Placer County










            A native son who rose to an eminent place and became a distinguished lawyer and jurist was the late James E. Prewett, who at the time of his demise had served almost a third of a century on the superior bench in Placer County.  Born in Sacramento, California, December 16, 1851, he was a son of James and Miriam (Rader) Prewett.  The Prewett’s are descended from the French Huguenots that fled from France on account of religious persecution at the time of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.  In time the ancestors reached the New World, seeking refuge and religious liberty in colonial days.  Members of the family afterwards held state offices in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Missouri.  The father, James Prewett, came to California in 1850 across the plains in an ox-train, and was a pioneer miner and farmer.  He was judge of the old county court in Sonoma County.

            James E. Prewett received his education in the public schools of Sonoma County and at Santa Rosa College.  He taught school in San Joaquin and Kern counties, and meantime studied law, being duly admitted to the Kern County bar on November 25, 1874, and to the California bar in 1881.  He practiced in Kern County, and for a short time was engaged in the mercantile business in Tehachapi.  Removing to Stockton he practiced law in that city until his health failed, when he came to Placer County in 1879 locating at Dutch Flat, and there began practicing law.  In 1882 he was elected district attorney of Placer County, and in 1884 was reelected, serving with signal ability.  At the close of his second term of office in January, 1887, he resumed the practice of law, selecting Auburn as his location and immediately enjoying a large clientele.  In 1890 he was elected judge of the superior court of Placer County, and in January, 1891, he began his long career as a judge, being reelected six times to the judicial bench he so ably filled.  He was an impartial and fair judge; and his fairness, as well as his correctness in interpreting the law, is shown in the fact that he was never reversed in a criminal case.  He was frequently called upon to sit in the district court of appeals of the third district of California, having substituted during the illness of Justice N. P. Chipman for a period of about fifteen months continuously, besides handling his own court.  At the time of his death, July 7, 1922, he was substituting in that court for a term, and was also substituting in the district court of appeals for the first district at San Francisco.  Justice Burnett of the third district court of appeals of California stated at the memorial services that Judge Prewett wrote and filed in the last thirty days of his life fifty opinions for the two district courts of appeals, not taking into consideration cases decided in his own court—a remarkable record for ability and for work.  During his long judicial career he held court in every county in the state with the exception of two, Del Norte and Inyo counties, frequently being agreed upon by attorneys in cases involving large sums of money.

            At Ripon, December 24, 1874, Mr. Prewett was united in marriage with Miss Emma M. Crow, a native of California, born at Sonora, Tuolumne County.  Her father, William Henry Crow, was a native of the Blue Grass state, where he grew to young manhood, migrating to Missouri when he was nineteen years of age.  There he married Barbara Dye, who was born in that state and they crossed the plains to California in 1850 in a train of covered wagons drawn by oxen.  On their arrival they located for a time at Sonora, and then located on the Stanislaus River near Ripon, San Joaquin County.  He subsequently crossed the plains three times, bringing cattle and horses.  He became an extensive cattle grower and farmer, in time owning a large ranch, and was a man of much prominence and influence.  Emma Crow was educated in the public schools and at Hesperian College in Woodland, and then entered the San Jose State Normal School, from which she was graduated in 1874.  Her union with Mr. Prewett proved very happy and congenial and was blessed by the birth of two children, William James, a practicing attorney-at-law, and Mrs. Nellie Towle, both of Auburn.

            All of his life Judge Prewett was an ardent student, and in consequence he became a man of very wide scope of information.  A great reader, and endowed with a retentive memory, he was an exceptionally well-educated man and an unusually interesting conversationalist.  He was also a historian of much ability and wide knowledge, an experienced chemist, and a fine linguist, being an able Latin scholar.  He could also read and speak Spanish and French, and could converse intelligently in Chinese.  He was methodical and systematic, and individually prepared a list of 14,000 English words often mispronounced, giving after each word the authority for the listed form or forms of pronunciation.  A great lover of nature in all its forms, he particularly enjoyed automobiling and camping in the deep forests and the High Sierras.     

            For seven years Judge Prewett was president of the Monday Night Club of Auburn, a purely literary organization.  He was a member of Eureka Lodge No. 16, F. & A. M., Auburn, of which his father, James Prewett, was a charter member.  He was also a member of the Native Sons of the Golden West and served as a grand trustee of the Grand Parlor.  Professionally he was a member of the Placer County Bar Association, the California State Bar Association, and the American Bar Association.  His name will always stand in history as an eminent and honorable jurist, famed for his just decisions, his strong stand for high principles, and his integrity and great moral stamina.





Transcribed by V. Gerald Iaquinta.

Source: “History of Placer & Nevada Counties, California”, by W. B. Lardner & M. J. Brock. Pages 467-468. Historic Record Co., Los Angeles 1924.

© 2013  V. Gerald Iaquinta.




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