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Elam Brown Opposes Dueling in Contra Costa

Contra Costa County, California Broadcast Station
KLX, Oakland, California Number 42, broadcast
February 15, 1937


I am going to digress for a moment from Supreme Court cases to call your attention to a very interesting document called to my attention by Mr. Thos. McHugh, the Martinez correspondent of the Oakland Tribune, who found it among the early records of Contra Costa County. It is an interesting commentary upon the ancient custom dueling which apparently flourished in the early days in California. The document itself is in the form of a presentment or indictment by the grand jury to the Court of Sessions of Contra Costa County during the April term of the Court in 1852. At that time Contra Costa County included, in addition to its present territory all of the land included in what now is known as Alameda County. The county seat of that vast territory was at Martinez and it was there this presentment was made by the grand jury. It called upon all peace officers of the county for a strict discharge of their duties.

Elam Brown, the Lafayette pioneer of 1847, was the foreman of the jury which received considerable evidence of this duel in the "village of Contra Costa," now Oakland. The fact that the City of Oakland was once known as the Village of Contra Costa is well worth noting. What a change in less than 90 years! There was not sufficient evidence, however, to bring a true bill against any individuals.

The presentment reads:

"The grand jury of Contra Costa County for the Court of Sessions, April term, 1852, Present: that a duel has been fought in this county in the month of March last near the village of Contra Costa by two persons accompanied by a party from San Francisco; that the jury has not been able to get proof of the identity of the persons concerned in the transaction, yet sufficient testimony has been elicited to show that a high crime has been committed; that the laws have been violated in peace officers have been obstructed and prevented from performing their duties by the acts and devious threats of armed men; that the fundamental law of the state, the only hope and security of the citizens in government, have been trampled upon with impunity by these would-be brave men seeking to become great by dyeing their robes in the life blood of their fellow men; that transactions so palpably wrong, so dangerous and destructive to social order, so utterly in violation of social law and so repugnant to the principle of morality and religion requires the prompt action of all good citizens and law loving men to ferret out the offenders in the transaction above alluded to and bring them before the proper tribunal that the supremacy of the law may be maintained and rights of community secured; and the jury here enjoin all peace officers of this county to a strict discharge of their duties under the requirements of the law and the obligations of the their oaths of office in preventing similar acts, that desperadoes that do not regard the law of God nor man may know that this community is disposed to sustain the law.

ELAM BROWN, foreman of the grand jury."

Mr. Brown's flowery discourse seems to have had its result. No further mention of dueling in Contra Costa County is made in the archives.

Suggested Reading:

  • Original papers of A. F. Bray in the Contra Costa County History Center archives.

Judge A.F. Bray