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Was born in East Hartford, Connecticut, on the 2nd of September, 1813.  When eighteen years old he moved to the State of New York, thence to the southern States; leaving there for California in 1849, via Panama, on the steamer of the same name, he arrived in San Francisco on November 1, 1849.  He remained in that place during the Winter, and in the following Spring came to Sonora, and was engaged in the clothing and shoe business until the Fall of 1851; then he opened the Eureka Hotel, which stood nearly opposite the present City Hotel, on Washington street.  The Eureka was burned in the great fire of 1852, and Mr. Bemis, in 1855, opened the Plaza Hotel, which property he afterwards purchased.  This hotel was also destroyed by the conflagration of 1861.  Mr. Bemis now moved to Virginia City, where he lived one year, then returning to Sonora he purchased the City Hotel, and to the present writing has been the only proprietor. There he married Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Lindsey, a native of Massa­chusetts.  She died April 16, 1878.


“A History of Tuolumne County, California” B.F. Alley, 1882. Pg. 383.

Submitted by: Nancy Pratt Melton






Was born on October 12, 1820, at Seneca Falls, Seneca County, N.Y., and in 1852 came to California, arriving on April 1st, having come by way of Cape Horn.  After nine months’ residence in Sacramento he went to Tuolumne County, where he for some time mined between Sonora and Columbia, then opening the Magnolia Hotel at Columbia, which he managed until 1859.  After one year’s resi­dence in San Francisco Mr. Benham went to Virginia City, becoming one of the most prominent contractors and build­ers of that region.  The White Pine excitement took him to Hamilton, where, however, he remained but one year, returning to San Francisco to take a position in the railway mail service.  At the end of four years Mr. Benham went to Oakland, where he has since been identified as one of the most prominent builders, Dietz’s Opera House being one of the many buildings erected by him.



“A History of Tuolumne County, CA” B.F. Alley, 1882.  Appendix Pg. 7-8.

Submitted by: Nancy Pratt Melton






Was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, on March 17, 1835.  At the age of seven his parents took him to Livingston County, Michigan, thence moving to Ingham County, in the same State, where young Birney received his primary education in the common schools, finishing his scholastic learning at the Union School at Jackson, Michigan.  In 1857, the subject of our memoir came to this State via the Isthmus of Panama, and at once settled at Sawmill Flat, in this county.  Here he engaged in mining, which occupa­tion he followed until 1863, at which time he was elected District Assessor, his district embracing the second town­ship of this county.  He was his own successor in 1865.  In 1867, he was elected District Collector, and continued to hold that office for two years.  In 1869, he was elected County Assessor, and continued in the office until De­cember, 1875, when he resigned to take his seat in the Lower House of the Legislature.  He was re-elected to the same office in 1881, and is the present incumbent.  Mr. Birney has been engaged in quartz mining for many years, still following that occupation.  He married Catherine Boyle, a native of Jefferson County, New York.


“A History of Tuolumne County, California” B.F. Alley, 1882. Pg. 382-383.

Submitted by: Nancy Pratt Melton






Is a native of Suffolk County, New York. When eight­een years years old he shipped on a whaler coming to the Pacific Ocean in 1844, returning in 1848.  For two more years he continued to follow a sea-faring life, and then came to San Francisco in 1850.  He first settled at Don Pedro’s Bar, in September, 1850, where he mined.  He moved to the northern mines via San Francisco; thence to this county in May, 1851, settling at Woods’ crossing.  Here he took up a claim and continued working it until going to Australia in the Spring of 1853.  He soon re­turned to the old place, however, and engaged in mining until 1862, when he went into partnership with Mr. Gault in a store at Woods’ crossing.  He bought out his partner, and is now the sole owner of the business.


“A History of Tuolumne County, California” B.F. Alley, 1882. Pg. 355-356.

Submitted by: Nancy Pratt Melton






The subject of this sketch was born in Germany on December 1, 1818. Here he was raised and educated.  He emigrated to the United States in 1849, settling it Cleve­land, Ohio. From this place he came to California via the Isthmus of Panama, landing in San Francisco in October 1851.  He came direct to this county, stopping at Jamestown, where he mined for gold during the Winter of ‘51-2.   The following Spring he went to Fresno, remaining there until the Fall of that that year, and then moved to Merced County, where he purchased a farm in 1853.  On February 8, 1856, he came to Columbia and bought an interest in the manufacture of beer.  The brewery above mentioned was built by A. Bixel, a brother of the subject of this sketch, in 1854, and was owned by him until 1856, when Joseph Bixel bought an interest, buying the remainder in 1869.  This brewery is located at the head of Matelot Gulch, and is a wood building 40x60 feet, one story high, the malt-room and kiln of brick, one story and basement, 20-80 feet; the fermatation cellar is 20x60 feet, hewn out of almost solid limestone; the floor faced with marble.  One large stable of wood, carriage-house and dwelling-house, also of wood, 30x40 feet, and one and a half stories high.  Mr. Bixel married Anna Maria Dirr.  She is a native of Germany.  Paul, Amelia, Louisa and Arthur are their children.


