Search billions of records on


 Biographies Index  



California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


Monroe Eugene Goodenough

The discovery of gold that lured many an Argonaut to the mines of California was the incentive that brought to the western coast the first member of the Goodenough family ever attracted beyond the sandy plains of the American desert and beyond the shadow of the towering mountain peaks. This traveler to the modern Eldorado was Sylvanus Reed Goodenough, a frontiersman by nature, a traveler by choice and a lover of adventure whether in peace of in war. Born in Chautauqua county, N. Y., in March 1826, he passed his early days in an uneventful routine strikingly different from the changing experiences of mature life. At the age of twenty he removed to Erie, Pa., and there met and married Miss Polly Ann Palmer, born in 1824, a daughter of Ulysses and Martha Palmer, members of a colonial family of honored name and patriotic spirit. Ulysses Palmer was an own cousin of the late Potter Palmer, whose name is indissolubly associated with the early development of the city of Chicago.

From the village of Baraboo, Wis., early in 1852 Sylvanus R. Goodenough started with an expedition for the west and traveled with horses as far as Omaha, Neb. In that city the horses were traded for oxen as being better adapted to the hardships of the plains. When Lonetree, Neb., was reached the two companions of Mr. Goodenough became homesick and returned east, but his determination to reach the objective point remained undaunted. Indians became troublesome. Several skirmishes occurred with the Sioux and Blackfoot Indians. On reaching Muddy creek, a tributary of the Snake river, the travelers found that Indians had built a pontoon bridge and were charging toll. The leader of the band inquired the amount of toll and the answer was so offensive and threatening that the whites decided to go up the creek a mile or more and camp until they were joined by other emigrants. This decision was reached after they realized that the Indians outnumbered them two to one and therefore an encounter was unwise until others joined them. Twenty-four hours later they were able to proceed with a large train of white men equal in number to the savages, who, however, still refused to permit them to cross. A skirmish followed in which eleven Indians were killed and one white man wounded.

The victory won and the bridge passed over, the emigrant train proceeded peacefully upon its wear way. Before entering the sink of the Humboldt river, where a difficult sandy stretch of forty miles awaited them, they were obliged to rest their stock and provide themselves with an abundance of water. The journey was very trying and consumed two days and one night. After reaching the foothills of the Rocky mountains they discarded their oxen for burrows which followed the trails with more ease than did the cattle. Eventually they entered Placer country and disbanded at Hangtown, a mining camp so called from the large number of white men who paid a quick penalty for their thefts. Although the first excitement incident to the discovery of gold had subsided, large throngs still sought the mines and fortunes were still made by a few of the more lucky Argonauts.

During the winter of 1852-53 Sylvanus Reed Goodenough mined at Placerville, Marysville and Mountain Slide and later he made the last-named camp his headquarters for a considerable period. At the expiration of four and one-half years from the time of coming west he returned to Baraboo, Wis., via the Isthmus of Panama, and walked the twenty-eight miles between the Pacific ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Thence he sailed to New Orleans and from there boarded a steamer on which he journeyed up the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers, landing at Kansas City in November of 1857, and next going on to Wisconsin. His son, Monroe Eugene, was born at Madison, Wis., August 20, 1858, and was a mere infant when the family removed to Grant county, same state. A year later the father took the family to Iowa during the winter season, crossing the Mississippi river on the ice at Dubuque. Settling six miles from Brooklyn in Poweshiek county, he bought one hundred and twenty acres at a very low figure and there he improved a tract known far and near as the Goodenough farm. Shortly after his settlement on the farm, in 1861 he enlisted as a private in Company H, Twenty-eighth Iowa Infantry, under Captain Phillips. Going to the front he served throughout the balance of the Rebellion and was honorably discharged as corporal in 1865 at Richmond, Va., whence he returned to his Iowa farm.

