Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Rancheria Massacre- Part 4- Amador County

Photo: Huntington Library
After the death of Sheriff Phoenix, the men who were on the hunt after the bandits grew even more determined to catch every single one of them and make them pay for the damage they had caused. Marshall Wood, from Columbia, sent a telegraph to the posse telling them that they had detained several men that they suspected could be part of the gang. Now this is where some stories get confusing, I have read accounts that state the hanging of Rafael Escobar was before Sheriff Phoenix was shot dating it to be approximately around August 8th, but in fact the man who was hanged in Jackson on the Hangman’s tree on the 8th was an unidentified man, the 9th was Manuel Castro (according to some reports it was Manuel Garcia) and then on the 15th was the date that Rafael Escobar was hanged.

Being that the leader, Sheriff Phoenix, was dead and buried, now someone else had to step up to the plate and take charge. That person was George Durham. He knew who they were looking for, so he volunteered to take the lead. Once they arrived to where Marshall Wood had been detaining the men, George Durham was said to have recognized one of the men in the group.  He was a well educated man, who spoke English and formerly lived in Drytown.

 Hangman’s  Tree

Now this is where it also gets confusing, some papers and books claim his name was Rafael Escobar, while The History of Amador County by Jesse D. Mason claims his name to be Manuel Escobar. Now, let me also state that Rafael and Manuel were brothers (not to be confused with Manuel Castro (Garcia).

Other reports claim that on August 15th Manuel was hanged in Sutter Creek after being caught, and Rafael Escobar was hanged in Jackson at the Hangman’s Tree. Let me also add, Rafael was the last person ever to be strung up on Hangman's tree in Jackson. Later the tree burnt down in the big fire the swept through Downtown Jackson in 1862.

Manuel Castro (Garcia), who had been caught and injured (later hung on August 9th) had been the one who bragged to an Italian at Texas Bar that he had shot and killed the people at Rancheria, only to change his story and claimed he was merely standing outside while the robbery and murders were taking place. He also had given up the alleged names of his posse: Gregorio (a red-headed man) whom he supposedly met at Hornitos, Bonito, Waro (which I believe was misinterpreted and actually was “Huero”), Trinidad, Macemanio and Californio. Some other reports state: Bonito, Maciana, California and the two Manuel’s but no mention of a Rafael. There was even a mention of someone named Guadalupe Gumbo in a few other reports. I read one account where this Guadalupe character was mentioned as being the ring-leader. But then others claimed Gregorio made the group of bandits. It’s safe to say that over the years too much guessing has been done and very little facts remain as to who was actually in charge in this band of criminals. 

But, when it comes to the identity of Manuel and Rafael Escobar, which is it? Was Manuel Escobar and his brother Rafael in the same gang or not? Why is one or the other mentioned, but neither one at a given time was mentioned together in any of the newspapers? If not, then one of these brothers was more than likely implicated in the Rancheria killings just based on being related to each other. That would mean then that one of those men were hanged, unfairly.

As some of the records state, Durham questioned the detained man, who allegedly pretended that he couldn’t speak English. According to the newspapers, Durham told Rafael that Castro (some say Garcia) had “given him up” before dying, when the detained man then started spitting out vulgar language in perfect English. He then was taken to Jackson with Durham and some officers from Calaveras to be hung. Something else that should be noted is that Escobar never admitted guilt to Durham in Calaveras County or Amador County. Escobar pled that he was innocent the entire time. It was reported that Sheriff Clark of Calaveras claimed Escobar admitted guilt in his presence the night before, but there is no real evidence of this.

According to newspaper accounts, Rafael claimed that he was working at a house where the bandits stopped, and out of fear, he and the family “were compelled to feed them.” Remember, this is the same house Durham had visited the night they spoke to the lady and she motioned the curtain back to expose the bandits as they escaped out the back of the house. He claimed he had been there, and that Durham may have mistaken him for one of the bandits because he may have seen him that night at the house in Drytown. 

He also made the point that he stayed there at the house working without being arrested long after the men had run off and Durham had gone chasing after them. Newspaper accounts also state that Rafael said he had no prior knowledge that those men would attack Rancheria. He said that he passed through Jackson the next day and later was arrested in Columbia.  He attempted reasoning with the crowd, mentioning that when he was arrested in Columbia, that he was armed with 2 revolvers, and that he could have killed several people if he wanted to when he was being arrested, but knowing and feeling his own innocence he allowed himself to be taken without a struggle. He also attested to the fact that he knew several residents of Drytown and Sutter Creek who could testify on his behalf to prove his hard working and unblemished character.

 Hangman's Tree marker located on Main St
 in Downtown Jackson, CA.
The Sacramento Daily Union (8/17/1855) states that he knew he was “in the power of the Americans, and knew he had to die, and wished to have his face washed and hair combed, which favor was granted. He then said he would like to have a priest to confess himself; this being refused, he called for a “brandy punch,” which was given him. The crowd here became restless and impatient, and called for his hanging, which was immediately done.

