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Powell Courtier in the United States,  1850-1876

The family arrived in California, but soon met sorrow when, around November 19, 1850, their three-year-old daughter Susannah died. (1)

From advertising throughout late March, we see that Courtier had resumed performing, if not on a full-time basis, certainly in a thoroughly professional setting. California had been attained Statehood in 1850.

1851 - 1853

On March 24 and 31, 1851 – Professor Courtier performed a full evening show at the California Exchange (Kearny Street, San Francisco).

After presenting a number of nights during April, 1851, Courtier had advertised a performance on May 4 at the Theatre of Arts, Jackson and Kearny Streets, San Francisco, to include Signor Delorida and J.M. Floyd, the ‘celebrated Tight Rope Dancers’.

The date of May 4 was a fateful one. One year previously, (2) on May 4, 1850, a saloon had caught fire and quickly gutted the whole block bounded by Kearny, Clay, Montgomery and Washington Streets. Three hundred buildings were burned.  One year later to the day, San Francisco suffered its fifth ‘Great Fire’, destroying eighteen blocks of the business district in just ten hours. The first Jenny Lind Theatre at Kearny and Washington, and the first Adelphi Theatre on Clay Street between Kearny and Montgomery were destroyed, but both the California Exchange and the Theatre of Arts survived and by May 14 Courtier was advertising “Open every evening until further notice”.

San Francisco’s calamitous history continued when, on  June 22, 1851 another disastrous fire, probably caused by arson, reduced ten city blocks to ashes, including the second Jenny Lind Theatre and the Theatre of Arts on Jackson Street.

Courtier - Fire 1851

Relatively little is seen of the magician in the following year, and it is likely that Courtier was primarily in the same boarding-house business that he followed in Melbourne. In a brief news report of December 15, 1850, it had been mentioned that a man whose body had been pulled out of the bay was carrying a doctor’s receipt for attending him at “Mr Courtier’s” a month earlier.

We know also, from an extensive newspaper story (reproduced in full below, at Reference 3), that Courtier had purchased land in 1850, building a house and sinking a well. The house was let to a tenant.  Years later, while Courtier was absent in Sacramento during August 1858, in an astonishing act of squatter intrusion, a man named J. McDonald took forcible possession of some of the land including the well.  Despite legal action by both Courtier and his tenant, and a case reaching the Supreme Court, the cases were rejected,  the Daily Alta newspaper stating, “The whole history of squatter litigation does not offer a more glaring case of wrong and outrage than this…”

Courtier next advertised a performance to take place on April 18, 1853 at the Court House in Sacramento, North-east of San Francisco. In this promotion, Courtier refer to having performed during the year 1849, at the Washington Halls in 1850, and the Theatre of Arts in 1851; “since then at the California Exchange and at the Stockton Theatre” (Stockton is about 90 miles east of San Francisco)

On May 21, 1853 he appeared at the Armory Hall (Ransome St, San Francisco), promising ‘a more acceptable programme of Fun, Frolic and Instruction than has ever been witnessed in this city.’

1853-ArmoryHall

After this date nothing is heard of the performer until March 1855 when he was once again embroiled in a potentially serious legal wrangle.

Kidnapping Alledged

In the Daily Alta California of 5 March 1855, is an article headed Case of Kidnaping (sic.)

“A charge of this unusual nature was brought before the Record on Saturday against a man named Courtier and who is the proprietor of the itinerant show which has been exhibiting around for some time past, under the title of the “Nondescript”. The accusation consisted in charging him with the abduction of a young boy between the years of eleven and twelve, and inducing him to leave Oakland, his place of residence, and come to this city, where he was kept at his house in Happy Valley. The evidence of the parents of the boy, Mr. and Mrs. Bester, went to show that from Sunday forenoon until nearly the middle of the day on Tuesday, the boy was missing, and turned up in the company of the accused, down near his house in Happy Valley. The boy, a bright and seemingly intelligent looking lad, was put on the stand and sworn. In answer to the inquiry as to whether he knew the nature of an oath, he replied that if he failed to tell the truth “God would punish him when he died.”

