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Bring me men to match my mountains,
Bring me men to match my plains,
Men with empires in their purpose
And new eras in their brains.

- The Coming American by Sam Walter Foss


Major Cooper

As announced last week, Major Stephen Cooper died at the residence of his daughter, Mrs. J.R. Wolfskill, near Winters, May 16th, at the advanced age of ninety-three years. Sunday morning last his body was taken to Colusa for interment in the plot where are buried the remains of members of his family who have gone before, the funeral services being conducted at the Christian church by Rev. Mr. Blake. Many relatives and friends from Oakland, Winters, and other parts of the State were in attendance, the church and town bells were all tolled, and a man known and beloved throughout the length and breadth of the whole State was consigned to his last narrow bed. Major Cooper was among the last of the hardy frontiersmen who did so much to mold the destinies of this nation. He was one of the twelve veterans remaining of the War of 1812, as he told us only a few days before his death. He had a remarkably good constitution, and up to within a few days of his death was very active.

Play: The Battle of New Orleans

Stephen Cooper was a son of Sarshel Cooper, who was a native of Virginia, and one of the first settlers of Kentucky. Stephen was born March 10, 1797. In 1807 his father moved to Howard County, Missouri. Major Cooper's father was a captain in the War of 1812, and he, only fifteen years old, was a private in his father's company. This company was in command of General Henry Dodge, afterward United States Senator from Wisconsin. Captain Sarshel Cooper was killed by a shot fired at him by Indians while sitting at the fireside. At the close of the war in 1815 Major Cooper was one of the leaders in the first party to open the Santa Fe Trail in 1822 and 1823. The march from Missouri was through a trackless waste, never trod by civilized man, and the country was filled with hostile Indians. He was captain of thirty men. He was in the Black Hawk War in 1833; in 1837 he and Major Bearcroft were commissioned to work on the northern boundaries of Missouri. He was Indian Agent at Council Bluffs during the Administration of Van Buren. In 1844 he was a member of the Missouri legislature. In 1845 he married Miss Tate, who died a few years ago. In 1845 he started across the plains with General Fremont, but accompanied him only as far as the Arkansas River. In 1846 he came to California. In February 1847, he presided over the first meeting ever held by Americans in California, at Yerba Buena, now San Francisco. In the fall of 1847 he moved to Benicia, and was appointed by Governor Mason, Alcalde. He voted three times for General Jackson. During all his life he was true to the Democracy. He carried the vote of California to Washington for Hancock. In 1854 he moved to Colusa. He had five children, twenty-one grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.    

  Saturday, May 24, 1890 Winters Express

Major Stephen Cooper and Captain E.J. Von Pfister, historical pioneers, located in Benica this year; and I say historical, for Cooper was the first hotel keeper and magistrate, and Von Pfister was the first merchant of the county.  John R. Wolfskill and David D. Dutton antedate all of the California pioneers living in Solano county. Wolfskill reached Los Angeles in 1836 and Dutton, Fort Ross, Sonoma county, in 1840. But few pioneers of the State can claim a longer residence than these two estimable citizens, who are passing into the sear and yellow leaf, and who will soon be gathered to their fathers and be buried within our borders.

Major Stephen Cooper claims to have been the first Californian to acquaint President Polk of.. Marshall's discovery of gold at Coloma.. by mailing him a letter from Benicia early in 1848, and I have no doubt but this claim is a proper one, for the old Major was politically ambitious, and belonged to one of the most distinguished and numerous families of the pioneers of Missouri, and moreover, at the time, was nigh up in the councils of the Democratic party.

The elder Coles, Coopers, Callaways and Wolfskills are, inseparably and prominently, connected with the early history and settlement of Missouri, and were all contemporaries of the famous Daniel Boone.

