Transcript: Rattlesnake Dick

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If you grew up in Placer County, CA chances are you’ve heard the legend of Rattlesnake Dick.  He was the outlaw mastermind behind an $80K gold bullion heist and half of the treasure he buried is still out there somewhere off Auburn-Folsom Road waiting to be found.  He was a dangerous bandit and fugitive hunted down by deputy Boggs and killed by an angry posse. But did any of that really happen? What if almost everything you’ve heard and read about Rattlesnake Dick isn’t true or, at least, hasn’t been confirmed?  Was he really the mastermind of that mule train robbery? Did he and his accomplices really steal $80K in gold? Is half of it actually still buried out here in Placer County? And if so, can we find it? Is the sheriff’s posse truly responsible for Rattlesnake Dick’s death?  And is he even buried where his headstone sits in the Old Auburn Cemetery?

 

Welcome to the second episode of Placer Unsolved.  Before we get started there is a lot of information in this podcast and I’m going to be jumping back and forth between the legends told about Rattlesnake Dick and the confirmed occurrences in his life.  If you’d like to see a final account of each you can check out our website placerunsolved.com and there will be a list there of what is true and what is myth, as well as images of some of the original court documents and newspaper articles from back then.  Also, because this podcast is historical in nature I will be talking about some of the terms used back during this time period regarding minorities but all of the words are terms you would find in history books. There are no vulgar or curse words. If you think you might be sensitive to this then you might not want to listen to this episode.  Now on with our episode…

 

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Today we’re going to be talking about Richard Barter, aka Dick Woods, aka George French, or as you probably know him – Rattlesnake Dick.  What is true and what is legend? For those who aren’t familiar with Rattlesnake Dick, the stories about him have persisted for years on the web and for even longer throughout the foothills of California, especially here in Placer County.  Treasure hunters from California and beyond have sought out this outlaw’s buried treasure for decades. There’s even an engraved tile dedicated to Barter near the Central Square in downtown Auburn. Gold Country loves its outlaw lore.

 

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Legend tells us that Rattlesnake Dick was born Richard H. Barter, the son of a British officer, in 1833 in Quebec, Canada.  Other than his purported recklessness as a child, they say there isn’t much information about him until he came to California in the early 1850s.  He supposedly came to Placer County and settled in a mining camp at Rattlesnake Bar with two other family members in order to take advantage of the windfall of gold happening at the time.  For those who don’t know, Rattlesnake Bar is about 53 miles northeast of Sacramento off Hwy. 50 in northern California. It is believed that settling in this area is how Barter got the name Rattlesnake Dick.  Unfortunately, Barter wasn’t blessed with the luck of other prospectors so the two family members he arrived in town with eventually went back home. But Barter refused to give up. They say he stayed behind to continue his prospects hoping to strike it rich like previous miners before him.  We’re unable to confirm any of these early details before his life of crime started, but this is the story that has persisted for more than a century about the outlaw’s arrival in California.

 

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The first confirmed information we have about Richard Barter happened just a few years after he was said to have arrived in the Rattlesnake Bar area.  On June 10 in the summer of 1854 an arrest warrant was issued for Barter for the crime of theft. He was charged with stealing clothes from, quote, “a Jew”.  It’s interesting to note that back then the media sometimes wouldn’t mention names in stories but they would mention the person’s nationality or heritage or sometimes their religion.  There were many mentions of Chinamen, Jews, Mormons, and negroes; it was definitely a different time. At the conclusion of this trial Barter was acquitted of the crime. We know all of the information regarding this crime and trial is correct because the court records are still on file in Placer County.  They state that on or around April 15, 1854, in Rattlesnake Bar, Richard Barter was accused of stealing four woolen shirts, 3-5 pantaloons, and one coat from Abraham and J. Patek in the value of $40. You can find copies of these documents on our website: placerunsolved.com.

