Santa Cruz County History - Crime & Public Safety



Copperheads--Part 2
by Phil Reader

PART 2: TOM POOLE, CONFEDERATE GUERRILLA

CONFEDERATE GUERRILLAS IN SANTA CRUZ COUNTY

During the year of 1864, the mountains above the village of Corralitos were a hotbed of pro-secessionist activity. Two separate bands of Confederate guerrillas bivouacked and trained in the rugged Loma Prieta area. Nearby ranchers, in allegiance with their cause, sheltered them from the prying eyes of the local Union militia unit known as the Butler Guards. The almost inaccessible terrain allowed them to move almost unnoticed in and out of their camp.

The first group, led by former Pajaro resident Tom Poole and "Captain" Rufus Ingram one time member of Quantrill's Raiders, plotted a series of raids on the bullion-bearing stage coaches of the mother lode region from this mountain hideout. In June of 1864 this band left Loma Prieta bound for Placerville and a rendezvous with the Pioneer Stage out of Virginia City. Next to occupy the mountain camp was the murderous Mason-Henry Gang, who fled there from the San Joaquin after killing George Robinson at Elkhorn Station for insulting "southern womanhood."

TOM POOLE, CONFEDERATE GUERRILLA

Photograph of Tom Poole
Tom Poole

At noon on September 29, 1865, a tall, rough-looking man with a graying beard mounted the steps to a gallows which stood near the jail house in Placerville, California. He ascended the stairs of the scaffold and spoke cordially to the officers who gathered around him and shaking hands with each of them. Presently a black hood was placed over his head and a knotted noose secured tightly around his neck. One of the lawmen gave a signal and the gallows trap door was sprung, leaving the hooded man suspended by the neck. Within moments, Thomas B. Poole, perhaps the best known of California's Confederate Guerrillas, was dead.

Tom Poole was born in 1820 at Frankfort County, Kentucky to a plantation family who would soon sell their land and slaves, and move to Illinois. Tam learned the Potter's trade and just past the age of twenty he married Mary Caroline (Duff) Davis. In 1850, he was swept away by the gold fever and traveled across the plains to the northern mines of California. After experiencing little or no luck at the diggings in the mother lode, he migrated to the Pajaro Valley in the company of John B. Tyus and filed for a homestead on the Monterey county side of the river. In 1856 he went east and brought his family out to the coast.

Poole was a affable person who made friends easily and ingratiated himself to Henry DeGraw, the Monterey county sheriff, who appointed him deputy in 1857 for a term of two years. DeGraw was an elderly man in ill health, so Poole became de facto sheriff and took on most of the responsibilities of the office.

On March 17, 1856 there had been a particularly foul murder committed on the Carmel Road in the mountains above Monterey. A Scotchman named Frank Hellen, who worked in Carmel but lived at Monterey, started for home about dusk. He had been drinking freely during the day and had paid for the whiskey with gold coins which he kept in his pockets. A group of Indians saw him "flashing" the money around and followed him up the road toward Monterey. They overtook him at a grove of oak trees in the mountains and one of them held him down while the others slashed him with their knives. Finally his throat was cut and the Indians rifled his pockets for the money. When they fled, Hellen, who was still alive managed to crawl into a clump of nearby bushes where he slowly died from loss of blood.

The next morning his body was found and an investigation into the murder was immediately inaugurated. A witness had noticed the Indians follow Hellen out of Carmel valley and was able to identify three of them. Two were soon captured and jailed, while a third escaped into the mountains. One of the two prisoners was able to provide an alibi and was subsequently released. As the lone suspect languished in jail awaiting trial, a group of vigilantes broke into his cell, dragged him out and lynched him along with three other prisoners, who were thought to be involved in another murder.

Several months later, Jose Anastasio, the second Indian implicated in the Hellen killing was captured at his mountain lair. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged on February 12, 1858. The customary appeal for clemency was made to Governor John Weller.

