Walter Hammond Righter (1905 - 1982)

An Illustrated Biography by his daughter, Frances Jean Righter Tucker © 2005

Chapter 1. Home Home on the Ranch : Part 1

Last Updated : July 4, 2005

I started this project in Sept. 9, 1996. My original plan was not to take a genealogical trip back through history, but to write a book about my father. He was an engineer, an inventor, and an all-round wonderful person who had made his mark in history.

Some of his achievements others took credit for, which Dad didn't much worry about. He just loved working on his current project.

Since I have his files, I thought I would set some of the record straight, if not for others to read, at least for our three children and seven grands. He had accomplished so much that it could take years to finish.

When I was thinking about his personality and character, his wit and where his genius came from, I started checking his background and VOILA there it was! Then I got side tracked on his genealogy-boy, did I!


The famous Rhine River in Germany

Photo: Righter Family Archives - Click Image to Enlarge

The first of the family to come from Germany to America were Andreas Richter, born 1695, and his wife Anna Elisabetha Stahl and their children. They came in the migration from the Palatinate area of Germany and arrived in New York August 4, 1710. They were permitted by Queen Anne to settle along the Hudson River.

Their grandson, Wilhelmus Richter, born in 1748, was the first to move to Pine Plains, New York and was the first owner of the Righter homestead. He "Americanized" his name to Righter and was known as William Righter Esquire. He served as Justice of the Peace, settled estates for people and pleaded cases before the Justice Court.

The name Richter/Righter means judge/magistrate. And that, as well as farming, is what they were and did for several generations.


The Old Farm House, (built in 1787), Pine Plains, NY., c.1860

The Righter generations lived in it for 159 years

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The next generation to live in the house was one of Wilhelmus' sons, John Walter Righter.


John Walter Righter (1779-1862)

Father of John Righter, great grandfather of Ruth V. Righter and Walter H. Righter and great, great, grandfather of Frances J. Righter and Catherine L. Righter

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John Righter (1820-1918)

Son of John Walter Righter, father of William Jay "Will" Righter and grand father of Walter H. Righter and Ruth V. Righter Photo: Righter Family Archives : Click Image to Enlarge


William Jay "Will" Righter (1858-1956), c.1878

Son of John Righter, father of Ruth V. Righter and Walter H. Righter and grandfather of Frances J. Righter and Catherine L. Righter

Picture made from a tintype the size of a postage stamp.

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In the German 'Richter'/ 'Righter' clan it would be hard to find even a little smudge on the family escutcheon. Among their many other attributes, they were noted for their integrity, kindness, generosity and high intelligence. They were honorable, highly respected leaders in their communities and all were dedicated Christians involved in their church activities.

I don't know how far back the humor goes, but I do know that my Grandfather, William Jay Righter, "Will", had a great sense of humor that has emerged somewhere in each descending generation. It warms my heart to see these ancestral traits trickle on down through the family.


The Old Barn, Pine Plains, NY, (date tba)

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Looking back on what I know about Grandpa's life, the things that have impressed me, are not only his impeccable character, his quick wit, his delightful sweet personality or the age he lived to be, but also the history in the making that he watched unfold during those ninety-eight years.

Grandpa was born May 2, 1858 in Pine Plains, New York on a farm that had seen four generations grow up in the same old house. This was a time when they had spinning wheels and made their own cloth, there was no running water or electricity and they had to feed their transportation oats or they might have a very long barefoot walk to school.

Pine Plains was formed in 1823 supposedly deriving its name from early deeds, which included descriptions of 'the pine plains
Gradually, during his lifetime, he saw the first electric lights, phonographs, (victrolas), and telephones arrive upon the scene and the horse and plow replaced by a noisy chugging tractor. He watched the first trains heading west and wished he were on board.

Wars had been fought, won and lost-the Civil War, World War I, and WWII with the big depression in between. He had worked his way to the wild-wild West, even dodging hostile Indians along the way.


The Old Farm House (remodelled), Pine Plains, NY, c.1920

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When he ran out of money he would stop awhile to find a job. While in Silverton, Colorado a rip-roaring mining town, he took the only job available. He worked in a mine. He wasn't a miner, but he could handle horses.

They had him hauling out ore with a train of dump cars and a horse.

The mine opening was at the bottom of a canyon and went into an almost vertical rock face. The mineshaft gently sloped upward from the entrance. The procedure was to haul the ore cars into the mine with the horse where the miners filled the eight or ten cars with ore.

Then he and the horse got onto the last car (a low flat car) and coasted outside to the ore dump. He controlled the speed with a heavy stick, which he pried against a car wheel as a brake.


The Old Farm House, Pine Plains, NY, 1938

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Another employment was for a mining company in Mexico. The mine was located about one hundred miles east of the town of Hermosillo, then the capitol of Sonora and the railroad head.

The mine produced both gold and silver that was refined at the mine site. Bullion was transported on horseback to Hermosillo in saddlebags. Grandfather's job, together with four other men, was to ride back and forth between the mine and Hermosillo.

They were the ones who carried silver dollars into the mine to pay the miner's for their work and took the gold and silver bouillon back in the other direction.

One of the five men who transported ore was well armed for the Yaquis Indians who were often "on the war path". One time they were forewarned of a band of Yaquis roaming in their area looking for trouble. So they took a wide circuitous route to avoid a fight and kept a man on sentry duty when they camped at night.

One morning, shortly after sunrise, while they were eating breakfast a deer wandered up to with in a hundred feet of them. All sat quietly, hardly breathing while their reputedly crack-shot guard tried to take aim and fire.

However, he was shaking so badly from "buck fever" that he missed the deer entirely and shot himself in the foot. Before anyone could reload the deer had vanished.

