J. P Munro-Fraser.

History of Solano County...and histories of its cities, towns...etc. .. online

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often forced to return. One party built their cabins near the Truckee Lake,
killed their cattle, and went into winter quarters. The other (Donner's)
party, still believed that they could thread the pass, and so failed to build
their cabins before more snow came and buried their cattle alive. Of course
these were soon utterly destitute of food, for they could not tell where the
cattle were buried, and there was no hope of game on a desert so piled with
snow that nothing without wings could move. The number of those who
were thus storm-stayed, at the very threshold of the land whose winters are
one long spring, was eighty, of whom thirty were females, and several
children. The Mr. Donner who had charge of one company, was an Illino-
isian, sixty years of age, a man of high respectability and abundant means.
His wife was a woman of education and refinement, and much younger
than he.

During November it snowed thirteen days ; during December and Janu-
ary, eight days in each. Much of the time the tops of the cabins were
below the snow level.


It was six weeks after the halt was made that a party of fifteen, includ-
ing five women and two Indians who acted as guides, set out on snow-shoes
to cross the mountains, and give notice to the people of the California
settlements of the condition of their friends. At first the snow was so light
and feathery that even in snow-shoes they sank nearly a foot at every step.
On the second day they crossed the " divide," finding the snow at the sum-
mit twelve feet deep. Pushing forward with the courage of despair, Ihey
made from four to eight miles a day.

Within a week they got entirely out of provisions ; and three of them,
succumbing to cold, weariness, and starvation, had died. Then a heavy
snow-storm came on, which compelled them to lie still, buried between their
blankets under the snow, for thirty-six hours. By the evening of the tenth
day three more had died, and the living had been four days without food.
The horrid alternative was accepted — they took the flesh from the bones of
their dead, remained in camp two days to dry it, and then pushed on.

On New Years, the sixteenth day since leaving Truckee Lake, they were
toiling up a steep mountain. Their feet were frozen. Every step was marked
with blood. On the second of January, their food again gave out. On the
third, they had nothing to eat but the strings of their snow-shoes. On the
fourth, the Indians eloped, justly suspicious that they might be sacrificed for
food. On the fifth, they shot a deer, and that day one of their number died.
Soon after three others died, and every death now eked out the existence
of the survivors. On the seventeenth, all gave out, and concluded their
wanderings useless, except one. He, guided by two stray friendly Indians,
dragged himself on till he reached a settlement on Bear river. By midnight
the settlers had found and were treating with all Christian kindness what
remained of the little company that, after more than a month of the most
terrible sufferings, had that morning halted to die.

The story that there were emigrants perishing on the other side of the
snowy barrier ran swiftly down the Sacramento Valley to New Helvetia,
and Captain Sutter, at his own expense, fitted out an expedition of men and
of mules laden with provisions, to cross the mountains and relieve them. It
ran on to San Francisco, and the people, rallying in public meeting, raised
fifteen hundred dollars, and with it fitted out another expedition. The
naval commandant of the port fitted out still others.

The first of the relief parties reached Truckee Lake on the nineteenth of
February. Ten of the people in the nearest camp were dead. For four
weeks those who were still alive had fed only on bullocks' hides. At
Donner's camp they had but one hide remaining. The visitors left a small
supply of provisions with the twenty-nine whom they could not take with
them, and started back with the remainder. Four of the children they
carried on their backs.

Another of the relief parties reached Truckee Lake on the first of March.


They immidiately started back with seventeen of the sufferers ; but, a heavy
snow storm overtaking them, they left all, except three of the children, on
the road. Another party went after those who were left on the way;
found three of them dead, and the rest sustaining life by feeding on the
flesh of the dead.

The last relief party reached Donner's camp late in April, when the snows
had melted so much that the earth appeared in spots. The main cabin was
empty, but some miles distant they found the last survivor of all lying on
the cabin floor smoking his pipe. He was ferocious in aspect, savage and
repulsive in manner. His camp-kettle was over the fire and in it his meal
of human flesh preparing. The stripped bones of his fellow-sufferers lay
around him. He refused to return with the party, and only consented
when he saw there was no escape.

