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Sunday, January 04, 1998

Solano sees violence at the polls, piers and prairies

Kristin Delaplane

Fires take many homes in county

In 1865, Judge William Kean Weston died at age 56 in Fairfield. He had been born in Lincoln County, Maine, in 1808 and been trained in the mechanics trade.
He had settled in Augusta, Maine, where he worked as a contractor and then as a wholesale hardware dealer. He also studied law.

In 1847, he went to Galveston, Texas, where he set up a contracting business and, at some point, he commanded a steamer on Trinity River in Texas.

He returned back east, but having lost heavily in a contracting job to build a lighthouse at Sandy Hook, N.Y., he migrated to California in 1850.

He lived in San Francisco until 1858, when he moved to Solano County. In 1861, he was chosen as county judge and in 1863, he was re-elected to a four-year term. He left behind a wife, son and daughter in Augusta, Maine, and two brothers in California.

Dr. Charles H. Coffran, also a Maine native, died at the age of 48 years.

A new firm, Williamson & March, opened in a brick store in Fairfield. They carried groceries, paints, liquors, glassware, provisions, oil, crockery, nails, etc. They also paid for county produce and butter and eggs.

Sufficient funds had finally been raised to purchase the melodeon for the brick church in Fairfield. It arrived on the steamer Princess.

The harbor at Bridgeport (a.k.a. Cordelia) had lacked prominent shipping business for some time and the village was not showing any signs of prosperity.

A noted incident occurred at the voting polls at Bridgeport leaving one man dead and three wounded. A man named English and his two sons were cutting wood on Perry Durbin’s (a.k.a. Derbin) land. Durbin and the elder English were brothers-in-law. Durbin stopped them from cutting wood with an injunction.

In retaliation, Charles English made an official complaint to the military authorities charging Durbin and others with treason in rejoicing over Lincoln’s assignation. This led to Durbin’s arrest.

Some months later at the polls, Charles English and Durbin were seen talking and Durbin made a motion as if to draw a weapon. Charles pulled a revolver and shot Durbin, hitting him in the chest and shoulder. In an attempt to escape, Charles stumbled and fell, whereupon Durbin lunged and cut his throat. When Perry English ran to assist his brother, he was fatally shot by Frank Grady. When the elder English saw what was happening, he went to his sons’ aid, whereupon Durbin stabbed him.

Grady hastily fled on horseback. Charles English also fled. Durbin went home, was soon arrested and released on $2,000 bail. Charles English was captured in Santa Rosa. Grady was eventually caught. He paid his $5,000 bail. Grady was tried twice and was acquitted.

Two deserters from Mare Island were picked up in Napa. Believing their clothing was stolen goods, inquires were made to all the nearby settlements. It was discovered goods fitting that description, along with $100, had been stolen from a store or home in Cordelia.

A military encampment took place on Henry G. Wetmore’s ranch at the head of the Suisun Valley. The troops would encompass the companies of Yolo, Napa and Solano counties, forming an independent mounted battalion to be commanded by Maj. J.H. Marsten.

Shortly after this successful encampment, Wetmore was made a member of the Society of California Pioneers in San Francisco.

The cornerstone for the L.B. Abernathy house in the Suisun Valley was laid with some ceremony. Documents and pictures of the family were wrapped in the American flag and deposited in the niche. A number of friends were present as they sipped champagne and wine from Voytpka’s Green Valley wine press.

The house was later destroyed by fire.

The residence of Landy Alford was almost entirely consumed by fire. The loss was estimated at $7,000, and he had no insurance. Arson was suspected and suspicion fell on one of Alford’s farm hands. The farm hand woke the family at 3 a.m. sounding the alarm of fire. However, once the family was safe, the farm hand refused to help put out the fire.

John Morrison, a laborer, attempted suicide near Rockville by cutting his arms with a knife. On the previous night he had been drinking in Suisun and in a fit of delirium imagined he was being pursued by people wanting to take his life.

There was a fire at the hotel in Rockville, the stables opposite and the store and residence of postmaster Gilmore. A spark in the hotel chimney started the fire. (This may have been the F.B. Gilmore who just a few months previous had been seriously injured when he was thrown from a wagon. Shortly after this, in San Francisco, F.B. Gilmore’s wife, Catherine, passed away.)

The M.E. Church South held its camp meeting near David J. Clayton’s from Thursday through Tuesday. It was announced that the Rev. W.S. Urmy was being replaced as the pastor for the brick church in Fairfield.

The Suisun/Benicia stage had an accident near Rockville. There were 10 passengers on board. When it neared the resident of Capt. Boynton, the stage capsized due to a high wind and a rut in the road. None were injured seriously. The horses were recovered near Rockville.

