Sunday, October 11, 2015

Evan Williams (1845-1901); Mining/Banking magnate & Nevada politician

Senator Evan Williams (Univ. of Nevada-Reno archives)

 PLOT 6 Family Mausoleum

Evan Williams was a Nevada political leader and prominent figure in Nevada mining and milling for 35 years.

Born in Wales and came to Nevada as a young man where he opened a butcher shop. He married Dora Foster in Virginia City, Nevada in 1868 and they had three children, Mabel, Enid and Evan Jr.

He worked as an accountant at the Crown Point Gold & Silver Mining Company. Superintendent of the Mexican Mill, Superintendent of the Nevada Mill & Mining Company and President of the Bullion Exchange Bank in Carson, Nevada.

The Bullion & Exchange Bank acted as a clearing house for other banks in Nevada for bullion, coin, scrip, drafts, checks, bills of exchange and other valuables. Williams was embroiled in a major investigation when a shortage of $60,000 in mining money was discovered. The Bullion Bank was accused of secretly depositing bars of bullion stolen from the shareholders of mines in the Comstock Lode.

Williams Family Mausoleum at Plot 6
He was  business partners with United States Senator John Percival "J.P." Jones (Republican- NV) in the Comstock Mill & Mining Company. Williams later sued Jones over a series of business transactions. 

He was elected to the Nevada State Senate in 1885 and in 1889 became the body's President pro Tempore. He served until 1891. His name was bandied about in 1889 to be a candidate for Governor, but he declined to run.

He died in San Francisco while being treated for cancer.

Make sure to read my posts on Nevada Governors C.C. Stevenson and Henry Blasdel, both of whom are buried at Mountain View Cemetery.

His daughter Enid was an accomplished pianist, who was killed in a stage coach accident at age 31. She was vacationing in Blairsden, Nevada with her mother when the horses of her coach were frightened, hurling her from the coach onto the rocky roadway where she fractured her skull. She is also buried in the family mausoleum. 

SOURCES: University of Nevada-Reno archives; Reno Evening Gazette; Journal of Nevada Senate; Engineering and Mining Journal; The San Francisco Call;

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Lloyd Majors (1837-1884): First legal execution in Oakland

News account of Lloyd Majors and the type of noose commonly used for hangings
Lloyd Majors was the first man to be legally executed in Oakland and the third legal hanging in Alameda County (the other two being in San Leandro). Majors was executed after being convicted as the principal suspect in the double murder of a "wealthy, old bachelor" named William Renowden and a Canadian named Archibald McIntyre.

Majors was born in Garfield, Ohio and graduated Ann Arbor College in 1870 and began practicing law shortly thereafter. After practicing law for four years he became a Methodist minister before moving to California and buying a saloon in Los Gatos. He became a popular citizen in the small town, being elected Foreman of a lodge of United Workmen and being named Grand Marshal of their Fourth of July parade. His saloon, which was struggling to make money, burned to the ground. It was later learned that Majors carried a large insurance policy on the business. He used the insurance money to buy a 40-room hotel, but struggled to financially complete the construction.

In February1883, he announced that he entered into a partnership with Joseph Jewell, a painter and regular at the saloon, who claimed he had become heir to a fortune and would provide the money necessary to complete the hotel.

Jewell and Majors were then seen hanging out with a guy named John Showers and acting "suspiciously." They showed up at Renowden's cabin after spending the day drinking whiskey,  claiming to be lost hunters in need of directions. Renowden was a recluse who allegedly buried his money near an isolated cabin. As Renowden walked the two men to the road, he was told to his put his hands in the air. McIntyre ran out of the cabin to the man's defense, but was shot by Jewell. The men hit Renowden on the head with a pistol and dragged him back to the cabin. When he refused to tell the men where he hid the money, he was doused with turpentine and set on fire. 

The cabin was burned to the ground and the bodies of Renowden and McIntyre were found at the site. It was subsequently learned that Majors had made inquiries about Renowden's habits and wealth, even visiting different banks at San Jose in an effort to learn if Renowden had any money on deposit.

Jewell and Showers were allegedly paid $5 and a given a bottle of whiskey to participate in the murder.

The three defendants were tried in San Jose for the murder of Renowden, with Jewell being sentenced to hang and the other men sentenced to San Quentin for life. Jewell later made a full confession and implicated Majors as the main conspirator. Seventeen days after he was sent to San Quentin, Majors was ordered back to court and sentenced to hang. Governor George Stoneman delayed his hanging and Majors appealed to the California Supreme Court, which denied his appeal and ordered him to be executed.

