Murder that began an obsession

I was “talking” with a friend over email today about how frustrating it can be when folks have historical information and don’t share.  

Fortunately it only took me a few minutes to realize what a hypocrite I am.

I started this blog, and my obsession with our local history, because I found the record of an inquest that occurred after a Native American woman was brutally murdered in our county in 1862.

And while I’ve shared some of the details of Lucy’s murder  and the stranger-than-fiction fact that I found her son’s 1928 obituary on the wall of our new (very old) house two years AFTER I found the transcript,   I’ve never posted the transcript itself.  Perhaps because of my (maybe never to be realized) desire to write a book.  To tell Lucy’s whole story.  Whatever.  I have yet to write a book.  And may get hit by a bus tomorrow.

 And so here is the transcript.

There may be typos (ignore ‘em please).  There will also be some weird grammatical errors as the handwritten record is difficult to read in places but I wanted to keep my transcription as true to the original document as possible.

 Today I’ll just post the whole document and hopefully over the next few weeks I’ll add what I’ve learned about Lucy and her children in the years since I discovered the transcript.


Humboldt County Courthouse

Transcript of microfilmed records of Inquisition  into Lucy’s Murder-Union, 1862                                                                

 12 January 1862

Murder of Squaw in Arcata

Lucy (Indian woman) Coroner Inquest held 15 to 17, January 1862.



Inquest held before Byron Deming Coroner of Humboldt on the 15th day of January 1862 to inquire as to the cause of death of an Indian woman found dead on the premises of John Preston in the Township of Union, County of Humboldt, State of California, Sunday morning, January 12th, 1862.


— Summoned and —

A Jacoby

H Stern


E.L. Wallace

J.C. Bull

Wm Hutchingson

GW Redman

George Flowers

David Jenkins


Jury (unknown word) to the premises of Mr. Preston to view the body ,  after which the following names {were deposed?]:  J.A. Preston, Allen T. Hill, Findley Lindsey, Mrs. Sarah Jane Preston, James Bishop, James D Bar—s, William Land..


 John Preston by sworn deposed as follows, my name is John E. Preston, am 35 years old, live in township of Union, am a farmer by occupation

The first I knew of the death, my wife told me that Mr. Hill told her the Indian woman was killed. Mr. Hill was there at my house, this was between 12 and 3 o’clock last Sunday the 12th  (unknown word)  Mr. Hill and (unknown word) proceeded to the house to see the corpse and find that the woman (?) dead and had been apparently murdered. We saw two cuts across the ear which appeared to have been made with some sharp implement; the woman had been living on my place since the Indians left for the reservation, last saw her alive about an hour before sundown Saturday evening, she was very nearly blind and should say she was 28 or 30 years old, she was living there with two children, one a boy about 2 years old and a girl about 3 years old, there had [been] no white men visited the woman since she has been there to my knowledge, she was known by the name of Lucy, she was living on my place by an act of charity; we fed her sometimes and sometimes she went to Mr. Danskin’s and Mr. Chapman’s for food.


The oldest child came up to my house just after daylight Sunday morning and said her mother was sick, just before Mr. Hill came out the little girl came out and brought the boy to my house, the boy’s head was bloody, we thought but little of it as the boy frequently had the nose bleed and rubbed the blood over his face, Mr. Hill was in search of a crab apple stick, to get it he had to pass by the door of the house where the woman lived, the girl sometimes had her meals at my house, when we found the woman was killed the little girl said she saw two white men but could not tell who they were nor what time it was she saw them. I was at Mr. Lindsey’s  three (?) weeks before the murder and heard James Bishop make the expression that the squaw would not live a week.  We were talking about Indians being killed and Mr. Bishop said that the squaw at my house would not live a week, he gave no reason for making this expression.  My impression at this remark of Mr. Bishop was that the squaw would be killed within a week

~John C/E Preston


Findley Lindsey being called and sworn testifies as follows:

My name is Findley Lindsey am 52 years old, reside in the township of Union and am a horticulturist by profession;

