A violent birth: disorder, crime, and law enforcement, 1849-1890.
Charlie Clarke, the leader of a small posse on the trail of the killers, described them as "five well dressed Mexicans, well armed and mounted on beautiful animals ." Their leader was Joaquin Murieta. Probably the most mythologized figure in California history, Murieta has been portrayed as a social bandit who waged war against the hated gringos by robbing and killing them. In truth there was nothing social about his banditry. He robbed and killed those who had money, be they American, Chinese, or Mexican. He killed nearly as many Chinese as whites and robbed and murdered several of his fellow Mexicans. His cause was his own.
California's unsettled early years were certainly violent, with no one group having a monopoly on mayhem. Gangs of bandidos, using horses to great advantage, were especially conspicuous. The Murieta gang was only one of many, which is one reason Murieta's reputation grew to legendary proportions. Nearly every robbery committed by bandidos was attributed to Murieta. If robbed by a gang of Mexicans, was there anyone who did not want to attribute the crime to the notorious Joaquin Murieta? A similar phenomenon occurred a generation later in Missouri and adjacent states. No bank teller would admit that the leader of the gang of robbers who cleaned out the vault was not Jesse James.
Violence was not confined to bandidos. Caucasian newcomers used both the legal system and individual and group violence to suppress the nonwhite population. Conflict between Indians and other groups was also a feature of the early years of California but was of such significance and different character that it requires a separate treatment. (1) However, violence did not have to cross racial and cultural lines. Fighting among young American white men was a common occurrence in the saloon. The watering hole could be in the booming city of San Francisco, at a way station, or in a mining camp. It hardly mattered. Tradition and the code of the frontier required that the American male stand and fight if challenged or insulted. If both men were armed, the fight often resulted in death. Stagecoach holdups became commonplace by the 1870s, but train robberies can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Women, so often the target of the criminal today, only rarely suffered from any kind of violence or lawlessness. In man y ways they were a protected class. Prostitutes were an exception to this rule. Their victimization, though, most often took the form of an assault by another prostitute or by a drunken customer. Even for them, murder or rape was rare. When they died prematurely, it was usually the result of suicide or habitual use of alcohol and drugs.
Certain kinds of violence were looked upon with equanimity by gold-rush Californians. If two healthy young men chose to fight--with fists, knives, or guns--and the results proved deadly, few people became terribly upset. When stage robbers were courteous, left the passengers unmolested, and took only the contents of the treasure box, the general public hardly uttered a peep. However, if an innocent person were killed or robbed, the citizenry would be outraged and the response to the dastardly deed frequently came in the form of vigilantism. More often than not, vigilantes, unlike members of a lynch mob, operated coolly and deliberately, exercised good judgment, prosecuted and punished the guilty, and left the community in a better state for their operations. San Francisco experienced two episodes of vigilantism. One episode was enough for most mining camps.
During the gold-rush years a significant amount of the violence in the Mother Lode country, and in rural California in general, was the product of bandidos. Legend has it that the bandidos were old Californians displaced by the arrival of thousands of Yankees. Actually, many of the bandidos were recent arrivals from Mexico. They raced into California in the rush of just like the Yankees and other Argonauts. The most notorious of the bandidos, Joaquin Murieta, was born in Mexico and did not arrive in California until 1849. Unfortunately, most of what people think they know about Murieta comes from a wildly fictional tale created by John Rollin Ridge. In 1854 the part-Cherokee Ridge published The Life and Adventures Of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit. Ridge says that Americans drove Murieta from his claim, flogged him and raped his wife, and hanged his brother. Murieta then set out on a course of revenge, killing all those gringos responsible. The tale seems inspired more by the removal of the Cherokee and the conflict that occurred both within the Cherokee tribe and with the whites than by anything that Murieta experienced. (Ridge's paternal grandfather, Cherokee leader Major Ridge, and his father, John Ridge, were both killed during the conflict over removal.) Nonetheless, Ridge's fictional version of Murieta's life was accepted as fact and became a template for nearly all the bandidos. (2)
Stories about Murieta multiplied, and articles mixing fact and fiction appeared in newspapers and magazines for years. The romantic myth was more powerful than the awful truth. Walter Noble Burns took the myth to new heights with the publication of The Robin Hood of El Dorado in 1932. Although as long ago as 1949, Joseph Henry Jackson, in Bad Company, revealed the fictional nature of most of the literature on Murieta and demonstrated clearly that most authors relied heavily upon Ridge, the early 1970s saw a revival, especially by activist Chicano authors, of the myth of the wronged California becoming a social bandit. (3)
In reality; the man who inspired the fictional Joaquin Murieta of popular culture was not a California but a Mexican from Sonora. Most important, his wife was not raped by American miners, nor was his brother hanged. Moreover, it was Murieta's brother-in-law, Claudio Feliz, who first turned to crime when he stole a large nugget of gold. The theft had nothing to do with racial antagonism. He was panning with a party of American miners at the time and was said to be well liked by the Yankees. Feliz was put in jail for the theft but escaped almost immediately. Within a year he was leading a gang of bandidos, intent on enriching themselves, not on avenging wrongs. Some of those who rode with Feliz were Americans. Feliz led attacks on ranchos owned by Americans and those owned by Mexicans, killing and looting without compunction. The first rancho he raided was that owned by the famous "Dr." John Marsh, an American ranchero who had been in California since 1836. The third rancho Feliz attacked was that of an old Ca lifornio, Anastacio Chabolla. Feliz returned to the southern Mother Lode country for his next crime. With the help of his younger brother, Reyes, he robbed and murdered a fellow Mexican near Chinese Camp. (4)
Other crimes followed, and by the fall of 1851 Murieta had joined Feliz and his band. On November 10 they lassoed a man named Gallagher and his black servant, dragged them off their horses, and slit their throats. For the gang's bloody efforts they were rewarded with only two ounces of gold. They then robbed and killed an American teamster and two American travelers, and they shot Yuba County sheriff Robert "Buck" Buchanan in the back. The sheriff managed to recover, but a Mexican whom Feliz later shot did not. Feliz was actually jailed for the latter crime but soon escaped. He and his compadres next made news at the mining camp of Humbug. There, the town constable, John Leary, saw Reyes Feliz wearing two stolen revolvers and took him into custody.
With Caleb Dorsey, a Harvard-educated lawyer, and two other Americans, Leary headed to Columbia to lodge his prisoner in jail. Lurking along the route, however, was the Feliz band. The bandidos opened fire from ambush, but Leary and his boys were equal to the occasion. They returned the fire with effect, killing one of the bandidos and badly wounding Claudio Feliz. In the confusion Reyes Feliz managed to escape. Claudio tried to do the same, but his wound slowed his progress up a hillside, and as Leary closed in, Claudio turned and emptied his revolver at the constable. Leary, his Irish temper getting the better of him, charged madly at Feliz. Somehow he managed to reach Feliz without one of the bandido's bullets striking him. He then put his own revolver to Feliz's head and cocked the hammer. Whether Leary would have fired is not known. Dorsey arrived on the scene and pushed Leary's gun barrel to the side.
Claudio Feliz was soon standing trial, not for all his murders and robberies, which were as yet unknown to Columbia authorities, but for attempting to "rescue a prisoner from a public officer, and shooting at said officer." Feliz retained none other than Caleb Dorsey to represent him, and the Harvard graduate convinced a jury, composed solely of non-Hispanic whites, to find Feliz not guilty. Contrary to the popular impression, justice was often neither swift nor certain on the frontier. Frequently, if a defendant, be he American, Mexican, or Chinese, retained a good attorney, that defendant was acquitted. The case of Claudio Feliz, the bandido from the Mexican state of Sonora, is but one of hundreds of examples.
While Feliz was being tried, leadership of the gang fell to Murieta. Through the early 1850s the new leader led the bandidos in outbursts of robbery and murder down the San Joaquin Valley, into southern California, and back to the Mother Lode. Murieta and his bandidos robbed and killed without compunction and without discrimination. Their killing of an otherwise common American farmer, Allen Ruddle, proved to be both their undoing and a catalyst for the creation of the California Rangers. Ruddle's family offered a large reward for the capture of the murderers. One of those attracted to the case by the reward was Harry Love. Love was a rough-hewn, six-foot-two veteran of the Mexican War. A native of Vermont, he had lived on the frontier for two decades by the time he arrived in California, at the age of forty-two, in December 1850. He was ornery, fearless, deadly, and always well armed. His personal sidearm was a .44 Colt Dragoon.
Early in June 1852 Murieta and his gang arrived in Los Angeles with Love and his partner hot on their trail. Love chased two gang members to Ventura, where, after a brief shoot-out, he had one of them, Pedro Gonzales, in custody. When they stopped at a creek near present-day Thousand Oaks, Gonzales broke for the brush. Love calmly drew his .44 and put a bullet through Gonzales's head.
Joaquin Murieta proved to be a wily foe, however, and his depredations continued. In January 1853, he began a two-month reign of terror. He and his gang members robbed Chinese miners at Yaqui Camp and murdered one of them. Only a few days later they robbed and killed two Chinese and two American miners not far from Yaqui Camp. A posse caught up with the bandidos, but after a running gun battle they escaped. Riding through Yaqui Camp they let bullets fly in all directions, killing an American. That night they killed two Americans at a quartz mill. This was more than enough for the local miners, and a vigilance committee was organized at San Andreas. A vigilante posse followed a trail of blood from the quartz mill and found a wounded Mexican hiding in a tent. Before he was hanged he admitted that Murieta was the leader of the group. At Cherokee Flat the vigilantes found another wounded bandido and shot to death his fleeing compadre. The wounded man was soon stretching hemp.
Murieta's bandidos next robbed and murdered two Chinese four miles outside of Angels Camp, then three Americans near French Camp. The vigilante posse managed to capture a scout for Murieta near Angels Camp. He was hanged. With Calaveras County up in arms, Murieta fled north to Amador County. During early February he and his bandidos robbed Chinese at four different camps, leaving one dead and two wounded. Then on February 13 the bandidos hit a Chinese camp on Jackson Creek They murdered a Chinese miner and an American butcher. The Chinese raced into nearby Jackson and reported the attack A hastily raised posse was quickly on Murieta's trail. The posse tracked the bandidos to a ravine, where they found Murieta and the others dismounted, readjusting their saddles and dividing their ill-gotten gains. The posse members let out a whoop and, firing their revolvers, swept down into the ravine. The bandidos mounted their horses and scattered, leaving behind stolen horses and sacks of gold.
Two days later the posse caught one of Murieta's bandidos and brought him into Jackson. The Chinese identified him as one of the gang. He admitted that he had participated in the raid but claimed that he had not committed the murders. The miners' court was unmoved and sentenced him to death. Escorted to a large oak tree in front of the Astor House, he was soon dangling from a prominent limb. He was the fifth victim of Jackson's "hanging tree."
Murieta now made his bloodiest raids to date, his aforementioned attacks on the two Chinese camps on February 20 and 22, 1853, leaving six dead and at least ten wounded. He then fled into Mariposa County and holed up near the Mexican camp of Hornitos. Two months of raiding, robbing, and murdering had made him notorious. Although several of his bandidos had been shot and killed or captured and hanged, he remained on the loose. Following him was difficult at best. Local posses did not like to stray far from home, and they did not have the resources to stay in the field for long. Moreover, few miners had horses to donate to the cause and even fewer had blooded stock that could run with the mounts stolen by the bandidos from ranchos. As a result, in May, the state legislature created the California Rangers, a small force authorized to exist for three months and to hunt down evildoers statewide. Harry Love was appointed captain and put in command. He made Patrick Edward Connor, an Irish immigrant and captain of vo lunteers in the Mexican War (and later a brigadier general in the Civil War), first lieutenant and second in command. Some twenty men were enlisted as rangers, most of them war veterans and frontiersmen who had years of experience in tracking and fighting. Murieta's days were now numbered.
