The last Mordecai


Photo courtesy of Al Sheeter

Three granddaughters of George Washington Mordecai are shown here. From left to right are Elizabeth Brooke Mordecai Wissler, Susan Dixon Mordecai Myrick, and Barbara Colquhoun Mordecai Myers.

 

On Aug. 19, 2021, the last of the descendants of George Washington Mordecai, who carried the family name, passed away. Susan Dixon Mordecai Myrick was the youngest granddaughter of the man who brought the Mordecai name to the Valley over 150 years ago. Her passing leaves no one in the family who was born with that name.


Susan was born in San Francisco, and spent her childhood at Refuge, the family ranch in Madera County. She was a graduate of Alpha Elementary School and went to St. Catherine’s, an Episcopalian boarding school in Richmond, VA. After high school, she chose Scripps College in Claremont, California, majoring in Fine Arts. She moved to Washington DC after her marriage to Richard Myrick. She remained in the nation’s capital for over fifty years. The last decade of her life brought her back to California and Refuge.


Susan was the youngest granddaughter of George Mordecai, who came to what is now Madera County in 1868. He set out to farm in the Cottonwood Creek area and ultimately turned to ranching. For eight trying years he fought drought, isolation, and loneliness while tilling the unproductive soil of the “Fresno Plains.” In many of his letters to the family he left in the South, Mordecai betrays a sense of discouragement that might have caused him to give up and return to his native Virginia had it not been for a young woman whose family was also farming on Cottonwood Creek.


To say that Mordecai was smitten by Louise Hunter Dixon is a gross understatement. He was totally captivated by her “blue eyes, fair-oval face, delicate refined features, and long dark lashes.” Mordecai was also charmed by her “pretty mouth and very pretty figure.” He wrote that she “dances well — plays a little and is an excellent horsewoman — has sweet gentle manners and is as refined and ladylike as possible.”


George Mordecai and Louise Dixon were married in 1876 and established Refuge, a sheep and cattle ranch on Cottonwood Creek. Between 1877 and 1889, they became the parents of five children: George Washington Mordecai, Jr., Louise Dixon Mordecai, Richard Lawrence Mordecai, Brooke Fisher Mordecai, and Ethelfleda Mordecai.


Through the 1890s the pace of life picked up at Refuge. The seven who carried the Mordecai name into that decade made it synonymous with hard work, success, and dignity.


Such was the esteem with which George Mordecai was held by the voters that they chose him to represent them in the California Assembly. Mordecai was reelected to a second term in 1892, and within a few months he became one of Madera County’s founding fathers by introducing the bill to carve it from Fresno County. By 1897, the Mordecais were pillars of society in the Valley. Thirty years after George Mordecai brought the family name to California, it found its place among Madera County pioneers. Then the inevitable happened. The family lost its first member, reducing the number to six.


The accident occurred in the corral not far from the house. Sixteen year-old Richard was helping his father with the cattle. Suddenly, the horse reared up and fell back on the lad. The saddle horn ruptured his spleen, and he died.


Over the next few years, the Mordecai children grew up. Louise never married, remaining at Refuge for 100 years. George Jr. and Ethelfleda married but had no children of their own. Brooke married Caroline Preston and they gave George Mordecai four grandchildren: Caroline, Barbara, Elizabeth Brooke, and Susan.


George Mordecai died in 1920 and his wife passed away in 1929. George W. Mordecai, Jr. died in 1944; Ethelfleda Mordecai in 1963; Brooke Fisher Mordecai in 1971; and daughter Louise Mordecai in 1980.


In 1933, the first Mordecai grandchild, Caroline, was killed in an automobile accident. Barbara Colquhoun Mordecai Myers died in 2008, and Elizabeth Brooke Mordecai Wissler passed away in 2016. For the next five years, Susan remained the sole member of the family that had been born with the Mordecai name. Now there are none.


Today George Washington Mordecai’s legacy is carefully guarded by the next generation: deRosset Myers Jr., Brooke Myers, Caroline Myers Bailey, John Brooke Wissler, Susan Wissler and Cecelia Wissler Sheeter and their families.