Monthly Archives: October 2019

Criminal Annals, Part 35 – The Placer Times: More on the Foreign Miner’s Tax

Continuing with the May 1, 1850 edition of the “Placer Times,” on page three there is a short article regarding the very questionable “Foreign Miners Tax,” which requires all but Americans to pay a monthly tax or leave their claims.

“COLLECTORS OF TAXES FROM FOREIGN MINERS. – Major Dickey, who has lately arrived here from San Jose, where he has attended the sessions of the Legislature during the winter as the reporter of the Alta California, gives us the following list of appointments by the Governor:

“Capt. H. M. Naglee, San Francisco County; W. A. Baker, Sacramento County; Riley Gregg, Yuba County; Benj. McCullough, Mariposa County; Gen. L. A. Besançon, Touolumne [sic] County; Col. Gift, El Dorado County; W. B Almond, Calaveras County; T. B. Van Buren, San Joaquin County; W. H. Richardson, Sutter County; J. F. Ankeny, Shasta County; Capt. A. W. Adams, Butte County.”

Colonel Gift does not seem to appear in any of the books regarding El Dorado County, or even in the 1850 Federal Census. However, another person in the list, Captain Henry Morris Naglee, was a major figure in early California.

In 1849 officials of the City of San Francisco requested the military governor, Brigadier General Bennett Riley, to aid them in combating a criminal element that had been growing since gold was discovered in 1848. General Riley complied with the request and formed the California Militia, which he called the First California Guard, and which later became the California National Guard. Riley appointed Naglee as its first commander.

Naglee owned property near San Jose, where he raised cattle and also grapes to make brandy. He is known by some as the “Father of California’s brandy industry.” He would later become a general in the Civil War. In 1864, disillusioned with the progress of the war, he resigned his commission and returned to his farm and vineyards in California where he died in 1886 at the age of 71.

Page three of the same issue continues with an article regarding a growing and serious problem in California, squatters on the lands earlier granted to people by the Spanish and Mexican governments.

As a bit of history, it was originally agreed that with the ceding of California to the United States, Spanish and Mexican land grants would be recognized. However, when Congress approved the treaty, that provision was removed. Thus, many people believed that all land was public and available to anyone claiming it.

To iron out the confusion over land ownership in California, Congress passed “An Act to Ascertain and Settle Private Land Claims in the State of California” in 1851. This legislation established the California Land Commission, which had responsibility for adjudicating the validity of claims to Spanish and Mexican land grants. The law placed the burden of proof on the claimant.

Because it provided for appeals of the Commission’s decisions to the Federal courts, titles to these claims were often tied up in expensive litigation for years. In the mean time, there were many violent and bloody clashes between squatters and the claimants to the land grants.

“The subjoined from the N. Y. American Sun show that squatterism is appreciated in the East:

“From all accounts there are likely to be serous collisions between the new settlers and the old landholders of California. Squatters have already commenced inroads upon the estates of Capt. Sutter and others, claiming to have as good a right as he to lands conquered by the United States. Capt. Sutter, and many other persons, hold large tracts of land by virtue of Mexican titles – titles perfectly sufficient to protect the owners under the rule of Mexico. The new comers, or a portion of them, assume that these titles are no longer valid, that the United States dissolved them by her conquest, and made the whole territory public. This lawless, agrarian doctrine is naturally espoused by those who have no land, and who prefer squatting upon improved ground, to taking wild land and improving it for themselves.

“Unless the United States Government settles this question of Mexican titles soon, the worst consequences will follow. There can be nothing more absurd and wicked than the doctrine that conquest impairs the title of the conquered, individually, to their property. The United States is bound to protect those residents of California, or any other conquered territory, in all their property rights at the time of conquest. Any other course than this would be robbery of the Norman stamp. It is high time the United States placed some restriction upon speculation in public lands, but to tolerate the lawless partition of property already secured by individuals, according to the laws and customs of civilized nations, would be a graceless outrage.”

In 1850 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had before it a case involving a partnership between two men regarding mining gold in California and who owned it. It is unclear whether both of them went to California or if one of them went while the other stayed home.

“CALIFORNIA GOLD DIGGERS – Important Decision. – Judge Rogers, of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, made a decision recently, which is likely to have some slight influence on the operations of the silent partner business in the gold digging line. An application was made to the court, by Mr. J. A. Lessig, of Philadelphia, for an injunction to restrain one Patrick McLangton from disposing of some $20,000 worth of gold dust. The plaintiff alleged that he and Patrick entered into partnership, for the purpose of digging gold in California, and that the proceeds, amounting to the above sum, had been taken possession of by the said Patrick, without the slightest attempt on his part to divide the spoils. The gold dust was at the United States Mint, in that city, and an injunction was prayed, to prevent the defendant from taking it from that place. The court decided that the refusal of a partner to account, is no ground of injunction; and that, even if there was a partnership, the plaintiff not having labored towards that end, and the wole fund having been acquired by the defendant, it was not partnership property. The injunction was refused.”


