Criminal Annals, Part 81 – Great Excitement at Coloma

Continuing with the early editions of the Sacramento “Daily Union,” in the April 17, 1852 edition there is a story from Coloma regarding two, and almost three, prisoners being “rescued” from the civil authorities. Coloma, at that time, was the county seat for El Dorado County.

“Great Excitement at Coloma – Two Prisoners Rescued from the Civil Authorities, and Hung by the Populace, &c.[archaic for etc.]

“Coloma, April 15th.

“Messrs. Editors: Coloma has this day been the scene of great and unusual excitement. Two men – the one a white man of the name of Henry George, said to be from Sidney [Sydney, Australia], and the other a negro named Wm. Miller – were forcibly taken from our jail and hung by a mob, composed of the citizens of this vicinity, in conjunction with several members of the Vigilance Committee of Placerville. The white man was charged with having stolen about $2,500 from a miner on Granite Creek, near this place; and the negro with having stolen about $4,600 from Mr. David Martin, who resides at Columbia, near Kelsey’s Diggings. Our Court of Sessions [predecessor to the Board of Supervisors] was in session at the time these persons were arrested, and the regular Grand Jury had been discharged. The Court proceeded at once to empannel a special Grand Jury for the purpose of enquiring into theses cases. An indictment for grand larceny was found and presented on yesterday evening against George, and another for the same crime against the negro, was presented this morning. But before either of them could be brought to trial, and while our Sheriff was absent for the purpose of summoning a jury, the mob collected from different parts of the country, to the number of some two or three hundred, and demanded of the jailor the negro boy Miller. The jailor, after a fruitless attempt to persuade the mob to desist from their purpose and disperse, complied with their demand. Miller was taken about two hundred yards from the jail and hung, which was no sooner done, than the mob returned to the jail, demanded and had delivered to them the prisoner George, whom they took and hung to the same tree. They then returned immediately to the jail, and demanded a prisoner of the name of Dougherty, who had been indicted for grand larceny, on a charge of stealing horses, and whose case had been submitted to a petit jury on yesterday, who had not agreed upon a verdict. About this time the Sheriff made his appearance at the jail, and informed the mob that a jury of their country men was then deliberating upon the case of Dougherty, and requested them to defer further action, until they should hear the verdict. The mob, thereupon appointed a committee of three to wait upon the jury and inform them that unless they agreed upon a verdict in fifteen minutes, Dougherty would be hung.

“The committee proceeded directly to the jury room, and in about fifteen minutes returned and reported that the jury had agreed upon a verdict. The crowd then rushed to the Court House, which was very soon filled and crowded to overflowing. Dougherty was brought in, and the jury delivered their verdict, which was, that the defendant was guilty, and the punishment ten years imprisonment in the penitentiary. This, however, was not satisfactory to the mob, and the cry of ‘bring him out’ and ‘hang him,’ again resounded through the crowd.

“At this crisis, Thos. Robertson, Esq., who had assisted in prosecuting Dougherty, appeared, and by means of a very effective and eloquent address to the crowd, succeeded in soothing the feeling and allaying the excitement that prevailed at the time; and it was, thereupon resolved, that the crowd disperse, and allow the law to take its course with the prisoner Dougherty.

“The necessity thus interfering with the regular process of law, is deeply regretted by all of our good citizens; and by very many of them, even the existence of such necessity is very seriously doubted. By all, it is hoped the effect may be salutary, and that this mob the last – as it is the first – tragedy of the kind that the citizens of Coloma may ever be called upon to witness.
[signed] “A LOOKER ON”
Note: The Court of Sessions system was introduced in each California county shortly after the attainment of statehood in 1850. The Court of Sessions was largely a provisional device for governing California counties prior to the first election of boards of supervisors. Thus its powers extended beyond the purely judicial, and included executive and legislative functions. It was presided over by an elected county judge and two appointed associated judges. The Court of Sessions in each county was disbanded upon the election of a Board of Supervisors.

Two days later the April 19, 1852 edition of the paper has an interesting story about a violent encounter between “a party of rowdies” and the police at a Sacramento bar called the El Dorado.
“AN AFFRAY. – Two Men Shot by a Policeman! – Last evening about 10 o’clock a party of rowdies who had been creating much noise in the streets, entered the El Dorado saloon where their conduct became so uproarious that it became necessary for the proprietor as well as the police to interfere to restore quiet. On their leaving and passing a short distance up J street, an attempt was made to arrest the parties, when one of the policemen named Whittier was thrown down and severely beaten by a number of the party. Upon his recovering himself, and while two or three were still on him, he drew his pistol an fired twice at his assailants. Unfortunately the balls both wounded two passers by, who were entirely innocent of any participation in the row. One of the balls struck the right breast of Mr. Joseph Chanfrau, brother of the Comedian, inflicting a severe, though not dangerous wound. The other took effect in the thigh of a miner named Hamilton, who was also passing down the street at the time. The wound is not considered so severe as at first feared, and we understand that there is no serious danger to be apprehended.
“Marshal McDowell was instantly on the ground after the shots were fired, and speedily succeeded in arresting one of the parties engaged in the row named ‘Buck’ Harrington. The Marshal marched him off to the Station house in double quick time, and then returned for the purpose of arresting others.
“Great excitement was manifested, when it became noised about that two innocent persons were shot; and threats were made by the crowd against the person who committed the deed. But after it became known that a policeman in self-defence, and for the purpose of protecting his own life, had been unwittingly the instrument of injuring his fellow-men, the excitement was allayed, the crowd dispersed, and the law permitted to take its course.”


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