Uncle Charlie

   "Uncle Charlie" (Charles Henry Crane) was the youngest of the six children of John Crane and Mary ("Polly") Minton, of the large clan of Cranes who were early settlers of Morris County, New Jersey. There seems to be little to find about him in the early records of New Jersey. Presumably he began at a young age to farm and construct barrels, the occupations of his father. Our first certain record of him was as an employee in his brothers' cabinet shop and furniture store in 1845 Newark. Three years later, the Newark city directory identified him as a dentist. We don't know if he had any formal training along that line. At the time of the Civil War, there were only three (four, according to one reference) dental schools in the United States. Most dentistry training came from serving as an apprentice to some established dentist - most often, a doctor, barber, or blacksmith who had received his training from a similar source, in a similar way.


   Charlie surfaced next in California in 1850, living the life of a gold miner in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The one letter from him that we have found gives no clue as to how he traveled from New Jersey to the West Coast, although by sea via Panama seems most likely. Nor do we know who he traveled with; his cousin William Bradford was with him for awhile, but his other mining partners originated in various states (Missouri and Vermont, for sure), and probably were just other young men he met along the way or joined with in the gold fields. He was finding a little gold, but it was hard work: "Three of our boys took out of a hole last week 97 dollars in one day. That sounds large but when you take in consideration the time 3 or 4 days clearing off the top dirt, it is not much after all." He had apparently been very sick, so sick that any other problems - like potential attacks by Indians - seemed insignificant: "I don't fear anything like sickness. After what I have been through the very name strikes me with horror."

   He was obviously homesick: "Home. I often ask myself whether I shall ever return to it, but hope whispers Yes, God grant it may be so." He mused about returning to New Jersey and "running for an Alderman," but four years later, he was still in California, apparently practicing dentistry in San Francisco. The question of his future was still unresolved; responding to his nephew: "You ask me, will I ever return? Well, I have put the same question to myself a thousand times, and invariably answer myself with, I don't know. So, when you see me, you may believe it. For I am satisfied that my promises about returning home are not worth a straw."

   He didn't return to the East. In 1858, he married Anna Molthrop, the daughter of a sea captain living in Portland, Oregon. How they got together is a mystery to me, as Charlie seems to have had no other ties to the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps he met her through his future brother-in-law and sister-in-law, John and Lydia (Molthrop) Cissna, who were living in San Francisco at the same time as Charlie. After their marriage, they returned to San Francisco, where they lived with the Cissnas and also with another of Anna's sisters and brother-in-law, Ralph and Lucy (Molthrop) Mead.

  [One of those fascinating coincidences: Charlie's 5th-great-grandfather, Jasper Crane - the first of Charlie's Crane line in North America - came from England to Boston in 1637, and was one of the first settlers of New Haven, Connecticut. On the same ship, and also joining the New Haven Colony, was Matthew Moulthrop, the first of Anna's line in America. When the Cranes relocated from Connecticut to New Jersey, the Moulthrops remained in Connecticut. In fact, Anna had been born in New Haven, before her sea captain father moved the family to the Pacific Northwest. It's unlikely that the two families had any contact after the early 1700s.]

   In about 1864, Charlie and Anna moved their family to Boise, Idaho. There, Charlie joined with his nephews William, Charles, and Lewis (sons of his brother, James Harvey Crane) in developing a farm and ranch that supplied meat, fresh fruit, and fresh vegetables to Boise and the surrounding mining communities. And there, on 25 September 1868, "Uncle Charlie's" relatively short life came to an end. The Boise Democrat reported it this way.
   "We were called upon today to record one of the most distressing occurrences that it has been our lot to have knowledge of for a long time. The victim was one of our most honorable, enterprising and esteemed citizens, and it caused a feeling undescribable when first we received the news. Yesterday morning about half-past ten o'clock, the news came to town that Dr. Charles H. Crane, living in Crane's Gulch, about three miles from town, had been murdered; and it flew like wildfire through our streets. Upon inquiry, we gathered the following particulars: The Doctor had had living with him for some time a nephew named Louis Crane, brother of W. B. Crane, well-known in this territory, who is, and has been for some months, partially insane. From some cause Louis disliked his uncle. On yesterday morning, after breakfast, it being about half past eight o'clock, Dr. Crane, in company with a hired man and the boy Louis had gone to a tent on the flat below the house, where he was engaged in canning tomatoes. It appears from all that we can gather, that the hired man and Louis got into a quarrel about something, and Louis got hold of a pitchfork and, also, a large sized butcher-knife, and was standing in a threatening attitude. The Doctor stepped up and endeavored to pacify the boy and quell the disturbance when Louis turned upon and stabbed him with the knife in the left side. A man was immediately dispatched, on a fleet horse, for Dr. Wagner, and within an hour Dr. Wagner was at the residence of the victim, but too late -- life had fled, and Dr. Charles H. Crane was no more, when he arrived. From Dr. Wagner we learn that the wound ranged in the direction of the lungs, and he is satisfied that the blade of the knife passed through the lobe of the left lung..
   "Complaint being made, Louis Crane, the perpetrator of the crime, was taken into custody by Under Sheriff Yates and Deputy Marshall Robbins, and lodged in jail. Upon being taken into custody, he treated the whole matter with indifference, saying when speaking of the murder, 'that there might have been a man killed, but that is nothing' and other language sufficient to show that he did not realize the enormity of the crime of which he was guilty.
   "The deceased, Dr. Charles H. Crane, was well-known all over the Pacific coast. For many years, he resided (in) San Francisco, in the practice of his profession -- dentistry. From thence he came to Portland, Ogn., and thence to Idaho, where for the last four years he has resided. While in Oregon he married the sister of Capt. Wm. Molthrop, who, only a few days since, started east. Deceased leaves a wife and three children."


   The Owyhee Avalanche added a little to the story: "We learn that the nephew mentioned is a brother of C. W. Crane, of Owyhee, and that about a year ago he was thrown from a horse, since which time he has shown frequent signs of insanity. Under-sheriff Yates, accompanied by deputy U. S. marshal Robbins, arrested him and lodged him in jail to await an examination. When they arrested him he still had the knife in his hand, and at work, seemingly unconscious of the deed he had committed. When the warrant was read to him he said he knew the law, and that no one was hurt, and that he would not hurt the Doctor for anything in the world."

   The Boise Democrat editorialized: "This is but another example of the fruits of letting insane persons to run at liberty, however harmless they may appear. This makes the third case of the same kind that has occurred in and near Boise City -- first, the case of young Lytel, killing his father just above town; then Louis Ridgely, killing himself and H. B. Lane, and now young Crane, killing his uncle. There is a proper place for such people, and they should be put there."


  Apparently, The Law agreed that the case was a mental, not a criminal, one. There appear to be no records of a trial or other legal action against Lewis, and he disappeared from the scene, perhaps to some institution. Four years later, in March 1972, William B. Crane wrote a brief closing paragraph to his daughter Mary:
"Your uncle Lewis my brother is dead. Tell Grand Ma he died in California. He had not been well for a good while -- and they wrote me that he died of consumption."


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