I have heard Mr. Hill, Mr. James Hall,  Mr. James Bishop, Mr. John Smith say that they thought it was doubtful about this squaw surviving a great while, my impression from what I heard the parties named say was that some one would put an end to the squaw’s life, but none of them said who they thought would do it, the reason given by these parties for making the remarks was that they thought there were Indians going to where the murdered squaw had lived to get ammunition or information or something to that effect, I was fearful from these remarks that the squaw would be murdered.  I thought it would be better for her to go to the reservation, she refused to go saying she had no friends among the Indians and should anything happen to her that the whites would take care of her children.  No one stopped at my house on Saturday night last but my own family.  Mr. Brown (?) and his wife life in a house near my house.  Myself and wife were coming home from Philip on Saturday night late and as we use to going in at the gate we heard the door of the house in which Mr. Brown (?) lives close and we supposed he Mr. Brown (?) had just returned home about dark Saturday evening. Mr. Brown started toward town and said he had some little business to attend to at town. I heard the door of the Brown (?) house shut and heard walking on the floor as that I was satisfied (unknown word)  was (unknown word)  11 o’clock but it was 12 o’clock by Mr. Philip’s time I saw no one on the road either going to or returning from Mr. Philips (unknown word) ; heard Mr. Brown say he thought the squaw was in danger.  I have heard him say that squaws and children (unknown word)  would trouble one but as for grown diggers, they had better be (unknown word) about this place.  I have seen Mr. Brown carry a (unknown word) rifle and a butcher knife and a tommy hawk made by Mr. Allen;  I think the blade of the tommy hawk was about 3  inches wide, not far from that

~Findley Lindsay


My name is Sarah Jane Preston, am 20 years old, reside in the township of Union

I was acquainted with the murdered squaw, she had three children, two of them were living with her at the time she was murdered, the other one was living with my mother, the little girl that lived with the squaw (unknown word) habit of assisting me sometimes about the house;  the squaw had told me that should anything happen to her that I should keep the little girl. I had reason to believe that the squaw would be killed.  I have heard men say that there was Indian tracks around that that they thought she was harboring  Indians and that she would be killed within a week.  Since the removal of the Indians to the reservation I had never seen any tracks about the premises to indicate that Indians were around. Mr. James Brown (?) was up to our house at the time of the first fishet and wanted to know if it would not be better for me if the squaw was put out of the way and then I would have the good of that child, pointing at the little girl, we were out at the door and the child was with me

… never heard Mr. Brown make any threats against the squaw. Mr. James Bishop I heard say the squaw would not live out a (unknown word) , it was three weeks (unknown word)  Saturday night that Mr. Bishop made this remark.  It was at my fathers. I think if there had been any Indian tracks about the ranch I should have seen them;  it was about ½ past one or two o’clock on Sunday afternoon we discerned the squaw was murdered.  I told Mr. Brown I would rather send the squaw to the reservation myself than have her killed and that I did not want this child on any such terms, states the squaw she had better go to the reservation , she said she had no friends at the reservation and she would as soon stay here and be killed as to go there

~Sarah Jane Preston


John Preston was recalled:

Had there been Indian tracks on my premises, I should have been sure to have seen them as I was passing about every day.  I have seen boys from town hunting ducks and rabbits and barefoot.  My wife made the remark to me on seeing these boys barefoot passing my house; that was them what made the Indian tracks they were talking about.

