George Hearst was born Sept. 3, 1820. His parents were William G. Hearst and Elizabeth, nee Collins. They lived on the land purchased by William’s father in Section 20, Township 41, Range 1 East. The property was located along the Meramec River about 5.5 miles south and west of St. Clair.
In 1830 William bought his brother Joseph’s share in the homestead and became its sole owner. The property consisted of some 300 acres and was located in a big bend of the Meramec River.
According to neighboring farmers of his time, William Hearst was a large stock raiser. At the time George was born, William and his father were the wealthiest farmers in the large Meramec township. William’s father died in 1822.
In October 1835, William bought the farm of Thomas Blair in Section 27, Township 41, Range 1, West which had good “second bottom” land and a large spring. Thereafter, the “Blair” farm became his home farm.
William Hearst died in November 1844, leaving his son George to take care of his widow, his daughter Martha, and his son Jacob, who was a cripple.
George was an obedient son whose mother relied on him and who accepted his responsibilities. Even though they had slaves, everybody always had something to do.
George had little schooling — about three months when he was 8; about 15 months when he was a teenager; and about three months when he was 20.
In his early 20s George had gotten a reputation for having an accurate nose for minerals. The local Indians called him “Boy-That-Earth-Talked-To.” In 1838 he passed a grade school course at the Franklin County Mining School.
George also dabbed in politics and had been a delegate to a Democratic state convention at the age of 26.
Shortly after his father’s death, George was to purchase more property along the fertile Meramec River bottoms from the Appersons and Whitmires. The Hearst estate was now over 600 acres with livestock and a copper mine.
In 1848 his mother remarried to Joseph Funk, who was a county judge and postmaster at Traveler’s Repose. George bought the rights of his mother and stepfather to his father’s estate shortly after their marriage, making him and his sister the only heirs to the estate (his brother had died shortly after his father).
George lived and worked for a while with a well-to-do friend, James N. Inge, who was the owner of a general store and postmaster at nearby Virginia Mines. Early in 1850, George bought his own store at Judith Spring. It was there that he first heard from travelers stopping at this store about the discovery of gold in California.
After George decided to go to California, he left the affairs of the estate to William N. Patton (the father of Phoebe Apperson’s dear friend Ellen) and gave Patton a deed to nearly all of the Hearst land and slaves, and power of attorney to act as George’s agent while he was gone.
To help finance his trip George sold his father’s copper mine and seven other mineral tracts. In May 1850 George joined a party of 15, made up of several cousins, including women, and headed for California.
George took his mining expertise along with his fellow Missouri mining colleagues to California. He credited them for establishing the rules and techniques for mining in the West.
George did some mining in what was known as Washoe country in California and came across a metal that was not gold, but still looked valuable. It turned out to be silver and that is where George “struck it rich.”
After being gone for almost 10 years, George returned home to Franklin County to see his aged and sick mother and attend to his property.
While back in the county, he married Phoebe Apperson, daughter of Randolph Walker and Drucilla (Whitmire) Apperson. Phoebe was a schoolteacher. When Phoebe was three months pregnant with William Randolph, who would become an American newspaper publisher and build the nation’s largest newspaper chain, they returned to the West where George became a millionaire and a U.S. senator, and Phoebe, who was well-versed in education, science and the arts, became co-founder of the Congress of Mothers, which later became the Parent Teacher Association (PTA).
This article was submitted by Mark Wellenkamp, a volunteer with Four Rivers Genealogy Group and the Washington Historical Society.
If you would like more information on the Hearst family or any prominent Franklin County family, please visit the Four Rivers Genealogy Society library located inside the Washington Historical Museum at Fourth and Market streets.