By Sue Blesi
Franklin County Historian
George and Phoebe Apperson Hearst were both born in Franklin County, Mo.
The two of them were the most famous residents the county has ever produced. His father and grandfather, of Scotch-Irish descent, came to the area from Abbeville, S.C.
George Hearst was born Sept. 3, 1820, the firstborn child of William and Elizabeth (Collins) Hearst. This event took place in a log house located 5 miles south of St. Clair in a wilderness, now known as the Schroeder Sod Farm. Nothing remains of the Hearst residence today. Across Highway K from the sod fields, Joe Wagner’s large white farmhouse, built in 1915, stands sentry overlooking fields that once belonged to the Hearsts.
The Hearsts were Southerners and were slave owners. They were certainly better off than their neighbors, but their log house was furnished plainly, and William Hearst was a hard-working farmer. As a child, young George had to help with many chores around the property, taking care of the poultry and the sheep.
George had two younger siblings, a sister, Patsy, and a brother, Jacob, who was crippled and unable to care for himself. He died at 19. Patsy was sickly all of her life and died at age 31. Neither Jacob nor Patsy married.
When George Hearst was young, the nearby Virginia Mines began operation. The boy spent many hours watching the miners work. It was a crude operation and George quickly picked up many details. The miners would allow George and other boys to pick out little bits of lead. Young Hearst had very little formal education but he had a real knack for understanding mining.
His father bought another farm off of Highway PP, known more recently as the Denny, or Waldo, place. At age 16, George was put in charge of that farm. Later he had a store at Judith Spring in partnership with Emile Generally. William Hearst died leaving debts to pay and George had a great deal of work to do to settle his father’s estate.
Like many other young Franklin County men, George Hearst got gold fever in 1849. He watched as other young men went west to make their fortune. He had to sell property to get money together for the trip. He turned his remaining Missouri property over to a trusted friend and, in 1850, headed west.
Unlike so many others, George Hearst had a real knack for mining and for finding ore. He did some mining, ran a quartz mill for a while, then got into quartz mining at the Lecompton Mine in Nevada and, in 1859, bought into the Ophir Mine.
Ten years passed. It was not easy to get communications from Missouri while he was working in remote mining towns. He learned that his sister had died and his mother had tuberculosis and was not expected to live long. The trusted friend George had left in charge of his property had developed a brain tumor and died, leaving Hearst’s Missouri affairs in a terrible mess.
He returned to St. Clair by railroad on Sept. 1, 1860. When he left Missouri 10 years earlier, there had been no railroad. St. Clair had not existed then, nor had its short-lived predecessor, Traveller’s Repose.
He spent time with his dying mother, visited his old friends, and went to the Meramec Iron Works to see his old friends, Samuel Massey and the James family. While visiting at the iron works, Hearst discovered Phoebe Apperson was teaching the James children.
Phoebe had grown up in the Whitmire Settlement just south of the Hearst homeplace. Hearst had known her when she was a toddler as the Appersons had been family friends. George and Phoebe renewed their acquaintance and, despite the fact he was about 22 years older than Phoebe, they began courting.
George’s mother died and his land was tied up in a big court battle. The Hearst homeplace and other real estate had been sold on the courthouse steps. Hearst fought it out in court, a bitter contest that eventually went to the Supreme Court. George Hearst lost the case. His old friends, James Nashville Inge and Attorney James Halligan, ended up with much of the Hearst property.
George and Phoebe married and settled in San Francisco. He continued to have great success mining and amassed a considerable fortune. Art Hebrank, director of the Missouri Mines Historical Site, stated last week that George Hearst was the best mining engineer the West had ever known.
George Hearst served in the California State Assembly and was elected to the United States Senate, holding that office from 1887 until his death in 1891.
Next week’s topic will be Phoebe Apperson Hearst.
To contact Sue Blesi, call 573-739-9201 or email email@example.com.