The White Sombrero


Researching family names, I happened upon a newspaper article that casually mentions a distant cousin — Joe Hufford. I don’t know much about him, other than his name, appears in other family registries. I ended up piecing this story together from that article and though it doesn’t involve him directly — I thought it interesting.

Nine shots in all were fired by a robber Wednesday afternoon ,October 10th, 1906, who attempted to hold up the Redding and De La Mar stage a mile from Bear Valley Station. They were all fired at Express Messenger Dan Haskell.

Two of the bullets hit him — one entering his abdomen and passing out at the groin, the other striking him in the left foot. Two pierced his clothing — but inflicted no wound.

Three bullets made holes in the mail sacks. One struck Haskell’s pistol, which hung over his left hip and swung from a holster attached to his belt.

This bullet shattered the chamber of the revolver and rendered it entirely useless. Haskell got in only one shot at the bandit which was fired from his shotgun, which he carried on his lap.

Haskell was the only passenger in the three-seated stage-coach, Ed Durfor occupying the driver’s seat alone.

“Whoa!” was the only word of warning shouted by the lone highway man, who at a distance of more than eighty yards from the stage, peered out from behind a shield made of boards. Two shots in rapid succession from the bandit were then fire at the stage.

Haskell returned the fire.  One of the stage horses took fright and started to run and Durfor sawed at the lines trying to control the team.

“Let them run!” cried Haskell, “Let’s get out of this.”

The load in the stage was light and the horses galloped up the hill. Seven more shots were fired by the robber as the stage rolled away.

Arriving at Bear Valley Station, Haskell’s first thought was of the treasure he was guarding. He directed Durfor to employ two men from among the bystanders, provide them with arms and proceed to De La Mar with the express.

Durfor arrived at his destination only twenty minutes late. Haskell was removed from the stage and placed on a cot in the station. A courier was sent to Pit River Bridge, to notify the Sheriff at Redding and call a doctor.

Mrs. Haskell, accompanied by Dr. S. T. White and G.R. Dunn, a Wells-Fargo’s agent, arrived  ahead of the officers. On examination the wounds of the messenger were found not to be as serious as the first reports indicated.

The bullet that struck him in the abdomen made a glancing stroke, cutting through the peritoneum but not severing the intestines. This wound was considered less serious than that of his left foot, the bones of which were shattered.

Haskell was deemed well enough to be taken to Redding in a surrey. Witnesses say, he sat up all the way on the eighteen-mile drive over a rough road, “bearing his pain with great fortitude.”

Arriving home at 8 p.m., after four hours spent in travel, he went to bed and dropped off at once to sleep. No serious consequences were anticipated, though his complete recovery was forecast to be a long and difficult one.

By the following morning though, Haskell had taken a turn for the worse. Still his general condition didn’t alarm doctors.

Haskell hadn’t been in a single hold-up a Wells-Fargo employee, although he told friends he “always expected to be caught sooner or later.” He had also frequently said he felt a great relief when he came safely to the end of his run.

Most of his runs were made over the route to Weaverville, although he had been making the trip regularly once a month to De La Mar. Years ago, Haskell was Chief of Police in San Jose and for years was an Under Sheriff in Santa Clara County.

Captain John Thacker, of the Wells-Fargo service, took over the investigation the day following the shooting.

Durfor was able to describe the highwayman because he didn’t wear a mask. Durfor told Thacker, “He was heavy-set and of short stature. He had a moustache and was dressed in a brown suit. The hat was low-crowned, broad-brimmed and grey. He wore a shirt that was green, judging by the part visible in the vest opening.”

An investigation showed the bandit, stood in the center of a circular strip of road at a point which prevented him from seeing the stage until it was fairly close to him. Running across the circle was a strong piece of string, and at the end of it stood another person who warned of the coach’s approach and relayed the number of people on the it.

The distance at which the bandit stood from the stage was considered remarkable by Thacker and convinced him the hold-up had been well planned. And because of the wooden shield — neither the shooter nor his partner were inclined to expose their bodies to harm.

Haskell died at 7:45 o’clock two days after the attempted hold-up. His death was wholly unexpected by the family, the attending physicians and the community-at-large.

Everybody understood his wounds, though serious, were not likely to be fatal. His shattered foot caused him great pain through the day. The wound in his abdomen, which brought about his death, caused no great concern as physicians discussed the possibility of amputating his injured foot.

Haskell himself was said to be “in cheerful spirits, and that was a good sign of itself.” He chatted with the friends who were permitted to call upon him and discussed the various phases of the attempted hold-up and the pursuit of the robbers.

