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California State Militia and National Guard Unit Histories
Sierra Guard
 

Official or Other Titles:
Sierra Guard, First Division, First Brigade (1)
 
Location: Downieville, Sierra County
 
Mustered in: October 2, 1854

Commanding Officers
Daniel E. Hungerford, Captain, Elected September 30, 1854 (2)
James Kane, First Lieutenant, Elected September 30, 1854 (2)
 
Robert H. Taylor, Captain, Commissioned: October 15, 1855
George H. Sandy, First Lieutenant Commissioned: October 15, 1855 (Resigned) .
Charles Cockrane, First Lieutenant, Date of Rank: March 12, 1856 Commissioned: March 24,1856
 
Francis M. Proctor, Captain, Commissioned: October 30, 1856
James Kane, First Lieutenant, Elected 1855; Commissioned: October 30, 1856; Resigned July 5, 1857
 
James Kane, Captain; Elected September 30, 1857
William S. Spear, First Lieutenant, Elected September 30, 1857

 


Official History
 
Downieville, situated in Sierra County, a county rich in mineral resources, is also rich in memoirs of the pioneer days,.and was among the first districts to be settled during the "Gold Rush". In the districts where gold was found and mined readily, settlements meant homes of more or less permanence, together with business houses of all kinds. For relaxation, the residents had erected the National Theater, and it was here that Lola Montez, Countess of Landsfelt de Heald, made her appearance in 1856, when she was heralded as "The wonderful spider dancer". She was greeted with a crowded house, and so strongly impressed them with her Teutonic beauty that her name was immortalized in the christening of a lofty peak, Mount Lola. (3)

Like all communities, Downieville had its crime problems. On the Fourth of July 1851, a celebration was enjoyed with a parade, and the guest and speaker of the day was John B. Weller afterward Governor of California. The day of celebration ended very unhappily when Jack Cannon, a Scotsman of Herculean proportions, returned to the Mexican house in which lived the beautiful Spanish woman known as Juanita. It is presumed that he returned to apologize for the damage done by the hilarious revelers, but this is nothing but a surmise. Mr. Cannon talked with Juanita and a Mexican man a moment, then Juanita left and when she returned plunged a long knife through the heavy sternum bone and into the heart of Cannon. A frenzied crowd appointed a Judge and Jury., together with lawyers who passed the sentence of death. A rope was dropped from the top of the Jersey Bridge, Juanita stepped quietly into the place arranged for her, and adjusted the rope herself, and in a few seconds was pronounced dead. The miners were almost universally denounced by the press of the country for this affair. (4)

In the year following (1852) the community witnessed its first duel and there were other affairs that caused considerable distress among the peaceful people. (5) It is evident that the residents deemed it necessary to have a controlled military unit, not only to protect themselves from the hostile Indians, but to preserve law and order within their own community. Therefore, steps were taken to form a voluntary guard.

After the usual legal procedure had been complied with in advertising the call for volunteers, a meeting was held September 30, 1854, at which time officers were elected and the By-Laws were drawn up for the Sierra Guard. The first annual election was held September 29, 1855, and at that time there was a question as to whether the election was legal, and if the old officers retained the command of the unit until the commissions arrived for the newly elected staff, Robert H. Taylor, Captain, and George H. Sandy, First Lieutenant. The former First Lieutenant Kane communicated with Adjutant-General William C. Kibbe (October 15, 1855) regarding the question, and the General answered two days later expressing his opinion to the effect that the election had been legal, also that the newly elected Captain was entitles to his commission. A few months later Lieutenant Sandy resigned and on March 24, 1856, Charles Cockrane was elected to fill tine vacancy.

The regular annual election was held September 30 1856, when Francis M. Proctor was elected Captain and James Kane again elected the First Lieutenant. It is assumed that Captain Proctor had resigned from his command, as a letter on file from former Captain Taylor, February 18, 1857, states that he had received from and receipted to Captain Proctor the arms of the company. When First Lieutenant Kane sent in his resignation July 5, 1857, he did not give any explanation for resigning from his office. Although the Adjutant-General approved the resignation, no election was held to fill the vacancies until the regular annual election on September 30, 1857, when Lieutenant Kane was elected to the Captaincy and William S. Spear was elected First Lieutenant.

There is some confusion in the records of these elected officers on the printed annual reports. The Adjutant General's Report of December 1861, still carried the officers of the Guard of the 1856 election, with Captain Proctor and First Lieutenant Cockrane, and gave Captain Proctor's commission date as of February 20, 1857, the date that the General received the letter from former Captain Taylor, whereas, election papers on file carry the commission date as of October 30, 1856.

