San Francisco History

The Annals of San Francisco



APRIL 28th. —Conclusion in the U. S. District Court of the trial of the Mexican consul at San Francisco, Don Luis del Valle, for a breach of the neutrality laws. This was only one of a series of important events, connected with the subject, which took place about this time. It appeared that the Mexican consul, some two months before this date, had received instructions from his government, to enlist, or select, a body of emigrants, chiefly of French or German origin, who were to proceed (at the cost of the Mexican Government,) to the province of Sonora. There, after a year’s service, they were each to receive a grant of a certain portion of land. The particular service which these emigrants were to render was not exactly known, either by the emigrants themselves or by the federal authorities in San Francisco of the United States, although the latter presumed it was service of a military description. The attention of the federal authorities had been recently attracted to the filibustering movements of Col. Walker and his associates upon Lower Cahfornia and Sonora. It was understood that the governmental instructions of Gen. John E. Wool, the chief military officer on the Pacific coast, bore particular reference to the necessity of putting down all filibustering schemes whatever. In furtherance of his duty, Gen. Wool took occasion to narrowly watch the proceedings of the Mexican consul in regard to the expedition which he was fitting out for Sonora. The British ship Challenge, on board of which five or six hundred of the expeditionists were embarked, was seized, on 29th March, for a violation of the revenue laws; and, under various unusual pretences, was prevented from sailing, until the federal authorities could make up their mind what next to do. On 1st April, the Challenge was formally allowed to leave, and on the morning of the following day she sailed. Gen. Wool, just before this time, was of opinion, it was said, that the men in the vessel named, who were bound for Sonora, were proceeding thither only as “colonists.” But before the Challenge actually sailed, it seemed that the general found reason to change his ideas as to the supposed object of the expedition. Without troubling himself farther with the expeditionists,—the true filibusters, if there had been any filibusterism in the matter,—Gen. Wool immediately caused the necessary steps to be taken to arrest the Mexican consul. The arrest was made on 31st March. The charge against the consul was, his having violated the second section of the law of 1848, which forbids the enlistment, within the territories of the United States, of soldiers to serve under a foreign power.

During the trial, the United States (the prosecutors) found it necessary for their case to procure the testimony of Mons. Patrice Dillon, the French consul in San Francisco. By a consular convention, recently entered into between France and America, it appeared, that consuls of either nation could not be compelled to appear in courts of justice to give evidence, but that they could only be “invited” to do so. Two “invitations,” in terms of the convention, were forthwith transmitted to M. Dillon by the court, at the desire of the district attorney. Both of these M. Dillon politely declined. Judge Hoffman, of the U. S. District Court, now held, that he could not, under the circumstances, compel the attendance of the French consul, as a witness for the prosecution.

Señor Del Valle, the defendant in the cause, on the broad constitutional principle, that a party accused is entitled to be confronted with witnesses to prove his innocence, next applied to the court for compulsory process to bring forward M. Dillon. It was not, however, generally supposed that the Mexican consul really wished the presence of his brother consul in court as a witness either for or against him. It was only imagined that the former, or his counsel, believed that they would fail to enforce the attendance of the French consul; and that being the case, and having appeared to consider M. Dillon as a witness most material to the defence, it was expected, that either the district attorney would abandon the process against the Mexican consul, or that the court would dismiss it, or that the jury would return a verdict in his favor, on the ground that he had sustained a constitutional wrong by being deprived of the testimony of a witness said to be essential to the defence. M. Dillon was accordingly cited, in the usual manner, as a witness in the cause for the defendant; but, as had been anticipated, he made no appearance. Judge Hoffman, therefore, issued a writ of subpoena, and M. Dillon was forcibly brought into court in custody of the United States marshal. It was now found that some irregularity had taken place in the technical order of proceedings, and the issuing of the warrant was held to be premature. By consent of parties, the pleadings proceeded on the assumption that the warrant of apprehension had not yet been issued. After elaborate pleadings on both sides, where the great question seemed at first to be whether, as the consular convention and the constitution seemed to conflict, the one or the other should yield, Judge Hoffman decided, that they did not conflict, but that virtually, under the consular convention, the French consul must be held to be in this country only in his consular capacity—his true domicile, in the eyes of the law, being France; and that, therefore, he could not legally be compelled to appear in court as a witness. French consuls were thus declared to have some of the most sacred privileges of ambassadors. The decision implied that the defendant, Sr. Del Valle, in the particular case, by not being able to procure the testimony of M. Dillon, suffered no more constitutional wrong, than he would have suffered by not being able to procure the evidence of any witness, alleged to be material to his cause, who might be residing in a foreign country, and therefore not naturally amenable to the jurisdiction of the U. S. District Court. In consequence of this decision, all the rights and privileges which the French consul had claimed at the commencement of the proceedings against him were allowed. Much evil, however, had been done, by the premature and unlawful step of his actual apprehension. M. Dillon had chosen to take high ground in the matter; had presented long protests denying the jurisdiction of the court, and had struck his national flag, considering that the French nation had been insulted in his person, by the proceedings above alluded to. Considerable excitement existed among the French inhabitants of San Francisco on the subject.

