Sacramento County









HON. HUGH McELROY LaRUE.  Across the vistas of the fast-fleeting years the thoughts of this prominent pioneer often revert to the memorable year of 1849, with its exciting journey across the plains and its train of experiences in the mining camps of the far west.  Of the countless thousands who braved the unknown dangers of the deserts and mountains in an effort to reach the great mines of the west, he is one of the comparatively few that now survive; by far the larger majority have gone upon another journey out into the silent sea of death.  Their ears are dull to the memories that span the voiceless past; their eyes are blind to the beautiful pictures Nature has painted for the art of man to emulate; and their lips are forever stilled to words of praise and honor.  Fortunate it is that some still remain to receive the admiring affection of a younger generation and to enjoy the blessings of a twentieth-century civilization.  The long-distant days of ante-statehood history seem to be brought nearer when it is remembered that these men, still active factors in our commercial and agricultural activities, were witnesses of that remote period of our history.

            The La Rue family was so prominent in a certain portion of Kentucky that one of the counties of that state was named in their honor and for generations they lived and flourished in that locality.  The county seat of the country was named for a Mr. Hodgen, a grandfather of H.M. LaRue, and near this town of Hodgenville Abraham Lincoln was born on a farm owned by Mr. LaRue’s grandmother.  In the neighboring county of Hardin, same state, Hugh McElroy LaRue was born August 12, 1830, being a son of Jacob Hodgen and Sarah Cummings (McElroy) LaRue.  As a child he roamed through the forests and over the plains of his home locality and by outdoor life gained the robustness of health which has blessed his entire life.  When nine years of age he accompanied the family to Missouri and settled in Lewis county, which then was considered at the westernmost boundaries of civilization.  Indians still roamed across the untilled plains and the fertile soil awaited the pioneer’s hand to bring forth rich and varied crops.

            When only fifteen years of age Mr. LaRue began to talk about crossing the plains.  Though gold had not been discovered yet and little was known of the regions beyond the Rockies, he was fascinated by their unknown possibilities.  In 1849, before news of the discovery of gold had been received in his neighborhood, he joined a party made up for the west, the leaders of the expedition being V.A. Sublette and Dr. Conduitt.  As soon as the opening of the spring made traveling safe they gathered together provisions and other necessities and started on the long journey, crossing the Missouri river at Boonville and starting from Independence April 29, of the eventful year of ’49.  Independence was their last point within the limits of civilization.  Beyond that lay the unbroken plains, the parched desert and the snow-capped mountains.  Emigration had as yet scarcely begun toward the west, and the vast region they traversed had no inhabitants save the treacherous savage.  The route which they followed took them along the Platte river and through South Pass, thence via Sublette’s cut-off and the Oregon trail.  As they neared their destination they came to the Truckee river, which they crossed twenty-seven times in the short distance of thirty miles.  The journey came to a safe termination about the 12th of August, when the party reached the Bear river mines at Steep Hollow. 

            It was at this place, during the ensuing six weeks, that Mr. LaRue had his first experiences as a miner, and next he visited the mines of Grass valley, Nevada, and Deer creek.  With other white men he built one of the very first cabins in what is now Oleta, Amador county, and there he worked the first mines of the camp.  Oleta was in those days known as Fiddletown, its name originating through the custom of several violin-players from Arkansas then in camp near by.  The winter being too wet to render mining pleasant or safe, violin-playing became the favorite recreation, and the first sound to be heard by the approaching traveler was that of the fiddle.  In this way Fiddletown gained its first prominence.  From that place Mr. LaRue went to Willow Springs, four miles west of Drytown, and they bought a small restaurant, which he conducted until early in March.  After a short sojourn in Marysville, in the spring of 1850 he made a trading expedition to Shasta with groceries and provisions, which he sold from the wagon to merchants and miners at remunerative prices.  Flour he sold at forty cents per pound.  Pork, ham, coffee, potatoes and rice brought from $1 to $1.25 a pound.  Whisky and brandy were sold at about $8 a gallon, and other articles in proportion.

