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´╗┐Title: A Sketch of the Causes, Operations and Results of the San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1856
Author: Webb, Stephen Palfrey, 1804-1879
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Sketch of the Causes, Operations and Results of the San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1856" ***


By Stephen Palfrey Webb


Stephen Palfrey Webb was born in Salem on March 20, 1804, the son of
Capt. Stephen and Sarah (Putnam) Webb. He was graduated from Harvard
in 1824, and studied law with Hon. John Glen King, after which he
was admitted to the Essex Bar. He practiced law in Salem, served as
Representative and Senator in the Massachusetts Legislature, and was
elected Mayor of Salem in 1842, serving three years. He was Treasurer of
the Essex Railroad Company in the late forties.

About 1853, he went to San Francisco, where he resided several years,
serving as Mayor of that city in 1854 and 1855. It was during this time
that he witnessed the riotous mobs following the Gold Rush of 1849, and
upon his return Salem made notes for a lecture, which he delivered in
Salem; and later, with many additions, prepared this sketch, probably
about 1874. He was again elected Mayor of Salem, 1860-1862, and City
Clerk, 1863-1870. He died in Salem on September 29, 1879. On May 26,
1834, he married Hannah H. B. Robinson of Salem.

There have been several accounts of the activities of the Vigilance
Committee, but this is firsthand information from one who was on the
ground at the time, and for this reason it is considered a valuable
contribution to the history of those troublous days. It certainly is a
record of what a prominent, intelligent and observing eye-witness saw
regarding this important episode in the history of California. The
original paper is now in the possession of his granddaughter, Mrs.
Raymond H. Oveson of Groton, Massachusetts.

Many of the evils which afflicted the people of San Francisco may be
traced to the peculiar circumstances attendant upon the settlement of
California. The effect all over the world of the discovery of gold at
Sutter's Mill in 1848 was electric. A movement only paralleled by that
of the Crusades at once commenced. Adventurers of every character and
description immediately started for the far away land where gold was to
be had for the gathering. The passage round Cape Horn, which from the
earliest times had been invested with a dreamy horror, and had inspired
a vague fear in every breast, was now dared with an audacity which only
the all absorbing greed for gold could have produced. Old condemned
hulks which, at other times, it would not have been deemed safe to
remove from one part of the harbor to another, were hastily fitted up,
and with the aid of a little paint and a few as deceptive assurances of
the owners, were instantly filled with eager passengers and dispatched
to do battle, as they might, with the storms and perils of the deep
during the tedious months through which the passage extended. The
suffering and distress consequent upon the packing so many human beings
in so confined a space; the miserable quality and insufficient quantity
of the provisions supplied; the weariness and lassitude engendered by
the intolerable length of the voyage; the ill-temper and evil passions
so sure to be roused and inflamed by long and forced companionship
without sympathy or affection, all tended to make these trips, for the
most part, all but intolerable, and in many cases left feelings of hate
and desire for revenge to be afterwards prosecuted to bloody issues.

The miseries generally endured were however sometimes enlivened
and relieved by the most unexpected calls for exertion. A passenger
described his voyage from New York to San Francisco in 1849, in company
with several hundred others in a steamer of small size and the most
limited capacity in all respects, as an amusing instance of working
one's passage already paid for in advance. The old craft went groaning,
creaking, laboring and pounding on for seven months before she arrived
at her destination. Short of provisions, every sailing vessel that
was encountered was boarded for supplies, and almost every port on the
Atlantic and Pacific was entered for the same purpose. Out of fuel,
every few days, axes were distributed, and crew and passengers landed to
cut down trees to keep up steam for a few days longer. He expressed his
conviction that every point, headland, island and wooded tract on the
coast from the Cape to San Francisco had not only been seen by him, but
had resounded with the sturdy blows of his axe during the apparently
interminable voyage. His experience, with the exception of the axe
exercise, was that of thousands.

The extent to which the gold fever had impelled people on shipboard
may be judged by the facts that from the first of January, 1849, five
hundred and nine vessels arrived in the harbor of San Francisco; and the
number of passengers in the same space of time was eighteen thousand,
nine hundred and seventy-two. Previous to this time, one or two ships
in the course of a year found their way through the Golden Gate and
into the beautiful harbor of San Francisco in quest of hides, horns and
tallow, and gave languid employment to two or three Americans settled
on the sand hills, and engaged in collecting these articles of trade and
commerce. In the closing days of 1849, there were ninety-four thousand,
three hundred and forty-four tons of shipping in the harbor. The stream
of immigration moved over the Plains, likewise; and through privation,
fatigue, sickness, and the strife of the elements, passed slowly and
painfully on to the goal of their hopes.

Thus pouring into California in every direction and by every route,
this strange and heterogeneous mass of men, the representatives of every
occupation, honest and dishonest, creditable and disgraceful; of every
people under the sun, scattered through the gulches and ravines in the
mountains, or grouped themselves at certain points in cities, towns and
villages of canons or adobe. Perhaps never in the world's history did
cities spring into existence so instantaneously, and certainly never was
their population so strangely diverse in language, habits and customs.
Of course gamblers of every kind and color; criminals of every shade and
degree of atrocity; knaves of every grade of skill in the arts of fraud
and deceit abounded in every society and place. In these early times
gold was abundant, and any kind of honest labor was most richly and
extravagantly rewarded. The honest, industrious and able men of every
community, therefore, applied themselves strictly to business and would
not be diverted from it by any considerations of duty or of patriotism.
Studiously abstaining from politics; positively refusing to accept
office; shirking constantly and systematically all jury and other public
duty, which, onerous in every community, was doubly so, as they thought,
in that new country, they seemed never to reflect that there was a
portion, and that the worst, of the population, who would take advantage
of their remissness, and direct every institution of society to the
promotion of their own nefarious purposes.

Absorbed in their own pursuits, confident that a short time would enable
them to realize their great object of making a fortune and then leaving
the country, the better portion of the community abandoned the control
of public affairs to whoever might be willing or desirous to assume
it. Of course there was no lack of men who had no earthly objection to
assume all public duties and fill all public offices. Politicians void
of honesty and well-skilled in all the arts of intrigue, whose great end
and aim in life was to live out of the public treasury and grow rich by
public plunder, and whose most blissful occupation was to talk politics
in pot houses and groggeries; men of desperate fortunes who sought
to mend them, not by honest labor, but by opportunities for official
pickings and stealings; bands of miscreants resembling foul and unclean
birds which clamor and fight for the chance of settling down upon and
devouring the body to which their keen scent hag directed them; all were
astir and with but little effort obtained all that they desired. The
offices were thus filled by rapacious and unscrupulous men. The agents
who had helped to elect them, or impose them upon the people by
fraud, were supported and protected in their villainies; and in the
consciousness of impunity for crime, walked the streets heavily armed
and ready on the instant to exact a bloody revenge for an interference
with their infamous schemes, or an attempt to bring them to merited

