Monthly Archives: January 2016

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.”



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.”