J. P Munro-Fraser.

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

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erty, which had strayed into the flock of one Ambrose, for whom defendant
had been a herder. A dispute ensued, which resulted in the stabbing of
Ole Thompson, by Zaesck, inflicting a wound, from the effects of which he
died on the 14th day of November, 1861, the day succeeding the commis-
sion of the crime. A verdict was rendered of guilty, on May 20, 1862,
and he was finally sent to the State prison for four years.

The People v. Merrill James. — This was a case in which the defendant
shot one Ashford Ashbrook, when at a dance at Mr. Fowler's in Green
valley. James effected his escape, and has never been brought to trial.


The People v, D. H. Fitzpatrick. — This was one more of those cases
arising out of a trespass, where the use of firearms was resorted to by Fitz-
patrick, to assert his rights, resulting in the shooting of one Croesdale, a
squatter, on the Potrero Hills. The trial was had in due course, and on
Saturday, May 21, 1864, defendant was sentenced to ten years in the
State prison : but, after serving two years, through the indomitable perse-
verance and energy of his wife, he was pardoned.

The People v. Frank Grady. — This was a cutting affair which occurred
at the election polls at Bridgeport, on the 6th of September, 1865, in which
a man named English was killed and two others fearfully wounded, while a
third received two shots in his breast and shoulder from a pistol. The cir-
cumstances attending the emeute are briefly these : About this time
English aud his two sons, Charles and Perry, were cutting wood on land
owned by Perry Durbin, and the latter restrained them by injunction, on
account of which, it is supposed Charles English made complaint to the
military authorities at Benicia and caused the arrest of Durbin, Ramsey,
Lamoree, Stilts and others for rejoicing over the assassination of President
Lincoln. While at the polls, as above stated, English and Durbin were
conversing ; English gave the lie to Durbin ; Durbin made a motion as of
drawing a weapon, whereupon Charles English drew his revolver and com-
menced firing, two of the shots taking effect upon Durbin, hitting him in
the left breast and shoulder. Durbin then drawing his knife, turned upon
Charles, who, in attempting to escape, ran out of doo s, but stumbled and
fell, and commenced cutting at his throat, presenting a most horrible sight.
Perry English on seeing his brother in a critical position, ran to his assist-
tance, but just as he reached the contending parties, Frank Grady drew
his revolver and shot Perry just at back and under his right ear, killing
him instantly. Grady mounted his horse and left for parts unknown. The
father then went to the relief of his son Charles, when Durbin turned upon
the old man, and stabbed him in the breast three times, making fearful
wounds. Durbin and the elder English were brothers-in-law. In due
course Grady was captured and twice tried, when on 19th September, 1866,
he was acquitted.

The People v. William Westphal. — The facts of this case are : Two
Prussians, Fritz Poizing and William Westphal, were engaged in hauling
barley from Westphal's ranch, about five miles south-east of Denverton, to the
residence of Poizing, and when near the latter place went to the house and
informed Mrs. Westphal, half sister of Poizing, that he had fallen from the
wagon, and had been killed by being run over. She at once repaired to the
spot and found Poizing still living and able to raise upon his elbow and
signify by motions that he wanted water. She at once started to procure


the required beverage for the wounded man, when, after proceeding a short
distance, on looking around, she saw Westphal strike Poizing three times
upon the head with an axe, exclaiming " I will fix you out this time," and
on again returning to the spot found life extinct. The defendant was found
not guilty in the May term, 1866.

The People v. D. G. Gordon. — The particulars of this case are : The
crime was committed at Vacaville by the killing of William Byron by
David G. Gordon. It appears that Byron and Gordon had been on terms
of enmity for some time, and during the day had been using severe language
towards each other. Just before the occurrence Byron was playing billiards
in a saloon with Antonio Do Santos, and was just preparing to make a play,
when Gordon came in somewhat intoxicated. The latter approached Byron,
put his arm around him, and the two talked for a little while apparently
very amicably. They then shook hands, but as Gordon turned to go away
Byron struck him with his cue, raising it to strike him again, when Gordon
drew his pistol and shot Byron in the stomach. The latter then ran out of
the back door and Gordon pursued him to the creek, firing at him four
different times, each shot taking effect. Byron fell near the creek and ex-
pired in a few moments. On 21st May, 1868, Gordon was convicted of

The record of crime of this man Gordon did not cease here, for he has
since in the State of Missouri been found guilty of murder and sentenced
to death, which was afterwards commuted to imprisonment for life.

