J. P Munro-Fraser.

History of Solano County...and histories of its cities, towns...etc. .. online

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and subsequently presented a petition substantially the same as the one to
the Commandant- General, to Jose Castro, the Prefect of the First District,
asking for a permanent grant, in accordance with the law of colonization.

This petition the Prefect referred to the Governor, together with his
Report upon the same, as follows :

" Most Excellent Senior Governor :

" The Prefecture being informed of the petition which Jose Francisco
Armijo makes in claiming the land which he indicates, and of the order
of the Senor Commandant-General, no objection is found to the concession
which the Government ought to decree, provided the party interested ob-
tains the necessary requisites to be attended to, and that the place which he
solicits is found to be entirely vacant.

(Signed) Jose Castro."

In response to the petition, Governor Alvarado, on the 4th of March,
1840, issued a grant to Armijo for the three square leagues, to which grant
the same conditions were annexed as were contained in the grant to Solano,
relative to the manner of acquiring possession, establishing boundary lines,
and the planting of trees within its limits, to which an additional condition
was annexed that through no motive whatever should he in any manner
molest the Indians who were there located, nor the immediate neighbors
with whom he would adjoin.

The grant was issued in all respects with due regard to form, with the
single exception that it never received the approval of the Departmental
Assembly, as was the case in the Suisun grant. However, it was subse-
quently decided by the Supreme Court of this State that such lack of ap-
proval did not in any way impair its title.

Solano's title to the Suisun grant was subsequently acquired by M. G.
Vallejo, by purchase, and that of Armijo to the Tolenas, upon his death, in
1849, by his son Antonio.

Before the death of the elder Armijo, some time in the year 1847, a dis-
pute arose between M. G. Vallejo, Solano's grantee, and Armijo, concerning


the location of the boundary line between the two grants, which resulted in
the institution of an action of tresspass by Vallejo against Armijo, before
Alcalde L. W. Boggs, Armijo claiming that a certain arroyo seco, or dry
gulch, formed the line, and Vallejo placing it some distance to the north-
ward, the difference in question involving several thousand acres- of land.
It was finally, agreed, however, that the matter be submitted to two arbi-
trators, whose decision should be final. Accordingly one Cajetano Juarez
was selected as arbitrator on the part of Vallejo, and one Salvador Vallejo,
on the part of Armijo.

The arbitrators held a meeting in August, 1847, at which time proofs and
documents on both sides were presented to them, and on the 16th of that
month they submitted the following award :

" We, the undersigned, appointed arbitrators by and for Mariano G. Vallejo,
and Francisco Armijo, to decide upon the question existing between them
for having the last trespassed his limits, and usurping part of the land be-
longing to the farm of the first, as it is expressed in the complaint presented
before the Alcalde of the jurisdiction, L. W. Boggs ; and after hearing the
declaration of both parties, and examination made of the proofs and docu-
ments presented to us, we find that the limits of each farm are clearly deter-
mined, in their respective titles, being those of the Tolenas farm, according
to the said, the Suisun creek, which runs to the N. N. E. of Suisun, and be-
ginning from thence, at the first limits mentioned there are to be measured
three leagues running at E. N. E. as the ridge (Sierra) runs ; leaving the said
ridge the natural limits lying between the two farms, separate them, leaving
one at the north and the other at the south. Thus neither of the both
parties is prejudicated, and the titual meaning of the respective titles to
both farms are fulfilled with, and in order to so not burden one part more
than another, the costs of the judgment and those of the tribunal ought to
be paid equally by both parties.

"And for the fulfillment of the contents of this present writing, we sign it
by our hands and seals before the Alcalde of this jurisdiction, on the 16th
day of August, A. D. 1847.

(Signed) Cajetano Juarez,

Arbitrator for M. G. Vallejo.

(Signed) M. G. Vallejo.

(Signed) Salvador Vallejo,
Arbitrator for Francisco Armijo.

(Signed) Francisco Armijo."