~John Preston




Mr. William R.  Lindsey being called and sworn deposed says:

My name is William R. Lindsey, am 21 years of age, reside in Union Township, am a farmer by profession. I saw a dead squaw and at Mr. Preston’s, do not recall the time I saw her, have not seen her but once, never heard anyone make threats against this squaw’s life, I had  reason to believe the squaw was in danger of being killed from the fact that all the other Indians left.  I thought she would be killed if she stayed, did not think that any but children would be allowed to live here, think I have heard it said that those having domesticated squaws had (unknown word) keep them close, do not know who said it.  Never heard anyone make threats against this squaw that was murdered.  I was at home last Saturday night, all night and on Sunday until about 3 o’clock p.m. got up Sunday morning about 8 or 9 o’clock do not recall the hour, none of our family was up at daylight Sunday morning. Am not in the habit of wearing a blanket, do not know where Mr. Brown was Saturday night, cannot say what time I saw Mr. Brown Sunday morning, think I saw him about 9 o’clock, am not certain, went to bed about 10 or 11 o’clock Saturday night, did not leave the premises until the next day, am not in the habit of walking in my sleep, never heard any one say that this squaw would be killed, have seen no (unknown word) Indian tracks recently in this vicinity, do not know of a man in the town that walks stoop shouldered like I do and wears a blanket, do not remember to have said since the murder that it was a good job, said to Mr. Averill (?) that it might have been bettered,  they might have killed the little ones that was there, I have no tomahawk, have seen several man have them, Mr. Brown, Walls of (unknown word), G. Wilkinson, G (unknown word) has them (unknown word) (unknown word) certain that (unknown word) has one.x

~William R.  Lindsay


Mr. Preston McKinny being called and sworn deposes and says the following:

My name is Preston McKinny, am 53 years old, reside in Arcata, occupation shingle maker;

Heard it was a blind squaw, heard the squaw was murdered Saturday night last or Sunday morning, was at home last Saturday night, about daylight last Sunday morning I got up and built a fire, did not see any person passing that morning, do not know of any one passing through town about daylight Sunday morning, have had no conversation with Mr. Barns? relating to the murder, I know a man by the name of Barns  (?)  saw Mr. Barns (?) that morning. Mr. Barns (?) and Mr. Daly/Davy (?)? were talking this morning in my pasture/presence. Mr. Barns said he saw two men pass through town last Sunday morning and described, did not say I could tell who they (unknown word) (unknown word) (unknown word) had no idea from the description who the men were, did not say I could tell who the stoop shouldered man was, have no idea who did commit this murder, Mr. Barns? did not say who he thought the two men were, Mr. Davy is staying with me, did not hear Mr. Davey say who the men were.

~Preston McKinney




James Bishop being called and sworn depose and says as follows:

My name is James Bishop, am 27 years old, reside in the town of Union, am a Farmer by occupation, I have not seen the body since the murder, do not know only by hearsay that a murder has been committed, never  saw the murdered person alive to my knowledge,  never saw the squaw on Mr. Preston’s farm, have heard there was a squaw living there, have heard Mr. Preston’s folks say and Mr. Lindsey’s folks say there was a squaw on Mr. Preston’s place, do not think of any other person that I have heard say anything about it, never had any reason to suppose the squaw named would be murdered, never supposed there was any danger of the squaw being killed, am in the habit sometimes of visiting at the house of Mr. Lindsey’s near Arcata, am not sure (unknown word) think I was not at Mr. Lindsay’s three weeks ago last Saturday evening.. think I came past there with Mr. Sands (?) and came to town, do not remember to have said at Mr. Lindsey’s house that that squaw, living on Mr. Preston’s place would be killed within a week, think that said in a conversation on Indian matters that they were getting such a habit of killing Indians that I should not wonder if that squaw should be killed some of these times, but I had no reason for saying so at the time, never heard anyone say that they though the squaw would be killed, did not think the squaw would be killed,  had no reason to think so,  heard it said that the squaw was furnishing the Indians with ammunition and information but could not tell who I heard say it, did not tell Mr. Lindsay the squaw would be killed in a week, think I came (unknown word) Mr. Browns place in the mountains two weeks ago Saturday and stopped at Mr. Lindsey’s, am not certain, did not say to Mr. Preston that the squaw would be killed in a week, heard Mr. Brown say he thought it would be better for the County if all the Indians were all killed, squaws and all, was in town last Saturday, (unknown word) did not see Mr. Brown,

