First Unsolved Murder In Porterville
During the Civil War, Tulare County was populated with a great many people who were strongly for the South. Dr. Samuel Gregg George, a good Union man, was instrumental in getting the 2nd U.S. Cavalary to Visalia in 1862 to establish a post called Camp Babbitt. One of the cavalrymen was M. P. "Dick: Rowley who while here made himself unpopular by, as the Visalia paper put it "making a certain set of loud mouthed rebels take the oath of allegiance, for his amusement."
In a Visalia newspaper on December 13, 1865, shortly after the war's end, there is this article: "A fight occurred at Independence, a few days since, between the irrepressible Dick Rowley and a man named Rose, in which ten shots were fired. (Fort Independence is where Dick Rowley was mustered out of the cavalry.) Rose lost a finger in the affair and after wasting all his shots, made a more effective use of his revolver (which, according to Carrol was not then a deadly weapon) by beating Dick severely over the head with it. We have not learned the causes of the collision, probably one or both of the men were...sober."
A few years go by and then this article appears om the same newspaper on March 4, 1868: "MURDER-On last Thursday evening, at Porter Putnam's on Tule River, Dick Rowley, formerly a soldier of the 2nd Cavalry, stationed at this place, was shot, from the effects of which he died on Sunday night last, by some unknown person. A more disgraceful, foul or cowardly murder has never been committed in a civilized community. The circumstances as told to us are as follows: Rowley was sitting in the bar room of Putnam's Hotel with his feet up against the fire jam, when the man who shot him came into and looked around the room, apparently to make sure of his victim, then went out and soon returned with a double barreled shot gun, walked up so close to Rowley that he could almost touch him with the muzzle of the gun, when he fired, the charge
taking effect in the back and shoulder. Rowley then attempted to rise, when the murderer discharged the second barrel, shooting him in the side of the head and face, and then turned round and walked out.
"We hear it stated there are persons who know the perpetrator but do not seem willing to bring the assassin to justice, neither have we heard of the officials doing anything in the premises. This is coming to a pretty pass indeed, that a man can walk up to another and shoot him in the back, without giving him warning whatever and the prepetrator of so foul a crime allowed to roam at large in the neighborhood."
"The only offence which we have heard Rowley charged, is, that during the time he was a soldier he was in the habit of making a certain set of loud mouthed rebels take the oath of allegiance for his amusement, and now, it is believed that one of their number has assassinated him. We know that the assassin, whoever he may be, is still at large without any effort having been made to bring him to justice,"
Result of a "Coronor's Inquest" is the only other article found in the Visalia paper and that was in the March 11, 1868 issue. I have searched the papers and county records and am still hoping to find that someone was brought to justice for this, but nothing found yet. I found the article about the fight at Independence first and then the one about the murder a year or so later. I went back and reread December 13, 1865, article and lo and behold there is "Carrol," the same name as one on the jurymen at the inquest. If this is the same person, he would have known Dick Rowley well or possibly have been a friend, or possibly a friend of the man "Rose." Or could he have done the deed? Surely he would not have been on the jury if he was suspect. We will never know. Read the inquest as published in the paper on March 11, 1868, and wonder.
Coroner's Inquest: An inquest was held on the body of M. P. Rowley, who was shot and killed by some unknown person at Porterville, on Tule River, by Justice Williamson of the Fifth Township, on March 1st, when the following testimony was elicited and verdict rendered:
Charles Sibb sworn: Says. I was sitting down when I heard the report of a gun, and I turned around. I heard deceased say, O God! Immediaely after I heard the report of the first gun, then I saw the second shot directed at Mr. Rowley's head, and the man turned round and went out of the door, No one (was) with the man who fired the shot. I know of no difficulty between Mr. Rowley and the person who shot him; don't know the name of the person who shot him; don't know that I ever saw him before; he was shot with a double barrel gun. Shot about the 27th February, 1868, in the Tule River House.
Albert Whayland, sworn: Said. I have been acquainted with deceased about 4 or 5 months. I learned from him he was a native of Syracuse, New York, and his name M. P. Rowley, about 27 years of age. He had a mother and step-father living in Syracuse, N.Y.
Dr. M.S. Morrell, sworn: When I was called to see deceased, I found him lying near the fire of the floor in the Tule River House. This was on the 27th February, 1868. On examination, I found he had received two shots, one passing between the shoulders through the spinal column; the other in the left temporal bone; death caused by the shot through the spinal column. He told me he was a native of Syracuse, New York, and he said his mother lived there. The shot through the spinal column resembled that of a musket ball and that, in the temple, a shot gun containing mixed shot, No. 5 and B. shot.
State if California, County of Tulare: Before G. A. Williamson, Justice of the Peace and acting Coroner, in the matter of the Inquistion upon the body of M. P. (Dick) Rowley deceased.
We the undersigned, the Jurors summoned to appear before G. A. Williamson, Justice of the Peace and acting Coroner, at Porterville, Tulare County, California, at J. Collins Hotel on the first day of March A. D. 1868, to inquire into the cause of the death of M. P. Rowley. Having been duly sworn according to the law, and having made the inquisition after inspecting the body and hearing the testimony adduced upon our oaths, each and all do say that we find the deceased was named M. P. Rowley, was a native of Syracuse, New York, aged about 27 years; that he came to his death by being shot with leaden shot in the back and head with a double barrel gun in the hand of a person to us unknown. Said M. P. Rowley was shot the evening of the 27th of February A. D. 1868, and died March 1st 1868.
J.J. Wyckoff, L. W. Martin, R. Carrol, A. B. McPherson, L.F. Loosden, W.F. Brannan, Jury.
Note: An interesting aside is a name for R. Porter Putman's store, hotel and bar on the Tule Rive, up to this time not known, "The Tule River House." Also, most have argued that the first name of the town was "Portersville." But I find, more often than not, it was from the beginning "Porterville" to locals. The Post Office's cancellation stamp, until 1915, had an "s" in the name --so as always the government made the mistake--so for years (1872 to 1915)"Portersville" or "Porterville" was argued.
Reprinted from Los Tulares.