James King of William
San Francisco Bulletin

James King was born of Scottish-Irish parentage on Jan. 28, 1822, in Georgetown, Md. He early ascribed to himself the morals and diligence of the New Englander.

To avoid misidentification with others similarly named, the youthful James King added the patronymic “of William,” thus revealing certain traits that were dominant in his character, an aggressive ego, a certain exhibitionism, a desire to stand apart from and above the crowd.

King’s early years passed in a prosaic fashion, and in 1841 at the age of 19 he started as a bank clerk. For seven years, he toiled diligently to learn the skills of the financier.

Early in 1848, his health failed and King was lured to both a warmer climate and richer economic opportunity in Oregon by letters from his brother. While en route to the Pacific Northwest, news of discovery of gold reached him. On Nov. 10, 1848, the future editor debarked at San Francisco and moved on to the Sierra gold camps.

The gold diggings were for the most hardy, and as a result many failed. The weak either perished or crawled back to San Francisco for a handout. The wise became merchants and money lenders. King became a banker.

In 1849 King opened a banking house in San Francisco and for five years he prospered. In 1854, King’s agent in Sonoma, instead of buying gold dust, invested a large sum of his employer’s cash in a worthless venture. King was ruined and had to sell out. The penniless, humbled King accepted a managerial post with the bank he once owned, but in 1855 it also failed. King attempted a comeback by establishing once again his own bank. But the new venture was too feeble.

King, suffering the charity of his brother, Thomas, was now a desperately angry man ready to flail out at adversity and at those men he thought responsible for his ruin. He chose journalism as his weapon.

On Oct. 8, 1855, James King issued the first copy of the Daily Evening Bulletin.

On the first day, King announced his editorial independence. The next, he proclaimed he would not be silenced. On the third, he warned that the “silent monitor” of moral obligation was pressing him onward. On Oct. 11, the fourth day, King exposed the corrupt relationship between bankers and fraudulent politicians.

Within a week, King had fired salvos at every corner of San Francisco society, laying down a barrage of names and facts. Public and private figures both felt the sting of his vigorous pen. No one was exempt, not even the clergy. Soon The Bulletin became the city’s leading newspaper, and King gained the promontory “above the crowd.” San Franciscans found a leader in a time of desperate civic need.

When the law-abiding citizen awoke, it was almost too late. The older press had lost its virility.

Then King thundered out, crystallizing public wrath. King called for the justice of the Old Testament. He acted like a man having nothing to lose.

For seven months, The Bulletin trumpeted doom for the evil and the wicked. Then, in early May 1856, the final storm burst with a sudden fury little expected.

King became entangled in a new quarrel with the illiterate editor of The Sunday Times, the ubiquitous James Casey. In The Bulletin, on May 14, 1856, King reported in an editorial that Casey had served a term in Sing Sing Prison for grand larceny.

It was the last editorial that King wrote. While going home from work that evening, King was shot by Casey. The wounded editor clung to his life for six days while, outside the sick room, an aroused San Francisco mob, chanting for revenge, evoked the scourge of the Vigilante Committee.

On May 20, King died. The next day, as church bells sadly tolled the funeral dirge, the fire bell angrily clanged the dread call for the assembly of the Vigilantes. And as the remains of James King of William were laid to rest on Lone Mountain, the Vigilantes hung James Casey for the crime of murder.

San Francisco had lost a powerful voice that spoke with the indignation of a prophet against the sins that plagued the young, lusty city by the Golden Gate.

Hall of Fame inductees are selected annually by a committee appointed by the California Press Foundation. They recognize career achievements of weekly and daily publishers in California who were important and influential in their era, as judged by their peers in the association. The write-ups are a historical and journalistic snapshot in time and not official biographies.