« AnteriorContinuar »
purses, the proceeds, perhaps, of six months' hard labor, to buy the necessary provisions and clothing, get their letters, &c. They meet old friends, drink, go to the gambling house, drink again, and finally bet a small amount, and perhaps win. They bet again, and again win. A feeling of avarice is now excited, and they risk a large sum. But after repeated bets, with varied success, they discover that they are losers. They now make the fatal resolve that they will win back what they have lost and quit; the next moment they are ruined.
HOUNDS "-VILLAINY—INDIGNATION MEETING—YIGILANCE COMMITTEE.
SAN FRANCISCO was, at this time, infested by a gang of desperados disposed to repudiate all laws, and be governed only by their own fiendish propensities. They styled themselves “hounds," and neither life nor property were secure against their depredations. They felt so secure in their strength and numbers, that they did not seek the protection of night, but frequently committed the most revolting crimes at noon-day, and under the eye of the public authorities. They would enter public houses, demand whatever they wished, always forgetting to pay for the same, and, perhaps, before leaving, demolish every article of furniture on the premises. This would be a mere prelude or introductory to a night of fiendish revelry. They would plunder houses, commit the most diabolical acts upon the inmates, murder in case of resistance, then commit the building to the flames to hide their infamy.
On the first Sunday after my arrival, several of the leaders of the gang returned to town, after a few days' absence. They crossed over from the opposite side of the bay, having with them a fife and drum, the music of which was accompanied by yells, groans and hisses, such as one would only expect to hear from demons. After landing they marched into the main plaza, and executing a few peculiar evolutions, dispensed with their music, at least the instrumental part of it, and commenced their foray. I was seated in a restaurant as the captain and five of his followers entered. He drew up to a table upon which were several glasses, decanters, &c., together with sundry plates of refreshments. He raised his foot, kicked over the table, smashing the crockery into atoms, then taking his cigar from his mouth said, with the utmost nonchalance, and an oath, "waiter, bring me a gin-cock
tail.” After having satisfied their thirst and hunger, they sallied forth without taking the trouble to learn the precise amount of damage done.
During the night, after committing several robberies, they entered a Chilian tent, and, after committing the most brutal outrages upon the mother and daughter, murdered the former, and in their struggle with the latter, she, after receiving several severe wounds, caught a bowie-knife from the hand of one of them and, after dealing him a deadly blow, made her escape. She immediately gave the alarm, and although robberies had been committed with impunity, this outrage upon defenceless females, awakened an impulse that was irresistible. The excitement was most intense ; citizens flocked together, armed with a determination to meet out summary punishment to the perpetrators of this inhuman outrage.
Several arrests were made, and, although many were in favor of summary vengeance, better counsel prevailed, and they were put into the hands of the authorities and locked up. They refused to give any information as to the stolen property, but upon searching the tent of an accomplice, various articles were found, and snugly stowed away in a mattress was a large amount in gold dust, the wages of their infamy. A few hours after the above arrests, a demonstration was made by accomplices, in order to force open the jail, and release their comrades. This caused the strongest feelings of indignation, and the citizens assembled en masse in the plaza, all armed to the teeth, determined to avenge this additional aggravation to the atrocious crimes already perpetrated. They immediately organized themselves into a police, and determined to act with decision upon any proposition that might be sanctioned by the meeting. Had a resolution passed to hang the prisoners it would have been car. ried into immediate effect. Notwithstanding the excitement of the moment, many of the “hounds” had the effrontery to show themselves, and during a speech by one of the citizens, made some menacing jestures, upon which the speaker drew a revolver from his bosom, and with a determined emphasis requested all those who sympathized with the prisoners to separate from the crowd. Had they complied, the determination manifested in every countenance gave fearful token of the doom that awaited
them. It was resolved, in consideration of the insecurity of the jail, to transfer the prisoners to the man-of-war, “General Warren." This was carried into immediate effect, the citizens forming a double file from the jail to the shore.
This demonstration secured but five of the numerous horde that infested the city, and it was not to be expected that the arrests of these would prove a salutary check, nor did it. The desperados stood in greater fear of this self-constituted police than of the regular authorities. This organization was undoubtedly the germ from which the “Vigilance Committee” eventually grew. It is well known that, upon the breaking out of the gold excitement, the cities of the world sent forth their vilest scum, consisting of gamblers, pickpockets, murderers, and thieves, and California was the receptacle. They immediately fraternized, and were at once the most adroit, wily and experienced embodiment of villainy with which the prospects of a city were ever blighted. They were not men broken down in their profession at home, but the very aristocracy of crime. Too well-skilled to be detected, they had escaped the meshes of the law in their own country, and resorted to California for its superior business prospects. As if to have the organization complete, the convict islands of Great Britain vomited forth a herd that seemed almost festering with crime. This sealed the doom of San Francisco. She was infested by an organization, the very incarnation of infamy. They would fire the city for plunder, and commit murder to screen themselves from detection.
The city had grown to the stature of a giant; all were reaping the reward of their enterprise, when on the 5th December following, the torch of the incendiary was applied, and within a few short hours San Francisco was in ashes. Citizens wbo had assumed their pillows in wealth awoke in penury. Many, after a year of toil and anxiety, were preparing to return to their families in affluence, but in ont brief moment their dreams of happiness were blighted, and their riches a heap of smouldering ruins. The city was immediately rebuilt, but citizens had barely entered their new habitations, when it was again devastated by fire. Again it rose, Phenix-like, from its own ashes, and again business was resumed, but for the third time it was in ruins.
The citizens were appalled. That it was the work of incen. diaries no one doubted, yet to detect them seemed impossible, so skillfully were their plans laid, and so adroitly executed. Added to this, the sequel proved that some of their number had got into "high places,” were conniving at their acts, and sharing their ill-gotten booty. This, in part, accounts for the tardy proceedings against those who were arrested, and the numerous reprieves of those who were clearly proved guilty. Property to the value of some twenty millions of dollars had already been destroyed, hundreds of citizens had been reduced from affluence to bankruptcy, others were in momentary fear of sharing the same fate. They had lost confidence in the city authorities, and there seemed no alternative but to take the matter into their own hands. They consequently organized themselves into what was termed a “Vigilance Committee," with the determination of bringing every suspicious person to a strict account. Many of the most influential and wealthy citizens were the first to enrol themselves, and they called upon all to join them in their effort at self-protection. Their head-quarters was at the engine-house of a fire company, the tolling of the bell being the signal for all to assemble. This well-known signal was always heard when an arrest was made, and became the death-knell to many a wretch, who for his villainies was hastily summoned into another world. The meetings of the Committee were strictly private, none but members being admitted. The proceedings were summary, and if the prisoner was proved guilty his sentence was carried into immediate effect. None were executed, however, without the unanimous consent of members present, this being one of the provisions of their constitution. "Those who were executed were not only proved guilty, but confessed their guilt before their execution. Most of those who fell under the ban of the Committee were “Sidney convicts," and subsequently they were all ordered to leave the country within a specified time, upon the pain of death. The Mayor issued a proclamation against the proceedings of the Committee, and the coroner's juries summoned over the bodies of those who were executed, found against them; yet it is a question of doubt, whether any one was secretly opposed to their proceedings.
Persons living in well-regulated communities, and looking at