Biography of James Louis Gillis of Sacramento

James Louis Gillis, state librarian of California and a resident of California, has been a well-known factor in political circles on the Pacific coast for about fifteen years, and is well known to many of the leading men, especially in legislative halls, where he has done important service as chief clerk of various important committees.

Mr. Gillis was born in Richmond, Washington County, Iowa, October 3, 1857, and is a son of Charles and Emily Eliza (Gelatt) Gillis. His maternal grandparents were Richard and Eliza (Morey) Gelatt, the former a native of Savoy, Massachusetts, and the latter of Charlton, Worcester County, Massachusetts. The ancestry in the maternal line can be traced back to John Gelatt, who came from Paris, France, about the time of the French and Indian War in 1755, being then eighteen years of age. He was the son of a wealthy silk manufacturer, and he settled in Taunton, Massachusetts. He died at the very advanced age of about one hundred years, passing away in Savoy, that state, to which place he had previously removed, making it home until his demise. He left three sons and a daughter–John, George, Abraham and Lydia.

Charles Gillis, the father of Mr. Gillis, was born in Victor, Ontario County, New York, and was married there to Emily Eliza Gelatt, who was a native of Jay Township, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania. For some years they resided in Washington County, Iowa, but during the early childhood of their son James L. they removed to Mount Pleasant, Iowa, where they lived until April 9, 1861, when they started for California with ox teams, arriving at Empire City, Nevada, in August of the same year. There the father decided to remain, and opened a hotel which he conducted until 1863, when he turned his attention to mining at Carson City, Nevada, and James L. Gillis there entered the first school of the town. In the spring of 1864, however, the family took up their abode on a farm in Antelope Valley, where they resided until 1866, when they came to California, reaching Placerville in December. Christmas Day of that year was spent in that place, and in January 1867, they continued their journey to Sacramento, where they remained until 1870. In that year the family home was established at San Jose, and in the fall of 1871, they returned to Sacramento. The father died in San Francisco at the age of seventy-five years, and the mother is still living, making her home with her son James L. Gillis. There are also two living daughters, Emeline Lucretia and Sabra Nevada, while two sons and four daughters have passed away.

During the period of the family’s first residence in Sacramento, James Louis Gillis was a student in the public school there, and after their return to that city he entered a private school conducted by Rev. M. Goethe. He had been reared amid the wild scenes of western pioneer life, and his educational privileges were somewhat desultory. He left school on the 12th of August, 1872 and became a messenger boy in the service of the Sacramento Valley Railroad Company, with which corporation he was connected until 1894, during which period he had filled various positions, including that of telegraph operator, bill clerk and assistant superintendent, in fact had been advanced through almost every position from that of messenger boy to a place of great responsibility.

In the meantime, Mr. Gillis had been married. On the 25th of December 1881, he wedded Miss Kate Petree, of Sacramento, and to them were born three daughters, Mabel R., Emily G., and Ruth M.

After leaving the railroad employ, Mr. Gillis was appointed chief clerk of the committee on ways and means of the assembly session of 1895, by Hon. Judson Brusie, and at the close of the session he was appointed keeper of the archives in the office of the secretary of state, filling that position until 1897, when he was again made clerk of the committee on ways and means. On the close of his second service in the assembly, he again entered the office of the secretary of state and later resigned there in order to accept the position of deputy in the state library. In 1899, on the assembling of the state legislature, he was appointed for the third time as chief clerk of the ways and means committee. On the 1st of April 1899, upon the resignation of the state librarian, Frank T. Coombs, he was elected state librarian for the term ending in April 1902. He has been active in Republican politics since 1890 and has labored effectively and untiringly for the best interests of his party, employing every honorable means possible to secure Republican successes. His fraternal affiliations connect him with Court Sutter, I.O.F., the Elks lodge and the Sacramento Athletic Club, and he is widely known and popular in fraternal and political circles in Sacramento. Few men of his years have more intimate knowledge concerning the pioneer history of the great West, for from his early boyhood days he has lived on the Pacific coast and the vivid impressions of boyhood present him with a strong and accurate picture of conditions in California during the early years of his residence in the state.

Source: Leigh H. Irvine; A History of the New California Its Resources and People, 2 Volumes; New York and Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1903.

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