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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sacramento County



Ten years or more before the trans-continental railroad had brought the east and west into direct connection an Iowa family made the tedious journey across the plains with a "prairie schooner" drawn by ox-teams. Accompanying the expedition was a lad of about twelve years, Joseph A. Filcher, who was born in Burlington, Iowa, August 3, 1846, and to whom the trip presented less of hardship than of opportunity. With all the enthusiasm of early life he helped to drive stock the entire distance. Whether enduring the heat of the desert summer or threading a narrow pass through the mountains, he was alike hopeful with the optimism which blesses youth and energetic with the patient industry of those who have been trained to endurance of hard work. When he first saw Sacramento in 1859 the city was in the infancy of its history and presented the crudities inseparable from frontier civilization. Shortly after coming west he settled with his parents on a farm near Marysville and there he worked for some years to bring the land under cultivation and develop a productive farm. Meanwhile it had not been possible for him to secure an education and he was ambitious to advance in the world. As soon as he could be spared from the parental home he started out to earn his own way and to secure an education. Nor were his efforts in vain, for he worked his way through the State Normal and became a man of wide information.

The acquisition of a thorough education qualified Mr. Filcher for the work of a school-teacher and this profession he followed during early manhood, after which for twenty years he was owner and publisher of the Placer Herald at Auburn, Placer county. It is said that this is the oldest newspaper in existence in the entire state.

The press which he used was the first ever brought into the state, Samuel Brannan having brought it from New York to San Francisco on a vessel around the Horn. When its days of usefulness were ended it was placed in the Golden Gate mission in Golden Gate park, where it now is on exhibition.

The marriage of Mr. Filcher in 1873 united him with Miss Clara Tinkham, a native of Maine. They are the parents of three children now living. George W., who resides in San Francisco, is connected with the railway mail service. Ralph E., of Chicago, is extensively interested in the real estate business and in colonization work. Irma married Pierre Meyers and lives in Sacramento. For years Mr. Filcher has been well known among the Democrats of the state. At the time of Cleveland's second election as president he was chosen a presidential elector. When the electoral college held its meeting he was selected as a messenger to carry the returns to Washington. During 1878-79 he served as a member of the state constitutional convention. Beginning in 1883 he held the office of state senator for four years and meantime gave to his district the most conscientious of service. A candidate in 1888 for state railroad com- missioner, he was defeated by only a very small majority.

Upon the election of Mr. Hendricks as secretary of state of California Mr. Filcher was selected to complete his unexpired term as state prison director and jn that responsible post gave faithful service as well as universal satisfaction. For eleven years he was manager of the state board of trade. Later for five or more years he held a position as secretary of the State Agricultural Society, from which post he was promoted to his present office as manager of exhibits. Fraternally he has been very prominent in the Improved Order of Red Men and has held every state office within the power of that organization to confer, including that of representative to the national convention for two terms. Largely through his tactful efforts as a leader in the California Editorial Association, of which he served two terms as president, the national convention of 1903 was brought to San Francisco and the success of that gathering is a matter of state history.

Perhaps in none of his manifold activities has Mr. Filcher been more successful than in his labors as representative of California as commissioner to national and international expositions. He was appointed sole commissioner by Governor Budd to the Cotton States Exposition held at Atlanta, Ga., in 1895, and to this he gave intelligent service in the interests of California. Two years later he represented the state at the International Horticultural Exposition in Hamburg, Germany. In 1900 he was commissioner to the World's Exposition held in Paris and the following year he acted in the same capacity at the Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo. N. Y. During 1904 he gave his attention as state commissioner to the California section at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, held in St. Louis. He was president of the Commissioners Association at Portland and at Seattle and was vice-president of Commissioners Association at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904. The remarkable success attending his work caused him to be chosen state commissioner to the Lewis and Clark Exposition at Portland in 1905 and the Alaska-Yukon Exposition at Seattle in 1909. In 1911 he began to work actively in behalf of the Panama Canal Exposition to be held at San Francisco in 1915 and made a tour of the state in order to secure the participation of all the counties to the fullest extent possible. Skilled in detail, comprehensive in information, widely acquainted with business leaders of the United States and Europe, more experienced possibly than any exposition worker in the entire country, he is admirably qualified to bring such movements to a successful issue and to fill with honor any position conferred upon him in connection with their management. In April, 1912, while actively engaged in the above enterprise, he was nominated, without solicitation on his part, for candidate as city commissioner under Sacramento's new charter, being one of ten nominated from thirty-five candidates, and on May 18, 1912, he received the second highest vote of the ten, the honor bringing with it a four-year term, and subsequently he was assigned by his associates to the position of commissioner of finance. Resigning his position with the State Agricultural Society and the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, he assumed the duties of his office July 1, 1912. At the age of twelve years he reached Sacramento, having ridden horseback across the plains, and barefooted he drove his father's herd of cattle. He ended his journey on the road running along side of the present plaza, in front of the city hall, September 6, 1859. Since that time he has accomplished much for his city and state, and now holds the strings of the purse of the city on which he first cast his eyes fifty-three years ago. 

History of Sacramento 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: William L. Willis
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1913)

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011