Archive for May 4th, 2009

San Francisco Fire: June 14, 1850

May 4, 2009
San Francisco Fire (Image from /

San Francisco Fire (Image from /

*Fire image is actually from the 1851 fire, not this 1850 fire.


Some friend has sent us the San Francisco Daily Herald of June 17, which contains the particulars of the loss by the last great fire on the 14th of June. — It originated in a back building attached to the Sacramento House, between Sacramento and Clay streets, a little before 8 o’clock in the morning, and as the wind was high, it quickly communicated with the ajoining buildings, and in a little more than three hours two-thirds of the wealthiest portion of the city was destroyed. The following shows the locations and extent of the disaster:


Clay street, south side, corner of Kearney, occupied by Osborne & O’Donnel, grocers, Building owned by Finley, Johnston & Co.      Total loss.

Clay street, on both sides from the above to Montgomery street, and on the south side to the bay; burning all the new houses recently erected on the former burnt district from the Plaza to Montgomery street, except one.

Montgomery street, on both sides from the south side of Clay street to California street, except the large brick building owned by W.H. Davis, and occupied as the custom-house.

Sacramento street, on both sides, from Kearney street to the bay, including the large iron ware-house owned by Cooke, Baker & Co., and occupied by the Empire City Steamship office.

California street, on the north side, from Kearney street to the bay, except the custom-house building, as before mentioned.

Kearney street, on the east side, all buildings from Clay to California street.

Central Wharf — All the buildings on this wharf and the street leading to it, including the large warehouses of Mellus, Howard & Co., Finley, Johnson & Co., and D. Gibb.

Sherman‘s building, corner of Montgomery and Clay streets, was for several hours in imminent danger. This building was occupied by Green & Morgan, Melhado, Klancke & Co., J. Mattoon & Co., on Clay street, and by Fay, Pierce & Willis, Bacon & Mahoney, R.J. Stevens & Co., and R.M. Sherman, on Montgomery street. The occupants, with a host of good men and true, concentrated all their force to save that building, on which hung the fate of the entire block bounded by Clay, Montgomery and Jackson streets.

The Herald says over three hundred houses were burned, and estimates the loss at more than three million dollars. It gives a list of the sufferers, and among them we observe the names of Vandyke & Belden, to the amount of $30,000, who were also sufferers by the previous fire to the amount of $20,000.

Great credit is awarded to Col. Jack Hays, to whose exertions is attributed the salvation of the whole block bounded by the north side of Clay street, and from Montgomery street to the water.

This is pretty amazing. I noticed in the article I posted (scroll down to the fire picture) mentioning the previous fire they also immediately started rebuilding. I suppose there was good and bad in that, probably could have used a bit more planning, but I don’t think that was how they did it back then.

The editor remarks that “the enterprise of the citizens, although it has received a severe shock, has nevertheless not succombed beneath the misfortune;” and that in passing through the blazing streets, an hour and a half after the fire had been subdued, he saw carpenters already at work relaying the foundation of a building that had been torn down but two hours before; and various contracts to have buildings immediately erected had been even then concluded by some of those who had suffered heavily by the fire.

Artesian wells are to be sunk, reservoirs constructed, and hook and ladder and engine companies are to be organized for the purpose of preventing a recurrence of such a dreadful calamity.

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

Portsmouth Square, San Francisco, CA 1851 (Image from Wikimedia)

Portsmouth Square, San Francisco, CA 1851 (Image from Wikimedia)

From the San Francisco Herald of July 28.

San Francisco is rising like a phoenix from its ashes. This day fortnight, the fairest and most important part of the city was a heap of smouldering ruins, and sadness and gloom were depicted on the countenances of all our citizens. To-day there is to be seen springing up, on the very sites of those ruins, buildings that in substantiality, size, and even magnificence, might favorably compare with those of any other city in the world. The smoke was still curling from the charred rafters, when the momentary depression caused by so sweeping a desolation was cast off, and the indomitable energies of our people set to work to clear away the rubbish for the new foundations.

Nothing short of an earthquake, we believe, can cope with the energy and enterprise of our citizens.

