Early Major of San Jose

Bio-Pen Pictures

see Historic Preservation of the Houghton/Donner home of San Jose-

            The names of a few among the pioneers of California are more favorably known, or have been more closely identified with the best progress of the State, than that of Hon. S. O. Houghton.  Born April 10, 1828, in New York city, he enlisted, when but eighteen years of age, and still at school, in Company A, First New York Volunteer Infantry, and on March 26, 1847, arrived in San Francisco, after a voyage “round the Horn,” to see service in the Mexican War.  A part of the regiment, including his company, was detailed to Santa Barbara, but in a short time were sent to the seat of war, the force numbering one hundred and five, all told, under the command of Lieut. Col. Henry S. Burton.  On arriving in Mexico they took up a position commanding the town of La Paz, where they occupied a church and other buildings.  They fortified the position, and successfully held their own against the most strenuous exertions of the enemy for several weeks, until relief came, when they took the offensive, meeting with signal success, and capturing the commander of the Mexican forces.  Mr. Houghton was regularly promoted for merit from the ranks, to sergeant-major, lieutenant, and adjutant of the command.  In September, 1848, he returned to Monterey, and, with six of his brother officers, purchased an outfit and went to the mines, meeting with some success.  In the spring the company separated, Mr. Houghton coming to San Jose in March, 1849.  He then purchased oxen and wagons, proceeded to Stockton, and established a trading-post at Sullivan’s Creek, running a pack-train between that point and the camps about Sonora.  After this Mr. Houghton purchased in Stockton a stock of goods, intending to spend the winter in the mountains trading.  The rains came on, however, the goods could not be moved, and had to be sacrificed.  With a Mr. Peasley he then engaged in the cattle business at San Jose, the speculation paying badly on account of the depreciation in value of the scrip issued by the State at that time. In 1852 Mr. Houghton assisted in taking the census in Santa Clara County; in the same year he was appointed deputy county recorder.  In 1854 he was elected to the common council of the city, and chosen its president; in 1855 was elected mayor of the city, holding office until 1856.  In 1871 he was elected a member of the Forty-second Congress, and re-elected in the following year to the Forty-third Congress, Mr. Houghton being a Republican in politics, and a consistent member of the party.  From 1852 till 1856 he read law during his leisure moments, and in the latter year entered the law office of W. T. Wallace and C. T. Ryland.  In 1860 Mr. Ryland withdrew from the connection, when Mr. Houghton formed a partnership with Judge Wallace, which continued till the latter’s removal to San Francisco, in 1864.  Mr. Houghton has been a prominent member of the Bar of San Jose, having a very large practice, especially in the settlements of the old Spanish estates and the unraveling of their intricate titles.  In 1886 he removed to Los Angeles, which city he has since made his home, though he still retains his large real estate and other interests in this valley.

            On August 23, 1859, Mr. Houghton married Miss Mary M. Donner.  She died on the 21st of July following, leaving one child, Mary M., who was born June 7, 1860.  On October 10, 1861, he married Eliza P. Donner, the third and youngest daughter of George and Tamsen Donner, who was born March 8, 1843.  She left Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois, with her parents early in the year 1846, and is one of the survivors of the ill-fated Donner party, whose terrible fate is one of the most melancholy in the early annals of California.  Mr. Houghton is one of the leading citizens of the State, a gentleman honored and esteemed by all, and a sturdy specimen of the fine pioneers of California. 

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. p. 89-90

Transcribed by Kathy Sedler