Saturday, August 15, 2020


Jumping into the mix of chemists who concocted a face cream for Victorian women living in the West, the druggist, Henry Bowman, of Oakland, California, decided on giving his product a name as pure as the driven snow. Competition was rough in this cosmetic field, with Camelline, and Crème de Lis being the top competitors. He decided on copying the idea of traditional cobalt blue glass bottles for his creme and gave it the name of Beautiful Snow.

 Bowman's Beautiful Snow bottle.

Bowman applied for, and received, a trademark with the California Secretary of State, for the name on November 16, 1883, as Trademark No. 1047. Examples of the bottle are fairly scarce and advertising for the product could not be found in newspapers any later than 1884. This is somewhat of a puzzle as Bowman well understood the value of advertising. Perhaps sales were not up to his expectation and he pulled it from the market.



The label for Beautiful Snow as submitted with his trademark registration.

Saturday, August 1, 2020



Obadiah Kendall Levings was one of as many as fifteen children born to Abel Levings and Hannah Marshall. Born in New Hampshire on November 25, 1812, his earliest life is not well documented. One record from the Lancaster School in Lancaster, New Hampshire, documents him at this preparatory school in 1832. While he consistently maintained he was a doctor, there is no record of Levings receiving a formal medical degree.

He married Jane Bleazard in Gore, Ontario, Canada in 1843. He stayed in Canada at least until his only son, John Kendall Levings, was born there about 1845. By 1850 he was living with his family in the house of his father-in-law, Robert Bleazard, at Whitestown, Oneida, New York (later renamed Whitesboro).

Levings arrived in California as early as late 1850. While his mind was obviously on the golden riches of the earth he didn’t let go of his dream of becoming a wealthy patent medicine maker. From January to February of 1851 he advertised his SYRUP OF HOARHOUND AND ELECAMPANE and his SARSAPARILLA AND ROSE WILLOW, in Sacramento, which he claimed was made in New York City.  It s true that the 1850 New York City directory notes a Levings & Co., druggists, at 515 Broome Street. He may have concocted his medicines the year prior to leaving for California, and possibly brought a shipment with him to fund his initial existence in the golden state. The advertisement notes his products may be purchased at the drug store of P. & S.S. Crane in Sacramento. No embossed bottles from this early date have yet to be found.

Levings' early ad which ran in the Sacramento newspaper for a few months in 1851. (Sacramento Transcript, January 9 1851)

By 1852 his name became prominently connected with the new settlement of Gold Hill, in the vicinity of Auburn Ravine, Placer County, California. That he was actively mining for gold in this region is documented by a newspaper article noting that Dr. Levings had found a gold nugget of nine ounces at Gold Hill. (Placer Herald, Auburn, California, January 29, 1853.)

Shortly thereafter, several Sierran towns began running an advertisement attempting to find the whereabouts of O.K. Levings.


The significance of the ad and the effort to locate Levings is not entirely clear, however, aside from the obvious that his family back in New York was attempting to determine if he was still alive, I am also surmising that they may be contemplating joining him in California. In an unusual twist of events O.K. Levings sued his wife for divorce on July 20, 1861. It is, of course, speculation, but it may be a case of his wife, Jane Levings, not desiring to join Levings in California. She continued to live in New York with her widowed father, and died in Whitesboro,  New York on July 28, 1887.

There is good documentation that his son, John Kendall Levings, did come to California, but the date remains elusive. He is noted as joining the army on Aug 12, 1863, in Gold Hill, Nevada, in Company L, 1st Battalion, Nevada Calvary. He was mustered in at Fort Churchill, Nevada, and was mustered out there on November 18, 1865. He re-enlisted December 17, 1866 and was discharged October 15, 1869. His former occupation was listed as a miner.

O.K. Levings continued with his residency in Gold Hill, California, working as a miner and investing in water supply projects for gold extraction, with mixed success. In 1863 he was forced into bankruptcy as an insolvent. (Placer Herald, Auburn, California, August 29, 1863). By 1870 he had moved to San Francisco, and again, advertised himself as a doctor and began pushing his Hoarhound and Elecampane medicine, noting that it was “formerly put up in the city of New York by Dr. Levings.” (Stockton Independent, April 28, 1870). And, by 1872, he had also resurrected his Sarsaparilla and Rose Willow for sale. (San Jose Weekly Mercury, January 4, 1872)  Based on the length of time Levings’ advertising campaign lasted, he again, stopped selling his products about 1875. In fact the 1875 San Francisco business directory notes his occupation as a “whitener” for the Pacific Furniture Manufacturing Company. It appears that Levings’ interest in mining soon returned to top billing as the 1878 voting register for San Francisco confirmed that his occupation was once again a “miner”. By 1880 Levings had returned to Placer County where he was scheduled as a “laborer” within the communities of Damascus and Iowa Hill. He apparently stayed in this vicinity for a number of years, working at odd jobs and prospecting for the next big strike.


Examples of Levings’ earliest bottles are typical of those blown in San Francisco during the early 1870’s. All appear to have applied tops and exhibit some crudity.


Just as with his Hoarhound and Elecampane bottles, the Sarsaparilla and Rose Willow bottles show a fair amount of crudity, typical for the period.


It is clear that by 1891 Levings had been residing at the county hospital in Stockton for an indeterminate time. This was likely the Stockton Insane Asylum, as there would be no other reason for Levings to travel from Auburn to Stockton to seek medical help unless it was a mental matter. Many of its cases involved alcoholism which is probably the affliction for which he was treated.  It is at this time his name is noted in the Placer County Grand Jury report when it investigated a complaint by Levings that he had been mistreated during his residence at the hospital. An investigation proceeded with the determination that there was no basis for the claim and it was dismissed. (Placer Argus, November 20, 1891)

In 1892 the 80-year old Levings again returned to San Francisco with the title of “doctor”. He promptly began selling his same two medicinal products that he relied upon when the excitement of prospecting and mining didn’t pay the bills. He saturated the greater Bay Area newspapers with ads for his syrup of hoarhound and his sarsaparilla – this time until December 1895. He trademarked his brands with the State of California under registration number 2163 on July 18, 1892. Shortly thereafter, Levings moved to San Bernardino City, presumably to be closer to his son, where he registered to vote, on October 18, 1894.


Levings trade marked label as deposited with the State of California in 1892. His registration noted that the words SYRUP OF HOARHOUND AND ELECAMPANE could be substituted with SARSAPARILLA AND ROSE WILLOW.

 During this time period Levings dusted off the old molds from when the same bottles were blown in the 1870’s. The bottles blown from these molds in the 1890’s have a decidedly different appearance in the quality of the glass. They are less crude than their 1870’s counterparts and all have tooled tops instead of the earlier applied version. The glass is generally a lighter aqua and has a tendency to stain easier. They are visually much different than the earlier variants, and quite typical of bottles blown in the 1890’s.

An example of one of Levings' ad that he used in the second round of pushing his medicines - and actually the third if one counts his first attempt in 1851. This time he advertised until the end of 1894. (San Jose Herald,  19 October 1892). 

The real mystery in his life came in 1894, when a small news article noted he made one final prospecting trip in hopes of finding the “big one”, but this time in the desert.


The last known prospecting trip for Obadiah K. Levings. After this date Levings seems to have disappeared. No more references could be found (San Bernardino Sun, September 5, 1894), except for his voting registration about a month later. We must assume then, that he did return from his trip.


Making this story even more intriguing is the fact that Levings son, John K. Levings, had moved to San Bernardino County by 1876, and was living in San Bernardino City about this time. His occupation was usually listed as a farmer or laborer. Approximately six months after his father went on his mining exploration, John did the same thing.

John Levings eventually left San Bernardino for San Diego in 1900, giving up any further interest he had in mining. Unlike his father who just seems to have disappeared, John Levings, died in San Diego on March 17, 1929. 

Being born in 1812, it is highly unlikely that O.K Levings lived into the 20th century. It would have been helpful to have found his death date, but the real story about his penchant for being a successful patent medicine dealer and his unlikely quest for the big strike, had already unfolded in his earlier years. And, now it becomes much clearer why his patent medicine bottles appear to have  been made over a long period of time, when in reality, they were blown within two distinct time periods – the early 1870’s and the early 1890’s.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Rose Cream

Some bottles are much harder to document than others, which has been proven many times over. I have been looking for the origins of an obviously western blown bottle marked with the words ROSE CREAM for many years with no luck. As more data is added to Internet newspaper sites, it becomes easier for research opportunities. Such is the case for the elusive Rose Cream bottle. A recent search finally connected with a ‘hit’, however small, but a huge lead anyway.

