Arrived in California in 1849
one of the oldest living and most respected citizens of Santa Clara County, was born in Mergentheim, Germany, February 13, 1820. When twenty-eight years of age he came to the United States, arriving in New York in May, 1848. Soon afterward he went to Cincinnati, Ohio, and three months later to Harrisburg, Kentucky, where he obtained employment in a carriage manufactory.
On reading General J. C. Fremont's flattering description of California, and of the great demand for blacksmiths in this new El Dorado, Mr. Balbach determined to try his fortune among the gold-seekers. On March 28, 1849, he, in company with nine others, started from Harrisburg for California, with a fine outfit of horse teams and wagons. When the party reached a point a hundred miles west of Fort Smith, owing to the inclement weather, the deep snow-drifts, and the lack of any road through the wilderness, they found it impossible to proceed farther with vehicles; so they exchanged their horses and wagons for pack-mules, loaded them with such articles as they most needed, and resumed their journey. They experienced some difficulty with their wild mules. The one carrying all their sugar stampeded and never returned; another, when hitched to a tree, broke his neck! Despite these mishaps the emigrants reached Santa Fe in safety. Being advised to take the middle route, they made an attempt to do so, but, meeting with insurmountable obstacles, were obliged to retrace their steps, losing two weeks' time thereby. They then proceeded by the Gila River and Fort Yuma route. On reaching the Colorado River they found it very high, and had considerable trouble to get their mules to cross. The travelers numbered thirty people, with sixty mules. They hired some Indians to assist them. Rude rafts were constructed, their luggage placed on them, and the mules swam by the sides. Most of the mules were taken across before night, but the majority of their owners had not crossed over. Taking advantage of this fact, the Indians stole all but four of their mules that night! In crossing the swollen river the raft on which Mr. Balbach and two others were being ferried over came to pieces and they were precipitated into the raging flood. Each clung to a piece of the wreck, and his two comrades easily reached the opposite shore; but Mr. Balbach, just having recovered from an attack of fever, was too weak to stem the current, and succeeded in reaching the shore only after a most desperate struggle for life, a mile below. By heroic effort he reached the camp, but was so exhausted that he swooned, and lay in a state of syncope for many hours. Upon recovering consciousness he learned of the loss of their mules. Despair well-nigh overcame him when he thought of the long, perilous journey through a desert country, and scanty rations of food and water. To make this journey on foot in his weak condition was impossible; he gave the owner of one of the remaining mules his gold watch and chain and such other valuables as he possessed for the privilege of riding a part of the time.
After great hardship and suffering the subject of our memoir reached Rowland's Ranch, near Los Angeles, on August 10, 1849. Here he remained several months to recuperate and earn something with which to continue his journey to the mines. At the end this time the proprietor of the ranch fitted Mr. Balbach out with horse, saddle, and bridle, and he started, in company with two other men, for the mines up north. Arriving at San Jose one December evening, he got permission to stop overnight with a Spaniard occupying an adobe hut, and picketed his horse on a vacant lot. In the morning horse, saddle, and bridle had been stolen; and, having neither means of conveyance nor money, Mr. Balbach was compelled to abandon the trip and seek employment, which he soon found, and he never resumed his journey to the mines.
After working a short time he established himself in business, carrying on general blacksmithing at first, but gradually changing to the manufacture of wagons, buggies, and carriages. In the spring of 1852 Mr. Balbach manufactured the first plow made on the Pacific Coast, having neither pattern nor guide. The following year he built fifty plows. His carriage business steadily increased, and has yielded him a competence. The factory, situated on the corner of Second and Fountain Streets, is now chiefly managed by three of his sons, who are skilled mechanics in the several departments of the business.
Mr. Balbach married Wenna Benner, a native of Germany, on November 15, 1854. They have six sons and three daughters living; one son is deceased.
Mr. Balbach has served two years as a member of the City
Council of San Jose, and five years as a member of the Board of School Trustees.
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.
RETURN TO SANTA CLARA COUNTY BIOGRAPHIES