Our California Correspondent gives a very interesting and detailed account of the excitement in San Francisco, consequent upon the murder of James King. Read Ben Bolt’s letter.
From our California Correspondent.
San Francisco, Monday May 19, 1856.
At the present writing, San Francisco is in a state of social revolution, and for the last few days business of all kinds has been brought to a standstill. I wrote you in one of my letters of a few months since, of the assassination of Gen. Richardson, the U.S. Marshal here, by Charles Cora, a gambler, and now I have to record another of those foul deeds of blood that ever and anon blot the page of California history. About 5 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon last, James King, of William, the editor of the Evening Bulletin, was going from the office of his paper to his residence, corner of Pacific and Powell streets, and when near the office of the Pacific Express Co., on Montgomery street, James P. Casey, editor of the Sunday Times, who had been standing there waiting, for the purpose, stepped up to him presenting a Colt's navy revolver at his breast, saying: - "Draw and defend yourself," and immediately fired, before Mr. King could speak a word or draw a weapon. King put his hand to his breast, exclaiming, "I am shot!" and staggered into the Express Office, and sank into a chair just as Casey had cocked his pistol for another shot. Several people who were near witnesses of the attack immediately ran to the assistance of Mr. King, while the Police and others seized on Casey and hurried him off to the prison, and it was well that they did so, for in a very short space of time afterwards, a tremendous and excited crowd would have hung him at once to the nearest elevation convenient, if they could only have laid hands on him.
He was within six feet of Mr. King when he fired, and the fatal bullet entered the body about four inches above the left nipple of the breast, passing a little upward, and coming out at his back near the junction of the arm with the shoulder, inflicting it was thought a fatal wound, as an artery was supposed to be severed. He was in great pain and bled profusely, but continued to speak until 12 o'clock when morphine was administered, and at 1 o'clock he was in a stupor or slumber lying on a bed made upon the counter of the office. Mrs. King and another lady, Thomas S. King his brother, a few intimate friends and Drs. Toland, Gray and Hammond, remained with him during the night.
Immediately upon the occurrence of the tragedy, people began to run from all quarters. The news spread like wildfire through the city. The cry of fire was raised in the distance, and in fifteen or twenty minutes a large and highly excited crowd were gathered together at the corner of Washington and Montgomery streets, the scene of the tragedy.
Mr. King is a very popular man, especially among the masses of the people, and now that he was shot down in the public street in open day, by the notorious Casey, the frenzied excitement of the committee had no bounds. Voices were heard on all sides, crying "hang him!" "Lynch him!" "where's the Vigilance Committee?!" Everybody was talking in a loud voice and intensely excited manner. Some mounted in elevated situations and attempted to address the crowd, but the uproar was so tremendous that none could be heard. At length a rush was made to the prison to take Casey out and immediately hang him, but the Sheriff, in anticipation of this, was on hand with a strong force and repelled the crowd. Large crowds traversed the streets and gathered at various points till midnight, and even after, but were altogether too much excited to effect any sort of organization.
Meanwhile the Mayor ordered out all the Volunteer Infantry Companies of the city, under arms, to protect the law and quell the riot. The San Francisco Blues were the first to appear, and were stationed in front of the Jail, while the City Guards, Marion Rifles, Sarsfield Guards and the Continental Guards, soon arriving, were stationed inside and on top of the Jail. The mob in front were very violent and abusive, and threw sticks and dirt at the soldiers. The soldiers had empty muskets, but on loading with ball the crowd became considerably more respectful. A few only of each company turned out at the call of the Mayor, and these with much reluctance. On the following day - Thursday - the Vigilance Committee assembled at an early hour at 105 1-2 Sacramento street, to take into consideration the present state of affairs, and were in session all day and until a late hour at night.
As soon as it became publicly known that the Vigilance Committee had taken the matter in hand, the excitement in public died gradually away, for the people of San Francisco repose all confidence in this Committee. The attempted assassination very naturally was the theme of general conversation throughout the day, and business affairs seemed but little thought of. One sentiment seemed to prevail among all classes, and that was that the blood of the wounded man should be avenged. Cora who was also in the same Jail, was spoken of pretty freely, and all seemed to think it best to hang Casey, Cora and Bachus, all at the same time, and as soon as possible. Bachus was lately tried also for assassinating a man in the street. He shot him in the back while he was running from him, but by some quibbling among the lawyers and considerable monied influence, a verdict of manslaughter was returned and he was let off with a heavy fine and three years in the state prison - money shapes the law here.
