California and the Civil War
Contemporary Accounts of California during the Civil War
 

From The Last of the Mill Creeks, and Early Life in Northern California, by Sim Moak (1923)

In 1864 and 1865 there were quite a number of persons sent to Fort Alcatraz from Butte county. There was one who when Lincoln was assassinated, made very filthy remarks about Lincoln and preached Jeff Davis. When Captain Doty, who was in command of the soldiers at Chico, heard of his remarks he detailed three men to bring the man to camp. This man had always made his boast about what he would do if the soldiers tried to get him and packed a large Colt revolver. The soldiers rode to his home and asked for him. His daughter said he was on the plains looking after his stock. They rode away and soon saw a man on horseback. They rode up and one said, "Is your name Stewart."

He said, "Yes," and about that time he was looking in the barrels of two carbines. One rode up and took the revolver. They then tied his feet under the horse's belly and led him to camp. He was sent to Alcatraz for three months.

From My Seventy years in California, 1857-1927, by J.A. Graves, (1927)

In those days, all of these lawyers and, in fact, everybody else, were active politicians. Political feeling ran very high. People took an active interest in politics, turned out at all political rallies and did their best to elect the nominees of their respective parties. There were quite a number of southern sympathizers at Marysville. When President Lincoln was assassinated, some of them rejoiced openly, and they were promptly arrested and confined at Alcatraz Island, in the San Francisco Bay. There was a man named L. W. Thomas, from Tennessee, who was very tall and quite slender. His right hand had been burned when he was a child and his fingers were all twisted up. He could, however, hold a revolver in it and use it effectually. Some female admirer had made him a silk Confederate flag, about six by ten inches in size. The day the assassination of the president was announced, he pinned it on his breast and boldly strutted around the streets of Marysville, hurrahing for Jefferson Davis. He was arrested and taken to Alcatraz. All of these political prisoners were put to breaking rocks and grading paths and roads. Thomas declared that he was a Southern gentleman and declined to work. He was put into the sweat-box repeatedly, but he never yielded. After the excitement had died down, all of these prisoners were discharged without trial and returned to Marysville.

Thomas was quite a wild character and, with the Joe McGee crowd, had been in a number of shooting scrapes. He owned a ranch at Chico, some miles above Marysville. An adjoining neighbor, named Turner, a brother of Judge Turner of the Judge Field episode at Marysville, one day took a shot at Thomas and then jumped behind a tree. The trunk of it was not large and was crooked, so that one of his knees was exposed. Thomas promptly put a bullet through it, and in speaking of the incident he would always say, "Yes, yes, I shot him through the knee to make him bow to a Southern gentleman." After the war, he returned to Tennessee and died there.

When Thomas returned to Tennessee he expected to come back to California. In conversation with Jefferson Davis, ex-president of the Southern Confederacy, he told him that my mother was alive, and Davis gave to Thomas a beautiful letter to be delivered to her, together with an autographed photograph, as follows:

"Jefferson Davis to Mrs. John Q. Graves,
San Francisco, California. July 9, 1870."

From Reminiscences of a Ranger; or, Early times in Southern California. By Major Horace Bell (1881)

Having served his country's flag for four years and eight months and having won a certain amount of distinction in that service, the extent of which may be discovered in the records of the War Department, the author returned to Los Angeles July 31, 1866, bought a ranch and settled down to peaceful agriculture. I now had a wife, whom I had married in the East, and two little children. My reception in the Pueblo was cold. Old friends, with a few honorable exceptions such as Judge A. J. King and Col. E. J. C. Kewen, turned their backs on me. "The idea," said they, "of a Los Angeles man of your stamp fighting on the side of the blacks!"

A short time after my return I narrowly escaped assassination on the road between Los Angeles and El Monte. Failing to get me this time the El Monte "patriots" put up their greatest fighting man to chastise me, and here is what followed:

One afternoon I rode into town from my ranch, hitched my horse on Ducommun's corner * and went into Kraemer's store on Commercial Street to make a purchase for my wife. While in there Polaski, an adjoining storekeeper, entered and whispered to me that a great big man was waiting outside with a whip, intending to chastise me. Such a proposition seemed to me so absurd that I paid no attention; as a matter of fact I was quite proud of my war record and I was not in the frame of mind to accept discipline from any individual, especially from a stay-at-home scoundrel. So, finishing my business I started out, but Polaski again claimed my attention and pointed to a huge man now standing outside the front door. He held a big blacksnake in his hand, butt foremost, and was backed up by a dozen El Monte men who had come in to see the fun.

