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Hiram Mills

Written by Judie Palmer, 2021

On May 2, 1874 a jury was picked for the trial of Mary Gersbach, a 29 year-old woman from New York who was accused of murdering her husband, Martin, with William Nash at her residence on San Pablo Creek in August 1873. The trial was being held at the Fifteenth District Court in Martinez, and the prosecutor was District Attorney, Hiram Mills.

Hiram Mills was born on April 18, 1825 in New York. The exact date of his arrival to California is unknown at this writing. Therefore, we begin when we come across Hiram listed as a Contra Costa County schoolmaster in the California State Census of 1852.

Through the 1860 U.S. Census, we know that he was married to Elizabeth Mills from Virginia and had one daughter, Eda. He was a prominent Martinez Attorney-at-Law at the age of 35.

On February 10, 1868 Hiram Mills was appointed Commissioner for the U. S. District Court in the District of California. He administered oaths in bankruptcy in Martinez, Contra Costa County.

In the 1870 U.S. Census we find Hiram and Elizabeth the parents of Eda, William, and “Baby” (Lizzee) Mills. According to his real estate and personal property values, he is doing very well as a lawyer.

In the Mary Gersbach murder case, District Attorney Mills, assisted by Mr. Jones, represented the people. Judge Thomas Brown and Mr. Mitzner defended the prisoner. The residing judge was Judge Dwindle.

At the first trial in April 1874, William Nash is convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Mary was also on trial, but the jury failed to find a verdict.

The trial was long and drawn out, and on November 21, the San Francisco Examiner mentions that there was great difficulty in finding 12 more jurors for a second trial. They had called up 200 potential jurors but exhausted all of them, and they were in the process of calling up 200 more.

The December 12, 1874, Contra Costa Gazette writes, “JURY DISCHARGED. Having to open his term of court in San Francisco on Monday and there being no prospect of an agreement, Judge Dwinelle had the jury in the Gersbach case called into court at a very early hour last Monday morning, after they had been out four days and nights, and, on announcing on their innability to agree, gave them their discharge for the term.”

On January 19, 1875, the Contra Costa Gazette mentions the trial has blocked all other business for a year and cost the taxpayer over $20,000. Since Mary was acquitted by nine of the twelve jurors, she should be released.

During this trial, Hiram loses Elizabeth to tuberculosis on August 15, 1874. In the 1880 U.S. Census, we find him living with his 16 year-old daughter, Lizzee, in Martinez as an Attorney-at-Law.

In the 1881 U.S., Register of Civil, Military, and Naval Service, 1863-1959, we find Hiram as a Commissioner in the United States Circuit and District Courts of Caifornia.

Note: At this time, we do not know when Hiram passed. We find his business card for Attorney-At-Law in the Contra Costa Gazette until March 8, 1884. He might have retired or passed away between March 8 and March 15 of 1884.

The original content of this post was taken from the previous website and updated for republishing in 2021.

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