Love led his men through the Mother Lode country, then across the San Joaquin Valley to Mission San Jose. They were on the right trail. Murieta had a hideout nearby, in Niles Canyon. It was a member of his band, Jesus Feliz, though, who was first captured. Feliz, Murieta's brother-in-law, agreed to cooperate with Love. Feliz identified Murieta's favorite haunts in the Coast Range, in particular Cantua Creek. Packing three weeks' provisions, Love let leak misinformation about the destination of his rangers. On the hot afternoon of July 12 they set off in their stated direction. They made camp in the evening, but when darkness fell, they quietly broke camp and rode hard toward Cantua Creek. Often riding at night, switching directions, and breaking into smaller parties, they closed in on their prey. Finally, at A.M. on the morning of July 25, they began to follow fresh tracks down Cantua Creek into the San Joaquin Valley. By the time they reached the valley, dawn was breaking. Three miles distant, smoke rose fro m a campfire.
The rangers approached within four hundred yards of the camp before being seen. The bandidos raced to gather their horses, but it was too late. With guns drawn, the rangers galloped up to the camp and froze the bandidos in their tracks. One of the bandidos, described as handsome with long hair and a fair complexion, stepped forward. Evidently thinking that he could convince the Americans that he and his compadres were simply innocent vaqueros hunting wild mustangs, the fair one said, "Talk to me. I am the leader of this band." A ranger who had known Murieta back in Sonora in 1850 shouted, "This is Joaquin, boys! We have got him at last!"
From under their serapes Murieta and his bandidos pulled revolvers and blazed away. The rangers followed suit. A bullet grazed Harry Love's head, neatly parting his hair. One of the bandidos was not so lucky. A bullet struck him in the head, and he fell dead. After firing a shot or two, Murieta raced for his horse, leaped onto the saddleless animal, and galloped down an embankment and into a creek. A ranger followed in hot pursuit. As Murieta tried to race his horse up the opposite bank, the ranger opened fire. The round broke the animal's leg and sent horse and rider crashing to the earth. Murieta took off running, but the ranger's accurate fire brought him down. The notorious bandido pleaded that the ranger shoot no more and then, in Spanish, said, "I'm dead." Within seconds he expired.
Meanwhile, back at the camp, two more bandidos were killed in the gunfight and two others were captured. Several more, although wounded, managed to escape. Carrying the bodies of the dead bandidos back to Sacramento would have required a wagon. Instead, Love decided to decapitate Murieta's corpse and return with the head to prove that he had gotten the right man. The grisly trophy brought Love a $1,000 reward, a princely sum in the 1850s. Bottled in alcohol, the head was made a touring exhibit in the Mother Lode country. The head was then put on display in a San Francisco gun shop, and later in a museum, before it was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.
The gang led first by Claudio Feliz and then by Joaquin Murieta was unusual only for its success. There were other Mexican gangs of a similar nature in the early years of American California, but none robbed and stole as frequently or killed as often. (5) Murieta and the others fought for no cause but their own. They attacked targets of opportunity. If the victim was a ranchero from an old Californio family, a Mexican teamster, or a Sonoran miner, so be it. Those with gold and without firearms were especially vulnerable, as was often the case with the Chinese. For Mexican bandidos Chinese mining camps were rich environments. The Feliz-Murieta gang alone murdered more than a dozen Chinese, several whites, one black, and at least three Mexicans. The gang members simply preyed upon the weak, the outnumbered, or the unsuspecting.
If the bandidos were the scourge of rural California, then the Hounds were the scourge of the city. (6) The Hounds were organized by San Francisco's merchants to provide a body of men who could capture and return runaway sailors. During the summer and fall of 1848, gold fever struck the sailors of nearly every ship that docked in San Francisco. Sailors, and occasionally their officers, jumped ship by the dozen and headed for the Mother Lode. By the end of 1848 the problem had grown so large that merchants had difficulty moving their goods. At first, the Hounds' income came solely from the merchants, but the group soon developed a protection racket. They were a tough bunch. Many of them had been members of the New York Volunteers, a regiment sent to California during the Mexican War. Others were beached sailors or Sydney Ducks from Britain' penal colony of Australia. Vicente Perez Rosales, a gold seeker from Chile, recorded in his diary, "There is a gang of ruffians in this city called the Hounds. They are you ng, vicious, and shameless, and seem to have sworn a mutual pact to protect one another's lives and interests. They start fights in the cafes all the time, and if anyone rises to the provocations of these united ruffians he is beaten up." (7)
That Rosales was a Chilean and not a Mexican should not come as a surprise. The Chileans were the first Latin Americans to arrive in California in large numbers. Word of the gold strike reached Valparaiso during August 1848 and thousands of Chileans, many of them experienced miners, boarded ships for a relatively easy voyage to California. Although most of the Chileans headed for the diggings, a tent city called Chiletown developed on Telegraph Hill. For a while the Hounds victimized with impunity the Chileans who lived there. Any Chilean who refused to pay the Hounds was pummeled and his tent destroyed. In June 1849 one of the Hounds got in a row with a Chilean merchant. The merchant pulled out a revolver and fired. The round struck and killed not the Hound, but another man, who happened to be in the Hound's company.
A month passed before the Hounds retaliated. When they did, they provoked the larger citizenry to act against them. After a day of drinking and revelry, twenty of them stumbled into Chiletown and wreaked havoc, destroying tents, beating men, and looting goods. When one Chilean resisted, Sam Roberts, the leader of the rampaging Hounds, fired a couple of rounds at the man as he fled into his tent. The bullets tore through the canvas and struck two boys huddled inside, leaving one dead and the other wounded. The drunken rampage was finally too much for the merchants of San Francisco, who realized too late that their sailor-catchers had become a gang of thugs. Sam Brannan, the town's leading merchant, held a general meeting the morning after the ransacking of Chiletown. Hundreds attended. Money was collected for the Chilean victims of the Hounds, and a militia of 230 men was organized. By the end of the day the citizen force had the twenty offending Hounds in custody. Nine of them were found guilty of various cha rges, including murder. Now that they were convicted, nobody seemed to know what to do with them. There was talk of hanging, but that seemed too severe for most of the miscreants, especially because the Hounds had been organized and supported by the town's leading citizens. Exacerbating the problem was a lack of any facilities for long-term incarceration. Finally, it was decided that the territorial governor should determine the punishment. The governor sentenced Sam Roberts to ten years in some penitentiary." The others received lesser sentences. Eventually, the sentences of the Hounds were changed to banishment from California under the pain of death should they return. A few of them ultimately escaped even banishment.
As in San Francisco, conflict between Americans and Chileans also occurred in the Mother Lode, with similar citizen reaction. Americans generally felt that foreigners had no right to American gold. Chileans, Mexicans, and Chinese were often driven from claims. Responding to the prevailing American sentiment, the state legislature enacted a foreign miners' tax in 1850. (8) By then much blood had already been spilled. The worst episode occurred near Mokelumne Hill in 1849. (9) A hundred Chilean peons, indentured to wealthy Chilean masters and under the supervision of ten Chilean overseers, were mining an area that came to be called Chili Gulch. At the southern end of the gulch, two miles distant, was a camp of American miners called Iowa Cabins. The Americans resented the Chileans not only as foreigners, but also as an organized party of indentured workers. It was difficult for an individual and independent American to compete with a large company of men. The Americans could stake only one claim, while the Chil ean group could stake more than a hundred, even though any particular peon was not about to operate independently. Hostilities by the Americans grew into the "Chilean War."
In December 1849, the Americans of the mining district that included Chili Gulch held a general meeting at Double Springs and issued an order expelling all foreigners from the area. When the Chileans failed to comply, the alcalde from Double Springs, Lewis Collier, led a body of Americans into the gulch and took the Chilean camp by surprise. They bound the Chilean overseers with rope and then looted the camp of food, gear, and gold. Corner evidently thought that this action would send the Chileans packing. However, the leaders of the Chileans made a forty-mile trek to Stockton and got the alcalde there to issue an arrest warrant for Collier and his men. The Chileans hiked back into the hills and handed the arrest warrant to John Scollan, another alcalde and the proprietor of a trading post on the South Fork of the Calaveras River. Scollan reluctantly agreed to ride over to Double Springs and present the warrant to Collier. Once there, Scollan read the warrant to Corner and a group of assembled men. They nearl y killed him on the spot. Corner declared that Scollan should be hanged for a traitorous alliance with the Chileans and said, "The people are sovereign in the United States, and we are the people; and as such we have elected our own government or judge, and we recognize only his authority."
Scollan returned to his trading post and announced to the Chileans that he had done all he could do. Some of the Chileans lost heart and left the diggings for San Francisco. Armed with guns, knives, and clubs, about sixty others descended on Iowa Cabins during the night and took several of the Americans there by surprise. When the Chileans charged into one of the cabins, however, they found a half-dozen Americans awake and playing cards. A brief exchange of gunfire erupted when two of the Americans drew their revolvers and fired a few rounds before they were overwhelmed. The shoot-out left one American dead and another dying of his wounds. The Chileans had one man killed and one wounded.
The next morning the Chileans took the Americans they had captured in the raid-thirteen in all-to Alcalde Scollan. Having taken Corner's threat of hanging to heart, Scollan wanted nothing to do with them. He told the Chileans they had committed a criminal act and that they must release their prisoners at once. Disregarding Scollan, the Chileans headed for Stockton, hoping that the alcalde there would look more favorably upon their actions. Meanwhile, as word of the killings at Iowa Cabins had spread through the local mining district, several groups of armed Americans set out in search of the Chileans. Joining forces and forming one body of men as they picked up the trail, the Americans numbered nearly a hundred by the time they caught up with the Chileans a dozen miles short of Stockton. Already having suffered some desertions, the Chileans decided it would be suicidal to resist and surrendered without firing a shot.
Now the tables were turned once again. The captive Americans were freed and the Chileans were marched, as prisoners, to Mokelumne Hill for a mining-camp trial. The trial lasted several days before verdicts were announced. Three of the Chileans were found guilty of murder and were sentenced to death; five were sentenced to fifty lashes and head shavings; and three were sentenced to thirty lashes and ear croppings. (10) Thus ended the "Chilean War."
Dueling also reflected the violent character of many Californians and eventually brought action from the state. The Argonauts came to California to strike it rich--a purely materialistic goal. Yet they often sacrificed their lives or at least their wellbeing for a highly developed, sense of honor. Honor could not be bought; it had to be earned. An insult or a challenge meant a fight. There was no duty to retreat. A man stood his ground and fought--with fists, knives, or guns. The polished gentlemen preferred a formal duel. During the 1850s more duels were fought in California than in any other place in America, including the South. By 1854 the practice had become so common that the state legislature made dueling a criminal offense. The new law, however, was ignored by much of the honor-bound public. The legislator himself who drafted the bill later shot a man to death in an affair of honor. If a man killed his adversary in a duel, he was generally arrested and tried. However, practicing nullification, juries invariably found the accused not guilty."
