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1854 squatters at Third and Mission

San Francisco 1854
San Francisco 1854

In 1854 squatters took possession of a lot in San Francisco at the corner of Third and Mission that belonged to Captain Joseph L. Folsom and there they built a squatter’s shanty that had three inch planks lining the interior walls. Because of their heavy fortifications Folsom decided it more prudent to buy them off rather than fight. Immediately after receiving money for leaving one of Folsom’s lots the group promptly moved onto another property belonging to him at the corner of First and Howard Streets where they brought in a ships galley that they called “Fort Larkin” after one of their members.

They presumed Folsom was scared and would pay off again, but they were terribly mistaken. As a man of determination and unflinching character, Folsom did not hesitate to act. Several fights took place and in one, on June 4, George Smith, an employee of Folsom, was killed and two squatters, John Larkin and James McNabb, were seriously wounded. The lawbreakers were driven off the lot and received far less for their time than a regular job would have paid.

The incident at Fort Larkin and the death of George Smith caused so much consternation that the prominent citizens promptly called a meeting and on June 6 an anti-squatter league known as an association for the protection of property and the maintenance of order was formed. A thousand determined men joined and pledged to put an end to the lawlessness that had gotten so out of hand. For a time, with the support of the police, they stopped squatter troubles in San Francisco.

John Putnam is the author of hard driving historical fiction from the California gold rush. See his website at