Publication 216, The First 100 Years


Fourth District

Tyler Davis Heiskell


Born in Lee County, Virginia December 1, 1823, Tyler Davis Heiskell traveled from Tennessee to California by wagon train and arrived in 1850. His diary indicates that he settled in Indian Diggins, EI Dorado County in 1852 and began mining. In 1861 he moved to a ranch along the Stanislaus River near Oakdale, where he engaged in farming, sheep raising and politics. In 1878 Heiskell was elected as a delegate to the 1879 Constitutional Convention. Heiskell served as a Member of the Board of Equalization from 1879 to 1882. He moved to Tulare in 1889 where he died December 8, 1897.

John Markley


John Markley was born in Greenville, South Carolina April 11, 1843. At the beginning of the Civil War, he enlisted in the Butler Guards in Greenville. Disabled a year later, he returned home. In 1869 he moved to California and settled in Auburn in the drug business. He moved to Monterey and served three terms as County Clerk (1874-1879). He served one term as a Member of the Board of Equalization and was subsequently appointed Chief Clerk of the U.S. Mint in San Francisco. In 1894 he served as Secretary of the Democratic State Central Committee. Governor James H. Budd appointed Markley Secretary of the State Board of Examiners. From 1898 to 1902, he was a Member of the State Board of Bank Commissioners. He sold his property in Geyserville, Sonoma County, and moved to Sutter County, where he purchased extensive acreage. He owned one of the largest and finest vineyards in the Central Valley. Markley died July 23, 1911, while he was visiting relatives in Greenville.

The Great Register of the Healdsburg Museum provides the following description of John Markley: “Age 53, five feet, eight-and-one-half inches in height, with dark complexion, dark brown hair, hazel eyes.” John Markley is the only Board Member whose photograph does not appear in this History. No Markley photograph has been located despite exhaustive efforts.

John T. Gaffey


Born in Galway, Ireland, November 1, 1860, John Gaffey came to the United States in 1865 and settled in Santa Cruz where his family developed a large sheep and cattle ranch. After one year at the University of California, he left in 1879 to become a reporter for the Santa Cruz Herald, which he later owned and managed for three years. He was appointed Undersheriff of Santa Cruz County, then moved to Los Angeles where he had been appointed Clerk of the Supreme Court for the Southern District of California. In 1886 he was elected to the Board of Equalization. After one term, he returned to journalism as the managing editor of the Los Angeles Evening Herald. In 1893 President Grover Cleveland appointed Gaffey Collector of Customs for the Southern District of California.

James R. Hebbron


Born in London, August 27, 1828, James Hebbron came by sea to San Francisco in 1851 and settled in Sonoma County. Though he was active in politics, his main interest seems to have been ranching. Twelve years after serving as a member of the State Board of Equalization, he took up residence in Monterey County and entered the cattle raising business. Although well into his seventies, he became the principal organizer of Monterey County's Republican party. Around 1911, Hebbron organized the Salinas Rodeo. He died October 18, 1926 at age 98.

George L. Arnold


Born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin November 11, 1852, George Arnold came to California in 1887. In 1895 he was elected to the Board of Equalization. Afterward he served one term on the Los Angeles Police Commission. He was president of the Los Angeles Olive Growers Association from 1894 until 1903. In 1903 he opened his own brokerage office which he operated until his death, June 28, 1914.

Thomas O. Toland


Born in Alabama, Thomas Toland came to California in 1875 at the age of 18. He taught school in Ventura County for many years and later went into the real estate business. After passing the bar in 1889, Toland began practicing law. He became the Ventura County District Attorney and in 1897, represented the county in the State Assembly. A strong Democrat, Toland was elected to the Board of Equalization from a heavily Republican district.

Frank Mattison


Frank Mattison was born on a ranch near Soquel in Santa Cruz County. Mattison was elected to the Board of Equalization for one term. In 1907 Governor James M. Gillett suspended State Controller A. B. Nye and appointed Frank Mattison to replace him. This action precipitated a bitter political struggle in which Nye eventually triumphed through court action. Mattison's last public office was as Commissioner of Public Health and Safety in Santa Cruz. He died at his home in Santa Cruz County January 15, 1920.

Jefferson McElvaine


Born and raised in San Bernardino County, Jefferson McElvaine spent most of his adult life in politics. He had served as City and County Assessor of San Bernardino before being elected three times to the Board of Equalization. One of the best known politicians in southern California, he died in Los Angeles June 30, 1921 at age 59.

