Home -> James H. Barry Press -> The Vigilance Committee of 1856 -> Chapter 5

Previous Page Home Up One Level Next Page

Chapter V.

Casey and Cora were hanged on Thursday, May 22d. On Monday, June 2d, a meeting of the advocates of Law and Order was held in the Plaza. Thousands of the Committee members and supporters assembled about the square. Nothing effective came of it. Governor Johnson had meantime been prevailed upon by prominent citizens, on the side of Law and Order, to adopt a course calculated to suppress the Committee. It was too late. The Law and Order element had organized a military force under the State militia 1 ws. W. T. Sherman was made General. Governor Johnson issued a proclamation commanding the State militia to hold themselves in readiness for duty, and to report to General Sherman. In the city a force of about three hundred mustered. It was totally inadequate, and not enough could be expected from the country. In the harbor, in front of the city, the war-ship John Adams, Commander Bontwell, was anchored. Commodore Farragut, commandant of this naval station, was at Mare Island. It was rumored that the Adams would support the authorities in case of conflict with the Committee. Another rumor was that cannons were to be placed upon the hills and at points which commanded the city, to be used if necessary. The excitement continued and increased. A deputation was sent to Washington, at the instance of the Governor, to represent the condition of affairs to the President, and prevail upon him to order the services of the military and naval forces to the suppression of the Committee and the restoration of law and order. The deputation took the next steamer and proceeded to the national capital. President Pierce replied that the federal government had no authority to interfere until the request came from the State government after the Legislature had assembled, acted upon the matter, and the State authorities had exhausted every means to put down the Committee and failed.

