History is full of all sorts of oddities and oftentimes coincidences. While conducting research several weeks ago for another of these weekly columns, I happened on an Internet blog which mentioned the name Owen Fallon, the person I was seeking information about. After reading the blog I discovered that it was not the Owen Fallon I was researching; however, the Owen Fallon mentioned in the blog was also an historic figure that lived in the California gold country and could have been related to ‘my’ Owen Fallon. The Owen I was researching lived in Amador County and the newly discovered Owen lived in Columbia, Tuolumne County.
As I dug deeper into the matter, trying to make a connection between the two, I found yet another mention of a third Owen Fallon in historic newspapers. This Owen Fallon also lived in Amador but upon further examination documents revealed that he was too old to be ‘my’ Owen. Being a detective at heart, I set my sleuthing skills to work and discovered that there were indeed three men by the name of Owen Fallon who were historic figures of some note in the annals of foothill history, and like a curse that is said to follow the given name ‘Judas’, if you lived in the California foothills between 1850 and 1910, and you were named Owen Fallon, chances are you could suffer your share of bad luck.
My research into Owen Fallon began while writing a chapter in my recent review of Amador County blacksmiths. Regular readers will recall mention of his name in Part III of that saga as a blacksmith who worked in Sutter Creek and Martell. More about him later. We begin this story with another Owen Fallon, the owner of the Fallon Hotel in Columbia, California and his run of bad luck. In 1852, the lot on which Fallon’s hotel would stand was home to the Justice Joseph Carly’s Courthouse.
That early wood-framed building burned in 1854 and was rebuilt, later becoming home to a temperance house and bakery and by 1856 was the site of a hotel called The Maine House. That same year, Owen Fallon arrived in Columbia. Fallon, a native of Ireland, came to the U.S. with his parents when he was but an infant. During his childhood, the family lived in Troy, New York. As Owen grew, he learned the trade of his father as a stone cutter and worked alongside him on construction of the Erie Canal.
In 1840, Owen when to sea on a whaling ship and later worked on a merchant ship. In 1981, he arrived in California aboard the latter and settled at Mission Dolores in San Francisco. After spending some time working at hay cutting and gardening, he was elected Constable in San Mateo County, and then became a policeman in San Francisco. In 1856, Owen left his badge and the city behind moving to Columbia and began mining. Whether mining was not to his liking or he only engaged in it long enough to raise some capital, he gave it up and purchased the Maine House.
This is where his bad luck began. Within a year, the hotel was completely destroyed by a devastating fire that swept through nearly the entire town on August 24, 1857. Even the supposedly fireproof brick buildings were destroyed. The loss to the town was estimated at over $500,000 and five men were killed. Fallon’s loss was estimated at $3,000 but he was not discouraged and rebuilt the hotel, again as a wood-framed building.
Business went along fine and then two years and three days later, the entire hotel was again destroyed by fire. It appears that this Owen Fallon learned his lesson. He rebuilt the second time with brick. That building, which has been home to many different businesses since Owen owned it, is still standing and is one of a number of historic structures that line the streets of the California State Park at Columbia. This Owen Fallon’s bad luck seems minor compared to the other two men by the same name.
The second Owen Fallon, another Irishman, met his demise on the afternoon of February 25, 1868 due to a case of mistaken identity. This Owen, lived in Amador County and, according to newspaper accounts of his death, was “one of our most respected citizens.” On that fateful afternoon, Owen was at the home of Michael Carroll in Irishtown. Carroll told of the incident to the coroner’s jury. Owen Fallon arrived at the Carroll residence that afternoon with a man by the name of Pittman and introduced himself to Carroll simply as Fallon. The three men had dinner together in Carroll’s house and then Owen asked Carroll about a Michael Kelly.
They proceeded outside and met Kelly at the corner of Carroll’s house. Kelly informed them that there were three men in front of the house that were asking about ‘a man’ that went into Carroll’s house. Kelly led Fallon, Pittman, and Carroll around the house where they met with Frank Brickey, Joseph Zerger, and William Boyd with guns in their hands. Brickey and Carroll had a quick conversation, although Carroll could not remember exactly what was said, the name Fallon was mentioned.
Owen Fallon came up behind Carroll, passed him, and ask the three gunman what they wanted. When he was asked about a man inside Carroll’s house by the name of Fallon, he replied it was his name and inquired as to what they wanted. Seeing the look on the faces of the gunmen, Owen dropped his hands to his side and stepped backward. The three men cocked their guns.
