San Francisco History

The Annals of San Francisco



JANUARY 3d.—A great sale by the municipal authorities, of four hundred and thirty-four water lots, which brought $635,130. This sale had been ordered by the ayuntamiento by a resolution passed on the 3d of October, 1849, in accordance with a proclamation of General Kearny, directing three months’ notice to have been previously given.

JANUARY 8th.—An election was held for members of the legislature, alcaldes and ayuntamiento. The interest on these occasions increased with the population, and the election of today was the most exciting that had yet been held. The weather was exceedingly unpleasant, the wind blowing a gale, and the rain pouring down in torrents. The streets were covered with mud and water so as to render them almost impassable. Still the neighborhood of the polls was crowded during the entire day with men and boys, zealous as they well could be in their endeavors to promote the public welfare. It is one of the glorious consequences of our republican institutions, that at such times, so many worthy people are always to be found, utterly regardless of their personal interests, and so entirely devoted to the general good. Although the excitement ran unusually high, the day passed off without disturbance, and much good humor was exhibited by the conflicting parties. The voters were numerous; every citizen of the United States being entitled to the elective franchise, and almost all who were here, from every part of the world, claimed to be American citizens. The way to the polls, for a considerable distance, on either side, was completely blocked up by roughly dressed men, who thrust their favorite tickets into the hands of every new comer, with loud exclamations in behalf of the parties for whom they were working. “Here’s for Geary, and the old council!” cries one, “Geary and the old council for ever!“ “For ever is a long day,” says another; “rotation in office, is my doctrine. The old council has made money enough. Let’s give a new one a chance at the public crib!” “The old ones are so fat they can’t eat any more!” exclaims a third; “we had better keep them where they are!” “We have had the old council long enough!” vociferates a stout six-footer, wading up to his waist in the mud: “I go for a new council, side-walks, and clean streets!” “You do, do you?” replies a wag: “then I guess you will have to go an infernal long ways to find them!” “We want another yuntermenter,” bawls out a youngster in a red shirt and tarpaulin hat, and resembling a drowned rat more than an independent voter:—“ we want another yuntermenter, and here’s the ticket for um!” “It’s a gutterminty that ye want?” replies a brawny Irishman; “then take it, and good luck till ye!” giving the luckless wight a toss that sent him sprawling into the gutter overhead in water: “I am thinking ye won’t want another gutterminty soon, any how!” With much difficulty the polling desk was reached, where other scenes no less amusing were transpiring. Around the judges and inspectors were an eager and excited crowd, some endeavoring to vote and others to prevent them. “I challenge that man’s vote,” cries a bystander, as a simple Sandwich Islander, almost as dark as an African, offered his ticket. “Then we must swear him!“ says the judge, and the usual oath was administered. “Where were you born?” was the inquiry. “In New York!” whispered a prompter, and the answer was given accordingly. “Where did you come from last?” “New York,” was again the reply. “Where was your father born?” “New York.” “In what street did you live?” “New York.” “Where is New York?” the judge next inquired. This was too much for the poor fellow. He knew as much of the locality and streets of the invisible world as he did of New York. His prompter, who had brought him there to vote, endeavored to instruct him, but without success. His impatient challenger at length exclaims: “Turn him out, he is a Kanaka!” and the vote was rejected. Another and another pressed forward, and similar questions and just as honest answers were given, and many a vote was polled, to the right of depositing which the elector was no more entitled than the poor Kanaka. Still the election proceeded, and notwithstanding the interest and excitement manifested, the best sort of feeling was preserved throughout. The polls were closed early in the evening, and the judges announced the following gentlemen elected to the offices named. The heaviest ballot cast was in favor of Col. John W. Geary, who received 3,425 votes:—

State Senator.—David C. Broderick.
Member of Assembly.—Samuel J. Clarke.
First Alcalde.—John W. Geary.
Second Alcalde.—Frank Turk.
Ayuntamiento.—A. J. Ellis, Talbot H. Green, Wm. M. Stewart, W. H. Davis, Samuel Brannan, James S. Graham, Frank Tilford, F. C. Gray, J. Hagan, M. Crooks, A. M. Van Nostrand, and Hugh C. Murray.