While the excitement was heightened by these rumors and proceedings, an incident occurred which augmented it to frenzied quality. The armory of the Law and Order forces was in the capacious brick building, northeast corner of Dupont and Jackson streets. On Jackson street, near by, a number of its members and sympathizers were standing in groups. Sterling Hopkins, the volunteer hangman of Casey, of the Vigilance police, came up and attempted the arrest of Reub. Maloney, a notorious politician, whose impudence of speech and reckless ways in partisan devices had made him an unenviable reputation. His bravery was in his mouth; his mouth beyond his own control. Judge David S. Terry, then of the State Supreme Court, interposed to prevent the lawless arrest, and in the struggle he drew a knife and dangerously wounded Hopkins. In a few minutes word had reached the Committee headquarters, and the alarm was sounded with unexampled vigor. The Committee forces, marshalled and led by the Commander-in-chief, Charles Doane, Major General, marched in quick time to the scene. Judge Terry had gone to the armory, Maloney and others with him. The Law and Order troops were less than three hundred strong. The Vigilance force numbered several thousand. A surrender was demanded. It would have been folly to resist, and with Terry and Maloney as prisoners, and the Law and Order troops as prisoners of war, so to say, the Vigilance forces marched back to their fortified quarters. The arrest of Judge Terry wrought the excitement to its climax. What would the Committee do with him? was the question asked by every one. His residence was temporarily in Sacramento, but Stockton was his home place. Governor Johnson was devoted to him; David S. Douglass, Secretary of State, was a bosom friend. Hundreds in the capital city were prepared to go to any length to rescue him. His thousands of friends in San Joaquin, everywhere in the San Joaquin Valley, were aroused to the extremity of desperation. All over the State the feeling for Judge Terry was very strong. Harm to him would have precipitated a domestic row, which would have caused immense sacrifice of life, and the destruction of San Francisco. It would have extended into the interior, and raged there in bloodshed and devastation. The peaceful way out of the difficulty was thought the better course, if it could be accomplished. The occasion was extraordinary, and never contemplated - the exigency beyond immediate solution. As James Dows, one of the coolest in judgment and wisest in counsel of the Executive Committee, pertinently described the situation in the pithy remark, "We started in to hunt cayotes, but we've got a grizzly bear on our hands, and we don't know what to do with him." The Executive Committee were not themselves masters of the situation. Behind them, subject to them and ready to obey their commands on ordinary occasions, were the 5,000 members of the Committee who carried arms, and felt themselves superior to even the Executive Committee, if occasion should happen to test the matter. Of their number nearly one-third were of foreign nationality, and of these a considerable proportion did not very well speak English - they were of revolutionary, if not insurrectionary temper - and had participated in uprisings in their native land against the government. Many of the native born members were of similar disposition. It had been resolved by this element of the Committee, that if Hopkins should die, Terry must hang; and the only alternative of the Executive Committee would be to order the execution or spirit him away, at the peril of their own lives. To hang a Justice of the highest judicial tribunal of the State, was a very serious matter to contemplate - a most hazardous extremity in any event. If spared from the fury of their troops, by ordering the execution, their death was certain at the hands of Judge Terry's avengers. In this quandary, the Executive Committee were as anxious for a safe way out, without blood or sacrifice, as any of the friends of Terry. Secretary of State Douglass came to San Francisco. He persuaded ex-Senator Gwin to interpose on Terry's behalf. Gwin dispatched Sam. J. Bridges, Appraiser-General, to Mare Island, to request Commodore Farragut to meet him in San Francisco on Wednesday, June 25th. On the afternoon of that day, Farragut, Gwin and two others, on behalf of Law and Order, met four members of the Executive Committee, in a room on the third floor of the Custom House. Senator Gwin explained the object of the conference - to secure the release of Judge Terry. Commodore Farragut then made the proposition: that he would have a boat sent from the John Adams to a stipulated landing place on Market street wharf, at midnight; that the Executive Committee should have Judge Terry escorted to the landing place at that hour; that the Adams should immediately sail for Mare Island; and that there he (Commodore Farragut) would exact a promise from Judge Terry, before he left the vessel, that he would go into the interior of the State, not visit San Francisco inside of six months, and meantime neither excite nor encourage any popular feeling against the Vigilance organization. To this James Dows responded on behalf of the Executive Committee: that the Committee had already submitted to them a proposition from Judge Terry himself, to the effect that he would resign his place upon the Supreme Bench, consent to have the Committee put him on board the next steamer for Panama, and not return to California within the succeeding six months. He added that, although this proposition had been before the Executive Committees twenty hours, no definite action had yet been agreed upon; the recovery or death of Hopkins was the paramount factor in the case, because of the intense feeling against Terry among the larger proportion of the Committee troops. At this juncture, J. D. Farwell, also one of the Executive Committee, spoke. He was voluble and vehement. He said that the Vigilance organization acknowledged no authority to be superior to itself. "We have," he continued in loud tone and gasconading temper, "proved ourselves the superiors of the City and County, government, and of the State government; and if the Federal government dares" - He got no further. Commodore Farragut sprang to his feet, his eyes flashing fire, as electric sparks in brilliancy; his face betokening his fierce indignation; his whole frame seeming a prodigy of the grandeur of human passion highest wrought - the incarnation of the noblest majesty and sublimest patriotism. "Stop, sir!" he thundered - Farwell had stopped and sunk into his seat. And then the heroic Commodore went on to declare what the duty of a citizen was; that which he should do, if occasion required; and closed his less than five minutes burst of withering rebuke and eloquent counsel with an impressive appeal to the other members of the Committee present. The folly and rashness of Farwell had thwarted the wise intentions of the parties who invited the conference. It ended with Commodore Farragut's thrilling words. In a week or more Hopkins was considered past danger from his wound, and Judge Terry was thereupon set free. The Committee had now accomplished about all that had been contemplated at its organization. It had put to death four men. Of these at least two were not guilty of murder, as the law defines that crime. As to the other two, the course of justice in the Courts at that time gave no warrant for the presumption or belief that a fair and just trial would not have, been given them; that their conviction and the death penalty would not have followed. It is not too much to assert that, so far as escape from the penalty of murder is involved, there has been, any time these ten years, and there is now, in San Francisco, stronger cause for a Vigilance Committee than there was in 1856. The administration of the law was better then in general criminal procedure than it is now. There were fewer heinous crimes then, in the ratio of population, then the record of any year for the past ten years will show. In the category of crimes, such as forgery, perjury, embezzlement, frauds by which large sums of money or valuable property is obtained, were then infrequent; now of daily occurrence. But in crimes of violence the record is enormously against this period in comparison with that; the infliction of penalties by the Courts was then more certain than it is now. And as to ballot-box stuffing and frauds in elections, surely the worst ever charged against the manipulators of that period, pales and sinks into insignificance when compared with the colossal fraud committed in San Francisco, in 1876, by which not only the will of the people of the State was overborne, but also the will of the people of the United States. Yet the perpetrators of the unparalleled fraud have never been called to account or punished; to the contrary they are recognized as gentlemen of respectability, even by those who, in 1856, forcibly and lawlessly, as Vigilance Committee members, banishement for stuffing ballot-boxes to secure merely a local advantage by the success of a ward ticket. Straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel never had more conspicuous illustration. And the burning fact remains incredible that among the members of the Executive Committee were some who had themselves obtained office by bribery and corruption, by calling into play the stuffing of ballot-boxes, and by all the wicked and infamous means which were at that time practiced. Another member was, as I have stated before, a felon who had served his time in the Ohio State Prison; another, still living and a highly respectable church member who professes holy horror of fraud, had in early years colluded with his brother to get possession of valuable wharf property, of which the brother was agent and care-taker by appointment of the owner, who had returned to his home in the East, to be gone a year. The scheme of these brothers was a fraud of villainous conception, but it was clumsy and therefore failed. On his return the Courts restored the property to the rightful owner. I might go on and point out other members of the Executive Committee who had committed deeds which, had they been duly brought to answer in the Courts, would have put upon them the felon's brand and the convict's stripes, in some instances; in others, pilloried them as rogues and swindlers, unworthy of trust, unfit for respectable association.

