Col. J.R. Coates had some great adventures to tell his grandchildren in his latter days in Antioch. The stories that the old man entertained the younger generation included a marriage proposal from the queen of Tahiti, transporting a shipload of pigs to Hawaii, and his heroics in the Civil War.
Unfortunately his obituary, in 1915, omitted these grand stories. When family members heard that Richmond newspaperman F.J. Hulaniski was going to publish a history of Contra Costa County, however, they signed up to purchase a book and submitted J.R.'s biography along with his photo in his Civil War uniform.
In 1849 Coates, a native of Maine, heard the siren call of the Gold Rush. However, he was short of cash. He made a deal with the captain of the brig Sirocco. He would pay $50 and work off the rest of the passage cost as a seaman.
Once in San Francisco, Coates got a job on the docks earning enough to buy the picks, shovels and other necessities he would need in his search for gold. He hit it rich at Boone's Bar on the Feather River.
At this point, Coates turned into an entrepreneur. He had heard that the Hawaiians had an insatiable hunger for pork. The demand for pork was so high that Coates could double, maybe triple the gold he had found on the Feather River. Together with another young man, Coates bought a shipload of hogs to take them to Hawaii.
It didn't turn out to be a good investment. Halfway to the islands, the hogs came down with cholera and died. The money was gone and Coates and his friend had to start all over again.
The pair signed on a ship as able seamen and headed off for the South Sea Islands. Coates, now 23 years old, claimed to have caught the eye of the queen of Tahiti. She pursued him, proposed marriage and offered to make him king. Coates turned her down. But she wouldn't take rejection easily. When he went into hiding, she sent her cohorts looking for him.
Coates' sailor friends managed to smuggle him aboard a ship during the dark of night. He escaped the queen's clutches and sailed off to South America.
Did this really happen? It could have. There was a queen in Tahiti at the time, Queen Pomare IV. She was quite a formidable woman, who reigned over Tahiti for 50 years and was called the Queen Victoria of the South Seas.
In 1852, Coates went back to Maine took up farming and got into the lumber business. He married, and he and his wife had two daughters.
After the Civil War, in which he served with Gen. U.S. Grant, he came back to California with his family. As a veteran, he was able to claim a soldier's grant of 160 acres in the Antioch area.
His wife didn't do well in California. For health reasons, she went back to Maine, where she died. Coates remarried in 1880, got into the cattle business, dabbled in the oil business and built Coates' Hall in Brentwood. He died a very wealthy man.
Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at email@example.com.