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Fowl Play

11/29/2010 04:44AM ● Published by Style

Last month’s story involving the theft of Aunty Crowley’s turkey left off with a pressurized scene in the Placerville Courthouse.

Convinced that the defense had “tampered with the witness,” prosecuting attorney “Cockeyed Jack Johnson” threatened opposing lawyer Norton with disbarment. Norton rebutted that he had indeed run the witness off, “not as a witness though, but advising him as an attorney to a client.” The judge continued the case for two days while the accused, Uncle Billy, awaited his fate.

The evening of the “same day as the race,” Norton received a note from his runaway client, then ten miles distant in Coloma, asking the attorney when he could return to Placerville. “He was afraid someone would jump his claim,” Norton wrote. “I wrote to him to stay there, as he valued his liberty, until I told him to come and that I would look out for his claim (which I did).”

Two days elapsed and no witness! Norton again moved to “discharge the prisoner for want of prosecution,” but the court again granted a two-day continuance. “I demanded trial,” Norton recalled, “but the court granted continuances until the statute of rights was exhausted, and no witness being heard of, forced them to trial.”

The prosecution called Aunty Crowley to the stand and she testified as to the “loss of ownership” and value of the turkey ($5). They questioned several witnesses, whose testimony proved, according to Norton, “unimportant (mostly hearsay).” The final decision went to the jury who acquitted Uncle Billy without leaving the jury box, “much to the chagrin of the justice and the prosecuting attorney.”

Later, Norton advised Uncle Billy to go and pay Aunty Crowley for the turkey and make his most humble apology for the outrage; all of which he did, and with such good effect that the old lady afterward declared she did not believe Uncle Billy intended to steal her turkey; that he was one of the most pleasant gentlemen that she had ever met; and had she known him then as she did now, she would never had mentioned it, for it was nothing but a little freak accident, and that when it was over he would have come and paid for the turkey.

“Well, Uncle Billy was one of the fortunate miners,” Norton concluded. “His claim turned out to be one of the richest in that location of the country, and as Uncle Billy often renewed his visits to the widow, some of the miners were wicked enough to assert one or two rumors that Uncle Billy was paying for the turkey in installments, or else he was hanging around to settle another. But it turned out different from what they expected, for at the end of six months, Uncle Billy stole the widow – turkeys and all; and true to her opinion of Uncle Billy’s honesty, she brought no action for the last larceny.”


Colonel L.A. Norton’s account appeared in his memoir, “My Overland Trip to California in 1852,” published in the December, 1934 issue of The Pony Express (Placerville, CA).

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