The People v. James Campbell and Annie Robinson. — This was a case
of poisoning which took place on the 25th January, 1869, whereby Jabez
Robinson lost his life by the administering of strychnia at the hands of
the defendants. Campbell, who though only an accessory before the fact,
was indicted and tried as a principal and convicted and sentenced to death.
Against this judgment he appealed to the Supreme Court, on the grounds
that the verdict was insufficient inasmuch that the jury had omitted to
specify the degree of murder in their finding. This was held to be good in
law by Judges Crockett, Rhodes, Temple and Wallace of the Supreme
Court. Judgment was therefore reversed and the cause remanded for a
new trial. This was appointed to take place on January 23, 1871, and one
hundred persons were summoned for difficulty was expected in the selection
of a jury. One, however, was impanelled, who brought in a verdict of not

The People v. Pancho Valencia and Guadalupe Valencia. — The cir-
cumstances attending this murder are briefly these : On the night of the
3d March, 1871, at seven o'clock, after the family of Joseph W. Hewitt
had taken supper and retired to the parlor with some visitors, one of the
family went to the door, in opening which she discovered two men crouch-
ing low and approaching the house; finding they were observed they



straightened up and coming towards her asked for " the man of the house."
The little girl, Lizzie, who had gone to the door, went into the inner room
and called her father, who came to the door ; she followed him. Upon this
one of the men asked Hewitt if they could stay there all night. Hewitt
replied that in consequence of there being company in the house, and his
barn having been burnt but a few weeks ago, he could not accommodate them,
but informed them that they would be able to obtain the desired lodgings
at the next ranch where there was a barn. The man who had questioned
him at first, now asked him if he would mind coming out a little way and
point out to them the direction. Hewitt complied and stepping off the
porch walked down the yard a few paces, and while raising his hand to
direct them, the larger of the two men — he who had spoken during the
interview — drew a pistol and shot Hewitt who fell crying " I am murdered."
The defendants were traced into Contra Costa county, arrested, brought
home and put upon their trial for murder. Guadalupe was discharged, but
Pencho was convicted and sentenced to death, said sentence having been
carried out on November 24, 1871, making the second execution in Solano

The People v. James Mallon. — A case of wife murder which occurred
at Benicia on the evening of the 23d May, 1877, where the defendant came
home drunk and beat his wife until death ensued. He was in due course
arrested, tried and convicted of murder in the first degree, and on Septem-
ber 25th, was sentenced to imprisonment for life.

The People v. James Lowther. — On Sunday, June lGth, 1878, the town
of Rio Vista was thrown into a high state of excitement by the killing of
John Thompson by a stranger, and apparently in cold blood, without cause or
provocation. The shooting occurred on Thompson's door step and in full
view of his wife. The murderer gave himself up to the officers and was
lodged in jail, and in due time tried. At the trial the following facts were
developed : The murderer's name was James Lowther, a resident of San
Francisco. He had a sister named Rebecca to whom it was alleged that
Thompson had been engaged to be married at one time, and while so en-
gaged to her had seduced her. It came to Lowther's ears that Thompson
had made his boast of his seduction, whereupon Lowther took the steamer
the following Sunday for Vallejo, thence by rail to Fairfield, thence in
a ' sulky ' across the country to Rio Vista. Once there he inquired for
.Thompson and was shown his house. (Thompson was married to another
woman and was living in his own house). Lowther went to the door,
knocked, and Thompson came to the door. A very few words passed be-
tween them when Lowther drew a revolver and shot Thompson, the ball
taking effect in the region of the heart. Thompson lived but a few
minutes. Lowther was tried twice for the murder, and both times the
jury disagreed. He is at present out on bail.



The following interesting record of the township and city of Benicia has
been most kindly furnished to us by S. C. Gray, Esq., an old pioneer of that
city. We reproduce it, because a fuller and more concise record would be
hard to find ; and we take this opportunity to thank the author for his
kindness in extending to us the permission to allow it to form a no mean
portion of the history of Solano county :


A Lecture— By S. C. Gray.

