Miller's options, Miller was able to make
such terms with Lux that he was taken in as a full partner; and thus began the
partnership out of which the present corporation grew. That corporation has
figured large in the history of Merced County. We think of it now as confined
almost entirely to the West Side, with the exception of some lands on the east
bank of the San Joaquin; but the driving energy of Henry Miller in his prime
extended his activities at least to include the East Side, and if he did not own
land, he at least bought and sold and shipped here. Oldtimers tell us how, at
various livery stables, he had his particular team reserved for his use when he
should require it. In the period of close to twenty years between the building
of the Central Pacific on the East Side and the railroad on the West Side he
made much use of the former.
On the West Side many elements of a growing legend group themselves about his
name. They tell you how his keen eye never overlooked so much as an empty barley
sack out of place. Any loose end of unfinished business was like a challenge to
him. You will hear of his sending a man a mile to pick up some trifle. C. W.
Smith relates that when he was in Miller's employment before 1878, Miller once
sent him pretty much the length of the Santa Rita at night with two dollars for
some man to whom it was due. S. C. Cornett tells hotf Mr. Miller came into the
company's store at Firebaugh, trailed by several workless men; ordered the
storekeeper to give one a shirt, another a pair of pants, another shoes, and so
on; and then, when the job was done, asked "How much it it?" and paid for it out
of his own pocket. There was very little trouble about carelessly or maliciously
set fires, gates left open, or any similar ranch troubles on his places. What
was picturesquely known as "the dirty plate route" was long an established
institution on all the ranches of the company, and men who "packed their
blankets" from one ranch house to another always sure of something to eat, at
the second table. There were were some whose small orbits hardly extended beyond
the company's ranches in this and the adjoining counties.
We have already noticed how Miller & Lux in 1866 secured a decree quieting
title to the Santa Rita. In the early records of deeds we learn that William
Dunphey and Thomas Hildreth on May 22, 1863, for $10,000, deeded to Henry Miller
and Charles Lux two square leagues, being the southeast portion of the Rancho
Sanjon de Santa Rita, which the deed recites were reserved by Fancisco Sobranes
in a sale to Manuel Castro. We also find a deed of November 8, 1861, by Manuel
and Juan Bautista Castro of the County of San Francisco to Valentine Alviso of
the County of Alameda, quit-claiming all the Castros' interest in the Santa
Rita. It will be recalled that this Alviso was the one defendant in Miller &
Lux's action to quiet title who did not default, and that he stipulated that the
decree might be entered, so that we may reasonably assume they bought him out.
From Hildreth & Hildreth, Miller & Lux acquired one of the largest cattle
businesses in the San Joaquin Valley and the "H H" brand, which is still theirs.
The land now owned by Miller & Lux in Merced County includes a great deal
besides the Santa Rita and the Orestimba; these two great ranches, with their
46,000 and 10,000 acres respectively in the county, constitute hardly a third of
the company's Merced land.
W. J. Stockton, from his acquaintance with Henry Miller dating from 1872, has
conceived a great admiration for him, and is well qualified to speak about
Miller and about pioneer times on the West Side. The following is a talk which
Mr. Stockton delivered before the Lions' Club at Merced late in 1924, and it
gives such a vivid picture that we print it in full:
EARLY DAYS IN MERCED COUNTY AND MY PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF HENRY MILLER
"Ingersoll once said, 'The reason that Lot's wife was turned to a pillar of
salt, was to keep that interesting event fresh in the minds of the people.' As
for looking backward, if I had been turned into a pillar of salt on every
occasion, I would be able to start some salt works by this time.
"A few years ago we held a meeting of the Pioneers of this county. Everyone
that had been here forty years, who had come here of his own volition, was
eligible. I was one of the youngest men in that crowd. They called on me for a
speech. I talked for a while, pleasing them the best I could. Next day I was
talking to Tommy Hall, and he said, 'Bill, you're a great talker, aren't you?' I
said, 'Well, I don't know; they had some lawyers and preachers there who were
really good speakers.' 'Well,' he said, 'they didn't have anything on you— you
just talked a blue streak, didn't you Bill?' Then he said, 'Say, really Bill,
didn't you have a shot or two?' I hope none of you will think that I have
patronized a bottlegger to-day.
"My friends, I must say I feel flattered for your invitation to address you
today. When anyone reaches my time of life, it is natural for them to look
back, and If the 'big V comes to the front you need not be -surprised. Of course
many of the things I was personally interested in are not so interesting to the
public. My father lived in half the counties in the State. First in Sonoma, and
Marin, then in Nevada, Colusa, San Benito and Santa Cruz, where I was married.
"I settled in Los Banos fifty-two years ago, where I served the 'dear people'
in one capacity or another for twenty years, and I am still a school trustee.
"When I first came to Los Banos, I hauled timber across the old Toll Road
from Gilroy to build me a house. It took me about a week to haul one load—and
such a road! Sometimes we used to tie a log on to the back of the wagon with a
rope to act as a brake, the road was so steep. The stage ran through to Visalia
three times a week. Sometimes there were storms in the mountains, and high water
would delay them, so we would not get our mail for several days. Harry Thornton
used to say, jovially, that we had 'tri'-weekly stages. They went over one week
and 'tried' to get back the next.
"Those pioneers! What men and women they were! And their elections! Oh, my! I
remember them! There were during one election, three fights over one negro, and
then he only got $5 for his vote. The county was made up mostly of men from the
South—nothing, of course, but Democrats. I remember a Mr. Davis was running for
the Senate from Stanislaus County. He was a Democrat, and had no opponent; it
was no use to try to oppose him. Some of the men around town put up a negro
bootblack that had a stand at the old El Capitan Hotel. Then they went around to
some of the old-time Democrats, and told them that Davis would surely be
elected, but they would like for them to vote for Hiram Smith, who was running
on the Republican ticket—said he was a personal friend of theirs, and they
wanted him to get enough votes to make a fair showing. By this method, the
bootblack got about seventy votes. Then the men who were responsible for his
campaign would go around to the old-timers and say, 'You're a hell of a Democrat
to vote for a Republican, and a damn nigger at that!' Mad? I should say so!
"Mr. A. J. Meany was the first Democrat I ever voted for. There were two
Democrats running; so I voted for him. He was a man of pleasing personality, a
good fellow, generous and warm-hearted, and at that time was one of the most
popular men I had ever known.
"The next election I remember particularly, was a so-called 'High License'
election. It split both the old parties wide open, and what an election it was!
I remember Mr. Breckenridge was district attorney at that time, a man of the
most pleasing personality—would be noticed anywhere and everywhere in any
company. He coined the term 'Anti-Saloon,' which has gone everywhere. The man
who preached his funeral sermon said of his oratory, that he could reach the
higher notes with a skill that is seldom equaled and never excelled.
Breckenridge and one of our old farmers out here in pioneer days, by the name of
Brouse, were talking over the political situation. Mr. Breckenridge had
travelled the 'primrose path' some. Mr. Brouse said he didn't see any sense in
anybody going into saloons. He said he had never drunk whiskey, nor smoked, had
never sworn, gambled, nor chased after the ladies. Breckenridge said, 'Shake,
old man, I've done them all!' I myself, as supervisor, had a very warm time over
it at home. I didn't have much trouble in Merced, nor with the saloon men
themselves anywhere. Los Banos at that time was considered kind of a tough
place, but I was young and husky, and the saloon men themselves didn't bother
me, but some of their hangers-on wanted to fight with me every day. I couldn't
pass a corner but what some of them would say something to me—call me names, etc.
"There was a young fellow who had just come to town that I knew, who was a
prize-fighter, and in fact he had come in on purpose to get a fight. It was not,
however, generally known about town. One day I said to him, 'Bill, what will you
take to lick about half a dozen men for me ?' He said, 'About $5 each.' I said,
'Bill, will you lick five of them for $20?' He said 'Sure.' 'Well,' I said,
'there goes one now; you try your hand on him, and see what you can do.' He
followed the big fellow into Fred Bonillas' saloon. Pretty soon I saw him come
out backward with the bully following him—three or four men were holding on to
him and advising Bill to get away while he had a chance. He said, 'Turn the big
stiff loose; he couldn't lick a baby.' He tore at Bill and made a big swipe at
him with his fist. Bill delivered one sharp blow in the solar plexus and the
fight was over. They picked the fellow up, poured water on him, and after a
while he came to, raised up, and asked, 'Did I lick him?' They told him, 'Not to
"Next morning I went into town. They said that the justice of the peace
wanted to see me, that Bill Bryan had gotten drunk the night before and had
beaten three or four fellows up. I went down to the Justice Court. The judge was
a friend of mine, in fact I had helped materially in making him justice of the
peace. He asked me, 'What do you want me to do with him?' I told him that I
wanted him to be sentenced to leave town for three days, as there was a fellow
up in the Bonanza District who was going to lick all the High License men there
were up there, and I wanted Bill to go up there and meet him. I didn't see Bill
for about a week, and when I met him, both eyes were black, his lips were cut,
and he looked as if he had been run through a threshing machine. I asked him
what was the matter. He said, 'That last man you sent me up against was a $10 man.'
"I often wonder if people really know what poverty is. A few of the
experiences of my pioneer days will introduce it. During the Cleveland
administration there was a lot of land thrown open to settlement, and everybody,
high or low, rich or poor, went out and took up a quarter section of land,
myself included. I took my wife and little girl, some blankets and a little
grub, and we went out and camped on the claim. My wife stayed out there on the
plains and we camped until Sunday. Then I built a house. All we had to contend
with on the plains were coyotes, rattlesnakes, skunks, horn toads, grasshoppers
and kangaroo rats, north winds and dry years.
"I planted grain out there on the plains until I got so poor I didn't have a
friend in the world. Going to work I would go a mile and a half out of my way to
keep from meeting a man to whom I owed a couple of dollars, who needed it as
badly as I did. After it seemed that I had lived there beyond all hope, I used
to gulp about three times before I could ask a man to trust me for four bits'
worth of beans. My wife put an old sock in a knot-hole, and fastened it with a
tack. The North wind blew it so that it waved in the air, and looked just like a
foot. It used to sing a song of poverty and desolation. When it seemed things
had gotten so bad that I couldn't stand any more, and I could feel the hungry
wolves of poverty snapping at my heels, a man came along and said, 'How are you
getting along, Mr. Stockton?' I said, 'Poor enough.' Then he said to me, 'Mr.
Stockton, I am going to dig a canal right out there.' Talk about the voices of
angels, the music of an Aeolian harp; think about the first time your sweetheart
let you kiss her, kind of by accident—it was absolutely nothing compared to
"Then he told me, 'You can have all the credit you want at my store. I'll
help you and you help me.' We had a public meeting, about fifty of us, and of
course we resolved that we had to have some water. The whole business of us
couldn't have raised $10,000 to save our lives. No bank would have loaned it to
us—been foolish if they had. I told them what Miller had done for the people at
Hill's Ferry;' maybe he could do something for us. He went to work and dug us a
canal 40 miles long, 100 feet wide, and filled it full of water, and told us to
go to it; and there wasn't a man who owned a piece of land as big as my hat that
he didn't make a comparatively rich man. This brings me to the finest man I ever
knew in my life.
"Henry Miller was the greatest builder who ever lived on the Pacific Coast,
and I'll except no one. He dug canals enough, lay them end to end, to reach from
here to New York. He added forty or fifty million dollars to the wealth of the
people on the West Side, for which he did not receive a nickel. He is the only
man I ever knew or ever head of who built canals for people for nothing and then
gave them the benefit of them. After he built our canal, called the Upper Canal,
he extended it on to Cottonwood, where he didn't own a foot of land, simply
because the people asked him to. Just after that he built the canal from Los
Banos to Orestimba, just because the people asked him to build up the country.
Sometimes I think of what a man told me of the Indian language—that there is no
word in it to correspond with our word 'gratitude,' and I wonder if it shouldn't
be struck out of our dictionary as well.
"After Mr. Miller built the canal down to Newman there wasn't water enough,
so he went through and double-lined the canal from Los Banos to Firebaugh. He
spent $70,000 making the canal to Orestimba larger, and then they sued him for a
reduction in the price of water, when it had raised the price of their land from
$10 to $200 an acre. That Orestimba land to-day, I'll put side by side with any
land in the State of California; there are trees down there six feet thick. They
took a physical valuation of the canal and although it had cost a million and a
quarter of dollars, they valued it at $325,000 and on that allowed him 6 per
cent, or $1.50 an acre. He waited for four years, then he had another valuation
taken with the same witnesses, and they pronounced it worth $600,000. On that
basis, of course, they should have allowed him $5 an acre; but they weren't that
kind of people. They allowed him the same old $1.50.
"Mr. Stevinson got a judgment against Mr. Miller for $425,000 for taking the
water off of 1500 acres of his land, which never had any water on it in the
first place. Then too, Mr. Miller had offered to put water on to the land. The
judgment was so absurd it was thrown out of court, and was later retried in
Mariposa County. Jim Peck, in speaking of how Mr. Miller had robbed Mr.
