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News & Tall Tales. 1800s.

Bridge to the Castle.

California Gold: Mayhem and Murder

December 16, 1848, California Star & Californian, San Francsico

Ten Persons Killed at the Mission of San Miguel

Through the politeness of a friend, we have been furnished with extracts from a private letter from Monterey, containing the account of a most fiendish murder, perpetrated at the Mission of San Miguel. The particulars are as follows:

"Reed had just returned from the Stanislaus mines and had considerable gold. This tempted the murderers to this deed, and they carried off from the house nothing but gold and valuable property. Calicoes, Mantas, etc., were left strewn about the mission. The man tells that he saw all the dead bodies piled up, to the number of ten, as though intended to be burned; but it is supposed the murderers did not finish their task before they heard some horsemen approaching, when they ran away. They are followed and this man says he feels sure they have been taken at the Rancho of Alamo's, some 20 miles this size of Santa Ynez. Reed was shot below the ear by a large ball, and all the rest were killed with axes . . . "

His tale is too minute to admit of doubt, and you may safely assert that Reed of San Miguel and his entire family, servants and all, were murdered by five white men, believed to be discharged volunteers . . . "

And Attempt to Murder, at San Jose

We are indebted to the consideration of a friend for the following extracts from a private letter dated Pueblo de San Jose, December 14, 1848

"I am writing in the midst of great excitement. A highway robbery was committed in this district on Sunday night last. The supposed robbers have been arrested. They are William Campbell an David A. Davis, deserters from the 1st N.Y. Regiment and a sailor. They are in the calaboose up the stocks, and ten men on guard. The man robbed was shot; and if alive will be here tomorrow, when the trial will take place.

"Two men, one named Woolard, who is a deserter from the N.Y. Regiment, I am told, and the other named Lee, are also in arrest on suspicion of being accomplices"

December 16, 1848, California Star and Californian, San Francisco

Sutter's Fort, December 8, 1848

"We have been in a state of considerable excitement for the last two days, which is the result of the death of a man, in consequence of a gun shot from Mr. Pickett. Pickett and the man (Alderman, from Oregon) had had some difficulty about an enclosure in the fort, and, as I learn, the matter had twice been decided in Picket's favor, by the alcalde. It seems Pickett had hired an enclosure, into which Alderman had a door opening. Pickett forbade the use of the door and nailed it up on the outside. The man (Alderman) came with an axe into the enclosure (perhaps to open the door) while Picket was there, and Picket shot him with a double barrelled gun, loaded with buckshot. Ten shot (or shot holes) were found in his right arm, three in his right side, and one in his breast. He died about half an hour after the shot. It does not appear that Alderman assaulted P. at the time, but it is said he had threatened his life.

"The alcalde was a partner of Alderman in business, and delegated to the second alcalde the authority to act in the case, and he admitted the prisoner to bail in the sum of $10,000, for seven days.

"This, tragical scene transpired towards night on the 6th. To day it was understood that the second alcalde had resigned, and that the first persisted in not acting in the case, and the people held a meeting this evening to adopt some measures for bringing Picket to trial. It resulted in their choosing Mr. Blackburn (former alcalde of Santa Cruz) as a special alcalde for the case, and a resolution to stand by him and aid him in the performance of his duty. He was not present at the meeting and it is not certain that he will act, and I fear he will not. Should he not act I do not know who will. Public opinion seems strong against Picket, and I fear he will not be able to justify himself."

Gold Miners and Guttersnipes by Mark Twain.

In connection with the foregoing we learn verbally that Mr. Blackburn declined acting in the case, and thereupon an election was held for the purpose of selecting a judge, on the afternoon of the 9th. That election resulted in the choice of Samuel Brannan, Esq., before whom the prisoner appeared and took his trial that evening. The jury, after being out an hour; came into court and reported that they could not agree, whereupon they were discharged, and the prisoner was held to bail in the sum of $10,000 to appear and answer when called for. It is understood that four of the twelve jurors were in favor of acquittal, considering it a case of justifiable homicide; two or three were in favor of a verdict of manslaughter, and five or six deemed it a wilful murder.

In the mean time a new venire has been issued, and the prisoner will again be put upon his trial, so soon as the necessary jurors can be summoned from the surrounding country.


