San Francisco History

The Annals of San Francisco



JANUARY.—San Francisco has been startled “from its propriety” by news from the celebrated “Gold Bluffs;” and during the greater part of this month has dreamed unutterable things of black sand, and gray sand, and cargoes of gold. A band of pioneers and prospecters had recently proceeded in the Chesapeake steamer northwards to the Klamath River, near which, on the sea shore, they fancied they had found the richest and most extraordinary gold field that had ever been known. The sands of the sea, for a broad space several miles in length, beneath cliffs some hundred feet high, appeared to be literally composed in one half, at least, of the pure metal. Millions of diggers for ages to come could not exhaust that grand deposit. Already a few miners had collected about the spot; but these were so amazed and lost in the midst of the surrounding treasure that they knew not what to do. Like the ass with its superabundance of hay, they could not resolve to begin any thing. No man could well carry more than seventy-five or a hundred pounds weight upon his back for any great distance, and with that quantity of pure gold it was ridiculous, so it was, to be content, when numberless tons lay about. So these men—there were just nineteen of them—(the tellers of the story were very particular in some facts),—had resolved to wait till the spring, when they would freight and fill a ship with the wealth which they were then jealously watching over. Let us not be misunderstood, or supposed altogether jesting. A brilliant reporter for the Alta California says—”The gold is mixed with the black sand in proportions of from ten cents to ten dollars the pound. At times, when the surf is high, the gold is not easily discovered, but in the spring of the year, after a succession of calms, the entire beach is covered with bright and yellow gold. Mr. Collins, the secretary of the Pacific Mining Company, measured a patch of gold and sand, and estimates it will yield to each member of the company the snug little sum of $43,000,000 [say, forty-three millions of dollars!] and the estimate is formed upon a calculation that the sand holds out to be one tenth as rich as observation warrants them in supposing.” No digging even was required, since one had only to stoop a little and raise as much as he wished of the stuff—half gold, half sand, from the surface of the beach.

Back the adventurers hastened to San Francisco, where they had long been impatiently expected; and the glorious news ran like wild-fire among the people. General John Wilson and Mr. John A. Collins, both of whom had been among the number of discoverers, frankly testified to the truth of these wonderful statements. The beach, they said, for a great distance, was literally strewed with pure gold. It was found in the greatest quantity in a certain kind of “black sand,” although the “gray sand,” which was rather more abundant, contained likewise a large proportion of the same black-colored stuff with its special share of gold. “Mr. Collins,” says the poetic reporter, “saw a man [one of the nineteen, no doubt,] who had accumulated fifty thousand pounds, or fifty thousand tons—he did not recollect which—of the richest kind of black sand.”

Such intelligence astounded the community. In a few days eight vessels were announced as about to sail for this extraordinary region. The magic phrase “GOLD BLUFFS!” “GOLD BLUFFS!” every where startled the most apathetic, and roused him as with a galvanic shock “GOLD BLUFFS! ! !” filled the columns of newspapers among the shipping advertisements; they covered, on huge posters, the blank walls of houses at the corners of the streets; they were in every man’s mouth. A company was formed called the “Pacific Mining Company,” the shares of which instantly rose to a handsome premium. There seemed no doubt of their incalculable gains, since they showed numerous samples of the wondrous “black sand,” where the golden particles lay and shone mildly, as stars in the milky way, innumerable. The company had already, by the greatest good fortune, secured a considerable number of miners’ claims, embracing indeed the entire beach beneath the “Bluffs,” so that all was clear for immediate operations. We have seen the intelligent secretary’s calculations on the subject. No wonder people raved, and either invested a few thousand dollars in shares of this company, or sold or forsook their all, and made sail for the Gold Bluffs. The ancient excitement of Mississippi and South Sea schemes was a bagatelle in comparison with that which now stirred San Francisco, used though it had been to all manner of rumors of placers, and gigantic “pockets” of gold. The skepticism of envious un-”progressive” people was happily ridiculed, and the press compared the ocean to a mighty cradle that had been rocking and washing up gold from the bottom of the sea for unknown ages, and had chanced to throw it in tons and shiploads beneath the hitherto undiscovered Gold Bluffs. It was truly great news for San Francisco.

