28 April 2009

San Joaquin County Local History - A Sack of Flour

The 71st Edition of Carnival of Genealogy is coming soon. Submissions must be in by May 1st
The theme for this edition is about local history where you live - a person, place or event.

I live in Stockton which is located in San Joaquin County, California. A German immigrant, Charles M. Weber, had acquired 49,000 acres of land through a Spanish land grant by becoming a Mexican citizen. In 1849 he founded the city of Stockton, named for Commodore Robert F. Stockton who was instrumental in freeing California from Mexico in 1847. It is interesting to note that Stockton is the first city in California to acquire a name that was not Spanish or Native American in origin.

Home to the largest inland seaport on the west coast, Stockton is about 35 miles south of Sacramento and 70 miles East of San Francisco. Stockton sits at the top of the San Joaquin Valley which is known for its rich, fertile farmlands. While 24,000 acres are devoted solely to asparagus, wine grapes are the leading crop for the county.

Historically, the area has some really interesting points and places of interest. Stockton was home to one of three of California's first insane asylums. In 1851 Stockton State General Hospital and Asylum for the Mentally Insane opened its door for business. It sat on 100 acres of land that was donated by Charles M. Weber.

Temple Israel Cemetery, established in 1851, is the oldest Jewish cemetery on the west coast. Located in Stockton, the land was given to the Jewish congregation by Charles M. Weber.

At Mossdale Crossing, near Tracy, you will find the San Joaquin Bridge. Built in 1869 this bridge is historically significant because it completed the last link of the transcontinental railroad by linking the San Francisco Bay area and Sacramento.

One of my favorite historical stories is about a sack of flour. Reuel Colt Gridley only lived in Stockton for two years, but his claim to fame and reputation followed him here. When he died, a group of citizens raised money to erect a monument to place on his grave. If you haven't heard of Reuel Colt Gridley then you are in for a good story.

It begins in Austin, a small town in the middle of Lander County, Nevada where Reuel is a prosperous owner of a general store. Gridley ( a Democrat and Southern sympathizer) made a wager with Dr. H. S. Herrick ( a Republican and Union supporter) on the outcome of a local election. Reuel lost the bet and and made good on the wager. He was to carry a 50 pound sack of flour, decorated with Union flags, on his shoulder from Austin and proceed one and one half miles down to the valley floor to the town of Clinton. While he made his journey, a marching band followed him playing patriotic Union tunes. Dr. Herrick graciously carried his coat for him.

Just like the pied piper, a huge crowd started following him. Along the way they stopped for "refreshment" at pubs and saloons. By the time this parade reached Clinton, everyone was in a patriotic frenzy singing and cheering at the top of their lungs. The last stop in Clinton was a place called the Bank Exchange Saloon. It was there that Gridley came up with an extraordinary idea - he auctioned off that sack of flour, with the money to be given to the U. S. Sanitary Commission, a precursor to the Red Cross active during the Civil War. He convinced the successful bidder (who paid $350 ) to donate the sack of flour back to be auctioned again. By the end of the day, $4,500 had been raised. Encouraged by this, Reuel took his show on the road through the Comstock and raised over $20,000 from the miners. It was only natural that he continue on across the state line into California. By the time he reached San Francisco he had $150,000 . His success made news all over the country.

A great little side note to this : Reuel hailed from Hannibal, Missouri and it is said that Mark Twain was a boyhood friend. In his book "Roughing It", Twain writes about Reuel and this story.

The Sanitary Commission asked Gridley to come east to New York City. Reuel toured all over the North until the end of the war. The approximate total of the funds he raised from auctioning off that same sack of flour over and over again? $450,000 which is about $6 million today.

The price Gridley paid for his patriotism was high. The year of traveling ruined his health. When he returned home to Austin, he found that the mine had played out and his general store had gone bankrupt. Two years later, Gridley, his wife and children were found living in Stockton in abject poverty. When newspaper editors in the area got wind of this they pulled their resources and came up with $1400 to purchase a home and small farm for the family. Reuel's health continued to decline however, and he died November 24, 1870 at the age of 41. He was buried in Stockton Rural Cemetery.

In 1886, veterans and members of the GAR from San Joaquin County raised money for a monument and statue to be place on Gridley's grave. How did they raise the money? They sold miniature sacks of flour decorated with the Union flag.

Gridley is a splendid example showing us that one person can make a difference in the world and when people begin to work together for a common cause, anything is possible.


  1. What an inspirational story. Thank you for sharing it. I hope to get out to California one day.

  2. Wonderful! I learned a lot about a city so close to me! Enjoyed this very much! Thank you!

  3. What an absolutely remarkable account of history. I'm a native Stocktonian who has resided in Long Beach, CA, for 28 years. Rediscovering my hometown Stockton's unique past is quite a thrill. Thank you so much for sharing your research.