In San Francisco the effects of all this were visible at an early
period in the prevalence of crime and outrage; in the laxity with which
offenders were prosecuted; in the squandering of public property; the
increasing burden of taxation; and the insecurity of life and property.
Now and then when the evils of the system weighed with the most
depressing effect upon the business part of the community, some
spasmodic effort for a time produced a change. But a temporary check
only was applied. The snake was scotched, not killed. The ballot box
upon whose sanctity, in a Republican government must the liberties of
the people depend, was in the hands of the pliant tools of designing
politicians, or of desperate knaves ready to bargain and sell the result
of the election to the party or individuals who would pay the largest
sum for it. By such infamous arts had many officials of law and justice
been placed in situations of trust and power. Could it reasonably
be expected that they would honestly and fairly apply the law to the
punishment of the friends who had given them their offices, when they
added to these crimes against society, the scarcely more flagrant ones
of robbery and murder? If it was possible, the people did not believe
it would be done. They saw enough to convince them that it was not done.
They saw an unarmed man shot down and instantly killed in one of the
most frequented streets of the city while endeavoring to escape from
his pursuer. They saw the forms of trial applied in this clear case, and
after every quibble and perversion of law which ingenuity could devise
had been tried, the lame and impotent conclusion arrived at of a verdict
of manslaughter, and a sentence for a short period to the State Prison.
They saw a gambler, while quietly conversing with the United States
Marshal in the doorway of a store on Clay Street, draw a revolver from
his pocket and slay him upon the spot. They heard that gamblers and
other notorious characters, his associates and friends, had raised large
sums; that able lawyers had been retained for his defense; and then that
his trial had ended in a disagreement of the Jury, soon to be followed,
as they believed, by a nolle prosequi, and the discharge of the red
handed murderer. They saw an Editor, for commenting on a homicide in the
interior of the State, committed by a man claiming to be respectable,
and followed by his acquittal in the face of what appeared to be the
clearest evidence of his guilt; assaulted by the criminal in a public
street in San Francisco, knocked down from behind by a blow on the head
from a loaded cane, and beaten into insensibility, and, as seemed, to
death; while three of the assailant's friends stood by, with cocked
revolvers, threatening to slay anyone who should interfere. Again
they saw the farce of trial resulting, as every one knew it would, in
acquittal. At length, so confirmed and strengthened were villains by
the certainty of escape from punishment, that they did not even trouble
themselves to become assured of the identity of their victims. A worthy
citizen in going home through Merchant Street between eight and nine
o'clock in the evening was approached from behind by a person who,
pressing his arm over his shoulder thrust a knife into his breast.
Luckily the knife encountered in its passage a thick pocket memorandum
book which it cut through, and but for which, he would have lost his
life. The intended assassin undoubtedly mistook him for another person
whom he somewhat resembled. A few days after a gentleman passing by the
Oriental Hotel heard the report of a pistol, and was sensible of the
passage of a ball through his hat in most uncomfortable proximity to
his head. A person immediately stepped up to him saying, "Excuse me, I
thought it was another man."

The ally of the people in times of difficulty and danger, the Press,
seemed subservient from choice to this vile domination, or overawed and
controlled by it. Experience had proved that its conductors could be
true, bold, effective only at the peril of their lives. More than one
had suffered in his person the penalty of his allegiance to truth and
duty; until at length intimidated and desponding, they had ceased to
struggle with the spirit of evil....

One man upon whom public attention was now turned, and whom the people
of the City and State began to regard as their champion and deliverer,
was James King of William, and he was no common man. He was born in
Georgetown, D. C., in January, 1822, and was therefore thirty-four years
old at the time of his death. Having received a common school education,
he was placed at an early age in the banking house of Corcoran & Riggs
at Washington City where he remained many years. His health at length
failing from steady application to business and conscientious devotion
to his employer's interests, he was induced to seek its restoration in
the invigorating climate of California. He arrived in the country just
previous to the discovery of gold. The marvelous growth of City and
State soon required facilities for the transaction of business, and he
became a resident of San Francisco, and established the first banking
house in that City. For several years he was eminently successful in
business; and his strict honesty and integrity secured for him the
abiding confidence and respect of the business community. But the sudden
and extreme depression in business in 1855 closed his doors as well
as those of many other bankers and merchants. By the surrender to his
creditors of all he possessed, even his homestead, which, to the value
of five thousand dollars, the laws of California allowed him to retain,
and which might well be coveted by him as a home for his wife and six
children; every claim against him was promptly met and discharged.
Retaining amidst all his reverses, the respect of all who knew him, he
engaged as a clerk in the banking house of Adams & Co. where most of his
old customers followed him, induced to do so by their confidence in
him. After the failure of that firm, he was for some time out of active
employment. But compelled by the necessities of a large family to seek
it, he determined to establish a daily newspaper and take upon
himself the editorial charge of it. For such an undertaking, his large
experience in business, his resolute spirit, his sound judgment,
his keen insight into character, his lofty scorn and detestation of
meanness, profligacy, peculation and fraud, eminently fitted him. The
paper, the Evening Bulletin, was first issued on the eighth day of
October, 1855. From that day to the day of his death, he devoted all his
faculties most faithfully and conscientiously to the exposure of
guilt, the laying bare gigantic schemes for defrauding the public,
the denouncing villains and villainy in high or low station, and the
reformation of the numerous and aggravated abuses under which the
community was and had long been groaning. Day after day did he assail
with dauntless energy the open or secret robbers, oppressors or
corruptors of the people. Neither wealth nor power could bribe or
intimidate him. It would be difficult to conceive the enthusiasm with
which the People hailed the advent of so able a champion, and
the intense satisfaction with which they witnessed his steadfast
perseverance in the cause of truth and the right.

At length, on the fourteenth day of May 1856, the anxious fears and
gloomy forebodings of his family and friends were realized.... His
assassin, James P. Casey, was well-known and of evil repute in the City.
Bold, daring, and unscrupulous, his hand was ever ready to execute the
plans of villainy which his fertile brain had conceived. Sentenced in
New York to imprisonment for grand larceny in the State Prison at Sing
Sing for the term of two years, and discharged when that term had nearly
expired; he soon after sailed for California. Shortly after his arrival,
he was chosen Inspector of Elections in the Sixth Ward of San Francisco.
Here he presided over the ballot box, and was generally believed to have
accomplished more ballot box staffing, ticket shifting and false
returns than any other individual in the City or State. He made, as was
generally believed, his office a means of livelihood, and held the City
and County offices in his hands to be disposed of in such manner as
might best promote his interest or fill his pockets. Year after year by
this means he was accumulating money, until he was reputed to have made
a fortune, although never known by the people to have been engaged in
any honest industrial occupation in California. For the purpose perhaps
of adding the levy of blackmail to his other modes of accumulation, he
established a newspaper, called the Sunday Times, and without principle,
character or education, assumed to be the enlightener of public opinion
and the conservator of public morals. During the few months of its
existence, the paper was conducted without ability; advocated no good
cause; favored no measures for promoting the public interest or welfare;
attained no measure of popularity; and its discontinuance inspired no
regret, but was felt rather to be a relief.

The thought seems now to have suggested itself that having been so long
the distributor of offices to others he might well assume it himself;
and thus while obtaining position in society, enlarge his sphere of
operations in plundering the public. Accordingly a ballot box at the
Presidio Precinct in the suburbs of the City was so arranged or presided
over by friends or pliant tools, that four or five days alter the
election, the law being conveniently silent as to the time which might
be consumed in counting votes and making the return, it was made to turn
out James P. Casey a member of the Board of Supervisors of the County,
although not known to have been a candidate for the office at the Polls
on the day of election. In this responsible position, he could find his
way on important Committees, be able to squander the resources of
the County, and by his vote and influence assist in passing the most
exorbitant claims, of which, it is to be presumed, he received a
satisfactory percentage.

