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George Henry Tinkham.

History of Stanislaus County California : with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the pres online

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THE MURPHY-RODGERS HOMICIDE
Another murder was committed Friday evening, July 7, 1871, in front of the
home of Richard Threlfall, at the Blue Cottage, six miles from Knights Ferry. The
evidence at the inquest before Coroner Covert shows that the murder was committed
from a very trifling incident, a piece of tobacco. A man named Thomas Murphy
accused another laborer by the name of Rodgers of taking his tobacco. Rodgers quickly
denying it, asserted that he had money enough to buy his own tobacco. Angry also
at the insinuation, he further remarked that if Murphy repeated the charge he would
slap his mouth. The latter then drawing a butcher knife from its sheath, stabbed
Rodgers in the left breast and fled from the scene. The wound was fatal. The killing
took place between seven and eight o'clock in the evening. Rodgers was a member
of the Summit Lodge of Masons and the following morning twenty-one men started
out in different directions to search for Murphy. In the circulars that were sent out
broadcast for his arrest he was described as "a large, stout-built Irishman, about five
feet eight inches in height, with prominent cheek bones, flat nose, large and full lips,
wide mouth, narrow chin and eyes with a peculiar appearance. He walks a little lame."

THE MURDER AT LA GRANGE

Charles Light, who was born at La Grange in 1861, tells of a murder at that
place when he was a young man, which has never been erased from his memory. The
fight was between Chris Thompson, a laborer, and the hotelkeeper, George Davis by
name. Bad blood had existed between them for a long time, and one day Davis, meet-



HISTORY OF STANISLAUS COUNTY 135

ing his enemy upon the street, killed him with a shotgun. Davis was tried for the
crime of murder, convicted and sent to San Quentin. His unfortunate family then
moved to Modesto. Davis, at the expiration of his term of imprisonment, returned
to Modesto and later died in the county hospital.

THE WOOD CHOPPERS' QUARREL

Another case of too much whisky was the murder of Moses A. Bryant by Charles
Everson, March 2, 1871. The two men were partners in the wood-chopping business
and that week were engaged cutting wood for a Mr. Wells on the Tuolumne River
near Modesto. The last seen of Bryant was on a Thursday previous to the murder.
The following day a strange event happened in which Everson was the principal actor.
He went to Tuolumne City, purchased several bottles of whisky and becoming much
intoxicated, broke into a house and stole some clothing. He then stole a horse and
saddle and bridle and hurriedly rode away. His actions aroused suspicions and inquiry
was made for Bryant. Searching parties started out and about eleven o'clock Sunday
morning he was found in the Tuolumne River about four miles below the town. The
murder caused much excitement, as Bryant was a musician of considerable note and
left a wife and two children.

THE FIRST EXECUTION

It has been related that in the early '50s many persons were hanged in Stanislaus
County by mob law, and as Branch said in writing of the old jail at La Grange,
"many a horse thief and murder has been confined within its cells, and several have
cut through its walls and escaped ! Others were taken out by the Vigilantes and hung
to a tree." One of the last-named individuals was a member of an organized band of
horse and cattle thieves. These men had been pursued by the sheriff's party into the
Coast Range Mountains. In the sheriff's posse was Frank Lane, a son of Major Lane
of Mountain Brow. In the fight which took place with the thieves, Frank Lane was
killed. The bandits were all killed except one. He was captured, taken to La Grange,
and confined in the jail. One night in June, 1858, a company of men assembled with
blackened faces and, breaking in the door of the "calaboose," they took the cattle thief
out and hung him to a tree. He was found the following morning by the authorities.
At the coroner's inquest the jury brought in the usual stereotyped verdict, "hung by
some persons or person unknown."

THE LATER-DATE CATTLE THIEF
Thirty-five years later the people had become more civilized and they believed
that hanging was too severe a punishment for cattle stealing. A case in point was
that of Frost Fagan, a well-known farmer near Oakdale. He seems to have been pos-
sessed of a strong desire to increase his stock by stealing other people's cattle. He had
been arrested several times for cattle stealing but was each time acquitted because of
his splendid family connections. Frost was the "black sheep of the family" and on
December 12, 1891, he was again tried for cattle stealing. He had the best of counsel,
but his previous career told against him and, convicted of the crime, he was sent to
the penitentiary.

