|Josefa Segovia from Wikapedia
Josefa Loazia, also more commonly known as "Juanita",
was a Mexican-American woman who was executed by hanging in Downieville,
California on July 5, 1851. She was found guilty of murdering a man, Frederick
Cannon, who attempted to assault her. She is known to be the first and
only woman to be hanged in California. Many discrepancies exist regarding
the circumstances of her death. Josefa’s death has many connections and
relevancy to the larger history of Latina/os in the United States because
it shows how her racial status affected perception of her and how devalued
the life of a Mexican American woman was. Josefa’s death highlights the
discrimination and violence against Latinos in the latter half of the nineteenth
century. Upon the end of the Mexican-American War, the discovery of gold
in California, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, life for Mexicans in
what had become the United States was changed completely. They lost their
property, political power, and their culture was deemed worthless
They became segregated and did not have opportunities for advancement.
This discrimination affected and applied to both rich and poor Mexicans.
In Anglo journals and other media, Mexican women were depicted as flashy
and morally deviant “sirens”. This is apparent in how Josefa’s story was
presented in Anglo media. She was known as “Juanita” when stories came
out about her death in complete disregard of who she was so much as to
give her a stereotypical name for a Mexican woman rather than using her
Early life and controversy about her name
Not much is known about the early life of Josefa Loaiza.
The date of her birth is unknown. Josefa Segovia’s true name has been a
topic of great debate among historians and scholars. Before the Chicano
Civil Rights Movement, most male scholars contended that Josefa had no
recorded last name. For example, in Gordon Young’s Days of 49, he says
that her name was “Juanita”. Bancroft also uses the name Juanita, although
his use of it suggests that it is not the correct name. Throughout his
account of the events at Downieville he refers to Segovia as either “The
Mexican” or “the little woman” only assigning her a name during his description
of her trial. This lack of any name for her for much of the account suggests
that the name Juanita was simply chosen as a generic name for a Mexican
woman. Historian Rodolpho F. Acuna claimed her name was Juana Loaiza citing
an 1877 Schedule of Mexican Claims Against the United States that listed
one Jose Maria Loiza as claiming damages for the lynching of his wife.
Doubt is cast upon this name however, as it does not show up in the 1850
census, suggesting that the claim may have been fraudulent. It wasn’t until
Martha Cotera, an influential activist of both the Chicano Movement and
Chicana Feminist Movement, informed Chicano scholars in 1976 that her last
name was Segovia.
Irene I. Blea’s book U.S. Chicanas and Latinas in a Historical
Context claims that Josefa was a Sonoran and of good character. She was
about 26 years old at the time of her death. Kerry Segrave recounts Josefa
Segovia's life in Downieville, California, also known as "The Forks" for
its location at the north fork of the Yuba River. She lived with a Mexican
gambler, José, in a small house on the main street of town. It is
not completely clear if they were married or not.
Reputation in Downieville
Josefa was probably not married to José, but she
did live with him. Therefore, she received a bad reputation. According
to one account, Juanita (read Josefa) was slender and barely five feet
(1.5 m) tall. The same account states that Josefa was beautiful, vivacious
and intelligent. Some say that she was not at all disliked in the mining
camp in Downieville.
Downie relates the story in the following fashion. Juanita
had accompanied her partner to Downieville from Mexico and both lived in
an adobe house. Downie states, "Whether she was his wife or not makes no
difference in this story." He further describes her figure as "richly developed
and in strict proportions." Only her temper was "not well balanced." Celebrating
the Fourth of July, Cannon and companions were returning from the dram
shop at a late hour, with Cannon staggering from the influence of liquor.
Along the way, he stumbled through the door of the adobe hut. His friends
quickly pulled him back outside and they proceeded home. Mortified the
next morning of his embarrassing blunder, he proceeded to the hut to offer
an apology in Spanish. This did not go well with the Mexican couple, and
Juanita grew angry. In a rage, she drew a knife and stabbed Cannon. Soon
a "mob of infuriated men" gathered, ready to invoke the "miner's law" of
a "Life for Life". Only a Mr. Thayer came to her defense, but to no avail
as she was quickly tried and found guilty. A scaffold was erected and the
"howling blood-thirsty mob...cried for vengeance" according to Downie.
Downie states Juanita retold the story of the "unfortunate incident", how
she had been "provoked" and if done so again would "repeat her act." She
then took the rope, placed the noose around her neck, said "Adios Senors!"
and "leaped from the scaffold into eternity." Downie concludes by stating
"it was one of those blots that stained the early history of California."
