South Lake County, CA
THE STORY OF GEORGE COBURN
Copyright © 2019 Bill Wink
P.O. Box 814
Middletown, CA 95461
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, modified, rewritten, stored in a retrieval system, or transferred in any form, by any means, including mechanical, electric, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the express prior written permission of the publisher.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
First printing, 2019
Library of Congress Control Number: 00000000000
The San Francisco Call Heading:
THOMAS STOREY, the Wounded Guide and the Home of the Outlaws Coburn. (Storey’s name was James not Thomas)
Storey led Sheriff Pardee and posse of Lake County, to W. R. Coburn’s farm near Middletown. There the elder Coburn was slain by a Deputy Sheriff while attempting to prevent the arrest of his son George, who in turn fired upon the posse and seriously wounded Storey. The Lake County officers have as yet failed to capture George Coburn.
The story of George Coburn was first told by Mrs. Helen Rocca Goss in the Quarterly for the Historical Society of Southern California in March, 1956. It was titled: “George Coburn Must Be Back”.
Middletown, founded in 1871, had twenty years of development behind it when this particular story evolved in the middle 1890s. And anybody who knows anything about Middletown knows the town fully represented what the west was like at that time. Lawlessness was ever present somewhere within the vicinity, from shootouts on main street, to stage coach robberies, to rustling cattle, to stealing horses, to outright murder. Posses were formed frequently. There were even rumors of an actual lynching.
The story of the lynching goes like this; three miners in a saloon were quarreling and the other patrons told them to take it outside. They did not. The next day they were found swaying in the wind hanging from an oak tree.
Juanita (Skee) Hamann, an early Middletown resident, wrote: “In the early mining days there were so many hold ups, lynchings, killings - - an arm found here, a headless body in an abandoned mine tunnel there - - that people used to say; Middletown had a man for breakfast every morning.”
The road to lakeport goes due West in a relatively straight line for about a mile, after leaving Middletown, until it hits the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains. Then it makes a hard right going north for a few hundred feet then turns northwest then west again staying along the northern edge of the foothills and south edge of the Loconoma Valley floor. It passes by the Coburn place, then the McKinley’s and finally Anderson Springs where the real accent to the pass over the mountains begins.
Before turning north, back where the Lakeport road makes the first hard right, there was also a road that went left that went to the Maker’s place. Therefore, this corner was commonly called; “Maker’s Corner”. (The road that went to the Makers is today known as Dry Creek Cutoff.)
When leaving Middletown and heading to Lakeport, the highest near peak you see ahead of you is Sugar Loaf and that peak and the surrounding area was George Coburn’s stomping grounds during this time.
Young George was the son of Warren Rodman Coburn and Christiana (Dickson) Coburn on whose ranch the area afore mentioned was on. George was the eldest of three children, he was born in 1865. Following him was a brother Edward born in 1866 and last a sister Luella born in 1874.
W. R. arrived in California from Fairlee, Orange County, Vermont in the late 1840s and was living in Yuba, California in 1850. W. R. married Christiana December 10, 1862 in Sonoma county.
After marrying Christina they made their way to Lake county in the 1860s settling west of what would become Middletown. He registered to vote in Lake county August 1, 1866 and is listed in Middletown in 1872.
In the early morning of June 25th, 1897, a posse led by Lake county Sheriff G. W. Pardee encountered W. R. Coburn near Maker’s Corner, the latter was armed with a rifle. Shortly after the meeting a member of the posse shot and killed Coburn under suspicious circumstances. Coburn asked: “Why did you shoot me, I didn’t do anything wrong?”
But it wasn’t a coincidence that the parties involved happened to meet where and as they did. The Posse had been searching for the younger Coburn, George, as he was a wanted man, a fugitive from the law and he, George, had just shot and seriously wounded a member of this same posse.
George Coburn’s deeds were so infamous in the area that he had even earned major recognition and that was, whenever anyone was missing something, they would utter: “George Coburn Must Be Back!”.
THE GEORGE COBURN STORY
George was pretty much a loner and was probably not held in very high esteem by the citizens of Middletown and the surrounding area, but, his story is included right alongside all of those other bad guys who walked the streets of Middletown. Like twice murderer, Tom Dye, or the Englishes, or the miners who murdered the people at the Camper’s Retreat. You can’t review Middletown’s wild west past and not include the story of George Coburn.
