Genealogy Trails Placer County, California
Disasters, Crime, & Law

Another Great Storm and Flood ~ Jan. 1862
Auburn Fire ~ June 1855
Auburn Fire ~ Oct. 1864
Auburn Fire ~ Oct. 1915
Colfax Fire ~ April 1874
Flood in Auburn Ravine – Great Damage ~Mar. 1859
Forest Hill Fire ~ Sept. 1873
Iowa Hill Fire ~ Feb. 1857
Iowa Hill Fire ~ March 1862
Sheridan in Ashes ~ August 1891
Loomis Fire ~ July 1915
Michigan Bluff Fire ~ July 1857
Todd Valley Fire ~ Sept. 1869
Munitions Explosion ~ April 1973
Crime News
Court Items
Sam Aston, Placer's First Sheriff

Crime News...
Plead Guilty

Chas. Gregor, who was arrested at Auburn for forging a check on D.A. Faulknor, of this place, plead guilty when brought to preliminary examination at Rocklin last Tuesday.
[Woodland Daily Democrat | Woodland, California | Friday, January 03, 1890. Submitted by Kim Torp.]

Triple Murder at Rocklin

Our community was thrown in the greatest excitement last Saturday by the horrifying announcement that two men and a woman had been murdered by Chinese near the neighboring town of Rocklin, fourteen miles below here on the railroad. Upon inquiry, it was ascertained that one man and the woman were dead, the third being yet alive but that no hopes were entertained of his recovery. The murdered parties were discovered under the following circumstances: George Oswald, with his family, drove out of Rocklin for an airing on the afternoon named in the direction of Sargent’s ranch which is nearly two miles from Rocklin. When near the vineyard, the little boy asked permission to go and get some grapes. His father told him to go to the house and ask Mr. Sargent for some. The child went to the house but presently came running back affrighted, saying he saw a woman lying on the floor all covered with blood. His father took occasion to satisfy himself of the truth of the matter by going to the house himself to see. As he neared the premises, he saw a couple of men running away but was unable to recognize them. He found the woman dead, but the body was yet warm. The assassins shot her twice and then struck her on the head with an axe. Mr. Oswald hastily made his way to a point on the railroad where a gang of section hands were at work. Hurriedly telling them the story, a hand car was at once dispatched to town to raise the alarm. When the officers arrived on the scene, accompanied by a number of citizens, a search was instituted which soon resulted in the discovery of Xavier Louis Oder, the husband, a short distance from the house, dead. He had received three shots. A chase after the fugitives who had been seen by Mr. Oswald brought to light the third victim, Mr. Sargent, who was found in a clump of bushes, face downward, moaning. He had been shot five times and was left for dead by the murderers. Upon being interrogated, he then said that Ah Sam, a Chinese cook at Mr. Grant’s, Penryn, and another larger one had come to him negotiating for a mining claim. He went with them to the claim and while returning, they treacherously attacked him with the result above stated. He further stated that he had received $120 a couple of days before from a Chinaman for a claim and that the money was at the house in a trunk. This trunk, it was subsequently found, had been broken open by means of an axe – the same one that had been used in the murder of Mrs. Oder no doubt, and the money was gone. This establishes the motive of the butchery. The tracks the officers had been following when they came to where Sargent was lying led directly to a Chinese cabin in which three Chinese were found, one of whom was in bed and sweating as though he had been having violent exercise. All three were arrested, together with a number of others whom Constable S. C. Clow and some citizens had captured a little beyond in another cabin. One of the prisoners, being thoroughly frightened, said the murderers were Ah Sam and Ah Jim. But he would tell no more – probably feeling sure that he would be killed by his countrymen if he did. On the person of one of the prisoners $120 was found – the sum missing from the rifled trunk. Sargent suffered greatly till his death at 9 o’clock Sunday morning. He was buried Sunday afternoon; Mr. and Mrs. Oder on Monday, at which time everyone quit work. The Coroner’s jury, consisting of E. Purdy, John Sweeney, Samuel Trott, J. J. Griffin, Owen Riordan, E. Frick, Charles Cleveland, and P. Fitzgibbons, returned a verdict in the case of H. N. Sargent that he came to his death by wounds inflicted by Ah Sam, Ah Jim, and another Chinaman; in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Oder that they came to their death at the hands of parties unknown. Sheriff McCormick decided to hold four of the prisoners upon the strength of the testimony adduced and had they conveyed to the train upon its arrival at Rocklin for the purpose of transferring them to the county jail at Auburn. An effort was made by the crowd to seize the prisoners with the avowed object of lynching them, but the determined action of the sheriff and his deputies, aided by a posse of citizens who were summoned as special constables, frustrated