Meanwhile, Tom Poole had assumed his roll of acting sheriff of Monterey with the support of the local citizenry. Much to everyone's surprise, the governor issued a reprieve, delaying the execution until March 5th. Poole was on hand to receive the order of judgment. However, Governor Weller had issued the order in the name of Anastasio Jesus instead of Jose Anastasio - a simple clerical error.

There had been almost forty unsolved killings in the Monterey Bay region during the previous three years, so this stay of execution in the case of such a brutal murder was not a popular idea with the people of Monterey - or with Deputy Sheriff Tom Poole. He then hand-carried a copy of the governor's order to Judge Hester of the District Court and asked for a ruling. Hester verified that the reprieve was in the name of Anastasio Jesus and not Jose Anastasio, the man currently awaiting execution. Poole then asked the district attorney and county judge for their interpretation and both agreed with Judge Hester. Taking this as a sign of approval, he proceeded with the hanging, over Sheriff DeGraw's feeble objections. On February 12, 1858, Tom Poole and a party of the leading citizens of Monterey took Anastasio back to the scene of the murder and hanged him on a temporary gallows.

While this willful act may have been popular with the local people, it made the governor absolutely furious. He sent Poole a letter accusing him of outright murder and abuse of the public trust. For his part, Poole responded by laying the execution on the governor's doorstep declaring that it was not his duty "to correct errors in process, nor shield even the governor from the legal results of the blunder." Governor Weller even returned Poole's bombastic letter unopened declining "any correspondence with a man of his character."

Needless to say, Sheriff DeGraw stripped Poole of his position and sent him back to his farm on the banks of the Pajaro River. In 1860 Mary Caroline Poole died, leaving Tom with three children to raise. He removed to the San Francisco area where he became a partner in a Sansome Street livery stable and remained out of the public eye for the next three years.

When the Civil War broke out, Poole, always a loyal southerner, immediately joined the Knights of the Golden Circle. The knights were a clandestine, pro-slavery organization founded in 1859 for the express purpose of bringing about the military conquest of Mexico, renaming it The Pacific Republic and annexing it to the United States as a slave state. However, following the outbreak of war, it's membership - believed to number about 16,000 - undertook a series of new goals. Some sought to raise money and arms to support the Confederacy, others plotted the overthrow of the state government, while another group recruited and armed volunteers for the Confederate Army. These would-be soldiers were funneled into the south via Mexico, Arizona, and New Mexico.

In San Francisco, during the month of July, 1863, Asbury Harpending, a 23 year old Kentucky native, devised a plan to disrupt shipping and commerce on the west coast. He went to Richmond, Virginia and procured letters from the Confederate government authorizing him to operate as a privateer in the service of the Confederacy. Joining Harpending in this endeavor was Alfred Rubery, a wealthy young Englishman and Ridgley Greathouse, a banker and fellow Kentuckian, who was to bankroll the enterprise.

To this end they purchased a ninety ton-schooner named the J.M. CHAPMAN and William Law hired on as a navigator. In her berth at the San Francisco waterfront, she was outfitted with cannon, rifles, pistols and other machineries of war. A crew was recruited from among the local Knights of the Golden Circle. One of the first to volunteer his services in the cause of the Confederacy was Tom Poole. In all, twenty men were to make up the officers and crew of the privateer.

On the night of March 14, 1863, They boarded the CHAPMAN and put out into the bay where they anchored to await a daybreak sailing. The crew posted a lookout and went below deck to sleep. At the first light of dawn they were awakened by the guard shouting the alarm.

Two hundred yards off of the bow lay the U.S. Warship CYANE with her cannon trained on the CHAPMAN. Pulling alongside was a tug manned by marines and policemen, who were armed to the teeth. Harpending, Rubery, and Greathouse were captured and placed under arrest upon the deck, while Tom Poole and the other members of the hapless crew were marched up from their berths in the hold. Their scheme had been betrayed to federal authorities by their navigator William Law.

