Criminal Annals, Part 40 -The Placer Times: Another Affray

Page 2 of the May 24, 1850 edition of the “Placer Times” has three small articles in one column that refer to a shooting, a drowning and what to do with a captured runaway slave when the California Constitution forbids slavery.

“ANOTHER AFFRAY AT THE HUMBOLDT. –W. Burdett was on trial yesterday, before the Recorder, for shooting a man the night before at the Humboldt [saloon]. The ball entered the fleshy part of the thigh, and did not cause, it is believed, a dangerous wound. We are told that the pistol was first snapped at the man’s head, but missed fire. He then ran behind the bar, was followed and deliberately shot. The sufferer happens to be a Chilean, which is a great misfortune, almost equal to being an Indian [the Native Americans had effectively no status as humans]. The offence was a few angry words uttered in Spanish, over a gaming table. The public sentiment has been outraged about enough now by this reckless indifference for human life, and a severe retribution awaits those who are so wont to indulge in it.”

“DROWNED. – Coroner Ewer held an inquest yesterday morning on the body of Joseph Kelly. He left the theatre on Wednesday evening, indulged freely, became much excited, and was seen to run and jump into the river about 2 o’clock A.M. A boat was immediately got out and efforts made to rescue him., After being brought to the shore it was found impossible to restore animation. Mr. Kelly leaves a wife and family; he is one of the old settlers, and had lately amassed a fortune of $30,000. He conceived the idea of doubling it and going home; took to gambling and lost all. Dissipation ensued, which has thus terminated his existence.”

“THE SLAVE CASE. – Judge Thomas has given his decision releasing the fugitive. He is still to be tried for a breach of the peace. He came to the country with his master, before the adoption of the constitution, escaped, and was not found till a few days since, when he was arrested. His owner pleads transit and temporary residence to maintain his right to the slave’s restoration. We are promised a report of the trial, to appear in our next.”

On the northern California coast is the Port of Trinidad. It was a small Indian village that was discovered by the Portugese in 1595 and later in 1775 by Spanish captains, Heceta and Bodega. The latter two arrived on Trinity Sunday, from which it received its name.

In December of 1849, Josiah Gregg and seven companions discovered Trinidad after a month-long struggle over the mountains from the gold fields and it became a “boom town.” A road was quickly built and gold-seekers from all over the world used Trinidad as a supply port for mines on the Klamath, Trinity, and Salmon rivers. Lumber to build San Francisco was loaded on to the ships for the trip back.
In a letter from Port Trinidad, printed in the May 24, 1850 edition the writer describes the situation with the Indians in the area.
“The Indians in this vicinity are very harmless, although I must say they are great thieves and steal every thing they can lay hands on if not well watched.

“One of them was severely whipped the other day by order of the Alcalde [Justice of the Peace] for stealing an axe. He struggled and cried much during the performance, but after it was all over, did not seem to mind it. The same Indian met two of our party near their camp the same day and showed evidence of making an attack upon them. They were fortunately armed, and after presenting a pistol to his breast, he scampered off, not until, however, receiving an arrow wound from a friendly Indian, who was standing by.

“The old chief of the tribe located here, informed us that two Indians belonging to the mountain tribe had been shot by a party of men who left here a few days ago on their way to the mines. It is supposed they were caught stealing.

“The mountain Indians are said to be hostile when they find the whites unarmed. Several persons traveling alone have been robbed of nearly every thing by them when caught in this way. They are a miserable set, however, and when kept at a distance are very peaceable.”

One of the earlier trails from Independence, MO west was the Santa Fe Trail. Many settlers and gold seekers, faced with another 1200 miles to California, turned south and took this route to Santa Fe. It was relatively easy to travel both east and west along this route, but the Indians were more hostile.

The May 24 edition of the newspaper contains a letter from St. Louis, MO, regarding some of the problems in that area, along with general information.

“Later News from the Plains and Santa Fe – Indian Troubles – Gold Mines, &c.

“St. Louis, Tuesday, April 9.

“Mr. Joseph Ellis, with a party of 17 emigrants and 17 Mexicans reached here yesterday afternoon from the Plains. They left Santa Fe on the 5th March. Business was extremely dull. Much consternation prevailed among the inhabitants on account of hostilities of different tribes of Indians, and robberies were of almost daily occurrence. – The child of Mrs. White, who was killed some time since by the Indians, and the negro servant girl, are still alive, though in captivity. Some Indians brought in a report to that effect.

“Major Fitzpatrick [famed scout and trapper, Thomas “Broken Hand’ Fitzpatrick] was at Big Timber, on the Arkansas River [near Bent’s Fort in Colorado], endeavoring to from a treaty with the hostile Indians. It was thought he would succeed in getting a deputation of Camanches [sic], Kiowas, and Arapahoes, to accompany him to Washington.

“The American gold mines near Santa Fe were doing well. The average about $15 per day, and would do much better if it was not for the scarcity of water.

“Many of the emigrants who took the old route to California via the South Pass [the crossing point of the Rocky Mountains on the Oregon/California Trail], are returning to Santa Fe.

“Kit Carson was about to go to California via South Pass.
“Governor [Manuel] Armijo has been in prison at Chihuahua, for not defending Santa Fe against the Americans three years ago.”



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