This third, and we hope, last, conflagration, however, has taught us a good lesson: and we are not without hope but it will be productive of great and lasting good to the community. — The most efficient measures have been adopted, not only to guard against recurrence of fires in the future, but to promptly extinguish them before they have become unmanageable. A fire department has been organised, permanent reservoirs of water have been prepared at convenient distances throughout the city, and every means taken that the prudence and intelligence of our citizens could devise for the prevention of similar disasters in future. Besides, the most of the buildings now in process of erection are of brick and fire-proof, and several of them have wells dug in them, and are supplied with a fire apparatus. Indeed, it seems hardly possible, with the means now at our disposal for extinguishing fires, that this destructive element will ever again, to any considerable extent, destroy the property of our citizens.

In the course of a walk yesterday afternoon over the scene of the late calamity, we made a few notes of the progress that has been made with the various buildings in process of erection, which we shall briefly detail.

[The paper gives a long list of buildings in the course of erection in the burnt district, of a substantial character, among which we note the following:

On the north-west corner of Montgomery and Clay streets, Messrs. Vandyke and Belden, general merchants, are building a large three story fire-proof brick building, with a frontage of sixty-nine feet on Montgomery street and fifty-five feet on Clay. The lower rooms are to be occupied as stores and the upper rooms as offices. The building will probably cost about thirty thousand dollars, and is to be completed on the twenty-fifth of next month.

All the buildings to be erected between Clay and Sacramento streets, as well as those in the rear of Clay and Commercial streets, much be of brick, as Messrs. Howard & Green, who own the lots, have made that a condition in the deed of sale.

During the course of our inquiries we were struck with astonishment at the immense increase in the value of property in San Francisco in the short space of three years. In 1846 and ’47, a fifty vara lot could be purchased in any part of the city for fifteen dollars. In the late sales the land brought from seven hundred to nine hundred dollars per foot! and this is much less than could be obtained for it a short time ago.

We cannot close this article without referring to the progress of the public improvements which have been referred to. There are three artesian wells and four reservoirs in process of construction.

The artesian wells are being constructed in the following localities. One in Portsmouth square; one in California street near the custom-house, and the third at the intersection of Dupont and Pacific streets. Mr. Eddy has the contract for their construction at 12 per perpendicular foot, the bore to be six inches in diameter. The one in the center of the square has been bored to the depth of sixty feet, and it is expected, we have been informed that the boring must proceed to the depth of 200 feet, before a sufficient supply of water will be obtained. Each of these artesian wells is to have a fountain. The fountain in the square is to be twenty-five feet in diameter, and to have a dozen jets of water in continual play. The basin is to be finished with fine cut stone coping on the top of the brick walls, and to be surrounded with a handsome ornamental iron railing. The other two fountains are to be twelve feet in diameter. These artesian wells are intended to supply the four reservoirs which are being constructed a short distance from them, with an abundant supply of water, so as to meet any emergency. The one in the square is intended to supply the reservoir of the square, and the one at the intersection of Washington and Montgomery streets.

The reservoir near the Custom house in California street, is in the form of an ellipsis, thirty-six feet by twenty-four, and is calculated to contain 3,000 gallons of water. It is to be arched with substantial brick walls laid in Roman cement. The entire depth reached last night, was fourteen feet. At this depth three feet of water was obtained. There are to be two apetures, through which to introduce the suction hose of the engines.

The reservoir at the intersection of Dupont and Pacific streets, is to be in the form of a circle, and is to be 24 feet in diameter, and to contain 25,000 gallons of water. A depth of 18 feet has been reached, but no water has yet been obtained, nor is any expected.

The one on the square is of the same size and is to be covered iwth timber. That at the foot of Washington and Montgomery, is to be a square cistern and to contain from 10 to 15 thousand gallons. It is to be covered with timber.

These works are to be completed in three weeks from this time. Mr. John Cochran has the contract for the reservoirs in the square, and the corner of Washington and Montgomery streets. We understand he is to receive $14,500 for the two reservoirs. Messrs. Timmons and Stewart have the contract for the other two reservoirs and the ornamental fountain on the square, and are to receive $9000 for each reservoir, and $3375 for the fountain.

