Biography of Casper S. Ricks
Humboldt County, CA Biographies





CASPER STINEMETS RICKS. - The name of Ricks is so intimately associated with the history of Eureka and Humboldt county generally that no annals of that region could be written without mention of members of the family, nor could any biography of Casper Stinemets Ricks be anything but part of the story of the opening up and development of that part of California where he came as a "forty-niner." It was principally through his influence that the county seat was established at Eureka, and there was hardly a citizen of the town who did more to place its affairs in such excellent condition that it has thrived from the start. He represented his district faithfully in the state legislature, served as district attorney of Humboldt county, handled his extensive business affairs with consummate ability, and worked untiringly for the early establishment at Eureka of such institutions as he knew there would be need for in the future. Though it is a quarter of a century since he passed from earth, his work lives and has stood the test of time.

Mr. Ricks was a native of Indiana, born November 10, 1821, at Rome, Perry county, son of John W. Ricks, who had settled in Indiana when a young man. His early life had been passed in Kentucky, where he was born February 7, 1795. He was a prosperous merchant in Perry county, owning stores at five different points in that section, from which it may be inferred that he was ahead of his generation in enterprise, his business record sounding very modern indeed. His career was cut short at the comparatively early age of thirty seven years, his death occurring in 1832. Mr. Ricks was not only an energetic business man, but an earnest worker in the Baptist Church, and as an exhorter exercised great moral influence among his fellow men. His wife, Louisa Stinemets (originally spelled Steinmetz, member of a Pennsylvania family), born in 1800, continued to live at Rome after her husband's death and died there in 1865. She, too, was a faithful member of the Baptist Church, and a devoted mother to her eight children, all of whom were young at the time of Mr. Ricks' death. We have the following record of this family: Casper Stinetnets was the eldest; Ellen died in childhood; William died in 1850; Louisa married Burl Lea and died at the age of thirty eight years; Samuel H. is deceased; John W. came to Eureka in 1853, but lived here only a short time, dying in San Francisco when seventy four years old; Susan, wife of Hiram Carr, died in 1900; Thomas, the youngest, born in 1831, joined his brother Casper at Eureka in 1851 and was given an interest in the business; in 1863 he returned to his old home in Indiana to marry and soon afterward started with his bride for Eureka. From San Francisco they took passage on the schooner Dashaway, which was lost at sea with all on board.

Casper Stineniets Ricks attended school until fifteen years old, when he commenced work as a dish washer on the flatboats plying the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. He was thrifty, and saved as much as possible, within a few years having enough to buy an interest in a flatboat which he retained until 1842. That year he went to New Orleans and engaged in the lumber and commission business, and with the exception of a short period during which he was superintendent of a sawmill at Natchez he continued it until 1849, doing well. But the gold fever took him in 1849, and he set out for San Francisco, by way of the isthmus. He had bought his ticket from New Orleans to his destination, but through some mistake had received transportation only to Panama. Here he was initiated into the conditions then prevailing on the coast, for he had to pay $600 for a steerage passage to San Francisco, and was offered $800 for it before he had a chance to sail. He refused the offer, and arrived at San Francisco August 18, 1849, going at once to the gold fields in Yuba county, where he mined for about four months. He had fair success, but although he also had mining interests subsequently from time to time he never did a great deal in that line. In the spring of 1850 he entered Humboldt county at Trinidad in his search for the mouth of Trinity river. While he and the captain were ashore the schooner was driven hack to sea and the men were obliged to live with the Indians until they started to walk to the site of Eureka, a distance of thirty six miles. Afterwards the discovery of Humboldt bay was reported. The schooner was recovered and returned to the captain, who went away in it, but Mr. Ricks remained, and it is claimed that he was the first white man to remain permanently in Eureka. The region was then a wilderness. Later, in partnership with R. G. Crozier, under the name of Crozier & Ricks, he embarked in general merchandising, and these men soon foresaw the advantages of the location, acquiring an undivided half interest in the new townsite. Mr. Ricks soon purchased his partner's share, however, and within a short time had begun his active campaigning for attracting thither desirable business enterprises, such as the town needed, by offering them advantages which he knew were substantial. In 1854 he attended a session of the legislature to work for the location of the town site, doing much to secure the passage of the act "to provide for the disposal of lots in the towns and villages on the public lands of Humboldt county." Mr. Ricks had judged the value of the location properly, although it was covered with forest when he arrived here. Feeling that it could have no logical rival on the bay, he exerted himself to the utmost to begin its development early, and though his farsighted plans sometimes seemed larger than conditions would warrant at the time they were laid, time has shown that he did not overestimate the possibilities of the town or its adjacent territory. In 1855 he represented Humboldt county in the state legislature, and at the close of his term was reelected, undoubtedly in recognition of his services in securing the passage of the act transferring the county seat from Uniontown (now Arcata) to Eureka, which was successful principally because of his efforts. It was in 1861 that he received the appointment of district attorney of Humboldt county, to fill an unexpired term, and he acquitted himself creditably in that position.

