Criminal Annals

Criminal Annals, Part 25 – The Placer Times: Missing Deeds

vol1no42p1 head 3 2Continuing with the March 2, 1850 edition of the “Placer Times,” we find a notice in the advertising section of the paper regarding a problem with some missing deeds.

As a bit of background, the town of Nicolaus wasn’t much more than an idea at the start of 1850. On February 16, the Placer Times noted that “The public spirited proprietor of the tract of land heretofore know as “Nicolaus Ranche ’[also Nicolaus’ Ranch and Nicolaus Ferry] has responded to the repeated requests of the people, and has caused one mile square [640 acres] of it to be laid off into a town, to which he has given the name of the ranche.”

An advertisement later in the same newspaper notes that the owner, Nicolaus Allgeier, has appointed one Charles Berghoff as his agent and that Mr. Joseph Grant, in Sacramento, is authorized to sell the lots of this new town.

In the aforementioned article, Mr. Grant is described thusly: “His temperament is more sanguine than ours – for he boldly asserts that ‘Nicolaus’ will not only outstrip all the towns above, but will at not distant day rival both this city and San Francisco.”

The town of Nicolaus never reached the level Mr. Grant thought it would, but someone immediately thought the lots were very valuable.
“Notice. Stolen from the office of Charles Berghoff in the town of ‘Nicolaus,’ seven deeds bearing date 26th February, 1850, drawn by the above-named gentleman in my favor, conveying the following described property, to wit: Lot No. 1 of block No. 31, Lot No. 6 of block No. 91. Lot No 7 of block 7, Lot No. 7 of block No. 22, East half of Lot No. 4 of block No. 2 Lot No. 5 of block No. 18, Lot No. 1 of block No. 20

“I hereby caution the public against the purchase of the above unacknowledged and unrecorded papers, which have been cancelled and declared null and void; and notice is hereby given that I shall make application to the agent of Nicolaus Allgeier for new deeds conveying the property herein described. JOSEPH GRAF. Nicolaus, 27th Feb. 1850.”

The March 9 issue of the Placer Times has a number of interesting articles on Page 2, starting with one regarding the removal of squatters from the levee, where they had set up camp to get above the flood.

“Clearing the Levee. – The work of removing the obstructions upon the Levee commenced on Tuesday morning. With but few exceptions, all who had ‘squatted’ on the Landing left without resistance. One or two made a warlike demonstration, but were soon satisfied that the best thing they could do was to vamoose. Every shanty, we believe, is now removed, and we presume all other obstructions will be cleared of today, the five day’s notice having expired.”

The second article regards continuing crime in San Francisco.

“Another Murder at San Francisco. – On Sunday evening last two Frenchmen visited a house of ill-fame at San Francisco, and upon leaving, met three Chilenos at the door, who asked them ‘what they were doing there?’ One of the Frenchmen replied that ‘it was none of their business.’ Some angry words followed, when one of the Frenchmen, named Plantier, made an attempt to get past the Chilenos, whereupon one of the latter drew a Bowie knife and stabbed the Frenchman a number of times. – Plantier died of his wounds on Monday evening. The police arrested the murderer soon afterward and it is thought he will not escape without meeting the punishment he so richly merits.”
The third article regards a inquest into a death.

“Inquest. – An inquest was held at Sutter on the 3d inst. upon the body of a man found upon the bank of the Sacramento at that place. No marks of violence having been found upon the body, the jury returned a verdict of ‘death by drowning.’ The body was not recognized by any one before it was buried.”

Several weeks ago was mentioned the following article in the February 2 edition of the Placer Times: “Unlucky. – A man by the name of Parker, who came down in the steamer Lawrence from the Yuba, as he was getting off the boat, dropped a tin box, containing $4,900 in dust, into the river. A reward of $500 has been offered for its recovery.”

This is followed in the March 9 edition with this story:

“The tin box containing $4000 in dust, which was dropped overboard from the steamer Lawrence, was recovered on Sunday last. A man went down in sub-marine armor, and was gone about ten minutes. He took half of the pile for his trouble. A very good job for one of the parties at least.”

Finally, there is a short “filler” included only for its humor:

“A correspondent in a ‘Frisco paper, writing from this city, says he saw ‘a female pedestrian galloping through our streets.’ Hope she had a good time.”