Criminal Annals, Part 34 – The Placer Times: News from the Eastern Papers

The April 29, 1850 edition of the “Placer Times” is filled with news from a number of eastern newspapers which have recently arrived. That, along with a lengthy story on the “Nicaragua Question,” regarding the need for a canal between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, leaves very little space available for local news. However, on the front page, within the public notices, is an interesting insertion regarding something that continues to this day, a request by the local government for more money. It should also be noted that they can have an election with 12 days notice.


“I, HARDIN BIGELOW, Mayor of the City of Sacramento, by virtue of authority vested in me, and in accordance with a resolution passed by the City Council at its last session, do issue this, my Proclamation to the people of said city:

“Whereas, by the 7th section of the Act of Incorporation, the City Council is restrained from raising, by taxation, a revenue to exceed one hundred thousand dollars per annum, without direct authority from the people,

“I therefore, direct that the legal voters of said city, assemble at the Court House and City Hotel, as authorized by said resolution, on Monday, the 29th day of April, 1850, then and there to cast their votes for aor against the raising, by said Council, the sum of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, for the purpose of construction a levee around said city.

“In witness whereof I have hereto affixed my hand and seal, this the 17th day of April, A. D. 1850, HARDIN BIGELOW, Mayor.

One often hears of the severe weather problems experienced by ships travelling “around the horn,” the tip of South America, through the Straits of Magellan. Although most ships did not stop after passing through the Straits, before reaching Valparaiso, Chile, some had to put a boat ashore for supplies or trade either before or after this dangerous part of their trip.

There is a story in the May 1, 1850 edition of the Placer Times relating to some difficulties experienced between the sailors and the local natives, taken from notes placed in bottles, something most people associate only with south seas novels.


“Several letters which had been enclosed in bottles, and thrown overboard in the Straits of Magellan and the Pacific Ocean, were picked up along the shores of the Straits by Indians, obtained from them by a trader, and sent to Mr. Smith, of the Merchants’ Reading Room, Boston. The most important of these contains the gratifying intelligence that Mr. Bourne, mate of the schooner John Allayne, had escaped from the Indians. It will be recollected that the schooner John Allayne, Captain Brownell, from New Bedford, while at anchor in the Straits, had three of her men, who were on shore, detained by the Indians, who demanded ransoms for their liberty. Their demands were compiled with, but they treacherously detained Mr. Bourne, and the schooner had put off without him. It appears that he was a prisoner ninety-seven days, and at last made his escape from Port Santa Cruz, where the Indians had taken him, by jumping into the river, and swimming to an English boat, which conveyed him to Sea Lion Island, whence he departed on a whaling cruise, and, at last accounts was on his way to San Francisco. Another letter signed by Mr. Bourne, but written in a different hand, contains an account of the murder of a ‘Captain Eaton,’ who appeared to be trading for horses with the Indians. The name of the vessel to which he belonged is not given.”

Page two of the same edition quotes from a southern newspaper a very interesting outline of a plan to bring slaves to California, a plan which the local editor questions. After all, the newly adopted Constitution of California forbids slavery.

“CALIFORNIA. – The Southern Slave Colony. – In the “Jackson Mississippian” of the 1st instant, under the above heading, we find the following curious advertisement, which we copy for general information. What’s in the wind now?

“Citizens of the Slave State desirous of emigrating to California with their slave property, are requested to send their names, number of slaves, and period of contemplated departure, to the address of “Southern Slave Colony,’ Jackson, Mississippi. All letters, to meet with attention, must be post paid.

“It is the desire of the friends of this enterprise to settle in the richest mining and agricultural portions of California, and to secure the uninterrupted enjoyment of slave property. It is estimated that by the first of May next, the members of the slave colony will amount to about five thousand, and the slaves to about ten thousand. The mode of effecting the organization, &c. [etc.], will be privately transmitted to actual members. Jackson, February 24th, 1850.”

At the top of page three of the same edition is the following note in regard to the election that took place two days earlier:


“The Levee Tax. – The appropriation was carried almost unanimously. The vote stood: In Favor of the Tax….. 543, Opposed….. 15.
“Common Council. – Another meeting was to take place last evening, but too late for our paper (which goes to press at an early hour) to give the proceedings.”

At the bottom of the same page, following two notes regarding a cake that was given to the staff of the newspaper and the fine salmon served at the “Sierra Nevada,” a Sacramento hotel, is the following short article:

“BASS. – A captain of a company from Holly Springs [location unknown], named as above, killed a man a few days ago somewhere up the Middle Fork. They were going to hang him when he was rescued by a party of Mississippians and escaped from the sheriff’s rope.”


Criminal Annals, Part 33 – The Placer Times: Lots Going On

Like the previous edition of the “Placer Times,” The April 26, 1850 edition devotes the front page to advertising. From there on it is quite full of news.

The second page is mostly a letter from newly elected Senator William M. Gwin and the text of the document submitted to Congress by he and the other newly elected representatives of the people of California, Senator John C. Fremont and Representatives, George W. Wright and Edward Gilbert. The document the four of them submitted demands and spells out the reasons for the immediate admission of California, in its whole, as a State. That time will come very soon.