In the spring of 1862 Mr. Ricks determined to make another mining venture, and in company with sixteen other men equally ambitious and daring set out for the Salmon mines. His diary shows that they left Lewiston April 29th, and the many interesting items which follow make good reading and reminiscences, but the experiences to which they allude could hardly have contributed to keep up the spirits of travelers in a wilderness going away from civilization, and with no prospects of any alleviation of their hardships for weeks to come. A pack train owned by James Boon and N. B. Brown took them to the Mountain house, the packing costing thirty cents a pound. The second day out a horse stampeded, swam the Snake river, and lost a hundred pounds of flour. The principal fare of the party consisted of tea, bread, beans and bacon, with molasses made from sugar. Several Indian farms were passed on the way, and occasionally they could buy milk from the farmers, who refused, however, to sell beef except at exorbitant prices. Mr. Ricks mentions borrowing a needle and thread from a squaw at one of the Indian ranches, to mend his suspenders, and the note that he saw where she made butter but did not have any of it to eat sounds rather wistful. On May 11th they traveled fifteen miles up the Salmon river, and met forty or fifty men returning from the mines rather discouraged. In the evening a severe wind and rain storm came up, and the discomfort after a hard day's journey (judging from his notes) seems to have made Mr. Ricks homesick, though he evidently did not indulge this feeling long, as in the next paragraph he relates that "the trip may prove beneficial" by making him thankful for his comforts at home. On May 16th he arrived at Florence, where he met friends and had a substantial supper, bread, bacon, fresh beef, coffee, dried apples and sugar. He refers to Florence as a mining town with a few log buildings and a population of five thousand men. He mentions cooking the meals, doing his washing and sewing, and in fact kept a record which throws much light on the typical life of prospectors and miners in the early days. The expressage on letters was $1 each. On June 10th Mr. Ricks bought the Starrar claim, for which he paid $1,150 and in which he gave an interest to his brother Samuel. He made some money getting out gold, but sold the mine a week or two later, he and his partner making about $250 on the claim. Subsequently he had interests in others, as he mentions one which paid but little, and the good bargain he made selling another. His diary closes August 9th, the date of his arrival in San Francisco.

Returning to Eureka, Mr. Ricks was soon busily engaged with his business affairs once more, devoting most of his attention to the improvement of his large holdings of real estate in the town. He erected and owned more buildings than any other man of his day there, including a number of fine residences and business blocks, but did not confine his activities to this line, doing much incidental improving which benefited the whole place. He built the Ricks waterworks, including the elevated reservoir, which was supplied with water from artesian wells distributed by steam power through nine miles of piping to the business parts of Eureka. The Palace stables, still owned by his heirs, were built and stocked by him. The development of the lumbering industry in this region was prosecuted very successfully through his wise counsel, and its profitable operations not only proved a desirable investment for capital, but added to the general wealth by providing employment for many men in this part of the state, and enlivened commercial enterprises accordingly. Mr. Ricks donated land for a number of public causes which he also supported with his financial means when necessary, and he not only started some of the most serviceable projects, but was ever liberal in lending his aid and influence to those promoted by others. Through his efforts inducements 'were offered to manufacturing enterprises to locate here, and he never lost faith in the future of the city, even when hard times threatened to engulf it. Many undertakings which he knew could not give him returns on his investment for years, but which were highly desirable, were fostered by him in the early stages of their existence, because he was public spirited enough to wait for his own rewards in order to give many the benefits to be obtained.

Mr. Ricks was frequently called upon to serve in public trusts, to which he invariably gave the same care that he devoted to his private interests. He was a member and president of the first board of trustees of Eureka, and president of the first fire company, which was organized in 1864. He belonged to the Humboldt County Pioneers' Association and to the State Pioneers' Society, and fraternally was a prominent Odd Fellow. A Democrat in his political convictions, lie enjoyed politics and was one of the influential party workers in his section, his ability as a speaker making him a valuable factor in campaigns. Mr. Ricks died in his sixty seventh year, June 21, 1888, at San Francisco, and on June 28th was laid to rest in Eureka cemetery, the Odd Fellows conducting the funeral services. The wide range of his sympathies and interests could easily be judged by the throng which attended, the largest gathering ever known in Eureka up to that time, representing citizens of all classes from his home town and surrounding points. His sons took up his work where he left it, and their records speak well for the heritage of character and substantial qualities which he bequeathed to them.

Mr. Ricks returned to Indiana to marry Miss Adaline Amelia Fouts, their wedding taking place June 4, 1854. She was born February 16, 1829, in Clark county, that state, daughter of Jacob Fouts and granddaughter of Jacob and Mary Fouts, who came to this country from Germany before the Revolution and settled in North Carolina. There Jacob Fouts, father of Mrs. Ricks, was born October 17, 1775, and passed his early life. In 1806 he settled in Clark county, Ind., where he took up a large tract of land and followed farming very successfully until his death, December 27, 1836. He was drafted for military service during the Indian troubles, by General Harrison, but having a large family of small children hired a substitute. Politically he was a Democrat, but not active in the party or in public affairs of any kind. His first wife, Isabel Dugan, of North Carolina, died in early womanhood, leaving two sons, Angus and Edward, the former of whom was in business for many years at Lexington, Ind., as a merchant; he died at the age of forty eight years. Edward died in August, 1854.