JANUARY 22d.—The “Alta California” is changed into a daily newspaper, being the first of the kind that has appeared in California. The weekiy issue is likewise continued. The day following, the “Journal of Commerce” was started as a daily paper; and about six weeks later, the “Pacific News” took a similar form. The “San Francisco Daily Herald” came into existence on the first of June, and became a very popular journal. On the first of August following, the “Evening Picayune” also made its appearance. The latter was the fifth daily but the first evening paper. The “Courier” and the “Balance” followed soon after, and subsequently many other journals have been developed in San Francisco and other parts of the country. Some of these are still in existence, while others after a very brief and sickly career, perished for want of support. The “Placer Times,” which was extensively circulated in the mining districts, had been commenced at Sacramento in April, 1849, and appeared weekly. This was also converted into daily newspaper, and was subsequently removed to San Francisco. It is a political journal, devoted to the interests of the democratic cause.

FEBRUARY 13th.—A charter for the city, previously drafted and considered, was amended and approved of by the ayuntamiento, and Messrs. Hagan and Green were instructed to present it to the representatives of the city for adoption by the legislature. By the first section of the charter it was declared, that “the limits of the City of San Francisco shall be the same which bounded the pueblo lands and town of San Francisco; and its municipal jurisdiction shall extend to said limits, and over the waters of the Bay of San Francisco, for the space of one league from the shore, including the Islands of Yerba Buena, Los Angeles, and Alcatraz.”

FEBRUARY 28th.—A squatter difficulty occurred at the Rincon. Most of the land here was held as United States government reserve, and as such was leased for a limited period to Mr. Theodore Shillaber. Upon attempting to take possession, this gentleman found the leased property mostly occupied by “squatters,” the majority of whom were from Sydney. These refused either to pay rent or vacate the land. Captain Keyes, therefore, having charge of the presidio, marched to the Rincon with a company of twenty United States soldiers, and soon demolished all the tents and shanties that had been erected on the government grounds. A Mr. White, one of the leaders among the squatters, subsequently brought a civil action for damages against the captain; but the latter was sustained by the court, and the case was dismissed, the prosecutor being required to pay the costs.

MARCH 9th.—Party politics begins to embrace a good share of public attention, and among tbe seekers after fame and fortune, there is no scarcity of aspirants for political preferment. It is but lately, however, that party lines have been drawn, and whigs and democrats, as such, arrayed against each other in their patriotic efforts to promote the general welfare. But it was found less difficult to draw these lines than to rally the forces under their distinctive self-constituted leaders. There were as many officers as soldiers to enter the political campaign. At least, each party was divided into several factions, every faction having at its head, of course, men whose claims to public favor were superior to all others. Concerted action was therefore out of the question. The democrats had resolved to remedy this evil, so destructive of their party interests, by uniting or harmonizing all their conflicting elements. To this end a mass meeting was held this afternoon on Portsmouth Square. About one thousand persons assembled, a band of music played national airs, and a large and splendid ensign waved gracefully over the speakers’ stand, upon which were stationed officers duly appointed to conduct the proceedings in proper form. The meeting was opened with great enthusiasm, and, for a time, every thing gave promise of the desired result. Several addresses were delivered with good effect, which were enthusiastically responded to by the admiring listeners. But a trying moment at length arrived. The committee chosen to draft resolutions expressive of the feelings and purposes of the democracy, presented their report, and the resolutions were submitted for passage. These called forth the factional prejudices of the assembly, which were exhibited in uproar and confusion. The chairman was unable to decide the votes, and hence, some of the most boisterous determined to decide them in a manner peculiar to themselves. What they failed to accomplish by the power of their lungs, they attempted to effect by “the force of arms.” Blows were liberally bestowed and received, and broken heads and bleeding noses were the consequence. The fight commenced on the speakers’ stand, and in a short time, the meeting was divided into a dozen squads, each taking an active part in the mêlée. Order was at length restored, and the mass once more gathered to adopt or reject the resolutions. The chairman again “put the question,” and the “ayes” rang loudly through the air, which were followed no less loudly by the “noes.” It was impossible to decide whether the “ayes” or the “noes” were in the ascendency. The holding up of hands was next resorted to. The “ayes” were told to hold up their right hands, and after them the “noes;” but many of both parties seemed to imagine that in a matter of such importance, all hands were right, and consequently held up all the hands they had, doubtless regretting not having others for the purpose. It was then suggested that the “whigs” created all the difficulty, and they were requested to withdraw. The whigs accordingly fell back, leaving about one-half the assembly behind. Elated at the sight of their own numbers, they whirled their hats in triumph over their heads, which was accounted by their opponents as a signal for attack; and down they rushed upon the retiring force in a perfect torrent, sweeping before them all who were not levelled with the dust. It was now thought expedient to adjourn the meeting, which was effected with “three cheers” for the democracy, every aspirant for the honors, spoils and profits of which, internally resolving to support the party whenever its requirements did not conflict with his personal interests.

