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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

Foiled Intrigue

Perhaps it’s only myth or legend (for sure, certain story elements are questionable), but nonetheless it’s a romantic tale, published as a news item in a prominent California daily newspaper in 1852, in the glorious, uproarious days of the Old West; a tale of a lovely young damsel in distress, who was rescued from her own naïve, misguided intentions.

It goes like this.

High up in the mountains—in the rowdy gold-mining town of Weaverville—an innocent young woman, bedazzled by the attentions and promises of a smooth-talking desperado (of whose nefarious deeds she was ignorant), planned to elope with him. Her father, accidently learning the facts, and anxious to save his daughter from disaster, quickly spirited her away to Shasta City to board a stagecoach for the thirty-mile journey to Sacramento, where they could catch a river boat to various ports in San Francisco Bay.

En route, the stage stopped at a roadhouse hotel to change the team and have supper. The barkeeper there, in cahoots with the scoundrel’s designs, told the driver quite a fanciful tale and gave him a note to secretly pass to the girl at the first opportunity. Already aware that the pretty young lady was obviously suffering from emotional distress, the driver said he was willing to aid the love-smitten couple. He slipped the note to the girl behind her father’s back, and was quite gratified when it seemed to lift her spirits.

But over supper the driver, overhearing remarks from his other passengers, was horrified to learn the identity of the girl’s suitor—none other than the outlaw Joseph McGee! Just three weeks earlier, McGee had been arrested for shooting and wounding two men in a Weaverville saloon, had narrowly escaped a vigilante hangman’s noose through the intercession of a few “influential friends,” and was now at large.

Chastened, the stage driver hastily drew the father aside, apologized for his active part in the scheme, and proposed a plan. The two, he said, should stay over a day or longer when the stage reached Marysville, instead of traveling on with the through schedule to Sacramento the father had paid for, in case McGee was there already, planning to seize the girl. As this was prudent advice, the father took it to heart and acted upon it.

The stage driver’s counsel avoided a probable fatal confrontation, as the father had sworn to die before relinquishing his child—and McGee was equally determined to recapture the young lady at all costs. Indeed, the scoundrel was armed and waiting for her in Sacramento on the day she was expected to arrive; just as his note, passed from the barkeep to the stage driver to the girl, had said.

Joseph McGee was nowhere to be seen when father and daughter passed through Sacramento two days later. Boarding a riverboat, the father safely delivered his daughter into the care of a college of nuns in San Jose, as he had intended.

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