So high-handed an offender against the law and the rights of the people
could not escape the notice or the withering rebuke of Mr. King. He
fearlessly proclaimed him a convicted felon, and dealt with him as one
of the principal of those offenders against all law, human or divine,
with whom San Francisco had been so long and so terribly cursed.

The Bulletin of May 14th, in which the charges founded upon the most
incontrovertible evidence, of Casey's conviction, sentence and discharge
from Sing Sing, was made in the plainest terms accompanied with comments
upon his ballot-box stuffings and other criminal acts in San Francisco,
was published at an early hour in the after noon. At four o'clock Casey
called at the Editor's room and demanded of Mr. King what he meant by
the article in the Bulletin just issued, and was asked to what article
he alluded? "To that" was the reply, "in which I am said to have been
formerly an inmate of Sing Sing State Prison." "Is it not true?" said
King. Casey replied, "That is not the question. I don't wish my past
acts raked up; on that point I am sensitive." King then pointed to the
door which was open, and told him to leave the room and never enter
there again. Casey moved to the door saying, "I'll say in my paper what
I please." To which King replied "You have a perfect right to do as you
please. I shall never notice your paper." Casey said, "If necessary, I
shall defend myself." King, rising from his seat, said, "Go, and never
show your face here again." Casey immediately retired.

At five o'clock, his usual dinner hour, Mr. King left his office. With
his arms crossed under his Taima, as was his wont, and his eyes cast
down, he passed along Montgomery Street apparently in deep thought, and
at the corner of Washington Street began to cross the street diagonally.
When about half across, Casey stepped from behind an Express wagon,
dropped a short cloak from his shoulders, and uttering a few words, the
only ones heard by Mr. King, as he said on his death bed, being "Come
on," immediately discharged one barrel of a large revolver into Mr.
King's breast. Mr. King drew himself up, and then made a slight motion
sideways, indicating plainly to the few persons in sight at the time,
that he was hit. The spectators immediately ran in towards him, and
assisted him into and seated him in the Express Office. He was badly
wounded in the left breast, and was apparently in a dying condition.

In the meantime Casey was hurried by his friends and the Police to the
Station House in the City Hall, and from thence, when the demonstrations
of the immense multitude of infuriated citizens became awfully
threatening, in a close carriage, to the Prison on Broadway, where,
within stone walls, he might, as he did, receive the visits an
congratulations of his admirers and the haters of the good man, whom he
had slain; and lay his plans for eluding justice as so many before him
had done. But he reckoned without his host. His hour had struck. The
Avenger was on his trick, never more to lose sight of him till he had
forced him to a speedy, public and ignominious death. The People, whom
he had so long abused and deprived of their rights, as at last almost to
have learned to ignore their very existence, had reached that point at
which forbearance had ceased to be a virtue. Through the City darted
with the speed of light the intelligence of his crime; and to the scene
of it rushed from all the streets, lanes and by ways of the City, with
wild haste and fearful imprecations, the thousands upon thousands whom
that word of fearful import had filled with sorrow, hate and desperate
resolve. Filling every street and avenue in the neighborhood with the
innumerable multitude which swayed to and fro like the tempest tossed
waves of ocean; the main body continued for hours, loading the air with
hoarse murmurs or angry shouts; detachments breaking off from time to
time to rush with frantic speed and hurl themselves successively but
impotently upon the iron doors and stone walls of the Station House or

During the evening, so threatening became the demonstrations of the
people that every effort was made by the authorities to reinforce the
Police. Armed men were dispatched from time to time to be stationed
around and on the top of the Jail. They were received, as they made
their way through the dense mass with hootings and execrations. The
Mayor vainly endeavoured to obtain a hearing, and to calm the fiery
passion of the multitude. With wild rage, fruitless clamor and
ineffective effort, that great crowd waited impatiently but vainly for
some leader to give direction to their energy. At half past eleven
a mounted battalion consisting of the California Guards, First Light
Dragoons and National Lancers, were mustered, supplied with ammunition,
and marched off to the Jail, where they did duty during the night.
The safety of the Prison being now provided for, the people quietly
dispersed to their homes, not, however, until a Committee, consisting of
Messrs. Macondry, Palmer and Sims in whom they had confidence had been
sent in, and reported to them that the prisoner was securely locked in a
cell within it.

Meantime, amid this wild tumult of the people, a number of merchants and
other prominent and influential citizens had assembled in a store in
the lower part of the City, and there after full consideration of the
intolerable condition of affairs, it was resolved forthwith to organize
a Vigilance Committee. At an early hour the next morning another meeting
was held and a Constitution adopted, the publication of which was
sometime after sanctioned by the Executive Committee.

This Instrument was deliberately approved, and was subscribed by several
thousand citizens of San Francisco, who, in action under it, periled
life and fair fame. The following extracts from it will show the
causes of the movement; and the ability and determination of those who
inaugurated and prosecuted it to its final issue:

Whereas it has become apparent to the citizens of San Francisco that
there is no security for life or property either under the regulations
of society, as it at present exists, or under the laws as now
administered, and that by the association of bad characters our ballot
boxes have been stolen and others substituted, or stuffed with votes
that were never polled, and thereby our elections nullified; our dearest
rights violated; and no other method left by which the will of the
people can be manifested; therefore, the citizens whose names are
hereunto attached, do unite themselves into an association for
maintenance of the peace and good order of society; the prevention and
punishment of crime; the preservation of our lives and property; and
to insure that our ballot boxes shall hereafter express the actual and
unforged will of the majority of our citizens; and we do bind ourselves
each to the other by a solemn oath to do and perform every just and
lawful act for the maintenance of law and order, and to sustain the laws
when properly and faithfully administered. But we are determined that
no thief, burglar, incendiary, assassin, ballot box stuffer, or other
disturber of the peace shall escape punishment, either by the quibbles
of the law, the insecurity of prisons, the carelessness or corruption
of the police, or the laxity of those who pretend to administer justice;
and, to secure the objects of this association, we do hereby agree,
that the name and style of the Association shall be "The Committee of
Vigilance, for the protection of the ballot box, the lives, liberty, and
property of the citizens and residents of the City, of San Francisco."

That there shall be Rooms for the deliberations of the Committee
at which there shall be some one or more members of the Committee,
appointed for that purpose, in constant attendance at all hours of the
day and night to receive the report of any member of the association or
of any other person or persons whomsoever of any act of violence done
to the person or property of any citizen of San Francisco; and if in the
judgment of the member or members of the Committee present, it be such
an act as justifies or demands the interference of this Committee,
either in aiding in the execution of the laws, or the prompt and summary
punishment of the offender; the Committee shall be at once assembled for
the purpose of taking such action as a majority of them, when assembled,
shall determine upon.

That whereas, an Executive Committee has been chosen by the General
Committee, it shall be the duty of the said Executive Committee to
deliberate and act upon all important questions and decide upon the
measures necessary to carryout the objects for which the association was

That whereas this Committee has been organized into subdivisions;
the Executive Committee shall have power to call, when they shall
so determine, upon a Board of Delegates, to consist of three
representatives from each division to confer with them upon matters of
vital importance.

That the action of this body shall be entirely and vigorously free
from all consideration of, or participation in the merits or demerits,
opinions or acts, of all sects, political parties, or sectional
divisions in the community and every class of orderly citizens, of
whatever sect, party or nativity may become members of this body.
No discussion of political, sectional or sectarian subjects shall be
allowed in the Rooms of the Association.

