Sacramento Squatters arrested

Hardin Bigelow

Hardin Bigelow

On August 13, 1849 James McClatchy was arrested with a man named Michael Moran for interfering with the sheriff in the attempt to execute a judgment of forcible entry and retainer from the Sacramento County Court against certain squatters. A justice of the peace ordered them held over to answer the charge and since they did not have the two thousand dollars bail they were jailed in the prison ship off Sacramento’s Embarcadero. The next morning as the sheriff executed another writ on Second Street he was confronted by about thirty squatters under the leadership of a man named John Maloney. Mounted on a horse and armed with a sword and pistol, he led his men, also with pistol and guns, to retake the property Sheriff Joseph McKinney had just seized. And after an exhortation from Maloney the squatters moved towards the waterfront with the intent to release the prisoners there.

When the authorities were informed of their intentions Hardin Bigelow, the mayor of Sacramento, called on the citizens to take up arms to defend the law.  He mounted his own horse and led a large assembly of armed citizens to the waterfront. After some hesitation the squatters, without making an attempt to free the prisoners, followed Maloney, his sword drawn, back up J Street pursued by a hooting, jeering crowd of townspeople. The mayor rode into the thickest part of the crowd and when asked what his orders were he replied that he wanted to arrest the mob of squatters. His speech received cheers and the men were willing to help in the arrests.

1849 Sacramento waterfront

Sacramento waterfront 1849

Finding they were followed by determined men the squatters turned at Fourth and J Streets to face Mayor Bigelow and the citizens. Sheriff McKinney and the Mayor demanded they throw down their arms and surrender. The citizens crowded forward. Maloney ordered the squatters to fire, crying out, “Shoot the Mayor.” The squatters fired their guns. So did the citizens. Then they rushed the squatters who broke and ran. Bigelow had been disabled and fell from his horse. His wounds were dangerous but not mortal. Two men had been killed and several others wounded including the squatter agitator Dr. Robinson.


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