Joseph Wilson

Joseph Wilson was one of the early heavy lifters in San Bernardino County. His name is associated with another family surname – Van Leuven.
With a daughter of the Van Leuven family, in three generations he managed to increase the population of San Bernardino County by more than twenty, all within a monogamous setting. Originally Mormons, the Wilson and Van Leuvens defied the polygamous social order that was then in vogue with the church, risking the wrath of the church’s elders but yet managing to survive and thrive.
Joseph Wilson was born at Richmond. Ohio, March 18, 1837 and passed over in San Bernardino County on October 26, 1899. He married Rhoda Van Leuven, who was born in Camden, Ontario, Canada, December 24, 1838, and died in California November 21, 1918.
Joseph’s father, Bushrod Washington Wilson, was raised in the faith of the Mormons and was selected for missionary work. He sojourned to England, where he had sought to make converts of the nonbelievers there. Upon returning to the United States, he found that Brigham Young had led his followers out of Missouri to Salt Lake. Arriving in Utah, he was mortified to learn that polygamy had become a widespread practice and was shocked that it had been instituted by Young. This led to a crisis in faith and he burned his tracts and books secretly, disavowing Mormonism.
Upon securing food and an outfit in April 1855, Bushrod drove with ox teams into California, running the risk of death from Mormons as well as Indians. Indeed, he experienced trouble with the Indians, his cousin, a doctor in the party, being shot and wounded. A daughter died of the cholera and there was untold suffering to all the surviving members of the company.
The year preceding the arrival of the Wilson family Benjamin Van Levuen with many others of the Mormon Church crossed the plains with ox teams in 1853, spending one year at Salt Lake to raise grain and food for their further journey, and thus continuing with wagons over the deserts and mountains to California. Mrs. Van Levuen while driving a wagon ahead of the rest of the party was attacked by Indians, but two of her nephews came to her rescue. They traveled day and night until the stock was exhausted and reached California in 1854.
It is said that as the party came out of the desert through Cajon Pass, Rhoda Van Leuven stood by her father looking over the green valley of San Bernardino and exclaimed that it was her wish to live and die in the beautiful region and she had her wish granted.
Joseph Wilson and Rhoda Van Leuven were married January 1, 1857 and at once began housekeeping in Old San Bernardino near the Mission. Joseph had ten acres and his wife twenty acres given her by her father. This land was on the old Mission Road in what is now the West Redlands District. The ten acre homestead is just east of the Mission school.
In 1857, when President James Buchanan threatened to have the U.S. Army invade Utah, Brigham Young requested that colonists from outlying areas return to Utah to help deal with the crisis. The San Bernardino clerk recorded that the colonists received word on 30 October to return and that the first wagons left on 3 November. The last entry in the clerk’s journal reads, “December 15 Left San Bernardino for Utah.” At least two-thirds of the 3,000 Saints in the San Bernardino colony abandoned, or sold for pennies on the dollar, the property they had acquired through years of sacrifice.
This land was improved through the planting of fruits and grapes, and the dried fruit was readily sold to the passing traders and miners. The Wilsons also raised alfalfa and grain, another profitable crop in pioneer times. Joseph Wilson increased his land holdings from year to year and was one of the very successful men of the valley.
He hauled lumber from the mills in the mountains, making possible much of the early growth of San Bernardino as a city.
He was also a freighter, using teams of six or eight mules in hauling groceries and other supplies from Los Angeles to San Bernardino. This was before the first railroad was built, and his oldest daughter Catherine in the 1920s boasted a vivid recollection of the first train that came into the valley over the newly constructed Southern Pacific line. She was at that time in school and the teacher took all the scholars to witness the coming of the first train, consisting of an engine and flat cars. They were permitted to get aboard and rode to Colton and back home.
Joseph Wilson and wife were the parents of seven children. The oldest, Catherine, born October 25, 1857, was married February 12, 1882, to Horace J. Roberts and he died March 6, 1918. Of her four children, Horace Leslie, born November 24. 1884, spent two years after
leaving high school at Nome, Alaska, and farmed later in Beaumont. He married Margaret English and their two children were Horace Leslie Jr. and Dorothy. Carrie Roberts, the Catherin’s second child, was born September 21, 1886, and died June 24, 1899. Joseph Ernest Roberts was born April 22, 1888, and in 1922 was a salesman for the Union Oil Company at Beaumont, having married Edna E. Sewell, with whom he had three children named Doris Josephine. Catherine Augusta and Edna Mae. Rhoda Irene Roberts, born June 5, 1891, became the wife of Royal T. C. Roberts, an electrician at Coalinga, California, and had four children, Marion, Edith, who died November 12, 1919, and Jewell who died at the age of sixteen months, and Royal Thomas.
Benjamin Wilson, the second child of Joseph Wilson was born June 12, 1859, and died October 6, 1867.
Caroline, third of the family, born March 12, 1861, was the wife of M. L. Frink, a prominent orange grower on the Mission Road, and she has five children : Lena, Watkins, Amy Murphy, Milton J. Frink, and Howard L. Frink.
Delbert Wilson, born June 1, 1866, died in infancy.
Zilpha Wilson, born August 13, 1867, married J. J. Curtis, a prominent orange grower at Redlands, and had two daughters, Mrs. Alice Hill and Mrs. Mabel Seavey.
Anna Wilson, born January 29, 1871, married B. G. Simons of Nevada Street, Redlands, and had one daughter.
The youngest of the family Rhoda Wilson, born April 15, 1878, was the wife of Gordon Smith, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, and a fruit grower at Redlands.

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