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Historical California Cemetery Stone & Monument Carvers & Dealers

John W. Combs

The life story of John William Combs
By Ruth Combs Edvalson, Granddaughter.
(Written in 2000)

John William was born on the 18th of Oct. 1836, to Lewis Jefferson Combs and Prudence Bogart in Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence County, New York. (ref. Bible Records)

The following is from (“Pen Pictures from the Garden of the World or Santa Clara County,” Edited by H.S. Foote, the Lewis Publishing Co., 1888).

John W. Combs was born in New York State October 17, 1836. His father, who was noted for his skills as a mechanic, died in Mr. Combs boyhood, and having a blind mother to support, he never attended school but 14 months. He started life as a butcher boy, which led him to study the forms and structure of animals, and having a natural taste for art, he one day asked a marble cutter for a block of marble, and taking it to his room, he procured an old chisel and mallet and while sitting up with his sick mother, cut the figure of a lamb out of it…He started to learn the trade of marble cutter at 17 years of age, and soon became very expert in figure carving.

Although he never took lessons in art, he has made many pieces, busts, and faces in basso-rilievo from photographs, which have been pronounced fine likenesses. One of his pieces was a basso-rilievo of Pope Leo which sold at a Catholic fair for $150. Other pieces have been valued much higher, among them the bust of ex-Senator Henry C. McEwen of Dixon, Solano County…His figure work has taken numerous first prizes at fairs and exhibitions…He came to San Jose in 1870 and has been in the marble business ever since, in the relation of proprietor or joint proprietor.

Mr. Combs married in Ogdensburg, New York. He lost his wife in 1865, who died leaving two sons and a daughter. Mr. Combs married his present wife in the same city on January 19, 1867. His two sons are both superior workmen in marble. John Combs first wife was Catherine McDonald the daughter of Ann and Rory McDonald. She was born in Inverness, Scotland March 15, 1836. John W. and Catherine were married the 3 rd of January 1855 in Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence County, New York.

Their children were all born in Ogdensburg:

John William (Combs) Jr. born 5 June 1856, died 22 Jan 1858,

Fannie (Combs Mitchell), born 11 Jan 1858. Married Melvin Mitchell and died 11 Feb 1922,

Angus W. (Combs), born 12 June 1861. Married Emma L. Kate and died 25 Dec. 1927,

John Albert (Combs), Born 22 Mar 1863 (never married) died 20 Feb 1914 in San Diego Cal. of Stonecutters dust; buried by a friend. (end of ref.).

John William Combs’s second wife was Frances M. Rutherford, born 27 Apr 1841 in Edwardsburg, Canada West. They were married 9 Jan 1866 in Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence Co. New York. They had no children. Her mother’s name was Jannett Rutherford. The mother Jannett died in San Jose 12 Oct 1887, age 86 years and 27 days. She was also the mother of Mrs. J. Hicks. Her funeral was held 13 Oct 1887 at 2:00 in the United Presbyterian Church, corner of Santa Clara and Fifth streets, San Jose, California (funeral Notice in possession of Ruth Combs Edvalson).

John William Combs’s third wife was Oreta Calhoun, born 11 July 1862 in Paducah, McCracken County, Kentucky, born to James Caldwell Calhoun and Mary Elizabeth Bowles. They had five children (refer to group sheet).

When John William was dating his 3rd wife Oreta Calhoun, he took Oreta for a ride in his buggy. He was smoking a cigar. Oreta mentioned that she didn’t care for people who smoked. He threw away his cigar and never smoked again. (told to Dorothy Combs Hixon, daughter of Calhoun, son of J. W. Combs).

“After my father’s death I went to San Jose California. I attended Normal School 2 years and taught school 5 years. Married John. William. Combs. Kept on move til I landed with my children in La Grande, Oregon. My husband died in Walla Walla Wash. 2 Apr. 1909.” (Ref: excerpt from Oreta Calhoun’s life story in the family bible.)

Oreta grew up having a black “nanny” at her home in Paducah, McCracken County, Kentucky. Her home was known as “Calhoun Villa”. At one point during the civil war, a cannon found it’s way through her front porch. When Oreta Married John. William Combs, a Yankee, her family being Confederates, she was disowned and had only a little contact with her family the rest of her life.

I was told by my father Nephi Pratt Combs, (son of John. William.) that at one point they had very fine horses from Kentucky (trotters and fine teams). Nephi said that he was taken advantage of by a business associate in San Jose and was forced to sell the teams.

About 1895 we find the John William Combs Family in Placerville, Ca. He also did some speculating in gold that didn’t “pan” out. Two of their children, Frankie and Calhoun, were born there.

The 3rd child Kenfield was born in 1899 in San Jose, California. By 1900 they were removed to #429 Willow St., Walla Walla Washington where he had Twanda Medical Company. He made medical potions and remedies, of which we still have his scales and prescription recipes.

Nephi Pratt Combs was born in Spokane, Washington 28 Apr 1903. We know that John William visited a quarry above Spokane.

John William Combs had psychic abilities. At one point when he was traveling West to the coast, he previously set a time with a friend with whom he telepathized (probably located in Denver). At this predetermined time, they decided to write 8 digits (another story has it a sentence), and in any case, it was exact. They used to call this ability Animal Magmatism. He could find gold with gold. He said that it pulls to another piece of gold, which he could feel. (his son Calhoun had great psychic abilities and Nephi had some ability. John William wasn’t sure of it’s source of these powers, and when he joined a church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints in 1900, he ceased any Psychic activity. (as told by Nephi)

John William Combs was also a poet. We have some of his poems in our possession (Combs/Baum family).

