Mendocino DA History Series: James Emmons Pemberton

Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster is compiling a series of historical sketches of early Mendocino County District Attorneys. Here is the first:

During the first half of the 1890’s, JAMES EMMONS PEMBERTON served as Mendocino County District Attorney. 

The terms in office at that time were two years and he served two terms (1891-1892, and 1893-1894). He was the 12th attorney to serve as Mendocino County’s DA and he held a California State Bar number of 6591.

The following biographical sketch is taken from American Biography and Genealogy – California Edition, Volume 1, by Robert J. Burdette; Chicago, New York: The Lewis Publishing Company [1912]: 

“James Emmons Pemberton, whose career is here briefly outlined, maintains his residence in Ukiah, the metropolis and judicial center of Mendocino county, where he still has a law office, but much of his professional work is now done from his San Francisco office 322 Mills building. 

After a few years’ residence near Petaluma, following their arrival in this state, the family moved northward in 1872 and his early experiences were those gained under the invigorating and beneficent influences of the old homestead farm in Mendocino county, where he was reared to adult age and where he duly availed himself of the advantages of the public schools. That he did not neglect his scholastic opportunities is assured by the fact that for a period of seven years he devoted his attention to teaching in the schools of his home county. 

In the meanwhile, he formulated definite plans for his future career and after a considerable amount of private study along the line of his chosen profession he was matriculated in Hastings Law College, in San Francisco, in which excellent institution he completed the prescribed course and was graduated as a member of the class of 1886, in which year he received his coveted degree of Bachelor of Laws and was also admitted to the bar. He forthwith opened an office in Mendocino county, where he has since retained his residence and where his success in his profession has been on a parity with his exceptional ability and close application, through which he has risen to secure place among the strong, versatile, and resourceful members of the California bar. 

He established an office in San Francisco in 1909 and his practice is now of extensive and important order, in both the state and federal courts. He is known as a skillful trial lawyer and has won many decisive forensic victories in connection with important litigations, the while is broad and exact knowledge of law and precedent has made him a safe and duly conservative counselor. 

In politics Mr. Pemberton accords a staunch allegiance to the Democratic party and he is an effective exponent of its principles and policies as well as a leader in its local councils. 

In 1892 [sic] he was elected district attorney of Mendocino county, and he served the regular term of two years, as defined by the law at that time in force. 

He was mayor of Ukiah from 1902 to 1904 and through his careful and discriminating administration of municipal affairs he manifested his generous public spirit and deep interest in the community that has so long been his home.

In 1910 he was his party’s nominee for the office of attorney general of the state, and he made a thorough canvass of all sections of California, thus gaining a wide acquaintance and a personal popularity that could be secured in no other way. Though he made a spirited and able campaign he was unable to overcome the normal Republican majority and thus his defeat was compassed by not extraordinary political exigencies. 

In all fraternal way Mr. Pemberton is affiliated with the Improved Order of Red Men, the Woodmen of the World, and the Independent Order of Foresters. He and his family are members of the Methodist church, South, at Ukiah. 

On the 10th of July 1886, shortly after his admission to the bar, Mr. Pemberton was united in marriage to Miss Emogene [Janette] Brayton, who was born in Mendocino county but who was a resident of the county of San Diego at the time of her marriage. 

She is a daughter of the late Edwin Brayton, who was a representative citizen of San Diego county at the time of his death. Mr. and Mrs. Pemberton have three children, Bennett Edwin, Pearl, and James Emmons, Jr.” 

[James Emmons Pemberton and his wife, Emogene Janette Brayton Pemberton are both buried in the Russian River Cemetery on Low Gap Road in Ukiah, Mendocino County, California.]

[According to the History of Mendocino County, California, Alley, Bowen & Co., Publishers; San Francisco, California [1880}, James Emmons Pemberton’s father was Bennett Pemberton. 

Bennett Pemberton was born in Kentucky, January 17, 1833. His mother died in 1837, and at the age of fourteen he, with his father, went to Missouri, where they settled on a farm. In 1850 his father died, and in 1853 Bennett Pemberton came across the plains with ox teams, arriving at Diamond Springs in August. 

After mining for about eighteen months he went to Sonoma County, where he followed farming, stock raising, and dairying until 1860 when he returned to Missouri, and married on April 19, 1860, Miss Thurza Emmons, and at once engaged in farming, which he followed until 1865, when he again crossed the plains, bringing his wife with him, and settled again in Sonoma County. 

After one year the Bennett Pemberton family moved into Marin County, where he followed dairying until the spring of 1872, when he came to Mendocino County and settled on six hundred acres, located in Potter Valley, where he engaged in wool growing. 

Bennett Pemberton and his wife had eight children: James E., Willie, Thurza A., Walter B., Minnie, Etta R., Mary E., and Johnson W. M.]

Additional historical information regarding the Office of the Mendocino County District Attorney can be viewed at…/distri…/office-history

By current District Attorney David Eyster



  • Isn’t a biography based on a job, however civic, just a bit weird to include in this journal section? Sort of not homey at all?

    • Guest. Normally I agree with you. You must be a different guest.

      I enjoyed reading about all of the places that my pioneer family and his intersected. The Branscomb family also owned a dairy ranch in Sonoma county at the same time. My great great Grandfather was Benjamin Taylor who also owned a dairy in Sonoma, and brought wagon trains over donner pass in 1857.

      Ukiah is the county seat of Mendocino and any business dealing required a trip there. I’m sure that our families knew each other.

      Look into your own history. I have always been amazed at how many monsters that each family had in them back in the mid 1800’s. But I guess that the “guest” family will be hard to track. It’s a pretty common name….

  • Thank you for this! I am always interested in the history/biography of individuals in any area in which I live, or through which I travel. I look forward to future installments.

  • From my point of view, it is an appropriate forum, given the broad audience of folks who look at this site, and may not look elsewhere (for example, publications dealing with local history specifically).

  • Patriot in Willits

    I found this interesting, and David Eyster did a commendable job on his research. If I had anything to add in the way of criticism, it’s the occasional shift into the present tense.

    • Patriot.
      You failed to notice the credit given to Robert J. Burdette for writing the story, and the quotation marks referring to the story that was written during James Emmons Pemberton lifetime. Thus, the switch back and forth from present to past.

      You have no idea how many good stories about history that I have seen be interrupted by corrections that were not necessary. I am not an English Language major, so I’m more interested in the story than precisely worded script. Nothing derails a good story faster that embarrassing the “story teller”.

      Sometimes a story can have more meaning and be a lot more fun if a person has to dig a little for the meaning. One of the greatest writers in history was William Shakespeare. No one today can read Shakespeare without pondering on the story for a little bit. It’s fun and makes you think.

      To quote someone very close to me, “Language has never been about correctness, It has always been about communicating”.

      • Ernie – Haven’t you heard? They’re cancelling Shakespeare. He is racist, sexist, etc., etc. Although it seems laughable, this is not a joke. These jokers are serious.

        • When they get history completely canceled we will have to live it all over again. Some people can’t see past their “feelings”. I advocated teaching the complete version of history, then pointing out what our forefathers (and Mothers) did wrong, and why we don’t do that anymore. Hiding from the truth never teaches anybody anything.

  • You have to know where you have been and where you come from in order to move forward.

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