Many years of agricultural activity, interspersed with efficient service in township (Warren) and district offices, brought Sylvanus Reed Goodenough into local prominence in Poweshiek county, where he was honored as a man of recognized ability and superior intelligence. Upon finally retiring from business and farm cares he removed to Mexico for the benefit of his health and there he now makes his home, looking back over a career of honor and usefulness. The cares of years have bowed his frame and silvered his hair, but his mind retains the vigor of youth and his broad intelligence grasps national problems with an alertness native to the man. His family comprised four sons and three daughters, namely: James E., Monroe Eugene, Charles H., Frederick W. (who died in infancy), Lorana M., Alvina J. and Eva Belle. The first-named son married Catherine Kiser, of Clinton county, Iowa, and they have two children, Walter H. and Minnie; the son married Bettie Williams and has a child, George and Minnie married John Evans, now deceased. Charles H. married Jessie Ballentine, a member of a Scotch family, and five children were born of their union, Lorana, Mrs. David McKee, formerly of Freeport, Ill., now residing in Humboldt, Iowa, is the mother of five children, Fred, Burney, Blanche, Katie and Doda. Alvina J., by her marriage to Charles W. Williams, was the mother of a daughter, Minnie, Mrs. Fred Irwin, who in turn is the mother of one daughter, Birdie. After the death of her first husband Mrs. Williams became the wife of Henry Ball, of Brooklyn, Iowa, and one son, William, was born of that union. The youngest daughter of the Goodenough family was Eva Belle, Mrs. George Coom, of Brooklyn, Iowa, in whose family are the following children: George, Ollie, Maude, Ranie and Cecil.

While quite young Monroe Eugene Goodenough was sent to school during the entire time it was in session, but as he grew large enough to be of help on the farm he was sent to school only during the winter months when the work at home was light. At the age of twenty-two years he started out to make his own way in the world, his first venture being the filing of a tree claim in South Dakota, but after a time he sold his right to the quarter section and forthwith secured employment with the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad Company. On leaving the railroad he went on an inspecting tour through Arkansas and Missouri, later going to Kansas. In the vicinity of Wichita he spent two years as an employe on a fruit ranch owned by M. R. Mosier. Next he engaged with the firm of E. Bennett & Sons, of Topeka, Kan., to become foreman of their stock ranch and continued as such until the large importations of the firm rendered desirable his services in the capacity of salesman. For four years he acted as a seller of their imported stock, beginning at $50 per month and working his way forward to $150 per month. Finally he resigned in order to embark in business for himself. With F. B. Rix as a partner he organized the firm of Rix & Goodenough, of Topeka, Kan., importers of live stock from Europe. The responsibilities of the business necessitated annual trips to the old world on the part of Mr. Goodenough, who displayed such wisdom in his purchases, such sound judgment in his selection of registered animals and such energy in his sales that at the expiration of four years he sold his one-half interest in the business to his partner for $20,000 and moved to Adrian, Minn., and incorporated.

The Leeds Importing Company at Adrian, Minn., a stock company in which Mr. Goodenough owned one-half of the stock, secured the benefit of his splendid judgment and efficient services in the offices of president and general manager. The selection of foreign stock obliged him to go abroad every year in order to make the necessary purchases. The finest breeds of horses were imported, also the most desirable strains in sheep and cattle, and for five years he made the business one of profit to the stockholders. On resigning and disposing of his stock in the concern he embarked in the buying and selling of land and for fifteen years conducted a very large business covering almost every part of Minnesota and the Dakotas. During the year 1906 he removed from Minneapolis to Seattle and thence came to California, settling in Sonoma county, where now he is devoting his attention to the compilation of a county history. By trade he is a carpenter and by occupation a farmer, and during his residence in Minnesota he always had agricultural interests in addition to other work. For two years he has served as justice of the peace and in politics he votes with the Republican party. In 1890 he married Miss Mamie Stephenson, who died in 1902 leaving him alone and childless. His religious views are liberal and he concedes to all the same freedom of thought which he demands as his own birthright.

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