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Wed, Jul 29, 2020

People of Evergreen: William Blackburn

Previously, we introduced you to history of Evergreen Cemetery and the Imus and Arcan family. This week as we take a look at another notorious figure buried at Santa Cruz's historical cemetery, Judge William Blackburn, whose extensive work, and odd predicaments, helped shape the early beginnings of Santa Cruz.


Like many of the early settlers of California, William Blackburn had propelled himself on a journey towards success. Born in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in 1814, Blackburn would go on to work at numerous posts before securing his renowned judiciary position.

After working in New Orleans for some time, Blackburn became a talented cabinetmaker, honing skills that would aid him greatly in the early fall of 1845, when he and the rest of the Swasey-Todd Party arrived in Santa Cruz and began working at a lumber business at Zayante Creek. Blackburn and his men had arrived at a time of great political unrest, as tensions were growing between the American settlers and the Mexican government who controlled the land. Eventually, war broke out and Lieutenant Blackburn served until resigning from the Battalion in 1847.

After returning to Santa Cruz, Lt. Blackburn was given the opportunity to become Judge Blackburn, after the first American Alcalde (or Judge) of Santa Cruz, JL Majors, resigned from his post and recommended Blackburn as his replacement. Blackburn was officially appointed as the Second Alcalde on June 21st, 1847. His reign as Alcalde (i.e. the chief judicial officer of a town) has always caught the eye of local historians due to his rather unusual rulings.

In one instance, a young man had cut the mane and tail from his neighbor’s horse to make a whip without asking permission. When the owner of the horse decided to press charges Judge Blackburn needed to make a ruling on this unprecedented case.

What ruling would you make if you were in Judge Blackburn’s shoes?

After much deliberation and searching for precedent from other courts, Blackburn ruled that as penance the young man must be taken to the main square in Santa Cruz and shaved “from crown to buttock”.


It was not long after that Blackburn received news of the Gold Rush and resigned as Alcalde to join others in seeking fortune. He set out for Sutterville in 1848, but quickly realized how difficult it was for gold miners to obtain proper supplies.

After returning to Santa Cruz in 1849, he began farming potatoes to send down to the miners. At one point, his crop was valued at $100,000. Which if you were to calculate for inflation would make Blackburn a multi-millionaire in his day.

Over the years, Blackburn would go on to acquire acreage, including an orchard, a tannery, and a home. For those who love Santa Cruz houses as much as we do, you can still see the original house that William Blackburn owned and lived in. Known as the Blackburn House, the historic point is located on Sycamore Avenue in Downtown Santa Cruz.

New Publication Coming Soon!

Evergreen Cemetery of Santa Cruz (Arcadia History Press) which includes a more detailed account of Blackburn's contributions to Santa Cruz as well as those of his wife Harriet, will be available at bookstores and at MAH on August 31st.

In the meantime, view our full list of Publications here.