Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Misadventures of Mike Brannigan (Part Eight)


The Worst Cabdriver in Sacramento


A lone carriage rumbles down Sacramento's K Street sometime in the 1860s. (From the Online Archive of California)

(Read Part 7: Brannigan is Back!)

In January, 1859, the San Joaquin Republican carried this story, as did several papers up and down California:

Not So Bad A Man—Michael Brannigan, hackdriver in Sacramento, found a large purse full of money in his hack, on Wednesday, and carried it to Wells, Fargo & Co.’s office, for the owner, whom he supposed to be a lady that had been riding in his carriage.

This was some surprising news. Mike Brannigan, “not so bad a man?” Mike Brannigan—the “Woman Whipper,” shoulder-striker, and petty thief, at one time the worst cabdriver in San Francisco,  and who had been driven out of that city by the Vigilance Committee—not so bad a man? Could some salutary change have come over Mike?

Certainly, Mike showed some signs of settling down and becoming respectable now that he was living in exile in Sacramento. He purchased a splendid new vehicle for $2,500, which the Sacramento Bee described as “one of the most elegant hack carriages ever imported to California,” with “silver trappings and lined with brocatelle and silk fringe.” He provided carriage service for the inauguration of Governor John B. Weller (Mike’s old associate from exile in New York). Mike became the owner of a small fleet, employing several drivers. By November of 1859, he obtained the privilege of operating the carriages for Sacramento’s premier hotel, as reported in the Bee:



The St. George Hotel at 4th and J Streets; where Mike Brannigan operated the carriage service. (Detail of a stereogram by Anthony & Co., at Online Archive of California)

Mike Brannigan announces that he is the sole proprietor of the St. George Hotel carriages, and all persons entrusting themselves to his care will be well treated and not subjected to extortionate demands. His charge for conveying a person to or from the boat, with baggage or to any part of the city, is $2.

Mike shows up in the 1860 census at the age of 30, with his own room in a large boarding house run by the Hutchinson family. Mike’s occupation is listed as “coach proprietor,” and his personal estate is valued at $3000. This was certainly a far cry from a few years before, when he had been penniless and hungover on the beach in Nicaragua.

It looked like the notorious Mike Brannigan had turned his life around.

For a minute or two. Then things went downhill.

For one thing, Mike couldn’t stop drinking and fighting, and he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Once again he started appearing regularly in the Police Court, for disturbing the peace, using foul language, and for general uproariousness. As the Record-Union wrote decades later as part of a “Thirty Years Ago” news retrospective:

It was a poor day for items when Mike Brannigan, the notorious hackman, did not furnish one or more. On the 18th of June he had a bloody fight in front of the St. George Hotel with C. Driscoll, and on the same day he fell into the river and came near drowning.

But as always, Mike was not unpopular with everybody. His friendly manner and quick wit earned him numerous friends, and also made him a hit with passengers. When John L. Livingston, “a well-dressed man and of good address” arrived in Sacramento on business, he got into Mike’s hack at the landing, and, one way or another, ended up in a house of prostitution, where he not only enjoyed himself immensely, but met a charming young courtesan whose name history records as Kate, or possibly Clara, or possibly Elizabeth Riley. Livingston was so smitten with Kate/Clara/Elizabeth that a priest was called and the couple were married in the brothel before a crowd of inebriated witnesses.


Downtown Sacramento in the 1860s. (Image from the Online Archive of California)

The next morning, the new Mr. and Mrs. Livingston went for a carriage ride around the city:

The happy bridegroom had with him a large amount of coin (principally in twenties), and was driven around yesterday with his wife in a carriage by Mike Brannigan, paying visits to friends of the bride, and discharging any pecuniary demands against her.

By afternoon, the blushing bride had retreated to her chambers, where the Daily Union noted that “as is alleged, she was sick abed, or too drunk to appear.” Livingston himself was flat broke, and even had to pawn his luggage to get a ride back to the landing in time for his boat home.


The Antelope, a Sacramento River steamer. (Image from the Online Archive of California)

When he arrived, Mike Brannigan, “who had doubtless pocketed some of the squandered cash,” was in his usual stand waiting for passengers, but hid from Livingston until the latter was safely on the plank boarding the steamer Antelope; then calling out loudly for the crowd’s attention, Mike shouted ridicule and abuse on the “unfortunate dupe” who had been relieved of his money and his dignity by the sharps of Sacramento. Livingston stood morosely on deck as the Antelope pulled away to the sounds of laughter and derisive hoots from the landing.

Good times!

(Next: The Brannigan Outrage)




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