this design. Fortunately for all concerned, the saloon-keepers of Rocklin refused to permit the sale of liquor that day, for which wise action they are entitled to the thanks of all. The Chinese residents, complying with the orders of a committee of the townspeople, packed up their effects and left town Sunday afternoon. Mr. Sargent was a man of about 40 years of age, an old resident of California, engaged in mining and was highly esteemed by all who knew him. Before his death, he was asked if there was any word he wanted sent to his friends – he said there was no one he cared to write to. Mr. Oder was a native of Bavaria, about 55 years of age, and had his life insured in the Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company of Sacramento for $1,000. His wife was a young woman of 28 or 30 years whose relatives are living in Trenton, New Jersey. There are eight Chinamen in the county jail charged with complicity in the murders, four of whom were brought up on the train Sunday afternoon, the four others having been brought in since then. Among the number is the one upon whose person the supposed missing money was found. He is a large-sized man for a Chinese and had been formerly in the employ of Dr. Crandall of this place. When interviewed in his cell by the writer, he said that he had $110 in silver and $30 in gold in his possession when captured which he earned in Auburn. He left here about two weeks before the murder. Among the others, there is the one who is said to have been negotiating for the claim at the time of the murder. Ah Jim, who formerly worked for Sargent, is another. It is thought he is innocent as he came to the house the day after the murder and was arrested merely on suspicion on account of his name. The name, Ah Jim, moreover, is very common among Chinamen. It is very likely that had he been one of the assassins, the dying man would have said so as he knew him very well. A public meeting was held at Roseville on Monday night, at which it was decided to order all the Chinamen out of town. They left without molestation. The next day the armed men started for the Chinese camps on the Auburn road, at which were some sixty men. The Chinese were ordered to leave before midnight under pain of death. Some “staid not upon the order of going, but went at once.” A gang of twelve refused to go. It is believed that the last Chinaman had left Township No. 1 Wednesday night. About a hundred Chinese have gone to Folsom. At Penryn they have also been ordered away. John Boggs’ Chinaman whose name is Ah Jim – not the Ah Jim already referred to, however – desiring to retain his place told the men that if they would protect him from the vengeance of his countrymen, he could ferret out and deliver up the two murderers for he claims there were no more. The assurance being given, he and Mr. Boggs left Penryn at 2 o’clock Monday morning, mounted, and arrived at Folsom about daybreak. Boggs kept aloof while Ah Jim went to the Chinese quarters, sought out Ah Fook, one of the suspected murderers, and having induced him to smoke opium until he was rendered unconscious, brought in Mr. Boggs who arrested him, and with the aid of a white guard and Ah Jim, brought him to Auburn. The latter ran much danger of being murdered, but he is evidently determined to make good his promise. He has lived in the county about a dozen years and is well and favorably known. In the early part of the week, it was reported that two more victims’ bodies were found but this was a false report. A young man whose name nobody seems to know was understood to say at Rocklin some days before the murders that he was going to work for Sargent as a teamster. Whether he went or not is not known, but he has not been seen or heard of since, although search has been made in every direction.
[Placer Argus (Auburn), 9-22-1877. Submitted by K. Marynik]

Saloon Was Robbed

In the early morning hours of Monday last, the Bank Exchange Saloon, one of the best conducted places in Lincoln, Morelli & Lazzari, proprietors, was entered by a rear window and about $2.80 in change taken from the cash register, and a small quantity of high-grade case goods liquor was also carried away. The rear window was evidently pried open with a jimmy or tool of that character. The manner in which the robbery was committed has rendered the efforts of the officers futile, and there is no clue to work upon of a tangible nature. The deed was probably hurriedly done while the duties of the night watchman called him to another part of town which is ordinarily the habitat of those who might be guilty of such petty thefts. There is an unusually large number of hobos in transit these days, and although Marshal Handling and his efficient deputy, Ed Heryford, keep them “on the move,” a few will, in spite of all vigilance, loiter about in unfrequented and isolated “havens of refuge.” Sometime ago a saloon was robbed in Lincoln, but no liquors were touched. The perpetrators of the latest crime evidently do not belong to a total abstinence league or I. W. W. society.
[Lincoln News-Messenger, 5-8-1914. Submitted by K. Marynik.]

