Murder on the Ranch and other Trivia

Written by Ken Fisher
Originally published in the ECHO 4/1990

No matter how often I read Frank Stanger’s epic “Sawmills in the Redwoods” I pick up more than before. It is a truly awe inspiring work, much of which is directly about Kinit~ Mountain. One of the mills he details was run by Hugh McArther, who with G.P. Hartley had previously run a mill on Corte Madera Creek. When Hartley died, McArther sold out to the Virginia Company. With the sales proceeds and his old milling equipment, McArthur moved southeast onto Harrington Creek and started another mill. This mill would be on the Mountain’s south end, in the area between Bear Gulch Road and Allen Road. From here I will except Stanger on this otherwise quiet mill:

“A sensational incident upset the peaceful operation of this mill soon after it had started. One morning in June 1902, a frightened young man named Koard appeared at the mill with a story nobody would believe. He was working for Joe Briggen at the near-by Rice Ranch, he said, and as he left the house he heard moaning, then Briggen came out with his clothes all splashed with blood and a bloody hatchet in his hand.

“By noon, Henry McArthur, one of Hugh’s sons, thought he at least should investigate. Going to the farm house with Koard, the two found the house scrubbed up but blood stains still showing. Asked about a missing employee, Joe Mattli, Briggen said he had been paid off and had left the ranch. Koard demanded his own pay and succeeded in getting from Briggen only $11.00 of the $15.00 due him. With this, he went to Redwood City and reported to the Sheriff.

“When the sheriff and a constable arrived at the ranch, they found evidence that Mattli had been chopped to death with a hatchet, the body dragged through a window and across the yard and buried two feet deep in a near-by ravine. Briggen was arrested, denying that he had killed the man, but he admitted that the body was that of Joe Mattli, a Swiss immigrant about 35 years of age who had worked for him. The coroner’s report later stated that Mattli’s head had been chopped open showing the brain, and also his side, “revealing a lung.”

“Mattli had worked for some time without drawing his wages, and was owed a total of nearly $100. Briggen, apparently maddened by the thought of having to pay him so much money, killed him instead. He was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

“The mill continued to work at this site until 1906, when the shingle machinery was sold to Burt Weeks for use on La Honda Creek. As for Briggen, he served twenty years of his sentence and was then paroled. In 1957, his name was removed from the states’ files on the assumption that he was dead.”

The “King’s Mountain Brow House” (Courtesy of the San Mateo Historical Association)


“Two trappers returned from Redwood Park, near King’s Mountain, Monday, with 75 pelts. Among them were red fox, gray fox, coon, skunk, coyote and bobcat. The trappers had been on the mountain for 15 days”
–The San Mateo News Leader, December 21, 1916.

“A jury in the court of Justice of the Peace Ellis C. Hohnson at Daly city yesterday brought in a verdict of guilty in the case of Charles Macchi and George Seeley Jr., charged with having killed a male deer out of season at the Dr. C.D. Swett ranch on King”s Mountain on October 23 ….. “Dr. Swett heard rifle shots near his house about 2 o’clock in the morning of October 23 and called a neighbor who joined him in making an investigation. They found a Ford car belonging to Mecchi, which had been parked in the Swett orchard near the dense brush adjoining. Investigating further they found an overcoat hidden in the brush which was identified as belonging to George Seeley Jr., and the body of a beautiful big buck, freshingly killed.”
–San Mateo News Leader, March 27, 1923.