Social and racial environment for Latina/os in California
In 1835, Andrew Jackson tried to buy California for $3.5
million, but Mexico refused the offer. Ten years later, James K. Polk suggested
annexing Texas, but also put California as a high priority on his list
of territory to acquire. The US and Mexico went to war on May 13, 1846.
Two years later on February 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was
signed. What neither the U.S. or Mexico realized was that 9 days earlier,
gold had been found in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. It is estimated
that between 1848 and 1852, as many as 25,000 Mexicans migrated to California
to mine. In the fall of 1848, as many as 3,000 Mexicans migrated to the
mining regions. Often, they traveled as entire families. After hearing
of the gold, thousands of American men borrowed money, mortgaged their
homes, or spent their life savings to travel to California and take advantage
of the opportunity to find gold. Because society at the time was based
on a waged labor, the idea that a person could obtain wealth by finding
gold became irresistible. By 1849, the population of non-native Californians
grew to over 100,000. Two-thirds of this non-native population were Americans.
Despite the fact that the work of mining was the hardest kind of labor,
the promise of gold drew miners west every year.
In 1848, when the California Gold Rush began, the population
of the state was a Mexican majority. However, this Mexican population fell
to 15% by 1850 and to 4% by 1870. Northern California, where Downieville
is located, received the majority of the Anglo migration during the beginning
of the Gold Rush. The Mexican majority in 1848 allowed for many successes
for early racial relations. For example, all state laws and regulations
were to be translated into Spanish. This continued until the rapid establishment
of a statewide Anglo majority, which left the Mexican-Americans politically
powerless. The last major political event where Mexicans had any influence
in California was the 1849 state constitutional convention because they
were soon greatly outnumbered. Political influence first declined in the
north where the gold mining areas attracted Anglo pioneers. By 1851, legislation
contrary to the interests of Mexican-Americans began to be enacted. For
example, property taxes in the six southern counties where most Mexicans
resided were five times higher than the average.
Racial prejudice and violence
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed by the United
States and Mexico to end the war, did not explicitly define the rights
of Mexicans in the newly acquired territories of the U.S. However, it guaranteed
them the same rights as U.S. citizens, but this guarantee was not upheld.
Lynching in the United States of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans was common
in the second half of the nineteenth century. In California, Mexicans only
constituted a small portion of the population at this time which was not
more than 15%. However, Latinos make up over one third of lynch mob victims
between 1850 and 1895. Lynching was common since Mexicans were constantly
accused of stealing gold or horses, and of killing or raping Anglo women.
The last recorded instance of lynching in California is the 1892 murder
of Francisco Torres, but lynching continued in Texas
This is a small example of how Mexicans were viewed because
the town of Downieville would not have seen any reason to have any more
Mexicans in their community or their state.
The Gold Rush
During the 1840s, many Americans started moving west into
Texas, Oregon, and California. The Americans thought California was a great
place for opportunity. Mexicans were considered lazy because they failed
to take advantage of the natural resources of the Southwest. Members of
the elite class of Mexicans in the newly acquired U.S. territories separated
themselves from the markedly mestizo, or mixed race, Mexican lower classes.
For the most part, Mexicans were considered a distinct and inferior racial
other who did not fit into the U.S. binary classification of race, and
because of their impurity and status as a hybrid of Anglo, Indian, Spanish,
and African blood, they were pushed to the margins of whiteness. Because
of this racial prejudice and economic discrimination, Mexican-Americans
became physically separated from Anglos as they were forced to live in
specific neighborhoods which became prime areas for the manifestation of
poverty, disease and crime. The boundaries between Anglos and Mexicans
contributed to the misunderstanding and suspicion between the two groups
which increased the frequency of the racial stereotyping experienced by
Mexicans. However, racial stereotypes were not the only factor that lead
to mob violence against and lynching of Mexicans. Gender was also a factor
as nine Mexicans were lynched by Anglos for alleged transgressions of sexual
norms. Anglos viewed Mexican men as having effeminate qualities and were
denied the attributes of honor, honesty, and loyalty. Therefore, Anglos
accused Mexicans of crimes such as cheating at cards or cowardly acts of
murder. For Mexican women, they were often romanticized in literature as
uncommonly beautiful, sophisticated, and graceful. Therefore, sometimes
Mexican women could be viewed as able to be morally brought up by an Anglo
man. However, the stereotype of many Mexican women of lower classes was
that they were the opposite of the stereotypical Anglo woman. Whereas the
Anglo woman was chaste and pious, Mexican women were viewed as depraved
and sexually promiscuous. During the Gold Rush, the popular stereotype
of the Mexican prostitute gained much power in popular culture as a way
for Anglos to assert that Mexican women in the mines, like Josefa, turned
to prostitution due to their innate moral degeneracy rather than because
of their lack of economic opportunity
Racism was an important factor in unleashing violence
against Mexicans, but another determining factor was economic competition.