 

A short time later legend tells us Barter was convicted of stealing a mule from a “Mormon” in Sacramento.  He supposedly ended up in San Quentin Prison only to be released early after being exonerated of his crime.  It appears that there actually are records of Barter stealing a mule or horse twice in Sacramento County: the first on September 10, 1854 from a W.A. Pratt and the next on November 10, 1856 from a man named Remington.  Sacramento County court records document Barter as being found guilty in the 1854 theft against WA Pratt but there is no mention of him being exonerated and released early from prison for that crime. Nor does San Quentin have any record of him being released early.  In the second Sacramento trial for the theft against Remington, Barter was found not guilty so this could not have been the crime he was exonerated of and released early for; and if that’s the case, where did this portion of the legend come from?

 

There is only one record of a Richard Barter being in San Quentin Prison during the 1800s and that is from December 20, 1854 through December 18, 1855 which would fit the timeline of his first trial in Sacramento County when he was found guilty.  Is it possible Barter was released early after exoneration as the legend states? Perhaps but there is no record of it in either Sacramento County court records or San Quentin Prison records.

 

The sparse prison record from San Quentin describes Richard Barter as being 20 years old, which would fit with his age at the time, having light hazel eyes and auburn hair, which doesn’t fit with today’s descriptions but since there are no photos of him we have no way to confirm what he truly looked like.  The prison records also list Barter as being from Ireland which doesn’t fit with the stories we hear today. But we have to remember that back then a prisoner could give false information if he wanted to whether it was his name or his nationality, and unless there was a law enforcement officer who recognized him from a past crime and knew he wasn’t who he said he was, a prisoner could say they were from just about anywhere and get away with it.  Now, being that Barter was transferred from Sacramento County to San Quentin Prison you’d think his record and information would’ve gone along with him. So did he tell Sacramento Law Enforcement that he was from Ireland as well? Or is it possible that this crime and sentence was committed and served by a different Richard Barter than the one we know as Rattlesnake Dick? It’s possible but one thing that San Quentin does seem to keep detailed records on is their List of Convicts as well as which ones were pardoned and there is only one record of a Richard Barter being in San Quentin during the years Barter was alive.  Plus the MO for this crime, although a common one back at that time, was the same as it was for Barter in many of his other crimes. So if this Richard H. Barter was Rattlesnake Dick, and it looks like he was, is it possible that Barter actually was from Ireland and not Quebec, Canada? More on that in just a minute.

 

On a side note the photo that shows up when you Google the name Rattlesnake Dick is not Richard Barter.  According to the Placer County archivist the type of photo that you see does not match up with the type of photography used during the time period when Barter was alive.  So who is the dark haired desperado that pops up when you do an internet search for Rattlesnake Dick? When you do a reverse image search that photo actually comes back as being another outlaw, Sam Bass, who was killed by Texas Rangers in 1878.  Additionally, if the Richard Barter in San Quentin was Rattlesnake Dick then the fact that he is described as having auburn colored hair by San Quentin also confirms the photo on the internet is not him, as hair color is probably not something Barter could’ve lied about during his admission into San Quentin Prison.

 

Newspaper articles from the mid 1850’s describe Barter only as being a “fine looking young man”.  Unfortunately for us, there are no physical descriptions of any of his features in the articles written during his lifetime.

 

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Now, back to where Barter was originally from; the Quebec government agency that holds the birth and death records of their citizens has a record for a Richard H. Barter born in 1833 in Quebec, died in California on July 11, 1859 and buried at the Old Auburn Cemetery here in Placer County.  But this record from Quebec was actually obtained from the Canadian ancestry.com site. The government agency does not have any original birth records of their own for a Richard H. Barter during that time period. So was Barter actually from Ireland as it states in San Quentin’s records or are the records of his Canadian birth accurate?  Again, remember that criminals could say whatever they wanted to back then and they got away with it if no one knew any different. They didn’t have fingerprinting or mugshots yet so law enforcement relied purely on the words of suspects and witnesses during their arrests. There are many cases in which the accused actually refused to identify themselves or even claimed to be someone else up until their preliminary court hearings and beyond.  Court documents show us Barter was guilty of that himself a few times. Fortunately, once a criminal became known in the area to law enforcement, lying to them became more difficult. And law enforcement would sometimes travel long distances just to confirm prisoner identities. So was Richard Barter born in Quebec as Ancestry.com states? Or was he actually from Ireland as is recorded in San Quentin’s records? If there’s a listener out there who is knowledgeable as to the accuracy of Ancestry.com’s records feel free to share it with us on our FB page.

 

The fingerprinting system didn’t start to be implemented by the prison systems here in the US until 1902 and it was only used by a couple of prisons outside of California at first.  The mugshot system came around much earlier but just missed Richard Barter’s time. The oldest existing mugshots today are from St. Louis between 1857 and 1867. They didn’t become standardized until the 1880’s but before standardization the largest collection of mugshots in the 19th century were held by the Pinkerton Agency in the 1870s.  It’s interesting to note, if you go and look at the mugshots from St. Louis, they look more like portraits than today’s mugshots. Some of them are even full body portraits. You would never know by looking at them that they’re photos of prisoners; they’re all in their own personal clothing and not holding up any sort of identifying information as they still do in some places today.  Once they became standardized in the 1880’s by Alphonse Bertillon, pose, lighting, and angle of the photos all changed and became what we recognize today as being a mugshot.

 

Something that is not widely known today and has not been included in the legends about Rattlesnake Dick, is in March 1856, three months after Barter’s release from San Quentin, he was arrested along with another man named Jeremiah Odell in Butte County for the murder and robbery of a Chinaman.  One reason this probably isn’t widely known is this time he was arrested under the alias of George French. Unfortunately, before Barter, aka George French, made it to trial, he was able to escape Bidwell’s Bar Jail in Butte County on July 25, 1856 along with 3-4 other prisoners. Escaping jails was something Barter was well-known for.  He was eventually caught again but not until almost one year later in May 1857 after his next two alleged crimes. Once he was apprehended again Barter described his escape in detail to law enforcement and admitted that he was indeed the same person they had arrested for the murder of the Chinaman one year earlier. There are records that confirm this arrest, alias, and escape in local newspaper articles from 1856.

 

After Barter’s escape from that jail in Butte County he was arrested in Nevada County on Sept 6, 1856 for highway robbery but, once again, he was able to escape just a few days later around Sept 9 along with other notorious outlaws Jim Webster and the two Farnsworth Brothers.  Barter eventually turned up at Big Gulch near Folsom in 1857 and this was when he was arrested and charged for the second theft in Sacramento of stealing the horse from Remington that I mentioned earlier. After his acquittal of this crime he was taken by an Officer Gay back to Butte County to be identified as the man indicted in the murder and robbery of the Chinaman a year and a half earlier.  According to newspapers back then, he was quickly identified and then shackled with heavy irons. Unfortunately, he would later be let go in January 1858 due to lack of evidence in this crime. It is unknown if his alleged accomplice in that murder, Jeremiah Odell, was ever recaptured, tried, or convicted for this murder.

 

So those are the crimes, convictions, and acquittals we could confirm actually happened involving Rattlesnake Dick, as well as the myths surrounding them.  But what about the infamous Trinity Mountain Express Robbery that he’s so notoriously known for? Did Rattlesnake Dick really mastermind this heist? More importantly, was he even involved with this heist?

 

Let’s start from the beginning with the tale, or at least, a variation of the tale you’ve probably either read or been told:  {Saloon piano music starts} During Rattlesnake Dick’s incarceration at San Quentin Prison he befriended members of the notorious Tom Bell gang.  Due to his poor reputation in Rattlesnake Bar, after his release from prison Dick moved on to Shasta County where he learned from a drunk mining engineer there was a stagecoach that traveled down the slope of the Trinity Mountain carrying large shipments of gold.  So Dick gathered his gang of seven men including himself: George Skinner, his brother Cy Skinner, Big Dolph Newton, Romero the Italian, Niconera the Mexican, and Bill Carter and they made a plan to rob the stagecoach once it reached the base of the mountain. Rattlesnake Dick and Cy Skinner were supposed to steal horses and mules before the robbery in order to replace the ones that would be coming down the mountain because those mules would have the express service’s brand on them making them immediately recognizable.

