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William Jackson "Uncle Bill" Berry
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Birth: Jul. 14, 1840
Washington County
Missouri, USA
Death: Jul. 18, 1919
Ocean Park
Los Angeles County
California, USA


The venerable pioneer of Fresno County and oil man of Selma. William Jackson Berry, has passed to his reward, but his works and deeds remain, a living heritage bequeathed to a loyal citizenry. Among the substantial residents of Fresno County there is no name more familiarly quoted than that of William J. Berry, or. as he is more often called by his intimate friends. "Uncle Bill Berry." He had been actively identified with the best interests of California ever since 1861. and especially with the oil industry of this part of the state ; and the agricultural possibilities also were demonstrated by his success along that line.

Uncle Bill Berry was born in Washington County, MO., June 14, 1840, a son of Hugh C. Berry. The name of Hugh has been a favored one in the Berry family and it has marked five generations. The grandfather of our subject was named Hugh, and was born in Ireland but came to the United States and settled in Virginia in Colonial days. He was a distiller and owned slaves who worked his large plantation. The second Hugh, was the father of William Jackson Berry. He was a man of exceptional education and was a noted mathematician. During his early manhood he taught school in Washington County and had among his pupils a young lady who subsequently married a Mr. Apperson and became the mother of Mrs. Phoebe Hearst; George C. Hearst was also a pupil in his school; he became a United States senator and was the father of the journalist, William Randolph Hearst. Hugh C. Berry did not keep slaves, for he could not farm on account of becoming crippled when he was a lad, so he engaged in teaching school. After the war he went to Texas, located near Granbury, with his son Hugh, and there spent the remainder of his days, dying at an advanced age.

He married Harriet A. Johnson, a native of North Carolina and a second cousin of Senator Hiram W. Johnson, but who settled in Washington County, Mo., with her parents, when she was a child. She bore her husband nine sons and three daughters. The next Hugh Berry was the son of Hugh C. just mentioned and Uncle Bill Berry had a son named Hugh F. who has a daughter. Pearl, now Mrs. Walter Boyd, a noted vocalist and pianist of Los Angeles. Uncle Bill Berry acquired a practical common school education, although it was somewhat limited. His father gave him instruction on Saturdays when he was not teaching.

When he was twenty-one, the Civil War was threatening and he decided he would leave the country and come West. He could foresee the bloody times ahead if he remained in Missouri and he left there the next morning after Fort Sumter was fired upon. With the spirit of adventure strong in him, he joined a party under the command of Capt.
Phinneas Braley, and with ox teams crossed the plains via Utah and Nevada. He worked as a driver on part of the journey to California, thus paying his way. He had no money when he left home and his father told him to call upon George C. Hearst when he arrived in California for any assistance or advice he might need, but necessity kept him too busy to go to visit him.

He was thrown on his own resources and grew up to be self-reliant. As soon as he arrived in this state he went to the mines in Eldorado County, mined for a time, then bought two yoke of oxen, the price being $1,034. He paid down all the money he had, $180, and paid the balance off in instalments, and began freighting. He became an expert teamster, driving five yoke of oxen in hauling heavy freight, consisting of heavy machinery that was used in the mines in California and Nevada. He then went to Mendocino County and bought a ranch in Little Lake Valley. In 1864, with his brothers-in-law, Charles P. Traber and J. B. Coates, and others, he drove over this section of Fresno County for the first time and helped survey this part of the county.

He named a school district, Mendocino, after the county of that name. The land was a repelling desert, and he has seen it change into a veritable garden spot and the "Home of the Peach." He took up a half section of land and later obtained a full section of railroad land. With Moses J. Church (the father of irrigation in Fresno County), and a Mr. Easterby, and Messrs. Traber and Coates, and others (twenty-six in all), Mr. Berry assisted in digging the ditch for the Fresno Irrigation Canal.

Mr. Berry improved his land and engaged in farming with gratifying results. In 1878 he helped dig the Centerville and Kingsburg ditch and later the Fowler Switch ditch, all of which has done much to develop this county.

In 1863, W. J. Berry was united in marriage with Miss Anna Coates, a daughter of George I. Coates who came to California in 1862. Of this union six children have been born: Hugh Franklin, residing in San Francisco; Clarence J., one of the best known oil operators in California who is living in San Francisco ; Henry, a well known oil man of Los Angeles; Frederick, a successful fruit-grower near Selma; Cora, who married R. J. Skelton of Los Angeles ; and Nellie, who became the wife of Harry Smith, a Klondiker, but now an oil man at Taft. Mrs. Anna Berry, the mother of these children, now past eighty, survives her husband; now in the evening of life, she can look back upon a life given to worthy deeds.

In 1888, Mr. Berry moved into Selma where he erected a good residence and started in the real estate business, which he continued a number of years. He bought several sections of railroad land, which was farmed by himself and sons; in 1898 he made a trip into Alaska, accompanied by three of his sons. When he returned to Selma he became interested in the development of the West Side oil fields in Kern County. He traveled over the country from Coalinga to Taft, noticed the outcroppings of oil and other indications, then with his sons he bought several sections of land near McKittrick, Taft and in the Kern River field. They developed several properties, the most important being the C. J. Oil Company at McKittrick, named in honor of his son Clarence J. ; and the Ethel D., in honor of the wife of Clarence J. Berry. These properties continue to be fine producers. Mr. Berry held in his own right until his death, some 700 acres in the West Side fields, which is known to be oil land, but as yet undeveloped. Several other companies had the benefit of Uncle Bill Berry's counsel and judgment and he has been a prominent figure in the development of the oil industry in San Joaquin Valley.

From the time that Mr. Berry was given employment by Captain Braley in crossing the plains in 1861, he never lost a day, and could have had any number of jobs after he began freighting, if he had wanted to take them. He was a hard worker, a man of good judgment, and had a rich experience during his long and busy life.

The death of William J. Berry occurred at the age of seventy-nine in Ocean Park, near Los Angeles, on Friday. July 18, 1919. The body was brought from Los Angeles on a special train, accompanied by his good wife, the family and many relatives, who were at his bedside in Ocean Park. The funeral was held at the First Presbyterian Church in Selma, and interment was in the Fresno Mausoleum. 
Family links: 
  Hugh Campbell Berry (1817 - 1878)
  Harriett A Berry (1819 - 1890)
  Martha Ann Coates Berry (1838 - 1927)
  Hugh Franklin Berry (1864 - 1931)*
  Clarence Jesse Berry (1867 - 1930)*
  William Henry Berry (1870 - 1929)*
  Cora Berry Skelton (1871 - 1958)*
  Frederick Charles Berry (1874 - 1940)*
  William Jackson Berry (1840 - 1919)
  Columbus Leonidas Berry (1856 - 1939)*
*Calculated relationship
Odd Fellows Cemetery
Fresno County
California, USA
Created by: Lester Letson
Record added: Oct 18, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 78636883
William Jackson Uncle Bill Berry
Added by: Lester Letson
William Jackson Uncle Bill Berry
Cemetery Photo
Added by: countedx58
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Rest Well Sir
- William D Berry
 Added: Apr. 3, 2016
Rest in peace with love.I wish I could have known you Uncle. Anita
- juanita hursh
 Added: Mar. 17, 2013

- Lester Letson
 Added: Apr. 8, 2012

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