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JOHN DICK VAN EATON

March 28, 1829 to December 2, 1884

                                                   

From The Argent Castle, The Newsletter of the Clan MacCallum/Malcolm Society, date recent but unknown.

"From James Tillotson (son of Jane Stuart), we now know that John Guthrie's sister, Jane Stuart McCallum, also came to Placerville, probably to nurse the ill brothers.  She was married there January 1, 1862, to the "handsome, gun-toting deputy sheriff," John Dick Van Eaton.

                

He was born in 1824/5 in Mocksville, NC; attended Emory and Henry College in VA for almost four years, when in 1849, gold "fever" struck, and he headed west to join a wagon train to California.  When the group reached Carson City, John sold his horse and hiked over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, eventually arriving at the gold camp of "Hangtown" (later called Placerville).  There he staked a claim and must have had some luck at mining, as he is said to have sent $5,000 to his father to tide him over during the Civil War.  He soon took the job of Deputy Sheriff, serving for 12 years, as it was said, "right in the middle of the wildest period of the wildest county in California's history."  There were hold-ups of stage coaches carrying gold from the mines, murders over disputed claims, women, etc., and lawless characters disrupting the town and countryside.

                    

One of the famous crimes Van Eaton helped solve was the "Great Bullion Bend Robbery" in June, 1864.  A group of Southern sympathizers, hoping to secure some much-needed money for the Confederacy, held up two stages at Bullion Bend, took their gold and made off.  Later, after a part of the group had been caught, the sheriff put Van Eaton in the jail with them to pose as an ardent supporter of the Confederacy and find out the names of the other robbers.  The ruse worked, and after a gun battle at the house where they were holed up, they were all jailed.

John Dick and Jane Stuart McCallum had four children:  Harriet Ellen, born 1863; John D. born 1864/5; Jane Stuart, born 1866 (died in infancy); and Elizabeth Belle, born 1868, and later married Lynn Carroll Simpson.

John Dick Van Eaten moved to San Jose, CA, later in his life.

                 1021 University.JPG (184252 bytes)                    1021 University 1-19-03.JPG (216966 bytes)

Pictures of the house at 1021 University Avenue, that was originally owned by John Dick Van Eaton, and later by Lynn Carroll & Elizabeth Belle (Mammee) Simpson.  Carol Enid (Simpson) Beedle was born in this house.

 

             San Jose Home.jpg (117763 bytes)      San Jose Home 2.jpg (78041 bytes)      San Jose Home 3.jpg (63328 bytes)

 

                                                                  Same home in 1886.

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              A history of the Bailey Family, by Henry Bailey

 

Includes recollection by Henry Bailey of John Dick Van Eaton, Harriette Ellen Bailey, John V. Van Eaton and Elizabeth (Belle) Simpson.

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   Kirk Beedle at John Dick Van Eaton's tombstone in San Jose, CA.  jd_vaneaton.jpg (191705 bytes)

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An article about John Dick Van Eaton's role as Deputy Sheriff following a robbery near Placerville, CA.

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1999 Columnists (Richard Hughey)

Dec. 24, 1999 - The robbery at Bullion Bend: A posse is formed at Placerville

 

By RICHARD HUGHEY, Democrat columnist

George Ranney was a '49er, having come around the Horn to California in September 1849. By November he was mining for gold in Hangtown, as Placerville was then called. Ranney turned to carpentry when the placer mines played out, and in that capacity he is credited, with John Studebaker, of having chopped down the infamous Hangtown Tree that served the early residents of the town so handily as a gibbet for the culprits tried in Judge Lynch's court. The stump of the old oak still exists, buried beneath the floor of the building that Ranney helped erect at the site. Since 1861 Ranney had served as Placerville's town constable. He was a dedicated and popular lawman with the citizens.

Ranney was awakened from a deep sleep about 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning on July 1, 1864 by John Van Eaton, an El Dorado County deputy sheriff. Someone had robbed the Comstock stages on the Placerville Road, and he was needed by Sheriff William Rogers at the Courthouse to help form a posse. Other lawmen were at the Cary House in Placerville when Blair and Watson finally arrived from Sportman's Hall in what is now Pollock Pines, where they had stopped on their way to Placerville to telegraph Rogers about the robbery.

