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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


Thomas Hopper

The name of Hopper so well known in California through the accomplishments of two generations, is of southern origin, the grandfather of the subject of this sketch, William Hopper, Sr., being a native of North Carolina. It was no other than the latter who was the first to withdraw from the locality which had been the home of the family for so many years, this immigrant, soon after his marriage, removing to Indiana. His son, William Hopper, Jr., removed with his parents to Lawrence county, Indiana, remaining there until grown to maturity, when he too made a westward move, going to Missouri in 1817 or 1818. There he took up land which he continued to cultivate throughout the remainder of his life, which, however, was cut short in 1824, while he was still a young man. Before leaving Indiana he had formed domestic ties by his marriage with Nancy Armstrong, and at his death he left her with four small children. She subsequently returned to Indiana, to the home of her father, and there she later contracted a second marriage.

Born in Lafayette county, Missouri, September 23, 1820, Thomas Hopper was four years old when death deprived him of his natural protector, and subsequently he was taken to Indiana by his mother. Whether deserving or otherwise the records do not state, but it is known that Thomas received a corporal chastisement from his step-father when he was a young boy which he deeply resented, and at once left home and assumed life’s responsibilities on his own account. Farm labor was the work with which he was most familiar and it was employment of this character which he at once sought and found, continuing at this until he was eighteen years of age. Returning to Missouri at this time, he worked as a farm hand for about a year, when he bought a small farm in Johnson county, that state, upon which he settled with the wife whom he had recently married. Altogether he continued to make it his home for about three years, when, on May 9, 1847, with his wife and child he started for the Pacific coast with the Charles Hopper party. The journey was made behind ox-teams which finally landed the immigrants in Sutter’s Fort September 15, 1847, he being one of the members of the only party that came to California that year. From Sutter’s Fort he went to the Waukena valley, from there to San Jose, and from there to the Santa Cruz mountains, where he had prospects of being hired to put up a mill, but the owner failed before the project was carried through. Mr. Hopper had intended to settle down in Santa Cruz, having built a redwood house for the shelter of his family, and afterward both h e and his wife found employment in a sawmill at $1 a day each. In the meantime the news of the rich find of gold at Sutter’s Mill had reached his ears, and in May, 1848, he with his family started for the scene of activities, taking with him a boat which he had made with which to cross otherwise impassable streams. Arriving at his destination, Mr. Hopper lost no time in making use of the pick and shovel with which he had provided himself, and it was no unusual thing for him to take out $100 worth of the yellow metal in a day. Owing to the poor accommodations for his wife and children, however, he took them to George Yount’s ranch in the Napa valley, leaving them there for the time being. Buying four yoke of cattle he started on the return trip to the mines, but while crossing the Sacramento river came near losing his life by the capsizing of the boat. After reaching Sutter’s Mill he readily found a market for his cattle, and thereafter, with a party, went to Dry Gulch, where he was very fortunate. During the following October he returned to Napa valley and spent the ensuing winter with his family, and later learned that the men who remained in the camp were murdered by the Indians. The spring of 1849 again found Mr. Hopper at Sutter’s, and that summer he went with Walker’s expedition to Monterey county, but the undertaking proved a failure and Mr. Hopper then returned once more to Napa county.

In the fall of that year, 1849, with a large herd of cattle Mr. Hopper settled with his family on thirty acres of land which he had bought in Sonoma township, Sonoma county. Besides carrying on farming he also did teaming, a business which before the coming of the railroads was very remunerative. Mr. Hopper often receiving from $18 to $20 a day for his work. Selling his holdings in the spring of 1850. Mr. Hopper erected a house on a lot which he purchased in Sonoma, but disposed of it soon afterward for $1,000 and with the proceeds went to Green valley and took up a claim upon which he lived until going to Sacramento in 1852. Later he took up a claim of one hundred and sixty acres on the Cotati grant, to which he added by the purchase of adjoining land until he had a ranch of twenty-three hundred and sixty acres. This property he gave to three of his daughters. He also owned other land, at one time having eighty-two hundred acres of redwood which he gave to his children. On December 28, 1878, Mr. Hopper came to Santa Rosa, but continued to make his home here only one year at that time, and after living on the ranch for a time he again became a resident of Santa Rosa. Since 1883 he has lived practically retired, having turned his extensive interests over to the care of his children. It is not to be supposed that Mr. Hopper has been content to sit with idly folded hands, however, but on the contrary he has been and still is active in the management of the various interests with which his name is associated. For a number of years he has been prominently identified with a number of large financial institutions, serving as president of the Santa Rosa Bank, in which he owned stock to the amount of five hundred and thirteen shares. After selling this stock he bought $12,100 worth of shares in another institution, and $31,800 in the Ukiah Bank, the latter of which he gave to his son, Henry T. Hopper. Throughout his life he has been an active worker in Democratic ranks.

Reference has been made to Mr. Hopper’s marriage. This occurred July 14, 1844, uniting him with Miss Minerva Young, of Lafayette county, Missouri, who died February 24, 1891. The eldest of the ten children born of this marriage was Eliza, born April 23, 1846; she is the wife of Isaac F. Cook, and resides on the ranch given to her by her father. John William, now a capitalist in Santa Rosa, was the first white child born in Nevada, his birth occurring August 30, 1847, at the sink of the Humboldt, while the family were crossing the plains. Wesley Lee, a capitalist of Santa Rosa, was born January 25, 1852, and a sketch of his life will be found elsewhere in this volume. Disy Eveline was born July 9, 1854, and by her marriage with Joseph Spottswood became the mother of two children, Thomas H. and Minerva Bell, the latter of whom became the wife of O. F. Leppo; Mrs. Spottswood died February 28, 1878. Mary E., born December 16, 1856 is the wife of Frank Roberts and lives on a portion of the old home ranch. Henry Thomas, born July 28, 1860, is a well-known sheep-raiser and active citizen of Ukiah, Cal., where he is serving as president of the Ukiah Bank. Rosa Belle, born March 22, 1865, became the wife of Elmer Ludwig, by whom one daughter was born, Hazel Bell. Mrs. Ludwig’s second marriage was with Dr. McNeal, but he is also deceased and she now makes her home in Seattle, Wash. Hazel Bell Ludwig resides with her grandmother, Mrs. T. J. Ludwig, of San Francisco. This large family of children have cause to be proud of their pioneer father and mother, who long before the gold seekers paved the way for oncoming thousands, comparatively alone and single-handed blazed a trail through the wilderness.

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