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Vol. I. 



Entered according to Act of Congress in the Year 18S7, by 


In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Waslnngton. 

All liiglits Reserved. 


During my researches in Pacific States history, 
and particularly while tracing the development of 
Anglo-American communities on the western side 
of the United States, I fancied I saw unfolding into 
healthier proportions, under the influence of a purer 
atmosphere, that sometime dissolute principle of po- 
litical ethics, the right of the governed at all times 
to instant and arbitrary control of the government. 
The right thus claimed was not to be exercised except 
in cases of emergency, in cases where such interfer- 
ence should be deemed necessary, but it was always 
existent; and as the people themselves were to de- 
termine what should constitute emergency and what 
necessity, these qualifications were impertinent. 

Though liable at times to the grossest abuse, I 
found this sentiment latent among widely spread and 
intelligent peoples, but in a form so anomalous that 
few would then admit to themselves its presence 
among their convictions. It was a doctrine acted 
rather than spoken, and existing as yet in practice 
only, never having through formulas of respectability 
worked itself out in theory. Yet it was palpably 
present, more often as a regretted necessity, usually 
denounced in judicial and political circles, though 
clearly operating under certain conditions to the wel- 
fare of society. 

•^ (vii) 


Finding on these Pacific shores, in a degree superior 
to any elsewhere appearing in the annals of the race, 
this phase of arbitrary power as displayed by the 
many Popular Tribunals here engendered, I pressed 
inquiry in that direction, and these volumes are the 
result. It is all history; and though herein I some- 
times indulge in details which might swell unduly 
exact historical narration, I have felt constrained to 
omit more facts and illustrations than I have given. 
These omissions, however, are not made at random, 
or to the injury of the work, but only after carefully 
arranging and comparing all the information on the 
subject I have been able to gather. 

And the material was abundant. Beside printed 
books, manuscripts, and the several journals of the 
period advocating the opposite sides of the question, 
I was fortunate enough to secure all the archives of 
the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851, 
and to obtain free access to the voluminous records 
and documents of the great Committee of 1856. But 
this was not all. Well knowing that the hidden work- 
ings of the several demonstrations could be obtained 
only from the mouths of their executive officers, I took 
copious dictations from those who had played the most 
prominent parts in the tragedies. From one member 
I learned what occurred on a given occasion at the 
point where he happened to be; from another, what 
was taking place at the same time at another point 
of observation; and so on, gathering from each some- 
thing the others did not know or remember. By 
putting all together I was enabled to complete the 
picture of what were otherwise a conglomeration of 
figures and events. 

At first I found the gentlemen of 1856 exceedingly 


backward in divulging secrets so long held sacred; and 
it was only after I had given them the most convincing 
assurances of the strength and purity of my purpose 
that I obtained their united consent to place me in 
possession of their whole knowledge of the matter. 
Often had they been applied to for such information, 
and as often had they declined giving it. And for 
good reasons. They had offended the law; they had 
done violence to many who still cherished hatred; 
they had suffered from annoying and expensive suits 
at law brought against them by the expatriated; they 
had disbanded but had not disorganized, and they did 
not know at what moment they might again be sum- 
moned to rise in defence of society, or to band for 
mutual protection. From the beginning it was held 
by each a paramount obligation to divulge nothing. 

On the other hand the questions arose : Are these 
secrets to die with you? May not the knowledge of 
your experience be of value to succeeding societies? 
Have you the right to bury in oblivion that experi- 
ence, to withhold from your fellow-citizens and from 
posterity a knowledge of the ways by which you 
achieved so grand a success? And so after many 
meetings, and warm deliberations, it was agreed that 
the information should be placed at my disposal for 
the purpose of publication. 

However I may have executed my task, the time 
selected for its performance was most opportune. 
Ten years earlier the actors in these abnormal events 
would on no account have divulged their secrets; ten 
years later many of them will have passed away, and 
the opportunity be forever lost for obtaining informa- 
tion which they alone could give. 






























OF 1851, 201 





















Popular Tribunals, Volume I, 


In the history of mankind there are but few startling or abnormal episodes, as 
compared with the long level of monotony which, whatsoever fermentations there 
may be within, seems never to rise into the realm of progress nor sink into retro- 
gression. Before California was, there had been gold, and men had learned to love 
it, and to rush hither and thither over the earth in search of it; there had been 
governments, and rebellions, and revolutions; there had been pronunciamientos 
made by men not particularly opposed to the existing form of rule, but who highly 
esteemed themselves and their way of viewing affairs, and who preferred them- 
selves to the peace and prosperity of their country. 

But never since the world began has there been, nor ever again, until its end, 
will there be just such aberrations of government and justice as were experienced 
by the several states and territories on the Pacific side of North America, during 
the period of their incubation, namely for the decade 1849 to 1859. Simply hanging 
culprits by the people for killing or stealing was by no means all of the solemn> 
significance of the times. There was here present revolution without rebellion, 
right without codes or constitutions, displaying at once the necessity of man, and 
the power of man, to place checks upon his actions, and not let his wonderful and 
much-boasted intellectual faculties, which raise him so high above the brute 
creation, hurl him to a deeper destruction. 

The study of the subject, of which this volume and the one following it treats, 
when begun by the author, was with the intention of its making two or three chap- 
ters of his //zj/crj/ 0/ (Ta/z/c'rwm; but as the work went on, time passed and the 
manuscript piled high before him. To be done, or half-done, or scarcely done at 
all was the question. When the existing bulky printed matter had been gone over 
and the acts and experiences of all the leading men in such affairs, then living, had 
been hunted up, secured, digested, arranged and written out, to say nothing of the 
voluminous secret archives of the many Committees of Vigilance in various parts, 
years had passed, and three volumes had been written. The three volumes, how^- 
ever, were in time reduced to two, and the arrangement of chapters made so as to 
bring together the earlier and minor episodes of California and the surrounding 
region for the first volume, leaving the second volume entire for San Francisco's 
grand tribunal of 1856, with a concluding chapter only on the labor organization 
of 1877-8. 



San Francisco, 

July, 1887 





















BIA, AND ALASK.\, 622 








18 S4. 
















At Halifax the law so sharpe doth deale, 
That whoso more than thirteen pence doth steale, 
They have a jyn that wondrous quick and well 
Sends thieves all headless into heaven or hell. 

Taylor, The Water Poet. 

Popular tribunals, wherein is attempted the ille- 
gal administration of justice by the people, have 
become quite prominent among those social parox- 
ysms incident to rapid progress. The principle in 
its several phases, and as at present existing, is 
essentially a latter-day development. Dangerous or 
otherwise, it is the outgrowth of enlightenment, of 
intellectual emancipation. While the doctrine of the 
divinity of law, that is of statutory or other than 
natural law, held bound men's minds, there were 
comparatively few examples of illegal justice; but 
when it came generally to be felt that statutes were 
no more sacred than the men who made them, legal 
impositions and vicious technicalities were less pa- 
tiently endured. 

Not that antiquity was wholly without its right- 
compelling powers, but they were of a different order 
from our modern demonstrations. But neither the old 
nor the new were such as Plato would have chosen for 
his Republic, or Saint Augustine for his City of God, or 

Vol. I. 1 


Sir Thomas More for his Utopia, or Lord Bacon for 
his New Atlantis. A theorist could scarcely have 
concocted so paradoxical a proposition as the modern 
popular tribunal, and the thing was left to concoct 

There was government by factions in the olden 
time, such as in the days of Cicero and Pompey kept 
Rome for nearly four years in a state of anarchy. 
It was Clodius and his hired gladiators who did it. 
Even as at present, sometimes, assassins were at work; 
elections were tampered with, and the senate was 
overawed. Men talked of military rule, the thought 
of which was pleasing to both Pompey and Caesar; 
for strange to say, when backed by strong battalions, 
the rival allies both loved to reign. How it would 
have ended it is difficult to say, had not Milo and his 
partisans, likewise with a patrol of gladiators, opposed 
and finally overthrown Clodius. But for a time, like 
the Capulets and Montagues at Verona, the parties 
of Clodius and Milo walked the streets of Pome, bid- 
ding defiance alike to governors and governed. 

In feudal times almost every state had its system 
of secret tribunals, where judgments, most unex- 
pectedly to the victims, were passed in darkness and 
executed in the light. Whereat innocent and guilty 
alike trembled; no one could tell when his own turn 
would come, or when he might be executed for he 
knew not what. The guilty mind was thus always 
on the rack, and fortunate was the offender who was 
not first condemned and then caught. 

During the Middle Age the knights of Germany 
formed an independent feudal order, and threw off 
allegiance to any prince. Their depredations at first 
were not incompatible with the then existing ideas of 
respectability, but as they were driven into corners by 
the growth of towns, the order degenerated toward 
the close of the fifteenth century, until its member.; 
were nothing less than highwaymen. In 1522 they 
infested the country round Nuremberg, and took many 


prisoners. They had a fashion of cutting off the right 
hand of those they captured, thereby rendering them 
helpless in any future encounter. 

There were several terms used in bygone times to 
denote the process of punishing first and trying after- 
ward. There was Cowper law, due to a baron-baile 
in Coupar- Angus, before the abolition of heritable 
jurisdiction. We find also the expressions Jedburgh, 
Jedwood, and Jeddart justice ; also Lynford law, from a 
fortified town of that name in Devon, where criminals 
were confined, before trial, in a dungeon so loathsome 
that no punishment could be greater. 

Venice had its Council of Ten, a secret tribunal of 
the republic, instituted subsequent to the conspiracy 
of Tiepolo. It was originally composed of ten coun- 
cillors, arrayed in black. Soon six others in red were 
added, and these together with the doge exercised 
unlimited power. Temporarily established at first, it 
was continued for a time from year to year, and finally 
in 1335 declared permanent. As late as 1454 we 
find this tribunal exercising its secret pleasure, in the 
name of justice, under the following arrangement: 
Citizens, chosen by the Council as inquisitors to 
execute its w^ill, must not refuse to serve. The 
inquisitors might proceed against any person, no mat- 
ter of what rank; they might pronounce the death 
sentence, or an}^ other; they had charge of the prisons, 
and drew money from the treasury of the Council of 
Ten without question as to its use. . The proceedings 
of the tribunal must be always secret ; its members must 
wear no distinctive badge; no open arrests should be 
made, no public executions, but the condemned of 
the tribunal should be drowned at night in the Orfano 
Canal. The relatives of the escaped offenders should 
be punished; any offensive official might be secretly 
assassinated. This happy state of things continued 
until the fall of the republic, in 1797. 

In France there were the Council of the Ancients, 
and the Council of Five Hundred, and in Spain the 


Council of Castile; but these, and many others similar, 
were bodies advisory of the government, and acted in 
that capacity, or subject to the regulations of the 
government, and not in antagonism to it. 

Aragon and Castile boasted their Holy Brother- 
hood, and for centuries their sovereigns smiled on 
its important services. In Spain, during the thir- 
teenth and fourteenth centuries, along the line divid- 
ing the hostile Goth and Arab, the frontiers of both 
Spanish and Moslem domination, law was impotent 
and anarchy mightier than kings. The towns were 
obliged to league for mutual protection. Associating 
under the name of Santa Ilerinandad, or Holy 
Brotherhood, they levied contributions for their sup- 
port, and organized troops for service. They protected 
travellers, pursued criminals, and appointed judges who 
paid little heed to what the lord of the domain might 
think of it, or to his laws or jurisdiction. They scoured 
the mountains for robbers, and caught, tried, and exe- 
cuted them after their own fashion for many scores 
of years. But here, also, the king gave both favor 
and support to the association. 

The Vehmgericht of Westphalia has been held up 
as an institution of which the present popular tribunal 
is a representation; but there is little in common 
between them, either in letter or in spirit. The Vehm- 
gericht was a secret tribunal, established for the 
preservation of the true faith, the promotion of peace, 
and the suppression of crime. All its doings were 
enveloped in mystery. Its secret spies penetrated to 
the remotest corners of Germany, its judges were un- 
known, its judgments were swift, and their execution 
was certain. 

Scotland once gloried in a sort of lynch-law, called 
burlaw, from the Dutch haur, a boor, or rustic. In 
the rural districts the people made certain laws to suit 
emergencies, and appointed one of their number, called 
the burlaw-man, to see them executed. Two and a 
half centuries ago there was what was called Halifax 


law, which committed thieves for execution to the 
Hahfax gibbet, which was a kind of guillotine. Robe- 
spierre proposed a decree which, in 1793, established 
a Committee of General Security, exercising power 
superior to the convention. To this was auxiliary 
the Committee of Public Safety, of which Robespierre 
likewise was a member. 

An incident is mentioned by M. Hue, which hap- 
pened during his journey through the Chinese Empire 
in company with certain Catholic priests, which shows 
how easily intimidated are the subordinates of arbitrary 
power by a counter display of like pretended power. 
A Chinese Christian, Tchao by name, zealous in his re- 
gard for the spiritual fathers thus unexpectedly visit- 
ing the country, sent the travellers a present of some 
dried fruit, accompanied by a letter. A military man- 
darin, overwhelmed with curiosity, secretly opened 
the package and attempted to read the letter, but 
was caught in the act. The missionaries, wlio were 
travelling under protection of the emperor, clamored 
loudly over the insult. They demanded that Tchao, 
whom the prefect had ordered imprisoned as a dis- 
turber of the peace for having thus communicated 
with the travellers, should be brought before them 
for trial; and two foreigners, if we may credit their 
story, did actually so frighten the magistrates that 
they yielded their place in the tribunal, and permitted 
the missionaries to try and to acquit the prisoner. 

England in Anglo-Saxon times found a necessity 
the witena-gemot, or great national council, by which 
the kins^'s title must be recomized and his acts res^u- 
lated, and to which all courts of justice were subser- 
vient. When abolished by William the Conqueror, 
its powers were transmitted to parliament only in part. 

Such are some of the prominent examples of his- 
tory which at various times, and by men not the most 
thoroughly familiar with the subject, have been com- 
pared with the modern Committee of Vigilance, which 


in its higher aspect is the highest form of the popular 
tribunal. If antiquity can furnish us no more perti- 
nent illustrations than these, then we are safe in say- 
ing that nothing exactly similar to our present popular 
tribunal was known to the ancients. If nothing of 
the kind can be found in Europe, then to America 
must be given the honor or odium of it. In all the 
cases cited there is something of government by fac- 
tion, or of military rule, or of rebellion against the 
powers that be, or of secret or open tribunals acting 
under law, or of legally sanctioned aids to govern- 
ment, or of revolution, civil war, or highway robbery. 
Now whatever our popular tribunal may be, it is none 
of these; it has no such ingredients in its composition. 
As we approach the time of Lynch and lynching, 
we come nearer our present development, but we do 
not quite reach it even then. As to the origin of 
the term lynch-law, opinion is divided. There was in 
1493 a mayor of Gal way, Ireland, named James Fitz- 
stephens Lynch. He was in the wine trade, and 
received cargoes from Spain. Thither he once sent 
his son with money to buy wine. The son squan- 
dered the money, but purchased a cargo on credit. 
A nephew of the Spanish seller of the wine accom- 
panied young Lynch on his return vo^^age, for the 
purpose of receiving pay for the wine on reaching Ire- 
land. To hide his defalcation, before reaching home 
Lynch threw the Spaniard overboard. In time in- 
formation of the son's crime reached the father s 
ear. The young man was tried and condemned, the 
father being judge. The family interfered to prevent 
the execution; but the father, lest the ends of justice 
should be defeated, with his own hands hanged him 
from a window overlooking the street. Hence, as 
some say, the term lynch-law. Others refer the honor 
to the founder of Lynchburg, Virginia; yet others to 
a Virginia farmer, named Lynch, who once whipped 
a thief instead of delivering him to the sheriff. In 
1687 one Judge Lynch, to suppress piracy which w^as 


ruining commerce in American waters, is said to have 
executed justice summarily, regardless of fo'tms of 
law. Another account makes John Lynch, a native 
of South Carolina, the judge. This man followed 
Daniel Boone to Kentucky, where he was chosen 
chief of twelve jurors to try causes informally. 
Which, if any, of these accounts is correct is a 
matter of small moment. What we are to understand 
at present by the term is what chiefly concerns us. 
When the Piedmont country of Virginia was the 
backwoods of America, without law, summary execu- 
tions were common ; and the accident which applied the 
term Lynch to illegal executions will never positively 
be known. Whatever else it was, in its original use it 
was not a term of reproach, but a mark of the high 
character and moral integrity of the people. 

It was on the western frontier of the United States, 
and during the last half century, that the popular 
tribunal in its broadest proportions was reached. All 
that time and before it, beginning just back of the 
English plantations, this frontier had been shifting, 
extending farther and farther to the westward, until 
the valley of the Mississippi Avas reached. Upon this 
border, as upon the edge of mighty fermentations, 
accumulated the scum of the commonweal bh. The 
spirit of evil was ever strong, and government was 
weak. Society there was low and brutal, and the 
lynchers were not always much better than the 
lynched. After Missouri and Arkansas for a time 
had constituted the frontier, a leap was made by 
war and western progress to California, and the pop- 
ular tribunal, seemingly purified by the passage, 
settled upon the newly found gold-fields. Here, 
at the Ultima Thule of western migration, the in- 
stitution found itself in an element totally different 
from any it had ever before enjoyed. The people 
were active and able; many of them were educated 
and intelligent ; most of them were honest. But there 


were some rogues present, else enginery for pun- 
ishment had never been required. It was then that 
the popular tribunal assumed respectability and took 
a new name. The somewhat besmeared terms mob- 
law, lynch-law, and the like, were discarded, and the 
more pleasing titles of Regulators, Committee of 
Safety, and Committee of Vigilance were adopted. 

In Nevada, Utah, Montana, and Idaho, in all fron- 
tier settlements, before the machinery of territorial 
legislatures and law courts was in working order, be- 
fore laws were framed or executed, a tribunal formed 
of citizens was found necessary to prevent wholesale 
robbery and murder. Order-loving men, as were they 
who composed these tribunals, were backward enough 
in assuming the unwelcome duties, usually taking no 
steps to organize until after a score or two of mur- 
derers had escaped punishment. Each new western 
state, as it began to be settled, attracted thither vil- 
lains of every dye, who kept the community in con- 
stant fear until it purged itself by the swift and sure 
executions of mobocracy or vigilance committees. 

What then has the popular tribunal here become? 
What is a vigilance committee, and what mobocracy ? 
The terms vigilance committee, mob-law, lynch-law, 
are not, as many suppose, synonymous. In some re- 
spects they are diametrically opposed in principle and 
in purpose. The vigilance committee is not a mob ; 
it is to a mob as revolution is to rebellion, the name 
being somewhat according to its strength. Neither 
is a tumultuous rabble a vigilance committee. In- 
deed, prominent among its other functions is that of 
holding brute force and vulgar sentiment in wholesome 
fear. The vigilance committee will itself break the 
law, but it does not allow others to do so. It has the 
higliest respect for law, and would be friendly with the 
law, notwithstanding the law is sometimes disposed to 
be ill-natured; yet it has a higher respect for itself 
than for ill-administered law. Often it has assisted 


officers of the law in catching offenders, and has even 
gone so far as to hand insignificant and filthy crimi- 
nals over to courts of justice for trial rather than soil 
its fingers with them. 

The doctrine of Vigilance, if I may so call the 
idea or principle embodied in the term vigilance com- 
mittee, is that the people, or a majority of them, 
possess the right, nay, that it is their bounden duty,* 
to hold perpetual vigil in all matters relating to their 
governance, to guard their laws with circumspection, 
and sleeplessly to watch their servants chosen to exe- 
cute them. Yet more is implied. Possessing this right, 
and acknowledging the obligation, it is their further 
right and duty, whenever they see misbehavior on 
the part of their servants, whenever they see the 
laws which they have made trampled upon, distorted, 
or prostituted, to rise in their sovereign privilege and 
remove such unfaithful servants, lawfully if possible, 
arbitrarily if necessary. The law must govern, ab- 
solutely, eternally, say the men of vigilance. Suffer 
inconvenience, injustice if need be, rather than at- 
tempt illegal reform. Every right-minded man 
recognizes the necessity of good conduct in human 
associations, to secure which experience teaches that 
rule is essential. In a free republican form of gov- 
ernment every citizen contributes to the making of 
the laws, and is interested in seeing them executed and 
obeyed. The good citizen, above all others, insists 
that the law of the land shall be regarded. But to 
have law, statutes must be enacted by the people ; gov- 
ernments must be administered by representatives of 
the people; officials, to be officials, must be chosen by 
the people. Law is the voice of the people. Now it 
is not the voice of the people that vigilance would dis- 
regard, but the voice of corrupt officials and bad men. 
Law is the will of the community as a whole; it is 
therefore omnipotent. When law is not omnipotent, 
it is nothing. This is why, when law fails — that is to 
say, when a power rises in society antagonistic at once 


to statutory law and to the will of the people — the 
people must crush the enemy of their law or be 
crushed by it. A true vigilance committee is this 
expression of power on the part of the people in the 
absence or impotence of law. Omnipotence in rule 
being necessary, and law failing to be omnipotent, the 
element here denominated vigilance becomes omnipo- 
tent, not as a usurper, but as a friend in an emergency. 
Vigilance recognizes fully the supremacy of law, flies 
to its rescue when beaten down by its natural enemy, 
crime, and lifts it up, that it may always be supreme; 
and if the law must be broken to save the state, 
then it breaks it soberly, conscientiously, and under 
the formulas of law, not in a feeling of revenge, or 
in a manner usual to the disorderly rabble. 

Surely vigilance has no desire to hamper legislation, 
to interfere with the machinery of courts, to meddle 
in politics, to alter or overthrow the constitution, or 
to usurp supreme authority. Its issue is with the 
mal-administration of government, rather than with 
government itself. Its object is to assist the law, to 
see the law righteously executed, to prevent perver- 
sion of the law, to defeat prostitution of the law, and 
not to subvert or debase the law. And to accomplish 
its purpose, it claims the right to resort to unlawful 
means, if necessary. Therefore it is easy to see that 
the vigilance principle does not spring from disrespect 
for law. Wherever law has been properly executed 
there never yet was a vigilance committee. The 
existence of a vigilance organization is a priori proof 
of the absence of good government. No well-bal- 
anced, impartial mind will condemn the existence of a 
vigilance committee in the absence of properly exe- 
cuted law; no right-thinking man will for a moment 
countenance a vigilance organization, could such a 
thing be, in the presence of good laws, well executed. 

Thus defined, the principle of vigilance takes its 
place above formulated law, which is" its creature, and 
is directly antagonistic to the mobile spirit which 


springs from passion and contemptuously regards all 
law save the law of revenge. While claiming the full 
right of revolution, it does not choose to use it, be- 
cause it is satisfied with the existing forms of govern 
ment. I do not like the term imperiiim in imperio, so 
often applied to it. Vigilance is the guardian of the 
government, rather than a government within a gov- 
ernment. This, then, is vigilance; the exercise in- 
formally of their rightful power by a people wholly 
in sympathy with existing forms of law. It is the 
same inexorable necessity of nature which civilization 
formulates in statutes, codes, and constitutions under 
the terms law and government, but acting unrestrict- 
edly, absolute will being its only rule. The right is 
claimed by virtue of sovereignty alone. Under nature 
man is his own master. As God cannot make a being 
superior to himself, so society cannot establish rules 
for its convenience which the central power or ma- 
jority of the people have not the right at any time 
or in any manner they see fit to disregard or annul. 

Moreover, between the terms mob-violence or lynch- 
law and vigilance committees there is this further dis- 
tinction: they are often one in appearance, though 
never one in principle. Often the same necessities that 
call forth one bring out the other; though in execu- 
tion one is as the keen knife in the hands of a skilful 
surgeon, removing the putrefaction with the least pos- 
sible injury to the body politic, the other the blunt 
instrument of dull wits, producing frequent defeat and 
disaster. The mobile spirit is displayed no more in a 
respectable and well- organized committee of vigilance 
than in a court of justice. There is no more resent-. 
ment, no more furious desire to destroy a hated object 
in the one than in the other. Scrutinize as you will 
the character and conduct of the higher of these tri- 
bunals, and you fail to discover any of the elements 
of an uncontrolled mob. Time enough they take for 
deliberation, time enough for conscience and duty to 
be fully heard; then, with the sacred principles of truth 


and justice before them, feeling that the eye of their 
maker and of all mankind is upon them, their minds 
made up, they act with cool, determinate courage. 

Again, although vigilance and mobocracy have in 
principle little in common, they are sometimes found 
assuming much the same attitude toward law and 
toward society. Both set up their will in opposition 
to legally constituted authorities ; both break the law, 
bid defiance to the law, and if it still stand in their 
way, snap their fingers in the face of law. The ob- 
ject of their members in associating is that they may 
be stronger than the officers of the law; in the eyes 
of the law both are equally criminal, both are banded 
brawlers, murderers, traitors. Both tyrannize tyranny, 
rule their rulers, and become a law unto themselves. 
Yet there are these further differences between them : 
One aims to assist a weak entrammelled government, 
whose officers cannot or will not execute the law ; the 
other breaks the law usually for evil purpose. One is 
based upon principle, and the other upon passion. One 
will not act in the heat of excitement ; the other throws 
deliberation to the wind. One is an organization offi- 
cered by its most efficient members, aiming at public 
well-being, and acting under fixed rules of its own 
making; the other is an unorganized rabble, acting 
under momentary delirium, the tool, it may be, of 
political demagogues, the victim of its own intemper- 
ance. Underlying the actions of the one is justice; 
of the other revenge. This constitutes the difference, 
and by this standard we may distinguish one from the 
other; wherever we find a body of armed members 
.of the community acting contrary to law or in opposi- 
tion to officers of the law, be it composed of the best 
citizens or the worst, be its existence a necessity, its 
acts productive of social well-being, or otherwise, if it 
is an organized band, acting under fixed rules, acting 
with coolness and deliberation, with good intentions, 
determined to promote rather than to defeat the 
ends of justice, such a body is what upon the Pacific 


Coast has become to be known as ^ Committee of 
Vigilance. Though it may have tiie same object in 
view, and though it may accompUsh the same results, 
if the body or association be not organized or offi- 
cered, if it be without constitution, by-laws, rule, or 
regulation, acting under momentary excitement or in 
the heat of passion, careless of the administration of 
justice, swayed only by resentment, intent on making 
a display, infuriate, unreasonable, vengeful, it is a 
mob, though composed of doctors of divinity. 

It was interesting to note when President Garfield 
was assassinated how many staid, respectable citizens, 
how many officers of the government, how many 
women and clergymen, were in favor of taking Guiteau 
from prison and tearing him in pieces. That was the 
spirit of mobocracy, a spirit which the true vigilance 
committee frowns on and is the first to put down. 

Thus we see that in this display of the arbitrary ad- 
ministration of justice, where some indeed may think 
they perceive the morto popolarmente of Machiavelli, 
there are many aspects, not all alike commendable 
or condemnable. In its highest and most perfect 
state, its object is to preserve the sanctity of morals, 
and to vindicate the supremacy of law by the over- 
throw of lawless law-makers and legally appointed 
official swindlers, together with the just punishment, 
after dispassionate examination, of felons who were 
shielded rather than punished by the subverting and 
inefficient execution of the law. From this liiHi moral 
standpoint the modern popular tribunal descends 
in its severalities through every grade of mingled 
equity and imposition, until in its consequences it 
sometimes sinks into the fostering and extenuating of 
mob-violence, the prostituting of public morals, dis- 
respect for statutory law and stable forms of gov- 
ernment, into popular rather than just prosecutions, 
informal and unfair convictions, barbarous butcheries 
and public assassinations, and an ever increasing 
thirst for the blood of victims — in a word, into the 


lowest forms of mobocracy. Such are some of the 
differences between intelhgent and high-minded vigi- 
lance organizations, whose acts have been carefully 
considered and conscientiously performed, and the 
blood-drunken orgies of frontier lynch-law executions. 

The Englishman Wyse, writing of America in 
1846, failed to discover in the highest and purest pop- 
ular tribunal aught else than the preposterous claim 
of the low, ignorant, and irresponsible rabble to the 
control of the government. This is scarcely to be 
wondered at when we see how easily even error and 
injustice become things too sacred to be tampered 
with when enshrined in law. There are few instances 
in America where a mob has sought to usurp the gov- 

Mr Wyse does not state the case fairly. A mob 
composed of a majority of the people, as he puts it, 
is not a mob. I say, a majority of the respectable, 
intelligent, order-loving, and law-making portion of 
the people is not the mobile vulgus, or movable com- 
mon people, by which name from time immemorial a 
disorderly crowd convened for riotous purpose has 
been known. Nor did I ever hear of a riotous major- 
ity of any people claiming the right to overthrow their 
own laws for evil purpose, and wage illegal warfare 
against themselves and to their own destruction. 
Mobs are not composed of individuals calmly asso- 
ciating for the purpose of self-sacrifice for the benefit 
of the community, but rather for those who would 
sacrifice the community for self Government under 
the banners of liberty and progress is as strong as 
the people constituting it, and never by any possi- 
bility can it be stronger until the people go back to 
their ancient superstition. The government of the 
United States, in its fundamental principles, Mr 
Wyse calls weak, because founded on the vacil- 
lating will of the people. This is fahacy. Only the 
strong and intelligent can live together under a 
so-called weak government. In becoming strong and 


intelligent, men invariably emancipate themselves 
from the tyrannies of form. I fail to perceive how a 
government, whose principles are deep-rooted in the 
hearts of strong men, can be inherently weaker than 
one overawed by ancient superstitions. The mobs 
and riots of old countries are usually for the attain- 
ment of some real or imaginary right denied the 
people by their rulers; those of new communities 
spring mainly from the failure of rulers to execute 
the laws. Particularly has this been the case on 
the frontier of the United States, although wran- 
glings over 'African slavery and free-love religion 
have sometimes been attended by riotous demonstra- 
tions. As a rule, however, the people of the great 
republic are and have been satisfied with their laws, 
and only wish to see them properly enforced. After 
a senseless tirade against the United States, ''in 
whose social and political system were deep-seated 
and early sown the seeds of angry discord, of turbu- 
lence and crime," Mr Wyse admits "that there may 
be some excuse, in the absence of law, for men to adopt 
some rule for their own preservation," which is all the 
right ever claimed by our system of vigilance. And 
those of our own people who cry against vigilance 
committees and call them mobs, their members rioters 
and insurrectionists, their acts rabble justice, and their 
executions murder, were it not better they should 
turn their attention to the root of the matter and rec- 
tify the necessity that engenders them? Strip from 
law its trammels, its hypocrisy, humbug, and technical 
chicanery, and mete the evil-doer quick and certain 
punishment, and the sombre shadow of vigilance will 
no more darken our portals. It is a standing reproach, 
both to the intelligence and to the integrity of our law- 
makers and our law-ministers, that a moneyed criminal, 
by extra-judicial strategy on the part of hired advo- 
cates, and a species of legal legerdemain, can so suc- 
cessfully thwart justice and escape punishment. 

Before there can be any step taken toward moral 


reform, the moral sense of the community must be 
awakened. Seldom is the moral sense raised against 
a bad man, even, until he commits some crime such as 
the law takes cognizance of and openly points out as 
bad. To detect crime without the aid of law must 
be yet more difficult. What shall we say then, what 
must be the state of things, the provocation, when in 
a community of law-loving men not given to prudish- 
ness in morals, not given to jealousy of their rulers, 
dormant moral sense is so roused as to single out crime, 
and to seize and strangle it despite of awe-inspiring 
law, and in direct antagonism to officers of the law? 
Here we see law restraining law-makers in their vir- 
tuous efforts and shielding the lawless. This inter- 
ference of government in personal affairs, protecting 
a man against himself while failing to protect him 
against others, is one of the anomalies of our political 

It is to the San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 
1856, as distinguished from any other popular up- 
rising in California or elsewhere, that the principle of 
vigilance owes its incarnation and recognition; for it 
is a recognized principle on these Pacific shores, if 
nowhere else ; it is here a common law of the land. Its 
existence as a principle is due to that occasion, though 
its origin was elsewhere, because the leaders of that 
movement first raised it to and recognised it as a prin- 
ciple. Law-breakers and law-exterminators there have 
been many; but never before in the history of human 
progress have we seen, under a popular form of gov- 
ernment, a city-full rise as one man, summoned by 
almighty conscience, attend at the bedside of sick law 
as having a right there, and perform a speedy and 
almost bloodless cure, despite the struggles of the 
exasperated patient. 

^ There have not been wanting those of extreme 
views to come forward and claim, even, that to this 
movement of 1856 jurisprudence owes a new principle, 
morality a new standard, and mind a new departure. 


If in the forces regulating human activities the move- 
ment means anything, it points significantly to a moral 
and beneficial human power superior to the power form- 
ulated and restricted by constitutions and statutes. 
If the movement means anything, if it accomplished 
anything, if its results remain to-day treasured in the 
storehouse of valuable experiences, it points signifi- 
cantly to a morality superior to that of fashion, and 
to the freeing of mind from another of its fetters. In 
social ethics room must be made for the principle of 
vigilance, and governments must be taught to recog- 
nize it. So some believe ; but it is the tendency of the 
undisciplined mind to fall into excess. The principle 
is always existent, in greater or less degree, in all pro- 
gressive peoples ; its presence here in higher and holier 
proportions than ever elsewhere displayed is all we 
can justly claim for it. 

Memphis, Tennessee, with its men of mighty beards, 
of cowhide boots and bowie-knives, was once famous 
as a boat-landing where captains stopped to hang 
offending travellers. In South Carolina many years 
ago the colonists rose and drove out the unprincipled 
Seth Sothel, who had misruled them for six years. 
Texas had its Regulators and Moderators, corre- 
sponding somewhat remotely to our Vigilance Com- 
mittee, and Law and Order party, and in the country 
adjacent to the Sabine River, between 1838 and 1841, 
they often met in deadly encounter. Kangaroo courts 
is a later name for the lynching tribunals of this 
quarter, so designated from the attitude in which the 
judges fling themselves upon the grass round the 

During the days of boat-and-mule transit crime was 
prevalent on the Panami Isthmus. On the robbery 
of a specie train, in September, 1851, the people of 
Panamd, declared strongly in favor of a vigilance 
committee organization for the purpose of clearing 
the Isthmus of highwaymen. 

Pop. Tkib., Vol. I. 2 


In the early days of June, 1858, a vigilance com- 
mittee was organized in the city of New Orleans, a 
disturbed and revolutionary condition of society, simi- 
lar to that which prevailed in San Francisco in the 
memorable era of 1856, seeming to render the move- 
ment necessary. The municipal offices were in the 
hands of corrupt and unscrupulous politicians, and 
ruffians ruled the day. An allopathic dose of vigi- 
lance was undoubtedly demanded by the exigency of 
the case, and the citizens undertook to administer it 
after the swift and bloody formula that had been 
adopted by the young city at the Golden Gate. The 
affair struck the citizens of so old a society as New Or- 
leans with alarm, and for a time excitement ran high. 
After some manoeuvring the mayor surrendered con- 
trol of affairs into the hands of the committee, but for 
some reason the organization failed to work any material 
good to the community. The movement was charged 
upon the American party as a political stratagem — at 
any rate, after a few days of feverish uncertainty the 
committee disbanded without having performed any 
labor further than forcing the mayor to swear in the 
members of the committee as an extra police force. The 
city election transpired on the 7th of June, and the 
result did not seem to indicate that the Yigilants, as 
I shall take the liberty of calling the men of vigilance, 
were sustained by the people. 

The Spaniards in Mexico knew little of popular tri- 
bunals, breaking the law for their own benefit almost 
at pleasure in early times, and later plotting the 
downfall of the existing government rather than rally- 
ing to its aid. British Columbia has witnessed few 
unlawful demonstrations on the part of the people, 
law always having been strong on the Fraser, and pun- 
ishment sure. Other British colonies have not been 
so fortunate. 

Notwithstanding the well-organized colonial gov- 
ernment existing previous to and at the time of the 
discovery of gold in Australia, lynch-law was soon ram- 


pant in the Victoria gold-fields, which at first were 
beyond the immediate influence of the government. 
The same causes led to the reign of terror there, as 
Chief Justice A'Beckett called it, that are found in 
most new settlements — laxity of law and inexorable 
necessity. With uplifted hands and horror-stricken 
visage, the English immigrant, having in reverence the 
wigs and woolsacks of his native island, cries: ''God 
forbid that I should so profane the law." Yet when 
his cabin is robbed, and there is no minister of justice 
at hand, he soon learns to catch and hang a thief with 
as hearty a good will as ever bushman struck boar. 

A vigilance committee organized at Sydney, in 
order to avoid the stigma attached to the term in 
mother countries, proposed to call the association 
the Private Watch. This euphemism, adopted for 
the benefit of sensitive conservatives, did not meet 
the approval of the community. Here is what the 
Peojples Advocate of New South Wales says of it, 
February 19, 1853: 

*'We would recommend the good-hearted fellows who are starting this 
movement to take the name which has already acquired for its efficiency a 
world-wide celebrity ; a name which has thoroughly purged a great country 
of its imported vagabonds, and struck terror into the hearts of ruffians who 
had braved the tyranny of penal settlements and every punishment which the 
law could suggest. There is a meaning attached to the name of the vigilance 
committee which will carry some weight with it when the Private Watch 
would be looked upon with contemptuous ridicule. It is unnecessary to remind 
people of the origin of the vigilance conmiittee ; the whole world knows it, but 
of its eflfects few people are fully aware who have not been in California. Both 
before its appointment and after its suspension midnight murderers paraded 
the streets in defiance of the law. Fire-raising was held to be an almost un- 
punishable offence, because of the difficulty of its detection and the weakness 
of the arm of constituted authority. It was one of the subsidiary stratagems 
of the Van Dieman's Land and Sydney thieves. Gambling-houses were kept 
open at all hours of the night ; no hand was uplifted, no voice raised to smite 
their iniquity. The foul toadstools were suffered, untrampled upon, to pollute 
society with their pestilential presence, until they became not only hideous 
deformities, which gambling-houses under any restriction must be, but until 
their iniquity became so great that they were the avowed and recognized 
harbors of refuge for murderers, robbers, thieves, and every vicious wretch 
who chose to avail himself of their sanctuary. Constables were defied ; every 


attempt to suppress the common villainy by ordinary means failed. Neces- 
sity for mutual protection had at length recourse to the memorable expedient 
of appointing among themselves a committee of the citizens to detect and 
punish crime; and these men, taking to themselves the memorable name of 
vigilance committee, almost instantaneously crushed the atrocious hydra. 
The very name of that committee terrified the ruffians who previously 
triumphed over society. Their haunts were broken up, their infamous organi- 
zation was prostrated, and peace at once restored by the expulsion of the 
scoundrels who are now in Sydney, and against whom we are called upon to 
act. Robberies of the person are becoming frightfully prevalent, and detec- 
tion extremely rare ; life and property are without protection of any kind, 
and the whole city is at the mercy of numerous bands of experienced thieves 
and cutthroats. Under such a fearful state of disorder, it behooves the citi- 
zens to bestir themselves ; for if they do not protect themselves, there appears 
to be no disposition on the part of the Executive to do anything in their 
behalf. It has therefore become imperative on the inhabitants to organize a 
vigilance committee for the city. Small bands of volunteers, armed with 
revolvers, will purge Sydney of her miscreants. We have no hesitation in 
saying that within a month every villain now at large would be lodged in 
gaol, or otherwise disposed of so as to be no longer an object of fear or a 
source of alarm. A vigilance committee for Sydney will be not only neces- 
sary, but effectual, and its very name will strike where its arm cannot reach. " 

Thus in new and intelligent communities, whence- 
soever their origin and wheresoever situated, we see 
appearing, as it is needed, this principle of Vigilance, 
which like a benignant deity delivers its votaries from 
evil and destruction. 



Vigilantibus, non dormientibus, servit lex. 

Of all the classical abnormities that characterized 
the gold-gathering age of California, popular tribu- 
nals were the most startling. As long as the aberra- 
tions of society were confined to individual members, 
or appeared only in business, religious, or domestic 
affairs; as long as causations were easily traced and 
results tacitly accepted, social and commercial irregu- 
larities, such as undue dissipation, suicide, fires and 
failures, speculation, gambling, and gold-digging, soon 
became to be regarded as part of the. new economy 
incident to the new life and its strange environment. 
Even a murder, now and then, or in the mines a hang- 
ing scrape, was not an object of alarm. Every man 
carried a pistol; whiskey was fiery; shooting was easy; 
and it was no wonder that now and then a man was 

But when crime assumed giant proportions, over- 
shadowing commerce, intercourse, and industry, and 
when the whole community rose as one man to put 
it down, the attitude of affairs seemed somewhat 
alarming. What was it, this mighty power so sud- 
denly appearing at this juncture? In our indifference 
to tradition, and our wanderings from ancient ways, 
we had cut loose from many of the fashions and for- 
malities which we had been taught were essential to 
safety. But here was something that seemed to 
strike at the very foundation of our social structure, 



and which must shiver the fair proportions^ of that 
free government which all along the centuries man- 
kind had been chiseUing into form and comeliness. 
Were we prepared to try anarchical experiments, to 
throw our young communities into a state of social 
chaos, and abide the result? Might not so sweeping a 
principle bring perdition? 

Many thought of these things who never thought 
before. Many asked for the first time : What is law, 
what government? Are our forms, our constitutions, 
our statute-books, and our tribunals, however en- 
tangled they may iDecome, are they too sacred for pop- 
ular touch? Or if, through our own folly or neglect, 
the administration of laws, with the construction and 
intention of which we are content, falls on incapable, 
unjust, or iniquitous men; and if these men, for their 
further enrichment or advancement, weave round 
themselves such a web of legal technicalities and 
statutory subtleties as with perjuries, ballot-box stuff- 
ings, and assistant hirelings to secure them in their 
positions, must good citizens forever refrain from lay- 
ing hands on these Lord's Anointed? 

There are men high in intellect and education, who 
hold that a law once formally made by the people, can- 
not rightly be altered or disregarded by the people 
except through legislative process. In the law itself, 
and in the creating of it, they say, is the tacit agreement 
of the people that the}^ will not override or overrule 
it but by formulas similar to those that brought it 
into force. They make a law for the punishment of 
those who break a law. All must abide by the com- 
pact, no matter what the injustice or emergency. 
It were sacrilege otherwise. And yet these same 
persons will tell you that the people are supreme. 

Now if the people are supreme, they cannot cre- 
ate a power superior to themselves and still remain 
supreme. They cannot bind themselves to one an- 
other in fetters so strong that all together, or the 


ruling majority, cannot instantly break them. If the 
Almighty establishes an edict or enters into a com- 
pact which he cannot immediately annul, he is no longer 
almighty. It may be righteousness that rules him, 
but he is ruled. However this may be, all the su- 
preme powers we are cognizant of make and break 
at pleasure. 

Ask a jurist if it be right ever under any circum- 
stances to break a law, and turning from his book he 
will answer you, " I find it nowhere so written." Ask 
him if statutes and constitutions are superior to nature 
and necessity, and the reply is, " The law of the land 
shall stand forever, or until it be legally annulled or 
changed ; else there is no security, no safety, nor hap- 
piness or progress ; else all is confusion, chaos, a whirl 
of anarchy and annihilation. Atoms cannot hold to- 
gether without law; no more can individuals." With 
heart and mind still unsatisfied, in your conscientious 
distress to know the truth, go to the divine, to him 
who represents the power behind human forms, and 
put the question; and he reads you likewise from his 
book, "Be subject unto the higher powers; the powers 
that be are ordained of God." Ask him if the powers 
for evil are ordained of God, and he stands before you 
dumb with indignant astonishment at your unhallowed 
impudence. Now we the people, who are neither 
jurist nor divine, we would say that if Ned McGowan, 
Murray, Terry, and others with whom in due time I 
will make the reader acquainted, were ministers of 
justice ordained of God, then God ordained some very 
bad men judges in California, and happily he ordained 
a people to rise and drive them out. " I know of no 
higher power than the constitution of my country," 
exclaims John B. Weller in a burst of anti-vigilance 
patriotism — which was unfortunate for Mr Weller. 
The constitution is a very good thing, an implement 
by which to regulate delegated social force, for which 
I entertain profound respect, and before which I am 


prepared to bow in company with all good men who 
thus recognize the necessity of yielding some portion 
of their individual will for the benefit of the whole. 
I respect likewise the steam-engine that carries me 
ten miles more quickly than I can walk one. That 
the people can create a power higher than themselves 
is a palpable absm^dit}^, which it is idle to discuss. 

Ask a jm^ist his opinion of vigilance committees, of 
the morality of such movements, more particularly 
of the San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1856, 
that being the representative organization of popular 
tribunals in the Pacific States and the only one 
of which there is much general knowledge, and the 
answer will be: '^Had the people been as ready to 
assist the law as they were to disregard it, there would 
have been no necessity for a committee of vigilance." 
Ask him if, with venal judges, knavish custodians of 
public prisons, and an atmosphere rank with political 
corruj)tion pervading courts of justice, it were possible 
for the people to assist law to the successful punish- 
ment of crime, and the answer will be : "Had they done 
their duty at primaries, at the polls, as jurors, as citizens 
of the commonwealth, there would have been no cor- 
rupt officials or foul political airs." Press him further, 
and ask if, with shoulder-strikers reigning in every 
ward, with ballot-box stuflfers ruling elections, with 
professionals as jurors, witnesses, and bondsmen, and 
magistrates who feared the roughs far more than God 
or good men, it were possible for the people to do fair 
duty as citizens, and the answer will be : "It was their 
own fault, and by reason of their neglect of duty alone 
that all these evils had come upon them." Pump until 
doomsday and this is all we shall get from the deep- 
est wells of legal or religious lore. 

A century or two ago and this would have been 
sufficient, but it is not so now. We cannot but feel, 
though in the presence of august book-magnates who 
have garnered the experience of the ages, and upon 
whom has fallen the spirit of omnipotent intelligence. 


that we mean one thing while they refer to another. 
We cannot but feel that these our teachers are either 
stupidly or wilfully blind; that either they will not 
see the new light which renders transparent the old 
tricks of bigotry, or, beholding, they can only stop and 
stutter. Instead of answering they evade the ques- 
tion, just as in the practice of their profession they 
too often feel in duty bound to prefer jugglery before 

The time has come when the instructors of pro- 
gressive peoples must fortify their time-honored posi- 
tions or abandon them. Thoughtful men are no longer 
satisfied with artificial enlargements, thick-soled shoes, 
and cunningly contrived masks, such as the Greek 
actors employed in increasing their stature and the 
volume of their voice. 

The gods themselves once so complained. When 
ancient rationalists first questioned the existence of 
the Olympian deities, Jupiter was in heroics; heaven 
shook with his wrath. '^Men are actually discussing," 
he roared, ''whether they shall hereafter worship at 
all." "It is all your own fault!" exclaimed Momus, 
the jester of the Olympian conclave; "the gods have 
brought the trouble on themselves through a neglect 
of their duties." And Momus is right. For a lying 
press, for iniquitous politicians and an ignorant pulpit, 
for the absurdities of fashion and the injustice of 
society, for prostitution, for gambling, for thieving, 
for the knaveries of the scheming capitalist, the 
grindings of monopolists, and the swindlings of corpo- 
rations, the people have only themselves to blame, for 
all these enormities spring from the people and exist 
only on the sufferance of the people. And as he is 
as lawless who disregards law as he who overthrows it, 
so he is as immoral who fails in his political duty as 
he who breaks some social conventionality. It is a 
common and foolish fashion to denounce government 
for evils rooted in the people. 

I admit that the people of San Francisco did not 


their whole duty as citizens; that, absorbed in their 
money-gettings and careless of the city's future, they 
avoided the polls and shirked public responsibility. 

But this is not the question. Americans and 
others, both before and since the time of which I 
write, have been guilty of like neglect. Adulterated 
as has been the stream of our progress by enfranchis- 
ing low foreigners and white-washing ignorant Afri- 
cans ; prostituted as are our politics by charlatans and 
demagogues, both native and imported, the polls and 
public duty offer few attractions to one whose pride 
is enlightened liberty alone, and who abhors villainy 
even when found under the guise of patriotism. The 
deep abasement of our once so highly prized preroga- 
tives, however, offers no excuse for the neglect of 
distasteful duty. That the wicked rule is reason all 
the more that the righteous should rally. 

Yet another cause existed of the indifference in 
public affairs manifested by the people of San Fran- 
cisco during the city's infancy, which was the feverish 
and unstable character of the community. It is safe 
to say that prior to 1855 one fourth of the resident 
population of San Francisco changed every year; and 
that of those constituting the Vigilance Committee 
of 1856, not one in ten had belonged to the Com- 
mittee of 1851. People were constantly coming and 
going, settling and selling out. All was confusion; 
few thought of or cared for the welfare of the young 
metropolis. Hence, if the way to determine the right 
or wrong of the action of the people of San Francisco 
who in 1856 organized themselves a popular tribunal 
above and independent of law be in casting blame 
on some one, on whom shall it rest? On those who 
wintered there in 1853 or 1855, or on those who hap- 
pened to be citizens in 1856? 

Again, men will not display the same zeal and 
activity in public as in private affairs, at least until 
public affairs are conducted more as are private affairs. 
They will not volunteer as readily and persevere as 


faithfully when called to assist the authorities, as when 
acting independently under their own organization. 
We are all of us so constituted that in order to accom- 
plish anything well there must be enthusiasm. This 
absent, and man is but a machine, and a very poor 
one. It was hardly to be expected that the workers 
of San Francisco would leave with alacrity their 
shops, their benches, their banks, and their counting- 
houses to perform duties which they had already 
paid public servants to do. More particularly would 
this feeling prevail in the absence of confidence that, 
when they had spent their time and money in the 
public service, in hunting criminals and delivering 
them to the authorities, speedy and impartial justice 
would be meted. Action springs from anticipation 
of success; enthusiasm languishes under repeated 

But what kind of logic is this of our masters? 
Whoever before thought of determining public policy 
by flinging odium on generations gone by ? For such 
were the rapidly revolving years of this pregnant 
epoch, each a generation, if counted by changes and 
events. It is as if the shipwrecked mariner imploring 
assistance from the shore should be told: "Had you 
not put to sea in a leaky vessel you would not now 
need help;" or as if a phj^sician called to administer 
to a sick person should answer: '^Had your grand- 
father obeyed the laws of nature you would have no 
need of medicine." The question was not what might 
have been done under other circumstances, but what 
should these citizens of San Francisco do now ; what 
was right for them to do, who by reason of their own 
fault, or the fault of those who had been citizens be- 
fore them, had come to political grief, and now saw 
crime grinning destruction upon them. 

What says society in other exigencies where the 
law is impotent or wilfully neglectful ? How stands 
the matter in regard to the husband who slays the 
destroyer of his wife's honor, or the father who kills 


the betrayer of his child? They break the law; the 
law frowns; but there is not a court in America that 
will capitally convict them. They do murder; but no 
jury will adjudge them to death, and no judge dare 
do it. Acting as we do, we might as well look this 
subject squarely in the face, and then acknowledge, 
like men, that there is a power, omnipresent, behind 
and above law, and of which legal forms are but the 
imperfect expression. This does not degrade law, and 
is no attempt to abrogate it. The law is the imple- 
ment of the supreme power for the accomplishment 
of a purpose. If it works well, it is for the benefit of 
the people ; if ill, it must be repaired or thrown aside. 
If this can be done formally, by edicts, legislative 
enactments, sheriffs, judges, and the like, so much the 
better; if not, then the ultimate power must do it in- 
formally, and in its own way. It is perhaps too great 
a strain on human nature to expect those who live 
by the law to admit that under any circumstances 
the law may rightly be broken. What do we say of 
the man who makes his rule of conduct in life his 
master and not his servant? That he is a stubborn 
dolt. So we may likewise say of the people who 
write their laws in ink so indelible that it is beyond 
their power to erase them. They are the slaves of 
their superstition, the idolaters of the calf which they 
have made. 

In all this I am far from advocating vigilance as a 
substitute for law. "Vigilance is the law's mentor as 
well as the law's master. It does not wish to over- 
throw the law, else it is not vigilance, but revolution. 
To our learned friends upon the bench we might re- 
verse their standing argument, and with far more 
propriety and pertinency say, if law and government 
were what they should be, there would never be a 
vigilance committee. That we may need it no more 
is the prayer of all good citizens. 

There are others whose teachings are worthy our 
attention. Saint Paul says: ''We know that the 


law is good if a man use it lawfully." Plutarch 
finds the truth in ^'following the most ancient law of 
nature, which makes the weak obey the strong, begin- 
ning with God and ending with the irrational part of 
creation; for these are taught by nature to use the ad- 
vantages which their strength gives them over the 
weak." Blackstone teaches that "no human laws are 
of any validity if contrary to the law of nature; and 
such of them as are valid derive all their force and all 
their authority mediately or immediately from this 
original." Even Machiavelli, prince of princes' ser- 
vants, is not far behind the rest when he writes: 
''Perche, cosi come gli buoni costumi, per mantenersi, 
hanno bisogno delle leggi; cosi le leggi, per osservarsi, 
hanno bisogno de' buoni costumi." And Favart 
observes: "Tout citoyen est roi sous un roi citoyen." 
But strongest of all from him best capable of telling 
us the truth. "Let men learn that a legislature is not 
our God upon earth," says Herbert Spencer, "though, 
by the authority they ascribe to it, and the things they 
expect from it, they would seem to think it is. Let 
them learn rather that it is an institution serving a 
purely temporary purpose, whose power, when not 
stolen, is at the best borrowed. . . . Nay, indeed, have 
we not seen that government is essentially immoral? 
Is it not the offspring of evil, bearing about it all the 
marks of its parentage ? Does it not exist because crime 
exists? Is it not strong, or as we say, despotic, when 
crime is great? Is there not more liberty, that is, less 
government, as crime diminishes? And must not gov- 
ernment cease when crime ceases, for very lack of 
objects on which to perform its function? Not only 
does magisterial power exist because of evil, but it 
exists by evil. Violence is employed to maintain it; 
and all violence involves criminality. Soldiers, police- 
men, and gaolers; swords, batons, and fetters, are in- 
struments for inflicting pain ; and all infliction of pain 
is in the abstract wrong. The state employs evil 
weapons to subjugate evil, and is alike contaminated 


by the objects with which it deals and the means by 
which it works. Morahty cannot recognize it; for 
morahty, being simply a statement of the perfect 
law, can give no countenance to anything growing 
out of, and living by, breaches of that law." To 
which Charles Nordhoff adds his weight in these per- 
tinent words: ''Back of all laws and all authority 
must lie a belief that in the last resort every citizen 
will defend his own rights. You cannot put a cor- 
poral's guard at every man's door. The thief or 
robber at bottom never fears the law and the govern- 
ment nearly as much as he does the right arm and 
courage of the man he seeks to injure." What says 
the corner-stone of liberty, our own Declaration of 
Independence? "To secure these rights, governments 
are instituted among men, deriving their just powers 
from the consent of the governed; that, whenever 
any form of government becomes destructive of these 
ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to 
abolish it, and to institute a new government." 
Likewise the preamble to the Massachusetts con- 
stitution in 1780: "Whenever these great objects," 
namely, liberty and the protection of the body politic 
in its natural rights, "are not obtained, the people 
have a right to alter the government, and to take 
measures necessary for their safety, prosperity, and 
happiness." So it is elsewhere fifty times maintained. 
Indeed, it is not the right to alter, but the method of 
doing it, that is questioned. 

Let us take a look at this thing called law; not 
alone at the laws made by men for their own govern- 
ance, and by virtue of which act, were there no other, 
their superiority over all material things is manifest, 
but at that subtle force everywhere apparent. It is 
not necessary to go to sheep-bound books to find out 
law. Statutes are form rather than force, or at best 
force formulated. 

The Ionic philosophers saw one only all-pervading 


principle in nature, though personified in the minds of 
some by one element, and in the minds of others by 
another. Thus Thales thought it water, Anaxagoras 
atoms, Anaximenes air, Heraclitos fire. Science and 
religion now go behind all these and call this prin- 
ciple law; the one under title of the forces of nature, 
the other under that of the will of God. But whatever 
it is, science and religion see it, feel it, and believe 
in the same thing, though they call it by different 
names and numberless sub-names. We feel God in 
nature and in ourselves; as the blind child, feeling 
with its fingers the lineaments of the face it loves, 
reads thus the secrets of the heart behind it. Up- 
permost in the mind of the jurist are the written 
rules for the regulation of human societies; in the 
mind of the moralist the unwritten rules; the broader 
conceptions of the scientist refer mankind as well as 
nature to fixed laws. '^Les lois," says Montesquieu, 
'Mans la signification la plus etendue, sont les rapports 
necessaires qui derivent de la nature des choses; et 
dans ce sens, tous les etres ont leurs lois; la divinite 
a ses lois, le monde materiel a ses lois, les intelligences 
superieurs h. I'homme ont leur lois, les betes ont leurs 
lois, I'homme a ses lois." 

But when thus or otherwise defined, we are as far 
as ever from knowing what law is. A religionist like 
Hooker places the seat of law in the bosom of God, 
who chooses himself to be influenced by the laws 
which he establishes; whence arise law-worship and 
disputes of various kinds. The law of nature, in its 
requirements and punishments, is the same whether 
it comes to us through our senses and our reason, or 
through pretended revelation. All that the most in- 
spired can do is to throw it into the same category 
with all unknowable phenomena, and there for the 
present leave it. Speculate as we will, the cogito, 
ergo sum of philosophy is our bound. 

We know that it is, and we know of it little else. 
Law is everywhere. Sit in your house, there rise 


round you the unwritten obligations between husband 
and wife, parents and children, master and servant. 
Go out upon the street, and at every turn you en- 
counter some one of the thousand rules which regu- 
late man's intercourse with man. There are laws of 
health, of business, of fashion, of pleasure. Out upon 
the sea, out in the wilderness; all things animate 
and inanimate, all things terrestrial and celestial, all 
things palpaple and impalpable, are under dominion of 
law. By law worlds whirl and atoms are held in 
place. By law suns shine, mountains stand, and seas 
yield their moisture. By law winds blow, rains fall, 
flowers bloom, birds fly, fishes swim, beasts growl, 
and man murders. Under law all that is strong and 
dreadful lies bound. Law flings lightning about the 
heavens, cracks the thunder- cloud, melts the shrouds 
of winter, and swells the buds of spring. From 
molecule to planet, from invisible mist-particle to the 
mighty main, from the breath of sleeping infant to 
the roaring tempest, all observe order, office, place, 
and form. Even the apparently erratic affairs of 
men, which until recently were regarded as under 
the immediate governance of free and reasoning in- 
telligence, are now, for the most part, referred to 
laws as the mainspring of their guidance. That most 
subtile of inspirations, the mind of man, we now per- 
ceive to be balanced by law. The animate and rational 
is subservient to the seemingly inanimate and irra- 
tional, and by obedience to these laws creatures and 
things alone exist. 

Neither is it alone force, but as it would seem 
intelligent force that rules this universe. The crystal 
forms not by the laws of the granite, nor the granite 
by the laws of the crystal. The plant grows not as 
the river grows, nor is man made as the mountain is 
made. Each after its kind fulfils its law. Call it by 
what name you will, abstract spiritual agency, cosmo- 
mechanical energy, nature or deity, its inscrutible 
sympathies and antipathies are manifested no less in 


blind matter than in enlightened intellect. Whether 
this power be increate and eternal, or finite; whether 
it is conceived jper se and exists in se, or is the result 
of a priori conceptions and exists per aliud, it is clear 
to all that system and design are among its most 
prominent features. 

Further than this, every person and every thing 
imposes laws on every other person and every other 
thing. Under force exists all; physical force, first 
dominator, then moral force, moral force being the 
legitimate result of physical force, the legitimate and 
justifiable result, which makes might right, else we 
should not find it so. Nature is law's logic, law's 
reason. Whatever in nature man finds stronger than 
himself he calls right, whatever is weaker he pro- 
nounces wrong. We do not ask if the air has the 
right to blow on us, or the water to drown us, or the 
fire to burn us ; but when human societies commit 
uncontrollable follies they are anathema, because they 
are susceptible of improvement. In framing laws for 
the regulation of nations in their relations one toward 
another, might is first considered and then right. 
International law is little else than an attempt to 
refine barbarisms, not an attempt to eradicate them. 
Even lawless war has its laws, and the law-breaking 
duello; likewise lust, and robbery, and all those worse 
than beastly doings which cause God to blush for man 
whom he has made, and for the laws which so sadly 
fail to secure in him decency. 

Follow nature back into the infinite, and, obscure as 
are its operations to us, we yet can see even here a 
government under mechanical laws. No new force is 
found which may not have had existence from the 
beginning, and neither force nor matter is distinguish- 
able in one world which may not be common to all 
worlds. That is to say, by observation, uniformity of 
action and regularity in results have been discovered 
in nature, and have been called laws. The genesis of 
man is but a sequel to the genesis of nature. So 

Pop. Teib., Vol. I, 


linked with each other are all the natural sciences, so 
interwoven are the forces which govern man and 
nature, that we can see in the progress of civilization 
only a continuation of that process of evolution every- 
where apparent in the physical world. And this law 
of nature is as far back as we can go in searching the 
origin of law. Law is universal and singular; whether 
natural or artificial, it is one and the same principle. 
The forces of nature are diverse, and are held in 
equilibrium by their antagonisms. Some of them at 
times appear to act contrary to the interests of man, 
yet all favor him when duly restricted and directed. 
Wind and water may be trained to sail ships and turn 
mills, and the lightning which strikes destruction is 
bridled to carry messages. Society, at first free, 
accepts self-subordination for the purpose of subor- 
dinating others, which done, it struggles for freedom. 
This partially achieved, it lapses into yet more strin- 
gent restraints. 

It appears not a little strange that of all created 
things civilized man should not be able to live in har- 
mony with his kind without first binding himself in 
social, political, and theological fetters. In this respect 
he is more brutish than brutes, more extravagant 
in his senselessness than inanimate things. As the 
heathen by the mouth of Protagoras put it, "Man 
was overlooked in the original distribution of gifts by 
Epimetheus among mortal creatures, and was left the 
only base and defenceless animal in creation; and 
though Prometheus strove to remedy his brother's 
oversight as far as he could by giving him fire and 
other means of life, still there was no principle of 
government, and man kept slaying and plundering his 
brother man; till at last Jove took pity on him, and 
sent Hermes to distribute justice and friendship, not 
to a favored few but to all alike." 

Inanimate things and irrational creatures must 
blindly obey the law of nature, but rational men find 


it necessary to place themselves under restrictions of 
their own making in order to dwell together in har- 
mony. In masses of progressive men there appears 
to be a mental inaptitude for single and independent 
self-guidance ; and failing the instincts of the brute, a 
code of conduct must be marked out and stamped 
with some sort of authority. Their well-being left by 
nature partially free, they must needs fetter it imme- 
diately or their behavior becomes such as to bring upon 
themselves destruction. Should man some day become 
emancipated from the law of nature, he may hope to 
emancipate himself from the restrictions which the 
boon of free-will lays upon him. Even the beasts 
which when wild might roam at will, tamed must 
have a halter. So it is with wild and tamed men. 
Laws are the cords that tie each person in his place. 
In proportion as private and public intelligence 
increases the authority . of rulers decreases. Law 
arises from necessity, and not from the desire of 
individuals for restraint. Though in every human 
aggregation there must be some sort of subordination, 
in the earlier and incoherent stages it is very slight; 
only with the evolution of society is a complex 
governmental system evolved. The animalism in man 
must be restrained, if not on principles of morality then 
from expediency. If man were only animal, then bird- 
law, or fish-law, or beast-law would suffice. But man 
is more than animal, and animal laws do not answer 
for the regulation of intellectual properties. The 
normal condition of mankind is progress. To progress 
belong wealth, rights, and mental culture; and for 
the preservation of these there must be a yielding of 
some portion of the individual will to the united will 
of the nation, some regulations or laws which all are 
bound to obey. 

It is into such bondage man is born. Innumerable 
laws, twisted into the cable of one great law, bind him 
at the outset to his treadmill existence. And as if 
this were not enough he straightway sets about formu- 


lating forces which shall place him under new restric- 
tions, light at first, but made stronger at each step 
that lifts him above brute existence. Peopling the 
heavens with dire intelligences, he passes an epoch of 
spiritual and political superstitions in which the mind 
becomes stupefied by an agony of slavish fear. From 
this despotism, in due time, he awakens, rattles his 
chains, breaks some of them, but only to find stronger, 
finer cords with each emancipation. Thus paradox- 
ical is our freedom when it comes, libert}^ leading only 
to greater bondage; for the more advanced the civil- 
ization the more powerful the unwritten law. Is it 
not humiliating, is it not far from high or holy sat- 
isfaction, the thought that of all animals man alone 
should require conventional rules immediately he as- 
sociates in a civilized way; that with his intelligence 
and reason he should require laws to govern him, 
when brutes associate in comparative harmony, each 
with its kind, without the appointment of legislature, 
governor, judge, or hangman ? Obviously this is the 
penalty man pays for his reason. It is because he is 
a reasonable creature that he is forced thus to regulate 
his conduct according to reason. It is because he is 
one with the eternal all-ruling intelligence, that intel- 
ligence is necessary in the direction of his affairs. 
Yet if we so conclude that in God's stead man rules 
himself; that nature makes not laws for its creator: 
that man's intelligence is above nature, and nature 
makes no laws for the intellect of man — still I should 
say so much the worse for an intelligence which so 
humiliates intelligence, and I should find nothing ad- 
mirable or worshipful in such domination. 

But however may seem to us the origin of law 
and the manufacturing of statutes, the necessity of 
written rules we must recognize. Law we must have, 
and government, for so it is appointed unto man. And 
good citizens will obey the law and support the gov- 
ernment; for it is for them and their children, as 


against the wicked, as protection from those who would 
injure them, that laws are made and governors placed 
in authority to execute the laws. But to talk of the 
sacredness of law, at this day, is to clothe rules and 
prescriptions with the superstitious veneration which 
enshrouded them of old. Government is, or should 
be, the united will of a majority of the people 
cooperated for protection against that spirit of evil 
which seems to take possession in a greater or less 
degree of certain members of every community; 
and there is nothing honorable, august, or sacred 
in the office, or in the person of him who exercises 
delegated power, which is not found in the persons of 
those who bestow it. Yet mankind are slow to shake 
off this superstition; so slow that from the divine 
right of kings they step to the divine right of legis- 
lators, and the despotism of monarchy is succeeded 
by a despotism of democracy. 

The strongest element of social subordination is 
found in that awe in which the masses hold the 
possessors of power; and those high-sounding titles 
and imposing pageantries which unduly magnify the 
actions of officials so foster in the popular mind this 
spirit of reverence as to make disloyalty the greatest 
of crimes. 

The very words and symbols of authority, such as 
legal verbiage, red tape and seals, and all that clap- 
trap of justice of which wigs, gowns, and divers 
hollow ceremonies are a part, tend to impose upon 
the people and fill their minds with fear as of some 
solemn mysterious power. When the Athenian leaders 
of popular reform, Pericles and Ephialtes, talked of 
abolishing the high court of the Areopagus, ^schylus 
in his great Triology represented the venerable court 
as having been founded by Pallas for the trial of 
Orestes, and so held it up as an institution ever to be 
revered by every pious Athenian. Up to the year 
1823, when Mr Black, editor of the Morning Chron- 
icley attacked some of the vices and absurdities of En- 


glish law, the judicature of England was regarded a 
model of perfection. 

Not justice alone, but courts of justice, in the eyes 
of ignorance, are given us by the gods. The most 
prominent effort of philosophy to-day is to rescue 
from empiricism the laws under which human beings 
aggregate and live. 

From the worship of demi-gods and heroes, from 
the Hebrew Scriptures or other holy books, from the 
Csesarian despotism, or from some other source, man- 
kind became imbued with the opinion that kings, as 
representatives of divine power on earth, should be 
implicitly obeyed; nor was it until a comparatively 
recent period that the theory of original compact be- 
tween the ruler and his subjects was recognized. 
Blood revenge was held by the savage a sacred duty, 
as civilized law to-day is held by certain of its minis- 
ters a sacred thing. 

The earliest form of government, after the govern- 
ment of environment, is the authority exercised by 
the parent over the child. The child is born helpless, 
and in its rearing and education it must adapt itself 
to the more experienced will of the parent. The father 
of the family becomes the patriarch of an aggrega- 
tion of families. Posterity deifies his memory, and he 
takes his place among the gods of the national mythol- 
ogy. At length the doctrine of ancestral divinity is 
applied to the living monarch. Although he may not 
yet be deemed divine, his mission is. Although not 
a god, he has the authority of a god, delegated, it may 
be, from his dead ancestors, and later from the cre- 
ator. He is respected by his subjects as of heavenly 
origin. He is addressed in the terms in which the 
creator is addressed. Majesty, Lord. Obeisance is 
made to him as to God. Men hold their lives and 
their property subject to his will, submitting to him, 
as vicegerent of the creator, as they submit to God, 
their maker. But with the elevation of the intellect 


comes the downfall of the divine theory of king- 
craft. The monarch is divested of his supernatural 
robes; he is permitted to rule at the will of the people. 
Loyalty comes to mean patriotism rather than abject 

Now patriotism is but a reflex of egotism, and re- 
spect for statutes and constitutions is but another 
form of loyalty. And as excessive love of country is 
excessive self-love, so undue worship of forms of law 
is a part of that superstitious loyalty which of old held 
to the doctrine of divine kingship. If reverence is 
anywhere due, whatever good there ma}^ be in loyalty, 
in that sentiment which unites individuals under a 
common head, it is not the power of law which should 
be reverenced, but the power which creates and sus- 
tains law. This doctrine of divine kingship appears, 
in a sort of inverted form, in the Athenian's creed, 
which held it dangerous for a man to rise above his 
fellows — whence ostracism, or oyster-shell voting a 
too ambitious man out of the country. 

From this divine king- worship have sprung many of 
the courtesies of modern society, expressions of fear, 
awe, propitiation, submission, as well as political sub- 
ordination. Form of some kind is necessary. I have 
said that the forces of nature are held in equilibrium 
by their antagonisms. Throughout the universe we 
see two great contending powers, attraction and re- 
pulsion, both of which are essential to development, 
nay, to life itself It is the action and reaction of 
these opposing forces that give form and life to matter, 
that underlie all development, that separate the chaos 
of nebulae into systems of worlds, and systems of vege- 
table and animal organisms. So it is in society. It 
is the tendency of opposing forces toward an equi- 
librium that constitutes progress. If wealth and cul- 
ture and rank and power had, from the beginning, been 
given in equal parts to every individual, there would 
be no activity, no struggle, no progress. The laws of 
man and the laws of matter are correlative. 


As refinement and good morals assert dominion 
crime diminishes, and thus the penalty that the com- 
mmiity must pay for the evil which is done in it is 
lessened. What will quicker arouse the spirit of 
liberty than despotism, of order than anarchy? How 
could we value virtue but for vice? Civilization may 
have been dearly purchased at the cost of so much 
suffering and wickedness, but without war, bigotry, 
murder, tyranny — in short, without the combined evils 
incident to humanity, the very existence of progres- 
sional phenomena is unthinkable. Nevertheless, each 
new blessing only opens the door to new bondages. 

Between the forces of society and the laws by 
which those forces act there is a vast difference, a 
difference not always recognized by legislators and 
jurists. Often law is mistaken for force, and force for 
law. If I toss a ball into the air, the law of gravita- 
tion is not subverted, though its force may be. When 
laws antagonistic both to the forces that move society 
and to the laws that govern such forces are placed 
on the statute-book, they are certain to be either 
annulled or to stand inoperative. Without the sup- 
port of the people, I say, statutes are the stolidest of 
dead things. Solon was well aware that his laws 
were not the best that could be made, but they were 
the best the Athenians would receive. Self-preserva- 
tion and all other instincts are forces, and their behavior 
under given conditions reveals to us the laws under 
which they act. Social forces make for themselves 
sociological laws; statutory laws are neither the one 
nor the other, but to remain in force they must be 
consistent with both. Many say that popular tribu- 
nals are good in theory but wrong in practice. Now 
ignorance alone affirms of a thing that it may be cor- 
rect in theory, and at the same time impracticable. 
Nothing true in theory can be untrue in practice; if 
a plan fails in its application, then clearly the hypoth- 
esis is at fault. 

Often we hear remarked of an enactment, It is a 


good law, but impossible of execution. How absurd ! 
A law impossible of execution, or that otherwise falls 
far short of its purpose, is not a good law, is worse 
than no law at all. Stupidly we look to legislation as 
an infallible panacea for every social ill, and never 
cease alternately to beseech and curse the demi-gods 
who sit in council to make our laws. Thus endless 
expectation waits on endless disappointment. 

This doctrine of the divine right of kings and passive 
obedience on the part of the people never obtained in 
Anglo-Saxon America, and least of all in California. 
So sovereign in thought and feeling were the people 
of this new commonwealth, that traditional forms and 
conventional restraint were for the most part thrown 
aside. At the first every mining district made its 
own laws and regulated its own affairs. As in sav- 
agism, government, which according to the modern 
ideal, is the protection of life and property and the 
punishment of crime, was absent. And indeed they 
did very well without it, for there was little property, 
save that of a portable kind, and every man defended 
his own life or left it without defence. He punished 
crimes committed against himself, if he was able ; if not, 
he left them unpunished. Later came that loyalty 
which springs from social compact, a compact which 
delegates certain rights of the individual to society 
on condition that society shall protect him in other 
rights, the conscience as well as the person gradually 
becoming bound by it. But when established forms 
are warped for vile purposes by a dishonest minority, 
then the principle of self-preservation comes in, which 
our laws and our constitution, as well as every in- 
stinct of our nature, hold to be first. 

The whole matter — that is, the right of vigilance, 
not the expediency or the manner of its execution — 
turns after all on the rig^ht of revolution, a right which 
a 2^^^iori few deny, howsoever one complains when in its 


incipiency it may tread on one's interests or preju- 
dices. I say the morale of that class of social erup- 
tions which in California took the name of vigilance 
committees turns on one's view of this right of revo- 
lution and on one's general conceptions of law and 
ethics. Were Luther, and Cromwell, and Washing- 
ton right? Were Coleman, and Dempster, and Truett 
wrong? And if it be true that under sufficient provo- 
cation a number of persons possess the right to rebel 
against their rulers, then we might enquire how much 
provocation is necessary to render rebellion justifiable, 
and how many robbers, or murderers, or disturbers of 
the public peace must band before their acts shall be 
raised from the category of crime to the dignity of 

I do not mean to say that the vigilance committees 
in California, and elsewhere in the Pacific States, 
were revolutionary in their character. They were 
not. It was no part of their purpose in any instance 
to overthrow the government, to usurp political 
power, or to clog the machinery of legislation or of 
law. The principle involved, however, is the same. 
It is the act, rather than the motive, that the law 
judges. The question is, not whether it is right to 
break the law in order to accomplish a good purpose, 
but whether it is ever right to break the law at all. 

On this question the ablest minds, not alone in 
Cahfornia, but throughout the world, as before inti- 
mated, were at issue. Though tacitly admitting the 
right of revolution, there were those who denied the 
exercise of that right. And differences of opinion 
have existed, and do still exist, both as to the right 
and the policy of an arbitrary assumption of adminis- 
trative power by the people under any circumstances. 
Better, some say, that virtuous citizens should throw 
their weight into the balance with legislature and law 
courts, and so achieve the right unstained by lawless 
blood. ^ To sanction the doing of evil that good may 
come is to tread on dangerous ground, and estab- 


lish a precedent which some day may recoil on its 
authors with terrible effect. Where the law ends, 
tyranny begins; the cure is worse than the disease. 
Such and many other like maxims are brought for- 
ward in defence of obedience to the existing laws of 
the land under any and all circumstances. 

On the other hand the right of revolution is main- 
tained as the dearest right of a free people. Law is 
the servant and not the master of men. When the 
law, made by a majority of citizens, becomes dead or 
inutile, it is not only the privilege but the duty of the • 
majority to adopt new rules for the governance and 
protection of society. As a rule the minority con- 
tend that the state as a political organism embodies 
sovereign power, and that the power of the state 
is superior to the power of the people, while the 
majority maintain that the people are sovereign. 
If the laws and constitution are contrary to the 
will of the majority, then the minority rule; if a 
majority of the people possess the sovereign power, 
it seems paradoxical to allege that they can commit 
treason against themselves. Respect for the law, 
obedience to righteous law, these are the questions 
involved. Manifestly it is the duty of every individual 
to heed and obey the laws; thus far both sides agree, 
and thus far there may be a tincture of divinity in 
the existing laws, for statutory law is supposed to 
embody most of the divine and moral laws. But it 
is not that species of divinity attributed to law from a 
study of the law's mystical technicalities by the high 
priests of its idolatry, which makes form superior to 
substance, and bows before the skeleton long after 
the soul has departed. 

Hence arose two parties, the Law and Order party, 
and the Popular Tribunal party. Both sides agreed 
that the laws of the land should be obeyed, but in 
practice there was this difference : The popular party — 
that is to say the people, the masses, of which com- 
mittees of vigilance are always composed — were as a 


rule industrious, orderly, God-fearing, and law-abiding 
men. They were the class that laws are made to pro- 
tect and not to punish. The law and order party, after 
including a certain class of lawyers and officials, was 
composed in a great measure of the lawless and order- 
less, habitual law-breakers, who lived not by honest 
labor, but by subverting and distorting the law so that 
they might fatten on the labor of others, and who 
estimated the justice of the judge by their own 
villainy ; and it was seemingly fit that those w^ho lived 
by the breaking of laws should thus band for mutual 
support. This was the class the laws were made to 
punish; but in their hands, and in the hands of their 
masters whom they had elevated to office, it con- 
stituted a safe protection for them, and was made to 
punish those only whom it should have protected. 
It was wholly an anomalous condition of things, and 
to judge the action of early Californians by the rules 
of older societies is wrong. No wonder these men 
saw divinity in law; it was the only kind of divinity 
many of them were ever able to discern ; the divinity 
of the ballot-box, of jails and city halls; that devilish 
divinity which affords protection from lawful penalties 
incurred by promiscuous robbery and murder. 

I say it is absurd to charge the members of the San 
Francisco Vigilance Committee with disrespect for 
the laws. Their deference was not displayed in loud 
protestations of patriotism, in fanatical adoration of 
the capped and gowned goddess of liberty, or in 
lung-splitting reverence for a piece of starred and 
striped bunting; these were the sounding brass and 
tinkling cymbal of the law and order party. The 
deference of the mercantile and industrial classes for 
law was manifest in practice rather than in profession. 
Their daily life was a standing commentary on 
their respect for and obedience to the laws of God 
and the laws of their country, even if they did some- 
what roughly handle the law in rescuing it from the 
clutches of wicked men. 


Not disrespect for the law, nor a denial of the 
human and divine right of law to be obeyed; not the 
absence of a necessity for law ; not a lack of due def- 
erence to judges, governors, and administrators of the 
law Avhen such deference was their due, when it was 
not the deference of subjects to a master but the 
deference of freemen for the instrument which for 
the time embodied their common rule of conduct, 
which would result in the greatest good to the greatest 
number — nothing of this kind can rightly be charged 
on members of vigilance committees. It was the 
right of a majority of the people to suspend the 
action of the law, or to change the existing form of 
law or of government by the surest and most direct 
method, whenever they deemed it essential to the 
well-being of society to do so — and this, if necessary, 
without waiting the slower, less effectual, and less 
certain means provided by constitution or statute. 
In short it was the right of revolution which they 
claimed; a right more divine than the divine right 
of law; a right stoutly sustained as the bulwark of 
all our liberties, from the days of John, king of En- 
gland, to the present time; a right which cannot be 
denied without stopping the wheels of progress and 
sending mankind back into the Dark Age. 



There is what I call the American idea. 

Theodore Parker. 

For the further elucidation of the subject, I propose 
to give a historical sketch of Popular Tribunals in the 
Pacific States, more particularly in San Francisco, 
covering a period of thirty years from their inception. 

And first of all, a glance at the several phases of 
early society throughout this territory, with special 
reference to such causes and conditions as stimulate 
or retard the displays of irregular administration here 

The conquerors of Central America and Mexico, 
and those who followed in their wake as settlers, were 
not subjected to the same species of anomalous justice 
that later influenced the loose-minded pioneers of 
Anglo-Saxon heritage. For this two causes may be 
assigned: First, the Spanish settlers were colonists, 
under the immediate rule of a despotic governor ap- 
pointed by a jealous sovereign. In most instances this 
governor exercised over his subjects the power of life 
and death ; standing in the king's stead, he was respon- 
sible for his acts only to the crown. His government 
was military as well as civil, and irregularities, if not 
committed by himself, were grave offenses. Moreover, 
loyalty was so inbred in the Spanish character, so 
part of that superstition which constitutes the second 
cause why vigilance committees could not exercise 
their sway under Spanish rule, that to oppose their 



will to that of the sovereign or his deputy, was an act 
so sacrilegious as to be entertained only by the most 
abandoned. To the uttermost ends of the earth the 
wrath of heaven would pursue the disobedient. And 
whatsoever element of society there might be not un- 
der the complete dominion of secular power, the church 
was sure to hold in subjection. The Spanish colonists 
were not their own masters. They could not go and 
come as they pleased; they could not explore, subdue, 
and occupy except by permission. Unless thoroughly 
loyal to church and state, they were not fit subjects 
for colonization ; they were not Spaniards ; they were 
heretics, worse than Moslem or Jew, and fit only for 
death and perdition. They could act in any direction 
only by permission of the creator himself, as spoken 
by his vicegerents, who were in temporal affairs 
the king of Spain or his deputy, and in spiritual 
matters the pope of Rome or his deputy. Later, 
when both church and state by their sottish inanity 
lost much of their power, and the yoke of Spain fell 
from the necks of the colonists, society split into in- 
numerable opposing factions, which have been uniting 
and dividing and fighting each other much of the 
time since. All the while crime was rampant. Few 
were too good to steal. The rich were forced to con- 
tribute of their wealth to the support of the party in 
power; the officers of the government were seldom 
zealous except under the stimulus of a bribe; justice 
was bought and sold, and there was little difierence, ex- 
cept in outward appearance, between the professional 
highwayman and the peculator in office. Meanwhile 
there spawned a hybrid race, brute-low in stupidity; 
and these, poor and priest-ridden, were glad to eat and 
sun themselves in peace, careless of all things else. 
People, in our Anglo-American sense of the word, 
there were few; surely it is apparent enough that 
there was not here the material for a vigilance com- 
mittee. Of banditti there were always plenty. High- 
way robbery was here raised to a science. Instead 


of taking the road and keeping it, thereby stopping 
travel and ruining the business, the marauders would 
migrate irregularly, so as always to have some part of 
their field lying fallow. But alternately almost every 
section was visited, and at such times every highway 
swarmed with robbers. The criminal statistics of re- 
publican Mexico show some twenty thousand arrests 
annually, beside which those of California, even during 
her periods of most stringent reform, seem tame 
enough. And the guard was sometimes even more 
dangerous than the outlaw ; it was the proper thing for 
a hired escort to do, to flee at the approach of banditti, 
if indeed they did not assist in the pillage. Convicts 
were sometimes bound in couples by means of iron 
girdles, sometimes with chains six feet in length, and 
put to work on the highway. The jails of Sonora 
were poor affairs; and as for police, in many parts 
they were unknown. Banditti became so bold at 
times as to enter a town and rob a store in open 
day; if they confined their operations to the road and 
to strangers, the authorities were not quick to molest 

The constitution of Sonora provided a tribunal of 
justice composed of three chambers with letrados, that 
is to say, three judges and d^. fiscal; the letrados to be 
chosen by non-professionals. These were appointed 
every four years by congress. Magistrates were 
selected under special laws which defined their power; 
some were appointed by the governor with approval 
of congress. Frequently judges were placed in office 
expressly to be used as the tools of those electing 
them, even as under governments of more pretensions. 
Few were learned in jurisprudence, and many could 
not read or write. 

An old Mexican living in the robber-infected region 
of Jalisco called together the neighboring rancheros 
and made war in a body on the banditti. Soon the 
district was cleared of them; but in their zeal the 
armed corps did not stop there. Whenever any sus- 


picious-looking persons were seen lounging about, they 
were shot down without waiting to undergo the forms 
and uncertainties of law. When asked if in this way 
it did not sometimes happen that the innocent were 
punished with the guilty, the old man answered : '' Oh, 
yes; but the average on the right side is sure to be 
kept up !" 

The northern part of Lower California has been 
much of the time in a disorganized state, the orders 
of the supreme government being unknown; and, in- 
deed, had they been known they would not have been 
regarded along the frontier, some claiming to be 
under the government of Alta California and some 
professing to belong to Baja California, which was 
equivalent to being under the jurisdiction of neither. 

It was held to be a very wicked thing to kill a 
priest; more wicked than to kill a man less sure of 
seraphic glories. In 1805 a woman murdered Father 
Surroca in his bed because she had been dismissed 
from the padre's house. What Surroca had done to 
her is not stated. The order for the execution of the 
woman, together with two natives, was passed by the 
auditor of war on the last day of the year afore- 
said. The auditor recommended hanging, if an ex- 
ecutioner could be found; if not, shooting would do. 
In either event, the head and right hand of the 
woman were to be spitted in the most public place 
in Santo Tomas, and those of the others in other- 
suitable places. 

The 10th of June, 1849, Agustin Mancilla y Gfam- 
boa writes from San Francisco Javier to his brother 
at San Diego complaining of the insecure condition of 
property, and the absence of any administering of 
justice. Among other outrages, he speaks of the rob- 
bery of the church of Santo Tomd.s and the sale of 
the articles to some men trading toward San Diego„ 
and asks for their arrest. J. Ross Browne testifies 
that in 1866 the country was well governed, though 

Pop. Tbir., Vol I. 4. 


between the years 1851 and 1861 the Peninsula was 
infested with runaway rascals from Mexico and Cali- 
fornia, many of whom had to be shot as a warning. 
And notwithstanding the frequent revolutions, Browne 
asserts that Lower California is a peaceful country, 
and that robbery and murder are infrequent. 

Here, as elsewhere under Mexican rule, the custom 
was prevalent of advancing supplies to miners; that 
is, of paying them, usually in merchandise at exorbi- 
tant prices, for some time in advance, trusting to the 
hold law and custom gave upon the person of such 
debtors to get back their expenditure, with a profit, 
in the services of those thus bound to them. A 
mining superintendent near Santo Tomds in January, 
1858, having distributed the weekly rations as usual, 
found one morning that advantage had been taken 
of the circumstance by two miners, who had de- 
camped during the night, amply supplied with food. 
As soon as the discovery was made, the superintend- 
'•ent sent an American to the alcalde at Santo Tomds 
to obtain an order for the arrest of the fugitives. It 
was furnished at once, commissioning the Americans 
to bring them back living or dead. The alcalde also 
sent three Mexicans with him to assist in the execu- 
tion of his order. They w^ere successful in the pur- 
suit, returning to the alcalde before dusk with the 
prisoners, who, declaring themselves innocent of the 
charge, were not confined in the calaboose. The next 
morning the alcalde went to the mines, ordering the 
prisoners to follov/ in about half an hour. Trusting 
to their honor, they were allowed to come without a 
guard. Upon the opening of the court, the superin- 
tendent of the mines appeared as prosecuting attorney. 
Testimony was heard from all the witnesses without 
any administering of oath. The court, unwilling to 
take the responsibility of deciding the case, proposed 
that the plaintiff and defendants should choose hombres 
huenos, and that the case be adjourned until the next 
day, which was done. The hombres buenos are pecu- 


liar to Mexican judicature, differing from associate 
judges, arbitrators, or jurymen, but approximating 
toward all these. Upon the presentation of the tes- 
timony to this tribunal they decided to act on the 
suggestion of the superintendent, and condemned the 
prisoners to work out the value of the rations with 
which they had absconded, and to pay the costs of 

The execution of some twelve criminals by law in 
1860, murderers of Governor Castro and others, 
within a period of five months, brought upon Esparza, 
the governor, a swarm of vermin friends of the exe- 
cuted', threatening his life and that of all those having 
any hand in the executions. 

When Diivalos was governor of Lower California, 
in 1873, wishing to increase his revenue while giving 
gratification to his people, he permitted during the 
Christmas holidays a three days' indulgence in the 
favorite but interdicted game of monte. The fourth 
day, desirous of seeing in person how his order for the 
discontinuance of the amusement had been obeyed, he 
entered a saloon in company with an officer, and each 
drawing a pistol, more in play than in earnest, pointed 
the weapons at a party seated at a monte table, and 
ordered their surrender. Unfortunately the gov- 
ernor's pistol was accidentally discharged, killing an 
old and respected citizen of La Trinchera, Don Josd 
Maria Mendoza, a looker-on. After which the gov- 
ernor, fearing assassination at the hands of the 
younger members of the Mendoza family, dared not 
venture abroad save under cover of a body guard of 
ten men. 

In November, 1875, small squads of Sonoran 
banditti camped in Lower California just south of the 
line. The Americans on the San Diego side of the 
line did not regard their presence so near their fam- 
ilies with favor, and so they drove them away. The 
30th of this month two men, Leclaire and Sosa, were 
killed, as was supposed, by Lopez' gang. An alcalde 


of Lower California united with the sheriff of San 
Diego to arrest and bring the offenders to justice. 

Until a comparatively recent period, Arizona, in 
common with northern Mexico, was in the hands of 
the savages. Wide ranges of country were not in- 
habited by white men ; and to pass through the country, 
unless prepared for battle, was attended with great 
danger. There were sections rich in precious metals, 
but to develop them was impossible. The arid soil 
offered few attractions for agriculturists; vast unin- 
habitable deserts isolated settlers on the fertile spots, 
and afforded secure retreat for marauding aboriginals. 
These same deserts, however, were not favorable to 
civilized ruffians; there were too few hiding-places, 
and if not soon run down and captured, hunger or 
thirst would drive the flying criminal back upon his 
avengers. Nevertheless in due time civilization de- 
veloped some first-class scoundrels, Avho met their 
dues at the hands of the popular tribunal. 

Before the establishment of the Mexican republic 
justice in New Mexico issued directly or indirectly 
from the civil or military comandante. There were 
minor courts for petty causes, but important cases were 
decided for the most part by the governor. Affairs 
were still worse after the organization of the federal 
government at the city of Mexico. The only tribunal 
then in New Mexico was the alcalde's court. Under 
certain restrictions appeals were carried to the supreme 
court at Chihuahua, but few could afford the delay 
and expense. The routine of law courts was unknown, 
and the distance to the audiencia of Mexico was so 
great as to impede the adjustment of rights. 

The forms of litigation in New Mexico were quite 
simple. The complainant appeared in person and 
made a verbal statement before the alcalde, who 
ordered him to summon the accused, which was done 
by using the words, 'Le llama el alcalde,' the plain- 


tiff thus acting as complainant and constable. The 
defendant failing to appear in answer to the verbal 
summons of the plaintiff, the alcalde caused to eb 
served on him the regular process of the court, which 
was a large cane, called the hast on de justicia, an or- 
dinary walking-stick, having sometimes cut upon it a 
cross, but distinguished from a common cane chiefly 
by a black silk tassel peculiar to this stick of justice. 
Both litigants being present, each gave his own version 
of the case. Sometimes witnesses were summoned 
and sworn on the cross cut on the baston de justicia. 
Oftener, however, a cross formed by the finger and 
thumb Avas used in administering oaths. It was a lazy, 
lying sort of justice. Very frequently there would be 
neither witness nor oath in the case, which indeed 
was often just as well. The alcalde would hear and 
determine. It was all law, and the magistrate was 
far above fallible man. Trial by jury was not prac- 
tised, but in place of juries there were the hombres 
buenos before mentioned, to whom cases were often 
referred for decision. 

In judicial proceedings, little attention was paid to 
codes or forms. Indeed, alcaldes learned in the law 
were extremely rare, many of them never in their 
lives having looked between the covei*s of a law-book. 
Their proceedings when not warped by corruption 
were controlled by the prevailing customs of the 
country. Justice was administered under three dis- 
tinct and privileged jurisdictions, known as fueros: 
First, the eclesidstico, which ordained that no mem- 
ber of the clergy above the rank of curate should be 
arraigned before a civil tribunal, but should be tried 
by the superiors of his order; second, the militar, 
which made similar provision in favor not only of 
commissioned officers, but of common soldiers; third, 
the civil or ordinary courts for all cases in which the 
defendants were laymen. ''These fueros," says Gregg, 
''have hitherto maintained the ecclesiastic and mili- 
tary classes in perfect independence of the civil 


authorities. The civil, in fact, remains in some 
degree subordinate to the other two fueros; for it 
can under no circumstances have any jurisdiction 
whatever over them, while the lay plaintiff, in the 
privileged tribunals of these, may if unsuccessful, 
have judgment entered against him, a consequence 
that could never follow the suits of the ecclesiastical 
or military orders before the civil tribunals." 

The decisions of the alcalde were seldom in strict 
accordance with the merits of the case, and bribery 
was frequent. Indeed, he who had not the money 
with which to bribe the alcalde was almost sure to 
lose his case. The injustice and corruption of courts 
of law constituted one of the most painful features of 
this demoralized society. In a judicial contest with 
the wealthy the poor stood little chance, for if judge 
and witnesses were not directly bought with money 
their influence carried sufficient weight to neutralize 
plebeian testimony if offered against them. A person 
of influence could keep a prisoner in the calahozo 
almost at pleasure ; on the other hand without wealth 
or influence justice was beyond reach. 

In New Mexico punishment was administered 
neither in proportion to the malignity of the offence, 
nor having prominently in view the vindication of 
outraged law, nor the reformation of the evil-doer. 
Should the creditor express a willingness to apply the 
services of a debtor on account of the judgment ob- 
tained, the debtor was not imprisoned; but from the 
low wages allowed it was easy, in most cases, for the 
creditor, by making further advances from time to 
time, to reduce the debtor to a state of peonage and 
hold him in bondage for Kfe. For debt, theft, and 
murder, the customary sentence was the same, 'd la 
carcel,' and the offender was likely to remain about 
as long through inability to pay an insignificant sum 
of money as for the gravest of crimes, always provided 
that nothing was forthcoming for purposes of bribery. 
The mode of punishment was fine and imprison- 


ment, which in a society so dull, given to such sensual 
gratifications as lay within their reach, was by no 
means the most awe-inspiring or effectual. Fine could 
not be exacted where the offender possessed nothing; 
and imprisonment implied shelter and food, comforts 
not always within the reach of all. 

Bodily infliction, though open to the charge of 
brutality, is after all, in some form, the only punish- 
ment capable of holding crime in check. Some abhor 
whipping from the pain it brings, others from the 
disgrace attending it; all fear death. As for the 
relative brutality of corporal punishment and im- 
prisonment, I think under analysis the sentiment 
would signify a caprice of fashion rather than a vital 
difference. To cas^e a human beino^ like a wild beast^ 
or to chastise him and give him his liberty, there is 
on this ground little choice. 

In Utah religious fanaticism absorbed all sense of 
justice. To disobey the church was never so much 
as thought of among its followers. For any number 
of Mormons to assume attitudes antaofonistic to their 
leaders, or to divine revelation, was scarcely deemed 
possible. The Mormon theocracy left no place for 
questioning ; where God himself immediately governed, 
there, indeed, was law a sacred thing. There was 
little need of judicial mechanisms, court juggleries, 
forms, or furbelows. God's will was law; that will 
was made known by the mouth of his prophet; so 
that the voice of the church itself was law. Under 
such a regime, the little punishment little children 
required was easily administered, and the spirit of law 
and order brought these blind and ignorant worship- 
pers to their knees, and held them there in breathless 
awe. Under a theocratic government, no less than 
under a strong despotic government, we shall look in 
vain for the popular tribunal. The necessity for such 
an organization could not exist, or if it did, the 
material composing it could not be found; for if such 


principles obtained there would no longer be any 
theocracy. Utah cannot boast of a single respectable 
mob, if we exclude from such category, as certainly 
we must, troubles with natives and with gentiles. 

In California the case was different. Unlike the 
tribes of Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico, 
the natives of the great valley drained by the Sacra- 
mento and the San Joaquin were weak, defenceless, 
peaceable. The attention of the miners was not ab- 
sorbed, their interests were not Avoided by fear of the 
savages. The poor creatures aboriginally inhabiting 
the Sierra Foothills were little disposed to retaliate 
the insults and outrages heaped upon them; should 
they now and then attempt to right a wrong, a 
hundred lives for one was regarded poor payment, 
and such impious justice soon swept them away. 

Utah had much law and few people ; California had 
many people and little law. I do not speak as to 
relative numbers, but as to the relative intelligence, 
force, and capabilities of the people. California was 
little cursed by superstition; probably there never 
were assembled from all nations a greater number 
whose minds were so enfranchised from the tyrann}^ 
of ancient traditions, and whose thoughts were so 
free. In such a society we may confidently look both 
for evil-doers and for those possessed of will and 
strength enough to punish them. The true followers 
of the prophet could never do wrong; the}^ were not 
endowed with wit, wisdom, and energy sufficient for 
the achievement of great wickedness. This, however, 
applies only to the earlier immigrants, whose minds 
were at first dazed under the illumination of the 
bright skies of Utah, being so suddenly transformed 
thither from the dark places of Europe and America. 
It cannot be truthfully said of the people of Utah 
that they were long non-progressive. Behold even 
now, as their vestments are becoming somewhat 
cleansed of the ditch-water of England and Germany 
bv the pure springs of their American oasis, do they 


not keep faithful vigil over what they deem the 
highest and holiest gifts that ever deity delivered to 
man? And is not their material improvement to 
some extent the outgrowth of their steadfast devotion 
to their religion? 

In society and morals the early days of Nevada 
were a counterpart of the early days of California. 
As illustrative of the attitudes of law, when law with 
slow step and solemn demeanor drew nigh, and that 
popular sentiment which in border communities seizes 
so quickly the throat of a difficulty, there is told a 
story of one of Nevada's governors, who had pardoned 
a person whom the citizens had voted a rope, and had 
refused to pardon another who had shot his man, 'only 
in play like.' This did not at all suit the popular idea 
of propriety. So the people of Virginia, who by this 
time had acquired the name of the 'cussedest crowd 
in Christendom,' and who regarded it as not un- 
reasonable to expect from their landlord every morning 
* a dead man for breakfast,' came indignantly together 
to see what should be done. After discussing the 
matter potationally and at length without arriving at 
any satisfactory conclusion, one of their number arose, 
and without saying a word, cut from a new rope a 
piece several inches in length, and labelling it, "For 
his Excellency," despatched it to the governor. This 
was sufficient; the meeting adjourned satisfied. 

For some time after the acquisition of the country 
from Mexico by the United States Government, under 
treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, Nevada formed 
part of the territory of Utah, from which it was 
separated by Act of Congress approved March 2, 
1861. But as early as 1857 the inhabitants of 
Nevada had endeavored to sever their connection 
with Mormon rule. Delegates to Washington urged 
the establishing of a separate government. Mean- 
while the discovery of silver at Virginia in the sum- 
mer of 1869 brought in a large mixed class, rougher 


and more reckless, if possible, than that composing 
the Californian Inferno. 

A district judge appointed for Utah was assigned 
this portion of the territory, and began his duties in 
1860, but confusion and insecurity were little lessened 
thereby. Finally, on the 31st day of October, 1864, 
Nevada was admitted as a state; but several years 
elapsed before efficient courts of justice succeeded 
in intimidating crime. Meanwhile the people were 
obliged to administer punishment in their own way or 
give the land over to desperadoes. 

As early as 1848 a few families, mostly Mormons, 
settled in the valleys of Carson and Washoe. In 
answer to the mandate issued from Great Salt Lake 
in 1855 for the faithful everywhere who would escape 
the destruction shortly to fall upon the gentile world 
to gather beneath the many-wived shepherds' wings 
at the city of the Saints, sacrificing their homes, 
with alacrity they obeyed ; after which time the char- 
aracter of the settlers of that portion of the territory 
changed. A more lawless class occupied the farms 
which the Mormons had cultivated, and the evil 
element was increased by the overland travel which 
dropped among them an occasional ruffian of the 
highest attainments. 

The progress of settlement in the territory of Oregon 
was slow in comparison with that of almost all other 
portions of the west, but it was sure and permanent. 
The arts and usages of civilized society introduced by 
the Hudson's Bay Company and continued by the 
Northwest Company were simple and crude; and 
those of the agricultural settlers who succeeded the 
fur-hunters were but little better. 

Far different from the hot-house development of 
California, Idaho, and Nevada was that of Oregon and 
Washington, if we except the comparatively small 
mining districts within these territories. While the 
former were rioting in their easily acquired wealth, 


gambling, drinking, speculating, flinging their big bags 
of gold-dust hither and thither as if it was of all things 
the least valuable, the territories north were plowing 
their tough acres and plodding over their severe task 
of subjugating nature. Little foothold crime had 
there. There was nothing to steal. Cattle were not 
worth much; the ground could not be carried away; 
and houses were so far apart, and savages so bad, that 
the horse-thief would be more likely to starve than to 
get away safely with his plunder. So that during the 
time the mining states were suffering so severely from 
the inroads of crime, the agricultural states of the 
Pacific were almost wholly exempt. Nevertheless 
fitful spasms of arbitrary justice broke forth at in- 
tervals in the staid cold-water state. 

Idaho belongs to what was once popularly called 
the Upper Country, aboriginally occupied by dusky 
races which first became known to Europeans through 
the adventurous trappers who penetrated those wilds. 
By the magic power of gold, discovered on the banks 
of the Pen d' Oreille Piver by a French Canadian in 
1852; discovered in yet greater quantities at Oro Fino 
by a party of eleven men in the summer of 1860, this 
wilderness was opened to civilization. 

