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As It Was: Wife Aborts Duel Between Two Early Comedians

In Siskiyou County, the gold mining settlements of Yreka, Hawkinsville, and Greenhorn held more than 5,000 people in 1856-1857, who were starved for entertainment and welcomed any troupe that passed through the region.  Yreka boasted two theaters at the time, the Colton and the Arcade, packed on Saturday nights with people with gold in their pockets.

Some of the earliest entertainers, famous in their time, were comedians John V. Thoman of Boston and Irish comedian W. H. Hamilton, and Hamilton’s wife.  The trio traveled together.

One of the era’s most famous near-duels was between Thoman and Hamilton.

Apparently, an argument broke out one afternoon and tempers flared.  The two men agreed to a duel the next morning.  That night, Mrs. Hamilton sneaked out of the hotel and appeared before Judge Waterman, who arranged for arrest warrants delivered early the next morning by Deputy Sheriff H. K. White.  He averted the duel just as the two men took position with drawn pistols provided by a Dr. Gatliff.

They were freed on $500 bonds (a present-day equivalent of $2,807).

With aplomb, Thoman and Hamilton played opposite one another at the following Saturday night performance.

Source: Jones, J Roy. Saddle Bags in Siskiyou. Happy Camp, CA, Naturgraph Publishers, 1953, pp. 52-53.

Gail Fiorini-Jenner is a writer and teacher. Her first novel "Across the Sweet Grass Hills", won the 2002 WILLA Literary Award. She co-authored four histories with Arcadia Publishing: Western Siskiyou County: Gold & Dreams, Images of the State of Jefferson, The State of Jefferson: Then & Now, which placed in the 2008 Next Generation Awards for Nonfiction and Postcards from the State of Jefferson.