That no person accused before this body shall be punished until after
fair and impartial trial and conviction.

That whenever the General Committee have assembled for deliberation, the
decision of the majority upon any question that may be submitted to them
by the Executive Committee shall be binding upon the whole; provided
nevertheless, no vote inflicting the death penalty, shall be binding
unless passed by two thirds of those present and entitled to vote.

That all good citizens shall be eligible for admission to this
body under such regulations as may be prescribed by a Committee on
qualifications; and if any unworthy persons gain admission, they shall,
on due proof, be expelled. And, believing ourselves to be executors of
the will of a majority of our citizens; we do pledge our sacred honor to
defend and maintain each other in carrying out the determined action of
this Committee at the hazard of our lives and our fortunes.

By this Constitution, it will be seen that the responsibility of
deliberating upon the subjects which demanded the interference of the
Vigilance Committee was devolved upon the Executive Committee consisting
of twenty-three persons. Of this Committee, the largest number were
merchants, but most of the professions and occupations were represented
on it. Many of its members were men of large fortune and extensive
business; all of them were men of standing and good character, and
possessing the confidence and respect of the community. All sects in
religion, and parties in politics had representatives among them. They
were shrewd, sagacious, business men; never seeking office; having no
taste for excitement; desiring only to be protected in their rights, and
to be able to devote their energies uninterruptedly to their business.
Only a sense of intolerable wrong and oppression could have induced such
men to leave their employments and engage in so anxious, laborious and
perilous an undertaking. Having assumed the task, never did men devote
themselves more entirely to the discharge of the duties which it
imposed. Freely at all times did they contribute their money to defray
expenses incurred. Faithfully did they dedicate all their forecast,
sagacity and wisdom to insure success; upon which indeed, their
fortunes, and lives depended, and which a single mistake might involve
the loss.

The writer of this sketch was never more profoundly impressed than when,
on two occasions, he was summoned, at half past twelve and two o'clock
in the morning to the Executive Chamber as a witness. The room was
of the plainest, even rudest, appearance. A semi-circular table was
liberally supplied with stationary, and around it sat gravely, with
faces paled by long continued vigils, anxious thought and awful
responsibility a few individuals, some of whom he recognized, and knew
to be quiet, humane, order-loving men. On a raised platform sat the
President, and in front of him the Secretary. These few grave men,
seen at so late an hour, by dim candle lights, the leaders of an armed
insurrection, usurpers of all power, rule and supremacy in a City of
at least sixty thousand inhabitants; whose commands thousands of their
armed fellow citizens obeyed implicitly; who, in disregard of all law,
arrested, imprisoned, tried and executed offenders; but whose power,
boundless and undisputed as it seemed, rested solely on the conviction
of their fellow men that they were just, wise, patriotic and true;
would faithfully administer the despotic power of which they were
the depositaries; and cheerfully resign it whenever the work of the
regeneration of society was accomplished. If this conviction should be
shaken, the association must instantly be dissolved and each of these
leaders and directors of it be left to die upon the scaffold. Well might
any person of the slightest sensibility look on such a body of men with
the utmost interest and curiosity, and in the contemplation be filled
with deep and solemn thought.

The Constitution likewise provided for a Board of Delegates, with
whom the Executive Committee might confer whenever matters of vital
importance should require it. This body was organized by the choice by
each company of two of its members, who, with the Captain, should be its
Delegates. When the military organization of the force was completed,
the field officers were added to the Board of Delegates; and when the
organization included many regiments, the number of Delegates was of
course larger. Whenever the death penalty had been decided upon by the
Executive Committee, the whole evidence upon which it was based was
submitted to the Board of Delegates, and a two-thirds vote of that Board
in confirmation of the Executive vote was required before it could
be inflicted. The element of discussion thus introduced into a body
essentially revolutionary, and whose success might be supposed to
depend upon the secrecy, promptness and unfaltering determination of
its councils and of the blows it struck, was thought at the time to
be likely to detract from its efficiency, if it did not endanger its
existence. But the good sense and prudence of the members restrained the
innate Yankee propensity to speech making, and this danger, with many
others, which from time to time threatened to make shipwreck of the
organization, was happily surmounted.

The Constitution having been adopted, the doors of the Committee Rooms
on Sacramento Street were opened for initiation into the body.
The greatest caution was exercised to prevent the admission of any
disreputable or unreliable man. Every person presenting himself was
carefully scrutinized at the outer door by a trusty guard and at the
stair head within by another; and if unknown to them, was required to
be vouched for by two respectable citizens. From Thursday the 15th until
Saturday the 17th at two o'clock P. M. a crowd of people were constantly
pressing forward for admission. On Thursday both battalions of the
City military refused to act further as a guard upon the Jail; and the
companies for the most part disbanded; several of them reorganizing as
part of the Vigilance Committee force. The defense of the Jail being
thrown entirely upon the Sheriff; he placed arms and ammunition in it;
and made strenuous efforts to provide a force which might suffice with
his Deputies, the Police & co. to accomplish that object. On Friday his
Deputies were very busy in serving printed notices upon all citizens
whom they could induce to receive them, or to listen to their reading.
The summons was to meet at the Fourth District Court Room in the City
Hall at half past three o'clock to aid him in keeping the peace. The
meeting took place at the time and place appointed, but for various
reasons, did not prove a very decided success. The replies made when the
question was propounded to each individual whether he was prepared
to proceed with the Sheriff to the Jail to defend it against all
assailants, were very various. A merchant said he had been summoned, but
he refused most positively to move, and wished it to be most distinctly
understood that he was not a member of the Vigilance Committee, nor
did he intend to act against it. A lawyer declined serving, and on
his reason for doing so being required, said he was afraid; as he was
afterwards in the ranks of the Vigilance Committee, with a musket on his
shoulder, it may be presumed that his fear was of fighting against the
people. A medical man professed great doubts about his ability; said he
was not accustomed to the use of firearms, and thought it not unlikely
that he might wound himself or kill his neighbor. At length, a party
started with the Sheriff for the Jail; but whether their sober second
thought was discouraging; or they had no stomach for the fight; or
found their courage oozing out of their finger ends; the number began to
diminish immediately after starting; at every corner some would detach
themselves from the group; at every saloon or restaurant a distressing
hunger or thirst would silently but imperiously demand a halt; and
as the Jail was neared, a light pair of heels was frequently put in
requisition without the slightest ceremony. As might be supposed, the
number that finally reached their destination, was distressingly out of
proportion to the work to be done; and the Sheriff, after detaining them
for a time, was reported to have dismissed them with but scant courtesy.