From the Pacific Ocean, whose waters press the shores of California,
along a coast line scarcely less than one thousand miles in extent, between
the 117th and 124th parallels of W. longitude, and from the 32d to the 42d
parallel of N. latitude, the main entrance into this great State for the ship-
ping and commerce of all nations, is through the world-renowned " Golden
Gate," the outlet for the waters contained within the Bay of San Francisco.

The striking features of the " Golden Gate " have been described again
and again, by many writers ; and its praises will continue to be sounded so
long as the soul of man is touched by those beauties of nature that are pre-
sented to his appreciation through the medium of his sight.

As a counterpart, or, perhaps, a continuation of this" charming " Golden
Gate," may be regarded the less renowned but equally beautiful, " Straits of
Carquinez," constituting the passage from the San Francisco and San Pablo
bays into Suisun bay, that receptacle for all the interior waters of the State,
which from the length and breadth of the Sacramento and San Joaquin
valleys, have here descended to flow on their way to the sea through the
deep and commodious channel of these Straits.

On account of their bold shores and beautiful outlines, the Straits have
been likened to the Bosphorus, near Constantinople ; and it may well be
predicted, that in time when these hillsides have been subjected to the
culture and adorned with the improvements of which they are susceptible,
they will fairly rival that famous highway in attractiveness.

On the north side of these Straits, at a distance of twenty-eight miles
from San Francisco, by the usual traveled route on steamer, but of not more
than twenty-three miles north-eastwardly, in an air line, is situated the
whilom city of Benicia, the scene of the reminiscences which are to be made
the subject of this brief sketch. And what claim has Benicia, or its history,
to our present consideration ?


As we proceed, it is hoped that in due time this shall be made satisfact-
orily to appear.

Occupying a site, acknowledged to be rarely equalled for its natural
advantages, on account of its capacious, land-locked harbor, having a great
depth of water (not less than ten fathoms in mid-channel), its continuous
water front for miles, the shores gently sloping up to the hills in the back-
ground, thus affording a perfect natural system of drainage, its position as
a center towards which the great lines of travel must necessarily converge,
and of its picturesque surroundings, it early attracted the attention of ad-
venturous travelers, a few of whom, at least, confidently believed it to be
fitted by nature, and destined to become in time, a commercial city of very
considerable importance.

For a time, within the present generation, this view seemed likely to be
realized ; but that time has passed ; and if it is to be renewed, it must be
in the uncertain future, farther than the most gifted are permitted now to

The panorama visible from the highest point within its limits, is one of
surpassing beauty, such as few cities anywhere can boast, and needs but
to be seen to be admired. From this point, which is easily reached, at the
moderate elevation of 400 feet above the level of the bay, and distant but
two miles from the water-front, may be seen, looking northward at a dist-
ance of about 20 miles, the twin peaks of the Suisun mountains, which
separate Napa valley from Suisun valley, with a glimpse of the Vaca mount-
ains, distant about 30 miles ; N. E. the range of Green valley hills, which
hide from view Suisun and the great valley of the Sacramento ; eastward,
the whole extent of Suisun bay, bounded by the Montezuma hills, 20 miles
distant, with the white line of the Sierra Nevada rising in majesty, 100
miles beyond; S. E. the Black Diamond coal hills, and grand old Mount
Diablo, which, though 20 miles distant, looks scarcely more than five, in all
its full proportions, from base to summit, towering above the valley which
bears its name ; S., the village of Martinez, snugly embowered in its cosy
shelter under the lee of its own wooded hills, with the great coast range of
mountains stretching out beyond ; S. and S. S. W., the placid Straits of Car-
quinez, hemmed in by the Contra Costa hills, which conceal from view the
cities on the lower bay, but cannot prevent stern Mount Tamalpais from
asserting itself prominently against the. south-western sky ; then westward
the eye rests and lingers enchantedly on this second " Golden Gate " of the
Straits, opening out into San Pablo Bay, of whose broad bosom the view is
only limited by the distant hills of Marin county, some 25 miles away ;
then W. N. W., the city of Vallejo and Mare Island Navy Yard, in the fore-
ground, with the hills near Petaluma in the distance ; and finally, in the N.
W., the Sonoma mountains, and in the N. N. W., the Suscol hills, amid
which, the view ends with Sulphur Spring mountain, some five miles dis-