They managed to get back to Hermosillo without any major problems, but Grandpa quit the job on the spot. He said, "If the best shot we had gets buck fever with a deer looking at him, I would hate to think what he would do with a band of Yaquis shooting arrows at him." It was a very dangerous job, and we are very glad he quit!


William Jay "Will" Righter, 1899

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In Orange, California he bought ten acres of land, originally part of 'Rancho Santiago De Santa Ana'. He built a house and planted his ranch with fruit trees, got married and had two children.

In the beginning, each day he had to walk with a large five gallon bucket in each hand a quarter of a mile to a neighbouring ranch where there was a windmill and a well where he could draw water for cooking, washing, and drinking for them, a cow and the horses.

Don Gaspár de Portolá, a Spanish expedition party leader, discovered a picturesque valley and river in Southern California which he christened Santa Ana, in honor of Saint Anne, on July 26, 1769. José Antonio Yorba, a youthful expedition soldier, and his nephew Juan Peralta, were given a Spanish land grant for the area. They developed the Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana for cattle grazing and productive farmland.

In 1869, William H. Spurgeon purchased 70 acres from the Yorba family and plotted a townsite. The new town was given the name Santa Anna. In 1886, Santa Ana was incorporated as a city. Orange County was separated from Los Angeles in 1889, and Santa Ana was designated the County seat. Santa Ana is the financial and governmental center of Orange County and a major city in the state.


Ruth Virginia Righter at the ranch house, Santa Ana, CA, c.1915-20

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Eventually irrigation and plumbing came in. The outhouses disappeared and cars replaced the old family horse drawn wagon. Telephones and radios were in every home. Cars were starting to clutter the roads (some roads were even being paved).

Their two barns came down and a double garage went up. A long workbench was added along one wall and a large storage loft built up stairs.


The old livestock stable

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The Wright brothers finally got their contraption to fly and it became Grandpa's dream to be able to go for a ride in a "flying machine" someday. One of Grandpa's greatest thrills was on March 15, 1946 when his son took him on his very first airplane ride, in his son's own flying machine.

Grandpa had proudly watched his daughter and son graduate from college and saw the results of their careers. Before he died, January 17, 1956, he had two grand daughters who adored him, one great grand daughter and a television set. Now he could watch his grand daughter, Catherine, Monday through Friday on television.


Grandaughters, Fran 7 1/2 and Cathie 5, 2048 Watson St. Glendale, CA. 1937

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W.J. "Will" Righter and his great grand daughter Candace, Dec., 1953

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Grand Mother Righter - Ruth Emma Hammond Righter

Ancestors from London, England and Holland and related to William Penn

She was born May 15, 1864 in Jordan, New York. When she was eleven years old her father died at age forty leaving his wife with six children to raise with no means to support them. Although Emma desperately wanted an education it was up to her to be the breadwinner.


Ruth Emma Hammond Righter, c.1880

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If she had had the opportunity to get an education, she would have done well in any chosen field. She had a strong leaning toward science and possessed tremendous mechanical ability and drive plus her insatiable thirst for knowledge. But, a formal education was not in the cards, so she set out to find a job.


Ruth Emma Hammond Righter, March 1899

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One of her various employments, was selling underwear. Her fancy 4 by 5 inch business cards said:
Miss E. Hammond
Respectfully solicits a share of your patronage
Orders taken for the
512 Main St., Santa Ana, California

Emma was a fine seamstress and easily got another job in a shoe factory. She sewed "uppers" together on a heavy foot powered machine. There were many girls and many machines doing similar work. The machines were always breaking down or getting out of adjustment.

There was a maintenance man whose job it was to keep the machines in running condition. But it often took more than an hour or two waiting for him to get there and get the job done. Some times there were several broken down at the same time. Since they were all on piecework and paid by the piece, lost time made a big difference in their pay.

The girls would wait impatiently to have their machine fixed. Emma wouldn't wait. When her machine was down, being a natural mechanic, she fixed and adjusted it herself. The other girls noticed that her machine generally ran better than any of the others and they begged her to fix theirs. They made a deal to trade machines.

The girl would sew Emma's garments while she waited for Emma to repair her machine. That way Emma's production was kept up at the same time she was doing the repairs. Emma enjoyed doing this repair work for two reasons - she dearly loved interesting mechanical problems, and it was also a change and a rest from pumping the heavy machine all day.

There was a time when she had her own shop. Out front there was a sign:




110 Church St., Santa Ana, CA

Fran Righter Tucker notes : "Emma is wearing a "Leg 'O Mutton" blouse so I know the date would be around 1890 before she was married. I do not know who her helper is."

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Emma and "Will" married March 7, 1899. She was 35 and he was 41 years old.


William Jay "Will" Righter in his wedding suit, 1899

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Ruth Emma Hammond, (1864-1932), Wedding Day, March 7, 1899

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Grandma was an attractive lady with very long hair, almost to her feet. She rolled it up on her head. She had a lovely complexion so her nickname became "Peaches". She was very bright, skilled with her hands, a hard worker and an excellent cook. What she very much lacked in humor, her keen witted husband made up for.

She was thrilled to be able to hold her first grandchild in March 1932. She died five months after I was born, at age sixty-eight. Grandpa out lived her by 30 years.


William Jay Righter & Ruth Emma Hammond / Righter c.1928

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Emma and Will's first child, Ruth Virginia Righter arrived at the ranch in Orange, CA on November 8, 1901


Ruth Virginia Righter one-year-old c.1902

L-R : Ruth, her mother Ruth Emma Hammond, and her mother Mary Jane Corbin/Hammond

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Ruth Virginia Righter one-year-old c.1902, (detail)

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Ruth Virginia Righter five-years-old c.1904

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Ruth V. Righter's College Graduation

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Continue on to part 2

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