 

Once Dick and Cy stole the horses and mules they were supposed to rendezvous with the rest of the gang and help bring the stolen gold down to their cabin that sat on the banks of the American River approximately one mile from Folsom, CA.  Unfortunately, Dick and Cy were caught before they had the chance to meet up at the rendezvous point. So the rest of the gang waited as long as they could at the base of Trinity Mountain until they heard that the men they’d robbed had gotten free and were now looking for them with a large posse.  Once they heard this news they decided that two of the bandits each had to bury one half of the gold and come back for it later. Their total plunder was $80K in gold.

 

The legend continues by telling us that half of the the gold was eventually recovered when one of the men, Bill Carter, was caught and shared its location in order to secure his freedom but the other half of the $80K was never recovered because the man who buried that half, George Skinner, was killed in a shootout not long after burying it but before he was able to tell anyone where it was.  Once Dick and Cy were released from jail, it’s said that they went to look for the gold but were never able to find it. Some legends say it’s still buried near where the old Mountaineer House stood on Auburn Folsom Rd. Other versions of the tale say it’s buried under the Raley’s parking lot on Lincoln Way in Auburn, CA, near where the old Junction House once stood and where Rattlesnake Dick would eventually be found dead after being killed by a posse.  Remarkably, very few versions of the legend claim that it’s still buried at the base of the Trinity Mountain.

 

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So that’s the story you’ve probably heard but how much of it is true?  If you speak to historians here in gold country you might be told that much of it didn’t happen as the papers today and even some of the books claim.  And if you do your research and go back to original sources you’ll find that they’re probably right.

 

Because it turns out Rattlesnake Dick, aka Richard Barter, has actually never been placed at the scene of the Trinity Mountain Express robbery.  Not in court records; not in arrest records; not even in newspaper articles during that time. Nor was he ever caught or named in the robbery of the replacement mules and horses in Placer County as the legend claims.  In fact, Placer County court records show that Cy Skinner alone was arrested for that robbery, and when he was captured he only implicated one other person in that robbery and that was William Golden, aka Bill Gristy, not Rattlesnake Dick Barter.  Bill Gristy, however, was never arrested for that theft because, according to Skinner, Gristy left him in Shasta shortly before Skinner was arrested. We know all of this is factual because it’s all in Skinner’s trial records here in Placer County as well as official police reports.  In fact, in all of the articles and county records from the numerous different counties involved, neither Richard Barter nor any of his aliases is ever mentioned. Not once.

 

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So if Dick was never arrested or tied to the mule theft or gold robbery then what about the amount of gold stolen in this mule train heist?  Was it really $80K? Before we go any further we need to determine which express service was actually robbed in the Trinity Mountain Express Robbery since the name of heist was based solely on the location of the robbery and not the name of the bank.  In speaking with a historian from Wells Fargo the most likely answer to that question is the Rhodes and Whitney Express robbery that occurred at the base of the Trinity Mountains on March 12, 1856. We know this is probably the correct robbery because the date and location matches up as well as all eleven of the players involved, other than Rattlesnake Dick, of course.

 

When you go back and read articles about the robbery most of them name the same five men being held up:  SD Brastow of the express service Rhodes and Whitney, L. Delap, Ithamar Hickman, and two unnamed Germans.  These same articles mention basically the same amounts of gold dust stolen give or take a couple thousand: SD Brastow had $18K in gold dust on him, $6K of which belonged to Rhodes and Whitney.  Mr. Hickman had $8K on him, the two Germans each had $1K on them and Mr. Delap had only $17.50 which he was kindly permitted to keep by the thieves. SD Brastow is also said to have had $40 in coins in his pocket that he was allowed to keep as well.  The highway robbers also took off with the group’s watches and rings. You add that all together and it doesn’t come close to $80K. It’s only about $28K. So where did we get that additional $52K that we’ve been hearing about for the last 160 years? Was this just a tale that grew in embellishment for more than a century?  Or was the full amount possibly withheld by authorities for investigative purposes? We’ll get to the answer of that question in just a little while.

