Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Deathbed Confession Leads to True Identity

Photograph of Charles Vincent Dougherty's Cabin in the San Gabriel Mountains
Picture by Lonnie DeCloedt and used with his permission
Deathbed confessions were fairly common during the 19th century. When all hope was gone, family members, a trusted friend, minister, or physician frequently listened to the final words of the dying. But rarely have mourners ever heard a confession like that of Charles Tom Vincent, who passed away in a Los Angeles hospital in 1926.
Vincent called his doctor in and asked that he be buried in the Sawtelle National Cemetery. He knew that for that to happen, he would have to reveal his true identity so that his Civil War service could be documented. He confessed that his name was really Charles Vincent Doughtery. He had been born in 1838 and grew up in Fremont, Ohio.

Sawtelle National Cemetery
His family was deeply religious and highly respected. His sisters had married prominent members of the community. His mother, Josephine, was considered a "very sincere Christian" by fellow worshippers at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fremont.
True patriots, Vincent and his older brother James enlisted to fight for the Union cause. They were among the first to answer Lincoln's call. They served together in the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Both were wounded during the conflict - James at Gettysburg and Vincent at Chancellorsville. When their time was out, James returned to Sandusky County, but not Vincent. He headed for Arizona.
There, he and a friend prospected for gold. One day after working their claim, they discovered three thieves ransacking their cabin. Vincent confessed that he and his partner shot the three and immediately buried them on the spot - a secret he had kept for nearly 40 years.
Realizing that from now on, they would be wanted men, Vincent and his partner abandoned their Arizona claim and took off for Los Angeles. It wasn't long before the lure of gold drove Vincent into the Sierra Nevadas. He later made his way south to the San Gabriel Mountains, where he built a cabin, prospected, and lived off the big game he so skillfully brought down.
While hunting big horn sheep not far from his cabin, Vincent discovered what he thought was the "mother lode." He and two partners dug a series of tunnels, bringing out some gold, but they lacked the capital to fully develop their Big Horn Mine.  In1902, they sold the mine to the Lowell and California Mining Company. According to Lonnie DeCloedt, who has researched Vincent's life, the Big Horn became the largest mine in Los Angeles County. But yields remained low and the company eventually closed the Big Horn.
As age crept up on Vincent, it was no longer possible for him to continue living alone in his secluded cabin in the mountains. By 1910, the old miner had moved to a Los Angeles boarding house and later to the home of a supposed nephew.
Was Vincent's final request carried out? It certainly was. A tombstone marks his grave at the Sawtelle National Cemetery. It reads "Vincent Dougherty, Co. F, 8 Ohio Inf." Thanks to residents interested in the area's local history, Dougherty's cabin in the San Gabriel Mountains still survives. You can read more online about Charles Vincent Doughtery and the Big Horn Mine at Lonnie DeCloedt's  "Weekly Pioneer" site.  Lonnie graciously granted permission for the use of several photos that appear on his site.

Gravesite of Charles Vincent Dougherty, Sawtelle National Cemetery
Photograph by Lonnie DeCloedt and used with his permission


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