Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

"Let us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready." - Theodore Roosevelt, 1903

Friday, April 8, 2016

California's Famous Broderick vs Terry Duel

David Colbreth Broderick
David Colbreth Broderick was born on East Capitol Street just west of 3rd Street in Washington, D.C., the son of an Irish stonecutter who had immigrated to the United States in order to work on the United States Capitol.

Broderick moved with his parents to New York City in 1823, where he attended public schools and was an apprentice stonecutter. But at the time, it is also said that Broderick became very active in politics as a young man. 

In 1846, he became the Democratic candidate for U.S. Representative from the 5th District of New York, but lost the election with 38% to 42% for the winning Whig candidate.

In 1849, he moved to California to join in on the Gold Rush. He moved to San Francisco, where he engaged in smelting and assaying gold. Broderick minted gold coins that contained less gold than their face value. For example, his $10 coins contained only $8 in gold. He used the profits to finance his political aspirations. 

After achieving business successes in minting and then real estate, he became a member of the California State Senate from 1850 to 1851. And in 1857, he was elected a Democrat to the United State Senate at a time when the Democratic Party of California was sharply split in two, between the pro-slavery group and the “Free-Soil” advocates. 

Broderick staunchly opposed slavery and especially the expansion of slavery into California. He is said to have worked closely with his political friends to support the anti-slavery movement in California.

David Smith Terry
David Smith Terry was once Chief Justice of the California State Supreme Court and a staunch advocate of making California a Slave State. 

Yes, like many others who move from one place to another, Terry wanted to make where he was living just like the place he left. In this case, that meant he wanted to extend the culture of slavery into California.

Terry was man known for his hot temper and tendency toward violence. Among his outbursts, he was even known to have previously stabbed a political opponent in 1856. 

So yes, it wasn't surprising that when Terry lost his re-election because of his views on pro-slavery, and even though Terry and Broderick had once been friends, he blamed David Broderick for his loss. 

At a party convention in Sacramento in 1859, Terry gave a searing speech, attacking Broderick and his anti-slavery stance. Broderick responded to Terry with an equally unflattering statement and as tempers flared, Terry challenged Broderick to a duel.

At the time of Terry’s challenge, duels were illegal in San Francisco. They had originally scheduled the duel for a few days before September 13, but there was too large a group of witnesses and the duel was shut down by the city police. 

On September 13, they secretly moved the duel located to a ravine near Lake Merced, just south of the city line in what is today Daly City. 

The chosen weapons were two Belgian .58 caliber pistols. It is said that Broderick was completely unfamiliar with this type of gun mechanism. Terry in contrast knew it well and in fact spent the previous days practicing with one. 
Similar to the pistols used.
At the moment of the duel, the men stood only 10 yards apart. And it was reported by the many eye-witnesses that just before the final "one-two-three" count started, because of his pistol's hair-pin trigger Broderick's pistol went off and fired into the dirt. 

Now with an empty single-shot pistol in his hand, witnesses reported that Broderick simply stood tall and refused to cower as Terry slowly took aim directly at Broderick's chest and fired the fatal shot. 

Below is how the duel was reported at the time:

On Friday, Sept. 16th, ’59, at half-past 9 a.m., Hon. David C. Broderick, Senator of the United States from our State, died from the effect of a wound received in a duel, fought on Tuesday morning last, with David S. Terry, formerly Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California.

With the manner of his wounding we have nothing to do; the daily press, in their partisan opinions, have given many different statements in regard to it, and to them we refer for the particulars of the duel; our task is merely to speak of a fallen hero, a good man gone to his death.

For days previous to his dissolution, the gloomy countenances of the whole people told how great was the feeling for the wounded man, and the groups of sad faces at all points in the city, showed the intense anxiety for his welfare. 


All hopes, however, proved fallacious, and while the bright sun was shining over our beautiful country, while everything in nature was arrayed in loveliness, and while a multitude of eager friends were awaiting the results of the efforts of his physicians, the spirit of the great man, the self-made leader of senates, the warm friend, the truthful and magnanimous antagonist, passed from the body and took its silent flight to the great unknown world of space.

Not only does a State mourn for its champion and defender, not only does the population of the Pacific slope wail for the loss of its favorite, but a whole confederacy—a whole people, are full of sorrow and regret for his death. As was said of another, “The heart of a nation is throbbing heavily at the portals of his tomb. ”

For years, Mr. Broderick has battled for principles which he considered right and of late he has exercised all his strength of mind and body for the advancement of those principles. Just having ended a political campaign with credit to himself, and full of high aspirations for the future, he has been cut down in the prime of his life, and all his hopes and fears are now as one.

Cold in death, the body, which formerly contained a mind such as only a God could create, lies calmly awaiting what disposition is chosen for it. There will be parade and pomp and a gathering of multitudes, but will these indemnify us for the loss we have sustained? Will the funeral ceremonies do ought towards healing the terrible wound in the body politic?

No! for such a man can never have his placed filled, he will always be missed. When occasions of this kind are forced upon us, we feel too deeply the great effect, the years will pass before the sacrifice will be forgotten. Time cannot entirely obliterate it, and the memory of the people will cling tenaciously to the circumstances.

For our State, we are sorry. The shock sustained in consequence of this last terrible act will have a tendency to injure it deeply. We have, from the first days of California, have been more or less stained with the blood of our people, and the efforts of the cooler portion of our community have been unsuccessful as to the prevention of these foul blots.

One after another of the damning consequences arrive, and California is forced to recede instead of advancing in the paths of civilization. When will we cease to be so terribly scourged and take our place among the enlightened of the age?

If not soon, we will cease to exist as a people, for strife and bloodshed will annihilate us. Let us hope that a better spirit will hereafter prevail, and let us also hope that the successor of Mr. Broderick will be as honest and upright in the discharge of his duty.

