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SIMON PROUTY

Destiny gave to Simon Prouty an identification with the early upbuilding of the two great states of Iowa and California. Born in Southern Ohio, he was a small lad when in 1847 the family removed to Iowa and settled among the pioneers of Jasper county. The entire journey was made in the tedious and primitive manner common to the period, for not only was there not even one railroad in the whole state of Iowa, but very few had been built in any portion of the country. Arriving near the site of the present flourishing city of Iowa City, which then had only six log houses, the father, Anson Prouty, took up a quarter section of government land, the present site of Newton, and a part of this he subsequently sold to the supervisors of Jasper county as the site of the village that became the county seat. Not long after his settlement in Iowa he took the contract to carry the first mail between Fort Des Moines and Iowa City. Simon, then thirteen years of age, was selected for the work. The task was indeed one of the greatest difficulty and it speaks volumes for the resolution and courage of the lad that he was willing to undertake the long journeys in the midst of such dangers and hardships. The nearest houses were eighteen miles apart. There were few trees and across the open prairies howled the bitter wind and snow as if fighting against man's advance from the older settlements of the east. Forty miles a day on horseback for three days in succession along the lonely road three feet deep in snow, then three days on the return trip, with Sunday spent at home. It was seldom that he met any other traveler in those stormy rides. Twice he was taken from his horse unconscious with cold and with ears, hands and feet frozen stiff. Notwithstanding these arduous experiences he continued the trips until there was no longer any further need of his services.

When eighteen years of age Simon Prouty married Miss Jane Newton, member of a prominent Iowa family in whose honor the city of Newton was named. Immediately after his marriage he and his young wife started for California, in company with his father and mother and the other members of his family. As early as February of 3851, with three wagons loaded with supplies of all kinds necessary for such a trip, and with a goodly sum of money, the party began its journey across the plains. It had been their fear that they would suffer attacks from the Indians, but in some way they gained the goodwill of the savages, who allowed them to pass without molestation. They crossed the river at the present site of Omaha, then void of any settlement whatever. Shortly afterward cholera broke out among the emigrants and Anson Prouty fell a victim of the dread disease. His body was wrapped in a sheet and laid in the ground by his three sons, Simon, Will and Columbus. With all the loneliness of a deep bereavement the family proceeded on their journey and under the guardianship of the eldest son, Simon, they arrived safely at Stockton, Cal., about the 1st of September. For a time after their arrival they continued to camp in their wagons.

It was the good fortune of Simon Prouty to have a mother who was a woman of education and remarkable intelligence. Although he attended school only six months during all the years of his boyhood, he became well informed, for she taught him reading and writing and instructed him in the making of accounts and in all arithmetical problems connected with ordinary business affairs. The younger children, sheltered by his protecting oversight, were given some schooling, but they too found the counsel and instruction of their mother most vital to their intellectual advancement. Not only was Mrs. Prouty a woman of education, but she also had a large endowment of common sense, so that she grasped the necessities of their environment in the west and proved equal to every emergency. Wild berries were plentiful, so she made pies from the fruit gathered by the children. In addition she made vinegar and with this concocted a mock lemon pie that proved popular among the incoming emigrants. All of the pies were sold at $1 each, while biscuits she sold at twenty-five cents a dozen and bread at twenty-five cents a loaf. The income was increased by the washing of shirts at twenty-five cents each. With the income from her tireless labor and with the aid of her son, Simon, she was able to keep the children together until they were grown and meanwhile she took up a tract of government land.

About this time Simon Prouty became ambitious to rent land, But he had no seed and no horses, nor any money with which to buy the necessary equipment. Determining to but a team on credit if possible, he took some lunch in a water bucket and walked twenty miles to a horse dealer, who refused to sell on credit. The dealer's wife, seeing that the young man was weary from the walk, invited him to eat and sleep at their home, an invitation which he most gratefully accepted. Meanwhile she talked privately with the dealer and persuaded him to encourage the would-be farmer. In the morning the dealer told him "I will furnish you one horse if the horse-trader ten miles away will furnish you with another." So the young man walked the ten miles and found the second dealer; who exclaimed after hearing his story: "Well, by Gosh! Walked thirty miles! Got a wife already, eh? And a mother and five brothers and sisters to support. Well, by Gosh! Yes, Siree, you can have a horse and I'll give you a set of harness. Now eat some dinner and then you just ride back to that fellow down the road and tell him to give you the horse he agreed to, or, by Gosh, I'll lick the d l out of him." The first dealer did not refuse to hold to his bargain, so the young man, with a team and some land, was able to buy seed on credit, also to borrow tools. Crops brought a high price that year and he cleared $3,000.

