John Brown, Sr., was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1817, and when but a boy came to St. Louis, Missouri, with his parents, where they died. He began rafting on the Mississippi and then went to New Orleans, and thence by ship to Galveston, suffering a shipwreck on his route. He returned to Fort Leavenworth by the Red River route. Was at the battle of San Jacinto, and first saw Santa Ana when taken prisoner. Remained two years at Fort Leavenworth; and then went to the Rocky Mountains and for fourteen years hunted and trapped from the headwaters of the Columbia and Yellowstone, along the mountain streams southward so far as the Comanche country in northern Texas, in company with the following named mountaineers: James Waters, V. J. Herring, Kit Carson and others. Was engaged sometimes with the fur companies and at other times as a fur trapper among the Kiowas, Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Apaches, Utes, Mandans, Reese River, Sioux, Crows, etc., and helped to build several forts. During this period of his life he had many encounters with bears and Indians, with hairbreadth escapes, which, if properly written, would make a book fully as interesting as Kit Carson’s travels or Irving’s Captain Booneville.
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When the gold fever reached the mountaineers in 1849, Messrs. Brown, Waters, Lupton and White joined one of the emigrant trains bound for the source of the world’s excitement, arriving at Sutter’s Fort, September 1, 1849, and first beginning to mine on the Calaveras River. In November Mr. Brown moved to Monterey, California, and passed the winter; and with Messrs. Waters and Godey opened the St. John’s hotel and livery stable at the Mission of San Juan. Was twice elected Justice of the Peace. His health becoming impaired he was advised by Dr. Ord and other physicians to go south. In April 1852, he went to San Francisco, boarded the schooner ” Lydia,” Captain Haley commander, and after a week’s voyage down the coast, landed with his family at San Pedro. After two weeks’ search he decided on San Bernardino as his place of residence, arriving here in May, over thirty-five years ago. At this point there was then but a small fort erected as a protection against Indians. The town and valley furnished pasturage for thousands of cattle and horses owned by the Lugo family. North of town was one vast wheat field.
In 1853 Mr. Brown moved to the Yucipa Ranch and began stock-raising. At that time Los Angeles County extended on the east to the Colorado river, and the site of Los Angeles, then but a village, was the county seat; and all business of a legal character had to be transacted there, sixty miles distant. Experiencing this great inconvenience, Mr. Brown was the first to propose a division of the county; and for this purpose recommended Captain Jefferson Hunt as a proper person to represent the people in the eastern section at the Legislature, which passed an act dividing Los Angeles County and organizing San Bernardino County. By said act Mr. Brown, Isaac Williams, h. G. Sherwood and David Seely were constituted a board to designate election precincts, appoint inspectors, receive returns and issue certificates of election. According to the act the election took place in June 1853. The business of the county was done by a court of sessions, consisting of the county judge, Andrew Lytle and John Brown, justices of the peace.
In 1854 Mr. Brown discovered the first gold in Bear valley, and in 1856 moved to San Bernardino from Yucipa, where he had been a resident for some time. In 1861, seeing the difficulty of an outlet from his adopted town to southern Utah and Arizona Territory, he pro-cured a charter from the Legislature for a right to construct a wagon road through the Cajon pass, now occupied by the Santa Fe railroad; and he soon had a way open for the traveling public, bound to the various mining camps north of the mountains, furnishing thereby a gateway to San Bernardino until the completion of the Santo Fe railroad. In 1862 he went to Fort Mojave and established a ferry across the Colorado and was instrumental in getting troops stationed at Cape Cady to protect the mail. When a donation was required to connect San Bernardino with the outside world, Mr. Brown headed the list with $100. Again, when $100,000 was required to build the Southern Pacific road to San Bernardino, he headed the list with $4,000, and asked for ninety-nine others to do the same; but as $25,000 was all that was subscribed, the road was located through Colton.
In 1875 he assisted in procuring mail service to Bear and Holcomb valleys; and during the winter of 1873-’74 he delivered the mail to those mining camps when the snow was two to three feet deep. Mr. Brown has taken an active part in the political field. Ever since 1860 he has been a stanch Republican. In that year, in company with six others, he organized the Republican party in his section, under circumstances not the most flattering, and after a vigorous canvass carried the district for Lincoln. Since 1876 he has lived in comparative retirement, having raised and educated a large number of children, all of whom are highly esteemed citizens.