Newspaper editors, lawyers, judges, politicians, and other men of position, power, and wealth dueled. William Walker, a San Francisco newspaper editor, who later became famous for his filibustering in Nicaragua, fought two duels in a year's time and was badly wounded in both affairs. The two men who wounded Walker both fought several more duels. Newspaper editors, an outspoken bunch in frontier California, often accepted challenges from politicians and other newspaper editors. John Nugent, the editor of the San Francisco Herald, engaged in three duels--the first when he challenged Edward Gilbert, the editor of the Alta California who was also California's first U.S. representative, and the second and third when San Francisco aldermen John Cotter and Thomas Hayes, on separate occasions, challenged Nugent over comments in his editorials. In the first duel, Gilbert, on the field of honor, offered to retract his offending statement. Cotter and Hayes, however, were more determined foes. The aldermen, in their sepa rate duels with Nugent, each left the newspaper editor badly wounded. Dueling pistols were not always used. The Colt Navy was the weapon of choice in the Cotter duel, the rifle in the Hayes affair. (12)
Dueling with revolvers, rifles, and even shotguns was not unusual in California. Dueling pistols of very small caliber were common in Europe; they satisfied honor but rarely killed. In California, men evidently felt that honor was best satisfied by killing one's adversary. In several duels, the weapons were shotguns loaded with buckshot. Under such conditions men were almost always killed or horribly wounded. Occasionally, European practices did prevail in California There is an instance of two Frenchmen meeting on the field of honor and dueling with swords. After one was badly wounded, their seconds tried in vain to convince them to stop. The fight continued until the wounded man suddenly found an opening and drove his sword deep into his opponent's chest, dramatically ending the duel. By the next morning the man who had suffered the chest wound was dead. (13)
Dueling enhanced one's reputation in the West. Alta California editor Edward Gilbert, who had faced Herald editor John Nugent, got himself into another duel only a few months later. (14) This one had disastrous results for Gilbert. He took a bullet in the stomach and died within minutes. The man who shot him, James W. Denver, a lawyer and Mexican War veteran, went on to an illustrious political career, first as California's secretary of state, then as one of the state's U.S. representatives, and later as the governor of Kansas Territory. The city of Denver, then a part of Kansas Territory, was named in his honor. During the Civil War he served the Union as a general. When following the war he was proposed as a Democratic candidate for president, his 1852 duel with Gilbert became an issue. Out West his affair of honor was simply a part of the frontier culture, but back East the Democratic establishment considered his killing of Gilbert a dangerous liability. (15)
Of California's many duels, the affair of honor between David Broderick and David Terry is the most celebrated. Broderick was a Democrat and a U.S. senator. Terry was a Democrat and the chief justice of the state Supreme Court. Their similarity ended, however, with party affiliation and high political office. Broderick, the son of Irish immigrants to New York, was strongly antislavery. Terry, a southerner from Texas, was strongly proslavery. They got into a political squabble in 1859 that led to Terry's challenging Broderick to a duel. Broderick had already fought one duel and was known to be a crack shot. With a redoubtable reputation himself, Terry had been a Texas Ranger and had fought with distinction in the Mexican War. He also had used a bowie knife to nearly stab to death a member of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance in 1856. (16)
When Broderick and Terry met at the appointed time and place, San Francisco police chief Martin J. Burke was there to arrest them. However, a judge ruled that since they had not yet commenced dueling when arrested, there were no grounds for prosecution and they were released. By the next morning they had arrived at a new dueling site. Terry won the coin toss--his dueling pistols would be the ones used. They were set with hair triggers. Terry had practiced with them, Broderick had not. The call to fire was given. Broderick's gun went off prematurely, and the ball dug harmlessly into the ground between the two men. A split second later Terry's well-aimed shot drilled Broderick in the chest. He struggled on for three days and died.
The duel was big news, and authorities could not ignore the affair. San Francisco police duly arrested Terry and prosecutors filed charges. However, Terry got a change of venue to Main County, and a friendly judge dismissed the case. Terry practiced law in California for another thirty years, his southern sympathies, hot temper, and high-profile cases keeping him in the public eye. His end came in 1889 when U.S. Supreme Court justice Stephen J. Field, acting as chief justice of the federal Tenth Circuit Court, rendered a decision that left Terry furious. Terry swore vengeance. On a train en route from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Terry happened to stumble upon Field, who was eating breakfast in a dining car. Evidently oblivious to Field's U.S.-appointed bodyguard, Terry struck the chief justice in the face. Reacting immediately, the bodyguard drew a concealed gun and shot Terry twice. The onetime chief justice dropped to the floor of the car, dead.
Many California men did not bother with code duello; they just fought. "I'll die before I'll run" was a common sentiment. And die they did. Since most men were armed with a revolver and a knife, disputes could quickly turn deadly. The most popular sidearm during the first years of the Gold Rush was the .44 caliber Colt Dragoon. Then in 1851, the .36 caliber Colt Navy was introduced. Much lighter, better balanced, and more accurate than the Dragoon, it quickly became the favorite of those interested in serious gunfighting. Sam Clemens, who arrived in the mining country a decade later, carried a Colt Navy. He later remarked that he had had no intention of killing anybody with the Navy but had "worn the thing in deference to popular sentiment, and in order that I might not, by its absence, be offensively conspicuous, and a subject of remark." (17)
Some might suspect that Clemens, later famous as Mark Twain, was perhaps engaging in a little western hyperbole. Not so. Hundreds of miners in letters, diaries, and articles described the well-armed state of the citizenry. Stephen J. Field, the chief justice later attacked by David Terry, was elected to the state legislature in 1851. "It was the common practice of those days to go armed," said Field. "Of the thirty-six members of which the Assembly then consisted, over two-thirds never made their appearance without having knives or pistols upon their persons, and frequently both. It was a thing of every-day occurrence for a member, when he entered the House, before taking his seat, to take his pistols and lay them in the drawer of his desk. He did it with as little concern and as much a matter of course, as he took off his hat and hung it up. Nor did such a thing excite surprise or comment." (18)
Several California gunfighters became legendary figures during the 1850s. Sam Brown was one. Standing more than six feet tall, weighing a muscular two hundred pounds, and wearing shoulder-length red hair, the Alabama-born Brown was a sight to behold. He had already killed a man in Texas before joining the Gold Rush. In the Mother Lode country he spent most of his time gambling. In a card game at the mining camp of Agua Fria in 1850 he got into a quarrel with a Texan over a hand. The two went for their guns, and "Longhair Sam" drilled the man in the head for his first kill in California. He got his second in 1853 and his third in 1854. According to legend it was Sam Brown who coined the phrase "I want a man for supper." He did not get in trouble with the law until 1 when he and a friend got into a fight with a group of Chileans. The two Americans stabbed two of the Chileans to death and wounded a third. With more Chileans joining the fray, the Americans took to their horses. Several of the Chileans pursued, bu t Brown put a stop to that when he killed one of them with a well-placed shot. (19)
It would seem to have been another case of self-defense--the Chileans had started the fight, and they outnumbered the Americans. Nonetheless, Brown was arrested and tried. The jury evidently thought that the fearsome Brown needed to be reined in, and they convicted him of manslaughter. He subsequently served two years in San Quentin. His release from prison coincided with Peter O'Riley and Patrick McLaughlin's great strike, the Comstock Lode. Brown hurried across the Sierra and renewed his gambling and gun-and-bowie-knife fighting. He killed three more men there before he himself was blown to eternity by a load of buckshot.
Equaling Brown in kills was John Daly. Born in New York to Irish immigrants, Daly came to California as a teenager in the 1850s. The Aurora Times later described him as "rather fine looking" and commented that "nature had done enough for him to have entitled him a position of respectability." Daly found his respectability among the gambling and gunfighting set. He enjoyed cards, fine whiskey, and fast women. He rarely spent a night without all three. Unlike many others of the era, he never let himself become inebriated and was always in a condition to engage in the deadliest of all contests, the gunfight. He wielded a Colt Navy with astonishing speed and accuracy. He killed his first man in Sacramento and then added others during trips to the mining camps of the Fraser River country, in British Columbia, and Virginia City, Nevada. (20)
Operating out of Sacramento, Daly became one of California's first "hired guns." Often one mining company's claim would conflict with another's. Instead of an immediate gun battle, which occasionally occurred when the claims were being contested by individuals, the companies would go to court. Large mining companies had the lawyers, the time, and the money for such legal battles. A threat of violence was often employed as well. Gunfighters with fearsome reputations were hired, and paid handsomely, to intimidate witnesses and mining company executives.
The beginning of the end for John Daly came when he was hired by the Pond mining company in Aurora, a mining town of more than five thousand people situated high in the Wassuk Range on the California-Nevada border. The Pond was waging a legal battle with the Real Del Monte mining company over conflicting claims on Last Chance Hill. Daly was well paid because he was effective. Threatened by Daly, a witness for the Real Del Monte sold his interests in mines on Last Chance Hill and departed for the East Coast. The president of Real Del Monte hired a bodyguard and carefully calculated his every move about town, as did the chief company attorney.
In January 1864, when a second trial ended in a hung jury after both companies had spent the equivalent of millions in today's dollars, the Pond and Del Monte settled their differences out of court. Although Daly's services were now no longer needed, he decided to settle one last personal grudge before returning to Sacramento. William Johnson, the operator of a way station near Aurora, had been indirectly responsible for the killing of one of Daly's gang members. Daly decided to square things. He shot and killed an inebriated Johnson as the station operator emerged from a saloon. Aurorans were outraged. Gunfighters killing gunfighters was one thing, but this time an innocent man had been shot down. A vigilance committee was organized almost immediately, and within days the vigilantes had most of the Daly gang in custody. After waiting for a coroner's jury to determine responsibility for Johnson's demise, the vigilantes erected a special gallows and, with great pomp and circumstance, hanged Daly and three of h is gang members.
Like John Daly, the Irish-born Billy Mulligan was an enforcer. It would seem that he took on an unlikely role. He stood only five feet, seven inches, and never weighed much more than 140 pounds. However, he had learned to box in New York City and became a noted prizefighter. He was quick, had a powerful punch, and was seemingly indestructible. Tammany Hall made him a ward heeler. He spent much of his time in saloons and gambling dens and occasionally ran afoul of the law. When finally thrown in jail, he escaped, fled to New Orleans, and promptly joined the Louisiana Mounted Volunteers. He fought in several battles and skirmishes during the Mexican War and then headed for California. (21)
Mulligan killed his first man in California in a saloon fight at the mining camp of Sonora during February 1851. During the next year Mulligan fought not only another saloon brawl but also a formal duel. He suffered bullet wounds in each of the fights but rapidly recovered. In San Francisco, Mulligan found many of his old Tammany Hall friends intent on building a political machine similar to the one they had left behind in New York City. Foremost among them was David Broderick, a rising political star. Mulligan was one of the precinct officers who made certain that Democrats turned out and that they voted for Broderick. Broderick rewarded Mulligan by making him tax collector for San Francisco County. Mulligan served faithfully and honestly in that position for two years, but it did not stop him from brawling,' once even decking James "Yankee" Sullivan, the former bare-knuckle champion. Mulligan was still an enforcer.
In 1855 Mulligan was made a deputy sheriff and put in charge of the county jail. He discharged his duties at the jail faithfully but was arrested by the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance in May 1856 after helping rig an election in San Mateo County. Mulligan was held in custody for a month and then put on a ship bound for New York. Once back in New York he rejoined Tammany Hall, but a shooting scrape with police in 1860 landed him in prison. By 1863 he was out of prison and back in San Francisco. The next year he fought a duel in Austin, Nevada. Mulligan's end was characteristically violent. Evidently suffering from delirium tremens, he imagined vigilantes were pursuing him and got into a wild gun battle. He killed two men before he himself was shot to death by police.
Be they newspaper editors such as William Walker, John Nugent, and Edward Gilbert, or politicians such as David Broderick and David Terry, or gunmen and enforcers such as Sam Brown, John Daly, and Billy Mulligan, many Californians were fighters. They fought when drunk and when sober. They fought in the middle of the day and in the wee hours of the morning. They fought in formal duels and in wild brawls. They fought unarmed and they fought with knives and guns. Because they were honor-bound and brave to a fault, they fought.
