A Step Off A Wagon And A Hard Fall to Death

Photo: This is the general area indicated by Bob Streich Sr. of where Henry Heidhoff fell to his death in the 4500 block of Redwood Road.

In Redwood Creek Canyon

I was riding in the backseat of the Streich’s car, sitting on the passenger side behind Bob Streich Sr. His son Bob Jr. drove us slowly through the deep, wooded canyon along upper Redwood Creek. At 102 years old and small in stature, Bob Sr. was completely hidden from me by the back of his seat. Then his right hand came into view as he touched the glass of his side window with a knuckle, indicating the sheer edge of the road and Redwood Creek far below us.

“This is where Gracie’s dad died taking a piss,” he said.

“Gracie” was Gracie Heidhoff, his childhood neighbor, and her dad was Henry Heidhoff, and he had indeed been killed after alighting from his wagon in the pitch dark one December night in 1907. The fatal accident is a reminder of the possible danger that could be found in even a simple trip home from town in an era before automobiles and modern headlights.

Heidhoff had left his property at the end of Redwood Road earlier in the day and taken his wagon twelve miles into Napa in the rain to pick up two Italian woodcutters whom he had hired and agreed to meet. Woodcutters were often hired for weeks or months and there were many woodcutter shacks throughout the hills where they stayed. In this case, their names were Tusuani and Verbea.

Heading back to the Redwoods

The three left Napa around 3 o’clock. About four miles from Napa, Tusuani got down and walked. He outpaced the horses and walked all the way up to the Heidhoff ranch, arriving at 6:15.

Verbea stayed with Heidhoff, but then walked ahead himself at Pieratt’s ranch (this is where the light-green barn is on Redwood Road). Another witness later reported seeing Heidhoff at cross Redwood Creek at Dutch Flat (corner of Redwood Road and Mt. Veeder roads) at 5:30 and that all seemed well. Verbea later walked back and rejoined Heidhoff on the wagon, perhaps because it was getting dark and he did not know where they were headed. This too was about 6:15.

“He wanted to get out and see the road…”

At about 6:30, when they reached the Marx property past where Hess Winery is today, according to the later account of the Napa Daily Register, Heidhoff got confused as to exactly where he was.

“He wanted to get out and see the road,” Verbea later said at the coroner’s inquest. “I warned him not to as you could not see five feet ahead” in the darkness under the trees. Heidhoff got down anyway and then walked away and, said Verbea, “that was the last I saw of him.”

Meanwhile, with the arrival of Tusuani at the ranch, Carrie Heidhoff sent another worker down the road with a lantern to help her husband home. The worker arrived to find Verbea sitting alone in the wagon, awaiting the return of Heidhoff, who had by then been gone a half an hour. Unable to locate Heidhoff, the worker led the horses and wagon and Verbea up to the Heidhoff Ranch.

Around 9 p.m., Carrie called her brother August Benkiser on adjoining property on the other side of the creek and told him that her husband was missing. He, Ernest Streich (another nextdoor neighbor at Castle Rock Vineyard), and others began searching in the dark for Heidhoff, and Benkiser finally found him in the creek below where the wagon had stopped.

Heidhoff was partially submerged in the creek and when Benkiser lifted him out, he saw Heidhoff was dead. Heidhoff had been knocked unconscious during the fall down the long embankment and then drowned when he landed in the shallow water. His watch was gone, apparently torn from his wrist in the fall.

The news spreads, inquest and funeral

The next morning’s Napa Daily Register carried the news under the headline “KILLED!: A. H. Heidhoff, a young farmer of the Napa Redwoods, well known and most popular in Napa, met with a sudden death while returning to his mountain home about half past six o’clock Wednesday evening on the steep grade near the Marx place, some 8 miles from Napa.” The coroner held the inquest on Thursday and the jury of four men rendered a verdict of death “from accidentally falling over a 75-foot embankment on Redwood Road near the Elk Park Ranch in Napa Redwoods.”

(It may have been, as Streich Sr. said–and was told by his father, one of the searchers, Ernest Streich, who would have known the true particulars–that Heidhoff did need to relieve himself and that is the real reason he got down from the wagon. Heidhoff had lived in the Napa Redwoods for almost 20 years and knew the road well. Possibly the whole “checking the road” story was agreed upon by all to keep from embarrassing Heidhoff’s family or his memory.)

Heidhoff’s funeral took place the next day at the Odd Fellows Lodge where Heidhoff was a “popular” member, according to the newspaper. “Floral pieces, which were costly and rare, were sent by the deceased many friends.”  After the funeral, the Odd Fellows “in a body…escorted the remains of their dear departed brother [from downtown] to Tulocay Cemetery, where the deceased was laid to rest.”

The paper related the details of the story and ended with the news that while in town, Heidhoff had wired money from the post office to his mother in Germany. He had lamented then that he had not seen his mother for 20 years but that the next year he hoped to return for “a good long visit.”

“But a cruel fate decreed otherwise,” wrote the Register, “and sorrow, not happiness, will visit that far away home in Germany.”

Carrie held on to the 100-acre property for six more years and then sold it to Ernest Streich, her neighbor, to support Gracie. Streich added it to Castle Rock Vineyards acreage, which it remains a part of today.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Joni Hearn says:

    Thank you once again, Robin, for a well written and very interesting look at a part of the past.


    1. Robin Lewis says:

      Thank you. I appreciate it.


  2. tonytomeo says:

    Now that is some weird history. At least the history is intact. In so many communities, history is often ‘improved’ to make it more appealing to modern culture.


  3. Yes Redwoods is the keyhole to connect US history. In 1987, the research started the statewide movement Help Teach History. We started Kubler with the Bear Flag Riders!


  4. Hiya Robin!

    Thank you for researching and writing this! Over the years, I’ve told a much less detailed and incorrect version of this story to guests and trainees at The Hess Collection. Alas, I had all my facts wrong. I was thrilled when I stumbled across this blog and article and have wondered for years where the exact location of this death was. I just bookmarked this site. I appreciate you continuing to do this important work.

    Rob Ceballos,
    The Hess Collection Winery


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