Lell Hawley Woolley was born in Martinsburg, New York, in 1825. He left Vermont in 1849 and crossed the plains to California by mule train. There he took up gold mining in Weaverville and Beal's Bar and later turned to hotelkeeping in Grass Valley. He married, and came to San Francisco. Here, he went into business for himself and joined the 1856 Committee of Vigilance. He was in San Francisco during its most tumultuous period, and describes his activities with the vigilantes, as well as the Broderick-Terry duel, and the death of Justice Terry. Woolley also gives details of crimes committed by those victims hanged by the vigilantes. His account is exerpted from "California: 1849-1913, or The Rambling Sketches and Experiences of Sixty-four Years' Residence in that State." Notes of clarification were inserted by the editors of this edition.
On my return to San Francisco it did not take me long to discover that the city was wide open to all sorts of crime from murder to petty theft. In a very short time I became interested in the Pacific Iron Works, and paid very little attention to what else was going on around me until the spring of '56. Here was a poise of the scales, corruption and murder on one side, with honesty and good government on the other. Which shall be the balance of power, the first or the last?
On May 14th, 1856, James King, editor of the "Evening Bulletin," was shot by Jas. P. Casey on the corner of Washington and Montgomery streets. He lingered along for a few days and died. This was too much for the people and proved the entering wedge for a second vigilance committee. During the first 36 hours after the shooting there were 2,600 names enrolled on the committee's books. Of that number, I am proud to say, I was the 96th member, and the membership increased until it amounted to over 7,000.
SHOOTING OF GEN. RICHARDSON.
I will first relate a crime that had happened the November previous (November 17, 1855), in which Charles Cora had shot and killed General William H. Richardson, United States Marshal for the Northern District of California. These men had a quarrel on the evening of November 17th, 1855, between 6 and 7 o'clock, which resulted in the death of General Richardson by being shot dead on the spot in front of Fox & O'Connor's store on Clay street, between Montgomery and Leidesdorff streets, by Cora. Shortly after this Cora was arrested and placed in custody of the City Marshal. There was talk of lynching, but no resort was had to violence. Mr. Samuel Brannan delivered an exciting speech, and resolutions were declared to have the law enforced in this trial. General Richardson was a brave and honorable man, and beloved by all. He was about 33 years of age, a native of Washington, D. C., and married. Cora was confined in the County Jail. We will now leave this case in the mind of the reader and take it up later on.
SHOOTING OF JAMES KING, OF WILLIAM.
On May 14th, 1856, the city was thrown into a great excitement by and attempt to assassinate James King, of William, editor of the "Evening Bulletin," by James P. Casey, editor of the "Sunday Times." Both Casey and King indulged in editorials of a nature that caused much personal enmity, and in one of the issues of the "Bulletin" King reproduced articles from the New York papers showing Casey up as having once been sentenced to Sing Sing. Casey took offense at the articles, and about 5 o'clock in the afternoon, at the corner of Montgomery and Washington streets, intercepted King who was on his way home, drew a revolver, saying, "Draw and defend yourself," and shot him through the left breast near the armpit. Mr. King exclaimed, "I am shot," and reeling, was caught up and carried to the Pacific Express office on the corner Casey was quickly locked up in the station house.
NOTEA few words might be said concerning the principals of this trouble. King, whose name was James King (before coming to California he had added "of William" so as to distinguish himself from others of that name), came to California November 10th, 1848,engaged in mining and mercantile pursuits and in December 1849 engaged in the banking business in San Francisco. In 1854 he merged with Adams & Co. Shortly afterwards they failed, and he lost everything he possessed. Through the financial backing of his friends, he started the "Daily Evening Bulletin," October 8th, 1855, a small four-page sheet about 10x15 inches in size. He was fearless in his editorials, but always within the bounds of right and justice, and took a strong position against corruption of the city officials and their means of election. His paper grew in circulation and size, and soon outstripped all the other papers combined. November 17th, 1855, the Cora and Richardson affair held the attention of the public, and King in his fearlessness inflamed the population into taking matters into their own hands after the Courts had failed to convict. And by his so doing had aroused an enmity, and determination from the lawless element to stop his utterances, even at the cost of his life, so when he attacked in his paper, one James P. Casey, a lawless character, gambler and ballot box manipulator and Supervisor, as having served an eighteen-months sentence in Sing Sing, N. Y., before coming to California, who also published a paper, "The Sunday Times," it brought matters to a crisis, for Casey taking offense at this and other attacks on his ilk, shot King on the evening of May 14, 1856. The shooting of King was the cause of the formation of the Vigilance Committee of 1856 and the direct means of cleaning the city of the corruptness that had had swing for so many years.[Editor.]Immediately following the shooting large crowds filled the streets in the neighborhood anxious to hang to the nearest lamp post the perpetrator of the crime. Casey was immediately removed to the County Jail for safer keeping. Here crowds again congregated, demanding the turning over to them of Casey and threatening violence if denied. Mayor Van Ness and others addressed them in efforts to let the law take its course but the crowd which had been swelled into a seething mass, remonstrated, citing the shooting of Marshal Richardson, and demanding Cora, his assassin, that he, too, might be hanged.
