News & Tall Tales. 1800s.

San Francisco Gold Rush 1849.

Public Execution

Joseph Hetherington and Philander Brace

January 24, 1856, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California

The Arrest of Brace.

In addition to the paragraph published yesterday relative to the arrest of Brace, we extract the following from the Evening News of Tuesday:

Philander Brace, whose arrest by the Sheriff of Santa Clara was telegraphed to us yesterday, was brought to this city yesterday, in custody of G. W. Bailey, Deputy Sheriff of Santa Clara. Brace, it will be remembered, was concerned with Marion in the dastardly murder of Mr. J. B. West, at the Mission Dolores, in June last, whilst that gentleman, in.orgpany with Mr. Cumberland, was in search of thieves. Marion and Brace escaped across the Bay to Contra Costa, but news reaching the people that section of the murder, instant pun was made for them, and they were discovered and run into a wheat field on the San Miguel ranch. Here Marion, despairing at escape,.orgmitted suicide by blowing out his brains with a pistol, and Brace managed to escape in consequence of the delay attending the act of his fellow criminal. He was not heard of until yesterday. Brace is a young man, about 21 years of age, hailing from Onondaga county, New York, and says he has been two years in the State. He accounts for his escape by stating he succeeded in hiding himself under some potato vines, where he remained two days and nights. He says that Sheriff Evans actually rode immediately over him, his horse treading on his leg, without being aware of his presence.

A History of Lynching in America. Manfred Berg.

Eluding his pursuers, he went to San Jose, where be engaged himself as a farm laborer to Mr. Blakean, where he might have remained unknown had he not confided his actual position to a man named Binley, who had been.orgmended to his confidence by Marion. This man informed the Sheriff of Santa Clara, and had him arrested. Brace denies having been instrumental in West's murder, and claims to be an honest man explaining his connection with Marion by stating he only became acquainted with him last Spring, and went to live at his house, and that he knew nothing of his character, until a few days previous to the murder which occurred as he was preparing to leave him. Unfortunately for him, he is well known to the police as the person who robbed the residence of Mr. G. W. Green, of valuable plate and jewelry, last spring, which, we suppose, will now be recovered. If all the witnesses of the West murder are still in the country, Brace will have a chance to expiate his crime on the gallows.

August 1, 1856, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California

. . . Yesterday was an eventful day in the history of San Francisco and the Vigilance Committee. It was a day whose record will be handed down from generation to generation, to all time to.orge. It was a day that saw justice meted out to two criminals of the deepest dye, which offers a guarantee for the safety and protection of human life in the future of San Francisco. That the history of yesterday's transactions, which will be read throughout the world, may be faithfully and accurately traced, we have taken great pains to make the record a correct and reliable one.


By some means it became known, early in the morning, that the execution of Joseph Hetherington, the murderer of Dr. Baldwin in 1853, and of Dr. Randall on Thursday last, and Philander Brace, the murderer of Capt. West in 1854, and the supposed murderer of Marion, an a.orgplice, two days afterwards, would occur during the day, and at an early hour people began to gather about the rooms and the vicinity in anticipation of the event. Sacramento street, from Montgomery down to the rooms, was literally crowded with persons passing up and down, who were anxious to ascertain at what particular moment the execution would occur . . .

Being anxious to know something of the situation of the mind and feelings of Hetherington under his sentence, we visited the rooms yesterday in order to ascertain


Through the politeness of the Executive Committee we were allowed to enter the dungeon of the prisoner at 2 o'clock, from whom we gained his opinion and statement of the last crime charged upon him.

We found him engaged in writing, which he performed without exhibiting the least excitement. He was apparently as cool and collected as the most indifferent and unconcerned could be. He remarked that he should die as calmly as he appeared while talking to us. He conversed freely of nil the acts of his life, and particularly of the killing of Dr. Randall. He regarded it as a very unfortunate affair, but one which he could not avoid, as he was forced into it by the first shot from his adversary. His version of the affair is, that the Doctor drew first, and tired one shot before he did, and that his first and the Doctor's second were simultaneous. After firing twice, he says the Doctor ran behind the counter, crouched down, rested his pistol upon the edge of the counter or desk, and continued his firing.

