Biography of the Etter Brothers
Humboldt County, CA Biographies





ETTER BROTHERS. - The bare fact that there is a settlement called Ettersburg in the Mattole river district six miles west of Briceland, in southern Humboldt county, where the Etter family have been settled for more than twenty years (although the representatives were located in the county since March, 1876), will indicate that its members have been active and respected citizens of their community. But it does not convey any adequate idea of what they have accomplished, either for themselves or for their chosen home. They are a numerous family, nine sons and one daughter of Benjamin Etter, the progenitor of all of the name in this region, still surviving, and all in Humboldt county. Each and every one has given such a good account of himself that the county has come to expect things of them as a matter of course. George B., Fred J., August A. and Albert F. Etter are in partnership under the firm name of Etter Brothers, whose operations are especially along the lines of fruit growing and evaporation, plant breeding and lumbering. For individual achievements and originality, particularly in the field of horticulture, Albert F. Etter is the most widely known, and his work is commented on in the personal article which appears in this volume. However, he carried on his experiments primarily in the interest of the business of Etter Brothers, each of the four partners looking after that branch for which he is best adapted. Fifty of the eight hundred acres they own are in fruit, apples and strawberries, the rest being valuable timber and pasture land.

Benjamin Etter, father of this most interesting family, was born and reared in Switzerland, where he learned the painter's trade. In young manhood he came to the United States, the promised land of many a European emigrant, and for a few years lived in Missouri, where he farmed. He entered the United States service during the Mexican war and fought to its close. Returning to Missouri, he remained there until he came out to California in 1850, going up to Chicago, whence he started the overland journey, which ended in Siskiyou county, Cal. After mining in that section four years he went back to Chicago, in 1854, and thence again to Missouri, where he lived another ten years, from 1856 to 1866. During that period he was engaged in various pursuits, including farming. Meanwhile he married, his wife, Wilhelmina (Kern), being a native of Germany, brought to this country when one year old, and a resident of Missouri up to the time of her marriage and for several years thereafter. When Mr. and Mrs. Etter came with their family to California in 1866 they set out from Sainte Genevieve, Mo., for St. Louis, and proceeded via Chicago to New York City by railroad, Erie canal and the Hudson river. Arriving at Aspinwall (now Colon) they crossed the isthmus by rail to Panama, where they took passage on a steamship to San Francisco, continuing thence by steamboat to Sacramento, where the family stayed a few days, until the father could go to Eldorado county and buy a farm. They settled at Latrobe, that county, where Mr. Etter was occupied principally at farming, though he also mined. In March, 1876, he came up to Humboldt county with his father, and located on the Eel river, buying the tract of twenty acres where he resided ten years, then sold and purchased forty acres on Eel River Island, upon which he resided until his death, in 1889, at the age of sixty seven years. His wife outlived him many years, until 1913, reaching the age of seventy eight. Of the thirteen children born to them two died young, and another at the age of nineteen years. The rest still survive: Louise, who is unmarried and lives with one of her brothers; Emil J.; Henry J.; George B.; Fred J.; Albert F.; August A.; Frank X. and Louis S., twins; and Walter E. All reside at Ettersburg but Emil and Frank, who live in Upper Mattole.

Emil J. Etter was born January 6, 1861, and lived at Sainte Genevieve, Mo., where his father had a farm, until his sixth year, when he accompanied his parents to California. He well remembers the various stops and incidents of the long journey. Though he was given public school advantages he began to work early, helping with the farm duties at home, and in his boyhood he saw considerable of mining. Remaining with his father until twenty four years old, he then rented a place, and after ten years or more came over to the Mattole district in 1896, settling on the property he has since occupied. It consists of four thousand acres, and he is engaged principally in raising cattle, making a specialty of grade Durhams. Ordinarily he keeps from one hundred and fifty to two hundred head. They are dual purpose cattle, and he does a considerable dairy business, owning an eighteen inch Case separator, which he operates by gas power, having a gasoline engine of ten horsepower. For ten years he has also been doing threshing. He owns the Evarts ranch, which he bought, about five miles up from Petrolia, and operates that land as a stock ranch. On his home place he has a good family orchard, but has not attempted to raise any fruit intended for the market. Public affairs have interested him sufficiently to draw him into service as a school trustee, and he is a Democrat on political issues. In 1888 he married Miss Minnie Shaliard, a native of Switzerland, who came to Humboldt county with her widowed mother when nine years old. Six children have been born to this marriage: Mary is the wife of Vernile Shinn, and mother of two children, Evelyn and Minnie (Mr. Shinn is proprietor of the Shinn resort on the Upper Mattole); Joseph, Gertrude, Charles, Benjamin and Raymond are at home.

