Colonel John H. Harper was convicted of the crime of robbery against Mrs. B.M. Evoy on the stage near Neal’s Ranch in Butte County in May 1853. He was sentenced to seven years imprisonment, but was pardoned by the governor after two years and then disappeared to Nicaragua.
All along he maintained his innocence, but since her $1800 worth of gold was found in his cloak, that evidence convinced the jury.
But was he really guilty?
More than thirty years went by, and then an item appeared in the Weekly Butte Record, reprinted from the Shasta Democrat. “Early settlers”, they said, might recall the robbery of Mrs. Evoy on the stagecoach near Neal’s Ranch, “for which robbery Colonel J.H. Harper was tried, convicted, and sentenced to State Prison.”
Some years ago Judge J.P. Haynes of the then Eighth Judicial District sentenced a man at Crescent City to the State Prison. After receiving his sentence, the prisoner sent for Judge Haynes and acknowledged to him about as follows:
“I was a passenger in the stage with Colonel Harper and several others when the woman was robbed. When she discovered her loss, and the money could not be found in the stage, Colonel Harper proposed that ever [sic] person be searched. We all stepped out and I went up close to the Colonel, who had on a cloak, I dropped the purse and money into one of his pockets, where it was found, and of course he was deemed the guilty one and convicted, though innocent. While I, the guilty one, escaped. You can rely on what I tell you, Judge, for it is true.”
It was a passenger named Cummings who found the gold in Harper’s pocket. Although the man is not named in this article, it would seem to be Cummings again, who had continued a life of crime. If his story was true, it exonerates poor unjustly accused Col. Harper.