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Livernash, Part 4

Three months after Edward Livernash's acquittal and a mere week after being severely bruised in a bicycle accident, John Livernash married a young woman, Lizzie Schultz, he'd known since early childhood days in Cloverdale. The wedding took place in that locale. Subsequently, the bride and groom returned to southern California to continue John's duties as city editor of the Santa Ana Blade.

In the autumn, Lizzie Livernash's journalistic endeavors earned her the right to deliver a paper entitled, “Women in Journalism” before the annual gathering of the California Press Association. For whatever reason, perhaps homesickness, by November, John and his bride, Lizzie, were making plans to leave southern California for a return to Healdsburg.

Meanwhile, Edward commenced work at the San Francisco Examiner. In December, he agreed to take on editing duties for the California Illustrated Magazine. During March, 1894, the Napa Register commended the new look of the magazine. “[I]t presents a table of contents which puts into eclipse former numbers of that publication, Mr. Livernash is perfectly at home in literary pursuits and it looks as though the California Publishing Co. has made wise choice in electing him editor.”

Edward returned to the bar as well, defending high profile cases in the Bay Area. By mid-summer, despite praise from several north bay newspapers, the California Illustrated Magazine ceased publication and went out of business. September, 1894, marked the passing of Darius Ethridge, the victim of Livernash's shooting less than two years before. The surprisingly slight wounds inflicted in the attack were not mentioned as relative to Ethridge's demise.

Lizzie was still at the editor's helm at the Healdsburg Enterprise along with brother John, who participated in bicycle racing as far away as The City. In July, John wrote a profile of a Healdsburg man about to reach 100 years of age. The comparatively youthful newspaperman concluded the piece with these remarks, “The snow of time is beautiful after all, and growing old is but a mellowing toward eternity.” 

Tragedy turned a corner and headed straight for the Livernashes, but in the summer of the leap year, 1896, Lizzie remained in a more playful mood. A story she authored, as purportedly told to her by her brother John, ran in the San Francisco Call. It depicted John regaling a gathering from atop a cracker barrel at the local grocery. The tale he told recalled a fisherman he knew in Los Angeles. The Angelino had traveled to Lake County the previous summer and, according to John J. Livernash the man said, “I had taken with me a common three-pronged gig, although why I took it I am at a loss to tell, as I never threw a gig in my life before. One morning, gig in hand, I went down to the lake, and to ascertain the depth of the water I ran my gig down. It had hardly reached the bottom when I felt a terrific tugging, and I immediately drew it out to find that I had an immense carp on each prong. I kept this lick up for two hours and a half, as fast as I could put the gig in the I water and pull it up. I had three carp every time. I had to move along the shore so I could scatter the fish out, and only quit when I grew completely exhausted. In those two and a half hours I had lifted four tons of carp out of the lake.

“I couldn't do anything with [so many]. I came back to camp and reported my catch. The next morning, realizing the necessity for immediate action, the Sheriff of Lake County sent two drays and an express wagon to gather up the dead fish and haul them off to a hog ranch."

Lizzie's journalistic endeavors in Healdsburg often tended to more serious subjects. In the summer of 1896, she authored a lengthy account about a middle-aged woman, three school-aged grand children, and her married daughter with a two year-old of her own. The account described their home near the town rail yard, a home constructed of wood fruit trays. Her article called out the ne'er-do-well husband who had abandoned his young wife and child. Her report prompted the sheriff to gather temporary funds and food for the destitute family as well as medical help for the grandmother. 

In the second week of September, 1896, the mother of Edward, Lizzie, John J. Livernash, and five younger children, rose from her bed that morning then suffered a heart attack, falling to the floor. She died there in the arms of her seven-year-old daughter, Maggie, before a physician could arrive.

This left Edward, age thirty, Lizzie, twenty-seven, and John, twenty-five, as the bread winners not only for themselves but four younger siblings between the ages of eighteen and seven. Edward and John had families of their own to support as well.

In May, 1897, John Livernash accepted a position in San Francisco as a member of the Harbor Commission. He continued his editorial work at the Healdsburg Enterprise alongside his sister, Lizzie.

