Downieville Hangs a Woman

Many a thief or murderer swung from the end of a rope in early California, but the greatest shame of quick-verdict lynchings in Gold Rush days was the hanging of a dance-hall girl named Juanita. She lived in Downieville, a thriving community on the Yuba River. In 1851 a bang-up Fourth of July celebration was announced, drawing miners from all over the region to the town’s saloons and dance halls. That night, two drunks named Cannon and Lawson smashed the door of Juanita’s house—whether accidently or on purpose is unknown. What is known, however, is that the following morning the two men were again at Juanita’s house, but here two stories conflict.  One claims the remorseful pair was there to apologize and fix the door; another says they were just passing by when Juanita’s live-in lover Jose burst from the house demanding payment for the damage, which they denied causing.  Whatever words were exchanged, Juanita snatched a knife and buried it in Cannon’s chest. An angry, excited mob soon gathered, improvised a quick trial, and sentenced the young woman (who everyone agreed was of doubtful character to begin with) to hang.  Sensible men tried to intervene, but the rabble would not be swayed. Allegedly Juanita went to her death still repeating that Cannon had insulted her. She was the first and only woman in the mining towns to suffer such a fate.

 

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