Healthier Than a Chaw or a Cigarette, Though

“Wood shavings littered the floor of the (legislative) chambers because whittling was a favorite pastime of some legislators. Eventually, small blocks of wood had to be supplied for that purpose so that the desks, chairs and other fixtures would not be carved to slivers,” writes Mary Jo Ignoffo in Gold Rush Politics, California First Legislature.

“When meetings were declared adjourned there was a mad rush for the doors. One observer called the legislators ‘overgrown schoolboys’ hurrying and pushing each other to get out of the schoolhouse. If one of the Assemblymen or Senators was trying to convince his colleagues to case a particular vote, he would invited them to a ‘ranch’ or ‘open house’ for a drink or, as Thomas Green would intone, ‘a thousand drinks.’

“The Sergeant at Arms was kept exceedingly busy during the first session of the Legislature. Most days he had to roust Assemblymen or senators from their beds or taverns so a quorum could be reached to carry on state business.

“Several members of both houses had to be escorted to the statehouse and a few complained that their summons was recorded in the official record.”


Thomas Jefferson Green

Thomas Jefferson Green

“(Green) was a wealthy Southerner who had brought several slaves with him to California to mine gold. Even though he and his slaves had been run out of the mines by angry miners, the audacious Green left nothing deter him.

“With sweeping Southern charm and a steady supply of liquor, he got himself elected to the legislature by a wide margin.

“He was making a career out of legislating for he had served in both the North Carolina and the Florida legislatures.

“His most recent conquests, however, were in Texas and Mexico, where his experiences as a leader of the Mier Expedition resulted in a year-long captivity and a lucky release that only added to his bravado.

“His seemingly inexhaustible wealth may have contributed to his being chosen as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

“His standing invitation to fellow lawmakers to adjourn to “take a thousand drinks” earned this legislative session the nickname “Legislature of a Thousand Drinks.”


(Editor’s Note: The Mier Expedition was part of a failed attack by Texans against  Mexican border towns. More than 261 Texas troops attacked Ciudad Mier in December 1842. The soldiers ignored an order to pull back. The Texans didn’t know 3,000 Mexican troops were in the area. Depsite killing 650 Mexicans and wounding 200 others, the Texans were forced to surrender and 243 of them were taken prisoner. In February 181 escaped, but the harsh Mexican desert – nad lack fo food and water – forced 176 to surrender. General Santa Anna ordered all escapees to be executed but compromised at killing only one in 10. Green was second in command of the expedition. Green wrote a journal of his experiences – including his escape from a Mexican prison with 15 of his fellow Texans. (See Chapter 17, Page 296.) An introduction to the journal by Sam Haynes notes:

“While the conditions of (Green’s) captivity left much to be desired, they were substantially better than those endured by the men under his command. As officers, Green and Fisher generally fared better than the rank and file, and during the course of their long march into Mexico, they were usually housed in posadas, rather than the muddy cowpens to which the others quickly became accustomed.

“Moreover, their circumstances were ameliorated by their access to financial resources unavailable to most prisoners. The U.S. consul in Matamoros advanced Green a total of $700, while his counterpart in Veracruz also loaned him money for his passage back to Texas. He received additional funds from friends in the United States, which he used to purchase food and liquor and to effect his release from Perote. By contrast, those prisoners unable to rely upon the largesse of friends and family at home subsisted largely on the meager rations provided by the Mexican army, unable to pay for the various amenities that made prison life more comfortable.” )


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