The Sierra Guard had no difficulty in obtaining ammunition for their unit. A Bond of $3,000 was signed October 3, 1854, by D. E. Hungerford, William J. Ford and B. M. Feeter and the following month the arms were shipped on the steamer Enterprise from the Benicia Arsenal. There was considerable difficulty in obtaining funds for the freight bill due on the shipment of arms, amounting to $230. On April 14, 1856, two years later, Adjutant General Kibbe wrote that it was hoped that taxes raised from the amended Militia Act, whereby all persons entitled to military duty were to be assessed fifty cents, would raise sufficient funds to cover these expenses of the Guard. The General also requested Captain Taylor to use his influence with the tax collector to see that the tax was faithfully collected.

The first duel fought in 1852, the Kelly-Spear affair, had ended without dire results to either party, but the second one fought in Brandy City in September of 1855 ended in the death of one of the men. This duel was between Judge Lippincott and young Tevis, a leader of the "knownothing party", and the Good Templars of the Masonic Order refused to bury young Tevis with honors because of their strong opposition to dueling. The Sierra Guard was called upon and they took a prominent place in the funeral procession (6)

The company was often called upon to assist the officers of the community to carry out the necessary punishments. The bayoneted muskets of the unit (April 18, 1856) held in check the crush of three thousand spectators who assembled to see a condemned man pay with his own life for a murder he had committed. Mordecai E. Harlow was convicted of the slaying of a man named Smith. The guards marched on either side of the wagon which conveyed the prisoner and the officers to the gallows in Slug Canyon, and stood on duty for an hour while the doomed man talked to the assemblage.(7) The Guard was called upon a second time, two years later, January 21,.1859, to.assist the Sheriff when Michael Munay was executed for the murder of Daniel Sweeney. This time the execution was held in the Court House Square, and the guards refused to admit the three hundred spectators. (8)

Members of the three military companies in the district felt that it would be to their advantage to have unified militia tactics, so the three units, Goodyear's Bar Rifles, Forest Rifles and Sierra Guard organized themselves into a Battalion on March 24, 1856. At the first election Daniel E. Hungerford, who had been the first Captain of the Sierra Guard, was elected Major of the Sierra Battalion in which capacity he remained until August 18,1861, when he resigned to go into the service of the United States. On the Fourth of July, 1857, this Battalion participated in an all day celebration, at which time they were received by Brigadier General O.C. Hall and his staff. In his report to Adjutant General Kibbe, Major Hungerford particularly commended the Sierra Guard for their excellent display of military tactics during the celebration. The Major stressed the excellent platoon firing of the company, the gallant style of the unit in extending courtesies to the military guests, and the soldierly 'tearing and manly conduct of the entire rank and file.

The town of Downieville like other early day settlements, was a victim of the prevalent fire menace. On January 1, 1858, a fire, more destructive than any subsequent one, destroyed the entire town. More than two-thirds of the arms of the company were destroyed in this fire. (9) After many of these settlements had been leveled by the fires, oft times a great portion of the population moved on to new locations, leaving so few permanent residents to take up the task of rebuilding, that it was impossible to carry on with the former routine. Following this fire the Sierra Guard lacked numerical strength, and public interest had waned to such an extent that a military company could not be maintained after this disaster. On October 30, 1859, Major Hungerford suggested the Sierra Guard be disbanded by General Orders and the officers designated to collect together the remnants of arms and other property belonging to the State, and turn the same in to the State Arsenal. The company had not paraded for two years, in fact at the time there were no officers or active organization.

General Kibbe remarked in his Report of December 1861, "Although the company had not formally disbanded, it scarcely had an existence"; therefore it is assumed that the Sierra Guard was disbanded in accordance with Major Hungerford's report, October 30, 1859.

Footnotes
 
(1) Muster Roll of May 1, 1855, designates Second Brigade, Fourth Division
 
(2) There is no date for commission, but in a letter of Captain Hungerford to Adjutant-General Kibbe, October 17, 1854, he states the commissions had arrived.
 
(3) History. Plumas, Lassen and Sierra Counties California - Farris and Smith, 1882, page 459.
 
(4) History Plumas, Lassen and Sierra Counties, California - Farris and Smith, 1882, page 445.
 
(5) History Plumas, Lassen and Sierra Counties, California - Farris and Smith, 1882, page 443.
 
(6) History Plumas, Lassen and Sierra Counties, California - Farris and Smith, 1882, page 444.
 
(7) Sacramento Union, April 22, 1856, page 2, column 2.
 
(8) History Plumas, Lassen and Sierra Counties, California - Farris and Smith, 1882, page 453
 
(9) History Plumas, Lassen and Sierra Counties, California - Farris and Smith, 1882, page 460


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