Criminal Annals, Part 24 – The Placer Times: Problems with the Legislature

vol1no40p1 head 2 16With most of the flooding from the heavy rains of the winter of 1849-1850 having subsided, a lot of the space in the “Placer Times,” Sacramento’s major newspaper, is devoted to articles regarding the improving the levee system. Additional space is devoted to continuing problems with the squatters on land to which someone holds a Spanish or Mexican land grant, along with questions and letters concerning what they are calling the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. There is also an interesting issue that the people of Sacramento are having with the new legislature which is meeting in San Jose.

In late 1849 the voters of Sacramento approved a charter for the city and forwarded it to the state legislature for their approval. The legislature, which was only elected in November of 1849, took it upon themselves to make revisions to the charter which the voters believe they cannot do. Already the voters are questioning California’s new constitution and wondering about the people they elected.

In the February 16 issue of the Placer Times is an article regarding some difficulties in San Francisco as reported in the “Alta California.”

“Attempt to Shoot an Officer. – Yesterday morning an altercation took place in Pacific street between two men, one named John S. Banks, and the other Oliver H. Dewey, barkeeper of the El Dorado. The latter knocked Banks down with a billy, whereupon officer Bachman interfered and arrested Dewey; but on his way to the Police office, he made his escape from the officer, who pursued him into the El Dorado, when Dewey procured a pistol and fired it at the officer, somewhat injuring him in the face. The doors of the house were immediately closed. The officer, in consequence of the injury he had received, finding it impossible to proceed farther alone, immediately proceeded to the Police office for assistance, and when he again returned was refused admission. Here the affair rested until about 8 o’clock, when the officer again proceeded to the house, but Dewey was not to be found. The whole transaction was laid before his Honor Judge Geary, who immediately summoned the proprietors of the El Dorado to appear before him, and upon examination they denied all knowledge of the affair. It was finally ascertained that Dewey had secreted himself in a room in a house in Washington street, whereupon the officers proceeded to search of him; and when they asked if such a person was there, were told that ‘a lady slept in the room.’ The officers, not satisfied, proceeded to the room and burst open the door, and found Dewey quietly reposing in bed. He made no resistance, but proceeded with the officers to the Police office. After an examination before Judge Geary, he was admitted to bail in the sum of $10,000. The proprietors of the El Dorado were also held to bail to keep the peace, in the sum of $5,000 each. [Alta California]”

For the rest of February the Placer Times focused on the aforementioned problems with levees, squatters, railroads and the legislature.
In the March 2, 1850 issue there are a few notes taken from papers arriving from the “States” under the heading, “Interesting Items:”

“We find the following ‘news’ paragraphs in papers just received from the States. We will venture to say that California correspondents can ‘lie’ with greater ‘Volubility,’ than any set of men in existence.

“Chinese Slaves in California. – The Baltimore Sun asserts, on the authority of its private correspondent, that the number of Chinese arriving in California is enormous. They are brought in cargoes by English vessels, and sold as servants to the highest bidder, on the Cooley system, a shade less than absolute slavery. This is a species of trade that will soon get its quietus from the State government.

“The Temperance Test in California. – The New York Tribune, in speaking of the late election in California, says that Capt. Sutter, one of the candidates for Governor, was effectively opposed because he was a ‘drinking’ man. If this be so, it speaks well for California, and places her considerably in advance of some of the older states.”

This item is followed by a note that could easily be found it any of today’s newspapers:

“The Streets. – Efforts are being made to improve the streets, all necessary improvements in which could be made in a few days, were not certain gentlemen very fearful of its costing them a few paltry dollars.”

Among the notices and advertisements, which usually appear on pages three and four is one regarding the crime of cattle rustling and the how it is being handled:

“Criminal Court of Sacramento District.

“At a term of this court held for the District of Sacramento, at Marysville, upon the Yuba, this twenty-eighth day of January, 1850 – present, R.A. Wilson, Judge of the Criminal Court of said District:

“It having been made to appear to this court that there was a combination of cattle thieves, with extensive ramifications through this District; and it farther appearing to this Court that certain evil-disposed persons have industriously circulated the report that it is lawful to kill unmarked cattle upon the ranches, as well as upon the public lands, and that thereby many misguided persons have been led to the commission of a felony; and that the Grand Jury of said District having upon their oaths found true bills for grand larceny against Samuel Hicks, Michael Watson, Nelson Gill and James Nicholson for cattle stealing: It is ordered by the Court, that the Clerk give public notice warning all persons that may have been misled by such misrepresentations, of the consequence of farther commission of such crime – that the stealing of beef cattle, whether branded or unbranded, is an infamous offense, within the meaning of the Constitution, and any person convicted of said offense is deprived of all the rights of citizenship in California, and liable to be sentenced to two years’ confinement in the chain gang; and that in conducting the administration of justice, when necessary, the Court is authorized to call upon the Commandant of the United States troops stationed at Johnson’s ranch.

