County historian Jim Sleeper described
Modesta as a "charming dark-eyed
beauty of San Juan" who depended
more on her beauty than her intelligence
"to keep food on the table and
a roof over her head." She was
an extremely proud woman and felt
her mother's rights were being trampled
by the Santa Fe Railroad. She was
very upset with the railroad, as she
felt they had never paid for a right
of way through her mother's land.
The trains were dirty, noisy, and
kept her chickens from laying eggs.
decided to do something about it.
Locals said it was only a clothesline
across the tracks with her laundry;
Santa Fe said it was a railroad tie.
A railroad agent removed it before
a train came. Four months later she
was arrested and charged with "attempted
obstruction of a train."
jury tied in her first trial. In the
second, rumors circulated that the
attractive single woman was pregnant.
In 1889, moral standards weighed heavily
and the jury convicted her. She was
sentenced to three years in San Quentin.
Her attorney, George Hayford, appealed
that his client was convicted on her
reputation, not her deed. He was heard
before the state Supreme Court, but
lost on a technicality.
Avila died after serving two years
of her sentence. She was 22 years