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THE STOCKTON FIRE DEPARTMENT

 

Stockton and the Valley of the San Joaquin

 

 

                                                                      

                    STOCKTON, today a beautiful city of over twenty-five thousand souls, stands at the gateway of the great San Joaquin Valley, one of the world-famous spots that has been likened unto man's conception of Eden itself. Less than four score years ago, this gracious territory, where with its mild and salubrious climate there is grown all that mortal man needs for happiness and comfort - grains and grasses, citrus and deciduous fruits, luscious grapes and vegetable crops in infinite variety and abundance -- was uninhabited save by a few scattered tribes of Digger Indians, the most shiftless species of the Aborigine. Roving bands of deer and elk browsed undisturbed upon the luxuriant grasses while bears waxed fat upon the berries that grew wild on every hand. Unmolested the beaver built his submarine city and myriads of royal salmon swarmed in the limpid waters of its four gold-lined streams. Here for ages the Red Man had shared with the grizzly a kingdom than which none richer nor more fertile has ever fallen to the lot of man.

                 The first white explorers of the valley were a party of Frenchmen, trappers from the Astoria post of the Hudson's Bay Company. This party, under the leadership of La Framboise and Erminger, first pitched their tents in 1834, on the spot that has since been known as French Camp. Finding game, and beaver in particular, plentiful in the locality they returned with their Indian wives each succeeding year until 1846. During the year 1842 Captain Chas. M. Weber, of whom we have included a brief sketch on another page of this volume, passed through the valley en route to the puebla of San Jose. He spent the night with that party of intrepid Frenchmen, many of whom were, like him, men of scholarly attainments. Becoming deeply impressed with their tales of the remarkable fertility of the soil and the delightful climate of this favored region, he then and there determined to become, if possible, the possessor of a portion and to build thereon, his future home.

 

Being an alien Captain Weber could not secure a grant of land from the Mexican government; California was at that time the property of the Mexicans, so he formed a partnership with William Gulnae, a man born in New York who had married a Mexican woman and sworn allegiance to the southern republic, and he petitioned for and secured a grant to the eleven square leagues of land on the east side of the San Joaquin River.

 

 

 

Page 27

 

 

This was known as Campo de los Franceses (Camp of the Frenchmen) grant and embraced that ground upon which Stockton now stands. Gulnac's petition was signed by Governor Michel-toreno on July 25, 1843. On the third day of April, 1845, the partnership between the two men was dissolved. Captain Weber purchased Gulnac's interest in the grant and within a short time he had founded the embryo city of Stockton. Anent the difficulties that beset the determined and far-seeing pioneer in his efforts we print a few lines from a letter written to the Stockton Times and published in that paper in 1850: "There had been a number of grants given in what is called the San Joaquin District but none had the hardihood to settle upon their property. It was next to impossible for Mr. Weber to get men enough to offer any protection against the Indians, as everybody thought the risk too great for the benefit received. Mr. Weber succeeded, however, in getting a few to settle with him, among whom I can remember B. K. Thompson and Andrew Baker, and finally, after losing many cattle and horses and paying an extravagant price for labor, he succeeded in establishing a ranch where Stockton now Stands."

The initial survey of the city was made by Jasper O'Farrell and, as an induce-ment to settlers, "a block of land in town and 480 acres in the country" was given to each white man who cast his fortunes with the little band of stout-hearted pioneers. Slowly the population increased until in 1848, the news of Marshall's discovery of gold electrified the world and California became at once the Mecca of thousands of adventurers from every port of the civilized globe. With the foresight that was ever such a marked characteristic of the man, Captain Weber, early in the year 1849, commissioned Major R. P. Hammond to make a new survey of the city, having in view its commercial interests; for in his mind's eye he could see erected on this delightful spot a city bristling with life in all its branches and with public institutions in keeping with a high standard.

He lived to see his dream become a reality, witnessed a steady and satisfactory progress toward the desired goal. Before his death, in 1881, he saw the small settlement established by him and his little band of undaunted associates expand into a city than which none more prosperous or delightful can be found in all the West.

Since the Captain's death the untiring efforts and energy of its citizens has served to place Stockton in a commercial position far exceeding its founder's most sanguine expectations. Peopled with a set of men, fit successors to the honest, energetic pioneers, the city's commercial rating has ever been one of the objects of their especial pride and today Stockton enjoys a business reputation most enviable.