Throughout all this period of pioneer effort the entire family had occupied the same small cabin, but now Simon Prouty and his young wife decided that they wanted a home of their own. Again his lunch was packed in the water bucket, but this time be walked ten miles to a cottonwood grove and chopped down saplings. Finding a long, hollow log, be ran a burning bush into each end to see if there was a snake inside, built a brush fire at one end to scare away the bears, crept into the log feet first and slept there three nights. As his brothers were using the family wagon in a job of hauling, be borrowed a vehicle in town and with his wife drove back to the cotton-wood grove, where the young couple loaded the trees and returned with the materials for their little house. This day they ever afterward recalled as one of the happiest of their lives. It was a genuine delight to work for a new home, even if it was to be but the crudest of cabins. When the building had been put up and they moved in, they cooked at the chimney of stone, built their own bedsteads with poles driven into the ground, sat on boxes and ate from boards resting on poles driven into the ground. To a young couple of the twentieth century this would seem privation and hardship most trying, but they were supremely happy, for they had learned that happiness comes from within, not from without. Popular among the young people, they were invited to every dance for thirty miles around and when one of these grand events was announced Simon Prouty always bought a new pair of overalls, so that he might appear as well dressed as the other young men of the period.

In this primitive home two children were born. The two youngest children were born in the later and more comfortable home of the family. The elder daughter, Hattie, is the widow of Andrew Whitaker and lives at Gait, Sacramento county. W. H. is a resident of Sacramento. The younger daughter is the widow of Joseph Connor of Gait, and Edgar M. is living in Lodi, this state. Mr. Prouty was always exceedingly kind and helpful to those in need and one of his kindnesses proved to be bread cast upon the waters which did not return unto him void. While he was still struggling against debt and bravely trying to get ahead financially, a sick Chinaman rode u]) late one afternoon and asked for water. Mr. Prouty took him off the horse and doctored him with such remedies as the cabin contained, while Mrs. Prouty cared for him as though he were a friend. For some time he was very ill, but with their care and attention in two weeks he recovered. Sitting by the chimney light one evening be remarked: "I think so we all be partner. Be very good; make money. I think so you good lady, good man. I like stay your house long time. You no got money. I catch plenty cash. We make partner. Buy bog, sell plenty hog for Chinamen up mountains and lady be all same partner." Thereupon he drew a belt from under his clothes, emptied it on the table, counted out $6,000 in gold, pushed it over to Mrs. Prouty and said, "You takee cash. We all be partner. Buy plenty hog. Makee money." The Chinaman built himself a hut and stayed with them six years. Meanwhile the.y controlled the hog trade of Sacramento and the mines for a hundred miles in every direction, eventually clearing $10,000 for each of the partners. The family grieved as for a relative when the Chinaman, rich and prosperous, returned to his native land. For years the little children would ciy for him to come back, for he had nursed and cared for them with the deepest affection. It was a frequent remark of Mr. Prouty afterwards that the Chinaman was the only honest partner he ever had, and he dates his subsequent prosperity from the odd chance that brought him needed money and help at the crucial period of his agricultural operations.

The development of a hue farm of six hundred acres, the raising of fine stock and the building of first-class residence and barns kept Mr. Prouty very busy for years, and when finally prosperity had come, he lost his wife, who had so long and bravely shared his hardships and discouragements. Three years afterward in 1891 he married Miss Carol Grouse, of San Francisco, a lady of excellent education and cultured refinement. Subsequent to his retirement from farming he engaged in the wholesale commission business in San Francisco, but there his well-known generosity was taken advantage of and the business did not prove successful. After ten years in San Francisco he returned to Sacramento to live, later his wife spent two years in travel, visiting his old homes in Ohio and Iowa, and enjoying a tour throughout the east. Upon returning to California he was visiting at Galt when he ran to catch a train and the over-exertion brought on heart trouble, from which he died. Since his demise Mrs. Prouty has continued to reside at the family home, No. 918 Twenty-second street, Sacramento. During early years he had been an active worker in the Blue Lodge of Masons. The Unitarian Church of Sacramento had in him a frequent attendant at the services and a generous contributor to its charities. After a long and unusually active career he passed into eternity, beloved by a wide circle of friends, honored as a man of the highest integrity and as a pioneer of the greatest aid to the early upbuilding of the state. 


Source:
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