Criminal Annals, Part 19 – The Placer Times: The Population Increases Dramatically

vol1no31p1 head 12 8In April of 1849, according to the December 8 issue of the “Placer Times,” the population of California was approximately 31,000 “souls,” as they put it. By November 28 of the same year, the population had tripled to 94,000, about 25,500 of whom had arrived by ship and over 30,000 by land. Access to the mining areas of the foothills was limited due to the very wet winter weather which made the roads impassable and the rivers and streams to high to be worked for gold. Thus, people had a lot of time on their hands, some of which was not put to good use.

During the month of December the weather would worsen and not only would the newly organized City of Sacramento be flooded, severe winds would blow down many of the frame buildings there and in the mining areas.

The newly elected governor of the State of California (not yet a part of the Union), Peter H. Burnett sent a message to the legislature which the January 5, 1850 issue of the Placer Times reprinted, commenting on the governor’s words:

“The Governor’s Message. This is a smoothly written, as well as an able paper, and one to which very few exceptions can be taken. After expatiating upon the new and extraordinary circumstances under which the Legislature has assembled, the Governor proceeds directly to business, and urges upon the Senators and Representatives of our infant State the necessity of prompt and efficient action. Among the first duties of the Legislature, his Excellency refers to the adoption of a civil and criminal code of laws, and recommends the following codes:

“1. The definition of crimes and misdemeanors contained in the Common Law of England. 2. The English Law of Evidence. 3. The English Commercial Law. 4. The Civil Code of the state of Louisiana. 5. The Louisiana Code of Practice.

“Direct taxation is recommended, instead of borrowing money to meet the expenses of the state government. The Governor very properly urges the necessity of establishing a system of county and town governments throughout the state, as of the utmost importance. Many other measures are recommended calculated to promote the harmony and prosperity of the state.”

The December 29, 1849 issue of the Placer Times comments on something that has appeared the the newspaper before, random shootings:

“Random Shooting. – If there is one thing more reprehensible and criminal, or one fraught with more danger to human life, than the practice – much in vogue at the present time in this community – of shooting at random, it has not come to our knowledge. If one individual wishes to take the life of another, it seems to us unfair that the person of a third party should be placed in jeopardy by the transaction. A gentleman, a few days since, engaged in front of our office, was protected from the warm caresses of a ‘little joker’ fresh from the bore of a rifle, by the blade of an ax which he held in his hand. Not long ago a gentleman had a ball pass through one of the lapels of his coat; and we have often reverted to incidents of a like nature. It is time that such amusements were brought to a close.”

The January 5, 1850 edition of the Placer Times starts off with a front page story of a major fire in San Francisco, one that caused approximately one million dollars in damage, the cause being unknown. Major fires throughout the area will become more and more common as buildings are literally thrown up using whatever materials were locally are available and fire departments were few. As an example, in 1856 alone, the gold rush towns of Georgetown, Diamond Springs and Placerville would all burn, Placerville not once but three times.

On the second page of the same edition are two stories about local problems, one a theft, the other a possible murder:

“ Goods and Chattels Missing. – There has evidently been another Association formed in our city, which may be properly called the ‘General Appropriation Society,’ the members of which appropriate everything they can find not locked up, to their own use. Mr. Queen, it will be perceived by an advertisement in another column, has had a flask of quicksilver stolen, and we hear of innumerable cases of theft in all parts of the town. The time has gone by for leaving goods wherever you think it most convenient, and we advise people to put things under lock and key, and be on their guard generally.”

“Supposed Murder. – We learn from a note which we received yesterday, that on the morning of that day, as four men were fishing from a boat about 13 miles below this city, that they discovered the body of a man floating in the river, which they supposed to have been murdered, from the circumstances of the body and one arm containing a number of large cuts. The name of Gaylord was on the bosom of the shirt of the deceased. The following order was found in one of the pockets of the pantaloons:

“Sacramento City, Sept. 21, 1849. Messrs. Winter & Latimer will please let the bearer of this order have the chest which I left at your place on the 28th day of September last. It is a green painted chest, marked William Smith, San Francisco, California. Yours, W. Smith.

“The body was buried near the bank of the river, about 13 miles from this place, where those interested can obtain particulars by applying to the camp of Mr. John Woods.”


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