Caroline Kolmer & William Howard Page last modified:

William (Dutch Bill) Howard & Caroline Kolmer

Caroline Kolmer

Missing portrait

Caroline Kolmer
c. 1855
(Josephine Kolmer Benitz collection)

Caroline was born in North Carolina (USA), 31 December, 1838.  She was the youngest child of Michael & Josefa Kolmer who had emigrated from Endingen, Baden, Germany, in 1833.  In about 1841 the family moved to Missouri.  Four years later they crossed the plains, arriving at Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, California, in late October, 1845.  In early 1846, Caroline’s older sister, Josephine, joined Wilhelm Benitz of Fort Ross, California.  At about that time the Kolmer family settled in a valley that still bears their name (anglicized to Coleman) south-west of present day Occidental, California.  In 1850 or 1851, the Kolmer family relocated to a farm at Timber Cove, given to them by their son-in-law.  On the northern edge of Benitz’s property, it was close to Fort Ross.  This is where they were living at the time of Caroline’s impulsive marriage.  Two months shy of her 17th birthday Caroline unexpectedly married William (Dutch Bill) Howard on 3 October, 1855.  Her sudden decision and choice of husband infuriated her father for, by all accounts, Dutch Bill was a colorful character.

William Howard

Dutch Bill was not Dutch but Danish and his name was not his but that of the captain of the ship he had deserted.  He was born Christopher Thomasen Folchmand on October 23, 1823, on the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea.  He was 32 years old at the time of their wedding.  (Variants on his name include: Thomasen: Thomsen, Thomas; Folchmand: Folkmand, Folkmann

In his “auto-biography” (see below) Dutch Bill claims they were married at the home of Alexander Duncan, Salt Point, California — which would place them in Salt Point Township.  However the county records show they were married in Bodega Township — the township in which his farm was located.  The biography of Caroline’s nephew, Alfred Benitz, doesn’t say which township but it depicts a more likely scenario in which they were married at a town hall spontaneously and without her father’s permission by a traveling minister (see below).

A former seaman and miner, Dutch Bill owned a farm he’d bought in 1850 on shares with a partner, Charles Roamer, next to the settlement that later became Occidental.  In fact, he was one of two founders of that village, which for a time was known as Howard’s Station.  We strongly recommend you read the history pages on the Occidental (Bodega township, Sonoma county) web-site for a fascinating account of his activities.  During the late 1860’s and early 1870’s their Benitz nephews would come for extended visits at the farm.  According to Alfred Benitz’s biography, it took them several changes of train and coach to reach Howard’s Station from Oakland.

William and Caroline had 9 children, all living with them in 1880 (see their family tree).  Caroline died at the age of 43 on Aprill 22, 1882.  Dutch Bill lived another seventeen years.  He remarried, lost his farm due to financial reverses and became a musician in San Francisco, where he died at age 67 on March 17, 1899.

Impulsive Proposal & Marriage

No certificate!

William Howard & Caroline Kolmer
Marriage, 5th of October, 1855

Bodega Township, Sonoma County
(Source: Sonoma County Recorder’s Office, Santa Rosa, California, USA.)

The following account of their wedding is taken from the biography of Alfred Benitz, nephew of Caroline Kolmer: “Alfred Benitz: Pioneer, Sportsman and Gentleman”, pages 28-30 (available by clicking the title).

  Late in the year 1857, Mrs. Benitz' father, Michael Kolmer, died after several years of a steady bout with the demon Rum, which ruined his health and ate up his fortune.  One of the stories told about him at the time of his death was his refusal to forgive his daughter, Caroline, for the unorthodox manner of her marriage.  The story of some interest in itself as it illustrates one of the “mores” of frontier life.

  When Caroline took the step that enraged her father, there were no resident clergymen in California, or in the rural districts, at least, and it was an important social event when one would make the long and difficult journey to the remote areas from the nearest large city to legalize the various unions that had occurred since the visit of the last minister.  Prior to the visit of the minister, most marriages were formalized only by the mutual consent of the principals and had the sanction of neither law nor church.  When the news spread that a minister was en route, all the newly-weds were collected in the most accessible town-hall for a mass ceremony, which invariably was made the occasion for feasting and dancing.

  Such a collective ceremony duly came to pass at Sonoma, and of course everyone for miles around went to the party, including William and Josephine Benitz who took Caroline with them.  At the end of the evening, the minister made a speech in which he thanked all members of the community for their hospitality, and particularly thanked the new bridegrooms for their generosity in the matter of fees.  In fact, he said, he was so impressed by this generosity that he offered then and there to marry free any other young couple who cared to step forward.

