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California Genealogy and History Archives

San Bernardino County and Riverside County


BERRY LEE ROBERTS. The growth of intelligence and sound optimism has advanced agriculture to a combination of occupation and science, the profound possibilities of which can be but imperfectly mastered by any one man in his comparatively brief span of years. Man, whose faith is pinned to the soil, and whose delight and reward it is to use its stored fertility for the most enlightened needs of civilization, has brought it to a stage of usefulness unequaled in any other walk of life. To such must come the greatest material satisfaction also, as witnessed in all prosperous farming communities, of which the territory included in San Bernardino and Riverside counties is one of the best examples. Since the earliest history of this part of the state certain families have been connected with its continuous advancement, lending color and enthusiasm and splendid purpose to its unfolding prosperity. Of these none are better or more favorably known than that which is represented by Berry Lee Roberts, of Highland.

Mr. Roberts was born September 12, 1873, at San Bernardino, California, a son of Berry and Frances (Thomas) Roberts. His father, a son of Jesse and Mary (Alpin) Roberts, was born in Conway County, Arkansas, and was fifteen years of age when he drove four yoke of oxen across the plains with a party, including his mother, which left Arkansas April 10, 1852, and arrived at their destination in Mariposa County, California, October 1 of that year. Berry Roberts had lost his father when he was an infant, and it was necessary that he early look out for his own support. His mother, who was a native of Tennessee, later went to Texas, where her death occurred. After spending five years in mining Berry Roberts took up ranching in San Bernardino County, as well as in the San Timoteo Canon, in which latter community he settled on a 200-acre ranch in December, 1857. He was one of the first to introduce blooded cattle into this region, and did much to improve the breed of stock in this part of the state. He started out on his own resources, without means, but through perseverance and energy, determination and a hardy and courageous spirit overcame the obstacles and hardships of life in a new country, and won his way to the ownership of a good ranch and a place high in the confidence and respect of his fellow-citizens. He died at the home of his son, William M. Roberts, at Redlands. In Mariposa County, California, Mr. Roberts married Miss Frances Thomas, a native of Missouri, and they became the parents of twelve children : William M., Ozrow, Mary, Ella, Emma Beach, Nettie, Berry Lee, Sterling, Ida, Early, Archie Milton and Edward.

Berry Lee Roberts had few chances for an education, but made the most of his opportunities in the little country school at El Caseo, in the San Timeteo Canon. At about the age of seventeen years he went to work for the Southern Pacific Railway Company, and during the several years that he was engaged in maintenance work became known as an efficient maintenance man as well as a capable construction worker. In the latter connection for a number of years he did heavy construction work in difficult places in the mountains, as well as on the desert, and in this labor the hardy stock from which he sprang stood him in good stead. After a number of years he left the Southern Pacific and invested his earnings in a farm. Farming held him for only several years, however, when he returned to railway work, in building, grading, laying track and construction of the Tonepaugh & Tidewater Railroad. About the same time he built a six-mile branch from Lyle Junction to the Lyle C. Mine (the Borax C. Smith Mine), owned by the so-called borax king. This was an inferno to work men in, and it was evidence of Mr. Roberts executive capacity that he was able to complete the contract. Returning then to San Bernardino, he was employed in construction work by the San Bernardino Valley Traction Company, building, grading and laying track on new lines from San Bernardino to Redlands and from San Bernardino to Highland, as well as the Arrowhead Hotel branch line. Later he served as road-master of this line for a number of years, until the road was taken over by the Pacific Electric Railroad Company. Mr. Roberts was also the builder, years ago, of the road from Squirrel Inn to Little Bear Valley and Lake, under Engineer Lathrope, this being a mountain road and well-known trail. He had charge of the digging of all the trenches for the city water and gas mains in San Bernardino, as well as the line to Highland, and laid the 24 inch water main from San Bernardino to Lytle Creek, operating under a bond of $180,000. Mr. Roberts remembers when the site of the present Court House was a stock corral, his recollection of this being vivid because of the fact that it was he who got out the rock for the building, being in charge of the men who secured this necessary commodity from a quarry on Mill Creek. Another contract, done for the Edison Electric Company, was that connected with the necessary work to carry adequate water from point to point, and the building of the tramway up the mountain side for the construction of this work.

When he left the last employment mentioned Mr. Roberts accepted a position as superintendent for the Fontana Land and Water Company, a position in which he farmed from 600 to 700 acres of land. He was engaged in ranching on a large scale for six years, and during harvest times would have as many as 300 farm hands in his employ. In 1899 Mr. Roberts purchased three acres of oranges on Orange Avenue, Highland, and here built a modern home. Later he added to his holdings, and at present is the owner of six acres of as fine stock orange trees as are to be found in the State of California, together with a picturesque home overlooking the valleys and mountains. Mr. Roberts has acquired this property only through the hardest kind of work, but in its ownership he is proud, as he is also of the fact that he is a native son of the great Golden State and that he comes of sound old California stock. He belongs to several civic associations and fraternal orders, and is a veteran of the Spanish-American war. In 1898 he enlisted in Company G, Seventh Cavalry, and trained at Presidio, California, but was honorably discharged when peace was declared in 1899. His equipment was all ready loaded on a vessel when the countermanding orders came, these proving a great disappointment to him, as they did to all members of the Seventh.

In 1899 Mr. Roberts was united in marriage with Miss Mary York, a daughter of James and Sarah (Ingle) York, the former a native of Tennessee and the latter of Illinois. Mrs. Roberts was born at Leroy, Illinois, and was brought to California by her parents in 1898. Of the three children born to Mr. and Mrs. Roberts one survives; Marjorie, born November 8, 1910.


History of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties 
By: John Brown, Jr., Editor for San Bernardino County 
And James Boyd, Editor for Riverside County 
With selected biography of actors and witnesses of the period 
of growth and achievement.
Volume III, the Western Historical Association, 1922, 
The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, ILL

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011