John Marsh (pioneer)

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John Marsh
John Marsh, Pioneer, 1852.jpg
John Marsh in 1852
Born 1799
Danvers, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died 1856
Pacheco, California
Alma mater Harvard
Occupation Medical Doctor, Rancher
Known for Early California pioneer
Spouse(s) Abigail Smith Tuck

John Marsh was born in 1799 in South Danvers, Massachusetts and died in Pacheco, California in 1856. He was an early pioneer and settler in Alta California, the first Harvard graduate and the first to practice medicine there. He knew Hebrew, Latin and Greek, and was the first to compile a dictionary of the Sioux language.[1][2] He became one of the wealthiest ranchers in California, and was one of the most influential men in the establishment of California statehood.[3][4]

Early life[edit]

Marsh graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover in 1819. He attended Harvard University from 1819 to 1823 and received a bachelor's degree. Colbruno writes that Marsh was dismissed from Harvard for participating in a student uprising. He was readmitted in 1821, after promising not to engage in any further disturbances. He originally planned to study for the ministry, but changed his major to medicine after his readmission.[5] He then studied medicine with a Boston doctor.[6]

Marsh migrated west, living in the Michigan Territory, where he opened a school, the first in what is now Minnesota. Marsh then became an Indian agent for the Sioux Agency at Fort Snelling, [a] At Fort Snelling, Marsh took a French/Indian mistress named Marguerite Decouteaux, who bore him a son named Charles.[5][6] Territorial Governor Lewis Cass appointed Marsh to the position of Justice of the Peace in Crawford County (which included what is now southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, and portions of Iowa and Minnesota), whereupon he became known as "Judge Marsh."[7][8]

Marsh resumed his study of medicine, with a Dr. Purcell, post doctor for Fort Snelling, but never received a certificate because his mentor died before Marsh finished his studies.[5] He lived in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, where he got involved in the Black Hawk War between the Sioux and their rivals, the Fox and Sauk, and was blamed for a massacre of the Fox and Sauk by the Sioux.[9] As a result, he was forced to flee to New Salem, Illinois[disambiguation needed], taking his mistress and small child with him.[1] Leaving them there, he returned to Prairie du Chien. Marguerite, who was pregnant and pining for Marsh, tried to walk for several hundred miles to rejoin him. The journey exhausted her and she and the baby died in childbirth. Marsh then gave his small son, Charles, to a Painter family in New Salem to be raised, and once again became involved in Indian affairs. He was discovered selling guns illegally to some of the Indians and had to flee the territory, this time settling in Independence, Missouri, where he became a merchant. He visited his son once more, then his business failed and in 1836 he emigrated, in the employ of the American Fur Company to Santa Fe, New Mexico and thence to Southern California via the Santa Fe Trail.[10][11]

In California[edit]

In southern California, Marsh found that he was the only person who had any knowledge of western medicine. He presented his Harvard degree to the local Mexican Government of Alta California. The degree was written in Latin, which none of the local authorities could read, so they took his word and granted him permission to practice medicine. Marsh was quite successful in his new profession, but his prices were very high, sometimes as much as a head of cattle to deliver a baby. He is credited as being the first person to practice medicine in California.[10][12][13]

He was paid in the currency of the day, cowhides and tallow. Marsh joked that his adobe looked more like a warehouse than the offices of a physician. In 1836, he sold his accumulated inventory to a Boston trader for $500 and rode to Northern California seeking a ranch to purchase. Since only Catholics in California were allowed to own land, he became baptised as a Roman Catholic.[14][15][16][17] In 1837 he acquired the Rancho Los Meganos, a Mexican land grant, from Jose Noriega on what is now called Marsh Creek on the western edge of the town of Brentwood and just to the east of what is now Clayton, California (acquisition of the rancho seems to indicate that Marsh had become a naturalized Mexican citizen).[citation needed] The price he paid for the rancho was $500 (all of his savings). He thus became the first non-Hispanic white settler in what is now Contra Costa County.[18][19][20]

Marsh prospered there, both as a rancher and as a doctor. In practicing medicine, he again charged very high prices, generally in relation to how far he had to travel to see the patient (which often meant being away from his ranch for days or weeks).[21] There is some evidence that he cared for some of the survivors of the Donner Party while living near Mount Diablo. Marsh acquired tens of thousands of head of cattle and lived the life of a wealthy ranchero. In addition, he paid very low wages to his workers, and many of them hated him. However, in 1841, when the first American emigrant party, the Bartleson-Bidwell Party, came to California from Missouri, Marsh invited them to be his guests, and thus the California Trail terminated in Brentwood.[22]

