A Boy’s Life

by Nancy B. Wilson, guest contributor

This story concerns some anecdotes about the life of my grandfather, J. Edgar Beard, and his good friend Gaillard Stoney. My grandfather died before I was born, and I have spent much time trying to know him by surviving letters, of which there were many, and other evidence. I thought I knew the bulk of it.

In 2004 I managed to connect with Dave Pryor, Gaillard Stoney’s grandson, who was a retired military man living in Colorado Springs, Colorado. During Dave’s childhood he had actually lived with Gailly, and he had several family artifacts (journals etc.) which he kindly shared with me. One day I was surprised to find in the mail a manila envelope containing four letters, still in their little envelopes, which my grandfather Edgar had written to Gailly in the early 1880s, and amazingly his family had saved all these years. My friend Dave thought it appropriate to return the originals to me. It was a new glimpse at Edgar as a boy, which I was incredibly lucky to have in my hands.

Gaillard Stoney
Gaillard Stoney

Young Edgar Beard (1868-1934) and Gaillard Stoney (1868-1928) were friends in Napa and classmates at Oak Mound School[1], and their families were friends as well. Beard’s father Edward D. Beard was a partner in Thompson & Beard store, and Thomas P. Stoney was an attorney and Napa County Judge (1871 to 1878). The families shared Southern origins, the Beards from northwest Louisiana and the Stoneys from Charleston, South Carolina. Both boys, however, spent their childhoods in Napa.

In January 1880 the Stoney family moved to San Francisco, but Edgar and Gailly kept in touch both by mail and by frequent visits back and forth. Gailly and his descendants saved four of those letters, which now portray bits of a boy’s life in Napa 130 years ago.

Edgar kept Gailly advised of what was happening at Oak Mound School. “I sit one seat farther back in the same isle [sic] now with W. Patton behind and M. Mandsfield in front of me…Mr. Walker is not so strict this term as he was last term…We are in the Least Common Multiple in Algebra.” [9-13-1880] “I suppose you will want to know how far I am in Virgil and Geometry. I have just come to the place where Menoestes was thrown overboard and where it says he climed [sic] up the rock to vomit up the water he swallowed. In Geometry I am on the part of the VII book which treats of pyramids.” [3-5-1883]  “Do you think you have caught up with us in Virgil yet if you have read 460 lines of the second book.” [10-12-1882 or 1883]

“I suppose you are all still playing football are you not?  We play baseball entirely. There are as usual first and second nines besides several small ones. I am Treasurer and Secy [secretary]of the second nine.” [3-5-1883]

Edgar Beard
Edgar Beard

Edgar followed his father in the hobbies of hunting and fishing. “I am very glad you can come up and stay with me this vacation. I think we can have some duck-hunting if you can get a horse to ride. I was down to Mr. Perkins’s with Charley Inman yesterday. We started about seven o’clock in the morning and got there about eight. We walked all around on the sloughs till twelve o’clock, but did not get a single shot so we got on our horses and rode back to Mr. McClure’s and hitched our horses. We went to the sloughs and began to walk down them toward the river, but just as we began to go down I saw a duck rise and fly down a little then light.” [This story goes on and ends with one duck losing its life.] [12-11-1881]

“When the fishing season commences I want you to come up and catch some of the speckled beauties. I have been quail hunting several times lately but have not had much luck, the extent of my hunting usually ammounting [sic] from two to six.” [3-5-1883]

On the home front, Edgar reported “Our horse is getting to be just as mean about taking the bit as she can be.  It took three of us about half an hour to get the bridle on her today and I got so mad that I could have given her fits, you know how.” [10-12-1882 or 1883]

“My mother says to ask Donzy [Gailly’s younger brother] if he is certain he put his night drawers in the wash while he was here. The Chinaman says he did not have them.” His mother appended at the end: “The Chinaman wished me to write Donzie & ask if he didn’t find after he got home that he had all his night drawers, or was I mistaken about having put them in the wash; he says he’s very (?) sure he didn’t have them. Your friend, Mrs B. – This is about the same thing only I wished you to know that I wrote to please the Chinaman.” [3-5-1883]

“Excuse the scorch in the paper as I was in a hurry when I wrote this and in drying it over the lamp scorched it as you see.” [9-13-1880]

Later correspondence and records during the boys’ college years together at U.C. Berkeley (1884-1888) showed that Gailly was very much a ladies’ man; the ladies loved him and he always had a girl friend and a few more in the wings. And prior to those years, in his letter of October 12 1882 1883 when the boys were 14 or 15, Edgar added to his letter “Ida don’t know that I am writing to you or she would send you regards and perhaps something else.”

Edgar and Gailly both entered U.C. Berkeley in the fall of 1884. Both became members there of Beta Theta Pi fraternity and were very active in University life, including the baseball and football teams. At graduation Edgar won the University Medal and was commencement speaker. He then returned to Napa where he worked in the family store (later Winship Beard), except for two years in the speculative endeavor of an oil field in Bakersfield. He remained unmarried until 1904, when at the age of 36 he married Mabel Crowell, a young lady from Oakland. They had three sons. He was very active in Napa activities, including promotional products service as a volunteer fireman, the Rotary, the Masonic Order, and the Redwood Empire Association. Edgar died in 1934.

Gailly went on to study law at Hastings College of the Law and became an attorney in San Francisco. He married first in 1892 to Margaret Cantey Smith of Santa Rosa, [Sonoma Democrat] whose family and his were acquainted, but she passed away barely a year later in childbirth. [SF Call & Sonoma Democrat] In 1895 he then married Georgiana MacDonald, a native of Pictou, Nova Scotia. He and Georgiana had one daughter, Margaret (the name of his first wife). Gailly was very active in San Francisco Society, becoming a member of the Bohemian Club and Presidio Golf Club, and listed in the San Francisco Social Register. He died in 1928 at the age of 59, the unexpected result of a minor surgery. [SF Chronicle]

Edgar Beard letters dated Sept 13, 1880; Dec 11, 1881; Mar 5, 1883, and Oct 12 [either 1882 or 1883]

Lyman L. Palmer, History of Napa and Lake Counties California, Slocum, Bowen & Co., San Francisco, 1881, p 269

Daily Alta California, 27 May 1887, Page 1 ‘School Commencements’.  California Digital Newspaper Collection http://cdnc.ucr.edu

Sonoma Democrat, April 23, 1892

Sonoma Democrat, July 1, 1893

San Francisco Call Newspaper Vital Records 1869-1895

San Francisco Chronicle, March 7, 1928

[1] Oak Mound School was founded in 1872 by some local leaders.  In 1873 a school building was constructed in the southern part of town, “on rising ground studded with oaks”.  It was a non-sectarian school whose aim was to prepare boys for the State University, an Eastern college, or responsible positions in business.  The school’s motto was Tandem fit Surculus Arbor – ‘At last the twig becomes a tree.’ [Palmer, Daily Alta California]