Criminal Annals

Criminal Annals, Part 111 – Cowardly Assault

The September 7, 1852 edition of the Sacramento “Daily Union” has a lengthy story regarding what they call “attempts to muzzle the press.” It shows that a column, article or letter in the newspapers of that day, could bring more than written comments, including violence.
The first part of the story is a condemnation of the act, followed by an actual report on it.

To set the stage, the “Los Angeles Star” (1851- 1864) was not friendly towards then Governor Bigler. A. C. Russell, who worked for the Star, wrote articles in the paper condemning the governor’s actions. This did not set well with the governor’s staff and one of them, W. A. Cornwall, with our without assistance, apparently decided one article was really directed towards him and took action.

“Cowardly Assault – Another Base Attempt to Muzzle the Press.
“By the arrival of the steamer Ohio we have the particulars of a most outrageous assault made upon the person of our late associate, Mr. A. C. Russell, by one W. A. Cornwall, known throughout the State as Private Secretary to His Excellency, Governor John Bigler. It appears that Mr. Russell, on his avowal of the authorship of a card which he, himself, states “is intended for His Excellency,” was attacked in the most cowardly manner, knocked down and beaten by a personal friend of Gov. Bigler, who saw fit to appropriate to himself the subject matter referred to in the article. Now whether Mr. Cornwall was instigated to this outrageous assault by other particular friends of His Excellency, or whether he acted of his own free will in the premises, we care not – the fact is established beyond all doubt, that he did make a gross, unwarrantable, and dastardly attack upon one whom he knew would never wrongfully injure him in the slightest degree, yet one, whom he was equally certain, would never be deterred by threats of violence from exposing to the world any act of misdemeanor on the part of those holding official station. Mr. Russell, in the publication of the article signed ‘Cuidado,’ [caution, with care or watch out in Spanish] was actuated by no feelings of malice towards Mr. C.; on the contrary, he asserts that ‘he (C.) behaved in a very silly manner in taking it to himself.’ But Mr. Cornwall, not content with this explanation, sought to make a personal issue between Mr. R. and himself, and, therefore, committed a brutal and murderous outrage upon his person, being fully aware, at the time, that the attacked was suffering from a severe and long protracted sickness, and not possessing sufficient physical strength to attend to his ordinary avocations. Cornwall is a thick set, powerful man, while Mr. R. is under the medium size, of slender frame, and physically, far inferior to his antagonist.
“Such an attack then, was utterly inexcusable on the part of Cornwall, even though the offensive paragraph had even, line and letter, referred to himself. His conduct in this affair cannot be palliated, and he must, as he will receive, the scorn and contempt of all honorable and high-minded men.
“It seems as if the official misconduct of public officials cannot be shown up to the world in their true colors, or the public actions of the people’s servants commented upon by the public press, calmly and independently, without the revolver and Bowie knife are held up as a warning to all who have the courage and manliness to expose such corruptions. It is. however, only by this fearless course that the independence of the press can be preserved in its pristine purity. The annexed account of the transaction is from the Alta [Alta California newspaper]:
“We learn by the Ohio [steamer Ohio] that Los Angeles has been the scene of another bloody rencountre. Mr. A. C. Russell, editor of the Sacramento Union, was attacked in the billiard saloon of the principal hotel in Los Angeles, by Mr. W. A. Cornwa1l, Private Secretary of Gov. Bigler, and badly wounded by the thrust of a knife. The origin of this affair was the publication in the Los Angeles Star of a communication reflecting in strong terms on Gov. Bigler, and charging him with the issue of blank commissions for taking the census to Mr. Cornwall, ‘who is accused of dealing out the same to any person who will take them on the terms appointed.’ The communication also states that Mr Cornwall represents Gov. Bigler not only in this transaction, but in the latter’s ‘hedging around for a re-election.’ Mr. Cornwall, during the absence of Mr. Russell and the editor of the Star, ‘posted’ the author of the communication as a ‘liar and blackguard,’ and on the return of Mr. Lewis [editor of the Star], also ‘posted’ him, on the latter’s refusal to give him the name of the author. Mr. Lewis responded to this by a placard, in which he declared his unwillingness to ‘descend to a street fight,’ at the same time assuring the author of the card posted against him, that when a proper demand was made (or words to that effect) Mr. Cornwall could receive any satisfaction he might desire.
