STORIES OF STANISLAUS
A Collection of Stories on the History and Achievements of Stanislaus County
Sol P. Elias
Adamsville and Grayson
Before the discovery of the fertility of Paradise Valley and the coming of the railroad, the busy hum of people was heard in old Stanislaus cities that are now gone forever. Their mighty men, ambitious of future greatness in the rude environment of the pristine prairies, have departed. Their memory has gone glimmering through the dreams of the things that were. As in the time of Greece and Rome and the days before, the ancient cities of Stanislaus have found their graves in the dim vista of the past. The poppy-dotted greensward now covers their lanes. Their locations are even lost in the mists of antiquity.
Adamsville was one of the earliest settlements of Stanislaus county. It came into existence in the winter of 1849 on land owned by Dr. Adams, one of the first medical practitioners on the plains. It was located about six miles southwest of Modesto and about two miles from Paradise, opposite the present Paradise Gardens on the south bank of Tuolumne river. Adamsville is known to history as Stanislaus' first capital city, having been selected at an election held on June 10th, 1854, under the provisions of the act of the legislature creating the county, approved April 1st, 1854. In this act it was provided that George D. Dickinson, John W. Laird, John D. Patterson, Eli Marvin and Richard Hammer officiate as commissioners to name the election precincts. Meeting at Dickinson's Ferry on Monday, May 29, 1854, they designated the following precincts: Arroyo Oristimba, Graysonville, Keeler's Ferry, French Bar, Empire City, Burneyville, McHenry's, Tuolumne City, Hill's Ferry, Oatvale and Turner's Ferry.
This was the first election held in the county and county officers were selected. It was the first opportunity that the citizens of the newly created county were given to wrestle for the spoils of office and for first official honors. It was an exciting contest. On the office of judge, it was close.
The number of votes polled was 495. Judge H. W. Wallis defeated Thomas A. Leggett, ferryman and justice of the peace at Crow's Landing, by the margin of only two votes. In August, Leggett instituted a contest for the office, alleging that Wallis had been illegally elected. The case was tried in Adamsville. It developed bitter feeling on both sides. Judge Charles M. Creanor of Stockton presided at the trail. Wallis was represented by Henry A. Crabb, who was then the leader of the California Whigs, while John G. Marvin appeared for Leggett.
There were two men, who particularly espoused the cause of the parties, who were present at the hearing. Earl Lyons, known as a desperate character, was a partisan of Judge Wallis. The other was George Worth, ex-sheriff of Tuolumne county, a close personal friend of Leggett. He had journeyed from the mountains to be present at the trial in the interest of Leggett. After the case had been decided in favor of Judge Wallis, these two men began a quarrel over the merits of the case. One evening about six o'clock they agreed to settle their differences with revolvers. The duel began close to the hotel in the presence of a number of people. Lyons had kept sober. Worth had been drinking. A number of shots were exchanged. Worth was hit two or three times and lived about three hours thereafter. Lyons was not injured. There were no officers present, but Mrs. Anderson, wife of the proprietor of the hotel, offered to arrest Lyons if any man would help her. No assistance was tendered. Lyon fled.
Adamsville was the county seat but a few months. There were very few houses in the settlement. The first court sessions were held under the spreading branches of a tall and towering oak tree in the town. This tree was still in existence as late as 1871 and then displayed the part of the hangman's rope from which a bandit had been hurled into eternity many years previously. An old timer who recalled this village as early as 1859 informed the writer that a row of stately trees banked one end of the community, adjacent to the river, giving it quite a romantic appearance. It was in this village that perhaps the first celebration of the Fourth of July took place in the county in 1854 by a ball given by Mr. and Mrs. A. B. Anderson, the proprietors of the hotel. This dance was held under the oak tree so famous in the history of the county.
A platform had been constructed for the use of the patriotic revelers, and enclosed by upright boards on the north and east ends. This structure, when completed, was to be used thereafter as the court house. The ball was given at night. Whale oil in lamps hung from the tree furnished illumination. Dinner was served in the hotel at ten o'clock and dancing continued until an early hour in the morning. The ladies were given accommodations in the hotel while the men slept on the ground in their blankets, their saddles being their pillows. The county Democratic convention was held the next day on July 5th in this enclosure, with Seneca Dean as chairman. The resolutions eulogized the Democratic party and voiced the advocacy of William M. Gwin for United States Senator. Andy Anderson later in the county's career was one of the loyal citizens of La Grange, hoisting the American flag and firing the salute, upon the occasion of the victories of the North in the Civil War. It has been stated by several old timers that this hotel was intact in 1871. Nothing now remains to suggest the location of Adamsville.
Little now exists to mark the site of the old town of Grayson, which in the late 60's and the early 70's was an important village in the county. It was located about two miles, above the mouth of the Tuolumne river. There is a touch of romance attached to this forgotten settlement and to the career of its father, Captain A. I. Grayson, who founded the town in January, 1850. Grayson, a pioneer of the state, had selected this identical spot for a rancho in the beautiful valley of the San Joaquin, and proceeded to fit it up for his future home. Friends who had visited him became so impressed with the advantage of the location as a town on the way to the southern mines that they persuaded him to turn his beautiful site into a pueblo. At a meeting held at this place on February 27th, 1850, for the purpose of naming the town and for the election of alcalde, R. P. Wilson was called to the chair and Edward Reynolds appointed secretary. Captain Grayson opened the business with a short and appropriate address. It was moved that the city be styled “Grayson” in honor of its founder, which was unanimously adopted. Thomas R. Whitridge and G. N. Oldfield were nominated for the office of alcalde. The latter was elected by a large majority after spirited balloting. It was also moved that the proceedings be published in the Alta California and the Journal of Commerce and that the alcalde immediately proceed with the duties of his office.