In the mean time, the trial of the Mexican consul proceeded, and he was, in the end, found guilty of the offence charged in the indictment. The jury recommended him “to the kind consideration and mercy of the court.” The evidence having showed that the French consul had been closely mixed up with the unlawful transactions, M. Dillon was accordingly next arrested, and charged with having “aided and abetted” Sr. Del Valle in the commission of a breach of the neutrality laws. In defence, the French consul, like his Mexican brother, pleaded, inter alia, that instead of the expedition by the Challenge having been a filibustering one, it was an expedition of the very reverse character. It had been chiefly, if not solely, projected to break up true filibusterism, particularly the schemes of Count Raousset de Boulbon, who had been long notorious for his hostile designs on Sonora. The passengers on board the Challenge were chiefly people who had been previously connected with and were attached to Count Boulbon; and who, by the bribe of a free passage to Sonora and the offer of a grant of land there, had been persuaded to desert their former leader and to serve under, and for the Mexican Government, in place of serving against it. In opposition to this argument, it was contended by the prosecution, that, even admitting that the expedition was really of the nature alleged, still it was unlawful under the express terms of the statute. But further, in the case of the French consul, the prosecution maintained, that M. Dillon had only been using Sr. Del Valle as an unconscious tool; and that, while the former pretended only to be aiding the latter in putting down the filibustering projects of Count Boulbon, he, M. Dillon, for purposes of his own or his government, was secretly working in concert with and for the benefit of the count, and with the intention of counteracting the plans of him whom he was professedly assisting but really thwarting—the blind and simple Sr. Del Valle.

After nearly the same evidence had been adduced in the case of the French consul that had been led in the case of the Mexican consul, the jury in the case of the former could not agree, and were discharged. They had been six hours in deliberation, and, at midnight, on 25th May, when they were discharged, it was understood that ten stood for conviction and two for acquittal. In such circumstances, on 29th May, the district attorney entered a nolle prosequi in the case of M. Dillon; and in the case of Sr. Del Valle (who had not yet been sentenced, though long before convicted), he moved the court to suspend further proceedings. The effect of this motion was simply to discharge the defendant, and free him from further molestation in the suit.

The various proceedings briefly above narrated lasted during many weeks, and occasioned much local excitement. The revelations made in these trials and in the trial of Col. H. P. Watkins (one of Walker’s party), the ex-vice-president of the short-lived “Republic of Sonora,” showed unmistakably the general loose feeling of society in San Francisco and California on the subject of filibusterism. The imputed motives of certain federal authorities in pushing the former prosecution to a conviction, as well as the supposed guilt or innocence of the accused, with all the mixed character of the expedition and the suspected and attributed opposite reasons of the Mexican and French consuls for being connected with it, were much discussed in private circles and by the public press. Many offensive personal charges were made on both sides. Hearing altogether different statements from opposite counsel, neither of which seemed to be fully established by evidence, an impartial observer could scarcely know what to think of the subject. The consequences of the trials, being of a purely political nature, will fall to be adjusted by the governments of the respective countries involved.

APRIL 29th.—The first number of a Chinese newspaper, called “The Gold Hills’ News,” appeared to-day. It was a small sheet of four pages, wholly printed in Chinese characters. “Gold Hills” is the Chinese name for San Francisco. There were now English, French, German, Spanish, and Chinese journals published in San Francisco.

Celebration at Russ's Garden.MAY 7th.—The German inhabitants observed in grand style their annual May-feast during this and the following day, at the gardens of Mr. Christian Russ, on the Mission road. Between two and three thousand persons shared in the entertainment. The conductors of the arrangements were the members of the German Turn-verein, or Gymnast Union. These performed a variety of gymnastical feats and much vocal and instrumental music. As we have previously mentioned at some length the annual May festivities of the Germans in San Francisco, we think it unnecessary to do more than merely allude to them on this occasion.

On the 29th of April of this year, the children attending the various public schools of the city held their annual May festival in Musical Hall.

