Shootout, from the Snelling Book

by Jim McMillian

"The term [of Sheriff Bludworth] had ended by January 1858, when he was involved in a gunfight, described in the Mariposa Democrat, Hornitos, California, on 28 Jan 1858:"

Desperate Affray-Three Men Killed

On Saturday, 23d inst., the most terrible affray took place in the town of Snelling, the county seat of Merced County, that has ever happened within our knowledge. About noon, on the above named day, Stevens, Bartley, and Wilcox went to Snelling, and proceeding to the neighborhood of the courthouse, made fast their horses, and entered the Sheriff's office, where the Sheriff and two other persons were seated. They had with them two double-barreled shot-guns, which they laid aside, and sat down. Shortly after they were seated, Chas. F. Bludworth, late sheriff of Merced, entered the office, and spoke to Stevens, his remarks having reference to a threat said to have been made by Stevens against his life, when firing commenced between the parties, which resulted in the almost immediate death of; Stevens. Bartley and Wilcox retreated to the door, where they met Dr. J. W. Goodin and Benj. W. White, when a number of shots were fired, Goodin and Bartley being mortally wounded. Wilcox made his escape. Bludworth and White were uninjured, and immediately gave themselves into the custody of the sheriff, and on examination before Justice Webster, were each held to bail in the sum of two thousand dollars.

Stevens and Bartley died almost immediately; Dr. Goodin lived about four hours. On examination of the bodies, it was found that Bartley had received seven wounds, Goodin four, and Stevens three.

 

It is said that about forty shots were fired during the melee, and that only about three minutes elapsed between the first and last shots. Bartley and Stevens were buried on Sunday evening. Dr. Goodin was buried on Monday, his funeral being attended by a large number of the Masonic fraternity, of which he was a member, and many personal friends.

The following particulars of the immediate cause of the affair we take from an account furnished us by a friend who was present at the trial on Monday last: For some time past, and particularly since the recent lamentable affair in the town of Snelling, in Merced County, resulting in the death of Wm. Snelling, by Wm. Edwards, there has been a bitter enmity between the friends of both parties. Prominent among Snelling's friends, also a family connection, is Chas. F. Bludworth, above spoken of, whose life has been several times threatened by the friends of Edwards, among whom were Stevens, Bartley, and Wilcox. Bludworth was warned of this danger, and prudently avoided an encounter until last Saturday, when, hearing those men had come to town, armed, and reiterating their threats against him, and finding a meeting inevitable, proceeded to the Courthouse, where the affray took place, as above stated.

On a further examination before Justice Webster, on Monday, Bludworth and White were discharged.

"The editor had this comment:"

Strange as it may appear, among a people surrounded by civilizing influences by which we should be taught better things, the origin of the difficulty which has thus far resulted in the death of four men, and the bereavement of two families of their protectors, was caused by a disagreement over a trifling game of chance, in which the stake was twenty-five cents. Some time ago, two men, West and Edwards, were playing "crack loo." A dispute arose, and a scuffle took place between the parties; during the scuffle, some of the bystanders interfered, and were accused of foul play. Defiant and aggravating words passed, and the bitter feelings than engendered have been exhibited whenever the parties have met. Previous to the last en-counter, weapons have been several times drawn, and threats were made, but it was hoped that the difficulty had blown over, until the two recent affrays showed the contrary to be the fact.