From the public domain History of Siskiyou County, California Illustrated with Views of Residences, Business Buildings and Natural Scenery, and Containing Portaits and Biographies of its Leading Citizens and Pioneers.
After lying in jail two years, and receiving two trials, hoping for a release from the extreme penalty of the law until a few weeks before his death, Thomas King was executed on the twenty-third day of June, 1865, for a heartless and causeless murder, for dealing a death-blow, unprovoked and unexpected. He was born in Ireland, and when about twelve years of age, left his home because his parents had punished him for some offense. For several years he roamed about the United Kingdom, the associate of bad characters, until for the commission of
some felony he was transported to Australia.
When the Crimean war was raging, a regiment was raised among the convicts, by order of Lord Raglan, the men being given their liberty at the close of the war. In this regiment King enlisted, and after the fall of Sebastopol received his discharge. He made his way to Halifax, and from there to California, and to this county. After mining at Humbug, Scott Bar and various other places, he went to the south fork of Scott river, where he committed the terrible crime, for which the law exacted the penalty of his life.
On the second of July, 1863, having already become considerably under the influence of liquor, he entered French’s saloon, and began flourishing a knife in a threatening manner, and was deprived of it by the barkeeper. Among others in the saloon was James Duffy, who had been drinking, and whom King accused of having his knife. The accusation was denied, and upon being informed where the knife was, King demanded it from the barkeeper and it was restored to him. Throwing the weapon upon the floor and striking a tragic attitude, he exclaimed: “There lays me dagger. Whoever picks it up, dies by me hand.”
Not dreaming of danger, Duffy stooped, picked up the weapon and laid it upon the counter, saying, “You wouldn’t kill me, your best friend, would you?” “Yes, I would,” he said, as he took up the knife and made several false motions, touching Duffy’s breast with the handle, while the victim stood there smiling, unconscious of danger. Suddenly King reversed the knife, and with a, quick, hard blow, buried it deep in Duffy’s heart, the murdered man sinking to the floor with the exclamation, “You have cut me.” King made a pass with the bloody weapon at the barkeeper, and then sprang to the door and fled. The horrified witnesses of the tragedy stood for an instant in blank amazement, and then hastened in pursuit of the murderer, whom they soon overtook and secured after a slight resistance.
He remained in jail until the following February, when, after a trial lasting three days, he was found guilty of murder in the first degree, and was sentenced by Judge E. Garter to be executed Friday, March 18, 1864. An appeal to the Supreme Court gained for the condemned man a new trial, based upon the construction of a statute, and not upon the merits of the case. He was again tried in September, and was sentenced to be hanged on Friday, November 4, 1864, but an application to the Supreme Court produced a stay of proceedings until the case could be reviewed by that body. While awaiting the decision of the court, on Saturday, the eighth of February, 1865, he made a bold, and for a time, successful attempt to regain his freedom. Confined in the jail, which was the old wooden building first erected by the county, were also George Foster and Robert Ferry, both under a sentence to the penitentiary for grand larceny, and McGuire, a deserter from the army. The last named was allowed in the corridor, and was in the habit of calling for water. About eight o’clock on the night in question Foster succeeded in getting out of his cell, and after releasing the prisoners from their cells, had McGuire call for water, as usual, and when Jailor McCullough opened the door he was seized, gagged, and bound, and the prisoners escaped, having their irons still upon them. They had been gone but twenty minutes when their flight was discovered. The town was aroused, and people started in all directions in search of the fugitives. About daylight Ferry was caught at Cherry creek by John Hendricks and others. having been unable to get rid of his irons. About two o’clock Sunday afternoon William Short and Charles Brown found King in a clump of manzanita bushes, near Deming’s old brickyard, but a short distance south-west of Yreka. His long confinement of nineteen months had so weakened him that he had been unable to proceed further or to remove the irons from his limbs, although one of them he had succeeded in sawing partially through. A party composed of Livy Swan, A.V. Burns, J. Babb, A.D. Crooks, Sherman, Stone, and Groots, in pursuit of Foster and McGuire, stopped Monday night at Cherokee Mary’s, a resort for thieves, nine miles from Yreka. About four o’clock Tuesday morning the two fugitives approached the house and were ordered to surrender, and upon attempting to escape were fired upon by Jesse Sherman, with a shot gun, and Foster was wounded in the head and captured, while McGuire escaped by flight. Foster had succeeded in removing his irons, and now, severely wounded, was conveyed again to jail, while McGuire went to Fort Jones, and, finding escape impossible, gave himself up. Foster and Ferry had the terms of their sentences increased, while McGuire, who would have been released in a few days, was sent to San Quentin for two years for his little exploit in jail-breaking.
George Foster, alias Charles Mortimer, alias Charles J. Flinn, was the leader in the jail delivery, a hardened and reckless felon, and ended his career upon the scaffold. He was first sent to San Quentin from San Francisco for three years, and when his term expired, went back, chloroformed a man and robbed him of $1,800, was arrested, and escaped from officer Rose, by knocking him senseless and nearly cutting his throat. He then came to Siskiyou county, and was soon sentenced to three years for grand larceny, which term was increased to seven years for his participation in the jail delivery. After his release he continued his career of crime, finally murdering a woman in Sacramento, September 19, 1872, for which act he paid the penalty upon the gallows, not, however, until his brother lost his life in a desperate attempt to release him from the jail in which he was confined while awaiting the day of his execution.
The Supreme Court having reviewed the case and sustained the decision of the lower court, King was brought before Judge Garter in May, and was sentenced to be hanged on Friday, June 23, 1865. Preparations were accordingly made by Sheriff A.D. Crooks by erecting a gallows in the jail-yard. King’s conduct during the trials had been one of bravado and defiance, and this he maintained to the last, being quite abusive while on the scaffold. He remarked as they were leading him from his cell to the place of his death, “I’m the handsomest man here, if I am going to be hung.” But few spectators were admitted within the jail walls to witness the last act of this terrible drama, which culminated at nine minutes to two o’clock. The murderer who thus received the just punishment for the crime, nearly two years after he had plunged the fatal knife into an innocent and unsuspecting bosom, was buried a little east of town, near the remains of Crowder and Sailor Jim, executed several years before.