Following the discovery of gold at Oro Fino, 
twenty-five persons wintered at that place, cut off 
from all intercourse with the world without. The 
spring of 1861 saw two individuals on their way to the 
new gold-fields, and emigration led to the finding 
of rich placer mines at Florence, on the tributaries of 
Salmon River, at Warren's Diggings, and elsewhere. 
By the 1st of January, 1863, twenty-five hundred 
men had found their way into Boise Basin, the largest 
and richest placer-mining region discovered up to this 
time outside of the limits of the valley of California. 
To the first town established in Boise Basin was given 
the elegant and euphonious name of Hog'em, after- 
ward changed to Pioneer City. In Boise Basin are 


likewise the towns of Centreville, Placerville, and 
Idaho City, at first called Bannock City. About 
thirty miles south-west from Idaho City, on the Boise 
Biver, is Boise City. In the southern part of the 
territory were the quartz and placer mines of Owyhee 
County, discovered in the spring of 1863 by a pros- 
pecting party from Boise Basin under one Gordan. 
In the Owyhee district were Silver City, Buby City, 
and Boonville. 

Up to the beginning of 1863, Idaho, as a territorial 
division of the United States, had no existence; but 
drawn by its newly found wealth to the attention of 
political aspirants by act of congress approved the 
3d of March, 1863, the territory of Idaho was created 
from contiguous portions of Washington, Dakota, and 
Nebraska. It is a wild, mountainous region — the 
term Idaho signifies Gem of the Mountain — well fitted 
for wild, roving men, but rich enough withal in those 
metals that civilization covets to set wrangling and 
blood-letting a goodly number of the lovers of disorder. 

As early as 1862 the people of Lewiston effected a 
regular and complete vigilance organization. Books 
were opened for the enrollment of the names of such 
as desired to become members of the association. 
The list rapidly swelled, and the Lewiston Vigilance 
Committee proved a most efficient institution for the 
punishment and suppression of outlawry. In other 
localities, also, the people found it necessary to organ- 
ize for mutual protection almost as soon as they had 
come together, 

Montana was once a part of Idaho, and nowhere 
were popular tribunals more necessary or their execu- 
tions more numerous. Colorado, likewise, during the 
earlier development of her mineral resources per- 
formed anew the now stereotyped tragedies of the 
Pacific States. 

But we must go to California if we would examine 
these extra-judicial phenomena in the freshness of 
their first appearing. 



Cada uno es como dios le hizo, y aun peor muchas veces. 

Don Quijote. 

In the absence of that vis vitce which crowds out- 
ward and onward progressive intelhgence, there can be 
no great demonstrations of evil, except as it appears 
in the form of fanatical fermentations. A community 
too lazy or too stupid to improve breeds few skilled 

There is scarcely an instance on record where the 
Hispano-Californians, before the advent of foreigners, 
indulged in popular tribunals. The hijos del pais, as a 
rule, were in favor of letting the law, as well as every- 
thing else, take its own course. Nevertheless, revolu- 
tion was chronic here as elsewhere throughout the 
dominion of republican Mexico. Bad governors sent 
among them they resisted, and usually with success; 
but their political integrity vindicated, they left the 
administration of justice to legitimate authorities. 
Obedience to the laws was taught them as a religious 
duty; and as they were superstitious in their religion, 
so were they in their obedience to law. I find on 
record an incident that occurred at San Diego the 
26th of March, 1833, which was a military move- 
ment rather than a popular demonstration, though 
frequently the two terms were synonymous. Antonio 
Alipas, private of the presidial company of Loreto, 
was under arrest at the* guard-house at San Diego, 
when, between six and seven o'clock in the evening, 



Inocencio Arballo, corporal of the same company, with 
seven privates, all armed and mounted, rode up to the 
guard -house and demanded of the sergeant com- 
manding the delivery of Alipas. The sergeant re- 
fusing, the soldiers forced the guard-house and took 
the prisoner with them. 

From 1819 to 1846, that is to say during the entire 
period of Mexican domination under the republic, 
there were but six murders among the whites in all 
California. As in the golden reign of England's good 
King Alfred, a log cabin could hold all the criminals 
in the country. There were then no jails, no juries, 
no sheriffs, law processes, or courts; conscience and 
public opinion were law, and justice held an evenly 
balanced scale. During the seven years succeeding 
1850 there were in Los Angeles county alone some 
fifty murders, without taking Indians into the account. 
What was the cause of it? The native Californians 
were most of all horrified at the change, and yet the 
native Californians, with the assistance and under the 
tutorage of their brethren of Sonora and other parts 
of northern Mexico, did most of the robbing and 
murdering. They were horrified that society had 
so changed, not thinking that they had changed. 
The advent of foreigners, some of whom were evil- 
minded, was the signal for a new departure. The 
Californians were excellent horsemen; they knew all 
the retreats and passes of the mountains; throughout 
the entire region the settlers were their relatives and 
friends, who spoke their language. Many of the 
Americans treated them badly; retaliation was natu- 
ral and escape easy. Such is the origin of the matter. 

From original documents in my possession I take 
the following account of the doings of what may safely 
be called the first committee of vigilance in California. 
It is, moreover, the only instance of summary illegal 
proceedings in this territory under Mexican rule; 
and this, I might say, was annost wholly an affair of 
the estrangeros. 


To certain foreigners present at the time, Temple, 
Prudon, and others, rather than to the Hispano- 
Cahfornians themselves, this tribunal and its calm 
and orderly carriage was due. Left to the super- 
stitious worshippers of church and state, the popular 
demonstration had not been; or if it had occurred, 
it would have been attended by gross excesses, 
such being the character of blindness and bigotry — 
cowardice first, then insane savagery. 

On the 28th of March, 1837, Domingo Feliz, a 
poor ranchero, but a man of good repute, while on his 
way from Los Angeles to his rancho, and accompanied 
by his wife, Maria del Rosario Villa, was attacked 
and slain by Gervasio Alipds, a man of notoriously bad 
character, aided and abetted by the woman. For 
some two years previous to this time the murderer 
had been living in shamelessly open adultery with the 
woman, and only the day before the murder had her 
husband, invoking the aid of the alcalde, been able to 
separate her from her paramour, who swore to take 
speedy vengeance. A committee of citizens was sent 
by the alcalde to fetch the corpse. Horror and in- 
dignation took possession of all minds, and w^hile for 
the murdered man the mercy of God was implored, 
exemplary punishment for his murderers was debated. 

That night Alipds and the woman were securely 
lodged in jail. • Some were desirous that the criminals 
should be immediately executed ; but their ardor was 
restrained by the greater prudence of others, who 
reminded them that such proceedings could only be 
excused on the ground of necessity, and when carried 
out with coolness and in accordance with the rules 
and principles of strict justice. 

The wisdom of these suggestions was acknowledged, 
and the threatened outbreak checked. On the 30th 
the funeral of Feliz took place, and the occasion gave 
rise to a renewal of the popular clamor. Nothing 
but the assassination was talked of, and the sentiment 
was fully approved that an example was necessary to 


prevent the possible occurrence of similar crimes. 
But holy week was at hand, and it was thought it 
would be tantamount to sacrilege were the blood of so 
foul an assassin to stain the remembrance of that most 
solemn of tragedies. Therefore the first work-day 
after easter, which would be the 6th of April, was 
fixed on as that of the execution. A heavy storm 
which raged during the whole of that day made post- 
ponement necessary, but on the 7th, at an early hour, 
the most respectable men of all classes of the com- 
munity assembled at the house of John Temple. 
A Junta Defensora de la Seguridad Piihlica, or 
Board of Public Security, was organized. Victor 
Prudon, by birth a Frenchman, but a naturalized 
citizen of Mexico, was chosen president. Manuel 
Arzaga, ex-secretary of the town council, was elected 
secretary, and a retired officer of the army, Francisco 
Araujo by name, appointed military commandant. 

On taking the chair Prudon said that the aims 
of the junta were laudable and beneficial, just as 
well as necessary; that they had their origin in 
the great underlying principle of natural law, self- 
preservation ; that even the government must acknowl- 
edge that this action was a necessary compliance with 
duty; while the result might be the establishment in 
the territory of what the people had earnestly and 
repeatedly asked for, a superior tribunal clothed with 
full powers to supplement thorough investigation by a 
final sentence in all grave cases of crime. He con- 
cluded by recommending order, the preservation of 
which was their chief end, since they were defenders, 
not ofienders. Speeches were also made by the 
military commandant and others, and lengthy reso- 
lutions, embodying sentiments akin to the above, 
unanimously adopted. It was then determined that 
both the man and the woman should be shot. The 
junta was declared to be in permanent session until 
such time as the object which called it into being 
should be accomplished, and measures to that end 


were after discussion unanimously concurred in. At 
two o'clock a sub-committee, with a copy of the 
resolutions, waited on the alcalde, who thereupon 
convened the town council. At three o'clock, no 
communication having been received from the al- 
calde, a message was sent by the junta to that official, 
notifying him that the time allowed for his action had 
elapsed, and informing him that the resolutions of the 
junta were about to be carried into effect. No answer 
was returned; but the second alcalde, accompanied 
by the treasurer and another mem^ber of the council, 
appeared before the junta and desired to be informed 
if that body recognized the legally constituted author- 
ities, and if so, what might be the significance of this 
illegal assembly of armed men. The former question 
was answered in the affirmative, and the answer to 
the latter, the magistrate was informed, was contained 
in the resolutions which had been sent to the first 

At half-past three, by order of the junta, peaceable 
possession of the guard-room of the jail was taken. 
No answer had yet been received from the first alcalde, 
although he had sent a member of the council to invite 
the president of the junta to a ccfnference, to which 
request answer was made to the effect that, apart from 
the junta, the president was not at liberty to enter 
into negotiations. At four o'clock both alcaldes made 
their appearance before the junta; a resolution of the 
council conden^natory of the proposed illegal action 
was read, and an attempt made to dissuade the junta 
from its purpose. Convinced that their efforts were 
useless, the authorities withdrew, after enjoining on 
those present the preservation of order, and receiving 
the assurance that all measures necessary to that end 
had been taken. 

Repeated messages requesting his presence for 
spiritual purposes in this connection at Los Angeles 
had been sent to Father Cabot of San Fernando, but, 
although he promised so to do, he did not come. 

Pop. Tkib., Vol. I. 5 


The junta would wait no longer; the confession of 
the criminals must be dispensed with. 

The military commandant was more compliant 
than the alcaldes ; he caused arms to be given to the 
firing party, and gave orders necessary to the occasion. 
At half-past four the president of the junta ordered 
Alipas to be brought forth for execution. Already 
his irons had been filed so deeply that a single blow 
of the hammer released his hands. The man was 
then shot, and after him the woman. Thus solemnly 
was performed this first summary act of justice in 

Mr John S. Hittell, as related in his History of San 
Francisco, was informed by Jacob P. Leese that early 
in 1836 one Verdugo applied to the alcalde of Los 
Angeles for an order to recover a deserted wife. The 
order was granted and the wife recovered. On the 
way to his rancho Verdugo was murdered by the v/ife 
and her paramour. The murderers were taken, tried, 
and executed by the people, the alcaldes, Manuel 
Kequena and Abel Stearns, interposing no objections. 
Probably Mr Leese referred to the same affair the 
account of v/hich I have just given. 

Although gold was found by Marshall at the 
Coloma saw-mill in January, 1848, it was not until 
midsunmier that the people of California would be- 
lieve the discovery worthy their consideration. When 
fully alive to its importance the}^ dropj^ed their several 
occupations and set out for the Sierra Foothills. 
Everybody went. First the settlers and immigrants ; 
fur-hunters turned to hunting gold, and the Mormons 
paid Mammon their respects for the moment. Then 
Benicia, Sonoma, San Francisco, San Josd, and 
Monterey were quickly depopulated. And as the 
tidings travelled southward, and bags of the worship- 
ful dust were displayed to the gaping crowds, lines 
of diggers were formed from more distant places. 
Many of these persons were known to each other; 


few of them were wholly unknown; most of them 
were respectable. They were not thieves, but honest 
men, who had come into this bright wilderness to dig 
for gold, and not to defraud their neighbors. Peace- 
ably and in the primitive way each for himself picked 
the precious substance from river-beds and crevices, 
washed it from the sands that lined the streams, or 
sought a spot in which to dig for it, with no desire to 
encroach on ground chosen by another. Rights were 
respected; theft was unknown. A pick or shovel 
thrown upon the ground, sticks driven into the earth, 
or a written and posted notice to the effect that a 
certain spot was claimed, was sufficient to secure it 
against all comers. Miners lived much in the open 
air, in cloth tenements, or under bushes, or in rude 
huts, yet they left their gold-dust in bags or bottles 
unguarded in their tent or cabin. The merchandise 
of the trader was secured only by walls of cloth which 
might be opened with the greatest ease at night by 
means of a pocket-knife. Goods stacked up by the 
roadside, miles from any mining-camp, remained un- 
disturbed for weeks or months. Horses and cattle 
were safe on ranches or by the roadside. So in the 
towns which sprang suddenly into existence, the 
rights of property were respected, with no thought of 
penalties. After the winter rains had ceased and 
water for washing gold had disappeared, in certain 
localities piles of rich dirt were thrown up, like garden 
bods, to be washed out when rain should come again. 
Though often the result of great labor, and containing 
much wealth, these heaps lay undisturbed throughout 
the summer, and when autumn came fell to their 
rightful owners. Differences of opinion were settled 
by 'leaving it to the crowd.' The image of a patron 
saint was not more safe from desecration at the hand 
of its devotee than was the property of miners from 
robbery by brother miners. ''Men have frequently 
about their persons thousands of dollars' worth of 
this gold," writes General Mason in his official report, 


"and it was to me a matter of surjorise that so peace- 
ful and quiet a state of things should continue to 
exist." And so it was the first comers found here 
less discord than existed anywhere else in Christen- 
dom. Would all men were honest; would that ser- 
pents had never crept into this Eden ! 

At the seaport vessels arrived faster than their 
cargoes could find accommodations on shore, and great 
quantities of merchandise of all kinds was discharged 
and piled up along the beach, all around Yerba Buena 
Cove, from Clark Point to Rincon Point. Much of 
this merchandise Avas valuable, and all of it wholly ex- 
posed. Yet all this time there was scarcely a lock 
on the door of any dwelling, store, or warehouse in 
the town of San Francisco. During this truly golden 
age of fair integrity it seemed never to occur to these 
honest folk that there were any in the world who 
wanted wrongfully to take from them their property. 
A resident assures me that there was but one case 
of theft at San Francisco prior to October, 1849. A 
Mexican stole some blankets from Pollard & Ran- 
dall's yard, on Clay street, for which he was publicly 
whipped on the plaza. 

Yet earlier than this San Jose struck a manly 
blow for legitimate justice. Thomas Fallon, in 
coming down from the mines to San Jose, carried 
twenty-five hundred dollars in gold-dust secreted 
about his person and seven ounces in his pockets. 
On the 22d of December, 1848, he camped near San 
Jose Mission with three Americans, whose appear- 
ance he thought suspicious. He talked with them in 
a confidential way and told them he had been ver}^ 
successful in mining; that he had started with con- 
siderable gold, but a few days before had sent a 
man forward with all his money to buy cattle. They 
traded horses, Fallon giving them six out of the 
seven ounces which they supposed to be all he had. 
The Americans proceeded on their way and overtook 
two Germans with eight thousand dollars, whom they 


shot, killing one, the other, though wounded, escaping 
to San Jose. He reported his adventure, and search 
was at once made for the robbers, who were caught 
within a few days. They were taken to the alcalde's 
court, where one of them confessed numerous crimes, 
and said that Fallon saved his life by misleading 
them to the belief that in the horse-trade he had used 
all the money that he had left. They were all hanged 
on the plaza three days later, in January, 1849. 
From this time crime about San Jose increased, and 
executions there became numerous. 

During the autumn of 1848 there were no such 
things along the Sierra Drainage as government, law, 
law-courts, statutes, constitutions, legislatures, judges, 
sheriffs, tax collectors, or other officers of the law. 
All were absolutely free; all were thrown upon their 
good behavior. And here appeared in its fullest ap- 
plication the sociological law of non-resistance in the 
absence of restraint. Coercion implies antiposition. 
It is when placed under lock and key that the strongest 
desire to escape is-Tnanifest. Confine the insane and 
they are frantic ; unlock the doors and knock off their 
fetters, and nine tenths of those most unruly under 
restraint become tractable. Crime is lessened, not as 
punishment is severe, but as it is certain. French 
school-boys under a system of espionage become tricky, 
while English boys who are less governed behave 
better. Debts of honor are usually preferred to those 
the payment of which may be legally enforced. When 
gold was the currency of California and legal-tender 
at a discount, indebtedness to some extent was beyond 
the reach of law and the courts, and the instances 
were comparatively rare where an account was can- 
celled with the depreciated currency. The pencil 
memoranda of members of the stock board are as 
binding as their written, signed, and sealed obligation. 
In these earlier gold-hunting days strangers met as 
honest men, and a few hours' acquaintance often 
sufficed to establish confidence. In the absence of 


written law the higher law of probity governed inter- 
course. Nevertheless, as it pleased the Almighty to 
make with the good men some few deserving the 
halter, it is meet these latter should have it with the 
least possible ceremony. 

However all this may be, it so happened about this 
new society that with Law came Satan. Alcaldes' 
courts were continued in the larger towns after 
American occupation, and in the mines local justices 
and constables were chosen. But the diggers paid 
little heed to them. They were preoccupied and 
migratory; let the devil look to his own. Even the 
merchants of San Fi'ancisco seem never to have 
thought of bolts and bars, until one day James Neall 
fished up a lot of old locks shipped by a shrewd 
Englishman on board a vessel which brought to our 
shores a score or two of Australian convicts. When 
people began to lock their doors, thieves began to 
steal. Why were goods bolted in, they might ask, 
if they were not to be stolen; and what were locks 
for if not to be broken by thieves? 

This coming of the rascals — I suppose it must be 
taken in common with everything else that is, as for 
the best. Their influence on California, on the 
character of the men who made society, was marked 
and perpetual. Good men are made stronger by the 
presence of bad men; else the kingdom of evil had 
been long since overthrown. 

Criminals and convicts, as we have seen, were not 
the first to come. They were not among the most 
intelligent or enterprising of those who heard of the 
wonderful discovery, and hence were not the first to 
move. But in due time it dawned upon their minds 
that a gold-yielding wilderness without jail or gallows 
must be the very paradise of thieves. And as if 
premeditated villainy might be sanctified by numbers, 
with the multitudes of honest and order-loving* men 
hither came in crowds from the purlieus of crime, 


from convict colonies, human reptiles, emptying cities 
of their slum, and trailing their slimy course through 
our fair valleys and into the newly occupied canons, 
ready to sacrifice the here and the hereafter, if need 
be, so they might, like Ethan Brand, achieve the 
unpardonable sin. In their simplicity the previous 
occupants of the Foothills might have asked with old 
Nestor, "Pray, friends, are you pirates?" But there 
was plenty of gold in the gulches to be had for the 
gathering. When it could be picked from crevices 
and river-beds, and washed from bars and banks, what 
inducement was there to steal it? All the same, the 
better-minded learned all too soon that there were 
those in the world who loved to steal, even wdien 
honesty better served their avarice. There was 
enticement in the thought, excitement in the effort, 
joy-tinglings attending success, and in case of fail- 
ure — wliy the best of us have spon to make our final 
reckoning with time. 

With the classic days of 1849 came new pilgrims, a 
thousand ship-loads of them, by sea and land. So 
that midsummer saw in the towns which had so 
suddenly assumed pretentious proportions, and in the 
long line of mining-camps wdiich had risen like Jonah's 
gourd along the Sierra Drainage, hordes of eager men 
of every nation, color, and caste under heaven. There 
v/ere honest men and knaves, pious men and blas- 
phemers, learned and ignorant, refined and brutish, 
humane and merciless. Every trade and profession 
was represented — lawyers, doctors, and preachers; 
thieves, murderers, and gamblers; bakers, bar-keepers, 
and butchers; loafers, highwaymen, and prize-fighters; 
horse-jockeys, bankers, peddlers, grocers, and black- 
smiths — a human mess w^hich even Mercury would 
closely eye before pitching them into Charon's boat; 
these, made spicy by a sprinkle of female frailty, 
comprised the population. But by far the larger 
part were order-loving men of pronounced morals 
and integrity. Add to these those of passable inteii- 


tions and easy honesty, who never take what they 
cannot reach, nor indulge in drink stronger than 
strychnine whiskey, nor bet more than a dollar at 
monte on Sunday; who attend church when houses 
of ill -fame are closed, and whose word is as good as 
their bond because neither is worth anything — throw 
into the scale on the side of virtue this large purga- 
torial element of soi-dlsant good men, and the genuine 
first-class villains of the true metal and clear ring were 
comparatively few. 

But these caused trouble enough. Landing at San 
Francisco, they usually first made the tour of the 
mines and there formed the acquaintance of other 
gentlemen of their profession, whose projects they 
were by this time quite ready to join. And in this 
new field of enterprise everything seemed to favor 
them. Besides congenial companionship, and the ab- 
sence of strong government, the physical aspect of 
affairs was all that the most ambitious could desire. 
The nature of the wealth for which all were striving, 
golden; the constant moving from place to place of 
miners and traders, and the intermixtures of strangers, 
all tended to discourage inquiry, to facilitate the 
operations of outlaws, and allow them to move quickly 
from place to place without exciting suspicion. In 
particular, the lonely and exposed condition of the 
roads throughout California, and the large amounts 
of treasure constantly passing over them, offered 
alluring opportunities for highway robbery ; and while 
these opportunities were not wholly neglected, yet I do 
not know that this crime has at any time prevailed to 
a greater extent here than in any other sparsely 
settled country. Stage-robbing as practised by the 
profession in California was rather a chivalrous occu- 
pation; the gentlemen of the road risked their lives 
for whatever happened to be in the express-box, and 
if no opposition was made they generally contented 
themselves with this, and neither robbed nor insulted 
the passengers. 


Along these roads, during the heavy winter rains 
of 1849-50, were hundreds of mired wagons, laden 
with supplies for the miners. Such Vv^as the nature 
of the soil, so cracked with dryness in the summer 
and so spongy soft in winter, that in the absence 
of a beaten track a loaded wagon would sink to the 
hubs almost anywhere about the skirts of the Foot- 

Hence arose two causes stimulating crime; the 
mining-camps were short of provisions, and the sup- 
plies intended for them were left exposed as a tempt- 
ing bait to the hungry and forlorn. Add to this that 
by reason of the extreme wetness of the season the 
streams were so swollen that miners were driven from 
their claims, so that thousands, 'dead-beat and broke,' 
as they would say, were obliged to take refuge in the 
towns and get through the winter as best they could. 
The epoch of crime in the interior may be said to 
date from this time, and to have originated in a great 
measure from these causes. 

Sometimes in the spirit and with the grace of 
young bull-dogs, these adventurers of evil would 
begin their gambols immediately they came ashore; 
watching, for example, the landing of their captain, 
who had incurred their displeasure during the voyage, 
seizing and ducking and beating him, if indeed they 
did not kill him outright. 

The En owlish convicts from Australia, who from the 
spring of 1849 to the summer of 1852 were the worst 
element infesting the community, made their head- 
quarters in San Francisco, at the base of Telegraph 
Hill, near the foot of Broadway. On one side rose the 
hill, broken and rugged, throwing out spurs in various 
directions, and presenting in places to the rippling tide 
a lofty bluff on whose summit even the squatter had 
not yet ventured to perch his eyry; round the base 
and up the little ravines were huts and tents not much 
larger than kennels, and divers -fashioned dwellings 


huddled or scattered indiscriminately among low caba- 
rets, and dance and drinking houses. 

The rendezvous of the thieves, in the heart of this 
district, was called Sydney Town. South-west of 
Sydney Town w^as Little Chile, and farther yet in the 
same direction China Town; the Hispano- Americans 
congregating about Dupont, Kearny, and Pacific 
streets, and the Chinese at the intersection of Sacra- 
mento and Dupont streets. Although Little Chile 
supplied the community some criminals, the Hispano- 
Americans were more a worthless and vagabond people 
than a vicious people. They were the early victims of 
evil-minded Americans and the men of Sydney. In 
Sydney Town during the day schemes were concocted 
to be worked out during^ the ni2:ht. The meetings 
had their orators, and the pillaging parties their 
leaders. Singly or in pairs they would perambulate 
the unlighted and unwatclied streets, robbing, de- 
molishing, or murdering, as passion or fancy dictated. 
The}^ had a way of enticing or forcing their victims to 
some eminence bordering the Bay, and thence hurling 
them to their death. The beach round the northern 
j^oint of the peninsula was at one time little better 
than a golgotha, for the human bones v/aslied up there 
by the tide or buried by the sand. 

After the fire of May 4, 1851, more than ten 
thousand dollars' worth of stolen property was re- 
covered from these dens. Such a conila^n^ation to the 
thieves was like the finding of a carcass to vultures; 
from their cesspool of corruption they swarmed in to 
take advantage of the misfortune of others, to pluck 
the unfortunate of the few effects they had been able 
to save. 

And at the country towns it wtis proportionately 
bad. These same malefactors, or others, would meet 
in some suburban tent and there conspire against the 
well-being of a society preoccupied, unorganized, and 

Upon the surface of society there did not all at 


once appear the fermentation going on beneath. And 
when from the mass gas-bubbles were seen to rise, 
they were lightly regarded as the momentary caprice 
of harmless quidnuncs. Gradually however the sac- 
charine substance in this element of society under- 
went change, and the alcohol and acid of open villainy 
was only too soon apparent. 

If we except a few irregularities in various parts 
of the country, we may date the advent of violence 
in midsummer, 1849. The wonder is that it did not 
appear sooner; that the widely diverse and hetero- 
geneous ingredients of this mixture did not sooner 
act on each other; that ignition and explosion did 
not more quickly follow. 



Prince Henry. Where shall we take a purse to-morrow, Jack? 

Folstnff. Where thou wilt, lad; I'll make one; an I do not, call me 
villain and bafEe me. 

Prince Henry. I see a good amendment of life in thee; from praying to 
purss- taking. 

Fahtdff. Why, Hal, 'tis my vocation, Hal; 'tis no sin for a man to labour 
in his vocation. 

King Henry IV. 

Every problem of humanity is but a display of 
some new combination of those primary elements 
of human nature which, like the elementary principles 
governing matter and force, underlie all activities. 
Common salt will not crystallize on the same system 
as sulphate of soda; so units of human societies in 
their intermixtures behave differently according to 
character and combination. Yet man -particles, in 
their aggregations and evolutions, act no less mider 
fixed laws than do matter-particles. 

Not the least unaccountable of human phenomena 
is that manifestation of brute force which breeds 
tyranny. That men should love to beat, and batter, 
and bruise one another, not to secure some good, but 
in spite of those evils which such conduct is sure to 
bring upon them, is unaccountable, save as an ele- 
mental quality of the evil principle inherent in nature 
human. The propensity in man for killing is insane 
as compared with the same propensity in the brute. 
The latter could give a reason if it would; man has 
none. The reasoning faculties given him by which to 
guide his conduct in ultimate appeal he flings aside, 



dehumanizes himself, and no matter how far advanced 
in hohness of hving or in intellectual culture, he 
thrusts his fingers into the latest invented claws fur- 
nished him by science, and straightway falls to flesh- 
tearing on such a scale as j3uts to blush the efforts of 
the tiger and the bear. 

The brute creation man kills for food and clothing — 
material comforts; his fellow man he kills for pride, 
for glory, for hate, for religion — ideal comforts. War 
is waged with equal fervor by savage and civilized, by 
heathen and Christian. It is an element alike of the 
most degraded passion and the most exalted piety. 
In mediseval times the attention of mankind was 
divided not unequally between the arts which cherish 
life and the arts which extinguish life. One's whole 
duty lay in preserving one's own life and in striving to 
take the life of one's neighbor. So long as these 
efforts were evenly balanced, and their necessity fell 
alike on all, no great progress could be made in the 
arts of war, or advancement, in the arts of peace. 
Whensoever for a time peace reigned rejoicing, the 
arts of war were pluralized, so that with them if he 
would man could achieve a yet more substantial peace. 

So it is with regard to the supremacy of justice. 
But mankind will not yet have unadulterated peace 
or justice. There is in every one of us an inquisitor. 
Where is the patriot who would not t3^rannize if he 
could? Where is the zealous religionist who would 
not, possessing the power, and left to the impulses of 
his own fanaticism, make every man of his faith or 
creed? else he would for Christ's or Mahomet's sake 
nominally, though in truth for his own sake, kill him. 
Evolve man if you will from matter; that v^^hich dis- 
tinguishes him from any lower form is this unanalyz- 
able intermixture of deity and deviltry. 

The memorable year of 1849 had not yet dawned 
when it was whispered that villainy was banding in 
California. Strange to say, its first appearance here 


was in the habiliments of charity. That delectable 
trooD, the reirinient of New York volunteers, was 
made up to a great extent of the riffraff of eastern 
cities. Of no value at home, they were brought hither 
at public expense to fight Mexicans, or Californians ; 
wliich being found unnecessary shortly after their 
arrival the company was disbanded. Having no occu- 
pation, and averse to labor, naturally many of them 
fell back on their old pastime of pilfering. 

The opportunity, however, to season their rascality 
with a little sentiment was too good to be lost. Had 
they not shared as brothers the dangers of the deep? 
Were they not bravo men, soldiers, heroes, though they 
had never fired a gun; and did not the country owe 
them a debt of gratitude which sanctified any villainy? 
So they organized themselves into a kind of benevolent 
association, a self-protection and relief society, and 
called themselves the ^Hounds,' which was a very 
appropriate name. They were likewise known as the 
'Boys,' after the fashion of the Nev/ York Bowery, 
where many of them used formerly to sun themselves. 

Criminal intent does not appear as a part of their 
original purpose; indeed, as the alcalde Leavenworth 
testifies, some of them had been employed by him to 
assist in carrying out the ends of justice. Previous 
to the forming of that acquaintance which led to 
villainous vows of friendship and fidelity, and nothing 
loth to wear for a time the garb of respectability, 
many of them at first engaged in various occupations, 
such as mining, blacksmithing, hotel and saloon keep- 
ing, but they were not long content to work for that 
which they fancied they could more easily steal. 
Indeed, one of their fundamental principles, practised 
before it was formulated, and the first and broadest 
plank in their platform, was that others should feed 
and clothe them. The vvorkingmen of California, the 
honest and industrious, should furnish them shelter, 
with strong drink, tobacco, and other luxuries. In 
return for which support, did California desire the 


interloping 'Greasers' annihilated, they ''were the 
boys to do it." Or lacking such patronage they would 
exercise their club diplomacy somewdiat on their own 
account. Like bulls infuriated over red, they had their 
mad color. Black was bad enough, but copper -hue 
they hated, whether in the form of Mexican, Chilean, 
or Chinaman. They were soon joined by the men of 
Sydney, who now began to appear upon the scene, 
and by low politicians from the eastern states, besides 
the newly arriving shoulder -strikers and deserters. 
Here was the scum of diverse foreign societies uniting 
amidst the ebullitions of our new society as naturally 
as impure particles unite upon the surface of boiling 

Whatever may have been their intention originally, 
elements like these joined under such conditions could 
not long exist without evil results. Soon it was under- 
stood that lawlessness and crime were the primary 
purpose of the association, and by the spring of 1849 
subordinate societies with a common grip and pass- 
word were scattered throusfhout the entire mininof 
district of California. Here was a great power for 
evil, with its fangs already at the throat of our infant 

As might be expected, the Hounds directed their 
early attention to politics. It is by such as these 
that our country is in too great a measure governed. 
It is such as these that San Francisco to this day is 
forced to support and serve. It is such as these 
that too often are our rulers; we make them such, 
fools that we are. 

The Hounds made their headquarters in a large 
tent, later known as Tammany Hall, standing where 
now Commercial street crosses Kearny. Such was 
their strength, that with unblushing impudence they 
would bring to this so public a place the spoils taken 
at night, and there eat, and drink, and sleep through- 
out the day, with none to make them afraid. There 
were other places where they used to congregate; the 


City Hotel near by, and the Shades Saloon whose 
keeper's name was Patterson. Their harem was the 
valley called the 'Hollow,' near, or forming part of 
the Chilean quarter; and the dusky nymphs there 
denizened by no means helped to quench the fires of 
hate already burning in the breasts alike of their 
countrymen and of their fairer-hued lovers. 

Their time was chiefly divided between eating- 
houses, saloons, and clothing-stores, which were pil- 
laged for corporeal necessities, and the huts of foreign 
emigrants^ which were sacked and destroyed upon 
principle. Their attacks were confined chiefly to 
stranofers, whose friendless condition forbade defence. 

During the whole period of their administration it 
was the custom of these chevaliers d'industrie to 
parade the streets on Sunday in fantastical attire, but 
until toward the latter part of their term, if we omit 
occasional fights and street brawls, no open outrages 
were committed, though private thefts, and even 
darker deeds, were frequent. 

Besides their regular Sunday divertisement, in 
which they affected a sort of military discipline, 
marching with flying colors, their leaders in mihtary 
uniforms, to the music of fife and drum, they some- 
times improvised pranks and antics for the amusement 
of the public. For a time, as I have intimated, the 
actuating motive seems to have been a silly love of dis- 
play rather than open violence. Vanity, however, often 
leads to villainy. Said Sheridan once to Lord Hol- 
land: "They talk of avarice, lust, ambition, as great 
passions. It is a mistake; they are little passions. 
Vanity is the great commanding passion of all. It is 
this that produces the most grand and heroic deeds, 
or impels to the most dreadful crimes." 

In the evening after their public gambols it was 
usual for the Hounds to scatter about the little metrop- 
olis and throw out gentle hints, or more peremptory 
demands, for whatever they happened to want. Like 
the tiger's whelp which chases the sheep at first only 


for the sport of seeing them run, but once tasting 
blood becomes ravenous for more, so these young 
human Hounds began their play upon the people, 
scarcely knowing what they did, but coming to grief 
full quickly enough, however, as they thought. For, 
growing more and more boisterous in their displays, 
with increasing numbers, they began, toward the end 
of their career, first to intimidate, then to assault, and 
finally they did not scruple to try open robbery and 

Under some ridiculous plea they would sally forth 
from their tented Tammany, and with threats of vio- 
lence extort money or goods from whomsoever they 
thought prudent to attack. They would invade 
saloons and call for drink, enter restaurants and hotels, 
and rudely demand food, after receiving which they 
would walk away without offering pay. On one occa- 
sion they fed from the tables of Jules Rousson, keeper 
of the United States restaurant, and gave in payment 
an order on the alcalde, which the latter refused to 
pay. At another time they broke down Rousson's 
doors and helped themselves to food. Stores they 
would enter, and selecting such goods as they fancied, 
carry them away, or help themselves to whatever 
they required from exposed piles of merchandise ; and 
so strong had they now become that no one durst say 
them nay. 

Though their outrages were directed chiefly 
against foreigners, they did not hesitate to attack 
Americans if offended by them. Indeed they be- 
came quite enterprising at last, even philosophic, 
and seemed to think with Socrates that there is 
something in this world nobler than mere ease and 
personal safety. 

A gentleman informs me that as he was passing 
the Parker House one day, he saw a negro entering 
the office, and a lieutenant^of the Hounds just behind 
him. The negro turned and accidentally touched the 
rowdy with his elbow, when the fiery young knight 

Pop. Teib.. Vol. I. 


whipped out his bowie-knife and cut off the black 
man's ear. 

One morning two gentlemen entered the coffee- 
rooms of an old Frenchman, situated on Kearny 
street, opposite the plaza, on the site since occupied 
by the Jenny Lind theatre and the old city hall, and 
called for breakfast. Presently in came thirty-five or 
forty of the foul fraternity, hungry as cormorants, and 
ordered food. Pounding the table, they called loud 
and constantly, "waiter!" ''waiter!" hurrying the poor 
garden hither and thither until he was half dead with 
fatigue and fright. Meanwhile the two gentlemen 
could get nothing to eat. At length the craving of 
the rabble company being satiated, their leaders rose, 
and stepping up to the counter, turned their backs to 
it, and called out : " Fall in ! Pight about face ! " Then 
turning to the restaurateur, one of them demanded: 

"How much is to pay?" 

"Two dollars each," was the reply. 

"Charge it to the Hounds," he said. "Left face! 
Forward, march!" and out of the door they went, 
never paying a dime for what they had eaten. 

Isaac Bluxome landed in San Francisco from the 
bark Madonna early in July, 1849. He brought out 
with him the frame of a wooden building which he set 
up in Sacramento street, between Montgomery and 
Sansome, being the third house erected in that street. 
Scarcely had he opened business when he was brought 
face to face with that phase of crime of which he was 
so soon to be the scavenger. A queer-looking customer 
entered one day and began to price his goods. He 
was little more than a boy, rather below medium 
height, slightly built, with a pale, sinister face, and 
dressed in a red woolen shirt, buff pantaloons tucked 
inside his boot-tops, a well-mashed slouched hat, and 
hanging at a leather belt a pistol and a butcher-knife. 
Picking up a plug of tobacco, he said : 

"What do you ask for this?" 

"Two dollars," said Bluxome. 


"That is too much; you must not charge so much." 

*'That is my price; you can take it or leave it." 

"Do you know who I am?" 

"No, and I don't care who you are." 

"I am captain of the Hounds." 

"The devil you are," answered Bluxome. "Well, 
you look like a hound." 

The fellow did not like Bluxome or his words, and 
after eyeing him for a moment he walked away with- 
out further remark. 

There was little system in trade at that time, either 
in the kind of goods kept by the merchants or in the 
prices asked for them. Each dealt in whatever 
happened to fall into his hands, and asked whatever 
price he pleased, irrespective of that of his neighbors. 
Entering a tent store one day, where a great variety 
of merchandise lay exposed for sale, a quiet, modest, 
undemonstrative Hound picked up a pair of fancy 
patent-leather gaiters, which he thought would set off 
his somewhat small and well-shaped feet to the best 
possible advantage. They were wholly worthless, but 
little stronger than paper, cost probably in New York 
a dollar or two, but being brightly polished they had 
caught the gentleman's eye, and as business had been 
good of late he determined to indulge his vanity to 
that extent. Besides, his order was coming into no- 
tice more and more every day; parades were more 
frequent, and it was but meet he should make a be- 
coming appearance. 

Seating himself on a box he took off his shoes, and 
giving them a fling which sent them over behind some 
goods at the other side of the tent, he took up a pair 
of the glittering gaiters, drew them on his feet, and 
rising and putting his hand in his pocket, demanded: 
"How much?" 

"An ounce," was the reply. 

The dust was promptly paid down, and the nice 
young man walked away no less satisfied than the 
store-keeper. Next day returned his houndship. On 


his calm features there was not visible the slightest 
shade of annoyance, ill-temper, or disgust. Threading 
his way quietly round the piles of merchandise stacked 
upon the floor, he fished out his old shoes, seated him- 
self on the same box, drew from his feet the shining 
gaiters, now burst open in several places, put on his 
old shoes, and walked away without saying a word. 

There was one way in which these Hounds were of 
service to society. I had come near unwittingly doing 
them an injustice. They were ever ready as jurors. 
He who had suffered wrong, and who, remembering 
the high privilege of an American citizen, sought the 
remedy, might here have trial by his peers. They 
were also good as witnesses, always ready faithfully 
to testify in whichsoever direction they were paid. 
They were good to drive ofl" from lands squatters, or 
rightful owners; it made no difference to them in 
whom the title was vested. They were useful at the 
polls on election -day, voting early and often them- 
selves, preventing others from voting, and at sunset 
guarding the ballot-box while it was being stuffed. 
If you wanted a house fired, a man beaten, or a mur- 
der done, they were always at hand to serve you for 
a consideration. 

Nor were they without their worship and their 
benefactions. If the image of Mercury, the god of 
thieving craft and cunning, was not set up in their 
Tent of Tammany, none the less was his spirit there 
adored. Of all the world could give, this was the life 
they loved. Opportunity and environment were to 
them as sword and steed to the cavalier, or wine to 
the heavy of heart; their tent was the temple of their 
god, and their traffic better than winning souls. And 
it was wonderful their influence on the unanchored 
element then drifting on the flood-tide into this port. 
What do we see in crossing the Plains? The most 
stupid clod of a horse, half- starved and fagged with 
travel, when suddenly surrounded by a band of wild 
mustangs quickly becomes as unmanageable as they. 


Even the culture of intellect is the result of absorbed 
vice, while the efforts of plodding virtue flow ofl" like 
water from a smooth stone. 

It is by no means certain that the advent of vice in 
this infantile form was not the best thing which could 
have happened to this young community at this time. 
California were not California had her battles with 
iniquity never been. Men who aim at respectability 
become so absorbed in their money-gettings as to be 
little better than machines, turning aside for nothing, 
for neither Christ, their country, nor the devil. It 
needs an enemy threatening their pet passion to unite 
them. They would form no brotherhood of virtue 
until driven to it by a brotherhood of vice. 

Whence then the evil, these wicked ones might ask, 
and of what do you pious people complain ? To make 
a world nature rushes from one extreme to another; 
from the extremes of heat to the extremes of cold; 
from an age of fire, of volcanic lava-formations and 
rivers of molten rock and skies of mineral smoke, to 
an age of snow, and ice, and canon-carving glaciers. 
So it is wnlth the formation and refining of human 
societies. It is the equalizing of extremes that 
brings one ever nearer to one's rest. Then why w^ar 
with evil if it so befriend you? What is evil, oh 
ye saints of prudery and conventional creeds! Can 
you not see with all your stupidity and bigotry that 
evil is not a concrete entity, but only a measure 
denoting the absence of good, as cold is but the 
absence of heat? There is no such principle in 
humanity as abstract good aside from evil, any more 
than in a mass of molecules attraction can exist apart 
from repulsion. We are as necessary to you, prim 
fools, as you are to us. Every thing, every force, 
power, quality, principle, element, or idea has its an- 
tithesis, exists in duality, is twofold in its entity 
and action. Like the repulsive force in matter, this 
negative soul -principle acts among individuals, im- 
pregnating every germ, arranging into form the 


molecules of society, shaping outlines and sharpen- 
ing angles, pushing hither and thither, by impulses 
imperceptible, individuals and groups of individuals 
according to the great plan of our one and universal 

The normal condition of humanity is a state of 
well-being, else there is a speedy end to all. But 
the mass needs leaven, else it is flat and unprofitable. 
The principle of evil dropped into it by an incom- 
prehensible Almighty, the tendency of humanity is 
ever after toward an equilibrium. None but babes in 
intellect talk of an independent, self-existent power 
or principle antagonistic to omnipotence. 

When we understand the nature of heat, then we 
can tell what cold is; when we comprehend the prin- 
ciple of good, we will be able to understand the 
phenomena of evil. Whatever good is, the tendency 
of everything is in that direction. What means 
otherwise the gradual disappearance of savagism, 
the progress of the intellect, of morality, of religion ? 
Therefore if evil tends to disappear, and is surely 
century after century becoming less, we may safely 
conclude that with time it will be totally extin- 

Now it is well known that there is no such possi- 
bility in nature, or in the imagination of man, as the 
total extinction of a concrete entity. If therefore 
evil is extinguishable as a concrete principle, it does 
not exist. Evil as an entity does not exist; good 
does. The world acts upon this principle, whether it 
is believed in or not. 

What force underlies the underljdng force that 
drives steamships and manufactories, the main- 
springs of commerce? What is the chief stimulant 
of progress? Not love of knowledge, patriotism, 
philanthropy; all these are puny in their efforts at 
progress. What then are the mighty powers that 
move mankind? Avarice, vanity, the desire to kill 
your neighbor and keep yourself from being killed; 


these are the god-Uke doings that bring to birth your 
boasted brotherhoods, your acts and industries, and 
which overspread the thorny path with coverlets of 
Christian charity. So might have reasoned these 
human Hounds in their Tent of Tammany. 



Lo, when two dogs are fighting in the streets, 
With a third dog one of the two dogs meets, 
With angry teeth he bites him to the bone, 
And this dog smarts for what that dog has done. 


With increased numbers and opportunities, the 
Hounds Association put on new dignities. Becoming 
somewhat ashamed of their canine appellation, they 
changed their name to that of the San Francisco 
Society of Regulators, and organized and officered 
their body after the usual respectable models. 

Let it not be inferred from the name, however, 
that the Hounds had become guardians of the public 
weal, or that this was a popular tribunal proper, or a 
committee of vigilance. By no means. It was the 
good men and their affairs that this band proposed 
to regulate, and not the evil-minded and profligate. 
And to their assistance came now demagogues and 
aspiring politicians of greater bulk than their pre- 
decessors, and of more sweeping pretensions. With 
settled policy and defined purpose they would go forth 
conquering and to conquer. The one phenomenon 
was but the natural sequence of the other. The first 
association was the boyish play of vice, while the 
second walked boldly forth in the full manhood of 
concrete villainy. 

Wickedness the Regulators saw was in the ascend- 
ant. No one appreciated better than themselves the 
fertile field of opportunity. Already the seed had 



been sown by the young imps, who seemed to lack the 
abihty to harvest the crop. It was for wiser heads 
to utihze their redundant resources, to give objeot and 
direction to their knavish prochvities. The general 
laxity of morals, the inefficiency and venality of law- 
courts, and the apparent indifference of the best men 
to the welfare of the state, all encouraged their aspi- 

That affairs needed regulating was clearly apparent 
to all; and the indifference manifested by business 
men as to how or by whom they should be regu- 
lated, emboldened the loafing element to assume that 
duty. The first fraternity was still to furnish the 
material. The municipal government had not hesi- 
tated to use the Hounds in order to secure the 
ends of justice; the Kegulators now did not hesitate 
to use the same instrument to defeat the ends of 
justice. Thus against Justice, besmeared by evil com- 
panionship, were turned her ministers, who caught 
her in her own trap; as the wily wanton Vivien, 
knight-hater of King Arthur's court, seduced from 
Merlin his secret charm, and straightway Merlin, her 
first victim, lay in a hollow oak as dead. 

To the benefits offered by the Hounds in associ- 
ating, the Regulators added political favors or emolu- 
ments. Beside assuming knightly honors and setting 
themselves up to be redressers of public wrongs, whose 
mission it was to defend the national soil against en- 
croachment, they proposed likewise to relieve Amer- 
icans of the burdens of government, save only the 
little matter of taxation, which should not be severely 
felt, the people having their whole time at their dis- 

An initiation fee of ten dollars was paid on entering, 
and in return each member was to be cared for in case 
of sickness, supported when penniless, and extricated 
from any trouble which by chance he might fall into. 
No qualification as to character was requisite to 
membership, except that it should not be painfully 


bright. The declared principles of the association 
were originally easy and free enough, and in action 
they became more so every day. 

It was a model system of vagabondage, a Platonic 
republic for vagrants and blackguards, and might most 
truthfully have been named a Society for the Pro- 
motion of Vice, or a veritable Hell-fire Club. Half 
a day's work at that time would secure the initia- 
tory ten dollars; or if that was too much trouble, 
the aspirant for membership might steal it. Once in, 
happiness was forever secured. Bois tortu fait feu 
droit Protection, shelter, good-fellowship, and light 
scruples; what more could profligacy ask even in 
California? "It is all one to a stone," says Marcus 
Antonius, ''whether it be thrown upward or down- 

There was little difficulty in their regulating elec- 
tions, ordinances, and jurisprudence; population was 
not so permanent then as now ; men were coming and 
going, hurrying hither and thither, few manifesting 
any interest in the welfare of the community, and 
those few scarcely distinguishable. The young me- 
tropolis was good for nothing but to be fleeced, and 
should any person object, they must be regulated. 
This so early political party in California was char- 
acteristic of the times. It was the pestilential quagmire 
of society; nor is the pool wholly translucent now. 

For five or six months, namely, until the middle of 
July, 1849, this band of ruffians exercised their terror- 
isms over the community. Their ways were dark at 
first, and their councils secret. They were without 
organization for a time, but rapidly into evil eminence 
there rose from the ranks of this gang certain ruling 
spirits, with one Samuel Roberts as chief, who worked 
them up into a state of sucli efficiency that soon the 
entire city was laid under contribution. There is little 
doubt that many of their acts were countenanced by 
the alcalde, Leavenworth. 

One of their number, Joseph T. Downey, asserts 


that the origin of the organization was a physician's 
bill against one or two of the Hounds, amounting to 
some two hundred dollars. Having neither the money 
nor the inclination to pay, they determined to declare, 
among themselves at least, their position, which was 
that the public must support them. They would be 
public servants; they would pay no bills. It was 
necessary that they should have more money than the 
initiation fee yielded them. From rendering assistance 
to the alcalde and sheriff in their deplorable attempts 
at municipal government, the Regulators undertook 
to administer justice on their own account. Cer- 
tain of their number had been called upon to inflict 
the punishment of whipping on a sailor sentenced 
by the alcalde for drawing a knife on his captain. 
Thereupon they undertook to whip by order of them- 
selves. When the sheriff found it difficult or im- 
possible to collect bills placed in his hands for that 
purpose by real-estate owners, merchants, and others, 
he recommended the claimants to give such accounts 
for collection to the Bo3^s, who had a way of their 
own, swifter and surer, than that of the alcalde, for 
the settlement of differences. From the seizing of 
property for the satisfaction of a debt to the seizing 
of property for the satisfaction of themselves was but 
a step, and unblushing imposition was the natural 

Thus, like the giant Caligorant, justice was caught 
in its own net. Scarcely had the mines been opened, 
when a strong feeling sprang up against foreigners. 
Citizens of the United States deemed their rights 
superior to those of foreigners, who were allowed 
equally with themselves to gather gold and carry it 
from the country. The soil was theirs, they said; 
their brethren had fought for it and their govern- 
ment had paid for it. Up to this time there had been 
no outbreak, although the determination was daily 
becoming stronger and more universal to resist en- 
croachment and expel foreign vagrants from the mines. 


Against the mongrel class from Chile, Mexico, and 
the other Sj^anish- American states north and south of 
Panama, this sentiment was most united, and so unsafe 
became the situation of these foreigners that during 
this summer the roads were full of them returning 
from the mines. And with them came many of their 

Upon this platform then the Society of Regulators 
was finally organized, with C. R. V. Lee as president; 
W. Anderson, vice-president; J. T. Downey, secre- 
tary; J. A. Patterson, treasurer; and J. C. Pullis, 
steward. The aforesaid Samuel Roberts was chief 
rioter and master of the military. California should 
feed and clothe them, and pay them well for their 
outrages. They proposed to live. They would assist 
at any time the impotent authorities, if the authori- 
ties wished their aid and would pay them; and they 
would just as readily break the law, and defy the 
authorities, if such a course best suited their pur- 
pose. With the coolest impudence they asserted their 
determination to protect American citizens against 
Spanish-speaking foreigners, and sometimes claimed 
to have instructions from the alcalde to extirpate the 
Mexicans and Chileans. 

Thus things stood when, on the night of Sunday, 
the 15th of this same July, occurred an aifair vvdiich 
brought matters to a crisis. It appears that one 
George Frank, a merchant, held a claim of five hun- 
dred dollars, for certain commissions attending the 
purchase of a lot on Montgomery street, against a 
Chilean named Pedro Cueto, who refused to recog- 
nize the obligation or pay the amount. Frank gave 
the bill to the sheriff for collection. Cueto told the 
sheriff he would not pay it, and the sheriff reported 
to Frank. 

Now it so happened that the sheriff was none other 
than J. C. Pullis, who was likewise steward of the 
Regulator Society. This was the worst feature in 
the case, and shows how interwoven were crime and 


punishment, when an officer of the law and an officer 
of the lawless were one and the same person. 

"If you will get the Boys to assist you," said 
Frank to the hound-sheriff, Pullis, "I will give you 
half the amount collected." Accordingly the bill was 
handed to Roberts, who, pretending to have been sent 
by the alcalde, called on Cueto and quietly informed 
him that unless he came down handsomely, say with 
three or four hundred dollars, he would speedily be 
upon him with forty men. Cueto declining to pay, 
the Regulators proceeded to the avenging of justice 
after their own fashion. 

And here I can but call attention once more to the 
singular state of law and administration which al- 
lowed an officer of the law to deputize a notorious 
band of desperadoes for the lawless enforcement of an 
unproven claim. Of a truth it would be difficult to 
say which had reached the lowest depth, law or 
villainy ! 

On the Sunday afternoon mentioned, at about one 
o'clock, the Regulators paraded in full force, with 
drum, fife, and banner, and epauletted officers. There 
were about one hundred of them. They were just 
returned from a marauding excursion to Contra Costa, 
and they determined to finish the day with deeds long 
to be remembered. So swollen by hatred and excite- 
ment had become the purpose of the Hound dictators, 
that the matter of Frank's bill was almost lost sight 
of. Their intention now was none other than to drive 
all Spanish- Americans from the city as they were 
being driven from the mines, and the final blow was 
to be struck that afternoon or evening. 

Sam Roberts commanded; and it was noticed that he 
was more than usually grave in his demeanor, and con- 
cerned as to the condition and movements of his men. 
Supper was taken at a restaurant, where an eye- 
witness says that Sam behaved badly; that from his 
former reserve he broke into angry impatience, and 
to give more forcible expression to an order for a gin* 


cofJctail appetizer, he kicked over a table and broke a 
few glasses. 

The company then proceeded to get up steam for 
the grand assault. This was accomplished by enter- 
ing: various saloons and demandino^ drink and ciofars: 
if not instantly and cheerfully produced, the rioters 
would go behind the bar, help themselves and their 
associates, then smash a few decanters and mirrors 
as a gentle admonition that politeness sits as grace- 
fully on a saloon-keeper before society servants as on 
Belisarius beorcfincc an obolus. Sam's men would 
have it made simple to these knights of Bacchus 
that, in the absence of awe-inspiring lex scripta, there 
was nothing left but to fall back upon the lex non 
scripta, the unwritten or common law which underlies 
all law, the which failing there was yet the lex talionis, 
or law of retaliation, a practical illustration of which 
was now before them. Expediency should be their 
motto, as it is the motto of all who seek to do the 
public good. There is a time to pipe, and a time to 
dance; a time to promise, and a time to perform — ■ 
except for politicians. The fear of God should ever 
be before the eyes of the people, and respect for 
rulers, though from necessit}^ or expediency they 
are for the time being denominated Regulators. Fear 
God; but only God manifest in the flesh, not the holy 
spiritual God beyond the sky. Tempori serviendum est. 
Bow to the powers that be; bow to the sovereign 
Begulators of the people; bow to the devil if so be 
glorious exaltation shall follow. When personal am- 
bition stalks abroad, let principle give place; Cicero 
must choose between Pompey and Csesar. 

There w^as yet another wrong which this night's 
work should right. In one of their marauding ex- 
cursions some time previous, it happened that a 
Chileno had the hardihood to defend his property 
and family honor from brutal assaults, and in doing 
so had accidentally killed a bystander named Beatty, 
an American, though not a member of the band. To 


seize, confiscate, and sell to the highest bidder the 
tent and effects of one who had dared to strike a 
blow in self-defence was not enough. The blood of 
their murdered countryman called from the ground 
for vengeance. This night should see his inquiet 
shade pacified. 

Sam drank sparingly that day; the potations of his 
men he sought to regulate according to their several 
capabilities. The time having arrived, armed with 
pistols, knives, and clubs, and with patriotic enthu- 
siasm and liquid fire, they filed off and marched rapidly 
down the street to the Chilean quarter. In answer 
to the question, "What are you going to do?" they 
unhesitatingly replied, "We are going to whip and 
drive out every damned Chileno in town." 

Rousing with blasphemous yells and pistol-shots 
the peaceful inhabitants of this then somewhat remote 
vicinity, they attacked the unoffending foreigners as 
they crawled from their dwellings, struck them down, 
and beat them with clubs, stoned and kicked them 
while lying half senseless on the ground, and finally, 
drawing their pistols, they began a promiscuous 
shooting, which resulted in one killed and several 
Avounded, not to mention those bruised with clubs and 
cut with knives. The tents were torn down, house- 
hold effects and merchandise stolen or destroyed, and 
the women and children turned into the street. It 
was in truth a disgraceful scene; blood flowed freely, 
and the cries of the defenceless mins^led with the oaths 
of the assailants. Several mounted horses and chased 
the Chilenos through the town and up Telegraph Hill, 
firing on them as they ran. The tent of Domingo 
Cruz, at Clark Point, remained unmolested until half 
past nine, when twenty of the gang entered it with 
drawn pistols and demanded drink. Then they fell 
.to breaking bottles and beating the inmates, saying 
they had an order from the alcalde to destroy every 
Chilean tent in town. From the tent of Domingo 
Alegria, after wounding the inmates and destroying 


such property as they could not carry away, they 
secured two thousand dollars in coin, and jewelry to 
the value of fifteen hundred dollars. Then they de- 
molished the tent and departed. After the first grand 
assault the company split into detachments of about 
twenty men each. These would make raids in differ- 
ent directions, then retire to the plaza or thereabout, 
whence after a short respite they would sally forth 

During the turmoil Sam was ubiquitous. While 
in the heat of the fray, battering heads and tearing 
tents most lustily, from a distant part of the field the 
cry was frequently heard: "Where are the Hounds?" 
*'Where is Sam?" And the answer would come, 
"Here I am!" Then they would fall to with new 

Thus during the whole afternoon and evening of 
that Sunday, and all through the night until the 
following morning, these desperadoes continued their 
unblushing villainies without any interference from 
officer or citizen, extending their operations to other 
parts of the city wherever a Chilean tent could be 
found. They made no attempt to cover their crimes ; 
daylight and darkness were one to them. Indeed there 
was nothing to fear. The law was powerless; there 
was no police; the alcalde was quiescent; the sheriff 
was a member of the gang; and the merchants and 
mechanics of the town were either attending to their 
business, or enjoying a sacred rest, dreaming of dollars, 
and creeping all the earlier to their beds as the 
sounds of brawls and rioting fell upon their ear. 

When the young metropolis awoke next morning 
and rubbed its eyes, a new light seemed to break in 
on its citizens. Their situation was unique; never 
had the}^ seen such sights, or heard such words, or 
thought of such things as now dawned upon them. 
Were they indeed where no law was? What were 
these spawn of Hecate who in the name of protection 
committed pillage and murder? The white owl of the 


north is well-nigh invisible in the snow; so it may 
approach its prey unseen. In the opaque congeries 
of character heaped round Yerba Buena Cove, how 
shall we distinguish the human qualities hidden be- 
neath the orthodox woolen shirt and bushy beard? 
Many a whilom saint is now a sinner ; many a whilom 
thief sleeps in our warehouses. The ways of human- 
ity in its new combination are past finding out. Circe, 
the bright-haired daughter of the Sun, in her en- 
chanted isle of ^aea amidst her fawning spell-softened 
wolves and lions, was not more treacherously lovely 
when with her wand she changed the companions of 
Ulysses into swine, than was audacious roguery^ 
lapped by flush California, to the brainless adventurer. 
Whether vice is a disease or not, it is no less epi- 
demic than small-pox or cholera; in this heterogeneous 
human mess, if we are to know our bedfellow, give 
us a new university with professors of the passions, 
doctors of intemperance, analysts of licentiousness, 
and curators of crime. 

Young San Francisco was fairly aroused. Fear 
took hold on the money-makers, and indignation; 
they swore in their hearts that these things should 
not be. Monday morning bright and early saw them 
bent on a new business, which was nothing less than 
to regulate the Regulators. And they went about it 
with their characteristic energy. They had but little 
time to waste at that kind of thing; and after all a. 
hundred Hounds were not many. 

On the Monday following the Sunday's outrages;, 
at the corner of Clay and Montgomery streets Samuel. 
Brannan mounted a barrel and addressed the people. 
As the crowd increased and the streets became so 
filled with eager listeners that many could not get 
near the speaker, a motion was made to adjourn to the 
plaza, which was done. There Mr Brannan took his. 
stand on the roof of the one-story building occupied 
by Mr Leavenworth, the alcalde — opposite the plaza, 
on Clay street, in the rear of the City Hotel — ancL 

Pop. Trie., Vol. I. 7 


there continued his speech. After he had finished 
Frank Ward addressed the meeting. 

It was in very deed putting the law under their 
feet; this taking a stand upon the top of a court of 
justice, and crying to the community to purify the 
court and mete out justice irrespective of inefficient 
formulas. It was significant of the times, and of the 
people. That little tenement of legal fustian was 
scarcely a feather in the way of those who now 
grappled the evil which they proposed to cure. Frank 
Ward was a fearless little fellow, a perfect catamount 
of courage when aroused, and as pompous and ranting 
as king Cambyses. Brannan, too, at this time was 
full of courage and bravado. While he was speak- 
ing, he was informed that the Hounds were moving 
among their adherents, and threatening to burn his 

The effect of this statement on the speaker was to 
make him denounce the thieves the stronger. Pale 
with anger and excitement he stood before them. 
They were a dangerous element; they deemed them- 
selves invincible; in their opinion they were mightier 
than the law. They were now assailed from a new 
^quarter, and their very existence depended on prompt 
action; so that it was dangerous to force them to the 
wall. Brannan, however, was thoroughly aroused. 
Certain voices of the rabble grew louder, and presently 
pistols appeared with demonstrations of shooting. 
Perceiving which, Sam hurled on them a torrent of 
his choicest invective, meanwhile baring his breast 
and daring them to fire. 

The speaking finished, the people collected were 
formed into four companies of one hundred men each. 
Captain Spofford was appointed chief marshal; and 
of the companies Hall McAllister, Isaac Bluxome, Jr., 
A. J. Ellis, and F. J. Lippitt were chosen captains. 
Lots were then drawn by the captains to determine 
which company should first stand guard, the duty 
feeing to watch the city and hunt the Hounds. The 


lot fell on Bluxome. Stationing detachments in va- 
rious parts of the city, with ten men he proceeded to 
an adobe building, corner of Broadway and Powell 
streets, where he was informed Sam Roberts slept. 
Breaking in the door which did not open to his knock, 
he learned that Sam was not there, but that he 
had pitched his tent some way out on the Presidio 
road. Thither Bluxome proceeded, but the captain 
of the Hounds was not there. Others went in other 
directions. Roberts was hunted everywhere. Tam- 
many Hall was likewise invaded ; the nest broken up, 
and several of the gang taken prisoners. 

Meanwhile a number of gentlemen visited the al- 
calde and requested that steps might be taken for 
the restoration and maintenance of public peace. 
Thereupon a proclamation was issued calling a meet- 
ing of the citizens at three o'clock that afternoon, at 
which time appeared upon the plaza the largest gath- 
ering California had yet seen. The people were pro- 
foundly moved. W. D. M. Howard was called to 
preside, and Victor J. Fourgeaud chosen secretary. 
At the close of loud and lengthy public discussion a 
subscription for the relief of the sufferers by the riot 
was opened at the Parker House. Two hundred and 
thirty citizens then enrolled their names for police 
service, and formed themselves into six companies 
for immediate action. The Regulators, watching 
these proceedings, now began to scatter, but before 
sunset seventeen of them were arrested and secured 
on board the United States ship Warren. Roberts, 
the redoubtable, found snugly stowed in the hold of 
the schooner Mar^j bound for Stockton, was arrested 
by Hall McAllister, and his comrade Curley was 
picked up at the Mission. 

Another citizens' meeting was held at Portsmouth 
Square the same day, at which two associate judges, 
William M. Gwin, and James C. Ward, were chosen to 
assist the alcalde and share in the trial of the prisoners. 
Horace Hawes, Hall McAllister, and others were 


appointed to act for the people, and P. Barry and 
Myron Norton for the accused. Twenty-four citizens 
met the day following as a grand jury, and the 
prisoners were regularly indicted and charged with 
conspiracy, riot, robbery, and deadly assault. Samuel 
Koberts and eighteen others were thus called upon to 
defend themselves. 

The trial began on Wednesday, was conducted in 
the ordinary legal forms, and lasted until the following 
Monday. Witnesses were examined on both sides; 
and the evidence of deeds done in the light of open 
day, to the men who now had the management of 
affairs, did not seem difficult to obtain. Notwith- 
standing which Roberts proved his alibi as a matter 
of course; Peter Earl, a Parker House watchman, 
swore that he put Sam to bed Sunday night, and 
William Jackson knew him to have been in bed at 
the time. But it would not do; Sam was found 
guilty of every charge, and eight others of one or 
more counts of the indictment. 

After the conviction of the captured Begulators 
the question arose how they should be punished. 
Some were for having them hanged, others for having 
them whipped upon the public plaza and banished, 
and others simply for having them banished and 
given to understand that if they ever returned they 
would be executed. Roberts was first sentenced to 
ten years in some penitentiary, wherever the terri- 
torial governor of California should direct, and the 
others were ordered punished by fines and imprison- 
ment of various amounts and terms. The infliction 
of the several penalties being found impracticable, 
and the people having gone about their business, 
some of the prisoners were shipped away and the 
others discharged. The gang however was broken 
up, and crime for the moment checked. Many of the 
Regulators took their departure for the mines, some 
of whom there met the fate which they so richly 
deserved. The miners had a shorter path from mur- 


der to the gallows than the San Francisco merchants 
had yet found. 

This outrage of the Regulators was not an ordinary 
riot perpetrated in a moment of excitement, but a 
coolly planned conspiracy against a peaceable and 
peace-loving community. Under the existing laws 
of the United States, foreigners had the same rights 
in California as American citizens, and wantonly to 
injure them was in the highest degree criminal. Not 
that any special sympathy is due the class against 
whom their wrath was kindled. The Chileans and 
Peruvians who infested the towns and rifled the 
Foothills of their treasures were low enough in the 
scale of humanity; by instinct and association they 
were lazy, ignorant, and deceitful, and they seldom 
scrupled at any crime they might with certainty cover. 
With the lewd women brought hither by them, and 
who were little better than chattels, they lived on 
infamous earnings; their tents were dens of iniquity; 
and if the Hounds had extirpated them, and had then 
themselves been hanged for it, society would have been 
the gainer. 

But these foreigners were human beings, and as 
such entitled to humane treatment at the hands of 
professedly humane men. The lower their estate, 
the less tamely fair-minded and honorable citizens 
would stand by and see them wantonly maltreated. 
That they were the scum of other societies and a 
curse to ours; that their touch was pollution and 
their presence moral disease, and that their absence 
would be a blessing, were perhaps among the reasons 
why the Societ}^ of Regulators enjoyed so lengthy an 
existence. But the persecution of a class was a very 
different matter from the punishment of criminals; 
the former was based on rank injustice, which would 
certainly recoil alike on innocent and guilty, and 
it must end. Right nobly did the people of San 
Francisco thus early vindicate their integrity and 
fair fame, rallying to the help of down-trodden justice. 


In this, the foreshadowing of that determined sense 
of truth and equity, that pointed swiftness of action 
so characteristic of Cahfornia committees of vigilance, 
the primary power of society seated itself on the bench 
beside limp and inept law, and grasping in one hand 
the criminal and in the other the constable, it swore 
perpetual divorce from public villainy. 



Thou say'st an undisputed thing 
In such a solemn way. 

Oliver Wendell Holmes. 

Although the American flag was hoisted by Cap- 
tain Montgomery in the plaza of Yerba Buena the 
9th of July, 1846, two days after it had been raised at 
Monterey by Commodore Sloat, it was not until after 
the cession of California by Mexico to the United 
States, about the time of the gold discovery, that 
much was said or thought about government. The 
thriving little hamlet that bordered the Cove, in 
January, 1847, dropped its modest name of Yerba 
Buena for the original and more pretentious one of 
San Francisco, made famous by the Mission, Presidio, 
and Bay. This town and the mission settlements 
southward boasted their alcalde or justice of the 
peace, and some of them an ayuntamiento or town 
council, while the country at large was held by a 
military governor, whose rule, however, amounted to 
little, even along the seaboard, and was felt scarcely 
at all by the scattered and erratic gold-hunters. 

Says the first number of the California Star, pub- 
lished at Yerba Buena January 9, 1847: 

*'We hear the inquuy almost every hour during the day, 'What laws are 
we to be governed by?' We have invariably told those who put the questioa 
to us, ' If anybody asks you, tell them you don't know,' because we were un- 
willmg to express an opinion in relation to the laws in force in this territory, 
knowing as we did that probably during the day the same persons would be 
told at the alcalde's office or elsewhere that ' no particular law is in force in 



Yerba Buena, though there may be in other places in the territory, and that 
all suits are now decided according to the alcalde's notions of justice, without 
regard to law or the established rules governing courts of equity,' The 
written laws of the country can easily be obtained and published, and for the 
convenience of the people it ought to be done at once. The people are now 
in the situation of the subjects of the tyrant who had his laws written, but 
placed them so high that they could not be read by the people, consequently 
many ignorantly violated them, and lost their lives and property. Commodore 
Stockton having been clothed with power to organize a territorial government 
in California, his proclamation settles the law in this country for the present, 
and ought to be regarded as the paramount law by all our courts. " 

This rambling statement signifies little beyond the 
rambling conceptions which even an editor then enter- 
tained of the laws under which he lived. When he 
speaks of the existence of written laws, he must refer 
first to the laws'of Spain and Mexico, and secondly to 
the laws of England and the United States, for he 
must surely have known that neither the alcalde of 
Yerba Buena, nor the whilom government at Mon- 
terey, nor Commodore Stockton, had any local laws 
fit for the regulation of present affairs in California. 
In a word, like the world in the beginning, law was 
without form and void. 

Until the war should terminate, it was to be ex- 
pected that the commandant of the military district 
would act as governor; and though his authority was 
vague and anomalous, it was cheerfully recognized by 
all except those whom it was intended to restrict or 

But military rule was utterly of no avail in pre- 
venting or punishing crime throughout the country. 
It could not even maintain its own integrity, or over- 
take deserters from its ranks. It could offer rewards 
for human heads; but lawlessness was not thus to 
be restrained. As well might the military governor 
of California expect by such means to win souls from 
purgatory as that his feeble proclamations would stay 
the wild orgy of the Inferno. The military and naval 
commandants recognized in the people a right, nay, 
enjoined it as a duty, to choose magistrates and pro- 


vide themselves a government; but this was frequently 
coupled with a recommendation for delay until it could 
be ascertained whether congress had concluded or was 
about to conclude the long-looked for organization. 

It will be remembered that when gold was first 
discovered Colonel Mason ruled at Monterey. In 
anticipation of the failure of congress to provide a 
government, a call was made for the people to come 
foward and discuss matters relative to their anomalous 
situation. By a treaty of peace the country had been 
ceded to the United States, and the president had 
recommended to congress the extension of the laws 
of the United States over the newly acquired domain, 
but that recommendation had not yet been acted on, 
and at the time of the gold discovery the people of 
California were without the court machinery neces- 
sary for the protection of their lives and property. 
Crime was on the increase; hordes were hurrying 
hither confusedly, which a well organized government 
with a perfect police system would find difficulty 
enough in restraining. What then would the ruffians 
not do if left to themselves, and what was to become 
of citizens and the country generally? The j)eople of 
California could not account for this ill-timed neglect 
on the part of congress to provide them a government, 
until they found the black man at the bottom of it. 

Meetings were held at San Jose the 11th of De- 
cember, 1848, at San Francisco ten days later, and at 
Sacramento the 6th of January, 1849, to take into 
consideration the propriety of organizing a provisional 
government for the so-called territory of California. 
A day was fixed for the election of delegates to a 
convention for the adoption of a territorial or state 
constitution, which was to be submitted for ratifica- 
tion to the people and sent to congress for approval. 
Disagreements arising, however, proceedings were dis- 

By the California, the first steamship to enter San 


Francisco Bay, arrived General Persifer F. Smith 
the 28th of February, 1849, who immediately assumed 
command. He was succeeded the 1 3th of April fol- 
lowing by General Kiley. It was now time, the 
people thought, that civil law should be established 
in this territory. The time of war, during which 
alone the president possessed the constitutional right 
to govern a territory by the simple mandate of a 
military officer, was over, and a forcible, practical 
government was nowhere on earth more needed. 
While congress was disputing over the vexed ques- 
tion of slavery in the new territory, the people grew 
first impatient, then indignant. 

So eager for office and its spoils were the polls 
manipulators that in January, 1849, there were in 
San Francisco no less than three town councils at one 
time. In the absence of state legislation or federal 
regard, it was sometimes difficult for the municipali- 
ties to tell who were the rulers if any such existed. 
The old council of 1848 held over on the ground that 
its term had not expired. Of those opposed to it, 
one clique affirmed that its time expired the 27th of 
December, 1848, and another the 15th of January, 
1849, and they elected men who took their seats 
accordingly. A month later the citizens met and 
petitioned both of the newly elected councils to resign, 
which they did. A district legislative assembly and 
three justices of the peace were then elected. On 
the 4th of June General Riley issued a proclamation 
declaring the election of the district legislature illegal, 
and reinstating the ayuntamiento of 1848. 

General Riley did what he could to soothe and 
smooth. He said that congress did not mean to neg- 
lect California, nor did the president then regard the 
territory as subject to military rule. The old Mex- 
ican law then recognized in California, he explained, 
in the absence of a properly appointed governor by 
the supreme government, vested authority in the 
military commander of the department, a secretary. 


a territorial legislature, a superior court consisting of 
four judges, a prefect, sub-prefect, and judge of first 
instance for each district, and alcaldes and ayun- 
tamientos for the towns. Many of these offices were 
now vacant, and he recommended that they should 
be filled by an election to be held the 1st day of 
August, 1849. He recommended, furthermore, the 
choosing of thirty-seven delegates to a constitutional 
convention from the ten districts into which the 
territory was divided for election purposes. Amidst a 
general apathy on the part of the voters the election 
was held as appointed, and the convention met at 
Monterey the 1st of September following. 

In the absence of a state legislative body the alcalde 
and ayuntamiento of San Francisco claimed supreme 
authority in that district, and it was expected that 
all their legitimate acts would be sanctioned by the 
acting governor and confirmed by future legislation. 
The treasury being empty, the new municipal officers 
appHed themselves to fill it. 

The first money received was appropriated for the 
purchase of a dismantled brig, called the Eiiphemia, 
then lying in the Cove about where now is Front 
street. The object of this purchase was to convert 
the vessel into a prison, so that the town might have 
a place in which to confine its criminals. This was 
early in August; and the vessel was turned into a 
jail, which was then the only prison the town could 
boast. California desired admission at once into the 
federal union. 

The 13th of November, a state constitution was 
adopted, and a governor, judges of the supreme court, 
and other state officers elected, and state and federal 
legislators chosen. Party politics in this state was 
first manifest at this election. The business of the 
alcalde of San Francisco increasing, a tribunal called 
the Court of First Instance was established early 
in December, with William B. Almond as judge. 
This court was held in an old school-house on the 


plaza, and decided cases involving not less than one 
hundred dollars after a fashion of its own. 

The first California legislature, surnamed the Legis- 
lature of a Thousand Drinks, met at San Jose one 
month after election and continued in session four 
months. General Riley immediately placed in the 
hands of the newly elected governor the territorial 
archives, and surrendered to him the administration 
of civil affairs. Though not yet a state, California 
was very sure, as she thought, soon to become one, 
and adopted measures accordingly. The legislature 
proceeded at once to business as if congress had al- 
ready acted on her admission. A judiciary was estab- 
lished and all the offices required by the constitution 
were created. Foreigners who had not become natu- 
ralized citizens were required to pay a license be- 
fore working the mines, a measure productive of 
more trouble than profit. The penalty of murder 
alone was death; and for sending or accepting a chal- 
lenge to fight a duel there should be fine and im- 
prisonment. The state was divided into counties ; the 
incorporation of towns and cities was authorized, and 
to San Francisco was given a charter. 

The first election of officers for the county of San 
Francisco took place on the 1st of April, 1850, when 
a sheriff, judge, recorder, surveyor, treasurer, and 
other officials were chosen. The manner of this elec- 
tion was characteristic of the times, and shows to 
what length candidates for office then went to secure 
their election. For the office of sheriff there were 
three candidates — J. Townes, whig; J. J. Bryant, 
democrat; and John C. Hays, independent. All 
were on an equality in having the title of 'colonel' 
prefixed to their names. Bryant kept a hotel and 
had money; Hays was a dashing Texas ranger and 
had friends; Townes had nothing and was early out 
of the contest. Immediately he was nominated 
Bryant decorated his tavern with flags, placed a band 
of music upon the balcony, served free lunches in the 


, saloon, and distributed drinks ad infinitum. This was 
continued daily with prospects of the most flattering 
success up to the day of election. There were en- 
thusiastic meetings with eloquent speakers and fine 
parades, torch-light processions, illuminations, horses, 
carriages, transparencies, banners, and all the para- 
phernalia of the hustings. The people were as full of 
enthusiasm as the candidates; it being to them a 
matter of vital importance under which of these two 
gentlemen the city should be bled. 

As the time drew nigh, the Hays party became 
despondent. The combined power of those mighty 
elements, money and rum, were beyond the puny 
efforts of man to combat. At the polls Bryant and 
his partisans were more than ever elated. The day 
was theirs beyond question. All was lost with Colonel 
Jack. But hold ! What is this ? What new deviltry 
has the Texan concocted? For suddenly amidst the 
excited throng that gathered in and around the plaza 
appeared a mounted horseman, in the character of a 
Texan ranger. The clean-limbed fiery steed was 
brilliant black and richly caparisoned; the rider sat 
erect, with uncovered head, and performed a succession 
of difficult feats with consummate grace and skill. 
The rabble crowded round in senseless admiration. 
Drums beat, trumpets sounded, and loud acclamations 
arose from the delighted multitude. The horse be- 
coming excited, at length cleared himself from the 
crowd, and dashed down the street at full speed. 
This was enough. No better proof of the fitness of 
the candidate for high position and important trust 
was possible. What wonder that officers so elected, 
and by such electors, should look lightly on puritan 
principles and scrupulous justice as compared with 
well-filled pockets, champagne suppers, and happy 
harlotings! At the election ordered by Governor 
Riley the 1st of August, Horace Hawes had been 
chosen prefect. It was an office of his own creating, 
and the (^luties of the incumbent were subsequently 


of his own defining. The duties of a prefect he 
declared were ''to take care of pubhc order and 
tranquilhty; to pubhsh and circulate, without delay, 
observe, enforce, and cause to be observed and en- 
forced, the laws, throughout their respective districts; 
and for the execution of these duties they are clothed 
with certain powers, which are clearly specified and 
defined. They are particularly enjoined to attend to 
the subject of public instruction, and see that common 
schools be not wanting in any of the towns of their 
respective districts. They are also required to pro- 
pose measures for the encouragement of agriculture, 
and all branches of industry, instruction, and public 
beneficence, and for the execution of new works of 
public utility and the repair of old ones. They con- 
stitute the ordinary channel of communication between 
the governor and the authorities of the district, and 
are to communicate all representations coming from 
the latter, accompanied with the necessary informa- 

There is but one remove, it is said, between a phi- 
losopher and a fool; and tall, gaunt Horace Hawes 
could play the one or the other, as occasion required. 
He was the most foolish philosopher and the most 
philosophic fool San Francisco has ever supported. 
His intellect was clear, his logic practical, his argu- 
ments conclusive, as the following incident testifies. 

When Benjamin Burgoyne was town treasurer, 
Hawes presented for payment a bill which he had 
held for some time waiting the appearance of funds 
in the usually empty municipal money-box, and 
said: ''Burgoyne, I want you to pay that bill." The 
money was counted out and the treasurer remarked: 
"Mr Hawes, will you please sign this voucher?" 
Hawes complied, and started off; but turning back, 
as if struck by a sudden thought, he exclaimed: 
" Burgoyne, let me see that paper." The treasurer 
handed him the bill and the voucher which he had 
signed, when Hawes thrust them into his pocket with 


the money which he had received. Said Burgoyne, 
" That bill is mine." Straightening himself to his full 
height, and twisting his features into a terrible scowl, 
Hawes exclaimed: ^^I am prefect, sir, and ex officio 
custodian of all papers!" 

I shall have occasion to mention the name of Mr 
Hawes again in this work; but I will say here, that 
notwithstanding his peculiarities, he was one of the 
best and purest legislators the country ever had. 

California's admission into the Union, the 9th of 
September, 1850, was the occasion of great rejoicing 
in San Francisco and throughout the state. Indeed 
so elated were the members of the two boards of 
aldermen that they voted themselves each a beautiful 
gold medal as a present from the city of San Fran- 

Thus nominally the law spread its aegis over the 
communities of California. But there was no great 
benefit in it. The chief towns responded freely to 
gubernatorial calls, but little attention was paid by 
the lesser camps to the adoption of a constitution, the 
organization of law-courts, or the meeting of legisla- 
tive assemblies. Little by little the garment of con- 
ventionality was thrown over these new communities, 
but it was ill-fitting, ill-adapted to those social abnor- 
mities which it was never made for, and hence was 
for the most part thrown aside as useless. Although 
the people were patriotic enough, none but the more 
worthless would deny their gold-gathering proclivities 
for the gratification of political honor. It w^as easy 
to find men to fill the higher ofifices of government, 
such as governor, judge, or receiver of public funds; 
there were plenty of men too lazy to work, and with- 
out sufficient wit to live upon, who for salary or per- 
quisites would accept oflftce, but intelligent honest 
men to fill the place of inferior functionaries at paltry 
salaries were not forthcoming. The pay of a member 
of congress was then but eight dollars a day, and a 


California gold-digger would abandon in disdain a 
claim that did not yield him twice as much. 

Long before good government and law-courts could 
be established there the Foothills were flooded by 
a gold-thirsty humanity. In the absence of good 
laws well administered the people of the mining dis- 
tricts were obliged to make laws for themselves. 
This they did in the simplest manner and with a view 
to the immediate attainment of justice. Thefts and 
murders were quickly followed by whipping or hang- 
ing. These crude self-constituted tribunals were soon 
the terror of evil-doers, who thereupon became aware 
that it was better to work and be honest than to steal 
and be hanged. 

The community being thus purged of its criminals 
in the absence of law, law next becomes criminal 
and scourges the people through the medium of its 
ministers. Every member of society was amenable 
to the law except officers of the law and their friends. 
Plutarch tells us that " when Anacharsis heard what 
Solon was doing, he laughed at the folly of thinking 
that he could restrain the unjust proceedings and 
avarice of its citizens by written laws, which he said 
resembled in every way spiders' webs, and would^ like 
them, catch and hold only the poor and weak, while 
the rich and powerful would easily break through 
them." After the trial and conviction of Socrates his 
judges turned to him, according to the custom at 
Athens, and told him he might bid for his life; so in 
these early San Francisco courts at almost any stage 
of proceedings the defendant might buy an acquittal 
with money. And here as in Rome, false accusations 
were sometimes made against good men, such as 
Pliny complained of in Pegulus, who of all two-footed 
creatures was called the wickedest. 



Ay, do despise me. I 'm the prouder for it ; 
I like to be despised. 


Obviously the peculiarities of crime in California 
arose from the peculiarities of conditions. Bees 
make their cells cylindrical, but mechanical pressure 
gives them a hexagonal form. So it is with crime and 
criminals ; the villain lays his plans smooth and round, 
but circumstances press them into other shapes. 

Physicists tell us not only that molecules exist, but 
that every molecule has its individuality; and this 
whether atoms are born of and developed from pre- 
existing forms, whether matter is or is not self-existent 
and eternal, or whether matter may or may not be 
reduced to force alone. As different phases of matter 
in the body act chemically when brought together so 
as to produce different kinds of substance, so phases 
of mind, or constituent qualities, acting under the 
chemistry of human nature, yield their several moods 
and affections. There are two liquids which united 
become solid; there are two cold substances which 
united produce heat; there are two evils which make 
a good. There is nothing that crushes manhood 
and keeps mind debased like ancient forms and super- 
stitions. It is among the conservative elements of 
state, church, and society that we find fashion domi- 
nating sound sense and good principles, that we find 
form more esteemed than godliness or sweet charity. 
And it is not necessary, in order to be sustained in 

• Pop. Trie.. Vol. I. 8 ( 113 ) 


this antique mummery, to make of the creator a deus 
ex machina, who may by human expostulations suffi- 
ciently loud or logical be induced to interfere in the 
workings of the laws which he has made ; so in order 
to be rid of the tyranny it is not necessary to deny 
the possibility of unexpected fortunate occurrences. 
There was other escape from this mental incubus in 
the year of grace 1849, which was to encamp among 
the Sierra Foothills. 

In the melodrama now being played the scenes 
were dramatic beyond description. The actors and 
their parts were as varied as human nature and 
anomalous circumstance could produce. Comedy was 
tragic, and tragedy comic; on the same board in 
simultaneous declamation were hero, clown, and 
heavy villain, who with the plodding people as a prey 
presented a performance fascinating in the extreme. 

Not that California was particularly bad; not that 
there was less good than evil abroad; not that San 
Francisco was worse than any other seaport city, or 
worse then than now. The times were fresher then, 
and the lately unfettered nature of the people v/as 
more pronounced ; but for looseness of morals, political 
and social, for unprincipled cunning on all sides, un- 
blushing rascality in high places, a lavish expenditure 
of money by the wealthy in order to demoralize law 
and defeat the ends of justice, commend me to the 
present time. The tyrannies of feudalism were tame 
as compared with the infamies of the political and in- 
dustrial magnates of to-day; for, as Thucydides says, 
"it is more disgraceful for men in high office to 
improve their private fortune by specious fraud than 
by open violence. Might makes right in the one case ; 
v/hile in the other, man throws over his proceedings 
the cloak of despicable cunning." 

In the earlier social fermentations, the wickedness 
innate in every community was more visibly apparent 
upon the surface. The men composing the commu- 
nity were for the most part, as I have before observed, 


from the better walks of life, men of intelligence and 
fair training. Their instincts and their aspirations 
were as a rule noble. The peculiarity of their posi- 
tion lay chiefly in the fact that they were without law 
or government. They were not wild beasts or sav- 
ages; therefore they needed rule. In the absence of 
indigenous institutions, in the heterogeneous character 
of this social compound, in the diversity of thought and 
customs, and in the varieties of opinion here mingled, 
if ever strong rule was needed it was over this con- 
glomeration of civilized men living almost in a state of 

In the absence of a ruler every man was his own 
despot; each did what was good in his own eyes. 
There were not even those social restraints so essen- 
tial to good behavior, and which are indeed stronger 
than the strongest law. Hence it was that misbe- 
havior was unblushingly open. It makes a vast differ- 
ence to refined civilization, even to aesthetic religion, 
whether breaches of conventionalisms be hidden or 
open, whether the senator has seven mistresses in 
Washington, or the saint as many wives in Salt Lake 

The superabundant wickedness of to-day we hide 
away, and affect not to see it. We pass laws against 
gambling, against prostitution, against all the more 
repulsive forms of vice, and then with pious prudery 
make the bare mention of such obnoxious evils profane 
to ears polite. Meanwhile, nursing our secret sins, 
lying in wait for opportunity of advantage over our 
neighbor, hardening our heart to the misfortunes of 
others, do we not, under cover of decency and respecta- 
bility, indulge in all the lusts and passions which we 
so sanctimoniously condemn in open offenders? In 
society everywhere we see certain of the moderately 
wicked execrated, while others infinitely more wicked 
are lightly blamed. The forms that hide the hideous- 
ness of vice cover brutality, and put on the appearance 
of virtue. There is a drapery beneath which shame 


will not creep. Neither religion, morality, nor law is 
the most powerful lever of our present social mechan- 
ics; make sin unfashionable if you would eradicate it. 
Break all the moral laws you please, but beware how 
you tread upon the toes of society. Do you wish to 
steal? Do it legally and successfully, as a railway or 
land monopolist, and you will be adulated in your ill- 
gotten wealth. There are more refined ways of 
killing than with knife or pistol; affection, character, 
ambition may be slain, leaving the skeleton of de- 
parted hopes to stalk the earth as in the pale moonlit 
streets of a ghostly city; and though such deeds be 
dastardly, society does not heed them so long as they 
are not ungenteel, or bunglingly done. Some may 
be governed more or less by an abstract sense of right, 
based on moral or religious ideals, but these form a 
small part of an}^ community. Many more think 
their actions are regulated by some such sentiment 
when it is really not the fact. 

Every age and nation has its individuality, has 
some leading form of virtue or rudimentary excellence, 
possessing which, in the eyes of society, the individual 
is virtuous and excellent, and lacking which he is 
anathematized. The standard of excellence may be 
at one time courage; at another, religion, birth, caste, 
learning, patriotism, and the like: each in its turn 
takes its place as the moral ideal. And this ideal 
is constantly undergoing change. For example, the 
virtues essential in Spain, four centuries ago, are not 
the essential virtues of Christendom to-day. Then 
obedience was the superior charm of woman; now it 
is chastity. Then blind loyalty best became the good 
citizen ; now there are men of good conduct and 
character who question the immutability of any one 
set of civil or ecclesiastical forms. 

Similar forms in character may be generated from 
different causes. Thus one nation is conscientious 
and honest from habits inculcated by a life of labor 


and deprivation ; another from religious or superstitious 
motives. A long life of painful self-sacrifice or devo- 
tion to a cause may spring from a desire to please God, 
or from a desire to please one's self But whatsoever 
its genesis, it is this moral ideal that gives concretion 
to society and force to form. 

The law takes little cognizance of the relative good- 
ness and badness of human nature. In its eyes a man 
is wholly good or wholly bad. It draws a line, and 
all who happen to be on one side are doomed to jails 
and penitentiaries, while those on the other side may 
go free. The greater part of the human family hover 
near this line. The good are not very good nor the 
bad very bad. The law shows little discernment in 
its separations. There are many on either side who 
rightly belong on the other. Often a little more 
villainy would save one from the gallows, and a little 
more benevolence would send many an uncondemned 
criminal thither. 

Back from the line some distance we find the ex- 
tremes. Take one each of these, place them side by 
side, the greatest saint and the greatest sinner; then 
compare and analyze. Many qualities we find com- 
mon in both, such as patience, application, knowledge, 
skill, courage, self-denial, affection, and a hundred 
more. The difference in their natures may be very 
slight, so slight, indeed, that a pennyweight more or 
less of this prejudice or passion, or of that bent of 
intellect or strength of physique, was all that stood 
originally between the paths that later led to a prison 
and to a pulpit. As in nature, so in man, the product 
depends entirely on the mixture of elemental prin- 
ciples and the incidents generated therefrom by envi- 

A life of crime per se is seldom chosen by the worst 
man. Crime is generally the result of ignorance or 
passion. The consequence is either not known or not 
considered. Aggregations of men may do that with 
impunity for which individuals so offending would 


be severely punished. What is war but wholesale 
murder? How differs corporation from individual 
swindUng? In early California personal surroundings 
were so different from any hitherto experienced that 
one found one's self in the midst of a thousand tempta- 
tions. And yet California made very few men bad; 
most bad men were such before coming hither. Every 
one was here with an avowed object, the accumulation 
of wealth; hence the one who scraped together the 
most gold was the best man. This passion being of 
the baser sort, in the absence of those restraining in- 
fluences usually attending individuals so far advanced 
in culture as these, their baser part appeared upon 
the surface, mingled with their better part in a 
degree unparalleled in the growth of communities. 
They would have money; morality was a different 
and comparatively insignificant matter. The power 
of wealth was all the respectability necessary. They 
would indulge their passions as they pleased, some in 
one way and some in another; and as long as a man 
paid his debts he was not open to serious censure. 
Thus in the association of these heroes of the golden 
calf, with the attendant elements of pugilistic chivalry 
and brute force, was seen what we might call a modern 
age of antique intermixtures, a combination of the 
golden age, the heroic age, and the stone age, with 
latter-day liberalized modifications. 

Crime here had an individuality not less pro- 
nounced than the peculiarities of the people. In 
character and quality it partook of the nature of the 
times. Its origin was as often vanity and hot blood 
as it was cool, calculating cupidity. There was a chiv- 
alrous bearing and dash about it which to many was 
enticing. The danger of it was charming; the field 
for atrocious ambition was wide ; murderers delighted 
in the magnitude of their achievements, notching the 
number of their victims on the hilt of knife or pistol. 
Theft was base, unworthy a true knave-errant. When 



men did steal, it was in a sort of magnificent style, 
such as highway robbery, unearthing bags of buried 
gold-dust, or for revenge. There was glory even in 
failure; the captured criminal was for the time a hero, 
the observed of all. Men eyed him; women talked 
of him; editors wrote of him. Business was dropped, 
and whiskey drunk, and court-rooms were filled, and 
briefs written, all for him. Jails were opened for him 
and free accommodations furnished. He was the 
guest of the town. For him sheriffs bustled, juries 
sat, lawyers ranted, judges looked grave; and even 
if he was hanged there was something flattering in 
the punishment. 

There was a subdued audacity in the fighting men 
of California. The blustering Englishman had not 
his counterpart here, nor the wild Irishman, nor the 
half-crazed Frenchman, nor the border ruffian of Kan- 
sas or Mississippi. There was much of the gentleman 
about them, in many much that was chivalrous. The 
true Californian desperado was a mild-mannered man, 
gentle in demeanor, not given to much drink, and 
though about to cut you in pieces, he greeted you with 
a smile of sardonic sweetness. As a rule he patronized 
the barber, sported a white shirt and neatly fitting 
and well polished French boots; and when carrying 
the honors of a fresh murder he sometimes indulged 
in kid gloves. 

Swindling, the Lilliputians punished more severely 
than theft, because it was easier, they said, to protect 
their property from thieves than from cunning and 
unprincipled persons who perpetrated their villainies 
within the pale of law. In like manner the Califor- 
nians punished theft more than murder, because men 
carried their lives about with them, and might defend 
them, but property left to itself was defenceless. 
The easy, open, self-rehant disposition of the people; 
their fondness for harsh words, though so often accom- 
panied by gentle deeds, their hot blood and hatred 
for whatsoever in appearance was craven, the exposed 


condition of men and money, the free use of strong 
drink, and the necessity felt of always going armed, 
were among the chief causes of bloody affrays; and 
when woman came, as ever in the history of the race, 
she was a new and fruitful source of deadly encounter. 

Thus it w^as that crimes against the person were 
more general than crimes against property; and one 
cause of it may be traced to the grand opportunity 
for the evolution of avarice which was offered by 
gambling. In professional parlance, the dead-broke 
man could almost always, by borrowing, or working a 
little, raise a stake, a'.d thus find gratification for 
that covetous greed which, without this opportunity 
and excitement, must lead to schemes of darkness. 

Moreover, where every man was obliged to defend 
himself, and in a measure to right his own wrongs, 
greater license was allowed in the employment of 
deadly weapons. When rifles, revolvers, and bowie- 
knives were the fashion, when no one was supposed 
to be decently dressed v/ithout them, it were a little 
sino:ular if one should never be allowed to use them. 
Hence it was that crimes of violence, the result of 
excited passion arising from strong drink, gambling, 
fancied wrong and insult, were more common and less 
severely punished than crimes displaying innate mean- 
ness. There was no necessity for stealing; food was 
plentiful and easily obtained, very little clothing was 
necessary, life in the open air was delightful, and work 
was honorable; on the face of earth there walked, in 
his opinion, no man more noble than the honest miner, 
even though his woollen shirt was never washed ; and 
to strike a hearty, manly blow for whiskey or opinion's 
sake, even though somebody died in consequence, was 
quite different from the sneaking meanness of the 
Mexican cattle thief. On the other hand, those very 
causes which diminished theft increased personal 
violence. Freeness of life and manner, stimulating 
drinks, stimulating air, absence of social restrictions, 
all tended to the turning loose of passion, and to that 


gratification of appetite which breeds hcentiousness 
and blows. Hence it was that in the earher stages 
of arbitrary justice the thief was hanged while the 
murderer was left to run at large. 

In 1875 the carrying of deadly weapons without 
special permission was forbidden in San Francisco; 
since which time hundreds of applications for such 
permission have been made and granted. It has 
been questioned whether under this law the safety 
of the citizen or of the robber is the better secured. 
Men of nocturnal occupations, and those living in 
lonely suburbs, deemed it necessary to go ' heeled,' 
as hoodlums say; but the permits issued became so 
numerous as to include many whose intentions were 
assault rather than defence. Coercive laws, such 
as restrict the innocent action of responsible men; 
sumptuary laws, laws against intemperance and im- 
morality, never will regenerate society. He who 
desires to do murder will not hesitate to break the 
lesser law against carrying weapons. 

As in savagism ornament precedes dress, so in 
border communities deadly weapons precede the im- 
plements of legal justice. Everybody, during the 
Inferno, the disreputable and the respectable, deemed 
it a necessity to carry weapons. This shows how 
blinding is fashion. Because hung to every man's 
belt were glittering implements for the losing of 
human life, it was taken for granted that no life was 
safe without such implements. Surely the applica- 
tion of a little thought and common sense to the 
subject would have shown them that except in ex- 
traordinary cases, even in a community of rough fire- 
eaters, he who went unarmed was less liable to be 
attacked, less in danger of losing his life, than he 
who always went armed to the teeth for purposes of 
defence. Weapons invite violence. They are as bad 
playthings for men as for children. In California 
they were as dragons' teeth sowed broadcast along 


the Foothills, which sprang up each to the other's de- 
struction. Not less than ten millions of dollars of the 
precious metal taken from the mines of the Pacific 
States has gone to pay for guns, pistols, and knives 
with which the people might butcher each other, and 
without which all would have been better off. 

Quarrels between the rascals themselves were 
promptly settled by bowie-knife or revolver. As a 
rule they died with their boots on, as they expressed 
it — that is to say, violent deaths; indeed they expected 
nothins: less. Ancient belligferents, each havinsf sworn 
to kill his enem}^ on sight, would stroll about the 
street with eyes and ears on the alert, with hand on 
pistol-hilt, and on coming together both would draw 
and fire as rapidly as possible, neither of them speak- 
ing a word. Duels were in order; of the one hundred 
fouQfht in California about one third were fatal to one 
of the combatants. Althous^h our law makes duellins^ 
a felony, no one has ever been properly punished for 
this offence; yet public opinion is against it, and a 
duel now is of rare occurrence. The quiet citizen the 
ruffian seldom molested, except in cases of robbery. 
At no time in the history of the country need any 
well-behaved man, minding his own business and 
avoiding drinking-saloons, have greatly feared for his 

I have said that there were different degrees and 
methods of punishment. A warning to leave the 
camp, or town, or city, or country, was the mildest 
form; whipping was not unusual, but hanging was 
most common. In a country where all was turmoil 
and confusion, and where a liberated criminal would 
be as free as ever to commit new crimes in another 
camp or district, capital punishment seemed the only 
effectual cure. Suspected and disorderly persons were 
driven away. 

Hanging was done in various ways — by shoving 
the criminal from the door of a loft while a rope 
suspended him by the neck to a beam above; by 


running him up to the bough of a tree, a number of 
men having hold of the rope and sharing in the 
execution; by mounting him on a box or cask under 
a tree, and when all was ready knocking the support 
from under; by mounting the condemned on a horse 
or mule, tying his neck to the limb of a tree, and 
driving the animal out from under him. Sometimes 
one of the miners would be appointed executioner, at 
other times all would join in the unwelcome work. 

A fourth punishment — hanging, exile, and whipping 
being the first three — was one no less effectual than 
novel. It was the custom of committees of vigilance 
when they had in their possession a bad character 
against whom there existed strong suspicion but not 
sufficient evidence for conviction, before setting at 
liberty such an one to cause his likeness to be taken, 
that all villain-hunters might thenceforth know him. 
The Chinook of tlie Columbia, in the enjoyment of 
his aboriginal phantasy, would sooner die than have 
his other or intrinsic self, or soul, transfixed in light 
and shade, or imprisoned on the canvas to be carried 
hence, stolen, and forever lost to him. So these 
v/orse than savages, who preyed upon their kind, 
would ofttimes have preferred corporal punishment, or 
exile, to the infliction of the daguerreotype. 

There is more virtue in the lash for criminals than 
many suspect. Bound to the whipping-post, their 
backs bared to the sun, the performance which follows 
is not sentiment alone. Prisons the expert malefactor 
does not much fear. Even thouofh doomed to dis- 
appointment, hope of escape never deserts him. But 
the whipping-post is an abomination, attended as it is 
with pain as well as disgrace. 

Yet however overwhelmed a mining-camp may have 
been by cunning knaves and unprincipled miscreants, 
by desperadoes newly made, and the spawn and outcast 
of old societies; however crude the justice of these 
unfledged civilizations, and however passionate and 
insane the populace in the execution of a popular 


verdict, mixed with the general mass there was always 
enough of leaven in the shape of inherent nobleness 
of character, love of right, and practical good sense 
in the maintenance of order and respectability, to save 
the place from final destruction. This element of re- 
spectability and a care for appearances was greatly 
strengthened by the presence of woman, when she 
came, as well as of churches, schools, lyceums, and 
piano-fortes ; and while the quick-thinking and quick- 
acting people were sometimes overcome of impatience 
from laggard justice, officers of the law became more 
and more respected, and were less interfered with in 
the discharge of their duties. 

Early in 1850 some few began to think of remaining 
permanently in the country, and accordingly sent for 
their families. But even later the great mass of the 
people intended only to secure a little fortune and 
then hasten from these wild, and to many detestable, 
shores. Some thought of a longer stay in connection 
with political preferment or professional advancement, 
but even these looked forward in the hope of a return 
eastward after a five or ten years' exile. Hence it 
was that men, even of cultivated abilities and ma- 
ture character, who under other circumstances would 
have taken a lively interest in assisting to lay the 
foundation of the political and social institutions of 
the new commonwealth, were careless of the welfare 
of the country, and took little interest in society. 
Clusterinsr round their heart- strinors were the old 
home affections, and many were the high aspirations 
finally smothered in the hopes of return. They were 
good men, and respected the dignity of government 
and social order, but they did not come hither for 
personal distinction, or for any other purpose but 

Where money was plenty and manners were free, for 
the popularity of the thing, those even who intended 
soon to leave the country forever might countenance 
propositions tending toward public good, and might aid 


in tlie establishing of schools and churches, but the 
heart was not in it. 

Overlooking since 1850 the upper side of Ports- 
mouth Square, early San Francisco's historic centre, 
is the Monumental Engine House. Many and varied 
have been the doings witnessed from its windows, for 
in this plaza there used to congregate men of every 
color, of every phase of intellect, of every quality of 
aspiration. Thence have been seen crimes of every 
sort, and some displays of slow and of swift retribu- 
tive justice. Assassinations the Monumental window^s 
have seen, and riotings, robberies, and hangings; the 
tented foreigners in their low licentiousness, and the 
gaudy saloon, and blazing, music-sounding betting- 
shops; the grandest of early theatres, the Jenny Lind; 
the custom-house; the post-office, with its long line 
of anxious letter -seekers on the arrival of every 
steamer; these, beside mobs, elections, political dis- 
plays, citizens' meetings, peddlers' cries, street preach- 
ing, and a thousand other enlivening scenes. 