He proceeded to detail how he had gone into the exhibition, it having been taken over to Oakland, and on Sunday night the proprietor, Mr. Courtier, refused to allow him to leave, and gave some curtains &c. to sleep on, and the next day, Monday, brought him away to this city, for the purpose, as he told him, of bringing him up in the profession of a magician. This, according to the parent’s statement, numbed the boy, who had recently been indulging in the stories of the “Arabian Nights” and taking all these to be true, made no effort to escape from such a mighty genii as he took Mr. C. to be. In reply to all this, Mr. Courtier made a statement, how the boy had procured entrance into the show surreptitiously in the first place, and then begged to be allowed to remain there, alleging fear of a man who beat him, and afterwards smuggled himself aboard the boat between Oakland and this city, and asked to be taken care of.  Mr. C. did take him to his house, where he remained until his father and mother came hither to seek him, and got track of him near Mr. C.’s house. On seeing them, the boy tried to hide, and was very fearful of the man who beat him, whom he acknowledged to be his father afterwards. Several witnesses called corroborated Mr. C.’s story in all particulars, and as it was evident that the boy had prevaricated in a number of particulars, it was taken for granted that he had come away with Mr. C. of his own desire and will, and the case was dismissed.

Quite apart from the legal aspects, the news report suggests that Courtier had been conducting a travelling show, though at this stage little confirmation can be located.

The show’s title, “Nondescript”, crops up in November and December of the same year, though apparently not in connection with Courtier. It indicates that Courtier had been running a “wild man” or freak-show exhibition:-

[Sacramento Daily Union, December 27, 1855] -
CASPAR HAUSER
The Wonderful Living Non-Descript, discovered in the island of Borneo in a savage state, is without the most astonishing WONDER OF THE WORLD! His mode of traveling, as designed by Nature, is on all-fours! He speaks the English language well.
This GREAT CURIOSITY has been exhibited in the Atlantic States for the past fifteen years, and has just arrived in California from Mexico, and has never been exhibited in San Francisco or this city. Will be exhibited for a few days in Sacramento, on K Street between 3d and 4th, above the City Market.

Of this exhibition, the State Tribune commented, “By the above item, which we clip from the editorial columns of the "Express", it is very evident that the people of Maryville are about to be humbugged. The "nondescript" alluded to, is a miserable cripple, who makes his deformity hideous by exhibiting himself to the public for a consideration. At San Francisco he was arrested and put in the station house, where he deserves at this time to be, for his shameless presumption and want of sensibility. The "savage state" is all gammon.”

“Caspar” or “Kaspar Hauser (1812-1833) was a celebrated case of a German man claiming to have been raised in total isolation in a darkened cell; his name thereafter being used in a generic “wild man” or “captive child” context.
In 1860, Phineas Taylor Barnum would use the title “Nondescript” or “What Is It?” in a typically provocative exhibition suggesting his attraction to be a newly discovered link between apes and the human race, a creature supposedly displaying the characteristics of both animal and human.
Professor Anderson, at Marysville in December 1857, would also advertise “The Wonderful Living Nondescript from the Island of Borneo.”

Free to continue on his way, Courtier performer with a “Fakir Troupe” at the San Francisco Hall on May 19 and 20. A review in the Daily Alta California, May 21, 1855, gives us some more clues as to where Courtier might have performed.

“On Saturday and last night the “Fakir Troupe” made their appearance before a numerous audience. The feats or sleights of hand, though not comparing to those of the “Fakir of Ava” or Signor Blitz, are nevertheless clever and  laughable. The performers are evidently white men, but blacked like the Ethiopian Minstrels, and thus it was difficult to ascertain ‘which was which.’  But regarding the identity of one – the chief necromancer – we can speak with more certainty. If our memory serves us correctly this is the Mr. Courtier, a jolly Londoner, who in the days when slugs were plentiful and gold lay scattered about in “big lumps” in the union, gave similar exhibitions in the diggings to those of the present day in San Francisco. One of the best tricks of Mr. Courtier was holding a watch between his thumb and finger and allowing one of the audience to fire his pistol at it; the miracle being, that the watch always disappeared and the “Fakir” escaped uninjured. On a certain night, and old “Pike” who was among the audience, believing that all was not right, determined to try the effect of his “Colt” on the time-glass, and to the astonishment of all no sooner did the unsuspecting Mr. Courtier hold the watch aloft and shout “fire!” to the man in the pit (who, of course, had a pistol without ball) than “Pike” drew forth a formidable six-shooter and drawing a bee-line on the ticker, not only smashed seven balls out of it but knocked off two of the Fakir’s fingers and a piece of his thumb. This performance created considerable fun among the audience, though it made the “Fakir” execute some gyrations not contained in the programme. “Pike”, as much astonished at the result as anybody, and having his belief in Jugglers very much shaken, made a clean breach for the door and has not been seen since. Mr. Courtier, however, seems to have entirely recovered his wanted dexterity, and we sincerely advise our readers to take a look in at San Francisco Hall to-night and witness his very clever performances and those of his companions.”

