BIO- Sawyers

In each community are found men of business enterprise whose particular line of work has made them real builders of the prosperity of the county, and among them is Ora P. Mills, well known in business circles as a pump and irrigation expert. A native of California, he was born in Yolo County, at Cache Creek, in March, 1862, a son of E. and Millie Mills. In the early '50s his father crossed the plains to California and engaged in the cattle business on an, extensive scale. Subsequently he purchased 640 acres near Vallejo, Cal., upon which he continued to reside until the sixties, when he left that locality owing to Indian troubles, and returned to Yolo County. In 1873 he removed to San Jose, and soon afterwards removed to Santa Maria Valley where he resumed his operations in the cattle business, winning a substantial measure of success in the conduct of his interests along that line.

After completing his grammar school course, Ora P. Mills yielded to the fascinations of circus life and ran away from home, concealing himself in one of the show wagons after the evening performance. He was not discovered until they had proceeded some distance from San Jose and the foreman of the canvas men at first threatened to send him back home, but speedily changed his mind when Ora displayed his skill as a tight rope walker in walking up one of the guy ropes on the tent. He was but thirteen years old at the time he joined the circus, which was known as the Montgomery Queen Circus. and during that season they exhibited at Gilroy, Salinas, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Santa Paula and Los Angeles, going up the San Joaquin Valley to Sacramento. Subsequently Mr. Mills toured the entire Middle West with the circus, leaving the outfit at St. Louis, Mo., to accept a more attractive salary offered by the manager of the Forepaugh Show. He was an expert performer and was the first performer to walk the tight rope from pole to pole without a balance rod. For six years in all he remained in the business and then having had his fill of circus life, returning to his home in San Jose, which he had visited twice during that interval.

After returning to San Jose, Mr. Mills purchased a lot on the corner of Santa Clara and Orchard streets, which he has since owned. Going to Redwood City, Cal., he worked as a machinist and car repairer for a time at that place and then made his way to Sacramento, where for some years he was employed in the shops of the Southern Pacific and later in the San Jose yards, remaining with that company until the time of the strike. He then purchased a ranch of thirty-three acres at Evergreen, which he set to orchard and devoted his time to the raising of prunes, apricots and peaches, but was compelled to give up the place owing to his inability to secure water for irrigation, the efforts of three drilling crews having proved fruitless. He then decided to enter the drilling and pump business and has since been active along this line, in which he has become recognized as an authority in the Santa Clara \Talley. He handles all kinds of deep-well pumps, including centrifugal, turbine and lift pumps. In 1888 he brought in a well on a ten-acre ranch belonging to his mother's estate and it proved so successful that a number of farmers in the vicinity were able to obtain a supply of water from it. He has made an exhaustive study of irrigation and has been very successful in his horticultural operations. The fruit from his ten-acre farm in The Willows was the finest in size and flavor delivered to the East Side Dryer in which he was a stockholder. He has the credit of being among the first to establish an irrigating system in the valley.

In San Mateo City, Cal., June 10, 1889, Mr. Mills was married to Miss Della F. McElhany, a native of Willitts, Cal., and a daughter of James M. and Mary (Ford) McElhany. The family name was originally Fore, of French origin, and was changed to Ford. Mr. McElhany was of Scotch-Irish and Knickerbocker stock and settled in California and became a pioneer rancher of Mendocino County, subsequently he engaged in merchandising at Santa Maria. He built the first store, first hall, owned and operated the first newspaper, the Santa Maria Times. Both parents are still living. Mrs. Mills was educated at Healdsburg, Cal., and by her marriage she has become the mother of four children: Eldon Cecil, a resident of San Jose; Mrs. Lulu Maxey, also of San Jose, has three children, Zola, Junior and Kathleen; Debora W. is Mrs. Taylor of Berkeley and has one child, Naomi G.; and Ora P., Jr., who is attending San Jose high school. In his political views Mr. Mills is a stanch Democrat and fraternally he is connected with the Woodmen, being a member of the lodge of that order at San Jose.

From Eugene T. Sawyers' History of Santa Clara County,California,  published by Historic Record Co. , 1922. page 1044


SANTA CLARA COUNTY The Valley of Heart's Delight