Home -> Miscellaneous Books -> Reminiscences of a Pioneer -> Chapter 21 - The Lookout Lynching

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Chapter XXI.

The Lookout Lynching.

Coming down to a later date, perhaps no event of its character has attracted so much comment, and been the subject, of more gross misrepresentation than the "Lookout Lynching." I have, therefore, been asked to give a true account of the deplorable affair, the causes leading up to the same, and the sensational trial of nineteen citizens accused of participating in the act.

To begin at the beginning: Along in the early 70's the United State government established a military post at Fort Crook, in Fall River valley, which was occupied by a company of cavalry under command of one Capt. Wagner. The post was designed to afford protection to settlers against depredations by hostile Indians. Soon after the arrival of the troops the Captain began to cast eyes of favor on a comely young Indian woman, the wife of a Pit River brave. The Captain had been sent to civilize the Indians, and was not long in taking the woman under his protection. The arrangement was agreeable to the woman, who preferred the favor of the white chief to that of her dusky husband.

Time wore on and the government concluded to abandon the post, and ordered Capt. Wagner and his company elsewhere. Of course, he could not take the Indian woman with him, and she must be got rid of. The means presented itself in the person of a soldier named Calvin Hall, whose term of enlistment had expired. He proposed to Hall that if he would take the woman off his hands he, the Captain, would give him a small portable sawmill which the government had sent to the post to saw lumber with which to build quarters, etc. The arrangement being agreeable to Hall, the trade was made and the woman and sawmill passed to a different ownership.

In the course of time Hall sold the sawmill and settled on a piece of land not far from the present town of Lookout. Here the two full blood children of the woman grew to manhood. Another child was born to the woman, the father being a man named Wilson, with whom she lived during one of her changes of lovers, for Mary (her Christian name) was a woman of many loves. The half breed boy was fifteen years old, and probably by reason of environment was not a model. The two full bloods, Frank and Jim Hall, the names by which they were known, gradually became looked upon as desperate characters. Their many misdeeds brought them into prominence, and frequent arrests followed. But somehow Hall managed to enable them to escape the vengeance of the law. This only served to make them bolder in their misdeeds. Cattle were killed and horses mutilated, merely because the owners had incurred their enmity. The school house in the neighborhood was broken open, books destroyed and other vandal acts committed. In fact, they became the terror of the neighborhood, the Hall home being a place of refuge and shelter, and Hall a protector when arrests followed their crimes.

This condition of affairs could not exist for long. When the law fails to protect life and property, I have always observed that men find a way to protect them. About a year and a half before the finale, a gentleman living in Lookout visited Alturas and detailed the many misdeeds of these men to me. One in particular I remember. Dr. Shearer, a wealthy stock man living some distance this side of Lookout, had employed some Indians in harvesting his hay crop. Frank Hall had a grievance against the Indians, and during their absence from their camp went there and cut their wagons and harness to pieces. The Indians trailed him to within a short distance of Halls, but were afraid to go further. They complained to Mr. Shearer, who promptly sent word to Frank Hall that if he ever came on his ranch he, Shearer, would shoot him. Some time after this Mr. Shearer found a saddle animal belonging to his wife cut and mutilated in a most shameful manner. The horse, a beautiful animal and a pet, had his ears and tail cut off, while deep gashes were cut in his side and hips. Mr. Shearer could not prove that Frank Hall committed the dastardly act, but was more than satisfied of his guilt. This and other like acts were detailed to me, and I wrote an article for my paper detailing the grievances of the people of that section and ending by predicting that, unless it was stopped, "juniper trees would bear fruit." My prediction came true a year and a half later, only that the Pit River bridge and not the junipers bore the fruit.

Some time during the year of 1900 a man named Yantes came to the vicinity of Lookout and took up with the Halls. Later he took Mary, the Indian woman, away from old man Hall, and lived with her on a ranch he had located. He carried a big gun and posed as a bad man, and of course found genial companionship in the sons of the Indian woman. The coming of Yantes seemed to add to the boldness and reckless conduct of Frank and Jim Hall and the half-breed boy Wilson. Along towards the last of May, 1901, a burglary was committed in the neighborhood. Of course the Hall crowd was suspected and a search warrant obtained. At the Hall home several of the articles were found, as well as on the persons of the men. The hides and meat of animals recently killed were found at the Hall and Yantes homes and the brands identified by the owner. This discovery led to the arrest of the entire gang, including Hall and the half-breed boy Wilson. They were taken to Lookout and a guard placed over them.

