Gold lured Captain William S. Moss to California in 1858 at the age of 58.
But it was what he saw on the way to the mines that prompted the wealthy gentlemen from Illinois to eventually return back to the Midwest, liquidate his vast holdings, and move his family to California.
Moss had worked various jobs on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers starting as a flat-boater and then working his way up to captain before buying a steamboat of his own. That allowed him to make a small fortune on the river and to branch out into the telegraph business, newspaper publishing, and railroad investments.
When he traveled from San Francisco and reached what is now the River Islands side of the San Joaquin River in present-day Lathrop, Moss crossed the river on the Doak and Bonsell ferry. He saw it as a good investment and convinced the owners to sell it to him. He changed the name to Moss’ Ferry and then later to Mossdale.
Moss’ venture on the river proved profitable. He returned to Illinois and began liquidating his vast eastern holdings including a large family plantation in his native Virginia.
He organized a wagon train with brother-in-law William Buttrick and set out for California with his pregnant wife Caroline riding in a carriage tended by a nurse and a doctor. One of the wagons had a false bottom that contained $500,000 in gold from the proceeds of the sale of his various enterprises.
The wagon train stopped in Carson City, Nev., on Sept. 5, 1861 for the birth of his daughter. They then continued on to San Joaquin County before the snow hit the Sierra.
Once in San Joaquin County he bought 10,000 acres scattered from Ripon to South Stockton and went into farming.
Since the valley was unbearably hot in the summer, Moss — just like other prominent valley families — summered in cool San Francisco where he branched out into other enterprises.
Moss established the Democratic Press newspaper in the City in 1864.
The Democratic Press abruptly went out of business on the day after President Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865.
The editor — Beriah Brown — chose to headline the story “sic simper tyrannis” that translates into “Thus always to tyrants.” It was the words spoken by John Wilkes Booth as he shot Lincoln. It is also the Virginia state motto.
A mob descended on the Democratic Press that night hoping to lynch Brown. They destroyed the offices and tossed equipment out the window.
After things quieted down, Moss sued San Francisco for $40,000 for failing to protect his property. The courts ultimately awarded him $10,000.
Fourteen months later he bought the San Francisco Examiner and owned it until 1880 when he sold it to George Hearst.
Moss died at the age of 85 of natural causes on March 25, 1883 at his home north of French Camp.