Though he had vomiting spells during the day, they were thought to be due solely to the sickness following administration of morphine to allay the pain in his foot. That unfortunately wasn’t the case.

“Haskell was seized by a sinking spell and within less than a minute from the first noticed of the sinking spell, he had breathed his last,” a witness stated. “Not a word of complaint had escaped his lips. Not a thought had he that his life was in great danger.”

Haskell, 59, had been in Wells-Fargo’s employ for a quarter of a century and was a native of Ohio . He was a veteran of the Civil War and a member of the Workmen. Six years prior, his only son, William, a locomotive engineer, was killed in an accident on the Iron Mountain railroad at Keswick.

“It is well for the stage robber,” writes a local newspaper, “that he has not been captured. Were he now behind the bars in the County Jail there would be no protection for him from a mob that would storm the prison and hand him.”

Redding people had done that once before.

A couple of days later what was supposed to be an important clue to the identity of the slayer of Haskell was shown to be without foundation. Durfor thought he recognized the robber as George Cody, a teamster, who left De La Mar that following Sunday,armed with rifle.

However, Cody returned to De La Mar, was arrested, but provided a solid alibi. He had been hunting up Squaw Creek in the opposite direction from the scene of the crime.

He was immediately released.

Then the town was thrown into a fever of excitement by the story the stage from Bieber had been held up about midnight and robbed of mail sacks by a lone and masked highwayman. W.F. Miles, the only passenger on the coach, told officers they’d been robbed and they immediately took for the Oak Run country.

However, the stage’s driver Fredrick Day denied Miles’ story. Day was a stranger, having come to Redding as a substitute for the regular driver.

As for Miles, he was a mail carrier and had a good reputation. For this reason his story was not doubted by officers.

He went into great detail, telling where the alleged hold-up took place; how the driver had saved the letter mail and thrown out to the bandit only the bags containing newspapers. He even repeated the conversation that took place and told how Day whipped up his horses when the highwayman ordered him to move on, escaping before the bandit could discover what had been handed over to him.

Miles’ description of the bandit resembled that of the man who held up the De La Mar stage and fatally wounded Haskell. Officials would eventually dismiss the story as a bad joke.

But Miles still stuck to his story, despite Day’s continual denial.

Sheriff Richards returned to Redding, leaving a number of deputies and Thacker at the Button Mine. The next morning he left for Ingot, fourteen miles from the scene of the hold-up, to look for the man who shot Haskell.

The white sombrero hat, with two buckshot holes in the crown, found two months after the attempted hold-up was said to be an important clue. It eventually led to the arrest of two men for the would-be stage robbery and the murderer of Haskell.

The hat was found half a mile from the scene of the tragedy at a lonely spot in the woods where the bandits had camped for a day and night, probably. The men arrested are Charles Whitescarbor and Con Hardwick.

Whitescarbor was arrested in Stockton, While Hardwick, who was supposed to be at Clipper Gap, was arrested in Redding at the Court House, after he went to the Sheriff’s office to find out what he was wanted for.

Hardwick is believed to be the bandit who, from behind a shield made of barrel staves, and set up a hundred yards from the road, ordered Durfor and Haskell to stop. It wasn’t until the officers examined the ground that evidence showed a second highwayman was in hiding.

For two months officers had little or nothing to work with.

It was in December, a cowboy riding the brushy range half a mile from the scene found some cast-off clothing and various articles, indicating that some one had camped there. Among these articles was a white sombrero.

The hat was traced finally to Hardwick, a wood chopper living near Bert Kramer’s, across the river from Redding and twenty miles from the scene of the tragedy. Five different parties identified it as belonging to Hardwick.

Hardwick and Whitescarbor were partners in the wood chopping business and were said to be associated together a great deal, and steady customers at George Whitakers’s saloon at the east end of the Redding bridge. They were in the saloon a day or two before the robbery, and were overheard talking about hold-ups.

Whitaker over heard them, and after the hold-up he related his suspicions to police. But Whitaker was drinking hard at the time, and little attention was paid to what he said.

Whitaker would later committed suicide by jumping from the bridge into the river.

Hardwick and Whitescarbor reappeared in the Kramer neighborhood after the robbery. They went to cutting wood again, and were again patrons of the Whitaker saloon. They even went into to Redding and had their picture taken together.

When Sheriff Richardson settled to his own satisfaction Hardwick and Whitescarbor were the men wanted, his next problem was to locate them.

Hardwick was in love with the daughter of Bert Kramer. The Sheriff learned this and figured Hardwick would write to her.

He finally learned Hardwick was in Clipper Gap in Placer County, where he has relatives living. At the same time he learned that Whitescarbor was in Petaluma.

