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California Genealogy and History Archives

Biographies
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Sacramento County

 

HON. PETER J. SHIELDS

The lineage of the Shields family indicates a long line of Celtic ancestors and it was not until 184.3 that Patrick Shields transplanted this branch from the Emerald Isle to the shores of America. At the time of emigration he was a man of middle age, frugal, purposeful and industrious, but handicapped by lack of means. Accompanied by his wife, Mary, and their sons, he crossed the ocean to the new world and proceeded to the then undeveloped regions of the Mississippi valley, where he took up a tract of government laud and entered upon general farming. With the aid of his boys he trans- formed a raw tract into a productive farm and ultimately acquired the title to two hundred and ten acres of fertile land, which he had stocked with a large herd of cattle as well as other stock. His death occurred in November of 1856, when he was sixty-five years of age. Surviving him were three sons, of whom Frederick and Dennis sought homes in the undeveloped lands of Minnesota, while John, who was born in Ireland April 26, 1835, became a pioneer of California, leaving his Illinois home May 4, 1856, and landing in San Francisco on the 14th of June after an uneventful trip by way of Panama. For three months after his arrival he operated a threshing-machine for the owner, after which for eight or ten months he worked at $3 per day in the mines at Farmers' Diggings and elsewhere along the American river.

The first association of John Shields with western agriculture occurred in 1857, when he bought the squatters' right to three hundred and twenty-four acres, covered with brush and timber, and containing a black and sandy loam soil which proved very productive. The ranch was in Brighton township, Sacramento county, thirteen miles from the city of Sacramento, and bounded on the north by the American river. The original Hangiown Crossing was near this ranch, but later that name was discarded for the present title of Mills. All of the improvements on the place were made by Mr. Shields, who about 1879 increased his holdings by the purchase of one hundred acres near the original farm. Twenty acres were planted in a vine- yard, and the crops were so large that it is said about twenty-four tons of grapes were harvested from three acres in one season. One hundred acres were planted to an orchard of peaches, pears, plums and French prunes. Eventually the owner relinquished his arduous ranching activities and removed to Yolo county, where he now makes his home. November 18, 1859, he married Mrs. Elizabeth (Bow) Lynch, who was born in Ireland, crossed the ocean to Massachusetts in early life and in 1855 became a resident of California. They had a family of five daughters and two sons, namely : Mary, who married Charles Deterding; Lizzie A., wife of M. C. Pike; Alice; Hannah, who made a specialty of instrumental and vocal music and rose to a high rank in the profession; Emily, Peter J. and Robert E. Four of the family are still living. The mother, who possessed unusual abil- ity, made a specialty of the fruit industry and attained a reputation as one of the most thorough and prominent orchardists in the entire state. As an authority on horticulture her advice was sought by people from all parts of the west. When she died in 1895 the State Fruit-Growers' Association passed suitable resolutions of regret and condolence and alluded to her as "the fruit queen of California," a title which her wise and long-continued labors fully justified.

At the old homestead on the American river Peter J. Shields was born April 4, 1862. The neighboring schools afforded him fair advantages. Later he was graduated from the Christian Brothers college in Sacramento. At the age of eighteen years he took up the study of law in the office of A. P. Catlin. Three years later he was admitted to practice at the bar of the state. With professional ambitions and youthful hopes he took up the practice of law, only to find himself forced to abandon practice at the age of twenty-four and to give attention to the restoration of his health, which had been seriously injured by over-study. As the best means of physical recuperation he sought outdoor employment and turned his attention to a careful study of livestock, with such success that he since has been selected to act as judge in many of the most important stock shows in the entire country. It is said that his judgment of an animal is seldom at fault. At a glance he detects their favorable points as well as the apparently invisible weaknesses which prove a blemish to their record.

During the period of open-air activities as a means of health restoration, the young man had not wholly relinquished all identification with city affairs, but still held the office of trustee of the California state library, to which at the age of twenty-three years he had been appointed by Governor Bartlett and in which his service was so intelligent that he was again appointed in 1897. When he returned to Sacramento iu 1895 he became a deputy to the state librarian, filling the position for nine months. During the next two years he served as secretary of the California code commission, while later for a similar period he held the private secretaryship to the governor, during the same period likewise serving as secretary of the State Agricultural Society. Resuming the practice of law in 1900 as an associate of Hon. Hiram W. Johnson, the present governor of California, he continued in private practice until a few months later, when he was elected judge of the superior court of Sacramento county by the largest majority ever given a judge in that county. While a Democrat in politics, he received a majority of eighteen hundred, the largest ever given up to that time. The first election was for an unexpired term, after which he was reelected by a very heavy vote and then in 1908 he was chosen judge by the largest vote given any candidate on either side.

In the office of jurist Judge Shields has proved impartial and tactful, the possessor of a profound knowledge of jurisprudence and the exemplifier in his own forceful character of the ethics of the judicial office. Only an admirable personality could attain to his popularity and prestige. Democracy, civic duty and good government are among the causes that have enlisted his intelligence. Sincerity of purpose has directed his conduct in every relation of life and has governed his excellent administration of the affairs of his court. Every movement for the upbuilding of the Sacramento valley has enlisted his sympathy and he has been particularly helpful in promoting the reclamation work. Educational activities have benefited by his wise participation and probably the most important act of his life was his furtherance of the university farm and school of agriculture, located at Davis. From the first he favored the plan for such, an institution and realized that it could be made most valuable to the material development of the state. Not only did he aid the cause by forcible speeches on the subject, but in addition he drew the bill creating such a school, and through his efforts it was passed by the legislature. In its present usefulness and future value to state advancement it is now and will continue to be for years to come a monument to the sagacious efforts of himself and other high-minded, patriotic citizens broad in vision and prompt in action. 


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