HISTORY OF YUBA COUNTY CALIFORNIA
by Thompson & West, 1879, with illustrations
Chapter XLIV - Crimes and Punishment - transcribed by Craig Hahn, October 2003.
Tendency of Uncurbed Society—Early Methods of Dealing with Crime—Vigilance Committee—Their Acts—Crimes—Plummer W. Thurston—Case of George Rowe—Attack on Yuba City Indians—The Burdue Case—Murders—Killing of Dasher by Shattuck—Wholesale Murders—The Tanner Case—Robberies—Highway Robberies—Joaquin Murietta—Tom Bell—Description of his Person and Acts—Jim Webster—Duels—Field and Barbour—A Mock Duel In Camptonville
The natural tendency of society, when left uncurbed by legal regulations is towards lawlessness. So it was in the early days of California. The population in the year 1848 and the greater part of 1849 was composed of a fine set of men, composed of the honest and intelligent element of the eastern cities and States. But the next tide that flowed in threw upon our shores the refuse material from the larger cities on the Atlantic side of the Continent, and a horde of discharged convicts from the Australian Colonies. The change in society was apparent immediately; murders, robberies, highway robberies and crimes of every description became every day occurrences. Before this the miner placed no protection over his earnings and could walk through the dark streets or over the lonely plains and hills, feeling perfect safety in his solitude; now his gold must be made in the light of day or in the company of others. Legal proceedings were carried on under the old Mexican laws, and with the insufficient force of officers it was difficult to apprehend and convict a man of a crime. The miners, realizing that fact and knowing the consequence of leniency towards the criminal class took the law into their own hands. A crime was committed, the neighboring miners quickly captured the suspected person; a judge was appointed, a jury summoned and sworn; attorneys (unlearned in the law) were provided, and the trial proceeded with all the gravity and formality of a legally organized court. The testimony was heard, arguments made, and the case placed in the hands of the jury. Their decisions was final, and upon it depended in most instancee the life of the prisoner, for hanging in those days was the favorite punishment for murder and even stealing. Of the many cases in the criminal record of Yuba county, we will recount a few of the most prominent and interesting.
Soon after the organization of celebrated Vigilance Committee in San Francisco, the people of Marysville concluded to unite and form a similar institution for mutual protection. The tendency of the actions in the metropolis was to drive the criminal class into the interior cities, and it was for this reason partly that the Vigilance Committee was formed in Marysville. July 31, 1851, the address of Dr. J. S. Wright, the newly elected President, was published in the Herald. It was a clear exposition of the condition of affairs and the necessity for the existence of the “Citizen Judiciary.” About august of the same year, a Vigilance committee was organized at Barton’s Bar, on the Yuba river, probably growing out of the action taken in punishing a man named Reynolds, a gun thief. At a meeting of the Marysville Committee, held August 19, 1851 the following resolutions were passed, which clearly show the spirit of the organization:--
“Resolved, That this committee will never lend its aid to any man or set of men, for the purpose of disorganizing established government or nullifying the laws.”
“Resolved, That our aim and object is to create order in society, and not to foster anarchy and confusion.”
October 13, 1851, F. W. Shaeffer, J. H, Jewett and R. A. Eddy were appointed a committee to make assessments, to collect the same, to defray the debt and to dispose of the property of the organization. A committee of ten consisting of F. W. Shaeffer, J. L. McDuffie, R. A. Eddy, W. W. Smith, Horace Beach, L. Steinhart, Charles Gleason, John G. Smith, Charles Ball and E. Woodruff, were appointed a standing executive committee. The general committee finding no more work to perform ceased active operations.
A singular instance of assault occurred in 1854: Plummer W. Thurston, proprietor of the Eldorado Saloon, met Dr. Winters as he was disembarking from a steamer at the landing, satchel in hand, and struck at him with a piece of wood or a cane. In warding off the blow, Winters’ arm was broken, when being at the mercy of the assailant he was severely beaten. Thurston was indicted by the Grand Jury, and after a trial was sentenced to six months imprisonment in the penitentiary. An appeal was taken to the District Court, which had no jurisdiction. The case lingered along, until some months after attention was called to it by a communication from Judge O. P. Stidger in the Herald. The day it appeared that a gentleman was met by Thurston and assaulted. Judge Barbour also seconded the assault with a knife. Being between two fires, Judge Stidger was very cruelly treated. Plummer Thurston was afterwards killed in Panama.
