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Glenn County






            With the tide of emigration which flowed into California during the colorful days of ’49, there came into the Sacramento Valley a young doctor, twenty-five years of age, scion of one of Virginia’s most aristocratic families, and here for the frank purpose of making his fortune by the discovery of gold.  He was not the hardened type of adventurer who followed the frontier, but, on the contrary, was simply a young man of good education and excellent character, possessed of high courage and true ideals, and inspired by the romantic lure of the great gold rush.  He had won conspicuous honors in medical college, and undoubtedly was upon the threshold of a brilliant professional career, but that which the medical world lost California gained, for he lived to become one of the outstanding men of the Sacramento Valley, the owner of vast farm lands, a humanitarian, an educationist, a successful business man, and by every criterion by which men are judged a clean-minded and honorable gentleman.  Dr. Hugh James Glenn was of that class of good citizens who dragged California out of the muck of lawlessness and sordid conditions which invariably followed the discovery of nature’s hidden wealth.  He found that for which he had crossed the plains – gold, and he found it in abundant quantities, but the acquisition of wealth failed to dim the light of his finer ideals.  He remained the same throughout his life, through a career consistent in the expression of noble purposes.  His influence was predominant among his contemporaries; his astute judgment and kindly counsel were greatly sought; in short, among the men of his time no test by comparison operated to his discredit.

            Hugh James Glenn was born September 18, 1824 in Mt. Vernon, Augusta county, Virginia, a son of George Glenn.  The Glenn’s’ are of Scotch descent, members of the family having first come to America in 1730, settling in Pennsylvania.  In Chester county of that state there is now a town, Glennville, so named for them.  About the year 1840, the family moved to Augusta county, Virginia, near Staunton, where the old Glenn home is yet in possession of descendants.

            Having obtained the education offered by the schools of his home community, Hugh James Glenn determined to make the practice of medicine his life’s work.  Accordingly, he matriculated in the State Medical University of St. Louis, Missouri.  However, his studies here were interrupted by the outbreak of the Mexican War.  In company with a number of his fellow students, he enlisted in the First Missouri Regiment of Mounted Volunteers, under the command of General Sterling Price, and served through the ensuing campaigns with credit to himself, participating in the battles of Taos and Moro.  In the spring of 1847, hostilities having ceased, he received his honorable discharge from the army, and immediately returned to medical college, where he graduated in 1848, with highest honors in a class of 200.

            On March 13, 1849, Dr. Glenn was married to Miss Nancy Harrison Abernethy, of Virginia, a daughter of Judge James Robert and Rosanna (Davis) Abernethy.  Just a few weeks later, on May 12, 1849, he regretfully bade adieu to his young bride and began his long journey across the country to California – to seek his share of the fabulous wealth which was being taken from the soil.  He arrived in Sacramento late in August, after weeks of hardship and unusual experiences.  Doctor Glenn had charge of one of the wagons in the overland train which he accompanied, which conveyance was so heavily laden that finally it had to be lightened, and this situation made it imperative that the doctor walk most of the distance.

            Having arrived at Sacramento, Dr. Glenn camped on the site of the present Golden Eagle Hotel, and Seventh and K Streets.  He did not remain here long, however, but left for the diggings on the north fork of the American River, near Coloma, on Murderer’s bar, where he staked his claim and began operations.  He was immediately successful, and within a few months had realized his most optimistic dreams of wealth.  In the spring of 1850 he hastened to return to his bride in the east, this time, however, by sailing vessel around the Horn, after a voyage of several months he landed at New York.  In 1852 he returned to California by the overland route, bringing his wife with him, with the intention of establishing his home here.

            Thrilling adventures marked this second trip across the plains and mountains.  Emigration in that year was light, and the Indians were as a result more venturesome in their attacks on the white men’s trains.  Along the route through northern Utah the Snake and Shoshone tribes sent out their marauding parties to raid the stock of the emigrants.  One morning after he and his companions had encamped for the night in this locality, Dr. Glenn found several horses missing.  Thinking they had merely strayed from the camp, he went back over the trail in search of them.  He soon found them, but with the animals were eight or ten savages, who had stolen them.  Immediately the fight began.  The Indians held the advantage, for they were armed with rifles, while the Doctor had only his revolver, but he used it cautiously and was enabled to protect his retreat, assisted by the shelter of rocks and trees.  The Indians crowded him closely, and his predicament was becoming critical, when help arrived.  His companions, having heard the firing in the distance and realizing the cause, had hastened to his assistance, just in time.  Seeing the rescuers, the redskins hastily decamped and the courageous Doctor was soon returned to his wife, anxiously awaiting him at the camp.  The revolver which he used is now in possession of Sutter Fort, Sacramento.

            Arriving in California for the second time, Dr. Glenn made a temporary home for his wife on Stony creek, at the northeast corner of his later famous ranch.  He likewise made a home for his family in Sacramento, where three of his children were subsequently born.  In 1868, they left Sacramento to take up their residence on the ranch which he had acquired, and still later a home was purchased at Oakland, on Lake Merritt, where the family continued to live for a time after the death of the Doctor.

