A great majority of the people in Sacramento sympathized with the work of San Francisco’s Committee of Vigilance and showed a disposition to both encourage and support it. After Volney Howard replaced William Sherman as commander of the militia and immediately came forth with vile braggadocio such as sweeping the vigilantes into the bay or making the streets of San Francisco run red with rebel gore, the citizens of Sacramento, like those in San Francisco, had called a mass meeting to prevent senseless bloodshed. At that meeting a committee was appointed to implement the wishes of the people. The committee first called on Governor Johnson and asked him to withdraw his proclamation against the vigilantes. To this the governor replied, “Gentlemen, which do you think more proper—for you to come here and ask me to yield to a set of men who openly defy the constitution and laws which I am sworn to defend, or for you to go to San Francisco and ask those men to give up their illegal and dangerous association?”
These few words showed that Johnson was not particularly blood thirsty, but there was little use to press him further about withdrawing his proclamation. The committee resolved to go to San Francisco and see for themselves. A meeting was soon scheduled with the vigilantes for Monday, June 16th. There they expressed the interest and support of the people of Sacramento for the work of the committee, but added that many had apprehensions that the committee might last too long and suggested that a great deal of trouble might be avoided by an early adjournment. To this William Coleman replied, ”Gentlemen, when this committee was formed we had a certain necessary work to perform . . . When that work is done we will disband—and not before. But you may rely on me and every man in the committee that as soon as the work is finished and the order given to disband every member will willingly obey.” The manner and tone with which Coleman spoke convinced the men from Sacramento that they need not apprehend danger here, and they returned home satisfied that the Committee of Vigilance was a far grander organization than they had supposed and that the peace and dignity of the state were as safe in their hands as in any of their elected officers.
John Putnam is the author of Hangtown Creek, a thrilling saga of the early California gold rush available online from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.