But were one to trace the career of several others of that body, the tracks would be through the sloughs and conduits of shame and turpitude, rascality and crime, and finally to self-murder. It was as bad - it could hardly have been worse, except in numbers, proportioned to the greater numerical force - in the Vigilance rank and file. It is against reason and sense to expect that in a body of five thousand men, there will be none who are not good and honorable; that there will be no base and disreputable characters, no rogues and scoundrels. Therefore it was not strange that of the Committee's entire force, so many were of the vile stamp, notorious gold-dust "operators," who robbed the honest miner of his "Pile," by bare-faced fraud; mock auction sharpers, high-toned frauds and swindlers of low degree; and others who neither toiled nor spun, yet feasted and fattened. All these found in the ranks of the Committee their own security from the incarceration and banishment enforced in the case of so many less culpable than themselves. But the onus rests upon the Executive Committee - they constituted the head and front of the grave offending of the very laws they usurped; they were the counselors and administrators, the accusers and arbiters, of the fate of their powerless victims. Their's was a tribunal organized to convict - they were the prosecutors, the jurors, the judges, from whose fiat of condemnation there was no appeal; and defense was not allowed. Arrest meant death or banishment. The accused were prosecuted by the promoter or participant with them in the charged offence or crime, and convicted by the verdict in which some who had been accessories were most strenuous for conviction. It is a rule of law that the accuser shall come into Court with clean hands.

Ignoring this just rule and in defiance of law, in usurping the seat of justice, the Executive Committee gave opportunity to several of its members to "compound for sins they were inclined to, by damning those who had no mind to;" to sit in judgment on those whose testimony or confession in a Court of Justice would have turned the tables and wrought the conviction of their accusers, prosecutors and judges. But these strictures do not apply to the greater number of the Executive Committee - to only about a half dozen of its members. The Committee was composed mainly of honorable men, deservedly high in the community, in every walk and relation of life. They doubtless acted from a conscientious sense of duty, and neither intended usurpation of the law, violence to justice, nor any wrong whatever. They believed it incumbent upon them to reform what they regarded as the maladministration of public affairs, and to cleanse the city of the corruption which existed - as it has existed and always will exist in populous communities, agreeably to the sentiment of Jefferson, that "cities are scabs upon the body politic." And with the best of motives they believed that the organization of the Vigilance committee was the better and surer remedial agent to these wholesome and commendable purposes. But their action was akin to that of the thousands of citizens who refrain from voting at primary elections, where the seed is planted which will produce its kind in the fruiting on the day of the final and determining election, and subsequently complain of the incompetency or dishonesty of the incumbents whose election is largely attributable to the neglect of these very citizens, to make it their special care that only good and qualified and worthy men shall be elected at the primaries.

