Below is the story of John William Harrison, son of Bentley Harrison and Elizabeth Bentley.
By Gerard Harrison
North Carolina Gold
This is a story that starts with a boy born in North Carolina, who followed the trail to California in 1850 in search of gold. This boy was my great-grandfather.
John William Harrison was born in Wilkes County, North Carolina in 1833. John was the youngest of Bentley and Elizabeth Harrisonıs three sons. Bentley was a farmer in North Carolina, making an existence working the soil. As one of several sons of a devout Baptist, John was raised to believe in honest work. The entire Harrison clan was spread throughout Wilkes and the neighboring western Carolina counties, and had lived there for generations before the American Revolution.
The first major gold strikes in America were in this area of Carolina, and one of the richest deposits was found in Cabarrus County. The first documented gold find in the young nation occurred in 1799. A man named Johannes Reith, a Hessian Solider during the Revolution, left the British Army at the end of the War of Independence and moved to the Piedmont area of North Carolina to join a community of Germans living there. He changed his name to John Reed and became a corn and wheat farmer.
The Carolina gold rush began when Reedıs son Conrad found a yellow rock in the creek that ran through Reedıs property. The curious looking rock was estimated to weigh 17 pounds and was said to be used as a doorstop at the farm. In 1802 the rock was determined to contain gold, and was sold for a mere $3.50 to the Fayetteville jeweler who made that determination. Reed quickly formed a partnership with three other men and the mining of his property began in earnest the following year. By 1825, it was discovered that the gold existed in quantity in veins of quartz at the Reed farm, and underground mining began in full force in 1831. John Reed died in 1845 a very wealthy man.
As word of easy gold spread, many farmers began prospecting their properties in the area with success. Their mining was done between planting, growing, and harvesting of crops. The farmer-miners used pans and rockers to sift the precious metal from the rivers, creeks and washes..We mention this to illustrate the world that John William Harrison was born into, the one in which he spent his formative years. We do not know when the gold-bug bit John William Harrison but we do know his childhood view of life was a combination of hard chores on the farm and backbreaking labor in mining and crushing quartz ore to free its pure gold. No doubt the stories of new discoveries bringing easy wealth and instant riches from the streams and washes of the countryside must have caught the young boyıs imagination as he went about his chores on the farm.
Johnıs father may have had him help in panning when he was too young for the heavier chores, or during off-seasons. Perhaps as a lad exploring his world he came across his first find in a streambed or river wash, and was convinced of his quest in life.
Bentley Harrison moved his family to Union County in northeast Georgia in the 1840s. The county was in the greater Piedmont gold strike area that originated in North Carolina with John Reed. Bentley Harrison acquired over 350 acres of gold zone property in the Coosa Militia District outside of Blairsville.
Census and voter records list Bentley as a farmer. No doubt he prospected for gold, seeking to augment his farming income with off-season mining. Son John William continued to see and hear about the gold strikes and the life of riches for those fortunate enough to uncover a rich vein.
Prospecting pioneers followed the gold veins into what was then Cherokee Indian Territory. The Georgia gold boom began to pick up momentum in 1830 when the news spread that major finds were located on Cherokee lands in the mountains of north Georgia.
The pressure put upon the Cherokee Tribe was already enormous. The rapid expansion of European settlers in the area was creating a situation of wholesale encroachment on tribal lands when the news of gold was spread. The result was the passage by Congress of the 1830 Indian Removal Act, signed into law by Andrew Jackson. In less than a decade, the Trail of Tears, the forced removal and march of the Cherokee Nation to the barrens of Oklahoma, was underway. This was one of the most shameful chapters in the nationıs history.
In 1837 the U.S. Government established the gold coin mint at Dahlonega, Georgia not far from the mining operations in the mountains north of Atlanta. Gold flowed from the hills down to the mint. Gold assayed from Union County was clean and bright and was contained in crystals. Ore was said to have contained an average of 4.47 ounces of pure gold per ton.
Bentley Harrison, his wife, daughter and John William appeared in the first of two 1850 censuses in Georgia. We believe the two older sons stayed behind in Carolina to continue working crops on family land and followed at a later date, for they appeared in the second, later census taken 1850, though John William did not. By then he had left for California.
