Gold Country History

Criminal Annals, Part 23 – The Placer Times: 13 Pound Gold Nugget in Hangtown

vol1no39p1 head 2 9The February 9, 1850 edition of the “Placer Times” devotes the whole front page to the proposed legislation to create the City of Sacramento. However, on the second page it has a number of interesting items of local news.

The first article has nothing to do with crime or criminals, but involves a find by a woman in Hangtown.

“The Placer – New Diggings. – Persons just returned from the mines give very favorable accounts of the success of those now employed in various sections of the placer. A gentleman recently returned from a trip to Hangtown and vicinity, informs us that the miners are doing a good business in that locality. A woman, who had been assisting her husband to wash out the gold near the village just mentioned, took it into her head to scratch round a little in a ravine with a case-knife on her own hook, when she soon dug out a lump weighing just 13 pounds! As some fifty persons have seen this specimen weighed, we think there is no occasion for doubting the story.”

Following that is a bit of a “tongue in cheek” story that shows politicians have always been politicians.

“A Very Disastrous Affair. – the reporter of the Alta California has been ejected from his seat at the reporters’ table in the Senate of this State, because that paper did not choose to publish the ‘whole’ proceedings of that August body, to the exclusion of other matters of interest, as well as several columns of advertisements. We look upon this as a very melancholy case. Men who have become so dignified and smart as our Senators, certainly cannot live long, and we are hourly expecting to hear of the suspension of the Alta California, on account of this demonstration of the ‘learned Thebans.’
“P.S. – We have just learned that the reporter has been re-instated his his seat.”

In the next column of the second page is a short story regarding a possible murder along the South Fork of the American River that was important enough to be picked up and later reprinted by the Alta California.

“Supposed Murder. – The body of a man was found on the South Fork, about two miles above the mouth of Weber’s Creek, on the 30th of December. It was supposed, by the persons who found it, that the man had been killed by a wound in the throat. The name of the deceased could not be ascertained.”

Following this is a short article regarding the “selling” of women in San Francisco.

“Something Fresh – Selling Women at Auction. – We learn from the Alta California that a vessel recently arrived at San Francisco from Sydney, New South Wales, having on board three women, who being unable to ‘settle their passage,’ were take on shore by the captain, and sold at auction to liquidate the debt. Fifteen dollars each was the highest bid for services for five months. The gallant captain coolly pocketed the $45 and walked off, well satisfied with the ‘live stock’ operation. We may be over sensitive about such things, but we must be allowed to say that we consider this a most barbarous and disgraceful proceeding.

The fourth column on the second page of this issue is mostly devoted to a letter regarding a very important issue that would hang around for many years, the property rights of the Mexican citizens, which many people were openly ignoring.

“Mr Editor – Having noticed a communication in your paper relative to the Criminal Court of Sacramento District, and having heard several persons express an opinion that the Court had no authority to exercise certain privileges, it may be of service to state how far the U. S. Government is concerned in protecting the property of persons now Mexican citizens, those who have been Mexican citizens, or those who obtain property from Mexican citizens who may have disposed of the same according to the provision of the Treaty. The following articles of the Treaty may be read with advantage:

“Article 8. Mexicans now established in territories previously belonging to Mexico, and which remain for the future within the limits of the United States, as defined by the present treaty, shall be free to continue where they now reside, or to remove at any time to the Mexican Republic, retaining the property which they possess in said territories, or wherever they please, without their being subjected, on this account, to any contribution, tax or charge wherever.

“Those who shall prefer to remain in the said territories, may either retain the title and rights of Mexican citizens, or acquire those of citizens of the United States. But they shall be under the obligation to make their election within one year from the date of the exchange of ratifications of this treaty; and those who shall remain in the said territories after the expiration of that year, without having declared their intention to retain the character of Mexicans, shall be considered to have elected to become citizens of the United States.

“In the said territories, property of every kind, now belonging to Mexicans not established there, shall be inviolable respected. The present owners, the heirs of these, and all Mexicans who may hereafter acquire said property by contract shall enjoy with respect to it guarantees equally ample as if the same belonged to citizens of the United States.

“Art. 9. Mexicans who, in the territories aforesaid, shall not preserve the character of citizens of the Mexican Republic, conformably with what is stipulated in the preceding article, shall be incorporated into the Union of the United States, and be admitted at the proper time (to be judges by the Congress of the United States) to the enjoyment of all the rights of citizens of the United States, according to the principles of the Constitution; and in the mean time shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty and property, and secured in the free exercise of their religion without restriction.”


