Monday, December 12, 2011

Aurora Ghost Town (R.I.P. William Carder)

One last blog on the cemetery and then I will wrap up this whole series tomorrow.

William Carder was from Tennessee, came to California, then eventually ended up in Aurora. He developed a reputation as a gunman during this time. It appears that he worked on both sides of the law. In one instance, while he was living in Columbia, CA he tracked down and captured the person that murdered the town's city marshal. At one point he was a candidate for being a city marshal of Aurora. Yet, while living in Aurora he was arrested for highway robbery. It was alleged that he and two friends wore masks, pistol whipped three Chinese miners giving them severe injuries, then proceeded to take a few hundred dollars from them, but Carder and his two friends was released when there was a lack of evidence.

In the newspaper article that Roger McGrath quotes from that time period, The Esmeraldo Union mentions that Carder was very deadly with firearms. It was said that he was beyond quick, accurate, cool, brave, and a terror of the town. He "could push his hat off the back of his head, draw, and put a bullet through it before it reached the ground." (McGrath, p. 82) He would get into contests they would have in town with targets.

McGrath quickly points out that during a poker game Carder got in a verbal fight with John "Three-Fingered Jack" McDowell of the Daly Gang and others at the table. It was a fight over the money at stake, and Carder basically put out a challenge. McDowell quickly got up and told Carder to make his move. Carder backed down. So, maybe he wasn't as much a terror to everyone in town as the newspaper suggested.

That is McGrath's inference, and perhaps he is right. Let me add something from different chapters of his own book on this. This is not so much to defend Carter's pride, but just to give a little more context. From what I can tell, this poker game took place at Porter's Saloon during the morning of February 2, 1864. During this exact same time members of the Daly Gang were getting friendly with and trying to get Johnson drunk. You may remember this was all a big setup to murder him from my blog on the Daly Gang. In fact, the whole reason we know about this little spat with Carder and McDowell is because they committed that murder in the morning hours of February 2, and the newspaper was recounting what happened that night. So, there is good reason to believe Carder was probably severly outnumbered by the members of the Daly Gang because even John Daly was nearby that night. For Carder, it was foolish to do what he did, but I would hardly blame him for backing down this time. From what I can see from the newspaper accounts, it would not have been a one on one fight that night. it is interesting to speculate what would have happened if that gunfight went down that night. Maybe Johnson would have survived that night and escaped the Daly Gang due to all the commotion. As it was Carder backed down, Johnson was killed within hours, and members of the Daly Gang were hanged some days after. Just as an aside, in the book I mentioned in a previous blog that contains newspaper articles from Horace Marden, he reports that after Johnson was killed Carder took the lead at the courtsteps with a bunch of gamblers and tough guys trying to form a protection group. However, the more respected group of citizens which met over the hill at the armory were the ones that formed the vigilance group that ended up protecting the town and hanging the Daly Gang.

Skipping to end of the year, Carder had been doing some business with a Moses Brockman at the Montgomery mining district. They came back to Aurora separately. Carder was furious that Brockman did not bring back a horse that he wanted. Carder started making threats of whipping Brockman. This is the point over the next few days that Carder started acting very erratic. He attempted to start verbal spats with peaceful people in town. The newspaper said he was slapping them in the face, kicking them, pulling their ears, etc. Then Brockman was told that Carder threatened to kill him.Brockman, realizing that his life was seriously in danger from a real gunfighter, decided he would have to use surprise to his advantage, or he would be dead in a fair fight. When he learned that Carder was in the Exchange Saloon, Brockman planted himself in an unused doorway near the entrance of the saloon. He got out his shotgun and waited. When Carder walked out Brockman shot him with both barrels in the neck which left a gaping hole and killed him instantly. Carder never knew what hit him.

The townspeople knew both people in this incident. Brockman was well known as peaceful, hard working, liked, etc. Carder on the other hand was well known for his use of firearms, his aggressive behavior, etc. Of course, during the past few days Carder was acting like a complete public nuisance. The town ruled that Brockman acted in a case of justifiable homicide.

The most famous gravesite at Aurora is that of Willam Carder. In fact, it is on the cover to Roger McGrath's book. Here is what it looks like these days:
There was one person that disagreed with the killing of William Carder. That would be his wife Annie E. Carder. She had this tombstone made which states:
William E. Carder
Native of Tennessee
Aged 33 Years
was assassinated
in Aurora on
the night of
Dec. 10, 1861
I will avenge saith
The Lord

Erected by his wife Annie E.
Unfortunely, the grave is right next to a tree that usually casts a shadow over it. I tried to clean the picture up a little in photoshop, and I might try to do more when I have more time at a later date. Someday I might go back to Aurora at a different time of the day and see if I can figure out a way to get a better picture.

If you want to see an older picture of it that shows it standing then go HERE.

My brother once asked me if Carder was avenged due to what it says on the tombstone. My response, "Well, the guy who killed him no longer lives. So, I guess so!" ;)

I should note that most of the information I have seen about Carder is from McGrath's book. I haven't bothered to do much Carder searching on the web because I suspect that almost everyone that talks about him is using the McGrath material. Most other sources either refer to McGrath or are just small tidbits that are not really that significant.

This is one of the oldest inscripted items in the whole Sierra. However, it is not the oldest. I will show that one in the next blog as I wrap up the whole Aurora series.