Colonel Joseph Ballinger Chiles was born on July 16, 1810 in Clark County, Kentucky to Henry Chiles and Sarah Ballinger and was the grandson of Revolutionary War Captains John Chiles and Richard Ballinger, both of Virginia. Joseph also descends from Walter Chiles of Jamestown, Virginia who arrived in America in 1637. Mary Chiles, Joseph's daughter from his first marriage, was wed to business partner Jerome C. Davis, for whom Davis is named.
Around 1830, Joseph B. Chiles moved with his family to Jackson County, Missouri; by August 1, 1830, he was married to Mary Ann Stevenson in Clark County, Kentucky. During their marriage, they raised four children: James "Joe-Jim" Ramsay Chiles, Frances Chiles, Elizabeth "Lizzie" Chiles and Mary Chiles, who was to later marry Jerome C. Davis. During this period, Joseph fought in the Florida Indian Wars, returning to Jackson County when they ended and serving as Justice of the Peace sometime after February 6, 1832 in Jackson County, Missouri.
A widower by 1841, Joseph left his children in the care of his brother and sister-in-law, Joel Franklin Chiles and Azubah Skinner Chiles, and emigrated to California with the Bidwell-Bartleson party, the first wagon train to make it over the Sierra Nevada. He returned east and led the first of seven parties back to California in 1843. By 1844, Joseph had attained dual citizenship with the United States and Mexico before operating a grist mill, raising livestock, and making wheat whiskey in the Napa Valley. Around 1849 he and Jerome C. Davis began operating a profitable ferry across the Sacramento River.
In 1850 Colonel Chiles paid $10,000 for 4,327 acres of the Rancho Laguna de Santos Calle Mexican Land Grant, and two years later built a two-story family home close to where the Mace Ranch House now stands. In 1854 Joseph Chiles transferred the western part of the Chiles ranch to Jerome C. Davis, now his son-in-law, and the eastern part to his other son-in-law Gabriel Brown (see Isaac Skinner Chiles). Davis now largely covers the original Jerome C. Davis farm, west of what is now Pole Line Road.
Eventually Joseph Chiles was married to Margaret Jane Garnhart on December 25, 1855 in the Joel Franklin Chiles home, Jackson County, Missouri; he brought his new bride and children to Chiles Valley (within Napa Valley), California. Children from this new marriage included William Garnhart Chiles, Amelia Jane Chiles, Susan Anna Chiles, Dixie Virginia Chiles, Joseph Ballinger Chiles Jr. and Henry Lee Chiles.
Three of Joseph's homes still stand: two are in the Napa Valley and one in Chiles Valley. Through the years, many Chiles nephews joined their uncle in California, and the mill stone which Joseph brought over the Sierra Nevadas and placed in his mill in Chiles Valley is on display outside the State Capitol in Sacramento; this flouring mill landed him seven Spanish leagues (a Spanish league being a bit over 2.6 miles) from the Mexican government, as land was cheap and the government hoped such gifts would be repaid in loyalty should America invade.
Among Joseph B. Chiles' accomplishments are establishing the trail from Fort Boise to California by way of the Malheur, Pit, and Sacramento Rivers in 1843 — during this trek Chiles lost some of his wagons carrying mill supplies, and these can still be found in the sands of the Nevada desert. Joseph Chiles had already obtained a Napa Valley land grant (Rancho Catacula) along the Arroyo de Napa, which was later renamed Chiles Creek; there, his neighbor was Sonoma's Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, who gave him the Napa site for a grist mill. By 1848 Chiles led one of the first wagon trains to cross Carson Pass. Another accomplishment was pioneering the "Forty-Mile Desert" cut-off from Humboldt Sink to the Carson River — a popular route with gold seekers in 1849. Chiles was also a great friend of John Charles Fremont — he sent supplies to the Bear Flag rebels, led by Fremont in 1846, and escorted Fremont's children to California on his 1848 trek. Chiles testified for Fremont at his court martial in Washington on charges of insubordination following the Mexican War.
Colonel Joseph Ballinger Chiles, Sr. died on June 25, 1885 in the Napa Valley. He is buried in Saint Helena Cemetery and was remembered as a "delightful" fiddle player by his contemporaries.
More Joseph B. Chiles History
- Walter Chiles of Jamestown by Joanne Chiles Eakin
- California Trail Blazer by Helen S. Griffen was commissioned by Mrs. Dixie Bell Rea, Joseph Chiles' granddaughter, and gives his story
- California Trail by George Stewart.