MendoHistory

MendoHistory: The Horrible History of Round Valley, Part I

MendoFever is proud to start featuring David Heller, who describes himself as a researcher transitioning into being a historian. His work documents the rich, sordid, and vibrant past of the North Coast. Heller has collaborated with Kym Kemp’s Redheaded Blackbelt and she has been gracious enough to let MendoFever also host is research.

Sketch of Round Valley seen from just below Camp Welcome [Image from the San Francisco Call-Bulletin, 1895] 

In February of 1888, the San Francisco Examiner devoted ten columns to an expose of the activities of Round Valley rancher George E. White, the “Cattle King of the mountains”. A quote from this “Stolen Valley” article will serve as an introduction to those unfamiliar with this week’s topic:

“George E. White claims to be the first white who ever looked down upon Round valley. That was in 1853. His claim, it is said, has been successfully disputed by more than one person, but whether he was the first white man or not to lay eyes on that beautiful valley, it is certain that he was not the first to locate there. He settled there in 1867… From his original location of 160 acres, White’s possessions have grown to be enormous. He is to-day without doubt the wealthiest resident of Northern California.:

His possessions embrace 100,000 acres of land; his sheep, which roam over a thousand hills, or ranges, as they are called by the settlers, number probably 150,000 head; the cattle which bear his brand number from 1500 to 2000; more than 1000 head of hogs belong to him, and the estimate of one who is familiar with his affairs fixes the number of horses owned by him at 500. It is difficult to estimate the wealth of a man with his possessions, but $2,000,000 is a modest sum to cover what he possesses.” (Humboldt Standard, 2/15/1888)

A number of authors have written histories of Round Valley, but the go-to book is still Genocide and Vendetta, the Round Valley Wars of Northern California by Lynwood Carranco and Estle Beard. It is out of print, but it may be viewed online.

Sketch of the residence of George White, San Francisco Call-Bulletin 1895

We will take a look at the “Vendetta” half of Round Valley’s history through the lens of a metropolitan newspaper that drew attention to George E. White and Round Valley’s violent history with a series of articles that appeared in late 1895. Over the next year San Francisco papers were full of sensational accounts of unsolved deaths, warring cattle-man factions, White’s divorce proceedings with his third wife Frankie, and the Littlefield murder case and trial. The following San Francisco Call article was written shortly after Littlefield had been killed on the Red Mountain trail while being taken to trial in Weaverville. The Littlefield murder and ensuing trial is a large story in itself, it was one of the most celebrated and expensive trials at Weaverville. Long caravans of witnesses and the curious to make the trek from Round Valley to the Trinity County seat for the trial.

The San Francisco Call was proud of their detailed reporting and claimed that it was researched at some risk to the reporters who compiled the story in volatile Round Valley. In the week after this article appeared one more man was killed, and four were reported hung as feuding between factions continued.

When one paper came to White’s defense, the Call responded to accusations of sensationalism:

“We agree with the Ukiah Dispatch-Democrat in the belief that sensational news and reports are objectionable, but in the case of the Round Valley crimes only the publication of full and startling details would open the eyes of the people to the fact that almost in our midst exists such a band of desperadoes and such stupendous crimes are being committed.”(San Francisco Call, 11/10/1895)

The Call also defended its article’s accuracy:

“It is a terrible story, and The Call has not overdrawn or over-colored a single detail. Mrs. White was in today, and after reading the article she said in her quiet way that it was truthful as to detail and not a fact was included that could not be verified”(San Francisco Call, 10/22,1895)

This week’s article reveals some of the story of George E. White’s time as “King of Round Valley” as it came to light in the San Francisco press in 1895. Written in the florid prose of the day, what follows is but part of a much greater story, one that took Carranco and Beard ninety-one pages to tell in Genocide and Vendetta. It is a dark saga of a land baron whose empire was acquired through domination, theft, stock-stealing, and murder; a man who for decades ruthlessly controlled the history of a large area of the back country in Southern Trinity, Southeastern Humboldt, and Northern Mendocino counties.

