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More info about George Cross' alleged stage robbery....

At the intersection of Mt. Aukum Road (E-16), Grizzly Flat Road and Buck's Bar Road is the small town of Somerset. It was first settled in 1856 by some former residents of Somerset, Ohio who probably looked for gold in the nearby North and middle Forks of the Cosumnes River and in local streams and ravines. Within a few years, there were several permanent residences in the area and a hotel called the Somerset House. During its early history, the town was little more than a trading stop for people going to and from Grizzly Flat, Fair Play and Indian Diggings.

But this small Gold Rush town became, in 1864, the centerpiece of an important and oft-told part of El Dorado County's history. The Somerset House, owned at the time by the Reynolds family, was to become the story's centerpiece.

It was between 9 and 10 p.m. on the night of June 30, 1864, a few miles east of Placerville near a place called Bullion Bend. Six men leveled guns at the drivers of two Pioneer Stage Line coaches, Ned Blair and Charlie Watson, who were carrying silver bullion from the Virginia City mines.

Blair's coach was halted first. He was told to throw down the Wells Fargo & Company strong box. This wasn't on Blair's stage, the robbers found out, but they did find six bags of silver bullion while searching the stagecoach.

Watson stopped his stage, thinking Blair was having problems with his team, and was confronted by the highwaymen. They gave him the same order; The Wells Fargo & Company strongbox - and two additional bags of silver bullion were on his stage. They helped themselves to the bullion and the strong box - and then presented the drivers with a receipt for everything! It stated that the money was for "out-fitting recruits enlisted in California for the Confederate Army." The receipt was signed "R. Henry Ingrim, Captain, Commanding Company C.S.A."

The robbers (who were believed to be members of Quantrell's Raiders, a much feared band of guerrillas) rode only a short distance before they cached the bullion. Shortly thereafter, all but a few coins and a silver bar were recovered by officers of the law. Nevertheless, for many years people would ignore that fact and search the area, hoping to find the "hidden bullion."

The robbers then struck out in a southeasterly direction, ending up at the Somerset House.

Between one and two a.m. the following morning, El Dorado County Sheriff William Rogers dispatched Constable George C. Ranney, acting as a special deputy sheriff, along with Deputies John Van Eaton and Joseph Staples, to follow the robbers' trail. At the same time, Sheriff Rogers led a posse towards the robbery site at Bullion Bend.

Ranney arrived first at the Somerset House. Suspecting he had found the robbers, he sent Van Eaton back for reinforcements, then entered the hotel. In one room he saw men with guns and, acting lost, casually asked for directions to Grizzly Flat. After being told to ask the proprietor, he left, but on his way out met Deputy Staples coming in.

Ranney tried to persuade him to wait for Van Eaton and the reinforcements, but Staples refused, cocked his gun and ran into the room, demanding their surrender.

Ranney, realizing that Staples was seriously outnumbered by the robbers, pulled his gun and followed him. The two were met by a fusillade of bullets. One of the robbers, a fellow by the name of Poole, was seriously injured by Staples and was out of the battle, but the robbers' bullets had found their mark and Staples fell, dying at Ranney's feet.

Now outnumbered five to one, Ranney turned and ran for his horse, hoping to ride for help, but was shot at least three times and, badly injured, dropped to the ground behind some rocks.

At that point, Mrs. Reynolds, the proprietor of the hotel, convinced the robbers that Ranney was dying - they should be ashamed to shoot a dying man. They left him alone, but took his, Staples' and even Poole's revolvers, the deputies' money and their horses, and rode south towards Mt. Aukum.

Less than two months later, on Aug. 21, Under-Sheriff Hume (who had been a close friend of the unfortunate Staples) and Deputy Van Eaton arrested Henry Jarbes, George Cross, J. A. Robertson, Wallace Clendenin, Joseph Gamble, John Ingren, H. Gatley and Preston Hodges in Santa Clara County. The men, along with Thomas Poole, were brought back to Placerville, where they were charged with complicity in the Bullion Bend hold-up based information given by another robber, Allen P. Glasby, who turned state's evidence.

Indicted by a grand jury, the men were tried. On Nov. 22, 1864, Hodges was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced by Judge Brockway to twenty years of hard labor. Thomas Poole was sentenced to hang for his part in the crime. The sentence was carried out on the gallows in Placerville at noon on Sept. 29, 1865.

The remainder of the men were successful in getting a change of venue to Santa Clara County, where they were tried and acquitted.

Deputy Joseph Staples, the first El Dorado County deputy sheriff killed in the line of duty, is buried in Placerville's Union Cemetery on Bee Street in James B. Hume's plot, under a plain marble tombstone. On it is inscribed: "Joseph M. Staples, Deputy Sheriff of El Dorado County; killed in attempting to arrest the Placerville Stage Robbers, July 1, 1864; aged 38 years."

Constable Ranney, the man who was shot attempting to save Staples' life, lies buried in Placerville's Uppertown Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

In spite of all of this excitement, Somerset continued to grow and in 1878 the River School District was formed and a school built on property deeded by Charles and Ida Mentz. This school would close eighty years later when the district became part of the Pioneer School District. The first post office in the area was established on March 7, 1924 at Young's, a vacation resort on the North Fork of the Cosumnes River, about one mile north of Somerset, with Morgan Young as the first postmaster.

On Aug. 1, 1950, the Young's Post Office, which at some point had been moved to Somerset House, would have its name officially changed to the Somerset Post Office.

Although Somerset House is no longer in existence, today's Somerset consists of several commercial buildings and the post office, which still provides mail services and supplies for local residents and travelers along the roads, many of whom are visiting the area's premium wineries.


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