Hounds and Harlots
There was such a dearth of females in the San Francisco of gold-rush days that a woman was almost as rare a sight as an elephant, while a child was an even more unusual spectacle. It is doubtful if the so-called fair sex ever before or since received such adulation and homage anywhere in the United States; even prostitutes, ordinarily scorned and ostracized by their honest and respectable customers, were treated with an exaggerated deference. Men stood for hours watching the few children at play; and whenever a woman appeared on the street, business was practically suspended. She was followed through the town by an adoring crowd, while self-appointed committees marched ahead to clear the way and to protect her from the too boisterous salutations of the emotional miners.
Once while an important auction of city lots was in progress in a Montgomery Street building, a man poked his head into the auction room and shouted: "Two ladies going by on the sidewalk!" The entire crowd immediately abandoned the auction and rushed into the street to watch the women pass. It is related that they bared their heads in reverence, but that part of the story is probably the added touch of the incorrigible romancer.
According to one historian, there were only fifteen white women in San Francisco in the spring of 1849, but his estimate may be doubted,
for San Franciscans were inclined to regard as white only natives of the United States and of a few European countries. In any event,
however, the female population probably did not exceed three hundred for at least a year after the beginning of the gold excitement. Of this
number, perhaps two-thirds were harlots from Mexico, Peru, and Chili. Together with male natives of these and other Central and South
American countries, they were known in San Francisco by the generic name of Chilenos, or, contemptuously, "greasers." These
pioneer prostitutes occupied tents and board shanties in the vicinity of Clark's Point, about where Broadway and Pacific Street run into the
Bay, and on the eastern and southern slopes of Telegraph Hill, a three-hundred-foot elevation west and north of Yerba Buena Cove, from
the summit of which the arrival of ships off the Golden Gate was signaled to the town in the valley and along the beach. Sometimes as
many as half a dozen Chileno women used the same rude shelter, receiving their visitors singly or en suite, with no regard whatever for
privacy, and no furniture excepting a wash-bowl and a few dilapidated cots or straw pallets. A few made pretense of operating
wash-houses, but there were scarcely any who did not devote the nights to bawdy carousal and to sexual excesses and exhibitions. And
the days, also, if there was opportunity. Many of the men who had brought them to California had gone on to the gold-fields, but others
had remained in San Francisco, where they dwelt promiscuously with the harlots. They lived off the earnings of the women and what they
could steal from the men who frequented the district. They also operated a few small, crooked gambling houses.
During the first six months of 1850 approximately two thousand women, most of whom were harlots also, arrived in San Francisco from
France and other European countries and from the Eastern and Southern cities of the United States, principally New York and New
Orleans. Thereafter they came on every ship, and within a few years San Francisco possessed a red-light district that was larger than those
of many cities several times its size. Moreover, it was at least as cosmopolitan as the remainder of the population; it has been said that by
the end of 1852 there was no country in the world that was not represented in San Francisco by at least one prostitute. In October 1850
the Pacific News announced that nine hundred more women of the French demi-monde, carefully chosen from the bagnios of Paris and
Marseilles for their beauty, amiability, and skill, were expected, and in the same issue delicately informed its readers that in the mines
Indian women were available "at reasonable prices." Unfortunately only fifty of the French women arrived, but that was a sufficient number
to cause considerable commotion among the miners, who were naturally eager to determine for themselves if the ladies were as adept in
the practice of their profession as was popularly supposed. Most of these accomplished courtesans were attended by their pimps, whom
they called macquereaux, a designation which the forthright San Franciscans soon shortened to "macks." These unsavory gentry are still
so called in San Francisco, although the red-light district was officially abolished some twenty years ago, and the city now, of course, has
The lowest of the newly arrived harlots joined their sisters in sin in the shabby dives on Telegraph Hill and along the waterfront, but others
opened, or became inmates of, elaborate establishments around Portsmouth Square. By close and diligent attention to business, many of
these women amassed fortunes; one popular French courtesan is said to have banked fifty thousand dollars clear profit during her first year
of professional activity in the New World. Several married prominent men, and themselves became ladies of consequence, successfully
persuading the dead past to bury its dead. Because of the lack of virtuous women, the prostitutes, especially those who dwelt in the
elegant bagnios on Portsmouth Square, took an active part in the social life of early San Francisco. They were in particular much sought
after as partners at the fancy-dress and masquerade balls with which the frolicsome miner sought to divert himself. There, according to an
early historian, " the most extraordinary scenes were exhibited, as might have been expected when the actors and dancers were chiefly
hot-headed young men, flush of money and half frantic with excitement, and lewd girls, freed from the necessity of all moral restraint."
