by Richard Senate
Once a terrible gunfighter walked the streets of old Ventra. He was a violent, temperamental man with few redeemable qualities. His name was Joseph Franklin Dye and his murderous reputation still echoes in the legends of Ventura County. Born in Kentucky in 1831 he traveled to Texas where he held several jobs before coming west to California. As he matured his dark inner demons began to show themselves. When the nation was plunged into the grim and terrible Civil War Joe’s sentiments were with the Confederacy but, unlike many who held such views, he didn’t make the long journey east to join the fight.
He joined the Beal Gang of highway men who told their victims the robberies were done to support the South but really to line their own pockets. When the war ended, Joe left them and took a job as a deputy in El Monte where he achieved some note running down and arresting a local gang. This attention got him a job as a marshal in Los Angeles. He was given the worst section of the city–Chinatown. Then a crime infested red light district. Here Joe shined as he brought his own brand of harsh justice to the quarter as well as lining his own pockets with bribes and award monies. He got into an argument with his boss, City Marshall William Warren. There was a gunfight and Warren was shot dead! As the Marshall was dying in the street–Joe when to him and bit off his ear! Witnesses said Warren had fired first and Joe Dye was released.
He left LA and moved to Ventura County, buying a ranch in Sespi and marrying his girl friend and mother of his daughter, Lorena Grace. In the 1870s Ventura County was experiencing an oil boom and Joe had an easy time finding work as a guard at the oil fields. He got into oil exploration, wheeling and dealing he made a lot of money, both legally and illegally. Most say that Joe Dye had only one redeeming quality, the love he had for his wife that bordered on obsession. When he discovered she was having an affair with one of his oil partners he snapped. Wisely, his wife quickly left the state. She was mixed up with a merchant in Santa Paula named Herman Haines. Joe called him out and on the dusty streets of Santa Paula they had a classic western gunfight. Haines drew first but Joe’s bullet was more accurate and dropped him in the street, dead. Joe was arrested and the trial held in Ventura at the Santa Clara Street red brick courthouse.
With his money, Joe hired a “dream team ” of lawyers and was released. Joe terrorized the local people, making his detractors grovel on hands and knees and bark like a dog–at gunpoint, on Main Street, Ventura. His end came when joe partnered with a cousin named Mason Bradfield in another oil lease deal that was shady. When Bradfield wanted out,Joe beat him badly. In Los Angeles to cut yet another oil deal, May 14, 1891, Bradfield got his revenge firing both barrels of a shotgun into Joe Dye. Mason Bradfield was released saying he felt that his life was endangered by Joe. The jury, who knew Dye, believed him and he was released. People in Ventura and Santa Paula breathed a sign of relief that Joe Dye was no longer walking the streets. He rests in a Los Angeles unmarked grave, a grim footnote in local history.