The first damper to the hot blast that raged through the town, and from whence it spread and fired up distant countries,—until the arrival of the next mail,—was intelligence from the earliest miners, that they found it very difficult to separate first the black sand from the gray, and next the gold itself from the black sand, the particles of the precious metal being so remarkably fine. A little later, it was found that the innumerable “patches” of black sand began most unaccountably to disappear. Heavy seas came and swept them right away; and though it was hoped that heavier seas might soon bring them back again, the people got tired of waiting for that event, and hastily fled from the place, ashamed of their own hopes and credulity, and cursing the cruel wags that had exhibited in San Francisco sealed phials of dingy sand largely mixed with brass filings.

But we cannot pursue this pleasantry farther. Much serious loss was suffered by the Gold Bluffs piece of business. The unfortunate “Pacific Mining Company” had bought the Chesapeake at a cost for boat and repairs of twenty thousand dollars, had run her up the coast several trips at the loss of as many thousands more, and afterwards, when she had been injured in a storm, were glad to sell her for about two thousand dollars. If, however, the shareholders, or any single adventurer lost much money—why, they had at one time the most brilliant hopes imaginable of immense riches; and these were surely some compensation. For what, after all, is life without hope? There was considerable gold at the Bluffs, but it turned out in the end to cost more trouble to gather than it was worth. Hence the place was abandoned, except by a few still hopeful individuals, after a few months’ trial. Since the whole affair formed a very striking, though latterly a ridiculous event in the progress of San Francisco, we could not refuse it a place in these “Annals.”

FEBRUARY.—After the affair of the “Hounds,” in 1849, the citizens left the execution of the laws against criminals in the hands of the constituted authorities. Either the laws, however, or the authorities, or something else soon went wrong, and crime fearfully increased. At length, not only were the people seriously inclined to believe that they must take the law back to themselves and issue it in a new form, but the public journals discussed the matter gravely and argumentatively, and urged the instant appointment of “volunteer police,” or “regulators,” who would supply the place of an inefficient executive and judicature. Hitherto there had been no organization for the purpose mentioned, although occasional mobs had ducked or whipped offenders caught in the act of crime.

The City Hall, February 22d, 1851.On the 19th of this month, about eight o’clock in the evening, two men entered the store of C. J. Jansen & Co., and, professing to be purchasers, asked to see some blankets. Mr. Jansen, who was alone in the store, was in the act of producing the articles, when he was violently struck with a slung shot, and fell insensible on the floor. While in that state he seems to have been farther maltreated, and was probably considered by the ruffians as dead. These robbed the premises of two thousand dollars, and immediately fled. The whole circumstances of the outrage were of the most daring character, and the knowledge of them caused much excitement among the people. The next day a man was arrested, believed to be one James Stuart, but who gave his name as Thomas Burdue, on the charge of having murdered Mr. Moore, the Sheriff of Auburn, and of having robbed him of four thousand dollars. Stuart had been confined in the jail of Sacramento to await his trial, but had escaped two months before. Circumstances meanwhile had raised a suspicion that this man Stuart, alias Burdue, had had something to do with the attack on Mr. Jansen; and accordingly he, and another person of the name of Windred, who had been apprehended on suspicion of the same offence, were, on the 21st, confronted with the wounded man. Jansen at once recognized Stuart and also Windred, although with some faint doubt of the identity of the latter, as being the two persons who had committed the assault and the robbery. These circumstances being known, the citizens, in a state of the greatest excitement, gathered, on the following day (Saturday, 22d February), around the City Hall, where the examination of the prisoners was going on. Upwards of five thousand people thus collected. This was not a mob, but the people, in the highest sense of the term. They wanted only a leader to advise and guide them to any undertaking that promised relief from the awful state of social terror and danger to which they were reduced. Handbills were extensively circulated among the multitude, which were to the following effect


“The series of murders and robberies that have been committed in this city, seems to leave us entirely in a state of anarchy. ‘When thieves are left without control to rob and kill, then doth the honest traveller fear each bush a thief.’ Law, it appears, is but a nonentity to be scoffed at; redress can be had for aggression but through the never failing remedy so admirably laid down in the code of Judge Lynch. Not that we should admire this process for redress, but that it seems to be inevitably necessary.

“Are we to be robbed and assassinated in our domiciles, and the law to let our aggressors perambulate the streets merely because they have furnished straw bail? If so, ‘let each man be his own executioner.’ ‘Fie upon your laws!’ They have no force.

“All those who would rid our city of its robbers and murderers, will assemble on Sunday at two o’clock on the plaza.”

