Biography of W. H. Osborn

As a dealer in real estate and an active member of the Merced County Republican Central Committee and as justice of the peace of Township No. 8, W. H. Osborn of Atwater has been closely identified with all forward movements for the upbuilding of Merced County and of this section of the San Joaquin Valley. A native son, he was born in San Francisco, on February 12, 1856, the eldest of six children (four living) of Henry Augustus Osborn, a pioneer of 1850 in California. He was born in Oxford, Conn., on February 13, 1829, grew up there until he was sixteen, then came to California via Cape Horn. Much suffering was endured by the passengers on that eventful journey, but finally young Osborn arrived in San Francisco, where he later engaged in the draying business. He was a member of the San Francisco Vigilant Committee of that early day and was always much concerned in the world events during his entire lifetime. He was a step-brother of the late J. W. Mitchell, a Forty-niner and a San Joaquin Valley pioneer. Mr. Osborn peddled goods out of San Francisco and Stockton to the miners in Tuolumne and Amador Counties in a cart drawn by oxen; and he also mined in that section. He went through the flood of 1862 while he was ranching on the Mitchell place on Cherokee Lane between Stockton and Woodbridge. He farmed on a large scale for that period as the harvesting was done by hand; no modern conveniences were even thought of at that time. He went to Jackson, Amador County, and for seven years mined in what was once the richest of the gold fields at Poker Flat; he also got out timbers for the mines and did some farming on 160 acres. In 1868 Mr. Osborn went to Turlock and for a time rented land of J. W. Mitchell, but later he invested in 640 acres one mile west of town, the property adjoining the cemetery. Today that same ranch is under irrigation and divided into ten and twenty-acre farms. He married on May 13, 1855, Minerva Jane Baker, born in Arkansas, but living in Amador County. She crossed the plains with an ox-team with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Baker, who settled at Poker Flat. She died at the age of forty-nine, survived by five children. Mr. Osborn died on January 4, 1915, aged eighty-six.

W. H. Osborn attended school in Amador, San Joaquin and Stanislaus Counties and when twenty-one took to ranching on 1600 acres leased from J. W. Mitchell four miles east of Turlock, raising wheat and rye, and for seven seasons he met with fair success. In 1884 he went to Madera County, and eight miles south of the town of that name, farmed 1700 acres of the Mitchell property, but did not meet with even fair returns and he came to Atwater, where he has since lived and become a potent factor in the progress of the town. He owns fifty acres in his home place and twenty acres nearby. About thirty years ago Mr. Osborn set out his first orchard and planted alfalfa. He has made his second setting of peaches and has exhibited his fruit at the various fairs in the State. His entire property has been brought to a high state of cultivation.

Mr. Osborn was married on December 25, 1878, to Miss Lucinda E. Bonnett, a native of Iowa, who came to California in 1864 with her parents, David D. and Elizabeth (Ronk) Bonnett. Her father was born in West Virginia on March 21, 1835 and went to Okaloosa, Iowa, as a pioneer farmer in 1858. With a party of emigrants and with a four-horse covered wagon he came with his family to Utah Territory, and then with ox-teams via Salt Lake, to California. He resided in Lockeford for four years, cleared his land of the timber, which he hauled to the fuel yards in Stockton, for the tan bark, and was engaged in farming. Between 1870 and 1880 he farmed rented land, some 1120 acres, on the present site of Denair, Stanislaus County. He retired from active work about five years before he died, being one of the last of the old pioneers to give up. He prospered and invested in 640 acres, which is now under the Turlock Irrigation District and has been colonized. He was twice married. His first wife, Elizabeth Ronk, was born in Indiana on February 6, 1839, and died in Turlock. His second marriage united him with a Mrs. Bradley, who now resides in Minnesota. Mrs. Osborn attended the same school as did her husband, a pioneer school house with but one room where all grades were taught. Of this union of Mr. and Mrs. Osborn five children were born, viz : Oro E., who married Frank E. Smith and died leaving three children, Bertha, Elvira and Richard; Eathel E., Mrs. W. H. Hurd of Patterson, the mother of three children, Elta, Fern and Erma; W. Lloyd, of Atwater, married Ethel Oswalt and they have six children, Hazel, Ellen, Lester Lloyd, Pauline, Verna and Walter William; Nathaniel Dade, of Atwater, married Ruby Herrod and they have a son Dean. Nathaniel Dade enlisted for service in the World War but never got over seas. And Arita E., Mrs. Perry Deardorff of Patterson and the mother of a son, Alvin. A great-grandchild, Marvin M. Simpson, son of Bertha Smith Simpson of Tulare, brightens the home circle of the Osborn family. The Christmas holidays always find at the Osborn family home in Atwater the foregathering of the Osborn clan. Mr. Osborn has always been an active Republican and since 1900 has been a member of the County Central Committee. On the organization of Township 8, in February, 1914, he was appointed by the supervisors the justice of the peace. He tried his first case on March 7. He established his real estate office on Front Street in February, 1907, and with the exception of a few months in 1908, when he was a partner with Owen Brothers, has operated alone. He was the local agent for the Jordan-Atwater Tract, Merced Colony Tract No. 2, and the Wood-Arena Tract. He has seen prices go from $25.00 and $40.00 per acre for raw land in 1908, to $200.00 per acre in 1920 and $250.00 and over per acre in 1925, and says that about fifty per cent of the first settlers made good. He has been an eye witness to the changes that have taken place in the last half century, for in 1870 he drove a supply wagon through here to the sheep camps on Owens Creek when he was working for J. W. Mitchell for $1.00 per day, and he has implicit faith in the future of the county. There were then only three ranches, the Atwater, the Dillon and the Ritchie ranches in this section and the roads were, according to Mr. Osborn. “wherever you took a notion to drive.” In March, 1925, Mr. Osborn had the pleasure of a visit with his school teacher of 1870, Fannv Walsh, now seventy-nine years of age, who taught fifty-three terms in the schools of the State.

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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