In the industries of the Southwest United States, Mexicans were viewed
by Anglos as a lazy people who had failed to capitalize on the rich resources
of the Southwest. It was the “manifest destiny” of the white man, predicated
on false assumptions of superiority, to develop this economic potential
of the region. Therefore, any Mexican challenge to this was considered
unacceptable due to the proprietary rights of the Anglo pioneers.
The Foreign Miners’ Tax was introduced in California in
1850 with the goal of eliminating foreign competition, mainly Mexican but
also from Chinese migrants, in the mining industry. The tax was designed
to discourage immigration to the United States by removing the prospect
of economic prosperity. The law required that all persons who were not
native born or who had not become American citizens under the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo, to pay twenty dollars for licenses allowing them to
mine. The law provided an exception for California’s Native Americans.
The law was successful in getting Mexican miners to leave many mines for
fear of their safety, and the tax fueled ethnic violence because it sanctioned
the expulsion of miners who could not or would not pay. The next foreign
miner tax of 1852 would target Asian miners
Lifestyle options in the mining industry were limited,
especially for Latinos. For women, the options were wife or prostitute,
which made them a “good woman” or a “bad woman”. Basically, a woman’s reputation
was determined by whether her sexual activities were sanctioned or not,
which is how the apparently unmarried Josefa might have been negatively
July 4, 1851
Joe Cannon, also possibly Frank or Frederick, was a successful
American miner in Downieville in the summer of 1851. On the night of July
4, 1851, Josefa's "husband", José, was gambling as usual in the
local gambling and drinking house. That night, Cannon and his companions
tried to enter Josefa and José's home. Many accounts say that Cannon
actually broke the front door to the house. However, they failed and left
to gather more people. It is assumed by many that they were going to rape
Josefa, who might have already been pregnant. The crowd returned and forced
its way inside the house. Josefa stabbed Cannon and killed him in the early
morning hours of July 5. It should be noted that some accounts say that
after Joe’s return the argument between him and Josefa started in the street
whereupon she invited him in to her house for more discussion with the
stabbing then taking place inside. Another version of these events may
be found in a book by William Lewis Manly. His account states that "Juanita"
was married and that she and her husband "kept a monte game for the delectation
of the miners...but beyond this fact absolutely nothing was said against
her character." In Manly's version, Cannon "got drunk one night and about
midnight went to the house occupied by the Spanish woman and her husband
and kicked the door down. Early the following morning he told his comrades
that he was going to apologize to the woman for what he had done. He went
alone to the house, and, while talking with the husband and wife, the woman
suddenly drew a knife and stabbed Cannon to the heart. What had been said
that provoked the deed was never known, further than that Juanita claimed
she had been grossly insulted."
The American mining population in Downieville was enraged
by Cannon's death. Josefa was put on trial the next day, and the jury consisted
of Cannon's friends and companions while the rest of Downieville waited
for the results. Supposedly, a physician, Dr. Cyrus D. Aiken, testified
that Josefa was not in a fit condition to be hanged Protests immediately
followed the doctor’s testimony and he was forced from the stand and from
the town. Moments later, Josefa was found guilty of the murder of Cannon.
Also, Mr. Thayer, a lawyer from Nevada attempted to testify against the
execution of Juanita but was beaten off the stand. Reportedly, he asked
for a fair trial for Juanita to see if a murder had really been committed.
