Archives for March 2013

Ned McGowan tried

When Edward McGowan, indicted in San Francisco as an accessory before the fact to James Casey’s murder of James King of William, finally appeared in Sacramento he had the support of the Law and Order Party and was himself skilled at evading capture. After the killing he had hidden in San Francisco until June 27th when he slipped into San Mateo County and, by way of little used trails, made his way to the Refugio Rancho in Santa Barbara County on July 3rd. When news of his whereabouts reached the … [Read more...]

Vigilantes influence 1856 SF elections

In the election of November 1856 the People’s Party, the successor to the spirit and principles of the Committee of Vigilance, brought a whole new era into San Francisco and to some extent the state of California starting with a new mayor, Ephraim Willard Burr. With a goal of an honest and economical municipal government without selfish interest their candidates had been selected for honesty and integrity above all. Politics, nationality or religion was not important. It made no difference if a … [Read more...]

The final address of the vigilantes

The final address of the Committee of Vigilance was adopted in sections on August 26, 1856 and published in the newspapers the following day. It read like an open letter from the executive committee to the general body of the vigilantes and began by setting forth the condition of affairs before the committee formed where the ballot box had been dishonored, the law perverted, justice prostituted, government corrupted, life rendered unsafe for the public and the right of free speech and the … [Read more...]

Vigilante headquarters on display

Soon after their stunningly successful military parade, starting on August 21st and lasting through the 23rd, the Committee of Vigilance opened their headquarters, Fort Gunnybags, for inspection by the general population to further emphasize the intimate connection between the committee and the general public. Thousands of people visited the building, both residents of San Francisco as well as many who came from afar. The sand-bag fortifications in front had been removed but the cannon on the … [Read more...]

The last march of the vigilantes

All of the displays of the power of the Committee of Vigilance had been remarkable, most notably when Casey and Cora were taken from county jail and then when the law and order forces were overpowered and marched through the streets to vigilance headquarters. But in comparison with the August 18th parade they came to nothing. Even the townsmen prepared for it for several days prior, covering their houses with American flags and hanging banners across the roads. By nine o’clock on the morning of … [Read more...]

Vigilantes to suspend operations

The Committee of Vigilance lasted much longer than expected with a bigger burden on members, and particularly the executive committee, than anyone had anticipated. On June 18 a committee had been appointed to start the process of a speedy adjournment but three days later David Terry stabbed Sterling Hopkins and the entire situation changed. But on July 27th, after the Terry trial had been dealt with, a new committee on adjournment was appointed and on August 8th, the day after Terry’s release, … [Read more...]

The vigilantes banish their last man

After the execution of Hetherington and Brace and the release of David Terry the following week there was little left to attract the attention of the vigilance committee or to keep the excitement of the community. Though the black list still received some consideration, the hunting down and expulsion of bad characters had become commonplace and was considered a matter of course. Up to July 5th, just prior to the latest executions, only 2 men had been hung, one committed suicide, eleven had been … [Read more...]

The execution of Brace and Hetherington

On the afternoon of Tuesday July 29th a scaffold eight feet square and ten feet high with a trap door in the center and a cross beam seven and a half feet above it, was built on Davis Street between Sacramento and Commercial. Immediately crowds began to gather, so much so that the nearby rooftops were covered with onlookers. Several roofs collapsed from the weight but fortunately no one was hurt. Four to five thousand armed vigilante soldiers turned out into the streets, five deep around the … [Read more...]

The vigilantes try Hetherington

Thursday July 24th, the day after David Terry had been found guilty of assault on Sterling Hopkins, Joseph Hetherington shot and killed Dr. Andrew Randall in the office of the St. Andrews Hotel at Sansome and Commercial Streets. Born in England and in his mid-thirties, Hetherington had come to California in 1849 or 50 and had considerable wealth. On August 1, 1853 he had a dispute with Dr. John Baldwin over a lot on Greenwich Street. When Hetherington found Baldwin putting up a fence on the … [Read more...]

The vigilantes convict Philander Brace

After David Terry’s trial ended the next business before the executive committee was the trial of Philander Brace, a large, intelligent and reasonably well educated young man barely past twenty-one years old. He’d been arrested even before the stabbing of Sterling Hopkins and was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and attempted robbery of William Southwick at his home on Folsom and Fifth Streets and, along with a man named Marion, with the murder of Joseph B. West, a deputy police officer … [Read more...]