JAMES W. WATERS (1813-1889)

 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.

San Bernardino County, CA, Biographies

This file is part of the California Genealogy & History Archives


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 near 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 Ute 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 sail-boat 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 " Path�finder" 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 Williams 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.

SOURCE: An Illustrated History of Southern California: Embracing the Counties
of San Diego, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange, and the Peninsula of Lower
California� Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1890. p.- 665-666
Transcribed by Kathy Sedler