By Mark Gutglueck
George Eugene Butler was a self-made tycoon who served for slightly more than six years as San Bernardino County supervisor in the First District. His fiefdom, as it were, was in the area around Needles, which in his day was one of the county’s primary cities, given its status as a railroad town as well as its location on California’s East Coast, better known as the west bank of the Colorado River.
George Butler was born on November 9, 1876 in Downey, the son of George Emery and Julia (Moores) Butler. George Butler the elder was a minister with a family of six children. As such, he was hard-pressed to keep his family in comfortable circumstances.
At the age of eleven, young George set out on his own, intent on leaving the deprivations in his father’s household behind him. With the pocket change he had, he purchased a train ticket, which took him as far as Needles.
Filled with hard-living miners and railroad men, Needles was a somewhat rougher place than Downey in those days. The youngster was undaunted by the denizens of his newly adopted home, where he was determined to stay. He quickly found employment as a stock boy and helper at the Monaghan and Murphy Mercantile Company. By dint of determination and perseverance, he educated himself. In a few years, he was promoted to bookkeeper with Monaghan and Murphy, a position he retained for the remainder of his stay with that company.
Around 1900, when he was 23 years old, George Butler established his own general store in Needles, the Needles Mercantile Company. This enterprise, like nearly all others he associated himself with during his lifetime, proved eminently successful. With the advance of his prosperity, he incorporated the Bank of Needles in 1907. He was the president and manager of both establishments for many years.
He then interested himself in real estate endeavors, buying and selling a large number of properties around Needles, and branched out into acquiring mining property. He learned the language of the Mojave Indians, in so doing earning the trust of the indigenous population around Needles, which furthered the degree of success he enjoyed around Needles.
In 1904, he married Worth Hervey of Santa Ana. His wife had been born in 1882 and was the daughter of William Blount and Joanna (Rhodes) Hervey of Santa Ana. George and Worth had three children: a son, Worth Hervey; and two daughters, Joanna Rhodes and Georgia Eugene.
In 1908 Butler served on the county grand jury.
On December 9, 1910, Judge James West resigned from the board of supervisors for health reasons.
George was immediately appointed to succeed West by lieutenant governor Warren Porter, who at that point was serving in the capacity of acting governor. In 1912 he was elected to the board by the residents of the First District and he served on the board until January 8, 1917, when he was succeeded by Austin B. Mulvane of Amboy. During his stint as supervisor, Butler travelled by train to San Bernardino to attend board meetings.
He and his wife purchased some property at Big Bear Lake in 1911, and with his family George Butler vacationed there during the summer. While on the board of supervisors, he successfully advocated for a road to be built from the desert to Big Bear. This was named “Johnson Grade” in reference to a man who lived halfway up the mountain, but is now known as “Cushenberry Grade.”
Shortly after leaving the board of supervisors in 1917, Butler handed off management of the Bank of Needles to his brother, J. Henry Butler, who had served as bookkeeper and cashier. He then moved to Los Angeles. He remained on the bank’s board of directors, and, from 1920 to 1929, sold off many of his interests and investments in and around Needles. The Bank of Needles was sold to San Bernardino Valley Bank in 1924. It closed in 1931, a casualty of the Great Depression.
For family reasons, Butler had moved from Needles. But the departure from the place where he had spent the most rewarding years of his young life saddened him. In Los Angeles, he bought some apartments, and in 1938 he invested in property at Cardiff-by-the –Sea in San Diego County. During the next few years, he owned a hotel, shop and several small homes there. This was all sold during World War II, when travel restrictions made it difficult to properly oversee his holdings.
George Eugene Butler, then residing in Los Angeles, died on November 18, 1947 at the age of 71.
By Mark Gutglueck