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John Marion Murphy was an early pioneer to California and well as the fifth Sheriff of Santa Clara County. John's parents emigrated from Ireland to Canada in 1820, where John was born. Unsatisfied with the political surroundings of Canada, Martin Murphy Sr. packed up his family and crossed the border in 1840, settling in Missouri. For fear of losing his family to a deadly Malaria epidemic, Martin started making plans and building up supplies for the long journey west. In the Spring of 1844, twenty six members of the Murphy family joined a wagon train headed to California led by Captain Elisha Stephens; although spelled differently, Stevens Creek Road is named after him. The "Stephens-Townsend-Murphy party" became the first wagon train to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains. John Murphy was only 19 years old when he crossed the country and settled in Santa Clara County.
In 1846, John was commissioned a Lieutenant under Captain Weber of the San Jose Volunteers. He was to help recruit volunteers in Santa Clara County to fight in the Mexican War. In early 1847, Murphy, along with a force of 101 men, marched from San Francisco to Santa Clara where they met with an army of 250 Mexicans under the command of a man named Sanchez. The Americans were able to drive the Mexicans into the Santa Cruz Mountains, ending the so called "Battle of Santa Clara." The casualties of the war included 4 Mexican men killed, 4 wounded. Two American solders were slightly wounded.
When John heard about gold being discovered, he wasted no time reaching the gold fields. In August or September of 1848, John entered into a partnership with Captain Weber and opened a small trading post near Placerville. When the gold started to play out, Murphy headed south settling in Calaveras County. With his brother Daniel, he opened up a trading post in an area that became known as Murphy's Diggings. John, although only 23 years old, knew how to handle the local Indians. He was very successful in getting them to mine gold for him in trade for merchandise from his business. It was said that by the time John left Murphy's in 1849, he had well over 2 million dollars in gold with him.
John returned to San Jose, and in 1850 married Virginia Reed, daughter of James F. Reed, both of whom were survivors of the ill-fated Donner Party. Virginia was only sixteen at the time of her engagement to John. They had eight children, two died in infancy.
In the first election of Santa Clara County in 1850, John was voted to serve as the first County Treasurer, 515 votes to 328 votes for Lewis Bascom. On April 10, 1854, he was elected a City Councilmen for the City of San Jose. In the election of 1857, Murphy ran for Sheriff on the Democratic ticket. He beat out Sheriff McCabe 987 to 680. He became the first Sheriff of Santa Clara County to be re-elected. In 1859, Murphy was re-elected over James H. Morgan, in a vertical landslide, 1334 to 988. In the next election, September 1861, instead of running for Sheriff, he ran for County Tax Collector. A race he lost to Noah Palmer, 1731 to 1387.
After leaving his political offices, John Murphy joined the private sector. Over the years, John worked as a salesmen and auctioneer for T.W. & Spring Company, and as a Real Estate and insurance salesman with his wife and son, John M. Murphy Jr.
John died on Wednesday, February 19,1892, after suffering a lingering illness at his home on San Augustin Street.
The San Jose Telegraph, April 13,1854
The San Jose Telegraph, September 9,1857
The San Jose Telegraph, September 10,1859
The San Jose Weekly Mercury, July 20,1876
The San Jose Daily Mercury, February 19,1892
San Jose City Directory1876
San Jose City Directory 1881-2
Schmidt, Earl F., Who Were The Murphys, Mooney Flat Ventures, Murphys California, 1992
Wood, Richard C., Murphys Queen of the Sierra, Abrahamson Printing, Lodi California, 1982