The fighting men of California were willing combatants, but they rarely attacked the innocent. When they did, the citizenry reacted with outrage. Committees of vigilance were often immediately organized following an egregious transgression. They were organized even though institutions of law enforcement and justice had been established in frontier California, because many people believed that those institutions could not be relied upon to arrest, convict, and punish the guilty. For many reasons, arrest was not assured in the wide-open West. Local authorities rarely pursued anyone far from town or beyond the county line. The expense of a long-range pursuit was prohibitive. Once someone had eluded the town marshal or the county sheriff, he was usually gone for good. If captured, all was not lost for the alleged evildoer. Then, as now, a criminal defendant enjoyed the presumption of innocence. It was the job of the prosecutor to prove not only that the defendant was guilty, but guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Moreover, the prosecutor had to convince all twelve jurors; one dissenter and a mistrial was declared. Because people moved about regularly in frontier California, and the West in general, witnesses to a crime were often long gone by the time a trial was held. Defense attorneys were usually highly competent and, seemingly, they regularly outperformed prosecutors. For all of these reasons, convictions were not easy to obtain. It appeared not to disturb most citizens if a gunman were found not guilty in the shooting death of another gunman, but the citizenry became outraged if the killer of an innocent victim walked free.
To preclude such an outcome, vigilance committees were organized. In California this occurred on more than forty occasions, from such mining camps as Columbia, Grass Valley, Jackson, and Bodie, to such cities as San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Monterey. The committees stated unequivocally, in a phrase that was used repeatedly, that "self-preservation is the first law of nature." (22) The vigilance committees were commonly led by the most prominent residents of a town or a region and enjoyed widespread support. A grand jury report on the vigilance committee of Aurora, notable for hanging John Daly and his accomplices, said that the committee was "composed of over six hundred of our best, most substantial and law-abiding citizens " (23) The names of individual vigilantes who participated in various movements in the West suggested that Aurora's committee of vigilance was typical. William T Coleman, a wealthy merchant and importer, was president of San Francisco's 1856 vigilance committee. Another mem ber of the committee was Leland Stanford, a successful merchant who would become one of the "Big Four" of railroad fame as well as a governor of California and a U.S. senator.
Typically, vigilantes formed an executive committee and adopted a constitution. They had a chain of command and were often organized into companies and squads. Although impassioned and violent, vigilantes were usually highly disciplined, orderly, and deliberate. This was not accidental. Many of them had military experience, and some were combat veterans, having served in the Mexican War, the Civil War, or one or more of the Indian wars. Officially constituted authorities, realizing that they would have to oppose hundreds of well-organized and well-armed vigilantes, rarely attempted to interfere with such extralegal activities. Moreover, vigilantes generally represented the will of the majority of citizens in any particular community.
The actions of vigilantes should not be confused with those of a lynch mob. Vigilance committees usually gave those suspected of wrongdoing a form of hearing or trial, and not all tried were found guilty and executed. Of the ninety men taken into custody by the San Francisco vigilance committee of 1851, forty-one were exonerated and released, fifteen were remanded to the custody of the regular authorities, one was whipped, and twenty-eight were banished. Only four were executed. Likewise for the San Francisco vigilance committee of 1856, which arrested dozens of men but executed only four. Although a popular theme in motion pictures and novels, it is difficult to cite an instance of an innocent man being hanged at the direction of a vigilance committee.
Although innocent men do not seem to have been hanged by committees of vigilance, vigilantes may occasionally have had ulterior motives for their actions. While most historians have accepted the Committee of Vigilance of 1851 in San Francisco as having been formed solely as a response to rampant crime, Kevin J. Mullen has argued that the vigilantes wanted, first and foremost, an overhaul of the criminal justice system. (24) He demonstrates that while crime did increase prior to the formation of the committee, the vigilantes inflated the number of offenses to further their own ends. Their ends were not nefarious, however, but much needed reforms for a city that had grown from a tiny hamlet in 1848 to a booming metropolis in 1850 The city's established institutions were no longer able to deal effectively with either the numbers of people or the new social fabric. The Committee of Vigilance of 1856 in San Francisco has come under much greater criticism, both by contemporaries and by historians, and has been a to pic of debate since its formation. Dominated by Protestants and Masons who supported the American or "Know Nothing" Party the committee may have been at least partly motivated by a fear of growing Irish Catholic political and economic power in the city. Several historians of San Francisco vigilantism, including Richard Maxwell Brown and Robert M. Senkewicz, think so. On the other hand, nineteenth-century historians John S. Hittell and Hubert Howe Bancroft were effusive in their praise of the vigilantes, arguing that the committee was solely a response to crime and corruption in San Francisco. (25)
The Committee of Vigilance of 1856 was organized following two sensational fatal shootings, that of General William Richardson by gambler Charles Cora and that of James King of William, crusading editor of the Daily Evening Bulletin, by politician James P. Casey. The chain of events that led to the shootings began in November 1855 at the opening of the American Theater. General Richardson, serving as a U.S. marshal at the time, and his wife were among those in the audience. Sitting in a box directly behind the general were Cora and his mistress, Arabella Ryan, better known as Belle Cora, the wealthy madam of a notorious brothel. Richardson's wife and several other women complained to the management about the presence of the harlot at the theater. For a time it looked as if something more serious might erupt, but the theater management was able to pacify the various parties and the evening's performance went off as planned.
Two nights later, Richardson, with several drinks in him and still upset about the affair at the theater, found Cora at the Blue Wing, a saloon regularly patronized by San Francisco's politicians. Richardson asked Cora to step outside to discuss matters. After some preliminary banter the discussion turned heated. Suddenly, Cora drew a derringer and shot Richardson. The general collapsed, mortally wounded. Cora claimed that Richardson was about to draw his own derringer, that the general had had his hand in his pocket resting on his own gun. Police were on the scene immediately and arrested Cora. At the Bulletin, James King of William practiced a sort of journalistic vigilantism. "If the jury which tries Cora is packed," editorialized King, "either hang the sheriff or drive him out of town and make him resign. If Billy Mulligan lets his friend Cora escape, hang Billy Mulligan or drive him into banishment." When Cora's trial ended in a hung jury in January 1856, King exclaimed: "Rejoice ye gamblers and harlots! rejoice with exceeding gladness! Assemble in your dens of infamy tonight and let the costly wine flow freely, and let the welkin ring with your shouts of joy!"
While Cora was in jail awaiting a second trial, another controversy arose. King fired a broadside at James Casey, who had won a seat on the county board of supervisors in an election widely denounced as corrupt. It may have been. Casey was a part of David Broderick's political machine, and he had a background in ballot-box stuffing for Tammany Hall. He was a rough character who could fight with his fists or with guns. At one point he had served time in New York's Sing Sing prison. In San Francisco he was involved in a bloody brawl at a political meeting in 1854. In California an attack on a man's current activities was one thing, and it might bring a challenge to duel, but dredging up a man's past was considered unseemly and might bring a violent response. On the afternoon of May 14 the Bulletin containing King's attack appeared on the streets of San Francisco. Minutes later Casey stormed into the newspaper's office and confronted King. Somehow King and others managed to convince Casey to leave the premises. However, an hour later, Casey found King on the street and shot him to death. Casey was quickly arrested and lodged in jail.
That evening, former members of the 1851 vigilance committee revived the organization and elected William Tell Coleman president. Most downtown merchants immediately joined the committee, which hastily set about collecting arms and forming a military unit. Unlike 1851 there was important opposition this time. The Herald, San Francisco's largest newspaper in 1856, opposed the formation of the new committee, as did San Francisco mayor James Van Ness, San Francisco county sheriff David Scannell, General William Tecumseh Sherman, who commanded the San Francisco district of the California militia, and future senator David Broderick, who led the formation of the "Law and Order" group of citizens. Their opposition had little effect. On May 16, some twenty-five hundred vigilantes descended on the lockup and took control of the killers. Legally constituted authorities, facing a virtual army, made no effort to resist. Cora and Casey were each afforded a trial before a vigilante tribunal. They were both found guilty and sentenced to death. On May 22, amid great public ceremony, the two men were hanged.
The Law and Order group now hoped that the vigilance committee, having hanged the killers, would disband. Instead the committee took more men into custody and fortified its headquarters building, nicknamed Fort Gunnybags. The committee even arrested Supreme Court justice David Terry after Terry had fought with and stabbed a vigilante. Terry was tried and convicted for the assault by the vigilante tribunal but was released after a bitter debate among the vigilante leaders. The vigilantes went on to hang two other killers and to banish thirty miscreants for various crimes. They finally disbanded on August 18 following a great parade of six thousand armed men.
The editor of the San Francisco Herald, John Nugent, and later California historian Josiah Royce, called the work of the vigilantes in 1856 a "Business Man's Revolution." In the elections of November 1856 the leaders of the vigilantes, organized as the People's Party, drew up a slate of candidates that swept every city office. Under the new party, the cost of city and county government in San Francisco was dramatically reduced for a time. The People's Party remained in power for more than a decade.
While murder sometimes brought a death penalty at the hands of vigilantes, lesser crimes usually got the culprit sentenced to jail. Incarceration was costly, however, and fell to county officials, who soon began pressuring the state to build a prison for those sentenced to terms of more than six months. In 1851 the state legislature created a private system of incarceration. Prisoners would be leased to a private contractor who agreed to feed, clothe, and house them in return for using them as convict labor. The first lease, for a ten-year period, was awarded to James Madison Estell, a Democratic politician who would shortly become a state senator, and his partner, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, the wealthy ranchero of Sonoma Valley. Late in 1851 Vallejo left the partnership, and Estell became the sole lessee. (26)
Estell quartered his first prisoners, some three dozen, on the brig Waban, moored off Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. He put them to work during the day in a rock quarry on the island. Within a year he had more than a hundred prisoners crammed aboard the Waban. Living conditions for the prisoners had been poor; now they were miserable. Escapes were frequent. Residents of surrounding areas complained; Estell himself complained. He reminded state legislators that when he had signed the lease, they had promised him they would build a prison. Responding to both citizen complaints and Estell's pleas, the state legislature appointed three commissioners to search for an appropriate prison site. The commissioners thought that any of the islands in San Francisco Bay would be ideal but found that the titles to the islands were clouded. As a result, they settled on Point San Quentin, on the Main County mainland, and purchased twenty acres there.
Two attempts were necessary before the prison could actually be built. The original plans for a costly, capacious prison with separate quarters for women were scrapped after it was revealed that the contractor who had won the bid had done so by bribing state legislators. A much smaller, less elaborate, and less costly structure, nicknamed "the Stones," was erected by none other than James Estell, the lessee. The two-story structure had forty-eight cells on the upper floor in two rows back-to-back. The cells were designed to hold two men each, but within a year they were crammed with four.
Overcrowding again led to problems, including escapes. Particularly upset by the escapes were Main County residents. The Main County grand jury demanded an annulment of Estell's contract. Escaping was not that difficult, especially for trustee prisoners. Estell granted a number of privileges to trustees, many of whom were housed outside the prison walls. With little or no supervision, trustees ran errands and performed special jobs for Estell. A few even worked as servants in Estell's San Francisco home. Several were allowed to work as laborers in San Rafael. Some simply walked away from the prison and never returned. Thomas McFarland Foley was one of them. Estell thought that Foley should never have been imprisoned for killing John H. Dunn, the editor of the Pacific Police Gazette. Estell considered Foley an upstanding and respectable gentleman who would soon receive a pardon from the governor. Two weeks after Foley arrived at the prison, Estell issued him a gun and allowed him to serve as a guard. He perfor med admirably in the role until he grew tired of waiting for his pardon and left for parts unknown. Ever the gentleman, Foley left behind a note thanking Estell for a $500 loan and promising that he would repay it in full. Sure enough, $500 was found missing from the prison safe.
As a result of the escapes and other problems at the prison, including drinking and guards having sex with female inmates, the state decided to buy out Estell's lease and take control. Estell was not averse to the idea. He was troubled by the many escapes and was not making the profit he had expected. When the state met his price, he relinquished control gladly. The state legislature then created a three-man board of prison directors. One of the directors would serve as president of the board, one as warden of the prison, and one as clerk. The director with the most ironic name became the first warden-John Love. Tough love it was. A large wall was erected around the Stones, and guards were issued orders to shoot to kill any prisoner attempting to escape or incite a riot.
