Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Last of the California Rangers Tells Story of Stirring Times

William James Howard on his 97th Birthday
Washington Post
April 28, 1907

Syndicated story from The San Francisco Chronicle (1907):
 
Despite the fact that more than eighty years measure his age, Capt. W. J Howard recently made the long trip from Mariposa County to Berkeley alone in a covered wagon. He left his large holding in Mariposa to make an extended visit with son, Royal T Howard, of South Berkeley. The Captain has an extremely interesting history that should appeal to every resident of California, because of the fact that he is the sole survivor of the California Rangers, the famous troop which in the early days succeeded in bringing peace to the newly discovered gold county and law to the new State. With the years all the members of the Rangers have passed away and Capt. Howard has reached his twilight days.

The captain is enjoying a peaceful old age. He tells his children and his children's children of the many adventures he has met, but has given up looking for them. He has adapted himself to most of the modern appliances, but there are several things he finds it difficult to take up. One of them is the railroad. As long as he can make his way on horseback or in a wagon, he will have nothing to do with the steam cars.

THE CALIFORNIA RANGERS

Howard was breveted captain in the Mexican war. He was one of the twenty men appointed in 1853 by Gov. Bigler to suppress the lawlessness then rife. These men, later known as the California Rangers, were selected by a special act of the legislature empowering the governor to appoint this civil guard. It was at this time that the famous bandit, Joaquin Murietta, was terrorizing the southern part of the State, and things had come to such a pass that it became absolutely necessary that Murietta be captured. A reward of $3,00 was offered for the body of the Mexican desperado.

Murietta, as Capt. Howard tells the story, had become the leader of a band which stopped at nothing. Several murders were charged again him; he was accused of horse stealing and other serious offenses in the category of crime were chalked up against him. Of the twenty men who were appointed to hunt down the outlaw, Harry Love was chosen as Captain.

At the time of the gold excitement the Mexicans, who had flocked in large numbers, worked with a small bowl. The Americans came with their cradles and later with their sluice boxes, and long toms and commenced hydraulicing. 

 When the Mexican saw that they were being beaten in the race for wealth, they became jealous and envious and finally showed their displeasure with murder. It became so serious that it was unsafe for Americans to leave their tents and cabins. Out of this friction emerged Murietta, the greatest bandit of early California days. His depredations became such that it was necessary to organize a well-armed and brave body of men to hunt him down.

LOOKING FOR TWO DESPERATE MEN

All this the captain tells in a hearty, pioneer fashion. "The rangers started out in May 1853," to quote Howard. "We had orders to ransack every nook from Marysville to Los Angeles to find Murietta. At the same time, we were to look for two other men, Joaquin Corillo and Joaquin Vallanzuela. These were also desperate men, and we were taking no chances with any of them.

"On July 1 we received word that Murietta had stolen horses in Los Angeles. A plan was formed whereby the company was divided, one section shirting the coast and the other going through Fort Tejon. When we arrived a Los Angeles we found that Murietta had left. We also received definite information that he had fifteen men in his band. Stocked with his knowledge, we started back through Fort Tejon. We ascertained from the Indians, who had sold them food and buckskins, what route they had taken, and two days later we came upon the outlaw's camp.

"The camp was situated in a little cup of a valley, and we had the desperadoes surrounded before they were aware of their danger. A battle took place, which resulted in the total rout of the bandits, thirteen being killed and two taken prisoners. You see, we had this bad gang on the hip, and, although they put up a good fight, we put up a better one and came out ahead.

DEATH OF MURIETTA, THE BANDIT

"The fierce Murietta himself was killed. When the fighting was at its height , Murietta jumped upon his horse and attempted to escape. One of the rangers, John White by name, and fine, brave fellow, gave chase and opened fire upon the bandit, wounding him and bringing him to bay. He then commenced parleying with him, and it was at this juncture that the rest of us approached. We saw the two men in consultation, and, fearing that Joaquin would do White an injury, we opened fire and killed the bandit. It would have been avoided, but there are men who are too eager and will make trouble.

"It was finally decided that in order to show the government that the notorious robber was dead it would be necessary to have proof of his identity. In order to do this Murietta's head was cut off. One of the prisoners was asked who his companion had been, and he refused to answer. One of the rangers, I don't remember which, held the head before the captured bandit and threatened to decapitate him if he would not tell. 

The Mexican made a proud gesture, threw up his head, and informed him he could cut away. The threat was not carried out, however, and the prisoner was tied to a horse and we started on our return journey with him. We also made fast our other prisoner. One of these, the one who had so boldly defied us, we were destined to lose. 