THE HORRIBLE HISTORY OF ROUND VALLEY.
STORY OF ROBBERY, MURDER AND INTRIGUE WITHOUT PARALLEL
RISE OF GEO. E. WHITE. CONDITIONS THAT HAVE LED UP TO THE MENDOCINO COUNTY FEUD. A PARADISE FOR OUTLAWS. PERJURY TO DESTROY A WOMAN’S NAME — TALES TOLD ON A MOUNTAIN TOP.

From Ukiah, following the stage road northward from noon till midnight a traveler will arrive at Laytonville, in Mendocino County. Beginning again early in the morning and traveling eastward into the mountains he will by noon again cross the county bridge of the Eel River. From this level the road will lead him through infinite windings of mountain canyons, upward, on upward, for five toiling miles of rugged, unpeopled magnificence to where Camp Welcome, with cool spring and spreading shade trees, stands upon the summit, and there, stopping to rest, the stage-driver will languidly point with his whip to the east.

Through the trees, from far down at the mountain’s foot to its other boundary of other distant mountains, level as a lake, spreads away Round Valley in every blending shade of green and brown and gold that tree and grass and fields of corn and sun and cloud shadow and autumn may lend to landscape.

Seen for the first time it robs one of speech.

“Beautiful,” says the stage-driver, contemplatively. “Yes, beautiful, but O God!”

Ah, yes; this is not paradise. This is Round Valley. From these splendid heights, with this wonderful picture of peace spreading away to the horizon, one forgets. This is Round Valley — the stolen valley — for every square mile of the fertile green level of which there is a story of crime such as might blacken the sky and poison the air, the dark fame of which has lent the use of its fair name to horrible proverbs. Those far-off purple hills are dotted with the graves of murdered men — murdered not in the heat of mountain quarrels, but one by one, through years, with cold, slow, deliberate purpose, because they chose to maintain their right to settle there and refused to allow the theft of their stock, the burning of their homes, persecution in the courts or any other circumstance to turn them from that purpose. For that they were murdered.

Every mountain pass that permits an entrance into this paradise has been and still is an avenue for the robbery and pillage of the surrounding country. It is a history of horror from the earliest times, when the children of slaughtered Indians were sold into slavery, to this later day, when brave men, disarmed by authority of law, are, thus defenseless, shot to death from ambush and afterward hanged.

Residence of George White, Round Valley, near Covelo

Do you see that group of oaks and the regularly marshaled trees of the orchard there in the very center of the valley, where the sun and cloud-shadows are just now working their wonderful color effects? Among those trees sits the palace of George E. White, the king of Round Valley. It is as luxurious a place perhaps as may be built or even imagined in these mountains, a beautiful residence of shining white, sitting in an ample green lawn, among the trees, equipped with every modern comfort and luxury, with music and billiard-rooms, and running water throughout, as in the City, with great white barns adjoining, and fruit orchards and fine horses.

The acres of the man who lives there spread over three counties, and comprise an estate equal to a principality. His stock range through all these hills. And yet, when he first stood there, looking down upon this valley — the first white man, it is said, who did so— he was a full grown man, and as poor as is now the meanest of his vaqueros.

George White, San Francisco Call, 10/21/1895
How he became the autocrat of Mendocino County, enabled to boast, as he does, of owning even the Judges upon the bench, forms very much of the terrible story of Round Valley. Ah, the crimes that are said to have been hatched in or about that white palace! Do you see the orchard there?
That was the rendezvous not long ago of a company of men night after night to rehearse their elaborate parts in perjury designed to ruin a good woman’s life.
This is Round Valley. Beautiful, but O God!

Do you see that group of houses a little further away? That is the town of Covelo. It is the headquarters of the rough riders of these mountains, but the people who live there are not all bad— by no means. Indeed, but a comparative few of these rough riders are so. If you have good eyes you may see a church spire rising above the trees, and it marks a place where good people gather nightly now, crying “How Long, O Lord, how long?”

