The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush

Buried treasure running into the hundreds of dollars has been found on the old Starke Hotel property, now owned by Attorney Ralph E. Swing, it became known here yesterday. For a number of days men employed on grading the property have been digging for the gold and keeping the fact a secret.

The San Bernardino County Sun, San Bernardino, California, March 3, 1921

Starke’s Hotel, located at Third Street and Arrowhead Avenue in San Bernardino, California, was a busy place during its heyday in the late 19th century. According to a 1938 news article, the hotel was a temporary home to “visitors from all parts of the states, professional gamblers, miners and many other guests” when it was owned and operated by German immigrants August Starke and his wife Catherine. By 1910 the hotel, which had changed owners several times, was a flophouse and sometime brothel called the Sunrise Hotel.

Starke HotelOn a rainy day in early March 1915, a 21-year-old Texan named Charles Hayward and his accused accomplice, Rosie Moyer, sat in the San Bernardino jail awaiting trial in Superior Court. They were charged with robbing $350 (worth about $8,700 in 2018), most of it in $10 gold coins, from a Chinese man named Wong Fong.

Charles was suspected of carrying out the actual robbery, then handing the bag of money off to Rosie. It was alleged that Rosie then hid the bag somewhere in the couple’s room at the Sunrise Hotel, but the police hadn’t located the cash.

Almost two years earlier Charles escaped from a chain gang while doing 30 days for petty larceny in Oakland, 450 miles to the north. More recently he’d survived a suicide attempt after he’d hacked at his wrist with the jagged edge of a cigarette tin while he was in jail on a drug charge in Los Angeles. Charles was familiar with the California criminal justice system — he’d also been jailed in San Diego, Sacramento and San Francisco.

Charles thought Rosie wasn’t the brightest coin in the cash register, so while he sat in jail he wrote her two letters telling her exactly how to “frame” her story when she testified at her trial. But Rosie never got the letters because a jail trusty handed them to the jailer instead. She got her story mixed up and ended up incriminating herself on the stand. Her attorney did what he could to try and repair the damage, but she was convicted of the robbery.

Charles Hayward prisonThe lawyers brought an interpreter, a local Chinese-American high school boy, to translate the testimony of Wong Fong and the other Chinese witnesses who spoke no English. As it turned out he spoke a different dialect than the witnesses and the lawyers had to to send to Los Angeles for another interpreter. The letters Charles wrote to Rosie were also submitted as evidence at his trial. He too was convicted of robbing Wong Fong.

Rosie Moyer prisonWhen Rosie was sentenced she cried hysterically and begged Charles to tell the court she’d had nothing to do with the crime. He steadfastly maintained his innocence. He said he couldn’t exonerate her since he wasn’t guilty of the robbery himself and had no idea who’d done it. The authorities drugged Rosie to calm her down. Both she and Charles were sentenced to five years at San Quentin. They served three and a half years before being paroled.

By early 1921 the Starke, or Sunrise Hotel, was abandoned and slated for tear down. When the construction workers found $10 gold coins in the demolition rubble, San Bernardinians speculated about the origins of the coins. Some folks thought a miner or old-salt frontiersmen, who cached his wealth at the hotel, had forgotten where he’d left his loot. The best money, however, was on the coins belonging to Wong Fong, the victim of the 1915 robbery. The money, you’ll recall, was never recovered.

Wong couldn’t say if the loot was his or not because he was long gone, killed several years earlier when he fell off his bolting horse. The owner of the property, Ralph E. Swing, who, ironically, was one of the prosecution attorneys in the cases against Charles and Rosie, let the workers keep the money. “Finders are keepers,” commented attorney Swing. Perhaps fearing the taxman, none of the finders was willing to admit to how much gold they’d recovered.

An archeological analysis of San Bernardino Chinatown, including the privies of Starke’s Hotel, was undertaken by Foothill Resources for Caltrans in 2001. Many household objects, such as clothing and eating utensils, were located, in addition to the signs of what you’d normally expect to find in a privy. Even items related to social drugs, like alcohol, tobacco and opium, were discovered. However there was no gold found anywhere in the vicinity, on which several of the San Bernardino Superior Court buildings now stand.

Featured photos and additional photos: Charles Hayward and Rosie Moyer, inmate photos from the California State Archives; Sacramento, California; Department of Corrections San Quentin Prison Inmate Photographs.

