Death of a “bad” man along the San Pedro, Part 3

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By John Hernandez

Evans’ bullet missed Rapelji. Fred Jackson then stepped around Rapelji and fired his gun. One of the bandits was seen to throw his arms up and fall backwards apparently wounded.

Both sides began firing as rapidly as they could. The bandits retreated behind a pile of hay and manure as it was the only cover nearby. Although it gave Sontag and Evans cover, it did not stop the fusillade of bullets aimed at the haystack.

Both of the train robbers lay on their bellies behind the pile. Sontag had been hit in the arm. Jackson went around to the rear of the house to see if he could get a better shot.

Sontag spotted him and from his position fired his shotgun, hitting Jackson in his left leg between the ankle and knee, shattering the leg bone. Jackson crawled back to the other posse members and told them to keep firing and not to worry about him.

He was taken out of the fight and lay helpless on the floor. The posse members fired another volley into the haystack, this time hitting Sontag in the side. He was in great pain and bleeding badly.

Rapelje and Burns went out of the cabin and attempted to circle around the bandits. Rapelje spotted Evans who appeared to be wounded crawling on his belly away from the haystack. He fired on him and Evans took off running towards the woods.

Rapelje chased him firing as he ran but did not pursue him into the woods as it was now dark. Over 40 shots were reported to have been fired during the shootout which lasted about two hours. As no gunfire came from the haystack, the posse kept watch waiting to shoot at anything that moved.

Rapelje loaded Jackson on a wagon and drove him to Visalia while Burns and Gard watched the hay stack. In the morning, reinforcements had arrived with Rapelji. George Witty, Sam Springley, and Constable William English had rode to the scene as well as E.M. Davidson, a photographer and Jo P. Carroll, a reporter.

The posse spread out and cautiously approached the haystack where they found Sontag buried in the hay with only his face showing. He was helpless and had lost a lot of blood. Evans had escaped although he was badly wounded.

He had taken a bullet in one of his arms and had a bullet scrape his right eye brow that had taken out most of his eye. He walked six miles to a cabin and asked the people for help. He was captured a few days later at the cabin by local lawmen.

Sontag died while in jail from his wounds on July 3. Evan’s arm was amputated and he lost his right eye.

He was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He would escape from jail, wound an officer and rob another train with an accomplice before being captured again. He then went to prison where he stayed until being paroled in 1911.

He would die in Oregon in 1917 having been banned from living in California. The hunt for and capture of Sontag and Evans was front page news in all of the California newspapers of the time and even made national news. Sontag and Evans became folk heroes.

A popular theatrical play was performed telling their story. Evans’ wife and daughter performed in the play as themselves. Whenever they came out on stage they received a standing ovation from the audience.

A few noted writers wrote stories portraying them as victims of the railroad corporations. Evans denied ever robbing a train and said he only killed in self-defense. As the Dalton gang was also robbing trains in the same area, Sontag and Evans may have been blamed for some of their robberies.

The four men that captured the gang after many larger posses had failed were lauded as heroes. Burns gained notoriety for being a member of the posse that captured Sontag and Evans. He had survived two shootouts with the gang and ridden with Gard, Jackson and Rapelji, who were well known as man hunters and men of “true grit.”

Marshal Gard received the $5,000 reward for the capture of John Sontag and split it with the posse members.

An argument ensued over the reward for the arrest of Evans. Gard, Rapelje, Jackson and Burns said they deserved the reward because they had wounded Evans so badly he couldn’t escape.

Tulare County Undersheriff William Hall, Deputy George Witty and Elijah Perkins said they had captured Evans and therefore deserved the entire reward. The argument became so heated at times that when they saw each other on the streets, threatening words were exchanged.

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