Gilroy, Santa Clara County, Pioneer

Bio- Sawyers


   Numbered among the first settlers in California who were instrumental in the progress and growth of the Santa Clara Valley, and more especially the section about Gilroy, mention is made of Juluis Martin, the first American to settle here, taking up his residence in January, 1844, and ever after maintaining his home here.  He was born in Stokes County, N. C., on January 2, 1804, the son of wealthy parents, who gave him the very best of educational advantages by sending him to Chapel Hill College with the intention of his entering West Point.  As a student he excelled in many sports and won a host of friends.  One of his schoolmates was Governor Stanley of North Carolina.  Circumstances were such that he did not enter West Point and he moved to Alabama, then to Mississippi, and in 1833 to a little town called Sibley, near Independence, Mo.  There he lived, farmed and traded until 1843, when he started on the overland journey to California with his wife and three daughters.

   One of his neighbors, Joseph Childs, with some others, went to California in 1841 to "look over the country" and so enthused were they with the soil and climatic conditions, that when they went back to Missouri in  1842, their stories created the desire on the part of many friends to make this their home and among these were Julius Martin and his family.  Their party consisted of thirty men, besides six women and the children.  They gathered at Shawnee Mission and on May 31, 1843, began the long trek across the continent, happy in the thought that at the end of their journey they would find their heart's desire.  Among the party was David F. McClellan, a nephew of the scout and trader, Capt. Joseph R. Walker, who had come to California in 1833.  McClellan was informed by his father that the party would meet Walker somewhere on the plains and to try to induce him to turn back and guide the train in safety through to the coast.  The first 100 miles were made slowly and as they got farther along they encountered several trains en route for Oregon and all traveled together in harmony and comfort.  In the trains encountered were Peter H. Burnett, who became the first governor of California; S. J. Hensley, Major Redding, J. W. Nesmith and others who became prominent in various circles in pioneer days.

   The little party reached the Kaw River, journeyed westward to the south fork of the Platte, which took them four days to cross, then on to Fort Laramie, where the emigrants gave a grand ball, there being some 1,500 in the party at that time.  Leaving the fort they soon encountered Captain Walker and he agreed to act as their guide after he had delivered his furs at the fort.  He caught up with them at Independence Rock and saw them safely here.

   Some miles west of Fort Hall the Oregon wagons bade goodbye to the California contingent and the latter wended their way slowly towards their goal.  They found plenty of game an kept their larders well supplied.  As they neared the California line they began to run short of provisions and some of the party made up a light pack train and traveled rapidly to reach Sutter's Fort and get back to their party before the snows set in.  They reached the fort, but were too late to make the return trip and after several days of waiting, Walker turned south and guided the little band by way of Walker's Lake (now Owen's) through Walker's Pass and thence to Four Creeks (Visalia).  Provisions were getting shorter and at the lake they burned their wagons, buried all castings and saws, etc., for they had material for a saw and flour mill with them.  With women and children and light packs they started out, but had to kill a mule for provender on the way.  They were forty-eight hours without water, then found a spring and by scooping out a place large enough, had plenty for the people and animals.  They arrived at what in now Visalia, then to Mission Soledad on the Salinas, in December, 1843, worn out with the long and hard journey, but happy to have reached the end of their travels.

   Julius Martin and his little party came to San Ysidro (Old Gilroy) a few days later and he located there until in 1850, when he moved to a fine ranch he had secured near New Gilroy, and this location was ever afterwards his home.  He served with Fremont as a captain of American Scouts and both he and his wife were present at Sonoma at the raising of the Bear Flag.  He left his family at Gilroy while he tried his luck at mining, but finding that was not his forte, turned his attention to trading with miners.  When he returned again to ranch life he began improving his property and in time owned one of the best ranches in this section of the county.  It is pleasant to relate that the original ranch is still in possession of the heirs of Julius Martin and with the passing of time has become very valuable property.  He took a very active part in the settlement of this section, always lending a helping hand to those seeking a home and kept open house for all wayfarers.  For about thirty years he was blind, but he was so familiar with locations and so sensitive to touch that he would walk to Gilroy and about the town without assistance.

   Mr. Martin had married, on February 14, 1838, Elizabeth Hedrick McPherson and she first saw the light on November 23, 1819, in Roane County, Tenn.  She was a woman of many resources, and after her husband lost his sight, she took charge of their large ranch of some 1,300 acres and carried it on successfully until her death.  They had six children, all girls, the first three born in Missouri and the others in Santa Clara County: Mary married P. B. Tully and died leaving two daughters--Mrs. Elmer Ray of Gilroy and Mrs. Elizabeth Riggins of San Francisco; Arzelia became the wife of Abraham Lewis, she died leaving three children--George of Los Angeles, Mildred, Mrs. James Sargeant, of Gilroy, and Abraham, an attorney in Honolulu; Martha married Franklin Oldham and died, the mother of four children, but now all are deceased. She was only a babe of three months when the family began their journey to California; Susan came next, and she was the first white child, born by a few hours, in the Santa Clara Valley.  She is now Mrs. A. Philbrook and lives in Susanville, Cal.; Georgia was next to the youngest and was born at Old Gilroy.  She married first, Dr. James F. Johnson, a physician of San Jose, and they had one son, Edward F.  He was graduated from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy in 1892, returned to Gilroy and embarked in the drug business, married Elsie Garret of Sacramento and they had two sons, Edward Martin and Garret Abeel.  He died on August 10, 1917, and the business was continued by his widow until 1922, when the oldest son, Martin Johnson, was graduated from the University of California in Pharmacy, class of '22, and now manages the establishment.  His grandmother sent him to college that he might take his father's place in the business world.  In 1922 Garret Johnson graduated from the Gilroy high school.  Mrs. James F. Johnson, in 1906, became the wife of J. W. Beane, who learned merchandising with Marshall Field of Chicago and was a pioneer merchant of Gilroy and later a trusted employe of Ford & Sanborn Company of Salinas and King City, but now retired in Gilroy.  Julia F. was the youngest girl and she married Charles Hornbeck and died in 1921 in Gilroy, leaving one child, Edith, who with her father is living on the old Martin homestead, one-half mile from Gilroy.  The daughters were educated at Notre Dame and Gates Institute.

   The Martins entertained with the true Southern hospitality and all travelers north and south always found a welcome at their home.   Many men of prominence were their guests, among them U. S. Grant, later president of the United States.  Mrs. Martin was glad to relate the early stories of California and tell that she had lived under four flags--Spanish, Alcalde, Bear and the American, and had them on display at her home.  She was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and aided the needy at all times.  She died on December 2, 1900, having survived her husband from December 26, 1891, when he passed away, having reached the good old age of eighty-seven years, eleven months and twenty-six days.  Mr. Martin was always of a jolly disposition and although blind and almost eighty-five, he could dance the fisher's hornpipe with the grace of one half his age.  He liked best of all to talk of pioneer history and was an authority sought by all delving into the history of the early days.  One of the responsible positions he filled before courts were established was that of judge advocate of his district and his word was law on all matters.  Mrs. Martin had a large collection of clippings and papers relating to California history which she preserved with great care and now are a valuable acquisition to the annals of the county.  The old Martin home is still standing and was built of logs hewed by hand from the redwood and oaks found growing near Gilroy in 1845.

Transcribed by Joseph Kral, from Eugene T. Sawyers' History of Santa Clara County,California,  published by Historic Record Co. , 1922. page 346


SANTA CLARA COUNTY The Valley of Heart's Delight