Military aid was called to the defense of the jail and its prisoners and after a while the multitude dispersed, leaving all quiet.
CASEY AND CORA TURNED OVER TO VIGILANCE COM.
Sunday, May 18th, a deputation of the Committee was delegated to call at the door of the jail and request the Sheriff to deliver up the prisoner, Casey. Upon arriving at the door three raps were made. Sheriff [David] Scannell appeared. The delegation desired him to handcuff the prisoner and deliver him at the door. Without hesitation, the Sheriff repaired to the cell of Casey and informed him of the request of the Vigilantes. The Sheriff, after going through some preliminaries, brought the prisoner to the front door of the jail and delivered him into the hands of the Committee. My company was stationed directly across the street lined up on the sidewalk. Immediately in front of us was a small brass cannon, which a detachment had shortly before secured from the store of Macondray & Co. It was the field piece of the First California Guard. It was loaded, and alongside was the lighted match, and all was in readiness should any resistance be offered. Other companies were stationed so as to command the entire surroundings. We marched from the general headquarters of the Committee at 41 Sacramento street (Fort Gunnybags), one block from the water front, up that street to Montgomery, thence to Pacific and along Kearny to the jail, which was situated on the north side of Broadway, between Kearny and Dupont streets. Other companies came via Stockton and Dupont streets.
NOTETwo of the unused cartridges of Mr. Woolley's, at the end of the troublous time of the Vigilance Committee, are to be seen in the Oakland Public Museum.[Editor.]Casey was then ironed and escorted to a coach in waiting and, at his request, Mr. North took a seat beside him; Wm. T. Coleman and Miers F. Truett also riding in the same conveyance. Another conference was held with the Sheriff, requesting the prisoner, Charles Cora, who had murdered General Richardson, to be turned over to the Committee. Scannell declined and asked time to consider. The Committee gave the Sheriff one hour in which to decide. In less than half that time the Sheriff appeared at the door of the jail and turned Cora over to the Committee. The Committee reached the rooms on Sacramento street about 2 o'clock. Casey was placed under guard in a room above headquarters. Cora was also removed to the Committee's rooms in the same manner as Casey, the Committee having to go back to the jail for the second time. About three hundred men remained on guard at the Committee rooms after their removal there.
Our headquarters and committee rooms were at the wholesale liquor house of Truett & Jones, No. 41 Sacramento street, about a block from the water front, and embraced the block bounded by Sacramento, California, Front and Davis streets, and covered by brick buildings two stories high. The name "Fort Gunnybags" was ascribed to it on account of the gunnybags filled with sand which we piled up in a wall some six feet through and about ten feet high. This barricade was about twenty feet from the building. Guards were stationed at the passage-ways through it as well as at the stairs and doors to the buildings. On the roof was the bell (a huge 700 pounder) the taps of which brought us to arms at once. The use of this bell was tendered to the Committee by the members of the Monumental Fire Engine Company No. 6, stationed on the west side of Brenham Place, opposite the "Plaza." Our small field pieces and arms were kept on the ground floor, and the cells, executive chamber and other departments were on the second floor.
May 19th found Mr. King still suffering from his wound, but no great alarm was felt as to his condition.
