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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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 21 of 177)
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the jurors summoned to inquire into the death of Barney B. Garner, find that he was
killed by an officer in the performance of duty and that it was a justifiable homicide."


A peculiar case, one in which the sympathy of the public strongly favored the
prisoner, was that of Julia O'Meara, accused of attempting to poison her father,
March 27, 1892. The young lady and her affianced husband, Chris Albert, who
was in the employ of O'Meara on his ranch, were arrested for the alleged crime,
and they were released on bail. O'Meara strongly opposed the marriage of his daugh-
ter and he declared that they had attempted to get rid of him. The case was called
April 12, in Modesto, and the old gentleman testified that on the day named in the
complaint, March 27, he found a pitcher of water sitting on the table and a tumbler
very convenient for him to take a drink. It was something very unusual, but thinking
nothing of it he took a mouthful of water. He immediately spat it out, it was so
bitter. The following morning another very unusual thing happened. When he was
called to breakfast, Julia, who poured out the tea on this occasion, had the tea already
served. He drank some of it, although it was very bitter, was taken sick and
had convulsions for nearly eight hours. The physician saved his life. Two other
daughters, testifying, said that Julia and her lover had a long secret conversation previ-
ous to the poisoning of their father. Julia poured the tea. No one else could have
poured it. The poison was strychnine, which was kept on the place to poison squir-
rels. The evidence also showed that O'Meara "was a harsh, exacting father and
taskmaster." He compelled the girls to arise at four o'clock in the morning and com-
pelled them to work in the field like able-bodied men. The district attorney, after a
consultation with the father, dismissed the case. O'Meara was not very pleased with
the turn of affairs, but a strong public opinion in favor of the daughter caused him
to give his consent. It is probable that soon afterward he lost two of his best help,
the hired man and Julia.

In 1889, Isaac Brinkerhoff, one of the oldest residents of Modesto and a man
quite wealthy, began acting in a strange, unnatural manner. He was taken before
Judge Minor March 8 and examined by Doctors Evans and Wilhoit. They pro-
nounced him insane, and he was sent to the insane asylum. His aged wife strongly
opposed his being confined, and after a court trial he was discharged from custody and


the faithful wife took him again to their Modesto home. On the morning of August
21, 1889, the old gentleman, arising at four o'clock, told his wife that he was going
out to pick figs. He did not return at breakfast time and his son Charles could not
find him. Then, quite anxious at his disappearance, Mrs. Brinkerhofr aroused the
neighborhood, but he could not be located. About noon, however, an Italian named
Guiseppi, on going into a shed about 300 yards from the Brinkerhoff home, found
him hanging from the rafters; apparently he had been dead for several hours. He had
obtained a rope, and placing one end around his neck, had stepped upon the tongue of a
wagon, fastened the other end around the rafters and then swung off, strangling himself.

At Oakdale on Christmas evening of the year 1893, Edom Lowe was robbed
and brutally beated to death by Charles Inglis. Lowe was employed on one of
the ranches in the vicinity of Oakdale and visited the town to celebrate the day.
Drinking frequently at the bar, he soon became intoxicated, but was in no manner
boisterous or quarrelsome. Late in the evening Lowe left the saloon and Inglis fol-
lowed after him. A few minutes later a scuffling was heard. No attention was paid
to the noise. The following evening between seven and eight o'clock Lowe was found
upon a side street, unconscious, with knife stabs in his left breast and his head horribly
beaten up, as if struck by some heavy instrument. Suspicion was at once attracted to
Charles Inglis, as he was a worthless fellow, a hanger on in the town, and had served
a term in the penitentiary. Constable Swartzel arrested Inglis and after considerable
search a knife was found. It was quite a formidable-looking weapon and the scab-
bard and blade were spattered with blood. It is supposed that Inglis attempted to
rob Lowe, and in the scuffle he stabbed and beat his victim into insensibility. Inglis
was taken to the Modesto jail, awaiting the outcome of Lowe's injury.


