Thursday, January 17, 2019

Lynchings In Lookout, California 1901

J.W. Leventon's Blacksmith Shop on Main Street, Lookout, California
The tiny town of Lookout, California, was known as Whitley's Ford back in the 1870s. The folks there original named their town after a local hotel owner by the name of James W. Whitley. And while there is some speculation that he was the first to settle there, I haven't been able to confirm that. The original post office in Whitley's Ford only operated for a little over a year from 1874 to 1875 and then closed. The post office reopened in 1880 when the town became known as Lookout. The name Lookout was chosen because of the nearby hills. They were used as lookouts for Native Americans tribes there.

That part of upper Northern California has traditionally been a ranching and farming community. That's the way it was back in 1901 when a gang of rustlers and thieves known as the Hall Gang roamed that area. Calvin Hall was the leader of the gang. He was 73 years old in 1901. His son James age 19, his adopted sons 32 year old Frank and 15 year old Martin Wilson, and a Dan Yantis who was believed to be in his early twenties, were all part of his gang. 

Some say they were all pretty well known throughout that area as rowdies and thieves. All in all, the gang was a bunch of known for their thievery. From what I could find out, it appears they were mainly cattle rustlers. But let's not think these outlaws were harmless, they weren't by a long shot. In fact, to describe them properly I'd have to call them vicious and sick. Not for what they did to people, them being rowdy punks and trouble-makers, thieves. It has to do with their deviant behavior of mutilating cattle and horses. 

Among some of the more ghoulish acts, the gang members were known to sneak into farms and cut the throats of cattle a let them bleed-out. They would cut off the udders of nursing cows, while knowing that would kill the mother and starve her calf. As for horses, they were known to stab horses, cut their fetlocks, and even stampede them into barbed wire. Yes, all the while knowing that the cut up horses would have to be put down. 

Where their mutilation of animals was horrible enough, as replacing stock cost ranchers and farmers dearly, the gang also vandalized homes and equipment. They were known to break windows knowing that glass was precious and hard to come by. They were known to cut up harnesses, ruin wagons, destroy saddles, steal supplies and make off with prized cattle. 

Year's ago when I was studying for my degree in Criminal Justice, I remember being told that criminals who hurt animals, especially those who mutilate them, later end up hurting people. Serial killers all have that in common. In fact, according to an FBI report, aside from killing dozens of innocent people, a significant percentage of serial killers practiced their sick deeds on animals. Serial killers often tortured or killed small animals from an early age, and men who commit child abuse or domestic violence very frequently harm household pets as well. 

"If somebody is harming an animal, there is a good chance they’re also hurting a human," said John Thompson, deputy executive director of the National Sheriff’s Association in a 2016 interview. Today, the standard criminal charge for mutilating animals, including horses and cattle, is simply animal cruelty. In some places, that's not even a felony even if it effects one's livelihood for the worse. 

So while the Hall Gang may sound like rustlers, vandals, and petty thieves who were a nuisance to the folks in the area, their preforming stock mutilation was taken as a sign of worse things to come. The people of Lookout instinctively knew that these were not merely criminals, but were demented individuals that needed to be stopped before they didn't that cutting up cows was a bore and they needed to move to cutting up people. 

On May 30th, 1901, the gang was arrested for theft, stock mutilation, and vandalism. All five members of the gang were taken to the Lookout Myers Hotel. They were to be kept there while awaiting trial. According to reports, the citizenry had had enough of the Hall Gang. The tipping point came when the townsfolk found out that the gang members would face the lesser charge of petty larceny. 

In the early morning hours of May 31st, about two dozen masked men rushed the guards and captured the prisoners. Calvin Hall age 73, his son, James, 19, his adopted sons, Frank, 32, Martin Wilson, 15, and gang member Dan Yantis, were jerked from the hotel and taken to the nearby Pit River Bridge.  

