San Joaquin County
CAPTAIN CHARLES M. WEBER
CAPTAIN CHARLES M. WEBER, deceased, the father of the city of Stockton, was born February 16, 1814, in Hombourg, department of Mont Tonnerre, which province the next year after the battle of Waterloo, passed from the French government into the kingdom of Bavaria. His parents were German. His father, a Protestant minister, desiring him also to enter the ministry, gave him an academic education, and was just starting him in a collegiate course when his health failed, and he had to quit students’ life. His tastes led him into mercantile pursuits, to which he was well adapted.
In 1836, accompanied by a young cousin named Engelmann, he emigrated to America, landing at New Orleans in the winter. It had been his intention to visit a relative, Judge Hilgard, a resident of Belleville, Illinois, but who, in Germany, had been a Judge of the Court of Appeals, and whose son is now Professor Hilgard, of the State University at Berkeley, California. The Mississippi river being blocked with ice, the cousin of our subject pushed on for Illinois overland, but Mr. Weber determined to remain in New Orleans, which he did, and again became interested in commercial pursuits. In 1837 the yellow fever appeared in the South, and Mr. Weber was one of the victims. After his recovery he went to Texas, where he served under Sam Houston against the Mexicans. In 1840 he was again taken sick, and acting under advice left that region. In the spring of 1841 he was in St. Louis on his way to visit his relatives at Belleville, Illinois. While in St. Louis he became intensely interested in the “country by the Pacific shores,” through meeting intending emigrants, and reading the glowing description published by Dr. John Marsh, a resident of San Joaquin valley, and he decided to postpone his visit to his relatives and to visit that new land. When he departed he left his papers with some parties in St. Louis, who sent them to Judge Hilgard. The latter supposed that young Weber had died, and was so considered for a long time thereafter. He came overland with the famous Bartelson party, elsewhere described in this volume. His intention was to remain only through one winter and then return to Louisiana and Texas. He spent the winter at Sutter’s Fort, as overseer and assistant for the Swiss captain. While there he found a quantity of seeds which had been laid away and apparently forgotten. They had been sent to Sutter by William G. Ray, of the Hudson Bay Company, as a friendly expression of good will. Mr. Weber planted this seed as an experiment. There was a variety, comprising among other things three kinds of tobacco and several varieties of flowers and vegetables. The experiment proved a grand success, and in the spring Sutter’s Fort seemed like an enchanted fortress built in the midst of perennial gardens.
During this winter Jose Jesus (pronounced hozay hasoos), the celebrated chief of the Siyakumna tribe, visited the fort, and Captain Weber cultivated amicable relations with him, which proved of great advantage in subsequent years. In the meantime he saw with piercing eye obscure signs that California would eventually become one of the United States, or at least a separate government from Mexico, and he therefore knew which way to cast his anchor. In the spring he visited San Jose, and concluded to remain. Establishing a copartnership with Guillermo (William) Gulnac, he was enabled to do a very large business. They built in 1842, and thenceforward ran a flouring mill at San Jose, made sea biscuit, manufactured shoes, soap, etc. They were the first manufacturers of shoes in this State.
By the advice of Weber, who was not yet a Mexican citizen, Gulnac petitioned Manuel Micheltorena, July 14, 1843, for a grant of eleven square leagues of land (about 48,747 acres), to be located in the vicinity of French Camp in the San Joaquin valley. The reasons why Weber preferred the east side of the river were, first, the belief that the river might form the line between Mexico and the segregated province in the case of division; and secondly, the greater safety in being on that side which was protected by the Hudson Bay trappers, during a portion of the year at least. About this time the commercial partnership was dissolved, the Captain becoming the successor to the business, and Gulnac, together with his eldest son Jose and Peter Lassen, took their cattle and Captain Weber’s upon the land applied for, first making their headquarters where Stockton now is; but, as the Hudson Bay trappers had left for the summer, they began to fear molestation by the Indians and moved their camp to the Cosumnes river where they would be near Sutter’s Fort for protection.
