Squatters Riot-Sacramento City-1850

Image from worldmapsonline.com

Image from worldmapsonline.com


The Pacific News gives the following particulars of the riot at Sacramento City.
A terrible excitement pervades the City of Sacramento. The issue is between the squatters and settlers, holding property under the Sutter titles. Several persons are already killed and wounded on both sides.

The history of the affair thus far is briefly this: Large tracts of ground, covering the city and vicinity of Sacramento are held by grants from Capt. Sutter. The settlers hold that this Spanish grant is not valid and that the land belongs to the government. Several moved in and erected buildings, and a detainer was brought against them, and was decided in favor of the plaintiffs and a writ of restitution issued, but the officer who attempted to execute it was met by a body of armed squatters who resisted him on this occasion, Saturday, the 10th. Prior to this an appeal to the county court had been made by the attorney for the squatters, Judge Willis presiding, when the right of appeal was denied, which exasperated the party thus seeking redress, and meetings were held and resolutions passed to resist the law.

Nothing more was done by legal means from Saturday till Thursday, when some six or eight persons were arrested for resisting the officers in their duty, and in default of bail, two were incarcerated in the prison brig. When a body of squatters repaired to the brig to release their companions, they met Sherif McKinney and Major Bigelow with a possee, who drove them from the ground, but no force was used until they had retreated some distance from the river, when they were overtaken by the sherif and possee — they then turned, when the conflict occurred, an account of which has already been published.

At the time the Caroline left, 50 U.S. soldiers had left Benicia for Sacramento, and two volunteer companies at San Francisco had volunteered their services to maintain order.

The stoppage of Barton Lee at San Francisco of the heave sum of $1,100,000, produced great excitement both at Sac-ramento and San Francisco.

The Philiadelphia did not brings the mails.

The Daily Sanduskian (Sandusky, Ohio) Sep 23, 1950


Arrival of the Philadelphia — One Million more Gold — Squatter Riot at Sacramento — Failure for $1,100,000

New York, Sept. 20.
Steamship Philadelphia left Chagres the 9th inst., and arrived at New York this afternoon. She brings California dates to the 15th August. She brings $800,000 gold dust in freight, and $300,000 in hands of passengers. The Georgia is to bring the mail.

From the San Francisco Herald it appears that on the day previous to the sailing of the steamer, a great squatter riot had taken place in Sacramento City, by an attempt to liberate some squatter prisoners. The mayor was shot thro’ the arm, and Capt. Woodland, city assessor, was mortally wounded. The fighting was continued. Four or five reported killed; large forces were being raised to repel the riot. Martial law is proclaimed, and every citizen commanded to enrol his name at the City Hotel. The captain of the squatters, named Maloney, is dead. They threaten to burn the city.

The outbreak commenced on Monday, the 12th, when an armed body of the squatters were proceeding to the prison to release two of the party who were confined on board. They were confronted by Mayor Bigelow and members of the corporation. An affray soon after commenced, and the city was aroused to arms.

Mayor Bigelow was shot, and died in 15 minutes*. J.W. Woodland, city assessor, was shot and dead, and several other citizens were killed and wounded. Dr. Robinson and a man named Mahoney, two leaders of the squatters, were shot dead, as were several others of the party.

Image from sacramento.about.com

Image from sacramento.about.com

The squatter force soon swelled from 60 to between 700 or 800 armed men.

The keepers of the gambling houses and sporting men generally, were with the citizens and Real Estate owners. A tremendous force soon assembled. Lt. Gov. McDougal returned to the city as soon as he heard of the affray. —

The steamer McKim was despatched to Venecia, and the Senator to San Francisco for arms and men to use them.

The above is the substance of the news as published in the San Francisco papers, but as the steamer was getting under way, a despatch was received on board from the Pacific News office, stating that an express had arrived with the intelligence that Sacramento City had been reduced to ashes, and that the Squatters were receiving reinforcement from the mines.

News from the mines is very encouraging.

Barton Lee has stopped payment in Sacramento City for $1,100,000.

*Mayor Bigelow survived, but died later. See link above.

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Sep 24, 1850


From the Washington National Intelligencer.

We are indebted to the Hon. WM. M. GWIN, Senator in Congress from California, for the subjoined copy of a letter from the lieutenant governor of that state, giving an authentic account of the late riot at Sacramento City, betwxen the squatters and landholders.

Aug. 14, 1850 — P.M.}

MY DEAR SIR: I am now on my way to Benicia, to solicit of Gen. Smith the aid of his troops to quell a large lawless mob, who are threatening the destruction of the lives and property of the citizens of Sacramento City; and as the steamer leaves for Panama to-morrow I avail myself of the opportunity of a friend who is going to the states, to write and give you the details of the horrible massacre that is now going on in this city.

For some time past the squatters have taken possession of a large portion of the town lots belonging to various persons, who have bought and paid for their property, and the excitement consequent thereon has been increasing gradually, and to-day the crisis broke forth. Some two days since a large meeting of the squatters took place, and they resolved that as the state was not admitted, the laws created by the Legislature were of no force, and that they would resist until death any mandate coming from any of our courts. On yesterday the sherif ejected some of them from the property of Mr. Rodgers, and several resisted his authority; two of them were brought before the county judge for thus acting, and were committed to the jail or prison-ship*.

The following is from A Memorial and biographical history of Northern California p.201; Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1891.

The first ship ever used in the state of California as a “prison brig” was the bark Stafford/Strafford, which was moored in the Sacramento River opposite the foot of I street. It was brought here from New York in 1849. While lying at the foot of O street it was sold at auction by J.B. Starr, and, though it had cost $50,000, it was knocked down to C.C. Hayden for $3,750! Immediately the latter sold three-quarters of his interest to Charles Morrill, Captain Isaac Derby and Mr. Whiting. In March, 1850, they rented the vessel to the county for a “prison brig.” May 25, 1850, the others sold out their interests to Charles Morrill, who intended the bark for a trader between San Francisco and Panama. It was loaded at the levee, but in so poor a manner that she nearly capsized on reaching the Bay of San Francisco. It was readjusted and taken on to the sea, but was never brought back.

Back to the original article:

This morning they organized to the number of one or two hundred, who had muskets and small arms, and aided by a large number ready to assist them, all armed, they marched through the streets in regular military style, their leader on horseback, with sword; went to several places from which they had been ejected and took possession; and then wended their way to the prison-ship, to release the two of their number that were imprisoned on yesterday. When near the ship they were met by the mayor (Bigelow,) who was on horseback, endeavoring to rally a posse to disperse them. At this instant a general firing commenced; the firing became general in I,K, and Fourth streets, the citizens running to and fro in every direction.

The sherif, a noble fellow mounted his horse and did all in his power to assemble a posse; but the panic was too great; none were prepared for what had come upon them. I did all I could to assemble a force and before I left issued a call for all to assemble in front of the City Hotel; had the cannon drawn up and loaded, and runners sent for all the arms that could be found. Issued, also, a notice for all non-combattants to keep out of the streets; and, after accomplishing this I started for the steamer Senator, which I had detained to wait orders, and immediately put out to get troops from Gen. SMITH. I left at the solicitation of a large number of the citizens who thought that I could exert a greater influence to get the troops here. When I left the firing was still going on, and the great consternation prevailed. I will be up with the troops by one o’clock to-night. — As the steamer left there was a cry to fire the town, and God only knows what will be done before I get back. I left Mayor Bigelow badly wounded. Mr. WOODLAND, and two others that I saw were lying dead, and several wounded. The leader of the mob was shot dead from his horse.

I will meet the steamer Gold Hunter in Suison bay, take her back and get the troops, provided Gen. Smith will let them go, which I have some fear of. He has acted very strangely in the difficulties that we have had to preserve law and order. If he refuses I will advise you before the steamer leaves to-morrow.

This is one of the results of our non-admission. A fearful crisis is at hand should Congress refuse us admission at this session. The only protection to our lives and property is to take possession of the customs.
In hast, very truly yours,

The Daily Sanduskian (Sandusky, Ohio) Sep 30, 1850


From California.

We have been permitted to read a letter from A.W. Lee of Bronson, dated at Brighton, California, August 26th 1850. — Mr. Lee had been in ill health most of the time since he had been in that country and was just recovering from severe illness. — He had sold out and in five or six weeks from the date of his letter, designed to return home. He thinks that there has been a change for the worse, in almost everything in California, since last May. Business was then flourishing, but it is now greatly depressed; and the hard times, he believes, have only begun. He advises all his friends at home not to emigrate to California. The Sacramento riot, which had just occurred, was occasioned by the arrest of some squatters in the city, for disorderly conduct. The squatters attempted to rescue them, and marched, armed, into the city — a conflict ensued; three of the squatters and one of the citizens were killed. The Mayor, and a number on both sides were wounded. The squatters retreated — the Sheriff followed them for the purpose of arresting the ringleaders, but was killed in the attempt; two more of the squatters were killed and a number wounded.

Mr. Burras of Fairfield, was to leave for home soon. Ira Seymour was well and engaged in mining. Barton Lee was well and was engaged in closing up his extensive business. Notwithstanding his heavy failure, he hoped to pay off all his liabilities and save some two hundred thousand dollars besides.

The cost of living in California was still very great. Mr. Lee writes that he was paying $30 per week for board.

*Benjamin Lee was Barton Lee‘s father.

We have been favored by Mr. Benjamin Lee*, with the Daily Sacramento Transcript, of August 15th and 16th. They state that the Mayor, although severely wounded in the squatter riot, would probably recover. The leader of the rioters was killed. The Transcript states that the Legislature of the State of Sonora, in Mexico, had prohibited its citizens from leaving the State without passports, in consequence of the great emigration to California, amounting to 5,893 the present year.

Matters were quiet at Sacramento city. Two companies of volunteers had come from San Francisco, and the authorities were busy in ferreting out the rioters.

The intelligence from the mines was favorable. At Carson’s new diggings, on the Stanislaus, a lump of gold, almost wholly free from quart was taken out, weighing  forty pounds.

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Oct 22, 1850

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One Response to “Squatters Riot-Sacramento City-1850”

  1. Another Watertown Boy Writes Home « YesterYear Once More Says:

    […] in a single fortnight, and others will break like pipe stems before another has gone by. Barton Lee, an Oregon emigrant, who settled here in May 1849, began trade with less than $500 capital, was […]

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