Both battalions of the soldiery at the prison declined longer to serve as guard to the Jail, disbanded, resumed citizens dress, and will not again bear arms in this affair, even at the official call of the authorities. Telegraphic despatches were received from the interior, inquiring whether or not assistance was required to regulate the state of affairs here existing, and many came down from Sacramento and Stockton by the afternoon boats.
In Sacramento, a mass meeting was held in the evening (Thursday) before the Orleans Hotel, and a series of resolutions adopted, expressing the feelings of the people in regard to this sad affair, upholding the course which has ever been pursued by Mr. King in his editorial capacity, tendering to him their sympathies in his present affliction, and deeply condemning the would-be assassin Casey.
In view of the evident determination of the people to take some decided action and fearing that an attempt would be made to rescue the prisoner, the Mayor applied to the commander of a Revenue Cutter in the harbor to receive Casey on board for greater protection, but the request was denied, as the officers did not fancy the character of the guest sought to be thrust upon them.
After the military refused to protect the prison, that duty devolved on the Police, and the Mayor swore in several citizens to act as special police. They were mostly the friends of Casey.
The Vigilance Committee have continued in session almost night and day since they were first called together, and receive daily, large accessions to their numbers, swearing in new members, and Saturday evening they numbered five thousand of the very best men in the city, men of the first standing in society. They had a large number of doorkeepers and none were allowed to enter but citizens of unquestionably good character and respectability. They refused admission to many who were known to the community as gamblers and shoulder-strikers. All our leading men and most respectable merchants are members of this vast committee, and all sworn to act as the majority shall decide when the time for action arrives. The proceedings of their meetings are private, but seem to be conducted with great harmony and in a determined spirit, and whatever they conclude on they will certainly accomplish.
As soon as practicable, Mr. King was removed on a litter to Montgomery Block, and at the present he is much better and strong hopes are entertained of his ultimate recovery. Every half hour of the day a placard is posted up on the Bulletin board, announcing his situation in order to satisfy the constant eager inquiries concerning his health.
On Friday evening the Governor arrived from Sacramento, and finding, on consultation with his friends, that it would be foolish as well as useless to call out the forces to endeavor to counteract the action of the committee of the people, at one o'clock that night he was in conference with the Executive committee desiring to be informed as to the wishes and intentions of this vast combination. He found them cool, orderly and determined. He found it supported by the whole people, but more than all he found it was governed by a higher law - the law of self-defense by an outraged community. After a conference of several hours it was agreed that efforts should be made to induce the Sheriff to allow the Vigilance Committee to place a guard, composed of members of the committee, within the Jail, that the people might be assured of the safe custody of the prisoner. In accordance with this agreement the parties called at the Jail at 2 o'clock on Saturday morning, and after laying the matter before the Sheriff he agreed to the arrangement, providing that they should not seek to wrest the prisoner from his custody. In case the Committee of Vigilance should resolve upon such a course, they agreed to withdraw the guard, and restore matters as they found them. From that hour a delegation of members of the Committee were in constant attendance at the prison, being relieved every three or four hours by others delegated by the Vigilance Committee.
Yesterday - Sunday - was a day ever to be remembered in the annals of San Francisco. Serried ranks of armed citizens were in the public streets. Each countenance betrayed a fixed determination to avenge the wrongs of the innocent and no longer suffer the guilty to escape. It was a scene of which my inadequate pen can give but a poor description. In the morning the Vigilance Committee armed themselves and assembled at their various places of meeting. About 9 o'clock the guard of the Committee at the prison was withdrawn, and at 11 o'clock, in companies of a hundred each, they commenced marching to the Jail. They carried muskets with fixed bayonets, also side arms at their belts, and wore citizens dress. They were accompanied by mounted guards and headed by cool but resolute men. They were directed in their movements by a portion of the Executive Committee, who bore no weapons.
