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William McCutchen our third Sheriff was a large man, standing well over six feet tall. He was born in Davidson County, Tennessee in 1816. Sometime prior to 1836 the McCutchen family moved to Missouri, where William met his wife Amanda Henderson. In early 1845 they had a daughter, Harriett. In the Spring of 1846 the McCutchens loaded their valuables into a wagon and headed west for California. They made it far as Fort Bridger in Wyoming when either their wagon or oxen gave out. Several days later they thought their fortunes had changed for the better when a new train of twenty wagons rumbled into the fort. After a day's rest and a restocking of provisions the Captain of the wagon train invited the McCutchens to join their party west. The McCutchens then became part of western history, for they had just joined the ill-fated Donner Party. During the trip westward, William and another member of the party, C.T. Stanton left the main group and headed for Sutter's Fort. Once at Sutter's Fort the two were to secure provisions and return to the wagon train. Unfortunately, by the time McCutchen and Stanton reached the fort, William had become extremely sick and wasn't able to make the return trip. The second relief trip, which included McCutchen, found what was left of the "Snow shoe party" that was making their way out of the mountains. Amanda was part of this group, but Harriett was not. She had died back at Donner Lake on February 2nd, and was buried inside one of the makeshift cabins.
William and Amanda first settled in Sonoma, later moving to San Jose. By 1852 the McCutchens had three children - James, John and Thomas. In the September election of 1853, William won the Sheriff job by 113 votes over S.O. Houghton. He took office October 3,1853.
Sheriff McCutchen and Peter Minor, an Alderman of San Jose, failed to rest on the Sabbath. Prefering to test their equestrian skills they had a horse race through the streets of San Jose. The Sheriff won the race by a half a neck. The prize, a bottle of whisky. Unfortunately the City Marshal didn't seem to appreciate horse racing through his streets and arrested both the Sheriff and Alderman. The next morning they were arraigned before Mayor Houghton and were fined $10 each.
Amanda died in 1857 at the age of 35. She died of complications while giving birth to their fourth son, Edward Johnson McCutchen. Edward eventually became a prominent attorney in a San Francisco law firm that still bears his name, McCutchen, Doyle, Brown and Enersen. William lived to the age of 79 years, dying after suffering a stroke on April 17,1895. He was buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery in San Jose.
The Santa Clara Register, September 15,1853
The San Jose Telegraph, July 31,1855
The San Jose Telegraph, November 25,1857
The Pioneer, May 15,1895
The San Jose Daily Mercury, April 19,1895
Sawyer, Eugene T., History of Santa Clara County California, The Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago Ill., 1888
Stewart, George R., Ordeal by Hunger, Univ. of Nebraska Press
McGlashan, C. F., History of the Donner Party, Stanford Univ. Press
Big Bill and the Donner Ordeal, Unknown auther and date.
McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen Counselors at Law, San Francisco.