Monthly Archives: October 2019

Criminal Annals, Part 27 – The Placer Times: Extraordinary Discovery

The March 30, 1850 issue of the “Placer Times” opens with the usual political business and then a story about a new discovery that will change the way people heat and light their houses and will also allow all to soar around in balloons.

The editor seems to think there might be more than just a bit of “delusion” in the story. without actually saying “possible scam.” It does not say if there is an investment possibility for the newly rich in California, but probably there will be.

“Extraordinary Discovery. – We copy the following letter from the Washington Union, which vouches for the scientific intelligence and high integrity of the writer. Nevertheless, we apprehend delusion, to some extent.

“Messrs. Editors: I am authorized to announce the discovery and practical test of the most important scientific invention every yet produced, or brought to light since the world has been inhabited by man.

“The first and main feature, and foundation of this invention, which at once opens a field for hundreds of other inventions, is the discovery by Henry M. Paine, Esq. of a ready and almost expenseless mode of decomposing water and reducing it to the gaseous state. By the simple operation of a very small machine, without galvanic batteries, or the consumption of metals or acids, and only the application of less than one three-hundredth (1-300) part of one horse power, Mr. Paine produces 200 cubic feet of hydrogen gas and 100 feet of oxygen gas, per hour.
This quantity of these gases (the actual cost of which is less than one cent) will furnish as much heat by combustion at 2000 feet of ordinary coal gas, sufficient to supply light equal to three hundred common lamps for ten hours, or to warm an ordinary dwelling house twelve hours, an including the requisite heat for the kitchen; or to supply the requisite heat for one horse power of steam. This invention has been tested by six months’ operation applied to the lighting of houses, and recently the applicability of these gases to the warming of houses has also been tested with perfectly satisfactory results. A steam engine furnace and parlor stove, both adapted to the burning of these gasses, have been invented, and measures taken for securing patents therefor.

“Mr. Paine has one of this machines, new and elegant, now in full operation and publicly exhibited, and may be expected to exhibit the same in this city [Washington, D.C., not Sacramento] within twenty days. The only actual expense of warming houses by this apparatus is that of winding up a weight (like the winding up of a clock) once a day; and the heat produced may be as easily graduated and regulated as the flame of a common gas-burner. No smoke whatsoever is produced, but a very small quantity of steam, sufficient to supply the requisite moisture to the atmosphere. In its application to the production of steam-power, it will reduce the expense to the mere wear on machinery, and will immediately produce an immense demand for steam engines, and induce the establishment of thousands of manufacturing mills, reduce the expense of travelling, and increase the demand for agricultural produce, while it ruins the coal and gas business, and such manufacturing establishment as depend on monopoly and high prices.

“This invention, moreover, removes completely the only obstacles which have hitherto existed to aerial navigation – the difficulty of procuring hydrogen gas, and carrying a supply of fuel; and it may now be considered a matter of tolerable certainty that men will be seen swiftly and safely soaring in various directions before the first of May next. These facts, being of immense importance, should not be longer withheld, and I therefore would avail myself of your widely circulating journal to present them to the public.

“Your, respectfully, R. PORTER, Washington, December 22, 1849.”

Just as a note, Mr. Henry M. Paine did obtain a patent (US Letters Patent 308276) in 1884 for a machine that would manufacture hydrogen gas using battery power and convert it to a more benign form by bubbling it through a hydrocarbon liquid. It is still of great interest to “free energy” enthusiasts.

On the front page of the April 6, 1850 edition of the Placer Times is an interesting letter that was picked up from the San Francisco “Alta California.” It is from someone who is in Panama and signs the letter simply S. S. O.

It starts out with quite a description of the huge number of passengers heading from Panama to California and a comment that all the steamship tickets for the next two months from New York to Panama [Chagres on the Atlantic side], have been already sold. The last part of the letter refers to an interesting incident in Panama regarding an American suspected of robbery.

“There was quite a row here yesterday. It appears an American had been imprisoned on suspicion of a robbery and kept incarcerated for four or five days without a trial. Several friends of his being morally convinced of his innocence, and thinking it extremely unjust that he should be so long in the stocks without a hearing, applied to W. A. B. Corwine, our new consul, to represent the grievance of which they complained to the proper authorities; he did so and received, it would appear, no satisfactory explanation. About five o’clock the crowd gathered, broke open the jail and liberated the prisoner. Of course a little excitement and a little speechifying ensued. Mr. Corwine addressed the crowd, recommending order and observance of the laws and pledged himself to deliver the accused to the authorities in the morning, to take his trial. The governor was appeased, the mob was satisfied, the consul was cheered and the scene closed. I have not heard the suit and nobody seems to care about it.”


Criminal Annals, Part 26 – The Placer Times: Changes in the Court Process

Almost the entire front page of the March 16, 1850 edition of the “Placer Times” is devoted to proposed changes in the court process for California. These kinds of government items, along with an increasing amount of news from the east coast, notices and ads, will continue to take up much of the space in this four-page newspaper. As a result, in mid-April, it will go from a Saturday only newspaper to a Monday, Wednesday and Friday newspaper.

