Criminal Annals, Part 92 – Horrid Murders

Continuing with the early issues of the Sacramento “Daily Union,” in the May 24, 1852 we find more information about problems in Calaveras county, our neighboring county to the south at that time. The information comes from the “Calaveras Chronicle,” a newspaper published in Mokelumne Hill starting in 1850.

“From Calaveras

“The Chronicle says that quartz mills are becoming very numerous in Calaveras, and that some companies are meeting with good success.

“HORRID MURDERS. – As we go [to] press we learn that two Frenchmen, while asleep in their tent near Jackson, were assaulted by certain Mexicans, who killed one on the spot and left the other for dead, and then robbed the tent of ever thing valuable. The wounded man is still living, and has described the murderers, so that it is to be hoped they will be recognized and captured. This is the fourth murder committed within a few weeks, in this same vicinity, and probably by the same gang. – Chronicle, 22d.

“HORSES. – During the past week, large droves of wild horses have arrived in the vicinity of Butte City from the ranchos of Gen. Vallejo. Some of them have sold as high as $35 per head. – Ib. [Ibid, or from the same place]
“Henry R. Mann, P.M. [Postmaster] at Jackson, died at that place on Thursday last.”

Two days later the May 26, 1852 edition expands on the murder and postmaster stories and adds a bit about a vigilante committee and politics.

“CALAVERAS CORRESPONDENCE, Death of Henry R. Mann – Murders – Stabbing – Vigilance Committee, &c. [archaic etc.]

“Messrs. Editors.: – Our town and county has just suffered a great loss in the sudden death of Henry R. Mann, Postmaster at this place, which occurred on the 20th inst. [this month] He was one of the oldest residents of this county – one of the pioneers of Jackson, and by his numerous good qualities had become deservedly popular with our citizens. A few days before his death he had received intelligence that his family were en route to California, to join him at this place, which renders the event still more deplorable.

“On Thursday night, at about 12 o’clock, a most brutal murder was perpetrated near this town, which has caused a great deal of excitement. Two Frenchmen were assaulted while sleeping in their tent, by three Mexicans, with knives, and one of them killed, and the other dangerously and probably mortally wounded. The murderers are well known, and our citizens have offered a reward of $300 for their apprehension. They have not yet been captured.

“Last night an Irishman, named Hensley stabbed an American by the name of Russell, wounding him severely though not dangerously. Judge Lynch took the affair in hand, and to-day Hensley received fifty lashes, had his head shaved, and was banished from this place.”

Note: Judge Lynch, as you have probably figured out, is citizen justice. Hanging was not always the result and different crimes brought about different punishment. Lashes to the back by a leather whip was common, the number based on the seriousness of the crime. Shaving the head or, in some more serious cases, cutting off one ear, gave a message to the next town that the person was a convicted criminal.

Continuing with the article: “The citizens of Jackson, in view of the inefficiency of our laws to protect life and property, or punish offenders, have organized a Vigilance Committee on the San Francisco plan; and hereafter crime will meet with a speedy retribution.”

Note: The “San Francisco plan,” is the way their Committee of Vigilance was created in 1851 and was later followed by many other California communities. Their statement was:

“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 unite 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.”

Continuing again with the article: “The Whigs of this County are awakening from their lethargy, and as they feel the disgrace of living in the ‘Banner County’ of Locofocoism, they are determined to show a different state of things next fall. We are nearly all Webster [Daniel Webster, a Whig candidate] men here, but will cordially support the nominee of the National Convention. [signed] S. N.”

Note: The Locofocos were a radical faction of the Democrat Party that existed from 1835 until the mid-1840s. The term was often applied to the entire Democrat Party by members of the Whig Party in a derogatory manner. In general, Locofocos supported Andrew Jackson and Van Buren, and were for free trade, greater circulation of money, legal protections for labor unions and against paper money, financial speculation, and state banks.

At that time the Democrats substantially outnumbered the Whigs in California and controlled the state government. Due to a series of internal conflicts which weakened the party, in 1856 J. (John) Neely Johnson, a member of the Know-Nothing Party, was elected governor and Know-Nothings made considerable gains in the state legislature.



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