There were not many bells in California then, but 
the Monumentals had a bell on their engine-house 
when churches were obliged to do without. Fire 
was kingf, and could command what it would. There 
were other flames beside the flame of fire that often 
raged within hearing of this bell — flames of passion, 
and the blazing of those lusts which so often burn to 
cinders both body and soul. All the time these fires 
of hell were flaming in the bodies of men, who were 
constrained to fight them hourly or die. Men's passions 
were always ablaze; but when property was on fire 
the Monumentals struck their bell, and the alarmed 
citizens roused themselves from their beds to the 
rescue. It may not be out of place to mention here 
that the bell of the Monumentals was the official 
organ of the terrible tribunal of 185G, when first 
convened, and rang to their death those most able 
and gentlemanly scoundrels of the ballot-box stuffing- 
epoch; yet it was not the first to sound the note of 


warning to vice-ridden San Francisco. That honor 
belongs to the Cahfornia Company's bell, which was 
sounded with a billet of wood by Mr Oakes, standing 
on the ground — which was hammered by that gentle- 
man when he wished to rouse the people to the trial 
of Jenkins, in the summer of 1851. Later, the first 
tribunal employed the bells of both these companies. 

Likewise was seen from the same windows of the 
Monumentals the chain-gang at work on the y^laza 
and public streets — a novel spectacle in America — 
twenty or thirty hardened offenders, pallid through 
lono: confinement, clankin<2f their chains to the move- 
ment of pick and barrow, and warning the novice in 
crime of the fruits of evil doing. In older societies 
such displays are rightly regarded as barbarous and 
debasing; but here some more public and severe 
punishment seemed necessary than the latest refmed 
and philanthropic methods. It was not the money 
saved to the city, if indeed there was any such sav- 
ing, but the moral effect that alone justified the 

The police court, or recorder's court, as it was 
called before the passage of the consolidation act, 
was the medium by which the moral ulcers of the 
city were opened. The prisoners there every morn- 
ing arraigned were mostly foreigners, and interpreters 
of every civilized language under heaven were found 
necessary. And the religion of these scoundrels, and 
that of their friends, must be duly regarded, for the 
vilest and most imorant are often the most relio^ious. 
Herein was still greater diversity. Each witness was 
sworn by whatever peculiar sentiment of fear en- 
vironment had placed his imagination under — the 
Chinaman, for example, by holding in his fingers 
a piece of burning yellow paper, symbolical of the 
burning of his soul should he fail to tell the truth. 
I regret that faithfulness enforces me to add that, 
notwithstanding this solemn invocation of spiritual 
fire which threatened to strew the path to paradise 


with the ashes of his soul, John did sometimes most 
wickedly lie. 

The first number of the San Francisco He)xdd, 
issued June 1, 1850, calls the attention of its readers 
to the open and persevering attempts at incendiarism, 
affirming that there was then an organized gang of 
ruffians devoting their time to the disturbance of the 
public peace, and to maturing plans of burning and 
robbing. Two or three attempts to fire the town 
were sometimes made in a single night. The gang 
was composed chiefly of Sydney convicts, and corre- 
spondence was carried on between the principal cities 
of the state. Great difficulty was experienced by the 
authorities in frustrating their schemes, reckless and 
desperate as they were, and practised in all the arts 
of villainy. A law was passed by the legislature to 
deter the coming of convicts, but up to this time it 
had not been enforced. 

Courts of justice during those days were frequently 
assailed by the press, but they had their defenders. 
Writing December 13, 1850, the editor of the San 
Francisco Evening Picayune ^dij^: "We have not been 
indifferent, as we have shown on frequent occasions, 
to the unwarrantable and disgraceful attacks upon our 
courts, and upon those who preside over them, by one 
of our morning journals. We deprecated, at the earliest 
moment, the appearance of a seditious and disorgan- 
izing spirit, but were told that all the talk in which 
it indulged about the overthrow of the only defences 
of our rights and liberties was all nonsense, and we 
had concluded so to regard it. We have no fears for 
the stability of the tribunals which the people have 
created, and we have had no suspicions of any want 
of the purest integrity in the judges that sit in them. 
But we have looked with inconceivable displacency 
upon the license that has been assumed, both to con- 
trol and traduce them. We are glad to see that our 
contemporaries have, some of them, given a strong and 
manly utterance to a just, but we fear useless, rebuke." 


This tended only to stir up all the more order-loving 
citizens, who continued to curse the courts because 
they would not punish crime. At last the people of 
California were awake, wide awak-e. 

If they were to remain here but a week they did 
not wish to be robbed or burned in the mean time. 
Then grumbling became chronic. Men complained to 
each other, and came tosrether in mass meetiD2fs, and 
swore these things should not be. If crime had its 
characteristics, so had those determined to eradicate 
it. Knavery of all kinds was looked after — the owners 
of steamers, that they should not carry more passen- 
gers than the law allowed, no less than those who 
would cut throats or burn buildings. Speculators who 
caused flour to rise to twice or thrice its value were 
openly and manfully denounced. While in all this 
there was much talk, there was some action, as we 
shall see before the end of these volumes is reached. 

In regard to the spasmodic course of crime, I do 
not know that it is more particularly so in California 
than elsewhere. I think not. But here at all events 
its character has been clearly apparent. For a time 
all would go on smoothty and quietly in the line of 
villainy; then suddenly there would appear a shooting 
mania or a house-breaking mania, or a mania for self- 
murder, and for a week or a month the columns of 
the daily journals would present a stirring calendar. 
Murder incites murder; blood begets blood. Like 
every w^ave of fashion, crime undulates in common 
directions. The force of example is no less strong in 
suicide than in silks; ninety-nine hundredths of all we 
do is done because we see others do so. Reading the 
reports of rascality, and the warnings against iniquity 
in moral reform books and journals, engenders a morbid 
immorality. When all books of a demoralizing tend- 
ency are burned, our Sunday-school libraries will be 
cleared of half their contents. 



Gesetz ist miichtig, machtiger die Noth. 

With the rise of legislative assemblies, the adoption 
of a constitution, and the election of state and county 
officers, the administration of affairs in the more settled 
parts was taken from the hands of the merchants, me- 
chanics, and miners, and placed under the direction 
of the several officers of the law and legal tribunals. 
Then the wicked took heart. Hitherto there had 
been an absence of those legal and political juggleries 
which primarily are devoted to defeating the ends of 
justice. Now might crime weave round itself the 
threads of law, as the larva spins the protecting cocoon. 
Most strange and paradoxical was it that the eleva- 
tion of law should have subverted legal authority, and 
that the cultivation of morals should have so demoral- 
ized the community. 

I say the establishing of courts tended to encourage 
crime rather than to prevent it. By manipulating^ 
primary elections, and managing the polls, unprincipled 
demagogues were placed upon the bench, and ruffians 
made court officers. The most notorious offenders, by 
giving straw bail, by producing two or three members: 
of their fraternity to swear an alibis or by unblushing 
bribery, were sure of acquittal or escape. In one year, 
for two hundred murders committed, there was but a 
single legal execution. Police officers connived with 
professional house-breakers and shared the spoil. 

While it was easy to hang a thief, it was difficult 

Pop. Trie., Vol. I. 9 (129) 


to convict of murder before the juries of the interior. 
There were so many excuses which those could allow 
who had themselves indulged in a little shooting, that, 
even when in the early part of 1854 juries began to 
convict, they generally softened before leaving their 
seats and sent in a recommendation to mercy. 

Juries were summoned from the hangers-on about 
court-rooms, men fit for nothing else, scarcely able to 
live by their wits, and yet too lazy to Avork. Old 
familiar faces were they, blossoming under the genial 
influence of strong drink ; old pensioners they seemed 
to regard themselves, as they did nothing but sit in 
the jury box, the same person sometimes serving 
several times in one day. Thus the courts had always 
at hand an acceptable, stereotyped jury of retired 
Peter Funks from the purlieus of Long Wharf, petty 
hucksters, perhaps, or sham bidders at Cheap John 
auction rooms. 

Murderers were our congressmen, and shameless 
debauchees our senators. Our legislators were repre- 
sentatives of the sediment of society, and not of 
-sTorthy citizens. An ex-governor of the state, John 
McDougal, was arrested for election frauds shortly 
after his return from the east, in September, 1856. 
Cowhiding affairs, in which a woman was either an 
actor or the cause, and politicians parties to it, were 
of common occurrence. Affrays between attorneys 
jn court, in the name and under the nose of justice, 
and duels in which an editor, judge, or politician was 
sure to figure, were frequent. 

"There is scarce an officer intrusted with the exe- 
cution of our state government," writes the editor 
of the Evening Picmjune as early as August, 1850, 
^'scarce a legislator chosen to frame the laws under 
which our interests and the interests of those who are 
:to come after us are to be regulated, scarce a judicial 
officer from the bench of the supreme court down to 
the clerk of a village justice of the peace, scarce a 
functionary belonging to the municipal administration 


of our cities and incorporated towns, who has not 
entered upon his duties and responsibiHties as the 
means of making money enough to carry him home. 
His devotion to the well-being and advancement of 
the community whose confidence he has sought and 
won is measured by the dollars and cents to be acquired 
b}^ fidelity and industry in his place, rather than by 
any prospective regard to the influence which his 
official career may have upon the destinies of the 
community of which he has no intention to become 
permanently concerned." 

From the criminal records of 1855 I find that in 
California five hundred and thirty-eight persons met 
their death by violence. Of these three hundred and 
seventy were white, one hundred and thirty-three 
were Indians, thirty-two Chinese, and three were 
negroes. The most inoffensive, it may be noticed, 
suffered the least. The record can scarcel}^ be correct, 
however, as regards the aborigines, for hundreds of 
them were slain by the dominant race, the murders 
being never made known. During this same year 
forty-seven persons are said to have been executed by 
mobs, and nine by legal tribunals; ten were killed by 
sheriffs or police-officers, and six by collectors of 
foreign miners' licenses. Twelve perished in fights 
about mining claims, and eight over the gaming-table. 
Prior to 1855 homicide was at least as frequent. 
The district attorney of San Francisco asserts that 
during the years 1850-3 inclusive there were twelve 
hundred murders and only one legal criminal con- 
viction. Though I do not vouch for the correctness 
of this statement, it was, to say the least, a terrible 
condition of thins^s. 

Helper in his Land of Gold makes a startling 
statement, which I give for what it is worth. He 
affirms the loss of life by violence in California during 
the years 1849 to 1854 inclusive to have been as fol- 
lows: murders, 4200; suicides, 1200; insanity, 1700; 
wrecked, or the victims of disease on the voyage 


hither by sea, 2200; perished, or killed by Indians 
on the overland route, 1600; perished in the mines, 
and in prosj)ecting for gold, for lack of care, or 
scarcity of food, and by Indians, 5300. Total, 16,400. 
Life was cheaper than under Anglo-Saxon law, when 
for killing a churl the murderer had to pay ten 
pounds, though for sixty pounds one might kill a king 
and go free. Had Herod, for the slaughter of the 
Innocents, been brought before a San Francisco jury 
at that time he would have been acquitted. Judas 
Iscariot amongst the California Christians would 
have passed unscathed so long as any part of his 
thirty silver pieces remained with him. Scores of quid- 
nuncs, political Paul Prys, soi disant patriots, hung 
round every drinking-saloon. As Plato said of the 
Athenians, "It is dreadful to think that half the 
people we meet have perjured themselves in one of 
the numerous law-courts." Thus the moral perspec- 
tive of society was anything but pleasing. 

Time was when the personage whom no one knew, 
called Man in the Moon, was employed to negotiate 
bribes. But no such clap-trap was necessary in the 
present instance. In every precinct was a politician- 
shop, where third and fourth rate wares from Ireland, 
and old rotten relics from the eastern states, newly 
veneered and varnished, were palmed off on the people 
of California as sound and genuine. 

The reign of order following the demolition of the 
Societv of Peculators was of short duration. The 
disease which had fastened itself on this infant so- 
ciety with such virulence was not eradicated, but only 
scattered. Further indications of popular determina- 
tion were visible during the midsummer of 1850, 
and although the climax was not reached until six 
years after, the main issues were seldom lost sight 
of In the mad race of money -getting, office-holders 
as well as others were troubled with the itching 
palm. Gold dust was abundant; every one appeared 
to be getting rich; business men were not always 


over-scrupulous in the means employed for the ac- 
quirement of wealth; San Francisco was a mighty 
metropolis in embryo; why should not her officers 
make money with the rest? So they voted them- 
selves large salaries, built and bought extensively, 
let contracts to supporters at double current rates, 
stole the public lands, imposed heavy taxes on the 
people, and swelled the public debt until the young 
city groaned beneath the weight. They were not onl}^ 
sordid in their craving for gain, but indecent in their 
sordidness. There were now those present who looked 
upon San Francisco as their future home, who had 
the city's true interests at heart, and these regarded 
with no favorable eye the doings of political leeches. 

Like everything Californian, when government set 
in, it was with a vengeance. Following the approval 
by the people of the city charter. May 1, 1850, it 
became necessary for a city of fifteen thousand in- 
habitants to pay a mayor, a recorder, a comptroller, a 
city marshal, and a city attorney, each a salary of 
§10,000 per annum. There was a board of aldermen, 
and a board of assistant aldermen, sixteen members 
in all, at a salary of §6,000 each; a treasurer at $6,000, 
and a tax collector at $18,000. When the officials 
voted this yearly expenditure of $170,000, and other 
like exorbitant sums, out of the people's pockets into 
their own, under the usual caption, 'The people of the 
city of San Francisco do ordain,' it was first thought 
to be a joke, though a sorry one, and it was supposed 
the ordinance would be immediately rescinded. Such 
was not the case, however, and it soon became apparent 
that the citizens would not submit to it. The cit}^ 
was already heavil}^ in debt, and no provision had been 
made for the payment of obligations long since due. 
Such a course was blighting to her prospects, ruinous 
to her credit, and calculated to drive away settlers 
and capital. 

On the 3d of June a call was made to attend a 
primary meeting at the Merchants Exchange, pre- 


paratory to a mass meeting to be held for the purpose 
of adopting prompt and efficient measures for retrench- 
ment and reform. The meeting was well attended by 
the most intelligent and influential men of the city. 
But this was not all. So general was the indignation 
felt toward the common council for its late unwar- 
rantable conduct, that without concert several simul- 
taneous meetings had been projected by different 
parties of citizens. *'We are willing," said they, "to 
submit to just and equal taxation, to pay our munici- 
pal officers who devote their time to public aflairs a 
reasonable salary, but the ignorance, together with 
the lack of energy and ability manifested by the new 
council in extricating the city from financial diffi- 
culties, requires immediate action on the part of the 

At eight o'clock a large and enthusiastic meeting 
was held in the plaza, the cheers and groans from 
which every now and then fell with electrical effect 
on the ears of the aldermen in session near by. On 
the evening of the 5th a still larger meeting, the 
largest ever yet assembled in Portsmouth Square, 
openly avowed the principle that the people should 
not tamely suffer wrong at the hand of their rulers. 
There was no thought of disorder, or of inflaming the 
public mind, or of rousing themselves into a passion. 
Violence, either in word or deed, was condemned. 
''We do not intend to mob them," said General Wil- 
son, who presided; "we come here to give forth the 
voice of this community." The great public heart 
was aroused, and the people had resolved, calmly but 
decidedly, to tell their evil-minded officials to change 
their course or resign. 

A committee of twenty-five was appointed to wait 
on the council and make known the will of the people, 
which was, "to abandon the scheme of high salaries, 
and remodel the schedule of oppressive taxation ; and 
unless willing to do so, to resign, and give place to 
more efficient and patriotic men." The council re- 


ceived this reproof coldly, and laid it on the table. 
This was heaping insult on injury. The people 
had placed the councilmen in power; they had a 
right to meet to comment upon their acts, and to 
demand that those in office should not misrepresent 

On the 12th of June another mass meeting was 
held, and the same committee, with power to increase 
its number to five hundred, was authorized to present 
the same resolutions before the common council, in 
such form as the committee should think proper. Of 
this committee J. L. Folsom was chairman. After 
having added the authorized five hundred to their 
number, the committee resolved to march in pro- 
cession to the council chambers, and there demand 
obedience to the people's wishes. The evening of 
June 14th was the time fixed for this second visit, but 
on that day one of the great fires swept the city, 
and further action was delayed. The result of these 
meetings, however, was to check the extravagance of 
the officials, and give them wholesome warning. 

These facts are important as showing the mildness 
and forbearance of the citizens of San Francisco under 
aggravating wrongs. Far from being riotous or dis- 
orderly, they were lovers of law and quiet ; and never, 
until all other means had failed, and time had worn 
patience to a film, and the actual salvation of the city 
depended on it, did they resort to arms. Notwith- 
standing their nerve, judgment, and decision, there 
never was a more orderly and peace-loving people; 
otherwise how should they have staked their all for 
order and peace? Surely they might have rioted 
with the rest, had they so chosen. 

Not until the 10th of December, 1852, did the first 
capital execution under sentence of a lawful tribunal 
take place in the county of San Francisco. The name 
of the person laying claim to this distinction was Jose 
Forner, and his crime the murder of a Mexican in 
Pleasant Valley on the 13th of September. The 


execution took place on the slope of Russian Hill, 
about three quarters of a mile from the county jail. 

At Sacramento matters were no better. Not satis- 
fied with attempting to overawe the people, the self- 
appointed regulators of society sought to suppress 
public opinion. In a certain issue of the Sacramento 
Times the editor, Mr Lawrence, had called the atten- 
tion of the city authorities to a drinking-saloon, called 
The Branch, immediately opposite his office, where 
daily and nightly orgies were held of a noisy and dis- 
reputable character. For this, about 9 o'clock on 
Sunday night, the 13th of April, 1851, as he was 
passing the place on his way home from the theatre, 
he was set upon by a gang of hangers-on, some 
twenty or thirty in number, knocked down, and beaten 
into insensibility. And they threatened with like 
punishment any editor who dared question their vile 
proceedings. This dastardly attack upon a worthy 
man for doing nothing but his duty roused the indig- 
nation of the people, w^ho thereupon issued a circular, 
signed by about a thousand of the best men, in which 
they declared their alarm at the growing indications 
of crime in their midst. ''We had hoped," said they, 
*'that the summary punishment which has already 
been inflicted upon a number of the villains who have 
been detected in crime Vv^ould admonish the balance, 
and free us from any further inroads upon our laws, 
our rights, or our lives. We, therefore, having heard 
that they design an attack upon the various editors 
of the city, and in their own language to make a clean 
sweep of them, do hereby pledge ourselves to sustain 
every paper in Sacramento in reprobating to the full 
extent of their power the outrages of these scoundrels 
in iniquity. And we furthermore assure the editors 
and publishers of our city, separately and collectively, 
that if any or the slightest injury be inflicted upon 
one or any of them in consequence of such a course 
editorial being pursued, we wdll inflict upon the parties 


SO injuring a punishment from which they will never 

To return to San Francisco. The first of December, 
1850, affairs stood thus: Highway robbery, hitherto 
confined to the outskirts of the city and perpetrated 
only at night, had entered the town and was practised 
in the daytime. Crime stalked boldly in the public 
thoroughfares. Attempts at incendiarism, with a view 
of profiting by the confusion and securing plunder, 
were frequent. It was ascertained beyond question 
that another organization existed, and that its agents 
were in every part of the city engaged in divers occu- 
pations that their nefarious schemes might thereby 
the better be covered. They had spies who usually 
assumed the role of peddlers, and under pretence of 
disposing of their wares examined premises marked 
for robbery. The police force was small and inefficient. 
In case of an arrest the law was powerless ; false wit- 
nesses were suborned, and straw bail given, and not 
more than one in ten was ever convicted. Crimes 
were classified and systematically parcelled out to 
adepts. A large number of boys from ten to sixteen 
years of age were employed; these, trained by their 
superiors in crime, displayed marvellous dexterity. 
Females also belonged to the band; and there were 
houses of refuge, and places where their implements 
were concealed. Says one of the journals of the day: 
*^We believe it to be the duty of ever}^ citizen to arm 
and hold himself in readiness to act in the capacity 
of guardian of public safety at any moment. There 
should be a simple machine of wood erected on the 
plaza, with a rope attached, and some five or six 
examples should be made which would strike terror 
into the rest." 

A fire, which occurred on the night of the 14th 
of December, evidently the work of an incendiary, 
lighted in the iron building of Cooke Brothers and 
Company on Sacramento street between Leidesdorff 


and Montgomery, for the purpose of burning the 
Pacific Mail Steamship Company's office near by so 
as to seize the treasure left there for shipment, called 
forth similar plain expressions from the Herald^ whose 
editor, as we shall see, was ruined by opposition to the 
Vigilance Committee of 1856: "We do not advocate 
the rash and vengeful infliction of summary punish- 
ment on any person against whom the proof is not 
positive of his connection with those crimes; but 
although opposed to capital punishment in old com- 
munities, where the execution of the law is so per- 
fectly systematized that justice seldom fails of its 
victim, we nevertheless believe that some startling 
and extraordinary correction is necessary in San 
Francisco to arrest the alarming increase of crimes 
against property and life, and to save the remainder 
of the city from destruction." 

William Wilson Avas caught stealing a shirt and 
vest in Middleton and Hood's crowded auction room, 
in San Francisco, in February. This kind of thing was 
becoming too common. With one accord the buyers 
present stopped their bidding, and turning upon the 
wretch beat him with fists and clubs and iron hoops 
until well scarleted with his own blood, when they 
handed him over to a policeman. 

The 9th of March, 1851, witnessed an indignation 
meeting on the plaza. The Herald was then the 
champion of the people's reform party, as it was in 
1856 the ultra organ of the law and order party. 
William Walker, one of its editors, for some time past 
had been endeavoring to rouse the people from their 
lethargy in regard to social disorder, and in so doing 
had indulged in severe strictures on the masterly 
inactivity of the courts. This displeased Judge Levi 
Parsons, of the district court, who requested the 
grand jury to pronounce the press a nuisance, and 
punish its plainness of speech. The Herald retorted. 
Walker was arrested, brought into court, and fined 
five hundred dollars for contempt, which he refused to 


pay and so was sent to prison. Four thousand people 
met and said the thing should not be; four thousand 
people condoled with Walker in prison, and requested 
Parsons to resign. A writ of habeas corpus from 
the superior court liberated the imprisoned editor. 
Under popular censure, more fully expressed by the 
state legislature then convened, the power of the irate 
judge withered, and not long afterward he resigned. 

The last day of this same month, while the exam- 
ination of William Slater for the murder of Elijah 
M. Jarvis was in progress at the court-house on the 
plaza, as the officers were conveying the prisoner 
from the court-room to prison, a party of twenty 
horsemen from Mission Dolores made a dash at them, 
for the purpose of seizing Slater, taking him to the 
Mission, and hanging him. The murder had been 
committed under the most aggravating circumstances, 
and the people knew of no earthly power from which 
they might seek redress. Followed by an excited 
crowd, the officers hurried their prisoner along Kearny 
street, and secured him in the station-house, although 
they were well-nigh trampled by the horsemen. Thus 
foiled, the Mission men were furious. After an un- 
fruitful effort to excite a raid upon the prison, with 
loud oaths they retired. 

As if the combined misdeeds of the officers of the 
law and the legitimate dealers in human blood were 
not enough to exhaust the patience of the honest and 
industrious of San Francisco, a new order of yet 
more aggravating villainy was now brought forward. 
This was nothing less than a determination on the 
part of the vultures to burn the city, for the oppor- 
tunity it would offer for pillage. Fire is the devil's 
natural element; and if now of the merchandise and 
buildings of the city, the products of extraordinary 
toil and privations, a grand bonfire could be made, 
the emissaries of Satan might at one sweep avenge 
all past attempts of retributive justice, and hold a 
hellish jubilee. 


The great fire of the 4th of May, 1851, occurring 
on the anniversary day of the great fire of May 4, 
1850, was supposed to have been the work of the 
miscreants. It started in a paint-shop, the owners 
of which claimed to have exercised their usual pre- 
cautions. Be this as it may, eleven days after, 
almost before the smoke of the great conflagration 
had wholly cleared away, there was another attempt 
made to fire the city about which there is no ques- 
tion. Some inflammable substance was ingeniously 
arranged in a store-room of the Veranda saloon, 
corner of Kearny and Washington streets, to which a 
slow-match had been applied. It was extinguished 
before it had spread. The next night, the 16th of 
May, the city hospital then filled with patients was 
fired by placing a burning lamp under a straw bed. 
The flames were blazing brightly when discovered, 
and the building narrowly escaped. 

This was not all. On the night of the 3d of 
June, one month after the last great annual May fire, 
two attempts were made to burn the city. A pile 
of shavings was found ignited under the stairway of 
a new house on Commercial street, where a few 
minutes before certain suspicious persons had been 
seen lurking. 

The same night one Benjamin Lewis, a Sydney 
convict, was arrested for firing a house on Long 
Wharf. During the preliminary trial a cry of fire 
was raised. Though the alarm was false, the excite- 
ment was so great that the ojBficers were compelled to 
remove the prisoner to another room. When the 
judge announced that the prisoner would be com- 
mitted for trial, and ordered the sherifl* to bring him 
in, from the door- way cries were heard, ^'Hang him!" 
^' Lynch him!" "Bring him out!" Fast filling the 
street was a tumultuous mob gathering. The mayor 
ordered the California and Washington guards to 
hold themselves in readiness, and mounting the upper 
balcony, essayed to quiet the people. Meanwhile the 


prisoner was secretly removed to a safer place; and 
on the assurances of the mayor and marshal that he 
should have a prompt trial the crowd dispersed. 

Fire was kindled simultaneously in several places 
on California-street wharf, where were quantities of 
hay and lumber, on the 7th of June. The flames 
were discovered and quenched. Next morning the 
Alta California came out in a strong editorial urging 
the people to unite and adopt measures for saving the 
city. The day of reckoning was at hand. 



Ed io che di mirar mi stava inteso, 
Vidi genti fangose in quel pantano, 
Ignude tutte, e con sembiante ofFeso. 
Queste si percotean, non pur con mano, 
Ma con la testa, e col petto, e co piedi, 
Troncandosi co 'denti a brano a brano. 

Dell 'Inferno. 

While San Francisco was thus being stirred by 
the spirit of evil, let us look at other parts of the 
state and see how matters were progressing there. 

In the great valleys of the San Joaquin and Sacra- 
mento, during the year 1849, the halcyon days of the 
previous year for the most part continued; neverthe- 
less there were short, quick spasms of justice among 
the miners, which as a faithful recorder of events I 
cannot pass unmentioned. Although dropped into 
the concretions of the new societies as a lusus naturce^ 
they nevertheless, to a calm observer, were significant 
of what would speedily follow. 

From the time of the Greek voyager Ulysses to 
that of the English philosopher Shaftesbury, dissimu- 
lation has been regarded as an indispensable quality 
in governing. Without art and policy, without intrigue 
and overreaching, no man or set of men might rule. 
Qui nescit dissimulare, nescit regnare. The moral code 
of almost every age and nation recognizes deceit as a 
fair weapon to be used against an enemy. 

In this respect the morals of the Californian miners 
were far purer than those of the Machiavellian school. 
They would shoot their enemy, or hang the enemy 



of their camp, but they would not deceive him. They 
found a way to rule themselves and their little societies 
without Jesuitical cunning. They were the sons of 
their father Adam whose eyes had been opened to 
know good and evil, and when they saw wickedness 
coming into camp, warned by the folly of their primo- 
genitor, they lifted their heel and crushed it. 

Foote thinks that with the greatest propriety we 
may laugh at him who affects to be what he is not, or 
who strives to be what he cannot. Far less than the 
subtle diplomatist who scorns the simple methods of 
honest men ; far less than the politician who preys on 
the patriotism of honest men ; far less than the ruler, 
or legislator, or law-manipulator, who would throttle 
honest men sooner than permit them to punish crime 
if such action is to disturb the slumber of his sacred 
form — far less than these, to whom dissimulation is 
bread, do the miners of California, in their adminis- 
tration of justice, subject themselves to the derisive 
smile of any one. Simple, honest, earnest, they affected 
nothing, and in the direction of self-government, at- 
tempted nothing which they failed to accomplish. 
Here was a people who might give Solon or Jus- 
tinian a lesson in the method of executing justice. 
Some one has said that their practical cast of intellect 
made the Romans the great law-givers of all ages. 
With equal propriety we might observe that the Cali- 
fornian miners, by their cast of circumstances, have 
shown to the world more than any other people who 
ever lived how civilized men may live without law at 
all. Their code was as far as possible removed from 
that of society morals, which is founded in the main 
on the malum prohibitum rule, that makes a thing 
wrong because it is forbidden. It was most catholic, 
most simple. Let every man do what best pleases him, 
only he must not injure his neighbor; if he does, he 
will be put where he cannot. The forty thousand vol- 
umes or so of sage decisions issued by the bewigged 
of divers nations contain no more law than this. 


It is the duty of the government, if there be any 
government, to protect the people; if not, of a surety 
the people, if the}^ be not dolts, will protect themselves. 
The Hundred Court of ancient England was bound 
to pay all loss by robbery unless it captured the 
felon. It may be that we expect too much of 
government; but if so, does not government expect 
too much of us ? How then shall imperfect man make 
for himself a perfect government? Dull, obstinate, 
and irrational in its units, how shall aggregated 
humanity display moral and intellectual wisdom ? But 
for the so-called evils which are forever whipping 
us into rectitude, we should straightway fall upon 

To Placerville belongs the honor of the first popular 
tribunal of the placer-mining epoch. Distant but nine 
miles from Coloma, where gold was first discovered, 
the spot where now stands the town was early 
occupied by diggers. Placerville, however, was not 
the original nai^ie of the camp. It was first called 
Dry Diggings; afterward, for the reason which we 
shall presently see, Hangtown. 

It was not a pleasing spectacle, this first display of 
unchained justice among the miners; but what could 
they do? Five men, one night about the middle of 
January, 1849, had entered the sleeping-room of a 
Mexican gambler named Lopez, and had attempted 
to rob him. One of them had placed a pistol at the 
head of the gambler, while the others seized his 
efiects. Before they could escape Lopez had suc- 
ceeded in giving the alarm. Boused by his cries, the 
miners had rushed in and arrested the whole gang. 

Again I ask, what could they do? Stand there 
holding the thieves until a jail was built, or until 
congress should send sheriflp and judge? They must 
either turn them loose to further and instant crimes, 
their numbers quickly multiplied by the absence of 
punishment, or they must themselves do justice, God 


helping them, as best they might. So tliey selected 
from amongst their number twelve, who ordered the 
culprits to receive each thirty- nine lashes; which 
having been well laid on, with due energy and 
decorum, three of the five, Garcia and Bissi, French- 
men, and Manuel, a Chileno, were further charged 
with robbery and attempted murder on the Stanislaus 
the autumn previous. The charge was easily enough 
proved; the men, lying exhausted from their late 
punishment, were unable to stand or speak during this 
second trial. ''What shall be done with them?" the 
improvised judge asked of the two hundred assembled. 
"Hang them," said one. E. Gould Buffum was there, 
and mounting a stump begged them, in the name of 
God, humanity, and law, to desist from their meditated 
action. But the miners, now warmed with drink, 
would not listen to him. The prisoners were bad 
men, and this thing must be stopped at once. So 
with ropes round their necks, the three condemned 
were driven in a wagon under a tree, and there 
hanged; after which they were cut down and buried 
in their blankets. And thereupon the place which 
before this was known as Dry Diggings was for a 
time called Hangtown. 

Amongst the many Edens of this early epoch none 
were more radiant than Rose Bar, where two hundred 
miners were encamped in October, 1849. Of many 
another Eden, and of all the country round, Bose Bar 
was the envy, for it enclosed its Eve, a white one, 
called by courtesy Mrs Mace, being the quasi spouse 
of a New Orleans captain of that name. With rocker 
and quicksilver, returns were from one to six ounces 
a day, and life was as high as the labor-returns. Life 
was high, but it was soft and heavenly, for a woman 
was there, a white one. Not far from her cabin was 
a nice nest of Mississippi Biver poker-players, sar- 
donically smiling in answer to pet names, such as Blue 
Peter, Dungaree Jack, and Arkansaw Pike. Between 

Pop. Trib., Vol. I. 10 


such rare delights the captain was a spirit blest, for 
he loved the company of the poker -players, and left 
with them many an ounce; until at length Mrs Mace, 
declaring herself competent to do wickedness for the 
family, left her lord and marched away to San Fran- 
cisco, where she opened a house of unquestionable 
entertainment. Nor could Rose Bar ever entirely 
recover from the refining effects of the female presence. 
Aside from this, it was an exceedingly moral place. 
There were no lawyers there, no doctors, and but 
one thief. Woolly Mike, who rose early one morn- 
ing, and taking from his company's claim the gold 
left in the quicksilver over night, went and hid it. 
Suspected, searched, Mike gave the secreted amalgam 
a fling which scattered it in the chaparral behind his 
tent. But the glittering mercury betrayed him. He 
was lightly punished with twenty -five lashes, twenty 
minutes being given him afterward in which to walk 

And now from the close of this year of 1849, be- 
hold the august mobs improvised as occasion required 
in every camp and canon of the Sierra Drainage, the 
quiet oaks meanwhile tasselled with the carcasses of 
the wicked ! There were mobs of every quality, and 
for every emergency; tumultuous routs for the regu- 
lation of a carouse; displa3^s of brute force for the 
promulgation of vulgar sentiment; violent tyrannies 
for the attacking of homely prejudice and the harass- 
ing of sanctimonious piety — mobile masses moulded 
by wild environment to extravagant opinion. There 
were mobs to establish a fight, and to settle every 
species of dispute; mobs to hang, to whip, to tar and 
feather, to duck, to drive from town; mobs to guide 
itinerant gamblers on their way, gently to set re- 
volving run-down, erring woman, to direct the brawl- 
ings of belligerent drinkers, to christianize with clubs 
celestial heathen, to assist at the shrinkings and ex- 
pansions of valuable mining-claims, to dampen the 


enthusiasm of Mexican miners, to light free negroes 
from the sacred precincts of the immaculate color. 

Clothed with God-given intelligence and power, 
and filled with devil-distilled whiskey, they were ripe 
alike for gentle ministrations or mad extravaganzas, 
for sharing their last bread and bacon with the needy, 
or for administering the hempen fate to those whose 
characters chance had colored. Cases there were when 
a victim was required to appease the wrath of an un- 
fortunate miner who had lost his gold dust, or of a 
teamster whose cattle had strayed, one would answer 
as well as another, and woe betide the suspicious- 
looking stranger who falls into their hands while in 
such a humor. Unless he can give a satisfying 
account of himself, better had he never been born. 
It must be admitted that sometimes the matter was 
determined before the trial, that sometimes the ac- 
cused was hanged first and tried afterward, if indeed 
he was tried at all. Neither did he who played the 
part of hangman stop to consider his fee, nor did he 
expect anything from the person executed, as once 
would have been the case in England. 

''On my way to Marysville," writes Mr Coke, in 
1850, "I stopped a couple of days at Sacramento. 
The weather was beginning to be cold. I had been 
rambling all the morning through the town, and was 
just returned to my hotel, and sat ruminating over a 
large stove in the bar-room, thinking Sacramento 
about the most comfortless place in the world. In 
the course of m}^ walk I had observed a crowd col- 
lected round a large elm-tree in the horse-market; on 
inquiring the cause of this assembly, I was told that 
a man had been lynched on one of the lower boughs 
of the elm at four o'clock this morning. A newspaper 
containing an account of the affair lay on a chair 
beside me, and having taken it up, I was perusing the 
trial, when a ruffianly-looking individual interrupted 
me with, ' Say, stranger, let's have a look at that paper, 
will you?' 'When I have done with it,' said I, and 


continued reading. This answer would have satisfied 
most Christians endowed with any moderate degree 
of patience; but not so the ruffian. He leaned himself 
over the back of my chair, put one hand on my 
shoulder, and with the other held the paper so that he 
could read as well as I, 'Well, I guess you're readin' 
about Jim, ain't you?' 'Who's Jim?' said I. 'Him 
as they hung this morning,' he answered, at the same 
time resuming his seat. 'Jim was a particular friend 
of mine, and I helped to hang him.' 'Did you?' said 
I; 'a friendly act; what was he hanged for?' 'When 
did you come to Sacramento City?' 'I arrived only 
this morning, and have not yet heard the particulars 
of this case.' 'Oh well! I reckon I'll tell you how it 
was, then. You see, Jim was a Britisher; that is, 
he come from a place they call Botany Bay, which 
belongs to Victoria, but ain't exactly in the old 
country. I believe when he first come to Californy, 
about six months back, he wasn't acquainted none 
with any boys hereaway, so he took to digging all by 
hisself It was up at Cigar Bar whar he dug, and I 
happened to be a digging there too, and so it was we 
got to know one another. Jim hadn't been here a 
fortnight before one o' the boys lost about three hun- 
dred dollars that he'd made a cache of Somehow 
suspicions fell on Jim. More than one of us thought 
he had been digging for bags instead of dust, and the 
man as lost the money swore he would have a turn 
with him, and so Jim took my advice and sloped.' 
'Well,' said I, 'he wasn't lynched for that, was he?' 
' 'Tain't likely,' said the ruffian; 'for till the last week 
or ten days nobody knowed whar he'd gone to. Well, 
when he come to Sacramenty this time, he come with 
a j^ile, and no mistake, and all day and all night Jim 
used to play at faro, and roulette, and a heap of other 
games. Nobody couldn't tell how he made his money 
last so long, nor whar he got it from, but certain sure 
everybody thought as how Jim was considerable of a 
loafer. Last of all, a blacksmith as lives in Broad 


street said he found out the way he done it, and asked 
me to come with him to show up Jim for cheating. 
Now whether it was that Jim suspected the black- 
smith I can't say, but he didn't cheat, and lost his 
money in consequence. This riled him very bad, and 
so, wanting to get quit of the blacksmith, he began to 
quarrel. The blacksmith was a quick-tempered man, 
and after a good deal of abuse could not keep his 
temper any longer, and struck Jim a blow on the 
mouth. Jim jumped from his seat, pulled a revolver 
from his pocket, and shot the blacksmith dead on 
the spot. I was the first man that laid hold of the 
murderer, and if it had not been for me, I believe the 
people in the room would have torn him to pieces. 
" Send forjudge Parker!" shouted some. "Let's try 
him here," said others. '^ I don't want to be tried at 
all," said Jim; ''you all know damned well that I shot 
the man; and I know bloody well that you'll hang 
me. Grive me till daylight, and then I'll die like a 
man." But we all agreed that he ought not to be 
condemned without a proper trial, and as the report 
of the pistol had brought a crowd to the place, a jury 
was formed out of them that were present, and three 
judges were elected from the most respectable gentle- 
men in the town. The trial lasted nearly a couple of 
hours. Nobody doubted that he was guilty, or that 
he ought to be hanged for murder; but the question 
was whether he should die by lynch-law or be kept 
for a regular trial before the judges of the criminal 
court. The best speakers said that lynch-law was no 
law, and endangered the life of every innocent man; 
but the mob would have it that he was to die at once ; 
so as it was just then about daylight they carried him 
to the horse-market, set him on a table, and tied the 
rope round one of the lower branches of a big elm- 
tree. All the time I kept by his side, and when he 
was getting on the table he asked me to lend him 
my revolver to shoot one of the jurymen, who had 
spoken violently against him. When I refused, he 


asked me to tie the knot so as it wonkln't slip. '^It 
ain't no account," said I, ''to talk in that way, Jim, 
old fellow; you're bound to die, and if they didn't 
hang you, I'd shoot you myself" "Well, then," said 
he, "give me hold of the rope, and I'll show you how 
little I care for death." He seized the cord, pulled 
himself in an instant out of the reach of the crowd, 
and sat cross-legged on the bough. Half a dozen rifles 
were raised to bring him down, but reflecting that he 
could not escape, they forbore to fire. He tied a 
noose in the rope, put it round his neck, slipped it up 
till it was pretty tight, and then stood up and ad- 
dressed the mob. He didn't say much, except that 
he hated them all. He cursed the man he shot; he 
then cursed the world ; and last of all, he cursed him- 
self; and with a terrible oath, he jumped into the air, 
and with a jerk that shook the tree, swung backwards 
and forwards over the heads of the crowd.'" 

Clarence King elaborates in the following language 
a burlesque of the popular tribunal before the inception 
of the vigilance organization: "Early in the fifties," 
he says, "on a still, hot summer's afternoon, a certain 
man, in a camp which shall be nameless, having 
tracked his two donkeys and one horse a half mile, and 
discovering that a man's track with spur-marks fol- 
lowed them, came back to town and told the boys who 
loitered about a popular saloon that in his opinion 
some Mexican had stolen the animals. Such news 
as this naturally demanded drinks all round. 'Do 
you know, gentlemen,' said one who assumed leader- 
ship, 'that just naturally to shoot these greasers ain't 
the best way? Give 'em a fair jury trial, and rope 
'em up with all the majesty of law. That's the cure.' 
Such words of moderation were well received, and 
they drank again to 'Here's hoping we ketch that 
greaser.' As they loafed back to the veranda, a 
Mexican walked over the hill-brow, jingling his spurs 
pleasantly in accord with a whistled waltz. The ad- 
vocate for law said in undertone, 'That's the cuss.' 


A rush, a struggle, and the Mexican, bound hand 
and foot, lay on his back in the bar-room. The camp 
turned out to a man. Happily such cries as 'String 
him up!' ^Burn the doggoned lubricator!' and other 
equally pleasant phrases, fell unheeded upon his 
Spanish ear. A jury, upon which they forced 1x13^ 
friend, was quickly gathered in the street, and despite 
refusals to serve, the crowd hurried them in behind 
the bar. A brief statement of the case was made by 
the ci-devant advocate, and they shoved the jury into 
a commodious poker-room, where were seats grouped 
about neat green tables. The noise outside in the 
bar-room by and by died away into complete silence, 
but from afar down the canon came confused sounds 
as of disorderly cheering. They came nearer, and 
again the light-hearted noise of human laughter 
mingled with the clinking glasses around the bar. 
A low knock at the jury door; the lock burst in, 
and a dozen smiling fellows asked the verdict. A 
foreman promptly answered, 'Not guilty.' With a 
volley of oaths, and ominous laying of hands on pistol- 
hilts, the boys slammed the door, with: 'You'll have 
to do better than that!' In half an hour the advocate 
gently opened the door again. 'Your opinion, gentle- 
men?' 'Guilty!' 'Correct! You can come out. We 
hung him an hour ago.' The jury took their seats; 
and when, after a few minutes, the pleasant village 
returned to its former tranquillity, it was allowed at 
more than one saloon that 'Mexicans'U know enough 
to let wiiite men's stock alone after this.' One and 
another exchanged the belief that this sort of thing 
was better than nipping them on sight. When, be- 
fore sunset, the bar-keeper concluded to sweep some 
dust out of his poker-room back door, he felt a mo- 
mentary surprise at finding the missing horse dozing 
under the shadow of an oak, and the two lost donkej^s 
serenely masticating playing-cards, of which many 
bushels lay in a dusty pile. He was reminded then 
that the animals had been there all day." 


Bret Harte gives a similar travesty, concluding it 
in words to the effect that the crowd becoming im- 
patient at the lengthy deliberation of the jury, the 
ring-leader put his head in at the door and asked them 
if they had agreed upon their verdict. ^No,' replied 
the foreman, sharply. 'Well, gentlemen,' said the 
mob man, 'take your time; but remember, we want 
this room to lay out the corpse in.' 

Punishment was inflicted in the same liberal off- 
hand manner that characterized everything Californian 
in those days. There was less splitting of hairs than 
of heads. Sometimes the most trivial incident would 
determine whether a culprit should be whipped or 
hanged. While multitudes of minor offenders suffered 
capital punishment, no more could be inflicted upon 
the worst criminals. Lynching for cattle-stealing ob- 
tained throughout the whole country, and even round 
San Francisco Bay, as late as 1855. A criminal affair 
was often made a sort of pastime, which might be 
prolonged or shortened according to the appetite of 
the crowd, or the time at their disposal. 

It was the Hispano-Californians, they said, who 
stole the cattle about the Bay; but these being the 
possessors of the cattle, and the lately arrived Yan- 
kees needing beef, it would seem to be a question who 
did the stealing. Old man Murray, as he was called, 
lost at one time twenty-five American cows, worth 
four thousand dollars, and his neighbor Fallon one 
hundred animals, worth six thousand dollars. Two 
Frenchmen at San Antonio, since called Brooklyn, 
and East Oakland, caught butchering stolen cattle, 
were tried by the people and hanged. Two other 
men, Leonard and Moran, slaughtering back of Blaiz' 
restaurant, near the bridge, narrowly escaped with 
their lives. 

When in July 1850 four Americans detected four 
Mexicans in the act of burning a tent and two dead 
bodies at the Green Flat diggings, not far from 


Sonora, summary executions had not yet become 
fashionable in those parts, though the people were 
strongly tempted to hang the body- burners. The 
Mexicans affirmed that they did not kill the men, 
but found them there in a state of decay, and follow- 
ing the custom of their country, they burned them 
with their effects. It was an act of pious charity, not 
an atrocious deed. There was no evidence against 
them; nevertheless the miners longed to play judge 
and hangman, but the time was not yet ripe for it. 

At Sonora, incarnadine was the temper of the 
time. On Sunday the diggers from every near and 
distant camp came flocking in, each bringing his share 
of general entertainment in the form of accounts of 
robbery or murder, and the one who told the best 
story was the best man. Thus history is made; the 
positive of one becomes the comparative of another, 
and the superlative of a third, the latest historian 
always striving to tell the largest story. The Sunday 
following the body-burning at Green Flat, over three 
thousand men gathered at Sonora, and many rumors 
of dark deeds were afloat. Twenty murders in 
twenty-five days, they counted up, and robberies in 
proportion. Men were bad, and women were bad. 
Under the influence of rich deposits and the inspira- 
tion of rivulets of rum, three or four flabby-faced, 
bleared-eyed females, of the kind called virtuous, had 
been brous^ht to Sonora, and made the nucleus of re- 
fined society. They used to marry quite often. One 
married anew the day after her husband left for Stock- 
ton; another married anew the third day after her 
husband was hanged. And now they were present in 
this crowd, speculating in their minds as to their 
next change, when crack! a pistol-shot is heard, and a 
stalwart miner bites the dust. So dry and tinder- 
like was passion then, that men could not even meet 
to take measures for the suppression of murder with- 
out a little killing. 

As the afternoon wore away, the air became preg- 


nant with suppressed vengeance. The Mexicans were 
seized and handed over to the judge of the district. 
Next morning eighty riflemen marched through the 
streets, bearing before them the American flag. These 
were soon joined by three hundred miners, an embassy 
from the scene of burning, with knives and pistols orna- 
menting their belts, determined to see punishment 
inflicted on the burners. After some little parade, 
the captain of this company waited on the judge, and 
informed him that his men would brook no delay in 
the trial of the prisoners; the matter must come up 
before nightfall. The judge replied that that could 
not be, as there was no grand jury impanelled, mean- 
while warning them not to do violence. 

Tuesday there were not less than two thousand men, 
with muskets and rifles, marching the streets. One 
would think that every gun in Tuolumne had been 
brought into requisition. Men who left their digging 
to shoulder a gun showed their earnestness. At three 
o'clock on that day the trial of the four body-burners 
for murder began in the district court. The place 
was thronged within and without the court-room. 
The prisoners were arraigned, and pleaded not guilty. 
At this juncture one of the guard standing on a 
bench dropped his gun, the hammer of which, striking 
on a box, sent ofl* the charge with a loud explosion. 
This was enough. Hundreds of weapons instantly 
sprang from their sheaths, and a rush was made by 
the inmates of the court-room for the door. The 
scene that followed was terrible. Confinement and 
the uncertainty as to what was coming seemed to 
madden them. Another accidental shot brought 
forth a cry of alarm, and renewed the struggles of the 
inmates to reach the open air by way of door and 
windows. Outside the court-room walls there was a 
little shooting in earnest, but no one was killed on 
that occasion. Quiet was finally restored, and after 
Avatching the proceedings in court for a time, the 
miners finally retired, and let justice take its course. 


The demonstration had been made in a spirit of 
mobocracy; and yet I have never known another so 
large and so determined a mob lay down their power 
so gracefully when assured by the judge that justice 
would be done. The four Mexicans were not criminal. 

Two boys, Hendricks, kept the Colusa Hotel in 
1850. About the premises were some twenty wood- 
choppers and regular hangers-on, among whom was a 
boy named Johnson. The hotel cash was kept on a 
shelf in a sardine-box; that is, such of it as was not 
stolen by some unknown hand. Johnson was sus- 
pected, and whipped into a confession of guilt. Mean- 
while a mob gathered which did more whipping, and 
talked of branding; but certain humane boatmen 
interfered, and saved the lad from further brutality. 
The sequel pointed to the innocence of the boy; and 
it was thought he confessed to a crime of which he 
was not guilty in order to escape punishment; for his 
tormentors had assured him if he would confess he 
should not be whipped further. But though perhaps 
innocent of pilfering the Hendricks' sardine-box, it is 
very certain if the boy had not been known as bad 
he never would have been suspected or whipped. 

An Englishman, named Sharp, formerly a sea- 
captain, on Christmas day, 1850, shot to death a man 
near Auburn. Sharp surrendered to the sheriff, but 
was taken by the people, tried, and executed. 

Irish Dick, as the gambler Richard Cronin was 
called, although but twenty-one years of age, was 
known to have killed a man in a street fight, a friend, 
whom he had mistaken for an assailant. When a 
short time afterward he shot a newly arrived emi- 
grant in a saloon, he was instantly seized and tried 
by those present. Guilt was easily proved, and im- 
mediate execution determined upon. Placed beneath 
a tall tree, a rope was put round his neck, the other 


end of which wilhng hands seized. Dick begged 
to be allowed to climb the tree and jump from the 
limb above, but this request was denied him. His 
bravado lasted throughout the trying scene, which 
was witnessed by ten or fifteen hundred people. 
Dick assured them if he only had his knife, with 
freedom to use it, he would like nothing better than 
to fight the crowd. 

Another account of this execution is given by 
Saint Amant, French consul at Sacramento in 1851. 
Allowance must be made for discrepancies in these 
statements, as, writing the incidents of the time for 
publication in France, historical accuracy would be 
liable to be sacrificed to the making of a good story. 
According to Amant's account, when the mob had 
brought Cronin to a tall tree which had been chosen 
for his execution, it was found that there was no 
ladder for the hangman to climb up by. This diffi- 
culty, however, was soon overcome. One end of the 
rope was placed in a noose round Cronin's neck; the 
other was placed in his hand, and he was told to climb 
the tree, monkey-fashion, while those below would 
direct him, pointing out the particular limb to which 
the cord should be attached. 

The condemned was allowed time to smoke a cigar, 
which he asked as a particular favor might be a real 
Habana. Having knotted the rope to the branch 
designated, he was then permitted to make his fare- 
well address, which proved to be the story of his life. 
He told of much wickedness, and seemed comforted 
thereby. He would have continued talking for an 
indefinite time, and so have postponed the end of 
that recital which was to begin his eternity; but the 
patience of his hearers being exhausted, the foreman 
of the jury that had tried him gave the signal agreed, 
and without a word further, the gambler threw him- 
self from the limb on which he stood. The fall was 
arrested by the avenging hemp, and the soul sped 
quickly hence. 


A trunk was broken open in a room of a public 
house at Johnson's Ranch in October, 1850, and four 
thousand dollars were stolen from it. A man and his 
wife, named Hewsters, cooks employed in the house, 
had occupied the room, and on them suspicion was 
fastened. They protested their innocence. With the 
woman they did nothing ; but as the increasing crowd 
increased its potations, its members saw through the 
case more and more clearly, until they concluded to 
whip the facts out of the man. Tying him to a tree, 
they laid bare his back, and cut it raw with a hundred 
lashes. Still the man protested his innocence, and 
the brutal crowd soon arrived at the same conclusion. 
Commenting on the outrage, the Placer Times remarks : 
''If the man is really innocent, the violators of his 
person should be severely dealt with." It is by such 
shallow logic we are taught politics and morals. Any 
school-boy might know, did he take the trouble to 
think, that the perpetrators of this deed were equally 
in error, whether the man was innocent or guilty. 

New York of the Pacific was the name of an em- 
bryo metropolis of magnificent expectations in 1850 
and 1851. It boasted a hotel called the Kennebec 
House, into which three men forced their way one 
night, and amused themselves by opening trunks and 
carrjdng off the contents. Arrested by citizens, they 
were tried, whipped, and branded on the hip. To 
escape hanging, which one of them greatly feared, 
he endeavored to kill himself by severing an artery. 
That comfort, however, was denied him; for though 
he cut his arm nearly off, he was saved for milder 
punishment by his whippers. 



Now by Saint Paul the work goes bravely on. 

Colly Cibber. 

Long before high carnival was held in the canons of 
the Sierra Drainage, the petty sovereignty of Sutter 
had inaugurated a system of jurisprudence, of the 
Swiss captain's own invention. When an Indian com- 
mitted an offence against any of the white inhabitants 
of Sutter's Fort, the commander of the fortress him- 
self j udged and executed j udgment. Calmly and fairly 
as one who would secure the confidence and maintain 
the respect of the natives, Captain Sutter examined 
the cases which came before him, pronounced judg- 
ment in accordance with the evidence and with the 
dictates of his own conscience, and then ordered the 
culprit whipped or shot, according as he deserved. 
This was the course of procedure where the accused 
was one of his own Indians and the injured one of 
his white retainers. 

When a white man offended a white man in his em- 
ploy, all the white men of the Fort were summoned 
to sit in judgment on the case. In such trials Captain 
Sutter presided as chief, and the others as associates, 
or jurors, and by the tribunal so organized, the penalty, 
if guilt was found, was fixed and exacted. 

For criminal cases arising among the natives them- 
selves, Captain Sutter arranged for them a court of 
their own. He as monarch nominated the judge and 
appointed the officers. Having a military organization 



composed entirely of his own native adherents, it was 
not unnatural or difficult for him to organize a tribunal 
in which they might try their own causes, and by their 
own officers execute judgments. 

No sooner was gold discovered, however, than this 
ingenious method of administering justice to the 
satisfaction of all concerned, in common with every 
other means for the benefaction of the natives in those 
parts, was crushed under the heavy heel of gold-thirsty 

Then began in and round the Fort, beneath the 
very eyes of the occupants, and indeed, in many cases, 
by the occupants themselves, every species of depre- 
dation, until the poor Swiss, his mills unbuilt, his 
manufactories abandoned, his cattle stolen, and his 
grand enterprise for the settlement and pacification of 
that valley forever blighted, sought refuge at Hock 
Farm, where he thought to die in peace, though even 
that blessing was denied him. 

Samuel Brannan, at an early day, kept a store with- 
in the walls of Sutter's Fort, and there learned his 
first lessons in popular jurisprudence. To him resorted 
new-comers from the Bay, and miners from the 
mountains, so that he possessed an excellent oppor- 
tunity^ for seeing and judging all. His Mormon flock, 
on whom he kept a fatherly eye, particularly on their 
gold-gatherings of which he did not decline to re- 
ceive a portion, worked on an island of the river near 
by; but these gave little trouble. Indeed, as we 
have seen, there was a period of remarkable quiet 
about that time; but both before and after the reign 
of righteousness in the mining districts, Brannan saw 
and learned enough to be of value to him for the 
three decades which followed. 

As at San Francisco, before a jail was built at Sac- 
ramento, a dismantled brig lying in the river was em- 
ployed for prison purposes. Many strange tales that 
old craft could tell. It answered the purpose fairly — • 


that is to say for the rogues. Escape from it was 
easy, so it was said, especially after the fetters were 
unlocked with money. 

One issue of the Sacramento Placer Times and 
Transcript, in July, 1850, contains accounts of crimes 
committed as follows: Twenty -five miles below the 
city the body of a man was found with a lariat twisted 
round the left wrist, neck, and shoulders, a deep gash 
over the left eye, and another under the left ear, the 
feet tied with a black silk handkerchief, and all the 
pockets turned inside out. Another body was dis- 
covered tied to the limb of a tree. Not far from Yuba 
River the body of a murdered man was found. At 
Nevada a horse -thief had been whipped by the 
people and put to work at five dollars a day until 
eleven ounces of stolen gold-dust should be returned. 
Lastly, a dispute arising between a Nevada monte 
dealer and a person betting, the latter drew a pistol, 
and firing missed his mark, but wounded three others. 
No notice was taken of this affair by the horse- 
thief whippers. The San Francisco Pacific Neivs of 
August 1, 1850, contains accounts of several guerilla 
bands in southern California, demi-savage outlaws 
drifted in on the tide of emigration from the south; 
also the news of a murder near Grayson; notice that 
the citizens of Jamestown and Sonora had organized 
a night patrol round their respective towns ; an account 
of the robbery of a monte bank at Sonora while the 
dealer's back was turned; of another at Jamestown, 
the thief seizing a bag containing eight hundred 
dollars before the eyes of all congregated about the 
table and making his escape with it; and so on. In 
the last mentioned instance a comrade of the thief 
was hanged to a rafter of the saloon, as an accomplice, 
but his friends paying the amount stolen he was let 
down. The gambler put the money thus returned to 
him in his box, and in less than an hour it was again 
emptied. This time the thief was instantly detected, 
the rope fastened to his neck and again thrown over 


the rafter. After being half hanged and whipped he 
was turned loose. Thus it was that from small 
beginnings, petty thefts, and fatal fights in which it 
was impossible to determine who was most criminal, 
the slayer or the slain, wickedness went on assuming 
a yet more belligerent attitude, and punishment was 
equally beastly — instance the hanging of one Bowen 
in a slaughter-house at Curtis Creek, January 26, 
1851, for the killing of Alexander Boggs. 

At a gaming-table at Sacramento two men quar- 
relled the 26th of February, 1851, and stepped into 
the street to finish their fight. A third person, Myers, 
passing, expostulated, whereupon one of the comba- 
tants, Frederick J. Roe, an Englishman, turned on him 
and exclaimed, ^'What the devil have you to say?" 
at the same time drawing a pistol and shooting him 
through the head. Roe was arrested and taken to 
the calaboose, round which a crowd gathered, crying : 
'^Hang him!" "Hang him!" The people were at 
length quieted by speeches from the better citizens, 
wlio formed themselves into a tribunal, and repairing 
to the Orleans Hotel proceeded to try the prisoner. 
Growing more and more excited as the trial progressed, 
the people in the street insisted that the investigation 
room should be cleared of lawyers, and affirmed 
that it mattered little to them what conclusion the 
tribunal arrived at, they would hang the prisoner 
in any event. Nothing was done, however, till the 
murderer was pronounced guilty by the tribunal. 
The crowd then made an attack on the prison, but 
were kept at bay by the sheriff' and his posse for an 
hour. The officer being overcome at last, the door 
was broken in, and the prisoner seized and hanged 
from an oak-tree then standing on the corner of Sixth 
and K streets. About the same time three men, 
surprised while stealing horses at Foster Bar, were 
captured; one was shot in attempting escape, and 
the other two were immediately hanged. 

Pop. Tkib., Vol, I. 11 


Two men, New Englanders, caught with stolen 
horses in their corral on the Cosumnes, were on the 
7th of March, 1851, condemned by acclamation and 
hanged on the spot, all within half an liour. A jury 
trial was denied them. Another horse -thief was 
hanged about the same time on the Yuba. The 23d 
of March an attempt was made at San Francisco to 
blow up a new building near Rincon Point. An eight- 
pound canister of powder placed in a recess in the 
wall was ignited, causing a report as loud as that of 
a cannon. An amiable and much-beloved man, E. M. 
Jarvis, while walking w4th his wife near the Mission, 
on the night of the 26 th of March, was stabbed to 
death by one Slater. It appears Jarvis had incensed 
Slater a few days previous by preventing a fight in 
which the latter had a hand. ^ One day during the 
t^rial, while Slater was being conducted by the officers 
to the prison, an attempt was made by some mounted 
men from the Mission to seize and hang him, as has 
been more fully described in a previous chapter, but 
their effort was frustrated by the officers and met with 
the disapproval of the people. He was committed to 
await his trial in the district court. 

Thus matters stood when the great San Francisco 
fire of the 4th of May for the fifth time laid the city 
in ashes, annihilated business, and hopelessly ruined 
thousands of hitherto prosperous men, sending despair 
to their hearts and misery to their homes. This was 
exactly what the emboldened miscreants so long un- 
whipped of justice had sworn to do, that they would 
be avenged on the cities whose people would not 
permit them to murder and plunder at pleasure. 
Instead of blaming these sufferers for hanging, the 
wonder is how they could have remained patient so 
long. This was the work of incendiaries, as several 
of the previous fires had been, and as was the burning 
of Stockton two days later; a house was fired in 
Sacramento at the same time, and Nevada was burned 
but a few weeks previous. All this was but one grand 


scheme concocted by the rascals in convention as- 
sembled for the simultaneous annihilation of the chief 
cities of northern California. 

There was a desperate band of horse-thieves in the 
neighborhood of Monte Diablo in 1851, and a son. of 
Antonio Pacheco, twenty years of age, was supposed 
to be one of the number. On the I7tli of February 
young Pacheco was detected in the act of stealing a 
pair of boots from a store in Martinez. The citizens 
determined to make an example of him, and although 
his father begged his liberation, adding earnestness to 
his prayers by an offer of two thousand dollars for his 
release, they bound him to a tree and administered 
one hundred lashes with a whip of six cords. It was 
reported that Pacheco's friends, to the number of 
eighty, had threatened to ride into Martinez and burn 
the place. The citizens, alarmed at the threat, removed 
their papers and other valuables to Benicia for safe- 
keeping, but nothing further came of the wrath of 
the Pachecos. 

The neighborhood of Heading Springs and Secret 
Diggings had been visited by horse -thieves in the 
spring of 1851, and one man, Spofford, was known to 
have stolen a large number of horses. At length 
Bradford, McKissock, and others went in pursuit of 
Spofford. The}^ came upon him in the woods skinning 
an antelope; Bradford fired and killed him. They 
recovered more than forty stolen horses. 

Two thieves, with a band of mules and horses which 
they had stolen, most of them from the rancho of 
Gage and Almond, while crossing the Cosunmes with 
their booty the 7th of March, were arrested. Guilt 
was so palpable that proof seemed unnecessary; never- 
theless the two men were arraigned, and a motion 
was made to try them by a people's judge and jury. 
As tidings of the affair flew from claim to claim, the 
diggers came pouring in. When they heard the facts 
and the proposal, they laughed at the idea of trial 


under the circumstances. What should they try 
them for? There were the thieves; there was the 
stolen property. Trial? Bosh! Well, then, hang 
them at once. This sentiment suited better their 
temper. The men were Yankees, one giving his name 
as James Baxter, from Maine, and the other Charles 
Simmons, of Massachusetts. When told that they 
were to die in half an hour they begged to be 
permitted to live a little longer. This beautiful green 
and golden earth, the all -glorious sun and sweetly 
distilled air, the mingled enjoyment of soul and sense 
absorbing palpitating life, they seemed now just to 
begin to enjoy. But it was too late; such beauties 
were not made for horse-thieves. They should die; 
and they did die with the expiration of the half- 
hour. During the season a hundred thousand dollars' 
worth of stock had been stolen from that section, and 
the people were tired of it. Only the day before one 
Orville Hamilton, a horse-thief, made his escape while 
the jury were deliberating on his case. Sage, an 
accomplice of Hamilton, received thirty lashes for 
his share. 

A quarrel took place at Shasta City on the 20th 
of March between a drunken man and his partner; 
the latter was killed, and the former attempted 
escape, but was captured and tried by the mob. 
The trial lasted but a few minutes before doom was 
pronounced; he should be hanged at four o'clock 
that Sunday afternoon. The man took the matter 
very coolly. He had entertained no ill-will toward 
his partner ; they had been always the best of friends. 
But the deed was done ; he deeply regretted it, but it 
could not now be helped. He deserved to die, and 
there was the end of it. Eating a hearty dinner, he 
talked as usual until the time appointed, when he 
mounted the platform with a firm step and quiet 
demeanor. The rope adjusted, he was given permis- 
sion to speak. He warned all present against drink; 
that alone was now to cost him his life. He would 


like to write a letter to his wife, but supposed he had 
not time. As the thing before him was something 
that must be done, he might as well be about it. So 
saying, he leaped into the air and came down with a 
jerk that settled his earthly affairs forever. 

McEvoy and Williams were two friends living at 
Mokelumne Hill in the spring of 1851. They were 
out of employment, and decided to begin business by 
conducting a monte table. They needed capital for 
the purpose, which they determined to obtain by 
stealing horses. Their plans were well laid, but were 
early frustrated. A horse was stolen, and McEvoy 
was just in the enjoyment of the proceeds of the sale, 
sixty dollars, when he was arrested, taken out of 
town, and given twenty-five lashes. 

Mr Baker, of Brown Bar, Weber Creek, was a 
quiet, gentlemanly person, and much respected. His 
partner, Andrew Scott, an unprincipled villain, became 
incensed at some trivial offence, and on the 5th of 
April killed Baker, stabbing him five or six times. 
It was generally known that Scott had murdered 
two or three other men, among them one McManus, 
of Missouri. This killing of Baker excited intense 
feeling amongst the miners, but they refrained from 
violent measures, and gave Scott the benefit of a fair 
trial, with a jury of twelve men, who found him guilty. 
Then he was promptly hanged. 

McMurtrie and Brothers at Mokelumne Hill missed 
some gold dust from their store in April, and, acting 
on their suspicions, they enticed a young man into 
a secluded spot in the woods, where they accused him 
of the theft. His denial exasperated them, and they 
lashed him with a rope and switches two hundred and 
fifty times, determined to extort a confession. This 
expedient proved unavailing, and they returned to 
town, where a more thorough search for the lost 
treasure was made. It was discovered in the spot 
where they afterward remembered that they had 
secreted it. Their victim was then released, and for 


fear of like punishment being awarded them by the 
indignant miners they left the place immediately. 

A horse-thief, named Gatson, captured in Nevada 
City on the 20th of May, after a trial by the people, 
received thirty-nine lashes, which were administered 
by a man whom he was permitted to select. On the 
29th, George Baker was hanged by the people, just 
beyond the limits of the city of Stockton, for a 
crime committed six months before. The execution 
was bunglingly done, and the bystanders surfeited of 

Sometime in May a notorious robber named Jen- 
kins was condemned to die by the citizens of El 
Dorado. He made his escape, but was recaptured 
near Sacramento, where he received one hundred 
lashes, was branded on each cheek with an R, and 
then delivered over to the authorities of Sacramento. 

Between the people of Napa and the people of 
Benicia in May, 1851, there were open and declared 
hostilities, and the cause was not a woman. The Napa 
people did not like it because a Benician named Cooper 
came to their town with a petition to the governor 
for the final release of a murderer which he purposed 
to circulate for signatures. The man killed had been 
their most worshipful justice of the peace, and the 
man who killed him w^as now their ' meat,' as with 
more force than elegance they expressed it. "Petition 
us no petitions," they said, "and governor us no gov- 
ernors; let every town attend to its own affairs." 

But this doctrine did not just then suit Cooper. 
McCauley, for that was the murderer's name, had 
many friends, among whom was the governor himself. 
The governor was christened John McDougal, but in 
political puddles he was familiarly called 'I John,' such 
being the words beginning his sometimes ludicrous 
proclamations. John Bigler, another governor, could 
lay claim to the same distinction. The governor and 
the murderer were friends, because the murderer had 


voted for the governor, and had induced others to 
vote for him. 'I, John,' was a good governor to those 
who murdered, or who wished to murder, provided 
they voted for him often enough; but for the sake of 
those weak in their faith in him, he would have it 
sound as the voice of his people which said to him, 
'Loosen this bloodhound.' Hence it was that Cooper 
appeared at Napa, the scene of the slaughter, with 
this petition; not that there was any need of a 
petition so far as 'I, John' was concerned, but for 
the reflex influence of such prayer upon the people 

The men of Napa, however, did not want McCauley 
discharged; he had killed their justice of the peace, 
and they were now going to kill him. Therefore they 
would none of McDougal, nor of Cooper, nor of the 
petition. Calling a meeting of citizens, a committee 
was appointed to wait on Mr Cooper and request him 
to depart. Mr Cooper declined. They ordered him 
to go. Mr Cooper refused. Then they took him to 
the ferry and thrust him across, warning him that 
further attempts in that direction would insure him 
a covering of feathered tar and a free ride on a rail. 
The people of Napa, in common with those of other 
parts of the state, were becoming tired of pardons ex- 
tended by the governors to murderers who elected 
them to office. At the March term of the Napa 
court of sessions this man, Hamilton McCauley, had 
heoia tried for the murder of one Sellers, municipal 
judge, and condemned to death, the execution to take 
place on the 15th of May, and they determined that, 
reprieved or not, the felon should die, and on the day 

He was a gentleman -villain, was McCauley; an 
adherent of southern chivalry, and a man of friends 
and family. He was not the kind of murderer that 
laws were made for. Likewise lie was an honest 
villain; to him opinions were principles, and his had 
been handed down from ancestors of revered memory. 


and inculcated during his youthful days. But he was 
wrong ; his principles were erroneous, though honestly 
entertained ; moreover, he was passionate ; and for his 
principles he must die, not the death of a martyr, 
however, but that of a murderer. And for such law- 
breakers laws were not made. 

It was all done in a moment; but though not pre- 
meditated, the killing was unjustifiable; it was the 
effect of an outburst of passion, or a fit of temporary 
insanity, as gentle Mrs Fair's counsel would call it. 

The way it happened was thus : One day at Napa, 
for some real or fancied offence, McCauley attempted 
to chastise a black man. In days gone by he and his 
sympathizers had often whipped ' niggers,' but that was 
where the colored man was chattel, and dare not strike 
back. It was consistent in those days with chivalrous 
courage to strike a man who could not strike back. 
The sentiment was similar in this instance, but the 
action and result were different, from the fact that 
the assailed might retaliate, and the black man being 
the better of the tw^o, the white one was badly 

Not long after a party of village politicians, amongst 
whom were McCauley and Sellers, assembled in a 
store, happened to be discussing the question of slavery, 
w^hen Sellers, who was opposed to McCauley in opin- 
ion, imprudently alluded to McCauley 's defeat in his 
recent encounter with the black man. Scarcely were 
the words out of his mouth when the bowie-knife of 
McCauley was buried in the breast of Sellers. 

There was talk of instant hanging; but aside from 
the objections of the law, McCauley had many friends, 
and they succeeded in protecting him. Sympathy in 
a great measure turned on the slavery agitation, 
w^hich ran high here as elsewhere in those days. It 
so happened that in sentiment Benicia was mostly 
southern, and Napa northern ; so that the former was 
for McCauley and the latter against him. The two 
towns confronted each other, angry and belligerent. 


At this time it was deemed dangerous for a citizen 
of either place to be found in the other. We have 
seen how Cooper was treated, but then his mission 
was not one pleasing to them. On the other hand, 
R. L. Kilburn, of Napa, visited Benicia, when he was 
assaulted and would have been badly injured but for 
the interference of his friends. A party from Napa 
were awakened from sleep one night by a shower of 
stones which poured through the window of their 
room at the Benicia Hotel. One was severely injured, 
and all were glad to escape under cover of the night. 

Before daylight in the morning of the day named 
for the execution, the sheriff of Solano county, with 
a posse of ten armed and mounted men, was on his 
way from Benicia to Napa with the reprieve in his 
pocket. He would have gone the night before by a 
little steamboat, of which Baxter was captain, which 
then plied between the two places. But Baxter was 
not in sympathy with the men of Benicia; so when he 
learned that the governor had signed the reprieve he 
slipped away before the usual hour and conveyed the 
tidings to Napa. There was no hesitation by the men 
of Napa as to what they would do. Napa River was 
then crossed by means of a ferry-boat. The unjust 
pardon was coming — was, indeed, at hand. When 
the sheriff's party arrived at the ferry, strange to say, 
the boat was on the other side. Lustily official lungs 
shouted for the ferryman, but there was no answer. 
All was quiet; not a soul to be seen; and there was 
nothing to be done but to proceed up the river to 
some point which could be forded. The delay thus 
involved was exasperating in the extreme; but hurry- 
ing forward, in due time the party arrived within 
the town. There also all was quiet; few were astir. 
About the jail nothing peculiar was observed, nothing 
more than might be expected on the morning of an}^ 
ordinary execution. After all, thought the sheriff, 
we arc in good season. Everything is safe; nothing 
could be better for our purpose. But stop! What 


ominous-looking hemp is that which stretches from 
the prison-door in the second story down the stair- 
way to the ground? Following the rope up the stairs 
and into the prison, they found attached to the end 
of it, drawn tightly up to a beam in the ceiling, all 
that remained of Hamilton McCauley. 

The month of June, 1851, was prolific of popular 
tribunals all over the country. It was now that there 
was being formed at San Francisco the first Com- 
mittee of Vigilance, to which we refer in the chapters 
following. But first a few more words touching 
affairs in the country. 

The tent of a Chinaman in the southern mines 
was entered by three men, who attacked him while 
sleeping and attempted to rob him. He gave the 
alarm, and the burglars were caught in the act, but 
two of them effected their escape. The one remaining 
was immediately punished by the crowd, being sus- 
pended to a tree for some minutes, but released before 
death ensued. Another was captured the next morn- 
ing, and received one hundred lashes. The third 
successfully evaded his pursuers. 

At Melone, by the decision of a popular tribunal, 
two men were executed in midsummer, one for the 
assassination of Lyon, at Sonora, and the other for 
stabbing Acklin. The unfortunates were both Mexi- 
cans, and the tribunal that judged them was composed 
of Mexicans and Americans. 

One Augier, a trader at Pleasant Springs, dis- 
covered bogus specimens of gold in the dust paid him 
by a Chileno who had been trading with him. The 
man was arrested on suspicion and taken to other 
tents, whose occupants identified him as one who had 
attempted the same trick with them. Efficient and 
energetic men then took the knave, gave him twenty- 
five lashes, and bade him go and return no more. 

A Chinaman, while mining at Drytown, in Amador, 
was shot and killed by a Mexican, who made an in- 


effectual attempt to shoot several others. The miners 
caught the Mexican and hanged him without trial. 
Although the crowd favored his execution, but few 
were sufficiently callous to carr}^ out the sentence. 
As no suitable rope was at hand, a log -chain was 
fastened to the limb of a tree, with just enough rope 
for a noose. This was placed over the man's head, 
not without difficulty on account of his struggles; 
but at last the execution was achieved, though in a 
disgusting manner. 

I have spoken several times of the existence 
of large and small organizations for the conducting of 
systematic swindling operations, but I have only one 
instance where an honest man was approached with 
an offer for his services in that direction at a fixed 
salary. This occurred at Nevada City, California, in 
July, 1851, and a gentleman of veracity living there 
at that time vouches for the truth of the statement. 

A friend of this gentleman, a wild, frolicsome 
young fellow, but wholly void of evil intentions, said 
to him one day : 

''I am offered seven hundred dollars a month to 
engage in stealing cattle and horses." 

''Indeed!" was the reply, ''that is a good salary; 
why do you not accept?" 

"Sir," he exclaimed, "I am not a thief!" 

It appears that the ungovernable spirit and reckless 
bearing of the young man had drawn this offer from 
those who followed cattle-stealing as an occupation 
and hired helpers at a fixed salar}^ It should be 
remembered that in the days previous to the gold- 
discovery and shortly following it, cattle were branded 
by their owners and left to run at large, and that 
there were immense droves of them running about, 
particularly in the southern portion of the state. 

Among the early arrivals at Sonora was George 
Snow, of Maine. He w^orked industriously at the 


mines, until he had amassed quite a httle fortune, 
enough to excite the cupidity of some Chilenos in his 
employ, who determined to kill and rob him. In 
order to facilitate their design they purchased of him 
a long-tom on the 24th of June, 1851, which they 
agreed to pay for next day, if he would call early 
in the morning at their cabin for the money. The 
Chilenos lived in a sequestered spot at Dragoon 
Gulch, where they thought to effect their purpose 
without detection. To perfect their plan they dug a 
grave for their intended victim in the ground beneath 
their bed, and then awaited his arrival. Snow had 
scarcely entered the cabin before one of the Chi- 
lenos snatched the gold dust from his belt, while the 
others attacked him with knives. Severely wounded, 
with extraordinary effort he reached the opening in 
the tent and called for help. His cries were heard 
by some men working at a distance of two hundred 
yards from the cabin; the Chilenos fled as soon as 
they saw their failure. Snow survived his injuries 
but a short time. Search was made for the Chilenos, 
and two of them were subsequently captured and 
taken to Shaw Flat, Snow's late residence, where 
trial by the people awaited them. Although the 
road in that direction was thronged, there was no ex- 
traordinary excitement. It was noticed that most of 
the miners carried double their usual arms, and about 
them was an air of quiet determination not favorable 
to the assassins. Two juries were impanelled, one 
for each case; evidence was brought up of such con- 
vincing weight that each jury unhesitatingly pro- 
nounced a verdict of guilty. The younger of the 
two, Antonio, had been identified by Mr Snow, in his 
dying breath, as the man who held the gold dust 
while the others were stabbing him. Antonio con- 
fessed that he had been aware of the intentions of 
his comrades for a fortnight, and knew of their 
digging the grave, but did not think he was amenable, 
as he did not commit the murder. The elder man 


was sulky, and would make no confession; his visage, 
marred by crime, was indicative of the worst of pas- 
sions; he was large and athletic, while Antonio was 
quite young and small of stature. Two other Mexi- 
cans who escaped were said by Antonio to be guilty 
of the murder; they, he said, had already murdered 
three Americans, and had planned to kill another. 
All these villains had lived together for some time at 
Dragoon Gulch. 

After the verdict was pronounced, the will of the 
people was demanded by the chairman. In accord- 
ance with their vote the men were taken to the scene 
of the murder, and there on Sunday afternoon at 
four o'clock they were hanged, and buried in the 
grave they had dug for their victim. Fully a thou- 
sand persons accompanied the condemned men to 
their place of execution and burial. 

During the same morning, at Sonora, a serious 
melee occurred on the street. Marshal McFarland 
had arrested a Chilean, and was taking him to jail, 
when the officer was fired on by a Mexican. The 
marshal returned the fire, when the Mexican rushed 
upon him with his knife. Again the marshal fired, 
and the Mexican fell dead; other Mexicans then 
undertook to rescue the Chilean and avenge their 
comrade's death, but reinforced by a constable, the 
marshal overpowered the party, wounding three of 
the assailants, and one fatally. 

One Saturday night early in June ^ve men lay 
sleeping in the store of Bemas and Company, at 
Campo Seco. About midnight eight burglars entered 
the store without waking the occupants. Five of 
them, each with drawn bowie-knife and cocked pistol, 
took their stations over the five sleepers, while the 
other three proceeded to rob the store. Presently 
the sleepers awoke, and were obliged to remain the 
unwilling witnesses of the rifling of the premises. 
At length, while the robbers were carrying away an 
iron chest, one of the men belonging to the store 


managed to slip away and give the alarm. The town 
was raised and the robbers pursued. The chest was 
found about four hundred yards away, but the plun- 
derers escaped. 

One day a man of villainous aspect dropped upon 
Oregon Bar. He said his name was Walden ; that he 
was without money, hungry, and thirsty. The miners 
gave him food and drink, and after lying about the 
place for a day or two he departed. No sooner was 
he gone than the camp doctor missed from his cabin 
a gold-dust bag containing two hundred dollars, and 
some fresh meat cut ready to stew for dinner. The 
vagrant was instantly pursued, brought back, tried, 
and sentenced to be hanged; but as there was posi- 
tively no testimony against him, not even sufficient to 
hang a man already condemned before trial, it was 
tacitly understood that the man should not be stran- 
gled to death, but only choked into a confession. 
Walden, though he swore he stole nothing, apparently 
did not object to be hanged, and indeed he nearly 
brought on his own death, for making a desperate 
kick at the bungling miner who adjusted the rope in 
such a way as to hurt his neck, the other foot slipped, 
leaving him dangling. Before the miners could cut 
him down life was nearly extinct, but by strenuous 
efforts he was resuscitated. The man would confess 
nothing, and either more testimony must be obtained 
or he must be discharged. A happy thought struck 
the doctor. Administering to the culprit a power- 
ful emetic, soon there was brought to light pieces 
of meat, which the doctor thought on a pinch he 
might swear to be the same stolen from him. After 
a little more choking, however, Walden was liberated. 
As he proceeded on his way he was narrowly watched, 
the miners thinking if he had really stolen the gold 
dust he would take it from its place of concealment 
and carry it away with him. But the man walked 
straight along the road, turning neither to the right 
hand nor the left. The miners concluded to make 


one more trial before letting him go, and if possible 
frighten him into a confession. Coming up to him 
they told him they had found some fresh evidence, 
and that he must come back and be hanged. '' Well," 
replied Walden, ''hang me if you want to, but do it 
speedily and respectably, without humbug, harangue, 
or torture." Finding him so much more read}^ to die 
than to confess, they told him he might go. '' Then," 
said Walden, with the most perfect nonchalance/ 'give 
me something to drink, and trouble me no more!" 
which was done. 

Sunday morning, the 29th of June, a young man 
entered a complaint to the sheriff at Sonora that, 
while in the house of a Mexican woman, another 
man wrenched from him his pistol, struck him over 
the head with it, and then snapped it at him. The 
pistol missing fire his life was spared. The sheriff 
and his deputy proceeded to the house and searched 
it, but finding no one there they started to go, when 
on looking under the bed they discovered the man, 
covered 'with clothes. He was armed with two re- 
volvers, a double-barrelled gun, and a bowie-knife, 
only. Dragging him forth they looked at him, and 
finding the resemblance to the description of one of 
the Campo Seco robbers so striking, they committed 
him to prison, sent word to that place, and soon 
he was identified. 

The prisoner's name was David Hill. Next day he 
was taken by the people to Campo Seco, and tried and 
condemned to death. It was agreed that the execution 
should take place in an hour and a half. Meanwhile, 
as the prisoner expressed a wish to make some dis- 
closures, a committee of five was appointed to attend 
him for that purpose, who soon reported that they 
deemed the proposed confession of sufficient im- 
portance to delay the execution till the next day, 
which proposal was acceded to. The confession was 
made as promised, and it led to the arrest of others 
of the gang. They then proceeded to execute the 


sentence which had been pronounced upon him. 
''About six o'clock," says the Sonora Herald, "Hill 
was led forth to execution. An immense number of 
accomplices and other villains had collected from 
various camps. After the prisoner was placed upon 
the stand he made a few remarks, describing his life 
as one of crime, and warning others against following 
his course. He also said that he had robbed and 
stolen, and done other acts of crime, but had never 
shed blood, and he threw himself upon the mercy of 
the people. The question was then put, Shall he be 
hanged? A large number answered ay, but an equal 
number responded in the negative. Immediately some 
hundreds of pistols were drawn, and a universal stam- 
pede occurred. Horsemen plunged into the crowd 
and over them, and the people ran in every direction. 
Order being partially restored, several persons spoke 
for and against the execution, until at length George 
Work arrived by himself and asked to be heard. He 
then pledged his own life that the prisoner should be 
forthcoming at the district court if they would deliver 
him into the hands of the civil authorities. His 
remarks were responded to by cries of 'Thornly!' 
'Thornly !' In the excitement the prisoner was taken 
from the stand, his hands all the while pinioned be- 
hind him, and he was thrust into a wagon, which was 
immediately driven off at a rapid rate for Sonora. 
The sheriff and one other person were also in the 
w^agon, and several others accompanied them on horse- 
back. News of the result having reached here shortly 
after the rescue, Mr L. D. F. Edwards, accompanied 
by E. Lindberg, with a gong, passed through the city, 
and called a meeting of the people instantly in front 
of Mr Holden's store. Mr Edwards then addressed 
the crowd in a short but very energetic speech, re- 
ferring to the escapes of criminals heretofore, and the 
danger of our citizens while such thieves and rascals 
were permitted to escape. He proposed to take the 
prisoner as soon as he might arrive in town and hang 


him. There was not a dissenting voice. The crowd 
then prepared with weapons to meet the sheriff and 
the prisoner at the entrance of the city. Thej came 
in a wagon, with two persons alongside on horseback 
with pistols drawn. But all was of no avail. The men 
in that crowd were not to be frightened. They fol- 
lowed the wagon, driving at a rapid rate, until it struck 
against a post, it being dark. George Work then 
jumped out with the prisoner, holding him by the 
collar, and both ran at full speed for the jail, plunging 
through the arroyo, while the crowd behind w^ere 
shouting, 'Stop him in front! We are afraid to shoot 
lest we may kill our friends 1 Stop him in front ! ' Mr 
Lindberg soon caught the prisoner behind, and hung 
on to him, compelling Hill to drag him along, and thus 
impeding Hill's progress. Colonel Cheatham, also, all 
praise to the man, ran ahead at full speed to the jail, 
and planting himself before the door, cocked his re- 
volver, and as George Work and the prisoner came 
running up, he placed one hand on the prisoner, and 
presenting his pistol toward George, said: 'George, 
you have a pistol and I have a pistol ; yours is cocked, 
and so is mine. Blow away! I can kill too — but let 
this man go!' Others by this time came up, and one 
party taking George, another the prisoner, no shots 
were exchanged, and the rescue was made. Two 
persons threw a rope over the prisoner's neck, and 
away he was led to execution. The place selected 
was the limb of a tree behind the El Dorado. A 
minister was requested, and fifteen minutes allowed, 
the prisoner being surrounded by a ring of firm men, 
who were cool and determined in the work before 
them. A large crowd was gathered round; but 
all were still as death. The fifteen minutes having 
expired, the signal was given, and in an instant the 
wretched man was hanging by the neck. There was 
scarce a struggle. The crowd were deeply impressed, 
but all were satisfied of the rio^liteousness and neces- 
sity of the punishment. All through the city, the 

Pop, Trie., Vol. I. 12 


rowdies, men who live sumptuously and yet do no 
work, men who are marked, and against some of whom 
there are more than suspicions of guilt, were solemn 
and subdued. Two or three might be seen in a squad, 
in various places, talking softly, and evidently alarmed 
for their own safety. We say, keep the halter read}' , 
and use it whenever one is caught, be he American 
or foreigner. We glory in the fact that American 
justice is dealt out to all alike. Hill was from Cort- 
land county, New York. Among the last words 
uttered by him were that his confession was true, 
and the several persons implicated by him were guilty 
as he had described." 

Sonora at this time was one of the largest and 
most thriving towns in the southern mines. They 
were a rioting, roistering crew, and the people of Co- 
lumbia, near by, were not far behind them. Popula- 
tion there was extremely mixed, and the Mexican 
element, largely infused from the first, tended in 
nowise to allay eruptions. But while there were 
scores of hanging scrapes before this in the mines, it 
was not until midsummer, 1851, that San Francisco 
awoke to her high privilege. 




My life is one demd horrid grind. 

Nicholas Nichlehy. 

On one of the principal thoroughfares, and in one 
of the most central business localities in San Fran- 
cisco, that is to say on Montgomery street, one door 
from Washington, was situated the dry-goods house of 
C J. Jansen and Company. The firm was highly re- 
spectable ; their business was large, and their dealings 
fair. The senior partner, Mr Jansen, was a man of 
slight physical build, but intellectually strong, and 
though of somewhat grave demeanor, his warm heart 
and unobtrusive ways had won him a host of friends. 

American merchants devoted more time to business 
then than now; in California they confined themselves 
more closely than elsewhere. All who had come 
hither must lay the foundations of fortune, and each 
was eager to outstrip competitors and occupy a front 
position. Furthermore, social intercourse offered few 
attractions to minds saturated with such ambition; 
and public affairs, which, through neglect on the part 
of good men, had fallen into the hands of low for- 
eigners and professionals, were repugnant to all honest, 
high-minded citizens. Hence it was that the partners 
of large firms were found at all hours of the day 
attending to business, waiting personally on their 
customers, and at night writing up their books, often 
cooking, eating, and sleeping on the premises. 

About eight o'clock in the evening of February 19, 



1851, a man entered the store of Mr Jansen and 
began to examine the goods. SUding noiselessly 
about, he looked at hats, shirts, and overalls, mean- 
while watching narrowly the door, and taking in the 
general situation. 

There w^as nothing peculiar in the appearance of the 
man. In those rough days, and in the absence of 
refining woman, few were very particular about their 
dress, and those few were not of the better sort. In 
the mines white starched linen was the garb of vice ; 
*biled shirts' covered the black hearts of murderers 
and the soiled character of gamblers, saloon-keepers, 
and pettifoggers. Honesty throve in coarse woollen, 
and often under the rao^o-ecl red shirt were belted hun- 
dreds of dollars in o^old dust, the result of sweatin^f 
toil; therefore it was the most difficult place in the 
world to detect shades of character in dress. Dress 
could be so easily assumed without exciting suspicion, 
for in the multitudinous changes of place and occu- 
pation everybody w^as throwing away his old garments 
and putting on new. 

Some of the streets of San Francisco were at this 
time dimly lighted; others were not lighted at all. 
It had been raining a little during the evening, and 
the bright blaze from the chandeliers of gambling- 
saloons which poured upon the miry unpaved streets 
rendered the surrounding darkness only more opaque. 
Nevertheless it was yet early, and business men had 
not closed their doors for the night. 

Mr Jansen was alone in the store when the cus- 
tomer entered. The man's face was covered with 
thick mustache and whiskers; he had on a gray coat 
and broad-brimmed hat, and acted as if slightly in- 
toxicated. At length stepping toward Mr Jansen, 
who was back at the desk, he said he wanted to buy 
a dozen blankets. 

Mr Jansen moved forward and laid his hand on a 
pile of colored blankets, when the man said: '^No, 


Just then another man entered the store and also 
asked for blankets. He was taller than the other, was 
partially muffled in a cloak, and wore a hat pointed 
in the crown. The room was fifty feet long, and 
was lighted by one candle only which stood on the 
desk. The tall man did not enter more than twenty 
feet from the door. While Mr Jansen was stooping 
to get the blankets, the tall man cried "Now!" 
Whereupon the short man struck the store-keeper 
senseless with a slung -shot, and the other rushing 
forward, both beat him on the head and stamped upon 
his breast until they thought him dead, or at least 
sufficiently at rest to give them no further trouble. 
Then they opened the desk, and taking what money 
they could find, about two thousand dollars, quickly 

From the time the first man asked for blankets the 
whole aflair did not occupy three minutes. At length 
Mr Jansen so far recovered as to crawl to the door 
and give the alarm. Theodore Payne, whose store 
was then opposite, and who had been waiting for Mr 
Jansen to accompany him to dinner, as was his custom, 
immediately ran to his assistance, but the robbers had 
made good their escape. The authorities were notified 
of the circumstances; the appearance of the men 
was described by Mr Jansen, and a thorough search 

It happened that at this time the police were in 
search of one James Stuart, who was charged with 
having murdered the sherifi* of Auburn, and had 
escaped jail two months before at Sacramento, where 
he had been confined awaiting trial. Thursday, the 
day after the Jansen robbery, a man was arrested who 
gave his name as Thomas Burdue. He had a long 
story to tell about his departure from Sydney, leaving 
there his wife and children, and coming to California. 
Unable to find employment, he went to the mines, 
but there met with little success, scarcely taking out 


gold enough to buy him food. For several months he 
was prostrate with fever, and but for the attention of 
kind-hearted comrades would have died. But saddest 
and strangest of all, he had been persecuted to the 
verge of insanity by the hounds of the law. Thrice 
had he been arrested for crimes which he never com- 
mitted; once he escaped, but twice, at different times 
and places, he had been tried, convicted, and barely 
escaped hanging, and yet he was as innocent of crime 
as any man in California. 

It was a good story, too good, indeed, for belief, 
and had been well told. As usual in such stories, 
part of it was natural enough, but part of it was of 
so startling a nature that the wonder was how the 
prisoner thought any one should be so credulous as to 
believe it. No, Thomas Burdue was but one of half 
a dozen aliases of which James Stuart was the real 
name, so every one believed; and further, he was no 
other than one of those, the shorter of the two, who 
assaulted Jansen the evening previous. On Friday, 
the 21st, while deep in the fascinations of a strap 
game on Commercial street, another suspected person, 
named Wildred, who corresponded in appearance to 
Mr Jansen's description of the tall robber in the 
cloak, was apprehended and placed in confinement. 

Throughout the entire community there was the 
greatest excitement. Crowds gathered round the 
building where the prisoners were confined, and 
threats were made to take them out forthwith and 
hang them. 

There was no question in the minds of any that 
these were the true offenders. About noon on Satur- 
day they were taken from the station-house by the 
marshal, and under escort of a strong police force 
were conducted to the residence of Mr Jansen, who 
was lying ill of his wounds and unable to attend court. 
Mr Jansen was sworn, and while his testimony was 
being taken Wildred was brought in. Jansen recog- 
nized him as the taller of the two men; he would not 


swear positively, still he was sure this was he of the 
cloak and pointed hat. After further testimony was 
taken Stuart was introduced, and Mr Jansen swore 
that, to the best of his knowledge and belief, this was 
the villain who struck him down. When Wildred's 
cloak and Stuart's hat were on, Jansen said he could 
not imagine a closer resemblance. 

On their way back the prisoners were followed by 
a mob, who cried: ''Hang 'em!" "Lynch 'em!" And 
once, while crossing the plaza, a rush was made for 
Stuart, who appeared to be the more obnoxious of 
the two, from the fact of his having committed the 
murder at Auburn. The attempt to seize him, how- 
ever, failed, and the two men were again safely in- 

At two o'clock the same day they were brought 
before Justice Shepherd for examination. Hall Mc- 
Allister appeared for the prisoners, and H. H. Byrne 
for the people. After the reading of Mr Jansen's 
deposition on behalf of the prosecution the defence 
was opened. John Wilson swore an alibi; swore he 
was playing cards with Wildred at a gambling-house, 
corner of Commercial and Montgomery streets, from 
half-past seven till ten o'clock, and that during that 
time Wildred had not left the room for a moment. 
He said he had known Wildred for six months; that 
he was a respectable person, and a man of family. 
S. J. Marks also swore that he saw him there. 

Scarcely one who heard this evidence believed it 
true. The court was now adjourned till Monday. At 
the time of adjournment the room was packed with 
people, and round the city hall, while the examination 
had been going on, were gathered more than five 
thousand men. 

Scarcely had the judge announced adjournment 
when the crowd raised the cry, ''Now is the time!" 
and rushed upon the prisoners. Great was the up- 
roar which followed. Chairs, tables, and raihngs gave 
way before the infuriated populace ; Stuart was seized 


by one and Wildred by another, but the assailants 
were beaten off by the sheriff and his assistants. The 
Washington Guards, whose armory was next door, 
then rushed to the rescue of the prisoners, and the 
crowd was driven from the court -room. The pris- 
oners were conveyed to the judge's private room, and 
the Guards returned to the armory amidst groans, and 
hisses, and cries of '^ Shame!" ''Shame!" The people 
were then addressed by several of the most respect- 
able citizens; they were urged not to act rashly, and 
quiet was at length restored. 

As night came on, the numbers about the court- 
house increased to six or seven thousand. Althouofh 
there was great excitement, order was maintained, 
and there was no further attempt at violence. It 
was not a mob; it was a movement of the people, 
made not with the object of interfering with justice, 
but to assist justice. The impromptu meeting was 
organized, and W. D. M. Howard called to the chair. 
A committee was appointed to see the prisoners 
properly guarded during the night, and to report at 
a meeting to be held on the plaza next day at ten 
o'clock. The crowd then quietly dispersed. 

At the meeting next morning which numbered 
eight or ten thousand persons, majority and minority 
reports were read — the first as follows: That they 
recommend to the citizens of San Francisco to pro- 
ceed forthwith to appoint a committee of thirteen 
citizens to act as judge and jury, to proceed to the 
trial of the suspected criminals at two o'clock that 
day. The said committee to act in conjunction with 
the court if the court be willing; if not, to proceed to 
trial by themselves; they would recommend also that 
proper counsel be assigned the prisoners, in case they 
have none already engaged. The minority of the 
committee, through Samuel Brannan, recommended 
immediate punishment. "Why should we speak to 
juries, judges, or mayors?" cried Sam, in angry 
perspiration. "Have we not had enough of such 


doings the last eighteen months? It is we ourselves 
who must be mayor, judges, law, and executioners. 
These men are murderers and thieves; let us hang 
them!" Meanwhile printed bills had been posted 
about the streets, which read as follows: 

"Citizens of San Francisco! The series of murders 
and robberies that have been committed in this city, 
without the least redress from the laws, seem to leave 
us entirely in a state of anarchy. When thieves 
are left without control to rob and kill, then doth the 
honest traveller fear each bush a thief Law, it ap- 
pears, is but a nonentity, to be scoffed at; redress can 
be had for aggression but through the never -failing 
remedy so admirably laid down in the code of Judge 
Lynch. Not that we should admire this process for 
redress, but that it seems to be inevitably necessary. 
Are we to be robbed and assassinated in our domiciles, 
and the law to let our aggressors perambulate the 
streets merely because they have furnished straw 
bail? If so, let each man be his own executioner. 
Fie upon your laws ! they have no force. All those 
who would rid our city of its robbers and murderers 
will assemble on Sunday, at two o'clock, on the plaza." 

"We are here without jails," says the Herald of 
February 2 2d, "without penitentiaries, and without a 
police sufficiently strong for the circumstances; and 
conjoined with these deficiencies we have a bankrupt 
city and an incompetent council. On whom must we 
depend for relieving the town from the desperate and 
abandoned scoundrels who now infest it? There is 
clearly no remedy for the existing evil but in the 
strong arms and stout souls of the citizens themselves. 
But in order to be strong we must be organized, for 
the enem}^ we have to deal with is well drilled and 
disciplined. It behooves us, then, to take some steps 
for concentrated action in order to put a stop to the 
dark and atrocious crimes committed in our midst. 
Let us then organize a band of two or three hundred 
Regulators, composed of such men as have a stake in 


the town, and who are interested in the welfare of the 
community. The very existence of such a band would 
terrify evil-doers and drive the criminals from the city. 
If two or three of these robbers and burMars were 
caught and treated to lynch law, their fellows would 
be more careful about future depredations." 

After speaking of the custom of the British minis- 
try to resign their position when one of their leading 
recommendations is defeated in Parliament, which is a 
sure indication of lack of confidence, and recommend- 
ing California office-holders to do likewise, the editor 
of the'^^^a California of Sunday morning goes on to 
say: "With one consent the people have taken into 
their own hands the adjudication of law and justice, 
because they knew no confidence could be placed in 
our tribunals. And why has the community come to 
this conclusion ? Simply because our courts, instead of 
being a terror to evil-doers, have proved themselves 
the protectors of villains, and thus encouragers of 

" This is a hard accusation, but it is true. There 
can be no doubt that in California five hundred mur- 
ders have been committed. And yet, with enactments 
defining the crime of murder and affixing the penalty 
of death for the crime on our statute-books, not one 
single offence has been punished by these courts. 
Every murderer who has passed through the mum- 
mery of an examination or trial has been let loose 
upon society again, with the endorsement of the court 
upon his character that he is not guilty. Thus he 
has been made current coin of the community, while 
before he was at best but bogus in public belief, even 
if suspicion alone rested upon him. Courts have thus 
gendered crime by nourishing the criminal. It will 
not do to tell our people that this utter impunity has 
been the result of causes beyond the court's control. 
No one will believe it; no one ought to believe it, 
simply because it is false and the people know it to 
be false." 


Like many others, Mr William T. Coleman had 
been attending to business up to Saturday night, and 
although interested in current events had given them 
no special attention. Wending his way Sunday morn- 
ing after breakfast toward the old Graham House^ 
corner of Pacific and Kearny streets, in the base- 
ment of which the prisoners were confined, he saw 
in the faces of the citizens bent in that direction un- 
mistakable evidences of anger, which as he walked 
became somewhat contagious. Considering the possi- 
bility of a rough turn in affairs before the day was over, 
in which perchance he might participate, the thrifty 
young merchant returned to his room, laid aside 
his Sunday suit, and put on plainer apparel. When 
he reached the scene of action, the mayor from the 
balcony was urging the people to disperse, and proffer- 
ing the strongest pledges that proceedings in this trial 
should be prompt and decisive. Others spoke in the 
same strain. 

It soon became apparent to Mr Coleman that these 
speeches tended to irritate rather than to allay the 
excitement. Some laughed at promises; others re- 
mained sullenly silent. Many had their small -arms, 
and from almost every eye shot angr}^ impatience. 
Though without leadership, without concert of action, 
the heterogeneous throng seemed possessed of a com- 
mon purpose. There appeared to be real danger that 
this sense of burning wrong would break out into 
excess, that the people would take possession of the 
building and hang the prisoners. 

Coleman hastily revolved the matter in his mind 
and determined to try a middle course. Next to 
downright villainy he hated mob violence. He re- 
spected the law; even the bloodless skeleton of the 
law he had ever regarded as preferable to anarchy. 
Was it not possible to organize a court of the people, 
suh colore juris, if the law would; if not, without the 
sanction of the law, and so maintain the integrity 
both of the law and of the people? He would try it. 


Entering the building and making his way to the 
front balcon}^, he waited his opportunity, and just as 
one of the speakers closed an urgent appeal to the 
people to disperse, go home, and leave everything to 
the officers, he swung himself well out, and with a 
wave of the hand cried, ''No! We will do no such 
thing! The people here have no confidence in your 
promises, and unfortunately they have no confidence 
in the execution of the law by its officers. This state 
of affairs has gone too far. Patience has fled. I pro- 
pose that the people here present form themselves 
into a court, to be organized within this building 
immediately; that the prisoners be brought before it; 
that the testimon}^ be taken, counsel on each side 
allotted; that the trial be begun by twelve o'clock, 
and conducted fairly, dispassionately, resolutely; and 
if the prisoners be found innocent let them be dis- 
charged, but if guilty let them be hanged as high as 
Haman, and that before the sun goes down!" 