According to reports, while some say that James, Frank, and Dan Yantis had terrorized locals by robbing and stealing, and by rustling and mutilating livestock, those reports say young Martin Wilson  and Calvin who was believed to be 73 were completely innocent of any crime. While that may have been the case, that didn't stop the lynch mob from hanging all five from the railings of the Pit River Bridge. 

The local citizenry had enough from the people they knew as the Hall Gang. After being arrested on May 30th, and the men were taken into custody for cattle rustling, the people of lookout weren't going to have some lawyer set bail and them get off as they had done in the past. This time the locals citizens formed a vigilante committee and lynched them. 

Photo Credit: Modoc County Museum
Lookout was soon swarming with curiosity seekers as a result of newspapers running a picture of the Pit River Bridge with the story of what took place there. Besides the curious, it's known that a few bounty hunters showed up wanting to find out if there was money on the heads of those who did the lynching.  

A grand jury convened a month later on June 10th, and indicted local residents R.E. Leventon, Isom Eades and James Brown. They were held for trial with the county sending more deputies so that local vigilantes would think twice about attempting a jail break. Besides the increase in lawmen, it's said that reporters from around the state, attorneys, and state officials all descended on the town of Lookout after the news of the indictments went public.

Los Angeles Herald
Number 263, 20 June 1901


Modoc County Grand Jury Completes Its Work Six Indictments Inspected to Be Filed. Mrs. Perry Summers Gives Important Testimony Which May Identify the Members of the Mob

ALTURAS — The Modoc county grand jury has about completed its labors in the Investigation of the Lookout lynching, and will probably adjourn tonight. All of the witnesses have been excused and have started for their homes. It will not be known for several days whether or not there will be any indictments found, but It seems to be the impression that there will be about six bills filed.

Mrs. Perry Summers made a remark in Alturas this morning to the effect thaf she had given evidence before the grand jury yesterday that would necessitate her moving from Lookout, as she would now consider her life in danger. It later leaked out that Mrs. Summers had testified that on the night of the lynching at Lookout she heard the mob, got up and followed the procession to the bridge but thought it was some joke. She witnessed the hanging and identified a number of the mob. According to her testimony she remained some distance from the scene of the bloody work. It is claimed by parties from Lookout that the woman is partially insane and does not know what she is talking about. 

Some excitement was made manifest here yesterday over a rumor which became current that there was now a reward of $118,000 in all offered for the conviction of the Modoc lynchers from different sources. This cast a shadow on some of the faces of the Lookout delegation, as they seem to fear that detectives will be soon put in the field.

Amador Ledger
Volume 1901, Number 20, 20 December 1901


ALTURAS — The Modoc county lynchers are now on trial, and it is dollars to doughnuts that there will be no conviction. There is reason for this. The citizens of that county had been annoyed for the past few years by haying their stock stolen, shot and mutilated, and, after having invoked the aid of the law on several occasions without securing a conviction, took the law in their own bands and did a little wholesale^hanging. Mob law is to be deprecated on all occasions, but the fact still remains that when justice fails to be meted out to the wrongdoers; citizens step in and administer it in a crude but sometimes satisfactory way. — Dispatch.

-- end of articles.

As for the verdict? After Modoc County spent $40,000 on the trial, all of the men were acquitted in January of 1902. 

There's no telling who stayed around and who left town after that. But today, four of the five ropes used to hang the Hall Gang are on display at the Modoc County Museum. 

As of July, 2018, the town of Lookout had a population of 87. Among the things one can still see left there from the old days is J.W. Leventon's blacksmith shop on Main Street. Though vacant today, it is a reminder of a time gone bye. Another landmark for it's infamy is the Pit River Bridge. But the original hanging bridge is gone. A concrete and steel structure replaced the original wooden bridge long ago.

Tom Correa


  1. Don’t know how you find these things, Tom, but you’ve done a good job bringing them to our attention. Many thanks!

    1. You're very welcome. You'll never know how much it means to me that you like these stories.

  2. Elizabeth L. Johnson said, Fascinating! Excellent article. If I had my drothers, I'd be out weekly to these tiny towns and their museums, history is so interesting to me. . . even in the boonies.


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