By early summer, Edward had headed north to report on the Klondike Gold Rush for the Examiner. The newspaper also sent along sixty-year-old Joaquin Miller, the renowned writer known as the “Poet of the Sierras.” Miller wrote dispatches to the Examiner and other papers before the journalists reached the Northwest Territory or Alaska that made the journey appear both inexpensive and physically nothing more than a lark.

The newspapermen, with a photographer in tow, did cross the Chilkoot Pass in August, but Miller nearly froze, losing two toes to frostbite. In early September the Hanford Journal noted, “the Examiner's picture of Joaquin Miller and Livernash out on the moss swamps of the upper Yukon, hunting mosquitoes and elk flies with shotguns and no other game... within 500 miles.” The Hanford paper made it clear that since Miller had made up stories about current events in the recent past, the public generally disbelieved dispatches from him and the populace of California would be pleased to know that both public figures were getting farther and farther away by the day.

On a Tuesday night, during that same early September week, Lizzie Livernash worked late in the editorial room at the Healdsburg Enterprise. In haste, she yanked up a stack of papers, at the far corner of which stood a lit lamp. It overturned, splashing oil on her right arm, her dress, and igniting many pieces of paper littering the floor around her.

Flames surrounded her almost immediately. Before an alarm alerted the fire department, a man raced into the office, carrying her outside. Her right arm suffered fairly severe burns. The fire department arrived quickly enough to contain the blaze to a small area, preserving almost all of the newspaper's office space. Lizzie's arm remained in a sling for some time, but she returned to work the next day.

Edward remained in the gold country of the north, reporting on the extreme heat of the days when he first arrived in summer then the miseries of the nights as autumn turned toward winter. Miller's jottings tended toward the poetic or lighthearted, if not silly, as in one sent from Dead Duck Gulch, Alaska, in late October. “The air here is so sweet, especially when it is flavored with the onions little Livernash fries for supper. God made the onion, even as he made me and Livernash. Therefore it is good. Like the warhorse of old, I can smell them from afar with these nostrils of mine, and I'm always on hand for meals.”

Livernash's reports proved lengthier and fuller of daily detail. By the end of 1897 he had been appointed, along with two others, to carry a petition of miners' grievances to Canada's capital in Ottawa.

However, he apparently sent no money back home to John, Lizzie, or the rest of his younger siblings. Before the conclusion of the third week of January, 1898, the Healdsburg newspaper was sold in an effort to get out from under debts. Lizzie moved to San Francisco and into the household of John and his wife.

During the evening of February 18, 1898, Benjamin Allen prepared to eat his supper on South Park Street in San Francisco. His wife interrupted with a message just arrived from John Livernash to meet at the corner of Second and Bryant Streets. Fifteen minutes later young Mr. Allen did just that. Livernash directed them into a nearby saloon, telling Ben Allen, “I want you to go up town with me. I have a story to write. I have to go to Chinatown. I will tell you more later.”

John added, “Where is your pistol?”

“It's in the second-hand store on Third Street,” Ben responded.

Livernash directed Mr. Allen to go home to obtain cartridges, which the latter did. They met again on the corner of Third and Bryant then walked to the second-hand store where Ben Allen bought back his pistol with six bits supplied by John.

Outside the store, Livernash loaded the weapon and told Allen that his story would propel him to Chinatown to see a wharfinger [manager of a wharf or a harbor commissioner like John Livernash]. The wharfinger was on the take to the tune of $3,000.

Allen asked if that was what the pistol was for and Livernash said he didn't anticipate trouble, but intended to keep the weapon with him for protection. They walked to a bar nearly opposite the office of the San Francisco Examiner where John intended to sell the story for $250 to editor Andy Lawrence. Allen obtained an unruled writing tablet. When he returned to the table in the bar, Livernash commenced composing his story, interspersed with a drink or two.

Ben Allen read some of the pages of the Bulletin. The journalist interrupted his writing only a couple of times, to step to the bar and order a beer. After a third glass Livernash pronounced his work finished.

