Lessons from an 1870s Law Book

When the State of California was new, laws passed by the Legislature and approved by the Governor were identified only by the order in which they had been chaptered. For example, the fifth law signed by the Governor in 1850 (Chapter 5, Statutes of 1850) created the office of State Treasurer.

The principal reason for using this system was that it was easy to set up ad provided a fairly orderly system; the statute numbers reset every year and made it easy to tell the order in which bills had been passed (also making it easy to determine which bill was passed later (and had precedence) when laws touched similar subjects.

The system worked well at first, but as the years of laws began to accumulate, it became increasingly difficult to keep track of related laws (which were frequently found in different books) and how they interacted. In 1870, the California Code Commission began a two-year project reviewing and sorting all of the laws passed in the previous two decades into four broad subject areas; Political (relating to elections and the operation of government), Penal (relating to crimes and punishment), Civil (relating to corporations and contracts between individuals), and Civil Procedure.

The Commission was led by Creed Haymond, a brilliant 34-year-old lawyer who had been the Southern Pacific Railroad’s primary attorney in California for a decade. By all accounts, Haymond dove into the work and made it his own, to the point that the other two members of the commission are almost unknown. After his death in 1893, the Sacramento Record Union said of Haymond; “His memory will not fade from the annals of the State, for his public services have made it imperishable. As a chief among those who gave to us a codified system of laws, his labor and genius will remain enshrined in that splendid work.”

Recently, I found a copy of The Codes and Statutes of the State of California (1876), one of the earliest books to include California’s laws after their reordering. In a democracy, looking at laws lets you into the mind of the people; it shows you the problems they faced and how they chose to solve them.

  • One of the boundaries for Amador County was the “road in front of Z. Kirkwood’s house…”
  • Firemen were exempted from military and jury duty service. (Pol. Code, sect 3337)
  • Vaccination: “The fees of the health officer for vaccinating such passengers shall be one dollar for each and every person so vaccinated; and all persons refusing to be vaccinated, or to pay fee therefor, shall be detained at quarantine on board said vessel until they are vaccinated and pay the fee therefor, and he is authorized to collect the said fee from the person or persons vaccinated.”
  • California’s leper inspectors were paid 70 cents per person inspected. (Pol. Code, sect 2955)
  • Election day, polls must be open from 1 hr after sunrise til sunset, except in SF, where they’re open sunrise to 6:30PM
  • California government offices were required to be open 10 AM – 4 PM (Pol. Code sect. 1030)
  • In 1890, California had 9 “Commissioners of the Yosemite Valley & Mariposa Big Tree Grove.” Remember, this was before Assemblyman Miguel Estudillo authored AB 248 (1905), which authorized the sale of Yosemite Valley (and all the headwaters of the Merced River) to the U.S. federal government for use as a National Park. What a deal that was.


Capitol Ghost Stories

Standing in the well-lit hallway outside the Governor’s office, you wouldn’t necessarily think that the State Capitol has a scary past. The friendly Highway Patrol officers pose for photos with visitors and the county displays offer cheerful reminders of the diversity of California’s people and places.

There is also a less known history of murders and hauntings. Being the week of Halloween, it seemed like a good time to look back.

Memorial at the former Stockton Asylum

One story close to home is that of Reuben Clark, the architect who designed the State Capitol. A series of delays in the construction led to mounting costs and pressure on Clark, which eventually drove him insane. He died at the Stockton Insane Asylum in 1866, never having recovered from his time at the Capitol. State Senator Jehu Berry, while helping write the current California State Constitution, was “taken with a mania” and confined at Stockton for “his own and the public safety.”

Almost 4,500 people were eventually buried in the Stockton Asylum‘s cemetery, of which only 1,619 were moved when the new cemetery opened. That means that there may still be nearly 3,000 bodies beneath the lake at CSU Stanislaus at Stockton (including Mr. Clark). Well, less than 3,000 since bodies are occasionally found.
[See also: Students wary of ghost at former Stockton Developmental Center]

On April 14, 1927, lobbyist Harry Hill shot and killed Capitol staffer Marybelle Wallace in a murder-suicide just outside of the elevators on the fourth floor of the State Capitol (historic side). Although initially friendly, Wallace had started avoiding Hill after he suddenly proposed to her. She planned to flee Sacramento to escape Hill, but on what was to be her last day at the Capitol, he found and shot her when she again refused his advances. The first person to arrive at the murder scene was Senate Minute Clerk Harold J. Powers (who would later serve as Senate President pro Tem and Lieutenant Governor). Wallace is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Coincidentally, the day that Wallace had planned to escape (April 15th) was the 67th anniversary of another murder at the State Capitol. On April 15th, 1860, Assemblyman John C. Bell was stabbed to death on the Assembly Floor by a colleague during a fight over a redistricting bill.

Outside of the Capitol, truck driver Mike Bowers committed suicide by crashing his fully-loaded semi-truck into the south side of the Capitol on January 16th, 2001. The crash caused millions of dollars in damage and, together with the 9/11 attacks, led to the increased security presence at the Capitol today.

There was also the Ghost of Assemblyman Chalmers, an 1870s Assemblyman who died of starvation after his wife chained him to a wall in their basement. For several decades, this building (the Vineyard House in Coloma) has reportedly been haunted by the ghost of Chalmers. There were the murder victims of the State Legislature, most notably John Yule and Lloyd Magruder (who was murdered in his sleep by men he had hired to protect himself).

Poster for Dark Shadows (a 2012 Warner Bros. movie)There was also Assemblyman Barnabas Collins of Butte County, whose name was used for the main character (a vampire) in the TV show and horror-comedy movie “Dark Shadows” (released in 2012). From all indications, the grave was undisturbed and he remains in the ground.

Ghost stories and the paranormal aren’t only limited to the Legislature. On May 28, 1934, Virginia Johnson, the daughter of State Treasurer Charles G. Johnson, was found soaked in kerosene and set on fire in a garage a few blocks from their home in Sacramento. Sacramento police determined that Virginia’s death was a suicide, although her father told newspapers that convinced that she had been hunted down and killed by a “murderous fiend”.

In 2009, “paranormal investigator” Nancy Bradley visited the Capitol and reported on her findings. Even more recently, in 2013, the unruly ghost of a certain former legislator appeared on Twitter, dispensing wisecracks and occasional advice like


So what’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen at the Capitol?

Facts and Statistics 2015 Released

Arthur Ohnimus

California Legislature

It started out with a simple enough question; “How many people have served in the California State Legislature?”

While it seems like it would be easy enough to answer (after all, the identities of state legislators is hardly a secret), the answer took some time to find. As it turned out, the weeks it took to find that answer made it much easier to find a flood of other answers about that part of state history.

Finding out how many people served in the California Legislature required knowing

  • A) How many people served in the Senate,
  • B) How many people served in the Assembly, and
  • C) How many people served in both.

After a lot of research to identify different people with similar names (sometimes fathers and sons, sometimes people who weren’t related) and people listed with different names in the two houses (like Assemblywoman Elaine W. Alquist and Senator Elaine K. Alquist), we had a pretty solid place to start.

The database was later expanded to include what house legislators served in during each session, their political affiliation, gender, and which term limits law they fell under.

The end result was the legislative facts and statistics booklet available at the link below.

It includes; the longest serving legislators, the longest gaps in service, how many years of prior legislative experience the members of different sessions had, and the legislators elected with the most and fewest votes in the past 15 years.

2015 Facts & StatsLegislative Facts and Statistics, 2015 Edition