General Sherman in California in 1855
MEMOIRS OF GENERAL W. T. SHERMAN
By William T. Sherman
During the winter of 1854-'55, I received frequent intimations in my letters from the St. Louis house, that the bank of Page, Bacon & Co. was in trouble, growing out of their relations to the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad, to the contractors for building which they had made large advances, to secure which they had been compelled to take, as it were, an assignment of the contract itself, and finally to assume all the liabilities of the contractors. Then they had to borrow money in New York, and raise other money from time to time, in the purchase of iron and materials for the road, and to pay the hands. The firm in St. Louis and that in San Francisco were different, having different partners, and the St. Louis house naturally pressed the San Francisco firm to ship largely of "gold-dust," which gave them a great name; also to keep as large a balance as possible in New York to sustain their credit. Mr. Page was a very wealthy man, but his wealth consisted mostly of land and property in St. Louis. He was an old man, and a good one; had been a baker, and knew little of banking as a business. This part of his general business was managed exclusively by his son-in-law, Henry D. Bacon, who was young, handsome, and generally popular. How he was drawn into that affair of the Ohio & Mississippi road I have no means of knowing, except by hearsay. Their business in New York was done through the American Exchange Bank, and through Duncan, Sherman & Co. As we were rival houses, the St. Louis partners removed our account from the American Exchange Bank to the Metropolitan Bank; and, as Wadsworth & Sheldon had failed, I was instructed to deal in time bills, and in European exchange, with Schnchardt & Gebhard, bankers in Nassau Street.
In California the house of Page, Bacon & Co. was composed of the same partners as in St. Louis, with the addition of Henry Haight, Judge Chambers, and young Frank Page. The latter had charge of the "branch" in Sacramento. Haight was the real head-man, but he was too fond of lager-beer to be in trusted with so large a business. Beyond all comparison, Page, Bacon & Co. were the most prominent bankers in California in 1853-'55. Though I had notice of danger in that quarter, from our partners in St. Louis, nobody in California doubted their wealth and stability. They must have had, during that winter, an average deposit account of nearly two million dollars, of which seven hundred thousand dollars was in "certificates of deposit," the most stable of all accounts in a bank. Thousands of miners invested their earnings in such certificates, which they converted into drafts on New York, when they were ready to go home or wanted to send their "pile" to their families. Adams & Co. were next in order, because of their numerous offices scattered throughout the mining country. A gentleman named Haskell had been in charge of Adams & Co. in San Francisco, but in the winter of 1854-'55 some changes were made, and the banking department had been transferred to a magnificent office in Halleck's new Metropolitan Block. James King of Wm. had discontinued business on his own account, and been employed by Adams & Co. as their cashier and banker, and Isaiah C. Wood had succeeded Haskell in chief control of the express department. Wells, Fargo & Co. were also bankers as well as expressmen, and William J. Pardee was the resident partner.
As the mail-steamer came in on February 17, 1855, according to her custom, she ran close to the Long Wharf (Meiggs's) on North Beach, to throw ashore the express-parcels of news for speedy delivery. Some passenger on deck called to a man of his acquaintance standing on the wharf, that Page & Bacon had failed in New York. The news spread like wild-fire, but soon it was met by the newspaper accounts to the effect that some particular acceptances of Page & Bacon, of St. Louis, in the hands of Duncan, Sherman & Co., in New York, had gone to protest. All who had balances at Page, Bacon & Co.'s, or held certificates of deposit, were more or less alarmed, wanted to secure their money, and a general excitement pervaded the whole community. Word was soon passed round that the matter admitted of explanation, viz., that the two houses were distinct and separate concerns, that every draft of the California house had been paid in New York, and would continue to be paid. It was expected that this assertion would quiet the fears of the California creditors, but for the next three days there was a steady "run" on that bank. Page, Bacon & Co. stood the first day's run very well, and, as I afterward learned, paid out about six hundred thousand dollars in gold coin. On the 20th of February Henry Height came to our bank, to see what help we were willing to give him; but I was out, and Nisbet could not answer positively for the firm. Our condition was then very strong. The deposit account was about six hundred thousand dollars, and we had in our vault about five hundred thousand dollars in coin and bullion, besides an equal amount of good bills receivable. Still I did not like to weaken ourselves to help others; but in a most friendly spirit, that night after bank-hours, I went down to Page, Bacon & Co., and entered their office from the rear. I found in the cashier's room Folsom, Parrott, Dewey and Payne, Captain Ritchie, Donohue, and others, citizens and friends of the house, who had been called in for consultation. Passing into the main office, where all the book-keepers, tellers, etc., with gas-lights, were busy writing up the day's work, I found Mr. Page, Henry Height, and Judge Chambers. I spoke to Height, saying that I was sorry I had been out when he called at our bank, and had now come to see him in the most friendly spirit. Height had evidently been drinking, and said abruptly that "all the banks would break," that "no bank could instantly pay all its obligations," etc. I answered he could speak for himself, but not for me; that I had come to offer to buy with cash a fair proportion of his bullion, notes, and bills; but, if they were going to fail, I would not be drawn in. Height's manner was extremely offensive, but Mr. Page tried to smooth it over, saying they had had a bad day's run, and could not answer for the result till their books were written up.
