Archives for November 2011

The Committee of Vigilance expands

At about the same time as the coroner’s jury issued its verdict blaming a number of prominent San Franciscans for the hanging of Jenkins, the Committee of Vigilance adopted a series of resolutions and issued them to the people in the form of an address. They said that robbers and arsonist had burned and at other times tried to burn parts of the city, attacked the people, broke into houses, and jeopardized lives and property. Many who had been arrested escaped their confinement through … [Read more...]

The execution of John Jenkins

Just one day after the formation of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance a man burglarized a store on the Commercial Street wharf and a small safe was taken. He was seen lugging a heavy sack down the street and pursued. He managed to jump into a boat but a dozen other boats set out after him and he was soon caught, but not before he tossed the sack overboard. Unfortunately for him the sack was found and hauled out of the water. Inside was the safe. He was taken to the committee room at Bush … [Read more...]

The Committee of Vigilance organizes

On June 9, 1851 the citizens of San Francisco, fed up with the out of control robberies, muggings, murders and arson related fires, as well as a city government that could not or would not control the situation, finally took matters into their own hands with the formation of the Committee of Vigilance. On June 13th the Alta newspaper printed the following statement, “WHEREAS it has become apparent to the citizens of San Francisco that there is no security for life and property, either under the … [Read more...]

A Committee of Vigilance

After the brutal robbery and assault on Charles Janson and the two trials that followed, it seemed that all of the outrage expressed by the good citizens of San Francisco should have served as a warning to the criminal elements that there was a line beyond which their activities would not be tolerated, but instead it had a contrary effect and made them bolder and even more defiant. Of the hundreds of men who had committed serious offenses not a single one had been executed and it still seemed … [Read more...]

The trial of Stuart and Windred

The most vocal member of the citizens committee that had been formed to deal with the issue of justice for Stuart and Windred, both accused of the brutal assault and robbery of Charles Janson in his store, was Sam Brannon. When it was proposed to try the two men in the regular way he opined that he was surprised to hear people talk of grand juries, mayors and recorders. He was tired of such talk. The prisoners were murderers as well as thieves. He knew it, and he would either die or see them … [Read more...]

San Francisco reacts to rampant crime

Something had to be done to stop crime in San Francisco. Those who lived outside the law did so without fear of punishment and the situation was getting worse. Some people proposed a committee of vigilance while others cried out for a volunteer police force, but nothing was done. Pubic indignation had not yet reached the critical level needed for meaningful change to come about. Then an event that would become a major catalyst for reform occurred in February 1851 when a man came into Charles … [Read more...]

San Francisco, 1851, a den of thieves

By the spring of 1851 the situation in San Francisco had become intolerable. The blackguards were on the rise. Crimes from pick pocketing to murder were common and there were so many emboldened desperadoes that no man was secure either in his property or his life. Thefts, robberies, burglaries, arson and assassinations were daily events and happened more and more often. And the arrival of every ship from across the sea and each steamboat or express shipment that came down from the mines only … [Read more...]

The town that lynched a woman

It was July 4th, 1851 and John B. Weller, soon to be a United States Senator and later the Governor of California, was scheduled to give a speech in Downieville. Miners flooded into town from camps all over the area. After the scheduled events there was a lot of drinking and carousing and, as evening fell, the crowd began to stagger through the streets, hooting and howling, beating on houses, and breaking into a door here and there. One of the residences they attacked was that of a woman named … [Read more...]

Murder at Slate Creek

A man named McDonald, the owner of the Slate Creek House near Pine Grove in Sierra County, was playing cards one night with his cook and three other men from the area when one of them struck him over the head with an iron pipe. The others then finished McDonald off, probably with an axe, and buried his body in a shallow hole not far away. They ransacked the house and stole all the money they could find, which came to only about four hundred dollars. Then the three other men went back to Canyon … [Read more...]

Justice at Rich Bar

Sonora and the Southern mines were not the only places in the gold country where summary justice was practiced. On the North Fork of the Feather River, at the boomtown of Rich Bar, a Swede named Little John, a waiter at the Empire House, stole four hundred dollars from his employer. He was caught, tried, and sentenced to thirty-nine lashes and banished from the region. Flogging was a common punishment for thieves but it was used mostly as a compromise. Stealing was looked on as more serious than … [Read more...]