By 12 o'clock the streets, hill-sides and housetops in the vicinity of the Jail were crowded with the expectant masses of the people. Arriving at Broadway, on which the prison is situated, the armed detachments cleared the street and planted themselves in files on the south side of it, and across the street near Kearny and Dupoint. Some detachments marched round and invested the back of the building, and all places of approach were taken possession of and closely guarded. A brass six-pounder was then drawn up in front of the prison and directed point blank towards the heavy iron doors of the main entrance. All preparations were thus made to ensure complete success, at whatever risk, and at about 1 o'clock a part of the Executive Committee applied and demanded admittance into the prison. The Sheriff was inside, and seeing the utter uselessness of offering any sort of resistance, he threw open the doors. They then demanded the custody of Casey, handcuffed. This demand being communicated to the prisoner by the Sheriff, Casey drew a concealed knife and swore he would sooner kill himself at once than comply with the requisition; but upon being assured that he should not be injured in the least until he had had a fair and impartial trial, he consented to be handcuffed and was brought out of the Jail and placed in a carriage which was waiting at the door. As he came out of the prison, a loud shout arose from the multitudes around about which was at once stifled and suppressed. The armed bodies then fell into position, a portion of them before, a portion behind the carriage, in which was seated two of the Committee, with the prisoner, also Marshal North, at the request of Casey.
The procession, or rather army, took up its line of march down Kearny street, through Pacific, Montgomery, and down Sacramento street, to the Committee rooms, on the north side of Sacramento, between Front and Davis streets, where the carriage stopped and the prisoner was taken at once into the house. Charles Cora, the murderer of Richardson, meanwhile remained in the prison, which was still strictly guarded by a strong detachment of the Vigilance Committee, until about 4 o’clock, when the army of vigilance returned and took him down to the Committee-rooms as they had done Casey. The two prisoners then being supplied with bedding and other conveniences, a strong guard was placed over them, and everything having been done which the Executive Committee proposed to do for the present, most of the armed force deposited their arms and quietly retired to their homes.
Throughout the proceedings of the day no riot, drunkeness, or confusion was observable. The friends of Casey, and those who were expected to defend him, were nowhere to be seen. The different detachments were well drilled, and moved with the precision of veteran troops. No martial music preceded them and naught was heard but the heavy tramp of the armed thousands and the rushing of the crowds. The wise and temperate plans of the Executive Committee were carried out to the letter, and not a mistake was made.
Up to the present writing (Monday evening) the Committee have been, and still are, in session, trying the prisoners. A large crowd is constantly in the street near the Committee-rooms, but no sign of riot or excitement is visible. Detachments of men with muskets and fixed bayonets constantly patrol the roof of the building and the side walk in front, and bristling bayonets are seen on the stairway and at the upper windows. The prisoners will have a fair trial, and time given them, but it is pretty certain that the ends of Justice will be answered, and they will be hung. Whatever may be the result of the trial, the people all have the most perfect confidence in their Committee of Vigilance. This is rather hard on Cora, for he thought he was pretty certain to escape any very serious punishment for his fearful crime, and he and his friends have spared no expense in hiring lawyers, counsel and witnesses. His trial has been put off and evaded from time to time, and now he makes no scruple of saying that he should have got along well enough if it had not been for this affair of Casey's.
In many of the churches of yesterday, sermons were preached from the pulpit in relation to the proceedings of the last few days, and the action of the Vigilance Committee much approved of.
Mr. King is yet in a critical state, as his wound has commenced to suppurate, and he suffers much pain. If ever a community prayed for the recovery of anyone man, the prayers of the people of California are for the recovery of James King of William.
All the daily papers are of course filled with the incidents and topics of these exciting times, and the Alta California, Evening Bulletin, and some others contain somewhat inflammatory paragraphs and correspondence on this subject. James King of William is a man widely and favor ably known throughout the state, and the many meetings of the people in the interior cities and towns are all sympathizing with him, and breathing vengeance on the assassin Casey, are a sufficient evidence of his popularity. He is one of the early pioneers of this young state and if he dies - which God forbid - will leave a fond wife, and six children here in San Francisco.
