Although it didn’t always translate into achievement, Peter Burnett had probably the most impressive resume of any early leader in the American West. Because of space limitations, we trimmed his resume from my new book, “The Troubled Life of Pete Burnett: Oregon Pioneer and First Governor of California.”



November 15, 1807, born as Peter Burnet in Nashville, Tennessee

1826, first job as hotel clerk in Bolivar, Tennessee

1826 or 1827, adds T to his name, now is Peter Burnett

1826 or 1827, quits hotel to manage store in Clear Creek, Tennessee

1828, August 20, marries Harriet Rogers.

1829, May 23, Harriet gives birth to first of six children

1829, buys the Clear Creek store; store fails.

1830, shoots and kills a black slave, said to be breaking into his store.

1833 or 1834, manages mercantile store in Liberty, Missouri.

1834, quits store; buys into another store with partners.

1836, August to October, edits Far West newspaper at Liberty.

1837, buys out partners in mercantile store with new partner; store fails.

1837, builds sawmill and distillery at Liberty; businesses fail.

1838, October, called to service in Missouri militia during Mormon war.

1838-1839, a self-taught attorney, he joins defense team for Mormon leader Joseph Smith.

1839, March 25, enrolled as attorney in Platte County.

1839, appointed district attorney for a five-county region in northwest Missouri; appointed to a second term and elected for a third.

1843, resigns as district attorney; helps organize wagon train for Oregon.

1843, June 1, elected wagon train captain.

1843, June 8, resigns as captain.


1844, January. partners with fellow emigrant Morton McCarver to develop a new port city of Linnton on the Willamette River; but city fails to develop.

1844, April, moves to a farm in the Tualatin Valley.

1844, May, elected to nine-member Legislative Committee where he enacts Oregon’s first exclusion law against African-Americans.

1845, August 18, elected Supreme Judge for Oregon’s provisional government.

1847, January 1, resigns as Supreme Judge to start a law practice

1848, elected to first Territorial Legislature

1848, appointed by President Polk to Territorial Supreme Court; he declines

1848. September 9, resigns from Legislature; leads a wagon train to California.


1848, November 5, buys a claim at Long’s Bar, a gold mining camp on the Yuba River.

1848, December 19, gives up mining.

1848, December 21, arrives at Sutter’s Fort; opens law practice.

1848, December 30, August Sutter, son of John Sutter, signs Burnett as agent to sell land for new city of Sacramento.

1849, January 8, presides over public meeting recommending provisional government for California.

1849, June, elected to San Francisco Legislative Assembly

1849, July 24, John Sutter ends Burnett’s agreement with August

1849, August 1, elected to new Superior Tribunal for California and chosen chief justice by other judges.

1849, November 13, elected first governor of California

1851, January 9, resigns as governor

1852, elected to Sacramento City Council

1857. January 13, appointed to vacancy on California Supreme Court

1857, October 12, elected to California Supreme Court

1858, February 11, issues controversial decision in Archy Lee slave case

1863, president of San Francisco’s Pacific Bank

1880, publishes autobiography, Recollections and Opinions of an Old Pioneer.

1895, May 17, Peter Burnett dies in San Francisco at age 87; buried in Santa Clara Mission Cemetery in Santa Clara.

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