Biography of John C. James of Merced County

A retired pioneer of Merced and Stanislaus Counties, John C. James has been identified with the development of the San Joaquin Valley for the past sixty-five years, and in that time he has lived a life full of responsible work for the community at large and developed his own personal resources. He has been a factor for real progress and advancement in all of Central California. Born in Dodgeville, Iowa County, Wisconsin, on November 16, 1840, he was the eleventh child born to his parents, William and Eva James, natives of Cornwall, England, who came to the United States with three children and settled at Dodgeville. The father was a blacksmith in England, but after coming to America he became a farmer, and built and operated a flouring mill on Otter Creek. He was a stanch Republican and after becoming naturalized held the office of justice of the peace in Dodgeville, where both parents died the same month and year.

John C, now the only living son, received his education in the public school and at Mineral Point Seminary. He came West via Panama and arrived in Stockton on May 1, 1861, on the side-wheeler Cornelia from San Francisco, having made the Atlantic part of the voyage on the S. S. Northern Light, and the Pacific journey on the S. S. Constitution, being twenty-three days from New York to San Francisco. His brother, Captain Henry George James, the third child in the family, had preceded him, arriving in California in 1851. In the sixties he was a prominent rancher and stockman living west of Turlock, Stanislaus County. Another brother, Edward, the oldest of the family, was a Forty-niner, having come around the Horn to the gold fields of California. William, the second child, crossed the plains in 1850. The first work John C. did after reaching this State was on the San Joaquin River, in the employ of a Captain Jones who ran the steamer Alta, with a Mr. Ward as pilot. Later, when Captain James and Charles Blair engaged in the retail meat business at Big Oak Flat, John C. was his bookkeeper, after Mr. Blair sold to Captain James. They sold ten dressed beeves daily while the mines were in full blast. Later a shop was opened at Tuolumne City with John Simmons as a partner, but when the majority of the people moved to Modesto, in 1872, the two James brothers moved also; but Mr. Simmons remained in Tuolumne City. James Street, Modesto, is named for Captain James, deceased pioneer.

In the years up to 1879, John C. James resided in the great ranching center of Stanislaus County, where he served as the first enrolling clerk on the registry law; that year he came to Merced County, and farmed 2000 acres of the J. W. Mitchell lands, wheat being his chief crop. With the exception of four years absence in Oregon, where he conducted a shingle mill at Coquelle, he has made Merced County his home from that date. He developed a choice vineyard of fifty-three acres, north of Atwater, which since has been subdivided and is a part of Gertrude Colony. He also owns desirable real estate and rental property in Merced, and has prospered with the developing of the fertile Valley of the San Joaquin, for his keen foresight and ability to see the wonderful future in store for this section of the State have netted him good returns, and at the same time he has been able to contribute to the settling up and further advancement of the State’s resources.

The marriage of Mr. James, which occurred in 1876 at the home of Jack Hayes, Modesto, united him with Miss Jennie Weston, the first girl babe born on Sherlock Creek, Mariposa County. Her father, Lewis Weston, was a native of New England who crossed the plains and settled in California in 1849. Three children were born to Mr. and Mrs. James; Sydney L. is married and the father of three sons and resides in Mariposa County; John H. is a rancher of Merced, married and father of three children; and Gertrude A. Casad of Merced is the mother of four children. Mrs. James passed away in Oregon in 1903.

Mr. James has always maintained a deep interest in State history, and he has done much for his fellow pioneers; he contributes to local newspapers, a most interesting style of writing, on past events and early California history, his Nom de Plume being “Wilkins McCawber,” and he often favors civic clubs and the like, during banquet hours, with his presence and gives little talks, and is always received with ready response for “More, more!” A most likable man, he holds the respect and liking of his friends and acquaintances throughout the great central valley. Fraternally, he is an Odd Fellow; and in line with other civic work, he served one term as deputy county assessor of Stanislaus County under Tom Wilson. In 1919, in company with his brother, Richard, he made an extended visit to eastern states, but while enjoying the sights of the “effete East,” he saw nothing to make him regret his early decision to “come West and grow up with the country.”

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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