JOHN WESLEY GIBBONS
A worthy pioneer whose record for public service will long be remembered was John Wesley Gibbons, owner of one hundred acres of choice land near the edge of Merced Falls, where he resided and engaged in stock and poultry raising. He was born in Mississippi, on October 27, 1858, the fourth of seven children, and the eldest son of Walter Seth and Martha (Appling) Gibbons. Walter Seth Gibbons was a planter, slave-holder and a veteran of Lee's army, having lost his left eye in battle. He served throughout the war, and then married Martha Appling, whose three brothers, R., Edwin and John, were Forty niners in California. Edwin Appling returned to Mississippi at the close of the war and in 1868 removed to California with this family and relatives, the party being twenty-eight in number. They came via Panama and on the Pacific side were passengers on the steamship San Diego. This proved to be her last successful voyage, for on the next trip she went down when well out of San Francisco, many lives being lost. The party came direct to Stockton, then proceeded overland through the San Joaquin Valley to the Appling ranch near Chowchilla. The sociability of the pioneer life of that period was made agreeably conspicuous by the liberal hospitality of the Appling Brothers, who were prominent and well-to-do.
After securing a public school education in Mississippi and California John Wesley Gibbons began his participation in business affairs by peddling fruit and produce from his wagon throughout the mines and to Yosemite Valley. He had been reared on the valley and mountain ranch of his parents, and he decided to move to Mariposa County, where he engaged in teaming and freighting. Incidentally, he took up the study of horse and cattle diseases, for in 1870 there was a terrible epidemic in the valley and thousands of heads of stock died. He purchased standard works on veterinary science, mastered them and soon became an authority on the diseases of live stock. By self-application and study he advanced his knowledge to a point where, in a few years, he became the leading veterinarian at Merced Falls, being active in this profession for thirty-five years. In the meantime, he invested in one hundred acres of land near Merced Falls, where he built and conducted a livery stable and hospital for animals, and he resided there from 1876 to the time of his death. He trained horses for the stockmen and cattlemen of the seventies, eighties and nineties, being well known as an authority on horses; his best work in this line was in horse dentistry.
At the Cosmopolitan Hotel, in Merced, on April 4, 1881, Mr. Gibbons and Miss Helen L. Turner were united in marriage. The bride was born at St. Johns, New Brunswick, a daughter of Captain Turner, a fur dealer, who lost his life at sea. She came west with her mother to the home of their uncle William Nelson, a millman of Merced Falls, in 1867. Her mother's relatives, the Nelson family, were the pioneers of Merced Falls, and made early history in the milling business, being owners of the Nelson Flour Mill, which they conducted many years; they also owned the townsite, built the first mill dam and iron foundry, and owned stock in the woolen mill. Mr. and Mrs. Gibbons had seven children: Warren, who lives in Oakland; Mrs. Ava Piatt, of Merced Falls; Jesse, who died at the age of eighteen; Norman, of Stockton, is an ex-service man and was a member of the A. E. F., having been a mechanic in the aviation corps of the United States Army; Paul and Arline live in Merced; and Mrs. Ruth Orton, who resides in Kings County.
The reminiscences of Mr. Gibbons tell the history of the section in which his services were rendered. He recalled the Merced Falls of the seventies as a place of much activity, with a woolen mill and flour mill, two Chinatowns with over 200 Chinese and their usual gambling-houses, the store owned by Simon-Jacobs and Co., Hotel Murray, the row of adobe houses and one tailor shop owned by Abe Rosenthal. Church was held every three weeks, although a Sunday School was conducted in private homes every Sunday. The venerable pioneer woman, Mrs. Nelson, was the active leader. Mr. Gibbons was also an eye-witness of the rise and fall of Merced Falls as a town, its life and growth from a center of thirty inhabitants to a lively mining and freighting point of hundreds of people, its sudden decline to practically nothing, and the subsequent revival of community spirit to its present state of prosperity.
As a public servant Mr. Gibbons served as school trustee of Merced Falls for many years, and of later years he served on the election boards. His vote was counted on the side which chooses the best man for the place, regardless of party lines. He died at Dameron's in Stockton on June 20, 1924.
History of Merced County, California: with a biographical review of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present.
By John Outcalt
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1925)
Contributed by: Carol Lackey