The directors succeeded in reducing the number of prison escapes by two-thirds but found costs escalating dramatically. A year later, the operation of the prison was returned to Estell. However, Estell was soon accused of involvement in the killing of James King of William, the editor of San Francisco's Daily Evening Bulletin who had been shot to death by James Casey. The Bulletin subsequently launched other attacks against Estell for his poor operation of the prison. The board of prison directors tried to find a lessee to replace him, but there were no takers. Finally, in 1857, the directors agreed to allow Estell to sublease the last four years of his contract to two businessmen, Lloyd Tevis and John F. McCauley.
Under the new management, conditions at the prison worsened. A report to the state legislature in 1858 said that an inspecting committee found the prisoners ill fed and poorly clothed and living in filthy, overcrowded conditions. Moreover, the report said that first-time teenage offenders were quartered with hardened middle-aged convicts, making reformation of the youths impossible. The state took action quickly, claiming that by failing to provide properly for the prisoners, Tevis and McCauley had violated their contract. In March 1858 the state took control of the prison for a second time. Several reforms were instituted, including the segregation of prisoners according to their age and crimes. Sanitation was greatly improved and construction of new facilities was begun. By the end of May, journalists from Bay Area newspapers were reporting that conditions at the prison were much better.
Meanwhile, Tevis and McCauley sued the state for the unilateral and unlawful revocation of their lease and temporarily regained control of the prison during 1859. In July 1860 the state Supreme Court ruled in the plaintiffs' favor and awarded them $275,000, although operation of the prison was returned to the state. The state continued a policy of reform: limiting convict labor outside prison walls; clothing all prisoners in uniforms; housing women in newly constructed quarters instead of in guards' houses; and building additional cell blocks, a hospital, a church, and a library.
Despite the improvements, San Quentin, as the prison came to be called, was not a model of humane incarceration. Punishments for unruly prisoners included floggings with leather straps, beatings with rubber truncheons, hosings of naked prisoners with high-pressure jets of water, and stretchings by tying a prisoner's arms behind his back and lifting him onto a hook, where he would remain suspended until he passed out. Moreover, teenage offenders were still sent to San Quentin, where they faced homosexual rape. Not until 1877 were the boys and men strictly segregated. In 1880 floggings and beatings were prohibited; the water torture and stretchings ended in 1882. Punishment from then on usually consisted of a diet restricted to bread and water and solitary confinement in a dark cell. One prison physician believed such confinement to be worse than the beatings.
During the 1850s and 1860s very few men were confined in San Quentin for murder. Convicted murderers, as a rule, were executed, either by vigilantes or legally constituted authorities, and never reached the state prison. Most of those incarcerated at San Quentin had been convicted of grand larceny. Assault with intent to kill, burglary, and manslaughter were a very far distant second-, third-, and fourth-ranked causes of imprisonment.
Frontier California was certainly wild and woolly, and men fought and killed each other at extraordinarily high rates. For example, Nevada County, in the Mother Lode country, and the mining town of Bodie, on the eastern side of the Sierra, had homicide rates many times higher than the rates for contemporary eastern counties or cities. On the other hand, rates of robbery, theft, and burglary in frontier California were not greatly, if at all, higher than those found in the East and were substantially lower than those found in the United States today. (27)
Bodie might be considered representative of California's mining camps. In its heyday in the late 1870s and early 1880s it boasted a population of more than five thousand. It was alive twenty-four hours a day, sported dozens of saloons, brothels, and gambling dens, and produced gold and silver bullion worth hundreds of millions in today's dollars. Its economy was boom and bust, as new veins were discovered and old ones pinched out. Its population was transient, half were foreign-born, and men outnumbered women ten to one. The people were adventurous, enterprising, brave, young, unmarried, intemperate, and armed. A few had struck it rich, but most had not. The ingredients were there, it would seem, for a crime epidemic. Nothing of the sort occurred.
Only rarely was a resident of Bodie robbed. During its boom years, a five-year stretch from 1878 through 1882, only ten individuals were robbed, an average of only two people falling victim to a robbery per year. The stagecoach was robbed more often, suffering eleven holdups. When highwaymen stopped the stage, they nearly always took only the express box and left the passengers untouched. Passengers frequently remarked that they had been treated with the utmost courtesy by the road agents. Only twice were passengers robbed. In the first instance the highwaymen later apologized for their conduct, and in the second the holdup artists were drunk. Highwaymen understood that they could take the express box without arousing the citizenry, but if they insulted or robbed passengers they would precipitate a vigilante reaction.
In Bodie, if passengers were not the targets of highwaymen, neither were stagecoaches carrying large bullion shipments. With shipments worth millions in today's dollars, they would seem inviting targets. Yet not one stage with such a shipment was ever attacked. Unlike the regular stages, the bullion coaches were guarded by two, and occasionally three or four, rifle- and shotgun-wielding marksmen. Road agents preferred to prey on the unguarded coaches, taking whatever was in the express box, and escaping with their health intact. Only once did highwaymen and guards exchange gunfire, and on that occasion the road agents had not expected to encounter any guards. The miscalculation cost one of the highwaymen his life. For similar reasons neither of the two banks that operated in Bodie ever experienced a robbery. Bankers went about armed, as did their employees, and robbers evidently had no desire to tangle with armed men.
Robberies of individual citizens followed a clear pattern: the victim had spent the evening in a gambling den, saloon, or brothel; he had revealed in some manner that he had a goodly sum of money on his person; and he was drunk, staggering home late at night when the attack occurred. More robberies might have occurred had not Bodieites gone about armed and ready to defend themselves. Unless thoroughly inebriated, they were simply too dangerous to rob. The attempted robbery of miner C. F. Reid is but one example. When a robber told Reid to throw up his hands, Reid said "All right" and began raising them. As he did so, he suddenly drew a foot-long bowie knife and drove the steel blade into the robber's shoulder. The robber recoiled in pain and took off running "like a deer." Reid gave chase but soon lost sight of the inspired runner. Reid felt satisfied, though, commenting later that he "cut the man to the bone."
Such actions were applauded by the populace and the local newspapers. Unlike a stage holdup, the robbery of an individual citizen was considered dastardly and provoked talk of vigilantism. "This business of garroting," as the Bodie Standard termed mugging and robbery, "is getting a little too common. The parties engaged in it may wake up one of these fine mornings and find themselves hanging to the top of a liberty pole." The Daily Free Press later called for the formation of a committee of vigilance, saying that one or two examples of vigilante justice were usually "sufficient to purify" a mining camp.
Despite such talk, Bodie actually suffered rarely from robbery. A statistical comparison of the rowdy mining camp with modern American cities demonstrates that today's cities, such as Detroit, New York, and Miami, have twenty times as much robbery per capita. The United States as a whole averages three times as much robbery per capita as did Bodie. A comparison of robbery in Bodie directly with robbery in eastern towns during the nineteenth century suggests that Bodie had rates below those in major cities such as New York and Philadelphia and comparable to those found in Boston. Burglary and theft were also infrequent in Bodie. Most American cities today average thirty or forty times as much burglary and theft per capita as Bodie. The national rate today is ten times higher. Eastern cities in the nineteenth century had rates several times higher. Again, an obvious factor in discouraging burglary and theft was the armed homeowner and armed merchant.
Women, often the target of criminals today, suffered only rarely from violence in Bodie. Prostitutes bore the brunt of the little violence that did occur. Most incidents involved a drunken brothel patron slapping or punching one of the women. Even in such assaults, women often evened the odds by grabbing a gun. One prostitute frightened off an attacker with a shot from her revolver, which sent the man running for his life. Another prostitute chased a customer out of a brothel and emptied her revolver at him. His "hair stood on end," reported the Bodie Standard, "as he expected any second to be reduced to a state of perfect inutility." Prostitutes were not the only women in Bodie to use guns in the defense of person or property. When a dispute arose between a man and a woman over the ownership of a city lot, the woman, believing herself the rightful owner, ordered the man off the property. However, as the Bodie Standard noted, since "he was a large man and she was a small lady, he concluded to tarry yet a whil e." It proved to be a very short while. The small lady pulled out a six-shooter, took dead aim at the man, and again ordered him to leave. Now, with an inspired sense of urgency, he did just that.
There were no reported cases of rape in Bodie. Nonetheless, rape might have occurred but gone unreported, as even today victims are sometimes reluctant to report an attack. However, Bodie reported two cases of attempted rape, a possible indication that had rape occurred it would have been reported. Moreover, there is no evidence of any sort that rape occurred that escaped the attention of the authorities. Absolutely no suggestion of it surfaces in any letters, diaries, newspapers, or public records from the period. A large body of evidence indicates that Bodie women--excluding prostitutes--experienced almost no crime of any sort and were treated with the utmost respect. Women enjoyed an elevated status in frontier California, and the Old West in general, partly because of nineteenth-century Victorian morality and partly because they were a rarity on the frontier, especially in mining camps. In Bodie, men were fined and jailed merely for swearing in the presence of women.
Anyone insulting a woman--again, excluding prostitutes--risked being shot. As a former resident of Bodie recalled, "One of the remarkable things about Bodie, in fact, one of the striking features of all mining camps in the West, was the respect shown even by the worst characters to the decent women....I do not recall ever hearing of a respectable woman or girl in any manner insulted or even accosted by the hundreds of dissolute characters that were everywhere. In part, this was due to the respect that depravity pays to decency; in part, to the knowledge that sudden death would follow any other course." Woman after woman described the respect she was shown on the frontier. One of the most famous was Nellie Cashman, an Irish immigrant who came to California following the Civil War and spent time in nearly every mining camp from Mexico to Alaska in a career that spanned sixty years. Shortly before she died, a reporter asked her if she had ever feared for her virtue while trekking from one strike to another and l iving in nearly all-male mining camps. "Bless your soul, no!" replied Nellie. "I never have had a word said to me out of the way. The 'boys' would sure see to it that anyone who ever offered to insult me could never be able to repeat the offense."
With armed citizens populating the mining camps, when men did fight, their confrontations, because they were armed, were often more deadly. During Bodie's five-year heyday there were thirty-one homicides. That gave Bodie a homicide rate dramatically higher than rates found in the East during the same years and double or triple the rates for most U.S. cities today. Nonetheless, from the late 1980s through the mid-1990s certain sections of some cities and a few cities themselves approached Bodie's high homicide rate, such as Los Angeles, Compton (directly south of L.A.), Detroit, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, and East St. Louis.
There are substantial differences in the homicides between then and now, however. In Bodie nearly all of those killed were willing combatants. Some were professional gunmen, but most were miners, teamsters, bartenders, carpenters, gamblers, and the like. They were usually young and single, and always brave. They scrupulously observed a code of conduct that put honor above physical well-being. These ingredients, often laced with alcohol, led to fights over who was the better man, real or imagined insults, and challenges to the pecking order in the saloon. When a willing combatant was killed in a gunfight, Bodieites considered it justifiable homicide--two men had chosen to fight, and if one died, so be it.
Minorities were not a particular target of violence in Bodie. There were very few of them to begin with, and the violence they suffered was mostly from others in their own racial group. Chinese were the only substantial nonwhite portion of the population. This was true throughout California during the second half of the nineteenth century. Census data reveals that Bodie was about 92 percent white. Chinese accounted for about 6.5 percent of the population. Blacks constituted only 0.3 percent--only eighteen souls in Bodie's population of some fifty-four hundred. Census data for California is similar--blacks accounted for 1 percent or less of the population in the 1860, 1870, and 1880 census reports, while Chinese averaged about 9 percent. Persons with Spanish surnames constituted about 1.9 percent of the population in Bodie. Some of them had been born in California, but most had come from Mexico. Categorizing them as white or nonwhite is difficult, because many of them were both, designated in Mexico as mestizo --a combination white and Indian.
