People sometimes ask if El Dorado County was the only place where people seemed to be hanged by vigilante committees. For a period of time in the early days of the Gold Rush, El Dorado County was the most populated area in California, so much of everything happened here. But, there were other places where similar things occurred. In the April 9, 1852 edition of Sacramento’s “The Daily Union” is a hanging that happened at a place called Yankee Jim’s, which is located in Placer County, not too far from our northern county line.
“LATE TRAGEDY AT YANKEE JIM’S. – We mentioned in our paper of last Friday, that a man, known as ‘Jim Ugly,’ had been hanged by the Vigilance Committee of Yankee Jim’s Dry Diggings, for mortally stabbing a man named Chamberlain. We have received from a correspondent the full particulars of the affair. It appears that on the 20th of March, James Edmonson, better know as ‘Jim Ugly,’ went into the Indian Queen House, in Yankee Jim’s, and called for liquor, which was refused by Chamberlain, the bar-keeper, on the ground that he (Ugly) was already intoxicated. Ugly at this swore he would have liquor, and went behind the bar to help himself; he was met by Chamberlain and a scuffle ensued, in which Ugly drew a butcher’s knife from his sheath and stabbed Chamberlain in the lower part of the abdomen, penetrating the thigh, near the groin. Ugly made his escape, but was subsequently arrested, not, however, without difficulty, being armed with a double-barreled gun and pistol, which he attempted to use. Chamberlain died on the 25th of March after suffering five days. On the following day a coroner’s inquest was held on the body, and a verdict was given in accordance with the above facts.
“On the evening of the day on which the inquest was held, the miners and citizens of the village assembled to the number of three or four hundred, and discussed the matter as to what should be done with the murderer. It was unanimously agreed that he should be executed: in pursuance of which he was taken to an oak tree, a few rods [a rod is 16.5 feet] distant. Previous to being hung up he was asked if he had any request to leave for his friends; he replied that ‘he did not know that he had any friends.’ The rope was adjusted and he was hung up. He died apparently without a struggle.
“From all accounts that we can hear, Ugly bore an exceedingly bad character throughout the Northern mines. The physician who attended Chamberlain, stated tht he was the fourth patient that he had attended who had been stabbed by Ugly. Chamberlain was from New Hampshire, where he leaves a wife and two children. Ugly was from Kentucky.
“The inhabitants of Yankee Jim’s, after the hanging of Ugly, held a meeting and resolved that thereafter, in all like affairs, they themselves would be both Judge and executioner. In other words, formed a Vigilance Committee on the California plan.”
Note: The only major Committee of Vigilance that had been formed by 1852 was the one in San Francisco. It is believed that the “California plan” meant a group formed for the same reasons.
In the April 13, 1851 edition of the “Alta California” was printed the reasons given by San Francisco’s 700 member 1851 Committee of Vigilance for their existence:
“WHEREAS it has become apparent to the citizens of San Francisco, that there is no security for life and property, either under the regulations of society as it at present exists, or under the law as now administered; Therefore the citizens, whose names are hereunto attached, do unit themselves into an association for the maintenance of the peace and good order of society, and the preservation of the lives and property of the citizens of San Francisco, and do bind ourselves, each unto the other, to do and perform every lawful act for the maintenance of law and order, and to sustain the laws when faithfully and properly administered; but we are determined that no thief, burglar, incendiary or assassin, shall escape punishment, either by the quibbles of the law, the insecurity of prisons. the carelessness or corruption of the police, or a laxity of those who pretend to administer justice.”
The April 12, 1852 edition of the Daily Union had several small items about El Dorado County, some very interesting and some barely newsworthy, listed under the heading, “From the Interior.”
‘FROM THE INTERIOR. El Dorado.
“The News notices several improvements now going on in Placerville.
“A steam saw mill, a hotel 100 feet front and two stories high, and five stores on Main street, are among the buildings now in process of erection in that town.
“‘Piety Hill’ is within the limits of Hangtown [south of Main street, between Turner and Washington streets].
“The News has later intelligence from Carson Valley. A party of six men left there on the 1st inst. and arrived at Placerville on the 6th. The snow has fallen in places in the mountains to the depth of forty and fifty feet, and in some instances to the tops of the pines. The weather is very cold, and there is now enough to keep the streams up until late in the fall.
“The body of John Craig, of Oneida county, N. Y., has been found in the South Fork of the American river, twenty miles from Placerville..
“Rows are of frequent occurrence in Placerville. The News proposes the erection of a calaboose.
“GOLD DUST. – Saturday and Sunday were busy days with our gold dust dealers. We took some pains to ascertain the amount that was bought by those regularly engages in the business, and it amounted in the aggregate to twenty-three hundred and eighty ounces! This amount was purchased at $17 per ounce, amounting to the neat little sum of thirty-nine thousand, four hundred and sixty dollars.
“Last Monday the various county officers elect, took the oath of office, and entered upon the discharge of their duties.
Note: The “News” mentioned in the stories is the “El Dorado News,” a newspaper that was first published in Coloma in1851. It later became the “Placerville Republican.” The “Mountain Democrat” is a direct descendent of the “News.”
TO BE CONTINUED