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The particular subjects at issue, on each side, were the status of the Committee, the authority of the Governor to command its disbandment. The Committee had expressed the desire or the intention to have Casey committed to their custody, alleging that his escape from the jail was not unlikely for certain reasons. The Governor at length acceded in general terms to the propositions of the Committee, and measurably assured them his support. The Law and Order leaders were amazed, incensed and disgusted at the weakness of Governor Johnson. He had as good as surrendered the jail to them, and they had only to go and seize it, and capture the prisoners. This was known in the city on Saturday, and the Law and Order body prepared for the expected emergency - the defence of the jail from the assault of the Committee. Steps were taken for the defence of the jail by the Law and Order men, who volunteered for the occasion. The Committee had likewise made preparations.
A digression of amusing nature will not be out of place here: The steamboats from Sacramento then landed at Pacific street wharf, and arrived usually about 9:30. The Oakland ferry boat made her last trip over a few minutes after the Sacramento boat landed her passengers. Governor Foote had his residence at Clinton. Saturday morning one of his daughters called at my office and said that her father was at Benicia, and they expected him home that night. "But," she continued, "you know what a terrible excitement there is in the city, and how likely father is to take active part in anything which enlists his sympathies or stirs his feelings; and we all fear that he will do something imprudent. I know he will be very strong on the Law and Order side, and it will be better for us all if he will come directly home and not stay in the city to get mixed up in these terrible troubles." She requested me, therefore, to be at the boat that night when she landed, and to prevail upon her father, if he were otherwise disposed, to take the boat for Oakland. I promised, and that night I took a hack for the wharf, a quarter of an hour before the usual time of the boat's arrival. As the hack turned from Montgomery street into Washington, I noticed a crowd at the door-way of the Bank Exchange. Calling to the driver to stop a moment, I entered the saloon. I learned that the boat had already arrived, a half hour ahead of ordinary time. My disappointment was in a moment sunk in my surprise. I heard Governor Foote's voice in loud tones, toward the front of the room. It was a surprise to see him in a barroom, for he was not addicted to drinking, and except in the Orleans at Sacramento during the Legislature, when he was candidate for United States Senator, I had never seen him in a saloon. But that which most astonished me was the Governor's warmth of approval of the Vigilance Committee, and his animadversions and regrets in regard to some of his friends, who had taken active part on the Law and Order side. He stood the centre figure of the crowd close about him, declaiming with his accustomed fluency and energy. I left the saloon, dismissed the hack, and walked to my own quarters, ruminating on the common saying that, "white man is mighty uncertain." Thence on Governor Foote was a red-hot "Vigilante."
Sunday morning, May 18th, there were, besides the Sheriff and his deputies, the officers and guards, a force of 106 Law and Order men, armed with muskets, inside the County Jail, ready to defend it against the expected attack of the Vigilance troops. Before noon they came from every part of the city, several thousand strong. A piece of artillery was trained in front of the jail entrance, with men to handle it. The armed force in the jail and upon the wall appeared ready for the encounter. The Commander of the Committee forces demanded from the Sheriff the surrender of Casey and Cora. It was refused. There was some parleying. It ended in the withdrawal of the jail guard, and of the Law and Order forces also, the admission of the Vigilance officers into the jail, and the surrender to them of Casey and Cora, who were taken to the rooms of the Committee, and put in the separate cells prepared for them. The whole affair occurred within the space of an hour. The State and City and County authorities had succumbed to the Committee without resistance, and the law was usurped by the new and self-constituted power. The Courts were virtually overborne and ignored, if not derided; and the will of the Vigilance Committee became the supreme law in San Francisco.