December 2, 1848, California Star & Californian

The Following account of a massacre at sea, we take from the Polynesian, Oct. 14. The Amelia was repairing at Honolulu and would shortly proceed on her voyage to Hong Kong:

Horrible Massacre

On Thursday morning, the 12th inst., the English Schooner Amelia, of Glasgow, arrived at this port, in distress, part of her crew having mutinied and murdered the Captain, supercargo, first and second officers. The particulars of this tragic occurrence are, as near as we have been able to gather them, as follows: The Amelia left Mazatlan on the 9th of September, and the coast on the 19th, with a cargo of $300,000 in specie, bound for China, Mr. Cook and lady, and Mary Hudson, a serving maid, as passengers. On the night of the 3d of October, in the middle watch, three of the crew attacked the second mate and killed him. The captain and Mr. Cook, hearing the noise, came on deck. One of the ruffians was stationed at the forecastle hatch to prevent the watch below from going up, and the other two attacked the certain and Mr. Cook, killing the latter and badly wounding tho former. The captain succeeded in getting down into the cabin, and having procured a cutlass, was again going on deck, when he was stabbed in the neck and fell back a lifeless corpse. The ladies, affrighted at the noise and groans of the murdered were ordered to their staterooms, the mate was secured in his and the murderers took possession of the cabin and shaped their course for the coast of Peru.

On the following morning, the mate was told that he could have the boat and provisions, if he chose to leave the vessel and take the ladies with him. Under pretence of lowering the boat, they induced him to go on deck, when they fell upon him, and having wounded him badly, threw him overboard. They then threw all the letters and papers overboard, and getting out a large quantity of gold, divided it among the crew, compelling all of them, at the peril of their lives, to take a share of the money, and then calling for wine,commenced gambling. For two days they held undisputed possession, compelling the ladies to sit at table with them and threatening them with death it they did not comply. It is more easy to imagine than describe their feelings. No ray of hope beamed on the future; but thanks to a kind Providence, deliverance was at hand.

On the night of the 5th of October, the murderers having drank freely, the remainder of the crew planned to deliver themselves and the ladies from the hands of the mutineers. About 1 o'clock, one of the crew, John Smith, a native of Rotterdam, killed two of the murderers with an ax, and struck the third, cutting off his arm, and with the assistance of the carpenter and cabin boy, threw him over board. Finding it impracticable to go to Mazatlan, the vessel's course was shaped for the Islands. The following is a list of those killed by the mutineers:

Mr. Cook, for some years a resident of Mazatlan, Capt. Robert L. McNally, of Dublin, Ramon Alva and Citano. The three mutineers were Mexicans. Three natives of the the coast have been placed in confinement tor the purpose of examination. It is thought that none of the crew except the three that were killed were aware of the plot. The youth who so nobly rescued the lives of those on board by taking that of the villains in whose hands they were, is deserving of lasting gratitude. The following is a list of those who were concerned in the plan to deliver the vessel from the mutineers: John Smith, of Rotterdam; John Berringer, of Bordeaux; Thomas Gannon, of London; Charles McDonald, and Frank, a Swede.

Terrible as was the result, there is reason to rejoice that the further sacrifice of life was spared by the heroic conduct of the crew We trust those who have acted so nobly will not go unrewarded. The specie has been removed from the vessel to the vaults of the Treasury, by order of the Consul General. Mrs. Conk and servant are residing on shore.


A letter has been received by a respectable mercantile firm in the city, detailing a horrible butchery already occasioned by Californian gold. A ship, called the Amelia, sailed from St. Francisco with gold, to purchase a cargo of silks in China. In crossing the Pacific Ocean, three miscreants of the crew, during a night watch, stole upon the mate, murdered, and threw him overboard; after which they successively assassinated the master, supercargo, and an English passenger named Cooke, whose wife was on board. The murderers then divided the Californian gold amongst themselves, and the remaining part of the crew, who, it would seem, were ignorant of the whole affair, till called upon to receive their share of the plunder. Soon afterwards the murderers got drunk and fell asleep, when the rest of the crew agreed to kill them and to restore the ship to her owners.

Accordingly, the ship's carpenter chopped off the heads of the three murderers with his axe, and their bodies were thrown into the ocean. The ship was then taken to Honohulao, one of the Sandwich Islands, and given up to the British Consul, being navigated thither entirely by a couple of apprentice lads, who alone possessed sufficient skill for the purpose.

February 22, 1851, Sacramento Transcript, Sacramento, California

The last number of the Sonora Herald states that a large number of persons have been examined in relation to the murder of a man named Kelly, which was noticed a week since. Thirteen have been dismissed, and two are still in custody. They are supposed to know something about the case, and are suspected of being accomplices. There was a minor on Thursday that a man named Paschal Labraciore has been accused on oath, by Estrella, with having struck the fatal blow.

