San Francisco militia joins the vigilantes

The tide of public opinion settled strongly in favor of the Committee of Vigilance and grew more irresistible with all the support that poured into the city. Sheriff Scannell and those with him found themselves deserted by many who had at first shown a disposition to resist an attack on the county jail and the seizure of Casey and Cora. Sometime during the night after the shooting a large party of those defending the jail went to the steamers Goliath and Sea Bird docked at the Pacific Street wharf and took a cannon from each and moved them back to the jail where they set them up at strategic locations. Meanwhile many muskets and other firearms were collected by police from the armories and gun shops in town and delivered to the jail for use by those willing to defend it.

San Francisco Sheriff David Scannell

Sheriff David Scannell

It soon became clear that the volunteer military were on the side of the people and the committee. Their first response, when called by Mayor Van Ness, had been tepid at best. Those who did respond had done so reluctantly and by the next day, now informed that they had acted against the wishes of nine tenths of the population, and discovering that their arms had been removed without their knowledge or consent, refused to further guard the jail, then disbanded their units and returned to civilian dress. Most of these men joined the committee, helping to make that organization a more efficient military corps.

Members of San Francisco's Militia 1856

San Francisco militia members

There were rumors that when Mayor Van Ness heard of this rebellion he feared that an immediate attempt to free Casey from the jail would be made and thus pled with the commander of a revenue cutter in the San Francisco harbor to take the killer onboard for greater protection, but his request was refused. The popular reason bandied about was that the officers did not fancy the character of the guest Van Ness had tried to thrust upon them, but most likely the refusal was because the captain had no warrant to do anything of this kind. Whatever the true circumstance it is certain that the Mayor telegraphed Governor John Neely Johnson in Sacramento to come down to San Francisco as quickly as possible and use his influence and political power to quell the disturbances and put a stop to the unrest.


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