Althea And The Judges


That fateful instrument having been signed, and her honor thus protected, the secret bride and groom separated without benefit either of clergy or of honeymoon—he to Virginia City, Nevada, and she to her home in the Galindo Hotel in Oakland. Within a month the Galindo burned down, and she moved to the Baldwin in San Francisco. There Sharon came to her, and for a while he was with her almost constantly. But soon he became afraid that their being together so much was creating a good deal of comment. He asked her to move to the Grand, which was connected to his own hotel, the Palace, by a bridge that made confidential access to one another easier. He wrote a note to Mr. Thorn, the manager of the Grand, introducing “Miss Hill, a particular friend of mine, and a lady of unblemished character and of good family. Give her the best, and as cheap as you can.”

For a few months, apparently, the bridge between the Palace and the Grand was a bridge of love. He furnished her room as she wanted it and he gave her (by coincidence?) $500 a month expense money. She had many of her meals and spent many a night with him at the Palace. She gave a musicale for him at the Grand and he had her and some friends for week ends at his country mansion, Belmont. She even attended, she said (though Sharon denied it), the great reception he gave for the wedding of his daughter to a titled Englishman, Sir Thomas Hesketh. “I used to go everywhere with Mr. Sharon.” she testified later, “He scarcely went anywhere that I did not go with him—either riding or driving, or attending to business, that he did not take me with him.”

Thus for a year or a little more. Then he began to accuse her of revealing his business secrets and private affairs, even of stealing his papers. Once, according to Althea, he demanded that she sign a paper that she was not Mrs. Sharon; he offered her the usual $500 a month if she would. She denied his accusations, declined his offer, and refused to sign his paper. But finally she took $7,500 in cash and personal notes payable to “Miss Hill,” and gave him a receipt and some sort of release of claims. Then he had the manager of the Grand give her a notice to vacate her room. When she delayed the hour of her going, Sharon had the room door taken off its hinges and the carpets taken up. She then decided to avoid the further indignity of being thrown out.

For a time she stayed at the home of Martha Wilson, “a poor, nervous little Negro woman” whom she had employed as a seamstress and from whose restaurant she had been used to having her breakfasts. Later she moved to a house in a more fashionable neighborhood and asked a Negro woman who was known as Mammie Pleasant to furnish it for her. As described later by a federal judge, Mammie Pleasant was “a shrewd old Negress of considerable means, who has lived in San Francisco many years, and is engaged in furnishing and fitting up houses and rooms, and caring for women and girls who need a mammie or a manager, as the case may be.” For some reason—it may be that Mammie had once been a slave girl of Althea’s family in Missouri—it was to this protectress that Althea confided the story of her “marriage” to Senator Sharon.

It was said (but Althea denied it) that Mammie persuaded her to try voodoo charms on Sharon to win back his affection. Allegedly Mammie showed her how to put black powder around his chair and white powder between the sheets of his bed and advised her to take one of Sharon’s socks and one of his shirts and bury them under a corpse in a newly made grave. Whether with or without voodoo, Althea was back in favor with the Senator for a time in 1882, but not for long. In the summer of 1883, Mammie took her with her precious declaration of marriage, to Mammie’s lawyer, George Tyler. Tyler needed and called in more eminent cocounsel. Among them was David Terry, a former chief justice of California. With him Althea seems to have made a genuine hit.

Terry was a tall, strong, fighting man from Texas. Although he was over sixty when he met Althea, he had all the quickness and penchant for wild passions of a much younger man. He claimed to adhere to the chivalry and the code of honor of the old South; and no man had ever safely challenged his readiness or his ability to defend his code—at law or with his bowie knife. He had fought in the Mexican War and, like Sharon, had come to California with the forty-niners. He settled in Stockton, became a leader of the Know-Nothing party, and in the early fifties was elected a state supreme court judge. In San Francisco, he was drawn into a fracas with the Vigilance Committee and wounded one of the vigilantes. The committee demanded that he resign from the bench, but he refused. Within a year the court’s chief justice died, and Terry succeeded to the post.

In 1859 he challenged Senator David Broderick—then the political leader of the state—to a duel on a point of personal honor. Terry won the duel and killed Broderick, but witnesses claimed he had fired before the count. Terry’s friends and defenders insisted that Broderick had fired first, accidentally or otherwise. Whatever the truth, the incident made Terry a sort of California Aaron Burr; he left the state, joined the Confederate Army when the Civil War began, and rose to the command of a brigade. After the war and a brief sojourn in Mexico, he returned to Stockton and resumed his practice of law and politics; but he never regained a position of real leadership, except as a sort of elder statesman for the malcontents.

Now, in the summer of 1883, he joined George Tyler in the case of Sarah Althea Hill.