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Heritage Day is coming!

A family of Heritage Day visitors poses as pioneers for a souvenir photo during Heritage Day.

A family of Heritage Day visitors poses as pioneers for a souvenir photo during Heritage Day.


The 4th Annual Heritage Day is set for Oct. 21, 2017. Hosted by the John Marsh Historic Trust and California State Parks, the free event includes displays and presentations on the area’s unique and varied cultural history, a special display of antique farm tools and equipment, live music by the Brentwood Concert Band and local favorites Durt Cheap, and plenty of hands-on educational activities for kids.

New this year will be horse-drawn carriage rides around the park near the house, offered for a small suggested donation. We’ve also added a second hike; one through part of the usually closed park, and a second led by County Flood Control around the Marsh Creek Reservoir next to the Stone House.

Reenactor Tim Karberg, as Dr. Jhn Marsh, tells a Heritage Day crowd about the life of one f California's earliest American pioneers. -- Photo by Richard Wisdom

Reenactor Tim Karberg, as Dr. John Marsh, tells a Heritage Day crowd about the life of one f California’s earliest American pioneers. — Photo by Richard Wisdom


Historical reenactor Tim Karlberg will provide insights into the life of pioneer Dr. John Marsh, and guests will have a chance to see and hear about the remarkable, 7,000-square-foot sandstone mansion he built in 1856. Learn about the latest efforts to stabilize and restore the building, take a peek inside the windows and doors, and check out a new, 3D video of the interior.

There will also be presentations by State Parks Senior Archaeologist Richard Fitzgerald on the 7,000-yearl-old archaeological site located by the house, as well as information on the entire 3,700 park, the largest historic park in the State Parks System.

Free activities for the kids will include learning to throw a lasso, digging for artifacts, grinding acorns and a chance to experience a little of what it was like to cross the country in a covered wagon.

The hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Hot dogs and tri-tip sandwiches will be on sale.
Admission is free, but donations to support the Trust’s on-going effort to restore the Stone House and open the park will be gratefully accepted.

Ger Erickson points out features of the Marsh Creek State Park and its surrounding land from a hilltop venue. A second hike, through the Marsh Creek Reservoir land adjoining the State Park, is set for this year's Heritage Day on Oct. 21.

Ger Erickson points out features of the Marsh Creek State Park and its surrounding land from a hilltop venue. A second hike, through the Marsh Creek Reservoir land adjoining the State Park, is set for this year’s Heritage Day on Oct. 21.

The Killing of John Marsh

“Perhaps no more horrible crime than the murder of this pioneer can be found on the pages of any history, and certainly no better example of justice following the guilty than which tracked one of the murderers to punishment eleven years after the commission of his foul deed.” — History of Contra Costa County, W. A. Slocum & Co., Publishers, 1882.

California Registered Historical Landmark No. 722 across from  4575 Pacheco Blvd.,   near Martinez, above, was made from stone from Marsh Creek, and has marked the spot John Marsh was murdered since 1960.

California Registered Historical Landmark No. 722 across from 4575 Pacheco Blvd.,
near Martinez, above, was made from stone from Marsh Creek, and has marked the spot John Marsh was murdered since 1960.


Not much has been written about John Marsh, the first American settler in what would become Contra Costa County. At times during his remarkable life, Marsh was a Harvard graduate, a doctor, an Indian sub-agent, justice of the peace, hunter/trapper, merchant, cattle rancher, farmer, husband and father and more.

By the time of his murder on Sept. 24, 1856, he was a well-known and wealthy man. His murder caused a sensation, and the trial of his killer one of the few parts of his life that was well-documented. A trio of vaqueros, former employees – Felipe Moreno, Jose Antonio Olivas and Juan Garcia – had a dispute with Marsh over wages, and waylaid him on the road to Martinez.

It was a decade before Moreno, the man who did the killing, was tracked down by Marsh’s son, Charles. His trial began on Sept. 23, 1867, and lasted less than a week. He was convicted largely on the testimony of Olivas. The trial included the following description of Marsh’s killing as recounted by Olivas, and published in Slocum’s 1882 history.

“On the morning of September 24, 1856, the date of the murder, Jose Antonio Olivas and Felipe Moreno, aged twenty-five and nineteen years respectively, in company with some females, came into the village of Martinez, where, having attended church, they proceeded to Pinole, returning from thence between four and five o’clock that same evening. They almost immediately continued their journey to Pacheco alone, and when reaching the hill about a mile from Martinez paused awhile to await the arrival of Juan Garcia, who was expected to meet them. Olivas then went on ahead for about two hundred yards, when he was overtaken by his comrades, and the three urged their horses into a gallop. While so proceeding they met a man named Swanson.

“Not long after this circumstance Doctor Marsh was observed to be coming in his buggy. Hereupon he was accosted by Olivas, who asked him for certain money due to him for services as a vaquero, to which the Doctor replied that he would be paid on his return from San Francisco, but that he had no money with him then. The deceased now drove away, while the party remained behind and concocted a scheme to kill him, but finally arranged that he should only be robbed.

“They then followed in pursuit, and on overtaking their victim, Olivas, by Moreno’s orders, seized the Doctor’s horse by the head, while Moreno jumped into the buggy and Garcia stood guard alongside. The deceased at once faced his enemy and said: “Do you want to kill me?” to which he received the reply “No” from Olivas, and “Yes” from Moreno, and notwithstanding the dissuasions of his companions, this youthful fiend slashed the unfortunate man in the face with a knife. He was then draped out of the vehicle and fell to the ground, being before, however, wounded in the hand; Olivas having then dismounted, as he says, for the purpose of assisting the Doctor, who came towards and struck at him, a scuffle ensued, Olivas crying to Moreno to free him.

“Thereupon Moreno observed: “why should I let go this old cabron” and forthwith stabbed his prostrate victim in the left side. Upon receiving this wound the Doctor cried aloud, when Moreno was prepared to repeat the operation, but was pushed away by Olivas, who parried a cut made at him.

“The Doctor now attempted to rise, but was only able to stagger a short distance and fell into a ditch-dead. His pockets were then rifled by Garcia find Moreno, who afterwards cut his throat, the deed being witnessed by Olivas from his saddle. This terrible crime being perpetrated, the triumvirate repaired to the top of a convenient hill and there divided the booty, whence they repaired to some houses for the night and afterwards fled, and for ten years and upwards escaped the iron hand of the law.”

Moreno was sentenced to life in the State Prison, but was had his sentence commuted to 41 years by Gov. Henry Markum in 1891, largely because of his young age at the time of the crime and because his trial wasn’t until 11 years after the crime. He was released in 1896, after serving 29 years, with time off for good behavior.

In exchange for his testimony, Olivas was not charged. Historian Bill Mero said his study of Superior Court records shows Garcia was captured and was to be tried in 1896. Moreno was approved for a witness fee to testify in the trial, but he had left the county after his release, so no trial was held and Garcia was released.