The editor, who always seems to have a sense of humor, makes a comment regarding this on the second page of this issue:

“The legal and other advertisements which will be found in our columns this week have so filled up The Times, that many of our ‘brilliant’ paragraphs, as well as news items, are necessarily omitted.”

In the next column is an article regarding more business problems in San Francisco:

“Another Swindler – We learn from the Alta California that Lount, of Lount & Co’s. Express, has sloped, leaving his partner in an awkward situation, having swindled him out of everything, and left the business of the firm in a very bad condition. This is the third instance of this kind which has occurred within a few weeks. The system may work well with these gentlemen vagabonds, be we hope every newspaper in the States will ‘keep it before the people’ that Myers, Russel and Lount are most consummate knaves, and not to be tolerated in any community.”

Following a very large list of people who are running for the new public offices available: Sheriff, County Recorder, City Marshal, Clerk of the Court of First Instance (now Superior Court), County Judge, etc., are two of the first legal notices posted by the Sacramento court.

“State of California, District of Sacramento, Court of First Instance in civil cases for said District: Joseph D. Bagly vs. M. B Otey: In debt.
The defendant in the above entitled cause will take notice, that on the 23rd day of February, A. D. 1850, Joseph D. Bagly sued out of the court aforesaid a Writ of Attachment against him for the sum of two hundred dollars, and has attached one horse and one mule belonging to said defendant; Now unless the said defendant appear in said court and plead or demur to the said plaintiff’s in this case filed, within four weeks, the same will be taken as confessed, and judgment entered accordingly, and said attached property sold to satisfy the same.

“P. DUNLAP, Clerk Sacramento District, Cal., Sacramento City, March 14th 1850. James C. Zarriskie, Att’y of pltf.”
And the second one:
“ Court of First Instance, Sacramento District, Before the Hon. James S. Thomas, Judge of said court: Howard Peterson vs. Miguel Ramirez: Action of Assumpsit. [action to recover damages for breach of contract] “Whereas on the 13th day of December, 1849, the plaintiff in the above entitled cause, has issued from the clerk’s office of said court, a writ requiring said defendant to appear and answer said cause of complaint on the 24th day of said month and said writ was returned non est [not to be found]; afterward an alias writ was was issued as aforesaid, upon which likewise the same return was made, and it appearing satisfactorily to said court that the defendant cannot be found, it is therefore ordered that publication be made four weeks successively, in some weekly newspaper published within said District, commanding said plaintiff to plead, answer, or demur to said cause of action, else the same will be heard and determined in his absence.
“PRESLEY DUNLAP, Clerk First Instance Sacramento District, Sacramento City, March 14th 1850.

“J. Neeley Johnson, Atty for pltf.”

At this early point in time, California being several months from even becoming a State, the judicial system seems to be working, mostly because many of those appointed or elected to posts brought experience with them.
The early immigrants to California are often shown in movies and on television as simple country folks mining and farming, but that is not entirely true. Many of them were educated or had been government officials elsewhere and came to California for purposes other than mining.

As an example, the above named Clerk of the Court, Presley Dunlap, had been a Deputy Clerk for the United States District Court, County Clerk and County Recorder in Des Moines, Iowa between 1840 and 1846, before heading to California. In 1849 he became a deputy sheriff in the Sacramento District and in the same year, the above Clerk of the Court of First Instance in Civil Cases for the Sacramento District. In 1850, he became the County Clerk of Sacramento County and from 1857 – 1858, served as the Recorder of Sacramento City. He unsuccessfully ran for the position of California Surveyor General in 1863. In 1879 he was a member of the Second Constitutional Convention which was held in the new State Capitol Building. He died on September 23, 1883 in Sacramento.

The front page of the March 23 edition of the Placer Times is a continuation of the notice of the changes in the court that started in the March 16 edition.

Being that there were no usury laws, the cost of borrowing money was very high in early California. On Page 2 of this same edition of the Placer Times there is an article regarding an unfortunate result from high interest rates in San Francisco, followed by a letter to the editor regarding the “Another Swindler” story above.

“A Case of Shooting at San Francisco. – We regret to learn that one of the most extensive merchants at San Francisco, shot himself a few days ago. Pecuniary [money] embarrassment is said to have been the cause, the gentleman having been paying for the long period fifteen and twenty percent per month for funds. Of course, nothing but embarrassment could have been expected, as no mercantile business will pay, even in this country, such as enormous interest.”

“To the Editor of the Placer Times:

“We noticed an article in your paper of last week, under the head of ‘Another Swindler,’ – and fearing some persons might receive a wrong impression, we hasten to explain. Mr. Lount has not been connected with the Express Office since January 1, when the present proprietors, B. K. & Co., bought out the concern. We are not prepared to say whether Mr. Lount swindled any one or not, having as little knowledge of his business as a perfect stranger. But we would wish it distinctly understood, that Brown, K. & Co.’s Express is entirely a separate concern from Lount & Co.; that no member of the present firm ever was connected with Lount & Co., further than taking L. & Co.’s letters, and business, and stand. Hoping, Mr. Editor, this will be a sufficient explanation to the public, and that we shall receive a share of the patronage hitherto so liberally extended to us, we remain, Your obt. servts., Brown, Knowlton & Co.