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Nathan Harrison (1823-1920)

Nate Harrison, a Kentucky slave, traveled to Northern California with his master, Lysander Utt, around 1848-1850. Unsuccessful at placer mining, Utt relocated to Southern California, settling at Tustin in Orange County. When California entered the Union as a free state in 1850, Utt was forced to give Harrison his freedom.

Drifting south toward Temecula, Harrison ran sheep near the Agua Tibia ranch. Later on, he helped herd sheep and cattle in Doane Valley up on nearby Palomar Mountain. As he grew older, Harrison worked as a cook and baker for the ranchers, eventually homesteading on the mountain. Building a humble cabin alongside the winding wagon road leading up from Pauma to Doane Valley, he would often greet teamsters with a pitcher of cool water taken from a nearby mountain spring. Later on, Harrison would offer water to early motorists whose overheated radiators were near-boiling. To commemorate his hospitality, the County of San Diego named the road after him. However, reflecting the prejudice of its time, the road was officially known as "Nigger Nate Grade."

It wasn't until 1955, thirty-five years after Harrison passed away, that the NAACP petitioned county supervisors to change it to "Nathan Harrison Grade Road." A bronze plaque mounted to a rock cairn commemorates the site of his cabin and spring. At the time, it was the only county public historical monument ever dedicated to an African-American. Not so his grave, which remained unmarked at Mount Hope Cemetery until 1972. That year, through the efforts of Edward L. Diaz, a local historian writing a book on Black American history, a gravestone was finally placed on Harrison's grave. It memorializes Harrison as someone who had been "Born a Slave [and subsequently] Died a Pioneer."

[contributed by Alexander D. Bevil]

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