Situated on tidewater the city enjoys exceptional facilities for shipping. Daily steamers ply between the port and San Francisco, a distance of 85 miles and four trans-continental railways passing through the city afford a continuous means of intercourse with the centers and markets of the whole country.

Stockton's streets are wide, well-kept thoroughfares, lined with magnificent shade trees, behind which cluster beautiful homes built upon mansion and cottage lines as the means of the owners have dictated, but contributing en masse, to the general adornment of the city. The streets are served with a score of miles of car lines run by electricity and which reach to every point of vantage and pleasure in the city.

Lodi, a thriving town of over three thousand population, situated 14 miles distant, in the center of the world-famous "flame tokay" grape district, is connected by the electric line of the Central California Traction Company, whose cars run every hour and lines are now being surveyed for extensions of the same to Modesto and other surrounding towns.

The governments of the city, county and school districts are all carefully organized and administered, and committed to policies that comprehend the public good and serve the taxpayer in every possible way--the non-partisan business spirit and basis being conspicuous in the handling of the people's affairs; a condition that serves to lessen taxation and increases property values and personal wages to a point commensurate with the expectations of a people who keep in close and constant contact with public administration.

Stockton has wealth, culture, brains and ambition. She has all social advantages. Her population is now increasing at a rate that leaves no room for doubt but that she is destined to become, at an early date, one of the largest cities of the States bordering on the Pacific, at present the fastest growing country in the world. She welcomes the honest stranger within her gates with cordiality and a desire to keep him in her midst for his and her future good, and fortunate indeed is he who builds his home in the city that stands as the gateway to the most fertile and alluring portion of the great State of California - the Valley of the San Joaquin.

 

 

While a certain foreword seemed due it has not been the purpose of the writer of the foregoing to give and exhaustive history of the city, that has been ably done by Mr. George H. Tinkham in his "History of Stockton," a work that shows unmistakable evidence of much careful and painstaking research and which, in our opinion could be read with profit by every Stocktonian who feels an interest in the place he sees fit to call his home. It is our privilege only to compile a few facts regarding one of the city's most important institutions, namely, the Fire Department. The early history of the volunteer organization is filled with many tragic, ludicrous but withal interesting incidents and we accept, with no small degree of pleasure, the opportunity to set forth, so far as we are able, the details of the doings of that splendid body of men--the Volunteer Firemen of Stockton.

 

 

 

THE BUCKET BRIGADES

 

 

                  As men who are successful in the hazardous business of subduing the most dangerous of all the elements are not, as a rule, of a particularly clerical or statistical turn of mind, but few reliable records have been left of the early organization. Unauthenticated matter coming from the memories of some of the pioneers, carries the history of the Volunteers back to the spring of 1849 when most of the city was housed in tents. A small blaze originating in the cuisine of a linen hostelry at that time, while it was quickly subdued, resulted in creating a spasmodic appreciation of the "demon" that was ever present and led to initial action for protection.

                   It was a primitive movement at best, being not even a tangible organization of a bucket brigade. Later a company was formed and called the "Weber Bucket Brigade." It was an informal organization, composed of a number of the leading business men. The names of the members, together with those of the gentlemen who officered the company, have been lost to posterity. As the city grew similar brigades sprang up in the different sections as far as the exigencies of the situation demanded. All of them responded to a call and great rivalry existed between them. Fighting fire in the old bucket-brigade style was a slow and tedious operation and consisted simply in the formation of a line by citizens from the scene of the fire to the nearest water and the passing of buckets back and forth. On December 23, 1849, a fire having its origin on the levee and fanned by a strong breeze from the west, soon laid the linen city in ashes. Merchandise to the value of $200,000 went up in smoke and the crude methods employed by the bucket brigades were proved to be of no avail. The rivalry between the brigades was not always of the good-natured kind and on the day of the big fire many encounters bordering on riots occurred. It had its good effect, however, for through it was brought about a compact, cohesive formally organized fire company with attendant elimination of all ill-feeling and a greatly increased usefulness.

 

 

 

 

Transcriber Sally Kaleta.

Proofreader Betty Vickroy.


2002-2007  Nancy Pratt Melton.






 

 

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