Criminal Annals, Part 109 – From the Plains

Continuing with the August 30, 1852 edition of the Sacramento “Daily Union,” and the news from El Dorado County, we find information about immigration and another “melancholy occurrence,” as they like to put it.

“FROM THE PLAINS. – Mr. Haines, an old resident of this place, arrived in town on Wednesday evening from Thousand Spring Valley, whither he had gone for the purpose of meeting his family, who were crossing the plains. They were in good health when he met them, although considerable sickness had existed in the train – twelve of their number having died since their departure from the Missouri river. Mr. H. is of the opinion that he met at least two thousand wagons between the head of Carson and Thousand Spring Valleys, and that at least two-thirds of that number contained families – a majority of whom were in good health, and were well supplied with the necessaries of life.

“The Indians in that region are somewhat troublesome and require watching to prevent them from stealing stock.

“The Humboldt river, at this time, is quite low and the emigrants experience very little difficulty in procuring grass for their animals, most of the way on that river.

“A large number of persons arc tarrying in Carson Valley, recruiting their stock, and it is the general opinion that the bulk of the emigration is yet behind. The following persons, from Polk County, Mo., all belonging to one train, died on the plains: – W. C. Campbell. Miss M. C. Campbell, J. A. Smithson, Mr. Justice. Dr. Beal, and seven others whose names we could not ascertain.

“A party of five men from Independence have arrived here, who carried their provisions, &c., in a common hand cart. They were in good health, and made a quick trip, owing, no doubt, to the fact that they were not hindered in looking for grass.

“Hunter & Co. have laid us under obligations for the latest intelligence from El Dorado co., as will be seen by the following communication:

“Hunter & Co.’s Express, Placerville. August 28, 1852 – 11 ½ P. M.

“MESSRS. EDITORS: We are sorry to inform you of a melancholy occurrence which has just transpired in our community, and which has resulted in the death of one of the parties concerned.

“It appears that one of our citizens, Mr. Jno. [John] Birchum, had taken up a ranch in this vicinity, for the purpose of ranching stock. A man named Kelly had been disparaging Birchum’s ranch, and saying there was no grass upon it; and thereby preventing people from sending their stock there. In consequence of this several altercations have ensued between the parties, and this evening, about 7 o’clock, the parties meeting hard words and blows passed, and, in the course of the quarrel, Birchum seized Kelly by the hair, and, by a sudden jerk, broke Kelly’s neck, thereby causing almost instant death. Birchum instantly gave himself up to the authorities, and is now in the hands of the Sheriff at Coloma. The affair has not caused much excitement in our community, as the general impression seems to be that the result was unpremeditated, and caused by aggravating circumstances. Birchum has always sustained a good character. Kelly leaves a wife and six children, in good position. In haste, yours, B. B. G., of Hunter Co.’s Express.”

Continuing in the same column are interesting articles from both Calaveras and San Jose.


“DASTARDLY ACT. – We learn from Mr. H. Kelly, census taker, that Mr. D. J. Justice, of San Antonio, has been stabbed at that place within a few days. Some unknown man went into his house and invited him out of doors, stating that he bad something of importance to communicate to him privately. He had no sooner got outside than the stranger stabbed him in the abdomen with a very large knife, inflicting a very severe wound and immediately made his escape. He was pursued, but we hare not yet learned whether he has been arrested. No cause can be assigned by the friends of Mr. Justice for this wanton and brutal deed, as he was man altogether quietly disposed.”
“From San Jose.

“The following items are from the Santa Clara Register [Aug. 1852-Oct. 1853]of the 26th:

“MURDER.– On Monday, the 23d inst. at daylight, an Indian by the name of Alvarez, was found dead in front of the Italian store, on the west side of Market Square, and the blood still running. His throat was literally cut from ear to ear, and two severe wounds had been inflicted with a knife in the region of the heart. There being no clue as to the murderer, and a suspicion resting upon Francisco Costo, an Italian, and owner of the store, he was arrested and taken before Justice Vermule, and no evidence appearing against him up to the 24th, was discharged. The witnesses recognized to appear are said to have given fictitious names, and never returned.” ANOTHER MURDER. – On Sunday night last, at the Almaden Mines, Jesus Rodriquez took the life of Dimas Cervantez, (both Mexican?), by stabbing him with a knife, as we understand, while they were both under the influence of intoxicating liquor. Rodriquez was brought to this city, tried before Mayor White – J. Alex. Yoell, Esq., prosecuting, and F. S. McKinney, Esq. defending – upon a hearing of the evidence, was committed.”

Note: The Almaden Mines were quicksilver (mercury) mines in Santa Clara County, near San Jose. Mining there started in 1845 and continued intermittently until after 1927, and were very important for the Gold Rush. The Almaden mine is now part of Almaden Quicksilver County Park.
Almaden, Spain is the most famous mercury mining area in the world as quicksilver has been mined there since Roman times. The name Almaden means “mine” or “mineral” in Spanish, and is derived from the Arabic language. The Santa Clara quicksilver mining area is properly referred to as New Almaden.

“ANOTHER MAN KILLED. – An Indian or Mexican was arrested on Monday last, in Santa Clara Mission, for the murder of another Indian or Mexican. Particulars not known. The murderer was committed for trial at the Court of Sessions.”



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