These functions were usually held in one of the large gambling houses, the gaming tables being temporarily moved to one side to make
room for the festivities, although play never ceased. They were announced to the public by notices in the newspapers, and by placards
posted in the streets and public houses, all bearing in large letters the warning: "NO WEAPONS ADMITTED."
Several men were stationed at the door, and as each prospective merry-maker entered, he was required to surrender, for the duration of
the festivities, his knife, revolver, or pistol, for which he received a check. If anyone protested that he carried no weapon, the statement
was considered so preposterous that he was promptly searched. Almost invariably a knife or a fire-arm was found secreted in some
unusual part of his clothing. Music for the dancing was furnished by the regular gambling-house orchestra, but on the program of
entertainment there was always a soloist who sang at least once, to the air of O Susannah! the miners' favorite song:
I came from Quakerdelphia,
With my washbowl on my knee;
I'm going to California,
The gold dust for to see.
It rained all night the day I left,
The weather it was dry;
The sun so hot I froze to death,
Oh, Anna, don't you cry.
Oh, Ann Eliza!
Don't you cry for me.
I'm going to California
With my washbowl on my knee.
I soon shall be in Frisco,
And then I'll look around;
And when I see the gold lumps there
I'll pick them off the ground.
I'll scrape the mountains clean, old girl;
I'll drain the rivers dry;
A pocketful of rocks bring back,
So, Anna, don't you cry.
Sometimes the mistresses of the large harlotry establishments presided at elaborate social affairs to which they invited the most important
men of the town. They cannily succeeded in combining pleasure with profit by introducing new girls to their guests, by presenting old
favorites in new exhibitions, and by charging outrageous prices for liquor served during the function. Occasionally, however, these
gatherings were almost painfully respectable. One such is thus described in The Annals of San Francisco:
"See yonder house. Its curtains are of the purest white lace embroidered, and crimson damask. Go in. All the fixtures are of a keeping,
most expensive, most voluptuous, most gorgeous. . . .It is a soirée night. The 'lady' of the establishment has sent most polite invitations,
got up on the finest and most beautifully embossed note paper, to all the principal gentlemen of the city, including collector of the port,
mayor, aldermen, judges of the county, and members of the legislature. A splendid band of music is in attendance. Away over the Turkey
or Brussels carpet whirls the politician with some sparkling beauty, as fair as frail; and the judge joins in and enjoys the dance in company
with the beautiful but lost beings, whom to-morrow, he may send to the house of correction. Everything is conducted with the utmost
propriety. Not an unbecoming word is heard, not an objectionable action seen. The girls are on their good behavior, and are proud once
more to move and act and appear as ladies. Did you not know, you would not suspect that you were in one of those dreadful places so
vividly described by Solomon. . . .But the dance is over; now for the supper table. Every thing within the bounds of the market and the skill
of the cook and confectioner, is before you. Opposite and by your side, that which nor cook nor confectioner's skill have made what they
are-cheeks where the ravages of dissipation have been skilfully hidden, and eyes with pristine brilliancy undimmed, or even heightened by
the spirit of the recent champagne. And here the illusion fades. The champagne alone is paid for. The soirée has cost the mistress one
thousand dollars, and at the supper and during the night she sells twelve dozen of champagne at ten dollars a bottle! . . .No loafers present,
but the male ton; vice hides itself for the occasion, and staid dignity bends from its position to twine a few flowers of social pleasure
around the heads and hearts of these poor outcasts of society."