In a decision that was to cause criticism later, Rogers decided to bifurcate his posse and send two teams in different directions. Constable Ranney was teamed with deputy sheriffs Joseph Staples and John Van Eaton. Staples, a well-liked Irishman who lived in Coloma and was a member of the Neptune Company of the Placerville fire brigade, would lead the team. He was an efficient but impulsive lawman who would come to grief chasing the outlaws.

Fate often exposes itself in stages, and Joseph Staples' fate began unwinding a week earlier when he and Van Eaton, and El Dorado County Undersheriff James Hume, chased the Ike McCollum gang into a brushy area off the Mt. Aukum Road between Somerset and Fiddletown. The gangsters took defensive positions in deep cover and opened fire on the lawmen. Hume and Van Eaton returned the fire. Hume was unhurt, but Van Eaton was wounded. Staples' horse bolted, however. Either hit by a bullet or spooked by the firing (accounts differ), the horse ran away with its enraged and cursing rider.

Loose lips at the local saloon after the McCollum fray were critical of Staples' action at the shootout, and innuendoes that he may have fled the scene in fright stung Staples to the quick. Responding to the criticism, Staples promised, ``The next time I go, I'll be brought back dead, or I'll bring back my man.'' The statement turned out to be tragically prescient.

As Sheriff Rogers and the bulk of the El Dorado County posse (12 men besides the sheriff) sped east along the Placerville Road toward the scene of the robbery, Staples, Van Eaton and Ranney rode south to Diamond Springs, where they turned east and began working their way along the Pleasant Valley Road. The Pleasant Valley Road eventually joins what is now the Sly Park Road that leads directly to Pollock Pines and the Placerville Road.

When the men came to the Mt. Aukum Road, which intersects with the Pleasant Valley Road, they found the tracks of six horses leading south down the road in the direction of Somerset. Staples rightly assumed that the tracks were those of the Bullion Bend robbers. They apparently had ridden south down Sly Park Road to Pleasant Valley Road, then they rode west to Mt. Aukum Road, where they turned south and made for Somerset.

Fate intervened again to Staples' detriment. Van Eaton was still suffering from the effects of the wound he had received in the shootout with the Ike McCollum gang. Staples decided wisely to send Van Eaton to summon Sheriff Rogers and the rest of the posse while he and Ranney followed the tracks of the robbery gang to see where they led.

Van Eaton found Rogers and the posse at Sportsman's Hall. The hall was a large roadhouse and inn with stables and corrals for passing stages and wagons. It had been the last major station on the Pony Express route before Placerville, and it was then a busy restaurant and hotel for the heavy eastbound traffic on the Placerville Road bound for the Comstock mines in Nevada. Sportsman's Hall today is the third building erected at the site, the others having burned to the ground in fires. The only business at the hall now is the bar and restaurant. It's about 12 miles east of Placerville, but for some unknown reason local residents over the years have referred to the hall as ``Eleven Mile House'' and ``Thirteen Mile House.'' The disparity may have had something to do with the straightening of the Placerville Road from time to time.

At Sportsman's Hall, Rogers had, he thought, just arrested two of the highwaymen, Thomas Finney and William Belcher. Accounts of the arrest differ, some local historians claiming Ned Blair identified the two men as part of the robbery gang and other writers insisting Charley Watson made the identification. The two men were innocent, however, neither man had been a member of the Bullion Bend robbery gang. It is questionable that either Blair or Watson would have attempted to identify them as such inasmuch as the robbery occurred at night in an area illuminated only by the coaches' lanterns and the bandits may have worn masks. If not masks, they all had long, dark whiskers except for Glasby. Nevertheless, at Pool's trial Watson testified he recognized Pool and Glasby as among the robbers.

It is more than likely Sheriff Rogers was acting solely on a hunch, based on what he heard from the innkeeper: that two suspicious looking men showed up about midnight with their hats pulled low over their faces asking for a place to sleep. Finney and Belcher may have been guilty of something, but it wasn't robbing the Washoe stages.

Apparently Rogers discounted the obvious: that it would be extremely unlikely that two stage robbers would ask for room at a lodge barely four miles from the scene of their crime and less than an hour after it occurred. Nevertheless, Rogers was sure he had his men, so he took Finney and Belcher into custody and grilled them about the robbery neither man knew anything about.