THE FAGAN-MENEOMAN TRAGEDY
On October 20, 1872, J. R. Fagan, employed on the ranch of G. T. Davis,
about three miles from Turlock, commenced scuffling with a man named McCarty. It
finally ended in a fight. A peaceful citizen named Edward Meneoman interfered and
pulled Fagan away from his opponent. This act so enraged Fagan that, drawing a
revolver, he shot Meneoman, the ball entering about four inches to the right of the
navel. Doctors Samuel, McLean and Hart were immediately notified by telegraph
of the shooting and they arrived from Modesto on the evening train. They pronounced
Meneoman fatally wounded, in fact, he was dying when the physicians arrived. On
the same train came Sheriff Rodgers. Throughout the night he searched for the mur-
derer, Fagan, who had immediately fled from the scene bareheaded and on foot. The



136 HISTORY OF STANISLAUS COUNTY

sheriff found Fagan four days later in the bushes of the Tuolumne River near Horr's
ranch and took him to the Modesto jail.

MURDERS HIS FRIEND

In 1876, Centennial year, there was another homicide at Turlock, the little town
just coming into notice. William Morrow and John Fox had been engaged for a
long period of time with a threshing outfit. Being of congenial natures, they became
good friends, but whisky caused them to quarrel. Going into Turlock August 20,
they entered a saloon and began drinking. Glass after glass of liquor they poured
down and then got into an argument, which ended in a fight. They were separated
by those who were present in the saloon and this, it was believed, ended the trouble.
But they came together again and began fighting, and in a few minutes Morrow,
drawing a small pocket knife, stabbed Fox in the breast. He died the following day
and Morrow was taken to jail to await the verdict of the grand jury.

Another homicide that year was one which took place July 4, 1876, at Oakdale.
A man named Melone was in one of the saloons, and he began drinking freely, cele-
brating the day, finally becoming very boisterous and quarrelsome. Anticipating an
unusually large business that day, the proprietor had employed an extra barkeeper. As
Melone had become a nuisance, the barkeeper attempted to put him out of the place.
The man showed fight and the barkeeper struck him "a terrific blow" in the face with
his fist. Lying unconscious for several hours, he died, probably from concussion of
the brain.

THE MURDER OF JAMES CONNOLLY

Another of the cold-blooded murders of Stanislaus County was that of James
Connolly December 22, 1874, at La Grange. He and a man named James Kerrigan
were in a saloon and both apparently strangers to each other. Connolly, pretty well
intoxicated, was having a heated conversation with a third party when Kerrigan, who
was known as William Dona, suddenly drew a revolver and, shooting Connolly in the
back of the head, killed him instantly. The cause of the murder was not positively
known. It was suspected, however, that Dona was a deserter from the British army,
and that Connolly knew of Dona's desertion. Hence, to prevent his desertion being
reported to the British Consul at San Francisco, Dona killed his man. In his con-
fession to the sheriff just before his execution, Dona stated : "I write to make known
to you and the world that my name is not William Dona, but James Kerrigan. The
name Dona I assumed when I deserted from the British army in 1859."

The Trial of Dona

Dona made no effort to escape and he was immediately arrested and taken to
Modesto, and imprisoned in the county jail, at that time in the basement of the present
courthouse. He was indicted for the unlawful killing of James Connolly. The case
was called in the district court January 21, 1875, Judge Samuel Booker of Stockton
presiding. The prosecuting attorney was J. J. Scrivner, and the prisoner was repre-
sented by two able counsels, H. A. Gehrs and Thomas A. Coldwell. The jurors in the
case were all reliable and well-known citizens, namely, B. S. Turpen, L. A. Church,
Thomas D. Harp, L. B. Farrish, J. F. Kerr, Joseph Islip, W. C. Dale, Jefferson D.
Bentley, W. A. Clark, John James, William Lesher and Samuel Gibson. The pris-
oner's attorneys claimed that the murder was committed in self-defense, and to prove
the absurd plea they put the prisoner on the stand. He swore that Connolly made an
attempt to draw a weapon. It was a short trial — less than two days — the jury bring-
ing in a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. At that time the only punish-
ment for such a verdict was hanging.

The Sentence of the Judge

After a time Dona was taken into court and Judge Booker, in passing sentence,

commented upon the prisoner's perjured evidence and said, "You swore in the presence

of that jury that the man was looking at you when you shot. You are contradicted by

the physical fact that the pistol ball pierced him from behind in the back of the head.



