San Bernardino County
JOHN BROWN, JR.
The late John
Brown, Jr., was the eldest son of John Brown, Sr., the famous Rocky Mountain
explorer, hunter, and trapper, whose biographical sketch is found elsewhere in
this work. He was born in a log cabin
situated on the bank of Greenhorn Creek, a tributary of the Arkansas River in Huerfano County,
territory of New
Mexico, now Colorado,
on October 3, 1847.
When about a year
old he experienced an almost miraculous escape from the Apache Indians, and
owed his life to the sublime courage of his devoted mother. This section of the Centennial State
was at that time a vast wilderness inhabited mainly by various savage
tribes. His father and fellow
mountaineers, having accumulated a large quantity of buffalo robes and beaver
pelts, concluded to send a pack train to Taos, New Mexico, their trading post
at that time, whence, after selling their peltries, the would return with
provisions. Mrs. Brown, with her baby
boy accompanied this expedition and on the way through the mountains they were
attacked by a band of Apache Indians, who captured the whole pack train and
killed some of the hunters. While
fleeing on horseback from these pursuing and desperate warriors, some of the
men shouted to Mrs. Brown, “Throw that child away or the Indians will get you,”
but the faithful mother indignantly exclaimed while endeavoring to escape as
fast as the fleet horse could run with her, “Never; when that baby boy is
thrown away, I will go with him.”
Fortunately, the pursued cavalcade soon reached a deep ravine, where the
hunters were safe from the arrows and bullets of the Indians, who feared to
approach further, and withdrew, having captured the pack train with the buffalo
robes and beaver pelts, one of the principal objects they were after. These hunters, with Mrs. Brown and her baby,
were glad to reach Taos,
the trading post, alive.
To show the
dangers the frontiersman underwent in this wild and unexplored region, Mr.
Brown, when endeavoring to farm on the banks of the stream, often dug a rifle
pit in the middle of his corn field in which he could jump to defend himself
with his trusty Kentucky rifle, which he always carried with him, ready for an
attack at any time.
Early in 1849 the
news of the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill reached the mountaineers, so Mr.
Brown. James W. Waters, V. J. Herring, Alexander Godey and others formed a
traveling party, for protection on the way, and soon were crossing plains,
reaching Salt Lake City, July 4, 1849, and Sutter’s Fort, California, September
15, 1849, Mr. Brown bringing his family
with him, among them his son John, who was then going on two years of age. In 1852, Mr. Brown moved south to San Bernardino, and became a resident of Fort San Bernardino,
next door neighbor to Uncle Sheldon Stoddard, Captain Jefferson Hunt, and
Edward Daley. Although John was but five
years of age, he always remembered the first teachers, Ellen Pratt and William
Stout, who taught before the two old adobe schoolrooms were built on Fourth Street, and
among the incidents he remembered the balloon ascension in the fort.
In 1854 the
family removed to Yucipa Valley, about twelve miles southeast from San Bernardino, where
John’s father farmed and raised stock for three years. Returning to San Bernardino in 1857, they move into the
home on the corner of D and Sixth Streets, which has been the Brown homestead
since that time, a period of seventy-five years, and where our subject grew to
vigorous manhood. John Brown, Jr., attended
the public and private schools in San Bernardino
and finally graduated from St. Vincent’s College
of Los Angeles and Santa Clara College
in Santa Clara County.
He followed the vocation of teaching for a number of years, served one
term as county school superintendent, presided over the board of education, and
was city attorney one term, in all of which honorable positions he acquitted
himself to the general satisfaction. He
studied law under Judge Horace C. Rolfe, and was admitted to practice in the
supreme court of the state and federal courts.
It can be truly said of him that he espoused the cause of the poor and
oppressed, and advised settlement of all cases before going to law, if
possible. He was pre-eminently the
friend of the aged, and was beloved by the children, who regarded him as a true
Santa Claus. Even the poor Indian found
in him a faithful champion of his rights.