George was an odd fellow in more ways than one. He was a member of the I.O.O.F., or the International Order of the Odd Fellows but he was also a kleptomaniac. He could not resist the urge to steal, period. What he stole did not have to be of great value, it could be a broom, a school book, a buggy whip, a hat or women’s clothing. It was the sense of pleasure he felt after the theft that made him do what he did. He stashed his bounty throughout the area west of Middletown.
All of these losses did not go un-noticed, un-reported or un-talked about. Everyone in the area knew that this huge rash of missing items was not an accident and George Coburn was under everyone’s suspicion, because as I said, he was an odd fellow.
Some of the locals even suspected that at night when George was out searching for something he could steal he dressed as a woman, as several locals reported seeing a strange woman by herself traveling the roads late at night and who if approached just disappeared, much like George himself would do if approached. Some said this person even wailed as if in distress.
Folks asked Annie Habishaw if this woman could be her, as so much tragedy had befallen her family, but she said it was not.
In early November of 1895, a hunter discovered a large cache of miscellaneous items near the Coburn and McKinley property lines which he eventually reported to law enforcement. George, already suspect, was arrested by Constable J. L. Read November 5th, while standing on Calistoga street in Middletown after leaving an Odd Fellows meeting. He was transported to the county jail in Lakeport.
Over the next couple days it took more than one wagon to haul into town all of George’s loot, much of it no longer viable due to moisture, mildew and rot, plus critter and insect infestation.
Before the search was over, several caches were discovered in hollowed out trees and various hillside caves that were all camouflaged.
Obviously, George had no intention of selling any of his loot, he just possessed it. He wasn’t only a kleptomaniac he was a hoarder too.
In "The People vs. G. W. Coburn." There were five separate cases, three were listed as burglary with bond fixed at $500; "grand larceny for stealing a bicycle," trial was set for December 18th and bond fixed at $500; and in the third case, he was accused of "grand larceny for stealing a side saddle and a sewing machine," The Middletown Independent reported on March 7, 1896 that Coburn had been sentenced to three years imprisonment at Folsom Prison for "the Hughes burglary," and that the district attorney and the counsel for the defense had agreed that sentence in the four other cases in which he had pleaded guilty should not be pronounced by the court until after his appeal in that first case had been decided by the California Supreme Court. Coburn was to remain in jail pending the results of his appeal.
MORNING UNION NOVEMBER 6, 1895
HAS BEEN STEALING FOR TWELVE YEARS.
CALISTOGA (Cal.), “November 5. One of the most remarkable cases of theft ever known in this section came to light yesterday, when George Coburn of Middletown was arrested. He has been stealing articles of all descriptions for several years and it was not until yesterday that he was found out. Coburn is a single man, aged about thirty years, and lives with his parents, about two miles from Middletown. On his father’s ranch was found fully' twenty wagon loads of all kinds of articles that had been stolen from time to time and hid in brush and buried. When arrested he confessed to the charge and stated that he had been carrying the stealing on for twelve years. Yesterday he stole a bicycle and it was through this that he was captured. It is claimed by friends that Coburn is insane.”
SACRAMENTO DAILY NOVEMBER 6, 1895
A LAKE COUNTY MYSTERY.
