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As he returned to the courtroom, Smallcomb picked up the rope and locked the door behind him.

H.P. Whitney, the former Ohio sheriff, arrived with the wagon for the prisoners. He stood on the seat: “If you resist officers of the law, you know what you can expect.”

“We know it,” a man blurted, “and are willing to abide by the consequences!” The crowd surged toward the courtroom door.

Smallcomb brought Gabriel out, “his face ghastly and aswim and he clung closely to Mr. Smallcomb.” Gabriel “sprang nimbly” onto the wagon.

Then no one moved, or spoke, until W.W. Johnson, a young Otay rancher, stepped forward: “Men of Otay, I am no leader, but if there is one man in this crowd will take hold with me, we will pull him out!”

“Don’t do it, men!” shouted Smallcomb, “standing over his cowering prisoner” (Union) with one hand on Gabriel and the other on his six-shooter.

Ray Johnson helped Armento and Barra onto the wagon. Whitney cracked his whip. The horses sprang “forward under the blow” and galloped “quickly down the road in a cloud of dust.” And “Indian Joe was safe.

“It was a noticeable fact that a great big man from National City, who was loudest in his cries of ‘hang him,’ was the first to drive away on the appearance of the rope. If the crowd had one man to lead, or had Mr. Moody been allowed to continue his remarks uninterrupted, Indian Joe would not be occupying a cell in the county jail this morning.”

Next time: The Trial.


  • 1.) Clare V. McKanna: Gabriel had no legal counsel. “Apparently he did not comprehend the hearing. His rights were unprotected.”
  • 2.) San Diego Union (October 19): during the reading of the charges, “Indian Joe maintained that Indian stoicism for which his race is noted.”
  • 2.) Los Angeles Herald (October 18): “Gabriel appears stupid and will not talk.”


McKanna, Clare V, Jr., The Trial of ‘Indian Joe’: Race and Justice in the Nineteenth-Century West (Nebraska, 2003); Race and Homicide in Nineteenth-Century California (Nevada, 2002).

Pourade, Richard F., The History of San Diego: The Glory Years (San Diego, 1964).

Smith, Walter Gifford, History of San Diego (San Diego, 1892).

Coroner’s Inquest, 1892, San Diego County (San Diego History Center, research archives).

Preliminary Hearing: Gabriel, Jose, People v., Justice Court of Otay Township, San Diego County, Oct 22, 1892 (San Diego History Center, research archives).

Articles in San Diego Union, San Diego Sun, Otay Press, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Herald, and others.

More Geyser Murders: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4

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