Of all my ancestors, George Amos Gritton took the eeriest photos. It’s in his eyes: he had a bone-chilling, otherworldly stare that evokes all things midnight and graves and weirdness. This is not to say that Amos wasn’t a good man; in fact, he devoted the latter half of his life to public service, and he served as the Treasurer of Amador County, California for many years. But he also worked as the County’s Coroner, investigating sudden, violent or suspicious deaths in the area–and doesn’t that make for the best Halloween story?
George Amos Gritton, Jr., was born on February 4, 1852 in Henderson, Illinois to George and Lucy (Nation) Gritton. Amos descended from strong pioneer roots in the United States, and the Nation family in particular has a long history of devoting their lives to public service. His father, George, was captured by the Confederate Army in 1864 and died in a Prisoner of War camp in June of that year. Amos’ cousin, William Nation, also fought in the Civil War, and he later joined his town’s vigilance committee “to run down bandits and horse thieves and other lawbreakers who terrorized the country.”
As a young man, Amos worked as a school teacher and bookkeeper in Illinois before following the Gold Rush west to California. He settled in the small town of Volcano in Amador County, and he soon developed a reputation for being “a man of ability and undoubted integrity.” Amos met Margaret Johnson, the daughter of William and Ellen (Erickson) Johnson, in 1880, and the couple were married on August 12, 1881 in Jackson County. Amos and Margaret had two daughters–Ellen Alta (b. 1882) and Lucy Georgina “Georgia” (b. 1883)–and eventually opened a hydraulic placer mine in Volcano, as well as “the finest marble quarry to be found in the world.”
Amos was elected Coroner and Public Administrator of Amador County in 1898, and he traveled throughout the county to adjudicate disputes and to investigate mysterious death reports or accusations of “foul play.” The local newspaper details one of these investigations; the headline on February 2, 1898 reads, “FOUND DEAD IN HIS CABIN, IT IS SAID THAT HE STARVED HIMSELF: Agostino Trabucco Falls a Victim to His Inordinate Lust for the Gold that Glitters, Yet is Dross.”
“An old man, Agostino Trabucco, aged seventy-six years, died in Volcano last Tuesday, after an illness of about six weeks. During the windstorm of December 16th he contracted a severe cold, while roofing his house, and never recovered. During his illness he constantly refused assistance and it is the conclusion of citizens of Volcano that the old man died of starvation.
He is supposed to have had between $3000 and $4000 secreted in his cabin, and, as a result, numerous friends of his are searching the premises for his supposed hidden wealth. Others are looking over the ground on the hillside, where his cabin stands.” Amos was called to Volcano to investigate whether a friend had caused Trabucco’s death or whether Trabucco had, in fact, starved himself. Ultimately, Amos did not believe there was “foul play” involved (despite the number of individuals searching for the old man’s money), and he decided to “hold no inquest” since Trabucco had been under the care of a physician for weeks before his death.
After four years as Coroner and Public Administrator, Amos decided to run for County Treasurer: “Honesty, integrity and efficiency are three qualities which are vitally necessary to one occupying the most responsible office of County Treasurer. Mr. Gritton has all of these qualities to a superlative degree. Thoroughly careful, Mr. Gritton has a most commendable record. The county expert was unable to find a single error in his accounts during the past four years. That is the kind of a man the people want to take care of the county’s $50,000 treasury.”
Amos won his first election for County Treasurer that fall and went on to serve almost twenty years in office. During the 1918 primaries, though, Amos fell ill: “Treasurer Gritton submitted to an operation last Saturday morning for appendicitis in San Francisco. The patient has been a sufferer for several years, although few knew the gravity of his complaint. His was a case of chronic appendicitis, and the suffering he endured at intervals was terrible. He was told that an operation was the only hope of permanent relief, although the doctors, realizing the gravity of such a course, would not urge him to that extreme measure.
For the past month he has been under treatment, principally building up his physical strength to prepare him for the ordeal, which he concluded to pass through, knowing that without such a resort his life would be brief…The operation was successfully performed. On Monday Mrs. Gritton received a telephone message summoning her to the city as soon as possible. The fact that he had undergone the operation was kept from his family at first, at Mr. Gritton’s special request, he not wishing to cause them worriment. Mrs. Gritton naurally concluded from the receipt of the message that his condition was desperate. Yesterday came the welcome news that Mr. Gritton was doing well, without fever, and strong hopes are entertained that he will pull through the ordeal.”
Amos died of complications from surgery on September 19, 1918 at the age of 66, a few weeks before the election. The headline in the local newspaper the next morning read, “CORONER GRITTON SUMMONED BY DEATH: Every man, woman and child in Amador County is mourning today the sudden passing of Amos Gritton, whose death occurred yesterday at the home of his daughter, Mrs. William Green, where he and the beloved wife had been visiting for the past two weeks. While it was generally known that Mr. Gritton had not been well physicially, for some time past, and that death might be expected at any time, the news of his passing came as a shock to the many friends and loved ones.” Amos’ daughter, Georgia, became County Treasurer that fall; but that’s a story for next year’s Halloween.