It is impossible to guess from this report whether our magician genuinely lost some fingers, or if this was either a stunt or, quite likely, a wholly invented tale!

A final appearance during 1855 was again at the San Francisco Hall on August 18, supporting Mr. Vincent Love, a ventriloquist.

Business and Family

The Daily Globe reported, September 9, 1857, that “A lad, aged nine years, son of Professor Courtier [ie, Richard Courtier], fell overboard from Pacific street wharf yesterday morning, and would have drowned but for the assistance of Mr. Martin, Proprietor of the "water melon patch," who plunged in and rescued the little fellow.”

From this time, newspaper advertising and mentions of John Powell Courtier become few and far between.  An isolated promotion for performances around Christmas 1861, at Platt’s New Music Hall (Montgomery Street between Bush and Pine), mentions that “The Wonder of the World, Professor Courtier, The Wizard of the West, will make his first appearance for the last five years in this city …. giving one of his most wonderful and entertaining Exhibitions, comprising all the most intricate tricks of Legerdemain, most of which were never before introduced to a Californian audience.”

Courtier 1861

Certainly J. P. Courtier was still principally in the boarding-house business. Colville’s City Directories (4)  for 1856 and 1858 lists him (once under the title ‘Prof. Courtier’) as the proprietor at the Steamboat Exchange, Corner of Drumm and Clark Streets  (Clark Street was an alley dividing the block between Jackson and Pacific Streets).  We learn from a news article of Dec 30, 1858 [San Francisco Bulletin] that a woman who had attempted to drown herself was taken to recover at “the Steamboat Exchange, kept by Mr. Courtier.”

Census records in 1860 listed the following family names:-
J.P. Courtier -  50 years
Sarah Courtier – 35 years
Richard John Courtier – 12 years
Zachary Courtier – 11 years
Edmund Courtier – 5 years.

According to the census, John was then living in the Bodega township, Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, as a Hotel Keeper. Even today this is a small historic township with a small population, known as the location of the School House and Church used in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, “The Birds”.

On May 12, 1862, the Daily Alta carried a formal announcement from John’s wife, Sarah, declaring her intention “in pursuance of an act of the Legislature of the State of California, entitled “an act to authorise married women to transact business in their own name as sole traders”, to keep a Hotel and Boarding House in the city.

Sadly, less than a year later, Sarah Courtier died, on February 5, 1863 (5). The funeral left from her late residence, which was noted at being on the North East corner of Vallejo and Montgomery Streets.

Aside from a brief announcement that “The Wizard of the West is performing to the fullest kind of houses this week. He leaves for Mexico at an early day”, we have at present no record of Courtier’s movements.  This time period needs also to be noted within the context of the American Civil War (1861-65), with its resulting turmoil.

In December of 1863, the youngest son, Zacahary, was convicted of stealing apples and sent to a Reform school for a period. The death of Sarah appears to have prompted a move away from the San Francisco area, and by 1864 John Courtier had moved to live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he would remain for his final years. A brief mention in a new article of 1877 says that Courtier had given a series of sleight-of-hand performances in Prescott, Arizona.

Courtier the Physician

Between the years 1862 and 1864, I.R.S Tax assessments lists referred to Courtier as a Physician, a [keeper of] Hotel 5th Class, a Travelling Juggler and a Public Exhibitor. His location was listed variously as San Diego, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz, implying that he was not settled and was, at least on occasion, still on the move as a performer.  An obituary of 1876 states that Courtier had moved to Alburquerque in 1861, where he practiced medicine and established a bath-house, removing to Santa Fe in 1863. How that might tie in with Sarah and Zachary’s still being in San Francisco is not clear.

As will be seen in later years, this role as “Physician” was to become Courtier’s known profession in the community. Quite what training he had, or services he might offer, is not known; however in the 1850s the United States still had no properly regulated licensing system for medical practitioners. Aside from the varied and unreliable modes of ‘alternative’ treatments, it was possible for anyone to attend one of the large number of medical schools an obtain certification without undergoing lengthy apprenticeship.

