The Life Story of David Terry, 4th Chief Justice of California

David Smith Terry

The Life Story of David Terry, 4th Chief Justice of California

Early in the 1830s, Joseph Terry left his family behind in Mississippi, leaving his wife Sarah to care for their four sons by herself. She later relocated to Texas, where her four sons all achieved success. Chief Justice David Terry’s life started from then. Keep reading…

David terry
David Terry | Wikipedia

Early Life of David Smith Terry

The second-oldest son, David, emigrated to California during the 1849 gold rush after participating in the Mexican War. David was an unsuccessful gold miner but rose to prominence as a lawyer and politician. He was chosen to serve on the California Supreme Court in 1855.

David was sent to San Francisco in 1856 to try to restore order after the state declared the city to be in a state of insurrection. David (who always carried a Bowie knife) stabbed one of the leaders in the neck as the vigilantes who had taken over the city tried to capture him. He was detained but shortly freed, and he was never put on trial.

David was appointed Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court in 1857, but in 1859 he resigned from his office to take on U.S. Senator David Broderick in a duel. David Terry led the pro-south, pro-slavery faction, whereas Broderick headed the pro-northern “Free Soil” faction in California. The two men had a long-running feud. In the fight, Terry killed Broderick.

He returned to Texas during the Civil War, organized a regiment, and joined the Confederate army as a colonel. He returned to California after the war, got back into politics, and played a significant role in the 1878 California Constitutional Convention. Naturally, all of that would be enough to make David Terry a fascinating person, but he was only beginning.

When he was hired to represent Allie Hill, he suddenly found himself back in the national spotlight. By asserting that she was the former senator’s legitimate wife and that they had been secretly married a number of years previously, Miss Hill got William Sharon, a multimillionaire and former U.S. senator, arrested for adultery.

Life Story of David Terry
David Smith Terry | Wikipedia

She wanted half of Sharon’s enormous fortune throughout the divorce process, and David Terry acted as her attorney. The case was well-known and spent years on the front pages of newspapers all around the nation. Despite being fascinating, the details would extend beyond the scope of this piece. Hill and Terry ultimately lost the case, but in the meantime, they fell in love and got married.

Both held District Judge Stephen Field, who presided over the case’s trial, responsible for the case’s defeat. Justice Field and Mr. and Mrs. Terry met by chance in 1889 at a restaurant inside a train station in Latrop, California. David Terry, who was 66 at the time, approached the judge and smacked him across the face. Terry was instantaneously killed when Justice Field’s bodyguard pulled a gun and shot him in the heart at that moment.

When the case reached the Supreme Court in 1890, the Court ruled that U.S. marshals serving as Supreme Court Justices’ bodyguards were subject to federal jurisdiction for their conduct, not state law. As a result, the marshal who shot David Terry could not be tried in a state court. The bodyguard (a U.S. marshal) was detained and charged with murder.

Allie Hill Terry, a widow, had a spiritualist obsession and made contact with her deceased spouse. She spent the final 45 years of her life in a mental institution in Stockton after being sent there in 1892.

Death and judge assassination

David terry
David Smith Terry Memorial | G.Photographer

A year later, David Terry and Field were traveling on the same train to San Francisco when it stopped at the Lathrop train station for breakfast. Field was struck in the face by Terry. Terry was shot and murdered by Field’s security, Deputy United States Marshal David B. Neagle, who thought Terry was going for the Bowie knife he was known to keep in his breast pocket. Neagle was arrested by Sheriff Tom Cunningham of San Joaquin County on a murder accusation.

David terry
David Smith Terry Memorial | G.Photographer

Neagle’s release was obtained by the US attorney general through a writ of habeas corpus. In re Neagle, 135 U.S. 1 (1890), a decision of the United States Supreme Court, decided that federal law exceeded state law and that the United States Attorney General had the authority to name U.S. Marshals as bodyguards to Supreme Court Justices.

In Stockton, David S. Terry is buried at the Stockton Rural Cemetery.

Wife has been diagnosed as insane 

Sarah Terry | Wikipedia

Sarah Terry, a widow, eventually became mad. She ignored her appearance as she mindlessly roamed the streets of San Francisco. She was frequently in communication with “spirits,” particularly her husband’s. She was identified as having “dementia praecox,” a pre-schizophrenic condition.

She was declared to be crazy on March 2, 1892, and was sent at the age of 33 to the California Asylum in Stockton, where she remained for 45 years before she passed away. She rests alongside her spouse in the same grave. Also buried near to Terry is his first wife, Cornelia Runnels, who passed away in December 1884.

Source: Wikipedia, Findagrave | All the information & photo credit goes to respective authorities. DM for removal please.

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