For an instant there was silence, breathless, almost 
painful; the street was waiting for the next word; 
but it was only for an instant. Then burst forth loud 
and long applause, which brought relief The clouds 
cleared from men's faces. The words had been spoken 
which each wished to speak. In the abrasions of this 
impetuous society the steel had struck the flint and 
kindled the spark which should liberate its smothered 
wrath. From a thousand tongues the shout went up, 
''Yes; that's it!" "You are right!" "That's the 
remedy!" Already the great heart of that tumultu- 
ous assembly was won; now to the quieting of it. 
"We don't want a mob!" continued the speaker; 
"We won't have a mob! Let us organize as becomes 
men; here; now; as a committee of citizens, and in- 
sist on the right. All is ready; the witnesses are at 
hand; let not justice be further cheated." 

The proposal was put to vote, and a unanimous 
'ay' was the answer. Every good citizen was then 
invited to enter the building who could ; the rest were 


to stand without and guard affairs with patient quie- 
tude. Coleman then entered the inner hall, which was 
used as a court-room, followed by a crowd. Mounting 
a chair, he asked them to choose from among their 
number one who would act as judge, to impanel 
twelve jurymen, and select counsel for the prosecution 
and for the defence. He also recommended that those 
without should organize and surround the building, 
which was done. J. K. Spence was appointed judge, 
and C. L. Ross and H. R. Bowie associate justices. 
Wm. T. Coleman was called on to act for the prose- 
cution, and Hall McAllister, Calhoun Benham, and 
D. D. Shattuck volunteered their services for the 
defence. The twelve jurymen were sworn in, and 
after a short adjournment, about half- past two all 
were ready and the trial proceeded. 

Judge Shepherd entered his official protest against 
the proceedings, but no attention was paid to him. 
Coleman opened the case briefly for the people and 
was followed by McAllister. The latter asked that a 
nolle prosequi should be entered, and remarked that 
it ill became men to trample underfoot the high 
dignity and sacred rights of that law the blessings 
of which they had all their lives enjoyed. Cole- 
man replied that for the Roman code, and for the 
law as executed in France and England, and for the 
great lights of the law, he entertained profound 
respect. But while the world from time immemorial 
has had its just ordinances and able advocates, un- 
fortunately there have always been parasites, men 
who are nowadays called pettifoggers, and the}^ with 
the unworthy agents of law had unhappily brought 
it too often into contempt, had thwarted its wise and 
just designs, and thereby hazarded the lives and prop- 
erty of the people. It was not laws, but the criminal 
breach of them, that he complained of; for the vindi- 
cation of the law% not for its overthrow, the people 
were there gathered. 

Every exertion was made to calm the passions of 


the multitude, and except occasional outbursts, general 
good order and quiet prevailed. The prisoners were 
kept out of court lest their presence should fan the 
excitement. Witnesses were examined and the case 
submitted. About nine o'clock the jury retired, and 
after a long absence returned with the announcement 
that they could not agree. 

It was well that the bleak winds and fatigue had 
chilled the impetuosity of the morning, and that 
many had in consequence withdrawn to their homes. 
Nevertheless there were yet remaining those who for 
twelve consecutive hours had stood massed aofainst 
that building waiting to see what this new-fashioned 
tribunal would do, and whose patience now gave 
way. ''Hang them anyhow!" they shouted when 
they learned the result. "They deserve it!" But 
Coleman said, ''No! Though I feel the mortifica- 
tion and chagrin no less keenly than you, and though 
I believe these men guilty, there must be no violence. 
We have done our duty; we cannot afford to make a 
mistake; our judgment is not superior to that of 
others, and we must abide the decision." The jury 
was discharged, the remainder of the crowd dis- 
persed, the prisoners were left with the county officers, 
and remanded to jail. 

During the Sunday trial W. H. Jones testified that 
he saw two spots of blood on Stuart's clothes, one 
on the shoulder and one on the elbow. McGilbert 
recognized Stuart as an old offender ; he had seen him 
at Sacramento and elsewhere, and knew him to be a 
great scoundrel. James A. Glen testified that the 
prisoner was once arrested at Foster Bar for stealing 
four thousand dollars, and that he narrowly escaped 
hanging by the people. Mr Jansen was again asked to 
say whether these were the men who assaulted him, 
and he answered, more positively than before, that 
they were; that he was undecided at first, but now he 
was sure. Many more bore witness on the one side 


and on the other, some affirming that Stuart was a 
good man, and was somewhere else when Jansen was 
struck, and others as sure that he was a notoriously 
bad character, and was at or near the spot at the time. 

After the jury had retired to deliberate, a person 
appeared before the court who wished to testify that 
Stuart was with him on the night of the assault from 
seven till eleven o'clock, but it was decided that his 
evidence should not go to the jury. 

George E. Schenck was a member of this jury; and 
in a lengthy and clearly written dictation upon the 
subject he tells me of the doubts he entertained; how 
Jansen was not positive as to the identity of the men, 
and how the prisoners were not present at the trial, 
being kept in the marshal's room, on the second floor, 
under the cots on which the officers slept, and there 
concealed by blankets hanging over the sides of the 
cots to the floor. Thence during that same night 
they were taken elsewhere, for fear of the multitude, 
and secreted for several days. "Two others coincided 
with me in regard to it," says Mr Schenck, "and we 
agreed to bring in a verdict that we could not agree. 
There were nine for conviction and three who enter- 
tained doubts. This was about nine o'clock at night. 
On our coming into the court-room and announcing 
this fact, the outside crowd broke in the windows, 
rushed in at the door, broke up the railing round the 
bar, and were about to make an attack on the jury, 
when the jurors drew their revolvers, and rushing 
back into the jury-room there remained until the ex- 
citement had somewhat abated." 

There were several impromptu meetings in various 
parts of the city on this Sunday. On Montgomery 
street a red-faced, shock-headed judge was holding 
forth to a knot of listeners, and denouncing in strong 
terms the lawless proceedings of the day. "Law! 
law! talk of law!" exclaimed the deriding crowd. 
"We get heaps of law, but little justice. All that 
law in California seems to be good for is to empty 


money from the pockets of the people into the pockets 
of the judges." Then came hootings. "Water lots!" 
yelled one; "Colton grants!" ''Straw bail!" "Boiled 
eggs for the lawyers and acorns for the people!" 
shouted others. And when a strong clear voice rang 
out, "Tar and feather the old fellow!" and the judge 
saw in the many eyes directed toward him a new and 
not assuring light, he thought it best for him to go 
while he could. So he moved along. 

As John Wilson, who testified to an alibi on behalf 
of Wildred, was passing down Long Wharf on Sun- 
day, he was recognized by the populace, who raised a 
cry against him. "There goes one of 'em!" they 
shouted. "Stop the perjurer!" "Duck him!" "Throw 
him off the dock!" Frightened half out of his wits, 
he made good use of the remainder, for clearing the 
crowd at a bound or two, the fellow ran like a deer up 
Commercial street to Montgomery street, where turn- 
ing the corner he darted into a store, slammed the door 
after him, shot out through the back way, and hid 
himself under a pile of empty cases, thus eluding his 

Charles Duane, who was at the time on trial before 
the recorder for shooting one Amade, was surren- 
dered by his bail and committed to prison. The fact 
was, Duane could sleep better under the guardianship 
of the law than when left exposed to the fury of the 
mob. Whenever the people became excited the prison 
was the murderer's haven of rest; then the law was 
his best friend. 

The people plumed themselves on their good be- 
havior. Says the Daily Balance of Monda}^ morning : 
"For two days the lives of two human beings, the 
majesty of the laws, and the peace and character of 
our city, have hung on the will of an illegal assem- 
blage of the people. Yet, thanks to the good sense, 
the love of justice, and the habit of self-government 
which characterize our American community wherever 
it has not been subjected to the deteriorating influ- 


ences of great cities, they have passed through the 
crisis unharmed. It is a most consoHng and grati- 
fying result, which every lover of his country and 
of his kind must regard with satisfaction and with 
thankfulness." ''It was one of the most impressive 
demonstrations of the power and majesty of the 
people we ever looked upon/' says the editor of the 
Pacific News, writing Monday morning. ''As yet no 
murderer has been punished under our laws. Here- 
after no criminal can go free except at the risk of 
anarchy, from which we have escaped only by a for- 
bearance on the part of the people beyond all praise. " 
"In no city in the world, perhaps, save this," wrote 
the editor of the California Courier on Tuesday, the 
25th, "could a community be excited and aroused so 
violently without committing some excesses; yet our 
people throughout Saturday and Sunday committed 
no breach of the peace whatever. The feeling and 
interest manifested arose from an intelligent and 
deep-seated conviction that these men were two of an 
organized gang of desperadoes and villains who have 
been at all hours of the day and night committing 
outrages upon the lives and property of our citizens. 
Also because it was believed they would be sworn 
through the courts by their confederates. Our 
people, under the circumstances, have, shown great 
forbearance, moderation, and respect for the laws. 
They have now, however, made up their minds that 
there shall be no more straw bail taken, and no more 
false swearinof from suborned witnesses to shield and 
protect the guilty in their outrages." 

One of a thousand similar speeches made on the 
Sunday of the trial is given by the Evening Picayune 
of Monday: "While mingling with the crowd before 
the City Hall yesterday afternoon, a tall, gaunt indi- 
vidual, with black e3^es and an abundance of hair, broke 
out indignantly after this fashion: 'Cuss me, what a 
country this here is for regulating things! Where I 
come from those chaps in thar would have swung long 

Pop. TniB., Vol. I. 13 


ago, and no speechifying and humbugging thought 
of. Here I was some two or three hours yesterday, 
and nothin' done. Well, I come here accordin' to ap- 
pintment at nine o'clock this mornin', to see the 
thing done all on the square, and here it is nearly sun- 
down and nothin' done yet! Cuss me, I have helped 
swing nine redskins and three Mexicans in one fore- 
noon, and no damn fuss made about it by any one. 
Cuss me, but I'm clean sick of this country, where 
they let cussed red devils and white wolves run 
over them without so much as slipping the wind 
of one of them when he's caught! It's a weak 
country — an unnat'ral place, and fit only for greasers!* 
As he concluded speaking, his small black eyes glanced 
contemptuously about him for a moment, when he 
elbowed his way out of the throng." 

Thus the people's tribunal failed to convict these 
men, and left them to the officers of the law. Wil- 
dred, with seven others, broke jail and escajDed. Stuart 
w^as tried by the district court, found guilty, and 
sentenced to fourteen years' imprisonment. All the 
money in his possession was taken from him and given 
to Jansen. 

Before the sentence of the court w^as executed, 
however, Stuart was taken to Marysville and there 
arraigned for the murder of Moore, the sheriff. At 
this trial the testimony as to Stuart's identity was 
conflicting. There w^as no doubt as to Jim Stuart 
being the murderer of Moore, but while many wit- 
nesses for the prosecution positively identified the 
prisoner by a dozen prominent features, yet there 
were others who as positively asserted that he was 
not the man. 

I herewith give what one of the attorneys in the 
case at Marysville says about it: 

"Witnesses for the prosecution were generally bold and entirely positive; 
but the witnesses for the prisoner, with the exception of Judge Stidger and 
B. F. Washington, appeared to feel uneasy, and often hesitated in their testi- 


mony. Some three or four witnesses testified that they had worked with Jim 
Stuart at Foster Bar, and had known him well before he went there. They 
had eaten with him at the same table often, and had played cards with him ; 
and one or two testified they had slept with him. They testified that Jim 
Stuart was of the same height as the prisoner ; that he had curly hair, like 
him ; that he was slightly bald on the top of the head, like him ; that his 
actions were like his — tlie court having made the prisoner stand up several 
times so that the witnesses could see him better than when sitting ; that his 
voice and accent were the same, being English ; that the color of the eyes and 
hair were the same ; and that Jim Stuart had a stiflF middle finger on the right 
hand, and a ring of Indian-ink round one of his fingers, and marks of Indian-ink 
between each thumb and forefinger ; and further, that Jim Stuart had a rather 
long scar on his right cheek. The jury then examined the hands of the pris- 
oner, and there was found a ring of Indian-ink on one of his fingers, several 
figures or spots of the same ink between the thumb and forefinger of each 
hand ; and the right middle finger was not stiff, but had had a felon under the 
nail of tlie corresponding finger on the other hand, which had given it a short 
but stubby appearance, heavier at the end than elsewhere, the nail of the 
finger being broad and thick, and bending inward over the end of the finger. 
This was startling to the defence, indeed. It remained now to see if the 
prisoner had a scar on the right side of the face. His face could not be satis- 
factorily examined, as it was almost completely covered with a short growth 
of hair. The court ordered the prisoner to be shaved before being brought 
into court next morning, and on being examined a scar about the length of 
the one described by the witnesses was foiind, commencing on the edge of the 
jaw on the right side and running down the neck. The witnesses now seemed 
confident, and said that they had no doubt that the prisoner was Jim Stuart. 
On a cross-examination they said, in a positive and unhesitating manner, that 
it was not possible that they could be mistaken in their opinion that the 
prisoner was Jim Stuart. Colonel Prentiss swore positively that the prisoner 
was Jim Stuart, and that he could not possibly be mistaken. Some four or 
five witnesses swore positively as to the identity of the prisoner, and that he 
was Jim Stuart beyond a question ; each giving some one or more new reasons 
for his belief. No witness on tlic side of the prosecution would admit a proba- 
bility that he could be mistaken in the prisoner ; that he certainly was Jim 
Stuart ! On the side of the defence, Judge Stidger swore positively that the 
prisoner at the bar was not Jim Stuart ; that there was a strong resemblance 
between Jim Stuart and this man, but that Jim Stuart was at least two inches 
taller than the prisoner ; that their eyes were different in color ; that the ex- 
pression of the eyes of the two men was different ; that Jim Stuart was much 
quicker in his motions than the prisoner ; that Jim Stuart's motions were very 
uncommon, being as quick as those of a wildcat ; that he had always head 
erect, much more so than the prisoner, and that the real Jim Stuart was 
straighter in his personal formation, and had a different complexion. This 
witness testified that Jim Stuart was often arraigned before him as a judge at 
Foster Bar, and that his recollection of him from this and other facts was 
clear and distinct. Stidger also testified that Jim Stuart had a stiff middle 
finger, but not such a one as the prisoner had. B. F. Washington, who was 


at the time recorder of Sacramento City, testified that he kne\v Jim Stuart 
from the fact of his being a notorious character in that city, and from the 
fact that he had often been brought before him on different charges. Mr 
Washington said that the prisoner at the bar was not Jim Stuart ; that there 
was some resemblance, but they were to his eye quite different men; that 
Jim Stuart was an inch and a half or two inches taller than the prisoner. 
Other witnesses for the defence testified to about the same facts, but they 
scorned to be uneasy, in some trepidation, and acted in a manner most pro- 
voking to the defence. One witness on behalf of the prosecution, a Mr 
Thompson, testified that the prisoner, about the date of the alleged murder, 
came into a camp on Slate Range, in said county of Yuba, on horseback, and 
seemed to have plenty of money, and was betting with the boys on a string- 
game which he played very skilfully. That he had a conversation with the 
prisoner in the jail, and that the prisoner admitted that he was at Slate Range 
at the time mentioned, but denied that he was Jim Stuart. " 

From the report of the trial at Marysville we are 
informed that when the case was committed to the 
jmw, eight were for conviction and four for acquittal. 
Finally the jury, after deliberating two days and one 
night, agreed on a verdict of guilty. While the 
verdict was being announced the prisoner did not 
manifest the least trepidation or excitement. An eye- 
Avitness says: "I could not notice the least change of 
a muscle in his face, and I must say that the appear- 
ance of his face was far from being that of a hardened 
villain listening to the fiat deciding his fate, for his 
countenance was mild, calm, and serene." 

When his counsel visited the unfortunate man in 
his cell two hours afterward, he clenched his hands, 
and raising them, toward heaven reiterated his solemn 
protestation of innocence. He further said that if he 
should be offered a million of dollars and his liberty 
he could not tell where Mr Jansen's store was in San 
Francisco. He spoke of his narrow escape from hang- 
ing at his previous trial; his friends were afraid to 
stand by him, as their allegiance would subject them 
to abuse and maltreatment as men of Sydney. Aban- 
doned by his comrades, cursed and hated by those who 
believed him a criminal, life was no longer endurable, 
and he was willing to die. His only request was that 
letters should be written to his poor wife in Sydney 


and his father in England, informing them of his ill- 
fate and of his innocence. 

The following letter, given verbatim, written im- 
mediate]^ after his trial at Marysville, and while 
under condemnation of death, displays more vividly 
than can any words of mine this strange freak of 

Marysville Jail, July 4, 1851. 
To John Goff — Dear Sir : I have had a trial which lasted five or six days, 
and the jury was twenty-four hours in deciding my fate; and had they not 
had a prejudice against the country I came from it might have turned out 
different, but as it was they found me guilty, and my sentence is death. The 
law allows me thirty days before the execution is put into effect. I forgot to 
say, though I was found guilty, the jury remarked that they had doubts upon 
their minds; but the judge said that this doubt would assist me very little. 
I had more evidence in favor than against; in fact I had the judges from 
Sacramento, who tried this said Stu(irt several times, also the policeman who 
took Stuart into custody; they both swore positively that I was not Stuart. 
And beside these men, I had from fifteen to twenty more who knew Stuart 
well, and they also swore positively that I was not Stuart; and moreover all 
of these persons were strangers to me. The evidence here went to show and 
prove that Stuart was two and a half inches taller than me. The policeman who 
first took me in charge for Stuart never appeared against me. Had I of had 
Mrs Strytum, the landlord of the house I kept, and Mrs Morris, and yourself, 
it might have turned the case in my favor, as this murder was perpetrated on 
the 7th of December, and you are well aware that I was in San Francisco a 
long time before and a long time after. I have since been informed that 
no matter what evidence I have, the prejudice is so great against the people 
that come from Sydney that had I of had these witnesses I have named it 
would of been no use. Mrs Eliott was here to prove that I came in the same 
ship with her from Sydney, and it so happened that there was a witness also 
here to prove that this same Stuart came in steam-vessel from Panama with 
him, in same month as I came from Sydney. He also swore to Stuart's height, 
as being much taller. There was several parties from Foster Bar, who 
arrested Stuart for a robbery he did there; they also swore I was not Stuart, 
but all of no use; and one of these persons was the judge who tried Stuart on 
Foster Bar twice, and worked in the same company. Fletcher and Benson 
I got subpoenas for. but they could not be found. Henry Davies called upon 
me, and promised to stay to my trial, but on account of its being put off for 
a few days he left and I have not seen him since. Understand me, I don't 
mean to say that I had no evidence against me, because I had many that 
swore I was Stuart; but most or all of these persons only knew Stuart sligb bly, 
where those that swore I was not him, all said they knew him well. I have 
no more to say at present touching the case. I must now ask you as a very 
great favor to come up and see me as soon as possible, as I cannot say how 
soon I may be launched into eternity, innocent. When you come up, please 


bring any letters you may have for me. My dear Sir, when I ask you this 
favor, I ask you not to delay, as it will be the last time you will be able to 
see me, and for God's sake, and the respect you have for me, don't fail, as I 
have a deal to say respecting my poor wife and friends 1 have left behind. 

I can assure you it is very hard to be placed in this position, but at the 
same time I keep up my spirits as well as I can. I now say again, in the 
name of God do not neglect me, but if possible come up as soon as you re- 
ceive this. 

Give my respects to all my friends in San Francisco, and receive the same 
yourself, from 

Yours truly, but very unfortunate, 

Thos. Burdue. 

P. S. — I have not forgot the day I entered your house after being at the 
mines for five months working hard, and dirty as miners are, and your boy 
John, which is only three or four years, should recognize me. 

Hear now the sequel, and note the moral. Just 
before the day arrived on which he was to have been 
sentenced, it was ascertained that this Stuart was not 
Stuart at all. He over whom all this temper had 
been spent was Thomas Burdue, an innocent man! 
He had never committed murder, had never assaulted 
Jansen, and every word of the story he had told on 
his arrest was true! 

These facts were ascertained by the men w^ho ere 
this had formed themselves at San Francisco into a 
Committee of Vigilance, as we shall presently see, and 
who rescued the unfortunate man from a felon's death 
on the eve of execution by the arrest of the true 
Stuart, to whom Burdue bore a striking resemblance. 
His likeness in form and feature to a villain was to 
him a Nessus shirt of misfortune. 

Says the attorney before quoted, on seeing the real 
Stuart subsequently at the rooms of the San Fran- 
cisco Vigilance Committee: ''If ever I saw a stronger 
resemblance between two men in my life, I do not recol- 
lect it. But I soon noticed the distinctive differences, 
so minutely described in the testimony of Stidger and 
Washington. The real Jim Stuart who stood before 
me was at least two inches higher than the prisoner 
in Yuba county. The middle finger was the same as 
has been stated by witnesses, quite stiff, and his hands 


much, longer and more aristocratically shaped than 
the hands of the other. His actions were exactly 
those that Stidger had described, and at the least 
motion of any one present, his eyes, head, or body 
would move with the rapidity of lightning!" 

Imagine the feehngs of this man under his strange 
and varied experiences; lying incarcerated through 
months of long nights and wearisome days, pondering 
on the present and wondering what would come 
next ; sitting in the prisoners' dock listening to those 
who, one after another, came forward and fastened on 
him crimes from the bare mention of which his soul 
shrank, until he began to question his own sanity and 
identity. Now he lay chained in a dungeon; now, 
under the grim shadow of justice, surrounded by eyes 
staring curses on him, he listened to evidence and 
arguments no more applicable to him than to the 
judge himself; and now he found himself the centre 
of an infuriated populace, eager to shoot, hang, or with 
their fingers to tear him in pieces, when, if they but 
knew the simple truth, they would sooner point their 
weapons against their own breast. The jaundiced eye 
sees all things yellow. While the prisoner was on 
trial, and stroma evidence was brousfht asfainst him, 
the people saw guilt stamped on his face; when he 
was proved innocent, the face shone in open honesty. 

Immediately the Committee of Vigilance had found 
the true James Stuart, and had rescued from the jaws 
of death the man who been taken for him, Thomas 
Burdue was brought to San Francisco, and the amplest 
amends possible were made him. He was pardoned by 
the governor for crimes which he had never committed. 
Mr Jansen not only refunded the money taken from 
him, but supplemented it by a liberal addition. A pub- 
lic subscription was started, which resulted in substan- 
tial aid. Thus Thomas Burdue became a hero, and 
was lifted up — but not so high as the scaffold. 

Before the legislature of 1853 a memorial was pre- 
sented on behalf of Thomas Burdue, asking for four 


thousand dollars, in view of the suffering and igno- 
minies of a nine months' unj ast imprisonment. Besides 
contracting disease and undergoing the horrors of the 
death sentence for another's crime, his entire means 
and all he could borrow from his friends, amounting 
to nearl}^ the sum asked, had been expended in pro- 
curing necessary counsel and witnesses, in consequence 
of which his wife and children were reduced to beg- 
gary. The memorial was referred to the judiciary 
committee, of which J. W. Ralston w^as chairman. 
The following lucid and logical reply was made: "To 
grant the prayer of the petitioner would establish a 
precedent which, if carried out in all cases of the kind, 
would more than exhaust the entire revenue of the 
state. We know of no legislative precedent for such 
appropriation. The most that has been done was to 
refund fines illegally collected from innocent parties, 
leaving them responsible for their own expenses. In 
society it too often happens that the innocent are 
wrongfully accused of crime. This is their misfor- 
tune, and government has no power to relieve them. 
It is a part of the price each individual may be called 
on to pay for the protection which the laws give. He 
should rejoice that the law^s have afforded that pro- 
tection to him when wrongfully accused, rather than 
seek remuneration for his expenses from the govern- 
ment whose justice has protected him from igno- 
minious death." That is to say, stripped of verbiage. 
To correct the errors of law would cost more than 
all the expenses of government combined. We have 
never known a legislature to right a wrong done by 
the law to a citizen, therefore we will not. Prosecu- 
tion may be the price of protection; and fortunate is 
he who is not done to death by laws established to 
save his life! 



The gods 
Grow angry with your patience ; 'tis their care, 
And must be yours, that guilty men escape not : 
As crimes do grow, justice should rouse itself. 

Ben Jonson. 

Crime was emboldened rather than intimidated by 
recent affairs. While the Burdue trial was in prog- 
ress, the drug -store of Bache and Grotjan, corner 
of Washington street and Portsmouth Square, was 
entered and robbed ; a murder was commit^ted at El 
Bincoii; on Prospect Hill a woman was robbed of 
five hundred dollars and two gold chains. Two men 
making their round of pillage were caught with 
articles taken from the stores of Kettell, Mahony, 
and Company, and Middleton and Hood; one of them 
was severely punished by the people and the other 
escaped. At the time and thereafter, both in the city 
and country, slung -shots, knives, and pistols were 
employed more liberally than ever. 

Rascality assumed the heroic. Aside from the 
seductive charm of illicit gain was it not a grand 
thing to be the central figure of such an assemblage as 
that of the before-mentioned Sunday in February? 
For less than this men toil in their life-long wearisome 
ascent, demagogues weave their web of state-craft, 
and soldiers fight their battles. When men are so 
eager by hook or crook to attract the notice of the 
world, may not the chivalrous and accomplished villain 
achieve renown after his own fashion? 



After all, the difference between war-butcheries 
and highway -butcheries is more ideal than real. War 
is the standing irony of humane justice. Poets call 
this bloody display of passion lovelier than love, wiser 
than wisdom, holier than religion. So burns in their 
heart the fire of patriotism that for opinion's sake 
they lay their country in ashes, and for the love of 
truth resort to killing. What is truth? May men 
kill for pride and vain-glory and not for bread? To 
fight for opinion and call it fighting for truth; to war 
against infallibility while claiming to be infallible; 
strange infatuation! As though immutable truth, 
which is as firm as the Creator's throne, should need 
the puny efforts of man to establish it, and that the 
killing of one another should so establish it! Verily 
there have been in the fermentations of peoples more 
anomalous absurdities, more reasonless killings, than 
would be the achievements of villainy for fame ! 

Happily for individuals society puts the veto on 
private slaughter ; happy will it be for mankind when 
nations eschew killing; happy will it be for morals 
w^ien no longer single murders alone are infamous, 
and only wholesale slaughter honorable. Here in 
California at this time was work enough to do at all 
events, and that in the direction pointed out by con- 
science fashioned by custom. Hundreds of murderers 
walked from their victims unmolested, escaped to new 
killing. What then? Shall these go unpunished? 
Does not the bird Haineh, formed in Arabian my- 
thology from the brain-blood of the slaughtered victim, 
cry Iskoone! give me to drink vengeance! and so 
pursue the guilty to the end of his career? 

Following the excitement attending the Jansen 
outi'age, as I have said, matters became rapidly worse 
and worse. Nothing so stimulates wrong -doing as 
attempting punishment and failing. In the war of 
good against evil defeat is fatal. One villainous suc- 
cess draws into its trail a hundred new recruits. For 


a year previous to midsummer, 1851, again and again 
the public press called on the people to unite and 
hang the criminals. Round the sand-hills and in the 
hollows, as from the circling hell of Dante, there 
seemed to rise a silent wail of woe. The stench of 
natures maledict, as from the tomb of misfortune, 
floated over the sand-waste and filled to suffocation 
the nostrils of plodding virtue. 

Robberies and rascalities of every kind were of daily 
occurrence ; quiet citizens were knocked down in going 
to and from their business, and it was unsafe for one 
to trust one's self out after dark without a cocked 
pistol in the hand. The criminal catalogue of a week's 
or a month's duration would be startling. On the 3d 
of June occurred the Benjamin Lewis affair before 
mentioned. Twice his indictment by the grand jury 
was quashed by Judge Parsons on some technical 
ground, and the prisoner held for another future 
spasm of justice. The same night a jewelry store on 
Clay street was feloniously entered; also the shop of 
Mr Robbins, on Broadway, near Powell street. The 
building on the south-west corner of Kearny and 
California streets was fired the 5th, but the flames 
were extinguished before spreading. Sunday night, 
the 8th of June, the California-street wharf was fired. 
At the Blue Devil saloon on Jackson street there 
was a beautiful stabbing affray the 9th. The same 
night the house of the Reverend Prevaux was en- 
tered. Unhallowed meanness I Twenty culprits on an 
average now graced the recorder's levee every morning. 
The 1 2th of June Charles Hudson was knocked dow^n 
and robbed of five hundred and twenty dollars in Cab 
alley. Saturday, the 14th, one Whitzer was stabbed 
by Albert C. Burney at a dance-house on Pacific 
street, near Dupont. Next day, Sunday, the cry 
of murder was raised on Virginia street, and Mr 
and Mrs Yates were taken in charge in consequence. 
At a place then rejoicing in the strongly suggestive 
name of Hog Valley a man was knocked senseless 


and robbed on the I7tli. A fire, the supposed work 
of an incendiary, was discovered on the 18th under 
a building in the rear of Jones' Hotel. 

The 2 2d of June occurred the seventh great con- 
flagration, involving the loss of six lives and about 
two millions of property. Nearly one fourth of the 
city was laid in ashes. After careful investigation the 
people were satisfied that it was the work of an in- 
cendiary. The fire originated in the dwelling of Mr 
Delessert. At the time there w^as neither fire nor 
servant in the house. The people were out in full 
force, fighting the flames and guarding property. 
While the flames w^ere raging, the burglary of a 
jewelry store on Merchant street was attempted. 
That same evening N. L. Pollock was shot dead by 
Samuel Gallagher. A Mexican named Juan, caught 
stealing at this fire, was tried and publicly whipped 
by the people. 

A nolle prosequi was entered by the court of sessions 
the 26th of June in the case of Charles Duane, the 
prosecuting attorney stating that the witnesses for 
the prosecution could not be found. It was a current 
practice among the fraternity, that of continuing a 
case until the witnesses were scattered. Two individ- 
uals, Graham and Lemon, at a loss to know whether, 
even in their own estimation, they were gentlemen, 
indulged in some general shooting on Kearny street, 
near the plaza, on the evening of the 30th. Unfortu- 
nately neither was killed, though the bodies of the 
by-standers entertained a number of their bullets. 

These are scarcely a moiet}^ of the oflences com- 
mitted during the month of June; include the petty 
crimes and misdemeanors, and the list would be in- 
creased tenfold. 

Before the month opened, it was clearly apparent 
that the time was fast approaching when the indigna- 
tion of the people must burst its fetters; the enemies 
of peace and honest living had filled their cup of in- 


iquity to overflowing. Patience had become puerility. 
The question was no longer whether it was right for 
the people to take law into their own hands and ex- 
ecute justice, but whether the virtuous and orderly 
element in the community should have any existence 
at all. Over and over again the legal machinery then 
in operation was proved utterly inadequate to the 
suppression of crime; wickedness grew bolder and 
more rampant every day, until the simple proposition 
was. Shall the substance of the right-minded and 
industrious be forever taken to feed villainy? Then 
it was that a secret committee of men determined 
to put on armor and stand ready, the self-constituted 
exponents and executives of order and of law, sprung 
as it were from the ground. 

The idea of organizing did not originate wholly with 
any one man or at any one time. As in every normal 
evolution, the development was the offspring of ne- 
cessity. A thousand minds w^ere pregnant with the 
thought that something must be done. Citizens talked 
together of it, and every new outrage added force to 
expression. The great law of self- protection, far 
mightier than written law, of its own subtle strength 
attracted and massed the isolated particles of so- 
ciety. Although it was a clear case of spontaneous 
combustion, there was yet an immediate agent. In 
a thousand places the flame of reform was ready to 
burst out; the first bursting was the beginning. 

There had been organized late in February or early 
in March, among the merchants, a night patrol, of 
which F. W. Macondray was captain. Every man 
w4io had property to protect was invited to join the 
company, and contribute his proportion of time and 
money for the benefit of all. There were about one 
hundred members, who were assigned to different dis- 
tricts, and twelve of them were on duty four times a 
month, serving eight hours out of the twenty-four. 
Often during their meetings they discussed the ne- 
cessity of organizing as a popular tribunal and as- 


suniing arbitrary powers. It was a consummation, 
however, to be deplored, and therefore to be post- 
poned as long as possible. Of the band was George 
E. Schenck, who claims this as the origin of the 
Vigilance Committee; others, however, put in coun- 
ter claims. The truth is, as I have said, this organ- 
izing for mutual safety was the act of many, who 
thus as it were threw up their arms involuntarily to 
ward off the blow aimed at society by confederated 

In what was then known as Happy Valley, where 
now is First street, near Mission, in the spring of 
1851 lived James Neall, a highly respected citizen 
and prominent merchant. George Oakes, of the firm 
of Endicott, Green, and Oakes, was his neighbor. 
Meeting on Sunday afternoon, the 8th of June, their 
conversation turned on what was uppermost in the 
minds of both — the insecurity of affairs, and the 
necessity of active measures. Calm, clear-headed, 
practical men, both of them, they determined at once 
and together to call on Mr Brannan, the ruling spirit 
and tacitly acknowledged leader of the movement of 
1851, and consult with him on the subject. They 
found Mr Brannan seated in his office, and near him 
at the desk Mr Wardwell, his clerk. Mr Brannan 
listened as one to whom such words were welcome. 
As the fire licks lovingly new fuel, so the flame 
already blazing in his breast receiv^ed the sentiments 
poured into it by his visitors. After short discussion 
it was suggested that each then present should give 
Mr Wardwell the names of such citizens as were 
known to be in sympathy with good order, and whose 
discretion could be relied upon, inviting them to meet 
at twelve o'clock at noon the next day, Monday, the 
9th, at the California Engine House, situated at the 
junction of Market and Bush streets, opposite the 
Oriental Hotel. Certain persons in the several dis- 
tricts of the city were requested to organize each a 


local committee, of which he should act as chair- 
man, and the duty of these committees should be 
to notify their trustworthy neighbors, and invite 
them to be present at the time and place above 

In pursuance of that action there was a large 
gathering at the engine-house the following noon, 
and the room was crowded. The evils of the times 
were discussed, and views interchanged as to the 
proper remedy. The meeting finally adjourned to 
assemble that night at Mr Brannan's rooms, for 
the purpose of organizing and defining a course of 

Unaware of the steps which had thus far been 
taken, Mr A. Delano wrote two notices in the after- 
noon of Tuesday, the 10th, calling a meeting to be 
held next day at three o'clock on the plaza, and 
handed them in at the offices of the Alta California 
and Courier. He then drew up articles of associ- 
ation, which he called a 'Committee of Safety;' but 
learning from Mr Brannan Wednesday morning that 
an organization had already been effected, he saw 
that the articles which he had prepared were not 

Singularly contradictory were many of the state- 
ments given me by the actors themselves. I have 
been told repeatedly by those who joined the asso- 
ciation on the 10th or the 11th of June that the 
Jenkins robbery, hereafter to be mentioned, was the 
act which called the organization into being, when in 
fact the origin of associating dated from the Sunday 
previous, and sprang immediately from the com- 
mon conversation and resolution of the two citizens 
of Happy Valley. Thick black clouds, portentous of 
outbreak, had hung for weeks and months over the 
city; but the walk of Neall and Oakes to Brannan's 
office was the first white streak indicative of imme- 
diate atmospheric purification. 

The origin of the term vigilance committee was 


spontaneous. In the meeting of Monday night the 
question arose how the organization should be desig- 
nated. One suggested that they should call them- 
selves the * Regulators,' from their determination to 
scrutinize and regulate the administration of justice, 
and so diminish crime. But the word Regulators 
smacked too strongly of the Hounds epoch; it was 
too significant of a purpose and policy directly at vari- 
ance with those of the new organization, and hence 
was not seriously entertained. * Secret Committee ' 
did not suit for obvious reasons. Next was proposed 
* Committee of Safety,' or ' Committee of Public 
Safety,' as conveying the idea of protection which the 
association sought to throw round every good citizen. 
This name found more supporters. But meanwhile 
the term 'Committee of Vig^ilance' havinaf been suof- 
gested, it took precedence at once, embodying as it 
does the sentiment of watchfulness with those of cir- 
cumspection, care, and protection. Hence this name 
was unanimously adopted, and as the expression of a 
unique human association shall so stand to the end of 

At the meeting of Monday night there were pres- 
ent those who fully realized the responsibility and 
importance of the step about to be taken. Their 
seeming duty lay seemingly counter to the regular 
course of law. Plainly, they proposed to break the 
law, and in so doing lay themselves open to punish- 
ment by the law. In the eyes of the law they were 
about to become offenders of as deep a dye as any 
they proposed to punish, though from very different 

But there were also present young and inex- 
perienced men, who did not know what they were 
about to do; and sage tutor to these was the whilom 
colonel commanding the New York volunteers, which 
company, as before stated, when disbanded furnished 
many of the ruffians then infesting the city. These 
mettlesome innocents the mettlesome old colonel set 


about to instruct. It suited well the eternal fitness 
of things, that he who had brought hither New 
York's vaofabonds should now hang- thern. Feelino-ly 
he spoke of his former associates, calling to mind past 
dangers and privations in common shared; but re- 
called to things present, stern duty swelled the breast 
well buttoned beneath an army coat, and the severest 
of military airs wreathed the features of the ire- 
illuminated face. 

There were those both at this and at subsequent 
meetings who were more ready with their tongue 
than with their sword. Upon this occasion the 
doughty colonel concludes an address brimful of 
nervous energy with these words: ''And mind you, 
let there be no skulkino^! Let there be no skulkinof" 
now ! " But when the bell summoned to actual danorer 
and responsibility, and the more timid looked for their 
brave commander, he was nowhere to be found; 
thouQ^h there was made dilisfent search, even to the 
sending to his house for him, he failed to put in an 
appearance. Then certain profane youth, filled with 
merry contempt, took from a white fowl its whitest 
feather, and carefully inclosing it in an envelope, ad- 
dressed and sent it to the brave talker. 

Very different was the conduct on this occasion 
of Mr Brannan, to whom the highest praise is due. 
Peculiar as he was in some respects, I cannot but 
regard his connection with the first Vigilance Com- 
mittee as the brightest epoch of his eventful life ; and 
so long as society holds its course in San Francisco 
his name should be held in honored and grateful re- 
membrance. With the most cheerful recklessness he 
threw his life and wealth into the scale; anything 
and everything he possessed was at the disposal of 
the committee free of any charge. 

The avowed object of the association was to vigil- 
antly watch and pursue the outlaws that infested the 
city, and bring them to justice, through the regularly 
constituted courts, if that could be; by a more sum- 

Pop. Trie., Vol. I. U 


mary and direct process, if must be. Each member 
pledged his sacred honor, his fortune, and his hfe, for 
the protection of his fellow- members, for the protec- 
tion of the lives and property of the citizens of the 
community, and for purging the city of bad characters 
who were making themselves odious in it. 

An informal instrument was drawn up at this 
meeting, which signified the general purpose and 
course of action. This was signed by those pres- 
ent. Inviolable secrecy was laid on every member; 
unity and good faith, becoming common interests 
and manly honor, should characterize all their acts. 
Every member should act the part of city monitor; 
in case of disturbance members of the society should 
be summoned, and each subscriber promised to appear 
when called, and to perform service when needed. 

A partial organization only was effected on Mon- 
day, but next night arrangements were perfected and 
future action determined. Then and there they re- 
solved to purge the city of crime at the hazard of their 
lives and fortunes. Watches must be set, patrols 
established, and scouts sent out; evil-doers were to 
be hunted, and when caught, tried, fairly, consci- 
entiously, deliberately, and if guilty punished im- 
mediately. This was the simple plan, the code of 
common-sense, established by these men of practical 
determination. There was to be no friction of un- 
necessary agencies in their machinery; they knew 
when a vagabond deserved banishment or hanging, 
and they knew how to banish and hang; and this 
was enough. 

The protocol of the constitution is dated the 8th of 
June, at ^vhich time it was instituted and put into 
general effect. In the book of signers it is dated the 
9th of June, at which time it was finally adopted and 
signed. To the constitution S. E. Woodworth is the 
first signature; S. Brannan, the second; E. Gorham, 
the third ; Fred'k A. Woodworth, the fourth ; Geo. J. 
Oakes, the fifth; and so on. 


Following are the constitution and by-laws as 
adopted : 


" Whereas, It has become apparent to the citizens of San Francisco that 
there is no security for life and property, either under the regulations of so. 
ciety as it at present exists, or under the laws as now administered ; therefore, 
the citizens whose names are hereunto attached do unite themselves into 
an association for the maintenance of the peace and good order of society, and 
the preservation of the lives and property of the citizens of San Francisco, 
and do bind ourselves, each unto the other, to do and perform every lawful 
act for the maintenance of law and order, and to sustain the laws when faith, 
fully and properly administered ; but we are determined that no thief, burglar, 
incendiary, or assassin shall escape punishment, either by the quibbles of the 
law, the insecurity of prisons, the carelessness or corruption of the police, or 
a laxity of those who pretend to administer justice. And to secure the objects 
of this association we do hereby agree : First, That the name and style of the 
association shall be the Committee of Vigilance, for the protection of the citi- 
zens and residents of the city of San Francisco. Secondly, That there shall 
be a room selected for the meetings and deliberations of the committee, at 
which there shall be some one or more members of the committee, appointed 
for that purpose, in constant attendance, at all hours of the day and night, to 
receive the report of any member of the association, or of any other person or 
persons whatsoever, of any act of violence done to the person or property of 
any citizen of San Francisco; and if, in the judgment of the member or mem- 
bers of the committee present, it be such an act as justifies the interference 
of this committee, either in aiding in the execution of the laws or the prompt 
and summary punishment of the offender, the committee shall be at once as- 
sembled for the purpose of taking such action as a majority of the comnnttee 
when assembled shall determine upon. Thirdly, That it shall be the duty of 
any member or members of the committee on duty at the committee room, 
whenever a general assemblage of the committee is deemed necessary, to 
cause a call to be made by two strokes upon a bell, which shall be repeated 
with a pause of one minute between each alarm; the alarm to be struck until 
ordered stopped. Fourthly, That when the committee have assembled for 
action the decision of a majority present shall be binding upon the whole 
committee ; and that those members of the committee whose names are here- 
imto attached do pledge their honor, and hereby bind themselves, to defend 
and sustain each other in carrying out the determined action of this com 
mittee, at the hazard of their lives and their fortunes. Fifthly, That there 
shall be chosen monthly a president, secretary, and treasurer; and it shall be 
the duty of the secretary to detail the members required to be in daily attend- 
ance at the committee room. A sergeant-at-arms shall be appointed, whose 
duty it shall be to notify such members of their detail for duty. The sergeant- 
at-arms shall reside at and be in constant attendance at the committee room. 
There shall be a standing committee of finance and qualification, consisting of 
five each, and no person shall be admitted a member of this association unless 


he be a respectable citizen, and approved of by the committee on qualification 
before admission. " 


"Whereas, The citizens of San Francisco, convinced that there exists 
within these limits a band of robbers and incendiaries, who have several times 
burned and attempted to burn their city, who nightly attack their persons 
and break into their buildings, destroy their quiet, jeopardize their lives and 
proi^crty, and generally disturb the natural order of society; and whereas, 
many of those taken by the police have succeeded in escaping from their 
prisons by carelessness, by connivance, or from want of proper means or force 
to secure their safe confinement; therefore, be it 

^^ Resolved, That the citizens of this place be made aware that the Com- 
mittee of Vigilance will be ever ready to receive information as to the where- 
abouts of any disorderly or suspicious person, or persons, as well as the per- 
sons themselves, when suspected of crime. That as it is the conviction of a 
large portion of our citizens that there exists in this city a nucleus of convicts 
and disorderly persons, round which cluster those who have so seriously dis- 
turbed the peace and aflfected the best interests of our-city, suchas are known 
to the police of the city, or to members of the Committee of Vigilance, as 
felons, by conduct or association, be notified to leave this port within five 
days from this date; and at the expiration of which time they shall be com- 
pelled to depart, if they haA'^e not done so voluntarily within the time specified. 

'^Resolved, That a safety committee of thirty persons be appointed, whose 
sacred duty it shall be to visit every vessel arriving with notorious or suspicious 
characters on board ; and unless they can present to said committee evidence 
of good character and honesty, they shall be re-shipped to the places from 
whence they came, and not to be permitted to pollute our soil. 

' ' Resolved, That all good citizens be invited to j oin and assist the Committee 
of Vigilance in carrying out the above measures, so necessary for the perfect 
restoration of the peace, safety, and good order of our community." 

Signed to this were about two hundred names. The 
documents were then given to the pubhc journals for 
pubhcation, with the following remarks by the com- 
mittee : 

" The above, a portion of the Committee of Vigilance lately established in 
the city for the preservation of order, punishment of vice, and for the pur- 
pose of meting out that justice so long withheld from criminals, unwilling 
that the names of a few of their associates should be selected by the Coroner's 
Jury as the principal actors in the trial and execution of Jenkins, inform the 
public that they with all the members of the committee are equally re- 
sponsible for the first act of justice that has been dealt to a criminal in San 
Francisco since California became a state of our Union. Our fellow-citizens, 
remembering the escape of Withers, Daniels, and Adams, of Stuart, Wildred, 
and Watkins, and the tardy manner in which the incendiary Lewis is being 
brought to justice, will see the necessity of the stringent measures we have 




This publication also informed those friendly to the 
cause that the Committee of Vigilance had nothing 
secret in their proceedings but such matters as would 
tend to defeat the object for which they w^ere asso- 
ciated. After arranging for concert of action, the 
absence of which had been so severel}^ felt during the 
Burdue-Stuart affair; after establishing a watchword 
and a signal to be used to call members to the ren- 
dezvous, which was three taps — it had been two taps 
before — on the California Fire Company's bell, and de- 
tailing officers for immediate duty, enrolling a number 
of members, all among the most respectable and well 
known citizens, and after disposing of other needed 
business, the committee adjourned for the evening. 
I say they adjourned, but they did not disperse. The 
first great tragedy was to be enacted that night. 
Before these associates should sleep, their promises 
must be sealed in blood. 



So do the winds and thunder cleanse the air, 
So working bees settle and purge the wine; 

So lopp'd and pruned trees do flourish fair, 
So doth the tire the drossy gold refine. 


Throughout my examination of the subject of 
popular tribunals it has been my constant purpose to 
bring to light as much as possible the inner workings 
of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance, as that 
organization must ever be the grand and central figure 
in all such study. All that has hitherto been made 
public, all that has hitherto been known of it, is what 
was outwardly visible at the time. The institution 
was known only by its results. It was publicly ap- 
parent that such an association existed, and the watch- 
ful observer could easily ascertain where its members 
met. The people at large could see when an arrest 
was made; in the event of exile or execution they 
could see offenders shipped hence or hanged. But 
this was all. Of what was done within the walls; of 
the organization as such, its color, calibre, sentiment, 
purpose, and secret action, they knew absolutely 
nothing. Among the members themselves, the right 
hand knew not what the left hand did. Members of 
the general committee knew as little about the de- 
liberations and actions of the executive committee 
as those who were not members of the Vigilance 
Committee at all. 

The history of the movement, I clearly appre- 
hended, could not be fully written without careful 



inquiry into what was, of all things connected with 
it, the most closely guarded. For a long time I was 
peremptorily refused admission behind the scenes; 
for years the only answers I received to my constant 
importunities, to my arguments as to what I conceived 
to be their duty, their obligations to the world, in the 
matter were these : We do not wish to revive the 
past, melancholy as it is with dismal memories. We 
have no ambition to figure in history. In our action 
we only followed what we conceived to be our duty ; 
our conscience to-day approves; under like circum- 
stances we should do the same; but there are those 
whose opinions are worthy of as much consideration 
as ours who differ with us, and we do not care to 
discuss the question. Action was our logic, and the 
fruit of our deeds the end of the argument. We will 
not, we dare not say more. 

Nor was this an unnecessary precaution. In fact, 
if not so morally, these associates were legally out- 
laws. In the eyes of their government they were 
conspirators and murderers, and they could not be 
officially regarded as anything else. By these acts 
which they deemed necessary and righteous they laid 
themselves open to prosecution, which might result 
in fines, imprisonment, or even death. Should the 
law decline to act against public sentiment, should it 
refuse to exercise in its strict letter its power against 
its loyalist lovers, and visit with punishment the best 
citizens of the commonwealth, there were yet at large 
thwarted villains enough in whom burned so strong a 
desire for vengeance as to make assassination prob- 
able. Hence it became the vigilants to be wary and 
silent; hence, likewise, it was necessary that at all 
hazards they should stand by each other. 

But better counsel in due time prevailed, and once 
the barrier broken, every recess was thrown open to 
me without reserve. Not only was all existing writ- 
ten and printed material placed at my disposal, but 
the fountains of memory fairly opened, a stream of 


bright recollection flowed forth sucli as gladdened my 
thirsty pen. Supplementing their copious dictations 
with long and frequent interviews as my work pro- 
gressed, T am enabled to present what I cannot but 
regard as an important and wdiolly individual phe- 
nomenon in the history of the race, as distinctly and 
minutely as the most exact titudent of social develop- 
ment could desire. And here let me remark that the 
deeper I sounded the subject the more I became 
fascinated with it, and the clearer appeared to me the 
purity of purpose, the wisdom of counsel, and the 
masterly activity in execution, of those whose deeds 
I chronicle. 

It was on the north-east corner of Bush and San- 
some streets that Mr Brannan had his office. There 
in June, 1851, stood a row of two-story frame houses, 
in the corner one of which the order-loving citizens of 
San Francisco organized their first Committee, formed 
for the purpose of taking such measures as should be 
deemed necessar}^ to secure safety to person and prop- 
erty. The lot directly opposite on the same side of 
Sansome street was vacant and ungraded, and huge 
hillocks of undisturbed sand rolled off toward the 

The entrance to the committee rooms was on Bush 
street. The low ceiling and sides of the rooms were 
lined with white cotton cloth, made dingy by dust, 
wet by such portions of the previous winter's rain 
as could find its way through the cracks. To the 
feloniously afflicted a visit to the rooms was as terri- 
fying an adventure as a visit to the cave of Trophonius. 
Mr Brannan 's office was up a narrow flight of steep 
stairs, in a little room partitioned from the loft at the 
Bush-street end. His business was extensive; in the 
city he held much real estate, and in the country he 
was proprietor of farms and mines. It was in this 
little office that Neall and Oakes found him on the Sun- 
day afternoon named, for business men in those days 


did not usually close their offices on the Sabbath. 
On the floor below were three rooms, intended for 
stores, each fronting about twenty feet on Bush 
street, and running back to a depth of some fifty feet. 
The rooms were at that time vacant, being for rent. 
When the gathering of the citizens on Monday night 
had filled to overiiowing the middle room, Mr Bran- 
nan took a knife, and cutting the canvas at the sides 
and bottom, between portions of the studding, opened 
passage-ways to the rooms on either side. The aper- 
tures thus made were curtained by the still hanging 

There was little that was attractive about the 
place, and it offered few inducements to loungers. 
These rough rooms, wherefrom renovation should pro- 
ceed to cleanse the city of its foulness, contrasted 
strangely with the mirrored and bedizened walls of 
infamy. The gambler offered you brighter lights and 
softer seats, but his smile was the leering, jeering, 
sneering smile of Mephistopheles. 

Bound a plain table were a few chairs, on which 
were seated the more active workers of the assembly, 
the secretary, president, and those engaged in pre- 
paring articles of association and plans for future 
procedure; the rest stood in groups, leaned against 
the walls, or seated themselves on boxes and boards 
brought in through the back door. Little cared they 
for rest or comfort, they who purposed neither rest 
nor comfort for certain others. During" some of these 
intense excitements hundreds would remain on their 
feet with no thous^ht of food from morning^ till nio^ht, 
seemingly witliout knowing it, so lost were they in 
their surroundings. 

There was little to say in explanation why they 
had been called together, either at the meeting of 
Monday noon or Monday night. All knew the pur- 
pose of the convention, and it remained only to 
discuss the best method of accomplishing it. That 
which was most essential was absolute secrecy, and 


this was first of all enjoined. Slioiild courts, officers, 
and criminals, through the treachery of any, be made 
aware of their intentions, the best laid schemes were 
sure to be thwarted. To secure at once secrecy, con- 
cert of action, and efficiency, it was thought best to 
resolve the working material of the association into 
active and passive parts, the former to comprise the 
Executive Committee, who should rule, and the latter 
the General Committee, who should obey. 

And it was done. The executive committee thus 
became in reality the Vigilance Committee, and the 
general committee auxiliary to it. Of the vigilant 
forces the executive committee were the general and 
his officers, or the president and his cabinet, and the 
general committee the common soldiers. As a check 
upon the abuse or misrepresentation of power, it was 
made the duty of the executive committee, before 
ultimate action on important questions, to lay their 
propositions before the general committee and obtain 
the sanction of its members; but from the executive 
committee must issue all orders, and they alone were 
to be held responsible. 

Monday night the protocols of constitution and 
by-laws were drawn, and Tuesday night they were 
adopted. Officers were chosen and sub -committees 
appointed; and as the association met from day to 
day, new necessities brought forth new rules. This 
the records of the meetings will more clearly show, 
and to them I now refer. 

Selim E. Woodworth was the first president of the 
general committee, and Samuel Brannan the first 
president of the executive committee. Brannan's 
term of office expired in three months; then Stephen 
Payran was made president of the executive com- 
mittee, and after him Gerritt W. Byckman. Money 
was freely circulated in those days, and at times when 
enthusiasm ran high ten thousand dollars if necessary 
could be raised for a popular measure in an hour. 

The archives of the executive committee of 1851, 


which were kindly placed at my disposal by Mr Isaac 
Bluxome junior, secretary of the committees both of 
1851 and 1856, consist of books of record and bmidles 
of loose documents. The first book of the committee 
was that of the signers of the constitution. It is a 
cap half- bound record, and the constitution occupies 
the first two pages. On the margin of the second 
page are the words: President, S. E. Wood worth; 
Treasurer, Eug. Delessert; Secretar}^ Is. Bluxome; 
and in another handwriting. Constitution adopted 
June 9, 1851. Following the constitution are seven 
hundred and sixteen signers, their names, places of 
business, and residence. A separate book was kept 
by the qualification committee, in which were entered 
the names of those applying for membership, and by 
whom recommended. If approved, such a})proval is 
noted and signed by the qualification committee. A 
long narrow index-book was used for the purpose of 
noting delinquents, and from this fines were reckoned. 
As a rule members paid their fines cheerfully and 

The si<yners of the constitution were numbered as 
the names were written, and each was called by his 
number. Admission of members to the meetinof was 
much the same as at a freemason's lodge; the appli- 
cant, if unknown by sight to the door-keeper, called 
his name and number, and was identified by the ser- 
geant-at-arms. At times when extraordinary caution 
was necessary a password was used. Then there is 
the cash-book, kept by Eugene Delessert, treasurer, 
in account with the Committee of Vigilance, and con- 
tinued by Georixe Ward. Amonc: the chief items of 
expense w^ere $192 the 14th of July for boat hire; 
passage, A. Wright, 19th of July, §100; trip to Sac- 
ramento and expenses there in the arrest of B. Kay, 
same date, $134. Other expenses in July, use of 
steam-tug and boats, §100; rent, $400; expenses 
of Rider, Reynolds, and ]\IcDuflie, $19G.50; carriage 
hira, $16; A. J. McDufBo, sergeant-at-arms, services 


rendered, $150; and divers amounts paid newspapers, 
and for lumber, carpenter work, furniture, stationery, 
and other supplies. In July was also paid the pas- 
sage money of George Hopkins, $100; travelling ex- 
penses of H. Miller, $100; McDuffie's services, $234.44. 
On the nth of August was paid the sheritf's passage 
by the steamer Ohio, $135; the 11th of September, 
$50 was paid for carriage hire, and on the 13th, $225 
passage money for prisoners. Notwithstanding the 
grave matters before them, creature comforts were 
not wholly neglected, as among other items I find 
paid the Oriental Hotel $200, and the club-house, for 
gin, brandy, and cigars, $58. Boat hire constituted 
a large item of expense. None of the members of 
the executive committee drew salaries except the 
secretary. Drinks are entered in the expenses of 
aofents and detectives in common with steam-boat fare 
or any other outlay. 

The revenue of the committee was derived chiefly 
from the five -dollar subscriptions of members, and 
donations from merchants and others. During the 
month of June, a bank account was kept with James 
King of Wm., with v/liom was deposited $1,670.97. 
The account continues only through the month of 
June, and the bank-book is not balanced. This ac- 
count is kept with J. W. Salmon, treasurer. Mr 
Salmon was the first treasurer and Eugene Delessert 
the second. Salmon's account, dated the 7th of July, 
shows receipts according to the above amount de- 
posited, all of which was paid out for rent, carpenters, 
water, police, sergeant-at-arms' salary, etc., except 
$112.48, which Mr Salmon handed his successor, Mr 
Delessert. C. H. Miller presents a claim the 22d 
of July, ''for cash expended by him in going to and 
returning from Sacramento City three times for the 
purpose of arresting Jimmy-from-Town, Dab Ains- 
worth, and George Adams, $100," which was allowed 
and paid. 

Eugene Delessert opens his cash-book the 1st of 


July, 1851, with the amount received from his pre- 
decessor. During his term, which lasted until May, 
1852, the receipts were §7,791.80, at which time 
there was due him from the association $220.38. 
Georofe R. Ward then assumed the office of treasurer, 
and up to October 7, 1852, the date of the last entry, 
the book shows receipts to the amount of $330.76. 
Herewith I give facsimiles of money-orders : 



The roll-call of the executive committee forms a 
separate book of fifty-one names in all, though some 
from time to time were erased. This roll begins with 
the 24th of September, 1851, and continues, with in- 
tervals of about a week between each call, to the 29th 
of April, 1852. Every member was required to pay 
to the treasurer the sum of five dollars on joining. 
At a meeting of the executive committee, held tlit? 
2 2d of October, it was ordered that a safe should be 
purchased, in w^hich the secretary should keep the 
books and papers of the association. 

The Committee of 1851 was not as complex in its 
mechanism as the Committee of 185G. The former 
had no military organization like that of the latter, 





but a police organization only; yet in case of emer- 
gency the officers of the association had a way of 
speedily adapting their forces to circumstances. 

Beside the regular police there was a water police, 
of which Ned Wakeman was chief The regular police 
were paid, but often members were detailed for police 
duty who drew no pay. The city was districted, and 
a committee appointed to oversee the affairs of each 
district. The water police were stationed along the 
city front to keep an eye on ships and sailors, and to 
watch for thieves accustomed to enter from beneath 
stores built over the water. Charles Minturn was in 
the steam-boat business then, running the Senator on 
the Sacramento River, and was supposed to have in 
his possession a large amount of money. So it was 
with others.' There being no banks of deposit enjoy- 
ing the confidence of the community, merchants kept 
their money in their stores; and often large amounts 
of gold dust were separated from the pirates under- 
neath only by the thin partition of the floor. Curs 
were not so plenty in California then as now; few 
cared to keep a dog at an expense of one or two dol- 
lars a day. 

The sergeant-at-arms might call on any member, not 
otherwise en2fa2:ed in the service of the Committee, at 
any time, for special duty. A printed form was fur- 
nished for the summons, which read as follows : 


*' Andrew Anderson : 

"You are detailed for secret duty from ten o'clock to twelve o'clock 
to-night, and will report accordingly to the Sergeant-at-Arms at the 
Committee Room. No. 58. 

^' San Francisco, June 19, ISSl." 

It was resolved on the 27th of June that each 
member should report himself at the committee 
rooms once in every twenty-four hours. 

Copies of passenger-lists of vessels arriving from 
certain ports were obtained^ and the character of the 


new arrivals carefully examined. Out of mercy for 
their historian I beg the coming committees of vigil- 
ance to date their documents. In the huge inter- 
mixture before me are hundreds of letters, reports, 
resolutions, and even examinations and confessions, 
to which it is impossible to give their proper place in 
this history, from the fact that they bear no date. 
What is strange about it is that most of these doc- 
uments are written by business men, who would 
never think of sending out a business letter with such 
an omission. 

Some of the minutes of meetings, notices, com- 
plaints, evidence, and reports are carelessly dated 1851 
during the early part of 1852, before the writer had 
become accustomed to the new year. These blunders 
I am able to detect by comparing such papers with the 
events spoken of Fortunately, from the records and 
from their connection therewith, I am able to place 
the most important of these documents, but the labor 
is doubled from their lackinof date. 

The vigilance system was one of popular espionage, 
the most extensive and complete a liberal government 
has ever seen. Every man was a spy on every other 
man. Opposition was intimidated by the watchful 
eye and silent tongue. Often a bad man did not know 
his bedfellow, or when or where to speak his mind. 

One day a group of men, gathered in the bar-room 
of the Union Hotel, stood talking somewhat too 
loudly and vehemently against the ' stranglers,' when 
Mr Kyckman stepped in for his luncheon. After 
listening attentively for a few moments, though with- 
out appearing to notice them, he stepped up to one 
of the chief speakers, a wealthy, influential man, whom 
he well knew, and called him aside, saying he wished 
to speak a word with him. When they were alone 
Kyckman drew from his pocket an imprint of the 
watchful eye, the emblem of the organization, and 
showing it to him, said: 


*^ The Committee will see you at their rooms this 
evening at eight o'clock." 

^^My God, Kyckman! what do you mean? Surely 
you are not one of them?" 

''I mean what I say," answered Ryckman. ^' These 
men are staking their lives and fortunes for the gen- 
eral good, and they shall not be vilified in my hear- 
ing behind their backs. If you have any charges to 
make, and will substantiate them, they will listen to 
your accusation against themselves, or any one of 
their number, as dispassionately as they will listen to 
my accusation against you. Good-day. You will be 
there at the appointed hour." 

As Ryckman moved off, his quondam friend seized 
hold of him, and in the most piteous terms begged him 
to recall the order for his arrest, promising respectful 
prudence for the future. With some further words 
of admonition, to this at length Ryckman was con- 
strained to yield assent, and so left him. 

The sergeant -at -arms reports, at the meeting of 
July 4th, numbers 317, 2G4, and 236 as injurious to 
the Committee, and thenceforth those members were 
refused admission. 

Pop. Tbib., Vol. I. 15 



A dismal universal liiss, the sound of public scorn. 


In Washington Block, on Long Wharf, was the 
shipping office of Mr Virgin. It was customary, 
under the reckless regime of that business epoch, for 
merchants and others to leave their offices unlocked 
during the day, coming and going at pleasure, while 
in the drawer or money-box might be thousands of 
dollars in gold. Prior to this time it was even more 
common. Mr Neall informs me that in 1849, often 
on Sunday he would tie his tent strings, take his gun, 
and march off over the sand-hills, leaving thus exposed 
his stock, and sometimes fifty thousand dollars in gold 
dust locked in a little iron box which one blow of a 
hammer would shiver. This spirit of indifference to 
money among money-making men, and the absence of 
suspicion between those so lately strangers, is one of 
the strangest characteristics of the times. It is no 
wonder that the men of Sydney, accustomed to the 
ponderous vaults which barred their fingers from the 
property of their English brethren, should laugh with- 
in their hearts at the shrewd simplicity of these care- 
less money- getters. 

Like his neighbors, Mr Virgin kept his money in a 
small iron safe, such as a strong man could easily 
carry, and on leaving his office he never thought of 
locking the door. There was a stranger Mr Virgin 
had noticed several times of late lounging about the 
wharf; a tall, powerful man, with keen, restless eyes, 



though, as the shipping agent imagined, a somewhat 
sinister expression about the face. He was just the 
person, one would think, successfully to cope with 
difficulties in virtuous endeavor in such a place as 
California. Indeed he once entered Mr Virgin's office 
and spoke of passage to the upper country and of the 
several chances for an honest man in various parts; 
and although to the intuitive perceptions of the Cali- 
fornian these lacked the genuine ring of honest pur- 
pose, the shipping agent thought little of it, as there 
were hundreds of adventurers who came to him daily, 
destined they knew not whither. 

For several days this man had been lurking about, 
awaiting such time as would at once find this office 
empty and the coast clear without; for the truth is, 
the Sydney stranger, for such he was, had some time 
since resolved to appropriate to himself in one lump 
the proceeds of many laborers rather than to go and 
dig for himself. There was greater risk in such ad- 
venture, and greater skill required in its achievement, 
but he would undertake it. 

The time chosen was Tuesday, the 10th of June, 
1851, tow^ard the dusk of evening. Mr Virgin was 
absent from his office attendinof to the sailins^ of one 
of his vessels, and the attention of lounixers about the 
w^harf was momentarily called in the same direction. 
It was a bold, a brazen thing to do; one would think 
the chances altogether against the thief. And so they 
were; but when philosophers in some certain quarters 
of their mind are such fools, when the ablest scholars 
in science, divinity, and jurisprudence as a rule in- 
dulge each in some quaint absurdity of so simple a 
nature as to call to the face of homely common-sense 
a smile, surely we should not look for perfection in 
skilled villainy. It is asking too much of the genius 
of rascality that every thread of logic in its hypotheses 
should be equally strong while the genius of morality 
is often so bat-blind and owlish. 

He would try it. Throwing round him one last 


hurried glance, he thenceforth shut his eyes to con- 
sequences, and stepping into the office he seized the 
safe, shpped round the building, and dropping it into 
a boat ready for the purpose, shot from the wharf 
It was all done in an instant; and once out upon the 
Bay with his prize he did not stop to see what was to 
come of it, but pulled away with all his might for the 
opposite shore. 

Virgin shortly returned and missed his safe. Raising 
the alarm, he soon found several who had seen the 
man with his burden, and instantly a dozen boats 
were in hot pursuit. 

At such a time every right-thinking man made his 
neiofhbor's cause his own. This was another of the 
peculiarities of Californian character incident to the 
times. I do not mean to say that it is uncommon or 
less natural for virtue to band for self-protection than 
for vice; but in California more than elsewhere, and 
then more than now, there was manifest a fraternal 
feeling among both the good and the bad such as I 
have never" witnessed elsewhere. In coming hither 
all were strangers in a strange land; all had much in 
common; each carried his fortune in his own hand; 
in the absence of firm general rule each alone felt 
unprotected; hence there was more than ordinarily 
apparent that natural uniting instinctive to weakness. 

One boat with but a sino^le oarsman, even thouo^h 
he were a strong man whose life depended on his 
exertion, was no match for a dozen boats well manned 
by skilful rowers; so the thief soon saw, as he would 
say, that the game was up. But they should not have 
the money though he swung for it. What he could 
not enjoy they should not. Half the battle would be 
won, though they should capture him, if he could 
cheat them of one of the objects of their eager pur- 
suit; so he threw the safe overboard and pulled away 
harder than ever. 

But all in vain; for presently he saw his head sur- 
rounded by twenty open-mouthed pistols, each thirsty 


to drink his life. The call to stop was unnecessary; 
the thief rested on his oars and was a prisoner. The 
spot was marked by his pursuers where the safe was 
dropped ; and while some stopped to fish it out, which 
was successfully accomplished, others conveyed the 
prisoner to the new tribunal of the people, as the one 
most proper to administer justice according to the 
temper of the times. Two or three policemen made 
their appearance after the man w^as taken, and sug- 
gested that they had a safe and proper place for him; 
but they were told not to disturb their sleep by looking 
after other people's prisoners. 

The citizens' meeting at Brannan's stores on this 
Tuesday night, as vvo have seen, was adjourned, al- 
though the members of the nev/ly organized association 
had not dispersed. While they were conversing upon 
affairs yet uppermost in their minds a knock was heard, 
and word came in that a thief had been taken, and 
that his captors waited v/ ith him outside. They w^ere 
ordered in. Quicker than had been surmised was here 
an opportunity to test the new machinery, and see 
how the so lately improvised judicial engine under 
action would behave. 

As the prisoner, closely guarded, entered, the Cali- 
fornia Company's bell sounded the alarm, calling all 
good citizens to rally to the support of their Com- 
mittee. The thing was not done stealthily, under 
cover of darkness, as we have so often been told. I 
have it on the authority of Mr Neall himself that his 
associate, Mr Oakes, with a billet of wood in his own 
hand, struck the bell tv^enty times and more, three 
strokes and a pause each sounding, such being the 
siofnal ac^reed on. 

Still surrounded by his captors with cocked pistols 
in their hands, the prisoner was placed before his 
judges. Kougli, tall, powerful, of fine physique, with 
English dress and cast of feature, he stood glaring 
defiance through the dim candle-light like a foiled 
Argantes. He was an Australian convict, and known 


to many present as an old offender. Simpton was his 
true name, but he called himself John Jenkins; and 
in so far as this apparent predilection is concerned we 
will humor him, and so pass him to posterity. He 
was a vicious-looking man, a desperate character, who 
on many occasions had eluded justice, and his record 
would entitle him to the severest punishment. All 
this could be easily proven. 

Few who heard the strokes upon the California 
Company's bell on that night knew the exact purport 
of its sounding. They knew that the confused events 
of the last several months had boded dire combustion ; 
but speaking little, each joined the throng, which was 
soon discovered to be leading to the little frame house 
standing on the corner of Bush and Sansome streets. 

The executive committee immediately organized as 
a court, with the president, Samuel Brannan, as chief 
judge, and the members of the Committee as associate 
judges. The sergeant-at-arms was required to clear 
the rooms of all save the members and officers of the 
tribunal, which now numbered about seventy names. 
Tlie case was then opened and testimony taken. To 
prove the last offence was a simple matter, as there 
were present many well known and highly credible 
witnesses fresh from the scene. It was then proposed 
to inquire into his previous conduct, and bring testi- 
mony, if obtainable, in regard to former crimes. This 
was easily done, as there were those present in the 
gathered multitude without who knew him well, and 
his acts were bold and recent. A committee was 
ajopointed to obtain witnesses for the accused. 

Both before and after the arrest of Jenkins quiet 
and good order prevailed. Within the committee 
room there was no undue excitement, and without 
there was no disturbance. Yet notwithstanding the 
general calmness there was no little nervousness be- 
neath the surface of things. Here was a desperate 
deed, unparalleled in its audacity, done in the teeth 
and at the very moment of the vigilance organization. 


At one time during the proceedings there appeared 
to be some faltering on the part of the judges, or 
rather a hesitancy to take the lead in assuming re- 
sponsibility, and braving what might be subsequent 
odium. It was one thing for a half-drunken rabble to 
take the life of a fellow- man, but quite another thing 
for staid church-going men of business to do it. Then 
it was that William A. Howard, a man of impetuous 
bravery, after watching the cooling zeal for a few 
moments, rose, and laying his revolver on the table, 
looked about over the assembly; then in slow, clear 
enunciation said: "Gentlemen, as I understand it, 
we are here to hang somebody I" The look and man- 
ner were enouG^h; there was no more haltinof. 

The trial lasted until eleven o'clock, when the 
prisoner was conducted to an adjoining room, and the 
jury were called to render their decision. The ver- 
dict was unanimous; the prisoner was guilty and 
should be hanged. 


"The sooner the better; immediately. Safety de- 
manded prompt action in the exercise of this new 

Ryckman entered the prisoner's room and made 
known to him the decision of the tribunal. 

"Bosh I" was the only reply. 

"Tell me truly, what is your name?" asked Ryck- 

" John Jenkins." 

" Mr Jenkins, you are to die before daybreak." 

"No, I am not." 

"Have you any money or message to send your 

" No." 

"Do you wish me to write to any one for you?" 

" No." 

" Can I do anything for you?" 

"Yes; give me some brandy and a cigar." These 
were given him. He drank deep, and smoked with. 


a relish. Mr Ryckman then asked tlie eondeiiiiied 
if he would like a clergyman; and if so, of what 
denomination. Jenkins, after receiving repeated as- 
surances that his death was near, intimated that if he 
must have one he would prefer an Episcopalian; 
accordingly the Kev. Mr Mines was sunnnoned and 
came immediately. 

Mr Mines had not been long alone. with the pris- 
oner before the Committee began to be impatient. It 
was the sentiment of the meeting that prayers and 
exhortations should be short, as well as trials and 
executions. The police might rally and attempt a 
rescue; then Broderick, too, was out with all his force, 
and strongly opposed to the Committee. At last Mr 
Ryckman could curb his restlessness no longer, and 
entering again the prisoner's room, he said: "Mr 
Mines, you have now consumed three quarters of an 
hour, and I want you to bring this prayer business to 
a close. I am going to hang this man in fifteen min- 

Throughout the entire proceedings the bearing of 
the prisoner was defiant and insulting. He confidently 
expected to be rescued at any moment, and openly 
intimated as much. Indeed, while the trial was in 
progress the Committee were informed by its officers 
that already the roughest characters throughout the 
city were fully apprised of the organization, and they 
knew that one of their number was that night taken 
before it. Mino'lino' with the crowd around the 
building, listening to what was said, and watching 
those that entered and came out, it was easy to see 
that something unusually stern was going on within; 
and they might well infer, if they purposed to save 
their comrade, they had best rally to his rescue soon. 
When the verdict of the jury was told the prisoner, 
he heaped on them maledictions and told them to do 
their worst. 

The sentence of immediate execution was opposed 
by some, on the ground that it was neither manly 


nor politic. ''To hang him at night, in such hot 
haste," said Coleman, "would be to lay at our door 
an undeserved imputation of cowardice. Though our 
judgments be in secret, our deeds should be visible 
in the broad light of open day; let this unfortunate 
man be held till morning, then let him be hanged by 
the light of the rising sun." This sentiment, however, 
found few supporters; and when the clergyman came 
in soon after and reported the criminal impenitent, 
when he informed them that for his prayers he re- 
ceived naught but curses, those who had advised delay 
gave way and offered no further objection to imme- 
diate action. 

While this was going on, it had been thought best 
to test the quality and sentiment of the people sur- 
rounding the building, to tell them what the Com- 
mittee had done, and what it now proposed to do. 

" Sam, you go out and harangue the crowd," said 
Ryckman to Brannan, ''v/liile we make ready to 
move." Mr Brannan assented, first asking Mr James 
C. L. Wadsworth to accompany him. The two gentle- 
men went out, and the crowd opened a passage- w^ay 
for them. Mr Brannan was a fit match for liiT^htinor 
the popular flame. As ready in the use of invective 
as the great high-priest of his Mormon order; as full 
of oaths, as flatly coarse, and roundly ribald as a chief 
of banditti, no one w^as more apt in such an emer- 
gency than he. Ascending the mound of sand oppo- 
site the old Bassette House, Mr Brannan poured forth 
a torrent of words such as would drown a philippic of 
Demosthenes. He abjured the law-courts, execrated 
the judges, and taunted the people for their tame 
submission to criminal rule. Finally he informed 
them that he, in company with Mr Wadsworth, had 
been deputed by the Committee to report what they 
had done. After an impartial trial the prisoner had 
been found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, the 
execution to take place on the plaza in one hour. A 
clergyman had been sent for, and all things should be 


done in accordance with the solemnity of the occasion; 
and he charged the people, as tliey valued the peace 
and dignity of the commonwealth, to make no rush 
or disturbance during the solemn scene which was to 
follow, assuring them that the Committee would en- 
deavor to conduct everything to their satisfaction. 

'^And now," said he, "tell me, does tlie action of 
the Committee meet with your approval?" 

A mingled shout of 'ays' and 'noes' went up 
from the crowd, with cheers and cries of "Who is the 
speaker?" "Who are the Committee?" "No names!" 
"No names!" The 'ays' were largely in the ma- 
jority, and the crowd moved off toward the plaza. 

A committee was then appointed, consisting of 
Coleman, Wakeman, and Schenck, to select a place 
and make arrangements for the execution, and to re- 
port as soon as possible. The three men set out at a 
round pace on their mission, and although it was then 
after twelve o'clock they found the city sleeph^ss, and 
the streets alive with people. There seemed to be 
something magnetic about tlie old plaza, for whenever 
young San Francisco had any special prank in hand 
that was almost sure to be the play-ground chosen. 
After discussing the advantages of several points, the 
three midnight gibbet-hunters finally settled upon 
making use of the old adobe custom-house building 
then standing in the plaza. No sooner had they 
arrived at a decision than a messenger was despatched 
to head-quarters, sa3dng that all would be ready in 
fifteen minutes. The arrangements were soon com- 
pleted. A rope was thrown over a high beam of the 
veranda at the south end of the building, a noose 
was made at one end of it, and all was ready. 

At half-past one the door was thrown open, and 
the members of the Committee passed out into the 
street. There they found that the people had not 
been wholly unmindful of them; for two large ropes 
had been procured and were held by lines of men on 
either side of the entrance, leaving a passage-way for 


the Committee, and at the same time forming a barrier 
to protect them from the pressure of the crowd. The 
Committee then formed within the ropes, in two hnes 
of two abreast ; the prisoner, bound, and under a strong 
guard, was placed between them; the hnes were then 
closed at either end, and thus they marched quickstep 
toward the plaza. 

Among the number was little George Ward, as 
brimful of snap as a fire -cracker, and as brave as 
Jack the Giant -Killer. As he marched, marched 
away, brandishing his weapon as one bent on doughty 
deeds, Ned Wakeman cried out, "Take the pistol 
away from that boy; he will hurt somebody 1" 

Before marching, Bluxome tapped his revolver and 
said to the prisoner: "In any attempt which may be 
made to take you out of our hands, at the first move- 
ment you make to escape, you die. That is my part 
of this night's programme." "Yes, sir!" chimed in 
Ward, "if the police attempt to seize you, sir, we 
will blow your head off, sir!" 

As the Committee started their prisoner on his last 
earthly walk the California Company's bell tolled the 
death knell of the condemned, striking in the stillness 
of the niglit upon tlie cars of that outraged community 
with awful soleumity. Fainter and fainter the strokes 
were heard, like the dying of earthly sounds to the 
departing soul, as the column marched away; but 
as it neared the scene of execution the Monumental 
Company's bell struck clear and full upon the ear. 
Ah! then and since, at the tolling of that Monu- 
mental bell, how the consciences of its hearers were 
pricked; how to guilty souls accusing voices whispered; 
how hearts sank, and breaths thickened, and limbs 
trembled, until, like Eugene Aram, they were seized 
with an irresistible impulse to confess their sins and 
yield themselves up to justice! 

]\Iean while the officers of the law and the des- 
peradoes had not been idle. Their emissaries kept 
them fully informed as to the movements about the 


Committee rooms; and when the cohimn formed in 
front of the door they quiekly knew it, and determined 
on an attack. Collecting about the- corner of Clay 
and Kearny streets, they waited the approaching pro- 
cession. But the Vigilance Committee were made 
aware of their intention, and were prepared for them. 
All had their weapons ready, and were determined, if 
necessary, to use them. If thwarted now they felt 
that they might almost as well abandon the country 
as attempt its purgation further. As they approached 
the plaza, Benjamin Ray, chief of police, made a dash 
for the prisoner; but this was more a feint made under 
color of duty than a real attempt at rescue. He was 
easily thrust aside, and then was plainly told that he 
had better keep away. The desperadoes were next 
upon them, but they were beaten back without much 
difficulty, and the column continued its way unbroken. 
Near the centre of the plaza stood the liberty pole; 
and as they entered the square some thought the 
purpose was to use it as a gallows. 

'^ No, no ! not there !" they shouted. '' Don't dese- 
crate the flag!" So said the unreasoning rabble; for 
if it was a righteous deed that was to be done how 
would it hurt the flag? 

Some confusion ensued; but soon the patriotic 
populace was made aware that such was not the in- 
tention, and all was quiet again. Arrived at the south 
porch of the old adobe, the prisoner was placed beneath 
the rope, which passed through a pulley fastened to 
the railing of the veranda, and about half- past two 
the noose was adjusted round his neck. 

"Every lover of liberty and good order lay hold!" 
cried Brannan; and scarcely were the words uttered 
when fifty hands grasped the rope, and with a sudden 
jerk which broke his neck the unfortunate man was 
lifted upward, and his guilty soul shot hence into the 
unknown realm of the beyond. 

During the latter part of this tragic scene the 
condemned had manifested the utmost indifference. 


Though he well knew that the failure of the fraternity 
to rescue him sealed his doom, he was calm and 
couraoj'eous to the last. He marched to his death 
with firm step and fearless eye, smoking the while, 
and died with a cigar in his mouth. 

The body was left hanging, under a strong citizens* 
guard, until six o'clock, when it w^as given up to the 
authorities, and was cut down by the city marshal. 
Two hundred and eighteen dollars were found in the 
pockets of the deceased, which went to defray the 
burial expenses. 

While it was absolutely necessary that the Vigilance 
Committee should keep its own counsel, that its in- 
vestigations and intentions should rest a profound 
secret in the breast of the few, the members were no 
less determined that every one of their acts should be 
performed as under the eye of God, as under the 
direction of a pure conscience, and should be such as 
might not fear the after scrutiny of their fellow-men. 
Some now felt the responsibility so burdensome that, 
while their hearts were in the cause, their courage was 
made craven by fears of the consequence. But of the 
executive committee there were comparatively few so 
stricken. Some natures, good enough in their way, 
shrink from dangerous responsibility; some are cowards 
by instinct. Such the stronger souled bowed kind God- 
speed to the conmiittee room door, and bade them go, 
then turned their thoughts to practical justice. Up 
to this time no oath of secrecy had been administered 
to members of the Committee; all that was required 
for admission into the society w^as a recommendation 
from a member who vouched for the character of the 

The testimony of Mr Brannan at the coroner's 
inquest, held the day following, furtlier illustrates 
the objects of the association and the manner in 
which the trial was conducted. But it must be re- 
membered that the operations of the Committee were 


not then systematized in all their parts, nor did Mr 
Brannan deem it prudent to tell all he knew. Some 
questions he declined to answer. Wliat he said was 
as follows : Tliat he first saw the man at the corner 
of Bush and Sansome streets. Two men held him 
by the arms, who said that they had arrested him. 
He was not then handcuffed or pinioned. He was 
tried fairly, by sixty or eighty person?^, and the ver- 
dict of guilty was unanimous. The jury impanelled 
themselves; they were composed of the committee 
of safety, all citizens of the town. He had heard 
threats made against the lives and property of the 
members; a prisoner in the county prison swore 
that he, Brannan, should not live ninety days. He 
knew of nothing done by the Committee that they 
would conceal from the officers of the law under 
proper circumstances. 

On the other hand. Hall McAllister testified that, 
going to the committee rooms about twelve o'clock, 
he endeavored to obtain admittance, but was re- 
pulsed. He saw others give the countersign and 
enter, each whispering to the door-keeper the pass- 
word, which obtained him entrance. He neither 
participated in the proceedings nor sympathized with 
the party; later he was disgusted at what he deemed 
an outrage. 

*'No man need be afraid to let his children know 
the part he took in that transaction," writes the 
editor of the Courier, three days after the event. 
Speaking of the constitution and by-laws of the 
Vigilance Committee, which appeared in the public 
prints of the 13th of June, signed by the then exist- 
ing members, the Herald says: ''If any guaranty 
were requisite of the justice and fairness of the pro- 
ceedings of Tuesday night, it is furnished in this array 
of names, the most respectable and influential in the 
city. That the Committee did not sit with closed 
doors for any sinister purpose will likewise be evident 
from this voluntary publication." 


At the coroner's inquest the following verdict was 
rendered : 

*' We, the jurors of a jury of inquest impanelled by the coroner of the 
county of San Francisco to inquire into the cause of the death of one John 
Jenkins, alias Simpton, do find, upon their oaths, that the said Jenkins, alias 
Simpton, came to his death on the morning of the 11th of June, between the 
hours of two and three o'clock, by violent means, by strangulation, caused by 
being suspended by the neck with a rope attached to the south end of the 
adobe building on the plaza, at the hands of, and in pursuance of a precon- 
certed action on the part of an association of citizens, styling themselves a 
Committee of Vigilance, of whom the following members are implicated by 
direct testimony, to wit : Capt. Edgar Wakeman, Wm. H. Jones, James C. 
Ward, Edward A. King, T. K. Battelle, Benj. Reynolds, J. S. Eagan, J. C. 
Derby, and Samuel Brannan." 

To which the Committee made reply: 

"■Resolved, That we, the members of the Committee of Vigilance, remark 
with surprise the invidious verdict rendered by the coroner's jury upon their 
inquest upon the body of Jenkins, after we have all notified the said jury and 
the public that we are all participators m the trial and execution of said 
Jenlcins. AVc desire that the public will understand that Captain E. Wake- 
man, W. H. Jones, James C. Ward, Edward A. King, T. K, Battelle, 
Benjamin Reynolds, J. S. Eagan, J. C. Derby, and Sam'l Brannan, have 
been unnecessarily picked from our number, as the coroner's jury have had 
full evidence of the fact that all the undersigned have been equally impli- 
cated, and are equally responsible with their above named associates. " 

This was signed by one hundred and eighty mem- 
bers of the Committee, and published in the public 
journals of the day. 



Solid men of Boston, banish long potations; 
Solid men of Boston, make no long orations. 


The association was admirably systematized, dis- 
playing marked ability on the part of the manage- 
ment. Each member of the general committee, 
whether composed of fifty, five hundred, or five 
thousand men, knew his place, knew exactly what to 
do when an alarm sounded ; and further than that he 
knew nothing. He could keep well the secret which 
was never intrusted him. He knew enough, but not 
too much; enough to direct him on all occasions what 
to do, but not enough to enable him to question and 
to cavil. 

It was the duty of the executive committee to see 
that every person brought before them accused of 
crime should have a fair trial; that none should be 
convicted upon less testimony, setting aside legal 
technicalities and court clap-trap, than would suffice 
to convict in any respectable court of justice. The 
executive committee made no arrests, unless it so 
happened that some member of irrepressible activity 
should pick up a criminal now and then; but it w^as 
their province to take cognizance of everything con- 
nected with the association, great and small. This 
was the central power round which all interests re- 
volved. It was the inquisition, the privy council, the 
secret spring that moved the ponderous machinery, 
the living, thinking soul, of which the general com- 
mittee was the body corporate. All power was lodged 



in them; all secrets were lodged with them; all 
orders emanated from them, and every member of 
the association was bound to obey unquestioningly, 
unhesitatingly, and as blindly as a common soldier 
obeys his commanding officer. 

When an arrest was made, the usual course was 
first to confine the prisoner, under guard, in a room 
or cell provided for that purpose, until an examina- 
tion could be made. A sub-committee was then ap- 
pointed by the executive committee to make the 
investigation, the results of which were reported to 
the executive committee for final action. When 
brought before the Committee, the prisoner was first 
examined as to his antecedents, inquiries made into 
his present life, and then investigations made of any 
charges that should be brought against him. One 
might think that a stranger telling his own story 
could deceive at pleasure. But this was not so easily 
done. No one was arrested except for some cause. 
Before and after the arrest all information possible 
concerning the culprit was obtained and laid before 
the Committee. The prisoner was unaware what his 
inquisitors knew or did not know; and with a score 
or two of sharp eyes upon him, he felt neither com- 
fort nor confidence in his lying. After the trial and 
conviction of a criminal b}'^ the executive committee 
the case was referred for approval and confirmation: 
to the general committee, who almost invariably 
confirmed the decision of the executive committee^. 
Often a tale of innocence such as an angel might, 
tell was interrupted with questions like these: ''My 
good man, do you not know there is not a word of 
truth in what you are saying? Do you not knou^ 
that you were put on board the Susan Wright^ bound 
for Australia, the 13th of September, 1843, in irons^ 
and that you came to California with money stolen 
at Hobart Town? Do you not know that on the- 
night of the fire, the 4th of May, you were in tha 
Magnolia saloon, and not at San Jos^, as you have 

Pop. Tkib., Vol, I. 16 


said? Unless, sir, you can speak the truth, you will 
be sent back to your cell and tried on more trust- 
worthy testimony." 

The records of the executive committee begin 
with the 16th of June, with Samuel Brannan as 
chairman and David S. Turner secretary. At this 
meeting it was ordered that the captains of the night 
patrol be vested with full powers by the executive 
committee to act as they might see fit; and further, 
to have the privilege of choosing for the guard such 
men from the general committee as they should please; 
and that the said captains of patrol should be in- 
structed to keep all information they might acquire 
during the night a profound secret pending the action 
of the executive committee to make it known to the 
general committee. 

On motion of Wm. T. Coleman it was ordered that 
^11 refreshments should be placed under the control of 
the sergeant-at-arms, and by him dealt out only to 
members on duty; and that spirituous liquors for the 
use of the Committee sliould be excluded from the 
building. It was likewise directed that the heads of 
committees should be instructed to keep secret all in- 
formation which might come to their knowledge. 
Taking the floor, Mr Brannan urged that some one 
should wait upon the district attorney and learn the 
particulars of a certain criminal case then pending, 
and all other matters of interest to the cause. This 
measure was resolved on ; and also that a committee of 
three should wait on the mayor and the sheriff, ascer- 
tain their strength, the strength of prisons, the con- 
dition of prisoners, and their disposition to cooperate 
with the Committee in their work of reform. 

The last entry in the first book of minutes of the 
association is under date of July 4, 1851. Between 
this date and the opening of the large book of pro- 
ceedings the I7th of September the interval is left 
without record save on loose papers, the writing on 
which is oftentimes half obliterated. 


During the most of this time, that is to say from 
June to September, the executive committee met 
and held court every day. There was work enough 
to keep them all busy. Information concerning crimes 
and criminals came pouring in on them from every 
quarter. Individual informers and country committees 
of vigilance were hourly notifying the Committee of 
the whereabouts of felons who must be hunted down 
and brought to trial. With a large, active, and en- 
thusiastic police force constantly bringing up cases 
requiring the most careful consideration; with the 
rapid arrival of vessels having on board convicts and 
questionable characters, involving personal examina- 
tion on the part of the agents or emissaries of the 
association of hundreds of men and women ; with five 
or ten prisoners on trial at one time, requiring the 
employment of counsel, the searching for and ex- 
amining of witnesses, the taking of testimony and 
receivinor and recording confessions, of which class of 
documents the archives of the association are largely 
composed; with an occasional hanging to be done, 
and a constant shipping away of those so sentenced 
b}^ the Committee — securing their passage, and raising 
the money to pay it, and attending them beyond the 
Golden Gate; with the watching of judges, and the 
proceedings of courts of justice; with five hundred 
impatient members to satisfy, who were always eager 
for something to be done; with the settling of differ- 
ences of opinion among themselves, and the general 
and particular care of the workings of the new and 
strange machinery — with all this and much more, I 
say, these judges had work enough to do in the 
conscientious execution of their self-imposed duties. 

It was ordered at the meetino: of the executive 
committee the I7th of June that some plan of pro- 
ceeding should be adopted as to the disposition of 
those ordered to leave. They resolved likewise to 
watch the proceedings of the trial of a noted burglar. 
The next meeting directed the chief of police to bring 


before the Committee one under sentence of banish- 
ment, to hear what he had to say in his defence. The 
testimony was very lengthy, occupying the Com- 
mittee more than five hours. It was all taken down 
by the secretary and filed with the other papers in 
the case. The evidence thus far was rather against 
him, and his case was continued. Meanwhile the 
June fire occurred, and the wrath of the citizens 
waxed hot against the supposed incendiaries. The 
executive committee offered a reward of five thou- 
sand dollars for the delivery into their power, with 
evidence sufficient to convict, of any person guilty of 
the crime of arson. 

It well became the officers of the law during the 
movement of 1851 to treat the Vigilance Committee 
with profound respect. So heartily were the people 
in sympathy with the organization that there was 
little sentiment w^asted on the rights and divinity 
of law. The men of law were watched as closely by 
the reformers as were the lawless, and the higher the 
seat of corruption the sooner was it assailed. Woe, 
then, to him of evil conscience; be he sheriff, judge, 
or governor, his sins shall not go unpunished ! 

The sum of five hundred dollars was voted the 
captain of police, the 1st of July, for secret service 
money. At the same time inquiry was to be made 
into the manner of the arrest of a negro by an officer 
of the law. The business transacted by the Com- 
mittee the 2d of July was as follows : Being informed 
by Captain McGowan, of the revenue cutter, of the 
arrival of the bark John Potter from Sydney, a com- 
mittee of five was appointed to visit the vessel and 
report. Communications, one from the Committee of 
Vigilance of Santa Clara, another about a robbery, 
another from the Vigilance Committee of Marysville 
in regard to the Jansen affair, were read and acted on. 
Captain White, of the brig Cameo, bound for Sydney 
direct, informed the Committee that he was ready to 
take with him any scoundrels they might wish to 


send, at the rate of one hundred dollars each. He 
promised likewise to give bonds for their safe delivery 
at Sydney or Hobart Town. 

It was hardly to be supposed, as humanity is con- 
structed, that so many men of nervous energy, of 
independent thought and pronounced ideas, should 
not differ warmly in their opinions on occasions; in 
other words, that they should never quarrel. The 
wonder is that they could hold together at all; that 
the mercury in their natures should so marry the 
metal of their minds as to form a solid ball of amal- 
gam which no infelicities of temper could dissipate. 
Indeed their quarrels were never anything but chil- 
dren's quarrels. So deep was their respect for each 
other, so impressed were they with the importance 
of their undertaking, and so earnest in their purpose, 
that self was swallowed in the common cause, and 
personal pride and pique were but the momentary 
stinging of a gnat. In their high purpose, then, 
I say, they were men ; in their disagreements, 

In July, 1851, Mr Brannan sent in his resignation, 
both as president of the association and as member of 
the executive committee. It seems that some sharp 
words had passed between him and McDuffie, ser- 
geant-at-arms. As I have said, Mr Brannan was just 
the man to incite a revolution, but he was not the 
man to conduct one. The shot of determinate purpose 
once fired from his brain, like Nelson at Copenhagen 
with his blind eye to the telescope, he would not 
see the signal of retreat. There were better men 
than Brannan for president; there were fifty as good 
as McDuffie for sergeant -at -arms. Yet these were 
both good and true men in the present emergency. 
The cause owed much to Mr Brannan; and that it 
needed him less now was not sufficient reason, in the 
eyes of his associates, that he should be sacrificed to 
his own irascibility. So a committee was appointed 
to heal the feud between the officers; and such, with 


but few exceptions, was the quality of magnanimity 
manifested by these men throughout their entire in- 

Payran was of this Committee one of the leading 
spirits. He was a man of dignity and courage, and 
ready alike with tongue or pen. He had been a copy- 
ist in Philadelphia, and took down testimony rapidly 
and easily. The following incident illustrates at once 
his character, and the method, or rather the lack of 
method, employed by the vigilants in the execution 
of their commissions: 

It happened that a poor woman who had adopted 
a young girl, then about ten years of age, and was 
striving as best she might to rear her charge virtu- 
ously, one day rushed to the committee rooms and 
entered an appeal which moved the hearts of all 
present. Certain former associates of the child's 
mother had just then abducted the girl from her 
guardian and had hurried her off to Marysville, there 
to be eventually employed, as the woman was assured, 
for vile purposes. Payran asked to be appointed a 
committee of one to recover the child. 

" But what can one do?" asked a member of the 
Committee. "Marysville, as you are well aware, is 
ruled entirely by the roughs, of whom the local com- 
mittee themselves stand in awe." 

'' Nevertheless, I will go," said Payran. ''All I 
ask is the authority of this board." 

" That you most assuredly have," replied the Com- 
mittee-man; a sentiment wdiich his fellow-members 
immediately confirmed. ''But beware 1 there is danger 
in it; the child was not taken to be given up for the 

" Trust me," said Payran. Arrived at Marysville, 
accompanied by the woman for purposes of proof and 
identification, he soon ascertained the whereabouts 
of the child. Without discovering himself to its ab- 
ductors, he went quietly round among the prominent 
citizens of the place, stated the circumstances, and 


informed them of his determination. They warned 
him that, even if successful, his Hfe sooner or later 
must be paid as the price of his temerity. Assistance 
was volunteered, but not sufficient for the purpose. 
The authorities were, more than elsewhere, pusillani- 
mous. What was to be done ? Must he return baffled, 
to his associates, his expressed assurance of success 
an idle boast? Never! at all events not alive. 

Most opportunely, after a discouraging day, at the 
hotel where he was stopping there arrived some 
twenty miners, long, lusty fellows, with big hearts 
and bush}^ heads, en route for home. 

It was just the material for the purpose. Returning 
to civilization in the heyday of success, their muscles 
well strung, their hearts pliable, and their emotions 
easily excited, to those twenty rough diggers Payran 
had but to state the object of his mission, when twenty 
big round oaths pledged twenty honest lives to smash 
the town, if necessary; at all events to see Payran 
through. Just before the boat was ready to start 
they shouldered their packs, and demanded to be 
shown the child. Proceeding in a body to the house 
in which the girl was staying, Payran and the 
woman entered, and after some trouble succeeded in 
getting the girl to the door. Then each man drawing 
his revolver, they formed a hollow square, with the 
woman and her child in the centre. So they all 
marched down to the boat; and there would have 
been hot and lively times in Marysville that day had 
any persons interfered. 

» Selim Woodworth was more than man in some 
things and less than man in others. In certain di- 
rections he seemed inspired with superhuman instincts 
and superhuman energy, while in other quarters he 
was but a boy. He was eminently a good fellow, 
open of heart and countenance, and of tender sensi- 
bilities — not exactly the material one would expect in 
the captain of a band of stranglers — and it was these 
qualities, perhaps, that gave him that air of boyishness 


which might easily be taken for effeminacy or a nature 
trifling. But when it came to duty, suddenly all non- 
sense disappeared, and strength and courage came in 
all the glorious perfections of developed manhood. In 
money matters he was the soul of honor. He had 
much trouble with the squatters, who persisted, like 
flies about a carcass, in settling on a lot which he 
owned where the Grand Hotel later stood. 

Gerritt W. Ryckman, the third president of the 
association, was from Albany, New York. He came 
to California in the steamer Unicorn, arriving at San 
Francisco the 30th October, 1849. I never saw in 
any human being such reckless indifference to con- 
sequences in regard to the penalties to which he 
subjected himself in participating in such a move- 
ment as was manifest in Ryckman. He was well 
advanced in years when I first saw him; and though 
his voice was often tremulous in our conversations, 
his whole frame shook with indignant energy when 
he talked of the threats and intimidations which were 
constantly thrown at him. He possessed a wonderful 
faculty for gaining the confidence of the accused, of 
winning them over to make a free confession of their 
guilt, and that without committing himself by promise 
of pardon or otherwise. The very frankness of his 
deep determination was contagious. ''I will tell you, 
Mr Ryckman," said one poor fellow to him, "for I know 
you will do right; but all hell couldn't open my mouth 
to those others." His very presence inspired faith 
and invited confidence. His broad face and truthful 
searching eye; his features, massive with weighty 
purpose and benignant rectitude; his voice low, kind, 
but resolute; his step, his bearing, all were indicative 
of candor, singleness of heart, and conscientiousness, 
obdurate, but sympathetic and unsinful. Thus it was 
that, while he hanged these men, they not only feared 
and respected him, but they almost loved him. If 
Mr Ryckman had the say about it, they felt in some 
way they would be freed; and yet this kind inquisitor 


of theirs was usually the first to tell them they de- 
served to hang, and should be hanged. 

Often a friendly criminal has warned him: ^^ Have 
a care, Mr Ryckman; keep your house at night, and 
take the middle of the street when you walk to it; 
there are more than one in this town who have sworn 
to kill you." ''Do not be troubled," he would reply; 
'' I have no fear. There is not one of them would 
kill me if he could. I know it; and I would trust my 
life as freely among them as elsewhere. They know 
that what I do is right; that I bear them no malice; 
that I would do every one of them good; but they 
must stop stealing, and burning, and butchering, or I 
shall stop their breath as sure as God made me." 

Ryckman's method of interviewing prisoners is 
worthy of notice. Throwing into his manner an air 
of confidential yet dignified familiarity, he approached 
the culprit and opened the conversation with what- 
ever topic he judged might lie nearest the hearer's 
heart. He would ask him of his former days, of his 
birth, parentage, and childhood; of his struggles with 
fortune, his successes, his failures; of his companions, 
his loves, and hates. Had he a wife, or children? 
when did he come to California, and what business 
did he first engage in here? w^hat led him to a life of 
crime, and who were his associates? Accompanying 
his skilful probing with that soothing sympathy which 
was in truth part of his nature, before he had pro- 
ceeded far, the poor, bruised, heart-broken wretch was 
ready, nay eager, to tell him all. Might not this 
bluff but kind-hearted old man become his friend? 
might he not help him in his sore distress ? might he 
not save him, at least from death? No bad man 
thinks himself so bad as to be utterly unworthy of 
sympathy and assistance. How they would beseech 
him and cling to him for these ! And when he offered 
to write to friends, to forward money or effects, to 
perform any act of Christian charity — which commis- 
sions were always executed to the letter — brute cour- 


age and bravado, if indeed they had held out so long, 
gave way, and the abandoned of his fellows often wept 
like a child. So, too, almost every one condemned, 
when he saw the chain of testimony was so complete 
against him, confessed and signed his confession. 

While in active service Mr Ryckman devoted al- 
most his entire time to the work of the Committee. 
During the nine months from the first of June he 
devoted scarcely five full days to his own private 
business. More than once he was dogged about the 
streets by those who had threatened to assassinate 
him, but he never was for a moment off his guard. 
Sometimes he would walk straight up to the scoun- 
drels and warn them to leave the city instantly, and 
they usually obeyed. They were much more afraid 
of him than was he of them. He had a way of dis- 
guising himself and mingling with them, and then 
suddenly discovering himself 

Mr Ryckman did not regard the new organization 
in 1856 with favor. Perhaps a tinge of jealousy col- 
ored its character in his eyes. Or it may be, like 
Robespierre, his willingness to participate in capital 
punishments increased with age. But society had 
changed since 1851, and in 1856 a new element, with 
new leaders, marshalled to the front. "The Vigilance 
Committee of '56 assumed to be the vigilance of '51," 
he said to me one day, ''but it was not. They came to 
me to join them and bring the old colors, but I would 
do neither. I went down to one of their meetings, and 
I told them they needed some one to govern them 
instead of their assumino^- the ofovernment of others. 
i got out of patience with their silky, milky way 
of managing Terry's case. He ought to have been 
hanged. I rebuked Coleman very severely for some 
timid act in the '56 Committee." 