Criminal Annals, Part 22 – The Placer Times: Rumors of War?

vol1no37p1 head 1 26The January 26, 1850 edition of the “Placer Times” is a newspaper that shows even in those days, there were what are now commonly known as “slow news days.” It wasn’t that nothing was happening, it usually meant that the steamers from San Francisco didn’t bring the newspapers that arrived with the ships from ports on the East Coast, the source for much of the front page news. It did give the Placer Times the opportunity to print small stories that might not have otherwise made the paper.

A story on page two is about a very minor situation between England and the United States that doesn’t often show up in history books, for probably good reason.

“Rumors of War. – A great number of folks seem to think that we are to have war with England very shortly, the trouble having originated out of the Nicaragua question. England, it appears, made a demand for that portion of the Nicaragua coast embracing the mouth of the river San Juan, and which is included in the treaty with the American citizens, and a point at which a ship canal is to be commenced. Without much ado, the United States Minister took possession of the ground claimed by our citizens, and we have news also that the United States flag had since been hauled down by the British squadron off the coast. We have rumor likewise that the steamer California, which sailed from San Francisco on the 15th, has been detained by order of the Commodore at this station, and that the Panama, which arrived on Monday last, would also be detained. The whole business seems to be too much of a gaseous nature to command any serious consideration.”

Below that is a story regarding Eliza Wood Farnham, a notable lady who came to California and in 1856 wrote a book titled “California, In-doors and Out; or How We Farm, Mine and Live Generally in the Golden State.” Her story is further told in a book by the local author JoAnn Levy, titled “Unsettling the West, Eliza Farnham and Georgiana Bruce Kirby in Frontier California.” Farnham’s story is fascinating as is noted in the following which mentions only one of the problems she had on her trip to California.

“Bad Usage. – Mrs. Farnham brought a suit against Capt. Windsor, of the ship Angelique, for a breach of contract to convey her and two children from New York to San Francisco, and for unkind treatment generally, as well as for carrying her children away and leaving her at Valparaiso. We have not yet heard the result of the case, but hope the captain will be made to suffer for his ungentlemanly contact.”
Following that is a story regarding two men in the town of Fremont who had a disagreement:

“Fatal Affray. – We learn that two men at Fremont had a quarrel about some hay last week, and before the affray was over one of the shot the other, who died instantly. The deceased’s name is Bigelow. We are without farther particulars.”

The February 2, 1850 edition of the Placer Times has the following four stories in a row on page 2. The first is regarding some gentlemen in San Francisco who probably have no friends left; the second is about some very clever thieves who figured out how to steal gold dust without opening the container; the third about some serious problems in Marysville and the last regarding a miner’s bad luck. One might immediately question if the offer of a reward of $500 for the return of $4,900 in gold dust would be sufficient, but in that time in California a significant majority of people were very honest and even larger amounts of lost gold dust were found and returned to the proper owner.

“Absconded. – We learn from the Alta California that Russell and Myers, late proprietors of the Ward House, San Francisco, absconded last week, leaving a large amount of debts unpaid. Myers also appropriated to his own use upward of a thousand dollars of the fund for the relief of the sick and poor of the town, it having been entrusted to him as Treasurer of the Relief Association. The Association has offered a reward of $1000 for his arrest; and if he should be caught, we hope he will be made to work the balance of his days, with ‘ball and chain,’ in those awfully muddy streets, which would be too mild a sentence for such a villainous robbery.”

“Stealing Gold Dust. – On opening two boxes of gold dust, one at Philadelphia marked John DeWitt & Co. New York, and the other at Baltimore marked T. D. & S., shipped from San Francisco in November last, it was found that nearly 600 ounces of the dust had been abstracted, by boring the wood of the boxes. A reward of $4,000 is offered for the recovery of the dust and the apprehension and conviction of the thief.”

“Robberies. – It will be seen by some proceedings in to-day’s paper that a number of men have been found guilty of stealing in and about Marysville. We hope the thieving scoundrels about our town will be taken care of shortly; if they are not, they will probably have some cold lead introduced into their rascally carcases.”

“Unlucky. – A man by the name of Parker, who came down in the steamer Lawrence from the Yuba, as he was getting off the boat, dropped a tin box, containing $4,900 in dust, into the river. A reward of $500 has been offered for its recovery.”


Criminal Annals, Part 21 – The Placer Times: The Disturbance at the Mines (Continued)

vol1no36p1 head 1 19In response to the information from the “Alta California,” regarding a problem between the American and Chilean miners on the Calaveras River, as printed in the January 19, 1850 issue of the “Placer Times,” the Placer Times printed a second letter that was sent to the Alta California and dated Stockton, January 3, 1850. Unfortunately it provides only one side of the story.

