Thursday, June 30, 2022

Susan's Bluff - Tracking Down The Truth to the Tragedy

While meandering through some old magazines from a second hand store in Valley Springs, California, I came across an issue of Real West Magazine. This was published back in 1963, so the stories within the publication are very old, forgotten and for the most part, unknown. Noticing how rare this issue was, I decided to purchase it for possible inspiration into later investigations.  At home, as I flipped through the pages of this historical find, I stumbled upon a small article towards the back titled, "Story of Susan's Bluff." I immediately was pulled in. 

The story in the magazine tells the tale of a young lady, Susan O'Brien, (allegedly about 15 years old) who was traveling with her family in a wagon train headed west in 1849. According to the story, the party "possessed 40 wagons and 50 head of cattle," meaning it was a big wagon train, with a lot of people.

At some point the party decided to make camp at Goose Creek. The men all went out to hunt for food, while the women and children were left behind with the wagons. As the saying goes, "when the cat's away, the mice will play," and so a group of natives came into the camp, knowing the women were basically defenseless. Once in camp, they began demanding food and whiskey. Although their demands were met, Susan allegedly picked up two guns that were packed in the wagon, and pointed them at the natives, making her own demand that they leave.

Although they did leave, this story was far from over for Susan. 

As the party proceeded onward, they moved along the Humboldt River, which follows along where present day Hwy 80 runs. By the time they reached Lassen's Meadows, some of the party split up. One group decided to go north towards Oregon, while a smaller group of others were determined to head in a south-westerly direction crossing the "Forty-Mile Desert."  Eventually, the smaller wagon train approached the Carson River, and planned on following that all the way to California.

In the smaller group that was headed westward, the O'Brien family, which consisted of Susan's father, mother, her teenage brother, Michael and herself, were in the advance of the other wagons, trail blazing ahead along the river. 

By the time they reached the canyon area, where the present day Lahontan Dam is now located, the O'Brien's wagon was attacked. It was more than likely the same natives who had been to their camp demanding food and whiskey, which I believe their intent for that incident was sizing up who was there, and what supplies they had to come back later and take. 

The O'Brien family, being ahead of their party and thus isolated, were now surrounded and unable to defend themselves. The natives proceeded to attack the wagon, brutally murdering the entire family, including hacking Susan's brother to death with their weapons. Susan allegedly had hid in a trunk within the wagon itself, and only once the natives had started rummaging through the belongings to take what they could, did they discover her.

As the story goes, the natives kidnapped her and held her in a cave while they rustled up all the cattle that the O'Brien's had with them. Then allegedly, they gave her to their Chief. Waiting until the cover of darkness, she supposedly makes her escape, but while attempting her getaway, she is caught once again by the natives. Refusing to be taken alive, Susan does the unthinkable and literally jumps off the top of the cliff side where she had been held against her will, and falls to her death into the rocky ravine below. Later the party that was traveling behind, eventually caught up to the ghastly site, where they discovered the bodies of the O'Brien family, and yes, Susan's mutilated corpse at the bottom of the cliffside. 

Of course, the story sounds tragic and a bit romanticized, doesn't it? 

Well, I had a lot of questions being that some of the story seems impossible to know exact details to, since the only other people who could have known what happened would have been the murderers themselves, those among the native tribe who slaughtered the O'Brien family. 

I was determined to find some answers so I kept digging.

According to research done by a Nevada columnist for the Fernley Leader, Ms. Laura Tennant, she interviewed a member of the local Paiute tribe, who stated that their people had their own version of the tale. According to Curtis Hamar, the story about Susan that has been passed down for over 150 years was mostly correct, although Susan's demise came in a different way.  

Supposedly, she was taken to be held for ransom in order to obtain guns from the approaching party. While being held at the top of the cliff where the natives had their women cooking, Susan allegedly got into a fight with one of the Indian women. Wanting to be released, she picked up one of the grinding stones used to prepare meals with, and allegedly chucked it over the cliff. This upset on of the Indian women so much she proceeded to attack Susan, ultimately pushing her over the edge and killing her. 

Now, that is certainly a different version of the story, isn't it?  Either way, both versions end badly, and ultimately Susan dies in each telling. 

So is that why the area is known today as Susan's Bluff?  I decided to look a little further into the story and the pieces of the puzzle started to fit a little better.

According to page 217 of the "Third Biennial Report of the Nevada Historical Society, 1911-1912," the story gets a little more clear.

The publication states, "Susan's Bluff  is located about 14  miles below Dayton, opposite Clifton. At its foot are the graves of three emigrants with a sunken wagon tire at the head of each grave. The name of one of the emigrants was Susan, hence the name of the bluff."

Very little is known about the O'Brien family and where they came from. We do not even know the names of the parents, only the children, which is also a bit odd to me. 

Do I believe that this story happened? Yes. However, I am on the fence about which version I believe, or if the truth of this tragedy can be found somewhere in the middle. In many cases, unless we have concrete primary sources from eye witnesses that were there at the time this took place, everything we believe is just conjecture.  

One thing we do know for a fact is that a girl or woman named Susan and "others" were found dead at the bottom of that cliff, and they were buried there by the passing wagon train.

I have to thank those who came before me, who were also interested in this story, so much so, that they trekked up Fort Churchill Road to take in the site of what is known today as Susan's Bluff, and then wrote what they knew about the story to keep Susan's story alive. 

Although her story is not as widely known as the stories of the Donner Party, Kit Carson or the tales of Joaquin Murietta, this tragedy is not any less important. 

One spring or summer day in the high desert terrain near present day Dayton, Nevada, in 1849, a family of settlers looking for a better life were attacked, and their lives were stripped from them. 

Whether Susan was kidnapped and committed suicide, leaping to her death to escape what awaited her, or she was thrown from the cliff -- she died.  The bodies of those victims are buried there at the bottom of the cliff, literally forgotten in time. There are no burial markers for them, no monuments, no headstones, nothing. 

There are also no photographs of them to remember them by. All we have is the story. I believe that by reading this story, and sharing it with others, we will not only honor Susan and her family, but we also honor all the settlers who lay forgotten in unmarked graves across the western lands. People who came searching for a better life, a life they would never get to experience.

(Copyright 2022 - J'aime Rubio,


"Real West Magazine," Volume 6, No.30, July 1963

"Third Biennial Report of the Nevada Historical Society, 1911-1912," published 1913

"The Marker," (newsletter) by Trails West, Inc., published Fall 2011


Saturday, June 25, 2022

History of the Dunsmuir-Hellman Estate


This beautiful mansion located on a tranquil 50-acre lot, hidden away in the hills of Oakland, California, was designed by J. Eugene Freeman and built in the neoclassical revival architecture that had been so popular back in 1899. The history of this beautiful and palatial home is one full of twists and turns, and is shared by two distinct families of great wealth: The Dunsmuir and Hellman families.