A peculiar case was that of George Rowe, County Treasurer. In August, 1851, an indictment was found against him for neglect of duty. When brought before the Court of Sessions, a nolle prosequi was entered. December 2, 1851, Mr. Rowe having been again indicted was brought into the District Court charged with having “willfully and corruptly collected from divers and sundry persons of said (Yuba) county, the scrip of the said county in payment of taxes and licenses, having procured by fraud and collusion with other persons to supply depreciated scrip and furnish the same to the persons offering to pay their taxes, and that the defendants and his procurer divided the profits in money thus made by the illegal supply of said scrip which was in fact first paid the defendant in gold and silver.” A third indictment was found in April, 1852, relative to the condition of the books and papers in his office. The matter was dropped and Rowe was re-elected when the term of office expired.
On the seventh or eighth of August, 1851 a couple of Indians from Yuba City were caught on the Yuba river near Rose’s ranch, stealing watermelons. They received a severe whipping and were thrown into the river. On Sunday the tenth, a party of forty whites went from Rose’s to Yuba City and demanded a surrender of an Indian who had been committing some depredations on the Yuba river. They were perfectly willing to give up the guilty party provided he was recognized by the whites. Being unable to do this and seeing an old Indian crossing the river, he was declared to be the guilty party. The party commenced a brisk fire on the voyager, and the Indians who knew him to be innocent, returned the fire. Several on both sides were wounded and the whites were compelled to retreat. The citizens of Yuba City met and passed resolutions severely condemning the action of the white men and agreeing to protect the Indians in the future.
THE BURDUE CASE
In December, 1850, a man named Charles Moore, of Winslow Bar, Yuba County, was murdered near Dobbins’ Ranch, by Jim Stewart. The murderer escaped and could not be apprehended. On the nineteenth of February, 1851, the store of C. J. Jansen & Co., in San Francisco, was entered, and Mr. Jansen was cruelly maltreated and left for dead. The store was robbed, and the perpetrators escaped. The next day two men were arrested, one supposed to be Jim Stewart, and the other named Windfred. The first was accused of the murder of Mr. Moore, and while in custody was also charged with committing this later crime. Owing to the inefficient and non-zealous police and judiciary, the citizen decided to take the matter into their own hands. About three thousand people gathered at the City Hall; twelve men were chosen as a jury; W. T. Coleman was appointed prosecutor; and two lawyers, Hall McAllister and D. D. Shattuck, were chosen to defend the accused. Although one of the prisoners stoutly protested that he was not Jim Stewart, and that his name was Thomas Burdue, the injured man, Mr. Janson swore positively to his identity. The jury, however could not agree upon a verdict, three standing out for acquittal. It was with great difficulty that the prisoners could be kept from the hands of the infuriated mob, who were inclined to make short work of all criminals. They were handed over to the proper authorities, and upon trial found guilty. The sentence imposed was six (by some stated fourteen) years’ imprisonment. Windfred escaped, and the supposed Stewart was delivered to the officials of Yuba county to be tried for murder. The trial took place, and the whole matter turned upon the question of identity, the prisoner still maintaining he was not Jim Stewart. There was no doubt of his guilt if his assertion could be proved untrue. Charles H. Bryan and Jesse O; Goodwin prosecuted, while Francis L. Aude and Richard S. Mesick defended. A cloud of witnesses testified, as many as fifty of them stoutly declaring the prisoner was Stewart, and that there could be no mistake. B. F. Washington, a former city Judge of Sacramento, averred that this was the genuine Stewart, who had been often before him on different charges, and hence he had abundant opportunity of becoming acquainted with him. There were many peculiarities and marks by which it was endeavored to proved the identity, Prominent among the friends and champions of the prisoner was Judge O. P. Stidger, who fought energetically in the cause; but it proved of no avail, the jury gave their decision of “guilty,” and the death sentence was soon to be passed. In his efforts to free himself from this mistaken charge the prisoner had expended all of his money, some two thousand five hundred dollars, and he was now left to his fate, save the continued efforts of his few friends, among whom still was Judge Stidger. Hope vanished, and the public were congratulating themselves on the successful trail and conviction of one murderer, when suddenly news came from San Francisco that the Vigilantes had captured and executed the real Jim Stewart. Judge Stidger and other persons from the vicinity went to that city and examined the body of the man, and became convinced that he was the real party. His confession of the deeds had also been secured. On the eighth of August, in the District Court, Judge Mott presiding, F. L. Ande, one of the counsel, applied for a new trial of Thomas Burdue, on the ground that the real Jim Stewart had been found. The application was granted, a nolle prosequi was entered, and the case dismissed. Burdue went to San Francisco, where similar proceedings were had on the charge of robbery and the attempted murder of Jansen. He was finally released on the third of September, and a purse was made up for him. Thus ended one of the most remarkable cases in criminal record of the State.
