Vigilante Wars

San Francisco is certainly a quirky place and Cecelia Holland's Vigilante Wars sheds a lot of light on how we got there! The inner-workings and many of the social mores that today are common-place were founded in some crazy times.

Holland recounts the lawlessness, mob rule and colorful characters that the 1849 Gold Rush brought to San Francisco. Tales of gangs like "the Hounds" wandering the streets, the massive in-flux of wealth seekers and the poverty that followed. You can easily see how today's San Francisco evolved.

Vigilante Wars by Cecelia Holland


  1. Still among the best sources on the vigilante era in San Francisco is the first volume of the memoirs of the young San Francisco banker William Tecumseh Sherman. (Yes, THAT Sherman.) Published just after the Civil War, Sherman’s memories of those years are inflected by the recent rebellion. He really, really understands just how bad vigilantism can be. For Sherman, the link between local vigilantism and secession is direct. Great stuff. Free online from internet archive and many other sources.

  2. I think the vigilante era might come back, because the police are getting to be more dangerous than the criminals.

  3. Please correct the spelling of Holland’s name! It’s “Cecelia,” not “Cecila.” A wonderful writer.

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