Mrs. Donner was the last to die. Her husband's body, carefully laid out
and wrapped in a sheet, was found at his tent. Circumstances led to the
suspicion that the survivor had killed Mrs. Donner for her flesh and her
money, and when he was threatened with hanging, and the rope tightened
around his neck, he produced over five hundred dollars in gold, which,
probably, he had appropriated from her store."

In relation to this dreary story of suffering, this portion of our history
will be concluded by the narration of the prophetic dream of George Yount,
attended, as it was, with such marvelous results.

At this time, (the winter of 1846) while residing in Napa county, of
which, as has been already remarked, he was the pioneer settler, he dreamt
that a party of emigrants were snow-bound in the Sierra Nevadas, high up
in the mountains, where they were sufhering the most distressing privations
from cold and want of food. The locality where his dream had placed
these unhappy mortals, he had never visited, yet so clear was his vision
that he described the sheet of water surrounded by lofty peaks, deep-covered
with snow, while on every hand towering pine trees reared their heads far
above the limitless waste. In his sleep he saw the hungry human beings
ravenously tear the flesh from the bones of their fellow creatures, slain to
satisfy their craving appetites, in the midst of a gloomy desolation. He
dreamed his dream on three successive nights, after which he related it to
others, among whom were a few who had been on hunting expeditions in
the Sierras. These wished for a precise description of the scene foreshad-
owed to him. They recognized the Truckee. now the Donner Lake. On
the strength of this recognition Mr. Yount fitted out a search expedition,
and, with these men as guides, went to the place indicated, and, prodigious
to relate, was one of the successful relieving parties to reach the ill-fated
Donner party.





1850 TO 1877 — TABLE OF OFFICERS FROM 1850 TO 1877.

The early political history of Solano county is enveloped in considerable
mystery. Prior to the acquisition of California by the Government of the
United States, the large District of Sonoma, which included all the territory
between the Sacramento river and the ocean, and Oregon and the Bay of
San Francisco, was under the rule of the Mexican Government, who pro-
mulgated their laws after the year 1835, when General Vallejo took
command, from Sonoma. The District was apportioned into Prefectures,
amenable to a grand council at that town, the holders of office being known
as Alcaldes.

The first civil officer commissioned, after the American occupation, was
John Nash. He had a very exalted idea of the dignity of his office ;
assumed ministerial as well as judicial powers ; signed himself " Chief
Justice of California," and otherwise made himself and his office ridiculous.
Squire Nash, as his neighbors called him, was a good-natured, illiterate, but
honest man, who was employed by several persons to proceed to the mines
on the discovery of gold in 1848. He returned with gold dust to the value
of eight hundred dollars, and shortly after, going to Mormon Island with a
company of Sonoma miners, he died there during the winter. He was
succeeded in office by Lilburn W. Boggs, Ex-Governor of Missouri, in the
office of Alcalde ; a like appointment being made for Benicia City, as will
be seen by the accompanying commission :

" Know all men by these presents, that I, Richard B. Mason, Colonel 1st
Regiment of Dragoons, United States Army, and Governor of California, by
virtue of authority in me vested, do hereby appoint Stephen Cooper an
Alcalde at Benicia City, at present in the District of Sonoma.

" Given at Monterey, the Capital of California, this third day of January,
A. D. 1848, and of the Independence of the United States the 72d.

(Signed) "R. B. Mason,

[official seal.] " Col. 1st Dragoons,

"Governor of California."

Let us see what was the state of the political horizon at that time.
According to Tuthill — as to civil law, the country was utterly at sea. It
had a governor in the person of the commandant of the military district it
belonged to, but no government. While the war lasted California, as a


conquered province, expected to be governed by military officers who, by
virtue of their command of the Department, bore sway over all the territory
that their Department embraced. But after peace had come and the suc-
cession of military governors was not abated, a people who had been in the
habit of governing themselves, under the same flag and the same constitu-
tion, chafed that a simple change of longitude should deprive them of their
inalienable rights.

