Rengstorff House

THE CATTLE KING AND THE TIDEWATER TYCOON

A TALE OF TWO HENRYS

Henry Miller. Henry Rengstorff. Parallel lives - up to a point. What's the connection? Henry Miller was one of the many producers who shipped farm products through Henry Rengstorff's Mountain View Landing, as shown by Rengstorff's recently restored journal from the 1880s. Miller's company, Miller & Lux, owned 130 acres in Mountain View adjacent to the railroad tracks and shipped wheat in 1880 and 1881.

Henry was an "adopted" name for each man: Miller was born Heinrich Alfred Kreiser, Rengstorff as Michael Heinrich Rengstorff. Both were born in Germany - Miller in 1827, Rengstorff in 1829. (Miller and Rengstorff's wife Christina were born one year and 40 miles apart.) Miller arrived in San Francisco in 1850 with six dollars in his pocket, Rengstorff, also in 1850, with four dollars. Miller died in 1916 owning a million acres in California, Nevada and Oregon - and controlling millions more; he was the largest private land owner in the United States. Rengstorff, one of the most prominent of Mountain View's citizens, died in 1906 with 2,000 acres in two counties - and his wharf on the tidewaters where Stevens Creek empties into San Francisco Bay.

Miller/Kreiser arrived in New York in 1847 and plied his trade as a butcher. With the California gold discovery of 1848 he was determined to get there, not to search for the precious metal for he knew nothing of mining and cared little for easy money. All he knew was the raising, slaughtering and sale of livestock, and he knew that demand for meat would be intense. The butcher developed a friendship with a shoe salesman by the name of Henry Miller, who also planned to go to California and purchased a ticket for the passage. But the shoe salesman changed his mind and offered to sell the ticket to his friend the butcher. Later, with the ticket in his hand, Miller/Kreiser noticed the inscription "Not Transferable." So, on boarding the vessel, he identified himself as "Henry Miller" and that became his name for the rest of his life. In 1858, he had enough influence to have the State Legislature pass a special act formalizing the Miller name.

Rengstorff came for gold but on arriving in San Francisco abandoned that idea and saw his future in farming and shipping. It is not clear whether any formality attached to Rengstorff's use of the name "Henry."

Miller had no trouble finding work as a butcher in San Francisco, where labor was is short supply. In the following year his hard work enabled him to open his own small shop, a storefront-turned-slaughterhouse. Four years after his arrival in San Francisco he bought a herd of 300 cattle in the San Joaquin Valley, paying $33,000 cash. He went on to become one of the most powerful men in California.

Of far-reaching consequence was Miller's reclamation and irrigation projects. He was one of the first to perceive that water was more precious to California's future than gold. He built thousands of miles of levees and irrigation ditches, three major canals with a total length of 190 miles, and a 350-foot dam across the San Joaquin River. Similarly, though on a vastly smaller scale, Rengstorff devised systems to tap the waters of Stevens Creek to irrigate his home farm, and he regularly dredged that shallow stream to assure access of small scow schooners from the Bay to his landing.

Two German immigrants. Two men of vision. Two men of ambition. Two Henrys.

Past Historical Notes