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‘Goddamn It, Doc, Won’t You Ever Quit!’

By the end of the first week of December, 1879, all but one of the Mendocino Outlaws resided in jail or had been killed. The lone exception, Harrison Brown, escaped the fatal shootout at a cabin near Nimshew in Butte County. 

Brown raced into the brush behind the cabin, gained his bearings and headed east, hoping to find a path through the mountains to Nevada. In a matter of minutes he leaped down what seemed a short precipice only to land wrong. He flopped to the ground, pain shooting through his lower back to the point that he virtually had to drag one leg along to continue his journey. He made his way onto scree and boulder fields so as to avoid detection from pursuers.

Doc Standley and young Clarence White were now the only members of the Mendocino County posse. After a short but methodical search, Standley detected Brown's dilemma, a man with a lame leg could not travel fast or far. So, he and White left Brown's trail to track down George Gaunce.

Harrison Brown wandered through pine forests and rocky openings, not only injured but down to shirt sleeves as he limped onward. Snow flurries greeted him in Concow Valley, the flakes settling on his hat-less pate then melting frosty cold down the nape of his neck. As darkness swallowed the landscape before him, the fugitive searched for a cave to gain shelter but settled for clawing his way beneath pine needles and cones as a temporary blanket. Shivering and gaunt from hunger, the next day he stumbled on an empty cabin. Not only did he find food to eat, he located a full suit of clothes. 

As he readied to leave with his new pockets stuffed with supplies, the cabin's owner, a miner, pushed the door open. The miner pulled his revolver, forcing Brown to disrobe and return to his raggedy apparel. The miner's partner showed up and asked Brown where he was from. Brown made a grotesque face and drooled out, “Stockton.” 

The miners, suspecting they'd discovered an escaped maniac, escorted Brown outside, intending to take him to the nearest lawman in town for safe return to an asylum. When they turned their backs for a moment, Brown clubbed the miner holding the revolver. The blow struck against an ear, knocking the man to the ground. Before his partner could pick up the weapon, Brown escaped into the woods.

That night the wanted man hid out near Bidwell's Bar. At dawn he set out for Rice's Crossing on the Yuba River. Later in the day a stranger took pity on Brown, who resembled a tramp more than a passing traveler of means. The stranger put the fugitive up for the night, apparently feeding Brown in return for completion of chores. The next morning, the host gifted Brown a straw hat upon his departure. That evening, the fugitive sought and received refuge at another home along the way. By then he had made his way close to Wyandotte, not far from the Yuba County line. 

Doc Standley had given a description of Brown to everyone he met in Butte County. Thus, many a citizen was on the lookout for a five foot, five inch stout man about forty years of age, with brown hair and gray eyes. If they gazed close they might spot the dim scars in the middle of his forehead and left cheek.

Standley and White had procured horses at Nimshew. They found traces of Brown's footprints again and followed him to the miner's cabin and learned of the straw hat acquisition. Near Dogtown the terrain turned too rough for the horses, so the two man posse continued afoot. They traced Brown's limping footprints to a spot where he had crossed over the north fork of the Feather River by crawling atop a flume. 

The searchers spent a day and a half trying to find Brown's tracks as they left the flume, to no avail. The made their way to Cherokee ditch, which possessed the newfangled luxury of a telephone. Through this instrument they discovered that Brown had made his way through Concow Valley, staying one night with a Kimshew Indian. 

The two man posse backtracked to the Concow region, discovered the Indian at home, and engaged him as a scout. The trio continued the chase to Big Bar, north of the Feather River. Heading toward a pass on Peavine Ridge where Standley believed Brown had turned tail due to ever deepening snow. They followed his tracks to Mountain House. The Indian scout departed for his home, White and Standley rented horses at a mill, then made their way south on the Oroville road. A young man appropriately named Hunter joined them. On December 10th, the pursuing trio arrived at Bidwell's Bar. Beyond the town they found Brown's tracks, stronger now, but undeniably the boot prints of their man. Doc and Hunter rode a southeasterly path and White a southwesterly one through brush and back toward the road. In this manner, the pursuers crisscrossed each others paths and the main road then circled back to Oroville, contacting the county sheriff. Wells Fargo detective Hume had been through with an old description of their prey, but Doc counseled that Brown might appear much different after the long manhunt.

Standley, White, and Hunter rode south toward Wyandotte, again peeling off in different directions then regaining the main road. They warned anyone they met about Brown. Doc worried that their prey might double back around them and head off to a a more suitable pass through the mountains.

On December 11th, Doc gave a description of the fugitive, including the straw hat detail, to a man named George Thatcher. An hour or so later, a tramp wrapped in a tattered quilt with a straw hat on his head approached Thatcher in front of his home, asking for directions to the Yuba River. Thatcher sent him down the road leading from Wyandotte toward Bangor. 

Thatcher realized who had been dealing with. He contacted a neighbor, Thomas Moran, asking him to join in a ride after the beleaguered fellow. At Bangor, Moran and Thatcher stopped to make inquiries, but  no one claimed to have seen the fugitive. They rode on and alternately followed the road and scoured the woods on either side in a pattern not dissimilar to that employed by Standley.

Around two in the afternoon, a short distance from the Yuba County line, Thatcher and Moran emerged from the forest just in time to spot the straw-hatted, quilted tramp walking toward them on the edge of the roadway. Moran approached on horseback, asking first how far it might be back to Bangor. The tramp gave a hazy answer. Moran inquired where the man with the quilt was headed. Gaining no further information, Moran called Brown by name then ordered him to turn about and march back to the nearest town.

The fugitive denied his true identity, told Moran he must be mistaken, but Thatcher rode alongside with a drawn revolver. Moran drew his pistol as well, pointing the barrel at Harrison Brown. 

Thatcher and Moran procured a wagon in Bangor, ordered Brown into the bed, and started north. The prisoner continued to claim the two citizens had the wrong man until Doc Standley rode up alongside.

“Hello, Hal.” Standley patted his pants then the overcoat he had procured when the outlaws abandoned much of their goods at Rattlesnake Creek more than six weeks earlier. “I've been hunting you this long time to give you these clothes.”

Brown's teeth fairly chattered. “Goddamn it. Doc, won't you never quit.” The wanted man let the quilt drop. “Give me the coat quick. I am nearly froze.”


  1. George Hollister July 2, 2021

    Malcolm, you are doing a service to the history of Mendocino County. Good writing.

  2. Marc Tenzel July 2, 2021

    Malcolm, thanks for the great story. Can not wait to read it to the grand kids.

  3. George Hollister July 4, 2021

    Out West in those days you had to be tough to survive. The image of hopeless towns overrun and cowed by outlaws, as has been portrayed in a number of Hollywood movies, never existed. Overly troublesome and out of control outlaws were either shot, or lynched. Many sheriffs did a duty that would put them in jail today.

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