Sheriff Rogers was without question a brave and loyal lawman, but his lights were less than bright. He once led a two-month campaign against White Rock Jack and his band of renegade Digger Indians. He appointed himself commander-in-chief of the local militia unit and led the brigade to ``Cockeyed'' Johnson's ranch, located about six miles above Placerville. There they waited, furnished with food and whiskey from the trading post on Johnson's ranch. When complaints about their apparent inactivity reached them, Rogers sent back to Placerville a completely bogus report of a bloody encounter with the mountain savages, who it seemed had simply moved up to high ground in the mountains and waited for Rogers and his men to return to town. Eventually Rogers' raiders did return to town, having stayed at Johnson's ranch the entire time and never having fired a shot in anger, or even seen an Indian to shoot at. Thus ended El Dorado County's Great Indian War, whereupon Sheriff Rogers' submitted to the state Legislature his bill for $25,000 to cover the warriors' expenses.

Van Eaton was dismayed by Rogers' action at Sportsman's Hall. Nothing he could say would keep Rogers from lingering at the hotel, not even the fact that he and Staples discovered the tracks of six horses heading south for Somerset on the Mt. Aukum Road. Finally, Rogers finished his ``lingering,'' released Finney and Belcher, rounded up the posse, and headed for Somerset House.

 


After Thomas Pool's appeal was denied by the state Supreme Court, a concerted effort was made by residents in El Dorado, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties to save his life. Petitions for clemency poured in to the governor in Sacramento begging him to commute Pool's death sentence to life in prison. Besides blatant appeals for mercy, the petitioners argued strenuously that the evidence at the trial failed to prove Pool fired a fatal shot at El Dorado County sheriff's deputy Joseph Staples and that Pool's children, on his ranch in the Pajaro Valley, would be left parentless, Pool being a widower.

The outpouring of support for Pool from residents in El Dorado County was quite remarkable considering the fact that Pool was judged by a local jury as one of the killers of a popular lawman. It is difficult if not impossible to understand such support, however, without taking into consideration that Placerville was home to a large number of Democrats during the Civil War. The town paper was the Placerville Mountain Democrat, and it had been denied postal privileges by the federal government for its secessionist leanings. Without doubt many of the paper's readers were Copperheads, secessionists, fellow travelers, and fifth columnists, all sympathetic to the Southern Cause.

One local historian has pointed out that while the majority of residents in the Pleasant Valley area were loyal to the Union, there were also a number of Confederate sympathizers in the valley and animosities between the two groups had been hot. Rumors persist that 12 Copperhead residents had been murdered and buried in the Ringgold Cemetery on Quarry Road, and that secessionists had cached hordes of weapons and ammunition in Dead Head Gulch, a steep ravine near Newtown.

Furthermore, while Preston Hodges' rather pathetic characterization of the Bullion Bend robbery, and by extension the shootout at Somerset House, as a ``military expedition'' seems disingenuous to modern minds, it made a substantial impact on the minds of many of Hodges' contemporaries in San Jose and Placerville. Surely, many believed that poor Tom Pool was in fact a ``prisoner of war'' and should be treated as such.

A stunning document begging for Pool's life was a petition signed by George Parsons, A. Burnil, C.L. Crisman, H.C. Murgotten, John McCall, Charles Hart and Amos Van Vleck. If those names sound familiar, they should. These seven men were among the 12 jurors who took 15 minutes at Pool's trial to find him guilty of the first-degree murder of deputy Staples.

An equally stunning petition for mercy was filed by William Rogers, Sheriff of El Dorado County; William Carpenter, Clerk of the County of El Dorado; A.L. Lowry, Deputy County Clerk; J.J. Williams, District Attorney for the County of El Dorado, who prosecuted Pool; James B. Hume, Undersheriff of the County of El Dorado, and D. DeGolia, Pool's jailer.

Nor had Pool been forgotten by his old friends in Monterey County who remembered his ``courageous'' defiance of Gov. Waller to hang at the appointed hour the murderer Jose Anastasio. Nineteen citizens, including the Monterey County Clerk, filed a petition seeking clemency for their ex-undersheriff alleging him to be a ``peaceable and law abiding citizen'' and the unfortunate father of several ``motherless children.'' Recalling the lack of evidence showing Pool to be one of Staples' shooters, the petitioners expressed the opinion that, under the circumstances, life in prison was better fit for the crime. Among the signers of the petition was the Honorable William H. Ramsey, District Court Judge of the County of Monterey.

Several individual residents of Monterey County filed petitions in Pool's behalf, and a joint petition was filed on behalf of 47 residents of Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

Perhaps the most interesting document sent to the governor was a Statement of Facts dated Sept. 26, 1865, three days before Pool's execution. It had been drafted by James Johnson, Pool's attorney, and signed by El Dorado County deputy sheriff John Van Eaton. It asked neither for commutation nor confirmation of Pool's death sentence, however; it simply recited a number of facts concerning his capture and imprisonment in Placerville by the deputy who guarded and interrogated him. In that sense it was perhaps the most persuasive of the documents filed on Pool's behalf.

Van Eaton stated that when Pool was captured there was no clue as to Pool's associates, nor where they had come from or where they were going when they left Somerset House. Four days later Van Eaton interviewed Pool at the jailhouse and secured Pool's cooperation. Pool gave Van Eaton the names and detailed descriptions of his fellow stage robbers, which information appeared in newspapers the next day throughout Northern California, including Placerville and San Jose. Pool told Van Eaton that the gang had come from Santa Clara County and planned to return to San Jose or travel on to a hideout on the Kings River near Visalia. He thought the men would go back to San Jose, however. Pool gave Van Eaton the names of the Confederate sympathizers in Visalia who were expected to assist the robbers if they showed up there, and he also gave him the names of the members of the larger group of conspirators in San Jose who supported but did not accompany the gang to El Dorado County. Through Pool's assistance, Van Eaton continued, the authorities were successful in recovering all of the bullion and most of the gold dust.

Finally, Van Eaton stated that all of the information Pool provided proved to be accurate and truthful, and without out it the Bullion Bend gang no doubt would have continued with more robberies and ``unlawful combination.'' Because of Pool's cooperation, the entire Confederate organization was broken up.

Accompanying Van Eaton's Statement of Facts was a petition for clemency of the same date signed by attorney James Johnson. It is a somewhat rambling document voicing the same old arguments and generalities. Johnson also filed a addendum to the petition that bordered on incoherence three days after Pool had been hanged, to what purpose is unknown, although it may be noted that Johnson begins the original petition by saying he intended to file a petition on behalf of Pool but didn't have the time to do so.

Lawyer Johnson, who had been a county judge in Placerville for 11 years, begins his petition with a simple plea for sympathy and mercy, which, he insists, have some place in the ``premises.'' Perhaps in desperation, Johnson reaches for a farfetched analogy. Pool, he points out, was part of the ``rebellion.'' Therefore, he asks rhetorically, should Pool be executed for his crime while Confederate General Robert E. Lee goes free? Pool never fired the fatal shot, Johnson insists. It was Bulware who killed Staples. Without Pool's cooperation the Bullion Bend gang would never have been brought to justice. Pool was not given a fair trial in Placerville, and the California Supreme Court erred when it denied him a new one.

Johnson also complains that the prosecution was ramrodded by the attorney for Wells Fargo, that great excitement occurred at the trial, and that it was interrupted by ``many inflammatory speeches.'' Pool's last words to him before his hanging were, ``I am no murderer. I feel as if now, for the first time, I am about to be tried before a court of justice.''

Perhaps surprisingly under the circumstances the governor refused to act. Nothing in the governor's pardon file in Pool's case discloses his thinking. Nevertheless, one cannot help but think that the spectre of Jose Anastasio must have been standing at his side as he read the petitions residents had filed on behalf of former Undersheriff Thomas Pool of Monterey County.

On page two of the Saturday, Sept. 30, 1865 edition of the Placerville Mountain Democrat, appeared the following story: ``Executed: Precisely at 12 o'clock yesterday, Thomas B. Poole, implicated in the stage robbery and the killing of Deputy Sheriff Staples, in this county, in July, 1864, suffered the extreme penalty of the law. He calmly ascended the scaffold, pleasantly conversed with the officers having him in charge, and the Rev. Mr. Wallace, cordially shook each by the hand, and fearlessly resigned his spirit to its God. He smiled on all, and seemed perfectly resigned. He made no public address. While the cap was drawn over his face and his arms and legs were being pinioned, he stood perfectly composed. He died almost without a struggle and in a few seconds.''

