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The Naming of a Chapter of ECV, (part 3)
Submitted By: XNGH Jason Thorn Date: March 08, 2010, 01:06:42 AM Views: 3186

Originally published in the Hewgag Monitor by Tom Barry - May, 1988

William Morris Stewart

The second namesake of Chapter 10, William Morris Stewart, led a completely different life than that of William Bull Meek. whose life was highlighted the past two installments of this history of ECV.

Much of the information in this section comes from old E Clampus Vitus broadsides and newspaper clippings. In addition, dates and events in William Morris Stewart’s life are taken from the book Gold and Silver Colossus - William Morris Stewart and his Southern Bride, by Ruth Hermann, mentioned as Mrs. Victor Hermann in the section about the Stewart Mansion.

The most notable state and national figure to ever emerge from Nevada County, William Morris Stewart rose to the highest levels of local, state and federal government positions. He attended college (Yale), and was at times a teacher, miner, lawyer and a statesman.

Born in a log house at Galen, New York on August 9, 1825, Bill Stewart grew up in what would be considered today as extreme poverty. Living on a farm, he learned the virtues of hard work and although poor, he was able to earn some money by early business ventures involving the hunting of raccoons. He was an able student, and craved an education so much that, when informed by his father at the age of 14 that he had completed enough schooling and must from then on work entirely on the farm, he left home to make his own way in the world.

Clearing land and doing other hard work enabled Bill to earn enough money to live and see to his schooling. Exceptionally gifted in mathematics, he eventually became a teacher and saved enough money to allow him to enroll at Yale University in the fall of 1848.

Bill’s university days were numbered, however, as word of the gold strike in California reached him. In early January, 1850, he boarded a ship for California, via the Isthmus of Panama. Crossing the Isthmus on foot, he joined the throng of people on a dangerously overloaded boat from Panama to San Francisco, and arrived there on April 7, 1850.

With only a quarter to his name after a disastrous bout with a crooked gambler, Bill worked unloading boats to earn enough money for passage to Sacramento. Water from the flood of January, 1850 had just receded as he arrived there and he tried his hand mining on the American River. The water was too high and he returned to Sacramento just in time to become seriously ill with Panama Fever. Somehow, he was able to continue his travels up to Marysville where he was so weak that he could barely climb to the top of the bank, and his possessions were carried up and placed by his side. Upon hearing of several men near him loading supplies for a trip to Deer Creek, he pleaded to be taken there. Nearly dead from the fever, he was deposited by a spring in a ravine near Deer Creek and lay there for 8 days before the fever broke, and he was able to scramble to the settlement.

Spending the summer mining in an area known as “Coyote Diggings,” he and a partner, Dr. Merrick, were able to earn about $7000 each. Prospecting in other locations after that led him to establish a camp he called “Eureka,” which was somewhat fruitful for him, but he had a poor winter and left the area. Eureka was later to become known as Graniteville.

Bill had an unusual ability to cause people to see his way in disputed matters, not only because of his stature, which was large, but by his education. He became a lawyer almost by accident. Among his various ventures in those days was the construction of a channel known as the Grizzly Ditch, to bring badly needed water down 45 miles from the Sierra through Cherokee Corral and North San Juan. It was during a dispute over his plan to put water into a natural stream and then take the same amount out at a lower point, that he became embroiled in legal matters and began to “read” the law. He was already known as a man able to settle disputes among other miners, but at age 26, in 1852, he became associated in the law office of John R. McConnell, who was then the District Attorney. In November, 1852, William Morris Stewart was, on the same day, admitted to the bar and appointed to replace McConnell as District Attorney for Nevada County.

His early style was unique. Being unskilled in the law, he would argue in such harsh language that the opponent would become enraged, leaving Bill the opportunity to engage him in personal combat. Bill would then receive the treatment from the court that he desired; that of a fine and imprisonment overnight in the jail. Using the jail time for study, he would then be prepared for next day’s court and could carry the day. This happened three times and Bill became competent enough to hold his own after that. As Nevada County District Attorney, he became the West’s first “Gang Buster” prosecutor by breaking up the gang which robbed the stages and freight wagons plying the route between Placerville and Virginia City.

In the spring of 1854, William Morris Stewart and Niles Searls, a close friend, became partners in a law office located on Broad Street in Davis’ brick building. Niles would later become Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. This proved to be a short-lived partnership, for on June 7, 1854, Governor Bigler appointed William Morris Stewart to become the fifth Attorney General of the State of California, to temporarily fill that position while John R. McConnell, who held the office, went on a six month trip. Both McConnell and Stewart had won election to their respective offices in the summer of 1853.

