By Mark Gutglueck
Joseph B. Gill, was a businessman, banker and financier in San Bernardino at the turn of the 19th to the 20th Century, and he remained a prominent member of the community well into the Roaring Twenties. He was 37 years old when he made his way to San Bernardino from Illinois, where he had been the owner and editor of widely circulated newspaper when he was in his twenties and then a driving force in politics and statesmanship.
Whereas in Illinois he had been an advocate in his journalistic and political career for the poor and downtrodden, in San Bernardino he became a member of the entrepreneurial class and the economic establishment.
Joseph B. Gill was born on the 17th of February in 1862 at Marion, Illinois, the son of John Gill, the grandson of John Gill and the great grandson of John Gill. His mother was named Nancy as was his grandmother. Gill traced his genealogy back to pre-Revolutionary days, the Gill family having been established in America by members of that clan, who were of English and Irish ancestry, when they settled in Virginia shortly after the establishment of Jamestown in 1607.
Joseph Gill’s grandfather, John Gill, was born in Virginia but was brought to Illinois by his parents while a small boy. John Gill’s wife, Nancy, came from a family that had live in America from prior to the Revolutionary War, but was of German ancestry. John and Nancy Gill were pioneers of the district around De Soto, Illinois. They had eight children, of whom Joseph B. Gill’s father, known as John, Jr. was the fifth. The couple lived near De Soto all their lives, reared their family and died in 1885.
John M. Gill, Jr. father of Joseph B. Gill, was born in Murphysboro, Illinois, November 23, 1833. He received what was in that region and at that time an exhaustive education, and assisted his father on the home farm. He married Nancy J. Wright, daughter of Washington Wright of Williamson County. They had two children, Joseph B. and one who died at an early age. In 1855 John Gill, Jr. began business in the merchandising line and in 1859 removed from De Soto to Williamson County, where he engaged in farming and dealing in tobacco and other produce of the farms. In 1863, a year after the birth of his son who is the focus of this narrative, he returned to De Soto where he resided until 1868. In that year he located in Murphysboro, Illinois, where he resumed his mercantile pursuits until fire swept away his store and he decided to take up milling. He soon became one of the prominent men of that district. A staunch Democrat. John Gill, Jr. in 1876 he was elected mayor of Murphysboro and filled the office two terms, establishing what was deemed “a record for the able discharge of his duties and rare judgment.” He was also a director of the public schools for many years and a Mason for twenty years.
He founded the town of Gillsburg on the narrow gauge railroad on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, about eight miles northwest of Murphysboro, which became a thriving and bustling place. He was noted as a business man of finest principle, and was adjudged “square and honest, and of strict integrity.” He died on February 27, 1886, outliving his father by less than a year.
Joseph Gill attended the public schools in De Soto and Murphysboro. In 1884 he graduated from the Southern Illinois Normal School in Carbondale and took a classical education in the Christian Brothers College, in St. Louis. After subsequent law studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and graduating in July, 1886, he was admitted to the Michigan Bar, passing an examination before the Circuit and Supreme Courts of that state. He never practiced as an attorney, however. Rather, he obtained a part interest in the newspaper The Murphysboro Independent, where he was active a journalist, co-editor and publisher.
In 1888 he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, holding that position for two terms. In both general assemblies, Gill proved a strong anti-corporation man, and espoused the cause of labor. He championed the passage of the Gross-Weight Bill, the Weekly Pay Bill and the Anti-Truck Store Bill, and did all he could to advance the Arbitration Bill to a successful issue. He was recognized as seeking to benefit a class of people who had few friends in the legislature.
After the Illinois General Assembly adjourned in 1891 there had been demand for his name to be placed on the state ticket. On the first ballot in April, 1892, Gill was nominated for the office of lieutenant-governor by the Democratic State Convention. He was then elected by an overwhelming margin, receiving the highest number of votes of any of the candidates on the ticket except the state treasurer.
He remained with the newspaper until the First of January 1893. At that point he embarked on his political career in earnest.