Mr Isaac Bluxome junior possessed a warm heart 
and most genial disposition. Amidst an assembly of 
jovial companions, his face beaming with good humor 
and the fun- wrinkles radiating from his eyes, he was 


the last person a stranger would take for a * strangler/ 
as they of law and order delighted to call the men of 
vigilance. Malice was a stranger to his heart; no 
hatred toward his fellow-men was harbored in his 
breast. In all that solemn assembly of resolute men 
there was not one who in sincere pity for the poor 
fellow about to suffer for his crimes excelled him 
whose duty it was to write the death-warrant. 

I knew him well. Many an evening have I sat 
and listened far into the night to his graphic descrip- 
tion of those most stirring days; at which times his 
whole being seemed ablaze with brilliant memories. 
Ah! when one's very self is staked on high achieve- 
ment, and one lives to see the unselfish effort an 
accomplished fact, who would wish to smother the 
glow of proud enthusiasm that follows! 

I say that Bluxome was the high-priest of good 
fellows, for I have tasted his companionship. But this 
was not the dominant quality of his character. His 
whole nature was instinct with stubborn rectitude. 
Although there never flitted in my presence one 
gleam of vindictiveness across his features, I have 
seen at some cloudy remembrance the flush of min- 
gled pride and pleasure fade from the face, and the 
glow of kindly fire sink from the outer eye into some 
unknown depths within, and in their place a fixed 
and solid stare of inexorable purpose, such as would 
palsy the tongue of any guilty suppliant. More than 
hfe he loved the right, and he alone who sacrilegiously 
offended it he accounted his enemy. Yet in arriving 
at conclusions he was most cool, most compassionate. 
He would not be hurried in forming an opinion. Said 
a hot-headed member to him one day : " Bluxome, you 
are on the off side of everything. I believe you are 
afraid to hang a man !" " Sir," was the reply, '^my seat 
is always at the disposal of this Committee ; but while 
I occupy it, the man does not live who by fair speech 
or innuendo can move me one hair's breadth from 
what I deem my duty." 


At the time of the first Committee he was young, 
ardent, active. Now you would find him acting in 
his official capacity, then off on some thief - hunting 
expedition, or on board a newly arrived vessel ex- 
amining the passengers, and again looking after the 
detail of his ponderous knave-destroying machinery, 
and to the comfort of his associates. Says quaint old 
President Payran: "Our worthy secretary,!. Bluxome 
junior, has given much time and attention to the re- 
arrangement of our committee rooms; to him the 
sub-committee feel much indebted, and recommend 
that the thanks of the executive committee be ten- 
dered him." Bluxome was an eflScient member of 
the Committee before he was chosen secretary. The 
multitude of complaints made before the Committee 
by all sorts of persons required much time and great 
discrimination in the disposal of them. The large 
mass of evidence drawn from witnesses in their ex- 
aminations, and from officers and members on duty, 
which I have been compelled to examine, throws much 
light on the spirit and intent of the association ; while 
the reports of special committees, descriptions of un- 
caught felons, and the confessions of prisoners show 
with what zeal and conscientiousness the executive 
committee performed their duties. Often the name 
of each member of a disreputable family was ascer- 
tained, and the age and personal appearance of sus- 
pected individuals were kept constantly before the 
eyes of the vigilant detectives. The places of resort 
of every notable offender were known to the Com- 
mittee, their habits were studied, and their move- 
ments watched, so that they might be forthcoming 
when wanted. 

During the period from the organization of the 
Committee in June, 1851, till the 30th of June, 1852, 
under which date the last entry is made in the book 
of proceedings, there was constant communication 
with country committees, and a general watchfulness 
maintained in every quarter. Suits and demands for 


damages and reclamations were instituted, to defend 
which the ablest counsel was employed. To attempt 
the punishment of one of the members of the Com- 
mittee, as such, was to offend all. It made no difference 
against whom the suit was brought, if its origin was 
through any act of the Committee, or of any member 
authorized so to act, the cause was made common, and 
all expenses of defence or damages were defrayed by 
the Committee. Neither was there ever any attempt 
in matters personal to the Committee to disregard the 
law, or to treat the mandates of the courts with in- 
difference or contempt. The Committee fully recog- 
nized the sovereignty of law in the settlement of all 
disputes; it was only in criminal cases, of interest 
alike to every member of society, that the Committee 
took cognizance. 

While the ablest members of the legal fraternity 
were unable, or affected to be unable, to comprehend 
the scope and spirit of the Committee, it is hardly to 
be wondered that the more simple-minded should so 
far mistake its meaning as to look for miracles. Num- 
berless were the instances of application for redress 
which would have baffled the sedate credulity of Don 
Quixote. It would seem there had arisen a tribunal 
that should right every wrong, heal wounded spirits, 
and minister to minds diseased. One applied to have 
a squatter driven off his lot; another wanted a doctor 
hanged for poisoning a patient with medicine ; a dozen 
asked to have their debts collected; and one wrote 
from Mokelumne Hill, furious at a certain James 
Watkins, whom he regarded a fit subject for treat- 
ment by the Committee because he had insulted his 

At a general meeting held in July, 1851, it was 
agreed that thereafter the general committee should 
convene the first Mondays of March and September 
in each year, and at such other times as they should 
be called together by two taps of the bell, or by pub- 
lished notice signed by the president and secretary 


of the executive committee. No person whose dues 
were in arrears twenty days should be entitled to 
admission. The executive committee should have 
power to order and make arrests; to levy assess- 
ments ; to make or change by-laws ; to appoint officers ; 
to try prisoners. All testimony at trials must be 
taken in writing, and a synopsis of it read at the first 
general meeting. Such testimony, or any other paper 
or book belono^inof to the Committee, should not be 
mutilated or destroyed, but placed in the hands of 
the secretary for preservation. 



God gives manhood but one clew to success, — utter and exact justice; 
that he guarantees shall be always expediency. 

Wendell Phillips. 

Silently the self-protective force, long dormant in 
the body social, now drew round the rooms of the 
Vigilance Committee the order-loving people of San 
Francisco. The action of crime upon progressional 
industry had produced a friction, of which was en- 
gendered an electrical movement as natural and subtle 
as any displayed by the contending forces that play 
upon the destinies of matter. The affinities and 
affiliations inherent in elemental particles throughout 
the universe were manifest in this uprising, and as 
well might puny man hope to arrest the movement 
of heavenly bodies by the enactment of laws antago- 
nistic to the primary laws of attraction and repulsion 
as to stifle the natural impulses of a crime -ridden 
people by an appeal to the sacredness of statutes. 

Although the law in this instance was comfortably 
tractable and well behaved, there was not lacking that 
healthful opposition which in social dynamics con- 
stitutes the true strength of every reformatoiy move- 
ment. A religious reformation or a political revolution 
without opposition, were such a thing possible, would 
be a tame affair. In the war on evil, as in all war, 
the strength of the reformatory party is in some de- 
gree measured by the strength of the opposition ; that 
is to say, in the upheavals of society the strength 
employed by the overturning element is in proportion 
to the force to be overturned. There was here just 



enouo-h of strength in the law, and in the noisy quasi 
protectors of the dignity of law, to band the people 
firmly and cause them to walk warily. 

It was an unusual sight, the quiet midnight trial 
and execution of Jenkins, half the city asleep while 
the other half were rallying to the assistance of im- 
potent law. It can hardly be laid to their charge that 
they acted hastily, or in a vengeful or blood-thirsty 
manner. Twenty lives and millions of property had 
been destroyed at the last fire, which was only one of 
the many successful attempts of these bold villains to 
burn the young city, and ruin the industries and com- 
merce of its inhabitants. One or the other now must 
rule; one or the other must now retire. Long and 
patiently they had waited on law, but law brought 
them no relief A committee of public safety was 
demanded by the people, and they who hanged Jenkins 
were earnestly requested not to stop there, but to 
follow up the work so well begun. The necessity 
which compelled the deed to be done in darkness was 
deplored, but the proceedings were fully justified by 
the press and the people. A large mass-meeting was 
held on the plaza the night following, in which the 
citizens were urged to enroll themselves into a com- 
mittee of safety, and the proceedings of the night pre- 
vious were ratified. Yet another meeting was held the 
next night, more boisterous than the former. The 
opposition at one time gained possession of the stand, 
but in their turn were driven from it by the reformers. 
There was much needless speech-making and scufifling, 
and the proceedings were not regarded with favor by 
the lovers of healthy reform. 

These two demonstrations of popular unrest were 
without concerted aim or defined action. The first 
was held on Wednesday evening, and adjourned to 
the following afternoon. Both were largely attended. 
Various opinions were expressed as to the late sum- 
mary proceedings, but there was a large majority in 
favor of sustaining the action of the Committee. At 


these gatherings David C. Broderick, backed by his 
rough retainers, appeared as the champion of law and 
order. The vigilant party attempted to offer resolu- 
tions in support of the movement, which Broderick 
determined to defeat. There was but one way to 
accomplish the purpose, which was to break up the 
assembly; and Broderick did not for a moment hesi- 
tate to resort to such means. Once, when the ayes 
and noes were called, the Broderick party claimed the 
vote, which being justly denied them, they made a 
rush at the speaker's stand, and raised a great uproar. 
Such meetings were wholly uncalled for, and could 
not well be productive of beneficial results. They 
were composed of that part of the population through 
whose dull brain the idea was just now finding its way 
that something must be done. Eight thousand such 
appeared, who listened open-mouthed to the rantings 
of demagogues, while the Vigilance Committee, the 
real power, quietly kept its own counsel, and pursued 
its own way. The conduct of the opposition, however, 
offered yet another illustration of their many para- 
doxical ways, wherein they hold to one doctrine and 
act another. It is the privilege of a free people to 
go and come at pleasure, to scatter abroad, or to con- 
gregate in such place and numbers as they deem fit; 
and so long as neither treason nor violence is in- 
dulged in, neither magistrate nor police can prevent 
them. Again and again the men of law backed their 
arguments against lawlessness by lawless deeds; and 
if, by the hard practical sense of the great unsanctified,. 
their wind-bags of logic were pricked, a martyr's woe^ 
elongated their visage. 

While the trial of Jenkins was yet in progressr 
many of the best men stepped forward and enrolled, 
themselves members of the association, and after his. 
execution the numbers rapidly swelled. On the 11th 
of June the Vigilance Committee did not number- 
over one hundred, but immediately after its numbers- 
increased to five hundred, one hundred of whom were^ 

Pop. Tkib.3 Vol. I. 17 


on duty day and night. The organization was com- 
plete and effective; their purpose was pursued noise- 
lessly and thoroughly. A fortnight had not elapsed 
before an entire change was noticed in the state of 
society. The arm of crime was palsied; an invisible 
net-work was woven round evil-doers. The vigilance 
of this new-born justice was sleepless; its jurisdiction 
extended to all classes and crimes and its agents were 
silent and ubiquitous. Frequent meetings were held, 
in which work was given out, and no scoundrel might 
know when a member of the association was at his 
elbow. Cool circumspection, earnestness, and energy 
characterized all the movements of the Committee. 
Facts concerning criminals were entered as collected 
in a book kept for that purpose. Among other good 
works, the Committee undertook to complete the 
county prison then in progress of construction, but 
delayed for want of funds. Each of the five hundred 
members was made responsible for the collection of 
thirty dollars, thus securing instantly the fifteen 
thousand dollars lacking to finish the building. 

Meanwhile immigration continued to pour in the bad 
element, and ere long rascality began again to lift its 
head. Gold had not yet been discovered in Australia, 
and when the fame of California reached those shores 
every effort w^as made to escape from the penal colo- 
nies of Great Britain. Ship-masters were ready to 
take any who would pay. Many who had no means 
shipped as sailors, and on arrival escaped; and so by 
divers ways hordes managed to come. Sydneytown 
was now watched by day and patrolled by night, and 
the passengers and crews of newly arrived vessels 
were carefully examined. A ship had arrived early 
in May with a large load of convicts, some of them 
with shaved heads. The craft had no port clearance, 
which indicated that her passengers were smuggled 
on board. The Committee determined to put an end 
to such traffic. 


In the California Courier of June 16th the editor 
writes : 

"All our information from Sydney and other British colonies in the 
Pacific informs us that a general disposition exists to prevent further coloni- 
zation there of the convicts of Great Britain, and to rid themselves of those 
already in the colonies. Owing to this feeling great willingness exists on the 
part of the public authorities of those colonies to aid in the transportation of 
that class of people, and as California offers the most tempting inducements 
for these convicts to expatriate themselves, we are likely to get the heaviest 
portion of this most degraded population. If the British colonies of the 
Pacific are to be simply the place where the convicts from Great Britain are 
to be temporarily disembarked, merely to be reshipped to this part of the 
United States, California will in the future become the Botany Bay for all 
her criminal population. The emigration from Sydney during the past month 
to California has exceeded in number the emigration from all the Atlantic 
States of this Union for the same period. This is not a declaration made at 
random, but is made from actual arrivals at- this port, and this population is 
likely to increase monthly to an extent equal to the past month. Evidently 
heretofore they have been able to burn down the city over our heads some 
four or five times, destroying some thii-ty lives and property to the amount of 
at least $2,000,000. When caught, through their accomplices, they have suc- 
ceeded in swearing through the courts, to again run at large, and repeat their 
deeds of darkness and crime with equal avidity and boldness. They are 
organized into gangs, and have their regular stores, hiding-places, and out- 
posts. We cannot resist them by the slow process of law. We must, 
therefore, when we catch them committing burglary, theft, murder, or arson, 
hang them up. If California is to be selected by Great Britain and her 
British colonies as the habitation of her convicts, we will soon teach her and 
her dependencies that they are mistaken. " 

The bark Cliief entered the harbor of San Fran- 
cisco the 14th of June with fifteen passengers from 
Sydney. Only one had a certificate from the Ameri- 
can consul, and the rest were believed to be convicts. 
Objections were made to their landing, but certain 
respectable citizens vouched for them, and they were 
permitted to come ashore. The next day a vessel 
arrived with five passengers, four of whom were 
women. Even the grim-visaged tribunal in those 
days was too gallant to raise its front against un- 
protected woman, though she were a little tainted. 
Skirted humanity was then too scarce to deny it 
entrance on the ground of badness; so the Sydney 
sisters were permitted to land. But much as the 


country needed the salt of women, a little of such 
seasoning went far. Some of the convicts thus ar- 
riving had even been granted their liberty on condi- 
tion that they would leave those parts and not return 
to England. As we have seen, the Committee now 
assumed a permanent character. The duties of mem- 
bers, the times of meeting, the order of proceedings, 
and the crimes of which it was to take cognizance, 
were more defined. Theft and murder occupied its 
chief attention, but idlers and suspected persons were 
narrowly watched. For a time the one hundred 
members mentioned were sufficient in the field; and 
these spent day and night hunting criminals, ferreting 
infamy, inquiring into the character and purpose of 
suspicious-looking persons, and bringing them before 
the dread tribunal, which could be convened at any 
moment for any purpose by the signal -bell stroke. 
Punishments were graduated according to the offence. 
To the accused was always granted a trial if he desired 
it, but notices to quit were sometimes given on well- 
grounded suspicion. The words employed on such 
occasions were laconic, but most significant — thus: 

"Jeremy Didler: 

"You are -warned to leave the city within five days. 

' ' By order of The Committee of Vigilance. 

"No. 67, Secretary. ^^ 

If this warning was passed unheeded, the person 
so served was arrested and shipped to Australia or 
some other foreign port. The executive committee 
was neither responsible to nor hampered by any other 
earthly power; it brought its own charges, made its 
own examinations, and executed its own decrees. 
Through its instrumentality some were hanged, many 
were publicly whipped, and many more banished the 
city. Thus San Francisco was for a short time almost 
free from professional rogues and scoundrels. The 
vigilant police boarded vessels arriving from Sydney, 


and every passenger was subjected to the most rigid 
scrutiny. On board were always respectable persons 
enough to testify against such disreputable characters 
as may have been their compagnons cle voyage. 

To avoid impositions, and at the same time to 
secure immediate attention, all notices to quit were 
served by a sub-committee of three or more members, 
and were never sent by a messenger or through the 
mail. Herewith I give a facsimile of a report of the 
Committee in a case of exile. 

On one occasion in June certain so-called respect- 
able lawyers, of perhaps not too translucent con- 
sciences, were startled by what purported to be orders 
from the inquisition to leave their country for their 
country's good. The Committee was first of all in 
its endeavor to ferret these forgers. 

If the convicts thus arrested by the Committee 
and ordered back by vessels going to Australia had 
money of their own, their fare was paid out of it by 
the Committee. If they had any effects which could 
be sold, their passage money was raised in that way. 
If possessed of nothing, the Committee paid the 

The Committee were anxious so far as possible to 
avoid the taking of life^ but preferred resorting to 
banishment or minor corporal punishment as a penalty 
for crime. Thus during the active operations of this 
Committee there were about thirty persons, most of 
them from Sj^dney or other British colonies, sent 
from the country, nearly all being returned to the 
places whence they came. 

The citizens of San Francisco in their first Vigil- 
ance Committee claimed the most perfect and power- 
ful organization hitherto established in any country 
for the guarding of the public weal. It was as much 
a part of their self-imposed duty to prevent the 
coming to the country of new malefactors as to expel 
old offenders, and this required sleepless watchfulness 
and a detective police systematized with no small 





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skill. The regular police were resigning one after 
another from lack of pay for their services. The 
courts needed purifying and energizing; honest judges 
were proverbially incapable, the capable were dishon- 
est, and it was no rare occurrence to see both knave 
and fool written upon the face of one single occupant 
of the judgment-seat. Legislators were likewise to 
be reformed. In the last legislature the San Fran- 
cisco representatives were far below the country 
members in honesty and intelligence. The numbers^ 
wealth, influence, and energy of the Vigilance Com- 
mittee gave it almost unlimited power, and to its 
honor be it said, that power was always used with 
calmness, mercy, and moderation. Punishment fol- 
lowed closel}^ the heels of crime, and villainy and 
vagabondage slunk away. Some of the bad characters 
sought health in the country; some turned honest 
miners; many preferred to put leagues of ocean be- 
tween them and this new species of justice. This 
unheard of trampling on the rights of villains, this 
closing of their time-honored avenues of escape, this 
overthrow of legal fogyism, and the application of 
common-sense to the rulers of justice, was like an 
epidemic fatal to evil-doers. Law and order, a fat 
judiciary, and an inefficient police were to them far 
preferable to a hand-to-hand conflict with aroused and 
indignant virtue. 

The action of the people in the execution of Jenkins 
was generally sustained by the press and by the pulpit. 
The Reverends Wheeler and Hunt, of representative 
churches, both preached sermons upholding the vigil- 
ant organization. 

Says the Courier the 1 7th of June : 

'* To show how we are swindled out of our means by rogues, and how the 
rogues escape punishment, we give the following instance : A man by the 
name of George Spiers many months since was taken up for highway robbery. 
The recorder considered the proof so point-blank that he committed him. 
His case was carried before the grand jury, where he was indicted by the 
clearest testimony. In fact he was caught in the act. His trial, however, 
was postponed session after session, \mtil the witnesses left the city, if not 


the state. The consequence was that when he was brought up for trial there 
was no one to testify against him. The district attorney, therefore, entered 
in his case a nolle prosequi, and the prison doors were opened, and he left his 
confinement to prey again upon the public. 

"A few weeks since he was arrested on the charge of murder. He was 
placed in confinement on the most unquestionable proof of his guilt. The late 
grand jury, which unfortunately has been declared as illegally impanelled, 
indicted him for murder on the most reliable evidence. But this indictment, 
it appears, will amount to nothing. The last steamer carried away the only 
witness who can prove his guilt and convict him of the crime of murder. Of 
course our grand jury can never find a bill against him, and he will be per- 
mitted to run at large again. In this way felons escape, through the law's 
delay, to rob and murder us, and bum down our houses for the purpose of 
plunder. With all these facts staring us in the face we are told that we must 
permit the law to take its course — let criminal laM^yers make from these crimi- 
nals all they can, and give the felons opportunity to escape. We trust the 
people will be fooled and deceived no longer, but that they will execute with- 
out delay summary vengeance on every man the moment he is caught in the 
act of robbing, burning houses, or murdering. By so doing we will teach all 
public offenders that we will visit them with immediate death, and the courts 
that we have had enough of the law's delay." 

"We should address ourselves to the task of puri- 
fying the courts," writes the editor of the Herald the 
same day. "Surely no new country ever exhibited 
such a judiciary." 

" It is true/' says the Pacific Star of the 25th, "that 
the power claimed and exercised by this Committee 
may be abused. So may all human power. The courts 
may abuse their power; the police theirs; and yet 
this is not a sufficient reason for withholding all power 
from them. Our reliance is in the honesty and integ- 
rity of the men who compose the Committee." 

Again the Herald of June 21st panegyrizes the 
people : 

"We must declare that never have we heard or read of an organization 
more thoroughly effective, an association of men so grandly successful in the 
object of their combination, as have been the Committee of Vigilance of this 
city. Pursuing their purpose noiselessly, earnestly, and unremittingly, they 
have effected in twelve days what the courts during the whole of their 
existence, armed with the thunderbolts of the law, have never been able to 
accomplish. They have palsied the hand of the assassin and the incendiary, 
and have encircled the criminals, who publicly defied the law, with a net- work 
from which all their efforts will not enable them to escape. Their vigilance 
never sleeps. Their investigations embrace all classes. Their agents are 


invisible and ubiquitous. The cribs which have been the nightly rendezvous 
and daily lurking-places of thieves of every description are all marked, and 
have received or will receive notice that their nefarious practices will not be 
longer tolerated. The most notorious scoundrels are ordered to leave the 
country, and many more are being watched for the purpose of being more 
thoroughly detected. Criminal correspondence and connection have been 
traced to men hitherto occupying respectable positions in society, and their 
exposure has been delayed merely to give time for the accumulation of proof 
or for their departure from the country. In fine the association have con- 
ducted their measures for the protection of the public safety with a cool 
circumspection, an earnestness, daring, and energy, that must command 
respect and even admiration. They now number over four hundred of the 
best men in the city. One fourth of this force is constantly on duty day and 
night, and each particular member seems to have devoted himself to the dis- 
charge of his duty with an enlightened zeal that has produced the most sur- 
prising results. The testimony already collected fills a large volume, and 
has occupied the exclusive attention of one man in transcribing. The Com- 
mittee commenced with making a notable and severe example. It had the 
effect of proving that they were in earnest in the prosecution of the work 
they had undertaken. Since that time they have been employed in bringing 
to light the various places of resort of the criminals still at large. A large 
number of these cribs, as they are called, have been discovered, and after 
being duly warned have been closed." 

It will be noticed that the editor speaks at random 
with regard to some of his facts, but in sentiment he is 
right. Their quarters in Brannan's buildings, corner 
of Bush and Sansome streets, being inadequate for the 
accommodation of their increased numbers, the Com- 
mittee secured from Bullitt, Patrick, and Dow, the 
upper rooms of two large frame buildings on Battery- 
street, between California and Pine streets. These 
were thrown into one and fitted up for the meetings 
of the general body, and separate rooms were parti- 
tioned for the smaller committees. The cost of 
alterations and furnishing was about one thousand 
dollars, and the rent was four hundred dollars a month. 
The Committee began to occupy these rooms the 1 8th 
of June, though the carpenters did not complete their 
work before the 25th. Of the sub-committee rooms 
there were four, furnished with tables, speakers' desks, 
chairs, and benches. Heavy bolts were put upon 
the doors, bells hung, and writing material, hand- 


cufFs, and chains supplied. There were also sleeping- 
places for the watchmen arranged. The 18th of 
September, when business had fallen off materially, 
the Committee, in order to reduce their expenses, 
again removed to the corner of Sansome and Sacra- 
mento streets, to the premises of John Middleton, 
where the rent was one hundred dollars a month. In 
these rooms matting was put upon the floors, the walls 
were papered, and the new quarters presented quite a 
respectable appearance. 

Signals were now arranged, and a committee ap- 
pointed to wait on the foremen of the California 
and Monumental fire-engine companies to ask the use 
of their bells for the purpose of calling the members 
together, to which request cordial assent was given. 
I shall speak at length hereafter of the committees 
of vigilance, modelled after the San Francisco Com- 
mittee, which were established throughout California. 

At this time it was difficult — so the defenders of 
criminals at all events made it appear — to obtain 
respectable jurors to sit in court cases, on the ground 
of sympathy with the vigilance movement. From the 
stand-point of to-day it strikes one as a little singular 
that the law should reject respectable men as jurors 
on the ground of their sympathy with justice. More 
particularly is the inconsistency of the thing apparent 
when we reflect that by every blandishment the men 
of vigilance had been urged to trust the courts, to 
act as aids and auxiliaries to the courts, and that when 
summoned to sit in judgment on such cases as they 
did leave to the courts they were told that they could 
not render an impartial decision. That such objections 
were made by the defence, rather than by the prose- 
cution, is prima facie evidence that the objectors 
sought safety under cover of the law's subtleties, and 
for further defeating the ends of justice. 



The most stormy ebullitions of passion, from blasphemy to murder, are 
less terrilSc than one single act of cool villainy; a still rabies is more 
dangerous than the paroxysms of a fever. Fear the boisterous savage of 
passion less than the sedately grinning villain. 


James Stuart was a villain. A great villain. He 
was born a villain; he achieved villainy; and if vil- 
lainy was not thrust upon him, he had no hesitation 
in thrusting it upon others. His childhood was in- 
stinct with misbehavior. Every wickedness the human 
heart is heir to has its redeeming quality. Through 
mismanagement on the part of nature all the virtues 
intended for use in the manufacture of James Stuart 
fell into the composition of some other mortal. There 
are gentle knaves and there are scurvy knaves ; James 
Stuart was of the latter class. There are magnificent 
scoundrels and there are mean scoundrels; James 
Stuart belonged to the latter category. He was a 
lusus naturcB of the sulphurous order. His rascality 
was of the cold and calculating kind. All men were 
his friends, and all his foes. He would sacrifice a 
comrade as quickly as an enemy; with the utmost 
nonchalance he would see innocent Thomas Burdue 
suffer agonies of torture, for crimes which he himself 
had committed. 

Often vice is only the decadence of some virtue; 
but in James Stuart obduracy and atrocity were 
weeds of indigenous growth. Such was the alchemy 
of his constitution that those ennobling influences in- 
cident to every environment, when infused in him, 



putrefied and infected the atmosphere in which he 
moved like a disease. Socrates had his Xenophon, 
Johnson his Boswell; but woe to the historian, aban- 
doned of heaven, who must needs dive into the depths 
to chronicle the deeds of this most graceless of mis- 
creants! One becomes as tired of his malefactions as 
were the Athenians of hearing Aristides called the 

Between mala in se or intrinsic badness, and mala 
prohihita or violation of conventionalisms, few make 
proper distinction. Indeed, there are many good men 
and women who will forgive a crime against morality 
sooner than a violation of good breeding. For the 
saintly caitiff hides his misbehavior beneath a fair 
complexion; with ill-gotten gains he buys honors and 
influence, and while indulging in low immoralities 
fails not to assume the character which will secure 
him further grovelling gratifications. In all this 
there is little of that ideal justice of which poets 
sing, wherein the good are always happy and the 
evil-minded unsuccessful. Religion fails to enforce 
correct conduct, and reason is not yet strong enough 
wholly to practise a utilitarian code of ethics. Differ- 
ent men, and ages, and beliefs, derive their rules of 
conduct from different sources. Conscience-making 
as a trade the gods find dull as the vision of 
science grows stronger. We of to-day seem near 
completing the circle of morality, seem to be nearing 
the point the savage started from, and referring back 
all obligation to the law of nature. The divine law 
of the ecclesiastic, the patriarchal law of the house- 
hold, and the political law of society, however they 
may retain their hold on personal conduct, fetter 
mind far less than formerly. 

Saint Paul found himself amidst a whirlpool of 
opposing forces, fleshly laws rising within him antago- 
nistic to spiritual laws, the law of his members warring 
against the higher law of mind. James Stuart like- 
wise found his unworthy craft buffeted by winds of 


doctrine strange m Sydney. The law that should hang 
Burdue in his place he could understand; he liked 
that. The regular course of things, the common statu- 
tor}^ currents and legislative trade-winds, he could sail 
safely enough before; but these disinheriting guardi- 
ans of political pets, of children of the corporation; 
these men of vigilance, who interpose their uncivil 
veto to the regular course of criminal law, what shall 
be said of them? They were, indeed, a flat imposition. 

Stuart was not only able, but talented. A very 
mean man is seldom weak; more genius, more strength 
of character is necessary in order to become a great 
bad man than a great good man. The greater the 
cunning of thieves, the greater the skill required by 
the police. As civilization seems to intensify and 
render more acute absurdity and error, as well as 
reason and right, so the tendency of organisms, as 
they become more complex and refined, seems to in- 
crease in their capabilities of catching and eating, and 
in avoiding being caught and eaten. 

Early in July, before the Burdue-Stuart mystery 
was fairly solved, the Vigilance Committee of San 
Francisco wrote the Vigilance Committee of Marys- 
ville that in their opinion Burdue was innocent. The 
Marj^sville Committee could not believe it, and begged 
the San Francisco Committee to take no steps which 
might lead to the letting loose of a murderer upon 
the community. Thereupon the San Francisco Com- 
mittee despatched a messenger to Marysville to ask 
suspension of further action until the case could be 
thoroughly investigated. Francis Land, counsel for 
the condemned, proceeded to San Francisco for infor- 
mation. These several investigations were not with- 
out their effect upon the court. A new trial being 
granted, a nolle prosequi was entered. Burdue was 
discharged from the Marysville court and brought to 
San Francisco in the early part of August. There 
he was lodged in prison. On the 25th of August, 
after the evidence of Stuart and Whitaker had been 


given, Frederick Woodworth, George Melius, Isaac 
Bluxome junior, and John F. Spence made affidavit 
before Ned McGowan, judge, of the fact that Burdue 
was innocent of the charges preferred against him. 
Thereupon an order was made by the district court, 
transferring the case to the court of sessions, into 
which Burdue was brought the same day and dis- 
charged from custody. 

While Thomas Burdue was yet in San Francisco 
undergoing trial for the robbery of Jansen, that is to 
say, on the 28th of February, 1851, Frank M. Pixley 
came forward and made oath that the prisoner was 
not James Stuart, whom he had defended on several 
occasions, and whom he ought to know. Although this 
did not satisfy the court and jury sufficiently to secure 
Burdue's discharge, it made a mystery of the matter, 
and so excited suspicions of the possible innocence of 
Burdue that certain members of the Vigilance Com- 
mittee determined to ferret the affiiir. 

The shortest way to this end was to secure the 
person of the Sacramento shop -breaker, the Foster 
Bar murderer, the robber of Dodge, and the convict 
of the Sacramento prison brig — to secure the person 
of him who had committed these crimes, whosoever 
that might be; for at the same time that Mr Pixley 
swore Burdue was not the Stuart of these exploits, 
Dr Holmes of Foster Bar, officer Trueman of Sacra- 
mento, and others asserted that he was. Clearly 
amidst all this conflict of evidence the only way to 
solve the mystery was to find the real culprit. If 
Burdue was not the felon, who was he, and where 
was Stuart? Much depended upon the answer; the 
life, perhaps, of an innocent man, and the escape of a 
notorious offender. 

Mr Pixley seemed to be the only one in San Fran- 
cisco who was positive that Burdue was not Stuart, 
though at the second trial there were a number in 
Sacramento who were sure of it; and yet the jury 
convicted him. While Pixley did not scruple to clear 


the guilty if he could, for of such his law told him 
was its kingdom, yet he would not wittingly see the 
innocent suffer. Therefore, while he would not say 
or do anything which would implicate his client or 
lead to his arrest, he did not hesitate solemnly and 
positively to assure, not only the court but the Vigil- 
ance Committee, that this prisoner was not guilty of 
the crimes laid at his door. 

Meanwhile the Marysville Vigilance Committee 
were skeptical as to Burdue's innocence ; yet after the 
trial, and while he was there lying in prison under 
condemnation of death, the Marysville Committee 
came out nobly in his behalf, and between the two 
committees no less than fifteen persons were found 
who said that, whoever the prisoner might be, he was 
not the renowned James Stuart. But the law, roused 
from its lethargy by the murmurings of the people, was 
determined on action. Many respectable members of 
the commonwealth, advocating capital punishment, 
had banded in every town to execute it. Now if they 
wanted hanging done, the law could do it. So said 
its officers from the beginning. The whole country 
was excited on the subject; it was the thing to do to 
shed some blood. The autumn elections were ap- 
proaching, and the hanging judge would be the popu- 
lar candidate. Here was an opportunity too good to 
be lost. This man has neither money nor friends; 
even if he is not the guilty person, he ought to be 
hanged for looking so much like him and mystifying 
the court. Witnesses say that the real James Stuart 
is five feet nine inches in height, while the prisoner is 
but five feet six and three quarters inches; but then 
sorrow and confinement are apt to cause shrinkage, 
especially in one not guilty of the crime for which he 
is condemned. Besides, is it not better that an inno- 
cent person should now and then be put to death than 
that no example at all should be made? Thus within 
itself might the law have communed, judging from 
its actions. 


The San Francisco Committee were by this time 
thoroughly convinced of the innocence of Burdue, and 
they determined to redouble their exertions to find 
the real Stuart. They had his likeness in the unfor- 
tunate Burdue; their police and patrols had but to 
look upon him and then hunt Stuart. Country com- 
mittees were placed in possession of the facts, and 
were begged to lend their immediate aid to save 
the innocent and bring to punishment the guilty. It 
was probable that Stuart was in or near San Fran- 
cisco. He could not have left the state unknown, 
for every departure by water was watched, and he 
would scarcely travel overland, as the men of Sydney 
seldom migrated far from seaport towns. Besides, 
where would he find a bettei* country, one richer in 
stealings or more backward in punishment? Then, 
too, by this time the acts of Stuart were so notorious, 
and his person so well known from Yreka to San 
Diego, that the only place at all tenantable for him 
was San Francisco. Therefore the sons -of the Watch- 
ful Eye were charged by their elders to find the villain. 

Wonderfully intricate are the ways that lead to 
simple ends! Here is all the country hunting this 
man, when one day he drops almost of his own accord 
into the maw of the new patent crime -crusher, and 
that for an offence which he did not commit. Honest 
men wonder at the foolishness of shrewd scoundrels ; 
but may not scoundrels with equal propriety wonder 
at the foolishness of shrewd honest men? 

Between ten and eleven o'clock on the morning 
of July 2d a house at the Mission was entered and a 
trunk abstracted. The owner, learning of his loss, 
raised the alarm. Just then it was ascertained that 
a tent on California -street hill, near where Grace 
Church was afterward placed, had been robbed. Three 
or four men set out in different directions in pursuit 
of the thieves and for the recovery of the plunder. 
They at once made their way up the hill and into the 
chaparral. The bushy suburbs of San Francisco were 


at that time infested with thriftless and shiftless 
human vermin. The town was not so large then as 
now, and it offered less security before determined 
search. The suburban districts, with their sand-hills 
and hollows thickly matted with small trees and 
bushes, beneath which, with a pair of blankets, one 
might safely and comfortably sleep away the summer, 
were the favorite resorts of thieves, who found in 
these quarters combined security and convenient prox- 
imity to fields of enterprise. The quail and hare of 
these parts were often surj)rised, and so occasionally 
were the thieves, although it was a most difficult 
place to hunt them in, as there were large patches of 
undergrowth which neither horse nor man could easily 
penetrate, and the surest way to investigate such spots 
was by sending in a well trained dog. 

Somewhere near what is now the corner of Powell 
and California streets, some distance from the road 
leading from the Mission to the city, the owner of 
the lost trunk came upon one who excited his sus- 
picions. He was first seen standing on a knoll, look- 
ing toward the city; he hesitated for a moment, then 
turned and hurried away in the opposite direction. 
Calling to some carpenters who were at work on 
the hill, the owner of the lost trunk briefly related, 
the circumstances and pointed to the stranger. To a. 
casual or unsuspicious observer it was an exceedingly 
commonplace thing for workingmen of the city 
strolling in the suburbs to meet one who from his.. 
dress might be a miner waiting for the sailing of the.- 
steamer or for the arrival of his wife, or who might, 
be a country trader, or a ranchero, or any one of a. 
dozen other respectable calHngs. The town was. 
always full of honest strangers coming and going, 
paying their way, and minding their own business. 
In this instance the person suspected was wholly^ 
innocent of the theft; and yet there was that about, 
him which assured the workingmen that they had 
found the one they sought ; and the wanderer believed. 

Pop. Trie,, Vol. I. 18 


that they knew him, believed that his doom was 
sealed. But defeat is the last thing a politician or a 
thief will acknowledge to himself or to another. 

Of medium height and symmetrical figure, with a 
bright burning eye, hissing speech, and biting smile, 
the stranger looked the accomplished reynard, which 
indeed he was, except when called upon to act the 
hungry hyena. Over a clean gray woollen shirt, cov- 
ering also one of linen, he wore an English-cut coat, 
well fitting light pantaloons tucked inside his boot- 
tops, and a narrow-brimmed round-top hat. Fastened 
to his belt, and covered by his coat, were a bowie- 
knife and revolver of fine finish and in perfect order. 
In his dress, carriage, and general appearance there 
was that which, to a villain -hunter, immediately 
stamped him as his prey. 

Witness the windings of the game now played. 
Here was a thief; so far the man who had lost his 
trunk was right. But this was not the thief he 
sought ; of this the present guilty one was not aware. 
Accompanied by one of the carpenters, the owner of 
the lost trunk advanced and called to the man, who 
turned and walked toward them. 

" Good-day, stranger." 

" Good-day." 

" Do you live about here ?" 


^" What are you doing in this neighborhood?" 

''I am on my way from the Mission to North 

" This is not the road. Two houses have been 
robbed near by this morning. Where did you get 
the clothes you have on?" 

''What! the devil! Who are you?" exclaimed the 
man, as his hand sought his revolver. But instantly 
two cocked pistols were at his head, and further move- 
ment of his hand behind him he well knew was death. 
It was the custom then for mechanics as well as others 
to carry pistols. 


" I know nothing of your robbery," said the man, 
as he threw up his hands. " These clothes I have 
worn ever since I left Sonora. I saw somebody with 
a bundle but a moment since disappear over yonder 
hill. I tell you I am not the one you seek." 

'' Listen to me, my friend," said the Mission man. 
"You say you have worn these clothes from Sonora, 
and that you have walked some distance this morning. 
That is not true. The weather is warm; the roads 
are dusty. Your boots are not sufficiently travel- 
stained, your linen shirt is clean, and the woollen over- 
shirt you wear carries yet the creases of its original 
folding. You must come with us to the rooms of 
the Vigilance Committee, and if you are an honest 
man you have nothing to fear." 

On the instant the course he should adopt flashed 
upon the captured criminal. There are moments 
when the future rises before the mind like Aladdin's 
castle; when the ordinary paths of life are so hedged 
by untoward circumstances that some supernatural 
bound seems the only means of escape. Many were 
implicated with him, and these might rally to his 
rescue. Oftentimes before he had surmounted diffi- 
culties apparently superior to this, had lain in prison 
condemned to death, had stood beneath the gallows- 
tree with the rope around his neck, the central figure 
of an infuriated mob ; and yet he was alive, and but a 
moment before free. At all events his present course 
was plain to him. 

" I have often heard of your famous Vigilance Com- 
mittee," said he, with a smile of sardonic sweetness. 
'' I am anxious to see something of it, and will ac- 
company 3^ou with pleasure." 

Arrived at the committee room he gave his name 
as Stevens; afterward he wrote it Stephens. Those 
present recognized immediately the strange likeness 
he bore to the condemned Burdue, and to the de- 
scriptions of the infamous James Stuart. Mr Payran 
was in attendance, and he questioned him. Payran 


prided himself on his catechetical abilities. He was 
the Torquemada of the San Francisco Inquisition; 
and although in the exercise of the holy office he 
applied to his victims neither fire, nor water, nor the 
cord, yet as a rule he managed in the end to obtain a 
true confession, as I have said before. His test of 
truth was only his own shrevv^d common -sense, dis- 
crimination, and practical sagacity; and in his original 
and searching anal^-ses of criminal character he had 
acquired a skill which seldom led him astray. It was 
his custom first of all to hold a private conference 
with his prisoner, during which he would talk with 
ease and freedom on subjects such as would likely 
most interest his listener, meanwhile watching his 
countenance, noting his every word and action; and 
thus he would continue to feel for salient points, and 
sound his deeper nature, until the responsive chord 
was struck; and when his victim's tongue was loosed 
he would listen attentively, merely dropping now and 
then a remark to keep it going ; and this unruly mem- 
ber was the rope with which in the end the offender 
was sure to hang himself. Different cases he would 
treat differently, being governed severally by the 
nature of the case and by circumstance. In this 
instance he had a malignant subject; but such were 
his special delight. A first-class felon in a measure 
commanded his respect; to convict such an one he 
had time, patience, and money. A monster ruffian 
was easier treated than a petty vagabond; large 
crimes were wider known and more easily proven 
than small ones. 

The executive committee was then convened and 
the prisoner put on trial. It was a matter of no small 
moment how this case should be handled. The 
greatest obstacle to the complete success of the 
Committee was the confederate crust that shut from 
them the mysteries of the class with which they were 
at war. One well aimed blow might shiver a score 
of tenements, brittle with fragile guilt. Possessed of 



numbers, money, strength, it was the earnest wish 
of these busy men of merchandise to achieve swift 
success and have done with it. Here was one, if it 
prove true, indeed, that he was Stuart, than whom 
there was not another on the coast as famihar with 
crime and criminals. This they knew from the reports 
of his exploits, which came in from every quarter. 
They had found something of what was called honor 
among thieves. Jenkins would tell them nothing, 
splendid brute that he was. But like many of our 
most respectable money manipulators who sail to the 
leeward of law, Stuart, perhaps, was one of those great 
rascals who was true to his confederates only so long 
as it was to his interest to be so. If the right chord 
was struck might he not tell all he knew? 

With this object in view, the Committee determined 
to use extraordinary care in their investigations. At 
the trial John Sullivan testified that he had worked 
with the prisoner at Foster Bar and elsewhere; that 
he knew him as English Jim and Jim Stuart. The 
prisoner flatly denied ever having seen the witness, 
and told of himself a far different story. 

This John Sullivan was now a boatman; he had as- 
sisted at the capture of Jenkins, and had since joined 
the Vigilance Committee. It happened that when 
Stuart was placed in confinement at the committee 
rooms Sullivan had been appointed to guard him. 
On taking his position, naturally enough he opened 
the door of the room to see what sort of wickedness 
was Avithin. Crouching in the corner of the room, to 
his astonishment he beheld his old employer. 

''Halloo, Jim!" he exclaimed. ''How came you 
here? You needn't pretend not to know me!" 

Shortly after Mr Schenck passed by. "Do you 

know whom 3^ou have here?" said Sullivan. 

"What do you mean?" demanded Schenck. 

" This is no other than English Jim, or Jim Stuart, 

in this room," replied Sullivan; "he who murdered 

the sheriff at Auburn. I was present at the attempted 


lynching at Mary sville, %. lien the rope broke and he 

From another witness was obtained a statement to 
this effect: At Campo Seco early in 1851 had lived 
a miner in a cabin alone. He had accumulated a 
large bag of gold dust, and fearful lest his house should 
be robbed, he had buried it some three hundred 
yards distant in the chaparral. One morning about 
five o'clock he heard a noise, and soon discovered a 
man prowling about the premises. He ordered the 
intruder off, cooked his breakfast, and went to work. 
But thinking of the matter during the da}", he became 
timid, and asked a friend to whom he explaimed mat- 
ters to lodge with him. The friend said : " No, lest 
we both be murdered for your money; rather come 
you and sleep in my house." The man did so; and 
true to his forebodings his cabin was entered that 
night and the ground dug up both in and around it, 
but the robber found little to repay him for his 
trouble. This miner seeing Stuart at San Francisco 
pronounced him the man whom he saw at his house 
on the morning mentioned. The Mission man then 
gave an account of the arrest; but this amounted to 
nothing. Others were examined on different charges 
brought against him, but their evidence was of a 
character not satisfactory to the Committee, and the 
prisoner, so far as these charges were concerned, was 
evidently getting the better of the trial. 

The Committee now retired for a time, and the 
matter was left more directly with Pay ran. Often 
one mind in the management of an intricate case is 
better than a score. In dealing with human nature 
the greatest experts often act upon instinct, and are 
unable to give a reason for what they do. 

Fortunately at this time there were others in the 
city who had seen Stuart in some one of his many 
misbehaviors, and the condition of Burdue threw 
round the affair a lively interest,, for it was now the 
openly avowed opinion of many that the Marysville 


judge had sentenced to death an innocent man. While 
talking now like a father-confessor,, now as a judge, and 
then again as a pleasant companion, the wily inquisitor, 
unknown to his prisoner, sent messages to five or six 
of those whom he thought able to throw some light 
on the matter, requesting their immediate presence. 
The calls were promptly answered; and as these gentle- 
men arrived they were secretly admitted and shown 
into another room. 

Payran began again to talk with the prisoner. He 
was now prepared to give his questions a more peremp- 
tory tone. Up to this time the man of sin and hie 
interlocutor had carried on what would appear to an 
observer an ordinary conversation; yet each played a 
deep game. The stake of one was his life, of the other 
the lives of his fellow-citizens. Gradually nearing 
his point, Payran pressed his queries concerning the 
Jansen robbery, the Foster Bar murder, and the 
Marysville trial. The prisoner was at a loss to see 
how these remarks applied to him ; he was not Stuart ; 
his name was Stephens. True, he had come from 
Sydney; so had many another honest man. ''Un- 
fortunately," sighed Stuart, " there exists a strange 
prejudice in California against emigrants from British 
colonies. This is hardly just; there are bad men in 
all communities. The Pike county people, as they 
are called, that is to say emigrants from the Mis- 
sourian frontier, are as bad a lot as any from Au- 
stralia. In intelligence they are little above the 
beasts they drive across the plains; in filthiness both 
men and women are far below them. They do little 
scientific stealing, because they haven't the ability. 
Why, I have seen," continued Stuart warming, '' I 
have seen their skin-cracked, tangle-headed, bare- 
footed, bag-breasted, and alkali-seasoned women, w^ho 
had driven their cow-teams from Independence, take 
from a store a whole barrel of salt pork, just as if 
they had bought it, carry it to their camp, and open 
and eat it before the very eyes of the trader. It is 


blockheaded and base bunglers like these that bring 
discredit on a country." 

But this was treading on dangerous ground, and 
Pay ran failed not to note the enthusiasm of the ac- 
complished professional in the recital. The prisoner 
was intelligent, of easy manner, and was a fluent and 
by no means uninteresting or illogical speaker. He 
persistently separated himself from the felon Stuart, 
and from all connection with wrong-doing; lie had 
engaged in mining and trading in various parts with 
varying success, and was now about to stock a ranch 
which he owned in San Luis Obispo county. 

Finally Payran squarely faced him and said: 
^' Stuart, I am perfectly well aware that every word 
you have told me is false; but I shall get the truth 
from you before I am through with you." From the 
prisoner's eye there shot that strange sulphurous 
light peculiar to him. UjDon the table near Payran 
lay a loaded revolver, and the inquisitor fancied he 
saw the felon's hand moving cautiously toward it. 
Without appearing to notice him Payran took the 
pistol and slipped it into the table-drawer b}^ which 
he was sitting. Fixing upon him the most search- 
ing gaze, Payran said: ''Do I understand you to 
affirm that you are not the man called James Stuart, 
and that you are not guilty of the crimes of robbery 
and murder?" 

'' Most emphatically I do," was the reply. 

Payran then gave a signal to the sergeant-at-arms 
attending, and the witnesses, of whose presence up 
to this time the prisoner was ignorant, entered. In 
spite of his eflbrt at composure, when he saw himself 
thus confronted the face of Stuart turned pale as 
death. There were standing before him George 
Mason, who had worked with hhn at Foster Bar, 
and who had testified at the Marysville trial that 
Burdue was not Stuart; also Charles Hughes, who 
was present at Stuart's examination before Judge 
Stidger for the robbery of Dodge and Company; 


also George Hunt, who said he could identify him 
by his speech alone. 

" Stuart, do you know these men, or any one of 
them?" demanded Payran. 

'' I do not," gasped the unhappy wretch. 

'' Did you never see this gentleman before?" point- 
ing to one of them. 

'' Never." 

'^ Nor this?" 


Then turning to one of the witnesses the inquisitor 
asked : 

" Do you know this man?" 

'' I do," was the reply. 

" State where and under what circumstances you 
have seen him." 

'^ I saw him at Sacramento while undergoing trial 
for house-breaking." 

Another witness was examined who saw him at 
another place ; then yet another. Meanwhile passion, 
of that sanguinary hue which defies control, mounted 
to the prisoner's face, and with glaring eyes and that 
hissing voice of his thickened with the throes of 
emotions maledict, he cried: 

"Well, then, may the devil damn you all, I am 
James Stuart! Now do your worst!" 

Sinking back into the chair from which he had 
risen, the prisoner was an altered man. The gleam 
of mingled assurance and defiance that so lately 
played about his face had entirely disappeared, and in 
its place sullen hate had settled. The last few words 
which he had spoken was as the yielding up of his 
guilty ghost. 

" Stuart," said Payran, " you have got to die, and 
speedily. Of that you may be assured; no earthly 
power can save you. It is in no spirit of revenge or 
hate that we shall hang you. Between such as we 
and such as you there must of necessity be war. If 
all were vultures there would be no victims; all may 


be good, but all -^annot be bad. We do not mean 
always to live the prey of such as you. We must 
defend ourselves. You have played your game, and 
have played it well; you knew the risks of it before 
you took them, and up to this time you have been 
remarkably successful in your escapes. Now your 
time has come. During your few remaining hours in 
the body everything shall be done that we can do 
to minister to your temporal and spiritual interests. 
Any letters which you may desire shall be written, 
any business affairs which you may intrust to us will 
be executed more honestly, perhaps, than you would 
attend to our business. One thing we would like 
from you — a full and free confession. This can be no 
loss to you, while it may be a gain to society." 

"But, sir," said Stuart, "this is no trial; you 
would not dare to execute me on the strength of this 
unlawful farce 1" 

" Sir," said Payran, " we, the people, are superior 
to law; entertain no hope; rest assured you shall 
never leave our hands alive. We will give you a 
further trial if you w^ish it. You may have your 
counsel, summon your witnesses, and prove yourself 
innocent if you can. You know whether such a 
course would avail you anything ; we think it unneces- 

While Payran was speaking, and for a few moments 
after, Stuart sat stooping with his face buried in his 
hands. Finally raising his head he said: 

" Well, I will do it, damn 'em ; there are some of 
them I will get even with anyway !" 

Frank M. Pixley, formerly counsellor for Stuart, 
was now attorney for the city of San Francisco, and 
he deemed it his duty to do something. First he 
asked the supreme court to grant a writ of habeas 
corpus to bring into court James Stuart. The writ 
was issued, but, strange to say, the sheriff seemed in 
no haste to make return. Then Mr Pixley rose in 
court and requested that a rule on the sheriff be 


issued to make his return, which was done. This was 
the 9th of July. 

The same day the sheriff filed his return, endorsed 
as served by leaving copies with several members 
of the Vigilance Committee. Again rose Pixley in 
court and begged another habeas corpus writ to bring 
thither certain members of an organization styling 
itself the Committee of Vigilance, to show cause why 
they illegally detained the body of James Stuart. 
The writ was granted, and returned by the sheriff, 
with J. L. Van Bokkelen, W. H. Jones, A. J. Mc- 
Duffie, and other members of the Committee in 
answer. These gentlemen filed affidavits that the 
body of James Stuart was not in their possession, 
and was not at the time of serving the writ; where- 
upon Mr Pixley made a motion to discontinue pro- 
ceedings, which was readily granted, and the gentlemen 
were discharged. 

This was well enough so far as it went, but it did 
not satisfy Mr Pixley. He now filed an affidavit 
stating that, to the best of his knowledge and belief, 
the person of James Stuart was in the custody of the 
Committee of Vigilance, in the building then occu- 
pied by them, and asked that a warrant be issued to 
bring Stuart into court. The warrant was issued 
immediately. The sheriff set out upon his mission. 
Members of the Committee smiled upon him and 
offered their assistance. The owner of the buildings 
accompanied him, threw open all the doors, bade him 
carefully examine every nook and corner, and bade 
him search until his heart and Pixley 's were satisfied. 
And so he did, he and his deputies, but they found 
nothing. There were the affable members of the 
alleged Committee, reading, chatting, smoking, ap- 
parently enjoying themselves as at a club. But no 
James Stuart was forthcoming. And so the law's 
messengers reported to their masters. And Pixley 
was angry. He desired to make the Committee re- 
sponsible, but the court ruled that with the Vigilance 


Committee, as such, it being an unincorporated body, 
the law had nothing to do. Then went Pixley for the 
members again. McDuffie's name was not down in 
the writ, so he was discharged. Jones likewise was 
allowed to depart. Van Bokkelen swore that he had 
not then, nor did have when the writ was served on 
him, nor did he ever have, the custody or control of 
such a man as James Stuart. Pixley lifted high the 
arm of law to let it fall on Van Bokkelen, for he was 
sure that if he would he could touch the spring which 
should display the coveted carcass of the murderer. 
But no; he would be magnanimous; he would not 
crush one man for the sins of many. Clemency en- 
gendereth complacency. Pixley was pacified. 

Now what had done these men of work and mer- 
chandise, to whom the habeas corpus was the most 
holy of writs, and disobedience thereto more fearful 
than the unheeded fulminations of the Vatican to 
image -worshippers? Nothing. They knew nothing. 
It was their business just then to know nothing, and 
they did it well. Unwilling to oppose that wise pro- 
vision of our constitution which secures to every 
citizen the right when arrested to be brought before 
his accusers; unwilling to disobey any mandate of 
legalized authority which they could consistently with 
their predetermined course avoid, they did the best 
possible thing under the circumstances — they delivered 
themselves from temptation. They would not hesitate 
a moment to deny the service of such a writ should 
it be necessary, for they had staked their lives upon 
the success of this crusade, but it was better not to 
be obliged to do so. Knowing that the habeas corpus 
man was coming, they simply spirited their prisoner 
away. Bluxome and Oakes took him first, and throw- 
ing over him a long cloak and a slouched hat, they 
thrust him into a carriage and drove away, no one but 
themselves at the time knew whither. The moment 
it became necessary for them to know nothing, two 
others as trustworthy as themselves were sent, having 


always at their command guards sufficient for the 
purpose, and instantly Stuart was removed to a place 
unknown to the first confederates; and so he was 
passed from one to another, the one having charge of 
him to-day not knowing his whereabouts to-morrow, 
until the rufiled dignity of the law was soothed; and 
then they brought him back to the committee rooms. 
Mr Bluxome informs me that on setting out with 
Stuart two pistols were shown him, and he was told 
that if he attempted to escape he would be shot. 
He was first taken to the building of Endicott and 
Oakes, on First street, between Market and Mission. 
Mr Endicott, then alderman, was absent at the time. 
When he came home and found there the well guarded 
criminal, he proceeded to the committee rooms and 
said : '' This will never do ! I am a city official, and 
have taken the oath to support the government." 
Reuben Maloney, a member of the first Committee, 
then said: ''I will take him." Among Reuben's mis- 
cellaneous acquaintance was a female friend. In her 
house the prisonless criminal, still strongly guarded, 
was lodged. But Aspasia became alarmed at her 
position between the law, which she herself loved not 
overmuch, and the facile object of its vengeance, who 
might slip his chains, and murder and rob her at any 
moment. She told Reuben that their guest must de- 
part. So Stuart was taken elsewhere, and was kept 
moving from one to another, as before stated. 



So, naturalists observe, a flea 
Has smaller fleas that on him prey; 
And these have smaller still to bite 'em; 
And ^0 proceed ad infinitum. 


When the time came for taking Stuart's confession 
the prisoner seemed more eager and animated than 
any one present. To him there was no little gratifi- 
cation in the thought that if he must die, he died at 
least for something, and the world should know it. 
At his last lifting, all the people should raise their 
eyes and behold the greatest of scoundrels; the jour- 
nals of the day should be filled with his exploits; the 
common ranks of thievery should hang their envious 
heads; and thenceforth all mankind should know that 
in the vocabulary of renown next to honest greatness 
stands the greatness of dishonesty. 

Stuart now regarded the making of a confession a 
privilege. "I myself assisted," says Coleman, ''as 
one of the executive committee, in hearing and record- 
ing this confession; we sat through the night, and 
until the morning sun shone in at the window, before 
it was completed. He went through the whole range 
of his many rascalities, gave vivid descriptions of his 
adventures, entering with great zest into the details; 
and it was curious to see his eyes brighten and 
twinkle, and a smile play round his facile countenance, 
when describing his best successes. He threw off all 
restraint, and recounted his jobs as if bringing to 
light a brilliant record which had heretofore been 



kept necessarily in the dark. His guilt being so plain, 
and the volume of it so vast, it seemed as if the life 
of one man was insufficient to atone for it all." 

" It now came out," says Schenck, '^ that Stuart 
was a member of a gang of nine, who had been con- 
cerned in various robberies and assaults, composed of 
T. Belcher Kay, who was port-warden at the time, 
John Morris Morgan, Whittaker, McKensie, Jack 
Edwards, Jim Stuart, Benjamin Lewis, Jimmy-from- 
Town, and one other, whose name I do not now re- 
member. They had a plan to rob F. Argenti's bank, 
and also F. W. Macondray's store. Kay was one of 
the leading spirits, and by virtue of his office of port- 
warden he had occasion to visit frequently Macondray 
and Company, and he took these opportunities to 
ascertain what money was in the safe. The book- 
keeper suspected something and advised a stronger 
guard; and there were fourteen persons there the 
night the gang had appointed to rob the building. 
The band at one time rented the Alhambra, coi'ner of 
Kearny and Washington streets, opposite the El 
Dorado building, a gambling -house which stood on 
the south-east corner of the same streets, and opposite 
also the building used for the custom-house after 
the fire of May, 1850, which was on the north-west 
corner of the two streets, and in whose vaults were 
then two or three millions of dollars. John Morris 
Morgan, a member of the gang, was a brick-mason, 
and had worked in the construction of the vaults of 
the building to which the custom-house was removed. 
The plan was to cut a trench, underneath the street, 
from the Alhambra building to the custom-house 
building for the purpose of the robbery, and then carry 
another trench from the custom-house across to the 
El Dorado. After the proposed robbery had been 
accomplished the first trench was to be closed up and 
the other kept open to avoid suspicion." Of this 
fraternity Stuart was the leading spirit. 

But I will let the man speak for himself His 


career vividly illustrates the high-pressure principle 
of crime in California during this reign of terror: 

" I was born in Brighton, England, in March, 1820. When I was sixteen 
years of age I committed forgery, and was banished to Now South Wales for 
life. My friends interceded and procured my emancipation. From there I 
went to South Australia; finally reached Panamd, and shipping in the Ten- 
nessee came to San Francisco in the spring of 1850. I immediately left for 
Sacramento; then went to Marysville, and next day to Foster Bar. There 
I joined the Rock Mining Company and worked with them for a month. I 
hired Sullivan, the witness who appeared against me, and we worked together 
for some time in various places. I bought a claim of a mining company for 
which I paid $300 ; I also bought a life-boat for $400 which was used on half 
shares as a ferry-boat by another company. -I lent the Missouri Company 
$300. Down the river I had a row with Colonel Prentiss, and left the place 
for Foster Bar, where I determined to locate. From my ferry-boat I was 
receiving about six dollars a day, and the claim for which I paid $300 was 
yielding me from ten to twelve daily. At Foster Bar two of us made a 
garden, and that paid us well. I built myself a house, where I had a store, 
with Bernard Feather, a German, as my partner. I also commenced building 
the largest house in the place, for a boarding-house, but never finished it. I 
was already tired of this quiet uneventful life. The Missouri Company closed 
their business and left the place without paying me. Of one of the company, 
Daniel Casey, I bought everything they had left. I searched their house, and 
finding a trunk open, full of clothes, I appropriated the contents to my own 
use. I was afterward arrested for having stolen the trunk ; an unjust accu- 
sation, for having bought all that was in the house I considered the trunk my 
rightful property. 

" The night after I took the clothing I went to Captain Dodge's house and 
played monte, where I lost $200. I felt that I had been cheated, and de- 
termined that I would get even with him. I watched him closely that night 
from an adjoining tent, and saw him put his money into a chest. Waiting 
until they were asleep I entered the tent and carried off the chest. I found 
$4300; there was one piece of gold worth $1568, another worth $738 ; the rest 
was in dust, with the exception of about $600 in silver. I took it all home, 
secreted the most of it in my garden, and resumed my work as usual. In 
about ten days I was arrested for having stolen the trunk, and paid at once 
the $500 bail. Three days after I was again arrested on a charge of grand 
larceny for stealing the $4300, and was committed to jail in Marysville. There 
was great excitement ; the mob was determined to hang me, but the judge liad 
me safely guarded by sixty men. The next morning Captain Dodge came to 
me and said if I would give him the money he would let me off and see that 
I was not molested. I was uncertain what course to pursue ; but when I was 
told that his wife and children were suffering at home I concluded to give it 
Tip, all but $150, which I said I had lost. During the remainder of the day I 
stayed with the sheriff, Edward Barr ; sold all my things immediately at auc- 
tion, depositing the money, $170, with him. In the evening the sheriff went 
out to collect some of the money. While he was gone his cook advised me to 


leave the place at once. I told him I couldn't go without money ; the cook 
replied that if he was in my place he wouldn't risk delay a moment. I started 
at once for Sacramento, walking three miles. I had no money to buy a horse, 
so I stole one. The next day I sold it in Sacramento, where I remained a fort- 
night. While there I became acquainted with two or three Americans and 
one Sydney man, whose sole business was to steal horses and mules, which I 
would sell for them. I think I knew of every robbery committed in Sacra- 
mento while I was there. The names of the horse-thieves were Dab, James 
Peate, and Johnny Griffiths. We heard that there was a brig in the river 
with about $20,000 on board; so Griffiths, Edwards, Brown, and I went on 
board and got all the money, which was only about $1200. The next day we 
agreed to come to San Francisco. A man came down with us called Jimmy- 
from-Town. He had robbed a Spaniard on the river of thirty ounces of gold, 
which he divided among four of us. We came together from Panama on 
board the Tennessee, and I stowed him away on the passage. The same night 
we went aboard the J. Casket, Edwards, Brown, Smith, and I, and robbed the 
vessel. We had some hard fighting to do; the captain was desperate, and 
we fought him until we left him almost dead. During the fight his wife 
came out of the cabin with a sword in her hand, which I took away from her. 
I acted as captain. We were all masked. We searched the cabin, and ob- 
tained from the captain's wife all the money on board ; also, at my request, she 
gave me an Allen six-shooter. The woman begged I would not take her hus- 
band's life. I said I did not want to do it if he would be quiet. I was about 
to take a splendid gold chronometer watch. She hoped I would not take it 
as her mother had given it to her. I said on those conditions I would not 
take the watch. The others kicked up a row for not taking it, but I told 
them that I was master; that they had made me so and I would do as I liked. 
Before leaving the vessel I tied the captain's hands behind him, shut him up 
in the cabin, and told his wife not to speak for two hours, as I should not 
leave the ship. We found that instead of getting $15,000 or $16,000 we had 
got only $170. When the captain's wife gave me the money she said that 
they had sent it nearly all home on a previous packet, or we should have got 
it all without doubt. The captain advertised a loss of $900. We stopped in 
San Francisco for five or six days. I spent one night in Grayson and Guild's 
store, where we attempted to get the safe containing the money, but found it 
too heavy to move. Then I went to Sacramento alone, and stopped at Moore's 
house, on L street. Did nothing but play cards, and I won a great deal of 
money. I sold horses and mules, as they were brought in by horse-thieves, 
under the name of Campbell. Moore died, and I bought his wife out for $150. 
All the goods stolen in Sacramento were brought to this house. John Griffiths, 
John Jones, Bill Nelson, and Old Jack were my boarders. A few days after- 
ward Griffiths was arrested for picking a man's pocket of $800 in an auction 
store. On Monday he was committed to the prison brig with his bail placed 
at $1500. They were kicking up a row in Sacramento and wouldn't go straw 
bail, so to raise the money I took a team, loaded it from my house with stolen 
goods, and started for Mormon Island, where I sold everything. Then I re- 
turned to Sacramento, and obtained an order from the sheriff to go on board 

the brig and see Griffiths. I found that on the night before, in trying to 
Pop. Trie.. Vol. I. 19 


escape with irons on, he had been drowned. While I was away my house was 
robbed of everything ; I did not think it worth while to open another house, 
and went to live in a small house near the burying-ground. A few days 
afterward I was arrested for house-breaking. I employed Mr Pixley, who 
promised to get me out of the scrape for fifty dollars. I told him I was 
guilty. Old Jack swore false, and I gave him twenty dollars. About a 
week or ten days after, was arrested again for breaking into a house in a 
lumber yard. I was very nearly shot there; a bullet went through my 
hat at all events. I got taken and committed aboard the brig for trial. 
A night or two before, Mat Hop word, from Sydney, or Big Brummy, as 
.we call him, robbed a house with me, where we got between eight hundred 
and nine hundred dollars' worth of property. Employed Mr Pixley agam, 
and paid him fifty dollars, and gave him fifty more for getting off Big 
Brummy, who had robbed a woman. Two days after I had been on board the 
prison brig a constable came down from Auburn and identified me as the 
murderer of Sheriff ISIoore of Auburn. Two or three hours afterward two 
more constables came on board, one from Foster Bar and one from Marys ville, 
and identified me as having murdered Charles Moore. One had a warrant ; 
they went to Judge Sackett, who gave them an order to bring me ashore. I 
was taken to the judge's office ; Mr Pixley appeared for me, and would not 
allow the judge to examine me. I was then sent on board the brig again. 
The next morning the sheriff came for me, and Mr Pixley told him that his 
warrant was not legal ; that he could not take me without another warrant 
from Marysville; so the sh'^riff went after it. I then gave Mr Pixley my bag 
of gold dust to weigh out six hundred dollars, and an order for one hundred 
and thirty dollars, which he told me he had got and would pay me next day. 
The orders I gave Pixley were in the name of James Campbell. That night I 
made my escape from the brig. I walked the next day to Dry Creek, half-way 
to Stockton; when I reached Stockton I disguised myself and came to San 
Francisco on a steamer ; this was about the middle of December. I stopped 
at Edwards' house in Sydney Valley. 

' ' I never went out of the house during the day. At night I went to Port 
Philip House kept by McCormick and Whittaker. At this time Jansen 
lived next door to Whittaker, We heard that there was a safe in a butcher's 
shop in Broadway with eight or nine thousand dollars in it, so Whittaker 
and I, with Edwards and George Adams, took the window out, moved the 
safe into the street, but could not get it any further. Our next attempt was 
Minturn's ; Belcher Kay said there was a great deal of money there. In this 
mess there was a large number of us. Edwards, Whittaker, George Adams, 
Edward McCormick, Belcher Kay, Bob McKensie, and I took a boat, fall 
and tackle, made shears, put a feather-bed in the boat, augers and saws, and 
all went pretty well armed. Three or four of us got inside the building and 
moved the safe a little ; made a few auger holes in the floor, intending to cut 
the floor away; some one came to the door, a false alarm, and we had to run. 
McKensie spoiled it all by not knowing his instructions ; he gave -wrong sig- 
nals, and we jumped into the water and ran away. With such a big haul 
we should not have stirred for one man or two. Belcher Kay watched out- 
side. The next thing was a jeweler's shop; Belcher Kay had examined it; 


he said there was twenty or thirty thousand dollars in diamonds there. Ed- 
wards and I went at night and looked at the place ; gave my opinion that we 
could not do it ; too much risk, as there were four or five men in the shop 
below, and so we gave it up as a bad job. The next thing Belcher Kay got 
for us was Macondray's store ; he had been watching it for a month, and he 
told us that there were three safes and a vault with lots of money ; as much 
as we could take away in a boat. We came up in the night to do it, but some 
of the men backed out ; and considering there were eleven men in the building 
we all gave it up. 

"The next night Whitaker informed us of Jansen's place. He said that 
when Jansen moved ho had a bag which he supposed contained ten or fifteen 
thousand dollars ; we agreed to go and get it. Jim Briggs and J. M. !Morgan, 
who had just come from Monterey, and \^^littake^, Edward McCormick, 
Billy Kewes, Belcher Kay, and I, who had been together for ten days, were 
in this job. McKensie had had a falling out with Morgan and Briggs, and had 
to leave. Morgan went into Jansen's store first ; the rest stopped in the road. 
Whitaker and I stood at the window during this time. I thought he Vvas 
too long and could get no money, so I went in to help him ; I got half-w ;iy 
up the shop, behind the counter ; I heard Jansen ask Morgan what he wanted 
there; Morgan said he wanted to look at some blankets. Jansen turned 
around and saw me behind the counter, and I also told him I wanted some 
blankets. He stepped about two yards to show me the blankets, when I hit 
him on the head with a slung-shot and knocked him down. I then left 
Morgan to look after him while I searched for the money. I only hit him 
once. I opened a desk and took out a shot-bag containing money. Both 
Morgan and I had cloaks thrown about us as a disguise. I carried the money 
home to Sydney Valley. There was one thousand five hundred and sixty - 
eight dollars in gold coin. We divided it among eight, making a hundred 
and ninety-six dollars apiece. We went down town and spent a few hours 
at Mrs Hogan's, on Sansome street ; her house was a crib for stolen property ; 
she wears my picture, and knows all about our motions, but Mr Hogan was 
innocent. The next day there was quite a fuss about town made over Jansen's 
assault and robbery. We did not commit any more robberies while the trial 
of the men arrested for striking Jansen was going on, as we did not wish the 
men hung, knowing that they were innocent. We would have shot fifty men 
rather than have had them hung. We agreed that if those men were h^ng, 
which we expected they would be, we would fire the town on Sunday night 
in several places. 

"A few nights after we agreed to rob a bank kept by Beebee, Ludlow, and 
Co., on Montgomery street. In this we were to be assisted by Bob Mclntyre 
and Andy McCarty. They told us that whenever we were ready they would 
take the watch ofiF their beat. These police-officers used to know all we were 
about those days. We tried two nights ; opened the outside door by false 
keys. Watched it two days, and concluded there was not money enough to 
pay for attempting the robbery, as we observed the porter come each morning 
from Argenti's with bags of money deposited the previous night. 

" The next night we went to Young's Bank, next to El Dorado, in Washing- 
ton street. Morris Morgan helped build the money vault, and gave us the 


information. Went down El Dorado steps, opened the door with false keys; 
entered and found two beds ; discovered too many people sleeping abont there, 
considered it too dangerous, and gave it up. Belcher Kay was an accomplice ; 
there were eight in the gang; Kay generally was outside watching. We 
have had an understanding with police-officers Mclntyre and McCarty for a 
long time ; they were concerned with us in the robbery of Young's Bank. 

' ' The next night we stole a small safe out of Emerson and Dunbar's auc- 
tion store ; this was Sunday night ; there was but twenty-four dollars in this 
safe. Adams stepped out at the time of Minturn's robbery. 

' ' The following night we stole a safe from Gladwin and Whitmore ; took 
it up the sand-hills, but were discovered before we had broken it open. Here 
we lost all our tools, which were worth five hundred dollars to us. Then I 
went to Mrs Hogan's house. Bill Hewcs went home that uiglit. Not liking 
to see the men go to the watch-house, I wanted the rest to come and free 
them by force; but they refused, thinking that by employing Mr Parburt 
and other lawyers they would be cleared. The next day Morgan was ac- 
quitted and Briggs committed to jail. 

"The next day I went to Gold Bluff in the schooner B. F. Allen; I was 
twenty-seven days on the passage to Trinidad Bay. I there saw Bob McKensie, 
Dab, the horse-thief, and Jem Peet ; they came from Oregon. They said that 
five horse-thieves had taken about sixty horses from Sacramento City to Oregon, 
and there sold them. I found Trinidad to be a bad place for me. I played 
cards with Dab, and won all his money, about three hundred dollars. I then 
came back in the B. F. Allen, and paid the passage of Dab and Peet also to San 
Francisco. We arrived in San Francisco on Sunday, when Dab threatened to 
inform on me if I didn't give him money ; so I gave him fifty dollars. 

' ' I went to James Kitchen's house, and sent him on board the schooner for 
my bed and blankets. The same day Dab and a policeman stopped me on the 
street ; the policeman wanted me to go to the recorder's with him. I drew 
my pistol to shoot him, and he shoved off. There were many people around, 
and I gave him one himdred dollars to quiet him. I then went to Kitchen's 
to stop that night. I went to see Mrs Hogan, who told me that there was a 
warrant out for Whitaker and Long Charley, for robbing a man in her house 
of fifteen thousand dollars; she said she had secreted Wliittaker at the 
Mission, and advised me to leave the town, as the police were searching her 

' ' The next morning I hired a horse at a stable and rode to Monterey. At 
this time I had just taken the name of Carlisle, having previously been known 
as Campbell. I went to Monterey on purpose to attend the trial of the men 
arrested for robbing the Monterey custom-house. I went to the watch-house 
and saw the prisoners. The second night my horse was stolen from me. Dick 
Osman was first put on trial. Parburt went down from San Francisco to de- 
fend him, and I appeared as a witness in his favor. Wliittaker was also at 
Monterey ; Briggs was then in custody ; Kitchen arrived at Monterey in the 
steamer. We all knew the parties were guilty. Although they took thir- 
teen thousand dollars down from San Francisco, all that was robbed was eight 
thousand, though Randall said that he had lost thirty thousand. Parburt, 
McDonald, and Judge Merritt were counsel for prisoners, and Colonel Weller, 


Bolts, and Wallace for prosecution. There was a great deal of false swearing 
and bribery. All the money was taken from the prisoners ; the court charges, 
amounting to one thousand dollars, were first deducted, and the balance, 
twelve thousand dollars, was equally divided between the prisoners and prose- 
cuting counsel. The prisoners then paid their own lawyers. Randall received 
one half and the prisoners the other half of the twelve thousand dollars. 
Ryan, Morgan, and Tom Quick were then in jail, but Osman was tried and 
consented to the division. The sheriff of Monterey received seven hundred 
dollars and a gold watch for packing the jury and for other services. Morris - 
man, a juryman, received one hundred dollars from the prisoners, which was 
paid after the trial. Dennis McCarthy, the constable, received one hundred 
dollars from the prisoners for false swearing. He first swore for the prose- 
cution, and then swore back in favor of the prisoners. Jim Carson, a jury- 
man, held out for guilty ; he was bribed by the prosecution. The judge knew 
nothing about all this. Par hurt told me to let the prisoners out of jail; I 
broke the door down and they were free. 

'*Then I started on foot from Monterey for the southern mines. When I 
reached San Jos6 I stole a horse, saddle, and bridle, but was captured near 
San Joaquin. I got in a row with eleven Mexicans who took my gun and 
said that I had stolen their horse ; they took me back to Livermore Pass. 
I gave them my watch and chain to release me, and started on foot for Sonora. 
From there I went to Sullivan's and worked about a week, but did not like 
mining. Then went to Mariposa where I worked for five weeks ; there I met 
two Americans who knew me ; I did not think myself safe and started on foot 
for San Francisco. 

" I arrived here on Tuesday night ; I saw Kitchen in the El Dorado 7" went 
to his house where he used to live; all my things were left at Kitchen's, and 
are still there. Wednesday morning I arose and went to the Mission to see 
an acquaintance who lives at the bakery ; this acquaintance wished me to rob 
a Spaniard's house at the Mission. I went into the Mansion House, saw the 
safe, and said I would see him again about it. I took the hills on the way 
back from the Mission to avoid being seen, and was arrested on the sand-hills 
doing nothing ; I was on the way to North Beach. 

"In coming from San Jose to San Francisco last January or February I 
came in the steamer Neiu Star, with one Smith, who was afterward shot in 
Sacramento while robbing a house. We went from San Francisco to San 
Jos6 on purpose to rob the churches of the silver and gold images. We were 
told that there was a gold image weighing ten pounds, but we could not find 
it. We got stuck on a mud-flat on the passage. In the morning we were 
called into the cabin and told that a passenger had been robbed of one 
thousand dollars in gold dust. They took my gold dust, amounting to about 
six hundred dollars, and that of another passenger ; but I did not commit the 
robbery nor know anything about it. Before leaving the Neiv Slav I threatened 
the captain that I would report him if he did not give me back my money ; 
he was afraid I might make him trouble and gave it up. 

" On arrival here I advised robbing the Neio Star. I met Teddy McCor- 
mick and John Edwards, and went down to the steamboat. I went on board, 
opened the window, and robbed the desk of about two hundred and fifty 


dollars. I have worn a serape and have ridden horseback in San Francisco. 
Jimmy-from-Town robbed Dow's safe and blew it up with powder. Have 
heard hundreds remark that the day would soon come when this country 
would be taken by the Sydney people." 

In addition to this story of guilt is the testimony 
of Joseph Hetherington, who took charge of Mrs 
Hogan's house at her husband's request while he was 
at the mines. Whitaker boarded there during Mr 
Hogan's absence. Whitaker gave him this account 
of the murder of Moore, the sheriff: He said that 
Stuart, with two Americans, was travelling from 
Nicolaus to Marysville; they had but little money, 
and they concluded that they might as well be dead 
as t» be without money; so they agreed to rob every 
man they met until they secured twenty thousand 
dollars apiece for themselves. Sheriff Moore hap- 
pened to be the first man who crossed their path, and 
Stuart at once shot him. It Avas for this murder that 
Burdue was convicted before Stuart was arrested. 

Stuart's confession raised quite a commotion among 
the fraternity. While the professionals, whose sombre 
deeds were lighted by the people and the press, 
scattered, respectable malefactors as a matter of 
course loudly proclaimed their innocence. I do not 
doubt that Stuart exaggerated where he entertained 
enmity, or that he lied w^henever it suited him. He 
was bad enough to do anything, and he was strong 
enough to do much. Yet in false charges there are 
usually some facts. A lie seldom rests on no founda- 
tion ; or if it does, the victim of it is indeed a sufferer, 
for such is the construction of men's minds that he 
can never wholly escape the effects of it. Evil is 
never spoken of the innocent whom the slanderer 
does not know. Yice, like fire, is a dangerous pla}^- 
thing. When the clouds drop pitch, you may look 
for the white-robed at home. 

Scarcely had the clock told nine on the morning 
of July 11, 1851, when the Monumental bell struck 


for the assembling of the general committee at their 
rooms on Battery street, and instantly the streets 
were filled with citizens hurrying thither. So much 
time was occupied by the Committee in their grave 
deliberations that the crowd, congregated in knots 
about the building, became impatient. Those who 
knew nothing of the proceedings within began to 
think it but an ordinary conference, and about noon 
dropped away to attend to their respective affairs. 

The minutes of the general meeting, Selim Wood- 
worth in the chair, are brief and to the point. On 
motion the evidence in the case of Stuart was read. 
Questions were then put, and it was determined that 
the prisoner was guilty of crimes which rendered him 
liable to the punishment of death; that he should be 
hanged; that a clergyman be sent for; that the exe- 
cution take place at two o'clock; that the executive 
committee should make the necessary arrangements; 
that no person be allowed to leave the room ; that the 
prisoner receive his sentence. Half an hour after, the 
sentence of death was pronounced upon the prisoner, 
who during the final meeting, with imperturbable cool- 
ness, sat manacled in an adjoining room. Once or 
twice during the awful three hours thus employed 
he placed his fettered hands behind his head, yawned, 
and exclaimed, "This is damned tiresome; give me a 
chew of tobacco!" In this request he was indulged. 
Being brought into the council -room to receive his 
sentence, he displayed the same apparent nonchalance. 
Two hours of grace were allowed him in which to pre- 
pare for eternity. Stuart received the clergyman, 
Mines, with great respect; though at first sullen he 
yielded to the influence of the hour, and at last ac- 
knowledged the justice of. his fate, declaring that he 
could die without resentment toward any one. At 
the expiration of two hours the prisoner was brought 
out, bound. He was a man five feet nine inches in 
height, well proportioned, about thirty-one years of 
age; his hair was brown; lie wore a mustache and 


whiskers; his forehead was broad and his face had an 
intellectual cast; he had an aquiline nose, compressed 
mouth, and slightly projecting chin. At the time of 
his execution he was neatly dressed in a dark jacket, 
white shirt, brown pants, and patent-leather boots. 
During the time while the doomed man was closeted 
with the clergyman his four hundred judges sat in 
the committee room like statues, solemn and silent. 
Scarcely a word was spoken, and the gravity of un- 
pleasing but inexorable necessity was depicted on 
every countenance. One of their number went out 
and addressed the people before the door, telling them 
that guilt of the deepest dye had been proven with- 
out a doubt; that this proof was backed by the pris- 
oner's confession, and that the sentence of immediate 
death had been pronounced. The speaker then asked 
if the proceedings met their approval. Affirmation 
was promptly spoken, with but three dissenting voices. 
About half-past two the Committee emerged from 
their rooms with the prisoner, bound and supported 
by two members. Arm-in-arm, eight abreast, w^th 
weapons ready, they marched in platoons, with slow 
and measured tread, along Battery street to Market- 
street wharf, where stood a derrick ready for their 
purpose. When the front of the column reached the 
wharf it opened, parted to each side, and the two 
hundred body-guard passed between the two lines, 
which immediately closed in the rear and locked arms, 
forming an impenetrable barrier between those per- 
forming the ceremony and the people, who were thus 
prevented from crowding the wharf. The bravado 
of the man now left him. Many times he had re- 
garded the approach of death, but never had the grim 
monster stared him in the face as now. For a moment, 
as he looked at the gallows prepared for him, and as 
he felt the solemn hush pervading the assemblage, his 
strong frame shook like a leaf; but immediately re- 
covering, he thenceforth acquitted himself manfully. 
At his own request he was not blindfolded; reiter- 


ating a few words of penitence, and acknowledging 
the justice of his sentence, he closed his eyes. One 
end of the rope was quickly adjusted round his neck, 
the other thrown over the derrick and seized by 
twenty hands, which quickly jerked the criminal in 
air, where he was suspended for half an hour, until 
long after life was extinct. Throughout the entire 
proceeding the most perfect order prevailed, no re- 
sistance being offered by any one. The solemn still- 
ness of the people, as they stood with uncovered 
heads, attested the grave importance attached to the 
execution, indicating no feeling of revenge, but the 
consummation of simple justice. In the harbor flags 
on the vessels had been hoisted and cannon fired. 

As I have before remarked, there was no military 
organization in the Committee of 1851, as there was 
in that of 1856, but a police system only. At the time 
of Stuart's execution the general committee resolved 
itself into an inpromptu military association, con- 
sisting of companies or squads under their respective 
captains, in all about three hundred and eighty men. 
Thomas J. L. Smiley, a tall, straight, fine -looking 
man, no less able in counsel than efficient in action, 
commanded one company, with his business partner, 
John Middleton, acting as lieutenant. While Stuart 
was hanging, and before life was wholly extinct, 
Gallagher, the coroner, came in hot haste, elbowing 
his way through the crowd until, reaching Smiley's 
locked line, he paused, and throwing into attitude and 
speech the half of Ireland's dignity, he cried : 

''I demand permission to pass!" 

''Who are you?" asked Middleton. 

''You know well enough who I am," said the 
corpse-tender; "I'm the coroner." 

"The devil you are!" replied Middleton. "Well, 
Mr Coroner, you don't pass this line until that fellow 
is a fit subject for your administration." 

As* we have seen, all these proceedings were char- 
acterized by sobriety and solemnity. Yet peculiar to 


the people and to the time was that spirit of manu- 
mission from ancient superstitions, so inseparable from 
their acts, that while engaged in the most serious 
affairs they could not behave otherwise than in their 
natural manner. 

I have said that James Stuart was a great scoun- 
drel — a mean scoundrel. Yet the more I investigate 
his character the more I am astonished at his cool- 
ness, courage, and ability. Had the stream of his life 
been directed into honest channels he would have 
been no less prominent for good than he was now for 
evil. If in the eighteen months' work, the account 
of which he recited with such vivid exactness, the 
same energy and talent had been displayed in some 
honest direction, as is always true in the economy of 
crime, the results would have been no less beneficial 
to himself and to society than his actual course was 
detrimental. When one lays aside all hope of life, 
and walks the street as already a dead man, there is 
apt to be very little acted for effect; or if so, then 
doing for effect is surely a dominant quality of such 
a one. Now when Stuart knew his time had come, 
villain as he was, I can but admire his conduct; for 
prominent in all his bearing were displayed in a re- 
markable degree admirable qualities which many an 
honest and good man lacks. He was not defiant, like 
Jenkins, but modest. Marching to execution with 
head erect, firm step, and graceful carriage, he looked 
less the villain then than at any time before. Nor 
was his coolness indicative of audacity or indifference. 
It was simply the display of a natural philosophic 
strength of mind, exercised unconsciously, or nearly 
so. Yet he was an audacious villain, and every inch 
a villain. 



The next in place and punishment were they 
Who prodigally threw their souls away. 


The work went bravely on. Throughout the land 
it was deemed the proper thing to do. Men knew 
that nothing would cure the evil but hanging. The 
wicked ones were so active, so cunning; like Antseos, 
as long as their feet touched firm earth no Hercules 
could crush them. July, 1851, saw town and country 
all astir. Not of that outward noisy form, visible 
to the eye of the uninitiated, was the traffic of the 
tribunal; but whosoever with spiritual vision might 
penetrate the calm surface, or, better still, in bodily 
form step behind the already blood-begrimed curtain, 
would soon hear the clatter of the morality-mill, and 
witness the various processes of cleansing there applied 
to soiled souls. 

This was the busiest month in the annals of the 
first Committee. The mass of accumulated material, 
most of it of a secondary character lacking special 
interest to the general reader, is overwhelming. What 
a revelation was that of James Stuart! and what a 
world of work it made! Meetings were held daily, 
sometimes twice a day, and correspondence was opened 
with rogue -exterminators and country committees 
from British Columbia to Mexico. 

Hundreds of descriptions of suspected persons were 
sent from one committee to another — instance the 



following, given by the Marysville Committee to the 
San Francisco Committee: 

"Charles A. Pitcher of Belfast, Maine, was whipped at Tolle's old dry- 
diggings, above Marysville, about the 25th of June, for stealing six hundred 
dollars out of a miner's tent. Previous to the theft he had passed under the 
name of Silas Pacard. He is over six feet in height, broad-shouldered and 
full flesh, but not over fleshy. Will weigh a hundred and eighty-five to one 
hundred and ninety pounds; dark hair, cut short, and rather brown complex- 
ion; black eyes, and heavy black eye-brows. He walks with a long, stately 
step. He is about thirty years of age. Wore about the 1st of July a camlet 
coat of black, skirts rounded like a quaker's, black pants, and a low drab 
brush hat, with black band. He had a partner named Miller — a very respect- 
able man — in the grocery business on Front street, Sacramento. His partner 
quit business on suspicion of Pitcher's dishonesty. He has a brother-in-law 
named Miller, of the firm of Pierce and Miller, in Sacramento City, J street, 
between Seventh and Eighth, who is a very honorable and respectable 
merchant. " 

Criminals were caught and witnesses examined by 
the score, involving the taking and writing of great 
masses of evidence, which might or might not prove 
relevant. Then there was the sea to scour as well as 
the land; on the arrival of every vessel from Au- 
stralia the passengers and crew were overhauled for 
disreputable characters; also passage to be secured, 
and paid, for the exiled. There was the hanging of one 
and the getting ready of others to be hanged. There 
were the new quarters to make tenantable, rooms and 
cells to arrange, and the accommodations of con- 
stantly increasing numbers and requirements to be 
provided for. 

The organization had likewise to be remodelled. 
Hastily arising from immediate necessity, adapted to 
simple duties rather than to complex and permanent 
affairs, there was much to be considered and changed. 
Besides the outlaws there were the lawyers, and law 
officers, and prisons to look after. Suits were brought 
which must be defended, and writs of habeas corpus 
there were to be dodged. 

In the archives of the Committee before me are 
abstracts of the character of multitudes of those 


then arriving here, of which the following are speci- 

James Ogle, Irishman; left home in 1840 in the 
emigrant ship Champion for Sydney. Occupation a 
laborer; kept a tavern in Sydney; thinks there are 
no convicts on board this ship; has a wife and child 
on board; knows a Mr Eggleston in this city. 

Thomas D. Snodgrass, a Scotchman; left Liverpool 
as passenger in ship George Canning in 1828; kept a 
sheep farm in New South Wales; has a cousin here 
named Benjamin Sullivan. 

William Luch, an American, born in Connecticut; 
on ship's articles; has been on board about five 
months ; went to Sydney as steward in ship Christoval, 
a whaler, from Nantucket; ran away from ship; never 
knew any of the passengers until he came on board. 

David Rose, Englishman ; left Liverpool for Auck- 
land in convict ship carrying prisoners; remained in 
New Zealand two years; came to California in ship 
Johnson, arriving in March, 1850, with two hundred 

Helen Casey, Irish, single woman ; arrived in Syd- 
ney in 1820 in emigrant ship Premier; was waitress 
in an asylum at Sydney where she left her father; has 
a sister on board. 

William Butt was taken before the Committee and 
testified: "I was born in Southampton; left from the 
Isle of Wight by the convict ship Lord Eldon, which 
took two hundred and forty-five convicts from Ports- 
mouth; I engaged with Captain McCarthy as servant; 
a person named Bolton who resides here knows me ; 
I have never been a convict." He was discharged 
from custody. 

Mary Ann Banks, an Englishwoman; left England 
eleven years since in ship Sir Edivard Paget for Syd- 
ney. No certificate. 

Lists descriptive of suspected persons were carried 
in the pockets of the vigilant police, of which I give 
two specimens: 


Russell, alias ' Moe the Jew/ aged fort}' ; height 
five feet seven; black hair, swarthy complexion, dark 
beard, eyes dark-brown; mouth broad, and upper lip 
straight; scar on right side of the chin; nose straight, 
eyes sunken ; not like a Jew; very smooth and plausible 
in his address; gives to his eyes a peculiar expression; 
married, one boy two years old; round-shouldered, 
but strongly built; chin round. Can be found in a 
house on Sansome street, near Pacific. 

Ben Sellers, aged forty-one; five feet eleven or six 
feet; high cheek-bones, freckled, pitted by small-pox; 
sunken gray eyes, brown hair, no whiskers; strong 
and squarely built; active man; mouth very wide; 
married, no children. 

On board the American ship Adirondack^ arriving 
from Hobart Town in July, 1851, with two hundred 
and fifty passengers, one hundred of whom were 
women, were found two who were not permitted to 

Herewith I give a copy of a bill of lading in the 
shipment of an exile : 

"July 17, 1851. 

^* Know all Men by these Presents, That I, P. Jas. O. C. White, captain 
of the brig Cameo, bound for the port of Sydney, New South Wales, am held 
and firmly bound unto the commonwealth of Upper California, United States 
of America, in the sum of two thousand dollars, upon this condition : That 
I will deliver the body of one Alexander Wright, a convict, who has this day 
been put on board of my brig by the citizens of San Francisco, and for whom 
the Vigilance Committee have paid me the sum of one hundred dollars for the 
passage of said Alexander Wright to the aforesaid port of Sydney, dangers 
of the sea only excepted ; and that I will present him to the authorities there, 
and not return him again to California, nor land him during this voyage at any 
intermediate port. 

"Witness my hand, this 17th day of July, 1851. 

"P. J. O. C. White. 

** In presence of A. Oaksmithe and E,obt. S. Lammot." 

Here is the " Report of 537, Y. C": 

"A man named McCurdy, who came passenger in the British bark Priii- 
cess Royal, from London, has now in the United States Appraiser's Office 800 
pounds of apparatus and false dies for counterfeiting the different silver and 
gold coins of the United States. This man is accompanied by a man named 


Walker. The dies, etc. , will be shown to any of the Committee who may be 
pleased to call upon the officers of customs at the appraiser's store, California 
street; and they will also give a description of Mr McCurdy." 

Mr Payran sends in the following communication 
the 7th of July : 

" From information received from a reliable source I would present Yerba 
Buena Island as being infested with a gang of thieves, and perhaps worse. It 
appears that the cutter Polk lay to the leeward of the island yesterday, and 
while there distinctly saw several men leave the beach for an instant and re- 
turn again, armed apparently with rifles, seemingly, to all on board the Polk, 
to prevent the landing of any persons from her. They also saw them packing 
boxes and bales in great quantity. The party on board the Polk imagined 
that the gang on shore took them for the Vigilance Committee. One gentle- 
man informed me that he has no doubt of the fact that the island is the re- 
ceptacle of a large amount of stolen property, as well as the habitation of several 
felons. I therefore respectfully and earnestly call the attention of the ex- 
ecutive committee to the subject, and propose the following motion: That 
the officer in command of the Polk on Sunday, the 6th, be respectfully re- 
quested to come before our body and relate particulars touching the matter, 
as well as inquire of him as to the gentlemen on the Polk who witnessed the 

The following, from the proceedings of a July 
meeting, sufficiently demonstrates the sentiment of 
the association at this time: 

"Whereas, Seeming quiet, peace, and safety have attended our career of 
vigilance up to this period, and the dreaded evils to be apprehended from 
sudden outbreaks of the people have fallen short of the expectation of those 
who were opposed to such measures ; and whereas. The Committee of Vigil- 
ance of this city has been the foster-father of all such institutions throughout 
the state, whereby safety has been guaranteed to our brethren, and hundreds 
of the evil-minded who were in our midst have fled, whereby much danger 
will be avoided, it now becomes us to so arrange the basis of our association 
that its labors may be lessened and our usefulness continued, and the future 
present a bright scene compared with the past. Therefore we would suggest 
in its present form and in the following order : That the executive committee 
continue to discharge their duties by meeting at a room to be selected, and 
there receive all reports that may be ofiered ; and should any case occur of 
sufficient importance to call the general committee together, to then call them 
by notice to be given through the public papers or tap of the bell ; and in con- 
junction with other associations throughout the state, to hold all public matters 
under consideration, and report thereon ; to hold the acts of all our representa- 
tives subject to our examination, so that thereby some assurance may be had of 
their faithfully discharging their duties. We would also suggest the pro- 
priety of receiving all good citizens as members, who shall at their initiation 


pay five dollars, with such monthly stipend as may be fixed upon ; that there 
shall be a stated meeting of the general committee, not oftener than once a 
month, except in cases of necessity ; that this association shall not lose its 
identity, but exist in all its properties, liable to be called into action whenever 
necessity may require ; therefore, 

"■Resolved, That the Committee of Vigilance shall stiU continue under its 
present organization ; that the present order of business shall continue, and 
no meeting shall be called of the general committee except on urgent busi- 
ness to be determined by the executive. That the said executive or a quorum 
• of five meet every evening, at the place to be designated, and there receive 
reports and attend to such matters as may come before them. That the ser- 
vices of a sergeant-at-arms under salary be dispensed with ; that the duty be 
placed on one of the Committee, who may retain the man George, or some 
other person in our employ, to take care of the room and attend the door. 
That the proceedings of the present Committee shall be engrossed, and taken 
charge of by them for such future action as may be taken. That the qualifi- 
cation committee shall be merged in the executive committee, and that no 
new member shall be admitted except through and by the executive com- 
mittee under such rules and regulations as they may hereafter adopt. That 
there shall be a finance committee, whose business it shall be to take or re- 
ceive all moneys, and make disbursements on orders from the executive, signed 
by a quorum. Also, that the executive committee shall have power to dis- 
pose of all surplus property, the proceeds of the same to be paid over to the 
treasury, and to fill any vacancies that may occur in their midst from the 
general committee." 

On another occasion it was resolved, 

"That the deliberations of this body should be marked with dignity and 
solemnity, commensurate with the nature of the subject before- them. That 
all loud demonstrations of approval or disapproval are undignified and in- 
compatible with the true spirit of deliberation, and are hereby declared out 
of order in this Committee. That any person offering an indecorous remark 
to a speaker engaging the attention of this Committee shall be forthwith 
expelled from the room." 

It was also resolved, 

"That when a prisoner was delivered over to the charge of the chief of 
police of this association such prisoner should be considered the property 
of this Committee, and should not be released unless by the action of the 
executive committee or by a vote of the general body." 

The black sheep of the fold were soon detected, 
summarily dismissed, and narrowly watched. The 
following, from the minutes of July 5th, shows the 
shape in which complaints against members some- 
times came up: 

" Eeceived communication of William C. Graham, No. 152, being a com- 
plaint against W. F. McLean, No. 539, he not being considered a fit member 


of the Vigilance Committee. No. 152 states that this morning, about two 
o'clock, found No. 539 standing at the door conversing with two policemen, 
and heard him say that it was a damned infernal shame, the action of the 
Vigilance Committee in the case of Goff ; it was a damned imposition, r.nd one 
he would not submit to; and further stated that McLean said the day they go 
to put their decision into execution that he would have the boys about and 
release him." 

Among the other excuses of delinquent justice, and 
by no means one of the least reasonable, was that of 
inadequate prison facilities. 

Watkins, a genteel young man, sentenced by the 
court of sessions to ten years' imprisonment for bur- 
glary, openly boasted before Sheriff Hays that no 
prison in California could hold him. His friend and 
confederate. Brier, also thought his own confinement 
would not be long or severe. These dashing pro- 
fessionals took a philosophic view of chance, skill, and 
result; if foiled in wise attempt, or if captured when 
nothing more was undertaken than a fxir business 
risk, they submitted to imprisonment with character- 
istic good humor. Hanging more seriously inter- 
rupted their occupation, and hence should be avoided. 

In the earlier epoch of city government a large 
appropriation had been made with which to build a 
jail; but, as was usual in such cases, it had all been 
filched by official fingerings before it could acoomplish 
its purpose. A committee was appointed to investigate 
•these frauds, but they had been sufficiently well man- 
aged to escape such detection as should fasten the guilt 
in any responsible quarter. 

The necessity of securing felons when caught was 
daily felt more and more. In May and June the 
escape of prisoners was so frequent that the sheriff 
was obliged to bring all his lodgers at night into the 
main room of the building, and station policemen at 
different points to watch them. Under this arrange- 
ment, in many instances, a little money, or a bottle or 
two of brandy, was the price of liberty. 

On the 30th of June a laro^e number of the Com- 
mittee, by invitation of the sheriff, visited the county 

Pop. Teib., Vol. I. 20 


jail, then in course of erection and partially occupied. 
The Committee expressed themselves as pleased with 
the general aspect of the place, and admitted the 
urgent necessity of the speedy completion of the build- 
ing. But the city, already bled to dryness, could not 
do more. Money there was none, and promises the 
builders had no faith in. Fifteen thousand dollars 
were needed at once, and if this was raised the citizens 
would have to do it. The Committee at this time 
numbered five hundred active members; the requisite 
amount divided among them would leave to each thirty 
dollars to pay. Or to achieve a quick practical result, 
the fifty members of the executive, each assuming three 
hundred dollars, could settle the matter in an instant. 
At the meeting of the 5th of July it was resolved, 

" That as the amount wanted by the sheriff to complete the gaol could be 
made up by each of our members obtaining ten subscribers at three dollars 
each, a committee of the whole take up subscriptions for carrying out this 

Thus the much needed and long delayed work was 
quickly, easily, and cheaply done. If all the affairs of 
government to-day were taken from the great un- 
washed, the illiterate, the dishonest, the irresponsible, 
from selfish scheming professionals, and placed in the 
hands of the few most interested in the true welfare of 
the country, the matter of our governing, federal, state, 
and municipal, would not cost one fifth its present 

Forms printed in the following words were circu- 
lated for subscriptions: 


"We, the subscribers, citizens of San Francisco, hereby agree to pay to 
the Committee of Vigilance, of said city, the sum of three dollars each, to 
be appropriated by said Committee, and disbursed under their direct super- 
vision, for the purpose of completing the county jail. " 

The money was paid over as the work progressed, 
the last of it not being required until September, as 
the accompanying order shows: 




I I 

^. ^^ P ^ 

t In ^ 



Early in July was brought the first of those an- 
noying lawsuits against members of the Vigilance 
Committee of which there were so many during the 
year succeeding the great work of 1856. This suit 
was entitled Metcalf versus Argenti, Atkinson et al., 
and was brought in the superior court of San Fran- 
cisco, Justice Smith presiding. It appears that one 
Peter Metcalf, a carman, agreed for the sum of fifty 
dollars to take charge of four loads of furniture and 
wearing apparel during the great fire of the 2 2d of 
June. When called on to return the property he 
produced three loads, excusing himself from not re- 
turning the fourth on the ground of confusion and 
loss during the exciting scene. Suspicion was aroused 
no less by the man's contradictory statements than 
by the fact that out among the sand-hills was found 
a richly furnished house, containing some twelve or 
fifteen trunks filled with new and valuable wearing 
apparel, fire-arms, and other property, unquestionably 
stolen during the fire. 

The Committee of Vigilance, on being informed of 
the facts, set themselves at work to find the guilty 
persons, and in accordance with their custom they 
took the path that seemed before them straightest to 
the mark, and that without consulting custom or 
asking permission of the law. Suspecting Metcalf, 
they entered and searched his house. For this the 
carman demanded before the court twenty thousand 

Owing to certain delays the trial was not begun 
until the 16th of August, and it ended the 23d. At 
a meeting of the Committee, held the 5th of July, a 
resolution was passed as follows : 

" That a committee of three be appointed to wait on Mr Metcalf, and on 
Messrs Lockwood, Tilford, and Randolph, acting as counsel for the prosecution 
in the case of Metcalf versus Argenti, Atkinson, and others; and they are 
hereby directed to request those gentlemen to withdraw the suit and all 
further proceedings in the matter." 

