Criminal Annals

Criminal Annals, Part 99 – Sink or Swim

Edward Gilbert

Although the newspapers are beginning to fill up with more and more articles and commentary regarding the upcoming Presidential election in November of 1852, there is still a bit of space for local news. In the August 3, 1852 edition of the Sacramento “Daily Union,” there is a short article from Nevada county, followed by series of short articles from El Dorado county, starting with a progress report on the South Fork Canal.

“Nevada County.

“On Sunday evening week, a miner named Henry Thompson, an Irishman, was drowned in the South Yuba, having fallen from the rocks while crossing the river. On Monday afternoon, a Swede named Edward Johnson, while crossing some rapids below Jefferson Flat on a raft, was drowned, the raft having parted and he being unable to swim.”

Note: Swimming was not the sport it is now and many people could not swim at all, especially Americans.
When the Hawaiians (Kanakas) that crewed Sutter’s ship from the then Sandwich Islands showed up at the rivers, they swam to the middle and dove down to pick up loose nuggets. The Americans and other miners, who had to move the river to get at the gold in the middle, immediately decided they were no better than the local Native Americans and treated them as such.

“El Dorado

“We have received the [El Dorado] News of Saturday, from which we clip the following:

“SOUTH FORK CANAL. – Mr. Binney, the enterprising Engineer for this work, informs us that it is progressing rapidly – even beyond his expectations. Two-thirds of the contracts are already graded, and it will require but a limited time to complete this portion of the labor. In addition to the grading, there has been placed already a considerable quantity of lumber on portions of the line, and on which workmen are now employed. As soon as the facilities, which are now on foot are consummated, the work will necessarily progress a great deal faster than heretofore, and will no doubt be completed in a less time than the contracts require.

“There are, we understand, six or eight excellent saw mills now in course of construction on various portions of the work. Three of these are nearly completed, and will be ready to saw lumber in ten or twelve days.

“HAND CART TRAIN. – Nine men arrived at this place on Saturday last, who brought their provisions and traps to Carson river in three hand carts, and there threw them away. They made the trip in seventy-five days from St. Joseph to this place. – They experienced no difficulty on account of the shortness of the grass. They are all well and hearty.

“A gentleman informed us yesterday, that he passed a drove of fifteen hundred turkeys, a short distance this side of the Missouri river, bound for California. We are informed that they will make better time traveling than sheep.”

Note: On can only imagine the image of fifteen hundred turkeys being herded across the prairie and over the Sierra Nevada. Fortunately, turkeys tend to move as a group, which is why such a group if often called a “raft.” Unfortunately, there appears to be no record of them making it to California.

The turkey is one of the few animals to be domesticated in the New World and its history has proven to be elusive. In part because the turkey is so well-traveled. The Spaniards took the bird from America to Europe in the early 16th century and then brought it back 100 years later as a food source. It is believed by many that decedents of these returnees are what we find in grocery stores today.

Two days later, in the August 5, 1852 edition of the paper, there is an article regarding the funeral of the late Edward Gilbert, the newspaper editor who died in the duel with Senator Denver.

“Funeral Ceremonies in Honor of Mr. Gilbert.

“The mortal remains of the late and deeply lamented Edward Gilbert were yesterday removed from this city to San Francisco, where they will be finally interred to-day. The body was deposited at the residence of Alderman Nevett, on Monday evening, where it remained until yesterday. At 12 ½ o’clock a large number of our most prominent citizens, the Governor’s Guards and Sutter Light Infantry assembled at Mr. Nevitt’s paying the last tribute of respect to a distinguished citizen by accompanying his remains in procession to the steamer. Divine service, most solemn and impressive, was performed by Rev. O. C. Wheeler, an old and intimate friend of the deceased. The Sutter Light Infantry and Governor’s Guards in full uniform, constituting a battalion under command of Capt. Fry, headed the procession. The hearse followed, accompanied by Messrs. G. B. Tingley, T. P. Robb, D. O. Mills, H. A. Robinson, Dr. Spalding and Alderman Forshee, as pall bearers. Rev. Messrs. Wheeler and Benton followed the hearse. Then came the personal friends of the deceased, followed by the members of the press in mourning, the Mayor and other city officials and citizens in regular order. The procession moved up Fourth street to J, down J to Front, and thence to the steamer Antelope, which conveyed the remains to San Francisco.