“STEPHEN J. FIELD, Clerk of said Court and Alcalde of Marysville.”


Criminal Annals, Part 23 – The Placer Times: 13 Pound Gold Nugget in Hangtown

vol1no39p1 head 2 9The February 9, 1850 edition of the “Placer Times” devotes the whole front page to the proposed legislation to create the City of Sacramento. However, on the second page it has a number of interesting items of local news.

The first article has nothing to do with crime or criminals, but involves a find by a woman in Hangtown.

“The Placer – New Diggings. – Persons just returned from the mines give very favorable accounts of the success of those now employed in various sections of the placer. A gentleman recently returned from a trip to Hangtown and vicinity, informs us that the miners are doing a good business in that locality. A woman, who had been assisting her husband to wash out the gold near the village just mentioned, took it into her head to scratch round a little in a ravine with a case-knife on her own hook, when she soon dug out a lump weighing just 13 pounds! As some fifty persons have seen this specimen weighed, we think there is no occasion for doubting the story.”

Following that is a bit of a “tongue in cheek” story that shows politicians have always been politicians.

“A Very Disastrous Affair. – the reporter of the Alta California has been ejected from his seat at the reporters’ table in the Senate of this State, because that paper did not choose to publish the ‘whole’ proceedings of that August body, to the exclusion of other matters of interest, as well as several columns of advertisements. We look upon this as a very melancholy case. Men who have become so dignified and smart as our Senators, certainly cannot live long, and we are hourly expecting to hear of the suspension of the Alta California, on account of this demonstration of the ‘learned Thebans.’
“P.S. – We have just learned that the reporter has been re-instated his his seat.”

In the next column of the second page is a short story regarding a possible murder along the South Fork of the American River that was important enough to be picked up and later reprinted by the Alta California.

“Supposed Murder. – The body of a man was found on the South Fork, about two miles above the mouth of Weber’s Creek, on the 30th of December. It was supposed, by the persons who found it, that the man had been killed by a wound in the throat. The name of the deceased could not be ascertained.”

Following this is a short article regarding the “selling” of women in San Francisco.

“Something Fresh – Selling Women at Auction. – We learn from the Alta California that a vessel recently arrived at San Francisco from Sydney, New South Wales, having on board three women, who being unable to ‘settle their passage,’ were take on shore by the captain, and sold at auction to liquidate the debt. Fifteen dollars each was the highest bid for services for five months. The gallant captain coolly pocketed the $45 and walked off, well satisfied with the ‘live stock’ operation. We may be over sensitive about such things, but we must be allowed to say that we consider this a most barbarous and disgraceful proceeding.

The fourth column on the second page of this issue is mostly devoted to a letter regarding a very important issue that would hang around for many years, the property rights of the Mexican citizens, which many people were openly ignoring.

“Mr Editor – Having noticed a communication in your paper relative to the Criminal Court of Sacramento District, and having heard several persons express an opinion that the Court had no authority to exercise certain privileges, it may be of service to state how far the U. S. Government is concerned in protecting the property of persons now Mexican citizens, those who have been Mexican citizens, or those who obtain property from Mexican citizens who may have disposed of the same according to the provision of the Treaty. The following articles of the Treaty may be read with advantage:

“Article 8. Mexicans now established in territories previously belonging to Mexico, and which remain for the future within the limits of the United States, as defined by the present treaty, shall be free to continue where they now reside, or to remove at any time to the Mexican Republic, retaining the property which they possess in said territories, or wherever they please, without their being subjected, on this account, to any contribution, tax or charge wherever.

“Those who shall prefer to remain in the said territories, may either retain the title and rights of Mexican citizens, or acquire those of citizens of the United States. But they shall be under the obligation to make their election within one year from the date of the exchange of ratifications of this treaty; and those who shall remain in the said territories after the expiration of that year, without having declared their intention to retain the character of Mexicans, shall be considered to have elected to become citizens of the United States.

“In the said territories, property of every kind, now belonging to Mexicans not established there, shall be inviolable respected. The present owners, the heirs of these, and all Mexicans who may hereafter acquire said property by contract shall enjoy with respect to it guarantees equally ample as if the same belonged to citizens of the United States.

