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Colonial Cases

1840s

California Inquests 1840s

 

Weekly Alta California, 4 January 1849

Inquest. - An inquest was held on the body of Emile Bertrand who was found dead on the beach at the north side of town, on the 24th of December, 1848.  The verdict of the joy was that he came to his death by the violent hands of some person or persons unknown.  Bertrand was a discharged volunteer of company C, 1st N. Y. Regt. and was a native of Germany. He is supposed to have relatives living in the city of New York.

 

Weekly Alta California, 12 July 1849

FOUND DEAD.- A man was found dead about four miles north of the Pueblo de San Jose on the 4th inst.  He was apparently about thirty years of age, in soldier's clothes, with the name of "W. Young" written on his shirt.  A jury of inquest was called by direction of Judge Dimmick, who came to the conclusion that the deceased must have been a deserter from the army and through fear and derangement of mind had been bewildered, and by hunger and fatigue had perished on the plains, as no marks of violence could be discovered. - Communicated.

 

Weekly Alta California, 2 August 1849

SUICIDE.- A man committed suicide on the morning of the 26th ult. in an out-house in the rear of Merrill's American boarding-house of this town, by cutting his throat with a razor.  His name is understood to have been Frederick Cole, recently arrived from the mines, and but a few days since, a prisoner anion others arraigned to trial and discharged in consequence of the insufficient evidence existing against him.  Persons testified to having seen deceased the day before, evidently under aberration of intellect, and when discovered, though knife was not extinct, he had become nearly speechless, and assigned no reason for destroying himself.  An inquest was held and verdict returned, that the deceased came to his death by his own hand, and during a fit of temporary insanity.

 

Weekly Alta California, 6 September 1849

SUICIDE. - A young man named Webster Thompson, of respectable connections, and but a short time resident in California, committed suicide in this place on the evening of the 3d inst..by cutting his throat with a razor.  He was discovered soon after the deed, lying upon his bed and still breathing, the razor lying beside him.: he expired soon after.  The evidence elicited at the inquest held over the body on the morning following, showed that for four days previous the deceased had evidently been deranged and under the influence of liquor at the time of committing the fatal act.

   He was accompanied to this country by a brother, and who shortly after landing fell victim to disease.  Assisted by friends he performed the journey to the north, for the purpose of trading, but returned without success, and became immersed in debt.  Dissipation followed until his career was closed by the melancholy event above related.  The deceased was about 28 years of age.  The verdict of the jury was in accordance with the facts stated.

TRIAL FOR MURDER.

   The Frenchman, Daniel, arrested on suspicion of having caused the death of Peter Petit in this place two weeks ago, and against whom a true bill of indictment was found, took his trial on Monday and Tuesday last.  The evidence was entirely circumstantial.  The jury were unable to agree - there being, it is understood, ten for finding him guilty and two in favou of acquitting him.  Another jury will be empanelled, and the prisoner take a second trial, the proceedings of which may appear in our next number.

 

Weekly Alta California, 13 September 1849

Territory of California: District of San Francisco ss.

To the Hon. John W. Geary, Alcalde of the District of San Francisco.

The petition of Geo. F. J. Colburne, Ezra Dibble, Stephen B. Haff, H. A. Bell, and John Lynes.

.  .  .  .   One of my party was sick with scurvy.  Shortly previous to the 1st of July he became lame and pained in his limbs; he was so sick as to be unable to come on deck when we reached the port. The Captain came into the room where my friend lay, I do not know that it was to see him.  There were some of the boarders there: the Captain did not pay any attention to my friend that I am aware of, until near this place; my friend died a dew days after we came on shore; the inquest decided that he died from scurvy; he was in good health when he left New York; he contracted this disease on board; .  .  .  . 

 

Weekly Alta California, 18 October 1849

Coroner's Inquests. - Ob the 24th inst. Joseph J. Fuller (son of Nathaniel Fuller) late of West Newton, Mass. Passenger on the ship "Charlotte," of Boston, , committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor.   James Brown, of Newburyport, Mass. who came here on the  brig "Charlotte," aged about thirty years, was found drowned on the 30th ult. at Clark's Point, in this city.  He boarded at the New Haven Lunch, and had been suffering severely from dysentery for some weeks.

