A plaque gives the details:
On January 11, 1884 this rope hung Steven Richards from a scaffold in the Placer County Jail Yard. At 1:15 PM Placer County Sheriff A. Huntley placed this rope around Richards' neck and carefully adjusted the noose. The trap door dropped and nineteen minutes later Steven Richards was pronounced dead. 150 people came to Auburn and witnessed the hanging, including Sheriffs Galt of El Dorado Co., Carter of Nevada Co., and Cunningham of San Joaquin Co. Richards had murdered Thomas Nichols, 27, a miner on Sunday morning, March 11, 1883, outside the American Hotel in Auburn.
A note by the noose states that Richards directed the building of the scaffold from the jail windows.
The first floor of the courthouse (completed 1898) contains museum exhibits, and court cases are still heard on the second floor. The noose sits in an alarmed display case in the old sheriff's office in Room 103, which contains furniture and books and firearms from a century ago. The Placer County Jail Register rests on the counter-top, its pages turned in synch with the current date. On my February 25, 2015 visit the Register was opened to the bookings from February 8 to February 28, 1897. There had been two bookings on February 25, 1897, for R. Stanley and Fred Snye, both from Rocklin and both for unnamed misdemeanors. Other bookings over this time period were for drunkenness, vagrancy, disturbing the peace, petit larceny, and lodging.
Stephen Richards wasn't the first person hanged on this hilltop where the courthouse stands. People gathered here for bull and bear fights and public hangings before Placer County was formed in 1851. Unfortunately there is a dearth of information on early executions in Placer County. People were in too much a hurry to pick up all those gold nuggets sitting atop the ground to keep detailed notes on executions. The best source of information I've found on Placer County executions is from History of Placer County, California by Thompson & West, published in 1882. The executions I focused on were those from due process of law, thus excluding the several recorded lynchings and vigilante executions.
The book notes:
During the first few years of gold-mining, crime was remarkably rare. There was very little security for property but the knowledge that punishment would be quick and terrible, without any intervention of the tedious processes of the courts, or the technicalities of the law now so universally used to shield the criminal.
Here are the executions from due process of law:
March 31, 1854 - Robert Scott was hanged in Auburn for the murder of Andrew King. Scott shot King in Auburn on October 20, 1853, for King's refusal to loan him $3 for gambling. Two thousand people assembled to watch the hanging, which took place at noon.
June 6, 1856 - James Freeland was hanged in Auburn for the murder of "Greek George." Freeland shot "Greek George" in Oak Flat after accusing the latter of cheating at gambling.
September 18, 1857 - Joseph Bradley was hanged on the outskirts of Auburn for the 1856 murder of Jacob Bateman. The murder occurred at the cabin of Bateman in Auburn. About 500 people witnessed the execution.
June 11, 1858 - Martin Rodriguez was hanged for the murder of Andrew Hollenberg. The murder occured on December 20, 1857, when Hollenberg refused Rodriguez entrance to his house.
September 21, 1860 - Two hangings this date. Joseph N. Maes was hanged for the March 8, 1859 murder of Joseph Thomas, of Dutch Flat. Genero Quintano was hanged for the July 3, 1859 murder of Joseph Reynolds, at Michigan Bluff. Reynolds kept a disreputable house at Michigan Bluff and Quintano, a Mexican, killed Reynolds for not letting him help himself at the bar.
No executions from September 21, 1860 to the book's publication in 1882? I find that odd, as just two years later, in 1884, Stephen Richards goes to the gallows. I'm sure there were hangings between Maes/Quintano and Richards.
|Sacramento Daily Union, January 12, 1884|