After entertaining members of the Bartleson-Bidwell Party, as Marsh retired for the evening, he invited them to slaughter one of his steers for breakfast the next morning. However, to his horror, the next day he found that they had not only helped themselves to a steer, but also slaughtered his best work oxen, a highly valuable commodity and critical component on a ranch. Even though this was probably done by mistake, Marsh was angry and bitter toward the party. Later there were further disagreements, and the unapologetic John Bidwell reportedly said that "John Marsh is the meanest man I ever met."[23][24]

As early as 1837, Marsh realized that owning a great rancho was problematic if he could not hold it. The corrupt and unpredictable rulings by courts in California (then part of Mexico) made this questionable. With evidence that the Russians, French and English were preparing to seize the province, he determined to make it a part of the United States. He felt that the best way to go about this was to encourage emigration by Americans to California, and in this way the history of Texas would be repeated.[25][26]

Marsh conducted a letter-writing campaign espousing the California climate, soil and other reasons to settle there, as well as the best route to follow, which became known as "Marsh's route." His letters were read, reread, passed around, and printed in newspapers throughout the country, and started the first significant immigration to California.[27] He invited immigrants to stay on his ranch until they could get settled, and assisted in their obtaining passports.[28]

After ushering in the period of organized emigration to California, Marsh helped take California from the last Mexican governor, thereby paving the way to California's ultimate acquisition by the United States.[29][30]

Marsh worked behind the scenes to promote American statehood, at the urging of U.S. consul Thomas O. Larkin, and in March 1845 wrote a letter signed by himself and 23 other expatriates, announcing a clandestine meeting for the Fourth of July. This letter has been designated the "Call To Foreigners" by modern historians. While Marsh does not take credit as the author it is universally agreed that it is his work. The meeting’s purpose was to, "promote the union and harmony and best interests of all the foreigners resident in California..."[22] Marsh also participated in the Battle of Cahuenga Pass, and managed to persuade Americans on both sides that it was foolish to fight one another. The result was that Governor Manuel Micheltorena, the last Mexican governor of California, surrendered and was deported to Mexico.[31]

During this period he began a search for his son, Charles, which proved to be fruitless. In 1851, the Reverend William W. Smith introduced Marsh to Abigail "Abby" Smith Tuck, a schoolteacher from New England, who also served as principal at a girls school in San Jose. After a brief two-week courtship, they were married on June 24, 1851. Soon after the wedding, the couple moved into the old adobe. On 12 March 1852, she gave birth to a daughter they named Alice Frances.[32]

John Marsh House[edit]

John Marsh house (ca 1870). The house still exists, and has been stabilized, but awaits restoration (pending fundraising). See External Links below.

Marsh soon began construction of a magnificent home built entirely of stone quarried from the nearby hills. Abby chose the location of the home next to Marsh Creek, with a fine view of the surrounding valley and Mount Diablo, a few miles south of the present city of Brentwood, California. Designed by San Francisco architect Thomas Boyd, the 7,000 square feet (650 m2) Gothic-Revival style home incorporated a 65 feet (20 m) tower and exterior porch supported by octagonal pillars. The entire cost of the home did not exceed $20,000. Abby died in 1855, however, before the Stone House was completed.[18] Marsh ultimately moved into the new house about three weeks before he was murdered.

His son and daughter inherited the ranch and stone house in which they lived, but who apparently let the property fall into disrepair and decay, and eventually became renters. They were visited in May, 1862 by William Henry Brewer and the California Geological Survey.[10] The mansion, undergoing stabilization since 2006, still stands as part of the Marsh Creek State Park, formerly known as Cowell Ranch/John Marsh Property State Historic Park, which is preparing to apply for status as a National Historic Monument. The park includes 3,659 acres (1,481 ha) of natural habitat.[33] The mansion is on the list of National Historic Places, and funds are being sought for restoration. It is not open to the public, as of January 2015.