   George Seaward Tracey was found dead in Happy Valley, on the morning of the 7th inst.  The jury returned a verdict that he came to his death by taking an over-dose of opium, and by exposure.

   On the same morning an inquest was held on the body of Lusiano Figueroa, found dead under the rear of Mills & Pearce's store.  Deceased was formerly in the Mexican service, and has been for some weeks suffering  from diarrhoea.  Verdict in accordance with the facts.

   On the afternoon of the 10th, Francis Kringle died suddenly on board the schooner "Old fellow," in the harbour.

   On the 11th inst. Chas. A. Gurley, Esq., held an inquest upon the body of an English seaman named John Denued, aged about forty years, on board the British barque "Wm. Watson," now in our harbour.  Deceased had been suffering wit intermittent fever, but from the suddenness of his death the jury returned a verdict of "death from apoplexy."

 

Placer Times, 20 October 1849

   An inquest was held on Saturday last on the body of a man found shot near the slough in this city.  The charge entered the head just under the ear and shattered the upper part of the scull terribly.  Some were of opinion that he was shot, but the jury returned a verdict of suicide by shoring, as a pistol was found in the vicinity.  Name not ascertained.

   A man was found murdered last week about 15 miles below here, on the road to Bernicia.  He had been shot under the left eye and apparently hit over the head with a gun, his scull being broken in.  The supposed murderer had dragged the corpse for near two hundred yards, for the purpose of throwing it into  a creek, but on hearing persons approaching dropped it and  fled.  The clothes of the murdered man were marked G. W. H., and from his dress, he was evidently a U.S. soldier.

 

Weekly Alta California, 25 October 1849

Suicide. - An inquest was held on Tuesday, 23d inst. on the body of Capt. Thorndike Proctor, of the ship "Capital," now in our harbour, from the evidence before which it appears that deceased, from a protracted illness, had been lately subject to occasional fits of derangement, during the last of which he jumped overboard., and was drowned on the 16th - his body not being found until the morning of the inquest.

Died at the Hospital. - Sudden M. Burton, M.D. a Philadelphian (formerly residing near Vine and Sixth streets, in that city died at the Hospital in this city, on the night of the 19th inst.  He had been labouring under mania potu, and his arrest to prevent suicide, we noticed last week.

 

CALIFORNIAN, 27 October 1849

Sad Occurrence - Benjamin Reed, a young man from Booth Bay, (Me.) who came to this country in the bark Elvira from Boston, lately returned from the Yuba river sick.  He remained a few days on board the Elvira, where every effort was made to make him comfortable, but being weak in body and mind, he left his friends and went on board bark Isabel where he was heard to say he would drown himself and immediately after jumped into the river. He came up and caught hold of a boat, when two gentlemen rushed into the water to save him, but he pushed off and sunk.  His body was recovered a mile and a half below Sutter, and interred, after an inquest by a coroner's jury.

Acquitted.-We are gratified to learn that John N. Tracy, who was tried for murder at Stockton, was honorably acquitted by a jury of his countrymen, and is now among his friends in this city.

Placer Times, 27 October 1849

Sad Occurrence.  - Benjamin Reed, a young man from Booth Bay, (Me.) who came to this country in the bark Elvira from Boston, lately returned from the Yuba river, sick.  He remained a few days on board the Elvira, where every effort was made to make him comfortable, but bring weak in body and mind, he left his friends and went on board bark Isabel where he was heard to say he would drown himself and immediately after jumped into the river.  He came up and caught hold of a boat, when two gentlemen rushed into the water to save him, but he pushed off and sunk.  His body was recovered a mile and a half below Sutter, and interred, after an inquest by a coroner's jury.

   Acquitted. - We are gratified to learn that John N. Tracy, who was tried for murder at Stockton, was honorably acquitted by a jury of his countrymen, and is now among his friends in this city.

 

Weekly Alta California, 8 November 1849

Repeat of Placer Times, Oct. 27, above.

 

Placer Times, 17 November 1849

Rules for Inquests.

 

Weekly Alta California, 29 November 1849

PROBABLE MURDER. - The following letter had been placed in our hands for publication, by Messrs. Simmons, Hutchinson & Co. of this city.  It bears date

NOVATA, Monday, Nov. 20, '49

GENTLEMEN. - On Saturday last I picked up a fine launch of about seven tons burthen, with the body of a dead man in it.  Upon holding a jury of inquest a verdict of murder by some person or persons was rendered. ...

 

Weekly Alta California, 29 November 1849

LIST OF BURIALS IN THE TOWN.

Sep. 4. - W. Thompson of New York, suicide.

Sep. 22. - Francis Klingle, , German, aged about 30, sunstruck.

Sep. 30. - James Brown of Conn., found drowned.

Oct. 7. - Lusion Figueroa, a Spaniard, was found dead; verdict, natural death.

Oct. 25. - Found dead, a man called Land, about 45 years of age, said to have come here in command of an American brig,

Nov. 10. - Alex. McLeod, a volunteer, was buried today from the city hospital.  An inquest was also held on board the ship mentor, on the body of G. W. Toby.  Also, in Happy Valley, on the body of a Portuguese, who committed suicide by running a sword through his neck.

Nov. 16. - John T. Thurlow, late of Newport, R.I., committed suicide at the hospital.

 

Daily Alta California, 12 December 1849

Death from Imprudence. - Sheriff Towns held an inquest on the 10th instant on the body of an Irishman named Todd.  The jury decided that the deceased came to his death from exposure and excessive dissipation.

Death from Apoplexy.  The sheriff also held an inquest upon the body of a man recently arrived from Boston, Massachusetts.  From a mark upon his shirt and the address of several letters in his possession it is supposed that his name was F. G. Fitch.  Verdict - died of apoplexy.

DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, 17 December 1849

LOCAL MATTERS

Murder at the Bella Union.

We regret to announce the perpetration of this crime, on Friday evening at the Bella Union House, on Portsmouth square. The affair occurred about I o'clock in the morning, after our tri-weekly paper had gone to press. The name of the deceased was Arthur C. W. Reynolds, of Philadelphia, a painter by trade, and the person who committed the deed, was Mr. Reuben Withers, of New York, who has been engaged in mercantile transactions in this city. The deceased was' commonly known by the soubriquet of "bones," from his having performed on those instruments in a negro band. We furnish below a synopsis of the most important part of the testimony taken before Mr. Turk, second Alcalde, yesterday afternoon. An inquest was held on the body of the deceived, in the morning, when the testimony of Dr. Win, T. Brent was taken as to the cause of death. Dr. B. testified that the deceased came to his death by a blow from a knife which had entered the aorta, near the collar-bone, on the left side of the neck, and penetrated about four inches. The jury rendered a verdict in accordance with that opinion. Withers is still at large. We forbear at present from making any comments upon the case.

   Mr. James Sullivan, one of the proprietors of the Bella Union testified that he saw the commencement of the affray. Withers went into the back room about I o'clock in the morning, where several men were sleeping on the benches and remarked that he was going to clear them out. He woke up one or two and walked them out of the door. He then went to the deceased roused him up and took him out. He then returned and was followed by the deceased and a friend, Mr. Brady. Withers again took hold of him and said he must go out. Brady asked what right he had to put him out, when Withers replied that it was none of his business, and after some additional words told him that he must go out also. Brady said he would not. Withers said he would put him out, and Brady defied him. Brady pulled off his coat, and Withers drew a pistol, cocked it and presented it at the breast of B. telling him he must go out; Brady then said he would go, and went; Withers then said his friend must go also; he accordingly ordered him out and upon his refusal presented his pistol at him. Deceased walked up to him several times. And Withers said, " if you don't go 1 will kill you;" witness then walked up to Withers and told him he didn't wish him to kill any one there, putting down his pistol hand at the same time; Withers said he wanted to clear the room; he then swung his pistol round and fired it; deceased then approached and told him he had fired at him once and he might fire again; other people rushed up; there was a scuffle and Withers fired again; he then put up his pistol and walked to the bar with deceased. Witness then left the room and did not return to the room until after the affray; as he was going out heard deceased say you have drawn your pistol on me twice to-night, whereupon Withers called him a d - - d liar; after the affray, as witness went in he saw Withers standing near the deceased who was leaning against the bar, but in a second afterwards he fell.  He soon after died, before a doctor could be summoned. Withers went out, and witness has not seen him since.

   Mr. Wm. White testified to pretty much the same facts. While Withers and Reynolds were disputing, the friend of the latter came in, had a scuffle, and Withers was knocked down; the friend of the deceased man struck W. two or three times with a chair, and while he was doing so, W. made several passes at him with a knife. As soon as W. got up, he was seized by deceased from behind, who pinioned his arms. W. struggled to get away, and deceased dragged him toward the counter. When released, Withers walked away, and in a dozen seconds deceased fell down; witness could not -ii whether he was stabbed or not, as he saw no blow given; deceased got up once or twice, but fell down again, gasped, and expired.

   Two other witnesses were examined. James Brady testified, that after going out he returned again, and saw Withers standing near Reynolds and disputing with him in relation to the firing of the pistol.  Witness saw Withers feeling for a knife or pistol, and immediately knocked him down, and afterward struck him twice with a chair, receiving two cuts in the right side, and one in the left leg. He then went to "Our House," washed his wounds, and went to bed.

   .Several other witnesses were present, but their evidence was not taken. Another inquest is to be held by Judge Colton, the first one not being in the proper form.

   Judge Turk has issued a warrant for the arrest of Withers, and offers a reward of $1000 for his apprehension.

Further Proceedings.

   There were some additional proceedings held on Saturday relative to the affray on Friday morning at the Bella Union which resulted in the death of Mr. Reynolds.

   Under the instructions of Judge Turk, Judge Colton summoned a Jury of Inquest and proceeded to the grave where the deceased was interred. The grave was opened, the lid of the coffin removed and the body exposed to view.

   Two witnesses, Mr. Macomber and Mr. White were produced to identify the deceased and were examined as to the cause of death. The character of the' evidence was very similar to that produced before Judge Turk, except that .Mr. White testified that when the deceased took hold of Withers, he was endeavoring to pacify him; told him to be quiet and that he was his friend.

   Dr. Wm. T. Brent was also examined, and testified that he had made a post mortem examination of the deceased, and that he died from a wound which had perforated the aorta at the arch and which he could not have survived more than half a minute.

   The following is the result of the inquest. U. S. A. TERRITORY OF CALIFORNIA, DISTRICT OF SAN FRANCISCO, etc.  Before G. Q. Colton, Esq. Coroner. - An Inquisition indented and taken at said district on the l5th day of December, A. D. 1849, upon view of the body of Arthur C. W. Reynolds, then and there lying dead, upon the solemn oaths of J. H. Foster, E. Bryant,  J. E. Durivage, Win. A. Polk, Wm. Newell, G. Burdell, Jos. Eberhardt, Joel A. Jennings, E. A. Upton, Jno. Johnston, A. McMillen and John Redmond, good and lawful men of said district duly sworn to enquire upon the part of the people of said territory, how the said Arthur C. W. Reynolds came to his death, do say that on the morning of the fourteenth day of December, between the hours of half-past three and half-past four of said morning the said Arthur C. W. Reynolds came to death by a wound upon the neck, near the collar-bone of said Arthur C. W. Reynolds, perforating the aorta, inflicted by one Reuben Withers, with a knife or other sharp instrument which said Withers then and there held in his hand, of which said wound the said Arthur C. W. Reynolds then and there, in the district aforesaid, almost instantly died, and not otherwise: and so the jurors aforesaid upon their solemn oaths respectively do say. Given under our hands and seals, &c., &c.  (Signed by the Jurors.)The Placer Times, 22 December.  Reprints the report of 17 December above. [additional]Judge Turk has issued a warrant for the arrest of Withers, and offers a reward of one thousand dollars for his apprehension. The coroner's jury returned the following verdict : That on the morning of the 14th day of December, between the hours of half-past three and half-past four of said morning the said Arthur C. W. Reynolds came to his death by a wound upon the neck, near the collar-bone, of said Arthur C. W. Reynolds perforating the aorta, inflicted by one Reuben Withers,  with a knife or other sharp instrument, which said Withers then and there held in his hand, of which said Arthur C. W. Reynolds then and there, in the district aforesaid, almost instantly died, and not otherwise; and so the jurors aforesaid upon their solemn oaths respectively do say.

THE DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, 19 December 1849

WEDNESDAY MORNING, DEC. 19, 1849

The Horrible Murder.

We cannot refrain from saying a few words with regard to recent sad occurrence at the Bella Union which resulted in the death of one of the parties concerned, and the utter ruin and disgrace of the other participator of the affair. - The deceased has been represented as a midi and inoffensive young man, and certainly if we are to place any credence upon the testimony, could not be considered in the light of the aggressor. The other participant, Withers, appears to have acted from the first moment of the affair which terminated in so melancholy a manner with the most perfect recklessness, for which we can account in no other way than by the presumption that he was rendered an irrational being from the demon rum. We do not desire in the least to prejudge his case or to prejudice the community against him. We have given the main portions of the evidence as taken before the Alcalde and at the Coroner's inquest. Which "nil who run may road" and from which they can form their opinion as to his guilt or innocence. But the public is not the tribunal before which he must be summoned to defend himself. An impartial jury of his peers and a court sworn to entertain no bias and to decide according to law and evidence, will determine upon his case, and before them his guilt must be established ere he can be pronounced a murderer. - He has fled, none no whither, but the officers of justice are on the scent, stimulated by the hope of reward, and he may perhaps yet be arrested. We deeply sympathise with the distress which the announcement of this dire catastrophe will bring to the hearts of friends and kindred at home- the relatives of both parties being of the highest respectability though in different walks of life. We cannot contemplate it without sorrow and anguish.

   In a populous place like San Francisco and when the inhabitants are of so mixed a character, from all quarters of the globe, it is a remarkable fact that there has been so small an amount of crime. We believe it to be unparalleled in the annals of any new country. No city in the United States can boast so clean a criminal calendar in the same space of time as can we in a country which has been stigmatised as destitute of 'law or order."

   The mischief has arisen in the present instance from the pernicious habit, which has already obtained to an alarming extent, of carrying concealed weapons - knives and pistols. It is a practice which should never be tolerated in any community, and the instances where necessity demands it are few and far between- it pertains only to the bravo and the hired assassin, who, thank heaven, find no haven under our skies. Society rebels at this pernicious custom and has united in an expression of abhorrence at the vile and cowardly practice. In the United States the laws are most rigorous in this respect and heavy fines are imposed upon those who carry concealed weapons. It is urged that in a new country it is necessary for the protection of the peaceable citizen from the coward and the bully but we deem the argument fallacious in the extreme. - The peaceable man never thrusts a bowie knife in his girdle, or a revolver in his pocket - it is the coward and the bully mostly who does it, and who, for some fancied slight, whips out his instrument of death and is ready to use it upon the most trivial provocation. If it is contended that it is necessary to carry arms let them be worn openly and let every man go about "armed cap-a-pie." But the necessity does not exist, and the man who would belt his pistol or knife about him would but excite the ridicule of his fellows. We hope that before the evil which has already made itself manifest shall produce still more disastrous results some measures may be taken to prevent this abhorred practice.

 

Daily Alta California, 26 December 1849

LOCAL MATTERS

Death from Laudanum. - Judge Colton held an inquest on Sunday last, upon the body of J. G. Marriner, who died at the Verandah Restaurant.  It appeared in evidence that the deceased had suffered for some time from diarrhoea, and in order to obtain relief had purchased a bottle of laudanum, and through mistake, swallowed too large a dose.  The verdict of the jury was in accord mace with these facts.  Too much caution cannot be exercised in taking laudanum without having the advice of a  physician.

ANOTHER MURDER. - Another inquest was held yesterday by Judge Colton, upon as man discovered near the road leading towards the Mission.  The body was found stabbed in 24 places, dragged across the street and thrown into some bushes.  No clue could be obtained to the name of the person, or the perpetrators of the dreadful deed.  The verdict was in accordance with the above facts.

 

Weekly Alta California, 29 December 1849

.  .  .  .   Dr. Wm. T. Brent was also examined, and testified that he had made a post mortem examination of the deceased, and that he died from a wound which had perforated the aorta at the arch and which he could not have survived more than half an hour. The following is the result of the inquest.

U.S.A. TERRITORY OF CALIFORNIA, DISTRICT OF SAN FRANCISCO..

Before G. Q. Cotton, Esq. Coroner.

   An inquisition indented and taken at said district on the 15th day of December, A.D. 1849, upon view of the body of Arthur C. W. Reynolds, then and there lying dead, upon the solemn oath of J. H. Foster, E. Bryant, J. E. Durivage, Wm. A. Polk, Wm. Newell, G. Burdell, Jos. Eberhardt, Joel A. Jennings, E. A. Upton, Jno. Johnston, A. McMillen, and John Redmond,

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School