“A History of Tuolumne County, California” Published by B.F. Alley, 1882. Pg. 317-318.

Submitted by: Nancy Pratt Melton





SPENCER BLAIR, (Deceased.)


The subject of this sketch was born in Broome County, New York, in May 1822.  His parents were proprietors of a farm on which the young Spencer lived, until he emigrate to Golden State, in 1852, he making the transcontinental trip via Panama, crossing the Isthmus, as did all travellers at that date, on mule back.  Settling at Rough and Ready, he mined there for about seven years, going in 1859 to Soulsbyville, where he followed the same pursuit for two years.  For several years subsequently he remained unsettled, until finally, in 1865, he moved permanently upon the farm where his widow now lives.  This is situated near Summerville, and consists of one hundred and sixty acres of well cultivated land, which is managed by Edson, one of the children.  Mr. Blair’s lamented death took place September 22, 1870.  He was married to Miss M. Knapp, in New York, May 12, 1844, four children being the result of this union, of whom three, Edson A., Eloise J., and George F., survive.


“A History of Tuolumne County, California” Published by B.F. Alley, 1882. Pg. 314.

Submitted by: Nancy Pratt Melton






This gentleman, whose portrait appears in this work, is of good English stock, the records of his ancestry dating back to the sixteenth century, at which time they inhabited Little Baddow, in Essex, England. It is recorded that William Blake, of that family, came to America in 1630, and, settling at Dorchester, in Massachusetts, became the progenitor of the numerous Blakes of New England.  In the language of the chronicler of that day, he "possessed an ample estate.”  In direct line between him and the sub­ject of this sketch stand the names of Edward, Ebenezer, Ebenezer the second, and Luther, who were respectively great-great-grandfather, great-grandfather, grandfather, and father of their living descendant.  Of these, the grand­father, born in 1732, was a man of note.  In early life a soldier, he served in the French and Indian wars preceding the Revolution, much of the time being under the imme­diate command of George Washington.  He fought val­iantly at the engagement known as Braddock’s Defeat, where the Father of his Country first evinced his talent for command.


There is in the possession of the present Dr. Blake a curious relic—a powder-horn—which belonged to his warrior ancestor, inscribed with the name of Ebenezer Blake and the words “Fort Cumberland,” a post of great im­portance in that war.  Ebenezer Blake’s sons, Eleazer and Luther, were both men of prominence. The former, styled Deacon, and so regarded in the traditions of the family, was an active participant in the Revolutionary war, serving therein six years, and taking part in the siege of Boston, the hanging of Andre, and other occurrences which are now of historical interest.  As before mentioned, the father of C. E. Blake was Luther, who was born in 1775.


Dr. Blake was born in Massachusetts, in 1823, on No­vember 22d. He came to California by way of New Orleans and Panama, leaving the former place on the steamer Fal­con, in company with Dr. Gwin, Gregory Yale, and others who have since become well known in this State.  Being detained for some weeks at Panama, on account of the lack of transportation, it was only by taking passage on a sailing vessel that he, with a large number of fellow-passengers, were enabled even then to reach San Francisco.  As it was, the passage occupied seventy days, and was full of inci­dent, inconveniences and discomforts, even sufferings, arising from insufficient food and water.  To such a state or desperation were the passengers driven, that a pros­pective mutiny was in progress during the whole voyage.  Finally arriving in San Francisco on January 10, 1850, the Doctor proceeded to Sacramento and secured employment in painting the now historic steamer Senator, then lying at that city.  During that year he visited the mines at Foster’s Bar and Trinity, at the latter region a “boom” being in progress.  In September, 1850, he arrived in Tuolumne County.  His first labors were in digging a ditch in Sonora, near the business house of Page, Bacon & Co., and he was so fortunate as to strike a rich lead, while engaged on the ditch, which was the first considerable find yet discovered.  The Doctor relates that in one day, the six who were part­ners took out twelve pounds of gold.


Beginning in 1851 to practice dentistry, the Doctor opened the first dental office in Sonora, on the ground where the old adobe building afterwards rose, adjoining the present store of O’Brien.  During the half dozen years of his stay in Sonora, the Doctor made frequent changes of his place of business, as were made necessary by the fires which ravaged the town, burning the gentleman’s office three or four times.  Leaving Sonora in 1857, he has re­sided since in San Francisco, practicing his profession.


The Doctor’s family consists of his wife, who was born Miss Laura Hands, and is a native of New York, and their five children: Alfred E., born October 16, 1861; Sherman T., born November 21, 1864; Louis S, born April 10, 1866; Laura May, born June 29, 1867; and Robert Johnson, born July 20, 1875.



“A History of Tuolumne County, CA” B.F. Alley, 1882.  Appendix Pg. 10-12.

Submitted by: Nancy Pratt Melton





© 2002 Nancy Pratt Melton

Tuolumne County Biographies