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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


Lewis William Ridenhour

Thirteen years have passed since the death of this well-known pioneer, who for over forty-four years had been a continuous resident of the ranch near Hilton which is now the property of his widow. A native of Missouri, Mr. Ridenhour was born in St. Louis county, in 1829, which at that time was sparsely populated by the white man, in fact his parents were credited with being the first white settler in St. Louis county.

Lewis W. Ridenhour was a young man of twenty-one years when, in 1850, he set out for the gold-fields of California, full of hope and confidence that a quick fortune awaited him. The records do not state that he was more successful than the average miner, taking the losses with the gains, and it is safe to presume that his success was not all that he might have expected, for after working in the mines in Placer county above Marysville for three years he gave up the life and settled down permanently to agriculture. It was then, in 1853, that he made the first purchase of land in Sonoma county, this being included in the ranch now occupied by his widow near Hilton. The original purchase, taken up under the homestead act, consisted of one hundred and sixty acres, and to this has since been added adjoining property from time to time, until the ranch now comprises nine hundred and forty acres. The residence which adorns the ranch is one of the most substantial in this part of the country and is in as good condition today as when it was constructed fifty-three years ago. The lumber used in its construction he brought down on a raft from Green Valley creek, and the shingles, which he himself rived by hand, are still apparently none the worse for the exposure to the sun and weather of fifty years. Much of the land Mr. Ridenhour set out to hops, fruits and general garden produce. All of these various industries have since his death been maintained by his widow, under whose management they have prospered from year to year. Six and a-half acres are in orchard, thirty-four acres are in hops (which during the year 1909 netted an income of $962), seventy acres are in general farm produce, while the remainder of the land is in pasture and timber. The brickyard is leased for $1,000 a year. Of late, since 1905, the ranch has been carried on by James W. Covey, a son-in-law of Mrs. Ridenhour. As one of the earliest settlers in this part of Sonoma county Mr. Ridenhour could relate many thrilling stories of pioneer conditions, when bears and deers were so plentiful that he shot them to help clear the country of them, and panthers, smelling the blood of their slain forest companions, would come by stealth and run away with their carcasses. At one time Mr. Ridenhour was attacked by a brown bear and badly wounded, but he succeeded in getting out of bruinís grasp after a hard fight and made his escape. Mr. Ridenhour lived to see all this unbroken wilderness give place to cultivated ranches, the homes of a contented, prosperous people. He passed away on the old home ranch April 6, 1897, mourned as one of the true-hearted and dependable citizens of the community in which he had lived for so many years.

Mr. Ridenhourís marriage, in June, 1856, united him with Miss Mary E. Heald, a native of Ohio, and the daughter of one of the pioneer settlers in California. When she was a child of three years her parents removed to Missouri, and from there seven years later, in 1851, they came to California and settled in Sonoma county. Harmon Heald, the father and founder of the city of Healdsburg, was a brother of Mrs. Ridenhourís father. He also came across the plains in the year 1851, and on the site of the city which now bears his name he opened a hotel and also ran a saw and grist mill.

Ten children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Ridenhour, but of the number only six are now living. William R., born in 1857, was married to Miss Elfa Catin, their union being blessed with two children, Pearl and Maud. Emily became the wife of T. P. Brown, of Santa Rosa, and five children, two sons and three daughters, were born to them, Thomas, Ralph, Georgie, Lilian and Lottie. Lewis E., born in 1861, and now residing in Hilton, by his marriage with Ida Dryden has seven children, three sons and four daughters, Guy, Robert, Philip, Virginia, Mildred, Clarine and Elenor. Ellen became the wife of W. W. German, and the mother of five children, four sons and one daughter, B. Louis, Roy, Alvin, Elbert, and Alma, the family making their home in Ukiah, Mendocino county. Hilton B. chose as his wife Phoebe Tracy, and they have a son and daughter, Charles and Aline, the family residing in Suisun City, Solano county. Annie M. became the wife of James W. Covey, and they, with their only child, Anita Elizabeth, live on the old home place near Hilton, Mr. Covey being superintendent and manager of the property.

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