Sunday, February 18, 2018

News From California -- November 11th, 1857

The following articles are from The Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 14, Number 2068, November 11th, 1857:


We are indebted to the Alta Express and to Wells, Fargo and Co. for copies of the Amador Ledger, Extra, containing a full account of the atrocious murder and robbery of Martin V. B. Griswold near Jackson, California, on Saturday morning, November 7th.

The murder took place at the house of Horace Kilham, in whose employ Mr. Griswold had been for several years. Mr. Kilham had been absent from home for some days, and on his return, on Saturday afternoon, he was astonished to find his house empty, and Griswold and the Chinese cook, (the only inmates he had left there) gone. 

He soon made the discovery that his safe had been robbed of from $2,500 to $5,000. It has been since ascertained that one of his neighbors had $500 or $600 deposited in the safe, at the time of the robbery. The matter was speedily communicated to neighbors, but no great fear of the safety of Griswold was felt until Sunday afternoon.

Search had been made about the premises to discover his body if he had been murdered and concealed ; but it was not until evening, when Mr. Kilham and other friends became seriously alarmed, that the body was found concealed beneath the bed of the Chinese cook. 

There is no question, says the Ledger, but that the murder had been in contemplation for at least two weeks, and perhaps longer; and it is equally certain that the perpetrators of the deed were the Chinese cook employed at the house, assisted by two of his countrymen as confederates, with perhaps an extensive gang or company of Chinamen to ilia re (thereabouts of place) the profits of their horrid crime. 

An inquest was held by George S. Smith, the acting Coroner, and for the testimony elicited. vs  select the following statements. Dr. Hoover testified as follows: Griswold. death was caused by contused wound on the head. His skull was fractured on the back part of the head. The parietal bone was broken in by some blunt instrument, which was sufficient to create death. The wound might have been made by the piece of lead or slung-shot, which is here exhibited. 

There were three other contused wounds on the head. The skull was not fractured except in the instance already stated. These wounds might have been inflicted by the same instrument. The cord here exhibited was drawn with two half hitches around the neck, sufficiently tight to produce strangulation and death, without reference to the blows upon the head and the fracture of tho skull. From the appearance of the body the deceased came to his death from violence of the foulest character. 

F. A. Mc Martin testified to the finding of the body, us before stated, and added: "I recognize the leaden slung-shot here exhibited, as the one which I saw the Chinaman employed by Mr. Kilham as cook, grinding upon a grindstone, at Mr. Kilham's, about two weeks since, and wondered at the time what he meant to do with such a piece of lead." 

Elson Short, who passed by Mr. Kilham's house on Saturday forenoon, testified to having seen two shabbily dressed Chinamen standing under the stoop, and the Chinese cook inside the door. 

Several other witnesses were examined, after which the jury rendered their verdict, as follow: We find that Martin V. B. Griswold was foully murdered at the house of H. Kilham on the 7th of Nov. 1857, and that he came to his death by four severe blows on the head, supposed to be given by a slung-shot that was found in the Chinaman's (cook's) room. 

There was a cord drawn tight around his neck, which was sufficient to have caused his death without the blows on the head. The deceased is supposed from the evidence before the jury to have been murdered by the Chinese cook employed by Mr. H. Kilham, with his accomplices. 

The Ledger says:  From the facts already known, the conclusion is irresistibly arrived at that the plot to commit the robbery and murder was a deep-laid one, and that the Chinese cook was the leading spirit. — The degree of coolness which he manifested in making his preparations — for instance, in the manufacture of the slung-shot, which was beyond a doubt- the instrument with which the skull was fractured is astonishing. 

The plot was as ingenious as diabolical, and furnishes the strongest evidence that his murder is not the first one committed by the guilty parties. There are many known facts that do not appear in the testimony, that go strongly to fasten guilt upon the cook, and the two other Chinamen who were seen at the house shortly before the enactment of the tragedy; but there were so many evidences existing at the premises and in view of the jury, that further testimony upon which to find the verdict they did find would have been superfluous. 