I passed back again into the room where the before-named gentlemen were discussing some paper which lay before them, and was going to pass out, when Captain Folsom, who was an officer of the army, a class-mate and intimate friend of mine, handed me the paper the contents of which they were discussing. It was very short, and in Henry Haight's handwriting, pretty much in these terms: "We, the undersigned property-holders of San Francisco, having personally examined the books, papers, etc., of Page, Bacon & Co., do hereby certify that the house is solvent and able to pay all its debts," etc. Height had drawn up and asked them to sign this paper, with the intention to publish it in the next morning's papers, for effect. While I was talking with Captain Folsom, Height came into the room to listen. I admitted that the effect of such a publication would surely be good, and would probably stave off immediate demand till their assets could be in part converted or realized; but I naturally inquired of Folsom, "Have you personally examined the accounts, as herein recited, and the assets, enough to warrant your signature to this paper?" for, "thereby you in effect become indorsers." Folsom said they had not, when Height turned on me rudely and said, "Do you think the affairs of such a house as Page, Bacon & Co. can be critically examined in an hour?" I answered: "These gentlemen can do what they please, but they have twelve hours before the bank will open on the morrow, and if the ledger is written up" (as I believed it was or could be by midnight), "they can (by counting the coin, bullion on hand, and notes or stocks of immediate realization) approximate near enough for them to indorse for the remainder." But Height pooh-poohed me, and I left. Folsom followed me out, told me he could not afford to imperil all he had, and asked my advice. I explained to him that my partner Nisbet had been educated and trained in that very house of Page, Bacon & Co.; that we kept our books exactly as they did; that every day the ledger was written up, so that from it one could see exactly how much actual money was due the depositors and certificates; and then by counting the money in the vault, estimating the bullion on hand, which, though not actual money, could easily be converted into coin, and supplementing these amounts by "bills receivable," they ought to arrive at an approximate-result. After Folsom had left me, John Parrott also stopped and talked with me to the same effect. Next morning I looked out for the notice, but no such notice appeared in the morning papers, and I afterward learned that, on Parrott and Folsom demanding an actual count of the money in the vault, Haight angrily refused unless they would accept his word for it, when one after the other declined to sign his paper.
The run on Page, Bacon & Co. therefore continued throughout the 21st, and I expected all day to get an invitation to close our bank for the next day, February 22, which we could have made a holiday by concerted action; but each banker waited for Page, Bacon & Co. to ask for it, and, no such circular coming, in the then state of feeling no other banker was willing to take the initiative. On the morning of February 22, 1855, everybody was startled by receiving a small slip of paper, delivered at all the houses, on which was printed a short notice that, for "want of coin," Page, Bacon & Co. found it necessary to close their bank for a short time. Of course, we all knew the consequences, and that every other bank in San Francisco would be tried. During the 22d we all kept open, and watched our depositors closely; but the day was generally observed by the people as a holiday, and the firemen paraded the streets of San Francisco in unusual strength. But, on writing up our books that night, we found that our deposit account had diminished about sixty-five thousand dollars. Still, there was no run on us, or any other of the banks, that day; yet, observing little knots of men on the street, discussing the state of the banks generally, and overhearing Haight's expression quoted, that, in case of the failure of Page, Bacon & Co., "all the other banks would break," I deemed it prudent to make ready. For some days we had refused all loans and renewals, and we tried, without, success, some of our call-loans; but, like Hotspur's spirits, they would not come.
Our financial condition on that day (February 22, 1855) was: Due depositors and demand certificates, five hundred and twenty thousand dollars; to meet which, we had in the vault: coin, three hundred and eighty thousand dollars; bullion, seventy-five thousand dollars; and bills receivable, about six hundred thousand dollars. Of these, at least one hundred thousand dollars were on demand, with stock collaterals. Therefore, for the extent of our business, we were stronger than the Bank of England, or any bank in New York City.
Before daylight next morning, our door-bell was rung, and I was called down-stairs by E. Casserly, Esq. (an eminent lawyer of the day, since United States Senator), who informed me he had just come up from the office of Adams & Co., to tell me that their affairs were in such condition that they would not open that morning at all; and that this, added to the suspension of Page, Bacon & Co., announced the day before, would surely cause a general run on all the banks. I informed him that I expected as much, and was prepared for it.
In going down to the bank that morning, I found Montgomery Street full; but, punctually to the minute, the bank opened, and in rushed the crowd. As usual, the most noisy and clamorous were men and women who held small certificates; still, others with larger accounts were in the crowd, pushing forward for their balances. All were promptly met and paid. Several gentlemen of my personal acquaintance merely asked my word of honor that their money was safe, and went away; others, who had large balances, and no immediate use for coin, gladly accepted gold-bars, whereby we paid out the seventy-five thousand dollars of bullion, relieving the coin to that amount.
Meantime, rumors from the street came pouring in that Wright & Co. had failed; then Wells, Fargo & Co.; then Palmer, Cook & Co., and indeed all, or nearly all, the banks of the city; and I was told that parties on the street were betting high, first, that we would close our doors at eleven o'clock; then twelve, and so on; but we did not, till the usual hour that night. We had paid every demand, and still had a respectable amount left.
This run on the bank (the only one I ever experienced) presented all the features, serious and comical, usual to such occasions. At our counter happened that identical case, narrated of others, of the Frenchman, who was nearly squeezed to death in getting to the counter, and, when he received his money, did not know what to do with it. "If you got the money, I no want him; but if you no got him, I want it like the devil!"