Captain Grayson was a naturalist of note nearly a century ago. His extensive researches in ornithology won for him the title of the “Audubon of the Pacific.” He had traveled in western Mexico, studying the birds and making beautiful drawings and water colors to illustrate his researches. The Academy of Arts and Science of Mexico had commissioned him to undertake the investigation and was to publish his plates and comment, but the death of Emperor Maximillian threw everything into confusion and the agreement was broken. The materials were never published. In 1878 Mrs. G. B. Grayson-Crane, the widow of Captain Grayson, presented to the University of California one hundred sixty-three of Captain Grayson's water colors of Mexican birds. In 1899 she made a further presentation of Captain Grayson's literary remains, including manuscripts descriptive of the avi-fauna of western Mexico, scientific correspondence with Spencer F. Eaird, and other writings of interest to ornithologists and very useful in connection with the water colors previously donated. Captain Grayson died at Mazatlan, August 17th, 1869, his widow subsequently becoming the wife of Dr. Crane of Napa. Grayson was a merchant in San Francisco and also had a house in Stockton, Grayson, Stevens, and Guild. He became one of the first merchants in Grayson.
Associated with Captain Grayson in the founding of this ancient city of Stanislaus, besides Dr. Adams, Washington Havens and others, was John Westley Van Benschoten, a New Yorker by birth, who came across the plains with Fremont in 1846. He was with the army in Mexico, a beef contractor on General Scott's line. He came into California in 1848 with Major Graham's command. After the discovery of gold he settled at Jamestown, a member of the firm of Coindreau, Marsis and Van Benschoten. He was elected assemblyman from Tuolumne county, in 1849, taking his seat in February, 1850, and resigning four days later. He afterward went to Grayson and established the Grayson House, in which he lavishly and with true 1849 hospitality entertained his friends. He continued to reside at Grayson until his death.
During his residence in Stanislaus county he was a participant in the large affairs of the county and was noted throughout the state as one of the early pioneers. In later life he operated the ferry at Grayson and met his death by accidentally losing his balance while operating it and falling into the river and being drowned in 1886. The lumber with which the Grayson House was built was transported around Cape Horn. Van Benschoten was one of the early Indian fighters of the state.
Grayson soon became an active business community, and contained many stores which did a thriving trade with the travelers going to and from the southern mines. The first store in Grayson was owned by Grayson and Stephens. It was a descendant of the partnership that had existed in Stockton, removing to Grayson in 1850, and carrying a complete line of merchandise. At this time the steamer Georgiana made regular trips from Stockton to Grayson. For two years Grayson flourished but in 1852 it dwindled into a deserted village with naught but the ferryman to mark its former splendor, the trade to the mines having been diverted through Stockton. About 1860 the West Side became noted as a great depot for cows, sheep and horses, having become the state's vast cattle range. Grayson revived. In 1860 it was surveyed as a town. Thereafter it grew very rapidly until the drought of 1870-71, when it suffered a setback in common with the other parts of the county. For many years Grayson was the shipping point for wheat and stock from the many large farms and pasture fields in that locality. In 1870 it contained five saloons, a livery stable, two restaurants, a butcher shop, a temperance lodge, a large warehouse, and two merchandise stores. One of these stores was owned by J. R. McDonald, known as the “Father of the West Side Irrigation District.” There were two stage lines, one running from Grayson to Modesto, the other to Hill's Ferry. With the coming of the railroad to Stanislaus, Grayson gradually lost its former greatness as a shipping point, the business going to those villages situated on the line of the steel highway.
The Tuolumne City News, in its issue of September 17th, 1868, thus speaks of Grayson:
“Beautifully and picturesquely situated on the western bank of the San Joaquin, commanding a pleasant view of
the serpentine course of that stream, marked by the green verdure and cooling forest, with the gigantic Mount Oso of the Coast Range towering to a height of over two thousand feet, as a background, with intervening valleys and plains, impresses it as a spot fitting to the artistic genius of the departed pioneer. When he first beheld the glowing scenery, no doubt in his artistic mind he pictured that here would some day be the seat of trade and commerce of a happy and numerous people. Over twenty years have passed since then, and Grayson may have only been wise in advance of his time. The little village that bears his name, now, since he is no more, bids fair to realize the hopes of its brilliant founder. Within the short space of one year it has trebled its population. In the place of one house, there are now over forty, and from the soil over which Grayson used to hunt the wild antelope, within the area of a few miles, nearly a million bushels of wheat and barley were produced the last year, which is an excess of over nine hundred thousand bushels of the previous year's crop. The town is now brisk and lively, and all the difference branches of trade necessary to the place are well represented by competent and intelligent citizens, who appear to understand its future prospects.”
One of the most distinguished citizens of the state was James R. McDonald, for thirty years a resident of Grayson. He arrived in California in 1850. He and W. J. Tilley purchased the Grayson store in 1869. In 1874, Tilley withdrew from the partnership. McDonald thereafter conducted the business alone. He was also a farmer and sheep raiser, his holdings being three thousand acres. In 1890 he received the Republican nomination for state treasurer and was elected. He died on October 14, 1902.
Grayson contributed some of the soldiers to the Union army during the Civil War in the picked body of men that was raised in this state, called the “California Hundred.” Their first captain, named Reed, went from Grayson to the conflict. There were sent to the Army of the Potomac. Captain Reed was killed in the first engagement. Fifteen captains of the California Hundred met their death in the war. This body was reduced by casualties to twenty-five men who were then placed in a Massachusetts regiment.
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.