Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mysterious Death of the Saginaw's Skipper

Two earlier posts (May 24 & 28, 2008) related stories about the sidewheeler USS Saginaw, the first ship built at the Mare Island Navy Yard. During 1868-69 the Saginaw cruised in Alaskan waters, returning briefly to Mare Island for reprovisioning in the fall of 1868. During the first part of that Alaska cruise, the Saginaw was under the command of Commander John G. Mitchell. Unfortunately, during her return visit to Mare Island, Saginaw’s skipper met with an untimely end. The Vallejo Weekly Chronicle of Saturday, October 24, 1868, provided an account of the incident.

Mysterious Affair – Death of Commander John Mitchell

“Commander John Mitchell of the United States Steamer Saginaw was murdered in San Francisco, at the corner of Sutter and Stockton streets, at half past seven o’clock last Wednesday evening. The only witness to the deed was a young lady. She was passing down Sutter street near to the place, when she noticed three men standing at the place before mentioned; loud talk was going on when one of the men struck the man standing in the middle a heavy blow on the head knocking him down. The third man instantly took to his heels. The assailant stopped to strike his victim several blows as he lay on the ground, and then ran off in the opposite direction from that taken by his accomplice. As soon as possible the lady gave the alarm. When assistance came the man was found lying across the railroad track in a dying condition. He was removed to a grocery store near by, where he soon expired. Upon examination, strange to say, no marks of violence were found on his person (contradicting the first report). A gold watch and $29.50 in coin was found in his clothes, showing that no robbery was intended. He left the Navy yard on the morning boat to attend some business in the City. Two men were seen in the company of the deceased, a short time previous to the occurrence. Mitchell had apparently been drinking; he expressed his dislike to the company which was seemingly forced upon him. The whole affair is a complete mystery. A Coroner’s inquest was held on the body Thursday. The two men have been arrested, who gave their names as savage and Elias, which are thought to be fictitious names. Commander Mitchell has been a long time on the coast. He was the executive officer of the Active, under Commodore Alden, on the Coast Survey. On the breaking out of the war he was ordered East, where he took an active part in naval operations, and after the close of the war he came back to this coast as chief officer of the Pensacola. From this ship he was transferred to the command of the Saginaw something over a year ago; and was expecting to be relieved from the latter named vessel in a few days. He was a gentleman and an officer in every sense of the word, not only here, but everywhere his position called him. We are told he was a native of Massachusetts, and he leaves a wife and family in the East.”

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