HARPER, JEROME, cattle rancher, flour mill and sawmill owner; b. in Tucker County, West Virginia, in 1826; d. a bachelor 27 Nov. 1874, at Santa Barbara, Calif.
Little is known of Jerome Harper’s youth. He is reported to have been involved in a rebellion in Chile, and in 1852, with his younger brother Thaddeus*, he was farming in Santa Clara County, California. The two brothers probably came to British Columbia in 1858 with the great rush of gold miners to the Fraser River. By 1859 they were operating a sawmill in Yale. Jerome took an active interest in the Cariboo mines and bought and sold several mining claims there, but by the autumn of 1862 he had entered the cattle business and had stock on a ranch east of Kamloops. In 1862 or 1863 Jerome began to purchase cattle in Washington and Oregon and import them into British Columbia. After wintering the cattle south of Osoyoos, B.C., he would drive them in herds of about 450 head along the old fur brigade trail through the Okanagan Valley to Kamloops and from there on to the Cariboo where they were held in the mountains to be slaughtered as required. The success of these operations provided the miners with inexpensive beef and the Harper brothers with increased wealth. Jerome, pursuing the business with great energy, soon won a dominant position in the cattle importing industry and diversified his activities by building a sawmill at Quesnellemouth late in 1863 and, five years later, a flour mill north of Clinton.
In 1871 Jerome signified his intention to retire, and advertised his mills for sale. He moved to San Francisco for health reasons in March 1872, but in February 1873 was reported to be “hopelessly insane.” He drowned in his bath tub in November 1874. His estate, valued at $150,000, passed to Thaddeus but only when the will had been upheld in court after relatives maintained Jerome had been insane.
Jerome Harper never changed his citizenship and was a strong supporter of the Confederate states; to him, Robert E. Lee was the equal of Napoleon or Wellington. In 1862–63 he was connected with a plot to outfit a Confederate privateer at Victoria, but the scheme failed and only the plotters were discomfited. Harper was widely known and respected. The lavishness of his entertainment was celebrated – champagne lunches at the Clinton mill were not unknown. Jerome was always the leader of the two brothers; it was his initiative that laid the foundations for the giant cattle ranches later owned by Thaddeus at Kamloops, Cache Creek, Clinton, and in the Chilcotin.