Careers Cut Short: Cory Peterman’s Historical Corner

Considering my last two articles discussed two sheriffs of Sierra County whose careers were cut short due to their
unexpected deaths, I decided to continue on the subject of other careers that were cut short, though in a tragic manner. Nearly three years ago, in August 2018, I wrote about Sierra County Treasurer Eliphalet Lewis Case, who ended his own life on the grave of his wife at the Downieville Cemetery in 1925 (an astonishing shortage of
funds were found in the accounts he controlled).

Several newspaper accounts from September 22, 1873 reported “J.A. Larrieu, Assessor of Sierra county, committed suicide in his office about one o’clock p.m. to-day, shooting himself through the head.” However, little information exists on John Alexander Larrieu, and one historical book states he was county assessor
until 1875, two years after his supposed death (though I have found many errors in the aforementioned book).

However, one career that was cut tragically short was that of young District Attorney Thaddeus Purdy. The plaque
erected by E Clampus Vitus at the north side of the St. Charles Saloon reads: “The Shooting of Thaddeus
Purdy – In the fall of 1853 a miner known as ‘Muntz’ knifed and fatally wounded ‘Baltimore Jack’ over a game of cards in Forest City. Muntz was taken to Downieville and held upstairs in the Craycroft Building for want of a jail.

The next day a Forest City mob armed with ‘great clubs, knives and revolvers’ and ‘yelling like demons’ attempted to take and hang Muntz. A shot rang out and Thaddeus Purdy, Sierra County’s first district attorney fell with a bullet to his brain. He died on a table in the saloon, the victim of a friend ‘handling the hammer of his
revolver when it slipped through his fingers’. The astonished crowd ‘slunk away’. Muntz was acquitted on the grounds of self defense.”

It has been written that local jewelers Benjamin Green and H.H. Purdy “made a very handsome coffin plate of silver dollars, which a few years later was removed. The coffin was shipped back east to Mr. Purdy’s father.” Purdy’s headstone can be found at the North Gilead Cemetery in Michigan.

In Sierraville, there exists the Sierra Hot Springs resort, which was originally known as Campbell’s Hot Springs.
John “Jack” Campbell bought the property in 1874 and built the resort. An immigrant from Ireland, he had earlier served two terms as Sierra County sheriff beginning in 1869. In 1881, Campbell and his wife relocated to a house in Randolph (the southern part of Sierraville).

By this time, the Sierra County Republican Party had fractured, and a new “reform” Republican
group had formed. The reform Republicans pressured Campbell to run for Sheriff once again in the upcoming election. Things were tense. For some reason, the “old” Republicans of the county were not happy with Campbell’s candidacy, and decided to back the Democratic candidate. Campbell’s candidacy would be cut short on September 15, 1882 – the Sierra Tribune paper (a paper backed by Campbell’s reform party)shortly thereafter the following headline: “ASSASSINATED! John Campbell, Republican Candidate for Sheriff Shot Dead.” The article continued:

Jack Campbell

“Jack Campbell was sitting in front of the hotel in Randolph when his niece was heard calling him to dinner from the door of his house, not too far distant. Jack got up and started for his home apparently, and when about the middle of the street, J.J. Stubbs was seen to approach him. A few words were spoken in a low tone of voice, when Stubbs was heard to say, ‘Is that so?’ It seems that at this juncture Jack turned and took a step or two as if to saunter leisurely home when Stubbs snapped a pistol, which failed to explode.

Jack turned and instantly grabbed Stubbs’ pistol hand at the wrist, and evidently tried to throw the
hand out of range; but Stubbs turned his hand under in some way by throwing his body toward the ground, and fired the fatal shot. The ball entered Jack just below the breast-bone, ranged upward and passed through
the heart.

He was carried into the hotel, where he expired instantly without murmuring a word. Stubbs is said to have stood on the porch with the crowd while the wounded man was being carried in. During the excitement, however, everyone rushed into the hotel and left the murderer outside. Upon their return he was gone.”

Stubbs was soon caught, and pleaded self-defense. However, in his July 1883 trial, he was found guilty of second-degree murder, and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment at San Quentin. It will never be known
what words were exchanged between Stubbs and Campbell. Campbell was buried at the Downieville Cemetery. He was survived by his wife, two nieces, and two nephews. For a more in-depth look into the Campbell murder, refer to the Winter 2014 issue of The Sierran newsletter.

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@, thanks!

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