The Governor interferes with the vigilantes

So far the legal authorities had not interfered with the work of the Committee of Vigilance, whose numbers continued to swell indicating the approval and support of the people. With the exception of one rarely read newspaper the press stood behind them, as did the clergy who, if they discussed the matter at all, expressed satisfaction. The hangings of Jenkins and Stuart had put terror into the hearts of the criminal element and little remained to be done, except for the disposition of two scalawags held by the committee. But there were still those who opposed the efforts of the committee and wished to cause a conflict with them. To further this aim they appealed to the Governor of California, John McDougal.

John McDougall

Samuel Whittaker and Robert McKinzie, associates of Stuart, had already been tried, convicted and sentenced to hang. They had confessed their crimes and were awaiting execution when, on August 20th, Governor McDougal issued a proclamation addressed to the people and citing the committee by name. He called for all good citizens to aid the police in their attempts to stop the committee from illegally operating in the place of the regularly organized government. In normal times the citizens would have found no fault with what McDougal had to say but, after the Governor had visited the committee’s headquarters and expressed his approval of it’s actions and the good they had done, many had reason to find fault with the Governor’s statement.

The hanging of Whittaker and McKenzie

But McDougal went even further in his actions against the committee. He ordered Sheriff John C. Hayes and a large posse to appear at the offices of the committee just before dawn on August 21st and take the two prisoners by force. Temporarily out numbered there was little the committeemen could do. But the bell at the California Engine House immediately called for full attendance at vigilance headquarters. It was now Thursday morning and by the time the committee assembled Whittaker and McKinzie were safely locked in jail.

The committee waited until the following Sunday. At half past two that afternoon both felons were attending religious services with the rest of the prisoners in the jail when thirty-six members of the committee forced their way into the congregation. Now the vigilantes had the upper hand, but they wanted nothing more than Whittaker and McKinzie who they threw into a coach and then headed full speed for the headquarters on Battery Street. The bell at the Monumental Engine Company began to ring and almost the entire population of San Francisco assembled along Battery Street. Over each of the two upper floor windows of the headquarters a block and tackle, used to haul supplies to the second floor, dangled from a projecting beam and within seventeen minutes the prisoners were hanging by the neck from these beams. At least six thousand residents were said to have witnessed the execution.

 

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