JAMES UNDERWOOD. - A native of Oregon, and one of the oldest and most highly respected of the Humboldt county
pioneers of today, is James Underwood. He is himself a descendant of one of the very oldest of the early California
pioneer families, his father and grandfather having crossed the plains with ox teams in 1853 and thereafter making
their homes in California, save for a few years when his father resided in Oregon. At present James Underwood is
engaged in the general merchandise business in Trinidad, where he has made his home for almost twenty years, and
is meeting with success.
Mr. Underwood was born in Clackamas county, Oregon, August 3, 1867. He is the son of John and Caroline Elizabeth
(Wills) Underwood, both being early settlers in California. His early youth was spent in Oregon, but when he was
nine years of age his parents returned to California, locating on the old Underwood homestead on Dow's Prairie,
Humboldt county. Here young James continued his attendance at the public schools of his district, on Dow's Prairie,
graduating from the grammar course. Later he completed a course in the Eureka Business College. In 1887 he gave
up school and started out for himself. During the vacations for several years he had worked in the woods, and now
he naturally turned to this familiar occupation and secured employment with the Riverside Lumber Company, remaining
with them for five years. The following year he was with the Korbel Lumber Company, and from there he went to work
for the Vance & Hammond Company, remaining in their employ for twelve years, and being for the entire time
engaged in working in the woods. In the spring of 1907 he gave up this line of occupation and went to Santa Cruz
county, where he was employed by the Humboldt Contracting Company for eighteen months.
It was in 1908 that Mr. Underwood returned to Humboldt county and bought out the general merchandise business of
W. W. Shipley, at Trinidad, which enterprise he is still conducting with much success. He is owner and manager
of the business and has extended and enlarged its scope since taking it over and has materially increased his trade.
The marriage of Mr. Underwood took place in Trinidad, December 8, 1897, uniting him with Miss Martha Watkins, the
daughter of Warren and Rose Ann Watkins, and a native of Trinidad, born April 20, 1872. She has borne her husband
one child, a son, Warren.
Since his marriage Mr. Underwood has always made his home in Trinidad, and has been closely associated with public
matters of interest for many years. In politics he is a Republican and a stanch party man, and has on numerous
occasions represented his party at important conventions. He is a member of the Knights of Pythias, at Blue Lake,
and of the local lodge of the Odd Fellows. His success in business is due to his careful and conscientious application
to duty, as well as to his ability, good management and industry.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Underwood are descended from splendid old pioneer stock. The mother of Mrs. Underwood, Mrs. Rose
Ann Watkins, is the oldest settler in Trinidad at the present time. She is a native of Vermont and came to Humboldt
county in 1863 and has continuously resided here since that time. She has witnessed many changes in the country,
and her tales of the early Indian troubles are full of interest, having lost none of their thrills through the
The father of Mr. Underwood was John Underwood, a native of Indiana, born in Parke county, September 13, 1831.
When he was three years of age he removed with his parents to Illinois, where they lived for a short time, later
moving to Missouri and locating near St. Joseph, Buchanan county. Here he attended the public schools up to the
age of seventeen years, and for a few years after that continued to live at home with his parents, helping his
father on the farm. Later he went to New Mexico where he engaged in teaming and freighting, making the trip from
Fort Leavenworth to Santa Fe during the Mexican war (1848-1849). Returning after a time to his home in Missouri,
he made the long journey across the plains to California with his parents, in 1853. They left their home on May
10, and were five months in making the trip, using ox teams all the way, and arriving at Redding, California, in
October. From there they went to Hayfork, from which point they were obliged to complete their journey on mule
back and with pack horses across the Coast range to the coast itself, finally reaching Arcata after a hard and
The father of John Underwood, and the grandfather of the present respected citizen of Trinidad, was William Underwood,
a native of North Carolina, born in 1800. The mother was Matilda Colcleasur, born in Kentucky in 1804. Her marriage
to William Underwood took place in Indiana in 1822. William Underwood was a hatter by trade but for many years
he followed the occupation of the farmer, both in Illinois and in Missouri, as well as after coming to California.
Immediately after arriving at Arcata he took up a government claim of one hundred sixty acres on Dow's prairie
where he followed farming until the time of his death, December 5, 1875. He is remembered now by but a few of the
oldest settlers, but the property is still known by his name. His wife died December 28, 1889, on the home place,
which is still in the possession of the family.
Shortly after the family was established on their Dow's prairie ranch, the son, John Underwood, went to Gold Bluff
where he secured employment and where he remained until 1859. In June of that year he moved to Oregon, locating
in Marion county, where for a short time he engaged in farming. Later he took up a government claim in Clackamas
county and again engaged in farming and stock raising. While living there he was married to Caroline Elizabeth
Wills, a native of Des Moines county, Iowa, born November 12, 1846. She was the daughter of James Wills, who crossed
the plains to Oregon in the early days. From this union have come seven children, of which the present honored
citizen of Trinidad is the third born. They are: Matilda, now deceased; Milburn Gipson, also deceased; James Andrew;
William Thomas, deceased; John Jackson, of Orange county; Fred Wills, and Norman Owen, both farmers at McKinleyville.
John Underwood continued farming in Oregon for a number of years, meeting with much success. It was in 1876 that
he returned to California, locating on the home place in Humboldt county, as the death of his father the previous
year had left the mother without protection and the farm without a manager. He has continued to reside on this
ranch on Dow's prairie since that time, having charge of his mother's affairs until the time of her death. When
he took over the property it consisted of the original one hundred sixty acres, only partly improved; he cleared
the balance and put it in shape for farming, in which line he is now engaged. Forty acres of the place have been
sold, leaving only one hundred twenty acres at the present time.
John Underwood is the only old pioneer at present residing on Dow's prairie, and many and interesting are the accounts
that he is able to give of the days long gone by. He was living here during the worst period of the Indian troubles
and during one summer served actively with the troops that were out to quell the marauders.
Mrs. John Underwood is also one of the early pioneers of this section. Her father was James Thomas Wills, a native
of North Carolina, born June 12, 1812, and her mother, Elizabeth Wills, was a native of Virginia, born May 30,
1815. They crossed the plains in 1853 to Oregon, at the same time that the Underwood family was making the crossing,
to California. They located in Clackamas county, Oregon, and remained there until the time of their death.
History of Humboldt County, California
With a Biographical Sketches
History by Leigh H. Irving
Historic Record Company
Los Angeles, California 1915
Humboldt County, CA
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