It is calculated that these works when completed will cost $50,000, and that the reservoirs will contain a supply of $100,000 gallons of water. Other improvements both of a public and private nature are contemplated, which we shall refer to on a future occasion.

The Daily Sanduskian (Sandusky, Ohio) Aug 13, 1850

Murders in the Land of Gold

May 4, 2009
Image from from

**image NOT related to any of the murders mentioned below.

“Died according to the will of God by the justice of men.”

A Tragedy in California.

A California correspondent of the Journal of Commerce gives the following thrilling account of a murder, and the summary manner in which offenders are punished in that almost lawless land.

Some of our previous letters have given you a peep into our election scenes, and our alcalde‘s method of proceeding in evil cases. Here are one or two instances of a very common mode of administering justice to criminals in our midst.

A drunken Englishman named Divine, murdered his wife under circumstances of unusual cruelty. During their whole residence in Georgetown she had supported him and their children by her own industry. He asked her one morning for some money to gamble with, but she told him to wait until he was sober. He rushed across the room for a pistol, but she anticipated him and threw it into a bucket of water. — He then leaped into the street, snatching a rifle from the shoulder of a passer by, returned and shot her through the heart.

It was Sunday, and as usual, the places of resort were filled by miners, who invariably spend that holiday in town. The report of a rifle in the street was nothing unusual, but the talk of horror flew as only rumor can fly, and in five minutes the house was filled. In such a country as ours, and under such circumstances, men act rather than speak. A neighboring “Round Tent” (our gambling houses are often turned into court rooms, on account of their size) was selected as the scene of trial.

— The prisoner was led in, and then before a word was spoken, another party brought in the body of his wife as she fell, with the dark blood oozing from her breast. She was gently laid on a large table near her husband. This sight stung the people into frenzy. No one thought of wasting words in a trial. The prisoner was seized and hurried to a little eminence overlooking the village, where the noose of a lariat hung significantly from a tree.

Just at this moment a man of great influence with the people in that vicinity attempted to persuade them to postpone their design until a Coroner’s inquest should be held upon the body and a summary trial, but still a trial, had, after their verdict. With much difficulty he succeeded, on condition that the inquest and trial should both be held upon that day, and as the Coroner was at Columbia, four o’clock was given as the last moment. An express was sent to Columa, and, to save time, a jury empannelled to act instantly upon his arrival. They sat together in the tent with the prisoner and the body. The mob waited outside, but were not unemployed. A deep pit was dug at the foot of the tree, and all the solemn furniture of the grave prepared.

As four o’clock approached, the silence of the mob was broken by deep whispers and hoarse murmurs. Rifles, pistols, and bowie knives were freely displayed. — This did not escape the notice of the jury, and they began, not unnaturally, to fear for their own safety. At last when the sun was low in the west the mob could wait no longer, but tore up the sides of the tent and rushed in, just in time to see the last juryman escaping by a backway. They went to their task without a word.

At the head of a procession, the murderer marched to his gallows, and the body of his wife was borne close behind him. The children, — thank Heaven! — were not there; but even in that stern scene, they were not forgotten. A small box, marked “For the Orphans,” was nailed to a tree, and many an ounce was poured into it from the purses of those who followed the father to his death.

The body of the murdered woman was lowered into a wide pit, and even while the wretched man gazed upon it, and upon that empty but significant box by his side, the cord suddenly tightened around his neck and he swayed in the air. The mob sat on the hill side, and sternly watched him.

At the end of half an hour, he was cut down and laid in the grave by the side of his wife. In five minutes, Georgetown was as still as that lonely grave upon the hill. Not a man was to be seen in the streets — no one knew any thing of that lawless mob.

In the evening, the Coroner arrived and upon hearing the story, summoned his jury for morning. They met at sunrise upon the hill, and stood around the unfilled grave, while the end of a cut cord dangled above their heads. They exchanged a few words, and after laying a slip of paper upon each of the bodies, proceeded to fill up the grave. Upon the slips was written, “Murdered by _______ Divine, her husband,” and upon the other, “Died according to the will of God by the justice of men.”