How a Youth Stole for Several Years Before Detected. [Middletown Independent.] “For a number of years past the people of this town and vicinity, covering a circle of four or five miles, have frequently complained of being robbed of various articles by some midnight prowler or professional thief. Many of the people who were losers had their suspicious, but were never able to trace their lost property. Within the past four or five days a young man, while out hunting, accidentally came upon a hut or cache, three miles northwest of town, and about forty yards from Putah Creek, and near the dividing line between Coburn and McKinley. This hut is concealed by brush, and is a small affair, about four feet in height, five feet wide and eight or nine feet long, ln order to reach the hut it is necessary to pass up a deep gulch or creek some forty feet to a large rock, which has to be climbed over, and where a sharp turn to the right is made in order to reach a ridge which has to be followed about seventy feet to where the hut is located. The young man who made this discovery gave the information to others, who examined and watched the hut. They were rewarded by seeing G. W. Coburn enter the hut and shortly afterwards leave it. This little building was filled with every imaginable thing—tools, clothing, clocks, blankets, lamps, provisions and articles too numerous to mention. A number of these articles have been identified, and the mysterious disappearance of many of them is now accounted for. It would seem that this hut has been used for a number of years as a place of deposit for many things that have been stolen in the past years. The hut itself has the appearance of being five to eight years old. Between this hut and the gulch are the remains of a former hut, which was no doubt taken down at some time and erected in a safer place—the site is of the present one. No bettor locality could have been selected as a place of concealment for stolen goods than this out-of-the-way place in a wild and rugged section, where the foot or man seldom treads. The parties who had been watching the hut, and after seeing G. W. Coburn enter and leave it, came to town and reported the facts to Constable J. L. Read, who placed Coburn under arrest on Thursday evening when he was about leaving I.O.O.F. hall where he was attending a meeting. The Constable and a number of citizens went out to the hut on Friday and brought in a two-horse wagon load of plunder, which is now stored in a building on Calistoga Street, where crowds gather to view this remarkable collection, which surpasses the famous "Old Curiosity Shop,"
While George was being held in the Lake county jail in Lakeport his father, W. R., visited him several times and became suspect later on.
SAN FRANCISCO CALL MARCH 14, 1896
JAIL-BREAK AT LAKEPORT
George Coburn, a Kleptomaniac, Cuts Through the Floor of His Ceil. Had Been Convicted of Burglary and Sentenced to a Term in Folsom. LAKEPORT, Cal March 13.— “George W. Coburn, who has been confined in the County Jail at this place for four months, escaped Wednesday night by cutting through the floor and then through a 20 inch brick wall. His flight was not discovered until yesterday morning, and the officers of San Francisco and intermediate points were notified at once. It is supposed that he will make for San Francisco and endeavor to obtain passage to Ukiah. His father, W. R. Coburn, spent considerable time with him in his cell and last Monday went to San Francisco. He is suspected of having aided his son in arranging the escape and officers were instructed to shadow him.
Young Coburn is a kleptomaniac of the worst type. He has been stealing from his neighbors for ten or twelve years and although many of his thefts were committed in open day he was only recently apprehended. At his trial a wagon-load of articles which he had taken was exhibited in court. The plunder consisted of old clothing, boots, shoes, books, canned fruit, pepper sauce, bottles of ink, crowbars, axes, lamps, stoves and innumerable other articles. Some of these were utterly useless to him and could not be disposed of. He never sold any of his stolen goods, but just hid them in caches in the brush. Coburn was convicted of burglary in the second degree and sentenced to three years in the penitentiary. He was to have been taken to Folsom several days ago, but the Judge granted a stay of proceedings to give his attorney time to prepare a bill of exceptions. Coburn is about 30 years of age, has a sandy complexion, light hair, blue or gray eyes, and is about five feet six inches tall. He has a cunning, foxy appearance, and at the same time a cringing, apologetic air, and never looks one in the eye.”
George was on the run!
George was indeed an odd fellow, but that does not mean he was a dummy, far from it, as those pursuing him would learn. George had been arrested during November 1895, tried and sentenced, and he escaped March 1896 and the chase began.
This man obviously knew how to successfully survive in the wilds without other human contact as he had been living a reclusive, hermit type of existence for some time.
George’s younger brother Edward Carlos Coburn was still living at home in 1892 but moved to Penryn, Placer county, California shortly thereafter. He was living in Penryn at the time of his father’s murder as the Calistogian mentioned him passing through their city on his way to his father’s funeral in 1897. He married a woman named Isabella sometime after 1900 and they had a daughter Myrna, together August 13, 1902.
This is significant as there were those who assumed George had fled to his brother’s home in Placer county.
In the spring of 1897, roughly a year after George escaped from the Lake county jail, items began missing in the Middletown area again. Many suspected that George was hiding at the Coburn ranch and several times he was nearly captured but always managed to escape. According to the Middletown Independent, early in the morning of June 25th an employee of the Coburn’s, James Storey, agreed to lead a posse to George’s hiding place. The posse consisted of Sheriff G. W. Pardee, Constable Strong of Middletown, J. M. Epperson, E. L. Collins, David Lundquist, and D. Poston, who lived near the Coburns. They first went to a cave on the Coburn property about a mile from the house where George normally slept but he was not there. He was located a short time later asleep under a fallen fir tree, the posse ordered him to surrender but George was not having any of that, quick as a flash he grabbed his gun and fired two shots striking Storey wounding him seriously. Despite the posse’s return fire Coburn escaped into the wilds screaming like a wild animal.
