At one time known as the “wheat king” of the San Joaquin Valley because of his close association with Isaac Friedlander, who was known as the “wheat king” of California during his active career in the wheat growing, buying and shipping business, C. H. Huffman left a void in the ranks of the upbuilders of Merced County when he sold out his interests to take up his residence in San Francisco, in which city he died on July 7, 1905. His was a busy life, filled with work for the State he adopted for his home. He participated actively in the initiation and development, in the county in which he lived, of the irrigation projects that have had such far-reaching effects on the expansion of its agricultural and horticultural interests, thereby enriching the people who sought homes in what is considered by many as the garden spot of the San Joaquin Valley.
C. H. Huffman was born at a point near the mouth of the Mississippi River, on July 14, 1829. In early boyhood he received a fairly good schooling, and evinced a desire to make his own way in the world when he was but ten years of age, for we find the records state that he was then working his own way and acquiring a knowledge of business on board a pilot boat at the entrance of the Mississippi River. Following his experience on the river, and up to his nineteenth year, he followed the sea on vessels plying between America and European ports; and in this manner he was widening his scope of knowledge of the world and its people, and the lessons he learned and the experiences he met with helped to mould his future life and work. At the age of nineteen he was a second officer of a full-rigged ship.
When the tide of emigration started West in 1849, Mr. Huffman decided to get to California and made his way around the Horn, in company with other California pioneers, who later became prominent in the making of the State. Mr. Huffman remained in San Francisco a short time and then made his way to Sierra County. There he followed mining for a time; but his health necessitated a change, and so he located in Stockton and began teaming into the southern mines. Meeting with gratifying success, he gradually built up an extensive freighting business, and for twenty years was identified with Stockton as one of her sound business men and financiers of more than ordinary ability.
In 1868 Mr. Huffman visited Merced County; and, being favorably impressed with its many advantages, he concluded to purchase land and in time accumulated many hundred acres of good farming land. Through his connection with the Crocker-Huffman Land & Water Company, which had so much to do with the irrigation of the East Side of this fertile region, he added very materially in bringing the fame of Merced County as an agricultural section prominently to the fore.
Mr. Huffman became associated with the late Isaac Friedlander in the buying of grain throughout the San Joaquin Valley, acting as his agent and continuing thus until the death of his employer. Thereafter Mr. Huffman devoted his time to raising wheat and became a large grower of that commodity. He accumulated much property and was very successful in all that he undertook, working not alone for his own personal gain, but also to advance the general welfare of Merced County.
From the small beginnings of irrigation made before the advent of Mr. Huffman in Merced County, he readily saw that the future prosperity of the entire San Joaquin Valley depended upon getting water onto the fertile lands that only wanted that necessary adjunct to make the whole section “blossom as the rose” ; and through his association with the Crocker-Huffman Land & Water Company, he did his full share to bring about the present prosperity of Merced County. The details of the initiation and successful consummation of the irrigation movement are given in detail in the historical section of this volume and need no repetition here. Suffice it, here, to say that no one man did more to promote the various movements directed toward obtaining water for the lands in the county than did our subject. He was the prime mover in the organization of the First National Bank of Merced, and was its president from its organization until it was reorganized into the Commercial and Savings Bank in 1892, when he retained his position as a director and helped to guide its affairs through the trying times of its early life in the community. Mr. Huffman was a man of rare executive ability and maintained a personal contact with his large interests until he retired. He moved to San Francisco in 1893 and located in the home he had purchased at Broadway and Buchanan Streets; and there he passed to his reward on July 7, 1905.
The marriage of C. H. Huffman, which occurred on May 26, 1869, united him with Miss Laura A. E. Kirkland, born in Missouri, the daughter of R. M. and Catharine (Woods) Kirkland, natives of Missouri and Kentucky, respectively. At the age of nine years, in 1861, the daughter accompanied her parents across the plains to California behind slow-going ox-teams. Her father was a dentist. Upon arriving in California, they settled in Gilroy, where the daughter grew up. After her school days were over, she was married and then moved with her husband to Modesto. They first lived at Paradise City, where Mr. Huffman built a house, which later he moved to Modesto. Of this union there were ten children. William R. died at the age of twenty-eight years, unmarried; Caroline is now the wife of Dr. A. C. Griffith and resides at 1 19 Palm Avenue, San Francisco; Mary E. became the wife of Espie White, of Portland, Ore.; Fred H. is a cattleman in Modoc County; E. T. is interested in the automobile business at Miami Lodge and is also connected with transportation into the Yosemite Valley; Mercedes is the wife of Maj. G. E. Nelson, who is stationed at Fort Sill, Okla.; Genevieve married Col. Matt C. Bristol and lives in Honolulu; J. Walton lives in Merced; Hazel died at the age of fifteen months; and another infant died unnamed. By a former marriage Mr. Huffman was the father of three children. Mr. Huffman was recognized as townsite man for the Southern Pacific Railway and located nearly all the towns along the railroad through the San Joaquin Valley. The family moved to Merced; and there Mr. Huffman erected on the banks of Bear Creek, a large residence known as the Huffman Mansion by nearly everybody in that section of the country. This property was sold at the time they moved to San Francisco to the home in which he died; and this, in turn, was sold later by Mrs. Huffman, after a residence there of twenty-three years. She now makes her home at 1 19 Palm Avenue, San Francisco.
Source: Outcalt, John. A history of Merced County, California : with a biographical review of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present; Los Angeles, Calif. : Historic Record Company, 1925.