The Grand jury was in session at Alturas, and next morning R. E. Leventon and Isom Eades came to Alturas to secure the indictment of the men. The proof was positive, and they felt that at last a conviction could be secured. But unfortunately the Grand jury adjourned that morning. They then applied to the District Attorney to go to Lookout and prosecute the criminals. But Mr. Bonner had a case coming up at Lake City, and the Justice refusing to postpone it, could not go. The matter was finally arranged by the appointment by Mr. Bonner of C. C. Auble, an Adin attorney, as a special deputy to prosecute the cases. The appointment was made out and given to Leventon and Eades, but Mr. Bonner, a young lawyer and serving his first, term, made the fatal mistake of instructing Mr. Auble to dismiss the charge of burglary and rearrest the men for petty larceny.

During all this time the five men, two white men, the half-breed boy and the two Indians, were held under guard, the bar room of the hotel being used for the purpose. When it became known that the prisoners were merely to be prosecuted for the smaller crime, the whole country became aroused. Both Yantes and the Halls made threats of dire vengeance upon those instrumental in their arrest. They declared they would get even as soon as they were free. All knew the Indians and Yantes to be desperate men, and to turn them loose would be equivalent to applying the torch to their homes, if not the knife to their throats. Accordingly at the hour of 1:30 on the morning of May 31st a rush was made by masked men, the prisoners taken from the guards and all five hung to the railing of the Pit River bridge.

The news spread like wildfire and created intense excitement throughout the county and State. The great papers, in two column headlines, told of the "wiping out of a whole family." "An old man," said they, "his three sons and his son-in-law," were ruthlessly hung for a petty crime, the stealing of a few straps of leather. In Modoc county the sentiment of nine-tenths of the people was that the leaders of the mob should be punished. Young Banner had made a mistake, due doubtless to youth and inexperience, but it remained for Superior Judge Harrington to make a still more serious one.

Judge Harrington wrote to the Attorney-General asking that detectives and a special prosecutor be sent to investigate and prosecute the case against the lynchers. He also called the Grand jury together in special session. But there never was any evidence.

The Grand jury convened on June 10th, and a host of witnesses were in attendance.

The result of the Grand Jury session was the returning of indictments against R. E. Leventon, Isom Eades and James Brown. As the case against Brown appeared to be the best, he was "brought to trial" November 21, 1901. Assistant Attorney-General Post and Deputy Attorney George Sturtevant were sent from the Attorney-General's office to prosecute the case. The prisoner was defended by ex-Judge G. F. Harris, E. V. Spencer and John E. Raker.

Soon after the trial began Judge Post sent for a noted gunfighter named Danny Miller. And during all those weary three months of the trial he could be seen trotting around after Post, his mustache turned up, a la William of Germany, like a rat terrier following a mastiff, to the infinite amusement of the small boy and utter disgust of sensible men. Gibson, the noted San Francisco detective, was here, assisted by other detectives and a dozen or more local head hunters, who were after a share of the big reward. District Attorney Bonner was pushed aside and completely ignored. He was not even given an insight into what was going on. In justice to Mr. Sturtevant I want to say that he had no hand in the high-handed measures adopted by Post and Harrington. And had he been in control the result of the Brown trial might have ended differently. Indeed, so favorably were the people of Modoc impressed with Mr. Sturtevant that members of both parties - prominent citizens - went to him and offered him the Superior Judgeship at the coming fall election. For reasons of his own he declined, and before the end of the Brown trial left in disgust.

At one stage of the proceedings there was talk of supplying troops from the National Guard to preserve order. And yet there had at no time been a breach of the peace or threats made except by the man Miller. On one occasion Miller drew a revolver in the court room and attempted to shoot Attorney Raker. At another time he beat a young man named Russell over the head with a gun for some fancied offense. A brother of young Russell kept the principal hotel in the town, and both had been open in their denunciation of the lynchers. I mention these facts to show why it was that the citizens of the county turned from nine-tenths in favor of prosecuting the lynchers to the utmost limit, to nine-tenths the other way.