Just before we come to a slough where passing was dangerous, we loosened the thongs which held him, and when we came to a place in the slough a little deeper than in the other portions he threw himself from the horse. He plunged into the water and sank rapidly to the bottom, not more than six feet deep, where he clung to the tulle's. George Chase was an expert swimmer, and tried to save the man, but the Mexican held fast and met his death in this manner. We voted him a brave man.

JUSTICE SWIFT IN THOSE DAYS

The other prisoner we took to Fresno, which in the early days was known as Millerton. Two weeks later he was hanged. For all this time he was handcuffed to me. He told me that he was not a bandit, but had been captured by Murietta. I believed he told the truth, but justice was swift in those days, and the Mexican's story was not generally believed. When we came to Millerton we had the head of Murietta placed in alcohol by Dr. Leach. Later it was identified, and we received our reward. 

We also brought back with us the hand of the infamous desperado, Three-fingered Jack, which was also put in alcohol. Three-fingered Jack put up a great fight, and was shot three times, at least twice fatally, before he finally succumbed. He fired his gun after he ahd been shot through the heart.

"Some time later the head of Murietta was taken to San Francisco, where it was placed on exhibition. It cost the curious twenty-five cents apiece to see the sight. Afterward it was taken to New York City, where it was again exhibited. In later years it was in Robinson's Museum, in San Francisco. At the time of the late fire it was lost and it is not known now what has become of it."

"Although our band had several close calls, there were not fatalities. We were in organization three months after this, at the end of which time peace was restored. We received $150 a month for our services. Never since did the Mexicans resort to any desperate acts of violence. We had succeeded in bringing them within the pale of the law.

WAGER WITH WIFE OF MURIETTA

"I would like to say a word concerning the wife of Murietta. It has been said that she was mistreated by the Americans, and that it was for this reason that Murietta became a bandit. I know that these stories are false. I had the best of opportunities for knowing the woman because for a considerable time she lived near me when I was camped down close to Hornitos. 

She was an extremely beautiful woman and was known as "Queen:" on account of her beauty and regal ways. At one time she bet me ten bottles of champagne, which was then extremely dear, that she was a better marksman than I. A soda water bottle was placed at sixty yards. I had no trouble in winning the wager, having always been proficient with a riffle. Not being a drinking man, I thanked her and refused the wine.

"There have also been a great number of stories told of Murietta which are not true. For example, he was never tied to a tree and whipped by the miners. Bancroft's history covering this period is in error. I would like to show up these errors, but I'm getting on in years now and don't think I will ever put the true facts in print. I am a much better man with a rifle that I am with a pen."

The captain has completed most of the manuscript of a book dealing with the stirring times in which he had taken part, but in a recent fire this labor of a long period was destroyed. He believes he will not rewrite it.

[Transcribers note: In 1928, Jill Crosely-Batts did complete a book on The Last of the California Rangers]

HAS ALWAYS LIVED AN OUT-DOOR LIVE

Capt. Howard was born in Virginia on August 26, 1826. In spite of his extreme age, he is hale and hearty. He has lived an outdoor life always. Since 1849 he has lived in California. Before he became a Ranger he fought the Indians and met with many adventures while thus employed. He has served several terms in the State legislature, has held county offices, and for years has been successfully a farmer.

Capt. Howard's life has been a series of adventures. In the many years that he has been a resident of California he has met with his fill of happenings, and if he should put the thrilling chain of events in which he played a part in their order in a book he would supply the reading public not only with an interesting volume, but of historical and instructive value. Conditions have changed since Capt. Howard helped to subdue the lawlessness of the early 1850s in this State. 

Today there is a new order of things, and a change which leaves no room for the rejuvenation of the old days when a gun was law and a rope in the willing hands of the vigilantes was used to enforce order. It was in these days that Capt. Howard was a competent actor, and was recognized as such by the men of his time. He was entrusted with many dangerous missions, often held the life of a man in his hand, and never took advantage of an unequal combat.

It was while Capt. Howard was holding the position of Sheriff at different times in Mariposa County that he showed anew what he could do as a peace officer. He was responsible for the deserts of many criminals and cleared up more than one mystery of murder and robbery. And all the time he held that office he never mistreated a prisoner. Kindness was his principle and with this, he did more than has ever been done by force.

