F.J. Netherton during his time as State Superintendent.
2017 is upon us and with a new year comes an intriguing new name discovery from Arizona, Frethias Jefferson Netherton. Sporting a highly unusual first name (which, as of this writing, is of indeterminate origin), "F.J" Netherton was a California native who found his calling in educational matters in the Arizona Territory. At the age of just 28, he was named as Superintendent of Public Instruction for that territory and served one term. Netherton would meet a sudden end in 1897 when he was thrown from his horse while on a cattle drive, dying of his injuries a short while later.
A native son of Contra Costa County, California, Frethias J. Netherton's birth occurred in that county on March 7, 1865, being one of several children born to John Smith and Matilda Estes Netherton. As a youth, he worked the family's "ranch-farm" near Martinez, California and attended the public school in Point of Timber, California. Young Frethias also studied at the Oakland High School (graduating in 1887) and would take the reins of the family farm in the mid-1880s due to his father being stricken blind.
Following his graduation, Netherton saw a future for himself in newspaper work, and for a short time was employed at the Oakland Enquirer. After several months in their employ, Netherton relocated to Mesa, Arizona in 1888, where he took on the position of principal of the Mesa public school. His time as principal extended five years and in 1893 reached his highest degree of public prominence when he was named as Arizona Territorial Superintendent of Public Instruction, an office that he would fill for two years.
As the highest ranking educational figure in the Arizona Territory, F.J. Netherton would be called to serve in several other capacities by virtue of his office, including memberships on the Board of Directors of the State Normal School, the Territorial Board of Education, Regent of the Arizona University and the Territorial Board of Examiners. Netherton would also hold the presidency of the Arizona Teacher's Association in 1893 and 1894, and in the last named year was a delegate to the National Editorial Association. One should also note that Netherton accomplished all of the above before reaching the age of thirty!
F.J. Netherton during his youth, courtesy of Find-A-Grave.
Netherton's time as Territorial Superintendent was widely lauded and received prominent mention in the 1896 Historical and Biographical Record of the Territory of Arizona. Remarked as a "genuine Jeffersonian Democrat", Netherton:
"Succeeded, to a great extent, in raising the standard of excellence in the teaching force in the Territory, and in arousing an interest in educational matters generally. His policy on matters of school economy, etc., is ably given in his addresses before the Arizona Teacher's Association and the biennial report to the Governor."
After leaving the post of superintendent Netherton continued to be actively involved in educational matters in the territory, becoming principal of the Yuma public schools. In 1897 he branched out into the butchery business, purchasing an interest in a meat market in Mesa, Arizona. In June of that year, he and several other men embarked on a cattle drive near Mesa, during which several cattle became separated from the rest of the herd. As the Arizona Sentinel later reported, Netherton rapidly dashed after them on horseback, only to be thrown over the horse's head when it suddenly halted due to the cattle stopping. The Sentinel later reported that:
"He struck the ground on his forehead and face, smashing the bones of the forehead, breaking his nose and terribly lacerating both eyes."
Following the accident, Netherton was taken back to Mesa, where he was recorded as being insensible for a short time. He would briefly regain consciousness but lived only a few hours after the accident, dying on June 30, 1897. Just thirty-two years old at the time of his death, Netherton's passing was widely reported throughout the territory, with many newspapers noting that "a young life, with so many bright prospects before it has been so suddenly extinguished." A lifelong bachelor, Frethias J. Netherton was survived his father John and several siblings. His body was later returned to California for burial in the Netherton family plot in the Union Cemetery in Brentwood.
Netherton's obituary from the Graham Guardian, July 9, 1897.