The Drop

The Drop

John Medlock is to hang tomorrow for the murder of Carrie Boyd, or McKinney, more than three years ago in the Gardiner coal camp. The Boyd woman was living with a negro named McKinney when Medlock won her somewhat fickle affections. She went to live with him but after a short time left him for another man.

Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, New Mexico), May 24, 1906

The murder occurred on the night of January 4, 1901. John Neeley (aka Medlock) went out looking for Carrie Boyd and he finally found her in the Gardiner saloon. Fueled with a jealous rage, he pulled out his pistol and shot her without warning. As she started to fall to the ground someone caught her and tried to hold her up. “Let her alone,” he yelled. “I want to see her drop.”

Witnessing the shooting sobered up the bystanders and most of them cleared out of the bar in fear for their own lives. Carrie died on the floor of the saloon. Her killer disappeared into the darkness. No one was foolish enough to try to stop him.

Gardiner was a mining town in Colfax County, New Mexico. James Gardiner, a geologist for the Sante Fe Railroad, discovered coal in nearby Dillon Canyon around 1881. Soon the Old Gardiner Mine swung into production. In 1896 the Raton Coal and Coke Company took over the mine and three railroad companies established coke ovens in town. Coal miners, both white and African-American, were drawn to the area for work.

With little to do in the evenings but drink, the saloon was a gathering place for the citizens of Gardiner. Hard drinking led to fighting. A few years after Carrie’s murder the partition that separated black and white drinkers in the saloon was smashed to bits during an altercation.

Coal mining was and still is a dangerous profession. John lost the sight in his right eye during a mine explosion. He also carried the scars on his forehead and right cheek from severe burns he got in the same accident. In addition he suffered from syphilis. Given how few women lived in New Mexico back then, venereal diseases were practically an occupational hazard for miners and cowboys.

After he murdered Carrie, John headed east to Indian Territory. He wouldn’t be caught for more than two years and when he was captured it was not for Carrie’s murder but for an assault on a woman who survived the attack. Under an alias — John Medlock — he was sentenced to three years at Leavenworth Penitentiary for the assault.

Before John was released from Leavenworth the New Mexico authorities realized he was the man who shot and killed Carrie Boyd. The sheriff of Colfax County, Marion Littrell, picked him up from the federal penitentiary on May 14, 1905, and took him to New Mexico to face the murder charge.

He was convicted of Carrie’s murder and sentenced to death by hanging. He didn’t fight the sentence.

The plan was for John and another man, David Arguello, who was convicted of the murder of a peace officer, to be hanged together on May 25, 1906. Two for the price of one saved the county some money. The sheriff was besieged with applications from people who wanted to witness the hangings. By law only 20 were allowed to attend.

The night before his execution John gave a statement confirming his guilt in Carrie’s murder. He said he regretted the crime and the bad company he kept when it happened. Then he went to bed and slept well. The next morning, after eating a good breakfast, he whistled and sang in his cell as he washed up.

Raton County Courthouse

After exchanging a few last words with his minister, John calmly mounted the scaffold that had been set up on the west side of the Raton County Courthouse. The trap was sprung at 10:15 a.m. but his neck wasn’t broken in the drop. He died of strangulation 13 minutes after his body went through the trap door.

The executions of John Neeley and David Arguello were the only legal hangings in Raton, New Mexico. Of course many lynchings also occurred in New Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

During the Great Depression the mines in Gardiner closed and after World War II the few families still there left. By 1954 Gardiner was a ghost town. Now the land is gated private property owned by media mogul Ted Turner. It’s part of Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch and if you have a spare $450 you can book a night’s stay there.

Featured photo: John Neeley, alias Medlock, from his Leavenworth Penitentiary file. Collection of the National Archives, Kansas City, Missouri.

The Freedwoman

The Freedwoman

Mary Snowden and Cynthia Walton, two dusky damsels of Eufaula, who have been awaiting trial in the Muskogee jail on a charge of assault to kill, were tried by a jury and the result was a verdict of guilty as to Mary Snowden and acquittal as to Cynthia.

Muskogee Phoenix (Muskogee, Oklahoma), December 7, 1899

Mary Snowden was sentenced to five years hard labor and costs in the federal penitentiary after she was convicted of assault to kill. The 21-year-old had been married for just over a year when she became prisoner #2040 at Leavenworth. Details of the crime were not reported in the newspaper, which likely means the victim was also a person of color.

