Archives for October 2011

Gunfight at Holdens Gardens

Crime was rampant in the area around Sonora and the more responsible members of the community were determined to stop it one way or another. In the incident over the Green’s Flat murderers the accused would likely have suffered serious consequences had not the rowdy and intemperate actions of the crowd and their open hostility to foreigners not produced a strong opposition from the better class of miners. And, because the new judicial system had just assumed office under a new state … [Read more...]

Murder at Greens Flat Diggings

On July 10, 1850 four Americans showed up in Sonora, Ca. with a Mexican and three Mexican Indians in tow who they accused of a horrible murder at Green’s Flat, some eight miles away. It was the third or fourth murder in the area within the last week and people were on edge. An angry crowd gathered and cries to hang the men were heard all around. They had been found burning a tent that held the bodies of two other men, but they claimed that it was their custom to burn the bodies of the dead and … [Read more...]

Rough and Ready

One of the first instances of a vigilance committee was in the Nevada County gold town of Rough and Ready, first settled in 1849. Because of the rich finds in the area there were soon thousands of men working there and in short order the number of thefts, robberies, violence and other outrages made the need for some form of government painfully apparent, but at that time there was no Alcalde, justice of the peace, mayor or any other peace officer any closer than Marysville, or Nye’s Landing as … [Read more...]

Mormon Island shooting

In October of 1849 an altercation between an unruly customer and a barkeep took place in a Mormon Island tent that served as a saloon. The customer, who perhaps had been there too long, was attempting to climb over the bar and the saloonkeeper was threatening to shoot him if he did. The threats resulted in an even more animated and disturbed customer who became very abusive as he advanced, so the barkeep shot him down. The crowd took the saloon keeper into custody and that evening a judge … [Read more...]

Hangtown hanging

That same year of 1849 a remarkable case occurred in Placerville, which already went by the name of Hangtown at the time, when a man known as Irish Dick waylaid and murdered a man he had previously had difficulties with at a gambling parlor in town. He was tried without delay and, as this was not his first offense and there was no doubt as to his guilt, it was determined that Dick would hang. They took him to the large oak tree along the creek that had already been used for a similar … [Read more...]

A home invasion in Stockton 1849

At the San Joaquin River city of Stockton in the fall of 1849 three men on a drunken revel entered the tent of a man from Chile and attacked his wife. Her husband ran them off but as they fled they managed to fire their pistols at the tent, though without hitting anyone. Two of the three culprits were soon apprehended and hauled before the local Alcalde and a jury where the case was heard and a verdict of fifty lashes for the principal offender and twenty for his cohort were decreed, to … [Read more...]

The roots of gold rush law

On the last Sunday in May, 1849 at Ford’s Bar on the Middle Fork of the American River two men got into a drunken fight. One struck the other with a crowbar so hard that he knocked him into the stream then jumped in himself and the two men grappled again in the water. The ruckus attracted their friends who, instead of separating the combatants, picked sides and squared off themselves. Soon knives were drawn and the whole set-to looked as if it would soon become bloody. Then a miner named Graham, … [Read more...]

Vigilante justice in the mines

One of the most significant occurrences of the early California gold rush, which sheds light on the character of the old miners and their efforts to administer justice and secure order as ill advised as this could sometimes be, were the irregular, spontaneous and sometimes violent proceedings known as lynch law, mob rule or vigilante justice. There were so many occurrences of mob rule, and most of it such a natural outgrowth of the conditions in the mining country at the time that, for a while, … [Read more...]

River pollution and mining law

In both the northern and southern mines farms were dug up and large tracts of arable land washed into sluice boxes in the quest for gold. Whole towns were moved so the locations where they had been built could be mined. But in 1851, along Nevada City’s Main Street, several miners planted themselves in the center of town determined to dig up the roadway for gold. A shopkeeper whose business would have been seriously affected put up a protest but the miners cited the superiority of the mines under … [Read more...]

Agriculture versus the mining laws

Conflicts inevitably developed between differing interests in the mining areas, and the rights claimed by the early miners to occupy and work ground that was currently in the possession of others is amply illustrated by a situation that arose near Grass Valley in 1850. Two men had a large field of meadowland that they had put a brush fence around, all with the purpose of mowing the two crops of hay the meadow would yield each year. Hay was a valuable commodity in those days and sold for eighty … [Read more...]