The cowardly murder of brave Jack Littlefield, shot to death in a narrow mountain trail while unarmed and submitting to arrest for a crime it is almost certain he did not commit, following closely as it did upon the equally cowardly murder of Jim Williams, has brought home to these good people the terrible realization that this horrid history is not closed. There are others and still others, no doubt, who are marked for the relentless vengeance of this side or the other of warring factions, or who stand in the way of ambition or avarice, at whose nod, at the most convenient time or place, will be “done for.”

Robbery and murder, arson and perjury interlinked through years, and the accumulation of vast estates and money and power, a colony of people are necessarily implicated. Have you knowledge of any of it? Are you disposed to talk too much? You then become dangerous and are better dead. Or are you merely impatient at the moral desolation of this beautiful valley and disposed to be active in ferreting crime for its punishment? That is embarrassing, too.
So, terrorized, the well-disposed people do not dare to tell each other what they think, but in their church and in their closets on their knees they whisper to Heaven, “How long, O Lord, how long?”

Does this seem like exaggeration— trifling with over-serious things? Jack Littlefield, the man who was shot to death and hanged the other day, was formerly on good terms with Joe Greggory, who was last week tried in Ukiah for attempting to murder him with a knife. Littlefield was charged with stealing a cow and was about to be arrested.
“You don’t have to be tried for that thing if you don’t want to,” said Greggory to him.
“What do you mean?”
“Just what I say. You don’t have to be tried if you don’t want to. I’ll go on the trail and do the Constable when you pass.”
“Not much,” said Littlefield. “Don’t you do anything of the kind. I didn’t steal the cow and am not afraid to be tried.”

But it is thus lightly they value the life of him who bothers them in some degree in Round Valley — as lightly as they estimate a charge of murder. Why should they fear to kill? Should a jury declare a Round Valley murderer guilty it would be repeated at the campfires all through these mountains as the most wonderful thing that had yet happened here. Judges and juries in this country have been a cowering factor in the lengthening story of crime. They do not dare, perhaps.

Jim Williams, a half-breed living a few miles out of Covelo, was to have been a witness in a suit against one Perry, who runs the White saloon in Covelo, for selling liquor to Indians. Selling liquor to Indians is a United States offense and there is danger of conviction in such cases, though that fear does not in the least check the traffic in Covelo. Other methods are adopted. Williams knew some other things, however; he was disposed to be a decent fellow and was altogether objectionable. One night about two months ago Jim Williams was sitting with his wife in his cottage. The lamps were lit, the children had been put to bed. Jim had lit his pipe, and there was a cry outside — some one called his name. He laid down his pipe and went out. His wife heard some one speak from a little distance, as though calling him to come nearer. A moment later two shots were fired, followed by the quick tramp of horses’ feet that rapidly became indistinct and died away. She went to the door and called: “Jim!” Turned from the bright lamplight into the night her eyes could distinguish nothing. With her hands stretched out before her she went groping down the garden calling: “Jim! Jim!” Her foot touched his dead body lying in the path. She stooped, turned it over and felt his face, covered with warm blood.

There is a later murder, and so that is an old story in Round Valley. This widow is struggling alone now for her children and Jim is buried. To be sure, there was some inquiry about the matter. It was discovered that the deadly leaden balls were from a 38-55, and it is known that there are only two weapons of that size in the valley. It was noticed by the tracks that the horses that stood by the fence that night were unshod, and these tracks were followed to the house of one of the two men who owned a 38-55. It is known, also, that this man had his horse shod the morning following this crime. But that is all. With these facts discovered proceedings ceased. Jim Williams is buried— he did not testify; but his wife beats her breast and weeps alone under the lamplight these autumn evenings.

Impossible to believe men would murder on such slight provocation? You do not know the conditions in Round Valley. Secure against the consequences of doing murder, murder may become fascinating. The names of some men in Round Valley with whom it is so could be printed here. Think of two men standing on the mountain trail for hours whittling sticks while they wait for the Constable to bring Jack Littlefield along— his weapons safely in the Constable’s charge. And when he comes, think of one of these men, hidden among the bushes, lifting a rifle, looking along its barrel and driving a ball through the defenseless man’s breast. That is murder born of desire— the pleasure the murderer feels in doing murder— the crack of the rifle, the start, the shudder, the clutch of the breast, the fall, the gush of blood, the glazing eye of the victim, the sense of triumph, the satisfied enmity. This man who was hated and feared lies dead here— he will never tell. The birds, the silent forest, the still air— they will say no word. The murderer is alone, or if not his companions are equally guilty. They may say what they will in the presence of their victim; they may pull his beard or lift his lids and laugh in his dead eyes; take the once feared hand in their own and swear defiance and spit upon the face.

