The Life and Crimes of Robert Scott

On October 20th, 1853, Robert Scott threw a revolver at Andrew King’s feet, demanding a duel. When King refused to pick up the gun, Scott shot him in the chest. Five months later, Scott was hanged in front of a crowd of thousands at the Courthouse in Auburn.

This murder would have faded into obscurity in the fervor of the early gold rush, if not for two factors. The shooting occurred near the site of the present-day Bernhard Museum Complex, and within a month of his execution, a sensational pamphlet was released, claiming to be an autobiographical account of Scott’s long list of robberies and murders.

The Murder of Andrew King

The dispute began the night before the murder. Scott’s anger stemmed from King’s refusal to lend him gambling money at a Fandango in Auburn. He had also heard that King had called him a “villain and a coward and that he could whip [him].”

Placer Herald October 22, 1853

According to the trial and court documents, Scott and King were sharing a room in a cabin near the Traveler’s Rest Inn when the murder occurred. While a later article claimed they were staying at the hotel, all contemporary reports used the hotel solely as a landmark.

Bernhard Museum Complex

The Traveler’s Rest Inn comprised the original two-story wooden structure of the current Bernhard Museum Complex. Constructed in 1851, the hotel was located on the southern stage road coming through Auburn. Currently, no accounts or advertisements of the Inn have been found. Only references, as in the case of King’s murder, provide information to what was happening in or around the Traveler’s Rest.

Testimony of Scott Raman

While witness statements differ, we know the two awoke in their shared room on October 20th, 1853. Scott called King out of the house to talk and brought with him a rolled-up bundle of clothing. Once outside, it was revealed that it held two revolvers, one of which he threw at King’s feet.

Scott demanded King take up the revolver to defend himself but when he refused, Scott shot him in the chest. King managed to get back to the house but died in minutes. Scott returned to his room and gathered his belongings before leaving.

Placer Herald October 22, 1853

The murder was reported in the Placer Herald on Saturday, October 22nd. Scott was charged with willful murder but was still at large with a $500 reward on his head.

Placer Herald October 29, 1853

It took a week for authorities to arrest him on the Cosumnes River and return him to Auburn.

Placer Herald October 29, 1853

Scott is Tried

Scott and the murder remained largely out of the newspapers until the report of his trial on February 13th, 1854. On the day of sentencing, “every seat in the large room was filled, and many had to stand in the aisles” while Scott appeared “calm and unmoved.” The Grand Jury returned a guilty verdict, and Judge Howell gave the sentence.

The Guilty Verdict of Robert Scott

“I regret the necessity which is now devolved upon me…You have outraged the community in which you lived, have violated the laws of your country, have incurred its just penalties, and by so doing have sealed your earthly doom… I order that you be taken hence and confined in the jail of Placer County until Friday, the 31st day of March, A.D. 1854, at the hour of 12 o’clock, M, and that you be thence taken by the Sheriff of this county, and hung by the neck until you are dead. And may God Almighty have mercy on your soul.” - Judge Howell

The Execution of Robert Scott

On March 31st, 1854, Robert Scott was led to the gallows. “With his hands ties behind him, he was taken in a wagon from the jail to the place of execution, followed by a large crowd of people.” He smoked a cigar in the front seat of the wagon, before they arrived at the gallows, and he mounted the steps to the noose.

“I have but few words to say. I have had a fair and impartial trial, and am willing to abide by the law. I have done no more than I would do again to any man who would not give me satisfaction for what he had said. I return my thanks to John Spell, the Jailor, and Sam Astin, the Sheriff, and other friends who have been kind to me. As for the paltry mob who have urged on my trial before I was ready, they are too mean for my curses. I have done.” - Scott's Last Words

Scott was cut down and buried at the foot of the gallows.

Placer County Courthouse on Left

While there is currently no evidence of the exact location of Scott’s execution and burial, there are several clues. In 1854, the Placer County Courthouse was in its second iteration, but in the same location as the current courthouse, while the jail was in its original location near Old Town. Based on the location of these buildings, and the original burying ground, Scott was likely executed and buried on or near what is now the East Lawn of the Historic Courthouse.

Auburn's Historic Courthouse

This could have been the end of Robert Scott’s tale. A cold-blooded murder adjacent to one of our museums, and an execution near another, 166 years ago. However, a short publication has recently revealed further insight into Scott’s story.

Robert Scott’s Autobiography

“The Confession, History and the Life of Robert Scott” was advertised in The Placer Herald a month after Scott’s execution. Marketed as an autobiographical account penned in prison, the eight-page pamphlet confessed a life of crime totaling the theft of no less than $28,000.00 and the murder of at least seventeen people. “A sad comment upon the organization of society in California,” only one copy has been found in the Special Collections of Yale University and the Beinecke Library scanned a digital copy for the Placer County Archives.

Dedicated to the Jailor, John Spell, Scott wove a compelling and fascinating “short history of [his] life in California.” Arriving in California in July 1849 he quickly pursued a life of crime. From San Francisco, to the Island of Catalina, south to Ensenada, and again North, Scott describes in robust detail his role in numerous thefts and murders spanning the State. Robbing a Mission Padre, murdering two men with an axe, and an attack on a Chinese camp in Diamond Springs are only some of the depredations described by Scott and his various associates.

Only further research into this document and the events it details will reveal the validity of this document; whether or not the crimes were actually committed, or if it’s the imaginings of a young man with nothing left to lose.

Regardless of its veracity, it provides a unique perspective to consider Robert Scott, and his firsthand account of California and Mexico in the 1850s.

If you'd like to read Scott's confession in it's entirety, the link is below. Be warned though, that some audiences may find the content disturbing and that it includes graphic descriptions and illustrations.

Placer County maintains an extensive archival collection of primary sources including the court case documents included in this presentation. You may view our online catalog of land records here, or contact the Curator of Archives if you are interested in researching the archival holdings.