Death: July 5, 1851
For the lynching, a scaffold was constructed on the bridge
over the Yuba River. The town came to stand on the banks of the river and
watch her execution. It was an important event to lessen the anger of the
townspeople over Cannon’s death. Josefa was hanged immediately following
the trial, and some accounts say that her last words before she was executed
were "Adiós Señores". She is widely known to be the first
woman to be executed by hanging in California Mr. Manly wrote, "Juanita
went calmly to her death. She wore a Panama hat, and after mounting the
platform she removed it, tossed it to a friend in the crowd, whose nickname
was 'Oregon,' with the remark, 'Adios, amigo.' Then she adjusted the noose
to her own neck, raising her long, loose tresses carefully in order to
fix the rope firmly in its place; and then, with a smile and wave of her
hand to the bloodthirsty crowd present, she stepped calmly from the plank
into eternity. Singularly enough, her body rests side by side, in the cemetery
on the hill, with that of the man whose life she had taken." Mr. Manly's
book is generally a first person account of his experiences migrating to
California to mine for gold. Although he did mine for gold near Downieville
in 1851, he, by his own account, was not in Downieville on the dates in
question. He does not cite the source for his version of the events though
it seems conceivable he heard eye-witness accounts.
Effects and the Mexican-American community during the
Media coverage of "Juanita"
There are many conflicting stories and sources regarding
Josefa’s death. Eyewitnesses produce differing accounts of the assault,
the trial, the hanging, and of Josefa herself. At the time, media referred
to Josefa simply as “Juanita”. The public is largely unaware of the lynching
of Mexicans because, despite the recent rise in academic literature on
lynching, scholars frequently tend to overlook anti-Mexican violence and
lynching. There is no actual accurate count of how many Mexicans were lynched
in the United States, so estimates must be the basis for studies of Mexican
lynching victims Opinion on the incident from 19th century authors
differs. In “The Downieville Tragedy” found in an 1887 compilation of his
works, author, editor, and compiler of local histories Hubert Howe Bancroft
comes down firmly on the side of the vigilantes arguing that it was unlikely
Joe Cannon was on the attack that day and that he was instead murdered.
He begins the piece with a description of frontier chivalry, with normally
violent men in the early West would refuse to harm women, children, and
the elderly, and uses this as evidence that Joe would not have entered
Josefa’s house to do harm. He then paints a picture of a hot tempered woman
hitting her breaking point and committing murder.
In “The Downieville Tragedy” there is evidence that even
at the time Anglo-American opinion was split on who represented the guilty
party in the assault. Bancroft introduces a dissenting opinion in the form
of an excerpt from the Sacramento Times and Transcript:
The act for which the victims suffered
was entirely justifiable under the provocation. She had stabbed a man who
had persisted in making
a disturbance in her house and had
greatly outraged her rights. The violent proceedings of an indignant and
excited mob, led on by the
enemies of the unfortunate woman,
were a blot upon the history of the state. Had she committed a crime of
really heinous character, a real
American would have revolted at such a course
as was pursued toward this friendless and unprotected foreigner. We had
hoped the story
was fabricated. As it is, the perpetrators
have shown themselves and their race.
This presents a view opposite to that of Bancroft’s being
written not long before his by another Anglo publisher.
Statistics of Mexican-Americans lynched during the
The treatment of Mexican-Americans during the Gold Rush
is a shameful part of U.S. history. Most of these lynchings occurred in
Texas and parts of California, and were carried out by impromptu vigilance
committees (i.e., Texas Rangers serving “justice” in Texas). Lynchings
were frequent and most of them were of innocent Mexicans. Many lynchings
were prompted by Mexicans falsely being accused of stealing gold or horses
or of killing or raping Anglos.
In California, Mexicans represented over one third of
the lynch mob victims between 1850 and 1895, when they were of less than
15 percent of the population. Between 1848 and 1928, at least 597 Mexicans
were lynched in the United States. Lynching was a way for Anglos to
consolidate their colonial control over the recently conquered American
West and exert sovereignty over the region. The mob violence only contributed
to the displacement of Mexicans, as well as Native Americans, from their
land, denial of access to natural resources, political disfranchisement,
and economic dependency on the Anglo capitalist system
Current debates about her death today
Today, we think about Josefa’s death in an opposite way
from how it was viewed in 1851. By giving her the name “Juanita”, it devalued
her existence and the horrible events that occurred in Downieville, California.
During the time of the lynchings, many whites stood as bystanders or were
part of the vigilance committee. At “Juanita’s” lynching, there was only
one person that protested against her wrongful persecution. As a result
of the Chicano Movement, the decades after the gold rush changed the way
that Mexicans and Latinos were viewed in the United States.