In Bodie, no organized violence was ever reported as having been directed at either the Chinese or Mexicans, the only two minority groups with any significant numbers. They certainly would not have been hapless victims. Many of them were armed with guns and knives too, and were not averse to using them. Almost all their fights were with members of their own groups. With the Chinese this occasionally meant clashes between rival tongs for control of Chinatown's gambling halls, brothels, and opium dens. One such battle erupted in gunfire on a warm summer evening in Bodie's Chinatown and continued for more than an hour before police could separate the warring factions. Hundreds of rounds were fired during the battle, and at least one Chinese was killed, several others seriously wounded. Witnesses said that another three or four Chinese had been killed, but their bodies had been carried away before police arrived. Some thirty Chinese were arrested, and eight were charged with murder. However, one by one the charge s were dropped for lack of evidence. It proved impossible to get any Chinese to testify. They preferred to take care of things among themselves.
An atypical Chinese who became notorious outside of Bodie's Chinatown was Sam Chung. A member of the Yung Wah tong, he spoke fluent English and had forsaken the traditional Chinese queue and dress for an American haircut and western clothes. Because of his bilingual fluency, he often acted as an interpreter for justice and superior courts in cases involving Chinese. Chung was also Chinatown's leading businessman, owning a two-story building that contained a lodging house, restaurant, and laundry. It was this building that first brought Chung notoriety. Late one night a fire erupted in the building, which within minutes was engulfed in flames. Volunteer firemen rushed to the scene, but they could do nothing more than save neighboring buildings. It was thought that a defective stovepipe in the roof of the kitchen had caused the conflagration.
All was not lost for Chung. He had insured the building for fire and collected the handsome sum of $5,000. Meanwhile, the insurance company quietly began an investigation. Within a few months Chung and two accomplices were arrested for setting the fire. The county district attorney, relying on information provided by the Board of Underwriters of San Francisco, told Bodie newspapers that he had "evidence which will undoubtedly convict all of them." Chung, however, retained one of Bodie's most respected and successful attorneys, John McQuaid, and within weeks the arson charges were dropped.
Chung made news again when he shot and badly wounded Ah Goon and Sam Wang, an opium den proprietor. Chung disappeared before police arrived but was later identified as the shooter and arrested. He was charged with assault with intent to commit murder, remanded by the justice court to the custody of the sheriff, and unable or unwilling to post a bond of $3,000, was taken to the county jail at Bridgeport. A month later he was indicted by the Mono County grand jury John McQuaid, again serving as Chung's lawyer, again got the charges dismissed, and Chung was released.
Chung was soon back at work, which now included vegetable farming a tract behind his cabin on Rough Creek. Early one morning Prudencia Encinos, "a well known and much respected Mexican," in the words of the Bodie Chronicle, was driving his wood-laden mules past Chung's cabin when the mules strayed into Chung's vegetable fields. Angrily, Chung grabbed a double-barreled shotgun and sent a load of buckshot into Encinos. The Mexican was rushed to a doctor, but he died that night. Chung was arrested and lodged in the Bodie jail. When rumor spread that a group of Encinos's friends were planning to take him, town marshal John Kirgan shackled Chung to a deputy and, under the cover of darkness, sent the pair to the county jail at Bridgeport. And none too soon. A party of a dozen masked Mexicans arrived at the jail. Brandishing six-shooters, four of them rushed into the jail's office and demanded that Marshal Kirgan hand over Sam Chung. Kirgan told them that Chung had been taken to a secret location in the mountains an d was heavily guarded. The Mexicans ordered the doors to the cells opened and did not leave until they had identified each prisoner.
Safe in the jail at Bridgeport, Sam Chung this time retained Patrick Reddy as his lawyer. The tall, handsome Reddy had never lost a case in Bodie and would soon become one of San Francisco's most famous and distinguished attorneys. Before he turned to law he had been a wild, hard-drinking miner who never backed down and fought equally well with fists or guns. He turned that natural aggression, passion, and courage to law after he was bushwhacked and lost an arm. He prepared his briefs carefully and thoroughly, had near-total recall, and captivated judge and jury with a commanding voice and beautiful diction. If one were facing the death penalty it was wise to retain Reddy.
Indicted for murder by the grand jury, Chung was brought to trial in superior court. His chances for acquittal appeared hopeless. "There is no doubt in the mind of any person at all familiar with the circumstances of the killing," said the Bodie Standard, "that Sam Chung committed an unprovoked, cold-blooded and barbarous murder." Yet, in a brilliant forensic display Patrick Reddy put doubt in the minds of at least a few of the jurors. The trial ended in a hung jury.
The prosecution moved to have Chung retried, but through deft maneuvers Reddy was able to have the new trial delayed nearly a year. The delay, a particularly useful tactic in the Old West, proved beneficial as usual. In the intervening time one key prosecution witness died and another left California. In the second trial the jury deadlocked, six to six. The prosecution, now thinking that it would be impossible to win a conviction, asked the court to dismiss the murder charge against Chung. The motion was denied, and two months later Chung went to trial for a third time. Patrick Reddy was his usual brilliant self, and the jury returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty. "It is hardly necessary to state," said the Bodie Standard, "that in this Chinamads case justice has not been done, neither has public sentiment been satisfied. But this is nothing new in Mono County, and now it only remains for Chung to settle down, behave himself and become a good American."
If Sam Chung was Bodie Chinatown's most notorious badman, then Black Bart was California's most notorious and most romantic outlaw. Born on a farm in upstate New York in 1830 to immigrant English parents, Charles Boles, as he was known then, grew up quietly with his older brother, David. The Boles boys joined the rush to California in '49 but did not reach the gold fields until 1850. David died in 1852, but Charles continued prospecting until 1854, when he left for New York. He got as far as Decatur, Illinois, where he married and settled down to raise a family. Life was uneventful until the Civil War erupted and Charles Boles found a real calling. He enlisted in the Union Army and served with distinction, fighting at Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Kennesaw Mountain, and Atlanta. He was severely wounded in one battle but recovered and returned to his unit. He rose from private to first sergeant and then, just before the war ended, was commissioned a second lieutenant. His unit was deactivated immediately, and he nev er had the opportunity to actually serve as an officer. (28)
Boles returned to his wife and daughters in Illinois, but a quiet life would never again satisfy him. He was soon off for the mining camps of Montana and Idaho, writing his wife every few months saying he would be home presently. His wife, Mary, was overjoyed when a letter arrived, always fearing for her husband's safety in the Wild West. She received what proved to be her last letter from him in 1871. He was in Silver Bow, Montana, and again said that he would be on his way home soon. For unknown reasons he stopped writing but did not stop moving about, first to Utah and then, in 1874, to California. Meanwhile, his wife was frantic. She sold the family home to raise money to search for her missing husband and moved in with relatives. She and her daughters eked out a living by sewing.
Instead of prospecting in California, Boles taught school. Then on a hot July day in 1875, he committed his first robbery, of a stagecoach with a Wells Fargo express box aboard, which was working its way up a steep grade between Sonora and Copperopolis in the Sierra foothills. Twenty-eight more stagecoach holdups would follow, making Boles the most prolific highwayman in U.S. history. His holdups all followed a similar pattern. Always working alone, he was well disguised by a hood and long duster and impossible to identify, although his deep and resonant voice was distinctive. He kept a polite demeanor. He wielded a double-barreled shotgun. He took only the contents of the Wells Fargo express box and left the passengers unmolested. He disappeared into the brush and escaped on foot. Also, beginning with his second stagecoach robbery; he left behind scraps of paper with rhyme. The first one said:
I've labored long and hard for bred For honor and for riches But on my corns too long you've tred You fine haired Sons of Bitches --Black Bart, the Po8
"Black Bart," the gentlemanly poet bandit, immediately caught the public's fancy. Wells Fargo was not nearly so enamored with him. Following his first robbery, the express company put James B. Hume on the case. Jim Hume was California's first famous detective, and deservedly so. However, this Black Bart character had him stumped. First of all; he had no idea of Black Bart's real identity. Slowly and methodically Hume began to assemble evidence until he had a good understanding of Black Bart's modus operandi. He also developed a profile for Black Bart. Although Black Bart usually wore socks over his boots to confuse trackers, Hume determined from footprints that the highwayman wore a size eight boot. From that he assumed that Black Bart was of medium height. Because Black Bart could cover thirty miles or more a day on foot through rugged country; Hume knew he must be lean and extraordinarily fit. From the road agent's conversations with various drivers and passengers, it was also clear that he spoke with autho rity and was articulate, well mannered, and educated. The poetry also suggested some education. Finally; there was the voice--deep, resonant, and well modulated. Hume concluded that the voice was not that of a young man but of someone at least in his thirties or forties. Witnesses eventually began to confirm Hume's deductions. Over months and years, Hume painstakingly put together the descriptions until a clear picture emerged: the stranger was middle aged but taut and muscular with a military bearing. He was of medium height. He was handsome, with blue-gray eyes and gray hair. He had a very deep, resonant voice.
Jim Hume surmised that Black Bart was not the type to hole up in a mountain cabin for long periods between holdups. He thought that the highwayman probably sought refuge in the city. Hume was right again. Black Bart loved San Francisco, its culture and amenities. When in the city, which was most of the time, he dressed elegantly, wearing a derby hat, a silk cravat with diamond stickpin, a tailored tweed suit, and a velvet-collared overcoat. He looked and sounded like a prosperous businessman. He said that he had investments in several mines and speculated in mining stock. No one doubted him.
As Black Bart's stage robberies continued, the price on his head increased. Wells Fargo offered a $300. reward, the state of California another $300, the U.S. government $200. His luck nearly ran out on his twenty-third holdup when a guard's bullet creased his scalp. Finally Lady Luck did desert him, on his twenty-ninth robbery. On a Sunday morning in early November 1883, Black Bart robbed his last stagecoach. The holdup took place just outside Copperopolis at almost the same spot where he had begun his career as a highwayman eight years earlier. After stopping the stage and taking gold coins and gold dust from the express box, Black Bart was surprised when a teenage boy, who was some distance away, opened fire with a rifle. Black Bart leaped for the brush on the side of the road and quickly disappeared. But he left several articles behind in his hasty departure, including a handkerchief with a badly faded laundry mark on it that read "F.X.O.7."
Hume gave the handkerchief to a detective he had hired six months earlier to do nothing but work on the Black Bart case. The detective was Harry Morse, a former sheriff of Alameda County, who was beginning to develop his own private detective agency. Since Hume reckoned that Black Bart lived in San Francisco between stagecoach robberies, he told Morse to start there. All Morse had to do was identify the laundry with the mark on the handkerchief. This was not a simple task-there were more than ninety laundries in the city. Morse hit the streets, visiting laundry after laundry, hour by hour, day by day. On the eighth day, he walked into Ferguson & Bigg's California Laundry. The proprietor recognized the mark and said that such laundry must have gone through one of their outlets, a tobacco shop on Post Street.
Morse hurried to the tobacco shop and had the owner check his records for the mark. The owner identified it as that of Charles Bolton, a wealthy mining man. Under the guise of a business proposition, Morse got himself introduced to Bolton. Bolton looked every inch the wealthy mining man he purported to be. He was dressed in an expensive wool suit and bowler hat. He carried a walking stick, wore a diamond ring, and had a heavy gold watch suspended from a gold chain in a vest pocket. He stood five feet, eight inches, and was ramrod straight. He was solidly built, with gray hair and mustache and deep-set blue eyes. "One would have taken him for a gentleman who had made a fortune and was enjoying it," said Morse. "He looked anything but a robber."
For some time after he was apprehended, Bolton denied that he was Black Bart, even after the driver of the last stage that he had robbed identified him, not by sight but by sound--his distinctive deep voice. More and more evidence was presented to Bolton. He finally accepted his fate and confessed, not only to his last robbery but to all of them. His life as Black Bart poured out of him--stage holdup by stage holdup, getaway by getaway, life in San Francisco. A deal was struck, and he pled guilty to his last holdup. He was sentenced to six years in San Quentin and served four before he was released in 1888. When a reporter then asked him if he intended to resume his career as a highwayman, he answered with a vehement, "No!" Another reporter asked if he might write more poetry, and he replied, "Young man, didn't you hear me say I would commit no more crimes?"
