Prostitutes, by nature of their profession, often find themselves in trouble with the law. It was not uncommon for a nineteenth-century harlot to be accused of blackmail, theft, or even murder. Such was the case of a soiled dove in northern California. The curious criminal proceedings were held before Justice John Anderson in 1852, and an article in an August edition of the Union Times attempted to unravel the mystery for its readers:
A public woman, popularly known as “Old Harriet,” kept a saloon on Broad Street, overlooking Deer Creek. She had a man who kept bar for her and did any necessary fighting. Opposite her establishment was a dance house. A man named Pat Berry was mining on the opposite side of Deer Creek at Gold Run. Owing to a recent flood there were no bridges at the foot of the town, but a tree had been cleared of limbs and fell across it, over which foot passengers made their way. The stream was still high and raged among the naked boulders and logs which were then innocent of tailings.
On Saturday Berry came over to town, having made some money during the week, and rigged himself out with an entire new buckle. He spent the evening until late at the dance house and then went over to Old Harriet’s place, which was the last ever seen of him alive.
In the course of the night a man in the neighborhood heard what he took to be a cry of “murder,” but he may have been mistaken. Two or three days after, about six miles below Nevada, in an eddy in the creek, Berry’s body was found, completely naked. On the forehead was a large, extravagated wound, the blood discoloration proving that this wound was given while the person was alive. Finding him in this condition led to search for previous traces of him; and it was discovered that he had passed the evening at the dance house, and then gone to Old Harriet’s, where all further trace of him was lost.
Harriet and her fighting man were arrested and charged before the justice with murder. McConnell prosecuted and Sawyer defended. The examination lasted several days. The prosecution proved that Berry had money, traced his movements the night of his death, as herein stated, showed that the wound on his head must have been given while he was alive, and that it was made with some round, blunt weapon; that there was a pair of scales on Old Harriet’s counter, and a large weight, which would produce such a wound; the condition of the body, with a new, strong suit of clothes entirely missing; which, it was contended it was impossible could be torn off by the stream, or at least, without greatly marring the body, which was intact, except the death wound on the head. The cry of murder was also proven, leaving a close knitted theory by the prosecution, well-sustained before the drowning. As to the missing clothes it was argued, though with less confidence, that they had been stripped off by the water, rocks and logs.
The case was so puzzling that the justice took it under advisement for several days. While he was considering it, two men walked the log in company, when one of them pitched off and disappeared. Everybody turned out to find the body, but the search was unsuccessful for several days, when it was found in the eddy below the town from which Berry’s body was taken. The head of the new victim was marked with the same kind of extravagated wound as that of the first one, but there were no other wounds on the body, and all his clothes were gone except his shirt, which was turned inside out and hung at the wrist. The case was at once reopened and this evidence of what might happen was submitted. When she heard the new testimony Old Harriet exclaimed: “The Lord has intervened to save an innocent woman!” Of course the accused went free.
The Union News – August 1852
Chris Enss is the COWGIRL Book Editor, and a New York Times Bestselling author who writes about women of the Old West. For more stories about these wild women, visit www.chrisenss.com for more information on her books.