Bulletins meanwhile were issued daily and almost hourly, by the
physicians in attendance upon Mr. King, detailing his condition. They
were posted in conspicuous places, and were read and commented upon by
eager and excited crowds. The enlistments into the Vigilance Committee
were constantly going on. The French citizens held a meeting and
tendered their services to the Committee, and a battalion of three
hundred men was at once organized and armed. The Germans had no separate
organization, but were distributed in large numbers through the various
companies. Arms were collected from all quarters; cannon were obtained
from ships lying at the wharves or in the harbor; the gunsmiths shops
were thronged; dray loads of muskets and ammunition were taken to the
Jail and the Committee Rooms; armed men guarded and observed the Jail
night and day; and although every thing was done quietly, no person
could escape the conviction that an awful crisis was impending. In
all the streets men on foot and horseback were constantly passing and
repassing, apparently engaged in their ordinary pursuits; but a close
observer could detect by the interchange of a word, a motion, or a
significant glance, that they had a mutual understanding and a common
purpose, and were on the alert and quick and observant of all that was

On Saturday evening, May 17th, in consequence of a telegraphic dispatch
from Mayor Van Ness earnestly requesting his presence, Governor Johnson
arrived in the City from Sacramento. He was met by General Sherman whom
he had appointed Major General of the Militia, Ex-Mayor Garrison and
some others. After a long conference with the Executive Committee at two
o'clock in the morning, he went with a sub-committee of that body to the
Jail. The Sheriff agreed that a detachment of ten men of the Vigilance
force should be permitted to enter and remain in the Jail to satisfy the
people of the safe keeping of the prisoner. It was agreed the Committee
should not take advantage of the permission to wrest the prisoner from
the hands of the Sheriff, but that if they should resolve such a course,
they would withdraw their guard. At two o'clock P. M. on Saturday, the
process of enrollment was suddenly stopped. Two thousand six hundred
men had then been enrolled. In the evening the whole force was broken
up into twenty-six companies or divisions, as they were called first,
of one hundred men. Each division then made choice of its officers,
consisting of a Captain, two Lieutenants; and Sergeants and Corporals
were likewise appointed. The Command-in-Chief was entrusted by the
Executive Committee to Colonel Charles Doane; who, in all the subsequent
military operations proved himself to be a most skillful tactician and
efficient commander. The great body of the force at first under his
command, was infantry armed with flint-lock muskets, afterwards changed
for percussion ones. There were, in addition, a company of horse;
two companies of riflemen, and artillerists for two field pieces. The
evening closed with a sharp drill of all the divisions.

Sunday the Eighteenth day of May was bright and beautiful. It dawned on
the pleasant and picturesque City slumbering in its holy light. The roar
and tumult of the populous City in its hours of business were stilled.
The sun shone joyously in the deep blue sky, undimmed by cloud or vapor.
All was hushed in the breathing repose of nature, and the soft and
fragrant air, the still earth, and the unruffled surface of the
magnificent bay, graced and dignified by grand old Monte Diavolo looking
down upon it from its far off border, seemed united together in the same
sweet spirit of devotion. As the day wore on, the bells of the various
churches rang out their summons to the house of God. No unusual movement
or sound in the early morning gave token of that calm solemn, most
fearful uprising of the people which, at a later hour, was to make that
day one never to be forgotten by any who took part in or witnessed its
extraordinary events. The Executive Committee with consummate prudence
had kept their plan of action profoundly secret.

At an early hour in the morning the Commander of the force issued orders
to the Captains of Companies to notify their men to appear at Head
Quarters, No. 41 Sacramento Street, at nine o'clock A. M. ready for
duty. Time was of course required to circulate the notice through the
City; but soon the men began to congregate from all quarters and the
building, extensive as it was, by half past ten o'clock, was filled,
both above and below stairs. A most extraordinary assemblage was that
which filled those large halls on that Sabbath morning. Men of every
rank, occupation and condition in society obeyed that summons, and
silently took their places side by side, prepared to do their duty
and abide the issue whatever it might be. Many of these order and
peace-loving citizens had never before, when in health, been absent from
church on the Sabbath day or had the slightest skill in the use of arms,
or knowledge of military movements, yet so really a military people
are the Americans, and so completely overmastered was every man by the
sentiment and purpose common to all; that the precision with which the
whole body handled their arms, and marched without music, was remarked
with astonishment even by officers of the regular army.

After a short drill in the Rooms, ammunition was distributed, and orders
issued to load with ball. The companies then moved in succession into
the street. Not a drum was struck, or other instrument of music sounded,
but in silence the various detachments moved by different routes upon
the designated point. Such a body of men have been seldom if ever seen
united, armed, and resolutely bent upon accomplishing such an object.
The high and low, rich and poor, men of all classes, ages, and nations;
the merchant, the dairy man, the professional man, the clerk, the
porter, the father and son, the philanthropist, the patriot, the
Christian, all were in the ranks of this great Company; and with
flashing eyes and compressed lips marched in silence to accomplish what
they deemed an absolutely necessary measure of Retribution and Reform.

As the various columns moved through the streets, from the lower to the
upper part of the City, the occasional low but distinct word of command,
and the steady tramp of armed men, attracted attention, and windows and
doorways and sidewalks became filled with silent, wondering awestruck
spectators. From street, lane and alley, they thronged the thoroughfares
in which the troops were moving, and keeping pace with them, in like
silence, moved steadily on. By exactly calculated movements, each
division came upon the ground almost at the precise spot it was to
occupy, and upon deploying into line formed part of a hollow square
enclosing the whole space in which the Prison was situated. A field
piece heavily loaded with grape, was placed in position in front of
the iron gate of the Prison. A body of riflemen marched down Broadway,
cleared and took possession of a house next the Prison, and which
commanded its roof, and filled the roof of the house with sharpshooters.
Another body of riflemen were posted on a bluff in rear of the Jail, and
which commanded that side. In the meantime windows, roofs of houses, and
hill tops at a safe distance were crowded with spectators. Such sounds
as must necessarily attend the moving and getting into position so large
a body of men were soon hushed; and in profound silence, all awaited the
progress of events.

At length a battalion was marched to the front of the Prison within
the lines, and drawn up on three sides of a square. Detachments from
companies of picked men took post in rear of the square. Soon an empty
carriage followed by two others containing members of the Executive
Committee were driven into the inner square. They alighted and were
joined by the Commander, proceeded up the steps of the Jail, and were
admitted into it, and the door closed upon them. All knew that a demand
was then making for the surrender of one or more prisoners by Sheriff
Scannell; and that upon his answer it depended whether the Prison should
be stormed or not. A formal demand was willingly made upon the Sheriff
by the Executives for the delivery to them of James P. Casey and that he
be placed in irons before such delivery. The Sheriff informed Casey that
the Prison was surrounded by two thousand armed men and that he had no
force adequate to his protection. Casey finally concluded to go with
the Committee provided two respectable citizens would assure him that
he should have a fair trial, and not be dragged through the streets. A
pledge to that effect was given him by the President and other members
of the Executive Committee. The Committee then withdrew from the Prison,
and, with their armed escort, awaited the surrender of the prisoner.
City Marshal North having placed irons upon him, led him to the door
of the Prison and delivered him into the hands of the Committee. He was
then placed in a close carriage, Mr. North, at Casey's request, taking
a seat by his side, and two members of the Executive Committee also
occupying seats in it. As the guard descended the steps of the Jail with
the prisoner amid the profound silence of the armed force, a shout was
raised by a portion of the spectators several blocks off; but a gesture
of disapprobation from one of the Committee was sufficient instantly to
restore silence. The Committee arranged themselves in the carriages; the
picked men filed in on each side; a heavy guard closed in on all sides
in square; the people rushed in, packing the streets with a dense mass;
and all moved on in silence to the Committee Rooms.

