Criminal Annals, Part 35 – The Placer Times: More on the Foreign Miner’s Tax

Continuing with the May 1, 1850 edition of the “Placer Times,” on page three there is a short article regarding the very questionable “Foreign Miners Tax,” which requires all but Americans to pay a monthly tax or leave their claims.

“COLLECTORS OF TAXES FROM FOREIGN MINERS. – Major Dickey, who has lately arrived here from San Jose, where he has attended the sessions of the Legislature during the winter as the reporter of the Alta California, gives us the following list of appointments by the Governor:

“Capt. H. M. Naglee, San Francisco County; W. A. Baker, Sacramento County; Riley Gregg, Yuba County; Benj. McCullough, Mariposa County; Gen. L. A. Besançon, Touolumne [sic] County; Col. Gift, El Dorado County; W. B Almond, Calaveras County; T. B. Van Buren, San Joaquin County; W. H. Richardson, Sutter County; J. F. Ankeny, Shasta County; Capt. A. W. Adams, Butte County.”

Colonel Gift does not seem to appear in any of the books regarding El Dorado County, or even in the 1850 Federal Census. However, another person in the list, Captain Henry Morris Naglee, was a major figure in early California.

In 1849 officials of the City of San Francisco requested the military governor, Brigadier General Bennett Riley, to aid them in combating a criminal element that had been growing since gold was discovered in 1848. General Riley complied with the request and formed the California Militia, which he called the First California Guard, and which later became the California National Guard. Riley appointed Naglee as its first commander.

Naglee owned property near San Jose, where he raised cattle and also grapes to make brandy. He is known by some as the “Father of California’s brandy industry.” He would later become a general in the Civil War. In 1864, disillusioned with the progress of the war, he resigned his commission and returned to his farm and vineyards in California where he died in 1886 at the age of 71.

Page three of the same issue continues with an article regarding a growing and serious problem in California, squatters on the lands earlier granted to people by the Spanish and Mexican governments.

As a bit of history, it was originally agreed that with the ceding of California to the United States, Spanish and Mexican land grants would be recognized. However, when Congress approved the treaty, that provision was removed. Thus, many people believed that all land was public and available to anyone claiming it.

To iron out the confusion over land ownership in California, Congress passed “An Act to Ascertain and Settle Private Land Claims in the State of California” in 1851. This legislation established the California Land Commission, which had responsibility for adjudicating the validity of claims to Spanish and Mexican land grants. The law placed the burden of proof on the claimant.

Because it provided for appeals of the Commission’s decisions to the Federal courts, titles to these claims were often tied up in expensive litigation for years. In the mean time, there were many violent and bloody clashes between squatters and the claimants to the land grants.

“The subjoined from the N. Y. American Sun show that squatterism is appreciated in the East:

“From all accounts there are likely to be serous collisions between the new settlers and the old landholders of California. Squatters have already commenced inroads upon the estates of Capt. Sutter and others, claiming to have as good a right as he to lands conquered by the United States. Capt. Sutter, and many other persons, hold large tracts of land by virtue of Mexican titles – titles perfectly sufficient to protect the owners under the rule of Mexico. The new comers, or a portion of them, assume that these titles are no longer valid, that the United States dissolved them by her conquest, and made the whole territory public. This lawless, agrarian doctrine is naturally espoused by those who have no land, and who prefer squatting upon improved ground, to taking wild land and improving it for themselves.

“Unless the United States Government settles this question of Mexican titles soon, the worst consequences will follow. There can be nothing more absurd and wicked than the doctrine that conquest impairs the title of the conquered, individually, to their property. The United States is bound to protect those residents of California, or any other conquered territory, in all their property rights at the time of conquest. Any other course than this would be robbery of the Norman stamp. It is high time the United States placed some restriction upon speculation in public lands, but to tolerate the lawless partition of property already secured by individuals, according to the laws and customs of civilized nations, would be a graceless outrage.”

In 1850 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had before it a case involving a partnership between two men regarding mining gold in California and who owned it. It is unclear whether both of them went to California or if one of them went while the other stayed home.

“CALIFORNIA GOLD DIGGERS – Important Decision. – Judge Rogers, of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, made a decision recently, which is likely to have some slight influence on the operations of the silent partner business in the gold digging line. An application was made to the court, by Mr. J. A. Lessig, of Philadelphia, for an injunction to restrain one Patrick McLangton from disposing of some $20,000 worth of gold dust. The plaintiff alleged that he and Patrick entered into partnership, for the purpose of digging gold in California, and that the proceeds, amounting to the above sum, had been taken possession of by the said Patrick, without the slightest attempt on his part to divide the spoils. The gold dust was at the United States Mint, in that city, and an injunction was prayed, to prevent the defendant from taking it from that place. The court decided that the refusal of a partner to account, is no ground of injunction; and that, even if there was a partnership, the plaintiff not having labored towards that end, and the wole fund having been acquired by the defendant, it was not partnership property. The injunction was refused.”


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