Black Bart, or Charles Boles, returned to San Francisco. He refused an offer to appear on stage in a theatrical production and seemed interested only in living as quietly as possible. Jim Hume had his men tail Boles daily, but suddenly he disappeared. A few days later Hume received a report that Boles was in Modesto, then Merced, then Visalia. In Visalia Boles left a pair of shirt cuffs behind in his hotel room after checking out. On the shirt cuffs was the laundry mark F.X.O.7. He was never seen again.
His long pursuit of Black Bart had helped make Jim Hume a household name. He was arguably the greatest of the many lawmen who served as county sheriffs, town marshals, or policemen in the decades after 1850. He had arrived in the Golden State from an Indiana farm in 1850 and prospected throughout the Mother Lode country for a dozen years before he was appointed city marshal of Placerville, the El Dorado County seat. In 1864 he became the undersheriff of El Dorado County and fought his first gun battle when he and his deputies attempted to capture the Ike McCollum gang. He solved several important criminal cases and helped to make criminal investigation a science, while earning a reputation for honesty, intelligence, and perseverance. In 1873 Wells Fargo made him chief of their detectives. Although he was forty-six years old at the time, he would serve the company for thirty years. He was known as a square shooter by both lawmen and outlaws. Several outlaws looked upon Hume not as an enemy but as an adversary. Hume often humorously noted that nowhere was his personal standing higher than among the residents of San Quentin.
Second only to Jim Hume among early California lawmen was another man whom the pursuit of Black Bart helped make famous, Harry Morse. Morse was reared in New York City and went to sea as a cabin boy in 1845, when he was only ten years old. He arrived in California in '49 and prospected for a time before turning his energies to various business ventures. He found his true calling in 1864, when he became sheriff of Alameda County. He tamed numerous gangs of bandidos who operated in the East Bay and in the coastal ranges and shot to death in gun battles the notorious bandidos Narato Ponce and Juan Soto. He retired from office in 1878 and formed his own detective agency. By 1888 he had sixty men in his employ, both plainclothes detectives and uniformed private police.
Operating out of San Francisco, the Morse Detective Agency could not help but develop a rivalry with the San Francisco Police Department. Morse's counterpart in the SFPD was Isaiah Lees, who served as captain of detectives from 1856 until 1897, when he became chief of police. Lees was one of the seminal figures in urban policing, not only in California but also in the United States. Although there was no love lost between Morse and Lees, they nevertheless cooperated on a number of cases. Morse remained actively involved in his detective agency until the early 1900s, when rheumatism slowed him down and eventually forced him to retire.
Thomas Cunningham, another county sheriff involved in the pursuit of Black Bart, became one of California's legendary lawmen. Born in Ireland in 1838, Cunningham immigrated to New York as a boy often in 1848 and then to California in 1855. By i86o he had his own harness-making shop in Stockton and was serving as a volunteer fireman. In 1865 he was made chief of the fire department and, in the same year, was elected to the city council. Six years later he was elected, for the first of many times, sheriff of San Joaquin County. For the next three decades he was a terror to the outlaws who roamed the San Joaquin Valley and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. He led manhunts for several of California's most notorious outlaws, including Tiburcio Vasquez, Black Bart, and Bill Miner, the "Grey Fox." (29)
Unlike many lawmen of the era, Cunningham did everything he could to avoid bloodshed. It often meant taking great personal risks and required nerves of steel. He made numerous arrests of desperate men but never had to take a life. On one occasion he shot a horse from underneath an outlaw and then handcuffed the man before he was able to recover from the fall and go for his gun. On another occasion he rode alone into the midst of a hundred armed and angry men to peacefully settle a land dispute between the men and the railroad. When nearly sixty years old, he and three of his deputies trailed two train robbers for twelve days on horseback and then chased them on foot through a marsh alongside a river. At that point Cunningham could have opened fire. Instead he and his deputies closed in on the fugitives, and a deputy yelled to the men to throw up their hands. One of the men dropped his shotgun and raised his hands, but the other aimed his rifle at Cunningham. The sheriff, with his sawed-off shotgun trained on the man, coolly told the robber to drop his gun. The two stared at each other for a moment, and then the robber threw his rifle to the ground.
The first police department in California was organized in San Francisco in 1849. (30) Irish-born Malachi Fallon was appointed chief of the thirty-officer force. (31) He looked the part. An old photo reveals a strong face with a Celtic chin marked by a prominent cleft. He had served with the New York Police Department after it was established in 1845 but left for California late in December 1848, when news of the gold strike finally began sweeping the East Coast. Not long after his appointment, he personally effected the arrest of a man who had murdered his business partner on a hunting trip and then made an arrest of an intoxicated Texan that left witnesses in awe. Fallon found the Texan standing on the sidewalk, waving a Colt revolver, and challenging one and all to fight. When Fallon ordered the man to surrender, he leveled his gun at the police chief and fired. The bullet whistled by Fallon's head. Seemingly unfazed, Fallon walked toward the Texan and repeated the demand to surrender. The Texan fired aga in, and again, the rounds narrowly missing the chief. By now Fallon was within a few feet of the man and, as a witness described, "leaped for the scoundrel, and overpowered him by his herculean strength, and led him gently but firmly to the station house." (32)
San Francisco city government was reorganized during 1850, and Fallon was elected city marshal in August of that year. Although his title was different, he still ran the police department. The number of officers under his charge was growing, but not quickly enough to keep pace with San Francisco's rapidly increasing population. Crime became more of a problem, and frustrated citizens, on several occasions, tried to take prisoners from the police and administer summary justice. Each time, Fallon managed to take control of the situation, demonstrating the same kind of steely nerve he had when confronting the gun-wielding Texan. He was not around to confront the Committee of Vigilance in 1851, however. Two months before the organization of the committee, he and his fellow Democrats were swept out of office in a Whig victory. Fallon never returned to law enforcement. He remained in the Bay Area, operating several businesses before dying at the age of eighty-five in 1899. He recalled his days as chief with fondness , saying:
San Francisco's population was then made up of rough young men with adventurous spirits, excited by the discovery of gold. They needed a strong and experienced hand to keep them in control. Many of them were of the cowboy class, while the worst were deserting whalemen coming from all parts of the world. They were not men of evil principles but they felt the excitement of the time and enjoyed the lack of restraint in a town where there was no social organization or adequate legal control Outside of this looseness of moral forces at the time, they were good fellows. (33)
Lawmen such as Malachi Fallon, Tom Cunningham, Harry Morse, and Jim Hume helped to tame the California frontier and control the "good fellows." It was not an easy task. California, in its early years of statehood, was disproportionately armed, young, and male, and full of Sam Browns, John Dalys, and Billy Mulligans. Much of the state was wild and unsettled. Gangs of bandidos, Indian wars, and aggression among and within the state's many ethnic groups added to the mix. Dozens of saloons in every mining camp kept the boys well oiled and ready for action. The mores of frontier society put honor and courage above physical safety and well-being. In ways, though, those same mores protected the old, the weak, the innocent, and the female and tempered the highwaymen who took the express box from the stagecoach but left the passengers unmolested. When the moral code was violated, however, vigilantism often resulted. At the heart of the code was the belief that violent behavior, if within the bounds of honorable condu ct, was not only perfectly acceptable, but highly respected and admired.
Again and again the code of the West made the mining camps of California stages for deadly tests of will, skill, and honor. In a Bodie saloon, Tom McDonald had just been knocked down by a vicious blow from the larger and more powerfully built Alex Nixon. McDonald climbed to his feet and said, "Will you give me even chances?" "Yes, by God!" exclaimed Nixon, and the two men drew their guns...
(1.) A full and fair discussion of Indian-white conflict, which stands apart from the other kinds of violence discussed in this chapter, would require a chapter-length treatment all its own. Moreover, aspects of the conflict have been described elsewhere in this Sesquicentennial Series. See, for example, James A. Sandos, "'Because he is a liar and a thief': Conquering the Residents of 'Old' California, 1850-1880," in Rooted in Barbarous Soil: People, Culture, and Community in Gold Rush California, ed. Kevin Starr and Richard J. Orsi (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 86-112, and Sandos, "Between Crucifix and Lance: Indian-White Relations in California, 1769-1848," in Contested Eden" California before the Gold Rush, ed. Ramon A. Gutierrez and Richard J. Orsi (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 216-20. Much has been written on the subject, varying from careful and judicious appraisals of the conflict to those flawed by the use of hyperbolic rhetoric. Standard works include: Sherburn e F. Cook, The Population of the California Indians, 1769-1970 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976); Cook, The Conflict between the California Indian and White Civilization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1943); Cook, "The American Invasion, 1848-1870," Ibero-Americana no. 23 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1943); George Harwood Phillips, Chiefs and Challengers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975); Phillips, Indians and Intruders in Central California, 1769-1849 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993); Phillips, Indians and Indian Agents: The Origins of the Reservation System in California, 1849-1852 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997); George E. Anderson, W. H. Ellison, and Robert F. Heizer, Treaty Making and Treaty Rejection by the Federal Government in California, 1850-1852 (Socorro, N.M.: Ballena Press, 1978); James J. Rawls, Indians of California: The Changing Image (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984).
The two most important conflicts that the U.S. Army participated in were the Owens Valley Indian War and the Modoc War. The former is treated by Roger D. McGrath in Gunfighters, Highwaymen, & Vigilantes: Violence on the Frontier (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984) and the latter by Richard Dillon in Burnt-Out Fires (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1973). Massacres of parties of whites and individual white deaths at the hands of Indians, as well as slaughter of Indians at the hands of whites, were regularly reported in the Alta California and the Sacramento Union. Such killing is also recorded in numerous gold-rush diaries, letters, and memoirs. Useful personal accounts include: William Jackson Barry, Up and Down; or, Fifty Years' Colonial Experience in Australia, California, New Zealand, India, China, and the South Pacific (London: S. Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington, 1879); E. Gould Buffum, The Gold Rush: An Account of Six Months in the California Diggings ([London?] 1850); Lucius Fair child, California Letters of Lucius Fairchild, ed. Joseph Schafer (Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1931); Jasper S. Hill, The Letters of a Young Miner: Covering the Adventures of Jasper S. Hill during the California Goldrush, 1849- 1852, ed. Doyce B. Nunis, Jr. (San Francisco: John Howell, 1964); William Perkins, Three Years in California: William Perkins' Journal of Life at Sonora, 1849-1852, ed. Dale L. Morgan and James R. Scobie (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964); Daniel B. Woods, Sixteen Months at the Gold Diggings (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1851).
(2.) John Rollin Ridge, The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit (1854; reprint, with an introduction by Joseph Henry Jackson, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1955).
(3.) Walter Noble Burns, The Robin Hood of El Dorado (New York: Coward McCann, 1932); Joseph Henry Jackson, Bad Company (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949). For Chicano authors arguing the social bandit thesis, see Pedro Castillo and Albert Camarillo, eds., Furia y Muerta: Los Bandidos Chicanos (Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Center, 1973).
(4.) While much has been written on Murieta, the best scholarly works are William B. Secrest, Joaquin: Bloody Bandit of the Mother Lode (Fresno, Calif.: Saga West Pub. Co., 1967); James F. Varley, The Legend of Joaquin Murrieta, California's Gold Rush Bandit (Twin Falls, Idaho: Big Lost River Press, 1995); and Remi Nadeau, The Real Joaquin Murieta (Corona del Mar, Calif.: Trans-Anglo Books, 1974). An excellent summary and historiographical discussion is found in John Boessenecker, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Flawed but useful in part is Frank Latta, Joaquin Murrieta and His Horse Gangs (Santa Cruz, Calif.: Bear State Books, 1980). The account that follows is taken from these sources.
