Folks in town already took up a collection to erect a marker at the site of the shootout. The Riparian Irrigation Club wanted to proclaim the incident "The Capay Valley Stand-Off." Locals who traded at Black's Station called it a downright massacre. Big cattle had declared war against the homesteaders living on parcels where the sweet-grasses grew. Clashes over land and water rights took place throughout the winter of 1870. The struggle yielded no victors, only heartache.
Marshal Frank Kegan and seven men rode to the Kettner place situated in Hungry Hollow. The Kettner family came overland from Tennessee's Sequatchie Valley to claim their 160-acre parcel in California, where they a raised vegetable garden along with a few head of cattle bearing the "K Dot" brand. The Marshal was out delivering eviction notices petitioned by the Ramage Land, Water & Stock Company. Kegan did not realize he would encounter a funeral that dreary morning.
Mourners from Capay Valley and the nearby town of Esparto came to pay their respects to Liliana Kettner, daughter of Carl and Rebecca. The precocious ten-year-old was kil't in a stampede set off by the dynamite blast at the "Ames Ditch headgate." The ditch belonged to Jarred "Jake" Ames, who diverted water from nearby Cache Creek to irrigate his Chilean clover fields east of the Kettner's property. Ames suspected the explosions were part of an intimidation campaign waged by the Ramage Land, Water & Stock Company.
Parson Trimble and Ed Hooton from Black's Station were on hand to conduct the service. The President of the Capay Valley Anti-Riparian Club, Mr. Reardon, was also in attendance to offer his condolences. So were the other farming families of the valley—the Ames', the Berrelleza's, the Morton's, and the Scruggs'. The expressions worn on the attendee's faces were hard.
Ames' wife, Maggie, had come by earlier to help Mrs. Kettner prepare Lilly's broken body for burial. Lilly was laid out on the kitchen table. They wrapped a handkerchief under her chin and tied her ankles together before rigor mortis set in so she would better fit in her coffin. Rebecca Kettner bathed her daughter. Lilly's body was covered with cuts and bruises, her bones crushed in some places, her hair caked with mud. The grieving mother wiped away the dirt and dried blood with soap and water, cleansing every portion of the poor girl's remains.
After hunting through Lilly's cedar chest, Maggie returned to the table with a pretty dress adorned with a bow on its collar. She assisted Mrs. Kettner in rotating the body to clothe the girl in an eternal frock. Rebecca sighed. "Look, how long-limbed Lilly has become."
"I should have kept her closer," Rebecca lamented.
Recognizing a mother's suffering soul, Maggie endeavored to bring her neighbor back to the task at hand. "I wonder," she asked, "if we should do something special with her hair?"
"Lilly always disliked me fussing with it. But, I guess it don't matter now. No. Let her be."
"Why, of course, Mrs. Kettner. It looks pretty down."
Maggie put braided hair half pennies on the deceased girl's eyes and covered her face. Lilly was masked with a turpentine cloth, ready to join her sister in the great hereafter. This left Rebecca with an awful sense of finality. Her entire body convulsed in anguish. Only the year before, Rebecca and Carl buried her youngest daughter in the Nebraska Territory on the family's journey west.
"You should sit," Maggie suggested.
"I wish to meet those responsible," Rebecca said, with icy grey eyes. She believed her well-meaning neighbor could not possibly understand the spite and the vengeance she felt in her heart. Though the Ames family had undergone hardship and privation, theirs was still a charmed life. Mrs. Ames had yet to know the pain of losing a child, much less experience the wrongful death of her young'un at the hands of evil tyrants.
"I'll make us some tea," Maggie said, leaving the table to fetch a kettle and ease the rising emotions.
It came time to bury the child. Rebecca watched Jake Ames and the other menfolk lift the small, narrow box onto the buckboard. Carl Kettner had asked Mr. Ames to watch over his family while he was away in San Antonio. It fell upon Ames to fashion a proper coffin for the girl, cutting planks from local timber.
When Rebecca agreed to come west with her husband of 17-years, she did not foresee spending so many of her days on her own. She got along fine without him, no doubt, during his long absences from home. What if he gets himself kil't and never comes back? Rebecca hated the idea of being abandoned in California, which is why she sent her son, Caleb, to fetch his pa when Carl failed to show at Hall's Station.
True to his word, Mr. Ames lent a hand whenever he could. And yet, having another man at her disposal made Mrs. Kettner uneasy. He wore a muddy-colored ten-gallon hat and possessed a big-hearted, gregarious nature. Ames laughed at his own jokes in a high pitch like a boar ready to be dressed. That is when he wasn't raving about the quarrels he had with Mr. Morton over water rights.
Ames constructed his ditch with wealth hauled from Mother Lode strikes in '49, '51, and '52. He helped the Kettner's dig a simple system of trenches to flood garden furrows. James Morton, who owned the competing "Woodland Ditch" to irrigate his alfalfa on the Reardon Ranch in the Sacramento Valley, claimed there was not enough water for the farmers like him, downstream. The feuding neighbors set aside their differences to guard against another assault like the one made on Ames' headworks.
