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Madera Biographies: THURMAN

William H. Thurman
"Father of Madera"
First Sheriff of Madera County - 1893
Founder of Madera Lumber and Trading Company

George Thurman Residence

William B. Turman Residence
North C. Steet


The founder of the city of Madera was born in 1831, in Winchester, Tenn., and was a son of John Thurman, a Virginian and a pioneer of Tennessee.  At the age of sixteen years he left home and enlisted in the Mexican war, where he served under Gen. Winfield Scott.  In 1849 he crossed the plains to California, where, besides trying, he engaged in teaming and freighting in the mountains.  After settling in Washoe County, Nev., he served for one term as sheriff.  On his return to California in 1869, he embarked in the lumber business at Coulterville, Mariposa County.  Coming from there to what is now Madera County, he organized the old California Lumber Company, and built the flume from the mills, sixty miles to this place.  To the new town he gave he Spanish name of  Madera.  A man of inventive nature, he devised a number of articles to aid in his work.  Among those was a clamp (patented), which is used in holding the lumber together in bundles, for transporting through the flume.  After the disbanding of the California Lumber Company, he became identified as a contractor to do the logging and sawing for the Madera Flume and Trading Company, being so engaged for two years, after which he moved his family to Walla Walla, Wash., and engaged in lumbering in Idaho for two years.

On his return to California, Mr. Thurman built a mill in Mariposa County, and engaged in manufacturing lumber.  Meanwhile, his winter home was at Fresno Flats.  May 16, 1893, he was elected sheriff of Madera County, and held the office until January 1895, when he declined to become a candidate for re-election.  Ill health led him to remove to San Diego, but the change of climate did not benefit him, and he died in December 1895, at sixty-four years of age.  In politics he had always been a stanch Democrat, and fraternally was Master and Royal Arch Mason.  His wife Emma (Bludworth) Thurman was born in New Orleans, La., came to California after the Civil war, and is now living in San Diego.  Of her four children, W. B. is a resident of Madera; George S. is Manager of a commission house in San Francisco; Arthur L. is a conductor on the Southern Pacific Railroad, and James D. is an attorney in San Francisco.

Guinn, J. M., History of the State of California and Biographical Record of the San Joaquin Valley, California, (Chicago: Chapman Publishing, 1905), page 288.

Transcribed by Harriet Sturk.


He was born in Washoe, Nev., July 14, 1868, a son of the late W. H. Thurman, the founder of the town of Madera.  He was brought to California by his parents when a babe of six months, grew to manhood and received his education in Merced and Madera Counties.  At an early age he became identified with the lumber interests of that section, and in 1893 entered the employ of Madera Flume and Trading Company in this city.  When his father was elected sheriff of Madera County, upon its organization, he was appointed under-sheriff, serving until January, 1895, when he was appointed deputy to the County clerk and clerk of the Board of Supervisors, holding the position two years.

In 1898 he was the nominee of the Democratic Party.  For sheriff, was elected, and entered upon his duties in January 1898, retiring from the office after serving efficiently for years.  His creed was the strict enforcement of law and order,  and in the fulfillment of his duties had several narrow escapes from death.

In June 1902, Mr. Thurman formed a partnership with J. W. Watkins, under the name of Watkins & Thurman.  Leasing the mill owned by the Madera Flume and Trading Company, they began the manufacture of sash and doors.  In this enterprise they have built up a splendid business, their products finding a ready market throughout the eastern states and the Pacific coast.

June 17, 1896 Mr. Thurman was united in marriage in Fresno Flats, with Georgia A. Rice, a native of Grant County, Ore.  Her father Henry Rice came to California in 1852 via Cape Horn, and ten years later went to Oregon and settled in Grant County, where he married Sophronia Dodson.  He now makes his home in Fresno.

Mr. Thurman is a member of Madera Lodge No. 280, F. & A. M.; is past grand of the local lodge of Odd Fellows, and past district deputy grand master; a member of the Rebekahs and Encampment at Fresno; benevolent Protective Order of Elks of Fresno, and the Woodmen of the World, of Madera.  Is an active member of Madera Chamber of Commerce.

Guinn, J. M., History of the State of California and Biographical Record of the San Joaquin Valley, California, (Chicago: Chapman Publishing, 1905), page 288.

Transcribed by Harriet Sturk.

Last update: February 16, 2003
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