After his conviction and sentencing to be hanged, Majors sought the consolation of religion and maintained his innocence. He told J. B Renowden, a brother of the victim, "You may draw my life's blood from my arm and with this pen I will write my innocence of all connection of the crime in my own blood. "

His hanging became a public sensation, as 400 people gathered in the jail yard to view the execution. News accounts say he was hanged at "twelve minutes past 12 o'clock" and that "his neck was clearly broken" after the bolt was pulled and a "dull thud" was heard. The crowd broke out in jeers and cheers.

The body was cut down and placed in a coffin for delivery to relatives, eventually making it to Mountain View Cemetery after no relatives claimed the body (his wife was apparently too ill).

Besides his widow, Majors left behind two little boys named Archie and Abie, who lived in Oakland and according to news accounts grew up to be "murderous bandits."
Fifteen years after the hanging, John Showers claimed that Majors was innocent and was convicted on his false testimony. 

Sources: Celebrated Criminal Cases of America by Thomas Samuel Duke; Alameda County News; Sacramento Daily-Record; The Atchison Globe

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Edward Tompkins (1815–1872): Attorney, UC Regent, State Senator

UC Regent & Senator Edward Tompkins (photo on left by Michael Colbruno)

Edward Tompkins was an attorney, University of California Regent and State Senator.

Tompkins was born in 1815 in rural Paris Hill, New York. Tompkins enrolled in Union University in Schenectady, NY in 1831 and joined the Sigma-Phi Society. Tompkins graduated, earned a law degree at Hamilton College, and practiced law in New York City and later Binghamton, NY as a partner to Daniel S. Dickinson. Tompkins married a Quaker woman, Mary Cook, from Bridgeport, Connecticut. She died several years later.

Tompkins moved to San Francisco, California in 1859. Standing atop Telegraph Hill, he looked around at the beautiful panorama and declared, "This shall be my home!"  He soon found employment at the law firm of Halleck, Peacy & Billings, before being a co-partner with the firm Havens & Belknap. He later formed his own firm with his son.

In 1861, Tompkins married Sarah Haight, the half-sister of future California Governor Henry Huntly Haight.  She was twenty years younger than Tompkins's. They built a home on the banks of Lake Merritt in Oakland. 

In 1868, he purchased what became the Dunsmuir Estate in Oakland. The property was once part of one the largest land grants in California, issued to Luis Maria Peralta. When Tompkins died in 1872 he left the estate to his son, Gilbert Tompkins, an editor of the San Leandro Reporter.  Josephine Wallace (Alexander Dunsmuir's future wife) was a cousin of the Tompkins family and often visited the estate as a child.

Tompkins was elected in 1869 to represent Alameda County in the California State Senate and became Chair of the powerful Judiciary Committee. In 1870 Tompkins, a self-described Constitutional Democrat, spoke in favor of ratification of the 15th Amendment and voted against a California Senate resolution opposing California's proposed ratification. The Fifteenth Amendment  to the United States Constitution prohibited the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

He is remembered today for endowing the Louis Agassiz Chair for Oriental Languages and Literature at the University of California where he had been elected to the board of regents. As a state senator Tompkins argued for the creation of the University of California as recommended by the previous governor, Frederick Low. The charter creating the university (then only an agricultural school) passed on March 23, 1868 and Tompkins was elected to a four-year term on the Board of Regents of the University of California later that same year.

Tompkins endowed the school's chair on September 18, 1872 only months before he died. His initial gift of 47 acres of land, which sold for $50,000 ($984,306 in 2015), was evaluated on June 30, 2008 at more than $5,700,000. Abraham Lincoln established the first University of California endowment when he signed the Morrill Act on July 2, 1862, thereby establishing the land-grant colleges and universities—including the University of California.

Tompkins said that he felt "deeply the humiliation" of seeing Asian students go to the East Coast "in search of that intellectual hospitality that we are not yet enlightened enough to extend to them. Tompkins's interest in Oriental studies grew out of his anticipation of expanded trans-Pacific commerce.

Upon Tompkins's death, his position on the board of regents was filled by his brother-in-law, former Governor H.H. Haight. Some of Tompkins's letters are archived with papers of his relatives at Bancroft Library.