… was around in several different places, never heard Mr. Brown make any illusion to this particular squaw, it may have been Mr. Brown who said the squaw was trading ammunition to the Indians, but am not certain who it was, think I saw Mr. Brown at Mr. Wallace’s some 2 or 3 o’clock on the afternoon of last Saturday, but then (unknown word) (unknown word) (unknown word) (unknown word) Indian matters, laid down at Mr. Hill’s store about sunset Saturday evening and slept until about 11 o’clock then went to (unknown word), and passed the remainder of the night

~James Bishop


Mr. James D Barnes (?  being called and sworn deposed and says:

My name is James D. Barns (?), I am 40 years of age and by occupation a laborer, residence Arcata,

 have heard that there has been a squaw killed at Mr. Preston’s place recently, am acquainted with a man by the name of James Brown,.  He occasionally calls at my house, have frequently conversed with Mr. Brown related to Indian matters and heard Mr. Brown say that he would kill diggers and that he shot at one in this town.  I think it was Mr. Kirbys Indian, he said the Indian was a very saucy and impudent digger; and he did not think it would be any loss to anyone to shoot him, heard Mr. Brown say last Sunday that he would not kill any persons squaw or little Indian but big Digger better keep out of his road, heard Mr. Brown say that he thought the last Digger in town would go up finally. My impression from this remark was that he meant squaws and children as well as Indian men.  I think Mr. Brown said it would wouldn’t surprise him at all if there was a (unknown word) committed and every Indian in town killed,  old and young, big and little at the (unknown word) time he would not kill men’s squaws;  at daylight last Sunday morning I saw two men come down the street from Mr. Leon’s Hotel and cross the plaza toward the brewery, one of them was taller than the other and one had on a blanket, the other was in a coat.  They appeared to walk quite fast. They came down past Leon’s near the middle of the street and not on the side walk, have no idea who they were, the smaller of the two (unknown word) a stooped shoulder

~James Barnes



Mr. A( Allen) T Hill being sworn deposed and says as follows:

My name is A.T. Hill am 20 years old, reside in Arcata, am a farmer by profession. The way I came to see the murdered woman , I was out to Mr. Preston’s and one of the little children I saw was covered in blood.  I asked Mrs. Preston if she knew what caused it.  She said she thought the squaw had been whipping the child and I examined the child and saw there were no scars on it, then I went down to the house and looked in at the door and saw blood running on the floor.  I went in and saw the squaw laying on the bed cut in several places. I went back to the house and told Mrs. Preston.  Mrs. Preston and myself went down to the house again where the squaw was and then we found the children lying in back. I questioned the oldest one to know when her mother was killed, did not know whether it was done over night or in the morning. She said her mother was killed by white men, shortly Mr. Preston came and we went down to the house and looked around pretty closely to see if we could discover any tracks. We did not discover any around the building, we discovered tracks near the fence and also over the fence near the wood (?), this was not far from 12 o’clock  (unknown word)  last Sunday the 12th, could from (unknown word)  when I saw the corpse how long it had been dead, the body was cold, the body was covered up and the children were in bed with the corpse.  The children had returned from  Mr. Preston’s house to where the corpse was before I went to the (unknown word) to get a piece of crabapple to fit on a cane, my path lead by the house where the squaw lay, never heard any one threaten to kill the squaw , should say it was fifty yards from Mr. Preston’s house to the house where the squaw lay.

~Allen T Hill


State of California, County of Humboldt

Before Byron Deming Coroner, in the matter of the inquisition upon the body of an Indian woman known by the name of Lucy, deceased,

We, the undersigned, the jurors summoned to appear before Byron Deming the coroner of the County of Humboldt on this day of January (unknown word) 1862 to inquire into the cause of the death of an Indian woman named Lucy, found dead in the house on the farm of John Preston in the County of Humboldt on Sunday, January 19, 1862.

