The citrus industry in California

William Wolfskill

Another early Californian who contributed much to the growth of a major state industry was William Wolfskill, a neighbor and contemporary of Jean Louis Vignes. But while Vignes devoted himself to wine making Wolfskill specialized in oranges and other orchard fruits. But unlike Vignes who was born in France, Wolfskill was a true American pioneer.

He was born in 1798 in Kentucky and his family moved to Boone’s Lick, Mississippi in 1809. Then in 1822 Wolfskill headed west and was among the first Americans to cross the Santa Fe Trail. For five or six years he traded, trapped and hunted in the southwest territories. Then in 1830 he organized an expedition of over twenty men to head into California to hunt beaver near today’s Sacramento but winter forced the party south and they reached Los Angeles in February 1831. The trail he blazed would bring thousands more men into California and later became the route of the Butterfield Stage Line.

California orange tree

Instead of hunting beaver Wolfskill built a schooner in San Pedro harbor and sailed the coast for a short while hunting sea otter. The voyage was only moderately successful and Wolfskill sold the schooner to William Hinkley and settled in the small but growing pueblo of Los Angeles. He obtained a hundred acre land grand right in the heart of today’s downtown and in 1841 planted two acres of oranges, only the second orange grove in California after the one planted by the mission Friars in San Gabriel. The grove quickly increased in size to twenty-eight acres. By the gold rush Wolfskill was in full production with lemons, limes and olive trees added to the oranges.

Gold Seeker

In 1849 he began shipping his fruit to San Francisco where people were willing to pay as much as a dollar apiece for a lemon or an orange as the fruits were the only prevention from the scurvy that, because of the miner’s poor diet, was becoming a great problem in the gold country. Throughout his life Wolfskill worked had to improve the quality and yield from his trees and to eliminate problems caused by insects and disease. He had over a hundred acres of productive citrus trees when he died in 1866 and is considered the father of California’s citrus industry.

Wolfskills Orchard




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