Poole and the others were taken to Alcatraz Island where they were imprisoned and indicted on charges of treason. Their trials did not commence until October 2nd, when Asbury Harpending, Alfred Rubery, and Ridgley Greathouse were found guilty of giving aid and comfort to an enemy of the United States and sentenced to ten years in prison and a fine of $10,000. Tom Poole and the rest of the crew were freed after swearing an oath of loyalty to the Union government.

Although Poole had taken the oath of allegiance, he had absolutely no intention of keeping it because at this point in his life, his only loyalty was to the secessionist cause. It was not long before he was involved in another scheme to promote the Confederacy.

Prior to the start of the war there was a large tract of unsurveyed land in the mountainous region above the village of Corralitos in Santa Cruz county. This rugged stretch of terrain, made nearly inaccessible by an abundance of redwoods, was located at the foot of Mount Loma Prieta and ran over the summit towards San Jose. The woodsmen and farmers in the area were sympathetic to the south and it was here in the winter of 1863/64 that Tom Poole found refuge after the CHAPMAN fiasco.

During this time a number of hardened copperheads drifted into Poole's redwood camp. Among them were the Glendenning brothers, John Bouldware, nineteen-year old A1 Glasby, George and John Baker, and a quarrelsome roughneck named Jim Grant. Host were members of the San Jose chapter of the Knights of the Golden Circle.

In late winter, George Baker, anxious to take part in the fighting, left the group and headed south to join the Confederate Army. While in Mexico, he was befriended by Rufus Henry Ingram, a thirty-year old former member of Quantrill's guerrilla band. He had taken part in the infamous raid on Lawrence, Kansas the previous August and was hiding out in Mexico. When told of the company of men at Poole's camp, the charismatic Ingram, convinced Baker that the best way to serve the south was to return to California with him and raise funds and recruits for the army.

They arrived at the camp during the early spring of 1864 and presented a letter commissioning him as a captain in the Confederate Army. Now the group had the experienced leader which they had needed. They formed themselves into Captain Ingram's Partisan Rangers and a plan of action was quickly drafted.

It was well known that large quantities of gold and silver were shipped by stage coach from Virginia City to Sacramento. Robbing one of these shipments would be an ideal way to get the necessary funds to recruit and equip a company of California volunteer soldiers for service to the Confederacy. On the sixth of May, two men, including Jim Grant, were sent to Placerville in E1 Dorado county to secure information on Wells Fargo bullion shipments. Grant immediately got drunk and tried to draft a local man into the guerrilla band. Captain Ingram, fearing that the plot may become exposed, called the men back to camp. Grant, the troublemaker, was sent packing and a new plan was devised.

It was decided to make a raid on San Jose, much like Quantrill had done on Lawrence, Kansas; looting any bank or business they happened upon. The gang now moved it's headquarters to a spot near the ranch of Preston Hodges in the Santa Cruz mountains above Saratoga. Hodges, a member of the knights, kept them supplied with provisions while they prepared for the raid. But their flurry of activity caught the attention of Santa Clara County Sheriff John Hicks Adams and his deputy R. B. Hall. The two lawmen managed to locate the guerrilla's camp and kept a wary eye on them. When the surveillance was discovered, Ingram had to abandon the planned raid and revert to his original proposal of hitting a Wells Fargo coach.

On June 22, Captain Ingram and his band, now consisting of Tom Poole, John Bouldware, George Baker, John Clenndenning, and A1 Glasby, set off for Placerville. Three days later they arrived in the area and took rooms at the Somerset House, twelve miles south of town. They disguised themselves as a party of miners saying that they were on their way to the silver mines of Nevada.

They reconnoitered the route which the coaches followed through E1 Dorado county and decided that the best place for a holdup was at a long bend in the road a few miles east of Placerville. At this spot it was necessary for a driver to slow his team down to a walk in order to avoid tipping over the coach.

