Once Upon a Time in the West

By William Mero

Within the Contra Costa County History Center archives are the private research papers of Dorothy Mutnick, a prominent county historian and writer. The following newspaper clipping from her files demonstrates the general attitude of local citizens toward the lively behavior of some of our less reputable pioneers. Clayton was not the sleepy little village that it eventually became. During this time Clayton was an exciting "wild and woolly" frontier settlement. It was the jumping off place for the copper and silver rush on Mount Diablo. Clayton was also booming as the population of the nearby coal mines was growing rapidly.

Contra Costa Gazette - April 30, 1863, page 2
Shooting Affairs

A kind of promising shooting affray took place at Clayton on Monday last, which resulted however, in no very serious damage. A number of persons were together, all more or less under the influence of liquor. The parties were in the Clayton Hotel, when one of them, named Andrew Clifford, upon some real or fancied provocation, drew his pistol and fired at another named Kennen, inflicting a very slight wound, not at all dangerous, but rendering a sitting position quite uncomfortable for the for the present. Simultaneously with this shot Kennen clenched him, when the former fired two more shots, but no one was hit. Clifford escaped, but was subsequently arrested by officer Tilton and taken to the jail at Martinez, where he is held to answer upon the charge of assault with a deadly weapon.

Kennen was also arrested and taken before Justice Morris, who fined him $25. Two other parties who had created considerable disturbance, were fined $50 each. No little difficulty was experienced in making these arrests, as whisky had control of the subjects and disposed them to be quite refractory, but a detention of some eighteen hours upon a generous diet of crackers and water, sobered them down amazingly.

Another shooting took place in Marsh's canon on the same day, in which Jerome Embree was wounded in the arm by a shot from a pistol in the hands of W. A. Riggs. Some difficulty existed between the parties, and upon meeting at the place named, as we are informed, Riggs fired three shots, the first striking Embree in the breast, but the ball was stopped by some account books in the side pocket of his coat. The second struck his arm, inflicting a flesh wound, and the third missed altogether. Riggs proceeded to Alamo and delivered himself up to the Justice, who, after examination of several witnesses, discharged him. It seems from what we have been told was the testimony of these witnesses, that Embree first pointed his pistol at Riggs, without firing, telling him to defend himself, and that then Riggs fired as stated.

The item above is a good example of the many interesting stories found in the Contra Costa County History Center. Researchers or those interested in simply learning about our local history are all welcome to become a member or visit us at 724 Escobar Street, Martinez.

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