Reason P. Tucker: The Man and His Legacy
Special Exhibit, Sharpsteen Museum
August 2023 – February 2024
Born in Culpeper, Virginia in 1806, Reason Penelope Tucker married Delila Compton when he was 23, and their first child Mary Ann was born a year later; the young family began their migration westward in successive leaps, with three sons being born along the way. They arrived in Napa Valley in 1846, escaping by one day the Sierra snow that trapped the Donner Party. He made his living as a farmer and miner.
Married four times, RPT had 10 children over a span of 45 years and outlived 3 of his wives. His granddaughter Martha Calvert Tucker described him as “six feet three inches tall, very strong and heavy weight.” “He was a man of great determination,” she said, “and always very friendly and kind to everyone. He was quiet and reserved and never interested in public recognition. He did not seek the status of hero, but like it or not, a hero is what he became.” Reason P. Tucker: The Quiet Pioneer, by Barbara Neelands, 1989 – Napa County Historical Society.
Captain Reason P. Tucker led the first rescue mission to save Donner Party survivors (and participated in the 4th); he saved 19 people, 12 of them children whose descendants had a significant impact on Napa Valley. Lovina Graves was 13 when she was rescued by Tucker; she eventually married John Cyrus and they settled in Calistoga. Lovina’s daughter Elizabeth Cyrus Wright became the librarian at Calistoga Public Library and wrote “The Early Upper Napa Valley” in 1928.
RPT farmed a variety of field blend grapevines on his property (now Canard Vineyard in Calistoga) which are considered some of the most historic heritage vines in Napa Valley. Rich and Carolyn Czapleski, owners of Canard Vineyard, live in his restored split redwood house, built in 1851, located at Silverado Trail at Dunaweal Lane. Their wine The Rescuer is named in Tucker’s honor.
Tucker lost his Calistoga homestead and vineyard property in a bitter 1872 legal dispute over California land grants which went all the way to the California Supreme Court. RPT lost everything but his livestock and got no compensation for any of the land or their improvements; he was even required to pay court costs.
The ever-resilient Tucker started over, moving with his youngest daughter Annetta, then nine, to Goleta, north of Santa Barbara. He married for the fourth time and was able to buy a small farm in the area. Included in his new property was a magnificent grove of “cathedral” oaks and gigantic sycamores in a glade along San Antonio Creek. The Scottish-American picnics held there became legendary.
After his death in 1888 at the age of 82, Tucker was buried in Goleta Cemetery. His headstone is inscribed: “An honest candid worthy man – one of the heroic rescuers of the Donner Party.”
The Tucker family donated Tucker’s Grove to Santa Barbara County as a public park. The original 18 acres of Tucker’s Grove has been expanded upstream by other donations of land over the years and have grown into a permanent park.
Also included in the exhibit are period artifacts donated or on loan to the museum by local residents and family members.
Exhibit runs through February 2024.