"HERE, AT LAST, I HAVE FOUND A RESTING PLACE AND HERE I EXPECT TO LAY MY BONES."
- COLONEL THOMAS BAKER
COLONEL THOMAS BAKER - FOUNDER OF BAKERSFIELD
Colonel Thomas Baker was the visionary founder of the city of Bakersfield and the source of its name. Bakersfield is a monument to his pioneer spirit, hard work and creativity. Baker, born in 1810 in Ohio, started his career as a lawyer but soon headed west for greater opportunities. After a distinguished stint as a state senator and colonel of militia in Iowa, he set off for a new life in the booming California of the 1850s.
After moving to Kern County and founding the city of Visalia, Baker began his greatest project. He reclaimed swamp land on the Kern River and began developing it into what he envisioned as “an important city.” To entice settlers he planted an alfalfa field where travelers could refresh their livestock. Known as “Baker’s Field,” it gave its name to the burgeoning town. Colonel Baker is credited with having laid out Bakersfield’s streets. He also chose a prime piece of land for his final resting place, amid a breathtaking panorama of mountains and plains. He declared “Here at last I have found a resting place and here I expect to lay my bones.” Baker was laid to rest there in 1872, his gravesite marked by a striking stone obelisk.
When the city needed to build a new cemetery, it could find no finer place than the land surrounding Baker’s grave,
which became Historic Union Cemetery.
His gravesite is space 61-14.
BROUGHT THE COUNTY SEAT TO BAKERSFIELD
Benjamin Brundage was a celebrated jurist who made Bakersfield a political power center and helped draft a controversial new constitution for California in the 1870s. Born in Ohio in 1834, Brundage worked his way through law school as a teacher and practiced law at Sandusky, Ohio. He interrupted his career to enlist in the Civil War, serving as a private in a regiment of Ohio state militia.
In the spring of 1865 he came to California and worked for a few months in San Francisco as an agent for an insurance company. He then moved to Kern County and opened a law office at Havilah, then the county seat. Brundage was soon recognized as an accomplished attorney. He was retained by the citizens of Bakersfield to appear before the state legislature and lobby for the removal of the county seat to their town. He was successful in getting the legislation passed, and shortly afterward he moved his practice to Bakersfield, where he became a leading member of the local bar. As a school trustee in Havilah, Brundage had met Mary Lively, one of the town’s first schoolteachers. They married and had three children.
In 1878 Brundage was elected as a member of the Constitutional Convention that drafted the new California constitution. Among the changes was the creation of the Superior Court, which replaced the office of district judge. Brundage was subsequently chosen as the first Superior Court judge in Kern County and filled the position for one term. Brundage then returned to the practice of law and was a prominent citizen until he died in 1911.
The city named a street, Brundage Lane, in his honor.
He rests in Union Cemetery space 62-15.
BLAZED THE TRAIL TO CALIFORNIA
A classic frontiersman, Elisha Stephens was the first to guide a wagon train safely over the treacherous Sierra Nevada mountains, opening Northern California to overland migration. Born in South Carolina in 1804, he worked as a fur trader and trapper in the mountains of Georgia, and then became a skilled black-smith while working for the Indian agency in Iowa. Always seeking adventure, in 1844 he joined the Townsend and Murphy wagon train bound for California. Stephens’ self-confidence and wilderness skills quickly earned him the role of the train’s leader. Against unbelievable odds he led all fifty weary adults and two infants across the dangerous snow-blown Sierra Nevada summit, the first wagon train ever to transit the continent directly into California. The trail Stephens blazed became one of the three major branches of the Overland Emigrant Trail to California. Even then, the trail remained treacherous, as the ill-fated Donner Party discovered a few years later.
On arrival in California, he was conscripted by Captain John Sutter to serve in several military campaigns. He then became a farmer and trapper near San Jose, until the area became “too crowded” for the solitary, eccentric and taciturn Stephens. He moved to the more remote Kern River Valley, near what was to become the city of Bakersfield. He was one of the first white settlers, preceding Colonel Thomas Baker, the city’s founder.