Tompkins also had a role in the creation of Mountain View Cemetery. Along with Rev. Isaac Brayton and  businessman Peter Thompson, Tompkns had acquired ownership and responsibility for Oakland Cemetery, which was located near Lake Merritt. Brayton owned land well out of town, which he believed to be a perfect place for new cemetery.  The three men turned to Samuel Merritt, who lived on Madison  Street, just a few blocks south of Oakland Cemetery.  On December 26, 1863, Merritt called  a pair of meetings that led to Brayton's property becoming Mountain View Cemetery.

Sources: Wikipedia, University of California at Berkeley archives (Bancroft Library), Historic American Landscapes Survey of the National Park Service, History of Alameda County: Volume 2.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Louis Thors (1841-1910): Famous San Francisco Photographer

Louis Thors (from Oakland Tribune); Gravesite photo by Michael Colbruno
PLOT 26, LOT 162 

Louis Thors was one of the most famous photographers at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. He is one of many prominent photographers buried at Mountain View Cemetery, including daguerreotpists George Dornin and William Shew, bas-relief specialist Isaiah Taber and Edgar Cohen, who documented much of the 1906 earthquake. He also took one of the most famous pictures of fellow Mountain View Cemetery denizen, Ina Coolbrith, California's first Poet Laureate.

Thors was born in Amsterdam, Holland in 1845. He claimed to be of both French descent and a descendant of Dutch Golden Age painter Gerrit Lundens. He studied engineering, draughtsmanship, and cartography in France and served as a Merchant Marine.

After his family suffered a financial crisis in 1866 he decided to come to California a few years later. After dabbling in real estate and renching, he landed work as a retoucher with the aforementioned Isaiah Taber in 1872-73. He later worked for Thomas Houseworth's studio in 1874, and Bradley and Rulofson Photography in 1875-78, the major photographic studios in the city at the time. He set up the Thors Photographic Company in San Francisco at 1025 Larkin Street, where it operated from 1880-89. His studio later moved to 14 Grant Street and eventually to the Phelan Building on Market Street.

Composer Amy Beach (left) who he photographed on her visit to San Francisco in 1878;  Ina Coolbrith in 1871 (right)
His first wife Katherine "Katie" worked at his studio until her death in 1889 from complications related to neck surgery. He later married Gertrude Thors, who was a noted photographer in her own right.

His studio in the Phelan Building, which included 12 "apartments," was considered one of the most beautiful offices in the city, prompting the San Francisco Call (August 17, 1898) to write:
"The apartments, specially built after original designs by Mr. Thors, are perhaps the most complete and the most elaborate this side of the Rockies, or, in fact, In the entire country- Everything from the magnificent reception room down to the minutest detail of the adjoining rooms is perfect and far and beyond the Slightest fault.  On the lower or main floor of the new gallery are situated the reception room, directly connected with the street below by a special elevator erected for the purpose; five dressing rooms, each provided with every facility for which It has been designed; two dark rooms, an office, an artist's room, a finishing room, a fire proof negative vault in which are stored over 120,000 negatives, and a retouching room. All of these apartments are spacious, and contain every requirement for perfect work. The reception room is probably the most elaborate of its kind ever designed. It is over a hundred feet square, twenty feet high, with an artstained glass dome directly in the center over twenty feet in diameter. The decorations consist of a magnificent contrast of Egyptian red and black, the wall frescoing being of the former tint, and the heavy woodwork of the latter. On the upper floor are situated the print or fixing room, a tone room, a silver room, a special room for producing enlargements, and the main printing room, which extends a distance of thirty-eight feet, being covered overhead entirely of glass."
Thors became well known for using the Nadar process, which was an application of photogravure to portraiture in photography and is noted for its softness and tone. Thors was awarded the bronze prize at the Paris Exhibition in 1889 for mastering this technique. He became particularly noted for his photographs of women and specifically famous actresses of the day. He was known for viewing an actresses performance before shooting her portrait and prohibited the use of makeup. He was highly sought after by the elite ladies of high society to sit for their portraits.

Photos of Nance O'Neil, W.H. Carlton and Lulu Glaser by Louis Thors
He was elected Vice-President of Benjamin Falk's Copyright League, the national lobbying organization on behalf of photographers' property rights, and in 1904 was elected president of the California Professional Photographers Association.

After the devastating earthquake of 1906, Thors left the city and worked in St. Louis for two years as a traveling salesman in the western United States for the Artura Paper Company before returning to California in 1908. He reopened his studio but died of cancer two years later. He was buried in the Plot 26 at Mountain View Cemetery, which he bought for his first wife Katie.

Sources: Sacramento Daily Union, San Francisco Call, California Historical Society, University of New Hampshire archives, Oakland Tribune.