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A man without past does not have future





A man without a past does not have a future. In this context, it is vital for one to be aware of the historical happenings as they can be of importance to the individual. Some historical events attract attention than others that depends on the importance of the event. Generally important things are those that draw ones attention, which means that things that do not seem important to one, because they don’t attract our attention, are actually important to someone else. Bearing that in mind, no past event can be of any importance, as they happen for a reason. In history, important events are those that have facts that can be seen. Some historians have committed their time in some historical events, that they consider important than others, if that judgment is not based on sincere judgment but on personal preference then those are rationale judgment. Generally something is regarded as important if it calls for ones attention. The connotation here is something that is important needs to have some value. In history, the question that is considered is the intrinsic nature, time, and the essential importance of the event. The other thing that is considered is the outcome of the event and the effects of the event activities on the years to come. In that respect, all past events have some value, reason as to why they took place, and their effects can be felt several years later. The study of historical events is vital as each event is unique, and is of importance to some section of the society, even if the historical events do not affect one directly, they are just as important as the events that have an impact on us.

Vigilantes were mainly groups formed by members of a particular community. The community set up the vigilance committees, to help keep in check criminal activities within their areas of residence. The vigilante committees were formed after the community felt that the law enforcers were not doing enough. Frequently the communities that felt they were under threat of the criminal gangs, came together to form the committees which arrested, charged, and prosecuted the criminals. In most cases, the vigilante used crude methods of arrests, charging, and prosecution of the criminals. The committee’s main punishment was hanging and at times extradition of the criminals.

During the great gold rush of San Francisco, thousand of people went to San Francisco to join in the seeking of riches. With time various crime gangs emerged. The small number of law enforcers that comprised of one constable backed up by six conservators could not handle the crime gangs. The gangs would start fires in order to distract the people to go and put out the fire as they robbed their houses, and some people whom they found in their houses. The gangs that included groups such as the Sydney Ducks and the hounds took place in looting, murder, daily brawls, and even robbery.

On the 15th of July 1849, a strong group of 230 men volunteered to form a police force to help in fighting crime, under the authorization of Alcalde Thaddeus Leavenworth. The formation of the police force did not help much as more and more people came into the area overwhelming the police force. On the 9th July 1851, a group of local people came together, and formed a vigilance committee with an intention of eradicating crime. The vigilance committee arrested wrong doers, formed mock trials that resulted to a number of people convicted of various crimes being hanged. The committee was effective in reducing the rate of crime, although some people were not in favor of the methods used by the committee. The committee was disbanded after two months of existence. A few years after the committee was disbanded the rate of crime shot up once again.

Following deportations of criminals, and hanging of some by the vigilance committee that was formed in the year 1851, the rate of crime reduced, but after the disbandment of the committee crime surfaced again. By the year 1856, the rate was so high, even public officials were corrupt. By 1856 the crime rate was so high that the only defense left was an independent press that was fearless, and would write about the criminal elements. From 1822-1856, James King William was the editor of a local paper the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, a paper which was bold enough to expose the criminals. The paper also insistently pursued a campaign against the criminals. In the year 1856, the deaths of two prominent person lead to the formation of the vigilance committee.

James was born on the 28th January 1822, He was the last born in the family, he called himself to,” (“James King, son of William”). This was to distinguish himself from other people called James king who were living in the same town of Georgetown. He arrived in San Francisco in the year 1848. After a short time, James made fortunes with which he started a banking business, called James King. The business went on well until 1854, when an agent James had contracted to purchase gold dust for him, but the agent bought dust of no value. In the end, James closed the banking business, and he became an employee of an express firm. In turn the company that had employed James agreed to pay all James Creditors. That was not the end of James problems the company that had bailed James out also was closed. After the closing, of the company, James with financial help of some friends started a publishing firm. The firm began publication on the 8th of October 1855 (the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulleting). That publication would write about criminal activities and the criminals.

Lell Hawley Woolley was born in 1825, in New York City. He went to California and ventured into gold mining, later he took up hotel keeping. Lell went into business and became a member of the committee of 1856. He was an active member of the committee. He wrote down his experiences with the vigilante group, and his thoughts.

