"Becoming California, a series that brings the California Gold Rush alive with the people who lived it."

Former Gold Miner Finds Bank Robbing Easier Work

by Don Baumgart

It was 63 years after the Gold Rush, but former miner C.M. Ohman knew where to find gold.

It was a Thursday in mid-May a little after noon when Ohman walked into the Grass Valley branch of the Nevada County Bank with robbery in mind. (The location on Mill Street has more recently been home to a succession of eateries, perhaps the best known was Johnny's Doughnuts.)

For his few minutes' work Ohman left the bank with more than $5,000 in gold coins. The Morning Union newspaper said the robber had been packing "...two dangerous-looking revolvers." He left three bank employees locked in their own vault.

Pockets full of jingling gold coins, Ohman climbed on his horse and calmly rode down Mill Street. At Neal and South Auburn Streets he sent his horse into a gallop.

Michael Janicot writes about the bold daylight robbery in the Nevada County Historical Society Bulletin, "...the jingling of the money could be plainly heard by pedestrians."

The horse rented by the robber from the LeDuc Livery Stable on East Main Street was found abandoned a mile from town.

When the local fire chief entered the bank to cash a check he heard the bank employees pounding on the inside of the vault door. An off-duty assistant cashier had to be summoned to open the vault and free the bank employees.

A posse quickly formed. The town marshal borrowed an automobile from the local garage with which to lead the hunt. They didn't find the man, but his discarded clothes turned up. A $750 reward was offered for Ohman.

They should have given the reward to the robber, because he was the cause of his own downfall.

Several months after the bank robbery Ohman returned to town to rob a Mill Street saloon, where he shot a customer, causing several others, perhaps emboldened by their friend John Barleycorn, to jump and subdue the robber.

He was "beaten unmercifully," the newspaper would say, and then taken to jail, which was then located at the rear of what is now the Bret Harte Hotel.

The capture was too late to save the man shot by the robber. He died at the hospital soon after being taken there.

A crowd gathered outside the jail and Ohman quickly figured out that it would soon become a lynch mob. Using his belt and necktie, he hung himself in his cell.

Between his two robberies Ohman lived the high life in San Francisco, scattering his stolen gold in all directions. He was said to have kept a woman on Pacific street and became well known in the city's dance halls.

While gold mining has dwindled into a minor pastime in the California Gold Country, bank robbery hasn't gone out of fashion, contributing a story or two every year to the local news.

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Copyright Don Baumgart, 2005


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