Biography of Hon. Joseph Russ
Humboldt County, CA Biographies





HON. JOSEPH RUSS. - The abiding influence of this man, whose wonderful powers of organization, stimulated by visions of the demands of the future, created some of the most productive industries of Humboldt county, has never been more apparent than at the present day. The keenness which enabled him to foresee the possibilities of the enterprises upon which he embarked; the breadth of imagination which governed his plans for their expansion and development during a generation beyond his own time; the wise' provisions for the welfare of the community which he advocated during his legislative career; all these and more are seen better in the light of their present usefulness than they could be before the fruit began to ripen in the sunshine of success. To outline the many projects which Mr. Russ matured and put into practical operation will give some idea of the magnitude of his undertakings. The details, all of which he grasped in his comprehension of the whole, are past the understanding of the average individual.

Mr. Russ belonged to sturdy New England stock, the self reliant type trained by generations of industry and frugal living to make the most of environment, to exalt the importance of moral integrity and mental discipline, to be honest, thrifty and independent. He was a native of Maine, born December 19, 1825, in Washington, Lincoln county, and was ten years old when his parents removed to Belmont, Waldo county, that state, where he grew to manhood. The greater part of his education was acquired in the district schools there. When he reached his majority he went to Dartmouth, Mass., and commenced his independent career, remaining there two years, at the end of which period he ventured in business on his own account, at Fall River, Mass., engaging in teaming and merchandising. He was disappointed in the results, and tried another line at Appleton, Me., buying an interest in a sawmill, and giving some time to its operation, at the same time carrying on a grocery store. He continued thus for about three years. During this time tales of the gold discoveries on the Pacific coast fired his ambition, and he determined to seek his fortune in the mines. But he already had the foresight which was later to be so large a factor in his success. Instead of rushing out without preparation or definite plans of any kind he made ready to embark in business upon his arrival, buying material for a building which he had made in sections, which would only need joining when he reached his destination. He took passage on the "Midas," which went around the Horn, and purchased a large quantity of flour at one of the ports en route. He landed at San Francisco March 15, 1850, after a five months' voyage, but saw fit to alter his arrangements, and selling his building and flour at a small profit joined six other men, the party buying a boat and starting up the river to Sacramento. There they sold the boat, and Mr. Russ proceeded to White Oak Springs, where his sawmilling experience proved valuable, as he took charge of a sawmill at that point for two months. After that he contracted to build a bridge across the American river, and upon its completion took other work of the same kind. In the summer of 1850, with a partner, he opened a general store at Volcano, Amador county, but it was not a success.

It was then Mr. Russ went into the cattle business, in which his name and fame will live for many years. Purchasing a herd, he drove it to the Yuba river and disposed of it at moderate profit. Soon afterward he made another investment of the same kind in that section, upon which he realized so handsomely that he had enough capital to go into business, opening a hay and feed yard in the Sacramento valley, and purchasing teams which he employed in the transportation of freight between Colusa and Shasta. At Placerville he bought a herd of cattle which he drove to Humboldt county in the fall of 1852 and grazed upon Bear River Ridge. He was one of the first to explore the Eel river valley and surrounding country, and he was so impressed by the resources of the region generally that he took up a claim near Capetown, on the strength of his conviction that here were to be found more natural advantages than he had observed in any other part of the state. In the fall of 1853 he was associated with Berry Adams in the purchase of a large number of beef cattle in Sacramento, and they drove them to Humboldt county and opened a meat market at Eureka, with which Mr. Russ was connected for two years. He then went to the forks of the Salmon river and established a market of his own, spending two years at that location, from March, 1855, to the spring of 1857. Purchasing another drove of beef cattle in Oregon, he took them down to the banks of the Bear river, and again opened a market in Eureka, where the Russ meat market is still a popular trading place. Before long he commenced to invest in grazing lands, acquiring the nucleus of an estate which now includes fifty thousand acres and more in Humboldt county, stocked with four thousand head of cattle, thirteen thousand sheep, and horses and mules in large numbers. In 1870 Mr. Russ erected the sawmill still conducted under the name of Russ & Company as the Excelsior Mills at Eureka.

Though Mr. Russ had individual interests so extensive that they required unremitting attention, many of the important ideas he introduced benefited the surrounding territory as much as his own properties. Thus he deserves great credit for inaugurating the dairy industry in this region; being one of the first to venture in that line here and going into it on a larger scale than any other individual operator, keeping over two thousand milch cows among his herds for this purpose. His work in the development of the business, and in demonstrating its possibilities in this section, represents the most important progress made in that branch in his time.

So systematically did Mr. Russ plan his undertakings, and so thoroughly were his plans blocked out, that many of them were practically self operating for years to come, and thus the estate remains intact to the present. The importance of this one estate in relation to the welfare of the community may be estimated from the single fact that three hundred men, on an average, are given employment in the conduct and management of its numerous activities.

Mr. Russ used the great influence he acquired as a trust from his fellow citizens. He could realize that the men who commanded means could also command power, and he felt it his duty to see that that power was not abused. So along with his private responsibilities he shouldered the burdens of the community in which he had cast his lot, and he never betrayed the confidence reposed in him. He took a leading part in politics simply because he understood the needs of his county and was in a position to do effective work to satisfy them. It was his belief that business men should participate in public affairs, giving the benefit of their ability and experience in directing government into the best channels. So when he was nominated for the office of state senator at the Republican convention in 1875 he accepted from a sense of obligation. He was defeated by a small majority, but met with better success in 1877, going into office with a flattering vote. In 1885 he was elected a member of the lower house of the state legislature, and was a member of that body at the time of his death, October 8, 1886. He always took a deep interest in the success of his party, and had served in 1880 as a delegate from California to the national Republican convention, which met in Chicago that year.

Mr. Russ's contribution to educational facilities in his adopted state deserves special mention. He had all the veneration of the typical New Englander for institutions of learning, and during his service in the legislature worked faithfully to secure adequate appropriations for the public schools and other causes which he considered of similar importance. He was one of the principal stockholders in the Humboldt Seminary at Eureka, and always maintained a personal interest in its well being, giving generously to support its enterprises and broaden its work. A public school building in San Diego, Cal., bears his name as a mark of gratitude for his liberality, he having donated the lumber necessary for its construction. His reputation for giving without stint was so generally believed in that it was said he never refused assistance to any worthy cause. His means were also extensively employed in benevolent enterprises, and invariably without ostentation or self righteousness of spirit. They were acquired so honorably that no recipient needed to have any qualms about tainted wealth.

On December 17, 1854, Mr. Russ was married to Zipporah Patrick, who still survives, residing at the old home near Ferndale, the place being known as Fern Cottage. She was born in Wyoming county, Pa., daughter of Nehemiah Patrick, like her husband a notable pioneer settler of Humboldt county. He came to California over the plains in 1852, and settled in this county the year following. Thirteen children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Russ, viz.: Edward died in infancy; James B. is deceased; Mary E. married James T. Robarts and both are deceased; Margaret C. married Rev. Philip Coombe, of San Francisco; Ira A. is a resident of Eureka; Annie J. married B. F. Hatville, of San Francisco; William N. is a resident of Eureka; Georgia married Frank G. Williams, of Ferndale; Edythe J., wife of H. D. Cormick, of San Francisco; Bertha is at home; Joseph, Jr., is a resident of Ferndale; Winifred Estelle and Zipporah are deceased.

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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