Francis Henry Lewis, a 24-year-old decorated war veteran, was shot in the back by parties unknown while on a deer hunt near his father's farm in the Willow Valley area of Nevada City.
Lewis, known to his friends as Henry, had been recently discharged after a tour of duty in the Pacific where he was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and the Presidential Unit Citation for bravery under fire - only to be slain by a single rifle shot.
For many years prior to Lewis' death, William Ebaugh, a local eccentric and "a giant of a man" - he stood taller than 6 feet and weighed close to 300 pounds - was accused but never convicted of myriad crimes ranging from cattle rustling to rape.
The late Bob Paine described him as "Nevada County's first hippie ... He wore long flowing hair and a fierce beard ... he was content to lead a hermit's life.
"I knew Bill Ebaugh, but not well. He was called 'the phantom of the foothills.'"
Ebaugh, 37, immediately became a suspect in Lewis' murder.
An inquest into Lewis' death was held in Grass Valley on the day before the funeral with the verdict that: "Henry Lewis ... came to his death ... by means of a gun-shot wound inflicted upon him by criminal means, by a person or persons unknown."
The coroner's jury added, "In addition to the above we recommend that William Ebaugh be brought before the proper authority for questioning." Ebaugh was never given that chance.
The presumption of Ebaugh's guilt was so overwhelming in the minds of most in western Nevada County that a "bounty" was put on him. A committee of some two dozen citizens, headed by Nevada City resident Gove Celio, posted a reward of $300 for Ebaugh "dead or alive." The advertisement appeared in this newspaper.
The hunt for Wild Bill Ebaugh, called the hermit of the hills, accused murderer of Francis Henry Lewis, ended abruptly on the front porch of his mountain cabin near White Cloud with a rifle shot:
Nov. 11, 1944, The Morning Union:
"William Ebaugh, wanted for the killing of Henry Lewis, 24 year old discharged war veteran on October 15 (1944), was killed in his mountain hideaway by Irvin Woodrow Davis yesterday morning. Davis fired at Ebaugh after making sure of his identity and killed him instantly."
On Nov. 18, a coroner's jury found that: "William Ebaugh ... died as the result of a gunshot wound inflicted ... by one Irvin W. Davis, in attempting by lawful ways and means to apprehend Ebaugh."
The jury described the death as "justifiable and excusable."
The controversy generated by this decision enraged some locals, who petitioned for a grand jury probe and asked the state attorney general to investigate. Attorney General Robert W. Kenny sent a deputy to look into all the facts surrounding the shooting of Ebaugh. After much additional wrangling, it was decided to let the coroner's jury verdict stand.
According to the US Veteran's headstone application Francis Henry Lewis was a Private First Class who enlisted August 12, 1942 and was honorably discharged August 4, 1944. He received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his service. He was in the Calvary of the US Army, Troop E, 5th Cavalry Regiment.
Dead or alive - When a local war hero died mysteriously, vigilante justice was swift
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