While the examination of the prisoners was progressing, a shout arose among the assembled multitude, “Now is the time;” and many rushed into the court room to seize the accused out of the hands of the authorities. This attempt was successfully resisted. The “Washington Guards,” who had been secretly stationed in an adjoining room, through the foresight of the recorder, who had anticipated some outbreak of this nature, now rushed, under the command of Capt. A. Bartol, into the court-hall, and soon cleared it of its noisy occupants, while the prisoners were hurried through a back door into the cells beneath. During the whole day the excitement continued, and many of the spectators remained about the place, though the greater number gradually dispersed, chiefly through the persuasions of some parties who thought like themselves. Towards dusk the people again assembled around the City Hall in greater numbers than before, when, after some speeches, the following gentlemen were appointed a committee to consult with the authorities and guard the prisoners till the next day, viz.: Messrs. W. D. M. Howard, Samuel Brannan, A. J. Ellis, H. F. Teschemacker, W. H. Jones, B. Ray, G. A King, A. H. Sibley, J. L. Folsom, F. W. Macondray, Ralph Dorr, Theodore Payne, Talbot H. Green, and J. B. Huie.

This committee the same evening met in the recorder’s room, and discussed the position of affairs, and what was next to be done. To show the temper, not of this committee, for they were moderate and cautious in their proceedings, but of the general public on the occasion, we may quote a short speech by Mr. Brannan, who seems to have been always for stringing up and hanging every rogue outright, on the shortest possible grace. His language was certainly to the point, and quite accorded with the sentiments of a great majority of the vast multitude that was anxiously waiting without. One of the committee having proposed that the citizens should choose a jury to try the prisoners, Mr. Brannan said:—

“I am very much surprised to hear people talk about grand juries, or recorders, or mayors. I’m tired of such talk. These men are murderers, I say, as well as thieves. I know it, and I will die or see them hung by the neck. I’m opposed to any farce in this business. We had enough of that eighteen months ago [alluding to the affair of the “hounds,”] when we allowed ourselves to be the tools of these judges, who sentenced convicts to be sent to the United States. We are the mayor and the recorder, the hangman and the laws. The law and the courts never yet hung a man in California; and every morning we are reading fresh accounts of murders and robberies. I want no technicalities. Such things are devised to shield the guilty.”

The rest of the committee did not exactly think with Mr. Brannan, and after appointing a patrol of twenty citizens to watch over the prisoners, a majority of them adopted a resolution by Captain Howard, that they should adjourn to the following day, on the plaza, to report the proceedings to the people.

Next day (Sunday), about eight thousand people collected round the court-house. Mayor Geary, and others on the part of the authorities then addressed them, advising coolness and moderation, and suggesting that a committee of twelve of their number should be appointed to sit as a jury along with the presiding justice on the trial to take place the following day, the verdict of which jury should be final. Other counsels, however, prevailed; and on the motion of Mr. Wm. T. Coleman, a committee of twelve was appointed, to retire and consider the best course of action to be adopted. Almost immediately afterwards this committee returned and reported, that the trial should be conducted by and among themselves—that if the legal courts choose to assist in the business, they were welcome and invited to do so; but if not, that counsel should be assigned to the prisoners, a public prosecutor appointed, and the trials immediately commenced. This was all accordingly done. The public authorities having declined to interfere farther in the matter, and being powerless before so numerous a body, retired from the contest.

At two o’clock of the same day, the committee and a great number of citizens assembled in the recorder’s room, while outside, in Kearny and Pacific streets, an immense multitude had collected. The following parties were then empanneled as a jury, viz. :—R. S. Watson, S. J. L. Smiley, W. E. Stoutenburg, J. L. Riddle, George Endicott, D. K. Minor, George A. Hudson, David Page, Jas. H. Robinson, J. E. Schenck, S. J. Thompson and I. C. Pelton. J. R. Spence was appointed to preside on the bench, and H. R. Bowie and C. L. Ross were named associate judges. J. E. Townes was selected to officiate as sheriff and W. A. Jones as judge’s clerk. Mr. Coleman was chosen public prosecutor, and Judge Shattuck and Hall McAllister were appointed counsel for the prisoners. We are particular in giving the names of these gentlemen, since they show the high character and social standing of the parties who were concerned in this movement against the legal and municipal authorities. As we said before, the crowd was not a mob, but emphatically the people. After evidence was led for the prosecution, an impartial charge was given by Mr. Spence. The jury then retired, and were absent a considerable time, as they seemed unable to agree upon a verdict. Seeing there were no signs of being able to come to a speedy agreement, they returned to the court, and their foreman reported that nine were for conviction, and three had doubts. Much disappointment and agitation was now manifested by the people, who had considered the prisoners clearly guilty on the testimony. Loud cries burst from all quarters of “Hang them, any how! A majority rules!” After some time order was restored, and the jury were discharged. It was now midnight, and the numbers present were considerably diminished. The same excitement, however, prevailed, and it required all the efforts of the cooler and wiser portion of the assembly to preserve peace and decorum to the end. Addresses were spoken to this effect by Mr. Smyth Clarke, Dr. Rabe and Mr. Hutton. The latter gentleman was now chosen chairman, and the meeting adjourned to the outside of the building. At last—twenty minutes to one o’clock on Monday morning,—the question was put from the chair, that they should indefinitely adjourn, which being answered affirmatively, the crowd quietly dispersed.