MAY 12th.—The subject of the street grades had long been a vexatious one. We have already alluded to the grievous loss and injury occasioned to many private citizens by the adoption of the “official,” or, as they were commonly called, the “Hoadley grades.” As these grades were being carried out, and it was seen that they involved an enormous amount of excavations and the partial destruction of Telegraph Hill, and the other hills to the west of the city, public dissatisfaction was much increased on the subject. In the end, the common council referred the whole matter to the consideration of a committee of three scientific gentlemen, who had no personal interest in the question. Of the above date, these gentlemen presented a long and interesting report to the common council, in which they strongly recommended the abandonment of the “official” or “Hoadley” system of grades. This report was printed for circulation among property holders. Afterwards, an answer by Mr. Miles Hoadley, the city surveyor, was likewise printed and circulated. The boards of aldermen and assistant aldermen then met in joint convention to discuss the subject. On the 26th of May, they referred the report and answer, the remonstrances and petitions of citizens, both for and against the existing and the proposed systems of grades, and generally the whole question, back to the committee already alluded to, for further consideration. While we write, no further action has been taken on the subject. It is probable, however, that material modifications will be made upon the existing “official grades.”

MAY 24th.—Of this date, the grand jury found true bills of indictment against William Walker, Howard A. Snow, and John M. Jarnigan. These were severally the president, the secretary of naval affairs, and the secretary of war, of the “Republic of Sonora.” The formal conclusion, therefore, of Col. Walker’s filibustering expedition against Lower California and Sonora is close at hand. For some months back, the expeditionists had suffered much distress in the lower country. Without sufficient arms or ammunition, or supplies of any kind, and with the Mexican natives bitterly enraged against them, the few filibusters left, who were through necessity, or choice, faithful to each other, only sought safely to leave the country they had invaded, to fly to some neutral soil. As this, however, seemed scarcely practicable, Col. Walker and his party crossed the boundary line, below San Diego, which separated Mexico from the United States, and surrendered themselves prisoners to the federal troops, who were in waiting to receive them. On arriving at San Francisco, on May 15th, the greater number of the prisoners were discharged upon their simple parole. The chief parties were then indicted, as Col. Watkins and Maj. Emory had recently been. The trials of the former have not been set down for hearing at the time of writing this notice. Col. Walker was cited as a witness for the prosecution in the case of the United States vs. M. Dillon, referred to above; but he declined to give evidence, on the ground that his doing so might implicate himself.

Lone Mountain Cemetery.MAY 30th.—The “Lone Mountain Cemetery” was solemnly dedicated to-day, when many interesting ceremonies were performed on the ground before a large assemblage of ladies and gentlemen. Col. E. D. Baker delivered an occasional address, Mr. F. B. Austin an ode, Mr. Frank Soulé a poem, Bishop Kip the dedication address, and the Rev. F. T. Gray the closing address. Appropriate hymns and prayers hallowed the new “city of the dead.” Herr Mengis, and the singers of the German Turn-verein, performed the musical pieces.

When noticing the projection of this cemetery, under date November, 1853, we said, that the tract of land to be used for burial purposes was three hundred and twenty acres in extent, and included the hill, or “mountain,” from which it took its name. That was the original intention of the projectors. Subsequently, it was found that one hundred and sixty would form a sufficiently large cemetery, and to that extent the limits of the ground have meanwhile been reduced. The “Lone Mountain” is not situated within the restricted boundaries, but adjoins them on the south. The present mode of access to the cemetery is by a circuitous route, nearly four miles in length, by way of Pacific street and the presidio. When the western extension of Bush street is graded and planked, which is proposed to be done durIng the summer of 1854, the distance from the plaza to the magnificent gateway of the cemetery, about to be erected at the termination of that extension, will be about two miles.

MAY 31st.—Fire broke out this morning between two and three o’clock in a grocery, on the east side of Dupont street, between Broadway and Vallejo street. Notwithstanding the efforts of the fire companies, the conflagration raged for two hours, and consumed more than one-half of the entire buildings on the block. Property was destroyed to the estimated value of $50,000. The buildings were all of frame, and some of them were little better than mere shanties. They were tenanted chiefly by Mexicans, French and Germans. The wind was blowing fresh at the time from the south-west. Had it been a little stronger, and its direction from the north-west, from whence it usually blows at this season, a great part of the city might have been laid in ashes. Notwithstanding the great and daily increase of fire-proof buildings in the city, there still exists an immense number of wooden edifices, which may supply fuel for some terrible conflagration to come. About this period of the year, those high winds fairly set in, which fan flames to their height and suddenly communicate them to new materials across wide empty spaces and streets, notwithstanding all the unwearied exertions of perhaps the bravest and most skilful set of firemen in the world. During this month large portions of two important towns in the State were destroyed by fire, when the dreadful summer winds mightily increased the loss and danger. Marysville sustained loss to the amount of $200,000, and Yreka to the amount of $150,000, by the fires alluded to.