Profound stillness again reigned around the Prison among the troops and
the great body of spectators who kept their ground in expectation of
what might follow. A part of the troops who had attended the prisoner
to the Rooms, at length returned, and soon after, the carriages again
arrived at the Prison, and the Executive Committee demanded of the
Sheriff the body of Charles Cora, the murderer of Gen. Richardson, the
U. S. Marshal. Only after twice requesting and being granted further
time for consideration and being then peremptorily informed that if he
was not delivered up in ten minutes, the Jail would be stormed, did the
Sheriff produce him. He was brought out in irons, placed with officers
in a carriage, the Executive occupying the others, the whole armed force
fell in front, on the sides and in the rear in a long column; and the
whole, accompanied by a crowd of people, swept on to the Rooms of
the Committee. Most deeply was every one impressed with the fearful
responsibility assumed by the actors in this extraordinary scene, and
with the resolute spirit with which they had thus far prosecuted it.
As the procession passed through Montgomery Street, very many of the
spectators were observed to uncover their heads, apparently impressed by
the solemnity of the scene; or perhaps by their respect for the men
who filled the ranks. Arrived at the Rooms, and the prisoner secured, a
large force was detailed for guard and patrol duty, and the remainder of
the troops were dismissed. Thus ended this eventful day.

From Sunday the 18th until Tuesday following, all was quiet upon the
streets. Crowds thronged in silence and deep concern around the Bulletin
Boards whenever a new announcement was made of the condition of the
sufferer. From five o'clock on Tuesday morning it became apparent that
he was sinking; and the public anxiety became momentarily more intense.
At half past one P. M. the dreaded intelligence was communicated that
Mr. King was dead. Immediately every demonstration was made of the
deepest feeling and most profound grief by all classes of the community.
Stores, offices and other places of business were immediately closed.
Hotels, public buildings and many private dwellings were, in an
incredibly short time draped in mourning; and mourning badges were
assumed by a large portion of the population. The bells of the
churches and engine houses were tolled until a late hour. The different
flagstaffs, and the shipping at the wharves and in the harbor displayed
their colors at half-mast. Never did a more general, spontaneous,
heartfelt sadness oppress a whole people, or manifest itself in a more
touching manner. The news was telegraphed in all directions, and from
every part of the State came back responses showing that the whole
people felt as deeply as the citizens of San Francisco, the loss
they had sustained: But sorrow was not suffered to expend itself
in respectful but unsubstantial mourning emblems; and while a great
multiture, from five o'clock in the afternoon to a late hour in the
night, were slowly and sadly passing through the room in Montgomery
Block in which their friend lay cold in death, taking a last look at
that face long so familiar upon the streets, but soon to be seen no
more on earth; a Committee was appointed by the citizens, consisting of
Messrs Macondry, Park and Patterson, to receive subscriptions for
the benefit of the widow and six young children of Mr. King, left but
slenderly provided for. The object was nobly accomplished, and the sum
of thirty thousand dollars placed in trust for them. The claim for
the widow and the fatherless having been thus met; a sterner duty
was believed to rest upon the citizens of San Francisco. Formal and
deliberate trials of the two prisoners in the hands of the Vigilance
Committee were held by the Executive Committee as provided by the
Constitution; and the evidence introduced and the result arrived at were
laid before the Board of Delegates for its concurrence or disapproval.
Extraordinary precautions were adopted in and about Head Quarters. The
number of men on duty within and outside of the building was largely
increased. A full company of horse patrolled Sacramento Street day and
night. At a block or two above the Rooms, a company of infantry was
drawn up in double rank across the street. Any one wishing to visit the
Rooms for any purpose, was required to pass to the centre of the company
where two soldiers with crossed muskets barred the way until he had
given the password. Everywhere evidence was presented that the measures
to be adopted had been thoroughly matured; the means abundantly
provided, and that the results would be wrought out with quiet but
inflexible determination.

On Thursday, the 22d of May, the day broke in clouds over the City; but
by ten o'clock, the clouds had dispersed, and amid sunshine and soft
airs the hours stole on. The funeral of Mr. King was appointed to take
place at twelve o'clock. Great crowds had poured into the City from
all parts of the State, and the streets were black with the masses.
Preparations were making by almost every society in the City for
attending the funeral; and but for another call upon the citizens, it
is probable that full two thirds of the men of San Francisco would have
taken part in the procession, or looked on from the sidewalks. No
such demonstration of profound mourning was ever before witnessed in
California. The services in the church were most solemn and affecting.
The funeral procession was more than a mile in length, and the number of
persons in it was estimated at more than six thousand. Slowly it passed
through the City and made its way to Lone Mountain Cemetery where with
Masonic services, and in presence of the great multitude, standing
uncovered and affected to tears, the remains of the just and good man,
the martyr to truth and duty were deposited.

But large as was the assembly thus occupied in the upper part of the
City in rendering the last tribute of respect to the loved and lost; a
still larger number had collected in the neighborhood of the Committee
Rooms in the lower part to witness a solemn act of retribution. They
swarmed upon the housetops, filled windows, and such, portion of the
streets as was open to them, and from which they could obtain a view of
the proceedings, and waited in anxious expectation the infliction of
the penalty of their crimes upon the two assassins in the hands of the
Committee. From an early hour in the morning, movements in and around
the Rooms had plainly indicated the purpose for which they were made.
Riflemen were stationed on the roofs of the Committee building and
those adjoining. A detachment was sent out, which cleared and thoroughly
searched a building opposite. Cannon were placed at points to command
and sweep the streets in the vicinity. Cavalry patrolled in all
directions, and large bodies of infantry were gradually placed in
position, and formed an immense square enclosing the entire block, and
allowing no new approach to the Rooms. Ominous preparations were also
making in the building by projecting from two of the second story
windows in front, platforms with, hinges just beyond the window sills,
supported by ropes running to the roof of the building.

At a quarter past one, as the funeral procession was leaving the church
on Stockton Street the two offenders against the law of God and man were
placed upon the scaffolds, and, after a few words from Casey, denying
repeatedly that he was a murderer, as charged by the Alta California and
other papers, on the ground that he had been taught always to revenge
an insult or injury, a signal was given and the unhappy men instantly
passed to their account. The whole body of the military, and many of the
other spectators stood uncovered and in profound silence and awe,
while this stern and solemn People's tragedy was enacting. Late in the
afternoon the entire force of armed citizens was drawn up in line on
Sacramento Street presenting a most imposing array; were reviewed by the
Commander, and then marched by companies to the Rooms, deposited their
arms, and, with the exception of guards detailed for further duty,
amounting to some three hundred men, were dismissed.

During this period and for some time after strenuous efforts were making
for the discovery and arrest of two men, McGowen and Wightman, who had
been indicted as accomplices of Casey in the murder of Mr. King. Great
anxiety was felt for the arrest of McGowen not alone on account of his
complicity in the murder, but because it was believed that he knew
more of the operations of the ballot box stuffers and other political
managers than any other person, and that if taken, he would be likely
to expose many who had stooped to obtain office or position by his
unscrupulous arts. Long and earnest search was made, but for some time,
no trace of him could be discovered. At length in the latter part of
June, it was learned that he left the City on horseback, disguised as a
cattle drover, in company with an American and a Mexican, and had been
seen in Santa Barbara, a small town on the coast about four hundred
miles below San Francisco. Being recognized, he fled, and was pursued by
a party from Santa Barbara. On receiving the intelligence, the Executive
Committee immediately dispatched twenty resolute men in a fast sailing
vessel to join in the pursuit. On the 16th of July an arrival from down
the coast brought information of his probable escape. His condition was
represented to have been such as to have excited pity for even such a
criminal. When last seen he was dreadfully wearied and chafed by his
long ride, was without a hat to protect him from the fierce rays of the
sun, his face dreadfully burned and blistered, and oppressed with hunger
and thirst; and thus the poor wretch, loaded with guilt, flying from the
gallows, with hate and despair stamped on his face, spurred on in his
mad flight.

