Gunfight in Moosa Canyon, 1888

Originally Published In Village News Jan. 28, 1999

Contributed by the Fallbrook Historical Society

Don Rivers, President

The following story was taken from notes written by Bessie (Ormsby) Helsel of stories told to her by her father John W. Ormsby. Also from clippings of articles that appeared in the Escondido Times Advocate, saved by Bessie Helsel and passed on to her daughter Janice Bricker, of Fallbrook, to whom we wish to thank for this material.

In 1887, Levi P. Stone, a bachelor school teacher from Rhode Island homesteaded land in upper Moosa canyon, which is approximately 10 miles north of Escondido and one mile east of Interstate 15. For those who are a little more familiar with the area it was east of Isaac J. Frazee's Woreland Castle, with its picturesque setting in a valley of luxuriant old oak trees and the beautiful Pamoosa Falls as a backdrop. It has been said that the Woreland Castle was a close copy of an ancient feudal castle in Scotland.

After filing his homestead, Levi P. Stone built a house, honey extraction shed and other out-buildings needed to run an apiary (honey bee farm). However the market for honey in Southern California was very poor in 1887. Having a railroad carload of honey, Levi Stone decided to take his honey east to Rhode Island and sell it there. Before leaving Levi contacted the U.S. Land office in San Diego and got permission to leave his homestead claim for the trip to Rhode Island. While on his trip Levi became sick and overstayed his time limit of leave.

When he returned to his homestead in Moosa Canyon Levi found several people living in his house, using his personal possessions. When he asked them to leave, they ran him off with a shotgun.

Levi went to the Justice of the Peace W. H. Dinwiddie of Bear Valley (Valley Center) and secured a 'writ to evict' the family. Justice Dinwiddie lacked the authority to issue the writ, as the property was out side of the justice's district, though neither Levi Stone nor Justice Dinwiddie knew this. Levi gave the writ to Constable Don "Doc" Breedlove of Bear Valley to serve.

Constable Breedlove and Deputy Constable Arch Freeman went to Moosa Canyon to serve the papers and on their way they hired Stockton Reid (a.k.a. Stockman Reed) of San Luis Rey to drive his wagon so the squatters' belongings could be removed. As they neared the door of the house, it was thrown open. A peg-legged man met them and asked, "What do you want?"

Constable Breedlove gave him the writ and said, "You must move from Levi Stone's property."

Pegleg McConahay said, "Who will make me?" Constable Breedlove said, "I'll be here tomorrow and put you out."

Pegleg's answer was, "You better bring the army."

A posse was formed which included Constable Breedlove, Deputy Constable Arch Freeman, George Morris, Stockton Reid, Levi Stone and James Stone, Levi's brother.

As the posse approached the house they were met at the door by an elderly lady, Mrs. Going, mother of Pegleg McConahay, Percy Going and Mrs. Jennie Burnham. Two members of the posse tried to remove a trunk from the house, but Mrs. Going jumped on the trunk and began screaming. The posse members managed to get the trunk into the front yard.

Pegleg McConahay went to a nearby cabin, returning with a pistol. As he neared the house Percy Going and Stockton Reid were arguing. Pegleg up and shot Reid and he was the first to fall.

By this time the two Stones had fled the scene. George Morris started to run, but fell just as Pegleg shot at him and the bullet kicked up dirt just ahead of him. Before Pegleg could shoot again, Morris too was out of sight.

Arch Freeman stood behind a tree closely observing the gun battle that was taking place around him. Constable Breedlove was attempting to disarm Pegleg when Percy Going hit him on the head with the muzzle of a musket and the musket discharged. The bullet glanced off Breedlove's head, stunning him and he fell to the ground.

Mrs. Burnham grabbed the Constable's pistol from its holster. Then someone shot Percy Going. Mrs. Burnham threw her arms around Pegleg as he aimed at Arch Freeman over the woman's shoulder. Both Freeman and Pegleg fired at once. Both the woman and Pegleg dropped. Mrs. Going grabbed the musket that her son Percy had dropped and tried to shoot Freeman who was behind the oak tree, but missed.

Constable Breedlove's pistol had not been fired. Only one shot had been fired from Arch Freeman's but some of the old timers say there was a Winchester rifle that had been used but was never found.

Mrs. Burnham, Percy Going and Pegleg McConahay died instantly, Constable Breedlove was left for dead, but survived, Stockton Reid, who had left his plow 'in the furrow' to join the posse died two days later. The coroner's jury charged Pegleg McConahay with Stockton Reid's death and said the other three died by gunshot wounds inflicted by 'parties unknown.' Breedlove, Morris, Freeman and the Stones were charged with murder. Charges against all but Freeman were dismissed in preliminary hearings. Freeman was later acquitted.

Someone has said that because of Mrs. Burnham's death, the city folks sympathized with the squatters. All posse members were charged with murder, then freed or acquitted. However James Burnham, the dead woman's husband, was awarded $50,000 for the wrongful death of his wife. Years later George Morris was asked if the judgment was ever paid. "None of us ever had that much money," he said.

Levi lived in his house for a short while, but he said that on dark nights he could hear a Pegleg thumping around the outside of the house and it made him feel like running again.

Levi Stone left the area, broke and wishing to forget what had happened on January 18, 1888. He was reported to have taught school in Louisiana and Florida. He never married. After many years Levi returned to Mesa Grande to live with his brother John until John's death and then he lived with a niece until his own death in 1930 at the age of 90.

Because of the nature of obtaining material from various sources, Fallbrook Historical Society cannot guarantee the accuracy of all the information this document contains.

Go To:

Fallbrook Historical Society
Fallbrook, CA Area Information: History
Elizabeth Yamaguchi's Writings On Fallbrook History

Copyright © 1998-1999 by Fallbrook Historical Society
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to the Fallbrook Historical Society at this source:
Comments and feedback: Don and Mary Rivers
Last update: 29 January 1999.