Where the fear of the law is absent, as it has ever been in Round Valley, murder thus takes its place as one of the pleasures of life— an evening’s sport. Even the women consorts of the murderers feel something of the thrill. Think of a woman going across country to see a man “done up,” as Mary Casper confessed she did in the case of Ves Palmer, being disappointed because Ves was too well armed to warrant a safe attack.

If Governor Budd’s offer of a reward for the conviction of the men who formed the alleged mob that killed Jack Littlefield shall have the effect of hanging the men who did it, the good people of Covelo and Round Valley will bless him, for it will be a lone step for their relief and the ending of this history of lawlessness. Hitherto the only use known for the law in Round Valley has been as a weapon to crush and harass those who came to settle in good faith, and it has served this purpose in instances where would-be murderers, thieves and house-burners have been unsuccessful. It is still serving that purpose. Beautiful, but O God!

The whole story is impossible. All this valley was once designed and set apart as the reservation for the Indians of Northern California. Colonel Thomas J. Henley, brother of Barclay Henley, then Indian Agent (in 1856) and now the next largest property-owner to George E. White, recommended it for such purpose to the Government, and that the few settlers then in the valley be paid for their claims and ousted.

When Mr. Henley was removed from office his successors advised the same, representing that the place was peculiarly adapted for the purpose; that the level land being forbidden to them, white settlers would find nothing in the surrounding mountains to attract them, and so they and their whisky and other evil influences would be absent. Mr. Henley himself, as stated, afterward, together with his brothers, took up large tracts of the land. Settlers multiplied in the valley, and the tales of how they slaughtered the Indians in those early days, took their squaws for their own and carried away their children to the south and west and sold them to slavery are appalling to ears not accustomed to Round Valley gossip. The preacher-missionary at that time is said to have been the principal agent of this slave trade, finding buyers among the ranchers in his frequent trips through the mountains. An employee on the reservation was also an active agent. He devised a false bottom in the big covered wagon with which he made journeys for provisions. In the space thus allowed he would place the little Indians to carry them away. They were sold as chore boys or prospective vaqueros for from $50 to $60.

Old Jim Wilburn, whose son it was who was with Jack Littlefield the day it is claimed he shot Vinton, found a cabin in the mountains some years ago while hunting, where a dozen Indian children were imprisoned, tied hand and foot, awaiting the arrival of the slave-dealing preacher. Wilburn was always sternly opposed to the outrages of every character peculiar to the country, and of course set them free. He is terrible as a fighter, and perhaps this fact is responsible for his lusty old age. He tells a story of a Danite who fled to this mountain fastness from Mormondom to escape punishment for the part he took in the Mountain Meadow massacre. The Danite kept a pack of fierce bear-hounds. Coming home one day he found a party of bucks and squaws being supplied by his wife with some scraps of food from the kitchen, the bucks sitting stolidly on the grass outside waiting for the squaws to bring them some of the food. The Danite went to his corral and released his pack of bloodhounds and turned them upon the defenseless bucks, encouraging them while they tore the Indians limb from limb in the presence of their squaws. The Danite, overtaken by a storm, came to Jim Wilburn’s cabin one night, and under the influence of after-supper pipes and grog told this story himself, gloating over the details as something clever. When he realized that the fiend was speaking the truth, Jim Wilburn rose up, opened the door and threw him bodily out and down the canyon to spend the night in the storm as he might.

It was by these means that the number of the Indians was reduced from thousands until they now number a few diminishing and corrupted hundreds. The killing of an Indian was scarcely worth speaking of in those days— the form of report, the routine trial and acquittal that accompanies the killing of a white man in these days was not thought of. If a buck had a handsome squaw a white man wanted, that was justification.

