WILLIAM H. PROUTY
A witness of the great changes which have been wrought in California since the early mining days, when the discovery of gold attracted to the Pacific slope men of all nationalities and positions who sought fortunes in this section, William Henry Prouty has been numbered among the residents of Amador County since August, 1852. This county at the time formed a part of Calaveras County.
He is a native of Knox County, Ohio, born on the 27th of March, 1837, and on the paternal side is of Scotch and French ancestry, while on the maternal side he is of German lineage. He represents the fifth generation of the family born in America. His great-grandfather, Tirus Prouty, emigrated from France and located in New York, where the grandfather and the father of our subject, the latter Anson T. Prouty, was born and reared. For many years Anson T. Prouty resided in the Empire state, taking a prominent part in its public affairs, while other members of the family also aided in promoting the substantial upbuilding of the section of the state in which they resided. Two of his uncles participated in the war of the Revolution; and Hugh Prouty, another uncle, served in the War of 1812. The religious faith of the family has been that of the Methodist Church; the business of its representatives has been farming or a profession.
Anson T. Prouty was united in marriage to Miss Elizabeth Helms, a native of Pennsylvania and a descendant of an old German family that was early founded in the new world. Her father was Charles Helms. By her marriage Mrs. Prouty became the mother of seven children, five sons and two daughters, of whom four are now living. In 1852 the parents with their children started on the long journey across the plains to California. For five years previously they had resided in Iowa, where the father had located land now occupied by Newton, the county seat of Jasper County. On the 20th of April they left their Iowa home, crossing the river near Omaha on the 9th of Mary. The country to the westward was a vast open waste, traversed by the Indians. After the party had passed Fort Laramie cholera broke out among them and many died. The Prouty family suffered the terrible affliction of losing the husband and father, who was ill for only one day when death claimed him. The mother and children, however, escaped the dread disease, although there were many new graves along their route. They were also in constant danger from the Indians, but were not attacked. Joseph Prouty, a son of the family, now deceased, immigrated to California the year previously. The widow and her three sons, after witnessing the burial of husband and farther on the plains, proceeded on their way to the Pacific slope, arriving at Volcano on the 24th of August, 1852, after a journey of four months and four days. Mrs. Prouty’s capital amounted to a few hundred dollars.
The subject of this review, then only fifteen years of age, began work as the driver of a mule and cart used in hauling mining dirt. He was to receive two dollars per day in compensation for his service. Another duty was assigned to him, that of riding the baby in a cart, and Mr. Prouty thought it good pay for such light work. His mother opened a bakery and he also engaged in peddling pies and cakes to the miners; but, believing that the mining settlement was not a good place to rear her boys, she removed to Dry Creek, where she purchased a squatter’s claim of one hundred and sixty acres of land. There was a little cabin on the place and a brush fence had been built around a portion of the land. There, under the guidance of their mother, the sons engaged in farming for ten years, until the land was taken from them on the ground that it was a part of the Pico land grant. All of the brave pioneers who had aided in reclaiming the wild tract for purposes of civilization were thus dispossessed and were forced to begin life anew. Mrs. Prouty took up other land and resided with her son, C. C. Prouty, until called to her home beyond in 1873, when in her eightieth year. She was a brave pioneer woman, courageous and determined to whom great credit is due for the noble way in which she met difficulties and reared her children. Such women had marked influence in California in those early days, being largely instrumental in awakening better manhood among the men who sought fortune in the west.
In 1858 William H. Prouty returned to the east, where he remained for five years, his attention being devoted to farming interests in Iowa. It was during that time, in the year 1859, that he was united in marriage to Miss Mary Helen Charlesworth, a native of Maryland and a daughter of Solomon Charlesworth, who was born in England. In Iowa their home was blessed by the presence of two children, namely: Madora and Austin Lee. In 1863 Mr. Prouty returned to California, by the water route, crossing the Isthmus of Panama. He took passage on a ship loaded with ammunition and off Cape Hatteras they encountered a severe storm, which necessitated throwing overboard the entire cargo. In the midst of the storm the captain attempted to put the ship about, and when in the trough of the sea two great waves went over her and all on board felt that they were lost; but fortunately they were not engulfed and weathered the storm. The next day, when the sailors said the storm was over, Mr. Prouty was permitted to go on deck, but the great waves were even then running “mountain” high. Thus twice he and his loved ones looked death in the face, once when they were crossing the plains and once upon the water.
In safety, however, he and his family reached San Francisco, in September, 1863. He had lost all that he had made and again he engaged in farming near the old home on a tract of rented land, where he continued for eight years. He then purchased ranch of one hundred and thirty acres in Jackson Valley, which he still owns. He has met with well earned success and has bought and sold several farms. He also has a nice residence in Ione. He is today the business manager of thirteen hundred acres of land and owns a very fine prune orchard, the cultivation and shipment of that fruit forming an important part of his work and bringing to him an excellent return.
In 1881 he was called upon to mourn the loss of his wife, who died leaving him with six children, namely: Madora Adelaide, now the wife of James S. Amick; Austin Lee, married; Jennie died at the age of fourteen years; Byron Grant, married; Alice May, now the wife of E. Marchand; and Arthur Lewis and William Norris, both married. That Mr. Prouty is a liberal-minded man, free from personal prejudice, is indicated by the fact that he named one of his sons Grant and the other Lee, being an admirer of both the great generals, whose superior military ability and skill is widely acknowledged now both in the north and the south. In 1887 he was again married, his second wife being Miss Amanda J. Harbour, a native of Illinois. They have a son and a daughter: Hazel and Chester Harbour. The family is held in the highest regard in the county in which they have so long resided. They attend the services and contribute to the support of both the Methodist and Presbyterian churches. Mr. Prouty is a valued member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, with which he has been connected for twenty-six years. He is also a member of the Independent Order of United Workmen and of the Chosen Friends. Several times he has represented the Odd Fellows subordinate lodge in the grand lodge.
In politics he is a stalwart Democrat, and was a delegate to the constitutional convention which framed the present organic law of California. He is a companionable, genial gentleman, having a host of friends. In his home he is an indulgent father, a kind and devoted husband, and his genuine and manly virtues are widely recognized. He never acts except from honest motives; and in all his varied relations, in his business affairs and in social life he has maintained a character and standing that have impressed all with his sincere and manly purpose, to do by others what he would have others do by him.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2011 Gerald Iaquinta.