“And thus ended the sad duties of the day, and thus departed an esteemed friend and distinguished gentleman, who, but a few days since arrived in our midst in the full enjoyment of life and health. The remains will be interred to-day with civic and military honors.”



Criminal Annals, Part 98 – Fatal Duel

The August 3, 1852 edition of the Sacramento “Daily Union,” has a story about something that was fairly common in the early years of California and our country, for that matter, dueling. Involved were James William Denver, a California State Senator, and Edward Gilbert, the senior editor of the largest newspaper in San Francisco at the time, the “Alta California.”

Whereas today demands for correction, letters to the editor and threats of lawsuit are the weapons of choice when a newspaper makes a statement someone disagrees with, in those days there were other, more permanent, methods to defend one’s honor.

“Fatal Duel – Death of the Hon. E. Gilbert.

“It becomes our painful duty to announce the deplorable termination of a duel, by which the community has lost a gentlemanly and honorable member, and the editorial profession an able, honest and worthy brother. On Monday, morning, at sunrise, a hostile meeting took place at Oak Grove, between Hon. Edward Gilbert, senior editor of the Alta California, and Gen. J. W. Denver, State Senator, from Trinity county. The immediate cause of this lamentable affair was a card published by Gen. Denver, reflecting upon the personal character of Mr. Gilbert. Of the merits of the controversy this is not the time or place to speak. Mr. Gilbert challenged the adverse party. The weapons selected were Wesson’s rifles, and distance forty paces.

“After the first interchange of shots, neither of which took effect, the weapons were reloaded and the word given, when Mr. Gilbert fell almost instantly, having received the shot of Gen. Denver in the left side just above the hip bone. The ball pierced the abdomen and passed entirely through his body, coming out on the right side almost directly opposite the point where it entered. Mr. G. survived but four or five minutes after the occurrence, and without a word or scarcely a groan his spirit passed from earth. His body was immediately conveyed to the Oak Grove House, where the sad duty of preparing it for its last resting place was performed.
“The most intense sensation was produced throughout the city on the receipt of the mournful intelligence, and all seemed to unite in the sincere sorrow evinced at the unfortunate issue of the encounter, and in the deep and heartfelt sympathy expressed for the surviving relatives of the deceased.

“At half past three o’clock in the afternoon , a number of the personal and professional friends of the deceased repaired to Oak Grove, and in the evening escorted the remains to the city. – After the corpse was placed in the coffin, Rev. O.C. Wheeler arose and addressed the company present in strains of touching and melting pathos, and concluded with the most appropriate and eloquent prayer that we ever heard. He made allusion to his long and intimate friendship with the deceased, passed a beautiful encomium upon his moral worth, and inveighed, though gently yet most powerfully against the cruel and bloody code by which he had been cut down in the flower of his youthful manhood and usefulness. Never have we witnessed a ceremony so solemn, so deeply impressive than that brief address and heartfelt prayer in the presence of the dead. There were stout hearts and eyes unused to weeping there, by many a manly tear was shed over the untimely bier of the departed.

The remains were conveyed to the residence of Alderman Nevett, where they will remain till to-morrow, when they will be taken to San Francisco for interment. In the name of the friends of Mr. Gilbert, we thank the proprietor of the Oak Grove House for his kind and generous conduct on this lamentable occasion. We are also under obligations to various gentlemen for delicate and well-timed attentions.
“Mr. Gilbert was formerly a resident of Albany, New York, emigrated to this State in 1846, was a member of the Constitutional Convention, and afterwards elected to the Lower House of Congress. He has been for the last four years the senior Editor of the Alta California, and was about 33 years of age at the time of his decease.

“We shall take occasion to-morrow to say something on the subject of dueling in general and in detail.”
Note: According to the “Biographical Directory of the United States Congress,” “Edward Gilbert. . . was born in Cherry Valley, N.Y., about 1819; attended the public schools; was a compositor on the “Albany Argus” in 1839, and later an associate editor; during the war with Mexico served as first lieutenant of Company H in Col. J.D. Stevenson’s New York Volunteer Regiment; arrived with his company in San Francisco in March 1847; was in command of the detachment and deputy collector of the port of San Francisco in 1847 and 1848, when the regiment was disbanded; became founder and editor of the “Alta California” in 1849; member of the State Constitutional Convention in 1849; upon the admission of California as a State into the Union was elected as a Democrat to the Thirty-first Congress and served from September 11, 1850, to March 3, 1851; was not a candidate for renomination in 1850; killed in a duel with Gen. James W. Denver, near Sacramento, Calif., August 2, 1852; interment in Lone Mountain (now Laurel Hill) Cemetery, San Francisco, Calif.”

