Saturday, November 10, 2018

Monterey County's First Sheriff William Roach

The office of the Sheriff of Monterey County, California, was founded in 1850. The Monterey County Sheriff's Office, like many law enforcement departments back in the day, was very small with only a few men on the force. Its first sheriff was a man by the name of William Roach. 

It's believed that William M. Roach was born in Wexford County, Ireland, in 1820. His family came to America when he was about 10 years old. By 1846, he was 27 years old and he joined the Army. He joined Stevenson's First Regiment of New York Volunteers. That unit was originally designated Stevenson's Seventh New York Volunteer Regiment. It was formed to go to California and engage the enemy during the Mexico-American War. 

In August of 1846, the New York Volunteers were loaded on ships and made their way around Cape Horn to California. They served in garrisons in San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Monterey. Parts of the regiment were involved in operations during the Pacific Coast Campaign in Baja California. In fact, elements of the New York Volunteers saw fighting in the Battle of La Paz, the Siege of La Paz, and were part of what became known as the Skirmish of Todos Santos. It's said that the later actually took place after the peace treaty with Mexico was signed. 

Roach was assigned to Company D which was commanded by Captain Henry Morris Naglee. He rose to the rank of Sergeant. After their action in Baja California, Stevenson's First Regiment of New York Volunteers were sent to Monterey. They were then disbanded by October 1848. All of the soldiers in that unit knew full well that they volunteered to help populate California when they mustered out. Americans were needed in California and most of the soldiers did stay. Most would later take part in the California Gold Rush. 

One group of soldiers that decided to stick together and start mining was called "The Roach Party" because it was comprised of Roach and a number of his friends. During the winter of 1848, they camped near the Mokelumne River in San Joaquin County and were later in Tuolumne County. After returning to Monterey, they friends split up.

As for Roach, he decided to run for sheriff of the newly formed Monterey County. He was voted into office because a huge percentage of the voters there were fellow soldiers from his old unit. While sheriff, he bought a ranch north of nearby Watsonville and married Margaret Ann McMahon. They had a son, Alexander Phillip. He was born on December 10th, 1853, in Watsonville. 

Sheriff William Roach's participation in what became known as the Roach-Belcher Feud is what makes him a controversial individual to historians. The Roach-Belcher Feud was in reality a murderous conflict between rivals trying to gain control of a widow's land holdings. 

In 1849, California had Spanish land grants. What might surprise some folks is that only about 200 very wealthy families owned California's Spanish land grants. Those 200 or so families owned over 14 Million acres of land.

Jose Sanchez was among those extremely wealthy land owners. Some say, because Sanchez bought additional lands to increase the size of his holding that he was one of the largest land owners by 1852. 

As with what happens during every boom everywhere where such things take place, people who were selling low found that a boom meant that they could sell high and make a killing. It's said that during the California Gold Rush, it was those who supplied the miners with everything from beans and pans to shovels and trousers got rich while miners didn't. 

That was the situation for Jose Sanchez who came to California from Mexico in 1825. In twenty years, his holdings grew to thousands of cattle. Sanchez made money selling hides and tallow, trading in hides, and manufacturing soap from the tallow. As for selling cattle for food, Sanchez was selling cattle for $5 a head before the 1849 California Gold Rush when miners flooded into California. Because the newcomers needed food, his cattle quickly sold for $80 a head. It's said he got even more for his horses and mules.  

On Christmas Eve of 1852, Jose Sanchez drowned while crossing the Pajaro River. When Jose Sanchez died, he left his widow, Maria Encarnacion Ortega Sanchez, and their five children, daughters Vicenta, Refugia, Candelaria, Guadalupe, and their one son Jose Gregorio, a huge estate. 

There were large herds of cattle and horses, more than 49,000 acres of land, and a large sum of money left to her to operate the ranch. In his will, he named his friend, Samuel Head, of San Juan Bautista to be the executor of his estate. Samuel Head went about fulfilling his obligations to his friend's family. 

The first thing that he did was conduct an inventory of everything on the ranch. Besides the land, the home, the barns, the out buildings, the livestock, and other essentials, Samuel Head found that his good friend Jose Sanchez had 40 barrels of dried beans. Yes, that's a lot of dried beans even for those days. 

Knowing that was too many beans to have on hand, Samuel Head decided that he would sell the beans and give the money from the sale to Jose's widow Maria. His problem was finding a buyer was that the beans were too old to resale. But after a search, he finally found a market to take the beans. The only stipulation was that Samuel would have to bag them up for sale. 

Samuel set out doing just that and started bagging up the dried beans. Soon, to his surprise, he had to stop. To his amazement, the story goes that he found more than $90,000 in gold coins and dust hidden in the barrels. So besides everything else, Jose Sanchez left his wife more than $90,000 in gold. It was truly a bonanza for the Sanchez family. After all, $90,000 in gold in 1852 is the same as having $2.5 Million today. 

Samuel Head decided to put the gold in a trust for the Sanchez children. The five Sanchez children wouldn't be able to utilize the funds until they reached the age of 21. Since the trust needed a guardian, he choose then Monterey County Sheriff William Roach. The sheriff was to be their guardian and manage their trust.  