I shall now pass to the conduct of the Executive Committee in their arrests, their domiciling visits, and their enforced banishments. Among their victims in the category, banished from the State with the penalty of death if they returned to it, were Charles P. Duane, Billy Mulligan, Billy Carr, Reub. Maloney, Bill Lewis, Martin Gallagher, Woolley Kearney, Yankee Sullivan the pugilist, and John Crowe. These, with the exception of Charley Duane, were all Democrats, devoted to Broderick. Duane had been a Whig, was opposed to the Democrats, yet felt kindly toward Broderick. On the other side - they could not be called Republicans, but were always against the Democrats, and had at last affiliated with the Know-Nothings - were men as notorious as any named above, and of really worse character; but not one of these did the Committee molest. They were either received into its military ranks or were permitted to remain in the city. It was a noticeable discrimination; no reason for it was apparent or expressed on the part of the Executive Committee.

Charley Duane was a man of extraordinary character in his line of life. He had made reputation as a "handy man in a fight" and a very hard one to master before he came of age, in New York. He came to San Francisco early in 1850, in company with Tom Hyer, the champion prize-fighter. He had got the sobriquet of "Dutch Charley" in New York, notwithstanding his Irish blood. Hyer euphonized this into "German Charles." Hyer returned to New York, Duane remained here. He was a zealous, very active Whig, an equally zealous and active fireman; and was once elected Chief Engineer of the Department, against George Hossefross. Subsequently he was appointed one of the Sheriff's deputies. He had killed a Frenchman in a difficulty, was tried for the deed and acquitted. No charge of dishonest nature - theft, fraud, swindling, embezzlement, or anything of the kind, was ever brought against him. But he was somewhat prone to fight, and this was the worst that could be charged upon him. I am not aware that he was ever accused of crookedness in elections except in his zeal to secure the election of Delos Lake, Whig, as District Judge, in 1851. When the Vigilance Committee was organized, in 1856, he openly and boldly denounced it, and was an ardent supporter of the Law and Order side. On what charge he was arrested and banished I have never been able to ascertain. The manner of his arrest added no laurels to the parties who conspired to effect it and the participants in the arrest. It bore the tokens of jealousy and spite sprung from his election years before as Chief Engineer, more than of any present cause. He was entrapped, seized, hauled to the committee cells and banished, nevertheless.

Billy Mulligan was the incarnation of fearlessness, fight and frolic - dangerous frolic it was sometimes to any he did not like. Of low stature, slight frame, active as a cat, the expression of a bull-terrier, and as, quick to an, encounter, Mulligan was not a man to pick a quarrel with - the other party invariably second best. He had served under Colonel Jack Hays in his troop of Texan Rangers, and Colonel Hays gave the praise that he was one of the bravest, pluckiest, most daring and desperate fighters he had ever had in his command. Billy had his full share of the vices of drinking, gambling, fighting and a fast life. He was active in politics and "went in to win." But he had the virtue not to lie; and he would not betray any confidence reposed in him, turn faithless to any promise he made. He was bold, frank, manly, magnanimous except towards those he despised as well as hated, and to these he was implacable and merciless. The world's wealth couldn't seduce or bribe him from the support of the men he liked, no matter how poor they might be; and he would on every occasion interpose to protect the helpless and defenseless from the violence or maltreatment of others. Crime of any degree was never alleged to his account. He had faithfully served as collector of moneys for the County Treasurer two years, and fully accounted for every dollar that he received. Beyond his fighting bouts and his conduct in elections - about the same as prevails now - there was nothing to warrant his arrest and banishment. But the terrors of Fort Gunny Bags did not intimidate Mulligan. One of the committee remarked to me, on the occasion of his death by the rifle shot of a policeman while he was wild with delirium tremens, that he was the only prisoner ever put in the committee cells who did not "weaken." He was a character the community could well spare; but he had given the committee no offence to justify his banishment.

