ADOLPHUS HENRY COULTER
There are few “forty-niners” left in California, for most of them have gone over the “great divide” to a land of treasures richer than those which drew them away from home and friends over the “Rockies” and Sierras and down into the gold-laden land of California. One of the best known of those who yet live in Calaveras County is Adolphus Henry Coulter, of San Andreas, who fills the office of county surveyor.
Mr. Coulter was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, June 29th, 1827, a son of David and Catherine (Shinn) Coulter. On his father’s side he is descended from Swiss ancestry, who settled in Maryland as early as 1680, whence some more immediate ancestor removed to North Carolina. David Coulter removed with his family to Arkansas in 1847, and there his wife, a native of North Carolina and a Presbyterian, died in 1852, leaving three sons. Mr. Coulter was reared in the Lutheran faith. He came to California in 1856 and was more or less engaged in mining. He was born in North Carolina in 1790 and died in California in 1877, aged eighty-seven years.
Adolphus Henry Coulter was educated in North Carolina, and says that he first thought he “would become a doctor, then a lawyer, and finally became a surveyor.” He crossed the plains with the Clarksville company, from Fort Smith in 1849. The party consisted of one hundred and sixty men and their outfit consisted of forty-five wagons and a forge on wheels. They set out from Fort Smith, Arkansas, April 2, and celebrated the Fourth of July beside the Rio Grande, below Albuquerque, New Mexico. At that point twelve wagons left the outfit and came on in advance of the others. At the Gila River Mr. Coulter and three companions bade good-bye to the party and come on on foot and arrived at San Diego, California, September 25. From they went by steamer to San Francisco, where they landed October 5, and the combined cash capital of the four probably did not exceed fifty dollars.
Mr. Coulter’s first employment was at dressing redwood lumber at eight dollars a day, and soon he and a companion engaged to weather-board a building at ten dollars per hundred feet and made ten dollars a day at the work. Later they went to Sacramento city in a skiff and there found employment until November 1, at eight and ten dollars a day, and on that date they started for the mines at Deer Creek, now Nevada City, and the 24th of December, 1849, found them at “Caldwell’s new stand,” on a flat at the head of Gold Run, where flour was at that time one dollar and a half a pound, sugar a dollar and a quarter a pound, coffee a dollar a pound, whisky four dollars a bottle and brandy five dollars a bottle. Here he mined and met with only moderate success. If he had fifty or sixty dollars on Saturday night he was always “flat broke” on Monday morning, and his companions were not more fortunate or more provident, and June 1 following he was one hundred and twenty-five dollars in debt, principally because of expense he had incurred in contributing toward an outfit destined for Wild Goose Lake. A little later he went to Slate Creek, where he took out about two hundred and fifty dollars per month and had about six hundred dollars left after paying his debts; but the season was now far advanced, and fearing he would be snowed in, he determined to go to Stockton and he and six others set out together, supplied with about one thousand dollars worth of provisions; and he mined at Big Oak Flat until March 20, 1851, making ten to twelve dollars a day.
Mr. Coulter had come to California to stay three years, at the expiration of which time he was to go back to Arkansas and marry; but as his prospects were not encouraging in California he determined to accompany his intended father-in-law to his old home. They set out for San Francisco on the 2nd day of April and arrived at Russellville, Arkansas, May 15, and on the 11th day of September following Mr. Coulter was married to Miss Martha Shinn, a native of North Carolina and a daughter of B. D. R. Shinn.
Mr. and Mrs. Coulter settled in Russellville, where Mr. Coulter became a druggist and read medicine and was a general merchant later until 1855, when he sold out his store and invested his money in cattle, which he intended to take west but which took the murrain and died, leaving him without capital or definite plans for the future. But he was determined to go to California and his wife wanted to go with him, and he taught school for a year to replenish his pocketbook. They left Russellville January 20, 1856, bring their first-born daughter, Mary, and going by way of the Isthmus of Panama, arrived at Jackson, Amador County, March 3 following. They located at Volcano and Mr. Coulter split “shakes” and built them a small board house with a stick and clay chimney. Their furniture was as primitive as their residence. The floor was covered with gunny-sacks, their chairs were stools of the rudest construction and their bed consisted of an improvised tick filled with pine needles and supported on a scaffold-like projection at one side of their cabin. Poor as were these household belongings, Mr. Coulter was proud of the fact that he owned them with the roof that covered them, and he has owned a home from that day to this. He determined to build a picket fence about the place and set some men at work on a hillside near the house, sawing a dry sugar-pine three or four feet in diameter into lengths of four and a half feet and rolling them down the hill where they could be split up into pickets near where the latter would be needed. One of these huge billets of wood was deflected from its course and came crashing into the house, where it injured Mrs. Coulter so seriously that she was lame for a year, and also struck Mrs. Tune, now of San Andreas, who was with Mrs. Coulter at the time.
In 1857 Mr. Coulter removed to Dry Creek, five miles from San Andreas, where he mined with some success until 1862, taking out fifteen hundred dollars in a single year. After that he mined until 1865 at El Dorado, ten miles from San Andreas, where he had good luck; but by this time he was tired of mining and he threw down his pick, declaring that he would not use it again; and removing to San Andreas, built there the residence in which he still lives. He also built several other houses and business buildings and is the owner of considerable valuable town property.
While living at El Dorado in 1863, Mr. Coulter was elected justice of the peace and he was re-elected for a second term. In 1866 he was elected supervisor and three years later he was re-elected to this office also. He read law in his spare time and became thoroughly posted in everything pertaining to its application to the practical interests of California. From 1873 to 1883 he taught school, giving his attention meanwhile to surveying, and in 1882 he was elected county surveyor and in 1884 was appointed deputy United States surveyor, which office he still holds. In 1896 he was re-elected to the office of county surveyor in recognition of the efficiency and fidelity with which he had served his fellow citizens to that time.
Mr. and Mrs. Coulter have had eight children. Their daughter, Mary, who accompanied them to California, is the widow of the late Lieutenant Governor Reddick, of California, and lives at San Francisco. Their daughter, March C., married U. C. Hanscom, and they have a son named Waldo. Mr. Hanscom keeps the Poplar Grove Hotel at San Andreas, a popular private hotel which stands in the midst of a large grove of poplar trees, about a building originally erected for a residence, which has since been enlarged to meet its present requirements. Mr. and Mrs. Coulter’s eldest son, William S., is deputy surveyor under his father; and their son, Charles Benjamin, is interested in mining at El Dorado. Their four other children are dead. Mrs. Coulter died October 16, 1898, deeply regretted by all who had known her.
Mr. Coulter has been a life-long Democrat, always active in advancing the interests of his party. He was made a Master Mason in Evening Star Lodge, No. 54, F. & A. M., of Russellville, Arkansas, in 1852 and since 1860 has affiliated with San Andreas Lodge, No. 78, F. & A. M., in which he has been senior warden and of which he has been the secretary since 1886. He is a strong advocate of temperance and a worthy representative of the sturdy, strong-minded, progressive California pioneers of 1849, a man of firm will, good judgment and much public spirit, who has been a model husband and father and has in many ways proven himself an ideal citizen.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.