Today’s Ornery Yet Truly Morbid Fact!
Charles Henley was an ornery cuss. The fifty-seven-year-old farmer had taken some guff from his neighbors for allowing his hogs to run wild on his land – and, they also often strayed onto the property of his neighbors. Henley and his wife had lived on their land north of Windsor in Californa’s Sonoma County since the late 1860s. Originally from Missouri, Henley supported the Confederacy during the Civil War, which didn’t make him very popular in Sonoma County after the war was over.
On May 9, 1876, word was passed on to Henley that some of his stray hogs had been rounded up and corralled by his neighbor, James Rowland. The hotheaded Henley grabbed his shotgun and went to Rowland’s Ranch. Finding nobody about on the Rowland property, Henley was in the process of releasing his hogs when Rowland came running from his barn, cursing Henley as he ran toward the corral. Henley responded by blasting holes in Rowland’s head with his shotgun. Henley then went home to his wife and told her that he couldn’t find the hogs.
Later that evening, Henley, obviously regretting the murder of his neighbor, rode over to Robert Greening’s ranch to seek advice on how to handle the situation. Knowing that Greening’s hired hand Bill Goodman was a member of the Odd Fellows, as had been James Rowland, he asked Greening not to say anything about their discussion to his hired hand. But Goodman was a cagey cowboy and he was listening in on the men’s conversation. Henley then rode into Windsor and turned himself in to the authorities.
Back at the Rowland ranch, hired hand Joe Dennigan arrived at the ranch around midnight and found Rowland’s body in the corral. The farm animals had eaten the damaged parts of the rancher, mutilating him almost beyond recognition. Dennigan rode to a neighbor’s ranch and told John Hopper what he had seen.
On May 10, Coroner Kelly Tighe held an inquest, with twelve men in attendance. They decided immediately that Henley had killed Rowland. The remains of Rowland’s body were gathered and he was buried according to the Odd Fellows’ rites.
A preliminary examination was to be held on May 20 in Santa Rosa before Justice James H. McGee, but Henley’s attorneys waived examination until the grand jury was dismissed. Meanwhile, Henley remained in jail.
In the early morning hours of June 9, groups of men began arriving in Santa Rosa. They split into squads and posted themselves in key downtown intersections, detaining anyone who wandered in the area, even policemen.
A squad went to the home of jailer Sylvester H. Wilson and roused him and his family from their beds. The mob told Wilson that they were going to take justice into their own hands and punish Henley for Rowland’s murder, and they needed Wilson to go to the jail and hand over the keys to them. They left a group of men to guard his family so they couldn’t raise an alarm. Wilson did what he was told to do.
The mob unlocked the jail cell, grabbed Henley, gagged and bound him, and carried him out the door. Another group of men took Wilson and R., Dryer, a night watchman they had captured, and loaded them into a wagon. They drove the men to the outskirts of Santa Rosa and released them. On their way back to town, they met the rest of the lynch mob as they were leaving town.
By the time Dryer and Wilson made it back to the jail, word of the lynching had traveled throughout the town. City Marshal Jim M. White, Dryer, Wilson, Frank Carillo, and freed hostage Officer Fuller went back to the country area where Dryer and Wilson had been released and found Henley hanging by his neck from a tree.
The public was outraged that Santa Rosa’s finest would fold so easily, shucking their duties as protectors of the public and allowing armed men to seize a county prisoner for execution. Many people believed that Santa Rosa’s police force was in cahoots with the lynch mob. Officers Fuller, Wilson, and Dyer took most of the heat, but in the end they were not punished for having avoided their duty as peace officers. A reward of two thousand dollars was offered for the conviction of any members of the lynch mob, but it was never collected. Nobody knows what happend to Henley’s body after the authorities cut him down, and there is no record as to what happened to Henley’s wife or his estate.
California Lynching Photo Du Jour
There’s no photographic record of the lynching of Charles Henley, so I thought I’d find another photo to feature with this fact.
This unfortunate fellow is Clyde Johnson. He was lynched on August 3, 1935 in Yreka, California. As the caption from this postcard (you’d send it to Aunt Betty, wouldn’t you?) says, “Killer of Jack Daw, Aug 3, 1935, Vengence [sic] in Siskiyou County.”
Here’s more of the story:
At the funeral of F.R. Daw, chief of police of Dunsmuir, Oregon, a number of mourners planned the lynching of his alleged murderer, Clyde Johnson. Early on the morning of August 3, 1935, a masked mob, estimated as large as fifty, forcibly removed Johnson from his jail cell and dragged him three miles south of town, where they hung him from a pine tree.
Local and state officials expressed mixed reaction to news of the lynching. District Attorney James Davis declared that he would open an investigation and “do everything the law requires to apprehend members of the mob.” On the other hand, the California attorney general, referring to the recently delayed execution of an accused murderer, stated that the “uncontrollable unrest” was a natural result of the “apathy of the Supreme Court of the United States.”
Culled from: Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography In America