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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


Harrison Mecham

Noteworthy among the early pioneers of Sonoma county was Harrison Mecham, who came here in an early period of its settlement and at once identified himself with the interests and progress of this part of the state. Commencing life without other capital than his strong hands and resolute will, he obtained an assured position, socially and financially, and was held in high respect as a citizen of honest worth and integrity. A native of New York state, he was born in St. Lawrence county June 20,1833, the son of Joseph and Hannah (Tyler) Mecham, natives respectively of New Hampshire and Vermont. When he was a child of one year the family removed to Pennsylvania and from there in 1840 went to Columbus, O. The following year found the family moving still further westward, Indianapolis, Ind., being their next stopping place, their arrival there being co-incident with the completion of the first turnpike road build from that city to Springfield, Ill. In 1843 they located in Lee county Iowa, near Keokuk, and two years later removed to Atchison county, Mo.

It was while the family were living in Atchison county, Mo., that Harrison Mecham, then a lad of fifteen years, developed an interest in the west that proved a turning point in his life. This interest was awakened by a chance meeting with some old Californians who were acting as guides to Commodore Stockton to the east; their stories of the wild western life, of bronchos, bears, elk and other wild animals, fired the ambition of the youth and made further interest in his home surroundings in Missouri impossible. On the return trip of the Californians just mentioned, in the spring of 1848, their number was increased by one, Harrison Mecham having determined to make the westward trip with them, this, too, without the knowledge or consent of his parents. When the party had reached old Fort Kearney, on the Missouri river, Mr. Mecham accepted an offer from a man by the name of St. Clair to drive an ox-team for the balance of the way to California, another duty being to stand guard half of every third night. Their route was by way of Fort Hall and across the desert to the Truckee river, up that river, crossing it twenty-seven times, and arriving at Donner and Cambal camps, where the Donner party were killed by the Indians. After crossing the mountains they arrived at Johnsonís ranch in the Sacramento valley, and on the evening of the day of their arrival they were brought in close contact with the Indians. that evening an old pioneer of the valley, Nicholas Carriger, came to Mr. Mechamís tent and told him that two of his best men had been killed and asked his assistance in capturing the slayers. The entire party entered upon the search, and when the Indian camp was found, surrounded and the old chief taken prisoner, word was left that the chief would be hung if the murderers were not delivered up at a certain hour the following morning. The chiefís life was spared, but the four murderers were hung one by one and then turned over to the Indians, who burned their bodies according to custom.

Mr. Mecham learned of the discovery of gold in California through some Mormons returning to Salt Lake City, and with some friends he went to the mines on the Yuba river, and in company with others purchased a claim. The prices paid for the outfit and for the necessaries of life were fabulous, a rocker costing them $300, picks 
$64 each, and two wooden buckets $20 each. The flour they were compelled to pay $1 a pound, the same for a pound of salt port, and beef was cheap at $25 a head. It is safe to presume that the mining venture was not a success, for in the spring of 1849 Mr. Mecham and several others united in the purchase of the Johnson ranch on the Bear river for $6,000, the ranch consisting of three leagues of land, about three thousand head of cattle and six hundred head of horses.

After giving up mining Mr. Mecham removed to a ranch near the junction of the Feather and Sacramento rivers and in July, 1853, removed to Sonoma county, and upon a portion of the ranch upon which he then settled, he passed the remainder of his life. Here he engaged in dairying, farming and stock-raising, the raising of grain, however, being his chief industry. The highest amount of grain which he produced in one year was one hundred and three thousand bushels, and it was his custom to have from one thousand to two thousand five hundred acres in potatoes. From five hundred to one thousand head of cattle and about twenty-five hundred hogs were usually sent to market from his large ranch, which will give some idea of the magnitude of the business carried on under Mr. Mechamís immediate supervision. In the meantime his children had reached ages when the facilities of the local schools no longer met their needs, and in 1864 the family removed to Petaluma, Mr. Mecham at this time renting his ranch to a tenant. The latter experience proved unsatisfactory, and he therefore took it back into his own control, stocking it with sheep, horses and cattle, and managed the ranch personally from the city until the completion of the fine family residence on the ranch in October, 1885, after which he returned to the ranch and made his home thereafter until his death, which occurred April 8, 1909. Besides the home ranch of about five thousand acres, he also owned a ranch of twenty-six hundred acres in Vallejo township, as well as a fifth interest in the Juanita ranch of twenty-seven thousand acres in Santa Barbara county. Without doubt he was at the time of his death one of the wealthiest men and largest landowners in the county, and at the same time he was one of the most influential, and most popular and highly esteemed residents of the section in which he lived.

Mr. Mechamís marriage, April 17, 1853, was celebrated in Fremont, Yolo county, and united him with Miss Melissa Jane Stewart, a native of Indiana and of the number only four are now living, as follows: Franklyn A., of whom a sketch will be found elsewhere in the volume; Loretta; Harriet; and Belle, the last-mentioned the wife of Walter S. Fritsch, of Petaluma.

History of Sonoma County, California
Biographical Sketches of The Leading Men and Women of the County Who Have Been Identified With Its Growth and Development from the Early Days to the Present
History By: Tom Gregory
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1911)

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011