San Jose Mercury-news, 14 July 1872. This ad ran only until 3 Sep 1872, and was the critical link in determining the origins of the Rose Cream bottle.

Not much to go on but at least I was given a name. Fortunately, Knickerbocker is not a common name in California, and it led me on a research journey that unfolded to a point that makes some sense to how Rose Cream came to be. I had originally thought that it was a product that followed on the heels of the well known Camelline. It turns out that Rose Cream was six years senior to the better known face cream. Why Rose Cream failed so quickly and Camelline was such a huge success is not entirely clear, however, marketing may have played a big part. It has been proven that marketing is significant in the success of most products. It is a double edge sword that the initial advertising budget for a product is often not available but so critical, which may have been the issue with Rose Cream. Of course, other issues may have caused the cessation of advertising for this product and for those we may never know.

The elusive Rose Cream bottle

The person involved with Rose Cream was Elizabeth “Eliza” D. Knickerbocker. She was New York born about 1818, and married Jacob Eli Knickerbocker about 1844. His untimely death occurred on April 20, 1861, in Valatie, Columbia County, New York. Jacob was part of the famous Knickerbocker clan who can trace their roots in New York back to the 1600’s. He and Eliza had seven children, all born in Dutchess County, New York. Eugene, 1845-1925, Charles, 1849-1852,  Calvin, 1851-1932, William, 1853-1937, Caroline E., 1858-1937, George, 1859-? and Louisa, 1860-?. But how, or why, did Eliza end up in San Jose, California?  She was the sister of Caleb Martin, a California gold rush pioneer who settled in San Jose in 1852, and became one of the city’s most well known citizens in its early days. Caleb fathered 18 children, of whom, 13 survived him.

 After the death of Eliza Knickerbockers husband she made the trek to San Jose in 1867 to join her brother. Her children, Eugene, Calvin and Caroline (Carrie) went with her.

Caleb Martin was born in the same region of New York, and certainly was close to his sister and her husband, Jacob Knickerbocker. Caleb probably gave his sister glowing reports about how wonderful it is in San Jose and she left New York. Caleb sold her a house for $1,000 and probably gave her a solid financial footing since he was one of the wealthiest men in town at the time. He may even have helped her with the Rose Cream product, but that is pure speculation.  Our proprietress eventually moved to San Francisco with her son for awhile but died in San Jose on December 30, 1892.

In a confusing twist that often happens, Eliza actually has two gravestones. What is probably her first marks the spot of her husbands burial place in Gallatinville, Columbia County, New York (Findagrave Memorial No. 66242246). While Eliza’s death date is not included, her name and birth date are. This was certainly added when she initially ordered the stone, fully expecting to join her husband some day.

 Eliza Knickerbocker’s name is also carved on this gravestone located in Oak Hill Memorial Park, San Jose, California. (Findagrave Memorial No. 204976818). This will certainly give pause to genealogists trying to figure out what is going on here. Especially because her name is inscribed with a different birth year. Eliza’s name was probably added well after her death on this stone, which includes memorials for the family of her son, Eugene Knickerbocker.

We can now give a ‘home’ to this elusive little bottle whose origins have dogged me for many years.


Perhaps every bit as mysterious but probably with traceable origins is this little bottle from the same mold as the Rose Cream. All the lettering has been removed and it could now join the ranks of a generic item that could hold a great variety of liquids. At least we now know a little about its history as well.

The obituary notice for Calvin Martin. To further secure the relationship between him and Eliza D. Knickerbocker, the text notes that the information was provided by Calvin's nephew. That would be either Eugene or Calvin Knickerbocker, Eliza's sons. (San Jose Herald, 7 April 1881)

Tuesday, June 16, 2020



I can't help thinking about the brainless cartoons I watched as a kid back in the late 50's and early 60's when I hear that name. The name conjures up remembrances of Rocky & Bullwinkle, Boris and Natasha, and of course Dudley Do-Right, the dim whittled Canadian Mounty. Dudley had a real circle of friends. They included his faithful horse, named "Horse", and his equally faithful dog, ironically named "Faithful Dog". Cornball kids humor by any stretch these days.

Imagine my surprise when a good (I almost typed faithful) friend and fellow whiskey collector called from Northern Cal. the other day and asked if I'd ever heard of a Dudley. I bit my tongue at first and then replied, "only on cartoons". He said, "No really, a Dudley Brandy". "It's got the guys name on it, is a Ginger Brandy, and is embossed San Francisco too". Realizing that he was serious, my response was no; but send me a picture just the same.

He did. And I'll be darned if the photo wasn't of a bottle I've never heard of, or seen even a busted fragment of, in all the years I've been a western whiskey guy. Amber, applied top, heavy play dough type embossing, and shaped like your basic Abernathy or other SF Ginger Brandy with a short neck and a long body. He wasn't yanking my chain after all~ Wow!  A newly discovered western whiskey. I couldn't wait to start my research on this piece.

It took a couple of days but the fruits of my labor were rewarded. At first blush, the bottle had an ever so  slight resemblance to the German Connection late applied tops of the ca. 1890 era. Closer examination though, dispelled that hunch as the embossing style and the top were wrong. Embossed "Dr. Worth's / White / Ginger Brandy / A.A. Dudley & Co. /  San Francisco", it was loaded with seed bubbles, displayed with notable overall glass character, and just had to date ca. 1895 or earlier.

My first stab was in the 1895 SF Directory for a Dr. Worth. Strike one. Working back ward for ten years saw one swing and a miss after another. Numerous Worth's appeared in the listings, ranging from tailors to brick masons (and everything in between), but no Dr's or anything related to patent medicines or liquor.

Flustered, I took a breather. And then the light came on... What if there was no Dr. Worth? What if the brand was simply another of the brandings of a wholesale liquor dealer trying to cash in on the current fad of pushing a combination of liquor and "good for you" stuff endorsed by a "Dr. So and So"  !?

Falling back on a target search dating of 1890, I entered his last name and struck it rich. A.A. Dudley appeared in the Crocker Directory as a dealer in patent Medicines. 

Access to another website revealed that Dudley was exactly as suspected; a hustler. The 1889 listing provides a tidbit of info as it lists his name, in addition to just the initials AA. His full name was Arey A. Dudley.

On October 2, 1889, he'd patented Electro Germicide; hoping to cash in on the, at that time, new aged "science" of  electricity and its impact on health. The product was registered as being sold in two tone handled stoneware gallon jugs. No embossed, or debossed, examples of this product have been found so one can only assume that it was sold in paper label form only. And probably not successfully at that~

Working backward, it was determined that Dudley first appeared in SF in 1889 as a patent medicine peddler. Although his business address was San Francisco, his residence is listed as Oakland. It was not uncommon for those of money to reside in the east bay, and commute to their businesses in "The City" via ferry. Thus, we can conclude that Dudley was at least "comfortable".

An even more significant find about A. A. Dudley also popped up during the search of 1889. He was also in the bitters business! Not just some paper label, flash in the pan product, but in reality, one of the rarest of the rare. He was the wholesale agent for "Dr. Harvey's Blood Bitters"; (and not the Cassin Bros. as has previously been taken as gospel).

1891 was status quo.

The 1892 directory shows a move, and his residence is now shown as 1217 Fell in SF. 

And then, nothing. No personal, no business and no obituary listings. A. A. Dudley was a four year splash in the western cure, bitters and whiskey markets; hawking an electric "cure", a next to one of a kind bitters, and a one of a kind western whiskey. 

What a splash he made!

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

OGW Demijohns

A quartet of " Oakland Glass Works " , Oakland , California demijohns. Base embossed faintly " OGW " . A short lived Glass Works, seems to have been in existence for approximately a year or so , 1884 - 1885. What I personally consider the holy grail of California made demijohns. 

Friday, May 22, 2020


The Dr. Murray’s Magic Oil bottles have remained a sort of unclarified mystery as to their origins. Several variants that were produced over a period of time, from as early as the late 1860’s to the mid 1880’s, have been found throughout the West. The best documentation that can be relied upon to determine the origin of the bottles has been newspaper accounts and census records, with one exception. A labeled example helps clarify the mystery but at the same time tends to muddy the issue.

The one known existing labeled bottle notes the proprietor as Dr. O.S. Murray & Co., of San Francisco. Thus we can at least pin down this proprietor as Orlando S. Murray, born July 30, 1838, in Troy, Miami, Ohio. He was still living in Troy as noted in the 1860 U.S. census, in the home of Daniel and Mary Miller, his wife’s parents. In April 1861 Murray enlisted in Company D, Ohio 11th Infantry, and was mustered out by 1863 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Orlando was listed in the 1864 Cincinnati, Ohio, business directory, but no occupation is given. He disappears from the Midwest for a few years but likely followed his dreams to the West Coast shortly thereafter. He was listed in the Yuba County (Marysville) 1871 and 1872 and 1873 Great Register as a druggist, and first registered in 1867.