Note 2: According to the book “A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California” – Chicago, Lewis Publ. Co., (1891): “Trinity County was the dwelling-place of the celebrated James W. Denver in 1851–‘52, after whom Denver, Colorado, was named. He was born in Frederick County, Virginia, in 1818, and was an officer in the war with Mexico. Here in Trinity County he was elected to the State Senate, in 1852, while he had charge of the Emigrant Relief Train. He and Governor Bigler were charged with grave offenses in the management of this train, by the Alta California. Gilbert, the editor of that paper, challenged Denver to a duel. They met at Oak Grove, near Sacramento, August 2, 1852, and used rifles, at a distance of forty paces. Gilbert was killed. Shortly afterward Denver was appointed Secretary of State by Governor Bigler. He was elected to Congress in 1854. In the fall of 1856 he was appointed by President Buchanan Secretary of Kansas to Governor Shannon, and then became Governor of that Territory in 1858. In 1861 he became Brigadier General of Union Volunteers. He is still living, in Washington city.”

Note 3: According to several sources, Denver was an expert with the rifle, while Gilbert could “barely hold his piece.” Denver intentionally fired aside the first shot, but Gilbert, or his second, “perhaps because Gilbert had scoffed at bloodless duels in print,” insisted on continuing. Denver then killed him.



Criminal Annals, Part 97 – Buried Gold

In the August 1, 1852 edition of the Sacramento “Daily Union,” is found an interesting story about a miner in Trinity County who buried his gold for safe keeping.

“Trinity County Correspondence.

“Weaverville, Trinity County, July 28, 1852.

“Messrs. Editors. – At the request o some of the parties concerned, I take the liberty of giving you an account of a discovery which was made a few days ago in this village, and has since been the subject of conversation in every store, cabin and grocery in the neighborhood. The story has several excellent morals; from it the desponding miner may gather hope, since rich deposits may be overlooked even by those who know, or rather did know where they are hid. The positive may learn how uncertain are all sure things, and above all it teaches the wickedness and folly of suspicion founded upon circumstances.

“In the month of June, ‘51, a miner named Richard Martin, having accumulated an hundred ounces of gold, buried the same for safe keeping in the earth floor of his cabin. On the day following the deposit, Martin returning from his work discovered certain evidences that his cabin had been prospected by some enterprising miner during his absence, the floor being punctured in divers [arch.] places and a pine stick sharpened at the end remaining upon the ground. Martin’s first move of course was to look after his hidden treasure, but he dug in vain, the hard earned wages of a year’s toil in the mines was gone from him in a moment; the poor fellow was reduced to a state of despair, and seemed as if he were insane. For a long time afterwards, whenever his mind was occupied with his loss – indeed it required all the consolation which his friends could bestow to give him heart even to attempt to make it up again. In the fall following this occurrence Dick’s partner left the country for his home, and nothing but the loss of his money prevented Dick from going with him. Strong suspicions were fastened upon a certain individual, based on circumstances; it was considered a moral certainty the this man had the money, and so the matter remained up to this time. In the interval fortune again smiled on Dick and his pile grew apace. However his memory of his lost treasure still haunted him, and it was his habit frequently to visit the old cabin and make further excavations, in the desperate hope that, to use his own language, ‘the fellow’s conscience might force him to bring it back.’ But, as I have said, fortune smiled on Dick, and he started some two months since, to visit his parents in England, with much more money than he would have had, at the time his partner left, including that which was stolen.
“The sequel happened yesterday. when one Thomas Drew went into the same cabin for the purpose of digging up some dust which he had deposited near the same place some two months past. In the course of his operations Drew struck a bag in a decayed state which did not belong to him. The gold which was in a loose condition, was soon panned out, and has since been fully identified as Dick’s by his old partner, who returned here a few days ago. I leave the envious to conjecture whether or not the fellow’s conscience forced him to bring it back.
“It will gratify Dick to learn that his money is in safe hands, and it is a curious chain for those who like to study the circumstances which control the fortunes of men. The man unfortunately suspected is now as fully vindicated before all men as he was before in his own conscience.