Early in January Detective Gibson went to a young man who was stranded in Alturas with his wife and offered him a portion of the reward, amounting to $900, to testify to a certain matter. The young man and his wife were working, for their board, but he told Gibson that he knew nothing of the matter and that poor as he was he would not swear to a falsehood. Gibson went away, but returned a few nights, later and again tried to get him to testify, saying that the men were guilty and that no one would ever be the wiser. Slavin (the young man's name) then told Gibson that if he ever came to his home with such a proposal that he, Slavin, would shoot him like a dog. All these attempts at bribery soon became known and filled citizens everywhere with consternation. They argued that under such methods an innocent man might be sacrificed that a lot of head hunters could gain a big reward.

On January 4th, 1902, Mary Lorenz, a half breed daughter of old Mary Hall, swore to a warrant charging, fifteen others with complicity in the lynching. All were arrested, but not one was found to be armed. They were placed in jail, and on the 10th indictments were filed charging each one with five different murders.

The causes leading to these arrests were said to be the confessions of John Hutton and Claude Morris.

It subsequently developed that Morris was taken to a room, there plied with whisky by the detectives, aided by Simmons, and at two o'clock in the morning signed an affidavit that had been prepared for him. After he regained consciousness he denied the whole thing, but was told that he would be sent to the penitentiary for perjury if he went back on the confession he had signed before a notary public. Under the circumstances the poor, weak boy, kept under guard and away from friends and relatives, was compelled to stick to the evidence that had been prepared for him.

As the trial of Brown dragged its "slimy length along," the scenes in the court room at times beggared description. Harrington, badgered by the attorneys for the defense, raved like a madman, and generally ended by sending one or more of the attorneys for Brown to jail. He refused to permit any evidence to be introduced for the purpose of impeachment. Disinterested men were brought from Tule Lake to prove that the boy Hutton was on his way to Lookout from that place when the lynching took place. Another witness was placed on the stand and testified that he stood on the ground, back of Leventon's shop and saw certain of the accused, among them Brown, and heard them plotting. Harrington refused to permit any evidence to be introduced tending to impeach the witness.

When Harrington would rule against the admission of this evidence, Harris, Raker or Spencer would argue the point and manage to get the evidence before the jury and end by going to jail. The attorneys took turns going to jail, but managed for one to remain outside to conduct the case. Thus wore away the weary months until the jury brought in a verdict of "not guilty." In conversation with one of the jurymen that morning he stated that the character of the witnesses for the prosecution was enough. They were Indians, half-breeds, and disreputable characters of every shade and degree.

The morning after the verdict was rendered not one of these creatures could be found. During the night they had fled and scattered like a covey of quail. They feared arrest for perjury, of which they were guilty. All that remained the next morning was General Post and his gun man, Danny Miller. They took the stage after breakfast and were seen no more. The prisoners were discharged one and two and three at a time and quietly returned to their homes.

Thus ended the dreary farce of the prosecution of the Lookout lynchers. It had cost the county about $40,000 and had accomplished nothing, save to blacken the character of our citizens and cause the outside world to look upon us as outlaws and desperadoes.


The events here recorded were seen with my own eyes, or were received from the lips of the actors therein. Hundreds of men and boys passed through equal or greater dangers and privations than I, and are entitled to equal or greater credit. Reared in the wilderness and on the frontier of civilization, I was merely the product of environment, and lay claim to no particular distinction above those who were my companions. And yet, as I look back over the past, I must be excused for a feeling of pride in having been a part, however insignificant, in the building here on the western rim of the continent, of the mighty Empire of the Pacific.

To have seen proud cities rear their heads from a wilderness - from a cluster of log huts in a primeval forest - whose everlasting stillness was alone broken by the yells of savage men, the long howl of the wolf and the scream of the panther - is something to have lived for.

And yet I question if those who now possess this land of plenty - this land of "milk and honey" ever give a thought for those who "Conquered the Wilderness" and made it a fit and safe abode for the millions of civilized men and women who now enjoy its blessings.

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