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News & Tall Tales. 1800s. Murder, Mayhem, Music at the Bella Union


Bridge to the Castle.

Saturday, December 25, 1849, Alta California, San Francisco

Murder at the Bella Union

Montgomery Street. The Palace Hotel. San Francisco 1800s.
Montgomery Street, the Palace Hotel in the distance

We regret to announce the perpetration of this crime, on Friday evening, at the Bella Union House, on Portsmouth Square.

The affair occurred about 4 o’clock in the morning, after our tri-weekly paper had gone to press. The name of the deceased was Arthur C.M. Reynolds, of Philadelphia, a painter by trade, and the person who committed the deed, was Mr. Reuben Withers, of New York, who has been engaged in mercantile transactions in this city.

The deceased was commonly known by the sobriquet of "bones," from his having performed on those instruments in a Negro band. We furnish below a synopsis of the most important part of the testimony taken before Mr. Turk, second Alcalde, yesterday afternoon. An inquest was held on the body of the deceased, in the morning, when the testimony of Dr. Wm. T. Brent was taken as to the cause of death. Dr. B. testified that the deceased came to his death by a blow from a dagger, which had severed theaorta, entering near the collar bone, on the left side of the neck, and penetrating about four inches. The jury rendered a verdict in accordance with that opinion.

Withers is still at large. We forbear at present from making any comments upon the case.

Mr. James Sullivan, one of the proprietors of the Bella Union, testified that he saw the commencement of the affray. Withers went into the back room about 4 o’clock in the morning, where several men were sleeping on the benches and remarked that he was going to clear them out. He woke up one or two and walked them out of the door. He then went to the deceased, roused him up and took him out. He then returned and was followed by the deceased and a friend, Mr. Brady. Withers again took hold of him and said he must go out. Brady asked what right he had to put him out, when Withers replied that it was none of his business, and after some additional words, told him that he must go out also.

Brady said he would not. Withers said he would put him out, and Brady defied him. Brady pulled off his coat, and Withers drew a pistol, cocked it and presented it at the breast of B. telling him he must go out; Brady then said he would go, and went; Withers then said his friend must go also; he accordingly ordered him out and upon his refusal presented his pistol at him. Deceased walked up to him several times, and Withers said, "if you don’t go I will kill you;" witness then walked up to Withers and told him he didn't wish him to kill any one there, putting down his pistol hand at the same time; Withers said he wanted to clear the room; he then swung his pistol round and fired it; deceased then approached and told him he had fired at him once and he might fire again; other people rushed up; there was a scuffle and Withers fired again; he then put up his pistol and walked to the bar with deceased. Witness then left the room and did not return to the room until after the affray; as he was going out heard deceased say "you have drawn your pistol and shot twice tonight, whereupon Withers called him a da---d liar; after the affray, as witness went in he saw Withers standing near the deceased who was leaning against the bar, but in a second afterwards he fell. He soon after died, before a doctor could be summoned. Withers went out, and witness has not seen him since.

Mr. Wm. White testified to pretty much the same facts. While Withers and Reynolds were disputing, the friend of the latter came in, had a scuffle, and Withers was knocked down; the friend of the deceased then struck W. two or three times with a chair, and while he was doing so, W. made several passes at him with a knife. As soon as W. got up, he was seized by deceased from behind, who pinioned his arms. W. struggled to get away, and deceased dragged him toward the counter. When released, Withers walked away, and in a dozen seconds deceased fell down; witness could not say whether he was stabbed or not, as he saw no blow given; deceased got up once or twice, but fell down again, gasping, and expired.

Two other witnesses were examined.

James Brady testified, that after going out he returned again, and saw Withers standing near Reynolds and disputing with him in relation to the firing of the pistol. Witness saw Withers feeling for a knife or pistol, and immediately knocked him down, and afterward struck him twice with a chair, receiving two cuts in the right side, and one in the left leg. He then went to "Our House," washed his wounds, and went to bed.

Several other witnesses were present, but their evidence was not taken. Another inquest is to be held by Judge Colton; the first one not being in the proper form.

Judge Turk has issued a warrant for the arrest of Withers, and offers a reward of $1000 for his apprehension.

January 24, 1850, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Picking Pockets. -- Officer Hill arrested a man named Archibald McDonald on suspicion of picking pockets at the Bella Union.