However it seems that Courtier made a successful and respectable transition into this new career, remaining in the profession until his death.  At various dates between 1872 and 1876, the Santa Fe Daily New Mexican newspaper refers to Dr. Courtier’s Bathing establishment, with hot, cold or vapour baths. ‘The Doctor makes a speciality of treating Chronic and Private Diseases. Dr. Courtier’s Tape Worm Specific is never failing, and if in a few hours the remedy is not effected, no charge is made.’

The Baths were connected to, or close by, the Exchange Hotel at 100 E. San Francisco Street , almost next to Santa Fe Plaza, and one of Santa Fe’s oldest business sites, dating back to 1607 (6).  While Dr. Courtier kept the steam and hot water available from 8am to 8pm daily, the Santa Fe Daily New Mexican of December 5, 1872 bemoaned the lack of patronage accorded to the well-run Baths. “We don’t want to call Santa Fe gentlemen ungrateful or dirty, but we do believe that many of them might be proven to be dealers in old clothes, with a very large uninvoiced ‘stock in hand’ if they would dissolve, with a little warm water, the mysteries of years which have been accumulating beneath their outer garments.”

Exchange Hotel 2

As late as 1871 the Doctor was still performing magic :– [Santa Fe Daily New Mexico, November 27] – ‘Dr. Courtier gives an entertainment this evening in the Council Chamber.’

By the age of 67, Doctor Courtier was regarded as an elderly man, and references to his age and frailty show up the hardships of life in the mid-1800s.

Santa Fe Daily New Mexican, Wednesday February 16, 1876 –
Dr. J. P. Courtier entertained his friends [entertained as in “welcomed” rather than “performed magic for” ] at his residence on San Francisco Street in a most hospitable manner on Monday the 14th inst. The Dr. attained his sixty seventh year on that day, and in honor of the event and to congratulate the Dr. upon his remarkable activity and capacity for business at his advanced age, a large number of our citizens called upon him during the day. Nor did they find the Dr. unprepared to receive them. A sumptuous repast was spread, and all who called were invited to eat, drink and be merry,  and all felt that the Dr. is not only a remarkably well preserved specimen of humanity, active and useful in his profession, but also that he is a very genial, compassionate and hospitable gentleman, and all who had the pleasure of calling upon him unite with us in the hope that he may live to make glad the hearts of his friends on many similar occasions. One who did not know the fact, upon seeing Dr. Courtier, vigorous, active and energetic, engaged in the duties of his profession or entertaining his friends in his agreeable lively way would suppose it possible that he was ushered into life, his Mother’s Valentine, sixty seven years ago.

1876 - Brutal Murder

Santa Fe Daily New Mexican, Monday June 26, 1876
A Most Horrible Crime – Brutal Murder of Dr. J. P. Courtier.

At about 11 o’clock yesterday morning our citizens were startled by the announcement that Dr. J. P. Courtier, an old and esteemed resident of this city was lying at his home most brutally murdered.

Mr. Lehman Spiegelberg had called at the doctor’s bath-room at about 10 o’clock that morning for his usual Sunday bath, but finding the door locked and failing to arouse any one, he imparted this information to Mr. Charles Thayer, the landlord of the house, who has a room fronting on the street. Mr. Thayer knowing his tenant’s habits so well at once concluded that something was wrong with him and failing to get in at any of the doors went into the yard of the Exchange Hotel and from thence got in, over the roof, to the bath-house yard. Arriving here and finding the door to the sitting room open, he entered from thence into the sleeping room where he found the bed broken through to the floor, and everything about the room in disorder. From here he proceeded across the flower garden to the covered way that leads to the main door, fronting on San Francisco street, and in this place found his friend lying face down, bruised, bloody and dead, with nothing on the body but an undershirt.

Mr. Thayer immediately gave the alarm and a crowd was soon gathered, and Sheriff Conklin notified.
We were admitted to view the horrid spectacle about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, when the jury was summoned, and hope to never look upon such a scene of cruel, causeless murder again.

It seems that the murderers entered their victim’s room while he was asleep, and with a heavy glass decanter gave him a blow on the left temple which shattered the instrument of death into many pieces, fracturing the skull and cutting a deep gash under the left ear. He bled profusely on the bed clothes, and while the demons were busy searching in other rooms for valuables, he seems to have revived sufficient to get up, pass from his chamber through the sitting room and from thence across the garden to the covered-way leading to the front door, where he fell, crying out “Murder!” and groaning most pitifully – all of which was heard by persons living in the neighborhood, but it being near morning, they supposed the noise was made by someone drunk and left it to the police to attend to.

