Shortly after Jesse's birth, his family relocated to Johnson County, Iowa, where he grew into manhood. He was educated in the Johnson County school system and then attend the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
Jane Andrews Bedke described his early life this way: "As a boy he was trained to farm and raise livestock, and at an early age loved horses and acquired a knowledge of the habits and characteristics of that animal. He became one of the best judges of horses in Iowa, and maintained that same reputation throughout his life." His affectation for horses was to play an important part in accumulating his fortune later in life.
On 12 March 1872, in Rock Island, Illinois, Jesse married Mary Abigail Miles. Mary was born 5 January 1848 in Vermont, and was teaching penmanship in the local high school at the time of their marriage. The couple had eight children, the first three born in Iowa and the rest after they moved to Colorado in about 1878.
He was an early resident of the Fort Collins, Colorado, area, who made his living as a dealer in livestock. When the family first arrived in Colorado, in addition to his livestock duties, Jess taught school in the Little Thompson Valley schools but by 1880 they had moved to Fort Collins where he bought a home at 103 North Sherwood. He spent the rest of his live living in that home.
Shortly after arriving in Fort Collins, Jesse began what would become a lively trade in horses. The Fort Collins Courier of February 24, 1881, (page 3) described one of his early shipments.
A car load of fine driving and heavy draught horses arrived from the east last week for Cross & Harris. These are a part of the lot recently purchased in Iowa by Jesse Harris, and comprise some of the best horse-flesh ever brought to Collins. These horses may be found for sale at both stables, and will go very low.
In 1885 he began importing registered draft, coach and English Hackney horses, in which business he continued until 1893, making nine round trips to Europe and receiving ten shipments of Clydesdale, English Shire, Percheron and Cleveland Boy horses which he sold to horse breeders in the various states between New York and California. He brought some of the finest horse flesh ever imported from Europe, gaining a national reputation as a judge and importer of horses. It was said he did more to improve the character and increase the value of the horse stock of Colorado and the western states than any other man.
On May 31, 1899, Jesse was chosen a member of the State Board of Agriculture. He was made chairman of the farm committee and at once went to work with his characteristic vigor to improve conditions on the farm and make it what it was designed to be - a model of its kind. He was also instrumental in getting the board to purchase a large tract of pasture land near the foothills on which was a living spring of water slightly tinctured with sulphur. This water he used for a fountain which he donated to the Colorado Agricultural College (now Colorado State University) in an effort to provide the school with potable water. It was located just north of Old Main. Old Main is now gone but the Jessie Harris Spring still remains. He served six years on the Agriculture board.
Harris was also active in another agriculturally related activity in the Fort Collins area. The 1905 Chamber of Commerce Brochure" edited by R.H. White detailed how area residents, including Harris, joined together to bring a sugar facility to the area.
In 1901, the newly-formed Great Western Sugar Company established a beet sugar plant in Loveland, the fourth in the state. The agricultural experiment station had proved that beets could be profitably grown in Larimer County and the Loveland factory was quickly judged a success. In rapid succession, Eaton and Greeley also obtained factories. For Fort Collins business interests it was "unthinkable" for their city not to share in the new industry. A group of prominent local businessmen took matters in their own hands and established a company to build a factory and process beets. The Fort Collins Sugar Manufacturing Company was formed by Benjamin F. Hottel, James Arthur, Peter Anderson, Joseph McClelland, Jesse Harris, Jacob Welch, and C.R. Welch. The group purchased the Alexander Barry farm and a large parcel of land owned by Boulder banker Charles Buckingham for their factory site. J.F. Kilby was contractor for the factory which was erected in 1902-1903. The factory processed its first beets in January 1904. The Great Western Sugar Company purchased the Loveland and Fort Collins factories in the summer of 1904.
The impact of the sugar factory on Fort Collins was so substantial that historian Evadene Swanson judged that much of Fort Collins' "prosperity for the next forty years revolved around the cultivation of beets and the feeding of lambs. Local business hinged on the program." Area farmers had pledged to put a minimum of five thousand acres in sugar beets as an incentive for constructing a factory. Fields north of town near the factory and in the southwestern portion of town were used for beet cultivation. While the first processing season of the factory yielded just over 79,000 bags of sugar, by 1927 927,475 bags were produced.
