Let’s Talk Clovis: Pioneer Lumberman Joseph Simon Bretz, 1836-1911

Joseph Simon Bretz, 1836-1911. (Photo courtesy of the Clovis Museum)

The genealogy of Joseph Bretz’s great grandfather, Ludwig Bretz (1734? -1807), by Winfield Scott Farthemore, states that in 1750 Ludwig arrived on the ship Royal Union (with brothers Wendel and Henry and 245 male passengers) at Philadelphia, PA. It is believed they settled in nearby Germantown.

Ludwig joined other German immigrants in Lykins Valley and became a successful farmer. He served during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) under Captain Albright Deibler in the New Jersey and Trenton campaigns. He was wounded during a campaign led by Captain Weaver.

Captain Weaver’s Company was composed of mostly German settlers. The following statement represented their dedication to their new country. 

“This is a pride we dare boast of, since it is so often represented that the German pioneer of this country made a good tiller of the soil, but as a soldier in the establishing of our government to the people, for the people, and by the people, took very small interest.

On the contrary it should thrill the heart of every descendent of Sargent Ludwig Bretz with patriotism to know, while Dutch blood courses through his veins, he to belongs to the posterity of a noble, brave and patriotic ancestor.” Ludwig took the Oath of Allegiance in March 1778.

Joseph Simon Bretz, the great grandson of Ludwig Bretz, was born in Pennsylvania in 1836. At age 26, he enlisted in the American Civil War (1861-1865). When he returned home wounded, he learned his wife Martha had remarried believing he had been killed in battle.

He decided to leave Iowa and arrived in the Sierra Nevada Pine Ridge lumbering area in the spring of 1875. He worked for the Clipper Mills making shakes and shingles. He purchased the Clipper Mill and established the Bretz Mill (one mile east of Ockenden).

Joseph returned to Iowa in 1886 and married Margaret Lepley.  They raised four children at their Pine Ridge home: Edward “Ed” (1887-1957); Abraham “Frank” (1888-1962); Stella (1890-19??) and Lulu (1894-1979).  Ed, Frank and Lulu married into the pioneer Hauert family.

Ed and Frank continued operating the mill at their father’s death in 1911. They eventually controlled 1,169 acres of lumber. A vicinity map listed: Big Creek Bretz Blue Canyon Mill, Bretz Rush Creek Mill and Bretz Mill “Old Home Place” Sierra Cedars. They practiced leaving seedlings for forest restoration.

Pioneers moved logs and lumber by steam driven donkey engines and teams of horses and oxen. That process changed in 1920 when they bought a “White Truck” for $5,520. In 1926 Southern California Edison Company contracted them to clear Shaver Lake in preparation to build a dam.

A 1955 Clovis Chamber of Commerce publication honored Ed as “Man of the Year”. His son Louis was a Director of the Chamber (listed occupation lumberman). We quote their tribute to Ed: “Community Service: One of the founders of the Pine Ridge School and member of the Board of Trustees for many years. Past member of the Board of Trustees of the Sierra Elementary School Board. Retiring this year after 19 years of service on the Clovis High School Board of Trustees. Over 30 years of service on school boards in Fresno County. Member of the Clovis Chamber of Commerce, Clovis Rodeo Association and many other organizations too numerous to mention.”

“Ed” started working the timber at age 11. He and is sons Robert and Louis owned the Bretz Lumber Company in Clovis (19 acres near Tollhouse on Sunnyside). A “match book” lists their address as 6436 North Sunnyside, phone Cypress9-4336. “Our line of building material is complete, cement, paint and roofing”.

In 1938 they provided Christmas trees to families on Third Street, several schools and churches. They hoped it would become a Clovis tradition. A 1956 Rodeo advertisement pictured their Clovis lumber company with “100 carloads of lumber in stock”.

By late 1960’s South American and European countries became major lumber suppliers and the Bretz family closed their operations. Their Bretz “Old Home Place” at Shaver Lake is now the home of “upscale” housing.

The Bretz Family is a vital part of our rich heritage.

Peg Bos
Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.