In 1850, a man named Greenwood was shot in the Eldorado saloon. In the same year a man named Mills, who with a party had been at work damming the river at Foster Bar, failed to pay one of his laborers named Geiger. The latter followed Mills to Marysville, and meeting him on D street, between First and Second streets, demanded his wages. Mills being unable to accede, Geiger shot him without the least warning. In 1858, the murderer was caught and brought back to be tried, but although every one knew him, no one would swear on the stand of his identity. He was therefore released, and went to Sonora, where in 1859, or 1860 he was shot by a gentleman named McCarty.
In July, 1851, three partners, H. D. Adriance, John Dasher, and a Mr. Shattuck were working at the head of a canyon on Yuba river, near Foster Bar. One day when Adriance returned after a short absence from camp, he could not find Dasher. Shattuck was accused of his murder, and subsequently information was given to the authorities. Shattuck was arrested on complaint of Adriance, who testified that the prisoner tried to kill him, but after knocking him down with a stick of wood, spared his life, at the same time confessing that he had killed Dasher. The body of the murdered man was found buried only six inches beneath the surface of the ground, about thirty feet from the tent of the three partners. Shattuck laid in jail at Marysville about five months, and was finally discharged, as the witness against him could not be found.
A woman of bad repute at Downieville, in June 1851, killed a man by the name of Cannon, who had done some damage to her cabin the night before while on a spree, and who had then called to pay for the same. The citizens held a trial and strung her up at once. The matter was the subject of much unfavorable comment in the newspaper, and among the inhabitants of other localities. October 30, 1851, Edward Gifford, a business man at Foster Bar, and owner of Foster Bar and Bullard Bar bridges, when returning from Downieville, stopped at the Negro tent for dinner, and then started on his journey mounted on a mule. The animal returned to the tent late in the afternoon without its rider, and upon a search being made, the body was found in a ravine near the road. There was no clue to the murderer.
Two men, one named C. Miller, were murdered near Bidwell’s November 9, 1851, and two days later three men, Mather, Jenkinson, and Gardiner, were murdered it was supposed by four Mexicans, about four miles from Natchez, on the Honcut. The theory of the affair was that the Mexicans were murdering Mather, when the other two came up and interfered, and having no weapons with which to defend themselves, were also killed. Great excitement prevailed in Marysville, as the murders in the surrounding country had amounted to seventeen within a few days. Sheriff Buchanan went with his posse to the Sonorian camp, where three of the suspected men were, and was shot while getting through a fence; he finally recovered. The next day the Mexicans were surrounded in the chapparal on the west bank of Yuba river, but the force was too small to beat the bush effectively, and the men escaped. Several parties were arrested at the Sonorian camp, and the people in the neighborhood organized a vigilance committee. The vigilance committee of Marysville were called out and took a prominent part in search for the perpetrators. They captured and kept in their custody several suspected parties. Six more bodies found a few days later near Feather river. The appearances indicated that these and the other murders were committed by lassoing the victims, dragging them from the road, and then dispatching them with knives. The work was supposed to be that of an organized band of Mexicans. May 27, 1852, a man by the name of Sears was found dead in his tent near the Sonorian Camp. His ostensible business was that of a blacksmith. His head war horribly mangled with his sledgehammer. In his tent were found implements for counterfeiting and a die of an English sovereign. A number of bogus sovereigns had been passed in Marysville. February 21, 1853, at Diamonds Springs, a Chinaman was shot dead while in the act of cutting a sleeping miner’s throat. He was shot by the miner’s partner who was aroused by the noise. The miner was badly cut. A Mexican named Romero, was stabbed to the heart at a dance on Second street near C street, May 11, 1853. The murderer escaped. July 20, 1853, a Mexican, Talmalero, attempted to commit an outrage on a Spanish girl. The mother interfered, and he stabbed her severely with a knife: help came, when he ran down C street, jumped in the river and attempted to swim across. A. W. Nightingill swan after him and captured him in spite of his knife. He was afterward shot and killed by a policeman while resisting an arrest. November 3, 1853, a man named Cole, or Kohl, quarreled with a Mr. Holtzclaw, at the “Shades” ranch in Keystone Township. Kohl discharged two barrels of a shot-gun into Holtzclaw’s face and killed him. Kohl was with difficulty taken out of the hands of would-be lynchers and lodged in Marysville jail. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to be hanged February 17, 1854. The sentence was never executed. What became of him is uncertain. Some say that he escaped, while others maintain that he was sent to San Quentin.
