Folks in town already took up a collection to erect a marker at the site of the shootout. The Riparian Irrigation Club wanted to proclaim the incident “The Capay Valley Stand-Off.” Locals who traded at Black’s Station called it a downright massacre. Big cattle declared war against the homesteaders living on parcels where the sweet-grasses grew. Clashes over land and water rights took place throughout the winter of 1870. The struggle yielded no victors, only heartache.
Marshal Frank Kegan and seven men rode to the Kettner place situated in Hungry Hollow. The Kettner family came overland from Tennessee’s Sequatchie Valley to claim their 160-acre parcel in California, where they raised vegetable garden and a few head of cattle with the “K Dot” brand. The Marshal was out delivering eviction notices petitioned by the Ramage Land, Water & Stock Company. Kegan did not realize he would encounter a funeral that grey February morning.
Mourners gathered from Capay Valley and the nearby town of Esparto to pay their respects to Liliana Kettner, daughter of Carl and Rebecca. The ten-year-old was killed in a stampede set off by a dynamite blast at the Ames Ditch headgate. The ditch belonged to Jarred “Jake” Ames, who diverted water from nearby Cache Creek, to irrigate his Chilean clover fields east of the Kettner’s property. Ames suspected the explosions were part of an intimidation campaign waged by the Ramage Land, Water & Stock Company.
The desk clerk at the exclusive Santa Barbara hotel was abrupt with the dusty stranger inquiring about a room. Sure, the man’s clothes were covered with alkali dust from the Carrisa Plains. And due to the hot day, he smelled pretty bad too. But, to judge this man solely based upon his appearance was a mistake. The traveler looking for lodging that day was Henry Miller—thee Henry Miller.
Miller and his partner Charles Lux had amassed more land, wealth, and power than most kings. Through opportune purchases of old Spanish land grants, Miller & Lux owned over 1,200 square miles or 800,000 acres of prime grazing land in California. He was then and remains today the largest landholder ever in the history of the United States and perhaps the world. Miller could drive his 80,000 head of beef from Mexico to San Francisco on land owned entirely by his brand. He was the Cattle King with a legion of hired hands awaiting his every command. Read more
Tom Bell must have known he would pay for his crimes. He managed to elude capture for months. But on October 4, 1856, a posse led by Judge George Belt finally caught up with him along the Merced River.
Mrs. Tilghman, the wife of a popular barber, had been shot during a holdup and was not expected to live. It was the first stagecoach robbery in United States history. The townspeople of Marysville were outraged and demanded justice. Already in custody were two of his associates, John Fernandez and Bill Gristy. The captured men credited Bell as the mastermind.
After Judge Belt informed Tom Bell that he was to be hung from the nearest tree, he was granted permission to write two letters of farewell—one to his mother, the other to his mistress. Read more