Curiously enough, the first important outbreak of criminal violence in San Francisco did not originate in the vice-ridden areas around
Clark's Point and on the slopes of Telegraph Hill, nor was it instigated by the wretched Chilenos who dwelt there in the utmost misery and
degradation. On the contrary, it was to a very large extent directed against them, and the decent citizens of the town were driven into the
paradoxical position of defending a colony of depraved women against the attacks of an organization of vicious men. Moreover, it was
part and parcel of the systematic and heartless persecution of the Spanish-American which began in the gold-fields, soon extended to the
towns and cities, and remains one of the blackest pages of California's history. The miners, particularly those from other parts of the
United States, harassed the poor "greaser" in every conceivable manner, stealing and destroying his goods and mining equipment, driving
him from his claims and farms, raping his women, beating his children, flogging or killing him on little or no provocation, and hanging him
with elaborate pretensions to justice if he so much as attempted to defend himself or failed promptly to vacate property which an American
desired. In one of the most celebrated of many such examples of brutality the miners at Downieville lynched a young Mexican woman,
mistress of a gambler, for stabbing to death an American miner who had broken into her cabin during the absence of her lover and
assaulted her. When the mob seized her, there was a great roar of "Give her a fair trial and hang her!" which aptly expressed the sentiment
that prevailed throughout California. A physician who testified that the girl was pregnant and therefore in no condition to be hanged was
compelled to leave the district. Another man who tried to interfere with the lynching was dragged bodily from the platform of the scaffold
and literally kicked out of the town. The miners arranged themselves in two lines and buffeted him as he ran the gantlet.
The immediate cause of the ill treatment of Spanish-Americans was probably anger and jealousy over the fact that they, being first on the
ground, had naturally occupied the richest diggings. But much of it was doubtless due to the widespread and pernicious influence of the
Know-Nothing or Native American party, which had already won municipal elections in Boston and New York and was waging a strong
campaign for control of the national government, on a platform that was violently anti-foreign and anti-Catholic. Also, many prominent
American politicians and office-holders frequently berated all foreigners as trespassers upon the public domain, and demanded their
expulsion. Among them was General Persifer F. Smith of the United States Army, who announced at Panama in January 1849, while en
route to San Francisco, that only native Americans were entitled to share in California's riches, and that he proposed to drive all foreigners
from the gold-fields. Luckily, he never attempted to enforce these views, but the fact that he held and had publicly expressed them soon
became widely known, and encouraged the miners and the city mobs in their brutal excesses.
Particularly susceptible to this sort of jingoism were the fifty or sixty young thugs who comprised an organization known at first as the
Hounds and later as the San Francisco Society of Regulators. Despite this high-sounding title, they were never anything more than an
aggregation of thieves and ruffians, whose principal occupation was maltreating the Spanish-Americans. Under pretense of a fervent and
belligerent patriotism, the Hounds beat, stabbed, and shot the helpless Chilenos whenever opportunity offered; systematically extorted gold
and jewelry from the few who had acquired wealth; burned and otherwise destroyed their tents and cabins; and made frequent forays
against the colony of harlots at Clark's Point and on the slopes of Telegraph Hill, where they raped the women, tore down their shelters,
and carried off their meager belongings. "With the coolest impudence," wrote Bancroft, "the Hounds asserted their determination to
protect American citizens against Spanish-speaking foreigners, and sometimes claimed to have instructions from the Alcalde to extirpate
the Mexicans and Chileans."