There is still a large excavation pit on Bentley Harrison's old homestead property where he was mining for gold. Bentley left behind this enduring gold miner's legacy, in addition to planting and tending a vineyard. He died in 1891, the last of his family in Georgia to go, and the Harrison family has been unable to locate his final resting spot. Neighbors may have simply put his body in the ground without a grave marker. But if ever there is an enduring memorial to a gold miner's life, Bentley's excavation pit is where we know his dreams and heart lie in eternal rest.
News of the gold found at Sutterıs Mill reached this remote corner of the state via a woman cook on Sutterıs work crew. The woman came from Georgia, and following the discovery in 1848 she traveled back home with the news. The news of California gold became so widespread that one Saturday in 1849 when a crowd gathered at the Lumpkin County Courthouse, Matthew F. Stephenson, the Chief Assayer of the Dahlonega mint, made a speech pleading with the miners to stay and continue to work the Georgia gold lodes.
Stephensonıs pleas fell upon deaf ears, and the miners left in droves for easier gold in California. Legend has it that the Chief Assayer coined the famous phrase "There's gold in them thar hills," as he pointed to the north Georgia mountains. Gold there still is, to this day, but not enough yield to keep the mines open. The Coosa Gold Mining Company was the last gold mine to close, in the last decade of the 20th century.
Another North Georgia resident, William Greenberry Russell, led an expedition to California. Prior to that, his family had mined gold all the way down the Appalachian Mountains from Pennsylvania, over the course of a generation. They had settled in north Georgia gold country, but also headed gold expeditions out to what is now Denver, Colorado. Russell is credited with the establishment of the settlement that became Denver. North Georgia gold miners also established Helena, Montana as a result of the gold found there.
We know that John William Harrison left for California some time between the 1850 censuses. There were three methods of getting to San Francisco in those days. The first method was overland at great peril due to hostile Plains Indians. The second method was to ship out down to Panama and trek across the isthmus through tropical swamps and mosquito-infested jungles, risking malaria. The third choice was to sail around the Horn, the tip of South America, and all the way up the west coast of the continent. This option was also fraught with danger due to the storms and adverse winds and currents at the southern tip of the continent.
Family history has it that John William traveled west overland and had his personal belongings and equipment shipped "round the Horn" to California. After sending off his belongings in the fall of 1850, he could have made the first stage of his journey only lightly encumbered. Many emigrants wintered in Missouri, waiting for the spring grass to grow plentiful enough to feed the horses and oxen for the long trip across the plains.
John would have been in time to be enumerated in the 1852 census required of California as the newest state of the Union. He most likely had to go to San Francisco to retrieve his shipped goods, and have them transported to Sacramento as he headed for the beckoning gold fields. By this time, John would have discovered that the easy placer gold was being pretty well picked over by earlier arrivals. Still, he was young--barely 18 years old--and had the desire and capability to face incredible risk and hardship in order to follow his dream of "gold falling out of the ground."
He also had experience from working on his father's farm that gave him an advantage over other, novice miners who had to learn what he already knew: how to prospect, how to recognize signs in the soil promising treasure, how to skillfully handle pick and shovel and gold pan.
Seeking less crowded gold fields, John would hear of the rich northern diggings along Clear Creek in Shasta County, and would eventually move on up the Sacramento River. We do not know just when he arrived in Shasta County, but he is listed here in the 1860 Federal census. By then, John was 27 years of age and probably several lifetimes older than when he first came to California.
(He also registered to vote, but the earliest voters' records do not begin until 1866, when his name first appears in the register. At that time, he gave his mail address as the Tower House on Clear Creek, between French Gulch and Whiskeytown.) At last he had arrived in a place where mining could take precedence over farming, where his physical exertions could make a smart, industrious and lucky man rich beyond his dreams. John William Harrison had arrived at his promised land. He could finally make his home in a place where he had always lived in his heart.
Beginning in the 1860s, we find his name in mining claim ledgers in the Whiskeytown mining district. John William managed to survive and prosper through the most dangerous period of the Gold Rush in a town not known for human longevity. It was said by my grandfather John Bentley Harrison that the town was so tough they finally had to drown it in the 1960s under the lake bearing its name. The remains of one stone building with iron shutters stand above the waters of the lake as a reminder of a town that in its heyday offered incredible riches to all, but more often delivered ruined dreams.
