Search billions of records on


 Biographies Index  



California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


William F. Cowan

Among the most distinguished and esteemed members of the Sonoma county bar is William F. Cowan, of Santa Rosa, a man of pronounced ability, wise in his judgments, firm in his convictions, and one who has maintained a superior position among his legal brethren, and an honored place in fraternal and social circles. A native son of the state,he was born in Sonoma, Sonoma county, September 13, 1868, a son of Samuel F. and Mary Ellen (Spencer) Cowan, to whom two other children were born, Angus B., a well-known physician in Fresno, and Frank S., a cement contractor in the same city.

When Samuel F. Cowan set out from his boyhood home in Kentucky in 1849 with his face toward the setting sun he felt he had little to lose, for the farming community in which he was born and reared offered no outlet for his ambitious nature, and in the broad expanse of the new west he felt confident of finding more congenial and profitable surroundings. The journey across the plains was made in the old-fashioned way, eight-mule teams supplying the motive power. Arriving at his destination, he went at once to the mines, following this occupation for a time, but gave it up soon afterward to engage in cattle-raising, in which he saw a greater future, for himself at least, than in following the uncertain life of the miner. The decision proved a turning [point in his career, and in coming to Sonoma county and establishing himself in this business he inaugurated an industry which developed with the passing of years and thus contributed to the development of one of California's latent possibilities. He continued in the business in this county for some time, after which, in 1869, he went to San Benito county and followed the same line of occupation, in addition to building contracting. His own private undertakings were not followed so closely that he had not time to think of the larger affairs of life, on the other hand he was alert to all activities that concerned town, county or nation. In San Benito county he was elected county assessor on the Democratic ticket, a position which he occupied with great efficiency. For a time, in 1885, Mr. Cowan had interests in Oregon, and in 1890 he engaged in the hotel business in Fresno, where he also served two terms as city trustee, but in the main his interests have been centered in Santa Rosa and Sonoma county, which he believes to be the garden spot of this favored commonwealth.

William F. Cowan was a small child when his parents removed to Hollister, San Benito county, and as that was the home of the family until 1885, his schooling was acquired chiefly in that city. Instead of going to Oregon with the family in that year, however, he went to San Jose and completed his schooling in the high school of that city. After his graduation he joined the family in Oregon and assisted his father in the care of the ranch. Returning to Sonoma county in 1888, the same year he settled in Santa Rosa and worked as a laborer in the construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad that was then being built into the town, and about this time he was also employed as typesetter on the night force in the office of the Press Democrat; he continued in the latter position for about three years, his time during the day being employed by reading law with Judge Rutledge and W. E. McConnell of Santa Rosa. In August 1890, he was admitted to practice in the courts of the state, and soon afterward he formed a partnership with Judge Emmet Seawell for the practice of his profession. However, the association was not destined to continue for any length of time, for the election of Mr. Cowan to the position of city attorney in 1892 made it necessary for him to discontinue his private practice. He was re-elected his own successor in 1894 at the close of his first term, and at the expiration of his second term he resumed his private practice and continued it until 1898. He was then employed by the city as special council in litigation cases, concerning the city water works and electric light contracts. Honors which he was well able to grace came to him in the fall of 1899, when he was elected to the state legislature on the Democratic ticket, and his re-election in 1901 is ample evidence that his constituents were satisfied that they had made no mistake in trusting their interests to his keeping. Upon retiring once more to private life Mr. Cowan resumed the practice of law, and has since gathered about him a large practice, with offices in the Santa Rosa Bank building.

In 1891 Mr. Cowan was united in marriage with Miss Florence Braughler, a native of Pennsylvania, who has been a resident of California since girlhood. Two children have been born of this union, Madeline and William F., Jr. Mr. Cowan is well known in fraternal circles, being a member of the Elks, Eagles, Druids and Woodmen of the World, besides which he is identified with various social associations in the town and county. Mr Cowan is popular in Santa Rosa, and aside from his professional ability, commands the respect and goodwill of all by reason of superior personal characteristics.

History of Sonoma County, California
Biographical Sketches of The Leading Men and Women of the County Who Have Been Identified With Its Growth and Development from the Early Days to the Present
History By: Tom Gregory
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1911)

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011