The causes of this murderous attack were some editorial articles in the Bulletin, far from complimentary to the character of Casey, showing him up to the public as he really is, a convicted felon and notorious rowdy and scoundrel. It was all true, and Casey or any of his friends do not deny it, but it was for this fearless exposure of the villain that he was shot.
Casey was convicted Sept. 5, 1849, in New York, for grand larceny, and sentenced to Sing Sing for two years, which term he served and was discharged from prison on the 4th of Sept. 1851, since which period he has come to California where, being but little known and naturally smart, he contrived by wire pulling and ballot-box stuffing, with the aid of his friends among the gamblers and shoulder-strikers, to get into office, as did also many others of his stripe who now are in office here. Casey was a public officer, knew he was guilty of all and more than he was charged with, and as the only means of escaping further exposure and silencing the pen of the honest and independent writer, he coolly and deliberately plans and attempts to execute his victim.
All are now looking up to the Vigilance Committee in this matter, with the perfect confidence which was reposed in them in times past. This confidence will not be misplaced. They are at work calmly and deliberately, and when they do act they will act with the same coolness and deliberation which has characterized their proceedings up to the present time. They will make no mistakes. They will act, and act in a manner that will rid this city of the gang of murderers, rowdies and ballot-box stuffers who through past years have ruled it.
The past condition of things must no longer exist. It has become a cruel mockery to the people of California, and especially of San Francisco, about the law "taking its course." For years past it has been permitted to take that "course," and the result has been that murder after murder is being committed here in the open street, under the broad light of Heaven, and their farcical "trials" have only amounted to perfect immunity to the monied assassin, and the "law" protects the criminal not the public. These are stubborn facts, and cannot be denied with truth.
Since the failure to convict either Backus or the notorious Cora, what well disposed citizen has any confidence in the justice of San Francisco law. And is it strange that the Vigilance Committee are looked up to with such complete confidence at this present emergency?
In view of the law being so defective and powerless here in comparatively civilized San Francisco, let no one wonder that Judge Lynch is popular in the mining localities, and has ever been in years past, and will be in years to come. Every right thinking man must deprecate the sad necessity, which does now certainly exist here for the people to take into their own hands the administration of Justice. Give us law and order, by all means, but let it be of that kind which protects the public not the criminal.
Yours, BEN BOLT.
Wednesday morning, May 21st.
The mail which was to have left for the Atlantic, yesterday, being detained until to-day, I would add by way of postscript that James King of William died yesterday at half past one o'clock, P.M.
Yesterday morning it was spread abroad that Mr. King was much worse, and the attending physicians despaired of his life, and immediately upon the announcement of his death being made public, the stores closed, the bells all commenced tolling, crape and mourning were hung about in all the central part of the city, and the shipping in the harbor were displayed at half mast. The news of his death came rather suddenly upon the community, as he was supposed to be getting along very favorably under the circumstances. His widow and young family will be bountifully provided for by the overflowing public sympathy and benevolence.
Mr. King is to be buried tomorrow from the Unitarian church on Stockton street. He was 34 years of age when he died. All the musical societies and musicians of the city are to attend the funeral, together with the Masons and other societies, and it be probably be the greatest demonstration of the kind, ever before known in this country. Books are to be opened throughout the state for subscription for the benefit of his widow and orphans, and for a grand monument to his memory.
He was a man, not easily replaced in this community, and the public mourn, deeply mourn his loss.
The Vigilance Committee are still in session trying the prisoners. Casey is reported to have implicated several men of this city, of respectability and influence, as having had considerable to do with this cowardly assassination, and if this is found true, Heaven help them, for they will be in the hands of Judges and be tried by a Jury whom gold cannot corrupt. Whether the prisoners are to be hung or not, or what are to be the closing scenes of this grand drama, is only known to the Vigilance Committee, who silently, quietly but surely proceed in their great work of public regeneration.
One thing is certain: the Committee have given notice to a large number of suspicious persons and notorious scoundrels to leave on the steamer of to-day, and those unable to pay their own passages will have it paid for them. The city is quiet. Crowds are to be seen in the street, and strangers are here from all parts of country, but no signs of riot or excitement are visible.
It is the stillness as of the summer air at the near approach of a great thunder storm.