Most of the people that witnessed the atrocities of the crime syndicates, before the formation of the committees, and even after, are exaggerating the power that the crime groups wielded. The committee itself was not also sincere as at times it delivered many judgments that were very much unfair. That led to many people joining the committee not because they were supportive of the committee but to avoid the wrath of the vigilante group. Many criminals joined the vigilante group to avoid arrest and hanging. To some extent the vigilante group was not any better the criminal gangs.

Context & Chronology:

After the dissolution, of the vigilante group crime rate in California soared. On the evening of 17th of November 1855, Mr. Charles Cora, and a United States Marshall called William Richardson, had an argument which resulted in William being shot dead, by Charles. The shooting to death of William took place on Clay Street. Cora was arrested later, and placed under the custody of the City Marshall.

After unsuccessful attempts of inviting James to a duel, a man named Selover resulted to insulting James every evening on his way home. After getting tired of all the insults, James wrote an article about the threats from Selover. In the article, James belittled the gambler, which led to James acquiring more enemies. The case concerning Cora and Richardson held on the 17th of November 1855, James lost faith in the judicial system after it failed to deal with the case in the right manner. When the confrontation finally came, it was not with Selover, but with an ex-convict turn politician called James P. The politician was known for cheating in elections by stuffing ballot boxes. He even had a publication Sunday Times even though the politician could not write a word. The politician had two secrets that were very sensitive; one was the fact that he stuffed boxes, and the other being that at one time, he served time at the Sing Sing jail in New York for robbery. Cora had been jailed for 18 months for the crime.

On May 14th 1856 James published an article referring to a fight between Casey, and Bagley. James went ahead to mention the two sensitive issues that the politician did not want known. In the same evening after the publication of the article, Casey confronted King asking about the article. Casey and King used their respective publications to attack each other and in that enmity between the two intensified. At around five in the evening, Casey intercepted King, and shot him. Casey was arrested immediately locked up at a local station and King taken to the offices of the Pacific Express. Immediately after, James was shot, large group of people poured into the street calling for the hanging of the alleged shooter. The action of the crowd forced the authorities to take Casey to the county jail which was more place than the local station. The crowd followed Casey to the county jail demanding that he should be hanged, the town mayor Van Ness tried talking to the crowd, but they would not listen. Instead, the crowd remonstrated calling for the man charged with shooting Marshal to be hanged. That marked the return of the vigilante group. Military officers had to be called in to guard the county jail, the crowd then dispersed.

On 18th May 1856, which was on a Sunday, The vigilante group went to the county jail, and requested for the sheriff to hand over Casey to the committee. Without delay, the sheriff handed Casey over to the committee in handcuffs after informing Casey that the vigilantes wanted him. After following the laid down protocol, the county sheriff handed Casey over to the vigilante group. The vigilante group had surrounded the jail armed with weapons in case the sheriff refused to hand over; the vigilante had resolved to attack the prison. Casey was then ushered into a coach under heavy escort by the armed vigilante group. Casey was then taken to the vigilante group headquarters on Sacramento Street. Another meeting was later held between the vigilance committee members, and the sheriff. The committee then asked for the handing over of Charles Cora, the person responsible for the death of the Marshall Richardson. The sheriff declined the request, but asked for some time so as to deliberate over the issue. The committee placed a deadline of an hour for the sheriff to decide, but in less than half an hour, the sheriff had made a decision and handed Charles Cora over to the committee members. Casey was then put under arrest in a room at the headquarters. The committee went to jail for the second time to bring Charles Cora. Charles Cora was also escorted in the same manner Casey was escorted. Casey and Charles Cora were left at the committee headquarters, under guard of about three hundred armed men.

By 19th of may, King was still nursing the bullet wound, his condition was not bad, but the next day King’s condition became worse, by 12 o’clock the condition got much worse. King passed away the same day, at the time of the death King was 34 years old.The trial of Casey, and Cora were held on the same day King died. The two suspects were given attorneys to represent them. The suspects were given all the opportunity to make a plea on their cases. The trials took the whole night, and ended the following morning. The two suspects were found guilty of the charges against them. The committee ordered the two suspects to be executed on Friday 23rd may at midday.

Although the main aim, for the vigilante group was to restore sanity. The way they handled cases was suspicious. The case against Charles Cora, and Casey was held at night which was quite unusual. The speed as to which the two suspects were executed proved that the vigilante group main aim was not justice. The main aim was to get rid of the two suspects whom they had already branded criminals even before the committing of the crimes of murder. At the time, political offices were of importance; this can be proved by the extent as to which some went to ensure victory. It is alleged that Casey was known to stuff ballot boxes, but there is some extent of bias against Casey, if the people were aware of the cheating, why was something not done about it?. In the case, of Casey most of the witnesses were totally against everything Casey did even if what Casey was doing was right. King attacked Casey using publications, but when Casey did the same the public was not impressed.


After several years of suffering, the first vigilance group brought some sanity to California. The main concern at the time, was the method the group used to get rid of crime and criminals. There was no law to guide the group, which later caused the group to be disbanded. The importance of the group is noticed later when the rate of crime escalates following the disbandment of the vigilante group. When the first vigilante group was formed on the 9th July 1851 after a spate of crimes, the vigilante managed to reduce the crime rate.

Even though, the aim of forming the vigilante was to fight crime, some criminal elements joined the vigilante to avoid arrest, and execution. With time, the criminals within the vigilante took advantage of their position to harass people and involve in crime.

The event of the 1856 has had effects on the State of California. Since the time of the gold rush in California, the economic growth rose as many people came to California and invested, thus encouraging the development. When the crime rate rose, some investors moved away thus affecting the growth of California. Due to the insecurity life was lost, and many children were left without dads who were the bread winners, thus the lives of the children were affected in a major way. Much later the politicians who came in later, used issues of insecurity to campaign, such that the political landscape of California was changed by the incidences of the vigilance commission, and the effects of the activities surrounding the formation of the committee.


The discovery of Gold at the foot hills in Sierra Nevada in the year 1848, most of the people rushed to California. At the time, California was not densely populated, there were a few people living in California at the time such as the American settlers who were involved in small scale trading.

The law abiding citizens who were tired of the criminal gangs came together in 1851 to deal with the criminal elements. It was a temporary solution to the menace of the criminals. The gangs were got rid of but after the disbandment of the group the gangs returned. The death of James is what brought the vigilantes back as they lost faith in the judiciary. This turn of events proved that the society could not rely on the police to protect them. Corruption had also prospered in California. This gave the criminals the leeway of committing a crime without fear. Some prominent people hired some goons to intimidate the law abiding citizens. Elections were not won fairly as the people who conducted examinations were compromised. Votes were sold and bought in the open. Voters were also brought into some districts to help a certain candidate win the elections. Laws were not followed as the persons in charge of implementing the rules could bend the rules to favor their current situation. Some politicians resulted into unruly behaviors such as beating up of political opponents on a claim that they had insulted them. Another incidence of corruption was the case involving Casey, whom had shot, and killed a US marshal, in broad day light, in front of other eye witnesses, but the jury involved in the case failed to reach a decision, and decided to release Cora. The decision angered the citizens. From the experiences before, during, and after the committee corruption was high, and that contributed to the rise of crime even during the day as the criminals had the support of the powerful people at the time. The citizens of California had acted on their own defense and could not be blamed for trying to protect themselves.

Bannister, J. (2000). Changelings. London: Macmillan.

Grayson, G. W. (2011). Threat posed by mounting vigilantism in Mexico. London, England: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College.

Griffin, W. E., & Butterworth, W. E. (2010). The vigilantes (Large print ed.). New York: Thorndike Press.

Penney, S. (2007). The tenderness of wolves. New York: Thorndike Press.

Roth, M. P. (2001). Historical dictionary of law enforcement. London, England: Greenwood Press.

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