The Murder Mystery of Daniel S. Baldwin: 1829 - 1857
In the mid-1800's, Newman may have been "a thought" to some, but it wasn't until 1888 that Newman was founded, so I will start by telling a story that few people know about. Hills Ferry was where Simon Newman first came to the Central Valley from San Francisco, and Hills Ferry is where this tale begins...
I will start this short series concerning the city of Newman's history by talking about a man who came to California to make his fortune. Can you imagine thinking you were going to California to make something of yourself and ending up dead and buried along the river, alone, with no family, no one, just friends who cared about you?
Daniel Baldwin was in his early 20's when he left his home and family in Connecticut to come to California during the Gold Rush.
Baldwin lived on the outskirts of the town called "Hills Ferry" (located 3.5 miles northeast of Newman). With a small amount of gold, he set off for Hills Ferry to buy items he needed. In those years, everyone for 20 miles around bought their supplies in Hills Ferry. A ferry boat business existed in Hills Ferry which facilitated travel across the San Joaquin/Merced rivers to the east in the direction of the Sierra Mountain Range. The infamous bandit, Joaquin Murrieta, used to cross the river here too, on horseback, by the same ferry. Hills Ferry was a good sized community at that time. The year was 1857 and during this "shopping trip" it seems that Daniel Baldwin was lost to history... until...
Contemporary Search: Whatever Became of Daniel S. Baldwin?:
The land, where Daniel was ultimately laid to rest, was purchased by the Nielson Family. Carl Nielson grew up on the property and said it never occurred to them to remove the marker inscribed to a "Daniel Baldwin" that was found on their property, "When dad bought the ranch, the marker was broken", he said. "We put it back together. We felt it was that person's resting place." - From the Turlock Journal, March 3, 1995.
Learning more about the circumstances behind the 4 1/2 foot high marker was a challenge. Genealogy searches turned up two different Daniel S. Baldwins who hailed from the same area in Connecticut - some too old, some too young. According to the clerk's office in Goshen, Connecticut: Daniel Baldwin's parents had 10 children, but only four names are listed and none of them were "Daniel". A search of Stanislaus County records proved fruitless as well.
The story then goes, as told by (and to) the Turlock Journal March 3, 1995: "About the only person who seems to know the right story is Leonard Peterson, 80, of Turlock. He said he came upon the marker when he was a boy, in the early 1930's:
Peterson and his friends used to go camping in the area to hunt and fish. After discovering the tombstone, Peterson told his father about it and was surprised when he already knew. Peterson said his father related the story of the Daniel S. Baldwin who lies beneath the tombstone:
Daniel Baldwin operated a horse rental business in the area and did business with Joaquin Murrieta. "Murrieta used to come across the (San Joaquin) river at that juncture because it was the shallowest point.". Peterson said. Murrieta traveled by horse to rob stagecoaches of their gold then later buried the loot.
Murrieta was killed in 1853. Nielson said stagecoaches did run through the area and "In the spring, when the grass is new, you can still see the tracks". On that fateful August day in 1857, Baldwin took some gold to purchase goods at a local half-way house, while conducting a transaction he was spied upon by some ll intentioned men.
"They saw that Baldwin had some gold and figured if he had that, he had more" Peterson said. The men followed Baldwin back to his camp by the river then shot and killed him. Baldwin's friends later buried him on the spot where he perished, his murderers never being brought to justice for their crime. Now it appears all that's left of Baldwin's tale is Peterson's story and the epitaph on the forgotten marker...Time has worn a portion of the verse away but what is left reads: "My Brother's Grave, My Brother's Grave, On the Distant Shore, The Branches Wave. Of Him that was so Loved and Dear, Killed By a Stranger's Gun".
In 2012, two unidentified men escorted Newman Historical Society members, Tom and Barbara Powell, Bernhard Marks, and Sheldon Crow out to see the grave of the young man. The marker is still there, broken, fenced in, and unprotected.
I would like to thank the new land owners of the property for allowing me to write this story. We are happy all the people along the way have allowed this young man a peaceful resting place for 165 years.
Written by Mary Vaz Moore, Orestimba High School Class of 1954 Graduate (article contributed to the West Side Index - 2023)