Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Taken To The Grave - A Sacramento Mystery

Alice Louisa Curtis' grave
Over 110 years ago, lived a young, beautiful and ambitious young lady named Alice Louisa Curtis. In 1902, she was 25 years of age and in the prime of her young adult life when her life was taken, far too soon.  The secrets as to why or how exactly she died have been shrouded in mystery still to this day.

Alice was the daughter of William Roland Curtis Sr. and wife Susan Potter Curtis, of Oak Park. The Curtis' were originally from Massachusetts, arriving in Sacramento in 1852. Within two years time, Curtis had taken over his brother's homestead. Later after acquiring even more land, Mr. Curtis eventually donated some of the south-eastern portion of it to the city, naming it "Curtis Park."

In 1893, William Curtis, a devout Republican, was elected as a County Supervisor where he served for nearly eight years. The last two years of his service on the Board of Supervisor's he was elected Chairman.

William R. Curtis, Sr.

Curtis had five children, a son William Roland Curtis, Jr. , another son Frank (who died from a childhood illness) and three daughters, Carrie, Alice and Edna.  Their oldest child, William Roland died at the young age of 17 on August 23, 1880 from a scything accident on the farm, to which he unfortunately bled to death. I was able to find his death notice via the archived newspapers (Sacramento Daily Record Union, 8/24/1880).

The younger children were Carrie M. Curtis (Born 1865)  Alice Louisa Curtis (Born 1876) and the baby, Edna Curtis (born in 1884). In 1892, on December 26th, Carrie M. Curtis, the elder of the two daughters, married George Cutter.  George H. Cutter was one of the leaders of establishing the fruit growing industry in Sacramento, even becoming the President of the California Fruit Exchange for 20 years.

As far as Alice, she was one of the youngest and certainly, "Daddy's Little Girl."  Nothing was withheld from Alice due to growing up in such a prestigious family. Certainly, being among the youngest of the children was to her advantage during her young life.  It was stated that her father always made sure that she had "all the comforts money could procure."  So then that leads us to ask ourselves, why would this terrible tragedy have occurred at all?

Alice Curtis (c/o Dan Murphy)


When I first learned of this story, a friend of mine had mentioned it to me. You see, both he and I share a similar passion for uncovering the truth about the lives and deaths of people who have long since passed on. Just as I go from cemetery to cemetery to stumble upon interesting stories and tales to research, he does as well.  I guess many years ago, he had found Alice's grave at the Historic Sacramento City Cemetery located at 1000 Broadway, in Sacramento. He then looked into the archives there and found some interesting information.

According to him, he found information that stated that Alice had been shot in the stomach, later dying. Speculation had spread that she had been involved in a secret relationship with a man that her father did not approve of. In fact, this man was someone her father despised. In fact, according to the Sacramento Bee, dated August 21st, 1902 states, "From one source the story has gone out that the reason for the opposition was that the young man had opposed Mr. Curtis in a political campaign, but those intimately acquainted with the Curtis family assert that this is not true and that all Mr. Curtis would exact from any applicant for a daughter's hand was that he should be of good and industrious character and able to support a wife as soon as he should assume the marriage obligation." 

Regardless of the story of her forbidden love, somehow Alice ended up shot and later died. My friend came to me wondering what else I could find out about this young woman, and I certainly was up for the task.


On August 19th, 1902 Alice Louisa Curtis was found at home with a wound to her chest, having been shot with a revolver. She was conscious when she was found, claiming that she alone had inflicted the wound by attempting to shoot herself in the heart. Unfortunately for her, the bullet passed through her breast and penetrated her left lung, completely missing her heart. Instead of a sudden death, she lingered for 3 days until finally dying.

Top: Alice Curtis, Below: The Curtis' Ranch House
Now during those three days, several people questioned her as to why or what exactly happened. She vowed she would never reveal why she did it, but continued to take the blame for her attempted suicide.

The San Francisco Call dated August 20th reads:

“ Attempts To End Life Of Promise” – Talented Young Woman in Sacramento at Death’s Door

“Sacramento, August 19- Alice Curtis, 25 years of age, the handsome and talented daughter of ex-Supervisor William Curtis shot herself in the left breast at a late hour this afternoon and is in a precarious condition. The Curtis family occupies a beautiful country home about a mile beyond the city limits. Mr. Curtis owns broad acres and he has been able to provide for his family all the comforts money can procure. Miss Curtis, still conscious, admits that she inflicted the wound, but gives no explanation for it, and the only theory that has been assigned is that she committed to the act while in a fit of melancholia due to a slight illness.

By all of her neighbors Miss Curtis is held in the highest regard and they are praying that she may be saved from death. But little is known concerning the details of the sad occurrence, the family being almost as completely mystified as are outsiders.

Miss Curtis was about her duties as usual this morning and seemed in ordinary health. She visited the home of a relative and there procured a revolver. Returning to her home, she placed the pistol against her heart, as she supposed, and fired. The bullet penetrated the lung, but did not touch the heart. Medical and surgical aid was promptly summoned and the patient made as comfortable as possible. She admitted the act, but gave no other reason than that she wanted to die.

Miss Curtis is a graduate of the Sacramento High School and a young woman of refinement, devoted to literary and musical studies. It is not known that she had any love affair, and as her relations with the rest of the family were of the happiest, today’s tragedy is all the more inexplicable.”

(August 21, 1902 San Francisco Call)

“Love Affair May Be Back Of The Tragedy”

Sacramento, Aug 20.- 

"Miss Alice Curtis, the handsome young daughter of  ex- Supervisor William Curtis, who shot herself yesterday afternoon, the bullet piercing her left lung, remains in a critical condition. It is still impossible to foretell the outcome. She is conscious, and it is said she has given no explanation of her attempt to take her life.

It appears to be the belief of many acquaintances of the young woman that a love episode had entered into her life, and that she grew despondent when her father, to whom she is greatly devoted and whose business affairs she manages, opposed the proposed match.
It is said that Miss Curtis formed the acquaintance of a young man living at Oak Grove and that a warm attachment followed. This her father did not favor owing to the fact that the young man gave no promise of ability to support a wife."

(August 22, 1902 – San Francisco Call)

Takes Her Secret To The Grave”

Sacramento, Aug. 21-
 "Miss Alice Curtis passed away at the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Curtis, early this morning as a result of a self-inflicted bullet wound. The young woman died without revealing the cause of her act.”

Why did Alice choose to end her young life?

Did she really shoot herself?   

Or was she covering for someone? 

Love @ Turn of the Century
One more thing to think about was that her body was not examined by doctors in Sacramento, but instead William Curtis had her body brought to San Francisco to be cremated before being brought back to Sacramento and buried in the family plot.  Now, if you think about that for a moment, why wouldn't a prestigious man like Curtis allow the local doctors to examine his daughter post-mortem or furthermore cremate her there? Well, one question that arose was that perhaps they would have noticed her in a delicate condition? Remember, it was 1902 and that could have brought reproach upon the entire family. Rumors spread around town like wildfire that she had been in an illicit affair with a man from Oak Grove, one whom her father did not approve of.

Now to me, if that was the case, that changes everything. Imagine what her father may have felt or wanted to do to that man had he learned of her condition and the fact that the man had not "made a promise to support a wife." In other words, the guy didn't want to marry her. Could Alice have tried to end the eminent shame she knew she would bring upon her family name, had she gone on with life and had a child out of wedlock? Could her father have been mad enough to attempt to shoot the man who had violated his daughter's virtue? What if Alice had jumped in front of her lover and took the bullet herself, continuing to preserve the truth of what really happened that afternoon all the way up to her last breath? For the record, I am not accusing that William Curtis did anything of the sort, this is just a simple theory.

Could it be that she was just so heartbroken that she was not able to be with the man she loved, that she felt that she had nothing left to live for? Or worse yet- what if the man she loved had no desire to make a life with her? Could that have brought on this 'melancholia' that the doctors diagnosed her with?

William Roland Curtis was never the same after Alice's death, only 5 years later he died at the age of 75 on January 27, 1907 (via The Sacramento Bee, 1/28/1907). His wife Susan also passed away 4 years after the death of Alice. I am sure it killed him inside knowing that he was unable to save his daughter, despite all the doctors he had dispatched to care for her during those painstaking last 3 days of her life.

For the record, we do not know for sure if Alice was pregnant or not, that is just another possible theory.  The only other possible scenarios were that either she was so heartbroken of the fact she could not be with the man she loved, that she took her own life or she was accidentally shot and didn't want to say by whom.

Sadly, the true secret as to why Alice ended up with a bullet in her chest, later dying from such injuries, will be one that literally was taken to the grave with Alice. She and she alone holds the key to solving that mystery, a mystery we shall never truly solve.

No matter why, how or who truly pulled the trigger that hot August afternoon in 1902, let us never forget the story of Alice Louisa Curtis.

Alice's final resting place


(Original Copyright- 10/30/2012, J'aime Rubio)
Also published in the book, "Stories of the Forgotten: Infamous, Famous & Unremembered" by J'aime Rubio, 2016.

(2) PHOTOS: of Alice Curtis c/o Dan Murphy
Sacramento Bee, 1/28/1907
Sacramento Bee, 8/20/1902
Sacramento Bee, 8/21/1902
Sacramento Daily Record Union, 8/24/1880
San Francisco Call, 8/20/1902
San Francisco Call, 8/21/1902
San Francisco Call, 8/22/1902
Curtis Park House History
"Sacramento, Happenings in History's Spotlight"-
Sacramento Bee via Pete Basofin (4/8/2012)

Find A Grave (website) via Roland Boulware, contributor/freelance photographer
Thank you Sacramento City Cemetery, Archives (and the lovely ladies who work there!)
Thank you to Dan Murphy for photos of Alice, and to Tuula Laine from the Sacramento Library!

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