The Works Progress Administration

Biography of William James of El Monte California

Well known and remembered among El Monte pioneers for his refined dignity, and also for his unusual knowledge of the early history of California, was William James.  While not a long and continuous resident of El Monte, he was widely known throughout the district having lived here at different times during his eventful life. Born in 1844, a native of the state of Arkansas, his father was John M. James, a native of Tennessee and his mother Margaret (Johnson) James of Kentucky, a relative of the oft-mentioned William Johnson, captain of a wagon train coming to El Monte in 1852. When but eight years of age Mr. James came to California with his parents, settling in El Monte in the fall of that year.  The father farmed for a few years, south of El Monte, and then moved to the Cuen Ranch, now known as the Old Mill property in San Marino.  Later the family moved to San Bernardino, where the father and son engaged in saw mill operations with which, was combined the lumber business.  Going to Texas in the early sixties for a few years, he engaged in mule-team freighting.  Here he married in 1874 and shortly returned to California, and engaged in various enterprises including lumbering, teaming, and prospecting, the latter taking him over a goodly portion of the Western States. During his travels, Mr. James acquired a vast amount of knowledge of the early history of California, and on his return to El Monte in later years, he often gave highly instructive talks to school children in their classes.  He and Mrs. James were the parents of eight children, but records and research work fail to reveal the whereabouts of any of his family.  For a time prior to his death, which occurred in 1925, he made his home in El Monte with Charles Andrew, a nephew; Mr. James’ wife had died may years previous to this-about 1900, as nearly as can be ascertained. Politically he was a Democrat.  In religion, Mr. James was a member of the Christian Church.  He had no fraternal affiliations, preferring to spend his spare time alone reading and living close to nature, which by experience and travel he learned to appreciate more and more with the passing of the years. During the last years of his life, Mr. James by his excellent memory and personal knowledge contributed much valuable information and data to the California Historical Society.  His reports were highly accurate and by verification and research, became acceptable as authentic. For his education and historical services, the community owes much to this talented and cultured pioneer, who, although having lived the greater part of his life amidst the rough environment of the mining and lumber camps, yet retained a marked degree of quiet refinement rarely found in a frontiersman.  The influence of his sterling character and quiet personality will long be remembered by those who knew him.

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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