Samuel Bell McKee 2

Samuel Bell McKee, Sr. (1822 – March 2, 1887) was a California Supreme Court justice.

Born in Belfast, Ireland, McKee immigrated to the US after 1840, arriving in California in 1853. McKee had begun his law career in Mississippi, but really began to distinguish himself once in Oakland. In 1856, McKee became County Judge, then in 1860 rose to the office of District Judge of the Third District, trying many of early Oakland’s most well-known cases over 3 consecutive 6-year terms. By 1869, he was one of a handful of appointed regents of the University of California. In 1880 he was elected to California’s Supreme Court, where he served through 1886, including filling in as Chief Justice on at least one occasion. 1

See McKee, Tashiera and Wahrhaftig, which included his son, Samuel Bell McKee, Jr.


McKee married Martha Alston Davis (McKee) of North Carolina, and they had 4 children: Annie Bell McKee (Mhoon), Robert McKee, Edward Davis McKee, and Samuel McKee.

Little Samuel died October 15, 1855, and Martha died 6 weeks later, November 26, 1855. Both were buried in the Webster Street Cemetery. Their remains were later moved to Mountain View Cemetery after the closing of the Webster Street Cemetery.

In 1859, a few years after Martha's death, McKee married Sarah Annie Davis (McKee), Martha's sister, and they had 6 children: Samuel Bell McKee, Jr., Mattie McKee, James Cain McKee, Sally McKee (Spens-Black), Helen "Nellie" McKee, and Amy Marguerite McKee (Lauel).


The McKee family lived at 1033 Adeline (1115 Adeline after renumbering). The house was on a large lot, extending all the way through to Magnolia St. By 1912, the surrounding property had been subdivided, sold, and built on.

1928 photo 41902 Sanborn excerpt

Death and Burial

McKee caught a cold while traveling from San Diego to Mexico City, then contracted cholera. He returned home and was confined to bed, and died a few days later. 5 McKee is buried in Mountain View Cemetery along with a number of family members, including Martha, Sarah, and many of the children.

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Links and References

  1. Samuel Bell McKee, ex-Chief Justice of Supreme Court of CA
  2. Samuel Bell McKee California Supreme Court Historical Society
  3. A Dead Jurist Oakland Tribune March 3, 1887
  4. BANC PIC 1996.003:Volume 27:42a--fALB I0051720a.tif Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley Library

  5. Death of Ex-Justice Samuel Bell McKee Yesterday San Francisco Examiner March 4, 1887

[Question: was Robert Linington McKee of Oakland, who was the Class Secretary at the University of California, Class of 1870, related to Judge McKee?] Robert Linington McKee (1849–?) was the eldest son of Samuel Bell McKee and Martha Davis.

This may be off-topic (for now) but – it’s said that Miss Horton’s school’s first location (on Adeline) was either right next to, or just across from, Judge McKee’s (and the way it was mentioned, the Judge’s place was clearly understood to be a landmark). - Mike

Mike, Is the Judge’s house still standing?

Gulp … at the time, I was focused on my topic (Horton). However, it seems to me I might’ve read in an old Tribune “Knave” column something about SBM’s house being razed in the 1920s. However, I just checked my (offline) files and found this (emphasis is mine):

  • The 1885-12-30 Daily Alta Cal (8/2) says ”On the 22d of September, 1884, Miss Horton started a private school in a small building on Adeline street, near Judge McKee’s.” while
  • the 1929-06-05 Oakland Trib (1/2) claims ”The Horton school was founded in Oakland in 1884 in the residence of Judge McKee on Adeline Street.”

Make of that what you will … (I’d probably tend to favor the 1885 source). Anyhow, I then went online in Google Earth to scope out the house in question (1027 Adeline) and there are a lot of seriously old-looking, potential candidate houses on both sides of the street there. So my final answer (for now) would have to be: inconclusive, pending more research!

Research update 2013-08-12: I no longer recall where I read about 1027 Adeline being the Horton School location, but I found a tidbit that Judge McKee’s house was on the south (opposite) side of the street. On that side today are two well-pre-’06-earthquake houses (Italianate or Stick) so it’s possible … we may need to call in Betty Marvin!

he was a live oak lodge grand master from 10-22-1854 to 1857