Death[edit]

Plaque marking the site of his murder

Marsh was active in California politics. On September 24, 1856, he began a journey from his land in eastern Contra Costa County to San Francisco for a personal or political appointment. On the road between Pacheco and Martinez, he was ambushed and murdered by three of his vaquero employees over a dispute about their wages.[6] Two of the killers were found ten years later and brought to trial. One man turned state's evidence and was released without trial. The other was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, though he was pardoned 25 years later. The third man was never caught.[32] A California Historical Landmark (#722) plaque still marks the site of the murder.

Both John and Abigail Marsh are buried in Mountain View Cemetery, in Oakland, California.[6]

Legacy[edit]

According to local tradition, shortly before his death, a young man approached his door seeking shelter from a harsh storm. It was his son Charles, who had journeyed to California in search of his father. They enjoyed a happy, although short-lived reunion. Charles tracked down his father’s murderer, Felipe Moreno, and brought him to justice.

Alice Marsh was entrusted to the care of a Mrs. Thompson at Marsh’s Landing, not far from present day Antioch, California. As a young woman, Alice Marsh moved to Oakland, where she married John Camron, one of the builders of Mt. Diablo toll road. They had two daughters, Amy and Gracie.[b] Camron lost Alice's fortune in some bad real estate transactions. The couple divorced in 1896. Alice never remarried.[32] She and Amy (who remained unmarried) operated a San Francisco boardinghouse, and later moved to Santa Barbara. After their deaths, both women were buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland.[5]

Marsh Creek, a stream in Contra Costa County, is named for John Marsh.[34]

An elementary school in Antioch, California bears Marsh's name.