March 5, 1807, in Clark county, Ind., Mr. Fouts married for his second wife Susanna Fouts, who was born in North Carolina June 1, 1787. Although bearing the same surname, she was not a relative, her parents, Jacob and Isabel Fouts, having been born and reared in Pennsylvania, going from there to North Carolina, and then to Clark county, Ind., where the father was profitably engaged in loaning money until his death, at the age of sixty eight years. His wife survived him, dying at the age of seventy years. Of the union of Jacob and Susanna (Fouts) Fouts, ten children were born, namely: Two that died in childhood; Hiram; Belinda; Rebecca; Nancy; Thomas D.; Mary; Daniel L.; and Adaline A. Hiram Fouts, born February 27, 1808, spent his entire life in Clark county, Ind., being engaged in farming until his death, September 11, 1860. Belinda Fouts, born August 18, 1810, died in San Francisco in 1862. She married T. J. Henley, who served as a member of Congress from Indiana two terms and was afterwards a man of prominence in California, serving as Indian agent and being postmaster at San Francisco in 1853. Rebecca Fouts, born October 21, 1813, married McGannon Barnes, and continued a resident of Clark county, Ind., until her death in 1887. Nancy Fouts, born November 14, 1816, was a bright and active woman in spite of her years, and resided in Louisville, Ky., until her death about 1912; she married William A. Ingram, a tanner by trade, who served a number of years as sheriff of Clark county, Ind. Thomas D. Fouts, born January 12, 1819, removed to Texas as a pioneer settler of Denton county, where he was employed in farming until his death, in 1890. During the Civil war he and two of his sons served as home guards in the Confederate army. Mary Fouts, born February 19, 1821, married S. S. Crowe, and died in Scott county, Ind., February 12, 1846. Daniel L., born July 28, 1823, came to California in 1853, settling in San Francisco, where his death occurred June 4, 1893. He was at first employed in the collector's office, and was afterwards a clerk in the office of the Indian agent. Adeline A. Fouts was reared in Indiana, receiving her education in Clark county. In 1853 she came with her sister, Mrs. Henley, to California, sailing from the Isthmus of Panama to San Francisco in the steamer Golden Gate. After a visit of seven or eight months in San Francisco, Miss Fouts returned to Indiana, and remained there until her marriage with Mr. Ricks.

Coming to California by way of Nicaragua, Mr. and Mrs. Casper S. Ricks landed in San Francisco August 15, 1854. Eureka, their home, was then a small town, with a few rude buildings on Front street, and but fifteen women, all told, in the place. In 1855, before the town site was granted, Mrs. Ricks purchased of D. D. Williams the block bounded on the north and south by Third and Fourth streets, and on the east and west by E and F streets, giving $300 for it, and paying with money of her own. She subsequently built up the block, and in the division of the estate a part of this block fell to the share of the son Thomas F. In 1902 Mrs. Ricks and her son H. L. disposed of the remaining three lots in the block, selling them for $75,000. Mrs. Ricks, whose death occurred November 26, 1903, witnessed the growth and development of the city with great pride and pleasure, taking as great an interest in its advancement and prosperity as her husband, to whom she was ever a devoted helpmate and companion. Of a bright and cheerful disposition, she always encouraged him in his undertakings, and aided him by her sympathy and wise counsels. Although Mrs. Ricks had passed the allotted span of life, during her last years she was as bright and active as a woman of fifty years, retaining the mental and physical vigor of her younger days. In her will she bequeathed her entire property to her son Hiram Lambert Ricks, except a legacy of $5 to her son Thomas F. Ricks, he having received his portion some years previous, and naming her son Hiram Lambert Ricks as sole executor without bond. Of the union of Mr. and Mrs. Ricks three children were born, namely: Thomas Fouts, who died in 1910; Casper Stinernets, Jr., who died in 1906; and Hiram Lambert.

By those who knew her best the following tribute is paid to Mrs. Ricks: "That she was a woman of marked ability and kindness is attested by all. It is said of her that those who knew her the longest liked her the best, which is about the best testimony to a sterling character.

"If there were any special qualities that could be mentioned it is the fact of her many kind deeds and her brilliant intellect. As a neighbor and friend in Eureka, which means almost the beginning of the city's history, her many friends can tell of her good deeds. They were of the kind that caused people to feel that they came from the goodness of the heart and caused them to be doubly willing to attest them.

"Of her intellect scarcely too much could be said since she was a wide reader and a ready thinker, and thus was well informed. This was particularly true on questions of the day and political subjects. It is said of her that no member of Congress could be mentioned but that she knew his place and his record. In political belief she was a Democrat of the old order and being deprived of a vote felt free to express her views and ably defend them."

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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