Monterey County California Genealogy and History

Monterey County: Biographies


The career of this gentleman recalls an ancient custom among the North American Indians. In teaching a child how to swim he was pitched head foremost and without aid into the water. If there was the proper metal in him he struck out and kept above water, otherwise he was drowned.

William Dunphy was born in Kilkenny, Ireland, on the 24th day of December, 1829, but being of an adventurous turn he determined, when but eleven years of age, to seek his fortune in the New World. Leaving home on his own permit, he took passage on a vessel bound for St. John's, New Foundland, where he landed when scarcely twelve years of age, friendless and almost penniless. Turning his attention at once to work, he engaged first in the coast fisheries, and later shipped for a seal-hunt. But being shipwrecked on the home voyage, and enduring sufferngs and privations almost indescribable, our hero, after safely reaching New York, concluded he was not intended for a sailor, and after staying awhile in the metropolis, went South, where he engaged for some years in cattle, trading along the Mississippi River. He seems, in this occupation, to have found the true touch-stone of his future fortune.

When the war with Mexico broke out, he went to that country, and with rare business tact for a boy eighteen years old, secured a contract to furnish the United States Army with beef. With his headquarters at Vera Cruz, he furnished the army until the last year of the war, when he joined the Jack Hayes Rangers, and fought like an Irishman for his adopted country, being several times wounded. At the close of the war he engaged in the cattle business until the news of the discovery of gold in California induced him to come to this State, which he reached on the 21st of December, 1849, after an adventurous trip of several months, on horseback, fighting Indians, and finally on a French bark from Mazatlan. Dr. Dunphy carries the record of many of the incidents of this journey in the shape of scars on his body. However, he was just in time to be a pioneer. After side-tracking a few months in mining, he recovered his course and again turned his attention to cattle dealing, in which occupation he has had the wisdom to remain ever since. By his remarkable business ability, and that great strength of character which was undoubtedly developed by his early years of independent exertion, Mr. Dunphy has accumulated a very large fortune. His ranch in the counties of Elko, Eureka, and Lander, in the State of Nevada, comprising some two hundred thousand acres, and stocked with over thirty thousand head of cattle and an immense number of horses, is traversed by the Central Pacific Railroad for a distance of twenty-five miles. A fine ranch in Monterey County, stocked with imported cattle, the spacious slaughter-houses of the late firm of Dunphy & Hildreth, in South San Francisco, together with several blocks of land in that city, and a palatial residence on Sacramento Street, are among the present possessions of the little Irish lad who landed in America with scarcely money enough to buy a breakfast.

In 1852 Mr. Dunphy was married, in Tuolumne County, and is the father of seven children. In politics Mr. Dunphy is a Democrat, and was a delegate to the National Convention which nominated Samuel J. Tilden, and also to the one which nominated Grover Cleveland. He is a member of the Olympic Club, the Pacific Yacht Club, Pacific Union Club, and a life member of the California Pioneers, of which society he has been a Director. Such is a very meager sketch of the remarkable events of the life of this gentleman.

In appearance, Mr. Dunphy is a remarkable man. Standing more than six feet in height, of massive frame, magnificent physique, and commanding presence, he would be recognized anywhere as a man beyond the ordinary. Generous to a fault, giving lavishly to all charitable and worthy purposes, a genial friend, a devoted husband, a kind and indulgent father, such is the character of this gentleman. It seems but a just reward of meritorious energy and enterprise that the sunset side of his life shall be passed in the midst of peace and prosperity.

Source: Monterey County : its general features, resources, attractions, and inducements to investors and home seekers. Salinas, Calif.: E.S. Harrison, 1889, 89 pgs.