Mr. Bell, whose portrait appears in this work, was born in Rutherford County, North Carolina, Sept. 29, 1820. When seven years old his parents removed to Dyer County, Tennessee, and soon after took up a residence in Carroll County, in the same State. There Mr. Bell was educated, and taught in agricultural pursuits. In 1841, the family moved to Massac County, Illinois, thence to Kentucky, settling at Smithland, where the father died. Previous to this time, Mr. Bell had learned the carpenter’s trade, and here apprenticed himself to that of a mill-wright. On October 20, 1847, he married in Terre Haute, Indiana, Marietta Smith, who was born at Maple Hill, near that place. In 1852, Mr. Bell, with his wife, left Smithland for this State, coming via Nicaragua, and in company with his brother, Andrew N. Bell, arrived in Sonora, this county, November 20, 1852. James Bell, in company with his brother Thomas, erected the present Court House, as well as other buildings in Sonora. On January 9, 1854, Mr. Bell formed a partnership with Heslep Bros. for the purpose of constructing and operating a barley mill. Prior to this time there had been built a saw-mill on Woods’ creek, west from Sonora, and where Mr. Bell’s flour mill now stands. This saw-mill was torn down, and on the site a barley mill was erected. This enterprise proved a financial failure, and the parties erected a grist-mill on the same ground, completing the structure in August, 1854. As will be seen by referring to the general history in this work, Joseph Heslep was murdered in 1855, but the partnership of Heslep Bros. & Bell continued until December, 1859, when Mr. Bell became sole proprietor, which he has continuously maintained to the present time. Many improvements have been made on the mill, until it is now recognized as one of the prime features of industry in Tuolumne county. In 1861, Mr. Bell invested largely in wheat, and the rise in price after the purchase made him quite a fortune. With a portion of the gains made in this wheat speculation he, in company with his wife, visited the World’s Fair in London, in 1862, taking also a trip through the old countries. Soon after their return, Mrs. Bell’s health began to fail, and she died on October 7, 1869. When her spirit had winged its flight where angels dwell, a grave was prepared in the home for the dead on the summit of one of the eastern bluffs that overlook the city of Sonora, into which her mortal remains were lowered by kindly hands. As her friends stood around the open receptacle of the dead, more than one was seen to weep over the earthly departure of one they had learned to love. Mr. Bell has since erected a tomb on the spot where she was buried, and the remains of her who left her Eastern home, parents, friends, all that was dear to her girlhood’s memory, to join her husband in coming to this coast, is now sepultured within its spacious wails. The tomb which Mr. Bell has erected in the Masonic Cemetery, the beauties of which cannot fully be appreciated until seen, is a worthy tribute to the memory of so good a woman. Mr. Bell’s children are John and Charles.
“A History of Tuolumne County, California” Pub’d by B.F. Alley, 1882. Pg. 348.
Submitted by: Nancy Pratt Melton