Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Another Western Wednesday...!

Today on Western Wednesday we are looking at a popular form of frontier justice...mob justice!

Overall, the second so-called "Vigilante Committee" of San Francisco was effective, although it probably was due to the large size more so than justice! From the folks over at, here's the story!

May 15, 1856:
Second vigilante committee organizes in San Francisco

Angered by the shooting of a prominent journalist, San Franciscans form their second vigilance committee to combat lawlessness.

The need for vigilance committees in San Francisco was obvious. Only two years after gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in 1848, San Francisco had grown from a sleepy little village with 900 inhabitants to a booming metropolis with more than 200,000 residents. The sudden influx of people overwhelmed the city. Harried law enforcement officials found it nearly impossible to maintain law and order, and chaos often reigned in the streets, which were lined with saloons and gambling parlors. Attracted by the promise of gold, marauding bands of Australian criminals called "Sydney ducks" robbed and extorted the people of San Francisco with near impunity.

San Franciscans formed their first vigilance committee in 1851. About 200 vigilantes enrolled, most of them from the elite professional and merchant class of the city. They had headquarters along Battery Street, where they could temporarily imprison criminals, and the ringing of the city's fire bell would summon the vigilantes to action. A handful of men who were found guilty of serious crimes like murder were hanged from a nearby derrick normally used to haul freight into the second story of a warehouse. More commonly, though, the vigilantes simply deported criminals like the "Sydney ducks" back to their homelands.

Whether due to the vigilante actions or because conventional law enforcement became more effective, things eventually quieted down in San Francisco and the first vigilance committee disbanded. In 1856, however, a rigged election put an Irish-Catholic politician named James P. Casey on the city board of supervisors. James King, a crusading editor of the Daily Evening Bulletin, accused Casey of being involved in criminal activity in the city. On May 14, 1856, Casey confronted King in the street and fatally wounded him with a Colt navy revolver.

The next day, angry San Franciscans created the second vigilance committee. This time, however, they could not claim that the city government was not enforcing the law--the sheriff had already arrested Casey and put him in the county jail pending trial. Acting more like a raging mob than an instrument of justice, 500 vigilantes surrounded the county jail and removed Casey from the sheriff's custody on May 18. After a short but reasonably fair trial, they hanged him.

Some historians have argued that the second vigilance committee was less interested in suppressing crime than in attacking its political enemies. Casey's election signaled a shift in power to the dominant faction of recently immigrated Irish-Catholic Democrats. The vigilantes, who were largely native-born Protestants, reasserted their control by arresting and exiling their political opponents from the city. As before, they hanged several men.

Regardless of the vigilantes' true motives, a number of Irish Catholic leaders did leave the city and the Protestant elite managed to regain control of the government. Late in 1856, the vigilance committee formally disbanded and never again became active.

One thing I couldn't help but notice in this bit of history is that the editor that was shot shared my name! Not that it actually means anything, but it's not the first time my name has shown up in an article about the violence of the old western days. At least this time it isn't attached to an outlaw!

How about coffee on the patio this morning? It's fairly nice with the temps already in the high 70s.


linda m said...

That is interesting that you share a name with someone from the past. As you said, at least this time he wasn't the criminal. It is a very nice morning here also, so I would love some coffee outside. How are the kitties doing.

JO said...

Good story, are you sure your not related to these Kings. :) No your to nice of a person for that.

Coffee on the patio sounds good. should be able to do that here in about a week or 2.

Rob said...

We stopped at Boot Hill in Tombstone, AZ and there was at least one marker that said "John Heath taken from county jail & lynched by Bisbee mob in Tombstone Feb 22, 1884"

It's a good morning for coffee outside in this part of Iowa today, finally!

Dizzy-Dick said...

I have some relatives with your family name. It must be a common name. But I am sure you know a King is better than a Pawn. I love your western stories. True stories are much better than fiction.

HermitJim said...

Hey Linda...
The kittens are getting fat and moving all over the place! Momma cat has a hard time keeping up with them!

I've found my name in several articles about the wild west. Guess my namesakes were kinda wild themselves!

Thanks for coming over today!

Hey Jo...
I don't think I'm related, but you just never know!

One of the only good things about living in Houston is the early arrival of Spring. This year, though, the weather has been strange!

Thanks, sweetie, for coming over today!

Chickenmom said...

Nah - no relation!
Have been having problems all morning with the cable internet - just got back on - To celebrate how about I bring a peach pie for all.

Phyllis (N/W Jersey)

HermitJim said...

Hey Rob...
I've had others tell me about the tombstones at Boot Hill, and they sound interesting! Never been there myself!

So many places to see and visit. Wonder if I'll ever get there?

Thanks for coming by today!

Hey Dizzy...
I might have a few black sheep hidden in the closet...maybe more than a few!

Who knows? we might be distant cousins! Glad you like the western stories!

Thanks for coming over today!

Hey Phyllis...
I sure like the idea of a peach pie!

I hate it when Comcast starts acting up. For what we pay them, it should work 100% all the time!

Hey, glad you finally got up and running and could drop by!