In the fall of 1853, Jules Vale was found dead in his tent near Forbestown, with a bullet in his skull. Simon Rene was arrested and tried at Marysville, and acquitted, the evidence being circumstantial, and not strong enough to convict him. Early in December, the body of a man named Isaac Pray was discovered within two miles of the Sonorian Camp. He had a bullet hole and a large gash in his left side, and bore the appearance of having been murdered and robbed. No clue was found to the murderers. December 15, 1853, two Mexicans quarreled in Marysville, when one plunged a knife into the other’s abdomen, from the effects of which he died. No arrests were made. During a free fight at Parks Bar at an election, March 24, 1854, John Mullony, an Irishman, was killed by a stab to the abdomen. James Stewart was arrested, but discharged, there being no evidence to show that he did the stabbing. He was one of the men who Mullony had been fighting. The latter had picked a quarrel with him, and was whipped; afterwards he was fighting in the “free for all.” In Camptonville, January, 1855, George Faron bought some shakes from Rollin Harris, and had a disagreement with him about the matter. Harris was building a shed back of the Arcade saloon, and left his tools there. He came into the saloon on his way to work, and had some words with Faron. He proceeded to the rear of the saloon to get his hatchet, but could not find it. He procured, however, an ax, and returned to the saloon. When he arrived there, Faron drew a large knife and flourished it about. Harris attempted to strike him with the ax, when Faron stabbed him with the knife. Harris died that night, and Faron was arrested, tried, and acquitted. Faron was afterwards with Walker in his invasion of Nicaragua, and rose to the rank of major. He committed suicide a few years later in Virginia City. At the same town, December 26, 1855, a Jew named Pete Summers came to town, and got on a holiday drunk. He went to a tailor shop kept by a Frenchman, and kicked in the door, when the proprietor shot him through the head, killing him instantly.
At Timbuctoo, a gambler named Red Mike shot a man named Jones killing him instantly. Jones was from Maine, and was a very large and powerful man. All the roughs were afraid of him, as he scrupled not to use his strength on them when necessary. One night in 1858, while Jones was watching a game of cards in a saloon, Red Mike who was drunk, shot him dead with a revolver. He escaped and was never captured, though diligent search was made for him. He spent the night and the next day lying on the top of a brick kiln at Sand Hill, as he was seen there by some men on the hills. Bob Kentuck (Pearcefield) was killed near Camptonville by William Stevenson, about 1861. Two Mexicans were killed while robbing the sluices of Benman & Young, in 1862, or 1863.
The following is a list of the legal executions which have taken place in this county:--
George Tanner, hanged July 23, 1852, by sheriff, Michael Gray.
John Gavin, hanged April 16, 1858, by sheriff Matt. Woods.
Miguel Escobosa, Spaniard, hanged February 14, 1862, by sheriff, Herndon Barrett.
Ah Ben, Chinaman, hanged in jail yard, March 14, 1879, by sheriff, H. L. McCoy.
