The town of Yountville was founded by George Calvert Yount (1794-1865), a Midwestern farmer who left his family to become a fur trapper and was eventually employed by General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo as a carpenter. Yount was the first United States citizen to be ceded a Spanish land grant in Napa Valley (1836). “Skilled hunter, frontiersman, craftsman, and farmer, he was the true embodiment of all the finest qualities of an advancing civilization blending with the existing primitive culture. Friend to all, this kindly host of Caymus Rancho encouraged sturdy American pioneers to establish ranches in this area.” No one knows this to be truer than Yountville resident and retire police officer, Lee Hart.
Hart is a local historian and authority on George C. Yount’s history and has been volunteering at the George C. Yount Cemetery and Ancient Indian Burial Grounds for 50-years. Hart was just 25-years old when he lost both his parents three months apart in 1965. His mother’s family, long time Yountville residents were buried in the Yountville cemetery. Hart is oldest of four children. He made the decision to bury his parents in Yountville. In 1892, the Yountville Cemetery Organization was created to protect the cemetery where George Yount was buried. But, by 1965 the organization lacked, well organization and people to volunteer. Hart decided to help create a new board with bi-laws and 50-years later in June he is still volunteering at the cemetery.
“I didn’t have any historical interest in the cemetery, only to protect my families graves,” said Hart. “Then in 1976 I was contacted by a descendent of George Yount. She was a member of the Daughters of American Revolution (DAR) and was challenged to honor an ancestor. She asked me to do some research on George C. Yount.”
Hart accepted the request and read two books on Yount, read his will and maps of the properties he owned.
“I became fascinated with George Yount and did more and more research,” he said.
Hart began giving talks about Yount at service clubs, was interviewed on KVON AM radio, where a segment of that interviewed was played every morning for two months. He started the Mountain Men Club to reenact the times of George Yount. Three of the original 30 members are still alive. Hart’s first wife worked for the Napa Historical Society and asked him, if instead of talking about Yount, if he would be willing to get into character as Yount.
Hart soon became the modern day Yount. Both men are similar in statue; Hart at 6’2” and Yount at 6’4.” Both were hard working and wanted to give back to the community. Hart is known by many as officer Hart having worked for the Napa Police Department for 28-years and the Napa County Sheriff’s Department for 10-years as well as taught at the Napa Valley College police academy for 27-years. Besides wanting to protect the community he also wanted to enlighten, entertain and educate people about the man who founded Yountville.
Yount was an intriguing and captivating man according to Hart. He could tell endless stories about Yount’s involvement in the War of 1812 or the Indian War, but when asked what Hart’s favorite story is about Yount it’s the fact that he was promoted to Lieutenant in the Missouri Militia during the War of 1812 and was under the command of Daniel Boone and his two sons. He also recalled a time when Yount saved a little Indian girl and brought her to stay at his home in Rancho Caymus. Sadly, her husband later killed her.
According to Hart, Yount was most proud of reuniting with his two daughters, his youngest was 16-years when he saw her for the first time. They eventually moved to Napa Valley.
At age 75, Hart says he can’t move as easily as he used to, but will continue to share the many stories of George C. Yount. He himself has many stories to tell besides helping to write many local books on Yount and a life member of the Napa County Historical Society, Napa Valley Museum and a 35-year member of the Native Sons of the Golden West, Hart is also a 9th Degree Black Belt. NVL – By Kari Ruel