Badman Billy Mulligan

CA poppy close viewNew Yorker Billy Mulligan and his gang of young toughs came for the California Gold Rush, arriving in San Francisco by ship in late 1849. 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, the fashionably clad group rejected the hard work of gold mining, preferring to get rich by employing the Tammany Hall tactics they already knew so well. Under Billy’s leadership they gained extraordinary political power through intimidation and blackmail—but they made mistakes, too. In an important 1856 election, their ballot box stuffing outraged the citizenry by producing more votes than there were voters, and that same year Mulligan’s cohort James Casey murdered popular newspaper editor James King. It was enough: a resurrected Vigilance Committee forcibly expelled Billy and his associates from the city. Back in New York, his continued criminal activities escalated, landing him in Sing Sing prison for a spell. Mulligan returned to San Francisco in the early 1860s, but city government was in new hands and most of his former cronies were dead. This time, for awhile, he kept his behavior low-key: he was picked up for carrying a concealed weapon in 1864, and the following year 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 hotel’s hallway. He was 36.