With Nancy J. Farrier
Josefa Segovia, known by many names such as Juanita, or Pretty Juanita, would have lived and died with not much notice, except for one life-changing event. She became the first, and only, woman to be hanged in California.
There are as many accounts of what happened to Josepha as she has names. Many are conflicting. Some are obviously biased. I will try to relay what I learned about her when I stumbled across her story while doing research.
|Downieville, CA 1851 - By William Downie|
In 1851, Josefa lived in the town of Downieville, California, one of the popular towns during the gold rush. Josefa lived with Jose Loaiza, who was either her husband or her boyfriend. Josefa would have been around mid-twenties, but little is known of where she grew up or her family. Jose worked in a saloon dealing cards for the gamblers.
On July 4th, some of the towns gentlemen celebrated a little too much. One miner named Cannon, along with a couple of companions, were stumbling down the road. Cannon staggered into the door of Josefa and Jose’s cabin. He hit the door so hard that it broke off the hinges and he fell inside. With his friend’s help he got back up, leaned the door against the frame, laughed and stumbled on down the roadway.
The next morning, Jose demanded payment from Cannon for the damaged door. Cannon became angry. Josefa pushed between the men and Cannon began to call her names. She became angry, went inside and when Cannon followed her in, she stabbed him with a knife, killing him.
There are several conflicting accounts. Some say Cannon was accosting Josefa, or had in the past. Others say her attack of the man was unprovoked. Either way, Cannon ended up dead and the men of Downieville were angry.
A mob grabbed both Josefa and Jose. They wanted to hang the pair, but someone suggested they needed a trial first. A jury was chosen and the trial began right then. They held the mock trial on the very platform where the previous day’s celebration of Independence Day had been held.
As word spread, the crowd swelled from 600 to more than 2,000. Cannon’s body was on exhibit with his shirt pulled open to reveal the fatal wound. Josefa insisted she had acted in self-defense, but no one would listen. One of the town’s doctor’s spoke up in her behalf and the crowd wanted to hang him too.
The jury deliberated the case in a few minutes and pronounced Josefa guilty of murder. She was given two hours before she would be hanged. Jose was given twenty-four hours to leave town and not return. When Josefa said she was pregnant, three doctors were called on to examine her, but determined that she was not pregnant, so they could continue with the lynching.
|Josefa's Hanging - By William Downie|
About 4:00 pm, Josefa was taken to the bridge over the Yuba River. She refused to wear a mask. She put the noose around her own neck and tied her skirts down for modesty. Turning to the crowd, she gave a jaunty salute and stepped off.
In a editorial in the Daily Times and Transcript, the paper said, “…the violent proceedings of an exited mob are a blot upon the history of the state…” They went on to state that these actions of the men shamed their race and themselves.
It is hard to say what is truth in this story, but most of them that I read, agreed with the fact that Josefa was brave to the end. She refused to cower and beg, and she maintained her innocence of murder, even as she admitted to killing Cannon.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this story. I find it sad that the mob mentality meant the death of a young woman who may have been innocent. It’s hard to believe all this happened over a broken door and too much to drink.
Nancy J Farrier is an award winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children and two grandsons. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Karen Ball of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website: nancyjfarrier.com.