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Madera Biographies: MORROW

Jesse Morrow

     A picturesque character was Jesse Morrow, an Ohioan, who was lured by the '49 story of gold, crossed the plains to pass the winter at Salt Lake City, but being driven off by the Mormons pushed on with a smaller party which entered California by the Southern pass and disbanded. Morrow and six others, with food and blankets, trudged on -westward through Cajon pass, trading rifle for beef, which was "jerked" for food, and crossing the Kern, met at Posey Creek, two survivors of a party of sixteen massacred by Indians. All returned to the Kern, there met an emigrant train, of which Dr. Lewis Leach was a member, and pushed on northward. At Woodville (Tulare County) they came upon the scene of the massacre and buried fourteen corpses. Camping under guard and killing wild cattle as a food supply, they moved on to the Kings and the San Joaquin, and a part of the party was engaged for Cassady & Lane to mine for them at Cassady's Bar.

     Morrow mined at Fine Gold Gulch [present Madera County] and on the San Joaquin until 1856, when he removed to Los Angeles. He engaged in stock raising, and driving 1,100 head of cattle to the San Joaquin continued here in the stock business until 1874. One year later, he took up sheep raising on the plains, continuing this pursuit until 1882, having at times flocks varying in number from 4,000 to 20,000. Mr. Morrow was at one time one of the richest men in the county, interested in mining, lending money but losing $160,000 through poor securities, and owning land in the two county seats. In 1874, he was instrumental in erecting the Southern Pacific hotel, which came into his possession two years later. It was the caravansary par excellence of Fresno and bore his name for a time. It was on the site of the present Fresno post office building, was the Southern Hotel and the Henry House (Simon W. Henry of Millerton), and later known as the Mariposa Hotel. It was moved to the corner of Mariposa and M on the Jeff D. Statham property, in rear of the courthouse, but after partial destruction by fire a few years ago removed to a third site and present location at the corner of Diana and Silvia streets.

     The Morrows were absentees from the Kings River ranch for fifteen years as residents of San Jose, and in his day he was probably the county's most extensive sheep raiser.

     Morrow was one of fate's victims for at death in 1897 he was practically a ruined man. Yet there is the authenticated tale that in one live stock transaction alone about $80,000 was piled up in payment on a table in one of the rooms of the old Morrow house. The kitchen portion of this structure was part of a building wheeled to Fresno from Millerton. Two earliest deeds under date of June 9, were by Morrow to McCray, one for $200 for the Millerton lot on which the Oak Hotel was erected, and the other for $2,500 for the ferry formerly known as Morrow & Carroll's. It was the irony of fate perhaps that in June, 1874, McCray was sold out by the sheriff on execution, and that Morrow was the judgment creditor buyer taking back some of the very property sold to McCray, when he came to Millerton a rich man. Morrow was associated with George C. Ferris and J. A. Van Tassell in a flour mill at Centerville, and retaining all interest on dissolution bought the grist mill of J. W. Sweem, three miles northeast of there, and for a time had the milling monopoly of the county.

     Jesse Morrow, a prominent citizen of Fresno, was born in Canton, Ohio, in 1827. He was reared on a farm and educated in the public schools, remaining at home until he reached the age of fourteen. He was then apprenticed to the trade of saddler and harnessmaker at Paris, Ohio, where lie served three years, after which he returned home and assisted his father on the farm until July 4, 1849.

     While thus quietly employed in agricultural pursuits, the wonderful stories about California and her rich treasures of gold reached him and inspired him. with a spirit of adventure. he joined an emigrant party to cross the plains for Salt Lake City, there expecting to winter; but the Mormons were so dictatorial and belligerent that life itself was unsafe in their midst: so a small party was formed and they pushed on to California by the Southern Pass. At the Big Muddy they found one foot of snow and the party broken up. Nothing daunted, Mr. Morrow with six others took food and blankets on their back's and continued their way westward, coming through Cajon Pass. There he traded his rifle for a beef to supply the party with food. They jerked the meat and took it with them on their way north. After crossing Kern river, and while in camp at Posey creek, they were approached by two men, the only surviving members of an earlier party of sixteen who had been attacked by Indians. All then returned to Kern river, where they met a train, among the number being Dr. Lewis Leach. Thus re-enforced they again pushed forward. At Woodville, Tulare county, they came to the scene of the above mentioned slaughter and found fourteen bodies, which they tried. They camped through the night, under guard, and, after shooting wild cattle to supply food, continued on to King's river; camped at Smith's ferry, then went forward to San Joaquin river, where they met Major Lane and a portion of the party hired by him to work his mines above Ft. Miller. The Indians, however, were so troublesome that the Major was frightened away. Mr. Morrow and party then bought a mining outfit and continued to work through that year, meeting with success. He mined at Fine Gold Gulch [present Madera County] and on the San Joaquin river until 1856, when he went to Los Angeles and engaged extensively in the stock business. He bought 1,100 head of cattle, drove them to the San Joaquin valley, and on King's river continued the business until 1871, keeping an average of 500 head. In 1875 Mr. Morrow turned his attention to sheep raising on the plains between King's and San Joaquin rivers, his flock numbering from 4,000 to 20,000, In this business he was engaged until 1882, when he sold out. In 1874 Mr. Morrow was instrumental in building the Southern Pacific Hotel, which in 1876 came into his possession, and which he still owns and leases. At one time he was extensively interested in money loaning, and through poor securities he lost about $160,000.

     Mr. Morrow was married at San Joaquin, in February, 1857, to Miss Mary I. Davis, a native of Texas. They have three children. The family moved from the ranch on King's river to San Jose, where they resided fourteen years and where the children were well educated. They now reside in Fresno.

     Mr. Morrow has been more or less interested in mining ever since lie came to California, and he thinks the outlook today as favorable as in 1849 to the careful prospector.

-----, A Memorial and Biographical History of the Counties of Fresno, Tulare and Kern, California, (Chicagp: Lewis, 1892), pages I-125, II-349.

Last update: September 27, 2000
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