Placerville
Pop. 60

In December of 1862, a group of California men founded this small mining town. It became the first mining camp miners and freighters encountered when they entered the Boise Basin along Harris Creek and the Payette River. Due to its ideal location and abundant mining opportunities, the tiny village quickly grew to encompass more than 3,200 residents within a year from its founding. Placer mining was visible everywhere from Main Street, and the town’s name reflects this activity. By 1869, manmade ditches and flumes aided in the operation of twenty hydraulic mining machines. Eventually, the ore ran thin through Placerville’s creeks, and today the area is a virtual ghost town. The Henrietta Penrod Museum stands in what was once the Magnolia Saloon, and a community cemetery rests just outside of town. One particular gravestone states, “Fiddlers murdered in Ophir Creek,” and serves as the source of an interesting tale about early justice in the Wild West.

According to legend, in 1863, two fiddlers had played at a Placerville dance and were walking to nearby Centerville the following morning when they came upon the mugging and subsequent murder of a wealthy miner. The perpetrator, desiring no witnesses to the crime, then killed the two innocent fiddlers. When the victims were discovered, John Williams and two of his partners were arrested on hearsay alone. The evidence was meager, and the district court found them not guilty. A special grand jury then charged Williams with assault and robbery. Since there was no criminal law in place in 1863, Williams’ attorney argued that Williams had not committed any crimes. You see, in the Organic Act of Idaho Territory, Congress neglected to transfer the use of the old Washington Territorial code and failed to declare its own territorial laws. Therefore, Idaho had no criminal law until one year later when the Territorial Legislature passed the Criminal Practices Act. Based upon that, Williams was released. He fled from the area, and no one was ever convicted of the fiddlers’ murders.

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