Criminal Annals

Criminal Annals, Part 15 – The Placer Times: Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

vol1no18p1 headWhile the next two stories to not directly relate to a crime, they do bring up two subjects with possible repercussions: Mexico’s concerns with the ceding of California to the United States and the recurring issue of limiting immigration into California by restrictions and/or taxation.

The war between the United States and Mexico ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that was signed on February 2, 1848, at Guadalupe Hidalgo and ratified at Santiago de Queretaro, on May 30, 1848. In addition to ending the war, it included a provision that for the payment of $15 million Mexico would cede to the United States a large block of land that included all or parts of today’s Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah.

Just a few days prior its signing, James Marshall discovered gold at Coloma. When this information became public, about six months later, a large number of Mexican citizens felt they had been cheated by the undisclosed discovery of gold, the fact that the Congress of the United States had amended the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago before accepting it, removing many of the land rights granted by it to the citizens of Mexico by Spain and Mexico, and by the recent actions by American miners who were forcing anyone who spoke Spanish off their claims and confiscating their property.

Obviously there was a concern by the Americans in California and some in the federal government that a significant violation of the Treaty could result in a claim by Mexico that the Treaty was invalid.

This story in the September 8, 1849 edition of the “Placer Times,” which comes to it from the “New York Tribune,” shows the level of concern that the United States was not meeting the letter of the Treaty. It also includes a comment, probably from the editor of the Placer Times, that later it was found out that the problem was not a problem at all:

“Our Mexican Boundary. – It is already known that the Mexicans, in view of the gold so abundantly found in Upper California, repent of their cession of that region to the United states, and tens of thousands among them have openly avowed their determination to reconquer it. It is know, too, that the Treaty of Peace bound each of the contracting parties to send a Commissioner and Surveyor to San Diego within one year from the exchange of ratifications to run and mark the new boundary between the two countries. It is known, too, that President Polk last Winter appointed John B. Weller, ex-M.C. from Ohio and ex-Colonel in the Mexican War, Commissioner on the part of the U. States and dispatched him seasonably on his important duty. Of course his failure to appear duly at Sand Diego (as he easily might have done) will afford Mexican ground of of cavil with regard to the validity of the Treaty or at least of its cessions of Territory. And yet a gentleman direct from New Orleans informs us that Weller (who set out from Washington last January or February) has been spending most of the intermediate time in New Orleans, (‘on a bender,’ is his expression,) and has finally just set out with not half time enough left in which to reach San Diego by the period stipulated. The results of this unfaithfulness may be extensively disastrous. But it may be that our informant is mistaken. We call on the New Orleans and Ohio papers for light on the subject. – (N. Y. Tribune.)”

“We have since been credibly informed by a gentleman who was at San Diego on the 4th July, that Col. Weller was there at that date and took part in the celebration.”

Two weeks later, on September 22, 1849, a portion of what appears to be more of an editorial than a story from the “New York City Morning Star” is reprinted by the Placer Times. It ties back to the first story and regards a subject which is coming up more and more: controlling immigration into California by taxation.

“The following paragraph from the Morning Star, published in New-York City, will not be found entirely destitute of common sense:

“No Restriction. – We submit to Congress the evident impolicy of restricting emigration from any quarter of the world to California, or requiring from emigrants any tax or consideration for permission to pick up Gold. – When Spain discovered and possessed itself of all the gold and silver regions of South America, her policy was jealous, suspicious and exclusive. The severest punishments were awarded to those who intruded upon the mines; everything was to be kept profoundly secret – no maps or history of the country, or travels, were permitted to be published. What was the consequence? Spain, once the most powerful and rich country on earth, is now the weakest and poorest from the obvious impolicy of her course. Throw open California to the world – the more gold collected the more will be circulated in this country, and the country derives the benefit. We cannot if we would guard and protect these mines by a military force; and if they were watched and guarded where ten mines were discovered hundreds would be hid. When one tract of country is exhausted of gold, try another on the borders of her mountain springs. When gold is gone look for silver, quicksilver, copper, platina, tin and coal, all of which will be found in that region – but no prohibiting laws. Let those willing to settle remain there – when one branch of labor is finished another will be presented.”


Criminal Annals, Part 14 – The Placer Times: The Cholera

vol1no17p1 headAlthough crime of all sorts was becoming a problem in parts of California’s gold mining area, something was being done about it through the creation of a civilian government. At the same time, there was something of greater concern, something about which they could really do nothing: cholera.

This deadly disease had run rampant throughout Europe and had come to the United States, probably with the immigrants. Now it was slowly coming to California overland and by ship. Although the number of cases in Europe were by this time declining, within a couple of years it would be the major killer of immigrants on their way to California, some families being almost completely wiped out on the plains. Later newspapers would estimate the death rate among immigrants in the early 1850s to be as high as 50 percent.

Medicine and the ideas about contagious diseases being what they were at the time, some immigrants believed that if they moved their wagons and families away from the populated areas rapidly, they would be okay. Unfortunately, the disease travelled with them and many hundreds of miles into their trips they came down with it.

The September 1 issue of the “Placer Times” describes what it has learned from the newspapers brought by ship from various ports around the world:

“The Cholera. – The ravages which this disease is making at this moment in nearly every part of the civilized world, (as appears from the European news, added to the most recent communications from various sections of the Union,) present the most awful and imposing spectacle of which the human mind can conceive. The great Œumenic pestilence of the nineteenth century has become a topic whose interest to ‘all living’ transcends the of even the stupendous Revolutions now in progress. Political events lost their interest to men in view of death.

“The cholera at New York on Thursday (5th) had 54 cases and 26 deaths. In Philadelphia on Wednesday, 47 cases and 19 deaths. In Cincinnati on Thursday there were 137 deaths of cholera, and 33 of other diseases.

“At St. Louis on the 29th June, there were 131 interments, with 93 deaths from cholera. On the 39th June and 1st July, although no accurate returns had been made, still the impression was that the disease was decreasing. The papers state that nearly or quite three-fourths of the deaths occur among newly arrived immigrants, and the establishment of some quarantine regulations is strongly insisted upon.

“In New York City on the 30th June, there ere 39 new cases and 18 deaths by cholera.

“In Philadelphia, June 28, 40 new cases and 13 deaths occurred.

“Albany generally continues healthy, and no cases of cholera have as yet been reported.

“The cholera is fearfully increasing in Cincinnati. The weather is wet and the atmosphere oppressive. The Total number of deaths for the day ending at noon on the 24th June was reported at 150, of which 130 were foreigners, mostly German and Irish. On the 25the, the interments for the twenty-four hours ending at noon, where of cholera 98 and other diseases 38 – not including 6 cemeteries from which reports had not been received.

“The remains of one of the victims of cholera in Cincinnati was placed in the vault of a graveyard, where it remained about 24 hours, when in the presence of friends and relatives it was taken out for burial, and, awful to behold, the features of the corpse were found to be hideously distorted, his shroud torn, and his fingers – which were between his teeth – bitten and gnawed to the very bone.

“At St. Louis, June 26, eight cemeteries reported yesterday 118 interments, of which 88 were deaths by cholera. The full report of the previous week’s interments is not yet made up, but they will doubtless be over 700 from cholera alone.

“A tremendous meeting of the citizens was held on the 25th, for the purpose of adopting measures for the mitigation of the cholera.”

In the September 22 issue of the Placer Times is a small, front page article pointing out how very seriously everyone was taking the problem of the epidemic:

“Proclamation of President Taylor. – The President of the United Sates has issued a proclamation recommending that the first Friday in August be observed by the people of the United States as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, to avert the ravages of the pestilence that is now threatening to sweep throughout the land.”


Criminal Annals, Part 13 – The Placer Times: Arrests, Trial and Execution

vol1no15p1 headThe August 18, 1849 issue of the “Placer Times” contains the following article based on a story in the San Francisco “Alta California.” It tells of a hanging in Stockton of a member of the “Hounds,” one of several gangs in existence at the time of the Gold Rush.

“Arrests, Trial and Execution – A letter from the town of Stockton, dated Aug. 1st, contains the following information. It appears, by such other accounts as we have been enabled to gather, that Stockton has become the scene of excitement the counterpart of which was witnessed in this place a week or two ago. We forbear commenting upon the particulars as presented:

“This afternoon a man was hung in Stockton. His name was Mickey alias Bill Lyon, and he belonged to the fraternity of ‘Hounds’ who have so long prowled about and disturbed the peace. His offence was burglary and theft, and his trial was by jury, his sentence death by hanging. He was executed with the unanimous approval of the people of Stockton.