HISTORY OF STANISLAUS COUNTY 137

Hence, your testimony could not be true ; and as to your assertion under oath, that you
shot in necessary self-defense and because Driscoll, your friend, had warned you, Dris-
cell swore positively that he did not do so. I concur in the justice and humanity of
the jury. Hence the judgment of this court is that you be hung by the neck until you
are dead. The court will inform you that Friday, the 19th day of March next,
between the hours of 1 1 o'clock A. M. and 2 o'clock P. M. of that day will be assigned
for the execution of the judgment."

Peculiar Efforts to Save Dona's Life
Dona was returned to his cell in the basement of the courthouse. And to make
his escape impossible, the sheriff placed a chain around his ankle, the loose end being
fastened to a ring in the floor of the cell. He was placed in what was known as "the
death cell," the only furniture being a small table and a bed. He was now visited at
his request by Father William O'Conner of Stockton and several other priests. Many
sympathizing friends visited him, also women who brought the condemned criminal
flowers and delicacies. They had great sympathy for the live murderer, but not even
a thought of the man murdered. A rather peculiar thing and something of a puzzle
was the strong efforts of two of Stanislaus' leading citizens, Leonidas C. Branch and
Miner Walden, to save the life of Dona. Branch at the time was county clerk and he
and Walden claimed it their belief that Dona was an innocent man and had been rail-
roaded to the gallows, as we now express it. It is said that they "crystalized a large
public sentiment in favor of executive clemency." What they had done previous to
this time, Thursday, March 17, is not of record. On that morning, however, they left
Modesto for Sacramento for the purpose of pleading with Governor Pacheco for a
commutation of Dona's sentence to life imprisonment. The two men stopped over at
Stockton and the press the following morning, commenting on their object, declared,
''It is not a good season for commutations just now and it is believed that the Governor
will not interfere." For those persons in Modesto interested in the affair it was a
day of intense excitement. Hourly they expected a dispatch from Sacramento, but none
was received until near dark. Then H. A. Gehrs received a dispatch requesting him
to obtain the names of certain citizens signed to a petition for a reprieve and telegraph
the names to Sacramento. This was done. Finding that they could not get a commu-
tation of Dona's sentence to life imprisonment, Branch and Walden swore to an
affidavit "that evidence exists and can be produced that will justify a commutation of
Dona's sentence from death to imprisonment for life." Where these two men obtained
that evidence was never learned, Dona's attorneys knew nothing of it. However, on
Friday the executive directed the sheriff "to stay the execution until Friday, April 2."

The Hanging of Dona
In the meantime, the murderer assumed the bold appearance of innocence and
indifference usually assumed by hardened criminals, and at all times he appeared
callous to his condition. He was found invariably to be self-possessed and smoking a
pipe. In his death cell he frequently enjoyed a game of cards with the jailer or some
of the prisoners. As the day of execution again drew near Branch and Walden again
went to Sacramento to plead with the Governor, but he refused to interfere. The news
was immediately conveyed to Dona. He received the information in a matter of fact
manner and evinced no emotion over the result. In the meantime, as on the former
date, preparations were made by the sheriff for the execution. The scaffold, which had
been brought from Stockton in March, was erected by carpenters in the courthouse
plaza, and around it was built a high board fence, excluding from public sight the
gruesome scene. The enclosure was just large enough to admit about thirty persons,
the law declaring that at least that number must witness the execution. A large crowd
of morbid persons waited upon the outside to witness the hanging or at least see the
body. On the previous evening Fathers McCarty and Riordan remained with the
criminal throughout the night, giving him spiritual consolation. The following morn-
ing "the prisoner appeared cool and calm and apparently undisturbed." At three min-
utes past one o'clock, Dona, unassisted, ascended the steps of the gallows. He was



138 HISTORY OF STANISLAUS COUNTY

accompanied by Sheriffs Rodgers and Means of Merced and Deputy Sheriffs Stimpson
and Howell of Stanislaus County. On the platform the priest and the condemned man
recited the litany for the dead. Dona was then asked by the sheriff if he wished to
make any remarks. He declined to say anything. The rope was then placed around
his neck, and the trap was sprung. The body dropped five and a half feet, death ensu-
ing instantly. Drs. Jackson and Marks, examining the body twenty-three minutes later,
pronounced Dona dead. The body was then taken down and placed in a coffin and at
his request in his confession transported to Stockton for burial.