“I have just seen four delegates who have been sent from the Calaveras to this place for the purpose of laying before our citizens a correct account of the proceedings in the mines which led to the deplorable occurrences of which I have already given you the particulars. It appears that the Chileans, in the endeavor to have Judge Collier and other Americans on the Calaveras arrested, were aided by certain persons who would now wish to shirk all responsibility. A meeting of the citizens of Stockton was held yesterday, for the purpose of hearing the Calaveras delegates; and those gentlemen vindicated in a most able and satisfactory manner, the course pursued by the Americans toward the Chileans on the Calaveras. The latter had, by false swearing, procured from the Prefect of this place, a writ for the arrest of Judge Collier and other persons. If this writ had been placed in the hands of a proper officer, its injunctions would have been promptly obeyed. Instead of which it was given to a parcel of the lowest order of Chileans – none of whom could speak a word of English – who, instead of presenting it in open daylight, stole upon their unsuspecting victims in the dark, and dragging them from their beds, tied them; murdering all who offered the least resistance. Such were the facts elicited by the meeting held in this place yesterday. The Delegates from the Calaveras, to all of whom I have been introduced, are most respectable and intelligent gentlemen. The following are their names: Robert Hart, Esq. of Virginia; Col. J. C. Gilman, of Wisconsin; Dr. L. L. Battle, of Tennessee; S. A. Booker of Virginia.

“The Delegates report that they met the Americans with the Chilean prisoners between Stockton and the Calaveras. There is no truth in the rumor that the latter were executed on the road. It is said that the Chileans are reinforcing on the Calaveras and there is reason to suspect that they are endeavoring to induce the Indians in the neighborhood to join them.”

The second page of the same issue of the Placer Times is mostly a story on the recent flooding of Sacramento. This would occur several times until, dirt was brought in and the streets raised about 10 feet, making the second story of most buildings, the first story. Most of the labor was done by the Chinese immigrants (Celestials they were called). A similar thing was done in Seattle, WA, where tours under the street are now given.

There are also two other interesting articles on the second page, one regarding the dead animals left most likely victims of the recent severe flooding and people moving to the high ground of the levees, and another regarding how San Francisco handled problems with thieves during the recent fire in that city.

Unlike today, where editorials are usually placed in a separate column, the editor of the Placer Times, as he often does, adds his opinions at the ends of stories.

“Criminal Court, Sacramento District. – January 5, 1850. The Grand Jury came into Court and presented as a nuisance the dead cattle lying about the city in a state of decomposition; also the encumbrances on the Levee; also presented true bills against G. B. Stevens and others, as a public nuisance. It was therefore ordered by the Court that the Clerk give public notice to all persons having decaying animals or animal substances on their premises, to remove or bury the same withing a reasonable time, or that they will be proceeded against according to law; also that all persons trespassing upon the Levee be required to removed therefrom, according to the regulations fo the City ordinance.”
“Grand Larcenies. – The following named persons were convicted of acts of grand larceny at the late fire in this city, and severely sentenced as appears: W. Quinn, 2 years hard labor in public streets, with ball and chain; Peter Notfear, Patrick Ayre, Thos. Crosby, Thos. Duhity, Jose Maria Antonio, Jose Antonio, 1 year hard labor in the public streets, with ball and chain; George Campbell, Lucian Munius, 6 months hard labor in the public streets, with ball and chain – Alta California.

“The above indicates the way they ‘put through’ the thieving rascals at San Francisco, and it is high time the same system was in operation here. The numerous burglars and petty thieves among us should be detected and summarily punished by our city authorities. All citizens doing business should assist the authorities in arresting the prowling vagabonds, for their own safety if for no other reason.”


Criminal Annals, Part 20 – The Placer Times: The Disturbance at the Mines

vol1no36p1 head 1 19There was no January 12, 1850 issue of the “Placer Times,” due to the major flooding in Sacramento. The January 19, 1850 issue devotes about one-half of the front page to a story titled, “The Disturbance at the Mines.” Although this article refers to an occurrence in the “Southern Mines,” similar problems are occurring throughout the mining area.

