Odd Old News: The Bicycle Bandit of Humboldt County

"Bicycling", a ca. 1887 color print showing one of the few ways in which it was socially acceptable for women to ride cycles, in the years before the invention of "safety bicycles" and the woman's "bicycle suit" (see Image:Ausfahrt im Sociable um 1886 - Verkehrszentrum.JPG for another example, or compare Image:Ellimans-Universal-Embrocation-Slough-1897-Ad.png to see the radical change in the way that women went cycling over a period of just ten years). The print shows a number of men riding big-wheel or "penny-farthing" bicycles, while a woman is riding a three-wheeled cycle, which appears to be steered by a rod going from the lever under her right hand along the boom to the front wheel. The woman is probably riding in front partly for the reason that if she rode in back, the men would constantly have to be looking behind them, to make sure that they didn't quickly open up large gap by going much faster than she could. Note how the man on the far right has his legs over the handlebars as he descends the hill to ensure that, should the large front wheel of the bicycle he is riding hit a rock, be caught in a rut or otherwise become unable to turn, he would be thrown off feet first, as opposed to head first ("taking a header") if seated with his feet on the pedals.

“Bicycling”, a ca. 1887 color print showing one of the few ways in which it was socially acceptable for women to ride cycles, in the years before the invention of “safety bicycles” and the woman’s “bicycle suit”  [Bicycling print After watercolor 1887 Henry Sandham via Wikicommons]

“The excitement of a society discovering cycling is the outdoor pleasure of all pleasures for the great democratic multitude. The wheel is everybody’s servant and plaything.”

The 1890’s “bicycle boom” in Humboldt County provided many citizens with a fun and practical way to get around, but it also created a new target for thieves. In August of 1895, Eureka bicycle thief C.A. Russell was arrested but escaped and was hunted down. His story followed upon the sensational saga of California’s “Bicycle Bandit Brady” in the summer of 1895. “Bandit Brady”, aka Henry Williams, earned his first nickname when he rode a bicycle to a successful train robbery. Brady’s crimes and avoidance of his pursuers over many counties captivated newspaper readers for months. C.A. Russell’s story was not as dramatic as “Bandit Brady’s”, but it does qualify him to be one of Humboldt County’s most illustrious bicycle thieves.

BLUE LAKE ADVOCATE
August 3, 1895
CREAM OF THE COUNTY NEWS

Eureka can now boast of having a bicycle bandit as well as Sacramento, and like the famous Brady, his temerity in revisiting his old haunts got him behind the bar, says the Times. Eureka’s bandit is C. A. Russell, who is equally as fertile in expedients as Brady, and who if all accounts be true is a hard customer with a penchant for nicking up loose articles, especially bicycles. A number of wheels have been stolen in the vicinity of Eureka lately and whether it be true or not, Russell is blamed for their disappearance, and now stands an excellent chance of going to the San Quentin repair shop himself for a “ball” bearing and “chain”.

His stay in the county jail lasted only a month:

BLUE LAKE ADVOCATE
September 7, 1895
ROBBER RUSSELL RUSTICATING

How the Bicycle Thief Made His Escape from the County Jail. He Is Still at Large and a Reward of $100 is Offered by the Sheriff for His Arrest.

Last Saturday morning C. A. Russell, the bicycle thief and all round crook, escaped from the county jail. The escape was made with much cleverness. The night before, his cell was locked, but Russell was not in it. He had climbed to the top of it, and conversed with under sheriff Ferrill from the place of concealment, while he dangled his shoes by a string on the inside, making a noise as though he was sitting on his cot taking them off.

In the morning when the jail door was unlocked, and before the cells were opened he quickly took his departure, carrying away with him an Oregon boot as a trouser guard. His flight was not discovered for some time afterwards, when his cell was searched, and an ingeniously contrived dummy was found in his bed.

He is a slippery customer, and is wanted in many localities for crimes ranging from petty larceny to burglary. Up to the time of this writing Russell was still at large, and the chances are that he has removed the Oregon boot from his foot. Sheriff Brown will give a reward of $lOO for the arrest and detention of Russell.

His description is as follows: Age, 26; height, 5 feel 4 to 6 inches; weight, about 145 pounds; hair, dark; eyes, blue; fair complexion; ears large; wears number 6 shoe; had growth of two or three weeks’ beard but may be shaved smooth; scar on right upper lip.

There have been a number of persons in this neighborhood looking for the bicycle bandit but their best efforts have been unavailing.

Now since the Elk river creamery was burglarized Sunday night and that a clock, a pair of pliers, some wire and some belt lacing were abstracted, it is thought that Russell did the deed. With the objects stolen he might contrive a sort of instrument to take off his Oregon boot.

Oregon Boot

The Oregon boot–a replacement for the ball and chain. Used when prisoners were being transported…[Kingston Penitentiary Museum]

A week after reportedly being seen in the Garberville area, Russell was apprehended in Northern Mendocino county.