Two Prussians, Fritz Polzing and William Westphal were hauling barley from Westphal’s ranch to Polzing’s about 5 miles southeast of Denverton. Polzing was the half brother of Westphal’s estranged wife.

Westphal went up to the house to inform his wife that Polzing had fallen from the wagon and been killed. She went to the spot, but Polzing was alive and begging for water. She went to fetch some.

On returning moments later, she saw Westphal strike Polzing with an ax. Westphal threatened her if she exposed him. At that moment, Mr. Shedd happened along and Mrs. Westphal requested that the dead Polzing be taken to his residence. Justice Carrington was summoned and on examining the body, he became suspicious. Doctors Jayne and Freeman were summoned and based on their evidence, Westphal was arrested and was taken to Rio Vista’s jail. He was tried and the verdict was not guilty.

Dr. Nurse’s store was broken into and he was robbed of $75 worth of knives and shirts and liquor. The burglar had pried the casing of the window to gain access.

Shortly after this it was announced that the firm of Nurse & Brother was dissolved. S.K. Nurse, founder of the settlement, was staying on. His brother William B. Nurse was quitting the business. William was mentioned in 1855 as operating a jewelry shop in Benicia. He carried clocks, watches and jewelry along with a selection of cutlery, spectacles, accordions and other fancy articles. He also cleaned and repaired watches and jewelry. In 1856, the partnership of Nurse & Brother was established for the purpose of transacting of general merchandise and as forwarding business at Nurse’s Landing, but William still maintained his shop in Benicia.

In 1865, C.J. Collins sold the town of Collinsville to S.C. Bradshaw. Bradshaw changed the name of the small hamlet to Newport. He then arranged for a round trip steamboat excursion from San Francisco to Newport at a cost of $2.50. The incentive was that each purchaser of two tickets would be presented with a free deed to a lot in Newport.

About 500 people responded and boarded the steamboat San Antonio. On the trip to Collinsville, they were given their deeds and they eagerly poured over the printed maps to match their deeded lots with the location in Collinsville.

Upon landing at the wharf, a grand rush was made to find the chosen lots. Inquires were made for the whereabouts of Washington, Van Buren, Harrison streets, etc., but only a vast expanse of unimproved tule land greeted them.

Barkeeper Rankin’s stock of whiskey soon disappeared. As the intoxication level rose, so did the state of indignation among those who had been hoodwinked. Newport was quickly duped “No Port.’’ Bradshaw, meanwhile, took refuge from the incensed crowd in the steamer’s cookhouse. (Note: This story is in the history books as having occurred in 1867, but that date is now confirmed as incorrect.)

The fateful explosion of the steamer Yosemite was at 6 p.m. Oct. 12. It was reported by the steamer’s clerk that there had been 107 cabin passengers, 44 steerage passengers and 65 officers and crew.

At the time of the explosion, 50 to 80 people were killed instantly. Several more were injured. The bodies of 13 white males were taken by the steamer Chrysopolis to San Francisco. The bodies of 33 remained on the pier to be tended to.

Among those killed was G.W. Seaton, senator-elect of Amador County, M. McCreary of Sacramento Flour Mills and William Cainigie of the Maguire’s Theatrical Troupe. Only one of those reported dead was a resident of Solano County. The accident was all the more shocking as the Yosemite, built in 1863, was considered the finest riverboat in California. Coroner Albert Knorp held an inquest and testimony was taken. No criminal blame could be attached.

On the morning after the accident, the deck hands, John Farron and John McDonald (a.k.a. John McGuire) were ordered by Capt. Poole to bring up the bodies from the cabin, which were usually occupied by the Chinese.

The deck hands were soon discovered cutting off the pockets from the dead bodies and rifling them of their contents. This caused them to be arrested.

There was found on one of the men $640 in coin, a gold watch, two gold chains, three silver watches, $25 or $30 worth of gold specimens and one gold breast pin.

Another man was found with $80 in coin, several gold and silver specimens, gold rings, a Chinese wallet, which contained a silver watch with a gold chain, a gold specimen seal and one military poll tax receipt issued to Sin Yiu. The two were found guilty and sentence to San Quentin for five years.

In all, the Chinese had $40,000 worth of coin and dust, and many assumed they had plans to return to China. Several Chinese left Sacramento to charge of the remains of their deceased countrymen.

A short while later, an agent of the California Steam Navigation Co. came to Rio Vista to remunerate those who assisted in the explosion and the hotelkeepers who had supplied blankets and other necessities.

A German named Bosh got off the San Francisco steamer in Rio Vista. He was there for only a day or two when he threw himself into the river. The new college building in Vacaville was to be 80 by 40, two stories high with a belfry and built of brick. H.F. Heford of Vacaville was advertising as a surgeon.