Criminal Annals, Part 32 – The Placer Times: Mormon Gold Coins

Tucked away in the advertising section of the April 22, 1850 edition of the “Placer Times” is a short notice regarding some lost luggage. The ad has been in the paper for several weeks without the bags being found, so one wonders about their contents or if they may have been taken.

“Between the city of Sacramento and Yales’s Ranche, above Vernon [on the Sacramento River, north of Sacramento],TWO SACKS, answering the following description: One, a carpet bag nearly square in form being two feet long and about the same in width, containing books and mementos of departed friends. The carpet bag was enveloped in a linen bag, tied. The other sack is longer and larger but not so heavy; It is enveloped in a coarse cotton cloth and sewed closely. Through inadvertency the sacks were not labeled. Any person having knowledge of the above described sacks, will please inform Mr. Smith, of the firm of Smith, Bensley & Co., or leave word at this office. The courteous favor will be gratefully acknowledged by A WOMAN.”

The Wednesday, April 24, 1850 edition of the Placer Times has devoted the entire front page to advertisements. This is quite a change from their previous editions that kept such information on page four and sometimes on page three. Page two has two stories regarding a problem that seems to be increasing, fake gold.

“LOOK OUT! – Mr. McKnight has shown us a bogus specimen of gold, weighing between 5 and 6 ounces, which was taken by a merchant in town yesterday. He says there have been some similar offered at his office, a small one of which he purchased a few days back, and disposed of again, without discovering the deception. – the pieces of quartz are ingeniously inserted, and the whole getting up calculated easily to deceive the unwary. It is quite possible that the manufacture of this galvanized metal is going on in our midst.”

During the Gold Rush, coinage in California consisted of a mixture of Spanish, Mexican and United States coins in various denominations. Because of the previously shown distrust for many of these coins, a fair amount of the daily business was done in gold dust using various measuring methods (i.e. an ounce, a pinch, etc.), or barter.

When the first members of the Mormon Battalion reached Salt Lake City with California gold dust in 1848, the Mormons decided to create what was known as the Deseret Mint and make their own coins. Inscribed with dates of 1849, 1850 and 1860, an unknown, but limited number of coins were minted in denominations of 2 ½, 5, 10 and 20 dollars.

The coins have a fineness of about 900 thousandths gold and 100 thousandths silver, which, we are told, was added for strength. This is about the same as the California native gold, so some believe that they may have just been made with gold as it was found. (“The Sampling and Assay of the Precious Metals,” by Ernest A. Smith, London (1913) shows typical California native gold at 89.1 percent gold, 10.5 percent silver with trace amounts of iron and other metals.)

When the coins were first circulated in St. Louis by Salt Lake merchants who used them to pay for merchandise, the $20 coins were accepted at $18 because of the silver alloy. In the valley of the Salt Lake, however, the coins went for face value.

In the same edition of the paper as quoted above, is an article relating to these coins.

“MORMON GOLD COINS. – The Philadelphia Ledger says:

“Last week, Clark & Co., of this city, deposited at the Mint, for recoining, what purported to be $3,000 in Mormon double eagles, each piece stamped as worth $20. After melting, the aggregate value was found to be $2,583 63, or about $17 22 1-2 each piece. The fineness was found to be 89.7 thousandths – silver parting 98 thousandths. The public will have to be on the lookout for this coin; for, if this assay at the Mint be a fair test of the great Salt Lake manufacture of coin, as we presume it is, the Mormons seem to understand what they are about, and to be determined to make the most of their gold mines.”

The first design called for an obverse with the motto “Holiness to the Lord” and an emblem of the priesthood – a three-pointed Phrygian crown over an All-Seeing Eye of Jehovah. On the reverse, the $2 ½, $5 and $20 coins were inscribed G.S.L.C.P.G. (Great Salt Lake City Pure Gold) over two clasped hands symbolizing friendship, then the value and the year date. In spite of this inscription, the coins were not made with Salt Lake City gold, or Utah gold at all, but California gold.

Today the only gold Deseret coins known to exist number 254 and are: 1849 $2 ½ (43); 1849 $5 (71); 1849 $10 (10); 1849 $20 (21); 1850 $5 (54) and 1860 $5 (55). In good condition, some bring prices in excess of $120,000 each.


Criminal Annals, Part 31 – The Placer Times: The California Question

The April 22, 1850 edition of the “Placer Times” is the first Monday issue of this newspaper, this being the week that it has gone from a weekly to a tri-weekly. It starts out with an article on what is often called “The California Question.”

California, at this point in time, has been ceded to the United States by Mexico, but is neither an official territory nor a state. It is what some call “A State out of the Union,” as it has a constitution, elected state officials and elected representatives to both houses of Congress. The issue that is holding up statehood is slavery and, according to this article picked up from the “New York Evening Post,” Congress is in a difficult position.

