David S. Terry

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For other people with the same name, see David Terry (disambiguation).
David S. Terry
David S. Terry.jpg
4th Chief Justice of California
In office
Preceded by Hugh Murray
Succeeded by Stephen J. Field
Personal details
Born (1823-03-08)March 8, 1823
Russellville, Kentucky
Died August 14, 1889(1889-08-14) (aged 66)
Lathrop, California
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Cornelia Runnels
Sarah Althea Hill
Relations Benjamin Franklin Terry (brother)
Profession Attorney, politician
Military service
Allegiance United States United States of America
 Confederate States of America
Service/branch CavalryBC.png United States Cavalry
 Confederate States Army
Rank Confederate States of America Colonel.png Colonel
Unit Texas 8th Texas Cavalry
Commands 37th Texas Cavalry

Mexican-American War
U.S. Civil War

David Smith Terry (1823–1889) was a California jurist and Democratic politician, who was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California,[1][2][3] and the primary author of the Constitution of 1879. He also won a duel with U.S. Senator David C. Broderick in Broderick's second duel in 1859. He died in 1889, after being shot by a bodyguard of U.S. Justice Stephen J. Field.


Terry was born in Todd County, Kentucky.[4][5] In 1831, his family moved and settled in Brazoria County, Texas until David Smith himself moved to California in 1849.[6] From 1855 to 1859 he was a California State Supreme Court Justice, serving as the 4th Chief Justice of California from 1857.

In 1856, the State of California declared San Francisco to be in a state of insurrection. Judge Terry travelled from Sacramento to San Francisco to negotiate, where he was kidnapped by armed gunmen, but he managed to stab one, Sterling A. Hopkins, a member of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance, who was not tried.[citation needed]

A prominent incident in Terry's life came about when he took up the cause of the 'Widow Sanchez'. Maria Encarnacion Ortega de Sanchez, the widow of a wealthy rancher, was being cheated by local authorities, including the Sheriff, William Roach, who took her fortune under the guise of guardianship. After kidnapping Roach with the help of a local gunslinger named Anastacio Garcia, they held Roach in a jail cell in Stockton until he agreed to release the widow's gold. But Roach had bribed a guard to ride to Monterey and urge Roach's family to hide the gold. The treasure was hidden somewhere in Carmel Valley by Roach's brother-in-law, Jerry MacMahon. MacMahon was killed in a barroom brawl before he could reveal the location of the money. With no more gold left to the widow, Terry lost interest in her case.[citation needed][dubious ]

Terry was a close friend of Democratic U.S. Senator from California David Broderick, he accused Broderick, a Free Soil advocate, of having engineered his loss for re-election in the 1859 state elections.[citation needed] Terry issued inflammatory comments at a state convention in Sacramento, which offended Broderick.[citation needed][dubious ]

On September 13, 1859, Terry and Broderick, having agreed to a duel, met just outside San Francisco city limits. Terry won the coin toss to select weapons, and chose pistols that had hair triggers.[citation needed][dubious ] Broderick's discharged early, leaving him open for Terry's shot.[citation needed][dubious ] At first Terry thought that he had only wounded Broderick, but the senator died three days later.

Although Terry was acquitted of murder he left the state. He fought during the American Civil War, serving in the 8th Texas Cavalry Regiment of the Confederate States Army. This unit was raised by his brother Benjamin Franklin Terry and was also known as Terry's Texas Rangers. David Terry later became Colonel of the 37th Texas Cavalry Regiment and was wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga. He came back to California in 1868 after the war was over, and while a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, his Progressive plan was adopted.


Sarah Althea Hill

Terry became entangled in a mysterious divorce case in the 1880s. A young woman named Sarah Althea Hill claimed that she was the legal wife of silver millionaire William Sharon. Sharon denied that they had ever married, but Hill wanted a divorce and a share of Sharon's treasure.[citation needed][dubious ] She lost her case and eventually wound up marrying Terry.[citation needed][dubious ]

Downfall and death[edit]

On behalf of his wife, Terry appealed the ruling on his lawsuit against silver millionaire William Sharon. United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Field, a former friend of Broderick's, heard the case in 1888 as the senior justice of the Federal circuit court in California.[citation needed] Field ruled against Mr. and Mrs. Terry in a final appeal, and jailed them both on contempt of court. The Terrys vowed vengeance.

A year later, on August 14, 1889, David Terry assaulted Field at a train station in Lathrop, near Stockton, California.[dubious ] Field's bodyguard United States Marshal David Neagle (formerly assigned to Tombstone, Arizona) shot and killed Terry. Neagle was arrested by California authorities on a charge of murder. The United States secured the release of Neagle on a writ of habeas corpus. The issue was resolved by In re Neagle, 135 U.S. 1 (1890), a United States Supreme Court decision that determined that the Attorney General of the United States had authority to appoint U.S. Marshals as bodyguards to Supreme Court Justices, and that Federal appointments superseded State law regarding conduct of bodyguards.

David S. Terry is buried at Stockton Rural Cemetery in Stockton.

His wife, Sarah Terry became insane, and spent the rest of her life at the Stockton State Hospital for the insane, where she died in 1936.[citation needed][dubious ] She is buried in the same gravesite as her husband. Terry's first wife, Cornelia Runnels, is buried next to him.


  1. ^ "Journal - State Bar of California, Volume 22". State Bar of California. 1947. Retrieved January 14, 2016. 
  2. ^ "Journal: Appendix. Reports - Volume 8". California Legislature. 1887. Retrieved January 14, 2016. 
  3. ^ Lawson, Kristan; Rufus, Anneli (2013). California Babylon. St. Martin's Press. p. 196. ISBN 1466854146. Retrieved January 14, 2016. 
  4. ^ Shuck, Oscar Tully (1889). "Bench and Bar in California: History, Anecdotes, Reminiscences". Occident Printing. p. 281. Retrieved January 14, 2016. 
  5. ^ "ABA Journal". 43 (5). ABA Journal. May 1957: 416. Retrieved January 14, 2016. 
  6. ^ Fullmore, Zachary Taylor (1915). "The History and Geography of Texas as Told in County Names". E. L. Steck Press. p. 259. Retrieved January 14, 2016. 

No reliable references

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Hugh C. Murray
Chief Justice of California
Succeeded by
Stephen J. Field