To this point he was followed by one of the murderers bearing a candle, and beaten and bruised until life was extinct, the last instrument of destruction being a piece of charred board, about 4 feet long, 4 inches wide, and 1 inch thick, about a foot of which had been broken off in striking. Blood was scattered about quite profusely as if there had been a struggle for life, and a large pool under his head.

A coroner’s jury having been summoned arrived, were sworn in by Justice of the peace Jose Abran Ortiz, who was acting in the absence of the Coroner, and occupied the remainder of the afternoon in investigating the case and then submitted the following report:

Report of the Coroner’s Jury. Santa Fe, June 25th 1876.
We, the undersigned, having been duly summoned and sworn before Josť Abran Ortiz, justice of the peace and ex-officio coroner, to act as a jury at the inquest held on the body of John P. Courtier, after an examination of the body and witnesses, etc., do find that the deceased came to his death from concussion of the brain and loss of blood caused by a decanter and a picket paling, inflicted upon him by the hands of a person or persons to us unknown.  Signed – J.Howe Watts, W.F.M. Arny, John Fitzmaurice, Jesus Sena y Baca, Enos Andrews, Wm. M’Kenzie, jurors.

Doctors C.C. Gordon and John Symington were also summoned to discover and report cause of death, who, after a careful examination of the body, submitted the following report to the jury:
The Physician’s Report. Position left lateral rigor mortis well marked; right knee slightly flexed on left; right arm thrown over the back, rigid and immovable; had fracture of left maxillary, also orbital (left) bone; left ear partially severed; back of left ear a clean incised cut two inches long. Cause of death, concussion of the brain and loss of blood from arterial severance. C.C Gordon, M.D, John Symington, M.D.

Capt. R. B. Willison and Mr. John Fitzmaurice, who were among the first in the building with Mr. Thayer noticed a peculiar foot print in the soft soil of the garden, and the track seeming to correspond with the shoes worn by a drunken Mexican, found lying in front of Mr. Dunand’s door very early that morning; he was arrested, brought to the scene of the murder, and, as were informed, confessed to know something about the killing. His shirt was found to be bloody and human hair sticking to the soles of his shoes. He was locked up in the county jail for a further hearing, two others who were implicated, a negro and Mexican boy, having fled the city that morning. At about half past three that morning, Mr. Harry Mottley, who keeps the Bank Exchange on San Francisco street, had a call from a party of seven young me, among whom was a negro, who had a hand full of bills and who asked for drinks for the party; but seeing that they were already very much under the influence of liquor he refused them more and they went out. In this party were the three persons already mentioned. A posse started in pursuit of the negro and Mexican yesterday.

Dr. Courtier was an excellent citizen; kind-hearted and charitable, and the only motive that could have prompted the diabolical deed was the possession of the money and valuables he was supposed to possess, the sum being taken not being known. A watch, pistol and some clothing are among the articles missing.

He came to Albuquerque in the year 1861 from San Francisco, California, where, as in the latter city, he practiced medicine and established a bath-house, removing to Santa Fe in 1863, where he also practiced his profession and established an extensive bathing establishment.

He was, by birth, a native of England, emigrating to America many years since, residing first in California where he lost his wife and where one son is now living. He was 67 years of age on the14th of February last, at which time, it will be remembered by many of our citizens, he gave a birthday reception which was largely attended, and when he remarked that he expected to live until he was 80, unless sooner taken away by the hand of violence.
The announcement of his terrible death, yesterday, cast a shadow of gloom over the entire community, and for awhile the excitement was intense; happily good judgement prevailed and the law, we believe, will be allowed to take its course in regard to his murderers, who seem to be known, and who will have that strict and exact justice meted out to them, which they so cruelly denied to him.

========

[Paper reference not known]   On Sunday, June 25, gray-haired and crippled Dr. J. P. Courtier, one of Santa Fe's eldest and respected citizens, was kicked and beaten to death by four young hoodlums, later identified as Ramon Winter, Juan Benevidas, Crespin Gallegos and Jose Pais, while he was asleep in his home within a stone's throw from the plaza. There was absolutely no cause or provocation for this ghastly midnight assassination. After the murder, the quartet robbed their victim, skulked away and dispersed, at least one of them using his share of the loot by proceeding to the house of a prostitute to seek gratification for his beastly lust, using the slain man's money as the pay-off.

