Joseph Prouty was a successful pioneer, both as a prospector and rancher in the days of ’49, first near the spot where gold was first discovered in California, (Sutters Creek) and later as a rancher near El Monte.
He was born February 9, 1831 near Mt. Vernon, Knox County, Ohio, his parents being Anson and Carol (Helms) Prouty also natives of Ohio. Mr. Prouty’s early life was spent at home with his parents, his education being obtained in the local public schools. He later studied law, but circumstances prevented his practicing the profession. He met with moderate success financially when but a young man, acquiring some property in Ohio before he reached his majority. The property which he then owned later became the site of a thriving city.
When nineteen years of age he, in the company with his parents, came to California, stopping first at a point on Sutter’s Creek (now known as the American River). He engaged for a time in prospecting and gold mining, meeting with considerable success. During the prosperous days of his “findings” he had a necklace about three feet long made of some of the choice gold nuggets, which he found. At his marriage he presented it to his wife, but unfortunately the valuable novelty was later stolen. He later acquired a tract of land, which became very valuable for agriculture and stock raising. Unfortunately, however, he later lost his land through the Spanish land grants.
In 1870, Mr. Prouty came to El Monte, and, shortly afterward settled on a 240-acre tract of land southeast of town. He later acquired this tract as well as others of similar size between here and Los Angeles, and for many years was successful in the management and development of these ranches.
In 1861, Mr. Prouty was united in wedlock with Miss Margaret J. Thurman, a daughter of Elisha and Susanna (Sappington) Thurman who were natives of Missouri, coming to California in 1849. To this union were born ten children, Ann E., Elisha A., Columbus H., Samuel F., Olive N., Susan M.J., and Eva C., now all deceased; and Frank L., of Three Rivers, California, May Bell, (Mrs. Carruthers) of El Monte, and Gertrude E. (Mrs. Henry Hamann of Culver City.)
In 1888 Mr. and Mrs. Prouty moved from their ranch into El Monte where they purchased a residence on Monterey Street for the purpose of more conveniently educating their children. Two years following this time (in 1890) Mr. Prouty passed away, dying of blood poisoning caused by an injury received while managing his ranch. The mother continued to live here until her death in 1919.
Politically, Mr. Prouty was a Democrat. He was active in all matters of general public improvement and contributed much of his time and means to this cause. He was deeply interested in the organization of the public co-operative store which operated for a time in the early eighties. He was a member of the A.O.U.W., and in religion both he and Mrs. Prouty were members of the Presbyterian Church. They were very prominent socially, attending many of the colorful Spanish fiestas of the early days, given at the haciendas, or large ranch homes. These periodical dances, or fiestas, were noted for the great spirit of hospitality in which they were given; the colorful display of festive customs; the wonderful music, etc. The fiesta would usually last for three or four days, the guest being expected to remain through the entire time, if possible, during which time, dining, dancing and resting were enjoyed as and when the heart desired.
An interesting incident relative to the early days of the family is related by Mrs. Carruthers, one of the daughters. When Susan Mary Jane, one of the younger children was six years of age, she had a wealth of golden hair. Pio Pico, the Mexican governor of the territory at that time, seeing her one day and being fond of children, offered Mr. and Mrs. Prouty any amount of land in his power to grant, if they would give him the child. Obviously enough the offer was not accepted.
© 2001 by Ray Ensing