The Valley of Heart's Delight

DAVID M. BURNETT -Santa Clara County Pioneer


   A Distinguished representative of the California Bar of more than ordinary interest because of his relation, as a descendant, to one of the illustrious forefathers of the Golden State, is David M. Burnett, son of John M. and Ellen (Casey) Burnett, and grandson of Peter H. Burnett, California's first governor.  He was born in San Francisco the day after Christmas, 1870, and at the age of twelve matriculated at St. Ignatius College, from which he was graduated on June 3, 1891, with the Bachelor of Science degree.  In the fall of the latter year he entered the Hastings College of Law in San Francisco; and while reading law, he was for a year an instructor in Mathematics and English in St. Ignatius College, and also for a year in Santa Clara College.  In August, 1894, he was admitted to practice at the California Bar; and on the first of September he began the practice of law in the office of the late Charles F. Wilcox.  Three years later, in March, Mr. Burnett and H. E. Wilcox formed a partnership which continued until February, 1917. 

While in the law school, Mr. Burnett joined the fraternity of Phi Delta Phi, made up of law students; and since then he has become a member of the Young Men's Institute, Knights of Columbus, the Native Sons, the National Union, the Sainte Claire Club and the California Pioneers.    

The story of the Burnett family tree is particularly interesting. Peter Hardeman Burnett was born in Nashville, Tenn, in 1807, and grew up to be a trader and a lawyer.  In 1843 he made the overland journey to Oregon, and soon after took a prominent part in the organization of the territorial government.  He was sent to the legislature in both 1844 and 1848, and then became a judge of the Oregon Supreme Court. 

The great excitement about the discovery of gold in California led him to abandon everything in Oregon and to hurry south, and for a short time he himself worked in the mines; but when the affairs of the Sutter family and estate at New Helvetia became so complicated, he accepted the responsibility of their agent.  In 1849 he rose to prominence in actively urging the formation of a state government in advance of Congressional authority; he energetically opposed the military direction of the territory by the U. S. Government; but he yielded to the calling of a constitutional convention, and under the new constitution was at once elected governor, and assumed office ahead of all Congressional action in September, 1850.  He resigned the governship in 1851, practiced law, and then became one of the supreme judges of California in 1857-58.  For seventeen years, from 1863, Judge Burnett was very prominent in San Francisco as the president of the corporation known as the Pacific Bank; and in 1878 he published a volume entitled, "Recollections of an Old Pioneer," which is regarded as a very valuable contribution toward an understanding of the early political and constitutional history of the Pacific Coast.  In 1880, Judge Burnett retired and spent the balance of his life in the family circle of his son, John  M. Burnett, where he passed away on May 16, 1895, aged eighty-seven years.
(He is buried  in the Santa Clara Mission Cemetery, Santa Clara, California, Location: 5 Old, Space 111.)

   John M. Burnett, the father of our subject was born in Missouri in 1838, and for awhile was went to private schools.  Later, he entered Santa Clara College, from which he was graduated in 1858 with the A. B. degree.  A year later, that honored institution gave him the Master of Arts degree.  He studied law, was admitted to practice in 1865, and then opened a law office in San Francisco.

   On July 2, 1902, David M. Burnett was married to Miss Mabel Arques, the daughter of Luis Arques, a prominent attorney; and their son, John M. Burnett, born May 1, 1903, has lived to represent the fourth generation of the Burnetts and their enviable association with California history.  They also have a daughter, Martha Arques Burnett, a student in the San Jose high school.

Transcribed by Joseph Kral, from Eugene T. Sawyers' History of Santa Clara County,California,  published by Historic Record Co. , 1922. page 342