George A.Gillespie  January 24, 1891 Winters Express

 “In the spring of 1846 I started with my family for California.  I was at the head of seven wagons, three of these my own.  We soon fell in with a large train of thirty-five wagons bound for Oregon.... We soon rolled out and twenty-one of the Oregon wagons fell in with us, making twenty-eight wagons in my train, which I brought to California.  The first news I received of the American domination of California was while I was riding down through Humboldt County, then an almost unexplored wilderness.  The day was hot and dusty, my oxen were tired and thirsty, and we were a demoralized lot, slowly creeping down the valley.  Suddenly I saw a man galloping up the valley, shouting, swearing and praying, all in one breath.  He would lash his horse and give a shout.  He would hurrah for Fremont, then for California, and then for America.  When he got opposite me, I stopped and got off my wagon and asked him what the matter was.  He was acting like a madman, shouting until I threatened to thrash him unless he spoke sense.  Then he told me that Fremont had captured California.  I tell you I suddenly ceased to feel tired, and the creaking of the ox-yoke was music in my ears; even the oxen felt revived and walked brisker for that news.  California looked twice as handsome under American rule as it did under the Mexicans.  We reached Sacramento Valley the 5th of November, 1846.  In three days fifty wagons arrived.  We met recruiting officers from Fremont’s camp.  I went into the recruiting business, and through my influence some twenty-six joined me.  I told them I wanted every man who could leave, to join Fremont; that we had to hold the country or leave it at short notice

from the Autobiography of Stephen Cooper in “Colusa County” – by Justus H. Rogers

Here is the tale as it was simply told by Mrs. Van Winkle (Frances Cooper) the other afternoon at her present residence in this city, 911 Van Ness avenue, San Francisco:

“We came to California the same year as the ill-fated Donner party. It started about a month ahead of us, but it kept taking imaginary short cuts and hurrying until it met with frightful disaster. My father (Stephen Cooper), who was captain of our train, led his party of about eighty people across trackless plains and mountains for five months, simply with the sun and the stars as guides, and came west almost as straight as the crow flies. He believed in moving every day, if only three miles and the result was that all our oxen were in better condition when they arrived in California than when they started. Several of the survivors of the Donner party, young George Donner and Mrs. Reed, came to our house in Napa after they were rescued. I heard the other day that Mrs. Reed’s daughter, ‘Patty’ Reed, who was then a very little girl, is living on Franklin street in Oakland. She is Mrs. Martha Lewis now.

“Both father and mother were born in Kentucky, but like a good many other Kentuckians of those days, they moved out to Missouri, where we children were born. Then father was appointed Indian Agent at Council Bluffs, Ia., old Colonel Thomas Benton getting him the position. There was no town there then—just the agency buildings. The only white people besides us were the blacksmith and another family. We children grew up there with the Indians as our playmates.

“There were several Indians—Chippewas, Ottawas and Pottawattomies—at the Council Bluffs agency when father was in charge. They were all lazy. They considered it a disgrace to work, and would rather be killed than made to labor. They didn’t know any English, and wouldn’t talk much in their own language, but as a girl I used to speak Indian.

 “So, in May, 1846, we started, I being then 20 years of age. We hadn’t been on the way a month — there were no roads or trails—when we were attacked one day by Indians. Five hundred Cherokees swooped down upon us on horseback and surrounded our wagon train. They rode around and around us. Father knew how to deal with Indians and after the wagons had been drawn together at the first alarm, he stepped out to parley with them, and offered flour and tobacco. The Indians of those days were simply crazy for flour and tobacco. They would take a little flour and mix it with water and make it into tortillas and pat them lovingly for hours like little flapjacks and then cook them on hot stones. Father took out a half barrel of flour and measured it out, a little cupful to each Indian, and he cut plug tobacco up and gave it to them. Then they all smoked the pipe of peace. We knew father simply detested smoking; it make him sick, and we almost laughed to see; him puffing away there with all those Indians. We were a little afraid of the Sioux Indians, for they were very wild and fierce, but father smoked with them and gave them flour and tobacco, too, when we encountered them a little while later.