The Dunsmuir Family

While researching the history of this property one can be overwhelmed at the enormous amount of websites share the same story verbatim. As the story usually goes, the son of a Vancouver coal magnate falls deeply in love with a married woman, and that after leaving her husband, the two planned to wed. In some versions of this story, which have even been published in print, there are claims that this coal baron’s son originally came to live with his favorite bartender, who let him stay with his family as a “boarder,” and it was there that he fell in love with the bartender’s wife, and the two basically ran off with each other.  

Other versions name the married man as being an usher at a theatre instead of as a bartender. The house comes into the picture when the story goes on that this coal magnate’s son used his own fortune to build an extravagant house for his soon-to-be bride as a wedding gift, but during their honeymoon the man fell ill and passed away. The story gets even more disturbing when it concludes with the fact that the bride died soon after as well. Thus ending the tragic love story.

Unfortunately, some of this popular story is inaccurate and this article is here to set the facts straight once and for all.

The Facts

First and foremost, Alexander Dunsmuir actually was the son of Robert Dunsmuir, one of the richest coal barons in Vancouver, British Columbia at that time, so that part of the story is correct. When he came to San Francisco in 1878, at the age of 25, he had plenty of money at his disposal to stay at the best hotels in town so it is highly unlikely that he took up as a boarder, living with the family of a bartender or usher.

Alexander Dunsmuir did in fact fall in love with a woman known as Josephine Wallace, and she had been married to a Waller Wallace, and even had two children.  The 1880 Census puts both he and his wife, Josephine living at 428 Eddy Street, cites Waller as being an “Attorney” and not a bartender at all. It also cites the family of four as having a servant working and living with them, Mary Sullivan.

Upon further research, Waller Wallace turned out to be one of the fathers of baseball on the west coast. In fact, his obituary stated that he was a "well known baseball scorer, writer and ex-manager"... who was "prominently identified with the national game."  It also states that he pitched and managed for the "California Theatre," which was a baseball team. 

Although I didn't find a divorce decree during my research, Wallace's obituary shows that he remarried later on, and then died in 1891, meaning that divorce or not, the marriage ended between the two, and at some point Josephine began her relationship with Alexander around 1882. 

The newspapers also announced that Alexander “secretly” married his love Josephine many years prior, but never furnished the documents proving so.

The biggest secret or scandal was the fact that Alexander and Josephine “played house” for nearly 18 years, (married or not) keeping their relationship secret from his family for fear that he would be disinherited from his family fortune. 

Whether it was the fact that Josephine may have been a divorcee (or even worse, still married to another man) or had come from a lower station in life, it was obvious that Alexander wanted to keep his family in Vancouver from discovering his secret life in San Francisco. 

After his father passed away in 1889, Alexander still tried keeping his relationship quiet for fear his matriarchal mother would cut him out of his inheritance, too. It was around the time of his investing in the construction of this house in Oakland, that gossip started going around and he knew his secret would finally be exposed.  It was then that he publicly announced they had just been married and that they were to go on their honeymoon at once.  In reality, the couple had been living as man and wife (common-law) for 18 years.  During their “official” honeymoon in Manhattan, New York, Alexander Dunsmuir fell ill and passed away on January 31, 1900.

Alexander (older)

After the death of Alexander, Mrs. Josephine Dunsmuir went back to the beautiful home her husband had constructed for her and remained there for the rest of her life.  According to the San Francisco Call dated June 23, 1901, Josephine grew critically ill with typhoid fever and despite being cared for by the best doctors and treatments available, she succumbed to her illness within a week’s time. 

Unfortunately, due to misinformation on other websites it has often been stated that she died from lung cancer, but again, according to the newspaper at the time of her death she died from typhoid fever.

It was after the death of Josephine that Alexander’s name was dragged through the mud by his step-daughter, the famous actress Edna Wallace Hopper. She filed a lawsuit contesting the will of Alexander because her mother did not inherit Alexander’s estate, meaning she wouldn’t inherit anything either besides the house.

You see, upon her husband’s death, Josephine was allowed to keep the house and receive a small fund of $25,000 a year for the rest of her life which was agreed upon while Alexander was alive and was promised to her by her brother-in-law James, who was set to inherit Alexander’s estate. Since Josephine only lived one year longer, it appears that Edna felt entitled to money and wanted to get what she could out of the Dunsmuir family, or at least attempt to anyway. 

Edna Wallace Hopper
After years of court battles, testimony trying to sully Alexander’s reputation for his excessive drinking habits and even blaming her step-father for her not being accepted at various schools due to her mother’s reputation of living with Dunsmuir, Edna did her very best to ruin what good name her step-father and mother had left. In the end she lost the court case and all appeals she attempted to file as well. The estate remained in James’ name just as Alexander had wanted.

Years later, Alexander and James’ mother, Joan Dunsmuir also filed a suit in Canada against James, her own son, claiming that both Alexander and James’ had tricked her to sell them her portion of the estate in 1889 for $400,000 when in fact it was worth about $15,000,000, but that lawsuit didn’t end well of Joan either.

By the turn of the Century, Edna Wallace Hopper rented the house out to the Hellman family, and eventually sold the property to them by 1906, thus starting a new chapter in the history of this magnificent structure.

The Hellman Family

This chapter in the history of the home would prove to be less scandalous than that of the first owners of the property. In fact, I could not find anything overly salacious written about the Hellman family who owned and occupied this stately mansion from purchasing the house in 1906 up until 1957 when Mrs. Hellman passed away.

Frances Jacobi

Isaias W. Hellman and Frances Jacobi were engaged to be married in January of 1898, and the pair married shortly thereafter at the home of the bride’s grandparents. One story that took place a year after their purchasing the home, Isaias Hellman, Jr., grew very ill and it turned out that he suffered from a ruptured appendix, nearly causing death. He was treated at Mt. Zion Hospital and he eventually made a full recovery. At that time he was VP of Union Trust Company, which later merged with Wells Fargo.

When the Hellman’s rented the house in Oakland around the turn of the century (after 1901) the couple had already begun their family with their oldest son Isaias Hellman III being one year old. During their time at the estate they had three more children, Frederick, Florence and Marion Frances.

The 1910 census shows that the family had a staff of eight living with them, (4) servants, a cook, a governess and the butler. On July 22, 1910 a terrible fire broke out in the power and engine house, and it was reported in the paper that Mrs. Hellman fought with bravery and cool-headedness to manage her workers to stifle the fire and save the estate, and the efforts proved successful.

By 1913, the Hellman family made renovations to the house and the property itself, adding more to the estate such as: a swimming pool, glass conservatory and grotto, aviary, garden maze, tennis courts and even a 9-hole golf course. Stories of the lavish parties, 4th of July celebrations and family get-togethers have circulated over the years and truly show the fun and exciting times this property has seen over the years.

Isaias Hellman

In 1920, Isaias W. Hellman Jr., passed away, after falling into a comatose state. His father had passed away only one month prior, and being that his father was president of the bank, the title was given to Isaias. He didn’t live much longer, and being that he was in a coma, he never had the chance to know of his promotion.

The house remained under the ownership of the Hellman family, and when Frances passed away in 1957, the property was eventually sold to the City of Oakland to be used for conference space. By the 1970’s a non-profit established to restore and protect the estate was co-running the property, but eventually all ownership returned to the City of Oakland as the sole proprietor.