In the first week of June, measures were taken by the State Authorities
to frighten into submission, or to dissolve by force the Vigilance
Committee. The Governor issued a Proclamation declaring the County of
San Francisco in a state of insurrection, and gave orders to the Major
General of the District to make all necessary preparations to suppress
the insurrection. General orders were issued for all lovers of law and
order to enlist, choose officers, and commence drilling. Recruiting
stations were appointed in different parts of the City, and a
considerable number of respectable citizens, and most of the gamblers,
bullies and other notorious characters who had not yet fallen into the
hands of the Vigilance Committee, but must have had very reasonable
fears that they soon might, answered to the call. They mustered no
such force however as led to a public exhibition of their number or
condition. General Sherman, being unable to obtain from General Wood
such arms as he deemed necessary for his purpose, soon resigned,
and Volney C. Howard was appointed in his place. In the meantime the
Committee proceeded quietly in perfecting their arrangements. The
people, to the number of several thousand, offered themselves and were
added to the already formidable force. The demonstrations of citizens
not professedly belonging to, however in favor of the organization,
were, at this and subsequent periods, very impressive. An evening
meeting was held in front of the Oriental Hotel, the number present at
which was variously estimated at from five to eight thousand. This
great meeting was presided over by Hon. Baillie Peyton, formerly a
distinguished member of Congress, and then City Attorney. He addressed
the meeting, as did Judge Duer and other leading men. At the close of
the meeting, the immense assembly was called upon to say whether they
approved and would support the Vigilance Committee, and instantly such a
thundering "Aye" went up as seemed sufficient to rend the sky. When the
otherwise minded were called, two "No's" were heard, faintly breaking
the profound silence. Several other meetings came to a like conclusion.
Such occurrences, and they were frequent, greatly strengthened the
hands, and encouraged the hearts of the Executive Committee. Their
labors were various and unremitting. They issued notice to quit to
numbers of persons whom it was neither for the interest nor credit of
the community longer to retain. By their Police they were daily and
nightly arresting disturbers of the public peace, thieves and desperate
criminals, whom they quietly deposited in their strong rooms to be dealt
with according to their deserts. To be prepared for any emergency their
Head Quarters were made an armed camp. Barriers six feet in height, made
of sand bags, with cannon planted in the embrasures, extended along the
whole front of the building. Sentinels paced the roof day and night.
Companies were drilling at all hours at Head Quarters or in their
Armories. These defenses were strengthened from time to time; and others
ingeniously contrived were placed in the interior; so that, at length,
in the opinion of an officer of large experience, a very large force of
regular troops would have been required to carry it by storm.

In the afternoon of Saturday, June 21st, the perfect quiet of the
early part of the day was broken up by a tempest of excitement of rare
occurrence anywhere. Between three and four o'clock, a Police Officer
of the Vigilance Committee named Hopkins, being ordered with a party of
men, to arrest a man named Maloney, having ascertained that he was then
in the office of Dr. Ashe, Navy Agent, on Washington Street, entered
the office alone, leaving the other officers in the street. A number of
persons were in the room beside Maloney, amongst them Judge Terry, one
of the three Judges of the Supreme Court of California. Hopkins was
unable to make the arrest; and retiring from the room, collected
his men, and kept watch in the street. The party in the room armed
themselves and scattered into the street to make their way to the Armory
of the San Francisco Blues. While passing up Jackson Street, Hopkins
attempted to arrest Maloney. Terry opposed him with a double-barreled
gun, which Hopkins attempted to or did, wrest from him, when Terry
immediately struck him on the neck with a bowie knife, inflicting a
terrible wound. Terry and his whole party then ran and placed themselves
for safety in the Blues Armory. Hopkins was immediately taken into the
Pennsylvania Engine House. The news flew with lightning speed over the
City. The bell of the Vigilance Committee Rooms sounded; and instantly
the streets were swarming with members obedient at all times to its
summons. As the sound struck his ear, every man discontinued the work
upon which he was employed. Draymen passing with loads, unharnessed
their horses, mounted and rode off; engines in the great foundries
were stopped, and employers and men started off on the run; builders,
pressmen, shopmen, merchants, professional men, were alike hurrying to
the Committee Rooms. As they arrived, they took arms, were formed in
companies, and reported ready for duty. In a few minutes, a body of
cavalry were thundering through the streets and surrounding the block
in which was the Blues Armory. Then up every street poured companies of
infantry at double-quick time, and took possession of every important
point. So quickly was this done that only some thirty men of the so
called "law and order" party had been able to assemble in the Armory.
They were summoned to surrender, and alter some little parley, concluded
to do so. Terry, Ashe and Maloney were placed in carriages and conveyed
to the Committee Rooms. The other prisoners were then disarmed and they
were kept in the Armory until evening, when they likewise were marched
to the Committee Rooms.

While this was enacting, a strong force had surrounded the California
Exchange on the corner of Clay and Kearney Streets, where some seventy
or eighty of the "law and order" men had assembled, and where was a
depot of arms. In front of this building, a battery of artillery was in
position flanked by a detachment of infantry. The commander of the party
in the building was summoned to surrender in five minutes. When four
minutes and a half had expired, the cautionary order of "Artillery,
attention" was heard, and at the same instant the doors were thrown
open, and a surrender made. Every, man was made to present himself at
the door, deposit his musket, strip off his accoutrements, and go back
into the room. The arms were taken to the Committee Rooms, and the
building left under a strong guard. All the other Armories of the "law
and order" party were taken about the same time by other detachments. In
less than two hours after the sounding of the alarm bell, the "law and
order" party had surrendered; all their arms were secured; the leaders
of their troops dismissed on parole; and the rank and file placed in
safe keeping; without the shedding of a drop of blood. The people looked
on with astonishment to see with what precision and dispatch the
whole work had been accomplished. At eleven o'clock the next day,
the prisoners, with the exception of a few, who, had hitherto escaped
capture, were dismissed from the Rooms after having been cautioned
against being taken' again. Their appearance as they marched out of the
building and up the street, each man with his blanket strapped across
his shoulders, some with looks of dignified disgust, and others with a
most crestfallen or woebegone expression was ludicrous in the extreme,
and caused hearty laughter and many jokes at their expense. In addition
to the offenders those secured in the Rooms of the Committee, there were
many others at liberty for whom a quiet but unremitting search was kept
up. When any one was found, on the street or in any of his usual haunts,
he was very sure to surrender at the first summons of the officer,
probably for the reason humorously assigned by one of the most bitter
opponents of the Committee, who, after an envenomed tirade against it,
was asked, "Suppose, while talking on Montgomery Street, some one
should tap you on the shoulder, and say, you are wanted at the Vigilance
Committee Rooms, should you go?" "Of course I should," said he,
"Indeed," said the other, "I should not, from your talk, have expected
it." "Why," said he, "you don't think me such a consummate fool as to
attempt to buck up against two thousand men." Sometimes, however numbers
gave confidence to the rowdies, and they ventured, regardless of the
lessons of experience, to indulge in their old practices in public. A
public evening meeting was held in front of Montgomery Block to consider
what action should be taken in reference to certain Officials believed
to have been unfairly elected, and a part of whom at least were charged
with maladministration of the affairs of the City. A Committee had been
chosen to request these City officers to resign, and this Committee were
directed to report at an adjourned meeting in the same place. Before the
second meeting was held, it was understood that an attempt would be made
to break up the meeting. The intended disturbers stationed themselves
opposite the Montgomery Block, and by shouts, groans and noises of all
kinds, endeavoured to interrupt the proceedings. This was borne as long
as possible. At last a party of Vigilantes broke in from the extremity
of the crowd, and bore straight down through it, leaving a clear space
behind them, until they reached the point of disturbance, when they made
a charge upon the rowdies, some of whom drew pistols but were afraid to
use them; secured the leaders and principal bullies, and hurried them
off to secure lodgings in the Committee Rooms. The work was done in a
wonderfully short time and in the most skillful manner; and no further
disturbance occurred.