“The Western Granite and Marble Company is one of the representative industries of San Jose and Santa Clara Valley, organized May 1888 with T. C. Ryland, Pres., John W. Combs, Vice Pres., D. B. Murphy, Treas., T. P. Ryland, Sec., W. W. Blanchard, Mngr. and T O’Neal (O’Neil), Supt…own granite quarries at Yuba Pass, Crystal Lake Quarries, stones no superior in the world. Marble chiefly from Vermont.” Western Granite and Marble Co. (newspaper article).

“J. W. Combs established the marble business in San Jose in 1870. In 1878 W. W. Blanchard and T. O’Neil opened the first permanent granite manufactory in the city. In 1883 the three formed a partnership.” (newspaper article).

Below is the pedigree chart and two family group sheets both of which include John W. Combs and his family. These documents were created and contributed by Ruth Ann Combs Edvalson of Oregon.

The following documents and photographs were contributed by Ruth Combs Edvalson:

Pedigree Chart of the Combs Family
Pedigree Chart of the Combs Family
Family Group Sheet for John W. Combs and his first wife Catherine McDonald (married January 3, 1855 in Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence County, New York), contributed by Ruth Ann Combs Edvalson. Family Group Sheet for John W. Combs and his first wife Catherine McDonald
Family Group Sheet for John W. Combs and his second wife Frances M. Rutherford (married January 9, 1866 Ogdensburg, St. Lawerence County, New York), contributed by Ruth Ann Combs Edvalson. Family Group Sheet for John W. Combs and his second wife Frances M. Rutherford
Family Group Sheet for John W. Combs and his third wife Oreta T. Calhoun (married March 27, 1888 in Salinas, Monterey County, California), contributed by Ruth Ann Combs Edvalson. Family Group Sheet for John W. Combs and his third wife Oreta T. Calhoun

According to Ruth Ann Combs Edvalson, John William Combs had a photographic memory and thus the ability to look at someone and sculpt them from memory.

He sculpted a bust of Napoleon and when it was sent there (it) was pronounced an exact likeness. We have in our possession a piece of wood of that ship that in which Napoleon was exiled.

He did some work for Leland Stanford. He had saved a dedicatory program for the opening ceremonies of Stanford University.

At one point he lived across the street from the Capital building in Sacramento, California and sculpted busts of the Presidents of the United States which were placed in the alcoves in the round rotunda of the Capital building. Some photos of the busts are in possession of Ruth Combs Edvalson.

We have a bust of John Williams’ wife Oreta, and two unidentified busts. We also have his first work, referred to later in this article, a lamb and his mallet. We have some of his silver dollar sized cameos, and little carved books that were rejects. His calling card was a small piece of wood (business card size) with his signature in ink. (All the above material is from family records, bible records, journals and artifacts in possession of Ruth Combs Edvalson.)

John W. Combs John W. Combs
John W. Combs (Fay & Farmer, Malone, N. Y.) John W. Combs

 

John W. Combs (1888) (Hill and Franklin, 79, 81, & 83 West Santa Clara St., San Jose, Cal.) John W. Combs (1888)
Angus W. Combs, son of John W. Combs (1069 Broadway, Corner 12 th St., Oakland, Cal.) Angus W. Combs, son of John W. Combs
Gravestone of John William, Jr., son of John and his first wife, Catherine (McDonald) Combs. This is the only gravestone on the Combs Family Plot in Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence County, New York, cemetery. (grape cluster at top of gravestone) Gravestone of John William, Jr., son of John and his first wife, Catherine (McDonald) Combs
John W. Combs Quarrying Stone. (left to right: Albert Combs, Angus Combs, and John W. Combs.) Photograph by Goldwin Brown, San Jose, Cal. John W. Combs Quarrying Stone
One of John W. Combs Stone Quarry Sites. Photograph by Goldwin Brown, San Jose, Cal One of John W. Combs Stone Quarry Sites
John W. Combs Quarrying Stone (John W. Combs at the right. The other men in both photographs are not identified.) John W. Combs Quarrying Stone - Photo #1  Stone - Photo #2

John W. Combs’ chisel, wood book, and lamb statue, his first stone carving (in Ruth Edvalson’s collection)

John W. Combs’ chisel, wood book, and lamb statue, his first stone carving
Sculpture of Napoleon by John W. Combs. This sculpture of Napoleon in the possession of Ruth Combs Edvalson, granddaughter. According to Mrs. Edvalson, the sculpture was sent to France and pronounced a perfect likeness. First large bust made from marble from a pickle barrel. Sculpture of Napoleon
Bust by John William Combs Bust by John William Combs
Bust of McKinley - San Jose, Cal. during McKinley’s visit to the West. Bust of McKinley
Bust of Judge Belden standing, Santa Clara Courthouse, Cal., by John W. Combs. Bust of Judge Belden standing, Santa Clara Courthouse, Cal., by John W. Combs
Award for Marble Medallion for John W. Combs, 1863 “Diploma presented by the New York State Agricultural Society - John W. Combs - Marble Medallion very well executed, at the Utica meeting, 1863.” Award for Marble Medallion for John W. Combs, 1863
Monument at the entrance to the Presidio in Monterey, by John W. Combs. John W. Combs is the great, great uncle of Jeanette Beck. She indicated that he created the monument in this photograph. It may be signed by him as well. Monument at the entrance to the Presidio in Monterey, by John W. Combs
John William Combs, Sculptor, Gravestone in Walla Walla, Washington (Oct. 18, 1836-April 2, 1909). John William Combs, Sculptor, Gravestone in Walla Walla, Washington

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