By the summer of 1989, the non-profit took over the care of the home and renamed it "The Dunsmuir House & Gardens," to use as an educational tool for historical preservation and horticulture. The property was listed as a historic landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, and by the City of Oakland as well.


This 37-room mansion that spans over 16,000 square feet has been used in films over the years between 1976 to the present day. Such films include:  Burnt Offerings, Phantasm, Partners in Crime, A View To Kill, The Vineyard, So I Married an Axe Murderer, Gloria, Case Number 13 and Clint Eastwood’s True Crime.


I felt during this research that whether it was the scandalous rumors and gossip swirling around the Dunsmuir family, or just the history of the Hellman family surrounding the property, both family's stories were just as equally important to share, because both families created the history of that home. 

The home is theirs, always, and with that thought, let us always respect and honor the history of each home, each location we visit and remember that although we might be fascinated with it, or with the stories there are to tell about it, but in the end, this was still someone's home -- their sanctuary, and in many cases, the place where they took their last breath. 

Let us always enjoy, but respect the memory of all those who walked those halls of the Dunsmuir-Hellman House.

Happy History Hunting!!

(Copyright 8/14/2018 - J'aime Rubio, www.

Photo Sources:

All photos of the house, courtesy of Roland Boulware
Photos of Isaias and Frances Hellman; Find-a-grave
Photos of Alexander Dunsmuir, Josephine and Edna Wallace Hopper; (public domain) and newspaper articles.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Hidden Histories - 12 & 14 Water Street, Jackson, California

Over the years I have researched and written about various people and places in the past. I have done a tremendous amount of research in Amador County specifically, since I have lived there at different times in my life, and some of my family still live there. Around the same time that I was researching the history of the National Hotel for my upcoming book, "Historic Haunts," I was contacted by the proprietress of the antique shop literally next door to the National Hotel. 

After speaking with the her, she asked me if I knew any of the history of her building, 12 Water Street as well. Unfortunately, at the time I didn't, but I assured her that I would look into it and get back to her as soon as I could.  Well, after thorough research I am now able to share some of the hidden history of the brick edifice that is adjacent to National Hotel in Jackson, California.

Image  (1)  Louisiana House & Maujer Store
  (Amador County Archives)   
                                                        Between 1853 and 1854 a one-story wooden structure with a billboard design on top that read "Maujer," an advertising design often referred to as a western false-front, was constructed for Daniel Maujer's storefront. (Imaged 1).

Maujer was partner's with Amos Barrett, who operated Barrett & Co., and who was the first Wells Fargo agent operating an office in Jackson, out of that store. It wasn't until later on that the Wells Fargo office operated out of the Odd Fellows Hall.

Sadly, on August 2, 1855, Amos Barrett committed suicide in his room at Wilson's Exchange in San Francisco. 

"Suicide - A man by the name of Amos Barrett, committed suicide at Wilson's Exchange, on Friday last. It appears he took a room on Thursday night, and was not seen again alive. The fact of his room being locked all the tie gave rise to suspicions which induced the proprietor of the house to force the door, when he was found dead.

Wilson's Exchange, S.F. (CA Library)
The deceased came to this State in 1849, and since that time has been engaged in mercantile pursuits, and for the last four years has resided at Jackson.  Amador County, where he was for a long time the agent of Wells, Fargo & Co.  The motive which induced him to the commission of the rash act seems to have been an over sensitiveness in regard to the pecuniary transactions and mercantile probity.

On the back of a letter, directed to Messrs. Wilcox & Chase, San Francisco, giving them directions as to the disposal of his property, was the following, which was signed by him:

"J.A. Kew, editor, is the cause of all this, and he ought to have known it. He will meet his reward. If all my creditors, and I was aware of it, would wait patiently, and give me time, I would not commit this rash act -- but they will or would not. -- Barrett"

A letter, written in a somewhat detached and incoherent style, was also found, which was addressed to his mother, brothers and sisters, and another gentleman in Jackson. He states that $3,000 would relieve him entirely from all pecuniary embarrassments, and also states that his property is amply sufficient to pay all his debts.

The deceased was unmarried, about 36 years of age, and a native of Long Island, N.Y., where he formerly carried on business. He also did business as a merchant in 1839-46, in Elizabethtown, Essex Co., N.Y.  He was always esteemed to be an honest, though somewhat close man in his dealings."-- Nevada Journal, August 10, 1855.

According to the Amador Ledger Dispatch, dated January 25, 1901, it states:

"Daniel Maujer was a Frenchman and was associated with Amos Barrett. After the death of the latter, and their business trouble, he left Jackson and his subsequent movements seem to have been forgotten by most of those who were familiar with the county in those days."-

Interestingly enough, the book, "Jackson" by Arcadia Publishing, has some misinformation that must be noted. In the book, the names of the original owners Daniel Maujer and Amos Barrett are incorrectly stated as Amos Maujer and Daniel Barrett (page 11), which we know is factually incorrect. The only reason I am mentioning this, is so that others who wish to research these gentleman will be able to search via their correct names, as I have stated within this blog post. 

After Barrett and Maujer were gone, the new owners of the property demolished the wooden structure and opted for a one story brick building around 1856. It is mentioned that this may have been around the time it was turned into a drug store. 

The late, great Amador County historian, Larry Cenotto mentioned in his "Walking Tour of Jackson's Historic Core" pamphlet that used to be in circulation:

"While the lower story has a faux-Western front, the top facade hasn't changed since Epley and Elderkin laid it in 1863 after the fire. Previously, in late 1853 and '54, Amos Barrett and Daniel Maujer had a store here, and Barrett began his career as Wells, Fargo & Co. Express agent. Known as Rocca's Hall, it was the long-time venue for entertainments, theatricals and even pugilistic exhibitions and fights."---

The Rocca Family

Francesco "Frank" Rocca, was born around 1824 and was a native of Italy. He was considered one of the earlier settlers in Jackson, coming around the mid 1850's just in time for the tail end of the Gold Rush.

During the time that the Rocca family owned the building, 12 Water Street was inhabited by the Jackson Theatre, where they held plays and other entertainment venues, including boxing fights and athletic events. There was also a saloon and a store at the corner which was also owned by Rocca. The 1880 Census lists Frank as the "bar keeper" of his saloon. Although, the two buildings are side by side, there was also a residence in the back along the creek where the Rocca family lived. 

The newspaper from 1889, stated that the west side of the building was known as the "Theatre brick building," while the south side of the property was known as the "Frank Rocca frame dwelling house." Lastly the corner brick building was known as the "Frank Rocca grocery store and bar brick building."

According to Larry Cenotto's research, Frank Rocca purchased both of the brick buildings on Water Street around 1859. You see, at the time all of that was considered one giant property. It was known as Lot 13, Block 3.  The upper level of the corner building at 14 Water Street was sold to the Masonic Lodge after the great fire of 1862, and that part of the building was rented out to the County while they were rebuilding a new court house. By 1864, the Masons went back to the upper levels of the brick building when the county offices moved into their new building elsewhere.

