Jefferson Davis Heiskell, the son of a member of the California State Legislature and the California Constitutional Convention, was born in the Gold Rush town of Indian Diggins during the Civil War. As a young adult, Jeff was a grain dealer in the Central Valley town of Stockton, where he met and married Lucy Eva App, whose mother was the daughter of Captain George Donner of the ill-fated Donner Party.
In 1886, Jeff traveled to the Central California farming community of Tulare to supervise construction of a large and impressive grain warehouse. When his employer decided to leave the grain storage business, Jeff bought the warehouse and went into business for himself. In those days, success in the grain business depended largely on the weather and the inconsistencies of the railroad schedules.
The warehouse still stands at the corner of Cedar and I Streets in Tulare, a location necessitated by its proximity to the railroad. Jeff's office was in downtown Tulare right behind the telephone company, because his trading and grain shipments had to be arranged by phone. The company's phone number was easy to remember: 31.
Jeff always wore a hat and usually, a dress shirt, vest, and tie. He was a gruff and forceful businessman. There is evidence that he had a notable temper, which became obvious when fairness or decency was an issue. One morning a grizzled muleskinner arrived, parked his wagon and mules, and began using rough language around the office, where there were ladies present. Jeff admonished the man and was answered with yet another smart remark. Whereupon Jeff walked over and decked the astonished man, turned on his heel and drove his buggy to the office of the police judge. There he asked what the fine was for assault and battery. He silently handed over fifteen dollars and said, "It was worth it."
Upon his death in 1926, the Tulare Advance Register ended an editorial titled "A Man for Tulare" with these words:
"To call him 'Jeff' is no mark of lack of respect, for 'Jeff' he was to his friends and those who were not recognized as such. He came to Tulare as Jeff Heiskell; as such he lived here for forty years, and as such he will always live in the memories of the thousands who loved him.
He served his community during the time it needed him most. When it came out of the twilight into the sunshine of prosperity and progress, his generosity found many chances for expression, but his work had been well done.
It seems as though some unknown power always sends to a community, or a country, men who fit their needs, and just as surely Jeff Heiskell was one of such men for Tulare during the years he lived here.
Jeff Heiskell was a man, in body, mind, soul and heart. They do not make many his equal."
Legend Has It...
Dick Shannon grew up near Tulare and knew J.D. Heiskell. Dick was in high school at the time, and during cotton season his father had him drive a team and wagon loaded with cotton to the Heiskell Cotton Gin. While he was there, he helped the workers lift the heavy cotton bales. After the third or fourth time he did this, Jeff Heiskell, who didn't miss much, came out of his office and handed Dick five dollars, which was big money in those days. This happened more than once, and Dick, reminiscing decades later, remarked, "I always wished the cotton season would last longer."