In a case where there could be no reasonable question as to the validity of John Sutter’s title, the claims of a squatter in Sacramento would not be more extravagant than one made in other parts of the state, especially San Francisco. Except for the built-up portions of the city squatting became, and for years continued to be, a very normal method for acquiring and holding land. Not only did men squat for themselves but they would actually squat on property for others. For twenty years a number of rough characters hired themselves out to take and hold property for any person who would employ them.
Sometimes there would be encounters between rival parties and in more than one instance one or two men were killed or wounded. Gradually the different bands got to understand one another and would combine in the common cause, all the while filling the air with the most terrible of threats while pretending to wage war in order to gain extra pay from their respective employers, and then they would sell out to whoever paid them the most.
Once in a while, however, the owners out did the squatters. In February 1850 Theodore Shillaber received a lease from United States authorities for a piece of government reserve land at Rincon Point. When he tried to take possession he found it occupied by squatters from Sydney who would neither leave nor pay rent. Shillaber complained to Captain Edward D. Keyes, in command of the military units at San Francisco’s Presidio, who marched twenty soldiers to the spot, drove all the squatters off the property and demolished all their shanties and tents and put Shillaber in possession.
Hard driving historical fiction by John Rose Putnam