Some in Congress want to admit California as a free state, some as a slave state and others want to divide California, keeping the southern half as a territory. Although we today know what happened, in 1850 this was the most important issue before the citizens of California as it affects their legal and judicial rules, and it will be several months before it is settled.

“The Debate on the California Question has been opened in both houses of Congress, we are happy to observe, with a high degree of calmness worthy of the importance of the subject, and auspicious of an early conclusion of the controversy. The southern politicians may struggle to defer, but they cannot change the event of the dispute. California will be admitted into the Union with her present constitution, and with the boundaries marked out by it. There is no chance whatever of the success of any plan of mutilating her domain by keeping the southern half of it in the condition of a territory. No such plan can pass the House of Representatives, nor will the Senate, we think, dare to apply to one portion of the territory a constitution made for the whole of the State, nor venture to send back the Senators and Representatives – for that must be the effect of such a mutilation – who have come from the shores of the Pacific to take their seats in Congress. These men, elected by the entire state of California, cannot, of course, be allowed to represent a state from which they have received no commission – a different body politic from that which sent them to Washington – a state formed by the caprice of Congress out of a part of the country which elected them. If any such scheme be adopted, it will give them to understand that they have come to the Atlantic states on a fool’s errand, and that they are at liberty to go back, if they please, and solicit to be re-elected for the northern half of California. We are very confident that this farce will not be played during the present Congress.

“Nor will the admission of California be made to depend on any other question, or connected by congress with any controverted scheme to settle the slavery question. The political projectors, who are numerous enough in Congress, will doubtless endeavor to do this, but we are confident it cannot obtain the sanction of the majority. The people of California have been given to understand by the politicians, both of the south and the north, that all they had to do was to frame their own constitution, deciding for themselves the question of tolerating slavery, and that they should be immediately admitted into the Union. Shall those who have given these assurances keep the young state shivering on the threshold of the capitol, till a controversy, which may last for years, is adjusted between the slave states and the free? It will require a good deal of hardihood [boldness] to do this. It will require more hardihood that any of them, except the fanatical few, possess.

“The northern Senators and Representatives will all vote for the immediate admission of California. The most subservient to the southern aristocracy among them all are so fettered by their previous engagements, that they cannot so otherwise without making themselves infamous. The administration presses the immediate admission of the new state with what influence it can command. Mr. Benton will give the measure his powerful support, and Mr. Clay has declared that it is not his intention to shackle the proposal for receiving California into the Union, by connecting it with any debatable question.

“It seems to us, therefore, that the opposition made in Congress to the admission of California, will have no other effect than to show in what manner the fanatics of slavery would treat the new state if they were able. [N. Y Ev. Post.”

The “Mr. Benton” mentioned in the story is Democratic Senator Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858) from Missouri, a strong advocate of the extension of the United States to the Pacific Coast. He was also the father-in-law of John C. Fremont, who, as an officer in the United States Army, explored the west in the 1840s. Fremont was also one of the two elected by California to serve in the Senate and in 1856 ran for President of the United States as a Republican.

The “Mr. Clay” is Senator Henry Clay, Sr., (1777-1852) from Kentucky, the “father of the Whig Party.” He served in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and lost a son, Henry Clay, Jr., at the Battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican War. Senator Clay was several times an unsuccessful candidate for President of the United States and well known for his ability to obtain compromises on the slavery issue.

As we have previously seen, injury from a crime, accident or sure stupidity, was very common in the early days of California. There were doctors (some trained, some not), with few tools and little medicine, who could treat an injury. There were also a few early hospitals that could care for patients. One such hospital posted their rates in the newspaper on a regular basis. It was called the Sacramento Hospital.
“Sacramento Hospital, Under the care of Dr. Robert M. Stansbury.

“The undersigned, having purchased the interest of Dr. Cragin and Mr. Abell in the Sacramento Hospital, near Sutter’s Fort, are prepared to receive sick persons at the following rates:

“A patient occupying a room alone, $15 per day. Two or three patients in one room, each $12 a day. Ward patients, each $10 per day.
“This charge covers board, lodging, medicines, medical and other necessary attendance, and the washing of bed-linens and towels. An extra charge will be made for surgical operations.

“No person laboring under any form of mania will be received.

“Upon the admission of a patient, full security will be required for the payment of all charges which he may incur during his stay in the hospital.

“There is now on hand a large stock of medicines, carefully selected and imported direct, but the late superintendent, from which physicians and others can be supplied at reasonable prices.


Dr. Robert M. Stansbury would be one of the 17 doctors who would die while caring for victims of the 1850 Cholera Epidemic in Sacramento. He is buried in the Sacramento City Cemetery in an unmarked grave. There is a plaque at that cemetery commemorating the 17 doctors and their service to the community.