Philip D. Wilson


Philip Wilson came to California from Denver in 1904, where he had served as the western representative for the stock and bond house of William P. Bonbright and Company of New York and London. In 1909 he was elected secretary of the Los Angeles Realty Board. He resigned in January, 1917, to join the real estate firm of Lawrence V. Burch and Company. In 1918, he was elected to the Board of Equalization to represent the Fourth District. He died tragically in his ninth month of office on September 14, 1919, when a car in which he was riding was struck by a train in Pasadena.

Harvey G. Cattell


Harvey G. Cattell was born in Harrisville, Ohio, October 1, 1861 of Quaker parentage. He was raised in Iowa and moved to Ogden, Utah in 1898. He came to Pasadena in 1903 where he lived for 28 years. Elected to the California Assembly in 1910, he introduced the suffrage bill in the 1911 session which led to the submission of the equal suffrage amendment for voter approval. Cattell served 15 years with the Board of Equalization, four years on the Pasadena City Council, and for many years on the board of directors for the Pasadena Tournament of Roses.

Ofra Jean Shontz


Orfa Jean Shontz was the first woman ever to serve on the Board, and the only woman ever elected to the Board. Born in Avoca, Iowa, she earned her law degree in 1914 after attending Iowa State College at Ames and the University of California at Los Angeles. She served Los Angeles city and county in the following capacities: Probation Officer, 1911–1914; Referee, Probate Court, 1914-1915; First Referee of Juvenile Court, 1915–1920; and City Clerk, 1921. She was in private law practice from 1922 to 1933. In 1935 she was elected to the Board of Equalization. After less than a year in office, Shontz resigned on December 12, 1935. Her move appears to have been politically motivated, and prompted by Governor Merriam who appointed her to a vacancy in the Los Angeles Municipal Court, and named his own appointee to the Board.

Ray Edgar


Born in Iowa around 1873, Ray Edgar came to California in 1892. As a young man, Edgar played a large part in water development in the Imperial Valley. Prior to serving on the Board of Equalization, he had been a state inheritance tax appraiser. When Orfa Jean Shontz resigned in 1935, Governor Merriam appointed Ray Edgar to the Board. Edgar, who lived in San Clemente, died suddenly on February 12, 1938 at age 65, before completing his term of office.

William G. Bonelli


William G. Bonelli was born on a ranch in Kingman, Arizona, November 9, 1895. He came to Los Angeles in 1912 to finish high school, graduated from the University of Southern California and then attended Occidental College where he received a master’s degree in 1923. After earning his law degree from Southwestern University in 1924, he was admitted to the California Bar in 1925. Bonelli became an Associate Professor of Political Science at Occidental in 1922 and taught for seven years. In 1927 he was elected to the Los Angeles City Council and served as Council President. He was elected to the Assembly in 1931 and was appointed to the State Board of Equalization in March 1938.

Bonelli was perhaps the most controversial member in the history of the Board of Equalization. He had been in office just a year when he was indicted on bribery charges based on alleged misdealings in liquor licenses, but he was acquitted. However, on the eve of his election in 1954, additional allegations surfaced and he was defeated after nearly 17 years in office. He was subsequently indicted by the San Diego County grand jury, but was never brought to trial. After his defeat he immediately left for Arizona where for two years he successfully fought off California's attempt to extradite him. He then fled to Mexico where he remained until his death, November 21, 1970. He never ceased asserting his innocence.

Robert E. McDavid


Born December 29, 1908 in Grayson, Kentucky, a graduate of Northwestern University, McDavid was a Certified Public Accountant in both Illinois and California. He was an auditor for eastern CPA firms during 1935 and 1936. In 1945 he founded the Robert McDavid and Company, CPA firm in Los Angeles. It was McDavid who beat Bonelli in the 1954 election. He served one term.

Richard Nevins


Born in Pasadena in April 1921, Richard Nevins attended schools there and later went to Yale University. He graduated in 1943 with a bachelor of arts degree in government. After serving three years with the Army Air Force, Nevins joined an insurance brokerage firm. He was elected to the Board of Equalization in 1958 to represent eight southern California counties with a population of eleven million. Following the 1971 reapportionment his district boundaries were changed. He represents five million people in Los Angeles County. A strong supporter of AB 80 and advocate of the 1967 Senior Citizens Property Tax Assistance Law and its 1973 augmentation, Nevins has petitioned the Commission on Government Reform to analyze the impact of state and local taxes on individuals, families, and business.