River Pirates

By William Mero

By 1914 the citizens of the San Joaquin-Sacramento delta had had enough. These were the days when riverboats transported huge amounts of Delta produce to the markets in Oakland and San Francisco. But freebooters lurked in a number of Delta islands. They had faster boats and more powerful weapons than local lawmen. Farmers would store their bales, boxes and sacks of their produce on the levees for loading onto the riverboat. At night river pirates would swoop down on the farmers goods, load it onto their scows and sell their booty in Bay Area markets.

Farmers started to defend their property with watchmen armed with loaded shot guns. This only enraged the river pirates and thieves. Emerging from their island hideouts, they responded by storming ashore, shooting up the levees, beating and murdering the guards. The elusive river outlaws began to be compared to the legendary Joaquin Murrieta gang .

On March 1, 1914 the San Francisco Chronicle reported that "Recent activities on the part of the gang along the waterfront of Contra Costa County has impelled Sheriff Veale to take a determined stand in the matter, and plans are under way for a relentless campaign of extermination."

It was also revealed that the patience of other government agencies had become exhausted. Fast Navy launches were loaned to Sheriff Veale placing the sheriff on a more equal footing with the outlaws. A group of picked men well versed in gun handling and marksmanship were chosen by the sheriff. The Federal Government loaned the river posse high-powered rifles and automatic pistols. Men from Marin, Solano, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties also joined the upcoming battle.

The heat was on. With all the publicity and public attention the old days of river robberies and shootings were past. The smarter river pirates read the handwriting on the wall. Those that survived sought new opportunities. They turned their former pirate scows into floating houses of prostitution and gambling. Anchoring off of Martinez, Richmond and Stockton, they continued to annoy and harass the law-abiding citizens living along the river.


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