General Persifer F. Smith, who assumed command on arriving by the
California, the first steamship that reached San Francisco (February 28,
1849), and General Riley, who succeeded him (April 13, 1849), would have
been acceptable governors enough, if the people could have discovered any-
where in the Constitution that the President had power to govern a territory
by a simple order to the commandant of a military department. The power
was obvious in time of war • but in peace it was unprecedented. Left en-
tirely to themselves, the people could have organized a squatter sovereignty,
as Oregon had done, and the way into the sister-hood of States was clear.

They felt that they had cause for complaint, but in truth they were too
busy to nurse their grievance and make much of it. To some extent they
formed local governments, and had unimportant collisions with the mili-
tary. But, busy as they were, and expecting to return home soon, they
humored their contempt for politics, and left public matters to be shaped at
Washington. Nor was this so unwise a course under the circumstances, for
the thing that had hindered Congress from giving them a legitimate con-
stitutional government was the ever-present snag in the current of American
political history, the author of most of our woes, the great mother of mis-
chief on the Western continent — Slavery.

When it was found that Congress had adjourned without doing anything
for California, Brigadier-General Piley, by the advice, he said, of the Presi-
dent, and Secretaries of State and of War, issued a Proclamation,- which
was at once a call for a convention, and an official exposition of the Admin-
istration's theory of the anomalous relations of California, and the Union.
He strove to rectify the impression that California was governed by the
military arm of the service ; 'that had ceased with the termination of hostili-
ties. What remained was the civil government, recognized by the existing
laws of California. These were vested in a governor, who received his ap-
pointment frftn the supreme government or, in default of such appoint-
ment, the office was vested in the commanding military officer of the de-
partment, a secretary, a departmental or territorial legislature, a superior
court with four judges, a prefect and sub-prefect, and a judge of the first
instance for each district, alcaldes, local justices of the peace, ayuntanien-
tos, or town councils. He moreover recommended the election, at the same
time, of delegates to a convention to adopt either a State or Territorial Con-
stitution which, if acquiesced in by the people, would be submitted for ap-
proval to Congress.


In accordance with these announcements we find that the " Superior
Tribunal of California " existed at Monterey in 1849, for in September of
that year a " Tariff of Fees for Judiciary offices " was published, with the
following order of the Court : " That the several officers mentioned in this
order shall be entitled to receive for their services, in addition to their
regular salary, if any, the following fees, and none other, until the further
order of this Court." Here is added a list of the fees to be appropriated by
Judges of First Instance, Alcaldes and Justices of the Peace, Clerks of the
several courts, Sheriff, or Comisario, District Attorney, and Notaries Public.

Stephen Cooper, already alcalde of the city of Benicia, was appointed by
General Riley, in August, Judge of First Instance, and commenced his
labors in that function in October, 1849, as appears in the only record of the
proceedings of that Court extant in the office of the county clerk, at Fair-

The record of one of the cases tried is reproduced as an instance of the
short but quick justice that was doled out in 1849 :

" The People of California Territory,
George Palmer.

" And now comes the said people by right their attorney, and the said de-
fendant by Semple and O'Melveny, and the prisoner having been arraigned
on the indictment in this cause, plead not guilty. Thereupon a j ury was
chosen, selected, and sworn, when, after hearing the evidence and argument
of counsel, returned into Court the following verdict, to wit :

" The jury, in the case of Palmer, defendant, and the State of California,
plaintiff', have found a verdict of guilty on both counts of the indictment,
and sentenced him to receive the following punishment, to wit :

" On Saturday, the 24th day of November, to be conducted by the sheriff
to some public place and there receive on his bare back seventy-five lashes,
with such weapon as the sheriff may deem fit, on each count respectively,
and to be banished from the district of Sonoma within twelve hours after
whipping, under penalty of receiving the same number of lashes for each
and every day he remains in the district, after the first whipping.

"(Signed) Alexander Riddell,

" Foreman.

" It is therefore ordered by the Court, in accordance with the above ver-
dict, that the foregoing sentence be carried into effect."

