The Mind Reader

The Mind Reader

Leon Daniels, who has been traveling about the city for some weeks, and who claims to be a mind-reader, will appear before Judge Davis this morning. He is accused of stealing from the Central Hotel an overcoat belonging to the proprietor.

The Record-Union, Sacramento, California, February 8, 1897

He most likely got off with a fine or short jail sentence for the theft of the Sacramento hotel proprietor’s coat. Not only was he a mind reader, he also a hypnotist, so perhaps he used that skill with the judge to avoid a conviction. At any rate, the newspapers made no mention of a prison sentence for Shasta Leon Daniels.

“Shasta Leo,” as he was often called, was born in 1866 in Iowa to Alvah Daniels, an itinerant cooper and carpenter, and his wife Sarah (Millard) Daniels. His parents were born in New York. After their marriage they moved their growing family westward, from Wisconsin to Iowa to Dakota Territory (now South Dakota), finally settling in the Napa County wine region of Northern California by 1890. Leon had four older sisters and a younger brother, all of whom lived conventional lives, while the quirkily named Shasta Leo followed his bliss.

Instead of working a regular job he traveled around the west, plying his unusual trade and stealing the occasional item when commerce was slow and his funds got low. “Daniels is an odd genius who travels over the country telling fortunes, hypnotizing people or almost anything that will bring in a few dimes. He is said to be quite an adept at slight-of hand,” was how one Oregon newspaper described him.

albany train depot

Albany Train Depot, 1895

Shasta Leo liked to drink and occasionally tippled a bit too much. On a fine April day in the year 1900, he and his friend, Charles Berry, had been drinking in Albany, Oregon, and decided to ride the rails to Eugene. Shasta Leo hopped on a lumber train car while it was moving and slipped, falling between two cars. His left leg hit one of the rails and was run over by the wheel of the train, mashing the flesh to jelly but leaving most of the bones unbroken, according to one newspaper description of the incident.

He was taken to a nearby boarding house, where his leg was amputated just below the knee. “Daniels took the matter philosophically and seemed as little disturbed as any one around,” reported the Albany Democrat the day after the accident. Hopefully his inebriated state helped with the pain, at least for a while. Initially no one was sure if he would survive. Since he had no money, the taxpayers of Linn County paid the surgeon’s bill.

Not only did he survive, he was well on the road to recovery by May. By June he was able to return to California, where he convalesced at the home of his pharmacist brother in Napa. Evidently he took to roaming again after his leg was fully healed. Shasta Leo died on January 10, 1911, in Los Angeles, far from his family in Northern California.

Featured photo: mugshot of Shasta Leon Daniels taken in 1897 in Sacramento, California. Collection of the author.

Albany Train Depot from the Salem Public Library Historic Photograph Collections, Salem Public Library, Salem, Oregon.