Biography of James W. Waters

James W. Waters, deceased, a noted mountaineer, trapper, hunter, and guide of the Rocky Mountains, was born near Brainard’s Bridge, in Rensselaer County, New York, June 20, 1813.

In 1835 he started out, a young man twenty-two years of age, with his rifle in hand, bound for the Rocky Mountains and the great West, to begin his career. For nine years he hunted and trapped from the head waters of the Columbia and Yellowstone rivers along the mountain ranges as far south as Texas, accompanied by such noted hunters as Kit Carson, the Sublettes, Major Fitzpatrick, the celebrated Bents, Old Bill Williams, John Brown, Sr., Alexander Godey, V. J. Herring, and Joseph Bridger, all famous in frontier life for deeds of daring. He trapped the beaver throughout the country of the Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Utes, Sioux, Crows, Blackfeet, Comanches, Snakes, Apaches and other tribes, and had many interesting and exciting experiences.

On one occasion, while he and old Bill Williams were hunting on the Big Bottom Dear the Rio de las Animas for three days and nights, they were besieged by the Apaches. Mr. Waters was severely wounded by a shot in his side. He cut out the bullet on the other side of his body with his butcher knife. After holding the bloodthirsty savages at bay for three days without food he and Williams escaped by riding their horses over a bluff ten feet in height and traveling forty miles before camping. Notwithstanding Mr. Waters suffered greatly from his wound, his comrade bolstered him up with blankets around his saddle, and they reached Bent’s Fort in five days ride. On another occasion, over 800 Utes and Apache Indians surrounded Mr. Waters, Mr. Brown and sixteen other hunters, who by the most daring bravery repulsed their assailants.

Such was the adventurous life he led until 1844, when he came across the plains with a pack train to Southern California, by way of the Cajon Pass, chartered a small sailboat at San Pedro and went into Lower California, and returned with a cargo of abalone shells, which he packed on mules across the Rocky mountains, 2,000 miles, and exchanged with the Indians for beaver skins and buffalo robes. These he sent to St. Louis, Missouri, thus obtaining the means to purchase supplies while trapping and hunting.

About this time John C. Fremont desired him to act as guide for his expedition across the mountains; but as winter was approaching and the snow on the mountains was likely to become too deep to cross in safety, Mr. Waters declined to go. Mr. Fremont went on, and a number of his company perished. Fremont’s name has gone into history as the great Pathfinder” of the Rocky mountains, when in fact the paths had been found by such frontiersmen as Waters, Brown, Godey and other hunters, who showed them to Fremont and he traveled them.

For some time after the gold-mining excitement of 1848-’49 set in, Mr. Waters remained on Green river, exchanging fresh horses for animals that had become exhausted by continued travel across the plains. In September 1849, he came to California by the Southern route, through the Cajon Pass, to avoid the probability of being snow-bound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains further north. He served as guide for a company of 140 New Yorkers on this trip. Continuing in the live-stock business, he bought 900 head of sheep from Isaac WiIliams and Victor Prudonne, and drove them to Merced River, where he sold them for $16 a head. He then purchased a herd of cattle and kept them at the Las Bolsas Ranch at the junction of Merced and San Diego rivers. At San Joaquin Mission in Monterey County, he met his old friends, S. Brown and Godey, and with them opened the St. James Hotel.

In 1856 he came to San Bernardino, and was there joined in marriage with Miss Louisa Margetson, a most estimable lady, who was born in England, October 5, 1837, and died in Old San Bernardino, February 28, 1879, his old friend Brown, being justice of the peace, performed the ceremony. From that time Mr. Waters has been a permanent resident of this county. The year following his marriage he purchased the Yucipa Rancho, and subsequently bought an interest in the Rancho San Bernardino. From the day he settled in the county to the day of his death he was loyal to its interest and exerted a wide influence in its affairs by his active energy and public spirit.

He was a member of the Board of Supervisors of San Bernardino County during the years 1866-’67, 1868-’69, 1874-’75, 1880-’81; and his official career was characterized by his high administrative ability and unquestioned honesty. He enjoyed fair health up to within a few weeks before his death, but long before had retired from active business. He died September 20, 1889, at his home in San Bernardino, surrounded by his sorrowing family.



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.

Search Military Records - Fold3

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top