Among the other news on page two are two short items regarding problems in the mining areas, one involving a robbery and the other relating to problems with the Indians.

“FROM MORMON ISLAND. – James O’Brien lately broke into the store of Mr. J. L. F. Warren, at Mormon Island, and was caught and whipped at Georgetown. On Monday he made a second attempt to rob the same place, was shot by a spring gun, and has since died. He said he was from Sydney.”

Note: A spring-gun is a gun, often a shotgun, rigged to fire when a string or other triggering device is tripped by contact of sufficient force to “spring” the trigger so that anyone stumbling over or treading on them would discharge it.

“DRY CREEK. – Indian disturbances in the quarter. They killed one Spaniard on Monday. Two Indians fell likewise in the engagement.”

Page three of the same edition has a story relating to additional problems among the miners and the Indians in a column found in most every edition entitled “MINING INTELLIGENCE.”

“A correspondent of the Transcript on the North Fork of the North Fork, Yuba river, gives some rather astonishing items. Flour, pork and mouldy biscuit $5 per pound – plenty of fresh and old snow, altogether about 30 feet deep – Indians stealing every thing and getting two or three of their rancherias burnt down in consequence, whereupon in revenge they murdered one of the boys and then the war commenced. Seven whites and seventy or eighty red skins are supposed to have passed out.”

Note: The “Sacramento Transcript” was “Published for Atlantic States and Oceanica.” according to its publisher, Fitch, Upman and Co. For this reason it was also known as the “Steamer Sacramento Transcript.”

Its first issue was on April 26, 1850 and in 1851 it was merged with the Placer Times and published in San Francisco as the “Placer Times and Transcript.” There it was published by G. K. Fitch and Co. “For circulation in the mines, Oregon, Atlantic states, Europe, and the Sandwich Islands, on the departure of each U.S. Mail steamer.”

Continuing on page three of this same edition of the Placer Times, under the heading “From San Francisco,” are two articles regarding attempted robberies at local hotels.

“ROBBERY – A splendid scheme to rob several trunks at the St. Francis was last night put in execution, but happily proved nearly unsuccessful. The trunks in several rooms were subjected to investigation, but some $50 were the entire spoils of the inspectors.”

“ANOTHER – A gentleman passenger by the Panama [a new steamship running between the Isthmus of Panama and San Francisco] had his trunks broken open yesterday morning at Ford’s Hotel, on Webb street, though not to his detriment, as the thief ransacked in vain for the contained treasure, in the shape of $1,800 in gold, which was securely enclosed in layers of cloth, thus preventing all noise. The rogue will doubtless feel as cheap on reading of his near escape from theft, as the gentleman felt relieved on reading of the safety of the cash.”
Adjacent to this story is another regarding a disagreement over a gambling game.

“NEW WEAPONS OF PERSONAL DEFENCE. – Another one of those little affairs came off on Tuesday, at the Humboldt. A strapping Missourian couldn’t agree with the dealer about the payment of a monte stake [Three Card Monte was looked on by many as more of a swindle than a game of chance]. Words and threats ensued, and a pistol was presented, when the tall man encountered a volley of hard dollars in his face, which served to satisfy him in the way of ‘pay outs’ for the night as he was not seen to ‘come down’ any more.”

Approximately one-third of page four of this edition is devoted to new legislation which will become commonly known as the “Foreign Miner’s Tax.” The editor of this paper and the “Alta California,” are both having difficulty with it.

The act is very lengthy and, according to its preamble, seems to be based on the following: a large portion of the foreign miners are “of desperate character,” are “possessing themselves of the most choice places for gold digging,” are “carrying daily to foreign ports immense treasure, which is rightfully the property equally of the American citizen,” that “frequent conflicts and bloodshed occur between such foreigners and out own citizens, to the disturbance of good order and the security of the public” and that “in the absence of a law of Congress, it is an inalienable right in the citizens of this State, to enjoy and defend life and liberty, to acquire possess, and protect property, and to pursue and obtain safety and happiness.”

The editor of the Placer Times opens his publishing of this new law with the following:

“THE GOLD MINES. The Hon. Mr. Green introduced in the Senate, a bill for the better regulation of the mines and the government of foreign miners, which has passed both branches of the legislature, and received the approval of the Governor. Being of such general interest, we publish it entire. It is to be hoped that some definite action of Congress on the subject at an early period, may supersede the necessity of carrying out the provisions of this law, which threatens to be attended with serious difficulty. The very great urgency which exists, for the speedy application of all our resources to the purpose of raising revenue for the expenses of government, may have induced too precipitate action. In the Alta California the following remarks are added:

‘We question very much whether the State Legislature has any right to pass any such act and are impressed with the belief that riot and bloodshed, instead of being prevented, will ensue from any attempt to enforce it. In many instances it will be merely legalizing the most desperate attacks upon portions of the foreign population, and although a small amount of revenue may probably be derived from this source, it will not be sufficient to counterbalance the many bad effects which will arise from the operation of the act.’”


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.