History of the Bench and Bar of California

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B. F. WASHINGTON. by Shuck, Oscar Tully

History of the Bench and Bar of California




Shuck, Oscar Tully








The Commercial Printing House Los Angeles 1901

Topics Biography,Law,Communications,Gold Rush,Politics

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B. F. Washington died at San Francisco January 22. 1872 . He was born in Jefferson county, Virginia, in 1820 was admitted to the bar in Virginia, and practiced there some years. He came to California in 1850 , and in that year was elected the first recorder or police judge of Sacramento city. At the end of his term he resumed law practice in Sacramento. In 1852 he became editor and part proprietor of the Democratic State Journal at Sacramento. He became also part owner of the Times and Transcript in the same city. He fought his duel with Washburn when he was editing that paper.

Washington was collector of the port of San Francisco under President Buchanan, 1857 - 1860 . He was editor of the San Francisco Examiner from June 1863 until his last illness, six weeks before his death. In 1868 he was a member of the Board of Tide Land Commissioners appointed by Governor Haight, his term lasting four years. He left two sons and two daughters, who are still living. He was a large man, over six feet in height. He had decided gifts as an orator and a poet. His death occurred when he was fifty-two years old, January 22, 1872 . The duel with Washburn (C. A.), who was editor of the Alta-California, took place on the San Jose road near the bay shore on the morning of March 21st, 1854 The weapons were rifles, distance fifty paces. The seconds of Washburn were Benjamin S. Lippincott and George Wilkes. Those of Washington were Phil. T. Herbert and J. Watson. At the first fire, owing to some misunderstanding in regard to giving the word, only Washburn fired. Washington having handed his weapon to one of his seconds, who in his excitement, fired it in the air. On the second attempt Washburn's piece was accidentally discharged in the ground. They fired again without either being injured, Washington's bullet passing through Washburn's hat. A fourth exchange of shots was had without harm, but the weapons were loaded again, and now, on the fifth exchange, both parties fired simultaneously. Washington was unhurt, but Washburn had the point of his shoulder-blade shattered, the ball lodging in his back. It was a serious wound, but he recovered. He became United States minister to Paraguay, by appointment of President Lincoln.

The Field of Honor: Historic Duels in California. Robert Tevis and Charles E. Lippincott and Their Duel in 1855, pp. 237-240.

We give Calvin B. McDonald's account of this fatal meeting, as published by the Sacramento Record-Union in 1879 . It is as vivid a picture as he ever drew. Calvin B. McDonald was assistant editor of the Evening Journal in 1860-61; later editor of D. O. McCarthy's American Flag, 1865-66 . He was sometimes called "The Triple Thunderer." We were city editor of the Examiner when Dickens died, and the editor-in-chief, B. F. Washington , consented to the employment of McDonald specially to write an editorial on Dickens. This was in 1870. Not long afterwards, the two editors became personal enemies and waged war upon each other in their editorial columns. Both have been dead for many years.