Stevinson, who he said had gone through many hardships, when he settled down
there in 1854, was so moved that the tears rolled down his checks, as big as
apples. If Mr. Stevinson had had more money I guess they would have been as big
"Now I am going to tell you what I think is the greatest thing Mr. Miller
ever did. You remember Bryan, free silver, 16 to 1, etc. Mr. Bryan never had
anything to do with it. He was only called in like a doctor, after the patient
was dead. The demonetizing of silver absolutely ruined every farmer in the
United States. They had better have taken everything that the farmers had and
burned it up. A pestilence had better have come along and killed every head of
stock they had, cattle, horses and sheep, and it would have been better for them
than to have the country put on the gold standard at that time. You see, it came
on just after the war when there was absolutely no gold in the United States
except that which was being dug out in California and Colorado. I myself was
considered a farmer of average means. I was probably worth $20,000; yet I went
clear 'broke' inside of three years, and gave Miller & Lux my note for $3200,
after I had sold everything in the world that I possessed. I sold a six-horse
team that cost me nearly $2000 for $40. I sold 400 tons of barley for $11 a ton
that had cost me more than $20 to produce.
"I am not telling this for political reasons, but simply to show what Mr.
Miller did for the people. There wasn't a man in Los Banos or Dos Palos who
could have paid his debts to save his life, and there were no exceptions. The
only thing in the world left to any of them was a credit account in Miller &
Lux's store. For five solid years they didn't even send out store bills. If a
man was of any account, they would help him out; if he wasn't, they helped him
anyway. If it hadn't been for Miller, the people would have actually suffered
for the necessities of life. There must have been at least 3000 people in that
part of the country. Of course such conditions couldn't last.
"I met Mr. Miller one day, and he said to me, 'I am eighty-four years old and
I don't want any of my old friends to be in trouble after I pass away. Now, Mr.
Stockton, you owe me $9000. How much can you pay?' 'Mr. Miller, you know my
business just as well as I know it myself.' 'Well,' he said, 'Give me two pieces
of property that you hold which are mortgaged to me and $1000 in cash, and I'll
call it square.' I went to my friends and borrowed the money in twenty minutes,
and had it in the bank. That mortgage had been such a nightmare to me that when
I went home that night and tried to tell my wife what had happened, I couldn't
do it. I lay down on the bed and cried like a baby.
"I've never been afraid of anybody that I know of, and I've heard bullets
whistle pretty close sometimes, but that debt made as pitiful a coward of me as
ever walked the earth. I went to town next morning and one of my neighbors said
to me, 'Bill, I've paid Miller and Lux, I don't owe them a cent.' This is the
way that he paid: He gave Mr. Miller $500, and Mr. Miller gave him $8000. One of
my neighbors—I can use his name, because he told it himself, and is something of
a financier himself—Mr. Chappeil, said he owed him $3000. Mr. Miller asked him
how much he could pay. He said he couldn't pay very much, he was too poor. Mr.
Miller then asked him if he could give him $500, and he said he didn't have it.
'Can you give me $250?' Mr. Chappeil said, 'No, I haven't that much money.' Then
Mr. Miller said 'Can you give me $125 ?' He said he thought he could, so they
settled for that amount. He gave $125 for the $3000 Mr. Miller had given him.
"I was on the inside, in many of his business affairs. Mr. Shannon told me
that he scratched $350,000 off the books, in mortgages and notes together, at
that time enough to have bought the whole Mitchell ranch; and I expect today it
is worth forty or fifty million dollars, isn't it?
"There is another story of his earlier life. When the Western Meat Company
went to exploit San Francisco as they had the Eastern cities, they put the price
of beef down to almost nothing. Miller had at that time 40,000 beef cattle. He
turned them out on the range, and without the meat company knowing what he was
doing he started in buying beef from them, and reselling it. At times he took a
whole ship load. He had been buying from them for about six months before they
really realized what they were doing. Then they undertook to raise the price.
Mr. Miller told them that the people of San Francisco were his friends, and that
they should not be robbed. The consequence was that beef was from three to five
cents a pound cheaper in San Francisco than it was in Kansas City, Omaha, St
Louis, Chicago, or any of the Eastern cities, and the Western Meat Company lay
down like licked dogs.
