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wickersham_headlines copy.GIF (39657 bytes)The Wickersham Tragedy

To Mendocino Township can be accredited one of the most tragic occurrences in connection with Sonoma County history. The Petaluma Argus of January 12, 1886, contained the following:

"About three o’clock P.M. Thursday, the citizens of Petaluma were shocked by the receipt of a telephone from Skaggs’ Springs to I.G.jesse wickersham_web.gif (22400 bytes) Wickersham, announcing that his nephew, J.O. Wickersham had been found murdered on his mountain ranch, about twenty miles west of Cloverdale. The new was carried from mouth to mouth, and soon the horror was the theme of conversation on every band. Following the telephone came a dispatch to Coroner King similar in import, but with the additional information that it was supposed that Mrs. Wickersham, who is a sister of the wife of I.G. Wickersham of this city, was also murdered. This but intensified the excitement, and added to the gloom of our people.

"As it was near time for the up-train, Fred Wickersham, Coroner King and Marshal Blume got ready and started for the scene of the tragedy."

The down-train Saturday morning brought tidings that but lent density to the general gloom.

The news came in the shape of a letter from Fred Wickersham to his father, IG. Wickersham, the well-known banker. It was as follows:

"My Dear Father: Blume and I have just arrived here after an eight hour ride. We found the dispatch too true. Uncle Jesse and Auntie are no more. We got to the ranch at 9 o’clock Friday morning, and went immediately to the house. Jesse sat in his accustomed place at the table, with a tablecloth wrapped around his head and five buckshot wounds back of his ear, and a charge of the same in his side.

"Auntie was found in her bedroom in horrible condition. I have made all arrangement to have them taken to Healdsburg to-day (Saturday), and will have them placed in plain boxes for shipment, unless otherwise ordered by you, and they will be down on the 4 o’clock train.

"Meet us at the depot with all necessary preparations. Without a doubt the Chinese cook committed the act, as he has not been seen this week. He fired the fatal shot while standing about seven feet from Jesse, through a crack in the door. Will be with you this evening, and will explain further. Break this as gently as possible to mother. I have everything of value belonging to them with me. He was killed Monday evening at the supper table. Must go to bed to catch a few hours’ sleep. Blume is doing everything possible to catch the Chinaman. Good-by. Fred."

The first information in reference tot he tragedy was through J.E. Jewell, who has a ranch adjoining the Wickersham place. It seems that there were four Indians who had a camp on the latter ranch and were engaged in cutting wood for Mr. Wickersham. Mr. Jewell states that about half-past five o’clock on Wednesday evening, tow of these Indians visited his place and asked: "You see Wickersham?" "No," I answered. "I no see," was the reply. Then they asked for some tobacco, which I gave them, when they again queried: "Where Wickersham?" I pacified them by saying that I would go over the next day. I rode over early the next morning and got as far as to the barn, when I looked over the picket fence and determined to go and get the two Indians who had been to see me to accompany me to the house. The were encamped some 300 yards away. I asked them again when they had seen Wickersham, and they replied 10 A.M. Monday, but without an answer. Taking the two Indians with me, I attempted to open the door of the siting room, but found it locked. The window was down and I pulled out the sash. The Indians suggested that I should come round to the dining-room. I did so. The door did not yield. I went to the window, pulled aside the blind, and there my eyes fell upon the rigid form of my old friend--a blanket about his head and his feet in a pool of blood. I was horror-stricken. I left the spot immediately, knowing that the foulest of foul crimes had been committed, and I hastened to Skaggs’ Springs to give the alarm."

From the time to which the above relays until 9 o’clock Friday morning the stillness of death reigned in the recently happy Wickersham home.

At about 8 o’clock Thursday night, Fred Wickersham, Marshal Blume, and Constable Truett, of Healdsburg, with a man named Martin as guide, and swollen condition of Warm Springs Creek, they, with great difficulty, reached Skaggs’ Springs later in the night. Early in the morning they started forward, joined bu J.E. Jewell and George Skaggs, and reached the Wickersham house about 9 o’clock in the forenoon.

They found Captain J.O. Wickersham rigid in death, and in the same position in the chair at the dining-table as he had been seen by the horrified Mr. Jewell. Search was then made, and Mrs. Wickersham was found in her bedroom murdered in the most cruel and atrocious manner. So black and shocking would be the recite that it is but charity to the stricken relative living in our midst to refrain from particularizing.

