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The Moosa Massacre EHC newsletter article by Robin Fox
On January 18, 1888 a bloody battle over squatter’s rights took place near
Escondido. The Moosa Canyon Massacre was one of the most publicized squatter’s battles and the last of any note that took place in the West. The central figure in the dispute was Levi Stone, a beekeeper, who had homesteaded in upper Moosa Canyon twelve miles north of Escondido.
In 1887 the market for honey was poor and Stone went east with a carload to see if he could stimulate the market. For unknown reasons his return was delayed and he was away from his claim for more than six months. When he returned to Moosa Canyon early in 1888 he found his property occupied.
The occupants were Mrs. Elizabeth Going, a widow; her son Percy Going, 17; another son John (Peg Leg) McConahay and his wife, Annie; her daughter, Mrs. Jennie Burnham, and her two small children.
The family informed Stone, and correctly so, that he had stayed away from his claim too long and had lost all right to it under homestead law. They put him off the land. According to newspaper reports, Stone later returned with his brother, James, but they were turned back when Mrs. Going cut James’ arm with a butcher knife as he tried to open the door.
Levi Stone was stymied. He rode to nearby neighbor, Isaac Frazee, for some advice and half-joking Isaac’s brother suggested that Stone should marry the widow. Levi Stone was a confirmed old bachelor so a wedding was not forthcoming. He decided to try to regain his property with the help of the law.
Stone first went to Francis W. Dinwiddie, justice of the peace of Bear Valley Township, who issued a writ of eviction Later, it was discovered that Dinwiddie lacked the jurisdiction to issue such an order, but neither he, Stone, nor the lawmen called upon to serve it knew that.
The eviction fell to Constable Doc Breedlove, who went to the claim on January 17. His son, W.E. Breedlove, later reconstructed that day for the Times-Advocate based on conversations with his father.
“As he neared the door, it was thrown open,” the junior Breedlove recounted. “A peg- legged man asked, ‘What do you want?’
"Breedlove gave him the writ and said, ‘you must move from Stone’s property.’ “Peg-Leg said, ‘Who will make me?’
“Breedlove said, ‘I’ll be here tomorrow to put you out.’
“The answer was: ‘You’d better bring the army.’”
It wasn’t an army the constable brought with him the next day, but it was the best he could do: Deputy Constable Art Freeman; the Stone brothers; Moosa resident George L. Morris and Stockman Reed, who, as every area newspaper reported, “left his plow in the furrow” to drive a wagon to help remove the Goings’ belongings.
The posse arrived at the bee ranch and were greeted by the matriarch, Mrs. Elizabeth Going, who welcomed them with the business end of a musket. Going held tight to her claim. As far as she was concerned, the Going clan wasn’t going anywhere.
Explanations vary as to how the skirmish started. It was generally agreed upon that Mrs. Going took exception to Breedlove when he ordered his deputy to restrain her teenage son Percy. Breedlove’s account explained that restraining Percy was necessary in order to attempt to disarm Mrs. Going.
While the posse struggled with Percy, Going’s older son, John (Peg Leg) McConahay hobbled away on his wooden leg and returned with a pistol. He shot Stockman Reed who dropped on the spot. McConahay shot at Morris and missed. Morris and the Stone brothers, all unarmed, ran and hid.
Breedlove tried to take the pistol away from McConahay, who shot him in the left cheek, while Percy clubbed him to the ground with a musket. As Breedlove started to rise Percy was poised to swing the musket again. The blow never fell. Percy was shot and killed on the spot.
Mrs. Burnham grabbed Breedlove’s pistol from its holster then ran and threw her arms around McConahay. McConahay aimed at Freeman over her shoulder and pulled the trigger. Freeman’s revolver fired at the same time. McConahay and Mrs. Burnham both dropped dead.
Mrs. Going went after Freeman with a musket. He circled a tree and she couldn’t get a shot at him. He finally leaped out, grabbed the musket from her and threw it away. The battle was over. In an instant, Elizabeth Going had lost her three children, and Stockman Reed had suffered a gunshot wound that killed him three days later.
For that place and time, the news of the massacre traveled quickly. According to the Escondido Times, an inquest jury was impaneled the next day, a Thursday. They reached no verdict until Saturday, after coffins from Escondido arrived at the bee ranch, where the Widow Going was “still in possession of the disputed property and effects.”
The coroner’s jury ruled that McConahay killed Reed, and that McConahay, Percy Going and Jennie Burnham were killed by “parties unknown.” They also determined that while the Goings were an undesirable element in the region, they were in their rights legally to jump Stone’s claim on the land. Levi Stone had never filed for legal title; and the writ of
eviction had been issued without sanctioned authority. The Going clan was in legal boundary to resist Stone’s actions. However, no arrests were made.
It is unclear when Mrs. Going left the property but eventually Levi Stone moved back to his bee ranch, finally taking legal possession of it in 1890 when he bought it from the state.
It was three years after the incident before there was any legal action on the Moosa Canyon Massacre. In February 1891, after Mrs. Going and her private attorney apparently exerted considerable pressure on the district attorney, the entire posse was arrested and charged with murder. On March 4, 1891, after several weeks of testimony, charges were dismissed for all but Art Freeman. He was eventually acquitted as well.
Jennie Burnham’s widower, James, brought a successful civil suit against the posse. A court awarded him $50,000 for the wrongful death of his wife. Years later posse member Morris was asked if the judgment was ever paid. “None of us ever had that much money,” he said.
Levi Stone continued to provide honey to Escondidans for the next decade or so, and then quietly vanished. He was rumored to have moved to Florida. The fate of Elizabeth Going is unknown. With the district attorney’s failure to prosecute the posse, she faded from the scene, and the Escondido Times seemed happy to see her go. The paper opined on June 4, 1891, “While it is a matter of regret that blood was shed we are convinced the officers were forced to the extremity of doing what they did largely in defense of their own lives as well as upholding the dignity of the law.”