Carroll stepped forward grabbing Brickey by the arm while telling him not to shoot, that it was not the man they were after. As Carroll was talking to Brickey, Boyd raised his gun and fired. Carroll turned to find dust rising from Fallon’s coat and knew that he had been shot. As he ran towards Owen another shot rang out and then a third. Boyd immediately threw down his gun and ran. Fallon stepped away from a fence he was leaning on and Carroll assisted him in lying down. Owen died there about 10 minutes later at around 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
Joseph Zerger also testified at the coroner’s inquest. He told the jury that while he was out hunting his cows near Irishtown, he was met by two men, William Boyd and Frank Brickey. They told Zerger that they were going to Irishtown to capture a man that had escaped from the Calaveras jail. Zerger accompanied them to the settlement where they inquired at the home of Carroll and met up with Kelly. Kelly went into the house and came out again followed by Carroll and Fallon. Owen told the men he was Fallon and drew a revolver, pointing it at Boyd.
Boyd’s shots rang out and Boyd dropped his gun and ran with Kelly firing at him. Zerger and Brickey followed suit, quickly exiting the scene. Franklin Brickey testified that after Boyd had called out to the men inside Carroll’s house several times without receiving an answer, Brickey suggested they go to Jackson for the Sheriff but Boyd objected. That’s when Kelly approached and after finding out what they wanted, told them the man in Carroll’s house was not their man.
Brickey’s recount of the shooting was in line with that of the other witnesses but added that Boyd hit Fallon with two shots, fired in succession, from a double-barreled shotgun. Turns out that Owen had been mistaken for his brother, Brian Fallon, who had escaped from the Calaveras jail with two other inmates. Brian was being held there for the murder of a Mr. McKisson at Rich Gulch.
The manhunt was on and whether law enforcement thought that maybe Brian would head to Amador County or they just heard there was a Fallon in Irishtown, the truth of it may never be known. If it was the second reason, a third brother, Francis, could have easily also been a target. Owen was but 28 years old when Boyd shot him down simply because his name was Fallon. Boyd was arrested and charged with murder. He was bonded out but the charges were dropped in May 1868, the Sacramento Daily Union reporting the Grand Jury “ignoring the charges.”
Last but by far the most scandalous story is that of ‘my’ Owen Fallon, the man that I was initially researching. As stated above, this Owen Fallon was a blacksmith in Sutter Creek and Martell. He too was the son of Irish immigrants, born in Mokelumne Hill in November 1864 to John Fallon and Anna (Donnelly) Fallon. Research revealed that John and Anna moved around northern California before Owen was born and when he was young. The couple met and were married in Sutter Creek in 1864 and the following year John went to work as a laborer building the Central Pacific Railroad.
In 1895, Owen was married to Anna Elizabeth Martell, the daughter of Louis and Delia (Tynan) Martell who owned the Martell Station. The two had known each other from childhood. To the couple were born two children, Juanita, who died at the age of two in 1899, and Owen Michael Fallon, born in December 1898. Owen’s troubles began in January 1899, when after attending the funeral of Joseph Fontenrose, his father-in-law told him that his wife wanted him to hurry home.
Upon arriving at his house he found his wife holding one sick child in her arms while rocking another in a nearby cradle. Both were sick with their daughter near death. Also in the home was Raymond Meehan. He was sitting on a nearby sofa smoking a cigarette. Fallon was not happy, both he and his wife having an unpleasant history with Meehan. The trouble with Meehan began in May 1895 at a picnic held at the Jackson Gate schoolhouse. The two young men struck up a conversation.
Meehan told Fallon that he would like to dance with Annie Martell but her father objected and asked Fallon if he would try to get the father’s consent. Owen spoke to Louis and after initial objections finally relented and approved the dance. Meehan also told Owen that Annie was “stuck on him.” After the dance, Owen began to keep regular company with Annie until they were married in September 1895. Even after their marriage Owen had to warn Meehan to stay away from Annie and he gave his word that he would.
On the day of the funeral, Owen ran into Meehan near Vicini’s Hotel. Owen was headed from his home in Sutter Creek to the funeral at Martell and Meehan was going down the hill into Sutter Creek. When Owen arrived at home and found Meehan there, Annie spoke up, “My God, Owen, don’t blame me for this. He knocked on the door and I told him to come in, thinking it was the doctor. I entreated him to leave but he refused and insulted me.”