He and Baker became good friends, and Baker’s son wrote an early biographical sketch of Stephens. When Stephens died in Bakersfield in 1887, his exploits were known to few outside his family. For many years he lay in an unmarked grave in Historic Union Cemetery, until local historians found the location of his remains in 2009 (space 345-7).
Today he is rightly regarded as a national hero and one of the great pioneers of California and the West.
BAKERSFIELD'S FIRST POSTMASTER
Pioneer George Chester accomplished several “firsts” for Bakersfield, including acting as its first postmaster and first telegraph operator and opening its first general store. Born in Connecticut in 1835, George and his older brother Julius moved to San Francisco in 1854 to make their fortunes. There they met Horatio Livermore, a businessman who had purchased thousands of acres of land in Kern County. Livermore hired Julius as his agent and the brothers arrived in Bakersfield in 1866 with big ideas and a healthy grubstake. The gregarious, entrepreneurial Julius started a newspaper, the Southern Californian, and helped Colonel Tom Baker survey the town. The quiet, unassuming George opened his general store and became the first postmaster. The store was a success and drew other businesses into what became the city’s first business district.
Chester Street, named for the brothers, became the bustling main street of the new town.
George started many other ventures, including a ferry service, telegraph office, stagecoach and sawmill, but these were unsuccessful. His fortunes ebbed, but he remained committed to building the community, donating land for the first high school and providing the site for the first town hall.
Julius left Bakersfield in 1879, while George lived out his life in the city he loved. Sadly, he lost much of his property due primarily to his generosity and failure to collect debts owed to him. In his later years he lived in a rooming house and worked as a watchman.
Despite his role as an early business leader, George Chester was not a rich man when he died in 1903. He was however, beloved in the community for his pioneer work ethic and commitment to building the city. His obituary called him “the friend of everyone and the enemy of none.”
He rests today in Union Cemetery space 112-14.
EARLY CIVIC BUILDER
Henry A. Jastro, known as “The Commodore,” was an important cattleman and an influential politician. Born in Germany in 1850, Jastro immigrated to America with his family at age 13. He eventually moved west, working cattle and sheep in Southern California before arriving in the Bakersfield area. The town was small but growing, and Jastro saw opportunity there. He quickly settled into the community and a partnership in a brewery with Colonel Thomas Baker.
In 1872 he married Mary Whalen, Baker's stepdaughter. Jastro became a major player in the business and civic life of the town and the county, working for more than 50 years for the Kern County Land Company. The company owned 1,395,000 acres in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico. Jastro's financial acumen and energy helped the company to prosper, and his name became recognized across the West.
He was president of the Kern County board of supervisors for a quarter of a century. Jastro also served several terms as president of the State Board of Agriculture and of the Western Cattlemen’s Association. He organized the Bakersfield Building & Loan Association and was president and principal owner of the Bakersfield Gas & Electric Company.
Jastro donated the land to establish a public park in Bakersfield. Named for Jastro, it became one of the most popular public parks in the city and features a historic bandstand. As a lifelong cattleman, Jastro had a strong relationship with the College of Agriculture at the University of California Davis. The College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences offers a scholarship in his name, which was endowed by Jastro’s estate.
When Jastro died in 1925, all the leading citizens of Bakersfield attended the funeral.
Jastro is buried in a private mausoleum in Union Cemetery space 61-17.
BAKERSFIELD'S FIRST UNDERTAKER
Jacob Niederaur was Bakersfield’s first undertaker and the first sexton of Historic Union Cemetery, which he helped to develop. Born in Bavaria, Germany in 1841, Niederaur came to America with his family in 1853 and settled in Ohio. Niederaur served in the Union army in the Civil War, and then worked in mining camps across the West. He arrived in Bakersfield in 1869.
Niederaur’s father had trained him in woodworking, so he started a cabinet-making shop. It was the first of his many businesses; in 1873 he opened a furniture store. Niederaur realized that the growing town needed a mortuary, so he studied the business and became an undertaker. (This was common for cabinet makers, as many were called upon to build coffins as well.)
Jacob's mortuary was located downtown, in the same building as his furniture store.
