Friday, March 16, 2007

Francis Marion "Borax" Smith (1846-1931) - King of Borax

[Family Mausoleum photo from Michael Colbruno]

Plot 12

[From Wikipedia]

Francis Marion Smith was an American business magnate and civic builder of Oakland, California. Smith Mountain in Death Valley is named after him.

Smith was born in Richmond, Wisconsin in 1846. At the age of 21, he left Wisconsin to prospect for mineral wealth in the American West.

In 1872, while working as a woodcutter, he discovered a rich supply of ulexite at Teel's Marsh, Nevada. He staked a claim, started a company with his brother Julius, and established a borax works at the edge of the marsh to convert ulexite into borax. In 1877, Scientific American reported that the Smith Brothers shipped their product in a 30-ton load using two large wagons with a third wagon for food and water drawn by a 24-mule team over a 160-mile stretch of desert between Teel's Marsh and Wadsworth, Nevada, some six years before similar twenty mule teams were introduced into Death Valley, California.

In 1884, Smith bought out his brother. He then gained control of all major borax production in western Nevada. In 1890, he acquired William Tell Coleman's borax holdings in Death Valley and consolidated them with his own to form the Pacific Coast Borax Company. Smith's company then established and aggressively promoted the 20-Mule-Team Borax trademark, which was named after the twenty mule teams that had been used to transport borax out of Death Valley by Coleman's company. He also formed the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad to ship his borax.

Smith married and settled in Oakland, California in 1881 where he had an estate constructed across the street from what is today the site of Oakland High School. In nearby Alameda, he built America’s first reinforced concrete building for his Pacific Coast Borax Company's refinery. He also created the Key System, a commuter train, ferry and streetcar system serving the East Bay, with a significant sideline in real estate. He also built Idora Park in Oakland to attract riders to the trolleys on weekends. With his fortune, Smith also purchased an estate on Shelter Island in New York.

Francis Marion Smith died in Oakland in 1931 at the age of 85. He is buried along "Millionaires Row"

The Western Railway Museum's library is named for "Borax" Smith.

A public park in Oakland is also named for him. It occupies a portion of his former estate.

"Borax" Smith is a character in the historical fiction novel Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold

Sara Plummer Lemmon (1836-1923) - Made Poppy the State Flower

She and her husband John were both botanists who discovered a number of plant species. In California, she is best remembered for spearheading the effort to make the poppy the State’s official flower. On her honeymoon in 1881 she climbed what would later become Mt. Lemmon, located 25 miles from Tucson.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Yee Ah Tye (died 1896) - Inspiration for "Bury My Bones in America"

[Tye gravesite photo by Michael Colbruno]

Plot 5 NE

Yee Ah Tye came to California from China in 1852 to find the “Gold Mountain” and reap the financial rewards to take care of his family. He worked hard to learn English and became a miner and respected Chinatown merchant, although he never found that elusive “mountain of gold.” Along the way he had to overcome incredible racial prejudice and oppressive laws against the Chinese.

Despite this prejudice, Yee Ah Tye was proud to call himself “Chinese American” and, bucking Chinese tradition that his bones should be laid to rest in his native China, he insisted that be buried in America. His story became the book “Bury My Bones in America” written by his great-grandaughter Lani Ah Tye Farkas. His other great-grandaughter, Rachelle Chong, was appointed to the California Public Utilities Commission by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in January 2005 over the objection of consumer groups.

Mountain View Docent Barbara Smith found this tidbit on the PBS website under "Chinese Immigrants and the Gold Rush," which provides a different perspective on Yee Ah Tye's life:

In August 1852, the Alta California exposed a brewing court battle. San Francisco's most renowned Chinese madam planned to sue a notorious Chinese leader for extortion. The beautiful Miss Ah Toy claimed that Yee Ah Tye had demanded her Dupont Street prostitutes pay him a tax. She promptly outsmarted him by doing something she never could have done in China -- threatening to take him to court.

