Gunplay was so common during the chaotic, early days of the California Gold Rush that many incidents, though duly reported, drew little real excitement from the press. However, tremendous excitement ensued when an enraged mother shot her daughter’s seducer—inside Sacramento’s police station house—on Monday, January 12, 1852. Sensational as it was, the shooting was indeed the climax, but still not the end, of a story of things gone wrong from the first.
Because the shooting occurred at three o’clock in the afternoon on a normal business day, quite a crowd gathered around the station house wanting the full particulars. Abuzz with various truths and conjecture, the throng worked themselves into a fever pitch, resolved to lynch the man who had driven a woman to such desperate extremes…but calmed down when told the culprit was so severely wounded that he would be transported on a litter to the Orleans House Hotel for medical aid.
The next day, newspaper readers learned that the mother, Mrs. Bond, daughter Emily, and villain-victim John Q. Adams, had in fact traveled to California together, in circumstances that were on the one hand, understandable; yet on the other hand a bit out of the ordinary—and certainly the cause of severe strain upon the mother.
Quite naturally, Mrs. Bond had wanted to reunite with her husband, a carpenter by trade, who had gone to California in 1849 hoping to find a fortune in gold. By 1851 he still hadn’t found it, but had finally made plans to return to Philadelphia, in company with a new friend, to bring his family back to California. That spring, just as he was preparing to go, the destructive fires in San Francisco raised a great demand for carpenters to rebuild the city, so Mr. Bond decided to stay a little longer and earn some money. The new friend did depart, however, carrying a letter of introduction to Mrs. Bond and an explanation of why her husband was delayed. A short time later the husband’s friend introduced Mrs. Bond to his friend Mr. J. Q. Adams, who said he was going to start for California soon, and recommended that Mrs. Bond come with him. Initially reluctant to travel so far with a stranger, she raised objections which Adams deftly brushed aside, assuring her of his protection.
So they started out, sailing to Panama to cross the Isthmus. There, Mr. Adams’ gentlemanly attentions to Mrs. Bond became less, while his attentions to seventeen-year old Emily increased. During the subsequent ship passage up the Pacific Ocean, Adams succeeded in making a great impression on the girl, so much so that the mother began to fear that her daughter was in danger. Belatedly, she realized she knew nothing of this man’s character, except he was the friend of a friend of her husband’s. Unable to break the powerful hold this man had gained upon Emily’s affections, she comforted herself with the thought that when they reached California, her husband would be there to take charge of the situation.
But when the party landed at San Francisco Mrs. Bond learned, to her considerable distress, that her husband had left for Philadelphia two months earlier—why, they could have passed each other on the route without knowing it!—and her retiring, modest, yet ardently imaginative Emily was more enthralled than ever with Mr. Adams. Meantime, all three had taken rooms at the same boarding house run by a married couple. Here, the scoundrel convinced Emily that they couldn’t elude her mother long enough in San Francisco to be married; so one evening, under the guise of attending the theater with their boarding house hosts, he spirited Emily away to Sacramento on a riverboat.
Frantic, the mother followed after them and met with the police, who found the pair registered as man and wife at the Queen City Hotel at 7th and J Streets. Rushing into the room, Mrs. Bond embraced her daughter while the police took Adams to the station house—and this is when Emily admitted that her lover had slyly told her they must postpone their marriage until she was eighteen, because a marriage would be illegal while she was still underage.
Enraged anew, Mrs. Bond set off to the station house to confront J. C. Adams. She found him sitting in an ante-room, and asked him point-blank if he intended to marry Emily. His response was a silent look of contempt before turning back to the newspaper he was reading.
She drew a revolver from under her shawl and shot him, and would have fired again, except that a startled officer jumped up and confiscated the gun. Mrs. Bond then left the station, but she wasn’t done with her duties: maybe there was no legal redress for consensual seduction; but above all, her ruined daughter must be saved.
Three days later, at the Orleans Hotel, John Q. Adams and Miss Emily Bond were married, with her mother’s consent, and the knowledge on his part that he could not survive past that very night. Witnesses claimed he even seemed glad to take his vows, but really, who could say for sure since he died minutes after the ceremony ended. The blackguard was no more, and Emily was transformed into an honorable woman. Mrs. Bond, who had garnered the sympathy and support of the press, the citizenry, and several local magistrates, was never charged or arrested.