Murders in the Land of Gold

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

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