At eleven o'clock, the funeral procession left the K Dot and stretched out along the road. Mr. Ames took the reins of the horse harnessed to the wagon carrying Lilly to the burial site. Lilly was to be laid to rest beyond the Manzanita grove, a short distance from the farmstead. Mrs. Kettner walked next to Parson Trimble. For some months, the clergyman had prayed over Rebecca to quiet her melancholy. He held the Good Book above him for the flock to follow.
When the mourners had all gathered around, the preacher led them in prayer. Mrs. Kettner felt a tightening in her throat and feared she might faint. "Weren't my Lilly worthy of the Lord's attention before it was too late?" she whispered. Mr. Ames heard his neighbor's utterance and steadied her with a hand placed on her shoulder to control the shaking. He provided words of encouragement. "Unto himself, the Lord receiveth your daughter this day." She sniffled, rubbing her nose with the back of her hand. The depths of her grief seemed bottomless. Ames offered a handkerchief, taking the liberty of wiping away the drips.
No man, not her father nor her husband, had ever done that before. Maggie Ames also took notice of the way their husband doted on Rebecca. Every time Mr. Ames smiled upon her, he revealed himself to his wife. Rebecca sensed the mixed emotions behind his Maggie's pursed-lipped smile.
After Parson Trimble's closing prayer, the fiddler from the Odd Fellows Hall commenced to playing "In the Sweet By-and-By." The assembly sang verses of the hymn until a thunder of hooves interrupted the dirge. James Morton was the first to recognize Frank Kegan's flat crowned black hat with the wide brim. A buzz telegraphed through the crowd of mourners faster than the Western Union. Though he wore a badge, Keegan was notorious for doing the bidding of wealthy ranchers. Mr. Ames warned the men to get their womenfolk and young'uns hid in the Manzanitas.
Mr. Ames was alarmed to find Mrs. Kettner still standing by the gravesite. Ames shouted for her to get down as the horsemen arrived. The grief-stricken mother was too troubled to sense the danger surrounding her. Rebecca stood behind the overturned buckboard, as the men readied their pistols. There were but a few weapons between them, not counting Parson Trimble's Bible and the shovel Ed Hooton brung with him to fill the hole.
The Marshal was the first to ride in, revolver drawn. Kegan wore a wine-colored serge coat and mean-looking mustachio. His eyes glinted about, assessing the gun barrels aimed in his direction. With two quick blasts of his six-shooter, Marshal Kegan fired on two townspeople, who, despite their best aim, could not hit the lawman atop his moving stallion. Both defenders crumpled to the ground behind the upturned wagon.
Mr. Ames signaled for the locals to commence firing.
Screaming horses reared up in the open volley of gunfire. One horse threw its rider, who got hung up in the stirrups and was drug by the roan for several yards.
Amidst the smoke and the dust and the lead flying in the air, a well-dressed man with a gold chain pocket watch waved his arms to stop the hostility. Rebecca recognized the man as the lawyer, Tennyson Beal, that called on her the week before, claiming she illegally squatted on her land. Rebecca aimed both barrels of her shotgun at the unwelcome trespasser to make it clear that she had no interest in what he came to peddle.
It struck Rebecca as odd that Jake Ames, on the day of the conflict, urged his neighbors to hang fire, allowing the man to plead his case. Wasn't this the scoundrel Mr. Ames warned against, the one that shouldn't be trusted? When the lawyer, Tennyson Beal, cleared his throat to speak. It was the same Tom Foolery as before: The Ramage Land, Water & Stock Company had put a lien on the land and reckoned to impose a levy on the farmers for the right to irrigate their crops. He had drawn up agreements in his saddlebags for everyone to sign.
Alonso Berrelleza, who raised 1,000 head of cattle in the valley, answered the lawyer with buckshot, spraying his boots with soil. Señor Berrelleza's cousin, Nemicio, was lynched while guarding his family lands one night in '56. Alonso wasn't about to let the Ramage outfit come in and steal his water in broad daylight.
Tennyson Beal warned anyone refusing to cooperate that they were defying a court order. He held up the writ to prove his point.
"The waters flow freely from the Blue Ridge. You have no right to sell us what you don't own." Sr. Berrelleza said.
"Better put them papers away," James Morton said, "before somebody with better aim puts a hole in 'em. And, you too!"
While the lawyer's arguments did not persuade, he did succeed in creating a lull in the action for a time. Frank Kegan and his men seized the opportunity to spread out and survey the Manzanita grove, discovering what lay hidden there.
Though Jarred Ames boasted fighting Ute Indians in the Utah Territory, he never had any formal military training. In his haste to send the women and children to safety, he failed to appreciate the tactical advantages of choosing the right ground. Mr. Ames allowed Kegan's raiders to come between the men and their families. More shrub than tree, the spindly Manzanita trees did not conceal even the smallest child.
