California Genealogy and History Archives
San Bernardino County and Riverside County
WILLIAM CURTIS was one of the venerable and honored pioneer citizens of San Bernardino County at the time of his death, which occurred at Redlands on the 11th of September, 1912. His were wide and varied experiences in connection with pioneer affairs in the west, he wrought wisely and well, adjusted himself to conditions that existed in the early days, proved a force in the furthering of civic and industrial development and progress, and ever stood exponent of enlightened and loyal citizenship. He did his part in furthering the early march of progress in this section of California and a tribute to his memory consistently finds place in this publication.
Mr. Curtis was born April 1, 1826, at Pontiac, state of Michigan, and he was eighty-six years of age when death set its seal upon his mortal lips. On the 15th of August, 1850, he wedded Miss Mary H. Raseg, who was born December 15, 1833, and who survived him by two years, her death having occurred at Redlands, California, August 21, 1914. Their marriage was solemnized at Fredericksburg, Texas. They resided in Bandera County where Mr. Curtis was three times sheriff until the secession of the state from the Union at the inception of the Civil war. All citizens whose Northern sympathies or other interests prompted in them a desire to leave Texas at this time were granted permission to make their departure, with the stipulation that they must be outside the borders of the state prior to July 22, 1861. All men who remained in the state after that date were subject to being drafted for service in the Confederate army. On May 11, 1861, Mr. Curtis, with his wife and their five children, set forth with a party of three other families — Hiram Snow and his wife and daughter; Mr. and Mrs. Irving Carter and their five children; and Gideon Carter, with his sister and her child — with wagons and ox teams to make their way to California, the limited household effects having been transported in the wagons and the party having a number of head of cattle that were driven along with the primitive caravan. All of these families sacrificed all else that they had owned in Texas, and they became veritable refugees. At Fort Davis, Texas, they were joined by eight other families, and from that point forward they were compelled to traverse eighty miles of desert, from which no supply of water was to be had at any point. Thus they provided in advance all the water that they had means of transporting, and before they had passed through the arid tract this supply of water had been reduced to an alarming minimum. Two rain storms replenished the water for man and beast and thus averted not only suffering but probably death and loss. Upon arriving at Eagle Pass the weary sojourners found a limited supply of water that was being held in barrels for the use of Confederate soldiers en route to El Paso. The guards of this precious supply refused to let any of the Curtis party have the requisite supply of water, and under these conditions the members of the party held a caucus to decide whether it were better to proceed or to turn back on their course. The women of the party courageously voted in favor of using force to gain the necessary supply of water to enable the journey to be continued. The women and children took buckets and filled them from the reserve barrels and the soldier guard did not molest them, as they refused to fire on women and children. The party continued on its way, and was still about thirty-five miles distant from the Rio Grande River. No water was to be had en route, but a welcome rain again gave replenishment to the meager supply. Upon reaching the river the party had to proceed up its course a distance of seventy-five miles to reach a fording place. After traveling two days the company was overtaken by a force of Confederate soldiers, the party of emigrants having by this time been largely increased in numbers, so that it had about fifty men. The soldiers threatened to hang one member of the party — a man named Cummings, who was known to be a Union sympathizer — and an open conflict was avoided only when the soldiers agreed to leave the sojourners unmolested, though the time limit had about expired and the party was not yet outside of Texas. On the next day the emigrant party arrived at a point opposite Victoria, a small town in Mexico, and there a guide or pilot was employed to convey the emigrants and their belongings across the river. Joseph Curtis, a brother of William Curtis of this memoir, and Gideon Carter were selected to go to El Paso del Norte and secure the necessary pass which would enable to the party to travel through Mexico to Santa Cruz. As the wagon train was passing along the river bank a guide came out of the bush and motioned for the wayfarers to follow him, and the entire party crossed the river in safety, though a few soldiers who had witnessed the escape made all haste to the Confederate camp, about two miles distant, to obtain reinforcements sufficient to stop the passage of the fugitives. By the time the soldiers arrived on the scene the entire party of emigrants was safely on Mexican soil. The journey was continued through Mexico and into Arizona where the crossing of the Colorado River was effected at Yuma. On October 11, 1861, the jaded and travel-worn sojourners arrived at San Bernardino County, California, the original Curtis party, with four wagons, having come through intact, notwithstanding the hardships and dangers encountered on the long and weary overland journey. The addition to the original party had been many, and the wagon train increased to fully 100 wagons. There were over sixty deaths in the combined party, chiefly as the result of mountain fever, but fortunately with the Indians there was but one encounter to the perils of the journey. After establishing his family in a primitive dwelling in San Bernardino, William Curtis gave his attention principally to gold mining on Lytle Creek until about 1867, and his returns from this enterprise was sufficient to enable him to purchase a tract of sixty acres, partially improved, in the district known as old San Bernardino, near the old Mission. Seven acres of the land were planted to grapes at the time Mr. Curtis purchased; the property, and a profit was obtained by drying the fruit and shipping it by freighting teams to the Arizona mines. The Indians had constructed rude water ditches for irrigation purposes, and Mr. Curtis and other pioneers utilized these primitive water courses for irrigating their lands, thus utilizing the first distinctive "water rights" in this section of California. Mr. Curtis was one of the early orange-growers of the district, his first venture having been made with seedlings, and later years having recorded his adoption of the now famous navel type of oranges, his property having been excellently improved with the passing years and the entire tract being now given to the propagation of oranges of the finest type. About the year 1886 Mr. Curtis erected a modern house of two stories, and he provided other excellent buildings on his fine fruit ranch. The land is now divided among his heirs, the old homestead being owned by Miss Ruth A. Curtis, a daughter who was born in Texas, July 24, 1855. She resides in the attractive old home dwelling erected by her father, and it is needless to say that the place is endeared to her by many hallowed memories and gracious associations, the while she has a host of friends in the community that has represented her home since the pioneer days.
William Curtis was a man of vision and public spirit, and he and his wife delighted to extend to friends and to the wayfarer the hospitality of their home. Indians and Mexicans were plentiful in this section in the early days, and none was turned away hungry from the Curtis door. A gentle and gracious personality was that of this honored pioneer, and both he and his devoted wife are held in reverent memory by all who knew them. They became the parents of five sons and three daughters: Henrietta, who was born October 16, 1851, became the wife of John Furney and was about twenty-two years of age at the time of her death. She is survived by one daughter, Mary Ida, who is now the wife of Leroy Oliver Yount, a prosperous fruit-grower of the Redlands district. Mary A., the second child, was born March 31, 1853, and is the wife of Hugh Henry Cole, of San Bernardino County. They have one son and three daughters: Lela (Mrs. Wilbur Bell), Henrietta Sarah (Mrs. Harry Porch), Alma Mary (Mrs. George Roster) and William Henry. Ruth A., the third daughter, remains at the old home, as previously noted in this review. William George, who was born October 24, 1857, married Miss Elvira Wilcox, and they maintain their home at Redlands. They have two children: George Edwin, who married Miss Eva Easton, and Miss Faye, who was graduated in a business college at San Bernardino and also in Claremont College, now holds a responsible position in the Internal Revenue office at San Bernardino. Eli, the fifth child, was born February 24, I860,, and thus an infant at the time of the memorable hegira of the family from Texas, as described in earlier paragraphs. He too continues his residence in San Bernardino County, where he was reared and educated. He married Miss Jennie Newton, in 1885, she being a native of the state of New York, and they have three children: Nellie is the wife of Maurice B. Doughten, of Camden, New Jersey, their marriage having been solemnized May 17, 1919. Mrs. Doughten went to the national capital in 1910, and was there employed in one of the government offices. Later she held a responsible position with the General Electric Company, as a representative of which she was sent to the Panama-Pacific Exposition, in San Francisco. Grace, the second child of Eli Curtis, was born in 1887, and was graduated in the Redlands High School. In January, 1919, she assumed a position in the government war-risk department, at Washington, District of Columbia. In June, 1921, she resigned this position and is now employed in the county library in San Bernardino. Theodore, the third of the children was born in 1890, and is now associated with his father in the activities of the latter's orange ranch. Jeremiah Joseph Curtis, the first of the family born after the removal to California, was born in San Bernardino County, February 10, 1864. September 5, 1886, recorded his marriage to Miss Zilpha Wilson, and they reside in Old San Bernardino, their two children, Alice and Mabel, being married. Newell B. Curtis, the seventh child, was born June 20, 1^8, and he likewise is one of the successful exponents of orange culture in San Bernardino County. He married Miss Rachel Watkins, a native of Pennsylvania, and they have three children: Ethel, born December 8, 1895; Mary, born December 17, 1897, married June 22, 1921; and Raymond, born February 14, 1904. Robert T., the youngest of the children of the late William Curtis, was born August 2, 1872. He married Miss Ella Strever, and they have one son, Strever. The family home is in Tulare County, California.
It was about the year 1867 that William Cur.tis established his residence on the fine ranch estate which is still held in the possession of the family. Eventually he developed a prosperous enterprise in manufacturing wine from the grapes raised from vines planted on the land prior to his purchase of the same, and this he continued in connection with orange-growing, for a number of years. A former owner of the place planted the first walnut trees, and two of these now large and venerable trees add to the attractions of the old homestead. Three of the seedling orange trees which were on the place when Mr. Curtis bought it are still bearing fruit. Mr. Curtis was an apostle of civic and industrial advancement in Southern California and his worthy and useful life touched with benignacy this favored section of the state, where he lived and wrought to goodly ends and where his name is held in enduring honor. The old Curtis homestead is situated two and one-half miles east of Redlands.
Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011