MEETING # 1630
February 17, 2000
J. D. B.
by Eugene G. Ouellette Ph.D.
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public
This paper attempts to focus on some of the
highlights of the life of a Redlands pioneer, Dr. Jacob Davis Babcock Stillman. It starts
with his death on 2 March 1888 in Redlands. It then chronologically traces his life
including his education, medical practice, participation in the 1849 gold rush, travels in
Europe, wanderings in Texas, life in San Francisco and finally his settling in Redlands as
NOTE: The original paper in hard
copy, which can be seen by request at the reference desk at the A.K. Smiley Public
Library, has many interesting illustrations. To avoid slow download on some limited speed
computers, they are not included here.
BACKGROUND OF THE AUTHOR
Gene Ouellette is an emeritus faculty member of the
University of Redlands. He is a graduate of the University of Redlands and holds a
Doctorate in Communicative Disorders from the University of Washington. He has served on
the faculty of San Diego State University as well as that of the University of Redlands.He
retired two years ago after 34 years as a faculty member, department chair and Chancellor
of Johnston College.
In March, 1888, an elegant, private railway car was parked on a siding in
downtown Redlands. In the car were two men who had traveled from San Francisco to attend a
funeral-- that of Dr. Jacob Davis Babcock Stillman.. ( Dr. Stillman was familiarly known
as JDB and for purposes of brevity, Ill also refer to him as
The railway car was owned by Charles Crocker, a major owner of the
Southern Pacific Railroad, one of the so called big four of California, a
long time friend and partner of JDB. With Crocker came a Stillman nephew who was the
business manager and attorney for the widow of Mark Hopkins, another of the big
four and another partner of JDB.
His obituary in the San Francisco Bulletin included:
Dr. J.D.B. Stillman: Death of one of Californias best known
physicians. The death of Dr. Stillman, which took place at his home in Lugonia, San
Bernardino County, on Friday, March 2, will call to mind a familiar figure and presence...
Dr. Stillman was a man of fine endowment, with a dash of disquiet and unrest. Naturally
highstrung and impulsive, he was genial, magnanimous and honorable. His faults were not
the faults of meanness, but of virtue.
JDB died in Redlands at the age of sixty-nine. He had been a resident for
eight years. His home, which he had named Monte Vista . was located on the
current site of the Administration building of the University of Redlands. At that time,
the area was first known as Sunnyside and later as Lugonia. JDB
was born in Schenectady, N.Y. in 1819, one of nine children of parents who were strict
Seventh Day Baptists. His father, Joe, was an inventor and carpenter, a cold, hard man
with a passionate love of animals and nature. Reportedly a poor business person, Joe
Stillman enjoyed a reputation as a man of great integrity-- there was a local proverb
that so and so is as honest as Joe Stillman, so a good name but that was all
he left to his children.
Education came hard to the Stillman children for father Joe believed it
unnecessary and expected his eight sons to be fishermen and carpenters. His wife however
wanted all of her sons to be ministers so she took in boarders and washing to help defray
JDB was granted a scholarship to attend Union University in Schenectady--
the third university founded in the United States, the first non-denominational college in
the country and the first college to include modern languages, science, engineering and
liberal arts education in its curriculum. He was graduated with majors in Botany and
Biology an 1843, a Phi Beta Kappa , and was appointed director of a boarding high years
and functioned as a surgeon at the Bellevue Hospital . During this time, he married
Caroline Maxson and they produced one son, John.
JDB did sufficiently well as a physician so that at age thirty he was able
to finance a single berth in 1849 on the Pacific, bound for San Francisco around Cape
Horn. The ship was overly filled with ninety-seven gold hunters and JDBs account of
the 194 day voyage is contained in his first book entitled Seeking the Golden
There is not sufficient time to describe carefully this voyage but it was
extremely difficult due to bad weather, overcrowding, rationed water, bad food, cramped
quarters with rats between sleeping passengers-- all made more difficult by a cruel
Captain Tibbets who refused to honor the contract conditions of his paying passengers.
