Friday, November 6, 2015

Narcissus Augustus Dorn (1852-1926)

Portrait courtesy of the webpage.

   Intriguingly named California jurist Narcissus Augustus Dorn sports one of the most eye-popping names I've stumbled across in quite some time, and hails from a state that, while large in size and population, has fielded only a small number of oddly named political figures--ten of whom have been profiled here over the past four years.  A former district attorney of Monterey County California, Dorn went on to further public distinction in the early 1890s when he was elected as Superior Court Judge for Monterey County, serving on the bench for over a decade. Sadly I have no intriguing backstory as to how Dorn came to receive his unusual first name, but I'm fairly certain that he is the only American jurist ever to be named in honor of the Greek huntsman Narcissus, who, if you'll remember, drowned after falling in love with his image reflected in a pool of water. The name Narcissus would later give us the term narcissism, a fixation on one's looks and appearance.
   An Iowan by birth, Narcissus Augustus Dorn was born on May 27, 1852 in the burgeoning city of Council Bluffs, being the second born child of Nicodemus Andrew Jackson Dorn (1829-1903) and his wife, the former Rebecca Ellen Walters (1833-1903). As the proud possessor of an unusual name, Nicodemus A.J. Dorn would bestow similar odd names on five of his eleven children, and in addition to Narcissus the Dorn family saw the births of Marcellus Americus (1857-1900), Nicodemus Andrew Jackson (died in childhood), Diodemus Socrates (1860-1913) and Effie Pacific (1873-1942). Truly a brood of interestingly named siblings!! 
   When their son was less than a year old the Dorn family left Council Bluffs for California, eventually settling in Watsonville. They later resided in Visalia and Los Angeles before finally settling in Marysville, where Dorn engaged in work on the family farm. Due to his family's frequent moves, Narcissus Dorn' s education was gained by:
"Attending such schools as the various localities could afford, or when work on the farm would permit of his attending them."
   Through diligent study and hard work, Narcissus Dorn became a teacher in the Santa Cruz and Monterey County area. He married in October 1873 to Josephine McCusker (1854-1946), a daughter of a well-to-do Irish rancher. The couple would become parents to six children, listed as follows in order of birth: Mabel T. (born 1875), Narcissus (died in infancy in 1876), Daniel (1877- 1896), Carl (1879-1964), Ethel (born 1881), Elsie (1883-1905) and Marcella (1892-1949).
   Harboring ambitions to become a lawyer, Dorn began law studies in the office of San Jose Judge Lawrence Archer and in October 1874 was admitted to practice. Soon after establishing his law office in Salinas, California, Dorn's career as an attorney blossomed, so much so that just over a year after being admitted to practice he was elected as District Attorney of Salinas CountyJust twenty-three years of age at the time of his election, Dorn served a two year term as District Attorney, leaving office in 1877. In 1879 he was reelected to that office, and upon the conclusion of that term retired " with a record of which any young practitioner might be proud." In the early 1880s, he joined in a law partnership with William M.R. Parker at Salinas, California, their firm continuing until 1890.
   In 1890 Dorn's political profile received a significant boost when he was given the Republican nomination for Superior Court Judge of Monterey County. He would win that election and officially took his seat on the bench January 1, 1891. Dorn won reelection in 1896 and served another six year term on the Superior Court until January 1903, having been defeated for a third term the previous November by Democratic nominee Bradley Varnum Sargent Jr.

Narcissus Dorn and his second wife Sarah, portrait courtesy of

   In 1895 Dorn and his wife Josephine divorced after twenty-two years of marriage. Several years following his divorce he remarried in December 1902  to San Francisco native Sarah Jane de la Montanya (1861-1955). Described as "a woman of great wealth", Sarah de la Montanya was the daughter of William James de la Montanya (1819-1899), a prominent San Francisco based businessman. Following their nuptials, the couple took a lengthy honeymoon through Europe, and after returning to the United States resided in San Francisco.
   Prior to his death Dorn maintained a law practice with his son Carl but is known to have "practiced very little" during his residency in San Francisco. Narcissus A. Dorn died in that city on July 1, 1926 at age 74. He was survived by his second wife Sarah and four of his children. He was later interred at the famed Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California. Sarah Dorn survived her husband by nearly three decades, and following her death at age 94 in 1955 was laid to rest at the same cemetery as her husband.

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