The murder was undoubtedly committed between 9 and 10 o'clock, Saturday morning. The two strange Chinamen, in the garb of miners, doubtless had provided themselves with a little dust, which they offered for sale; and while Griswold was stooping over weighing or blowing it, or making a calculation of its value, he was struck in the back of the head, and the cord immediately placed and drawn tight about his neck to prevent all danger of his giving alarm, and also to prevent bleeding. 

He was dragged to the cook's room and hid away under the bed, in order that the murderers might have, as they doubtless hoped, two or three days at least the start of discovery. The board spoken of in the testimony was nailed to the bed to hide the corpse after it was stowed away. Marks of blood on the bed-rail, over which the board was nailed, could only have been put there while the villains were pushing the corpse under and before the board was nailed on. A large club evidently prepared for the use of one of the murderers if the slung-shot should fail of its purpose, was found under the bed with the murdered man.

The manner in which the cord was found around the deceased is an exact representation of the choking process by which the murderous "Thugs"in China, or Chinese Tartary, commit their villainous atrocities — throwing their noose over the necks of their victims and choking them so quickly that resistance is out of the question.

Mr. Griswold himself, some time since, observed the Chinaman making his slung-shot, and spoke of it casually to Mr. Kilham, little thinking, however, that it was being prepared for him.

The last seen of the cook was at ten o'clock am Saturday, in Jackson. This time two Chinamen hired horses at Perrin's livery stable, under pretense of going to the Q Ranch, but neither Chinamen nor horses have been heard of. One of these Chinamen was the cook. Much excitement prevails among the people, and numbers are scouring the country in pursuit of the murderers. The cook and one of the other Chinamen are well known to numerous persons in this place, and it is sincerely to be hoped that they may be captured. We hear that a reward of one thousand dollars has been offered.

Mr. Griswold was well known and highly respected. He left Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1848, and went to Oregon and came from there to California In 1849. He was about forty years of age.

Three Chinamen were caught and two hanged. One committed suicide.

Next story ...
Lynch Law 

A few days since, some miners at French Hill, near Camp Seco, caught two Chinamen robbing their sluice boxes, for which they gave them fifty lashes each upon the bare back, and deprived them of their tails - cutting them off. 

At Mokelumne Hill, says the Chronicle of Nov. 7th, the Johns caught one of their countrymen stealing, whereupon they tied him up to a tree, and gave him a regular administration of the Judge Lynch code in the shape of stripes well laid on.

Next story ...
Shocking Murder

Robert Brown Ripley was choked to death over a card table, on the 20th of September, at Scottsville, Virginia, by a boat builder named Carroll. Cheating is suspected.

Next story ...
Crime in Oroville 

The police report of Oroville for the month ending Nov. 5th, exhibits 43 arrests: Drunks, 23; Assault and Battery, 11; Burglary, 2; Violation of city ordinance, 2; Larceny, 4 ; Murder, 1. 

The Record says: "This exhibits as refined and city-like propensities on the part of our crime-committing population as any city or town the size of this in the Union. As an evidence of our prosperity and the efficiency of our police we are proud of it; as an interesting item we welcome it, and as a proof that as a community we need straight-jackets and missionaries, we are ashamed of it."

Next story ...
Outrage In Chicago

Reported in the Ledger: In the latter part of September, a physician at Chicago inveigled a young lady into his office, under the pretense of giving her a preparation to remove a scar from her face. He administered chloroform to her, and attempted to commit an outrage upon her person, but she was not so stupefied but that she had power to scream. 

The door was kicked open by some of those who heard her, and the medical gentleman whaled so that he did not leave his room for several days. At the last accounts, there was talk of healing his injuries with a complete suit of tar and feathers. 

Next story ...
The Lynching Cask in Solano County

A few days since, it was reported that an aged man, of Spanish blood had been lynched on Putah Creek, on a charge of having stolen a horse from Mr. Wolfskill, of which charge it was afterwards shown that he was innocent. The Eco del Pacifico contains a letter in regard to the circumstances of this lynching, from which the Alta translates as follows :

While the unfortunate but honest old man in question was on a visit in Contra Costa, someone stole a saddle from his horse on the Vaca ranch in the Putah Valley. When he returned he heard of the theft, and was told that his saddle was at Wolfskill's, and he went to claim it. He recognized the saddle, but Wolfskill began to question him, and told him he must go before a Judge. 