The Mexican was “run up” and held there for a short time, then lowered, when great difficulty was encountered getting the rope loosed from his neck. It was finally cut loose; in the mean time he suffered excruciating pain, rolling his eyes about, throwing his head and body about at random, and making a loud gurgling noise with his throat. When the rope was taken from his neck he revived and asked for brandy and water, and said he would like to talk but it was of no use, as the people would believe nothing he said, and he wished they would kill him outright, or bring some of his friends. He said that if the Americans would arm themselves and take him with them he could point out every man that was connected with the Rancheria affair....……..the crowd, who could not hear half that was said, again became impatient and cried out “run him up,” which was immediately done, and he at this moment, twenty minutes after twelve o’clock, hangs suspended by the neck from the memorable limb of the old “hang tree.” His name was Rafael Escobar. This is the name of the man Garcia* said killed Mrs. Dimon** at Rancheria. We are in doubt whether this Mexican was really guilty. We do not wish to cast any reflection upon any of our citizens who had a hand in his hanging, but we do think they should have endeavored to obtain more evidence against him before proceeding so far. Hang all the guilty ones, but do not, for God’s sake, sacrifice the innocent!”
(footnote: * Garcia was actually Castro, and ** Mrs. Dimon was actually Mrs. Dynan)

The saddest part of this story is the fact that no one could really prove that Rafael was part of the gang. When he was arrested he didn’t resist as the other gang members did, why do you think? Because he knew he was innocent. What if you were arrested for something you didn’t do? And you knew that everything would turn out okay, because you figured since you knew you were innocent, that by explaining the truth that everything would work out okay right? Sadly, many times it doesn’t work out that way.

Rafael thought that if they would just listen to him, to get the witnesses who could testify on his behalf for his moral character that everything would be okay, but the crowd refused. They went on information that was vague and was a “deathbed confession” of a hardened criminal who had originally confessed that he had killed the people in Rancheria, but then pointed the blame on Rafael before his death. Would you have believed Manuel Castro? I wouldn’t have. Would I have believed Rafael? Perhaps. 

Besides, the Daily Alta California (8/11/1855)- Corroborates Rafael’s story by Manuel Castro’s own account. Rafael claimed he was working at the home that the bandits came to, and that by fear they were compelled to feed them. Well, by Manuel Castro’s own admission, he stated that he had been to that very house and had ate dinner there. 

I had to ask myself another question, why did the bandits go there? Well, it was said that Rafael and his brother Manuel Escobar were hanged on the same day, one in Sutter Creek, one in Jackson. So that means at least one of them was in the gang. Perhaps Rafael’s brother told his friends where they could go get food, and forced their company on the home where Rafael was working. It is also possible that when he had admitted he knew who the men where but was not involved, he was telling the truth. He was quite aware his brother was in the gang, but maybe he kept silent out of fear, knowing that if they knew he was related to one of the members of this band of criminals, it would only implicate him more.

I am still aggravated that the people in charge didn’t question the residents of Sutter Creek and Drytown who knew Rafael, who could have cleared his name, but instead they strung him up on that tree just like the rest of the criminals. Sadly, mob mentality in any race or country almost always has deadly outcomes.  I feel bad for this particular person Rafael, just like I feel bad for Puerto Vino, Jose and Trancolino who were hanged earlier in this story when the angry mob of residents believed James Johnson’s testimony that they had been involved in the Rancheria Massacre.  Some reports claim that up to 16 Mexicans were hung, the total is really unknown.

The Sacramento Daily Union (8/8/1855) stated:
 "How many Mexicans have been caught and hung it is impossible to say, seven to my knowledge have been hung, and how many have been killed by scouters, no one knows but themselves, and they won't tell."

Homes of Mexicans in Drytown, Rancheria and Sutter Creek  were burnt down. Even the church was torn apart and burnt to the ground. Soon after, Judge Hubbard adopted resolutions that sent the entire “Hispanic” communities heading out of the County. Those resolutions were:

·        The expelling all Mexicans and Chileans from the County unless there was satisfactory evidence of good moral character.
·        Mexicans could be arrested for ANY offense committed that they decided to charge them with.
·        No Mexican or Chilean were permitted to carry any deadly weapon.

In a previous story I wrote, “The ForgottenTown Of Contreras,” I speak of an old mining town in eastern Amador County, that became a literal ghost town between 1855-1860, after doing much research on the Rancheria murders, I have come to the conclusion that the people of Contreras may have decided to leave Amador County during this very hostile and dangerous time period. 

While Amador County was still in chaos, there was still some justice left to be served on one last real criminal in Jamestown. One day, a Mexican man from Algerine Camp came forward to the authorities that the person he believed had actually killed Sheriff Phoenix, and belonged to the group who were responsible for the Rancheria murders, was in hiding.

He claimed that the man came to him badly wounded and threatened to kill him if he didn’t dress his wounds and hide him.  He allegedly lowered the man down in a mining shaft where there was a tunnel with a rope and pulley.  The man was unaware that his whereabouts had been compromised so he was blindsided when the lawmen surrounded the shaft demanding him to surrender. They waited several minutes, with no response, so they finally gathered some brush together and set it on fire and threw it down the shaft to “smoke him out.” Minutes later they heard a gunshot. The last bandit had killed himself. 

