Criminal Annals, Part 54 – The Indians Hold a “Cry”

Finishing the “Indian Troubles” chapter in Paolo Sioli’s 1883 “Historical Souvenir of El Dorado County, California with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men & Pioneers,” is a very interesting story about a “cry” for the “Great Spirit” by the local Indians. This story is followed by several small stories from this book found in other chapters.

‘Diggers” was a name given to the local Indians since they dug up roots and such as food. For years the Grey, Ghost or Bull Pine (Pinus sabiniana) was called the Digger Pine, since they gathered and ate the pine nuts, but that use is no longer considered proper.

“In consequence of the unusual mortality among the Diggers during the winter of 1855-6, a general order was issued by ‘Captain John,’ for the assemblage of the tribes in this and adjoining counties, to meet in the city [Placerville] to hold a “cry,” for the purpose of propitiating the Great Spirit in their behalf. On the 21st of March, the city was thronged with Indians, the 22d having been designated by Captain John for the ceremony. They had prepared a large enclosure on the hill back of the American Quartz mill, their camp-fires surrounding it completely. The prelude to the opening of the fandango was the grand reception of the Auburn Indians, who, to the number of 150, participated in the ceremonies. They came in procession to within a half mile of the encampment, and halted to dress. The chiefs were continually yelling forth orders, and runners were constantly passing from tribe to tribe. A fantastical spectacle did they present, with their gaudy headdresses, when once more in motion. The Hangtown Indians opened column for their guests to pass through into the corral. The strictest silence was observed—not a word was uttered until the Auburn Indians had squatted on the ground, when all collected inside, and then arose a slow, mournful hum, mingled with groans, from the leaders, which at last broke out in a prolonged, unearthly wail from the multitude. Old and young appeared stricken with intense, uncontrollable grief and fear, exhibiting apparently deep contrition for past offenses to their Deity. This lasted for half an hour, then the fandango regularly opened.

“The ring was cleared, and the Auburn Indians invited to open the ball. Some twenty stepped forward, led by a brawny old time-keeper, who stepped upon a short plank, underneath of which a singular instrument was placed in the ground, that gave a clear, ringing sound every time he stamped on it. Their dance consisted of heavy, quick stamps and muscular contortions of the body. Every hour a fresh number would occupy the ring. The day was excessively hot, which caused the perspiration to roll off their glistening copper hides in streams. With but few intermissions, the dance was kept up until midnight. Nothing occurred to mar the harmony and good order which prevailed. Not one drunken Indian was seen. The number present was estimated at 600. Quite a large number of ladies and gentlemen visited the encampment during the day.”


“On the morning of November 27th, 1863, as Mr. T. A. Valentine was driving a team on the road between Johntown [ a ‘suburb’ of Garden Valley] and Uniontown [Lotus] he was stopped by a highway man, who demanded his money, at the same time presenting a colt’s revolver. Mr. Valentine, being unarmed, handed over his money, amounting to twelve dollars, saying he would much rather part with his money than his scalp. The robber politely assured him that he did not intend to hurt him; he stated to Mr. Valentine that he was strapped and had resorted to robbing to make a raise. He returned Valentine a dollar to pay toll across the Uniontown bridge and a bit to buy a drink, remarking that he never took bits anyhow.


“Wednesday evening, January 8th, 1878, Constable J. [Jacob] B. Fisher, of Grizzly Flat, delivered David Branthover to Sheriff [John] Theisen, on a charge of having killed his brother, Adam Branthover, near the above- named place. The facts are as follows: There was some trouble between them in relation to a partnership in a quartz claim. Tuesday, in company of D. [David] T. Loofbourrow, David went to the cabin of the deceased for the purpose of settling the dispute. While comparing accounts, according to Loofbourrow’s testimony before A. J.[Andrew Jackson] Graham, Justice of the Peace, David frequently gave Adam the lie, and finally, both being much excited, they clinched. During the struggle, a gun in the hand of David went off, the ball striking Adam in the thigh, coming out at the hip; death ensued in less than an hour. Immediately after the affray, David went to the cabin of Fisher and [Edward. R.] Morey, stated what had occurred, and said that he expected to shoot Adam through the body, but the deceased knocked the gun down; he was not aware at the time that Adam was mortally wounded.”


“A man by the name of F. L. Smith was murdered on April 23d, 1862, on the Ogilsby road, about 21 miles east of Placerville. A rifle ball broke his spine, passing through his heart. Two young men traveling the same road on foot, heard the report of a gun, hurried to the spot, and arriving where the murdered man fell, saw a man picking up his hat and a rifle. Some dispute arose between the parties, but the two being unarmed left after the murderer threatened to shoot them also. They went to the Goodwin Mountain House, to give the alarm, and on returning to the spot and searching, they discovered the murdered man, who had been dragged about 100 yards below the road into the chaparral. A rope was tied around his body. The body was brought to Placerville for burial. The murderer was arrested by Deputy Sheriff Chapman, two days after, near Ringgold [about a mile east of Diamond Springs], and lodged in jail. The name of the prisoner was C. W. Smith, his case was tried in the District Court before Judge Myers, and as the evidence was entirely circumstantial, but so conclusive as to leave not the shadow of doubt of his guilt, he was convicted of murder in the first degree and on November 24th, 1862, sentenced to be hung on January 8th, 1863.
And a story that will interest all.

“In 1857, the County Treasurer, T. [Thomas] M. Reed, after defaulting the county for the sum of $124,000, escaped, not to be seen or heard from afterwards.”



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