William Thomas Jeter (October 19, 1850 – May 15, 1930) was an attorney and politician.
He was born in Menard County, Illinois, the third son and eighth child of William Griffin Jeter and Elizabeth McCutchen Berry. He served as Mayor of Santa Cruz, California, from 1892 to 1894. He was elected the 21st Lieutenant Governor of California for Spencer G. Millard. When Spencer became ill and died in his first year in office, William served out Millard’s term (1895 to 1899) as Governor of California.
William T. Jeter died at age 79 in Santa Cruz.
The third son and the eighth child of William Griffin Jeter and Elizabeth McCutchen Berry, William Thomas “Will” Jeter was born 10/19/1850 on the family farm between Petersburg and Atterbury in Menard County, Illinois and remained there until the age of six. In a letter to a cousin, Anderson Bell Berry, in August of 1921, Will recalls “Father sold the farm…outfitted with teams, wagons, etc. for and with (the) intention of crossing the plains to California and started on the first lap of the long trail soon after sister Harriet’s marriage in 1857….It was the plan to stop a year in Missouri, the custom at that time, to get an early start across the plains in the spring. The removal from Illinois covered something over 200 miles to where father stopped in Livingston County near Chillicothe, Missouri. He was so well pleased with that part of the country that he bought land and improved the farm on which he lived until his death.[in 1867]”
Will was to remain in Missouri until 1876, the year after the death of his mother. In the intervening years he worked on the farm and began his education ….”[I] was educated in the public schools, attending an excellent grade school, with five or six members in the faculty”….and then later started to read the law and engage in business activities.
Deciding to take a vacation from his business activities and budding law practice, Will headed west to see the sights and to visit with his uncle, Thomas Horatio Jeter, who had arrived in California from Illinois just prior to the Civil War. He stopped initially in Virginia City, Nevada and was caught up in the excitement of the silver strikes,but with the full intention of returning after a few months to his law studies and business activities back in Missouri. He did not return to Missouri, but pushed on in 1877 to California and Hastings Law College in San Francisco.
Completing his studies, Will decided to settle and begin his practice in Santa Cruz, California. It is thought that his sister, Harriet and her attorney-husband, Zack Goldsby were also living in Santa Cruz at the time and that Will entered into practice with his brother-in-law. He married Jennie Fuller Bliss on 3/2/1885 at the First Methodist Church in Santa Cruz. They had no children. In the ensuing years, Will would:
- become a well-known member of the Santa Cruz Bar
- be admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of California
- become, in 1882, chairman of the Democratic Central Committee of Santa Cruz County
- be elected in 1884, and then twice re-elected district attorney in a heavily Republican county.
- serve as a member of the Santa Cruz City Council and as the Mayor of Santa Cruz.
- accept the position of president of the Santa Cruz County Bank in 1893 and would hold that position for the next 37 years.
- upon the death of the incumbent Lt. Governor, be named on 10/25/1895 as Lt. Governor of California and serve most of his term as “de-facto” governor because of the ill-health of Governor Budd.
- be admitted to practice on 10/20/1908 before the Supreme Court of the United States at Washinton, D.C.
Perhaps his greatest achievement would be his living memorials, the giant redwoods at the Henry B. Cowell Redwoods State Park at Felton, California. Earlier he had participated in the successful battle to purchase the “Big Basin” area north of Santa Cruz for public use and then later to procure the magnificent Felton big trees for Santa Cruz County as a public park. He would learn on his deathbed that his efforts had been successful and that the 1000+ year-old coast redwood grove had passed into public ownership. On 12 May 1934, a flag-draped bronze tablet attached to one of the giants was unveiled as memorial to “William T. Jeter, 1850-1930, whose unselfish efforts made possible the ownership of the Santa Cruz County Big Trees Park.” The “Jeter Tree” is still standing at the end of the 2nd millenium, as it was at the end of the first —- and will forever be a source of inspiration and pride to all in the family who visit.
The Governor passed away on 5/15/1930 —- the telegram to brother Mayo read simply, “Your brother Will passed away today.” His beloved wife, Jennie, outlived him by almost twenty-nine years and passed away 10 months shy of her 100th birthday in 1959, driving her buggy to town almost to the last. They both rest in the masoleum, corridor “B”, crypt #54, of the Santa Cruz Memorial (IOOF) cemetery.
Inscription reads: “William T. Jeter, 1850-1930, whose unselfish efforts made possible the public ownership of the Santa Cruz County Big Trees Park.”
This tree is located in the Henry B. Cowell Redwoods State Park in Felton, California, a little north of Santa Cruz on the highway to Los Gatos.