THE TANNER CASE
Friday afternoon, March 10, 1852, a man named George Tanner, alias Tom Grigg, was detected in the act of secreting in his house a bag of potatoes, taken from the warehouse of Low & Brothers. The house was searched and four tons of stolen goods were found. The man was taken before Recorder Watkins, who allowed him to go on two thousand dollars bail. When the facts of his release became known the church bells tolled and a number of citizens assembled. The alarm also brought out the Hook and Ladder Company. After much general discussion, and the expression of extreme dissatisfaction at the act of the Recorder, the crowd quietly dispersed. The next morning (Saturday), Tanner being discovered on the outskirts of the town, apparently about to escape, he was pursued and captured. While running through a pool of water he dropped an article, which upon examination proved to be a buckskin bag, containing three gold watches. At a meeting of the citizens on the Plaza a committee of twenty-five well-known persons was appointed to try the prisoner. The trial was held in the room on D street, formerly occupied by the Vigilance Committee. After mature deliberation the prisoner was adjudged guilty of grand larceny, which by the laws of the State, was punishable by imprisonment or by death, as the jury might decide. The report was read to the crowd outside amid the wildest excitement. “Hang him, hang him!” echoed from all sides. But there was a better element in the crowd which was opposed to any extreme measure. While the vote was being taken, the wife of the prisoner with her two children was silently but touchingly appealing for her guilty husband. The Mayor made a speech against exhibitions of violence, and had a large number of supporters. The committee were in a quandary, but after due consideration decided that having received Tanner form the people they would return him to them. This they proceeded to do, as he appeared, the City Marshall with his Deputy and several volunteer aids quickly took him in charge. The wildest confusion followed, and a general conflict seemed imminent. The prisoner was conducted to the Recorder’s office and while the crowd waited in front, the officers passed out at the back door and soon lodged Tanner securely in the jail. Tanner was brought to trial before the Court of Sessions, and on April 15, he was adjudged “guilty of grand larceny punishable with death.” On the nineteenth, the death sentence was pronounced upon him, appointing as the day of execution Friday, May 28. In the last part of May the Supreme Court granted a stay of execution until July 23, a motion for a new trial was, however denied. Tanner’s wife was very persistent in her endeavors to free her husband, and vainly sought the intervention of the Governor. July 23, the day set, the guilty man was executed by Sheriff Gray, on the common a few hundred yards north of the jail, a guard of citizens being present to preserve order. The prisoner made no confession. Upon petition “numerously signed by the most respectable citizens of the city,” the Council refused his body a resting place in the city burial ground, and it was interred outside. The same night body snatchers made a raid on it, and had dug down to the coffin when they were interrupted. The remains were taken up, and the mourning widow had them placed in her yard, where she could keep vigil over the body of him she had loved. This was the only conviction and execution in the State under the existing law, and it was repealed at the next session of the Legislature. This is a remarkable case on the account of its being an instance of hanging for stealing, an unusual thing in the United States in modern time.
In August, 1851, Frank Reynolds stole a gun at Barton’s Bar. Upon his apprehension a court was organized by the citizens with Captain Wilson as Judge and a competent jury. He was found guilty and the sentence of twenty-four lashes was executed. On the steamer of the first of November, 1851, the City Marshal, Albert S. Miller, and his Deputy departed, having absconded with two thousand two hundred dollars of city funds. Suits were brought against his bondmen to recover the amount. In 1852, John McLune robbed Norris & Folsom, in Foster Bar township, of three thousand dollars and a gold watch, for which crime he was arrested and tried by the miners. The jury debated for a long time as to the mode of punishment to be inflicted, some were in favor of hanging, some of cutting off his ears, and others by whipping; they finally agreed upon the latter, and twenty-five lashes were administered and the culprit was given twenty-four hours to leave the town. Messrs. Norris & Folsom administered the flogging.
Highway robberies were a frequent occurrence. The brush and rough surface of the country afforded a abundant means for ambush and escape, hence it was seldom that the guilty parties were caught. Murder was frequently resorted to, in order to accomplish the deed. Of late years, the increase of travel, and better protection afforded by the officers of the law, have caused nearly a total discontinuance of the crime.
Joaquin Murietta, who for a long time was the terror if the travelers, and lonely settlers, never operated to any extent, in this vicinity. He had a sister living in Marysville, whom he frequently visited. He was there for a considerable time, in 1850, and 1851, and was known as a notorious character. After the killing of Joaquin, considerable doubt existed as to the identity of the dead robber. His head was amputated, and with the hand of Three-fingered Jack, was exhibited throughout the State. While in Marysville, Joaquin’s sister visited the exhibition, and after gazing on the head, remarked in Spanish to a gentle man within the hearing of Judge O. P. Stidger, “that’s not my brother.” When asked who it was, smiling replied, “It is Joaquin Gonzales.” This would seem to give some credence to the rumor that the real Joaquin Murietta escaped.
The most notorious robber that ever roamed over the territory in this region, was Tom Bell. The description of this person is best given in the words of Judge Edward McGowan, as published in the San Francisco Evening Post.
