Glendale, California Biographies

Hon.Cameron Erskine Thom


Hon. Cameron Erskine Thom was born on his father’s plantation at Berry Hill, Culpepper county, Virginia, June 20, 1825. His father, John Thom, was a soldier of distinction, a gentleman and a scholar, as well as a statesman of marked ability. He was an officer in the War of 1812, commanding a regiment of volunteers throughout the entire period of military activity. For thirty years he served in the State Legislature as Senator and upon retiring from that office was commissioned by the Governor, by and with the consent of the Senate, to be “High Sheriff” of his county as some partial compensation for his many years of service as magistrate. His grandfather was a Scotchman of note and distinguished himself at the battle of Culloden, fighting under the banner of Prince Charles Edward, the Pretender Stuart, who, in commemoration of his great valor, presented him with a gold snuffbox.

After receiving his preliminary education in private schools, Captain Thom took an extensive course at the University of Virginia, including law in all of its branches, receiving a license to practice his profession in all the courts of his native state..           

The call of the West, however, was ringing throughout the land and the adventuresome blood of military forefathers warmed in his veins in response. In 1849 he was one of a party of thirty picked young men bound for the Far West, the enchanted Land of Gold. The party was well equipped for its trip across the plains, having riding horses, eight wagons drawn by mules, plenty of supplies, and eight negro cooks and wagon men. They were in no hurry and took plenty of time, finding, as they did, some new interest and adventure at every point along the way. They stopped wherever fancy dictated and remained as long as they pleased. Their first stop for any length of time was a Ash Hollow, Dakota, where they spent six weeks with the Sioux. A thousand Indians, warriors and squaws, were encamped there, and the young men from Virginia found them a noble body of men, even hospitable and gentle in their domestic life, and well worthy of consideration and study. These Indians had just come from a great battle, or rather a series of battles, with the Pawnees and were celebrating their victories and regaining their own wasted strength. Journeying onward, the party passed many herds of buffalo dotting the wild plans, now and then pausing long enough for an exciting chase. They arrived at Sacramento late in November, and there the party disbanded, scattering over the new country as their fancy called, a majority of them going to Rose’s Bar on the Yuba river where, in six months, most of them succumbed to typhoid.

Mr. Thom with a party of personal friends, engaged in mining on the south fork of the American river, also on Mormon Island, and later in Amador county. The price of food products was almost prohibitive and, although wages were high, the cost of living was so great as to make the problem of a livelihood a very vital one. Potatoes, that winter, sold as high as five dollars a pound, while salt beef was two hundred and fifty dollars a barrel, with other things in proportion. Mining, under these not too pleasant conditions, soon palled upon the young adventurer, and he went to Sacramento and opened a law office. He became an agent for the firm of White & Jennings, a lumber and general merchandise company from Oregon, on a salary of five hundred dollars a month, his chief duties being the collection of their rents and general supervision of their property.

The great flood of the Sacramento valley occurred in the early [18]50’s and through this Mr. Thom passed with many thrilling experiences, his responsibility for the White & Jenning company holdings adding not a little to his anxieties. A second flood was more disastrous to his comfort than the first. He prospered in the practice of law at Sacramento until the big fire, which burned most of the city and destroyed his library. In the fall of 1853 Mr. Thom left Sacramento having received an appointment as assistant law agent for the United States Land Company in San Francisco, where he had supervision over twenty-five clerks and draftsmen. The next spring he was ordered to Los Angeles for the purpose of taking testimony in land cased before Commissioner George Burrell. That work finished he resigned from the government position and was appointed by the council of Los Angeles as city attorney, and by the supervisors as district attorney to fill unexpired terms. Later he was elected district attorney three different times after which followed his election by a large majority to the State Senate.

The fighting blood of Mr. Thom was stirred by the excitement of the Civil War, and he went to Virginia and offered his services to the Confederacy at Richmond, volunteering in the army as captain without charge to the government. He conscientiously did his duty at all times and on all occasions. He was paroled at Petersburg, and returned to Los Angeles, where he was confronted with the statute of the state, prohibiting anyone from practicing his profession who actively sympathized with the Confederacy. He had lost everything save honor. Shortly after his plight became known he was given a pardon from President Johnson, but by whom obtained he was never able to learn. His name was all the recommendation that he needed in the “Angel City” and his law office was soon doing a thriving business. However, his services were needed in another capacity and he found himself elected mayor. He served one term in that capacity, then returned to the practice of his profession, and gave the necessary attention tot his real estate, banking and other interests.

Being a firm believer in a big future for Southern California it was but natural that he should invest heavily in real estate, and this he did with wisdom and foresight. In 1870he acquired a large acreage in the Rancho San Rafael (now Glendale) and a few years later planted an orange orchard and made other improvements. Part of this property he disposed of to his nephew, Judge Erskine M. Ross, and the two, besides being law partners for many years, managed their ranch property, to a considerable extent, in common. He owned a home on Main Street, corner of Third, in Los Angeles up to t he time of this death in February, 1915. Although not residing on his ranch property, he kept in close tough with the development of Glendale wand was very heavily interested financially in the building of the Glendale hotel, the construction of the Salt Lake railroad branch between Los Angeles and Glendale, and other enterprises which marked the era of development that began in the middle [18]80’s. When the bank of Glendale was organized in 1905 he became one of the directors and a principal stockholder, taking an active personal interest in the affairs of that institution. Captain Thom enjoyed the distinction of being the largest individual taxpayer in the city of Glendale.

Mr. Thom married Belle Hathwell, who is now a resident of Los Angeles. The four living children are: Cameron D., of Glendale; Catesby C., of Los Angeles; Mrs. Arthur Collins, of London, England; Erskine P. Thom, of Los Angeles.

From History of Glendale and Vicinity by John Calvin Sherer. The Glendale Publishing Company, c. 1922 F. M. Broadbooks and J. C. Sherer. P. 302-305.