“A number of men, implicated in offences committed by the same gang, have been arrested and their trial will soon take place. – The prompt action of our citizens in these matters has restored law and order to the place, and we feel more secure now than we have for a six months past.

“Later advices confirm the above account and add the one or more others convicted were punished with a rigid observance of the barbarous forms of Judge Lynch, such as shaving the head, lopping the ears, and other disgraceful mutilations of the person. To his mockery of law and outrage of humanity we trust the citizens of Stockton have not yet resorted. – Alta California.”

Shaving heads and cutting off ears were common punishments for convicted thieves. They were then banished from the community. The thought was that so marked they could then be easily identified by people in other towns as being a problem.

Gold dust was the major form of “money” during the early days of the Gold Rush. However, there was a mix of Mexican, American and other country’s gold and silver coin in circulation, the silver, one-ounce Mexican or Spanish eight Real (dollar) coin being the most common. Because of this mix of money and the lack of knowledge about it by the newly arrived, there was always an opportunity for the unscrupulous to profit.

Along this line, on the second page of the same newspaper noted above is found an interesting counterfeit notice:

“Counterfeit Coin – There is any amount of counterfeit Gold and Silver coin in circulation. Half and quarter ten dollar pieces are easily detected from their light weight. The Peruvian counterfeit dollar contains but 39 cents’ worth of silver, and is detected at a glance. We advise our citizens to discountenance the circulation of this base coin, and use their best efforts to detect the knaves who are instrumental in palming it upon the community.”

The September 1, 1849 issue of the Placer Times again brings up the issue of the treatment of “foreigners.”

“Foreigners. – There is a good dal of prejudice and bad feeling evinced in this community against a large class of citizens who do not happen to be Americans by birth. – Even the native Californian does not escape this mean-spirited and narrow-minded prejudice. We witnessed, a day or two since, a most brutal attack upon an inoffensive native, whose only offence seemed to be the misfortune of being a shade darker than the wretch who attacked him. Without pretending to discuss the right of foreigners to the privilege of digging Gold at the Placers, we will remark that the immigrant has as much right here as an American, and should be protected in his rights by all good citizens. It matters not where one finds his way into this ‘breathing world,’ if he is a Man and a good citizen, we are always ready to extend to him the right hand of fellowship, and assist and protect him to the extent of our humble ability.”

Being the only Sacramento newspaper at the time, the Placer Times provided not only local news, but national and world news gleaned from newspapers brought by sailing ships, along with stories related by recent arrivals, both overland and by ship. When there was a lack of stories, the newspaper often included short jokes or other light reading.

The rush for California was often referred to as an “epidemic,” because people became “infected” with the need to get to the gold camps , not understanding the primitive conditions faced there. In the August 25 edition of the Placer Times is found a story that depicts “typical” living conditions in the gold camps as a “cure” for those who have caught “gold fever.”

“A Remedy for the California Fever – A New Yorker who has seen some service in camp life, offers to those afflicted with the prevailing epidemic the following prescription: 1. Sleep three nights in your woodhouse with the door open and swinging in the wind, during which time let your diet be pork, cooked by yourself at a smoky fire in the garden. 2. Improve all the rainy nights in sleeping between your currant bushes. 3. On the fourth day of your regimen let the diet be chiefly mule steak. 4. Thereafter dispense with all kinds of food save dog meat. If this be followed resolutely, it is confidently believed a permanent cure will be effected.


Criminal Annals, Part 12: The Placer Times – Foreigners

vol1no10p1aFollowing the June 30, 1849 article in the “Placer Times” regarding a group calling themselves the “Americans” forcing out Spanish speaking miners, we find a secondary article in the July 7, 1849 edition.

“The Mines – No important intelligence from the mine since our last. The movement to drive away foreigners from the Placer has been successful, so far as the region is concerned beyond the Mills. Already some scores of Mexicans and Chilians [sic] have re-crossed the river, and at the latest accounts were quietly encamped at Coloma. We have understood that the gold had been taken away from some of the foreigners before they left the mines, but we very much doubt the rumor. Unless great caution should be exercised, naturalized American citizens will suffer from this rigorous movement, hence it is to be hoped the United States authorities will take some immediate steps to investigate the affair.