Throughout his childhood, Johnıs yearning for gold had to be subordinated to the primary demands of a farmerıs existence. His preference would have been to harvest gold from the ground rather than crops of produce, and now e had the opportunity to realize it. We can only imagine Johnıs sense of fulfillment when he took to the steep slopes of such places as 3067-ft Mad Mule Mountain (which had its name from an early prospector's fractious mule).
The drinking and gambling, the fighting and the killing were all a part of the world he chose to live in. Moderation was not recognized as a virtue. He understood that the gold attracted all kinds of folks, including many of the worst, but these people had to be regarded as the neighbors that came with his dream. John William had no hesitation in finding mining partners among them.
The strains of the War between the States seem not to have affected John William directly, though it made communication with his family back home even more problematic. During the years of the war, Bentley Harrison, back in Georgia, had little contact with his son John William Harrison. Bentley wrote a sad letter to his niece Martha Harrison Van Dyke about his shattered and lost family on July 27, 1863:
"My son Franklin was killed in the war June 28, 1862 and my son Alfred was killed April 17, 1863 and son John went to California during the Gold Rush and said he had found gold and was coming home, but never returned."
Bentley lost his two older sons, who had stayed on the farm: Franklin, to typhoid fever in Virginia as a private with the Young Cane Volunteers at the Battle of Seven Pines; and Alfred to wounds sustained in battle at Greenville fighting as a cavalry trooper with the Blood Mountain Tigers.
Bentley even outlived John, his youngest son, so we may hope that he eventually came to know his Gold Rush son had not only survived but prospered, had married and had children who carry the family name to this day. John, in fact, in the 1860s and 70s, found himself in the right place at the right time.
In January 1862, a newsworthy item
in the weekly
local newspaper, the Shasta Courier: John William Harrison and a group of men
met to incorporate themselves to build a turnpike from Grizzly Gulch to the
Tower House in Shasta County. The men involved in the effort were J.W. Harrison,
Jasper Smith, Kean Mahoney, Philip Baker, S.W. Durant, R.B. Emery, David Maxim
and William Walton. These men were all miners, and nearly all in their late 20s
or early 30s. Baker was the exception at age 55. He was a Prussian, and mining
partner of Mahoney the Irishman. John Harrison was mixing with foreigners as
well as men from a variety of States: Smith was from Illinois, Durant from
Tennessee, Rufus Emery from Maine (Maxim and Walton seem to have missed both
1860 and 1870 censuses, and did not register to vote, so their origins are
unknown). John William Harrison had good reason to be involved in this road
concern, since he and his current mining partner Jasper Smith had active claims a few miles upstream from Whiskeytown in Grizzly Gulch. John also held claims on the north fork of French Gulch, to the west of French Gulch village, with another group of miners. These claims proved to be very productive: one was on the Banghart ledge (the Mad Mule mine) and another was the Honey Comb (later part of the Niagara group of mines).
One of the most important necessities for placer mining (as well as for other methods such as hydraulic mining) was water. John made sure he would always have a good supply by filing a "Notice" of claiming a right to build a dam across Clear Creek at Bull Gulch, upstream from Grizzly Gulch, with a ditch to carry the water to his placer claim. He also claimed a "Wright" (sic) to the water. This was recorded September 1, 1867 (Misc. Records, Book S:491). In 1871, he and his partner Thomas Senior also claimed a right to the water flowing in the bed of Grizzly Gulch (Misc. Records, Book S:525).
Even earlier, he had learned that water itself could produce income. When he and his partners Kean Mahoney and Jasper E. Smith sold their claim and mining right on the Shanghai Bar on the southwest side of Clear Creek,
opposite Grizzly Gulch, to Chinese miners Au Yun and You Kong, John agreed to furnish them with water at the rate of $1 per day for each sluicehead Liquid gold.
