REPRESENTATIVE AND LEADING
MEN OF THE PACIFIC
PIERSON B. READING.
This noble pioneer died on his farm in Shasta County, California, in May, 1868. The sad announcement of his death was heard with profound regret throughout the State. In San Francisco, the Society of California Pioneers, at its monthly meeting in June, 1868, appointed PHILIP A. ROACH, JOSEPH W. WINANS, LEWIS CUNNINGHAM, ARCHIBALD H. GILLESPIE, and JACOB R. SNYDER, a committee to prepare resolutions in respect to the memory of the deceased. This committee, in the discharge of their duty, made commendable efforts to obtain from every available source, information concerning the life and services of the dead pioneer. It is matter for deep regret that the labors of the committee were not followed by greater success.
The EDITOR, knowing the energetic exertions made by the committee, concluded it would be futile to endeavor to procure any further information in regard to MAJOR READING’S career than that given by them in their report, which is on file in the office of the Society. He therefore reproduces, in a permanent form, this brief record of a life.
“Precious in the memorial of the just.”
Obituary of Pierson B. Reading.
The undersigned, Committee appointed by the Society of California Pioneers, at its regular monthly meeting of June, 1868, to prepare suitable resolutions to the memory of Pierson B. Reading, lately deceased, beg leave to ask attention to the narrative they have endeavored to prepare to the best of their ability, in the discharge of the sad duty confided to their friendship.
The various works which at times have been published upon California have been carefully examined by this Committee in the discharge of its sad task, and the result has been attended with a sincere regret that, in respect to the deceased, as also in regard to many who have preceded him to regions beyond the tomb, scarcely a record of events in which they so actively participated can now be found.
The Committee have endeavored to obtain from parties now living, who crossed the plains at the same time as the deceased, and of those who participated in the events which induced the settlement of our people in this region, and led to its acquisition by our government, a knowledge of the incidents which would prove of interest to our fellow-members, and be worthy of record for the future compiler of the annals of our times; but those efforts, we say with regret, have been attended with trifling success.
The reliable details which are now presented were principally furnished by the Hon. John Bidwell, Major Jacob R. Snyder, and Major A. H. Gillespie, gentlemen whose intimate social relations with the deceased have enabled them to bear witness to the noble impulse of character which marked his intercourse with his fellowmen.
The sad intelligence of the death of Major Reading, announced by telegraph, elicited from various journals published in this State, tributes of respect to his memory; all united in mentioning the noble qualities which in an eminent degree distinguished his mind and heart; and from those sources, in addition to the friendly remembrances of the gentlemen herein mentioned, may be compiled the story of his sojourn among us.
PIERSON B. READING was born in New Jersey, 26th of November, 1816, and died at his ranch, BUENA VENTURA, in Shasta County, on the 29th of May, 1868, aged fifty-one years and six months. For about a quarter of a century he had occupied a prominent position in California. In 1843, he crossed the plains in company with the late Sam’l J. Hensley, and some twenty-five others, and from that period was thoroughly identified with this region of the Continent. The route by which the party arrived is thus described by Hon. J. Bidwell: “The road by which they had come, had never to my knowledge been visited or traversed by any save the most savage Indian tribes; namely, from Fort Boise, on Snake river, to the Sacramento valley via the upper Sacramento to Pitt river. The hostility as well as courage of those savages is well known; but I may refer to the conflicts with them of Fremont in 1846, of the lamented Captain Warner in 1849, and of Gen. Crook in 1867.”
In 1844, Reading entered the service of Gen. Sutter, and was at the Fort when Fremont first arrived in California, in the spring of that year. In 1845, he was left in sole charge, while Sutter marched with all his forces to assist Micheltorena in quelling the insurrection, headed by Castro and Alvarado. The former had shown his partiality for Americans by granting them lands, and this led to the espousal of his cause by our people. Reading, in 1846, had received a grant in what is now known as Shasta County. Later in 1845 he visited, on a hunting and trapping expedition, nearly all the northern part of California, the western part of Nevada, as also Southern Oregon. He afterwards extensively engaged in trapping - the seasons of 1845 and ’46 - on the lower Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. In all these dangerous expeditions, his intelligence, bravery, and imposing personal appearance exercised over the hostile Indians a commanding influence, that protected himself and party not only from hostile attack, but also secured their friendly aid in all his undertakings.