Plaintiff and Defendant
"Miss Atoy knows a thing or two, having lived under the folds of the Star-spangled Banner for three years and breathed the air of Republicanism, and she cannot be easily humbugged into any such measures. Besides she lives near the Police Office and knows where to seek protection, having been before the Recorder as a defendant at least fifty times herself. A-Thai had better be particular as to the powers he assumes, or he may find his dignity wiped away, he being dumped in the lock-up," wrote a gleeful reporter.

Leadership Role
A year later Yee Ah Tye was indeed dumped in the lock-up, this time for assault and grand larceny. Originally from Guangdong, the man one newspaper called a "petty despot" had sailed to San Francisco on a Chinese junk just before the gold rush, when he was approximately 20 years old. He spent the first night on the streets, huddled in a doorway. Yee Ah Tye had learned English in Hong Kong and before long he rose to a position of leadership in the powerful Sze Yup Association.

Dark Side
Sze Yup, and other such Chinese organizations, met Chinese newcomers to the gold rush at the docks, gave them a place to stay, found them jobs, or outfitted them for the mines. They provided an important service for a group of people who spoke little English. But Sze Yup had dark sides too, like the use of brute force. The San Francisco Herald alleged Yee Ah Tye "inflicted severe corporeal punishment upon many of his more humble countrymen ... cutting off their ears, flogging them and keeping them chained for hours together."

The complete article can be found at:

Monday, March 12, 2007

Washington Bartlett (1824-1887) - Bachelor Governor

[Bartlett gravesite photo by Michael Colbruno]

Plot 28

Washington Montgomery Bartlett was born in Savannah, Georgia on February 29, 1824 and died while serving as Governor of California on September 12, 1887. Bartlett was appointed as Alcade (mayor) of San Francisco and served from 1883–1887.

Bartlett, a lifelong bachelor, came from a prominent New York family, one of whom signed the Declaration of Independence. Some of his other claims to fame were that he was the first California Governor to die in office, the first Jewish Governor (although not personally religious), he published the first English-language book in the State, spoke Spanish fluently, attempted to curb the flow of Chinese immigrants to California, was a close ally of President Andrew Jackson (who appointed him to the Navy), and had a reputation for his extreme honesty. Bartlett also served as San Francisco County Clerk and in the California State Senate.

His cousin was Dr. Chloe Annette Buckel from the previous blog posting.

His inaugural address can be found at:

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dr. Chloe Annette Buckel (1833-1912) - Hospital Co-Founder

[Buckel gravesite photo by Michael Colbruno]

Plot 28

Dr. Chloe Annette Buckel, was born in Warsaw, New York on August 25, 1833 and received her medical degree in 1858 from the Pennsylvania Women’s Medical College. Five years later, at the behest of General Ulysses S. Grant she organized his field hospitals during the Civil War. In 1864, she began working at Jefferson General Hospital in Indiana as their Chief Nurse. After moving to California, she co-founded a hospital for women and children in San Francisco and became one of the few female physicians in the state.

Her inscription reads: “A physician beloved by two generations. Every human cause had her sympathy and many her active aid.”

Charles Goodall (1824-1899) - Captain, Politician and Shipping Magnate

[Goodall statue photo by Michael Colbruno]

Millionaire's Row

Captain Charles Goodall (1824-1899), lived at a stately mansion at Pierce and McAllister in San Francisco. His house was best known for an observatory that he built on the roof, but it later toppled. After the house was destroyed, Third Baptist Church was built on the site. The current pastor of the church, Rev. Amos Brown, recently told me that future president and then-General Ulysses S. Grant stayed at the house.

Goodall, who was born in England, served for two years in the California State Assembly and co-founded the shipping company Goodall, Nelson and Perkins. Goodall’s business partner was George Perkins, who also served as California Governor and as a United States Senator. Perkins is also buried at Mountain View.

For many years in the mid-19th century, Goodall, Nelson and Perkins controlled much of the shipping industry from Alaska to Mexico. At their peak they employed over 2000 men.

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