David Samuel "Sam" Peckinpah was born February 21, 1925, in Fresno, California. The Peckinpahs originated from the Frisian Islands in the northwest of Europe. Both sides of Peckinpah's family migrated to the American West by covered wagon in the mid-19th century. Peckinpah and several relatives often claimed Native American ancestry, but this has been denied by surviving family members. Peckinpah's great-grandfather, Rice Peckinpaugh, a merchant and farmer in Indiana, moved to Humboldt County, California, in the 1850s, working in the logging business, and changed the spelling of the family name to "Peckinpah."
Peckinpah Meadow and Peckinpah Creek, where the family ran a lumber mill on a mountain in the High Sierra north of Coarsegold, California, have been officially named on U.S. geographical maps. Peckinpah's maternal grandfather was Denver S. Church, a cattle rancher, Superior Court judge and United States Congressman of a California district including Fresno County. Sam Peckinpah's nephew is David Peckinpah, who was a television producer and director, as well as a screenplay writer. Peckinpah's parents were David Edward Peckinpah and Fern Louise Church, and he is a cousin of former New York Yankees shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh.