Background photo of the beach at Whale Cove was made by Bryce Buchanan in 2004. (Via WikiMedia Commons, cc/by/SA)
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But it hardly mattered. If Dalmater hadn’t “ruined” Carrie, her mother certainly had, by proclaiming her seduction in front of an entire classroom full of witnesses; and, on top of that, shooting a man in the back as he crawls painfully away is extraordinarily dishonorable behavior. The Briggs family went, on the instant, from being the first family of Josephine County, to social pariahs.
Mother and son were thrown into the county jail and held without bail. It seems unlikely that they were denied bail because authorities thought them a flight risk — more likely, they were worried that someone might lynch them.
It took several months to empanel a grand jury and hear testimony from the 18 witnesses, but when the inquest was done, the grand jury voted to charge both of them with murder.
The Briggs family was shocked, but they should have expected this. Feeling against Caroline and David was running so high in the county that the prosecutors were forced to move the trial to Jackson County; every potential juror in the Kerbyville area, it seemed, was already convinced of their guilt.
Caroline’s trial came first, in late June 1875. She had filed an affidavit that she was being treated for mental illness, apparently in support of a temporary-insanity plea; but when the verdict came in, it was Manslaughter, with a five-year prison sentence. So, it certainly could have been worse; but it wasn’t the “not guilty by reason of temporary insanity” verdict that she’d hoped for.
Ironically, the “temporary insanity” play got quite a bit more traction at David Briggs’ trial, held in November 1875. His defense team presented an expert witness, Rev. S. Skidmore of Ashland, who assured the jury that when David fired the fatal shot, he did so at the direct command of his mother, and in that moment he didn’t know right from wrong. The reporter from the Oregon Sentinel thought it sounded like a game-changer, and would result in acquittal.
But, unfortunately for David, his case had been built around a claim of self-defense; David had already claimed that Dalmater had been drawing a pistol when he fired. It had to be one or the other — either he shot Dalmater because his mother said so, or he shot him because he was afraid the schoolteacher would draw on him.
The jury, in the end, opted for “none of the above.” David drew the same verdict, and the same sentence, as his mother: Manslaughter, five years.
A PETITION FOR a pardon for Caroline Briggs was drawn up right away; the local newspaper got hold of a copy, and published it. Most Southern Oregon residents were still pretty hostile to the idea.
But, a little over two years later, Gov. Stephen Chadwick did pardon her, and Caroline Briggs’ three-year self-inflicted nightmare was finally more or less over.
David was pardoned by Gov. Chadwick a little later, after serving roughly two and a half years. He stayed in Josephine County, where he became a miner. He married a local girl and they had three children — one of whom, working the family vocation, struck a huge vein of gold; the family promptly staked a string of mining claims that made them quite rich.
And Carrie Briggs married a Jackson County man the following year. They had five children together. But, whatever her mother thought or assumed on the fateful morning she took her cane to town, it appears Carrie was not pregnant with John Dalmater’s child. So regardless of whether she and Dalmater had been intimate, the whole affair at the schoolhouse had been for nothing.