DEATH OF JAMES KING, OF WILLIAM
May 20th Mr. King's condition took a turn for the worse, and at 12 o'clock he was sinking rapidly, being weakened from the probing and dressing of the wound. He passed away. Sorrow and grief were shown by all. He left a widow and six children. He was born in Georgetown, D. C., and was only 34 years old.
TRIAL OF CASEY AND CORA.
Casey and Cora were held for trial May 20th, having been supplied with attorneys and given every opportunity to plead their cases. The Committee sat all night and took no recess until the next morning when the trials were ended. The verdict of "guilty of murder" was found in each case and they were ordered to be executed Friday, May 23rd, at 12 o'clock noon. While the trial was going on Mr. King passed away.
NOTEA large number of the citizens of San Francisco interested themselves toward caring and providing for the family of the deceased, Mr. King, and through the efforts of Mr. F. W. Macondray and six others, collected nearly $36,000. They had erected a monument in Lone Mountain Cemetery, supported the family, and in 1868 the money which, had by judicious investment amounted to nearly $40,000, about half of this fund, was turned over to the elder children, leaving $22,000 on deposit, but this, through the bank's failure, netted the family only $15,000 .[Editor.]
The Committee, for fear that an attempt might be made to rescue Casey and Cora, arranged their companies, which numbered three thousand men and two field pieces, cleared the streets in the immediate vicinity and had had constructed a platform from out of the two front windows. These platforms were hinged, the outer ends being held up by cords which were fastened to a projecting beam of the roof, to which a rope had been adjusted for the purpose of hanging.
Arabella Ryan or Belle Cora was united in marriage to Charles Cora just before the execution.
About one o'clock both Casey and Cora, who had their arms tied behind them, were brought to the platform and with firm steps stepped out upon them. Casey addressed a few remarks, declaring that he was no murderer, and weakened at the thought of his dear old mother. He almost fainted as the noose was placed around his neck. Cora, to the contrary, said nothing, and stood unmoved while Casey was talking, and apparently unconcerned. The signal was given at twenty minutes past one o'clock and the cord cut, letting the bodies drop six feet. They hung for fifty-five minutes and were cut down and turned over to the Coroner. We, the rank and file of the Vigilance Committee, were immediately afterwards drawn up in a line on Sacramento street, reviewed and dismissed after stacking our arms in the Committee room, taking up our pursuits again as private citizens.
NOTEThe body of James King, of William, was buried in Lone Mountain Cemetery, that of James P. Casey in Mission Dolores Cemetery, by the members of Crescent Engine Company No. 10, of which he was foreman, while that of Charles Cora was delivered to Belle Cora and its final resting place is unknown to this day, though it has been stated that she had it buried in Mission Dolores Cemetery.[Editor.]
James (or Yankee) Sullivan, whose real name was Francis Murray, had been taken by the Vigilance Committee and was then (May 20th, 1856), in confinement in the rooms of the Committee. He was very pugilistic and had taken an active part in ballot-box frauds in the several elections just previous. He had been promised leniency by the Committee and assured a safe exit from the country, but he was fearful of being murdered by the others to be exiled at the same time. He experienced a horrible dream, going through the formality and execution of hanging. He called for a glass of water, which was given him by the guard, who at the same time endeavored to cheer him up, and when breakfast was taken him at 8 o'clock that morning he was found dead in his bed, he having made an incision with a common table knife in his left arm near the elbow, cutting to the bone and severing two large arteries.
NOTEHis body was interred in Mission Dolores Cemetery.[Editor.]
On the 2nd of June, 1856, Governor J. Neely Johnson having declared the city of San Francisco to be in a state of insurrection, issued orders to Wm. T. Sherman to enroll as militia, companies of 150 men of the highest standard and to have them report to him, Sherman, for duty. The response was light and the order looked upon as a joke and little or no stock taken in it. So on the 7th Sherman tendered his resignation as Major General, claiming that no plan of action could be determined upon between himself and the Governor. The action taken by the Governor in this move was by virtue of the constitution of the State, his duty to enforce the execution of the laws, he claiming that the Vigilance Committee had no right to arm and act without respect to the State laws.
TERRY AND HOPKINS AFFAIR.
On the 2nd of June, 1856, the city was in great excitement at an attempt by David S. Terry to stab Sterling A. Hopkins, a member of the Committee. Terry was one of the judges of the Supreme Court. Hopkins and a posse were arresting one Rube Maloney when set upon by Terry. Hopkins was taken to Engine House No. 12 where Dr. R. Beverly Cole examined and cared for his wound which was four inches deep and caused considerable hemorrhage. The blade struck Hopkins near the collar bone and severed parts of the left carotid artery and penetrated the gullet. Terry and Maloney at once fled to the armory of the "Law and Order Party" on the corner of Jackson and Dupont streets. The alarm was at once sounded on the bell at Fort Gunnybags and in less than fifteen minutes armed details were dispatched to and surrounded the headquarters of the "Law and Order Party" where Terry had taken refuge, and in less than half an hour had complete control of the situation, and by 4:15 o'clock in the afternoon Terry and Maloney and the others found there had been taken to the Committee rooms as well as the arms (a stand of 300 muskets) and ammunition. About 150 "Law and Order" men together with about 250 muskets were also taken from the California Exchange. Several other places were raided and stripped of their stands of arms.
Terry was held by the Vigilance Committee until August 7th and charged with attempt to murder. Mr. Hopkins recovered and Terry, after a fair and impartial trial, was discharged from custody, though many were dissatisfied at his dismissal and claimed that he should have been held. Terry was requested to resign and resigned his position as judge of the Supreme Court.
DUEL BETWEEN TERRY AND BRODERICK.
In 1859 Judge Terry had an altercation with United States Senator David C. Broderick which caused the former to challenge the latter to a duel. This duel which was with pistols was fought September 13, 1859, near Lake Merced, near the present site of the Ocean House. It resulted in Broderick's death, whose last words were, "They killed me because I was opposed to a corrupt administration, and the extension of slavery." Terry was indicted for his duel with Broderick, as it came in conflict with the State laws. The case was transferred to another county, Marin, and there dismissed. During the Civil War Terry joined the Confederate forces, attained the rank of Brigadier-General, and was wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga. At the close of the conflict he repaired to California and in 1869 located at Stockton and resumed the practice of the legal profession. Some years later he became advocate for a lady [Sarah Althea Hill Sharon] who was one of the principals in a noted divorce suit. Subsequently she became his wife. Legal contention arising from the first marriage caused her to appear before the Circuit Court held in Oakland, over which Stephen J. Field, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, presided.
TERRY AND FIELD SHOOTING OF TERRY.
In open court the Justice proceeded to read the decision. As he continued, the tenor was manifestly unfavorable to Mrs. Terry. She suddenly arose and interrupted the reading by violently upbraiding Field. He ordered her removal from the judicial chamber. She resisted, and Terry coming to his wife's assistance, drew a knife and assaulted the bailiffs. He was disarmed, and together with his wife, overpowered and secured. The court of three judges sentenced Mrs. Terry to one month, and her husband to six months imprisonment, which they served in full. Justice Field returned to Washington, and the next year in fulfillment of his official requirements came again to California. He had been informed that Terry uttered threats of violence against his person, and therefore he was accompanied by a man employed by the Government to act in the capacity of body-guard.On the journey from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Field and his companion, with other passengers, left the train to lunch at Lathrop. Terry and his wife, who had boarded the cars en route, also left the cars and shortly afterwards entered the same restaurant. A few minutes later Terry arose from his seat, walked directly back of Field and slapped or struck the venerable justice on the face, while he was seated. Nagle, the guard who attended Field, leaped to his feet and shot Terry twice. Terry fell and died instantly. This event occurred on the 15th day of August, 1889, not quite thirty years from the time he shot Broderick.
HETHERINGTON AND RANDALL.
On the evening of July 24, 1856, the Vigilance Committee had another case on their hands which called for immediate action.
Joseph Hetherington, a well-known desperate character with a previous record, picked a quarrel with Dr. Randal in the lobby of the St. Nicholas Hotel. They both drew their revolvers and shot; after the second report the doctor dropped and Hetherington, stooping, shot again, striking the prostrate form in the head, rendering the victim almost unconscious. He died the next morning.
The shooting was brought about through Randal's inability to repay money borrowed from Hetherington on a mortgage on real estate.
