MendoHistory: The Horrible History of Round Valley, Part II

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 his research.

View of Round Valley [Picture courtesy of Wikipedia–Round Valley and Adjacent hills taken from the SW—1858]

MendoHistory returns to the San Francisco Call’s correspondent’s story of Round Valley during the reign of George E. White. Last week’s graphic history of the dark and bloody tragedies of Round Valley continues with a history of White’s marriages and the extent to which he was willing to go to rid himself of Frankie, his third wife during their 1887 divorce proceedings (she was incorrectly identified as wife number two last week).

In 1880, Lyman Palmer’s History of Mendocino published Frank Asbill’s “claim” to have been the first Euro-American to view Round Valley and give it its name. In last week’s article, George White’s claim of being the first to see Round Valley in 1853 was discussed and dismissed, but it showed that the subject of the first white man in the valley was not settled in 1895. Palmer stated that Frank and Pierce Asbill had joined up with Samuel Kelsey’s party who were enroute to the South fork of the Trinity River. On May 15, 1854, after camping near the middle fork of the Eel River, Frank Asbill went searching for their horses, climbed a rise and gazed out over a circular valley. A few days later, from a different direction, a party that included George White, James White, Clarence White, Calvin White, George Hudspeth, and Dr. Atkinson entered the valley and saw a freshly blazed trail and a tree with Kelsey initials carved into it.

There were earlier non-Native visitors to the valley, Native history has preserved stories of parties of Spaniards, fur trappers, and individual white men who came before the Asbills. A number of men have taken credit for being the first to see the valley. An “old settler” writing under the pen name Peter Pendulum in 1871 corrected a San Francisco paper’s article that claimed that William Potter had first seen Round Valley:

“Your correspondent speaks of Potter as the discoverer of the valley. He certainly is wrong. Kelsey was employed by the people of Sonoma county in 1850 to blaze a trail from the settlements in that county, to Weaverville in Trinity county. He did so—he and his party passing through this valley. His blazed trail was used til quite recently. In 1857 the writer found a tree marked “S. Kelsey, Round Valley, 1850,” in the north end of the valley. One year acorns were plenty on this tree, and the red man chopped it down—thus destroying the only monument, I might say, of the real discoverer of the valley”(SF Bulletin, 11/28/1875).

As Palmer wrote in his preface:
“Owing to the transitory state of society during the early days of California, it is impossible, at this remote period, to fix the exact dates of many occurrences, or to get at the full truth of the matter”(Palmer, 1880:v).

A 1850 date on the tree would be consistent with the known flight/migration of the Kelsey clan from their land at Kelseyville, Lake county to Humboldt county. Is this the same tree that the Asbill’s recorded as dated 1854, or a more reliable revisionist fact? At the very least, the historic record has another candidate for the “discovery” of Round Valley… that is, by a member of a race of people who hadn’t been living there for thousands of year.
Historian’s obsession aside, let us proceed along to the conclusion of the article about George E. White and his band of assassins and perjurers.


San Francisco Call
October 21, 1895
The gloomy story may well be relieved just here by an illustration of Wylackie John’s qualify at plain theft. A settler in the valley owned a valuable colt which would exactly match one of White’s. When it disappeared and he saw it in White’s herd he sued to recover it and the case was heard in Weaverville. The colt was tied outside while the usual hard swearing was going on in the courthouse.

At the noon recess White invited the court, lawyers and jury to the saloon across the street. While there Wylackie John brought White’s colt from a neighboring barn, where he had him concealed, tied him up in front of the courthouse, mounted the stolen horse and rode with all speed for Round Valley. When the judge and jury, returning to the courthouse, wiping their whiskers, stopped to inspect the colt they found him wearing the White brand and none other.

It was talent like this that was directed as energetically toward securing evidence against the several Mrs. Whites when his master wished to rid himself of them for one purpose or another. It was this man who engineered the case against the third wife, Frankie White, the startling sensations of which followed one another in rapid succession. In deciding that case in the wife’s favor Judge Wilson said it was without a parallel as to quantity, variety and the black depth of the perjury perpetrated.