Santa Fe Daily New Mexican, Tuesday June 27, 1876.
Local – Arrested. – The three persons supposed to be the murderers of Dr. J. P. Courtier, are all in jail, and will probably have an examination to-day. The negro boy, Ramon Winters, was arrested on the road to Nambe, but nothing was found upon him belonging to the deceased. The Mexican boy, Crespin Gallegos, in the employ of the Doctor at the time he was killed, was arrested at Pajarito, on the stage road, about 85 miles from this city. The Mexican arrested on Sunday morning is named Juan Benevidas. Considerable excitement was exhibited on the street yesterday evening after the arrival of the negro, but an extra guard having been put around the jail no demonstration was made and everything passed off quietly last night. It is greatly to be desired that Santa Fe will not inaugurate a repetition of Colfax and Lincoln county mob-rule. The Territory has had enough of that. Permit the law to take its course. The district court for this county convenes next Monday, and Chief Justice Waldo is not the man to countenance crime in any form.
 

The funeral of Dr. J. P. Courtier, yesterday, was largely attended by our citizens to the Masonic Cemetery , Rev. Henry Forrester officiating at the grave.

Santa Fe Daily New Mexican – February 22, 1877
The trial of the young man indicted at the last term of the District Court of this county for the murder of Dr. J. P. Courtier in June last year, the particulars of which may be familiar to many of our readers, was commenced before  Judge Waldo yesterday morning and continued until a late hour last night. The courtroom was crowded with spectators and many were outside unable to gain admittance. A greater portion of the day was taken up in impanneling a jury, which was accomplished in the afternoon. The names of the jurymen are as follows [….] . The court, on account of the destitute circumstances of the accused, appointed the best legal talent of the country to defend them, lawyers Dunne, Fiske, Gildersleeve, Mills and Sena. The two first named have the management of the case. After the jury had been sworn, the prosecuting attorney Wm. Breeden delivered his opening address, when the court adjourned until after supper. On reassembling some twenty-five witnesses for both the prosecution and defence were called and sworn, three of which Messrs. Tucker and Willison, and the negro Ramon Winters, gave in their testimony. Wm. C. Hazeldine Esq. has been appointed, on behalf of the territory, to take the testimony. Ramon Winters (who has turned state's evidence) Juan Benavides, Crespin Gallegos and Jose Pais are the names of the accused parties.

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Following examination of the witnesses for the prosecution, Jose Pais was discharged, as no testimony had implicated him. The trial continued against Benevidas and Gallegos. Despite what appears to have been a very fair trial the jury rendered a verdict of guilty, but in a decision which seems astonishing, even to those of the time, the jury specified a punishment of just one year imprisonment in the county jail.
The press was surprisingly mild in condemnation of this decision:

Santa Fe New Mexican - February 26th 1877 
The District Court for this County adjourned on Saturday afternoon, the entire week having been consumed in the trial of the two murder cases heretofore mentioned. The result of these jury trials did not meet the expectations of those who believe that the crime of murder should be punished by death. Either those who make up juries are becoming very lenient in their notions of crime, or the character of our laws make it very difficult to convict. That crime will not be superinduced in the County by the late Jury decisions is certainly to wish of every lover of law and order. To Mr. Jno. H. Thompson, the new and very efficient clerk of the court we are under obligations for reportorial favours. The U.S. Court convened again this morning.

Far more indignant was the writer of a Letter to the Editor:

The Daily New Mexican March 12 1877
Killing No Murder.
Santa Fe, N.M. March 9th, 1877. Gentlemen. -  Your issue of the 26th ultimo contains some rather qualified censure upon the result of the late trials for murder in the district court. But I fail to see any cause for surprise at the verdict rendered in these cases. It is notorious that here in New Mexico, killing constitutes no murder. That those crimes of bloodshed and violence against the sanctity of human life “offences which strike at the foundation of all Society” are precisely those which by far the larger part of the community regard as least culpable and which bring down the lightest punishment.

Take the case of the man who shot and instantly killed a young girl  [another example of miscarriage of justice …. ]… The indictment in the Courtier murder is still worse, and brings prominently into view the utter failure or rather farce of trial by jury as it obtains in New Mexico. There never was a more cruel or heartless murder than this; all the circumstances were peculiarly atrocious.

