On this Memorial Day, let’s take a moment to remember our first National Guard unit.
Company H, Sixth Infantry Regiment, National Guard of California was organized in Merced in 1893 and disbanded in 1907. During its short 14-year existence, Company H took part in ending the 1894 Railroad Strike, volunteered for the Spanish-American War in 1898, and patrolled the streets of San Francisco after the 1906 Earthquake.
It was a Wednesday evening when a group of men met at Leeker’s Hall and formed a National Guard unit in Merced on May 24, 1893. Officers in attendance of this special event included General Muller of Fresno, Colonel Nunan of Stockton, and Merced’s own Major George B. Cook (a Civil War veteran). John R. Graham was elected Captain of Company H; George Conway, 1st Lieutenant; and Max Unger, 2nd Lieutenant. After speeches and congratulatory remarks, 63 men had signed the roll. At the next meeting on May 29, Company H adopted a constitution and by-laws and began to hold weekly drills and inspections.
The first real test of the Company’s readiness was the Great Railroad Strike of 1894, also known as the Pullman Strike. Several thousand railroad workers of the Pullman Car Company went on strike on May 11 to protest the recent wage cuts without rent reductions in the company town. Soon, this labor unrest in Chicago led by the American Railway Union turned into a nationwide railroad strike and boycott that paralyzed much for the railway traffic west of Detroit, Michigan.
California experienced the effects of the strike and boycott greatly due to both its isolation and dependence on railroad transportation. In addition, it was the fruit harvesting season in California and the strike had interrupted the shipments of crops from the San Joaquin Valley to Eastern markets. The impacts of this labor unrest in Merced were very minimal in comparison to Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, and Bakersfield.
As the strike lingered on into July, President Grover Cleveland and his Attorney General Richard Olney decided to intervene to break the strike with military force. President Cleveland claimed that it was his constitutional responsibility to re-establish rail service to deliver the mail and Attorney General Olney used the Sherman Antitrust Act to forbid any interference with “mail trains, express trains, or other trains whether freight or passenger, engaged in interstate commerce.” So Merced’s Company H was called upon to guard the passenger trains from Bakersfield to Oakland.
The members of Company H led by Captain Graham were eager and ready to serve the country since they had just returned from an 8-day Brigade encampment in Stockton and had been issued new uniforms. Three divisions were ordered to Bakersfield on July 14, 15, and 19 and assigned the same type of duties. The members were compensated with no less than $2 per day for their service. While some of them maintained law and order on the train, others encamped on the banks of the Kern River guarding the railway bridge. The mission was uneventful, but laborious. Most of the troop members were relieved of duty and returned to Merced on July 25. Upon arriving at the Merced Depot, they were met by the Merced Band which escorted them to their armory on Main Street.
Company H was not called into active duty again until 1898 when the Spanish-American War broke out. Now known as the Sixth Regiment of California Volunteer Infantry, Company H was organized on April 28 and proceeded to San Francisco Presidio on May 8. Its commanding officers were Captain Arthur Guthrie and 1st Lieutenant Roy van den Heuvel. During its 8-month active service, Company H performed the usual camp duties and received training in signaling and heavy artillery services. After proudly serving its country once again, Company H ended the mission on December 15 and returned to Merced.
The last duty call before its disbandment came right after the Great San Francisco Earthquake. On April 18, 1906, San Francisco residents were woken up by the shock of their lifetime. The quake and its subsequent fires pretty much destroyed the city in just a few days. California Governor George Pardee immediately summoned the National Guard for recovery, relief, and security efforts. Company H led by Captain Walter Casad joined the other eight companies of the Sixth Infantry to report to duty on April 19 and began patrol duty in the district west of Van Ness Avenue. Exactly a month later, Company H was relieved of duty and returned home. Due to the decrease in membership and other factors, Company H was disbanded on May 10, 1907.
One interesting note about Company H is the eventful experience of its member D. J. Bambauer, County Treasurer. On the night of September 25, 1900, Bambauer was kidnapped at gunpoint while on his way home after a Company H meeting. He was then taken to the Courthouse and forced to open the vault in the Treasurer’s Office. When Bambauer refused to cooperate, he was hurt and locked in an airtight safe overnight. Bambauer was not deterred by this violent event and was elected Captain of Company H the following year.
To see this old crime scene, please visit the Treasurer’s Office at the Courthouse Museum. During your visit, be sure to check out our current exhibit, Yosemite Lumber Company at Merced Falls. This exhibit runs through June 10.
Sarah Lim is museum director for the Merced County Courthouse Museum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.