On the evening of the 30th, Ingram's Partisans stationed themselves in the brush bordering the trail. What they didn't know was that there were two coaches of the Pioneer Stage Line traveling in tandem on their way to Sacramento. The first, with Ned Blair at the reins, was running a few minutes ahead of a stage being driven by Charley Watson. Both were loaded down with bullion worth more than $40,000.

Just at dusk, Blair's coach rounded the bend and ran into the band of guerrillas, who had their weapons leveled at the driver. After the stage came to a stop, Poole, holding the lead team ordered Blair to throw down the bags of silver and gold.

"Come and get it!" growled the belligerent driver.

Two of the partisans climbed aboard the stage and tossed down four sacks of treasure to their comrades. Suddenly Charley Watson's coach pulled onto the scene. Seeing his way blocked, he stopped and jumped down out of the boot, making his way over to the leading stage. He was greeted by a host of guerrillas, all pointing guns in his direction. Young A1 Glasby covered him with a revolver and ordered him back to his stage.

Meanwhile Captain Ingram motioned for Blair to move his stage down the road. As he was complying with the order, one of his passengers, a Virginia City policemen named McDougal, pulled a pistol and fired a shot at the holdup men. The report of the weapon spooked the team and they bolted into a maddening run, carrying the stage into the night. The shooting had unnerved the guerrillas to such a degree that one of them suggested killing all of the passengers in Watson's coach.

Captain Ingram reassured the passengers saying," We are not common bandits. We are Confederate soldiers and all we want from you is the Wells Fargo bullion to help recruit for the Confederate Army."

After Watson threw down the treasure sacks and the Wells Fargo box, Ingram handed the driver a receipt for the bullion which read:

June, 1864.
This is to certify that I have received from Wells Fargo & Co. the sum of $______ cash, for the purpose of outfitting recruits in California for the Confederate States Army. R. Henry Ingram, Captain, Commanding Co., C.S.A.

After this the partisans waved on the stage and stashed most of their loot in a nearby ravine, planning to send someone after it at a later date. They returned to the Somerset House, posted John Bouldware as a guard and bedded down for a few hours of sleep.

The two stage coaches arrived at Placerville after midnight and immediately notified E1 Dorado County Sheriff William Rogers of the robbery. A posse was quickly organized and split into two groups. One was to go north and the other south. The group heading south was comprised of deputies John Van Eaton, Joseph Staples and Town Constable George Ranney.

Several miles down the road they stumbled upon the trail of the partisans which led to the Sumerset House. Van Eaton was sent back to notify the other lawmen, while Staples and Ranney rode up to the house and told the proprietress Maria Reynolds about the robbers. They asked if she had seen any strangers about. She nodded yes and motioned to the side door.

Bouldware sounded the alarm about the same time Ranney walked through the door and into the bedroom where the guerrillas were lounging about. Upon seeing the constable, they reached for their guns. Seeing his dangerous predicament, the nervy Ranney pleasantly greeted them asking,

"Did you see any horsemen pass this Way during the night?"
"No," they answered.

The constable smiled politely and walked coolly back out the door. On the porch he met Staples, who he warned away, telling him about the gunmen in the house.

The deputy pushed past him and entered the door with a leveled shotgun. Ingram was the first to see him and started to draw a revolver, but Staples covered him with the shotgun. The guerrilla leader raised his hands at the same moment that Tom Poole and A1 Glasby pulled their pistols on the hapless lawman. He managed to get off one shot before he went down in a hail of gunfire. His shotgun blast hit Tom Poole in the face and knocked him to the floor with the left side of his face blown away.

The partisans charged out of the house, firing at Ranney who shot back as he ran for cover behind a nearby tree. But he was cut down mid stride by a flurry of pistol balls. Thinking the lawman dead, the guerrillas quickly mounted up and hurried away, leaving the wounded Tom Poole to fend for himself.

