Settlements in Placer County were among the first established following the discovery of gold at Coloma in El Dorado County, and Auburn was one of the first settlements thus made. There were always aggressive leaders among the first pioneers, who were anxious to make their adopted homes as nearly comfortable and substantial under the existing conditions as those they left behind them. Before 1856 there were two volunteer military companies in Placer County organized for protection and possibly social activities too. The first, the California Blades, was active during 1849, and the second company, the Miners Blades was active during 1854. California did not have laws for military maintenance during the existence of these two companies. After the Militia Law was enacted in 1855 by the State, efforts were again revived to establish a volunteer military company to be stationed at Auburn. Thus the Placer Rifles were the first military company organized under the State Militia Law (1).
There is only a meager source of information on record relating to the Placer Rifles. On June 4, 1855, the Daily Alta California carried the following news item from Auburn (2):
"Pursuant to the call for an election of officers, for a volunteer company at Auburn, the company met at the Auburn House, on Saturday evening last, and elected the following officers: B. A. Myers, Captain, W. H. Dillingham, First Lieutenant; James Anderson, Second Lieutenant and Ben Stinson, Brevet Second Lieutenant..
During this time agitation was being stirred up to induce the State to foster and finance a militia that would insure an adequate military organization for the State. Approval was given to the bill by the editors of the press early in 1856. (3) It is apparent that interest of the Placer Rifles had waned after the election of officers. On March 10, 1856, James Anderson, an enterprising young lawyer of Auburn, who had been elected Second Lieutenant wrote to the Adjutant General in regards to the formation of a new military company. This agitation served a good purpose in giving impetus to the organization of the Rifles and definite steps were then taken to complete the company.
The Sacramento Union carried a news item to the effect that the young men of Auburn were taking preliminary steps towards the organization of a new volunteer military company. Following this on March twenty-fourth notices were posted at Gold Run, Rattlesnake Bar and Auburn, (all of Placer County) that a meeting was to be held at the Empire Hotel in Auburn on Saturday April 5, 1856, for the purpose of organizing a military company.(4)
This meeting was held and James Anderson was elected Captain; A. Mason, First Lieutenant; Ezra Kinsey, Second Lieutenant and Ben Stinson was retained as the Brevet Second Lieutenant. Four Sergeants and four Corporals also were elected at this time.(5) The Sacramento Union carried a brief news account which gave the information that the newly organized military company of Auburn was to be known as the Placer Rifles.
The Placer Rifles served in active duty when James Freeland was hanged for a murder he had committed some months before. The members of the Placer Rifles also served as an escort and guard for Freeland when he was marched from the Auburn Jail to the scaffold. Between three thousand and four thousand persons, including many women, witnessed the execution. For the second time the members of this company were called upon to act as escort and guard with the Sheriff to a man doomed to pay with his own life in retaliation for the murder of a fellow man. Joseph Bradley, a African-American who had been charged with the murder of Jacob Bakeman, another African American, was escorted from the jail to the place of execution on September 20, 1857. (6)
Although there is no record of other activities of this organization the company participated in some routine activity, as there is a telegraph blank of the Alta California Company in which James Anderson, Captain, directs James Gordon, "go to Quartermaster Kibbe's s office--get freight for Placer Rifles." (7) Also a letter dated September 13, 1857, was sent by Captain Anderson to the Adjutant General in which the Captain requested some copies of the Military Tactics for the use of his company, the package to be sent through Wells Fargo and Company. Forty muskets and accouterments were received by the company, as Captain Anderson explains in his letter of December 2, 1861, to Adjutant General Kibbe A circular letter was sent from the General's Office to the Captains of all militia companies, and the one sent to Captain Anderson, Placer.Rifles, 2nd Brigade, Fourth Division, Placerville, was forwarded from there on to Auburn, and from there to San Francisco, where the Captain was then residing. In this letter of July nineteenth the Adjutant General referred to section twenty-eight of the May 9, 1861, Law wherein the Captain of a company was held responsible for the return of the arms upon the mustering out of the unit and it is apparent that the General had assumed that the Ordnance Stores were still in the Captain's possession. Captain Anderson stated, "it was a mistake on the part of the Adjutant General and he was glad to have received the circular as it gave him an opportunity of correcting the error and he (Captain Anderson) knew that the General would rectify matters.
The members of the Placer Rifles did not manifest sufficient zeal in their enterprise to warrant the retaining of the arms which had been received, in fact the company had been disbanded, so the arms had been returned to the State. All materials had been carefully packed in boxes, forwarded to Sacramento by a teamster named Blanchard, and by him delivered to the State Armorer who then had a shop on Fourth Street between I and J Streets." Captain Anderson continued, "that he had been informed that the Adjutant General was not in Sacramento and the Armorer declined for some reason to give a receipt for anything more than the boxes 'said to contain forty muskets etc.'" During the Legislative session of 1859 the Captain had met the Armorer who admitted the receipt of the arms in good order and told him that the materiel had been sent off somewhere, perhaps to the State troops who had been suppressing an Indian War with which the Adjutant General and E. J. Lewis were connected in service. When the Adjutant General returned later in the session, Captain Anderson spoke to him upon the subject and the General seemed satisfied that all information was as had been represented; but that Adjutant General could not find the Captain's Bond to surrender or cancel, explaining, "that it was lost or misplaced among his papers, and as soon as it was located he (General Kibbe) would see that it was canceled." Captain Anderson explained that he went into these details so as to recall the facts to the Adjutant General's recollection, as he had no arms in his possession and did not wish the responsibility to rest in doubt any longer. If the General was satisfied with the statements as made, the Captain desired his bond canceled and a receipt for the arms; if he was not satisfied, Captain Anderson would satisfy the General with other testimony so as to relieve himself of the responsibility.
Adjutant General Kibbe's answer to the Captain explained that the circular had been sent by mistake by the clerk and that the Bond had been canceled and would be returned to the Captain. This explanation was satisfactory to Captain Anderson as he replied on December fourth, to quote a part of the letter:
"My object in writing you was to clear matters up so that in a time when you and myself might not be here to:explain, I should not be counted a defaulter to the Government of my State. I take this occasion to say to you; General, that as matters.now appear in the eastern horizon, my poor services may be needed or, may contribute some what to the defense of California, and that should such an occasion arise, I shall regard it as the highest political obligations, to defend the State in which I have cast my fortunes against foreign invasion."
Captain Anderson did later enlist in the California Volunteers.
Although the Placer Rifles had experienced difficulty in perfecting an organization, Captain Anderson had endeavored to make it an efficient company. However, the unit was short lived and the Adjutant General reported the Placer Rifles disbanded on December 15, 1857.