Criminal Annals, Part 17 – The Placer Times: Death in Dry Diggings

vol1no23p1 head 10 13The October 13, 1849 edition of the “Placer Times” notes an accidental death apparently in Placerville (Dry Diggings):

As an introductory note, Weavertown is most likely Weberville, which was also known as Webertown. It was a mining community on Weber Creek, between today’s Placerville and Diamond Springs. The town and the creek were named for “Captain” Charles M. Weber who came to California overland in1841. He was a very early miner at this location before going on to found the city of Stockton.

Apparently many people pronounced Weber as “we-burr” or the more German like “vee-burr,” both of which sound a lot like “weaver.” As a result it is very common to find the town and the creek named Weaver in early stories and on maps. Later map makers would spell the creek’s name “Webber,” to assure its correct pronunciation. This spelling still shows up on some maps.

As most California newspapers were routinely sent east with the mail, at the end of the story we find a note asking an eastern newspaper to copy the story.

“Died, On 3d Oct. at the Dry Diggings 3 miles north of Weavertown, Augustus Coriell, aged about 36 years. He came to his death by the accidental blowing up of a keg of powder. – He was very badly burned on the face, hands and breast, and lived but 9 days after the accident. He was formerly from Dubuque, Iowa. Iowa papers please copy.”

The October 20, 1849 edition of the Placer Times reprinted a story from a New York newspaper regarding less than desirable American citizens entering Mexico on their way to California:

“The Mexican Government, through its Minister in Washington, has complained to our government of outrages frequently perpetrated by armed bands of American traversing the Mexican territory on their way to California – especially at the town of Passo del Norte [an agricultural town along the Rio Grande, across the border from El Paso, Texas and, in 1849, the only settlement in the area]. The minister states that they go through the country unprovided with passports and commit frequent depredations upon the inhabitants. He further states that they will hereafter by subjected to such stringent measures as may be found necessary to repress these outrages and punish their perpetrators. The Secretary of War has replied that Americans, like all other persons, by entering Mexican territory, make themselves subject to Mexican laws, and must expect to pay whatever penalties may be attached to their violation. – N. Y. Cour. and Enq.”
The November 3 edition of the same newspaper tells the story of two possible homicides in the Sacramento area:

“An inquest was held on Saturday last, on the body of a man found shot near the slough in this city. The charge entered the head just under the ear and shattered the upper pat of the skull horribly. Some were of the opinion that he was shot, but the jury returned a verdict of suicide by shooting, as a pistol wa found in the vicinity. Name not ascertained.

“A man was found murdered last week about 15 miles below here, on the road to Benicia. He had been shot under the left eye and apparently hit over th head with a gun, his skull being broken in. The supposed murderer had dragged the corpse near two hundred years, for the purpose of throwing it into a creek., but on hearing persons approaching, dropped it and fled. The clothes of the murdered man were marked G. W. H., and from his dress, he was evidently a U. S. soldier.”

In the next edition of the Placer Times, dated November 10, 1849, tells the story of an accidental death of a miner on Dry Creek, which at the time was the southern border of El Dorado County, there being no Amador County until 1854:

“A most Melancholy Death. – A correspondent gives us the particulars of a sad accident at Dry Creek, on the morning of the 25th of October. Three men named Kendall, Kent and Wright, were working in partnership and lodging together in one tent. Mr. James F. Kendall had been sick, and about 2 o’clock in the morning got up and went out of the tent, leaving his partners asleep. Mr. K made some noise in the bushes near by, which aroused Mr. A. N. Kent, who immediately sprang to the door of the tent with pistol in hand and inquired who was there, at the same time telling the object to be gone. Mr. Kendall did not immediately answer, but moved toward the tent; and Mr. Kent, supposing the person to be some Indian or Spaniard who have been stealing some of their provisions, fired thee shots, one of which took effect in the right breast of Mr. Kendall, who died in a moment without uttering a word or giving more than one groan. A meeting was immediately called and a jury selected to try the case. After a full hearing of the case the jury returned a verdict of ‘accidental homicide.’ Before the meeting adjourned, the following resolution was unanimously adopted:

“Resolved, That we sincerely sympathise [sic] with the friends of the deceased; also with Mr. Kent, and we fully concur with the jury in their verdict, believing, as we do, that the accident was entirely unintentional on the part of Mr. Kent.”

A few inches away on the same page is a story regarding criminal justice in Sacramento:

“First Criminal Conviction in this City – Criminal Court of the First Instance, Sacramento District – The People vs. John Rowe, Nov. 8, 1849. Hon. Wm. E. Shannon, presiding – The prisoner was arraigned on complaint of Samuel Norris, Esq. for stealing a cow or heifer valued at $40. After a patient and laborious trial the jury brought in the prisoner guilty, and recommended that he be fined not less than $200 and costs. Sentenced to pay a fine of $200 and the expenses of prosecution, including the expenses of his arrest and maintenance, and to stand committed till paid. Costs as taxed, $315; total to be paid by the prisoner for cattle stealing, $515. Complainant has still a civil action for damages.”


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