Practically the entire membership of the Hounds had come to San Francisco as members of Colonel Jonathan D. Stevenson's regiment of
volunteers, which had been recruited in New York to fight against Mexico. The troops reached the Pacific Coast in March 1847, after the
war had ended, and the regiment was immediately broken up. Detachments were stationed at San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Sonoma,
and Monterey. All had been discharged from the Army by October 1848, although scores had deserted long before then to try their luck
in the gold-fields. When Colonel Stevenson was organizing his command, he announced that he would accept only young men of proved
good character, and that they must be willing to remain in California after their term of military service had expired and help settle the
country. There were, of course, many honest and upright young men among the thousand who followed Colonel Stevenson, but there were
also many young rowdies who had been trained in fighting, stealing, and brawling as runners or members of the New York fire-engine
companies; and many others who had owed allegiance to the Bowery Boys, the Dead Rabbits, the Plug Uglies, and the other great gangs
of the Bowery and the Five Points. They caused trouble not only in San Francisco but in the mines and other California towns as well.
Some threescore of these youthful blackguards organized the Hounds some time in the late autumn of 1848, under the leadership of Sam
Roberts, who had been a member of Company E, of Stevenson's regiment. Roberts usurped the title of Lieutenant and wore full
regimentals, while his followers likewise strutted about the streets in military dress. The favorite loafing-place of the Hounds was a saloon
known as the Shades, in Kearny Street, but their official headquarters was a large tent at Kearny and Commercial streets. This they called
Tammany Hall, a fact which sufficiently indicated their place of origin. They made a pretense of military organization and discipline, drilling
regularly with muskets and swords, while in their tent was a drum on which "assembly" was beaten whenever their chieftains desired to
lead them into mischief. Each Sunday afternoon, and sometimes on week-days, they paraded the streets, with fife and drum playing and
flags and banners waving. Usually they climaxed these exhibitions of strength with attacks on the Chileno quarter. For several months no
one interfered with them, and at no time did the impotent authorities of San Francisco make any effort to stop their outrages. While it is
probably not true that the Hounds had been definitely instructed by the Alcalde to rid the town of Spanish-Americans, it is certain that the
desperadoes were encouraged by many very influential men who subscribed to the Know Nothing doctrines. In particular, they were the
pets of the politicians, most of whom had learned the arts of chicanery as henchmen of New York's Tammany Hall and who had already
begun to despoil the city treasury.
At first the Hounds confined their attacks to the tents, shanties, and other property of the Chilenos, but during the early summer of 1849
they became bolder. It was about this time that they began to call themselves Regulators and brazenly announced that they expected the
people of San Francisco to support them, and to pay them well for protecting the city against the Spanish-Americans. Thereafter no man's
life and goods were safe. The Hounds roamed the streets in small and large bands, robbing men and stores in broad day, and beating and
stabbing merchants and others who ventured to dispute their right to take what they wanted without payment. One of their favorite
pastimes was to enter a tavern or saloon, demand the best of food and drink, and then walk out, telling the bar-tender or waiter to collect
from the city. If the landlord protested, they destroyed his furniture or set fire to his building. On the streets men and even women were
compelled to take to the gutters when the Hounds approached. On one occasion a Negro accidentally touched the august person of a
Hound in passing, and his ears were promptly shorn from his head. A few days later a Mexican's tongue was torn out by the roots
because he had replied in kind to an insult hurled at him by one of the thugs.