 

To see other related stories from the Mountain Democrat, click on:

www.mtdemocrat.com/display/inn_2000_columnists/Richard%20Hughey/Y121_H.TXT

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From the "Mountain Democrat, April 7, 2000, by Columnist Richard Hughey:

 

Perhaps the most interesting document sent to the governor was a Statement of Facts dated Sept. 26, 1865, three days before Pool's execution. It had been drafted by James Johnson, Pool's attorney, and signed by El Dorado County deputy sheriff John Van Eaton. It asked neither for commutation nor confirmation of Pool's death sentence, however; it simply recited a number of facts concerning his capture and imprisonment in Placerville by the deputy who guarded and interrogated him. In that sense it was perhaps the most persuasive of the documents filed on Pool's behalf.

 

Van Eaton stated that when Pool was captured there was no clue as to Pool's associates, nor where they had come from or where they were going when they left Somerset House. Four days later Van Eaton interviewed Pool at the jailhouse and secured Pool's cooperation. Pool gave Van Eaton the names and detailed descriptions of his fellow stage robbers, which information appeared in newspapers the next day throughout Northern California, including Placerville and San Jose. Pool told Van Eaton that the gang had come from Santa Clara County and planned to return to San Jose or travel on to a hideout on the Kings River near Visalia. He thought the men would go back to San Jose, however. Pool gave Van Eaton the names of the Confederate sympathizers in Visalia who were expected to assist the robbers if they showed up there, and he also gave him the names of the members of the larger group of conspirators in San Jose who supported but did not accompany the gang to El Dorado County. Through Pool's assistance, Van Eaton continued, the authorities were successful in recovering all of the bullion and most of the gold dust.

 

Finally, Van Eaton stated that all of the information Pool provided proved to be accurate and truthful, and without out it the Bullion Bend gang no doubt would have continued with more robberies and ``unlawful combination.'' Because of Pool's cooperation, the entire Confederate organization was broken up.

 

Accompanying Van Eaton's Statement of Facts was a petition for clemency of the same date signed by attorney James Johnson. It is a somewhat rambling document voicing the same old arguments and generalities. Johnson also filed a addendum to the petition that bordered on incoherence three days after Pool had been hanged, to what purpose is unknown, although it may be noted that Johnson begins the original petition by saying he intended to file a petition on behalf of Pool but didn't have the time to do so.

 

Lawyer Johnson, who had been a county judge in Placerville for 11 years, begins his petition with a simple plea for sympathy and mercy, which, he insists, have some place in the ``premises.'' Perhaps in desperation, Johnson reaches for a farfetched analogy. Pool, he points out, was part of the ``rebellion.'' Therefore, he asks rhetorically, should Pool be executed for his crime while Confederate General Robert E. Lee goes free? Pool never fired the fatal shot, Johnson insists. It was Bulware who killed Staples. Without Pool's cooperation the Bullion Bend gang would never have been brought to justice. Pool was not given a fair trial in Placerville, and the California Supreme Court erred when it denied him a new one.

 

Johnson also complains that the prosecution was ramrodded by the attorney for Wells Fargo, that great excitement occurred at the trial, and that it was interrupted by ``many inflammatory speeches.'' Pool's last words to him before his hanging were, ``I am no murderer. I feel as if now, for the first time, I am about to be tried before a court of justice.''

 

Perhaps surprisingly under the circumstances the governor refused to act. Nothing in the governor's pardon file in Pool's case discloses his thinking. Nevertheless, one cannot help but think that the spectre of Jose Anastasio must have been standing at his side as he read the petitions residents had filed on behalf of former Undersheriff Thomas Pool of Monterey County.

On page two of the Saturday, Sept. 30, 1865 edition of the Placerville Mountain Democrat, appeared the following story: ``Executed: Precisely at 12 o'clock yesterday, Thomas B. Poole, implicated in the stage robbery and the killing of Deputy Sheriff Staples, in this county, in July, 1864, suffered the extreme penalty of the law. He calmly ascended the scaffold, pleasantly conversed with the officers having him in charge, and the Rev. Mr. Wallace, cordially shook each by the hand, and fearlessly resigned his spirit to its God. He smiled on all, and seemed perfectly resigned. He made no public address. While the cap was drawn over his face and his arms and legs were being pinioned, he stood perfectly composed. He died almost without a struggle and in a few seconds.''