It is enlightening and inspiring to read the lives and see the faces of the men and women who have built up Merced County to the position it now holds, and who have been the very foundation of all development work which has taken place since their early settlement here, in building up the population of the County and State, and in demonstrating the fertility of the soil for future productiveness. Among these pioneers, none more thoroughly deserves mention in the history of the county than the late John Ruddle, “pioneer of pioneers,” who crossed the plains in 1849, and one year later settled in Merced County, where his last days were spent.
John Ruddle was a native of Missouri, born in Madrid County, on October 17, 1830. He crossed the plains to Los Angeles in 1849, and went to the Mariposa mines in 1850. Though only a young man of twenty, he saw with a keen vision that the development of California would depend more upon farming than upon mining; and late in 1850 he came down to the Merced plains and took up land on the Merced River, near Hopeton, then called Greens, and later, for a time, justly called Forlorn Hope. This land he traded to his father for land in Missouri, which he in turn traded for cattle, bringing them across the plains in 1854 to California. Upon arriving here he bought 160 acres from S. Hyde, and this quarter section was the first permanent start of the 3800 acres now comprising the J. G. Ruddle Properties, Inc., and known as the Ruddle Ranch, founded by John Ruddle almost three-quarters of a century ago and now turning largely to dairying and fruit culture. It is unique that this large holding is one of the few ranches of the State that is still in the possession of members of the family by whom it was founded in the early fifties.
A sad incident of this narrative is the tragic fate of Allan Ruddle, brother of John, who had accompanied him across the plains and engaged in ranching with him. Allan left the river home one morning with an ox-team for Stockton, with several hundred dollars in gold dust to buy furniture for the ranch home. When the oxen returned late that afternoon, minus their driver, the worst was feared, and these fears were confirmed the next morning when the searching party found Allan Ruddle’s body about six miles out on the Stockton road, toward the Tuolumne River. His rifled pockets, broken whip-stock, and a bullet wound in the head told the ghastly story. As Joaquin Murietta, the bandit, who struck terror to the scattered communities in that day, was known to be operating in the neighborhood, the murder was laid to the door of the desperado and his gang.
In 1854, John Ruddle went back to Missouri and brought out the drove of cattle already mentioned, starting with 300 and arriving at his ranch with about 240 of the animals. He spent the years from 1854 on for twenty-seven years conducting his ranch and gradually adding to it. In the late sixties he became connected with the private banking house of Wigginton, Blair & Company, of Snelling. When the county seat was moved to Merced, this company came to the new town and organized the Merced Bank. Late in the seventies Mr. Ruddle became president of the bank and continued with it until it closed up its affairs, in 1894. He then moved to the Merced River Flouring Mills, near Snelling, which he had purchased from the Curtiss interests in 1890, and with his family lived on the hill near the mill, in the house which was a landmark in that vicinity for many years. He at that time turned over his ranch to his son James, and in 1905, after being farmed to grain for half a century, the river bottom half of the ranch was turned to dairying, which has proved highly remunerative. There are now six complete dairying outfits on the ranch, conducted by tenants, who are milking 1000 cows on shares. The land is well adapted to alfalfa,
The marriage of John Ruddle, occurring August 23, 1860, united him with Ann Elizabeth Hardwick, daughter of a pioneer Merced River family. She made him a most worthy helpmate, and five children were born to them. Of these, the only child who lived beyond infancy is James G. Ruddle. He married Annette Stockird, born in Merced County, and is the father of three children: James Garland, Allan B., and Alice.
In 1900, Mr. Ruddle moved back to Merced from the old mill, and made his home in the city until 1910, when he removed to Santa Cruz; and there he and his good wife remained until 1918, that year returning to Merced to stay. Here, on February 1, 1925, after enjoying ninety-four years of life, John Ruddle passed to his reward, at the family home at 436 Twentieth Street. His was a life rich in labor, not only for himself and family, but for the common good and the upbuilding of his community. He held a place in the ranks of pioneers which never can be filled; for he was one of that comparatively small band of men who crossed the plains in their youth and here planted the seeds of industry that were to bear abundant harvests of achievement. The results of his labors have been and will continue to be so far-reaching that it is impossible to estimate the true value of this one man’s life and endeavor. We can only, as a State, appreciate the fact that it is through the true vision and unceasing labor of men like John Ruddle, men who gave their entire lives to the developing of a barren country into one of the most productive valleys in the world, who came out to the frontier West, and stayed, not to speculate, nor to seek adventure, but to devote their God-given brain and brawn to the upbuilding of new communities and the betterment of humanity — it is through the efforts and achievements of such men that our glorious State has come to be known throughout the world. And as long as their spirit lives, emulated by their descendants, we know that we need never fear for the perpetuity of our commonwealth.
The Ruddle Ranch is now conducted by J. G. Ruddle Properties, Inc., of which J. G. Ruddle, son of John Ruddle, is president, and his sons, Allan and J. Garland, are vice-president and secretary and treasurer respectively. The corporation recently voted bonds to the extent of $300,000, and will proceed to develop the ranch into one of the best orchard and vineyard properties in California.
John Ruddle was the last remaining of a large family, and is survived by his devoted wife, his son, James, and three grandchildren. At Hopeton, in 1865, he joined the Methodist Church, South, which congregation was organized in 1853, Dr. J. C. Simmons and Rev. Burris being the ministers there in early days. The ministers always stopped at the Ruddle home, and he took pride and joy in housing them and was all his life an ardent supporter of the church.
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.