The Herald states that on last Saturday a party of about forty Indians came to the brow of the Bald Mountain and stole a horse belonging to some men who are now working a quartz vein near the top. At last six or eight Indians could actually be seen, and the rest kept moving all about, so that they could not be counted. The owners of the animal immediately started off in pursuit of the Indians, and although unarmed, they routed them completely.

The following cases of shooting, occurring in the Southern Mines, is taken from the Herald.

On last Sunday evening, a man by the name of William Anderson was shot by William Mulligan, in the ball room of the French Restaurant, Sonora. Both are gamblers, and the former commonly known as "Billy Anderson." The shot took effect in the knee, and is of quite a serious nature. A warrant has been issued for tho arrest of Mulligan, but as yet he has nut been found.

On Sunday night, about midnight, a Spaniard by the name of Ramon Samudio, was shot in the shoulder by E. T. Wooh. The latter is under bonds to appear at the next term of the District Court on the third Monday of March next.

A man by the name of J. R. Bradford a few days ago came a distance of 70 miles, to deliver himself up, stating that he had shot William Troneham through the head in self-defence. Samuel McLane and Milton A. Legrave came with Bradford and corroborated his statements.

Tierney's Case. We are requested to state that a Mr. Jas. Hudson, an eye witness, called on us, and stated that the report of Tierney's murder, as given by John Rochford, was nearly correct. The mule was branded anew just above the old brand. Also that Mr. Rochford was not an interested party.

We advise the hombre who entered the office of Dr. Spaulding, during his absence, and stole fourteen ounces of gold dust, to read the Dr.'s very reasonable offer, in another column. Return the purse by all means, as the Dr. promises to fill it again, when you will have another chance to forge the grab game.

April 5, 1851, Sacramento Transcript, Sacramento, California

A Cold Blooded Murder.

We learn through Leonard & Co's Express that a most cold blooded murder occurred on Tuesday last between Fort John and Fiddletown in Calaveras county. A man named Babbit who had been a butcher at Fort John, had started for this city, in tending to return to his home on the other side of the mountains. When about midway between Fort John and Fiddletown he was attacked by the persons in company with him and murdered in cold blood, for his money. It appears that an attempt was first made to stab him, his hand being cut but having warded off the blow, he was shot and fell dead after which his pockets were rifled. It appears that Babbit had sent all his money by some other conveyance and had only about $300 with him at the time of his murder.

A Mr. Crane who was passing over the road saw Babbit a few hundred yards from the place where his body was found, and saw two men a short distance ahead, who were apparently waiting. Soon after another person, Mr. Page, passed over the road and he saw the three in company; quite close to where the dead body was afterwards found it being hid in a ravine close to the roadside.

It is stated that these two men were under the impression that Babbit had a considerable amount of money in his possession. The supposed murderers have fled, but a number of persons are out in hot pursuit, in which it is to be hoped they will be successful.

The state of feeling is wrought to a high pitch, and the murderers will most assuredly be hung, as they deserve to be, should the pursuing party be fortunate enough to capture them.

September 27, 1853, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California

Panning for Gold.

Miners panning for gold.
California 1800s.

Santa Clara. The following items we clip from the Register of the 22d:

Ignacio Muidinodo, formerly a merchant in this city, and a deaf and dumb man in his employ, were murdered near San Juan, several days ago. He has been several months peddling, and it is known he had some $1,200 in his possession at the time of the murder. Their bodies were found near the Pajaro river. A Mexican having in his possession the horse of Ignacio, was arrested and discharged, no other circumstances tending to establish his guilt.

On Sunday night about 9 o'clock, a brutal murder was committed on the road leading from this place to the Almaden mines. Michael Reed, formerly from Boston, a young man about 23 years of age, was found in the road dead. The deceased received two wounds from a pistol or gun, which must have killed him instantly. It is believed that the deed was committed by three Mexicans who were seen near the place under suspicious circumstances, about the time this unfortunate occurrence took place.


Birds Eye of the Village of San Francisco. 1800s.

M & N Hanhart Chromo Lithograph Co.
Established in Mulhouse in 1830 by Michael Hanhart who initially worked with Godefroy Engelmann in London. The firm, established at Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, was named after his two sons Michael and Nicholas. Artists like Joseph Wolf, Joseph Smit, J. G. Keulemans and others worked for him to produce natural history illustrations that were used in the Ibis (1859-1874), Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1848-1900) and a range of books.

Vigilantes in Gold Rush San Francisco.Vigilantes in San Francisco.
Vigilantes in Gold Rush San FranciscoVigilantes in San Francisco.
Robert Senkewicz S.J.
Stories of San Francisco raucous early days.