This award as before stated, was made upon proofs and documents pre-
sented by both parties, and was recived as a victory for the Armijo faction.
For a time the matter was regarded as settled ; but the question subse-
quently came again into dispute between purchasers under the respective
claimants, in which the Armijo faction claimed that the award was final


and conclusive of the action in their favor, and they also offered testimony
to show that Vallejo and others claiming under him had stated to certain
parties that the arroyo seco, or dry gulch, in reality formed the north line
of the Suisun grant, and contended that such admissions fixed the boundary
at that point.

One Archibald A. Ritchie had in the meantime purchased Vallejo's in-
terest, and procured a United States Patent for a large tract of land, which
included in its limits that in controversy. The Ritchie purchasers claimed
that the patent was in effect superior to the award made by the arbitrators,
though issued at a later date, and for a time a bitter warfare, not un-
attended with frequent acts of violence and bloodshed, was waged both in
and out of Court. The matter finally culminated in the celebrated case of
Waterman vs. Smith, in which it was decided upon appeal to the Supreme
Court that the award was only conclusive until the action of the General

The dispute was continued for several years, however, until all the land
in controversy was finally settled by compromise, or otherwise, and the
danger which had formerly been attendant upon its ownership being
removed, it rapidly increased in value, amply repaying those who had suc-
ceeded in retaining their claims after so many years of stubborn and tena-
cious warfare.

The most noted litigation almost in the annals of the State, grew out of
the Suscol and the so-called " El Sobrante," or Luco grants. In the case of
the former, it was claimed that General M. G. Vallejo had at various times
during the Mexican troubles furnished the Government with large sums of
money and other supplies ; and in consideration of these favors and in part
payment for his services as an officer in the Government employ, the Suscol,
an eleven leagued grant, had been deeded to him. The title subsequently
came into dispute ; and after a most vexatious and expensive contest in the
Courts, the grant was declared invalid and became public land. The Con-
gress of the United States came to the relief of purchasers under the Vallejo
title by the enactment of a special Pre-emption Act, allowing them to enter
such lands, at $1.25 per acre.

In the case of the " Sobrante," one Juan Luco claimed to have purchased
from a Mexican vaquero a grant which he had received from the Mexican
Government, of the stupendous quantity of two hundred and eighty-four
thousand acres ; but this grant, after a number of years of litigation, was
rejected by the Courts, and that vast extent of territory added to the public

In respect to the Vaca and Pena grant, nearly the entire property has
gone out of the hands of the original grantees, they farming and owning but
a very small portion of the original estate, while a history of the Los Ulpino
grant will be found in the description of the township of Rio Vista.




Mention has been made in another portion of this volume, of the estab-
lishment of Perfectures, and a Judge of First Instance; while the judg-
ment decreed in a suit heard in the court of the latter, has been copied

With the acquisition of California by the Government of the United
States, and the increase of population, better provision was made for carry-
ing out the law. County Courts were established, and the Seventh Judi-
cial District Court, among others, inaugurated. The first Judge of this
Court was Robert Hopkins, who was succeeded by E. W. McKinstry, now
of the Supreme Court.

In the following resume of the chief trials which have taken place in
Solano county, we have confined ourselves to those of individuals who have
been arraigned for the crime of murder. It has, however, been deemed best
to refer to the following curious case as a starting point.

The People v. Edward Crocker. — This was a case instituted at the
instance of S. G. Hastings, Attorney-General, complaining that the defend-
ant had intruded himself into the office of County Treasurer, and un-
lawfully held and exercised the duties of said office, and received the
emoluments thereof. The plaintiff represented the different appointments
to the office from its incipience in 1851, until the election of November,
1852, when George Leviston was preferred to fill the unexpired term for
which Osgood H. Evans, the original Treasurer, since dead, had been
elected. That in due time his certificate of election had been granted
and bond filed ; but, on demanding the books from S. C. Gray, the ap-
pointee of the Court of Session as the locum tenens of Evans, prior
to the general election, he refused to deliver them to the said Leviston, and
continued to exercise the duties of the office and receive the emoluments
until the 14th of December, 1852, when he left the county. That on or
about the 16th of December, the defendant, Crocker, intruded himself into
the office without legal authority, and unlawfully held the books and papers
from Leviston, to the detriment of the public interests.