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Apr 22, 1851


From the Pacific News, July 1.

By a gentleman who arrived yesterday from the southern mines, we learn of several murders and other atrocities committed there, which develops a very bad state of society. On Friday night last two Americans were murdered in their tent at Jamestown, by some persons unknown. One of them was a Mr. Chase of New Bedford, and the other a Mr. Hathaway of Dighton, Mass. The first had his throat cut from ear to ear, beside a stab in his breast; Mr. Hathaway was stabbed in the breast and neck in several places. The tent was robbed of about one thousand dollars that was known to be in possession of the murdered men.

On Wednesday evening, 19th inst. a Frenchman named Jean Ferrando, was shot by some person unknown, near the Oregon tent, about twelve miles above Stockton.

On Saturday last, on Wood’s Creek, about one mile below Sonora, a Frenchman was shot in the head and died the next day.

On Saturday night last, at Columbus, in the new diggings, a Chilian was shot by a Mr. John Brannan for some ammunition; he told the applicant he had none to give then, but that if he would call the next day, he would let him have some. The Chilian became enraged, on the refusal, and as he reached the door, turned about and fired his gun at Brannan, and a man named Jackson Roark, who were standing together. They dodged under a table; but Roark‘s hand being up, one of his fingers received the ball. Brannan then run to the door, and there being several around, he was at first unable to distinguish who fired, and while standing a moment, he received three stabs of a serious but not fatal character. He then drew a pistol and shot the fellow down. An examination was had, and Brannan was justified in the act.

A few days ago, a Frenchman shot a Chilian in the streets of Sonora.

** Below, some background (news clips) on the “foreigner” situation in the Gold Country.

The Mines. — No important intelligence from the mines since our last. The movement to drive away foreigners from the Placer has been successful, so far as the region is concerned beyond the Mills. Already some scores of Mexicans and Chilians have recrossed the river, and at the latest accounts were quietly encamped at Coloma. We have understood that the gold had been taken away from some of the foreigners before they left the mines, but we very much doubt the rumor. Unless great caution should be exercised, naturalized American citizens will suffer from this rigorous movement, hence it is to be hoped the United States authorities will take immediate steps to investigate the affair.

Placer Times, Saturday, July 14, 1849.

NEW YORK, Sept. 5.

The mines are in a state of transition from bad to worse. Miners were in arms, irritated beyond endurance, and there is a universal sentiment of hatred against foreigners. At the Mormon Gulch resolutions were passed to drive all Mexicans from the mines. They have received notice to quit in fifteen days or they will be expelled by force.

The citizens of Stockton recently held a meeting at the Owen House, and in view of the alarming state of affairs in the San Joachin district, consequent upon the recent cruel murders perpetrated by bands of lawless robbers who infest the route to the mines of that region, adopted measures to restore tranquility and to bring the guilty parties to justice.

The Daily Sanduskian (Sandusky, Ohio) Sep 7, 1850

Now, back to the original article:

It is said that almost every one up in the country goes armed to the teeth; and, from the array above, we do not wonder at it.

A man named Stephens Spraggins, of Jessamine Co., Ky. committed murder on the 15th inst., at a place on the Consumnes near McTheny’s Creek. The murdered man’s name was Hardenfalls, a German by birth, who has a family in the country. It appears he had received on deposit an amount of money belonging to Spraggins, who, during a fit of intoxication, demanded the same of him. Hardenfalls put him off until night fall, when on retiring to bed he was assailed by Spraggins, who, without scarce a premonitory threat, drew a pistol and shot him through the body. Hardenfalls soon expired, and the murderer escaped.

The Daily Sanduskian (Sandusky, Ohio) Aug 13, 1850



On the 27th ult., William Hanna, of Georgia, owner of a small ranch on the Calaveras, about ten miles from Stockton, was murdered in his bed.