TOM BELL, THE HIGHWAYMAN
Tom Bell was in stature nearly six feet, well proportioned, combining in his frame strength with action; of a sanguine temperament, quick in his motions, being never at rest, sandy hair and a full crop of it, light goatee to match his hair in color. His nose, which was originally well formed and large, was mashed in the bridge, almost level with his face. This defect rendered his countenance, which was otherwise rather prepossessing, somewhat repulsive and even hideous, when viewed in connection with his lawless practices. His eyes were a very light blue, of that class which approximates so nearly to a gray, and in its restless wanderings was constantly sparkling with intelligence. Bell was a native of Alabama, and received a medical education, and, it is said practiced that profession when he first came to California, which, as well as I can ascertain, was in 1850. He afterwards took to mining, and being unlucky at that, his next step was gambling. When that ceased to pay, he took to the road, and was engaged as a robber for about two years, in which time he acquired a fame for boldness and success, second only to Joaquin Murietta.
In the outset, he generally traveled alone, and it is said, for his better security, wore a coat of armor under his clothes, and never shed the blood of his victims unless it became absolutely necessary to enforce a compliance with his demands. It was known he had associated with him several persons scarcely less noted than himself, one of whom, an escaped convict named Bill Gristy, alias Bill White, when the band was broken in upon by a detachment of the Sacramento and Marysville police near Sacramento, was the only one who escaped. He was cruel, cunning and bloodthirsty. This scoundrel was in Bell’s band for three months. The band was supposed to number from six to eight, and they ranged the country in the neighborhood between Granite and Gold Hill, in Placer county. The country was rough, broken and covered with an impenetrable chapparal, in the recesses of which an “army with banners” might securely hide. Their outrages in this favorite field, followed each other in such rapid succession, that scarcely a day passed during the summer of 1856, without furnishing a newspaper item from the calendar of their exploits, but in no instances, I believe, did they shed blood. The plan of the chief was to frighten the travelers into terms, and avoid the cruelty of his murder.
On one occasion, Bell and Gristy, with one other, made an attack, upon a gentleman who was traveling from Downieville to Marysville with a large sum of money in his possession. The traveler resisted, fired upon his assailants, and finally fled from them towards a deep canyon in which, if he could reach it, he knew he was safe from pursuit on horseback. Just as he was about to reach his goal, Gristy fired with a navy revolver, and shot him in the thigh, knocking him down. The robbers relieved him of his money, and instead of dispatching him, or leaving him to die from the hemorrage of his wound, Doctor Bell kindly and expertly took up the severed artery, bound up the wound, and just that moment, hearing a wagon pass, Bell turned to one of his subordinates and ordered him to attend to the teamster. The wagon was stopped, the driver relieved of his cash, and the wounded man placed upon a mattress, hastily made in the bottom of the wagon, and the parties dismissed, with the injunction to “drive slow and pick their road.” The wounded man requested Bell to tie his (the traveler’s) horse behind the wagon. Bell refused, but assured him that he should have his horse, as he seemed attached to him, and that he would turn him loose in the woods, after stripping off his bridle and saddle, which promise he faithfully kept.
The Marysville Express gives the following account of a most daring attempt to rob a Camptonville stage:--
“On Tuesday afternoon, about 4:30 o’clock, as the Camptonville stage was proceeding to Marysville, and when near Dry creek, it was stopped by six mounted highwaymen. They were after the treasure, which amounted to $100,000. Near the point of attack the road forked, and Mr. Rideout, gold dust dealer of Camptonville, was on one road and the stage on the other. Mr. Rideout was stopped by the robbers, who all presented their arms and commanded him to dismount. He hesitated, when one of them threatened to shoot him. On the threat being made he dismounted, and went towards the stage on the other road, across the ravine. The robbers called him back and demanded his money. Being satisfied that he had none, his treasure being on the stage, they took his horse, and allowed him to cross over to the stage. The robbers then commanded the driver of the stage, John Gear, to stop, and threatened to kill the first man who should oppose in their designs. Mr. Dobson, a messenger from Langston’s Express immediately drew on the robbers and commenced firing. His first fire took effect on the spokesman of the robbers, and unhorsed him. Mr. Rideout had by this time got to the stage. An indiscriminate fight now commenced between the robbers and passengers. As many as forty shots were fired on both sides. The robbers, finding themselves so stoutly opposed, retreated, leaving the passengers victors in the battle. The driver, Mr. John Gear, was shot through the right arm above the elbow. Mrs. Tighlman, wife of a barber in Marysville, was shot in the head, the ball entering over the right eye, and penetrating the brain. Mr. John Campbell, another passenger was shot in both legs. The stage is riddled with bullet holes. When the stage was stopped and firing had commenced, one white man and four Chinamen, passengers, left, and ran back on the road which had been passed over. They have not been seen since. When the stage was about to resume its trip, and after the first party had been retired, a Mexican, who was mounted, commenced firing from the opposite side. Mr. Dobson returned his fire, and unhorsed the assailant. At this time, two other men were concealed in the thicket, who were not mounted. They were all members of the same gang. It is supposed that only two of the party were disguised. All were Americans save the one Mexican first spoken of. These particulars have been received from Mr. Gear and Mr. Rideout, and they may be relied on as authentic.”
