The settling of Lemoore could not be told without the story of Kingston. Many of the early settlers of the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s came to Lemoore by way of Kingston.
With the use of irrigation reducing the flow of the Kings river today it may be difficult to conceive that at one time a ferry was the only way to cross the river. It was in 1854 when Lucious A. Whitmore came to the Kings River to raise cattle and started a ferry across the Kings River around 1855, about a mile southwest of where the town of Laton is now. It was a natural trading point and in two years a town sprang up, first known as Whitmore’s Ferry. The site was once a part of the old Laguna de Tache land grant.
Butterfield’s Overland Mail Co. put the place on the map in 1858 when it erected a station at the crossing. The following year, Whitmore was shot and killed while trying to defend his Yokut wife from the U.S. Cavalry, which was rounding up Indians for transport to reservations. This incident stopped the removal of all of the Indians from the Kingston area.
The town was subsequently renamed Kingston, named after the river. Oliver Bliss bought Whitmore’s ferry system at auction and won a Tulare county contract to operate it in 1859. Despite the ferry operating under a Tulare County license it was discovered in a survey in late 1859 that Kingston was in fact in Fresno County.
The first permanent settler in the vicinity was Jack Sutherland who came in 1855 and raised cattle southwest of Kingston. Later he bought Whitmore’s Ferry from Oliver Bliss.
For years Kingston, located on what was the eastern route the El Camino Viejo1, which was also known as the Old Los Angeles Trail, was one of the principal stopping points in overland traffic between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The post office was discontinued in November 1862, but was re-established in April 1866. The Overland Mail had been removed from the southern route in 1861 because of the Civil War. Several of the Post Masters were Oliver H. Bliss, appointed April 10, 1866, Lancelot Gilroy, appointed June 15, unknown year, James F. Slone February 20 1877, Edward Erlanger, November 6, 1877, and Miss Emma W. Rigg, March 19, 1878.
The ferry business prospered but in time the traffic became so heavy that Bliss built a toll bridge using lumber from two ferry boats. In 1873 a sturdier pile bridge with concrete footings replaced it. It is not known who built it, either Bliss or John Sutherland, who had purchased the ferry and bridge business that year.
It was this new bridge, without its gates that Tiburcio Vasquez and his men crossed in the evening of December 26, 1873, tied up nearly forty townsfolk, and robbed them. Various historians have told the following story:
About dusk the bandit gang of Tiburcio Vasquez left their horses, under guard, north of the river and crossed the bridge on foot. First meeting Oliver Bliss near the bridge, they tied him and left him lying on the ground. He complained that he was not comfortable and one of the bandits took a blanket from a wagon and placed it under his head. They met John Potts, Presley Bozeman, and Milt Brown near Bliss’ livery stable. They tied Potts and Bozeman,relieving Bozeman of $180. and marched Milt Brown to Reichert’s Hotel and robbed him there. They placed guards at the store of Jacobs and Einstein, at Solomon Sweet’s store, and at Reichert’s Hotel. In the hotel saloon they tied down and robbed ten men, collecting about four hundred dollars. In the sitting room of the hotel, Ed Douglas of Visalia refused to be tied; but a bandit struck him on the head with a revolver, knocked him down and relieved him of his valuables.
In the dining room Lancelot Gilroy, a stage operator, who was eating supper at a table, when Mrs. Reichert screamed as one of the bandits entered. Gilroy thinking that the man had insulted Mrs. Reichert, struck him with a chair and knocked him down. The bandit stood up, and, swinging his revolver, dealt Gilroy a stunning blow on the head, which ended his resistance. According to another version, three members of the gang were in the clash with Gilroy.
Edward Erlanger a clerk in Jacobs and Einstein’s store shouted an alarm, but by that time the bandits had the situation well in hand. They demanded the keys to the store safe. Einstein denied having them, saying his missing clerk had them, but being threatened with death, he gave them up. The safe yielded eight hundred dollars.
While they were looting the Sweet Store, a bandit outside yelled that he had been shot. James W. Sutherland and James E. Flood, who lived near the village, had seen or heard things that made them suspicious. They collected a few men and went to investigate, but one man, in his excitement, fired prematurely the shot that sent the bandits on their way. They had collected twenty-five hundred dollars in money and jewelry in the little town.
As late as 1879, Kingston had three stores, a livery stable, saloons, a school, a hotel, a post office, a stage depot, a doctor, and a race track. But Kingston went into decline and was mostly abandoned by 1890 when the post office was transferred to Lillis (another ghost town), then to Laton in 1900. The Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company dealt Kingston the final death blow when it bypassed the old townsite.
- The El Camino Viejo ran from San Francisco Bay south to Los Angeles and was established back in the late 1700s. At the time the El Camino Viejo was created San Joaquin Valley was an unsettled frontier inland wetland. The western route of the El Camino Viejo traversed the foothills of the Diablo Range roughly along the corridor California State Route 33 now occupies. The Eastern Route of the El Camino Viejo split along the west shore of Tulare Lake to the crossing of the Kings River in what became Kingston.