  At this, William Howard, one of the young swain of the neighborhood who had been seeing quite a bit of Caroline, approached her and murmured into her ear.  She said yes, so they were married on the spot, using one of the rings from the platform curtain as a wedding ring.

  It was this entirely unforeseen marriage that caused Michael Kolmer to fly into a rage.  When he heard the news, he rushed to Caroline’s room, tossed all her furniture and clothes into the yard where he made a bonfire of them and vowed that he would never see or speak to his daughter again.  He kept this harsh vow for several years, but eventually relaxed it enough to seek Caroline and speak to her, but he never did completely forgive her.

William Howard: “Auto” Biography

The following biographical note is taken from: “History of Sonoma County”, by J.P. Munro-Fraser, published by Alley, Bowen & Co, San Francisco, 1880, pages 491-494.  It appears the author took down Dutch Bill’s account verbatim.  As noted above, for a more accurate record of his activities, please see the Occidental web-site.  In the following text we have highlighted names and inserted paragraph breaks to make it easier to read on the web.

Missing mug shot

Howard, William. This pioneer, whose portrait appears in this work, was born on the island of Bornholm [Denmark], in the Baltic Sea, October 23, 1823.  He received a limited education in the common schools of his country in his early youth.

He began his career as a sailor at the age of thirteen, on board the Danish brig “Cecilia,” then engaged in seal fishing on the coast of Greenland.  One voyage, though a successful one, cured him of all longings he may have entertained for this kind of adventure.  Shortly after his return, he shipped on board the Danish bark “Concordia,” at Copenhagen, bound for a whaling cruise in the north-western sea.  The voyage consumed about two years.

At the age of sixteen Mr. Howard engaged as a seaman on board an American ship at Elsinor, bound for Boston, United States.  They touched at Turks Island, where they found the American brig “Norman”, from the coast of Africa, homeward bound, in distress, having lost all her crew, of African fever, the captain and mate being the only survivors.  Mr. Howard volunteered to assist in working the brig to New York.  They sailed from Turks Island with a crew consisting of five, all told.  The captain (who was convalescent from the fever), the mate, Mr. Howard, and two negroes, one employed as cook, by almost superhuman efforts, this small crew managed to sight the Sandy Hook lights, where they received on board a pilot.

Before reaching New York harbor they encountered a heavy north-wester that drove them out to sea; they were driven about for four days.  A little before daylight of the fifth day of the storm the brig went ashore on Barnegat.  The day previous to their going ashore one of the negroes died from exposure.  Mr. Howard sewed his remains up in canvass, preparatory to consigning them to a watery grave.  When the vessel struck they found they were on a sandy coast.  The pilot and captain went ashore in the “dingy,” the mate and Mr. Howard commenced preparing to follow in the long-boat.  While gathering the ship’s papers and instruments the surf, which was constantly increasing lifted the stern of the long-boat from the davits.  This mishap rendered it necessary to jump in and cut loose the bow at once.  They had hardly cleared the brig when their boat was swamped.  This was the last that Mr. Howard knew until he found himself under the shelter of the long boat, where he had been placed by the mate, who had rescued him from the surf.  That evening they were visited by a wrecker, who conducted them to his shanty where they were provided with such comforts as the place afforded.  The mate and Mr. Howard returned to the vessel as soon as the storm had subsided sufficient to permit of their again venturing into the surf, and brought off the surviving negro, whom they were compelled to leave, also the corpse they had prepared to bury at sea.  With the assistance of the wreckers, the brig was lightened and worked off the sand.  Mr. Howard, in company with the mate, returned to the shore to collect such articles as they had left, and while thus engaged the brig was taken in tow by a tug, sent out for that purpose, leaving them on shore.  Several days after they boarded a coaster bound for New York, but were again driven out to sea by adverse winds; they finally succeeded in reaching Staten Island.

Over-exertion and exposure proved too much for Mr. Howard.  On reaching Staten Island he was taken down with lung fever, and went to the sailors' hospital.  Not being favorably impressed with the management of the hospital he remained but two days; by representing himself much improved, he gained assent to his leaving, and went immediately to New York.  He barely reached the city when he lost consciousness, and was conveyed to the city hospital, where his life was for a long time despaired of, but his constitution proved equal to the strain, and brought him through.