tant, as its most distinct and prominent object in that direction. In this
panorama, which takes in a circuit of many hundreds of square miles, and
a great variety of scenery the central object, spread out at your feet and
skirting along the shore of the Straits, is the village of Benicia, resting as
if in quiet and undisturbed repose, for no sound comes from its smooth
streets, which are still comparatively in a state of nature, neither cobble-
stones, nor basalt blocks, nor carbonized brick, nor any other patent
pavement having, as yet, profaned them, the plank-road leading to the
steamboat landing, alone furnishing the kind of music that responds to
passing wheels. In close connection with the village, and flanking it on the
east, looms up the Military Post, including Benicia Barracks, the Arsenal
buildings and greatly embellished grounds, the magazine, hospital, store-
houses, etc. These occupy the point fronting on Suisun bay, and overlook-
ing Martinez on the opposite shore.

As early as in 1844, this peninsula had attracted the attention of our
highly-esteemed fellow citizen, Senor Don'M. G. Vallejo, a native of Mon-
terey, who soon became the possessor of its territory, as is shown by the
grant from the Mexican Government, (referred to in another part of this

It was in the fall of this year, 1844, that Henry Clay was defeated, and
James K. Polk elected President of the United States. Upon this fact
hinged the momentous issue of the annexation of Texas, and the consequent
war with Mexico in 1846-7, one of the results of which was the conquest
of California, and its absorption by the United States, under the treaty
concluded at Guadalupe Hidalgo, on the 2d of February, 1848.

Among the irregular proceedings in California during the war with
Mexico, was the raising of the Bear Flag, by Capt. Granville Swift and his
party, of whom Dr. Robert Semple was lieutenant, and the co-operation
with them of Col. John C. Fremont, in the surprise and capture of Sonoma.
They took Gen. Vallejo prisoner, and sent him in charge of Dr. Semple on
a launch up to Sutter's Fort, where Gen. J. A. Sutter was in command, as
well as supplying stores and war materials to Fremont. On the way up, the
vessel necessarily passed through the Straits of Carquinez, which were then
seen for the first time by Dr. Semple. This was in June, 1846. General
Yallejo remained a prisoner at Sutter's Fort about a week, when he was
released by Commodore Stockton (Governor of the conquered territory), on
his parol of honor, and Dr. Semple accompanied him back to Sonomo. Pass-
ing through the Straits again on their return, Dr. Semple became greatly
impressed with the advantages here presented for the location of a city,
which he explained to the General, who had been so kindly treated, that he
not only ceased from opposing, but became friendly to the invaders of his
native State, and to encourage them to come within and settle it, not long
afterwards donated to Dr. Semple the site which had impressed him so


In pursuance of this agreement the site was surveyed by Jasper O'Far-
rell and Lieutenant Warner, and the plat of this survey became substan-
tially the map of Benicia. At that date no habitation of man adorned or
disfigured the face of the land, which was absolutely in a state of nature,
a luxuriant growth of wild oats holding undisputed sway over its un-
dulating and treeless hills.

And now commences the story of its early times. About the last of June,
Mr. William I. Tustin, a native of Virginia, subsequently a resident of Il-
linois, whence he had emigrated to California, and was sojourning at
Sonoma, having heard that a town was being laid out on the Straits, came
with his wife and son, a lad of four years, to take up his residence in the
newly surveyed place. These constituted the first man, first woman and
first child of the white race that ever settled and lived in Benicia. It is
probable that the aboriginal Indians may have some time preceded them,
but there was nothing to indicate it. They found nothing but the sur-
veyor's stakes, and no human being in sight, save the surveying party just
going away over the hills towards Suisun Valley, having completed their
labors for the time being. This family of three camped a few days among
the wild oats, until the arrival of Dr. Semple with a cargo of lumber which
he had brought in a brig from Bodega. Having made arrangements with
the Doctor for two lots on which to build, Tustin dug a well and com-
menced making " adobes."