George E. White- San Francisco Call, 6/12/1896
George E. White- San Francisco Call, 6/12/1896

George E. White, the autocrat of Round Valley and all the surrounding country, is not an ordinary man — that need not be said. A giant in stature, of powerful physique, he is as relentless as he is pitiless when once he determines upon the ruin of an enemy. He has had three wives. The first he put upon a horse with her child and sent her away, promising to come to her, but he never did. She got a divorce and he settled with her for $650— for he was not a rich man then— and never saw her again until she appeared as a witness against him in the third wife’s case seventeen years afterward.

He took a trip to Virginia and brought back a beautiful young bride, who subsequently died while White, it is said, was preparing to bring suit for divorce.

Then he met Frankie White, a child, the daughter of a cousin. She was a graceful modest little thing, with large, soft dark eyes, a sweet mouth and winsome manners. He invited her to visit him, sent her to school for a few years and married her. Her folks thought she had made a great match, for White was now rich. The dream was short lived, however, and what she was to learn of sorrow in the after years her husband’s principality multiplied many times could hardly compensate her for. White’s brutal, cold, selfish nature, once she was his wife, unfold itself to her in such swift passes as to amaze and paralyze her. She discovered that he was dealing in counterfeit money, and this annoyed him. Then her elder sister, a young widow, came to the Round Valley mansion and soon, with a terror that felt like doom in the first shock, and then through the anguish of lagging months stole sleep, bleached her cheek and caused her to forget the comfort of tears, she first suspected and then knew that she had cause for jealousy.

White first put the sister in charge of a roadside inn which he owns on the road between Round Valley and Ukiah. His trips to Ukiah became frequent and long continued, the anxiety of the young wife at home growing intensity during every hour— her sister, husband, both suspected.

Then he set up a splendid establishment on Claremount Avenue, Alameda, and made the sister its mistress.

The young wife knocked at the door of that mansion one night and created consternation there while changing suspicion into realization. She did not return to Round Valley, but went across the bay and took up her residence at the Russ House. Had this not been fully sufficient she had other reasons for desiring no more of Round Valley. She had a few days before overheard her husband and Wylackie John plotting to kill her.

Then followed the suit for divorce that attracted National attention. White charged his wife with all the sins that, proven, may secure a divorce. He knew he would find it difficult, even with his host of professional perjurers, to prove any of them, and so when her counsel, at her instance, offered to accept a settlement for $10,000, he assented. When the lawyer demanded security however, he refused. Then the wife filed a cross-complaint, making allegations as to what she knew and the fight began.

Wylackie John was in his element, early and late he applied himself to making evidence. His fertile resources — the resources of Round Valley — were exhausted in this case. They would not stake all upon one line of action; if among the men found willing to blacken her character for money they discovered one hold enough to ”do” for her that would simplify the matter and save much expense was away from Round Valley and his colony of men skilled at shooting defenseless persons in the back, were not available.

White sought the advice of a medium — for was a firm believer in spiritualism. She told him that a red-headed man would prove his savior in this difficulty. He was delighted and told Wylackie to find the man.

“Brick” McPherson was an attache of the Russ House and his hair was red. Did he know Mrs. White? Certainly. Would he undertake to compromise her and furnish proof of it? Certainly. Then he could call upon White for $2000. It was enough.

McPherson’s ready assent to the dirty business suggested that he might be that bolder man that they were looking for. He was introduced to White and White suggested a buggy ride to Bolinas — he and Mrs. White — when the horses might be driven over an embankment. If Mrs. White was not killed he could beat her head with a rock and the “accident” would free him from suspicion. White and Wylackie would be driving a little distance behind and come up to his assist. Horrified at the suggestion McPherson said he would consider it. He sought an interview with Mrs. White whom he had not known before and told her all about it. She consulted her attorneys, they met McPherson and advised him to keep up a play of assent to White’s plans. McPherson saw White and advised him against such radical measures.

“If you do this thing there is $2000 in it for you,” exclaimed White impatiently. “Kill her, I don’t care how; throw her in the bay, anything, so you get rid of her.”