In 1855 there came to this State a female temperance-lecturer. Miss Sarah Pellet, a friend of Lucy Stone Blackwell, Antoinette Brown and that confederation of lady reformers. She was young, intelligent, good-looking, and pure, and will be kindly remembered by many who shall read this sketch. The writer of this was then conducting the Sierra Citizen at Downieville, and Miss Pellet having been scurrilously referred to by certain other papers, she there found defenders, came to Downieville, and we became fast friends. Through her exertions a large and flourishing division of the Sons of Temperance was there established, and all the respectable young men temporarily stopped drinking and became enthusiastic advocates of total abstinence. A temperance Fourth-of-July celebration was projected, and we nominated our friend, Miss Pellet, to make the oration, and notwithstanding a strong prejudice against women orators, succeeded in procuring her the coveted invitation. A short time before that, Mr. Robert Tevis. a promising young lawyer, and a brother of Lloyd Tevis, of San Francisco, who had come there to run for Congress, joined the Temperance Division, and was anxious to make the speech in order to present himself favorably to the public. He was hard to be put off, and was never reconciled to the disappointment; though, to pacify his opposition to the lady speaker, he was appointed to read the Declaration of Independence, with the privilege of making some remarks on the illustrious document. The glorious Fourth shone brightly on two or three thousand people. The celebration began with a salvo of all the anvils in town; the primitive band blew the blast of Freedom through patriotic brass, and Mr. Tevis, having read, began to comment on the Declaration in a long speech, greatly to the displeasure of the gallant sons. In order to terminate his misappropriate oration, the anvils were set to firing with such a thundering and consecutive noise that nothing else could be heard, and Mr. Tevis, being very angry, gave way for the orator and sat down. The event made a great deal of talk, and brought the ambitious young man into very unpleasant notoriety instead of fame. The Democratic party had procured the use of two columns of the local paper, and had appointed as editor the Hon. Charles E. Lippincott, State Senator from Yuba county. Lippincott had a keen appreciation of the ludicrous, and as Tevis was a Know-Nothing. he took occasion to roast the unfortunate young man in the Democratic corner of the paper, and it created a great deal of fun in the town. The next day Mr. Tevis came to me -- I had no jurisdiction in the Democratic side of the paper -- and demanded the publication of a card which pronounced the author of Lippincott's article "a liar and a slanderer." He was white with rage, and trembling, and would not be reasoned with. Knowing the nature of his antagonist and his deadly skill with arms, I tried to dissuade Tevis from the rash and dangerous publication, and dwelt on the inevitable consequence. But he would hear nothing; he wanted to fight, he said, and would fight, in the street or otherwise; and if the card was not published he would consider it an act of hostility to himself; and so the unconscious type gave out the fatal impress, and a challenge from Lippincott followed promptly, and was as promptly accepted. The difficulty took a political shape -- Democrats and Know Nothings -- though some leading Democrats did their best to prevent the meeting. Both belligerents belonged to the order of Odd Fellows, but as neither was a member of the local lodge, no direct authority could be imposed, though the good brethren kept in session all night devising means to prevent the encounter. Several times the difficulty was supposed to be settled, but as often it would be renewed by certain chivalric vagabonds, who seemed eager to see bloodshed when not flowing from their own veins. Morning came; the forenoon passed. The peace-makers having been so often baffled, gave up their humane exertions, and it was understood that the fight would come off that afternoon. In the meantime the principals and their friends had gone to the wood, the public not knowing when or where, and the sheriff was in pursuit. The duelling ground had been selected some six miles from town, on a flat near the top of the lofty hills of Sierra county, where never a bird sings and where the somber fir trees spread their eternal pall; but when nearly ready for their sanguinary proceedings the sheriff and his posse were descried on a distant eminence, and the duelling party moved into an adjacent county, beyond the jurisdiction of the pursuers. There another arena was prepared, and the great act of the tragedy was ready to come on. In the meanwhile the principals had been away with their seconds in opposite directions, practicing with double-barreled shotguns, loaded with ball, at forty yards -- the weapons and distance agreed on -- and I was afterward told that each had broken a bottle at the word. Lippincott was a low, heavy-set man with light hair, piercing black eyes, deliberate and resolute in his speech, and with that peculiar physical structure indicating steadiness and self-possession. He was the son of a clergyman in Illinois, and was exemplary in his habits, except the ordinary drinking of that time; was highly cultivated in mind, and was an exceedingly good humorous and sentimental writer. He declared he did not wish to kill his adversary, to whom he had never spoken in person; did not want to fight if it could be avoided, but the nature of the public insult and the customs of the time compelled him to send the challenge. During a previous winter he had been engaged in hunting deer and bear, and was known to be a remarkably good woodsman. In making his choice of weapons, Tevis unknowingly selected those with which his adversary was most familiar, double-barreled shotguns, carrying ounce balls. Mr. Tevis was a tall, spare man, of a highly nervous and excitable temperament. He came from Kentucky, and possessed the ideas of chivalry and honor prevailing at the South, and was an excellent sporting marksman, but too little skilled in woodcraft to know that in shooting down hill one should aim low, else he will overreach the mark. He was possessed of good natural abilities, but was somewhat eccentric in manner, and did not possess the element of popularity. In walking out with him on the evening before the meeting I observed his manner was abstracted and his speech confused and faltering as he talked of his solemn situation, but his courage and resolution were unwavering, and he seemed absolutely athirst to spill the blood of the one who had made him the object of mortifying ridicule. This was our last interview and his last night upon earth; and the pale, ghost-like face, as it then appeared in the twilight when he walked under the frowning hills and beside the resounding river, hangs in my memory to this day. I had seen the bounding deer sink down before the aim of his iron-nerved antagonist, and felt then that he was a doomed man walking the lonely outskirts of the world. The combatants took their places, forty yards apart; the ground was a little sloping, and the highest situation fell to the lot of Tevis. The sun was going down upon the peace and happiness of two families far away, and upon a brilliant young man's ambition and life. As his second walked away he turned toward Tevis and laid his finger on his own breast, as an indication where to aim, and Lippincott observed the gesture and fixed his eyes on the same place. The word was given; both guns cracked at the same instant. Tevis sank down, shot directly through the heart, and a lock of hair fell from near Lippincott's ear. The fallen man had not made the necessary allowance for descending ground, and his murderous lead had passed directly over his adversary's left shoulder, grazing his face. His wound was frightful, as though it had been bored through with an auger, and the ground was horrible with its sanguine libation. The survivor and his friends took their departure, and the dead man was temporarily buried in that lonely place, which in the gathering twilight seemed like the chosen abode of the genius of solitude. On the following day the body was taken up, properly enclosed, packed on a mule to Downieville, and interred in the bleak hillside cemetery. The funeral was very large, and demonstrative, and seemed to be a death-rite performed by the Know Nothing party; and although the duel had been fair enough, according to the murderous code, the better class of citizens regarded Tevis as the victim of that fell and devilish spirit which has stained the history of our State with human blood. Lippincott fled to Nevada; and when he afterward returned to Downieville, he felt himself like another Ishmael. Old friends extended their hands reluctantly, and then the man of sensibility felt that he was overshadowed by that voiceless, noiseless, horrible thing which made a coward of Macbeth. Miss Pellet, regarding herself as the innocent cause of the duel, stood courageously by her friend, visited him in his exile, exerted all her personal influence to reconcile public opinion to the survivor, and behaved altogether like a brave, true-hearted woman, as she was and still is, in her fancied mission of reform. After completing his term in the State Senate, Mr. Lippincott returned to his home in Illinois, to find his reverend father dying. I heard that his son's connection with the fatal duel broke the good man's heart, and he died. At the outbreak of the war, Lippincott joined the Union armies, distinguished himself in battle by his reckless daring, and became a Brigadier-General. He was afterward the Republican State auditor of Illinois. If this brief sketch should come to the attention of his personal or political friends, let them know that his career in California was distinguished and honorable; that he was respected and beloved by his acquaintances, and that his unhappy entanglement in the duel resulted from his position and the prevailing spirit of border life. At that time a politician who would have suffered himself to be published a liar and a slanderer, without prompt resentment, would have been considered as disgraced by most of his fellow-citizens. Mr. Lippincott was an intimate friend and strong supporter of the late Senator Broderick , and was by him regarded as hie ablest advocate and partisan. Miss Pellet went to Oregon, and there, while a gallant settler went to pilot and protect her through the wilderness, the savages came upon and murdered his family and burnt his house. So did disaster seem to follow the poor girl. Afterward she returned across the plains to the East, and I have lately heard of her at a woman suffrage convention in Syracuse. Her temperance division at Downieville has melted away; some of her cold-water converts are dead; others have been separated from their families by the foul fiend whom she almost drove from the place, and one remains to be the brief historian of her memorable and melancholy campaign. And so swiftly turns the whirligig of time.