In the County Jail at the time was Rod. Backus, a young man of good family, cousin of Phil. Backus, an auctioneer of considerable prominence in mercantile and social circles. Rod. Backus had shot dead a man whose face he had never seen until the moment before he shot him, a dozen paces distant. It was in Stout's alley. It was a murder, a wanton murder, without provocation, excuse, extenuation or palliation whatever. Rod. Backus was a frequent visitor at a house of the demi-monde in the alley, and one Jennie French was his favorite. As he came to visit her one evening, at dusk, she was standing in the doorway, at the head of the iron stairway which led to the entrance on the second floor. On the opposite side of the alley, walking slowly toward Jackson street, was a man of ordinary appearance. As Rod met her on the top platform, Jennie said to him: "Rod, that fellow has insulted me; shoot the - -." At the word Backus drew his pistol and fired. The man fell. He had turned his face the moment Backus fired. It was an instantly fatal shot. Backus had influential friends among business men and politicians. The Coroner held an inquest. A jury to hold Backus blameless had been secured, but they overshot their mark - the thing was too transparent, too bare-faced. The murdered man was a German much respected by his countrymen. They determined to press the matter to justice. Backus was indicted, tried, convicted of murder and sentenced to death. None of just mind questioned the righteousness. But his case was appealed, and at last he had his crime reduced in degree, and received sentence of a short term - three or five years in San Quentin prison. This easy let-off did not satisfy him; he wanted a verdict of acquittal, and expected still to get it. Accordingly he again appealed his case, and while in the County Jail awaiting the action of the Supreme Court upon his appeal, the Committee had seized and taken away Casey and Cora. He was not molested; nevertheless, his fear of consequences impelled him to withdraw his appeal, submit to his sentence, and serve his term at San Quentin. He even begged to be taken there at once, and he was. The explanation made by the Committee leaders for not taking Backus was that the law had already passed judgment in his case, and the Committee was not disposed to interfere with the judgments of the Courts. The explanation was puerile and inconsistent with their action in the case of Cora, who was also in the hands of the Court and was awaiting another trial. A portion of the jury, among this portion Front street merchants and other respectable business men, had held him to be not guilty; and surely this was more than any juror had expressed in the case of Backus. Moreover, Backus had himself demonstrated his dissatisfaction with the very mild verdict in his last trial, and was, the same as Cora, awaiting the issue of another trial. The common belief was that Backus owed his exemption from the grasp of the Committee and from the dread penalty which Casey and Cora suffered, not to any doubt as to his guilt, but solely on account of his relationship and his social standing. He had been boon companion of many of the young men of the Committee before he committed the murder in Stout's alley.
Now, as to Casey: he has been described as a ruffian and villain of irredeemable depravity - desperate to the last degree. James P. Casey was a young man of bright, intelligent and rather prepossessing face, neat in his person, inclined to fine clothes, but not flashy or gaudy in his attire. He was of low stature, slender frame, lithe and compact, sinewy, nervous, and very agile. His eyes were blue and large, of bold expression. His voice was full and sonorous. He had served as Assistant County Treasurer for two years, handled a large aggregate of money in that capacity, and his accounts squared to a cent when he handed over the books to his successor. He was twice Supervisor. His record in that office will favorably compare with that of any who have succeeded him. During his lifetime in San Francisco he was never accused of crime; never suspected of criminal offence. Ballot box stuffing was charged to his account; also fraudulent counting in elections. Doubtless there was foundation for each charge. But there were members of the Executive Committee who had been associated with him in these gross wrongs, and at least one of them had gained place and profit therefrom; and these equally or more guilty men voted to hang their former associate in evil deeds. It may be remarked, further, that in the face of the colossal frauds of Returning Boards and Canvassing Boards within the last dozen years, in States South and in the States North, by which the people were defrauded of their choice for President on two occasions, the offences of Casey in the comparatively small matter of a municipal election, are better left unmentioned. Even now, in San Francisco, how many are there in local office who can with clear conscience declare their innocence of crookedness or corruption, or fraud in elections? When it comes to throwing the stone at the staked sinner, conscience palsies the arm of many who feel disposed to throw it. Casey was once in the city prison for riotous conduct. At a very hotly contested democratic primary election, in the early fall of 1855, between the Broderick and Gwin wings of the party, Casey got into trouble. The polls were on Kearny near Pine street. Toward the close nearly all on each side who had participated in the election were in inflamed condition. Casey had gone to the polling place to ascertain the result. He carried no weapon. Immediately he was set upon by five of the wing, to which he was opposed - Bob Cushing, J. W. Bagley, and three others, all armed with either knife or pistol - two of them with both. Casey did not know fear; he was game from crown to toe. One ball grazed his forehead on the right side, another the occiput just behind the left ear, and shot off his hat. His shiney bald head made that a conspicuous mark, but the range was too short and the shooters