"I have at last found the far west, and intend to end my ramblings here..."
~John Marsh, 1846"
Marsh's Early Life
John Marsh was born in 1799 in South Danvers, Massachusetts, to a family of English descent. Young Marsh graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover in 1819 and attended Harvard University from 1819 to 1823. He received a Bachelors Degree and then studied medicine under a Boston doctor. Upon his graduation, he left for the Michigan Territory, where he tutored Colonel Snelling's children. This inspired Marsh to open the first school in the state of Minnesota.
In his spare time he explored Indian villages and was appointed as a sub-agent for the Sioux Agency. At the Agency he met and fell in love with Marguerite Deconteaux, who was of French Canadian and Sioux Indian descent. As his common-law wife, she bore him a son named Charles.
Besides teaching, Marsh pursued his interests in medicine, and studied for two years under Dr.Purcell of Fort Snelling, Minnesota. Marsh also became involved in Indian politics. In Prarie Du Chien, he warned the Sioux leaders about a meeting between their enemy tribes, the Fox and Sauk. This resulted in a massacre of the Fox and Sauk by the Sioux. Marsh was forced to take his wife and small child to safety in New Salem, Illinois.
Marsh returned to Prarie Du Chien, leaving Margurite and Charles behind. Margurite, pregnant with a second child, became lonely for Marsh and walked hundreds of miles to find him. Weak and exhausted, she and the unborn child died in labor. Unable to raise Charles on his own, Marsh left his son to be raised by the Paintier Family in New Salem, Illinois.
Following Margurite's death, Marsh commanded the Sioux Indians in the Black Hawk War. Soon after, it was discovered that Marsh had illegally sold guns to them. Marsh quickly left the area to avoid arrest and established himself as a merchant in Independence, Missouri. He visited his son Charles in Illinois only one more time before his business failed in 1853. Yearning to travel to California, Marsh set forth on the Santa Fe Trail.
Marsh reached the Pueblo of Los Angeles in 1836. He proclaimed himself a doctor and obtained a permit to practice medicine by presenting his Harvard diploma as a medical license. Since the authorities could not read the Latin on his diploma, they accepted his word in the matter. Doctor Marsh developed a thriving practice; exchanging his services for cowhides, tallow and furs. His true desire, however, was to become a rancher. He sold his earnings to a trader for $500 and traveled north in search of property.
After exploring much of northern California, Dr. Marsh bought a large rancho in 1837 from Jose Noriega. The tract measured twelve miles by ten miles and had an area of 17,000 acres. He named his land Rancho Los Meganos, meaning "sand dunes" in Spanish. With the help of the Indians, Marsh built a crude adobe structure. It was a small, one-story house, divided into four large rooms and a large attic, where two vaqueros lived. The flooring was of earth, and one room had a fireplace by which Marsh read nightly. Outside on either side of the door were benches where Marsh sat during the long summer twilights.
Isolated among the Indians, in the shadow of Mount Diablo, along the banks of a winding creek, Marsh set to work to make his fortune.
Marsh's settlement along the creek (which would later bear his name) became quite prosperous. He and the Indians planted a vegetable garden and orchard from cuttings he obtained at Mission San Jose. They planted apples, plums, pears, figs, almonds, olives, an extensive vineyard and a field of wheat.
The first "hospital" was Marsh's adobe, where he treated wounded or sick explorers. His services were in great demand all over the state and his medical fees were paid in cattle, according to the distance he had to travel. Consequently, his cattle stock grew to nearly 6,000, increasing by 1,500 head annually.
Much trading took place on his rancho and Marsh established Marsh's Landing (present day Antioch) near the San Joaquin River. It was there that numerous gold seekers stopped en route to the gold fields in the Sierras. Marsh, himself, prospected for gold near Marysville and returned to his rancho with gold dust and nuggets valued near $40,000. Supposedly, he buried his gold somewhere near his property.
Marsh advocated Californias annexation to the United States and encouraged other Americans to emigrate to California. He wrote letters and sent maps to Americans across the county and hosted many explorers at his rancho.
Doctor Marsh enjoyed his success and influence in California, but he was lonely; especially since attempts to locate his son Charles had been fruitless.
Abby & The Stone House
In 1851, the Reverend William W. Smith introduced Marsh to Abigail "Abby" Smith Tuck, a schoolteacher from New England, who also served as principal at a girls school in San Jose. After a brief, two-week courtship they were married. Soon after the wedding, the couple moved into the old adobe, around which Abby planted roses, dahlias, cinnamon pinks and peonies. She enjoyed the creek that ran, deep and still, near her kitchen door. Under the oaks and alders that fringed the creek bank, she had a favorite spot where she sat and read. On March 12, 1852 she gave birth to a daughter whom they named Alice.
Marsh soon began construction on a magnificent home built entirely of stone quarried from nearby hills. Abby chose the location of the home: next to the creek, with a fine view of the surrounding valley and Mt. Diablo. Designed by San Francisco architect Thomas Boyd, the Gothic-Revival style home incorporated a sixty-five foot tower and exterior porch supported by octagon pillars. The entire cost of the home did not exceed $20,000.
Abby died, however, before the Stone House was completed. Marsh chose not to move into the new home. Their daughter Alice was entrusted to the care of Mrs. Thompson at Marshs Landing.
As a landowner, Marsh continually encountered troubles with squatters and cattle thieves. However, the events that led to his death were precipitated by a salary dispute with his Vaqueros. On September 24, 1856, while en route to Martinez on his way to San Francisco, three Mexican horsemen robbed and murdered him.
Shortly before his death, according to legend, a young man approached his door seeking shelter from a harsh storm. It was his son Charles, who had journeyed to California in search of his father. They enjoyed a happy, although short-lived reunion.
Charles tracked down his fathers murderer, Felipe Moreno, and brought him to justice. Both Charles and Abby inherited the Marsh Ranch. Charles' family briefly occupied the Stone House, and it was later occupied by numerous tenant farmers.