The punishments prescribed for offenders by the Committee being only
two, viz, death and banishment, and neither being applicable to the
cases of some of the numerous prisoners now in their hands, these were
discharged after being cautioned not again to offend. The rest, after
trial of each one in the mode prescribed, were sentenced to banishment;
were quietly embarked at night, and so "left their country for their
country's good."

Perfect quiet now seemed restored to the City. But soon the people were
again roused and horror-stricken by the deliberate murder of Dr.
Randal, a large land owner in various parts of the State, while quietly
conversing with the bar-keeper in the St. Nicholas Hotel, by one
Hetherington who, four years before had been tried for murder, but by
some means had escaped conviction. Several gentlemen were in the room at
the time, and were in considerable danger from the shots fired by him.
The alarm being given City Policemen who first arrived, arrested him;
but he was immediately taken from them by Vigilance Policemen, and at
once conveyed to the Committee Rooms. Two murderers, Hetherington and
Brace, were in due time tried the counsel whom they selected, were
procured; and the witnesses they named, obtained for them. They were
condemned, and some time after publicly executed in open day and in
presence of a great multitude in a public street in the lower part of
the City.

The case of Hopkins so dreadfully wounded by Judge Terry, was, for a
long time, considered desperate by the eminent surgeons and physicians
in constant attendance upon him. But after long hovering between life
and death; to the astonishment of all, he began slowly to recover,
until, at length, after many weeks of seclusion and intense suffering,
in the early part of August, he was able again to make his appearance
upon the streets. And now that his recovery was assured, the question as
to the disposition to be made of the author of his dreadful sufferings
was one of the most difficult imaginable. It seemed at first impossible
that the Executive Committee should reach a conclusion acceptable to the
Board of Delegates, and in which the whole organization would concur.
The meetings of both branches were frequent, long protracted and stormy.
At length a majority of both Boards determined that though his guilt was
unquestionable, under the circumstances the first penalty prescribed
by the Code did not apply. The second, that of banishment, at first
approved itself to a majority of both Boards, but, after anxious
consideration, it was deemed to be impracticable to carry it out, and
make it permanent. It was therefore decided to dismiss him with a public
notice of their belief in his guilt, and that the people of the largest
County in the State were of opinion that he should resign the Judicial
Office he held, and for which they deemed him unfit. Accordingly at
an early hour in the morning his prison doors were opened, and he was
permitted to go at large. In the afternoon of the same day he took
the steamer and returned to his home in Stockton. No sooner was
the decision, and the action of the Executive consequent upon it,
promulgated, than a wild storm of passionate excitement broke
forth, which threatened for several days the very existence of the
organization. But the Delegates met their respective Companies;
explained the action of the two Boards; gave the reasons for it in
full; answered all questions; urged every consideration likely to remove
suspicion, allay passion, and inspire confidence; and finally, with
infinite difficulty, the perilous crisis was passed, and acquiescence,
if not entire satisfaction was secured.

A week afterwards, on the 18th of August a public Parade and Review
of the entire force of the Vigilance Committee took place. The several
Companies assembled at their Armories and marched from thence to the
Head Quarters of their Regiments, and thence to Third Street, where the
whole force of Cavalry, Artillery, Riflemen and Infantry, consisting of
at least four thousand men, in black frock coats and pants and caps and
white gloves, were formed in line in double rank, extending a full
mile from Market Street some distance beyond South Park. The line was
reviewed by the Commander and his staff and the Executive Committee,
about forty persons in all, who thundered along it with heads uncovered,
at full speed. The line then broke into columns of companies, and with
inspiriting music from numerous bands, began their march through the
City. The sidewalks, windows and roofs of buildings on the line of march
were crowded with spectators. The scene from the upper part of Clay
Street, when the Cavalry and Artillery, having wheeled into Stockton
Street, the whole steep ascent of Clay Street, between Montgomery and
Stockton Streets, was filled from sidewalk to sidewalk, with the dark
moving mass of infantry, was most imposing; and to very many, of the
spectators so touching from memories of fears, anxieties and terrors
for their relatives and friends throughout, the eventful movement now so
happily drawing to a conclusion; as to dim their eyes with tears of joy,
and thankfulness. The march extended through the principal streets of
the City, and was terminated and the line dismissed at six o'clock in
the afternoon. This was the last public appearance of the Vigilance

In the last week of August, the Executive Committee caused the
fortifications in front of the Head Quarters to be razed to the ground,
threw open the doors and invited public inspection of their rooms, and
disbanded the whole force; retaining however, as they stated in their
Address, the power to defend themselves if attacked; to enforce the
penalty against any banished criminal who should return; and to preserve
the public peace, if it should become necessary. A tap of the bell would
in future, summon the members, if any emergency should require it.

On the following third of November, the State arms which had been sent
by the Governor from Benicia to be used by the "law and order" party in
suppressing the Vigilance Committee, but which had been intercepted
in the passage down the river, were restored; and the Governor then
withdrew his Proclamation declaring the County of San Francisco in a
state of insurrection.

This great and hazardous experiment of Reforms thus brought to a
conclusion nearly six months after its inception, was planned by some of
the best men in the community....

Happily the right prevailed without civil war. The imminent danger of a
collision between the Committee and the United States authorities which
might have arrayed against them the whole military and naval force at
that station was surmounted by the exercise of consummate prudence.
The most deadly peril of all, the internal dissensions and excessive
exasperation in the ranks of the Committee consequent on the dismissal
of Judge Terry without punishment was, with prodigious effort, finally
averted. And then the determined front of the People thoroughly roused
in City and State to their support, awed and finally crushed the force
of organized ruffianism which had so long held sway, and run riot with

The approval or condemnation of the extraordinary movement described
in these pages will depend upon the answer given by every person
thoughtfully considering the subject, to the question whether, under our
peculiar institutions, when a community has lapsed into a condition
in which the bad element has become dominant and has succeeded in
paralyzing or perfecting law and justice so that brute force and
violence have full sway, and life and property are entirely insecure,
there is any other conceivable mode in which the well disposed,
industrious and orderly classes can assert their rights and secure their
liberties, than the one adopted by the San Francisco Vigilance Committee
in 1856? No other was suggested at the time, nor, so far as the writer
knows, has been since. It obtained and preserved throughout, the
approval, countenance and support of a large majority of the citizens of
San Francisco, and also of the people of the State of California, as was
abundantly shown by the numerous and continual expressions of sympathy,
and proffers of assistance when needed and at the shortest notice, which
were received by the Executive Committee.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Sketch of the Causes, Operations and Results of the San Francisco Vigilance Committee of 1856" ***

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