 

So if Rattlesnake Dick was never actually involved in this robbery and the actual amount of money stolen was $52K less than the fabled amount do we really know how much of that money has been recovered?  When I went back through the old newspaper articles they reported that Bill Carter really was the first of the robbery suspects arrested and he actually did lead law enforcement to his portion of the gold that he buried in order to gain a lesser sentence.  When Carter did this authorities uncovered $6K of the gold dust. After they found the gold and took Carter back to jail, four members of law enforcement decided to stay behind to see if they could find more of the buried loot, and they did. They found another $10K – $11K in gold dust in the same area according to a Trinity Journal article written a few weeks after the crime.  So at this point they’d recovered around $16K of the stolen gold.

 

So if there is no record of Rattlesnake Dick being a part of this gold train robbery, and the amount stolen is off by about $52K, and the amount recovered wasn’t $40K

half of the supposed $80K heist amount, do we know if George Skinner’s portion of the treasure is still buried out there waiting to be found by some lucky treasure hunter?

 

There is a post in an online treasure hunting forum that I came across when I first started researching this case.  The gentleman who made the post stated that he had been in touch with a Wells Fargo historian who’d told him that all of the buried gold had,in fact, been recovered.  So I decided to contact the Wells Fargo historical dept and I spoke with a historian there. After doing some research, she told me that the earlier historian who thought all of the treasure had been recovered was basing his information solely on a book called “The History of Siskiyou County” written by Harry Wells in 1888; but that she wasn’t as comfortable with that statement due to the many inaccuracies in these old county history books; a fact that I’ve since then learned is unfortunately very true in speaking with other historians and reading through some of these books myself.  It seems these books aren’t always reliable as resources due to being written decades after the occurrences they’re written about and just a lack of fact checking on some of their stories. Upon reading this Siskiyou County book myself, I saw that it did indeed claim that all of the stolen gold had been recovered as the initial Wells Fargo historian had said. The problem with that claim is none of the local newspapers, nor county records ever mentions the remainder of the gold being recovered. Since Wells Fargo has no original records for that time period they have to rely on the same newspapers and county records as everyone else.  Is it possible there is a short newspaper article months or years after the robbery than mentions the rest of the gold being recovered? There is. But neither I nor the Wells Fargo historian I spoke to were able to find one in our research. So does that mean the rest of the gold, although significantly less than previously thought, is still out there waiting to be dug up by some lucky explorer or treasure hunter? And if so, where is it? As I mentioned before some people believe it could be buried off Auburn Folsom Rd near where the old Mountaineer House used to be. Some believe it’s under the Raley’s parking lot on Lincoln Way in Auburn where the Junction House once stood.  Others believe that it’s buried near the base of the Trinity Mountains where the heist took place and Bill Carter’s portion was found. One blogger even thinks the gold was buried somewhere in Nevada City.

 

So which location would’ve made the most sense for George Skinner to bury the gold?  At first glance you’d think he would’ve been forced to bury his gold in the same area as Carter; because, remember, the horses they were using had the express service’s brand on them and when Cy Skinner failed to show up at the rendezvous point with the new horses they couldn’t risk riding them all the way back to Folsom.  Even if they stole horses along the way they’d still have to carry $28K in gold by hand for a ways. Could they have done it? Well let’s see. The price per ounce for gold back in 1856 was $20.67. They had about $28K worth of gold with them. There are 16 ounces in a pound. 16 ounces of gold was worth $330.72. $28K divided by $330.72 is about 85 pounds.  85 pounds divided amongst five men is only 17 pounds per person and completely doable but we have to remember they probably had some other gear and supplies with them even if it was just a minimal amount as this wasn’t just a couple hour trip back to Folsom; it was an almost 300 mile trip as the crow flies. Now, if they only buried the $16K that Bill Carter had they would’ve only have had to carry $12K with them.  $12K divided by $330.72 is 36.29 lbs. 36 pounds divided amongst five men would only be a little more than seven pounds each. So could they have carried the $12K out with them and back to Folsom? It’s definitely possible but if they were get caught you’d think they wouldn’t have wanted to be found with that gold; it probably would’ve been much easier and made more sense to carry that gold only a short distance to bury it and come back for it later once the heat was off.  So that leaves open the possibility that this gold, which would be worth today just based on weight about $766,793.18, could be buried anywhere between the Trinity Mountains and Folsom, CA. There is a rumor that started here in Placer County years ago that a backhoe operator actually found the buried gold during construction near the Raley’s Supermarket in Auburn, CA, but this has never been confirmed.

