Santa Rosa, Jan. 7 -- Chester Bethel, an old pioneer of Sonoma, died at his residence here to-day at the age of 79. He was a native of Indiana and was one time Grand Master of the Odd Fellows of that State. He was a bonded warehouse keeper during the first administration of Cleveland and for some time was a resident of San Jose.Chester Bethel was born on the 27th of March, 1818. the second son of the Reverend Cloud Bethel and his wife, Rachel Floyd Bethel, in Orange County, Indiana. His elder brother, Thomas Floyd Bethel, was a merchant, and in 1847 he became a Captain of the 16th Infantry in the Mexican War. Chester replaced Thomas as Postmaster. By 1850, Chester was a merchant.
In 1852, at the age of 34, Chester married Eliza Lukens, who was just 15. In 1854, their first and only child was born. He was called "Tilman," which was a family name.
In February 1855, Chester Bethel, Franklin Bethel, his brother, and Charles Dickerson, were involved in a court case before the Supreme Court of Indiana. The matter had to do with the amount of $830 dollars. In today's money, it would be over $21,000 dollars! Chester and Franklin lost the case and had to pay 5% damages and court costs.
In abt. 1861, Chester & Eliza Bethel, their son, Tilman and Chester's brother, Warren decided to leave Indiana and go to California. At that time the railroad from the midwest to the Pacific was still under construction, and was not completed before 1870. Chester, with a wife and young son, traveled by ship. From Indiana they would have taken a boat south to New Orleans. Next a ship would take them to Panama, and they would spend about two weeks crossing the isthmus on donkeys. Once they reached the Pacific, they would board another ship that would take them north to the port of San Francisco. This must have seemed like at great adventure for 7-year old Tillie!
Chester's first stopping place in California was Santa Clara, and shortly after arriving Chester, Eliza and Tilmon Bethel went to Santa Rosa. Just three years later, the only son of Chester and Eliza, died in a terrible accident in 1864.
A MELANCHOLY casualty occurred at Lancaster, a few days since. Two fine, intelligent little boys, favorites with all who knew them, were drowned in the Humboldt. Tillman, son of Eliza and Chester Bethell, aged nine years and John W., son of Wm. H., and Sarah Hollis, aged eight years, were on the ice, in company with another boy. John ventured to where the ice was thin, and went through into the water. Tillman got a long brush as quickly at possible, and passed an end to John, who caught hold and commenced pulling to get out. The result was, Tillman, instead of rescuing his friend, was himself pulled into the water. The third boy ran and gave the alarm in town, and soon a number of men were at hand. The bodies of the two boys were recovered in about twenty minutes, and every effort was made to resuscitate them, but in vain. The water was so cold that the men who recovered the bodies were benumbed. So says the Humboldt Register.After Tillie's death, Chester and Eliza left Santa Rosa and went back to Santa Clara. He and Eliza are not listed in the 1870 Census. Perhaps they were in transit and were missed by the census taker. By 1871, they were back in Santa Rosa.
Chester was a storekeeper and he and Eliza lived in a nice home at 802 Cherry Street. The house is no longer there, but the location of the property can be seen in the property books at the Santa Rosa Public Library Annex.
Photographic images exist for Chester's mother and all of his siblings but one. There are no images of Chester Bethel, his wife Eliza, or their son, Tillie. Chester outlived his only son by 34 years. Eliza, had the worst of it, for she outlived Tillie by 44 years.
"Little Tillie's Grave" is the inscription on his tombstone. He and his parents are buried together in the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery.