Thursday, September 30, 2021

Was Josefa "Chipita" Rodriguez A Patsy?

Josefa "Chipita" Rodriguez was legally hanged in Texas in 1863 for the murder of John Savage.

Josefa "Chipita" Rodriguez's life story is a bit of a mystery since very little is known about her. Today, depending on what sources you read, it seems the story of her life is one that's hard to separate fact from fiction. 

For example, there is a question about her name because some say Josefa "Chipita" Rodriguez might not have been her real name. To add to that, some question her reported date of birth of December 30, 1799, in Mexico. So besides her name, her age when the state of Texas hanged her might be in question. 

Most do agree that she was the daughter of a Mexican soldier by the name of Pedro Rodríguez. He deserted from General Santa Anna's army when Texas was fighting for its independence. Interestingly, her father, Pedro Rodriguez, supposedly fled Santa Anna's army and brought his wife and daughter to Texas. It's interesting because it's not every day that we hear about a deserter who took his whole family with him. Usually, deserters are trying to get away with as little a trail as possible. In his case, he took his entire family to San Patricio de Hibernia, Texas. 

From there, he left them to join the Texas forces to fight against Santa Anna. Yes, to fight against the army, he just deserted. Pedro Rodríguez was supposedly killed in one of the battles, but I haven't determined which one. 

The settlement that became San Patricio, Texas, started attracting settlers in 1829. The small settlement was created by the Mexican government as a place for 200 Irish-American Catholic families. Those families were migrating to Texas, which was part of Mexico at the time. Since Mexico was a Catholic country, the Mexican government required everyone migrating to Mexico to either be Catholic or become Catholic. Sadly for San Patricio, the conflict between Texas and Mexico was brewing. 

Because of the Texas war for independence, by 1836, most there had fled to safety elsewhere. The town was almost abandoned until 1845. That was when U.S. Army General Zachary Taylor and his troops arrived. General Taylor was commander of the force ordered to Texas after annexation. He was ordered to Texas because of the invasion of Texas by Mexico in 1842 when they attempted to take Texas back as their own. 

Gen. Taylor was ordered to establish his base camp at Corpus Christi. Because of the threat from Mexico, it's said that by the spring of 1846, that base housed nearly half of the United States Army. So imagine the economic boom that took place there due to all of those troops needing places to spend their money. While that was big enough to create and sustain many towns for years, more settlers also came to the area. So with them and having the soldiers and fort personnel nearby, soon the town of San Patricio began to thrive. 

The town became a stopping place and supply station for travelers along what later became known as the "Cotton Road." The area was not on the front lines of the Civil War but was critical to the "Cotton Road," a smuggling route used by the Confederacy to trade with Mexico. 

Of course, the outlaws, saloons, gamblers, leaches, and traders of various sorts but legitimate and shady also came with newfound prosperity. Along with these groups, we find the population of San Patricio trying to scratch out a living from these assorted people just passing through.

There is a story about how Josefa "Chipita" Rodriguez took up with a drifter and had a son by him. The rest of that story simply says he was not anchored to San Patricio and left. The unbelievable part of that story is that the drifter took his son with him. Yes, supposedly leaving Chipita to fend for herself. 

Before someone writes to ask if I believe that story, let me say that it would have been out of character for a drifter to take an offspring with him. Reality and human nature being what it is, the world is full of stories of those drifting along, leaving a trail of un-wed mothers in their wake. Even today, some seem to think their mission on earth is to plant seeds wherever they've been. Yes, the modern-day version of Johnny Appleseed -- who is said to have traveled across the country planting apple trees wherever he went. 

Did that happen to Chipita? Did she meet and fall in with a drifter? Did she bear a son, and did he leave with that son? Actually, the problem is that no one knows for sure if it's true or not. As I said earlier, as for Josefa "Chipita" Rodriguez, her life story is a bit of a mystery since very little is known about her. 

What we do know is that by the time she was either 60 years of age or about that age, Chipita furnished travelers with meals and a cot on the porch of her lean-to shack on the Nueces River. That's what we know for sure. She provided food and a place to sleep for travelers. Most likely, it was maybe one or two at a time. 

One traveler was John Savage. In August of 1863, he was found murdered with an ax floating in the Nueces River. Supposedly, he was carrying $600 in gold. The people of San Patricio immediately assumed that Chipita murdered and robbed him. 

Believe it or not, even after the gold was recovered when it was found in a burlap bag in the Nueces River north of San Patricio, she was still believed to have murdered him. A shadow of doubt was present, but that didn't matter. 

Josefa "Chipita" Rodríguez and Juan Silvera, a young man who some sources say was actually her illegitimate son, were indicted for murder and robbery. Was Josefa "Chipita" Rodríguez the mother of Juan Silvera? Who knows. As for the evidence, there was very little, and it was circumstantial at best. But that didn't matter. They went before Fourteenth District Court Judge Benjamin F. Neal at San Patricio, and they were found guilty. 

Chipita begged for her life and that of Juan Silvera. She pleaded not guilty, and believe it or not, the jury recommended mercy in the case. Fourteenth District Court judge Benjamin F. Neal didn't care what the jury recommended and ordered her executed on November 13, 1863. 

As with many court records in various towns that were lost to fires, almost everything about her trial was lost to a fire. The few transcripts that survived have discrepancies, which would have been grounds for a new trial in today's world. Some of the discrepancies had to do with the sheriff acting as a jury member and the jury foreman. And as for a lawyer to defend her, she didn't have one. What was her defense? Her only defense was her words, "I'm not guilty." 