Frank Rocca owned the downstairs of both buildings, and the upstairs of 12 Water Street, (as well as his house). While he was alive he ran the Jackson Theatre for many years, and was well known within the community. 

The Death of Frank Rocca 

In the wee hours of Thursday, November 25th (night of the 24th) which also happened to be Thanksgiving, Frank Rocca had a terrible accident at his home in the residence which was located behind the brick building on Water Street/Broadway.  The newspapers originally published that he had fallen from the back porch balcony of his residence into the creek behind the buildings and that he had busted up his nose and scratched up his face. Unfortunately, Frank Rocca didn't walk away from that fall that easily. The newspaper dated, December 3, 1887 explains more:

"Mr. Francesco Rocco [SIC], one of our pioneer residents, and proprietor of the Jackson theatre, died in this place last Tuesday night, from the effects of injuries received by a fall from the back porch of his building on Thanksgiving night. It was at first thought that he was not dangerously hurt, but he never entirely recovered  from the shock. He was a native of Italy and about 60 years of age. He leaves a family and many warm friends to mourn his loss. He was buried on Thursday afternoon by the Masonic fraternity, of which he was a member of long standing."  - The Amador Dispatch 

Mr. Rocca was buried at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Jackson, just off of Church Street. Although Mr. Rocca's grave states he died on the 25th of November, the newspapers claimed it wasn't until Tuesday, the 29th when he succumbed to his injuries. The newspaper also published several ads that ran continually for quite some time shortly after his death, announcing the theatre and parts of the building itself were up for sale. 

Dispatch, 1/21/1888

Literally the same week that the patriarch of the family, Frank Rocca passed away, the Levy family, from S. Levy & Co. opened a new store at the location on the corner at 14 Water Street. They obviously were renting out the space, as the property still belonged to the Rocca family at the time.

Dispatch, 1/21/1888

The city had also just put in a v-shape sewer line that ran from the front of the building to the back and into the creek, to clear away all the nasty water which would form unsavory "mud puddles" just outside the Theatre. This new development was also mentioned in the newspaper.

After the death of Frank, the Rocca family were intent on selling the bottom level corner building (14 Water Street) as well as the Theatre. The ad appeared in the Dispatch in February 2, 1889, when Attorney's Lindley & Spagnoli who represented the estate of Frank Rocca c/o Carrie Deletis (his widow) published the notice.

It appears though that the family kept their home in the back, as the 1910 Census shows that Victor remained living with his mother Carrie at the house on Broadway (behind the brick building), and Victor is the proprietor of a saloon. Victor eventually left bar keeping and went on to work next door at the National Hotel as a clerk for many years. His WWI draft cards listed him as working at the National hotel in 1917 and he continued to work there well up into the 1930s. Victor Rocca eventually passed away in 1934. 

According to the newspapers, by 1913, the property at 12 Water Street was being used for a restaurant and lodging rooms under the business name Home Restaurant & Lodgings.  On the evening of June 17, 1913, a gentleman by the name of Tom Belenchia, 45, from Mokelume Hill, went to his room and never came back. He had been working in the hayfields at J.A. Laughton's property just outside of town. Laughton had hired workers for the job, and most of the men were lodging at the same establishment. When the men all came back, everyone went to the restaurant for supper, except for Tom.  When one of his friends realized he had never came down to eat, he went to check up on him and found he was very sick. They called for the doctor, but it was too late. He died in his bedroom in the building. According to the newspaper, he died from "gasses forming in the stomach and stopping the action of the heart."

So far, Frank Rocca and Tom Belechnia are the only two deaths I have found that took place on the property, but there could be others. I will continue to keep searching the archives for more hidden history on this location. According to my sources, the Masons eventually purchased both buildings (upstairs and down).

12 Water Street, Jackson
Moving forward, as the years went by, the lower level of the buildings at 12 & 14 Water Street hosted business after business, store after store. People came and people went, and like all businesses eventually do, many closed forever, while others began anew. By the 1960's the brick building was home to a store called the "Westerner," and I still remember an old stationary store at the corner building (14 Water Street). 

So many amazing events happened here at these brick buildings and so much hidden history has been discovered! Now, this property at 12 Water Street is home to an amazing antique store, and the proprietress has taken an interest in preserving the history of this building, which I am sure the Rocca family would have appreciated so very much. I hope that her business continues on into the future and that the history within its walls continues to be shared for others earnestly looking for it.

I hope that you enjoyed learning a little bit more about the history of this property, and because I am still researching the history of this amazing property, hopefully soon I will be able to add more to this blog as I intend to chronicle as many establishments and events that took place at those two buildings.

Thank you for taking this trip with me down Water Street in Jackson! 

Happy History Hunting!

(Copyright 2022- J'aime Rubio 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Dead Men Do Tell Tales -- How I Stumbled Upon The Last Hanging in Calaveras County

George Washington Cox

It all started with a book. Roland and I were at the Friends of the Library in Stockton, a frequent haunt of ours, when we found an older, historical book about the gold country titled, Motherlode Memories.  Roland purchased it and started going through the pages in the car. He pointed out to several places we are familiar with and a few we hadn't seen before. This past weekend he pulled out the book and said, "Let's go up to San Andreas, and see if we can find these two men's graves so I can put their photos on Find-a-grave."  

The two men he was speaking of were Sheriff Ben Thorn and Judge Gottschalk. They were the two men pictured on the pages in the historical book he was looking at. The page also showed a photo of the backside of the courthouse with a small blurb underneath that read "The courtyard in the rear of the restored 1868 San Andreas courthouse and jail was landscaped by the students of San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton. The last hanging from the gallows in this courtyard occurred in 1870." - (pg 102, Motherlode Memories). The page also had photographs of the Black Bart Inn and Ben Thorn's house as well. In the usual way that we do, we jumped in the car and headed up to San Andreas to do some history hunting.  

We searched for Pixley Lane and found ourselves going up a windy road up to an old cemetery on top of a hillside. 

People's Cemetery, San Andreas, CA

We wandered the grounds for a good hour or longer, before I stumbled upon Judge Gottschalk's grave, but we never did find Sheriff Thorn. As we were leaving the cemetery, we passed by a reddish marble stone that read George Washington Cox. I noticed the name right away, and Roland even spoke his name out loud as we passed by. It was apparent that we were meant to see or acknowledge that grave for some reason, but at the time we didn't know why.

So up to the Courthouse we drove, to take photos of the buildings on the main street. As I passed by the courthouse steps I noticed that they were open, so I walked right on in. I met up with a docent there and started talking to her about another story I have been planning to write about that took place in Valley Springs, and I wanted permission to use the Historical Society's photograph for my blog. We started talking and I gave her one of my business cards and Roland purchased our tickets to take a tour of the courthouse museum. 

The courthouse upstairs is beautiful, and preserved just as it was when Judge Gottschalk sentenced the infamous Black Bart to prison for his stage coach robberies throughout the motherlode. But it wasn't the courtroom that intrigued me, it was the jail that I wanted to see.  As I walked down the brick walkway down the side of the old courthouse and made my way around to the back yard of the property, I recognized the scene from the old black and white photo in Roland's book. This was the spot where the last hanging occurred. 