In his confessional letter Dona made the usual talk of men about to be hung for
their crime. He said, "I thank you, Sheriff Rodgers, and all of your officials for the
many acts of kindness extended to me. I thank my lawyers, also the ladies and gentle-
men who took part in trying to have my sentence commuted, and I am willing to die
for the crime imputed to me. I die fortified by the sacrament of the Catholic Church.
My only request is that my corpse be delivered to Father O'Connor, to be buried in
the Catholic cemetery at Stockton." His place of burial is now part of the location
of the Holt Manufacturing Company.

THE HILL'S FERRY MURDER

Hill's Ferry in those days of "good times" was a very lively town of carousals
and quarrels. None were more fatal or cold blooded, however, than the murder of
an old man, John Shelden, a sheep herder. On August 18, 1875, he and a man named
Richard Cullen were drinking at the bar. There were two other men present at the
time. Shelden and Cullen had some hot words over an argument and Cullen, drawing
a revolver, shot the sheep herder, killing him instantly. Cullen, who was a notoriously
bad character and a hardened criminal, immediately left for Stockton. He first took
the precaution, however, to tell the two men present that if they told of the murder
he would kill them on sight. Fearing the threat, they kept silent. On arrival at
Stockton, Cullen boarded the steamer and landing at Antioch, obtained work in the
coal mines under the name of James Cassidy. Sheriff Cunningham of San Joaquin
County was particularly interested in this murder because of its cold bloodedness in
shooting down a poor old man, but was unsuccessful in his search. Finally one day
he received a notice that if he would put up a special sum of money, naming the
amount, the hiding place of Cullen would be revealed to him. The sheriff put up the
money and he was informed that the Hill's Fern* murderer was working in the Antioch
coal mines under the name of James Cassidy. A deputy sheriff was sent for the mur-
derer and he was found in the jail at Martinez, arrested for assaulting a Chinaman.
The charge of assault was dismissed and Cullen was brought to Stockton and then
confined in the Modesto lock-up.

THE SECOND LEGAL EXECUTION

Cullen, who was known as "Little Dick" and sometimes as "Fighting Dick," was
indicted for murder before the grand jury. He was tried in the October term, 1876,
of the district court, Judge Samuel A. Booker presiding. The prisoner was defended
by Thomas A. Coldwell and C. B. Fitzgerald. The attorneys made the best plea
possible for the prisoner's acquittal, but the jury, after being out twenty-three hours,
brought in a verdict "guilty of murder in the first degree" and fixed the penalty death.
Judge Booker, who had served in many murder trials, either as attorney or judge,
sentenced Cullen to be "hung by the neck, November 24, 1876, until he be dead and
may God have mercy on your soul." This was the usual ending of murder sentences
at that time. At the passing of the sentence Cullen "was cool and indifferent and
took the sentence more as a joke than as a matter of life and death," said an eyewitness.

After his sentence, iron shackles were placed around his ankles to prevent his
escape by any possible means. "Yesterday morning, November 24, 1876," says the
telegraphic report, "Cullen's shackles were removed by the blacksmith, a barber was
called in and shaved the doomed man, after which he partook of a hearty breakfast
being in good spirits and quite cheerful. He refused to be interviewed, but learning
that several officers were present from adjoining counties, he consented to see them,
especially Sheriff Cunningham, whom he well knew. The evening previous to his



HISTORY OF STANISLAUS COUNTY 139

execution Father Riordan had prayed with the condemned man and had visited him
several times during his confinement. The death warrant was read to Cullen by the
sheriff at 1 1 :30 o'clock in a room adjoining the jail. He then walked with a springy
step and composed air to the foot of the scaffold. After stepping upon the trap and
while his arms were being pinioned, he continued repeating the prayers of the church
after Father Riordan. As the prisoner declined making any remarks, the black cap
was drawn over his head and at 12:17 Sheriff Rodgers cut the rope that held the
weight and the trap fell. In ten minutes he was pronounced dead by Doctors Jackson
and White. The scaffold used at this execution was loaned to Sheriff Rodgers by
San Joaquin County. It had been used in the execution of William Dona at Modesto
in 1875, of James Murphy at Stockton and Estrala Mortimer at Sacramento. It was
a scaffold invented by A. B. Bennett, a deputy sheriff under Thomas Cunningham.
Present at the execution were several sheriffs, Baxter of Tuolumne, Morse of Alameda,
Cunningham of San Joaquin and Harris of Sacramento.

