my Ralston Family story


James Hervey Ralston [1807 – 1864]     Death in the Desert




 J. H. Ralston traveled from his home in Bath Co., KY with his uncle to Sangamon Co., IL in the spring of 1828. Later that year after helping his uncle establish a homestead on the IL frontier, Ralston James Hhe went a 100 miles further west. On the limestone bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River he settled in the small village of Quincy, IL.


He remained in Quincy for 21 years. Admitted to the  IL bar in 1830, volunteering for service in the Black Hawk Indian war and marrying Jane Alexander in 1832. He was elected to the Illinois legislature and became an IL circuit judge in 1837. He was the attorney for Joseph Smith, Jr., the Mormon leader, and after Smith’s death in 1844, for Brigham Young. In 1847 he was a captain during the Mexican-American War serving in San Antonio, TX where his wife died. Here, he was responsible for restoring the Alamo Mission chapel to its former glory.

In 1850 he traveled overland to Sacramento, CA, establishing a law practice. He was twice elected to the CA legislature and fell just a few votes short of replacing Col. Fremont in the U. S. Senate. He and his new family moved to the Nevada Territory in 1861.


In the spring of 1864 he left his home in Austin, NV for a short trip to find an ox team to be used on his ranch and silver mine not far from Austin, he was never seen alive again. Search parties were sent in search of the judge and their reports pieced together the events of the last 10 days of his life. For reasons unknown, J. H. became mentally disoriented the day after leaving Austin, perhaps resulting from a fall from his horse found running free in the desert not far from his ranch. For 10 days the judge wandered in the desert over steep rocky terrain a distance of just over 100 miles where he finally died. A Shoshone Indian guide led a search party to his remains where there was little left save a burnt pocket watch, a gold fob, and a pair of spectacles.


The remains were returned to Austin where the largest parade to-date in Austin followed his widow and two children to the graveyard where he was buried with military and masonic honors.


See Books for a complete biography of Judge Ralston’s colorful life.