Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Death of Sam Goins

"One story you may have heard while looking into the Preston School of Industry's history, is the story of Sam Goins. Goins was an African-American inmate who was fatally shot by John Kelly or J.E. Kelley (also seen spelled as Kelly). Samuel Goins was born on June 24, 1899 in Iredell County, North Carolina. He had been transferred to Preston from Alameda, where he was originally serving time for burglary charges. At the time of his death he was only 19, about to turn 20. 
According to the Amador Ledger dated April, 19, 1919 entitled “Guard Kills P.S.I. Escape,” states:
“Samuel Goins, colored, an inmate of the Preston School was fatally shot by guard J.E. Kelley last Saturday. Goins escaped from the school the day before and the guards found him at the Thornton Ranch. He threatened to kill anyone who attempted to take him. Kelly , failing to halt him by command, fired to hit him in the leg, but just as he pressed the trigger, Goins stooped to go under a wire fence and the bullet struck him in the back.
He lived several hours, and before dying, exonerated the guard, declaring he alone was to blame for the affair. Kelly was acquitted by the coroner’s inquest held Tuesday. The funeral was held in Ione, Wednesday. Goins was a native of North Carolina, aged 20 years. He went to the school from Alameda County for burglary.”       
         Samuel Goins was just two months shy of being released when he attempted his third escape. It was reported in the newspapers that ward J. Lopez, who was with Goins when he died, testified on J.E. Kelly’s behalf at the inquest. However, the inquest records state that his name was actually Joe Acosta. Acosta claimed that Goins, “tripped going over the fence and he got shot after he tripped over.” Eight months later, a ward by the name of James Lopez  died from bronchial pneumonia. He is also buried in the cemetery at Preston. It does not appear that Joe Acosta and James Lopez are the same person. 

Who Was J. E. Kelley?
According to census records and Amador County records there were only two men named John Kelly in Ione at the time, and one was named J.E. Kelley or Kelly and the other was J.K. Kelly (who was his son). I spoke with the grandson of a J.E. Kelly who claimed he had no knowledge of his grandfather being involved in any shooting of an inmate at Preston or that he ever worked there. I also spoke to the Amador County Librarian, Laura, who found the same information as I did about the two men named John Kelly in Amador County.
 According to records, one J.E. Kelly was born in 1865 in Plymouth, CA. He was the Constable of Ione for a lengthy period of time according to the old newspaper archives.  Another Kelly, J.K. Kelly was only 18 years old at the time of this incident and there is no record of him working for Preston. When this escape attempt occurred, John E. Kelly would have been about 54 years old. It is quite possible that he had been the Constable and also maintained a presence at Preston for certain incidents such as an escape. This would not be unusual.  If you recall, in Chapter 4, when Superintendent O’Brien threatened a young boy from Ione, his guard Officer Phillips was also an Amador County Sheriff's Deputy.
 So you see, in Amador County at that time, the local authorities and Preston’s officers were basically intertwined. Regardless of which Kelly it was, there were only two possibilities in Amador County at the time, so it had to be one or the other. According to Guard John Kelly’s statement, he claims he meant to shoot Goins in the leg and that Goins had waved a hammer towards the other guard Mr. Hunter approaching him prior to his running and ducking under the wire fence. John Kelly went on to say:
 “I knew what he told me before, that the next time he ran away whoever tried to catch him would either kill him or he would kill the person that was after him. I seen him watching Mr. Hunter and holding the hammer and I knew he would strike him if he would get a chance. He was nearing a low fence, I should judge it was three feet probably. It was what they call ‘hog wire’ on the bottom, two barb wires on top. As he neared the fence, I thought he was going to leap over it because I seen him jump before. He was a good jumper. I raised my gun and was just in the act, when he either tripped or fell as he was about to make the jump, and as I pulled the trigger, that I calculated on him jumping over, he fell through the fence. 
We went down to where he was. Mr. Hunter was the first one to him. He went to where he was lying and he said, “Goins, are you hurt?” He said “Yes, sir.” I went up to the house to get some water. Mr. Thornton came with me. I asked Mr. Thornton where was the nearest doctor?  He first said Burson, but afterward he said Ione was as near. I wanted to get medical aid for the boy. He said “no.” We then laid Mr. Goins in the machine, proceeded to Ione, drove to the doctor’s office. The doctor was not in. We then went to the school and left him there at the school and the authorities up there sent for Mr. Gall at Jackson.”
  After Goins’ death, the school made sure his funeral was taken care of and even mentioned it in the local papers. Most of the time when other wards died at Preston, their deaths were basically unmentioned.
Many people speculate that Goins was shot with little to no regard for his life, but I believe that was not the case here. Think about it. He had escaped from Preston and was on the run. He was a fugitive who had escaped in the past and who had already made threats that he would not be taken alive again. He had also threatened that anyone who stood in his way would be taken out as well. Kelly was aware of Goins’ past threats. Upon seeing Goins with a hammer that he had retrieved from a shack on the Thornton ranch, Kelly felt that he had to protect his partner, Mr. Hunter.
        Testimony showed that Hunter’s opinion was that Goins wasn’t really that much of a threat to him at all. Hunter claimed that he was too far from Goins for him to have struck him with the hammer and that Goins was running in front of Hunter. From Kelly’s perception, Hunter and Goins seemed close in proximity. In the inquest records testimony, Kelly remained adamant that he didn’t mean to kill Goins. He claimed that he meant only to wound him in order to stop him.  

         Several witnesses claimed that they did see Goins trip and fall just as he reached the fence, meaning one of two things. He was either shot and fell on the fence, or Kelly was telling the truth about Goins fall. Perhaps, he did shoot at him while Goins was in the act of attempting to jump the fence but instead tripped and fell, causing the bullet to penetrate his lower back as opposed to the intended target of hitting him in the leg.

         Testimony of  Dr. A. M. Gall, who examined Goins’ body stated that the bullet  “entered the back, mid-way between the lower rib on the left right side and the upper border of the pelvic bone. Passed through, slightly upward and the exit was about two and one-half inches from the sternum and below the last rib.”

        Sam Goins later died from his wounds, after claiming that it was no fault of anyone involved, other than his own. He was later buried at the cemetery out behind the “Castle.” His story is one that will always cast doubts in many minds. Did Kelly purposely shoot Goins? Or was it just an accident? Did Kelly honestly feel that his partner was in direct danger? Or did he just want to catch Goins by whatever means necessary? We may never truly know."-- Chapter 8. from the book "Behind The Walls" by J'aime Rubio.  (Copyright 2012 - ISBN: 13: 978-1481075046)



Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Escape Artist - Robert E. Byrd

Photo: courtesy of the Byrd family


"The story of former Preston ward, Robert E. Byrd started long before his stay at the Preston School of Industry. In fact, to understand why he ended up there at all, one would need to know his back story.  Robert E. Byrd was born on January 8, 1882 to parents Joseph Edgar Byrd and Helen M. Wilder. His father, Joseph, was a Confederate Veteran from New Orleans, LA, while his mother Helen had been brought up the daughter of a farmer and former Union Soldier from Forestville, New York.
As certain as the tales of Romeo and Juliet, it was also obvious that the pair were in love. They even went so far as running away together against Helen’s father’s wishes, later eloping in Covington, Kentucky. Helen’s father did not approve of her marrying a “reb,” as Joseph was from the South while Helen’s family was from the North. After marrying his love, Joseph became a traveling salesman, who represented cotton brokers, publishers and dry goods suppliers to retail stores, while Helen became a seamstress to make ends meet. They traveled a lot during their first years of marriage, going from Louisville, KY, Evansville, IN, and Nashville TN.
In 1881, due to the tiresome life of being a traveling salesman with a family, Edgar Byrd chose to become an entrepreneur by opening a tavern in Florence, AL, hoping to make roots there. Unfortunately, this choice proved more harmful that good. In late December, Edgar Byrd became entangled in a fight with the former Mayor of Florence inside of his own tavern. The fight broke out and took to the street where it ended in a shootout, leaving the former Mayor dead. Although Edgar was indicted for murder, the charges were later dismissed due to “self defense.”  After being subjected to extreme stress, Helen gave birth to Robert two weeks later. Eventually, the family sold the bar and moved their family elsewhere.

  Around 1884, while traveling for work, Robert’s father, all alone in his hotel room, died from malaria. Suddenly, Helen became the sole provider for her children which must have put a strain on her. She eventually moved back to her home county of Chautauqua County, NY. Once there, she bounced from boarding house to rented houses for many years, never being able to give her children the sense of stability she yearned for. After the death of her youngest son William, Robert seemed to have strayed down a path of delinquency. This was more than likely due to the lack of a father figure, unending hurt from the loss of his father and brother and also instability at home.
  By the time Robert was 12 years old, he had been in trouble with the law. In 1894, he was sent to the Burnham Industrial School in Eastern New York State (now the Berkshire Farm School) where wayward boys were taught to farm. He received a rigorous education there, until his release on March 1, 1896. He then when home to Fredonia, NY, only to get arrested again three weeks later. By March 26, he was sentenced to the New York Industrial School near Rochester, N.Y.  For two years he served his time in a manufacturing trade school environment not so different from Preston. By January of 1898, he was paroled into his mother’s care, moving to Buffalo, N.Y.
As the Byrd family story goes, while Robert was working as a clerk in Buffalo, he became “restless.”  He then ran away to California at the young age of 17. Apparently, due to the stories of endless opportunities out west along with the romanticized folklore of the “get rich quick” life during the gold rush, he traveled to the Golden State with dreams of making it big. News accounts of that time period even mentioned that Robert went west “on a wheel,” meaning he rode his bicycle from New York all the way to California. By the fall of that same year, Robert had made it to Gardnerville, Nevada and then onto Reno. After finding himself in trouble once again, Robert sold his bicycle and bought a train ticket to San Francisco.


