The Wild West….on the Sonoma Coast
Francis Joseph Haney (age 23) first met Ernest Battolph (alias Charles Carter, age 20) in Orland, Glenn County, California. Both men were out of work and Carter (Battolph) suggested that they travel to Fort Ross on the coast where he used to live. He knew people there who could give them a job cutting timber. Carter was a Glenn County police officer whose career ended when he was arrested in Orland for pistol whipping a man during a county seat demonstration there. In early May 1892, Carter and Haney left Orland, traveled over the mountain to Round Valley in Mendocino County, and from there made their way through Ukiah to Healdsburg. When in Healdsburg and with both men running out of cash, Carter suggested they rob a store and get some guns. Their impromptu plan went awry, however, and they had to leave town in haste.
Late Monday afternoon, on May 16th, the pair arrived, by foot, on the mountain ridge over looking Fort Ross (just west of Flower’s Camp Meeting Ridge) and made camp about two miles out. When the sun began to set, Carter took leave from Haney and said he would be back in a couple of hours. He also said that he had to make a quick visit near his old home by the former Russian fort. Carter then made his way to the fort and burglarized George Call’s small general store located there on the property. Carter returned to camp with two rifles, ammunition, cigars, a bottle of whiskey and a copy of the Cazadero stagecoach run schedule. Haney was a little surprised by Carter’s deed, but any misgivings he had quickly dissolved while partaking of the illegally procured “spirits.” After a few fortifying swigs from the bottle and scanning the schedule while puffing on a cigar, Carter began to lay out a plan to waylay the morning’s stage.
Early the next morning, Tuesday, May 17th, John Allman’s stagecoach left Cazadero with five passengers. In mid morning, about five miles east of Fort Ross, the brazen (if not somewhat hung over) highwaymen stopped the coach. Carter grasped the bridle of the lead horse with one hand while leveling his rifle with the other. He then ordered the driver to halt and climb down from his seat. Haney rousted the passengers from the cab and relieved them of their cash, a total of $70.55 which the two bandits later divided. The Wells Fargo express box remained strapped to its carrier and went unnoticed.
On Thursday morning, May 19th, Charles Carter woke up in a Guerneville hotel room looking up at the gun barrel of Sheriff Doc Standley’s revolver. Standley immediately began grilling Carter as to Haney’s whereabouts. After a bit of persuasion that left the hotel room in disarray, Carter stated that he and Haney had split up the night before, and that Haney was on his way to Woodland by train. Standley promptly hauled Carter off to jail in Santa Rosa and then he and Deputy Fine boarded a train and headed for Woodland in Yolo County.
Francis Haney had reached Woodland and was feeling pretty safe until May 24th when he spotted Sheriff Standley standing in front of a store. Unknown to Standley, Haney had spotted him in Guerneville before he left town and instantly recognized him. Haney decided to make a hasty departure and sneaked out of town to Blacks Station to catch a train. As he was boarding the train and beginning to feel comfortable with his get away, he suddenly felt a revolver barrel pressing in his ribs. The jig was up! By nightfall Haney was safely locked up in the Sonoma County jail at Santa Rosa.
In the morning of May 25, 1892 Carter and Haney appeared before Sonoma County’s Justice Brown where both confessed their crime. Haney, hoping the judge would go easy on him, told Brown that he was “anxious to make all the reparation he can for the offense and to undergo whatever punishment the law imposes.” Brown thought this a rather accommodating statement and obliged by sentencing both men to long prison terms. As an afterthought in his closing order, Brown hesitated and then said in a rather contemptuous voice “You boys are kind of lucky. You’d have gotten a lot more time if you would have thought to take the Wells Fargo strong box!” Carter, the master planner, learned of overlooking the express box during the trial and could do no more than sheepishly accept the remark as the insult it was meant to be.
Story courtesy of oredzac.tripod.com and in memory of Gary Rogers.