In answer, the defendant gave a general denial to the case as set forth in
the complaint, which, on going to trial, Judge McKinstry, on February 3,
1853, found for the plaintiff with costs. »

The People v. Peter William Kemp. — The first murder trial in Solano,
county was that of Peter William Kemp, for the killing of Thomas Sullivan
on the night of February 1, 1855. The victim was a fireman on board of
one of the steamers then lying in the port of Benicia, while the slayer was
a workman in the blacksmith's shop of the Pacific Works there. From the
evidence adduced at the trial, it would appear that Sullivan and Kemp,
who lived together, had a quarrel as to which of the two should cook their
supper, and that the latter took up a Mississippi rifle which was within
reach, and followed the former into a room, in the act of doing which the
piece exploded, killing Sullivan. The verdict at the trial was one of not

Among the witnesses examined in this case for the prosecution were Bev-
erley Wells, whose trial for murder immediately follows this, and that of his
boon companion, John C. Heenan, the " Benicia Boy," of prize-fighting fame.

The People v. Beverley T. Wells. — The facts of this distardly deed
are these : James H. Dunn, was Third Assistant Engineer of the Pacific
Mail Steamer " Golden Gate ;" he was killed by Beverley Wells, under the
following circnmstances : It appears that Dunn and Wells had been inti-
mate friends for some time ; that whenever the " Golden Gate " was in port
they were constant companions, and never had any difficulty previous to
the 17th February, 1856. On that morning they went out together to take
a pleasure ride in a buggy. In the evening they returned and proceeded to
the steamboat landing. After remaining there a short time, Wells got into
the buggy, and started up town ; Dunn ran after him, saying, " Hold on ! "
what, are you going without me ?" and caught the horse by the head. Some
angry words passed between them, when W T ells proceeded to the stable of
the American Hotel with the buggy, and paid the bill. He then went to
the store of Mr. T. Pander, and purchased a large knife, and then walked
down towards the wharf. When about half-way along the plank road lead-
ing from the ferry house to the landing, he was met by Dunn and a man
named James Morgan. Dunn said : " Hallo Beverley ;" and immediately
Wells struck him with the knife several times in quick succession. Dunn
fell, crying : " Morgan, run for a doctor — I'm stabbed ; Oh, Mother ! Mother !
Mother ! " He expired in about ten minutes. On examining the body, four
ghastly wounds were found, one in the abdomen at least six inches long,
through which the bowels protruded ; one in the right breast ; one in the
right thigh, six or eight inches long, and another on the right arm, near the
right shoulder, completely severing the muscles. Wells was a large, power-


ful man : Dunn, about the medium size, slightly built. The murderer was
at once arrested ; but there being no jail in Benicia, where the foul deed
was perpetrated, he was confined in Martinez prison, Contra Costa County.

The trial of the accused commenced on June 17th, and lasted the two
following days; and was fully argued on both sides, when on the 19th the
following verdict was brought in : " The jury in the case of the People of
the State of California vs. Beverley T. Wells, find the said Beverley T.
Wells guilty of the crime of murder. John Doughty, Foreman."

Monday, the 23rd of June, was fixed by the Court to pronounce sentence,
which was done as follows : It is ordered, adjudged and decreed by this
Court, that the said Beverley T. Wells be remanded to jail in charge of the
Sheriff, from whence he be taken to some suitable place, to be selected by
said Sheriff, in Solano county, on Friday, August the eighth, A. D. 1856,
between the hours of ten A. M. of that day, and four P. M. of the same
day, and then hung by the neck until he be dead.

As the execution of Wells was the first to take place in Solano county,
we reproduce an account of it from the " Herald " of August 9th, 1856 :

" Upon examination, it was found that our jail did not afford the neces-
sary room, and no other place could be procured in town (Benicia) for the
purpose. It was, therefore, necessary to have the scaffold erected in as
secluded a spot as possible, in the hills adjacent to the town. «

' The ferry-boat, ' Carquinez,' being laid up, repairing, the Sheriff found
it necessary to provide a small vessel to transport the prisoner from Marti-
nez (where he had been confined). An escort of twenty men was detailed
from the Solano Engine Company, at the request of the Sheriff, to perform
guard duty, and all left at an early hour for Martinez. The prisoner had
been attended by the Rev. Mr. McDonald (at present writing, pastor of the
Church of the Ascension, at Vallejo), and he was immediately taken on
board the vessel, which arrived at the wharf at half -past eight — Rev. Mr.
Woodbridge met them there. The prisoner appeared quite weak from loss
of blood, but was calm, and expressed himself as prepared to die. He had
a short interview with one of his counsel, to whom he renewed his assur-
ance of the truth of his former statements of the affair, and referring to a
letter he had written about the time of his first attempt to commit suicide,
requested that it might be published after his death.