Because women were seen as second class citizens at the time, the court appointed an executor of the Jose Sanchez estate. He was said to be an associate of her late husband. Supposedly, he ended up going to jail for defrauding the Sanchez family out of $30,000. After that, the court appointed Lewis Belcher and William Roach as executors of the estate. Both men were highly respected in the area. 

Lewis Belcher was said to be a big man. He was so big that he was nicknamed "Big Eagle" by locals. He arrived in Monterey in 1847 and may have first met Roach when Belsher was selling meat to the Army. Belcher was known as an excellent shot, and a man who didn't take guff from anyone. Almost as soon as the two were appointed by the court, they started accusing each other of fraud.

As unfounded as the accusations were, soon a vendetta of hate began between the two men. To make things worse, in 1853, Roach left the Sheriff's office to work his ranch. He also assumed sole executorship of the Sanchez estate without Belcher. He said he couldn't work with Belcher.

Belcher was accused of embezzling $85,000 from the Sanchez estate. Later, Roach was accused of embezzling  $85,000 from the Sanchez estate. This went back and forth. Frankly, no one has any proof that $85,000 was actually stolen at all.

Also remember, Samuel Head appointed then Monterey County Sheriff William Roach to be the Sanchez children's guardian and manage their trust. His activities dealing with that trust was what escalated things. 

The story goes that Sanchez's oldest daughter Vicenta married a man by the name of Daniel Willson. My sources say that he was born on June 22nd, 1827, in Swanzey, New Hampshire. He had arrived in Monterey, California, in 1853 at the age of 26. He was still 26 in 1854 when met and married 15 year old Vicenta.

Right after they were married, Willson insisted that Roach turn over Vicenta's share of her family's fortune. Willson supposedly saw it as a dowry and wanted it. Since we know that Vicenta was born in 1839, we know that she was not yet 21 years old and not yet eligible to receive her inheritance. Roach refused. 

My sources say that Willson was adamant about getting Vicenta's inheritance and took Roach to court. I'd say that proves that Willson was very determined to get her inheritance. For what reason? Since many at the time were there to get there hands on the Sanchez family fortune, it is not unreasonable to suspect him of being one of them. On the other hand, some say that he could have simply been a 26 year old man interested in safeguarding the Sanchez family funds from embezzlement.

Either way, Willson took Roach to court in Stockton. Some say because it was different venue than Monterey County and not as friendly to the former sheriff. Others say it was because Willson found a sympathetic judge willing to rule in favor of ordering Roach to release the funds. There in Stockton, a judge ordered Roach to pay out her inheritance. The order stated, if he refused, the a judge could rule that Roach would face going to jail for contempt. Roach refused the court order. After refusing to do so for two weeks, the story goes that Roach was arrested and he was hauled off to jail in Stockton. 

While no one really knows if this actually took place or not, the rest of the tale goes like this. While in jail, Roach refused to sign a release of the funds to Wilson and his wife. To get him to sign it, the court decided to trick Roach. Supposedly, Roach was handed a paper and told to sign it so that he could be released. 

Supposedly, not realizing what it was, he signed a release of their inheritance. It was to a court order demanding that he or his wife turn over the Sanchez treasure. Understanding what he did, Roach immediately realized that he screwed up and went into action even behind bars. Since Roach befriended his jailer, he was able to get a message to his wife before the lawyers for Wilson could get there with their court order to retrieve the funds. 

Supposedly, Margaret Roach got her husband's message and immediately contacted her brother, Jeremiah McMahon, to help her. She wanted him to move all of the Sanchez money out of their home. The story even says that she had him swear an oath that he would not to tell her where he put it so that she could not divulge its whereabouts if she were interrogated.

Let's make something clear, it's conjecture like this that makes for a great story. It also makes problems since none of the tale about Jeremiah hiding the Sanchez children's money is true. How do we know this? Simple fact, the children, including Vicenta, did get their funds by 1864.  

As far as the idea of buried treasure? Friends, this is how buried treasure stories are made. How? Well, let's not forget about Jose Sanchez's widow Maria. She remarried a few month after Jose's death and lost her first new husband in an accident in 1853. Then she got married again in 1853 to Dr. Henry Sanford. He saw Maria as being wealthy, and Roach as overstepping his bounds and illegally hoarding the Sanchez fortune.

On March 15th, 1855, Sanford was drinking heavily and running his mouth off at the hotel bar in Monterey. Sanford was going on about how former sheriff Roach and his family were stealing the Sanchez fortune. He happen to be running his mouth about that time that Jeremiah McMahon, William Roach's brother-in-law, walked in to hear Henry Sanford talking about his family. Soon, an argument started. Both went for guns. In a split second shots were fired. Before anyone realized it, both men fell to the floor dead.  

Now, if you're wondering, no one knows if Jeremiah McMahon let his brother-in-law know where he hid the Sanchez money. If he didn't tell him, then Jeremiah took that secret with him to his grave. Fact is, if he didn't tell his brother-in-law where he hid it, it's probably buried somewhere that no one's found it yet. 

