Home A - Z FAQ Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management

Next: 24. Civil WarContentsPrevious: 22. Political Pendulum

The Last of the California Rangers (1928) by Jill L. Cossley-Batt


As extremes are followed by extremes, so Captain Howard and his girl-wife had their periods of joy and sorrow. The ranch life was a vast change from the city, where she had been continually surrounded by all kinds of men from every part of the globe. Close to the mining camps, nine miles from any other white woman, she was forced to look upon the savage impulses of man breaking through the veneer of civilization.

The two young people attended a large number of dances, and in order to be present at these functions they had to ride twelve miles on horseback. Fortunately, Mrs. Howard was a good horsewoman and an excellent shot with the rifle; therefore, frequent hunting expeditions for elk and antelope were enjoyed. This broke the monotony of house supervision, which occupied a great deal of time, it being her chief duty, with the assistance of Chinese help, to see that the kitchen was well stocked. This was especially necessary in Captain Howard’s home, for he never flinched from the idea that he was a Southern gentleman and his house was “Liberty Hall.”

Shortly after his marriage he was appointed Deputy Sheriff of Mariposa County. In the good old days, such officers were kept extremely busy and covered a large tract of country, which necessitated their being away from home a great deal. While William was occupied with his public duties, his little wife became at times quite lonely, and the companionship of another white woman would have been much appreciated. After one year of married life her wishes were realized, for a fashionable lady from New York came to live a few miles from the Howard ranch; needless to say, a strong friendship soon developed between the two women. By this time, too, children had begun coming to bless the Howard home.

In 1860 W. J. Howard moved his family to Snelling, California, and during his stay there a terrible flood almost wiped out the town. Some of the people were rescued in row-boats, while the Captain carried several to dry land on his horse, which was a good swimmer.

Immediately after the flood they moved to Quartzberg, a desolate mining town, where Mrs. Howard taught school for one term, in addition to looking after her three children. During their stay in this uninteresting place many daring robberies and murders were committed, therefore William’s activities as Deputy Sheriff did not permit him to spend much time with his family.

One of his duties at this time was to arrest a Chinese who had shot a white boy in Hornitos. It appears that school-boys were persistently throwing stones into the holes where the Chinese were mining, and one miner, becoming tired of the boys’ actions, fired a pistol into the air with the intention of merely frightening them. Unfortunately, a bullet entered the bowels of a little German boy, and this incited a mob, which caused the Chinese to run away.

Mounting his horse, Deputy Sheriff Howard, unarmed, volunteered to capture the offender. When the two drew near to each other, however, the Chinaman attempted to shoot. Unarmed as he was, Howard knocked the culprit down with his horse, and putting a rope around his neck, led him back to Hornitos. On arrival in this slate-rock mining town, which had a reputation for wild carousals, the people collected in a mob intent upon a lynching. Howard protected his prisoner, saying, “I caught him at the risk of my own life, and he belongs to me. I intend to give him a fair trial; for the time being we will place him in jail.” In the night, however, the mob hired Bockenaugh, a blacksmith, to make a key which unlocked the jail door; then they took the Chinaman out of jail and hanged him.

One of Howard’s duties, some years later in his long term as Deputy Sheriff, was to arrest a man named Queue, who had killed a young Indian. He was particularly interested in this case, for the red lad had been in his care since 1852. In that year Howard had been in charge of an Indian Reservation, and one day he met Falis, the Chief, carrying in his hands an unclothed baby.

“What are you going to do with that infant?” Howard asked.

“I am going to throw it into the river,” the chief replied. “The mother is only a girl, and unable to take care of it.”

“Don’t do that,” said Howard; “I’ll give an order for two years’ support.”

This was understood, and Falis took the child back to the Reservation, where an old squaw cared for him until he was three years old, when he was taken to the Howard ranch and placed in the care of the Chinese cook. The little boy, who became known as Ned, was very timid, and a few days after his arrival was suddenly missing. Every one searched high and low, but no baby could be found. As the dinner hour approached, the cook, having started a fire in the old-fashioned stove, happened to open the oven door, which stood ajar, and to his horror discovered Baby Ned fast asleep inside!

Several weeks after this incident, William bought some blasting powder and placed it in one of the windows of an outhouse where a hen was in the habit of laying her eggs. Ned was of an inquisitive turn, and loved to watch the hen’s movements. One day he secured a match, which the cook had carelessly laid aside, managed to strike it, and the flame reached the powder causing a terrific explosion. The hen was blown from her nest, the window shattered, and the child badly burned.

As Ned grew older he became very useful and caused a great deal of amusement by his funny actions. Captain Howard had a horse called Nitro-glycerine-lodi-phosphorus, and when Ned was twelve he used to strap the boy on the animal and let them loose in a field, where the horse would buck until Ned fell asleep.

At eighteen years of age Ned expressed a wish to become a medicine man, so William fitted him out with a pony, a saddle, and a bottle of oil. He did not succeed in this profession, and later worked for a cow-thief named Queue, who ordered him to steal one of Howard’s animals. The lad, however, had not forgotten William’s kindness to him, and instead of stealing his cow he informed him of Queue’s intentions. When Queue discovered that Ned would not steal, he killed him; therefore Captain Howard was anxious that the cow-thief should receive the punishment due him. On complaint he was arrested and taken before the Grand Jury, but in the good old days it was no great offense to kill an inoffensive Indian. They failed to find a true bill, so Queue was given his liberty.

On another occasion a man named Guinn, who lived at Snelling, lost several mules and offered a large reward for their recovery. George Turner, County Sheriff, asked Howard to go after them, and so the Deputy quickly picked an Indian who was a good marksman, and the two went toward the coast. Late one night they drew near to Peach Tree Valley, where they heard whooping, yelling and laughing. Concluding that this must be the thieves celebrating their success with a war dance, the pursuers camped for the night. Early the next morning they approached the outlaws, who proved to be a band of Mexicans known as The Mustang Runners.” One of them had been befriended by William at an earlier date; he recognized Howard, and at an opportune moment called him to one side, saying, “Friend, you had better go, as the rest of the band will do you harm and might even kill you. I assure you that the man suspected of stealing Guinn’s mules is not with us, and the mules are not around here.” Then he showed William a side trail that would lead him and his assistant out of danger, without being seen by the rest of the band. Having reason to believe that the man was telling the truth, Howard accepted some corn-cakes from the wife of the Mexican, and the two departed on their quest, which later was crowned with success.

During his term as Deputy Sheriff of Mariposa County, Captain Howard had many such cases to handle, and in time developed a high degree of detective ability and became known as “The Mysterious Sheriff.”

Next: 24. Civil WarContentsPrevious: 22. Political Pendulum

Home A - Z FAQ Online Library Discussion Forum Muir Weather Maps About Search
Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management