The victim, a man in the decline of life, crippled and infirm; one that had never done them wrong, a feeble man and old. Yes, he was an old man, and in the course of nature had not long to live, and it might have been thought that his very feebleness would have proved a sure protection, and his grey hairs inspired pity even in the heart of his murderers. Alas his weakness were their best strength and in his helplessness alone they found the courage necessary to a dastardly midnight assassination; for they came upon him in his sleep and beat him and kicked him to death and then after adding robbery to murder skulked away while one of them as if to show how perfectly devilish human nature may become, went to the house of a woman of his acquaintance, and there with the blood scarce dry upon his hands purchased the gratification of his beastly lust with the slain main’s money. Can any language adequately express the fiendish atrocity of such actions; yet the two who alone received even the semblance of punishment will in less than a year be again turned loose upon society. The verdict in this case was an outrage upon common sense, and an insult flung into the face of the whole American population. There could be no doubt that a barbarous murder had been committed, and the only question was whether these men were guilty of it or not?

The jury by their verdict decided that they were so guilty, and at the same time expressed their belief that one year’s imprisonment in the county jail was sufficient punishment for the murder of an American. There can be but little doubt the result of this trial will be to still further encourage criminals and for this the jury are directly responsible and ought to be made accessories before the fact, for every crime resulting from their betrayal of the solemn duty entrusted to them. That my language although plainly stated expresses the convictions of all law abiding citizens, I feel well assured, and I earnestly call upon those more competent than myself and more capable of making their voice heard and respected, to take this question up and to devise some lawful means of correcting this crying evil of trial by jury, whereby twelve men, too often wholly unfitted for their responsibility, are enable to turn aside the course of justice to suit either their prejudices of their inclinations.
I remain gentlemen, yours, very respectfully, GALAX.

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So ended the remarkable life of a man who had truly run the gamut of hardship. Though he had at times walked the line of criminality and sharp practice, and lived most of his existence in the working-class ranks of society, John Powell Courtier nevertheless left behind him a family, a strong record of well-received performances of magic and, in providing services to his community had raised himself up to a position of respect and honour.

 

REFERENCES and ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Many of the family, census and location details in this story were provided by Mr Brian Dunt from his own family history research.

Descendants of John Powell Courtier

Daily Alta California, 26 February 1877. 
BORN – In this city, February 22, to the wife of Richard J Courtier, a son.

The U.S. Census of 1880 listed Richard John Courtier (John’s son), age 32 years, a water inspector.
Wife – Mary T. 26 years born California
Ellen C. - daughter 5 years
Richard J. Jnr - 3 years
Rose T. – 2 years
Zachary C. – brother – 30 years

Daily Alta California, 12 January 1885
BORN – In this city, January 4, to the wife of R J Courtier, a son.

Daily Alta California, 10 October 1886
BORN – In this city, October 5, to the wife of R J Courtier, a son.

The 1900 Census listed Richard J., Ellen, Richard Jnr, Rose T, and new names Lorrie, Ida V, George P, Laura M  at San Francisco.
By 1910 Richard had re-married Annie S. Courtier (aged 47 in 1910) and Zachary’s middle name was revealed to be “California”.

Zachary’s death was reported May 9, 1894 by the San Francisco Call.

And finally, on October 30 1936 (Sausalito News), John Powell’s grandson, Richard J. Jnr rated several paragraphs of tribute upon his death aged 61.

Kindly old Dick Courtier Drops Dead in Garden
The friendly greeting of Richard J. (Dick) Courtier, 61, Sausalito handyman and gardener for the past fifteen years or more, is missing. Dick’s heart simply stopped functioning some time Tuesday night and on Wednesday Mrs. George H. Harlan was horrified, while watering the garden, to find a dead man had fallen from a path into her yard. He had been dead for several hours, Dr. Roy R. Robertson said when summoned by Police Office W.B. McLean.
Courtier didn’t have an enemy in the world – except himself. For the past few years he had been living in a place provided for him by Lee H. Kohn of the Walhalla Hotel. His kindness to animals reflected a trait in Dick that endeared him to many friends. The funeral will take place today at 11 a.m. from the Carew and English chapel in San Francisco to which the remains were taken after removed from the Harlan yard by the Coroner.
Courtier was the father of Gertrude Jones, son of the late Richard and Annie Courtier and brother of William, George, Edmund, Ella R. Courtier and Laura Illingworth. He was born in San Francisco.

