The vigilantes replace the police chief

On the same Wednesday as the arrest of Billy Carr, a plan was adopted for the reorganization of the vigilante police department. The executive committee would elect a chief and he would then nominate a lieutenant and five officers, all to receive salaries. A large majority chose James F. Curtis over current chief William Oscar Smith. The next day an unhappy Smith appeared before the committee to ask why he had been replaced. The committee decided then to rename Curtis as Director of Police, but with full power over the department. He could hire and fire whom he pleased.

James F Curtis, vigilante police chief

James F Curtis, vigilante police chief

Soon after this Smith was called again to answer a complaint from Joseph C. Palmer whose home had been searched the night before. It seems a man wearing a white hat, a trademark of Edward McGowan, had been seen entering the house and when it was reported to Smith that McGowan was hiding there he had sent his men to make the search. Smith testified that he did not even know the name of the man who provided the information, and his officers swore they acted on Smith’s orders. Smith took offence and offered a letter of resignation. The executive committee dismissed him as Chief of Police and also struck his name from the Committee of Vigilance rolls. A few days later, however, Smith was reinstated and appeared considerably less obtrusive afterwards. James F. Curtis assumed the title of Chief of Police and eventually became the first chief of the San Francisco Police Department.


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