This widely-known robber was killed by officers near Auburn, Placer county, in 1856.
In 1855, and 1856, Jim Webster was terror of Timbuctoo and vicinity. He was a highwayman, and robbed and murdered a number of people. A reward was offered for his capture or death, but no one was daring enough to attempt this deed. In 1855, he killed three men in a ravine near Timbuctoo, with three shots from his revolver. After committing a large number of depredations and criminal acts he was killed by one of his own men.
In the winter of 1850, a boy named Woods, while carrying the express from South Yuba to Downieville, was chased near Campbell’s Gulch by the Indians. A man was killed there the same day. A party was made at Downieville, which proceeded to the Indian camp. Surprised and murdered nearly all its occupants. January 31, 1853, while Edward Jewett was driving between Dry Creek and the Galena House, he overtook a man who asked him for a ride. He was permitted to seat himself in the wagon and in a little while plunged a knife into Jewett’s left side. Jewett seized a board to strike the fellow when he jumped out and ran away. Jewett had at that time five hundred and eighty-five dollars in his pocket. The wound was not at first considered fatal, but Jewett died the next day. He was a brother of George D. Jewett, of Masysville. Near the same spot a few days later, H. Richardson and William and Henry Fairlee were robbed by two Americans and one Mexican, being halted with pistols and made to “shell out.” An old man named Brand, was also garroted about fifteen miles from Marysville, and robbed of all he had. In 1858, Spaniards were in the habit of stealing cattle and horses from Pratt and many of the ranchers in the valley in Foster Bar Township and driving them to the mountains near Indiana ranch, where they were slaughtered returned whence they were stolen, and sold for beef. They were finally apprehended by the Constable, L. S. Camper, and taken to Marysville. On the road lynching was attempted, but the Constable succeeded in getting them through safely, where they were duly tried and convicted and sent to prison. George Shanks was a noted highwayman, usually called Jack Williams’ Ghost. He was a hotel-waiter in Camptonville, and left there when sixteen years of age. He was afterwards shot by Stephen Vanard, between San Juan and Nevada. The stage was robbed in October, 1876 near the Toll-house, one mile west of the Oregon House. Tom Brown and his brother stopped the stage, the brother going to the head of the horses and Tom leveling his gun on the driver. Scammon, a banker from Downieville, was on the stage with eighteen thousand dollars in dust and leveled his gun on Brown, who also changed his aim to Scammon, and both fired at the same time. Scammon fell in the stage with several buckshot wounds, and after a little difficulty in securing the horses, that were frightened by the firing, the passengers, mail and express were robbed, and the stage allowed to proceed. The eighteen thousand dollars were not secured, as they were hidden in the gun case, valise, and trunk; Scammon recovered. A party pursued the Browns, and coming upon their camp, fired and mortally wounded the brother. Tom gave himself up and now at San Quentin for ten years.