"I wish I knew who that person was", I told Roland, as I walked up to the back steps of the jail.

"Look, I am going to jail," I said, as I made a hand gesture as if I was handcuffed in front. I smiled and I walked into the jail.   

It was quiet and dark. Suddenly the motion censor lights came on. It startled me, I cannot deny that. Nothing paranormal about it though. I made my way to the back hallway where the cells were. I walked into one of the cells and tried to imagine how it must have felt to have been incarcerated there.  The etched names and initials carved into the walls were abundant. Who were these men? What stories did they have to tell? Were any of them among those who met their ending just steps away in the back yard? 

As I walked around, filming my experience there, Roland called out to me. 

"Hey, come over here," he said. "Remember that grave in the cemetery , George Washington Cox? He was the last guy they hanged here."

I walked into the small room off the main jail entry way, and there it was: a glass case with chain mail on display, a photograph of George, a small invitation to the ghastly affair (his execution) and at the bottom was a photocopy of a photograph of a man and woman (possibly George and his wife?) and a letter in his own hand, made out to one of his daughters, Medie Cox Damon, written just a month before he was hanged.

It seemed too coincidental to the both of us that we both noticed his grave at the cemetery earlier, and then like following invisible footsteps on a map, we happened to end up at the very spot in which George met his final ending. I sat down on the concrete floor and read his letter aloud. Roland had stepped outside to take more photos. No one was there, and I was all alone in the jail. You could hear a pin fall it was so quiet. 

The letter read:

"Saturday, July 6th, 1888

My Dear Daughter,    

Cox's Letter
I am very hopeful for a new consider in life but think it is with no effect. All you are doing for  me will prove worthless to me. I came home to see my children and by doing so, I walk in my grave. I am filling the position I was born to fill, and think no more about dying than going to sleep, everybody has got to pull over the same hill to meet in death valley, I am on the fence and can fall two different ways. I wish you all success in life hoping you and your husband may see many happy days. There is no change in my feelings, my constitution has been hardened to the capacity of steel by a band of dishonest men. I could write you a great many things, I don't fear death a bit, but I have been abused from my birth to the present day. Tell Mr. Damon to come down.

Yours Affectionately,

G.W. Cox"

I sat there at the jailhouse and started to cry. The letter seemed very sad, and the thought of a person's life ending and those were his last written words to a loved one really got to me. I wanted to know more. Why did he hang? What did he do? What happened?

There was a small paper in the glass cabinet that shed further light on the story.

"George Washington Cox goes down in Calaveras County history as the last man hanged in the jail yard. Soon after his hanging, the privilege of conducting hanging went to San Quentin.

Cox shot his son-in-law while having paranoid delusions of him having an affair with his wife. After he had shot and killed him, he put his armor on and gathered his knives and turned himself in to Ben Thorn, the county sheriff."

Well, it wouldn't be the first time a son-in-law was caught sleeping with his mother-in-law, trust me, I know of a few stories personally in the last few generations that this happened in different families. 

But, did George's wife and son-in-law actually do that? I needed to know more. 

We drove back up to the cemetery for the second time in the same day, and went right back to that grave we had passed by just a few hours earlier. I stopped and his grave and sat down, I took photos and I read out loud the letter he wrote to his daughter. I wondered, did his daughter ever read the letter? Or was she too distraught over the whole situation that she never accepted it, and thus it ended up back at the courthouse among items on display at the museum?

As soon as we left and returned home, I started searching the archived newspapers of the time to see if I could dig up anymore on this perplexing story. 

The first thing I wanted to see was if he had a memorial on Find-a-grave, and he did. 

So, I kept searching the archived newspapers of the time, to see what light I could shed on this story that literally found me.

The Amador Ledger, dated November 12, 1887 elaborated a bit more:

Cox's items on display at the Jail.

"On Thursday afternoon, Geo. Cox went to Sheep Ranch and gave himself up to the authorities, stating that he had killed his son-in-law H.G. Cook. Cox, when taken into custody had a Winchester rifle, a Winchester revolver, a dirk knife with a ten inch blade, and a coat of armor, the latter is made of steel wire, and weighs about 25 lbs. From the evidence of Mrs. Cox, before the coroner's inquest it appears that Cox, Cook and one of the children were eating dinner.  Cox got up from the table and went through a hall into a bedroom and taking his Winchester rifle, he stepped to the door leading from the hall to the dining room, and fired a shot at Cook, who was seated at the dinner table. The bullet struck Cook in the left breast and passed through his body. 

Cook stood up and then fell to the floor, Cox firing another shot as Cook fell, which struck the table in front of the little boy. Mrs. Cox and Mrs. Cook were in the room when the second shot was fired and before Cox had reloaded his rifle the third time, Mrs. Cook sprang across the room and caught hold of the gun and pushed Cox into the hall. During the struggle Cox kicked his daughter and struck her on the head with the rifle, which knocked her down, but she got up and pushed Cox out of the house and locked the door.

Cox went to a window and pointed his rifle at Mrs. Cook and swore he was prepared for any of them. In all probability Cox would have killed his wife and daughter had not the latter caught the assassin and put him out of the house by main strength. There appears to have been no cause whatever for committing the murder. There had not been an angry word spoken that day, or on any previous occasion by either of the men to one another. the coroner's jury charged Cox with having committed a cold-blooded murder. "

So by that point, it appears the rumor about his wife's infidelity hadn't gotten around in the community just yet. So when and where did this rumor start?

Digging into the archived newspapers little more, I found that a friend of Cox's, a Mr. Dave Reed, came to the authorities to tell them that just after Cox had killed Henry Cook, he came over to his Reed's cabin and asked him to help him gather his belongings from the house. He didn't tell Reed what had just transpired, so when Reed went into the house to get Cox's belongings he didn't know why everyone was crying. He gathered his things and left. Soon after, Mrs. Cox went to Reed's cabin and told him what happened and Reed went back to the house and went into the dining room and saw Mr. Cook dead on the floor. He claims this was the first he knew about it, when Mrs. Cox told him.

About fifteen years ago, a historian by the name of Walt Motloch shared more information to journalist Dana Nichols for a piece in the Stockton Record. Motloch uncovered even more regarding the story, which didn't necessarily settle the rumors, but instead created more confusion about the motive of the killing itself.

According to the news article dated in 2007, three different descendants of George Washington Cox have come to three different conclusions about what happened.  Joette Farrand, a great-great granddaughter of Cox, believed he was set up, and that there were people who wanted to get him "out of the way," so-to-speak. Now, this goes in line in a way with what Cox speaks in his letter about a "band of dishonest men."

Was he speaking about certain people plotting against him? Feeding him with false ideas? Knowing all too well he was like a ticking time bomb ready to go off at the next rumor that he heard? Or was the "band of dishonest men" simply the jury who convicted him?