were too excited for accurate aim. Casey had been taken by surprise, but the slight creasing of the bullets, abrading the skin and stinging, instantly impelled him to rapid and desperate action. He rushed upon one of his assailants and wrested a knife from his grasp. With this he turned upon Cushing, plunged it in his body just above the lower ribs, and as Cushing was sinking to the ground, he turned the knife and cut upwards with such power as to cleave the rib the blade struck against. One of the five had become so nerveless at the sight, that he dropped his pistol. Casey leaped and secured it. He shot at Barley and the ball penetrated his breast. As he fell, Casey likewise secured his pistol. The two others were game, but confused and shot wildly. The bullets went through Casey's coat and vest, riddling each in a dozen places; but not one of them did so much as to graze his skin. The third man had been paralyzed with fright after the first clash. After emptying their revolvers ineffectually the two others left the ground; Casey remained the master of it. Not for long, however. A policeman who had watched the affray from a safe distance then rushed up, arrested Casey, took him to the City prison, and booked him for assault with a deadly, weapon. That evening I met Colonel Baillie Peyton, Colonel Jo. P. Hoge, and Colonel Ed. Beale on Kearny street. They had been told of the encounter, and expressed the desire to see Casey to compliment him for his bravery, and congratulate him upon his miraculous escape. Accordingly we visited the prison and saw Casey, with his clothes shot to shreds from the left shoulder pit down to his waist, and no wounds other than the slight creases upon his forehead and occiput, neither of these so deep as to draw blood. All of us expressed surprise that the policeman had arrested him - attacked and fighting for his life in clear self-defence, as he had been - and letting his assailants go free. Colonel Hoge and Colonel Peyton volunteered to act as counsel for him in Court; and bidding him go good-night, whit hearty shake of hands, we all came away. Next morning no one appeared to prosecute him, and Casey was discharged.
It will serve to state the offence for which Casey was sentenced to State Prison in New York, before he left for California. He had, the same as many other young men, taken up with a girl of loose character, whose chastity had been spoiled by another, and hired and furnished an apartment for her. The two lived as man and wife - much as too many live in that same relation, for they quarreled and separated. In his hot temper one day, he saw her upon the street, and instantly the thought flashed upon his mind that he would go to her apartment and have the furniture taken from it. He still kept a key to the door. He hired a wagon, and carried out his determination. The landlady supposed it to be all right. He had paid the rent in advance and she was that much the gainer. He took the furniture to a second-hand furniture dealer, sold it and kept the money. As he bought it, he felt that it was his to sell. On the return of the girl, the landlady told her what had occurred. In taking the furniture, he had also carried away some articles which belonged to the girl. She hurried to the police Court, made charge against him, and he was arrested. He made no defence and was convicted. The sentence was eighteen months in Sing Sing prison. He served his time and came to California. This was the damning record which James King of William had threatened to publish in his Bulletin. He did not publish the facts of the case; but only the fact of the indictment, the conviction, the sentence and imprisonment. King had been told all this by a man who had been clerk to the District Attorney, and was cognizant of all the facts. He was a prominent Broderick man, hated Casey for having left that wing of the party and joined the other wing, and adopted this means to blast him in reputation. Casey was morbidly sensitive on the subject. He had been apprised that King intended to publish the matter; and early in the afternoon of the day of the shooting he called upon Mr. King in his office, and warned him to desist from the publication. King gave no heed to the warning; the matter appeared in the Bulletin that day. Casey was exasperated to madness. He armed himself, watched for King on Montgomery street, but he did not conceal himself. It was King's invariable custom to leave his office in the small one-story brick building which so long obstructed Merchant street on the east side of Montgomery, soon after the Bulletin was issued, walk to the cigar store on the north-west corner of Washington and Montgomery streets, and thence out Washington street homeward. He usually wore a talma of coarse fabric, loose and reaching to his hips. It was sleeveless, concealing his arms and hands. As he came out of the cigar store, Casey hailed him. The distance between the two was about forty feet. Casey shouted to him, "Prepare yourself!" and fired. King tottered and sunk upon the sidewalk. He had frequently made notice in his paper that any whom he denounced in its columns had the privilege of adopting their own mode of recourse; stated the route he usually took to and from his office, and with the significant hint, "God help any one who attacks me," defied that method of redress. Casey took him at his word. King was borne to the room in Montgomery block, in which he died a few days afterward. The ball had penetrated his body from the left side of his breast, just below the line of the arm pit, and ranging upward and outward to the back of the left shoulder. The surgeons pronounced it a dangerous but not a mortal wound. Dr. Beverly R. Cole was Surgeon-General to the Committee brigade, and a member of the Committee. Months afterward he declared in a public statement of the case that King died from the unskillful treatment of the surgeons, and maintained that with proper treatment he would have recovered. Still it was the wound which superinduced his death; and Casey had fired the ball which made it.