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California Genealogy and History Archives

Biographies
of
San Bernardino County and Riverside County

 

JOSEPH B. GILL. Many of the most prominent men in public life in the state of California have achieved most enviable reputations in their eastern homes, in politics, finance, as merchant princes and kindred pursuits, and having accomplished much come out to "God's Country" to rest and enjoy the Southland. Few of them are inclined to take up again the former occupations of the east, but when they do get back into the harness they usually take up the burden just where they laid it down, resume the same old business, or go into citrus culture.

Joseph B. Gill, banker and financier of San Bernardino, made his fortune and his reputation in the East, but more of the latter than the former, and his forte was politics and the controlling motive was the protection of the poorer classes and the easing of their heavy burdens. In the state of Illinois he, for years, was the driving wheel in politics and statesmanship and his burning zeal for service, his espousal of the cause of the so-called lower classes made him a power to be reckoned with. With him it was noblesse oblige and all his actions were based on enduring justice and right, and he went down underneath superfluities to bedrock. The press at that time was warmly commendatory and although he was himself the owner and editor of a widely circulated newspaper the members of the craft were with him almost to a man without regard for petty jealousies and party bitterness.

Mr. Gill could think for the commonwealth, the proletariat, and he came to be their Moses, leading them out of the morass in which they were all but submerged. The youngest Lieutenant Governor Illinois ever had, and acting Governor for years, a lawyer by education, Mr. Gill from the first showed all the qualities for triumphant leadership, and he was soon tested in the fires of experience. He was, however, accredited by his friends, constituents and the press, with so many brilliant and unusual qualities and talents it seems as though he possessed more gifts than any one man should have. Throughout his public life he was never accused of misconduct, untruth, "wobbling," cowardice, lack of initiative or nerve. Although he was the champion of the poor and oppressed he soon won golden opinion from all classes, and always those who favored good government were solidly behind him.

Mr. Gill undoubtedly inherited many of the talents of his father and ancestors for he can trace his genealogy back to pre-Revolutionary days. His father was John M. Gill, Jr., his grandfather also John, and his great-grandfather John. The family was founded in America by the members who settled in Virginia among the first there. The grandfather, John Gill, was brought to Illinois by his parents from his birthplace in Virginia, while a small boy. His wife was Nancy, who was American from pre-Revolutionary days, but of German ancestry. The Gills were of English and Irish ancestry. They had eight children, of whom John Gill was the fifth. They located in Illinois near De Soto, pioneers of that district, in 1813. The couple lived there all their lives, reared their family and died in 1885.

John M, Gill, father of Joseph B. Gill, was born in Murphysboro, Illinois, November 23, 1833. He received all the education possible in those times, and assisted his father on the home farm. He married Nancy J. Wright, daughter of Washington Wright of Williamson county. They had two children, Joseph B. and one deceased. In 1855 Mr. Gill began business in the merchandising line and in 1859 removed from De Soto to Williamson County, where he engaged in farming and dealing in tobacco and other produce of the farms. In 1863 he returned to De Soto where he resided until 1868.

In that year he located in Murphysboro, Illinois. He resumed his mercantile pursuits but fire swept away his store and he decided to take up milling. He soon became one of the prominent men of that district, always a staunch democrat. In 1876 he was elected Mayor of Murphysboro and filled the office two terms, establishing a record for the able discharge of his duties and the rare judgment he displayed in many situations pertinent to those times. He was also a director of the public schools for many years. He was a Mason for twenty years.

He founded the town of Gillsburg on the narrow gauge railroad on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, about eight miles northwest of Murphysboro, a thriving, busy place. He was noted as a business man of finest principles, square and honest, and of strict integrity. He died on February 27, 1886.

Joseph B. Gill spent his youth chiefly in De Soto and Murphysboro. He was educated in the public schools and in the Christian Brothers' College in St. Louis and graduated in the classical course of the Southern Illinois Normal School at Carbondale in 1884. He took the law course for two years in the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and was graduated an LL.D. in July, 1886, and was later admitted to the bar, passing an examination before both the Circuit and the Superior Courts. He never practiced law but his training in that profession has been invaluable to him.

