Let’s Talk Clovis: The William Walter Shipp pioneer family

William Walter Shipp (1834-1900) was born in Kentucky. He moved to west Mississippi and became a successful cotton grower. William joined the Confederate Army in 1862 and served until the Civil War ended in 1865.

In 1868, William decided to join a party of Mississippi friends to relocate to California. He had married Mary Jane Strother in 1838. Three of their five children (Mattie and Willie died in infancy), Eliza, George and John, accompanied their parents on the trip. Major Thomas Nelson and family and D.C. Sample, age 19, were part of the group that traveled over 23 days from Mississippi to New York by train, from New York to Panama by steamer, and across the Isthmus by train and steamer to San Francisco.

The families were left in Vacaville as Major Nelson and Shipp toured the San Joaquin Valley and points south to Los Angeles to decide on their future homes. They returned to Vacaville, purchased food and clothing for one year for their families, bought sheep and settled their families at Big Dry Creek.

They lived in an adobe house on the Blasingame ranch for six months while William filed government land claims for $1.25 per acre. He would eventually own 2,320 acres that would produce wheat, barley and graze sheep.

After selling his Big Dry Creek ranch in 1887, William moved his family to Fresno. He purchased two city blocks on the corner of McKenzie and Diana and built a new home. The family raised two milk cows, chickens, horses, raised alfalfa and an orchard at their new location.

In 1900, William was fatally injured when returning to Fresno from his San Joaquin River sheep ranch. His mule team was struck by the Valley train while he was crossing the Blackstone and Valley Road intersection.

William’s son George Robert (1865-1959), began working with his dad’s flock of sheep at the age of 8, earning the reputation of “expert sheep man.” At 15, he took charge of the sheep on the range, and in 1887, acquired ownership of them.

He bought 3,200 acres on the old home stead on the San Joaquin River, bought ranches near Reedley and a 30-acre vineyard ranch in the Scandinavian Colony. When sheep were excluded from the Forest Reserve, George entered the cattle business.

George hunted for 74 years, never missing a hunting season, and was credited with bagging a deer each time. He married Abbey Webster in Los Angeles on June 17, 1891. They raised two children, Georgie and Harold.

Abbey taught school at the old Fresno Hawthorne School  and also at the Mississippi School, a quarter mile north of Little Dry Creek, between present-day Behymer and Perrin avenues. The main portion of the school was moved to 304 Harvard in Clovis by J.M. Heiskell, who had donated the land for the school. The historic building remains a residence today.

William’s son John M. Shipp (1867-1947) graduated from Pacific Methodist College at Santa Rosa in 1886 and began working with his father. In 1891, he purchased 3,000 acres near Clovis and raised sheep until he changed to cattle in 1907.

In, 1891 John and Frank Bell were challenged by two sheep herders as they tried to move their sheep across the junction of Goddard Creek and the San Joaquin River. The angry challengers, one who drew a pistol and the other a knife, threatened and advanced toward John and he shot and killed both. A trial was held on Oct. 30, 1891 and after a short deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of “not guilty” and ruled it as justifiable homicide.

John owned a summer range at the Blaney Meadows on the South Fork of the San Joaquin River that could support 500 grazing cattle. He was a charter member of the Fresno County Cattle Raisers Association and the California Cattle Growers Association.

On June 28, 1894 at Academy, John married Mary Maud Sample, daughter of pioneer D.C. Sample. Mary was also a graduate from Pacific Methodist College at Santa Rosa. The couple raised two daughters, Margaret and Sally.

The Shipps left us a rich heritage.

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.