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The Call of Gold (1936) by Newell D. Chamberlain


On July 2, 1857, E. Burke, District Judge of the Thirteenth Judicial District, at Mariposa, rendered his decision. The Court found the facts, as follows:

“That J. C. Fremont is the owner of the land in dispute by patent and approved survey. That the charge set up in the defendant’s answer of fraud, concealment and collusion in the survey and certificate on which said patent issues, is not proved. That the charge in the defendant’s answer that in procuring the issuance of said patent, a fraud was practiced upon the Government, in misrepresenting the quality and character of the lands embraced in the survey, is not proved.

“That in May, 1851, the premises were vacant and unoccupied and the defendant then entered upon the premises under a quit-claim from one Moffat, but it is not shown that said Moffat had any title to the premises; but on the contrary, the premises were then the public domain of the United States, except so far as same were subject to Fremont’s unconfirmed right to locate the Alvarado Grant, within the limits therein prescribed; that the defendant commenced improving the premises for mining purposes in 1851, and has ever since used and occupied the same; that until July, 1855, Fremont never claimed the premises as being within his boundaries, but stated that the lines of his grant did not approach within one or two miles and caused a survey to be made in 1852, the lines of which, did not include the premises; and which survey, published and represented as including all the land claimed by him, but at the time of making such representations and disclaimers, said grant had not been finally confirmed and located; and it is not shown that in making such representations and disclaimers, the said Fremont willfully made any misrepresentations or intended to deceive, defraud or influence the defendant; that no facts, amounting to fraud or to a legal estoppel are proved in this case, either as against the plaintiff or as against his lessor, the said Fremont.

“And upon the said pleadings, stipulations, proofs and facts, the Court decides and finds the following points and matters of law, to-wit:

(1) that it is not competent for the defendants to attack or impeach the patent mentioned in the complaint and answer;
(2) that the plaintiff is not estopped from insisting on his legal title to the premises sued for;
(3) that the defendant is not entitled to any legal or equitable relief against the plaintiff’s title;
(4) that the plaintiff is entitled to the judgment and decree of the Court against the defendant for the recovery of the premises sued for, as described in the complaint, with the appurtenances and for the sum of $16990 damages and the costs of suit and it is hereby ordered that judgment be entered accordingly.”

On July 6th, judgment was entered for the plaintiff, and the amount of the undertaking to stay proceedings, until an appeal could be decided, was set at $7500. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of California, on July 27th, by the Merced Mining Company, who still felt that they could prove that, even if their property was inside Fremont’s Grant, he did not own the minerals and that they had a right to take out the minerals, under a general license granted by the Government.

During the trial, there was bitter enmity manifested between the opposing sides, yet, in after years, the daughter of one of the principals in the case married the son of one of the opposing lawyers, thus establishing what proved to be one of the leading families of the State. Had it not been for this great battle over gold, these two lovers may never have met.

It is also interesting to give some of the details in the life of Fremont’s leading attorney, Rufus A. Lockwood, without whose remarkable sagacity, this trial might not have terminated so successfully for the Colonel.

He was raised in Indiana and educated to be a lawyer. His hometown people considered him quite worthless as such, and he did not prosper. However, he spent his time studying over law-books, even though, in the meantime, he and his family were suffering from lack of the necessities of life, He had no credit with the merchants of the town as he was considered by them a failure.

His situation became drastic and one day he went to one of the leading stores, where a clerk, on hearing his pitiful tale, gave him a small supply of provisions on credit. The proprietor, meeting him on the way out and learning that he had obtained the goods on credit, made him return them. Lockwood’s reply was, “This will cost you a fortune”.

A short time later, times became extremely hard and the merchant became financially embarrassed. Lockwood never forgave and never forgot, so he sought the creditors of the merchant and offered his services free of charge. He then pressed the accounts with such vigor that the merchant was forced into insolvency.

A sensational murder occurred about this time and Lockwood was engaged as defense attorney. Public opinion was strongly against the accused and nearly everyone thought a conviction was a certainty. Lockwood who had himself experienced hunger and despair, threw his every energy into the defense and his brilliant tactics resulted in a verdict of acquittal. His reputation as a lawyer was made, but instead of staying where his future success would be easy, he disappeared.

In the course of time, he drifted to Mariposa and became acquainted with the Colonel, who employed him to take care of some of his legal matters and also to manage part of the Estate. For his services, he was promised a portion of the property. While acting as a manager, the Estate became involved in wages to employees to the extent of $25,000, and feeling himself individually responsible, he promised that by a certain day full payment would be made.

Accordingly, he sent a request to Fremont’s bankers, Palmer, Cook & Co., who were likewise interested in the Estate, to forward the necessary money. These bankers failed to respond, and it was such a blow to his sense of honor in business, that, in his disappointment and anger, he immediately pledged everything he was possessed of, even the jewelry of his wife and daughter. Their piano, their furniture, their ear and finger rings and other valuable jewelry were all taken and deposited as security for the debts which he felt obligated to pay.

The Colonel was in the East and Lockwood decided to see him personally. He took passage on a steamer from San Francisco bound for Panama. The vessel sank on the trip. His wife and daughter were saved and Fremont later redeemed and forwarded to them, all their jewelry and furniture.

Lockwood proved a hero until the last, refusing to take a place in the lifeboats until all the women and children were saved. This unusual man, adjudged one of the mighty intellects of the day, brilliant, honest, courageous, who was judged a failure, in his early life, by his neighbors, and who later rose to the pinnacles of fame and was then called insane by some, went down with the ship, calmly smoking a cigar.

After Judge Burke’s decision, mining work still progressed in the disputed territory, on the Fremont Estate, but at times, conditions were rather “squally”, at the seat of war. Men in the employ of the Merced Mining Co. still attempted to take the law into their own hands and they successfully jumped several of Fremont’s claims.

Next: 19. Pine Tree BattleContentsPrevious: 17. 1857 Trial

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