He returned home after graduation and engaged in the field of journalism by purchasing an interest in the Murphysboro Independent which he conducted and edited until January 1, 1893.

From the first he was in politics, being a strong democrat and he was warmly welcomed by that party, becoming a power at once. In 1888 he was elected to the Legislature and re-elected in 1890. Mr. Gill was opposed to corporate greed and an advocate of the laboring classes, working for every measure which tended to their betterment. Among the measures he espoused was the Gross Weight Bill, the Weekly Pay Bill and the Anti-Truck Store Bill and he was one of the men who pushed the Arbitration Bill to success.

The people who were almost without any representation or friends in the Legislature was the class Mr. Gill went in to aid, without any thought or desire for reward, yet soon after the Legislature adjourned this class united in a body to demand that Mr. Gill be placed on the state ticket. They wanted him for Governor, and this the other class did not want and accordingly they tried to side track him but they could not keep him off the ticket and on the first ballot, in April, 1892, Mr. Gill was nominated for office of Lieutenant Governor by the democrats in State Convention.

The usual tactics were employed all through the campaign but Mr. Gill had the entire confidence of the people who not only gave him their admiration without reserve but backed it up with their votes and worked for his success, and in this as in all else, Mr. Gill proved that failure could not be attached to his name, for his friends and beneficiaries elected him in triumph, he receiving the highest number of votes of any man on the ticket, excepting only the candidate for State Treasurer. But one remarkable thing was that many of the voters in the highest walks of life voted and worked for Mr. Gill, standing in this with the working people.

The thing worked much like the case of Theodore Roosevelt, for while Governor Altgeld did not die, he was so ill he could not attend to the duties of his office and had to go south at once. Mr. Gill as acting Governor assumed the reins of government, the first democrat to hold that office and occupy the Gubernatorial chair in over thirty-five years.

From the start he looked zealously after the rights of the common people and believing that money owned by the state had been carefully hidden away he started out to unearth if. He set the Attorney General on the scent by having him start suits against ex-state officials going back over many years. As may be imagined this was hot shot for the politicians and many financiers, while to his people it gave unqualified joy. On this issue the press of the state and the men of high place, as well of the common class, alike congratulated themselves upon their Governor, as he really was.

Mr. Gill, with implacable purpose, enforced every law and acted in the strictest accordance with the platform upon which he was elected and the people knew they had a Governor with whom their rights were paramount. In February, 1894, as Governor Altgeld was still absent in search of health, Mr. Gill again occupied the chair of the chief executive and again proved his love for his fellow men by his service for them. His youth was not a drawback, rather an asset and it seemed to draw him still closer to the very heart of the people. His is the rare case where press, fellow officials and people united in appreciation of a Governor and when he left the state, owing to ill health, it was declared that the keystone of the arch of government "by the people, for the people and of the people" had been taken away.

Mr. Gill had already secured the annexment of the weekly pay bill for the miners, and for this and other reasons while he was acting Governor his influence was so great that single handed he averted a strike, while insistent demands were being made to call out the militia. This strike occurred in the coal mines in the northern part of Illinois, and involved several companies and seven thousand miners. A large part of these miners gathered at Toluca, Marshall County, and demanded what they considered their rights. They were armed and in a very ugly mood. One of the big mine owners, Charles J. Devlin, also Sheriff of the county, fearing the destruction of property, sent repeated telegrams demanding the State Militia and holding acting Governor Gill responsible for any bloodshed and destruction that might follow if he did not send the militia. Governor Gill refused to do so, and he said that if the companies would furnish the miners free transportation out of the state he would go to the strikers personally. This program was agreed upon and Governor Gill accompanied by the Assistant Adjutant General made the trip, being met at Joliet by President Crawford of the United Mine Workers. On arriving at Toluca, a consultation was held with Devlin who agreed to furnish transportation if Mr. Gill could get the strikers to proceed to their homes. Mr. Gill and Mr. Crawford both addressed the miners and within three hours after they arrived the strikers were on the train enroute home. All over the state the press regarded this as a remarkable performance and was unanimous in praise of Governor Gill's tact and promptness.