Despite such atrocities as these, it was not until the middle of the summer of 1849 that the responsible citizens of San Francisco at length
took a hand in the situation. In July one George Frank, a storekeeper, authorized the Hounds to collect a claim of five hundred dollars
against Pedro Cueta, a Chileno. Cueta was unable to pay and, moreover, disputed the claim. On the afternoon of Sunday, July 15, 1849,
the Hounds marched in full battle array from their Tammany Hall and made the most violent of all their onslaughts upon the Chileno tents
and shanties. "These they violently tore down," wrote the authors of The Annals of San Francisco, who saw the attack, "plundering them
of money and valuables, which they carried away, and totally destroying on the spot such articles as they did not think it worth while to
seize. Without provocation, and in cold blood, they barbarously beat with sticks and stones, and cuffed and kicked the offending
foreigners. Not content with that, they repeatedly and wantonly fired among the injured people, and amid the shrieks of terrified women
and the groans of wounded men, recklessly continued their terrible course in different quarters, wherever in fact malice or thirst for plunder
led them. . . .There were no individuals brave or foolhardy enough to resist the progress of such a savage mob, whose exact force was
unknown, but who were believed to be both numerous and desperate."
This outrage aroused the whole town to great excitement. Next morning Samuel Brannan and Captain Bezer Simmons called upon the
Alcalde, Doctor T. M. Leavenworth, and urged him to take some action against the Hounds. Leavenworth protested his inability to cope
with the gang, but was at length persuaded to issue a proclamation asking the citizens to assemble in Portsmouth Square that afternoon at
three o'clock. There Brannan vigorously denounced the Hounds, collected a large sum of money for the relief of the destitute
Spanish-Americans whose homes had been destroyed, and suggested that the meeting appoint a committee to bring the miscreants to
justice. Two hundred and thirty men promptly volunteered for duty as special deputies and were armed with muskets and pistols. They
started immediately in pursuit of the Hounds, who had scattered, terrified at the turn events were taking. Some had fled into the interior,
and others had taken to the Bay in small boats and were trying to reach the Sacramento River. Twenty who had delayed their start were
captured within a few hours, and Roberts, the leader, was arrested on the road to Stockton by A. L. Davis, who was in command of the
armed citizenry. The prisoners were lodged in the brig of the warship Warren, which was anchored in the Bay, and two days later their
trial began before the Alcalde, two associate judges appointed by the mass meeting, and a jury of twelve prominent men. Lawyers were
assigned to defend the accused men, and more than a score of witnesses testified, including several wounded Chilenos who later died. The
jury found Roberts and eight others guilty of rioting, conspiracy, robbery, and assault with intent to kill. Roberts and one Saunders were
each sentenced to ten years in prison at hard labor, and the others to somewhat shorter terms, while heavy fines were imposed upon all
who had been convicted. None of these penalties was actually inflicted, however, for the politicians did not fail the Hounds in their hour of
peril. Within a few days all of the young thugs had been released. But they were so frightened that they made no effort to reorganize, and
soon afterwards most of them left San Francisco.
One of the associate judges who helped the Alcalde try the Hounds was William M. Gwin, later the first United States Senator from
California, and the hero of one of San Francisco's favorite dueling stories. In 1855 Gwin met on the field of honor one Joseph McCorckle.
The duel was fought on a marsh north of the Presidio, several miles from the Gwin home in Jackson Street. Relays of horses were
provided, and a messenger was engaged to carry the news of the duel to Mrs. Gwin. In due time he galloped down Jackson Street, rushed
into the house and shouted:
"The first fire has been exchanged and no one is hurt!"
"Thank God!" cried Mrs. Gwin, and with the other members of her family knelt in prayer.
A little later the messenger again dashed into the house, crying:
"The second fire has been exchanged and no one is hurt!
"Praised be the Lord!" said Mrs. Gwin.
Again the messenger rode down Jackson Street. He knocked at the door, tendered his card, and was ushered into the parlor. When Mrs.
Gwin appeared he said:
"The third fire has been exchanged and no one is hurt!"
"That's good," said Mrs. Gwin.
On his next appearance the messenger was invited to remain for dinner. He ate heartily, and after some casual conversation about the
"Oh, by the way, the fourth fire has been exchanged and no one is hurt. What do you think of that, Mrs. Gwin?"
"I think," said Mrs. Gwin, "that there has been some mighty poor shooting!"
Source: Asbury, Herbert. The Barbary Coast. 1933: New York.