“Since the above was in type we have seen several Spaniards from the mines who complain bitterly of the summary manner with which they were treated by the Americans and others. Only three or four hours’ notice were allowed them to depart accompanied with the threat that in case of noncompliance their tents and all their effects would be destroyed.”
On July 21, 1849 the Placer Times printed this somewhat “tongue-in-cheek” appeal to the citizenry regarding the discharge of firearms:

“Prompt measures should be taken to stop the discharging of fire-arms in our midst. – Balls hitting those ‘brave old oaks’ glance in every direction: a man was killed this other day by this process. People come here ‘loaded’ with revolvers and don’t seem satisfied until they shoot somebody, somehow.”

This was followed, in a later edition with the following:

“Another man came within six inches of being shot yesterday. Blaze away, ye miserable triflers with human life! Startle the sick and dying, it may be your turn to experience this annoyance anon.”

The lack of a strong government in California was not going unnoticed by those who had been put in charge. Brevet Major General Bennett C. Riley (1790 – 1853), the seventh and last military governor of Upper California, issued a directive to establish a civilian government on June 3, 1849. The July 28, 1849 edition of the Placer Times indicates that in response to this directive there was a mass meeting in Sacramento on July 5, 1949, where a committee was formed to create precincts for the Sacramento region and nominate candidates to a constitutional convention in Monterey, which would commence on September 1, 1849. The following gentlemen were nominated: John Bidwell, Capt. Shannon, Jacob R. Snyder, M.M. McCarver, John Sutter, L. W. Hastings, W. S. Sherwood, C.E. Pickett, John McDougal and John S. Fowler. the committee also established polling places, one of which was Coloma.

In the July 28 edition of the Placer Times is the following front page story:

“At a meeting of the citizens of Coloma and vicinity, held on Wednesday, the 18th July at the residence of Dr. Dye, for the purpose of taking into consideration the nominations made by the mass meeting held in Sacramento city on the 5th inst., the following business was transacted:
“On motion, Mr. Dye was called to the chair and L. W. Hastings appointed secretary.

“The chair not being fully advised as to the object of the meeting, called upon Mr. Shannon, who stated the object of the meeting as above, and read the proceedings of the mass meeting in Sacramento city; after which he addressed the meeting at some length, urging the necessity of extending further notice to the citizens at the different ‘diggings’ in this vicinity, for the election of local officers of this precinct, such as 1st and 2d alcalde (Justice of the Peace), sheriff, etc.

“On motion, a committee of five, consisting of Messrs. Shannon, Gordon, Bennett, Anthony and Monroe was appointed to draw up and present resolutions expressive of the sense of the meeting, and to nominate local officers for this precinct.
“This committee, having retired a few minutes, reported the following resolutions and suggestions:

“1. Resolved, That we approve of the nominations of delegates, made by the mass meeting of Sacrament city, and that we approve of the general action of that meeting; but that we set more in accordance with the Proclamation of Governor Riley.

“2. Resolved, That from the want of all legal authority, it becomes necessary to elect, on the 1st of August next, the local officers for this precinct, such as the 1st and 2d alcalde, or justice of the peace, one sheriff as well as one judge of the superior court, for the northern district – Your committee respectfully suggest the names of L. W. Hastings for the office of 1st alcalde, that of Elisha Packwood for 2d alcalde, and that of A. J. More for the office of sub prefect or sheriff.

“And your committee further suggest that it be submitted to this meeting, whether the present corresponding committee shall be continued as such.

“On motion, the report of the committee was unanimously adopted.

“L. W. Hastings having stated his objections to accepting the nomination as 1st alcalde, and having proposed to be excused by the meeting, whereupon, Capt. W. E. Shannon was nominated for the office of 1st alcalde.

“On motion, the corresponding committed appointed for this precinct, by the mass meeting of Sacramento city, was continued as such.

“On motion, the corresponding committee was instructed to use their utmost endeavor to have the coming election in August next conducted conformably to the Proclamation of Gov. Riley.

“When, on motion, the meeting adjourned.

“Clarkson Dye, Chairman, L. W. Hastings, secretary. Coloma, July 20th, 1849.”

Note: L. W. Hastings is the same Lansford W. Hastings, an attorney, who arrived in Oregon in 1842 and wrote “The Emigrants Guide to Oregon and California.” He later encouraged wagon trains to take his “Hastings Cut-off” as a shorter route to California. The Donner party was one group that followed his advice.