 

Daily Alta (California) – October 12, 1858 AN INSTANCE OF CALIFORNIA JUSTICE
A Card to the Public

As society progresses in those arts and refinements which distinguish it from the less favoured conditions through which it has passed, in making its chrysalis from barbarism to civilization, it seems to forget too readily the individual rights for the more effectual preservation of which it was organised, as well as the aims and ends which prompted the establishment of those anomalous institutions, which, on the strength of by-gone tradition, we facetiously denominate courts of justice.

A case in point has recently occurred in this city, in which Mr. J. P. Courtier, one of the oldest and most law abiding of our citizens, has been made the victim, and as the result affords a striking instance of the manner in which such important matters are adjusted in California, and was evidently brought about by the insidious trickster of a few unprincipled harpies of that class which has so long battened upon the property of the State, and brought it to a condition verging upon ruin, it seems but reasonable that a statement of some sort should be laid before the public.

In the year 1850, Mr. Courtier purchased from J. B. Judkins, the lot of land marked on the city plan, No. 3, block 1208, and the title to which he has proved to be unimpeachable. In 1851, Courtier had this lot surveyed by Eddy, to whom he handed the deed for that purpose, and from whom he received a plan of the survey. Secured, as he supposed, in the possession of his own, Mr. Courtier now set about improving his property. He built upon it a house, and sank a well upon it, which could only be accomplished with a great deal of labor, and at an expense of fifteen hundred dollars. The process employed was blasting, and it may be assumed that this well imparted an increased value to the premises in question. From the time of entering into possession of this lot, until the present, Mr. Courtier has paid his assed taxes regularly, and at the dates fixed by law; and no one on the part of the city thought of intimating to him that any mistake had been made, or that there could be any other possible claimant.

In the month of August [this would be Aug.1858], without previous notice or forewarning, a man named J. McDonald unwarrantably intruded upon Courtier’s land, pulled down his fence, and took forcible possession of a large portion of his premises – some twenty-three feet of the lot, including the well which had cost so much time, labor and money to perfect. Courtier being then absent at Sacramento, where he was confined by illness, his lady had the trespasser (McDonald) arrested, and brought before Judge Coon, on a charge of malicious mischief, which that eminent authority dismissed, on the ground that it did not belong to his court. Mr. Courtier being apprised of what was going forward, although physically unable to encounter months of protracted litigation against parties who were evidently determined to ride over him rough-shod, and to take possession of that which he had bought, paid for, and improved, in spite of all obstacles, then sued McDonald for unlawful entry and forcible detainer, placing the damages at the moderate sum of $100. Although in this case, both the unlawful entry and forcible detainer were clearly proved by Courtier’s witnesses, it was dismissed, without a decision – the defence representing that they had a title to the property and claiming that the street on which it was located had been improperly placed by the city surveyor! At this stage of the proceedings, McDonald was also sued by a tenant of Courtier, who had lived in the house erected by him, and held peaceable possession of that and the entire premises, to recover the well, and for damages.

Mr. Courtier’s tenant endeavors to assert his rights and reclaim the property, or the use of which it is acknowledged he has been deprived. In spite of the most unimpeachable testimony, an adverse decision was rendered.

The late decision of the Supreme Court determines, in effect, in such cases, in favour of the party complained of, that, if he only thinks himself entitled to the property on which he “squats”, it shall be sufficient justification for the unlawful entry and detainer; and thus Courtier beholds himself, by a few legal technicalities, and an unjust decision of the Supreme Court, deprived of property which no one pretends to dispute that he has paid for, and which is certainly his, for all that the defence can show to the contrary. The mere facts that although he had owned and improved the place for years, he had never until lately been molested by McDonald, and that during all that time McDonald did not offer to pay taxes upon it, must prove conclusively to any disinterested mind, that the title rests with Courtier. It also seems reasonable to suppose that, had the intruder believed himself to be fairly entitled to the property in question, he would have taken the proper legal means for the recovery, and not sought to establish himself by the destruction of fences and threats of violence, freely uttered against Mr. Courtier and his agents.

The whole history of squatter litigation does not offer a more glaring case of wrong and outrage than this, and Mr. Courtier cannot allow the case to be finally dismissed without making an appeal to that tribunal which is always fair and unbiased in its judgments, and which always espouses the cause of the weak and oppressed – THE PUBLIC.