When it became probable that war would be declared against Mexico, Reading enlisted under Fremont; and on the organization of the California Battalion by Col. Stockton, was appointed Paymaster, with the rank of Major, and served until the close of the war in this country. After its termination, Reading returned to his ranch in Shasta, which he made his permanent home.
In the events preceding and accompanying the acquisition of this territory, the knowledge and experience of Reading were of great advantage to the government; and that the flag of our Union instead of that of another nation now waves over it, is in a great measure due to those early pioneers who entered California before the existence of gold in its soil was even surmised.
In 1848, Reading was among the first to visit the scene of Marshall’s gold discovery — Coloma — and shortly after engaged extensively in prospecting for gold, making discoveries in Shasta, at the head waters of the Trinity, and prospecting that river until he became satisfied that the gold region extended to the Pacific Ocean. A portion of these explorations were made in company with Jacob R. Snyder. A large number of Indians were worked with great success, until all were disabled by sickness. In 1849, with Hensley and Snyder, Reading engaged extensively in commercial business in Sacramento, and continued in the firm until 1850.
In the fall of 1849, Major Reading fitted out an expedition to discover the bay into which he supposed the Trinity and Klamath rivers must empty. The bark Josephine, in which the party sailed, was driven by a storm far out of her course to the northwest of Vancouver’s Island, and had to return. Others subsequently acting on the idea, discovered and called the bay after the world-renowned traveler Humboldt, by whose name it is now known.
In 1850, Major Reading visited Washington, to settle his accounts as paymaster of the California Battalion. The disbursement exceeded $166,000 and had been kept with such neatness and accuracy, supported by vouchers, that the Auditor complimented them as being the best of any presented during the war.
While in the States on this occasion, he visited his old home, Vicksburg, where in 1837, he had succumbed to the crisis which caused such wide-spread ruin among the merchants of the Southwest. His object was to pay in gold the principal and interest of his long outstanding and almost forgotten obligations. This he did to the extent of $60,000—an instance of commercial integrity of which our own State has reason to be proud.
In 1851, Major Reading was the candidate of the Whig party for Governor of California, which exalted position he failed to obtain only by a few votes. Since then he was frequently invited to become a candidate for political positions, but declined.
For many years previous to his decease, agriculture, with a view of developing the interest of the State, occupied his attention. In 1856, Major Reading married in Washington, Miss Fanny Washington, who, with five children, is left to mourn the death of their beloved protector. The Committee having, to the best of their ability, presented all the incidents they could obtain regarding the life of their late friend and companion, now ask leave to present appropriate resolutions of respect for the consideration of the Society.
Whereas, it has pleased Divine Providence to terminate the earthly career of our friend and companion, Pierson B. Reading, by which event our Society has sustained an irreparable loss, and the State been deprived of one of its valuable citizens, who was deservedly regarded by our people as a man of the highest worth and severest rectitude of character. Be it
Resolved, That in the decease of Pierson B. Reading, frequently a chosen officer of our Society, we have sustained a bereavement, whose only consolation will be found in the remembrance of the noble traits of heart and mind, which marked his intercourse with his fellow men. Possessed of the most courteous manners; of enlarged views; and of a highly cultivated mind, united with probity of character, and the most dauntless bravery, he deserves that upon the tomb containing his ashes be inscribed the words that properly typify his life — Reading, The Pioneer.
Resolved, That the report of the Committee be published— that this preamble and resolution be engrossed, and a copy sent to the widow of our deceased friend and companion, over whose welfare and that of her children, we invoke the guardianship of our merciful Father.
PHILIP A. ROACH LEWIS CUNNINGHAM
JOSEPH W. WINANS ARCH’D H. GILLESPIE
JACOB R. SNYDER
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 29-33.
© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.