Law and order in the little community known as San Antonio (now Oakland) seemed to be lacking in the 1850s.
Cattle thieves operated boldly. Some were arrested but never brought to trial. Cattle ranchers retaliated with their own solution, which was carried out by a rather sinister bunch of rowdies labeled the "Redwood Boys."
On Aug. 24, 1854, the Daily Alta California reported, "Yesterday morning two men were lynched at San Antonio. The particulars, as nearly as we could ascertain them from authentic sources, are as follows. It is generally known that this section of the State has been for a long time past been cursed with the presence of the most notorious cattle thieves.
"Great efforts have been made to bring these lawless marauders to an account for their manifold depredations, but they have always managed with the aid of a long purse to escape scot free.
"On Tuesday morning, Mr. George Carpenter, with a party of several men, went in search of cattle which had been stolen. In an enclosure for slaughtering cattle they discovered several heads of cattle, three of which were alive and others (about five or six) had been slaughtered. Hides were also found and identified as the hides of cattle stolen about a week since. These were found in a hole, in which they had been placed for concealment."
That evening town butchers Amadee Canu and Pierre Archambault were arrested along with two others, unnamed. Canu reportedly ran the Hotel de France in San Antonio and was supposed to be quite wealthy.
As the word of the arrests spread, a crowd gathered.
"A meeting was held, and the expediency of making terrible examples of the two ill-fated wretches who were the ring leaders was warmly discussed. Many arguments were used pro and con; finally it was determined to take the sense of the assembled multitude by ballot."
The question was whether the two should be turned over to the local justice of the peace or hung on the spot.
It was decided by a single vote that the legal path should be taken. Since there was no jail in San Antonio, the two suspects were placed in the Mansion House Hotel under a heavy guard of volunteers.
The guards were overcome early the next morning by a group of ranchers and a party of men from the redwoods in the hills above San Antonio. Reportedly it was the "Redwood Boys" who hoisted the two on the oak tree behind the Mansion House and hanged them.
"It is only to be regretted that such a stringent measure should have been resorted to. It is a lesson to many others remaining behind, and it is to be hoped that they will profit by it and learn that it will not do to brave the ire of an injured community," the Alta story concluded.
In another section of the same paper the editor blamed the lynching on the failure of authorities to enforce the law.
Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at email@example.com.