Mr. Gill was on the way to the highest honors within the gift of the people but he refused steadfastly to be a candidate for any election or re-election, but the succeeding administration appointed him a member of the State Board of Arbitration, the highest honor a democrat could hold in the state at that time, but after his appointment by Governor Tanner, his health compelled him to resign after a few months. But Illinois' loss was California's gain for he came here to make his home. The only drawback to his coming was that he announced before and after coming here, that he was through with politics, for good and all, and men like Mr. Gill are needed always. It is because men of his calibre soon get enough of politics, of trying to stem the tide of graft and similar evils that the other kind have too often to be elected.

Mr. Gill was elected the first president of the Board of Trade of San Bernardino after locating there in 1897, and was re-elected. He was made Chairman of the Highway Commission that spent the $1,750,000 bond issue of San Bernardino County, and everyone knows how efficiently that was done. He was active in the campaign for good roads, being a committee chairman on each occasion. He is president, 1922 23, of the National Orange Show. Mr. Gill is a member of San Bernardino Lodge No. 836, B. P. O. E., and was one of the first trustees.

Mr. Gill was in the lumber business under the name of the Gill-Norman Lumber Company and had three yards: one in San Bernardino, one in Riverside and one in Redlands. He sold out his interests after being engaged in it for twelve years and then retired from all business for ten years. But his high character, his record and his aptitude for finance soon brought him out of retirement and in 1920 he had to give up his life of ease and accept the presidency of the San Bernardino National Bank and of the San Bernardino County Savings Bank. He is now also a director of the First National Bank of Rialto, and is Vice-President of the Ocean Park Bank of Ocean Park, California. He was a director of the American National Bank of San Bernardino but resigned when he accepted the presidency of the other two banks of the city.

On April 27, 1920, Mr. Gill married Thelma Smith of Murphysboro, Illinois, daughter of Edward Smith and member of one of the oldest and most respected families of Murphysboro. Mrs. Gill is a member of the Christian Church and has already made many beloved friends in her new home in San Bernardino, friendships that are in fact a tribute to her high character and unusual social qualities.

By a former marriage Mr. Gill is the father of a son, James W. Gill, of San Bernardino, who was born November 11, 1895, and who is engaged in the lumber business in San Bernardino. He saw active service in France with the 145th Field Artillery.

The San Bernardino County Savings Bank of which J. B. Gill is president has H. E. Harris, first vice-president; A. M. Ham, 2nd vice-president; J. H. Wilson, cashier; J. C. Ralph, Jr., assistant cashier. Directors: J. B. Gill, H. E. Harris, A. M. Ham, Victor C. Smith, T. A. Blakely, W. J. Curtis, Howard B. Smith, Mrs. E. D. Roberts, R. E. Roberts. On December 1, 1920, the capital was $150,000, surplus $150,000, undivided profits $42,000. The resources were $3,375,234.24.

The officers of the San Bernardino National Bank, are: J. B. Gill, president; H. E. Harris, 1st vice-president; W. S. Boggs, 2nd vice-president; R. E. Roberts, 3rd vice-president; J. S. Wood, cashier; Herbert Weir and V. J. Micallef, assistant cashiers. Directors: J. B. Gill, H. B. Smith, J. W. Curtis, J. S. Wood, W. S. Boggs, H. E. Harris, Jennie E. Davis, R. E. Roberts, H. P. Stow. The capital was $100,000; surplus, $100,000; undivided profits, .$235,086.95. The resources were $2,206,750.99. The combined capital and surplus of these two banks was over $800,000, the combined deposits $4,538, 059.74 and the combined resources, $5,624,924.20.

 

Source:
History of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties 
By: John Brown, Jr., Editor for San Bernardino County 
And James Boyd, Editor for Riverside County 
With selected biography of actors and witnesses of the period 
of growth and achievement.
Volume III, the Western Historical Association, 1922, 
The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, ILL

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011