J. R. Morrison was born to James and Elizabeth Morrison in 1837. His father and mother imigrated to the United States from Ireland. Like thousands before and after them, they went through Ellis Island. James had saved his earnings and soon the couple found some suitable land on which to settle in New York.
1837 - 1871
James was a farmer by trade and of course his wife did nearly everything else around the farm until the children could pictch in and help. He and Elizabeth had three other children, William, Isabella and Eliza Jane.
Robert was the third in line.
The Morrison farm thrived and the kids grew up intelligent, independent, healthy and strong. They learned about the land. They learned about hard work. It is quite possible that young Robert didn't care much for farming.
In the late 1850s, he traveled west. The story that gold simply laid out in the open waiting to be plucked from the ground lured many impressionable boys of the era. Morrison made friends easily and soon partnered with some others in a couple of early mining adventures.
One location was Monoville, also known as Mono Diggins. It was one of the first towns on the eastern side of the Sierra’s in California. It was located about 12 miles south-southeast of Bridgeport. When nearby Dog Town Diggins, became over crowded, Monoville became the staging point and key supply location for miners searching the region on their own.
A post office operated at Monoville from 1859 to 1862. At its peak, Monoville had a population over 1,000. One of those explorers was William S. Bodey, for whom the town of Bodie was named.
Morrison moved on to nearby Owensville around 1863. It was located on of site of what is now the Laws Railroad Museum in Inyo County.The work of a miner is gruelling. Robert, usually called Bob by his friends, was smart. He decided to parlay his earnings into something that was more secure. He became a merchant.
By 1868 he had expanded his holdings and now owned the Benton General Store at Benton Hot Springs, California. It was a bustling community, frequented by local ranchers, miners and the folks that show up to ply on the less fortunate.
At the age of 31, Morrison was selected by Wells Fargo to act as their regional Wells Fargo agent. His business prospered. It became more than he could handle alone.
Therefore, in 1869, he hired Henry Devine, a young man from Pennsylvania. He was a much better store clerk than he was a miner!
His life changed dramatically when Henry's sister, Sarah, came to visit early in 1970. Miss Devine was taken by the surrounding terrain and decided to stay. Before long the two found a strong attraction for each other.
All their friends considered them a perfect match.
By September 1871, Bob had asked her to marry him. She agreed. Sarah was planning a visit to Los Angeles to see her family that were coming west for a vacation. She and Bob planned to be married upon her return.
Unfortunately, the day after Bob put Sarah on a stage bound for Los Angeles, life threw him a curve ball.
It was learned that six escaped outlaws from the Nevada State Prison in Carson City had killed a mail rider near Sweetwater, Nevada and were in the local vicinity. Bob was asked to round up a posse by Sheriff George Hightower.
The Benton Hot Spring posse encountered the outlaws on September 23. The outlaws were surprised, but quickly recovered. They had two Henry Rifles stolen from the Nevada State Prison. Once they opened up with those repeating rifles, the posse was routed. Robert Morrison along with Indian Guide Mono Jim were killed in the gun battle that followed.
He is buried in the graveyard that is part of the Old House at Benton Hot Springs Bed & Breakfast facility in Benton Hot Springs. At the top left is a photo of Mount Morrison, named in his honor, that overlooks Convict Lake.
Convict Wild West Days, set for September 21 through 23, 2012, will celebrate the anniversary of this shoot out with lots of family oriented activities.