Case Update: Holden-Olivas


“Olivas worked as a sheepherder for Cone, went crazy, and shot Logan for no apparent reason.”

There is a golden eagle flying over our house right now, just at the limit of where the window will allow me to see it, turning great circles in the treetops.  This happens on occasion, when one of the nesting pair at Wychus Creek stretches out over the canyon and drifts this way in search of lunch.  It is always a fine site, and reminds me that you must leap over to and see Jim Cornelius’ piece on the Eagle Huntress.  Jim assures me that he is badgering the owner of Sisters Movie House to screen the film, and I will be among the first to claim a seat.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, and thanks to the gracious help of Sisters Library, this morning I have my hands on a book entitled “A History of Lynching in California Since 1875,” by Mr. Warren Franklin Webb.  This tome, which actually serves as Webb’s M.A. thesis from UC Berkeley, in 1934, is a fascinating read thus far.  It isn’t easy to lay hands on.  I could locate only four public copies anywhere, and one held in a private trust.  The version I am looking at was loaned by Evergreeen State College–and it is a photocopied microfiche version.

A lead, is a lead, is a lead.

And sometimes they fizzle out.  Webb’s treatment of the Holden-Olivas lynching is brief, drawing from sources I have already encountered, and recounting much of what is already known about the circumstances surrounding Holden and Olivas’ incarceration.

Webb cites the Lassen Advocate when stating that “the idea of having a lynching had been rumored for some time prior to January 23, but on this day the idea crystallized into a reality.”  One naturally wants to know how the Advocate reporter knew the idea of a lynching had been rumored, and for whom it actually crystallized.  Webb also contradicts other reports by claiming Sheriff Leakey was in the courthouse–this time sleeping–when the actual lynching occurred.

So either Leakey was dancing, or sleeping, when two men in his custody were dragged out of their cells and brutally murdered.

Webb goes on to say “This lynching aroused considerable excitement in Susanville at the time but as far as is known no attempts were ever made to bring the perpetrators of the lynching to justice.”  That claim, contradicted elsewhere, is focal to my investigation.

And there is one more piece I find worth sharing.  In addition to referencing the Coroner’s jury verdict on the manner of Holden and Olivas’ deaths, Webb quotes an editorialized report from the Lassen Advocate:

“All law abiding citizens cannot but condemn this manner of execution, be the culprits ever so guilty, and as the law was taking its own course, it is still more inexcusable…Mob-law is to be censured by all who have the interest of our country at heart.  We have legal tribunals for this purpose, and when men become so exasperated as to take the law into their own hands they not only violate the law, but they lay the foundation for further violations.  We will not say that these culprits did not deserve hanging, but for the reputation of our town and State, it would have been better for the law to take its course.”

I have also been in touch with a local historian in Susanville, who may, given a certain demonstrated recalcitrance, feel that I am trespassing on his back forty.  Time will tell, but the hoped for–and frankly, expected–vehicle of academic courtesy is thus far running on a flat tire.  Nevertheless, he was–likely inadvertantly–able to help flush out some much needed background on Olivas.  He “Who Shall Remain Nameless” writes: On the evening of November 11, 1885, Griffin (sic) Logan, foreman for J.S. Cone’s sheep operations, was murdered at his camp in the vicinity of Badger Flat by Vincente Olivas, aka Mexican Ben. Olivas worked as a sheepherder for Cone, went crazy, and shot Logan for no apparent reason.

You can see why this is not exactly satisfactory for the purposes of an investigation.  One suspects that my nameless local historian knows much, much more.  We are playing a game, it seems, he and I, and if that is the case then consider me all-in.  But even this tease is a lead, and thus far J.S. Cone himself is proving to be something of a character.  More on him in later updates.

Now, go check out the amazing young woman and her Hunting Eagle.  You’ll be glad you did.

  1. That kind of territorial behavior is unusual. Mostly folks are so excited that somebody actually cares about this history that they fall all over themselves to share info and resources.



    1. Right? Not sure what the deal is, but the rub is actually interesting. It can become part of the story I’m trying to tell. I was hoping for something else, but I’m nothing if not adaptable.



  2. Bob Wier kinda knows a lot of the history around here, his family came in from Spain–I’m guessing Basque sheep folk–out in secret valley, maybe he has some good stories passed down from those times. Just trying to give ya a lead hahahaha



    1. Indeed. Problem is, what happens in Secret Valley, stays in Secret Valley. This is known. 🙂



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