“At this juncture of affairs, Mr. Russell returned to the city, and immediately addressed a note to Mr. Cornwall, avowing the authorship of the communication. The following is a copy of the note:
“Los Angeles, August 29.
“Mr. Cornwall— Sir: I understand that a paragraph in yesterday’s Star, signed ‘Cuidado.’ has been taken by you in high dudgeon, and that you have said very ugly things about the author thereof. The personal appropriation to yourself of the paragraph in question is merely a matter of taste, with which I have nothing to do. ‘If the shoe fits, you are at liberty to wear it.’ I wrote the article and you will doubtless relieve me from the imputation of intending any inflection upon you – for you are sufficiently well acquainted with me to know that I would not take advantage of position to attack or injure you or any other man. The article was intended for his Excellency. John Bigler, and I must say that you have behaved in a very silly manner in taking it to yourself. But since you have done so, it is proper, as well as due to myself, for me to say that I hold myself responsible for the article that you have made so much fuss about.
“I am going out of town this afternoon, but will he at the Hotel (Bella Union) where I live, at 12 o’clock tomorrow (Monday) morning, when you can speak with me about the matter, if you wish.
“Resp. yours, A. C. Russell.
“No reply was received by Mr. Russell to this communication, and that evening he left the city for the Mission of San Gabriel. His return on the following day, (Monday, Aug. 3), did not take place until about 12 m., and from the office of the Star he shortly after proceeded to his quarters, at the Hotel La Bella Union. While standing at the bar of the saloon conversing with Mr. Lewis and another gentleman, Mr. Cornwall entered by the front door, and approaching behind him, called upon Mr. Russell’s friends to ‘clear the way.’ He was armed with a large Bowie knife and one of Colt’s largest navy revolvers, which he carried cocked in his left hand; a cloak was thrown over his shoulders. He approached within three or four feet of Mr. Russell, and upon the latter gentleman turning around he received a severe blow in the face with the handle of the knife, Mr. Cornwall at the same instant exclaiming ‘defend yourself.’ Mr. Russell retreated a step or two, warning his opponent that he ‘wished nothing to do with him.’ He was cut severely in the back of the head, and Mr. Cornwall, throwing off his cloak, made several successive passes at him, which were parried by Mr. Russell with his arms. The pistol which Mr. C. held in his hand at this instant was discharged, the ball passing through Mr. C.’s foot. Mr. Russell dodged another blow aimed at him, by escaping under Mr. C.’s arm, and retreated into the street, closely pursued by the latter, who dropped the pistol on wounding himself.
“In the street Mr. Russell drew a small pistol, and in retreating fired, but missed his antagonist, and, was the next instant knocked down. Mr. Cornwall had also dropped the knife, on reaching the street, and he now commenced a most brutal attack upon his prostrate victim with his fists, falling on him with all his weight. Mr. Lewis here endeavored to disengage Cornwall, but was torn away by the latter’s friends. Other citizens arriving on the ground the combatants were separated, Mr. Russell bleeding profusely from a gash in the head, and Mr. Cornwall quite lame from the effects of the pistol shot, which had shattered his great toe. Mr. Russell’s wound is not dangerous, though he was much weakened by loss of blood.”

Criminal Annals, Part 110 – Coroner’s Inquest

The September 2, 1852 edition of the Sacramento “Daily Union” has a story regarding a strange discovery in Sacramento by some boys who were out playing.