“[signed] F. H.”

The following edition of the newspaper has a story from the “Sonoma Bulletin” (June 1852 – June 1855) regarding the violent death of an Indian named Pedro and a problem with a horse thief.

“The Sonoma Bulletin of Thursday last, has been received. We learn from it that the dead body of an Indian, named Pedro, was found on Monday afternoon last, in the rear of the Mission church of Sonoma. He was killed in the morning of that day by another Indian, known as Raphael, who, when charged with and arrested for the crime, confessed that he killed Pedro, but in self-defense. He stated, (there being no witness) that he and deceased being drunk, a quarrel had arisen between them, and that they agreed to fight until one should die by the hands of the other, and that in the struggle he struck Pedro in the forehead with a stone, and then strangled him by means of a handkerchief which was around his neck at the time. The prisoner was committed to await trial. An inquest was held upon the body by Justice Campbell, and a verdict rendered that the deceased came to his death by strangulation and by a wound inflicted with a stone by the hands of Raphael, then in custody.

“An old offender, according to report, calling himself Antonio Vear, was examined on the 25th inst., before Justice Campbell, on a charge of horse stealing. He is a native of Los Angeles; a low, thick set man, broad face and prominent cheek bones, and about 25 years of age. He stole a horse from a Mr. Rich, of Marin county, which he sold in Napa; but being detected, he was arrested and sent back to Marin for trial. He is said to have committed a daring robbery upon a senorita at Napa, the particulars of which we have not learned.

This is followed by a story regarding the unfortunate beating of an old woman as the result of a mistake by the local committee of vigilance.

“INFAMOUS OUTRAGE. – An outrage far worse than the hanging of the woman at Downieville, was committed at Columbia a few days ago. A poor creature, about seventy years of age, and said to be crazy, was charged by the Vigilance Committee with having stolen $1200. The resolved to hang her, but finally thought they would extort a confession with lashes. They stripped her and gave her a hundred [lashes], and followed this up with other villainous outrages. It was afterwards proved that the poor woman was innocent. The authorities fined the offenders $120. – San Joaquin Republican.”

Note: The hanging of a woman in Downieville: According to a number of sources on July 4, 1851 in Downieville a drunken miner by the name of Fredrick Cannon showed up at the door of a young Mexican girl by the name of Juanita, harassing her and calling her a prostitute. She chased him away. The next day he returned and Juanita fatally stabbed him.

A lynch mob formed and held a mock trial. She was then hanged on the Jersey bridge. It is said that before she was hung, she said,”Adios Señores.” She is considered to be the first woman hanged in California.

Note 2.: the “San Joaquin Republican” was a Democratic newspaper that started in May of 1851 and ended publication in 1873. For a time it alternated publication with another Democratic Stockton newspaper, the “Argus.”



Criminal Annals, Part 96 – Water

Setting aside serious crime for a moment, there is a lengthy article in the April 15, 1852 edition of the Sacramento “Daily Union” that concerns something about which more battles have been fought and laws been written than any other subject: It is not land; it is not gold; it is water.
Without water and a proper storage and distribution system California’s agricultural lands would be worthless, many of its minerals could not be mined, its industry would fail and its cities would cease existing. Thus early in the history of California groups got together to solve this problem.
At first the projects were designed to aid in the mining of gold, the most important issue at hand.

By 1852 the easy gold near the rivers and creeks, where water was abundant, was gone. But much gold was still in the ground where it had been deposited by ancient creeks, streams and rivers.
For instance, most of the gold in Placerville was in the dirt on the hillsides, where it had been left centuries before as what is now known as Hangtown Creek slowly cut its way into the earth, depositing flakes and nuggets of gold at the same time. It had to be dug out and brought to the creek for washing. For that reason, Placerville was first known as “Dry Diggings.”And what of the deposits in old streambeds at places like Big Cut, where massive amounts of water would be needed to free it from the other gravel?
These were the problems that brought about the development of water systems – systems that would later be used to provide water for agriculture, people and other purposes.

