The twilight of a busy and eventful existence finds Mr. Cheney retired from life’s activities, enjoying the competency earned by years of arduous toil and quietly passing his days in a comfortable home at Colusa. He is a member of an eastern family and was born in Bedford county, Pa., May 31, 1820, being a son of Abraham and Janet (Evans) Cheney, also natives of that county, the latter of Welsh descent. When he was seven years of age he accompanied his parents to Ohio and settled on a farm in Coshocton county. Years afterward his father removed to Springfield, Ill., and eventually died at Taylorville, that state. In a family of four sons and four daughters, of whom two sons and two daughters are now living, John was the eldest in order of birth. From 1827 until 1839 he made his home in Ohio and meantime attended school held in a log cabin, with greased paper for windows, puncheon floors, rude benches and the other appurtenances of pioneer education.
On starting out to earn his livelihood John Cheney went to Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1839, and there with three others bought a skiff and went to Cincinnati, thence to Madison. When rains came and the river began to raise he took passage on a flat boat, which landed at New Orleans the morning of January 8, 1840. There he greatly enjoyed the sham battle fought under charge of General Jackson. Not finding work in the city he paid his passage back to Cincinnati, but when he reached the mouth of the Ohio river he found a new town being started and without trouble secured employment in clearing away the debris and preparing for the establishment of the city of Cairo. His pay was in Kaskaskia money. A year later the bank failed and the money was worthless. From Cairo he went to St. Louis, thence to Lake Island, Ill., where he cut cordwood during the summer. Being unable to secure any pay for his work, he took the wood to St. Louis and sold it. Afterward he made three trips south to New Orleans with loads of honey, apples and produce. Through one summer he ran a boat out from New Orleans, then in the fall went to Mobile, where he was employed for a number of years in a cotton warehouse.
On returning to New Orleans in 1846 Mr. Cheney found soldiers enlisting for the Mexican war, but the mode of enlisting disgusted him so thoroughly that he gave up his plan of becoming a soldier. When he landed in St. Louis he found two steamboats with Illinois soldiers en route for the front, and he then became enthusiastic and would have enlisted had it not been too late. While at St. Louis he learned that his father had moved to Springfield, Sangamon county, Ill., and he accordingly visited him there, also took charge of a sawmill for a few months. From that time until 1852 he had charge of a mercantile business in Taylorville, and on selling out was obliged to remain two years in order to secure his pay.
With a herd of four hundred and eighty-six head of cattle, Mr. Cheney started overland for the west, leaving St. Joseph, May 1, 1852, and crossing the Missouri river, thence up the Platte and on the overland trail. No misfortune befell him until he reached the sink of Carson. There, through eating wild parsnips, one hundred and fifty head of cattle died in two days. Others died from day to day until he reached the Sierras, and he had only two hundred head when he landed at Dailey’s ranch, on the Macosma river, in October. From there he drove the herd to Wood’s Ferry on the San Joaquin river. When the fall of 1855 brought a scarcity of feed he drove the cattle into Colusa county, where he found plenty of water and good feed. Here he disposed of the cattle to George F. Packer. Having loaned $9,000 to a man on his farm and equipment, a failure of crops forced him to take the ranch to satisfy the debt, but thereupon he found the owner had no title to the property, so he was obliged to buy it direct. The land is valuable and well adapted for grain raising and for stock. The high waters have never troubled the farm, hence the owner has been spared much expense in levees. Finding no market for his grain in early days he built a warehouse and stored three successive crops. Finally a dealer from San Francisco bought the entire lot, this being the first grain ever shipped from Colusa to San Francisco. The barley he sold for four and one-half cents per pound, and the wheat for three and one-half cents.
For many years Mr. Cheney carried on a living business at Colusa, also had a general mercantile store there, and later built the Golden Eagle hotel in a central location. After renting the hotel for a time he ran it personally for four years, but now again rents it. He still owns his farm of eight hundred acres situated in an air line five miles northwest of Colusa. In the fall of 1904, while engaged in trimming trees on the ranch, he fell and broke his thigh, which left him crippled. Though handicapped by this accident and also by failing eyesight, he retains his mental faculties to an unusual degree for one so advanced in years, and his memory is as keen, his judgment as quick and his mind as active as in the days of his physical activity.
The first wife of Mr. Cheney was Mrs. Frances Leighton, of Yuba county, this state, and they had two children, but the only one now living is John, Jr., who is a progressive farmer and manages his father’s ranch. After the death of his first wife Mr. Cheney was married in Sacramento in 1883 to Miss Lovina Cain, who was born in Ohio and died at Colusa in 1901. During the days before the Civil war and while Lincoln was still a struggling young lawyer in Springfield, unknown to fame, Mr. Chaney had the pleasure of an intimate acquaintance with the future statesman. Since the time of the firing on Fort Sumter he had been a stanch Republican and has never failed to give his allegiance to the principles of that party. Fraternally a Mason, he took his first degree at Chico, the second and third degrees at Colusa, was made a member of the chapter and commandery at Marysville, and later became a charter member of Colusa Chapter, R. A. M., and Colusa Commandery, K. T. He celebrated his eighty-fifth birthday May 31, 1905.
Transcribed Joyce Rugeroni.
Source: "History of the State of California and Biographical Record of the Sacramento Valley, Cal.," J. M. Guinn, Pages 497-498. The Chapman Publishing Company, Chicago, 1906.
© 2017 Joyce Rugeroni.