            Dr. Glenn has been frequently termed the “largest farmer in the world,” as he personally superintended the operations of his huge holdings with most versatile ability and consummate skill.  His ranch consisted of sixty-five thousand acres, of which forty-five thousand acres were used in the cultivation of wheat.  In one season, his crop of wheat filled three hundred and fifty thousand sacks, each holding one hundred and forty pounds of grain.  The ranch itself was subdivided into nine smaller ranches, for convenience, each ranch having had a dwelling house, barns, blacksmith shop, and other necessary buildings.  He manufactured in his own shops nearly all the machinery and vehicles required, and during harvest time employed one hundred and fifty men, also utilizing two hundred horses and mules.  One threshing machine used on his ranch had a capacity of seven thousand bushels a day, and another was of only slightly less capacity.  There were thirty-two dwellings, fourteen blacksmith shops, and seventy-seven barns; in all, including other structures, about one hundred buildings, and valued at one hundred thousand dollars.  Dr. Glenn built three stores from which to supply his host of employees.  One of these stores was swept into the Sacramento River during a flood, another was burned, but the third is still standing.  In the village of Jacinto, which he developed on his ranch, were a store, a hotel, a ferry, shops, warehouses and numerous dwellings, everything necessary for comfort and convenience, even if lacking the luxuries.  He also built a telegraph line connecting with the town of Colusa, twenty-seven miles distant.  The largest acreage within one fence on the Glenn ranch consisted of ten thousand acres, a vast tract of land in itself.  On the Jacinto ranch, as it was called, he had at one time one thousand workhorses and mules, with a kinship of one thousand brood mares and younger stock.  Dr. Glenn also owned a large stock farm in eastern Oregon and another in northwestern Nevada, the Oregon farm, with stock, having been valued at four hundred thousand dollars.

            Dr. Glenn also built a school and paid the salary of the teacher, in order that the children of his employees might be educated insofar as possible. After the school building was erected and the teacher secured, Mrs. Glenn promised the children that if they should attend the classes and not miss many days she would give them a big picnic at stated intervals.  As many of the children’s parents were illiterate, with no idea of the value of education, Mrs. Glenn sought by this simple appeal to interest the children.

            The Glenn ranch home was a large rambling structure, a story and a half in height, and containing twenty rooms.  Part of the house was on the land when the first purchase was made, and the remainder was added as needed.  The original four rooms of the home were built on materials brought by vessel around the Horn.  Pegs were used instead of nails, and the very few nails used in its construction were hand-wrought.  The architecture of the home was of early southern type, with a broad, spacious hall running the entire length of the house.  The house and furnishings of the Glenn home now remain precisely as they were during the life of the owner.  The house is furnished in a handsome, comfortable style befitting the mansion of a rich and worthy man:  fine walnut and mahogany pieces, hand-carved, and massive, gilt-framed mirrors adorn the interior, without pretentious display.  Surrounding this beautiful home on the bank of the Sacramento River is a garden of beautiful flowers, while across the highway are vineyards and orchards.  In the garden a profusion of large trees of many species, flowers and shrubs and vines provide an artistic setting for this historic homestead of the Glenn family.  The hospitality which reigned within this home was also of the cultured southern type – unostentatious yet elegant, simple yet abundant.  The family table had the abundance of the wealthy farmer and the careful superintendence of trained housewifery.

            Dr. Glenn’s multitudinous duties prevented his active participation in public affairs, but in 1879 he was selected by the party of the New Constitution as its candidate for governor of California, and he was considered eminently fitted for the place.  He was unsuccessful in the election, however.  Colusa county was divided in 1891, and the northern division was called Glenn county in his honor.  He was a personality beloved by all who knew him.  He was a southern gentleman of true type, and was always attired in a Prince Albert coat, fancy waistcoat, and soft wide-brimmed hat, such as was worn below the Mason and Dixon line.  In the year 1883, when fifty-nine years of age, Dr. Hugh James Glenn was called by death and his passing was sincerely mourned wherever he was known.  His widow survived him, but spent her remaining years at Oakland, never returning to the Jacinto home.

            To the marriage of Doctor Glenn and his wife were born nine children, namely:  Alphonso Gleave, born April 25, 1852, died April 1, 1888; Emma, born in 1854, died in 1857; Jefferson, born in 1856, died in 1857; Charles H., born in 1858; Ella, born March 30, 1860; Frank Buckner, born in 1862; Eva B., born in 1864, died in 1874; Hugh, born in 1868, died in 1888, and Roy, born in 1870, died in 1890.  Ella Glenn was married January 1, 1882, to John William French, and by this marriage is the mother of a son, Hugh Glenn French, born September 22, 1883.  She was married secondly, February 9, 1893, to Charles Lee Leonard, now deceased.  She is wide recognized as a public-spirited woman, a loyal native daughter of California, and inspired by her justifiable pride of family, and pride in her worthy father.  She is esteemed by all the pioneers, in whose interests she has been an unceasing worker.  Recently she read an essay at Mills College in Oakland which she had written fifty years ago, when she graduated from that school.


Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.

Source: Wooldridge, J. W. Major,  History of Sacramento Valley California, Vol. 2 Pages 373-377. Pioneer Historical Publishing Co. Chicago 1931.

 © 2010  Gerald Iaquinta.




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