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Uncovering a Madera pioneer’s past

For The Madera Tribune

Site of Sycamore Plantation, home of Harry Dixon and his family on Deer Creek near Leland, Mississippi. In 1870, the Dixons sold this property and moved West where they built Refuge, their new home in California.


In October 1868, Harry St. John Dixon left his home in Mississippi to come to what is now Madera County. Like many Southerners, he decided to leave the South to escape Reconstruction. Before the year was out, he had staked out his claim on a section of land along Cottonwood Creek, which he intended to turn into a ranch upon which he could earn his living as a farmer. He called his primitive operation “Refuge.”

Unfortunately for Harry, he was not quite up to the rigors of dry land farming in the San Joaquin Valley, he would leave it to his future brother-in-law, George Washington Mordecai, to turn Refuge into a successful ranch (which remains in operation today). After several months of back breaking labor, Harry moved to Millerton, the county seat where he got a job as an assistant to the county clerk. The next year, he ran for the office himself and was elected.

Harry Dixon went on to become one of the Valley’s most influential pioneers. He was Fresno’s first city attorney and went on to create the town’s seal. He was narrowly defeated in his race for Fresno County’s delegate to California’s Constitutional Convention in 1879. For the next 10 years he practiced law, but in 1890 he became ill. He never did recover his health and died in 1898.


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