Fifty-five years have passed since James Carroll Owen came to California to cast in his lot with the pioneers. People of the present century can scarcely realize the struggles and dangers which attended the early settlers, the heroism and self-sacrifice of lives passed upon the borders of civilization, the hardships endured, the difficulties overcome. These tales of the early days read almost like a romance to those who have known only the modern prosperity and conveniences, but to the pioneers of the primitive times far removed from the privileges or conveniences of city or town the struggle for existence was a stern and hard one, and those men and women must have possessed indomitable energy and sterling worth of character as well as marked physical courage when they voluntarily selected such a life and successfully fought its battles under such circumstances as prevailed in the far west.

Mr. Owen was born in Schuyler county, Illinois, on the 23d of January, 1831, and was a son of Thomas Harvey and Mary (Payne) Owen, the former a native of North Carolina and the latter of Kentucky. The ancestral history of the family dates back to Revolutionary times. Thomas H. Owen, the father, was a soldier of the war of 1812. In 1849 he came to California, accompanied by his two sons, James C. and Leander Franklin Owen. They established their home in the Golden state and here two years later were joined by the mother, three brothers and a sister, who had come by way of the water route to join the father and the other two sons. All located in the Suisun valley, and the father and sons turned their attention to mining. They also built a ferry, operating it across the Tuolumne river, a mile and a half below LaGrange. But this was sold in 1851, at the time the mother and younger children came to California by way of the isthmus route. A brother, John Wren Owen, who also arrived in the Golden state in that year, took up swamp land where the town of Suisun is now located. He was associated in this enterprise with Captain John A. Morgan and Captain Josiah Wing, the former a commander of a sloop and the latter of a schooner. They secured about seven or eight acres of high land and divided it into twon lots, at which time John Wren Owen built the first house in the village, James C. Owen assisting in its construction. They also established the first grocery store in Suisun, its patrons having to go through the tules to reach it.

James C. Owen secured the privilege from his brothr to build a shed in which to store grain next to the grocery store, and he purchased as high as two hundred tons of grain per month at the price of three dollars per ton. Subsequently his brother engaged in the livery business, while James turned his attention to dealing in hogs and in buying land in the vicinity of Suisun. He also engaged in the butchering business, but abandoned this in 1863, and about this time he entered the employ of John B. Lemon, who was afterward county treasurer of Solano county and who employed Mr. Owen to attend to his teaming business about the Rees river. Mr. Owen also engaged in speculating in provisions in connection with freighting, selling the goods which he purchased wherever he could obtain the best prices, but especially to emigrants and to the people in Virginia City and Carson, Nevada.

In the year 8164 James Carroll Owen returned to Suisun, where he conducted a hotel, the Pacific House, for a year. He then went into the saloon business, which he carried on for two years, and in 1867 removed to Lake county, California, where he purchased a ranch in connection with his father and brothers. On this he engaged in stock-raising and for some time, he remained there, establishing the Zenzen House, a sulpher springs resort. he was appointed pastmaster, holding the office at Zenzen for twelve years. In 1881 he came to Napa, where he now resides, and while residing here was employed as a commercial traveler for a short time. In 1883 he was elected city marshal of Napa and held that office for three consecutive terms. Since his retirement from the position he has been engaged in dealing in real estate and has handled considerable valuable property. He piped the first water to Suisun in 1858. This was in company with R. B. Cannon. Water was developed from a well one mile out of town.

On the 22d of January, 1857, Mr. Owen was united in marriage to Miss Phoebe Ellen Rush, a native of Indiana, the wedding taking place in Suisun valley. they have four children: Letitia Adeline, who is now the widow of John Maxwell; Dora Etta, the wife of William Smith of Napa; Mary Ella, the wife of Alfred Booth, of Petaluma, California; and Charles Clinton, who is married and resides in Vacaville. The parents of our subject have both passed away, the mother in 1878 and the father in 1879.

Mr. Owen has been an Odd Fellow since 1861, becoming a member of that organization at Suisun. Not only has he seen central California developed from a wild district with only a few white inhabitants to a rich agricultural, horticultural and commercial center, containing thousands of good homes and enterprising towns inhabited by an industrious, prosperous, enlightened and progressive people, but he has participated in and assisted in carrying on the work of development which was necessary to produce a change which is so complete that it has come to be popularly referred to as magical.

Source: History of the New California Its Resources and People, Volume I

The Lewis Publishing Company - 1905
Edited by Leigh H. Irvine

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