STORIES OF STANISLAUS
A Collection of Stories on the History and Achievements of Stanislaus County
Sol P. Elias
Modesto's First Fourth of July Celebration
Reverence for the memories of '76, veneration for the heros of the Revolution and exultation in the achievement of Freedom these were the keynotes of Modesto's first celebration of the Nation's birth on July 4th, 1874, in which fully three thousand people participated.
The Nation, hardly attaining the span of a century's growth and the village barely four years old, the citizens of Modesto the ambitious hamlet set in the center of a valley of unparalleled productivity, - the town that sprang into being in a night the country village without gas, electricity, city water, or any of the other accoutrements of progress, with ungraded streets, scattered homes, and quaint, old-fashioned stores but a community possessed of a virile and patriotic population of scarcely fifteen hundred people undertook for the first time in its brief history to measure up to the national standard, to fittingly extoll the Patriot Fathers, and to vie with the rest of the nation in the manifestation of patriotic fervor.
Modesto's first celebration of the nation's birth was a notable occasion in many ways. The personnel of the participants, the enthusiasm that it created for the flag and the reunited nation, the extensive and novel programs of exercises, and the grace that accentuated the entire festivity made it an affair of more than ordinary importance in the infant village. It brought together the builders of the new county, the pioneers who, in a wilderness, had erected a magnificent civilization that in later years ripened into one of excellent fruition. There was a flavor of the pioneer day in this celebration that has never been attained in any subsequent affair of a similar nature in the county. The main participants were of the first families of the county while the younger folks who represented the States in the procession were the pioneer children who had been reared on the prairies of Old Stanislaus and to whom the emblem of freedom savored of the open life of the plains.
On this day the town presented a lively and cheerful appearance. The townsmen as well as the residents of the entire country-side zealously joined in doing honor to the historical episode. The homes were draped in the national colors. The spirit of patriotism was in the air. Even Nature, attuned to the event, contributed a cool and calm day.
At early dawn, Peg Leg Jack, the most interesting town character, apprised the citizens of the arrival of the natal day by the thunder-like reverberations of his loud-mouthed cannon, which was almost as ancient as the day it sought to commemorate. By 9 o'clock the people from the country began to pour into the village. The citizens, by practical unanimity, had proclaimed a universal holiday. Until ten o'clock the people passed the time amidst a scene of waving and floating flags and a continuous volley of noise produced by the popping of fire crackers and the explosion of bombs on the street corners, on platforms and on the crowded sidewalks. It was, indeed, a boisterous Fourth.
At 10 o'clock Grand Marshal George Buck, assisted by his aides, Charles Aull, Charles Anthony, Andrew McGinnis and Joe Hall, formed the procession on H street in front of the Court House. It was led by the Modesto Brass Band, followed by a carriage containing the president of the day, the chaplain, the reader of the Declaration of Independence, and the orator. Then came a large wagon carrying a platform with raised seats on which were thirty-seven little girls dressed in red, white and blue, each girl representing one of the states of the Union.
The next feature in the historical pageant was the cavalcade of six pioneer girls all dressed in red, white and blue. They were the Misses Ida and Scottie Hall, daughters of Dr. M. H. Hall, for many years county treasurer and an early pioneer, Misses Clara and Josie Gridley, daughters of R. C. Gridley of the Sack of Flour, fame of the Civil War and one of the first merchants of Modesto and Misses Lucy and Lena Marvin, daughters of Eli Marvin, founder and step-daughters of Dr. T. E. Tynan, pioneer doctor and of Empire and one of the county's first commissioners, owner of the Tynan hotel and of extensive land interests about Empire.
A company of school boys followed the ladies on horseback and acted as an escort to them. Citizens on foot and in carriages followed.
The line of march was through the principal streets of the city. The procession stopped at the Huffman warehouse the granary just north of the old Southern Pacific passenger depot at the corner of Eighth and I streets where the exercises were held. The warehouse was extensively decorated with evergreens. The large platform which had been erected at its northern extremity was completely arched with shrubbery, flowers, pictures and flags. Though seating accommodations for fifteen hundred people had been provided, the warehouse was filled to capacity hours in advance of the beginning of the exercises. There was a large overflow crowd on the outside listening to the exercises.
The meeting was called to order by Isaac Perkins, president of the day, who, in a brief address, stated the objects of the celebration, and announced the order of the exercises. After music by the band the chaplain, Rev. J. G. Shelton, pioneer preacher, delivered a short and appropriate prayer. The song, Banner of the Sea, was sung by the thirty seven little girls who had represented the states in the procession. They were led by Miss Mary Gaillet, the ten-year old daughter of Louis Gaillet, foreman of the Stanislaus County Weekly News, and were accompanied on an organ by Miss Fanny Childs, a recent graduate from an Oakland seminary, who had just established a class of music in Modesto. The singing of this song by the chorus of little singers evoked applause.
An original poem written by Vital E. Bangs, pioneer teacher, farmer and legislator, was read by John T. Davies, then a school teacher and later a merchant. The Modesto Glee club then sang, The Star Spangled Banner. L. C. Branch, son of G. W. Branch, county clerk, delivered an address on the Declaration of Independence, in which he reviewed the history, the origin and the occasion that called forth that matchless document and read it in a most impressive manner. A. W. Roysdon, the brilliant district attorney of San Joaquin county, an orator of polish, and a man of fine appearance, delivered the address of the day. It was an original and polished effort and eloquently spoken.
