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A Collection of Stories on the History and Achievements of Stanislaus County



Sol P. Elias

Modesto, Cal.





pg. 170




The Organization of Stanislaus County



Stanislaus county was ushered into existence as a separate political subdivision of the State of California on the first day of April, 1854, when Governor John Bigler signed a bill for its creation, after the measure had experienced a hard and bitter fight in the Legislature and after it had been made the buffet of all the political scheming, intrigue and activity of the statesmen of the period. The stake involved in the contest was no less than the election of David C. Broderick, the leader of the northern wing of the Democracy of California, to the Senate of the United States.


Previous to that date the territory now contained within the boundaries of this wonderful empire that leads the state in agricultural productivity and in progressive citizenship, was a wild, almost uninhabited and unimportant portion of Tuolumne county, the economic interests of which were but slightly considered by the authorities of the parent county. While the chief industry of “Old Tuolumne” was that of mining for gold in the virgin fastnesses of the mountains of the Sierras, the energies of the sparse population that had settled on the banks of the Tuolumne river in that area that subsequently became the imperial county of Stanislaus were devoted to agriculture and grazing.


While the desire of the settlers on the bottom-lands of the Tuolumne river to promote their own agricultural interests was a potent factor in the creation of the new county, fundamentally the strife between the two wings of the Democracy in this state and the effort of the Broderick followers to secure another senatorial vote for their chieftain in the Legislature and to thereby insure his election to the United States Senate were the moving causes for the carving of the new county out of the western portion of the old domain. Interesting, indeed, is this story that carries the reader back to the ante-bellum days when the fight was strong between the slavery and the anti-slavery elements of the Democratic party in California.


pg. 171


A native of New York and the son of an obscure stonecutter, who died when the son was only 14 years of age, David C. Broderick, by his indomitable will and forceful tactics, compelled the Democratic party of California to acknowledge his power and supremacy. In early life he followed the trade of his father. Allied with the Tammany organization, he was a Bowery leader and an active member of the fire department of New York City – the political machine of that day. A great favorite among his companions and with his neighbors, he received the nomination of his district in New York for the United States Senatorship, but was defeated through the influence and the efforts of the aristocratic friends of President Polk. The ambition of his life was to be a member of the United States Senate. His anger at his defeat was so intense that he left New York for California, asserting that he would never return to his native state until he should go as a senator of the United States. He arrived in San Francisco in 1849. Eight years later he accomplished his life's ambition, only to be subsequently killed in the famous duel between himself and David S. Terry, his political opponent and implacable foe. In the Senate, Broderick defied his party, voted against the Kansas-Nebraska bill which favored slavery, denounced the president, espoused the cause of Stephen A. Douglas, and by his general attitude of independence and opposition to slavery invoked the wrath and condemnation of the pro-slavery wing of the Democratic party in California, which called upon him to resign from his position. Broderick was an interesting personality, a self-made man, and possessed of a towering intellect and a powerful physique. He was fearless in the advocacy of that which he deemed the right.


The fight for the organization of Stanislaus county took shape early in the session of the Legislature of 1854, which convened at Benicia, but adjourned to the new capital, Sacramento. As a candidate for the United States Senate, Broderick sought to induce the Legislature to vote for United States Senator two years before he could take his seat in the national body. The ordinary practice had been to elect the preceding year.


pg. 172


Though an unusual and audacious proceeding, none could assert that it was illegal. Broderick assumed that if this measure were adopted his election to the Senate of the United States would be assured. It was a battle royal. Into it entered all the bitterness and vindictiveness, as well as all the acumen and intrigue, that the political giants of the early day could muster.


The Assembly was safe for the Broderick bill, but the Senate was doubtful. The divided Democrats, torn asunder by internecine feuds, were brought together to defeat the plotting of Broderick. In this contest, powerful political and financial influences were arrayed against each other. Money was freely used. Senator Peck, on the floor of the Senate, openly declared that Palmer, of the banking house of Palmer, Cooke & Company, had offered him $5,000 to vote for the bill to insure the election of Broderick. It was a big game of politics that was being played in the Legislature. Peck and Grewell, both senators, were held prisoners by the Broderick contingent – the former to prevent his voting and the latter to forestall his being intimated by the opposition. Grewell at first was opposed to the bill, but later, for certain causes, espoused the Broderick program and announced that he favored the measure. The leader of the opposition to Broderick was William Gwin, one of the first two United States Senators from California, who was desirous of succeeding himself and who, during the Civil War, was confined for treason. He also was possessed of strong financial resources, which he marshaled to the best advantage.


The Assembly voted for the bill by a majority of three votes. The Senate was known, as the developments subsequently demonstrated, to be a tie on the measure, with Lieutenant-Governor Purdy holding the balance of power and being favorable to the Broderick program. In this situation, one or two more votes were an indispensable necessity. Hence the effort to secure the additional vote in the creation of the new county of Stanislaus and in the allotment to it of a state senator. Purdy carried the measure by his vote in the Senate. Grewell was kidnapped form the men whom the Broderick supporters had secured to hold him in custody pending the vote, when the Terry adherents found them in a drunken stupor. In the Senate the next day, intimidated or purchased, and faithless to the cause, Grewell moved for a reconsideration, and on the roll-call voted against the measure.


pg. 173


The immediate chances of Broderick to secure the United States Senatorship were shattered by a majority of two votes against his election bill.


