Biography: Geisel Family

Christina Geisel - Curry Historical Society

History of the Geisel Monument and the Last Hanging in Curry County

Geisel FamilyJohn and Christina Geisel were married in May 6, 1842 in Butler County, Ohio. Before making there way west the lived in Kentucky and Indiana, and finally Oregon. In 1854 they settled about 6 miles north of the mouth of the Rogue River on a bluff of the ocean bench. On February 22, 1856 the family consisted of John, Christina and 5 children, three boys and two girls. The oldest child was a girl of 13 years and the youngest was a baby girl about two weeks old.

They lived in a house that also served as a hotel and store. The house was about 30 x 35 feet and was two stories high, with three outside doors. The house had 12 rooms and 12 windows, and was a framed house built out of whipsawed lumber. The house was nearly new. They valued the house at $1,100.00. In addition to the house they had three 14 x 20 one room mining cabins with stone chimneys. These had also been built out of whipsawed lumber and were nearly new. They valued the cabins at $150.00 each. A large house near their dwelling was being used as a store. This building was 20 x 30 and one story high and built of lumber. They valued this at $800.00.


On February 21, 1856, Ben Wright, the Indian Agent for the area paid a visit to the Geisels. He told them that the Indians were well and peaceably disposed towards the white people and that there was no danger of an attack from them. On the following night a “tame” Indian who had been working for them and who had been out hunting their hogs that day, returned to their house around midnight and knocked on the door asking to be let in. They knew his voice and since they were not suspecting any danger, John Geisel got out of bed and opened the door. As soon as the door was opened the Indians that had been working for them and three or four others rushed in immediately and began a murderous assault on John.

Although Christina had given birth to Annie on January 28, 1856, and had not yet fully recovered her strength, she rushed to John’s side to assist him and received a painful cut that nearly severed her finger. Christina was soon over powered and John was killed. The oldest daughter, Mary, born February 14, 1843, was dragged out of her bed and her and Christina were securely bound. Her little boys, Andrew 5, Henry 7 and John 9, were then brought out one by one killed in her presence while the Indians made her watch. The Indians then removed Christina and her daughters from the house in their night clothes and more Indians showed up. They ransacked and burned the houses without removing the bodies of John or the boys.

The Indians stayed at the Geisel residence for about an hour and a half and then started on the return trip up river. Christina and Mary were not permitted to take any clothing or shoes. About a mile from the Geisel residence the Indians stopped at a cabin lived in by a settler named McPherson. He was immediately killed in their presence and after the cabin was ransacked it was burned. Not far from there the Indians came upon another man in a cabin and killed him. By this time it was daylight and Christina could see several dead people near the trail to the river. Their houses were burning and their fences were destroyed.

Christina and her two daughters were taken to a “Too-toot-nas” Indian camp about twelve miles up the Rogue River, probably in the area of Kimball Court or Lucky Lodge. They were held there as captives for fourteen days and were treated poorly by the Indian squaws who made them perform the hardest menial labor.

Ben Wright, the Indian Agent and Captain Poland, who was the head of a small group of volunteer soldiers stationed at Bagnell were also killed by the Indians. Before morning, twenty-five others died at the hands of the Indians who were filled with hatred towards the white man for taking their lands and giving them nothing but blankets, beads and disease in return. The Indians had been stirred up and armed by a Canadian half-breed named Enos. He had obtained muskets and ammunition from the settlers by devious means.


Nearly all the residents of the lower Rogue River were forced to seek refuge in a hastily constructed “Miners Fort” to the north of the mouth of the river. About 130 people were there and they chose Lt. Relf Bledsoe to command the fort. Six men were killed by the Indians as they tried to sneak out and gather potatoes from a nearby cache. The Indians made it clear that they would kill anyone caught outside the fort. The Indians patrolled the hills and launched attacks from there. The women molded bullets and the men manned the port holes in the fort.


After about a week, word leaked back to the fort that the Indians were holding the Geisel women captives. Lt. Bledsoe and Sheriff Michael Riley puzzled over what to do. Finally Bledsoe asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to go to the Indians and bargain for the return of the Geisel women.

Charley Brown a Russian trapper who had come to the area from Seattle, and who spoke only broken english, said he and his wife Elizabeth, (Betsey) would try to get them back. Betsey was a member of the Yontockett Indian tribe of northern California and she understood the to-to-tin language spoken by the Rogue River Indians.

Carrying a white flag, Charley Brown and Betsey walked unarmed from the fort. They were soon surrounded by the Indians. Betsey talked with them in their native tongue. They agreed to exchange the Geisel widow and her two daughters for an Indian woman the settlers were holding hostage in the fort plus a certain number of the whiteman’s blanket. Charlie and Betsey agreed and returned to the fort.

The next day they left with the Indian squaw hostage and the blankets. The Indians gave them Christina and the baby, but one of the Indian braves insisted on keeping 13 year old daughter Mary and they had to return to the fort without her.

Once again Charley and Betsey left the fort under a flag of truce. Betsey carefully explained to the Indians that Mary must be returned or the entire tribe would be killed when the white soldiers came. This did not impress the young braves but they did agree to take Charlie and Betsey to the camp where Mary was being held.

As Charley and Betsey entered the bark covered teepee Mary was being held by a powerful looking Indian. Mary was weeping. After some discussion it was determined that the Indian would not release her, and he glared at Charley and Betsey. Betsey spoke to him and she pleaded with him, but with no success. Betsey decided that she had to do something, so she grabbed Mary and pulled her free from the Indian and the three of them started running into the forest. Betsey glanced back over her shoulder just as a tomahawk dealt her a glancing blow in the lip. They hid in the forest until the bleeding stopped and then made their way to the fort under cover of darkness.


There was joyful reunion at the fort and in order to express their gratitude, a proclamation was drafted which paid tribute “…to our fellow citizen Mr. Charley Brown for his brave and gallant conduct.”

The settlers remained at the fort for several more weeks until they were rescued by U.S. Army troops that marched from Fort Humboldt and the 4th Infantry which came down from Vancouver.

Charley Brown sent Betsey to her people in northern California and later he joined her there. They made their home in Crescent City for many years and he became a naturalized citizen on November 2, 1864. The had a large family and many of their descendants probably still live in the area. A daughter-in-law named Amelia, a Towola Indian, made her home in Orick and lived to be more than 100 years old.

Christina’s youngest daughter Annie died early in life. Mary married a man named Harry Blake and they lived on a fine ranch near the Chetco River. Harry Blake served several years in the state legislature.


Christina married Frank Buggy in 1858 and divorced him in 1865. On December 6, 1869 she married Jim Pate and divorced him on June 2, 1871. In 1879 she married A. J. Edson, a widower, whose wife Harriet had died several years before. A. J. Edson had a store where the old Buffington cannery was located. Frank Colvin could remember spending his first nickel there for a piece of pink and white hard candy which Mr. Edson whacked off with a blow from a knife handle. A. J. Edson died in 1883. .

Christina Edson filed a petition on April 25, 1887 asking the federal government for compensation for the loss of her husband, boys and property at the hands of the Indians on February 22, 1956. The government awarded her a pension of $75.00 per month.


Early on the morning of September 20, 1899, at Gold Beach, the startling discovery was made that the residence of Mrs. Christina Edson had been destroyed by fire and an investigation soon disclosed that the body of the noble old pioneer lady had been consumed with the building, leaving no doubt that a murder most foul had been committed.


Coleman Gillespie, a young man born and raised on the Rogue River, had begun to develop a depraved and vicious disposition from early childhood, and for years had been branded by public opinion as a thief headed for the penitentiary or the gallows. He had left the area a few days before the fire with Bill Carey and his family, who were headed to a farm Carey had purchased at Myrtle Creek.

It was learned that Gillespie had passed through Port Orford with the Carey family, hence there was no thought that he was the murderer. But then it was learned that on the very morning that the crime was discovered, Gillespie had arrived in Port Orford from the south, a little after daylight. He had fed his horse at Knapp’s. The horse had been ridden hard. He said he had spent the night at Fromms some nine miles north, but this was proved false when it was learned that he had left Carey at Sixes River saying he had to go collect some money he had coming.


When the authorities learned that Coleman Gillespie had cashed the $75.00 compensation check Christina had received the day before her death, at a store in Myrtle Creek, they were on their way. When the officers got to Roseburg they contacted District Attorney Brown who sent word by telephone all along the line. Gillespie was arrested in Cottage Grove and returned to Roseburg.

In the Roseburg jail, in the presence of District Attorney Brown and within the hearing of Sheriff Turner and Deputy Miller, he made a full confession. He said he had acted alone, and explained in detail where he had left his horse, where he had lain in the hay and the boat he had used. He said he had entered the house and the bedroom and had tortured Christina by choking her until she surrendered $11.75 and her $75.00 pension check. He then choked her to death. He ate supper and then opened a can of coal oil and poured it over the bed and set it on fire. He then left the area. He was returned to Gold Beach and charged with the robbery and murder of Christina Edson on September 19, 1889.

After waiving a preliminary hearing he was held in the Coos county jail to await the convening of the Curry County court. On Monday, August 20, 1900, the Circuit Court for Curry County State of Oregon, 2nd Judicial District convened for the trial of the State of Oregon against Coleman Gillespie.


In court, Coleman said that he and a local man named Charles Strahan were partners in the crime and that Strahan had gone to the house with him and that it was Strahan that actually committed the murder and set the house on fire. On Tuesday, August 22, 1900, Gillespie was convicted of Murder in the First Degree after a very short period of deliberation by the jury.


The following day, Wednesday, August 23, 1900, Coleman Gillespie was brought before the court and asked if he had any reason why sentence should not be passed. He began a rambling and senseless tirade against some of the witnesses and was cut short by Judge J. W. Hamilton who ordered that on Friday, October 5, 1990, between the hours of two and four o’clock in the afternoon, “…you be taken to a place to be prepared by the Sheriff in the jail yard of the county, and then and there, in the presence of 12 bona fide electors of the county, to be selected by the sheriff of said county, you be hung by the neck until you are dead, and may God have mercy on your soul.”


Sheriff James G. Walker selected the following 12 men to act as witnesses to the hanging. Delos Woodruff, a rancher from the Ophir area; William Lake, a mail carrier; William Miller, a rancher; Joseph Crockett, a commercial Rogue River fisherman; C. S. Winson, manager of the Hume estate and later a banker; W. H. Crook, a rancher from Pistol River; Frank A. Stewart, Ophir rancher and father of Hardy Stewart; N. B. Moore, a rancher from Harbor; W. E. Burrow, a blacksmith from Ophir and John R. Miller, a Port Orford, merchant.

The scaffold was built adjoining the old county courthouse which was located on the same block where the present courthouse sits. The trap was sprung many times to make certain there would be no mistakes. Almost the entire male population of the county showed up, but that still wasn’t very many.

Coleman Gillespie made an impassioned plea from the scaffold and pointed his finger at one of the men in the crowd that had climbed up into a Spruce tree to watch. “There’s the murderer!”, Gillespie cried. Moments later the trap was sprung.