At the same time was adopted the following pre- 


amble and resolution, which appeared in the public 
prints : 

' ' It having become necessary to the peace and quiet of this community 
that all criminals and abettors in crime should be driven from among us, no 
good citizen, having the welfare of San Francisco at heart, will deny the 
Committee of Vigilance such information as will enable them to carry out the 
above object. Nor will they interfere with said Committee when they deem 
it best to search any premises for suspicious characters or stolen property; 

' ' Resolved, That we, the Vigilance Committee, do claim to ourselves the 
right to enter any person's or persons' premises where we have good reason 
to believe that we shall find evidence to substantiate and carry out the object 
of this body ; and further, deeming ourselves engaged in a good and just cause, 
we intend to maintain it. 

" By order of The Committee of Vigilance. 

'■'San Francisco, July 5, 1851. No. 67, Secretary." 

In every large and promiscuous body of citizens 
there are some whose judgments are ill-advised and 
whose actions are too impetuous. The publication of 
this resolution was certainly injudicious on the part 
of the Committee. Its members would have known, 
had they carefully considered tlie matter, that no 
good could come of it, and much evil might be the 
result. The suit was brought by a poor carman 
against members of a powerful association, through a 
prominent law firm, whose fee, almost of a certainty, 
Avas contingent. Under such circumstances any over- 
tures on the part of the association could not but be 
damao:ing: to the defendant. As a matter of course 
the client would be governed by his counsel, who if 
the}^ were gentlemen would give gentlemanly answers, 
or if blackguards they would reply accordingly. 

In this instance the reply of the law firm to the 
appeal of the Committee for a dismissal of the suit 
illustrates more fully than could any words of mine 
the character of the men composing it. Says the 
lawyer Lockwood in the journals of the day: " Sundry 
fools or knaves, perhaps both, styling themselves 
the Vigilance Committee, have caused to be trans- 
mitted to the firm of Lockwood, Tilford, and Ran- 


dolph, the following resolution [given above]. As a 
member of said firm, my only answer to the aforesaid 
fools or knaves, in addition to the verbal response to 
the bearers of the resolution, is, I do defy, deny, 
spurn, and scorn you." 

The formal reply of the firm displayed a spirit but 
little more decent or truthful : 

"San Francisco, July 7, a.d. 1851. 

"We have received with astonishment a communication through your 
hands, purporting to be an extract from the minutes of the proceedings of a 
certain association styling itself the Vigilance Committee, in which we are 
requested to withdraw the suit which we have instituted in behalf of Peter 
Metcalf versus F, Argenti and F. A. Atkinson. 

" We forbear to remark upon the folly, the presumption, the ignorance of 
your own powers and of our character, and the entire disregard of the con- 
stitution and laws, and the rights of your fellow-citizens, which that com- 
munication betokens. 

" You will, for our answer, say to those who sent you, that we need no 
advice, and will submit to no dictation from the Vigilance Committee, col- 
lectively or individually ; and that they may rest fully assured that we will 
prosecute the suit of Metcalf versus Argenti and Atkinson, and all other suits 
of a similar nature in which we may be employed, with the utmost of our 
ability and to the end of the law. 

"We remain, your obedient servants, 

"R. A. LocKWOOD, 


"Edmund Randolph. 
" To Messrs SharroUj Curtis, Bromley, and Spence, Committee." 

The result of this trial was a failure of the jury 
to find a verdict. Nine were in favor of acquitting 
the defendants, and three held out for nominal dam- 
ages. The case was then taken to San Jose, where 
the jury found for the plaintiff in the sum of two 
hundred dollars. 

The speeches of the respective members of this 
law firm on these two several occasions are models 
of verbiage. Nothing could injure a cause more 
effectually than such advocates. Listen : '' Men and 
brethren, awake from your false security ! Heed not 
those hireling and corrupt editors, who persuade you 


to surrender to the patriotic and disinterested Vigil- 
ance Committee the custody of your character, your 
property, your liberty, and your lives. Heed not the 
crocodile lamentations and liyena howlings over petty 
crimes, of those vampires who at midnight drain the 
stream of life in your midst, and at mid-day repeat 
their horrid orgies with triumphant demonstrations. 
Murder, murder ten-fold more damnable than fel- 
onous individual homicide, stalks your streets; not 
shrouding its hideous aspect in murky darkness; not 
screening its blood-stained hand in secret lurking 
places; but with brazen front, in the open glare of 
day, defying and trampling upon your constitution 
and laws, and laughing to scorn the solemn mandates 
of your highest courts of judicature." 

Again: *' What have those mushroom noblemen, 
those sweet-scented, starch-collared, counter-jumping 
aristocracy, who in one short night, b}' the foul 
purchase of a goodly quantity of dirty ink and print- 
ing materials, became suddenly metamorphosed from 
cheating haberdashers and close-fisted, soulless money 
dealers, into an august body of patriotic noblemen; 
in the name of sense, what good have they accom- 
plished for the community that they thus, with 
haughty and supercilious air, challenge for them- 
selves the highest niche in the pantheon of our 
plebeian affections ?" 

On the subject of domiciliary visits in this connec- 
tion, the Herald of the 17th of July makes the 
following pertinent remarks: 

"Domiciliary visits constituted the bugbear got up as an argument 
against the Vigilance Committee, and it was represented in proclamations and 
charges to grand juries as a tremendous stretch of power to search the crib of 
a confederate of thieves for property stolen from honest citizens, a power ex- 
ercised in every state in the Union, and in everj' country in the world where 
there is a police, and one which should be exercised by the police of this city 
if they properly discharged their duty. By the exercise of this power we 
remember that one police-officer recovered after a fire, about six months ago, 
something like twenty thousand dollars' worth of property secreted in houses 
on the outskirts of the city. It is a power which no honest man need dread, 


and which hun never been exercised by the Committee except for the detection 
of crime or the recovery of stolen property. The stress laid on this thing ])y 
Mr Campbell and Mr Brenham is therefore very gratuitous. They should not 
have permitted themselves to give expression to such platitudes. But the 
presentubugbear is constituted authority. With the voice of a Cassandra and 
the tears of a PecksnifT one of our contemporaries lugubriously deplores the 
calamity that must follov/ a disregard of the sacredness of the judicial char- 
acter, to wit, a disregard of the sacredness of Parsons. The courts must not 
be interfered with ; they must be permitted to conduct business in the old 
way, or the consequences to the community will be ruin and disaster. The 
argument, in brief, is : The Committee must cease from the good work they 
have in hand, or society will be thrown into chaos, and confusion and anarchy 
will reign supreme. The old regime of the slung-shot and the bludgeon must 
be restored in San Francisco in order that officials may live. The city must 
be periodically fired, houses must be robbed, safes broken open, citizens mur- 
dered in the streets, bribery and false swearing must be encouraged in the 
courts of law, and %dllainy of every caste and character must bo permitted to 
run riot in San Francisco, else there is to be forsooth an upheaving of society, 
and a prostration of all the fabrics of civilization and morality. The citizens 
are called upon to show their respect for courts by sacrificing their lives to the 
assassin, and what remains to them of their property to the incendiary and 
burglar. We need not ask the Committee not to suffer themselves to be ca- 
joled into breaking up their organization. They have no intention of so doing, 
and least of all, in answer to such representations. The citizens do not wish 
to be again abandoned to the tender mercies of corrupt and treacherous officials, 
or to have the city again swarming with miscreants of every grade. If the 
authorities feel hurt that the citizens take the law into their own hands, let 
them resign. They know they are thoroughly and heartily condemned by the 
people. They whine about their power being trampled upon. We say again, 
let them resign. Office in their hands has brought forth no fruits but im- 
j)unity for crime. An organization of criminals in our midst has been nursed 
and fostered into growth and vigor by the guilty connivance of men in office. 
Ample space and verge enough has been afforded the thieves to carry on their 
extended and systematic schemes of villainy. That is what law has done for 
us. Do the authorities imagine the people will suffer the city to relapse into 
this condition?" • 



Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. 

Dr Johnson. 

I HOPE I shall not be misunderstood, or accounted 
loose or lawless in my conceptions of constitutional 
and statutory government, when I uphold, as I am 
constrained to do, the people of California acting as 
Committees of Vigilance in their several emergencies. 
Forms of government and rules for the regulation of 
judicial proceedings are essential to civilized society. 
Christ's millennial reign has not yet begun upon this 
planet. Until that time, or until the curses of law 
and government are no longer necessary, I hold them 
in profound estimation, for they are the savior of life 
and property. Evils they are, and given us for our 
sins; yet being necessary evils, should we not rather 
call them blessings, and not evils at all? So, indeed, 
we do call them when they are good ; when bad, they 
are the evil offspring of their grandam evil. 

I say that I respect law and government, lawyers, 
law- makers, and governors — when they are respect- 
able. In law and politics there may be, and are, 
honest men; just as in stocks, railroads, banking, 
butchering, carpentering, and white -washing, there 
may be, and are, dishonest operators. All the good 
men are neither crowded in nor crowded out of 
any one profession or occupation. As a rule the 
judiciary of England and America are as able and 
upright men as under the present economy their 



Maker can expect tliem to be. Among the legal 
profession of my acquaintance there are those, and 
many of them, as high-minded and noble men as ever 
lived; men who would lose a right hand before it 
should subscribe a lie, or a tongue before it should 
counsel dishonor. These men, lawyers, judges, gov- 
ernors, for their spotless purity of character, their 
integrity and ability, I bow before. I honor them for 
themselves, more than for the office they hold. Gold 
is but gold, even though it be made into a calf 
Furthermore, I can safely say that there never have 
existed on the earth free governments better adapted 
to their respective i^eoples than the governments of 
England and America. And to these I am ever 
ready to pay allegiance, as in duty bound. The good 
man is in duty bound to respect the government 
under which he lives, because by and for the righteous 
element of the commonwealth it was established. The 
virtuous citizen will not overthrow the law, because 
for his protection, as against vice and criminality, and 
at his cost, it was and is made and sustained. 

It was not law and government that the vigilance 
men complained of, but the lack of these. In the 
outskirts of our civilization it has ever been the case 
that the restraining influences of government are 
necessarily weaker than in central societies, where 
forms are more settled, officers more watchful, and 
the machinery applied more perfect and smooth in 
its running. 

California committees of vigilance were composed, 
for the most part, of men of good parentage and an- 
tecedents, who had not departed from the faith of 
their fathers. They were men of conscience. Kespect 
for their Maker and for his ministers, sacerdotal, 
judicial, and legislative, had been early and continu- 
ally instilled into their minds, made a part of their 
being, and was their rule and watchword at the time 
and in the midst of their most determined opposition 
to crime as much as at any time before or since. 


They who opposed independent action in the emer- 
gency were such as in religion, pohtics, and society 
respected form more than substance. The}'' were 
image -worshippers whose idolatry had long since 
ceased to carry them beyond the symbol of their faith. 
They were of the class to whom in the church purity 
of belief and holiness of living were of less moment 
than time -honored tenets, formulated creeds, and 
church ceremonials. From childhood, by precept and 
example, their minds had been moulded into set forms. 
Form was ever uppermost in all their thoughts ; they 
could see only form, handle only form, and conceive 
only form. Shadow, not substance, was the calibre 
of their imaginings. From the soul of things their 
souls were forever barred by the skeletons of dead 
maxims. They could not think beyond the crust that 
interposed between their minds and eternal realities. 

This, then, was the difference; one contended for 
the supremacy of form while the other saw only the 
substance. One would see perish the substance if 
only the form was maintained ; the other would sacri- 
fice the form, if need be, to the reality. 

Between these two parties was to be fought the 
battle for the vindication of the right or principle of 
the movement. Naturally enough ministers and bene- 
ficiaries of the law regarded the interference of lay- 
men with an evil eye. Though powerless themselves 
with their rusty machinery to protect society, anarchy 
and annihilation should come rather than the fair form 
of their ancient idolatry should be desecrated by the 
polluting touch of the uninitiated, or the ermine- of 
the bench be soiled so long as its purity should be in 
their keeping. 

At this time it was the habit of those who favored 
the Vigilance Committee to rendezvous informally at 
the Union Hotel, while the law and order party held 
their caucuses on the corners of the street in front of 
some saloon. There they meditated upon the un- 
happy fate of a people who had not such as they to 


rule over them, and speculated upon the proba- 
bilities of official profit and loss in these degenerate 

But so sudden and so strong was the blow struck 
by this organization of popular will, and so pusillani- 
mous the law and its officers, that at the first there 
was but little opposition to the action of the Com- 
mittee. However unpleasant the pill, they took it; 
howsoever they complained among themselves, few at 
that time broke out in loud opposition. The governor 
of the state, the mayor of the city, the sheriff, police, 
and most of the lawyers and judges, were silent as to 
the proceedings of the Committee of 1851. Some 
offered gentle opposition, protesting merely to keep 
up an appearance; others were earnest or obstinate in 
the discharge of their obligations to the law ; but all 
were reticent, all guarded well their speech. 

Like Caesar prostrate with disease, majestic law 
was now most humble; it remonstrated, but with 
benignant mildness; it resisted, but so gently as to 
invite rather than repel advance — for which con- 
sideration the people were devoutly thankful. 

There is no special blame to be attached to the 
better class of the law and order party, to those 
who honestly believed that the interests of the state 
demanded implicit obedience to legislative enact- 
ments, and that the letter of the law was paramount 
to the spirit of the law. The several classes of this 
party viewed the question from totall}^ different stand- 

Beginning at the lowest class : Criminals themselves 
regarded law-courts with favor, because they were 
their shield, their protector from popular fury, their 
father-confessor and absolver. To the moneyed mur- 
derer the courts offered absolute immunity from pun- 
ishment. Not only this, but trial was equivalent to 
amnesty; the jury's verdict was the general pardon 
that consigned to oblivion past offences. This is no 
random statement; the fact is fully substantiated by 


the criminal statistics of the time. Says the HeraM 
of July 4th: 

" It is now fourteen months since the district court went into existence, 
and during the period from April 20, 1850, to May 23, 1851, the whole 
number of persons committed for trial at that court amounted to one hundred 
and eighty-four. It is a startling fact that of this number but nine remain 
now in custody, paying the penalty of their ofifences. Seven have been dis- 
charged by the grand jury, six have died, and two have been pardoned. 
Besides these nine some few others of the one hundred and eighty-four are 
in prison awaiting trial ; but of the whole number, nine only are in custody 
under sentence. Forty have been admitted to bail, and doubtless will never 
again be heard of. Sixty-one have been acquitted and discharged by order 
of the court, and twenty-one have escaped and have not been retaken. " 

Petty and poor offenders only were punished. Able 
counsel was secured by money, false witnesses were 
suborned, and judges and jailers made lenient. I do 
not mean to say that all officials, nor the half of them, 
were open to bribery. There were some as pure 
judges on the bench then as now. Yet money, if not 
directly, then indirectly, would buy acquittal or pardon. 
Looseness and generality characterized law proceed- 
ings. Money would impanel a jury favorable to the 
accused; if not at the first, then the case would be 
postponed from time to time, until characters suited 
to the emergency of the case could be installed as 
jurors. All the technicalities of court procedure 
were employed for the acquittal of the accused. 
Criminal cases were held in abeyance until witnesses 
could be spirited away. So that criminals and all 
those who lived by crime, either as its defenders or 
prosecutors, were from the very nature of the case 
opposed to any interference on the part of the people. 

Then there were the hisfher classes of various 
grades who opposed the vigilance movement from 
principle. From their youth they had been imbued 
by precept and example with the importance of 
forms, until the essence of things had become second- 
ary. And as well might we look for water to refrain 
from seeking its level, as that class-bias, and party- 


bias, and the bias of education, even in minds learned 
and discriminating, should leave opinion untram- 
melled. It is so easy to think ourselves honest and 
intelligent in our beliefs where interest and pride of 
opinion are at stake, that we should condemn only 
where we are willing to be condemned. 

In my dealings with the law and order party I 
hope I shall do them no injustice. That I shall not 
be influenced by feeling I am sure, for I entertain no 
animosity toward them, or any one of them. I have 
many friends and not a single enemy in their ranks; 
and while I would not willingly wound the feelings 
of any, I deem it my duty, here as everywhere, 
plainly to speak the truth as it comes to me — else I 
cannot write. 

Pet names were given the opposition by the appre- 
ciative people, who in this manner often come nearest 
the true character of a man or measure. They were 
playfully called 'law and disorder party,' 'law and 
murder party.' The law party was indeed without 
order, and the order party without law ; one was law- 
less, but loving order; the other full of law, but lack- 
ing order. To one of the judges of the supreme court 
was given the sobriquet ' Mammon,' and to another, 
' Gammon.' 

Several cases of poisoning came up about this time, 
which, from their nature and the inability of the 
courts to reach them, called forth the following from 
the editor of the Picayune, the 13th of June: 

'*To know that such a transaction occurs in the heart of the city, and is 
let pass without examination, without investigation of any sort, is suffi- 
cient of itself to drive an outraged and injured people to the wildest acts 
of desperation. Numbers of persons condemn the action of those who on 
Tuesday night hung a wretch, guilty of arson and murder in one continent, 
and of burglary, at least, in another. For our own part we regret that the 
trial was conducted in secret, and by persons who were not delegated by the 
people to act as jurors ; but when either the law is so imperfect or the ad- 
ministration of it so lax as to suffer such deeds as the two recorded above to 
be perpetrated, without not merely punishment, but investigation ; when it 
is known that within the past twelve months fifty-four murders have been 


committed in San Francisco, we cannot wonder that honest men should be 
driven into taking the law into their own hands, into constituting themselves 
judges and jurors, and protecting themselves, when the law fails to do it, by- 
executing summarily persons detected in the commission of crime. A great 
outcry has been made about the danger of secret societies acting in the 
manner in which the Committee of Vigilance did on Tuesday night. Certain 
timorous gentlemen seem to fear that they themselves, though guiltless of 
crime, will be suddenly hurried off some dark night to a lonely place in 
Happy Valley, and without a chance to speak to friend or family be choked 
to death by Mr Samuel Brannan. Certain legal gentlemen, with an acute- 
ness for which they are remarkable whenever their interests are endangered, 
encouraged this belief ; and the consequences are that a matter which should 
have been dropped at once has been kept in agitation for several days. 
The good effect which the lynching might have had on the rogues and 
villains around town will all be dissipated, and the murderer and burglar 
will walk around more daring than ever when they know that to the 
sympathies of the scoundrelly they can unite the folly of a large portion 
of the honest citizens. For our own part we do not stand in any very great 
fear of Mr Brannan ; we are inclined, too, to think Mr Ward quite a gentle- 
manly and quiet personage ; Mr Battelle we don't consider a desperado ; nor, 
in fact, in reading over the names of the Vigilance Committee do we see one 
man who is quite as bad as Windred, Stuart, or Adams. In fact they are all 
pretty decent fellows. Neither do we fear that this Committee is going to 
prove an inquisition in the city, nor its members decemvirs. Such a thing 
will never be attempted here, and if it were, the gentlemen composing the 
Vigilant Committee would be the first indignantly to frown it down. We 
have no fear that an honest man is going to be hanged at midnight by them ; 
and we confess the weakness of going to sleep with a greater feeling of security 
from the knowledge that some of the members may be under the window. 
The secret society which is dangerous here is not this association of respect- 
able citizens, but the organized band of Sydney scoundrels who meet at the 
foot of Telegraph Hill and in back alleys near Pacific street. These men we 
dread ; and we have some little fear, likewise, of those men who make a rule 
of standing between justice and the people on nearly every occasion. " 

There was a strong opposition to the organization 
of 1851, of which Broderick and his poHtical retainers 
were chief; but so secret and so rapid were the move- 
ments of the Committee that the men of law and 
order did not know when or where to strike. Had 
it been known how few were actually engaged in the 
execution of Jenkins he would probably have been 
wrested from them by the officers of the law and the 
movement crushed in its incipiency. Unlike the 
more substantial and sedate organization of 1856, 


whose strength lay in its moral and intellectual 
solidity, the material composing the Connnittee of 
1851 was somewhat mercurial, though wily enough 
to do its work and talk of the consequences after- 

David C. Broderick in the early part of his career 
was a professional politician of the New York type, 
rough and self-reliant; honest as a rule in his in- 
tentions, but often erroneous in his opinions. Born 
in Washington in 1810, he was taken by his father, 
a stone-cutter, to New York in 1825, where, when 
grown, he kept a drinking-shop, ran with a fire-engine, 
and manipulated primaries. Arrived in California 
in 1849, without education, but with marked ability, 
he became a hard student and let fly his ambition, 
which carried him at lengfth to the United States 
senate. Possessed of many objectionable qualities, 
he was not without redeeming traits. His ambition 
was laudable, his perseverance indomitable, and his 
habits exemplary. 

On the 9th of July a meeting was held at the 
house of the Saint Francis Hook and Ladder Com- 
pany, with Broderick, McHenry, Bice, Bandolph, 
and Duane as speakers. Besolutions were submitted 
which were to be presented to the city officials for 
their signatures, pledging the signers, so far as lay in 
their power, to prevent the infliction of punishment 
without due process of law, rallying to the support 
of the threatened, and defending him with their 

At the autumn elections an independent ticket was 
nominated by those who regarded party distinctions 
in the political contests of this coast as obsolete and 
foreign to the interests of the commonwealth. This 
movement was charged by their opponents upon 
members of the Vigilance Committee, who by thus 
employing their organization for the furtherance of 
their power were said to be but fulfilling their chiefest 
aim entertained from the beeinninjcr. 


Never was a statement more absolutely foreign to 
the fact. All the interests and instincts of the class 
composing the vigilance association were opposed to 
meddling in politics. Money was what they wanted ; 
protection for their property, and that safety for 
themselves w^hich would enable them to increase it. 
It was a lack of that which was now charged upon 
them — interest in the affairs of the government — 
that had brought all this trouble upon them. If 
from the beg^inning: the members of the Yimlance 
Committee had done their duty as citizens, and voted 
honest and efficient men into office, there would have 
been no need of their organizing a special crusade 
against crime. As it was, they utterly repudiated 
the act and intention charged. At a meeting held 
the 26th of August the Committee refused to recog- 
nize the ticket in question, or any other ticket, and 
resolved forever to abstain from any participation in 

" Whereas," said they, *' it is with deep regret that 
we learn that a political ticket for the coming county 
election has been put forth purporting to emanate 
from certain members of this association; and be- 
lieving it ruinous to the objects of our formation for 
us to recognize any ticket of a political character, 
resolved, that this Committee disavow all participa- 
tion in the formation of the said ticket, and wish it 
distinctly understood that they will in no manner 
lend it their countenance or support as the Com- 
mittee of Vigilance." 

The 18th of June an inflammatory handbill was 
posted about the streets, calling an an ti- vigilance meet- 
ing the following Sunday afternoon. It is remarkable 
neither for its logic, good taste, nor truthfulness : 


•' The people of the city and county of San Francisco, republicans one and 

all, are called upon to choose now , ere it is too late, which they will serve — the 

law and order power of our city, or the dictators and anarchists who have 

lately disgraced our city by their lawless and criminal proceedings, and are 

Pop. Tuib., Vol. I. 21 


yet endeavoring to assume unlimited and unlawful power in the punishment 
of criminals. Even now they are going from door to door, from city to city, 
soliciting desperate men to join their secret Committee, with a view to transfer 
the criminal jurisdiction from our legally constituted tribunals into their own 
irresponsible hands, thus subverting all government, all law, all justice, as 
made and provided by the United States and our own state constitution. 
Will ye, lovers of law, and order, and social compact, longer tolerate such men 
in their career of murder and subversion of the laws, among whom are those 
guilty of the very crimes they profess to punish ? Shall it be said that our 
police is not of sufficient force to arrest these murderers, and our city officials 
shall Avink at their outrages, thus perjuring themselves? Shall we tolerate, 
in this enlightened age, a Danton, a Robespierre, or a Fouchd, and all the 
paraphernalia of a secret inquisition for the suppression of our laws and 
criminal courts? Then to the rescue of law and order from the hands of a 
secret inquisition, every good citizen, and without further invitation turn out 
en masse to a public meeting to be holden on the plaza, Sunday next, June 22d, 
at three and a half o'clock, P. M., and there join in the general opposition to 
the acts and further operations of midnight murderers ; and let the civilized 
world know that we can and will support law and order, and that our social 
compact shall be as much observed by the wealthy criminal, public robber, 
and law subverters, as by the lowly thief. 

"Many Citizens." 

It is said that the mayor interposed his influence 
to suppress this movement, on the ground that no 
benefit would come of it, but that on the contrary 
such a proceeding would breed only greater confusion. 

"In the ojfficial report," says the Herald of August 5th, "of the pro- 
ceedings of the Young Men's Democratic Association at their meeting on 
Saturday evening, we find the following : ' Mr Randolph offered the following 
resolutions, which were seconded but lost : 

" 'Resolved, That a true democrat must hold the constitution and the laws 
of his country inviolably sacred, and scrupulously respect the forms of legal 
proceedings, whereby life, liberty, or property is to be effected. That we 
will not give our support to any candidate for any office who individually or 
as a member of any association has systematically and with premeditation 
abridged any of the chartered liberties of the citizen, and especially who has 
resisted or evaded the great writ of habeas corpus, or has held persons to 
answer for capital or other infamous crimes, otherwise than on presentment 
and indictment by a grand jury, or has denied them the assistance of counsel 
or the right of trial by jury, which the constitution of our state declares 
shall be secured to all and remain inviolable forever ; or who has counselled 
or approved, aided or abetted any other person in doing any of these things.' 

"This places the question fairly before the people, and we wish nothing 
better than that the issue may be made in the next election. The Star says 
the resolutions were lost, bftt we hope the association will revive them, and 


either repudiate or avow explicitly the principles they contaia. Some of the 
gentlemen on the democratic state ticket, among them Mr Heydenfeldt, the 
candidate for judge of the supreme court, have approved and abetted the 
course of the Vigilance Committee, We desire now a distinct avowal on the 
part of the leaders of the democratic party whether those gentlemen are to 
be blackballed by any portion of their own party at the next election for the 
expression of their opinions. " 

The mayor of the city issues his pronunciamento in 
terms following: 


** We have arrived at an important crisis in the civil and social condition 
and prospects of our city, A voluntary association of men has been formed, 
under peculiar bonds to each other, and assuming most extraordinary and 
irresponsible powers, and has undertaken to institute extra-judicial pro- 
ceedings in forms not known to the laws. This association claims and ex- 
ercises the right to inflict penalties upon those adjudged by them guilty of 
crime, even to the penalty of death, and has publicly and boldly inflicted that 
penalty in two instances. 

"They claim and exercise the right of domiciliary visits, without any 
accountability, of a character not known under any other than inquisitorial 
governments. The great and sacred writ of habeas corpus has been rendered 
by them inefiectual, and the authority of the highest tribunal of the state 
disregarded. The circumstances in which the authorities arc placed in con- 
sequence seem to demand of me, as the constituted chief magistrate, some 
action by which the views and purposes of the city government, over which 
I have been called to preside, may be indicated to the citizens, to the country, 
and to the world. The people of the United States, of whom we are proud 
to be considered a part, have always attributed their eminence above almost 
any other people in the scale of freedom and security in their rights to the 
fact that they live under a government of laws of their own voluntary adop- 
tion. The people of California have taken perhaps a more conspicuous place 
than those of any of the sister states, under a full recognition of that repub- 
lican medium of public authority and of common protection. The several 
departments of the only government which any man among us can possibly 
acknowledge have been created by the constitution and laws, to which you 
as well as the public officers have given a common assent. These departments 
have been committed to the administration of men taken from among your- 
selves, and they have entered upon their trusts, doubtless, with a firm reliance 
upon the loyalty of their fellow-citizens to the constitution and laws for a 
steady support in the exercise of their respective functions. The obligation 
of such a loyalty on the part of the people is unquestionably as imperative upon 
them as any of the obligations of the laws can be upon those who are in- 
trusted with their public administration ; and the violation of obligation on 
the one side is as disastrous to the community as the abuse or perversion of 
oflBcial station can be on the other. The idea that any defects in the law, or 


any incompetency of its execution, Ccan be remedied by voluntary associations 
of citizens, assuming a superiority to the laws, is not only preposterous, but 
implies an abrogation of all law, and resolves society into a state of perfect 
anarchy. The result is inevitably the same, however intelligent may be the 
minds, pure the motive, or temporarily beneficial the acts of those who become 
so associated. In a community like ours, where the institutions of govern- 
ment have but just been established, any combinations of citizens for purposes 
not authorized by law, and whose proceedings are not controlled by law or 
subservient to the support of constituted authority, can have no other than 
an insurrectionary tendency throughout the commonwealth, and must to an 
absolute certainty inflict disgrace upon us in the estimation of our country- 
men in other parts of the Union, and ruin the confidence which it is of first 
necessity to our prosperity to secure throughout the commercial world. With 
these views I feel impelled, by the strongest sense of official duty, and by 
every consideration for our common welfare and public character, to call upon 
all citizens to withdraw from such association, and to unite in a common 
effort to support the laws and to sustain a prompt and energetic administra- 
tion of them in their proper application and action. In addition, I deem the 
present a proper occasion to announce, in the most distinct terms, that I shall 
not shrink from a prompt discharge of the duties which the statutes of the 
state and the ordinances of the city have made imperative upon me ; and that 
there may be no misapprehension in respect to what these duties may be, I 
have to call the attention of all citizens to the provisions of the act to regu- 
late proceedings in criminal cases, chapter iv. I, however, appeal to the good 
sense and deliberate judgment of my fellow-citizens to relieve me, and the 
other public functionaries of the city, by their common submission to public 
order, from the necessity of any application of the requirements of that act. 

"C. J. Brenham, Mayor. 
^^ Mayor's Office, July llth.^' 

From the report of the grand jury for the special 
July term I extract the following: 

" There is another subject to which our attention has been directed by the 
presiding judge, in his able charge, which has occupied much of our time and 
serious consideration. It is well known that a large portion of our best and 
most worthy citizens have associated themselves together, and without the 
intervention of our legal and constituted tribunals entered upon the investiga- 
tion of ciiminal charges against several persons, and executed sentence of 
condemnation and death. When we recall the provisions of the constitution 
of our government, which it is the bounden duty of every citizen to support 
and maintain, that no person shall be held to answer for a capital or other- 
wise infamous crime unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, 
nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due piocess of law, and 
tind also the same provision and language in our state constitution, we feel 
convinced, doubly convinced, while we believe the members of that associa- 
tion have been governed by no improper motives, that their proceedings are 


unlawful and in violation of the fundamental law of the land. We fear, too, 
the powerful example of those proceedings may engender a spirit of insubor- 
dination, or afford a pretext to other individuals or associations here or else- 
where in our state, who may not be governed by the same honest motives, or 
restrained by the same careful investigation of facts, for the perpetration of 
deeds of violence, which may lead to anarchy and abuses dangerous to the 
lives and property of citizens. When we recall the delays and the inefficient, 
we believe that with much truth it may be said the corrupt administra- 
tion of the law, the incapacity and indifference of those who are its sworn 
guardians and ministers, the frequent and unnecessary postponement of im- 
portant trials in the district court, the disregard of duty and impatience 
while attending to perform it manifested by some of our judges having crimi- 
nal jurisdiction, the many notorious villains who have gone unwhipped of 
justice, we are led to believe that the members of that association have been 
governed by a feeling of opposition to the manner in which the law has been 
administered and those who have administered it rather than a determina- 
tion to disregard the law itself. Under institutions so eminently popular as 
those under which we live, the power of correcting all these abuses is with 
the people themselves. If our officers are unfit for the stations they occupy, 
if the laws are not faithfully executed, if an arraigned criminal procures his 
own friends to be placed on the jury that tries him, where is the fault, and 
where is the remedy? If those of our citizens who are most interested in 
having good and wholesome laws, and in seeing them purely administered, 
will not give sufficient attention to our elections to procure proper and sober 
legislators, judicial and other officers, and neglect to obey the mandates of our 
courts when summoned as jurors and witnesses, as has been too often the case, 
can they expect to see justice prevail? And is it not in the neglect of their 
duties in these important particulars they may find the true fountains from 
whence have sprung many of the evils we have suffered? The grand jurors, 
believing, whilst they deplore their acts, that the association styling them- 
selves the Vigilant Committee, at a great personal sacrifice to themselves, have 
been influenced in their actions by no personal or private malice, but for the 
best interests of the whole, and at a time, too, when all other means of pre- 
venting crime and bringing criminals to deserved punishment had failed, here 
dismiss the matter as among those peculiar results of circumstances that 
sometimes startle communities, which they can neither justify nor by a pre- 
sentment effect any benefit to individuals or the country, and with the 
assurance that there is a determination on the part of all well disposed citizens 
to correct the abuses referred to by selecting proper officers to take the places 
of those who have violated their trusts, and by performing each his part in the 
administration of the laws. When this is done, the axe will have been laid 
at the root of the tree, the proper remedy applied for the correction of the 
grievous evils our city and county have so long suffered, and there will be no 
necessity for the further action of that Committee. To them we are indebted 
for much valuable information and many important witnesses. " 

In answer to this comes Levi Parsons, judge of the 
district court, and asks the court of sessions to strilce 


out that portion of the report which refers to the dis- 
trict court. In his motion the learned judge indulged 
in several assertions, to which the jury took exceptions 
in the following terms : 

" The undersigned, members of the late grand jury, deem it due to them- 
selves to correct a few errors, wilful or otherwise, of the honorable Levi 
Parsons, judge of the fourth judicial district, made by him in his motion 
before the court of sessions, to strike out certain portions of said grand jury's 
report. The assertion that the names of but two witnesses were endorsed 
on the back of the indictment of Hall and Spiers is correct. The assertion 
that but two were examined, and that the jury had listened to outside evi- 
dence, is false; and they believe the honorable judge knew it to be so when 
he uttered it, it having been explained to him by one of the jurors, previous 
to the visit of the honorable judge to Sacramento, that by some mistake — 
easily made in the press of business — the names of the other witnesses were 
accidentally omitted. He also stated that he had received a note from the 
grand jury, disapproving of a certain or certain jurymen then trying the 
above case. This statement is wilfully and unqualifiedly false, no com- 
munication having been sent the honorable judge by the grand jury, either 
officially or individually." 

The court of sessions denied the motion of the 
district judge holding that the grand jury possessed 
the undoubted power to examine the conduct of public 
officers and to express their sentiments on all public 

Immediately after the execution of Stuart a fresh 
charge was given the grand jury by the court of 
sessions. The charge from which I extract the fol- 
lowing was made by Judge Campbell, an able and 
upright man. And what he says is true so far as it 
goes. He throws off a series of general propositions, 
but hardly touches the real points at issue. To charge 
the people with murder was simply judicial mud- 
llinging; and to speak of liberty, constitution, and 
legal safeguards in the connection was but a little 
more of that political fustian of which the people 
were already too tired. 

" The court deem it their duty to call your attention to an event of the 
most startling and fearful character. We are informed that, yesterday, a 
person by the name of Stuart was taken by an organized association to the 
Market-street wharf, in this city, and there hanged by them; that a large force 


gnardeJ the wharf to prevent the success of any attempt which might be 
made by the public officers or citizens to vindicate the law and rescue the 
deceased. This outrage took place in the open day. It is wholly without 
excuse or justification. The question has now arisen whether the laws made 
by the constituted authorities of the state are to be obeyed and executed 
or whether secret societies are to frame and execute laws for the government 
of this country, and to exercise supreme power over the lives, liberty, and 
property of our citizens ; whether we are now to abandon all those principles 
which lie at the foundation of American law, and are the birthright of every 
citizen, which from the earliest period of American history up to the present 
time have ever been cherished by the good, the wise, and the great. Are the 
people willing to throw away the safeguards which the experience of ages has 
proved necessary, to trample the laws and constitution underfoot, to declare 
that law is inconsistent with liberty, and to place life, liberty, property, and 
reputation at the mercy of a secret society? If such be the disposition of 
the people ; if the Spanish inquisition is to be revived here, with all and more 
than all its former terrors ; if without, or in defiance of, all legal process, by 
the mere order of a committee, men are to be arrested, secretly tried, and 
suddenly executed ; if the tap of a bell is to be the signal for hundreds of 
armed men to assemble instantly together, and to execute, in open day, their 
unlawful and treasonable designs, it is time for every man who values his 
life, safety, and honor, to shake the dust from his feet and seek out some new 
home where he may hope to enjoy the blessings of liberty under the law. 
But if, on the other hand, we have not quite forgotten the principles upon 
which our government is formed ; if we believe that the constitution and laws 
of our country should be reverenced and obeyed, and that public order and 
tranquillity should be preserved ; if we believe that persons accused of crime 
should have an open, public, and impartial trial by a fair jury of unpreju- 
diced citizens, and should have a reasonable opportunity of making their de- 
fence, of employing counsel and summoning witnesses ; if we believe that the 
good name and reputation of our citizens is to be protected from a secret 
scrutiny, -where accusations are made under the influence of fear, by persons 
of questionable character ; if we believe that our houses are to be protected 
from unreasonable searches, without color of authority, it is our solemn and 
bounden duty to take immediate and energetic measures for the suppression 
of the spirit of reckless violence which overrules the laws and sets the con- 
stitution at defiance. When you first assembled, the court called your atten- 
tion to the unlawful execution of a man named Jenkins by an association of 
citizens. We considered that act as greatly palliated by the circumstances 
under which it was committed ; that the laws had been defective, and that 
perhaps there had been some laxity in their administration ; that the county 
had no sufficient jail for the detention of prisoners ; that crime had increased 
to a fearful extent, and that a portion of the citizens, deeming that the law 
afi"orded them no protection, had in that instance undertaken to execute what 
they conceived to be summary justice, in violation of the law, but with a sincere 
desire to advance the public interests. We further stated that the law had 
been amended in many respects, so as to secure the speedy trial and con- 
viction of offenders, and in some caso3 to increase the measure of their 


punishment ; that the county jail had been put in a proper condition for the 
safe-keeping of prisoners ; and we expressed the hope that no further attempts 
would be made to interfere with the legally organized tribunals of justice, or 
to WTCst from them their just poM^ers and attributes. From the time of your 
assemblmg the court, the grand jury and all the oiBcers have been actively 
and constantly engaged in the performance of their duties. At the time when 
they were making every possible effort to dispose of the criminal business of 
the county, and when the court was in actual session and in the performance 
of its duties, an association of persons, of armed and organized men, have 
undertaken to trample on the constitution, defy the laws, and assume un- 
limited power over the lives of the community. There is no excuse or pallia- 
tion for the deed ; it is a gross and glaring outrage ; it seems to have been 
done for the express i:)urpose of hurrying on a collision between the courts, 
and all fond of law and order on the one side, and the association referred to 
on the other. If the deceased was guilty of any crime, he could have been 
immediately indicted, and within a week, or at most ten days, tried, con- 
victed, and sentenced. Public justice could have been vindicated without 
infringement of public law. Every person who in any manner acted, aided, 
abetted, or assisted in taking Stuart's life, or counselled or encouraged his 
death, is undoubtedly guilty of murder. It is your sworn and solemn duty, 
which you cannot evade without perjuring yourselves, carefully and fully to 
investigate this matter, and to do your share toward bringing the guilty to 
punishment. Upon your fearless and faithful discharge of the sacred trust 
confided to you depends in a great measure the future peace, order, and 
tranquillity of the community. " 

Commenting on which the Herald of July 14th 

says : 

"We would fain forbear commenting on Judge Campbell's charge to the 
grand jury on the execution of Stuart, but its judicial character gives to his 
speech on that occasion a gravity and importance that must render any 
erroneous views he has taken exceedingly unfortunate. It would take much 
of extravagance to lessen in the smallest degree the great respect entertained 
for Mr Campbell by his fellow-citizens. In addition to the warm personal 
esteem with which he is regarded, the most implicit confidence is reposed in 
his official integrity and zeal ; but in this charge we regret to say that he has 
assumed positions wholly unwarranted by any legal necessity, and wanting 
that equitable and common-sense regard to the exigencies of society which 
in every free country should mould and fashion the action of the judiciary. 
The judge is reported to have stigmatized the execution as an outrage, with- 
out excuse or palliation, and every person who in any manner acted, aided, 
abetted, or assisted, or counselled, or encouraged, as undoubtedly guilty of 
murder. We remember in this city many instances within the last year 
wherein good worthy citizens, who had never offended against the law, and 
were useful members of society, were foully murdered for gold ; we remember 
when Captain Jarvis, than whom a more manly, honest, kind-hearted man 
never lived, was struck down by the knife of the assassin at his own door. 





with his infant in his arms and his wife by his side ; the murderers were 
never stigmatized by the presiding judge with half the rigor exhibited in this 
charge of Judge Campbell against the Vigilance Committee for the public 
execution, after a fair trial, of a desperado whose life from childhood had 
been a long series of bold and successful crimes. Now we will take these 
two homicides, phrasing them legally, and we ask Judge Campbell if by any 
process of reasoning he can satisfy any rational being that one is equally cul- 
pable with the other? Again, the severest punishment which could be inflicted 
on Stuart was death. The punishment of murder is death. But crimes de- 
serving an equal punishment should be of equal atrocity ; therefore, in Judge 
Campbell's view, there is no difference in guilt between the member of the 
Vigilance Committee, who never committed a crime in his life, but who was 
present at the trial and execution of Stuart, and Stuart himself, whose soul 
was callous with a thousand crimes. Can he prevail upon any grand jury to 
entertain so extraordinary a proposition? But this is absolutely nothing to 
the inconsistency which follows. We believe there are between eight and 
nine hundred men in the Committee. Besides these there were at a low cal- 
culation two thousand five hundred persons present at the execution. It is 
quite safe to say that three thousand persons witnessed the occurrence. These 
three thousand persons did not make an effort to arrest it, did not protest 
against it, did not by voice or gesture or word or deed oppose it. They arc, 
therefore, accessories, and according to the judge's charge undoubtedly guilty 
of murder. He adds that it is the sworn duty of the grand jury, a duty they 
cannot evade without perjury, to do their part toward bringing those persons 
to punishment — that is, to indict them for murder. If, then, it be the 
duty of the jury to indict them for murder, and if they be guilty, as the 
judge solemnly pronounces them to be, it is not for the idle ceremony of an 
indictment and trial, it is with a view to their punishment, that the grand 
jury are instructed to bring in an indictment against those three thousand 
persons, and the punishment of murder is death ; therefore it is the punish- 
ment by death of three thousand citizens which the judge's charge involves, 
or, omitting the spectators, of nine hundred men composing the Committee, 
and all for such a man as Stuart, a thing of course never contemplated by so 
kind-hearted and benevolent a gentleman as Judge Campbell, who, apart from 
the discharge of his judicial functions, estimates, we have no doubt, as highly 
as anybody the beneficial results of the Committee's action. The judge could 
not then have charged the jury with the intention of having inflicted on these 
nine hundred men the punishment of death ; and therefore his charge, so far, 
could not have meant anything. But is it a fit time to make charges that 
mean nothing, replete, too, with unmeasured denunciations of a large body of 
citizens? We have not space to take up all the points in the judge's charge, 
but passing by minor things we come to this sentence : 'It seems to have 
been done for the express purpose of hurrying on a collision between the 
courts and all fond of law and order, on the one side, and the association re- 
ferred to on the other. ' And a collision would have involved most probably 
the loss of many valuable lives ; and it is of this monstrous crime the judge 
accuses the Committee ! Can he entertain the belief that a purpose so fiendish 
would liavc been coldly determined upon by nine liundred of our most esti- 


mable citizens? But the judge charges the jury that such seemed to be their 
intention, and according to the order of the charge the indictment would be for 
wilful murder, with intent to commit a breach of the peace. What shall we 
say of this charge but tliat we reject it as apocryphal, and that we must 
believe the report to be inaccurate and unjust. After all, let us ask in all 
candor what moral Avrong has yet been done by the Committee? Society has 
been freed by death from two pests who made a livelihood by the death and 
robbery of the citizens. Four men who kept places of rendezvous for mur- 
derers, burglars, and incendiaries have been sent out of the country. Has 
society lost by the occurrences? Is there anything connected with the lives- 
of those executed which can excite sympathy, or of those banished to cause 
regret for their exile ? The lives of those two men were long since forfeited 
to the law, and any citizen would have been justified in killing them who 
had detected them in the perpetration of any of the hundred crimes their 
hands were stained with. Had the law been administered properly they 
would have long since died by the hands of the executioner. What moral 
wrong, then, has been committed? The law has been violated, it is answered. 
Ay, the law ; but the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath, 
and the citizen is not made for the law, but the law for the citizen ; and when- 
ever the law becomes an empty name, has not the citizen the right to supply 
its deficiency? ^Yhat more shall we say but that, though differing on every 
point from the views held by Judge Campbell in his charge, we nevertheless 
would not breathe a syllable to shake the confidence that is justly reposed in 
him, and which he has already earned by his learning, industry, and in- 
tegrity, and his freedom from all vices, faults, and defects which disfigure the 
character of other members of the judiciary." 

H. S. Brown, associate justice of the court of ses- 
sions, viewed the matter in a most sensible hght. The 
day after the execution of certain criminals by the 
Vigilance Committee he sent in his resignation, and 
for the following pertinent reasons: 

"Notwithstanding scores of criminals have been tried, convicted, and sen- 
tenced, and the criminal calendar nearly cleared, yet the people, without the 
form of law, arrest, try, and execute their fellow-men. Twice, yea thrice, has 
this been repeated while the court was doing all in its power to arrest crime 
and bring ofi'enders to justice. On each of these occasions the cause assigned 
has been the inefficiency and weakness or corruption of the courts. Now if 
the people have lost all respect for those who fill judicial places, believe them 
corrupt, capable of being seduced by glittering gold, or if they expect that 
courts, acting under the solemnity of an oath, can wilfully violate the first 
principles of law, and disregard testimony, then I hold that it is the duty of 
the members of the various courts to resign their position, that new ones may 
be placed in their stead in whom the people have confidence, or elect those 
who have no conscientious scruples in punishing those who may be charged 
with crime, whether convicted legally and in accordance with the testimony or 


not. After the scenes of yesterday, coupled with the avowals as to the cause 
as they appear in our public prints, I would not longer occupy the position I 
have had for the untold wealth of California. I trust, sir, the storm-cloud 
may pass, that order and hannony may reign ; but I tremble lest indiscretion 
plunge us into scenes of bloodshed and discord. " 

John McDougal, governor of the state, being duly 
informed of the condition of aifairs, in conformity with 
his duty issued a proclamation warning all good citi- 
zens to abstain from unlawful acts and from unlawful 
combinations. But upon examination he seemed satis- 
fied that the work proposed by the Committee would 
be beneficial to public interests, and that an armed op- 
position would be harmful ; and it was so agreed with 
the executive that the work should go on, and that he 
would interpose no active opposition on the part of 
the state so long as the operations of the Committee 
should be confined to the sphere indicated, unless some- 
thing then unforeseen should compel him to adopt a 
different course, in which event he would give them 
due notice. 

Accordingly, throughout the active existence of 
the first Committee, the governor properly main- 
tained the attitude of nominal opposition only, thus 
to maintain the dignity of the state, but found no 
occasion to resort to active measures against the 
Vigilance Committee. 

The governor was severely reprobated as a generally 
bad character by the press and people both of the 
cities and of the country. Yet so far as his official 
acts and attitude toward the Vigilance Committee are 
concerned, I cannot see wherein he overstepped the 
bounds of magisterial propriety, unless, indeed, it was 
Avhen he approved in words of the doings of the asso- 
ciation and bade them God-speed. 

It was not, however, his pretended opposition to 
the vigilance movement which was contemptuously 
regarded, but the ease with which he pardoned 
notorious offenders, convicted after great labor and 


Following is the governor's manifesto: 

"Executive Depaetment, Vallejo, July 21, 1851. 
^'To the People of the State of California: 

"It has been represented tome that organizations of citizens styling them- 
selves vigilance committees have been formed in various portions of the 
state and assume powers inconsistent with the existing laws, and serious ap- 
prehensions are entertained of collision between the constituted authorities 
and the citizens thus organized; and it becomes my duty to take some step 
by which so great a calamity may be averted. It is earnestly hoped that a 
few simple and practical suggestions may serve to secure this desirable end. 
No security of life or property can be guaranteed except the constitution and 
laws are observed. Let these be forcibly dispensed with, their sacrednesa 
violated, and submission to their authority refused, and wo are reduced to a 
state of anarchy more dangerous in its tendencies and probable results than 
the worst laws under our system can possibly be, no matter how corruptly 
administered. We are just entering upon our career; our character is not yet 
formed, and people from all climes and all countries are flocking to our shores. 
It then becomes us to take no unadvised step which shall retard our progress 
now or prejudice our claims to a high and commanding stand hereafter. 
But more than this, we owe it to ourselves to impress upon the strangers who 
have settled amongst us, unacquainted with and perhaps entertaining preju- 
dices unfavorable to the practical operation of our peculiar institutions, that 
our government is a government of laws, and that though they may some- 
times prove inadequate, sometimes operate oppressively or be administered 
corruptly, the remedy is not in a destruction of the entire system, but is to 
be secured by a peaceful resort to those constitutional means which are 
wisely afforded to reform whatever abuses may exist and correct whatever 
errors may have been committed. The occurrences of the past three or four 
weeks, the apprehension of individuals within the jurisdiction of legally con- 
stituted tribunals, their trial, sentence, and execution, without authority of 
law, by a voluntary association of citizens, who thus virtually place them- 
selves above and beyond all law except that prescribed by and for themselves, 
will prove sufficiently prejudicial to our interests abroad, commercial and 
otherwise, if such organizations, assuming such unquestionably dangerous 
powers, were now dissolved ; but if continued there is no calculating the ex- 
tent of the injury which may result to us as a state. The dangerous tendencies, 
in other respects, of organizations of the character under consideration, the 
excitement produced in the public mind consequent upon their action, resist- 
ance to the constituted authorities, which must almost inevitably result, and 
threatened collisions between themselves and officers of the law in the execu- 
tion of their duties, cannot but be appreciated and deprecated by every right- 
thinking and patriotic citizen of the state, and need not, therefore, be dwelt 
upon here. Whatever may have been the exigency heretofore existing, 
requiring, or supposed to require, the adoption of extraordinary measures on 
the part of the citizen, it has now happily in a great degree passed, and 
such measures should, on this account if on no other, be at once abajidoned. 


Another criminal code, with more efficient provisions, attaching adequate 
penalties to the commission of offences, and directing a more prompt and 
effective administration of justice, has gone into operation. Courts are now- 
enabled to try, sentence, and execute as the offence deserves ; safe and secure 
prison houses are being provided, and the officers, there is reason to believe, 
are ready and anxious to discharge the high duty imposed upon them by the 
people. I cannot do less, therefore, than earnestly recommend to my fellow- 
citizens everywhere throughout the state to aid in sustaining the law, for in 
this is our only real and permanent security. Associations may be organized, 
but they should be formed with the view to aid and assist the officers of the 
law in the execution of their duties, and act in concert with the civil authori- 
ties to detect, arrest, and punish criminals. By pursuing this course much 
good may, and undoubtedly will, be accomplished, and all the dangers which 
threaten unlawful assumptions of power thus averted. Inefficiency will not 
then secure impunity to crimes, nor dangerous criminals be permitted to go 
unwhipped of justice. It is my sworn duty to see that the laws are executed, 
and I feel assured that all good citizens will cordially cooperate with me in 
its discharge. 

"John McDouqal, Governor.'' 

On this the Herald of July 23d remarks: 

"This communication is styled a proclamation by the democratic organ, 
but we presume this to be a mistake. It doubtless was not intended as such 
by the governor, as it bears none of the marks or signs of such a document, 
except that it is rather weak and is dated from the executive department. 
The suggestions, for any practical effect, are as harmless as a bread -pill, and 
being emanations of the executive mind they will doubtless be received by 
the people to whom they are addressed with respectful indifference accord- 
ingly. We are by no means disposed to find fault with the governor for 
putting these suggestions on paper and publishing them. It is not every 
governor who has sufficient strength of mind to enable him to resist the temp- 
tation the occasion throws in his way of uttering half a column of wise saw 
and modern instance advice ; and the fact that the premises on which this 
counsel is based are erroneous, or rather that the necessity urged for its utter- 
ance is imaginary, but renders its promulgation the more innocuous. The 
letter is a very mild letter, and in its tenor pointless and Pickwickian as could 
be desired. If all Governor McDougal's official and unofficial acts are as in- 
nocent as this epistle, he will go out of office a very popular governor indeed. 
The governor, however, as we have said, falls into a grave mistake. He 
alleges that apprehensions are entertained of a collision between the consti- 
tuted authorities and the citizens, and declares his suggestions are thrown 
out with the view of averting this calamity. We assure the governor that 
such apprehensions are wholly groundless, and the authorities, if they enter- 
tain them, may set themselves entirely at rest as to the occurrence of such a 
catastrophe. The Vigilance Committee have avoided it from the commence- 
ment. They have treated the writs and other process of the courts with 
marked respect and deference. The officers of the law have been received 


at the committee rooms with signal courtesy, and no interference has been 
attempted with the culprits already in the hands of the judges. If any eflfort 
has been made to produce a collision it has not been made by the Committee, 
and should any yet be made and be sucessful, it will be without their instru- 
mentality. But of such a result there is not the slightest probability, and 
indeed scarcely a possibility. The moderation which has hitherto character- 
ized the course of the Committee will still mark their progress to the end. 
Their prudence in the past is the strongest guaranty for their prudence in the 
future, and the band of criminals which infested our community being at 
length broken up, the functions of the Committee will by degrees assume the 
character not only of a detective police but also of an organized censorship 
of the courts. We cannot believe, then, that the authorities will seek a col- 
lision with the Committee, as there will be no pretext for such a course ; and 
both parties strenuously avoiding it, the governor will see that there exists 
absolutely no necessity for his suggestions. It is needless, therefore, to go into 
the merits of his advice. One impression of the governor we desire to set 
right. He says there is every reason to believe the judges are ready and 
anxious to discharge the high duty imposed on them by the people. This is 
but partially correct. The community have every confidence in Judge Camp- 
bell; they have none at all in Judge Parsons, and so of others. Let the 
obnoxious judges resign the trust they have abused, and there will be no ne- 
cessity thereafter of executive pronunciamentos to uphold the dignity of the 



"Arcades ambo," id est, blackguards both. 


Hetherington, in his evidence at the trial of Stuart, 
gave one Sam Whittaker the credit of being the 
smartest thief in the gang. He had been transported 
for hfe in 1836, and sent from England to Sydney, 
there to figure as a gentleman and prince among the 
convicts. However proud Whittaker may have been 
of his talents among friends, he did not relish their 
discussion before the rogue-exterminators, with a 
manacled comrade doomed to death standing by to 
give particulars. So he thought best to take a trip 
down the coast. Assuring the delectable Mrs Hogan 
that he would meet her at San Diego, he started on 
his journey by land. But the vigilants were soon on 
his track, and the authorities along the route had 
warning of his approach; he thereupon changed his 
tactics and went north, to throw them off the scent, 
still determined, however, when once he had bafHed 
them, to proceed southward. His movements were 
followed, and McDuffie and others were appointed a 
committee to go in search of him. They went first 
to Stockton, and thence to Chinese Camp. They 
scoured the country round Jamestown, Georgetown, 
and Shaw Flat, hearing of him occasionally but with- 
out further success. From the Stockton Committee 
of Vigilance they took a letter to the Vigilance Com- 
mittee of Sonora, where every facility and encourage- 



ment was given them. Their search, however, was 
fruitless, and they returned to San Francisco and 
reported to the executive committee the 19th of 

All the while the game was in the neighbor- 
hood, eluding search. Hetherington was right in 
giving Whittaker credit for ability. It was a most 
difficult and dangerous feat, that of flitting from place 
to place among a community of armed miners, every 
one a self-constituted special police. But Whittaker 
did not leave Sacramento until the 29th of July. 
He then took a southerly course, and all went well 
as far as Santa Barbara. There he was recog- 
nized, arrested, and sent back by steamer to San 

One morning — it was the 11th of August — as 
James C. L. Wadsworth was sitting in his office, in 
the old California Exchange, on Kearny street, Joseph 
C. Palmer, of Palmer, Cook, and Company, entered 
and stated that Sheriff Hearne of Santa Bdrbara 
county had a moment before been in his office, mis- 
taking it for the office of Colonel Hays. He had 
brought from Santa Barbara a prisoner named Whit- 
taker, whom he wished to deliver to the sheriff 
of San Francisco county. Palmer explained to him 
his mistake, directed him to the sheriff's office, and 
then im^nediately stepped over and informed Mr 

Whittaker was then on board the steamer Ohio, 
lying at Long Wharf Wadsworth hurried down, and 
meeting on the way James F. Curtis, induced him to 
assist in taking Hearne's prisoner to the Committee 
rooms. Arrived at the steamer they found the captain 
at breakfast. 

'' Captain," said Wadsworth, ''you have Whittaker 
on board." 

''What's that to you?" growled the captain, in 
aflable hasso pivfundo. 

" We want him," said Wadsworth, significantly. 


" Have you authority to take him?" grinned the 


'' Go down in the hold and get him." 

Descending, they found Whittaker with his legs 

'' Get up and come with us," said Wadsworth. 

''Where to?" demanded Whittaker. 

" Up toAvn to a safe place," replied Wadsworth. 

Whittaker assented, but on reaching the wharf held 

"Where are you going?" said he. 

"Come along; it's all right/' was the reply. He 
went without further opposition, hoping, yet fearful, 
and was marched straight to the quarters of the dread 
Committee of Vigilance. 

When Wadsw^orth returned to his office the Santa 
Barbara sheriff was there awaiting him. Hearne was 
neither offended nor chagrined, but seemed to accept 
what had been done as right and proper. He seemed 
only concerned about pay for expenses incurred in 
bringing up the criminal; and when Wadsworth told 
him if he would execute a writing formally delivering 
the prisoner into the hands of the Vigilance Com- 
mittee he would pay the amount, Hearne unhesi- 
tatingly did so, and Wadsworth immediately paid him 
the money. 

On the next page is given a facsimile of the bill 
by the steamer Ohio for the passage of Hearne, his 
deputy, and Whittaker. 

Another old offender, Robert McKenzie, or Mc- 
Kinney, was caught and incarcerated, and Mrs Hogan 
was made to attend the call of the executive com- 
mittee. McKenzie and Whittaker both made confes- 
sions, each unknown to the other. The confession of 
each was submitted to the other, and both to Mrs 
Hogan ; Stuart's confession was likewise submitted to 
all, and all were verified. McKenzie, who was arrested 
at Sacramento, had taken part in the Minturn safe 

Pop. Trib., Vol. I. 22 





robbery, and made the tour of Trinidad. A number 
of persons about this time were shipped out of the 
country; one Otis, a horse-thief, was convicted and 
hanged by the people at Monterey. 

There were two classes of the Sydney fraternity, 
representing the brain and muscle powers respectively. 
The former active, bright, and shrewd, skilful in plot- 
ting and bold in executing ; in conversation intelligent, 
in manner affable, and in dress genteel. These were 
the leaders. Those of the other class were inferior 
and born to obey. The former were gentlemen forg- 
ers, highwaymen, and safe-robbers; the latter bruisers, 
slung-shot strikers, and pick-pockets, of low tastes and 
brutal demeanor. To all these homeless and forlorn 
rascals California was a godsend; a worthy land; a 
country fit to rob, and — be hanged in! 

Whittaker, like Stuart, belonged to the knightly 
order of scoundrelism; McKenzie was base-born and 
churlish. Ryckman says: ''McKenzie I took to be 
an Irishman; he was a miserable specimen; a mon- 
strous, cowardly wretch. Whittaker was as brave as 
Caesar; he was the only man whose execution I re- 
gretted ; he exhibited so much manliness that he won 
my admiration." 

The Committee now began to surrender its criminals 
to the courts; and the alacrity with which the law 
seized its prey showed present hunger and fear of 
famine, while the new life infused into dry bones and 
the rapidity of movements under the stimulant given 
by the Committee, and the fear of ultimate loss of 
occupation, was wonderful to see. Instance the case 
of Jimmy-from-Town, one of the Stuart brotherhood, 
surrendered by the Vigilance Committee to the sheriff 
at one o'clock on the morning of July 24th, 1851, and 
by eleven o'clock the same day the grand jury had 
found an indictment, and had the trial fixed for the 
following day. 

About ono o'clock on the morning of July 21st 
Charles Duane, sometimes called Dutch Charley, 


Knight of the Bloody Fist, with Ira Cole, his squire, 
forced his way into a dancing-room on Commercial 
street, and denoting his intention to kill a Mr Ball, 
who had called in question the purity of the shoulder- 
striker's reputation on certain occasions, proceeded 
forthwith to attack that individual. After permitting 
the man of injured honor to knock down and nearly 
kill his enemy, the company finally placed him under 
arrest. He was tried and convicted of assault with 
Intent to kill. But was he punished? This was an 
aggravating case. Duane was an old offender; the 
assault was made with scarcely any provocation. The 
desperado, being angry, sought the shortest way to 
relief. He had caused the community and the Com- 
mittee much trouble at various times. He was ar- 
rested and tried; objections were made to every 
member of the Vigilance Committee summoned to 
serve as juror. 

The courts, though gladly accepting aid from the 
Committee in the capture of criminals, still regarded 
its members more in the light of outlaws than good 
citizens. Convicted at a term of the court of sessions 
of assault with intent to kill, Duane was sentenced 
to one year's imprisonment, but was pardoned by the 
governor. The pardon called forth several adverse 
comments from the press, and the people at large 
were disappointed. "Qui pardonne aisement invite 
a I'offenser," says Corneille. But little cared Mc- 
Dougal for abstract principle. Could he be governor 
and leave a friend in prison? Says the Herald of the 
10th of September: 

"In the law intelligence will be found a report from the grand jnry, pre- 
sented yesterday to the court of sessions, censuring the executive for the 
extension of a pardon to Charles Duane. Although we do not hold that the 
governor of the state is bound on every occasion to vindicate his official acts 
in the public journals, yet as Governor McDougal has already, in one instance, 
made a public statement in justification of his reprieve of Robinson, we think 
he should, in justice to himself as well as to evidence his respect for public 
opinion, state publicly the reasons which have moved him to this exercise of 
clemency, and the names of the citizens who signed the petition for this man's 


discharge. We think so, because there is a strong feeling of dissatisfaction 
in the public mind at Duane's liberation ; and in proof of the existence of this 
feeling we would refer the governor to the report of the grand jury. This 
city has recently passed through scenes of fearful excitement ; the man Duane 
committed an ofifence which brought down upon him the intensest popular in- 
dignation. The measure of his punishment, one year's imprisonment, scarcely 
answered the requirements of this indignation. That this period should now 
be shortened by the interposition of a pardon, has generated, as we have said, 
a feeling of deep dissatisfaction. 

' ' God forbid we should be supposed desirous of interposing, as the advocate 
of unrelenting justice, between the active exercise of humane clemency and 
the man hurried by passion into uncontrollable excesses, and afterward con- 
trite and repentant of his infraction of the law. 

'The quality of mercy is not Ktruined; 
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes; 
It id an attribute to God himself, 
And earthly power doth then show likest God's 
When mercy seasons justice.' 

"But here is a man regarded by the community as dangerous to its peace, 
so constituted by nature as to be imable to curb his own propensity to mis- 
chief, and therefore most imfit to be flung into an inflammable society, where 
even the voice of the courts, hitherto tardy in administering justice to the 
culprit, has adjudged him incapable, without evil consequences, for twelve 
months at least, of mingling freely with his fellow-citizens. 

"The grand jury in their report say that 'the late act of tlie executive of 
this state in pardoning a certain criminal after ho had been tried and convicted 
of a wanton assault on a citizen, whose only ofifence consisted in a desire to 
discharge his duty to the public, is such a monstrous abuse of the pardoning 
power as to cause serious alarm. If the prisons are to be throuTi open at the 
will of the executive to men of such character, the judgment of the courts, 
while acting in behalf of the people, will be set at defiance ; all protection to 
unofl'ending and peaceable citizens will be withdrawn, and grand and petit 
jurymen will have to protect themselves, not by the laws of the state, but by 
force of arms.' When asked to give the names signed to the pardon the 
governor declined." 

When Whittaker was brought into the Committee 
room, Payran as usual began to examine. But the 
arch-inquisitor on this occasion was evidently not in 
his usual happy catechetical mood. The bloody 
brothers, as against the world, were most lovingly 
united; but among themselves they enjoyed their own 
little infelicities. Suh rosa, Mr Payran was not in 
possession of his full magnetic powers that day. Ap- 
plying the loadstone of his wit to the porcelain surface 


of the versatile Whittaker, no sediments of sin ad- 
hered to it. A short, hollow negative was the only- 
reply he received to every question. To threats he 
was as imperious as a steel-clad warrior to a shower of 
feathers. Finally Ryckman took the impotent inquis- 
itor aside and said: ''Pay ran, this won't do. That is 
no way to examine this man. You cannot intimidate 
him. Do you not see that he is strong-willed, fearless, 
and of iron nerves?" 

''Well," replied Payran, "examine him yourself, if 
you like." 

"Very well," exclaimed Pyckman, "I will do it. I 
think I know more of human nature than you do — 
to-day, at all events." 

These society-weeders, some of them, entertained 
no mean opinion of themselves. With experience and 
powder came pride of opinion, in which garb they did 
not always appear to their best advantage. Pyckman 
took a seat beside Whittaker and began : 

" What is your nationality?" 

" I am an Englishman." 

" Have you a father living?" 


"A mother?" 


"Any sisters?" 

" Two," said the poor fellow, already softening. 

" Whittaker," said Pyckman, earnestly, "what must 
be the feelings of your father, mother, sisters, when 
they learn of the awful acts and end of one they love : 
convicted and executed for infamous crimes in a for- 
eign land? Think of it — misery, disgrace, death!" 

"O God!" he cried, as if now, with the tears that 
began to flow, his soul was wrenched from its fixed- 
ness in sin, "I have been bad, very bad; but let me 
tell you about it." 

"Stop," said Pyckman. "Listen to me. Do not 
make any confession with the expectation that it will 
mitigate the least your punishment if you are found 


guilty. I feel for you, but feeling and duty I divorced 
before entering upon this mission. I will leave you 
now and return in an hour." 

Ryckman sent him a mug of ale; then he took a 
position at an aperture in the partition where he could 
watch him unobserved. The prisoner seemed much 
disturbed, and at times apparently suffered great 
agony of mind. Solitude seemed unendurable to him. 
Long before the hour had expired, the door-keeper 

'^Whittaker says he must see you." 

^'What is the matter, Whittaker?" asked Ryckman 
as he entered the room. 

'^ Mr Ryckman," he exclaimed, ''you are the first 
man who has ever touched my heart. The world has 
hunted me as if I were a monster; you alone have 
spoken to me as to a human being. I must make a 
confession to you; if not, I shall burst." 

This man and McKenzie were tried by the Com- 
mittee in the usual way. But the great ulcer having 
been opened through the medium of the arch-thief 
Stuart, the later trials were void of interest or ex- 
citement. The confessions are worthy of perusal by 
those who care to know the character and course of 
criminality in those days. What Whittaker says 
of himself runs essentially as follows: 

** I left Sydney about two years ago by the ship Louisa^ Captain Malor; I 
arrived in San Francisco in August, 1849 ; I got my freedom from Governor 
Fitzroy; it was a conditional pardon. The first business I began in San 
Francisco was as steward in a public house kept by Cockstein, on Broadway; 
I was in his employ about three months. After leaving him I bought a horse, 
cart, and boat ; employed men to w^ork the team and boat for two months.. 
Then I went to butchering in Happy Valley, and can'ied it on for a year ;; 
afterward kept a public house on Jackson street, near Sansome, known as the 
Port Philip House, with McCormick ; I gave it up at the end of two months. 

" My name of Samuel Whittaker is assumed ; it is the name under which I 
was transported. I desire to suppress my real name for family considerations, 
and as an act of humanity. I began my career of crime in San Francisco at 
the time I formed my connection with McCormick in keepmg the Port Philip 
House. Before this, while butchering, I used to ride my horse two or three 
times a week to the Mission Dolores to purchase cattle. Sanchez oflfered me 



a splendid mare at one hundred and fifty dollars, which I refused to buy on 
account of price. James Curry came to me and said the mare was his. Finally 
I bought the mare, saddle, and bridle for one hundred dollars, and Curry came 
in with me. I paid him, taking a receipt for the same, then rode the mare 
around; while doing so a man stopped me and said the mare belonged to 
Dutch Charley, was stolen, and had been advertised. Finding this true I gave 
up the mare and looked for Curry; found him, altered in dress, about to leave 
town. I took him to Elleard's, and there charged him with stealing the mare 
and demanded my money back ; he gave me sixty dollars. Then I took him 
to Dutch Charley; Charley knocked him down and took him to the station- 
house. The sixty dollars Mas taken from me, to be handed back after the 

*'I was summoned ; attended court ; the trial did not come off. Jack Hays 
put me on a jury to try a man charged with stealing a pistol; we found him 
guilty, and he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for this trifling 
offence. Court adjourned; I was again summoned to attend court. I did so. 
Curry had been let off; his case was never tried. I demanded my money; 
the officials asked me how long since I had given it up. I said about sixty 
days ; they laughed, and said it was lost in half that time. I mention this 
to show how justice is administered here. It seemed to me that a thief had a 
better chance than an honest man. This took place in Levi Parsons' court, 
who was the judge. 

"The first crime of which I was guilty was that of robbing a bear- 
hunter, named Vyse, the other side of the Mission. In that matter McCor- 
mick, McKenzie, Osman, Morris Morgan, and two Kings, were engaged. I 
knew the bear-hunter, and McKenzie also knew him. McKenzie took the 
man into another room; Morgan carried off the monej^ nine hundred dol- 
lars or thereabout. When the bear-hunter came back to the room he found 
he had been robbed ; we professed we knew nothing about it. The money 
was carried to King's house, corner of Broadway and Montgomery streets; 
but in coming into town one of the party stole six hundred dollars ; when 
the balance, three hundred dollars, was divided among us we only got 
thirty-five dollars each. The money taken from Vyse belonged to Kelly the 
fighting man ; shortly after McKenzie went to Sacramento and told Kelly 
wdio it was that robbed him. Kelly came down from Sacramento on this 
information, and had McCormick arrested and put in jail; I was then at 
Monterey. They threatened to lynch McCormick, and got from him some in- 
strument by which they sold out the Port Philip House to reimburse the 
loss. After this I went down to Monterey with Briggs and Osman ; while 
I was there T. Belcher Kay came down; Osman, Kay, and I went to San 
Jos6 ; there Kay had the delirium tremens. Osman went to San Francisco, 
where he met McCarty and Mclntyre, who told him to bring Jim Briggs, 
Morgan, and me from Monterey, as they had a house to do that would yield 
iforty thousand dollars. We all went to San Francisco ; I went in the Goliah; 
after receiving information as to which house it was, we all went to look at 
it. Finding that Jimmy-from-Town was engaged, I refused to have anything 
to do with it; Morgan and Briggs also refused. I think the house was that of 
^Schloss Brothers; it was nearly opposite the old custom-house. At this 


time T. Belcher Kay was interested in arranging the robbery of the jewelry 
establishment and other places. 

"After this we arranged the robbery of Jansen's establishment ; Jansen 
lived next door to me. Many persons from the colonies frequented my 
house, and on learning that the country generally wanted sovereigns Jansen 
told me that he usually had them, that he would be glad to sell them, and 
would be obliged to me to take them. Morgan went with me into Jansen's 
to buy some sovereigns; this first gave rise to the suspicion that Jansen 
had a large amount of money. Jansen was about to move ; Stuart, Edwards, 
McCormick, and I planned this method of robbing him: one of tlie party 
slipped a linchpin out of the axle of the cart, on which the trunk contain- 
ing the money was to be canned, expecting that by so doing the wheel would 
come off, and on its falling we would seize the trunk. The cart was loaded ; 
Jansen's clerk sat on the trunk with a candle in his hand ; the linchpin was 
pulled out, but the wheel did not come off, and we were disappointed. Some 
time afterward, Stuart, Briggs, Edwards, McCormick, Kay, Hughes, Morgan, 
and I planned the robbery of Jansen again, when we had better success. 

"While at the Port Philip House a man came in and asked me to trust him 
for something to drink ; I told him no, but I would give him a glass of grog ; 
he drank the liquor, after which he said to me, ' You are a damned clever 
fellow,' and gave me three hundred dollars to keep for him. Afterward he 
called for the money; he was inebriated when I gave it to him. There was a 
man present whose name can be found on the records, but which I forget, 
who robbed the other fellow of his money and cleared out ; on the Sunday 
night following he came back to the house ; I sj)oke to him about the money 
he had taken from the man, and asked him 'Where is my share?' He told 
me that he had left my part of it in the man's pocket for me to get. I said, 
' You wait until McCormick comes in. ' However he and another man closed 
upon mc. I knocked them down and broke the jaw of one in three places. 
He prosecuted me for assault and battery. I was arrested, and employed 
Mr Wells ; the case was tried ; I was fined one hundred dollars, ordered to 
pay the doctor's bills, and to be imprisoned ten days on the prison brig. I 
had paid Wells one hundred dollars counsel fee ; I told him and Tilford also 
that it was inconvenient for me to leave my business, and that I should like 
to compromise. Wells said it could be compromised for two hundred and 
thirty dollars, which amount I paid. I state this case, also, to show the 
manner in which the laws are administered, and the corruption. If it had 
not been for the manner in which I had been treated, and had seen others 
treated, I should not now be here. 

"The next matter in which I was interested and will bring before you, 
was that of Windred and Burdue. They were tried for having robbed Jansen, 
and convicted, but they had nothing to do with it. I exerted myself very 
much to save them ; I told Parburt they were innocent, but did not tell him 
who were guilty. I had a long argument with Mr Theodore Payne about it. 
Stuart, and indeed all engaged in the Jansen robbery, and many others, de- 
clared their intention to bum the city in case Windred and Burdue were 
executed ; it was to be fired at night in four or five different places. It was 
the only time that I ever heard the colonial people speak of burning the city. 


"The next robbery planned by us was that of C. Mintum. Kay planned 
this. Stuart was with us. I was not interested in the robbery of the ship 
James Casket. We tried to rob Macondray's store, but it fell through, Kay 
put up that job. 

"Kay also put up a jewelry establishment in a brick building on Sacra- 
mento street. I went through the premises and examined them, but declined 
doing it, on the ground that to effect the robbery it would be necessary to 
murder perhaps four or five persons. Kay is an ignorant man ; he can scarcely 
read or \\Tite ; his real name is Gibson. 

" McCormick, Stuart, and I went together to shoot a man by the name of 
O'Flaherty, who had testified in court that McCormick had robbed him in 
the colonies ; he was going to shoot him for it. It was a moonlight night ; I 
said to McCormick that it was too light, and that it would be better to wait 
until some other time ; so he gave it up. I did this to save the man. O'Flaherty 
lived then in Bryant place. Since the May fire Jack Arrentrue met me on 
the street; ho had frequently been told that I was a very clever fellow; 
Arrentrue has been after me many times, and pointed out several places to 
me ; I never would engage in anything with him ; he took me down and intro- 
duced me to a man by the name of Earl. We drank together and then went 
down to the custom-house ; Arrentrue described it to me ; said there was 
eight hundred dollars there ; we looked at the drain. Then we went to the 
other custom-house ; he took me inside ; we looked at the safe or vault that 
was building ; Earl proposed renting the house next door to the custom-house 
and opening an architect's office in it, and getting Watkins, and we could rob 
the building from his office. This was practicable ; we went to see Watkins. 
Our plan, however, was not accomplished. 

' ' Arrentrue and Earl proposed to me to rob the El Dorado ; they urged 
that the interest they had with the authorities would cover our operations. 
I had got sick of all such work, and made up my mind to leave off, and took 
no further notice of it. Arrentrue and Earl used frequently to come to my 
place at Mr Hogan's, and dine with me and play cards. Earl showed me a 
pair of calipers that he had, and told me they were very useful. Earl told 
me what a very clever thing he had since done with the calipers. He said 
that he opened a door, went into a man's room, took the money from under 
his head, went out, relocked the door, and it was never discovered. 

"I was at Marysville at the time of the June fire in San Francisco, but 
came down immediately. I lived with Mrs Hogan as her husband for four 
months, during her husband's absence. I knew her in the colonies. I have 
heard it said that Mrs Hogan had been transported. I told Mrs Hogan about 
Arrentrue and Earl's proposition ; she imagined that I was engaged in rob- 
bery. To do Mrs Hogan justice, I must say she has done all in her power to 
break up my associations and to make me lead a different life. I paid her 
twenty dollars a week for my board ; I also gave her many presents, about 
twenty-five hundred dollars in all. Mrs Hogan knew all the men that I have 
mentioned ; they used to frequent her house. I was in no business. I derived 
the money thus : I won seven hundred dollars from Stuart at monte, and I 
had fourteen or seventeen hundred dollars by me that I had saved while I was 
a butcher. 


"George Adams, McCormick, Hughes, and McKenzie robbed Duzozo on 
Sacramento street, below Kearny ; it was on the south side, and was early in 
the evening in September or October ; it is said they got about fifteen thousand 
dollars. I was absent at the time. 

"I won of Hetherington's companion six hundred dollars; his name was 
Dan; I won at thimbles. Edwards and myself had been associated; Jones, 
who had made his escape from Marys ville prison, wanted a share of it. As 
Edwards, Long Charlie, and I had won it together, I objected; a man by the 
name of Gallagher took up the matter for Jones, and went to my bedroom at 
Mrs Hogan's on tiptoe, with a drawn dagger, to look for me. Mrs Hogan told 
him I was not there; there was considerable talk about his gomg around 
trying to kill me. A day or two after Gallagher was found dead on the street by 
Edwards' house ; I think that Gallagher knew too much about Edwards' busi- 
ness, and for that reason Edwards poisoned him. I was at the Mission, at Dr 
Lambert's, at the time Gallagher was looking for me. Mrs Hogan came to me 
with a letter from Judge Bowie to take to Monterey; it contained certificates 
of money that Briggs, Morgan, and Osman have in the banks of San Fran- 
cisco; I delivered up the documents to Parburt. The Monterey trial came on 
that week ; Stuart was there ; I think he came down to shoot me either for 
my money or for jealousy. I knew all about the robbery at Monterey; I 
loaned Osman, Briggs, and Morgan one thousand dollars. Quick XDut up the 
Monterey custom-house for robberj'; Ryan was one of the party, and the only 
one who received any benefit. I was not interested in any of the robberies of 
the jewelers ; McCormick told me of the robberies. I believe, if you keep 
quiet and do not publish, that the jewelry will be recovered. Osman bought it 
for six hundred dollars, and I do not believe he has sold it yet. 

" I gave Mrs Ilogan twenty-one ounces in gold for my board at one time; 
I had loaned that amount to Osman, and he returned it. The last money I 
got was twelve hundred dollars, which I gave to Mrs Hogan. This is the 
way I got it : There was a miner came into Mrs Hogan's house, on Sansome 
street ; Kay, Edwards, and I were there at the time. The miner laid down 
a large bag of gold ; Edwards and I took the money out; I secreted another 
bag. Edwards and McCormick took the miner off; he had five or six hundred 
dollars more, which they got away from him. I took the bag containing seven 
hundred dollars, and divided it with Kay and Edwards, giving them each 
two hundred dollars, and keeping three hundred for myself. The other bag, 
containing eight hundred dollars, I did not divide, as they gave me no share 
of the money that had been taken from the miner. The whole amount I gave 
to ;Mrs Hogan ; she knew how I got it ; she knew we were treating him to 
champagne in order to effect this purpose. I told her what our plans were. 
I also gave her about three hundred dollars which I won at gambling with 
Dan ; and the same amount paid me by Briggs of the money I had loaned him 
I gave Mrs Hogan. I exchanged watches with her; mine was the most 
valuable. I also gave her a diamond ring. 

"T. B. Kay, when port- warden, took McCormick on board a man-of-war 
in the harbor ; the captain possessed a very valuable gold lever watch with a 
snake chain. While the officer was asleep McCormick stole the watch ; he 
carried it with him when he went to London; I have no doubt it might be 


recovered. Kay knew that McCormick had taken it; he afterward was 
sorry about it, as the captain said he wouldn't have taken one thousand 
dollars for it, as it was a present from his father. If the Committee write to 
Dan Forrester of London, or to the chief of police in Manchester, they will 
send McCormick and the watch back again. 

*'01d Jack, alias Murris Morgan, told me that Hughes did it with two flats — 
robbed the Dupont-street jewelry store ; Hughes was apprehended for it and 
acquitted. I don't know where he is ; he may have gone out of the country. 
I was told that he took away all of that jewelry. One night it was stated 
that some of the Vigilance Committee met him ; Old Jack knocked them down 
and jumped a fence. In doing so he said he lost some of the jewelry ; amongst 
it was a small watch, wliich was found in a hat next morning. Hetherington 
and I were at Mrs Hogan's at the same time. Hetherington told me that his 
partner, Antone, was a passionate man ; he killed two men ; I saw him kill 
one ; it was at the corner of the El Dorado, at night and in a crowd ; the 
dagger stuck so fast that in drawing it out it pulled the man over. Two men 
were arrested, but nothing was made of it; Antone was never suspected. 

** Stuart and George Smith told me that they shot a man on the Stockton 
road ; the man had considerable money. He ran toward the house after he 
was shot, and died nearly as soon as he had entered. 

' ' I never knew of any one setting a place on fire in San Francisco except 
Billy Sweetcheese, whose real name is Shears. I heard that he set the United 
States on fire on the Plaza at the time it was vacant. This is merely rumor. 
After robbing the miner alluded to, at Mrs Hogan's, we met McCarty, the 
policeman who was always ready to help us. I gave McCarty three ounces, 
one each for Edwards, Kay, and myself. I told McCarty that McCormick had 
got some five hundred dollars, and he must get some out of him too. Brown, 
in the police, was the man who did the dirty work for policemen McCarty and 

"Billy Hughes, John Edwards, and Morris Morgan are runaway con- 
victs. They came from Van Dieman Land. There is no comparison be- 
tween the convicts from Sydney and Van Dieman Land. The latter are so 
bad they would not allow them to coem into Sydney. 

" I got Windred away when he was under arrest with Burdue. I went 
to the new jail with Windred 's wife and Mrs Hogan ; I sent the key in ; 
Tom Byrnes, the man you sent to Sydney, came to my house and said that 
Windred was out ; I got up and went down to the wharf at Pacific street ; 
George Adams and Windred were there ; I told Adams to go away by himself. 
I took Windred to a stable, got horses, and took him to Dr Lambert's, where 
he stayed for two weeks ; I paid his board. Dr Lambert is a man from the 
colonies. At the end of that time I engaged passage for Windred, and ap- 
I)ointed a night to put him on board. I told Kitchen to stand by with his 
boat, that I had a man to put on board. I gave Windred my old cap, and 
bought a new one for myself; I put him down a passage-way at Clark Point. 
Mrs Hogan and Mrs Windred were in waiting; Mrs Windred in men's 
clothes; in that disguise I had taken her frequently to see her husband. 
Both women bade Windred good-by, and I put him on board Kitchen's boat, 
who took him to the ship. The vessel in which Windred was placed re- 


mained in port a fortnight, and I feared he would be apprehended again. 
Windred sent for his wife to go with him, and she went on board, and sailed 
with him the morning after the May fire. 

"Kitchen is a rough, boatman-looking fellow, dirty, very dirty; he kept 
a boarding-house near Clark Point; he is a stout man, about thirty, dark 
hair, and heavy whiskers ; he is a convict from Van Dieman Land. Kitchen 
has a specimen, of the value of one hundred and forty dollars, that Stuart 
took ofif the body of Moore, whom he murdered afAubum. 

' ' Purcell, a police-officer, used to take money ; he took money of Hughes ; 
he would take money from any one. At the primary election for Malachi 
Fallon I was solicited by Sweeney, McCarty, and Mclntyre, to aid in the 
election ; accordingly I did so, and got some twelve votes, all from men who 
were convicts and foreigners." 



When in doubt, win the trick. 


At length the law, long paralyzed and puny, awoke 
with a spasm of energy. Election was approaching. 
To be or not to be, was the question. The existence 
of a popular organization for the suppression of crime 
was a standing reproach upon the honesty and effi- 
ciency of the authorities. And even in the minds of 
city and state officials who secretly sympathized with 
the Vigilance Committee it seemed necessary to up- 
hold the dignity and sacredness of law, lest this new 
phase of liberty should degenerate into licentiousness. 

Already given is the proclamation to the people of 
the state by Governor McDougal, dated July 21, 
1851, calHng on them to discountenance illegal tribu- 
nals and sustain the courts. At three o'clock on the 
morning of the 20th of August Governor McDougal 
and Mayor Brenham rapped at the door of Sheriff 
Hays and presented him a writ, issued by Judge 
Morton of the Superior Court, based on an affidavit 
made by the governor that two men, Whittaker and 
McKenzie, were detained without authority of law. 
The writ commanded the sheriff to take the bodies of 
the two men and bring them into court, to be dealt with 
according to law. The sheriff, with a posse of depu- 
ties, repaired immediately to the Committee rooms, 
which they entered without resistance, and while 
some guarded the door others advanced and called on 



the prisoners to accompany them, which they gladly 
did, and were soon comfortably lodged in jail. One of 
the guard attempted to push back the officers; two 
others, suspecting treachery, let themselves down from 
the window and sounded the alarm on the bells of the 
California and Monumental engine companies. The 
action of those in charge of the room was bitterly 
denounced ; and such were the singular circumstances 
attending the rescue as to raise serious question in the 
minds of many if there were not collusion between 
the officers of the law and the officers of the Commit- 
tee. Daybreak found the streets alive with excited 
people pouring toward the Committee rooms, where a 
meeting was in session and the events of the night 
were being discussed. Some were in favor of arising 
and making an immediate attack on the prison; others 
held that in the justice of their cause they could 
trust that the unholy sympathy thrown by the law 
over two notorious law-breakers could do the reform- 
ers no permanent injury, and they should wait. Thus 
in every trying event good counsel prevailed; passion, 
though aggravated by the chattering of apes, must 
be laid aside, for this was not an association for the 
promotion of lawlessness, and the law, though not 
respectable, must in some measure be respected. There- 
fore it was concluded to let the matter rest for the 
moment, to permit the authorities to indulge their 
innocent gambols over their little victory, hoping them 
thereby good. In the eyes of the sober members of the 
Committee the affair was but a little stratagem, made 
successful by the hour, and the laxity of the guard; 
and the very fact of the law being obliged to employ 
darkness and circumvention in the execution of its 
mandates was the surest sign of its weakness. Even 
now the authorities seemed half frightened at their 
boldness, and almost panic-stricken at the peril of 
their situation. How should they defend the law's 
majesty against the bloody-minded citizen? Turn 
the guns of the Vincennes on the vicinity of Battery 


and California streets. Parley. Bring in ordnance 
from the Presidio. Let the military be held in readi- 
ness to answer at a moment's notice. Proclaim an 
end of the reign of terror; an inauguration of the 
reign of law. Meanwhile the members of the Com- 
mittee went about their business, apparently uncon- 
cerned in all this splutter and bombast of the officials, 
determined that no provocation, however severe, 
should tempt them to the performance of any action 
which should bring reproach upon them as law-abiding 
citizens, or upon their organization, made for the pur- 
pose of strengthening law and good government; and 
in this moderation was their greatest victory. 

That same day appeared a second proclamation by 
the governor, calling upon all good citizens to unite 
for the purpose of sustaining public law and tran- 
quillity, to aid the public officers in the discharge of 
their duty, and to discountenance any attempt made 
to substitute the despotic control of a self-constituted 
association in place of regularly organized govern- 
ment; warning those disposed to resist legal authority 
that civil war in all its horrors would be the inevitable 
consequence. The force of this proclamation, how- 
ever, was materially weakened by a card published at 
the same time by the Vigilance Committee, which read 
as follows: 

"We, the undersigned, do hereby aver that the present governor, Mc- 
Dougal, asked to be introduced to the executive committee of the Committee 
of Vigilance, which was allowed, and an hour fixed. The governor, upon 
being introduced, stated that he approved the acts of the Committee, and that 
much good had taken place. He hoped that they would go on, and endeavor 
to act in concert with the authorities ; and in case any judge should be guilty 
of maladministration, to hang him, and he would appoint others. 


"George J. Oakes, 
"Isaac Bluxome Jr., 
"S. Payran." 

The enemies of the reformers were triumphant, 
but their victory was achieved by the humiliation of 
the country's best friends. Very early one Pobinson, 


of the Adelphi Theatre, mounted a box, and in an 
inflammatory and ill-advised speech urged an im- 
mediate attack on the jail. The crowd then gathered 
separated for refreshments to the several hotels and 
drinking saloons, and about nine o'clock some two 
thousand men gathered round the prison. This, how- 
ever, was but a mob ; it was not thus that the Vigil- 
ance Committee did its work. About an hour later 
the crowd dispersed, and thus ended what at one time 
threatened to be a serious outbreak. 

At a special meeting in the executive chambers, at 
8 o'clock A. M., the prisoners Whittaker and McKenzie 
were reported by the prison committee as captured 
and then at the county jail, in cell No. 5. Thereupon 
a committee of five was appointed to investigate the 
charges preferred against the gu^rd on duty the night 
previous. Meanwhile the chief of vigilant police was 
suspended from duty. The meeting then adjourned 
till 4 o'clock p. M. 

Among the general committee, as might easily be 
imagined, there was no small commotion. Some pro- 
posed to tear down the jail; others to take possession 
of all the county offices. But the wiser ones rebuked 
them sharply. "You would eradicate your folly by 
committing greater folly," said they. Nevertheless 
there was but one sentiment, that the men Whittaker 
and McKenzie should be recovered. 

There was a mystery attending the seizure that the 
executive determined, if jDOSsible, to fathom. Indeed, 
in common with the people at large, they could not 
understand how the men were abstracted without 
exciting more commotion. Mr Bluxome states there 
were a hundred members about the premises that 
night, tenfold more than enough to have successfully 
resisted the sherifl*; twenty- nine men were on guard,, 
and he was sleeping on a table in the adjoining 
room. A burly blacksmith, named Steele, stood guard 
at the door, and when Hays and Caperton knocked 
they were admitted without resistance sufficient to 

Pop. Trie.. Vol. I. 23 


waken him. Mr Ryckman was not present, but Pay- 
ran, placing the utmost confidence in the guard, was 
asleep in the executive room. 

At the request of the Committee, John McDougal, 
governor, appeared before them at their rooms and 
stated that in the hotel at Benicia the day previous, 
which was the 19th, it was reported that the Vigi- 
lance Committee were to meet during the night to 
sentence Whittaker and McKenzie, and he deter- 
mined to come down and prevent an execution, if 
possible. On arriving at the Union Hotel about 
noon he was told by two men who were, or professed 
to be, members of the Vigilance Committee, that the 
prisoners would be executed the following day. 

On receiving this information he proceeded imme- 
diately to Mayor Brenham, and asked his assistance 
in rescuing the prisoners. Brenham acquiesced, and 
the two officials called upon the sheriff. The next 
thing necessary was a writ of habeas corpus , which, 
after some search for a judge, was finally obtained 
from Myron Norton. The party then proceeded to 
the rooms of the Vig^ilance Committee and knocked 
at the door, which was opened. Caperton, deputy 
sheriff, entered first, then Hays, the sheriff. The 
<loor closed, McDougal remaining at the head of 
the stairs, and Brenham below, outside the building. 
In a few minutes the sheriff and his deputy returned 
with the prisoners, without having encountered any 
resistance. On being asked who had given him the 
information at the Union Hotel, he declined to answer. 

Mayor Brenham confirmed before the Committee 
the statement of the governor, adding that prior to 
the conference at the sheriff's office it was their in- 
tention to have appeared at the Committee rooms in 
full force, with a writ of habeas corpus, the following 
morning at eight o'clock. The mayor was perfectly 
certain that no member of the Vigilance Committee, 
or any persons other than those who came, had cog- 
nizance of their intention ; nor was there any collusion. 


directly or indirectly, between them and any members 
of the Vigilance Committee. 

Sheriff Hays stated that he was in bed when the 
governor and mayor called. He at first thought that 
duty did not demand of him interference, and asked his 
visitors if they knew the men were to be executed 
the next day. They were sure of it. He then pro- 
ceeded to serve the writ, meeting with no resistance 
on enteriuQ: the room and but little on leavinof it. 

J. L. Van Bokkelen, chief of the vigilant police, 
being sworn before the executive committee, said that 
pursuant to the instructions of the Committee he had 
proceeded to select a place for the execution of the 
prisoners, and had reported to the Committee, who 
instructed him to make the necessary detail of guards 
and other preparations. In the exercise of this duty 
it was necessary for him to leave the room twice. 
He had given McKenzie permission to change his 
linen and to shave; he had ordered the good spring 
handcuffs which ornamented his wrists to be taken off 
and poorer ones substituted, so that the good pair 
might not be lost to the Committee when the body 
should be taken by the coroner. During the consum- 
mation of these arrangements the capture was made. 

P. P. Hull, on reporting for duty that night, was 
told to arm, which he did, and was then told to hold 
himself in readiness for orders which he never received. 
While in the refreshment room he heard a scufHinof 
and call for the police. He ran out and found a crowd 
about the door, and heard the sheriff say: ''We are 
too strong for you; we have a posse outside." Letting 
himself down by a rope, he came upon the captured 
prisoners, and cocked his pistol, but refrained from 

Some fifteen or twenty others were examined before 
the Committee, and among them Steele, the door- 
keeper. This man testified that when the sheriff 
applied for admittance he was crowded in by those 
behind him, and that when the prisoners were brought 


to his door on their way out, while some placed their 
back against it to prevent exit, those outside forced 
it open, and in the melee that followed the sheriff and 
his followers escaped with the prisoners. The couj) de 
main was so sudden that the guard became confused 
and hardly knew what he did. 

This evidence was given before a sub-committee 
appointed by the executive committee, and their re- 
port was in the following words: 

"The committee respectfully submit the entire evidence taken, and leave 
the Vigilance Committee to judge for themselves of any culpability on the 
part of those intrusted with the charge of the prisoners last night and this 
morning. Your committee, while they feel it their duty to exonerate all from 
the least imputation of bribery or connivance at the escape of the prisoners, 
feel it their duty to say that there was a great want of their usual care and of 
that caution which the importance of the duty assigned them required ; and 
that they deem the chief of police especially guilty of gross neglect, and 
wanting in that energy and self-control which if properly exercised would 
have prevented the escape of the prisoners, and thereby would have saved the 
Vigilance Committee from the disgrace of neglect which must now rest upon 
it. And your committee cannot conclude v/ithout expressing their condem- 
nation of the course taken by those members of the Vigilance Committee 
who were so estranged from their duty as to inform the governor of the in- 
tended action of the Committee, which rendered it imperative upon him to 
adopt the course he did, and which has so effectually checked the important 
action of the Vigilance Committee. " 

At the adjourned meeting the committee reported 
according to the facts obtained. The chief of police 
was instructed to keep a guard of twenty men over 
Whittaker and McKenzie, then in custody of the 
sheriff, lest either by force or connivance should escape. 
It was resolved that the sentence of death pronounced 
upon them should still remain in force. 

On account of the strong feeling against him, 
whether guilty of actual connivance at the escape of 
the prisoners or not, Van Bokkelen resigned his posi- 
tion as chief of police, and Oscar Smith was elected 
in his stead. In this ballot, which occurred at a gen- 
eral meeting on the 26th of August, James King of 
Wm. received two votes, and F. Argenti and J. W. 
Cartwright each one vote. 


The utterances of the press did not fairly represent 
the sentiment of the more calm and thoughtful element 
of the Committee. It breathed of the mob spirit, 
which tended to retard rather than to accelerate the 
movements of the Committee, and to impair the 
quality of their work. Doubtless it expressed the 
feelings of a majority of the general committee, but 
not of those who were trusted and obeyed as the safe 
and worthy leaders of the movement. The authori- 
ties were simply doing their duty, and the Committee 
could not make up their minds, at this juncture, to 
shoot them down while in the discharge of it. The 
California Courier of the 21st of August writes: 

' ' As soon as this wicked attempt to involve this community in excitement 
and perhaps bloodshed, for no cause whatever, had succeeded, the bell of the 
Vigilance Committee was tolled, and the members left their sleeping-cham- 
bers for the Committee rooms. The excitement was tremendous. There are 
Judases in the Committee's camp. Some one has betrayed them. Let the 
Committee look to this. We shall not advise them what to do, for they are 
better informed, and will no doubt all act with firmness and discretion. The 
authorities, however, who were engaged in this unnecessary attempt to pro- 
duce a collision between the people and the authorities, have dug for them- 
selves a grave so deep that the hand of resurrection cannot reach them. 

"In the morning at an early hour an immense assemblage of the people 
gathered around the jail, under the expectation that a forcible attempt would 
have been made to break open the jail and seize the prisoners. Had they 
attempted it and been resisted by the mighty men in buckram who were 
pacing the roof of the jail, the people would have blown them into fragments 
sky-high, and made their flesh and bones food for coyotes and crows upon the 
surrounding hills." 

The comments of the Herald the same day, though 
more pertinent, are nevertheless not in exact accord 
wuth the minds of the mysterious few which governed 
all, and round which revolved the passion-seething 
multitude : 

"Much as we have admired the conduct of the Committee on other occa- 
sions, we think their course yesterday, under the severe provocation they re- 
ceived, was more praiseworthy than any victory they have yet achieved. 
They regarded the affair as a very stupid piece of chicanery by which they 
had been overreached in the discharge of their duty, but thoy preserved a 
perfectly calm demeanor, certain that sooner or later justice would take its 


course. While the authorities were hurrying up and down in perfect amaze- 
ment at their own desperate valor, issuing orders for muskets, cartridges, and 
cannon, the members of the Committee were quietly pursuing their usual avo- 
cations, wholly unmoved except to laughter at these warlike demonstrations. 
"And the pygmies swarmed in the streets, and chattered, and chuckled, 
and held conferences at the street comers about the wonderful victory they 
had achieved over the Vigilance Committee and the cause of justice, unmind- 
ful, these pygmies, that the same popular will which has broken up and scat- 
tered to the winds that criminal organization on which corrupt officials 
fattened, could sweep them and all their machinery of office, courts, and 
law into the bay at a single effort. As for the vapid and meaningless docu- 
ment called a proclamation, which was posted up about the city^it is wholly 
unworthy of notice. It has no point whatever." 

And thus, the day following : 

' ' These pets of the law, if we understand rightly, are in custody without 
any legal commitment, and while so detained are an illegal expense to the 
county. If they are turned loose again on society a stupendous crime will 
be committed against the peace and lives of our citizens. The full measure 
of their guilt is perhaps unknown ; it is natural to suppose that men under 
such circumstances will not confess the perpetration of very grave crimes ; 
but their own admissions show that their hands are raised instinctively and 
by long habit against their fellows ; and that to permit them to go again at 
large would be to be accessary to murder. A lawyer can nevertheless easily 
convince a court that against these men there is no proof sufficient to convict 
them, and the question arises, What will the court order? It cannot have them 
detained, as there is no testimony against them. They will of course deny 
their guilt and contradict their admissions. These admissions will go for 
naught, and the grand jury cannot even find a bill against these men. See, 
then, the position the law has brought itself into in regard to them. It is to 
be presumed that none will deny their criminality ; about that there can be 
but one opinion ; and yet the law virtually declares such men must not be 
punished. Law cannot punish them, and law will not permit anybody else 
to punish them. The men who now presume, after permitting two criminals 
to be executed without venturing to oppose the Committee, to thwart them 
in their efforts to restore society to its just equilibrium, to restore energy to 
the palsied arm of justice, to break up the criminal organization which has 
pervaded this whole country for more than two years, an organization, too, 
which has dealt in murder and rapine to an extent which has appalled the 
hearts of our citizens, an organization which has perpetrated fifty-two mur- 
ders in the precincts of this city within the last eighteen months, we say 
those who now oppose the Committee in their efibrts to break up this organi- 
zation seem to forget that they themselves exist in their official capacity but 
by sufferance, and that the labor of crushing them would be very light indeed. " 

The night before they were to have met their fate 
permission was given the two prisoners to shave and 


dress in their best clothes. They were to have been 
executed from the yard-arm of a vessel, in full view 
of Telegraph Hill, round the base of which so many 
scoundrels congregated. It may be interesting to 
some to know the intended proceedings on board the 

The chief of police was to detail a guard of true 
men, well armed, to proceed to the vessel and make 
preparations for the reception of the prisoners. A 
clergyman should be allowed on board with the 
prisoners. The bell should be tolled on shore. When 
all was ready the water signal should be hoisted and 
a gun fired. Then the executive should appear upon 
the shore, and upon the waving of a handkerchief the 
souls of the condemned should be launched upon the 
eternal sea, and their bodies should hang for the space 
of one hour thereafter. But the Committee had for- 
gotten that at the hour named the tide would be low. 
Furthermore, the risk of failure would have been 
greater in conducting an execution on board a vessel 
than on shore; hence that plan would probably have 
been abandoned. 

Four days passed quietly while Whittaker and 
McKenzie lay undisturbed in jail. Yet no one who 
thought upon the matter supposed that the Vigilance 
Committee would allow the affair to rest there. The 
authorities well knew, or might have known, when 
they seized the men that they could not hold them. 
Neither did they care to hold them, or to prevent the 
Committee from exercising their sovereign purpose. 
The men deserved to hang. No one questioned it. 
The Committee, through their ability and energy, had 
broken up the organization. Let them complete 
their work; it was better so. Certain base or blun- 
dering members, by informing of the intended execu- 
tion, had obliged the authorities, contrary to their 
inclination, to make the seizure. It now only re- 
mained to the Committee to repair the breach caused 
by their indiscretion and neglect. The momentary 


victory of the authorities had strengthened the Com- 
mittee rather than weakened it. 