“We ran into one herd of about 500 buffalo, and father killed several, but ordinarily he would not permit any delays or turning aside for game. We came steadily along, making about twelve or fourteen miles a day. There was no baggage but bedding and provisions. In one wagon drawn by two big oxen we had the bedding, and we used to ride in that. We rode all the way except up the slopes of the Rocky mountains and the Sierra Nevada. It was awful coming up those mountains. There were great rocks, waist high, that the wheels had to bump over, and it was all the poor oxen could do to drag the lightened loads.

 “We were received at Napa by Mr. Yount, who had lived originally in Howard county, Missouri. He was just as glad to see us as if we had been his own family. He owned seven leagues of land there in the Napa valley, had 600 mares and thousands of horses and cattle. The whole valley was covered with grazing cattle. In those days the only Americans there were the Gregories, the Stewards, the Derbons and a few other families.

"There were so many thousands of long-horned Spanish cattle in the country that anybody that liked went out and killed a beef when he needed meat, and no one said anything. And it was good beef, too, probably because there was so much excellent grass.

“All the Spanish families had Indian slaves. They never permitted them to walk, but made them go about on the trot all the time. Those Indians made good slaves, excellent. The Spanish vaqueros used to go up to what is now Ukiah and ride in among the Indian rancherias and drive out the boys and girls, leaving the mothers behind and killing the bucks if they offered any resistance. Then they would herd the captives down like so many cattle and sell them to the ranchers. About $100 was the standard price. A good girl would bring that, but some sold for as little as $50.

“I bought one Indian girl from a Spaniard for $100, but soon after that another Indian girl and two boys came to my house of their own accord and explained that they had no home and wanted to work. The four of them did all my work, washing, ironing, cooking and housecleaning. One of the girls was a splendid nurse. The shameful treatment of the Indians by the Spanish was never equaled by the whites. As Americans settled up the country the enslaving of young Indians naturally stopped.

“We had a Fourth of July celebration near Napa in 1847. It was given by us at the Yount place. It must have been the first affair of the kind in California. We had about forty guests, most of them Spanish people of some prominence in the country. I made an enormous pound cake for the center of the table. Nobody had brought an American flag to California, so my sister, now Mrs. Wolfskill of Winters, made a little one of some narrow red ribbon and cut some blue silk from her best dress, and sewed on but one star, for material was very scarce, and the whole thing was not bigger than a woman’s handkerchief. we stuck it in the top of the cake. One of our guests was a Dr. Bailey [Bail], an Englishman of whom we all thought a great deal. He died long ago, but his two daughters are married and are living near St. Helena in Napa county, where they own big wine vineyards.

“Father had written across the little flag, ‘California is ours as long as the stars remain.’ The Spaniards took it all right, but Dr. Bailey became very much excited and snatched at the flag. All through the dinner he insisted upon removing it, declaring that the American flag should never wave over California. After the dinner, as my sister and I were driving to our house, Dr. Bailey rode beside our wagon and we clung to the little silk flag and kept waving it at him from one side and then the other as he urged his horse close and tried to grab it from our hands. About a dozen years ago father lent the flag to the California Pioneers, and they have it in their collection yet.

 “At first we thought California would be a great stock country, a fine place for farming, an elegant climate to live in, but no one had any idea then that there was gold here. But in 1848 and 1849 Dr. Semple was the only man left in Benicia, and mother, my sister and I the only women. All the others had gone to the mines. We lived in Benicia just four years, then we moved to what is now Colusa.

“My husband owned half of Colusa, old Colonel Hagar owning the other half. Dr. Semple had an idea that he could make a fortune out of the land. So we went up there. We were the first white people in that part of the State. There was a big rancheria of Indians right in what is now the heart of the town of Colusa, hundreds and hundreds of them. And five miles up the river was another big rancheria on what is now known as the John Boggs place. John Boggs did not come to Colusa until a good deal later, but he had big droves of cattle, and did well and made money.