Returning to their hideout in the Santa Cruz mountains they lay low for two weeks and hatched another plan to finance their operations. The monthly payroll for the New Almaden Quicksilver Mines was brought up to the mountains via the afternoon stage from San Jose. Ingram plotted to rob the stage at a spot where the New Almaden Road starts up into the foothills.

On the night of July 14, they stopped at the farm of Edward Hill which was located near the intended holdup site, and asked to be put up for the night. During the following morning they inadvertently let it slip that they were planning to rob the stage. Hill passed the word on to a neighbor who rode into San Jose and informed Sheriff John Hicks Adams.

The burley Adams, a veteran of the Mexican War and one of the bravest lawmen in the state, assembled a posse and set out for the Hill ranch. The partisan's hideout was a small house near a grove of willow trees. When they arrived at the house, the posse quickly surrounded the building. The sheriff approached the front door and called out for the guerrillas to surrender. They responded by charging out of the house with their guns blazing. During the fight that followed over forty shots were exchanged at close range killing two of the partisans; John Clendenning, and John Bouldware, and wounding Al Glasby.

The lawmen suffered only one casualty as deputy J. H. Brownlee was hit, taking two bullets in the leg. However during a point-blank shoot out with John Clendenning, an extremely fortunate Sheriff Adams was hit in the chest. But the ball struck a heavy gold watch which he carried in his vest pocket and ricocheted harmlessly away.

During the battle, Captain Rufus Ingram and George Baker escaped and made their way back to Missouri where they spent the remainder of the war. Four companies of Union soldiers were sent into the Santa Cruz mountains to clear out what was left of Ingram's Partisan Rangers. In all, twelve men were arrested on charges that stemmed from guerrilla activities in the central coast region.

Meanwhile, back at Placerville, Pajaro's Tom Poole - his face still bandaged - was tried for the murder of Deputy Joseph Staples. Feelings in the area ran so high that it mattered little that he never fired his pistol, being downed immediately by the blast from the deputy's shotgun. On august 27, 1864, the jury found him guilty of first degree murder after only fifteen minutes of deliberations.

He was scheduled to be hanged during the month of October, but was granted a stay of execution until his case could be appealed to the state Supreme Court. As his case dragged on into 1865, the Civil War ended with General Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in April.

One by one his fellow guerrillas were tried and given short prison sentences or had all charges against them dropped. The Supreme Court finally ruled on Poole's case, upholding his conviction and setting September 29, as a new date for execution.

Time seems to have healed many of the old wounds made during the Confederate partisan's raid on the Placerville stage coaches. As the date for Poole's execution approached a number of petitions and letters requesting clemency for the old guerrilla were forwarded to Governor Fredrick Low from Monterey, Santa Cruz, and El Dorado counties. Among the signers were the sheriffs of all three counties as well as many members of the jury which had convicted him.

Former Judge James Johnson presented the case eloquently in a long letter which read in part,

"The foolish enterprise in which he and his comrades engaged was part and parcel of the gigantic rebellion now fortunately crushed." .... "Do not the hundreds of thousands of southern men slain sufficiently atone for the ... rebellion? Has not enough blood been shed? Can there be any great object in taking one more human life? Shall Poole be executed and Lee, Bragg, and Joe Johnston go at large?"

But all of these appeals, and the pleading of Poole's children, fell upon deaf ears. The governor would not be moved as there was still a price to be paid, and he would see it through.

It was almost six months after Appomattox when Tom Poole kept his date with the hangman at twelve noon on September 29, 1865. In the south, reconstruction was in full swing, while in the north the soldiers had lay down their arms and were returning home to plow their fields.

Copperheads, Part 3.


Condensed from: It Is Not My Intention to Be Captured. Copyright 1991 Phil Reader. Reproduced with the permission of Phil Reader. Photograph courtesy of Phil Reader.


View similarly tagged articles:

Civil War, Corralitos, murder, secessionists

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