During this excitement, it is proper to remark, that the mayor had collected together not only the regular police of the city, but an additional volunteer force of about two hundred and fifty citizens, and had determined that no injury should be done the prisoners until they were legally tried and found guilty of the alleged crime. In the mean time, parties were organized, who were resolved to seize the prisoners at all events, and hang them at the nearest convenient place, without regard either to decency or justice; and to carry out this object several attempts were made to break into the station-house where the prisoners were confined; but these were successfully resisted by the strong and determined force which the foresight of the mayor had gathered and with which the City Hall was surrounded.

The occasion of this outbreak was the greatest that hitherto ever agitated San Francisco, and the exciting scenes of Saturday and Sunday will be long remembered by the citizens of the period. For thirty-six hours the whole town had been in an uproar, and during a great part of that time many thousands of persons had been gathered in the court-room or in the streets outside. For months their patience had been severely tried by the knowledge that crimes of the most atrocious description—murders, burglaries, thefts, fire-raisings and violent assaults, had been of daily occurrence, and that few or no adequate punishments had been inflicted by the courts on the perpetrators. On this occasion the long suppressed ire against the supineness of the authorities burst forth, and the people were determined to make an example of those whom they believed guilty of the shocking assault upon Mr. Jansen and the robbery of his store. They were indeed deceived in regard to the true criminals, and might have hanged innocent men. But the good sense of their temporary leaders, and a return to dispassionate reflection, hindered the execution of the sentence of death, which the general multitude wished to pronounce.

We may here shortly state the further incidents connected with the prisoners in relation to this matter. After being tried by the people, as above mentioned, when no unanimous verdict could be obtained, they were handed over to the proper authorities, by whom they were put a second time upon trial, for the same offence, according to the ordinary legal forms. On this occasion both prisoners were found guilty, and sentenced to fourteen years’ imprisonment, being the highest penalty which the law could inflict for the imputed offence. Windred shortly afterwards escaped by cutting a hole through the floor of his prison. Stuart, alias Burdue, was sent to Marysville, to stand his trial for the murder of Mr. Moore, already noticed. He was found guilty for this crime also, and was sentenced to be hanged. This was in the course of the summer. Meanwhile, the Vigilance Committee, which had been recently organized, had contrived to lay hands on the true Stuart, who turned out not only to have been the murderer of Mr. Moore, but also one of those who had assaulted and robbed Mr. Jansen. Stuart was subsequently hanged by the people for these and other crimes, as detailed in our chapter on the Vigilance Committee. It was satisfactorily shown that neither Burdue nor Windred had ever had the slightest connection with any of the offences for which they were charged. The whole affair was a most curious case of mistaken identity. Burdue was at different places, and by different juries, twice convicted, and twice in the most imminent risk of death for the commission of offences of which he was perfectly innocent! The luckless man was sent back to San Francisco, where his sentence of imprisonment was annulled, and himself released. A handsome subscription was raised among the citizens to compensate in some measure for his repeated sufferings. What became of him ultimately we know not; but doubtless, in his cups, he will wax eloquent, and have strange stories to tell of his “hair-breadth ‘scapes.” Shortly after receiving the subscription from the citizens, he was seen on Long Wharf playing at “French Monte,” and lustily bawling to the passers-by—”The ace! the ace!—a hundred dollars to him who will tell the ace!—The ace!—The ace!—who will name the ace of spades? A hundred dollars to any man who will tell the ace!“

MARCH 3d.—The steamers Hartford and Santa Clara were burned this morning at Long Wharf.

Source: Frank Soulé, John H. Gihon, M.D., and James Nisbet. The Annals of San Francisco. 1855: San Francisco.

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