The Illustrated London News

Author: A Correspondent to The Illustrated London News  | Date: July 12, 1856

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July 12, 1856

The Original Grade-B Westerns


[The Illustrated London News, July 12, 1856]

The attack on San Francisco gaol by an armed multitude, of which we this week give an illustration, was one of the most remarkable exhibitions of Lynch law that has ever occurred in the United States. The immediate cause of this popular outbreak was the murder of Mr. James King, editor of the San Francisco Bulletin, by a Mr. James P. Casey.

On the 14th of May, Casey met King in the public streets, and deliberately shot him, in revenge for King having spoken of him as a convicted criminal. Another San Francisco paper speaks of the assassination as a premeditated affair. "The tremendous assaults," it says, "which Mr. King had made on the strongholds of corruption and vice forced a large body of men to organize for his overthrow and destruction. Various attempts were made to get him into a street fight, that he might be assassinated. All these attempts, however, failed. He and his friends well understood their game, and avoided being thus ensnared. This made them desperate, for they well knew that if King lived he would finally succeed in hurling them from the places they held and disgraced. Hence the employment of this Sing Sing convict to assassinate him."

As soon as Mr. King was shot, Casey’s friends suddenly appeared in the street and took possession of him, and with immediate dispatch succeeded in carrying him to the gaol before the people were able to seize him and "Lynch" him. He was placed in the gaol about one minute before the people reached there. All the city and county officers were immediately on hand to defend the prisoner against the enraged populace.

Mr. King lingered for some six days and then died. In the meantime the indignation of the people was thoroughly roused. The citizens organized themselves into military companies, and on the 19th of May proceeded to the gaol for the purpose of seizing Casey. The sheriff and other officers dared make no resistance to such an imposing force, which numbered some two thousand rifles besides field artillery. Casey was consequently given up, with Cora, the murderer of Marshal Richardson; and the two wretched beings were carried to the rooms of the Executive Committee, whence it was generally believed they would only go out to execution.

A private letter from San Francisco gives the following circumstantial account of the attack on the gaol:

"On Sunday morning, at nine o’clock, the divisions began to assemble at their armouries. At half-past eleven o’clock lines of citizen infantry were marching from different points towards Broadway, in which the gaol was situated. The force numbered fifteen hundred bayonets. Presently followed a company, one hundred strong, of riflemen, then the artillery, and a part of a company of horse. Five hundred men, armed with revolvers, also passed into Broadway. Eight hundred men remained in the armouries as a reserve. The spectacle was a solemn and imposing one. No bugle’s blast or beat of drum was heard—nothing but the heavy tread of masses of armed men. Scarcely a word was spoken by the thousands of spectators who almost choked up the streets. The people in a few minutes covered all the steeples, houses, and hills in the vicinity of the gaol The two thousand armed men were drawn up on every side of the building, as if for a siege. The rifles were posted on the roofs of the houses overlooking the prison. A heavy piece of ordnance was planted, pointed dead at the great iron door, and loaded on the spot. A man stood beside it with match lighted. Stones were deliberately carried up the steps, and placed in the gunports of the prison.

"When all was ready the demand was made. The city military and the guard of the sheriff having refused to act, there was no remedy but submission. Casey was taken from the prison, placed in a carriage, and guarded by a detachment of horse and infantry to the headquarters of the committee. The major part of the military remained in position around the gaol. In one hour the committee again entered the gaol, demanded and obtained possession of Charles Cora, the murderer of Marshal Richardson.

"So solemn a procession never before moved through the streets of San Francisco as that escorting Charles Cora to the committee rooms. In front, on each side, and in the rear, of the carriage, five hundred bayonets glistened in the sun, and the death-like stillness was broken only now and then. As the solemn cortege passed a corner, the window of the carriage was partially opened to admit air, and I saw Cora’s face. His eyes were half dosed and a ghastly pallor overspread his countenance. He looked like death itself. I understand that on arriving at the committee rooms he fainted. Casey exhibited more ’pluck’ and if he is sentenced to death will undoubtedly die ’game.’ At six o’clock P.M., notice was given that no more proceedings would be taken by the committee until the morrow. The citizens mostly retired to their homes. Three hundred armed men, who were relieved every three hours, kept guard over the dry all night, to prevent rows or vengeful fires."


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Chicago: A Correspondent to The Illustrated London News, "The Original Grade-B Westerns," The Illustrated London News in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed June 20, 2024,

MLA: A Correspondent to The Illustrated London News. "The Original Grade-B Westerns." The Illustrated London News, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 20 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: A Correspondent to The Illustrated London News, 'The Original Grade-B Westerns' in The Illustrated London News. cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 20 June 2024, from