Despite the protests of Indian agents white men continued to come into and take up land in the valley, unresisted by the Government, until their numbers were so great and the numbers of the Indians had grown so small that at last a line was drawn across the north end of the valley over which the Indians were required to retire. Back of this line, however, were 25,000 acres. The same ratio of increase upon the one hand and decrease upon the other continued until these 25,000 acres began in turn to haunt the dreams of the land-grabbers. A plan was formed for which the white men of Round Valley give credit to the Henleys.

In the last hours of the session of Congress in 1873 a bill was rushed through creating a new reservation consisting of 79,000 acres of grazing mountain lands and but 5000 of the level, throwing the other 20,000 acres open for purchase at $1 25 an acre without even the requirement of a residence. With such a studied plan so well carried out it need not be written that few of those 20,000 acres fell into the hands of honest settlers.

Sketch of George White, San Francisco Call-Bulletin, 1895

The 79,000 acres of grass land, which now became a Government reserve, was thus made secure from settlement, and perpetuated as an immense grazing tract upon which the land-grabbers of the valley need pay no taxes.
It was so that for this fair picture was earned the title of “the stolen valley.”

Begun thus with wanton slaughter of bucks, the appropriation of squaws and the enslavement of Indian children, the history of Round Valley passes into its no less horrible second era under which the same rapacious and relentless methods have been and are still applied to the white man, who in good faith seeks to take up land in the neighboring ranges and earn an honest living.

Whether or not George E. White, the Czar of Round Valley, was the first white man to discover the valley — that was in 1853— he did not settle there until 1867. He took up 160 acres at the point where his mansion now stands. The Henleys had already begun their accumulation of acres by building little cabins over the Government land and labeling them with the names of claimants in order to keep settlers away. But this could not last, of course. For the live settler insisted and then the trouble began.

For a considerable time George E. White struggled with poverty and lived, like the most ill-conditioned settler, accumulating a little band of cattle, the price of which went up once upon a time to a point that enabled him to sell at an unusual profit, and from that date his prosperity began and with it a consuming ambition. He gathered about him the pick of the freebooters of the country, and by locating men upon land whom he could control, terrorizing those who came in to take up land for their own use, and by other and worse methods, his estate has crown from that original 160 acres to 150,000 acres, reaching through Mendocino, Trinity and Humboldt counties. His cattle are unnumbered, and he at one time employed a constant train of teams over the mountains carrying his wool to market. He is rated as the richest rancher in Northern California.

It is this George E. White who was the plaintiff in the most sensational divorce suit ever tried in California perhaps, the evidence in which suit gave the first glimpse to the outside world of the terrible goings-on of this mountain region— the suit which Judge Wilson, in deciding the case against White, declared was without parallel in the history of California for its evident perjury and the shocking character of its testimony, and that every witness for the plaintiff (George E. White) had apparently received his reward or expected to receive it. When they brought the Wylackie Indians over from Tehama County to the reservation there came along John D. Wathan, a white man, who was to ever after be busy in the manufacture of Round Valley history. He was of medium height, rather soft spoken and quiet mannered and wore long light hair flowing over his shoulders. He had been captured as a baby and reared among the Indians, but now, grown to manhood, he had become very influential among them. He was a picturesque orator and often harangued them in their councils. On the reservation he soon became of great service as an interpreter. But he met George E. White, who at once recognized qualities that recommended him, and Wylackie John, as he was called, entered the service of White to remain his faithful lieutenant until his death.

Wylackie John was a remarkable man — remarkable in his way as is White in his. He had no small vices; he did not dissipate, he did not smoke or chew tobacco, he dressed well for this mountain country, kept himself neat, was always suave and polite, touching his hat to the passer-by upon the road, inquiring with interest after one’s health. With these graces he was wholly without honor, entirely unscrupulous, a robber, a murderer, a poisoner, a perjurer, having an absolute genius for planning evil.

