Biography of John F. Cooper of Sacramento

John F, Cooper
John F, Cooper

John F. Cooper, who is one of the oldest and best known citizens of Sacramento, has had a remarkable career since his arrival in California over fifty years ago, when a boy of twelve or thirteen years. He has had a taste of seafaring life, learned the details of the printer’s trade and followed that pursuit for several years, has been to a greater or less extent engaged in mining and ranching since boyhood, was for many years one of the leading musicians and a prominent factor in most of the musical events of that state, for a third of a century conducted the leading music store of Sacramento, and for the past ten years has been interested in various important lines of business, being the proprietor of the Capital Sacramento Transfer, Van and Storage Company.

Mr. Cooper was born in Lexington, Kentucky, December 17, 1840. His father, Archibald H. Cooper, was of English descent and of an old Kentucky family, an early member of which had fought on the side of the colonists in the Revolution. He was a physician by profession and died in 1853. His wife was Elizabeth Agnes (McIntosh) Cooper, a native of Kentucky and likewise of old and Revolutionary stock, being Scotch-English in descent. Her death occurred in 1854. Of the children of these parents, one daughter died recently, a son died while the family were crossing the plains, and another brother, David M., served in the Civil War and fought Indians on the coast, and died in Sacramento in 1902, being buried with Grand Army honors.

John F. Cooper attended school in Kentucky, and in 1852 made the trip across the plains. His father and uncle had come to California in 1849, and had stores at Mud Spring and Diamond Spring, to both of which places they gave the names. In 1852 Archibald Cooper sent his brother-in-law, John McIntosh, who now lives at Nelson Station, back east to bring the family. The family and the party of relatives made a large company, occupying twenty-seven wagons, and the boy John made the long and eventful journey astride of a little white mule. This trip was made the more perilous on account of cholera and the Mormons, and they were three and a half months on the way, arriving in the Golden State August 27, 1852. Most of the party took up their residence in Colusa County, but John F. Cooper and his parents practically made Sacramento their home from the first. The first independent experience of the former was as a cabin boy on board the clipper ship Witchcraft, which made a trip around the Horn to New York, whence he shipped for the return trip on the clipper Swordfish. On his return he began collecting fares on the old steamer Clinton, plying between Oakland and San Francisco. In 1854 he went to Stockton, where he made the acquaintance of W. L. Wright, professor of mathematics in Yale College, and who had taken up the Rough and Ready ranch, and on his death he willed young Cooper half of it. After the death of Professor Wright he attended the Benicia high school for three years, among his schoolmates being Joseph McKenna and others since known for their prominence in business and public life. He then learned the printer’s trade, and for some years worked in all departments of the business, being employed on the Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento. He then gave up printing and finished his public school course at Sacramento.

Mr. Cooper took up the study of music with Professor Charles Winter and Professor Mansfeldt, and became very proficient both instrumentally and vocally. He took an active part in the organization of the Philharmonic Society, and at one time was its president; for eight years was organist in the Methodist church, for twelve years in the Presbyterian church and for six years in the Jewish synagogue. In early days he had charge of the music in the public schools. He organized the Sacramento chorus for the Camilo Ursa concerts, having one hundred and fifty voices from Sacramento, and had fifteen hundred voices in the San Francisco chorus, with Carl Zerahn as leader. At the same time he engaged in selling musical instruments, principally pianos, and was in that line of business for thirty-five years, during which time the Cooper music store sold as many pianos as any other firm in the state.

While in the music business in Sacramento he went to San Francisco and bought a half interest in the Overland Freight and Transfer Company. This company collected for the railroads and shipped to Australia, China, Japan and other points, and the firm is still in existence, but Mr. Cooper sold his interest after a few years and returned to Sacramento, principally because the climate did not agree with him.

He gave up the music business in 1893 and began fruit growing. He bought one hundred and sixty acres on fruit land, and has bought and sold a number of ranches. While in the music business he was and still is largely interested in mining in Mexico, California and Nevada, and he inaugurated the system of requiring the buyers of mining stock to pay the par value of mining stock by an assessment of a few cents a share each month, the proceeds being devoted to development. He has placed over half a million shares at a par value of one dollar each. He has also constructed many quartz mills in this state and in Mexico. He still retains large holdings of fruit and farm lands.

In 1899 he incorporated the Capital Sacramento Transfer, Van and Storage Company, and in 1902 bought out his partner’s interests and now conducts it alone. It has grown to extensive proportions, and he publishes a weekly paper in connection with the business, showing all the vacant houses and promoting the trade in many other ways. He has recently completed a large fireproof storage warehouse as an adjunct of the business.

As an evidence of Mr. Cooper’s influence in business circles in Sacramento, after he sold his music business the firm incorporated and continued under the name of the Cooper Music Company, the name itself being considered one of the valuable assets of the house.

Mr. Cooper was married in Sacramento, October 19, 1869, to Miss Joanna Powelson, a native of Philadelphia and a daughter of a California pioneer. After her father’s death her mother married Captain J. Q. A. Cunningham, a former Mississippi river captain, and who, until his death, was captain on the Sacramento river. Mrs. Cooper, who possessed a beautiful soprano voice and was a pupil under Mulder Fabbri, of world-wide fame, and one of his most promising students, has been prominent in the musical circles of the state, and her singing has been praised wherever she has sung. Mr. and Mrs. Cooper have two daughters, Laura and Ruby, who are themselves accomplished musicians and prominent in society, the musical, literary, golf, tennis and other club affairs of the city. Mr. Cooper formerly affiliated with the Knights of Pythias, the Red Men, the Foresters of America, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and others, but had to give up his fraternal relations on account of the press of private business. He is independent in national matters of issue, and is not an active partisan, and, although offered office, has refused and taken only a good citizen’s part in public affairs.

Mr. Burris’ remains were interred in the family vault at Cypress Lawn Cemetery, San Mateo County.

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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