MARCH 26th.—For some time back there have been much agitation and discussion on the subject of the “Colton Grants.” It appears that Mr. Horace Hawes, prefect of the district of San Francisco, had chosen to consider that the duties and privileges of his office were more extensive than had been previously supposed. He had, in particular, instructed Mr. G. Q. Colton, a justice of the peace in and for his district, to sell and convey away the municipal lands, accounting only to himself for the proceeds of the same. When, afterwards, the Court of First Instance, on the petition of the ayuntamiento, granted an injunction to restrain Mr. Colton from so acting, Mr. Hawes immediately issued a mandate annulling the said injunction. Mr. Colton meanwhile had sold or otherwise disposed of a great number of town allotments, some of them at nominal prices, to various parties. The ayuntarniento, holding that they alone were the proper parties to authorize such sales, thereupon determined this day to prefer against Mr. Hawes a number of charges, founded upon these and other facts, to the governor of the State; and passed a long string of resolutions on the subject. The governor subsequently suspended Mr. Hawes from performing the duties of his office; while the titles to the “Colton Grants,” many of which had been signed in blank, and others were ante-dated, passed into the courts of law, and were for years afterwards a fertile source of litigation. In the end, it is believed that they were altogether found to be invalid.

San Francisco in April 1850, showing Clay street, opposite Portsmouth Square.APRIL 1st.—The first election for county officers. The principal office to be filled was that of sheriff, for which there were three candidates. Col. J. Townes was the regular whig nominee—Col. J. J. Bryant the nominee of the democratic party—and the celebrated “Texan Ranger,” Col. John C. Hayes, was selected by the people as an independent candidate. It was soon apparent that the contest rested between the two last named. Col. Bryant was a man of fortune, and was determined to spare no exertions or expense to secure his election. He was proprietor of the most extensive and best conducted hotel in the place, known at that time as the “Bryant House,” formerly the “Ward House,” which was a great place of resort, for politicians, and where hundreds of the colonel’s pretended friends and real supporters enjoyed, in no slight degree, the advantages of his generous hospitality. A band of music was daily stationed on the balcony of the Bryant House after the nomination of its proprietor, free lunches were served up in the spacious saloon, and on this day the building was literally covered with flags, signals, and banners of every form and beautiful color, while the finest liquors were gratuitously dispensed at the well-stocked bar to all who chose to drink. On Saturday afternoon, March 29th, the friends of Col. Hayes held a mass meeting on the plaza, which was a large and enthusiastic assembly. After several spirited addresses had been given, the meeting formed in procession, and headed by a band of music, paraded the principal streets, cheering and being cheered by multitudes of spectators as they passed along. In the evening the democrats also assembled in the square, making a truly splendid display. The whole plaza was covered with men, horses and wagons, and was illuminated with flaming torches and other lights, which blazed from the speakers’ stand and hundreds of vehicles admirably arranged for effect. Numerous transparencies, banners and flags added greatly to the life and splendor of the pageant. Able speakers urged the claims of the democracy in general, and of Col. Bryant in particular, to the suffrages of the people, whilst, at regular intervals, cannons were fired to give effect and increase the excitement. This meeting also ended in a procession, which traversed the streets to a late hour of the night. Early this morning the different parties were in force about the polls, and in due time the judges, inspectors and clerks were chosen and installed in their respective offices. The election was conducted with more than usual spirit. At noon it was evident that Col. Hayes was the people’s favorite, which incited to increased efforts the Bryant party. Accordingly they appeared with another grand display upon the plaza. A procession of mounted men, and carriages filled with musicians, with banners and flags waving and floating above them, occupied the square, and were in a measure, producing the desired effect. But in the midst of the excitement thus produced, Col. Hayes, mounted upon a fiery black charger, suddenly appeared, exhibiting some of the finest specimens of horsemanship ever witnessed. The sight of the hero, as he sat bare-headed and unattended upon his noble animal, took the people by surprise, and called forth the admiration and patriotism of the vast multitude of spectators, from every one of whom shout after shout rent the air, deadening the sounds of trumpets and drums, and being heard far and wide over land and sea. Men crowded around him on every hand, some seizing the bridle, others clinging to his clothing and stirrups, and each anxious to obtain a grasp of his hand. The noise and tumult terrified the spirited beast he strode, which reared and plunged among the enthusiastic crowd, though so admirably managed as to do injury to none; when, at length, his rider giving him the rein, he dashed into and along the adjoining street, followed and greeted by loud huzzas at every step. This settled the question. The cause of Col. Bryant was abandoned, and a vast majority of votes were given in favor of the “Texan Ranger.” The following named parties were elected: —