Their ranks were swelled by large additions of the 
most respectable element of society. Money was 
freely subscribed for the support of the organization, 
and fresh impetus given to its vitality. People 
were satisfied that if the two men Whittaker and 
McKenzie were tried by the courts they would be 
acquitted and turned loose upon society. Even in 
face of the overwhelming evidence against them it 
would be difficult for a grand jury legally to find a 
true bill, or for a court legally to punish them. Should 
law, then, prevent just punishment which it could not 
itself inflict? The Committee were stimulated by 
obvious considerations, and showed their decision in 
the following order: 

"Capt. Cartwp.ight: 

"You are hereby authorized to detail a guard, such as you think proper, 
and arrest two prisoners, to wit: Sam Whittaker and R. McKenzie, and 
bring them into custody of the Committee of Vigilance. 

"Done by order of Executive Committee, August 22, a.d. 1851. 

"James -B. Httie, Clmkrrmm. 

"Attest: S. Pa yean, Secretary.'" 

Sunday was the time fixed upon for the recapture. 
It was ascertained that there would be service on that 
day, and it was customary on such occasions to bring 
all the prisoners from their cells into the main hall to 
hear preaching. At that time the doors would be un- 
barred; there would be no locks to pick, no cells to 
break open. 

On Saturday thirty of the Committee met in an 
old iron building standing on the corner of California 
and Leidesdorff street, and agreed among themselves 
to recover the prisoners or perish in the attempt. The 
first thing was to ascertain the condition of the jail, 
by whom it was guarded, and what arms were in the 
possession of its defenders. As it would not do to 
visit the jail in a body, lots were drawn to determine 


who should act the spy, enter the jail, and bring back 
a report. The lot fell upon Bluxome, who immedi- 
ately set out on his mission. In front of the building 
he found the sheriff himself, saddling a mule. 

''Colonel Hays," began Bluxome/'you haveBurdue 
yet a prisoner. His was a very hard case. Though I 
have never met him I have had much to do in his 
case, and I must confess to a curiosity concerning his 
strange resemblance to Stuart. I would like to see 

"Certainly; go in," said Hays, giving at the same 
time the order to admit him. 

Bluxome entered and found Burdue sitting on a 
stone step. Entering into conversation with him, he 
carefully marked in his mind the place and its con- 
tents, and then walked carelessly about the prison. 
The only arms he could discover was a rack of muskets 
standing in the middle of the main hall. These might 
be dangerous, and they might not ; but how ascertain 
if they were loaded without exciting suspicion ? Taking 
a musket from the rack and turning to the officer in 
attendance, whom he well knew, he exclaimed in a 
half playful manner: 

''Lambert, you are an old infantry soldier; so am I. 
Put me through the drill." 

"What drill?" asked Lambert. 

" Loading and firing." 

"All right, sir," replied the officer, complying with 
the request. Presently Bluxome complained : 

" This gun is not well balanced," and putting it 
back he took from the rack another. And so on divers 
pretences he examined one after another, and ascer- 
tained that none of them were loaded. That was all 
he wished to know, and he returned to report. 

Ryckman determined to make a survey on his own 
account. Going up to the jail, he found ready ad- 
mittance. The triumphant authorities were most 
affable. The vigilance organization was a fine append- 
age to a police office. "We don't want any trouble 


with you," said the smihng jailer as he admitted him. 

"There arc many who entertain the same senti- 
ment," was the caustic reply. 

Ryckman examined the muskets, which were flint- 
locks, and saw that they were not loaded. He was 
less diplomatic in his visit than Bluxome had been. 
He was absolutely fearless, and went more directly for 
his object than some who were, indeed, no more cir- 
cumspect than he. The jailer spoke truly. No one 
coveted trouble with Mr Ryckman. 

The visitor asked to be shown the captured prison- 
ers. Whittaker was in his cell, and on seeing who it 
was he came to the grating and said : 

"I hope you are not sorry to see me here, Mr Ryck- 

"Sir," was the reply, "you were arrested through 
the agency of the people ; you were tried and convicted 
by the people; you escaped, but you will as surely be 
executed by the people as you now live. Entertain no 
hope otherwise. Be ready. No power on earth shall 
save you." 

This utterance can hardly be commended as discreet. 
Ryckman then returned to the Committee rooms and 
busied himself in preparing for the intended under- 
taking for Sunday. 

At the rendezvous on Sunday morning only one 
out of the thirty was absent. The twenty- nine were 
divided into three parties, one of thirteen and the 
others of eight, and each placed under a captain. 
G. W. White commanded the first, and Mr Calhoun 
and Oscar Smith the other two. The movement was 
under the immediate orders of J. W. Cartwright. 

Over a portion of the prison, at the time, there was 
no roof, and from a certain point on Telegraph Hill 
could plainly be seen all that occurred in the main 
room. One Higgins was stationed at this point with 
instructions to open wide his arms the moment service 
was over. 

Meanwhile one party had taken its stand at the 


front door of the prison, and of the others, one at the 
back door, and one in the area between the outer wall 
and main building, where they could see Higgins. 
The signal being given, every man made ready. 
Immediately the front door was opened, and as the 
worshippers from without were making their exit, the 
party there stationed crowded in. At this juncture 
a crash was heard at the back door, which fell with 
loud noise beneath the blows of a sledge-hammer. In 
another moment two divisions were together, while 
the third rushed to the front and acted as guard. The 
criminals, who under guard had been attending service, 
instinctively scattered to their cells like rats before 
their feline enemy. The regular jail guard were at 
their station on the top of the building, and during 
the seizure they were covered by a large pistol in the 
hand of James B. Huie, one of the twenty-nine. 
Whittaker was taken by Bluxome just as he entered 
his cell. This was about a quarter past two. At the 
same instant, by different parties, McKenzie and the 
officers were seized. There was some scuffling be- 
tween the officers and the vigilants, and a few harm- 
less shots were fired. Whittaker and McKenzie 
struggled hard, but were quickly overcome. The 
two criminals were bound, and hurried to a carriage 
in waiting. The other inmates of the prison stood 
trembling with fear, without offering the least resist- 
ance, not knowing when their own turn might come. 
No sooner were the two prisoners thrust into the 
carriage which stood in readiness round the corner 
than the driver plied his whip, and the horses dashed 
off at the top of their speed, up Broadway to Stockton 
street, thence to Washington and through Dupont, 
Sacramento, Montgomery, and California streets, to 
the Committee rooms on Battery street. Not a 
moment was lost. Over the doors of the second story 
of the building projected two beams, fastened to which 
were blocks roved with ropes noosed at one end. 
With their coats removed and arms pinioned to their 


sides, the ropes were adjusted round their necks. The 
next instant the two prisoners were simultaneously 
jerked from their feet and hoisted in air until their 
heads touched the beams above; then they were 
lowered and as^ain hoisted until life was extinct. 

Nothing of the plan was known to any except the 
executive committee and those actually engaged in 
it. Even the preliminary arrangements, as we have 
seen, were made outside of the Committee rooms. 
Less than three quarters of an hour was occupied 
from the time of the attack upon the jail till the un- 
fortunate men were swinging from the beams of the 
Vigilance Committee building. Following is the re- 
turn of order of arrest. 

** Executive Committee of Vigilance Committee, "| 
"San Francisco, August 24, 1851. / 
"Agreeable to your orders above, I detailed thirty (30) men, who pro- 
ceeded in three divisions, under the respective orders of Col. G. W. White, 
Capt. Callioun, and Mr Oscar Smith, and in the short space of five minutes 
from the first charge the prisoners above named were on their way to your 
head-quarters. "Respectfully, 

"J. W. Cartwright." 

While the vehicle containing the prisoners and their 
guard was dashing through the streets the Monu- 
mental bell struck the well known signal, but before 
many members in answer to its summons could reach 
the Committee rooms the deed was done. The execu- 
tive committee were becoming proficient in the busi- 
ness; all had been preconcerted, all was carried out 
without faltering and without confusion. The execu- 
tion over, the people were addressed by two members, 
and the action of the Committee received their un- 
qualified approval. At sunset the bodies were delivered 
to the coroner, who held an inquest at the house of 
the California Engine Company. 

The extraordinary incidents of the day, and of the 
occasion, were never paralleled in any country. Glance 
once more at them: A law-loving but crime-ridden 
people rise and do what the law fails to accomplish, 


namely, seize and strangle villainy, and break up a 
nest of crime. Their work not quite finished, inept 
law, following its jealous necessity, snatches two of 
their caught criminals, in order to punish them in 
its own way. The people recover and execute them. 
Where else in history shall we find this play of 
battledoor and shuttlecock between law, justice, and 
the people? 

From their quiet devotions under the auspices of 
law to that eternity of which they prayed, these mur- 
derers found their swift and natural way. There were 
many incidents worthy of mention in this connection, 
but I can give place to but two or three. 

When the prisoners were bound, with their hands 
behind and the ropes round their necks, and all was 
ready for the execution, Whittaker said: 

" I want to see Mr Ryckman." 

'^ What is it, Whittaker?" said Ryckman, stepping 
up to him. 

*' You have never deceived me, and I will tell you 
something. You are a doomed man. You will be 
assassinated in less than ninety days. Reckless and 
determined men have sworn it." 

" I am not afraid of them," said Ryckman. " All 
the desperadoes this side of purgatory can never in- 
timidate me in the discharge of my duty." 

While the execution was taking place the mayor, 
Brenham, was noticed sitting quietly on a pile of 
lumber on the opposite side of the street from the 
Committee rooms, regarding the proceedings appar- 
ently as an idle spectator. 

After the men had been hanging about fifteen min- 
utes Gallagher presented himself, blustering for the 

" What do you want?" asked Ryckman, stepping 

" I am coroner of the city of San Francisco, and I 
want these men !" 

" You can't have them." 


" If you don't give them to me I will cut them 
down !" 

*' Raise your hand to touch those bodies and you 
are a dead man. Come, be quiet and take a drink — 
that or the contents of this pistol, as you like/' 

The Irishman calmed himself and ' smiled. ' 

^' When can I have them?" he asked, now wholly 

" When the sun goes down/' said Ryckman. 

The day after the execution Hays, the sheriff, 
meeting Ryckman, said: 

'' I am mortified to death. All my hopes of reelec- 
tion are destroyed." 

" Colonel, don't be foolish/' Ryckman replied. 
''Seek the election. You have acquitted yourself 
fully. Failure sometimes is more successful than 



They demen gladly to the badder end. 


The revelations of Stuart gave many cause for 
uneasiness. In the published confession some of the 
names given by him were omitted and blanks inserted, 
and many an undetected rascal in reading that report 
saw in fancy the letters of his own name flaming 
blood-red in blank spaces. Knowing, moreover, that 
for every blank the Committee had the true and fit- 
ting appellation, some who before regarded themselves 
as fixed and settled members of the commonwealth 
suddenly arrived at the conclusion that their health 
required a change of air. 

More than any other one person T. Belcher Kay 
sat uneasily as he read that confession. He is said to 
have been the instigator of the great fire of the 22d 
of June. His assistants in that affair were Jimmy- 
from-Town, Dutchy Betts, Adams, and Whittaker. 
Kay promised to have the plunder properly divided; 
they secured some eight thousand dollars in all, in- 
cluding three cases of valuables sent to a Sacramento 
Jew, who did business on the corner of J and Second 
streets. Kay was disgusted with the present turn of 
affairs. Things were coming to a pretty pass when, in 
addition to the trouble caused him by the people, every 
other man of them had turned thief-hunter; when a 
comrade would not suffer himself to be hanged in 
quiet, but must first tell all he knew and jeopardize 
the lives of his former companions. Whoever heard 



of such a state of things, when one could not fire a 
few buildings without causing such a commotion! It 
was not fair. Why could not merchants and mechan- 
ics mind their own business? What did they know 
about law? Incendiarism, robbery, and murder were 
matters resting entirely between gentlemen of the 
profession and the courts, between which classes lay 
the net-work of the law, both manipulating it as best 
they might according to their respective interests. 
Now, for the men of merchandise to interfere and 
raise such a hubbub was infamous. The country was 
becoming unfit for a respectable scoundrel to live in. 
Everything seemed turning against him. The people 
were patrolling and associates confessing. There were 
yet the courts, however. After all, the law had treated 
him well enough, and legal technicalities were about 
the safest covert for hunted rascality; there money 
was money. He was friendless now; there his stolen 
gold dust would buy him a friend into whose safe ear 
he could pour his secrets, tell all his guilt, and secure 
him able and active sympathy; for so kind law pro- 
vided. Money would likewise buy him witnesses who 
would swear to anything his legal accomplice might 
indicate. Money made warm the cold cell, soft the 
hard couch, drove hunger and thirst to hide them- 
selves; it opened prison doors, and made even judges 
benignant. Law was the only safe refuge for the rascal ; 
to the law he would go, and that while he was able. 

At the time of Stuart's arrest Mr Belcher Kay 
was in San Francisco, but urgent calls of conscience 
took him to Sacramento. The outlook there was not 
comforting. Everywhere he found too many people 
earnestly intent on not minding their own business. 
A Sacramento July was hot and withering, a San 
Francisco July was cold and shivering; indeed, the 
climate of California he believed to be changing. The 
fact is, Mr Belcher Kay was unhappy. The vigilance 
men were after him, and he knew it. There were 
among them those whom the June fire, a most un- 


fortunate kindling at this juncture, had for the third 
or fourth time stripped of every dollar; and he knew 
that, too. 

No time was to be lost. To flee the country was 
impossible; every avenue of escape was closely watched. 
There was but one refuge left, and that had never 
failed him — his benign mother, the desperado's alma 
mater ^ the law. 

Assuming the costume of an elderly female, he 
dodged a detachment of the San Francisco Committee 
sent up to arrest him, cut across the country to Stock- 
ton, thence to San Jose, and up to San Francisco. 
Here, on the 16th day of July, he drove to court in 
a buggy, still disguised as an old woman, that he 
might swear out a writ of habeas corpus for his 
own body before some one else should snatch it 
from him. 

Mr T. Belcher Kay did not, however, arrive at 
court a strancrer. Before leavincj San Francisco he 
had taken steps to legally secure himself to himself 
On the 11th of July, the day of Stuart's execution, 
one William Thompson Jr. appeared before Hugh C. 
Murray, of inglorious fame, then chief justice of the 
superior court of San Francisco, and swore, to the 
best of his knowledge and belief, that T. Belcher 
Kay was unlawfully restrained of his liberty and im- 
prisoned by a great number of persons styling them- 
selves the Vigilance Committee, and that the said 
persons were endeavoring to conceal the said T. 
Belcher Kay in order that he might not be reached 
by legal process until they could strangle him ; where- 
upon the said court, bewailing such a fate for a free 
city-burner, directed Sheriff* Hays to seize the body 
of the said Kay whenever and wherever it might be 
found, and to hold it safely for himself and for the 
law. Now the truth of the matter is that the Vigil- 
ance Committee had never had the body of Mr Kay 
in their possession, else the affidavit of Mr Thompson 
would have been useless. 

Pop. Trie., Vol. I. 24 


From Sacramento the 13th of July Mr Kay wrote 
the San Francisco Vigilance Committee as follows : 

"Being informed that certain grave charges have been preferred against 
me by the man Stuart, and that you wish to try me on said charges, I now- 
state to you that I am ready and willing to meet the same, and will volun- 
tarily deliver myself up the moment you may send for me, trusting to your 
honor for a fair and impartial trial, and beg of you to secure for me as counsel 
Geary Austin, Esq. "Very respectfully, 

"T. B. Kay." 

How Mr Kay kept this promise we have already 

Commenting on the action of the court in Kay's 
case, the Herald of July 24th says: 

"When a writ of habeas corpus was sued out in the case of William 
Walker, an honest citizen, whose sole crime was a conscientious discharge of 
his duty, the applicant was knocked about from court to court like a shuttle- 
cock, and seven days elapsed befoi'e he was restored to his liberty, while here 
in the case of a man charged with felony, known to have been the companion 
of thieves and burglars, and suspected of being their confederate, the portals 
of justice open wide to receive him even before he knocks for admission, and 
a process issues to restore him to liberty before he is known to be in durance. 
All according to law, perhaps ; but if it be so, then that law acts directly for 
the oppression of the honest man and the immunity of the knave. We cannot 
believe the law was ever intended for any such purpose. We repeat, then, 
that here is a case demonstrating the necessity of a Vigilance Committee and 
disproving all the cant indulged in about the sacredness of the courts. These 
institutions are formed for the purpose of dispensing justice, and if they do 
not answer that purpose they are worse than useless. " 

Mr Thompson was indicted by the grand jury for 
perjury. Mr Belcher Kay was discharged by the 
court on the 1st of August, and immediately took 
passage for the east. 

Other minor matters claim attention. One Fran- 
cisco Guerrero, on the 12th of July, was murdered at 
the Mission. The coroner's jur}^, whose investigation 
was made in the presence of the Vigilance Committee, 
named Francis Le Bras as the murderer. The Com- 
mittee, from the evidence, were not fully satisfied that 
Le Bras was guilty of the crime; nevertheless they 
retained him in their custody. 


The Committee continued to take testimony for 
and against the prisoner all that day and part of the 
next, without being able to convict. Meanwhile the 
sheriff, with a posse comitatns and writ of arrest, 
knocked at the door of the Vio^ilance Committee 
rooms and demanded the person of Francis Le Bras. 
The sherift' was politely informed that after the Com- 
mittee had acted upon the case they would determine 
what disposition to make of the prisoner. At the same 
time the sub-committee, to whom the case had been 
referred, recommended that no notice should be taken 
of the writ, and if it be thought advisable to submit 
the case for trial at court by the authorities, to do so 
of their own free will, and meanwhile to keep in cus- 
tody the prisoner. The executive committee concluded 
finally to surrender the prisoner to the civil authorities, 
taking from the sheriff a receipt for the delivery of his 
person. Upon this action the Herald observes: 

"The Committee's course in this matter sufficiently refutes the charges 
that have been made against them that they were anxious to assume supreme 
powers and seize every opportunity of exercising judicial functions. As the 
community will perceive, they have heretofore confined their action exclu- 
sively to cases where the guilt of the offenders was established beyond the 
possibility of cavil or doubt ; and so strictly have they adhered to this course 
that, whatever other charges have been urged against them by their opponents, 
none have been so reckless as to assert that they have ever punished an inno- 
cent man." 

Herewith I give copies of receipts for prisoners de- 
livered by the Vigilance Committee of their own free 
and deliberate will to the officers of the law. 

"San Francisco, July 23, 1851. 
" Received of the Committee of Vigilance of the city of San Francisco the 
following prisoners, handed over to the sheriff of said county by order of said 
Committee : James Bums, alias Jimmy-from-Town ; Ainsworth, alias Round- 

" The above prisoners being sound in body and health. 

*• Received the above prisoners from J. L. Van Bokkelen, of the Vigilance 

Committee, Wednesday night, July 23d. 

"John C. Hays, Sheriff. 

"Wm. Lambert, Keeper. 


" Received of the Committee of Vigilance a prisoner named George Arthur, 
accused of house-breaking. 

"The above prisoner has been received from J. L. Van Bokkelen, of 
Committee, Wednesday night, July 23, 1851. 

"Sam'l C. Harding, 
" Captain Third District Police Station.''^ 

Jimmy-from-Town gave the Committee quite a little 
chase, but was arrested, six days after Stuart's execu- 
tion, near Marysville. His true name was James 
Burns. He was convicted of various crimes, and sen- 
tenced to ten years' imprisonment. Jimmy Round- 
head was likewise caught by the Vigilance Committee 
and presented to the sheriff. 

Again the tolling of the Monumental's bell an- 
nounced the sitting of the Committee in solemn 
conclave. At ten o'clock in the morning of the 6th 
of August, 1851, hundreds were seen rushing through 
the streets toward the rooms of the Committee on 
Battery street. 

'•' What's up?" asked everybody of everybody. 

" Don't know, unless Adams is to be tucked up." 
Adams, a noted burglar and boon companion of Stuart, 
was found in a tent on the American River. He was 
arrested by the emissaries of the Vigilance Committee 
and brought to the San Francisco head-quarters the 
19th of July. But Adams was not to be 'tucked up.' 
The Committee were about to perform an act which 
should mark the nobleness of their motives, the cool- 
ness of their demeanor, and the temperate firmness 
of their character, more conspicuously than even the 
hanging of Jenkins and Stuart. One of the fearful 
ills which should be fastened on society by this unruly 
organization, predicted by the lovers of the courts and 
court officials, was an ever increasing thirst for power, 
which should rise to intoxication and degenerate into 
licentiousness. Again we see the Committee, who 
had spent their own time and money in the capture 
of a notorious criminal, and in gathering the evidence 


of his guilt, voluntarily surrender him to the consti- 
tuted authorities, to be tried and sentenced in accord- 
ance with recognized forms of law. 

"There they come!" shouted one, as Adams ap- 
peared at the entrance between the chief of the 
vigilant police and a deputy sheriff. They marched 
toward the county jail, followed by several members 
of the Committee and a crowd of citizens. The spirit 
of justice smiled on her ministers that day, and the 
court was not slow in recognition. The lesson of alac- 
rity had been well inculcated; scarcely was Adams 
lodged in prison before the judge had him out, tried, 
and condemned. Even the anti- vigilance organs 
were satisfied to have the Committee act as a de- 
tective police, and signified their willingness that 
the organization should continue on that basis — sug- 
gestions in regard to which the Committee were 
profoundly indifferent. 

Mrs Hogan secreted herself on board of a ship lying 
in the harbor, but was seized by the Vigilance police 
and brought to the Committee rooms on the 19th. 
She was about thirty-five years of age and quite gen- 
teel in appearance. Her carriage, one of the finest 
in the city, stood at the door of the Vigilance Com- 
mittee rooms on the day of her arrest, but at night 
the lady did not drive away in it, although there was 
not at present testimony sufficient for her conviction. 

Thieves arrested by citizens at the great June fire 
were taken, as a matter of course, before the Vigilance 
Committee. One was publicly whipped and ordered 
to leave the city. Five thousand dollars reward was 
offered for the apprehension and conviction before the 
Committee of any incendiary, and notice to that effect 
appeared in English, French, Spanish, and German, 
in the journals of the day. 

Dab was arrested one night on board the steam- 
boat New World, en route from Sacramento to San 
Francisco. Dr Kennedy, surgeon of the ship Johnstone, 


was arrested for stabbing the captain — a system of 
surgery practised even by some who could not show 
a diploma. 

Samuel Purdy, while candidate for the office of 
lieutenant-governor, assaulted Mr Robb of the Stock- 
ton Journal in such a manner as to call forth the 
severest comments of the press. 

The captain of the brig Ilallouoell was taken into 
custody by the Vigilance Committee on Sunday, the 
24th of Auixust, for havinof caused the death of a 
boatman, but after examination he was surrendered 
to the authorities. 

Early in July a tent on the Middle Fork of the 
American River was entered and twenty-three hun- 
dred dollars stolen from a trunk. Suspicion pointed to 
one Hamilton Taft, who, having fled to San Francisco, 
was arrested at the Branch Hotel by two members of 
the Vigilance Committee. The prisoner asserted his 
innocence, but on being searched gold dust and coin 
were found upon his person, and a portion which he 
had thrown into a sink answered to a description of 
that which was lost. The man was then taken to the 
Committee rooms, where shortly after he confessed 
the crime. He was sent back, under a strong guard, 
to be dealt with by the authorities at Auburn. 

Arrentrue was indicted by the grand jury for at- 
tempt to murder in the mines, and for assisting Wat- 
kins to escape jail. Benjamin Lewis, found guilty of 
arson by the court, was sentenced to two years in the 
state prison. This was the highest punishment for 
the offence as the law then stood. Two days after, 
however, a new statute went into effect which made 
arson punishable by death. Lewis went happily to 
prison, rejoicing in the promptitude of trials in Cali- 

Briggs, the 'Sydney duck,' mentioned in Stuart's 
confession, was reported as being in San Francisco 
on the 15th of October. All night members of the 
Committee were on the alert, but the morning dis- 



closed the fact that he had left the day previous on 
the brig General Cobb, or the British bark Francis, 
bound for Australia. A committee was appointed to 
wait upon the collector of the port and obtain the 
requisite authority to search the two vessels. They 
pursued the fugitive, pushing out through Golden 
Gate in the steamer Firefly. Boarding the Cobb, 
they ascertained that Briggs was not there. The 
brig Francis was a long way off; the steamer fuel was 
low, and they were obliged to abandon the chase. 

John GofF was informed by the Committee that he 
must leave the country, and many thought it an un- 
just sentence; whereupon the Committee caused to 
appear in the public journals the facts that Goff was 
a convict, a bad character, and the boon companion of 
burglars. In his possession was found a conditional 
pardon, given in Sydney the 1st of May, 1849, by 
Sir Charles Augustus Fitzroy, governor of New South 
Wales — the , condition being that Mr GofF might go 
free in any part of the world except Great Britain 
and Ireland; there his pardon would be forfeited if 
he presented himself Mr Goff was obliged to de- 
posit with the Committee a sum of money as a guar- 
antee that he would quit the country by the brig Veto, 
bound for Sydney. 

Mr Hetherington, destined to yet higher inglori- 
ous fame, w^as at this time keeping a notorious den 
at North Beach; being warned to leave, instead of 
obeying, he applied to the courts for protection. 
The days of grace expired; two hundred men sur- 
rounded his premises, arrested him, and placed him 
on board a vessel in the harbor, there to await the 
first departure for Sydney. We shall meet this 
gentleman again. 

A young man named Harrison, son of an honest 
and highly respected gambler, John Harrison, one of 
the oldest in New York city, who was ordered by 
the Committee to depart from these shores, had 
quite a strange career subsequently. From Julia 


Brown, his prostitute mother, he inherited some 
property. After favoring Cahfornia with his absence 
he went to Kansas. Walking along the streets of 
Leavenworth one day, he boastfully counted on his 
fingers to a companion eleven men whom he had 
killed. Suddenly he drew his pistol, exclaiming, **I 
must have twelve jurymen in hell to try me when I 
go there!" and fired, shooting a German cobbler at 
work on the opposite side of the street. He made 
good his escape. Next we hear of him at the head 
of twenty-five desperadoes, playing soldier in 18G1. 
Driven from the army for bad conduct, he fled to the 
Indian Territory, raised a company of half-breeds, and 
began a series of depredations on both sides of the 
line. These bold measures were kept up till one 
day, in a town in Arkansas which he had robbed, he 
was captured by the citizens, who killed him very 
dead: first they hanged him; then they decapitated 
him and placed his head upon a pole. 

In the matter of Samuel Gallagher, accused of 
killing Pollock, the Vigilance Committee declined to 
act, on the ground that it was not part of their pur- 
pose to take cognizance of personal quarrels, but 
rather to direct their surgery against chronic diseases. 
Rapine, with its attendant burglaries, incendiarisms, 
and murders, the Committee made it their more special 
duty to suppress, leavmg to the law private animosi- 
ties and minor questions of justice. 

Strange freaks of human nature were seen at times 
about this strange tribunal. A negro confessed to 
having started the late conflagration, and was arrested 
by the Vigilance Committee. After examination, in 
which were repeated confessions and denials, he was 
discharged. At another time a man rushed to the 
door of the Committee rooms and attempted to gain 
admission. Stopped by the sergeant-at-arms, he in- 
sisted on entering to receive punishment for stealing. 
He was finally driven avv^ay. And yet neither of these 


men seemed insane, though they may have been a 
Httle bewildered by a bad conscience. 

More fearful of vigilant justice than that of the 
law, some offenders surrendered to the latter and 
voluntarily confessed secret sins, — instance the case 
of Alfred Edmondson, who walked into the sheriff's 
office one day in July and stated that he had shot one 
McKinley at a ranch thirty miles distant. 

A reform was noticed about this time in the pro- 
ceedings of street encounters. The revolver's click 
was less often heard, and in its stead the air rever- 
berated with the whizzing of the cowhide. Women 
played this instrument as well as men; it was less 
sanguinary than the old way, and more in keeping 
with the hate of woman, who loves best that method 
which inflicts the most punishment with the least 

On one occasion when Selim Woodward was in the 
chair and the members in full attendance, the general 
committee had before them on trial a Mexican boy 
charged with theft. The evidence was in, conviction 
clear, and the only remaining question was the kind 
of punishment. Some were for banishment, some for 
whipping, and others for something more severe. Mr 
James Dowes, then as ever a central figure for humor, 
had already addressed the assembly twice, and wished 
to speak again, but the rule was rigid that no one 
sliould speak more than twice on the same subject or 
occupy more than five minutes. Dowes induced a 
friend to secure the floor and then waive in his be- 
half, and raising his long, lank form high above all 
around, in that nasal twang and ejaculatory delivery 
peculiar to him, he said: "Gentlemen, I do not wish 
to fatigue 3^ou; I beg merely to say that it takes no 
longer to hang a man than to whip one." The manner 
of it was more than the matter; the Committee 
roared, and immediately released the boy with a simple 


Mr Dows, who was a fearless and vehemently un- 
compromising member of both Vigilance Committees, 
during the winter of 1850-1 kept a large liquor store 
on Montgomery street, where Montgomery Block 
now stands. Those were thirsty days, and thither 
flocked men of every caste and color to drink. Side 
by side drank mechanics and murderers, honest men 
and thieves, the latter looking and listening as they 
quaffed their poison. One night, when Mr ])ows' safe 
contained ten thousand dollars' worth of gold dust, the 
burglars opened and emptied it; and next morning, 
upon the spot, mingling with others whom curiosity had 
drawn thither, were the thieves tliemsclves, quietly 
taking their beverage and complacently regarding the 
havoc they had made. Jimmy- from -Town was chief 
of this plot, and subsequently Mr Dows had the 
pleasure of sitting in judgment upon him. 

As a matter of course, it was to be expected that 
our celestial brother, John, should find occasion to 
utilize this as well as other American institutions. 
Ah Sing and Lip Sconi for some reason desired that 
Ah Lo and Ah Hone, with two women of the neither 
wife nor maid species, should be sent back to China. 
They were bad Chinamen, said the almond-eyed, they 
struck from the shoulder, kept a bad house, and be- 
longed to the law and order party. All which was 
not difficult of belief; but amongst millions of century- 
smoked souls how distinguish one from the other? 
What is the difference between a good Chinaman and 
a bad Chinaman? 

Nevertheless, as the first two named spoke first 
their accusation — which if reversed would have been 
very much the same, either party answering equally 
well for plaintiff or defendant — as they expressed an 
anxiety to assist in purging the city in the latest 
fashion, and by a method other than that of the stand- 
ing Jackson-street emetic; and above all, as they 
proposed to pay all the expenses of custody and 


passage back to China, the dread tribunal granted 
their prayer. Indeed, they might empty every sub- 
urban sink-hole in Cahfornia on the same terms if 
they hked. 

But seriously, testimony of a sufficiently respectable 
character to convict these flowery offenders of arson, 
of having drugged and robbed sailors, was offered the 
Committee, and they were compelled to depart. At 
the same time charges were preferred by their coun- 
trymen against Ah Loh, Sin Co, and Ah Oeh; but 
this the Committee voted a conspiracy, and made the 
complainants understand that the order of exile in its 
application was neither universal nor permanent. 



Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small ; 
Though with patience he stands waiting, with exactness grinds he all. 

Friedrich Von Logan. 

We have seen that July was a busy month, and 
the accumulated documents show that the month of 
August was not an idle one. Aside from the stirring 
affairs connected with Whittaker and McKenzie there 
were a score or more of the minor members of the 
now scattered fraternity to be looked after, corre- 
spondence with country Committees had to be kept 
up, the significance of legal technicalities studied, 
trials held, witnesses examined, funds raised, and a 
hundred other like duties performed. It is won- 
derful to what a state of perfection the new ma- 
chinery was brought within the first three months of 
its running. Wonderful it is what men of sense and 
skill can do when possessed of that power which 
secures them absolute freedom of thought and action. 
That political libertinism did not follow this deluge 
of liberty is the strongest proof of the even balance 
of their minds and the integrity of the hearts of those 
who achieved this great moral victory. 

At a general meeting on the 2d of August a 
committee was appointed to report on the use and 
abuse of the writ of habeas corpus. Devised in the 
hour of oppression, observed the committee, as a 
safeguard of liberty it is one of the most precious 
rights of man. The intention of the writ is to relieve 
from unjust confinement a person accused but not 



convicted of crime, on condition that he offer suf- 
ficient security to appear and answer to the charge 
when called for. The question in this connection is, 
May it ever be disregarded? The weakness of the 
habeas corpus lies in the fact that to insure its rapid 
action the right of granting it must be vested in many 
officers. False testimony or an oath made on errone- 
ous information may in an instant wrest from the hand 
of justice the criminal whom it has required much 
labor and expense to secure, and thus this greatest of 
civil blessings may in effect prove baneful. It is 
against the abuse of the habeas corpus that the people 
are called to raise their voice. A peculiar condition 
of society may render the unrestrained use of the 
writ dangerous to the state. Policy sometimes re- 
quires its suspension — instance the wars of the 
Jacobins, England during the reign of George I. and 
at various epochs. Should the Vigilance Committee 
deem it expedient to resist the writ upon occasions, 
it has the sanction of precedent. The existence of 
this Committee, formed as it is of the best material 
of society, is proof sufficient of its necessity. The 
writ of habeas corpus, among other mechanisms of 
the law, has certainly been employed for shielding 
iniquity, and it remains either for the Committee 
of Vigilance to degenerate into a mere detective police, 
or to free itself from the fear of resisting the writ 
when they see it abused. They cannot afford to catch 
criminals for habeas corpus, or any other law trick, to 
liberate. Such, and more of the same tenor, the gen- 
tlemen appointed reported to the Committee; account- 
ing it the right of the Committee to regulate the writ 
of habeas corpus, or anything else affecting the wel- 
fare of the commonwealth. 

Prompted by their gratitude to those who had re- 
stored safety to the city, the ladies of San Francisco 
presented to the Committee of Vigilance a banner of 
blue silk, emblazoned with a border of oak, olive, and 


fig leaves, emblematic of strength, peace, and plenty; 
inscribed on one side were the words, in golden char- 
acters : 

"The Vigilance Committee of the City of San Francisco: 

Instituted June 8, 1851, 

For the Protection of the Lives and Property 

of the Citizens and Residents of the 

City of San Francisco. 

Const., Art. /." 

And on the reverse: 

''Presented to the Vigilance Committee 

of the City of San Francisco 

By the Ladies of Trinity Parish, as a 

Testimonial of their Approbation. 


August 9, 1851." 

Estimating the compliment by its cost, which was 
nearly one thousand dollars, we may believe that the 
gift was from the heart. The banner was presented 
by Benjamin S. Brooks, in a neat and pertinent speech, 
which concluded as follows: 

"This gift comes with peculiar appropriateness from the ladies. At the 
time that this society was organized our situation was very different from 
what it is at present. It is true that the strong man, with loaded revolvers 
in his pocket and bowie-knife concealed in his breast, might defy the attacks 
of the Sydney convict, and the refuse of all the world which infested our city, 
but it was different with the weak and defenceless woman. She who sits 
patiently at home waiting for her husband's return from his business, in every 
noise about the house she fears the burglar and the robber. If she leaves the 
house, a thousand fears beset her for the safety of her children ; if the husband 
is delayed beyond his usual time, a thousand fears, a thousand horrid visions 
of murder, and outrage, and violence come upon her heart, and fill her with 
anguish and dismay. Such was San Francisco ; but now we live in peace. We 
sit beneath our vine and fig tree happy and secure, and woman's heart feels, 
and this her gift expresses, her gratitude. Gentlemen, accept this gift, and 
all your actions, in all the assaults which may be made upon you by those 
who hate, or those who fear, or those who doubt, remember the motto which it 
bears, 'Do right and fear not,' for in the end blessings will ever reward you 
for your laborious vigilance for the protection of our lives and property." 


Committeeman No. 404, at the general meeting of 
August 9th, offered the following resolution, which 
was adopted: 

"Whereas, There is a United States law inflicting a fine of one thousand 
dollars upon captains of vessels for each convict that they bring from the penal 
colonies of Great Britain to the United States, one half of which fine is awarded 
the informer ; therefore, 

'^Resolved, That the executive committee be directed to lodge information 
forthwith against the captains now in port who have been guilty of this offence, 
and to prosecute the matter, and that the proceeds be appropriated to the ob- 
jects of this Committee." 

A letter was received from Messrs Flint, Peabody, 
and Company, inclosing one hundred dollars. The 
gift was accompanied by a letter couched in the fol- 
lowing terms: 

"Please find herewith check for one hundred dollars, which we ask you 
to accept as a small token of our appreciation of your efforts to punish and 
suppress crime in our midst. We have sympathized with you since your first 
organization. We appreciate your labors in behalf of this city ; and knowing 
that you have been at much expense, we deem it our duty to bear some share 
of the same. We trust that in the present crisis your action "will be charac- 
terized by your usual prudence and firmness, and that you will not entertain 
a thought of discontinuing your efforts in so noble a cause." 

During the month of September there was a slight 
falling off in the volume of business transacted; still 
there was sufficient work to keep up the enthusiasm 
of the association. Many offenders were captured 
and delivered to the sheriff. Between the Com- 
mittee and the authorities general good-fellowship 
now prevailed. 

The latter had vindicated the ruffled dignity of the 
law in their futile attempts to baffle the will of 
the people; while the former, having achieved in the 
accomplishment of its purposes a proud success, with 
calm complacency held steady the reins of govern- 
ment, bidding the law take heart and have no fear as 
to the ultimate result. 

The following report of the executive committee to 


the general committee exhibits the status and senti- 
ment of the association at this time : 

"Executive Chamber, September 6, 1851. 
'* jTo the gentlemen composing the Committee of Vigilance of San Francisco: 

' ' The executive committee of your body have labored arduously to accom- 
plish the business committed to them, in the discharge of which they have 
had but a single eye to the safety and prosperity of their fellows. It is with 
much sincere satisfaction that they arc enabled to say that the reports before 
you embrace action in relation to every prisoner in their charge, and it now 
only remains for your sub-committee to see the prisoners depart and not keep 
them in duress. 

"We also have heartfelt pleasure in communicating the fact that many of 
the prisoners not only are enabled to pay their own passages, but are willing 
to depart in perfect satisfaction with the acts of the Committee ; your com- 
mittee have rendered them every facility that humanity and prudence could 

' ' Amongst the cases before us were two of husband and wife ; those two 
cases demanded our attention ; your committee have separated the parties 
for their o^wii good, and by the separation may be the means of saving much 
anguish. Our labors are now completed, and so far peace and security have 
attended our efforts for the public good ; we earnestly hope that the blessing 
of Almighty God may rest upon us ; may the cessation of our labors be no 
cause on the part of the vicious to renew their course of life to the injury of 
the people. We trust that those in power at this time, and those who shall 
succeed them by reason of the late election, may so learn wisdom that in the 
exercise of their representative duties they may ease the weight from the 
shoulders of their constituents, and thereby honor their common country and 
preserve their institutions unsullied. It will now become you to adopt some 
action for the future, to so base the present institution that it may silently be 
a terror to all evil-doers and a rewarder of all that do well; that it may be 
the guardian spirit of the land. With feeling of high respect and esteem, 
"Believe me, your obedient servant and well-wisher, 

"S. Payran." 

Eighteen members were present at the meeting of 
September 27th, and thirteen the 30th of September. 
Nine members constituted a quorum from this date. 
At the former of these meetings Sehm E. Woodworth 
was elected first vice-president and G. W. Ryckman 
second vice-president. At the latter meeting Mr 
Ryckman stated that there was then a Mexican in the 
city who had committed seven murders, one of them 
within a week, and moved that he should be arrested. 
After due discussion it was decided that under their 


late reorganization the executive committee were not 
authorized to make arrests. It had been the hope of 
the Committee that they would be called upon to 
make no more arrests, but this was not to be. In any 
event the sentiment was worthy of them, showing as 
it did their honesty, good sense, and manliness. They 
had no desire to clog the wheels of government or 
throw obstacles in the way of due administration 
of law. Though possessed of ample power they 
would use it only upon principle ; they would not even 
permit themselves to stand before their fellows and 
before the world a palpable and permanently organized 
oligarchy. Amidst the many broils and civil wars 
which history loves to paint, almost all of which are 
purely for personal or party aggrandizement, it is re- 
freshing to see able and honest men acting from motives 
of unquestioned purity. 

Subsequently, modified power to make arrests was 
again given the executive committee by the general 
committee, but no important action should be taken 
unless formally sanctioned by the general committee. 

New by-laws were submitted and approved the 
27th of September, organizing the body anew with a 
president, two vice-presidents, a secretary, treasurer, 
and sergeant-at-arms, all of whom should be elected 
for a term of six months. Stated meetings were to 
be held every Wednesday. On the 2d of October a 
salary of one hundred and fifty dollars a month was 
voted the sergeant-at-arms, whose duties consisted in 
keeping the rooms and property of the Committee, 
serving notices, and exercising supervision over the 
prisoners, should there be any. The following meet- 
ing, held the 8tli of October, voted the secretary a 
salary of one hundred dollars a month. 

These by-laws read as follows : 

"There shall be elected monthly a president, secretary, and treasurer 

of the Committee of Vigilance. There shall be appointed by the Committee of 

Vigilance a sergeant-at-arms, a marshal, or chief of police, and five assistant 

marshals ; also an executive committee of twenty members, the president of 

Pop. Trie., Vol. I. 25 


the Vigilance Committee acting as ex oJUc'io president of the executive commit- 
tee. The remainder of the Committee of Vigilance shall be divided into 
squads or companies of twenty men eaoli ; cacli squad shall elect its own cap- 
tain. The object of this subdivision is to make members better acquaintid 
one with the other, and each captidn with the whole of his particular com- 
pany. At the present time there will consequently be about tliirty captaian. 
The companies shall be numbered from one to thirty. It will be the duty of 
each captain to see that the men under him attend pro])erly to guard and 
other duties assigned them. That they pay their iines and dues when delin- 
quent; and he shall report them for bad or suspicious conduct, as well as for 
neglect of duty, when necessary. Two squads or companies will furnish the 
exact number of men requisite for the guard during the twenty-four hours ; 
and they shall be ordered to do duty by the sergeant-at-arms through their 
captains in regular rotation — companies one and two one clay, three and four 
the next, and so on. From the companies not on duty the chief of police 
or his assistants may at all times select such men as he may require for police 
duty, giving his orders to such men always through the captains of the 
respective companies ; as, for example : ' Captain of No. 30, I require from 
your company by twelve o'clock three men, who shall proceed' — and so forth. 
After the chief of police or any of his assistants shall have taken or received 
any prisoners, he or they shall turn them over to the sergeant-at-arms, pro- 
vided he consider that the quarters under chai-ge of said sergeant are suffi- 
ciently secure to keep tliem safely; but should he, the chief, think proper for the 
better keeping of said prisoners to remove them to other quarters than those 
in the building used by the Committee of Vigilance, he may have the power 
to do so. It is to be perfectly understood that until they are so turned over by 
the chief or his assistants he, the said chief, be responsible for them ; but after 
being placed in the hands of the sergeant, then he, the sergeant, shall become 
responsible for the said prisoners, and the chief and his assistants shall have 
no longer any authority to act in the disposition of said prisoners, unless 
notified to do so by an order from the executive committee. Should it 
happen, however, that during the absence of a quorum of said executive 
committee the sergeant-at-arms might think it necessary to send prisoners 
forth from the building to more secure quarters, then he may have the power 
to place such prisoners at such time in the hands of the chief or his assistants, 
directing them to carry said prisoners to such quarters as he, the chief, may 
think safe ; and thereupon the authority and power of said sergeant-at-arms 
over said prisoner or prisoners shall cease, and the chief or his assistants 
shall become responsible for said prisoners so removed. It shall be the duty 
of the sergeant-at-arms to take all care and charge of the prisoners in the 
building occupied by the Vigilance Committee ; to take proper means to pre- 
vent the admission of any but members, witnesses, or prisoners into said build- 
ing; also to see that the said building is pr(?perly cleaned and lighted, and to 
do such other duty in the way of sending notices and advertisements as may 
be ordered by the executive committee or by note of the Committee of 
Vigilance. He shall, moreover, have the power, whenever in his judgment 
necessary, to prevent all communication between members of the Committee 
of Vigilance and such prisoners as arc in his charge, excepting the members 


of the executive committee, whose orders at all times, when emanating from 
the chairman of said committee, he shall obey, but not otherwise unless signed 
by a quorum consisting of five of said executive committee. It is of course 
understood that any order issuing from the Committee of Vigilance by vote 
of said Committee shall be obeyed by the sergeant. The duty of the chief of 
police and assistants shall be to detail all posses for the purposes of arresting 
jirisoners or guarding them when out of the building. They shall have the 
power of making such detail at any time when so ordered by the executive 
coinmittee or by general vote of the Committee of Vigilance ; and all orders 
given by said chief and assistants are to be implicitly obeyed by the posses 
so detailed. If at any time, while the executive committee or a quorum 
of said committee are absent, it should be considered necessary for the safety of 
prisoners, or for tlie purpose of carrying out any plan for the arrest of prisoners, 
to detain all members in the room until said safety is insured or said prisoners 
arrested, then the said chief or his assistants, and also the sergeant-at-arms, 
shall have the power to close the doors so as to prevent the egress of any 
member of the Committee of Vigilance. 

"At any time that any prisoner is brought in during the absence of a 
quorum of the executive committee, it shall be the duty of the sergeant-at- 
arms to notify a quorum of said committee of said fact, so that they may 
immediately go i".to an examination of the charges against said prisoner. All 
orders issuing Irom the executive committee, whether to the sergeant or to 
the chief of police, or to other guards, shall be returned endorsed with tlwj 
report of the parties to whom said order or orders were issued. The sergeant- 
at-arms and chief of police are to receive their orders from the executive 
committee, or by vote of the general committee, and are to be particulavly 
under the surveillance of said executive committee. Durinsc the absence of 
the marshal and his assistants their authority with respect tn detailing guards 
for any immediate duty or the execution of any order from the executive com- 
mittee shall devolve upon the sergeant-at-arms. The chief of police shall be 
allowed ingress and communication with the prisoners." 

A committee of five was appointed by the execu- 
tive committee at their meetin^^ of October 2 2d to 
act as a judiciary committee, whose duty it was made 
"to inquire into the acts of the various judges on our 

Jesse Sehgman claims thirty dollars for a six-inch 
Colt's revolver, and Wm. C. Graham twenty dollars 
for a five-inch revolver, the first lost in the arrest of 
John Kelly at the Mission, and the other wrenched 
from the owner's hand during the Whittaker and 
McKenzie melee. The claims were allowed and paid. 

On the 24th of September the executive committee 
in sccn^t session appointed a committee of four to vvait 


upon the French consul and the collector of the port, 
and from them obtain information concerning a French 
ship said to be on her way hither with five hundred 

The collector, T. Butler King, expressed his entire 
approval of the doings of the Committee, and prom- 
ised his hearty cooperation. M. Dillon, the French 
consul, was likewise gracious, but he was sure the 
report must be false. He said: 

" The government of France would not sanction the shipment hither of 
any of its convicted felons. Such a course has ever been foreign to its purpose. 
Under the existing constitution of the republic the government could not take 
such action without special legislation, of which there has been none." 

The consul stated further that on quitting France 
the name and occupation of every emigrant was reg- 
istered. He called attention to the general good 
character of the French population in Cahfornia. 

The committee then waited upon Messrs Marziou 
et Compagnie, agents for the French emigrant vessels, 
which were to bring hither five thousand French- 
men during this year. These gentlemen assured the 
committee that the passengers by their vessels would 
be a valuable acquisition to the country, being com- 
posed mostly of mechanics, agriculturists, and honest 
laborers. They promised further to instruct their 
agents in France to examine emigrants and permit 
none of bad character to take passage on their 

All this looked very fair upon the surface, but it 
hardly tallied with the evidence of John L. Hodge, 
United States consul at Marseilles, who writes, April 
28, 1851: 

" In regard to passengers, a great many are of the very worst class of des- 
peradoes in Europe. I have reason to believe some are sent at the expense of 
the government. I should recommend your city authorities to impose a hea\'y 
tax on all passengers from Europe, and to suffer none to land who have not 
regular passports from their respective governments, with the vise of the 
United States consul ; it may be given gratis. If you permit all to land coming 
from Europe, your country will be filled by a worse than Italian banditti. " 


A special meeting of the executive committee was 
called the 11th of November in consequence of the 
stabbing of one McLean by Antonio Gonzalez in the 
Mississippi House on Long Wharf Gonzalez had 
been arrested by the Committee, but as it was a quar- 
rel in which the plea of self-defence would be strongly 
urged it was decided to be a case for the courts rather 
than for the Committee. Accordingly Gonzalez was 
handed over to the city marshal. 

There was a special meeting of the executive com- 
mittee November 25th to examine a charge made by 
Joseph W. Gregory against one Sylvester, of Sacra- 
mento street, of having sent him a shipment of bogus 
gold dust from New York. The Committee ordered 
the arrest of Sylvester. 

The meeting of December 10th ordered the city 
to be districted, and collectors sent amonofthe citizens 
to gather funds for the liquidation of accrued indebt- 
edness. A committee was appointed at the same time 
to prepare a suitable certificate of membership, that 
each member by paying for his certificate might con- 
tribute to the treasury of the society. On the next 
page is a facsimile of the certificate. 

The following, from the Alta California of the 2 2d 
of December, though somewhat ribald in tone, displays 
the state of feeling at this time of the ultra -vigilance 
party — I do not mean the executive, the real power 
of the party — heated as it was by the after-slurs of 
law and court officials, and their organs, to whom the 
Committee were ever most lenient and magnanimous : 

* ' ' The world is given to lying, ' is a trite adage, if not a true one. And 
of all the parties who can most justly repeat the saying, the Vigilance Com- 
mittee and the press of San Francisco bear away the palm. The gentlemen 
of the Committee have been traduced and vilified as men never were before ; 
their motives have been misrepresented, their acts condemned as danuiing 
crimes, and all those who have countenanced and abetted them have been 
denounced as cowards or base panderers to depraved appetites for blood for 
the sake of pecuniary gain. Nor have these attacks been confined to any 
particular time and place. Such newspapers as had the impudence have 
given the slanders publicity upon the spot, while craven and coward souls who 




dare not open their envenomed lips here have vented their malice through the 
columns of Atlantic sheets, in order, like dastards as they are, to disperse the 
poison of their petty hate where it might do its work of evil without the fear 
of contradiction and without that danger of public exposure which should 
brand them with the infamous title of liar. These palpable libels, these 
bitter outpourings of hate, liave been uttered in loud and confident tones in 
bar-rooms and other places of public resort ; and even the sanctity of our 
courts — those courts for which these immaculate assailers profess so much 
respect and regard — has been violated by the distempered ravings and scan- 
dalous asseverations of men learned in the law. It is pleasurable, though, 
to find that the Vigilance Committee has outlived this storm of malicious in- 
vective. Xay, more, it is a proud satisfaction to know that the gcod for 
which they strove with such unusual and deplorable means has been accom- 
plished. Its eSects are everywhere visible in the confident and successful 
progress which our citizens are daily making, and in the decrease of crime 
and consequent increase of security which our political condition evinces. 
These facts are broad, plain, and undeniable here, and the Committee are 
therefore generous enougli to allow these slanderers to discharge their volley 
of vile missiles as they slink away into congenial and deserved obscurity. 
Well do we recollect the horrible predictions which were uttered with 
reference to the Committee. The heavens were himg with black by the dis- 
interested votaries of law and order; tears of purest j^atriotism rained from 
their unstanched eyes as they beheld the future ruin of their country ; their 
prophetic souls were toni with indignation at the enormities which the blood- 
thirsty Committee perpetrated, and their sensitive hearts were wrung with 
agony at the inherent sinfulness of man ! How vain, how foolish, how weak 
were they all ! Their gloomiest pictures have been proved but the silly cre- 
ations of a childish brain, their stories of hobgoblins have turned out but 
nursery tales, and their vaunted and pretentious predictions of ruin have 
shown themselves nothing more than the fantastic structures of a moody, 
misanthropic, and maudlin imagination ! But we will not exult over a fallen 

"It is time, high time, that this wholesale denunciation of the press 
should be ended. Miserable pettifoggers, penny-a-liners, and subscribers to 
slanderous affidavits should be told that they will not be permitted to pursue 
such practices with impunity. The public should understand that such 
assaults upon the press are undeserved and uncalled for. Why should that 
portion of a community whose fortune it is to be the conductors of the press 
be thus overwhelmed on every occasion with charges of corruption and im- 
proper motives? Are they not men of as much virtue, firmness, talent, and 
honesty as any other class? Will they not compare favorably with any other 
section of a community, in all the characteristics and qualities which consti- 
tute the reputable and good citizen? And yet every pitiful dabster wJio can 
flourish a pen thinks he has a sort of right divine to malign, assail, and 
bespatter us with all the slime which a filthy imagination can create at the 
dictation of a wicked heart. We cannot, and we will not, bear it. We owe 
it to our position and to our self-respect that such vilifiers should be placed 
in their true light before the public; and we mean to do it for them." 


Tlio school-master was early abroad, as the folio w- 
ino- connmiiiication sliows, and with his disciples he 
did not licsitato to illinnine the minds of men and 
explain to the Connnittee themselves the nature of 
the strange work in which they were engaged: 

** 7') the President ami Memhem of the Executive Committee of Oie Vifjilance 
Committee of San Franciseo: 

"Gentlemen: — To-morrow evening (Wednesday) I propose delivering a 
lecture on the 'Anatomy of Crime,' illustrated by the skulls of Jenkins, 
Stuart, McKonzie, and Whittiiker. 

"Should you fool intorostod in the physiology and philosophy of the ciiuses 
of mental action which promptotl those men to pursue an evil coui-se in life, 
I will be nu>st happy for you to accept an invitation, which I now tender you, 

to form part of my audience. 

"Yours, etc., 
^'September 9, ISol. Rob. H. Collyer." 

Follow iiiiT are the forms in which communications 
were presented to the executive committee by mem- 
bers thereof: 

" AV,No/r<v/, That the sentence of death pronounced on the two men 
Whittaker and McKenzie still remain in full force, and that all necessary 
moiins shall be resorted to to obtain possession of these men, and when taken 
that they shall meet the punishment due their crimes, as the voice of the people 
demands it. Adopted. 

"No. 591." 

"Mre Bridges, lives in a brown colored house on Bush street, above Mont- 
gomery, whose brother kept a tavern in Sydney, will give infonnation in to a female landed from the ship Adironda^'k, whose house in Sydney 
Mas a i-^ceptiude for stolen goods, and has been the means of leading more 
into vice than any other fenude in that country. She has already taken a 
house, and tliero is no doubt it will soon be one of the greatest cribs in Cali- 

"No. 152." 


CLOSK or THK riRsr ckusadi-:. 

'I'liul which tmiiH out well in l><;tL<;r thiiii any hiw. 


At tlie^(;n(inil incciJn^- IhM tJic'jjJi of S<'j>l(;ful)cr a 
r!()inrMille() of (iv(; was M,(>|>(>iiit(*(l !>(> S(;l<;(;t Uv(;iii,y-liv(; 
or filly narrK.'H tx) Ix; Huhiniti.od to Ukj (Joimnit/ioo for 
ol(;(j<J()ii im an ox(5(;uliv(; (toimniito'Ci, io hold for hIx 
inoiilJis, ;jfi(l whose; (hiti(JH should Ix; to oflor su(;h 
(jouiKtll ;in(i liikc! siK^h a(;lion as should hosl proniolc; 
tli(; intorost of Iho assoctiaiiori. One week lator iho 
cominittee rcijortod as follows: 

"'I'ho r;ojriiiiitf,<;«! 1,0 whom w/iM rc.f('rr<!'l i\u'. Miihjrct of Hiilrxriiri^ the; uuuwn 
of fifty or a h;MH iiumln'r of ^i^v.uih-.uw.n to (;oijMtitiit<! an (!X«)<:iitiv<5 coimnitt*;*!, 
who Mhoiihl hohl th«;ir olhciiM for a, [niriod of nix inontliH, and to Hii^'gont Mu<:h 
othrr KicaHiircH hh in tlicir luljiid^rnrnt may ho of intitt'OHt to iho fiHHOciatirHi 
and the community, Ix;;^ h;;i.vo icM|)ccl,iv(:ly to ccpoi't that th<!y luivo Hch;ctcd 
tho foUowing namcH of gcnthiincn in inimhcr an candithttoH for doction hy tho 
aMHociation ; that th<!y recommend, \x\n>n thu ohiction of tho committ<i(!, that tho 
awHociation adjrjiirn huu'. dlr, and that tho proHisnt acting oxijcutivo cornmittco 
turn ov«!r to tho nowly ehictod committ<!o all pajxirM, hookn, and docunicntH 
emanating from tho oporationH of tho (/ommittco Hinco itM formatioti ; thitt 
twenty m<;nd)orH of thiH committee Hh<i.ll hoM tlieir rWhce for a perirtd of one 
y<jar from the date of ehjction, and twenty for a pcjriod of nix montliH, th<3 Kh(irt 
and h)ng term to Ixj (hitermiufid hy (h-awin^; that they nhall ch'Kmr; their own 
ofhcerM, and Mhall have pow<;r to (ill any vjwiancieM that iiuty ariwj hy reiuj^rja- 
tion or otlnawiMo; that liftwiu <hiy« Ijefore tho expiration of tho nix montiiM 
for which they are elected they nhall call the itHHOciation to;^ether and Hid^mit 
a report in writing oi their proceedingM during the period of nix montliM, and 
the aHHociation Hhall th<;n ele(;t twenty mendxirn to fill the vacanriiex of thoHO 
whcjMo t<irm of Hix montliM Ii/ih expired; that Maid executive committee Hhall 
take n<* action for the arrent of criminalM, or in any ffuimier- interfere with tlu' 
due courMo of law, hut nhould an emergency uriHc whicli in their judguicut 


requires again the action of the association, they shall call them together by 
such signals as may be agreed on ; that this committee be instructed to watch 
with vigilance the action of our courts having criminal jurisdiction, and also 
all men in official stations, and especially observe the operation of the laws 
now in force ; and should they deem it expedient to have such laws altered or 
amended whereby greater facilities may be had to convict and punish crimi- 
nals, they may be authorized to petition the legislature upon the subject and 
use their exertions to have such amendments carried. The association, be 
lieving that the community relies mainly upon them to shield it from the evils 
arising from the maladministration of the law, will hold this executive com- 
mittee to a strict accountability in the performance of this duty." 

On the 23cl of Scptembor tlio following were de- 
clared elected members of the executive committee: 
W. D. M. Howard, Samuel Brannan, W. T. Coleman, 
James C. Ward, E. Gorliam, B. C. Saunders, S. E. 
Wood worth, James King of Wm., James Dows, H. 
F. Teschemacher, Dr A. B. Stout, F. Yassault, J. 
S. Parrott, B. M. Jessup, James B. Huie, Joseph 
Post, Charles Griswold, Stephen Pajran, H. A. 
Cobb, George M. Garwood, G. W. Byckman, Thomas 
J. L. Smiley, John W. Cartwright, William W. 
Thompson, L. D. Kinnay, A. Kirchner, W. H. White, 
John Baynes, D. Jamorin, James M. Swift, George B. 
Ward, H. M. Naglee, W. Burhng, I. De Long, W. C. 
Annan, L. Maynard, W. A. Darling, J. F. Hutton, 
Samuel Dewey, F. Argenti, E. Dclessert, Charles L. 
Case, Fred Woodworth, and Isaac Bluxome Jr. 

Of these the following were elected officers : Stephen 
Payran, president of the executive committee ; Selim 
E. Woodworth, first vice-president; G. W. Byckman, 
second vice-president; Isaac Bluxome Jr., secretary; 
D. L. Oakley , sergeant-at-arms ; George B.Ward, L. 
Maynard, E. Delessert, James King of Wm., F. J. 
L. Smiley, finance committee; Garvs^ood, G. W. 
Byckman, Charles L. Case, J. F. Hutton, Fred A. 
Woodworth, qualification committee. 

By the latter part of September the general com- 
mittee considered its present work completed. To the 
new executive committee were turned over all books 
and documents thus far accumulated. 


Among those elected to serve for the term of twelve 
months were Samuel Brannan and Thomas J. L. 
Smiley, and among those elected to serve for six 
months were James King of Wm., Stephen Pajran, 
Wm. T. Coleman, and G. W. Ryckman. 

Mr Bluxome was authorized to collect dehnquent 
dues and fines, retaining ten per cent thereof for col- 
lection. A committee was appointed by the president 
to prepare by-laws for the guidance of the executive 

From the grand jury report made the last of Septem- 
ber I extract the following: 

"The grand jury cannot help noticing the marked diminution of crime in 
the city and county of San Francisco within the last four months. Knowing 
the anxiety felt by the people, and the disturbed state of the public mind 
which has prevailed for the last five or six months in our city on account of 
the numerous acts of arson, thefts, burglaries, and murders which have been 
committed, this announcement is made by the grand jury with the highest 
satisfaction. The strong popular resistance made by the people to their 
criminality, the very commendable and decided action of our predecessors, 
and the efficient, firm, and prompt action of the honorable the court of sessions, 
have had a powerful influence in arresting the progress of crime, and for giving 
security and protection to the lives and property of our citizens. As the 
courts are the only lawful and constitutional tribunals to which the people 
can look for support and the vindication of their rights, violence and partial 
if not complete anarchy will follow where they fail or neglect to discharge 
their duty without fear, favor or affection. History proves that Americans 
are a law-confiding and a law-abiding people, but where they cease to have 
confidence in their public agents they will have their rights and property 
protected by tribunals of their own establishing until the laws can be executed 
in the spirit and letter in v/hich they are written, through tribunals established 
by constitutional authority. While we regret the use of such means for self- 
defence, there is some palliation for such a course in the widespread alarm 
which prevailed lately in our city on account of the dangers that surrounded 
us. Should the courts continue, as they are now doing, to maintain intact 
and inviolate the rights of the people, under the laws and constitution of the 
state, we feel satisfied that no future attempt will be made on the part of the 
people to supersede their authority. We say, should they continue to do this, 
confidence will be restored, crime will be greatly arrested, and the courts will 
become the hope of the injured and the oppressed, and the people their loyal 
supporters and defenders." 

At the end of September the executive committee 
removed to their new and less expensive quarters over 


Middleton and Smiley 's auction rooms, on the corner 
of Battery and Sacramento streets. These rooms 
were carpeted and handsomely furnished. At one end 
of the executive chamber was a rostrum where stood 
the president's chair, and in front of a desk hung the 
banner presented by the ladies of Trinity parish. 
Behind the president's chair was an elegant mirror, 
and in the centre of the room a laro^e table containinsf 
books and writing materials. The windows were neatly 
curtained, and the walls adorned with maps and pic- 
tures. In an adjoining room were stored the para- 
phernalia of the police, arms, chains, ropes, handcuffs, 
and the like. 

The effects in the old quarters on Battery street, 
no longer needed, were disposed of by auction. I 
give the inventory, as consigned for sale to Messrs 
Cobb and Company, which tends to fill a blank in the 
picture of life in the Committee rooms : 

32 Mattresses. 2 Tables. 

41 Blankets. G Small tubs. 

14 Pillows. 2 Large tubs. 

20 Side lamps. ^ Barrel hard bread. 

12 Candlesticks. ^ Tub butter. 

1 Demijohn. 1 Tin lard. 

1 Jug. 1 Trunk and contents. 

2 Empty oil casks. 19 Window-curtains. 
1 Pitcher and basin. 2 Tin basins. 

1 Wooden bucket. 1 Small looking-glass. 

1 Coffee-urn and lamp. 2 Tin oil cans. 

1 Coffee-pot. 1 Tin pan. 

1 Lot of crockery ware. 6 Broken chairs. 

12 Spoons. 35 Benches. 

Quite a quantity of lumber had accumulated, which 
was sold to Blackburn and Thompson. 

At a meeting of the executive committee on the 
24th of September, thirty-five members being present, 
with Mr Payran presiding, a committee of three was 
appointed to procure counsel for Mr F. A. Atkinson 
in the case of Metcalf vs. Argenti, Atkinson, et al. 


Subsequently, a change of venue in this suit having 
been ordered, the president of the San Francisco 
Committee wrote the president of the Committee of 
Vigilance of San Jose, requesting him to employ 
every effort to gain the cause. 

The Committee rooms should be kept open day 
and night, and no member should be admitted un- 
less his dues and fines were paid. The quarters over 
Middleton and Smiley s auction rooms were taken, as 
being central and less in price than other similar ones, 
though the monthly rental was four hundred dollars. 

At this meeting the treasurer, Eugene Delessert, 
offered to loan the association one thousand dollars 
for sixty days without interest, in order that the out- 
standing bills might be paid. The offer was accepted 
with thanks. 

By the 2d of October the finance committee were 
enabled to report all claims discharged, and §23G.29 
in the treasury. 

In the daily journals of the 2d of October appeared 
the following notices: 

" WiiEr.EAS, An article has appeared in the Evening Picayune of this day 
stating that the Vigilance Committee had ceased active operations, and in 
consequence of the general condemnation of the commercial papers in the 
Atlantic States ; therefore, 

''liesolved, That the Committee cause to be published in the various papers 
of this city that they hold themselves ready for action should the conununity 
be again situated as at the time of the organization of said Committee, and 
that no comments of any newspaper can drive them from a conscientious 
discharge of their duty to their families and fellow-citizens. 

"By order of the General Committee. S. Pa yuan, 

''President of Executive Committee." 
"Isaac Bluxome Jr., Secretanj." 

"Notice. — The Executive Committee of Vigilance will meet at their 
chambers this evening at eight o'clock. 
" By order of Committee. 

"Stephen Pa yuan, 
"I. Bluxome, Secretary. President.'' 

Besides acting as vermin-exterminators the Com- 
mittee officiated in other capacities of scarcely less 


importance. Not only did they exercise a strict sur- 
veillance over the courts and officers of the law, but 
they kept within bounds the ebullitions of the people. 
Mobocracy they frowned upon no less than legal liber- 
tinism. Standing midway between popular extremes, 
they were the gre*it b;dance-wheel of the social and 
political machinery. On several occasions toward the 
close of their administration, and some time after 
chronic villainy in its mightiest proportions had been 
crushed, the Committee lent their aid to suppress 
popular excesses as well as to bring within the em- 
braces of the law all offenders on whom they could 
lay their hands. 

If further proof were wanting of the integrity of 
the Vigilance Committee in its attitude toward law, 
it may be found in an event which occurred about the 
time of its disbandment, — I do not say disorganiza- 
tion. It was thought not a little strange by some of 
its adherents that a popular uprising which broolied 
no dictation from any power, and which had ranged 
its determinate forces acxainst the existinsf courts of 
law and forms of justice w^icnever such contrivances 
interfered with its purpose, should upon the first occa- 
sion deemed meet in its own eyes lend law a helping 
hand and turn its frown upon the people. 

Yet this is only what it professed from the first, 
namely, that the principles underlying the vigilance 
movement were no more mobocratic than revolution- 
ary. These volunteers in the cause of social and 
judicial morals would not allow statutes and court 
formulas to prevent them doing the right; but they 
were equally far removed from permitting their fellow- 
citizens to overturn the law or oppose it under trivial 
or unnecessary causes. 

In the summer of 1851 the clipper ship Challengey 
Waterman master, sailed from New York, and arrived 
at San Francisco the last of October. The crew was 
composed mostly of foreigners, and those of the worst 
class. Before reaching Sandy Hook the quality of 


the cre\v was so clearly apparent that the owners 
urged the captain to put back and get new seamen. 
Waterman was a bold, determined man, and thought 
himself a match for any kind of sailors. During the 
voyage the crew mutinied and caused much trouble. 
DouGflass, the chief mate, was stabbed with a daQ:orer, 
and the captain narrowly escaped seizure. Amid much 
tribulation and danger the ship was brought safely 
into port. 

But during the voyage Captain Waterman had 
been severe and even cruel; whether unnecessarily 
so does not appear. Three of the seamen had been 
knocked overboard from the cross-jack yard in a gale; 
five died from dysentery on the way and one from 
epilepsy the day of arrival. Many were maimed by 
the blows which they had received during the voyage, 
and on landing were sent to the hospitah 

Immediately on dropping anchor the captain went 
on shore. Shortly after it was noised abroad that 
Waterman and Douglass had shamefully treated the 
crew during the vo3^age, unmercifully beating and 
even killing some of them. Boatmen and sailors were 
especially incensed by the account, and when the 
vessel hauled in to the wharf a larcfo number of lon^^- 
shoremen gathered at the foot of Pacific strceo, 
threatening to hang the captain and mate the moment 
they could lay hands on them. The captain deemed 
it prudent to retire from the city, and Douglass, v^^ho 
was then on board, slipped over tlie bov\^ into a boat, 
pulled round Bin con Point, and escaped in the chapar- 
ral. This was the 30th of October. Search v/as made 
for master and mate until late into the night, but with- 
out success. 

Next day the disabled seamen were removed from 
the ship to the hospital, and the sight raised the fury 
of the crowd to the highest pitch. Two thousand 
belligerent men gathered in front of the office of Alsop 
and Company, consignees of the ship, and demanded 
the persons of Waterman and Douglass. They were 


informed that those they soui^ht were not there; but 
this did not satisfy them. Six of their numher were 
detailed to search the premises, but their efforts were 

Meanwhile the mayor bestirred himself to quell the 
excitement. He first appealed to the assemblage 
itself, but the mob hooted him and defied the authori- 
ties. They fancied themselves already in possession 
of the city, and would listen to no terms wdiich coun- 
selled moderation. The mayor called upon the citizens 
to assist in the preservation of the public peace. But 
in those days when all good men belonged to the 
Society of Stranglers, murderers as the court called 
them, outlaws as the mayor himself had said, who 
were the citizens? 

Then it was that the much maligned Committee of 
Vigilance rallied to the rescue of the city's honor. 

The officers of the CJiallenje might or might not 
be guilty of atrocities; but in either event this was 
not the way to determine the matter. This was not 
the way the Committee of Vigilance dealt with offend- 
ers. Nor would they permit the mob spirit to dis- 
grace them or triumph over law. They themselves 
had been called a mob, but never were men more 
maligned. They had not a single element of moboc- 
racy in their composition, except that they regarded 
not, at all times, the letter of the law. The mob was 
mobile, they were firm; the mob was passionate, they 
were cool; the mob hanged first and tried afterward, 
they executed justice only after the most solemn 

In this instance, whatever the master and mate 
might be, they w^ere not chronic criminals or lawless 
desperadoes, and therefore were not fit subjects for 
the secret tribunal. They were responsible men, fol- 
lowing a legitimate calling. It was a matter for the 
courts only. 

Then went forth the order from the executive cham- 
bers informally to disperse the rabble. Behold now 


where centred the strength of this people! Not in 
statutes, governors, or municipal powers, but in the 
citizens whom the mayor had decried in vain. Within 
five minutes after the order was given the Monu- 
mental bell struck its significant note, and on the in- 
stant around that California-street crowd the cry was 
heard, '' Attend vigilants!" ''Fall into line!" ''March!" 
And they did march, — straight into the heart of that 
crowd, told the leaders to begone, told the enraged 
longshoremen to get them to their own affairs in- 
stantly, lest worse betide them. And they went; an 
hour later and the street in front of Alsop and Com- 
pany wore its usual aspect. 

Thus ended the affair so far as the Vigilance Com- 
mittee were concerned. It is true that some time after 
there was talk at Pacific-street wharf of scuttlini]: or 
burning the sliip; the captain was hanged in effigy on 
the plaza, but no further violence was offered. The 
United States Marshal boarded the ship and informed 
the sailors that they were at liberty to enter complaint 
against their officers, and they did so. Of murder and 
maltreatment they accused them. Doubtless these 
men deserved the punishment they received; but it is 
the attitude and action alone of the Vigilance Com- 
mittee that we are called upon to note in this con- 

The following letter, directed to sheriff Hays, shows 
the feelincT then existing: between the Committee and 
that officer: 

"Executive Cilajsiber of the Committee of Vigilance,) 
"San Francisco, August 11, 1851. / 
'^To John C. Hays, Esq., Tligh Sheriff for the City and County of San Francisco: 
"Dear Sir: — Permit me, on behalf of the Committee of Vigilance, to offer 
you the annexed report, with the action thereon ; and in their name I offer, 
■with the concurrence of my colleagues, the thanks of the Committee for your 
perseverance, skill, and assiduity in bringing the affairs of our county prison 
to so happy an issue. We regret much that you personally should have suf- 
fered any pecuniary inconvenience in the prosecution of its financial affairs, 
and earnestly hope that the pittance raised by us may serve to carry out your 
sanguine expectations and subserv'e the public safety. As a public servant 
Pop. Tiub., Vol. I. 26 


we have much in you to commend, and at all times as citizens will lend our 
aid to assist you in your legitimate course of office. 

"May you long survive to serve the state of your adoption and receive the 
good wishes of your fellow-citizens. 

"Very truly, your obedient servant, 

"Stephen Payran, 
''President of the Executive Committee." 

After the relinquishment of authority by the first 
Committee there was httle thought of prosecution on 
the part of any. Society was happy in its deUver- 
ance from outrages against person and property; the 
law was happy in the assistance which had been 
rendered in liftinsf it from low estate and restorino: 
that rightful power and place in the affairs of the 
commonwealth which had been denied it ; and thieves 
and assassins were happy that heads were still left 
upon their shoulders, and that affairs were no worse 
with them. Hence it was that grand juries, instead 
of presenting indictments against members of the 
Vigilance Committee, praised them in their reports, 
while lamenting the necessity of the organization. 

The Alta California of the 25th of August speaks 
wisely upon the subject. Its editor writes: 

" Every Califomian whose business led him into the Atlantic states last 
year knows with what horror the action of our Vigilance Committee was 
viewed there. Those who were not called there, who read the Atlantic news- 
papers regularly, could judge something of the state of public opinion as 
it found expression in them. For once all parties agreed. All classes of 
society, the enlightened and the ignorant, the honest and the dishonest, 
the business men and the men of leisure, the philanthropist and the pick- 
pocket, every one, in fact, united in one universal shout of denunciation 
against the Vigilance Committee of California. Every one mourned the 
fall of a young sister state which had excited the wonder and admiration of the 
whole world as one who had fallen to the very lowest scale of anarchy. Re- 
publican institutions for once had been overthrown by a lawless mob, who 
defied the courts of justice. Law and order were at an end. Lamentations 
loud and deep were uttered ; and for once the capacities of the people for self- 
government were doubted. Anti-capital punishment men exclaimed to those 
who had opposed their efforts, ' See the effects of your bloody code ! Blood for 
blood is no longer the cry; but blood is now demanded for a few paltry 
dollars, or for a few goods, and that, too, v/ithout a trial before a judge and jury ! 
The evidence is offered tD a mob by a mob ! These are the beauties of the 


system you advocate! How do you like it?' But such expressions olicited no 
reply. No man who had been an advocate of capital punishment would utter 
one word in defence of his former opinions ; but all concurred in the opinion 
that the institutions of California were irretrievably destroyed. 

' ' One of us was in the Atlantic states when this excitement was at its 
height, when every mail steamer brought news of trials and executions by the 
Vigilance Committee ; but it was in vain that we remonstrated against the 
abuse that was heaped upon this community, in vain tliat we told the people 
that the best citizens of California composed it, and that they had leagued 
themselves together for the protection of their lives and their property. 
Against us they would say, ' If this Committee be composed of good citizens, 
why do they not allow the proper tribunals to try those who transgress the 
laws?' We urged the fact that the most depraved wretches in existence, 
guilty beyond a dispute of the crimes charged against them, had been allowed 
to go at liberty times without number after going through the farce of a 
trial by our courts, until at last forbearance on the part of our citizens had 
ceased to be a virtue. The people had too much evidence that our courts 
had been corrupted; that the country had been overrun with convicts 
escaped from Van Dieman Land and other parts of the world, and the leni- 
ency of our judicial tribunals was bringing new recruits every day. But no 
one would listen to us. People in the Atlantic states actually believed that 
the press here supported the action of the Vigilance Committee only through 
fear of having their offices pulled down and theii* types and presses destroyed. 

' ' But the Vigilance Committee neither heeded the admonitions of their 
law and order loving brethren of the Atlantic states, who undoubtedly meant 
well in tendering their advice, which was worth about the same amount as 
that commodity usually is wlien unasked, nor those who were crying for law 
and order here, and who only wanted to escape the punishment of their 
crimes. But the Vigilance Committee were the real friends of law and order, 
and they have succeeded in establishing such a state of quiet and safety as 
never could have been accomplished by our courts had they been never so 
good. The men who were powerful here only for evil have suffered the just 
reward of their crimes, or have eluded the argus eyes of the Vigilance Com- 
mittee and fled to more congenial climes, the law and order lo^^.ng cities of 
the Atlantic states. The tides of human feeling, like the tides of the sea, 
have their ebb and flow. They were at flood tide when our Vigilance Com- 
mittee were doing their duty to the state, to society, and to themselves. 
Since that time the tides have receded. The tempest of abuse has been 
succeeded by a long calm. Those people who expressed so much pity for 
those who Avere hanged so unceremoniously here, now find a few more left of 
the same sort at their own doors, many of which are broken open o' nights. 
These poor persecuted people have sought an asylum where law and order 
was the cry. In New York and Boston is this especially the case. Burgla- 
ries in those cities are of very frequent occurrence, and in the former city 
highway robberies are not at all surprising. A resident of New York had 
been knocked down with a slung-shot in the night, but succeeded in attracting 
sufficient attention to di^aw the police to the spot, who captured the robbers. 
The man was carried home, and took his bed. When he was able to leave his 


house he inquired for the robbers, and learned that they had been discharged 
for want of evidence ! The press of the city, without distinction of party, 
denounces the city government for such laxity. Justice has been robbed of 
its due there. No one at all acquainted with the facts doubts it. But who 
believes that justice there is robbed of one tenth of what it was here? No 
one. Our judiciary was in its infancy, theirs is in ripe manhood. But 
notwithstanding this the people of that city have been talking of forming a 
vigilance committee and taking the execution of the laws into their own 
hands! The New York Times, one of the most extensively circulated 
journals in the United States, has actually threatened the city government 
that unless they administered the laws better the people would do it them- 
selves ! 

' ' Does any one want any better evidence that the sober second thought of 
the people believes the Vigilance Committee here acted otherwise than for 
the best interests of humanity?" 

The correspondence of the London Times writes 
from San Francisco as follows: 

"Regarding this Vigilance Committee public feeling is divided. All in 
authority and connected with the administration of the law are against the 
institution, while a large number, I think a majority, of the better classes of 
the people are in favor of it, and support it by voluntary money contribu- 
tions. To understand the state of public sentiment correctly it is proper to 
add that, hov/ever anomalous such an institution may be in a free country, 
the community on the whole entertain no apprehension from it, nor is it 
feared that it will exceed its i)rofessed limits of weeding society of its pests. 
Although the existence of such a body in any other country would probably 
produce a reign of terror and break the bonds of society asunder, no such 
result is feared by us. The non -vigilance citizen is on as amicable terms with 
the Vigilance Committee man now as ever. As to its composition, it is, like 
most large bodies, a mixture of good and of bad men. Its effect has indubi- 
tably been to diminish crime, and it keeps up an unobtrusive surveillance 
over the suspicious members of the Committee." 

In a petition signed by certain residents of San 
Francisco, and presented in the California legislature 
by Mr Wood the 27th of January, 1852, requesting 
that a man named Redmond might be taken by the 
citizens and hanged, we reach the irony of the pop- 
ular administration of justice. The petition was tabled. 

In reviewing the action and effect of the San Fran- 
cisco Committee of Vigilance of the epoch of 1851, 
one cannot fail to observe with how little punishment 
a great reform had been accomplished. No sooner 


did the power of the organization begin to be felt in 
its full force than criminality was dissipated. Des- 
peradoes, knowing that sure and swift punishment 
would follow their evil deeds, paused, then scattered in 
every direction, glad to effect their escape. California 
ceased to be the place for them. Thieving was no 
longer the safe and profitable occupation of former 
days. Profit was not commensurate with the risk. 

And what had the Vigilance Committee done to 
effect this great and sudden change? It was not in 
the extent or magnitude of their punishments. They 
had executed but four persons, when fourscore should 
have been hanged, if law had done its simple duty. 
And fourscore executions could have occurred under 
condemnation of the law without exciting half the 
terror caused by these four executions by the people. 
Evil-doers were well acquainted with the law. They 
knew exactly what to depend upon in regard to law. 
They knew wherein they might expect the law to be- 
friend them, and wherein to punish; where courts 
could be employed as protection, and in what respects 
it were best to avoid them. During this golden age 
of crime in California, like the lion and the lamb 
they and the law had often lain down together. Courts 
were the legitimate risks attending their occupation. 
They had no quarrel with the courts; but this new and 
worse than infernal agency was their abomination. 

Under the old regiine each limb of the law was as 
well known to the professional offender as his own 
limb; but under the new order of things every man 
he met was a spy upon his actions. Popular instinct, 
that greatest of social influences, he felt to be almost 
morbidly alive, and the odds were too great against 

The necessity for further immediate action seem- 
ing no longer to exist, the Committee laid down their 
power as gladly as they had taken it up reluctantly. 
They did not disorganize, rightly believing that 
should they do so, and the fact become known, crime 


would instantly return and take courage, and the per- 
manent result of their labors prove of little value. 
Adopting the wisest course possible under the circum- 
stances, they informed the courts and their officers 
that henceforth, unless occasion seemed to require it, 
they would not interfere in the regular course of jus- 
tice; nevertheless they stood ready to aid the law, 
by every means in their power, in any emergency. 

As late as May, 1852, the executive committee were 
still holding their meetings, but the records close 
abruptly the 30th of June, 1852. There is nothing 
to show any extraordinary adjournment, disbandment, 
or ending of affairs. The chief concern at the late 
meetings seems to have been to collect money and pay 
the debts of the association. One year of toilsome 
duty at that time was no light matter; and the feel- 
ing seemed generally prevalent that if there was 
nothing more for the Committee to do, further ex- 
penditure of time was useless. 



Things do not torment a man so much as the opinion he has of things. 


Often in the most liberal governments there springs 
from fanaticism an absolutism which rages as fiercely 
as any which may be found under monarchical despot- 
ism. In the midst of the vicrilance movement there 


were promulgated by its opponents doctrines more 
extravagant, and sentiments more slavish, than any 
enunciated by worshippers of the British throne since 
the days of King John. 

It is very easy to judge the actions of others, par- 
ticularly when we know nothing about them. Critics 
are so much wiser than the criticised, are so much 
better informed than others, that no matter what a 
man may spend his life in studying, he has at last 
to awake to the disappointment of finding a hundred 
who have never looked into the subject knowing much 
more about it than himself 

The position assumed by a journal has too often 
little to do with the principle involved. The first 
question a newspaper proprietor asks in determining 
which side of a proposition he shall espouse is. Which 
will pay best? Clearly it was the correct policy of 
the Herald f wdiich even at this early date enjoyed the 
patronage of the auctioneers and merchants, to sus- 
tain the popular movement. And so with the Alta 
and the Chronicle. The San Yrdi^noi^co Morning Post, 
however, saw, or thought it saw, an opening on the 

(107 J 


other side. There were too many vigilance journals. 
There were many opposed to the Vigilance Commit- 
tee, and naturally enough the sentiment of law and 
order would increase with time, so that no little bun- 
combe might be indulged in by combating the cause 
of vigilance. I need scarcely say that the Chronicle 
and the Post of that day were not the journals bear- 
ing the same names to-day. 

The Post, the champion of law and order during 
the year 1851, as a matter of course warps all east- 
ern intelligence to its own ends. In its issue the 10th 
of September the editor remarks : 

" An intelligent gentleman who has just arrived in the iVo-^Aeni^T informs 
US that in travelling throughout the northern states he found but one pre- 
vailing opinion with the class of men whose interests are connected with Cali- 
fornian trade, and that was that this Committee, with its peculiar and ex- 
traordinary organization, had injured the credit and standing of this city to a 
greater extent in the states than all the fires and other calamities we have 
ever suffered. This organization was urged as an objection in New York to 
any investments in Calif ornian state and other securities emanating from here; 
and if the hanging of Jenkins on the old adobe had affected nothing else it 
had driven Califomian securities down some fifteen or twenty per cent in the 
Atlantic cities. If oirr credit is tarnished by these proceedings it may be 
called croaking, or what we choose, but it does not alter the fact that the 
merchants and bankers of the east will regard us all with distrust, as a country 
without law, as a people ready to take life without legal trial, and as much 
more likely to repudiate any obligations, and therefore not to be trusted." 

Beginning with the London Times of the 27th of 
August, we find written of California : 

"Its moral condition from year to year has been apparently declining, 
and in place of imperfect institutions we now see a deliberate supercession 
of law. Were it not for the current belief to incendiarism we should hardly 
be warranted in drawing any positive inference from the extraordinary recur- 
rence of general conflagrations in these distant parts. There certainly, 
however, is no parallel in history to the combustibility of San Francisco. 
The political age of tlie city is barely three years, and yet it has been six 
times destroyed by fire — destroyed, we learn, so totally that scarcely a square 
remained unconsumed. It has twice suffered grievously from inundations ; 
it was horribly afflicted by the cholera twelve months ago, and its ordinary 
climate is said to be destructive to European health. Notwithstanding all 
this, San Francisco survives and increases at a rate leaving London and 
Liverpool far behind. The point, however, to which we would bespeak 
attention is the remarkable movement of opinion, in virtue of which what 


was once a barbarous process of vengeance or violence has been transformed 
into a recognized operation of popular justice. But it must be evident to all 
observers that an organized association, powerful enough to supersede the law 
of the land in open day, could have no possible difficulty in amending the 
admmistration of this law, had they directed their efforts to such a purpose 
instead of dispensing with law altogether. Very likely the jails were 
defective, the police remiss, the assizes remote, and the general prospect 
unsatisfactory; but we need waste no words in observing that, in a commu- 
nity pretending to some civilization, nominally well organized, and formally 
admitted into such a federation as the American Union, the exertions of the 
citizens should have been turned to supplying these deiiciencies rather than 
to instituting precedents of which no man can calculate the evil. The English 
reader may probably think it a superfluous consumption of argument to prove 
that men should not be put to death by the agency of a mob or at the bid- 
ding of a secret society ; but the tenor of our correspondence does really give 
a gravity and importance to these proceedings which such outrages would not 
otherwise possess. It is not denied that the delinquents had what in Saxon 
phrase is a fair trial, that they were most undoubtedly guilty, and that the 
system is operating to the terror of offenders hitherto incorrigible. In fact, 
the principle avowed is that of salus popuU suprema lex, and the inhabitants 
concur in asserting that the time for appeal to this ultimate resort was uncon- 
testably come. But they must surely see, upon reflection, that no calamity 
can be so truly formidable as the substitution of force for law, and that if the 
recognized machinery of justice be thus set aside, uncontrollable anarchy must 
infallibly result." 

Commenting upon this the editor of the CaU- 
fornia Courier remarks : 

"The first sentence in the above extract is true in no one particular. 
The London Times is remarkable for its vindictiveness and misrepresentation 
of American institutions and character. Our true character as a people has 
rarely been fairly presented by correspondents to journals in the Atlantic 
states and in Europe. They have most generally sought to manufacture mag- 
nificent stories, for the purpose of having their communications read and 
spoken about. To this source wc attribute in a great degree the many ab- 
surd statements and unjust reflections upon the people, the institutions, and 
the climate of our state. The Times is radically in error in stating that San 
Francisco has been twice inundated. It has never been once, and we never 
expect to see it. The action of the Vigilance Committee was the result of 
high moral considerations. That Committee has not only aiTCsted crime, but 
it has saved life and stimulated honest industry. It has made an impression 
that has penetrated and permeated every portion of the commonwealth that 
crime cannot be committed with unpunity, that all men must secure a living 
by the sweat of their brow, in an honest calling. We are not only thankful 
for the good work of that Committee, but for the salubrity and purity of our 
climate, and the proud career which is opening for our people and the power- 
ful young state of their adoption." 


From far away Vermont there comes a gentle wail 
which makes one fairly pity one's self for being of 
California. Thus the Union Whig: 

"It appears that at present, her republican constitution having been 
found unsuited to the moral grade of the people, California is governed l)y 
the most ten-ible of all forms of despotism. Such is the only ground upon 
which the present measures can be even palliated. If the mass of the people 
are so corrupt that no patience and vigor of constitutional effort on the part 
of the property holders can afford a hope of imjiarting purity and certainty 
to the operation of law, then indeed is society virtually resolved into its ele- 
ments, the constitution has ceased to be, and some form of self-protection 
must and ought to spring up adapted to the emergency ; in other words, 
some form of despotism is the only alternative of anarchy for that people. 
Murderers unhanged, prisons and sheriff made the laughing-stock of culprits, 
judges corrupted, and crime stalking unrebuked at noonday, these would not 
persuade us that the state of things we have supposed had arrived. Patience 
and vigilance may gradually remedy all these, if the majority of the people 
so resolve, in a constitutional manner. But this fierce impatience of delay in 
a lawful remedy ; this vengeful swiftness to shed blood ; this unwillingness to 
suffer for the sake of constitutional liberty ; all bespeak a people incapable of 
self-government and ignorant of the first principles of freedom. The prob- 
lem for California, in the first place, is not so much whether her laws can be 
made more stringent and summary for the emergency, her courts purified, 
and her prisons fortified, as whether her people can be brought back to reason 
and the constitution. This done, the former may follow at once." 

And again the California Courier takes up the 
gauntlet : 

"In the outset the editor assumes that it had been discovered that the 
republican constitution and lavv's of this state were found unsuited to the 
moral grade of the people of California ! Upon what information does the 
editor found such an assumption? On the contrary, the constitution and laws 
of California are admirably suited to our wants, so far as criminal matters are 
concerned. Had he been here and investigated the real state of affairs he 
would have discovered that it was for want of the proper enforcement of these 
laws that the services of the Vigilance Committee were brought into requi- 
sition. But the writer talks about patience and constitutional effort to bring 
about a remedy for the evils under which we labored. Patience ! Let the editor 
have been placed in the situation of a Jansen, or of a brother of Reynolds, 
or of the sixty men who had suffered death at the hands of the assassin in 
our city during the year previous, or of one of the thousands who suffered 
from the torch of the incendiary, and reflect that in no instance had punish- 
ment been inflicted upon the guilty perx)etrators, and then talk about 
patience! His heart must be colder than the snows of his barren Green 
Mountains had it not leaped for joy when a few men nobly came forward and 
established that terrible but just tribunal, the Vigilance Committee. There 


is in the above extract a studied attempt to create the impression that revenge 
or the desire to shed blood was the motive which actuated the formation of 
the Committee and its subsequent conduct. This idea no one here who knew 
the men composing it or who scanned closely their action will for a moment 
countenance. What were the acts of the Committee? Who did they punish? 
Did any innocent man ever suffer from their acts? By no means. On the 
contrary, what would have been the fate of Burdue had it not been for the 
arrest, conviction, and puuishment of Stuart? The former had all the bene- 
fits of the civil tribunals, and yet was under unjust sentence for robbery and 
murder on two distinct charges. But the editor has made the discovery that 
the people of California, who have been scarce two years out of the Atlantic 
states, and who hail from every portion of our great and glorious Unicn, are 
incapable of self-government! What a discovery, to be sure. Here we are 
with the constitution and laws upset, incapable of government, trampling all 
laws underfoot, and yet a tax-collector makes known that seventy-five thou- 
sand dollars are wanting to meet the interest on the city debt, and in a 
week double that amount is raised — more money than can be squeezed out of 
the people of the whole state of Vermont in two years! The problem of 
which the editor speaks has already been solved, we trust to his satisfaction. 
So soon as the nest of villains who were preying upon us had been broken up, 
and a disposition was evinced to caiTy into execution our laws, just that soon 
did the Vigilance Committee cease to exercise its powers. But we can tell 
that editor, and all the world beside, that should the same necessity require 
it, they will resume their powers with twofold the numerical strength wii;h 
which they before existed." 

Thus the Philadelphia Ledg^ 


" The news from California by the Brother Jonathan is interesting. San 
Francisco seems to be a city of excitement. In the absence of fire to keep up 
a pleasant popular ferment the citizens resort to a different species of amuse- 
ment, and hang a man iindcr the lynch code by way of vindicating the laws 
and enforcing moral honesty. A miserable wretch caught stealing has been 
seized and hanged by a mob composed of the most respectable individuals — 
respectable for what? Not surely for being good citizens, supporting the law, 
and abiding by its decisions. The fact that they were respectable citizens 
who committed this act is mentioned, we suppose, to justify the outrage; but 
it is time that respectability in California should be taught that the law 
was made for all, and that its authority should be respected by all respect- 
able or otherwise, California has made a bad beginning in this respect ; and 
unless the real respectability of the place, the men who know that laws are 
made to secure their rights and cannot be violated with impunity by any mob 
without injury to society, unless these men should step forward and put an 
end to such acts of outrage and rebellion, by assisting the lawful authority 
and properly punishing those audacious enough to set it aside, greater calami- 
ties than have befallen California will ensue, and scenes of violence, destruc- 
tion of property and life, will be the sequel of the matter. It seems that one 
of the principal persons who figured in this outrage is not very remarkable 


for moral honesty himself, for an occurrence of very questionable honesty in 
New York is related in which he is charged with being the principal actor. 
We see other names mentioned in the affair, of persons who may still have 
creditors in this part of the world who might be loath to trust the public 
integrity to their keeping exclusively. " 

Great was the loss to California that the Ledger s 
editor had not been there. It is so easy to sit in a 
sanctum chair three thousand miles away and tell how 
thino^s ouG^ht to be! Hear him aofain on the 18th of 
August : 

"This was a violation of existing laws, and rendered tlicm technically 
criminal in every proceeding against anybody's life, liberty, or property. We 
do not justify such proceedings. They would be criminal in the last degree 
in any other state of the Union ; and they are criminal in California so far 
as they are needless. The honest portion of the people might form commit- 
tees to detect criminals and to aid the authorities in securing them ; and so 
far as their laws were defective they might insist upon an immediate session 
of the legislature to reform them; and if they wanted confidence in their 
judges and sheriffs, public opinion, thoroughly roused, might compel them to 
reform or resign. We think that all the good done by these committees of 
vigilance against law might have been done according to law, by cooperation 
with, instead of opposition to, the civil authorities. But considering the hor- 
rible state of things in California, the result, in no small degree, of official laxity 
or dishonesty, much of which was imported from New York, we do not con- 
demn their proceedings quite so severely as we should similar proceedings in 
any other state. A self-constituted tribunal cannot be tolerated under a regu- 
lar and free government without putting all rights at hazard. But under 
these pressing exigencies in California we admit that a salutory terror has 
been inspired among criminals ; and we will hope that all'good citizens of that 
state will aid instead of acting independently of the laws. " 

The New York Herald of the 19th of September 
remarks : 

"The prominent and by far the most conspicuous feature of the California 
news is the prevalence of what would be called on this side of the continent 
the supreme authority of Judge Lynch. In San Francisco it is the execution 
of the decrees of the Vigilance Committee of five hundred, not quite so 
ceremonious as the old Venetian Council, in the prompt punishment of 
criminals, and for the preservation of law and order. Strange as it may sound 
in this longitude, these off-hand trials and summary executions are in good 
faith designed for the preservation, or rather the restoration, of law and order. 
The criminal may be a murderer, a horse-thief, a burglar, an incendiary, a 
common shop-lifter, or a petty rogue, if the vigilance committee catch him 
and convict him he is instantly carried out and hanged up at the nearest con- 


%'enient tree, or beam, or rope and tackle. The crime, the pursuit, the ap- 
prehension, the indictment, the trial, the judgment, and the execution, may 
all take place the same afternoon. The whole business in the case of Jenkins 
was done in the course of an evening, by moonlight ; and in the case of Stuart, 
another Botany Bay convict, tried also as a thief, the interval between the 
commencement of his ti'ial and the hanging was about five hours. In the case 
of the jSIexican woman at Downieville, who for fatally stabbing a miner was 
tried by the popular process in such cases established and convicted of 
murder, the blood of her victim was not yet cold when the woman, having 
been tried, convicted, and condemned, was swinging lifeless in the air. The 
Anglo-Saxon institution of the rope, by a sort of wittena-gemote or commune 
consilium, may be considered as pretty well established in California ; but 
the rapidity with which it brings the criminal to his quietus is somewhat 
startling to a community accustomed to the slower formalities of law. This 
quickness of the penalty is even more astounding to our preconceived notions 
than the range of crimes which come under the death penalty by the new 
California code. "We have no nice distinctions between murder and man- 
slaughter, nor between highway robbery and a petty theft; the same judg- 
ment of strangulation makes short work of them all. Truly this is a terrible 
state of things, and is deeply to be deplored. But the people of California, it 
appears, not only have reasonable excuses for these summary and indiscrimi- 
nate executions, but their situation is such as imperatively to demand them. 
The Australian convicts of England, the most desperate and lawless vaga- 
bonds from every nation under the sun, have been concentrating their forces 
in California since the golden discoveries of 1848. They have become formi- 
dable, dangerous, and criminally mischievous. Murders and robberies were 
multiplying; San Francisco was in the power of incendiaries, and her citi- 
zens and their property at the mercy of thieves and assassins. The existing 
laws were inefficient; they were so slow, and the means of confinement of 
offenders so insecure that the chances were in favor of their escape. Such 
was the state of things which led to the Vigilance Committee and its sum- 
mary execution of the judgments under the new code. It appears that this 
Vigilance Committee act as such without pay or emolument, but simply to 
maintain the supremacy of the rights of life and property. There may be 
then no help for the existing state of things in California. It may be that the 
imperative necessities of self-preservation have driven the people to these 
extremities. Wo trust that law and order may soon be reestablished and 
assigned to some effective guardianship under the regularly constituted 
tribunals of the country. We have no doubt whatever that the active, honest 
business community of California are laboring to this end, nor have we any 
doubt of their final success in attaining it." 

And again on the 2Gth of September with some- 
what more of self-complacency: 

" The news from California and Lower California is of a gratifying char- 
acter. We are happy to find that the popular tribunal at San Francisco, called 
the Vigilance Committee, has now surrendered to the legally constituted ad- 


ministrators of the law the peculiar functions which belong to such officers in 
all civilized communities, and that this body of men who have been forced by 
circumstances to usurp legal authority, in compliance with a popular instinct 
toward the preservation of life and property, are now no more than a force 
of voluntary police officers, such as are commonly found, though smaller in 
numbers, in every village in the United States where circumstances require 
such an organization for the protection of society against the lawless and 
licentious. It is to be lioped that other lynch tribunals in the sparsely settled 
districts of California will soon be dispensed with, either by the issuing of 
legal commissions or by some judicial means for bringing the offenders against 
life and property to justice. The execution of Greham at Greenwood Valley, 
though conducted with extra-judicial forms of law, and with exterior pro- 
priety, is an event to be deplored, however necessary such examples may seem 
to those who are beyond the immediate assistance of legal authorities, and 
who are excited to make terrible the retribution of society in cases of wanton 

The New York Journal of Commerce concludes a 
long account of Californian affairs in these words : 

""We invoke no sympathy for the victim. He was a man of crime and 
blood, and his existence was incompatible with the safety of society. The 
vindication of public justice demanded his execution, but not by the infringe- 
ment of public law. There was no risk nor peril to be apprehended from a 
judicial trial which the committee of seven hundred had not ample power to 
avert. Judge Campbell, in his charge to the grand jury, says that under the 
law then recently come into operation, so amended as to secure the speedy 
trial and conviction of offenders, the time requisite for the indictment, trial, 
conviction, and sentence need not exceed a week ; that ample provision ex- 
isted for the safe custody of criminals ; and that so far from there being laxity 
in the execution of the laws and the administration of justice, the courts were 
straining every nerve to dispose of the criminal business of the county. It is 
morally certain that if the Vigilance Committee had surrendered Stuart to 
the officers of the law when his guilt was established by confession or evi- 
dence his fate would have been the same, and the society would have felt a 
sense of security from the triumph of law which the violence of popular in- 
dignation can never impart to it ; or had it turned out that the confession was 
extorted by fear, and the evidence did not justify conviction, the result would 
have vindicated the justice of a public and impartial trial by a jury of un- 
prejudiced men, and exhibited the danger to which innocence is exposed by 
secret trials and sudden executions. The right of defence, the opportunity 
of employing counsel and summoning witnesses, which the law gives to the 
accused, is a shield for the protection of iimocence, and implies no sympathy 
with guilt. The annals of jurisprudence in all countries and in all times 
demonstrate the necessity of that security to the maintenance of right, and 
that where it does not exist the weak and simple-minded are exposed to be 
made responsible for the crimes of the wicked and the strong. If the state 
of society in California demands the existence of a committee of vigilance, 


the action of that body should be in cooperation with the officers of justice. 
Acting in defiance of the law, it perpetrates abuses more dangerous than 
those which it seeks to remedy. The defenders of this association point to 
its rapid increase in numbers as an e\'idence of its popularity. No wonder 
that people aspire to enroll themselves on its lists. Who would not rather be 
the master than the slave ? It is the supreme power in the state. Its control 
is unlimited. Life, liberty, property, and reputation are at its mercy. In 
the language of the local judiciary, it overrides the laws and sets the consti- 
tution at defiance. Its organization is extending itself by branches through- 
out the whole of California. At the last advices, placing full confidence in 
the accusations of a murderer and villain whom it had just put to death for 
his crimes, it was scouring the state to secure the persons of those who were 
so unfortunate as to be obnoxious to his denunciations. Its usurpation has 
no limit in extent of power, and it may be that its limit of duration may be 
determined only when it arrives at a pitch of insolence that calls for action 
in virtue of the federal constitution, which makes it the duty of the United 
States to guarantee to every state in this Union a republican form of govern- 
ment. " 

The New York Atlas observes : 

"It seems that the civil commotions which have recently excited and 
agitated San Francisco and the state generally have had the effect of crowd- 
ing the steamers with passengers for the Atlantic portion of the Union. 
These men have become alarmed at the dangers which of late have beset 
lives and property on all sides, and have in consequence made up their minds 
to bid adieu to the Eureka state. But we think they have acted hastily in 
this matter, and that they regretted it ere they reached our shores. The con- 
victs, who have succeeded by their daring crimes in spreading consternation 
among the honest portion of the community, will be expelled from the country 
or suspended between heaven and earth in due time, Vvhen order will again 
reign in California. In place of those who return others will emigrate from 
the older states who will take advantage of the opening thus made for new 
enterprise and new men. These men will reap the benefits which would have 
fallen to the older settlers who leave the country. While all this is going on, 
California will rise as rapidly in the path of her destiny as though nothing 
had taken place within her borders. In less than five years this young sister 
of our confederacy of republics will rival any state m the Union in most of 
the elements of greatness and prosperity." 