"I think the most remarkable thing he ever did was to make $30,000 in New
York before he was a grown man. He told my wife that when he was eighteen years
old he had 100 men working for him. Old, gray-headed men seventy years old
called him 'the old man' then. He sold out in New York and went home to Germany;
but he found that if he stayed there he would have to serve in the army, so he
disappeared, and wasn't heard of for two years by any of his people. As a matter
of fact he was in Panama, where he had gone into business. He got the Panama
fever; and when he got over it, he found that he had been sick so long that his
partner by bad management had brought their business to a condition where it was
necessary to close out. He bought a ticket to San Francisco, and took with him
$5, all the money he had in the world, and a walking-stick. The reason he had
the walking-stick was because he couldn't walk without it. He landed in San
Francisco in 1850.
"Mr. Miller first went into the butcher business, started out working for
wages, but soon had shops of his own. He would run one shop for a while, and
then buy another one. In those days the wholesalers would go out into the
country in the fall of the year and buy up enough stock to last them through the
winter. They would drive them as near to San Francisco as they could and keep
them there, slaughtering them as they were needed for the market. Mr. Miller
went out one fall and bonded all the fat cattle that there were in the State.
Mr. Lux at that time was the biggest wholesale butcher in San Francisco. When he
sent men out after beef cattle, there were none to be had. Lux went to Mr.
Miller and told him that he must have beef. Mr. Miller told him he would let him
have beef on one condition only, that he would furnish him the money to pay for
those cattle and take him into full partnership. Mr. Lux fulfilled these
conditions; hence the firm name of Miller & Lux.
"Soon afterwards they bought out the firm of Hildreth & Hildreth of the H H
brand, who were at that time the largest cattle men in the State of California.
From that time forward Miller & Lux were the cattle kings of this State.
"I am in communication with Mr. Conan Doyle, and consequently I can tell you
what happened to Mr. Miller after he passed into the Land of Shadows. Being a
very wicked man, he cussed and swore sometimes; consequently he went down
yonder. The old devil looked at him and said, 'Who are you?'
"He said, 'I am Henry Miller.'
"The Devil said, 'What do you expect to do down here?'
" 'Well, every place I have been I have always built canals; perhaps I can build
"Old Nick said, 'We certainly don't want any canals down here; I've got too
many lawyers and preachers to burn. So I guess you had better go on up above;
maybe Peter can find something for you to do.'
"So he climbed the golden stairs and knocked at the pearly gates. He was told
to come in, and Peter turned to Gabriel and said:
" 'Gabriel, open the book of life and we'll see what Mr. Miller has been doing.'
" 'I find that he has cussed and swore some.'
" 'Never mind that; I want to know the good things that he has done. Anybody
is apt to get aggravated sometimes.'
" 'I find that he has dug a great many canals.'
" 'Then Peter turned to Mr. Miller and said to him:
" 'Come over here. What is that long line of water I see down there, and
those villages I see stretched along the line of water?'
" 'That is the San Joaquin and Kings River Canal. When I went there that was
a desert. When we built that canal, people could come and settle and make a
living; so they built those schoolhouses and towns and farm houses you see down
" 'What is that line of men I see down there—a long enough line, if standing
side of side, to reach around the world?'
" 'Those are the tramps that I have fed. I have taken care of more of them at
one time than the whole city of San Francisco put together sometimes.'
" 'What is that other long line of men that I see, thousands and thousands of
" 'Those are the men who worked for me.'
" 'How is it that so many men were willing to work for you instead of working
for themselves ? They seem to be intelligent men.'
" 'Well, I suppose they could make more money working for me than they could
working for themselves, and so they worked for me.'
" 'Mr. Miller, did you make much money in the other world? Tell me about how
" 'What did you do with it all?'
" 'I had about $25,000,000 stolen from me, about $25,000,000 I paid out
defending myself in lawsuits, and I left about $50,000,000 to my heirs.'
" 'How did you make your money, Mr. Miller?'
" 'I made it in the cattle business.'
"Peter said to him, 'Do you see those Elysian fields over yonder?'
"He said, 'Yes.'
" 'Well,' said St. Peter, 'you go over there and take charge of the cattle;
Jacob's getting pretty old for the cattle business anyway.' "
The Leading Men and Women of the County Who Have Been
Identified with Its Growth and Development
from the Early Days to the Present
ILLUSTRATED COMPLETE IN ONE VOLUME
HISTORIC RECORD COMPANY
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
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