Biography of James J. Stevinson

James J Stevenson
James J Stevenson

Among the outstanding pioneers of Merced County there were none more widely known than the Stevinsons, father and son, Archibald W., and James J., who both were called “Colonel” by their intimate friends — not as a military title, however, but partly because they were from the South, and partly because of their participation in the Mexican War.

James J. Stevinson was born in Boone County Mo., on November 6, 1828, the son of Archibald and Charlotte Stevinson. When he was five years old his mother died, and he and an older sister were placed with an uncle, Samuel Stevinson, and there the lad made his home and grew to young manhood. In 1846 he joined a trading train of General Kearney’s Division and crossed the plains with Doniphan’s Regiment, en route to Mexico, spending that winter on the Del Norte River and on the road to Santa Fe, N. M. Resuming the journey again, he arrived at Chihauhau on March 1, 1847. and was happily surprised to meet his father, whom he had not seen for eleven years and who was engaged in merchandising there. He visited with him for two months and then joined the soldiers and arrived at Saltillo, where the troops met General Wool’s Division. Mr. Stevinson remained at Saltillo until the close of the war, after which he returned to Chihuahua, with two companions, making the trip on mule back, a distance of 600 miles, in seven and one-half days. Here he again met his father, with whom he remained until December 27, 1848, when he started on his trip via Durango and Mazatlan, to San Francisco, where he arrived on March 25, 1849, “flat broke,” having spent thirty days on the water, which he often referred to as thirty-five days — on account of the hardships endured.

Mr. Stevinson went to the mines on Mormon Gulch, Tuolumne County, and followed mining during the months of April and May, 1849, with fair success; he then acted as agent for Colonel Jackson, at Jacksonville, for three months. Then, his father arriving here from Mexico, they formed a partnership and carried on a general merchandise business in Mariposa County from November, 1849, to August, 1852, when James J. Stevinson arrived in what is now Merced County. Here he obtained a large tract of land and began agricultural pursuits, and in time developed one of the most productive ranches and had one of the most beautiful homes in the entire San Joaquin Valley. He had 15,000 acres of land and about 1500 head of cattle and some 3000 sheep, besides other stock. The residence is on the left bank of the Merced River, upon which, in early days, stern-wheel steamers used to run and gather up the grain stored along the banks. In the course of time Mr. Stevinson accumulated 25,000 acres of land. He farmed on a large scale, raising stock and grain, and became one of the wealthy men of the county.

On December 27, 1855, James J. Stevinson was united in marriage with Miss Louisa Jane Cox, daughter of Isham J. Cox, of Cox’s Ferry on the Merced River. She was born in Illinois and was brought to California by her parents. They had three children : Samuel, Mary E., and Fannie B. After a long and useful life, filled with good works, not alone for his own family, but for the people of Merced County in general, James J. Stevinson passed to his reward on November 13, 1907, at the age of seventy-nine years.

Archibald W. Stevinson, the father of James J., was born in Clark County, Ky., in 1804, and received a good education in his native State. He was a man of high intelligence, and a farmer by occupation. When he was twenty he moved to Boone County, Mo., where he married; and there his children were born. In 1830 he engaged in the Santa Fe trade. Business required him to journey between Independence, Mo., and Chihuahua, Mexico, and he made these trips no less than nine times during the eighteen years he was engaged in this business. He set out for California on April 10, 1849, and reached Los Angeles in July. He was engaged in various mercantile operations in California and arrived in what is now Merced County on September 23, 1852, settling on the Stevinson ranch; and there he died in 1883, aged seventy-nine years.

There were three children born to Col. A. W. and Charlotte Stevinson, namely: James J., Elizabeth March, and Charlotte Silman.

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.

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