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H. C. Daulton, a quasiquicentennial hero

Madera County Historical Society

The old Daulton home place near Hannibal Missouri. This was Henry Clay Daulton’s home until he came to California.

Originally published on Oct. 10, 2018.


Henry Clay Daulton is a well-known figure from Madera County’s past. He was one of its organizers in 1893, as well as the chairman of its first Board of Supervisors. He is perhaps without peer in terms of his influence upon this part of California.

A few years ago when Daulton was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame, a biographical sketch was prepared in which his exploits on the California Trail were recounted. It was remembered that he came west from Missouri in 1853 with the Hildreth party, facing threats from Indians, cholera, and waterless deserts, until he reached the San Gabriel Mission, and ultimately settled in what is now Madera County.

What was not included in the official biography was the fact that Daulton had already been to California in 1849, and it was this gold rush experience that gave him the dream that was to materialize into Madera County.

Henry Clay the first was born in 1829 in Maysville, Kentucky. His father, James, was experiencing economic difficulty, so when the baby was just a few months old, the entire family, parents and seven children, boarded a flat boat and began the tedious trip to the mouth of the Ohio River. There they switched to a steamer and traveled up the Mississippi River to the frontier town of Hannibal, Missouri.

In time, James Daulton purchased a 169-acre farm near Hannibal. The family pitched in, and it looked as if success was just around the corner. Three more boys were born, and the two girls both married well. Then, in 1842, when young Henry was just 13 years old, his oldest brother, Moses, died. Two years later, his sister, Louisa Mariah, was taken in death, and in two more years the family buried his mother, Naomi Wakeman Daulton. This two-year cycle of death continued when in 1848, his father James Daulton, passed away. The family was in crisis again.

The Daulton farm was sold, as were the household belongings. When arrangements were made for the care of the three youngest boys, who ranged in age from eight to sixteen, Henry Clay Daulton began to look west. He would not be tied to Hannibal.

Henry wasn’t like his brother, John, who could be content with a small farming operation. He was different from his brother, William, who was interested in the quarrying of limestone and would someday become an accomplished plasterer. It wasn’t enough for him to take up the trade of printing, as his brother Frank eventually did with his childhood chum, Samuel Clemens.

Sister, Sabrina Ann, having married Thomas Winter, had her destiny fixed; however, Henry wasn’t looking for that kind of security. He was more akin to his brother, Wakeman. Both young men had a reckless wanderlust that would soon take them far from home.

In the same year that James Daulton died, an event of monumental significance took place in California. James W. Marshall discovered gold. The rush to the Land of Ophir was about to take place, and Henry Clay Daulton intended to be part of it.

With his brother Wakeman, Henry set out for California, expecting to make his fortune. Their wagon train took them overland through South Pass to the Humbolt Sink and then up the Truckee River to the mines near Hangtown (Placerville).

There they found nothing but bitter disappointment. Everyone was not getting rich in California. The reports of gold nuggets lying on the ground were found to be exaggerated. The placer mining was difficult and unrewarding, and it was plain to the most casual observer that in a short time the huge mining companies would replace the colorful miners who dug in the gravel and stormed the saloons. Within two years after their arrival, Henry Clay and Wakeman Daulton were ready to return home.

The sojourn in California, however, was not a complete economic waste of time. Henry could not help but notice that there were those who were benefiting from the gold rush: the storeowners, the saloonkeepers, and the hotel proprietors. As he and Wakeman boarded the “Republican” and sailed out of the Golden Gate for the Isthmus of Panama, an idea was churning; why not mine the miners? Why not return to Missouri, find some means to purchase livestock, and transport them to California? It was a perfect plan, and all that was needed was determination and a little luck.

The rest is history, as they say. Daulton hooked up with the Hildreths, completed his second journey west, and established the first sheep and cattle ranch in what was then Fresno County.

Then in 1893, he became the driving force for creating Madera County. He was appointed by the governor to chair a commission to organize the election that actually brought Madera County into existence, and in May he was elected to be the first chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Madera County.

Daulton held that post for five months, and then, at the zenith of his political career, on Oct. 28, 1893, he suffered a tragic, untimely, and mysterious death.


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