Both the Whiskeytown and the French Gulch mining districts had been worked for placer gold during the 1850s, and the first lode gold was mined in the French Gulch district in 1852. In a State Division of Mines mineral report of 1952, we read (p. 41): "This gold-quartz district has been the most important in the county and contains such well known mines as the... Franklin, Gladstone, Milkmaid, [and] Niagara.... Its total production is probably about 10 million dollars.
"Some of the ore taken from pockets or rich shoots was rich enough to be worked in hand mortars and arrastres until stamp mills could be built [after 1900]. Most of the gold mined in Shasta County from surface or
near-surface deposits was free and could be recovered by simple crushing and amalgamation [with mercury]."
Deeper mines meant a transition in gold mining methods. A lone miner could still work with diligence to eke out a living with his simple tools; but more equipment was needed for crushing ore by the ton to recover its few
ounces of gold. A deep mine, a mill and its equipment called for an investment risk that was lessened by being spread among a group of men, a "company."
In March of 1867, a Shasta Courier article acknowledged a general cry that placer mining was expended as a means of making a living. The Courier went on to cite John William Harrisonıs Brown & Harrison Mine in Grizzly Gulch as one that continued to have a high yield to the extent that it paid "$6,000.00 over the past year." Later in that month the paper also made mention of the highly successful Mad Ox and Mad Mule mines. Both were "as good as when first discovered."
In 1869 there was another article in the Courier citing high yields, again up in the mines of Grizzly Gulch above Whiskeytown. The gold occurred in pockets, some pockets yielding as much as $10,000 in gold. The mine of
Harrison, Smith & Co. was still doing well with long flumes conveying precious creek water. The Mad Ox again was mentioned for its continued wealth. Even later, the Mad Mule (Banghart) mine yielded a 13-ounce
specimen of crystallized gold that was exhibited at the Paris Exposition of 1878.
It is said that the Gold Rush itself was over by 1852. Many of the 49ers were already headed to Australia, Colorado and points north. The Courier voiced the citizensı hope that the prosperity and growth of the
area would not evaporate with the falling off of gold yields, and that they would not be the inhabitants of ghost towns. Not unlike the Assayer of the Dahlonega mint, Matthew Stephenson, pleading with miners not to abandon the hills of north Georgia for California in 1849, the Courier also was finding that miners are true to but one thing, the ready gold.
John William most certainly was one who would not quit the land of his dreams. He continued to work the gold from the hills and gulches, but he also took up other enterprises. In 1880, the census had John listed as a
hotel keeper. Evidently John had made enough to purchase the Madam Brown House in Grizzly Gulch. The fact that he changed his listed occupation from "mining engineer" to "hotel keeper" indicates that, now nearing 50, he
could recast his role and not have to labor so hard in the mines.
In July of 1875 John finally took a bride. At the age of 42, John married a young lady named Mary Elizabeth Joseph, of French Gulch. Her father, Charles Joseph, was French. He emigrated in 1850 with his wife, Marie, to
Trinity County. In the late 1850s Charles Joseph moved his family to French Gulch, where Marybeth and her younger brother Charles were born. In 1861, her father (possibly an innocent bystander) was killed in a saloon quarrel. Her mother was remarried in 1863, to John Morrel.
At the time of her marriage, Marybeth was less than half Johnıs age, but as a successful man of property he could ensure a woman a good existence, and in that era would have made him a prize catch. Sadly their marital bliss did not last long. In January of 1878, Johnıs young wife and their one-year old daughter both contracted scarlet fever and died within two weeks of each other: Marybeth passed away on January 19, 1878, age 18 years 2 months, and then his year-old daughter on January 30, 1978. We cannot fathom the pain John must have felt, helplessly watching his young wife and then his only child die from this dreadful disease. Mother and daughter were buried in the Morrel family plot in French Gulch, seemingly an end to John Williamıs hopes of a family.
A Courier article in June of 1886 regarding (once again) the Mad Ox mine and its history, mentions a wagon road that was completed in 1878 between the mine and Harrisonıs vineyard. The ditch for the water right he had
claimed in Grizzly Gulch was also serving as an irrigation ditch for his garden. Apparently John William had an enterprise in growing grapes up in Grizzly Gulch for the creation of drink for the thirsty.