MAY 31st.—The Board of Commissioners of the Funded Debt (now consisting of Messrs. P. A. Morse, D. J. Tallant, Wm. Hooper and Smyth Clark,) present their yearly report. The total amount of bonds issued by the Board, for debts of the city contracted prior to May 1st, 1854, was $1,635,600, of which $126,100 have been redeemed, leaving as the balance of outstanding debt of San Francisco, $1,509,500; which, bearing ten per cent. interest, requires annually $150,950 to meet that sum. The high price which this stock bears in the Atlantic cities and in Europe, renders it improbable that any more will be offered for redemption, and hence this item of interest may be considered an annual requisition on the city treasury, until the Sinking Fund, under the management of the Board, shall have accumulated sufficient to meet the final payment of the bonds.

JUNE 5th.—The occurrences of the last few weeks have shown the futility of the hope that the recent decisions of the Supreme Court would be sufficient to settle the numerous disputes concerning land titles. Squatters, in the face of law and the decisions of the land commissioners and judges, are endeavoring to maintain their assumptions by force. Much distress has been the result of these proceedings, since every member of the community is liable to become a victim of the robberies of these outlaws—the poor man who owns a single lot, as well as the wealthy proprietor of acres of land. Capt. Joseph L. Folsom, one of the most extensive landholders in the city, has been the principal sufferer by the squatting rascality, but many owners of single spots of ground have been no less unjustly treated; and one aggravated case particularly has just occurred, in which a poor woman, who owned a solitary house on a small lot, had her house burned down, the land fenced in and herself turned into the street to starve, without even the means to live, and of course unable to resort to a twelvemonth lawsuit in such a place of problematic uncertainties as San Francisco. The evil was unchecked by the authorities; riot followed on riot; the squatters armed themselves and threatened to kill whoever should attempt to dispossess them ; and finally executed their threat by murdering Mr. George Dillon Smith, one of Capt. Folsom’s party, who were attempting to dislodge a set of squatters on his property in Howard street. Undismayed, squatters on some of Folsom’s neighboring lots, fortified their tenements and prepared for resistance. A few days after this affair, a terrible fight on Green street resulted in the fatal wounding of a Mrs. Murphy by a party of squatters, who had attacked her husband’s house.

Property-holders at last became seriously alarmed at the progress of these dissensions, and held a meeting, this evening, at the office of Theo. Payne & Co. (Dr. Samuel Merritt, chairman), at which Messrs. S. W. Park, Theodore Payne, Dr. Samuel Merritt, T. K. Stevens, Wm. Sharron, Louis McLane, jr., F. A. Woodworth, Jas. C. Ward and Thos. O. Larkin were appointed a committee to draft a plan of organization of a special police for the protection of their own property, and to issue a call for a general meeting of citizens to act upon such a plan. On Tuesday (6th inst.), this meeting was held at the Musical Hall, and the report of the committee unanimously adopted by a large body of citizens, who formed themselves into an Association for the Protection of Property and the Maintenance of Order, adopting a series of appropriate rules for their government. On the next day the meeting reassembled at the Merchants’ Exchange, and completed the organization by electing the following officers:

President.—Col. David S. Turner.
Vice-Presidents.—Benjamin Haywood, G. B. Post, Henry M. Naglee.
Secretary.—Chas. R. Bond.
Treasurer.—Dr. Samuel Merritt.
Executive Committee.—G. B. Post, John Sime, E. J. Hassler, Wilson Flint, F. A. Woodworth, J. P. Manrow, Jas. George, Edward Vischer, Louis Cohen, John C. Maynard, Chas. L. Case, James F. Curtis, Henry M. Naglee, John Perry, jr.

After a general expression of views and intentions the association adjourned, subject to the call of the president. About one thousand citizens had enrolled themselves as its members, who were ready at all hazard to defend one another in their rightful possessions. It was not designed, however, like the Vigilance Committee of old, to oppose in any way the legal authorities, although the police had more than once sided rather obviously with the squatters. It was rather hoped that the moral effect of the decided and united action of so many reputable citizens would be sufficient to check any further disturbances, and incite the authorities to something like action. They had had ample premonition that some such rencontres would occur, and were repeatedly told that owners of land would not suffer themselves to be tamely plundered of their property. Promptness and energy on their part could have prevented every outbreak. As we close, inquests are being held over the murdered bodies, and various rioters are detained for trial in the hospitals and prison.

JUNE 6th.—Interest of the State in twenty-two lots in the square bounded by Pacific street and Broadway, Davis and Front streets, sold for over $100,000.

JUNE 8th.—Capt. Adams, U. S. N., arrived en route for Washington with the treaty concluded between Com. Perry and the Empire of Japan.

JUNE 12th.—Dr. J. W. Van Zandt was elected Alderman of the Third Ward, to fill the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of R. M. Jessup, Esq.

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

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