JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Sunday, December 26, 2010


“Love is often gentle, desire always a rage.”
Mignon McLaughlin
I suppose, if Leland Stanford had his way, the little village of Lathrop would have been one of the most important cities in California. Leland was one of the Big Four who built the California half of the first trans-continental railroad, supposedly completed in the summer of 1869. But rails did not reach unbroken to the western sea until November, when Leland’s own California Pacific Railroad finished a bridge over the San Joaquin River, just south of Lathrop. Only then could you travel by rail all the way from sea to shinning sea. That bridge is still in use. But Lathrop never grew beyond a village. And the hamlet’s only historical claim to fame, other than the bridge, is that Lathrop is where the insanity of Althea Hill and David Terry played out its dénouement.
“Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance of justice. Injuries are revenged; crimes are avenged.”
Samuel Johnson
After their arrest and conviction for the courtroom outbursts of 1888, Althea and David Terry were not shy about their rage toward Judge Fields. During transport to Alameda county jail, Althea repeatedly said she intended to kill the judge. And David went so far as to invite a newspaper man, Thomas Williams, to conduct an interview while he served his sentence, announcing his intention of slapping the judge, and “…if Judge Field resists, I will kill him.” That interview, published in the San Francisco papers, and subsequent letters David Terry wrote other newspapers, made the couple’s rage unambiguous.
That is why, when Justice Field came back to California in the spring of 1889 to help out in the court, he was assigned to Los Angeles, far away from Terry’s old haunts in San Francisco, and he was given a body guard.
 The man chosen by Field’s friends was William Neagle, an ex-Marshall of Tombstone, Arizona, and the very same man, now a U.S. Marshall, who had disarmed David Terry in the courtroom confrontation. But after an uneventful summer, when Justice Field took the afternoon train from Los Angeles on Tuesday, August 13, 1889, bound for Sacramento to connect with the transcontinental train, Marshal Neagle was still traveling with him.
As the train headed north, at each station, Marshal Neagle stepped off to observe who was boarding the train. At about 3:00 a.m., when the train paused in Fresno, California, Neagle saw Althea and David Terry boarding. The Marshal immediately informed Judge Field, who was asleep in his compartment. The cantankerous old judge grunted, “Very well”, before adding, “I hope they have a good night.” With that Judge Field went back to sleep, and Neagle sent a telegram ahead to Lathop, to notify the railroad agent there, that there might be trouble in the morning.
“It is foolish to pretend that one is fully recovered from a disappointed passion. Such wounds always leave a scar.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Lathrop was where the rail line from Los Angles and the Central Valley of California, joined the line from Oakland, on San Francisco Bay. Here in Lathrop, in 1871, Stanford's California Pacific Railroad had opened the largest hotel in California, built for the astronomical sum of $50,000, with an enormous dinning room, to handle the 12 passenger trains a day that paused in tiny Lathrop to switch engines and crews. In 1886 the original hotel had burned down but it was quickly rebuilt, and dozens of independent hotels and restaurants sprang up to compete with the railroad for the new tourist business. And that was why it was in Lathrop that Althea and David Terry made their final stand.
“The only sin passion can commit is to be joyless.”
Dorothy Sayers
In the morning of Wednesday, August 14th , the Los Angeles train pulled into Lathrop (above). Judge Field was determined to have breakfast, and he and Marshal Neagle were the first two admitted into the dinning room, escorted to their seats by the restaurant manager, Mr. Stackpole. A few moments later, Stackpole guided Althea and David Terry past the two men to seats at a nearby table. Under Stackpole’s nervous eye, there was a moment of tension, before Althea whispered to David, and then proceeded to quickly leave the restaurant and return to the train.
As she did this, Mr. Stackpole, who had been warned by the earlier telegram, stepped forward to David and asked if the lady was about to do something “indiscrete”. David asked, “Why? Who is here?” Stackpole answered “Judge Field”. Was it possible they had not seen the Judge and his bodyguard as they came in? The big man stared at the judge for a moment and then urged Stackpole, “Go and watch her! Go and watch her.” Stackkpole rushed out of the room, and David’s way was now clear. The 66 year old strode up behind Judge Field.
“Subdue your passion or it will subdue you.”
Terry slapped the seated Judge across both cheeks, as if intending to precipitate a duel. But Marshal Neagle had no intention of observing social conventions. As he stood he shouted, identifying himself as a police officer, and ordered Terry to stop. Instead, Terry reached inside his jacket, where Neagle knew from personal experience, that Terry carried his bowie knife. It had been Neagle who had disarmed Terry in the courtroom a year earlier. Without further intercourse, Marshal Neagle drew his pistol and shot David Terry directly in the heart. The old fool dropped dead so fast that Neagle’s second shot, fired immediately after the first, only clipped Terry’s ear as he went to to the floor.
Right on cue, while the smoke still hung in the air, and the witnesses’ ears were still ringing, Althea reentered the dinning room. She shrieked and Stockpole, who was following her closely, grabbed her handbag. In the bag, the manager found a loaded pistol. Althea began to scream for vengeance, and fell upon her husband’s body. Marshal Neagle was convinced she used her body to shield her removal of David’s bowie knife. But whether she did or not, when Terry's body was examined later by local police, no weapons were found.
“Anger is the most impotent of passions. It effects nothing it goes about, and hurts the one who is possessed by it more than the one against whom it is directed.”
Carl Sandburg
The dead man had lived most of his life in Stockton, the next stop north on the rail line. The suddenly widowed Mrs. Terry was thus surrounded by friendly officials, who arrested Judge Field and Marshal Neagle for the murder. The governor immediately ordered Justice Field, a member of the Supreme Court,  released without bail, before his arrest became a “burning disgrace” to California. The marshal however was transported to jail in Stockton.
Judge Fields telegraphed the Marshals’ office in Stockton, which immediately notified the U.S. Attorney General, “David A. Terry grossly accosted Justice Field at Lathop station this morning and was shot dead by my deputy.” Shortly there after, Sheriff Thomas Cunningham of San Joaquin County was served with a writ of habeus corpus, to deliver Marshal Neagle to the Federal Court in San Francisco.
The California Attorney General appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for a ruling, which was required because Marshal Neagle had not been officially assigned to protect Judge Field. And the court, sitting with Justice Field abstaining, decided “…any duty of the marshal to be derived from the general scope of his duties under the laws of the United States, is ‘a law’ within the meaning of this phrase.” In short, defending judges is the duty of officers of the court, and does not require a specific statute. Althea would get nothing for her efforts except the life’s blood of the man who had defended her.
"In her first passion, a woman loves her lover. In all the others, all she loves is love.”
Lord Byron
Justice Field hung onto his position after his colleges were aware he was senile, merely because he wanted to set the precedent as the longest serving justice on the court. Evidently, being known as the best did not interest him. Having achieved his goal, he finally stepped down in 1897, and died in 1899.
In 1892, four years after David Terry’s death, Sarah Althea Hill (Sharon) Terry was committed to the Stockton State Hospital for the Insane. She was 33 year old, just about the right age for the full onset of schizophenia. Althea lived within that institution’s walls for the next forty-five years. She died at the age of 80, appropiately enough on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1937.  And then they got her name wrong on the tombstone. If I was the guy who carved  that, I would keep looking over my shoulder.
“Man is to be found in reason, God in the passions.”
George Lichtenberg
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1 comment:

  1. I live in Lathrop and have a deep interest in local history.
    Are the photos of the young women with the bows and arrows and the one of the Wells Fargo wagon taken in Lathrop?
    Thank you.


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