The next descendant, Lee Rude, claimed that he had heard Cox had abandoned the family for 12 years, and only returned around the time of the murder. According to the Record's account, the Calaveras Prospect mentioned that Cox was a drifter who went from place to place, job to job and came back to seek revenge on the "injuries done" to him. 

But what were these great injuries done to him? And why his son-in-law, unless there actually was a reason for the killing?

Lastly, Jan Cook, another one of Cox's great grandchildren eludes to the idea that he was mentally unstable, not knowing where he was half the time, and being "weak mentally." So was he mentally incapacitated at the time of the murder? If so, why not send him to the Stockton Asylum? Why condemn him to the gallows? 

The more information being spread the more confusing it had became. 

Do I believe he specifically came to Calaveras to exact revenge on his son-in-law?  I am not sure. But where did he get this information that his wife was being unfaithful in the first place? It had to come from somewhere. Was he upset that he spent years of his life, working wherever he could to make a living (possibly sending the money to his family) only to find out his wife was sleeping around?

First and foremost, I am not accusing his wife of something that hasn't been said before. For the record, I don't know if she was faithful to him or not, just as I don't know whether Cox had any true merit to his accusations against her. But something was going on, whether it was reality or all in his mind. And if it was all in his mind, again, why did the jury not seek to send him to the Asylum in Stockton? 

By Cox's own admission during his trial, he believed his act was a defense to his family. Why would he say that if he didn't feel a real threat to himself or his family? 

The article in the Stockton Record from 2007, claims that Cox later admitted (after his trial) that the rumors he believed about his son-in-law were unfounded. 

But where is this documentation? (Not to say it wasn't said, but I would certainly like to see that for myself).

The Sacramento Daily Record Union, dated September 1, 1888, gives a little more insight into Cox's state of mind when he killed Cook when it reads, "The crime for which Cox suffered the death penalty was for the murder of his son-in-law, Henry Cook, near Sheep Ranch, in this county on November 3rd last. The murderer shot the young man while he was eating dinner, without any warning whatsoever. 

Cox claimed that his son-in-law had threatened to take his life, and had listened to evil stories concerning Cook and his (Cox') wife. The case was tried in January last and the death penalty affixed, and on appeal to the Supreme Court the judgement was affirmed."

When Cox was tried for the murder, in January of 1888, it was said that it only took the jury approximately one half of an hour to come to their verdict. Cox tried to appeal it, as the newspaper above mentions, and at one point, his execution was delayed.

According to the Los Angeles Herald, dated March 24, 1888, Cox's hanging was postponed, as it was originally scheduled for March 23, 1888. The final date was set for August 31, 1888, one final meeting at the gallows that Cox would not be able to avoid. 

It is apparent that Sheriff Thorn found the entire ordeal unpleasant, as he so did state at the execution and also by the way he had the invitations to the execution designed. 

The Sacramento Daily Union even mentioned it on August 24, 1888, that the invitation was printed on a card with a deep mourning border. This is telling.  If Thorn so believed that Cox was such a horrid, murderer, he would have had a simple card printed, but this one had meaning, symbolism for that time period. One of not just mourning, but "deep mourning," as the journalist had put it. 

The Jail Yard, where Cox was hanged on 8/31/1888

"Brave to the Last"

Execution of George W. Cox Yesterday at San Andreas

San Andreas, August 31st, George W. Cox was executed today in the jail yard at 10:30 a.m. by Sheriff Benjamin Thorne [SIC]. The death warrant was read to the condemned man shortly after 10 o'clock, in the presence of several officers and physicians. The Sheriff informed Cox that he had an  unpleasant duty to perform and Cox replied, "Go on, Mr. Sheriff, and do your duty."

The condemned man was laboring under some excitement, for his pulse was 140 immediately before being led on to the scaffold, but his manner and words were brave to the last. He walked to and on the scaffold without any hesitation, and assisted the Sheriff in adjusting the straps and the black cap. He made the remark that he was not sorry for anything he had ever done in his life, and as the black cap was slipped over his head he told the Sheriff not to smother him.

At 10:35 o'clock the drop fell and the neck of Cox was broken. He died without a struggle and no pulse was perceptible after the drop. About one hundred persons witnessed the execution." -- Sacramento Daily Record-Union, Sept, 1, 1888.


George Washington Cox went to his grave with no regrets, or so he stated. But did he really? Were there any actions in his lifetime he may have regretted? It appeared that his emotional letter to his daughter revealed his weakness, his love of his children. Maybe in his mind, if he truly believed his son-in-law was sleeping with his wife, he felt it was a betrayal to his daughter as much as it was to himself. If this rumor had any truth to it at all, it would ruin both marriages, and disrupt the family forever. Maybe Cox just couldn't handle the idea of his daughter's heart being broken, or becoming hardened as his had.

Will we ever know if the stories he believed about his wife and his son-in-law had any merit at all?

Unfortunately, only the people involved in that event that took place back in 1887 know the truth to that story. We can sit and speculate all we want, but we may never know the truth. Cox could have been within his rights to believe his wife was being unfaithful, he may have been threatened by his son-in-law as he stated. Those rumors could have had truth to them. On the flip side, Cox could have been believing lies told to him by others, or perhaps even ideas that he came to on his own. 

Was Cox's mind troubled? Did he truly abandon his family for years on end? Or was he working on any job he could to send money to his family, in order to support them? How will we ever know for certain? Unless we have actual records to state either or, we will never know for sure but the story itself was one I couldn't pass up on sharing with all of you.

As many times in my history hunting, Roland and I come across stories that literally fall into our laps. We aren't necessarily looking for them, most times we are searching for something else and those other stories just happen to find us. I am then compelled to tell these stories of the forgotten, no matter whether they are: infamous, famous or unremembered, because I believe every grave has a story to tell, and as long as I am here, I will remain a voice to the voiceless so they will be forgotten no more.

Final Resting Place of G.W.Cox

(Copyright 2022 - J'aime Rubio

Grave of George W. Cox, Peoples Cemetery, San Andreas (Copyright, J'aime Rubio)

Photos inside and outside of San Andreas Courthouse/Jail/Jail
yard (Copyright, J'aime Rubio)


Motherlode Memories, by Dr. R. Coke Wood & Leonard Covello, published by Valley Publishers, 1979. 

San Andreas Museum (photos)

Newspapers: Amador Ledger, 11/12/1887; Amador Dispatch, 11/19/1887; Sacramento Daily Record-Union, 8/24/1888; Amador Dispatch, 9/1/1888; Sacramento Daily Record Union, 11/05/1887,  Los Angeles Herald, 3/24/1888; Sacramento Daily Record Union, 9/1/1888; Stockton Record, 5/4/2007.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Explosion at 3,000 Feet- Accidental Deaths at the Kennedy Mine

Many years ago, I became fascinated with the history of the Kennedy Mine in Jackson, Amador County, California. I had lived up in Amador County off and on for several years throughout my life, and my dad was really big on local history. I remember as a kid, on my way home from school, many times we would drive up and down the highway and stop at every single historic marker and read about what had happened at that certain spot back in time. You could say that these adventures helped interest me more and more in local history as the years went by.