“Art. 9. Mexicans who, in the territories aforesaid, shall not preserve the character of citizens of the Mexican Republic, conformably with what is stipulated in the preceding article, shall be incorporated into the Union of the United States, and be admitted at the proper time (to be judges by the Congress of the United States) to the enjoyment of all the rights of citizens of the United States, according to the principles of the Constitution; and in the mean time shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty and property, and secured in the free exercise of their religion without restriction.”


Criminal Annals, Part 22 – The Placer Times: Rumors of War?

vol1no37p1 head 1 26The January 26, 1850 edition of the “Placer Times” is a newspaper that shows even in those days, there were what are now commonly known as “slow news days.” It wasn’t that nothing was happening, it usually meant that the steamers from San Francisco didn’t bring the newspapers that arrived with the ships from ports on the East Coast, the source for much of the front page news. It did give the Placer Times the opportunity to print small stories that might not have otherwise made the paper.

A story on page two is about a very minor situation between England and the United States that doesn’t often show up in history books, for probably good reason.

“Rumors of War. – A great number of folks seem to think that we are to have war with England very shortly, the trouble having originated out of the Nicaragua question. England, it appears, made a demand for that portion of the Nicaragua coast embracing the mouth of the river San Juan, and which is included in the treaty with the American citizens, and a point at which a ship canal is to be commenced. Without much ado, the United States Minister took possession of the ground claimed by our citizens, and we have news also that the United States flag had since been hauled down by the British squadron off the coast. We have rumor likewise that the steamer California, which sailed from San Francisco on the 15th, has been detained by order of the Commodore at this station, and that the Panama, which arrived on Monday last, would also be detained. The whole business seems to be too much of a gaseous nature to command any serious consideration.”

Below that is a story regarding Eliza Wood Farnham, a notable lady who came to California and in 1856 wrote a book titled “California, In-doors and Out; or How We Farm, Mine and Live Generally in the Golden State.” Her story is further told in a book by the local author JoAnn Levy, titled “Unsettling the West, Eliza Farnham and Georgiana Bruce Kirby in Frontier California.” Farnham’s story is fascinating as is noted in the following which mentions only one of the problems she had on her trip to California.

“Bad Usage. – Mrs. Farnham brought a suit against Capt. Windsor, of the ship Angelique, for a breach of contract to convey her and two children from New York to San Francisco, and for unkind treatment generally, as well as for carrying her children away and leaving her at Valparaiso. We have not yet heard the result of the case, but hope the captain will be made to suffer for his ungentlemanly contact.”
Following that is a story regarding two men in the town of Fremont who had a disagreement:

“Fatal Affray. – We learn that two men at Fremont had a quarrel about some hay last week, and before the affray was over one of the shot the other, who died instantly. The deceased’s name is Bigelow. We are without farther particulars.”

The February 2, 1850 edition of the Placer Times has the following four stories in a row on page 2. The first is regarding some gentlemen in San Francisco who probably have no friends left; the second is about some very clever thieves who figured out how to steal gold dust without opening the container; the third about some serious problems in Marysville and the last regarding a miner’s bad luck. One might immediately question if the offer of a reward of $500 for the return of $4,900 in gold dust would be sufficient, but in that time in California a significant majority of people were very honest and even larger amounts of lost gold dust were found and returned to the proper owner.

“Absconded. – We learn from the Alta California that Russell and Myers, late proprietors of the Ward House, San Francisco, absconded last week, leaving a large amount of debts unpaid. Myers also appropriated to his own use upward of a thousand dollars of the fund for the relief of the sick and poor of the town, it having been entrusted to him as Treasurer of the Relief Association. The Association has offered a reward of $1000 for his arrest; and if he should be caught, we hope he will be made to work the balance of his days, with ‘ball and chain,’ in those awfully muddy streets, which would be too mild a sentence for such a villainous robbery.”

“Stealing Gold Dust. – On opening two boxes of gold dust, one at Philadelphia marked John DeWitt & Co. New York, and the other at Baltimore marked T. D. & S., shipped from San Francisco in November last, it was found that nearly 600 ounces of the dust had been abstracted, by boring the wood of the boxes. A reward of $4,000 is offered for the recovery of the dust and the apprehension and conviction of the thief.”

“Robberies. – It will be seen by some proceedings in to-day’s paper that a number of men have been found guilty of stealing in and about Marysville. We hope the thieving scoundrels about our town will be taken care of shortly; if they are not, they will probably have some cold lead introduced into their rascally carcases.”

“Unlucky. – A man by the name of Parker, who came down in the steamer Lawrence from the Yuba, as he was getting off the boat, dropped a tin box, containing $4,900 in dust, into the river. A reward of $500 has been offered for its recovery.”