All of his talents he employed with tireless energy in the interest of his master. He located men on land which they were to turn over to White for a song the moment they proved up. Did a settler come into the country to take up land Wylackie put another man on the same land with instructions to shoot the other man when he could so safely, and to trust to him (Wylackie John) to prove an alibi or a case of self-defense.

When he invaded the surrounding country after other people’s sheep or cattle he would station bands of other sheep or cattle at different points along the trail and so cross it with their tracks as to confuse pursuit. If he contracted large debts the creditor died. He imposed obligations to do murder upon the ranch hands upon pain of discharge, and perhaps death, if they refused, and the promise of a reward if they complied, and then when they complied refused to pay the reward, but held the knowledge of the crime over them to enforce subjection.

When any of these men became restive and showed signs of giving trouble they died through the workings of the same agency, and the dangers of that sort of thing were soon understood. In one instance well known he himself shot his man from ambush after the manner of the recent Littlefield murder. In another he pleaded guilty to a killing that he had nothing to do with (except to plan it), and on the worn plea of self-defense went free as he knew he would. He marshaled a gang of perjurers who blasted the good name of his employer’s first wife, thereby procuring the divorce he sought; he was preparing to do the same in the case of the second wife when the good lady fortunately died, and he was actively engaged in performing the same service in the case of the third wife when her brother put a ball through his dark and busy brain. Wylackie John was a valuable man in his way.

Joseph Le Van and his brother were among the early victims of Wylackie’s genius and White’s greed. They went into Potter Valley and undertook to raise sheep. Wylackie John soon after led a party over there and made an attack on the house in the disguise of Indians. The Le Van boys made their escape in the darkness, and their house was burned and cattle killed. They left the country. On the way over Wylackie had invited a young man named Nowlin to join the party, but he so indignantly refused that he became objectionabJe.

Nowlin and one H. C. Hembree took up some land in Trinity County on which the sheep of George E. White had been grazing. Two men were sent to drive White’s flocks upon the pasture. Nowlin and Hembree ordered them off the land, and when they refused to go lifted their rifles and threatened to shoot. They were shortly after arrested for an attack with deadly weapons, taken to Weaverville and detained for months in jail. Hembree was tried, and despite a fine assortment of perjury he was acquitted. Both were then set free and returned to their ranch to find their home and fences burned, their flocks dispersed, all their improvements destroyed and White’s Sheep occupying the range. Nowlin, however, went to work again on the place, and was then told that he would be killed.

One day shortly afterward Newt Irvin, then employed by the White Brothers, was discovered approaching the house. He was one of the two who had driven the White sheep on the land before. Nowlin asked him his business, but Irvin, without reply, continued to approach. It is said he made an attempt to draw a revolver, but it became caught in the lining of his coat, and Nowlin drew his gun and killed him. Nowlin traveled sixty miles to Weaverville, reported the killing and gave himself up. At the trial George Burgess, who in the previous case had been the friend and counsel for Nowlin, now enlisted with the other side and did what he could to convict him. Perjury was employed against him again, and he was sent to San Quentin for eight years. Before the Supreme Court, when the case was taken there, an affidavit was presented from Alexander McPherson to the effect that George White and John Wathan (Wylackie John), had admitted to him(McPherson) that they had sent Newt Irvin to the Nowlin place to kill Nowlin; that when they learned that Irvin had, instead, been killed, they sent another man to take the weapons away from the body, so that it would appear Nowlin had killed an unarmed man; that they had also several witnesses to swear falsely at the trial, and that they “owned the Judge up there anyhow, and he would do as they wanted.”

Then came McPherson’s turn—one of the most pitiable cases of them all. Wylackie John, before he came into the valley, had been engaged in a liaison with McPherson’s wife— for he was accomplished in love-making, too. He induced McPherson, who was a decent and industrious man and was well-to-do, to come there with wife and children and invest some $5000 in a stock-range. With the passage of time the liaison with Mrs. McPherson became irksome, however, and threatened to be troublesome as well for Wylackie became engaged to another woman — the Anthony girl, whom he afterward married.

