Criminal Annals, Part 26 – The Placer Times: Changes in the Court Process

Almost the entire front page of the March 16, 1850 edition of the “Placer Times” is devoted to proposed changes in the court process for California. These kinds of government items, along with an increasing amount of news from the east coast, notices and ads, will continue to take up much of the space in this four-page newspaper. As a result, in mid-April, it will go from a Saturday only newspaper to a Monday, Wednesday and Friday newspaper.

The editor, who always seems to have a sense of humor, makes a comment regarding this on the second page of this issue:

“The legal and other advertisements which will be found in our columns this week have so filled up The Times, that many of our ‘brilliant’ paragraphs, as well as news items, are necessarily omitted.”

In the next column is an article regarding more business problems in San Francisco:

“Another Swindler – We learn from the Alta California that Lount, of Lount & Co’s. Express, has sloped, leaving his partner in an awkward situation, having swindled him out of everything, and left the business of the firm in a very bad condition. This is the third instance of this kind which has occurred within a few weeks. The system may work well with these gentlemen vagabonds, be we hope every newspaper in the States will ‘keep it before the people’ that Myers, Russel and Lount are most consummate knaves, and not to be tolerated in any community.”

Following a very large list of people who are running for the new public offices available: Sheriff, County Recorder, City Marshal, Clerk of the Court of First Instance (now Superior Court), County Judge, etc., are two of the first legal notices posted by the Sacramento court.

“State of California, District of Sacramento, Court of First Instance in civil cases for said District: Joseph D. Bagly vs. M. B Otey: In debt.
The defendant in the above entitled cause will take notice, that on the 23rd day of February, A. D. 1850, Joseph D. Bagly sued out of the court aforesaid a Writ of Attachment against him for the sum of two hundred dollars, and has attached one horse and one mule belonging to said defendant; Now unless the said defendant appear in said court and plead or demur to the said plaintiff’s in this case filed, within four weeks, the same will be taken as confessed, and judgment entered accordingly, and said attached property sold to satisfy the same.

“P. DUNLAP, Clerk Sacramento District, Cal., Sacramento City, March 14th 1850. James C. Zarriskie, Att’y of pltf.”
And the second one:
“ Court of First Instance, Sacramento District, Before the Hon. James S. Thomas, Judge of said court: Howard Peterson vs. Miguel Ramirez: Action of Assumpsit. [action to recover damages for breach of contract] “Whereas on the 13th day of December, 1849, the plaintiff in the above entitled cause, has issued from the clerk’s office of said court, a writ requiring said defendant to appear and answer said cause of complaint on the 24th day of said month and said writ was returned non est [not to be found]; afterward an alias writ was was issued as aforesaid, upon which likewise the same return was made, and it appearing satisfactorily to said court that the defendant cannot be found, it is therefore ordered that publication be made four weeks successively, in some weekly newspaper published within said District, commanding said plaintiff to plead, answer, or demur to said cause of action, else the same will be heard and determined in his absence.
“PRESLEY DUNLAP, Clerk First Instance Sacramento District, Sacramento City, March 14th 1850.

“J. Neeley Johnson, Atty for pltf.”

At this early point in time, California being several months from even becoming a State, the judicial system seems to be working, mostly because many of those appointed or elected to posts brought experience with them.
The early immigrants to California are often shown in movies and on television as simple country folks mining and farming, but that is not entirely true. Many of them were educated or had been government officials elsewhere and came to California for purposes other than mining.

As an example, the above named Clerk of the Court, Presley Dunlap, had been a Deputy Clerk for the United States District Court, County Clerk and County Recorder in Des Moines, Iowa between 1840 and 1846, before heading to California. In 1849 he became a deputy sheriff in the Sacramento District and in the same year, the above Clerk of the Court of First Instance in Civil Cases for the Sacramento District. In 1850, he became the County Clerk of Sacramento County and from 1857 – 1858, served as the Recorder of Sacramento City. He unsuccessfully ran for the position of California Surveyor General in 1863. In 1879 he was a member of the Second Constitutional Convention which was held in the new State Capitol Building. He died on September 23, 1883 in Sacramento.

The front page of the March 23 edition of the Placer Times is a continuation of the notice of the changes in the court that started in the March 16 edition.

Being that there were no usury laws, the cost of borrowing money was very high in early California. On Page 2 of this same edition of the Placer Times there is an article regarding an unfortunate result from high interest rates in San Francisco, followed by a letter to the editor regarding the “Another Swindler” story above.

“A Case of Shooting at San Francisco. – We regret to learn that one of the most extensive merchants at San Francisco, shot himself a few days ago. Pecuniary [money] embarrassment is said to have been the cause, the gentleman having been paying for the long period fifteen and twenty percent per month for funds. Of course, nothing but embarrassment could have been expected, as no mercantile business will pay, even in this country, such as enormous interest.”

“To the Editor of the Placer Times:

“We noticed an article in your paper of last week, under the head of ‘Another Swindler,’ – and fearing some persons might receive a wrong impression, we hasten to explain. Mr. Lount has not been connected with the Express Office since January 1, when the present proprietors, B. K. & Co., bought out the concern. We are not prepared to say whether Mr. Lount swindled any one or not, having as little knowledge of his business as a perfect stranger. But we would wish it distinctly understood, that Brown, K. & Co.’s Express is entirely a separate concern from Lount & Co.; that no member of the present firm ever was connected with Lount & Co., further than taking L. & Co.’s letters, and business, and stand. Hoping, Mr. Editor, this will be a sufficient explanation to the public, and that we shall receive a share of the patronage hitherto so liberally extended to us, we remain, Your obt. servts., Brown, Knowlton & Co.

TO BE CONTINUED

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