But McPherson temporized and finally drew White away from this plan. He said there would be no difficulty about securing evidence that would secure a divorce and carry such effect in court that the alimony or any other money award would be nominal. He agreed that White himself should be a witness. It was planned that he (White) should see Mrs. White in a room with him (McPherson) under all essential criminating conditions.

All parties kept the engagement. McPherson and Mrs. White went over on the 3 o’clock boat, on which was also a detective watching them. Mr. and Mrs. Willis Ostender also went on the same boat as friends of Mrs. White. McPherson and Mrs. White took a carriage from South Vallejo, while Mr. and Mrs. Ostender walked over.

The rendezvous was the Wilson House. White went out by a later train. It was arranged that he with his detectives should come to and break into the room at in o’clock at night. At that hour he rapped at the door. He heard excited voices within. He summoned the hotel clerk, got a chair and a lamp and endeavored to peer over the transom. While in that attitude the door was suddenly opened by Mrs. White’s attorneys and the door of a room across the hall opened at the same time and Mrs. White and Mr. and Mrs. Ostender appeared there.

This plan had failed. All the current epithets and expressions of contempt were applied to the man and his hirelings, and they sneaked away, declaring they had been deceived, which was quite true. Wylackie saw he would have to depend upon his Round Valley men after all, and so began to teach them the parts he expected them to play. This, for instance, is the story he required James Neafus to relate under oath and Frederick Armstrong with him:

“On a certain night in September, 1884, I was riding from Covelo to the house of George E. White, and on the way we were overtaken by Frederick Armstrong, who proceeded with us. When we arrived at the house of George E. White we put up our horses and went and sat on the well curb and ate some apples which Wathan had procured. About half an hour after we arrived, it being then about half-past 8 in the evening, we saw a man crawling down the backstairs without a coat on and his shoes in his hand. Wathan suggested that we take our boots off and follow him. We did so. He went around the house, through the garden, over the porch and into Mrs. White’s room. We looked through the blinds and saw him get in bed and then turn out the light.”

For several nights in succession, in order to perfect them in their parts, Wylackie took Neafus and Armstrong over the ground, showing them just how the thing was done. He sat them on the well curb and showed them where the man — who was said to be John Rohrbough, Mrs. White’s cousin and manager of White’s estate — crawled “down with his coat off and shoes in hand,” and then he followed the course described around the house and showed them the blinds that they were to peer through into the bedroom.

Wathan — Wylackie John — scoured Covelo for an almanac to discover if the moon was up in the latter part of September; he got a lamp and placed it on the bureau by the bed, showed them how the man was to come down the back stairs and how they were to follow him; how the man might enter the room and how the blinds might be turned so that they could see him.

Brady Tuttle and old man Kendricks and a battalion of others gathered every night in the orchard or the adjoining fields and practiced their several parts. Some of them had Wylackie to write out their testimony for them. He complained that Brady Tuttle’s head was so thick that he could not get anything through it. When they came down for the trial all the witnesses were kept together at the Ahlborn House under Wylackie’s careful supervision. Every night preceding the trial he gathered them together in a room and put them through their lessons, so that they might make no slip, especially the important ones, George Morrison Sr. and Jr.— father and son — Fred Armstrong, Lew Willis. Brady Tuttle, Edward Goggins, J. B. Neafus and old man Kendricks.

They were all to be paid according to the value of their performance, some being promised as high as $300. The Morrisons’ story was next in importance to that of Neafus and Armstrong, for they were to say they saw Mrs. White and Rohrbough on another occasion together in the brush by the road side.

Before the trial Mrs. White always declared her belief that her “Cousin Johnny” Rohrbough, whom she had always treated kindly and who had seemed to be her friend, would never permit the charge to be made in his name. But she was disappointed. Rohrbough was in a most unfortunate position for a weak man who was disposed to be decent. He was, or thought he was, in George White’s will for a large sum which, to refuse to do White’s bidding, was to sacrifice. On the other hand the world must forever hold him as the most despicable of men if he did assent to it, even if what they said were true. Judge Wilson in his decision referred to him, saying that the meanest of the perjured witnesses would scarcely change places with him. For he did not only assent to it, but paid some of the witnesses money and helped them out of town.