As a historical review of the effect of education of the people on government and its relation to liberty, it was complete and searching. Mr. Roysdon made a most glowing tribute to the Patriot Fathers, warned the people of the dangers of corrupt influence in governmental affairs and of corporate control and exhorted his auditors to return to the principles of Jefferson and Jackson. Music by the band and a benediction by the chaplain closed this memorable celebration.
In the afternoon, the Invincibles, led by Louis Gaillet, the pioneer printer, appeared on the streets, in grotesque costumes, representing odd characters and furnished merriment to the large crowd. In the evening there was a grand ball, given by Frank H. Ross, proprietor of the famous Ross House, in Eastin's Hall, at the corner of I and Tenth streets, which was gaily decorated for the occasion. Dancing continued until midnight.
Many of the most prominent personages of the county participated in Modesto's first celebration of the Fourth of July. The personnel of the leaders in the festivity will recall to the old timer many whose names have been written on the pages of the county's history, who have performed their part and who have passed on. There are still living in Modesto many, also, who will recall the occasion with pleasure.
Isaac Perkins, president of the day, was the pioneer hardware merchant of Modesto. He owned large landed interest with the Cressey brothers, the firm name being Perkins and Cressey Brothers. He was one of the original organizers of the Modesto Bank and served as a director for many years. He was the father of Mrs. C. R. Tillson.
George Buck, the grand marshal, was one of the pioneer merchants of La Grange in 1850, being at that time a member of the firm of Buck and Hoburn. In 1874 he was engaged in the business of buying grain in Modesto. He was a prominent Mason and served as one of Modesto's school trustees for many years.
Charles Aull was a deputy in the sheriff's office, serving under Sheriff John Rodgers. Charles Anthony was one of the original settlers of Modesto. Andrew McGinnis was a deputy in the county clerk's office, and afterwards became a deputy sheriff. He subsequently engaged in detective work, and met his death in the famous quest for the train robbers, Sontag and Evans, many years later.
Joe Hall was the son of Dr. M. H. Hall, the county treasurer, one of the first settlers of the county.
Rev. J. G. Shelton, the chaplain, was a pioneer pastor on the plains. In 1874 he was the pastor of the M. E. Church South, in Modesto. He was a man beloved by the entire community a man who built his church, gathered his congregation, and organized the Sunday school for the children of the new community. He was one of the advance agents who blazed the trail for Christianity in all pioneer settlements. He was an indefatigable worker in the cause of religion.
L. C. Branch, reader of the Declaration of Independence, was the son of G. W. Branch, county clerk. At this time he was just twenty-one years old, had but recently graduated from the University of California, and was serving as deputy clerk under his father. Upon the death of his father later in this year, he was appointed to the office thus made vacant. Three years later he became the candidate for clerk of the Supreme Court in the Democratic state convention and was defeated by but a few votes. He organized the first gas and water company in Modesto. In 1879 he formed a law partnership with S. P. Scaniker, the first district attorney of Stanislaus county, and was elected to the legislature in 1880, serving one term. He was a presidential elector in 1879. He is now living in Visalia. Mr. Branch is a man of high attainments.
Miss Josie Gridley, the daughter of R. C. Gridley, and one of the cavalcade of horsewomen, still lives in Modesto. She is now the wife of W. H. Wood.
Huffman's warehouse became one of the historic places of Modesto in later years. It was afterwards known as the Brown and Alexander warehouse, and later became the Garrison Turner property. Tradition has it that it was in this sequestered building that the Vigilantes met in 1879 and in 1884.
As illustrating the thought of the period, the following editorial, written by Hon. J. D. Spencer, appeared in the columns of his pioneer paper on the day preceding the celebration:
Tomorrow Saturday is the 98th anniversary of the adoption by the old Continental Congress of the Declaration of Independence. We celebrate tomorrow the Fourth; then another, one year hence when we verge as a nation upon the hundredth anniversary of the American Republic. There are, it is said, those yet living who can call to mind the event that the people now so generally propose to commemorate. That fact alone teaches the lesson that the nation is, indeed, yet young; that the footsteps of those of that age, whom we follow as too often but poor imitators, are scarcely yet effaced from the old homesteads stretching along the Atlantic seaboard of the Thirteen Mother States.
How often it is that when in comparing the past with the present, we note alone the advancement of the nation in strength of numbers, extent of area, progress in the sciences, art, wealth, and fame? Are there not other attributes requisite in a people? Have the American citizens advanced any in the deep, unalterable love of country? Are they, today, as true patriots as were their fathers ninety-eight years ago? In social, religious and political affairs, can the Americans compare with their Revolutionary forefathers? Such, it seems to us, should be the question of greatest import. Admitting that the nation has advanced in material wealth, and in numerical numbers, yet her true strength rests at last in the people. If they are lacking in self-sacrificing patriotism and that intelligent love of constitutional liberty which animated the Patriot Fathers of Seventy-Six, then, indeed, is our progress and boasted strength the merest sham a delusion gilded over with tinseled drapery to catch and charm the eye of the oppressed million of Europe. If such be the case the nation is not only deceiving itself, but less informed people whose fondest hopes are to see the civilized nations of the earth pattern after the boasted Republic of America.
We as a people, whether able to solve the problem to our own satisfaction or not, do well to celebrate, by appropriate ceremonies, the occasion that tomorrow commemorates. Let us draw from it a lesson of the past. Kindle anew in the hearts of the youth of today the dying flame of patriotism first fanned into a blaze by Patrick Henry and his compatriots.
And, if possible, let the pure, bright flame continue until it has smothered the accused corruption, bastard child as it is of treason, of those seated in the places once known of Washington, a Hancock, a Jefferson, and an Adam.
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.