While still carefully shielding himself, it was easy to make trouble in the McPherson family that soon grew to a point where divorce was talked of and Wylackie took a long look ahead, that all things might be made to work together for his good. He now induced Mrs. McPherson to give him a bill of sale and deed for the property as a means of saving it from McPherson in the event of a separation. Another of the gang worked upon McPherson in the same way, while Wylackie played lago, directing McPherson’s suspicion against Brady Tuttle, White’s hired vaquero. He did this so successfully that McPherson came home one day and discovered such evidence of his wife’s guilt with Tuttle that he shot her to death.

Jim Neafus, one of the tools of the gang, was in the house at the time, and McPherson turned the gun on him, but he pleaded hard and was spared. McPherson threw his gun upon his shoulder and started in search of Tuttle. Neafus arrived at the corral ahead of him, and as Tuttle was about to step out in answer to McPherson’s call warned him not to do so. They were shearing sheep at the corral, and seeing McPherson preparing to shoot the men opened fire upon him. Thus, Wylackie’s plan was carried safely to its conclusion— the McPhersons were out of the way with deeds for their valuable property in the hands of the gang. Husband and wife were thrown under the ground, the children shipped to the poorhouse and the estate confiscated.

The Parkwood brothers came into the valley looking for work. They were not scrupulous and were engaged. They were commissioned to drive away a “settler named Johnson, who had bought an enclosed ranch for $1200 and was industriously at work upon it. They went on the range with cattle, threatened to kill Johnson, and were successful in scaring him away. Wylackie John appropriated the property and paid the Packwoods $70. They wanted more, and kept asking for it until they became an absolute bother. Wylackie John, Ben Pickett, Bill Cox, George Kindred and three others held a council and decided that somebody “ought to take a shot at the Packwoods,” and lots were drawn as to who should do it. The job fell to Pickett, but he said the Packwoods had always treated him right, and he declined in favor of some other. They tried again, and Kindred drew it. Gus Packwood was induced to accompany the gang into the mountains under pretense of going to Coxe’s house to pet, some money he owed him. They stopped at a spring to rest, and Packwood threw himself on the ground. Kindred walked to and kneeled behind a fallen log, and from there, while the others stood coolly by and looked on, fired a load of buckshot into his back. This was the case that Wylackie John took upon himself, declaring he (Wylackie) had fired the shot in self-defense. Two men who visited the scene the following day found Packwood’s gun, the hammer of which was down, but no impression upon the cap appeared. They fired it readily, proving that the cap had not snapped. But with this evidence, and the fact that the man was shot in the back, the Judge gravely decided that the plea of self defense was good.

Robert Greves, who took up a ranch of 150 acres on Eel River, was shot by Johnny White while he was in the company of Wilson Lloyd. Wylackie paid Lloyd $1000 to leave the country and not appear against White. Lloyd took the money and went away, followed down the trail by Wylackie. Diligent search has been made for Lloyd by Masons, of which order he was a member, but he has not since been heard of. “Uncle” Johnny White was tried at Weaverville, claimed the shooting was accidental, and was acquitted. Tom Steele was offered $300 if he would kill an Italian rancher named Ed Bizza. Steele became so indignant, threatening instead to kill Henry Peterson, the man who made the offer.” That got him disliked and it became only a matter of time with him. Among Steele’s cattle was a maverick cow that did not belong to him, but which had never been branded. It remained there for two years and nobody claimed her. The vaqueros advised Steele to brand her and at last he did so. He was promptly arrested on a charge of stealing one of George White’s cattle, was tried, the evidence brought forward was overwhelming and Steele was sent to San Quentin for three years and his property was appropriated.

George Ericson, an honest Norwegian, took a place and showed every disposition to be decent. He was a good woodsman and an honest man, besides being a dead shot, brave and able to cope with a crowd of the ambushers in a fair fight and did not fear them. He was subjected to every kind of outrage known to the gang, his stock run off, his fences broken, false charges brought against him in the courts until he was almost ruined financially, but still he stayed and defied them. Then a Dane named Schappe was sent to shoot him. The ball went wide of its mark and Ericson sent seventeen bullets after the fellow, that were made to whistle about his ears, throw dust upon him, bark the trees near him and thoroughly frighten him, which was all Ericson desired to do, as he knew Schappe to be merely a weak-witted knave.