The code of honor was frequently resorted to as a method of healing wounded feelings, but the practice soon sank into decay. Many of these meetings were held so secretly and results were so trifling that the affairs never became generally known. Some however were subjects of general comments for a long time. Probably the most celebrated duel, or rather incipient duel, which has occurred in the county, is that between Judges Field and Barbour. The latter was Judge of the Tenth District Court, and in some manner a feeling of enmity sprang up between the two gentlemen. This spirit led to innumerable little squabbles and nearly culminated seriously. Geo. C. Gorham wrote a severe stricture on Judge Barbour and handed it to O. P. Stidger, editor of the Herald, for publication. The same day, as Judge Field was proceeding to his office, with his arms full of books, he was assaulted by Judge Barbour, who claimed that his opponent had caused the publication of the offensive article. The parties being separated, by some diplomatic effort Judge Barbour was forced to send the challenge. This left Mr. Field with the privilege of selecting the weapons and manner of meeting. It was at first proposed to fight with knives in a dark room, but Judge Barbour would not accede to this, claiming that it was cruelty. Finally it was decided to have a meeting with fire-arms, on the opposite side of Bear river. Charles S. Fairfax acted as second for Judge Barbour, and Gordon N. Mott for Judge Field. Although both parties appeared on the ground, an actual conflict was avoided.
In 1854, a stranger came to Camptonville, and a sham quarrel was picked with him and a duel arranged. Two seconds were chosen and a surgeon appointed. They went to the grounds south of Camptonville. When the stranger fired his opponent fell and was immediately sprinkled with red berry juice. The stranger seeing him fall, and observing the red, which he supposed to be blood, thought that was a good place to get away from, and no time so good as the present, and therefore broke for the wilderness. Several months later his bones and clothes were found at the foot of a precipice, over which he had fallen in his flight, a distance of forty feet, and been dashed to pieces. The body was discovered accidentally in the following manner;--A man named Blackburn had murdered a boy, George W. Carothers, and fled in the direction the stranger had taken, and while hunting for Blackburn the citizens discovered the unfortunate victim of their practical joke. Early Tuesday morning, March 8, 1853, two men fought a duel near the cemetery, in Marysville with double-barreled shot-guns, loaded with buckshot. One was wounded in the thigh, and had his left arm broken—cause a woman. No notice was taken by the authorities. Albert Turner and William Houser agreed to settle a quarrel in the honorable way, and adjourned to Sutter county for that purpose, June 10, 1858. The Sheriff interfered however and they started for Butte county, but finally returned to Marysville. They met near the Hospital the next morning with seconds and surgesno, and had five shots at each other, with shot-guns loaded with ounce balls, distance fifty paces. At the last fire Houser was badly wounded in the right arm. A duel occurred in 1853, in which Richard Rust, editor of the California Express, challenged O. P. Stidger, editor of the Herald. They met two miles below Yuba City. They used revolvers, at a distance of ten paces. One shot was fired and a bullet went through the coat of Stidger. The cause was some articles appearing in the Herald criticizing some of the Express, and the motives of the editors in publishing them.
The last resort to the “code honorable” was made by Thomas Burns and John Davis, of Marysville. They had a quarrel over some domestic difficulty, in which Davis received severe chastisement. He challenged Burns to the field of honor, and they fought a duel January 8, 1871, a few miles below Yuba City. Revolvers were used at thirty paces, and after an exchange of four harmless shots, the honor of these gentlemen was completely satisfied, and they retired from the field.
The most mysterious incident in the criminal annals of the county is the recent Wheatland tragedy. Sometime during Monday night, June 9, 1879, two young ladies, Miss Clara Heslep and Miss Ida Dunn, while quietly sleeping in the house of Wm. Rodden, near Wheatland, were struck on the head with an iron bar, by some unknown person. For several days they remained in an unconscious state, hovering between life and death. When they recovered they were both unable to furnish the slightest clue to the identity of the person who made a cruel attempt upon their lives. Miss Dunn had been carried out of the house, and found sometime after the occurance lying in the yard. The appearances seemed to indicate that both girls were struck by the same blow, as they lay sleeping side by side. There were no circumstances connected with the affair to indicate that any other cause than a personal one was the reason for the crime. A negro named Williams was arrested, having been seen about the place, but after being held for sometime was discharged. A Chinaman was also arrested and discharged. Frank Choquette, a Frenchman, gave himself up, declaring himself to be the perpetrator. He was ascertained to be crazy, and was also discharged. After detectives had worked diligently on the case for three months, spurred on to extraordinary efforts by the offer of large rewards William Rodden and wife, in whose house the deed was committed, and who were occupying another room in the house at the time of the occurrence, were arrested. A long and searching examination revealed no evidence against them of any certainty, and they were entirely exonerated. Thus this affair still remains in impenetrable darkness, waiting for possible developments in the future to shed light upon it.
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