Some witnesses recalled Juanita saying before she died:
“‘I would do the same again if I was so provoked.’”. This is one of many
characteristics pointed out by some who are of the opinion that she must
have been an aggressive woman. This has been used to advance the idea that
those who lynched her may have been right that she had murdered Joe the
miner when he was not actually threatening her safety. Another fact brought
up to support this idea is that the townsfolk noted that she was quick
to anger. Due to conflicting witness statements and vague details some
modern commentators still fall on the side of Joe Cannon. This shows that
while most current thoughts about the incident take race and gender status
as strong indicators that the story given by the vigilantes was most likely
inaccurate some today still believe that their actions were justified.
Another interpretation of her death that recognized racial
distinctions in the thoughts of her death was made by Preston Dillard,
“So Miss Segovia MAY have been a saloon girl who was accused (but never
convicted; important distinction) of a past crime, carried a knife and
had a temper....these reasons sufficiently justify being lynched by a mob?
If so, then half the women in Georgetown today would swing tomorrow. Miss
Segovia deserved the fair trial she was deprived of never being able to
not receive. (Think about that) Would you have left those comments justifying
her murder if she had been a white woman?”.
|Gunfight at Hide Park from
The Gunfight at Hide Park, or Newton Massacre, was the
name given to an Old West gunfight that occurred on August 19, 1871, in
Newton, Kansas, United States. It was well publicised at the time, but
since has received little historical attention, despite its producing a
higher body count than the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and the Four Dead
in Five Seconds Gunfight of 1881.
Unlike most other well-known gunfights of the Old West,
it involved no notable or well known gunfighters, nor did it propel any
of its participants into any degree of fame. Its legend has grown, however,
because one of the participants simply walked away from the scene, never
to be seen again.
The incident began with an argument between two local
lawmen, Billy Bailey and Mike McCluskie. The two men began arguing on August
11, 1871, over local politics on election day in the "Red Front Saloon",
located in downtown Newton. The argument developed into a fist fight, with
Bailey being knocked outside the saloon and into the street. McCluskie
followed, drawing his pistol. He fired two shots at Bailey, hitting him
with the second shot in the chest. Bailey died the next day, on August
12, 1871. McCluskie fled town to avoid arrest, but was only away for a
few days before returning, after receiving information that the shooting
would most likely be deemed self defense, despite the fact that Bailey
never produced a weapon. McCluskie had claimed he feared for his life,
having known that in three previous gunfights, Bailey had killed two men.
Bailey, a native of Texas, had several cowboy friends
who were in town. Upon hearing of his death, they vowed revenge against
McCluskie. On August 19, 1871, McCluskie entered Newton and went to gamble
at "Tuttles Dance Hall", located in an area of town called Hide Park. He
was accompanied by a friend, Jim Martin. As McCluskie settled into gambling,
three cowboys entered the saloon. They were Billy Garrett, Henry Kearnes,
and Jim Wilkerson, all friends to Bailey. Billy Garrett had been in at
least two prior gunfights, killing two men.
Hugh Anderson, the son of a wealthy Bell County, Texas
cattle rancher, also entered, and approached McCluskie, calling him a coward
and threatening his life. Jim Martin jumped up and attempted to stop a
fight from occurring.
Anderson shot McCluskie in the neck, knocking him to the
floor. McCluskie attempted to shoot Anderson, but his pistol misfired.
Anderson then stood over him and shot him several times in the back.
Kearns, Garrett, and Wilkerson also began firing, perhaps
to keep the crowd back, and may have shot McCluskie in the leg. At that
point a young man, believed to have been around 18 years of age at the
time, named James Riley, opened fire on them.
Riley was dying from tuberculosis, and had been taken
in by McCluskie shortly after arriving in Newton. Riley had never been
involved in a gunfight before, but only Anderson still had a loaded pistol
to return fire. Some accounts say Riley locked the saloon doors before
shooting, but this seems unlikely. The room was filled with smoke from
all the prior gunfire, and visibility was bad. Riley ended up hitting seven
Jim Martin, the would-be peacemaker, was shot in the neck
and later died of his wound. Garrett, Kearns, and a bystander named Patrick
Lee were also mortally wounded. Anderson, Wilkerson, and another bystander
were wounded but survived.
With both guns empty and all his opponents down, Riley
walked away and was never seen again. Legend has it he left the area and
began a new life elsewhere. However, due to his ill physical state, it
is more likely he died not long afterward under an assumed name. Either
way, he disappeared.
A warrant was issued for Anderson for killing McCluskie.
He left Kansas by train and settled in Texas to recover from his wounds.
On July 4, 1873, McCluskie's brother, Arthur McCluskie,
located Anderson. A brutal fight ensued with both men shooting each other
several times, then going after each other with knives. Neither survived.