Fort Crook was established on July 1, 1857 in Fall River Mills on the Pit River in Modoc County, for the protection of settlers against hostile Indians. Scheduled to be abandoned on June 1, 1869, Captain Wagner was assigned to the fort to see through its decommission. The Indian hostilities in the area seemed to under control, and Captain Wagner had a skeleton crew of one cavalry company to man the fort
Captain Wagner was something of a scallywag and took up with the wife of a local Native American. When the fort was abandoned, Captain Wagner abandoned his Indian mistress, whose Christian name was Mary, to a soldier named Calvin Hall. Private Hall was mustering out of the Army and settling in Modoc County. For taking his lover off his hands, along with her two Native American children, Captain Wagner gave Hall a small portable sawmill.
Hall used sawmill to make a living, but eventually sold it and settled on some land near the present town of Lookout. The two raised her two teenage Native American children, Frank and Jim, and they in turn took Calvin’s last name, Hall.
Mary grew tired of Hall and took up with another white man named Wilson. They had a child together named Martin, but she left Wilson to come back to Hall, who was raising Frank and Jim.
Sometime during 1900, a Native American named Daniel Yantes came to Lookout and moved in with the Halls. Yantes later took Mary away from old man Hall and they lived together on a ranch. Yantes was a detestable man who always carried a big gun, but he was nevertheless kind to the boys. Together, the disreputable stepfathers raised the boys. Everyone involved was agreeable to the situation, and they all made up one big, eccentric extended family. It happened to be criminal-minded as well, especially Frank and Jim, who were well-known (if not yet convicted) for committing a slew of crimes around Lookout. Caucasians, Mexicans, Californios and fellow tribesmen alike knew the family as psychopathic thieves to be avoided at all costs.
Calvin Hall had a knack for getting his adopted sons out of jail on technicalities, which made Frank and Jim even more daring and obnoxious. Whenever Frank and Jim were acquitted of crimes, the cattle and horses of the accuser were mysteriously killed or mutilated. Sometimes they would slash harnesses, burn crops or destroy wagons. Frank and Jim were suspected of vandalizing a local schoolhouse, but there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute. In the meantime, the locals assumed that with all the comings and goings at the ranch, the Hall’s place was a safehouse for itinerant criminals and fugitives.
In May 1901, a burglary was committed in tranquil community of Lookout. The Hall boys were quickly suspected, and when the Hall ranch was searched, several of the stolen items were found there. Branded hides and meat that didn’t belong to Hall or Yantes were also found on the premises and Frank, Jim and Calvin Hall, along with Daniel Yantes and Martin Wilson, were taken to Lookout and placed under guard in the bar of the town’s hotel.
Just like today, judges and prosecutors were overworked and understaffed. Trials were expensive and the prisons were overcrowded. The prosecutor dismissed the burglary charges and had the men charged with petty larceny. Yantes and the Halls, who would be out on bail shortly, made threats of vengeance against the townspeople who attempted to prosecute the criminal family. Everyone knew that the threats were real. Houses and barns would be burned and throats could be slashed. The people of Lookout had had enough with the terrorist family.
At 1:30 a.m. on May 31, 1901, a group of masked men rushed the guards watching over the clan at the bar. They marched Daniel Yantes, Martin Wilson, and Frank, Jim and Calvin Hall off to the Pitt River Bridge and hung them over the railings.
The people of Modoc County were shocked and encouraged the authorities to prosecute the members of the lynch mob. Modoc County Superior Court Judge Harrington wrote to the California Attorney General requesting investigators and a special prosecutor examine the case.
The Grand Jury convened on June 10th and indictments were presented against R. E. Leventon, Isom Eades and James Brown. The case against Brown was the strongest, and he was “brought to trial” on November 21, 1901. Assistant Attorney General Post and Deputy Attorney General George Sturtevant were sent from the Attorney General’s office in Sacramento to prosecute the case. Ex-Judge G. F. Harris, E. V. Spencer and John E. Raker, defended Brown.
Assistant Attorney General Post felt that he needed a bodyguard while in the wild North and hired noted gunfighter Danny Miller to protect him. Miller made himself unpleasant to the people of Lookout during his stay. He bullied the locals and brandished his pistols at the slightest provocation.
The authorities were nervous that there might be acts of violence committed by the locals, and there was talk about bringing California National Guard troops in to make sure that the peace was kept, but the only violence committed during the trial was caused by the Assistant Attorney General’s bodyguard, Danny Miller. At one point in the trial, Miller drew a revolver in the courtroom and attempted to shoot Attorney John Raker.
Bounty hunters and reward seekers poured into Lookout, hoping that they would uncover evidence or persuade someone to testify to collect the reward offered by the State and several newspapers. So many residents were approached by the headhunters to commit perjury, that popular opinion tilted towards acquitting Leventon, Eades and Brown.
In the first week of January, a man who called himself Detective Gibson approached a young couple named Slavin, who were stranded in Alturas and were working for their room and board. Gibson offered the husband a percentage of the reward, about $900, to testify for the State. The Slavins told Gibson that they knew nothing about the lynchings and that as “poor as he was, Mr. Slavin would not swear to a falsehood.”
Gibson returned a few days later, hoping that the cash would dull the Slavin’s ethics, and tried to get Slavin to testify, explaining to Slavin that “the men were guilty and that no one would ever be the wiser.” Slavin told Gibson that if he asked him to testify again, he “would shoot him like a dog.”
The crooked investigators interrogated John Hutton and Claude Morris, who were suspected members of the lynch mob. The teenage Morris was taken into a room, plied with whisky and threatened by the detectives. At two in the morning a completely intoxicated and frightened Claude Morris signed an affidavit that indicted fifteen members of the community. The affidavit had already been prepared for him. All he had to do was sign the paper.
The next day Morris protested that he had been hoodwinked into signing the affidavit. He was told that he would be charged with perjury if he went back on the confession that he had signed before a notary public. The young man was not allowed to talk to an attorney. He was kept under guard and away from his family and friends.
On January 4th, 1902, Mary Lorenz, the half-breed daughter of old Mary Hall, swore to a warrant charging fifteen residents of Lookout with complicity in the lynching. They were all arrested, placed in jail, and on January 10th, indictments were filed charging each one with five different murders.
The trial was a farce. Judge Harrington disallowed any evidence introduced by the defendant’s attorneys and “raved like a madman” against them when they tried. Almost every day of the trial Judge Harrington sent one or more of Brown’s attorneys to jail for contempt. Paid-off or bullied witnesses were paraded onto the stand to testify for the State, and Judge Harrington refused to allow the defense to produce evidence to prove the witnesses were lying. Attorneys Harris, Raker and Spencer would argue the point and manage to get the evidence before the jury. Judge Harrington would then send one of them to jail. The trial went on for months and cost Modoc County $40,000—a huge sum in 1901.
When the verdict was finally reached, the men were acquitted. The citizens of Lookout knew that the lynched men were disreputable and dangerous characters. Witnesses and reward hunters, fearing being charged with perjury or a necktie party, left town in the middle of the night. Attorney General Post and his bodyguard, Danny Miller left Lookout on the first stage after breakfast.
The prisoners were discharged one, two and three at a time and quietly returned to their homes. Life went back to normal for the first time in a long time in Modoc County.