 

So if Rattlesnake Dick was never named by any of the men involved or in any of the newspapers or official records and the gold amount stolen was only $28K rather than $80K where did this story that’s been retold for the last 160 years come from?  It turns out the answer to that question lies in one of those notoriously inaccurate county history books. This one, called “The History of Placer County” published in 1882 currently has a copy sitting in the Placer County Archives. In it it is mentioned that the source used for their Rattlesnake Dick section is a publication written 14 years after Rattlesnake Dick’s death in 1873 titled “Rattlesnake Dick, The Pirate of the Placers”.  This “Pirate of the Placers” publication is the first mention of Rattlesnake Dick being tied to the Trinity Mountain Express Robbery.  So what was this “Pirate of the Placers” publication? Was it a legitimate biography written about the outlaw? Was it a sensationalized piece written for a newspaper at the time?  Or was it a little booklet full of exaggerations and untruths written just to make a dime after the outlaw’s death? It turns out the answer to that question would be found in a San Francisco newspaper called The San Francisco Daily Morning Call in a story that was run over the period of two days on March 27 and 28 in 1873.  So was this a news article that someone investigated and printed for informational purposes or was it an embellished tale written to entertain the paper’s readers? Back then there obviously were no tvs or radios so the newspaper was not only an important source of news but also for entertainment as well. It was not uncommon for newspapers to occasionally write articles that were in some ways similar to our tabloid stories today.  And what readers were really interested in back then were tales of the old west. So was this one of those tales written for the enjoyment of their readers? Well, let’s read just the first section. At the top it starts out in parentheses by telling the readers that this was written for the Morning Call. It then goes on to say, quote “Rattlesnake Dick, Pirate of the Placers, Thrilling career of a bold California highwayman. The chivalry of Claude Duval, the courage of Dick Turpin, and the cunning of Jack Sheppard.  Mining on the bar and robbing on the highway – Fighting the sheriffs and fleeing from justice – A modern Ishmaelite driven to commit crime” end quote. The story goes on to say, quote “The wildest dream of the novelist never surpassed the romance of many episodes connected with the early history of California. Sinbad the Sailor met with scarcely more wonderful adventures than did plain John Smith while mining the fall of ‘49 and spring of ‘50” end quote. So that’s just the first two sentences and the headline of more than 40 paragraphs stretched out over two days.  If you’re familiar with newspapers back then then you know that the longest actual news articles got was only a few paragraphs long at most. I think it’s fair to say that we’ll probably never know for sure but unless this anonymous author knew something that no one else did that was never mentioned anywhere else in official records, this story about Rattlesnake Dick is just that. A story. Written to entertain the newspaper’s readers who wanted to hear about the exciting adventures of outlaws at the time. It should also be mentioned, this gold heist happened on March 12, 1856 just a couple weeks before Barter was arrested for the murder of the Chinaman in Butte County hundreds of miles away.  It’s still definitely possible he was able to pull off both but it seems like if you’d just committed a major robbery and the rest of the guys you were with had just been caught and were talking, you’d probably want to stay low on the radar for a little while.

 

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There are a few more pieces of misinformation out there that I want to clear up before we go.  It’s often claimed that Jack Berkeley, of Wells Fargo, hunted down and captured and/or killed the men involved in the Trinity Mountain Express Robbery.  This isn’t true. There was no such person working for Wells Fargo at the time and the men who did track down these robbers and engage some of them in a gunfight were law enforcement from two different areas not even involved in the crime and they deserve the credit for tracking down these criminals.  The first one is Sacramento City Police Officer Robert Harrison. He is actually the one who arrested the second robber they caught, Big Dolph Newton, in Folsom, took him to the jail in Sacramento, and then grabbed a disguise before he came back to Folsom to hunt down the rest of the gang.

