Benjamin Norton Bugbey, Sacramento’s Champagne King

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This is a work of meticulous research, excruciatingly detailed and careful.

Bugbey came to California in search of gold with the famous forty-niners. As a member of the Hampden Mining and Trading Company, he set sail from New York, landing on Brazos Island, and undertook to cross Mexico for another voyage. Traversing Mexico, his company endured, and some died of, cholera and malaria. Several chose to journey to California by land, splitting the company, but young Benjamin sailed. He stayed briefly in Sacramento before placer mining on the American River. Then, realizing that those who supplied the miners inhabiting the more-than-wild California of that time were more successful than the miners at gaining wealth, he embarked on a career of remarkably varied enterprise.

Bugbey was involved in furniture selling, law enforcement, tax collection, politics, agriculture, wine and raisin making, distilling, marketing, and real estate speculation; he was typically in several of those endeavors at the same time. He was, apparently constantly, buying and selling real estate, and seemingly always “had a foot” in agriculture. He was constable of Granite Township, then sheriff of Sacramento County, which made him tax collector as well, later a US commissioner, an undersheriff, and at one point a tax collector again, which involved his having to go to the courts to have that function split off from the Sheriff’s office, (which he had unsuccessfully tried five times to regain).

Production of grapes for raisins in the granite rubble and slate soil of the uplands of Natoma led to the production of wines for which the man became famous. During the period he was growing and marketing wines he was rich. His wife died from a riding accident…in his arms. Remarrying within four months, furiously busy, he overinvested or misinvested, losing his primary vineyard. He scrabbled to regain his prosperous financial position. Falling into a mental breakdown and severe alcohol abuse, he drove his wife away and experienced a depth of despair that turned him to teetotalling and deep religiosity. His recovery is a story in itself.

This review is in danger of being a synopsis and cannot even approach the detail necessary for that. It’s incumbent on me here to defer to the biographer’s fine summing up at the end of this book: Bugbey evolved politically and philosophically, arriving at a socialist/egalitarian position utterly at odds with his own earlier behavior.

On the character of this read: It seems that every page-turn entails another endeavor, another set of players, more legal detail, and more knowledgeable speculation on the author’s part. There are constant side-histories of interacting people, political background, and many, many quoted legal decisions and journalistic excerpts. Because of its length, this 6”x9” trade book employs small font, which is diminished to the point of vanishing for quotes, opinions, and excerpts. References follow each chapter. An admirable exercise in scholarship and insight.

I noted that the author’s back cover photo shows him seated in a rocker, wearing an open-necked dress shirt and blazer…atop colorful shorts. The man obviously values a leisurely approach.


Reviewed By:

Author Kevin Knauss
Star Count 5/5
Format Trade
Page Count 318 pages
Publisher Self-Published
Publish Date 2019-08-01
ISBN 9780997818864
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue May 2020
Category Biographies & Memoirs
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