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As It Was: It Takes Two Hangings to Kill Siskiyou County Scoundrel

One of Siskiyou County’s early scoundrels, Sailor Jim, whose real name was Danforth Hartson, reportedly shot Indians and was believed to have been involved in a murder for which he was never tried. Townspeople looked upon him with suspicion and disdain.

The law caught up to him in 1857, charging Hartson with the murder of John W. Burke at Canal Gulch, right outside Yreka, Calif.  As Burke lay dying, he named Hartson as his killer.

The trial began on May 5, 1857, with District Attorney E. H. Stone as the prosecutor.  The jury heard the evidence and convicted Hartson.  Judge J. Montgomery Peters sentenced Hartson to hang on July 15, 1857.

On the day of his hanging, Hartson was escorted to the gallows.  The crowd gasped when the noose slipped from around his neck and he tumbled from the platform to the ground, where he was quickly returned to the platform.

As the noose slipped around his neck a second time, Hartson said, “For God’s sake, don’t do that again!” He also confessed that he killed Burke. 

The rope held on the second try.

Source: Wells, Harry L. The History of Siskiyou County, California. Oakland, D J Stewart & Co., 1881, pp. 100-01.

Gail Fiorini-Jenner is a writer and teacher. Her first novel "Across the Sweet Grass Hills", won the 2002 WILLA Literary Award. She co-authored four histories with Arcadia Publishing: Western Siskiyou County: Gold & Dreams, Images of the State of Jefferson, The State of Jefferson: Then & Now, which placed in the 2008 Next Generation Awards for Nonfiction and Postcards from the State of Jefferson.