Owen then reminded Meehan of the promise he had made at the picnic. Meehan’s reply was, “To hell with the picnic; that woman thinks more of me than she does of you.” The two men fought and Owen drug Meehan to Moore’s Hotel and summoned the doctor to attend to Meehan’s injuries. He also called for a buggy to take Meehan home after the doctor was finished. A few days later Juanita died.
As expected, it took time for the Fallon family to adjust to the death of their daughter but within a year the couple and their son were doing well. Owen thought that Meehan’s interference in his marriage was in the past until the summer of 1901 when he began to become suspicious. Mid-summer, Owen took a trip to San Francisco. Upon his return he was told that Meehan had been seen at night coming out of the back door of the residence where Annie and their son were staying at Martell’s Station while Owen was away. He was also told that his wife had been away at night several times during his absence.
On August 16th, Annie told Owen she wanted to go to town. Owen offered to hitch a team after dinner (midday meal) but Annie insisted she leave then and walk into town. Around 3:00 pm Owen hitched the buggy and drove into Sutter Creek. When he reached the edge of town, he saw Annie and Meehan coming out of the Toll House Saloon. As soon as Meehan saw Owen he turned and ran back into the saloon. Owen drove Annie home while she denied that it was Meehan.
Owen inquired with his landlady, who said that Meehan had been at the house earlier drinking liquor with Annie. Owen grabbed a gun and headed to referee a boxing match in Love’s Hall in Jackson. Meehan was there as a second for one of the contestants. Owen told him to just take Annie and leave town as he didn’t want to be humiliated further by their affair, adding that he ought to kill Meehan.
When he asked if there was anything more between Meehan and Annie than just meeting, Meehan replied with a sneer. Fallon told Meehan to get a gun and meet him in ten minutes. On his way home, Owen found his house empty and his wife and son at her father’s home at Martell Station. He then returned to Jackson and entered Burgin’s Gem Saloon where he found Meehan in company with Charles Gregory, the Deputy Sheriff. Owen asked Meehan if he was armed.
Gregory attempted to stop the affray but Owen grabbed Meehan and thrust him through the swinging doors from the bar into the cardroom. At the same time, Owen drew his pistol and started shooting, firing two shots. Meehan and Owen then scuffled, both falling and Owen fired two more shots into Meehan at close range on the way down. As the fifth bullet was discharged from the gun, Gregory and others headed to retrieve the gun, knowing it was empty.
Owen was arrested by Gregory and taken to jail on charges of assault and Meehan, who had been struck with two shots, was hurried from the barroom and taken to the nearby Central Hotel. Drs. Endicott and Gall were called to attend to his wounds. The shooting occurred in the wee hours of the morning on August 17th. Meehan seemed to be on the mend until August 22nd when he took a turn in the other direction. He lingered for several weeks and died from an infection in one of the wounds. His assailant was to be charged with murder.
Owen Fallon posted a $3,000 bond with the assistance of John Strohm, Christopher Marelia, and G.D. Calvin as bondsmen. After a preliminary examination and jury selection, his trial began on November 26, 1902. Evidence and testimony were presented until the 5th of December.
The next morning the jury was given leave to deliberate at 11:00 a.m. Six hours later they returned to the courtroom to inform the judge that they could not reach a verdict – the votes being 11 to 1 for acquittal. The day after Christmas, District Attorney Charles P. Vicini made a motion to dismiss the case and release Fallon from custody, citing the opinion of the jury was in line with the public sentiment that Owen’s actions were the result of Meehan wrecking the Fallon family’s home and marriage.
After his release, Owen stumbled about for a time trying to make a go of his blacksmithing business again and his partnership in the hotel at Martell but the public scandal was too much. In January 1903 he closed down his smithy business, sold out his interest in the hotel to his partner M. Barsi, and left for Arizona.
Although it was his intention to settle there, he was back in Jackson within a month. Owen died in January 1908. Annie moved to Los Angeles to live with her mother and brother Frank. Owen and Annie’s son, Owen Michael Fallon also lived in Los Angeles where he started a band called Owen Fallon and His Californians. They recorded several 78 rpm albums from 1925 to 1933. You can listen to their tunes on Spotify and YouTube.