Matthew Snowden

Matthew Snowden, Leavenworth inmate photo

Her husband, Matthew Snowden, was a Creek Freedman. (Matthew’s mother had been a slave of Creek Indians. Emancipated slaves and their children were enrolled as tribal citizens). Matthew had served two stints at Leavenworth by the time he married Mary. Their marriage didn’t last long. In 1902, while she was still in prison, he got married again and the following year he was married a third time. By 1907 Matthew was incarcerated for assault to kill at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. His brothers, Littleton, Joseph and Horace, also served prison terms.

The Wichita Beacon newspaper described Mary and the Snowden brothers as “members of a band of cutthroats and outlaws.”

According to her marriage license, Mary’s maiden name was Grimmett and she was born in 1879 in Indian Territory. In 1896-97 she was listed with her mother, Mary Hill, on the Indian Territory Census, living in Tahlequah in Cherokee County. Based on her almond-shaped eyes, straight hair and high cheekbones, Mary probably had both Native American and African American ancestry.

Mary appears to have been unfazed by the prospect of going to prison — she stared confidently at the camera with the hint of a smile on her pretty face. Officials at Leavenworth described her as “colored” with “l. mulatto” skin tone, good teeth, dark brown eyes, black hair and a short, slender build. Her religion was Baptist and she was literate. At the time of her incarceration, both of her parents were deceased and she had no children.

Aylesworth Album Collection. - Photographs. - Box 1. FREEDMEN DANCE DURING ENROLLMENT AT FORT GIBSON

Part of what’s intriguing about Mary is what she’s wearing — the tiny, striped straw hat and coarsely woven shirt. A photo taken at a dance during the Freedmen’s enrollment in the Five Civilized Tribes at Fort Gibson, shows the clothing worn by freedwomen around the turn of the century — the small hat and the puffy-sleeved shirt with its ruffled collar are visible. Mary’s beaded necklace is the part of her outfit that may signal her Indian heritage.

Like most of the 12 women sent to Leavenworth, Mary was transferred to the Kansas State Penitentiary at Lansing, Kansas, because the federal penitentiary had no facilities for women. If she behaved well and earned “good time,” she would’ve been released in February 1904. Otherwise she would have served her full sentence and been freed in December 1904.

In 1906 she married James Brice, an African American man 12 years her senior. In August 1908, Mary was shot in her thigh (“Williams Causes Darktown Terror”) during an altercation with a jealous, drunken lover named Bub Williams. The wound was described as severe and may have been fatal because, although there was no announcement of her death, Mary’s husband was listed as a widower on the 1910 census.

Mary’s mugshot was one of a handful of early Leavenworth inmate photos that were re-photographed and made available online by National Archives staff. That’s lucky, because her photo is currently missing and may have been stolen from the National Archives in Kansas City, where the Leavenworth inmate files are held.

Featured photo: Mary Snowden, Leavenworth inmate photo, 1900. Collection of the National Archives.

Pink’s Story (Part 2)

Pink’s Story (Part 2)

Continued from Pink’s Story (Part 1)

Pink Bruner was serving a life sentence at Leavenworth Penitentiary for the murder of Marshal Hugh Myers in May 1900, though everyone agreed he was not the man who pulled the trigger.

As part of the Curtis Act, a federal law that resulted in the break up of tribal governments, Pink, his mother, Rose, and his siblings were enrolled as members of the Chickasaw Nation in 1898. Rose, born in 1842, had been the slave of Holmes Colbert, according to her Dawes card. As Chickasaw Freedmen, Rose and her children each received an allotment of 40 acres of land in Indian Territory in 1906. The following year Indian Territory merged with Oklahoma Territory to become the state of Oklahoma.

Pink’s 40 acres, in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, was in the center of an oil belt and had value far beyond ordinary farmland. It was worth about $1000 — a fortune for a man in his circumstances.

The Leavenworth warden received many letters from people on the outside who wanted Pink’s allotment. Some claimed, incorrectly, that it was about to be sold for back taxes.

Moman Pruiett

Moman Pruiett, find-a-grave

Pink’s attorney at his murder trial was an ex-criminal with a violent streak named Moman Pruiett. Moman was a talented but controversial criminal lawyer who bragged that of the 343 murder cases in which he’d defended the accused, 303 of his clients were acquitted. Unfortunately for Pink, he was one of Moman’s 40 clients who’d been convicted.

