Criminal Annals, Part 9: The Placer Times – Indian Problems

vol1no01p1 Masthead

Masthead of Placer Times, first edition

The first newspaper published in Sacramento, California, the “Placer Times,” ran weekly from April 28, 1849 to April 13, 1850, and tri-weekly until June 7, 1850 when it ceased publication. Its founder and editor was Edward C. Kemble, who was from an eastern newspaper family and at 19 had become the editor of the Alta California in San Francisco.

Since the Placer Times printed events that occurred in the greater Sacramento area, including the gold mines in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, it is an ideal publication in which to search for local news.

The major problems experienced in the mines at that time were attacks by the Native Americans and the retaliation by the miners or, vice versa. In its second edition, dated May 5, 1849, there are two front page articles that best describe this problem. One is regarding two Indian attacks on the northern boundary of El Dorado County, the Middle Fork of the American River, the second describing acts of retaliation by the miners.

“Placer Times, Saturday, May 5, 1849 ‘Indian outrages – seven white men murdered.

“The past month has witnessed scenes of outrage and violence in the mines, and events have occurred to disturb the tranquillity hitherto pervading the mining community – creating a question never before experienced since the discovery of the gold. The particulars of these outrages committed by the Indians were communicated to us shortly after occurring, and subsequently confirmed. The first, the massacre of five young men on the Middle Fork took place on or about the 13th last. A party of eight had encamped on this stream, three miles below a worked deposit known as the Spanish Bar. Three of the number started out prospecting one day, purposing to be absent five days, but on their return they found their camp abandoned and picked up an Indian arrow near by. This alarmed them and led to an examination of the place, and stains of blood were found, together with a number of Indian arrows, and a purse of gold, recognized as the property of one of their missing companions. They immediately started for Culoma (sic), and arriving at the Mill reported the matter, and added their suspicious of foul play. A party was soon made up who accompanied them to the spot occupied as their camp, and resuming the search discovered foot prints leading from the place; these they followed, which led them to an Indian rancheria. Upon examination of the several lodges a blanket was found, identified as belonging to one of their companions. The Indians upon being charged with the murder of these men, betrayed fear and guilt, and finally attempted to escape. They were pursued and two of them killed. The names of the five murdered men were James Johnson, Nathan English, Benjamin Wood and a Mr. Thompson.

“We had scarcely committed to paper the foregoing account, when the following particulars of the second outrage were received. Three men, whose names were Leonard, Sargent, and Carter, were at work together on the Middle Fork of the American. One day they were visited by a party of about twenty Indians, who labored with them during the remainder of the day, and encamped near by at night. The next day while the whites were at work, a short distance from camp, where their arms were deposited, Leonard received an arrow in his back; Sargent was shortly after wounded in the side and these two endeavored to swim the river, while Carter defending their escape with stones, contrived to keep the Indians in check. Leonard reached the opposite bank, and was shortly after joined by Carter; Sargent, though, was drowned. The two now set out for the ‘Forks’ while the Indians crossed the river in pursuit, but Carter was shortly obliged to abandon his companion, who declared himself unable to proceed; the Indians shortly after came upon Leonard and put him to death by beating in his skull. Carter escaped, told the story of his companion at the nearest camp, an procured a party to return. Nothing was discovered of the Indian murderers, however. These outrages so incensed the whites at Columa (sic) that a company was organized to capture the Indian criminals. Several prisoners were made, who, upon being taken to trial, attempted to escape and were shot.”
This is immediately followed by the second article.

“Terrible slaughter of Indians.

“The murders recently committed by the Indians on the American river have, as we expressed it our opinion, so thoroughly aroused the miners of that stream and vicinity, that nothing short of an unconditional slaughter of the Sacramento valley Indians would seem to appease the thirst for vengeance; terribly has their revenge been visited upon that miserable people within the week past.

“The Alcalde of this district received on Tuesday last a letter from Wm. Daylor, owner of a rancho distant 20 miles from this place, and situated on the Cosumne (sic) river, announcing the arrival of a large party of armed Americans on his grounds, and who had shot down three of this Indians while employed in digging a grave. On Wednesday following it transpired that an organized company, formed at the American, had traced a party of Indians from that river until within about ten miles of Daylor’s rancho, when, coming upon them suddenly, every man was instantly shot down, and the women and children taken into captivity. These Indians, it appears from the statements made by Daylor, corroborated by others, composed in part the mining troop employed by him on the Middle Fork, and who had, hearing of the excitement caused by the murders on that stream, abandoned the work to seek protection in their own village, under the immediate control of their employer. We cannot state with accuracy the number slain, although it is believed to have been not less than twenty. Three were killed a short distance from the house while employed in digging a grave for a member of Daylor’s family deceased.

“On Thursday the district Alcalde visited the scene of bloodshed, and was shown the bodies of eleven Indians in one grave. The Indians report twenty-three missing of their Indian men in all. What is reserved for the visitors time will show. The Indians were without arms when slaughtered. By our next we may be placed in possession of further details, and corrections by required in the foregoing, all of which will be promptly presented.”

Note: William Daylor was a highly respected owner of a large rancho along the Cosumnes River. He, his brother-in-law, Jared Sheldon, and a friend of theirs, Perry McCoon, are credited with being the first white men to mine along Hangtown Creek at a place that would later be known as Placerville.

TO BE CONTINUED

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