 

When Officer Harrison initially went into the gang’s hideout no one was there but he did find a watch with the inscription of one of the robbery victims so he knew he was in the right place.  He later came back that night with two other men: Marshall Isaac Anderson of Marysville, and Captain AJ Barkley of Marysville Police. It should be noted that Capt. Barkley’s name is very similar to the name, Jack Berkeley, so this could be where the fabled Jack Berkeley of Wells Fargo was born.

 

After these three members of law enforcement arrived back at the gang’s cabin that night a gunfight broke out and this gunfight is where the man who is said to have buried the other half of the gold, George Walker aka George Skinner, was killed and the rest of the gang was arrested.  As to the fate of these outlaws after their capture some served out their sentences and went on to lead respectable lives and some continued down the path of lawlessness.

 

As for Rattlesnake Dick he went on to be indicted by the Grand Jury again in 1858 for “assault with intent to commit murder” against Placer County Deputy John Boggs, the man who’d pursued him for all those years.  There’s not any record of Dick ever being caught and jailed for this crime but we can be sure that law enforcement was keeping their eye out for him.

 

The next and last record we have for Dick comes in The Placer Herald just a few days after his death.  On the evening of July 11, 1859 a member of law enforcement got word that Dick had been spotted with another outlaw riding through town so he gathered two more men to head out and capture Dick and his companion.  The posse first encountered Dick at the end of what is now High Street, where the Martin Park Fire Station sits. Upon finding him, the posse called out to Dick to halt. Dick’s answer to this was to turn around and fire at the men.  Deputy and tax collector George M. Martin was killed immediately. Dick and his partner managed to get away but not before Dick was shot by Undersheriff George Johnston. Search parties looked for the men all night but were unable to find the two outlaws.

 

The next morning a stagecoach was traveling into town near the Junction House when they came upon a body lying on a pile of brush with a blanket partly covering it.  In the man’s pocket was a piece of paper that said on one side, “Rattlesnake Dick dies, but never surrenders, as all true Britons do” and on the reverse side it was written, “If J. Boggs is dead I am satisfied.” Richard “Rattlesnake Dick” Barter, at only 26 years old, was dead.  Shot through the body by law enforcement but the wound that finished him off? A gunshot through his head. Did Dick shoot himself knowing he was mortally wounded already? Or did Dick ask his companion to give him his final farewell once he had completed writing the note found in his pocket?  Did Dick write that note before his death thinking that Deputy Boggs was actually the man they’d shot and killed in that final gunfight? Or was it something he had kept in his pocket in his years of denial of the doomed burden he carried with him everywhere? Unfortunately his reference to himself as a “Briton” tells us nothing about where he was born as Quebec in the 1830s as well as Ireland were both under British rule.

 

Law enforcement also found a touching letter written to Dick from his sister, begging him to leave his life of crime and to come home.  By all accounts, it was a somber reminder that there was nothing gained by this man’s life of crime, but everything lost.

 

Dick’s partner that night despite much speculation and a trial with an acquittal has never been identified.

 

Rattlesnake Dick was buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery on a hill that sits near what we now know as the end of East Street in Auburn, CA.  In the late 1890s workers attempted to move all the bodies and bones because they had been rolling down the hill during heavy rains. Unfortunately, since many of the bodies that had been in the ground were practically dust by then, many of them ended up being left right where they were.

 

There are more than a few questions remaining about what is true regarding Rattlesnake Dick but one thing we can know for sure is that the final resting place of Richard H. Barter, aka Rattlesnake Dick’s, isn’t in the Old Auburn Cemetery where his headstone sits.  {Somber banjo music fades in} It’s under the parking lot of the Veteran’s Memorial Hall on East Street in Auburn, CA. Probably.

 

{Somber banjo music plays}

 

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