Strong and Poston took Storey to Poston’s place, placed him in a buggy and headed for Middletown where he could receive medical care. The remaining four searched a little longer but then gave up and headed for Middletown.
W. R. Coburn having heard the shooting, got out of bed and went to investigate. He was near Maker’s corner when he heard and saw the posse coming from the northwest.
The Sherriff and his posse ordered W. R. to drop his weapon but before Coburn did anything, one way or another, Collins shot and killed him. This provoked some anger in the community as there existed a current dispute between W. R. and Collins.
SAN FRANCISCO CALL July 4,1897
COBURN SEEN NEAR YOLO
Lake County Officer on the Trail of the Fugitive. WOODLAND, Cal. July 3. — “Sheriff Pardee and Deputy Poulson of Lake County, together with several Yolo County officials, are hot on the trail of a man answering the description of Outlaw George Coburn. He was seen at Cacheville last evening and is now thought to be somewhere along Cache Creek. The officers have traced Coburn down Cache Creek to Yolo, Where the railroad agent informed them that the supposed Coburn had applied to him during the afternoon for a blank receipt. -This was the last seen of him and it is believed that he was then headed for Elkhorn, hoping to cross the river at that point.”
SAN FRANCISCO CALL July 7, 1897
YOLO'S MAN-HUNT ABANDONED.
WOODLAND, Cal., July 6.— “The chase after George Coburn, the Lake County desperado, who was traced to Cacheville last week, has been abandoned by the officers, and Sheriff Pardee and Deputy Paulson returned to Lake County on Sunday morning. The Sheriff is convinced that Coburn was met at Cacheville on the day he was seen there by his brother, who resides at Penryn, Sacramento County; that the two men made their way over to Sacramento and that the fugitive is now many miles away.”
SAN FRANCISCO CALL November 13,1897
OUTLAW COBURN GIVEN A WOUND
Shot by a Deputy Sheriff in the Mountains Near Middletown. Escapes Limping Into the Brush and Eludes Posses of Searchers. Special Dispatch to The Call. LAKEPORT, Nov. 12.— “George Coburn, the outlaw, who has been making his rendezvous In the mountain wilderness near Middletown since his escape from jail, was seen this week at the home of his mother. One of the Sheriff's deputies fired at him with a shotgun at a distance of about 100 feet and hit him and Coburn ran limping into the brush. Coburn is such a desperate character that no chances are taken with him and the deputy was afraid to follow him where the outlaw had all the advantage. The alarm was given and soon a posse was searching the brush, but the country is of such a nature that the chances are only about one in a thousand that he can be taken alive and then only by strategy. Since Coburn's father was killed by the Sheriff's posse last summer Mrs. Coburn and daughter have conducted the mountain ranch alone. Recently they have decided to sell and move to Marin County and the. officers, suspecting; that young Coburn wound visit them, kept the house under constant surveillance, with the result that he was seen and wounded by the deputy. Mrs. Coburn and daughter were arrested on a charge of aiding and abetting a criminal and taken to Middletown for trial. District. Attorney Sayre went down from here, to represent the people. They were found guilty and placed under $600. bail each.”
The search for George Coburn continued that month of November without anyone seeing him again. The posse, baffled by all that had happened, determined Coburn must have worn some kind of armor shield as many crack shots fired at him at close range never getting their man.
After W. R.’s death and the continuing drama caused by George, Christiana determined she must sell the ranch, which she did.
By 1900 Christiana and Luella were living in Penryn with Edward. They lived there for at least 10 years eventually moving south to Hemet, Riverside county, California where Luella took up farming.
What happened to George is a mystery. George was never reported as being seen after his mother sold the ranch. However, folks still blamed George when something came up missing.
The old Coburn ranch house burned down in 1912, its occupants barely escaping with their lives. The man of the house, H. E. Barnes, suffered serious burns and lost all of the hair on his head. The cause of the fire was undetermined, however, it was speculated it may have been started by mice and stick matches.
The Middletown Independent reported: “If the old house held any secrets of the doings or ingenious work of young George Coburn they are forever erased.”
I wonder where George Coburn was that particular night? Possibly playing with matches?
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