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At first John Sontag looked with favor upon the railroad, after all, he was an employee of the Southern Pacific. However, when he was injured on the job in 1889, and was taken off the payroll, Sontag turned to a life of crime. For four years, he and his partner, Chris Evans, terrorized passenger trains in the central San Joaquin Valley. Finally the two men were cornered at Stone Corral near Visalia by a sheriff's posse. The result was that both robbers were badly wounded. On July 3rd Sontag (shown above, propped up on a mound of hay) died, and the next day was buried. Hiram Rapelje (second from the left) attended his funeral and eulogized the outlaw as a "brave man." Ironically, etched on Sontag's tombstone is a steaming locomotive.

~Fresno county historical society~

I am almost sure that most of you have heard of the gunfight at OK Corral or seen movies or heard stories of this famous gunfight that took place in Tombstone Arizona in October of 1881. The gunfight at STONE CORRAL is another part of our western history that took place in the foothills of central California in 1893. To my knowledge a movie has never been made from the events that led to this tragic story but even so it is still just as important to the history of the old west. This is the original spelling as it appeared in the Indianapolis Sentinal in 1893. I have not changed the spelling so that it can be seen in its original form as it was on that day in history in June 1893.

~Don E. Humphrey~

Tuesday, June 13, 1893

Visalia, Cal., June 12, -- After a search extending over two months and after six encounters the notorious train robbers, John Sontag and Chris Evans, last night met four deputy U.S. marshals and as a result of the encounter which followed Sontag was wounded, possibly fatally, and is now in custody, having been brought here this forenoon. His companion, Evans, escaped after firing forty shots at his pursuers. Where he made his stand last night he left his hat and two empty guns, and the ground was found covered with blood this morning, indicating that he, too, is wounded. Being without guns or ammunition it is thought he will be captured.

Four Brave Officers

The four officers who made the attack upon the bandits were U.S. Marshall Gard and his depty, Edward Rapelja, a deputy sheriff from Fresno county, Fred Jackson, and officer from Nevada, and Thomas Burns, who was with Black at Camp Badger when the latter was shot by the robbers last month. The officers have been in the mountains for a week looking for the robbers, and Sunday afternoon encamped at a vacant house twelve miles northeast from this city. About twenty minutes before sunset Rapelja went to the rear door of the house and saw two men come down the hill and toward the place. On closer observation it was discovered that the men were Evans and Sontag. The former was in the lead and carried a rifle and shotgun, and Sontag was armed with simply a rifle. Rapelja turned around to his comrades in the house and said: "Hello, here comes two men down the hill." He did not know positively who they were, but judged from their appearance and arms that they carried that they were the outlaws. Jackson went to the door where Rapelja was standing and said: "They are the men we have been looking for."

Forty Shots Exchanged

The two men woke up Burns and Gard, who were asleep. They jumped up quickly and grabbed their guns and prepared to make a fight. The officers went out of the front door of the house and as they went around back of the corner Evans saw Rapelja and, throwing this Winchester to his shoulder, took deliberate aim and fired. Just then Jackson stepped around behind Rapelja and fired at the bandits. Sontag threw up both hands and fell backward. Then the firing became general and Evans returned the shots with a vengeance. Evans got behind an old rubbish pile, out of sight, but kept up a terrible raking fulisade. Jackson went around the far end of the house to see if he could get a better place form which to shoot. As he went around he was shot in the leg between the knee and the ankle. He told Rapelja he was shot, but told him to keep up the fight and not to give it up. About forty shots were exchanged between the officers and the bandits, but the sun went down and darkness ended the battle. Evans was seen to crawl on his stomach from behind the rubbish pile and Rapelja again opened fire on him.

Too Hot For Evans

Evans then arose to his feet and ran toward the hills followed by Rapelja, who continued firing. Evans did not return the fire and in a few minutes was out of sight. Rapelja returned to the house and procuring a wagon brought Jackson to town after midnight. Marshall Gard and Burns remained at the scene until morning. Sontag lay behind a small stack of hay all night, where he was found by Gard and Burns. Sontag says he spit blood all night. There is a glancing wound along his forehead and on each side of his nose. It is claimed that he inflicted these wounds himself, though this is denied. Evans' tracks show that he started toward Visalia and his home will be watched day and night. Sontag talks freely. He says the jig is up and he does not care for his future. It is possible that Sontag may recover from his wounds though the attending physicians will express no decided opinion. Officers are now searching the hills in the hope of finding Evans and completing at once the long chase.

Their Crimes

The train robbery, which was the beginning of this criminal chapter, occurred at a station near Collis, near Fresno, Cal., Aug. 3, 1892. An express car was blown up with dynamite, and Express Manager, George D. Roberts, seriously injured. Officers soon arrested George Sontag at the house of Chris Evans in this city. He was afterwards tried and sent to the penitentiary for life. When an attempt was made to arrest Evans, he and John Sontag opened fire on the officers, wounding George Witty. In a second encounter, Oscar Weaver, an officer, was killed in front of Evans' house. On Sept. 14 Andrew McGinnis and Victor Wilson were killed in the mountains by the bandits and two other officers were wounded. On May 26 S.J. Black, another officer, was wounded by the bandits in the mountains. No previous criminal incident in the history of California has occasioned greater public interest. Until the train robbery occurred Evans had borne a good reputation and great surprise was shown when the crime was traced to his door. He is an educated man, a native of Canada, and it is said that his early schooling was to fit him for the priesthood. He has a wife and children living in this city. The two Sontag brothers lived in Minnesota, coming to this state a few years ago. Sontag said he and Evans had not a cent of money for a month, but did not intend to hold up a train. They would have left the mountains only they has no money or clothing. "When I was shot last night," he said, "I asked Chris to shoot me, but he would not.