William H. Richardson murdered

Between six and seven o’clock Saturday evening, November 17, 1855, a little more than a month since the Evening Bulletin began publication and while the San Francisco public was thoroughly moved by the exposures James King had made, William H. Richardson, U.S. Marshal for the district of California, was shot and killed by the gambler Charles Cora.

Belle Cora house

The men had an altercation the night before over Cora’s mistress, a well-known prostitute named Belle Cora, and had met again this evening at the Blue Wing Saloon on Montgomery Street. Richardson appeared to be somewhat drunk and may have been quarrelsome but the two left together without attracting undue attention. They turned down Clay Street and walked toward Leidsdorff Street where they stopped in front of Fox & O’Conner’s Wholesale Liquor, now closed for the night. As they talked Cora was seen to grab the collar of Richardson’s coat. He then drew a small derringer pistol and stuck it to the marshal’s chest. Then Richardson, his hands at his side, told Cora not to shoot him because he was unarmed. But the pistol went off and Richardson fell dead. Cora walked on a little way before he was arrested and placed in the custody of the city marshal.

A typical Derringer

There were few people on the street at the time of the shooting but a large crowd soon gathered. When they learned that such a prominent man as Richardson had been murdered they turned angry. Richardson had come west from Washington City early in the gold rush. In 1851 he had been elected Quartermaster General of the California Militia. He was a delegate to the 1852 Democratic National Convention that nominated President Pierce and the next year was appointed US Marshal. He was only thirty-three years old and recently married.


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