Left: Luther fenced in the parent navel orange trees at the Tibbets home to protect them from the theft of valuable buds. Right: Tibbets house on Central Avenue with the parent navel orange trees behind barbed wire.

Luther C Tibbets

Luther C. Tibbets was one of John North’s original colonists. He met North in Washington D.C. and with his Virginia business failing as a result of his support for the Union, Tibbets and his third wife, Eliza, decided to join North’s colony in California.
Among the colony’s first pioneers, according to local historian Tom Patterson, Luther Tibbets “took up squatter’s rights on the Government Tract in December 1870. By all accounts he was an irascible and argumentative character, a man of high principles but a rather loose grasp on reality. He was constantly embroiled in controversy, and had an insatiable appetite for lawsuits. For a time he manned a small stockade, complete with gunports, to protect his corrals from marauders, and was once seriously injured by a shotgun blast during an argument with a neighbor over a grain crop.”
Presumably this reference is to the pound he kept for impounded stray horses and cattle in the Government Tract, collecting fees levied against their owners. By all accounts he “built a bullet-proof fort inside the corral” where he spent some nights on guard. Considered an eccentric and (along with his wife) one of the “town characters,” Luther was “once shot for trespassing” and another time for “trying to harvest a crop on what he said was government land.”
It is doubtful that Luther C. Tibbets had much to do with the care and nurturing of Riverside’s first navel orange trees. While they grew in a fenced enclosure on his property, it is widely held that it was his wife, Eliza who obtained and nurtured the parent trees that gave rise to the region’s citrus boom.
Minnie Tibbets Mills, one of Luther’s daughters from his first marriage, waged a campaign to restore dignity to her father. Published in 1942 in the “Quarterly of the Historical Society of Southern California,” her account challenged the record. Mrs. Mills saw to it that a second plaque was erected for her father in 1935 at the site of the original trees. In addition, says Patterson, “It apparently was Mrs. Mills who arranged to place Luther’s name on a headstone in Evergreen Cemetery. There she did her most uninhibited job of scoring for Luther … as nothing less than ‘Founder of the Navel Orange Industry, 1873.’ … On the opposite side of the same stone are the names of herself and her husband, Dr. Charles F. Mills…. Although Eliza’s body lies along side Luther’s, her name is omitted from the marker.”