Criminal Annals, Part 30 – The Placer Times: More About the Recent Election

The April 13, 1850 edition of the “Placer Times” has one final note on the recent election of city officials in Sacramento. It was picked up from a recent issue of the San Francisco newspaper, “Alta California,” and involves one Mr. Thomas J. Henley, who finished second to the winner and first elected mayor of Sacramento City, Hardin Bigelow.

“San Jose, April 5th, 1850

“Editors Alta California – Sirs: I see by the returns of the election at Sacramento City, that I am reported as having received a number of votes there as the democratic candidate for the office of Mayor. I was not a candidate, and would, had I been present, have cheerfully given my vote for the respectable gentleman (Mr. Bigelow) who I understand is elected. This is claimed here as a Whig victory. It is not so, as Mr. Bigelow is well known to be a democrat. By publishing this note you will oblige.
“Yours &c., THOS. J. HENLEY.”

Perhaps there are two men named Thomas J. Henley, or maybe not.

Mayor Hardin Bigelow (whose name is often spelled Harding) was a native of Michigan and Sacramento’s first elected mayor following the date Sacramento became a chartered city, February 27, 1850. A. M. Winn held the office at the time and Bigelow was elected on April 1, 1850. Bigelow was also credited in creating the city’s first levee system.

In 1850, many of those immigrating to Sacramento during the Gold Rush were unhappy with John Sutter and his land grant titles. This resulted in the Squatter’s Riots, of which Bigelow was injured. Shortly thereafter, he succumbed to cholera and died.

Also on page 2 of the April 13, 1850 Placer Times are two more interesting articles, one regarding actions of the Sacramento Criminal Court and the other regarding the sending of Army troops to California, a story picked up from the “Baltimore Sun.”

“Criminal Court – Sacramento District.– The prisoners, Flemming and Bowdon, having been convicted in stealing a sum in gold dust of the value of about $3500, from the tent of Capt. Swan and others, were sentenced to two years hard labor in irons, under the direction and for the benefit of Sacramento City. The boy Dennis and others, indicted as receivers of the stolen gold dust, were allowed to go at large on their good behavior, and the Court adjourned sine die [without fixing a day for future action or meeting].”

“Troops for California. – The Light Company 1, First Artillery, embarked from Fort McHenry on Sunday, in the A 1 United States transport ship Monterey, 600 tons, for California. This fine company numbered 84 non-commissioned officers and privates, with the following officers: 1st Lieut. A. R. Eddy, 1st artillery commanding; 1st Lieut. F. E. Patterson; 2nd Lieut. D. M. Beltzhoover; assistant surgeon, R. O. Abbott; Frank Ames, Sutler [a civilian merchant who sells provisions to an army in the field, in camp or in quarters]. The men have taken out ten families, and Lieut. B. is accompanied by his bride. The officers have taken with them a grand piano, which will, doubtless, contribute to lessen the weariness and monotony of such a protracted voyage. In addition to the battery of the company, the ship is freighted with the following – ten 32 pounder iron guns, ten 24 pounder do. do. [ditto, ditto], 1000 32 pound balls, 1000 24 pound balls, and a large quantity of ammunition; 1000 pounds sub-stores, 3,350 bricks, 5000 feet dressed flooring, 3,350 bushels kiln dried bats [siding ?]. The officers and men were in high sprits, and bid adieu to their old and familiar ramparts with glad hearts and buoyant anticipations. Col. Magruder, who has been ordered to the same port, will take the Isthmus route, leaving the city in a few weeks. Major Dusenbury is certainly entitled to praise for the activity and energy displayed in fitting out the ship for her voyage, having provided every article, rendered necessary for such a large corps, in a very short space of time. – [Balt. Sun.”

As a note, Eddy Street in San Francisco is named for William Eddy who surveyed some of the city, not this Lt. A. R. Eddy.

On page three of the same issue of the Placer Times is an article regarding an unfortunate accident which was picked up from the Stockton Times, a new newspaper. Although it is not mentioned in the story, you will note from the final comment that Mr. Ridder was probably from New York.

“Fatal Accident. – On the 17th of February, a fatal accident occurred eight miles from Stockton. A party of young men started from Stockton for the mines and encamped eight miles from this place. They were six in number – J. B. Ridder, C. E. B. Coffin, Stephen Read, John Duffy and two others. Not having wood enough for the night, Ridder went to get some, and while cutting, his revolver fell out of the holster; the hammer struck on the axe, and the pistol exploded, and melancholy to relate, the ball entered below th heart of Ridder. The ball was taken out of his back the next morning, but he survived only until next noon. New York papers will please copy. –[Stockton Times.”