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image of Hangmans Tree historic spotThe Hangtown Story
by John Steele

Placerville is known as Hangtown, from the fact that at that place five men had been hung on the same day to the same tree. As related to me by someone who professed to have been an eye witness, there was in the village a saloon and gambling den known as the headquarters of a notorious gang of thugs. Men supposed to have gold were killed and robbed on the streets at night; others were murdered in their cabins. No one felt safe, either on the street or at his work; and yet no one doubted as to who were the criminals. Finally, at the funeral of a man whose murder and robbery had been traced to certain gamblers, the citizens resolved that every professional gambler, that is, every one who followed no other occupation, must leave town within twenty-four hours. At this the thugs became more bitter and defiant than ever. A leading citizen, who had obtained evidence involving four of them in the murder, was shot and killed while passing their headquarters.

image of Welcome to Placerville signThe enraged miners immediately gathered, surrounded the saloon, and finding the four against whom the charges of murder had been made, and who were suspected of firing the recent fatal shots, seized and bound them hands and feet and without further ceremony hung them to a tree. The proprietor of the saloon became very angry, charged the crowd with murder, and threatened to avenge the death of his patrons. The mob was in no mood to listen to such talk. There were those present whose friends had been shot down and robbed, as they believed by those men; and suspecting that he was an accomplice in their crimes, a rope was quietly obtained and suddenly the noose was slipped over his head, and he was dragged to the tree and hung up with the rest. Although the twenty-four hours were not yet expired, the mob concluded to finish the business and get rid of the professional gamblers. But upon making search not one could be found; they had taken the hint and gone."