Criminal Annals, Part 46 – From the Book

The book often referred to as “The History of El Dorado County,” is actually titled, “Historical Souvenir of El Dorado County, California with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men & Pioneers.” It was originally published in 1883 by a San Francisco architect and writer named Paolo Sioli. It was reprinted by the “Amador Ledger Dispatch” in the 1960s and in 1998 by the El Dorado County Friends of the Library as a part of the sesquicentennial of the discovery of gold in Coloma. This last reprinting included an index that had been prepared and published by Dorothy Martin Bayless in 1981.

Unlike later publications that relied entirely on second-hand information, Sioli’s work was published only thirty-five years after the first documented discovery of gold by James Wilson Marshall in the tailrace of the mill at Coloma. Thus, many pioneers of El Dorado County, and all of California for that matter, were still alive to relate their experiences, which he intermixed with articles from the “Mountain Democrat” and other newspapers of the era.

Undoubtedly those who had experienced the rough and tumble times of the early days were anxious to record their accomplishments. They must have known by 1883 that they had been a part of something truly extraordinary, something which had altered the shape of the country and the world, and had brought change to hundreds of thousands of lives.
Chapter 30 of Sioli’s book is specifically devoted to the Criminal Annals of El Dorado County.


“The record of crimes committed inside the borderlines of El Dorado county, commencing from the earliest times, has become quite a volume of history in itself. The enormous influx of adventurous men of different nationalities to this very spot of land, the New El Dorado, undoubtedly had brought a good many daring and desperate characters, who had come for gain, in the easiest and least troublesome manner, but for gain under all eventualities. There were others whose intention had been to make an honest living and they started in accordingly; but the weakness of mind and body, together with the bad examples they frequently saw, led them astray, to make a fortune in an easier way than with pick and shovel. So we find as early as 1848 and 1849 already organized bands of desperadoes, with signs, passwords and grips, with chiefs and lieutenants, who would lay in wait in and around the mining camps. The people endeavoring to put a stop to those crimes were often enough compelled to take the law in their own hands, as may be seen out of the case which originated the sobriquet of Hangtown for the village of Placerville.

“Such summary execution had the effect at least to intimidate the rogues, and put a restriction to the commitment of crimes for some time. This, however, did not last very long, for no sooner those outlaws observed that the watchfulness of the people gave way, and smaller crimes passed by unpunished, then they threw off their fear, raising up their heads and growing bolder than before. The result was another hanging of a desperado by the name of Richard Crone, going by the name of ‘Irish Dick,’ a mere boy, after his looks, at Placerville in October, 1850. He had crossed the plains from St Louis in 1849, as a cook, but took to gambling as a profession and always was ready for shooting and fight. He used to keep a monte game in the El Dorado saloon, located at the site of the present Cary House, and one night a quarrel ensued there between two men. Crone jumped up from his game and stabbing the one, he almost instantly killed him. After the act he deliberately wiped the blood from his knife and left the saloon; but after a long search was found hidden at Coffey’s [a saloon owned by one John Coffey], on Sacramento street, where he was arrested. The murdered man had a brother mining at Chili Bar, and on account that those two hundred and more gamblers had always got the best of the miners, when the latter came to town, which was almost ruled by that class of men, the miners made up their minds that this business had to be stopped right there, and to the number of several hundreds came into town determined that Dick should die; in which determination the better people in town concurred with them. Dick was taken from the officers of the law and tried by two Justices of the Peace, one was Dud. Humphrey, the other Wallace, in the presence of the excited thousands. While here on trial the spectators seemed to get impatient, but with the coldest blood Dick remarked to them : ‘Have patience, gentlemen ; I will give you soon a fair lay out.’ The verdict was guilty; he was speedily taken by the crowd to a large oak tree, near where is now the Presbyterian parsonage [near today’s Episcopal Church on the north side of today’s Highway 50], in spite of the officers, Bill Rogers, Sheriff, and Alex. Hunter and John Clark, Constables, who fought desperately but powerless for the possession of the prisoner, the multitude being determined to see justice done and not to be trifled with, as often before. The prisoner was placed under the tree with rope around his neck, he then begged the privilege of climbing the tree to leap down from the fatal branch, but this was denied him, and he was jerked up by strong and willing hands.”


“On Sunday, July 23d, 1854, an old man named William Shay was most brutally murdered at Greenwood valley, El Dorado county, by one Samuel Allen. From the testimony adduced before the coroner’s inquest it appeared that Shay was engaged in watering his garden, when Allen came up to him, knocked him down and stamping on him until he was quite dead; after this he pounded Shay’s head with stones until it was literally crushed to a jelly. After the perpetration of this fiendish murder Allen attempted to escape, but was arrested by an eyewitness of the scene, Antonio Dias, and taken before Justice Stoddard for examination, who ordered him to jail to await his trial. An officer started with Allen for Coloma, but had not proceeded far when he was overtaken by a large and excited crowd, who forcibly took the prisoner from his custody. An hour afterwards the dead body of the guilty man was hanging from the same oak limb, in the town of Greenwood, that had been used already on a similar occasion a few years ago, a solemn warning to malefactors. The aroused vengeance of the outraged community was not to be appeased with less than inflicting the most extreme punishment on the guilty.”



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