John William resurfaced in an April, 1879 Courier report of heavy rains leaving a large deposit of sand and gravel near his place in Grizzly Gulch. John was described as "Not caring a cuss whether or not the sand is moved, as there was no danger of its sudden disappearance." John William seems to have maintained some measure of humor despite his bereavement the prior year, and saw little exposure to theft of the wash left at his doorstep.
He had not forgotten his first wife's family, however. In 1879 we find him "looking after" his late wife's younger brother Charles Joseph, his partner in locating a 1500-ft quartz claim on a ledge known as the Slate Gulch ledge. Charlie had trained as a carpenter and occasional blacksmith in the Deadwood mines in Trinity, so it was a mutually beneficial partnership. (Charles Joseph's full story is told in the 1973 Covered Wagon.)
The Shasta Courier went on to report the gold yields in the area, and the Mad Ox mine continued to be a success story. In 1884, the paper observed philosophically that a miner would come to town with his earnings, go on a spree, play Monte and go home broke with little more to show for his efforts than a black eye. The habits and ways of the miner, whether working for himself or for a mining company, had changed little in the days that followed the Rush of 1849. More notable residents' trips to town were also noted: in March of 1884, John William had come from Grizzly Gulch down to Shasta town. It may have been for legal matters, or possibly just a haircut; or to buy the most recent best seller. He is said to have bought "books-by-the-yard," from back east, and according to his granddaughter Carol Ann Harrison, was highly literate and ran an informal library for the community out of his house.
The Shasta Courier next reported an unfortunate but common calamity that effected John William on July 21, 1888:
"The old Madam Brown place at Grizzly Gulch, above Whiskeytown owned by John Harrison, was destroyed by fire last week. In former times it was a great place of Sunday resort for miners, and a stopping and resting place for wayfarers. Twenty percent of the gold dust changed there, and money spent, would make anyone a millionaire."
John Williamıs tenure as a "hotel keeper" was over. We tend to believe this reversal of fortune did not get John William down--the Courier's comments imply he was a millionaire and offered no great sympathy, just nostalgia. According to Carol Ann, John William had even acquired his own private railcar, and it was one of the last of his possessions sold by his widow in the early 1900s. For indeed, he had just recently found a new bride by the name of Carolista Davis.
Carolista was the daughter of an Ohio printer, Josiah Patrick Davis. Davis had come overland to Whiskeytown in the 1860ıs to seek his fortune, or perhaps to escape from the prospect of conscription into the Union Army. He was a poet, a regular contributor to Scientific American and at one-time the publisher of the Russian River Flag. Carolista was born and raised in the mining town. She was said to be of great beauty with flaming red hair, coupled with a wild and fearless nature suitable for life in Whiskeytown. Her father was said to have carried a bullet in his skull throughout his life as a result of a "misunderstanding" during a card game. He was also said to have shot Carolista's first beau.
Carolista had married an Englishman, a miner named Charles P. Summers* in June of 1881. Records show that she and Summers had three children in short order. Summers was what was known as a "remittance man"< that is, a man exiled by his family as an embarrassment, a person who was paid a remittance by his family to stay away, to live in some remote crown colony or place where his reputation would not disgrace his family in England. Summers was also said to have been a teacher during various periods of his life.
We donıt know what went wrong with Carolistaıs marriage to Summers. Perhaps his luck as a miner was poor, or he lacked skills enabling him to earn a high wage working in the mines. Perhaps Carolista found the hardships unbearable, or he was abusive. Whatever the reason, Carolista took her children and left Summers to marry John William Harrison in June of 1886.
John was now 53. He had led a long life for that day and age, but at this late date saw one last chance at building a family and settling into his twilight years with a good woman.
By 1890 John William had two children by Carolista, as well as the three step children. The hotel fire happened during this time. We could speculate that perhaps Mr. Summers had a hand in it, out of jealousy, but wood-frame buildings frequently burned, and were so often subject to this hazard that such suspicion is probably unwarranted.
