Criminal Annals, Part 56 – Scarlet Ladies

Continuing with the Seventh-Fifth Anniversary Souvenir Review Edition of the “Mountain Democrat,” published on January 6, 1928, we find more crimes under the title, “Operations of Vigilantes” and in other areas of this historical newspaper.

“Band Escorts Scarlet Ladies

“The next vigilance committee was in 1854, organized for the purpose more particularly, of driving all the members of the demi-monde out of town. It was a ludicrous scene, On the top of Hangtown Hill, to which they had been escorted by a band of music, they were warned never to return, but return most of them did a while after. This very element of the community thus expelled, two years prior, during the prevalence of small pox in Hangtown were the most devoted, untiring and generous nurses to those requiring such attendance.”

Note: This story of the prostitutes nursing the sick during major outbreaks of disease shows up in numerous books and accounts from many locales during the early days of California and Nevada. One story often cited involves a Rosa May (also Mae) from Bodie, California. See:
“Rosa May: The Search for a Mining Camp Legend” by George Williams. Copies of this book are available at the Cameron Park, South Lake Tahoe and Placerville branches of our library.

“Doc Crane’s Swan Song

“In 1855 an attempt was made by a mob to seize Dr. [Jeremiah V.] Crane, who had killed a girl [Miss Newman] at Ringgold, from the custody of Sheriff [David E. Buel or Buell] and his deputies, S. B. Wallace, Charles W. Trueman and George Loney and a posse of citizens, but the mob failed in its endeavors. Crane was afterwards executed in company with a noted Chinese Camp robber and murderer, Mickey Free. On the scaffold Dr. Crane sang a song in a firm and distant voice, to the air of ‘The Kentucky Hunter,’ the first verse of which ran thus:

“Come friends and relations, I bid you adieu,
“The grave is now open to welcome me through.
“No valleys of shadows I seen on the road,
“But angels are waiting to take me to God.

“It might be added that not wishing to be outdone in celebrating the event, Mickey Free followed the doctor by dancing a jig. A Military company composed principally of members of the Placerville fire department, went to Coloma the day of the execution and acted as military guard and escort. Not one of their guns were loaded, there being no ammunition in town. They had them half-cocked, with caps on, and looked very desperate.”

“Other Murders and Lynchings

“There were several other murders and lynchings in the county, about the same period: the cased named are important mainly on account of their traceable connection with the name of ‘Hangtown.”

“There was also a tree in Greenwood valley which had been used as a gallows several times by ‘committees.’”

“Greenwood also had a Hangtree

“Judge Lynch included Greenwood in his circuit. His first visit was in 1851, when James Graham, a Baltimorean, had shot and fatally wounded an old and highly respected man named Lesley, while on a prospecting trip, fleeing afterwards. Lesley crawled to Tom Buche’s cabin and gave the alarm and the offender was caught at Uniontown [now Lotus], brought back and tried before a jury of 12, found guilty and immediately hung on an oak tree. The next time the oak tree played its part was when William Shay, an inoffensive man, was murdered in a brutal way by Samuel Allen, who knocked him down, trampled him and crushed his head to a jelly, with rocks. Allen was arrested and taken before Justice Stoddard for examination and ordered to jail. In transit he was taken away from the officer who had him in custody, by a large and excited crowd who decided his guilt and hung him to the same limb of the tree formerly used, leaving his body there for several hours.

“The head of a Swede who was hanged to the same tree later was severed with a spade and preserved in alcohol by Dr. Nelson.”

“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.’”



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