Sherriff.—John C. Hayes.
District Attorney.—Calhoun Benham.
County Judge.—R. N. Morrison.
County Clerk.—John E. Addison.
County Recorder.—J. A. McGlynn.
County Assessor.—David M. Chauncey.
County Surveyor.—Wm. W. Eddy.
County Coroner.—Edward Gallagher.
County Treasurer.—G. W. Endicott.
County Attorney.—T. J. Smith.
Clerk of the Supreme Court.—E. H. Tharp.

APRIL 15th.—The City Charter passed by the State Legislature. The limits of the city are now declared to be as follows:—“The southern boundary shall be a line two miles distant in a southerly direction from the centre of Portsmouth Square, and which line shall be a parallel to the street known as Clay street. The western boundary shall be a line one mile and a half distant in a westerly direction from the centre of Portsmouth Square, and which line shall be parallel to the street known as Kearny street. The northern and eastern boundaries shall be the same as the County of San Francisco.” The city was to be divided into eight wards by the first council appointed by the charter; and for its government were to be elected a Mayor, and Recorder, a Board of Aldermen and a Board of Assistant Aldermen, which two boards should be styled the “Common Council,” each consisting of one member from each ward. There was also to be elected by the city a Treasurer, Comptroller, Street Commissioner, Collector of City Taxes, City Marshal and City Attorney, and by each ward two Assessors. As at the time of the first election under the charter there were only four wards, it was provided that two chief and as many assistant Aldermen should be elected from each, while the same number of Assessors should be chosen. The municipal officers were to hold office only one year, and new elections to be made on the fourth Monday of April annually. The powers and duties of the Common Council and municipal officers are minutely laid down in the charter.

MAY 1st.—This day the City Charter was submitted to the inhabitants for approval, when it was adopted; and the first election under its provisions took place. The following candidates were returned as elected: —

Mayor.—John W. Geary.
Treasurer.—Charles G. Scott
Recorder.—Frank Tilford.
Comptroller.—Benj. L. Berry.
Marshal.—Malachi Fallon.
Tax Collector.—Wm. M. Irwin.
City Attorney.—Thos. H. Holt.
Street Commissioner.—Dennis McCarthy.

Charles Minturn,
A. A. Selover,
C. W. Stuart,
F. W. Macondray,
Wm. Greene,
Wm. M. Burgoyne,
D. Gillespie,
M. L. Mott.

Assistant Aldermen.
A. Bartol,
John Maynard,
L. T. Wilson,
C. T. Botts,
John P. Van Ness,
A. Morris,
Wm. Sharron,
Wm. Corbett.

Robert B. Hampton,
John H. Gihon,
John P. Haff,
Halsey Brower,
Francis C. Bennett,
Beverly Miller,
John Garvey,
Lewis B. Coffin.

