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Sunday, September 29, 1996

Influx of Chinese prompts local response

Kristin Delaplane

Some greeted newcomers; others did not

In January 1858, Mart Taylor’s Comedians, a troupe that was touring the state, performed at Benicia’s Court House. The bill of fare was “Betsy Baker” and “Pleasant Neighbors.”
In between, Ms. Arabella danced the highland fling in a “most fascinating manner,” Mart Taylor sang his favorite songs and Mr. Thompson danced the Wooden Shoe.

Contracts were assigned to John C. Lynch, carpenter, and Thomas Giblin, plasterer, for the work to be done to improve St. Dominic’s Chapel.

Late in January, a small skiff - flat bottom, 1-inch plank on the sides, two oars and a chain - was found adrift on Suisun Bay. It was being kept at the Benicia Arsenal for the owner to claim.

Benicia’s firefighters were holding their second annual ball at City Hall, a building that was not used much and in need of some repairs, which the fire company planned to undertake.

For the ball, carriages were to be on hand to convey ladies to and from the ball in case of rain. Citizens not wishing to attend or who were opposed to balls were still asked to buy tickets to support the company, which owed $150 on some firefighting apparatus. Though many did attend this function, the $150 was not raised (perhaps due to the cost of repairs made on the building). Epicureans who attended raved that the supper surpassed anything of its kind served up in the city.

At a political venue in Sacramento, Mr. Davis of Solano introduced a resolution regarding the Chinese community. This resolution acknowledged the immigration and settlement in California of some 60,000 people from the Empire of China and that these people differed from all other people in language, laws, customs, prejudices and religion.

These facts were worthy of the government’s consideration and placed upon the people certain duties and responsibilities. It was noted that the Chinese population had been much imposed upon because they did not speak and write the local language.

On the other side of the coin, it noted that the European population had been imposed upon because of their ignorance of Chinese customs. These being the facts, it was proposed that for the protection of the Chinese, all tax receipts and other papers affecting their interests be translated and printed in Chinese and English.

Further, it was stated that the government should ascertain whether the Chinese were being treated as slaves, contrary to the provisions of the Constitution. With these objectives in mind, Mr. Davis proposed that the government establish a Chinese bureau.

Not all welcomed these newcomers. In Benicia, some combustible materials were set ablaze in the rear of the former City Hotel, which a Chinese group were renting. The impression was that people in the neighborhood set the fire to “wash out” the Chinese.

The editors declared if such was the case, they succeeded, as the house was pretty well destroyed before the majority of the firemen knew where the fire was. The editors also deplored this conduct and said it should be looked into by the city authorities and culprits properly punished.

At this time in history, it was noted that the city of Benicia was in a bad fix. Debts upon debts were accumulating and interest upon interest. And there was no provision for paying these moneys off.

When the tule and water property was sold - 525 lots - 10 percent of the purchase money was payable at the time of the sale. Another 25 percent was payable in cash, but the balance could be paid off with Benicia’s paper money.

A few years before this, the city fathers turned the city into a virtual bank with a fictitious capital of $1 million, when in reality the city was only worth a tenth of that.

Bank notes were printed and from that day the city had loaned them for money. These paper promises, which had been floating around ever since, were sometimes worth 40 to 60 cents on the dollar while the city was expected to pay their face value.

This way of doing business left Benicia with a “goose pond on the main street thoroughfare, knee deep in mud and a house here and there and . . . only moments of its prosperity.”

Even the establishment of a public school was still only a plan on paper. To right the situation, the editor suggested that only gold and silver be accepted for taxes and licenses and to pay all future debts. It was stated that if the city had paid cash from the beginning, she would have become a thriving and industrious town with rows of buildings facing each other on well-graded streets. As it was, many citizens, seeing the picture down the road, had left the city for other parts.

Apparently, Mr. B.L. Gorman, publisher of the Solano County Herald who presumably wrote of Benicia’s dilemma, wasn’t very optimistic, as he offered the paper for sale at this time.

In other news, two horses belonging to the Benicia & Napa StageLine were taken from their stable in Vallejo. For some reason the horses were abandoned, as the next morning Mr. Gill, one of the drivers of the line, found them a short distance of the Napa road.

Other horse news involved Mr. Loughlin’s steed. He was making an effort to get his horse and dray up First Street and was near Neville’s Stables when the animal bolted and ran into the nearby tule marsh where he became stuck. It took several citizens to get the animal unstuck.

At this time, things were beginning to heat up on the river. The steamboat Maria started a daily run as an Opposition boat against the Monopoly between San Francisco and Sacramento.
Charles Emile Viret, supposed a Frenchman, arrived aboard a Sacramento boat. That night he had a hearty supper at Mr. Burkhardt’s restaurant/boardinghouse. Afterwards, he retired to his room.

During the night, Mr. Burkhardt heard heavy snoring from that room. In the morning, he asked one of the other boarders if he heard the snoring. The man replied in the affirmative, stating that the man was still snoring. Concerned, they went upstairs.

Upon opening the door, they witnessed Viret in the last agonies of death. A vial of Laudanum was found nearby. Viret was assumed to be between 35 and 40 years. He was described as being 5-feet-7 or 5-feet-8 with a full round face and a well-developed body. He had dark brown hair, bald in the front and sporting a slight mustache. He came off the boat wearing a light gray coat, pepper-and-salt pantaloons and a gray felt hat.

There were medical books and other things to indicate he was either a physician or a druggist and other possessions indicated he had been spending time in Mexico. In closing this report, the writer suggested that “self-murders” find some other more suitable place in the city to destroy themselves.