When it came to the last test Neafus weakened a little. He balked at the point where they “looked through the window,” but said he returned to the well curb while Wathan and Armstrong looked through the window. White was good enough not to find fault with him for this, but he got but little more for his services than a cheap suit of clothes and a few odd dollars. Armstrong told the full story as given.

This trial was begun in December, 1887. White claimed to have a great number of witnesses in the vicinity of Covelo who could not come to the City, and during the Christmas adjournment of the court the lawyers and Court Stenographer Riley went to Covelo to take their depositions.

Here Wylackie John was perfectly at home. He was very busy bringing men and women forward with corroborative evidence, George E. White being present, a close watcher of every witness. The proceedings ran on for several days, the little town and surrounding country being wrought to the highest degree of excitement, every resident being summoned to testify on one side or the other.

Mrs. White had for her active champion her brother Clarence, a young man then of but 24 years, but whose courage and prowess had often been tested and had won him the respect of the boldest. He was of medium height and slight build, but had that in his steady brown eye and confident bearing that often made bigger men quail. As a boy of 17 he had joined Sheriff Standley in pursuit of a gang of outlaws and his duel in the woods in which he killed the leader, Billings, was not forgotten history. He had worked for George E. “White and knew him as he knew Wylackie John and what they would do to gain their ends, and were doing.

The Gibson House, Covelo, Where Clarence White Shot Wylackie John –SF Call 10-21-1895
The Gibson House, Covelo, where Clarence White Shot Wylackie John –SF Call 10-21-1895

It was a cold day during the Christmas week, there was a heavy fall of snow in the valley. By sleds and in their winter furs, the witnesses, men and women, were being marshaled for the inquiry in the Gibson House, the one pretentious building in town, now closed, however, and falling into decay. The saloon opposite was crowded with spurred and pistoled cowboys, most of whom, while employed as adherents of White, were secretly disgusted at the assault which they saw being made upon the good name of a woman whom they felt was above reproach.

The father as well as the brother of Mrs. White watched the energetic efforts of Wylackie John with growing wrath and a lieutenant warned him to beware.

“I am ready,” he answered, showing the outline of a revolver against his overcoat pocket. He was then conducting a woman into the inquiry room. It was the parlor of the hotel on the ground floor, and he entered by the door at the end of the building to the right of the main entrance.

Clarence White, the brother, saw the woman enter, knew her character and what might be expected of her, and immediately crossed the street with the purpose of advising his sister’s attorney, McPike, concerning her.

Wylackie John had crossed through the room and come out into the central hallway, and there met Clarence.

“Where are you going?” he said.

“To speak to McPike about this lying woman you have just taken in there.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Who will prevent me?”

With an oath Wylackie exclaimed, “I will— l’ll just ‘do’ you right now!”

Young White wore a long ulster overcoat, buttoned, it is said, to his feet. His revolver was not in a case, but stuck loosely in his trousers belt in front. He did not attempt to unbutton his coat, but pulled it up as a woman might an apron.

Wylackie’s gun caught in a hole of the pocket, it is supposed, for he was too slow, and the crack of the revolver which startled the lawyers inside was not of his. He fell on the stairs with a hole near the right temple, which extended through his brain.

When McPike hurriedly opened the door Clarence was standing over the dying King of intriguers, saying:

“You will pull a revolver on me, will you?”

Clarence White, the man who shot Wylackie John in 1888 -San Francisco Call, 10/21/1895

“Wylackie John dead!”

That was news indeed In Round Valley, and besides the effect it produced upon the men closest to White, who were Wylackie’s lieutenants, it meant chaos for a time in the network of Round Valley intrigue. For the little pellet of lead had scattered the brains that directed it all.

There was talk of lynching, of course, but, perfectly calm, young White stepped across into Henley’s store, secured a rifle and ammunition and announced himself as ready. But Wylackie was dead, and it does not take a man long to lose influence once he is dead. It was found now that he had many enemies, and Clarence White had always had many friends. He was simply required to give bonds in $5000, which he readily did.

