March 25, 2010
I discovered the copy of the inquest that occurred after the lynching of two Indians at the same time I discovered Lucy’s inquest.
Later, as I read through old newspapers, I was able to piece together some of what happened. Two Native American men both known as “Jack” were accused and hung for murdering a white man living on an island in the middle of the Eel River near Loleta. They were given no trial and their deaths were added to the many already suffered by the aboriginal people during the settlement period of Humboldt County’s history. But this time we knew their names. We could learn their story.
I imagined them terrified as their “jail” was broken into (I’m jumping ahead in my story, I know, but maybe this is part of the story, too). I imagined them dropping as dead weight or pleading for their lives as they were brought to the waiting noose, the crowd loud and volatile around them (or quiet and secretive to avoid detection from citizens who might object to such vigilante justice).
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March 1, 2010
Continued from this post
James Casebeer was a 33 year old from Ohio who, by May of 1860, was farming 160 acres of “The Island” located between the Eel and Salt Rivers (between Ferndale and the Loleta Bottoms) in Humboldt County. There was a house on the property and he had made some small improvements, but at the time of his death Casebeer had yet to make any real money from his enterprise. He lived alone and was, by newspaper accounts, a “peacable and unoffensive citizen”, the only living son of a poor and sickly widow living in Ohio. Casebeer wrote his mother letters, but didn’t do it often.
He seems to have kept to himself. Neighbors had noticed him missing, but supposed he’d gone away on business. No one investigated.
In September of 1860, William Johnson, a barber originally from New Jersey, was out walking when he discovered the body of his neighbor, James Casebeer. The body was lying a short distance from his house, and appeared to have been dragged from where it was hidden in the brush. Observers guessed that Casebeer had been dead about three weeks and the remains appeared to have been partially eaten by his dog. Johnson noticed a deep cut on the back of Casebeer’s skull and found a hatchet nearby.
Casebeer’s house was locked, but nearly empty of valuables. Even the bedding was gone.
To be continued…