Criminal Annals, Part 4 – “Alta California” Version of the Hangings

Further from the Mines smLast time we looked at the famous hanging that changed the name of Placerville, then Old Dry Diggings, to Hangtown, as it was written by Edward Gould Buffum in his book, “Six months in the gold mines: from a journal of three years’ residence in Upper and Lower California. 1847-8-9.” Now we will look at the same story as it ran in San Francisco’s weekly newspaper, the “Alta California,” for which Buffum worked. It is generally believed that he is the “gentleman recently returned from the Dry Diggings” that they refer to in the story, but it should be noted that the actual reporting of the hangings occurred after their “informant” had left.

Alta California, February 8, 1849:
“From the Mines.”
“From a gentleman recently returned from the Dry Diggings, we have the particulars of the recent attempt to rob and murder in that place, and the punishment meted to the offenders. They are substantially as follows:
“On the night of the 18th of January, four men named Montreuil, a Canadian Frenchman; Pepi, an Italian; Antoine, a Spaniard, and Tchal a Frenchman, went to a house owned and kept by two Frenchmen, where they amused themselves with gambling and drinking. They staid late, and the proprietors of the establishment finally retired, leaving the four men still gambling and drinking. In a short time one of the proprietors fell asleep, and the four men then seized the other proprietor, telling him the if he made the least outcry or resistance, they would murder him. They then placed two of the party as sentinels over the proprietors of the house, whilst the other two robbed it of about $600, and then they all decamped.
“These facts became generally known in the course of the next day, and on the night of the 19th a large party of armed citizens proceeded to the house of the four robbers and arrested them. The next day the citizens assembled and selected three judges who were to try the four men. Twelve jurymen were drawn by ballot, and the trial at once took place. The jury returned a verdict of guilty of robbery, and the four men were sentenced to receive thirty-nine lashes each and to be banished forever from the mines. The sentence was duly executed upon them on the 21st ult.
“The citizens afterwards learned that two of these robbers had been concerned in a murder on Weaver’s creek and on the South and Middle fork, in the course of last summer, and that recently two of them had attempted to murder a man near Weaver’s creek. – Thereupon. the citizens, in a public meeting, resolved that if the murderers should be found within the mines, they should be forthwith executed; but their information came too late, the birds had flown.
“Our informant says that up to the perpetration of this robbery he had never resided in a more quite and orderly community. It is surely most gratifying to observe the determined spirit of justice which actuated the people thus situated, and the credible goal with which this outrage has been punished. Let the abandoned and desperate wretches who infest the country, and who disgrace humanity by their hideous crimes, take warning from the fate of those punished at Santa Barbara, San Jose, and the Dry Diggings.”

That is a simple story: four men rob two others and after a trial are each given thirty-nine lashes for their crime. It is then found that some of them were guilty of murder or attempted murder and it was decided that “if the murderers should be found within the mines, they should be forthwith executed.” However, in their next edition, the Alta California adds to the story.

Alta California, February 15, 1849:
“Further From the Mines. Three Men Hanged at the Dry Diggings.”
“Our account of last week in relation to the trial and punishment of the four men at the Dry Diggings was substantially correct. After our informant left the Diggings, it now appears on good authority, the men were again captured, and three of them, Pepi, Antoine and Tchal were hung by the citizens. This occurred somewhere between the 21st and 25th of January.”

The most notable difference between the Buffum story and the Alta California story is the difference in the names and nationality of the criminals. Buffum says, “three of the men–two Frenchmen, named Garcia and Bissi, and a Chileno, named Manuel,” while the Alta California calls them, “Pepi, an Italian; Antoine, a Spaniard, and Tchal a Frenchman. It may just be a matter of the use of first, middle and last names, or simply a lapse of memory.

This is probably the only timely newspaper account of the hangings of these three men in Dry Diggings, although, as was common at the time, other newspapers would often pick up and reprint stories. Often stories in the Alta California would even have a note on a story that read: “Eastern papers please copy.”

TO BE CONTINUED

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