In Conclusion

In this story we have heard the story of the six innocent people of Rancheria, (Mrs. Mary Dynan, Sam Wilson, Eugene Francis, Uriah Michener, An unidentified Native-American man and Daniel Hutchins) who were murdered and robbed. We have read about several heroes who stopped at nothing to bring peace to Amador County and a Sheriff who paid the ultimate price, laying down his life for justice.

I have also showed you the accounts of the wild shootouts where the “good guys” got the “bad guys”, where some of the criminals faced the consequences of their actions by “meeting their maker,” while others such as Puerto Vino, Trancalino, Jose and I believe Rafael Escobar were mistakenly judged and hanged unfairly. In the end, the bandits were caught and died, but how many others died in the process? Sadly, we may never know the extent of that.

Sheriff Robert Cosner
c/o Amador County Sheriff Dept.
The days of the "Wild West" are long gone, and with those days all that is left is the stories of cowboys and their tall tales.  In this story the hero, Sheriff Phoenix was shot down in the line of duty. He was the very first Sheriff of Amador County. According to the Amador County Sheriff’s website, the next in line as Sheriff was none other than George Durham in 1855 (and again later in 1867-1870). As interesting as it is, I recognized another name on that list of men, and that name would be Robert Cosner. He became Sheriff of Amador County from 1860-1862 and again from 1865-1866. If you recall in Part 1 of this story, Cosner was the volunteer who rode off into the night down Rattlesnake Gultch, attempting to reach Rancheria before the bandits had made their way there. Unfortunately, we know that he didn’t make it in time, and he was one of the first, if not the first one to discover the horrible aftermath that band of criminals left behind like a whirlwind of destruction. Perhaps, this event in Robert Cosner’s life inspired him to get involved in law enforcement, we may never truly know. Although, I would like to think so. 

I began researching this story a few years ago, and back in June of 2012, I spoke to Amador County Historian Larry Cenotto, before he passed away, and we exchanged emails about this very subject. I asked him his advice and his opinion about this story on how to sort all the accounts out to provide an accurate depiction of this story. I also mentioned what a dilemma I had faced trying to figure out if in fact Rafael Escobar was innocent and had been implicated in the crimes just for being related to a member of the gang.

Mr. Cenotto was very kind and told me, “It is clear that you have plumbed much deeper than I into this somber event.  I did the best I could then from newspaper reports and various letters which are in the county archives, which I founded.... I'm sure you have many readers of your blog, but I encourage you to write for an enduring audience in booklet or book form.  We should know more than we do. “-

I will cherish those words from Mr. Cenotto for as long as I live, because he gave me the encouragement to keep digging for answers. I am sad that I was unable to share with him this blog or the recently published book “Behind The Walls,” that I wrote about the infamous Preston School of Industry in Ione as I would have loved to have shown him. I dedicated my book to Mr. Cenotto posthumously because he was a great example for other historians to follow. History was certainly his passion, since he wrote so much about it and even founded the Archives in Amador County.  In the end Mr. Cenotto was right, he said we should know more than we do about our history. 

In the book The History of Amador County, the author Jesse D. Mason quotes Cicero when he says, It is the first law of history that the writer should neither dare to advance what is false, nor suppress what is true”.  

Lucian (170 A.D.) quotes: "The Historian should be fearless and incorruptible; a man of independence, loving frankness and truth; one who, as the poet says, calls a fig a fig and a spade a spade. He should yield to neither hatred nor affection, but should be unsparing and unpitying. He should be neither shy nor deprecating, but an impartial judge, giving each side all it deserves but no more. He should know in his writings no country and no city; he should bow to no authority and acknowledge no king. He should never consider what this or that man will think, but should state the facts as they really are."
And finally, J.B.J. Delambre once stated, "The historian owes the dead nothing but the truth."

For me I write about history, search and dig for the truth to speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves. I do it to show my respect and honor for those long gone, and tell their story as best and as accurately as I can so that they will never be forgotten. I also do this so that future generations will have something accurate to look at in reference to when they want to learn about the past, just as writers like myself do when we go to the archives, microfilmed newspapers and libraries to investigate and research. We must keep that cycle of knowledge going in order for us to secure our posterity. We must keep searching and writing down our history. If it is not done by us, then who?

(Copyright 2013- J’aime Rubio- Dreaming Casually Publications)

Thank you to Sheriff Martin Ryan
and the Amador County Sheriff’s Office for allowing me to use Robert Cosner’s photo.

Some of my sources:

History of Amador County- Jesse D. Mason, 1881

Sacramento Daily Union:

8/8/1855, 8/9/1855

8/11/1855, 8/13/1855,

8/14/1855, 8/15/1855


California Bad Men: Mean Men With Guns- William Secrest

San Joaquin Republican 9/1855

Amador Ledger 3/1/1901, 12/31/1909

Jackson Sentinel 8/15/1855

Daily Alta 8/9/1855, 8/11/1855

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