Yankee Sullivan's character is notorious. He was a professional prize-fighter - ready to try conclusions in the fistic ring with any in the world; but he feared a pistol or a knife as an ordinary man would fear a blow from his powerful arm. He had helped Mulligan and Casey in some of their election operations, and for that he was arrested. There was no charge of any other nature than this and his fighting quality to warrant his arrest. His courage or spirit broke down while confined in the close cell, and one morning his lifeless body was found stiff in the cell. He had opened a vein in his arm and bled to death. The rumor at the time was - and it is still believed - that he was driven to the deed by the remark made by one of the Vigilance guards outside the cell, but spoken in tone calculated for Sullivan to hear it, that he was to be hanged the next morning. To escape the ignominy of such a death, he anticipated it by his own hand.

Martin Gallagher and Billy Carr were boatmen, and active in party manipulations in the interest of Mr. Broderick in the First Ward. They were tough men to handle in a fight, and usually forced their own way in anything they undertook. With Mulligan they often sat as delegates in city, county and State conventions of the Democracy - together with several other of their associates and kind, who are still more or less prominent in city politics - some of them Democrats, some Republicans. Bill Lewis was sent out of the country none too soon. He was a great, powerful, terrorizing fellow, desperate and unscrupulous, and one to beware of. He took active part in politics, and was terrible in a "scrimmage. Of his redeeming, traits I never obtained information. Doubtless he had some. Unlest it was on account of Woolley Kearney's facial configuration, I have never been able to divine why the Committee banished him. He was the homeliest, ugliess looking mortal I ever saw. Had the Committee compelled him to go as the Veiled Prophet, with a gunny sack instead of silver veil, there would have been at least the essence of justice in their action. His battered, flattened, twisted, gnarled nose, was at every point of the compass, and more hideous at every turn. Why he didn't blow it off when he blowed it, blow'd if any could conjecture. His eyes were squinted, his mouth a monstrous curiosity. Every feature seemed in revolt at that nose. It would have struck awe to the spirit of an Ogre, Woolley was no doubt ready and willing to do any crooked deed, but none who knew him would employ him on any mission in which skill and fidelity were required. His banishment had, perhaps, a good effect upon the unborn generation, whose parents had not then entered the matrimonial state. Whatever other purpose it subserved, except to show to other communities the "latest novelty" from California, is the unfathomable conundrum. John Crowe was a noisy, blatant, meddlesome fellow, the keeper of a livery stable on Kearny street, and a fierce denouncer of the Committee. There was nothing else to his discredit, so far as I could learn at the time. Reub. Maloney was a compound character - a good deal of a knave, something of the man in his fidelity to his friends, reckless of everything except his own safety in any transaction calculated to damage the cause to which he was opposed; indifferent to what might happen to an adversary, He was a most valiant "brave" - with his mouth; the noble quality had never penetrated his cuticle. His passion when bloviating was furious and terrible to look upon; but there was nothing to it more than sound and pretense. His face would redden to congestive hue, his voice swell to sonorous volume; but the simple kindly invitation in quiet tone: "Never mind, Reub, come and take a drink," would unbind him in a moment, and coming up relaxed, smiling to "smile," he would gulf down the dram, and with stated manner remark, "Well, boys, I said about the right thing, didn't I?" He was the faithful henchman of General James A. McDougall; hated Senator Gwin, and between the two preferred Broderick.

Maloney had been a drummer for a large importing house in New York, his field of labor in the South. He had also been employed in the western states, and endowed with good address, portly figure, much volubility, unfailing check and invincible assurance, he successfully pushed his way. He came to California during the fall of '47, located in Stockton, subsequently in San Francisco, and took up "Politics" as his means of support. To gain his point in a partisan deal, he would do anything that was not personally dangerous. He cared for ends, and was utterly regardless of means. He was ceaselessly putting up jobs to promote the cause he advocated, and to break down that of the antagonists. With the courage of Babadil he had the honesty of Ancient Pistol, the habits of Falstaff, and the temptations of Anthony would have been to him as pastures green to the hungering herd. Poor old Reub, his incarceration in the Vigilance cells nearly frightened the life out of him, and his release even under banishment, was as the open door to the caged wild bird. He never did much harm to any cause or party that he opposed. The Committee would have better spared him and exiled many who were worse - some from their own ranks.

Previous Page Home Up One Level Next Page