Was It Murder or Accidental Death?


Placer County has a mystery case. Officials at the county seat feel sure that Mrs. Katherin Bluett, a nurse at the Sierra Hospital, Auburn, who died presumably from burns last January, succumbed from poison administered by Eva Rinehart, also a nurse at the same hospital. This is the theory of District Attorney A. E. Clark, who, in connection with the sheriff’s office, has been working on the case for some time. Last Monday, at the instance of Clark, the body of Mrs. Bluett was exhumed at Reno and the stomach and other vital organs taken to San Francisco by an autopsy surgeon. On his report, District Attorney Clark swore to a complaint against Eva Rinehart charging her with having caused the death of her friend and former business partner. Miss Rinehart was arrested in San Jose Tuesday, living under the name of Mrs. Kinkaid. She was married in San Francisco July 21, 1913, and at the time of her arrest was the mother of a month old baby, having kept her marriage a secret until recently. Following her arrest, she made the following statement: “Mrs. Bluett was cleaning gloves with gasoline, which burst into flames. She fell forward on the cement floor of the wash-room, painfully burned about the face, arms and hands. Dr. G. Fay, who attended her, found that she was suffering from conclusion of the brain and uremia, and that she had inhaled flames. She died on January 13th. The day before she died, A. G. Reynolds, agent of a life insurance company in which she held a $10,000 policy, called at her bedside and advised her to make the policy assignable to the beneficiary of her will and not to her estate as she had done in her will. This she did, with Mr. Reynolds and Miss Ida Brown, a nurse, for witnesses. That is the reason no mention of this policy, other than that it be payable to the estate, is found in the will as probated.” Dr. G. Fay of Auburn, who attended Mrs. Bluett on her deathbed, made the following statement: “I know nothing about this case except that Mrs. Bluett had inhaled flames. The external burns were comparatively slight, but in such cases death is not unusual.” All of the insurance policies which Miss Rinehart secured through Mrs. Bluett’s will were written in Auburn within a period of three months immediately prior to her death. One of these was an accident policy in the Travelers’ Accident Insurance Company of Hartford for $3000. Another was a straight life policy for $10,000 in the New York Life. Both of these policies were written by A. E. Reynolds, an agent of Auburn. Still another straight policy was for $2500 in the Prudential. Miss Rinehart also took out insurance policies in a large amount to her estate and made a will in Mrs. Bluett’s favor. Mrs. Kinkaid was taken to Auburn Wednesday evening, where she will be held until her trial comes off.
[Lincoln News-Messenger, 7-17-1914. Submitted by K.Marynik]

Daring Robbery at Daneville

On Sunday night last, one of the most daring and successful robberies was perpetuated at Daneville, a small mining camp on the plains in the western part of this county, that we have ever been called on to chronicle. The robbers, five in number, forced their way into the store of Otto Thiele & Co. after the proprietors had retired to bed and secured the key of the safe, but not being able to open it, they awakened the men and, with threats of death if resistance was offered, compelled one of them to open the safe. The robbers then obtained some $1350 in coin. After securing the treasure, they proceeded to feast themselves from whatever the store offered for a good lunch; appropriating sardines, oysters, and the home-made bread of the storekeepers, and making as merry over their wine as if they were in their own domicile. Before taking their departure, each one of the party provided themselves with a new suit of clothes and left their old ones; and then threatening death to their victims if they attempted to leave the house before morning, made off with their booty. The alarm was given the next morning, and the officers of this place have been on the search ever since. They have plain traces of the rascals and will doubtless have them in custody before many hours.

