The Works Progress Administration

Biography of John Guess of El Monte California

One of the oldest settlers in the vicinity of El Monte was John Guess, who lived on mile west of the city and successfully engaged in general farming and stock raising.  Mr. Guess came to California in October 1852, as a pioneer, and witnessed and participated in the development and upbuilding of this community.  He was a native of the South, born in Batesville, Independence County, Arkansas, March 28, 1827.  His father, Joseph, was born in the east and became an early resident of Arkansas, where he engaged in farming throughout his active life.  His death occurred from cholera in New Orleans while there on a trip for merchandise.  He was survived by his wife, formerly Lottie Menyard, also a native of the East, her last days being spent with her son in California, dying at the age of eighty-four years.  She had three children, of whom the eldest is the subject of the sketch. Reared in his native state, John Guess removed with his parents to Conway county when a child, and having lost his father when young, he was deprived of even the limited advantages afforded by the primitive schools of the country.  He spent his boyhood days on the home farm assisting in the work and at twenty years of age began life for himself, working farms on shares until he succeeded in accumulating some means.  He was married in Arkansas to Mrs. Harriet (Holifield) Rogers, a native of Conway county and a daughter of James Holifield, a pioneer farmer of Arkansas, whose death occurred in Santa Barbara harbor on a steamer on a return trip to California.  The first trip of Mr. Guess, to California was begun April 7, 1852, following his marriage in March, making the trip across the plains with two yoke of oxen, one wagon and all-necessary equipment and provisions of nine months.  The trip was made with the party commended by Captain William Johnson, mentioned elsewhere in this work They came through Texas Via Fort Belknap, El Paso and Yuma, entering California by way of this southern route, reaching El Monte after a seven months’ trip.  One night the Indians stampeded their cattle and stole some twenty head.  Other than this, they had no serious skirmishes with the Indians en route.  A train of eighty wagons with seventy men well armed necessarily precluded any serious trouble with them. For three weeks following his arrival he camped within three-quarters of a mile of what was to be his future home.  He later located in the vicinity of Compton and began farming.  In the spring of 1855 he returned to El Monte, rented a tract of land one year, then purchased a ranch one mile north of el Monte, where he farmed and engaged in the raising of cattle.  He subsequently returned to Arkansas with the intention of purchasing and binging a herd of cattle to California, but owing to the Indian Hazard he gave up this plan.  Finally concluding to again locate in the sunny land, he accordingly made the trip once more to El Monte in 1859.  After selling his first ranch he purchased forty-eight acres on the site of what was then Savannah, and remained in that location until 1867, when he lost in the courts his title to the land, as it was proven property of the early grants.  In the same year he located on another nearby tract, which also was disputed land known as the old Mission grant, taking possession of one hundred acres where he at once began improvement and cultivation.  He set out sycamore trees which to this day still stand as massive sentinels about the place, many of them large and spreading, one measuring two and a half feet in diameter.  He engaged in the raising of cattle, hogs, mules and horses, and a little later purchased one hundred and fifty head of cattle, which he drove to Tehachapi and sold.  He followed a like course on the chino ranch, while his family still lived on the ranch near El Monte.  In 1888 he bought an interest in the San Jacinto Ranch, then a part of the Santa Rosa Ranch near Temecula, where he had a herd of eight hundred cattle.  He eventually added to his original ranch in El Monte by a purchase of sixty-four acres all being in one tract.  He made many improvements on the place and brought it to a high state of cultivation, being about to raise alfalfa without irrigation on seventy acres of the place. The second marriage of Mr. Guess occurred in Rivera, California and united him with Mrs. Sarah (Anderson) Hooper. Mr. Guess took a prominent part in the public affairs in the community.  He was interested in the First National Bank of El Monte, and served as school trustee for two terms.  Fraternally he was a Master Mason, having been made a member of that organization in 1862, in Lexington Lodge No. 104.  He belonged to the Baptist Church of El Monte, in which he officiated as trustee.  Politically, he was a staunch Jeffersonian Democrat.  In memory of the early days in which he came to California, he was a member of the Los Angeles County pioneers.  His death occurred in the year 1919.

Source: C. D. Mayon, F. Brow, L. Stoddard, and C. Mudd; El Monte from the Pioneer Days. WPA Project No. N-5740, 1936. In record 19-187072. (California Historical Landmark No. 765: El Monte). On file at the SCCIC, CSU Fullerton.

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