For four months of the year, hundreds of persons were employed at the Fort Collins factory. The impact of the factory on the town was immediate. Real estate prices in the entire vicinity escalated and local builders found unparalleled opportunities for construction activity. The employment rate surged, new businesses were attracted to the city, and a dramatic increase in population was measured. The growth of population necessitated improvement and expansion of city services, which included the extension and enlargement of the city water system, the construction of a Carnegie Library, and the incorporation of the Poudre Valley Gas Company, all in 1904.
After retiring from the Agriculture board he gave much of his attention to dealing in real estate and the buying and selling of livestock. He dealt in real estate as one of the partners of Harris & Akin which was described in a city directory of the time.
Harris & Akin - A firm closely identified with growth and development of the city and whose name is well and favorably known in business circles throughout the county, is that of Harris & Akin. The business of this firm was established 25 years ago, and has grown steadily year by year until now it is not only the oldest but the largest and most prominent firm of its kind in the district. The firm buy and sell real estate, do a large loan and investment business, conduct an insurance agency, and deal in livestock - cattle and sheep. They have the principal business in the city, are recognized as business men of honor, fidelity and ability, and have the confidence and esteem of their numerous clients. The partners are Mr. Jesse Harris and Mr. Myron Akin, two of the city's most esteemed and wealthy citizens. Homeseekers, investors and others can rely on any information regarding country, its prospects and opportunities, supplied by the firm. Their office is at No. 132 Laporte avenue.
In 1909, acting as agent, he purchased more than $400,000 worth of real estate in Fort Collins and vicinity for right of way and terminals for the Union Pacific railroad, which was building into the city from Denver. On April 4, 1911 he was elected mayor of Fort Collins by the largest majority ever cast for any candidate for that office in the history of the city. He left office in 1912. A local paper described his election this way:
A REAL LANDSLIDE FOR INDEPENDENT REFORM
Every Candidate on Ticket is Elected --- George Toomey Loses Out in Hard Fought Race
DEAD ISSUE DEFEATS ANTI-LICENSE PARTY
People Tired of the Continual Harping on Liquor Question And Anxious for Change in Administration
COMMISSION FORM OF GOVERNMENT LOST OUT
Murdoch G. Nelson
Aldermen - First Ward
Aldermen - Second Ward
Aldermen - Third Ward
Chas. R. Hedke
Aldermen - Fourth Ward
Aldermen - Fifth Ward
The above is a list of the men who were elected Tuesday to take charge of the municipal affairs of this city. Each one of these men were candidates on the independent reform ticket and they were swept into office by such a landslide as the city has never before witnessed. Desirous of a change and tired of the continued revival of the liquor question as a factor in the municipal campaigns the voters cast their ballots against the candidates placed on the anti-license ticket. General discontent has prevailed in this city for some months past ad it was not a difficult matter to align a large majority of the people with the candidates who had a platfrom (sic.) and who were advocating issues vital to the welfare of te people and the city. The appellation of the anti-license party was not suited to the occasion ad many people refused to vote for candidates on that ticket merely because of the party banner being a dead issue in this election. Hearty support by the friends of the victorious candidates and lack of organization on the part of the losers was also an important item in the election. George Toomey, for city clerk, was one of the few candidates who received vigorous support and his defeat was due only to the landslide - which carried his opponent into office. Jesse Harris, the head of the ticket, went into office by over 800 majority, while Mr. Toomey lost out by less than 100 votes. Mr. Harris had effected a very strong organization and nothing was left undone to assure his election. Over 2,400 votes were cast, indicating the interest manifested in the candidates for office. Considering the statement made that many voters have left the city during the past two years, the total vote cast would indicate that practically a full representation of Fort Collins was out yesterday giving expression to approval and disapproval.
Following the closing of the polls last evening at 7 o'clock, judges and clerks alike hurried to get the results out, that the anxious citizens might learn the verdict. The first ward followed closely by returns from the third ward showed conclusively which way the wind was blowing, and not many reports were needed to cause the anti-license advocates to fold their tents and steal away. The independent reform party candidates' friends took possession of Mr. Harris' office early in the evening and the reports were encouraging from the start. At the armory another large gathering of friends of the victors were assembled and returns there were followed by music from two bands. At 11:30 when this assemblage broke up, the two bands formed a parade and Murdoch Nelson and Ray Baxter were escorted to Mr. Harris' office. The mayor-elect was literally dragged from his office and placed into an automobile. A number of other machines were loaded to the gunwales and a triumphant march was started. On foot were several hundred men and boys, many of whom carried colored lights. One enthusiast carried a rifle, which he fired repeatedly to work off a little surplus steam. At Scott's drug store the parade haulted (sic), the bands played and the autos took … (there is a line here I can't read) …be no definite plan for the paraders and they finally went up Mountain avenue, stopping frequently to celebrate. Finally the home of Mr. Harris was headed for, and Mr. Harris threw open the doors to all who could get in. Mr. Harris had early in the evening given evidence of his pleasure over the results of the election and he was in rather poor voice. However, he found enough lung power to express his appreciation of the honor bestowed upon him and made the statement that during his term of office he would do all in his power to fulfill the pledges made prior to the election. He asked that the two contending parties forget their differences and unite in making Fort Collins one large corporation with each citizen as a stockholder. Many congratulations were exchanged at the Harris home, and after a number of other candidates had been visited the enthusiasts, wearily but happily wended their various ways homeward.
As has been indicated in these columns during the last few weeks the city was not ready for the commission form of government. The people expressed themselves more clearly on this subject than in the selection of candidates. Out of the 1,690 persons who deemed the subject worth consideration, 518 voted for it and 1,172 against it. There were hundreds of persons who felt the defeat of the question was assured and did not even got to the trouble of expressing an opinion on their ballots.
Expressions of Candidates
Mr. Harris, when seen by the Courier this noon, was in a very pleasant frame of mind, but rather tired from the exertion of the past week and particularly yesterday and last night. He is rather hoarse, but is attending to routine business just as he had prior to the election. He had the following to say for publication:
"I feel very grateful to the people of Fort Collins for the confidence they have displayed in electing me to the office of mayor. It makes me feel as though Fort Collins is a place well worth living in. During my term of office I expect to do everything I can to further the interests of the people and the city. Of course, there is not much money in the treasury now with which to do a great deal, but I hope to do all that I can for the betterment of conditions. I do not care to make a great number of promises of which I have no knowledge of the results, but I hope to help to do things and let the people talk about them afterwards. The campaign just ended has been a very clean one and my neighbor, Mr. Crain, has expressed to me his well wishes for a successful administration."
Mr. Crain, the defeated candidate appears to be equally as happy as Mr. Harris. He greeted the Courier representative with a broad grin and said: "I feel much better than I did a week ago. It was with a great deal of hesitance that I agreed to accept the nomination and only the earnest solicitations of my friends induced me to allow my name to appear on the ticket. There may be some regret with some that I was not elected, but not so with me. When one considers the disagreeable things of a public office, the abuse and the many duties required of an officeholder which interfere with his private affairs, there is more joy to be found in defeat than in the pleasures of the term of office. I am grateful to my friends for the efforts made to elect me and take this opportunity of thanking them. I have the utmost confidence in the ability of Mr. Harris to give the city a good, clean administration, and I believe we will prosper if all do their part in supporting him as mayor and his associates.
Every ward in the city gave Jesse Harris a majority ranging from 20 in the fifth to 224 in the second. The west precinct of ward No. 3 was next in the number of votes for Harris, this precinct giving him a majority of 198.
George Toomey ran ahead of Baxter in two wards, having a majority of 79 in the east precinct of ward No. 3 and 62 in the fifth. In the fourth both candidates received 274 votes. Baxter's heaviest vote came in the second ward, where he had a majority of 99 over Toomey. The first ward came next with a majority of 74.
M.G. Nelson, who was elected treasurer, led the independent reform ticket wit a majority of 830 over B.A. Gage, the anti-license candidate. His heaviest vote was also polled in the second ward, where he was given a majority of 247, which was the largest given any candidate. The west precinct of ward No. 3 was a close second with a majority of 218.
