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LAKE COUNTY HISTORY CHAPTER 47: THE TRIAL

A court was formed, and the seven men were charged with cattle rustling. One man served as judge and two men, an attorney for the defense and one for the prosecution, acted for the rustlers and the Phillips Wagon Train. 

The trial took all day. The testimony, the rustler’s confessions, and declaration of the evidence by the witnesses was given. By nightfall, the case had been heard and the twelve men, who had been called to be the jury, were instructed.

“Return to your respective camps. Get some sleep, talk to no one and bring in your verdict tomorrow morning at sunrise.”

During the night, while the seven accused criminals were being guarded, one of the attorneys secured a written confession from Morgan, one of the two leaders of the band. The case was cut, dried and hogtied to a farthing. Then, in some manner, by hook, and by crook, when the sun rose it was discovered that both leaders had miraculously escaped. Nevertheless, the jury was on hand to render its verdict.

Information like that above crops up with no reasonable explanation to this writer. The Author was left hanging. How in the world had the two ringleaders managed to get away with fifty men keeping an eye on them all night? Was there some reason not told that induced their keepers to turn a blind eye as they rode off?  I wish I knew the answer.

The jury announced their verdict.

“We find the men, who were arrested, guilty of cattle stealing. We have a single exception. One man, Mr. Camden, is innocent of wrongdoing.”

The Jury Foreman was asked to give the Juries reasons for the dismissal of charges against the single ‘innocent’ man.

The court was told, “Mr. Camden comes from respectable parents. His parents own a prosperous wholesale and retail mercantile firm in California. He says he was taken into the mountains by the other men while on a hunting trip. When the boy was told the gang’s real business was cattle rustling, he refused to help them in their nefarious design and he was not allowed to leave. Now that he is free, his only wish is that he be allowed to go home to his parents.”

The juror’s careful dictum of how rich and prosperous were the parents of the ‘innocent’ boy, hints of other possible self-serving interest, especially when we know those same pioneers ended up in San Francisco and needed more supplies from the same mercantile firms that were owned by the boy’s father. However, we may be too hard on the jury. They were ready to free the boy if they could.

With no recourse but to accept the jury’s decision, the Judge ordered the court audience to forever after remain silent on the entire proceeding.

“All members of the wagon trains involved in this trial are ordered to keep secret the name of the man who was cleared of the charges and all accounts of the robbery and the trial.”

They still had the problem of a sentence for the guilty men. The rustlers could not be turned loose to keep on stealing cattle. Neither was there any way the persons in the train could keep them prisoner and carry them to a regular court for trial. No such tribunal existed for hundreds of miles. It was decided the prisoners must be shot.

Each guilty man was told, “You have until morning to dispose of your possessions.”

They were given the right to choose their executioner.

“Each man may choose by whom he wishes to be shot.”

In the next morning, the prisoners were placed in a line. Their eyes were covered with a bandana and they were made to kneel before the firing squad. At a given signal to fire the four men were shot and killed. The single innocent man was turned over to Phillips and returned to his father. The Lewis C. Burris Wagon Train continued on its way to California and settled in Scotts Valley in 1865.

Somebody blabbed. They disobeyed the Wagon Master’s order to keep quiet… Otherwise, how could you or I ever know what happened?

Next Episode: Before the Storm.

Lake County History. $32. (includes. Tax & Shipping)

Pal Publishing, PO Box 6, Upper Lake, Ca 95485

e-mail: genepaleno@gmail.com

Website: genepaleno.com

Gene Paleno

Gene runs his life at a full sprint. In his ninety-three years he's dug ditches, painted signs, played semi-pro football, worked as a taxicab driver, an insurance agent, and a school teacher. He's been a technical artist, a marketing director, and a business owner. He served in World War II, raised four children, and was married to the love of his life for fifty years. He's an accomplished oil painter and skilled in ceramics. He's written fifteen books, including the definitive Lake County History, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

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