Frank X Etter, another son of the late Benjamin Etter, is a cattleman in the Upper Mattole section, owning seven hundred acres of land. In 1904 he married Miss Dora Hill, (laughter of George R. Hill, and their family consists of four children: Alma, Donald, Keith and Francis.

George B., Fred J., August A. and Albert F. Etter, the four sons of Benjamin Etter constituting the firm of Etter Brothers; about twenty years ago homesteaded land in the Upper Mattole river district west of Briceland, a mountainous portion of Humboldt county which by reason of its inaccessibility was long regarded as practically worthless. But they were young and had little capital; that is, in money. Time has proved that their industry, perseverance and intelligence were all sufficient for success; and having made a fortune partly in occupations hitherto considered unprofitable here, they have demonstrated that this once unfruitful region is capable and worthy of cultivation and the production of first quality fruits in abundance, there being no finer strawberries in the market today than those developed and propagated at the Etter experiment grounds. Forty acres of the eight hundred now owned by Etter Brothers are planted with choice varieties of apples. Ten acres are in strawberries, to which more attention is devoted in the sketch of Albert F. Etter, who has charge of the horticultural work. The rest is in pasture and timber lands, the latter including large groves of tanbark oak, most of which they are conserving for future exploitation, and fir from which they obtain a valuable output of lumber. The economy and thrift of their old world blood and training have combined with American push to produce prosperous conditions in the midst of a once unpromising territory. With characteristic thoroughness they have provided all the essentials for the conduct of their diversified operations, right on the grounds, facilitating and condensing the work by eliminating unnecessary handling with its consequent delays, and preparing the way for further developments as they become feasible. Thus they have erected a steam sawmill with machinery large enough to saw logs four feet in diameter, and have a planing mill in connection, and they have turned out splendid dimension lumber for bridge building and other equally important uses on contract. All the boards and other lumber they have required for the construction of their own dwelling houses, barns, evaporating plant, and the other structures which have sprung up on their property as occasion necessitated or expansion justified, have been made in their own mills.

Probably the most notable work done on this place, in view of its relation to progress and importance from the horticultural standpoint, is in the breeding of plants, Albert F. Etter having supervision of this department. His work in the propagation of strawberries, the production of new varieties and experiments with those of established merit, will no doubt secure his name a permanent place in the history of fruit culture; but it will not rank far ahead of his achievements with apples, forage plants, grasses and clover, and when Humboldt county and all northern California are ready to do more in the way of intensive agriculture, as they must to keep up with growing needs, their best orchards will be the result of his years of investigation and experimentation. The Etter Brothers have put up a large evaporating plant, at present devoted entirely to handling the product of their forty acres of apple trees another instance of commendable foresight which is typical of all their work. The choicest ripe apples are treated by an improved system of drying known as the "Like Fresh" process, and the brand of dried fruit produced is superb.

The talents of each of the four brothers associated as Etter Brothers are employed in the line for which he is specially fitted by experience and natural endowment. August A. and George B. Etter look after the stock and horses, transportation and farm work. Albert F. Etter conducts the evaporating plant and cannery, and superintends the horticultural department. Fred J. Etter is particularly clever as a machinist and superintends the sawmills and responsibilities of that nature. The youngest brother, Walter, though not formally a member of the firm, is identified with its operations, being a capable engineer and mechanic, helping to run the engines and saws, blacksmith shop, donkey engine, etc. In fact, all the members of the family cooperate harmoniously, though the five outside of the firm conduct their farms individually. The holdings of the nine brothers in the Mattole valley aggregate over eighty seven hundred acres.

From:
History of Humboldt County, California
With a Biographical Sketches
History by Leigh H. Irving
Historic Record Company
Los Angeles, California 1915


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