Colfax's oldest grave unearths many mysteries

By: Nancy Hagman, Special to the Colfax Record
-A +A
A previous tale has led to a surprise response from the state of Washington. It was noted (see Colfax Record, May 31, 2012) that the oldest known grave in the Colfax Cemetery is that of Ammiel Brickell. According to his headstone, the Ohio native died on Aug. 10, 1851 at 38 years of age. However, Jim Brickell – who resides in the town of Addy, Wash. – has found that that which is set in stone is not necessarily true, as there is a discrepancy between the year of his ancestor’s death on the gravestone and written accounts he has uncovered. He has been kind enough to share his extensive research with us. According to records from the Sacramento City Cemetery, Ammiel Brickell was buried there on Aug. 22, 1855 [the day has to be a typographical error]. This record also says he was from Illinois and that he died of gunshot wounds. At some point, he was disinterred and delivered to the Illinoistown hill where he lies today. No records have been found to indicate when that occurred. Was Brickell murdered or was he shot in self-defense? Newspaper articles and court records from the period provide the details of Brickell’s demise. On August 26, 1855, a fatal shooting occurred at the Golden Eagle Hotel in Sacramento. Samuel Garrett had been a barkeeper at a place called Our House. Brickell, having made his stake in the gold fields around Illinoistown along with his brothers, owned the establishment. Twenty-five year old Garrett had been discharged for misconduct; he had succeeded in gaining the affections of Harriet Louisa – Brickell’s 15-year-old daughter. Sometime after Garrett eloped with the girl and went to Ione Valley. The young couple, not wed, returned to Sacramento and took a room at the Golden Eagle. The angry father learned of their arrival, went to the hotel armed with a Bowie knife, and began to unbraid Garrett for his conduct. According to the State Journal account, “To the questions asked by the father as to whether he had married the woman, Garrett returned evasive answers.” Brickell stormed away but returned later that evening, when he again met Garrett and told him that there would be blood spilt. Witnesses said that Brickell moved toward Garrett, making a motion as if drawing a weapon. Garrett said, “Don’t come near me. I have tried to avoid you all day and will do so no longer.” Garrett drew a navy revolver and fired five shots, retreating all the while, as Brickell endeavored to close on him. Having discharged all the barrels of his revolver, Garrett commenced “beating the old man over the head with his pistol.” Gun always trumps knife. Two of the shots struck the chest, Brickell died four hours later. The Journal also noted that the wife and daughter came to see him but once. Their conduct was observed to be most unfeeling and that “more sympathy would be expected of savages.” A friend, interviewed by the paper, said Brickell was a quiet and industrious man and that the conduct of his daughter rendered him for the time “unusually excited.” Records indicate the coroner’s inquest began two days later and lasted four days. Garrett was indicted for murder on Oct 10, 1855. The trail and conviction took only one day in November. Sam Garrett was found guilty and sentenced to hang in January. This action was stayed at the last minute and an appeal was set for April 25, 1856. It was unsuccessful and the sentence was to be carried out in June. Jim Brickell has not verified the execution but did say that Harriet Louisa did marry Sam Garrett in a jailhouse wedding the first part of 1856, perhaps to legitimize the consequence of their intimacy. Next mystery: Whatever became of the girl?