Ripon, on the Southern Pacific Railroad, is the most southeasterly town in the county,
the district bordering on the Stanislaus River. About twenty
miles from Stockton it was first settled up in the early '60s, most of the settlers locating along the river. Two of the earliest settlers
in the Ripon district, were, W. H. Hughes, who took up a preemption claim in 1857, and Perry Yaple, who located there in 1861, previously
owning a barley grinding mill in Stockton. Hughes owned the land where Ripon is now located.
When the railroad came through in 1872 he
gave them the right-of-way and a depot site. The company erected a small station, and named it Stanislaus station. This station was in use
until February, 1912, when it was replaced by the present larger structure. For some length of time Stanislaus City, as some called it,
was the terminus of the road then being built in Fresno. The company built a cattle corral, and it was the shipping point for a large
amount of stock, including the cattle of Trahern & McMullen and also for the large amount of wheat and barley grown upon the sand
plains, the grain being shipped in flat cars to Stockton or Point Costa for storage.
The nucleus of the town was started in 1874, when a man named A. B. Cook came from San Diego and opened a store. Not pleased with the
name Stanislaus City, he renamed it Ripon after his birthplace in Wisconsin. Cook was an enterprising fellow and he had the Government
establish a post office there under the name Ripon, and was appointed postmaster.
Subsequent postmasters were Perry Yaple, Jr., and E. C. Dickerson. The post office was always in some store and the place changed owners
several times, each new owner being appointed postmaster. Some of the merchants of Ripon were, Henry Bowman, B. F. Yaple, Frank Hutchingson,
and E. C. Dickerson and J. H. Little, who erected a store in 1884.
The town at this time was of considerable size containing a hotel, blacksmith shop, school, two large warehouses, and 14
residences, but the writer complained about the tardiness of the supervisors in constructing a bridge across the Stanislaus River. There
was no transportation, except by toll ferry, and he declared a free ferry or bridge would bring a good deal of trade that way. Of the
substantial buildings in Ripon the first brick building was erected by Perry Yaple, who burned the brick in the summer of 1886. It was a
two-story building, the Odd Fellows occupying the second story. This lodge, Mt. Horeb, No. 58, was instituted in Sonora May 27, 1856, by
Grand Warden L. L. Alexander.
After the discontinuance of gold mining, the lodge began losing its members until scarcely enough members
were left to hold the charter. At this time one of the members, Wm. E. Garatt, removed to Ripon and through his efforts the lodge was
removed from Sonora to Ripon. The lodge now has 121 members in good standing. Progressive Rebekah lodge No. 229, Ripon, was instituted
March 30, 1906 by the Grand Warden Ella Van Court, assisted by Ann Sorenson of Modesto, district deputy grand president. There were eleven
charter members, thirty-eight initiated that evening.
When instituted the lodge number was 209, but returning its charter some years ago it later was again reorganized and given the new number.
The town with its 500 inhabitants had several church denominations and buildings, among them the Dutch
Reformed, Swedish Mission, Congregational, Dunkards, Christian Science, Free Methodist and Catholic. Along about 1884 the Woman's
Improvement Club, first organized to clean up and care for Ripon cemetery, next turned their attention to the erection of a church
building, for the use of the several denominations in the town. They collected by subscriptions and entertainments about $800. This was
not sufficient money for a building. Then the United Brethren of Lathrop, a branch of the Dunkards, proposed to erect the church provided
the citizens of Ripon obtained the lot. The terms were agreed to and the Brethren taking the $800 erected a church edifice at an
additional amount of $1,500. The building was erected and used by the different creeds for several years. Then the Congregationalists
erected a church of their own, followed soon after by the other denominations. Finally all of the denominations erected buildings, and the
United Brethren church was unused for several years. The Free Methodists now hold services there.
The first school was held in an old shack which had been used as a residence. The partitions were torn out and wooden desks and seats put
in. Some years later the district was divided, River district being on the south side and Ripon district on the north side of the railroad
track, and a new schoolhouse was built. This schoolhouse at one time was located in the grove of locust trees, now growing near the town.
They were planted by E. C. Dickerson and Oly C. Kroh to protect the school building from the heat of the sun.
The first teacher in these schools was George Hanscom, then living in Modesto. He was followed by Miss Ida Kemp, May Esterbrook, E. C.
Dickerson, and J. L. Moulton, the two last named marrying two of their pupils, the Yaple sisters. Ripon was up-to-date with its school
service and in 1911 the citizens voted a bond issue for the building of a large handsome school structure. The building was completed in
1912 and dedicated, February 22, with appropriate ceremonies, the principal of the school Thomas H. Uren presiding. Five years later a
union district was formed and May 4, 1917, the splendid high school was erected.
The Ripon Finch Murder
Probably the greatest sensation in Ripon was the killing of Phillip Finch by the Rev. James Wells, December 12, 1884. The cause was a
difficulty of long standing and seems that in the eastern states Finch had seduced Wells' half-sister. Wells came to California and
located at Ripon and Finch followed him and obtained work in the warehouse; at one time he boarded and lodged with Wells' family. Just
previous to the shooting it was reported to Wells that Finch had threatened his life. Wells at this time was teaching the Ripon schools on
the main street, located where now stands the First National Bank. About 4 o'clock on the day of the murder,
Finch was walking towards the schoolhouse and some of the men on the street remarked, "Now there'll be trouble." As Finch came
near the schoolhouse Wells came out of the building and walked up to Finch. After a short talk, those watching the affair saw Wells draw
a revolver and shoot at Finch four times. Two of the shots took effect and Finch was taken into John T. Bloomer's store. He was attended
by Dr. B. M. Brainbridge but died shortly afterwards. As two of the witnesses of the murder John B. Matthews and Thomas Fredericks ran to
the scene, Wells exclaimed, "I am sorry I had to shoot you, boy, you have been following me for years. You seduced my sister and this
morning you insulted my family."
Sheriff Cunningham hearing of the murder by telegraph, hastened to the scene, arresting Wells and bringing him to Stockton jail. Wells was
indicted by the grand jury for murder, and his trial came up February 25, 1885, in the Masonic Hall as the old court house had been
condemned as unsafe. He had sold his little house in Ripon to pay his attorneys, James A. Loutitt and Wm. Dudley. The prosecuting was
represented by the district attorney, Ansel Smith, assisted by Joseph C. Campbell. The jury went to their room on the evening of February
28, and the following morning reported that they could not agree, standing seven to five for acquittal. At a subsequent trial Wells was acquitted.