Blue Lake Advocate
October 12, 1895
CAPTURED IN DEEP CANYON

Russell, the Bicycle Thief, Caught in Northern Mendocino Seriously Shot Between the Shoulders and Finally Surrendered to the Pursuing Officers.

C. A. Russell, the bicycle thief, has bean captured In northern Mendocino and an especial dispatch to the Times from Cahto dated October 8th, tells how he was captured. It says: “C. A. Russell, who escaped from the county jail at Eureka, on the morning of August 31, 1895, with a 15-pound Oregon boot on his leg and mysteriously disappeared was captured near here this fore-noon. After escaping nothing more was seen of Russell until last, Sunday. He entered the house of J. F. Cummings, a station keeper on the Humboldt road, 15 miles north, at an early hour and stole provisions and cartridges. After the occupants of the house arose and discovered the theft two men tracked the theft about two miles south of there and they came upon him suddenly where he was camped and the men being unarmed, he drew his Winchester on them and advised them to keep away and return home.

They at once informed constable Rufus Wilson, who has been on his trail ever since. Russell had been traveling at night and camping during the day. Constable Wilson today discovered fresh tracks where Russell had passed through this town at an early hour this morning and he immediately smarted out with constable G. N. Grubb and two deputies on the fresh tracks, following it about five miles south of here, on the road leading to Ukiah, and about two hundred yards from the road in a deep canyon, where they suddenly came upon Russell, who was in camp and in the act of skinning a deer he had just killed. He grabbed his rifle and a bundle and started to run.

He was ordered to halt but continued to run. After running about two yards one of the deputies fired a shot and he was again ordered to halt but disregarded the command. After firing three shots to intimidate him without avail a fourth shot was fired, hitting him between the shoulders near the left shoulder blade, the bullet ranging upward and lodging above the left nipple. After being wounded he ran for some distance, but finally threw up his hands and surrendered. After surrendering he said he had given up, as he was shot, and thought he would die and wanted to know why he was shot, his being asked why he did not halt, and told why he was wanted, he declared that he had never seen Eureka, but an examination of papers bearing the name of “C. A. Russell” and newspaper clippings referring to his escape found on his person, it is evident he is the person wanted.

His wound is not thought to be fatal though dangerous. He was brought to town to-day and a physician has been summoned to attend to his injury. Sheriff Brown of Humboldt county has been notified, and the prisoner, will be held here pending the arrival of a deputy sheriff from Eureka, who will take him there.

A little after on the surgeon arrived and removed the bullet, and says Russell’s wound is serious but not necessarily fatal. Russell does not seem much disabled and is well guarded to-night. He had in his possession a new rifle and a bundle consisting of burglar’s tools, jewelry and various other articles. He says he wishes he had surrendered at the first order to halt. He remained very obstinate during the day, declining to give his name and declaring he was not Russell. To-night he seems more reconciled to his position, and it is thought by the time a deputy arrives from Eureka, he will confess his identity and tell how he got rid of the Oregon boot. Deputy-sheriff H. B. Ensign of Fortuna arrived at Cahto Wednesday and was authorized to return Russell to Eureka by way of San Francisco on account of his wound.

Russell’s prior record of larceny, arrests, and escape were revealed:

LOCKED UP IN THE COUNTY JAIL

Bicycle Bandit Russell Will Not Probably Escape Again. The Criminal Has a Number of Charges Against Him Well Known In Stockton

The Stockton Mail, in commenting upon the fellow’s capture in Mendocino county, says: “Russell is the same man who went by the name of George Ferran and gave the officers here so much trouble. He was arrested here by deputy sheriff Benjamin on a telegram from Madera, where he was wanted for grand larceny. He broke away from Benjamin and was only captured after a hard chase.

When the constable from Madera came to take Ferran back he was cautioned to be careful with him, but notwithstanding the warning Ferran managed to get away while on the train, he was in love with a girl in Stockton and so came back here. He was located by detective Carroll, who succeeded in getting his man only after a regular rough-und-tumble fight. Ferran was again taken to Madera, but broke jail with two other prisoners.

He was arrested in Eureka for his old offense, stealing bicycles, under the name of Russell, and once more managed to escape.”(Blue Lake Advocate, 10/19/1895).

This time there was to be no escape for Russell and he went to “the San Quentin repair shop himself for a ‘ball’ bearing and ‘chain’”:

“C. A. Russell, the all-round burglar and bicycle thief, has been sentenced to serve 15 years in the state prison. Sheriff Brown took the prisoner down on the steamer last Sunday”(Blue Lake Advocate, 2/15/1896).