This murder took place at Cottonwoods near Newman on the evening of Janu-
ary 9, 1891. A Mrs. MacDonnell was visiting her mother, Mrs. Pendelton. The
family were sitting conversing in the parlor when an unknown person approached and
fired a forty-four-caliber rifle bullet through the window. The ball struck Mrs. Mac-
Donnell, killing her instantly. Footprints were tracked from the window to the home
of E. T. Hale, some two miles distant, and he was arrested and taken to Los Banos.
It was known that he had borrowed a rifle the day previous to the murder and a
rifle was found in his home. The prisoner admitted having a rifle, yet he denied bor-
rowing it. Mrs. John Hale, his sister-in-law, testified at the coroner's inquest, Janu-
ary 15, that she saw Hale carrying a gun from her husband's house, the day before
the cowardly act was committed. The cause of the murder is unknown, and was a
complete mystery except in this: Mrs. MacDonnell formerly worked for E. T. Hale's
wife, and one day the two women, quarreling over wages, became bitter enemies.


In 1892 there lived in Oakdale an old blacksmith, fifty-eight years of age, named
Andrew Boss. He had a good business but a bad reputation, and although a member
of a splendid family, he was a black sheep. There was another man in Oakdale, a
young man twenty-six years of age, by the name of Purcell. His family were good,
law-abiding, respected citizens, but the young fellow was a hanger on around houses
of bad repute. One day, the afternoon of October 15, 1892, Purcell wandered into
Boss' blacksmith shop. Soon after this they began quarreling, a shot was heard and
Purcell fell mortally wounded, the ball penetrating his left lung. Boss said Purcell
was trying to steal his tools. Constable Swartzel took charge of the blacksmith and
the physicians attended Purcell.

In every town there are men of dissolute character who make it a part of their
business to entice young girls into houses of infamy either for the gratification of their
own lust or for profit. Such a person was John Kelley. Somewhere in the summer of


1879 he made the acquaintance at Sutter Creek of a fifteen-year-old girl named Speek-
man, the daughter of John Speekman, an old resident of the mining town. One day
the girl disappeared, and coming to Modesto about August 5 she was met by Kelley
and taken to a house of prostitution. The father by some means heard that the girl
was in Modesto and he telegraphed the chief of police to arrest her. When the officer
went to make the arrest the girl could not be found. She had been taken to Hill's
Ferry. A few days later her brother, traveling on foot from the Creek, for the family
were quite poor, arrived in search of the wayward sister. Kelley, meeting the young
man, threatened to kill him if he did not return home. The young man then con-
sulted Attorneys Hazen & Johnson. They advised him to return to Sutter Creek,
obtain a warrant for his sister, and then, if necessary, take her by force. The boy
returned, informed his father of the attorneys' advice and then swore out a warrant.
The legal proceedings in some manner unknown were delayed. The father arose
from a bed of sickness and also traveling afoot, arrived in Modesto, August 14. There
was considerable excitement in the little town, for the "Regulators" had appeared and
commanded every gambler, saloonist and disreputable to leave the town within twenty-
four hours. The following morning when the northbound Southern Pacific steamed
to the depot there was a rush of undesirables to get on board. The exodus was so
great that the number surprised many of the citizens. In the crowd of sightseers
was Speekman, intently watching to get a sight of his daughter. The depot then was
at the corner of Front and I streets. The locomotive bell was ringing and as the
conductor was about to shout "all aboard" two persons suddenly appeared from a
nearby saloon, dragging or partly dragging a companion so drunk he was helpless. It
was John Kelley. The companions succeeded in reaching the platform and as soon as
Speekman saw his daughter's seducer he rushed forward and stabbed him four or five
times in the breast with a penknife. Bystanders quickly grasped the old half-crazed
father, but the act was so sudden that the victim had been mortally wounded. The
two companions endeavored to board the train, taking the wounded man with them.
He was bleeding badly and probably dying and the conductor refused him passage.
The two men then boarded the cars and left Kelley to his fate. The wounded man
was taken across the street into the Stanislaus Restaurant and attended by Doctors
Ray and McLean. He died four days later. Speekman gave himself up to the police.
He was immediaetly taken before Justice of the Peace C. W. Eastin and released under
a fifty dollar bail, the citizens quickly putting up the bail bond. In the meantime the
daughter had been brought over from Hill's Ferry and she returned home to Sutter
Creek with her father.

