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Sunday, January 19, 1997

Pioneer prospered with cattle, stores

Kristin Delaplane

Lemon helps form Suisun vigilantes

Suisun’s pioneer John B. Lemon was born 1825 in Indiana and received a rudimentary education. At age 24 he was a clerk in a general store when news of the gold discovery in California reached Indiana and his imagination.
In 1849, Lemon left home to travel by mule train to seek his fortune.

He was soon disappointed with the hard, often unprofitable miner’s life, however, and set his sights in other directions. He opened a series of general stores in the Mother Lode - Kelsey’s Dry Diggings, Coloma and finally in Greenwood Valley - and became quite successful.

By 1852, he had saved enough money to seek other dreams. He returned to Indiana to marry his girl, Hattie A. Miller.

The newlyweds and Lemon’s brother, James, made a four-month trek back to California, this time herding 250 head of cattle.

The family group made their way to Solano County and settled in Green Valley where the brothers formed a partnership raising cattle.

By 1856, John Lemon decided to re-enter the dry goods business and the brothers went into the general store in Suisun City, taking over the store Jones and Samuels and buying out all their stock. It appears that this general store was located in the post office building at the “old stand” of the town’s plaza.

That same year it was reported that the “Mrs. Lemons were constructing a building to be occupied as a store by them.”

In 1857, it was noted that the buildings in Suisun City were a testament to its mercantile prosperity. There were the large brick stores of McClory & Ballard, Merrill & Maston and J.B. Lemon & Co. In the rooms upstairs in the Lemon’s building the lawyers Witman & Wells were doing business.

As businessmen in the general store, John and James were dealers in dry goods, groceries, boots and shoes and hardware.

Some of the prices of the day were noted in John’s account book. Blankets in his store sold for $3.75; a coat for $11; a boy’s suit for $4; gloves for 33 cents; a ladies’ fan for $1; and a satin vest for $2.50.

The account book had a name. It was called the Suisun Detective Society and Account Book. The Suisun Detective Society remains Solano County’s only known vigilante group. It was conceived and established by Lemon as a means of dealing with the every growing problem of cattle rustlers.

The society held its first meeting on March 1860 in the Chrysler’s Hall.

In Lemon’s record book, he kept a list of the members and described the society’s mission:

“The numerous thefts of horses, mares, mules and colts which have been perpetuated in this vicinity of late, admonish those owning stock of that description that it is a duty they owe, alike to themselves, and to the county at large, to render all the aid in their power in the detection of thieves and the recovery of stolen property and to that end, we citizens of Suisun and Green Valley Township having organized ourselves into a Society for the purpose aforesaid, do hereby adopt the following rules for the government of said society.”

The rules covered the cost of membership, $5, and the fact that the money was to be spent in the expenses accrued in the travel and transporting of recovered animals.

Nearly every name in the area name appears on the rooster. Among these were such well known pioneers as Barton of Barton’s Store, which was located where Manka’s Corner is today, D.F. Beveridge and Chadborn. In all there were 45 members listed. plus 17 new members or former members.

In 1861, the Lemon brothers dissolved their partnership and John Lemon expanded in the business of buying grain and wool from the farmers.

He took on raising sheep as well as cattle, and in time became noted as the largest dealer in wool in all of Solano County. At the same time he remained one of the largest cattle ranchers in the county.

John Lemon is noted for having built the first residence in Fairfield after it was named the county seat.

This estate home was built on Texas Street at Taylor Street, and sat in the middle of the block. As the years progressed, the land was beautified with trees and shrubbery.

John and Hattie Lemon had three children. At some point Hattie passed away. A while later, John married Mary Kean Garrison Sturr, who had been widowed twice.

Inside their home were oil paintings done by Mary Lemon, an accomplished artist. Her painting were hung with equal pride in many homes in the area.

John Lemon was a well respected citizen and as a marked honor for him, he was named the first postmaster in Suisun City in 1857. He also served as County Treasurer for 10 years.

John B. Lemon passed away in 1912 at the age of 87. He was buried in the Fairfield Cemetery.