“In Colusa, in the early days we raised vegetables to sell to the miners, and we grew grain and shipped it down to San Francisco on steamers. When I first saw Sacramento it was an apparently endless sweep of small tents, not a frame building anywhere in sight. That was in 1850. It was a terrifying place. I was frightened. Men were gambling on all sides. They were shooting and cursing and yelling. The noise and uproar were awful.

Mrs. Susan Cooper Wolfskill of Winters, widow of the late John Wolfskill, who arrived in Los Angeles in 1834, is a sister of Mrs. Van Winkle. She is visiting her younger sister, Mrs. Martha Cooper Roberts.

“I saw the first gold ever discovered in California” said Mrs. Wolfskill. “Marshall came over to our house in Benicia and stayed all night. He was on his way to San Francisco from Sutter’s mill. He said he thought he had gold. He took out a little rag that looked like the bit of a bag that housewives keep aniseed in and opened it. We all looked at it in wonder. Three days after that Sam Brannan, a Mormon, came riding breathless into our place in Benicia and asked John Wolfskill, who was afterward my husband, for a fresh horse. He said that gold had been discovered, and that he was going up there to locate all the land he could and return to Monterey and file on it. Monterey was then the capital of California. But some time before that Brannan had been very unaccommodating to Mr. Wolfskill when he wanted horses to help bring his fruit trees from Los Angeles, so he would not let Brannan have a horse. Brannan rode on, urging his tired beast. He and [John] Bidwell were going to locate the whole gold-bearing country, but Mr. Wolfskill told them it was placer mining, and that they could not hold it all.

“Everybody was guarding the secret of gold in California in hope of monopolizing the product. My father was the first man to write of the discovery. He sent a long letter East to his old friend, Senator Thomas Benton, who had secured him the position of Indian Agent at Council Bluffs years before, and that letter of my father’s was primarily the cause of the gold fever that swept through the Eastern States.

“In 1848 and 1849 we had a school in Benicia. Father started it and got seven pupils to come from a distance and board at our places.  In 1849 and 1850 our only source of social amusement was dancing. And such dances! We used to ride horseback miles to attend them. I rode all the way from Benicia to Sonoma, about thirty miles, and then danced all night. And the only music for these balls was the fiddle. We left Benicia in 1852 and went to Green valley, and lived there three years. Then we moved to Colusa, and I stayed there until 1860, when I was married and went to Winters to live on the old Wolfskill place, where my husband died.”

The Chronicle, San Francisco  September 9, 1900



Edwin, Dwight & George Hemenway

It has been told that the original family member to reach California came by ship around the Horn to San Francisco. It is not known for certain when the original Hemenway first came to California.

"Around 1878, [one] Harvey Hemenway and his family homesteaded 500 acres in the area now known as Canyon Acres, building a two story home on the corner of what is now Arroyo Rd. and Canyon Acres Drive. It is said that he was "shanghaied" in San Francisco, jumped ship off Laguna Beach, and swam ashore. He had the one room school house, which had been built at the Mormon settlement moved to his property across the street from his home, and it stood at the corner of Canyon Acres Drive and Laguna Canyon Rd. where it served as the school for Laguna Beach for a number of years, until about 1905. He also was the head of the school board."

from a History of Laguna by Belinda Blacketer

Nathaniel Cook, eldest son of Ezra and Permelia Cook, bought land near Kelseyville, Lake County in 1872. It is likely that he was influential in persuading Edwin and Dwight Hemenway to move to California in the early 1880's. Edwin and Dwight settled there first. Younger brother George and his family followed in 1887, after homesteading in Kansas for several years.

Dwight's old home still stands on Hemenway Street in Winters. Dwight is buried in Napa.

George is buried in the Winters Cemetery.

The old Hemenway house on Grant Avenue.

The Hemenway and Cooper families were close having intermarried more than once. The Cooper family was also related to the Wolfskills through marriage. The Wolfskills were among the few Americans who were able to obtain Mexican Land Grants. Some of the Cooper family would later relocate to San Antonio, Texas.

The Old Wolfskill Home

This photo is of the Cooper/Hemenway family.

In the center are William Braxton (Billy) Cooper and his wife Ella Hemenway Cooper to the right, and next to her is Sarchel Cooper. Chester Hemenway is third from the left on the top row. Eva May Cooper is second from left top row.  Fred C. Hemenway is second from  left in the front row. "Bird" Cooper is second from right front row. Fred and Ella, born in Chicago, were the children of George W. Hemenway and Anna Persis Filer.

The following excerpt is taken from a History of Solano and Napa Counties:

"An identification with the material development of the west, that began during the year 1849 and has continued to the present time, furnishes the foundation of the success achieved by two generations of the Cooper family and gives them ample reason for maintaining a high opinion concerning the possibilities of the west. The original representative in California and the honored pioneer of 1849 was Humphrey Jackson Cooper, a man of sterling worth, possessing the dauntless courage and quiet endurance to existence upon the frontier. The trip across the plains tested both his courage and his endurance. It was his task, in the division of the work among the emigrants, to drive a flock of sheep from the east. While engaged in this work the Indians shot at him and he had a very narrow escape. His cousin was less fortunate, for the savages shot him with bow and arrows, inflicting a mortal wound. When the unfortunate victim of their malice had passed away his companions buried him and started on, but the Indians dug up the body for the blankets. Again the emigrants made a grave and interred the remains, but again the Indians brought the body to the surface of the ground and robbed it of the blanket used for a shroud. A third internment was made by the emigrants and on this occasion the body was allowed to lie undisturbed."

Sutter's Fort

Humphrey Jackson Cooper


Billy Cooper

Charlie Cooper

Various activities, incident to the development of a new country engaged the attention of Humphrey Jackson Cooper after his arrival in California. For many years he cultivated a farm in Yolo county near Woodland and there occurred the birth of his son, William B., March 10, 1865. There the boy attended the public schools and there he was instructed in the details of ranching.

Upon starting out for himself when about twenty-one years of age, William B. went to Texas and secured work in the cattle country near the southwestern border of the state. For six years he remained there, but deciding the region to be far inferior to California he returned to the west. Since then he has lived either in Yolo or in Solano county.
His marriage at Winters united him with Miss Eunice Luella (Ella) Hemenway. Two children bless the union, William B., Jr.(Blake), and Persis Ardis (Dollie), both of whom are now students in the Olive school near the home ranch.

After having worked as foreman on a fruit ranch and thus gained considerable experience in the fruit industry, eighteen years ago William B. Cooper bought twenty-six acres of land in Solano county near the village of Winters. Under his capable management the property has been brought to a high state of development. A vineyard covers eight acres and the balance of the land is in peaches and apricots, both being young orchards just ready to come into bearing. The first crop of apricots was harvested in 1910 and brought excellent returns. During that same season twenty-five hundred crates of grapes were shipped from the farm. In addition to his vineyard and orchard Mr. Cooper has a small tract of land for his stock, consisting of a few head of horses, cattle and hogs. As the years pass by he is more and more pleased with the outlook in Solano county. His farm is paying large dividends on the original investment. The soil is rich, the climate pleasant, the schools excellent, and in the Presbyterian Church at Winters he and his wife have a congenial church home."

Ella at 15 years

Dolly Cooper

Cooper Brothers Bob,Billy & Sarchel

Myrtle Cooper Wolfskill

Billy Cooper

Ardis (Dolly) in Australia

Dolly's "Big Game" date

Blake Cooper

Blake Cooper & cousin
Clyde Cooper Hemenway


David Ritchie
future husband of
Jessie Hemenway

Maybell Hemenway
Dwight's daughter

Maybell and Mr. Moler

Edwin's daughter


John R. Wolfskill

Frances Wolfskill
daughter of John R. Wolfskill
and Susan Cooper

Photo by Blake Cooper:

Click to enlarge

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