" At precisely ten o'clock the procession moved to the place of execution,
accompanied by a large number of people. On arriving at the place,
he ascended the scaffold, attended by the Rev. Messrs. Woodbridge and
McDonald, Mr. Sheriff Shirley, and one of his deputies.

' The Sheriff immediately proceeded to read the warrant, and, upon its
conclusion, informed the prisoner that he could then have an opportunity
to say anything he might wi.-:h Whereupon, he stepped forward firmly,
and in a clear, unbroken voice, spoke, substantially as follows :


" ' Gentlemen — This is a malicious murder ! James Morgan has perjured
himself on the trial, not once, but fifteen or twenty times ! He is my mur-
derer ! The homicide of Dunn, I am sure was justifiable ! I forgive Morgan.
I am about to die like a man. I commit myself to God, and die on ami-
cable terms with all men.'

" He then stepped forward on the drop ; his arms and limbs were tied by
the Sheriff, and the prayers of the Episcopal Church were read by the Rev.
Mr. McDonald; at their conclusion, and at the given signal, the drop fell.
To all appearances he died instantly ; and after one or two slight convulsive
struggles, all was still.

" The execution was witnessed by about four hundred people, all of whom
seemed deeply affected, and throughout the entire scene the most perfect
decorum prevailed. Mr. Paul Shirley, the Sheriff, and Messrs. Estell and
A. J. Bryant, Under and Deputy- Sheriffs, respectively, performed their re-
spective duties in a highly satisfactory manner."

The following is a letter which Wells wrote while in Martinez jail at the
time when suicide was contemplated by him :

" To the Public — Gentlemen : My life is a burden to me at this present
time ; and being of a proud spirit, and the way that I have been so unjustly
dealt with, I have come to the conclusion to dispose of myself in the man-
ner which you here observe. I think that I am in my rational mind, al-
though sorely afflicted with my present position, together with the false
heart and flattering tongue of James Morgan, has caused me to commit
myself in the manner that I have, and to present my soul to Almighty God
for forgiveness of the so-called unpardonable sin. My exposition on the
23rd of June, in the Court House, at Benicia, was the truth, and is my
dying declaration. I die, knowing that he, James Morgan, has swoi'n to
several malicious and absolute falsehoods knowingly ; but yet I forgive him.
I hope that I leave this world on amicable terms with all mankind. After
this publication let my name be ignored.

" Beverley T. Wells.

" Martinez Jail, July, 1856."

It may be interesting here to note that Sheriff Shirley is now Senator
from Contra Costa county ; Under-Sheriff Estell is Under-Sheriff of Sacra-
mento county ; and Deputy-Sheriff Bryant, the Mayor of San Francisco.

It should here be observed, that as early as 1854 a case of homicide
occurred in the count}^. when Jonathan Cook was killed by a gun-shot from
George K. Mann ; but, owing to the absconding of the culprit, with Sifford,
an accomplice, the case was never brought to trial. The facts are these :
Cook, it appeared, had missed a considerable amount of money, and charged
Mann with the theft of it, which was indignantly denied ; while Cook was
warned not to repeat such an accusation. He disregarded the warning ;


angry words ensued, which was followed by the killing of Cook as above
described. This deed was done in the presence of a Justice of. the Peace,
and others ; yet the prisoner escaped.