Hetherington, who was captured by the police, had been turned over to the Committee by whom he was tried, the Committee going into session immediately after the shooting, found him guilty of murder and sentenced him to be hanged.
We were again called out on the 29th and were stationed so as to command the situation. This time a gallows was erected on Davis street, between Sacramento and Commercial.
Another man, Philander Brace by name, was also to be hanged at the same time, and at about 5:30 in the afternoon of July 29th they were both conveyed in carriages, strongly guarded, to the execution grounds. Hetherington had previously proclaimed his innocence, claiming that the Doctor had shot first and he had simply shot in self-defense, but his previous record was bad, he having killed a Doctor Baldwin in 1853 and had run a gambling joint on Long Wharf, and eye witnesses claimed that he not only provoked but shot first.
Brace was of a different nature, he was a hardened criminal of a low type. The charge against him being the killing of Captain J. B. West about a year previous, out in the Mission, and of murdering his accomplice. He had also confessed to numerous other crimes.
HANGING OF HETHERINGTON AND BRACE.
Thousands of people were on the house-tops and in windows and on every available spot from which a view of the gallows was to be had. The prisoners mounted the scaffold, being accompanied by three Vigilance Committee officers who acted as executioners and a Rev. Mr. Thomas. After the noose had been adjusted, Hetherington addressed the crowd, claiming to be innocent and ready to meet his Maker. Brace, every once in a while, interrupted him, using terrible and vulgar language. The caps were adjusted, the ropes cut and the two dropped into eternity. They were left hanging 40 minutes, after which the bodies were removed by the Committee to their rooms and afterwards turned over to the Coroner. They were both young menHetherington 35, a native of England, had been in California since 1850, while Brace was but 21, a native of Onandaigua County, N. Y.
BALLOT BOX STUFFING.
The ballot boxes that had been used by Casey and his ilk were of a peculiar construction, having false slides on the sides and bottoms that could be slipped out and thereby letting enough spurious votes drop into the box to insure the election of their man or men. It was claimed that nearly the entire set of municipal officers then holding office had secured their election through this man. They were afterwards requested by the Vigilance Committee to resign their offices, but at the first election that was held on November 4th, they were all displaced by men selected by a new party (the People's party) that was the outcome of the efforts of the Vigilance Committee.
William Mulligan was shipped out of the State on the steamer "Golden Age" on June 5th, 1856, with instructions never to return under penalty of death. However, after three or four years of absence he returned to San Francisco. He was often seen on the street, but was not molested until sometime in the summer of 1862 when he got a crowd of boys around him on the crossing of Prospect Place and Clay street, between Powell and Mason streets. It was not long before he had trouble with them and shot into the crowd, injuring a boy, however, not seriously. The police were soon on the ground, but Mulligan had made his way into the old St. Francis Hotel on the corner of Clay and Dupont streets which was vacant at that time. The police came and they were directed to the building where Billy could be found. When the police entered they found they were half a story below the floor of a very large room in the second story. Billy was called upon to surrender. He told them that the first one that put his head above the floor would be a dead man, and knowing the desperate character they were dealing with, they thought best to retire and get instruction from the City Attorney, who told them they had a right to take him dead or alive, whereupon they proceeded to arm themselves with rifles and stationed themselves on the second floor of a building on the opposite side of the street from the St. Francis on Dupont street, and when Mulligan was passing one of the windows the police fired. Mulligan dropped to the floor, dead as a door nail. He was turned over to the Coroner and has not been seen on the streets since. Charles P. Duane is another one of twenty-seven men who were shipped out of the State and returned. He shot a man named Ross on Merchant street, near Kearny. I do not remember whether the man lived or died, or what became of Duane.
From the book entitled "San Francisco Vigilance Committee of '56," by F. W. Smith, I quote the following, with some corrections and alterations:
"I am informed by an ex-Vigilante that the Committee roll call of '56, just before its disbandment, numbered between eight and nine thousand.Many others either left of their own volition or under orders to leave the state.
Bulger and Gallagher who had been shipped out of the country on June 5th returned to San Francisco. In their haste the Committee had failed to read their sentences to them and they were not aware of the penalty of returning. They were again shipped out of the country and ordered not to return under penalty of death.