The first notation of Murray’s Magic Oil is this May 1867 advertisement for the product. It is not clear where he was living at this time – possibly in San Francisco, as noted on the bottle label, but soon to be living in Marysville, California. (Marysville Daily Appeal, 29 May 1867)

This 1869 advertisement helps clarify that Orlando Murray was operating from San Francisco during the late 1860’s. This information helps document the approximate age of the labeled bottle. It should be noted that, to my knowledge, no embossed specimens of the Lung Balsam have been documented.

After a residence of several years in Marysville, California, it appears he moved northward to Oregon. Murray staked a land claim on June 10, 1874, covering Twp 1s, Range 4e , of the N1/2 of the N1/2 of Section 26, Willamette Meridian, in Clackamas County, Oregon. This would normally be an area of 160 acres. This property was located East of the town of Pleasant Home, Oregon. By 1876 Orlando became the postmaster of Pleasant Home and advertised himself as a Doctor.

He married Nancy Anne Shawley, who was living in nearby Powell Valley, on July 10, 1881, and had seven children. He managed to secure his Civil War pension as early as 1872, which allowed him some financial stability. His life appears uneventful in his role as a physician, moving to Portland after his marriage. However, in the year 1906 his family became the focus of national attention when his son, Orlando, jr., killed on Lincoln C. Whitney, in a fit of rage. It seems that young Lincoln offered his hand in marriage to Mary, the daughter of Dr. Murray. He later reneged on his proposal and Orlando, jr., attempted to reason with Lincoln. He was rebuffed and in a moment of rage, shot and killed Lincoln. The case went to trial and Orlando, jr. was summarily acquitted by the jury. His lethal action was considered honorific in the protection of his sister’s rights. Only briefly mentioned in this incident is the apparent fact that Miss Mary Murray had been impregnated by Whitney.

The only likeness of Orlando Murray, Sr., that I located is foreshadowed by a drawing of his son, Orlando Murray, Jr., who shot and killed the former suitor of his sister, Miss Mary Murray. (Morning Oregonian, Portland, Oregon, December 11, 1906)

By the end of the 19th century Dr. Orlando Murray was beset with continuing health issues, mental and physical, which caused him to seek prolonged medical help at military hospitals.  He was admitted into the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, at Sawtelle, Los Angeles County, California, on May 28, 1901 and discharged on November 28, 1904. The 1910 census lists him at Port Orchard, Kitsap, Washington, at the Washington Veterans Home as a boarder.  He was admitted again at the Port Orchard facility on April 4, 1913 and left on July 3, 1913.

In the 1920 census he was living in Seattle with his family, wife Annie, and children Oscar, age 37, Sherman, age 35, Mary G. age 32, and Ester, age 23. He died November 5, 1922, at the National Home in Sawtelle, and is buried at the Washington Veterans Home Cemetery, at Retsil, Kitsap, Washington.

Research has clarified that Orlando was only acting as agent for the Magic Oil and his father, James Welch Murray, Sr., was the primary person behind the brand. Also calling himself a ‘doctor’, James Welch Murray, Sr., trademarked the brand under the newly established protections afforded by the State of Oregon, on January 29, 1867, as Trademark Number 5. He continued selling his patent medicines in Portland as late as 1888.

James W. Murray, Sr., was born in Pennsylvania in 1817. He is first noted in the 1850 U.S. census with his wife and family at Troy, Miami County, Ohio. His occupation is listed as a shoemaker. For unknown reasons he left Ohio in the late 1850’s and moved to Linneus, Linn County, Missouri, where he is noted in the census as a hotel keeper. In 1861 James  Murray enlisted in the war cause as a sergeant of the 1st Regiment, Missouri State Militia, Cavalry, Company K.

Shortly after the Civil War, James W. Murray had moved to Oregon and re-made is occupation as a doctor. It is not clear if all or most of his children moved with him but several made the trek fairly early as well. As noted above, James developed his medicinal brands and employed at least two of his sons as traveling agents in the sale of the products. This is the primary reason why Orlando Murray established himself in California during the late 1860’s and the first half of the 1870’s. Another son, James W. Murray, jr., also was employed as a traveling salesman for his father. Both sons used the ‘doctor’ prefix in their professional lives.

