Biography of Captain Nelson Green Gill

Captain Nelson Green Gill, Post-master of San Bernardino, came to California from Toulon, Illinois, in March 1849, with a team composed of four oxen and two cows. He came by way of St. Joseph, Fort Laramie, Fort Hall and Lassen’s cut-off, with a train composed of twenty-two wagons. They brought with them a ferryboat, which they used in crossing the North Platte and Green rivers, afterward selling it for $100.

They arrived in Sacramento valley, September 26, 1849. Leaving his ox teams at Bidwell’s ranch, Captain Gill started for the mines on Feather River. After he had been in the mines a few months, provisions ran short, and he and a fellow miner started with their oxen and wagon for Sacramento to lay in a supply. The Sacramento River was swollen to a flood, and, becoming involved in the flood, they lost their wagon and oxen, and Mr. Gill’s companion lost his life. Three months elapsed before Mr. Gill got back to camp; he had lost everything he started with, including $600 in gold. Not being successful at mining and being troubled with scurvy, as were many others, he, accompanied by a mining companion, started for Los Angeles, walking to Marysville on foot. They took a rowboat to Sacramento, thence, by steamer, to San Francisco; then, not having money enough to buy two tickets, they walked all the way, 500 miles, to Los Angeles, arriving in November 1850. He and his friend rented twenty acres of land about twenty miles from Los Angeles, from John Reed, sowed ten acres of it to wheat and ten to barley during the winter of 1850-’51. They had an extraordinary crop, the yield being 400 bushels of clean wheat and about the same quantity of barley. This wheat was ground in John Rowland’s mill and hauled to Los Angeles and sold; it was probably the first wheat grown in California for market. Mr. Gill then returned to the mines and spent the years 1852-’53 mining with in-different success. Returning to Los Angeles he engaged in herding stock and shipping Mission grapes (the only variety then known here) to San Francisco. Returning to mining he spent some two or three years on Feather and Trinity rivers, and in 1857, went east, via Arizona and Texas, driving a six-mule team for the overland mail company, and reaching home in January 1858.

In August, 1861, he entered the Union army as a private in the Thirty third Illinois Infantry, known as the Normal” Regiment, being composed largely of students from the State Normal School. He served four years in the army and rose by successive promotions to Captain, having command of a company nearly two years before being mustered out.

After the war he settled in Holly Springs, Mississippi, where he took an active part in politics, and filled a number of important local offices. He was first appointed Postmaster by President Grant; subsequently was appointed by the Governor, President of the Board of Supervisors; and was twice elected to the Mississippi Legislature, serving four years in that body. Fearless in advocating his political convictions and entering into each campaign with a will and energy that brooked no defeat, Captain Gill was recognized as a power in that State.

In 1879 he removed to Kansas, settling near Emporia; while there he was a delegate to the county convention two years also a delegate to the convention that organized the State Farmers’ Alliance, and elected first vice-president of the Alliance.

In the spring of 1882, he removed to California and settled at Ontario, San Bernardino County, his being the first family in that place. He plowed the ground and planted out seventy-three acres of raisin grapes and oranges and they are now bearing. In 1884, he was elected Sheriff of that county and served two years. In March 1886, he bought twenty-two acres on the north border of the city, which he still owns, besides being interested in several other pieces of property. June 18, 1889, he was appointed by President Harrison to his present position, and took charge of the post office August 1, 1889.

Captain Gill has been twice married. His first wife, Miss Whitford, was quite renowned as an educator, having founded and made a great success of the freedmen’s school at Holly Springs, which under her administration grew till it had as high as 250 pupils in attendance, requiring a number of assistant instructors. She was the mother of one son by Captain Gill, who now resides in San Bernardino County. The Captain’s present wife was Miss Winnie Whitford, born and reared on the border of Chautauqua Lake, New York. Two children, a daughter and son, constitute their family. Captain Gill, was also born in New York, in 1830. He is a gentleman noted for his social qualities, and his inherent force of character adapts him for a leader among his fellows.


The Lewis Publishing Company. An Illustrated History of Southern California embracing the counties of San Diego San Bernardino Los Angeles and Orange and the peninsula of lower California. The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. 1890.

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