Shooting Bee With Dr. Lemke

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“Upon reaching the Arlington Hotel at 19th Street and Chester Avenue, Brown ran into Deputy Canaday and told him that he had “a little shooting bee with Dr. Lemke.”

Born in Berlin in 1864, Dr. Lemke “came from a very old and wealthy family and received a first-class education.” He graduated from veterinary college at the age of 23, and, after serving in the German army as a regimental veterinarian for a few years, he immigrated to the United States. He settled in Bakersfield in the early 1890s and opened a veterinary practice on 18th Street near Chester Avenue.

In October of 1893, he married Maud Roberts, the eldest daughter of prominent local farmer and former Confederate colonel, Elisha M. Roberts (for whom Roberts Lane in Bakersfield is named). The couple celebrated the births of their daughters—Eda in 1894 and Gertrude in 1896. Dr. Lemke was also successful in his professional life. He maintained a thriving veterinary practice that advertised “Latest improved operating table. No danger,” was the deputy health officer for Kern County, and was on the board of the California State Veterinary Medical Association. Unfortunately, Dr. Lemke’s seemingly perfect life ended on the evening of April 16, 1896 when, while sitting down to dinner, he was shot and killed by Lyons Brown.

Arlington Hotel at 19th Street and Chester Avenue

Arlington Hotel at 19th Street and Chester Avenue

Lyons Brown had been let go a few days previous for insulting the Lemkes’ housekeeper, Angelina Sellinger. At the time of his dismissal, Dr. Lemke owed Brown $70, which was about two months’ wages. Dr. Lemke informed him that he would have to wait to get his pay until Dr. Lemke was paid at the first of the month. On the morning of April 16, Brown went to the Lemke house and demanded to be paid. Relenting, Dr. Lemke told him that he would try to get the money and would meet him at the bank that afternoon, but, unfortunately, Brown did not show up. At about seven o’clock that evening, Brown again went to the Lemke house. Entering through the back door and walking through the kitchen, Brown entered the dining room where Dr. Lemke sat with his wife and daughter.

Brown again demanded payment from Dr. Lemke. Upset at having his supper interrupted and his family disturbed, Dr. Lemke told Brown to leave and that he would talk to him after supper. According to Brown’s account, Dr. Lemke then pulled his pistol and threatened Brown. Both Dr. and Mrs. Lemke claim that Brown drew his pistol first. Regardless, Brown shot first. The first shot hit Dr. Lemke in the shoulder while he was still sitting down. Rising, the next shot struck him in the lower part of the right side of his chest. Brown’s next four shots went into the wall behind Dr. Lemke. With his revolver empty, Brown turned to run, and Dr. Lemke shot at him with the first shot striking him in the left shoulder. Dr. Lemke’s second shot hit the wall.

Brown reloaded his revolver as he ran out of the house and towards downtown Bakersfield.

Upon reaching the Arlington Hotel at 19th Street and Chester Avenue, Brown ran into Deputy Canaday and told him that he had “a little shooting bee with Dr. Lemke.” Deputy Canaday arrested Brown and took him to the county hospital where he was held under guard.

In the meantime, the Drs. Rogers, Helm, and Fergusson were called to attend to Dr. Lemke. It was determined that Dr. Lemke’s lung and possibly intestines and liver were pierced. An operation was conducted and a hypodermic injection was administered, but Dr. Lemke fell into a coma and died at noon the following day.

The trial began on June 12, 1896. Although Brown confessed to the killing, there were witnesses, and Brown had openly threatened to harm Dr. Lemke in the days previous to the shooting, the trial was not straightforward. First, there was trouble sitting a jury: some potential jurors claimed to have a history with Dr. Lemke and others were prejudiced against Brown. There was also talk of friends of Dr. Lemke lynching Brown although those friends adamantly denied it. Dr. Lemke’s reputation was also called into question. Finally, there was the issue with Dr. Lemke’s gun—the defense claimed that Dr. Lemke’s gun malfunctioned while the prosecution showed that the gun was in perfect working order.

Initially the jury was in a deadlock and asked to be discharged. The judge encouraged the jury to continue deliberating, and after an additional hour and a half of deliberation, they found Brown not guilty of killing Dr. Lemke. On leaving the court room one of the jurors was heard to say to him: “Be careful and don’t get into any more trouble like this.” Brown assured him that he never would, if possible. From the courthouse, Brown was escorted to the train depot and put on a train for his home state of Kansas where the Tulare Register noted he will “likely find satisfaction after his arrival east in posing as a bad man from the wild west.”

Epilogue:

Dr. Lemke’s widow married one of the jurors, Charles Graves. The Lemke’s youngest daughter Gertrude died at the age of 12, and the eldest daughter married, had a family, and lived until she was 73. Lyons Brown’s whereabouts after leaving Bakersfield are a little cloudier. According to an Ancestry.com search, a James Lyons Brown was born in Kansas 1872 and died in New Mexico in 1938; he married and had a family and seemed to have stayed out of trouble. Perhaps Dr. Lemke’s killer took the juror’s advice to heart. Dr. Lemke lies in an unmarked grave in Union Cemetery.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Brewer

Article appeared in our 31-2 Issue – June 2014

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