About the only humorous event aboard ship: after 34 days out, a passenger
saw a suitcase rolling overboard in a rough sea. The passenger shouted, Please,
Captain, wont you lower a boat and get my bag, it contains all my clothes for the
voyage? The Captains reply, Go to hell with your bag-- do you suppose
that Im going to lower a boat to get your bag-- why didnt you take care of
it.? So the ship progressed through the night and the next morning it was discovered
that the lost bag was actually the property of the captain!
At about this time, JDB formed a grievance committee of men who had paid
$300 for first class passage. They had been promised a cabin with the same food as that of
the captain but thus far they had been housed and fed like crew members. JDB wrote, Instead, we were herded together like a mass of convicts, damned and abused from one
side of the ship to the other. The captain of course refused the grievance and soon
after the following notice was posted:
Any person interfering with the captain of this ship will be put into
irons at the pleasure of the captain. signed, Tibbets, Captain.
JDB wrote, The general temper of the passengers is mutinous. There
is danger of violence on slight provocation.
As the Pacific approached Rio de Janeiro, a brief engagement, unrecorded
in histories of naval battles, occurred between the American ship and an unnamed German
gunboat. Stillman describes the encounter:
Early this morning we found ourselves close in and running up the lower
bay. Met a Prussian gun-brig, beating out. We were before the wind and should have given
way to the brig. The vessels were approaching-- the brig hailed us twice. Our Captain made
no reply but held on his course and down came the brig upon us-- both vessels rolling in
the heavy swells that were coming in from the sea; a collision was imminent. The flying
jib boom of the Prussian made a complete circuit of our starboard quarter and caught our
flag hanging at the spanker gaff. Mr. Parker, the mate, made an attempt to save it, but it
was beyond his reach, and leaning over he caught from the jolly boat under our stern a
white utensil indispensable to a chamber set, and which was placed there with others for
safety, and swinging it with all the vigor of his powerful arm, he sent it careening
through the air like a bombshell; striking the foresail, it fell in a thousand pieces on
the deck of the man-of-war. In an instant, up went our lost ensign under the Prussian
flag, with three cheers from the enemy.
When they finally reached their first landfall at Rio, the Captain
uncharacteristically agreed to the demands of the grievance committee and then prepared to
sail away, leaving JDB on shore. JDB appealed to the Portuguese governor who issued an
order to stop the sailing of the Pacific. A trial hastily followed; JDBs arguments
were upheld; the Captain was found guilty of misconduct and stripped of his command. A new
captain, one Easterbrook, was put in charge. JDB wrote: Outraged humanity has
JDBs descendants have a large pewter urn inscribed with the names of
most of the passengers who presented it to him after reaching San Francisco. Mark Hopkins
was one who worked closely with JDB at this time as did the artist John Ross Browne.
When they finally saw the shores of San Francisco, JDB wrote. There
are millions of dollars worth of goods lying about the hills or in the open without
guards-- the choicest goods are stored in tents yet no one thinks of losing anything by
After five weeks in San Francisco. JDB and Mark Hopkins bought a small
boat and set out for the gold fields via the Sacramento River. The account of this trip is
detailed in articles printed in the Overland Monthly, to which JDB was a frequent
contributor. In addition to vivid botanical descriptions, he wrote about hundreds of gold
diggers who died from hunger and thirst; he also described meetings with Indians who
traded food for gifts. After three weeks on boats and on horseback and finally one day
away from the gold fields, JDB and Hopkins decided to turn back when they were told that
there was no food for their animals and no way to support themselves through the
approaching winter. At this time, also, JDB contracted a serious fever and so the small
party retraced their way back to Sacramento.
Re the pictures in this paper, they are reproductions from the Bancroft
Library of the University of California at Berkeley made available by Mrs. Helen Boese,
owner of the Simplicity Press, which has republished three Stillman books, and from the
Heritage Room of the A.K.Smiley Library.
