June 25, 2005

John Tierney's "Mild, Mild" West

Tierney's latest sounds reasonable:

Roger McGrath, a historian who studied dozens of Western mining camps and towns, found a high rate of homicide in them mainly because it was socially acceptable for young, drunk single men to resolve points of honor by fighting to the death. But other violence wasn't tolerated, he said.

'It was a rather polite and civil society enforced by armed men,' Dr. McGrath said. 'The rate of burglary and robbery was lower than in American cities today. Claim-jumping was rare. Rape was extraordinarily rare - you can argue it wasn't being reported, but I've never seen evidence hinting at that.'

It sounds like the utopian visions of the NRA: arm everybody, and no-one will dare attempt a violent crime. Because, of course, there's no justice like angry mob justice.

The town I grew up in is about eight miles from the site gold was discovered in California in 1848. In the 1850s and 1860s, Placerville was one of the largest white communities in what is today the state of California. At the time, it was known as Hangtown, and it was just the sort of law-abiding little gold rush boomtown Tierney's contrarian Ph.D is talking about. You see, if anyone was suspected of committing a crime here, they were hanged from a large tree at one end of Main Street.

The first lynching in the camp, a triple hanging, came after a gang of five tried to rob a miner of his gold dust. They were caught and each received a whipping of nearly 40 strokes. Then someone in the crowd of 2,000 said he recognized three of the five (two Mexicans and one Yankee, or was it two Frenchmen and a Chilean?) as being wanted for involvement with a murder on the Stanislaus River. At that the three suspects, who were still weak from the flogging they took, were immediately tried, sentenced and hanged by the crowd. There was one dissenter, E.G. Buffum, who stood on a stump and protested on behalf of the accused, saying they were too weak from loss of blood to either stand or speak in their own defense. His valiant efforts were in vain, however, and he himself was threatened with lynching by the angry mob if he didn't 'shut up'. Buffum escaped with his life and later became the senior editor of the Alta newspaper in San Francisco. The three suspects were hanged together from the huge oak tree in camp. The location of this well-used hangin' tree is marked by a dummy dangling from the second story of the Hangman's Tree Historic Spot in downtown Placerville.

Now that's mild!

The dummy actually got taken down three or four years ago. The Chamber of Commerce decided it was giving tourists the impression that the town had a history of mob violence.

Due process? Rules of evidence? Psh! Someone in a crowd says you might be guilty, that's all the evidence John "Let God Sort 'Em Out" Tierney needs!

No comments: