Decker promised to change his ways. But not long after, he, Sanford, and Slim Jim shot up Hale’s saloon.
Jaspar was out of town. Some days later, after Slim Jim and Decker did an alcohol “boil-out” at Warner Springs, they came to Jaspar’s office and turned themselves in.
Jaspar ordered them to pay Jesse’s doctor bill and all repairs for Hale’s saloon (which they did). Then he warned: It happens again and “every one who participates…is booked for a good stiff term in the pen.”
The next morning, Decker hailed Jaspar on the street, unbuckled his gun belt, and handed it to the editor. “You know how to use it, and if you ever pull it on a man you’ll get him even though that man be me.”
Jaspar accepted. He said Decker was not “raised to the life you are leading here.” With work, he could walk “a better trail.”
“I don’t want to think,” Decker replied, “I want to forget.”
Within two years, Decker had drunk himself to death. Slim Jim died of TB in 1893.
“Legal justice was swift and sure,” boasted Horace Fenton Wilcox, who carved the Banner Grade Road through the wilderness. “Criminals didn’t come into court with a staff of trick lawyers like they do now.” Wilcox added, “We never had much shootin’” and “women was perfectly safe.”
Wilcox’s selective memory omits one of the region’s most notorious incidents. On a Sunday morning in early June 1878, Laura Bell King started to walk a few hundred yards down the Banner Grade to see her sister. Laura carried an 11-month-old infant in her arms. Two other children, ages nine and three, trailed behind.
Up ahead, an Indian “frenzied with drink” approached. To avoid the man — 20-year-old Juan de la Cruz of Santa Ysabel — King herded her children across the creek. After he passed by, she recrossed and moved briskly to her sister’s house.
She heard footsteps fast approaching. She turned. De la Cruz was “at my heels.” Muttering “guttural sounds,” he grabbed her. She held the child in one arm. With the other, she clutched the man’s hair at arm’s length “and battled him as best I could.”
De la Cruz pulled away. He snatched the child and tossed it onto an anthill. Then he unsheathed a knife and attacked again. He stabbed her repeatedly.
“After a time,” King recalled, “I released my hold on his hair and sank to the ground exhausted...The Indian stampeded at the sight of my blood and took to the hills.”
Severe Victorian fashion saved her life. Beneath her Sunday dress, King wore a thick corset with heavy steel stays, and these warded off most of the slashings, though one was five inches long.
A man named Robert Johnson raced to the scene. He pulled the unharmed baby from the anthill and tended to Laura’s wounds.
When word of the assault got around, work ceased. A hastily arranged town meeting placed a $50 reward for the capture of de la Cruz, dead or alive. Search parties fanned out.
Ambrosia Ruiz, the Kings’ next door neighbor and close friend, went out alone. A Yaqui Indian and constable at Julian, Ruiz was a first-rate tracker.
He followed the trail east, to a native village in the desert, and ordered the chief to turn de la Cruz over. When the chief refused, Ruiz drew down on the man. “Now bring him out,” he said, cocking two revolvers for emphasis. “If you try to hide him, every white man in Julian will be down here. They’ll kill every last Indian of you, and burn your camp.”
The chief obliged. To curtail a white uprising, he sent a runner to Julian to call off the posse: the culprit was in custody.
Ruiz didn’t know about the runner. Convinced a mob in Banner would hang his prisoner without a trial, Ruiz took a back route to Julian, where he hoped to stow de la Cruz safely in the old log jail.
When Ruiz rode into Julian, a crowd awaited. Unlike most vigilantes, no one wore a mask. A grave had been dug, and a rope hung from an oak tree. They lynched de la Cruz and buried him with his boots on.
“No official action was taken,” writes Jaspar, “not even an inquest.” The next morning, natives from the Santa Ysabel village cut the rope and brought the body home.
Jaspar remembered a stranger remark: “You reformers have made a good start. You should now finish the job by hanging the white man who sold the Indian whiskey on the same limb.”
“That was the first public protest recorded in Julian against selling whiskey to the Indians,” Jaspar writes, “but not the last.” ■
— Jeff Smith
Botts, Myrtle, History of Julian, Julian, 1969.
Ellsberg, Helen, Mines of Julian, Glendale, 1972.
Fetzer, Leland, The Cuyamacas: The Story of San Diego’s High Country, San Diego, 2009.
Jaspar, James A., Trail-Breakers and History Makers, ms. at San Diego History Center.
Lewis, David, historian and tour guide of the Julian Cemetery, “Last Known Address: The History of the Julian Cemetery,” interview, San Diego, 2008.
Taylor, Dan Forrest, Julian Gold, ms. at San Diego History Center.
Wilcox, Horace Fenton, “Memories of the Gold Stampede to Julian,” Touring Topics, February 1932.
Articles in the San Diego Union, the Daily Alta, and the Julian Sentinel.