Public opinion, as fickle as the wind, shifts as quickly. In the Speekman affair
there was not the least doubt of Kelley's guilt, and public opinion was just when it
exclaimed, "It served him right." In the Robbins affair which we will now record,
there was a strong doubt regarding his guilt, yet the public declared him guilty and
threatened to lynch him. Then many declared him innocent of the crime, and later
tame a doubt that has not to this day been cleared up. Before narrating the trial, we
must first observe the principals in the affair, the MacCrellish family. They com-
prised the father, mother and two girls, Lulu and Dora, their ages eleven and fifteen.
In 1883 the family removed from Mariposa County to Stanislaus County. They
took up their abode in a small house in the rear of the wayside saloon of John H.
Doane, about six miles out on the Waterford road, and the following year they moved
into Modesto. The family were very profligate in character and at the trial facts
were established "that Mrs. MacCrellish was driven out of another town for using
her daughters as blackmailers." In that same trial the girls perjured themselves "and
lied fearfully and described immoralities without an iota of shame or scruple."

The Robbins Case

In August, 1882, a man named John J. Robbins located in Modesto as editor
of the "Farmer's Journal." He was incompetent for the position, it seems, and was
soon "fired." He did not leave the town, as do most editors when discharged, and


look up another job, but concluded that next he would practice law at Modesto. His
wife came to Modesto and Robbins put out his sign as an attorney. He was a "fine
looking man, over six feet in height and weighing about 200 pounds." His clientele
did not keep him very busy and soon it was observed by persons in the vicinity of his
office that he was fond of little girls, "and often asked them into his office, petted
them and giving them candies told them stories." The youngest MacCrellish girl,
Lulu, soon wandered past his door and in July, 1883, the police were informed that
Robbins had taken undue liberties with her. The girl herself it seems gave the
information, but with no other evidence the police could not make any arrest. Watch-
ing the case closely, however, they believed soon after that they had evidence sufficient
to secure conviction, and on August 18 Robbins was arrested, he was taken before
Justice C. W. Eastin, and released on bail of $2,500, J. P. Trainor of the Ross House
and Dr. Tynan going his security. As soon as the arrest became known, "excited
men stood on the corners and talked of lynching him." Robbins' friends, fearing that
the mob might attempt it, advised him to leave town or he would be lynched. Taking
their advice, he left on the first northbound train. As soon as his bondsmen learned
of his departure, they surrendered him to the sheriff. The wires were made hot with
messages looking for Robbins. He was intercepted and arrested by the constable at
Lathrop. The sheriff and his deputy, Simmons, went on to Lathrop and got their
prisoner. Fearing, however, that an attempt would be made to lynch Robbins if
they returned with him to Modesto, they went on to Stockton and lodged him in the
hotel "De Cunningham." Their prediction seemed to have been well founded, for
the mob went wild and over 300 of them gathered at the depot awaiting the south-
bound train and Robbins. They fully intended to have a necktie party, in which the
principal participant would be the prisoner. Robbins was confined in the jail at
Stockton until August 30. At that time Sheriff Cunningham received word to release
the prisoner. Public opinion was changing and although his bail had been increased
to $5,000, twice the former amount, J. P. Trainor and Dr. Thomas Tynan again
became his bondsmen.

Arrest of John H. Doane
Two days after the arrest of Robbins, John H. Doane was arrested, charged with
a similar offense against Dora MacCrellish. At the same time Albert Beck, a young
man in the employ of William Brown, the photographer, was arrested charged with
taking the photographs of young girls unattired. The two men were placed in jail
and again the mob was furious and seriously talked of lynching both Doane and
Beck. Fearing that the mob would attempt to get possession of the man and hang
them, the sheriff "placed a guard of five men with Winchester rifles inside the cage
with the prisoner to protect him." In the meantime Doane was released on bail.
The preliminary trial of Doane was called September 18, before Justice of the Peace
C. W. Eastin. The entire day was taken up with the examination of the girl Dora.
Her testimony was unshaken, according to the Herald, "except as to minor details."
Upon cross-examination, however, by the attorney for the defense, there was no direct
evidence against Doane, and he was discharged from custody.

