John Sevier Branson, Jr.


John Sevier Branson, Jr., fifth son and ninth child of John Sevier Branson and Martha Jane Ousley, was born 20 May 1868 at Grasshopper Ranch, his parentsí property on the northwestern side of Quartzburg, Mariposa County, CA.

The Branson family had just settled on their ranch. In fact, John Jr. was surely conceived not in Mariposa County, but in the Willamette Valley of Oregon where the family was attempting to establish a new home, having after nine years finally said good-by to their previous accommodations at Phillips Flat, a mining camp on the Merced River. Both Phillips Flat and their new one were not far from the village of Hornitos, and in later years, with the disappearance of the old mining outposts and camps from the face of the earth, John Jr. would describe himself as a native of Hornitos.

The family land adjoined the Washington Mine outpost -- part of the general area of Quartzburg but often in that era referred to by its mine name. There John Sr. raised cattle and feed, prospecting only occasionally as a sideline, hauling freight when he needed to earn cash money. He and Martha resided on Grasshopper Ranch for the rest of their lives. John Jr. therefore had a stable upbringing, as did his younger sister Mattie, born in 1870, the two having been spared the transitory lifestyle experienced by their older siblings.

John Jr. attended Quartzburg school, and as a teenager no doubt helped his father cut hay, tend the ranchís horses and cattle, and haul commercial loads. The latter occupation seemed to appeal to John Jr. He did not concentrate his ambitions on mining as had his brothers Reuben and Alvin. He set his sights on acquiring a large wagon and team of draft animals of his own.

John Jr. married Lillian Jane Guest 15 January 1890 in Merced, Merced County, CA. This was also the wedding date of John Jr.ís sister Theresa to her bridegroom William Osborne Moore, an event also held in Merced. And therein lies a mystery. Theresa and Willís joining took place in a private home in West Merced with only a small number of friends and associates in attendance. John and Lillianís ceremony would appear to have taken place at another location, and was officiated by J.Y. Jones, a justice of the peace, who was not the individual who officated at the Moore/Branson event. Why would a brother and sister pick the same date for a wedding unless it was to be a double ceremony, with everyone in the family cheering on the two new couples? The implication is that John, Jr. and his sister -- a sister closer to him in age than any other except Mattie -- were on bad terms. There is nothing in family notes that confirms this or speaks to a reason for such a rift. Perhaps the rift is an illusion. Details of the two weddings are based on newspaper coverage and none of the articles is comprehensive. It is worth noting, however, John, Jr. and Theresa do not seem to have ever had much to do with each other after 1890. For example, John, Jr.ís sister Mary Jane Branson Johnson is mentioned as an attendee at the fiftieth anniversary celebration of John Jr. and Lillianís marriage held in 1940, and Mary Jane is therein referred to as having been a guest at the wedding in 1890. Theresa is not mentioned, though she was still alive in 1940 and could have come to the party.

Lillian was a daughter of John William Guest, Sr. and Elizabeth Tracy. Lillian had been born 24 December 1872 in Bear Valley, Mariposa County, CA, where her parents had settled in 1859. (John Guest had been born in England about 1829 and had come to Ohio in about 1850, where he worked as a miner. He had met Elizabeth there and had married her at Athens, OH in 1853. The first three of their children had been born in Ohio; Lillian was one of the seven younger children born in Mariposa County.) Lillian was no stranger to her betrothed. Her brothers worked at the Washington Mine. The very eldest of those brothers, John William Guest, Jr., had become the husband of John Jr.ís second cousin Mary M. Scott back in 1878. In becoming husband and wife, John Sevier Branson, Jr. and Lillian Jane Guest were reinforcing a connection that had existed for many years.

For the rest of 1890 John Jr. and Lillian resided at Grasshopper Ranch. Their first child, Joseph William Branson, was born there in December. Yet before much longer John Jr. cut the apron strings. The voter registration roll of 1892 shows him still in Hornitos as of October, 1892, but within twelve months of that date, he and Lillian and little Joseph relocated to Raymond, Madera County, farther south in the Mother Lode. Second son Henry was born at the latter locale in September, 1893. It was probably some time in the next few years that a pregnancy resulted in either a late miscarriage or a stillbirth. Family records are not robust enough to be certain the event took place. If it did, the child was probably never given a name.

While the family lived at Raymond, John Jr. made his living by hauling supplies, taking the necessities of life uphill for the miners and loggers there, and bringing downhill such material as cobblestones from the large granite quarries of the region -- during the turn of the century cobblestones were still a common type of street paving, regularly needed.