John G. Jury. Lynch Law in California.

The Remarkable Contempt Case of Philosopher Pickett, 267-268

A certain young man of San Francisco, before his admission to the bar, in speaking to us of a vagrant, was unable to recall the exact statutory words, "having no visible means of support," and said that the man had an "invisible means of support." Pickett had "an invisible means of support." The affairs and fate of political parties, states and empires were of pressing concern to him, and he always felt himself competent to discourse of them. He could not be accused of idleness. Plis friends (or critics) who had dubbed him "philosopher," called his papers "pronunciamentos." For some of these, it may be for most of them in the earliest days, he got some pay from newspapers, but adversity soon came, and abided with him. He kept up appearances quite creditably. We were in the sanctum of the San Francisco Examiner in 1870 , sitting close to Colonel B. F. Washington , the editor-in-chief, and Geo. P. Johnston , the exchange editor and part owner, when Pickett entered, holding one of his long manuscripts in his hand. (Washington and Johnston were interesting interesting men. For the duels in which they took part, see other pages of this History.) Laying his paper on the editor's table, Pickett said: "I haven't put any heading on this, Washington ; please read it, and give it a proper caption." Johnston, always instantaneous, said, "Washington, call it 'The Ravings of a Maniac' " Pickett went right out, saying nothing, but showing he was hurt. </hr>

Joseph W. Winans, p. 450

In 1850 , within a year after his arrival there, he was the Whig candidate for Criminal Judge, then called Recorder -- of Sacramento city, but was defeated by B. F. Washington, the Democratic nominee. From 1852 to 1854, Mr. Winans was city attorney of Sacramento. In 1858 , he was chosen president of the Sacramento Library Association.