LEO LEWIS McCOY
Leo Lewis McCoy, one of the most prominent and substantial citizens of Tehama County, is now past eighty years of age and enjoys the respect and veneration which should ever be accorded one who has traveled thus far on life’s journey and whose career has been an upright and honorable one. He has been one of California’s most successful sheep men and is well known and highly esteemed throughout the Sacramento Valley. He was born in Clark County, Missouri, August 1, 1850, the third child and second son of Joseph McCoy, Jr., and Jane (McKean) McCoy. A separate biography of his father may be found elsewhere in this work. Leo L. McCoy is descended from a line of real pioneers, of Scotch ancestry on both paternal and maternal sides. His maternal grandfather, Alexander McKean, was born in the north of Ireland about 1800, of a Scotch Presbyterian family. He came to America with his wife and two daughters, Jane and Eliza, in 1830. Eliza married James Ritchey and raised a family in Brown County, Illinois. The daughter Jane became the mother of Leo L. McCoy. Alexander McKean lived in Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri, journeyed overland to California in 1849 and returned to Missouri in 1853. Duncan McCoy, great-grandfather of Leo L. McCoy, was born in Virginia of Scotch parentage. He accompanied his father and the family on their removal from the Old Dominion to Kentucky about 1780 and settled in what is now Bourbon County. Duncan McCoy was married about 1790 and reared a family of five children, three sons and two daughters, namely: Martin; Joseph, grandfather of Leo L. McCoy; James; Mary Ann; and Sarah. About the year 1820, Duncan McCoy moved with his son James and daughter Sarah to Brown County, Ohio, where he died about 1846. James McCoy married Sarah Fite and reared five children, two sons and three daughters, as follows: Joseph, Chambers C., Mary Ann, Charlotte and Rhoda. About 1859 Joseph McCoy (grandfather of Leo L. McCoy), who was then living in Clark County, Missouri, made a trip to Ohio with a two horse wagon. His brother James and family returned with him to Missouri and settled in Clark County.
Martin McCoy, eldest son of Joseph McCoy, was born, reared and married in Bourbon County, Kentucky. His wife died in early womanhood, leaving two sons, John and Preston. About 1820 Martin McCoy went to St. Louis, Missouri, leaving his two sons in Kentucky. In the spring of 1822 he joined the Ashley-Smith expedition of the American Fur Company and spent the succeeding winter about the head of the Missouri River and Yellowstone country. In 1824 he started west with the Jedediah Smith expedition and spent the winters of 1824-5 and 1825-6 in the Rocky Mountain country and Salt Lake, exploring and trapping for furs. In 1826, with the Smith party, he went to southern California by the Colorado River route, spending the winter of that year about San Diego and Los Angeles. In the fall of 1827 he settled on the Stanislaus River for the winter, and in the spring of 1828 the party started north for the Columbia River. On the 14th, (sic) of July, 1828, the party was attacked by Indians on the Umpqua River in Oregon and all its members killed with the exception of Jedediah Smith, Arthur Blake and John Turner. Joseph McCoy, second son of Duncan McCoy, was born June 6, 1794, near Paris, in what is now Bourbon County, Kentucky. On March 5, 1816, he married Mary Ann Lewis, who was born January 30, 1795, and was a daughter of Jesse Lewis of Fayette County, Kentucky. In the spring of 1816, Joseph McCoy and his young bride made the trip on horseback from Lexington, Kentucky, to St. Louis, Missouri, then a part of the territory of Louisiana, where they resided for several years. Joseph McCoy, a carpenter by trade, erected a frame house as his dwelling, and years afterward the city authorities had a painting made of the old McCoy house because it was the first well built frame house in St. Louis. While residing there Mr. and Mrs. Joseph McCoy became the parents of a son and a daughter: Lewis, who was born May 20, 1817, and died September 23, 1818; and Eliza Jane, who was born July 16, 1819, married James Preston McWilliams, April 9, 1835, and died in Red Bluff, California, February 14, 1894. In 1820, Joseph McCoy moved out ten miles west of St. Louis and began the improvement of a farm, on which a son and a daughter were born, Joseph, father of Leo L. McCoy, and Rebecca. The latter, whose natal day was July 13, 1821, married Galen Clark, in Clark County, Missouri, on the 27th of April, 1839. A son Joseph L. and two daughters were born to them in Clark County, Missouri. In 1835 Mr. Clark moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where two sons, Galen Alonzo and Solon were born. Mrs. Clark died February 16, 1848, leaving the son Solon only ten days old. Mr. Clark then took his children to his relatives in New Hampshire, and in 1850 started west. The son Joseph L. was wounded and died on the field in the second battle of Bull Run in 1862. Mary Ann married a Mr. Regan and raised a family in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Solon was drowned, 1857, in New Hampshire. Galen Alonzo died in California, April, 1873. Elvira M. married Dr. George P. Lee of Merced, and died in Oakland, November 19, 1912. Galen Clark was born in Dublin, New Hampshire, March 28, 1814, and passed away in Oakland, California, March 24, 1910, “high in the regard of all who knew him. His body lies in the Little Yosemite cemetery and in a Sequoia shaded grave which he had prepared for himself years ago.” Mr. Clark had prepared this place by planting six Sequoia trees, which he had brought from the Mariposa grove, which he discovered in 1857 and by digging a well from which he watered them. The trees now are about sixty feet high. By the help of friends he brought from the mountainside a large granite rock on which he chiseled the name, GALEN CLARK. Recently L. L. McCoy and his brother A. M. had the dates, 1814 – 1910, carefully cut under the name. Joseph, brother of Rebecca, was born, March 24, 1823, and died in Red Bluff, California, January 1, 1900. The father, Joseph McCoy, Sr., sold his farm west of St. Louis in 1830 and settled in Franklin County, where in association with a Mr. Owens he bought land and laid out and named the town of Washington. In the spring of 1835 he disposed of his interests in Franklin County and spent the succeeding summer and early fall in looking about for a suitable location. He started north in the autumn of 1835 and during the following winter lived with his family in Lewis County. In the spring of 1836 he moved onto a tract of land which he had secured in the fall of the previous year in what later became Clark County, at that time a part of Lewis County. Clark County was organized in 1837. Joseph McCoy was made the first county treasurer, with surety bond of five hundred dollars, and the second session of the county court was held in his home. His wife died on the 9th of August, 1839, and was buried in old Waterloo, whence her body was later removed to Wolf cemetery at St. Francisville. After a few years residence in Waterloo, engaged in general merchandise business, Mr. McCoy went to St. Louis. During the Mexican War he was employed by the United States government in buying horses and mules for the army. In the fall of 1849 he returned to Clark County, where he spent the remainder of his life on a farm adjoining that on which he had settled in 1836. He died there December 7, 1870, and was buried in the Wolf cemetery, by the side of his wife, whose body had been moved by her son from Waterloo some years before.
Leo Lewis McCoy, whose name introduces this review, was reared on a splendid farm and well trained in the many duties of farm life and the handling of stock. As a youth he was given the advantages of good schools. He graduated from Pleasant Hill Academy in the spring of 1869 and in the succeeding fall entered La Grange College, from which he was honorably graduated in June, 1872, with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. As he walked out of the college campus, with a handsome “sheepskin” in his hand, to the congratulation of his friends he remarked: “My boat is launched, but where is the shore?” Feeling that his frail bark was now launched on “life’s rude main,” he wondered to what shore the “surging billows of time” and the restless tides of an unknown sea might drift his boat. He pondered considerably over that question for the next two months and advised with his father, his mother having died one year before him. His father had recently returned from California, where he had spent nearly a year, surveying the field, conferring with old-time Missouri friends and considering future prospects for his six sons, of whom Leo was the second. By the advice and financing of the father, Leo Lewis and an elder brother, Galen Clark, left the parental roof September 4, 1872, with first class tickets, with lay-over privilege, for San Francisco. They stopped a few days at Salt Lake City, spent eight days on a big cattle ranch near Elko, Nevada, landed at Sacramento during the state fair of 1872 and then made their way, successively, to Stockton, Merced, Mariposa and Clark’s Station, now called Wawona. Galen Clark of Yosemite fame was their uncle for whom Galen was named. Mr. Clark, just before starting for California in 1850, was visiting at the McCoy home in Missouri when Leo was born and named him for Leo Lewis of Kentucky, brother of his grandmother. Galen Clark at that time owned the ranch, hotel and stage station at what is now known as Wawona. The McCoy brothers had the privilege of visiting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees with Galen Clark, who in 1857 discovered and named this grove and served as state guardian for twenty-five of the thirty years that it belonged to the state of California. After spending a few weeks with Mr. Clark and his son and daughter, Galen Alonzo and Elvira Missouri, who were then with their father Galen C. and Leo L. McCoy went to San Francisco, where they remained for a few weeks. They looked well over Sonoma, Napa, Solano, Yolo, Colusa, Sacramento and Butte counties, and finally, late in December, arrived in Tehama County, where they met T. N. and James M. Howell. The wife of T. N. Howell was a cousin of the McCoy brothers, and daughter of Eliza Jane McCoy.
The Howell brothers were Missourians who had been in the sheep business in Tehama County for several years and had been quite successful, selling their wool for fifty-two cents per pound at Red Bluff in the spring of 1872. Sheep and lambs brought a good price for those times and the outlook for the business seemed encouraging. The Howell brothers had met the senior McCoy when he was in California the year before and liked him. T. N. Howell, attracted to Leo L. McCoy, offered to finance the latter and put him in the sheep business if he would settle in Tehama County. On the 20th of January, 1873, T. N. Howell turned a band of sheep over to Leo L. McCoy and another young man who had some experience with sheep in Tehama County. They ran the sheep together until May, when Mr. Howell gave Mr. McCoy credit to buy the other party out. The band consisted of about twelve hundred ewes and seven hundred lambs. Instead of wool bringing fifty-two cents as it did the spring of 1872, the average price was about twenty-two cents. Mr. McCoy bought a pack mule and about the middle of May moved his sheep and “worldly goods” to the mountains of Lassen County for summer pasture, where he settled on Pine Creek, near Eagle Lake, which place he held for forty years. Ranges were so well taken up and occupied in Tehama County that he thought he must seek free and open range in other sections. He had heard many and flattering reports of range conditions in northeastern California and southeastern Oregon and felt that he must look them over. Therefore, on the 1st of July, 1873, he packed a month’s supply of “grub” on his little pack mule and started out alone. He went out by Poison Lake to Fall River Valley, thence through Big Valley, Stone Coal Valley and Hot Spring Valley to the present site of Alturas, then called Dorris Bridge, on up to the head of Pit River and Goose Lake, out on the lava beds towards Klamath Lake and up the west side of Goose Lake, thence back to the lower end of Goose Lake and up the east side as far as the present site of Lakeview, Oregon. Thence he made his way over the mountain, through Fandango Pass to Surprise Valley, thence nearly the full length of Surprise Valley and over the mountain to the south fork of Pit River, across Madeline Plains, Grasshopper Valley, Eagle Lake and to his camp on Pine Creek. He had been gone just twenty-nine days. Not favorably impressed with anything found, for all-year range, and fearing the winters of that mountain country, early in August he made a trip to Tehama County to look for a safer location.
After further investigation, Mr. McCoy bought a sort of “squatter’s claim” from Frank Hurst on Salt Creek, Tehama County south of Tuscan Buttes, where he settled with his sheep in September, 1873. This place remained the headquarters of his sheep outfit for the next forty years. Time proved that he had made a good guess not to pin his faith to that mountain country, for the winter of 1873-74 was the hardest winter ever known in that section. Thousands of sheep died and but few cattle survived the winter. It was also the hardest winter ever known in Tehama County, heavy snow in December followed by cold, freezing weather. Five thousand sheep died on the ranges between Antelope and Paynes Creek. Mr. McCoy lost about half of his sheep, raised but a few lambs and had but little wool. He owed forty-eight hundred dollars on which he was paying one percent per month interest and had one note for a small amount to H. Kraft bearing two per cent per month. All that he had was not worth half his debts. The outlook was rather discouraging for the “green Missourian”. He was given ample credit and encouragement to stay with the business. By 1880 he was out of debt and had forty-eight hundred good sheep. In 1881 the railroad lands of that section were graded, price set and offered for sale in June, at the office in San Francisco. Mr. McCoy hastened down from his sheep camp in Lassen County, put his saddle horse in the Luna stable as security, called for what money he had in the Bank of Tehama County, borrowed ten thousand dollars more and went to San Francisco to buy railroad lands. With that he bought and made the required payment contract for about thirteen thousand acres. He returned to Red Bluff, got his breath, reported the saddle horse was still in the stable, borrowed thirty-five hundred dollars more, went to San Francisco and bought more land. Again he returned to Red Bluff, steadied his nerves a little, talked the matter over with “Billy” Cahoone, cashier of the bank, showed him the saddle horse, borrowed twenty-five hundred dollars more and went down and bought more land. Thus with sixteen thousand dollars borrowed and about twenty-five hundred dollars of his own he tied up under contract, made the required payment and one year’s interest in advance on balance, on about nineteen thousand acres, and bought and shipped home a carload of choice rams for his sheep ranch.
Mr. McCoy was not a little surprised at the cheerful credit given him by the bank, as his saddle horse was the only thing he had in the county, but later learned that J. S. Cone, vice president of the bank and large land and sheep owner and near neighbor of Mr. McCoy, advised the bank that he was making a good, safe deal in land, that he was successful in his sheep business and was personally entitled to most anything that he would ask. Other “old timers” and successful business men of the county, who had had their eyes on young Mr. Coy for a few years, had a kindly and encouraging word to say in his behalf. Mr. McCoy soon paid his financial obligation, increased and improved his flocks and went on buying other lands. He bought state school lands, entered government lands, bought out his neighbors and in a few years had twenty-six thousand acres in Tehama County well blocked up for range purposes and had increased his holdings in Lessen County for summer range and was running from twelve to fifteen thousand sheep. Several seasons he raised over five thousand lambs, and he was free of any debt. In the meantime he had improved his holdings by fences, bridges over creeks, shearing sheds, dipping vats, cabins and good wire corrals over the ranch in carefully selected places for the convenience and safety of handling the different bands of sheep. He had erected a double wire telephone line from Red Bluff to the headquarters of the ranch and had a dozen or more telephone connections with the many camps on the ranch. The ranch telephone system was a great convenience in many ways for the systematic management of the outfit. The system saved much riding and gave prompt report to headquarters of anything needed or out of order on the ranch. Mr. McCoy gave this outfit, in minutest details, his close personal attention. No shepherd ever led his flocks to greener pasture to satisfy their hunger, to more inviting streams to slake their thirst, to more friendly shades for noonday rest, or to safer folds at the approach of night. He had better cabins for his men, fed them a little better, paid them a little better, trained them a little better, kept his men longer and got better service generally than any other such outfit in the Sacramento Valley. Being in close touch with every man on the ranch, he could tell better what men to hold and would exercise better judgment, than the average foreman, who had no capital invested and was inclined to choose his friends.
Mr. McCoy had a kindly feeling for and appreciated the men who had rendered good and efficient service and help him make a start. He frequently sent money to herders and shearers who had drifted away and needed expense money to return. One morning, through Wells-Fargo Express, he telegraphed seventy dollars to a herder at Newark, New Jersey, who had drifted away and wanted to return. The fellow received the money, bought his ticket that afternoon for Red Bluff and in about a week was back on the ranch, in charge of a band of sheep. From the size of the outfit and the custom of riding to and from the mountain ranges every season, Mr. McCoy made it a point to try and hold his men who were acquainted with the roads, his ranges and his system of handling his flocks. He had several men fifteen or twenty years and had three different men over thirty years. “Old timers” who knew Mr. McCoy well have said: “Even in his young days he was very resourceful. He seemed to have the happy faculty of promptly meeting any emergency that might arise from accident or sudden change of conditions.” Mr. McCoy is generally accepted as one of the most successful sheep men in the northern half of California, and is well and favorably known over most of the state and the sheep sections of Nevada. He has the general reputation of being a master of the range sheep business; his wool had a fine reputation in the local, San Francisco and Boston markets; his brand on a sack of wool meant something to the wool buyer. For many years he took a very active part in all local and legislative matters for the benefit of the sheep business in California, such as tariff, control of scab, destruction of predatory animals and the adjustment of an unreasonable license tax imposed by some mountain counties on sheep being moved on their mountain ranges. Mr. McCoy had some part in many things for the betterment and improvement of Tehama County.
On December 18, 1883, Mr. McCoy was joined in marriage with Miss Emma A. Bofinger, and native of Red Bluff and a daughter of William F. Bofinger, a pioneer settler of Red Bluff in 1853. Mr. and Mrs. McCoy have always maintained a home in Red Bluff. They are now (1930) living on the same corner lot to which they repaired the evening of the wedding, but in a much finer home. Two children were born to them, Leo Adrian and Alice. Leo Adrian was married November 27, 1907, to Miss Lulu Kent and they have a son, Lewis Kent, born October 14, 1908. On May 11, 1920, Alice McCoy was wedded to Mays P. Brown, son of Anderson and Mattie (Mays) Brown, both of pioneer families of Marion County, Missouri. Mr. McCoy and Anderson Brown were classmates in college for three years.