In the Asmonean of the 1 5th of August is written : 

" The most prominent feature of the California news is the firm establish- 
ment of the supreme authority of Judge Lynch. We who are bitter oppo- 
nents of capital punishment in civilized communities deeply lament this 
terrible state of affairs, but considering that California is overrun not only 
by the convicts of Botany Bay and Norfolk Island, but by the most desperate 
and lawless villains from every nation under the sun, cannot but admit that 


the summary execution of the judgments of the Vigilance Committee are 
absohitely necessary for the maintenance of the supremacy of the rights of 
life and property. Society in California, disorganized by this vast accession 
of marauders of every type and grade, becomes resolved into its first 
elements, when association or combination of the well disposed to repress 
by stern, terrific, and rapid punishment the acts of the wrong-doer is not 
only justifiable but praiseworthy, and the men deserving of commendation 
who stand in the gap to brave the senseless odium cast upon them by those 
who cannot or will not see the abyss into M'hich the community is plunged 
by the folly and imbecility of the administration of the law, or the laxity 
of the police regulations. It would be violent, mischievous, nay infamous 
conduct, to assemble en masse in the state of New York and override the 
ci^'ic and state authorities, to apprehend, try, and punish criminals ere the 
sun had set on the day on which the offence had been committed, for Xew 
York has all the appliances of an efficient force to protect her citizens; 
California has nothing approaching the same. She has named her authorities, 
but they have yet to gather the fimmess necessary to make her laws efficient 
and respected. The position of affairs is to be deplored, not to be won- 
dered at. There are hosts of men there who would not willingly hurt a 
worm ; but when the incendiarj'' and the murderer openly contemn the rights 
of property and the value of life, their knowledge of the duties they owe to 
themselves, their families, and to the moral dignity of the great Union of 
which they are a portion, compel them to stand forth in the breach, and 
declare in the name of religion and law that by the unrelenting hand of 
justice they will vindicate the outrages of the outlaw." 

Says the New York Express of the 10th of Oc- 
tober : 

"The details of the later intelligence we publish this morning from Cali- 
fornia are of a character not very pleasing, certainly, to contemplate. The 
Vigilance Committee in San Francisco have again had occasion to demon- 
strate to the world that though California has on her statute-books laws as 
salutary and stringent as the oldest and best governed states in this Union, 
she has nobody with moral courage or honesty enough to have them executed. 
The Committee does its work of death with a systematic celerity which 
shows how excellent an executioner it is become from long practice. We had 
indulged the hope that, for the credit not of California alone, but of our com- 
mon country, those terrible scenes in Sacramento and San Francisco would 
not be reenacted. The news in our columns this morning shows how sadly 
we are disappointed. The victims appear from their own statements to 
have been miscreants of the most abandoned character, pardoned convicts 
from Botany Bay, who had served a long apprenticeship to crime before 
entering upon their career in California. " 

The Buffalo Express offers the following pertinent 
remarks : 

"Lynch law upon the shores of the Pacific v/e take to be nothing more or 


less than the expression of an earnest demand for prompt, certain, and effective 
justice upon wrong-doers. It pierces through the hindrances, uncertainties, 
and weaknesses of the Britisli common law, and comes right to its point, in- 
exorable as logic, and prompt to a jfinish. What need of alarm at the sight? 
At the worst, an unconstituted authority deposes the constituted authorities, 
and taking cognizance of offences against the laws, punishes them in a fashion 
not provided for in the criminal code. But when it is borne in mind that the 
act is done by the representatives of the entire society ; that this new and 
summary justice is executed by those who make laws, and who appoint the 
executors of laws ; that it emanates from a power that is behind the law and 
above the law, as the creator is above the creature, from a power that is the 
source of civil justice at the same time that it is the life of the state and the 
state itself, we may dismiss all apprehension for the result. California will 
be purer and stronger for its suspension of the constituted forms of criminal 
justice by the code of Lynch, But we have somewhat to do with the action 
of our golden-locked young sister upon the Pacific waters. From the \'igorous, 
sensible, active state of California comes to the older states a hint and a sug- 
gestion that they would do well to heed. She demands a system of summary 
justice upon evil-doers. That is the upshot and final I'esult of her lynch law, 
that is all there is of it. She proclaims herself tired to death of the uncertain, 
tedious, and inefiicient processes of British law to punish and prevent crimes 
against civil society. Rising superior to the whining nonsense of a philosophy 
that discovers only misfortune in crime, and finds in every villain a brother, 
she with good sharp sense says that the incendiary and robber are unfit to 
live, that they are the sworn foes of a good society, and that she will have 
nothing whatever to do with them except to ascertain their true character 
beyond a doubt, and then to string them up to the nearest tree. The reasons 
which impel her to this determination are conclusive. She cannot avoid them, 
for arson and robbery defeat the whole object of life in California. That life 
is transient. Its objects are as a general thing temporary. They must be 
speedily accomplished. The citizens of that state mostly go there to get gold, 
designing not to remain there, but to return to their homes in the east as soon 
as they shall have got what they want. This as a general thing is their single 
business. Now to a man who has gone ten thousand miles away from his wife 
and his children on this eager and feverish errand, and who has submitted to 
cold, hunger, weariness, and sickness to accomplish it, what is the essence of 
the offence of robbery? What to him is the broad-backed lusty ruffian from 
Botany Bay who comes upon the sleeping miner in the dark to snatch away 
the fruits of his labor and the reward of his sufferings? An unendurable 
nuisance, as unendurable as fatal poisons, as untamable beasts, something to 
be got rid of and abolished instantly. The emigrants to California do not go 
there to establish society, and perfect civil and social character. They go there 
to get gold. They have no time to spend in theories of punishment, none upon 
prison discipline : just as little time have they to wait upon the crawling prog- 
ress of justice pursuing the criminal through a court of common law. Were 
the quarter sessions of New York established upon the Yuba, with its adjourn- 
ments on account of the heat, adjournments to let a lawyer get over a head- 
ache, adjournments upon all sorts of lying affidavits introduced to cheat justice 
Pop. Trib. Vol. I. 27 


and to screen scoundrels, we should consider its judgeship a vei-y unsafe berth, 
and should tremble for the gentlemen who practised at its bar. What a nuisance 
the court would be, and how near to the tnith would be the pul)lic judgment 
that the lawyers who conducted defences there upon the New York city model 
were the aiders and abettors of rascals, hinderers of right and aggravators of 
e'.al. The people of California are in an intense hurry; their wealth is in the 
most condensed and portable fonn. A robber carrying off in his hands the 
spoils of five minutes' work bears away a fortune for most men, and instantly 
beggars his victim. The case is extraordinary all around ; it calls for extraor- 
dinary remedies, and it gets them. These, too, are efficacious. A thousandfol 1 
better for the best men of the country to band together justly but inexorably 
for the suppression of crime, to do it forthwith, spontaneously as it were, than 
to threaten a modification of the laws at the next session of the legislature and 
to stimulate a district attorney to an uncommon shedding of ink. The 
felons from Sydnej'^ and the outlaws of the Mississippi Valley would gorge 
themselves with gold while dilettanti and formalists were drafting acts to 
make felonies capital offences, and were checking off upon the almanac the 
laggard days that separated them from their next legislature. Our condition 
at the east is not that of Califonda. Our society is measurably settled ; we 
are not in a hurry ; we have time to reflect and time to act. But it behooves 
us to think if we cannot with great profit infuse into our present criminal 
processes a portion of California energy and California certainty ; to see if we 
cannot with very great advantage incorporate into our theory of punish- 
ment a portion of the California maxim, that a healthy, well fed, vigorous 
criminal is without excuse ; that to let a lawyer shelter him under the plea of 
lunacy, or on the ground of an omission to dot some legal i or cross some 
common-law t, is on the part of the public a very costly stupidity, to see if our 
recent mawkish sympathy with lusty wrong-doers has not engendered crime, 
and hurt the sense of right and wrong throughout our entire society." 

The solid men of Boston, of whom there were many 
in the Committee, found their action in the main fully 
sustained by their home journals. For instance, the 
Boston Journal remarks: 

"To us, residing in the most perfect security under the operation of good 
laws, faithfully administered, such proceedings seem violent and perhaps un- 
justifiable. We cannot bring ourselves to believe that lynch law is necessary 
under any circumstances in a community where the people live under a code 
of laws of their own framing, administered by officers who are responsible to 
public opinion for their acts. But we are free to say that if ever the occasion 
justified the application of lynch law, the recent affair in San Francisco is 
justifiable. Such is the condition of society in California that there is no 
security for life or property in the regular operation of the laws. Venality 
and bribery have crept into the administration of justice and shaken all con- 
fidence in the majesty of the laws. Under these circumstances who will un- 
hesitatingly assert that a scene so terrible as that enacted in Portsmouth 
Square will not exert a salutary influence ?" 


And thus the Olive Branch: 

"Taking into consideration that forty or fifty persons were burned to 
death, and seven millions of dollars' worth of property was lost by the late 
incendiary fire, that attempts have been made a dozen times since to fire the 
city, that citizens are attacked with slung-shots in their very stores, in the 
face of day, it is not surprising that respectable citizens and property-holders 
should do something to protect themselves from these gangs of organized rob- 
bers and banditti." 

The Troy Post says : 

"The news from California by the ^ro^Aer /ona^Aan presents a frightful 
picture of the state of society in that golden state. Judge Lynch, at the last 
accounts, exercised supreme sway in all departments of the government ; and 
when we look at the rampant and reckless attitude of the perpetrators of 
arson, robbery, and other crimes, we are almost forced to acknowledge that 
the sway of the judge is needed to make head against the surging flood of 
villainy that threatens almost to annex the new state to the infernal regions. " 

The Richmond Enquirer remarks: 

"The most prominent event in the California papers is the execution of a 
robber by a committee of vigilance, which has caused very great excitement, 
as the verdict of the coroner's jury which sat upon the body was considered 
to reflect invidiously upon the conduct of this committee." 

Says the editor of the New York Sun: 

"We deeply regret the occurrence of a case of lynch law in the city of 
San Francisco. At this distance from the scene we can form no proper idea 
of the feelings excited on the part of the citizens of San Francisco by the 
high hand witli which the depraved and dissolute outraged life and property. 
While we cannot approve the fearful act we would not say that it was done 
without strong provoking causes. We had thought that the recent elections 
would secure to San Francisco a more prompt and efficient administration of 
the laws, but it would seem that there has been but slight, if any, change for 
the better." 

The Albany Argus thinks: 

"There must be extraordinary laxity in the administration of criminal 
justice in San Francisco, and a still more extraordinary degree of depravity 
among its population, to require the voluntary organization of such bodies as 
the vigilance committee, with such summary and terrible powers as were 
exercised in the case of Jenkins. Both must have existed in a degree never 
before known in a civilized community to excuse such means to correct abuses 
or to punish crime." 

The Boston Mail comments as follows: 

''The terrible conflagrations which have destroyed so much property and 
several valuable lives are believed to be the work of these daring and des- 


perate men; and when it is known that the laws have proved totally in- 
sufficient to repress or check these outrages ; that robbery, theft, and arson 
were on the increase despite all the efforts of the constabulary force, is it 
strange that the people of San Francisco should have felt the desperate 
necessity of making a demonstration outside of the courts of justice that 
should carry dismay into the hearts of those who were preying upon society 
and setting the statute laws at defiance ? The people of Vicksburgh several 
years since thought they saw a similar necessity in the violent extirpation 
of gamblers ; and although their action in the matter brought down upon 
them the most violent denunciations, it was undoubtedly the salvation of the 
town. " 

The New York Sunday Times thinks : 

i "The execution of Jenkins was of course a murder in the eye of the 
law, and the punishment was moreover disproportioned to the crime; and 
yet, taking all the circumstances into consideration, we can scarcely call the 
deed unjustifiable. Where the law is powerless to protect a community, it 
must protect itself; but we should be sorry to be one of a community so situ- 
ated. " 

The Portland Transcript sides with the Committee : 

" This is the first execution which ever took place in San Francisco, where 
more crime has been committed in the past year than in any other city of the 
same population in the Union, without one single instance of adequate pun- 

The remarks of the Albany Knickerbocker are at 
once sensible and true : 

"The news from California, though startling, is not unexpected. The 
laxity with which justice is administered on the Pacific has given vice almost 
a license for its depredations. Where prisons are scarce and villains plenty, 
the law, to be beneficial, should be prompt and decisive. The slow form and 
special pleading which may be tolerated in this and other older states are not 
adapted to the wants and safety of such a people as make up the inhabitants 
of California. That rascals should be hanged by the populace is to be re- 
gretted — it is still more so to be regretted, however, that the inaction of the 
courts and police render such hanging necessary. Whether Jenkins waa 
legally put to death is not of so much moment as whether he was justly put 
to death. For over a year San Francisco has been overrun by bands of 
desperadoes from Sydney and other English penal colonies, villains who have 
so reduced the price of life and property that heads and houses in California 
are of but little more value than pebbles. Since 1849 San Francisco has been 
burnt over some four or five times, and each time by incendiaries. Since 1849 
over five hundred robberies and twenty murders have been perpetrated in 
that city ; and yet, notwithstanding this frequency of crime and outrage, the 
first man ever brought to the gallows in San Francisco was the outlaw Jenkins 
who was executed on the 10th of June. If the action of the people is to be 


regretted, it is only because they did not move earlier. Had Withers, Daniels, 
Windred, and Watkins been promptly tried and executed when they perpe- 
trated their villainies, the necessity for lynching Jenkins would never have 
arisen. To delay justice is almost as bad as to deny it. With such a popu- 
lation as we find in San Francisco the tardy and corrupt movements connected 
with the good old way of meting out punishment for crime is no more calcu- 
lated to bring about a reformation than would the reading of the forty-second 
psalm. The action which the people have taken they were forced to take. 
By no other means could they impress upon the rogues which surround 
them the wholesome knowledge that vice is a short-lived accomplishment, 
and that the only way to meet with public toleration is to give up public 
plundering. The position occupied by the Committee of Safety is not only 
a necessary but a bold one. As they have placed themselves in opposition to 
the courts, their action will probably lead to a collision. We shall await the 
next arrival with some anxiety. " 

By far the most candid and correct view of the 
matter is that of the New York Tribune^ which on the 
26th of July says: 

' ' The summary proceedings of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance 
in the trial, condemnation, and execution of the thief Jenkins are not to be re- 
garded in the light of an ordinary riot, much less as an example of hostility 
to the established laws heralding disorganization and anarchy. Seen from the 
proper point of view it is a manifestation, violent, it is true, of that spirit of 
order which created the state of California; and while we regret the causes 
which induced it, our faith in the integrity of those who perpetrated it is no 
wise weakened. There is no denying now that the laws of the state in their 
present operation are inadequate to protect the lives and property of her citi- 
zens. The amount of crime has fearfully increased during the last few months, 
and the existence of an organized band of desperadoes, covering a large portion 
of the country, has been ascertained. After seeing the fairest part of the city 
laid in ashes by the hand of an incendiary, and the escape through some 
quibble of the law of the culprit who attempted to repeat that dreadful visi- 
tation, it is not to be wondered that the merchants of San Francisco should 
take the administration of justice into their own hands. The names attached 
to the declaration of the Committee of Vigilance are those of the most orderly 
and influential citizens of the place, men who would not rashly venture on so 
hazardous a course or lightly assume so awful a responsibility. San Francisco, 
therefore, presents the singular spectacle of a community governed by two 
powers, each of which is separate and distinct from the other. They cannot 
come in conflict, since there is no aggressive movement against the law on the 
part of the Committee and no attempt on the part of the regular authorities 
to interfere with the action of the latter. Public opinion universally upholds 
the course pursued by the Committee. This course, under the circumstances, 
cannot be called mob law or lynch law in the common acceptation of the term. 
It more nearly resembles the martial law which prevails during a state of 
siege. It has been suggested by the presence of a danger which the ordinary 


course of law seemed inadequate to meet. Life and property must be protected 
at all hazards ; the country is at the mercy of as vile a horde of outcasts as the 
sun ever shone upon ; and nothing but the most prompt and relentless justice 
will give us security. These are probably the sentiments of nine tenths of the 
citizens of California. At this distance we will not venture to judge whether 
the circumstances demand so merciless a code ; but we are sufficiently familiar 
with the character of the men composing the Committee of Vigilance to acquit 
them of any other mDtive than that of maintaining public order and in- 
dividual security. We believe they will exercise the power they have assumed 
no longer than is absolutely necessary to subserve those ends, and that their 
willing submission to the authority of the law, when the law shall be competent 
to protect them, will add another chapter to the marvellous history of their 
state. In spite of these violent exhibitions of popular sentiment, the instinct 
of order, the capacity for self-government is manifested more strongly iu 
California at this moment than in any part of the world." 

And again: 

"The California news by the Prometheus has a strange and solemn in- 
terest. To those who have traced the history of our first Pacific state through 
all the marvellous phases of its short existence, the present time assumes the 
nature of a crisis, in which order and anarchy, violence and security are 
struggling for the mastery. On the one hand we have a sickening succession 
of miarders, robberies, and incendiary fires ; on the other a rapidly increasing 
list of trials, condenmations, and executions, perpetrated with relentless 
severity by the summary action of the people. To those who are unacquainted 
with the difficulties under which California has labored ever since the adoption 
of her state constitution the latter alternative may appear even more terrible 
than the former ; and a course dictated in fact by the most awful necessity 
which can be imposed upon any community may seem little else than the 
lawless outbreak of unbridled popular passion. We have been somewhat 
sharply taken to task by some of our contemporaries for justifying the motives 
of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance, and the members of the Com- 
mittee themselves have been made the subject of violent denunciation; yet 
every successive arrival from California proves more clearly the justice of 
w hat we first asserted, that the lynch law now in operation is not mob law, 
but the result of a universal sentiment of order, a conscientious belief that it 
cannot be obtained by trusting to the regular authorities, and a sense of 
danger which impelled them to immediate action. We have professed our 
inability to judge at this distance whether other means might not have been 
employed to enforce the laws, avoiding a course which must be always 
hazardous to the future peace of society, even when the sternest exigency 
compels it. The disclosures which we publish to-day show clearly the reality 
of the dangers to which the Calif ornians were exposed ; they show how nearly 
hopeless was the reliance to be placed on the ordinary operation of law. So 
far as the evidence goes they prove at least that there have been sufficient 
reasons for the action of the Committee of Vigilance to exonerate them from 
the violent charges which have been made against them on this side of the 
continent. " 


Thus speaks the Boston Traveller: 

"The fact that San Francisco is so overrun with lawless and desperate 
villains is sufficiently painful and alarming ; but it is by no means the most 
alarming and painful fact communicated in the letter. "VVe confess that we 
view with the utmost alarm a state of general morals which will allow, much 
less sanction, such an organization as that alluded to. It indicates an utter 
vitiation and corruption of the public functionaries of the city, and a general 
contempt for the administrators of the law, which is totally inconsistent with 
the idea that anything like a well ordered government exists in the country. 
Sure we are that if there is any such thing as law in San Francisco, and if 
there are men whose business it is to administer this law, the course adopted 
by this * organization of citizens ' must tend most directly to break down this 
law and to render powerless these officers of justice. If this organization can 
be sustained there is in fact an end to civil government." 

And thus the New York Commercial Advertiser 
movement : 

concludes a lon^ article adverse to the viofilance 

"Had the Committee confined themselves to operating upon the ministers 
of the law, either by aiding and supporting them if they were willing to en- 
force the law, or by bringing such a combmcd public opinion to bear upon 
them that they would be compelled to act promptly and impartially, they 
would have done wisely and well : the effect would have been immediate and 
perpetual, and the triumph of the great principle of self-government under 
the restraints of law would have been complete. Very different is the case 
now. However much the Committee may hereafter desire it, they cannot heal 
the wounded honor of the defied law. They cannot at will raise its prostrate 
form, and reanimate it with authority and power. The Vigilance Committee 
may make itself feared, but it will be at an expense of popular respect and 
homage to the law. Moreover, a counter -vigilance committee would be 
quite as legal as that now existing, and might make itself as terrible. Nor is 
it improbable that such an organization will spring up, if every man who 
steals a bag of money, in the jorcsent case recovered by his pursuers, or com- 
mits any felony is to be secretly condemned to death. A vigilance committee 
acting with such glaring illegality, and openly avowing it without sliamc, 
may go to greater lengths of tyranny, thus provoking counter-organizations ; 
and where will the end be? If there is, as cannot be doubted, necessity in 
San Francisco for organization for self-protection on the part of the citizens, 
let it be done, not in defiance of established law, but under its sanction. Let 
respectable citizens protect themselves and their property by existing law, or 
by amending the laws if they need amendment. Any other mode of protec- 
tion mast result in anarchy and ruin." 

In reply to the Advertiser , the San Francisco Herald 


comes out in one of the moist able editorials found iii 
any journal upon this question: 

"Among the newspapers of New York some are constantly progressive, 
soipe moderately conservative, and others possessed with a morl)id conviction 
that imless they act as drags npon the onward movement of refonn the 
wheels of society will go oft' the track and general desolation be the melan- 
choly consequence. The hindmost of these is the Commcrrinl Advertiser, a, 
'■■'ery respectable paper in its way, but never holding an opinion that anylx)dy 
else holds, and fifty years behind the age, at least. If it can be regarded as 
the representative of any class, it is of those who hold virtue to consist iu 
not picking pockets or otherwise rendering themselves amenable to the law, 
who regard money-bags as a divinity to be worshipped with their whole souls, 
and who worship them accordingly, with sanctimonious and grave propriety, 
at eleven o'clock every Sunday in the gilded ami cushioned jxsws of Trinity 
or Grace. That such a paper should comprehend the diflicultics, the neces- 
sities, the bitter experiences, of San Francisco is not of course to be expected; 
but the people of this city had a right to anticipate that it would content 
itself with expressing that opinion which was consonant with its antiquated, 
dull, and somewhat perverted instincts, without descending to absolute mis- 
representation in regard to the scenes which took place iu this city after the 
execution of the man Jenkins. Touching the acts of the Vigilance Conunit- 
tee, the object of their organization, the extraordinary system of police 
which under their auspices sprung into existence with most magical celerity 
all over the land, the wonderful completeness with which they have carried 
into execution evciything they attempted from the beginning, the unerring 
certainty with which they pounced upon the worst characters in the commu- 
nity, without ever making a single mistake in regard to those whom they 
arrested and punished, their prudence and moderation in avoiding all difficulty 
or conflict with the officers of the law, and the triumphant success of their 
efforts to suppress crime in this city, we have already spoken many times. 
Their whole acts may be summed up in this, that after a fair trial, and on full 
evidence of guilt, they exterminated four men whose hands were stained 
with many and terrible crimes, and who had maintained an incessant war 
upon society in California ; and fui'ther, that they have driven back whence 
they came several others, convicts from the British colonies, who also warred 
upon the community, but whose criminality was not so grave or so apparent 
as to deserve death. No innocent man has suffered death or exile at their 
hands, and the persons whom they have punished would have suffered equally 
had not the courts been inefficient or the laws powerless. So much, briefly, 
for the result of the Committee's labors. The Commercial, after stigmatizing 
as demoralizing, dehumanizing, and otherwise objectionable, the execution of 
Jenkins, traces to the agency of the Vigilance Committee the rush of the 
crowd at the city hall to lynch Levv'is for arson, and the scenes enacted in the 
tumultuary assemblages on the plaza on the two days subsequent to the first 
eiiecution. In neither of these proceedings did the Committee interfere in 
any manner. Several of the mcnibcrs were present at the city hall during 


tlie excitement about Lewis, but quite as many were opposed to the spirit of 
violence manifested on that occasion as in its favor. The Committee did not 
participate in the attempt, nor did they contribute to the excitement. Again, 
in the meetings held on the plaza tlie Committee took no part. Those assem- 
blages were without aim or object, and anything that took place might with 
a,s much propriety be attributed to the Commercial itseK as to the Vigilance 
Committee. Nor can we, and we regret to say it, refrain from believing tliat 
the charge of instrumentality on the part of the Committee in these rows, if 
we may so call them, has been made by that journal \\dth malice ; for in no 
CaUfomia paper can we find aught tending to identify the Committee with 
these acts. The simple circumstance that Mr Brannan, a member of the 
body, was called upon to address the crowd is too frivolous as testimony on 
which to ground such a charge for a journal so serious in its cliai'acter as the 
Commercial. But is not this holy horror at a crowd assembled in San Fran- 
cisco through a wish to see justice dealt to a person deemed guilty of an at- 
tempt to fire the city, after two thirds of it had been already consumed, 
together with twenty or more valuable lives, is not this holy horror soro'^v^at 

" • The flesh will quivor -whtn tho pincera tear— 
The blood will lollow where the knife i3 driven.* 

"And will not people complain and act when driven to the verge of despair, 
and heart-sick from the loss of property, and home, and friends, and even of 
all prospect of recuperation? We recollect being in New York some years 
ago, when on a certain Saturday night a young man named John C. Colt sat 
in the dock of the criminal court awaiting the decision of the jurj', who had 
retired to an adjoining room to consult whether he should live or die. 
Through the open windows came the roar of an excited multitude, ■v\'Iiose 
loud and menacing voices penetrated even the jury-room, demanding the 
blood of the accused. That crowd was composed of men and women, and 
till four o'clock on Sunday morning that hoarse cry still went up demanding 
blood. This happened in New York, where the Commercial has been estab- 
lished we know not how many years, and where they have their Grace 
Church and Trinity Church, their pews, preachers, and police, their courts, 
officers, and laws, on the most approved system a lengthened experience has 
been able to shape. We do not remember that the circumstance called forth 
from that journal any unusual expression of displeasure; but there is no 
measure to its indignation when a crowd of some few hundred persons in 
San Francisco make a harmless demonstration of anger and excitement against 
a man who, if guilty, was tenfold more criminal than Colt. We rejoice that 
so few of the Atlantic papers have followed the example of the Commercial. 
Some three or four indeed, through spleen or stupidity, seize the occasion to 
read us a lecture on our lawlessness, forgetting or ignoring the fact that we 
have been lawless, that is without the benefit of law, smce we first arrived. 
It is most gratifying to perceive, however, that a large majority of the 
journals in the states tiike a liberal and enlightened view of our difficulties, 
and exhibit a candid appreciation of the stern necessity that impelled our 
citizens to uphold the laws by enforcing their execution." 


While certain journals were thus raising a great 
outcry against the conduct of the people of California 
in carrying into execution measures for the protection 
of life and property, within fifty miles of New York's 
capital were acted scenes dastardly beside the wildest 
lawlessness in California. Says one: 

' ' The anti-renters in this state are getting troublesome again. A few 
nights since a number of them, disguised as Indians, surrounded the house of 
a man named Shaw, who had served process on one of them under direction 
of the sheriff of Rensselaer county. They took him out of bed, carried him 
a distance of a mile, and then tarred and feathered him. One would have sup- 
posed that his age, seventy years, would have saved him from such indignity, 
but it did not. Governor Hunt offers a reward of $500 to any of the partici- 
pants in the outrage, to the number of five, who will inform on the others. " 

Commenting on the above, the New York Mirror 
remarks : 

" The Alta California, v/hich has been compelled to follow the example of 
the Mirror and come out double occasionally, contains full particulars of the 
lawless state of society in San Francisco, and, we regret to sec, vindicates the 
resort to mob law. We took \ip our pen to combat the fallacies of the editor ; 
but then we thought of the anti-rent outrages in our own state, and concluded 
to drop the subject. It is not two weeks since an old man of seventy was 
mobbed in attempting to serve a process in the state of New York, and Gov- 
ernor Himt has not called out the police or the military to arrest the rebels !" 

Even in staid communities it is impossible always 
to crush immutable truth and justice beneath dead 
forms of law, — instance a case tried about this time 
which occurred at the Old Bailey in London, Lord 
Chief Justice Tindal presiding: 

George Hammond, a portrait painter, was placed 
at the bar, to be tried on an indictment found against 
him by the grand jury for the wilful murder, with 
malice aforethought, of George Baldwin, a rope-dancer 
and mountebank. The prisoner was a man of middle 
height but slender form; his eyes were blue and mild. 
His whole being gave evidence of subdued sadness 
and melancholy resignation. He was forty-one years 
of age; he had a soft voice, and his manner and 
appearance bore testimony of his being a man of 


feeling and refinement in spite of the poverty of his 
dress. On being called on to plead, the prisoner 
admitted that he did kill Baldwin, and he deplored 
the act, adding, however, on his soul and conscience 
he did not believe himself to be guilty. Thereupon a 
jury was impanelled to try the prisoner. The indict- 
ment was then read to the jury, and, the act of killing 
being admitted, the government rested their case and 
the prisoner was called upon for his defence. The 
prisoner then addressed himself to the court and jury: 
^' My lord," said he, '^ my justification is to be found 
in a recital of the facts. Three years ago I lost a 
daughter, then four years of age, the sole memorial of 
a beloved wife, whom it pleased God to recall to him- 
self I lost my child; but I did not see her die. She 
was an angel, and beside her I had nobody in the 
world to love. Gentlemen, what I have suffered 
cannot be described; you cannot comprehend it. I 
expended in advertising and fruitless search ever}^- 
thing I possessed, furniture, pictures, and even my 
clothes. All have been sold. For three years, on 
foot, I have sought my child in all the cities and 
all the villacres of the three kino^doms. As soon 
as by painting portraits I had succeeded in gain- 
ing a little money, I returned to recommence my 
advertisements in the newspapers. At length on 
Friday, the 14th of April last, I crossed the Smith- 
field cattle market. In the centre of the market a 
troupe of mountebanks were performing their feats. 
Among them a child was turning on its head, its 
legs in the air, and its head supported by a halbert. 
A ray from the soul of its mother must have pen- 
etrated my own for me to have recognized my child 
in that condition. It was, indeed, my poor child. 
Her mother would have clasped her to her heart had 
she been there. As for me, a veil passed over my eyes. 
I threw myself upon the chief of the rope-dancers. I 
knew not how it was; I, habitually gentle, even to 
weakness, seized him by the clothes; I raised him in 


the air and dashed him to the ground. Then again. 
Pie was dead. Afterward I re|)eated what I had 
done. At that moment I regretted tliat I was only 
able to kill but one." 

'' These are not Christian sentiments," replied the 
chief justice; "how can you expect the court and 
jury to look with favor on your defence, or God to 
pardon you, if you cannot forgive?" 

** I know, my lord," continued the prisoner, 'Svhat 
will be your judgment and that of the jury; but God 
has already pardoned me; I feel it in my heart. You 
know not, I knew^ not then, the full extent of the evil 
that man had done. When some compassionate people 
brought me my daughter in my prison she was no 
longer my child; she was no longer pure and angelic 
as formerly; she was corrupted, body and soul; her 
manner, her language, infamous like those of the 
people w^ith w^hom she had been living. She did not 
recognize me, and I no longer recognized her myself. 
Do you comprehend me now? That man had robbed 
me of the love and soul of my child; and I have 
killed him but once." 

The foreman now spoke: "My lord, we have agreed 
on our verdict." 

" I understand you, gentlemen," answered the chief 
justice, "but the law must take its course; I must 
sum up the case, and then you w^ill retire to deliber- 
ate." The chief justice having summed up the case, 
the jury retired, and in an instant after returned into 
the court with a verdict of " Not guilty." 

On the discharge of Hammond the sheriff was 
obliged to surround him with an escort. The crowd 
of women and men was immense. The women were 
determined to carry him off in triumph. The crowd 
followed him all the way to his lodgings, with deafen- 
ing shouts and huzzas. 



In my mind, he was guilty of no error, he was chargeable with no ex- 
aggeration, he was betrayed by his fancy into no metaphor, who once said, 
that all we sec about us, kings, lords, and commons, the whole machinery of 
the state, all the apparatus of the system and its varied workings, end in 
simply bringing twelve good men into a box. 

Lord Brougham. 

Plato, in his Republic, defines justice as ''the inter- 
est of the stronger;" and however much of sophistry 
Hes hidden in the sentiment, we find practically that 
it is very near the truth. The stronger will have 
their way, and if their way be not right or just, they 
will not lonsf be the stronirer. As a matter of course, 
bv the stronorer is meant not that element of the 
nation which may be momentarily uppermost, or 
which may happen to have another clement at a dis- 
advantage, but the inherent and permanent dominating 
strength that underlies all the vital activities of a 

In American politics we see strikingly illustrated 
this self-regulating principle. Corruption is insepa- 
rable from our form of government. The system of 
short terms and rotation in office offers a standing 
reward for neglect and peculation. Political parties 
are essential to this system, not from the principles 
advocated, for the principles of either are good enough 
if well carried out, and there is little to choose between 
them, but from the necessity of keeping the pool 
stirred in order to prevent stagnation. The party in 
power must be driven out, or the certain corruption 
soon becomes unendurable; and so in this tread-mill, 



fashion, we must go on from one election to another, 
with a reform party ever at the heels of the party in 
office, the paramount object of the one to come within 
reach of power, and of the other to make the most of 
opportunity. But neither in parties nor politics lies 
the strength of the commonwealth. If it were so, 
God pity us! There the interest of the stronger has 
nothing to do with justice. It is the people, not the 
politicians, in whose interests lies justice; it is the 
people, not the politicians, in whom lies the nation's 

Our government is weak because the people are 
strong. But because a weak government is the kind 
that suits us best does not necessarily imply that Vv^e 
are best ruled by weak men, even though we seldom 
choose others. Because a monarchy is the strongest 
of governments, and an aristocracy the wisest, does 
not imply that we should change our republican form 
for another. To do so would be retrograde; yet we 
might safely enough give up part of our ignorance 
and weakness. The maxim that the king can do no 
wrong has in our day become literally true, for now 
the sovereign can do nothing except that which his 
ministers and parliament permit him to do. Inherent 
in power is decay. And unless the government is 
constantly refreshed by a cleansing stream flowing in 
from the people, it soon becomes rotten. Therefore 
reform the units of society if you would reform society. 
Wickedness in rulers is the correlative of wickedness 
in the people. 

Compare the laws of evolution as applied to gov- 
ernment with the behavior of the mixed popu- 
lation of California when left without government, 
and we find the two in perfect accord. Society as a 
whole cannot act or even exist except through the 
agency of some sort of influence enforcing obedience. 
There are two kinds of laws which underlie society, 
natural law and artificial law; one arises from neces- 
sities common to all mankind, and the other waits on 


fashion. The social state evolved from the domestic 
state implies property, marital relations, laws, and 
general government. 

. As among primitive peoples, so among the California 
miners, we see a state without laws, aggregations of 
men without government, each absolutely free, free in 
thought and action, so far as he himself is concerned ; 
but let him beware how he touches another. Never 
did danger so attend wrong-doing: "I caught this 
fellow stealing my mules, and I shot him," was found 
written on paper pinned to the breast of a dead body 
lying by the roadside in 1853. 

In the absence of written law speechless sentiment 
becomes a power keener, stronger, and more merciless 
than any of which man stands in awe. The laws of 
God and the laws of man combined are puny in their 
efforts at curbing the passions of wilful man as com- 
pared with the opinion of his neighbor. Give a man 
the sympathy of the comnmnity in which he lives, 
and the law cannot hurt him ; and, on the other hand, 
let him be anathema of his fellows, and no law can 
save him from their ven<j;"eance. 

Keenly alive and jealously sensitive are the rights 
of individuals and of aorGfrcrations of individuals when 
intrusted to their own keeping. Every man has a 
watch on every other man. In the absence of legal 
and judicial professionals, or later, in their inanity, 
every member of the community was sheriff, judgi^, 
and executioner. 

Hence it was these miners walked circumspectly 
among themselves, each coveting the good opinion of 
his neighbor, each at once servant and master of all. 
To this end they purified their own motives while 
purging their camp of crime. And to do right, one 
must feel rio^ht. RiHit feelino^ beo^ets right action. 
The man is surely an adept who can be one thmg and 
throughout his life act another, who can wholly sub- 
serve emotion to cosrnition, and coalition to reason. 
Laws will not frighten men into right domg ; rewards 


will not entice them. A society perfect in thought 
and feeling needs no laws for its regulation. 

Furthermore, as in primitive communities despotism, 
feudal, oligarchical, or monarchical, for a time holds 
rule, showing the necessity of placing under restraint 
progressive man, so here we find a despotism of de- 
mocracy. In the absence of visible forms of law there 
was the essence of law everywhere; just as in the 
progress of civilization when men arise and throw off 
superstition and despotism they only rivet the chains 
of social tyranny the tighter. 

Therefore we may conclude that, properly regarded, 
all the mad pranks of these miners, all the social ab- 
normities that obtained along the Sierra Foothills 
during the gold-gathering epoch, may be safely re- 
ferred to sociological principles; just as all natural 
phenomena as soon as understood are found to be 
governed by fixed laws, when if not understood they 
arc regarded as the results of supernatural causes. 
Men pray for rain because the laws of storms are ill 
defined; they will not pray that a stone may be turned 
into bread, because they know that bread is not a 
geological formation. So the laws which govern 
social development, when understood, will be found 
in no wise to run counter to the free-will of man, if 
man has free-will. 

During the flush times of California there were 
several phases of crime in the several parts of the 
country. In the cities were slung-shot strikers, house- 
breakers, wharf-rats who preyed upon sailors and 
shipping, pick-pockets, sneak-thieves, safe-robbers, 
gentlemen forgers, and first-class burglars. In the 
country there was more killing, that being the more 
effectual way of arresting pursuit; and as the penalty 
for stealing was the gibbet, no severer punishment 
could befall the murderer. Highwaymen at intervals 
infested the interior, and their organizations at times 
assumed magnificent proportions. Horse-thieves were 
thick in stock localities. Miners were murdered for 


their money; a dead body beside a solitary claim was 
not an unusual sight; and often the thief was hanged 
while the murderer escaped. Then there was a large 
migratory class, who when one place became too hot 
went to another. 

Following the example of San Francisco, popular 
tribunals were organized in every town of any impor- 
tance throughout the state, and, as they became 
inhabited, in neio^hborins^ states. These were of everv 
grade, and of every degree of efficiency. In the larger 
cities, such as Sacramento, Stockton, Marysville, 
Sonora, San Jose, and Los Angeles, were standing 
associations of the best citizens, which, though neces- 
sarily less in numbers, were wellnigh as complex in 
their organization, and fully as effective in their action, 
*as the great committee of the commercial metropolis. 

Indeed, these country committees, as a rule, had 
work enough to do. Though they were spared much 
of that kind of work incident to a seaport town, and 
to the prominence of the first and largest organization, 
yet in certain directions the labors of some of them 
exceeded those of the San Francisco Committee. 
There were fewer cases of exile in the country, but 
more executions. For every criminal execution by 
the Vigilance Committee of San Francisco there were 
at least twenty executions by the country commit- 
tees — that is, including all of them in operation 
throughout the state. In one year, that of 1855, there 
were no less than forty-seven arbitrary executions in 
California; and of these, twenty- four were for theft, 
and nineteen for murder; the other four being for 
minor offences. 

Thus in the lar^fer interior cities the committees of 
vigilance ranked but little lower than the committee 
of San Francisco. Descending the scale, we have 
next those belonging to towns next in size and neces- 
sity, which did not keep up permanent organization, 
regular meetings, and active work, but wiiich would 

Pop. Trib., Vol. r. 28 


^s occasion required come together, organize or reor- 
ganize, and, after performing the business which called 
them together, disband. These impromptu organiza- 
tions were usually for the purpose of trying some crim- 
inal caught before the organization was effected. Then 
there were many still less formal, until mobocracy in 
its simplest and most repugnant form was reached. 

In the organization of these various country com- 
mittees there was no concerted action, no general 
appeal other than the publication of the following 
notice in the journals of the 10th to the 15th of 
June, at the time of the first organization of the 
Committee of 1851 : 

"To THE Citizens of California: 

' ' Should the order-loving portion of the citizens of Sacramento City, 
Stockton, the Pueblo de San Jos6, Monterey, Marysville, and all other towns 
and cities of the state, find it necessary, they are invited to form themselves' 
into committees of vigilance, for the pui*poses set forth in the constitution of 
the Committee of Vigilance of San Francisco. The object of these conmiittees 
is, moreover, for the purpose of corresponding with each other, so as to be able 
to mark and notice the movements of all disorderly or suspicious characters. 
By vigilance we may succeed in driving from our midst those who have be- 
come so baneful and obnoxious to our communities." 

Thereupon the course of the citizens of San Fran- 
cisco was endorsed by mass meetings held in Sacra- 
mento, Stockton, and elsewhere. 

In view of these facts; in view of their existence, 
their universality, and their spontaneity, it seems 
almost an insult to reason to argue their necessity or 
their righteousness. And yet there are those learned 
in the law who will tell you to-day that the thing 
was unnecessary, the principle wrong, and the mem- 
bers of these associations murderers. Strange that 
men fresh from the firesides of their boyhood, fresh 
from the hallowed influences of home and the re- 
straints of sober society, should so invariably and 
unnecessarily demean themselves as to band as law- 
breakers and murderers the moment they arrived at 
any point on the western slope of the continent! 


As at San Francisco, so it was with these country 
committees of vigilance. Swift and merciless was 
their action ; the most notorious villains were quickly 
judged and hanged, the lesser ones frightened aw^ay; 
and then, after having used with skill and modera- 
tion, and for the public good, the moral power which 
they had seized, they as promptly laid it down, gave 
California to the appointed authorities, and became at 
once and forever themselves the strictest observers of 
the law. 

At various times during the epoch of 1851 and 
that of 1856 the question arose whether it was ex- 
pedient to form of all the committees of the state 
one grand organization, with the San Francisco Com- 
mittee as the trunk and the interior committees as 
the branches. Applications were frequently made by 
country committees to become a part of the San 
Francisco organization; meetings were held, and the 
subject at various times discussed. 

But wdth their usual wisdom and discretion the 
San Francisco Committee declined all such combina- 
tions. While willing to act in jDerfect accord with 
all associations for the punishment and prevention of 
crime throughout the state, while earnestly desirous 
of giving and receiving every facility for the accom- 
plishment of the purpose which called them into ex- 
istence, the San Francisco Committee were unwilling 
to assume any responsibility which could not at any 
time be controlled within the walls of their own 
council-chamber. A general organization might have 
led to the wildest excesses in the more remote quarters 
and have made the central or parent committee re- 
sponsible for deeds from the commission of which they 
would have shrunk with horror. 

At an early day, loEg before the general uprising of 
1851, in certain sections of the gold-fields the miners, 
more particularly the English-speaking class, and 
sometimes only citizens of the United States, met and 
adopted rules by which to be governed. These rules 


governed the title to mining claims, and protection to 
life and property. 

At the miners' meeting called for the purpose, an 
alcalde, or justice of the peace, and a constable were 
chosen, and an official oath administered by the chair- 
man of the meeting. In civil actions before these 
courts the plaintiff or defendant could, either of them, 
call for six jurors to assist the judge, and in criminal 
cases the accused was entitled to a jury of twelve 
men. Process was issued by the alcalde and executed 
by the constable, or, as he was as frequently called, the 
sheriff. All proceedings conformed as nearly as might 
be to those of an ordinary court. Appeals could be 
made from this court in criminal cases only to the 
spectators at the time of execution, who were sup- 
posed to represent the people who gave the court its 
authority. It was simple, but extremely significant, 
this ultimate appeal of the condemned, the moment 
before his execution, to the highest earthly authority — 
a most solemn appeal, but too often lightly regarded 
by those to whom it was made. 

Upon conviction in criminal cases tried before a 
jury the degree of punishment was fixed by the 
alcalde, and it might be death, for any offence. The 
juror's fee was six dollars for the case, and the alcalde's 
sixteen dollars. The witnesses and constable were 
also duly recompensed. 

The miners' court had its origin prior to the ad- 
vent of law. Upon the legislative establishment of 
courts, in most localities the miners' courts gave place 
to them, but not always. If the leading spirits of a 
mining-camp were satisfied with their own judicial 
machinery the}^ would neither elect under the statutes 
nor permit others to do so. Miners' courts were not 
wholly abrogated till after 1854. More particular!}^ 
was this the case in criminal trials, wherein the people 
were provoked by the tardiness of constitutional courts. 

It was suggested by one that legal tribunals should 
be established in the cities and throughout the country 


where justice could be instantly determined and exe- 
cuted; or extraordinary power might by special legis- 
lation be delegated the courts to act without the usual 
law's delay. Thus the chances of escape would be 
lessened and the cost diminished. 

About midsummer, 1851, there was considerable 
discussion, principally among the law and order 
party, concerning the propriety of calling an extra 
session of the legislature for the purpose of so modi- 
fying the criminal code as to meet the requirements 
of the present social crisis. Such a movement on 
the part of the governor would have rendered him 
yet more unpopular. Aside from the expense, which 
for a ten days' session would have been about sixty 
thousand dollars, the result would have been produc- 
tive of evil rather than of good. The disease was 
altogether beyond the reach of the physician, and 
further legislation would only have intensified the 
trouble. The law was well enough as it was; and 
further to complicate affairs by the propagation of 
yet more ineflScient and corrupt officials was no way 
to cure crime. The people were taking care of them- 
selves, and that in the simplest, most direct and 
honest method in the world — by making punishment 
to follow closely the heels of crime. 

In 1850 statutes were enacted, and the people 
meanwhile administered justice by popular tribunals, 
or surrendered their claim to the execution of justice 
into the hands of the legally constituted tribunals. 
Now, thought they, we shall have quiet living; we 
may now pursue our several vocations in safety with- 
out the harassment of hunting and hanging criminals. 
But the people in their brighter prospect were not 
alone made happ}^ The thief, the election trickster, 
the murderer, these too rejoiced over a prospective 
reign of law, over an administration of pretended 
justice which should shield them from their mortal 
enemies, the people. 

Following the great uprisings in San Francisco, 


there was a general exodus of criminals to the in- 
terior. A San Francisco paper thus sounds the note 
of warning: 

' ' The recent hanging and banishing of the friends and companions of theae 
villains in San Francisco caused a stampede for the interior and southern 
portion of the state, where they formed themselves into organized banditti, 
robbing and murdering indiscriminately. Neither sex nor age were regarded 
by these desperate gangs of marauders. Patience at last ceased to be a virtue ; 
the law was found to be inefficient to punish the bloody outrages which were 
daily being committed; the people in the lower counties, in Los Angeles, 
Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and later still in Carson Valley, have been obliged 
in self-defence to follow the example of San Francisco and mete out a sum- 
mary but just punishment to all that fell into their hands. 

' ' The result of such summary execution is that the desperadoes have 
concluded that California has become too warm for them, and they have de- 
termined to shift their quarters to the new gold regions north, where the 
people are not so united. In that comparatively unknown country they ex- 
pect to have more facilities for carrying on their unholy business, and where 
there will be less chance of detection. As there will be no chance of these men 
being supported by political plunder in the country to which they have now 
gone, the more desperate and dangerous will they become. Their organiza- 
tion, it is now proved without a doubt, is complete throughout the coast; 
they have their secret signs, passwords, and grips, by which they are recog- 
nized. Their threats against the members of and sympathizers with the 
Vigilance Committee is no idle boast. That they will attempt outrages is 
beyond a doubt. Their friends and abettors in this city will keep them fully 
posted with the names and business views of all whom they consider will 
afford a good show of plunder, and murder will prove their safety against 
further recognition or detection ; for, like Jack Powers and Pio Linares, their 
motto is, ' Dead men tell no tales. ' 

' ' Under these circumstances what is the duty of the good, law-abiding 
citizens who have settled or may settle in the new mines? As to law, there 
is none to be had there. If it were extended over them, none of that class 
of so-called politicians who readily become the friends and tools of the 
banditti would give up their prospect of making a 'pile' to fill offices of 
responsibility. Our advice is for the miners to organize themselves into 
armed companies, keep up a strict volunteer police, and administer justice 
whenever required, in a manner that will deter these villains from commit- 
ting crime. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Danger to life and prop- 
erty stares them in the face. Then let them be prepared to prevent it at the 
outset. The gamblers should be shunned and scouted by all honest men ; 
the bully and the shoulder-striker should be admonished to keep quiet 
and earn an honest living, or prepare to take up his traps and march. The 
murderer and robber should be shown no mercy. At the first unmistakable 
conviction of such an offence the murderer should be hanged as high as 
Haman, and his body left to dangle as a, warning to his companions in guilt. 

" This summary proceeding may sound harsh to the ears of such persons 


as have not witnessed the troubles in this state. We expect it will call forth 
a howl of indignation from the venal press in the interest of gamblers and 
thieves ; but it will be disregarded as the whistling of the wind. Those who 
know the desperate character of these men, and are acquainted with their 
former vile deeds in this state, know full well that we recommend the only 
means which will afford safety to property and life in the unprotected country 
to which immigration is now pouring. Such organization of miners will also 
afford protection against the bold savages who inhabit the north, and who are 
hostile to the whites. To these savages will the desperadoes resort for pro- 
tection and aid. It is the duty, therefore, of the miners to prepare for 
trouble. Punish the offenders promptly, and the lives of many honest and 
innocent men will be spared. Let them but get the start in crime, and many 
a happy home will be made desolate. The safety of all consists in prompt and 
decided action." 

Throughout the interior, more than in the city, 
arbitrary administration of justice was regarded by 
the people with greater favor than the regular pro- 
ceedings of courts. The institution of vigilance ac- 
corded with the spirit of the times. Its machinery 
was unimpeded by the friction of forms ; its sentences 
were final and speedily executed. Then, too, it was 
more needed, if possible, in the country than in the 
cities. The people were more scattered, communities 
more isolated and self-dependent; they were more 
exposed, less capable of continuous and concerted 

They had few jails, and thought that to stand guard 
over criminals captured by their own exertions and at 
their own expense was paying too much deference to 
crime; such procedure ill-accorded with their temper 
or means. Quick let the bad cease to be, and then 
each to his affairs. 

So effectual were the workings of these organiza- 
tions that, like all the institutions originating from the 
necessities of the times, the frontiersman began to like 
it, and to look upon it as a part of himself, his cate- 
chism, his country. After civilization had set its seal 
upon the town of Yankee Jim, a miner summoned 
as a juror in a murder case was asked by the judge if 
he had any conscientious scruples against capital 


''Yes, your honor, I have," he repHed; ''that is, 
unless administered by a vigilance committee." 

The modes of punishment were many and varied, 
being always such as should bring disgrace, and 
usually such as should attach humiliation and pain. 
Shooting was sometimes employed, but not often. 
Whipping and driving from camp were frequent; but 
the most common punishment was hanging. For 
what better purpose did the solitary oaks send out 
their long, ungainly branches ? It was a simple 
process, throwing a rope over the limb of a tree and 
tying one end of it round the neck of the offender. 
The rabble would then seize the other end of the 
rope and run with it as far as the ascending body 
would permit. Mexicans were sometimes hanged 
from mules, standing on the back of the animal until 
the rope was adjusted, when the mule, frightened by 
blows and yells, jumped from under the victim, leav- 
ing him suspended. At the outset punishment was 
not so severe as later, when the executioners had 
become more accustomed to the workings of the 
system, and to scenes of blood. 



Here is a mine of truth, which, however vigorously it may be worked, 
is likely to outlast our coal. 

George Eliot. 

Let us now examine some of the more dignified 
popular tribunals outside of San Francisco. It was 
almost simultaneously, as soon as people began to 
understand something of the nature of the organiza- 
tion of June 9, 1851, that similar associations were 
formed throughout the length and breadth of the land. 

The Vigilance Committee of Sacramento was first 
formally created the 25th of June, about a fortnight 
after the organization of the first Vigilance Commit- 
tee in San Francisco. Two hundred and thirteen 
members were enrolled at the first meeting, which 
was held at the Orleans Hotel, and thereafter the 
number rapidly increased. P. B. Cornwall was chosen 
president, and the executive committee consisted of 
Messrs Milne, Duryee, Rightmire, Watson, Latson, 
Chesley, Barker, Meeks, Leake, and Geiger. 

Prior to this time, as we have seen, there had been 
several summary arrests and punishments of greater 
or less degree. But this was hardly sufficient, in view 
of the rapid development of events. When the best 
men of Sacramento saw what San Francisco was 
doing, saw the immediate good effects of their unique 
association, they obtained a copy of the constitution 
and by-laws of the San Francisco Committee and 
organized on the same plan. 

In common with the entire country, the City of 



the Plains was infected with the leprosy of crime ; and 
as this landing was then the rendezvous for adven- 
turers from San Francisco and elsewhere to the 
northern mines, rascality here partook at once of 
the character of that of the city and of the country. 
Thither resorted commercial, agricultural, and mining 
desperadoes; sailors and professionals from San Fran- 
cisco, cattle-stealers and highw^ay robbers from the 
valleys, and gamblers and murderers from the mines. 

We will glance briefly at Sacramento's infelicities 
about this time. In April, 1851, Mr Lawrence, 
editor of the Times and Transcript, was attacked by 
certain political desperadoes then infesting the city. 
A manifesto was issued, and within an hour five hun- 
dred citizens pledged themselves, in wanting, to pro- 
tect Mr Lawrence, and any other members of the 
press, against which class villainy for the moment 
seemed directed. 

On the 17th of July following, as Mr Lawrence 
Avas passing the court-house, J. Neely Johnson stepped 
up and demanded whether he was the author of a cer- 
tain paragraph published in the Times and Transcript 
that morning, at which Johnson had taken oflfence. 
Not receiving a satisfactory reply, Johnson seized the 
journalist's nose and wrung it magisterially. Law- 
rence drew a pistol and would have fired had he not 
been disarmed by the by-standers. The reader must 
know that this was the same Johnson who afterward, 
as governor of California, was so horrified at the doings 
of the San Francisco Committee of 1856 that he was 
ready, had he been strong enough, to deluge the streets 
of the city in the blood of its best citizens. To 
avenge a personal injury he did not hesitate to defy 
the law; but when the people themselves, for the 
preservation of society, laid their hand on law it w^as 

Four men were caught robbing a citizen of Sacra- 
mento on the 9th of July. The crime was perpetrated 


in open day, in the suburbs of the city, and was wit- 
nessed by several persons. While the thieves were 
being taken before the court of sessions the Commit- 
tee of Vigilance convened for deliberation, and a 
crowd of about one thousand persons collected before 
the station-house and attempted by force to obtain 
possession of the prisoners. A committee of three 
was then chosen to wait on the officers and request 
possession of the prisoners for hanging purposes. 
This request the limbs of the law very properly de- 
nied. Brought into court, the prisoners, by their 
counsel, insisted on the time allowed by law for the 
preparation of their defence, and the trial was conse- 
quently postponed. This delay caused great commo- 
tion among the crowd, and on putting the question to 
vote it was almost unanimously decided to hang the 
thieves that day. Seeing the ominous aspect of affairs, 
the prisoners' counsel consented to proceed to trial at 
once. All were convicted; one was ordered away to 
the state prison, and the others were sentenced to be 
hanged. This was the first attempt at interference 
with the regular process of law by the Sacramento 
Vigilance Committee, and the result speaks loudly 
their moderation. 

About a week before this a man named Franklin 
Sanford, who had been arrested at Daylor's rancho, 
charged with shooting cattle and selling the meat, was 
with difficulty saved from the vengeance of the people. 
He was finally taken to Sacramento and bound over 
by Judge Sackett in three thousand dollars bonds. 

It seemed impossible for the men of Sydney to 
keep their fingers from their neighbors' property. 
About this time, on the 8th of July, one of the fra- 
ternity who took passage on board the Senator for 
Sacramento was twice within an hour caught steal- 
ing. The first time it was a pair of shoes from a 
Chinaman — O base-born son of Albion! to steal the 
worthless wooden shoes of a greasy Asiatic ! Next it 
was five dollars in gold which a passenger laid on the 


counter at the bar, and which the thief took up. The 
captain being informed of the traffic, took the offender 
forward to the windlass, and after giving him three 
dozen lashes put him ashore. The same day a thief 
named Hodge was arrested, who regarded his execu- 
tion a foregone conclusion, and manifested profound 
indifference as to preliminaries. 

The 2 2d of August, two days before the execution 
of Whittaker and McKenzie, there was great ex- 
citement in Sacramento. Two highwaymen, James 
Gibson and John Thompson, convicted some time be- 
fore, were executed by the sheriff; a third, Robinson, 
received a respite of his sentence from the governor. 
This did not suit the Vigilance Committee. They 
demanded that Robinson likewise should be hanged, 
and as the sheriff had no authority to do it they did 
it themselves. When the hour for the execution 
arrived the sheriff brought the three men from the 
station-house, and after reading the reprieve of Rob- 
inson ordered the two who were condemned to the 
place of execution and the third to the prison brig, 
but on their way the guard of the latter was over- 
powered and the prisoner ' taken to the grove where 
the execution of the others was in progress. After 
the sheriff had discharged his duty in respect to the 
two condemned, and had washed his hands of what 
was to follow, Robinson was mounted on the same 
machine by the Vigilance Committee and sent speed- 
ily thence to follow his comrades. That night a mass- 
meeting was held at the Orleans Hotel; on motion 
the governor was requested to resign, after which he 
was hanged and burned in effigy. 

Robinson's life from early boyhood was a succes- 
sion of crime; he hesitated at nothing, however dia- 
bolical. He was a native of New York city, and was 
thirty-two years of age. While at school, and but 
thirteen years old, he had forged the name of a 
cashier of a bank at the suggestion of one Granstine, 
who was but a few years older^ and who forged the 


president's name. They were successful in this enter- 
prise, drawing $4500 on the check. Granstine, Rob- 
inson, and another accompUce, attempted a robbery 
soon after of $7000, which Granstine accompUshed 
by the murder of a young woman, for which crime he 
was hanged. 

Arrived at the age of sixteen, Kobinson with the 
aid of an accompUce robbed his own father of $2500. 
Then going to Pittsburg he obtained a place as cabin- 
boy on board a steamboat. At the instigation of the 
steward he stole from a passenger, while asleep, $3000 
in gold. Robinson met the steward again in Cincin- 
nati; they travelled together to New Orleans, where 
they engaged in new crimes. Robinson obtained a 
responsible position in a hotel, where he remained 
several months. Then with accomplices he robbed 
the safe of $5000, for which crime he was arrested on 
suspicion, but was able to make apparent his inno- 
cence. Meeting on one occasion in Albany two men, 
Hunt and Edwards, by whom he was known as a skil- 
ful penman and a sharp rascal, they made him their 
partner, and expended $300 on him for dress and 
jewelry, that he might pass as a gentleman. After 
due preparation he presented at a bank a forged 
check for $2500, and obtained the money without 
difficulty. In Philadelphia, where they went imme- 
diately, he practised on one name for several days, 
until he was able to counterfeit it so well that on 
a check $20,000 was drawn from the bank. Rob- 
inson's share was $6000. He sent to his mother the 
larger part of, it, telling her he had drawn it at a lot- 
tery. In Baltimore the associated scoundrels obtained 
$15,000 in the same way. In Cincinnati another 
check for $20,000 was successfully forged and passed. 
Edwards boasted his contempt for small things. At 
Louisville the same amount was obtained in the same 
way. Here Robinson, dissatisfied with the division, 
quarrelled with and separated from his companions. 

From Louisville Robinson went to New Orleans. 


There he robbed the custom-house safe; a negro who 
was his accomphce was arrested on suspicion and 
whipped, but divulged nothing. On a plantation 
where he was afterward employed he opened a safe 
and abstracted $4000. Thence Robinson went to St 
Louis. A United States officer was his next victim, 
whose robbery yielded him $7000 which belonged to 
the government. He coolly stood by and saw another 
executed for this deed. Robinson was engaged in 
thefts of greater or less magnitude constantly. In 
travelling from one point to another his fellow- 
passengers were his victims. For knocking a man 
down with a slung-shot and taking $1300 from his 
belt, Robinson was arrested, but escaped by paying his 
lawyers liberally. In Cincinnati he and an accomplice 
broke open a jewlery establishment, and his partner 
in the crime was imprisoned for seven years. Mem- 
phis, Vicksburg, and Natchez in turn were success- 
fully visited by this prince of villains. He sent his 
mother money again, $2000, leaving in his possession 
$800 in altered bills. Hogan, an accomplice in many 
of his crimes, was hanged for murder in Cincinnati. 
In St Louis Robinson obtained money by forgery, 
and as a pickpocket achieved great success. In New 
Orleans he was six months in the county jail for theft. 
At various times he was arrested, when false swearing, 
bribery, and the skill of lawyers cleared him. 

After becoming notorious through the south and 
east, with detectives on his track, he came to the 
Pacific coast. At Marys ville he attempted to kill his 
wife, on account of her unfaithfulness; escaping from 
his pursuers he went to Nevada. He followed his 
profession successfully wherever he went; some of his 
stolen goods he disposed of to Belcher Kay. In 
Sacramento he perpetrated many successful felonies. 
But his rare luck at length deserted him. With two 
or three companions, who had been drinking and gam- 
bling at a certain place, Robinson started for a saloon. 
One of the men, Wilson, was an acquaintance of but a 


few hours ; he was thought to have some money upon 
him, and as they reached some bushes in the road Rob- 
inson and an accomphce threw Wilson on the ground, 
and robbed him. Robinson was soon arrested. All 
this on the authority of the miscreant himself, which 
the reader may take with whatever allowance his 
judgment dictates. Strange that in the heroics of 
crime the tendency should be so marked for the vil- 
lain to magnify his own villainies. And this was the 
man the governor would pardon. 

Henry Caulfield, who had been prominent in the 
Sacramento squatter riots, and John McKune, a 
Sacramento lawyer, were the personal enemies of 
Judo'e Wilson of the court of sessions. For some 
fancied wrong they determined to obtain satisfaction, 
and for that purpose loitered about the court-room 
on the morning of the IGtli of June, 1852, until 
adjournment. McKune then accosted Wilson and 
demanded his retraction of abusive language. Wilson 
replied that he never retracted anything that he said. 
McKune then raised a bludgeon that he held in his 
hand and struck Wilson, who retaliated by thrusting 
his sword-cane into his adversary's side. Deputy- 
sheriff McDonald then disarmed Wilson, whereupon 
Caulfield, who had been watching his opportunity, 
sprang forward and fired at the judge. At that in- 
stant McDonald rushed between Caulfield and Wilson, 
and the ball which probably would have killed the 
judge passed through McDonald's body. With blood 
gushing from the wound, he fell upon Caulfield and 
wrested the weapon from him. The by-standers now 
entered the arena, and shooting, stabbing, and striking 
became general. McKune was carried away exclaim- 
ing, "I'm a dead man!" and Caulfield was arrested and 
placed on board the prison brig, there to await the 
result of the shooting. The Vigilance Committee 
met at the Orleans Hotel. Of this meeting the 
citizens were notified by a man going through the ^ 


streets ringing a bell. When it was ascertained that 
the wounds inilicted were not likely to prove fatal, the 
decision of the meeting was to leave the matter in the 
hands of the law. 

One Conrad Sacksin, on the night of the 27th of 
January, 1853, was caught in the commission of an 
act too infamous for record; and the description given 
of his punishment is scarcely more fit for perusal. 
He was taken to the levee, tried, and convicted. The 
question then arose what the punislmient should be. 
Kev. O. C. Wheeler presented the case to the people 
and put the question to vote. Some were for hang- 
ing and others for mutilation. At last whipping was 
decided on, one hundred lashes to be the infliction. 
Six respectable citizens were chosen for the execution 
of the sentence. Then with sickening detail the 
matter is discussed and the punishment described in 
the account before me, which I will gladly spare the 

These examples had a beneficial effect not only on 
criminals but on the Sacramento courts. Justice 
there assumed a more determined tone. An evil-doer 
could not always buy off or beg off, nor could any 
villainous lawyer for money clear him. There is no 
limit to the slaughter of innocents if we may believe 
the martyrs to murder. On the open plain near 
Sutter Fort in April of this year three men were 
executed by the sheriff for the killing, near the corner 
of B and Tenth streets, of one John Carrol, known 
as Boot-jack. Shrived by the Be v. O. C. Wheeler, 
salvation they considered sure; and while in this 
pious state of mind they humbly confessed that they 
could not tell a lie, that they did riot do this murder, 
but that it was done by a cunning child of perdition, 
who made his escape ; nevertheless they were hanged. 
The position held by the Sacramento Committee of 
Vigilance during the past two years made it incum- 
bent on the courts to hang somebody. 


Stockton in early times stood in the same relation 
to the southern mines that did Sacramento to the 
northern. To this point was shipped merchandise for 
the districts of San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Calaveras, 
Tuolumne, and Mariposa, which was conveyed thence 
by teams; and there, as in Sacramento, congregated 
gold-hunters and traders on their way to and from 
southern parts. 

The destruction of the city by fire on the Gth of 
May, 1851, two days after the great San Francisco 
fire, stirred the fury in the hearts of the inhabitants. 
The firing of Stockton, like the kindling of San Fran- 
cisco, was the work of incendiaries. There were then 
confined in the city prison certain noted characters 
whose deliverance their associates sou2^ht to accom- 
plish, so it was thought, by these means; but the 
wind changing, their plans were defeated, though at 
the expense of the business portion of the town. 

The detection of a party of horse -thieves in the 
vicinity of Stockton about the 1st of June led to 
the disclosure of a brotherhood in crime extendinor 
throurfiout all that rej^^ion. This was the band which 
under Joaquin ^lurieta had just begun its depreda- 
tions, and which was soon destined to become the 
terror of the country. The first one of them captured 
the people prepared to hang, but after undergoing the 
preliminary acts of strangulation he was spared on 
turning informer. Some of the gang were surprised 
at a fandango, and after being well whipped they were 
turned over to the authorities. In court when the 
informer was called upon the witness-stand he refused 
to testify against his accomplices, whereupon the 
crowd made a rush upon him to complete the un- 
finished acts of their tragedy, when a conflict with 
the authorities ensued, in which pistols were freely 
drawn, thousfh no damao^e was done. Meanwhile a 
people's court assembled to try the keeper of the ren- 
dezvous, who was convicted, plunged into the river 
several times, and afterward stripped, whipped severely. 

Pop. Tbiu., Vol. I. 29 


and ordered to leave the town within sixteen hours. 
At his house were found all the implements of burglary 
and murder. These tools were of the finest description, 
such as were used by the most accomplished villains ; 
the men were good looking and well dressed, and their 
assaults, the cold atrocity of their crimes, and their 
boldness and skill, marked them as adepts long and 
well practised in every species of rascality. Thus the 
times were becoming ripe for a more solemn declara- 
tion against criminals. 

Nor was the sentiment by any means discouraged 
by the newspaper press. Says the Stockton Journal: 

' ' Without war cry, we have an enemy in our midst whose signal is theft ! 
murder ! fire ! If an enemy should attack us from without, all would rise 
and repel him. The laws are good for peaceful times, but for such turmoil 
as we now endure stringent measures are necessary. " 

Another writes, the 5th of June : 

' ' The recent detection of a band of marauders in Stockton, and the watch- 
fulness of the people both there and in this city, gives promise that, with 
a united effort in every portion of the country infested by these scoundrels, 
we shall soon be rid of their depredations. The systpm of rapine carried on 
so successfully of late commenced some few months after the first discovery of 
the mines; and it has continued ever since in different portions of the 
country generally with impunity. In the northern and southern mines 
the depredations have consisted in thefts of horses and cattle. In the 
lower ranch country, murders, plunders of houses, and robberies of stock 
have been from time to time committed; and in the cities the warfare 
has been conducted in the shape of burglary, theft, and assassination. 
The papers discovered on the persons of the thieves in Stockton on 
Mouday last, as well as other developments previously made, lead to 
the belief that there has existed all along an organized gang of brigands, 
associated in crime, and conducting their Ishmaelitish war upon society m 
general from different points of the country. No doubt exists in the public 
mind that this association planned and carried into execution the recent con- 
flagrations in this city, Stockton, and Nevada; and the various atrocities 
committed last summer and ascribed to the unfortunate Mexicans were unques- 
tionably the work of this band of miscreants. There is also reason to believe 
that it is composed of some half-breed Indians, some few Mexicans and Ameri- 
cans, and the larger portion of Sydney men. That they are well practised in 
all manner of rascality is evident from the instruments they use in their 
burglaries and thefts. Their mode of practise is pronounced by police- 
officers to be that of perfect adepts in the profession. Their assaults and 


murders exhibit likewise a cold atrocity which can only be acquired by years 
of crime. It is full time some means were adopted to rid the country of this 
organization. The commencement should be made in this city, and the means 
are very simple. There are three or four gentlemen in this city who have a 
thorough acquaintance with the persons and haunts of all the notorious 
thieves and burglars. A committee of citizens should be appomted, those 
acquainted with them should be employed to point out these notorious 
characters, a vessel should be chartered and victualled, and every man known 
to the police to be implicated in crime should be placed on board and sent out 
of the country. Hanging would have an excellent effect unquestionably, but 
hanging one or two will not rid the community of the remainder. Let a 
general war be made on these scoundrels, quietly and without bloodshed let 
it be, but with the distinct intimation that should they ever return they 
will be summarily dealt with. We believe that to send them out of the 
country is the only effectual method of getting rid of these pests, and we 
trust the method will be adopted. " 

The law being thus pricked, as well by the vigil- 
ance association as by the press, James Wihon, alias 
Mountain Jim, one of the party just mentioned, was 
convicted of horse-stealing before the Stockton court 
of sessions in October and was adjudged to die. When 
the foreman of the jury delivered the verdict, the 
prisoner, who was lolling back in his chair looking 
up abstractedly at the ceiling, quietly remarked, " I 
expected as much, by God!" 

At a meeting held in Stockton on the 13th of 
June, 1851, one hundred and seventy of those then 
present enrolled themselves as a Citizen Police, which 
was preliminary to the organization of a committee 
of vigilance. On this occasion the town was divided, 
and resident watchmen appointed for each district. 
The municipal council was then petitioned to clothe 
the association with authority, which being refused, 
the people determined to act without authority. 

Dr McLean, a member of the Stockton Vigilance 
Committee, in July arrested a Mexican for stealing a 
horse, and carried the offender before the executive 
committee. The officers of the law, whose wits were 
somewhat sharper than those of their San Francisco 
brethren, hearing of it, arrested McLean on a charge 


of resisting the police. McLean's resistance was in 
refusing to give to the law a criminal he had caught 
at his own cost. He was forced to give bail for his 
appearance at court in the sum of $3000, which he 
did cheerfully and went his way. 

A package of papers in the pocket of the editor of 
the Stockton Journal prevented the ball fired from the 
pistol of Mr Gaugh, district attorney of San Joaquin, 
from entering his heart. This was in October, 1851. 
There was quite a chivalrous element in Stockton in 
those days, at the head of which was he who was 
afterward Judge Terry, of bloody memory. Mark 
once more, the very men who most easily and natu- 
rally broke the law when it stood in the way of their 
bad passions were the first to denounce those who 
broke the law when it stood in the way of principle 
and common weal. I do not say that one should 
never lift his hand to right a wrong or avenge an in- 
sult; that is not the question. I only wonder that 
those who do this should talk so much about our im- 
maculate institutions, our sacred statutes, and our 
holy laws. 

The San Joaquin Republican , the first newspaper 
published in Stockton, was started by George Kerr 
in 1850. Successors to Mr Kerr were Joseph Mans- 
field and H. C. Patrick. Another of the earliest 
Stockton papers was the Journal, at one time edited 
by John S. Robb and at another time by John Tabor. 
Journalists in those days, like the politicians, were 
pugilistic in their tendencies. Positive, plain-speak- 
ing men, they often gave offence to those whose con- 
duct was condemnable, which was too frequently the 
case among those who manipulated the elections or 
who had the handling of public funds. Editors who 
opposed each other in politics or public measures like- 
wise collided. 

The contest for governor in 1853 was heated, and 
brought out the whole strength of the contending 


candidates, John Bigler and William Waldo. The 
Repuhlican and the Journal warmed into personalities, 
until Mansfield met Tabor one day and told him that 
to assail his private character would not do. Besides 
politics, there was trouble between these two journals 
as to certain spoils. To secure the public printing at 
a large price, it had been agreed that the Repuhlican 
should put in two bids, taking care that both should 
be large enough, and that the plunder obtained in 
consequence of the absence of fair competition should 
.be divided between them. All went well until the 
Republican refused to share the spoils with the Journal. 
Next day after the meeting above mentioned, which 
was the 2 2d of June, 1854, the editors again encoun- 
tered each other, when Tabor without a word of 
warning drew a pistol and shot Mansfield dead. Mans- 
field was a fat, good natured man, with scarcely an 
enemy in the world, and the killing of him was 
deliberate murder. And so the jury regarded it, for 
they found against Tabor, and he was sentenced to be 
hanged. But meanwhile John Bigler was elected 
governor — and should he see a man strangled for zeal 
in his cause? By no means. Tabor was pardoned. 
And the pardon was in this wise: Forty thousand 
names asking clemency were attached to a petition; 
but before it went up to the governor the heading 
was changed from mitigation to full pardon. Vigilance 

Marysville stands near the junction of the Yuba 
and Feather rivers, and was once the head of river 
navigation in this direction, and the distributing point 
for the counties of Sutter, Yuba, Nevada, Sierra, and 

In cases of exile the interior committees, who as a 
matter of course were unable to ship their criminals 
to foreign parts, did the best they could. If cases 
were chronic, and of a general character, they handed 
them over, with the evidence, to the San Francisco 


Committee. If local, or of a milder form of the 
scourge, the vagabonds were driven away to prey on 

All along through the summer and autumn of 1851 
the Committee of Vigilance which had been organized 
in Marysville did good service, and were largely in- 
strumental in rendering the upper country inhabitable. 
In October the association resolved that a committee 
of ten be appointed as a standing committee, who 
should have power to call a meeting at any time, and 
do and perform such duties as might be thought 
necessary for the welfare of the community. They 
should likewise have power to adopt any rules which 
tended to promote the efficiency of the general body, 
and to fill any vacancies that might occur among their 
own number. F. W. Schaeffer, J. L. McDuffie, R. 
A. Eddy, W. W. Smith, H. Beach, L. Steinhart, 
Charles Gleason, John G. Smith, Charles Ball, and 
E. Woodruff were appointed such committee. 

Earl}^ in November word was brought to Honcut 
by two travellers that four Mexicans had been met 
on the road a few miles from Natchez, one of whom 
Avas dragging a man with a lariat, whom they probably 
intended to murder. They were powerless to inter- 
fere, as they were not sufficiently armed to resist the 
Mexicans ; when they reached Natchez they gave the 
same account to the authorities there. Parties from 
Honcut and Natchez started at once to make investi- 
gation. The Honcut party, after a little search, 
found the body of a man, which was recognized as 
George Mather, from Boston or vicinity, who had 
been engaged in transporting goods to the mines. 
This account they brought back to Natchez. The 
others soon returned, having made a still more shock- 
ing discovery, as they had found the bodies of two 
men, Gardner and Jinkerson, who had left Honcut 
rancho on foot that morning for Natchez. They 
probably had endeavored to rescue Mather from the 


Mexicans, and had lost their Hves in the attempt. 
When wagons were sent out for the bodies it was 
found that they were lying but a hundred yards apart. 
Jinkerson had received seventeen stabs, almost any 
of which would have proved fatal; Gardner and 
Mather had their throats cut, and all of them had 
marks of a lariat upon their necks, having been 
dragged out of the road by that means. The pockets 
of all three of the young men were rifled. There had 
been seventeen murders committed within a few days, 
among others, several at Bidwell Bar, ten or fifteen 
miles up the river, and the people were intent upon 
discoverino^ the authors of these crimes and brino^ino: 
them to justice. 

In the suburbs of Marysville, at what was called 
the Sonorian Camp, was a band of Mexicans, who were 
strongly suspected as the guilty j)arty. A Mexican 
thief, captured by the Vigilance Committee a few 
days before, had confessed to the fact that the Sono- 
rian Camp was the retreat of many well known mur- 
derers and robbers. On the nig^ht of the 12th R. B. 
Buchanan, sheriff* of Yuba county, accompanied by 
a posse, proceeded to the camp to make an arrest. 
Hitching their horses a half mile distant, they ad- 
vanced cautiously, the bright moonlight rendering 
their position all the more dangerous. Presently a 
large dog came out at them, and though quickly 
stabbed, its bark had alarmed the camp. As the 
sheriff"s party drew nearer they saw standing by the 
fire a Mexican, richly attired and armed to the teeth, 
peering at them through the chaparral. It w^as after- 
ward ascertained that this man was no other than 
the redoubtable Joaquin Murieta, here encamped with 
his band. 

Being thus discovered, the sheriff' endeavored to 
retreat; he was fired upon by the robbers, and re- 
turned the fire. For a short time there was quite a 
brisk engagement. The sheriff* then fell back, but 
while climbing a fence was shot by Murieta and 


severely wounded. The city, already aroused, sent 
out a large force against the robbers. The camp was 
deserted, the Mexicans having secreted themselves in 
the chaparral near by. The place was surrounded, 
but in the darkness nothing could be done. Two 
shots were fired by the Mexicans from their hiding- 
place, when the pursuers retired, leaving a guard for 
the night. Next day a merchant distributed arms to 
twenty-five more men, who went to the chaparral, 
when it was found that the night guard had deserted 
their post, and the Mexicans had escaped. There 
was plainly apparent a lack of something, and the 
Marysville Vigilance Committee at once reorganized. 

About the same time a vigilance committee was 
in session at Natchez for the purpose of ferreting the 
murderers of John B. Gardner, C. Jinkerson, and 
George Mather, such being the names of the men 
killed the 11th of November. Eight hundred dollars 
reward was offered by the citizens for their capture. 
The committee arrested several suspicious characters, 
but accomplished little directly. 

The same week six men were murdered near Grass 
Valley. A vigilance committee was at once organ- 
ized, armed, and mounted, with E. B. Lundy as leader. 
An organization of the same kind was also formed in 

In July, 1852, three several attempts were made to 
fire the city of Marysville, in consequence of which 
the Vigilance Committee assembled and instituted 
such diligent search for the felons that for a time 
quiet reigned. This organization and its successors 
continued for many years, for as late as 1858 we find 
that through the influence or agency of the Marys- 
ville Committee of Vigilance, on the 8th of January 
the captain of the police, by order of the city marshal, 
was enabled to escort to the steamboat landing ^ve 
desperadoes, some of them notorious, others strongly 
suspected of crime. The captives were then com- 
pelled to pay their fare and depart down the river. 


Twenty lashes were given one Mercer by the Shasta 
Vigilance Committee the 19th of September, 1851, 
which work was the result of an investigation made 
by them in the matter of a theft committed at the 
St Charles Hotel the night before. It appears that 
Pat Sullivan had given his purse to Mercer to weigh 
from it an ounce of gold dust. Mercer stepped to the 
counter for this purpose, and when he returned to 
where Sullivan was sitting, as he appeared in no 
haste to give back the purse, Sullivan demanded it of 
him. Mercer gave it him, but it was lighter by more 
than an ounce than before. Said Sullivan: "You 
have taken my money." Mercer was searched, and 
six ounces in loose gold dust found in his pocket. 
Thereupon the Vigilance Committee whipped him; 
for of such were their chastisements. 

There was a place called Mad Mule Canon, in the 
Shasta district, which name was a libel on the species 
asinus beside the doings of men in that locahty. One 
day a man, made insane by his thirst for gold, mur- 
dered his keeper and took from his belt a thousand 
dollars in gold dust. He then attacked another and 
cut him fearfully before he could be secured. To the 
credit of the miners be it said that to comrades so 
afflicted — and the cases were numerous — they mani- 
fested the utmost leniency, and treated them with 
every kindness, watching them with patient self-denial 
night and day lest they should injure themselves or 
others. The offenders met their just fate. But why 
name a canon from a mad mule when there were so 
many mad men about? 

A Missouri^n named Holt, having made a little 
fortune in the mines at Weaver ville, was about ready 
to start for home. While making the necessary prepa- 
rations he was murdered a short distance from town. 
Suspicion fell upon a man named Michael Grant, who 
was arrested by the sheriff The miners seized the 
prisoner, and appointed from their numbers those to 
act as judge, prosecuting attorney, and prisoner's 


counsel. The trial was fairly conducted, responsible 
witnesses examined, and Grant was sentenced to be 
hanged. At his earnest request ten days were al- 
lowed him to arrange his business, and to prepare for 
death; he protested his innocence, and said that they 
would yet discover the guilty person. He received 
the ministrations of a Catholic clergyman, who was 
with him at the time of his death, October 5, 1852, 
when he was executed in the presence of a large con- 
course of people at Weaverville. 

The Chico Courant thus prays for a vigilance com- 
mittee in September, 1866: 

"Robberies and murders are getting to be every-day occurrences in thia 
state — altogether too frequent for the good health of the community. The 
fact is, as much as we are inclined to ' law and order, ' we have about arrived 
at the conclusion that ' law and order' is too slow a coach for these rascals. 
We recommend that the people of the state form themselves into a huge 
vigilance committee and take the matter of wiping out these villains into their 
own hands. Wholesome killing on a general plan is what is needed. " 

In 1853 there was in Eureka a small unpainted 
house, occupied by a Jew as a clothing and shoe store. 
The Jew was a large man of forty, who lived with a 
nephew of seventeen, his only companion. After 
several years of successful business the Jew sold 
everything and prepared to remove from the place. 
He was known as indefatigable in business and 
close in his expenditures, and it was generally con- 
ceded that he must have realized considerable money. 
This probability tempted three burglars, McDonald, 
Canosky, and another, to enter his store the night 
previous to his intended departure, murder the Jew 
and his nephew, and secure the money. An hour or 
two later a young man in Duff and Company's mill, 
going through the hall on the way to his room, 
stumbled over what at first he supposed a bag of 
shot, but on examination proved to be gold. There 
was a light in the next room, McDonald's, and he 
hurriedly entered to show his treasure and ask Mc- 


Donald what he supposed it meant. McDonald re- 
plied, "We've robbed the old Jew, and I must have 
dropped one of his bags in the hall; give it to me." 
This led to further questioning and a divulgenee of 
the truth, that the Jew had not only been robbed but 
killed. McDonald then acted like a man bereft of his 
senses. He eagerly told the story how Canosky, him- 
self, and another accomplice entered the store at mid- 
night. The Jew sat at a table writing, with his back 
to them, and the nephew was sleeping in another 
room. With a hatchet both the man and the boy 
were killed ; then taking their gold a distribution was 
made, and each man returned to his own home with 
his treasure. The story McDonald told was repeated 
to the authorities, and two of the murderers arrested ; 
and as there was no jail in Eureka at this time they 
were placed in a wooden building under guard. 

There was no violent demonstration by the people, 
but they acted according to their custom in such cases. 
They met and deliberated. The third villain was still 
at large, and their first effort must be to find him. 
Accordingly they invited everybody from all the 
neighboring country to meet with them at a desig- 
nated time. Then they adopted this novel expedient : 
They placed the murderers in a position where the 
crowd should pass them singly, and if they saw their 
accomplice they should indicate which he was. Many 
an innocent person paled as he passed under their scru- 
tiny, for should he be pointed out, to gratify a desire 
for revenge or from any other motive, he was a doomed 
man. Their confederate, however, v/as not among the 
number, or at all events was not designated by the 
prisoners, nor was he ever found. Immediately after- 
ward McDonald and Canosky were taken to a tal 
pine tree, where a crowd gathered and witnessed theii 
execution. And the waves still sound their requien 
on the beach where they were buried. 

Early in July, 1851, a vigilance committee wa 
formed at Nevada City, California. The attempted 


robbery of F. A. Houghton while on the way from 
Grass Valley to Buena Vista Ranch, together with 
other obnoxious doings, stimulated the action of the 
people. No part of the country was then safe apart 
from popular measures offensive to crime. 

To show the aim of the San Francisco Committee 
in its intercourse with the interior, and the influence 
which must necessarily have followed from it, I give 
the following letter: 

"San Francisco, July 28, 1851. 
''To the Committee of Vigilance, Nevada City: 

"Gentlemen: — In the name of the executive committee of the Commit- 
tee of Vigilance of San Francisco, and at the request of your friends, I en- 
close you a copy of our constitution. So far we have acted under it with 
success in punishing crime and bringing those in authority to a sense of their 
duty. Our great aim, gentlemen, is to remove corruption from high places, 
to advance the safety and interest of our adopted state, to establish justice 
and virtue, without which our fall and ruin would be certain. To secure in 
the future the great objects we have in view it would be well to look into the 
character and principles of those whom we would elevate to office, to drag 
out into light those who may be in office and guilty of corruption, who by 
their acts have produced so much evil. It is an old and popular doctrine, that 
it may be necessary to sacrifice the government to the people, but never the 
people to the government. That your course may be marked with prudence 
and justice, may God grant. Do not permit vindictiveness to enter into your 
deliberations. Be calm and determined ; swerve not to the right nor to the 
left, but go onward in your pursuit of right. Be of one mind, and carry your 
point. The might, majesty, and power of the people can overcome all im- 
pending evils ; like the thunders of heaven it will shake to naught all cor- 
ruptive influences, and drive its authors into oblivion. Let the motto of our 
fathers be ours to sustain and perpetuate — Virtue, Liberty. Let us show 
ourselves worthy of our origin, determined to sustain and support the blessed 
privileges bequeathed by them to us. The moment we render up one tittle of 
the sacred constitution under which we were bom, and which cost so much to 
obtain, and permit a small and corrupt minority to prescribe, we lose our 
caste, and our boasted institution will become the laughing-stock of the 
world. I have much confidence in the virtue and integrity of our brothers 
of the interior, that they will do what is right, and that in time. The blessed 
influences once enjoyed by them and us at our Atlantic homes may be felt 
and enjoyed throughout our Pacific homes, humbly trusting that the day is 
not far distant when we may pass from the north to the south, from the east 
to the west of our western possessions without fear or danger, and behold in 
every man a brother. Carry with us, brethren, the holy objects we have in 
view, and rest assu^-ed that erelong the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and 
the valleys will ^come redolent with charms which will so much endear 


them to us that we will not separate or leave them until we shall be called to 
mingle our clay with that of our loved and adopted country. 

' ' With deep consideration of respect and esteem, gentlemen, in the name 
of my colleagues I subscribe myself, 

"Your obedient servant, 

"S. J. Payban, 
** President Executive Committee." 

Near Grass Valley in May, 1857, on a hill whose 
side toward the setting sun was sprinkled with log 
cabins and shingle shanties, in a pine forest where the 
stumps of felled trees marked the progress of civiliza- 
tion, a band of rough, bushy-headed men, in felt hats, 
flannel shirts, and long boots, were gathered in council. 
After appointing by acclamation one to preside, a 
speaker mounted a stump to explain the object of the 
meeting: ''Certain men charged with having stolen 
a bag of gold dust from a store in their town are now 
in the custody of the sheriff and are about to be com- 
mitted to the Marysville prison for trial." A derisive 
laugh by the listeners, subsiding into a growl, followed 
this remark. ''Shall men suspected of crime be per- 
mitted to slip from our fingers and gain their liberty 
through process of law?" Those present manifested 
their dissent. "Then let a committee be appointed to 
move in the matter; let one of their number act as 
sheriflf, who with a chosen posse shall bring these 
prisoners before us." 

This was done. The committee was appointed by 
the president, who on these occasions can carry the 
company about where he chooses; a massive, sym- 
metrical figure, with broad brow and intelligent eye, 
a splendid specimen of a man — an American miner, 
fit for an American senator — stepped forth in answer 
to his name and immediately started on his mission. 

The people's sheriff' confronts the law's sherifl* and 
demands the men. The law's sherifif resists as in 
duty bound; indeed he mildly blusters, whereat the 
people's sheriff smiles and likes him none the less for 
that. With the prisoners the people's sheriff* reports 


that the authorities opposing him were finally over- 
come by superior numbers; and all present inwardly 
declare the authorities good fellows, who know so well 
how gently to oppose the people's will, and then and 
there resolve that they shall be reelected. 

A space is now cleared and the prisoners are seated 
on the ground in the ring thus made, with their cap- 
tors still standing over them. A court is formed, the 
president of the meeting acting as chief judge, and 
the committee before mentioned as a jury. Counsel 
are nominated for either side, who are paid by volun- 
tary contributions one hundred dollars each for their 
services. There are present officers of the law, who 
enter their protest, which is as idle wind, and seat 
themselves and socially enjoy the occasion as unin- 
terested spectators. An old man rises, and with gray 
head uncovered plainly tells the people they are doing 
wrong. The speaker is listened to respectfully, almost 
reverently, and then the work goes on. 

Witnesses for and against the prisoners are brought 
forward. The trial lasts two days; the prisoners are 
found guilty. Then one of them rises from the 
ground and confesses the crime. Having lost his last 
dollar at the monte table, he says, he drank to drown 
thought; and while intoxicated that man — pointing 
to one of his fellows still lying on the ground — tempted 
him to rob the trader s box. This the other stoutly 
denies; but when the sentence is fixed at thirty-nine 
lashes he ofiers to discover to them the money if they 
will remit the sentence. Part of the punishment the 
jury will remit on the conditions named, but not the 
whole of it; and so a compromise is effected. 

It rains next morning, and the wind blows cold for 
spring ; yet the people's burly big-brained sherifi* leads 
out the prisoners, strips them to the waist, ties them 
to a tree, scourges them, then casts them loose. 
Fainting they fall to the ground, curled by the whip- 
ping, sick, and moaning. They were tender thieves, 
or else the blows were exceptionally heavy. One, 


who had neglected to negotiate a mitigation of his 
penalty, dies. The others crawl away, no one knows 

In every Californian town not having died a natural 
death there are always a score or two of stirring 
business men of moral worth and substance. These 
are the nuclei of country committees of vigilance. 
These best men are usually supported by a less influ- 
ential class, but five or ten of the kind first mentioned 
are the life of every movement. 

Truckee in 1873 was one of the liveliest towns in 
California. The new overland railway brought to it 
money, merchandise, and activity ; but it also brought 
the bad element common to new prosperous localities. 
The good men were thinking seriously of banding to 
drive out the bad when a strange incident occurred 
which relieved the town on the instant of two of its 
worst characters. Jack White and Andy Fudgett 
had quarrelled. Meeting one day upon the street 
each emptied the chambers of his navy revolver into 
the body of the other. Both died. 

This spontaneous combustion of crime was a happy 
circumstance and a wholesome warning. For a time 
peace reigned at Truckee. But by November, 1874, 
villainy became unbearable, and the substantial citi- 
zens felt obliged to resolve themselves into a Com- 
mittee of Vigilance. This they did, with '601' as 
their sanguinary symbol. Orders to leave were issued 
and for the most part obeyed. Two, however, a man 
and a woman. Bob Mellon and Carrie Prior, alias 
Spring Chicken, refused to quit the town. Mellon 
used to boast of having fought a duel in San Fran- 
cisco with bowie-knives, Spanish fashion, the left arms 
of the combatants being bound together. The fair 
Carrie's hand was not unstained with human blood, 
and many men had been foolish enough to cut and 
shoot each other for her vile sake. Bob and Carrie 
must be made tj go; so one day orders were issued 


for the vigilants to meet at midnight. Foremost 
in energy and respectabihty among the citizens of 
Truckee was D. B. Frink, a prominent member of the 
Committee. Writing C. F. McGlashen on that day 
he says : " The vigilants have business on their 
hands to-night. If resistance is offered, blood may be 
shod." It was understood that the work in hand was 

Masked in black cloth, covering head, shoulders, 
and breast, with coats turned inside out, the small 
men padded to look large, and the large men, con- 
tracting their breath and stature so as to appear 
diminutive, the society of 601 met in the principal 
hall. They were well armed with concealed knives, 
pistols, and quiet determination. Carrie felt the 
approaching affray instinctively. She said they might 
come on, that in Hay ward's house, a place of bad 
repute situated on a back street, would be forty armed 
men to protect her. Mellon swore he would not be 
taken alive, and that he could kill at least a dozen 
vigilants before they could kill him. 

AVhen all was ready, silently the masked men left 
the hall, passed through a saloon, and surrounded 
Hayward's house. Four took their station at the 
back door. Thirty entered the front door, and de- 
manded of Hayward the surrender of the house. No 
opposition was made. Two or three drunken strag- 
glers found in the bar-room were permitted to go 
their winding way. Hayward w^as then ordered to 
open the door to every room. Closely at his heels 
followed the masked party. After examining the first 
floor they all proceeded through a narrow hall to the 
stairway, Hayw^ard being in front carrying a light. 
The threats of Carrie and Mellon had led the party 
to expect a certain attack, and their nerves were now 
stretched to their utmost tension. 

Suddenl}^ through a broken panel of the back door, 
which opened into the hall, a pistol was thrust, 
whose glittering barrel covered the whole line of 


vigilants. It was black darkness without, and as the 
vigilants were momentarily expecting attack there 
was no time to be lost; so that almost simultaneously 
with the appearance of the pistol-barrel shots were 
fired from behind. Hayward and one of the men at 
the back door fell dead. The search was continued; 
the town was cleared of its bad characters; but the 
result of the night's work sent a thrill of horror 
through the community, nevel* to be forgotten, when 
it was learned next morning that it was the honored 
and beloved Frink who was thus unintentionally killed 
by one of his own comrades. 

At Mokelumne Hill when on the night of July 3, 
1851, John Nelson entered the house of one Hall and 
shot him. The principle of vigilance was there, the 
law assisting, though the miners faintly comprehended 
the meaning of the term or its true significance. 
However, all believing it desirable and right, the 
legal judge and the miners en masse constituted the 
court, and at the close of the trial the judge did not 
scruple to ask of the crowd its verdict. About that 
time a case occurred at Yreka where a mob of miners 
attempted to take a sheriff's deputy from the jail. 
The citizens arose, armed themselves, and entered and 
defended the prison. 

On the streets of Mokelumne Hill a fatal assault 
was made the following Christmas. A man named 
James Campbell mounted a mule belonging to a 
Chilean, and was riding off, when a friend of its. 
owner, one Naides, stopped him and remonstrated 
in a quiet way, receiving in answer a blow from 
the bully, quickly followed by a knife-thrust in the 
Chilean's side, which caused immediate death, but 
not, however, until he had thrown his knife at Camp- 
bell, which, passing through the air a distance of ten 
yards, stuck in the wall of the Empire House. Camp- 
bell took refuge in a miner's cabin, but was pursued 
by Chileans, who fired several shots, wounding a 

Pop. Tbib.. Vol. I. 30 


number of by-standers. The crowd arrested Camp- 
bell, gave him a hurried trial, and pronounced him 
guilty of murder; but by a vote of the crowd he was 
to be delivered to the civil authorities. As the guard 
was about to remove him to the custody of the offi- 
cers, another motion was made, this time to liberate 
him, and he was released. He was afterward arrested 
by the authorities, but escaped, when the people in 
their indignation formed a vigilance committee, de- 
termined to see justice done. 

This Committee on the 30th of March, 1852, caught 
a Mexican cutting open tents and stealing gold dust, 
and thus argued: If handed over to the authorities 
he might, perhaps, be committed to the Jackson jail, 
where if he remained twenty-four hours it would be 
because he liked the accommodations and had no fear 
of being convicted; if whipped and turned loose, it 
was known from his previous bad character and vicious 
propensities that he would again resort to the same 
course; it was known that he had served several 
months in the chain-gang at San Francisco; if hanged, 
there would be one thief the less, and an awful warn- 
ing thus given to others guilty of like offences. So 
sentence of death was passed upon the man. Carlos 
Eslaves, for such was his name, received information 
of these proceedings with the utmost indifference. 
Being told that his execution would not take place 
until the following day, he requested a good bed, some 
good brandy, a good breakfast, and a priest, all of 
which were given him. The hour arrived, he lit a 
cigar, marched quietly to the place of execution, coolly 
talked with the people, confessed his crimes, and was 
launched into eternity. Within a month thereafter 
a. murderer was executed by the same Committee. 

A man arrested for murder in June, 1852, was ex- 
amined by the justice at Jackson and committed for 
trial at the next term of the district court. The 
Vigilance Committee had offered $300 for his ap- 
prehension, and having secured his arrest they were 


willing the law should take its course, meanwhile 
keeping a sharp eye upon it that it should not be 
subverted. This did not satisfy certain of the people, 
who took the prisoner from jail and hanged him. 
This is a fair illustration of the difference between 
a vigilance committee and a mob. Here in this 
town of Jackson were three several antagonistic 
powers laboring to secure the same end — a regularly 
constituted court of justice, a regularly organized 
committee of vigilance, and a passionate, revengeful, 
irresponsible mob. The Vigilance Committee of 
Mokelumne Hill, after having from an imperative 
sense of duty executed one criminal, and seeing the 
officers of the law sternly determined to do their duty, 
reorganized for the sole purpose of assisting legally 
constituted tribunals in the administration of justice. 

A vigilance committee w^as formed at Mariposa 
after the funeral of an old man had taken place whose 
violent death in March, 1854, had been caused by 
Thomas Cowan, a gambler. The Committee was com- 
posed of fifty of the most respected citizens, who de- 
termined that the prisoner should have justice shown 
him. A mob collected and protested that they would 
break the jail and hang Cowan; but the Vigilance 
Committee remonstrated and promised that the right 
should be maintained. A special grand jury found a 
true bill against Cowan, and the Committee remained 
in session until the close of the trial. 

The Sonora Vigilance Committee was composed of 
as good a set of fellows as ever strangled horse-thief 
They were diligent in search and terrible in sentences, 
though somewhat mild in their executions. Drink, it 
is said, brings to the surface the natural qualities of 
the man. It intensifies momentary feeling likewise. 
The mild it mellows and the vindictive it makes makes 
more hateful. As few country committees of vigil- 
ance long managed their business with parched throats, 


we may infer that the bark of the Sonora Committee 
was sometimes worse than its bite. 

Of its Vigilance Committee the Sonora Herald of 
July, 1851, thus speaks : 

"Investigations of the most important character have been made, and 
could we tell the good people of this community all that we have learned 
they would approve even more heartily than now of the organization. It is 
just what the necessities of the case require. Rascals having been driven by 
scores out of San Francisco, have taken refuge here in the mountains, and 
were there no vigilance committees to telegraph to each other and describe 
the outlaws they would commit a thousand depredations before our regular 
citizens would know anything about their character. They are now, however, 
under the special observation of an argus-eycd police, so numerous and so 
admirably organized that more criminals can be detected in a week than by 
the ordinary officers of the law in a month. It is gratifying to know that the 
whole community have the fullest confidence in this Committee. Indeed we 
know not how it could be otherwise. Composed as it is of the most orderly, 
moral, and intelligent citizens in the place, not a few in number, but nearly 
the entire body, men against whom no one has ever dared to whisper a re- 
proach, who have been marked by deeds of charity and mercy, and not by 
bloody acts of so-called heroism, every one feels and knows that such a body 
of men will do only what is right. They are cool and determined, and united 
as one man. The good of society and the paramount law of self-preservation 
have determined the path of duty, and they are men who never flinch where 
duty calls them to act." 

So busy were the Sonora Vigilance Committee for 
a season that their whipped and banished averaged 
one a day. They had a brand made by a blacksmith, 
H. T., which they burned into the flesh of the hip or 
cheek, according to the heinousness of the offence. 
Beside branding, the Sonora Committee seemed to 
possess a fancy for shaving heads or half heads. They 
had a bad element to deal with. On the 15th of 
July a Mexican was tried before them for stealing 
a horse. Most committees would have hanged him 
instantly. The man was large, muscular, and capable 
of much endurance; an ordinary whipping would be 
no more to him than the switching of a big boy by 
the school-mistress. The Committee thought it no 
more than right for them to give according to the 
prisoner's ability to receive. A hundred and fifty 


lashes and H. T. to be branded on the cheek was the 
verdict. The sentence, though they thought it severe, 
seemed necessary. At all events they might so far 
favor the culprit as to administer it in homoeopathic 
doses. So at the expiration of every twenty- five 
blows they permitted the recipient to rest; and finally, 
on his promising to quit the country, they remitted 
the branding. At another time, after administering 
one hundred and fifty lashes each to three horse- 
thieves and then shaving their heads, they collected 
a purse for them, that they might be delivered from 

On the 16th of September the Committee tried 
and convicted a Sydney convict for horse-stealing. 
The condemned was sentenced to receive on the 
bare back one hundred lashes and to have one half 
of the head shaved. The tender-hearted miners, 
however, paused, at the seventy-fifth blow and let 
the sufferer loose. Shortly before the Committee in- 
flicted seventy-five lashes and shaved the head of a 
Mexican for stealing a six-shooter. 

The Sonora Herald about this time, speaking 
of the arrests by this tribunal and the punishment of 
lashing, says: 

' ' We believe these are the first cases before the Committee for a long 
time; not that the diminution of crime is so great but that the courts 
under the new criminal organization arc fast superseding the want of a 
vigilance association. Rogues are now brought up and meet with speedy 
trials; justice is no longer tardy in its operations. We hope, now that this 
desirable change in the administration of law has been brought about, that 
the Committee will act as an adjunct to the authorities in the detection of 
crime, and hand over all cases to the courts for punishment. " 

At Tim's Garden, one mile from Columbia, in 
October, an honest old miner named Crowning was 
robbed of hard-earned gold dust to the amount 
of $600. He had left it in the pocket of a coat 
which he had thrown down beside his claim when he 
went to work in the morning, and at noon on look- 
ing for his coat it was missing. Suspicion fell on one 


W. E. Conkling, who had been seen hovering about 
the spot during the forenoon. Search was made, and 
the man found at a monte table with some of the 
dust still in his possession. He was only speculating 
with the funds of another, and would have paid it 
back if successful. He was tried by the Vigilance 
Committee of the place and given seventy-five lashes. 
Very moderate for Columbia in the year 1851. 

In the summer of 1858 the town of Visalia stood 
upon the frontier, somewhat remote from the more 
settled portions of California.