1831: Atanasio, shot for some buttons

Add comment April 26th, 2019 Headsman

This episode from Mexican Alta California comes from the short-lived administration of Manuel Victoria, who proved himself such a martinet in his few months as governor of that territory that a rebellion that December forced Victoria’s resignation.

Our source is Hubert Howe Bancroft, a historian of the American West, in this volume of his chronicle of California:

The administration of justice was a subject which early claimed the new ruler’s attention. It had been much neglected by the easy-going Echeandia, and crime had gone unpunished. Criminal proceedings had been often instituted, as we have seen in the local presidial annals of the last six years, but penalties had been rarely inflicted with fitting severity. Victoria had strict ideas of discipline, and no doubt of his ability to enforce the laws. He is said to have boasted soon after his arrival at Monterey that before long he would make it safe for any man to leave his handkerchief or his watch lying in the plaza until he might choose to come for it. How he carried out his ideas in this direction will be apparent from a few causas celebres of the year.

The case of Atanasio was pending when Victoria came. Atanasio was an Indian boy less than eighteen years of age, a servant in sub-comisario Jimeno’s office, who had in 1830 stolen from the warehouse property to the extent of something over $200. The prosecution was conducted by Fernandez del Campo, Padres, and Ibarra as fiscales; and the last-named demanded, in consideration of the youth and ignorance of the culprit, as well as on account of the carelessness with which the goods had been exposed, a sentence of only two years in the public works. The asesor, Rafael Gomez, after having sent the case back to the fiscal for the correction of certain irregularities, rendered an opinion April 18th, in favor of the death penalty; and by order of the comandante general Atanasio was shot at 11 a.m. on the 26th. Gomez was an able lawyer, and I suppose was technically correct in his advice, though the penalty seems a severe one. Naturally the Californians were shocked; and though an example of severity was doubtless needed, Victoria was not fortunate in his selection. The circumstance that led to the culprit’s detection seems to have been his using some military buttons for gambling with his comrades; and the popular version of the whole affair has been that an Indian boy was shot by Victoria for stealing a few buttons.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Mexico,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Theft

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