After practicing medicine for a brief period in a 6 ft by 12 ft building
in Sacramento, JDB and Dr. John F. Morse established the first hospital in that city.
Their building was constructed of miscellaneous boards, measured 55 by 35 feet and was one
and one-half stories high. It contained an apothecary, doctors office, dining room,
eight private wards and sleeping quarters for the two doctors. It was the second wooden
building in Sacramento. At about this time, JDB organized the first medical society in
California, the Medico-Chirurgical Association. In the book, Gold Fever, the two doctors
were described as a remarkable pair. Both were men of compassion and intellect who
combined large visions with an ability to make do in whatever fashion the circumstances
Two noteworthy events of this period: first, a serious flood swept through Sacramento,
completely flooding the first floor of the hospital forcing the doctors to move their 40
patients to the small second floor with attendant circumstances such as floating bodies
and food; JDB wrote about " tents, houses, boxes, barrels, horses, mules and cattle
sweeping by in the swollen torrent,"; and secondly, shortly after the flood waters
subsided, riots occurred involving " squatters rights." According to the
Gold Rush Letters of JDB Stillman, squatters rights referred to the claimed right of
ownership of land by reason of possession of the land. This right conflicted with the
rights of people who had purchased the same land from ranchers who had held it under
Mexican rule. As the squatters sought to enforce their claims, frequently violence
erupted. There were also political biases as squatter judges, legislators and governors
articulated the positions of their constituents. Large bands of squatters organized
against General Sutter and JDB was appointed by Sutter as a vigilante officer. After
participating in riots and gunfights, the vigilantes succeeded in driving the squatters
from the city. JDB and two other vigilantes tracked down the leader of the squatters,
Charles Robbins, found him to be ill, treated him and then took him to the local prison.
Incidentally, Robbins later became governor of Kansas.
JDB wrote about Sacramento, " Except for the squatters riots, there is
practically no crime in this city of 5000 people. Goods of every description are cheaper
here than in New York but labor is much higher.... There is more intelligence and generous
good feeling than in any other country I ever saw-- men are valued for what they
In September, 1850, JDB decided to return to New York. He wrote, " I am tired of
excitement and long for the quiet of home. Its at home would I be, home in my own
country." Still recovering from fever and jaundice, he decided to return East via an
overland route through Nicaragua due to the high incidence of cholera throughout the
Isthmus of Panama. He took passage on the ship Plymouth bound from San Francisco to
Realejo, a canoe trip to the town of Realejo, overland by carretta and horseback, two
attempts to run the length of Lake Nicaragua in native canoes, both of which sank, finally
crossing the lake on a larger boat and back to Baltimore. A seven ship and horseback
journey. On the 24 day voyage from San Francisco to Realejo, JDB described an 80 foot
whale who constantly swam under the boat. Afraid that the whale might unship the rudder,
the passengers hit it with bullets, bottles, pieces of wood and bricks but they could not
dislodge "Old Blowhard " whose breath blackened the boats white paint.
This 113 day adventure is described in JDBs book " An 1850 Voyage, San
Francisco to Baltimore, By Sea and Land." There is not sufficient time to detail it
here except to say that he described for the first time the presence of sharks in the
fresh water of the lake, a shipwreck, rescues at sea, harpooning a whale, etc. On the way
to Baltimore, JDB asked to be put off at the island of Old Providence in the Caribbean
when he discovered that the captain of his ship had planned to divert the ship to New
Orleans and scuttle it for insurance money. While on the island, he accidentally poisoned
himself by eating a manchineel , supposedly a fatal fruit. He survived,however,after a
JDB once again entered medical practice in New York City but his wife died suddenly in
1852. Two years later he married Mary Wells of Westerly, Rhode Island, and one year later
he and California Governor Leland Stanford ,whom he had met earlier in California,
traveled throughout Europe. We dont know much about this trip except that they spent
some time investigating the hospitals and vineyards of Italy and France.