Having been duly sworn according to the law and having made such inquisition, after inspecting the body, and hearing the testimony (unknown word) , upon our oaths each and all do say that the deceased was an Indian woman named Lucy, aged about 30 years, that she came to her death between the hours of 6 o’clock p.m. of Saturday and 2 o’clock pm. of Sunday, January 11 & 12, 1862, from the effect of four wounds inflicted upon the head of the deceased with some sharp instrument, in our opinion a hatchet the blade of which was about 2 ½ inches wide, said wounds having been inflicted intentionally by the hand of some person or persons to the jury unknown.

All of which we duly certify by this inquisition, in writing, by us signed this 17th day of January, 1862

G. Redman

Henry Stern

John C Bull

A.J. Jacoby

I.A. Flower

W. S. Winnomon? (Hutchinson?)

E.L. Wallace

J. Cullberg

D Jenkins


Office of the coroner of Humboldt County, Byron Deming, coroner, who hereby certify that I held an inquisition upon the body of an Indian woman, aged about 30 years, in the town of Arcata on the 15, 16, 17 days of January, death from the effect of four wounds? in the head of deceased, inflicted with some sharp instrument apparently a hatchet, in the hands of some person or persons to the jury unknown.

And I further certify that I interred the body in the grave yard in the town of Arcata this 18th day of January, 1862 –.

Byron Deming, County Coroner

12 Responses to Murder that began an obsession

  1. ron gallagher says:

    First time reading the facts. Preston is guilty as could be… Would have liked to have been there to see the look on his wife’s face when she went to the scene to cover his tracks… My bet is she was flipping out!

    • Lynette M says:

      I do believe James Brown likely did it. I’ll feed other facts into the inquest to give you a better idea of the folks and circumstances.

      Watch your email. I’m going to send you one…

  2. skippy says:

    This is a mystery. I dunno. A whodunnit from 1862. From these inquest transcripts, hearsay fingers do point towards Mr. Brown. Mr. Lindsey and Bishop’s comments both rang hollow not seeing, knowing, hearing, and denying all knowledge of most everything. I wish we could know more about Brown’s involvement. I believe some of Arcata’s citizens certainly had more knowledge of what occurred than what they offered here. Poor Lucy. And her children.

    Mr. Brown never gave testimony, did he?

    • Lynette M says:

      I personally think folks were scared of Brown. There is more in the Preston/Lindsey book I’ll post about Preston’s son being afraid of him (crossing the street to avoid him, even) because John Preston told him that Brown was involved in the Indian Island Massacre…
      John Preston was one of the whites that helped move the bodies for burial after the massacre, so likely had very strong feelings about it.

      I actually think that could be why Preston let Lucy stay on his property after all the other Indians were “sent away”.
      More later…

  3. […] After finding the inquest,  I became compelled to learn more about Lucy and began hunting for information where ever I could find it.  Fortunately members of the Preston family wrote a book about their history and included information abuout Lucy…   […]

  4. […] the Inquest Record, Lucy is quoted as expressing fear over the well-being of her children.  She had good […]

    • Elaine Taylor says:

      I’ve just stumbled upon this and have been catching up on your blogs! Sarah Jane Preston was my Great Great Grandmother… through her daughter Plonnie Xantippi… and her son (my grandfather)Evan Taylor… As the P/L Trail mentioned, we’d heard Annie was raised as one of Sarah Jane’s children. Family stories have always related a friendliness towards the local indians. Very interesting!! Thank you!

  5. […] do want to keep on the thread/topic of Lucy and plan to continue discussing her limited options and the dangers she and her children faced […]

  6. […] Lucy has given me an opportunity to learn many, many things about our history, including the […]

  7. JanKarol says:

    Fascinating. You must follow through on the book.
    The “coincidence” of finding the obituary on the wall seems a confirmation. I realize this is an old post, so maybe you have begun.

    • Lynette M says:

      Hi Jan,
      Think about it quite often and have pages and pages of research and notes. Now if only I had more time…
      Thanks tho. The story does need to be told and a push like this helps me to refocus. Glad you found the blog.

  8. […] Lucy has given me an opportunity to learn many, many things about our history, including the […]

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