While the reporter ascended the steps of the Examiner building, Allen waited on the sidewalk. Livernash returned in a short while, saying Lawrence only offered $100, but that he believed Mr. Leake at the S.F. Call would give him $250.

Allen told him that if he could write that quickly and get $l00 for it he was doing pretty well. They stopped for another drink before approaching the office of the Call.

The Call editor was not in, so Livernash and Allen drank more hard liquor as well as several beers. Around ten o'clock, John returned to the Call office, coming down to the street in slightly less than a half hour, telling Allen he had sold the material he wrote in the saloon for the same amount, $100, offered by the Examiner, again remarking on his disdain for the latter newspaper's lead editor. Livernash handed Allen a package, instructing him to, “Put this in your inside coat pocket,” then an envelop, saying, “and this in the outside coat pocket,” adding, “If anything should happen to me give this package to Mr. Leake and the letter to my wife.”

Allen did as he was told. The ten o'clock hour dropped to half past while the pair walked down Third Street together in the brisk winter air. Ben Allen said, “John you've been drinking a good deal. You had better go home.”

Though this was true, John Livernash showed no effects of his consumption. He spoke as clearly as he had hours earlier. “We should go home, but I ought to go and see that man about the story.”

Allen responded, “Leave the story go and go home.”

Instead, John Livernash asked, “Do you have a dime for a beer?'

Before Allen could say, “No,” Livernash stepped into the Davy Crockett saloon on Mission Street. He walked straight on, beyond the bar to the water closet at the rear of the establishment. A minute later a shot rang out from that direction.

The bartender rushed outside to inquire of Allen if it had been his friend who had just entered the place. Ben Allen made his way through customers to where John J. Livernash lay bleeding on the floor. Ben lifted his friends head and shoulders. “John, did you do it?”

“Yes, Ben, I did it.” He tried to say more, but his own blood choked him.

At the inquest that followed a couple of days later, a coroner's jury found that John J. Livernash died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the heart. Oddly enough, the jury discounted alcohol as a forerunner in the incident. The Call's report stated Livernash's “manner was deliberate, cool and collected, and he attended to the details of his plan in a manner that gave every indication that he perfectly understood the full import of his actions.”

The story the Call purchased ran in the Sunday edition and described the embezzlement of government funds by a harbor official. The $100 was paid to the widow.

In the aftermath, Lizzie Livernash made this statement, “The letter left by my brother was not the raving of an insane man, but a simple statement of a man who was driven to desperation by adverse circumstances. All that he stated regarding our misfortunes with the Healdsburg Enterprise was true. We were turned out without a dollar. As soon as [the new owner] acquired possession of the paper he turned us out bag and baggage. My brother's accounts are not in disorder. The largest amount he could possibly be short is the small sum of $50. I have looked into this matter thoroughly this morning. The truth is that he was desperate, and of late he had often said to us that he would be worth more to his family if he was dead than he ever would be living. We were without a dollar, and our family in Healdsburg were in the same predicament. What was he to do to obtain money for living expenses for all of us? [Oldest brother] Ed had deserted us and brought shame upon us. He has not contributed one cent to the support of our five young brothers and sisters since he was married. He is the cause of the rumor that there is a taint of insanity in our family. When he was in trouble his attorneys endeavored to prove that my parents were afflicted mentally for the purpose of helping Ed's case. As a matter of fact, such a taint is absent in our family, and to our knowledge there has never been such a disease in the family.

"John was terribly despondent because I could not obtain employment in the city. Last week I went to Mr. Lawrence of the Examiner and begged him to give me something to do. He treated me very coldly, and referred me to [one of Lawrence's subordinates], who in turn said that he could do nothing for me. I have even been answering advertisements in order to obtain a position as a housemaid, and would have done any kind of honest work in order that the children at Healdsburg might not suffer. The mere fact of my applying for work of this description seemed to crush all the spirit out of John, although I told him that it was absolutely necessary that the children should have food and clothing. I am quite certain that the Call people could not have known what his story was to be, for he was not the kind of man to give any one his confidence."

John J. Livernash perished at twenty-six. Lizzie had his body returned to Cloverdale, where he was buried in the family plot next to their parents.

(More 19th century characters at

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