Criminal Annals, Part 28 – The Placer Times: News from the Sandwich Islands

Tucked away at the very bottom of page one of the April 6, 1850 issue of the “Placer Times” is an interesting little note about something that is rarely mentioned in history books.

“From the Sandwich Islands. – We learn from Capt. King of the brig Wilhelmine, arrived yesterday from Oahu, S. I. that a large emigration may be expected to leave those Islands this spring. He says that among them are a number of farmers intending to pursue their agricultural pursuits in California (Alta. Cal.).”

When John Sutter arrived in California 1n 1839 he came from Switzerland by way of the Sandwich Islands (now Hawai’i). His crew were mostly natives of those islands and were called Kanakas. They drew the wrath of the early gold miners since they could swim and were excellent divers. While the miners attempted the tedious job of moving streams and rivers from their beds in order to get at the gold, the Kanakas would simply swim out and dive to the bottom where they would pick up nuggets that nobody else could get to.

For that and other reasons, they were considered by the Americans to be no better than the Native Americans and were treated very poorly. A large number of them moved north and worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company, but they left their name on about a dozen places in the Mother Lode, like Kanaka Valley, Kanaka Bar and others.

On page two of the same issue, is a story about what has replaced the random pistol firing that so irritated the citizens of Sacramento and especially the editor of the newspaper.

“Blasting Logs. – The dangerous practice pistol firing having nearly gone out of fashion, blasting of logs has been introduced, as it seems to be the requisite to have some system in operation to bring people to an untimely end. We think, however, that these triflers with human life have had their days, and that the strong arm of the law will hereafter interfere with the careless operations of those engaged in exploding their ‘villainous saltpetre.” The particulars of the melancholy death of Mr. Briggs will be found in another column.”

“Sacramento City, Saturday, March 30th, 1850.

“To the Editor of the Placer Times:

“Dear Sir: You have, doubtless, heard of the melancholy accident of this morning, resulting from the incautious blasting of logs on the corner of 5th and K streets; and it is only surprising that more fatalities of a similar nature have not, ere this, taken place. The victim of this criminal negligence was a Mr. Briggs, clerk in the Bull’s Head. Every one coincides in speaking well of him. He had been educated for the ministry, and in his quiet and gentlemanly appearance gave fair promise of being an honor to the profession. At the time of the explosion he was seated at a door immediately fronting the log – perhaps some twenty paces off. A number of persons were passing at the time, some of whom were not very far from the flying and death-dealing missiles. One of these missiles, weighing about 10 lbs. sped its way toward the door where the subject of this notice was, all unconsciously, reading the morning’s paper. A gentleman stood behind him viewing the progress of the ‘blast,’ when to the horror of all present it was discovered that both men were desperately wounded – the brains of Mr. Briggs spattering over the boots and pantaloons of the gentlemen who stood near him.

“Can there not, Mr. Editor, be some preventative put to this improper and dangerous practice of blasting logs in our most thronged and public streets?

“Respectfully, your friend and servant, AN OLD HAND AND ONE OF FREMONT’S MEN.”

Although there is no mention of it, the logs lying about the streets are probably left over from the flooding that took place during the previous winter.

Also on page two, and continuing onto page three of the same issue are two reports, one of a suicide in Sacramento and the other a probable murder.

“Suicide. – A jury of inquiry, summoned by G. W. Bell, Deputy Sheriff of Sacramento District, to examine the body of W. Stephen Wilson, found dead in the upper story of the store occupied by B. F. Voorhies & Co. on J street, in this city, brought in the following verdict: That the deceased came to his death by cutting his throat with a razor on the 2d day of April inst.

“A friend informs us that the cause of Mr. Wilson’s committing suicide, was solely the fact of his having heard of the death of a lady in the States, which whom he was deeply in love.”

“Probable Murder of a Mail Carrier. – We learn that about three weeks since the body of Mr. Lewis R. Colgate, mail carrier between Natoma and Santa Barbara, was found upon the road, evidently murdered by some person or persons unknown. The mail bag and mule ridden by the murdered man, were gone, and no trace has been heard of them. Mr. Colgate had been four months engaged in carrying the mail, and was a worthy, steady man, belonging, we believe, in the city of New York. – Pacific News, 3d.”

Finally, with the recent election over and the votes all counted, one losing candidate has decided to protest the results. The editor of the Placer Times has inserted a small, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, story about this action.

“Col. Grant. – This gentleman’s equilibrium has been somewhat disturbed by the result of the election for Mayor, as will be seen by his Protest in another column. Notwithstanding, he says he shall run next for Governor, and will probably stump it throughout the State, so as to give all the inhabitants thereof a touch of his quality. The great Rancho party will rally around him and he will undoubtedly be elected – if he gets votes enough. In the interim, newspapers will be sold at $2 each – poor persons can have them gratuitously.”


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