The Valley of Heart's Delight

Surnames:  Balbach, Berner
John Balbach a '49er - a Prominent Citizen of this City
The Pioneer, San Jose, California, December 17, 1881

contributed by jchavnar

This old and much esteemed settler of Santa Clara county, was born in Mergentheim, Germany, February 13, 1820. Emigrating to the United States at twenty-eight years of age, he landed in New York City in May, 1848, and almost immediately proceeded to Cincinnati, Ohio, where, remaining but three months, he moved to Harrisburg, Owen county, Kentucky, and obtained employment in a carriage manufactory.

 On March 28, 1849, in company with nine others, Mr. Balbach left Harrisburg for California, their outfit consisting of horse-teams and wagons. On arrival at a point about one hundred miles west of Fort Smith, the drifting snow and inclement weather compelled them to exchange their animals and vehicles for mules, which they obtained from an Indian trader there located. The barter effected, such articles as were thought to be most requisite were disposed on the pack-saddles, and the march taken up, but now serious troubles commenced, for the mules, which had never been worked, here proved unruly, one with all the sugar on his back bolted and never returned, while another broke his neck while hitched to a tree, necessitating the abandonment of his burden. Notwithstanding those mishaps, as well as the enduring of hardships such as have been experienced only by the earlier voyagers to this State, our subject and his comrades arrived safely at Santa Fe, whence they started by the middle route for California, but were obliged to retrace their steps owing to the melting snows and swollen mountain torrents causing a detention of nearly two weeks. Once more a start was effected and the Gila River route to Colorado taken, thence to the place on which Fort Yuma now stands.

The crossing of the swift-rushing Colorado was not without excitement, therefore let us relate the experiences of this company of pioneers, which had now augmented to thirty-five men. The stream was found to be much swollen and therefore the crossing hazardous, but it must be made. Indians were hired to construct rafts, which were to be paddled, the mules meanwhile being swam to the opposite bank, and a return voyage for the men. Let us see what were Mr. Balbach's experiences. The raft on which he and two of his companions took passage, was composed of three logs lashed together but so carelessly fastened were they that when half way across they broke adrift, leaving an Indian and one man on one log, a second man another, and the subject of our sketch being carried away with the current on the third. Finding himself quickly swept from the shore, Mr. Balbach plunged into the swirling waters and happily reached the bank, but so enfeebled was he from the effects of a recent fever, that he had no sooner joined his friends than he swooned away, to find on awakening to returning consciousness, that the Indians had stolen their mules. Here indeed was a dilemma! He who is acquainted with the burning sun, the scorching sand and seared sage-brush of that inhospitable region, will readily imagine the feelings of our pioneer, as he fully realized that this desert must be crossed on foot, with but little food, and a scant supple of water, and he exhausted by a long illness. It was confidently asserted that he would never reach California. "What I suffered on that march," says Mr. Balbach, "no one but myself can ever know. How I reached the spot where Fort Yuma has since been built it is impossible for me to say, and yet I have been trying to solve the riddle for the past thirty-one years."

 On August 10, 1849, he arrived at Rowland's ranch, and in the following December came to San Jose. On arrival he applied at an abode house (situated on the lot next to that on which he now resides), occupied by a Spaniard, for permission to remain over night, which was granted, he therefore removed his blankets from off his horse and proceeded to picket the animal on the ground now occupied by Joseph Enright's foundry, at the corner of First and William streets. This effected he returned to the house to find that his blankets were nowhere to be traced - they had been stolen. Weariness, however, brought sleep. In the morning he awoke to discover that his horse had gone, presumably to keep company with his blankets, for neither have since been seen by their legitimate owner. It is this fortuitous circumstance that determined him to make his home in San Jose, where he has been a resident from then to now. Married, November 15, 1854, Minna Berner, a native of Germany, by whom he has nine children.


GO TO SANTA CLARA COUNTY-The Valley of Heart's Delight