Toward the close of the day, some of our customers deposited, rather ostentatiously, small amounts, not aggregating more than eight or ten thousand dollars. Book-keepers and tellers were kept at work to write up the books; and these showed:
Due depositors and certificates, about one hundred and twenty thousand dollars, for which remained of coin about fifty thousand dollars. I resolved not to sleep until I had collected from those owing the bank a part of their debts; for I was angry with them that they had stood back and allowed the panic to fall on the banks alone. Among these were Captain Folsom, who owed us twenty-five thousand dollars, secured by a mortgage on the American Theatre and Tehama Hotel; James Smiley, contractor for building the Custom-House, who owed us two notes of twenty thousand and sixteen thousand dollars, for which we held, as collateral, two acceptances of the collector of the port, Major R. P. Hammond, for twenty thousand dollars each; besides other private parties that I need not name. The acceptances given to Smiley were for work done on the Custom-House, but could not be paid until the work was actually laid in the walls, and certified by Major Tower, United States Engineers; but Smiley had an immense amount of granite, brick, iron, etc., on the ground, in advance of construction, and these acceptances were given him expressly that he might raise money thereon for the payment of such materials.
Therefore, as soon as I got my dinner, I took my saddle-horse, and rode to Captain Folsom's house, where I found him in great pain and distress, mental and physical. He was sitting in a chair, and bathing his head with a sponge. I explained to him the object of my visit, and he said he had expected it, and had already sent his agent, Van Winkle, down-town, with instructions to raise what money he could at any cost; but he did not succeed in raising a cent. So great was the shock to public confidence, that men slept on their money, and would not loan it for ten per cent. a week, on any security whatever—even on mint certificates, which were as good as gold, and only required about ten days to be paid in coin by the United States Mint. I then rode up to Hammond's house, on Rincon Hill, and found him there. I explained to him exactly Smiley's affairs, and only asked him to pay one of his acceptances. He inquired, "Why not both?" I answered that was so much the better; it would put me under still greater obligations. He then agreed to meet me at our bank at 10 P.M. I sent word to others that I demanded them to pay what they could on their paper, and then returned to the bank, to meet Hammond. In due time, he came down with Palmer (of Palmer, Cook & Co.), and there he met Smiley, who was, of course, very anxious to retire his notes. We there discussed the matter fully, when Hammond said, "Sherman, give me up my two acceptances, and I will substitute therefor my check of forty thousand dollars," with "the distinct understanding that, if the money is not needed by you, it shall be returned to me, and the transaction then to remain statu quo." To this there was a general assent. Nisbet handed him his two acceptances, and he handed me his check, signed as collector of the port, on Major J. R. Snyder, United States Treasurer, for forty thousand dollars. I afterward rode out, that night, to Major Snyder's house on North Beach, saw him, and he agreed to meet me at 8 a.m. next day, at the United States Mint, and to pay the check, so that I could have the money before the bank opened. The next morning, as agreed on, we met, and he paid me the check in two sealed bags of gold-coin, each marked twenty thousand dollars, which I had carried to the bank, but never opened them, or even broke the seals.
That morning our bank opened as usual, but there was no appearance of a continuation of the "run;" on the contrary, money began to come back on deposit, so that by night we had a considerable increase, and this went on from day to day, till nearly the old condition of things returned. After about three days, finding I had no use for the money obtained on Hammond's check, I took the identical two bags back to the cashier of the Custom-House, and recovered the two acceptances which had been surrendered as described; and Smiley's two notes were afterward paid in their due course, out of the cash received on those identical acceptances. But, years afterward, on settling with Hammond for the Custom-House contract when completed, there was a difference, and Smiley sued Lucas, Turner & Co. for money had and received for his benefit, being the identical forty thousand dollars herein explained, but he lost his case. Hammond, too, was afterward removed from office, and indicted in part for this transaction. He was tried before the United States Circuit Court, Judge McAlister presiding, for a violation of the sub-Treasury Act, but was acquitted. Our bank, having thus passed so well through the crisis, took at once a first rank; but these bank failures had caused so many mercantile losses, and had led to such an utter downfall in the value of real estate, that everybody lost more or less money by bad debts, by depreciation of stocks and collaterals, that became unsalable, if not worthless.
About this time (viz., February, 1855) I had exchanged my house on Green, street, with Mr. Sloat, for the half of a fifty-vara lot on Harrison Street, between Fremont and First, on which there was a small cottage, and I had contracted for the building of a new frame-house thereon, at six thousand dollars. This house was finished on the 9th of April, and my family moved into it at once.
For some time Mrs. Sherman had been anxious to go home to Lancaster, Ohio, where we had left our daughter Minnie, with her grandparents, and we arranged that S. M. Bowman, Esq., and wife, should move into our new house and board us, viz., Lizzie, Willie with the nurse Biddy, and myself, for a fair consideration. It so happened that two of my personal friends, Messrs. Winters and Cunningham of Marysville, and a young fellow named Eagan, now a captain in the Commissary Department, were going East in the steamer of the middle of April, and that Mr.. William H. Aspinwall, of New York, and Mr. Chauncey, of Philadelphia, were also going back; and they all offered to look to the personal comfort of Mrs. Sherman on the voyage. They took passage in the steamer Golden Age (Commodore Watkins), which sailed on April 17, 1855. Their passage down the coast was very pleasant till within a day's distance of Panama, when one bright moonlit night, April 29th, the ship, running at full speed, between the Islands Quibo and Quicara, struck on a sunken reef, tore out a streak in her bottom, and at once began to fill with water. Fortunately she did not sink fast, but swung off into deep water, and Commodore Watkins happening to be on deck at the moment, walking with Mr. Aspinwall, learning that the water was rushing in with great rapidity, gave orders for a full head of steam, and turned the vessel's bow straight for the Island Quicara. The water rose rapidly in the hold, the passengers were all assembled, fearful of going down, the fires were out, and the last revolution of the wheels made, when her bow touched gently on the beach, and the vessel's stern sank in deep water. Lines were got out, and the ship held in an upright position, so that the passengers were safe, and but little incommoded. I have often heard Mrs. Sherman tell of the boy Eagan, then about fourteen years old, coming to her state-room, and telling to her not to be afraid, as he was a good swimmer; but on coming out into the cabin, partially dressed, she felt more confidence in the cool manner, bearing, and greater strength of Mr. Winters. There must have been nearly a thousand souls on board at the time, few of whom could have been saved had the steamer gone down in mid-channel, which surely would have resulted, had not Commodore Watkins been on deck, or had he been less prompt in his determination to beach his ship. A sailboat was dispatched toward Panama, which luckily met the steamer John T. Stephens, just coming out of the bay, loaded with about a thousand passengers bound for San Francisco, and she at once proceeded to the relief of the Golden Age. Her passengers were transferred in small boats to the Stephens, which vessel, with her two thousand people crowded together with hardly standing-room, returned to Panama, whence the passengers for the East proceeded to their destination without further delay. Luckily for Mrs. Sherman, Purser Goddard, an old Ohio friend of ours, was on the Stephens, and most kindly gave up his own room to her, and such lady friends as she included in her party. The Golden Age was afterward partially repaired at Quicara, pumped out, and steamed to Panama, when, after further repairs, she resumed her place in the line. I think she is still in existence, but Commodore Watkins afterward lost his life in China, by falling down a hatchway.
