Events of 1857

These are some of the headline stories of the year that everyone has heard of and has an opinion.

January 1857
• Everyone from San Francisco to San Diego feels the great “Fort Tejon” earthquake. The aftershocks go on for days, and people say the ground is ripped open for 20 miles in southern California from Fort Tejon to Parkfield. Even the old timers say they never felt anything like it.

March 1857
James Buchanan inaugurated as president. California’s own John Fremont (“The Pathfinder”) seemed poised to win the election; but then the Know-Nothings split the vote and the Democrats threatened war if any Republican took office. In the end even California turned her back on Fremont.

• Dred Scott Decision released, tearing up the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and casting doubt on the Compromise of 1850 and the Nebraska-Kansas Act.

May 1857
• Under pressure from Central American governments, the U.S. Navy arrests the notorious filibuster William Walker and his 300 troops – ending Walker’s attempt to overthrow the government of Nicaragua and install a pro-US government that would expand the trans-oceanic trade routes. Walker is repatriated to the U.S. where he is greeted as a hero by the American people upon his arrival in New York.

June 1857
• Oregon votes to establish a constitution and petition for statehood. At this same vote, measures to allow slavery and to allow free Blacks to live in Oregon were both defeated. The sixty delegates meet in Salem starting in mid-August.

July 1857
• San Francisco introduces a Stamp Tax on all bills of exchange, mortgages and deeds. Seems the tax man can follow you to the end of the earth.

• The Pioneer Stage Line opens service from Placerville, California to Carson River Valley (Mormon Station, Utah Territory) marking the first coach service across the Sierra Nevada.

• Responding to national outrage over the immoral practice of plural marriage and flagrant disregard for national authority, Buchanan sends troops into the Utah Territory in what is being called the “Utah Expedition” or sometimes the “Mormon War” or “Buchanan’s Blunder”.

• Across the ocean, the British Empire is in the midst of putting down a major insurrection in the subcontinent. Prince Nana Sahib captures Dehli and moves west, besieging and taking the British fort at Kanpur. At least 900 civilians (local sympathizers and ex-pats working for the British East India Company) are killed – along with all but four members of the British garrison.

August 1857
• Some big bank out of Ohio (ed. Ohio Life Insurance and Trust) went bankrupt. The business folks say this is different, but it seems like just another story of greedy crooks getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

• Mormon leader William Bringhurst and his 29 missionaries (and families) abandon their fortified settlement in the Las Vegas Valley and return to the Salt Lake after two years of blistering summer heat and difficulty growing crops in the arid conditions.

September 1857
• After three days of fighting a fierce hurricane, the great side-wheel steamer SS Central America sinks off the coast of Carolina on Sep 11th with 550 souls lost to the sea. Also lost is her cargo including 30,000 pounds (10 short tons) of gold mined from California. Only 153 survivors are rescued, mostly women and children.

• Also on Sep 11th, 120 California-bound settlers are killed in the Utah Territory about forty miles southwest of Cedar City. The territorial government identifies the culprits as Paiute Indians who were incited by the settlers during their passage.

• The pro-slavery Kansas territorial legislature meets to draft a constitution in mid-September. No one thinks they can solve anything, and “Bloody Kansas” is expected to continue. The so-called “Lecompton Constitution” is advanced to Congress despite widespread opposition within Kansas – both from anti-slavery factions and from those concerned with the legislative process that lead to its adoption.

• On Sep 25th, Nevada City resident John Vedder found shot to death under suspicious circumstances surrounding his wife Lucy and the sheriff Henry Plummer who flee the scene. After a multi-day manhunt, the widow Vedder and Plummer are brought back to town by a group of “concerned citizens”. Shortly there after, the widow Vedder hangs herself and Plummer flees the town.

October 1857
Garrett Mathews declared boxing champion of Nevada County in a surprise TKO against local favorite Rory Downie.

• Increases in withdrawals at major East Coast banks cause financial ruin for small investors, several bank collapses and the suspension of specie payment (i.e. payment in gold/silver – which is standard for commercial transactions). New York closes all banks on October 13 with the intent of reopening “once calm and order can be returned to the market”. The banks stay closed for over a month with reopening starting in mid-November and slowly returning to normal by the end of December.

• Faced with strong pressure to admit Kansas to the Union and “solve” the Kansas question, President Buchanan publicly supports a proposed constitution of the territorial legislature. His advocacy for an “expedient solution” backfires, and the Democratic party splits along northern/southern lines for the first time since 1844. The strongest opposition comes from Illinois senator Stephen Douglas who eloquently argues that the Lecompton Constitution is an “illegitimate document posing under the auspice of the people’s will” that “makes a mockery of the doctrine of popular sovereignty”.

November 1857
• William Walker finishes preparations for a 2nd attempt at building a Central American empire, and on the 25th he lands at Greytown, Nicaragua with 270 supporters. The U.S. Navy once again forces his surrender and Walker is repatriated. Commodore Hiram Pauling’s actions are widely considered to be a violation of US law and Nicaraguan sovereignty, causing immense embarassment to both Pauling and the president.

December 1857
• A down-on-his-luck miner is gunned down in the street by the notorious Rattlesnake Dick. The murder is believed to be a revenge killing for the bungled events of the Jenny Lind robbery back in 1856. The “concerned citizens” find out about a sizable reward from the mysterious bounty hunter “John Smith” – but decide to pursue their own independent investigation. After a shootout in the snow south of Soda Springs, the party heads to Auburn with Barter, his partner Cy Skinner and only a single bar from the the missing Wells Fargo gold.

• On Dec 11th, Conservative party leader and Mexican general Félix María Zuloaga publicly denounces the Federal Constitution of 1857. Backed by a junta of his Conservative party leadership, senior military officers and Catholic clergy, he forces wavering moderate President Ignacio Comonfort to accept the reactionary Plan of Tacubaya, thus abandoning the constitution. Liberals are outraged and protest – leading to arrests and imprisonment for many leading figures including Benito Juárez, the president of the Supreme Court and vice-president, The leaders of the junta became uneasy after President Comonfort announced he was assuming extraordinary powers for himself.

• On Dec 15th, Kansas territorial governor Robert Walker resigns his office over the Lecompton Constitution citing clear voting fraud and improper pressure from the Administration. Walker is a Buchanan appointee and well-known supporter of popular sovereignty – and his resignation and allegations are expected to seriously undermine the proposal’s chance of acceptance in the U.S. Congress.

Events of 1858

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