In their book, The History of San Bernardino and Riverside counties, published in 1922, John Brown Jr. and James Boyd wrote of Joseph Gill’s journalistic and political career in Illinois that his “controlling motive was the protection of the poorer classes and the easing of their heavy burdens” and “his burning zeal for service, his espousal of the cause of the so-called lower classes made him a power to be reckoned with. With him it was noblesse oblige and all his actions were based on enduring justice and right, and he went down underneath superfluities to bedrock. Mr. Gill could think for the commonwealth, the proletariat, and he came to be their Moses, leading them out of the morass in which they were all but submerged.”
In the 1892 election Gill had run on the Democratic ticket with John Peter Altgeld, who was the first Democratic governor of Illinois elected since the 1850s. Gill would serve as vice governor of Illinois from January 1893 to 11 January 1897.
Altgeld suffered a nervous breakdown shortly after his victory, and nearly died of a concomitant fever. He managed to appear at his inauguration, but was only able to deliver a brief portion of his speech. Although the general assembly hall was so warm as to cause several men to faint, Altgeld, clad in a heavy topcoat, was pale and visibly shivering. The clerk of the assembly delivered the remainder of his speech.
On November 28, 1893, Gill married Miss Pearl Hall, the daughter of James W. and Augusta Hall, formerly residents of southern Illinois, and later of San Bernardino, where Mrs. Gill was living at the time of her marriage. Pearl Gill was described as “a lady of refinement and culture” who had “evinced decided talent in both music and painting.”
The Altgeld Administration would embark on what was the nation’s most progressive child labor and occupational safety laws, vastly increasing state funding for education, and appointed women to important positions in the state government.
Altgeld, however, was grievously ill much of the time, and so the actual governing of the state fell to Joseph Gill. Mindful of the interests of the people, and believing that vast sums of money belonging to the state had heretofore been sequestered, he therefore, by the authority vested in him as governor, directed the state attorney-general to institute suits against ex-state officials extending over a long period of years. While his action met with the unqualified approval of the tax-payers and common people of the state, it created consternation in the ranks of those politicians whose financial interests were directly or indirectly affected. His course was highly commended by the press of the state and by those who favored the economical administration of affairs.
In February, 1894, owing to Altgeld’s absence from the state, Gill as lieutenant-governor again assumed the gubernatorial chair, and as upon the previous occasion, discharged the duties of the office to the satisfaction of an overriding majority of the people of Illinois. Many compliments were extended him by the press of Illinois and other states, also by representative men of the state during his incumbency of the office. Despite his relative youth, his qualifications made him an equal in the discharge of his duties with those whose years greatly outnumbered his.
While serving as acting governor, Gill succeeded in bringing to a peaceful resolution a major miners’ strike.
Having already secured the adoption of the weekly pay bill for the miners, Gill had established credibility with those on strike. That strike occurred in the coal mines in the northern part of Illinois, and involved several companies and seven thousand miners. A large part of these miners, armed and in what was described in contemporaneous accounts as “an ugly mood,” had gathered at Toluca in Marshall County, and demanded what they considered their rights. One of the biggest mine owners impacted in the strike was Charles J. Devlin, who was also the sheriff of the county. Devlin, fearing the destruction of property, sent repeated telegrams demanding the Illinois State Militia be employed and holding acting Governor Gill responsible for any bloodshed and destruction that might follow if he did not use sufficient martial presence and force to put down the strike. Governor Gill refused to do so, and proposed rather that the companies furnish the miners free transportation out of the state, saying he would go to the strikers personally. This approach was agreed upon and Gill, accompanied by the assistant adjutant general, sojourned to Joliet. There they met the local representatives of the United Mine Workers. Upon arriving in Toluca, a consultation was held with Devlin who agreed to furnish transportation if Mr. Gill could get the strikers to proceed to their homes. Gill and union officials both addressed the miners and within three hours after they arrived the strikers were on the train homeward. All over the state the press regarded this as a remarkable performance and was unanimous in praise of Governor Gill’s tact and promptness.