This accounts for the shot which was fired through the hotel register and up into the ceiling overhead. One of the balls passed so near his head that it caused him to suddenly start back, as if he was stunned. He does not look upon the affair as a murder, and thinks he acted in self-defense. He blames the Executive Committee for his conviction, and says that he is as much above them as Heaven is higher than earth. He defied any man to say aught against his character since he lived in San Francisco, and added that no man in this city is better prepared to meet his Maker than he was. He felt ready and prepared for the fate that awaited him, and was very anxious that the reporters of the press would be present and

He informs us that it was reported correctly what he had to say on the scaffold, and he wanted nothing added to it. He has made a written statement of the tragedy, which he has placed in the hands of an attorney, who will cause it to be published. He entertained the opinion that his version of the affair, as contained in this written statement, would convince the world of his innocence.


born and raised in Cumberland county, near Carlisle, England, and thinks he is about 35 years of age, but cannot tell positively. He has lived much of his life in St. Louis and New Orleans, and has been in California since 1850. He has no family relatives in the United States, and never was married. He is possessed of an estate which, he says, is a very difficult one to settle, and which, for the want of his papers that were stolen the day he was arrested, he has been unable to do. He says it will probably amount to from $40,000 to $75,000. He leaves his business with Fletcher M. and Henry Haight, who have been his counsel in this city and St. Louis. He contradicts the statement that the indebtedness of Randall was contracted by the purchase of a judgment or demands against him, but was money loaned. This matter he will fully explain in his written statement to the public.

He charges upon Dr. Randall a determination to assassinate him, and that on several occasions when they have met upon the street, Dr. Randall has defiantly placed his hand upon his pistol, and apparently inviting a conflict. He knew the Doctor to be constantly armed with a revolver, and also two pocket Derringers, which latter he carried in his pantaloons pocket . . .


The prisoner Brace appeared quite the reverse of Hetherington, and manifested no penitence or dread of the awful moment that awaited him. His time was spent in cursing and swearing, and in the use of the most revolting language. His cell was visited by Rev. Messrs. Scott, Thomas and Kipp, all of whom he treated most contemptuously, uttering the most vulgar and obscene language in their presence, and threatened to kick them out of his cell. They succeeded, however, about two hours before the execution, in quieting him, and he spent the last two hours mostly in prayer. Brace is quite a young man, apparently not more than 21 or 22 years old, but possessed of a remarkable degree of intelligence, both natural and acquired. He is a native of Onondaga county, New York, where he has a father residing. The history of his life for the last two years has often been published of late in San Francisco papers. The principal charge against him appears to be the murder of Captain West, about a year and a half ago, near the Mission, and the subsequent murder of his a.orgplice when they were pursued. He, however, has confessed to the.orgmission of many other crimes since he has been arrested, and has mentioned them in rather a boasting spirit. He admits to having been a great thief, and he stole because he could not help it. But little dependence could, however, be put on anything be said, as he was a most confirmed liar. He appeared to be liberally educated, and could speak several languages fluently. He possessed talents of no ordinary character, and properly directed, he would have made a man of distinction.

August 9, 1856, Los Angeles Star, Los Angeles, California

Execution of Hetherington and Brace, by the Committee of Vigilance

Joseph Hetherington and Philander Brace were executed on Monday, July 28th, by the Committee of Vigilance, and of all the scenes connected with the administration of the Committee, that was by far the most calculated to strike terror to the hearts of evil doers.

It is estimated that there were not less than five thousand troops under arms. About five hundred cavalry occupied the extreme outposts of the lines.

Thus all the approaches to the gallows were defended by impassable barriers of artillery, infantry and cavalry, and none were allowed to pass the lines, unless provided with a pass from the Executive of the Committee.

There was nothing remarkable about the gallows, save that the trap was about twice the usual size. At twenty minutes past five the ropes were adjusted and all was ready lot the final scene.


During the forenoon the prisoners Were visited in their cells by Bishop Kipp and Rev. Mr. Thomas. Hetherington had conversed frequently with Bishop Kipp, and declared himself ready to meet death, believing that he had fully repented his sins. It is said that he spent much time in religious devotion.

At first Brace refused all offers of religious consolation, and when addressed upon the subject of the salvation of his soul, he replied in the most vile and insulting terms. It is said he even reviled at the name of his mother, saying that she was an old ranting Methodist, at the same time using the most profane language.

The day previous, he told the Rev. Mr. Thomas that he was born for a thief. Thrusting out his left hand, he said "that is my honest father's hand" a and the right "that hand was made to steal ain't it a pretty hand to go into a man's pocket?"


About twenty minutes past five o'clock, the prisoners were taken from their cells and placed in separate carriages, to be conveyed to the place of execution, a distance of not more than two hundred yards. The carriages were preceded by the members of the Executive thirty in number who marched, uncovered, past the foot of the gallows, and took a position to the left, near Commercial street. Brace first ascended the platform, assisted by one of the attendants. He appeared rather nervous, but after he reached the platform, he looked upon the crowd with an impudent stare, and was evidently very desirous to appear careless and unconcerned.