White versus White had been carried to San Francisco by a change of venue, as stated, and for months it furnished a succession of sensations, among them being White’s first wife, whom he had thought dead, coming to testify against him. Frank Salladay, another witness, came nearly all the way from Round Valley on foot, swimming the turbulent Eel River in winter, to tell how offers of money had been made him to testify to improper conduct on the part of Mrs. White. At the end of it all the court awarded Mrs. White the divorce on her cross plea, awarded her also all the community property, of a value of $100,000, besides handsome alimony for months before.

In the scatterment of the witnessess of whose perjury the court was convinced, there was terror, recrimination, and in many cases a swift retribution. Clamoring for their pay White gave many of them only enough to get out of town, which in their fear of arrest, of which he took advantage, they were compelled to accept.

One of them — old man Kendrick, an overseer on the farm— dropped dead on his way back, and another was drowned while crossing Eel River.

J. B. Neafus, who was trained to tell the story about eating apples on the well curb and of seeing Johnny Rohrbough climb into Mrs. White’s room, was subsequently sent to San Quentin for holding up a stage. John Rohrbough had given him $5 with which to get out of town, and White had bought a cheap suit of clothes for him. When he demanded more money White gave him a rifle and told him to go and get it. It was for following the suggestion that he was sent to San Quentin, where he afterward made affidavit to all the facts related concerning his testimony.

Clarence White was tried at Ukiah for killing Wylackie John and promptly acquitted. Such satisfaction was shown over the verdict that even the Judge got drunk and so noisy that the Sheriff attempted to arrest him.

Wylackie John had quite an estate in his own name, and it is said that White, immediately after he was dead, attempted to get it away from the widow. Sylvester Palmer, a man who was in his employ, married the widow, and from that day the bitter, relentless enmity of White has worked trouble for him.

He has been required to defend himself against charges of cattle-stealing so often that he confesses himself now almost ruined. Only a few days ago White made charges against him before the United States Grand Jury for stealing a calf from the Indian reservation, and an indictment was found, so that he will no sooner get through with the pending case in Ukiah than he will have to come to this City and defend himself here. He declares himself innocent of all these charges and in every case hitherto juries have declared him to be so.

Jack Littlefield, who was shot to death and hanged a few days ago on Red Mountain, thirty miles north of Round Valley, was Palmer’s head vaquero.

J. N. Vinton, who was shot in the breast some days before, but who is recovering, was a vaquero in White’s employ. The story of how, two days after the Vinton shooting, seven men went to arrest Littlefield, who was charged with the Vinton shooting; how only two made the arrest, and these two, first disarming him, afterward led him away into the mountains, where he was shot and then hanged by an alleged mob, has been told. It has been told, also, how it is believed by many that Littlefield did not shoot Vinton and” that those who shot Littlefield knew he did not, but took advantage of that shooting to cover their cold-blooded murder of Littlefield with the appearance of justifiable vengeance. If this be found to be true, then the Constable who made the arrest and disarmed Littlefield and led him to where he was shot, will be held with others for the murder, and Ves Palmer will know to a certainty that his murder was also planned and intended at the same time.

Joe Gregory was acquitted in Ukiah on Saturday of the charge of cutting Littlefield almost to death. But he was one of that party of seven who left Tom Hayden’s house to arrest Littlefield. He was subsequently on that jury of nine with a Justice of the Peace at its head that declared simply that “Littlefield was shot and came to his death,” and who after, was doubled the body up and dumped it in a small hole two feet deep. It was he who scraped the congealed blood from the dead man’s neck, pointed to the long, ugly scar there, saying, “See, I did that and I have seen him carry it to his grave. No, we need no box for him: it is easier for me to say God d—— than God bless him.”

This is something — from the beginning until now — of the story of Round valley.

There, can you see it? Just above the green of that distant clump of trees the sun is touching the church spire at Covelo.
Beautiful, but God!


Categories: MendoHistory

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