CORONER’S INQUEST – The Coroner was called yesterday morning to hold an inquest on the body of a man found dead in the bushes on the levee, near Second street. Some boys who were playing near the spot discovered him. They had noticed him lying there for three or four days, but supposed he was watching a quantity of melons that were lying near. Beside him lay the rind of several melons that he had probably eaten. He was about 45 years of age, 5 feet 7 inches in height, gray hairs, striped cotton shirt, gray pants, and cotton socks; in his pocket was some soap, a razor, needles, combs, and 124 cents in money– also, a part of a letter, directed to Joseph Christian, Sacramento, dated at Marlborough, St. John’s Wood, April 17th, 1852; also, a slip of paper, with John L. Lemon, care of Tallant & Wilde, Bankers, San Francisco, Cal., on it. Verdict of the Jury, died from exposure.

“Under the same cover of the bushes where the man was lying dead, the Coroner found a man apparently dying. He was entirely naked, and was just able to state that he had been lying there four days very sick. He gave hie name as William Bryant, of Boston; said he had just arrived in the country; feeling sick, and having no money, he had laid down in the bushes. Remedies were immediately used to revive him ; and, with such success that, in the course of an hour, he was able to be removed to the Hospital, and hopes are entertained of his recovery, he would probably have died had he remained unnoticed an hour longer.

Continuing with the same edition of a paper, we find a couple of articles from San Joaquin County, one regarding a larceny, the other discussing small pox and the local Indians.

“San Joaquin.

GRAND LARCENY. – A man named Michael Fullman, was brought before Justice Anderson on Wednesday last, charged with stealing $600, from Mr. Kittredge of the American Market. Mr. Kittredge had placed the money for safety beneath a plank of the floor. Fullman, as he confessed on examination, discovered the money in cleaning up the market, and took possession of it. He said he had not used any of the money, and told where it could be found. He was held to answer at the next term of the Court of Sessions, October 4th. He has a family in the States.”

“SMALL POX. – The small pox is prevailing extensively among the Indian tribes in the region, and the mortality is considerable. Many of the females that pass through this city have their heads in mourning, (i.e.) covered with a mixture of pine gum and powdered charcoal – which they wear till it wears off – about a year – in memory of the dead. The Indians seem generally very low spirited in consequence of the sickness among them.”

In the September 4, 1852 edition of the paper are three articles from Nevada County: an encounter with snakes, a riot in Grass Valley and the capture of repeat offender.


“The Journal [Nevada City Journal 1851- ?]of Friday was first handed us by Adams & Co.

“Rattlesnakes. — Mr. John R. Wilson killed on Saturday last, eleven rattlesnakes in a nest of fifteen. The slaughter took place at Phillip’s ranch, on Wolf creek, about two miles from this city. The “critters” had from six to twelve rattles each.”

“RIOT AT GRASS VALLEY. Several cases of excitement have occurred in Grass Valley during the past week, caused by disputes as to a right to some coyote claims. A Jew named Heyman, and several others, have held and worked for some weeks, some claims on the new lead. These claims were jumped by a man named Moore, and some others. A suit brought for the recovery of the claims was decided on Friday last, and a writ of restitution issued.– Heyman and his party were put in possession of his claims by Constable Humison. On the same day Moore and others went to the claims, knocked down Heyman, considerably bruising him on the face and breast, and again took possession. A new writ of restitution was issued and placed in the hands of the Sheriff on Wednesday last, and the Sheriff put Heyman’s party again in possession. Moore was also arrested on a charge of riot. While the Sheriff and his prisoner were taking dinner at Beatty’s, preparatory to starting for Nevada [City], a party of twenty or thirty men came in and seized the prisoner, and spirited him off before anybody was aware of their intentions. The Sheriff instantly summoned a posse and started in pursuit, but the bird had flown. We believe no blame is attached to the Sheriff on the score of carelessness, as he did not anticipate a surprise, and would have kept his prisoner had he known , the attempt was to be made.”

“Henry Dobbins has been committed at Grass Valley, for horse stealing. On his back were found the marks of an old whipping.”

The September 6, 1852 edition of the paper has more articles from El Dorado County, all about the Relief Train and immigration.

“El Dorado – The following items are from the News of Saturday:

“RELIEF TRAIN. – Gen. Rains arrived here yesterday with the mules belonging to the Relief Train, for the purpose of packing more provision to Carson Valley and the sink of the Humboldt River.

“The General informs us that they have disposed of all the provisions in their possession, and he now revisits Sacramento for the purpose of taking over a further supply.

“They have established an hospital for the relief of sick immigrants about four miles from the southern edge of the Desert. At this time there are about ten patients in it, and all of them in a fair way of recovery.

“FOR THE LAST TWO DAYS but very few emigrants have arrived in this place, but we hear from Mr. Moulton that about Monday next we may look for thousands of them. Mr. M. left Monroe, Wisconsin on the l5th of May, and arrived here on Thursday, and reports that from the best information he could obtain, not one-third of the emigration have arrived at Carson Valley.

“ WE LEARN from Gen. Rains that very little sickness prevails in Carson Valley, although there are a great many immigrants stopping there for the purpose of recruiting their broken down stock.

“A PARTY, consisting of five families, arrived in this place on Thursday, from Oskaloosa, Iowa – They are all in good health, and design settling in this vicinity.”

Note: General James Spencer Rains (1817-1880) was born in Tennessee, came to California as a “Forty-Niner” and served as a General in the California State Militia. Prior to arriving in California he had served as a judge and a member of the state legislature in Missouri. He returned to Missouri from California and served in the state senate from 1854-1861. In 1861 he was appointed brigadier general in 8th Division of the Missouri State Guard and served in the Confederate States Army throughout the Civil War. After the war he moved to Texas where he died.



Criminal Annals, Part 109 – From the Plains

Continuing with the August 30, 1852 edition of the Sacramento “Daily Union,” and the news from El Dorado County, we find information about immigration and another “melancholy occurrence,” as they like to put it.

“FROM THE PLAINS. – Mr. Haines, an old resident of this place, arrived in town on Wednesday evening from Thousand Spring Valley, whither he had gone for the purpose of meeting his family, who were crossing the plains. They were in good health when he met them, although considerable sickness had existed in the train – twelve of their number having died since their departure from the Missouri river. Mr. H. is of the opinion that he met at least two thousand wagons between the head of Carson and Thousand Spring Valleys, and that at least two-thirds of that number contained families – a majority of whom were in good health, and were well supplied with the necessaries of life.

“The Indians in that region are somewhat troublesome and require watching to prevent them from stealing stock.

“The Humboldt river, at this time, is quite low and the emigrants experience very little difficulty in procuring grass for their animals, most of the way on that river.

“A large number of persons arc tarrying in Carson Valley, recruiting their stock, and it is the general opinion that the bulk of the emigration is yet behind. The following persons, from Polk County, Mo., all belonging to one train, died on the plains: – W. C. Campbell. Miss M. C. Campbell, J. A. Smithson, Mr. Justice. Dr. Beal, and seven others whose names we could not ascertain.

“A party of five men from Independence have arrived here, who carried their provisions, &c., in a common hand cart. They were in good health, and made a quick trip, owing, no doubt, to the fact that they were not hindered in looking for grass.

“Hunter & Co. have laid us under obligations for the latest intelligence from El Dorado co., as will be seen by the following communication:

“Hunter & Co.’s Express, Placerville. August 28, 1852 – 11 ½ P. M.

“MESSRS. EDITORS: We are sorry to inform you of a melancholy occurrence which has just transpired in our community, and which has resulted in the death of one of the parties concerned.

“It appears that one of our citizens, Mr. Jno. [John] Birchum, had taken up a ranch in this vicinity, for the purpose of ranching stock. A man named Kelly had been disparaging Birchum’s ranch, and saying there was no grass upon it; and thereby preventing people from sending their stock there. In consequence of this several altercations have ensued between the parties, and this evening, about 7 o’clock, the parties meeting hard words and blows passed, and, in the course of the quarrel, Birchum seized Kelly by the hair, and, by a sudden jerk, broke Kelly’s neck, thereby causing almost instant death. Birchum instantly gave himself up to the authorities, and is now in the hands of the Sheriff at Coloma. The affair has not caused much excitement in our community, as the general impression seems to be that the result was unpremeditated, and caused by aggravating circumstances. Birchum has always sustained a good character. Kelly leaves a wife and six children, in good position. In haste, yours, B. B. G., of Hunter Co.’s Express.”

Continuing in the same column are interesting articles from both Calaveras and San Jose.


“DASTARDLY ACT. – We learn from Mr. H. Kelly, census taker, that Mr. D. J. Justice, of San Antonio, has been stabbed at that place within a few days. Some unknown man went into his house and invited him out of doors, stating that he bad something of importance to communicate to him privately. He had no sooner got outside than the stranger stabbed him in the abdomen with a very large knife, inflicting a very severe wound and immediately made his escape. He was pursued, but we hare not yet learned whether he has been arrested. No cause can be assigned by the friends of Mr. Justice for this wanton and brutal deed, as he was man altogether quietly disposed.”
“From San Jose.

“The following items are from the Santa Clara Register [Aug. 1852-Oct. 1853]of the 26th:

“MURDER.– On Monday, the 23d inst. at daylight, an Indian by the name of Alvarez, was found dead in front of the Italian store, on the west side of Market Square, and the blood still running. His throat was literally cut from ear to ear, and two severe wounds had been inflicted with a knife in the region of the heart. There being no clue as to the murderer, and a suspicion resting upon Francisco Costo, an Italian, and owner of the store, he was arrested and taken before Justice Vermule, and no evidence appearing against him up to the 24th, was discharged. The witnesses recognized to appear are said to have given fictitious names, and never returned.” ANOTHER MURDER. – On Sunday night last, at the Almaden Mines, Jesus Rodriquez took the life of Dimas Cervantez, (both Mexican?), by stabbing him with a knife, as we understand, while they were both under the influence of intoxicating liquor. Rodriquez was brought to this city, tried before Mayor White – J. Alex. Yoell, Esq., prosecuting, and F. S. McKinney, Esq. defending – upon a hearing of the evidence, was committed.”

Note: The Almaden Mines were quicksilver (mercury) mines in Santa Clara County, near San Jose. Mining there started in 1845 and continued intermittently until after 1927, and were very important for the Gold Rush. The Almaden mine is now part of Almaden Quicksilver County Park.
Almaden, Spain is the most famous mercury mining area in the world as quicksilver has been mined there since Roman times. The name Almaden means “mine” or “mineral” in Spanish, and is derived from the Arabic language. The Santa Clara quicksilver mining area is properly referred to as New Almaden.

“ANOTHER MAN KILLED. – An Indian or Mexican was arrested on Monday last, in Santa Clara Mission, for the murder of another Indian or Mexican. Particulars not known. The murderer was committed for trial at the Court of Sessions.”



Criminal Annals, Part 108 – Shasta County Correspondence

The August 26, 1852 edition of the Sacramento “Daily Union,” has some correspondence from Shasta County regarding immigrants, prices, mining, an election, the killing of some Indians and comments about that and Fort Reading.

“Shasta County Correspondence.

“Arrival of Immigrants – Business Prospects – Local Election – Indians Killed – Fort Reading, &c.

“Shasta, Aug. 23d. 1852.

“Messrs. Editors: Our little town here in the mountains is to-day the scene of unusual activity. On Saturday, nine wagons arrived. being the first in from the Plains via Nobles’ route, to this place. On yesterday and to-day about twenty more have come in, the first nine being horse and mule teams, and the others ox teams. Ten families, as near as I could learn, are with them. All are looking well and in good spirits, with extravagant expectations of sudden fortunes.”

Note: In 1851, William Nobles discovered this route, which was first used by emigrants in 1852. This easy wagon route ran off the Applegate/Lassen Trail from the Boiling Spring at Black Rock to Shasta City via Smoke Creek Desert and Lassen Peak.

The article continues: “Business, within a few days, has much improved, and the elongated countenance of our merchants have suddenly assumed a more reasonable and benignant length. Provisions and merchandise bear high prices, with ready sales.

“Miners in this region, are in better spirits, and I have noticed within a few days the return to this place, of large numbers of Kanakas [Hawaiians]. To-day, we had an election for Justice of the Peace and two Constables. Mr. Bonnifield was elected Justice, and Messrs. Holmes and Lean, Constables. It was a perfect scrub-race without regard to politics, and of very little interest to the community apparently.

“ Last evening, Capt. W. Weatherton killed two Indians. The circumstances were, that a little before sunset he left town to go to Spring Lake Farm, and had crossed the river gone about six miles on the other side, when an arrow was shot at him, which passed through his saddle blankets and lodged in his horse’s shoulder. Capt. W. immediately gave chase to the Indian, and shot him with his pistol, when another Indian coming in sight, he was pursued and shot also. Capt. W. having now discharged his pistol and being defenceless [archaic], left the scene without delay – being surrounded by Indians – and pushed for home, four miles distant. The Indians were of the Pitt river tribe, and the surrounding country is filled with them, committing their depredations unchecked and undisturbed. When will these things be understood and attended to by our military authorities?

“By the way, Mr. Officer will receive no notice from me for the whole affair is so contemptible, and there is such a mingled mass of stupidity and ignorance, completely covered by self-conceited nonsense, connected with Fort Reading, that it is beneath the notice of any one. It is sufficient for me to say, that every charge which I made in a previous letter, is strictly true, and ten times more might have been charged with justness. Certain it is that the whole community here look upon it as a perfect humbug, without a redeeming feature, of no use to any but those who had an interest in having the fort placed near the ranches to increase the value of their property, consume their vegetables and guard their squaws, for it is a notorious fact that the only Indians south of Pitt river, are a few squaws and a less number of Sanops [a word said to have been used in Massachusetts for an Indian married man] or Bucks, living with and wholly dependent upon the whites for support, being perfectly peaceable, their greatest depredation being to steal cast-off clothing, or some equally valueless property. I am done with Fort Reading, until it becomes more worthy of notice.


Note: Fort Reading was established on May 26,1852 and named for Major Pierson Barton Reading, a pioneer settler and paymaster of the California Volunteers during the Mexican war. The post’s objective was to protect the mining district from Indian attacks.

It once included barracks, a guardhouse, officers’ quarters, a storehouse, carpentry shop, a hospital and several other buildings. It often flooded during the rainy season and the troops were withdrawn in April, 1856, but the buildings were intermittently occupied by the army until the site was completely abandoned in April, 1870. Today, there is nothing left of the original site except a marker about 12 miles northeast of the city of Redding.

The city of Redding was named by the Southern Pacific for railroad man Benjamin B. Redding. The town was re-christened “Reading” in 1874, to honor Pierson B. Reading. However, the railroad would not recognize the change, and the original name, Redding, was restored in 1880.

The edition of August 30,1852 contains a number a articles from El Dorado County under the usual heading, “From the Interior.”

“El Dorado.

“To Adams & Co., we are indebted for the El Dorado News of the 28th inst. We extract the following items:

“SOUTH FORK CANAL.– This work is still progressing in that manner which has ever characterized it since its commencement. The grading has been completed some time since; and we are informed that nearly all the timber has been delivered on the ground and a portion of it laid down.

“We see nothing now but what indicates a speedy completion of this important work. The stockholders, so far, have pretty generally paid their assessments promptly, and if they will but come to the ‘scratch’ in future, it will be finished at least at soon, if not before the time specified in the contracts.

“MAN MISSING. – Thomas Southworth, formerly of Fall River, Massachusetts, but recently a resident of this place, disappeared very mysteriously about the 11th inst., since which time nothing has been seen or heard of him, and it is feared by his friends that he has been assassinated by some unknown person. Previous to his disappearance, he had been sleeping in the stack of hay in the rear of our office, and was known to have had over $400 in his possession.”

“The News learns that a man by the name of James Dean, from North Bend, Indiana, was murdered near Leak Springs, on Monday of last week. He was engaged in trading on the emigrant road, and is supposed to have had some $3000 or $4000 in his possession. He took dinner at Leak Springs not more than fifteen minutes before he was shot. Only $280 was found upon his person.”