On recovering strength he entered the United States service, on board the receiving ship “North Carolina.” He was transferred to the sloop-of-war “Preble,” in 1844, then under orders to proceed to the African coast.  Immediately on their arrival in African waters they were ordered up the river Besow to protect a Portuguese settlement from the natives.  On reaching the settlement they found there was not sufficient sea-room for working the vessel.  The guns of the “Preble” were transferred to an old hull lying in the river.  This proved a disastrous move for the crew of the “Preble.” But a day or two had elapsed when Mr. Howard and one other man were taken down with unmistakable symptoms of African fever.  The surgeon ordered the sloop to vacate the river immediately.  They sailed for the Cape de Verde Islands.  Before reaching there between eighty and ninety of the officers and crew were taken down.  Nearly twenty fell victims to the terrible disease, and as many more were sent home invalids.  Mr. Howard in this case owed his life to the fact of being among the first to contract the disease, thereby receiving more favorable attention than could have been given a few days later.

At the expiration of his term of service he returned and re-entered the naval service, being assigned to the frigate “Columbia,” bound for the Brazilian station.  This proved a rather uneventful cruise.  He was in Rio de Janeiro at the time of the arrest of two American officers and two sailors for a trivial offense.  Through the intercession of Minister Wise all were soon released, but one seaman, who was kept in prison until the “Columbia” returned from a cruise to Buenos Ayres.  On entering the port Mr. Wise ordered the “Columbia” to double-shot her guns and haul up within easy range of the town.  This demonstration, taken in connection with a notice to release the American or prepare to receive the fire of the “Columbia,” had the desired result, and the man was soon at liberty.  This occurring just previous to the christening of Don Pedro the First, the American vessels were the only ones in port that refused to dress ship in honor of the event.  Mr. Wise also declined to illuminate.  These events, taken in connection with the Minister’s remarks at the time of the christening (on board the “Columbia” of the daughter of a veteran of Palo Alta (born at sea), to whom Minister Wise stood godfather, that ”he would rather stand godfather to an American soldier’s child than to Don Pedro,” resulted in Mr. Wise being called home.  He took passage in the “Columbia.” An idea may be formed of the impression Mr. Wise had made upon the crew of the “Columbia” by his course in Brazil, and his gentlemanly bearing while an honored passenger on board the “Columbia” frigate, when it is stated that the crew, who were ordered aloft to cheer when he went ashore at Norfolk, not only cheered with goodwill, but refused to desist when ordered, and even went so far in their endeavor to demonstrate their esteem for the gentleman that they threw their hats after him, thereby laying themselves liable to chastisement for violation of orders.

On reaching Norfolk Mr. Howard re-enlisted on board the sloop-of-war “St. Mary’s,” bound for the Pacific station.  They anchored at Monterey, in 1848; from there they sailed to San Francisco bay, where the vessel remained until Mr. Howard quit the service.  [Web note: “quit”? One way to put it, for the true details see the Occidental town web-site.]

On leaving the navy he followed the course of all seekers after fortune, or adventure at that particular time, and went immediately to the gold mines of California.  He followed mining for two Summers on Beaver creek and in Hangtown caņon, spending the Winter in Sonoma county.  He was moderately successful in mining, but lost all he had accumulated in a cattle speculation.  In 1850 Mr. Howard, in company with Charles Roamer (a countryman of his) settled on Government land, where he now resides.  The two partners carried on the ranch, keeping bachelor quarters up to the year 1855, when Mr. Howard found in a young lady (Miss Caroline Kolmer) a more congenial partner.

Mr. Howard and Miss Kolmer were married at the residence of Alexander Duncan at Salt Point, October 3, 1855 [not likely, see above]. Mrs. Howard was born in North Carolina, December 31, 1838.  She, with her parents, came to California in 1846 [correction: 1845].  They spent the first Winter at Sutter’s Fort, near Sacramento; the following season went to Fort Ross; afterwards settled in Kolmer valley.  In 1851 they moved to Timber Cove, where they resided at the time Mr. and Mrs. Howard were married.

On assuming his new relations he bought out his partner, who returned to Denmark.  Mr. and Mrs. Howard have had the satisfaction of seeing the wilderness in which they commenced life together gradually settled and improved until a railroad passes through their farm, and a station, around which quite a village has sprung, bears Mr. Howard’s name.  They have been blessed with nine children all living, and who still reside with them.  The following is a list of the children, with the dates of their birth: Elizabeth, born December 10, 1857; Charles, born April 13, 1859; Theodore, born July 11, 1861; Amelia, born May 31, 1863; Clara, born July 12, 1865; William, born January 24, 1868; Annie, born September 20, 1870; Emma, born December 31, 1873; Alfred, born December 21, 1877.


© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)