Twenty year old Allen Hill was the first to examine the bloody toddler, to see if he was injured. John Preston had already decided the mess on Charles’ face was from a bloody nose and his wife Sarah thought it was from a whipping by the boy’s mother.
The Prestons were wrong.
It was also Allen that discovered Lucy’s body, after he looked through the door of the small cabin where the Native American lived with two of her three small children. He described seeing her blood “running on the floor.” According to Hill, the body was covered up and “the children were in bed with the corpse.”
When questioned, Annie, Lucy’s younger daughter, could not say how long her mother had been dead. The four year old girl claimed two white men did it.
An inquest was called and prominent businessmen in the community devoted three days to the investigation. The Prestons, their neighbor Allen Hill, and others were interviewed in an attempt, it sometimes seemed, to discover a motive and identify the killers.
Lucy, according to John Preston was between twenty-eight and thirty years old and “very nearly blind”. At the time of her murder, on January 12, 1862, she may have been the only adult Indian in Union. The others, according to Sarah Preston, had been removed to the reservation.
According to the witnesses, Lucy’s murder was not unexpected. William Lindsey, Sarah’s brother, admitted that he thought Lucy would be killed because he “did not think that any but children would be allowed to live here [in Arcata]”. A witness claimed to have heard William say that the murderers had done “a good job,” but William denied it. He also denied another witness’s assertion that William said that it might have been better if they had “killed the little ones”, meaning Annie and Charles, as well.
John Preston was visiting his father-in-law, Findley Lindsey’s , three weeks prior to the murder and remembered hearing James Bishop say that Lucy “would not live a week.” During the investigation, Bishop denied it.
Findley Lindsey heard rumors that Lucy had been supplying information and ammunition to mountain Indians and feared “the squaw would be murdered.” He warned Lucy about the rumors, and encouraged her to go to the reservation, but she refused to go, “saying she had no friends among the Indians.” She told Lindsey that she hoped the whites would care for her children in the event of her death. Sarah Preston said she also tried to convince Lucy to leave, but Lucy also told her she had no friends there and “would as soon stay here and be killed as go there.”
James Brown, a neighbor to the Lindseys, was often a focus of the investigation. Sarah Preston described a day when Brown was at the Preston house. He wanted to know if Sarah would prefer“ if the squaw was put out of the way and then I would have the good of that child, pointing at the little girl.” “That child” was Lucy’s daughter Annie. Sarah said she rejected Brown’s idea, saying she would “rather send the squaw to the reservation myself than have her be killed.”
James Bishop remembered Brown telling him that he believed “it would be better for the county if all the Indians were killed, squaws and all,” and James Barnes heard Brown brag that he killed Indians “and that he shot one in this town.” Brown had explained to Bishop that this had been a “saucy and impudent digger” and did not think it would be any loss to anyone to shoot him.
Findley Lindsey described Brown’s rifle, butcher knife and Tommy Hawk with a three inch blade, but Brown himself was never questioned.
After three days, Byron Deming, acting as coroner, certified that Lucy met her “death from the effect of four wounds in the head… inflicted with some sharp instrument apparently a hatchet, in the hands of some person or persons to the jury unknown.”
Lucy’s body was interred in the local cemetery and the case was closed.
Finding Lucy’s Story
I learned about Lucy’s murder by accident, while combing the county courthouse basement for historical records.
The handwritten transcript of the inquest had been converted to microfiche and had remained undiscovered by local historians, many of whom had heard about Lucy’s murder on the old Preston property but didn’t know the details. I made a fuzzy copy of the record and began hunting for more information about Lucy. It has been a slow project, but an on-going one.
Two years after I found the inquest record my husband and I bought an old farmhouse from my husband’s great uncle. While waiting for an inspector I went upstairs, and among the old newspapers still glued to the walls, I found Charles’ obituary. The 1928 article describes Charles as well liked, a wall paper painter. It also describes his mother’s tragic murder. Lucy’s murder.
So here I sit, with Lucy’s story above my head. A gentle reminder to keep at it. To share her story.