About Me

Wells, BC, Canada
Richard is a working photographer and writer in B.C. His camera focuses on natural history. archeology, travel, and documentary photography. His photography blog may be found at: http://richardtwright.blogspot.com/

Friday, April 12, 2013

Researching Col. John Van Houten - a continuing story

The brutal death of Col. John Van Houten

This post is a postscript to:
How Wyatt Earp avenged a Barkerville Miner;
and from 2009:

April, 2013.
Amy and I returned to Tombstone and area to shoot a video based on this story. When edited it will appear on YouTube. This is a continuing research project into Cariboo miners who took part in US silver and gold rushes.

Amy Newman at the Brunkow cabin, the site of Van Houten's death.
San Pedro River, Arizona, April, 2013
On a hot, windy and overcast morning we visited the Brunkow cabin and mine, just west of Tombstone, where Col. JohnVan Houten was murdered, supposedly by Frank Stillwell and James Cassidy, a site sometimes described as "the most haunted cabin in the U.S." Van Houten was, according to newspaper accounts, "beaten in the face with a rock until he died." No dramatic shootout here - just a brutal rock in the face. Stillwell was to go down in history as the murderer of Morgan Earp, brother of Wyatt Earp, who later killed Stillwell, avenging Morgan and by coincidence, Van Houten.
Van Houten, covered more completely in previous blogs, was a Cariboo, B.C. miner and Victoria merchant, with a family in Nanaimo. In the 1870s he and many others headed south to the new silver mines of southern Arizona.

The cabin can be seen in the upper left, at the crest of the small, light-coloured rise. It is above a small dry wash. The area is littered with many mine sites, most of which are associated with the town of Charleston, now completely gone, across the highway.

According to local legends over 24 people have been murdered at this cabin site, including German mine owner Frederick Brunkow, who was found in a mine shaft with a drill steel through his chest. He and some of his workers had been murdered by Mexican employees. Over the years the body count evidently increased, and included Barkerville, Cariboo miner Colonel John Van Houten who died here November 9, 1879, at age 55.
The reason for the murder is lost in history but at the time it was suspected to be over some claims that Houten had staked and that Stillwell and Cassidy laid claim too.
A mine shaft near the Brunkow cabin.

This time we wanted to see the cabin site and revisit his grave. I had located the cabin with the help of earlier visitors and Google Earth but when we got there we found that the image on Google was a later mine ruin. Then Amy spotted the cabin, just a low pile of adobe, across a mile of desert.
There isn't really much left. The site has been picked over by treasure hunters, shot up by wanton gunners, and torn down by souvenir hunters taking home chunks of adobe - none of whom knew who Van Housten was, most of whom were here to experience paranormal visitations.

Mine tailings near the Brunkow cabin site. It is unclear which shaft is the original Brunkow shaft or mine.

From a photography perspective the shooting was less than perfect. The light was flat and uninteresting and the wind howled. We shot videos on the Nikon D800, mainly with the 16-35mm lens, and the images were great. The D800 was a dream with full resolution 1080p. But my Apex shotgun mic would not record  - likely a wiring failure, so we were forced to use the in-camera mic and later tried out a handheld Shure 58. The in-camera mic is less than perfect in any situation as the mic picks up internal camera noise, and is useless in the wind. I now have to transcribe everything I said and do a voice-over recording when the video is edited.

There is nothing left of Van Houten here, except his spirit, and his story. I must admit to a certain melancholy here, which Amy managed to capture on video.  Here we were at a spot where a Cariboo miner died - right here. No one in Barkerville, B.C. speaks his name and only a few know his story. It is highly unlikely that anyone has ever visited this site on his behalf or to find out this story. He is, until now, forgotten, as are so many. I found that sad. I think it matters that we visited.

We moved on to Boothill Cemetery in Tombstone where we knew Col. John Van Houten was buried. His marker is terse. When we were last here it read: "Van Houten, 1879". Since then some has scrawled the word "Murdered" on his tombstone.
Most visitors walk right by his grave, more intent on visiting his neighbours the McLaurey's and Clantons. 
Col. John Van Houten lies here in the Arizona desert, a long way from the green hills of Cariboo.

The well tended grave of Col. John Van Houten, a Cariboo miner, in Boothill Cemetery, Tombstone Arizona.
All photos by Richard Wright.
Tombstone at night. D800, 16-35mm Nikkor. All photos by Richard Wright


Copyright 2013 Richard T Wright

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