 While his son, Orlando S. Murray, was selling the Magic Oil, the name embossed on the bottle refers to his father, J.W. Murray. Orlando is noted as a traveling agent for J. W. Murray’s patent medicines until as late as 1884, as documented in the Portland directory for that year. Apparently, the fact that “S.F. Cal” was embossed on the bottles, even well after Orlando Murray had removed his agency from San Francisco about 1869 was of little concern.

J.W. Murray’s advertisement in the 1867 Pacific Coast Business Directory rather magnanimously states that 50,000 bottles of his Magic Oil had been sold in the last two years. Can a quack medicine doctor be trusted?

J.W. Murray, Sr., moved from Corvallis to Portland in the same year, where he maintained his patent medicine business until his death on January 14, 1888. This rather long sales run undoubtedly accounts for the reason why later variants of Magic Oil are found.

For a short time in 1870, J.W. Murray’s advertisements acknowledge the connection his sons played in the sale of his two medicinal products.

The grave stone of James Welch Murray, Sr., located at the Pleasant Home Cemetery, Gresham, Oregon. He died in Portland, Oregon, on January 14, 1888. (Photo from – memorial No. 90955737) Note that there is currently a discrepancy at (May 2020) as there are two grave memorials for James W. Murray which will need to be rectified by the site administrators. A duplicate memorial is noted as Findagrave Number 125280563, indicating his grave site at the River View Cemetery in Portland.

Following a pattern similar to his brother, James Welch Murray,Jr., frequented a number of veteran’s hospitals for failing mental and physical conditions throughout the early 20th century. He was born about 1845 in Troy, Ohio, and died Jan 2, 1928, in Portland, Oregon. Suffering from his Civil War injuries, he was blind in one eye and had paralysis on his right side. He was first noted in the 1870 San Francisco Great Register as a “pedlar”, and living at the What Cheer House, a noted San Francisco hotel. Listed in the 1898 Sacramento County Great Register as a “medicineman”, he was listed in the 1910 US census, Sacramento, as a “boarder” in the County jail, with an occupation as a farmer. He is listed in the 1920 census at Salem, Oregon, as an inmate in the Oregon State Insane Asylum.


A later example of Dr. Murray’s Magic Oil testifies to the relatively long manufacturing run of the bottles. The later ‘ball neck’ variant, not pictured here, is also an example of later manufacture.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Please note that the FOHBC board of directors is committed to rescheduling the show in Reno in 2022 at the same venue. Given a host of unknown conditions this goal may not be possible but it is our hope it will come to fruition. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Eastern Cider for the West

The early life of our subject has been very elusive. Donald Chester Mitchell was a native of Connecticut, born there about 1833. Until he is documented in Ottumwa, Iowa, in 1856, his early life could not be determined. He married Frances A. Davis on June 29, 1856, in the relatively new town of Ottumwa, Iowa, which had recently become the governmental seat for Wapello County. Her father, Edward Springer Davis, had moved there from Marietta, Ohio, with his wife and seven children, where he took up farming. Davis’ interest then turned to the potential of river transportation along the Des Moines River and he sold his farm in 1852, concentrating on moving goods on the river.
This endeavor began with the position of pilot aboard the steamer N.L. Milburn, which usually plied the Des Moines River between Keokuk to the south and as far upstream as Fort DesMoines, Iowa. She was eventually sunk while trying to cross the Gulf of Mexico (History of Steamboating on the Des Moines River, From 1837 to 1862. Tacitus Hussey. April 1900, pg. 355) Meanwhile, it appears Don C. Mitchell gained some knowledge as a municipal clerk and also worked as a real estate agent. He also became active in politics as he was a devoted Republican and donated considerable time to furthering its election efforts. He often served as the Republican Central Committee secretary for Wapello County.

Of his varied endeavors Mitchell served his father-in-law in one unusual capacity in 1857. Edward Davis had returned to Marietta to oversee the construction of a steamer to be used on the Des Moines River. One news article notes, . . . “The boat is to be very light draught, so as to run in very low water.  Our fellow citizen, Mr. D. C. Mitchell, leaves for Marietta in a few days, to fill the position of Clerk on the boat.  We wish all parties success in this enterprise.  We can say for Capt. Davis, that few men know the Demoines better than he does.  From present appearances, the river will be open and navigable, with any quantity of water, in a few days.” (Weekly Ottumwa Courier, February 19, 1857) Davis soon retired from the steamboat business and obtained a license to establish a ferry that crossed the Des Moines River at Ottumwa. (There being no bridge to cross the river Davis was in direct competition with the original ferry owner, John Prosser. The competition became quite heated and resulted in lawsuits. Davis eventually moved to Iola, Kansas, and died there on December 19, 1870, where he worked as a miller.

