IOOF SONORA Lodge #10 and Cemetery

California Cemeteries, California Historic Places, IOOF

Stories From The Grave


Row 5, Plot 120

Thomas C. Birney was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, on March 17, 1835. At the age of seven his family moved to Livingston County, Michigan, then to Ingham County, in the same state.  In 1857, he came to California via the Isthmus of Panama and at once settled at Sawmill Flat. Here he engaged in mining. In 1863, he was elected District Assessor. He was his own successor in 1865. In 1867, he was elected District Collector and continued to hold that office for two years. In 1869, he was elected County Assessor and continued in the office until December 1875, when he resigned to take his seat in the Lower House of the Legislature. He was re-elected to the same office in 1881. In 1869 he married Catharine Boyle, a native of Jefferson County, New York.  Early in life Catharine Boyle married Edward Smith and in 1857 they had a son Edward. 

While Thomas found politics to be pleasant, he found them to be unprofitable. After serving his last term he returned to quartz mining. Years of patience paid off when he and his partners struck it rich in the Bald Mt. pocket claim and the Tanzy pocket claim. In a few years, his portion of the proceeds made him a rich man, but at the height of his success his ruined health threatened his life. Despite his bad health, Thomas Birney continued his mining enterprise, subsequently he purchased and improved the residence of the late John Walker on South Washington Street.  In this home, the couple spent their declining years.  Thomas Birney also became the president of the 29th District Agriculture Association. Much of his time, labor and money went to this institution, which he believed to be a benefit to the general public.

His career of activity ended with his death on September 7, 1903.  He passed away at the home of Marshall John H. Shine in San Francisco. Thomas Birney had traveled to the city two months prior to consult a doctor. Five years earlier, Thomas Birney had pneumonia from which he never fully recovered and he was gradually becoming weaker and weaker. He learned that his heart had been weakened and there was nothing the doctors could do for him. When Thomas Birney passed his devoted wife and step son, Edward (Smith) Birney, were at his side. 

Thomas Birney loved to do the right thing. He was kind hearted and charitable to his fellow-man and honest in all his business deals. Tuolumne County never had a better citizen and his death was mourned by all.  His funeral took place at his late residence in South Sonora under the direction of Tuolumne IOOF Lodge, #21, of Columbia, which Thomas Birney was a Past Grand. The interment took place in the IOOF Cemetery in Sonora.

Catharine Birney passed away on November 27th, 1909.  Her general health had been poor for many months. Her death was attributed to old age and pneumonia.  Catharine was laid to rest next to her husband in the beautiful Birney plot at the IOOF Cemetery in Sonora. 

Two years after Catharine pass away, on November 21st, 1911 her son Edward (Smith) Birney passed away in Stockton at the age of 53. He was afflicted with consumption, developed while he was working in Bald Mt pocket mine. Earlier in life he was known as one of the most popular stage coach drivers in the county. Later when railroad communication was started he turned his attention to mining.  He left behind a wife, two sons and two daughters. His remains were brought to Sonora and his funeral was held at the residence of Mrs. Harkness. Edward Birney was laid to rest in the Birney plot at the IOOF Cemetery in Sonora. Sadly, despite the inheritance left to him by his mother, he has no headstone/marker.  

Written by Denine Urquhart


Union Democrat