Biography of William C. Turner

William C Turner
William C Turner

The late William C. Turner was one of those intrepid pioneers who were the forerunners of our present-day civilization in California. He was born in Caswell County, North Carolina, on February 14, 1827, and in 1849, with a party of 150 men, all on the hunt for the gold to be found in the new Eldorado, left Greene County to take the northern route; but upon hearing that cholera was prevalent along that route, they turned south and with their ox-teams and wagons began the long trek that was to occupy six months. Their trip was without incident, and to relieve the monotony of the days they would organize hunting parties and go after buffalo, bear, deer, antelope, and elk, which were plentiful on the plains. Among the men of their party, to Mr. Turner was given the credit for killing the first buffalo. Upon reaching Los Banos, N. M., they traded their oxen for pack-mules and employed two guides to pilot them through the mountains to Salt Lake. En route they ran out of provisions and most of the party stopped at Utah Lake while the advance guard went on to get provisions from the Mormons. When they reached Salt Lake, September 15, they were told by the Mormons that it was too late to cross the Sierra Nevada’s, on account of the snow; but the party, under the guidance of James Waters, reached Los Angeles without mishap. They traveled through Cajon Pass up to Tulare Lake, and crossing the various streams reached Fort Miller. Resting for a few days, they then continued on to Fine Gold Gulch and did some prospecting, and then went on to Mariposa County. Large bands of elk were found in the San Joaquin Valley; and while one of their party was following one of these bands, he got lost in a heavy fog and wandered about for eighteen days. He was found in a hollow log on the Merced River, with his feet so badly frost-bitten that he lost some of his toes. He was taken to a New York company camped on the river, and later went back to Alabama without trying his luck at mining.

Mr. Turner reached the Mariposa mines on December 8, 1849, and began operating on Sherlock’s Creek. Having brought sheet-iron with them, they made what the miners called a cradle and from the dirt obtained gold very rapidly, some days taking out as high as fourteen ounces. He remained in Mariposa County until 1852, when he came onto the Merced River and began farming and stock-raising; ‘and that same year he reaped a good crop. In time he accumulated 2500 acres of land, with water facilities for shipping, and later the railroad came within eight miles of his place. His house was located on an eminence that commanded a fine view for miles around the valley. Here he set out a fine family orchard and a vineyard, all of which grew on the fine sandy loam without irrigation. His average yield was twelve bushels of wheat to the acre; and he kept about 1000 head of cattle and some 1200 head of hogs, and 100 head of horses and mules to operate his ranch.

On one occasion, it is related, Mr. Turner, while teaming into the mountains, secured a large grizzly bear, which he hauled to Stockton from near Jamestown. He built a strong log cabin or corral on his wagon, into which he got the bear, and with a ten-horse team hauled it to Stockton. During the journey the grizzly became very hot and angry and nearly tore the cabin to pieces; but the bear was landed safely in Stockton, where for years it was an exhibit in one of the parks.

About 1860, Mr. Turner was married to Miss Elizabeth Walling, who was born in New Madrid County, Mo. They had ten children. William E. was a superintendent for Miller & Lux for twenty years, and was a prominent stockman of Merced County. He married Ella Rucker and died in 1923. Mary E. married Capt. W. W. Gray, formerly a supervisor of Merced County. She is deceased. John Archibald is mentioned on another page of this history; Harriet E. is the widow of John Breckenridge, and resides in Santa Cruz; Thomas C. is also mentioned in this history; Mrs. Lucinda Barson lives in San Francisco; Mrs. Diana Henderson lives in Berkeley; Virginia died in Santa Cruz; and Eva and Evy both died in early childhood. Mr. Turner died at the age of sixty-four, on February 14, 1892; Mrs. Turner lived until February, 1922.

The life story of Mr. Turner is one of great interest; for the pioneers are practically all gone, and with them the stories of their trials and tribulations, as well as their jubilations. He was always optimistic and public-spirited, and their home always dispensed that particular kind of hospitality which is only to be found in the homes of the pioneers who have lived for others as well as for themselves.

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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