Placer Herald (Auburn), 3-26-1859. Transcribed by Kathie Marynik]

A Human Brute

Adolph Dresher, evidently a fiend incarnate, who, if the law permitted, should be hanged, then shot thirty-seven times and carted away in the cheapest kind of a wooden kimono and dumped into a garbage heap and incinerated (just as well burn here as hereafter), was arrested a few days ago on complaint of neighbors for frightfully beating his five-year-old stepdaughter. The case was heard before Justice of the Peace Sparks Monday, and the court very justly fined the inhuman monster $50 or the alternative of fifty days in the county jail. Dresher made the novel defense that as he was not an American citizen, he could not be tried in this country for the heinous offense. This happens to be a civilized community, and Justice Sparks took a different view of the matter with the result as above stated. It is really unfortunate that the whipping post and cat-o-nine tails cannot be used in cases of this kind for anyone bearing the semblance of a human being should be made to suffer commensurately with the suffering inflicted upon defenseless ones, especially when children or dumb animals are the helpless sufferers. Dresher is an old offender, as about two months ago his nine-year-old boy was taken away from him on account of his abuse of the child. The little girl who was the last victim of Dresher’s wrath and brutality was covered from her shoulders down with cruel black and blue marks. The charge against Drescher was filed by Dr. John Manson, probation officer who is at all times active in his efforts to protect the little ones from inhuman parents. Both the boy and girl, who are said to be bright children, have been adopted by Mrs. Warren Rogers of Ophir and will be given a good home. Drescher, upon the death of his first wife, sent back to the “old country” for her sister, his present wife, whom on general principles we pity for her unfortunate association with such a man who, to speak mildly, of his just deserts, should be wearing stripes and breaking rock over at Folsom and forced to subsist on a meager diet. And by the way, that reminds us. There is a foreign family or two in Lincoln, one of whom recently suffered from a loss by fire who are alleged to be veritable brutes in the treatment of their children. They will be reported to the probation officer. And a man living in the Mt. Pleasant District is accused by neighbors of frightfully abusing his horses. The County Humane officer has been notified.

[Lincoln News-Messenger, 9-18-1914. Submitted by K. Marynik]

Stage Robbery

Tuesday morning the Auburn and Georgetown Stage was stopped at the top of the hill on the south side of the river, and Wells Fargo & Co’s Express box taken. The robber realized nothing by his daring feat as the box contained nothing of value. The stage contained a lady and two children, but they were not molested. A package of silver coin of the value of $105 was overlooked, though it lay right alongside the express box in the boot. This package, having been shipped from Greenwood, was not placed in the box and consequently escaped the clutches of the robber. One man performed the job. He was armed with a carbine and a revolver and seemed to understand his business. He was seen lounging around the station the day before, and being easily identified, will doubtless be captured.

[Placer Weekly Argus (Auburn), Saturday, 10-21-1876. Submitted by K. Marynik]

Court Items

A few days ago, Deputy Sheriff Cooke arrested two men at Gold Run, one by the name of Brown, the other familiarly known by the cognomen of “Jack of Clubs.” They are both section men on railroad repairs. They had been guilty, in company with “John Barleycorn,” of disturbing the peace and quiet of the good citizens of that town, and especially of two young ladies by the name of Smith, most estimable and well behaved women who are striving to earn an honest livelihood by their own handiwork. These two knights of the spade became “unco fou” under the influence of John B. and broke into the residence of the aforesaid ladies about 10 o’clock PM, who rushed from the house in great fright and with a wonderful exhibit of lung power. The neighbor men took the mischievous chiefs from the house, took them home, and in the morning Cooke took them up where they were taken aback to the tune of $25.00 each, except old Barleycorn who as usual was let off scott free, without even a reprimand.

[Dutch Flat Forum, Thursday, 10-21-1875. Submitted by KKM]


*Girl Kills Sweetheart*

Auburn, Cal., June 7 – Joe Armes, a young man of this place, was shot and killed by Miss Alma Bell, a girl of his own age. The shooting took place on a highway west of this city. The girl was found hidden in the brush near the scene. When taken to the jail she confessed she had killed Armes because he refused to marry her. [The Ontario Argus (Ontario, OR) Friday, June 11, 1909 Contributed by The History of Today]



