Monthly Archives: October 2019

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.”



Criminal Annals, Part 29 – The Placer Times: A Bit of ‘Tongue in Cheek’

Last time it was mentioned that one losing candidate for Mayor of Sacramento had decided to protest the results. The editor of the “Placer Times” inserted in the April 6, 1850 issue a small, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, story about this action.

Joseph Grant had received about 16.5 percent of the votes and though this was only the second election in California, which was not even a state at this date, he decided that there had been some foul play and wrote a letter of protest to the authorities. As you can tell from his letter, the election process might have been a bit “casual.”


“The following protest was served on Wednesday morning last on the Hon. J. S. Thomas, at that the time the highest legalized authority in the District. For reasons satisfactory to himself, his Honor has deemed it imperative on him to administer the oaths of office to the returned officers; but it remains to be seen whether his course will be sanctioned by the authority above him, to which in comments with myself, he owes allegiance.

“Jos. Grant, Friday morning, 5th April, 1850.
“To the Honorable J. S. Thomas, Prefect Sacramento District:

“The undersigned respectfully protests against the election for City Officers, held in Sacramento City on Monday, the 1st inst. on the following grounds, to wit:

“1st – That the election was not ordered by the Prefect [a chief officer, magistrate, or regional governor], and consequently must be considered a nullity.

“2d – That the polls were not closed at 5 o’clock P. M. as ordered by the proclamation, and consequently the election was invalidated.

“3d – That no election for City Officers was ordered at ‘Sutter’s fort,’ where a ballot was held, and in consequence the vote there should be rejected.

“4th – That the ballot boxes were taken from the places where the votes were received and their contents counted privately.

“5th – That the ballot boxes were placed in charge of parties during the night of the 1st instant, without the seals of the Judges or Inspectors being affixed.

“6th – That the ballots were opened by the Inspectors before they were deposited in the boxes, thereby creating a dangerous precedent, which, if not checked, may reflect discredit and opprobrium [harsh criticism or scorn] on the people.

“7th – That illegal and fraudulent voting was practiced at the polls, and farther that American citizens possessing the rights of suffrage were not allowed to exercise that privilege.

“The undersigned being prepared to prove the foregoing charges protests against any and every officer being qualified by virtue of the election held on the aforesaid Monday, the 1st instant.

“Respectfully, &c [archaic etc.] JOS GRANT. Sacramento City, 3d April, 1850.”

On the front page of the April 13, 1850 edition of the Placer Times is another warning, similar to one printed last winter. It is always amazing someone can immediately come up with a method of stealing from the public.

“Spurious Gold Dust. – There is every reason to suppose that arrangements are making to practice on this community a stupendous fraud by throwing into circulation a large amount of spurious metal, and it is time that our merchants should be upon the look out. We understand from unquestionable authority that a large amount of metal purporting to be and bearing the semblance of gold dust, was received in this port per steamer California, having been shipped from some of the Mexican ports on the Pacific coast. We also learn that it has been ascertained almost to a certainty that arrangements have been made for the shipment of a constant supply of the spurious metal to this port. Whether it is to be used in coinage, disseminated through ‘quicksilver gold’ [gold combined with mercury] or mixed with other dust can only be conjectured. It behooves all parties who may be likely to become the victims of fraudulent attempts to throw this trash into circulation, to keep a strict watch, and we hope that the parties concerned may be detected and brought to justice. – [Alta Cal. 1st.”

On the same page is an editorial regarding growing pains the new City of Sacramento is experiencing because business owners are expanding their buildings out into the street. This, along with squatting on other’s land, was not an uncommon practice during the early years of California when property lines and title issues were at best unsettled.

“Building Into the Street. – In this land of the ‘largest liberty’ there seems to be no limit to the rights and privileges which certain people have. A year ago the levee was public land, and was occupied as such until a short time since; last fall, you could hardly buy a lot and get it paid for, no matter how quick you done it, before some modest individual would take possession of the same, and swear that he had as good a right to it as any one. But this has nothing to do with ‘Miss Smith brown bread!’ [saying of unknown origin] What we would like to ‘get through the hair’ of some of our very worthy citizens is the fact that they are crowding their improvements a shade too far into the street. In many instances those who have had the ‘good looks’ of Sacramento in view, and have placed their buildings upon the line of the street, find themselves decidedly in the background, and almost out of sight until the passer-by gets abreast of their premises. The obvious injustice of this extending buildings ‘ad libitum’ [at one’s pleasure] into the street, is not the only evil attending it. It entirely destroys the appearance and beauty of the street, and the system is one which is not tolerated in any well-regulated city. There should be passed, forthwith, an ordinance prohibiting the construction of any thing in the street, except the ordinary awning.”


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.”