The Hanging of Barney Quinn

On the 4th of September, 1878, Barney Quinn was hung by the neck until dead. He had not faced trial, nor had he been convicted in accordance with any law, but he hanged for his crime nonetheless.

Discerning the exact details of what had happened some two days earlier has become almost impossible. Conflicting accounts abound and in the time since the event, the story of what occurred has changed in subtle detail from day to day.

What is certain, is that, on that day little Ezra Caufield was found dead at the bottom of the town well, with more than one witness naming Quinn as the one who had pushed her down. The specifics of why and how this happened are unclear. Some paint Quinn as an evil man who tossed the girl to her death without a care, others claim that he had been riled up by some trick played by the child and overreacted, while others argue that it was a simple accident.

These arguments and many more were made as the town came together in its entirety for the first time, in the clearing that surrounds the well across from the newly built Chapel, to decide Quinn’s fate. California’s status as adrift from the greater United States and free from Mexican rule means that the Town by necessity must mete out its own justice. But until this moment, the assortment of business owners and farmers had not truly considered themselves a community and there was no judge – not even a sheriff – to make an official ruling.

Voices rang out across the clearing for hours, with the likes of Cillian Obannan, Emmett Haskin and Wallace Hubbard all given the floor to make their case. Even town doctor, Rufus Mattox and Livery Stable co-owner Roy Goodwin – who as a rule keep themselves removed from town politics – were heard.

In the end, a tentative decision was reached. If law and order were to become a founding feature of what (as the assembled masses were begging to realise) was a true town, then an example must be made. Many were unhappy with the decision and many of those who approved it did so with an unease in their stomachs, but the die was cast and Quinn’s fate sealed.

This moment has proved to be one of the most decisive in the town’s short history. Some consider it the town’s true founding moment and it has certainly solidified the political stances of the region’s key players. While the likes of Obannan argue for more freedom, other such as Emmet Haskin argue that the moneylender simply seeks to maintain his powerful grip on the populace, in favour of creating a decent and law abiding settlement.

The Hanging of Barney Quinn

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