And yes, that's how buried treasure stories are made. No one knows if they are true. The person supposedly burying the treasure dies. And with his death, a dying man supposedly takes the secret of a fortune in gold with him to his grave. And now, as for that gold that he hid so long ago? Well, of course, it must still be out there today. 

As for what became known as the Sanford-McMahon shootout, it was only one part of what became known as the Belcher-Roach Vendetta. And yes, there is a lot of death tied to the Sanchez fortune.

For example, in 1856, Belcher left Monterey headed for San Francisco where he was supposedly going to get help in his vendetta against Roach. It's said that his plan was to summon the Vigilance Committee of 1856 to help him. He never made it to San Francisco and was killed on the way. He was found shot to death along the side of the road. 

A year later in 1857, a dangerous hombre by the name of Anastacio Garcia was sitting in the Monterey County jail. He and famous Mexican outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez once worked for Lewis Belcher as guns for hire. During one late night, Garcia was lynched in his jail cell. It's believed that local vigilantes who were friends of Sheriff Roach knew their way in and told the jailer to go have coffee. When the jailer left, they hanged Garcia. 

Roach was never tried for the lynching of Garcia or the murder of Belcher. Nor was he ever convicted for embezzlement because no one knew if he really did it or not. Frankly, while there is all sorts of speculation, no one has ever proven that he in fact stole anything from the Sanchez family. The whole story that he did is based on conjecture and not evidence. 

Having to produce evidence makes a story harder to prove true. Conjecture is easy. You don't have to prove anything you come up with.   

While I don't know if he was using the Sanchez fortune to keep his ranch going, I don't see any evidence that proves he took a dime from the Sanchez family trust. He did get the customary percentage for administering the trust as executive. But frankly, since that still takes place today for executors of wills, what does that prove? Nothing as far as I can see. 

Was Roach ranching in Corralitos just north of Watsonville in Santa Cruz County? Yes. Did he go into hiding after the killing of Lewis Belcher as some writer say he did? No. 

How do we know that? It's because we know that William Roach did business in Watsonville and Monterey. Since he was seen, and people knew who he was and his whereabouts, how is that being in hiding? Besides, he bought his ranch in Corralitos before getting married and before leaving the Sheriff's Department. So that means he didn't use any funds from the Sanchez family fortune since he didn't come in contact with the Sanchez family money until after her bought his ranch. 

Ranching was his full-time job. And sadly, people leave that fact out when talking about Roach simply to make his other actions look suspicious. And by the way, if one was in hiding or trying to "get away" and not be seen, why stay in the area and be seen doing business there? They wouldn't. 

On September 2nd, 1866, William Roach was in the town of Watsonville doing business. After dinner that night, witnesses reported seeing him leave town on horseback. Some speculated that he was heading to Monterey to do business there. Others think he simply went home.

That next morning, September 3rd, his horse was found wondering around the Roach ranch. Yes, alone. Not too long after that, one of Roach's ranch-hands went to draw water from the well. That's when the former sheriff's lifeless body was found in the water at the bottom of the well. It is believed that he was beaten and strangled before being thrown in the well. His death was ruled "died under suspicious circumstances." Makes sense since his body was found at the bottom of his well. No one was ever charged with his murder.

All in all, the Roach-Belcher Feud claimed the lives of William Roach, Lewis Belcher, Dr. Henry Sanford, Jeremiah McMahon, and Mexican outlaw Anastacio Garcia. According to some sources there are at least two others who lost there life to this fued.

Former Monterey County Sheriff William Roach is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in Watsonville. Since he was connected to the Fenian Brotherhood, his headstone reads "We place this stone o'er thy grave as a token of the love we bore thee. The Fenian Brotherhood, First Sheriff Monterey Co. 1850 - 1853". He was 46 when he was murdered. 

There ends the story of what happened to the first sheriff of Monterey County, California. But really, the story doesn't end there.

It should be noted that Maria Sanchez came out of the ordeal unscathed. Because of her great wealth, a large number of men were interested in gaining control of the vast Sanchez estate.

Maria Encarnacion Ortega Sanchez actually married her attorney, Thomas B. Godden in 1853. Godden was killed when the steamboat Jenny Lind mysteriously exploded en route from Alviso to San Francisco on April 11th, 1853. So yes, Maria lost two husbands within four months of each other.

In 1853, Maria married Dr. Henry L. Sanford. We know how he was killed in a shootout with Roach's brother-in-law in 1855. She then married George W. Crane who died of Measles in 1868. In 1871, Maria married her fifth husband. He was a man by the name of Anastacio Alviso. He was shot and killed shortly after they were married.

As for the Sanchez holdings, remember how the children got a hold of their trust? Well, by 1864, two years before William Roach was murdered, the Sanchez heirs started selling their share of the land. By 1867, almost all of the once large Sanchez rancho was sold off. 

Most of the Sanchez holdings were sold to one person. His name was Henry Miller of Miller and Lux, who was also known as the "Cattle King of California." He was a man who at one point in the late 1800s was one of the largest land-owners in the United States. He bought 44,000 acres of the Sanchez rancho. His story is for another day.

Tom Correa

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