John and Carolista's first child was daughter Mary Elizabeth Harrison. It is telling that they named their daughter after John Williamıs first bride and daughter lost to scarlet fever so many years before. It speaks highly of Carolista that she would have allowed John to remember and honor his first attempt at a family in this way. It also speaks highly of John William himself that he had a depth of emotion and feeling that compelled him to pay this respect to his lost loved ones. It is quite possible that Carolista and Johnıs deceased wife Marybeth were friends back in the 1870s, as they were close in age to each other, and the naming of their first daughter may have been a decision of equal relevance to both.
John Williamıs second child with Carolista was a son, born in 1889 and given the name of John Bentley Harrison after himself and the childıs grandfather, Bentley Harrison, back in Georgia.
These acts in naming his offspring are tangible glimpses into the softer side of John William. Obviously he thought of his loved ones when he named his children, and his recollections of his families were strong with love.
In August of 1888 the Courier makes mention of the gathering of the Harrison and Morton Club holding its second regular meeting. Evidently this club was an association of Republicans who were part of the effort to get
Grover Clevelandıs name on the ballot. It seems somewhat odd that John William would have been a Republican, given the fact that it was the party of Lincoln, and this Son of the South had lost two brothers in the war for the Confederate States of America. No doubt he had gotten word from back east about the horrors of the Reconstruction.
The mountains of North Georgia were in near anarchy after the Civil War. The mountain folk were never big supporters of slavery or secession, and loyalties were always divided in the north counties. While most soldiers of the CSA were listed as volunteers, history has shown the truth that many were press-ganged into service under threat of bodily injury or death for refusing. The Reconstruction came and it got even worse, to the point that Bentley even registered as a Republican after the war--unheard of for him!--but undoubtedly expedient under the carpet-baggers.
The next piece of information we have regarding John William comes from an article in May of 1889, in which it is noted that John Harrison of Grizzly Gulch was in town for the first time in a coonıs age. This time, we know
from a matching record dated May 14, 1889 (Official Record 25:185), that he was transferring title of his property on the west side of Grizzly Gulch to the Celestine Mining Company of San Francisco. The nominal sale price was $5, the cost of recording. Included were the improvements (presumably outbuildings and perhaps whatever was left of Madame Brown's hotel), and also one small "irragting" ditch taking water out of Grizzly Gulch "about 1/4 mile above the Garden, conducting water on to the same; and also a 1/2 interest in the water rite [sic] of said ditch."
John's address as noted on the record was "Stella," as the postal authorities refused to recognize the name Whiskeytown until 1952. The voting precinct was named Whiskeytown in 1865, but over the years the P.O.
has been called Blair, Stella, or Schilling.
John still had 80 acres of property in or near Whiskeytown, with water rights for Grizzly Gulch and Whiskey Creek. There were probably buildings on it providing a suitable living place for him and his family; and they
could always go to Woodward's hotel in Whiskeytown if Carolista didn't feel like cooking.
We come now to the untimely close of John William Harrisonıs lifetime. At a point when all was well with him, his enterprises all running well, his family strong and healthy, his children and Summerıs children growing
together as a family, John William had a well-earned retirement to look forward to. As he settled into his old age he would have a young wife to keep his spirits lively, children to help with the chores and grow up to work his commercial operations, and no real money worries. Surely John William had come through many trials and hardships to at last enjoy a life complete with a family and a son who would carry on the family name and
Sadly, this was not to be the case: the lifetime allotment of luck and good fortune allocated to John William ran short at this late date in his life. The Shasta Courier told of John Williamıs demise in a rather matter-of-fact
manner, dryly reporting on April 26, 1890:
"John Harrison, of Grizzly Gulch and Chas. P. Summers of this place got into an altercation at Woodwardıs hotel, Whiskeytown, Thursday, which culminated in Harrisonıs striking Summers several times with a grubbing
hoe, when the latter retaliated by shooting his assailant with a pistol, producing wounds which soon afterwards proved fatal. Summers came down to Shasta, on his way to Redding to surrender himself to the authorities, and
was met here by J.E. Reynolds, whom he kindly escorted to the county jail."
The newspaper continued its weekly reports.
