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Monday, May 29, 2000

Murder in Pleasants Valley

Jerry Bowen

The past year had been a lousy time for Joseph Hewitt of Pleasants Valley, and a series of events would soon come to a terrible, unexpected conclusion.

On May 20, 1870, Samuel Parker Adams, a fruit grower at the north end of Pleasants Valley, was hiving bees with his friend, George Thissell. The bees were giving them some trouble. Thissell suggested that Adams should go to the house and get a pail of water, which he did. After returning with the pail and leaving it with Thissell, Adams left.

A few minutes later Thissell went to the house to see why his friend had not returned and saw the eldest Hewitt daughter running in his direction in a panic. He ran to the Hewitt home and encountered the girl’s father, Joseph, who calmly informed him, “You are the very one I want to see; I have killed Parker Adams; he came to my house and attacked me with a pistol, and I have killed him in self-defense.”

Hewitt gathered his family and left for town to turn himself in to the sheriff’s office.

Neighbors attended to Adams’ body, finding that he had four bullet wounds and a gash on his head as if he had been hit with a blunt instrument. After the coroner’s inquest, Adams was buried in Pleasants Valley, probably on his ranch.

A trial was held starting Sept. 29, lasting several days. Joseph Hewitt was found to have acted in self-defense and acquitted of the slaying.

Then Hewitt’s barn burned to the ground in early 1871, destroying 20 tons of hay and four valuable horses. Many believed the fire had been deliberately set because there were hard feelings after he was acquitted of the killing of Adams.

In those days, the custom established by the California Mexican/Spanish period of allowing strangers who asked for a night’s lodging in private homes was still honored.

Joseph was enjoying a pleasant evening playing with his daughters on March 3, 1871, when one of them, Belle, went to the back door to throw out a cold cup of tea. She was surprised to find two men were outside the door as she opened it.

She called to her father, who asked the men what they wanted. The strangers, brothers Guadalupe and Pancho Valencia, asked Joseph for overnight lodging.

The unsuspecting Joseph stepped outside and told the men that there was no room, but a neighbor had a barn where they could sleep overnight. The men asked him to point out where the barn was located. As he did, one of the men - Pancho - shot Joseph in the chest and they rushed off into the night. The horrified family rushed to Hewitt’s aid, but it was too late. He died in their arms, saying “Oh, my pets, I am murdered!”

M.V. Owen, deputy sheriff, arrived at the Hewitt residence the next morning. He examined the premises and grounds about the house. He took pains to have the murderers’ footprints preserved and then tracked the suspects’ trail toward Sweeney Creek. He then traced the movement of the men to Silveyville, from there to Suisun, then to Collinsville, where they crossed the river in a small boat to Antioch and to Livermore. He sent a telegram to the sheriff of Alameda County and upon arriving at Livermore he found that Mr. Hadsell had already arrested the men.

Comparison of the footprints Owen found at Hewitt’s ranch satisfied his suspicion he had the right men.

On the 18th of April, the grand jury determined there was enough evidence against them to try them for murder.

Their trial was to be held during the May term of the District Court, but was continued to the September term. Finally, on Sept. 20 the trial began.

A long list of witnesses testified at the trial.

Lizze Hewitt, Joseph’s daughter, identified the defendants as the men who were at the house on the night of the killing.

Hamilton Thrift testified that the defendants stopped at his saloon in Silveyville on the morning of the shooting and purchased a bottle of whiskey. He also said that their horses looked jaded.

John E. Zumwalt told the jury that he met the defendants near Silveyville on the morning of the shooting. The defendants told him they were from Sacramento heading to Vacaville and their horses were very tired. The larger man offered to trade his horse, saddle and gun for Zumwalt’s horse, but he turned him down. They told him they were going to Vacaville but went in the direction of Batavia.

William Smith, who lived at Denverton, said the defendants called at his place on March 4, the day after the shooting, and wanted to sell him a shotgun. Again they were turned down and Smith sold them some liquor. Upon leaving, the brothers said they were going to Antioch and inquired the way to Collinsville.

T.P. Hooper testified to having seen the defendants at Collinsville. He had talked with Pancho.

Finally, Lewis Hadsell testified to having arrested the defendants at Livermore Valley, saying, “I talked with them in Spanish. The defendants told me they had come from the neighboring hills and were going to San Jose. They also said that they came from a ranch 15 miles away. They denied having crossed at Antioch on the ferry and having been in Solano County. They did not want to tell me where they were from, nor wish to talk.”

Testifying further, Hadsell said, “Pancho asked me what they were arrested for. I told them ‘murder,’ and the defendant replied, ‘They have got me now for murder; let them prove it if they can.’ “

After the testimony of 15 witnesses, the pair were found guilty of murder in the first degree and were housed in the Fairfield County Jail pending execution. Guadalupe was discharged before execution day on Nov. 24, but Pancho was hanged, the second man to be legally hanged in Solano County history.

I never did find any reason for the killing of Hewitt. From beginning to end, it just seemed to have been a random act of stupidity, forever affecting the lives of Hewitt’s family and the surrounding community.