Santa Cruz County History - People

Old Soldiers: Santa Cruz County Civil War Veterans
by Robert L. Nelson


Unknown article, Contributed by UCSC Prof. Emeritus Stanley Stevens (January 22, 2002)


by Mackenzie Gordon

Frederick William Billing was born on October 2, 1835, in the town of Eschwege, near Kassel, Germany. He received his schooling in that town but did not go to a university. His interest in painting developed at an early age but was not encouraged by his father, who wanted him to prepare himself for a career in business. In fact, his father forbade him to paint. Young Frederick would save enough money to buy paints and brushes, which he would conceal about the house. His father, on discovery, would confiscate them.

As a young man Billing went into business, which made it necessary for him to travel considerably in Europe. Some time later, probably in 1856 when he came of age, he decided to seek his fortune in America. He came to the United States and settled in Brooklyn. There he met Wilhelmina Sickett, who had come with her family from Elberfeld, near Dusseldorf, Germany. They were married and settled in Brooklyn. There were two daughters, Bertha (born in 1860) and Minnie. The latter passed away while yet very young.

Both F. W. Billing and his brother Gustav served in the Civil War on the side of the Union (F. W. Billing in the Quartermaster Corps). Both were wounded and received honorable discharges. After the war experience, F. W. Billing returned to Brooklyn and opened a brokerage business at No. 1 Wall Street. The Firm name was Hagen and Billing. Billing took up painting again with considerable interest. His paintings during the late 1850's and in the early 1850's had been generally still life and figurative subjects with dark backgrounds. By the mid-1860's Billing turned to landscapes encouraged by a German-American painter named Johann H. Carmienke, with whom he studied. During the 1870's most of his paintings were European landscapes he recalled from earlier travels. He also continued painting scenes in the New York region. He exhibited once at the Brooklyn Academy of Painting.

In the late 1870's, because of poor health, Billing decided to move to the western part of the United States and seek a more salubrious climate. His brother Gustav had preceded him, and now, with a partner, owned a smelter in Leadville, Colorado. F. W. Billing moved to Salt Lake where he became an ore buyer, purchasing from the mining camps in that region. For a brief period he operated the Flagstaff Mine in the Wasatch Range. He was closely associated with John W. [sic] Packard, who owned the Godiva Mine at Eureka, Utah.

Billing's paintings during the Salt Lake period were landscapes, scenes of the Wasatch Range, Twin Falls region, Green River, Teton Mountains, and Yellowstone Park, which he visited with the Moran brothers. Thomas Moran, perhaps the foremost of American landscape painters of the West at that time, considered Billing the most talented amateur painter he had encountered. The friendship of these men is indicated by a painting of the Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, painted by Billing, with a large tree in the left foreground created by Thomas Moran, and a stag in the right foreground inserted by Moran's brother Peter, an animal painter. All three artists initialed their signatures. Billing also found inspiration for some of his paintings in early Jackson photographs supplied by his friends in the United States Geological Survey, among them its director, Major John Wesley Powell. At least one painting, The Empty Cradle, was inspired by an etching of Thomas Moran.

F. W. Billing's productive Salt Lake period was from 1879 to 1883, or slightly later. After the marriage in 1884 of his daughter Bertha to an Englishman, John F. Coope, their absence in Europe for approximately a year, and the subsequent decision of the Coopes and Billings to go into partnership in farming ventures in California, Billing bought a ranch near Woodside, California, where a winery was started. Relationships within the partnership were not of the best, for although Coope had taken courses in Scientific Farming as a student in Cambridge University, England, Billing generally insisted on doing things his own way.

In about 1889, Billing purchased the William Kerr Estate in Santa Cruz which he renamed Wilhelmina Ranch (now Pasatiempo). This Ranch became Billing's headquarters. His good friend J. W. [sic] Packard followed him to Santa Cruz, commissioning Billing to build him a house across the road from the Wilhelmina Ranch. The two men became business partners once again. Together they purchased the Ben Lomond Winery and placed the business under the management of Billing's son-in-law, Coope. The Company dug the chalk rock caves on Market Street in Santa Cruz to reproduce French methods of aging wine. Billing and Packard also owned the W. J. Dingee's Lime Company in Davenport, which they sold in 1906 to the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company for $400,000.

Both F. W. Billing, and J. F. Coope were public-spirited civic leaders in the Santa Cruz region. Both, and particularly Coope, were influential in establishing the Save the Redwoods League, to preserve some of the unique stands of timber that Billing so loved to sketch and paint. It was a considerable loss to the community when Coope passed away suddenly in 1902, the victim of diphtheria contracted while swimming in the San Lorenzo River at Santa Cruz. Billing continued painting and sketching until his own passing, which came in August, 1914.

His daughter, Bertha Coope, lived for many years thereafter in San Francisco. In 1943 she moved to Palo Alto, where she enjoyed the closing years of a long life, passing on at the age of 105 years in October, 1956.

American Civil War Research Database, Historical Data Systems


Residence Not Listed
Age 27
Enlisted on 10/10/1861 at New York City, NY as a First Lieutenant
Commissioned into Field and Staff NY 54th Infantry 10/10/1861
Discharged 8/31/1862
Promotions: 1st Lieutenant 1/4/1862; Quartermaster 1/4/186

SOURCE: New York Report of the Adjutant General © Historical Data Systems, Inc.

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