"The examination of Charles P. Summers was commenced Thursday before Judge Knox, and still continues, there being a large number of witnesses on hand, the proportion of them that don't know anything about
the Harrison-Summers affair outranking those who do know something about it." (May 3, 1890)
"The preliminary examination of Charles P. Summers for shooting John W. Harrison at Whiskeytown, closed before Justice Knox last Saturday evening, resulting in holding Summers to appear before the Superior Court
to answer the charge of murder." (May 10, 1890) More time and research may uncover more details of John William's life and the final disposition of the charges lodged against Summers. Carolista remarried, but we do not know what became of her after the 1900 census. And we do not even know where John William Harrison was buried.
We of John Williamı s family were given to understand that John William was shot in the back in a cowardly fashion. We never had the complete details or circumstances of the altercation, whether there were reliable witnesses to the killing, or if it might have been staged by a rage- and jealousy-driven Chas. P. Summers. If in fact John William did have at Summers, we suspect that there was good reason.
A partial explanation for the confrontation is that, according to one account, Summers had come to Woodward's Hotel in order to visit his children. Carolista had to realize this was a legitimate request on
Summers' part, but John probably felt she and the children needed his presence and protection--though a grubbing hoe is no defense against a pistol. John William was about 57 years old at the time. Summers was at
least 10 years younger. Summers said that he was attacked, but he must have launched a powerful provocation at John William. However it happened, Carolista was left a widow with five children to raise.
Perhaps the final testament to John William Harrison comes to us in the form of the last known census record of Carolista. In 1900 she was listed as Carolista Cummings, single parent, head of household. Carolistaıs two
subsequent marriages had failed. Her three children by Chas P. Summers now bore the name of Cummings. Carolista would not give her Summers children their fatherıs name, for it was the name of the man who murdered her beloved John Harrison, the one husband she had been happy with. Carolista never discussed the matter, and all of her children developed nicknames for each other that circumvented the awkwardness of the naming issue. John William Harrisonı s great-grandchildren carry the Harrison name proudly to this day.
About the Author and Family
Gerard Harrison is the great-grandson of John William Harrison, and grandson of John William's only son, John Bentley Harrison (the first). John Bentley Harrison's only sister, Marybeth, died of stomach ailments in
the 1920s and left no surviving children.
John Bentley Harrison was born and raised in the greater Grizzly Gulch, Redding and Shasta areas. As a young man he worked for John Barrymore's private rodeo in the earlier part of the 20th century as a rider and roper. John Bentley joined the Navy, served in WWI, and married Amelia Linneman in Brooklyn, New York. He met Amelia after discharge from the Navy at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. John and Amelia settled in Malverne, New York and had two children, Carol Ann and John Bentley II.
Gerard Harrison was born August 2, 1951 in Rockville Center NY, son of John Bentley Harrison II and Catherine Murphy. He was raised in Saudi Arabia and Upper Montclair NJ with two other brothers and three younger sisters.
Gerard currently resides with wife Virginia in Port Washington, New York and is the proud father of 21-year-old twins, David and Erika Harrison. He works for AT&T in New York City, and looks forward to the day when a future grandson is named Bentley William Harrison, as his son intends, in honor
and memory of his fearless ancestors.
What I found interesting in all my research were the common patterns of behavior, good and bad, among successive generations of Harrisons. They all chose untamed venues to operate in, and had pretty wild natures. My father stayed very much true to our heritage by dragging us to a primitive, untamed Saudi Arabia in the 1950s to negotiate drilling rights for the oil companies with the Arabs (mining for "black gold"). Then he went into banking, hoping to profit from the oil money that resulted from his earlier efforts, not unlike John William's subsequent development of orchards and vineyards to siphon the gold money from the prospectors. This story is a testament to the drive and determination of our forebears, and their willingness to take risks.
*The spelling of the name "Charles Summers" was consistent in three voter
registrations, but has variously appeared as Summers, Somers or Sommers in
The author would like to acknowledge and extend his most sincere
thanks to Ileene Norton, Madge and Bert Walsh as well
as Jenny Abbe, and all the other members of the Shasta Historical Society .
Without their invaluable time, enthusiasm and
efforts, this story could never have been put to words.
John William Harrison's life was a small part in our common history, but
also a large part of the author's family history that
had been lost. My debt of gratitude is as large as the dreams that drove the
miners up into the mountains in 1849.
Gerard F. Harrison
This page updated June 6, 2002