Mrs. Sherman returned in the latter part of November of the same year, when Mr. and Mrs. Bowman, who meantime had bought a lot next to us and erected a house thereon, removed to it, and we thus continued close neighbors and friends until we left the country for good in 1857.
During the summer of 1856, in San Francisco, occurred one of those unhappy events, too common to new countries, in which I became involved in spite of myself.
William Neely Johnson was Governor of California, and resided at Sacramento City; General John E. Wool commanded the Department of California, having succeeded General Hitchcock, and had his headquarters at Benicia; and a Mr. Van Ness was mayor of the city. Politics had become a regular and profitable business, and politicians were more than suspected of being corrupt. It was reported and currently believed that the sheriff (Scannell) had been required to pay the Democratic Central Committee a hundred thousand dollars for his nomination, which was equivalent to an election, for an office of the nominal salary of twelve thousand dollars a year for four years. In the election all sorts of dishonesty were charged and believed, especially of "ballot-box stuffing," and too generally the better classes avoided the elections and dodged jury-duty, so that the affairs of the city government necessarily passed into the hands of a low set of professional politicians. Among them was a man named James Casey, who edited a small paper, the printing office of which was in a room on the third floor of our banking office. I hardly knew him by sight, and rarely if ever saw his paper; but one day Mr. Sather, of the excellent banking firm of Drexel, Sather & Church, came to me, and called my attention to an article in Casey's paper so full of falsehood and malice, that we construed it as an effort to black-mail the banks generally. At that time we were all laboring to restore confidence, which had been so rudely shaken by the panic, and I went up-stairs, found Casey, and pointed out to him the objectionable nature of his article, told him plainly that I could not tolerate his attempt to print and circulate slanders in our building, and, if he repeated it, I would cause him and his press to be thrown out of the windows. He took the hint and moved to more friendly quarters. I mention this fact, to show my estimate of the man, who became a figure in the drama I am about to describe. James King of Wm., as before explained, was in 1853 a banker on his own account, but some time in 1854 he had closed out his business, and engaged with Adams & Co. as cashier. When this firm failed, he, in common with all the employees, was thrown out of employment, and had to look around for something else. He settled down to the publication of an evening paper, called the Bulletin, and, being a man of fine manners and address, he at once constituted himself the champion of society against the public and private characters whom he saw fit to arraign.
As might have been expected, this soon brought him into the usual newspaper war with other editors, and especially with Casey, and epithets a la "Eatanswill" were soon bandying back and forth between them. One evening of May, 1856, King published, in the Bulletin, copies of papers procured from New York, to show that Casey had once been sentenced to the State penitentiary at Sing Sing. Casey took mortal offense, and called at the Bulletin office, on the corner of Montgomery and Merchant Streets, where he found King, and violent words passed between them, resulting in Casey giving King notice that he would shoot him on sight. King remained in his office till about 5 or 6 p.m., when he started toward his home on Stockton Street, and, as he neared the corner of Washington, Casey approached him from the opposite direction, called to him, and began firing. King had on a short cloak, and in his breast-pocket a small pistol, which he did not use. One of Casey's shots struck him high up in the breast, from which he reeled, was caught by some passing friend, and carried into the express-office on the corner, where he was laid on the counter; and a surgeon sent for. Casey escaped up Washington Street, went to the City Hall, and delivered himself to the sheriff (Scannell), who conveyed him to jail and locked him in a cell. Meantime, the news spread like wildfire, and all the city was in commotion, for grog was very popular. Nisbet, who boarded with us on Harrison Street, had been delayed at the bank later than usual, so that he happened to be near at the time, and, when he came out to dinner, he brought me the news of this affair, and said that there was every appearance of a riot down-town that night. This occurred toward the evening of May 14, 1856.
It so happened that, on the urgent solicitation of Van Winkle and of Governor Johnson; I had only a few days before agreed to accept the commission of major-general of the Second Division of Militia, embracing San Francisco. I had received the commission, but had not as yet formally accepted it, or even put myself in communication with the volunteer companies of the city. Of these, at that moment of time, there was a company of artillery with four guns, commanded by a Captain Johns, formerly of the army, and two or three uniformed companies of infantry. After dinner I went down town to see what was going on; found that King had been removed to a room in the Metropolitan Block; that his life was in great peril; that Casey was safe in jail, and the sheriff had called to his assistance a posse of the city police, some citizens, and one of the militia companies. The people were gathered in groups on the streets, and the words "Vigilance Committee" were freely spoken, but I saw no signs of immediate violence. The next morning, I again went to the jail, and found all things quiet, but the militia had withdrawn. I then went to the City Hall, saw the mayor, Van Ness, and some of the city officials, agreed to do what I could to maintain order with such militia as were on hand, and then formally accepted the commission, and took the "oath."
In 1851 (when I was not in California) there had been a Vigilance Committee, and it was understood that its organization still existed. All the newspapers took ground in favor of the Vigilance Committee, except the Herald (John Nugent, editor), and nearly all the best people favored that means of redress. I could see they were organizing, hiring rendezvous, collecting arms, etc., without concealment. It was soon manifest that the companies of volunteers would go with the "committee," and that the public authorities could not rely on them for aid or defense. Still, there were a good many citizens who contended that, if the civil authorities were properly sustained by the people at large, they could and would execute the law. But the papers inflamed the public mind, and the controversy spread to the country. About the third day after the shooting of King, Governor Johnson telegraphed me that he would be down in the evening boat, and asked me to meet him on arrival for consultation. I got C. H. Garrison to go with me, and we met the Governor and his brother on the wharf, and walked up to the International Hotel on Jackson Street, above Montgomery. We discussed the state of affairs fully; and Johnson, on learning that his particular friend, William T. Coleman, was the president of the Vigilance Committee, proposed to go and see him. En route we stopped at King's room, ascertained that he was slowly sinking, and could not live long; and then near midnight we walked to the Turnverein Hall, where the committee was known to be sitting in consultation. This hall was on Bush Street, at about the intersection of Stockton. It was all lighted up within, but the door was locked. The Governor knocked at the door, and on inquiry from inside "Who's there?"—gave his name. After some delay we were admitted into a sort of vestibule, beyond which was a large hall, and we could hear the suppressed voices of a multitude. We were shown into a bar-room to the right, when the Governor asked to see Coleman. The man left us, went into the main hall, and soon returned with Coleman, who was pale and agitated. After shaking hands all round, the Governor said, "Coleman, what the devil is the matter here?" Coleman said, "Governor, it is time this shooting on our streets should stop." The Governor replied, "I agree with you perfectly, and have come down, from Sacramento to assist." Coleman rejoined that "the people were tired of it, and had no faith in the officers of the law." A general conversation then followed, in which it was admitted that King would die, and that Casey must be executed; but the manner of execution was the thing to be settled, Coleman contending that the people would do it without trusting the courts or the sheriff. It so happened that at that time Judge Norton was on the bench of the court having jurisdiction, and he was universally recognized as an able and upright man, whom no one could or did mistrust; and it also happened that a grand-jury was then in session. Johnson argued that the time had passed in California for mobs and vigilance committees, and said if Coleman and associates would use their influence to support the law, he (the Governor) would undertake that, as soon as King died, the grand-jury should indict, that Judge Norton would try the murderer, and the whole proceeding should be as speedy as decency would allow. Then Coleman said "the people had no confidence in Scannell, the sheriff," who was, he said, in collusion with the rowdy element of San Francisco. Johnson then offered to be personally responsible that Casey should be safely guarded, and should be forthcoming for trial and execution at the proper time. I remember very well Johnson's assertion that he had no right to make these stipulations, and maybe no power to fulfill them; but he did it to save the city and state from the disgrace of a mob. Coleman disclaimed that the vigilance organization was a "mob," admitted that the proposition of the Governor was fair, and all he or any one should ask; and added, if we would wait awhile, he would submit it to the council, and bring back an answer.
We waited nearly an hour, and could hear the hum of voices in the hall, but no words, when Coleman came back, accompanied by a committee, of which I think the two brothers Arrington, Thomas Smiley the auctioneer, Seymour, Truett, and others, were members. The whole conversation was gone over again, and the Governor's proposition was positively agreed to, with this further condition, that the Vigilance Committee should send into the jail a small force of their own men, to make certain that Casey should not be carried off or allowed to escape.
The Governor, his brother William, Garrison, and I, then went up to the jail, where we found the sheriff and his posse comitatus of police and citizens. These were styled the "Law-and-Order party," and some of them took offense that the Governor should have held communication with the "damned rebels," and several of them left the jail; but the sheriff seemed to agree with the Governor that what he had done was right and best; and, while we were there, some eight or ten armed men arrived from the Vigilance Committee, and were received by the sheriff (Scannell) as a part of his regular posse.
The Governor then, near daylight, went to his hotel, and I to my house for a short sleep. Next day I was at the bank, as usual, when, about noon the Governor called, and asked me to walk with him down-street He said he had just received a message from the Vigilance Committee to the effect that they were not bound by Coleman's promise not to do any thing till the regular trial by jury should be had, etc. He was with reason furious, and asked me to go with him to Truett's store, over which the Executive Committee was said to be in session. We were admitted to a front-room up-stairs, and heard voices in the back-room. The Governor inquired for Coleman, but he was not forthcoming. Another of the committee, Seymour, met us, denied in toto the promise of the night before, and the Governor openly accused him of treachery and falsehood.
The quarrel became public, and the newspapers took it up, both parties turning on the Governor; one, the Vigilantes, denying the promise made by Coleman, their president; and the other, the "Law-and-Order party," refusing any farther assistance, because Johnson had stooped to make terms with rebels. At all events, he was powerless, and had to let matters drift to a conclusion.
King died about Friday, May 20th, and the funeral was appointed for the next Sunday. Early on that day the Governor sent for me at my house. I found him on the roof of the International, from which we looked down on the whole city, and more especially the face of Telegraph Hill, which was already covered with a crowd of people, while others were moving toward the jail on Broadway. Parties of armed men, in good order, were marching by platoons in the same direction; and formed in line along Broadway, facing the jail-door. Soon a small party was seen to advance to this door, and knock; a parley ensued, the doors were opened, and Casey was led out. In a few minutes another prisoner was brought out, who, proved to be Cora, a man who had once been tried for killing Richardson, the United States Marshal, when the jury disagreed, and he was awaiting a new trial. These prisoners were placed in carriages, and escorted by the armed force down to the rooms of the Vigilance Committee, through the principal streets of the city. The day was exceedingly beautiful, and the whole proceeding was orderly in the extreme. I was under the impression that Casey and Cora were hanged that same Sunday, but was probably in error; but in a very few days they were hanged by the neck—dead—suspended from beams projecting from the windows of the committee's rooms, without other trial than could be given in secret, and by night.
We all thought the matter had ended there, and accordingly the Governor returned to Sacramento in disgust, and I went about my business. But it soon became manifest that the Vigilance Committee had no intention to surrender the power thus usurped. They took a building on Clay Street, near Front, fortified it, employed guards and armed sentinels, sat in midnight council, issued writs of arrest and banishment, and utterly ignored all authority but their own. A good many men were banished and forced to leave the country, but they were of that class we could well spare. Yankee Sullivan, a prisoner in their custody, committed suicide, and a feeling of general insecurity pervaded the city. Business was deranged; and the Bulletin, then under control of Tom King, a brother of James, poured out its abuse on some of our best men, as well as the worst. Governor Johnson, being again appealed to, concluded to go to work regularly, and telegraphed me about the 1st of June to meet him at General Wool's headquarters at Benicia that night. I went up, and we met at the hotel where General Wool was boarding. Johnson had with him his Secretary of State. We discussed the state of the country generally, and I had agreed that if Wool would give us arms and ammunition out of the United States Arsenal at Benicia, and if Commodore Farragat, of the navy, commanding the navy-yard on Mare Island, would give us a ship, I would call out volunteers, and, when a sufficient number had responded, I would have the arms come down from Benicia in the ship, arm my men, take possession of a thirty-two-pound-gun battery at the Marine Hospital on Rincon Point, thence command a dispersion of the unlawfully-armed force of the Vigilance Committee, and arrest some of the leaders.
We played cards that night, carrying on a conversation, in which Wool insisted on a proclamation commanding the Vigilance Committee to disperse, etc., and he told us how he had on some occasion, as far back as 1814, suppressed a mutiny on the Northern frontier. I did not understand him to make any distinct promise of assistance that night, but he invited us to accompany him on an inspection of the arsenal the next day, which we did. On handling some rifled muskets in the arsenal storehouse he asked me how they would answer our purpose. I said they were the very things, and that we did not want cartridge boxes or belts, but that I would have the cartridges carried in the breeches-pockets, and the caps in the vestpockets. I knew that there were stored in that arsenal four thousand muskets, for I recognized the boxes which we had carried out in the Lexington around Cape Horn in 1846. Afterward we all met at the quarters of Captain D. R. Jones of the army, and I saw the Secretary of State, D. F. Douglass, Esq., walk out with General Wool in earnest conversation, and this Secretary of State afterward asserted that Wool there and then promised us the arms and ammunition, provided the Governor would make his proclamation for the committee to disperse, and that I should afterward call out the militia, etc. On the way back to the hotel at Benicia, General Wool, Captain Callendar of the arsenal, and I, were walking side by side, and I was telling him (General Wool) that I would also need some ammunition for the thirty-two-pound guns then in position at Rineon Point, when Wool turned to Callendar and inquired, "Did I not order those guns to be brought away?" Callendar said "Yes, general. I made a requisition on the quartermaster for transportation, but his schooner has been so busy that the guns are still there." Then said Wool: "Let them remain; we may have use for them." I therefrom inferred, of course, that it was all agreed to so far as he was concerned.
Soon after we had reached the hotel, we ordered a buggy, and Governor Johnson and I drove to Vallejo, six miles, crossed over to Mare Island, and walked up to the commandant's house, where we found Commodore Farragut and his family. We stated our business fairly, but the commodore answered very frankly that he had no authority, without orders from his department, to take any part in civil broils; he doubted the wisdom of the attempt; said he had no ship available except the John Adams, Captain Boutwell, and that she needed repairs. But he assented at last, to the proposition to let the sloop John Adams drop down abreast of the city after certain repairs, to lie off there for moral effect, which afterward actually occurred.
We then returned to Benicia, and Wool's first question was, "What luck?" We answered, "Not much," and explained what Commodore Farragut could and would do, and that, instead of having a naval vessel, we would seize and use one of the Pacific Mail Company's steamers, lying at their dock in Benicia, to carry down to San Francisco the arms and munitions when the time came.
As the time was then near at hand for the arrival of the evening boats, we all walked down to the wharf together, where I told Johnson that he could not be too careful; that I had not heard General Wool make a positive promise of assistance.
Upon this, Johnson called General Wool to one side, and we three drew together. Johnson said: "General Wool, General Sherman is very particular, and wants to know exactly what you propose to do." Wool answered: "I understand, Governor, that in the first place a writ of Habeas corpus will be issued commanding the jailers of the Vigilance Committee to produce the body of some one of the prisoners held by them (which, of course, will be refused); that you then issue your proclamation commanding them to disperse, and, failing this, you will call out the militia, and command General Sherman with it to suppress the Vigilance Committee as an unlawful body;" to which the Governor responded, "Yes." "Then," said Wool, "on General Sherman's making his requisition, approved by you, I will order the issue of the necessary arms and ammunition." I remember well that I said, emphatically: "That is all I want. —Now, Governor, you may go ahead." We soon parted; Johnson and Douglas taking the boat to Sacramento, and I to San Francisco.
The Chief-Justice, Terry, came to San Francisco the next day, issued a writ of habeas corpus for the body of one Maloney, which writ was resisted, as we expected. The Governor then issued his proclamation, and I published my orders, dated June 4, 1855. The Quartermaster-General of the State, General Kibbe, also came to San Francisco, took an office in the City Hall, engaged several rooms for armories, and soon the men began to enroll into companies. In my general orders calling out the militia, I used the expression, "When a sufficient number of men are enrolled, arms and ammunition will be supplied." Some of the best men of the "Vigilantes" came to me and remonstrated, saying that collision would surely result; that it would be terrible, etc. All I could say in reply was, that it was for them to get out of the way. "Remove your fort; cease your midnight councils; and prevent your armed bodies from patrolling the streets." They inquired where I was to get arms, and I answered that I had them certain. But personally I went right along with my business at the bank, conscious that at any moment we might have trouble. Another committee of citizens, a conciliatory body, was formed to prevent collision if possible, and the newspapers boiled over with vehement vituperation. This second committee was composed of such men as Crockett, Ritchie, Thornton, Bailey Peyton, Foote, Donohue, Kelly, and others, a class of the most intelligent and wealthy men of the city, who earnestly and honestly desired to prevent bloodshed. They also came to me, and I told them that our men were enrolling very fast, and that, when I deemed the right moment had come, the Vigilance Committee must disperse, else bloodshed and destruction of property would inevitably follow. They also had discovered that the better men of the Vigilance Committee itself were getting tired of the business, and thought that in the execution of Casey and Cora, and the banishment of a dozen or more rowdies, they had done enough, and were then willing to stop. It was suggested that, if our Law-and-Order party would not arm, by a certain day near at hand the committee would disperse, and some of their leaders would submit to an indictment and trial by a jury of citizens, which they knew would acquit them of crime. One day in the bank a man called me to the counter and said, "If you expect to get arms of General Wool, you will be mistaken, for I was at Benicia yesterday, and heard him say he would not give them." This person was known to me to be a man of truth, and I immediately wrote to General Wool a letter telling him what I had heard, and how any hesitation on his part would compromise me as a man of truth and honor; adding that I did not believe we should ever need the arms, but only the promise of them, for "the committee was letting down, and would soon disperse and submit to the law," etc. I further asked him to answer me categorically that very night, by the Stockton boat, which would pass Benicia on its way down about midnight, and I would sit up and wait for his answer. I did wait for his letter, but it did not come, and the next day I got a telegraphic dispatch from Governor Johnson, who, at Sacramento, had also heard of General Wool's "back-down," asking me to meet him again at Benicia that night.
I went up in the evening boat, and found General Wool's aide-de-camp, Captain Arnold, of the army, on the wharf, with a letter in his hand, which he said was for me. I asked for it, but he said he knew its importance, and preferred we should go to General Wool's room together, and the general could hand it to me in person. We did go right up to General Wool's, who took the sealed parcel and laid it aside, saying that it was literally a copy of one he had sent to Governor Johnson, who would doubtless give me a copy; but I insisted that I had made a written communication, and was entitled to a written answer.
At that moment several gentlemen of the "Conciliation party," who had come up in the same steamer with me, asked for admission and came in. I recall the names of Crockett, Foote, Bailey Peyton, Judge Thornton, Donohue, etc., and the conversation became general, Wool trying to explain away the effect of our misunderstanding, taking good pains not to deny his promise made to me personally on the wharf. I renewed my application for the letter addressed to me, then lying on his table. On my statement of the case, Bailey Peyton said, "General Wool, I think General Sherman has a right to a written answer from you, for he is surely compromised." Upon this Wool handed me the letter. I opened and read it, and it denied any promise of arms, but otherwise was extremely evasive and non-committal. I had heard of the arrival at the wharf of the Governor and party, and was expecting them at Wool's room, but, instead of stopping at the hotel where we were, they passed to another hotel on the block above. I went up and found there, in a room on the second floor over the bar-room, Governor Johnson, Chief-Justice Terry, Jones, of Palmer, Cooke & Co., E. D. Baker, Volney E. Howard, and one or two others. All were talking furiously against Wool, denouncing him as a d—-d liar, and not sparing the severest terms. I showed the Governor General Wool's letter to me, which he said was in effect the same as the one addressed to and received by him at Sacramento. He was so offended that he would not even call on General Wool, and said he would never again recognize him as an officer or gentleman. We discussed matters generally, and Judge Terry said that the Vigilance Committee were a set of d—-d pork-merchants; that they were getting scared, and that General Wool was in collusion with them to bring the State into contempt, etc. I explained that there were no arms in the State except what General Wool had, or what were in the hands of the Vigilance Committee of San Francisco, and that the part of wisdom for us was to be patient and cautious. About that time Crockett and his associates sent up their cards, but Terry and the more violent of the Governor's followers denounced them as no better than "Vigilantes," and wanted the Governor to refuse even to receive them. I explained that they were not "Vigilantes," that Judge Thornton was a "Law-and-Order" man, was one of the first to respond to