James Sensabaugh was born in Edmunson County, Kentucky, sometime in 1835. He was in the Union Army during the Civil War, serving in Company E of the 11th Kentucky Infantry, but was released from duty due to poor health. He moved to California, hoping the climate would be therapeutic. Settling in the Snelling area, he married Miss Modest Walling at her father’s residence “six miles below Snelling” on April 24, 1864. The marriage produced four children.
In 1865, Sensabaugh sought the Democratic nomination against the current Sheriff, Elbridge Rector, and a former Sheriff, Charles Bludworth. Winning his party’s nomination, he went onto defeat H. J. Ostrander (Ostrander went on to become the District Attorney, a Superior Court Judge and the father of a future Merced County Superior Court Judge). Sensabaugh served as Sheriff for four years and then was a member of the State Assembly beginning in 1870. Additionally, he had a business interest in a Merced Falls dry goods store. The Sensabaugh family ultimately moved to Merced when the county seat was relocated.
Sheriff Sensabaugh died on September 4, 1875. The San Joaquin Valley Argus stated that he died of “heart disease”, but the Mariposa Gazette reported that he died from injuries sustained in a fall from the third story window of Fisher’s Hotel in Snelling. The fact is that he died and was buried in the Snelling Cemetery (then known as the Odd Fellows Willow Lodge Cemetery). His grave is no longer marked. Mrs. Sensabaugh had moved to her son’s San Francisco home in the late 1890’s and died there in early 1927 at the age of 90.