WILLIAM HENRY WILLIAMS
Throughout the county of Colusa few men are more widely known and none is more highly honored than the founder of the town of Williams, who is a pioneer of 1850 in California and three years later became one of the earliest settlers of that section of country still his home and the scene of his many activities. Possessing a keen foresight and sagacious judgment, he made extensive investments in lands during the days of its merely nominal value and at the same time he made a specialty of the sheep business, an industry admirably adapted to bring prosperity to its followers during the pioneer period of California history. When once the foundation of his fortunes had been laid by industry and intelligence, he enjoyed a constantly increasing success and now has accumulated a competency sufficient to give him standing among the wealthy capitalists of northern California.
Especial interest attaches to the life history of one so successful and so eminent in the annals of his county. The genealogy shows that Robert Williams of Wales founded the family in America, where he established his home upon a plantation in Maryland. A son and namesake of this original immigrant born and reared in Maryland, learned the shoemakers’ trade in youth and in 1828, accompanied by his family, with his household goods packed in a wagon, traveled across the Allegheny mountains to Ohio, settling in Pickaway county. After ten and one-half years in Ohio he took the family as far west as Illinois and settled in Vermont, Fulton county, where he passed away in 1853. Twice married, he chose for his second wife Margaret McCallister, who was born in Maryland and died in Ohio February 2, 1848. In their early years they held membership with the Methodist Episcopal Church, but later became associated with the United Brethren denomination. Of their four sons and five daughters William Henry, who was seventh in order of birth, was the only one to settle in California and is now the sole survivor of the once large family.
While the family yet remained in Cumberland county, Md., William Henry Williams was born April 7, 1828, and from there he was taken to Ohio when but a few months old. At eleven years of age he accompanied his father to Illinois and became a pupil in the schools of Vermont, a small village in Fulton county. When he notes the fine schools of the twentieth century he is forcibly impressed with the march of civilization. The schools of his boyhood were built of logs, the benches were of slabs, the floors of puncheon and the pens of quills. Notwithstanding these disadvantages and the still greater misfortune of irregular attendance at school as a result of being obliged to cultivate the home farm, he has acquired a broad knowledge of mankind and is a well-informed man. Experience has been his teacher and habits of close observation have been his text-books no less instructive than those edited and issued by the world’s most famous educators. With no undue deploring of adverse circumstances, but with the hopeful spirit of youth he endeavored by self-culture to make the most of his environment. With a brother he learned the shoemaker’s trade during winter months and cultivated a corn and stock farm in the summer, but when news came of the discovery of gold in California he dissolved his partnership with the brother and started out alone to make his way amid untried conditions.
Leaving his relatives and the old Illinois home, March 18, 1850, Mr. Williams and three companions started for the west in a wagon with four yoke of oxen. They crossed the Mississippi at Quincy and the Missouri at St. Joseph and then followed the new overland trail via Forts Kearney and Laramie, leaving Fort Hall to the right and Salt Lake to the left, proceeding up the Sweetwater and down the Humboldt, thence by the Carson route into California, where they landed at Placerville on the 1st of August after a trip of only ninety-six days. During this time they made it a practice to rest on Sundays. When their oxen gave out on the desert they left them and, having cooked enough provisions to carry them over the mountains, started to walk with their blankets and supplies, getting across the mountains in six days.
After an experience of four months at mining, during which time he made only $70, Mr. Williams abandoned that work and went to Sacramento, where he was engaged as cook in a hotel at $75 per month, later becoming clerk in a store at $100. On leaving the capitol city he went to the vicinity of Suisun and for a month or more was employed to mow hay with a scythe, then hired to a Mr. Stevenson as teamster, later buying a team and carrying on a freighting business for a year, during which time he cleared $208 per month. On selling the team, in the fall of 1853 he conducted a boarding house in Sacramento for six months, until the town was burned and drowned out, and then took up land in Spring valley and embarked in the stock business and general farming. A year later he began farming on the plain near the present site of Williams. When the land came into the market in 1858, he secured a tract at $1.25 per acre, to which he added from time to time until his possessions assumed very extensive proportions. Meanwhile he brought in fine blooded sheep from the east and made a specialty of raising bucks, his work in the industry being that of a pioneer and successful promoter.
By giving the railroad a right of way through the town and an interest in two hundred acres of land, Mr. Williams induced the officials to establish a station at Central, but when the town was platted and laid out it was named in his honor. Since then the village has become an important shipping point. In 1874 he erected a substantial brick building, in 1876 built the Williams hotel, 84 x 124 feet in dimensions, and in 1880 put up a warehouse 121 x 200 feet, which is built in such a manner as to allow teams to drive through the building as well as on the west side. During the latter part of the ‘70s he with others built the steamer Enterprise and a barge, to run from Colusa to San Francisco, the total cost being $56,000. At this writing he owns the brick stable and another feed stable, also nine thousand acres in the vicinity of Williams, the greater part of which is operated under lease by tenants. At the time of the building of the steam flour mill at Williams he was deeply interested in the project and retained his connection with the mill until it was destroyed by fire. The foundry was also the recipient of financial support from him and, with others, he erected the old Odd Fellows’ Hall, a two-story building, 80 x 32 feet in dimensions.
By his first marriage Mr. Williams has three children, namely: Mrs. Harriet May Moody, of Williams; Lulu, wife of S. H. Callen, postmaster in this village; and Ella, Mrs. H. W. Manor, who lives near town. The present wife of Mr. Williams, with whom he was united at San Francisco in 1880, bore the maiden name of Mary E. McEvoy and was a native of Dublin, Ireland, her father, Thomas, having been a well-known horticulturist and landscape gardener in that city; her mother, Anna (Horace) McEvoy, was a native of Ireland and remained there until death. In the family of nine sons and one daughter, Mrs. Williams was the only one to settle in California, and she has been a resident of this state since 1877. The deepest bereavement of her life has been the loss of four of her children, namely: Ira Cecilia and Inez Rashtia (twins), the former of whom was fifteen months old and the latter four months old at the time of death; Carmelita, who died at eight years; and William Henry, Jr., who passed away at the age of fifteen months. The only children now living are the second, Belle, and the youngest, Marguerita.
During the administration of President Lincoln Mr. Williams was appointed postmaster of the old postoffice (sic) at Central and the office continued to be in his house until after the building of the railroad through the town. On the organization of the lodge of Odd Fellows in Williams he became one of its charter members and served in its official ranks, but afterward was demitted. Since the organization of the Republican party he has been a stanch supporter of its principles and frequently has been a delegate to its state conventions. Though not identified with any denomination he has contributed liberally and about equally to all churches represented in Williams, viz.: Methodist, Christian and Catholic. Personally he is a gentleman of genial, companionable disposition, with a jovial temperament that has enabled him to see the bright side even of life’s shadows and that has won him the friendship of acquaintances. In the annals of his home town and county his name is worthy of perpetuation for the emulation of those who in future generations shall live and labor here.
Transcribed By: Cecelia M. Setty.
Source: "History of the State of California and Biographical Record of the Sacramento Valley, Cal.," J. M. Guinn, Pages 313-314. The Chapman Publishing Company, Chicago, 1906.
© 2017 Cecelia M. Setty.