When the city developed Union Cemetery in 1878, Niederaur took charge of it, planting trees, fencing the property and handling the burials and record-keeping. At a time when most businesses in Bakersfield were housed in modest shacks, Niederaur championed the development of bigger buildings, and stimulated growth by erecting the first substantial shopping block. It included space that was used for meetings, lectures and even opera performances. He also became a partner in the Southern Hotel, the first in town. Niederaur added a gymnasium and athletic hall to his holdings in 1892, which became the first headquarters of Bakersfield’s National Guard unit.
In 1878 Niederaur married Lucy Williams, the governess for the children of Philo Jewett, brother of local business magnate Solomon Jewett.
The couple had two children.
Niederaur died in 1903, a self-made man who had arrived with little and amassed a large estate while building the community he loved.
His gravesite is space 1-7.
THE JOSS HOUSE SHOOT-OUT
BAKERSFIELD'S OWN WILD WEST
In 1903, Bakersfield was the scene of one of the great gun battles of the Wild West. James McKinney, a notorious and violent outlaw, had fled nearby Porterville in 1902 after a shooting spree that left one man dead and four wounded. Several posses tracked the desperado over the next year as he moved through Mexico and Arizona, killing several more men as he went.
On April 19, 1903, lawmen received a tip that McKinney and two accomplices were hiding out in a fortified Chinese joss house (temple) in Bakersfield. A cordon of officers surrounded the house and prepared to arrest him. Kern County Deputy Sheriff Will Tibbett and City Marshal Jeff Packard called for McKinney to surrender.
As they attempted to enter the building, McKinney opened fire with a shotgun, killing Tibbett instantly and mortally wounding Packard. Officers returned fire, and Bert Tibbet, Will’s brother, shot and killed McKinney. McKinney’s accomplices were smoked out of the joss house by fire, and later were almost lynched by a mob. The story was so sensational that it was reported by no less a newspaper than The New York Times.
Officers Tibbet and Packard were solemnly laid to rest in Historic Union Cemetery (spaces 132-3 and 135-3 respectively). Their graves are forever a reminder of Bakersfield’s colorful, if sometimes violent, past.
ESTABLISHED THE COUNTY'S FIRST BANK
One of Bakersfield’s first business magnates, Solomon Jewett made his first fortune supplying wool for Union army uniforms in the Civil War. A descendant of the founders of the Plymouth Colony, Jewett was born in Vermont in 1835 on his family’s sheep ranch. In 1861, he and his younger brother, Philo, headed west to Colorado to mine for gold. On the way they learned that the opportunities were not good in the gold fields, and they decided to continue
on to California, walking the entire distance of more than 2,000 miles.On arrival, Solomon went to work on a large sheep ranch. After about a year Solomon and Philo began a sheep ranch of their own near the future town of Bakersfield. They were among the earliest settlers, and their ranch was one of the first in the region.
The ranch prospered, and Solomon diversified into other businesses, opening a store in Bakersfield at the corner of 19th Street and Chester. In 1874 he opened the first bank in the county, the Kern Valley Bank.
In 1899 Solomon sold his sheep and turned to raising cattle. He began farming alfalfa and other crops on more than 1,000 acres of land. In the 1870’s he discovered oil and created his own oil company, which later traded in oil and asphalt. He was also the first to pave a street in Bakersfield, which created demand for more paving and a market for his asphalt and paving company.
Established as a major local business leader, Solomon became active in civic affairs as well. He served on the Kern County board of supervisors and was a member of the Masons and the Elks societies.
Jewett died in Bakersfield in 1905 and was buried in Union Cemetery space 72-5.
ELLEN BAKER TRACEY
FIRST LADY OF BAKERSFIELD
Ellen Baker Tracy wasn’t what you’d call the demure, retiring type. Born in 1837 in Washtenaw, Michigan, she was a pioneer in every sense of the word. What else could she be, having traveled across the Donner Pass into California in an ox-pulled wagon, married and then widowed all before she was 16? So when she met and married Colonel Thomas Baker, she was completely ready for the rough-and-tumble life that awaited them as Kern Island’s first settlers. While the Colonel developed the acreage, she made a home for her young family in the most humble of dwellings. Soon, fortunes improved, and the Bakers moved to a larger home where Ellen Baker found herself in the center of life in the tiny community. Her hospitality was renowned. She shared her new fangled sewing machine with neighbors. And when the kids needed an education, she opened the area’s first school in her own home.
