Samuel Webb at a young age.
By Albert Simonson
Our lives are like the infinite branchings of a grand old oak. That may be what old Sam Webb the Third was thinking as he stood in the dull heat of a July sun on a weedy old road. His son, also named Sam, was getting to know more of his ancestor. They thought of the first Sam Webb, born 1853, who had built this road back in 1872, together with his father George. The Banner Toll Road was their work, too.
Big rocks were needed to buttress the San Diego-Julian Toll Road on this stretch. It was the worst part of the road (called “atrocious” in newspapers), and the scar it left is still clearly visible from Interstate 8. But for the original Sam Webb, it turned out to be the best part. Because this is where pretty Mary Jane Miller fell down.
Her father, John Miller, was an early settler of Campo, then sometimes called Milquatay or New Texas (because of all the Texans who settled nearby, after the Civil War).
Mary Jane, born in Tennessee, was among the first children, 29 in number, to attend the new Milquatay District School in 1867.
To get to San Diego, the New Texans had little choice but to ride by way of Tecate. But since the Webbs were grading a new and shorter road through Julian Sandoval’s Rancho Guatay (now Descanso) for the Julian gold wagons, Mary Jane got to ride a shortcut to town, down the north slope of Viejas Valley. The Webbs had been pioneers of Julian with their relatives from Georgia, the Baileys and Julians. They arrived in 1867, according to a daughter.
Mary Jane had to make her way down a steep, brushy, rocky slope where Sam Webb and 17 other men were busily hacking out the new county toll road. There she fell.
Nineteen-year-old Samuel Fleming Webb rushed to the damsel in distress as any gallant Julian teen should do. Everything was going to be all right. The tender blossom of love began to unfold at that dusty worksite which their descendants (also named Sam Webb) would rediscover in a moving moment. I shared it with them at an embankment of the road in 1998, and we all went happily to lunch.
It is easy to imagine Sam’s rescue of the fallen girl. She was light in his bronzed arms, so toughened by shifting great boulders. Then there was her budding charm contrasting with that abrasive hillside. It was an unplanned teenage intimacy with no clever words at the ready.
No doubt the laborers exchanged knowing glances. The boss looked as off balance as the girl was when she fell.
It is just such happenstance that diverts infinitely our destinies.
Sam’s father, G.W. Webb, had acreage up toward Cedar Glen Camp, uphill from Sam. Their boundaries are known exactly from Pre-emption Book 5, County Records.
So, where exactly did Sam live? We know he and his father were lumbermen, and the mines needed that. My guess is Sam had a sawmill on Jim Green Creek right by that S-turn in Wynola Road as it drops down to Wynola (south and west portions of section 30).
Sam had a separate recorded pre-emption. Pre-emptions, like homesteads, were surveyed federal land grants to settlers, from which present land titles derive.
Their toll road was soon surveyed, beginning at Julian’s main road crossing and ending at the old “Camino de la Sierra” in Viejas.
Shown along the road are the Stonewall Mine, Mulkins, Harper, and Trimmer. An earlier segment through Cuyamaca had been graded in 1857 by Indians under James Lassitor. They were paid in dark cloth and liquor. That road and Webb’’s toll road were chartered by county supervisors.
Working for his father, Sam was the crew boss who got the job done. Read all about it in the Daily Union 6/17/1871, 3/16/1872, and county records. The newspaper was “unhesitatingly in favor of Mr. Webb’s road,” since it “saved 19 miles” and they urged its adoption “as a county road.” It became route 79 and drew mine traffic away from San Pascual.
Sam and Mary Jane were married in 1875, and in the following year they drove 400 head of cattle over the mountains and desert to Fort Yuma. Julian Sandoval, then mayordomo of Volcan, had done likewise back in 1853. Unlike Sandoval, they chose to stay in the Arizona Territory to operate a stage station. Sam got on the right side of the law as customs inspector.
In 1880, Sam’s father and brothers followed them to Arizona, where they invested heavily in the Gila Bend Canal. Sam became a prominent rancher in Phoenix, Speaker of the Territorial Legislature, and a publisher of the Arizona Gazette and Arizona Democrat. This is starting to sound like a western movie.
Sam was part of a 3-man posse under famed lawman Jeff Milton, formed to bring in the stage-robbing Bronco Bill Gang. Bronco Bill became a much better person after having his right arm shot off and a few years behind bars. There is a book about his gang.
Both Sam and fearless younger brother George worked with Jeff Milton to fight smugglers at the border and enforce customs and immigration laws. Smuggling of Chinese workers was a problem at that time.
Sam and Mary Jane had twelve children of which seven reached adulthood.
No life, of course, is free of grief. The oldest son, also a newspaper publisher, was killed in a blasting accident in a Sonora mine he operated together with Sam. He suffered terribly and died before they could reach the mine and have a box made. One of the children, “Little Sammy,” kept the body wet with lime water to preserve it for a proper burial in Nogales.
Sam’s father, a contractor, miner, doctor and preacher, suffering ill health, shot himself. Her own father, John Miller, shot himself in the head with a Henry repeating rifle. Since he had only one arm, that was a challenge. His disability never stopped him from getting a job done.
The Webbs left deep tracks all over the southwest. That is why two new generations of men also named Sam Webb were standing on that old road above Viejas, thinking that they would not be there, or anywhere, if Mary Jane Miller had not fallen just there, in 1872, by pure happenstance. When you trip up in life, it is not necessarily a bad thing.
There is said to be a portrait of Sam as Speaker in the Arizona Legislature from the 1880s. Mary died in San Diego in 1941 with a good long life to remember.
Sam the Fourth has visited our Julian Historical Society to share the research done by Louise Webb and by himself.
There is a Sam 5, and a Sam 6 as well, so it is unlikely the prodigal Sam 1 will be forgotten.
The Webb road through Cuyamaca is now largely covered by route 79, except for a shortcut down the mountain around Viejas Valley on the north. There, the embankments are high, the slope steep, the track plain to see.
The Webb road down Banner Canyon lies mostly north of the creek, easily visible near Wynola Road and even better just upstream of the Banner Queen Gallery and Trading Post. There is a photo of the toll house halfway down the canyon with a 2-horse light stage in front, and Volcan Mountain behind. There are family photos in the Julian Historical Society schoolhouse. Check it out.
At the opening celebration of June15, 1871, 75 people rode up from Banner on the new road to the crossroads by Julian Town Hall.
There, “a big fat ox was barbecued and garnished with chickens and smaller fry.” That was followed by an all-night dance. Try to picture it.
The lesson of this story is: Happiness can happen where you least expect it. It can also happen if you make it happen.