John Kolmer Page last modified:

John Kolmer
(1836 - 1890)

Missing brand: JK

John's brand
Click to view registration.
(Source: Sonoma Co. Recorder's Office)

Per census records, he was born in 1836 in North Carolina, U.S.A.  He was eight or nine years old when he emigrated with his parents (Michael & Josefa Kolmer) to California in 1845.  After his parents died (11 Feb. 1858, & 22 Feb., 1864), his brother-in-law Wilhelm Benitz gave him title to the Kolmer Farm in Timber Cove.  He lived on the farm until he died.  He was shot and killed outside his home by a neighbor, Ed Hatton – apparently because John would not give Hatton a bottle of whisky.  An iron spike was driven into the ground to mark where John fell.  He is buried with his parents in the Benitz-Kolmer cemetery in Timber Cove, California.

Per anecdotes, John was not liked by his neighbors.  Charles Fairfax, a subsequent owner of Fort Ross, found him so unpleasant that he preferred to build his own timber loading shute rather than rent or use John’s.  It is possible that, because he was so disliked, Ed Hatton was not convicted of his murder, claiming at trial that he had shot John by mistake when shooting at sea-gulls (see the newspaper articles below).

John is thought to have married and have had at least two daughters.  We don't know what became of them because upon his death no heirs came forward and, as per agreement, ownership of the farm reverted to Wilhelm’s heirs.

No news

Sonoma Co., Voter Register 1890

No news No news

Daily Alta California - Dec. 28, 1890

A Murder Tragedy in Pocket Canyon,
Near Guerneville.

 SANTA ROSA, December 27th.–A terrible tragedy occurred in Pocket Canyon, near Guerneville, on Christmas eve, resulting in the death of one man and the flight of the man who killed him.  James Kolmer, Ed Hatton and several other men were there.  Hatton, it seems, made several attempts to quarrel with the men, but the crowd finally dispersed, Kolmer and Hatton starting home together.  Before they had proceeded far a shot was heard, and when questioned about it afterward, Hatton said he had shot at a bird or something he saw.  On Friday Kolmer was missed.  A search was made, and his body was found near where the shot had been fired by Hatton. Kolmer had apparently been dead two days.  The authorities proceeded to summon a Coroner’s jury.  Among the men called upon to serve on the jury was Hatton, but pleading that he was too busy, he was let off.  Friday evening he went to Guerneville, but left Saturday morning before anybody was up.  The community is greatly agitated over the murder.  Kolmer was a quiet, steady man, and had many friends.  Hatton had not been captured at last report.

San Francisco Call - Apr. 11, 1891

General Gossip From Sonoma
County’s Capital.

There has been a great deal of virtuous indignation expressed at the verdict of acquittal rendered in the Hatton murder trial.  The evidence was all circumstantial, but it seemed almost conclusive, and it was confidently expected that Hatton would at least be found guilty of manslaughter.  He was charged with killing John Kolmer, an inoffensive German, last Christmas, at Timber Cove.  Hatton had been drinking and had drawn his revolver on three other men.  Kolmer started home on foot and shortly afterward Hatton took after him on horseback.  A shot was heard.  People at the hotel saw the men together when the shot was fired.  Next morning Kolmer’s body was found with a bullet through the breast.  Hatton, when arrested, said that the ball corresponded with those in his revolver, and that he might have shot Kolmer, but that if he did it was an accident, as he was shooting at sea-gulls.  The sea-gull story was the principal defense at the trial, and, though the District Attorney says that he never had so conclusive a case for manslaughter before, the jury acquitted Hatton.  Human life is not safe in Sonoma County when one man can kill another in cold blood, swear he was shooting at sea-gulls, and thus escape punishment altogether.  Sonoma County has had an unenviable reputation for dealing too leniently with criminals, and the verdict in the Hatton trial has greatly disgusted all law-abiding citizens.
Santa Rosa, Cal., April 9, 1891.

© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)