[We have received from the father of young Elzy Knott, who was recently shot by a young man named John Hern, at Carson Valley, the following letter. Under ordinary circumstances we should have suppressed a portion of the account; but from deference to a father's feelings, we publish it agreeably to his request, although the prominent facts have already been referred to by us.-EDS. UNION.]
The Shooting of Knott
Genoa, Carson Valley, ,March 17, 1859
MESSRS. EDITORS: I beg leave to insert in the columns of your valuable paper an exact narrative of a murder trial, and acquittal of the criminal, which occurred in this town in the latter end of the preceding week. Although the unhappy victim of the murderous deed was a dear son of mine, who has left behind a disconsolate wife to mourn his loss, and although my hear is torn with the extreme pangs of sorrow, yet I must confess that these feelings do not overrule my reason nor inspire me with the contemptible desire of revenge; but I write this purely with a wish that truth may not be disfigured with the here prevalent spirit of an intense party, and that people who are remote from us may impartially judge whether our Court here (not a legal one) has rightly acquitted the criminal from all offense.
The testimony I bear to the following statements is based upon my own personal knowledge and observation, before, at the time, and after the murder was committed. My testimony was corroborated in Court by the testimony of another eye-witness. It was partially confirmed by other witnesses, and it was pledged by the sanctity of an oath.
On the 8th inst., Elzy Knott was maliciously, with premeditation, and without a just case, murdered by John Hern, with a double barreled gun loaded with buckshot. The precedents of this fatal occurrence were as follows: John Hern had lost fifteen dollars in gambling with Elzy Knott. In compensation of his debt, he offered to Elzy a bridle, not worth fifteen dollars, but which Elzy accepted. Peter Hern (John's stepfather), who was in California at the time his boy gave away the bridle, having returned, reclaimed the bridle from Elzy, on the ground that it was not John's but his. "If the bridle is yours," said Elzy, "you may have it; but if John's, I will have it again." Subsequently to this, one evening, John Hern took the same bridle to a place called the Old Station, where some importers of goods actually reside, and left it there for a gambling prize, with the assent of his stepfather, who told him that, if he could get twelve dollars for the bridle, he might let the boys gamble for it. The same evening, Elzy Knott went to the Station, and was invited to play for a bridle. Elzy wanted to see it, and after examining it, asked who brought it there? "John Hern," was the reply. "Did John say that it was his bridle?" asked Elzy, again. "Yes," was the answer. "If the bridle is John's," said Elzy, "I will take it; I won it once." Upon this, a man of the Station remonstrated with Knott, and requested him to wait until John Hern came. Elzy returned, later in the evening, to the Station, when John was there, and in his presence took away the bridle with him. The boy then went home, apprised his father of what had happened, and both went to the Station. The father made no remonstrance, but the boy, according to some evidence in Court, said that the bridle would cost very dear to Elzy; and, according to some other witness, that he would take it back, were it to cost Elay's life. So the matter remained until the fatal morning of the 8th inst, when a little boy, by the name of Oliver Yansey, mounted one of Elzy's horses, in order to drive his cows. The headstall of the bridle on the horse was that taken from Hern, and the reins had ever belonged to Elzy. According to the little boy's testimony in Court, John Hern stopped him, whilst riding on horseback, by threatening to shoot him if he did not stop; then took both headstall and reins, tied a piece of hair rope to the horse, and left the boy with a declaration that if he or Elzy went back for the bridle he would blow out their brains; the little boy brought the horse home and acquainted Elzy with the fact; Elzy started immediately for Hern's house, which is situated but a short distance from his; Elzy's wife requested Thomas Yansey (Oliver's father) to go and see to the matter, then I started too; we arrived at the house before the gun was fired-Yansey being a little ahead of me; on entering the house we saw the reins detached from the bridle and laid on the floor near the front door: we saw Elzy standing in front of the middle partition door, with his left hand on his hip and the right hand somewhat lower down; I had heard him say before going to that house that he would whip Hern's family or have the bridle, and on entering the house before I arrived Yansey heard him say that he would have no fuss, but only recover his bridle. We saw Mrs. Hern standing in the front room behind Elzy, at the left corner of the room; we saw in the same room her youngest son; lastly, we saw John Hern standing a little behind the middle partition door, opposite to the front door, with a gun in his hands aiming at Elzy so long that I almost thought he would not shoot. Whilst the boy pointed the gun at Elzy, he (Elzy) did not draw out the pistol which he usually carried with him, and which was afterwards found on his belt behind, nor had he any weapon of defense in his hands, but remained in the aforesaid position till he fell. I cried out to the boy not to shoot, and just then he fired. I was then within three feet of my son and assisted him in his fall. At that moment I was almost frantic with grief, and ran to the door to see if Elzy's wife was coming. (It was then that Messrs. Norris and Kinsey, as they deposed in Court, saw me coming out from the front door of the house almost instantly after the report of the gun was heard.) I then went back to see if my son was dead; then went out again to see Mrs. Knott; returned to the house, seized the gun dropped by the murderer, ready to pursue and shoot him; but in the gun there was a load and no cap. The murderer, however, was followed by other men, one of whom shot at him with a pistol twice and he then surrendered himself."
This is only about one third of the letter, which I will continue in future blogs. I'm doing this so that our family will understand a little about the life and times of our ancestor, Thomas Jefferson Knott, My intention is not to bring up any old wounds or differences of opinion with the other people mentioned in this letter, but simply to show what our ancestor thought, and incidentally, how well he expressed himself. One could wish he had used a few more paragraphs, and shorter sentences, but he was obviously a man with some education.
This letter is made available by the California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside, Ca. The website is:
http://cdnc.ucr.edu. The letter was published in the Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 17, number 2493 on March 24, 1859, under the heading "Letter from Carson Valley."
Our line is as follows:
Thomas Jefferson Knott-Hannah Bell
John Wilson Knott-Harriet Starr
Edith Clarissa Knott-Edward Franklin Allen
Richard Allen-Gladys Holbrook