Friday, July 29, 2011

Surveying for Railroad? - Gilbert Winslow Colby

From: "Wyatt, Kyle"

Any thoughts on G.W. Colby?



I am an historian in Butte County ... researching Gilbert Winslow Colby, usually referred to as G.W. Colby. I am his seventh cousin, twice removed, but this is not a genealogical project. G.W. was an Argonaut who accomplished much in Northern California, only to have been lost in history. I eventually will publish his story in an historical journal.

I have attached a brief biography of G.W. for reference.

My reason for contacting you is that G.W. apparently surveyed for "the railroad' and was present at the Golden Spike ceremony at Promontory Point, Utah. So far I have not been able to substantiate this. Comments to this effect come from two sources: 1) Daughters of the American Revolution, Unpublished Records of the Families of California Pioneers, May 1932 and 2) Reminiscences of William E. Colby UC, Berkeley, 1954. (William E. was G.W.'s oldest son and he may have been the source of the DAR information.)

The DAR information says: "He surveyed the transcontinental railroad and was present at the Driving of the Last Spike." The Reminiscences say: "While he was in Sacramento, he assisted in the surveying of the transcontinental railroad and was present at the driving of the last spike in Utah when the two branches of the railroad were connected."

Are there records of railroad employees for this time period and/or who was at the Utah ceremony? Can you refer me to any other railroad historians that could help me?

I will greatly appreciate any assistance that you may give.

—Robert E. Colby

Gilbert Winslow Colby

Born in New Hampshire in 1825, Gilbert Winslow Colby came around the Horn and arrived in Sacramento in 1849. A graduate of Norwich University, he was a civilian and military engineer. However, in California he started as a merchant in the "Round Tent" in Sacramento selling mining tools that he and three partners had brought to California. He sold tools and mined at Red Bank. Then in 1850 went into partnership on a ranch at Brighten near Sacramento, becoming one of the first to successfully raise and ship grain from the area. (Grain produced far more wealth than did gold in California.) Studying law on the voyage to California, he was admitted to the State Bar in 1852, A Democrat; he served in the State Assembly in 1851-52 and in the Senate in 1854-55 representing Sacramento County. After an argument, he was physically assaulted by Senator Leake (Calaveras Co.) on floor of senate. He was Sacramento County Surveyor, 1854-55 and later was City and County Engineer for several years. He was State Locating Agent for School Lands from 1860 to 1869. He married Caroline Amelia Smith on 12-8-66 and they had five children. In 1858 he bought several hundred acres of land in Butte County along the Sacramento River northwest of Chico where he established Colby's Landing and opened a mercantile. In 1859 was shot at by Wm. Rouse in Brighton (Sacto Co.). In 1868 he began operation of a ferry at the landing. He increased his land holdings, playing a role in starting grain farming in Butte County. In 1870 when the California & Oregon Railroad came north, he founded the town of Nord two miles east of Colby’s Landing and moved his mercantile there. He was postmaster and Wells Fargo and railroad agent in Nord. He had agricultural interests initially in Sacramento and later in Butte, Glenn, Colusa, Tehama, Yuba, Solano and Contra Costa Counties. He was a director of the Bank of Butte County. He founded the Nord chapter of the Grange and later became president of the Granger’s Bank. He was a mason and member of the IOOF. In 1875 he moved to Benicia where Caroline died on 10-24-79. He married again, but this wife died within three months. On October 14, 1880 he was involved in a gunfight with Robert McCarger on the Colby Ranch near Concord. Both were tried for assault with the intent to commit murder. McCarger was found not guilty, but on May 31, 1881 GWC was found guilty. The verdict was overturned apparently due to McCarger’s bribery of a witness. At age 56, GWC died of "brain fever" while in San Francisco on August 20, 1881. He had a ranch in Colby Meadows on Colby Creek near Butte Meadows and nearby is Colby Mountain in Tehama County. He was a friend and contemporary of General John Bidwell a pioneer in Butte County and in the State.

He may have surveyed for the Central Pacific Railroad and been present at the driving of the Golden Spike in Utah. He also may have owned a sawmill in Sacramento area.

From: "Larry Mullaly"

The only references to GW Colby that I find in my material is his role as a Democratic legislator in the early 1850s. Root’s account fails to mention him, but then Root’s list of survey members reflects only parts of the CP Engineering Dept.