Hanging of the Spanish Woman - April 2012
From History of Plumas, Lassen, and Sierra Counties, Fariss and Smith, 1882
They placed her high upon the stand,
Calmly she sat, no tear, nor frown,
Nor quivering lip, nor trembling hand
Shook; but silent looking down,
She viewed the scene of hate and strife,
Heard maddened voices cry aloud
That she must die, and life for life
Seemed the watchword of the crowd.
—George Barton, 1851
The Fourth of July, 1851, had been a great day in Downieville. The anniversary of the birth of our republic had been commemorated with grand parades, the assemblage of thousands and with a thrilling address from John B. Weller, afterwards governor of California. Those addicted to the use of stimulating beverages—their name was legion—had held high carnival all the livelong day among the bottles and glasses, and when the somber shades of night had fallen, many a loud reveler was staggering through the crowded thoroughfares, awaking the echoes of the surrounding hills with their ribald song and laughter.
Later in the night those jolly spirits became mischievous, and some of the rougher sort went around breaking open the doors of houses, among others, attacking the domicile of the ill-fated Juanita, occupied at the time by herself and a man of her own race. In the crowd was Jack Cannon, a Scotchman of magnificent physical strength and herculean proportions. When the hilarious band had broken up, at a very early hour the next morning, Cannon went back to the Mexican house. His purpose in returning thither is of course unknown. Many persons say that he intended to apologize and pay for the damage done by himself and fellows, but this can be nothing more than surmise.
Mr. V.C McMurry, who was probably the only outsider who witnessed the killing of Cannon, states that he saw Cannon go up to the door of the house, inside of which was standing the Mexican and the woman Juanita, and heard him address the latter with the Spanish word for prostitute. She immediately went into a side room, while Cannon, leaning each hand upon a door post, stood directly in the doorway conversing with the man. In a moment she reentered the hall with one hand held behind her. Coming rapidly to the front and passing her companion of the night before, she plunged a long knife with tremendous force into Cannon’s breast. The power required for the stroke must have been considerable, for the blade penetrated clear through the heavy sternum bone in the center of the chest and buried itself in his heart. Though she was a very small, slender woman of 23 years, her intense passion gave her for an instant an extraordinary strength. Cannon fell dead instantly.
But a moment was required to spread the news far and wide. Rapidly it sped from mouth to mouth, and the miners ran in great numbers to the place where Cannon lay, still bleeding and warm. He was a popular fellow with the crowd. Threats of vengeance came from many a throat, and for safety the woman who had done the deed left her home hastily and entered Craycroft’s saloon, asking for protection. Her movement was noticed. A mob surrounded the place, so as to give her no possible chance of escape. Someone raised the cry “Hang her!” and the idea met with an instant general approval.
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