We gave an account a few days ago of the discovery of three dead bodies found about four miles above Marysville on the Yuba. An inquest has been held upon the bodies, but no clue has been obtained to the perpetrators of the foul deed.

“The sculls of all three were broken in, evidently with clubs or some heavy weapon. — From the appearance of the bodies it is supposed the murder must have taken place about two months since. Placer Times.


A person just down from JOHNSON’S RANCH, about 45 miles north of this city, has communicated to us the following particulars of a case of lynching at that place:
It appears that a trunk was broken open in a bed chamber, in the kearney house, and $5,800 purloined therefrom. Four thousand of the money lost belonged to a man named Yeldell, and the balance to Curtis, Pledge & Co. The room had been occupied by a man and his wife, named Hewster, who were employed as cooks in the establishment. The loss was discovered on Saturday morning, by the landlord.

Suspicion was at once fixed upon the Hewsters, but they protested their innocence. In the course of the day, a crowd of the inhabitants around assembled and determined to administer what they presumed to be summary justice, and thereby force the suspected ones to confess their guilt and deliver up the lost treasury. They accordingly decided that the man should received one hundred lashes on his bare back, which was done by tying him up to a tree. The castigation was dreadful, and the cries of the man for mercy were pitiful to hear. The result was that he continued to assert his innocence, notwithstanding his back was raw and bleeding, and he was threatened with further violence. Nothing was done to the woman.

The Sacramento Transcript has the following letter dated “Murderer’s Bar.” (on the middle Fork of the American.) Oct. 12.

“Murderer’s Bar is now being tested, and so far has prospected and worked, I think it would not be idle to say, that it may be ranked as being first among rich placers in the modern Orphir. The wealth of the bed of this stream is incalculable, and but a very minute portion can be disemboweled this season. One company on Saturday last, received 132 ounces as the result of the day’s labor. For ten days the same company has been taking out from 70 to 115 ounces per day. Other companies do equally as well, and some even better.

Thursday morning last, Murderer’s Bar was the scene of a fearful tradgedy, and a pall of gloom has since covered us all. William H. Walker, of Evansville, Ia., and Geo. W. Beck, of Bourbon county, Ky., has a difficulty concerning a lead. A scuffle took place between the parties, in which Beck got the advantage, telling Walker at the time that that was not the way to settle difficulties, that then steps was the distance, &c. R. also told him to arm himself, and he would fight him, in any manner. — W. immediately got a double barreled shotgun, and at the distance of forty yards presented it at B., who in the mean time had received from a friend one of the Colt’s large revolvers. —

Both men fired nearly at the same instant. B’s pistol hung fire, or W. would have undoubtedly been slain; as it was, B. fell to the ground, endeavored to rise and fire again, but death interfered, and poor Beck now lies in his grave. — He was shot in two or three places. The wound which proved fatal took effect in the right breast and passed through one lung and the anterior part of the heart. Walker has given himself up, and yesterday accompanied the sherif to Culloma. I think he will be cleared, though I am of the opinion that the case would be dangerous to him in the States. But I transgress upon your time and will conclude.”

The Daily Sanduskian (Sandusky, Ohio) Nov 29, 1850


Letter from O.P. Stidger.
MARYSVILLE, Yuba co. California,
November 12th, 1850. [excerpt, from a long letter]

I noticed the account of the death of the 5 boys shot by Indians on Pitt river. I regret to say, that there is two much truth in the account. Wm. McCurdy, E. Meffert, the two Kauffman‘s & Barroll were murdered on Pitt river, about 250 miles from Sacramento valley. He then speaks of the mystery about this event; that George Stuck, when he reached Lawson‘s, gave an account of the murder, saying there were but 6 in company, 5 killed, and he (Stuck) escaped, wounded; that Lawson, col Dexter and others went to the spot, found and buried 6 bodies, killed with arrows; he adds Who is the 6th? Says he saw Stuck; that he was wounded in the breast, side, and leg, and rendered by them unfit to work, and then was en route for home — but died at San Francisco. The 6th man killed was a Mr. Washburn of Wisconsin.

Ohio Repository, The (Canton, Ohio) Jan 8, 1851