The manifesto calling a Constitutional Convention divided the electoral
divisions of the State into ten districts ; each male inhabitant of the
country, of twenty-one years of age, could vote in the district of his resid-
ence, and the delegates so elected were called upon to meet at Monterey, on
the 1st day of September, 1849. The number of delegates was fixed at
thirty-seven, five of which were apportioned to San Francisco. Those
elected from the district of Sonoma, were General Vallejo, Joel Walker, R.



Semple. L. W. Boggs was also elected, but did not attend. As resolved,
the Convention met at Monterey on the date above named, Robert Semple,
of Benicia, one of the delegates from the district of Sonoma, being chosen
president. The session lasted six weeks ; and notwithstanding an awkward
scarcity of books of reference and other necessary aids, much labor was per-
formed, while the debates exhibited a marked degree of ability. In framing
the original Constitution of California, slavery was forever prohibited
within the jurisdiction of the State; the boundary question between
Mexico and the United States was set at rest ; provision for the morals and
education of the people was made ; a seal of State was adopted with the
false Greek, though now more famous motto of Eureka, and a quantity of
other matters discussed. It was submitted to the people in English and
Spanish ; and on November 13th, was ratified by them.

The Constitution was adopted by a vote of twelve thousand and sixty-
four for it, to eight hundred and eleven against it ; there being, besides, over
twelve hundred ballots that were treated as blanks, because of an inform-
ality in the printing.

The following are two of the tickets which were voted at the time and
were destributed in and around Sacramento and the upper portion of the

people's ticket. people's ticket.



John A. Sutter.


John McDougal.


William E. Shannon,
Pet. Halsted.


John Bidwell, Upper Sacramento,
Murray Morrison, Sacramento City,
Harding Bigelow, Sacramento City,
Gilbert A. Grant, Vernon.


H. C. Cardwell, Sacramento City,
P. B. Cornwall, Sacramento City,
John S. Fowler, Sacramento City,
J. Sherwood,
Elisha W. McKinstry,
Madison Walthall, Coloma,
W. B. Dickenson, Yuba,
James Queen, South Fork,
W. L. Jenkin, Weaverville.



Peter H. Burnett.


John McDougal.


Edward Gilbert,
George W. Wright.


John Bidwell, Upper Sacramento,
Murray Morrison, Sacramento City,
Harding Bigelow, Sacramento City,
Gilbert A. Grant, Vernon.


H. C. Cardwell, Sacramento City,
P. B. Cornwall, Sacramento City,
John S. Fowler, Sacramento City,
H. L. Ford, Upper Sacramento,
Madison Walthall, Coloma,
W. B. Dickenson, Yuba,
James Queen, South Fork,
Arba K. Berry, Weaverville.


The result of the election was : Peter H. Burnett, Governor ; John Mc-
Dougal, Lieutenant Governor ; and Messrs. Wright and Gilbert were sent to
Congress. In regard to our especial subject General Vallejo was then elected
to the Senate, his seat, however, was first given to Jonas Spect, but on the
22d of December the official return from one of the polls gave' Spect but
two votes instead of twenty-eight, a total of but one hundred and eighty-
one votes against General Vallejo's one hundred and ninety-nine. Mr. Spect
then gave up his seat to the General, who during that session of the Legis-
lature, made his memorable report on the derivation and defination of the
names of the several counties of the State ; a report unsurpassed in its style
and its store of interesting and valuable information.

On Saturday, December 15, 1849, the first Legislature of the State met —
it will, however, be unnecessary here to enter into its movements until finally
located at Sacramento, such will be found fully discussed in the history of
the city of Vallejo.

The earliest record of an election in Solano is one held on April 1>
1850, to chose the following State and county officers, viz.: Clerk of the
Supreme Court, District Attorney, County Judge, Clerk, Attorney, Surveyor
Sheriff, Recorder, Assessor, Coronor, and Treasurer. L. B. Mizner being
appointed Inspector ; William McDaniel and Sarshel Cooper, Judges ; with
Joseph Winston and W. Rowe, Clerks. The officers being duly sworn by
Stephen Cooper, Judge of the District of Sonoma, the polls were opened,
and one hundred and seventy-six duly qualified electors deposited their

The result of the election was :