Even after the Colonel’s death and her remarriage to rancher Ferdinand Tracy, she continued to support the community, founding the first orphanage, donating property, and so many other generous acts.
She died in 1924 and rests today beside her last husband in space 61-13, but is nearly side-by-side with Col. Baker as well.
Faustino M. Noriega is regarded as one of the early developers of Bakersfield’s legendary Basque community. The oldest Basque hotel in the West still bears his name. Yet, he was really a Spaniard, born in 1856 with the given name of Faustino Mier.
At the age of 15 Faustino came to America to join his uncle, Vincente Noriega, and soon adopted his uncle’s surname. As a young man, Faustino M. Noriega worked among the Basque sheepherders in Kern County, eventually becoming foreman for the large Miller and Lux ranch operation.
In 1893, partnering with Fernando Etcheverry, a French Basque from Aldudes, Faustino opened up the Iberia Hotel, a traditional Basque ostatu, a combined boarding house and restaurant. In time, the name changed to the Noriega Hotel and for some years, Faustino lived there with his wife and five children. In 1900, he built a new house for his family that still stands at the corner of Baker and Oregon Streets.
Although he opened other businesses, he is best known as a hotelier and builder of the Bakersfield Basque community.
Faustino M. Noriega died in 1922 and is buried at Historic Union Cemetery, space 330-13, now and forever part of the story of Bakersfield.
TRAPPER, SCOUT, SOLDIER, ECCENTRIC
Of all the many colorful personalities forever residing at Historic Union Cemetery, the prize may go to this man, Alexis Godey. He was one of the great frontiersman, friend of Kit Carson, guide for Gen. John C. Frémont, variously befriended or fought with the Indians and occasionally danced with them, and had a Frenchman’s way with the ladies.
Godey was born around 1818 in St. Louis, Mo, of French parents. Handsome, with piercing eyes and silky black hair, he became a trapper and scout, joining Frémont’s second expedition in 1843. His exploits and bravery were legendary. Frémont wrote of Godey that he was the most thoroughly insensible to danger of all the brave men I have known.”
When war broke out with Mexico in 1846, Army Lieutenant Alexis Godey participated in the capture of the tiny pueblo of Los Angeles. In later years, he became a miner, a rancher, an Indian interpreter, jumping from one marriage or affair to another, his last wife just 14 years old. Only a man like this could die, in 1888, from a scratch he received while petting a lion at a traveling circus.
Alexis Godey now rests in the Pioneer Section of Historic Union Cemetery, space 272-2, forever a part of the story of our community.
PUBLISHER OF THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN
Alfred Harrell, editor and publisher of The Bakersfield Californian for nearly 50 years, helped provide wise direction to development of the entire Southern San Joaquin Valley. Harrell, a native Californian, was born Nov. 10, 1863, in Merced County. In a day when the educated men were few, he, as a youth, received an exceptionally good education in the Oakland city schools and acquired a love of learning he kept during his lifetime. He trained for and became a school teacher, and he journeyed to Kern County in 1882 to teach. He was 19 years old and was elected school superintendent at the age of 23.
When Harrell was 34, he bought The Daily Californian for $1,000 and rechristened the paper The Bakersfield Californian. Early on, he worked as editor, sometimes reporter, advertising salesman and bookkeeper. Subsequently, he built a completely new plant with the then latest press and equipment installed.
Through his editorials and politics, he backed development of the Kern County highway system. He made possible the much later agricultural and industrial development of the Mojave Desert and defense centers at Edwards Air Force Base and the Naval Ordnance Test Station at Inyokern. He helped establish banking services, and his own interest in mining did much for that industry.
Up until his death on Dec. 14, 1946 at the age of 83, he continued to write many of his own editorials. The institution he headed and left as a legacy as a fine newspaper has followed the same basic principles he set forth of public service, editorial balance and leadership.
He rests today in a magnificent private mausoleum at Historic Union Cemetery.