March 6, 1850, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Communication. In walking around our city a few days ago, in order to keep pace with the many improvements now going on, I accidentally stepped into the Bella Union, where I feasted my eye for some time by examining some of the finest paintings I have ever seen exhibited in San Francisco. Those which most attracted my attention and admiration were the pictures of Cleopatra the Greek Slave, the Bacchanals and Venus. These four pictures were executed by the talented artist, Mr. Ashe, who is now engaged in another series, equally beautiful for the Panorama Saloon in the city of New York, where, a short time ago, he exhibited the four above mentioned, which attracted much attention, and was spoken of in the highest terms, as will be seen by the following, from a New York paper:

"The four beautiful pictures of Cleopatra, the Greek Slave, the Bacchanals and Venus, which have been recently exhibited at the Panorama Saloon, corner of Broadway and Lispenard St., and which have attracted much attention. Works of rare artistic merit, have been sold to a merchant of San Francisco, who leaves for California in a few days, taking them out with him."

Historic San Francisco Crime Photos.

There be many other paintings in the Bella Union which are well worth going to see, many of them executed by Chilean artists, with whose names I am not acquainted, but whose works speak well of their talents. There may be seen, also a beautiful view of the city of Canton, and two very fine engravings, one of the Battle of Chapultepec, the other of the U. S. Senate, and any one who is acquainted with any of the "big bugs" of the nation, may recognise them by a glance. The gentlemanly proprietors of the Bella Union (with one of whom I am well acquainted) have purchased the above mentioned paintings and engravings to decorate their rooms, and it seems that they are determined to spare no pains or expense to furnish their house not only with the beat of viands, but with the best of everything that will render it pleasing and attractive. 
A Friend to the House.

November 20, 1851, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

RECORDER'S COURT. -- Before Judge Waller.
The Shooting Case.

A. Rhodes was examined on the charge of shooting in the Bella Union on Tuesday night. The following evidence was taken:

Richard Ross sworn. I came down stairs about ten o'clock last evening; heard Mr. Mulligan using abusive language toward Mr. Rhodes; I told Mulligan to go out, and not to have any difficulty in my house; be started to go, and some one told him that Rhodes had a pistol; Mulligan turned and came back to where Rhodes was, and said something to him; think he said " G d d n you, draw your pistol!" Rhodes made tome reply, saying he would draw; as he said this, he drew his pistol; Mulligan drew his pistol; think Rhodes drew first; they both fired; there were several shots exchanged, and I retired to the back room; in a very short time, Mulligan cams running into the back room, and Rhodes after him, firing at him; after running to the back part of the room, and firing the last shot, they clenched and fought on the floor; the officers came and separated them; heard Rhodes tell Mulligan several times to go away; Mulligan, as he turned to go away, threw his cigar at Rhodes' face.

Benjamin Aspinwall sworn. Was in the Bella Union last evening; Mr. Rhodes and two others were drinking at the bar; he asked us to take a drink; while we were drinking, he laid that he and Mulligan had had a muss; he said he could whip Mulligan; Mulligan soon came in and passed by; as he passed, I said there is the man you are talking about; we went to the bar to take drink, and had retired towards the stove when Mulligan came in and stood with his back towards the stove; Rhodes and the other man were still at the bar talking; Mulligan pulled off his gloves and put them in his pocket, and then went up to the counter within two yards of Rhodes, and kept moving side ways towards him; when he got close to him, be put his finger toward his face and said he was a d d liar, and used other abusive language; Rhodes told him several times to go away and leave him; Mulligan said he was a better man than Rhodes. The rest of this witnesses testimony corroborated that of Mr. Ross.

It appeared by the evidence of a gentleman who was with Mr. Rhodes, that Rhodes and Mulligan had had a previous difficulty at the house of Mrs. Ross, on Washington street, where Mulligan had used insulting language to him, and dared him out in the street to fight. Some further testimony was taken, and the Recorder considering that Mr. Rhodes acted only in self defence, discharged him.

May 1, 1852, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

A Narrow Escape

Portsmouth Square, San Francisco 1800s.

A difficulty occurred in the Bella Union Saloon, on the Plaza, last evening in which a man named Harry Johnson, barely escaped with his life. Johnson and some other person had come to blows at a gambling table, when a pistol in the hands of a third person named O'Neil was discharged, the ball striking Johnson on the top of the head, cutting the skin for a few inches and glancing off without doing any serious injury. There are various reports about the matter, and different versions of the affair; some believing that it was entirely accidental, while others are of the opinion that the revolver was discharged with a felonious intent. A judicial investigation will develop the facts.


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