Brown and Boyd wrote, “The youngest lieutenant governor Illinois ever had, and acting governor for years, a lawyer by education, Mr. Gill from the first showed all the qualities for triumphant leadership, and he was soon tested in the fires of experience. He was, however, accredited by his friends, constituents and the press, with so many brilliant and unusual qualities and talents it seems as though he possessed more gifts than any one man should have. Throughout his public life he was never accused of misconduct, untruth, ‘wobbling,’ cowardice, lack of initiative or nerve. Although he was the champion of the poor and oppressed he soon won golden opinion from all classes, and always those who favored good government were solidly behind him.”
In 1896 Gill renounced another candidacy as governor/lieutenant governor. He did however agree after his tenure as lieutenant governor ended to serve as a lead member of the Illinois Conciliation Authority, also known as the State Board of Arbitration. After remaining in that position several months, he pulled up stakes and headed to California, having had enough of the strain of politics, which he said he was through with. At his wife’s insistence over the possible damage that strain was doing to his health, the couple came to San Bernardino, where she had previously dwelt.
Gill was elected the first president of the Board of Trade of San Bernardino shortly after arriving in 1897, and was re-elected. He was made chairman of the San Bernardino County Highway Commission that apportioned a $1,750,000 San Bernardino County bond issue.
Mr. Gill was in the lumber business under the name of the Gill-Norman Lumber Company and had three yards: one in San Bernardino, one in Riverside and one in Redlands. He sold out his interests after being engaged in it for twelve years and then retired from all business for ten years.
His son, James W. Gill, who was born November 11, 1895, became engaged in the lumber business in San Bernardino and still owned such a business in the 1920s. James W. Gill saw active service in France with the 145th Field Artillery during World War I, then known as the Great War.
By 1920, Joseph Gill’s marriage to Pearl had ended or she had died. On April 27, 1920, Gill married Thelma Smith of Murphysboro, Illinois, daughter of Edward Smith and member of one of the oldest and most respected families of Murphysboro. Mrs. Gill was a member of the Christian Church.
The same year as his second marriage, Gill’s record and his aptitude for finance brought him out of retirement and he accepted the presidency of the San Bernardino National Bank and of the San Bernardino
County Savings Bank.
The San Bernardino County Savings Bank had J. B. Gill as president and H. E. Harris, first vice-president; A. M. Ham, 2nd vice-president; J. H. Wilson, cashier; J. C. Ralph, Jr., assistant cashier and directors: J. B. Gill, H. E. Harris, A. M. Ham, Victor C. Smith, T. A. Blakelv, W. J. Curtis, Howard B. Smith, Mrs. E. D. Roberts and R. E. Roberts were board members. On December 1, 1920, the capital was $150,000, with a surplus of $150,000 and undivided profits $42,000. The bank’s resources were $3,375,234.24.
The officers of the San Bernardino National Bank were J. B. Gill, president; H. E. Harris, 1st vice-president; W. S. Boggs, 2nd vice-president; R. E. Roberts, 3rd vice-president; J. S. Wood, cashier; Herbert Weir and V. J. Micallef, assistant cashiers. The directors were J. B. Gill, H. B. Smith, J. W. Curtis, J. S. Wood, W. S. Boggs, H. E. Harris. Jennie E. Davis, R. E. Roberts and H. P. Stow. The capital was $100,000 with a surplus of $100,000 and undivided profits of $235,086.95. The bank’s resources were $2,206,750.99.
The combined capital and surplus of the two banks in 1922 was over $800,000, the combined deposits $4,538, 059.74 and the combined resources, $5,624,924.20.
In 1922, Gill was also a director of the First National Bank of Rialto, and was vice-president of the Ocean Park Bank of Ocean Park, California. He was a director, of the American National Bank of San Bernardino but resigned when he accepted the presidency of the other two banks.
In 1922-23 Gill was president of the National Orange Show. Gill was a member of San Bernardino Lodge No. 836, B. P. O. E., and was one of its first trustees.
After 1924, Gill led a quiet life and there is very little note of his existence in available public sources.
He died on the 22nd of September, 1942.
By Mark Gutglueck