Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Happy Independence Day

Downieville 1851

The 4th of July in 1851 was celebrated in Downieville with the  fanfare and celebration that was common for a California Gold Rush mining camp. Drinking, gunfire, gambling, parades and patriotic speeches were all part of a  4th of July bill of fare.  A miner by the name of Jack Cannon, having consumed his share of celebration, found himself at the cabin of a young Mexican girl by the name of Juanita. History does not record the exact circumstance of their confrontation but is reported that Cannon and Juanita exchanged heated words and was harassing her before he was chased away.

About 10 o'clock the next morning  the cry of 'murder!' came up the river. Everybody was running toward town. At the scene of the action a vast throng was surrounding a large tent, and within, a miner was lying dead. 

The dead miner was Jack Cannon. He was drunk the night before (the Fourth of July) and accidentally or on purpose fell into the door of a Mexican miner named Jose and his wife Josefa (later this evolved into Juanita). Cannon returned the next morning to make amends and spoke to the husband and wife in Spanish. A Mr. V.C. McMurry saw a highly aggitated Josefa fly into a terrible rage. She suddenly plunged a Bowie knife into Cannon's breast bone and into his heart.

Cannon fell dead into the street and friends carried him into his tent on what is now the Downieville Brewery property. Word spread quickly of the murder and Josefa (Juanita) was apprehended in the Craycroft saloon.

A trial was held in the main plaza with a hastily selected judge, jury and lawyers for both sides. Every statement or testimony for Josefa was ignored. The trial lasted 4 hours with Josefa being found guilty. She was taken to her home and given 2 hours to put her affairs in order.

At the given time she was taken to the gallows. She confessed she had killed Cannon and was willing to suffer the consequences for it. She adjusted the rope around her own neck let her hair fall free. Her arms and clothes were tied down, a cap put over her face and she was hung. The only woman ever hanged in California.


  1. Great article Rick!

    Funny how great minds think alike. And how similar D'ville and J'ville were.

    I put together a small article about a Jacksonville 4th of July last night for the Tool Top Gazette. It too, features a cannon. A totally different kind of cannon, but a cannon nonetheless.

  2. Justice has certainly changed over short period of time! At least the lawyers did not have opportunity to milk their clients. Great story and history with gallows still in place by Courthouse!