How Robert E. Byrd Ended Up In Preston (Ward # 416)
       In November of 1899, Robert had made friends with a piano player, Jesse Russell. Eventually the two teamed up and decided to steal a horse and buggy rig in Oakland.  Driving the buggy to Irvington, they stopped to stay at the Irvington Hotel and skipped out on their bill. Leaving the horse and buggy behind, they left on foot onto San Jose down the railroad tracks, more than likely hitching a ride on the train as it rolled by. By the time Robert had made it to San Jose, he stole another horse, this time taking it from a livery. He had played the part of a potential buyer wanting take it for a trial ride with the full intention on purchasing it, however he never returned. He rode that horse all the way to Solano, CA.  He was then apprehended on November 16, 1899, being charged and tried for Grand Larceny in January of 1900 and sent to Preston for three years. 

Within two months of being sent to Preston, Byrd had become an ‘escape artist’, walking out of Preston undetected. He did so by making a false key and opening his way out of the building. Within three days he was captured. Once again in July he attempted to escape only to be caught again. By December, it was reported that Byrd had broken into an officer’s room and stolen his revolver, concealing it for weeks while the officer never noticed his gun was gone. I don’t know about you, but one would think that as an officer at a boy's youth reformatory, how could you not know that your gun was missing for weeks?
That information from the officer makes me think the gun was actually planted in Byrd’s room to get him into trouble. How convenient that one random day, the staff just decided to raid his belongings and discovered the gun and a pack of red pepper. The pepper, they claimed, had been concealed for him to use at a later time in an escape to throw off his scent from any dogs used to chase him. Of course, because of this Byrd was punished severely and kept from being able to write his mother.
Superintendent Hirshberg wrote several letters to Byrd’s mother, claiming to be sincere at helping him and also making sure to reiterate that he “was not” keeping Byrd from writing his mother. Eventually the Superintendent grew tired of Byrd’s shenanigans and the ward was later deemed “wholly incorrigible and rebellious, not amendable to discipline and not fit for detention.” Hirshberg then shipped Byrd off to the Court in Santa Clara where he was sent to jail there for the remainder of his sentence.
What I find interesting is that after his ordeal at Preston, Byrd was never incarcerated again. In fact, he later went on to marry and have children and filed several patents with the Government for inventions he made. Byrd went on to work for and own several manufacturing companies including Pajaro Industries and R. E. Byrd Manufacturing in Erie, PA. Robert had done so well in his business, that in the 1920's his ads were seen published in various editions of Popular Mechanics magazine. During the 1930’s and the height of the Depression, Robert's manufacturing business was doing so well that he had over 150 employees working 3 shifts, 7 days per week. 
Robert’s legacy was then passed down to his sons, grandsons and great-grandchildren, who still  continue to remain in the manufacturing industry as successful entrepreneurs to this day.  Sadly, Robert didn’t live a long life, dying at the age of 48 from congestive heart failure and kidney failure. One good thing that Robert took with him when he left Preston was a trade. Learning how to manufacture the key that he used to escape from Preston, was the catalyst that inspired him later in life to become a manufacturer.
Courtesy of Kevin LeBeaume 
Robert E. Byrd’s experience at Preston was one of infamy as far as his many escapes, but the real legacy he left behind was the value of hard work and skills he acquired at Preston that catapulted his life into one of great success for the rest of his life. "
 --- Chapter 5. From the book. "Behind The Walls: A Historical Expos√© of The Preston School of Industry" by Author, J'aime Rubio (Copyright 2012 - ISBN: 13: 978-1481075046)

UPDATE: Last year in 2017, I was contacted by a gentleman by the name of Kevin LaBeaume who discovered a small bird water whistle at an old antique shop that bore Robert Byrd's name on it. As it turns out it was one of many items manufactured by Robert's company the Robert E. Byrd Manufacturing Company of Erie, Pennsylvania back in 1920. I have since been able to get Mr. LaBeaume in contact with Robert's family and I am happy to see that Robert's legacy is still being appreciated even today.