Not only the local Coahuila and Serrani Indian tribes, but those at Warren’s Ranch, in May,
1903, sent for him to come to their rescue when they were deprived of their old
home where they and their ancestors had lived for centuries, and removed to the
On July 4, 1876,
in San Bernardino, he married Miss Mattie Ellen
Hinman, of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Nellie Hinman Brown, their only child, was born in San Bernardino, June 1, 1877, and on March 2,
1904, was married to Charles H. Wiggett.
They have two children: Martha Eliza Wiggett, born in San
Bernardino, July 13, 1905; and Charles Brown Wiggett, born in Bellemont, Arizona,
September 23, 1906.
The friends of
John Brown, Jr. always knew him as an ardent patriot; the American flag floated
over his home on all national, state or municipal holidays, and waved from pine
to pine at his Forty-nine camp. With
that veteran school teacher of precious memory, Henry C. Brooke, he raised the
Star Spangled Banner over many of the schoolhouses in the county, in the early
‘70s, thus beginning a custom that was afterwards adopted by the state, and
calculated to inspire patriotism in the hears of the rising generation. He was indebted to his father for starting
him in his patriotic career. It was his
father who rode on horseback to Fort Tejon and obtained a flag from his old friend, S. A.
Bishop, and brought it to display at the first celebration of the 4th of July,
in San Bernardino,
in 1853. He was chairman of the
republican county central committee in 1860, and with his boys, John, Joseph
and James, hauled wood to kindle fires to arouse the Americans to support
Abraham Lincoln for president and to support the Union,
and in 1864 displayed the same activity in supporting President Lincoln for the
second term. In 1868 John cast his
maiden vote for the candidate of the Republican Party; General U. S. Grant, and
remained loyal to that party, believing that by so doing he was contributing to
the highest welfare of the American people under one flag, one constitution,
with liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable.
He inherited from
his father the lure of the wild, the out-of-door, close contact with
nature. The hunting and fishing grounds
of the San Bernardino
range of mountains were familiar to him.
Eastward from Old Baldy, Job’s Peak, Saw Pit Canyon, Strawberry Peak,
Little Bear Valley, Little Green Valley, Big Bear Valley, Sugar Loaf Mountain,
San Bernardino and towering Grayback, eleven thousand, six hundred feet into
the sky, was the enchanted and inspiring region of many a joyful hour with his
genial companions, Bill Holcomb, George Miller, Sydney Waite, Taney Woodward,
Major Harris, Jap Corbett and Dave Wixom.
In the summer of 1882 he visited the Atlantic and middle states with his
wife and their little daughter Nellie – Bunker Hill, where his father’s
grandfather fell in the War of the Revolution, Plymouth Rock, Mount Vernon and Washington’s
Tomb, Independence Hall, Niagara Falls, Ford’s Theater, where Lincoln was
assassinated, and Faneuil Hall, the cradle of American liberty.
On January 21,
1888, he was present at the old courthouse on Court Street, San Bernardino, with his father and those
veteran pioneers, James W. Waters, George Lord, Sydney P. Waite, William F.
Holcomb, G. W. Suttenfield, Henry M. Willis, N. G. Gill, Tom Roberts, and De La
M. Woodward, and aided in the organization of the San Bernardino Society of
California Pioneers, which venerable body elected him as secretary, which
responsible position he filled to the time of his death, a period of forty-four
years, with but one exception, when the members elected him as president, W. F.
Holcomb acting a secretary that year.
Solicitous of the comfort and entertainment of the children who attended
the meeting with childish interest and curiosity, he did not forget greetings
to the great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers who dignified the weekly
assemblages of the Argonaut, where the declining years are made happier.
John Brown, Jr.,
passed away August 3, 1932, after a brief illness with pneumonia, leaving a
host of friends who testify to a life well spent.
Transcribed by Bill Simpkins.
Source: California of the South
Vol. II, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 319-323, Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles, Indianapolis. 1933.
© 2012 Bill Simpkins.
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