A complaint was sworn to before Justice of the Peace Carr, and warrants issued for the arrest of the two men. Constable Crum went to Clipper Gap to arrest Hardwick, but on arriving there he found his man had just left, and had probably returned to Shasta County to see his sweetheart.

Crum informed authorities in Redding and they hurried the Kramer home. Miss Kramer told them her brother and Hardwick had just gone to Redding, but officers couldn’t find them.

In the meantime the younger Kramer and Hardwick had returned home unobserved. Miss Kramer told them the law was looking for them.

The brother was in favor of returning to Redding at once to see why he was wanted. Hardwick demurred but Miss Kramer insisted, and finally consented.

When he reached the Court House Hardwick soon found what was wanted for and the Deputy Sheriff locked him up. Whitescarbor left Petaluma to go to Stockton, and was arrested there and later placed into the custody of Sheriff Richardson.

Again from a newspaper report, “The arrest of the two causes great excitement in Redding. District Attorney Dozier, who has been a close adviser of Sheriff Richardson, says he is confident the right men are in custody.”

By the following day Whitescarbor had from Red Bluff and for three hours he was questioned in the Sheriff’s private office by Dozier, Thacker, Richardson and a Deputy Sheriff named Hubbard. After the interrogation Whitescarbor was returned to the Tehama County Jail.

“There is not the remotest fear of a lynching and guards at the jail have not been increased,” reports another paper, “all published reports to the contrary notwithstanding.”

Twelve days after their arrests Hardwick and Charles Whitescarbor were released from jail. The pair was able to prove by well-supported testimony and evidence that they were fully forty miles away from the scene of the hold-up and that while the white sombrero found was at one time the property of Whitescarbor he had disposed of it three months before the killing of Haskell.

Court paper’s show they were at Joe Hufford’s place, near Millville,  October 10th, the day after the robbery, and at the very hour that two men, supposed to be the bandits, were seen by M. Nedrow crossing his field in the vicinity of the Balls Ferry Bridge across the Sacramento.

The evidence that led up to the arrest of the two was the finding of some clothing, blankets, a hat and a few other articles in an abandoned camp half a mile from the scene of the hold-up. The hat was identified as once belonging to Hardwick and it bore the marks of buckshot, presumably fired from hasskell’s express shotgun.

When they were confronted with the clothing, they admitted owning them at one time, but they held that they had traded them off three months before the hold-up. This was confirmed by Mike Dailey, who was brought up from Red Bluff.

By early June, Eli Popejoy was taken into custody in Copper City by Constable Kinyon, of Fall River Mills.  Popejoy was jailed, but the he fact was kept secret by the officers, and eventually leaked to the press.

When confronted, Kinyon declines to make public the evidence upon which he based his suspicions.

Popejoy was the son of the late Theodore Popejoy, a pioneer of the Copper City region. The younger Popejoy was considered a half-breed — but also a man with a fair reputation.

Popejoy’s guilty was questioned as soon as news of his being locked up was learned.

“They have certainly no evidence against him, and therefore wait with interest for the officers to show their hand,” states a news article. “People are particularly slow to jump at conclusions in view of the fact that the officers made a mistake March 32d (sic) when they arrested Con Hardwick and Charles Whitescarbor for the crime.”

By the end of the week, William Randall was also in custody having been detained in Copper City by Constable H.F. Williams.  Both Constable claimed to have evidence connecting Randall with the stage robbery and fatally shooting, however he as well as Kinyon failed to swear out complaints.

The two Constables said they planned to jointly swear to complaints when the District Attorney has time to take up the matter. Meanwhile Richardson and his deputies refused to work the case along the lines followed by the two constables

“It is singular how suddenly Constable Kinyon became connected with the case,” a news reporter writes, “He lives at Fall River Mills, eighty miles from Redding. He came to the county seat last Saturday, bringing down an insane suspect.”

Williams, who lived near the scene of the attempted hold-up, had been working on the case, off and on, ever since the crime was committed.

By mid-month, Popejoy and Randall were still prisoners in the County Jail, although no complaint has been lodged against them. Both Kinyon and Williams returned home without charging the pair

After it was learned the Constables had left town, Popejoy and Randall were released from the County Jail.  District Attorney Dozier refused to allow warrants to be filed for their arrest.

From the SacramentoBee, dated June 16, 1907, “This incident would not (be) seen so farcical if it were not that it is the third of the kind in connection with the robbery.”

It appears the attempted stage robbery and murder of Haskell grew cold after the last pair were arrested and the case would go unsolved.

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