The Charter convention lost in every ward, the vote, however, being light, falling 741 below the total vote cast for mayor. Following is the tabulated vote:
Jesse Harris (I.R.) -
First Ward ……………..177
Second Ward …………..352
Third Ward - east………110
Third Ward - west ……. 348
Fifth Ward ……………..165
L.D. Crain (A.L)
Third Ward -east……...152
Third Ward - west…….150
Fourth Ward ………….192
Fifth Ward ……………145
Harris' Majority ……….806
In 1911 Harris was appointed a member of the Board of Penitentiary and Reformatory Commissioners for Colorado by Governor Shafroth. He was a livestock agent in Colorado for a number of yeears for the Chicago, Milwaukee and Saint Paul railroad company.
He died on November 8, 1919 in Fort Collins, Larimar County, Colorado and is buried in the Grandview Cemetery in Fort Collins. His grave can be found on Find A Grave.
His death notice can be found on November 14, 1919, in the Record Journal of Castle Rock, Douglas County, Colorado.
Jesse Harris, former mayor of Fort Collins and one of the most noted horsemen in the United States, died at Fort Collins of Neuralgia of the heart, an ailment that had kept him inactive in public life for many years. He had been a member of the state board of agriculture, of the penitentiary and reformation board and was elected mayor of Fort Collins in 1911 by the greatest majority ever polled by a candidate.
November 15, 1849 - Birth - Loveland, Clermont County, Ohio
1860 - U.S. Federal Census - In the 1860 census, the Wm. H. Harris family was living in Scott, in Johnson County, Iowa and consisted of William, 47; Elizabeth, 46; James, 22; Sarah, 16; Mary, 13; Jessee, 12; Jason, 6; Susan, 5; and Frederick, 2. Also in the household were domestic Emily Jennings, 34; and Caroline Jennings, 2; and laborer John Tipenhaur, 25 and Charles Tipenhaur, 14.
March 12, 1872 - Marriage - Married to Mary Abigail Miles in Rock Island, Illinois.
About 1878 - To Larimer County, Colorado - Harris family moves from Iowa to Colorado.
1880 - U.S. Federal Census - In the 1880 census, the Jessie Harris family was living in Longmont, Boulder, Colorado and consisted of Jessie, 30, and his wife, Abbie, also 30, and their children Archibald Harris, 5; Nellie Harris, 8; Grace Harris, 3; and Julia Harris, 6 months.
1900 - U.S. federal census - In the 1900 census, Jesse Harris, 50, was living in Fort Collins, Larimer, Colorado, with his wife Mary A., 52. Also in the household were their children, Grace M., 22, Abbie D., 20, Mary 16, and Lucian M., 9.
1910 - U.S. federal census - In 1910, Jessie Harris, 60, was living in Ward 2, Fort Collins, Larimer County, Colorado, and is shown as a land and livestock dealer. Living with him were his wife, Mary A., 62, and children Lucien (listed as Lucrin on Ancestry), 19 and Delphine Coy, 30.
1911-1912 - Civic Office - Served as mayor of Fort Collins, Larimer County, Colorado.
November 8, 1919 - Death - Fort Collins, Larimer County, Colorado.
↑ 1860 U.S. Census, Johnson, Iowa; population schedule, Scott, p. 567, dwelling 90, family 537, Wm. H. Harris; digital images, Ancestry.com(http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 21 Feb 2012); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm M653, roll 327.
↑ 1880 U.S. census, Boulder, Colorado, population schedule, Longmont, enumeration district (ED)22, p. 446B, dwelling 197, family 206, Jessie Harris; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 21 Feb 2012); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T9, roll 88.
↑ 1900 U.S. census, Larimer, Colorado, population schedule, Fort Collins, enumeration district (ED) 213, sheet 36B, p. 55 written, dwelling 537, family 567, Jesse Harris; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 9 Jun 2012); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T623, roll 126.
↑ 1910 U.S. census, Larimer, Colorado, population schedule, Fort Collins, enumeration district (ED) 0225, sheet 1A, p. 45 typed, dwelling 2, family 2, Josie Harris; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 9 Jun 2012); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T624, roll 121.