While Attorney General, Stewart formed a successful partnership with the Honorable Henry Stuart Foote, ex-governor of Mississippi, and two other lawyers. At this time, Bill met Foote’s daughter, Annie. They were married on the 31st of May, 1855, in the bride’s father’s home in Clinton, Alameda County. On the same day, Bill paid out all his cash (over $5000), to make good on a friend’s debt that he had co-signed.

Moving his new bride to Nevada City, Bill stepped again into a well-paying partnership with McConnell, and extended his law practice to Downieville. Stewart provided his wife with a companion and cook, Olivia, and Annie’s father found her a young Indian girl from a desperate family, and arranged for the girl to live and work in the Stewart household.

In 1855-56, Stewart built, in Nevada City, an exact replica of his wife’s birthplace, which was in Clinton, Mississippi. Moving in on July 18, 1856, the couple escaped the disastrous fire which consumed most of Nevada City the next day. The fire, across Deer Creek Canyon from Stewart’s house, was clearly visible from the upper front balcony verandah, and Annie watched fearfully, for Bill had gone to provide any assistance he could. It was in the aftermath of this fire that Bill Stewart and J. R. McConnell established a law office in the brick building at 34 Broad Street, which had partially escaped the fire. This building still stands today, known as the Kidd – Knox Building. (Plaqued by Chapter Ten on May 3, 1980)

Located on Zion Street in Nevada City, the antebellum mansion was the site of several plaque dedications by the Clampers in the area. On September 20, 1959, William Morris Stewart Chapter placed a plaque on the home in a ceremony aided by Nevada County Superior Judge Vernon Stoll. Miss Judith Chaffee of Oakland, owner of the home, was present. Later, the house underwent restoration in 1964 by Mr. and Mrs. Victor Hermann. On March 7, 1964, another plaque was placed at the home, this time in conjunction with the State of Nevada Centennial Commission, which also had much interest in William Morris Stewart, as you will see in our next installment.

This will bring to a close this installment of the life of William Morris Stewart, but we have just barely touched the surface of this remarkable man’s life.

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  • hickey197234: i have moved how do i update my info and i lost my card how can i get a new one
    October 02, 2017, 03:05:41 PM
  • Kyle Ball: Retread. Smiley
    February 17, 2017, 05:13:30 PM
  • hickey197234: How can I get a knew one
    February 07, 2017, 11:31:19 PM
  • hickey197234: I moved and lost my card I can I get a knew one
    February 07, 2017, 11:30:39 PM
  • Bandito: Hi what time is set up for widders ball on friday, sue and I will be there to help as ysual.
    February 04, 2017, 09:32:14 PM
  • Kyle Ball: thank you jason
    January 31, 2017, 12:48:33 AM
  • bjhardin: Who is going to Emperor Norton Days??
    January 01, 2017, 04:51:55 PM
  • Kyle Ball: Dec 3. Nevada city vets hall. Don't know the time.
    November 29, 2016, 10:28:26 AM
  • Bandito: Hey, jason thorn, no one has recieved post cards on where and when the  directors dinner is, other it says  Dec 3,  WHATS UP......
    November 26, 2016, 10:13:53 PM
  • Kyle Ball: both of mine are paid for. im ready as well. get a new trailer yet cheatham?
    September 18, 2016, 03:19:30 PM
  • Jethro: ok got all my doins pre paid for. now its time to get clampin.
    September 18, 2016, 12:02:22 PM
  • Kyle Ball: reminder to everyone. This months meeting will be at scotts flat
    September 06, 2016, 08:12:06 PM
  • Kyle Ball: road cleanup this sunday 9/11 8am
    September 06, 2016, 08:11:22 PM
  • Tom Barry: Tom Barry: Mistake on the newsletter page with the plaques. Should be Scotts Flat, not Hammon Grove.
    September 03, 2016, 06:30:03 PM
  • cellphone: Where can I pre-pay for 3 skins in November?
    August 28, 2016, 10:44:52 AM
  • Tom Barry: May Party was great! My steak just melted in my mouth. I think the turnout was a bit smaller than usual.
    May 09, 2016, 12:47:55 PM
  • Nickel: must retread to replace card
    May 04, 2016, 09:14:24 PM
  • hickey197234: My e.c.v. card
    May 02, 2016, 11:35:49 PM
  • hickey197234: how do I get my card it got lost in  my move
    May 02, 2016, 11:34:39 PM
  • Tom Barry: Tom Barry. My Email address is the one by the return address on the newsletter:
    April 23, 2016, 05:17:27 PM

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