In some papers loaned to me by former teacher Tom Carpender, who is a member of an El Dorado County pioneer family, is a story titled, “Two Stories of California Life” by ‘Beverly Washington. It was on faded and mottled newsprint, but had no date. It was glued to a page in a ledger book, so I could not remove it to determine if there was something on the other side that might help with the date.
One of the stories related in the article regards a murder in the mining camp and town of Ringgold, which was located near Ringgold Creek in the area east of Diamond Springs and north of Pleasant Valley road, where it intersects with Big Cut Road. It is believed to have been named after Lieutenant-Commandant Cadwalader Ringgold of the Wilkes Expedition who explored the region in 1841.This story has been previously touched upon, but only as a note to a double hanging in Coloma.
“Two Stories of California Life. By Beverly Washington.
“During a horseback journey some weeks ago over a mountainous portion of California, I had occasion to put up for the night at a wayside hotel, where I met, as a fellow traveler, an elderly gentleman whom I found to be a very pleasant companion. Having finished our suppers, and the inevitable cigars, we got into a lively conversation, which soon drifted into a discussion of what responsibility should properly attach to persons of unsound or disordered minds.
“Not wishing to trouble my readers with a recital of the views of either party on the subject stated, I will only say that my comrade at length remarked that he could mention a case in which a certain man who, without doubt, belonged to the class we would call cranks [eccentric or odd people], who was yet held to be fully responsible and suffered the highest penalty for his crimes.
“If you would like to hear the circumstances of his case, I will give those to you, as well as my memory will permit.” I assured him I would be glad to hear his story, and he went on:
“Well sir, in the month of September, 1855, I was mining in El Dorado County near a place called Ringgold. Among the neighbors there was a family named Newnham which included a grown daughter named Susan. Another neighbor was a Kentuckian named Jerry Crane. Now, as this man clearly is the chief character in my story, I must tell you a little about him at the start, though his antecedents are of no consequence to us. Now, although it was well understood about Ringgold that Crane had a wife and several children back in the East, yet he became deeply and madly infatuated with the young woman, Miss Newnham, and wanted to marry her right or wrong. He claimed that she reciprocated his passion, but his seems rather doubtful, and, in point of fact, the actual relation existing at that time between the two appeared to be involved in much mystery throughout.
“Of course the family objected to his attentions and forbade his visits. Crane said that, after this, she continued to meet him in the woods, near their place, to discuss their hopes and plans, whatever they were. I will here mention that Crane was a rampant spiritualist, and some persons thought that the girl was also, but this seems uncertain and I suppose we must so regard it. Such appear to be about the conditions of things between the parties, when one day we were startled by the announcement that Crane had shot Miss Newnham through the head but that she was still alive. Myself and mining partner at once hurried to the place where we found a crowd had Crane under and oak tree, on the hill in full view of the house where his victim was lying not yet dead. Now as to what Crane had to say for himself at this state of the affair, his statements appeared to be rather wild and confused. In the first place he said he was anxious to die, but did not like hanging, but begged some of them to shoot him, or he said that he would shoot himself in any one would give him a gun, he would show them how a Kentuckian could die. Moreover that, (during the day and nigh after the shooting) he had remained in the woods in the vicinity of her home and tried to kill himself by shooting, but said his gun would not revolve. Then he cut his arms but did not get deep enough. Then he tried hanging, but said his wife and children seemed to be holding him back, so that all his attempts failed, and on the next forenoon he came and gave himself up.
“In regard to his reasons or excuses (if such they could be called), for killing the girl, he stated that they loved each other and had wished to be united. But as this was denied them, they had at some of their meetings in the woods discussed the plan of dieing [sic], so that they might be united in another world, where they could enjoy each other through all eternity. Their plan was that he should kill her and then take his own life. He said that at one of the meetings, after talking the matter over, he proposed to put it into execution at once, and he drew his gun with the purpose of shooting her, but she gently pushed it aside, and told him to wait until another time. Another story he told was that she was virtually his wife, and that exposure was likely to come, and he thought it best to kill her and thus hide her shame. Certainly a very bad logic to action, when proclaiming the very thing which he had declared he killed the poor woman to hide and (it might be added) thus showing himself to be a more black-hearted monster than ever. This last story she denied on her death bed, and I think it was generally discredited and I will say for myself that so far as I know that she bore a good reputation around home.
“I must tell you more of the circumstances of the shooting as they were certainly exciting and unusual. Well on the morning of the shooting he (Crane) came to the house and meeting John Newnham, a cousin of Miss N., at the gate told him to go in and tell Susan to come out to the gate, as he wanted to have a talk with her. John went in and told her and she at first refused to, but whether through fear of danger or for other reasons I suppose none will ever know. John however insisted on her going and she finally went out and after talking a short time Crane threw his arm around her and at the same time drew a revolver. She tried to get away and in the struggle he fired, shooting her in the shoulder. She then broke away from him and ran to the house, he fired again and missed her, but, just as she was entering the door, the third shot was fired – the ball striking her fairly in the back of the head, just under the coil of her back hair. It passed forward and upwards through the brain and lodged against the skull in the front part of the head.”
TO BE CONTINUED