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Joseph & Laura Rogers

Final Resting Place Unknown in IOOF Cemetery in Sonora

Joseph & Laura Rogers

Joseph Rogers was born about 1854 in Portugal. He married Laura V. Payne on March 7, 1874 in Modesto, Stanislaus County, California.

Joseph and Laura had 11 children 9 of which reached adulthood. He was a hard working farmer in Stanislaus and Tuolumne County until his life was cut short by a ruthless landlord Oliver Emerson. According to a newspaper report Rodgers leased the land originally called the Newcomb Ranch from Emerson in December 1898, under the terms all wagons, tools, water, etc. provided for use of the land and Emerson would receive half of the crop. Emerson would have 1 room for himself and 1 horse.

Emerson went to San Francisco for work and when that didn't work out he came back to the leased property in Algerine and caused much hardship and cruelty for the family.

An argument between Rogers and Emerson ensued and in the end Joseph Rodgers life ended by the horrible actions of Oliver Emerson. Joseph was shot twice in front of his wife and some children. Joseph died April 11, 1899.

Joseph belonged to the Knights Ferry IOOF Lodge and the kind folks of the Sonora Odd Fellows Lodge buried him in the Sonora IOOF Cemetery.

No headstone was ever placed on Joseph Rodgers grave, so his final resting place is unknown in the cemetery.

Needless to say Oliver Emerson spent the rest of his life in San Quentin Prison. He was scheduled to hang but Senator John Berry Curtin went through a process with the courts and the governor of California made his sentence life in prison no hanging.

Joseph and Laura’s descendants live on; many still live in Tuolumne County.

Written by Connie Saculla

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The ill-feeling that has been existing for the past two months between Oliver Emerson and Joseph Rodgers culminated in the death of the latter at the hands of Emerson at about 7 o’clock Tuesday morning. The tragedy occurred at the Emerson place, better known as the old Newcomb ranch, situated between Stent and Algerine. The weapon used was a 38-caliber revolver.

The circumstances leading up to the murder are about as follows: Last December Emerson leased the property to Rodgers. The terms of the agreement were that he should put in a crop, harvest it, and allow Emerson half of the yield, the latter to furnish the seed. It was also stipulated that Rogers should have the use of the tools, wagons, etc., on the place, Emerson reserving the right to occupy 1 room in the dwelling house. Shortly after the lease was drawn up he went to San Francisco where he had been promised work at his trade, that of a ship carpenter, but failing to secure employment he returned and, according to the statement of neighbors, he began a series of petty persecutions, thinking to so harass Rodgers that he would vacate the premises in disgust. Emerson also refused to furnish sufficient seed to sow the land that had been plowed and Rodgers commenced a suit for damages, which was pending in Justice Lefevre’s court at the time of the tragedy.

Monday evening Emerson removed the rope and pulley from the well from which Rodgers obtain his drinking water and locked it in his room. The next morning the men met at the rear of the house, the wife of Rodgers and his son of 17, being present. Some words were passed between Rodgers and Emerson when Mrs. Rodgers reminded the latter that, according to the terms of the lease, they were entitled to privileges of which he was trying to deprive them. At this, according to the version of Mrs. Rodgers, Emerson applied a vile epithet to her, said that her past life would not bear the light of the day, and that he was familiar with her former history. Maddened by this remark Rodgers picked up a stone and said that he would make him prove the truth of the charge or suffer the consequences. Emerson who evidently had been waiting for Rodgers to make some such break, pulled a pistol from his bosom and fired. The men were about 6 feet apart when the shooting commenced.

The first shot struck Rodgers above the groin, the bullet going completely through the body. As he turned to run, Emerson fired again and missed, the second bullet being found imbedded in an adjacent wall, the third bullet struck Rodgers in the back of the head, penetrating the brain and resulting in almost instant death. James Woods, a teamster, who was passing at the time, heard the shot and saw Emerson leaving the scene swinging the pistol in his hand. He made a bee line for Sonora and gave himself up to Pat Kelly who turned him over to the proper officers and he was lodged in jail.

In a very short time after the killing, and before it was known that Emerson had delivered himself up to justice, there was a considerable excitement in Jamestown, Quartz, and Stent. A rumor was started that the murderer was surrounded by a posse of citizens and that he intended selling his life as dearly as possible. It was also said that that he had killed two men and that he proposed to add as many as possible to the number before being captured. When these reports were received there was an immediate demand for horses and weapons and every available rig was pressed into service to convey to the supposed field of battle those who were eager to distinguish themselves.

Coroner Burden held an inquest, the jury after hearing the testimony of James Woods, Guy Rodgers and County Physician Gould, who made the autopsy, bringing in a verdict of murder.

Joseph Rodgers was a native of Portugal and lived in this and Stanislaus counties for the past 25 years. He was spoken of by those who knew him as an industrious and honest man. He leaves his wife and nine children, ranging in age from 3 to 20 years, the eldest being married to Frank Freitas of Shaw’s Flat. The families are in destitute circumstances. Rodgers had been a member of Knights Ferry Lodge of the Odd Fellows and his funeral took place this afternoon in Sonora under the auspices of the organization.

Oliver Emerson, the slayer, has resided in the county for about ten years. He has had trouble at

various times, at one time striking a woman on the head with a hammer and also having been charged with poisoning animal’s belonging to a neighbor. In an interview with a MAGNET reporter yesterday, Emerson said that he considered his life in danger, as he had been warned that Rodgers had threatened his life, and that he carried a pistol merely as a matter of self-protection, and only used the weapon when he considered that his life was in peril. He has not fully decided yet whether his plan will be self-defense or insanity.


01) I found it interesting that Joseph Rodgers leased land that was originally called the Newcomb Ranch because we have a George Newcomb buried in our Cemetery. George Newcomb was our Featured Grave in October 2014.
George Newcomb died in 1877, 21 years before Joseph leased the land in 1898. Could the Newcomb Ranch, leased by Rodgers, may have belonged to George Newcomb in our cemetery?

02) I also noticed that County Physician Gould performed Joseph Rodgers autopsy. We have a James Everett Gould buried in our cemetery. After doing a little research I discovered that James Everett’s father was Dr. James Knight Gould lived in Tuolumne County in 1899.
I think it is very likely that James Everett Gould’s father, Dr. Everett Knight Gould performed Joseph Rodgers autopsy.

03) Senator John Berry Curtin, who made Emerson’s sentence life in prison, is the same John Curtin who built the recently restored Curtin Manson in Sonora.

Denine Urquhart

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