The story of Price, Postel & Parma
Price, Postel & Parma has been in continuous operation since 1852, when Judge Charles Fernald arrived in Santa Barbara and opened his law practice.
The First 20 Years:
January. James Marshall discovers placer gold in the tailrace of Sutter’s Mill on the American River near Coloma, California.
December. U.S. President James K. Polk delivers his famous message to Congress announcing the California gold strike. Gold fever spreads across the nation.
New England law student Charles Fernald sails from New York to San Francisco to “strike it rich” in California. The dangerous journey takes five months and claims the lives of thousands of “Forty-Niners” in the disease-ridden isthmus of Panama.
Fernald spends eighteen months in various mining camps throughout the Mother Lode. Finding no gold, Fernald returns to San Francisco and completes his legal studies. He earns money by writing articles for the San Francisco Alta.
Major fires sweep through San Francisco in May and June, destroying Fernald’s precious law library, which he had shipped from Maine. Relying on borrowed books, Fernald passes the bar examination and practices law for the next year in San Francisco.
FRONTIER DAYS IN SANTA BARBARA
Fernald decides to leave California to practice law in the more civilized East. On June 30, while en route to New York, his ship anchors for a few hours at Santa Barbara to take on cargo and mail. Fernald goes ashore to visit a law school classmate, Edward Hoar, who had journeyed west with Fernald and is now serving as the district attorney of Santa Barbara.
Fernald finds Hoar in a dance hall with Joaquin Carrillo, the county judge, and several others heatedly discussing the need for law and order in the county, organized only two years before. In the wake of the gold rush, Santa Barbara is filled with ruffians and drinking and gambling are rampant. Thirty-five of the first fifty-two business licenses issued by the City are for saloons. The first two county sheriffs have been shot dead by outlaws and the third has just been dismissed by Carrillo for vigilantism.
Although only 22 years old, Fernald is strongly built and good with a gun. Carrillo is impressed and offers him the job of sheriff. Fernald accepts, becoming the fourth sheriff of Santa Barbara County. The position is part-time and Fernald opens a law office.
Carrillo’s confidence in Fernald is well placed. Even before he is formally sworn in as sheriff on August 13, Fernald begins driving the criminal element out of Santa Barbara. The History of Santa Barbara County, written in 1890, states: “Fernald’s splendid personal courage enabled him to cope with the deperados who had no regard for life or property. His life was in constant danger in the then unsettled condition of the county and he had many stirring experiences… holding in check the many rough characters who menaced the public peace.”
November. Pleased with Fernald’s performance as sheriff, county residents elect Fernald district attorney.
THE CIVIL WAR ERA
Fernald returns to his native Maine to marry his childhood sweetheart, Hannah Hill Hobbes. Fernald brings Hannah to Santa Barbara and begins construction of Fernald House, a fourteen room Victorian mansion.
Fernald retires from the bench to devote his full time to his law practice, which he has been carrying on since his arrival in 1852. He accepts annual retainers from the Arrellanes, Carrillo and De la Guerra families.
Santa Barbara County suffers a severe drought.
Spanish is selected as the official language of Santa Barbara for all public records.
March. Governor John Bigler appoints Fernald to be county judge, the highest county officer. The history of Santa Barbara County records: “so strictly and impartially were the laws enforced under Fernald that no public disorder or resistance to the laws was attempted for many years, notwithstanding many ‘bravos,’ outlaws and desperados were at large in some of the adjoining counties.” Fernald is elected county judge six months later.
April. Fernald represents John C. Jones against Alpheus Thompson in the Santa Rosa Island case. Fernald’s success gives him a reputation for expertise in land use cases.
May. The Arroyo Burro Incident. Notorious outlaw Jack Powers, “the lion who walked among rats,” fortifies a stronghold in Arroyo Burro Canyon near what is now Stevens Park. Powers and his gang prey on travelers between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Despite Powers’ deserved reputation as a killer, Nicholas Den, the owner of the arroyo, courageously files suit in Fernald’s court to eject the bandits. Powers challenges Fernald to “come and get us.” Fernald responds by gathering a posse of 50 men at the Aguirre Adobe, which Fernald uses as his courtroom.
Powers instructs two members of his gang to get rid of Fernald. The gang members ride to the Aguirre Adobe, near the corner of Carrillo and Anacapa streets. They find the possemen sitting in their saddles, waiting for Fernald to come out with the writ of ejectment. When Fernald steps outside, one of the outlaws draws his pistol and fires, putting a hole in Fernald’s hat. The other outlaw stabs and seriously wounds Sheriff William W. Twist. The posse guns down the two outlaws.
The remaining gang members flee for their hideout in the Arroyo Burro, the posse in hot pursuit. At North Ontare Street, Powers checks the posse with a hail of fire. Powers is trapped, however, and agrees to vacate Den’s property. Fernald allows Powers to leave; in the Old West, banishment was a common punishment where murder could not be proved.
Fernald is re-elected County Judge.
Columbia Law School graduate Jarrett T. Richards rides into Santa Barbara on horseback and forms a partnership with Fernald. The firm becomes known as Fernald & Richards and occupies a one-story adobe on State Street.
Fernald forms a company with Samuel Brinkerhoff, Thomas Bell, M.H. Biggs, J.L. Ord, J.B. Shaw, Llewelyn Bixby and Charles Huse which builds the first stagecoach road over San Marcos Pass.
The firm moves to the second floor of the first two-story building in Santa Barbara on the corner of State and Cota Streets. The Fithian Building is later built around the firm’s office.