Earlier Odd and Old News:

There are many, but here are the most recent:

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22 comments

  • He wouldn’t be stealing all them bikes if it weren’t for all the drugs the liberals are paying illegal immigrants to bring over the border. They get paid in free health care for their drug dealing rapist selves, schooling for their anchor babies, all of our harvesting/nannying/manual laboring jobs, and all the XL Q-Anon&on baby-meat pizzas they can shove into a Dodge Caravan. No wonder unemployment is so high…

    TRUMP 2o2o!

    • UH, I think your man is losing, and, in case you haven’t been out in a while, your entire county is crammed full of drug dealers and rapists, pot farmers on welfare, disability, and Medi-Cal… I think they all like cheap beer, cheap frozen pizza and they all enjoy plenty of rubber dog-shit and training bras from Target too!

      I do admire your precise expression of animosity towards, heck, everyone who is not you, and I especially note your toxic narcissism…

      It’s ok to hate everyone, but you should endeavor to hate everyone equally, since we have laws about diversity… Misanthropy is all well and good, in moderation!

      Perhaps your bipolar disorder is on an upswing, but you are facing months of cold, wet weather, so please stop smoking that dope and get back on your meds!

      Thanks for your share!

      • Lighten up, Francis.

      • Did a person with schizophrenia write both these comments? Because they are saying the same thing but obviously without communication. Guess it wasn’t important anyway.

        • Like many blog comments, it is just emotional off-gassing Guest.

        • Three things I just refuse to do:

          1) Discuss ecological theory with a hippie.

          2) Listen to a barefoot uneducated backwoods trimmer/grow-hand talk about genetic drift in clones.

          3) Argue with any of the 17 people who identify themselves as “Guest” on this blog.

          “Schizophrenia”, meanwhile, describes a constellation of mental health disorders, and mostly, these days, when someone calls someone else “schizophrenic”, they probably are not particularly qualified to diagnose…

          Sex, it’s just sex, hair, just hair, and comments, contain no hidden meaning or intrinsic value: they’re just comments! Some are better typed and less misspelled than others.

          See Connie’s entry, above. (another commenter not to be trifled with…)

  • Never heard about uncle Rufe being a constable before.

    • Mr. Trashman, Uncle Rufus was a Long Valley constable from 1890 through 1894, according to Carpenter’s 1914 History of Mendocino and Lake Counties. And past that, according to this post.

  • aww sheriff Brown our first legal sheriff

  • 🕯🌳Just found one them stolen bikes in a barn. 🤔Trump’s been lieing and sowing misinformation ever since he lied about the Central Park 5.

    • Not a more truthful replacement but certainly a much more practiced liar. You can’t fix it when you can’t see what causes the problem.

  • Meanwhile, in 2020, we embrace criminals and even vote down legislation designed to protect ourselves from the very sort of thievery described herein.

    • The article did not include what would normally be part of today’s scenario. His many crimes were not commited while he was out on bail.

  • Now I have to find out what an ‘Oregon boot’ is! Cool story. And illustration… I have never seen a velocipede such as the one the woman is riding!

  • Wow – brutal!

  • Ah, yes, The good old days!

    Garberville had a deputy back in the 50’s by the name of Jim Black. We called him Sheriff Black. There was a drug thief that kept breaking into the Rexall drug store to steal drugs. (located at the north end of the old bank construction project in Garberville.)

    They didn’t have fancy cameras and alarm systems back then. They had Sheriff Black. Sheriff Black, being clued into this thief, hid and waited for him. Sure enough one day he caught him sneaking out the back door and heading down Cemetery Road. (Behind The Credit Union) He chased him down the road and told him to stop or he would shoot. He didn’t stop, Sheriff Black shot. By then they were down between what is now The Humboldt House Inn and Sicilito’s. Sicilito’s was a Dodge / Plymouth dealership then, owned by Kenny Swithenbank’s father Des Swithenbank.

    As it turned out, Sheriff Black shot him through the ear. Des saw the whole thing from his dealership and came out to help. He told Sheriff Black: “Good shooting Jim”. Sheriff black’s reply was: “Not really, that isn’t where I was aiming”.

  • I recently enlarged a little photo from 1931 of my twenty-three year old father riding a high-wheeler in a local parade, and wrote my sister that he was riding it backwards! Ernie corrected me before I could further mythologize my father, and pointed out that this was yet another style of a penny farthing: “the front small wheel was steerable, the pedal assembly worked like a ratchet, and it had hand brakes. It was state of the art.” And safer. Those high-wheelers had the nickname “nose breakers” from people flying over the top of the big wheel. I don’t have much posting photos from my landline. So if nothing shows up, I tried and won’t persist.

  • In the future, if you would like me to read something you posted, just insert a link!

    Thanks for your comment, it’s always a pleasure having a discussion with a commenter of your caliber…

    OH. And. No qualifications at all. Just a lot of blah blah blah… Stressful year and all…

    The whole of Northern California is one big neighborhood. Enjoy responsibly!

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