FIRST ADVENTURE WITH THE INDIANS

Captain Howard has the following to say concerning his first adventure with the Indians: "in the year 1859 I owned the Buena Vista ranch, about four miles southwest of the town of Hornitos, on Burn's Creek, and in December of that year I had a large number of horses and mules stolen by the Indians. As soon as I discovered my loss I organized a party of twenty men and, after striking a trail of the desperados, we followed it as far as the Mormon Bar, where we met Maj. James Burney, who, in command of a body of volunteers, was out after the Indians also.

"We at once joined forces, and with Maj. Burney in command our force of over sixty men with James D. Savage as guide resumed the trail. On the Second day out, Savage made a report that the village was not very far off as he had heard the Indians singing.

"When we received the order to charge the enemy, we did so with a rush, scattering the Indians in all directions, but they soon rallied and as many of them were armed with old Spanish riles, they commenced to make warm work for us. Suddenly it occurred to me that I could charge to better advantage from behind a tree, and acting on this impulse I sought the shelter of a large pine. Evidently, the same thought had occurred to the others, as I found that Maj. Burney and John Sylvester were already in possession. However, the tree was large and we made it a point to stay close together.

"The first of our men to fall was Lieut. E. Skeqane, then Bill Little, who was shot in three different places. A little later Charles Houston got a bullet through his neck and Dick Tilasan had his nose shot away.

THOUGHT HIS FACE WAS SHOT AWAY

"Then to make matters worse (for me) I met with what I felt sure was a mortal wound. I exposed myself a little too much, and an Indian took a pot shot at me, which tore away the whole side of my face (at least I thought so), and toppled me over. Burney and Sylvester quickly pulled me back behind our friendly shelter where with hands pressed tightly over my mutilated face, I told them of the serious nature of the wound and called attention to the blood that was trickling through my fingers.

"They pulled my hands down to see how badly I was hurt, and then they burst into a hearty laugh. 'Why', they said 'you are not hurt at all, you are only crying,' and to my intense relief I found this to be true. The heavy ball from the Indian's gun had scaled off a large piece of bark from our tree, and this had struck me in the face with such force that it stunned me, and brought the tears to my eyes."

PERSONNEL OF THE CALIFORNIA RANGERS:

The following list was the personnel of the Rangers, as given by Capt. Howard: Harry Love, captain, was killed in Santa Cruz in a feud; Gen. B. Edward Conner died in San Francisco; William Burns, died in Stockton; Charles Bludworth, killed Snelling, Merced County, Thomas T Howard, died in Galveston; W. J. Henderson, died in Fresno; John White, killed at Fort Tejon; William Campbell, died at Kings River; Edward Campbell, died at Kings River; Augusta Black, killed in the civil war; Dr. Hollister, died in San Jose; Robert McMasters, died in Sacramento; George Evans, died in Santa Cruz; John Nutall, killed at Nicaragua; Geogre Nutall, died in Stockton; Nicholas Ashmore, killed at Salt Lake; James Norton, killed at Salt Lake; Ned Van Buren, killed in Contra Costa County, George Chase, drowned in the Fresno River, and Capt. W. J. Howard, living.

Editors Note: 

First, this syndicated news article appears here just as it did in The Washington Post in 1907. Second, the above story was transcribed by Carolyn Feroben for the Mariposa County Family Chronicles article, "THE CALIFORNIA RANGERS as told by Capt. W. J. Howard."

Lastly, I hope you enjoyed this look into our past through the eyes of an old lawman who was there. Reading his story of how things were supports my belief that history is something that we should observe and learn from. 

We should examine history to try to understand what was done and use it as a training aid so that we don't make the same mistakes again. Of course, the flip side of that is that we should also learn from our history so that we can recognize what works and subsequently repeat the successes of our past. Whether it's our love of country, our endeavor to preserve our history for future generations, our efforts to feed a hungry world, the alliances we've taken to stop genocide, our desire to free enslaved peoples, vanquish the evils of human traffickers, or our bringing justice to lawless lands, we should recognize that sound actions deserve repeating. 

While naysayers will undoubtedly point out where some have errored and stumbled, our history is replete with examples of altruism, heroism, selflessness, and self-sacrifice. That needs emulating. 

And that's just how I see things.

Tom Correa


2 comments:

  1. Tom, please start a youtube channel. Maybe intros or expansions to the history that you write about. I really love your story telling. Thanks! Mark - Sacramentan living in Alaska

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Mark,
      I've been looking for your other email about your idea of telling these stories on youtube. If you can email me again, I will gladly tell you what I have in mind. Hope all is well in Alaska. Thanks for visiting my blog. Tom

      Delete

Thank you for your comment.