Looking Backward – Sam Aston, Placer’s First Sheriff

Sam was an early California character, strikingly fitting the times and conditions. Physically he was a fine specimen of manhood. He was tall, muscular, and as straight as an Indian. He had a good head, a fine face, and an eye that was all love or all vengeance, according to his emotions. He had a great will power, and his better nature dominated most of his acts. When aroused, however, he was a tiger and woe to him who stood in his way. Whether mild or mad, he seemed to know no such word as fear. Fortunately, however, he was seldom mad. Others in his presence might lose their temper and swear and fight and even shoot, but Sam on such occasions was usually cool, collected, and good-natured. While known to be afraid of no man and a match for any, his efforts were always for peace. As Mark Twain said of Buck Fenshaw, “he would have peace if he had to fight for it.” That is, Sam would interfere if needs be to stop an unequal fight or a shooting scrape when he saw some good man might be needlessly killed. He was always for fair play. Such a man, as may be supposed, was personally quite popular. But with all his natural endowments, he could neither read nor write. This lack of learning, however, seemed to make no difference with the men in the mines when it came to the matter of choosing the first sheriff of Placer, when the county was organized soon after the admission of California into the Union. Sam was overwhelmingly elected, and in spite of his illiteracy, he filled the office very acceptably. Early in his term and before the county had time to build even a jail, Sam arrested a Chinaman for sluice robbing. A little earlier the culprit would have been hung without ceremony to the limbs of the nearest tree, but now California was a State of the Union, it had a Constitution and a code of laws, and officers chosen to administer them. According to the moral code of the earliest miners, any man, whether white, black, red, or yellow, who would rob a miner’s sluice deserved to be hung on the spot, and this course was generally adopted. But the moral code had been superceded by the written code, and the law officers were bound to see that the offending Chinaman be tried and treated according to the written code. Hence, while one of Sam’s deputies stood guard over the sluice robber, a jury was impaneled to try the case. Out under the spreading branches of a great live oak tree, the stump of which has been pointed to as the scene of the earliest court trials in Placer County, the jury assembled, and with the judge seated on a camp stool and the jury on a log, the trial proceeded. The District Attorney prosecuted and a young lawyer (afterwards famous as a district and superior judge) defended. The testimony showed that the Chinaman had been caught in the act, and after brief arguments by the attorneys and a few words of instruction by the judge, the case was submitted to the jury. They retired to the shade of another tree to deliberate, and in a few minutes returned with a verdict of “Guilty.” The case was now up to the court. He could not hang the Chinaman, and the county had no jail. Here was a dilemma. The judge reflected for a few moments and then, as though relieved by a bright thought, said, “This man stands convicted for a very serious and aggravating offense, and yet under the laws of California we cannot hang him. The statute suggests imprisonment, and yet we have no prison. His offense must be discouraged. The miner, with no means to guard his claim except at the expense of needed sleep, and with no safe in which to lock the dust, must be protected from the depredations of thieves. To this end an example must be made of this offender. I think there can be no criticism if we administer to him a severe corporal punishment. I therefore sentence this Chinaman to receive fifty lashes on the bare back to be administered by the sheriff, and I direct that he exert his full physical force in executing the sentence and use the best blacksnake he can procure for the purpose.” When the Chinamen in camp heard that this countryman was to be whipped, a proceeding to them more humiliating and disgraceful than death, they became greatly agitated, and excitement and noise in Chinatown was high. They hurried to the young attorney who had been hired to defend their countryman and eagerly asked him if he could stop the whipping. “I can appeal the case,” he said deliberately. “How muchie, how muchie?” they chimed in chorus. “Oh, about $500.” A hurried canvas resulted in collecting the dust, and after being weighed to satisfy the attorney that there was $500 worth, the latter took the gold and started up the hill to the cabin which was used by the sheriff as office and headquarters. On arriving there, he said, “Sam, you needn’t execute the sentence on that Chinaman. I am going to appeal the case.” “You are going to do what?” queried Aston. The answer, “I’m going to appeal the case.” “Peel be damned,” said the sheriff. “I peeled that scoundrel and turned him loose half an hour ago.” It is not recorded whether the attorney ever returned the $500 or the gold dust to the Chinamen or not. Aston’s end was a tragic and sad as his life had been eventful and romantic. Like many, many another big-hearted man, his success proved his undoing. His convivial habits led to excesses. In late years, he became a wreck. In the end he was found in a little back room of a mountain saloon. He was lying on his back with his mouth under the faucet of a barrel of whiskey, dead.

[Placer Herald, Auburn, Saturday, 10-9-1937. Submitted K. Marynik]

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