El Dorado County
One of the most prominent of the California pioneers of the early mining days in north California was the late James Akins, and although he has been dead for many years, no history of the romantic era of the days of gold-panning could be written without mention of his career. He made a success in life, and was a man respected and honored by his associates and by all of whom he came in contact. James Akins was born at Rochester, New York, and while he was yet in his infancy his parents took him to Branford, Canada. There he was reared and attended school, after which he was apprenticed to the wheelwright trade for a period. While yet a young man, he came to California, going to Diamond Springs to join a brother-in-law, Peter Schiff, and to work for him in his carriage shop, doing the woodwork on the vehicles there manufactured. He continued in the carriage manufacturing business, and was subsequently in the employ of the Pioneer Carriage Company, which had shops in various places. While thus engaged, Mr. Akins constructed the first funeral hearse built and used in the Sacramento Valley. The Pioneer Company operated stage lines from Sacramento, California, to Reno, Nevada, and for the purpose of building stages for the company, Mr. Akins went to Virginia City. He eventually returned to Placerville, and here passed away in September, 1868.
In 1866 James Akins was married to Miss Franceska Wax, who family came to California prior to the arrival of the Akins family in this state. Her parents were natives of Germany and left the Fatherland in 1847 with the port of New Orleans as their destination. Korbenia Wax, the father of Franceska Wax, was a tailor by trade, and also an accomplished musician, having organized and played in various bands. On April 18, 1852, in company with an aunt, Paulina Wax, who married Peter Schiff, he joined a large covered-wagon outfit at Des Moines, and crossed the plains by way of Carson City and Summit to Placerville. En route they took as passengers two men, with the result that provisions became dangerously short, and much suffering was thereby entailed in the party. After arriving in Placerville, the Wax party encamped on the site of the old high school, and there Miss Franceska Wax first saw raw gold in the creek as she was drawing water. Here also they met General John Sutter, who persuaded them to locate at Diamond Springs, where they built the first house. The Wax family remained at Diamond Springs until 1855, when they moved to Missouri Flats, El Dorado County, and there homesteaded three hundred and sixty acres of land. The father of the family died here in 1858 but was survived by his wife, the mother of Franceska Wax until 1890. Mr. and Mrs. Korbenia Wax were the parents of three children, two daughters and a son, namely: Franceska, Joseph and Louise. An uncle, William Wax, was born on April 5, 1858, and is a California pioneer now residing at Columbia, in the vicinity of Sonora.
The widow of James Akins was married a second time when she became the wife of Michael O’Keefe, who had come to Placerville, California, in 1855. He built and owned the toll road known as the Turnpike Grade from El Dorado to Placerville. After the toll road was taken over by the county, Mr. O’Keefe established himself in the furniture and undertaking business in 1878, and for many years he had the only funeral hearse in this section of the state. He died November 12, 1905, and the estate was left to Mrs. O’Keefe’s children, namely: Margaret L. Akins, Francis J. O’Keefe and Kreseencia O’Keefe. The last named died in 1909, and the brother, Francis J. O’Keefe, passed away in November, 1926.
The furniture and undertaking business established in Placerville by Michael O’Keefe is now being ably conducted by Miss Margaret L. Akins, who gained thorough experience therein as an assistant of her stepfather and has always been a close student of her work. She is a licensed embalmer and funeral director and also carries an excellent stock of up-to-date merchandise. Miss Akins is an enthusiastic collector of Indian baskets and antiques, which diversion she acquired from her mother, who was a well known friend and patron of the Indians in this vicinity. The basis of Miss Akins’ superb collection of Indian artifacts is the group of baskets gathered by her mother among the Red men of El Dorado County. Miss Akins gives her political support to the Democratic Party, and is very active in club and social work. She is a member of the Episcopal Church at Placerville, the Order of the Eastern Star, and Native Daughters of the Golden West, and the Rebekahs.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.