Jesse Morgan ( 1805-1850)
By P. W. Kaser
This entry is a guest post by my brother, who followed Jesse to California. But my brother’s journey was more than one hundred years after the Gold Rush, and hopefully transpired without leaving a deserted wife and children behind and dead bodies in his wake.
When Great-Great Grandpa Jesse Morgan was felled by a bullet through the neck during the Sacramento Squatters Riot of August 14, 1850, the family was left with many unanswered questions about his life. It hasn’t all been cleared up yet. Was Jesse a bold pioneer on the Oregon Trail? a horse-trading wanderer? a morally certified Ohio school teacher? a successful gold miner and hotel keeper in old Sacramento? a murderer and bigamist? Could he have been, to some degree, all of the above?
He enters American journalistic history as one of the crowd of squatters who shot down Mayor Bigelow. But did he just threaten the Mayor and never get a shot off? The real story of what happened and why that day at the corner of 4th and J Streets in Sacramento has yet to be fully revealed.
Jesse Morgan, originally of New York State, was Grandma Vera Stout Anderson’s grandfather, thanks to his marriage in 1840 to widow Mary Morgan of Killbuck, Ohio. When he married Mary, Jesse was a widower with four children from his former mating. He and Mary had a daughter “Hattie,” still a very young child, when he began making frequent business trips throughout the Midwest.
Eventually and inevitably he succumbed to the pandemic (pun intended) of gold fever of 1849. Mary, back in Killbuck, was left, like so many “California Widows” of the time, with her husband’s optimistic letters and promises, until she received a letter from a New York Cousin of Jesse’s. The letter enclosed a clipping from a New York newspaper with a notice of his death in Sacaramento.
The story of his earlier horse-trading and other business doings in the Midwest, along with a review of a detailed journal of adventures along the Oregon/California Trail that is attributed to him, will be the subjects of flashback features of this blog site.
When I was ten or eleven I told my Grandma Vera I intended to get to California as soon as I could. She warned, “Be careful not to get shot out there like old Jesse did.” This hardly discouraged me and I wanted to know all the gory details, but my mother and grandmother would say only that Grandpa Jesse was an innocent bystanding victim of a Gold Rush shoot out.
Judging by all the western movies I had seen, I concluded that claim jumpers must have intentionally shot him to get his rich diggings. It was not until I came to California in 1970 that I began my research into details of this story. Various histories of Sacramento and sensationalizing newspapers reported that one Jesse Morgan lately in from “Millersville [Millersburg], Ohio” had tried to shoot or succeeded in (depending on the account) gunning down the Mayor in a riot perpetrated by a mob of squatters on August 14, 1850.
One of the reports even had a lithograph of the incident, showing Jesse or possibly the Squatter leader, fiery John Maloney, aiming at the hapless Mayor, who eventually died of his wounds. Also shown is Sheriff Joseph McKinney, a bold Wyatt Earp type (he ran a gambling establishment in the city), who was dedicated to the persecution of the Squatters as they tried to fight a gang of greedy local land speculators.
Jesse was one of four squatters killed in the August 14th riot. Five of the Sheriff’s posse were wounded, stats that recall those of the famous O. K. Coral bang up. Later, to an extent, the Squatters were justified in their claims if not their methods. They drew to their cause local businessmen and lawyers, newspaper editor James McClatchy (founder of today’s powerful McClatchy chain), and Dr. Charles Robinson, who, while in jail was nominated and elected to the State Assembly and eventually became Governor of Kansas.
Jesse, of course, did not live to see the outcome of the Squatters’ struggle. But there is much more to his story… Some accounts of the riot included claims that Jesse had a wife and child in Sacramento and had been proprietor of the Oak Grove House, one of several prospering inns that served the freighters to and from the gold diggings. These revelations only deepened the mysteries about Jesse Morgan, the most colorful of our 19th century ancestors.
How We are Related
- PWK and Vera Marie Badertscher, the son and daughter of
- Harriette Anderson Kaser, the daughter of
- Vera Stout Anderson, the daughter of
- Harriet (Hattie) Morgan Stout, the daughter of
- Jesse Morgan
- Research on Jesse Morgan is complicated by the common name Morgan; and more so by lack of official records In California during the chaotic Gold Rush years. Sacramento only became a city in the fall of 1849, and even then few legal systems were in effect, so records around the time he was there are sketchy.
- See an image of the Squatters’ Riot plaque bearing Jesse’s Name at Roadside America.
- Jesse Morgan’s letters to Mary Morgan in author’s possession.
- Information on birth, marriage and family from family Bibles and memoirs of Harriette Anderson Kaser.
- An Illustrated history of Sacramento County, California: Containing a History of Sacramento County, by Win. J. Davis (1890) Available on line.