Wild West


Just past 1 a.m. on April 16, 1873, by the light of the moon, a man who had registered at the City Hotel as J.W. Williams approached the Sacramento County Jail. He wore no hat, no shoes, a coat turned inside out and a white handkerchief over the lower half of his face. Using a ladder, he climbed the south wall. From there he crept onto a utility shed over the adjoining courthouse boiler, scurried across to the kitchen roof and jumped down into the prison grounds. This was nimble work—especially for a Civil War veteran who’d been shot in the right ankle during the 1863 Siege of Port Hudson.

Heading toward the jailhouse door, the masked intruder drew a revolver. As he tugged a cord beside the jailhouse door, a clanging alarm bell shattered the stillness.

Inside the jail Deputy Sheriff Manuel L. Cross drew his big six-shooter. For the last several nights he’d been expecting trouble, and he was ready for it—or as ready as he could be. A former assayer from Truckee, the 30-year-old deputy wasn’t accustomed to midnight gunfights. Sheriff Mike Bryte thought him more than capable. Cross was about to find out.

Banging open the jailhouse door with his gun at the ready, the deputy stepped onto the sill and paused, scanning the yard. Moving deliberately, he walked down the brick pathway leading south toward the outside gate to I Street. Five paces into the yard Cross looked back toward the rear wall of the jail. There in the moonlight he spied the masked man, leveling a cocked

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