Well, dad was always intrigued by the history of the Argonaut Mine Disaster that happened just across the highway from the Kennedy, and for years he had a framed superimposed photo of the miners and a copy of the Stockton Record together, hanging in our hallway at our house in Pioneer, California. I read that article over and over and also became interested in the mines.

Years later, I thought about how there is not a lot written about the history of the Kennedy Mine just across the highway from the infamous Argonaut, due to it not being thrown into national headlines like the Argonaut mine was back then. That didn't mean that the Kennedy Mine's history was any less tragic or less interesting, for that matter.

I have written a few blogs touching on some of the deaths that have occurred at the mine, as well as a short history of the mine itself. However, I have recently decided to write a book about all of the deaths associated with the Kennedy Mine and so, this is my little introduction to that book. In all there has been a total of 39 deaths at the Kennedy Mine.

Today, I will share with you one of those accidents that took place at the mine which will also be in my upcoming book. As with every story I share, my sole purpose is to give a voice to the voiceless. To remember those forgotten in the great abyss of time. These men, who died so long ago, and under such horrific circumstances, have been forgotten. Their names for decades upon decades left unspoken, but now, will be remembered by sharing their stories with you.

On Monday, November 17, 1913, just before 1 p.m., three people were killed in a horrific accident at the mine. When I first looked into the story, I found an article in the Sacramento Union, dated May 2, 1914, mentioning only two people who had died on that date, Janko Acimovich and Maksim Rupar. But, during my research I uncovered one more death associated with this accident. The third man wasn't mentioned in the article I originally found because, as it turns out, he was the cause of the explosion.

The miners had just come back from their dinner, and were going back to work. They were working at the 3,100 foot level in the mine, about 800 feet west of the main shaft. As two of the miners were cutting timber for a cap, the other two were in a drift, going to fetch powder.  Per the article in the Amador Ledger Dispatch dated November 21, 1913, all four men were within about 20 feet distance from one another. At the time it was believed that Schance or Rupar were responsible for the accident. Later on though, it appeared it was more than likely Schance who accidentally caused the explosion.

When the explosion occurred, B.F. Denton and Janko Acimovich were sawing timber, while Maksim Rupar and George W. Schance were in the process of getting the powder ready to blast.

Kennedy Mine

The publication, "Engineering & Mining, Volume 97," reads as follows:

"Schance intended to blast at 3:30 o'clock, and he was intending to get his primers to take to his place of work in order to save him a trip back to the powder magazine. He worked about 900 or 1000 ft., from the magazine. It was the habit to go to the magazine for powder  caps and fuse before quitting time when it was necessary to have them. Schance had two holes to drill in hard, tight ground, and had to carry his tools back and it would keep him busy. He evidently intended to save time by getting the powder and the fuses on his way. Rupar went to the bench where there were five full boxes and a half box; after the explosion there were four full boxes and  a box with some powder in it. Evidently, Rupar took one of these boxes of powder to take to near where he worked.....Joseph Hicks stated that he and his partner left the station at 12:30, and in going to into the crosscut he saw Schance sitting on the cap and fuse bench. Schance borrowed his knife. He saw Schance getting ready to walk toward the powder magazine. It was almost 12:35 when he gave Schance the knife and the explosion occurred about 3 to 4 minutes after they had passed him. He could not see whether Schance was in the magazine or not, and did not see Rupar there at all. Denton was sawing a timber.  

C.W. Hintmann said that he passed Denton who said he wanted him directly to help put up a cap which he was sawing. He went around the turn and sat down to wait when Hicks and his partner came along and in a second or so the explosion occurred. It took Hintmann's cap off his head and the lights were all out. There was no powder on the timber or timber truck when he talked with Denton. He believed that whoever took the powder out of the magazine had it on his shoulder.

All of the witnesses testified that they believed the explosion was wholly accidental."--

A foreman of the mine, Alex Ross, claimed "that he heard an unusual report while at the 2,700 foot station; that he got off the skip at the 3,100 level when he was met by J.E. Hicks who said Denton and two others had been killed; witness went to the spot and found the smoke very dense, and had a platform knocked out of a near by raise, for the purpose of ventilation; tried to break the airpipe but failed; heard Denton say twice, "What struck us?" felt around and found him and helped carry him to the station; witness was of the opinion that the timber found at the entrance to the drift leading to the powder magazine was cut in two by the explosion of the powder; he also showed the jury by a diagram the position of the four men when found; gave orders to clear up the cross cut; also explained that it was Schance's turn to blast at 3:30 o'clock and in order to save time he  (Schance) went to the magazine to take the powder back to where he was at work in the level, and that he (Schance) was drilling 900 or 1000 feet from the  magazine; witness detailed the position of the powder as it as usually stored and the fuse bench where the fuse and caps were kept and primers made; that there were five and a half boxes in the magazine during the forenoon and after the explosion four full boxes were in there with a few sticks over; the missing box weighed 50 pounds; that the temperature was 67 or 70 degrees, and in his opinion the 12 x 12 timber was cut in two by the exploding powder; that the powder in the magazine was fully 20 to 30 feet from where the timber lay on a truck in the level; he believed the explosion to be a pure accident."
Maksim Rupar's Grave

As the story went on, it explained that the powder would not have exploded by Rupar dropping it, or by the temperature of the mine, so it appeared that a charge went off while priming the clip, and that it accidentally set off the powder.

Sadly, Janko Acimovich was hit so hard, it removed his head and upper part of his shoulders. "The head was entirely gone. From shoulder to shoulder the flesh was ragged and torn and the right leg almost flattened between the body and knee. More properly speaking, the limbs were crushed and flattened instead of broken."

Acimovich was only 22 years old at the time of his death. He was a native of Austria, and was earning $2.50 per day at the mine.

Denton was alive when he was found, though his injuries were so bad, the newspapers claimed that if he survived his injuries he would be blind for life. He was the only one who survived the terrible accident, as the Amador Ledger Dispatch dated February 27, 1914, claims that he was going to San Francisco to see a specialist for the treatment of his eyes.

In 1914, a lawsuit was brought on by Chris Begovich on behalf of Rupar and Acimovich as the "administrator" of their estates against the Kennedy Mine and Milling Company, and judgement was rendered by Judge Wood, allowing for the compensation of $250 for funeral expenses and $500 for damages.
Janko Acimovich's grave

George W. Schance was found with his right arm "torn off" and his right leg crushed. His face was "practically  gone and the left side, torn away."  George's family were originally from El Dorado County, and he was only 23 year years old when he died. He had been earning $3 a day in wages.

Maksim Rupar has lost his left eye, and his right leg was broken. He was only 26 years old and had only just started working at the mine 3 days earlier.  He was also a native of Austria.

Recently, I visited the St. Sava Serbian Cemetery in Jackson, and searched for Janko Acimovich and Makism Rupar's graves. Both men were buried and services held on November 21, 1913. The funeral was delayed due to the fact that Acimovich's brother had to travel from Montana to attend. They are both buried side by side, in the back of the churchyard in the Miner's Graves section of the cemetery.