I saw that it meant a fight so I said, "My dear sir, are you looking for me?" He bristled up and drew back to strike with the blacksnake. I threw the strength of a lifetime into one blow with my fist and caught the fellow on the ear. Down he went his full length, tripping over a boot-box as he fell. I stepped up onto that boot-box and then came down onto that fellow with both feet with sufficient force to break three ribs from his backbone. Then I seized the whip and lit into him. Good old Jose Mascarel, then mayor of Los Angeles, who was himself a giant, caught me from behind with a great grizzly grip and commanded me to keep the peace. By this time the street was crowded and the sentiment turned in my favor so that the El Monte party was jostled and hooted when its members tried to take up the battle. The downfallen blacksnaker tried to get to his feet and come after me as I walked toward my horse. I turned on him and said with apparent ferocity: "Now, sir, you lie right down there again and don't attempt to get up until I am out of sight." The bully flopped, jeered at by the crowd who could not extend their sympathies to such an ignominious champion, and I rode home. It seems that a few minutes before encountering me the El Monte "patriot" had taken by surprise and blacksnaked another man of my build and general appearance whom he mistook for me; and, as I walked away it was amusing to hear this aggrieved victim of mistaken identity say, after he had pushed his way through the crowd to the side of the prostrate form in the street: "Well, you found the right man, did you?"

Now what was this all about?

Simply this: I was the first man to reappear in Los Angeles who had fought on the Union side in the war, and as I had gone from this town to do this nefarious thing, I was simply a red rag to the Secessionist bulls of the vicinity. So in that neighboring hotbed, El Monte, Wiley McNear had been selected as their champion to "put me in my place." To them the war was still going on. McNear was six feet six inches high, weighed two hundred and forty pounds and claimed to be a quarter-breed Cherokee. This claim may or may not have been true, for the ugliest fighting men of the Southwest, to make themselves seem very terrible, always claimed kinship to the Cherokees. This fellow had long been a terror to the few Union sympathizers around the classic Monte. Doctor Whistler and Little Potts were the particular objects of his persecutions.

When Wiley McNear got out of bed six or eight weeks after his misshap with me he found his popularity gone. Whipped by an Abolitionist Yankee--that left him a fallen idol. So great was the disgust of all Montedom that they turned on him cruelly; they put up a rascally job on him, a nefarious, shameless job. They accused him of an infamous crime of which, in my judgment, he was innocent; got him convicted and sent to San Quentin for fourteen years. The poor fellow died there, all because he did not know how to properly "size up" a Yankee.

I got into at least forty other fights after my affair with Wiley McNear, all over the same subject. The Civil War continued to rage here, largely around my person. I was determined to remain here where I wanted to live, and without bragging I will simply state that I held my own in every one of these battles and finally fought my way to respect and peace. How peace was finally achieved was rather amusing.

Not long after my fight with the Monte badman I was passing along Main Street in front of the Downey Block. There were a lot of gamblers and loafers sitting on some boxes whittling and as I went by "Stock," one of the gamblers, remarked, apparently intending that I should hear: "There goes that--that got away with Wiley McNear. I'm going to lay for him."

I pretended not to hear but went straight over to Billy Workman's saddlery store and got a big, loaded rawhide whip and went out to lay for "Stock."

I didn't have long to wait. Los Angeles in those days, 1866-67, was a very sleepy old town. Along about noon time you could ride your horse from Temple Block down Main to the last building, usually, without seeing a person. But to-day I rode past "Stock" as he sauntered by the Courthouse. I continued until I was in front of Rowan's place, where the Natick House * now stands, dismounted and pretended to be adjusting my saddle. As "Stock" walked past I emerged from behind my horse, grabbed the gambler by his long hair, jerked his revolver from its holster and proceeded to give him such a walloping with that whip--oh, such a walloping! Rowan came out and saw me at work. When I let "Stock" go I turned to Rowan and explained my motive.

Still operated as a hotel at Main and First streets. Long a well-known gathering place for old prospectors in from the desert.

"I didn't see a thing, Major," he answered and turned away.

I then went to O. H. Allen, Justice of the Peace, told him what I had done and was fined $5. Judge Allen was a strong Secessionist but an honorable, noble gentleman. He was a member of that great Allen family of Kentucky. I then had a heart to heart talk with the Judge--told him how these fellows were trying to get rid of me and how I proposed to stop it. I told him that I proposed to whip every one of them with a loaded rawhide until they stopped even looking cross-eyed at me.

"Now, Judge," I said, "will you let me off with $5 for each future affair of this kind?"

"Yes," he answered, "if you don't use anything worse than a whip."

Before I was through I had paid in a large sum in five dollar fines to Judge Allen, but had won an absolute and perfect peace. Somehow I always managed to "get there first" with my enemies, before they could draw on me, and after their chastisements, which always called down on them the ridicule of the onlookers no matter where their sympathy originally lay, they seemed too humiliated to follow the matter up with a gun.

 
 
 
 
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Updated 8 February 2016