On the 26th of January, 1854, Hon. B. D. Horr, a Broderick Democrat and subsequently a Republican, as a member of the Assembly from Tuolumne county and a resident of the Stanislaus portion of the district, took the initiative in the movement for the creation of the new county and for the gaining of another senator for his leader. Horr was one of the early-day lawyers on the plains of Stanislaus. He achieved eminent success as a criminal practitioner, possessing the record of acquitting all of his clients in those primitive times. A man of ripe legal learning and classic education, he was an eloquent pleader and possessed a suave personality. One of the first settlers on the Tuolumne river at a very early period, his residence was at Horr's Ranch, named after him, a small settlement east of the present town of Waterford. He was an intense partisan of Broderick and was antagonistic to slavery, espousing the Union cause during the Civil War and leaving the Democratic party when the cleavage came. In harmony with the plan determined upon, Horr presented a petition from a number of residents of his locality praying for the formation of the new county. This petition was referred to the Assembly committee on counties and boundaries, consisting of E. O. F. Hastings of Sutter, William S. Letcher of Santa Clara, B. D. Horr of Tuolumne, Pedro C. Carillo of Santa Barbara and Martin Rowdan of Calaveras.


In the act providing for the creation of the new county as finally passed by the Assembly, the title of “Stanislaus” was selected rather than that of “Merced”, which was the name given in the original bill - “Stanislaus” being the name of the principal river in the proposed district and the name by which the locality was generally known. It was also provided that Stanislaus county should form the twenty-fifth senatorial district and that two of the five assemblymen allotted to Tuolumne county should be assigned to Stanislaus. This act represented the ambitious scheme of the Broderick organization in its effect to insure the election of its master.


pg. 174


After its transmission to the Senate the political features of the act were eliminated by the opposition and Broderick thereby failed to secure the senator so sorely needed to consummate his ambition – the one vote that would have given him the election at this session of the Legislature. After much parliamentary maneuvering in the Senate, the act was so amended as to permit Stanislaus to elect one assemblyman and to remain in the seventh senatorial district, as it theretofore had been, composed of the counties of Tuolumne and Stanislaus. This act as thus amended was adopted by the Legislature, and Broderick failed to obtain the additional senator.


When this act for the creation of the new county came up for its initial consideration March 22, 1854, there was a strenuous effort made to rush the measure through the Senate. It might have succeeded, had not its progress been delayed by the offering of an amendment by one of the senators who sensed the scheme. This amendment deprived the bill of the advantage that it was designed to secure. After this episode, it experienced hard sledding in the Senate. Had the plan met with the contemplated success, and in view of the fate of Broderick's audacious bill to practically elect himself to the United States Senate one year ahead of the allotted time, the presumption was that an election would have been ordered at the earliest moment for the return of a state senator. By the aid of such influence as would have been brought to bear to secure him of the proper stripe, it was hoped that by the preponderance which his vote would have given to the Broderick party it would have been able to have forced the election of a United States Senator at this session of the Legislature.


In accordance with the provisions of this act, the board of commissioners named in it – John D. Patterson, Eli S. Marvin, G. D. Dickenson, John W. Laird, and Richard Harmer – met at Dickenson's Ferry Monday, May 29, 1854, and designated the election precincts and appointed the officers of the election to be held June 10th of that year. At this election Adamsville, then a small town about two miles southwest of the site upon which is now located the city of Modesto, and situated on land owned by Dr. Adams – a settlement that dated back to the year 1849, and which has long since passed out of existence – was selected as the first county seat of Stanislaus county.


pg. 175


The following officers were elected to serve the newly-formed county: H. W. Wallis, county judge; W. D. Kirk, sheriff; R. McGarvey, clerk, recorder and auditor; W. H. Martin, treasurer; S. P. Scaniker, district attorney; E. B. Beard, assessor and superintendent of schools; Silas Wilcox, surveyor; Heth Williams, coroner. The first supervisors of Stanislaus county were D. B. Gardner, J. M. Newsom, and Robert Smith, and their first session was held May 7, 1855.


The board of commissioners met at Empire City June 15, 1854, canvassed the vote, and declared the result of the election. The county judge, the Hon. H. W. Wallis, took the oath of office before the president of the board of commissioners, and entered upon the duties of his office immediately. The other county officers were sworn into office by the county judge, and Stanislaus county, possessing a complete set of officers, thereupon became a full-fledged county of the State of California and began its historic career.


(Editor's Note: - David C. Broderick was elected to the State Senate from San Francisco, sitting in the first, second and third sessions; was president of the second Senate, and was the acting lieutenant-governor 1851-2; January 10, 1857, was chosen United States Senator, which position he held at the time of his death, September 16, 1859.)






Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.

Source: Elias, Sol P., Stories of Stanislaus – A Collection of Stories on the History & Achievements of Stanislaus County.  Modesto, CA. 1924.

© 2012 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.



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