George W. Schance was buried at the Jackson City Cemetery on November 19, 1913, under the "auspices of the local order of Moose, the interment being in the city cemetery."-

Photo Credit: Steve Jones (Find-a-grave)

I have searched for B.F. Denton's obituary and his grave, and have yet to find either of the two, although we do know that he survived the accident per this article in the Ledger Dispatch, February 27, 1914. If and when I find more information about Denton, I will share it here. 

Amador Ledger-Dispatch, 2/27/1914

In ending, I hope that you enjoyed this deep dive into just one of the many stories I plan on covering in my upcoming book that details the deaths at the Kennedy Mine. Please remember, each one of those individuals were young, hard working men who died before they even had a chance to really live. Just the thought of them never having reached any of their goals they might have had in life makes it all the more tragic. So many of them rest at the various cemeteries in Amador County, forgotten and unvisited for so very long. If you decide to visit any of these men's graves please remember their stories and please share it with the world so that they will be forgotten no more.

(Copyright 2022 - J'aime Rubio,


Photos of Acimovich and Rupar's grave, miner's graves shot, and Kennedy Mine photo, copyright J'aime Rubio

Photo of George Schance's grave, copyright Steve Jones (Find-a-grave)


Sacramento Union,  11/18/1913

Sacramento Union, 5/2/1914

Amador Ledger Dispatch, 11/21/1913

San Jose Mercury News, 11/18/1913

Amador Ledger Dispatch, 2/27/1914

Engineering & Mining, Volume 97, published by Western Co., 1914

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Immaculate Conception Cemetery's Mystery of the Two Missing Graves - Sutter Creek

The backside of the Parish Hall property, Sutter Creek

Recently, one of my fellow researcher/taphophile friends that we will refer to as "Phyllis Jean," had reached out to me about a mystery she wanted answers to. Since she has helped me in some of my investigations, I agreed to help her with this one and she so kindly gave me permission to write about it on my blog.

So, the story starts out at the Immaculate Conception Churchyard and its adjacent Parish Hall at 190 Fogarty Drive, Sutter Creek, CA.  At one point around 2018, the site where the Parish Hall stands was listed for sale, and this is where the problems began. When the cemetery or churchyard started on the property next door, there was no definitive borderline where to stop burying the dead. So, there were some burials in the vicinity of where the Parish Hall stands. 

The cemetery itself dates back to 1858, but the church wasn't built until around 1860-1861. The land had been donated by the Mahoney family, and 15 members of said family happen to be buried within the grounds as well. 

The website Movoto lists the Parish Hall building, on the side of the cemetery, as being built in 1980, although I am not sure if that is entirely accurate, as my parents remembered something being on that site back when they lived on Spanish Street in the early 1970's.  

Well, fast forward to 2018, the property needed to be separate from the actual church property in order to sell it as separate land, so they had to "move" any of the graves that spilled over onto that property.

My friend "Phyllis Jean" claimed she remembered something about the newspaper mentioning the possible moving of the graves, but when she went back to search for it, she couldn't find it in any of the archived newspapers, as neither could I. 

This left me perplexed. 

We both separately "Googled" the property for a street view of the site and we both stumbled upon the sight of two headstones laying up against a retaining wall in plain sight. I also double checked other photos of the cemetery area, and found several photos of the headstones when they were upright and in their rightful place. This meant that they had recently been removed in the last 3 years or so. 

So who do these two headstones belong to?

Well, since the headstones were facing the retaining wall and not clearly visible, it took having to physically visit the cemetery and lay on the ground in a very awkward position just to snap a few shots.

One person's headstone was easier to capture than the other. In fact, I could only get a tiny fragment of the other person's name and had to run to Find-a-grave in the hopes they had been entered in their database before. Thankfully they were. So I was able to find both individuals by name.

#1. William Garrett    

William Garrett was born in Ireland around 1837. The voting registries of the time circa 1867 state that William was "naturalized" a citizen on September 4, 1866, and registered to vote as of April 12, 1867. He was also listed as living in Township #5, which the History of Amador County by Jesse D. Mason mentions that township as being around  Drytown, Amador City and Forest Home (Plymouth area). He passed away on October 20, 1877 and was buried at the Immaculate Conception Churchyard.

#2.  Dennis Shine

Dennis Shine was born in Limerick, Ireland around 1816. Unfortunately, I could not find any voting registries for Dennis, nor could I locate any census records for either Shine or Garrett. He passed away on October 10, 1877 and was buried at the Immaculate Conception Churchyard.

Also, because the Amador Dispatch and Ledger newspapers have no records for the year 1877, which happens to be the same year both of the deceased passed away, there is no way to obtain an obituary for these two gentlemen.

Interestingly, according to the US Gen Web Archives, the cemeteries burial records do not include either Garrett or Shine. I downloaded the complete list of burials and confirmed that neither men were listed as being buried in 1877, as they only had 4 burials that year. Somehow, someone failed to make a note of these two burials in their original records. Needless to say, this bothered me, and my friend "Phyllis Jean." 

Along with those facts, and the fact we now knew that the headstones had be removed from their place of burial, this worried us that their remains were going to be left there unmarked and forgotten so the property could be sold. This would not be the first time this has happened, as it is well known that when the cemeteries in San Francisco were moved, and bodies exhumed and reinterred to Colma, many monuments were tossed into the sea, and many bodies were left in the ground. 

Also, the Stockton State Hospital "moved" some of their dead on paper only, and opted to sell the land and build on top of said burial grounds leaving the dead still presently buried under the foundations of many buildings along California street in Stockton. 

So, with this worry in mind, I personally reached out to the Immaculate Conception Church for answers. I first spoke with a young lady who wasn't sure how to answer my questions, and she took my number down and said Marge would call me back. 

When I finally spoke to Marge, she assured me that the remains of both Garrett and Shine had been removed in a two step process, by using ground penetrating radar, and then removing the remains and burying them in an area that had not been used for any previous burials. This was very reassuring as I just wanted to make sure these two people's graves would not be forgotten or erased from history.

The next day, I received an email from another friend and fellow genealogist from Find-a-grave, Steve Jones, the person who originally entered Mr. Garrett's information into Find-a-grave, who also confirmed the story with me, as he knows Marge, too. He spoke to her and she gave him the same information, that the graves had been moved a while back, and that they had an archeologist come out and someone with the ground penetrating radar machine to search the grounds for the remains. There were witnesses who watched the exhumation and moving of the two deceased individuals remains to a spot in the churchyard where "nothing else existed." 

One good thing that came out of this inquiry though was the fact that it brought to Marge's attention that the person they hired to reset the headstones next to the new burial spots, had not done so, and it has been quite some time. Thankfully, maybe now that this has been brought to the forefront again, this project will get finished once and for all, and Mr. Garrett and Mr. Shine can be reunited with their headstones, once again.  

Update May 2022:  A few weeks ago, I received a voicemail from Marge that the headstones were finally properly reunited with their interred eternal residents, Dennis and William.  Case closed.

(Copyright 2022- J'aime Rubio,