“Important Water Project.

“We invite most earnestly the attention of Sacramentans to the following organization of a Water Company in El Dorado, the company, as temporarily formed, consists of –
“President – T. Butler King; Vice-President – A. P. Read; Secretary – George White; Treasurer – Henry Robinson; Board of Directors – J. R. Hardenbergh, Mayor Harris, S. F. Judge Barbour, Dr. Kean [B. F. Keene], Dr. Harvey, Mr. [Bruce] Herrick, Caleb Finch, Dr. Dodson, Mr. Phillips.

“The objects of this organization are to convey the South Fork of the American River over and immense area of mining and agricultural land, which cannot now be used for either purpose, except for a couple of months in the year, when mining may be prosecuted, during the prevalence of heavy rains.

“The length of the canal, as it is proposed to construct it, from its source to Placerville, is about forty miles, ten feet in width, and from two to three feet in depth. The quantity of water to be carried through the canal will be sufficient for all mining operations, for the complete irrigation of the mountain valleys through which it passes, and for the most extensive manufacturing purposes. A mining region of thirty-five miles in length, and twenty miles in width can be entirely embraced within the compass of the projected work. An informal survey was first made of the course which it was proposed to adopt for the canal. From this survey, it was believed to be a practicable scheme; and immediately afterwards steps were taken to have a complete and accurate working survey made of the canal route. Mr. [A. J.] Binney, engineer of this city [Sacramento], was appointed as the Chief Surveyor in the enterprise, and is now executing the work with great dispatch.”

Note: Andrew J. Binney was an engineer of importance in California, having built the levees that protected Sacramento from flooding, plus numerous other projects in Marysville and southern California. He and his brother Charles came across the plains to California in 1849.

The article continues: “The estimated cost of the entire improvement is from $500,000 to $800,000 – an amount which, when considered without the benefit of knowing the uses to which it is to be applied, and the demand for it, would make it appear somewhat too ponderous an enterprise. But when it is considered that a small ditch from Weber Creek to Coon Hollow, which was built by company of twenty-one men, is now netting from $300 to $600 per diem – when it is known that a ditch commenced on the 7th of January last, and completed on first day of April by a Capt. Smith, running a distance of only seven miles, is now awarding to its owners the sum of $320 a day – when it is borne in mind also that there are many other small ditches doing similar business, but which do not begin to afford an adequate supply of water for mining purposes – and which, from the nature of the sources from whence the ditches receive their supply, do not afford any guarantee of water but for a few months – then it may be understood why such and immense work has been begun, and why it will be carried on to completion.
“In the mining district over which this canal passes, there are thousands and thousands of acres in which the lowest yield of gold deposits is at the rate of two cents a bucketful. And from this small yield, we know parties who have been washing it since the 1st of January, when they could obtain water, who have realized an ounce each per day for their labor.

“We give this subject a prominence in our columns, not because we have a penny’s interest in any joint stock company in California, but because we believe that Sacramento ought to manifest a deep and liberal interest in the prosecution of the work which is so essentially concerned in developing the gold resources of counties which are the immediate tributaries and principal supporters of our city.
“Let this water company succeed, and it will give profitable employment to fifty thousand persons. It will open a line of lucrative business enterprises, including mining, agricultural and manufacturing interests, throughout an area of at least seventy-five miles in width. Is it not, therefore, a matter about which Sacramento should inquire? Is she not vastly and unlimitedly concerned in a project that promises such a resource for trade, for all the interests that are involved in the progress of our city? Just in proportion as such schemes as the foregoing, and the Bear River and Auburn Water Company, succeed in developing the mineral and agricultural wealth of El Dorado and Placer counties, just in such a proportion will Sacramento advance in the line of a most brilliant and important destiny.

“We do therefore most sincerely hope that our monied citizens will lend this project such aid and support as will carry it into a full and speedy execution.”

Note: The South Fork Canal, by which this project was initially known, would pass through several hands until being purchased by the El Dorado Water and Deep Gravel Mining Co. Much of it is now owned by El Dorado Irrigation District.

For additional information on this and other water projects in El Dorado County, see: “Historical Souvenir of El Dorado County California with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers,” by Paolo Sioli (1883), reprinted by the El Dorado County Friends of the Library (1998).