The “Most Unique” Adventures of John Scott, Black Pioneer

The obituary of John Scott, black pioneer of Tehama County, reads like an adventure novel. I wish I could find more information about him. So far the only two sources are his obituary in the Red Bluff Daily News (May 20, 1916) and an entry in Black Pioneers in Tehama County California History by Grace Alice Brambley Jackson.

John Scott was born into slavery in Virginia in 1815. When he was about 23 years old he escaped and joined a band of Cherokee Indians. He traveled with them on the Cherokee “Trail of Tears” to the Indian Territory in 1838. Using the Indian Territory as his base, he made forays into Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri to rescue his enslaved brother, sister-in-law and friends, conducting them on the “underground railroad” to Canada.

After about five years of freedom, he was captured. His old owner could not be located, so he was sold to a Lieutenant Hoskins of the U. S. Army. With Hoskins he joined Colonel John C. Fremont’s expedition to California in 1845, which gave him his first sight of Tehama County, where he would later settle. (I could not confirm the names Hoskins or Scott as members of Fremont’s expedition.)

He served with Lt. Hoskins in the Mexican War, in which the lieutenant was killed and Scott was wounded. After the war he was returned to Hoskins’ widow, but he soon ran away from her and from slavery, never to be enslaved again. He joined a wagon train headed for California sometime in the early 1850s.

At first he located at Copper City in Calaveras County. According to his obituary:

Scott discovered a rich gold mine but under the existing laws he could not file on it or claim ownership because of the fact that he was a Negro. Two Copper City gamblers found out about Scott’s discovery, and learning he could not hold the property decided to take it away from him. In the fight that followed the attempt, Scott killed one of the men. At that time and in that place a colored man was merely tolerated at best and when it became known he had killed a while man his life was to say the least, a poor insurance risk, and he immediately left for parts elsewhere. A reward of several thousand dollars was offered for his capture but he was never caught.

After his escape. he spent a few years in Oregon and Utah, then returned to California about 1869 and settled in Tehama County. He married Margaret Bell in 1865, but in the 1880 census of Red Bluff, he is listed as a widower. At that time he was living with his four children: Lillie (18), William (13), and twins Andrew and George (11). His race is given as “Mu” for mulatto. He farmed on property on Reed’s Creek just south of Red Bluff.

Photo courtesy of the African American Museum & Library at Oakland

In his elder years he was known as “Uncle John” Scott. His obituary noted that “locally he was always prominent among the members of his race and has always been accorded a respect amounting almost to reverence by those who knew him best.” His 100th birthday was celebrated with a grand picnic in the oak grove on his property and attended by family and friends, both black and white.

Just imagine the stories the man could tell!

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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