Throwback Thursday | Brown Boys Were Local Heroes

Throwback Thursday is written and produced by Rick Thomas

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | | Commemorative photograph of the Owen Brown Funeral (1889)

Brothers Jason and Owen Brown were veterans of the anti-slavery fight who homesteaded on a hillside plateau near the Arroyo Seco. In 1885, they built their cabin on a foundation of stacked arroyo stones. Several wood beams were planted against the exterior walls for added support to help resist the area’s strong winds. Fire destroyed the cabin in 1888.

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | | The “Brown Boys” Owen (left) and Jason Brown (right) at their cabin, San Gabriel Mountains (1886)

During the 1880s, the “Brown Boys” were welcome heroes in San Gabriel Valley, notably Owen who was present at Harpers Ferry when his father – famed slavery abolitionist John Brown – led a failed attempt to take over the federal arsenal to supply an uprising of slaves to gain their freedom.

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | | Owen and Jason Brown’s cabin, San Gabriel Mountains (1886)
PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | | Owen Brown is standing in the doorway of the cabin (1887)

Owen Brown died of pneumonia on January 8, 1889. His funeral was reportedly attended by 2,000 mourners, equaling the population of Pasadena and South Pasadena at the time. After Owen died, Jason worked for Thaddeus Lowe helping him to build his Great Incline railroad on Echo Mountain and managed the zoo enclosures there.

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Note: Owen Brown was the last surviving member of the raiding party at Harpers Ferry.

Today, the same dirt road is used by mountain bikers and hikers to access Brown Mountain (elevation 4,466 feet), two miles from the Gabrielino Trailhead on the Arroyo Seco.

Rick Thomas
Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.