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Sunday, May 12, 1996

Crime no stranger to early 1800s Solano

Kristin Delaplane

River traffic was large factor in transportation

Last in a series
The jail in Benicia was unable to hold a prisoner accused of larceny. In fact, the jail was so rarely used that it was not in shape to hold anyone. The prisoner was carted off to the jail in Martinez.
A Chinese gentleman at the Solano Hotel was arrested and taken to San Francisco by one of the emissaries of the Chinese Secret Society. The local Chinese house had been broken up in Benicia, but apparently some were still active in the society and had made complaints to the society in San Francisco that this man had in some way disobeyed their mandates.

The stable of Capt. Walsh was broken into by three or four thieves and a valuable horse was stolen.

A thief stole three lengths of rusty stove pipe from J.W. Jones, who operated the store that sold books and stationery. Newspapers advised their readers to guard their stove pipes, as the thief no doubt was intent on erecting a stove for the winter season.

A murder in Vacaville was big news. Two men from Montezuma, Gillman and Hurley, took a load of geese to Sacramento. Presumably they got hold of some liquor on the return trip and a quarrel erupted on the way as to which road they would take back to Montezuma.

Gillman struck his partner in the head with a spade. Gillman then took off for a friend’s. The next day, Hurley was discovered dead in the road. Gillman was taken into custody. He was later indicted and sent to the jail in Contra Costa County.

Two sailors from the steamer John Hancock went to board at the National Hotel in Vallejo. One sailor had $750. When it was stolen, his shipmate was arrested, but with no evidence he was released.

In a day or so, the shipmate was turning state’s evidence, saying that he, along with Miller and Eaton, the proprietors of the National Hotel, had stolen the money. He decided to tell his story because after he was released from custody, his co-conspirators refused him his share of the take. The proprietor’s were arrested and unable to post bail; they resided in the Martinez jail until their day in court.

Mr. H.M. Cohen had $12,250 taken from him while he was on board the steamer Urilda traveling from San Francisco to Benicia. The thief escaped in Benicia. A $1,000 reward was posted.

A number of journeymen faro dealers - hangers-on of gambling houses - came to Benicia and approached the several hotels in town as to carrying on an “open faro.” They were refused by all. They started a game among themselves that soon ended in a row, and they left town.

Albert Smit, a schoolteacher at Barton’s, a stagecoach stop between Cordelia and Suisun City, absconded on a borrowed horse and with a borrowed watch. It turned out he was deeply in debt to a number of people.

Two men were charged with assault. One paid a $50 fine. The other was held, but because he was drunk - or pretending to be so - the constable allowed him to go to bed rather than to jail. When the constable turned away, the thief escaped.

Schooners, steamships and sloops coming and going were a constant sight on Benicia’s waterfront. Thus news of river traffic was an important feature of the newspaper.

The New World ran into a schooner at night and carried away the guards forward of the wheelhouse.

The Defender was advertised as a new, fast, superior steamer plying the waterways. The fare to San Francisco was $1 for a cabin and 50 cents to occupy the deck. There was an excellent band to provide music on all trips. The commander of the boat, Arthur J. Brown, made it clear there was no racing with other boats - a popular and dangerous sport - so long as there were passengers on board.

There was to be no compromise on the rates, but the public was reminded that the Defender was the only competitor in California, and that by patronizing her, they could keep the rates where they were and thus check the grand extortion of the combined monopoly.

A black waiter and a German deck hand both working on board the Defender drowned in Sacramento.

Hunting season commenced in mid-November and the wild fowl were plentiful. Many numbers of gentlemen with carrying double-barrel guns and with game bags in hand were landing regularly on the San Francisco boats. From then on every evening the wharf would be covered with feathered game to be shipped to San Francisco. It took time to load the ducks, and so the fast steamboat captains were much displeased at the delay this caused in their schedules.

Three hunters on Cordelia Creek when two kegs of powder on their boat exploded. All three were injured and the boat was blown to pieces. One of the hunters later died from his injuries.

Lt. Macroe, commander of the U.S. surveying schooner Ewing, committed suicide by shooting himself. His will, written only a few hours prior to this deed, showed clearly that he was not in his right mind at the time of his death.

The sailboat Lizzie was coming into her moorings and capsized. The two men on board narrowly escaped drowning. They were saved by C. Pease.

Mr. Pease came to the rescue again Christmas Eve. He heard a cry for help and proceeded to the beach. Here he found an intoxicated gentleman up to his neck in mud. Pease and a Capt. Lewis rescued the man. Lucky for him, as he would have soon died in that state.

The sloop Albatross was struck by a squall and nearly capsized. She righted herself, but lost her deck-load of wood.

The Pacific Mail steamship Sonora was advertising its passage for New York and New Orleans via Panama.

The Suisun & Benicia Stage operated from the Solano Hotel. Owner and driver Cyrus Cutler left the hotel at 8 a.m., stopping at Cordelia and Barton’s Store before continuing on to Suisun. He left Suisun at 1 p.m. The fare from Benicia to Cordelia was $2; Barton’s Store, $2.50; Suisun City, $3. Besides passengers, Cyrus carried express matter and did errands.

The U.S. Mail Stage Line ran between Benicia and Vallejo. A niece of Gen. Frisbie, Cynthia J. Frisbie, wrote in her school journal about her trip from Benicia by coach to Vallejo in 1855:

“December we embarked for the Golden State of California of which we had received glowing accounts from my father’s brothers who claimed it as their home.” The family sailed into San Francisco on New Year’s morning and proceeded to Benicia, where it caught a carriage and they were “. . . soon rapidly whirling over the rough road from that town to Vallejo.”

The coach left Vallejo at 7 a.m. and turned around, leaving Benicia at 8:20 a.m. It then left Vallejo at 1 p.m., arriving in Benicia in time for the boats. The return trip was made upon the arrival of the evening boats. The fare was $1.

There was a livery stable on F Street that Charles Forbes operated. He supplied travelers with horses, carriages and buggies.

There was a City Coach one could take for $1 to the steamers. Orders for the coach were to be left at the Solano Hotel, McLeod’s Central House or Pacific Works.

The dry dock at Mare Island was kept busy during this time. The George, a whaler, put in. It was followed by the Pacific Mail’s steamship Columbia, which was lifted in about 45 minutes and repaired in a day. The City of Norfolk came in next and was repaired to go under sail to New York. While she was being worked on, the steamer Senator waited and was then hauled up in 30 minutes.

The USS Independence left Mare Island in tow of the John Hancock around mid-November. It would be 1857 when the USS Independence was to come back to Mare Island and become the station ship. In December it was back, and was the first ship of its size to be tested in the dry dock.

Throughout, local newspaper editors extended their concerns. One was that the city form a fire company. Next they addressed the need to repair the sidewalks made of planking. Finally, there was a call for the people to plant shade trees in front of their houses for the general beautification of the city.