Ralph Jacobus Fairbanks

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Ralph Jacobus Fairbanks (December 26, 1857 – October 3, 1943) was an American prospector, entrepreneur and pioneer who established several towns in the Death Valley area of California, including Fairbanks Springs[1] (1904–05), Shoshone (1910), and Baker (1929).

Fairbanks was born to Mormon pioneer parents David and Susan Mandeville Fairbanks in Payson, Utah, on December 26, 1857.[2] He was a descendant of Jonathan Fairbanks, whose 17th-century house still stands in Dedham, Massachusetts. He married Celestia Adelaide Johnson in 1877 and they had eleven children,[3] but only eight survived to adulthood. He followed a job with the railroad at start of the 20th century south to Las Vegas, Nevada, and eventually moved his family to Death Valley.

Earlier in 1883, Fairbanks had been among those called by John Taylor to start a new settlement in the Sevier Valley.[4]

R. J. "Dad" Fairbanks, as he was known to locals, built businesses and towns throughout the region and built the first Standard Oil service station[5] in the area, in Baker. He was well known for saving tourists and prospectors who wandered into the desert and also recovered the bodies of those who were not lucky enough to be found in time.

When Ralph was in his 70s, he moved to Santa Paula, California, with his wife Celeste to live with their youngest daughter, Zella Modine, and her family. Celeste died in 1938 and Ralph moved to Hollywood, California, with Zella and granddaughter Nola Fairbanks. Ralph died on October 3, 1943 at the Hollywood Nursing Home. His great-grandson is actor Matthew Modine.

Though his parents and wife were LDS, Fairbanks was never a devout member of the faith.[4]


  1. ^ Pilgrims in the Desert: The Early History of the East Mojave (2005) Le Hayes, Mojave River Valley Historical Association (2005). Pilgrims in the Desert. Self Published. ISBN 0-918614-16-3. 
  2. ^ The Fairbanks Family in America, Lorenzo Sayles Fairbanks, 1897 https://books.google.com/books?id=rbJ3WLoOEo0C&pg=PA785&lpg=PA785&dq=ralph+jacobus+fairbanks&source=web&ots=9I2hPzG4U1&sig=aoC_HvsVrWCIXAirjGEODjcklOY
  3. ^ Genealogy of Ralph Jacobus Fairbanks http://www.websitetherapy.com/larkin/shoshone/pafg02.htm#14
  4. ^ a b Le Hayes, Mojave River Valley Historical Association (2005). Pilgrims in the Desert. Self Published. ISBN 0-918614-16-3. 
  5. ^ Photo of R.J. "Dad" Fairbanks station in Baker, CA (1931) http://content.ci.pomona.ca.us/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/Frasher&CISOPTR=7575&CISOBOX=1&REC=7

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