A party of twenty men, including Wolfskill, surrounded him and said that he had been a criminal, and started with him. One by one the party dropped off, until only about four remained, Wolfskill being in command. When they arrived at a desert place, Wolfskill and his friends spoke together in a low voice, and surrounding the old man, so that he should not escape, they left the road leading to the Judge's, and started toward a place in the mountain where there is a thick wood. 

The old man broke away from his keepers, and attempted to escape. He rode twelve miles, and his pursuers after him, to Vacaville, where the Judge lives. Arrived here, the old man inquired of an American lady, "Who is the Judge? Where does he live?" 

While he was trying, in mixed English and Spanish, to make himself understood, his persecutors came upon him, and began to beat him. They tore him by force from the arms of the merciful woman, who bravely stepped between the old man and a drawn pistol, aimed at him, and cried out that they should not murder him. 

The captors ordered" the old man to go with them, he cried out for the protection of the law. He asked several times, in a loud voice, "Who is the Judge? Who speaks Spanish? Who is a Christian?" More than forty Americans witnessed this scene, and not one raised his voice.

Wolfskill and his party drove their prisoner to the place where he had escaped, and there he was hanged upon a tree and almost killed. This is not the first outrage which has happened in that vicinity. 

About three years ago, a man of Spanish blood was one morning found dead, hanging to a tree, not far from Wolfskill's. The deceased in that case had no friends, and the murderers went unpunished. A few months ago some men in masks lynched and lashed two or three Americans; but the officers took hold of the matter and the offenders had to bleed to the extent of eight or ten thousand dollars, before they could escape the punishment they merited.

So says the Eco. If these charges, so publicly made, in a paper of considerable circulation, be false, we hope they will be contradicted; if true, we may confess that there are some barbarians in California who deserve to be classed with the savages of Cavorca.

Next story ...
Shooting Affair

At the Webber House in Stockton, on Sunday evening, Nov. 5th, a shooting affair took place between two negro barbers named Hyers and Gilliard, which had its origin in a fit of jealousy. 

The Argus says: "Gilliard demanded a retraction of some statement made by Hyers, which the latter refused, where upon Gilliard drew a revolver and fired, but being too close to his mark, missed him. Hyers ran through the hall into the bar-room where Gilliard fired another shot, which also failed to take effect. 

Hyers made his escape into the street, where a third shot was fired by Gilliard, but missed its mark. Hyers ran up Center Street, and Gilliard made his escape in another direction. 

A person standing near the entrance to the bar-room, as Gilliard passed out, drew his pistol and " took a shot " at him "on suspicion."

-- end of articles from The Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 14, Number 2068, November 11th, 1857.

These articles are reprinted here as they were seen in 1857. I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into life during that time period as much as I did. 

Tom Correa


  1. Loved these old stories! Years ago, I was at the library doing some research on a case, and going through old newspaper microfilm, and came across a story from the 1950's of a kidnapping and murder of a little boy here in KC. The killers were caught. From the time of the kidnapping, to the trial and the execution by the electric chair, the total time span was less than 30 days. Compare that to today, when killers sit on death row for 20-30 years at tax payers expense.

  2. Why isn't this a movie? This is interesting stuff! You think by now they would be making a film out of this. Somebody needs to get down on their knees and beg Hollywood to write the script.

  3. Update real quick. I'm planning on making a movie out of this in the near future called, "Hell On The Border". The opening to the trailer will be, "It wasn't just Hell. It was Hell on the border." I will lay the role of J.D. Crown who is a constable who is forced to take the law into his own hands in 1900s California. This will be a Western version of "Death Wish" so to speak. And Tom, if you're a good boy and quit pestering me, LOL, I might even put YOU in the film. Wish me luck.


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