Contra Costa County











     When the memorable year of 1849 bought(sic) gold-seekers to California from every part of the world, Mr. Wittenmyer was one of those who crossed the trackless deserts and the plains in the hope of gaining a fortune from the mines of the west.  While, like many others, disappointment and reverses awaited him in the gold mines, by turning his attention to other industries he secured a competency and has never had reason to regret the decision he made, in his early manhood, to leave the older-settled country for the illimitable prospects of the Pacific coast.  He was an early settler of Contra Costa county, where he makes his home at Martinez and where, from 1857 to 1891 (with the exception of six years), he served as county clerk, his service covering a longer period than that of any other incumbent of that office.  In addition, he developed a vineyard and fruit farm and became an authority in horticulture, especially as pertaining to the fruits adapted to his home county.  Many important enterprises have owed much to his timely assistance.  As president of the Contra Costa Water Company, he was a prime factor in solving the water problem for his vicinity.  Other industries have had the benefit of his ambitious plans and intelligent counsel, and at this writing he acts as president of the  Contra Costa Fruit Company.

     The father of Mr.  Wittenmyer was John Wittenmyer of German ancestry and by occupation a surveyor.  For some years he lived and labored among the pioneers of northern Indiana, but as early as 1830 he settled in St. Joseph, Mich., where he was employed in surveying.  With one of his sons in 1847 he enlisted in the Mexican war, but died the following year.  His wife, who bore the maiden name of Lydia Darr, was born in Butler county, Ohio, and died in Darrtown, Ohio, in 1842.  Their son, Lewis Cass Wittenmyer, was born in Salisbury, Ind., June 15, 1828, and received a common-school education.    At the very first tidings concerning gold in California he joined a party of Argonauts, who with mules and wagons crossed the mountains and the plains and reached California via the Truckee river in August of 1849.  For a time he prospected on Bear river, in Placer county, where he met with good luck near Steep Hollow.  Later, however, he was less fortunate at Dry Diggings in Amador county and in the building of a dam on the Yuba river.  In September, 1850, he abandoned mining and went to the mission of San Jose, where he rented land of Henry C. Smith.

     The fall of 1851 found Mr. Wittenmyer taking up a claim of one hundred and sixty acres on San Lorenzo creek, Contra Costa (now Alameda) county, where he plowed the land and raised an excellent crop of barley.  On selling out there, in company with S. Huff, he took passage on the steamer Golden Gate November 16, 1852, and by way of the Isthmus returned to the east.  During the winter he visited at his old home, and with Mr. Huff, bought two hundred head of cattle, for which he paid from $14 to $18 per head; also forty head of horses at about $100 each.  When driving the herd across the plains they lost about twenty per cent of the cattle and one horse.  On their arrival in Alameda county in September, 1853, they sold the cattle for as high as $125, while the horses brought $200.  A month later he settled in Sycamore valley, Contra Costa county, where he engaged in farming until 1857.  During 1852 he was elected justice of the peace at Squatterville, and four years later was chosen to a similar office in San Ramon.

     After having been elected clerk of Contra Costa county on the Democratic ticket, in September of 1857 Mr. Wittenmyer sold his property and stock and removed to Martinez.  After six years of service he retired from office to serve as executor of the Russell estate.  In 1864 he went to Mexico to engage in the cotton trace, but finding the prospects unfavorable he returned to his old home.  In September 1867, he was again elected county clerk, this time on the independent ticket.  Two years later he was succeeded by A. A. Markely, who died one month after taking the oath of office.  Mr. Wittenmyer was appointed by the board of supervisors to fill the vacancy and continued in the office until 1872, when he was succeeded by G. J. Bennett.  However, a year later he was again chosen to fill the office, in which he served continuously until 1891.  In 1878 he was appointed by Hon. Samuel H. Dwinell, Judge of the Fifteenth District court, receiver in the suit of Joseph Emerick vs. John B. Alvarado et al., involving the title and partition of the San Pablo Ranch, a tract of more than eighteen thousand acres valued at $3,000.000, which position he held until the determination of the suit in 1894.  In 1895 he was appointed by the superior court of Contra Costa county assignee in the matter of the insolvency of the Union Stock Yards Co., Inc., of San Francisco, having property in Contra Costa county valued at over $1,000,000, which position he still holds.  July 1890, he became president of the Bank of Martinez, which position he held for eight and one-half years.  Afterward he served as deputy collector of internal revenue for three years and four months, resigning in April of 1902.  While he has been admitted to the bar by the district court (a license to practice being granted to him in April, 1864) he has never engaged in the profession, except to such an extent as would aid himself and friends in the conduct of business affairs.  Another enterprise with which he was identified was the development of forty acres of the Rancho Pinole, where he planted twenty acres in vineyard, fifteen acres in orchard and erected  a substantial house.  He has been his experience that peaches and apricots are best adapted to this soil and climate, yet he has also found the raising of citrus fruits a not unprofitable feature of his work.

     The first marriage of Mr. Wittenmyer occurred September 20, 1855, and united him with Helen M., daughter of Samuel Russell and a native of New York.  Of the three children born to that union the only one now living, Clara K., is a graduate of Mills College and a teacher in that institution.  His second marriage was solemnized August 28, 1872, and united him with Clara L., daughter of A. E. Austin, and a native of Vermont.  Four children were born of this marriage, viz.:  John L., who was born February 1, 1875, was graduated from the University of California, and for five years has been employed as a civil engineer with the Southern Pacific Railroad; Lucerne Austin, who was born January 8, 1877, is a graduate of the University of Michigan and an attorney in San Francisco; Ilene Marian, who was born June 19, 1879, is a teacher in Mills College, where she graduated; and Darr, who was born in 1888, is a student.  The father and oldest sons are member of various Masonic bodies.  During March of 1858 Mr. Wittenmyer was made a Mason in the blue lodge and is now past master of Martinez Lodge No. 41.  In January, 1862 he was exalted to the Royal Arch in Martinez Chapter No. 31, and April 22, 1902, completed a term as past grand high priest of the state of California.  He was knighted at Vallejo, Cal, in January, 1883, and is a member of Vallejo commandery(sic) No. 19, K.T.  During the existence of the chapter of the Eastern Star he was a leading member and served as its first worthy patron.  He is a life member of the Society of California Pioneers.  From 1873 he has been a supporter of the Republican party.





Transcribed 3-28-15  Marilyn R. Pankey.

ญญญญSource: History of the State of California & Biographical Record of Coast Counties, California by Prof. J. M. Guinn, A. M., Pages 489-493. The Chapman Publishing Co., Chicago, 1904.

2015  Marilyn R. Pankey.







Contra Costa County Biographies

Golden Nugget Library