Contra Costa County











     The retirement of J. Henry Keller is not due to advancing age nor to the lessening of that activity which has marked his career from boyhood, for he still retains, at the age of sixty-one years, a vitality and energy seldom surpassed.  He is now making his home in Concord, Contra Costa county, practically retired from business cares, and enjoying to the full the harvest which the ambition and ability of his earlier years made possible.  Born in New Albany, Floyd county, Ind., July 2, 1843, he was a son of John and Catherine (Graff) Keller.

     John Keller was a native of Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, and there grew to manhood and married.  Immigrating to the United States with his family, he located in Pennsylvania, thence removed to Indiana, where he engaged in the grocery business.  When the news of the gold discovery in California reached him in his location in the middle west, he was seized with a desire to try his fortunes among the western scenes, and accordingly outfitted with a wagon and ox team and all necessary supplies, and crossed the plains, arriving in Marysville in 1849.  He had the benefit of some capital and at once foresaw greater possibilities existing for him in a business life rather than that of mining.  He put up a canvas hotel on First street just off of D street, covering a space of ground 30x60  feet in dimensions, and fitted up bunks four tiers high, which he rented for $1 each, or $7 per week.  Table accommodations were in proportion, customers paying $1 for pie, the same for eggs, and fifty cents for a glass of liquor. He not only carried on a very successful business but he also won a wide popularity among the miners, who held him in the highest esteem for his integrity and honor, many of them bringing him their gold dust to take care of for them.  In 1851 he was advised by John Sutter, of Sutter's Fort, to engage in farming and vegetable raising, which he did on a ranch of three hundred and twenty acres two miles from Marysville, and which is now owned by Peter Grass.  There he built a house and began raising grain and vegetables.  A part of the property was lowland, where grass grew the year around, and it took three yoke of oxen to plow the sod.  When once turned over everything grew that was planted, becoming an enormous size, one squash requiring two men to lift it into a wagon, watermelons standing on end being three feet high, onions the size of a tea saucer, and everything else in proportion. On the higher land he planted wheat and barley.  With every prospect for a happy and prosperous future, he was taken seriously ill and died in 1852, at the age of forty years. This land was supposed to be government property and that they could prove up on it, but in 1854, when the survey was recorded, they found they were on the Corduay grant and were ordered to vacate in ten days.  The widow, having taken all her money to put in the crop, found herself nearly penniless with a family of small children, of whom the second son was J. Henry Keller then a lad of eleven years.  The others were named as follows:  Francis, Charles L., Louisa, Catherine, Alexander, Eliza and Rosa.  Charles L. is in San Francisco, Louie married C. W. Bowie, of Portland, Ore., and Eliza married Emmett Brown of Marysville.  The others are deceased.

     Feeling the necessity for assisting his mother, J. Henry Keller accepted the first employment offered, which was that of riding and exercising race horses, having become an expert rider while helping to herd cattle on his father's ranch.  He worked for Dave Bean, Henry Drum, Mike Gray, Dave Crumbly, Jack Dunn, and when a race was to be run his mother was finally induced to let him ride with the promise of ten per cent of the net proceeds in payment.  He rode Billy Muggins and won his first race, and this so encouraged him that he continued in this form of employment, carrying his earnings to his mother with justifiable pride.  He rode in many of the prominent races of that day, riding such horses as Peanut, Red Cloud, Leviathan, Blue Moro, Selim, Patti, Wake-up-Jake, Colusa Sam, Sister Kate, and others as well known, the greater part of his time being spent on the old Oak Grove track.  He made considerable money in this employment and in time bought a home for his mother and sisters.  After six years he gave up this occupation, which he had followed so long simply to enable him to provide for his family.  He has always been afflicted with chills and fever, and to counteract this disease he entered a gymnasium and developed splendid muscles and a constitution which has since stood him in good stead.  Liking the work he decided to teach along this line, and thereupon formed classes at Marysville, Oroville, Colusa and other places, lastly teaching in the Liberty Club of San Francisco.  He became one of the strongest men in northern California, developing such muscle that he could handle a 120-pound dumbbell with ease.  His pictures taken at that time show wonderful strength and although sixty-one years old now he is still wiry and active, and his muscle firm and compact.  In 1863 he was appointed delivery clerk for Wells Fargo Express Company, which position he held for six years, when his physician advised him to try a change of climate for the chills and fever which still afflicted him.  He accordingly went to San Francisco and conducted a dairy business for two years, when he came to Concord, Contra Costa county, and rented a farm.  He followed agricultural pursuits for one year when he went into the butcher business, first being alone in the business, but afterward was associated with George Chapman, later with X. Lauber.

     May 24, 1864, Mr. Keller married Celestia A. Collins, a native of Jamestown, Wis., and of this union were born the following children:  Kate, deceased; Jennie Irene, the wife of D. Wooley; Henry C., a butcher; Maude E., the wife of Samuel Randall; C. Augusta, the wife of T. D. Lewis; George P.; Nellie G.; Nettie L.; Paul L.; and Walter G.  Mr. Keller is a member of the Free Methodist Church, in which he has served in an official capacity.





Transcribed 9-28-16  Marilyn R. Pankey.

ญญญญSource: History of the State of California & Biographical Record of Coast Counties, California by Prof. J. M. Guinn, A. M., Pages 1337-1338. The Chapman Publishing Co., Chicago, 1904.

2016  Marilyn R. Pankey.







Contra Costa County Biographies

Golden Nugget Library