In making his adobes, Mr. Tustin had the assistance of a new comer, a
well educated and worthy young man named Charles L. Benedict, who was
provided with unusually large feet, and who remarked that he never knew
before what they were good for. He speculated on the prospect of some
day becoming an old man, and narrating to his grandchildren this exploit
of his youth, the honor of tramping in the mud to make adobes for the first
house ever built in Benicia, This house, now nearly thirty years old, still
stands with its thick walls in a good state of preservation, and constitutes
part of the residence of Jerry O'Donnell.

The second house built was a one-story and attic frame, put up for and
occupied by Dr. Semple himself. This house became the scene of some of
the most interesting transactions of those early days. After, passing
through several hands, and being now greatly improved, it belongs to Mrs.
J. W. Jones, and is occupied by George A. Hastings and family. It was my
residence in 1849-50. *

The third house was an adobe built by Benjamin McDonald, and first oc-
cupied by Capt. E. H. Von Pfister as a store, subsequently by the firm of
Bicker & Evans. This is also in a good state of preservation, and is now
occupied as a residence.

Quite a number of houses were built in the Fall of 1847, and families
came in and set f led. Among these were Major Stephen Cooper, bringing


with him a load of cabbages from Napa, Mr. Landy Alford, Mr. Nathan
Barbour, their respective families, and others.

About this time the settlement of Yerba Buena having adopted the name
of San Francisco, and becoming known thereby, the name of Dr. Semple's
town which at first had been called Francesca, was changed to Benicia, to
avoid complications. This name was given as required by the original con-
veyance from General Vallejo, and in compliment to his wife, Francesca
Benicia Felipsa Carrillo, daughter of one of the influential families of this
department. The signification of the name is blesssed!

In August or September, 1847, Capt. E. H. Von Pfister, a native of New
York City, who had been in the habit of trading on this coast, arrived from
Honolulu, bringing with him a stock of goods, which he opened and dis-
played in the adobe store just spoken of. This being 25x40, was commo-
dious enough to constitute the rendezvous of the whole town by day, and
to accommodate everybody in want of lodgings by night. The Captain
being one of the jovial and hospitable sort, everybody was at home in his
presence or under his roof.

Major Cooper's family occupied the house which had been built for Dr.
Semple, and furnished board to quite a number of the Captain's lodgers. A
year or two later, the Major kept a real Hotel.

About Christmas, 1847, the Major's eldest daughter, Miss Frances
Cooper, was married to Dr. Semple, ex-Gov. L. W. Boggs, formerly of Mis-
souri, but then Alcalde of Sonoma, officiating. The Governor made the
journey from Sonoma to Benicia expressly to perform the ceremony.

As this was the first marriage ever celebrated in the place, the boys deter-
mined to honor the event with all the eclat possible. They found in Capt.
Von Pfister's stock of goods a lot of white linen pants, and a dozen blue
cloth dress coats with brass buttons, and of most approved swallow tail cut.
The following are the names of the parties who decked themselves in a
suit of this kind for the occasion, viz. : Landy Alford, Wm. Bryant, David
A. Davis, Benj. Forbush, Charles S. Hand, Edward Higgins, F. S. Holland,
Henry Matthews, Benj. McDonald, Wm. Russell, Geo. Stevens and Wm.

These twelve good and true men, having first imbibed some good " old
rye," the generous beverage of that day, which the Captain had first brought
out by the decanter, but as that did not suffice, then by the bucketful, and
being thus fortified in the inner man against the overpowering bashfulness
that is generally experienced when faultlessly attired in store clothes,
marched in procession up to Major Cooper's mansion, and were ushered into
the august presence of the bridal party, and it is doubtful if ever on any
similar occasion heartier congratulations were extended or reciprocated than
on this.

Twenty-nine years later the hearty old Captain who was an eye-witness


of the scene, relates the event with as much gusto as if it had occurred but
yesterday. He alone of all that company, still resides in Benicia.

The second marriage, that of Mr. Benjamin McDonald with a daughter
of Landy Alford, was solemnized by Major Cooper, who in January, 1848,
had been appointed Alcalde by General Mason.

Some years previous to this date, the peninsula had been visited by a
restless native of Yankee land, who recognizing the advantages of the
position conceived that some day he would come again, possess himself of

Online LibraryJ. P Munro-FraserHistory of Solano County...and histories of its cities, towns...etc. .. → online text (page 16 of 57)