the call of the sheriff, and that he went actually to the jail with his one arm the night we expected the first attempt at rescue, etc. Johnson then sent word for them to reduce their business to writing. They simply sent in a written request for an audience, and they were then promptly admitted. After some general conversation, the Governor said he was prepared to hear them, when Mr. Crockett rose and made a prepared speech embracing a clear and fair statement of the condition of things in San Francisco, concluding with the assertion of the willingness of the committee to disband and submit to trial after a certain date not very remote. All the time Crockett was speaking, Terry sat with his hat on, drawn over his eyes, and with his feet on a table. As soon as Crockett was through, they were dismissed, and Johnson began to prepare a written answer. This was scratched, altered, and amended, to suit the notions of his counselors, and at last was copied and sent. This answer amounted to little or nothing. Seeing that we were powerless for good, and that violent counsels would prevail under the influence of Terry and others, I sat down at the table, and wrote my resignation, which Johnson accepted in a complimentary note on the spot, and at the same time he appointed to my place General Volney E. Howard, then present, a lawyer who had once been a member of Congress from Texas, and who was expected to drive the d—-d pork-merchants into the bay at short notice. I went soon after to General Wool's room, where I found Crockett and the rest of his party; told them that I was out of the fight, having resigned my commission; that I had neglected business that had been intrusted to me by my St. Louis partners; and that I would thenceforward mind my own business, and leave public affairs severely alone. We all returned to San Francisco that night by the Stockton boat, and I never after-ward had any thing to do with politics in California, perfectly satisfied with that short experience. Johnson and Wool fought out their quarrel of veracity in the newspapers and on paper. But, in my opinion, there is not a shadow of doubt that General Wool did deliberately deceive us; that he had authority to issue arms, and that, had he adhered to his promise, we could have checked the committee before it became a fixed institution, and a part of the common law of California. Major-General Volney E. Howard came to San Francisco soon after; continued the organization of militia which I had begun; succeeded in getting a few arms from the country; but one day the Vigilance Committee sallied from their armories, captured the arms of the "Law-and-Order party," put some of their men into prison, while General Howard, with others, escaped to the country; after which the Vigilance Committee had it all their own way. Subsequently, in July, 1856, they arrested Chief-Justice Terry, and tried him for stabbing one of their constables, but he managed to escape at night, and took refuge on the John Adams. In August, they hanged Hetherington and Brace in broad daylight, without any jury-trial; and, soon after, they quietly disbanded. As they controlled the press, they wrote their own history, and the world generally gives them the credit of having purged San Francisco of rowdies and roughs; but their success has given great stimulus to a dangerous principle, that would at any time justify the mob in seizing all the power of government; and who is to say that the Vigilance Committee may not be composed of the worst, instead of the best, elements of a community? Indeed, in San Francisco, as soon as it was demonstrated that the real power had passed from the City Hall to the committee room, the same set of bailiffs, constables, and rowdies that had infested the City Hall were found in the employment of the "Vigilantes;" and, after three months experience, the better class of people became tired of the midnight sessions and left the business and power of the committee in the hands of a court, of which a Sydney man was reported to be the head or chief-justice.
During the winter of 1855-'56, and indeed throughout the year 1856, all kinds of business became unsettled in California. The mines continued to yield about fifty millions of gold a year; but little attention was paid to agriculture or to any business other than that of "mining," and, as the placer-gold was becoming worked out, the miners were restless and uneasy, and were shifting about from place to place, impelled by rumors put afloat for speculative purposes. A great many extensive enterprises by joint-stock companies had been begun, in the way of water-ditches, to bring water from the head of the mountain-streams down to the richer alluvial deposits, and nearly all of these companies became embarrassed or bankrupt. Foreign capital, also, which had been attracted to California by reason of the high rates of interest, was being withdrawn, or was tied up in property which could not be sold; and, although our bank's having withstood the panic gave us great credit, still the community itself was shaken, and loans of money were risky in the extreme. A great many merchants, of the highest name, availed themselves of the extremely liberal bankrupt law to get discharged of their old debts, without sacrificing much, if any, of their stocks of goods on hand, except a lawyer's fee; thus realizing Martin Burke's saying that "many a clever fellow had been ruined by paying his debts." The merchants and business-men of San Francisco did not intend to be ruined by such a course. I raised the rate of exchange from three to three and a half, while others kept on at the old rate; and I labored hard to collect old debts, and strove, in making new loans, to be on the safe side. The State and city both denied much of their public debt; in fact, repudiated it; and real estate, which the year before had been first-class security, became utterly unsalable.
The office labor and confinement, and the anxiety attending the business, aggravated my asthma to such an extent that at times it deprived me of sleep, and threatened to become chronic and serious; and I was also conscious that the first and original cause which had induced Mr. Lucas to establish the bank in California had ceased. I so reported to him, and that I really believed that he could use his money more safely and to better advantage in St. Louis. This met his prompt approval, and he instructed me gradually to draw out, preparatory to a removal to New York City. Accordingly, early in April, 1857, I published an advertisement in the San Francisco papers, notifying our customers that, on the 1st day of May, we would discontinue business and remove East, requiring all to withdraw their accounts, and declaring that, if any remained on that day of May, their balances would be transferred to the banking-house of Parrott & Co. Punctually to the day, this was done, and the business of Lucas, Turner & Co., of San Francisco, was discontinued, except the more difficult and disagreeable part of collecting their own moneys and selling the real estate, to which the firm had succeeded by purchase or foreclosure. One of the partners, B. R. Nisbet, assisted by our attorney, S. M. Bowman, Esq., remained behind to close up the business of the bank.
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