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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

Bad Guy Mulligan

New Yorker Billy Mulligan and his gang of young toughs came west with the California Gold Rush, arriving in San Francisco by ship in late 1849, eager to exploit whatever opportunities presented themselves. Aged 21, Billy was already a hard drinking, thrill-seeking gambler, an armed thug, a convicted burglar, and a paid ballot box stuffer. Almost immediately, Billy and his fashionably-clad friends rejected the hard work of gold mining, instead preferring to get rich by employing the Tammany Hall tactics they already knew so well. Under Billy’s leadership the gang gained extraordinary political power through intimidation and blackmail, but they made a few mistakes. In an important 1856 election, their ballot box trickery produced more votes than there were voters, outraging respectable San Franciscans—whose collective outrage boiled over when, that very same year—Mulligan’s cohort James Casey murdered popular newspaper editor James King of William. It was finally too much skullduggery to endure. A resurrected Vigilance Committee forcibly expelled Billy and his associates from the city on June 5, 1856, with instructions never to return under penalty of death. Back in New York, Billy’s criminal activities escalated, landing him in Sing Sing prison for a spell. Mulligan did return to San Francisco in the early 1860s, but city government was in new hands now, and most of his former cronies were dead. For awhile he kept his behavior low-key, although he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon in 1864, and the following year, in a somewhat bizarre incident, he threatened an acquaintance with a cheese knife. Then in July 1865, Billy initiated a drink-induced shooting spree from the balcony of his room at the St. Francis Hotel. After an hours-long standoff in which many rounds of gunfire were exchanged, police officers finally killed him in the killed him in the hotel’s hallway. He was 36.

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