The Comments of the Press
Soon after the discharge of Doane the Herald said : "There is no doubt that a
serious offense has been committed, either rape or perjury. It is not in order to let
the Robbins case go by default. An investigation would be a farce. But the people
will not yield one jot of their opinion in the Robbins case any more than they have
done in the case of Doane." The Farmer's Journal, August 24, published a rather
peculiar statement. It said regarding the guilt or innocence of Robbins and Doane:
"Although some have changed their minds, still the feeling is high and should the
evidence turn against the prisoners, then there will be but little use for the superior
court in the matter. The MacCrellish girls have told some pretty tough stories, still
they have told enough truth to make the case a strong one." Then in the same article
it declared : "The people who wanted to hang Robbins so fast have notably changed.


It is now believed that there is no foundation for the grave charge against Robbins."
Four days later, August 28, the same paper said: "The sentiment of Modesto is
fast assuming a different aspect and it looks as if the men who have been arrested
are the victims of a nicely laid plot." A little later a correspondent declared: "The
change in public opinion is wonderful. They believe there will be no case made out
against the accused parties. There is a talk of tar and feathers for the MacCrellish

The Trial of Robbins

Robbins was placed on trial in February, 1884, in the superior court of Modesto,
Judge A. Hewel presiding. There was an array of able attorneys, William E.
Dudley of Stockton and W. E. Turner for the defense, and District Attorney John
C. Simmons, John B. Kittrelle and W. O. Miner, later county judge, for the prose-
cution. After a three days' rigid examination the following jury was accepted: J. M.
Board, Henry Gregg, R. R. Snedigar, J. M. Watson, John McGovern, S. LeClert,
J. R. Mickey, J. F. Beausong, J. B. Brooks, A. M. Standiford, A. R. Anderson and
Frank Jenkins. At the request of Attorney Dudley, but against the protest of Kit-
trelle, the trial proceeded with closed doors.

When the case was given to the jury, they retired and in a few minutes returned
a verdict, "not guilty." Notwithstanding the verdict of the twelve honorable men
and the depraved character of the two principal witnesses, many of the citizens believed
Robbins and Doane guilty of the crime and we will again hear of them in the second
raid of the Vigilantes.


If the accounts be true, Modesto in 1879 was not a very desirable place to live,
especially for respectable families, as it was the resort of thieves, gamblers and prosti-
tutes from all parts of the state. The cause of this immigration of undesirables was
the splendid wheat crop of that year. To harvest the crop required hundreds of
laborers. They made plenty of money and every Saturday night, coming in from the
harvest fields, they would "buck the tiger, consort with women and get as drunk as
lords." At the risk of repetition, we will give two accounts of the condition of things
in that year, a condition which caused the organization of the Regulators. The first
account referring to the abundant harvest says: "After two years of drought, two
lean years that have become historic in the annals of the county, the wonderful bounte-
ous crop of 1879 brought renewed life and hope and vigor, which gave an impetus to
business of all descriptions. The wealth of garnered grain also brought to Modesto a
flock of gamblers, women of shady character, together with men of other activities
equally undesirable, who came hither to gain their illicit share of the profits of the
industrious farmer and the wages of the rural worker. The opium joints and the
gambling halls were permitted to run at full swing. The dance hall spread its baneful
influence over the entire community, and from the very center of the town, the
tenderloin crew rode in Modesto's saddle and controlled the town."

In August, '79, the Herald declared: "For years past Modesto has been the
rendezvous of gamblers, thieves, rollers and gentlemen of that ilk, who seem to enter-
tain the opinion that they were secure from molestation by police officrs and could ply
their nefarious business without the fear of the law. They said that when they could
not remain anywhere else they could come to Modesto and be safe from any annoy-
ance. Dance houses and opium dens loomed up in the distance and these places were
thronged nightly by these human hyenas, their orgies being kept up until a late hour.
Drunken men were rolled and robbed on the streets, ladies were insulted, young
lads were enticed into their dens of iniquity and numerous offenses committed."


