Biography of Orrin Backus

Orrin Backus, a horticulturist and businessman of Riverside, was born in Columbus, Ohio, March 16, 1822. His father, Andrew Backus, and mother, Bathsheba (King) Backus, were natives of Massachusetts, and representatives of old colonial families. Andrew Backus was a soldier of the war of 1812-’14; he enlisted twice, first under Captain Chase, again under Captain Greenleaf Pratt; he received 160 acres of land and a pension, by act of Congress. Mrs. Hannah Alden, the mother of Andrew Backus and grandmother of Orrin Backus, was sixth in lineal descent from John Alden, of Mayflower pilgrims. Andrew Backus immigrated to Columbus, Ohio, in 1816, one of the pioneers and first to engage in the manufacture of furniture.

Orrin Backus received a good schooling, completing his studies at the Granville College, of Ohio. His young manhood, aside from securing his education, was spent in assisting his father in his business. In 1846 he was appointed assistant clerk and visitor guide in the Ohio Penitentiary at Columbus. He remained on duty during two cholera seasons, when about 113 prisoners and three physicians died. In 1850 he and his brother, Lafayette, engaged in mercantile pursuits in the grocery business in Columbus, Ohio. In 1862 to 1865, during the Rebellion, was captain in charge of the steamer Diadem, and was employed on the Ohio and Mississippi and its tributaries by the United States Government in the transportation of troops, commissary stores and munitions of war, and it was one of danger and hardship. He took part in military expeditions, and ran the gauntlet of Rebel batteries, on the Tennessee, Yazoo, Mississippi, and up Red river with General A. J. Smith’s Sixteenth and Seventeenth Army Corps, with Colonel Gilbert’s Twenty-seventh – Iowa Regiment. The steamer Diadem was the flagship, post of honor and danger, taking the lead of thirty-five transports from Vicksburg.

At the close of the war he resigned his position and returned to Columbus to his family and business, with his brother. In 1867 he located in Cleveland and engaged in the wholesale and retail jewelry trade until 1874. He was then elected secretary and treasurer of the Cleveland Boiler Plate Company, where there were 200 men employed. In 1876 he was elected secretary and treasurer of the Atchison Bridge Company, the office being in Cleveland.

June 16, 1854, Mr. Orrin Backus was married to Miss Ella V. McGaw, of Fairfield, Iowa. In 1879 his wife’s ill health decided him to retire from business and to accompany her to a more genial climate, seeking a restoration of her health; but the changes only gave temporary relief. She died February 4, 1882, in Cleveland.

December 4, of the same year, Mr. Backus started with his son, W. H. Backus, and family for Riverside, California, where they located and bought an orange grove of thirteen acres, and engaged in horticulture, and they have one of the representative orange groves and raisin vine-yards of his section; also bought a ten-acre ranch on Magnolia Avenue. W. H. Backus cures and packs his raisin crop.

Mr. Backus is one of the original incorporators of the Riverside Banking Company, and has been a director of the bank since its organization in 1885; he was also an incorporator and director of the First National Bank of San Bernardino. He owns a one-fifth interest in a large stock ranch, Las Penisquitas, about 7,000 acres. Politically he has been a stanch Republican since the party organization in 1856. He is a member of Arlington Presbyterian Church, and served some years as one of its trustees. He is also a member of the I. O. O. F. and Capital Encampment, Columbus, Ohio. His wife and three children have died. His son, W. H. Backus, married Miss Ida J. Cronenberg in 1881; they live in Riverside, and have two children, a son and daughter.


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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