Ericson was arrested upon a charge of assault to murder and held by the subservient magistrates for trial. The District Attorney failed to file an information and the case lapsed. Ericson refused to accept the warning though and stayed with his claim, confident that he had daunted the gang. It was not long afterward that Ericson’s riderless horse came out of the woods, the saddle smirched with blood. Ericson had friends in the outer world and Detective Lawson of San Francisco was employed on the case. He secured evidence showing that John Norris, G. F. Trogdon, George Orr, Ben Arthur and Deputy Sheriff George Kuntz had subscribed $125 each to hire a man to kill Ericson. George Orr was selected and the $500 was placed in the hands of Norris, to be paid when earned. A band of sheep had been driven over the trail to obliterate the tracks, but they did not do so wholly. Orr and Kuntz were arrested and Orr subsequently confessed.

The two waited for their man on the trail which Ericson must follow returning from Hettenchow. They tired of waiting and went to the mountain side to fix a fence, but fearing Ericson might pass Kuntz took his gun and returned to the trail. Presently Orr heard four shots and Kuntz returned.
“Well, I got some big game down there,” he said. “What was it?”
“George Ericson.”

“What were the four shots about?” “To fool any one who might have heard the shooting. They would lay it to some poor shot and never suspect me. I shot him in the back as he rode by on his mule. He threw up his hands and yelled and rode on. But he’s fixed.”

The sheep men had heard the shots, saw the riderless horse, and found the body, which was unarmed.
Kuntz took a cool part in the gossip about the murder, and offered to furnish the boards for the coffin, for which he charged the family $250. When he came to placing the body in the box, however, he quailed so visibly as to provoke comment.

Poison was frequently used to clear the country of men too decent for the gang, or who began to know or talk too much. Quantities of strychnine are used by the woodsmen for the killing of bears, and so it was always obtainable. Newt Irwin before he was shot by Nowlin engendered ill will by telling how he had been offered $500 to kill Nowlin. He was presented with a quarter of beef, but on his way home gave a piece of the meat to his dog, who promptly died, and thus saved his master’s life.

Nowlin himself, while defying the gang to open warfare, so feared this method of attack that he educated himself to taking large quantities of the poison by a course of graduated doses. He never ate any food without first trying it on his dogs. Among the victims to poison, only one instance need be named. His name was Staggs. He had considerable property, some money, 1200 sheep and rented the Alder Point Range, on Eel River, from White. He was found dead in bed, poisoned, one morning and his property missing.

But of murder this is enough. They are merely sample cases.

Some readers may recognize the article from when the AVA posted it five years ago. We will return next week with THE HORRIBLE HISTORY OF ROUND VALLEY, PT. 2.

Categories: MendoHistory

4 replies »

  1. A CALL TO (BIBLICAL) FASTING AND PRAYER. 🙏

    Calling the ENTIRE body of JESUS CHRIST throughout Mendocino County to UNITE on ;

    FRIDAY NOVEMBER 19th, 2021
    8:00a.m. To 8:00 p.m.

    For a day of fasting for our people and our land.
    (Emphasis on our public service officers)
    Repentance for sin
    Salvation through Jesus Christ
    Healing county wide
    (with emphasis on Covelo, Ca. )

    Out of a spirit of love and humility. Please call your local pastor and ask to have the 3rd Friday of every month dedicated for this cause!
    I believe we can see a change in Mendocino County.

    2 Chronicles 7:14
    “If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

  2. Thank you Matt, Kim and ESP David Heller for putting this together and publishing Again !
    Excellent book on the subject w esp focus on N Ca……: An American Genocide and a California Catastrophe, 1846- 1873 by : UCLA History Professor Benjamin Madley.

    Another thanks to Joy La Clair on Forthright Radio ( still carried by KZYX……if you go to the archives, I highly recommend listening to her interview w Prof Madley )

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