Friday, February 14, 2014

Allen line: Letter from Thomas Knott, continued

We're continuing the letter that Thomas Knott wrote to the Sacramento Daily Union, printed on March 24, 1859.  He is a grieving father, commenting on the murder of his son and the "trial" that followed shortly after.  Elzy Knott was killed on March 8, so or this letter to be published on March 24, the wheels of justice would have been moving at pretty much warp speed.  Remember, this was the old, old West, in Carson Valley, Nevada.  (Thanks to the California Digital Newspaper Collection , Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, California, http://cdnc.ucr.edu for making this available.)

"This is the true narrative of this melancholy event, which myself and another eye witness have deposed to upon oath, and which other witnesses have, in its various parts, confirmed.  From the simple intelligence of the particulars of this fact, two conclusions can be easily drawn: first, that the murdered man had no design of offering violence or aggression to any one of Hern's family, for he did not even draw out his pistol when his imminent danger of life seemed to require it; the second conclusion is, that the murderer perpetrated the dead with full malice, premeditation, and without a just cause-since Elzy said in the house that he would not have a fuss but simply recover his bridle-and in the meantime the boy was ready to shoot him.  If Elzy went into Hern's house in spite of Mrs. Hern's remonstrances, as she deposed in Court, he followed, in so doing, a custom which, as it was attested in Court by Mr. Gaige, seems to exist here, namely: that when an individual is robbed of his property-there being no law, no authority here to which to apply for it's recovery, he goes to recover it himself wherever he can find it.  So have acted in more than one case, various persons, even some of those who are interested in this case, who, in default of payment by a person went to hi house, broke the lock, forced their entrance, and took away a box of tools, which they afterwards sold for their own indemnity.  In conclusion, the facts narrated clearly prove malice, premeditation and want of a just cause on the part of the murderer.  The verdict, then, of acquittal was entirely contrary to justice and humanity.  The jury, have partially rejected my evidence because it was in conflict with Mrs. Hern's evidence,; but yet, my evidence was invincibly corroborated by three other witnesses, one of whom was along with me when the murder was committed, and the other two was me come to the front door immediately after they heard the report of the gun.  Mrs. Hern's evidence, on the contrary, was confirmed by her own little children alone, and in some points only, for in some others their evidence was incoherent.  But admitting that the two opposite evidences had equal force, their was no reason for receiving one and rejecting the other.  The falsehood of one of them should have been clearly and unquestionably established.  But this was not done, and only a decision hurried in favor of innocence, so I had a right to ask for another trial.  But these were not the only motives for this demand.  I had, moreover, the following reasons:
   1st. The Court was not a legal one, but merely a people's convention; therefore it could not pass a definitive sentence without appeal in a case of such supreme entity as that in which the life and death of a criminal is concerned.
   2d. A great disparity in the ability of the lawyers employed was plainly visible. The counsel for the defendant being well experienced in his profession, and the lawyers for the prosecution having never pleaded a case of the kind before.
   3d. Some one of the jurors had not kept the secret of the verdict, for before it was read in Court, Hern's family were apprised of it, and from them it was made known to some persons in town."

Stay tuned for the conclusion of the letter.  If you are interested reading more about Nevada history, which puts this trial into some kind of context, there is a lengthy article from the Nevada Observer of  April 16, 2006.  Google "Early Governments in Nevada" or "Trial of John Hern Nevada history" and you should easily find it.  Nevada was not yet a state, but was part of Utah's territory. The article explains quite a bit about the politics of the time, and my conclusion is that there was more going on than "just" the trial of a murderer.  Our family was caught in the middle of a difficult situation.