Bio-Pen Pcitures

deceased. Prominent among the earlier pioneers of California was Isaac Branham, who crossed the summit of the Nevadas on October 10, 1846, arrived in the San Jose Mission on October 31, and settled permanently in San Jose December 2 of that year. He was born in Scott County, Kentucky, August 31, 1803, and raised on his father's farm in his native place up to the age of twenty years. During this time he received what education the common schools of the country afforded, and at the same time became adept in the use of the tools required in the simple building operations and wood-working then required of almost every frontier settler. He became also an enthusiastic hunter, his skill with the rifle and shot-gun being remarkable. In 1823, at the age of twenty years, he, with a companion named Williams, started on foot to Missouri, all of his worldly effects being packed in an old army knapsack of the War of 1812. On their arrival in Missouri their combined exchecquers lacked twelve and one-half cents of the price of their first breakfast. Feeling the necessity of immediately replenishing his finances, he took a contract for hewing logs for a house of one of the settlers in the neighborhood of what is now Fulton, Missouri.

        In about a year Mr. Branham was joined by his brother Franklin, from Kentucky. The brothers then undertook to construct a saw-mill from the material available in the woods and country around. In this building and in its machinery there were but the saw and two gudgeons made of metal, all the rest was of wood exclusively, being held together by mortising and wooden pins, there being not even a nail in the whole structure. Unfortunately, before it and the dam were fully completed, a freshet came and washed the whole away, destroying almost a year's work. They went to work hewing out timbers for a second mill, working at it continuously except when necessary to do work for other parties that would procure them requisite provisions. This was completed in time for the spring rains, and the mill was a success. They then constructed a grist-mill, which was run by horse-power. To this they added a distillery, and these enterprises were conducted for several years. In constructing his distilling apparatus there was necessary a pipe to supply the still with the beer from the mash tubs, the only thing available being an old musket barrel, which was detached from its stock and made to do duty as a part of the still for a number of years. When Mr. Branham was about to leave for California he detached this gun barrel, had it placed in a stock with a rifle barrel, and thus supplied himself with a double-barrel gun, the weapon he carried across the plains and used for many years in California, and which is now in possession of the family, prized as one of the most valued possessions and heirlooms of that grand old pioneer.

        Speaking of the old grist-mill in Missouri, one of its earliest customers was our now well-known citizen, Samuel A. Bishop, who, when a small boy, used once a week to come to the mill with a sack of corn before him on his horse, to be ground into meal. Each boy or man bringing grist to that mill used to hitch his horse to the machinery and do the driving for his own grinding. This was probably Mr. Bishop's first experience as engineer of a grist-mill.

        Mr. Branham having been always devoted to field sports and the chase, loving a good horse and dog and a true gun, his hunting proclivities naturally brought him in contact and friendship with the hunters and trappers of that day. The Rocky Mountain trappers of the time would occasionally visit the settlements, and among them he became acquainted with members of the Sublette family, then noted as hunters and trappers. From these men he learned of the wonderful country and climate of California. His health at that time being much impaired, he decided to sell off his property and effects in Missouri and cross the trackless plains to the Pacific Coast. His family consisted of his wife and four children, the oldest about eleven years of age, and the youngest about nine months. The then infant is now B. F. Branham, a resident of San Jose, who from January, 1883, to January, 1887, was Sheriff of Santa Clara County. Mr. Branham had been married, in 1832, in Callaway County, Missouri, to Miss Amanda Ann Bailey, who was born in 1813, in Franklin County, Kentucky, her parents removing from Woodford County, that State, to Missouri in 1827.

        Joining the immigration starting in the spring of 1846 for Oregon and California, he made the journey in two wagons drawn by three yoke of oxen to each wagon, taking at the same time two horses and two cows, the latter furnishing milk all the way across the plains, and from which he afterward raised considerable stock in the Santa Clara Valley. The trip from Independence, Missouri, to the California State line, was made in six months and eleven days. At Independence the various families of immigrants camped until they formed a company sufficiently strong for mutual protection and assistance. Colonel Russell was elected captain of that train. The trip was made without any unusual difficulties or hardships, there being but one fight with the Indians, that being on the Humboldt River near where the town of Elko now stands, which took place in the pursuit and recapture of cattle stolen by the Indians. Mr. Branham's party had traveled for a short time that summer in company with the ill-fated Donner party, the last they saw of the latter being at Fort Bridger, where the Donner party struck off to take what was called Hudspeth's cut-off.

        The first stop made in California was at the Mission San Jose, for about three weeks, where Mr. Branham was enlisted by Lieutenant Pinckney, of the United States sloop-of-war Portsmouth, and placed in charge of the supplies to be issued at that point to the wives and families of the men who had joined the American army and gone with General Fremont to Los Angeles. After being several weeks on that duty, he was ordered by Lieutenant Pinckney to remove to San Jose, the American families having already removed there from the mission from fear of an uprising of the Mexicans. About this time the Mexicans, under Castro, were defeated near Santa Clara, and Mr. Branham's military services were no longer required.

        In the summer of 1847 he, in conjunction with Captain Julian Hanks, a Connecticut man who had come to Santa Clara Valley from Lower California in the summer of 1846, constructed a saw-mill and dam on the Los Gatos Creek just above the present station of Alma. To show the thoroughness of his work and the quality of material used, it is enough to state that this dam is now in use and forms the head of supply of the San Jose Water Company's flume. This mill was first run in the spring of 1848, and within a few months was sold to Zachariah Jones and known for years as Jones' Mill, supplying all the lumber used in the Santa Clara Valley. During the summer of 1848, two men, named Whipple and Wheaton, brought around Cape Horn a forty-horse­power steam boiler and engine, and landed it in San Francisco. Hearing of this, Mr. Branham made a trip there on horseback, bought an interest in it, and entered into partnership with these men in building a mill in San Mateo County, at what was called Brown's Redwoods, near where the town of Searsville now stands. This mill was started in the spring of 1849, and was the first steam saw-mill established on the Pacific Coast.

        The whispers of the finding of gold caused a stampede to the mines, and they were obliged to pay $250 a month to the loggers to furnish logs for the mill. Starting to the mines to investigate the truth of these rumors, on his return he met his force of loggers on their way to the diggings, and learned that his mill had stopped for want of material. In the summer of 1850 he sold his interest in this mill to R. G. Moody, taking in payment lumber at the price of $300 per thousand. At this time Mr. Branham owned and lived in a house on the property now owned by John Balbach, No. 523 South Market Street. He had also just purchased a large two-story adobe building which stood where is now the corner of Guadaloupe and San Carlos Streets, which he placed temporarily at the service of State Government, and where the Senate of the State of California convened and held the early meetings of its first session during that winter. In that house he soon after removed, and lived until 1856.

        Mr. Branham, with eighteen other citizens, voluntarily came forward and executed a note of $34,000 to purchase a building for the occupation of the State Legislature, the credit of the pueblo of San Jose, nor of the State, being sufficient guarantee for the amount in the eyes of the owners. They did this because it had been represented to the Constitutional Convention that the Legislature, if it convened at San Jose, would be amply provided with buildings and conveniences. That $34,000 bore interest at the rate of eight per cent per month until paid! This amount was afterward in great part made good to these generous and public-spirited men by the State and city.

        In 1852 he purchased 2,000 varas square (656 acres), being a portion of the San Juan Batista Rancho, situated five miles south of San Jose, to which place he removed in 1856 and there resided until his death, November 3, 1887.

        In 1854, in conjunction with Josiah Belden, he explored a prospective road from the Santa Clara to the San Joaquin Valley, this road leading by the foot of Mount Hamilton through San Isabel Valley and down the Orestimba River to the San Joaquin plains, being practically the same route now proposed to be opened by the Mount Hamilton Stage Company, to transport tourists direct from the Yo Semite Valley to Mount Hamilton and return. While they succeeded in finding a practical route, they found it would be too expensive for the limited travel of that day. In 1857, in conjunction with Jackson Lewis, he purchased 2,000 acres more of the same rancho. From 1852 to the time of his death he was engaged in farming and stock-raising. During these years he also invested in mines and mining in Mexico, as well as in the counties of El Dorado and Lassen. In these mining operations his experience was gained at a cost of about $50,000, results which have been very frequent in large mining operations on this coast.

        Mr. Branham was a member of the first town council of San Jose. While having no taste or inclination for public office, he was frequently required by his fellow-citizens to represent them in offices of trust and honor, filling the place of County Supervisor for one term, after which he refused to again accept the office. He was a devoted huntsman and fisherman, this taste resulting more from an ardent love of nature than his desire for game. His hunting was for pleasure, and the imparting of pleasure to those who accompanied him, never marketing a particle of game. His friends and fellow-hunters received the most liberal share of the results of the hunt, any well-behaved man, no matter what his condition of life, being welcome to his camp. A man jealous of his honor and most kindly in his nature, he had the respect and love of all good men who came in contact with him.

        His children born in Missouri were: James, born in 1835, and now a resident of Lassen County, agent for Wells, Fargo & Co.'s Express at Susanville; Frances Elizabeth, married in 1855 to Jackson Lewis, died in 1861; Maggie, the widow of James H. Ogier, now living two miles from San Jose, on the Alviso road ; Benjamin F., born in 1845, whose biography appears elsewhere in this volume. Two children were born in the Santa Clara Valley: Charles M., now conducting a machine shop in San Jose; and Mary, residing with her mother in this city.

        The family still owns a large interest in the San Juan Batista Rancho, near San Jose.


Pen Pictures From The Garden of the World or Santa Clara County, California, Illustrated. - Edited by H. S. Foote.- Chicago:  The Lewis Publishing Company, 1888.

Pg. 491-494


SANTA CLARA COUNTY The Valley of Heart's Delight