Criminal Annals, Part 47 – Hanging in Greenwood

Early Greenwood

Continuing with excerpts from Paolo Sioli’s 1883 “Historical Souvenir of El Dorado County, California with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men & Pioneers,” under the heading “Criminal Annals” we find out more about the “hanging tree” in Greenwood from which we learned last time one Samuel Allen was hanged in 1854.

“The first occasion where this historical oak tree had been selected to serve for the same purpose, happened in 1851; James Graham, from Baltimore, treacherously had invited an old denizen of Greenwood valley by the name of Lesly, a well respected gentleman, to go with him on a prospecting trip, where he filled his head with buckshot, and thinking his victim dead, he fled. Lesly, however, did not die on the spot; though fatally wounded, he crawled to the next cabin, being that of Tom Burch, in Coloma canyon, whom he informed of what had happened; the people thus alarmed, turned out in pursuit of the assassin, caught him at Uniontown [now Lotus], and brought him back to Greenwood valley, where a jury of twelve men was sworn in before whom he was tried, found guilty and immediately taken to the mentioned oak tree, standing on the lot now owned by Mr. Ricci, where he was hung [pictures are hung, people are hanged] without ceremonies.

“Another case of mob violence occurred in the fall of 1850, in the neighborhood of Georgetown. An Englishman by the name of Devine, in a drunken spell, had a quarrel with his wife, and repeatedly having threatened her before, she attempted to run out of the door, when he reached for his gun, but she hardly had passed out of the door in the rear of the house, when he shot after her, killing her instantly. He was known as a reckless and desperate fellow, and the whole population of Oregon canyon, in a rage of indignation, gathered and decided that life had to pay for life. Devine was arrested, found guilty, and taken to an oak tree, which had been selected for the execution, and after less time than what is necessary to write this down, a dead body was hanging from the tree that may be seen yet on that spot.

“In the summer of 1855, the cases where Chinamen miners were robbed, particularly in the neighborhood of Placerville, became quite frequently heard from ; The ‘Mountain Democrat,’ of September 22d, 1855, brings the following :

‘We learn that an attempt was made last week to rob a Chinaman who supplies several companies on the South Fork of the American river with fresh meat, as he was returning to White Rock, by three well known river thieves. The attempt was made in open day on a much frequented trail. The Chinaman made his escape by sliding down a precipitous mountain about fifty feet deep without other injuries than tearing his clothes into ribbons. These outrages are becoming quite common, and it is time that some stringent measures should be taken to have the scoundrels arrested.’”

“On the 7th of March, 1857, a man by the name of A. Noakes was murdered near Greenwood valley, and a notorious character going by the sobriquet of ‘Long John,’ was suspected of the murder, as he had publicly threatened to kill Noakes on account of an old grudge. At the same place, on the 11th of the same month, a negro was most brutally murdered; he had been arrested as a suspicious character, and as he was familiar with Long John and his doings, it was supposed the latter killed him to prevent his disclosing some disagreeable facts. Long John had the reputation of being a bold, depraved, hardened wretch, who would not hesitate to commit any crime for gain. It always had been believed that he was at the head of the organized band of villains who had infested the county for a long time, and had particularly robbed so many Chinamen.

“Ah Soo, a Chinaman, on the 19th of September, 1859, stabbed one of his countrymen, Ching Sam, with a Bowie-knife at Placerville, inflicting a wound upon him of which he died a few days later. He was arrested and arraigned for trial in the District Court, where the evidence clearly showed that the deed had been committed in cold blood and without the shadow of provocation. The jury, consisting of John R. Ross, J. F. Cary, Samuel Center, Wm. A. White, A,

O. Holmes, John E. Kunkler, Jas. Monroe, Isaac Withrow, W. P. Early, Wm. Pryde, Geo. W. Griffin and A. Kennedy, returned a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. But before the sentence could be pronounced upon him, the unfortunate wretch hanged himself, thus saving the county the expense by cheating the gallows.”


“On the evening of October 20th, 1860, while four miners of the vicinity were seated in the store of Messrs. Pierson & Hackamoller. engaged in a social game of cards, five men with masked faces and pistols in hand entered the store. The first party, supposing that they were a party of miners, bent on a little fun, attempted to set the dog on them, which move was responded by the robbers with a shot, fired at the card players, and the advice if they would remain quiet, they should not be hurt. Upon this proposition being agreed to, they demanded of Mr. Pierson the key to his safe. He told them it was not in the store; whereupon they commenced to beat him with the butt end of their pistols, he warded off the blows and tried to make his escape by a door leading into the family room, which they were determined not to allow him. He was fired upon by one of the villains, the shot entered near the eye, producing almost instant death. Then they took the key from his pocket, and rifled the safe of its contents, and departed. The safe at the time contained a thousand dollars or more. This robbery and murder, unequalled [sic] for boldness and daring, produced great excitement, Mr. Pierson being one of the best and most respected citizens.”

Note: According to “California’s Geographic Names: A Gazetteer of Historic and Modern Names of the State,” by David L. Durham (1998), Peru was a former settlement and mining camp located on the south bank of Irish Creek near its head, and near Sailors Flat. The name was transferred by miners who came from Peru, Indiana. Sailors Flat was a former settlement and mining camp located 2 miles southeast of Garden Valley.



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