All surround circumstances clearly pointed to the missing Chinese cook, Ang Tai Duc, as the perpetrator of the deed; and the statement of the Indians taken in conjunction with the fact that the diary of Captain Wickersham was written up to Sunday evening, indicated that the fiendish deed was perpetrated at the time the unsuspecting victims had taken their places at the table for their Monday evening meal. The biscuits were on the table and the stove, and were but little eaten. Fried potatoes were on Mrs. Wickersham’s plate and, the cake and pie were untouched. The gun stood in the corner, close to or in the kitchen. The Chinaman fired through the partly open kitchen door, where he was evidently out of sight of Mrs. Wickersham, who sat opposite to her husband. The shot evidently killed the Captain instantly. His plate and food were over-turned in his lap. Mrs. Wickersham jumped up, turned over the chair, dropping her napkin on the floor, and ran to her bedroom. Having reloaded the gun he fired both charges at her, the shot passing through her body under the arms. Two empty cartridges found on the stove had evidently been removed from the gun when it was reloaded after the shooting of the Captain. The Chinese cook took a few things from his trunk, leaving a Chinese memorandum book and several bottles of whisky. Marshal Blume also found in the Chinaman’s trunk a melanotype of a group of four Chinamen, conspicuous among whom was Ang Tai Duc, the missing cook. So far as known the murder got about $80 in coin, but left Mrs. Wickersham’s gold watch and other jewelry, together with some odd pieces of coin.

The next thing was to pay the last kind offices to the dead. Fred Wickersham, and those who attended him on this sad pilgrimage, had the deceased each habilitated in appropriate apparel, and arrangements made for their conveyance to Healdsburg, and from thance to Petaluma by the oars.

Those in charge of the bodies started Saturday morning, using a covered wagon as a conveyance, and aiming to reach Healdsburg by way of Skaggs’ Springs. The storm and tempest was rioting in the mountains, and the winds crooning in dirge-like notes through the forests seemed a fit accompaniment to this lonesome funeral march. The mountain streams were swollen into mighty tirrents, and although every effort was made to combat and overcome the obstacles interposed by the elements, the bodies did not reach this city until four o’clock Sunday evening.

At that hour hundreds of our citizens were congregated at the depot and sorrow and sadness brooded over the assembled throng. On the arrival of the oars the boxes containing the bodies were quickly transferred to the vehicles in waiting and taken to the undertaking establishment of O. Blackburn, where they were placed in elegant caskets and conveyed to the residence of I. G. Wickersham, Esq., on 6th Street.

Ten o’clock Monday was fixed upon as the time for the funeral, to take place from the St. John’s Episcopal Church. From that hour to one o’clock P.M., every place of business and the hanging of flags at half fast attested the high esteem in which Mr. and Mrs. Wickersham were held by all. The services at the church were short, but most solemn and impressive. At the church the members of Petaluma Lodge, No. 77, F. & A. M., of which lodge Mr. Wickersham was a member, took charge, and the two horses with their precious birth, followed by a long procession, wended their way to Cypress Hill cemetery. There this ill-starred and deeply mourned couple were laid peacefully to rest in the lap of mother earth.

We close this sad chapter about these tow so ruthlessly stricken down in the prime and usefulness of life with a few words biographical. They were both fifty-three years of age. At the commencement of the late civil war Mr. Wickersham enlisted in the Second Iowa Infantry, and when discharged with Sherman’s army after the war, was Regimental Quarter-Master of his regiment, with rank of Captain. At the close of the war in 1865, he came to Petaluma and was with his uncle, I.G. Wickersham, president of the First National Gold Bank, and for some years was assistant cashier of that institution. Mrs. Wickersham, whose maiden name was Picket, and who was a younger sister of Mrs. I.G. Wickersham, came to Petaluma in the latter years of 1850, being then Mrs. Linsley. Her husband died, and after a widowhood of many years she married Captain J.O. Wickersham. Both husband and wife were in rather poor health. Mr. Wickersham purchased the ranch were they met their tragic death, and stocking it with sheep, the twain decided to seek a renewal of health in mountain life. From the lips of both the writer of this had the assurance that their health was never better than in their chosen mountain home. Neither earth nor heaven gave to them or their many friends any portent of the terrible calamity impending. Joyous and happy together in life -- but a brief period intervened, and they were united in death. They sleep in one grave. Peace to their ashes.

Ang Tai Duc, the perpetrator of this black crime, in the meantime had reached San Francisco, and before the victims were buried was well out to sea, on his way to China. But the swift-winged electricity was put upon his track, and when the vessel reached Yokohama, Japan, Ang Tai Duc was arrested and sent to China to be held until a requisition for him could be sent from the United States. An officer armed with the necessary papers, and accompanied by S.P. Weston, of Petaluma, to identify the criminal, started to China, but before they reached Hong Kong, Ang Tai Duc had hung himself in his prison cell.

Source: Pages 272-275 of An Illustrated History of Sonoma County, California. The Lewis Publishing Company, 113 Adams St., Chicago, Illinois 1889