When he returned to the States in 1855, JDB traveled to Texas to consider that state as
a possible residence location. The narrative of the Texas trip is contained in JDBs
book "Wanderings in the Southwest " and also in the "Crayon," a New
York journal. The trip lasted six months and was filled with tales of risk and adventure,
for Texas was still very much a frontier state in 1855. Land sold for $2 per acre and
Texas republic President Sam Houston was defending slavery in public debates. This was the
Texas that awaited the 36-year-old physician who wished to follow in the footsteps of his
friend Frederick Law Olmstead who had recently returned from a much publicized trip
through the state.
JDB was a member of a generation in love with Americas natural beauty. He wrote
that he traveled in Texas to study its " resources and natural history." The
journal The Crayon" was an ideal format for JDBs letters since it
frequently published essays by leading American landscape writers. JDB wrote, " Nowhere have I seen nature display so much of her beauty or rugged grandeur... as in the
rolling grassy regions of West Texas. For purposes of settlement or pursuit of health or
enjoyment of nature in her visible forces and primitive enclosures, Texas is
He purchased a horse and set out alone although sometimes he traveled with the army as
he practiced medicine. His travels took him from Indianola to San Antonio to Fort Creek,
to Camp Lancaster and finally to El Paso. Again, many vivid descriptions of flowers,
birds, animals, trees, etc, and also a colorful account of an encounter with hostile
Apaches. Fourteen Indians attacked JDB, four soldiers and two civilian mule drivers on
patrol. The two civilians and at least three Indians were killed. JDB describes a
harrowing chase on horseback amid arrows, spears and bullets by the Indians before he was
able to reach a safe area. He wrote, I would rather die by wild beasts than by the
hands of beings who possess all the ferocity of the wildest beast, added to the cunning
and cruelty of man."
The following year JDB and his wife returned to California and he practiced medicine in
Sacramento for five years until the flood of 1861-1862. At this time, they moved to San
Francisco where they resided until 1880. During this period he held many positions of
honor, vg, he was the medical examiner for San Francisco County, a member of the San
Francisco Board of Education, an active member of the vigilante committee, a member of the
California Academy of Science, a trustee of a private school, San Francisco City
Councilman, editor of the California Medical Gazette, the San Quentin physician, Director
of the Society of California Pioneers and one of the first appointed professors in the
Medical department of the University of California.
During this period, JDB and Governor Stanford again toured Europe, spending time with
JDBs younger brother ,William, who was the American Consul in Crete and Rome. And
again they spent time learning about European vineyards. JDB was also the Stanford family
physician and is credited with counseling Mrs. Stanford sufficiently so that after
eighteen years of marriage, she bore a son, Leland Jr, in whose memory Stanford University
was established by his father.
This was also the time of the famous Golden Spike ceremony-- the laying down by
Governor Stanford of the last spike connecting the Union and Central Pacific railroads. I
didnt realize it until I read JDBs articles in the Overland Monthly but this
act occasioned a country-wide, week-long celebration in the major cities in the U.S. The
ceremony is depicted in a large painting by Thomas Hill which hangs in our State Capitol
and places JDB next to Stanford as he struck the final blow.
During this time, JDB wrote a book entitled " The Horse in Motion." The book
was an outgrowth of a difference of opinion between Governor Stanford and Frederick
MacCrellish, publisher of the "Alta California" newspaper. They each reportedly
wagered $25,000 as to whether a horses four feet left the ground simultaneously as
it galloped. They used Occident, a $20,000 trotting horse owned by Stanford, to be
photographed by Eadweard Muybridge, a prominent photographer. JDB was asked to perform a
study of horse anatomy and physiology and write a book detailing the results of the
photography. Muybridge set up a battery of 24 rapid action cameras each set at one-twelfth
of a second to photograph the moving horse. The resultant book proved Stanfords
contention and revolutionized the concept of all animals in motion, but it neglected to
give Muybridge credit for the photographs except in the Appendix. The writing of the book
took two years and from this successful " instantaneous photography " the
concept of motion pictures was developed by another friend, Thomas Edison. Most of the
books were burned and according to the California Historical Society ," Very few
copies escaped this holocaust. The few that did are invaluable not only on account of
their history but because they inaugurated the motion picture industry." But because
Muybridge was not given other credits in the book, he sued Stanford and JDB in the US and
England. Both suits were eventually dismissed by the courts.