Mr. McCoy came from a family of real pioneers, for several generations, and imbibed much of the real pioneer spirit and reverence for those hardy venturesome characters who blazed the trails across the continent that others might later follow. He has taken much interest and given much time to the personal history of the pioneers of northern California. For many years he has been a careful collector of Indian relics of various kinds, such as bows, arrows, arrow points, war clubs, wampum, fine blankets and rare bead work. He has a wonderful collection of rare Indian baskets, representing many different tribes.
When a young man, Mr. McCoy joined the different bodies of Masonry. He is a member of Vesper Lodge, No. 84, F. & A M., of Red Bluff; Red Bluff Chapter, No. 40, R. A. M.; Shasta Council, No. 6, R. & S. M.; Red Bluff Commandery, No. 17, K. T., of Red Bluff; and Islam Temple, A. A. O. N. M. S., of San Francisco. Mr. McCoy was appointed captain, aide-de-camp, on the staff of Brigadier General Montgomery, Fifth Brigade, California National Guard, June 12, 1892, and retired May 24, 1895.
Mr. McCoy has considerable interest in life insurance companies. He was an original subscriber for stock when the Western States Life Insurance Company of San Francisco was being promoted in 1910 and still holds his stock. Mr. McCoy was a subscriber for stock when the California State Life Insurance Company of Sacramento was being promoted in 1911. He was selected from the stockholders for the first board of directors and has been elected every year since. He is now the only surviving member of the original board. He still holds his original stock subscribed for and has increased his holdings with the company to over fifteen hundred shares.
Mr. McCoy has taken some interest in banking. He helped to organize the Red Bluff National Bank in 1911 and served on the board of directors. Later, when it was changed to The First National Bank of Red Bluff, he was elected vice president, and since this institution became the Red Bluff Branch of the Bank of America, he has served on the advisory board. He is also a stockholder of the Bank of Tehama County and has taken over three hundred shares of Transamerica and other stock. Mr. McCoy owns a thousand acres of one of the early land grants of Tehama County.
During the World War Mr. McCoy served for three years as county director for the sale of Thrift Stamps. His organization was so perfected that in one year, 1918, he sold these twenty-five cent stamps to the value of two hundred and four thousand dollars. He served on the committee for sale of bonds and bought liberally himself. He is not a member of any church but has been a liberal contributor to the building and support of churches generally. He served for twenty-eight years on the board of trustees of the Presbyterian Church of Red Bluff, during eighteen of which he was chairman of the board. He has given some help to a few good boys in the way of an education and has given very material financial assistance to a number of fine girls for an education in the University of California, the State Normal School and secretarial or business college.
Mr. McCoy, on account of getting on in years and marked change in the conditions of handling such an outfit as he had, such as forest reserve regulations, hired help, getting to and from the mountain ranges and changed conditions generally, decided that he would close out his sheep business. In March, 1913, he sold out his lands in Tehama and Lassen counties and during the spring worked off all his sheep and retired from that line of business.
The following article by J. M. Howell appeared in the Red Bluff Daily News, under date of August 2, 1930: “I want to say in behalf of L. L. McCoy, who was eighty years old yesterday, that he had something more than an education. I think it was in the spring of 1874. As usual we always were the first to break the road over the mountains. That spring my outfit was in the lead, and the late Jud Pollard was driving my heavy spring wagon. In going down from Manzanita Lake to Hat Creek the road was very bad. I had only an old helpless man with me and the sheep right in the middle of the snow. With the sheep I came onto Jud with a broken spindle on the left front wheel. My sheep were running wild to go and I had no time to help Jud. I told him that Leo McCoy would be along soon and he would help pack up. I went on after my sheep. When Leo came along he cut two long poles, fastened the butt end securely to the rear end of his wagon and the other end fastened to the rear of my wagon, rested the front end of my wagon on top of the poles, making a real good trailer. He cut up a picket rope and made stretchers, or double tree, put the four horses on his wagon and came into camp at Lost Creek, with the whole outfit, that evening in time for supper. He had the problem so well worked out that he drove it along with the sheep through the mountain ranch and on to Susanville for repairs. Pretty good for a boy just out of college.”
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.