Biography of Joseph Hancock

Joseph Hancock, a rancher near San Bernardino, was born near Cleveland, Ohio, in 1822, and is the son of Solomon and Alta (Adams) Hancock, natives of Massachusetts and Vermont respectively. His father was born in 1793, and his mother in 1795, and were of English descent. The great-grandfather of the subject of this sketch was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  1 His paternal great-grandmother was the daughter of General Ward. Solomon Hancock was a frontiersman in the Buckeye State, a farmer, but in his early days spent much time in hunting deer and wild turkey, with which the country abounded. His father, Thomas Hancock, entered the Revolutionary War at the age of fourteen years.

When the subject of this sketch was a lad of ten years his father moved to Clay County, Missouri, where he lived for three years. There they had some pretty “tough times.” Mr. Hancock gave his shoes to another boy while he rode on the back of an ox to get along. This was in 1833. Four years later his father moved with his family to Adams County, Illinois, where he lived for three years, and then moved to Hancock County, Illinois, and remained there nine years. In 1846 he left Illinois for Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he lived until 1851, when he set out for the Utah country.

While crossing the Missouri, Mr. Hancock and his wife and two children narrowly escaped drowning. He had just been assisting to “ferry across” several families successfully, but in crossing this time a large tree came floating down stream. Captain Day insisted on trying to pass before the tree should arrive; but Mr. Hancock negatively shook his head and intimated to him that they had better slacken and let the tree pass first. The Captain called, “Row ahead!” Of course the boatmen obeyed, and the consequence was the tree caught the boat in the middle, and in spite of all the rowing it pushed them down stream a half or three-quarters of a mile. In the meantime some of the men had got out of the boat, mounted the floating tree and chopped some branches loose just as they had neared a large whirlpool. On the bank some 150 men, women and children, came running with ropes, expecting every moment that those in the river would be pushed into the whirlpool and drowned; but the party freed themselves from the tree barely in time to save their lives. On approaching the shore, a rope was thrown to them, by the aid of which, and by rowing, they succeeded in reaching the proper landing. Mrs. Hancock got out of the wagon with both her children in her arms, expecting they would be drowned in the whirlpool. The dog jumped into the wagon and whined and howled, realizing the danger as clearly as any person.

In the spring of 1854, when coming from Utah to California, Mr. Hancock lay sick with the chills and fever in his wagon. The oxen were exhausted for want of water. They were crossing the desert between Salt Lake and Bitter Springs. Some wagons in the train had not a drop of water. Mr. and Mrs. Hancock had a very small quantity, and Mr. Hancock lay in the wagon with a burning fever, while his wife walked and drove the oxen. An old friend, Mr. Thorn, came to the wagon and asked, Mrs. Hancock, can you spare me a little water my children have been crying for water for hours, and we have not a drop, and God only knows when we will reach it. She replied. “Mr. Thorn, we have just one pint of water left, and Mr. Hancock has a burning fever, but refuses to drink; he says we must keep it for our three little ones; but I will divide with you.” She did; and he mentioned it very often after they reached San Bernardino, where water was plentiful. Mr. and Mrs. Hancock found their dog by the roadside dead for want of water; she found her sister and another girl lying under a bush almost choked for want of water. Her brother Samuel, who was afterward killed in the mountains of San Bernardino by a bear, left the train in search of water, but before he returned to them a shower of rain fell, and every available thing that would hold water was put out to catch the drops; but it was a very light shower. When Samuel came and passed along to each wagon, he gave them a drink, and told them that water as not far distant; and they were all consequently overjoyed. They reached the Bitter Springs after dark.

The Indians were very troublesome in the desert; and after the party reached San Bernardino, Mrs. Hancock’s youngest brother, Nephi, with two other men, were killed by Indians in the mountains of the Mojave. Her brother Samuel used to take his gun and visit the place very often. On his last visit there he was killed by a bear within a half-mile of the place where his brother met his death! It is difficult for Eastern people to realize the sufferings experienced by the pioneers in settling California.

In crossing the plains the party had much trouble also in crossing the Platte and Elkhorn rivers. They made grass bridges for the more shallow streams, and in many instances the men made bridges by locking their hands together and carrying the women across. Buffalo were plentiful, but the Indians gave them considerable trouble. One man was lost for several days, which gave the rest greater anxiety. They finally reached the Salt Lake country, where they tarried two and one-half years. They were seven month on the way from Council Bluffs to Salt Lake.

In 1854 they started for California and were four months on the way. The first land bought by Mr. Hancock in San Bernardino County was five acres, and they camped for a time just southwest of the city, on Mount Vernon Avenue. He then purchased fifty-six acres of unimproved land just south of Base Line, on which he has put out a fine orchard, built a neat residence and good farm buildings, and has lived there ever since.

Before leaving Hancock County, Illinois, he was married to Harriet Brook, daughter of Samuel Brook, of Pennsylvania. His wife died at Council Bluffs in 1847, and in the fall of 1848 Mr. Hancock married Miss Nancy Bemis, daughter of Alvin Bemis, by whom he has seven children:

  1. Alvin B. Hancock, who married Elizabeth Nish;
  2. Elenorah Hancock, now Mrs. George Miller;
  3. Solomon Hancock, who married Eudora Hammack;
  4. Jerusha Hancock, now Mrs. Charles Tyler;
  5. Lucina Hancock, wife of George Lord, Jr.;
  6. Foster Hancock, who married Kate Mapstead,
  7. Joseph Hancock, yet at home with his parents.

Since he has been identified with this county, Mr. Hancock has been eminently successful and has made a pleasant home. He is ever mindful of the past, its hardships and adventures. He has in his possession the board they used as a table from Council Bluffs to Salt Lake, and from the latter place to California. He has the tires of a wagon which brought them across the plains, also a hub of the same wagon. His wife burned another hub of this wagon to make a cup of tea for a sister who was visiting them a year or two ago. Another relic of interest is a powder horn used in the war of 1812, and an old rifle. On the fourth of July and other days of demonstrations and parades, Mr. Hancock creates quite a lively interest with his covered wagon representing pioneer days, with the old tires tied on the side, and with the hub and the old log chain used for a lock, etc. Any one who enjoys listening to incidents of early days can be royally entertained by Mr. Hancock and his faithful wife, who has been a noble, brave and loving sharer with him in his life-work.


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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  1. It has come to our attention via a visitor to this page, that this information is incorrect. John Hancock’s two children died young, so he could have had no great-grandchildren. She further states the following to provide clearer information on the ancestry of Joseph Hancock: “This Joseph’s grand father was Thomas4 wife Amy Ward and his great grandfather was Thomas Hancock3 married to Jeminna Wright… spelled a couple of ways but the children still the same. His GG grandfather was John Hancock2 wife Anna (Annie) Webb and his his GGG grandfather was Thomas1 and wife Rachel Leonard.” Communication of Patricia Vermette via AccessGenealogy Facebook Page. []

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