In 1878 JDB was asked to accompany young James Flood on a world-wide tour. Although
Flood was to become a multi-millionaire mining engineer, JDBs letters describe him
at times as a spoiled young man who tended to act irresponsibly. Reading these 55 long
letters gives one a wonderfully clear botanical and political picture of many foreign
lands as well as personal opinions of people, traditions and cultures. For example, he was
impressed with what he saw in Japan and disgusted with what he witnessed in China
including governmental torture of accused persons. He describes violence in Java and
Singapore. He wrote, " England may be a free people at home but her government is an
unscrupulous and grasping tyrant in India."
He describes Greek and Roman ruins, artwork in Florence, tombs and museums in Cairo and " robbers, thieves and liars " in Paris. He was depressed to be among " the
rogues of Brandisi."
In March 1880, JDB retired from medicine and moved to Redlands. He chose Redlands
because he felt that the climate duplicated that of Southern France and Italy and he
planned to plant a vineyard. This was only two years after Brown and Judson had arrived in
JDB soon built a house and a water wheel on the Zanja which lifted water to the house
for domestic use . He had 200 acres in vines, 1200 apricot trees, 800 peach trees, 500
orange trees, 160 olive trees and a winery, built on the present site of the
Universitys Larson Hall, producing and storing 300,000 gallons of wine.He farmed a
total of 800 acres. JDB had fathered six children, four of them boys. Being somewhat of a
stern parent, JDB is said to have told each of the boys that they must stay in Redlands
and work the farm, and like JDB and his siblings, all the boys left as soon as it was
practical, one to become a professor of Chemistry and later vice-president of Stanford
University, another to be a physician in San Francisco, another to become an attorney in
New York and the fourth to be the Engineer of Tests for the Southern Pacific Railroad.
One noteworthy Redlands event, like many California viticulturists, JDB had imported
both vines and workers from Europe. One of them, Baron Frederick Von Thuman, a noble
Austrian and vineyard overseer, came into JDBs house and reported that his fiancée
was rapidly failing in health and that he had ingested strychnine, a poison. He died
within 15 minutes.
After a short time, JDB convinced the railroad to route itself to his back door and
that line is still there. He functioned as chair of the first incorporation committee for
the proposed city of Redlands and like his friend Governor Stanford he was viewed as one
of the most important figures in the development of the California wine industry.
Incidentally, he played tennis and was a founding member of the Southern California Tennis
In a brief form, these seem to be the major events in this mans life. As I
prepared this paper, it seemed to me that the story of JDB was in some ways also the story
of California-- a young , vigorous state going through exciting times with severe
experiences but motivated always with a vision of its future-- with a commitment to meet
all challenges with a fine sense of competency.
Shortly before his death, JDB wrote, He (talking about adventurers) will learn
that happiness does not consist in the amount of luxuries which may be heaped about him,
nor in the approbations of the purse-proud and soulless creatures, who know not God except
in their prayers and who see nothing in the face of all his magnificent creatures to
admire but themselves and the work of their own hands. He will return from his wanderings,
a healthier, wiser and better man."
Scopio Craig, writing about JDBs death, declared: " The death of Stillman, a
man of energy and attainment, makes a vacancy in the social and business world that will
not be soon filled. He was buried on Sunday last and the large throng of neighbors and
friends testified to the strong hold he had on the minds and affection of those with whom
he was brought into contact... the general feeling of the community that we have lost one
of our best citizens is the greatest eulogy that could be pronounced."
So a published author, a world traveler, a highly regarded physician and researcher
(early on in his correspondence with the Crayon he had suggested a germ theory of
disease), an adventurer who at times was forced to rely on his pistols, an historian, a
botanist, a viticulturist who produced some of the earliest wines in California-- truly a
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