Moman probably had saved Pink from the hangman’s noose, but he claimed Pink owed him his allotment in payment for both his legal representation during the trial and as payment for work on a pardon or commutation of his sentence — prior to actually achieving a result. Pink tried desperately from prison to hold onto the only thing he had of value, and he refused to turn his allotment over to Moman Pruiett or anyone else.

The third suspect in the Myers murder, Ben Cage, using the alias Floyd or Walter Alexander, was jailed for drunkenness in Wewoka, Oklahoma, in July 1915. While in jail Ben boasted that he was the triggerman for the Myers murder. It was reported that Ben was tried in August 1915, but there was no record of his conviction and imprisonment. More than 15 years elapsed since the crime occurred, and in order to try him the court had to rely mostly on transcripts from Pink’s trial.

Pink’s sentence was commuted in March 1917 and he was released from Leavenworth. Lawyer Pruiett and E.G. Hall, an Oklahoma City businessman appointed his “first friend” out of prison, fought over the title to Pink’s land. It’s unclear which man finally managed to get his hands on Pink’s allotment, but without a doubt one of them did.

He dropped his nickname and returned to using his given name — Legus — after he was released from prison. Over the years he worked as a porter in a Muskogee grocery store, a laborer for a soft drink company in Oklahoma City and finally ended up living with a cousin and farming in Econtuchka, Oklahoma.

100 years has passed since Pink’s release from prison and Econtuchka is now a ghost town. Legus “Pink” Bruner’s burial place is unknown.

Featured photo: Pink Bruner’s second Leavenworth Penitentiary mugshot, taken prior to his release in 1917, National Archives, Kansas City, Missouri.

Pink’s Story (Part 1)

Pink’s Story (Part 1)

From Friday until Tuesday night the U.S. Court has been engaged in the trial of Pink Bruner for the killing of Hugh Myers, city marshal of the town of Davis, on May 5, 1900. The evidence showed that Bruner and two other negroes went to Davis on that evening, filled up on whiskey, and rode out of town firing their pistols in the air. That Myers followed them half a mile out to a lonely spot and was shot and killed. The government claims that it was done in pursuance of a conspiracy to entice Myers out of town and kill him, and while there is no evidence Bruner did the actual shooting, he was in the plot and helped on with the game; and it must be confessed that the prosecution made a very strong case.

The Davis Weekly News (Davis, Indian Terr.), May 30, 1901

Marshal Hugh Myers road out to the west edge of Davis, a small town in Indian Territory, on a Saturday night in early May of 1900 to investigate gunshots. There he found three black men: Pink Bruner, Lyman Mahardy and Ben Cage. Myers exchanged gunfire with the men and took a bullet to his abdomen. He was able to get back to his home but the wound was fatal and he died within the hour. Before he died he told his family he believed he’d wounded one of the men.

Pink was wounded in his left leg above the knee.

The next day Pink was captured after he sought treatment for his leg wound. Lyman was also located and taken into custody. Ben Cage escaped.

Bruner family freedman role

Dawes Census Card (#431) for Rose Bruner and her children

Pink was a nickname. His given name was Legus and he was born in the tiny town of Sasakwa, Indian Territory, the oldest child of John Bruner and Rose Colbert Bruner. His father was a Seminole Freedman and his mother came from the Chickasaw Freedmen. The Chicksaw follow a system of matrilineal descent in which children are considered to be part of their mother’s clan.

Maintaining his innocence in Myers’ shooting, Pink claimed Lyman had a grudge against Myers and planned to kill him after luring him to a remote spot outside of town. Ben Cage was also indicted for the murder, however he remained at large.

The cases of the two men were separated and Pink was tried first. He was found guilty of first-degree murder on May 23, 1901 and sentenced to 99 years in the federal penitentiary.

Lyman’s trial was delayed until the following June. On June 28, 1902, he died in jail, apparently still awaiting trial. Death records were not kept until 1908, after Oklahoma became a state, so the cause of Lyman’s death is unknown.

Meanwhile 22-year-old Pink Bruner headed to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas to begin serving a life sentence.

Continued in Pink’s Story (Part 2).

Featured photo: Pink Bruner’s Leavenworth Penitentiary 1901 mugshots, National Archives, Kansas City, Missouri