Of the pioneers living in Merced County, there are few who can so clearly recount the early stories and incidents that happened in the lives of the men and women who blazed the trail for the generations that are to follow, as can Samuel Lewis Givens, the retired rancher of the Bear Creek district, near Planada. A representative of a distinguished family who came to California in 1853, he was born in Union County, Ky., November 8, 1842, the youngest of ten children born of the marriage of Thomas and Catherine D. F. (Richards) Givens. His father was born in Virginia on December 1, 1798, and his mother was born in Kentucky on February 1, 1805. They were married on June 23, 1825, and became the parents of the following children: Robert R., born April 7, 1826, who now has a daughter Ada teaching school in Merced; Lewis R., born June 21, 1827, and died July 22, 1840; Eleazar, born October 17, 1828; Matilda L., born May 24, 1830, died August 7, 1853; Jane R., born March 7, 1832, married D. M. Pool of Mariposa County, who served in the State legislature; Catherine A., born November 17, 1833, married A. J. Gregory, who served in the legislature (she died November 25, 1856) ; Thomas Jr., born October 15, 1838; John H., born October 15, 1838, served one term as sheriff of Merced County; Mary R., born October 30, 1840, married E. E. Thrift of Stockton; and Samuel L., our subject and the only one of the family now living.
It was on December 24, 1852, that the Givens family left their home in the Eastern States and started for California, reaching New Orleans on January 1, 1853, from which port they embarked on board the Pampero for Greytown, which they reached twelve days later. They crossed the Isthmus on the backs of mules and then took passage on the Brother Jonathan for San Francisco, reaching that city on February 2. The Brother Jonathan disappeared on its next trip and was never heard from again. The family proceeded to Mariposa County by way of Stockton on the mail stage and arrived at their destination in due time over some very bad roads, as it was a wet season. Mr. Givens bought the possessory rights of the Texas Ranch, comprising 1040 acres, which ranch is now owned by our subject. Here the father died on September 12, 1860.
Samuel L. Givens was educated in the pay schools of Mariposa County, attending about four months each year, and finished with a course at the University of the Pacific at San Jose. His schooling over, he returned to the home ranch and remained until 1869 and then engaged in running stock into Inyo County until 1876. In 1878 he bought the ranch he now owns in Merced County, known as the M. O. Barber ranch, on Bear Creek, upon which he has since lived. This ranch comprises some 520 acres, which has been devoted to grain and stock-raising; in addition he has been a large leasor of land for stock purposes.
Mr. Givens has been closely allied with all movements for the upbuilding of this part of the county and has maintained his interest in the events of the period, keeping abreast of the times by observation and reading. In politics he is a Democrat. Since his retirement the ranch has been managed by his son Archibald, who is an only child, and who has been given the best of educational advantages.
On December 20, 1877, in Mariposa County, Mr. Givens was united in marriage with Miss Susan Lurana Wills, a native of Mariposa County, born December 9, 1855, a daughter of Benjamin Wills, a native of Alabama, who married Miss Amanda Cathey. Mr. Wills made his first trip to the Golden State in 1849, and afterwards he went back East for his family. Mr. and Mrs. Givens have one son, Archibald, who married Miss Virginia McReynolds of Santa Rosa; and they have a daughter, Virginia Lurana.
On Mr. Givens’ ranch stands an orange tree, a seedling grown from a seed of an orange which Mrs. Givens obtained when she was coming across the Isthmus of Panama in 1853, and which she planted seventy-five years ago on their Texas Ranch in Mariposa County. In 1900 the tree was moved to the ranch of our subject, and still bears a bountiful crop each year.
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.