The killing of James King

James King left his editorial room at the Bulletin about five o’clock, or about an hour after his argument with James Casey. He turned off Merchant Street onto Montgomery, passed the Montgomery block at the corner of Washington Street. Here he crossed diagonally from the Bank Exchange to Pacific Express. James Casey, who had been pacing up and down Washington Street for some time, suddenly stepped out from behind an express cart pointing a large Colt Navy revolver at King’s chest and fired it. He was only a few feet away at the time, certainly no more than ten or fifteen. Witness said that he said something like “Are you armed, defend yourself,” or maybe, “Come on, I’m going to shoot.” However he gave King no chance at all to draw a weapon or defend himself. It was as treacherous and cowardly an assassination as ever happened in San Francisco.

The Shooting of James King

Navy Colt that killed James King

King uttered a word or two of surprise and pain, staggered forward and then was led to Pacific Express where he was placed in a chair. Soon a bed was found for him and several doctors were called. The pistol ball had entered his chest just above the left nipple and exited below the shoulder blade. The wound bled profusely and was quite painful. King was given anesthetics, the wound was dressed and bandaged and he managed to sleep for several hours. And while it was plain that King would not die immediately, he was in critical condition and little hope was held for his eventual recovery. The wound was, in fact, a mortal one. Casey and any conspirators he might have had, plus all the enemies King’s honest editorials had fostered, now had their wish. King’s voice had been silenced.


  1. What a saga! Your posts of James King would make for a great book.

    • And things are just starting to get hot in old San Francisco, Michelle. One shot from James Casey’s navy colt would signal the beginning of one of the most profound and least understood rebellions in American history, the Committee of Vigilance.

  2. Everything is starting to come together – enjoying these insights into history! Especially since the Committee of Vigilance played a prominent role in the politics of Yale during the Fraser River Gold Rush. On another note, would you recommend a history forum for the gold rush era? Thanks! 🙂

    • Yeah, Michelle, vigilance committees weren’t new even in 1856. One threw the gamblers out of Vicksburg in the 1830s, I think. That was the beginning of riverboat gambling on the Mississippi. Still, San Francisco’s committee was pretty awesome. You didn’t want to cross them.

      I’m not sure what you mean by a history forum. I’m not much for internet forums, if that’s what you’re looking for, and not many people know much about the California gold rush anyway. I bet you guys up north know more about the Fraser River rush than folks in California know about theirs.

  3. People may not know much about the California gold rush but with your blog your readers will want to know even more! It’s so fascinating to read about those extraordinary times.
    Not too many people know about the Fraser River gold rush compared to the Cariboo rush or the Klondike, but I enjoy doing the research on the Fraser River one because it coincides with the beginning of the Colony of BC and all the politics involved.

    • People do know more about the Klondike, maybe thanks to Jack London and they know about Deadwood thanks to HBO but if it hasn’t made TV it isn’t important. Unfortunately history is always important, and fun and exciting. I don’t know much about Fraser River, except where it affected California, so there you go.

  4. The Yakimabelle says

    In the modern era, even self-defense is described as “vigilantism”, as if it were always a bad thing. In some cases it was quite literally the only way for the general public to stop criminals aided and abetted by crooked politicians. The only sad thing about lynching Casey and crew is that they forgot Belle Cora.

    • The first SF Vigilantes were the people against regular criminals. The second was the people against corrupt government. When James King was shot by James Casey he would wind up in Billy Mulligan’s county jail with Charles Cora, the man who killed William Richardson. Cora already had a hung jury was still in jail for his own protection. The second coming of the vigilantes had not even happened when King was shot, but it was the final straw. The people rose up, and in a big way. Thanks for writing, Yakimabelle.

  5. The Yakimabelle says

    My paternal grandfather was part of the resistance to the Klan run government of an eastern Colorado county in the 1910s. The Klan tried to lynch him; but he and others fought back. They went out to a Klan rally and shot at all of the cars while the Klansmen were dancing around their little fire. They could then look at cars at the local church and in town on Saturdays and determine who was in the Klan. They then determined which politicians – including the sheriff – were Kluxers and ran opposition candidates. The local church split – the Klansmen became Congregationalists while the opposition remained Lutheran. Vigilantism can be a good thing.

    • Interesting bit of history, Yakimabelle. I agree, the people must, when their government becomes corrupt, take back their constitutional power of control over their own well being. The solution you gave was certainly a creative way of going about it.

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