Hetherington followed half a minute later, and, was a.orgpanied by the Rev. Mr. Thomas. He appeared perfectly calm not the least agitation in his countenance was observable, and he ascended to the platform with as firm a step as if be were merely going up to address the crowd upon some subject in which he had no personal concern.

The executioner then ascended. He was dressed in a black muslin gown and black cap of the same material.

The prisoners were both attired in their usual dress, Hetherington wore a Leghorn hat, and Brace a Panama.


After arriving on the scaffold Hethenngton and Brace took a position side by side. The former on the North and the latter on the South side. The hangman then removed the cravat from the neck of Brace. Hetherington removed his own cravat. Brace turned to his fellow victim and shook hands with him. The ropes were then adjusted about both their necks. While the hangman was thus engaged, Hetherington remarked "don't put it too tight around my neck l want to speak to the people." When the rope was adjusted to the satisfaction of the hangman, Hetherington as calmly and coolly as if he was addressing a public meeting assembled to do him honor, said:

"You may think lam a hard sinner. I appear before you mild and unconcerned. l am to meet my Maker in a few moments. To the best of my knowledge I have not lived one day in my life that I was afraid to meet my Maker. Do not think that I am a murderer. Such is not my case. Bishop Kipp has been with me all day not all but during intervals throughout the day."

Brace, who during the delivery of the above re marks, stood with his hands quite carelessly thrust in his pockets and who appeared intoxicated, said

"Have you (turning to the Reporters near the gallows) got all that down. Go on, old horse, (to Hetherington) and say what you have to say I don't want you to be talking all day."

Hetherington. "l am not more penitent to-day than I ever was in my life."

Brace. (squaring himself) "Go on, Sir."

Hetherington. "In conversation with Doctor Kip today, I assured him that I never lived a day that I was afraid . . . "

Brace. "Oh, hurry up with your cakes don't be so long about it."

Hetherington. (continuing) "to meet my God."

Brace. "I'm not going to stop here so long. I want to meet my doom immediately."

Hetherington. "If the gentlemen in whose hands I am, wish it, I will stop . . .

Several Voices. "Proceed, proceed."

Hetherington. "Gentlemen, I do not display any more feeling now than the day on which I was taken into that house l have . . .

Brace. "l want you all to understand that I, Philander Brace, have been murdered by the Vigilance Committee on the 28th day of July, 1856. Do you understand that??

Hetherington. "l still think so. Whenever you say stop, I will stop. I have to add one thing more, and that is, that so far as the killing of Dr. Randall is concerned. I would merely say that I had only asked a question, when he turned around and drew his pistol."

Brace. "Go on, sir."

Hetherington. "I merely wanted to save my own life. I have lived all my life a gentleman, though I am about to end my career on the gallows. I defy the whole world to prove a dishonorary act upon me."

Brace. "Go away from me, you son of a b ," (to the hangman, who was fumbling about his neck.)

Hetherington. "In the conversation I had with Bishop Kip . . . "

Brace. "l don't care about Dr. Kips or Dr. Cripps."

Hetherington. "What was my last sentence? The conversation with Dr. Kip turned . . . "

Brace. "l am drunk. I am all right. I'm a regular thieving son of a b---h."

Hetherington. "The conversation turned on Randall, and I told him that I never lived a day that I was not prepared to meet my God."

Brace. "Speak out speak out like a man, sir."

Hetherington. "l have merely to add that I have no hard feelings against any one. I expect that my Redeemer will .orgive me. I .orgive every man. May the Lord have mercy upon your souls! But, gentlemen, I have to make one remark which few people may credit."

Brace. "Go on old horse!"

Hetherington. "l have merely to say that during my trial Mr. Gillespie insulted me very much, but I freely .orgive him. I think Mr. Smiley was friendly to me."

Brace. (to his.orgpanion) "Roll yourself up in the American flag and die like a son of a b---h."

Hetherington. "My witnesses were no summoned."

Brace. "Go on, old horse."

Hetherington. "No jury on the face of the earth would have convicted me. So far as a fair trial is concerned, I have had no such thing. l am not afraid to meet my God. May the Lord have mercy upon my soul."

Brace. "l hope he may, old horse."

Hetherington. "l .orgive every one. Gentlemen. l am here the spectacle of you all. May the Lord have mercy upon me."

The caps were then adjusted around the necks of both, and Hetherington, when the cap was pulled down, said: "God bless you all! God bless you all! God bless Mr. Fletcher Haight! I wish I could have seen Mr. Henry Haight before I died.'"

Here the bell tolled the fatal knell and the two were launched into eternity.

The Naval Order of the United States has a history dating from 1890. Membership includes a wide range of individuals, many with highly distinguished career paths.

The San Francisco Commandery meets the first Monday of each month at the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club in San Francisco, California and holds two formal dinners each year.

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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