EDWARD BENTLEY MURDER
Young Bentley, the son of Jefferson D. and Eliza Bentley, was born in Knights
Ferry in 1860 and early in life engaged in the real estate business in Delano, Kern
County. While on a business visit returning from Visalia, February 22, 1889, on the
Southern Pacific, the train was held up about eight o'clock just south of Pixley by two
train robbers. They climbed over the locomotive tender and covering the engineer and
fireman with their revolvers ordered them to stop the train. It being something un-
usual for the train to stop at that place, Edward Bentley stepped from the car and
went forward to see what was the trouble. One of the robbers, commanding him to
halt, immediately fired a charge of buckshot into his stomach and arm. He exclaimed,
"My God! I am shot," and fell to the earth. He was picked up and placed in the car
and the train hurried on to Delano. Surgeons were immediately called and it was
found that he was mortally wounded by seventeen buckshot in his stomach and arms.
The young man died the following day and his body was brought to Modesto. The
funeral took place from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Rev. B. F. Bunis
delivering a very appropriate funeral discourse. The church was crowded with
sympathizing friends and relatives. Very appropriate hymns were sung by the quar-
tette comprising Miss Hayden, Mrs. Shuck, T. B. C. Rice and C. W. Eastin, with
Mr. Goeffert at the organ.

BARNEY GARNER SHOOTS JERRY LOCKWOOD

In the early '60s there came to California from Tennessee, his native state, a
young Irishman by the name of Barney B. Garner. He located at Knights Ferry and
engaged in the honorable business of purchasing and selling wood. In 1867, how-
ever, he removed to Tuolumne City and opened a saloon. With the inherent qualities
of a leader, he took a hand in politics and was soon recognized as a political boss.
Although he could control men and obtain their votes, he could not control his
temper, and when drunk was a very dangerous, bullying person. With his influence
in politics and his ugly temper, many persons feared him, especially after his cold-
blooded murder of Jerry Lockwood. At this time, 1871, Barney had removed to
Modesto, and on Front Street opened up the Marble Palace. For some reason Barney
quarreled with Lockwood, who was a gambler and keeper of a house of ill-fame, and
threatened to kill him. One day Barney hid in the disrenutable house, lying in wait
for his victim, and just as Jerry came through the door Barney shot and killed him.
He was tried for the crime and acquitted. We have already recorded Barney's act in
slapping the face of W. E. Turner, the attorney, and this and many other acts caused
the police to fear him.

THE MARSHAL KILLS GARNER

It was Saturday evening, August 1, 1890. The Marble Palace was doing a good
Saturday night business and as usual many persons had congregated in the saloon and
on the sidewalk, talking over the affairs of state, little dreaming that the greatest
tragedy of the county would soon take place and the law be upheld. Garner was



140 HISTORY OF STANISLAUS COUNTY

abusively drunk and raising considerable disturbance ; finally the marshal walked in.
He was a new man in the office, untried and inexperienced, but brave and fearless in
the performance of his duty. Walking up to Barney, the officer said: "Barney, you
must quit this." Barney replied: "You allow the fellows down the street to swear
and fight and then you come up here and arrest me." The marshal had said nothing
about arresting him but Barney believing that the marshal intended to arrest him,
stepped back a couple of paces and put his right hand into his pocket, as if to draw
a weapon and kill the officer. On the part of the marshal it was a case of self
defense, for the officer in the performance of his duty has a perfect right to defend
his life. Quickly drawing his revolver with his left hand, the marshal fired twice.
One shot entered Garner's left shoulder, the other his head just above the ear, killing
him instantly. Coroner Phelps and his deputy, R. L. Quisenberry, now residing in
Stockton, took charge of the body and carried it to the morgue, then on H Street,
between Front and Tenth streets. On examination of the corpse, the Coroner found
in the right hand pocket a loaded Derringer pistol, half cocked. This was sufficient
evidence of the intent of the saloonkeeper. The following day the body was taken
to Barney's home, on I Street, in the alley between Ninth and Tenth. Coroner Phelps
summoned a jury to investigate the case. They met in the office of Justice Whitby
and comnrised some of the most respected, law-abiding citizens of Modesto, as follows:
W. E. Daunt, John A. Witty, F. L. Shirran, John J. Dolan, D. S. Husband, W. J.
Thompson, Cyrus Lee, W. K. McMullen, O. L. Wakefield, N. B. Williams and
T. E. B. Rice. After hearing all of the evidence, they brought in a verdict: "We,



Online LibraryGeorge Henry TinkhamHistory of Stanislaus County California : with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the pres → online text (page 20 of 177)