Biography of William G. Collier of Merced County

William G Collier
William G Collier

Remembered as an early pioneer of California, a man of erudition and scholarly attainments, and a citizen whose efforts were always given towards the advancement of public interests, William G. Collier is named among the representative men of the State as the “Father of Irrigation” and as a leader in the early days of the settling of Merced County. A native of Kentucky, he was born in Shelby County on July 17, 1827, a son of Michael and Amelia (Wilcox) Collier. The latter was a grandniece of Daniel Boone, and on her father’s side was descended from a long line of Doctors of Medicine and Doctors of Divinity. Michael Collier, a Mason of high degree, was a prosperous merchant, following the mercantile business for some years, or until his death early in life. After he died his widow removed to Missouri with her family and settled in Boone County.

William G. Collier passed his boyhood and early manhood in Missouri, and finished his education with a three-years course in the University of Missouri at Columbia. He left the university before his graduation, to take charge of his brother’s lumber business, this brother having gone to California as a gold-seeker; and soon after, he bought out his brother and conducted the business for himself until he, too, decided he would come to California, which he did in 1853, selling out his varied interests and embarking in a train that crossed the plains with oxen and the old-time prairie schooners. Mr. Collier experienced the usual experiences of the pioneer in the long journey of six months crossing desert, plain and mountains; and upon his safe arrival in the Golden State he went to Tuolumne County and there engaged in the lumber business, also taking a very active part in the upbuilding of the county, where he served as a member of the board of supervisors for a time.

The year 1859 marks his advent into Merced County. Here he settled on the Merced River about five miles from its mouth and engaged in stock raising; and when the grain era began, he was among the first to engage in that industry. He kept adding to his landholdings until he came to own some 3000 acres, which he superintended.

Besides ranching, Mr. Collier did a great deal of surveying for Miller & Lux, as well as for others who needed his services. He was very farsighted and could see the benefit to be obtained by the ranchers if they could get water on their lands; and to William G. Collier, more than to any other man of his time, is due the credit for the irrigation of the lands in Merced County. He promoted the first irrigation enterprise of any size in the entire State, that of the Robla Canal Company, which was incorporated on March 30, 1870, and was financed and managed practically by himself, in company with W. P. Sproul and S. Baltzley, with its principal place of business at the Collier Ranch. Of this company Mr. Collier was the president. Its organization was the result of years of planning and in putting it into practical operation he introduced a measure that was to figure largely in the agricultural development of the Valley. He was also associated with The Farmers’ Canal Company, which later became the Crocker Huffman Land & Water Company, and was thus the forerunner of the great Merced Irrigation District.

Mr. Collier served as county surveyor of Merced County several terms, and in many ways did his full part to place on a safe and sound foundation the future welfare of Merced County.

Ann Eliza Collier
Ann Eliza Collier

Mr. Collier was united in marriage on July 29, 1851, in Chariton County, Missouri, with Miss Ann Eliza Jackson, daughter of George Jackson, who served as a judge in his county and was a political leader there. George Jackson was a brother of Governor Jackson of Missouri, and was also related to Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Of this fortunate union were born the following children: Amelia Collier Stone; Harriet Collier Whitworth; Laura Collier Munson; Elizabeth Lee Collier Olds; Frances Collier Hartman; George Jackson Collier, deceased; William Lee Collier, who married Bessie Elizabeth Guier; Mary Collier; Carolina Calhoun Collier, deceased; Virginia Washington Collier; Sara Boone Collier; and Lillian Collier.

Mr. Collier was much interested in politics, and was a stanch Democrat. He was baptized a Catholic, but was reared by Baptist parents; he had no active church affiliations. He died October 9, 1883; and in his passing, Merced County and the State of California lost a most loyal citizen. Mr. Collier was a great reader, an exceptionally well-informed man. He was a thinker, a scholar. In early manhood he had taught school for a short time, until he entered larger spheres of activity. He was held in high esteem by all who knew him, or had business or social relations with him; and no one was ever turned away whom he thought in any way deserving of his assistance. An unselfish man, his first thoughts were for his family and friends, and his name will ever be held in memory by posterity.

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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