For Clerk of Supreme Court E. H. Tharp 142

For District Attorney R. A. Maupin 107

For County Judge James Craig 88

For County Clerk Sarshel Bynum 107

For County Attorney D. R. Wright 94

For County Surveyor Benjamin W. Barlow. . 137

For County Sheriff Frank Brown 86

For County Recorder Sarshel Bynum 143

For County Assessor Stephen Cooper 174

For County Coroner W. F. Peabody 178

For County Treasurer David F. Beveridge 100

The foregoing poll included the votes of officers and soldiers of the United
States Army, and the officers and sailors of the Navy, to the number of
forty-three, as is shown by the statement submitted by the President and
Canvasser, on April 8th. The election was held pursuant to an Act of the
Assembly of the State, approved March 2d, 1850.


It was found, however, that James Craig, the nominee for the County
Judgeship, had failed to qualify according to law ; the office was therefore
declared vacant, and a new election called in accordance with the above
quoted Act, by F. M. Warmcastle, Judge of Contra Costa County, to be held
on May 11, 1850, at two precincts in Solano County, which he had named,
viz., the Court House at Benicia, and the residence of Daniel M. Berry,
in Suisun Valley, the Inspectors being respectively George H. Riddell,
of Benicia, and D. M. Berry. The result was the election of Joseph
Winston, with sixty-six votes, as against forty-seven for William McDaniel.
Thus, Judge Winston was the first Judge for Solano County who actually
took his seat; and on the assumption of his office, almost his first duty was the
organizing of the county into the two townships of Benicia and Suisun, and
fixing certain boundaries, consequent on the necessity to elect two Justices
of the Peace and one Constable for the newly partitioned districts. This
election was called for May 25th, and on June 1st the elected Justices were
directed to meet at the City Hall, in Benicia, for the purpose of electing two
of their number as Associate Justices, to sit with the County Judge, to form
the Court of Sessions of said County of Solano. There is, unfortunately, no
record of the names of the Justices then elected. In the meantime, the
office of County Attorney was declared vacant, and C. Gillis, being the
only candidate, was duly elected July 22, 1850. On October 7, 1850,
another election was held for the appointment of a Clerk to the Supreme
Court ; Superintendent of Public Instruction ; Attorney General ; District
Attorney, for the district composed of the counties of Marin, Sonoma, Napa,
Solano and Mendocino ; Senator for the district composed of the counties of
Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Solano, Mendocino, Yolo, Colusa, and Trinity ; and a
Member of the Assembly, for the District composed of the counties of
Marin, Sonoma, Napa, and Solano, while the votes of the people were called
to settle the location of the seat of government, with the following result :


For Clerk of the Supreme Court E. H. Tharp 96

For Superintendent of Public Instruction. .Fred. P. Tracy 56

For Attorney General James A. McDougal ... 98

For District Attorney J. D. Bristol 132

For Senator Martin E. Cook 101

For Member of Assembly. . John S. Bradford 113

While, for the location of the seat of government, Vallejo received one
hundred and eighty-six votes, as against one for each of the cities of San
Jose and Monterey. Shortly after this, the offices of Sheriff and County Sur-
veyor, held by Messrs. Francis Brown and Benjamin W. Barlow, had become
vacant ; another election was held on December 21st, when B. C. Whitman
was chosen for the first named office, and A. F. Bradley for the latter.



Thus the electoral interests for the year 1850 were brought to a close.
In this year party spirit had not yet run very high. The bulk of the early
settlers were pretty evenly divided between the Whigs and Democrats,
while of the officers elected, the opposing factions shared the honors more
or less equally.

On January 25, 1851, Calvin Brown and J. G. Dennis were respectively
elected to the offices of Justice of the Peace and Constable for Benicia
Township, while, in March, two more vacancies occurred in the offices of
Sheriff and County Attorney, consequent on the resignation of Messrs. B. C.
Whitman and C. Gillis. To fill these offices a special election was called, as
also to choose two Justices of the Peace and one Constable for each of the
townships of Vallejo, which would appear from the Petition of Electors to

Online LibraryJ. P Munro-FraserHistory of Solano County...and histories of its cities, towns...etc. .. → online text (page 11 of 57)