Tired of the condition of affairs as above recorded, and unable or unwilling to

"clean up the town" by lawful means, that is the election to office of men who would

perform their duty, quite a large number of citizens concluded to take the matter in

their own hands and by force or intimidation drive out and destroy the property of the


criminal class. The organization of the Vigilantes was not a spontaneous uprising
like that of a mob in a great city, but the work of men who had been planning the
movement for several months. One account says their place of meeting was in an old
warehouse on a high and knolly plot of ground between Modesto and Ripperdan, and
that the members were called to meeting by verbal request or by messengers. Another
account says that they met in the Odd Fellows Hall and that the members were noti-
fied of a meeting by secret cards or signs posted in the Modesto show windows. The
time set for their raid was Thursday evening, August 14, 1879. That night the men
"ssembled wearing black masks and grasping their trusty weapons — shotguns, pistols
and swords — they quietly marched along H Street to Tenth and along that street to
Sullivan's dance hall. The saloon was all ablaze with lights and a merry throng.
Some of the fellows and girls were merrily dancing while others were drinking and
carousing at the bar. On arrival at Sullivan's, the Vigilantes halted. Their brave
captain then stepping forth demanded that Sullivan appear. The saloonist appeared
and he was told to close his saloon ^and "git out." He skipped in short order. Long
before this time, pandemonium reigned in the house, and the frightened women, unfor-
tunate outcasts of humanity, ran in every direction ; some ran to their rooms and hid
under their beds, while others, scantily dressed, ran down the street. Having won
this battle with no loss of life, the valiant army next visited the alleys between
G and H streets. Then they visited more houses on Tenth and Front streets. Every-
where the result was the same: the enemy fled in great dismay. Next marching to
Johnson's dance hall, corner of H and Eighth streets, they notified that worthy to
close his "shebang." He complied. Sure, for he remained in town and for a long
time thereafter was one of the officers of the law in Modesto. Johnson, like Garner,
had a political pull. Having visited the high-toned places where gentlemen congre-
gated, the Vigilantes next visited the "heathen Chinee," as Bret Harte styled them in
his poem. "Ropes were placed around some of the opium shanties, and with the com-
bined tugging of the Vigilantes they were razed to the ground." The ruins were
searched for pipes and other smoking paraphernalia, fan tan layouts and faro tables.
These were placed in the public square and a huge bonfire made of them. There was
at that time, you remember, a great hue and cry and the watchword of the parties was
"the Chinese must go." They had no redress in the courts for damages, no influence
nor votes, hence the destruction of their property. But the saloons where men were
crazed with liquor and murders were committed, where girls were seduced" — they re-
mained intact. The following day it seemed as if Modesto would be partly depopu-
lated, so great was the departures of undesirables, some going to Stockton and some
to Oakdale. The News declared, August 22: "Since the raid of the raiders, our
streets have been quiet. The gay gamboliers and the demimonde, at least, are not so
common a sight. The good citizens of Oakdale complain that the dissolute charac-
ters have located in their midst since the late raid at Modesto."

In 1890 two shooting events similar in character took place, the one at Turlock
with no dangerous results, the other at Modesto with fatal results. The first was of
a man, just a common drunkard and unsavory character, the other a periodical drinker,
a known murderer and a saloonkeeper high up in the political circles of Modesto
County. Early in the morning on November 1, 1890, past midnight, when all respect-
able citizens are soundly sleeping, Seaton Boren was in a Turlock saloon, considerably
under the influence of liquor. The name of the saloon I know not, for the press took
good care in those days not to injure the business of any saloon. Anyhow, Boren was
in this saloon and finally he became so noisy and quarrelsome that the constable was
called in to quiet or arrest him. When Constable Spier attempted to arrest him he
began to fight and in the scuffle he was shot in the thigh by Spier's pistol.



One of the most distressing accidents of Stanislaus was the drowning in Septem-
ber, 1889, of the three sons of C. C. Baker, who lived near the Tuolumne River, about
eight miles from Modesto. It appears that the boys, George W., eight years of age,
Oliver, eleven, and Christopher, thirteen years old, accompanied by a companion named
Walter Garrison, started from the house about three o'clock in the afternoon for a
swim in the river. About an hour later, J. L. Crossmore, who was in the employ of

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 21 of 177)