There were 489 persons killed during the first 10 months of 1856. Six of these were hanged by the Sheriff, and forty-six by the mobs, and the balance were killed by various means by the lawless element.
"FORT GUNNYBAGS" 1903.
On March 21, 1903, the California Historic Landmarks League placed a bronze tablet on the face of the building at 215 Sacramento street that had formerly been the headquarters of the Vigilance Committee of 1856, inscribed as follows: "Fort Gunnybags was situated on this spot, headquarters of the Vigilance Committee in the year 1856." Many of the old Committee and Pioneers participated in the ceremonies. The old Monumental bell which had been used during those stirring days was also in evidence and pealed out its last "call to arms."
CLOSING CHAPTER OF VIGILANCE COMMITTEE.
As a closing chapter to the history of the Vigilance Committee of 1856, or at least the immediate cause of its coming into existence, there was sold at public auction in San Francisco on the evening of January 14th, 1913, the very papers that James King, of William, had had transcribed from the records in New York and published in his paper the "Evening Bulletin" showing the record of Casey's indictment, imprisonment and pardon, the publication of which he, Casey, resented by shooting King. In addition to these documents were sold many of the books, papers, etc., of King as well as other books and papers relating to the Vigilance Committee that had been collected together by Mr. C. J. King, a son of James King of William.
VIGILANCE COMMITTEE WORK IN 1849, '50 AND '51.
While there has been a great deal said about the Vigilance Committee in California in 1856, there has not been much said about it in '49, '50 and '51. That the reader may know what was going on up to that time, I must now draw largely from previously published accounts for my information, for a condensed statement.
On the 30th day of January, 1847, Mr. Washington A. Bartlett became the first Alcalde of San Francisco, under the American flag. At this time the population numbered 500, including Indians. During '47 and '48 it increased to two thousand, and by the last of July, 1849, it was over five thousand. The condition of the town at this time was terribly demoralized, gambling, drunkenness and fights on every corner. About this time came a class of offscourings of other countries and the curses to California. It was during this dreadful state of uncertainty that the famous Vigilance Committee of 1851 was organized, and it now became known that there was an organized committee for the purpose of dealing with criminals.It was about this time the case of John Jenkins came up and he was arrested and tried by the Committee, and condemned to be hanged. He was then hanged until he was dead. The tragic fate of Jenkins, and the determination manifested to deal severely with the villains had the effect of frightening many away. The steamers to Stockton and Sacramento were crowded with the flying rascals. The Sydney Coves and the more desperate characters remained. At this time the city served notices on all persons known to be vicious characters to leave the city at once, on fear of being forcibly expelled to the places whence they had come. This was rigidly enforced and had a very wholesome effect.
The next one to come before the Committee was James Stuart, who was transported from England to Australia for forgery. It is not worth while to go into details on account of this man, for he confessed to crimes enough to hang him a dozen times. On the morning of July 11th, 1851, the taps on the bell of the Monumental Engine House summoned the entire Vigilance Committee. The prisoner was then allowed two hours grace, during which time the Rev. Dr. Mills was closeted with him in communion. After the expiration of the two hours, the condemned was led forth under a strong guard. He was taken down Battery street to the end of the Market street wharf, where everything had been previously arranged for the execution. Very soon after the procession reached the spot the fatal rope was adjusted and the condemned hoisted up by a derrick.
The hanging of Stuart seems to have been a very bungling piece of work, but this man's life was given to evil doing, and the great number of crimes confessed and committed by him would seem to say that he was not deserving of any more sympathy than which he got. This was a sorry spectacle, a human being dying like a dog, but necessity, which dared not trust itself to feelings of compassion, commanded the deed, and unprofitable sentiment sunk abashed.
more criminals and I am done with rough charactersSamuel Whittaker
and Robert McKenzie, who had been arrested and duly and fairly tried by
the Committee. They confessed their guilt and were condemned to be hanged.
Their names being familiar and repulsive to all decent citizens. They were
hanged side by side in public view on August 24th, 1851. The sight striking
terror to the hearts of other evildoers, who were impressed by these examples
that they could no longer be safe in San Francisco, such as had been suspected
and notified by the Committee, quickly left the city; they, however, found
no shelter in the interior.