The attempt to settle the expected grant failed because of the fears of Gulnac, and Captain Weber obtained a passport from the Alcalde of Sane (sic) Jose and visited Sutter’s Fort, with the view of seeing the Indian chief Jesus and making a treaty with him if possible. He was successful, as the chief was at war with the Mexicans, and Weber promised to aid him in case of war between Americans and native Californians, or Mexicans. This friendly alliance remained unbroken to the end. The chief advised the building of the American village at the present site of Stockton, and agreed to provide all the help necessary in the tilling of the soil and to furnish a war party when called upon to defend the settlers’ property against either Indians or Mexicans. The Captain was generous in his presents, and a friendship was started at the interview that lasted during the life of Jesus. The San Joaquin river was indeed practically the line between Mexicans and that portion of this valley defended by Jesus.
January 13, 1844, the Governor of California granted Gulnac the tract of land of which he had petitioned, known as “El Rancho del Campo de los Franceses,” which in English means “The French Camp Ranch,” and this was afterward transferred to Captain Weber.
The next conspicuous period in the Captain’s life was that which he devoted to the Micheltorena war, given at length in the chapter on the conquest of California. He continued his residence at San Jose from 1842 to 1847, engaged in merchandising, when he settled upon the peninsula here which still remains as the old homestead. This in the prime of his life was kept in tasteful style. Speaking of his gardens in 1860, the eminent traveler and writer, Bayard Taylor, says: “We were greatly delighted with our visit to Captain Weber, who has transformed a tract of land between the two arms of the slough into a garden. There is no more delightful villa in existence. A thick hedge, outside of which is a row of semi-tropical trees, surrounds the peninsula. The gate opens into a lofty avenue of trellis work, where the sunshine strikes through pulpy branches of amethyst and chrysolite, while on either hand beds of royal roses of every hue fill the air with odor. The house is low but spacious, with wood-work of the natural redwood, scarcely less beautiful than mahogany. Vine-covered verandas surround it and keep off the sun, and every window discloses a vision of plants that would be the glory of any greenhouse on the Atlantic coast. In Mrs. Weber I found an old acquaintance of my former visit. Well I remember the day when hungry, hot and foot-sore I limped to the door of her father’s house on a ranch in the valley of San Jose and found her reading a poem of mine. Her father saddled his horse and rode with me to the top of the mountain, and her own hands prepared the grateful supper and breakfast that gave me strength for the tramp to Monterey. The garden delighted us beyond measure. The walks were waist-deep in fuchsias, heliotrope and geraniums. The verbenas grew high above our heads, and the pepper-trees, with their loose, misty boughs, hailed us as do friends from Athens. A row of Italian cypresses, straight and spiry as those which look on Florence from San Miniato, were shooting rapidly above the other growths of the garden. How they will transform the character of this landscape when at last their dark obelisks stand in full stature!”
For many years this garden was open at all times to the pubic; but the unexpected floods of 1861-’62 and city improvement, wharves, etc. ruined the garden’s plan and necessitated the removal of plants and trees, many of which have been transferred to the grounds of St. Agnes Academy.
After his location upon his ranch here, the history of Captain Weber’s life and that of the city of Stockton are so nearly identical that to continue his biography we must refer the reader to the history of the city in this volume, especially to almost every improvement and enterprise that has made Stockton the fine city we behold it to be. He was remarkable for his liberality, donating ground to every church that applied to him, to the city and county and other parties, and giving many sums of money, and devoting many days of his time to the poor and needy. In August, 1850, the city of Stockton came into existence, and August 28, 1851, he deeded all the streets, channels and public squares to the city.
He took much pride in the Rural and San Joaquin cemeteries, donating a large portion of the purchase money of the Rural, also giving the land occupied by the San Joaquin cemetery (Catholic). St. Agnes Academy has a garden to which he gave much attention during his later years. He gave the land, obtained the plants and flowers, and spent much of his time at work there. He gave much of his attention to protecting the city from overflow, and under his direction and aid the city built a bulkhead on Stanislaus street, dug a canal along East street and also along North street, Captain Weber superintending the whole of the work in person and assisting in filling in North street at considerable personal expense. He put at least $30,000 into the improvement of California street, which was only one of a large number of streets on which he spent his money and time. When the natural course of events made the property in this valley very valuable, squatters began to give him much trouble, and the heirs of Gulnac, spurred on by designing men and a combination of lawyers, attempted to wrest from him that which was his; and in defending his title and that of those to whom he had sold he spent vast sums of money. When this litigation commenced, he had valuable property in San Francisco, and this was sacrificed to get money to fight the schemers. If he had let this property here go, he would have been better off. After getting squatters off his land, he would often reverse his tactics, and befriend them to a greater extent than if he had allowed them to take his land. He finally received an incontestable patent with Abraham Lincoln’s signature attached.
When the civil war broke out, Captain Weber at once showed where he stood, in no half-hearted manner; and his influence was powerful in moulding and solidifying the Union sentiment of this region. The flag of our country needing to be more conspicuously displayed, the patriotic Captain sent to Oregon, purchased a pole 120 feet high in length for a flag-staff, and placing on the top the large letters “U. S.,” he planted the staff on an island to the west of his residence, and from it floated, after every Union victory, the country’s flag, which could be seen for miles. The island became known as “Banner Island,” which name it still retains. Unknown parties, sympathizers with the Confederates, several times went in boats and cut the halyards. Mr. Weber then placed a large watchdog on the island to guard the flag. On the night of September 29, 1861, some miscreants ran up a small secession flag on the staff, as well as on others in the city. Early the next morning, which was Sunday, Captain Weber noticed what had been done, and hurrying to the spot found his favorite dog dead by his post of duty. The Captain’s indignation knew no bounds. Tearing down the rebel flag, he rammed it into the mouth of a cannon which he had at the base of the flag-staff, and as the old Union flag ascended, the gun was fired, blowing the secession rag from its mouth! Thirteen more guns were fired for the Union, and by noon the enthusiasm of the supporters of the Government having been aroused by the incident, there was only one flag flying in Stockton, and that the common flag of the country.
Captain Weber was married November 29, 1850, to Miss Helen Murphy, a member of one of the noblest bands of emigrants that ever settled a new country, the celebrated Murphy party of 1844. They and their descendants all became prominent, and they form to-day the strongest family, in many respects, in the Santa Clara valley.
Three children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Weber, viz: Hon. C. M. Weber, who has represented Santa Clara County (in which he makes his home) in the Legislature of California; he is an extensive rancher, and manages the interests of the estate in Santa Clara valley. Miss Julia H. Weber is the second child and only daughter; she is respected by all who know her. The second son and youngest child is T. J. Weber, a bright young man of business ability, who manages that portion of the estate not under his brother’s charge.
Mrs. Weber’s father was Martin Murphy, Sr., and her mother’s maiden name was Mary Foley. She is a cousin of Bishop Foley, diocese of Detroit, and bore the same relation to the late Bishop Foley of Chicago.
Captain C. M. Weber died May 4, 1881, of pneumonia. The funeral was conducted with the impressive ceremonies of the Catholic church, by Archbishop Alemany, of San Francisco.
In this sketch only an outline of the Captain’s career has been attempted, as much of the history in other portions of this volume relates to him so closely. Otherwise, this sketch would occupy many more pages of this volume. His estate at the time of his death was worth about $400,000, but it might have been millions had he been as careful of his own interests as many men.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
An Illustrated History of San Joaquin County, California, Pages 441-444. Lewis Pub. Co. Chicago, Illinois 1890.
© 2009 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.