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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sacramento County



The sincere but unostentatious devotion to duty that characterized the life of Mr. Knight holds out much for the encouragement and emulation of young men struggling to gain a foothold in the business world. His the painstaking discharge of every responsibility and the untiring ardor for work that forms the foundation of every success, whether small or great. Both in the discharge of civic duties and in gallant army service (for he was a captain in the Civil War) he proved himself equal to every emergency, dependable, resourceful and resolute, the possessor of sterling qualities inherited from a long line of New England forebears and exhibiting also the traits more peculiarly associated with the breezy and bustling boomers of the west. A generation of development had transformed the entire Pacific coast while he was working his way with patient industry from a lowly position on the Southern Pacific Railroad to a post of honor and trust, whose duties he discharged with such zeal and intelligence that when finally advancing years and failing health caused his retirement he was not only granted a pension, but in addition he received many testimonials of praise in recognition of his fidelity and uprightness of character.

Descended from ancestors long and prominently connected with the vicinity of Ryegate, Vt., and the son of a prosperous farmer who gave liberally of time and means to the cause of religion in his community, William Laughlin Knight was born in 1835 at the old Vermont homestead and there he passed the uneventful years of boyhood and youth. Upon attaining his majority and being thus free to carry out any wishes he had formed concerning future activities, he came to California and in 1856 settled at Diamond Springs, Placer county, where for some years he was employed in the interests of mining properties, his special work being the supervision of the irrigation ditches. As soon as war was declared between the north and the south he offered his services to the Union and was accepted as a private, assigned to duty and stationed in the northern part of the state, where various sanguinary contests with the Indians gave him an experience of the horrors of war. Through conscientious devotion to duty and gallantry in service he won promotion from the ranks to the captaincy of Company D, Second California Infantry, and at the close of the war he was still commanding his company near the Indian hunting grounds.

Coming to Sacramento at the close of the Civil War Mr. Knight entered the employ of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company as a brakeman, from which he received promotion to the position of conductor. A subsequent promotion placed him at the head of the local ticket department, where he had the distinction of being the highest-salaried employe of the company at the time. Later he became associated with the office of the traveling ticket agent and in that position made frequent trips to the east in the interests of the railroad company. After a total service with the Southern Pacific of more than thirty-nine years he was placed on the retired list and granted a pension, but he was not long spared to enjoy the comforts of release from business activities. On the 24th of September, 1906, his earth life came to an end with his peaceful passing into eternity. For years he had been a devoted member of the Baptist Church and his last days were cheered by the Christian's hope, cheered also by the sympathetic ministrations of a large circle of friends, prominent among whom were old soldiers of the Civil War. For years he had been a leading worker in the Grand Army of the Republic and at one time he was an officer in the George H. Thomas Post at San Francisco.

Surviving Mr. Knight are his two children, Lillian and Ralph, both residents of Sacramento. In this city, January 24, 1867, occurred his marriage to Miss Mary D. Reid, of Broderick, Yolo county, daughter of James and Margaret Reid. The father, who owned large tracts of land in Yolo county, remained an employe in the boiler shops of the Southern Pacific Railroad for many years, but finally retired when advanced in age. At the time of his death he was ninety-four years old. Ralph Knight, who is head of the drafting department with the Southern Pacific Railroad, is a leading member of the Christian Science Church in Sacramento and fraternally has been associated with the local lodge of Odd Fellows. Possessing ability and force of character, he is deservedly winning a high place in the citizenship of his native city. 

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