In 1858 Mitchell also opened a lumber yard in Ottumwa, at the corner of Second and Marion Streets, specializing in pine. The town was experiencing substantial growth during this period and he took advantage of the increased demand for building materials. (Weekly Ottumwa Courier, Apr 22, 1858) Mitchell’s time in Ottumwa was extremely active for sure, although he did turn down his nomination for the position of treasurer for the city of Ottumwa in 1858. (Weekly Ottumwa Courier, May 06, 1858)

In the first three months of 1860 Mitchell’s name occurs frequently in association with his occupation as deputy county clerk of Wapello County, as well as in June of that year relative to the business of the Republican convention of Wapello. He was also elected alderman of Ottumwa in 1860 but he resigned February 4, 1861. (History of Wapello County, Iowa, and Representative Citizens, by S. B. Evans. 1901, pg. 80)

Regarding the Wapello County Aldermen meeting of Feb 4, 1861.  (Note: From Weekly Ottumwa Courier, Feb 6, 1861, pg. 4) “The resignation of A. Lotspeich, Alderman from the 1st Ward, was received, and the resignation accepted.  The Council proceeded to ballot for an Alderman to fill the vacancy thus created….William Dagget was declared duly elected.” No mention of Mitchell resigning at that time but he did not attend any more meetings.

One interesting bottle, of decided western manufacture, but with a deceptively eastern name, is occasionally found on the West Coast. Not particularly rare but within a small category of amber soda water shaped bottles lightly scattered throughout the United States. Perhaps because of the color of the liquid product, cider was often bottled in bottles made of amber glass. 

Cider, and especially apple cider, has been a popular drink for many years, which was no exception in California. In the 1850’s Oregon cider was the closest source until adequate numbers of apple trees began producing in the Golden State. As if appellation was important, in those early years the eastern made product was still preferred. One news article notes that,  “where a good article of eastern cider could be found it commands a much higher price than the Oregon manufacture”. (Sacramento Daily Union, July 7, 1858)

In fact, as early as late 1875, the moniker of ‘Pure Eastern Cider” was being freely used in San Francisco, and it was likely the product of none other than Don C. Mitchell. One newspaper noted, “Such is the label we observe hung out attractively at the doors of some first-class groceries.  On ‘sampling’ some of it and inquiring if it was really and truly Eastern cider, we were told, confidentially, that it was nothing of the kind, but that it was still good cider; and so it was. Nor is it the first good California cider that we have tasted; the more the pity that it is necessary to attach an Eastern brand to it to make it popular”. (Pacific Rural Press, December 18, 1875)

Mitchell received California Trade Mark No. 553 on December 27, 1879, for the words, EASTERN CIDER. In his registration, partially noted above, he declared the use of the words for the previous four months, including blowing it into his bottles.

Real Eastern cider, actually made in the East, became virtually indistinguishable from Mitchell’s California grown version. Consistency of flavor is certainly a challenge for any maker, and while the Eastern Cider Co. held a decent market share up to the time of Mitchell’s death, another local brand soon became a serious competitor. As noted in the San Francisco Call on October 19, 1890,  . . “Among the notable exhibits at the recent State Fair was a display of Martinelli’s pure apple cider, made from Pajaro Vally apples by S. Martinelli, Watsonville.  In competition with the home product were two of the best brands of Eastern cider, and after a thorough test the judges emphasized the popular verdict regarding Mr. Martinelli’s beverage by awarding him the medal.  His cider is remarkable for its fine flavor, clear color, heavy body and perfect purity, no chemical of any kind being used in its manufacture.  Its superiority has been universally conceded since it was placed on the market some years ago, . . “ (San Francisco Call, October 19, 1890)

This advertisement for Eastern Cider implies that Mitchell also sold his product in barrels which was then bottled by second parties, in this case, W. E. Deamer. (Morning Union, Grass Valley, California, June 25, 1878)

Found in a number of color variations that range into green, from the standard amber, the bottles are not particularly rare but are popular with many collectors. They have been found throughout the Western states. A particularly large number were recovered from the coal mining areas near Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County, California.