A cold sheet of rain fell as women and children bounded and wriggled like rabbits, trying to escape the clutches of snarling wolves. Troubled as for what to do next, the menfolk panicked. Husbands and fathers wandered out from behind their fortifications and shot haphazard at the attackers, endangering loved ones caught in the line-of-fire. Rebecca watched the tragic turn of events in horror.
And still, the settlers of Capay Valley refused to relent. One of Kegan's men wandered on foot too close to a small outcropping of rocks. He was the unfortunate marauder who had been thrown from his horse. He was still missing a boot when Mr. Reardon stood up from behind the rocks with his .58 caliber Springfield Rifle and put the intruder out of his misery. Nearby, Ed Hooton hit a member of the posse with the blade of his long-handled shovel. The blow at the base of the skull stopped the wild-eyed intruder from carrying off one of Señor Berrelleza's niños. Laura Lee Morton rescued her four-year-old in the nick-of-time. A rider charged into the small clearing where she had retreated. Mrs. Morton was slashed by the rider's spur's rowel, as she bent down to scoop up her child. The women and the children shuddered with each concussion from the gun blasts. Maggie Ames huddled together with her four children. The frightened family seemed to melt into the ground in the barrage of bullets.
Mr. Ames waved his arms to stop the conflict. Ames challenged "the man in charge" to a duel to settle the dispute and prevent further bloodshed. Mrs. Kettner took stock of the stranger Ames had called out. His name was "Will Ramage." At first glance, Ramage was unimposing: smooth-skinned, short, and sufficiently plump. But he had the piercing eyes of a cougar. It was rumored he pushed aside his ailing father in a ruthless takeover of the family business. And Jake Ames suspected that the heir to the cattle empire ordered the dynamiting of his headworks. Rebecca could see the cruelty in Ramage's unblinking eyes. They were trained on Mr. Ames, fumbling to load shells into the cylinder of his revolver.
Mr. Ramage quickly agreed to the duel. He swung a boot over his saddle's horn to dismount. Parson Trimble forgot his station in life and pulled a Colt-Dragoon out from behind his Bible to cover his Mr. Ames. Ramage rolled his six-shooter and coolly laid out the preacher—pages of the Good Book turning in the wind.
Ramage leaped down from his horse and kicked the body sprawled on the ground, making sure God's avenging angel was dead. He put another bullet in the parsons' chest to make sure. Mr. Ames stood stupefied, his half-loaded gun hanging down at his side. He seemed to lose his nerve to fight on. How could he quit? Rebecca thought.
Satisfied he drained the life out of the uprising, Will Ramage holstered his gun and turned to retrieve his horse.
Rebecca rushed to the fallen man, clasping her hands over his. She quoted Revelation 12:9, "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth."
Ramage whipped around to see a blast from the barrel of the Dragoon from ten yards away.
"That's for the underhanded way you kil't our preacher," Rebecca said, winging the cattleman in the shoulder.
The force of the bullet knocked Ramage to his knees. As the wounded man went for his pistol.
Again, she pulled the trigger of the multi-shot pistol, hitting the murderer in the throat this time. "And, that un's for my Lilly."
The cattle baron's blood pooled on the ground, like water flowing from the Ames Ditch. Frank Kegan holstered his revolver. "Mount up," he said to what was left of the posse. "The price has been paid." Kegan's terms were that he be paid in advance. Will Ramage was shot, the job was over.
The rain weighed heavily on everyone's will to fight on. Dazed family men wandered across the sodden knoll to reunite with survivors and search for their dead. James Morton carried the trampled body of his four-year-old from the grove. Alonso Berrelleza borrowed Ed Hooton's shovel to knock down the Manzanita branches to search for his missing niños.
Rebecca watched William Ramage twitch a spell before dropping her sights. Tennyson Beal rode by on his chestnut, hat in hand. "Begging your pardon, ma'am," he began.
Steely-eyed, Rebecca glared up at the man who had done the legal groundwork to cheat her family out of everything they owned.
"I am truly sorry for the devastation visited upon you and your neighbors today," he said.
Rebecca was not in a forgiving mood. In total, fourteen people were kil't that morning. The valley's inhabitants suffered ten casualties, four of whom were children. Maggie Ames mourned two of her children. "Repent! My God has answered," she told the lawyer. "You have not begun to feel His wrath."
The powerful men who coveted the K Dot farmstead had suffered a setback. Tennyson Beal checked his pocket watch. The hero of the Capay Valley incident turned her back on the fancy lawyer to console her grief-stricken neighbor's devastating loss. It was time to withdraw to the safety of his hotel room at the Rio Oso. He neck-reined his horse in the direction of Sacramento.
In Ed Hooton's judgment, the incident should have been commemorated as "Rebecca's Revenge," on account of the remarkable courage and fortitude she exhibited. Rebecca Kettner did what needed to be done, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. The station keeper, who witnessed her bravery first hand, lobbied all who traded at his store. Politics being what they are, the marker erected by the Anti-Riparian Club failed to mention Mrs. Kettner's deeds at Hungry Hollow or acknowledge her by name. In those days, the Suffrage Movement had not yet caught on, and women were subservient to the menfolk's unholy covenants and misguided actions.