California Police Gazette
September 17, 1859

David Smith Terry was born in Kentucky on March 8, 1823, the son of Joseph R. and Sarah D. (Smith) Terry, who moved to Texas as a young boy. He was a younger brother of Benjamin Franklin Terry. And although he became a lawyer, a judge, a politician, and a soldier, and achieved fame in California, and though born in Kentucky, David Terry considered himself a true Texan and a Southerner. 

He studied law in the office of his uncle-in-law, T. J. B. Hadley, and in 1845 was admitted to the bar at Galveston. He served in Capt. Samuel L. S. Ballowe's company in the Col. John C. Hays's First Regiment of Texas Mounted Riflemen in the Mexican War and participated in the battle of Monterrey in 1846.

In 1847, he lost the election for district attorney of Galveston. In 1849, he joined the gold rush to California where he failed as a gold miner but achieved rapid financial and political success in law practice at Stockton. 

In Galveston in 1852, Terry married Cornelia Runnels who was the niece of Hardin R. Runnels who later became governor of Texas. The Terry's had six children.

In 1855, Terry was nominated for a place on the California Supreme Court by the American Know-Nothing party and surprisingly won over the Democrats.

By 1859, David Terry was an ex-California Supreme Court Chief Justice when he killed United States Senator David Broderick in California's most famous duel.


After the duel, Terry was was of course now looking at a hanging rope in his future, so he quickly claimed to have only grazed him with a flesh wound when in fact his bullet entered Broderick's chest and lung. 

It is said that despite the doctor's best efforts, Broderick fought for his life for three days before he died at 9:20 a.m. on September 16th, 1859. His last words were, "They killed me because I'm opposed to slavery and a corrupt administration."

Upon Broderick's death, the people of San Francisco were outraged by what they saw as a murder -- a political assassination. Soon San Francisco Vigilantes wasted no time in organizing to go after Terry to hang him, but San Francisco Police Department's Captain of Detectives I. W. Lees and Detective H. H. Ellis proceeded to Terry's home with a warrant against him. 

Det. Ellis described the Terry arrest:

“Lees and I procured a warrant against Terry and had it properly endorsed. We then proceeded to Terry's home. When we arrived within about one hundred feet of the house, a window was thrown open and Calhoun Benham, Tom Hayes, Sheriff O'Neill and Terry leveled shotguns at us and told us to 'halt.'
We did so and announced that we were officers with a warrant for Terry. He stated that he was certain that he would not receive a fair trial and feared violence at that time, but agreed to surrender three days afterward in Oakland. 

Knowing that he would keep his word in this, as we also knew he would do when he told us that if we came nearer to his house they would all shoot, we decided to allow him to dictate terms. 

He surrendered as per agreement, and the case was heard by Judge James Hardy in Marin County, a change of venue having been granted because of the alleged prejudice against Terry in San Francisco. This case was dismissed but Terry was subsequently indicted by the Grand Jury in San Mateo County. The point was then raised that he had been once in jeopardy, and being well taken, that case was also dismissed."

After things calmed down for Terry, he actually resumed his law practice until 1863 when he returned home to Texas to join the Confederate Army. During the war, he was reported to have been wounded at Chickamauga but still raised a regiment in Texas. By the end of the war, he was a Colonel. 

While some say he was run out of Texas and others say he couldn't handle life under Martial Law during Reconstruction there, either way after the war, like many former Confederates, Terry lived for a time in Mexico where he is said to have engaged in farming and ranching. And yes, surprisingly for a man who claimed Texas as his home, he returned to California in 1868 to practice law again. This time in the city of Stockton. 

Then, believe it or not, by 1878, Terry was again involved in California politics in the Democrat Party and actually served as a prominent member of the California Constitutional Convention which rewrote California's 1849 State Constitution.

Terry's wife died in December 1884, and his only surviving son, Samuel, died in April 1885. In January 1886, a 62 year old Terry married Sarah Hill who was 25 years younger than him.

As for karma, some say it was simply a matter of justice finally getting around to taking care of David Terry when after 30 years, on August 14th, 1889, Terry himself was shot dead by Deputy United States Marshal David Neagle while threatening Supreme Court Justice Stephen Johnson Field. Deputy U.S. Marshal Neagle was assigned to Justice Field as a bodyguard after threats from Terry. And yes, believe it or not, it is said that Justice Field had been a close friend of Broderick. 

Terry never made it back to his beloved Texas and is instead buried next to his first wife in the family plot at the Rural Cemetery in Stockton, California. Not too long after David Terry's death, Sarah Hill Terry was committed to the Stockton State Hospital for the Insane in 1892. She died there in 1937 and was also buried in the Terry family plot in Stockton.

California's most famous duel drew national attention. Senator Broderick's death turned him into a hero and a martyr for the anti-slavery movement. Terry and his Southern sympathizers were accused of assassination.  
Senator Broderick's San Francisco funeral was attended by thousands of mourners. Senator Edward Dickinson Baker, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, gave the moving eulogy expressing the widely held belief that Broderick was indeed killed because of his anti-slavery stance, saying, 
"His death was a political necessity, poorly veiled beneath the guise of a private quarrel. . .What was his public crime? The answer is in his own words; 'I die because I was opposed to a corrupt administration and the extension of slavery.'"

The City of San Francisco erected a large monument in the now gone Laurel Hill Cemetery and named a downtown street "Broderick Street" in his honor. Also Broderick County, Kansas Territory, and the town of Broderick, California, were named in his honor.

All in all, one can't help but see the Broderick vs Terry duel as a reflection of the nation's larger and more violent divisions. Many feel that the duel actually helped to push the nation closer to war. They're probably right.

And yes, that's just the way I see it.
Tom Correa

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