Colusa 150: Stewart Harris, A 49er comes to town

Editor’s note: Colusa 150 is an intermittent series in The Pioneer Review where readers can learn the history of the town, along with its people, events, and landmarks, as the City of Colusa counts down to its Sesquicentennial Celebration (150th Anniversary) in June of 2018.

Although the death of Colusa’s first mayor had been somewhat expected in the winter of 1891, news that the city’s most esteemed gentlemen breathed his last around 11 PM on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 1891, still came as quite a shock.

At least that is what is gleaned from the few records in existence about the man who was actively involved in the incorporation of the town of Colusa in June of 1868, and who served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees during the city’s first two years.

“Uncle Stewart, as he was familiarly called, was a friend to the friendless, a helper to the helpless, and could share the joys and sorrows of all,” his obituary on Feb. 25, 1891 stated. “He never knew but to do good, and many a man, woman and child can recall the deeds of kindness rendered by him.”

Harris was born in Kentucky in 1817, but moved with his family to Missouri as a teen.

At 16, when his father died, he learned the harness and saddlery business as an apprentice, and eventually became a partner with his employer.

In 1849, when the world learned of the discovery of gold in California, Harris moved west, arriving and mining for gold his first winter in the area that is now San Joaquin County.

In the spring, Harris traveled 60 miles northeast of Sacramento to a mining camp, where he engaged in merchandising, and was part of the assemblage who met in 1850 to secure a name for the embryo town, and who decided that it should be called Nevada City.

He and his wife, Elizabeth (Lovelace), returned to the East for a time, but eventually came back to California, where he engaged in the cattle and stock business in Yolo County for two years, before moving that business in the mid 1850s to Colusa.

Harris, who owned a 640-acre ranch north of Colusa, raised livestock for 10 years, but disposed of the business when beef and stock prices went so low that it became unprofitable.

He returned to merchandizing with George F. Jones and carried on a good business from 1865 to 1871, during which time he helped secure the incorporation of Colusa in 1868 with fellow trustees Eric Haplin and Lewis Carey, and served as mayor for the first few years.

In 1873, Harris engaged in banking, and was a stockholder and officiated as cashier at the Farmers’ Bank of Colusa County.

From about 1875 until his death at the age of 74, Harris lived quietly and engaged only occasionally in money lending.

He was known to assist in any charitable movement, and he took an active interest in the welfare of the community in which he lived.

“Quiet, but still an always-pleasant conversationalist, he attracted the attention of all with whom he came in contact,” his obituary stated. “In business, his word was his bond. He was never known to harm anyone and died without an enemy.”

Many assembled for Harris’ funeral on Friday, Feb. 28, 1891, to pay their last respects. He is interred in the Colusa Cemetery. ■