The People v. Robert B. McMillan. — This was a case of killing which
occurred in Vacaville, whereby the defendant was indicted for the murder
of John Parks, by reason of a dispute which took place through the alleged
trespass of certain stock, the property of the defendant. The case was
brought for trial before the District Court; but on September 30, 1859, the
venue was changed to Yolo county, on motion of the attorney for the

The People v. Philander Arnold. — The defendant was indicted and
tried for feloniously killing one John M. Sweeney, at a certain corral in the
township of Montezuma, in Solano county. The plea put in was that the
homicide was in self-defense. The testimony, was, however, somewhat con-
flicting as to the facts occurring at the time of the killing ; or, at least, was
claimed to be so by the defendant. The reason for the shooting would
appear to have been, that a difficulty occurred on the 24th of August, 1859,
between Philander Arnold and Sweeney, in the course of which the former
discharged a double-barrelled shot-gun at the latter, the charge taking effect
in his thigh, causing Sweeney to fall forward, from the effects of which he
died on August 27th. At the time of the charge of murder being brought
against the defendant, the charge of aiding and abetting was preferred
against Oscar D. Arnold, the son, who had brought the weapon to his father.
The Court, in its instructions to the jury, took occasion to make the follow-
ing logical remarks, which for forcible diction, cannot well be surpassed :
" When you were being impanelled, certain of your number declared that
they were strongly opposed to the infliction of capital punishment, but were
not prepared to say that this opposition would preclude them from finding
a verdict of guilty. I understood them to indicate only that as citizens —
by vote and influence — they would endeavor to bring about such a change
of legislative policy as would abrogate the death penalty, and substitute
another punishment in its stead. This repugnance to taking part in a pro-
ceeding which may result in depriving a human being of that life which we
can never recall, is natural. I am not prepared to say that it is not highly
proper ; at least, when it is not indulged in to such an extent as to cause
us timidly to shrink from one of the duties which, as freemen, are imposed
upon us as the means of preserving our liberties, among which, trial by
jury, has ever been regarded as one of the most valuable of our privileges.
I trust that, not only those of your number who are opposed to capital
punishment, but all of the jurymen, have well considered the consequences
to this defendant, of a verdict of murder in the first degree. Upon such
verdict will follow an ignominious execution — the disgrace of an interesting


family — and, whether or not, he be prepared for the awful separation — the
dissolution of those mysterious bonds which unite the soul to its earthy

" Logically, it might be argued that the jury have nothing to do with all
this ; that their task is simply to ascertain whether the prisoner at the bar
be guilty or not guilty of the offense charged in the indictment. But it
would be demanding too much of human nature, as it is constituted, to ask
that these incidents shall be disregarded ; nor do I think it desirable to
require twelve rational men to shut their eyes to the consequences of their
own acts. Accord them all due importance to these considerations. They
can do no harm ; while they operate to urge you on to a full and candid in-
vestigation into the facts of this case. I would have you feel the weight of
the responsibility imposed upon you. But I would also have you summon
all the faculties of your mind— especially all your moral courage — that you
may make yourselves equal to the responsibility. I would have you prove
yourselves worthy of the position you occupy — worthy of the confidence
reposed in you, not only by the prisoner and the Court, but also by the
District Attorney, the representative of the People. Remember the evil
consequences, if you permit a mistaken clemency to overwhelm the dictates
of reason. Although they may not seem so distinctly visible and immediate,
they are no less certain than those which flow from an error in the opposite
direction. If, through your instrumentality, an innocent man should suffer,
or a guilty man escape, you may not cast the fault upon the court, the
counsel, or even upon the witnesses ; for you must say whether the latter
are to be believed or not. You must endeavor in such case to satisfy your
own violated consciences, and make peace with the offended God, in whose
name you have sworn ' a true verdict to render, and true deliverance to
make: — according to the evidence.' "

After a full trial, the jury brought in a verdict of manslaughter.

The People v. Joseph Zaesck. — The above case is another of those of
trespass, with a resort to violence, to enforce what was thought to be right.
It would appear that the defendant had ordered off Daniel Thompson, and
his brother, Ole, the man killed by Zaesck, off certain grounds, situated on
the Montezuma hills, and also refused to give up certain sheep, their prop-

Online LibraryJ. P Munro-FraserHistory of Solano County...and histories of its cities, towns...etc. .. → online text (page 15 of 57)