(5.) Not widely known today, Pio Linares led a band of highwaymen on California's central coast that was, for a time during the mid-1850s, nearly as murderous as Murieta's gang. Linares had been born in California, but he robbed and murdered other native Californians, Sonoran Mexicans, Americans, or anyone else who traveled El Camino Real. Moreover, his gang included Jack Powers (or Power), an Irish immigrant and U.S. Army veteran of the Mexican War, who came to share the leadership role with Linares. One of the gang's most dastardly deeds was committed without the leadership of Linares or Powers, but demonstrated the willingness of the bandidos to prey on their own. Six gang members led by Joaquin Valenzuela and Juan Salazar swept down upon Rancho Las Cruces on the evening of June 7, 1956, and shot Tomas Romero, leaving him severely wounded. They then tied up a sixty-year-old widow and raped her before fleeing with two hundred stolen dollars. After another year of robbery and murder, a vigilance committee wa s organized in San Luis Obispo to deal with the Linares bandidos. Of the 148 men who signed the committees muster roll, 62 had Spanish surnames. Linares was eventually killed in a gun battle with vigilantes, and several members of his gang were captured and later hanged. Powers escaped by steamer to Mexico but was killed in Arizona a few years later.
For Linares and other bandidos of the central coast and southern California, see Myron Angel, History of San Luis Obispo County, California (Oakland: Thompson & West, 1883), esp. 131, 133, 167-68, 294-96, 299-306,356; Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of California, vol. 4 (San Francisco: The History Company, 1888), esp. 655-56; Bancroft, Popular Tribunals, vol. I (San Francisco: The History Co., 1887), esp. 487; Boessenecker, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke, 100-133; Robert Glass Cleland, The Cattle on a Thousand Hills: Southern California, 1850 -1880 (San Marino, Calif: The Huntington Library, 1951), esp. 92-93, 96, 250-63; Leonard Pitt, The Decline of the Californios (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966), esp. 149, 169-71; Jesse D. Mason, History of Santa Barbara County, California (Oakland: Thompson & West, 1883), esp. 104; W. W. Robinson, The Story of San Luis Obispo County (San Luis Obispo, Calif: Title Insurance and Trust Co., 1957), esp. 20; Dudley T. Ross, Devil on Horseback (Fresno, Calif.: Valley Pub lishers, 1975), esp. 108-28, 165-68.
Newspapers carried dozens of stories on Linares and other bandidos. Especially useful are the Los Angeles Star; Sacramento Union; Alta California (San Francisco); San Francisco Bulletin; Santa Barbara Gazette; and Santa Cruz Pacific Sentinel. An excellent biographical sketch of John Powers is found in William B. Secrest, Lawmen & Desperadoes: A Compendium of Noted Early California Peace Officers, Badmen, and Outlaws, 1850-1900 (Spokane: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1994), 268-73.
(6.) Kevin J. Mullen, Let Justice Be Done: Crime and Politics in Early San Francisco (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1989), 55-71.
(7.) Edwin A. Beilharz and Carlos U. Lopez, eds., We Were 49ers! Chilean Accounts of the California Gold Rush (Pasadena, Calif: Ward Ritchie Press, 1976), 31.
(8.) The law required foreigners to pay a fee of $20 a month. The fee was substantial, even in the cost-inflated diggings. It caused a particular problem for Mexicans (mostly Sonorans) who had rushed into the southern end of the Mother Lode. They held a mass protest meeting in the mining camp of Sonora (there were good numbers of Frenchmen among the protestors as well) and announced that they would refuse to pay the fee. Hundreds of American miners, many of them wearing their uniforms from the Mexican War, rushed to the aid of the tax collectors. Reeling from the tax and the threat of violence, the great majority of Mexicans--some ten thousand--left the Mother Lode during the summer of 1850 and returned to Mexico. Although American miners were happy with the exodus, American merchants were not. The merchants had lost thousands of customers, and they immediately began lobbying the state legislature for a repeal of the tax, which was effected the very next year, in 1851. See Secrest, Lawmen & Desperadoes, 318; Pitt, Decline of the Californios, 60-62; M. Colette Standart, "The Sonora Migration to California, 1848-1856: A Study in Prejudice," Southern Cal ifornia Quarterly (Fall 1976): 335-38, 342; Carol M. DeFerrari, ed., Annals of Tuolumne County (Sonora, Calif:: The Mother Lode Press, 1963), 133, 138.
(9.) Beilharz and Lopez, We Were 49ers! 104, 123, 127, 139-49; Boessenecker, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke, 47-51; James J. Ayers, Gold and Sunshine: Reminiscences of Early California (Boston: The Gorham Press, 1922), 46-58.
(10.) The three convicted murderers were executed by firing squad. John Boessenecker, in Gold Dust and Gunsmoke, 51, argues that the ear croppings were excessively harsh punishments and were intended to intimidate other Chileans into leaving the diggings. This very well may have been the case, but it is worth noting that ear cropping was not an uncommon punishment for American thieves in frontier California, and that punishments for thieves included hanging.
(11.) For dueling, see Benjamin C. Truman, The Field of Honor (New York: Fords, Howard & Hulbert, 1883); William B. Secrest, Blood and Honor (Fresno, Calif.: Saga West Publishing Co., 1970); Robert Baldick, The Duel: A History (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996). An excellent summary of dueling in California during the 1850s is found in Boessenecker, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke, 204-24.
(12.) San Francisco Post, September 7, 1878; Truman, Field of Honor, 315; Hubert Howe Bancroft, California Inter Pocula (San Francisco: The History Company, 1888), 754-55 Boessenecker, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke, 209-13.
(13.) Alta California, June 7 and 8, 1854; Bancroft, California Inter Pocula, 760; Boessenecker, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke, 215-16.
(14.) For Edward Gilbert's career in San Francisco, see Mullen, Let Justice Be Done, 17, 40, 42, 49, 66, 70.
(15.) San Francisco Examiner, February 13 and 20, 1881; Truman, Field of Honor, 308-13; George C. Barns, Denver the Man (Wilmington, Ohio: The Author, 1949); Boessenecker, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke, 213-14.
(16.) The Broderick-Terry duel is the most famous and most written about in California history. Excellent scholarly works on the parties involved are David A. Williams, David C. Broderick: A Political Portrait (San Marino, Calif.: The Huntington Library, 1969), and A. Russell Buchanan, David S. Terry of California: Dueling Judge (San Marino, Calif.: The Huntington Library, 1956). See also Truman, Field of Honor, 81-82, 392-410; Bancroft, California Inter Pocula, 763-73; Boessenecker, GoldDust and Gunsmoke, 219-23.
(17.) Samuel L. Clemens, Roughing It (New York: Harper & Row, 1913), 197.
(18.) Stephen J. Field, Personal Reminiscences of Early Days in California (privately published, 1893), 79-80, as quoted in Boessenecker, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke, 302.
(19.) Mariposa Chronicle, April 21, 1854; San Francisco Chronicle, May 1, 1892; Myron Angel, History of Nevada (Oakland: Thompson & West, 1881), 344; San Quentin Prison Register, convict no. 762; Sally S. Zanjani, "Sam Brown: The Evolution of a Frontier Villain," Pacific Historian (Winter 1985): 6-10; John Boessenecker, Badge and Buckshot (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988), 61-65.
(20.) McGrath, Gunfighters, Highwaymen, & Vigilantes, 86-101.
(21.) Secrest, Lawmen & Desperadoes, 241-45; William B. Secrest, "There Once Was a Badman Named Mulligan," Real West (August 1984): 14-15, 161.
(22.) See Hubert Howe Bancroft, Popular Tribunals (San Francisco: History Publishing Co., 1887), and Richard Maxwell Brown, Strain of Violence: Historical Studies of American Violence and Vigilantism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975).
(23.) Esmeralda Union, March 31, 1864.
(24.) Mullen, Let Justice Be Done. Mullen argues that the 1851 committee has escaped close scrutiny and criticism because of the work of Mary Floyd Williams, which makes a persuasive case for the vigilantes. See Mary Floyd Williams, History of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1921), and Williams, ed., Papers of the San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1851 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1919). Mullen, a former deputy chief of the San Francisco Police Department, has painstakingly compiled the first accurate data for criminal offenses in San Francisco during the early 1850s. His pioneering work makes it clear that claims of twelve hundred murders in the city during those years are wild exaggerations. See, for example, Let Justice Be Done, 110, 144, 203, 216, 230.
(25.) Interpretations of the Committee of Vigilance of 1856 in San Francisco vary greatly. Besides Bancroft and Brown, mentioned in note 22, see John Hittell, The History of San Francisco and Incidentally of California (San Francisco: A. L. Bancroft and Co., 1878); Roger W. Lotchin, San Francisco, 1846-1856: From Hamlet to City (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974); and Robert M. Senkewicz, Vigilantes in Gold Rush San Francisco (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1985), especially his historiographical analysis on pages 203-31. Also excellent for historiography is Doyce B. Nunis, Jr., ed., The San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1856: Three Views (Los Angeles: Westerners, 1971).
(26.) Kenneth Lamott, Chronicles of San Quentin: The Biography of a Prison (New York: David McKay Co., 1961); Shelley Bookspan, A Germ of Goodness: The California State Prison System 1851-1944 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991).
(27.) McGrath, Gunfighters, Highwaymen, & Vigilantes, esp. 247-60; Ben Nickoll, "Violence on the American Frontier: Nevada County, California, 1851-56" (history honors thesis, UCLA, 1986) McGrath, "Violence and Lawlessness on the Western Frontier," in Violence in America: The History of Crime, vol. 1 (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1989), 122-45.
(28.) Richard Dillon, Wells, Fargo Detective: A Biography of James B. Hume (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1986); Jackson, Bad Company; William Collins and Bruce Levene, Black Bart: The True Story of the West's Most Famous Stagecoach Robber (Mendocino, Calif.: Pacific Transcriptions, 1992); John Boessenecker, Lawman: The Life and Times of Harry Morse, 1835-1912 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998).
(29.) Boessenecker, Badge and Buckshot, 101-29; An Illustrated History of San Joaquin County (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1890), 95-100, 617; Secrest, Lawmen & Desperadoes, 101-105; George Henry Tinkham, History of San Joaquin County, California (Los Angeles: Historic Record Co., 1923), 218, 289-90.
(30.) Mullen, Let Justice Be Done, 77. The establishment of the SFPD in 1849 came only five years after the organization of the nation's first police force in Philadelphia. New York City founded its force in 1845. See David R. Johnson, Policing the Urban Underworld (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1979).
(31.) Kevin J. Mullen, "Malachi Fallon," California History (Summer 1983), 100-105; Mullen, Let Justice Be Done, 77, 81, 105, 126, 133, 145, 165, 205, 250.
(32.) "Further Reminiscences of Pioneer Days: Malachi Fallon as Chief," Alta California, October 26, 1884.
(33.) Mullen, "Malachi Fallon," 100; Oakland Tribune, April 2, 1961.
ROGER D. MCGRATH, Ph.D., is author of Gunfighters, Highwaymen, & Vigilantes: Violence on the Frontier (University of California Press, 1984) and a contributor to Violence in America: The History of Crime (Sage Publications, 1989). He has authored some forty articles and book reviews, appearing in historical journals, magazines, encyclopedias, and newspapers. He is featured in twenty-four episodes of The Real West and in a half-dozen episodes each of Biography and Tales of the Gun and was the consultant and technical advisor for The Young Riders television series. From 1982 to 1997 he taught the history of the American West and California at UCLA, where he was named "Outstanding Professor" by the Panhellenic Council. In 1999 he was awarded the California Military History Medal.
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|Title Annotation:||bandit Joaquin Murieta and others|
|Author:||McGrath, Roger D.|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2003|
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