Lake County History Chapter 91: The Slave Girl

The last vestiges of slavery continued after the Civil War even in Lake County, where nobody yet had the time to enforce Article 13 of the Constitution-making slavery illegal. Still, in a few instances, the buying and selling of Indians continued.

In 1868, while the Civil War was yet a fresh memory, J. Copsey, a resident of Lake County, sold an Indian girl to J. Marvin, who kept a store in Pope Valley. The price of the sale was one hundred dollars.

Four months later, Copsey came by Marvin’s store with his niece, a girl of fourteen, to do some trading. While Marvin and Copsey were busy with their business, Copsey’s niece took the Indian girl aside. She persuaded the Indian girl to run away with her. The Native girl agreed. Before the two men knew what had happened, both girls piled into Copsey’s buggy and took off down the road hell-bent for leather.

Copsey left the store. Finding his horse and buggy and young niece gone, he rode after them. By this time, J. Marvin also realized his slave was gone. He mounted his mule and also gave chase. Coming upon a neighbor, a man J. Marvin knew, the neighbor joined J. Marvin in the chase after Copsey and the slave.

Slowed by a steep grade on a high hill leading to the Pope Valley, Copsey’s buggy was overtaken. By this time, Copsey had come upon his niece and the slave girl, joining them in their escape. Soon after, J. Marvin, following hard after, came upon the buggy.

“Return my property,” Marvin demanded of Copsey.

Copsey drew his revolver and replied, “You shall not have her. Go back and do not trouble me again.”

Why, after selling the girl to J. Marvin, did Copsey change his mind? Perhaps, seeing how much his niece was determined to keep the Indian free, he relented and supported his niece. Or maybe he had heard about the growing pressure and enforcement of the Thirteenth Amendment and decided to be against slavery. Besides, he still had Marvin’s hundred dollars, not peanuts in 1868.

Neither J. Marvin or Marvin’s neighbor was armed. They complied readily to Copsey’s refusal to return the Indian girl.

Soon after, Marvin and his neighbor met a second neighbor, Juan Burton. J. Marvin explained the circumstances of his chase to Burton.

“Let us go together and recover my property,” J. Marvin proposed.

J. Marvin’s first neighbor had enough. He was all for going home, saying to J. Marvin, “I do not wish to help you take the Native American girl from Copsey.”

Neighbor Number One left. Marvin and second neighbor Juan Burton proceeded, once again, after the stolen Indian girl. At the top of the steep grade, J. Marvin encountered Copsey a second time, while Burton had ridden ahead on his horse.

Burton called, as he reached Copsey, “You must give the Indian back to Mr. Marvin. He is her owner.”

Now the story takes a morbid turn. Words were passed. Copsey fired at Burton and shot Burton in his thigh. Burton returned Copsey’s fire with three shots. One of his bullets struck Copsey in his heart, and Copsey died instantly. The Indian girl crawled out from under the buggy, where she had been hiding during the exchange and surrendered.

“I shall go back to Mr. Marvin,” she agreed.

The two men placed Copsey’s body in the buggy and left with the Indian girl.  The niece drove down the grade to the first house she found and asked for help. Burton and Marvin were arrested.

The County found against Burton as the Principle accused and J. Marvin as his accomplice. The murder case was heard on June 13, 1871. The jury returned a verdict for ‘The People v. Juan Burton.’ Burton was found not guilty.

The preceding tale tells us that prejudice, for, and against the Natives in Lake County, and for the die-hard adherents of the slave-holding Confederacy, remained high. It must have still been very high in Lake County in 1871 for a murderer and a slaveholder to be found not guilty of murder.

Next Episode: A young Pomo student beat the System in 1880


To enjoy all Gene’s books, visit his website; http://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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