Biography of Mrs. Martha J. Herrick (w/o Rufus F.)
Humboldt County, CA Biographies





MRS. MARTHA J. HERRICK. - To the pioneer women of California, no less than to the men, are due the honor and respect of the generations that follow, for without their loving sympathy and support, without their faithful devotion and toil, there had been no civilization carved in the wilderness and no homes built in lonely places where Indians and wild beasts prowled by day and night. They have borne their full share in the making of a great commonwealth, and their names are held in loving remembrance in the hearts of the children of the Golden West, and will continue so to be through all generations.

Prominent among the women who did much for the civilization and settlement of California must be named Mrs. Martha J. Herrick, wife of the late Rufus F. Herrick, one of the first men of the state, whose service to the government was of great importance in the settling of early Indian difficulties. In all this he was ably assisted by his young wife, although her name did not appear on commissions or government reports, for she was only aiding her husband in the performance of his duties. Mrs. Herrick has, however, been signally recognized, the brilliancy of her achievements being such that they have attracted much attention. During the World's Fair at Chicago in 1893 she represented Humboldt county, and also exhibited her rare collection of Indian relics, on which she was awarded a medal. In addition, she received gold and silver medals from the Anthropological Societies of the United States and England for her knowledge of the lost arts of the Indians. She is the author of a treatise on the habits and customs of the Indians of Humboldt county (extracts from which were published in the Ethnological Bureau of Smithonian Institution), which is recognized as an authority on Indian sanitation. Another work along this line is now being compiled by her, its publication being eagerly awaited by those interested in Indian lore, Mrs.. Herrick being recognized as the best authority on the history of the Indians in the Humboldt district, as well as on the general county history.

Before marriage Mrs. Herrick was Miss Martha Gist, and she is descended from a family of great antiquity and honorable distinction. She is the great great granddaughter of Brigadier General Mordecai Gist, whose father, Christopher, went with General Washington to make a treaty of peace between the colonies and the French and Indians. The two men became great personal friends, General Washington having said of Mr. Gist that he could not have made the treaty of peace with the Indians had it not been for the confidence the Indians had in Christopher Gist. The latter came from England with Leonard Calvert, a brother of Lord Baltimore, and he surveyed the town of Baltimore, while one of his sons, Christopher, surveyed the coast of Maryland, and was also a major in the Revolution. Gen. Mordecai Gist was complimented by the American Continental Congress for meeting the American army in full retreat and leading them back to victory. The father of Mrs. Herrick was David Gist, and her mother Matilda Fairfax Denton, the father being the son of Independence Gist, the son of Mordecai, before mentioned, who was born in Baltimore, Md., February 22, 1742, and died in Charleston, S. C., August 2, 1792, having distinguished himself in Revolutionary history. Mrs. Herrick herself was born at South Bend, Ind., and attended St. Mary's College at South Bend, to which town her parents had moved in 1830, and where she grew to maturity. On the maternal side Mrs. Herrick is descended from both the Denton and Fairfax families of Scotland, which families were united by the marriage of the last two descendants who thereafter used both crests. In her possession Mrs. Herrick has a plate sent from Scotland as a wedding gift three hundred years ago to her great grandmother, Elizabeth Fairfax Denton, by that lady's brother, Dallas Fairfax Denton.

It was in November, 1858, that Mrs. Herrick came to California, on account of ill health, to visit a half brother, making the long journey to San Francisco by way of the Isthmus of Panama, and on April 3, 1859, she was married in San Jose, Cal., to Rufus F. Herrick, an own cousin of Myron T. Herrick, now serving as Ambassador to France. The change was very great for her, a city bred girl, and everything in the new land filled her with fear until she became accustomed to the new order. Her native poise and common sense came to her aid, and once she had adjusted herself she entered into the life of the country with a wonderful zest. Intensely interested in the work of her husband among the Indians, together they did much for the red men, treating them with kindness and consideration, protecting their rights and at all times according them justice and fair treatment. To this the savages responded, and both the young people were prime favorites with them, and most of the wonderful collection of Indian relics owned by Mrs. Herrick, and now on exhibition at the Eureka Public Library, were gifts to her from her friends among the various tribes.

Mr. and Mrs. Herrick became the parents of two children, both sons, who are well known throughout Humboldt county, where they were born and received their education. The elder, Frank E., was for many years county surveyor, and did much work in that line throughout that part of the state, including the surveying of the Newburg railroad and many other logging railroads. He married Miss Emma Gish of San Jose, and they now reside in Eureka. The other son, George D., is married to Miss Jessie Rolph Nicol, and they make their home in San Francisco, where he is engaged in the real estate business and timber lands, and his wife is prominent in club circles. The death of Mrs. Herrick's husband occurred May 19, 1914, at their Loleta home, where his wife continues to reside.

Mrs. Herrick has always been a woman of many activities, both she and her husband having been particularly interested in the work of the Grand Army. She helped to organize the Major Anderson Circle, Ladies of the Grand Army, in Eureka, and for two years was president of the circle, serving a year as department president of California and Nevada, being elected in Los Angeles, April 5, 1904. While serving in this office she saw that many old soldiers did not take advantage of the soldiers' home because they would not leave their wives; hence she planned the buying of three acres of land at Sawtelle, Cal., adjoining the soldiers' home. For the purpose of carrying out her plans she called an extra session of the ladies of the G. A. R. to meet in San Francisco, before whom she outlined her plans. The convention received her report with enthusiasm and gave her full power to work out her plan, which she did by buying the land and building thereon a number of houses, accommodating two families each, with rent and water free. The building of these homes, which are the property of the Ladies of the G. A. R., permitted the families of the soldiers to continue unsevered. Both Mr. and Mrs. Herrick were very charitably inclined, and at the time of the San Francisco earthquake she opened her house in that city and fed the sufferers, receiving her supplies from their Humboldt county farm. She has brought up five orphan boys and one girl, giving her time to instructing and guiding them, several of them now occupying honorable official positions, being glad to give her the credit of awakening their ambitions and giving them a start in life. Mrs. Herrick has always been equal to every occasion. In the early days, when it was necessary to teach six months before drawing a salary, she conducted a free school in her own home for that length of time, after which Grant district was formed and she drew her salary from the county. Her teaching was fully appreciated and she was importuned to continue in the public schools, but lack of time prevented her doing so. She has been active in the work of the Woman's Relief Corps of Humboldt county, and at present is a member of the California Club of San Francisco, the National Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution at Washington, the Geographical Association of Washington, the Smithsonian Institution and the Anthropological Association of Washington.

A really wonderful woman, of marked executive ability and much diplomacy, Mrs. Herrick has endeared herself to the people of California by her noble stand and originality as presiding officer in the Ladies of the G. A. R. In all her undertakings she has been successful, and her late husband ascribed to her the credit of contributing more toward laying the foundation of their fortune than did he himself.

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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