The California State Route 4 around the cities of Oakley, California and Brentwood, California has been named John Marsh Heritage Highway in honor of Dr. Marsh. This portion of SR4 runs from the intersection with SR151 in eastern Antioch to the Marsh Creek/Vasco Road intersection in Brentwood.[35]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Fort Snelling, in what is now Hennepin County, Minnesota, was formerly named Fort Saint Anthony when it was founded in 1819. It was renamed to honor its founder, Colonel Josiah Snelling, in 1825.
  2. ^ Gracie died in infancy.[5]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b George D. Lyman (1930). John Marsh, pioneer: The life story of a trail-blazer on six frontiers. Scribner's & Sons. 
  2. ^ Winkley, John W. Dr. John Marsh, Wilderness Scout, p. 35, Contra Costa Historical Society, Martinez, California, 1962.
  3. ^ Hanel, Dan. In the Shadow of Diablo: Mystery of the Great Stone House, preface, p. 268, Createspace, 2012. ISBN 978-1475082920
  4. ^ Lyman, George D. John Marsh, Pioneer: The Life Story of a Trail-Blazer on Six Frontiers, pp. IX, 209, 231, 238-9, 246-51, 266-7, 268-71, The Chautauqua Press, Chautauqua, New York, 1931.
  5. ^ a b c d e [ Colbruno, Michael "Lives of the Dead: Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland."] December 12, 2009. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d "Find-A-Grave Memorial:John Marsh" Retrieved July 4, 2013.
  7. ^ Winkley, John W. Dr. John Marsh: Wilderness Scout, pp. 30-1, Contra Costa Historical Society, Martinez, California, 1962.
  8. ^ Lyman, George D. John Marsh, Pioneer: The Life Story of a Trail-blazer on Six Frontiers, pp. 112, The Chautauqua Press, Chautauqua, New York, 1931.
  9. ^ Winkley, John W. Dr. John Marsh, Wilderness Scout, p. 41, Contra Costa Historical Society, Martinez, California, 1962.
  10. ^ a b c William H. Brewer (1966). Francis P. Farquhar, ed. Up and Down California, The Journal of William H. Brewer, 3rd edition. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. pp. 271–273. ISBN 978-0-520-23865-7. 
  11. ^ Winkley, John W. Dr. John Marsh, Wilderness Scout, p. 41-7, 94-5, Contra Costa Historical Society, Martinez, California, 1962.
  12. ^ Winkley, John W. Dr. John Marsh, Wilderness Scout, p. 52-3, Contra Costa Historical Society, Martinez, California, 1962.
  13. ^ Lyman, George D. John Marsh, Pioneer: The Life Story of a Trail-blazer on Six Frontiers, pp. 200-5, The Chautauqua Press, Chautauqua, New York, 1931.
  14. ^ Osborne, Thomas J. Pacific Eldorado: A History of Greater California. 2013. John Wiley & Sons. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
  15. ^ id=INjbmuwIlxAC&pg=PA33&lpg=PA33&dq=%22John+Marsh%22+California+Catholic+convert&source=bl&ots=Mpuzpn6pf4&sig=_k6juCfHluhsrOojJJIrc7xXUbg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=KoLSVPukC4TgggTpyYP4Cw&ved=0CCsQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=%22John%20Marsh%22%20California%20Catholic%20convert&f=false " California: Las Vegas,Reno, Baja California. 1999. ISBN 3-88618-143-X. p. 33.
  16. ^ Winkley, John W.. Dr. John Marsh: Wilderness Scout, pp. 53-4, Contra Costa Historical Society, Martinez, California, 1962.
  17. ^ Lyman, George D. John Marsh, Pioneer: The Life Story of a Trail-blazer on Six Frontiers, pp. 204-6, The Chautauqua Press, Chautauqua, New York, 1931.
  18. ^ a b Nolte, Carl. San Francisco Chronicle. "CONTRA COSTA COUNTY / Remembering colorful but unpopular pioneer / Slain 150 years ago, man, his home are focus of coming park." September 24, 2006. Retrieved July 4, 2013.[1]
  19. ^ Winkley, John W. Dr. John Marsh: Wilderness Scout, pp. 56, Contra Costa Historical Society, Martinez, California, 1962.
  20. ^ Lyman, George D. John Marsh, Pioneer: The Life Story of a Trail-blazer on Six Frontiers, pp. 212, 224, The Chautauqua Press, Chautauqua, New York, 1931.
  21. ^ Lyman, George D. John Marsh, Pioneer: The Life Story of a Trail-Blazer on Six Frontiers, pp. 224-8, The Chautauqua Press, Chautauqua, New York, 1931.
  22. ^ a b Kathleen J. Mero. "A Few Words about John Marsh, a California Founding Father". Retrieved June 12, 2010. 
  23. ^ Lyman, George D. John Marsh, Pioneer: The Life Story of a Trail-Blazer on Six Frontiers, pp. 244-8, The Chautauqua Press, Chautauqua, New York, 1931.
  24. ^ Weinstein, Dave. "Saving the house that Marsh built." San Francisco Chronicle. December 7, 2002 Retrieved January 25, 2015.
  25. ^ Lyman, George D. John Marsh, Pioneer: The Life Story of a Trail-Blazer on Six Frontiers, pp. IX, 209, 231, The Chautauqua Press, Chautauqua, New York, 1931.
  26. ^ Winkley, John W. Dr. John Marsh: Wilderness Scout, pp. 60-2, Contra Costa Historical Society, Martinez, California, 1962.
  27. ^ Lyman, George D. John Marsh, Pioneer: The Life Story of a Trail-Blazer on Six Frontiers, pp. 237-9, The Chautauqua Press, Chautauqua, New York, 1931.
  28. ^ Lyman, George D. John Marsh, Pioneer: The Life Story of a Trail-Blazer on Six Frontiers, pp. IX, 209, 231, 238-9, 246-51, 266-7, 268-71, The Chautauqua Press, Chautauqua, New York, 1931.
  29. ^ Lyman, George D. John Marsh, Pioneer: The Life Story of a Trail-Blazer on Six Frontiers, pp. 250-62, The Chautauqua Press, Chautauqua, New York, 1931.
  30. ^ Winkley, John W. Dr. John Marsh: Wilderness Scout, pp. 60-72, Contra Costa Historical Society, Martinez, California, 1962.
  31. ^ Lyman, George D. John Marsh, Pioneer: The Life Story of a Trail-Blazer on Six Frontiers, pp. 258-62, The Chautauqua Press, Chautauqua, New York, 1931.
  32. ^ a b c Mero, William. "Love, Life and Death on the California Frontier: A Woman's Life in Old Contra Costa." . Retrieved January 25, 2015.
  33. ^ California Department of Parks and Recreation. "Cowell Ranch/John Marsh Property State Historic Park."
  34. ^ Erwin G. Gudde, William Bright (1949). California Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. p. 228. 
  35. ^ "Ribbon Cutting Ceremony Planned for John Marsh Heritage Highway." John Marsh Historic Trust press release. May 1, 2009. Accessed March 5, 2017.

External links[edit]