Tinkham Chapter XII

Chapter XII

EXCITING EVENTS FROM 1850-56

The value of land depends upon three conditions, the richness of the soil, its productiveness, watered by natural or artificial means, and the density of the population upon and surrounding the land. Under Mexican government the land had no commercial value. It was given indiscriminately to Mexican citizens, regardless of bounds or location. Then came the gold seekers. the land now became very valuable, especially along the water lines and in the more productive valleys.

Many grant owners extended the boundary of their lands beyond the prescribed lines. Hundreds of persons claimed land to which they had no title. And so great were the complications and difficulties regarding property rights, the government in 1853 sent a boundary commission to California to clear up the tangle. The chairman of the commission was Edward Stanton, later Secretary of War under Lincoln. The commission found that a lifetime could be spent in clearing up titles. They rejected six hundred claims, however, and confirmed many hundred titles. Among them was the title of Charles M. Weber to the Campo de los Franceses grant. When President Lincoln in 1862 signed the patent he thought "it a pretty big farm."

The unsettled condition of lands led to the creation of what was known as "squatters" or land jumpers. These men, finding a title defective or imperfect, would "squat" upon the land and claim or attempt to hold it, either by law or force of arms. For more than twenty years these land troubles existed and thousands of dollars were expended and many persons killed in defending or settling land. The first of these squatter disputes occurred in San Francisco. Rincon hill, then a government reservation, was rented to Thomas Shilaber. When he went to take possession February 18, 1850, he found it occupied by a band of "Sydney Ducks." They refused either to pay rent or leave the hill. Shilaber notified the Presidio commandante. Captain E. D. Keyes, with a squad of infantry, then marched up the hill, tore down the shanties of the squatters and drove them to the street.

The "Sydney Ducks" and an organization called "The Hounds" caused a great deal of trouble and it was this gang that set the six terrible San Francisco fires previous to July, 1851. The last of these fires June 22, 1851, caused a loss of $3,000,000. It burned over the whole of ten blocks and a part of six other blocks. The fire swept away the last of the old buildings of Mexican days, including the old city hotel on the plaza. Thomas Maguire's theater, the "Jenny Lind," was for the sixth time destroyed.

In the fire of May 4, 1851, the burned district extended one-third of a mile west from the water front, then Montgomery street, and three-fourths of a mile north and south. Over 2,000 buildings were destroyed, many of them of brick from three to five stories in height. The streets were planked and the fire ran along the streets, says the "Annals," almost as if they were a train of gunpowder. Every printing office, save the Alta on Clay street hill, was destroyed. The following morning, said A. C. Russel to me, "a solid stream of type metal ran from the office to the bay." One many by the use of vinegar saved his warehouse. He had no water and he threw 80,000 gallons of vinegar on the flames.

One year previous Sacramento saw its first flood. Captain Sutter warned the settlers against locating upon the river bank. They laughed at his fears. The waters of the Sacramento river began rising January 10, 1850, at the rate of six inches an hour. The people persisted in remaining in their shanties and many were drowned. At midnight the entire town was flooded and the next morning hundreds of persons were upon the house tops awaiting deliverance. That day many took their departure by steamer for San Francisco.

In the flood of March, 1852, Sacramento was the Venice of California. Gondolas, in the shape of rafts, tubs and boats, floated through the streets bearing some sedate Senator or some gay senorita, the boatman singing "Over the Ocean Wave," or "A Home of the Boundless Deep." The water for two weeks covered the entire city and stood two feet deep around the capitol building. The flood was disastrous. In the mountains it swept away flumes, water wheels, gold dust tools, provisions, in fact, everything movable, and carried all that was floatable to the Pacific ocean. At sea for miles ships passed the wreckage. The whole valley of the San Joaquin was for a time under water, so immense was its volume.

Sacramento lots at this time were very valuable and Sutter had sold a large number. The claim was made by a party that Sutter's title was imperfect. Taking possession of several lots, one of the squatters remarked, "If those speculators are ready to fight, so are we." The court decided in favor of the Sutter purchasers and August 14, 1850, the sheriff, driving the squatters from the house they occupied, placed the lawful owner in possession.

Soon after this a paarty of armed men, led by one Mahoney, marched to the house and drove out the occupants. Moyor Bigelow, springing upon his horse, rode to the several corners of the streets reading the riot act. He called upon all good citizens to arm themselves and defend the law. There were then several hundred law abiding citizens ready for a fight. Assembling at the prison brig (a) they placed themselves under the command of the mayor and sheriff. Marching up the street they found the rioters drawn up on line. The mayor called upon them to lay down their arms and consider themselves as prisoners. The only response was a brisk but wild fire from the rioters. The citizens then opened fire and in a few minutes the squatters were disarmed and taken prisoners. In the short skirmish Mahoney and three of his men were killed, and one wounded. Seven citizens were wounded and two, including the mayor, died (b). During this excitement Sacramento's first military company was formed. Completing their organization, they were known as the Sacramento Guard.

The squatting on a few lots at Sacramento was insignificant in comparison with the land grabbing scheme of William Walker, the "grey-eyed many of destiny." He wanted an entire kingdom. William Walker (c) imagined that he was destined to establish the dominion of the United States over Mexico and Central America.

To obtain funds for this scheme, bonds were issued and sold, payable by the "New Republic of Sonora and Lower California." Headquarters were established in San Francisco. Hundreds of people enlisted under the banner of the new republic. As the Arrow was about ready to sail with a large company on board, she was seized (August, 1852) by General Hitchcock for a violation of the treaty law. he was immediately recalled by President Pierce (d).

The filibusters now openly and actively carried on their work. The Caroline, a larger sailing vessel, was purchased and all of the arms and equipments were transferred to the new vessel. Walker, in command of forty-six men, sailed (October 16, 1843) for La Paz. Proclaiming Lower California an independent republic, he marched inland to Muerta. From that point he sent to the California press glowing accounts of his victories. The effect was as he intended -- hundreds of men now hastened south to fight for the new republic (e). With an increased army his troubles were many. Food was scarce; the Mexicans harassed them in every possible manner. Many of his followers deserted, and finally, with a handful of men, Walker retired from the field. This ended the filibustering farce until 1860.

At that time Nicaragua was engaged in a civil war. The fith was between the Spaniards of Granada and the Indians of Leon. Walker, with sixty men, sailed from San Francisco to assist the Leonese. He was placed in command of the "army" and October 15, 1860, captured Granada. The Spanish government was then overthrown. Cornelius Vanderbilt was then running a steamer line across the territory and Walker demanded certain concessions. Vanderbilt refused to grant them. Walker then seized the steamers running on Lake Nicaragua. Vanderbilt now took part in the fight. He succeeded in uniting the two factions. They seized the steamers, cut off Walker's supplies and prevented any recruits reaching him.

For nearly two years skirmishing took place upon the Isthmus. They fought regardless of the passengers that were traveling back and forth from New York to San Francisco; at different times several passengers were killed and others wounded from stray bullets. Walker, nearly starved out, was driven to the town of Rivas. There he surrendered to Lieutenant Charles Davis, in command of the St. Mary, then lying in that port.

No effort was made to punish Walker. Keen for another season of warfare in Nicaragua, he sent Colonel McKewen to the south. McKewen recruited an army of nearly eight hundred men and began making arrangements for their transportation to Central America. The news received ended the movement. Walker, sailing to the scene of his former triumphs, landed at Honduras. He was immediately arrested and tried for his crimes. Found guilty (September 3, 1860), he was shot. Thus ended the history of California's most erratic and impetuous pioneer.

In times of great danger, fear or distress, the people are justified in taking extraordinary measures of relief. Times of danger and fear were those of 1854-56. Crime throughout the state was on the increase, and in three years over 538 people had been murdered. The San Francisco Herald, commenting upon this fact, asserted that "in striking a balance from the homicide calendar of 1854, we have come to the conclusion that one person in every six hundred will be killed in 1855." This condition of affairs was the result of corrupt courts and judges. The grand jury reporting this fact (February, 1854) said, "There are those among us who boldly assert that no man, however criminal, who has money or friends who will advance it will ever be hanged in this county." The San Francisco Chronicle declared "crime, drunkenness and degradation reign in San Francisco. The theaters at night are the halls of unblushing vice. The Cyprian walks the streets in open day. The rowdies engage in thier drunken orgies and defy the law." Under these conditions the law abiding citizens must either leave the city or reform it. The reform could be accomplished in only one way, organize and enforce the law.

The newspaper editors everywhere fearlessly denounced the corrupt officials and the criminals. None, however, were more fierce in attack than James King of William (f), editor and proprietor of the San Francisco Bulletin.

The Bulletin of May 14, 1856, contained an article declaring that James Casey, editor and proprietor of the Sunday Times, a disreputable sheet, "had been an inmate of Sing Sing prison, New York, and had sutffed himself through the ballot box when elected supervisor" (g). Soon after the paper appeared upon the street, Casey entered the Bulletin editorial room. Approaching King, he asked, "What do you mean by that article which says I was formerly an inmate of Sing Sing prison?"

"Is not that true?" inquired King.

Casey replied, "That is not the question; I don't want my past life raised up. On that I am sensitive."

Are you don? There is the door," said King, pointing in that direction. "Go, never show your face here again!"

An hour later King started for his home, where a wife and six children awaited him. Casey had already planned to kill King. Meeting him on the corner of Montgomery and Washington streets, Casey exclaimed, "James King of William, are you armed? Draw and defend yourself."

King slowly folded his arms, looked Casey in the eyes and replied:

"Are you in earnest?"

"Yes," answered Casey; "draw and defend yourself."

Casey then fired. The shot penetrated King's breast. Staggering into the Pacific express office, he fell to the floor.

Casey then entered a hack in waiting, in which sat David Scannell, the sheriff of the county, and was driven to the Broadway jail for refuge from the angry crowd. They had followed after the hack shouting, "Hang him, kill him!" On arrival threats were made to break into the jail, take Casey and hang him. Before they could put their threat into action, the building was strongly guarded by the police and city militia.

That night the vigilance committee of 1851 was reorganized, with Wm. T. Coleman as chairman of the executive committee, Charles Doane as marshal and Isaac Bluxome as secretary.

In a short time Doane was in command of over forty companies, one hundred men to each company. They were well armed and had plenty of ammunition. Nearly every company of the city militia disbanded. They joined the vigilantes, carrying their muskets with them. Taking possession of the building on Sacramento street, the hall of which had been formerly used as the "Know Nothing" headquarters, they turned it into an arsenal and day and night a company of vigilantes were on guard.

Three days after the shooting (Sunday, May 18th( King's wound was reported fatal. The vigilantes then resolved to take possession of the two prisoners, Cora and Casey. Early in the forenoon two brass cannon had been placed in front of the jail. About noon the vigilantes, two thousand in number, marched to the spot. A few minutes later Doane and Coleman demanded of Sheriff Scannell the two prisoners. He refused to comply with the demand.

"Mr. Scannell, we give you five minutes and no more," said Mr. Coleman, holding his open watch in his hand; "if at the end of that time the two men are not surrendered we shall take them by force; the doors of the jail will be blown open and you will be taken, Mr. Scannell, as well as Casey and Cora."

The sheriff hesitated until the fourth minute. He then unlocked the jail door. The committee then took charge of the prisoners and in closed carriages they were taken to the vigilante rooms.

King lingered until May 20th and died that day soon after 1 o'clock. The excitement was intense. The courts adjourned. The merchants closed their places of business and draped their buildings in mourning. The bells of the city began tolling and the flags were lowered at half-mast. In all parts of the state the same signs of sorrow were seen. King's family was left desitute. Before the funeral, however, $30,000 was raised by subscription and given to them.

The funeral took place on the 22nd. The procession comprised the seven Masonic lodges, the California pioneers, the fire department (save Crescent City No. 10, Casey being its foreman), the Sacramento Guard from the capital, and hundreds of citizens. They marched to Lone Mountain cemetery, the bands of music silent. As the procession wound its way up the hill, some looking back to the vigilante rooms saw a thrilling sight -- two men hanging by their necks.

When King's death was reported Cora was tried for the murder of Richardson (h). That night Casey was tried; he also was found guilty. The sentence was death by hanging. The time fixed was the hour of King's funeral. By the request of the two criminals, Archbishop Alemany and Father Hugh Gallagher attended them. Casey was absolved. Cora was refused absolution until after his marriage to Belle Cora. They were married by Father Alcoty shortly before the execution.

As the hour of death drew near the two men were pinioned, then placed upon two platforms built out from the second story windows. The ropes around their necks were fastened to the projecting beams above their heads. The beams had been used in early days for hoisting of freight. Suddenly the sound of tolling bells was heard. The funeral cortege was moving. A small piece of white paper fluttering in the air falls to the earth. "Present arms!" The companies salute. The two men were pushed from the platform and died without a struggle.

The vigilantes, continuing their good work, banished over thirty gablers and politicians, some judges and a few lawyers. The sudden departure of over eight hundred criminals was also noted. Among the banished was Charley Duane, chief engineer of the fire department; Wooly Kearny, a ballot box stuffer; and Billy Mulligan, the right hand man of Dave Scannell. Ned McGowan, a notorious rascal, could not be found, and Yankee Sullivan saved himself from banishment by committing suicide.

Early in June the vigilantes arrested a distinguished person, David S. Terry, justice of the Supreme Court. His arrest was occasioned by a singular event, the capture of a schooner containing one hundred and fifty muskets for the law and order party. The two men on board, Jack McNabb and Reuben Maloney, were arrested but later released. They threatened to shoot the men who arrested them and boasted that the vigilantes were afraid to keep them prisoners.

Police Officer Hopkins was sent out to arrest them. He found Maloney in the office of United States Naval Agent Dr. Richard P. Ashe, but facing the revolvers of Ashe, David Terry and Geo. Bowie, he quickly retreated for assistance. In the meantime, Ashe, Bowie, Terry, Rowe and Maloney, each armed with a double barreled shotgun, left the office and hurried towards the armory of the Blues, corner Dupont and Jackson streets. Hopkins, returning, met the party on Jackson near Dupont and attempted to arrest Maloney. In the struggle someone fired a shot. Terry, it is said, thinking that Hopkins had fired at him, drew a large bowie knife and drove it into Hopkin's neck. The party then ran upstairs into the armory and slammed shut the iron door.

A little later the organization was summoned by quick taps upon the bell. Draymen in the middle of the street stopped their teams and rode to the rooms, storekeepers and merchants closed their places of business and hurried on, blacksmiths left their anvils, carpenters their benches, and in a short time company after company was formed and ordered to the Blues Armory.

Coleman, on arrival, knocked loudly upon the iron door. In response Richard Ashe appeared at the second story window. Marshal Doane then demanded the immediate surrender of the armory. Ashe replied, "I will open the door on condition that our safety be guaranteed." "There is no condition about it," replied Doane; "open the doors or I will blow up the building." Judge Terry declared to his friends, "It is I they want; I will surrender to them." After parleying for some length of time the doors were opened and Terry and Maloney were arrested and taken as prisoners to the vigilantes' rooms.

Terry was held six weeks a prisoner in "Fort Gunny Bags," awaiting Hopkins' recovery or death. After his recovery Terry was tried for three different crimes. The two committees could not agree upon a verdict (i). Terry, therefore, being a Supreme judge, was discharged. That evening he took passage on the steamer Helen Hensley for Sacramento.

In the capital city he was honored by a torchlight procession and speeches of congratulation by Volney E. Howard, Edward D. Baker and Mayor Gregory. The ladies also showed their appreciation by presenting him with a handsome silver service set (j). From Sacramento he went to his home at Stockton. A delegation of citizens on horseback and in carriages met him upon the road and escorted him into the city. Flags floated from a few buildings, the cannon boomed, speeches were made, and that night three of the principal hotels were illuminated.


  1. The jail at that time was on board a vessel that lay near the river bank.

  2. The news of the riot reached San Francisco that evening by steamer. Mayor John W. Geary called upon the citizens to assist Sacramento "at the earliest possible moment." The following day at noon two military companies in command of Captain Geary left San Francisco for the capital. All was quiet on their arrival at midnight. Royally they were feasted by Sacramento's citizens. They returned hom the following day.

  3. Born in Tennessee in 1824 of Scottish parentage, Walker graduated from one of the best sourthern universities. He then spent several years in study in the best medical schools and hospitals of Europe. Returning, he located in New Orleans and there practiced medicine. He then began the study of law. Soon tiring of this profession, he became editor of the New Orleans Crescent. In 1849 he came to San Francisco. As editor of the San Francisco Herald he poured hot shot into the criminals and corrupt judges. He then became a filibuster. Walker was a man of light complexion, light blue eyes, freckled features and red hair. He had a fascinating eye, great power to command, and although small in stature, weighing less than one hundred pounds, he had no fear of man or beast.

  4. His successor, John W. Wool, arrived in California February 15, 1854. He was instructed to not interfere with any illegal expeditions. The military headquarters were removed from Alcatraz island to Benicia. He there could see no violation of international law.

  5. The news of the revolutionist victories rapidly spread over the state, and the stages and steamers for San Francisco were crowded with adventurers eager to join Walker's army. Upon their departure from the town, they would march to the steamer with banners flying, fife and drum, cheering and yelling for the new republic.

  6. James King of William was born in Virginia in 1822. He received a good education and came to California in 1848. After the failure of the bank of Haskell & Co. through the rascality of one of the partners, King resolved to publish a new paper and show up the criminal acts of the "higher ups." The result was the San Francisco Bulletin.

  7. Casey was a convict from New York, having been in Sing Sing prison. Immigrating to San Francisco, he added a middle letter to his name, making it James P., and resumed his former occupation, that of plitician. He was appointed twelfth ward ballot box inspector. In 1855 Casey, with accomplices, elected himself supervisor of the twelfth ward by means of a ballot box with false sides and bottom. Until elected it was not known that he was a candidate. The vigilance committee in 1856 found this box. In it were 800 votes for James P. Casey for supervisor.

  8. Charles Cora, a well know gambler and sport, came from New Orleans to California in 1849, locating at Sacramento. His bold gambling bets astonished the natives, he often winning or losing $20,000 on the turn of a single card. Later he removed to San Francisco and (November 4, 1855) in a drunken fight shot and killed William Richardson, the United States marshal. His trial took place in January, 1856. His consort, Belle Cora, employed eminent counsel to defend him, including the gifted E. D. Baker. The result was a disagreement of the jury. She expended over $30,000, her entire fortune, including her jewels, in his defense.

  9. The executive committee found Terry guilty of resisting an officer and an assault on Evans, another member. The board of delegates believed him guilty of the higher assault to kill. They demanded that Terry be hanged. Terry at this time was a Mason and Rhodes, A Mason, newspaper man, vigilante and intimate friend of Terry, saved his life. So declared Geo. F. Barnes in the Bulletin, June 2, 1896.

  10. The inscription on the set was as follows: "Honorable David S. Terry, from the ladies of San Francisco, who admire his courage, honor his patriotism, and take the highest pride in his heroic resistance to tyranny."

    Soon after the vigilantes arrested Cora and Casey, it was reported that the law and order party intended to release their friends. The fort was built of a poor quality of brick and could easily be destroyed. The vigilance committee had no defense except their guard, and that night they began strengthening the fort. Two hundred of their strongest men were then summoned. Going to a sand hill near by, they filled "gunny bags" with sand and these were taken to the building in carts and drays. A shot proof barrier five feet in height, thirty feet in depth, and two hundred feet in legth, was then erected. Portholes were left in the walls, cannon obtained from ships in the harbor, and the artillery was so planted as to command every part of the street. This fort was built in a night and it was both bullet and cannon ball proof.


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