            After making a second trip to Shasta, in June of 1850 Mr. LaRue came to Sacramento and began to follow the trade of blacksmith and wagonmaker.  The cholera epidemic of that year obliged him to seek other employment, and he then rented a part of Rancho del Paso on the Norris grant, where first he raised vegetables, and later became a grain-farmer.  In 1857 he planted an orchard of seventy-five acres, mostly in peaches, it being the first large one in the valley and one of the first that was irrigated; in this he succeeded remarkable well until the floods of 1861-62 damaged his orchards.  The failure of Norris followed this catastrophe and Mr. LaRue thereupon bought his orchards, but the floods of 1868 utterly destroyed this tract.  Meanwhile, in 1866, he had purchased about nine hundred acres of land in Yolo county and to this he added from time to time until the ranch aggregated two thousand acres.  After the floods of 1868 he sold his interest in the Rancho del Paso and devoted himself exclusively to the management of the Yolo property, making his home in Sacramento in order that his children might have desired advantages, but spending much time on the ranch.  Under his oversight one hundred acres were planted in grapes, one hundred acres in almonds, and large tracts in grain.  He made an importation of jacks from Kentucky and engaged in the breeding business.  In addition to having an average of two hundred and fifty head of mules and horses, he had one hundred head of Hereford and Durham cattle.  The fine business ability which he possesses made itself manifest in the capable supervision of the property, which he continued for years, but eventually transferred to the care of his son, J. E., LaRue.  Another son, C.L. LaRue, was given charge of a vineyard of one hundred and forty acres at Yountville, nine miles above Napa, which he had acquired by purchase in 1885 and with had been settled in 1846 by Charles Hopper.  The acreage in vineyard has been increased under the father’s direction to three hundred acres in Yolo county and to one hundred and forty in Napa county.  He has relinquished the entire care of the ranches to his sons, who are carrying on a successful business.

            Any sketch of the life of Mr. LaRue would be incomplete without mention of his services in behalf of the people.  Stanchly Democratic in affiliations, as early as 1857 he was his party’s nominee for sheriff of Sacramento county and was elected by about eight votes, but, the case being contest in the courts, he lost the office.  In 1873 he was again a candidate for the same office and received a large and flattering majority.  In 1883-84 he was a member of the lower house of the state legislature and honorable served as speaker during both sessions.  As representative of the second congressional district, in 1879 he served as a member of the state constitutional convention.  During his legislative career he was a supporter of the bill for the erection of the exposition building of the State Agricultural Association; also supported the revision of the general railroad laws, the county government act, the bill re-organizing the senatorial and assembly districts and the laws relating to taxes.  In 1888 he was the Democratic candidate for senator and, though not elected, had the satisfaction of running ahead of his ticket.

            During the long period since 1867 Mr. LaRue has been actively associated with the State Agricultural Society, and three separate times, 1879, 1880 and 1882, was honored with the office of president, while since 1882 he has been a member of the board of directors, also during the exhibitions has been superintendent of the pavilion.  While president of the board, also while speaker of the assembly, he was an ex-officio member of the board of regents of the California State University.  In 1894 he was elected railroad commissioner from northern California and served as president of the board four years, besides which he has held many other official positions.  As early as 1856 he became affiliated with the Sacramento Society of California Pioneers, of which later he officiated as president and again in 1904 and 1905 was honored with that position.  At one time he was honored with the office of master of the Sacramento Grange.  Fraternally he has held membership with Sacramento Lodge No. 49, F. & A. M., for a very long period of years, and his Masonic relations are further enlarged through his affiliation with the Royal Arch Chapter.  By his marriage in 1858 he became allied with one of the pioneer families of Colusa county, this state, his wife, Miss E. M. Lizenby, being a daughter of Thomas Lizenby,  well known in the pioneer history of Lewis county, Mo.  Mrs. LaRue is a half-sister of Rev. William M. Rush, D.D., of the Missouri conference of the Methodist Episcopal church, also of Hon. John A. Rush, formerly state senator from Colusa county, but later attorney-general of Arizona.  The union of Mr. and Mrs. LaRue was blessed with five children, of whom the only daughter, Marie Virginia, died in 1888, her death depriving them of one universally beloved and intellectually promising.  The four sons are as follows:  Jacob Eugene, Calhoun Lee, Hugh McElroy, Jr., and John Rush.  Mr. LaRue has raised fifty-four consecutive crops in California, in Colusa, Yolo, Napa and Sacramento counties.


Transcribed by Kathy Porter.

Source: “History of the State of California and Biographical Record of the Sacramento Valley, California  by J. M. Guinn.  Pages 385-387. Chapman Publishing Co., Chicago 1906.

© 2007 Kathy Porter.




Sacramento County Biographies