Against the Vigilantes:
The Recollections of
Dutch Charley Duane
Excerpted from Wild West Magazine, June 2000: The two largest movements of vigilantism in the American West occurred in 1851 and 1856 San Francisco during the California Gold Rush. Not in favor of the Committee was Charles P. ("Dutch Charley") Duane. In '51, the Committee of Vigilance banished Dutch Charley from San Francisco, saying he would face a penalty of death if he returned. Seems he had been involved in at least seven brawls, including the beating and shooting of a French actor named Amedee Fayolle. When the vigilantes disbanded that fall, Duane was soon back in town and making trouble again. During the next several years, he was involved in at least half a dozen violent incidents. When the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance formed in 1856, it targeted Dutch Charley and once again warned him to leave and never to return under penalty of death.

However, Dutch Charley was also a fearless fireman. He played a courageous role in saving much of the St. Francis Hotel from a fiery fate in October 1853 and, less than two months after that, was elected chief engineer of the fire department. When the heat died down after his 1856 banishment from San Francisco, Duane returned to town early in 1860 and, within weeks, was honored during a fire department meeting. Dutch Charley would stay put, become involved in politics again (he had once been a chief henchman for the politically powerful David C. Broderick), and outlast most of his drinking buddies.
San Francisco's Famous Police Detective.Vigilantes in San Francisco.
Dark and Tangled Threads of Crime: San Francisco's Famous Police Detective, Isaiah W. LeesVigilantes in San Francisco.
William B. Secrest.f
He came to California with the great Gold Rush, but instead of riches, Isaiah W. Lees discovered his great talent for solving crimes and catching criminals. He captured stage robbers in Missouri, tracked con men to New York and caught the notorious eastern bank robber, Jimmy Hope in the middle of a San Francisco heist.

San Francisco in the 1850’s, was the gateway to the gold fields, a city filled with adventurers, outlaws, con men and desperadoes of every description. In 1853 Isaiah Lees was appointed the first Chief of Detectives on the new Police Force and during nearly fifty years he acquired an amazing record. An innovator of police methods, Lees easily eclipsed such legendary lawman as Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. When he retired as chief in 1900, the San Francisco Chronicle stated that “in point of service, no one has ever equaled the record of Lees.” He was the right man, in the right place, at the right time, and this is his exciting, true story, told here for the first time.

Murder by the Bay. Murder by the Bay:
Historic Homicide in and about the City of San Francisco
Murder by the Bay.
Charles F. Adams
Documenting the murders in San Francisco that captivated both the city and the country, this history shows how the Bay Area can compete with Paris, London, and New York in the splendor of its suspenseful, horrifying, and audacious misdeeds. From the Montgomery Street killing of James King of William, editor of the Daily Evening Bulletin, in 1856 and the sensational trial of the early-movie comedian Fatty Arbuckle who was accused of killing a showgirl at a party in the St. Francis Hotel to the shocking "City Hall Murders." The homicides chronicled have been selected because a convergence of personality, circumstance, character, and geography makes them peculiarly San Franciscan. In addition to the facts, the historical importance of each of these crimes--whether they changed a law or revealed a shortcoming in society--is analyzed.

Committee of Vigilance:
The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce Law and Order Committee, 1916-1919:
A Case Study in Official Hysteria
Vigilantes in San Francisco.
Steven C. Levi

Imperial San Francisco DeYoungs, Hearsts.Vigilantes in San Francisco.
Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin
(California Studies in Critical Human Geography)

Gray Brechin.
1800s San Francisco: Skullduggery, racist arrogance, environmental ruin, ruthless competition. 2000s: Has it changed? Challenging San Francisco's popular image as a tolerant, carefree, gracious city, Brechin unearths 150 years of deeply unsettling history. San Francisco's founding aristocracy were Southerners drawn to California as a mecca newly opened up for enterpriseAparticularly for plantation culture. After the 1849 gold rush, San Francisco was built on what Brechin terms a "Pyramid of Mining"Aa pre-capitalist financial structure employed from Roman times through the Renaissance, uniting miners, financiers, the military and land speculators in a power elite whose only concern was limitless economic growth.

San Francisco 1846-1856.
San Francisco, 1846-1856:
From Hamlet to City
San Francisco 1846 to 1856.
Roger W. Lotchin
A classic study of America's most admired instant city, from its days as a sleepy Mexican village, through the Gold Rush and into its establishment as a major international port. Roger Lotchin examines the urbanizing influences in San Francisco and compares these to other urban centers, doing so against a diverse backdrop of vigilantes, opium dens, and other unforgettable institutions.

History of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851 A Study of Social Control on the California Frontier in the Days of the Gold RushHistory of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance.


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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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