By the numbers of bottles excavated throughout the West, business must have been good, but family troubles soon altered his life. In February 1880 his wife died of an unknown cause, leaving him with his two young daughters, Fannie, age 23, and Martha, age 15. But a mere month later, young Martha, likely depressed from the loss of her mother, chose to release her earthly bonds. The following tragic article is located in the Daily Alta California, 11 March 1880.


An extraordinary suicide, the victim being a young girl, occurred on Rincon Hill, yesterday afternoon  Martha Mitchell, aged fifteen years, a pupil of Rincon School, had remained at home, to aid her sister Fannie at some seamstress work, at the direction of her father, D.C. Mitchell, Superintendent of the Eastern Cider Company.


In the house, 118 Silver street, and quarreled, Martha refusing to work,  At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Fannie left the house, telling Martha that she was going to her father to lodge a complaint against her.  Martha bade her good-bye, in an unusually despondent way.  Half an hour later, Fannie returned, and entering the bedroom where she had left her sister, found her


Blood was oozing from a pistol-shot wound in the region of the heart and near her lay a single barreled breach-loading pistol, discharged.  The pistol belonged to the father, and had been lying unloaded in a bureau drawer, a box of cartridges being with it.  Martha was generally of a very lively disposition, but for several days previous to her suicide had been in painfully 


And refused to state the cause of her trouble.  She had made several inquiries as to the region of the heart, but they were not particularly noticed at the time.  Evidently she premeditated suicide.  The quarrel with her sister angered her to firmer determination, and her sister’s absence afforded the opportunity.  In all its phases the suicide is peculiarly sad.

The following year Mitchell joined in partnership with the veteran soda water maker, James I. Bliven. He was one of he original trustees who formed the Bay City Soda Water Company in 1870. This partnership continued until 1886 whereby they were proprietors of the Pacific Congress Springs Depot in San Francisco and the Eastern Cider Company.

Mitchell then went to work for I.H. Morse & Company, commission merchants of San Francisco, for a few years. Upon parting with Bliven, Don C. Mitchell took his Eastern Cider brand with him, which was then incorporated into the Morse product line.

At some time in his past life, probably between 1861 and 1875, when Mitchell was first documented in San Francisco, his political activities brought him close to Benjamin Harrison, who was elected as the  23rd president of the United States. Mitchell’s obituary attests to that.

D.C. Mitchell, well known among business men in this city, accidentally shot and killed himself yesterday afternoon in the Burlington House on Market and Second streets.  He was in the office with the clerk cleaning his pistol. By some means the weapon was discharged. The bullet entered Mr. Mitchell’s stomach pit, passed through the liver and out of the body near the backbone.  In its course it fractured the backbone and cut the aorta, which caused him to bleed to death in a few minutes.  The accident happened at 3:15 o’clock, and at 3:25 he was dead.  Mr. Mitchell has for the past ten years been an agent for mineral waters, and doing business on New Montgomery street.  He has also taken a lively interest in politics and has frequently delivered addresses from the stump.  He was intimately acquainted with President Harrison, and a few weeks ago received a letter from him containing an offer of a position in the Internal Revenue Office.

Mr. Mitchell accepted and was going to Washington with his daughter, Fannie, in a few days. He was preparing for the trip yesterday, and a part of the preparation was cleaning and lading the weapon that caused his death.  Mr. Mitchell was a native of Connecticut, sixty-seven years of age.  He was a widower with an only daughter.
(Daily Alta California, 31 December 1889)

It is unclear how Mitchell had befriended President Benjamin Harrison. Had Mitchell not accidentally killed himself, his obituary may have had a much greater significance with regard to American history. Benjamin Harrison, the grandson of William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the U.S. won his bid for the job of the 23rd president on November 6. 1888. Previously he had been elected to the U.S. Senate from 1881 to 1887. But, prior to his political career on the national stage, Harrison participated in the Civil War and was confirmed as a brevet brigadier general of volunteers in 1865. After being seated in office on March 4, 1889, President Harrison commenced with picking his new cabinet members. It is probable that due to a previous alliance with Don Mitchell, he was tapped for a lucrative position in the Internal Revenue Office.

I will leave it to others to determine how Don C. Mitchell befriended President Harrison. There is still a lot to learn about the man who we only know as the proprietor of the Eastern Cider Company.