David S. Terry

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For other people of the same name, see David Terry (disambiguation).
David S. Terry.

David Smith Terry (March 8, 1823 – August 14, 1889) was a California jurist and politician, who killed United States Senator David C. Broderick in the Broderick – Terry duel in 1859. He died in 1889, after being shot by a bodyguard of United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Field .


Terry was born in Todd County, Kentucky. From 1855 to 1859 he was a California State Supreme Court Justice, serving as the 4th Chief Justice of California from 1857.

Terry was always known for his fiery temper. In 1856, he stabbed Sterling A. Hopkins, a member of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance and was arrested, but was not tried.

Terry was an advocate of the extension of slavery into California, and the slavery issue proved to be divisive to the California Democratic Party. Although he had been a close friend of David Broderick, he accused Broderick, a Free Soil advocate, of having engineered his loss for re-election in the 1859 state elections. Terry issued inflammatory comments at a state convention in Sacramento, which offended Broderick.

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. Broderick's discharged early, leaving him open for Terry's shot. 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 and went to serve 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. He fought during the American Civil War and was wounded at the Battle of Chickamauga. He came back to California in 1868 after the war was over, but was unable to re-enter politics.

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. She lost her case and eventually wound up marrying Terry. The Terrys appealed, and 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.

Field ruled against Mr. and Mrs. Terry in a final appeal, and jailed them both on contempt of court. The Terrys vowed vengeance. On August 14, 1889 David Terry assaulted Field at a train station in Lathrop, near Stockton, California. 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 Neagle had acted within the scope of his authority.

Terry also 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.

Terry is buried at Stockton Rural Cemetery in Stockton.

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


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