Before the term of election expired, several changes occurred in the Common Council. Mr. Burgoyne having made a visit to the Atlantic States immediately after the election, was never qualified, and his place was declared vacant; and Mr. Macondray resigned shortly afterwards. Their places were filled on the 27th June by the election of Moses G. Leonard and John Middleton. Mr. Maynard resigned June 24th, and soon afterwards the resignation of Mr. Botts was accepted; and a new election to fill the vacancies thus occasioned, on the 27th July, resulted in the choice of George W. Green and James Grant. Subsequently Messrs. Gillespie and Leonard retired from the Board of Aldermen, and Mr. Morris from the Board of Assistants. Their places were also supplied by election on the 20th January, 1851, by W. H. V. Cronise and D. G. Robinson to the first, and George W. Gibbs to the second Board. We are somewhat particular in mentioning these changes in the Boards of Aldermen, since the affairs of their salaries, and the famous medals, hereafter noticed, directed much attention to the individual members.

Diagram of the burnt district, May 4th, 1850.Fire of May 4th, 1850.
MAY 4th.—The second great fire in San Francisco, when property to the value of nearly four millions of dollars was supposed to be destroyed. It began about four o’clock in the morning, in the building on the east side of the place called the United States Exchange; and before eleven of the forenoon, three immense blocks of buildings, with a few trifling exceptions, were totally destroyed. These were the blocks lying between Kearny, Clay, Montgomery and Washington streets; and the two blocks between Dupont, Montgomery, Washington and Jackson streets. A great many buildings were torn down or blown up by gunpowder to stay the progress of the flames; and, among others, nearly the whole erections in Dupont street were voluntarily destroyed to prevent the conflagration spreading on that side. While some of the populace readily and untiredly assisted in extinguishing the flames, others would lend no hand at the work without being first well paid for it. The police force was very efficient in preventing pillage, and preserving order among the real workers and the idlers at the fire. Circumstances occurred which led to the strong suspicion, if not moral certainty, that the fire arose through the agency of incendiaries, and a reward of five thousand dollars was offered by the mayor for their detection. Several parties were apprehended on suspicion, but no formal trial took place, and they were shortly afterwards liberated. As in the case of the former great fire, on the 24th December last, new buildings were begun to be erected while still the sites of the old were hot with smoking ashes. While even one extremity of the old tenement was still blazing, people were planning the nature of the new erection, and clearing away the embers and rubbish from the other scarcely extinguished end, to lay the foundation of the intended new pile. In a wonderfully short time the whole burned space was covered with new buildings, and looked as if no fire had ever been there; although it was generally remarked that these were even more unsubstantial and inflammable than those which had just been destroyed.

MAY 9th.—The two boards of aldermen severally held meetings for the first time at the new City Hall, at the corner of Kearny and Pacific streets. The principal business of the meetings was to organize, appoint committees, and receive and read a message from the mayor. This latter was an able and interesting document, containing many truly excellent suggestions in regard to the interests of the corporation. Its great length precludes the propriety of its insertion. As the following extract, however, gives a correct statement of the financial condition of the city at this important period of its history, its omission would be inexcusable: —

“The Reports of the Treasurer and Comptroller are herewith submitted. The financial condition of the city is as follows:—
Amount on second instalment, of sales of water lots, due April 3d, 1850  $23,049 00
Amount on third instalment, due July 3d, 1850  107,602 00
Amount on fourth instalment, due October 3d, 1850  107,602 00
$238,253 00
The Report of the Comptroller, up to May 8, 1850, shows 
the present liabilities of the city, including the purchase of 
the City Hall, to be
 $199,174 19
Excess over liabilities  $ 39,078 81”

In the course of this month, several stringent and useful ordinances were passed by the common council, which endeavored to provide means for the better extinguishing of future fires. One of these ordinances declared that if any person, during a conflagration, should refuse to assist in extinguishing the flames, or in removing goods endangered by the fire to a place of safety, he should be fined in a sum not less than five, and not exceeding one hundred dollars. Another ordinance authorized the mayor to enter into contracts for the digging of Artesian wells, and for the immediate construction of water reservoirs in various parts of the city. Another ordained every householder to furnish six water buckets, to be kept always in readiness for use during the occurrence of future fires. Such ordinances were all excellent in their way, though unfortunately they were somewhat late in being adopted.

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

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