Among the more colorful aspects of John Jr.ís occupation is that shipment wagons such as his were the means of transportation for the ladies of the night who worked the Mother Lode. These women would travel from mining camp to logging site to mill, plying their trade in a circuit. They were not permitted aboard the stage coaches that operated between the major junctions, and like Chinese and black citizens had to depend on less conspicuous modes of travel. From the vantage point of the 21st Century it is impossible to know what John Jr. thought of this situation. It is appealing to imagine he enjoyed not only the extra income contributed by his passengers, but appreciated having people of all backgrounds perched behind his bench or seated beside him, sharing stories, news, and jokes with him, and no doubt making fun of the authority figures of the day. Perhaps the friendships gleaned during those trips led to his employment as a saloonkeeper (the occupation cited on an 1898 list of registered voters of Madera County).

Perhaps he had turned to saloonkeeping because hauling by wagon was such hard work, and well as a dying career at a time when railroad extensions were penetrating deeper into the mountains. John Jr. found a more secure and settled job when he accepted a position with the Sugar Pine Lumber Company. This major operation harvested trees in the High Sierra at Sugar Pine, milled them into lumber and shorter logs there, and sent the resulting wood down a sixty-three-mile-long flume to Madera in the Central Valley, where the product was offered to local builders or was shipped off to various destinations via Southern Pacific Railroad. (The flume was no doubt the same one that had played such a dramatic role in the birth of John Jr.ís brother Reubenís daughter Gertrude in 1891. See Reubenís and Gertrudeís pages in this archive for details.) John Jr.ís position allowed him to work at the downhill end of the flume. He and Lillian established a home in Madera in 1900 and lived in that community for the rest of their lives. Much or all of that time was spent at a residence on Washington Avenue.

In 1907 the coupleís final child, Dorothy, was born. Dorothy would reside in Madera her whole life. Having her near at hand was no doubt a comfort to her parents in their declining years. By contrast, their eldest son Joseph would move to Orange County in the late 1920s, and they would lose Henry well before they themselves passed away. Henry, age twenty-seven, was working as a foreman at the Yosemite Lumber Company at Merced Falls, Madera County when he was killed 11 April 1921. As reported in the 16 April 1921 issue of the Mariposa Gazette, Henryís overcoat became entangled in the pulley and belt mechanism of a planing mill, which caused him to be thrown violently to the floor. He died two hours later of the resulting brain hemorrhage.

Henry left two surviving children, son Beverly Orwin Branson, age three, and an infant daughter, Betty. His widow Ada (Crane) sought the comfort and shelter of both her own relatives and John and Lillian. These three were enough of a fixture in John and Lillianís lives during the mid-1920s that when the house on Washington Avenue was consumed in a fire and had to be rebuilt from scratch, the couple decided to erect an addition connected by a short causeway in which the grandchildren and their widowed mother could live. Even after Ada married Matthew Huddleston (in about 1926) and made a home with him in San Francisco, Beverly and Betty -- sometimes with and sometimes without their mother -- continued to be frequent visitors, keeping the family bond intact despite the loss of Henry. Beverly was there enough that it was Madera High School from which he graduated, and at age eighteen (in 1939) Betty moved in full-time for a couple of years, and it during that phase of her life that she met Bert Smith, the man she would marry (in 1941). After Matt Huddlestonís death in 1947, Ada would return to the nearby parts of the Central Valley, settling in Winton, Merced County, CA, near Atwater.

After leaving the lumber company job, John worked for the Madera Department of Public Works. He was in charge of maintaining the street-sweeping equipment (changing the brushes, etc.). He kept this job until late in life.

The fiftieth wedding celebration, hosted by Dorothy at her home, was a huge affair. There were over one hundred guests. As mentioned above, there is some doubt Theresa Branson Moore attended, but Mary Jane Johnson was there and so was Lillianís sister Annie Gourguet. A plethora of nephews and nieces represented the families of most of the coupleís other siblings, those siblings having for the most part already gone to their graves by 1940. Dorothy even arranged for a congratulations letter to be send by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (Actually sent by his staff, of course.)

Lillian died 11 September 1944, leaving John a widower. Dorothy and Betty looked after him over the next half-dozen years.

John Jr. was the last of his generation to pass away, doing so 27 February 1951 in Madera. Like so many Bransons, he is buried in that cityís Arbor Vitae Cemetery.


John Sevier Branson, Jr. and wife Lillian Jane Guest at their 50th wedding anniversary party in 1940.


Children of John Sevier Branson, Jr. with Lillian Jane Guest

Joseph William Branson

Henry Jefferson Branson

Dorothy Arline Branson

For genealogical details, click on each of the names.


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