“The Disturbance at the Mines. We copy the following account of the disturbance in the San Joaquin Valley from the correspondence of the “Alta California.” [The major San Francisco newspaper]

“Stockton, December 31, 1849. It appears that a number of American had, at the commencement of the rainy season, selected a place on the Calaveras River, where they erected log cabins, and made preparations to winter. This was a place in which “dry blowing” for gold was carried on, last summer by Chileans or other foreigners. Soon after the Americans settled, a number of Chileans arrived, and went to work in the neighborhood; and shortly afterwards, a public meeting was held by the Americans, and a Judge and Military Captain were elected. Notice was then given to all who were not American citizens, to leave within fifteen days. A body of Chileans still remained at their old place, about eight miles from the ‘Iowa Log Cabins,’ (the American Camp) and abused and drove off three or four Americans, who attempted to dig in the neighborhood. At the expiration of the time specified for the Chileans to leave, they were brought before the Judge, (Collier,) and fined one ounce each, and notified to leave by the 25th inst. Little notice was taken of them down to the 25th inst. as it was supposed they would leave. At this time but few of them remained, and those were apparently making preparations to move. On the night of the 27th instant, at about 8 o’clock, a descent was made upon the ‘Iowa Log Cabins’ by about 80 armed Chileans, who went from cabin to cabin, seizing the inmates, most of whom were in bed, and binding them with ropes, using the most abusive language, and threatening to shoot them, if they resisted or made the least noise. It should be remarked that none of the Chileans spoke in English, nor did they show any authority for the arrest of the Americans. Having bound the inmates of the ‘Iowa Log Cabins,’ and tied some of them to trees, they left them under guard, and proceeded to some other cabins and tents in the neighborhood. In one of these cabins there was a light, and some five or six persons playing cards. This cabin they charged upon, broke open the door, and attacked the inmates with pistols, guns and knives, killing two Americans, one of the own party, and wounding four others. The two men who were killed were aged, one of them leaving a wife and ten children in the States, and the other a wife and five children. I have been unable to ascertain their names in full. One of them is called Starr, originally from New York, but lately from Texas. The Chileans then bound with ropes all the Americans in this camp, even those who were wounded and hurried them off – some without blankets or even coats – and joining the others, whom they had previously taken, marched the whole sixteen in number, a distance of eight miles on the road toward Stanislaus, to the tent of an Alcalde [Justice of the Peace] named Scullion, who they said, would accompany them to Stockton. This Alcalde refused to see them, or to have any thing to do with them; and after a delay of about an hour, which was spent in endeavoring to hunt up the Alcalde, they marched back to their own camp, a distance of fifteen miles. In passing an American tent, they threatened to shoot the first man who uttered a word. At about 7 or 8 o’clock next morning, they arrived at the Six-Mile Tent, ten miles this side of the Double Springs. Here the Chileans had breakfast, and the Americans got a little cold coffee only. They then marched twelve miles farther toward Stockton, and at the tent, late Lemons’, had a biscuit each and some cheese. Here they heard that friends were coming to rescue them. Further on the road, at about three o’clock, an American rode by with a gun, who remarked ‘take care of yourself, boys.’ None of the Chileans appeared to understand English, and only one of the American understood Spanish; but the former suspected something and leaving the road to Stockton, they marched and countermarched, through mud and water, thickets and plains, over mountains and gulches, until ten o’clock at night, when, completely exhausted from cold, hunger and fatigue, they rested for two hours. During this time some of the Americans untied their arms, and some of the Chileans, it was afterwards found out, had either given out or vamosed. It was evident that the greasers had suffered more from the march than their prisoners, and being somewhat afraid of an attempt at rescue, they were willing to come to an understanding with the Americans, and agreed to loosen their arms, and proceed by the regular road to Stockton, provided they would intercede for them in case of an attempt at rescue by other Americans.

“They struck the road at a tent, about ten miles from Stockton, at daybreak. It so happened that this tent was full of Americans who were soon up in arms, and arrested the Chileans. The latter, whose numbers had been reduced to eleven, were then tied and had proceeded a short distance on the road towards Stockton, when a number of Americans from the Calaveras arrived and took them from the former prisoners, determined on marching them back to the ‘Iowa Log Cabins.’ The Americans who had been taken prisoners arrived in Stockton day before yesterday, and gave themselves up to the authorities. The latter informed them that they did not know whether they were the persons for whose arrest they had issued a writ; for it appears that the Judge of First Instance and Prefect of this place had issued a writ of arrest for the Judge (Collier) and other Americans who had warned off and extorted money from the Chileans, the latter having lodged a complaint against the former, accusing them of robbery, &c. [archaic ‘etc.’] It appears that the authorities here endeavored to get American to execute the writ, but failing in the endeavor, it fell into the hands of Chileans, who, I must say, relied from the beginning, upon others for assistance.

“It was rumored in town yesterday evening that the eleven Chilean prisoners, unable from exhaustion to proceed to the Calaveras, were hung upon the road. I give this as a rumor. It is thought that the Chileans who remain on the Calaveras will fare badly.”