The Carriage house of the Santa Ynez Valley Museum was packed last night with people
who came to hear about Davy Brown, a man whose greatest renown to most people is the appearance of his name on a bottle of ale from the Figueroa Mountain Brewery*.
And that is the point. Although a campground, a creek and a trail in the San Rafael Wilderness were named for him, precious little else is generally known about Davy Brown. Yet he is one of the truly larger than life characters to have lived in the valley.
We had come to hear Roy Harthorn, who has spent years in the attempt to separate fact from fiction about Uncle Davy Brown, as he was known to some, for a book he hopes to publish in the future. The Museum hosted the event with the flair we’ve come to expect; wine and snacks, books and illustrations, and a pint of Davy Brown Ale from Figueroa Mountain Brewery surrounded by the ghostly outlines of the Museum’s wonderful collection of stagecoaches and wagons.
Mr. Harthorn has done his research. By the end of the evening we had come to know what a truly remarkable life Davy Brown had lived: his birth in Ireland. his service aboard a British privateer at age twelve and subsequent capture by the Americans, his travels to the west coast, his service in the Mexican/American War, ranching in Yosemite Valley, the gold mining, grizzly hunting, his near death experience from consumption, his subsequent relocation to Guadeloupe and the Santa Ynez Valley area, and his celebrated life in the cabin in the woods near Figueroa mountain.
Yet even more fascinating are the unproven legends: his stint with the Texas Rangers, how he taught Kit Carson to trap and hunt, his expeditions with mountain man “Broken hand” Fitzpatrick, his various fortunes and hidden wealth, and his protection of the friendly Digger Indians from raiding Paiute Indians in search of horses and wives. Oh, and did he die in the Alamo? And did he kill 500 Grizzly Bears?
The hall was packed. Who doesn’t like to hear such stories about über personalities and larger than life characters who we wish, deep inside, we might become, if even just for a short time? Yet the real lesson is this: scratch the surface of any community and you’re likely to find a character whose exploits transcend anything you expect, and whose accomplishments belie deceptively modest exteriors.
* Ironically, we learned that Figueroa Mountain may once have been named Davy Brown Peak.