Against the Vigilantes: The Recollections of Dutch Charley Duane
The California Gold Rush spawned many colorful characters but none more controversial than Charles E "Dutch Charley" Duane. As chief enforcer for political boss David C. Broderick, Dutch Charley enjoyed power and prestige in San Francisco until his downfall at the hands of vigilantes. In fact, the irascible Irishman attracted so much trouble in San Francisco during the 1850s that the Committee of Vigilance outlawed him -- twice.
His memoir, originally printed in the San Francisco Examiner in 1881, was located and edited by John Boessenecker. Now published for the first time in book form, it reveals a charismatic ruffian who played many roles: gunfighter, fire chief, politician, shoulder-striker, bare-knuckle boxer, gambler, saloon keeper, and land squatter.
Boessenecker's introduction provides information that is crucial in judging the actions of the vigilantes who moved against Duane and his cohorts. Conventional wisdom is that the San Francisco vigilantes, many of them belonging to the mercantile elite, were motivated by bias against Catholics and the Irish working class. But Boessenecker, taking another look at the city's electoral process and criminal-justice system, directly challenges that wisdom. At the same time, Against the Vigilantes is cultural history, filled with details about the fires that swept early San Francisco, prizefighting, dueling, and urban machine politics in the decade before the Civil War.