JOHN D. PERKINS
John D. Perkins, who is engaged in the drug business at Ione, Amador County, dates his residence in California from 1850 and is numbered among the best pioneer citizens. He was born in Virginia, at Henry Court House, on the 14th of March, 1831, and is of English and French descent, his ancestors having been early settlers of the Old Dominion. His grandfather and his father were both born in that state. The latter, William Perkins, was reared and educated in Virginia and entered the Methodist ministry. He was a very talented man and his influence and ability in church work led to his selection for the presiding eldership. He married Miss Martha Henry Fontaine, who was of French Huguenot descent and a representative of one of the honored and distinguished families of Virginia. Her great-grandfather was Patrick Henry, the celebrated statesman, orator and patriot, whose eloquence probably did more to arouse the American colonies at the time of the Revolution than the words of any other one man. In 1840 William Perkins and his wife removed to Missouri, spending their remaining days in that state. They had eight children, five sons and three daughters. The father attained the age of seventy-six years and the mother reached the age of eighty-five, both dying in the triumph of the Christian faith in which they had so long believed. All of the family except the youngest son survive. He was a member of the Confederate army during the Civil War and was killed at the battle of Wilson’s Creek.
John D. Perkins, their fourth child, accompanied his parents on their removal to Missouri, and in the public schools of that state acquired his education. In his nineteenth year he crossed the plains to California. His uncle, David Perkins, outfitted a train of three ox teams and eighteen mules, carrying fifteen hundred pounds of Peach brand tobacco. They also took with them twelve cows, and to each man in charge of a wagon was given two suits of clothing. The train was in charge of a Mr. Mussett, a Presbyterian minister. Mr. Perkins had an ox team and was accompanied by William Armstrong, a friend, with whom he entered into partnership. They remained for a month at Lexington, Missouri, and then started on the long journey across the plains. After they had passed Fort Laramie the train suffered from the cholera plague and two of the men died; but Mr. Mussett had a very effective remedy and succeeded in saving the lives of the others who were stricken with the disease. During the period when the disease was raging Mr. Perkins and his cousin became frightened, and he sold his share of the team for two thousand dollars to a Mr. Gibbs and took a note to be paid when the man returned from California. Mr. Mussett, however, ridiculed the young man out of doing that and Mr. Gibbs returned the note. Twelve hours afterward he died of cholera! Upon the wagons in large letters were painted the words “Howard County, Missouri,” thus indicating the section from which they hailed.
When they reached the Salt Lake country they camped on the Jordan River, twelve miles from the city of Salt Lake, and the Mormons drove their cattle into the stray pond; but the travelers took them out by force at the point of their revolvers, whereupon Mr. Mussett was arrested and fined seventy-five dollars and costs.
The party proceeded south of Salt Lake and crossed the one hundred and five mile desert, where great suffering was endured on account of lack of water. Mr. Perkins, through the bright moonlight saw a range of mountains about five miles ahead of him and supposing this to be where the springs were located, he rode ahead alone on horseback to locate the water supply and thus relieve the perishing thirst of their party. With such confidence had he of finding water in the near distance that after refreshing himself from his canteen he gave the balance of the water he had to his horse. Upon reaching the mountains, the anticipated source of water, much to his surprise and disappointment, he found instead a big sign tacked on a wrecked wagon on which it was printed “twenty-five miles to water.” He found the settlement almost a city of the dead. There were many dead cattle along the way and emigrants also died from thirst. Both Mr. Perkins and his horse were almost exhausted, but there was no alternative but to press on. After going five miles further he found two kegs of water by the side of the trail, in one of which was a faucet, and he and his horse were thus refreshed. When he reached the source of the water supply he learned that a benevolent society had been formed and sent the water back, and many a life was thus saved. Here he served with the society a day or two after which he sold his team and he and his partner with three horses came on alone. They would build a fire in the evening and prepare their supper and afterward extinguish the fire for fear the Indians would discover it and attack them.
They reached Nevada City on the 23d of September, after a very long and arduous journey. His brother, Patrick Henry Perkins, had come to California the year previously, but our subject did not know where to find him. He engaged in mining for a little time at Nevada City, but with little success; and as he had scarcely anything left he packed his blankets and came on foot to Sacramento, where he learned that his brother was at Murphy’s Diggings, buying cattle and butchering. Accordingly he proceeded to that place and made his way to the second crossing of the Calaveras River, where he took charge of the cattle for his brother. In connection with his brother he also engaged in mining on Chili Gulch, meeting with excellent success in his undertaking. His best day’s work was that on which he took out three hundred dollars worth of gold from the Long Pine mine. Subsequently Mr. Perkins went to Stockton and purchased a six-mule team, after which he engaged in hauling supplies to the miners. The winter, however, was a very hard one and the venture was unprofitable. He sold his team and engaged in draying in Stockton, but that undertaking was not attended with success, and accordingly he proceeded to San Francisco, where he worked at draying, for one hundred dollars per month. He spent the year 1854 in that city and on the 1st of January, 1855, arrived at Live Oak, Sacramento County, where for twenty years he engaged in mining with fair success.
In 1859 Mr. Perkins was happily married to Miss Julia F. Brown, a native of Madison County, Tennessee, and a daughter of J. Brown, who came to California in 1856. Two children have been born to them: Elbert West, a jeweler and druggist who is now associated in business with his father; and Martha, the wife of A. E. Smith, who is engaged in merchandising in Carbondale.
In 1873 Mr. Perkins returned to Missouri to visit relatives and friends, making the journey by rail across the country which he had formerly traversed with a wagon train. He spent three months at his old home, from which he had been absent twenty-three years. He then again went to California, but with his family returned once more to Missouri, there purchasing a drug store, which he conducted until the failing health of his wife caused him to return to the “land of sunshine.” He then engaged in mining on Michigan Bar until May, 1876, when he came to Ione, where he manufactured three hundred thousand brick. Later he sold out his brickyard and secured a clerkship in a general mercantile store. By President Cleveland he was appointed postmaster at Ione and served in that capacity for four years, after which he purchased the drug and variety store of which he is now the proprietor. He has since successfully conducted this enterprise, the public according him a liberal patronage, for his reliable business methods are well known. His political support has ever been given to the Democracy.
In 1863 he was made a Master Mason at Michigan Bar, and served as the master of Nebraska Lodge, No. 71, for three consecutive terms. He has also long been a valued member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and has filled all of its offices and represented both branches in the grand lodge of the state. He and his wife are consistent members of the Methodist Church, in which he has served as a trustee, while she is the superintendent of the Sunday school. They are held in the highest regard throughout the county which is their home and where they have so long resided, and their circle of friends is extensive.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.