Women and Law Enforcement – Part 2

Cory’s Peterman Historical Corner

Alice Rees

One woman who had quite
an interesting career in Sierra
County was Alice Rees, who
served as the County Coroner
and Public Administrator for
many years, and as the county’s
“Acting Sheriff” after Sheriff
Julius Johnson passed away
in 1925 (of interest, Alice’s
obituary stated that she was
Acting Sheriff on two occasions,
the second time lasting “more
than a year after being required
as coroner to arrest the sheriff.” However, I have been unable
to find any record of her serving
the position twice).

She was born Alice Almina
Wing on September 27, 1880
in St. Albans Maine, and came
with her parents to Loyalton
as a young girl. In 1900, she
graduated from the Los Angeles
General Hospital’s nurses
training school (where she
first acquired her embalming
knowledge), and soon after
married Jesse Rees, the grandson
of Loyalton pioneers Hiram and
Sarah Lewis. Jesse and Alice
Wing had two sons, Donald and
Kenneth.

The family first lived at the
Lewis Mill near Loyalton, but
then moved to Nevada, first
living in Goldfield and then
moving to Tonopah, Nevada,
where they built the town’s
first hospital. The family soon
returned to Loyalton, where
Alice opened up a funeral home
business (located in the former
Trigg home at 207 Alleghany
Street) that she operated from
1920 to 1930. The Rees Family
made their home in the building
which is now the Gilded Drifter
Inn.

Alice was appointed
County Coroner and Public
Administrator after George
Welkes resigned in 1921. Alice
held these positions until 1930,
when she resigned and moved to
Portola, where she was elected
Plumas County’s Coroner and
Public Administrator as well
(her brother-in-law Walter
Rees took over her positions
in Sierra County). Alice Rees
ran a successful funeral home
business until she retired in
1945, living out her life in Portola, where she passed away
on Christmas Day, 1962.

For those who like
black humor, you may get a
kick out of some stories passed
down about Alice’s time in
Loyalton. Elda Ball and Virginia
Lutes shared the following in
their Summer 2017 article in
the Sierra County Historical
Society’s Sierran newsletter:

“She was seen always wearing
black, a rather somber
appearance. Loyaltonians
remembered that she was
sometimes called (behind her
back we assume) the ‘Black
Crow’ or ‘Black Buzzard’, and
children were at times kept in
line with the threat of this woman
in black coming to get them.”

When wrapping up funeral
services, Alice and the preacher
“would step back from the
grave, and then both would light
up a cigarette and smoke. When
the mourners were finished,
Mrs. Rees would stomp out her
cigarette, step to the grave,
grab a handful of dirt to spread,
and say ‘Dust to start, to dust
returneth’. That was the signal
that the service was completed.”
One time, Alice drove to visit a
friend, and a “man was seated
in the car. The friend asked
Alice to invite the man in, but
was told, ‘Oh, that is just a body
I picked up.’” Another time,
two women found the body of
a man, and “returned to town
and found Alice. ‘We think he is
dead,’ they said, and took her to
the site. Alice squatted over the
man and said ‘Yes, he is dead’.
The women were appalled and
indicated they thought the squat
improper. Mrs. Rees commented
that ‘he is dead, he cannot see
under my dress.’”

On January 21, 1925, the
Sacramento Bee ran the
following headline: “Sierra
Woman Official Known as
‘Dead’ Shot – Mrs. Alice
Rees, Who Said She Would
Serve As Sheriff if Needed,
Outdoor Fan – Indicative of the fearlessness of woman of to-
day under emergencies was the announcement this week by Mrs.
Alice Rees, corner and public administrator of Sierra County,
of her willingness to serve
as sheriff of the county if her
services were needed. Following
the death in Sacramento a week
ago today of Sheriff Julius
Johnson of Sierra County it
was announced that Mrs. Rees
automatically became sheriff
under California law and would
serve if emergency demanded…

While not a two-gun artist, she
is known as a ‘dead shot’. Her
chief recreation in the open
season is a spirited deer hunt or
an expedition into the mountain
after other denizens of the forest.
And she has had her share of
success too, for the head and
horns of two deer killed on
recent hunts hang on the wall of
her home.”

Since there were no
prisoners in the county jail and
no official business pending at
the time of the sheriff’s death,
Alice did not have to actively
assume charge of the office, and
soon thereafter, the son of the
deceased sheriff, Lloyd Johnson,
ended up being the successor of
his father.

The hearse used by Alice Rees
in funeral processions is on
display at the Loyalton Museum
and is a rather unique artifact
that once belonged to a rather
unique woman!
I am always open to feedback
and suggestions for my history
articles. If you have a comment
or a subject to propose, please
email me at corypeterman3@gmail.com.

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