Criminal Annals, Part 56A – Hanging of John Henry Meyers

Two weeks ago, as a part of Criminal Annals, Part 56, I posted a short article from the Seventh-Fifth Anniversary Souvenir Review Edition of the “Mountain Democrat” discussing the hanging of John Henry Meyers. He was found guilty for participating in the murder of one John Lowell on the 24th day of March that year and was hanged on November 30th. The story read:

“New Gallows ‘Worked Beautifully’

“Another of the events which has made Placerville famous as Hangtown, was the execution of John Henry Meyers, which took place November 30, 1888.

“Meyers was convicted, with two others, for the cold blooded killing of one Lowell, a rancher, and stealing his horses. The man who was executed admitted his guilt in detail and attempted to exonerate his co-defendants, who had appealed their cases to the Supreme court, thus staying execution.

“Four hundred citizens were present at the execution which was staged openly in the jail yard. Meyers had to be carried to the gallows. The Observer in its report of the affair says, he died, ‘an arrant coward.’ The report adds that ‘the new gallows worked beautifully.’”

After it was published I looked up the event on the California Digital Newspaper Collection at What I found was that there was a lot more to the story and an article the next day in the December 1, 1888 edition of the San Francisco “Alta California” substantially expanded on it.


The Brutal Murder of Farmer Lowell Avenged by the Law, .

“Placerville, November 30th.— At 1:14 o’clock this afternoon another scene such as gave the place its early-day name of ” Hangtown,” occurred here when John Henry Meyers expiated upon the scaffold his criminal participation in the murder of John Lowell, on the 24th day of March last. The final refusal of Governor [Robert Waldo] Waterman to commute the death sentence of John Olsen and William Drager, who were convicted with Meyers, to that of life imprisonment, created the general belief that the trio must hang to-day, and cast over this little city a sort of Sabbath-day spell. But the right of appeal to the Supreme Court had not been exercised, and to this right G. J. [Gideon Judd] Carpenter and C. [Charles] F. Irwin finally resorted to save their clients, Olsen and Drager, from the scaffold. To-day, consequently, Meyers alone suffered the penalty of his crime. Throughout the forenoon Meyers lay on the couch of his cell in an apparently unconscious state, while in adjoining cells Drager and Olsen cheerfully, conversed with the deathwatch and visitors. Their conduct has not materially changed since they received the news that they were not to be executed to-day, for they had previously made up their minds that hope was useless, and that they would face their death in the Catholic faith, which each had espoused. When it was evident this morning that Meyers would nave to be carried to the place of execution, Drager said “I have said from the beginning that Meyers would have to be carried out. I and Olsen asked Meyers to read the Bible and do something for his soul and be brave ; but be threw away the German Bible that was given him with the words, ‘D____ it, everything goes to hell, and I might as well go to hell with it.’ At 12:55 o’clock the officers entered the jail. and Deputy Sheriff Winchell commenced reading the death-warrant. During its reading Meyers groaned audibly. A few minutes past 1 o’clock two officers took Meyers by the arms to support him while walking to the gallows, which was erected in the jail yard. Meyers sobbed while walking to the outer door of the jail, and when this was reached he commenced to groan and howl, which he continued to do up to the time that the black cap was drawn over his head. From there he had to be carried to the gallows. There his ankles and knees had to be pinioned while he was in a lying position on the platform. The noose was then tightly drawn about his neck, which choked his cries, the black cap drawn over his face, and, to the relief of the men supporting him, the trap was sprung at quarter-past 1 o’clock. The murderer’s neck was broken by the fall. Fully 400 people witnessed the sickening scene from the jail yard, while other hundreds viewed it from neighboring roof-tops and hillsides. For some days past an inflamed spot was noticeable on Meyers’ neck immediately in front of the larynx. The cause of this was explained by the finding of a slipnoose among his bed-clothing this afternoon by the officers engaged in cleaning out his cell after his execution. It was made of strong strips torn from a cotton shirt belonging to him. He had evidently made an attempt at self-strangulation, but his courage failed and so did the attempt.


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