“Early on the morning of the 29th the body of K. Goto, a Japanese storekeeper, was found hanging to a telephone post not far from the Honokaa court house between that and the Lyceum, with his arms tied behind him and his legs also tied. He had been dead several hours.” (Daily Bulletin, October 30, 1889)
Katsu Kobayakawa was the eldest son of Izaemon Kobayakawa. Katsu (Jun) was born in the Kanagawa Prefecture in 1862. He worked as a store clerk in Yokohama, where he became fluent in English by associating with Englishmen and Americans. (Nakano)
He was anxious to go to Hawaiʻi; but being the first born son, he was expected to take over the family business. Katsu changed his surname to Goto so he could travel Hawaiʻi to make a better living for himself.
In the Islands, Hawai‘i’s economy turned toward sugar in the decades between 1860 and 1880; these twenty years were pivotal in building the plantation system. By 1883, more than 50-plantations were producing sugar on five islands.
A shortage of laborers to work in the growing (in size and number) sugar plantations became a challenge; the answer was imported labor. The first to arrive were the Chinese (1852.)
In March 1881, King Kalākaua visited Japan during which he discussed with Emperor Meiji Hawaiʻi’s desire to encourage Japanese nationals to settle in Hawaiʻi; this improved the relationship of the Hawaiian Kingdom with the Japanese government. (Nordyke/Matsumoto)
The first 944-government-sponsored, Kanyaku Imin, Japanese immigrants to Hawaiʻi arrived in Honolulu aboard the SS City of Tokio on February 8, 1885. Katsu was on that first boatload of Japanese immigrants, included with 676-men, 158-women and 110-children on the first of 26 shiploads of government contract Japanese immigrants between 1885 and 1894.
Katsu fulfilled his 3-year contract commitment, working in the Hāmākua sugarcane fields. After that, he took over a small, general merchandise store previously run by Bunichiro Onome in Honokaʻa, then the Island’s second largest town. (Niiya)
He was very successful selling to the Japanese, native Hawaiian and haole population and was soon viewed as leader in the Japanese immigrant community. (Kubota)
On October 28, 1889 Goto was killed.
Four were accused and stood trial: Joseph R Mills, Thomas Steele, William C Blabon and William D Watson.
Steele was Overend’s overseer. Blabon was teamster for Mills. Watson was head teamster for Overend and a former employee of Mills.
Deputy Attorney-General Arthur Porter Peterson notes, “The prosecution would show that Goto was not killed while hanging to the telephone pole, but when he was waylaid and dragged from his horse, and was only hung to the post as an act of bravado, within sight and almost within sound of the temple of justice.” (Daily Bulletin, May 13, 1890)
Some suggest the motive for killing Goto was a fire at the Robert McLain Overend plantation. Testimony at trial noted, “Mills had told me that Goto had been up to Overend’s camp. Mr. Overend’s cane field was set fire October 19th, a little after 9 o’clock.”
“We had Goto for an interpreter, and he did not act on the square, and a new interpreter was got and he gave matters away. I only heard Mr. Overend say that he would break his damned neck.” (Hawaiian Gazette, May 20, 1890)
Others note Goto was successful in his store and other store operators were concerned about losing business because of him. Joseph R Mills operated a store a few yards from Goto’s (Goto was the only Japanese storekeeper in the area.)
The testimony of star witnesses Richmond and Lala, who had both taken part in the incident, yielded the following description of how Goto ultimately died.
“The two of them were summoned separately on the night that Goto was killed. Richmond was summoned by Steele and sent to watch for a Jap who would be leaving the (Japanese) living quarters on horseback”.
“When they got to where Mills and the others were waiting, Mills told him to grab the bridle of the horse that (Goto) would be riding toward them. After Richmond reported that (Goto) was on his way they lay in ambush.”
“Steele and Blabon dragged the man off the horse. … Steele, Blabon, Mills, and Watson carried him to a location away from the road where he was placed face down and his hands and feet bound. … Mills sent Richmond to pick up a rope at the foot of the telephone pole, a rope that, he found, already had a hangman’s knot at one end.”
“When he returned with the rope someone in the group said, ‘My God! He is dead.’ Richmond then bent over and put his hand over the man’s heart but could feel no heartbeat. …”
“The body was then carried over to the telephone pole. Watson threw the rope over the crossbar, Mills put the noose around Goto’s neck, and the body was hauled up and suspended.” (Kubota)
After deliberating for more than six hours, the jury returned verdicts of manslaughter in the second degree for Steele and Mills, and manslaughter in the third degree for Blabon and Watson. Judge Albert Francis Judd subsequently sentenced Mills and Steele to nine years imprisonment at hard labor, Blabon to five and Watson to four.
All four were transferred under guard from Hilo jail to Oʻahu Prison immediately after the trial. Steele later escaped and presumably stowed away on a ship bound for Australia; Blabon also escaped and probably stowed away, too. Mills received a full pardon in 1894. Watson was the only one to serve out his full sentence.
At the same time of the Goto killing, the Annual Meeting of the Planters’ Labor and Supply Company was being held. They adopted a resolution against racial prejudice, resolving that they “strongly disapprove of every act and publication intended or calculated to excite any distrust or prejudice in the minds of the native Hawaiians against those of foreign birth or parentage, or to excite feelings of contempt or distrust toward the natives”. (Daily Bulletin, October 29, 1889)
(Peterson was Attorney-General at the time of the overthrow in 1893. He was arrested and jailed by the Republic of Hawaiʻi in the aftermath of the 1895 Counter-Revolution and then exiled to San Francisco where he died of pneumonia.)
(Peterson had conferred upon him the decoration of the Imperial Order of the Sacred Treasure of Japan for services rendered to the Japanese Government. (San Francisco Call, March 17, 1895)) (Lots of information here from Kubota.)