She didn't stand a chance. And as for an appeal? There was no appeal or motion for a retrial. She was carted off in the back of a wagon to a hanging tree. And there, she was hanged before being placed in an unmarked grave.

Okay, as for all of the conspiracy folks who wrote to ask if I think she was killed to keep her quiet "since she had evidence of wrongdoings by politicians"? No, I don't. Besides, why would anyone believe that nonsense? 

Let's remember that she was illiterate, uneducated, poor, spoke limited English, and was killed because someone said she committed murder and robbery. Yes, even though there were no witnesses, nothing to substantiate those charges, and the money had been found elsewhere -- money not connected to her or Juan Silvera -- she was hanged. Doesn't there seem like something is wrong with that? Keep in mind that the only evidence used to say that Josefa "Chipita" Rodríguez killed John Savage was that he ate and slept at her home the night before he was killed with an ax and thrown in the river. 

So now, John Savage was found dead in mid-August, and by early November, Chipita and Juan were to be hanged. While that might sound like some speedy justice to take care of a bad hombre? Some still thought that was too long to wait. In fact, it is said that while she was being held at County Sheriff William Means's home, that there were two attempts to lynch her. The attempts were supposedly thwarted by the sheriff. Wanting to lynch an old woman already destined to hang in a few days makes me wonder if there were other reasons for wanting her dead? 

Of course, while part of the Texas legend about her says that she was kept in leg irons and chained up, I can't help but feel that she was just an old Mexican woman who may have been an easy patsy. After all, why else was there such a rush to execute her? Did the real killers want her dead so they could move on? Did the real killer or killers of John Savage also get away with murdering Josefa "Chipita" Rodríguez?

Tom Correa

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Elmer J. McCurdy -- Outlaw & Freak Show Corpse

Elmer J. McCurdy was born on January 1, 1880. He was 31-year-old when he was killed in a shoot-out with police after robbing a Katy Train in Oklahoma on October 7, 1911. 

According to some sources, Elmer McCurdy was born illegitimate. As a young man he left Maine to come West. He learned how to use explosives while in the U.S. Army at the age of 26. While he later became a down-on-your-luck drunk, many believe his drinking was because he suffered from tuberculosis. It is believed his trade was working with explosives. He worked with nitroglycerin in the mines. It was in the mines where he contracted tuberculosis. He later used nitroglycerin to try to make a fast buck. But frankly, he wasn't very good at it.

We know McCurdy was a petty thief, a small-time bank robber, a wannabe train robber who failed at everything he tried. And while some say McCurdy was just a criminal who was lousy at his trade, we know that he turned to stealing and robbing as part of a small gang at some point late in his short life.

The year 1911 would be a horrible year for the wannabe outlaw. While in Kansas in March of that year, McCurdy and three cohorts tried to rob the Mountain-Missouri Pacific because it was said its safe held $4,000. The four stopped the train. After finding the safe, McCurdy put nitroglycerin in the safe door. As was his luck in life, he used too much and completely destroyed the safe and most of its contents. 

In September of that same year, the four set out to rob The Citizens Bank in Chautauqua, Kansas. It sounds like a comedy as the four spent hours breaking into the bank through a brick wall. Once inside, McCurdy placed nitroglycerin around the outer vault door. Of course, the hapless robber again used too much and blew the vault door and the bank's interior to smithereens. That is, without ever damaging the cash safe that sat inside the vault. 

One would think that McCurdy and the others would be running for their lives by then, but that wasn't the case. Instead, he tried to blow the smaller safe door open. Again using nitroglycerin, the men hunkered down in safety, waiting for it to ignite -- but it didn't. It was at that point that they decided to get out as fast as they could. All they got from their attempt was $100 or so dollars that they found in a cashier tray.

The ill-fated McCurdy and his associates attempted to rob a Katy Train near Okesa, Oklahoma, on October 4, 1911. The gang had heard that its safe was carrying $400,000 in cash intended as payments to the Osage Nation. Image that for a moment. If they had actually got away with that, they would have been more significant than any other train robbers in our entire history. 

Of course, instead of the train with all of that money, McCurdy and his pals mistakenly stopped a passenger train instead. Yes, they stopped the wrong train. Their train robbery netted them $46 and a few items of their liking, including a few gallons of whiskey and the train conductor's watch. A local newspaper called the robbery "One of the smallest in the history of train robberies."

Even though the gang had split up, a sheriff's posse tracked down McCurdy, a small robbery or not. Using bloodhounds, the posse found McCurdy. It said that he was drunk by then and made the mistake of opening fire on the posse. The posse returned fire. He was killed almost instantly when two rounds struck him in the chest. 

Thus ended the life of hapless Oklahoma outlaw Elmer McCurdy. But, his strange story is that of a failed end-of-the-Old West outlaw whose corpse ended up in a carnival and then finally as a funhouse prop for a television show. That's where in the late 1970s it was discovered that he wasn't merely a paper-mache prop.    

How did he end up there? After he was killed by being shot to the chest after robbing a Katy Train in Oklahoma on October 7, 1911. He was embalmed with an arsenic preparation and put on display at a Pawhuska, Oklahoma funeral home. He ended up on display for almost 5 years. 

It's true, believe it or not, since months went by without McCurdy's body being claimed, the undertaker dressed McCurdy's corpse in clothes that he had on hand, placed a broken rifle in the hands, and stood McCurdy in the corner of the funeral home. As ghoulish as it sounds, at the mortuary, visitors could view him. But only after placing a nickel in the corpse's mouth. 

Imagine that, the undertaker charged visitors a nickel to view McCurdy who he dubbed "The Bandit Who Wouldn't Give Up". For five years, the undertaken displayed Elmer McCurdy's unclaimed body. And yes, the undertaker is said to have made a fortune doing it.

Supposedly, a man showed up after 5 years to claim McCurdy's body. His name was James Patterson, and he claimed to be Elmer's brother from California. He took McCurdy's body with him. Of course, he was not Elmer's brother. And while I don't know if he got the idea from the undertaker or not, he saw having McCurdy's mummified corpse as a way of making money. 

James Patterson was in fact the owner of the Great Patterson Traveling Circus. Patterson put McCurdy’s corpse on display labeled his corpse as "The Outlaw Who Would Never Be Captured Alive." It's said McCurdy became a very popular exhibit in his freak show until Patterson sold out in 1922. 

McCurdy's mummified corpse was bought by other Freak Shows, a director to promote his film, Hollywood film studios as a prop, and even bought by the famed Hollywood Wax Museum for $10,000. It was while at the Hollywood Wax Museum that McCurdy's corpse suffered the most. It was there that McCurdy corpse had its the tips of his ears along with fingers and toes broken off. And believe it or not, there is a story that says the wax museum purposely damaged his corpse to make him look more appealing to the public. 

After the Hollywood Wax Museum got rid of his body, McCurdy found his way to The Pike Amusement Zone, an amusement park, in Long Beach, California. Ironicly, outlaw Elmer McCurdy's remains was hanging from a gallows in the "Laff In the Dark" funhouse when he was used in a 1976 television episode of "The Six Million Dollar Man." One scene in the episode entitled "Carnival of Spies" was set in the "Laff in the Dark" funhouse. 

While shooting the episode, a prop man is said to have tried to move McCurdy to a better position. Remember, by then, McCurdy was hanging from a gallows in the funhouse. The prop man thought McCurdy was another paper-mache mannequin, just a prop. When the prop man tried to pull McCurdy down from the gallows, Elmer's arm was ripped right off. It's said the prop man and his crew laughed at first. That is until they looked closer and saw that the arm had a human bone. 

It was then that they realized that the man hanging from the gallows was a real man and not just a carnival prop. When the arm broke off, a human bone and muscle tissue were visible. They immediately called the police. 

In December of 1976, an autopsy by the Los Angeles County coroner's office determined that the body was that of a human male who had died of a gunshot wound to the chest more than 60 years previously. Because McCurdy's body was completely petrified and covered in wax by then, his mummified body only weighed about 50 pounds. Later, it was discovered that the body was that of outlaw Elmer McCurdy who was shot and killed by two bullets to the chest in October of 1911. 

What evidence did they have that it was McCurdy? Well, it's said that the Los Angeles County coroner's office attempted to pin down exactly who this man was through a combination of things such as old records related to the turn of the century and the what they found. They narrowed their search down to the turn of the century and pre-War War I because the coroner found two bullets in his chest. The bullets were from the turn of the century and at the location of the gunshot wounds in the body. Also, they found a coin in the McCurdy's mouth. The coin was dated 1924. 

Along with that coin, the coroner also found several ticket stubs of different venues. For some unknown reason they had been slipped into his mouth. As strange as that sounds, and really no one could answer why that was done, that evidence helped trace the corpse's journey from carnival to freak show to museum to funhouse. That evidence later helped to identify the corpse as that of Elmer McCurdy.

In April of 1977, Elmer McCurdy's body was finally buried. It's true, after more than 60 years on the move, Elmer McCurdy was buried in the Boot Hill section of the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma, on April 22, 1977. Many felt that since Guthrie, Oklahoma, was the place of his death, that he should be buried there. It is said that his graveside service was attended by about 300 interested citizens and Old West history buffs. Incidentally, he was buried next to fellow outlaw, Bill Doolin. 

And by the way, it is said that the folks in Guthrie wanted to ensure that McCurdy's body would rest in permanent peace. To make sure that happened, McCurdy's casket was encased in concrete. His grave is marked by a marble gravestone that was donated. The inscription on his stone doesn't mention his adventures while getting there. 

It simply says Elmer McCurdy. Shot by Sheriff’s posse in Osage Hils on Oct. 7, 1911. Returned to Guthrie, Okla. From Los Angeles County, Calif. for burial April 22, 1977.

Imagine that.

Tom Correa

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Breakaway Roping 101

Since I have been asked about this sport, I thought I'd bring you an article that is concise and well-written by someone who writes for The Breakaway Roping Journal. Writer Chelsea Shaffer is the Western editorial director for The Breakaway Roping Journal, The Team Roping Journal, and Horse&Rider magazine. 

The Pendleton Round-Up added breakaway roping to its PRCA rodeo in 2017. Hubbell Rodeo Photos

Breakaway Roping 101
The most commonly asked questions about breakaway roping, answered.
by writer Chelsea Shaffer
August 31, 2020

What is Breakaway Roping?

Breakaway roping is an equine sport developed in the Western United States in which a person horseback ropes a calf around the neck, with the roper’s rope “breaking away” from the saddle once the calf is far enough away from the horse.

How Does Breakaway Roping Work?

In breakaway roping, a calf is loaded into the roping chute and the roper enters the box on the right side (heeler’s side) of the roping chute. The breakaway roper waits in the corner of the box, with the calf in the chute, until his or her horse is standing squarely looking ahead. Then, the roper nods his or her head, and a chute operator opens the gate, allowing the calf to enter the arena.

In most competitions, a small rope is looped around the calf’s neck, connected to the rope barrier in front of the roper and his or her horse. That rope barrier breaks when the calf runs far enough from the chute, insuring he has a head start on the horse and roper. When the force of the calf leaving the chute releases the neck rope, the roper may leave the box. Leaving the box early and “breaking the barrier” generally results in a 10-second penalty.

Once leaving the box, the roper’s horse runs after the calf from behind, putting the roper in position to rope the calf around the neck in a bell-collar catch. When the calf is caught, the roper stops his or her horse abruptly, pulling the rope tight and breaking the small string that ties it to the saddle horn—marking the end of the run and stopping the clock. In most associations and competitions, ropers are required to have a flag—usually made from a bandana or white cloth—at the end of their rope to make the break easier for a judge (often called a flagger) to see. The fastest time wins.

What Are the Rules of Breakaway Roping and What Penalties Can Breakaway Ropers incur?

The most common penalty in breakaway roping is the 10 seconds added when a roper breaks the barrier, failing to give the calf the appropriate head start. Breakaway ropes may also be flagged out (disqualified) for any catch other than a bell-collar catch—that is, a clean catch around the calf's neck.

Who Can Compete in Breakaway Roping?

Breakaway roping is primarily a women’s event, but it is also a stepping-stone event for young boys to help them learn to calf rope in the National Little Britches Rodeo Association and other similar organizations. In American Quarter Horse Association competitions, both men and women can compete in the breakaway roping. But in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association—the largest sanctioning body at the professional level of the sport—only women can compete.

What Types of Ropes do Breakaway Ropers use?

Breakaway ropes — generally shorter than any other ropes on the market, at 24 feet to 29 feet—are quickly evolving as the demand for them grows. Breakaway ropers often cut their ropes shorter to customize their feel.

Breakaway ropes are made from either a nylon/poly blend or pure poly, and are twisted and designed specifically for maximizing tip control to rope the calf around the neck.

Breakaway ropers are also designed to be more durable than team ropes, because the calf drags the rope out of the arena after each competition run. 


The above article was written by Chelsea Shaffer for The Breakaway Roping Journal

She is described as "a long-time advocate of women's roping, Chelsea Shaffer won the 2017 WPRA Media Award for the promotion of the sport. She is a graduate of Ohio University's Honor's Tutorial College and prioritizes solid news reporting and storytelling in her writing."

I hope you enjoyed this very well-written article on a sport that's enjoyed by many across the country.

Tom Correa 

Friday, September 17, 2021

The Sydney Ducks

The San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851 was organized because of the lawlessness taking place in San Francisco at the time. To legitimize their formation, they published a constitution on June 9th, 1851, which was in effect a mission statement. Yes, sort of the same thing as our Declaration of Independence. It was meant to advise the world of why we were seeking independence. 

The constitution of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851 advised all that they were there "to do and perform every lawful act for the maintenance of law and order." And that they "determined that no thief, burglar, incendiary or assassin shall escape punishment, either by the quibbles of the law, the insecurity of prisons, the carelessness or corruption of the police, or a laxity of those who pretend to administer justice."

Two days later, the Committee of Vigilance apprehended and hanged a former Australian convict by the name of John Jenkins for stealing a safe. A month later, the San Francisco Vigilantes lynched James Stuart, who was also a deported criminal from Sydney, Australia.

It is said that between April 1849 and May 1850, about 11,000 Australians arrived in California. Of those new arrivals, about 7,500 were from Sydney. Of those, many were families. But also, there was the criminal element that arrived as well. The vigilantes' primary target was that criminal element known as the Sydney Ducks. 

As I've said in other articles on this, during the California Gold Rush, not everyone coming to California came to dig for gold. Yes, there were those who saw miners and others as easy pickings. Criminal types, no matter if they were shifty gamblers, con artists, swindlers, and other lowlifes, saw hard-working people as suckers to be fleeced or worse.

Since San Francisco was the primary destination inside the Golden Gate for all coming by sea, that city had a boom in population like no other. But, along with the good came the bad apples. Among those who wanted to prey on others were Samuel Whittaker and Robert McKenzie, who had also arrived from Australia.

Starting in 1788, Australia was a British penal colony that would see over 160,000 prisoners being sent there from England and Ireland over the years. In 1849, with the influx of people coming to California, the Australian authorities saw a way of unloading part of their prison population in San Francisco. Their deported convicts were known as Sydney Ducks. Known for running protection rackets targeting businesses who were made to pay up if they don't want to be firebombed, it is believed that they were responsible for committing devastating fires starting in 1849. And besides their committing arson, the Sydney Ducks were known, killers and thieves.

Mistakenly thinking he was going to save his own neck, Stuart informed on a number of his Sydney Duck cohorts. Of course, he was hanged and never saw Whittaker and McKenzie apprehended on his information. Stuart also never saw the Vigilance Committee rid San Francisco of his cohort pals.

The Sydney Ducks were the reason for the formation of the first San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851. At that time, vigilantes conducted unlawful apprehensions of Sydney Ducks, beat confessions out of them, held secret trials, deportations, and at least four lynchings while bypassing those in political power. While that's true, it might interest folks in knowing that they did hold their own investigations of those they apprehended, and in fact, held their own secret trials before determining sentences.

Before it was known as the "Barbary Coast," San Francisco's waterfront was known as "Sydney Town." The reason it was called "Sydney Town" had to do with the Sydney Ducks. The "Sydney Ducks" was not a political terrorist group like the Democratic Party created Klan. The Ducks were a gang of criminals from Australia.

They arrived in San Francisco because the British penal colonies in Australia thought it a good idea to ship their convicts to California when people worldwide arrived in California during the 1849 Gold Rush. It's said Australia ordered ship Captains to throw convicts overboard if they acted up in any way. And when they were dropped off in California, the convicts quickly took to mugging, murder, and extortion instead of doing the more challenging work of finding a job or digging for gold.

While the Sydney Ducks were not a political terrorist group like the Klan, they had something in common with the Klan -- they used arson to get what they wanted. But unlike the Klan that set fire to homes and businesses to intimidate Blacks and Republican administrators in the South on behalf of the Democratic Party, the Sydney Ducks used arson and the threat of fires to criminally extort money from their victims.

The Ducks were known to extort money from merchants, saloons, and any other business they believed could meet their demands. Of course, they beat the owners, threatened families, and set fire to their business if they refused. Their intimidation worked, and people paid because everyone saw that the Ducks meant business. After all, no one wanted to see their business burned to the ground. It was common knowledge in San Francisco that the Sydney Ducks used arson to get what they wanted. Yes, very much like ANTIFA arsonists today.

People today might not know how much people in the Old West feared fires. It was actually a town's number one concern even before setting up organized law enforcement. As for the Ducks, arson was their weapon of choice for extortion. Arson was what they used to prove they were serious. In fact, the Ducks are believed responsible for the 1849 fire that devastated San Francisco.

They set fires, and no one really knows how many died in those fires as they spread through the city. They did so without thought or care for human life. Sound familiar, it should. Of course, there was a reason that the Ducks were blamed for the fires. That's what they did. Like ANTIFA today, everyone knew arson was their weapon of terror. And just as we know why there is an increase in crime because of ANTIFA and BLM groups' rampage for months in places like Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Portland, Oregon in 2020, the rampant crime in San Francisco from 1849 to 1851 had to do with the criminal behavior of the Sydney Ducks and their reign of terror and extortion. 

Many arrived chasing the dream of getting rich during the California Gold Rush, yet only to reap failure. Many craftsmen who wanted to quit their trade in favor of going after gold soon found themselves working their trade to keep themselves fed. Indeed, many a ship in San Francisco Bay arrived to lose its crew to the goldfields. Of course, the other part of that story is that many a sailor returned to the sea. Many a seeker of gold and fortune found only despair and disappointment when learning gold wasn't just lying around for the taking.

It's said the Sydney Ducks were criminals who took up to the criminal ways without finding such despair of the slim picking in the gold camps. It's believed the Ducks saw it easier to get rich through intimidation, violence, murder, and extortion. While some opened businesses to get the gold out of hard-working miners' pockets, the Ducks saw that as unnecessary. Instead, they robbed, killed, and burned down the city for gold.

As for following through on their threats to burn down the city? It is believed they started at least a half-dozen major downtown fires that leveled thousands of buildings between 1849 and 1851. All started by the Sydney Ducks as a way to get their victims to meet their demands.

If that does not sound like what is going on today, here's this. It is said that the Ducks lit a fire, especially picking those days when the wind blew downwind of Sydney Town, then they would loot the warehouses and businesses while others were busy fighting the fires.

The threat was real, and people knew it. They understood the ruthlessness, the fact that the Ducks didn't care who died in the fires. They intimidated business owners and city officials. Both paid the Ducks to ensure that their city wouldn't burn. Their lawlessness reached such a level that robbery, arson, and killings in San Francisco took place daily.

As for the law, they were simply too under-manned to search them out. Part of the problem with apprehending the Ducks is that they were part of a large proportion of foreign-born immigrants who had a history of looking at law enforcement and the authorities as oppressors. Though that was the case, the Sydney Ducks were criminals. Those Australian criminals were the dregs of society.

People came to believe that it would take a large force to deal with the Ducks. Certainly a party more extensive than what the county sheriff had on hand. Though brave and resourceful, the county sheriff was too limited to cure the situation.

But because the citizens had enough of what they saw as weak-kneed responses, political promises, and a corrupt city government either too afraid to take strong measures or seen as being run by incompetent officials, the citizens banded. Of course, some of the city fathers wanted to declare Martial Law and alert the militia to deal with the ongoing threat.

Using members from dozens of independent militia groups in San Francisco county, more than 700 citizens formed the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851. Among them were sailors, longshoremen, teamsters, wheelwrights, shipwrights, domestic servants, store owners, merchants, bartenders, saloon keepers, former soldiers, laborers of all types, and others.

The Sydney Ducks were the reason for the formation of the Committee of Vigilance of 1851. After a few years, and the burning of their city more than a half-dozen times, the death and the destruction, San Francisco citizens were fed up with the promises to stop the chaos. The citizens acted and formed their vigilante committee.

While some think of vigilante groups as merely "a mob," that wasn't the case. Working parallel with the local law, the San Francisco Vigilance Committee turned over some of those they caught to the local authorities. Others were not so lucky. For example, there's a story about when a Sydney Duck was caught stealing a safe. It's said a dozen members of the newly formed Committee on Vigilance chased the Duck on foot and then by rowboats as the crook tried to row away.

The criminal was not merely taken to a tree and hanged, as would have happened in many gold camps and California's ranchlands where other Vigilance Committees were not so inclined to work within the law's confines. While most such groups were not unruly mobs but instead were organized and used such things as Miners Courts as the basis for their judicial system, not all Vigilance Groups were the same. One such group in Northern California tried a rustler on their way to a hanging tree. Another is known to have pronounced judgment fifteen minutes after catching a sluice box thief in the act. He was caught, tried, and tarred, and feathered within an hour.

The Sydney Duck caught stealing the safe in San Francisco was accused and tried in a vigilante court where evidence was provided. He was actually afforded a defense lawyer who was a member of the vigilantes. His trial lasted five hours. He was hanged from the Mexican customs house in front of 1,000 citizens in Portsmouth Square. It's said that after the third hanging of Sydney Ducks, Australia looked like a much safer place for Ducks to apply their criminal ways. With that, Ducks were put on ships and shipped out of town. They left being warned that they would be shot on sight if found anywhere in California.

So how long did the Committee of Vigilance conduct their trials and hangings and conduct forced deportations of Ducks who, in many cases, were beaten before being taken aboard out-going ships? The citizens of San Francisco formed their Vigilance Committee, decimated the Sydney Ducks, and then disbanded in just 100 days.

That's the reason some of the Sydney Ducks were banished by putting them on ships leaving San Francisco while others like Whittaker and McKenzie were hanged.

There is something to be said about Whittaker and McKenzie that can't be said about too many men who were hanged by vigilantes. They were stolen twice. It's true. After being apprehended by the vigilantes and kept at their headquarters, a few days later, the Mayor and County Sheriff John Coffee Hays, along with some deputies, made a surprise raid on the Committee of Vigilance headquarters. They stole Whittaker and McKenzie from the vigilantes and put them in the county jail. That was on August 20th, 1851.

The first San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851 had over 700 members. Just four days later, after reconsidering the loss of their prisoners, 36 Vigilance Committee members barged into the jail and overpowered the few deputies on duty. The vigilantes stole them back. That was August 24th. While the Sheriff was miles away when that took place, it's said that when the Sheriff found out what took place, he rode back to town immediately. By the time he returned, Whittaker and McKenzie had already been hanged.

A few weeks after the hanging, the first San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851 disbanded itself. In the end, the vigilantes got what they wanted and effectively wiped out the Sydney Ducks. Because they accomplished what they set out to do, and rid the city of the Sydney Ducks, they saw themselves as not being needed. Besides, it's said that they made their point about being present if things got out of hand again. Sadly, it did and they rose up again in 1856. That next time, they were 6,000 strong. 

Yes indeed, the largest vigilante force in the history of the United States.

Tom Correa

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Welles Crowther -- The Man in the Red Bandana

If people want to know if there are real heroes, look to Welles Crowther. 

He led people to safety after terrorists struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Hanging of José Forner

The first legal execution held in San Francisco took place on December 10, 1852. The man hanged was Jose Forner. Thousands of people gathered around the scaffold on Russian Hill. His confession, and a sketch of the life of the murder, was published as a letter-sheet shortly after the execution.

Confession of José Forner y Brugada.

On the day that the killing was done, to wit: On the evening of the 8th of October, about the hour of 4 o’clock, in company with two young friends, talking of going to dine, they did not wish to go so early. I said, well, I would take a walk and see the Steam Paddy work. I then parted from my friends and walked towards Happy Valley; and while I was looking at the machine at work, one José Rodriguez (the deceased) came up to me and slapping me familiarly on the shoulder, said, “Hallo, José, what are you doing here?” 

I returned for answer, that I had come out for a walk, I at the same time noticed that the deceased looked strangely at me. After a few moments he asked me to come and take a drink with him, I said no, thank you, that I must away and obey a call of nature, I then left him and went on a sand hill, took off my body my money belt, which contained some four hundred dollars, I laid the belt on the ground: at the same time I took off my knife, that also I laid on the ground; whilst I was in the act of dressing myself, deceased came running up to me, and saw my knife laying on the ground, which he instantly seized, and said, “I want your money,” I said that I had but two or three dollars, which you can have if you wish it. 

He answered, “No, you have more and I will have it,” at that moment he jumped towards me, I stepped back to avoid him, when he struck me a blow with the knife, which took effect in the calf of my leg, I exclaimed that he was a d—d scoundrel, what did he mean. 

He ran down the hill, I after him, he dropped the knife, I picked it up while running after him, he made an effort to get the knife away from me, which I had done afterwards, God only knows, I was frantic with rage. I confess that I did intend to kill him, believing at the time, that it was his intention to rob me and perhaps to kill me if necessary in its accomplishment. 

The money which I had when arrested, was my own, I had worked hard for a portion of it, the other portion won at cards. I was cook and confectioner at the Jackson House where I received $125. I also worked at the Nueva Mondo and at the Laguna: from these two pleaces I received between $50 and 60, the balance of the money I won at cards at the El Dorado, Polka and Arcade: in all about $400

I was born in Valencia, (Spain) in the month of May, 1820, of highly respectable parents. My uncle is Alcalde of Valencia, and all of my family, with but few exceptions, hold office under the Spanish government. I am worth in Valencia from $4000 to $5000 in real estate. 

At the age of 16 years I went to learn the trade of confectioner with my uncle; served with him 5 years; from there I went to Barcelona, was three years in the service of Don Jina Costa; from thence I went with letters of introduction to the brother of my last employer Don Juan Costa, at Havana, Cuba, worked there two years; then went to my native place Valencia; from there to Madrid; from thence to Barcelona; then again to Havana, was there three or four months in the house of Dominicas; from thence to Vera Cruz, Medico; thence to Puebla; thence to the city of Mexico; thence to Acapulco, from there to the city of San Francisco, where I have been working five or six months. 

I had about $75 when I arrived here. I worked for the proprietors of the Jackson House, the hotel Nueva Mondo and the Laguna. This is the first time that I ever was in prison, and never wronged any man of one dime. The money found on me was my own.

José Forner y Brugada

Sketch of the life of José Forner

Published under the direction of the keepers of the County Jail and for sale by Bonestell & Williston, Clay St. San Francisco.

Source: San Francisco Museum

Friday, September 3, 2021

Testimony of Thomas Keefe in the Preliminary Hearing in the Earp-Holliday Case before Judge Spicer

On this tenth day of November, 1881, on the hearing of the above entitled cause, on the examination of Wyatt Earp and J. H. Holliday; Thomas Keefe, a witness of lawful age, being produced and sworn, deposes and says as follows:

Thomas Keefe, carpenter. To interrogation, says he saw a difficulty between Wyatt Earp and Thomas McLaury on October 26, 1881, to wit: 

"Around the corner of Fourth Street, about 50 feet from Allen Street, between there and Judge Wallace's court, I do not remember the exact time of day-it was about 12 o'clock I think-the man that Wyatt Earp had trouble with was walking towards Allen Street on Fourth Street. Mr. Earp was going from Allen Street towards Wallace's Court when they met. I did not understand what they said, and the fight commenced. I saw Mr. Earp knock McLaury down with his pistol, twice-I saw him fall twice-McLaury threw up his arms to knock the blows of the pistol off. Mr. Earp then put his pistol up and walked away from him. I couldn't say there were over two blows struck with the pistol. I could not swear to any more. 

McLaury then got up and staggered and walked toward the sidewalk and picked up a silver band or roll, to put on his hat again, that was knocked off. That was the last I saw of him, McLaury, for half an hour. He walked away. I saw no other blows struck, excepting those that were struck with the pistol. I did not hear any words pass between the parties. I was about 22 or 23 feet from them. There were other parties nearer to the difficulty than I was."

To further questioning, says he was at the scene of the killing, "after the killing was done." The shooting was over. He was at Fourth and Allen when the first shot was heard by him, "and I ran down Allen Street to Third Street, from Third to the corner of Fremont." 

My attention was called then to a man lying on the corner of Third and Allen Streets. It was Tom McLaury. He was dying. I called two or three men and said, "Let's pick this man up and take him in the house before he dies." 

We brought him in the house and got a pillow and laid him on the carpet and made him as easy as I could. I asked him if he had anything to say before he died and he made no answer. He could not speak. Then I unbuttoned his clothes and pulled his boots off and gave him some water, and the other man was halloing so with pain I sent for a doctor to inject morphine in him. I believe his name was Billy Clanton. The doctor arrived there then, and I helped the doctor inject morphine in him, alongside the wound. He was turning and twisting, and kicking in every manner, with the pain. 

He said, "They have murdered me! I have been murdered! Chase the crowd a­way from the door and give me air!" The last words he said before he died were, "Drive the crowd away!" I stayed there until the Coroner came; about eight or ten minutes afterwards.

Does not know who helped him carry Tom McLaury into the house-"Everything was all excitement." Says there were four or five men there. Did not see any arms on Tom. Again tells of unbuttoning Tom's clothing, "and as soon as Doctor Matthews came, we searched the body and did not find any arms on him. We examined him close enough to see if there were any arms on him, and there were none on him; we only found money on him.”

Tells of running to where Tom was lying, in the street, and says that three or four other men came up about the same time. He raised up Tom's head. Again declares that there were no ammunition or arms on Tom at that time, nor on the ground near or about him, nor on his person, nor was there any belt on him. Says when they took Tom into the house, Billy Clanton was there, and Mr. Noble and Mr. Campbell, the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, and another man who stops at Vogan's, "I don't know his name."

As questions continue, he says he examined Billy Clanton and found he was shot through the right wrist, his arm was broken; he was shot on the left side of the belly; he was shot below the left nipple and the lung was oozing blood out of the wound; he was shot again through the pants of the right leg-it did not touch the skin. Says he examined the right wrist closely, even "ran my finger into the wound, feeling the bone." Says the ball passed through the arm about two inches above the knuckle joint of his wrist.


To questions:

Says he has lived here about one year. Came from Bodie, California, where he lived two years and a half, before that lived in Oakland, California, eight months; before that about one year in San Francisco. Worked as a carpenter and builder in Bodie. Has been busy at this trade, "pretty near all the time," in Tombstone. Did not know Billy Clanton nor the McLaury brothers, but knew Ike Clanton about two weeks be­fore the shooting. Had no business relations with Ike Clanton, and denies receiving either promise or money from Ike Clanton or anyone else connected with the prosecution. Says he knows William Allen for two or three months." Says Billy Clanton was in the house when they brought Tom in. Tells of sending for doctor and of Dr. Miller coming. Says he told the doctor to inject morphine into the wound near the stomach says Billy was "halloing" for morphine [because of pain]. Says he held Billy on his back while the doctor injected; that it was before the injection that Billy said he had been murdered; that he died, "about 10 or 15 minutes" after the injection of "two syringe fulls; morphine syringes; about the thickness of a small sized lead pencil about two inches long."

In response to question as to shot in wrist: "It went from the inside to the outside." Course of ball was diagonal across the wrist [here witness illustrates upon the arm of Mr. Fitch, the direction in which the ball passed through the arm of Billy Clanton, by showing that the ball entered the wrist nearly in line with the base of the thumb and emerged on the back of the wrist diagonally.] Says the orifice on the outside of the wrist was the largest. Did not see any powder bum on Billy Clanton's body or clothing.

(A) Bauer, the butcher, denies having conversed with anyone outside counsel for the prosecution prior to giving testimony. Is asked if he sought Mr. McLaury or not. Says this man sought him for three days. Then his various positions prior to and during the shooting are restated.

Says his relations with Isaac Clanton were not intimate, but that he conversed with him on the day of the shooting at Hafford's Comer, about 20 minutes or half an hour before the shooting.

(Q) Was anyone with Tom McLaury when he was hit by Wyatt Earp?

(A) I could not say.

(Q) Did you ever reside in the state of Nevada?

(A) I did.

(Q) When and where?

(A) At White Pine, Hamilton County, Virginia City, and Pioche in 1869-70-71 and '72. [Some of these places are not on modem maps.]

(Q) Were you at any time during your residence in Nevada, defendant in any action wherein the State of Nevada was plaintiff in any criminal action?

(A) I was not.

(Q) How long after Tom McLaury was carried into the house was it before he died?

(A) Six or seven minutes.

(Q) Did Dr. Miller treat Tom McLaury also?

(A) No sir.

To query, says there was no weapon on William Clanton, but there was a cartridge belt on him, and a pistol was lying near the door-a Smith & Wesson, large-sized-about two feet from the door-on the carpet. Says he picked [the] pistol up, examined it and thought there were two empty chambers. "Then Wes Fuller examined it and said there were three empty, and I looked again and saw that three chambers were empty." Doesn't know whose pistol it was. Dr. Matthews took it. Says Frank McLaury was not brought into this room. He remained there until Tom's and Billy's bodies were taken away in a wagon.

(Q) Were you not, during your residence in Bodie, during the times you have already testified to, a portion of that time, confined in jail there? [Objection]

(A) I was arrested and put in jail and honorably acquitted. I was in jail for entering my own house after coming back from Idaho and dispossessing a certain gentleman who was living there.

(Q) Go on and state all about the matter about which you have testified to in your last answer upon cross-examination.

(A) I went to the Yankee Fork Country, Idaho, the first of March, two years ago. I left Bodie. Was gone eight months and came back and heard some very bad talk in regard to my family arrangements-and a man named Don McShannon. I approached him upon the subject and he denied all charges in regard to being intimate with my woman. I requested him to leave the house and rapped at the door and was shot at through the door and I was arrested and put in jail. I was then tried and acquitted honorably [All the foregoing is crossed out, beginning with, "I was in jail." but there is no notice of motion to strike.]

(Q) You stated in your cross-examination that the pistol you saw lying on the floor by the door was a Smith & Wesson-are you sure of that?

(A) There was a long slot in the sight, and I know that Smith & Wesson pistols have that slot. . . . It was an old pistol, well-worn. There is more discussion and then, at request, he picks up from the table what he believes to be the pistol in question. Ordered to examine same, learns that it is a Colt.4 In examining gun, witness relates much of what has been said about shells fired from it, etc. Declares to court he does not think this is the pistol he examined in the house. [Witness now examines cartridge under the hammer being gone.] "I did not revolve the cylinder when I first examined it."

(Q) Now take the other pistol in your hand, brought in by the Coroner, and state. . . . if that is the pistol that you examined and you found lying upon the floor.

(A) No sir, I don't think it is.


(Q) What kind of pistol is the other one?

(A) The same as the other one, a Colt.

(Q) Have you seen the pistol you first examined from the time you last saw it on the day of the shooting until just now in this courtroom?

(A) I have. I saw it in Dr. Matthews' office between 12 and 1 o'clock.

(Q) Do I understand that after completing your cross-examination this noon, during the recess and before resuming the examination this afternoon, you went to Dr. Matthews' office and examined the pistol concerning which you have since testified on re-direct examination?

(A) I was asked to go up there and examine the pistol and I did so. I was asked to go by Judge Robinson.

(Q) What, if anything, was said to you while there, with respect to this pistol?

(A) Judge Campbell and Mr. Ben Goodrich were there, and wanted [me] to show which way the pistol laid on the floor when I first saw it, [and] which way Tom McLaury and which way Billy Clanton laid.

(Q) As to what about the pistols?

(A) I was requested to look at the two pistols and say which I thought was the one [found] on the floor of the little house on the day of the shooting.

[Signed] Thomas Keefe