Why Did They Call It Hangtown? – Part 8

In Part 7, two writers introduced us to a person named Richard Crone, who was also known as Irish Dick, Bloody Dick and a few other names. Apparently he was hanged from the famous tree a couple of years after the famous first three.

In “A Vulcan Among the Argonauts – being vivid excerpts from those most original and amusing memoirs of John Carr, Blacksmith,” edited by Robin Lampson and published in San Francisco in 1936, there is a very interesting story on this hanging and Placerville in the early 1850s.

“We found Hangtown, or what is now called Placerville, to be two rows of houses with a street between them, The houses were built principally of shakes, with posts driven into the ground on which to nail the shakes. There were about fifty or sixty of these houses in the place when we arrived there (August 9, 1850), the largest four of which were run as gambling houses, and were in full operation at that time. All sorts of games were in full blast, such as monte, faro, lansquenet and French monte, sometimes called three-card monte.

“Each gambling-house had from four to eight tables, which were loaded with gold and silver, great stacks of which were there to tempt the unwary miner to try his luck, which he often did to his sorrow. The tables were presided over by “sports,” as they were called, who were considered the aristocracy of the country. They generally wore white shirts and dressed in what the boys called “store clothes.” If a man came into camp with a boiled shirt on, he was set down as a sport, and generally correctly so. Frequently they would have a female “sport’ at the table. She was a generally well painted and dressed in the richest attire, and, as a rule, was a daughter of “la belle France.” The tables they presided over were generally well patronized, and many a well-filled purse of gold dust of some soft-pated miner was drawn in by these gilded damsels of France and Germany.

“Hangtown at that time was a perfect Babel; men from all the principal nations of the world seemed to have gathered there. You could hear the language of nearly every civilized nation spoken in the streets of that little burg, and the coin of every realm passed current; but most of the money was Mexican. Mexican gold “onzas,” worth sixteen dollars, and Mexican silver dollars were the most used, but the principal circulating medium was gold dust. Everybody had gold dust, and nearly everything bought and sold was paid for in gold dust, at the rate of sixteen dollars per ounce.

“Hangtown, when I arrived on the 9th of August, was but a small place; but before I left, two months later, it had grown twenty times as large, and started different kinds of business. All was bustle and excitement. No land monopolist allowed, or town-lot speculators. No man was allowed more lots than his business required, and if he dared claim any more he generally got the worst of it.

“The early fathers of California had a very simple and easy method of governing the country and administering the laws, and a very effective method it was at the same time. I will give you and instance of my first experience, and what I saw before the bar of Judge Lynch’s court. This was my first attendance at His Honor’s court, but by no means the last.

“I was standing looking on the games that were being dealt at the El Dorado saloon. In the game I was looking at there were three or four miners betting. It was the game of monte. One of the miners accused the dealer of drawing waxed cards on him; or, in other words, cheating him out of his dust. The gambler told him if he said so again he would cut the heart out of him. The miner repeated the words, when the gambler raised out of his seat, drew a large Bowie knife out of his belt and plunged it twice into the man’s heart; at the last plunge he turned the knife around in the man’s body. Pulling the knife out of the body and wiping blood off with his handkerchief, he coolly remarked: ‘You will never tell me I lied again.’

“The gambler was know as ‘Bloody Dick,’ or ‘New Orleans Dick.’ He was a New Orleans Irishman, and a hard case. Rumor said that this was the third man he had killed. I was within three or four feet of the man when he fell off his seat and expired.

“Word went immediately throughout the the town that ‘Bloody Dick’ had killed a man. In the meantime two men had seized him and taken his arms away, and in less than one minute he was surrounded by forty or fifty excited men, well armed, with a full determination that he would not have a chance to kill any more.

“It had been the custom among the gamblers, when one of their fraternity got into a scrape, to see him out. Ten or twelve drew their revolvers, but, seeing the angry crowd, they came to the conclusion that they would let Dick take his chances.

“In less than ten minutes there was a crowd of at least five hundred men gathered in and around the saloon where the cutting took place. A motion was made by some of the crowd that he be hanged right away, but the crowd voted him a fair trial and a chance for his life. They elected a middle-aged man to act as judge and another as marshal. The marshal summoned twelve men to serve as jurors, who were immediately sworn. The judge sat on a big pine log in the street. The witnesses were called and sworn. They were the men who were playing at the game when the man was killed. Other witnesses also testified to the facts in the case. The case was then given to the jury, who returned a verdict of ‘guilty of murder in the first degree.’

“The question was then put to the crowd: ‘What shall be done with the prisoner?’

“Some one moved that he be hanged. The motion was seconded, and the man who acted as judge put the motion to the crowd, and a unanimous shout went up from at least one thousand men, ‘Hang him!’

“The prisoner, in the meantime, was using the most blasphemous language to the men engaged in his trial that every polluted the ears of civilized men. He was then placed in a wagon drawn by two mules, and escorted by at least one thousand men to the fatal tree, a little back of the town, where five of his sort had already paid the penalty of their crimes by hanging from one of its limbs.

“It was a large oak tree. the wagon was driven under it, the rope tied around his neck and thrown over the limb, and hauled tight and made fast. He was in the meantime cursing the crowd, his God, and everything else, and spat in the faces of the men that were adjusting the rope.

“When everything was ready, the mules were started forward, leaving the body swinging between the earth and the limb. Some of the guard stayed at the tree for nearly an hour, so as to be sure he was dead. The body was cut down, and buried a short distance from the tree on which he was executed.

“That was a trial where justice was meted out with dispatch. No lawyers were present, no testimony objected to as incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial. When witnesses were sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, they seldom if ever perjured themselves. It was not over one hour from the time the murder was committed in the saloon before the doer of it was tried and executed. No appeal was taken from Judge Lynch’s Court to the Supreme Court . His decision was final.”

These are obviously not the only stories about the hangings in Placerville, or “Old Dry Diggings” as it was known then. But, these are the ones that continue to be written and told as the “truth” about what happened in the famous  “Days of old; the days of gold; the days of ‘49.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.