Criminal Annals

Criminal Annals, Part 11: The Placer Times – Gold Fever and Manifest Destiny

vol1no04p1aContinuing through the issues of the “Placer Times,” Sacramento’s first newspaper, we find that crime was not limited to the area of the mines, but also committed by those anxious to get there.

“Placer Times, Saturday, May 19, 1849

“The extracts from late papers (newspapers from the east coast that arrived with the ships) to be found on our first page, show how intense the excitement raging in the east respecting the gold discoveries in California; of course our limits will not permit of copious quotations from the different newspapers in our possession, but a tolerably correct idea may be derived from what has already appeared. It will be seen that women as well as men are seized with the infection, and that while thousands of persons are preparing to emigrate and thousands are on their way, the agitation continues quite as great as ever. Men are going mad on account of the gold and others, becoming desperate, commit crime to enable them to raise the means of getting to California. The papers tell huge stories of wealth revealed, and speculate upon the probable results of the fever just as ever. Some gloomily fancy the forebodings of distress and others exult in the richness of the new acquisition, as their political character determines them.

“We confess never to have deliberately and fully summed up the chances favorable to or against the welfare of the mass – the consequences likely to follow the workings of the mania, but a moments reflection has convinced us that in the multitude on its way her there are many who will encounter disease, privation and death. Many who will be successful, but which will be worse to them than if they dwelt in poverty all their lives. Many who are now rich that will be ruined, and more who where the possessed a penny before shall now be worth a pound. But the emigration will roll on unmindful of the fate or fortune of those around, until this, the pearl of our Pacific possessions, shall have developed her now slumbering resources, and the wilderness be truly made to ‘blossom as the rose.’”

For the next few weeks the Placer Times was filled mostly with ship arrivals, government proclamations and such, but in the June 30, 1849 edition something very disturbing showed up.

When the miners first arrived there was plenty of gold that was easily found and room for everyone to stake a claim. As the gold became harder and harder to find and the land more crowded, the American miners, believing that the land was really theirs (Manifest Destiny), started taking the claims belonging to those other than themselves.

Under the theory of “Manifest Destiny,” the people of the United States felt it was their mission to extend the “boundaries of freedom” to others (and to the Pacific coast) by imparting their idealism and belief in democratic institutions to those who were capable of self-government. It excluded those people who were perceived as being incapable of self-government, such as Native American people and those of non-European origin.

The first reported large-scale action by Americans, as is told in this story, involves taking the property of Spanish speaking miners, even though a majority of them were American citizens as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ceded California to the United States in 1848.

“A movement has taken place in the Gold Region which, from its probable results, calls not only for the intervention of the civil and military authorities, but seems to require an earnest expression of their feelings from all those citizens of the United States, who have a regard for the honor of their country, and who are resolved to maintain it. We allude to the forcible expulsion of certain foreigners and naturalized citizens of the United Stated from the Placers of the Middle Fork and neighborhood by an armed body of men calling themselves Americans.

“Of three individuals thus expelled, which we have seen, one is an old resident of California and a naturalized citizen of the United States. Another is a native Peruvian and naturalized citizen of the Unites States, who has, to our knowledge, periled his life many times in this country, fighting under the American flag, and who was severely beaten by the enemy because he refused to bear arms against us.

“We have been informed that hostilities have been commenced against those only who speak the Spanish language, but who cannot speak English, and not only are the English, French, Dutch, Italians, Portugese, etc. reported to have been unmolested, but we are informed that they actually composed a part of the expelling force. God grant that they may have composed the whole of it: that no American can have so far forgotten his own honor and that of his country as to expel those from the Placer whom our Government has sworn to protect in the full enjoyment of all the privileges of American citizens.

“We are informed that the Regulators gave to their victims three hours’ grace. This a piece of condescension for which these unfortunate men are doubtless thankful since it enabled them to escape with some of their animals, but they would certainly feel still more indebted had they been able to have brought away with them their provisions and machines..

“This disorderly proceeding may be attended with many serous results. Those Governments whose citizens or subjects have been the victims of this partiality ought to, and probably will, demand instant reparation for all damages which they may have sustained.

“Every child, that is every American child, ought to know that the government of the United States alone has the right to prevent persons from digging the gold region, and we will not question the common sense of our readers by attempting to prove it.


Criminal Annals, Part 10: The Placer Times – Inhuman Murder

vol1no02p1aSince the days of the Gold Rush the English language and the proper spelling of words has changed. In order to keep everything as original as possible, the words are being retained in these articles. If a word has a spelling different from today, the note [sic], Latin for “thus,” “so,” or “just as that, ” has been placed following the word to indicate that an incorrect or unusual spelling has been reproduced verbatim from the quoted original and is not a transcription error.

Continuing through the issues of the “Placer Times,” Sacramento’s first newspaper, we find the following regarding a serious crime in the Coloma area:

“Placer Times, May 5, 1849

“Inhuman Murder – A man named Doyle was murdered near the Columa [sic] mines a few weeks since, and nothing has been revealed as to the circumstances under which, or by whom, the deed was committed. His body was found secreted by the wayside, shockingly disfigured, his heart taken out, and skull fractured in several places. The prevailing impression among the miners of Columa [sic] appeared to be that this murder had been committed by white men, and every item of evidence seemed to justify this conclusion. Doyle had with him, when last seen, about $2000 of which his person was found plundered, and it it supposed the manner of death, and gross mutilation of the remains, had been resorted to to convey the impression that Indians had committed the deed. The black-hearted fiends who, from beneath a white skin, boast a mental superiority, and claim the sphere of our race their daily walk.”

Later in the same issue we find an article regarding something that was bound to happen, the creation of fake gold:
“Imitation Gold – beware of fraud! – The Alta California of April 19 contains the following extract of a letter from one of the principle houses in the city of Mexico.

“‘We have just been made acquainted by attaches to two of the embassies to this government, that they had recently received positive information, that from several ports in the United States packages of worthless metal, worked to imitate the gold found in the Placer of Alta California, had been shipped for the ports on that coast; we therefore advise you to exercise great caution in your future purchase of this kind of bullion.’”

“In addition to which we publish from the N. Y. Tribune of February 1, as follows – ‘We were shown a sample of the prepared spelter – the villainous counterfeit got up to cheat the greedy adventurer. It is in small grains and pieces resembling scales, mixed with black sand, and would readily be taken by the inexperienced, for the genuine metal. When mixed with a proportion of the true gold washings, it would e difficult to discover the cheat. We are told that a manufacturer in this city has received an order for 700 lbs. of this worthless compound, for the San Francisco market.”

In the advertising and public notice of this same issue is found first a “Notice to Squatters” by John Sutter, Jr. describing his extensive holdings and indicating that he will not allow trespassers on his land, a significant problem faced by all of the land owners that held property prior to the discovery of gold. A column later is also the following, which indicates another common problem in California at the time:
“200 Dollars Reward.

“Stolen on Monday night last, from before the office of the undersigned in Sutter’s Fort, two saddle horses, the one a sorrel and the other a light yellow color; both bearing the well known iron of the subscriber. The above reward will be paid, upon application, to any person who will give such information as will lead to their recovery, and the apprehension of the thief or thieves. J. A. Sutter, Sacramento City, Apr. 20, 1849.”
The next issue of the Placer Times, dated May 12, 1849, contains the complete letter by William Daylor regarding the killing of the Native Americans that was in the previous issue. Under the title “Correct dead of the massacre of the Indians on the Cosumne [sic] river,” it states that according to Mr. Daylor, he buried 16 Native American bodies, Mr. Rhodes buried another two and that the “party of armed white men” had killed another 27 along the way to Daylor’s place. Still missing are the women and children taken prisoner.

The May 19, 1849 issue of the Placer Times indicates that the government has a concern about the problems in California and is bringing in soldiers, but with some unique concerns.

“Troops for this valley – We understand that three companies of U.S. troops have been ordered to this section, and are now on their way here. Where they are to be stationed we are not advised, probably in or near the principal gold washings. The danger of desertion is not so great here as in the south we are inclined to think. Between this place and the various washings the country is much traveled and it would be difficult for a deserter to elude observation, and if proper measures are resorted to, subsequent detection. We apprehend no great difficulty in tracing out a runaway should he seek shelter in any of the washings between which and this place communication every day is held, and it is not probable he would prefer a mountain retreat and the vicinity of the hostile Indians. Perhaps to post them at the washings would do away with all fears on the subject of desertion.”

An entry in the advertisement and public notice section of the same issue includes a notice showing that people are becoming extremely concerned about the safety of their mining locations and are letting the public know that they will not allow trespassing:

“Notice is hereby given that he residents at the junction of the North and South Forks having formed themselves into a company for the purpose of daming [sic] and turning the river from its original bed, this is to caution all persons from trespassing upon their claim, as they are determined to defend it with their lives.

“By order of the company, Benjamin I. Fairfield, Pres., G. W. Huff, Secretary. May 10th, 1849.


Criminal Annals, Part 9: The Placer Times – Indian Problems

vol1no01p1 Masthead

Masthead of Placer Times, first edition

The first newspaper published in Sacramento, California, the “Placer Times,” ran weekly from April 28, 1849 to April 13, 1850, and tri-weekly until June 7, 1850 when it ceased publication. Its founder and editor was Edward C. Kemble, who was from an eastern newspaper family and at 19 had become the editor of the Alta California in San Francisco.

Since the Placer Times printed events that occurred in the greater Sacramento area, including the gold mines in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, it is an ideal publication in which to search for local news.

The major problems experienced in the mines at that time were attacks by the Native Americans and the retaliation by the miners or, vice versa. In its second edition, dated May 5, 1849, there are two front page articles that best describe this problem. One is regarding two Indian attacks on the northern boundary of El Dorado County, the Middle Fork of the American River, the second describing acts of retaliation by the miners.

“Placer Times, Saturday, May 5, 1849 ‘Indian outrages – seven white men murdered.

“The past month has witnessed scenes of outrage and violence in the mines, and events have occurred to disturb the tranquillity hitherto pervading the mining community – creating a question never before experienced since the discovery of the gold. The particulars of these outrages committed by the Indians were communicated to us shortly after occurring, and subsequently confirmed. The first, the massacre of five young men on the Middle Fork took place on or about the 13th last. A party of eight had encamped on this stream, three miles below a worked deposit known as the Spanish Bar. Three of the number started out prospecting one day, purposing to be absent five days, but on their return they found their camp abandoned and picked up an Indian arrow near by. This alarmed them and led to an examination of the place, and stains of blood were found, together with a number of Indian arrows, and a purse of gold, recognized as the property of one of their missing companions. They immediately started for Culoma (sic), and arriving at the Mill reported the matter, and added their suspicious of foul play. A party was soon made up who accompanied them to the spot occupied as their camp, and resuming the search discovered foot prints leading from the place; these they followed, which led them to an Indian rancheria. Upon examination of the several lodges a blanket was found, identified as belonging to one of their companions. The Indians upon being charged with the murder of these men, betrayed fear and guilt, and finally attempted to escape. They were pursued and two of them killed. The names of the five murdered men were James Johnson, Nathan English, Benjamin Wood and a Mr. Thompson.

“We had scarcely committed to paper the foregoing account, when the following particulars of the second outrage were received. Three men, whose names were Leonard, Sargent, and Carter, were at work together on the Middle Fork of the American. One day they were visited by a party of about twenty Indians, who labored with them during the remainder of the day, and encamped near by at night. The next day while the whites were at work, a short distance from camp, where their arms were deposited, Leonard received an arrow in his back; Sargent was shortly after wounded in the side and these two endeavored to swim the river, while Carter defending their escape with stones, contrived to keep the Indians in check. Leonard reached the opposite bank, and was shortly after joined by Carter; Sargent, though, was drowned. The two now set out for the ‘Forks’ while the Indians crossed the river in pursuit, but Carter was shortly obliged to abandon his companion, who declared himself unable to proceed; the Indians shortly after came upon Leonard and put him to death by beating in his skull. Carter escaped, told the story of his companion at the nearest camp, an procured a party to return. Nothing was discovered of the Indian murderers, however. These outrages so incensed the whites at Columa (sic) that a company was organized to capture the Indian criminals. Several prisoners were made, who, upon being taken to trial, attempted to escape and were shot.”
This is immediately followed by the second article.

“Terrible slaughter of Indians.

“The murders recently committed by the Indians on the American river have, as we expressed it our opinion, so thoroughly aroused the miners of that stream and vicinity, that nothing short of an unconditional slaughter of the Sacramento valley Indians would seem to appease the thirst for vengeance; terribly has their revenge been visited upon that miserable people within the week past.

“The Alcalde of this district received on Tuesday last a letter from Wm. Daylor, owner of a rancho distant 20 miles from this place, and situated on the Cosumne (sic) river, announcing the arrival of a large party of armed Americans on his grounds, and who had shot down three of this Indians while employed in digging a grave. On Wednesday following it transpired that an organized company, formed at the American, had traced a party of Indians from that river until within about ten miles of Daylor’s rancho, when, coming upon them suddenly, every man was instantly shot down, and the women and children taken into captivity. These Indians, it appears from the statements made by Daylor, corroborated by others, composed in part the mining troop employed by him on the Middle Fork, and who had, hearing of the excitement caused by the murders on that stream, abandoned the work to seek protection in their own village, under the immediate control of their employer. We cannot state with accuracy the number slain, although it is believed to have been not less than twenty. Three were killed a short distance from the house while employed in digging a grave for a member of Daylor’s family deceased.

“On Thursday the district Alcalde visited the scene of bloodshed, and was shown the bodies of eleven Indians in one grave. The Indians report twenty-three missing of their Indian men in all. What is reserved for the visitors time will show. The Indians were without arms when slaughtered. By our next we may be placed in possession of further details, and corrections by required in the foregoing, all of which will be promptly presented.”

Note: William Daylor was a highly respected owner of a large rancho along the Cosumnes River. He, his brother-in-law, Jared Sheldon, and a friend of theirs, Perry McCoon, are credited with being the first white men to mine along Hangtown Creek at a place that would later be known as Placerville.


Criminal Annals, Part 8 – The Hanging of “Irish Dick”

"A Vulcan Among the Argonauts"

“Vulcan Among the Argonauts”

In Part 7, the two writers introduced us to a person named Richard Crone, who was also known as Irish Dick, Bloody Dick and a few other names. He was hanged from the famous Placerville tree a couple of years after the famous first three.

In “Vulcan Among the Argonauts – being vivid excerpts from those most original and amusing memoirs of John Carr, Blacksmith,” edited by Robin Lampson and published in San Francisco in 1936, there is a very interesting story on this hanging and Placerville in the early 1850s.

“We found Hangtown, or what is now called Placerville, to be two rows of houses with a street between them, The houses were built principally of shakes, with posts driven into the ground on which to nail the shakes. There were about fifty or sixty of these houses in the place when we arrived there (August 9, 1850), the largest four of which were run as gambling houses, and were in full operation at that time. All sorts of games were in full blast, such as monte, faro, lansquenet and French monte, sometimes called three-card monte.

“Each gambling-house had from four to eight tables, which were loaded with gold and silver, great stacks of which were there to tempt the unwary miner to try his luck, which he often did to his sorrow. The tables were presided over by “sports,” as they were called, who were considered the aristocracy of the country. They generally wore white shirts and dressed in what the boys called “store clothes.” If a man came into camp with a boiled shirt on, he was set down as a sport, and generally correctly so. Frequently they would have a female “sport’ at the table. She was a generally well painted and dressed in the richest attire, and, as a rule, was a daughter of “la belle France.” The tables they presided over were generally well patronized, and many a well-filled purse of gold dust of some soft-pated miner was drawn in by these gilded damsels of France and Germany.

“Hangtown at that time was a perfect Babel; men from all the principal nations of the world seemed to have gathered there. You could hear the language of nearly every civilized nation spoken in the streets of that little burg, and the coin of every realm passed current; but most of the money was Mexican. Mexican gold “onzas,” worth sixteen dollars, and Mexican silver dollars were the most used, but the principal circulating medium was gold dust. Everybody had gold dust, and nearly everything bought and sold was paid for in gold dust, at the rate of sixteen dollars per ounce.

“Hangtown, when I arrived on the 9th of August, was but a small place; but before I left, two months later, it had grown twenty times as large, and started different kinds of business. All was bustle and excitement. No land monopolist allowed, or town-lot speculators. No man was allowed more lots than his business required, and if he dared claim any more he generally got the worst of it.

“The early fathers of California had a very simple and easy method of governing the country and administering the laws, and a very effective method it was at the same time. I will give you and instance of my first experience, and what I saw before the bar of Judge Lynch’s court. This was my first attendance at His Honor’s court, but by no means the last.

“I was standing looking on the games that were being dealt at the El Dorado saloon. In the game I was looking at there were three or four miners betting. It was the game of monte. One of the miners accused the dealer of drawing waxed cards on him; or, in other words, cheating him out of his dust. The gambler told him if he said so again he would cut the heart out of him. The miner repeated the words, when the gambler raised out of his seat, drew a large Bowie knife out of his belt and plunged it twice into the man’s heart; at the last plunge he turned the knife around in the man’s body. Pulling the knife out of the body and wiping blood off with his handkerchief, he coolly remarked: ‘You will never tell me I lied again.’

“The gambler was know as ‘Bloody Dick,’ or ‘New Orleans Dick.’ He was a New Orleans Irishman, and a hard case. Rumor said that this was the third man he had killed. I was within three or four feet of the man when he fell off his seat and expired.
“Word went immediately throughout the the town that ‘Bloody Dick’ had killed a man. In the meantime two men had seized him and taken his arms away, and in less than one minute he was surrounded by forty or fifty excited men, well armed, with a full determination that he would not have a chance to kill any more.

“It had been the custom among the gamblers, when one of their fraternity got into a scrape, to see him out. Ten or twelve drew their revolvers, but, seeing the angry crowd, they came to the conclusion that they would let Dick take his chances.

“In less than ten minutes there was a crowd of at least five hundred men gathered in and around the saloon where the cutting took place. A motion was made by some of the crowd that he be hanged right away, but the crowd voted him a fair trial and a chance for his life. They elected a middle-aged man to act as judge and another as marshal. The marshal summoned twelve men to serve as jurors, who were immediately sworn. The judge sat on a big pine log in the street. The witnesses were called and sworn. They were the men who were playing at the game when the man was killed. Other witnesses also testified to the facts in the case. The case was then given to the jury, who returned a verdict of ‘guilty of murder in the first degree.’

“The question was then put to the crowd: ‘What shall be done with the prisoner?’
“Some one moved that he be hanged. The motion was seconded, and the man who acted as judge put the motion to the crowd, and a unanimous shout went up from at least one thousand men, ‘Hang him!’

The prisoner, in the meantime, was using the most blasphemous language to the men engaged in his trial that every polluted the ears of civilized men. He was then placed in a wagon drawn by two mules, and escorted by at least one thousand men to the fatal tree, a little back of the town, where five of his sort had already paid the penalty of their crimes by hanging from one of its limbs.

“It was a large oak tree. the wagon was driven under it, the rope tied around his neck and thrown over the limb, and hauled tight and made fast. He was in the meantime cursing the crowd, his God, and everything else, and spat in the faces of the men that were adjusting the rope.
“When everything was ready, the mules were started forward, leaving the body swinging between the earth and the limb. Some of the guard stayed at the tree for nearly an hour, so as to be sure he was dead. The body was cut down, and buried a short distance from the tree on which he was executed.

“That was a trial where justice was meted out with dispatch. No lawyers were present, no testimony objected to as incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial. When witnesses were sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, they seldom if ever perjured themselves. It was not over one hour from the time the murder was committed in the saloon before the doer of it was tried and executed. No appeal was taken from Judge Lynch’s Court to the Supreme Court . His decision was final.”