A Real Life Pioneer: Andrew Jackson Elsbree (1828-1914)

A.J. Elsbree, Night Watchman of Sonora

We here at The Practical Pioneer thought it would be interesting to write about some real-life pioneers, especially those in our own family. We happen to have a professional genealogist on staff (Ian Feavearyear!), and we’ve asked him to contribute an occasional post expanding on a Real Life Pioneer found somewhere in our own personal lineage. Sound fun? We thought so, too!

A.J. Elsbree & his faithful "Rover"

A.J. Elsbree & his faithful “Rover”

So, without further ado, the subject of today’s Real Life Pioneers is The Practical Pioneer’s (Robynne Miller) great-great grandfather, Andrew Jackson Elsbree, who was a pioneer of the city of Sonora, Tuolumne County, California. Take it away, Ian!


Andrew was born in 1828 in Fall River, Massachusetts, the son of John Elsbree and Susan (Sanford) Elsbree. Andrew’s parents both died young—his mother between 28 and 29, when Andrew was only 7 years old, and his father was 38, when Andrew was 16-17. Both of Andrew’s parents descended from old New England families, with his father being a direct descendant of Mayflower passenger, Richard Warren (via the Warren, Church, Boomer, and Luther families).

It appears that his father’s death precipitated the need for Andrew to seek a new life and, at the young age of 17, he began a life at sea, traveling all over the world on both commercial ships and warships. He finally arrived in San Francisco June 7, 1855 and it was from San Francisco that he made his way to Tuolumne County, California, where he initially resided in Jamestown.

Sketch of Sonora c. 1852

Sketch of Sonora c. 1852

Once in Tuolumne, he began placer (gold) mining and worked on various claims in Columbia, finally ending up in Sonora in 1858. It was here that he began to take $30-$40 of gold (roughly $2,500-$3,500 in current gold values) from the ravine on his property every day and in ten weeks had earned $3,481 in gold (roughly $290,000 today). Apparently he even once found a nugget weighing 6½ pounds!

When in Sonora, at the age of 39, he married the widowed Pamelia Caroline Smith Tucker and had 8 (or possibly 9!) children with her and the Elsbrees became a prominent family in Sonora. However, it was for his role as the night watchman of Sonora that he is best known:

He’s often been placed in positions where he was obliged to exert great shrewdness to avoid personal violence. Being well known as a man of courage, he was made deputy constable, with full power to keep the peace, and for twenty-three years and seven months was the night watchman for the city of Sonora, being the oldest night watchman in the state. He had many thrilling experiences and hairbreadth escapes in the prosecution of his duty, and ever has he been loyal to those whom he served. At all times he was assisted by his faithful dog “Rover,” which on a number of occasions was instrumental in the saving of his life. Night Watchman Elsbree and his dog “Rover,” are widely known in their section of the state to both desperado and the law-abiding citizen.

(Source: A Volume of Memoirs and Genealogy of Representative Citizens of Northern California, 1901, Standard Genealogical Publishing Company.)

Elsbree Memorial, Sonora

Elsbree Memorial, Sonora

The esteem in which Andrew J. Elsbree was held by the citizens of Sonora is expressed most wonderfully in his obituary, which appeared in the Union Democrat, May 2, 1914:

In the 61 years of his life spent here he was ever found to be an honorable and upright citizen, and enjoyed to the fullest extent the confidence and esteem of every member of the community. For years, in the more turbulent times, he was guardian of the town by night, and he was vigilant and faithful in the performance of his duties, and fearless and brave when the situation required the exercise of those qualities. Gentle, genial and generous, the heart of a true pioneer beat beneath his breast, and its beats were ever in sympathy with the afflicted in all walks of life.

I feel so honored to be even remotely connected to this amazing pioneering man, who served his community so faithfully for so many years and who, as his obituary stated, was a true pioneer.

1 Comment on "A Real Life Pioneer: Andrew Jackson Elsbree (1828-1914)"

  1. Thank you for this
    article about our mutual ancestor

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