Fourth of July 1851, had been a great day in Downieville. The anniversary of the birth of our republic had been commemorated with grand
parades, the assemblage of thousands, and with a thrilling address from John B. Weller, afterwards Governor of California.
Those addicted to the use of stimulating beverages-their name was legion, had held high carnival all the livelong day among the bottles and glasses;
and when the somber shades of night had fallen, many a loud reveler was staggering through the crowded thoroughfares, awaking the echoes of the surrounding hills
with their ribald song and laughter. Later in the night those jolly spirits became mischievous, and some of the rougher sort went around breaking open the doors
of houses, among others, attacking the domicile of the ill-fated Juanita, occupied at the time, by herself and a man of her own race.
In the crowd was Jack Cannon, a Scotchman of magnificent physical strength and Herculean proportions.
When the hilarious band had broken up at the very early hours the next morning, Cannon went back to the
Mexican's house. His purpose in returning hither is, of course unknown. Many Persons say that he intended to apologize, and pay
for the damage done by himself and fellows, but this can be nothing more than surmise. Mr. V. McMuray, who was probably the only
outsider who witnessed the killing of Cannon, states that he saw Cannon go up to the door of the house,
inside of which was standing the Mexican and the woman, Juanita. McMurry
heard him address the later with the Spanish word for prostitute. She immediately went into a side room, while
Cannon, leaning each hand upon a door post, stood directly in the doorway, conversing with the Mexican.
In a moment Juanita reentered the hall with one hand held behind her. Coming rapidly to the front, and passing her companion
of the night before, she plunged a long knife with tremendous force into Cannon's breast. The power required for the thrust must
have been considrable, for the blade penetrated clear through the heavy sternum bone in the center of his chest and buried itself in his heart.
Though she was a very small, slender woman of twenty three years, her intense passion gave her for an
instant, an extraordinary strength. Cannon fell dead instantly. But a moment was required to spread the news far and wide!
Rapidly it sped from mouth to mouth, and the miners ran in great numbers to the place where Cannon lay still bleeding and warm.
He was a popular fellow with the crowd. Threats of vengeance came from many a throat, and for safety, the woman who had done the deed left her home hastily,
and entered Craycroft's Saloon, asking for protection. Her movement was noticed. A mob surrounded the place, so as to give her
no possible chance of escape. Someone raised the cry 'Hang her!' and the idea met with an instant general approval. After a
lapse of some time, during which her friends tried to save her, the woman was handed over to the frenzied crowd and led to the main plaza, where a stand
had been erected for public speaking the day previous, directly in front of Foster's old cabin. Here she and her reputed husband
were placed to await the issue of their trial. The body of poor Jack Cannon was placed in a tent nearby that the people might see
his gaping wound and steel their hearts against a revulsion of feeling. A judge and jury were appointed by those present, together with a lawyer for the
'people' and one for the defendant. A young lawyer lately from the states, undertook her defense, and right bravely he denounced the act about to be
committed. He called upon those who had left friends and relative in the East to consider what they would say of those proceedings; for the sake of the
women they loved, and the wommen that bore them, not to shed the blood of this poor creature. His eloquence was useless. While in the midst of his
peroration, the barrel on which he stood was kicked from beneath him, hat going one way and spectacles another, while he was flung over the heads of the
mob below, and carried a hundred yards before touching the ground, receiving blows and kicks from all sides. After taking evidence, the jury retired but
soon returned with a verdict of guilty. Dr. C.D Aiken, as a last resort to save the woman, endeavored to prove that she was
pregnant. Dr.'s Kibbe, Chase and Carr were accordingly appointed a committee to make an examination,
and reported that the statement was not true. for his rashness, Dr. Aiken was ordered to leave town in twenty four hours,
and for quite a period his shadow darkened no door in Downieville. The woman was taken to her cabin and given one hour to
prepare for death without a priest. Confronting with an unflinching steady gaze the angry crowd surrounding her, she sat the whole time; when, her hour
being up, she was called forth and
passed fearlesssly down the street, chatting and smiling with as much ease as anyone there. From the top of the Jersey Bridge,
a rope dangled over the side, while beneath it a timber six inches wide was lashed to the bridge and swung out over the stream. Three thousand excited
spectators were present, many of whom now live to tell the tale. On the plank she stood, quielty surveying the crowd. Perceiving a friend, she took off
her Panama hat, and gracefully flung it to him, bidding him goodbye in Spanish. She took the rope in her own hand, placed it
about her neck, and adjusted it beneath her beautiful black hair with her own fingers. A white handkerchief was thrown over her face, her hands tied
behind her, and at each end of the plank, ax in hand, stood a man ready to cut the lashings. Another fired a pistol as a signal, and the axes fell.
She dropped three or four feet, meeting death with scarecly a struggle. The affair created a great deal of comment at the time,
the course of the miners, being with scarecly a struggle. The affair created a great deal of comment at the time, the course of the miners being almost
universally denounced by the press of the country. Even the London Times of that period had a severe article on the subject.
The event caused a Mr. George Barton of Downieville who witnessed the hanging, to write some very
creditable verses, one of which follows:
"Stern winter brought its angry flood
That madly rushes toward the sea;
That the bridge went down, and yet the
Blood stain lingers; it will ever be
A mark - no matter where the blame-
To point the finger toward the spot,
Where every witness, ay, each name,
Are unremembered, all forgot."
- Al Prati 'Story of Juanita'
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