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Sheriff Bob Paul: The lawman who tamed Calif.'s wild frontier with courage and dialogue

Bob Paul transitioned from a sailor to gold miner, then to a respected lawman; learn how his determined efforts bring peace and justice to a chaotic frontier

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Bob Paul made a significant impact across the West for 50 years.

Courtesy photo

In the years leading up to 1854, over 200 men were executed by extrajudicial lynch mobs, whose members were fed up with the lawlessness in the mining camps and frontier towns of California.

Enter Bob Paul.

This former sailor turned gold miner was elected constable of Township 4, Camp Seco, in Calaveras County, California, in September 1854. Following Paul’s election as constable, Sheriff Clarke of Calaveras County also appointed him as a deputy sheriff, granting him jurisdiction throughout the county.

At that time, he was described by a contemporary as “modest as a chaste woman, active, honest and courageous to a fault.” Paul’s mere presence had a calming effect on nearly any chaotic scene. However, there was one incident in which his presence alone was not enough for him to prevail.

The murder most foul

On Sunday, May 27, 1855, an irascible miner named Jack Williams confronted a well-liked Welsh miner, Caspar Sheppard. The confrontation occurred in front of the Campo Seco billiard saloon, where Williams loudly demanded the immediate payment of $2.50 that Sheppard owed him. Sheppard protested against Williams’ unnecessary public shaming over such a minor amount.

Everyone present later agreed that Williams’ behavior was not aimed at collecting money but rather at provoking the Welshman into a fight, which was typical of Williams. The insults and threats quickly escalated, leading Sheppard to refuse to pay the debt — even though he was able to — and instead, he raised his fists in the Marquess of Queensberry style. As the two combatants squared off, someone shouted, “Fight!” and a crowd instantly gathered to watch.

The initial circling of the belligerents led to no immediate outcome, but the situation changed dramatically when Sheppard landed a hard punch on Williams’ face, sending him stumbling backward. Rather than re-engaging in the fight, Williams stunned the onlookers by drawing his revolver and firing, hitting the unarmed Sheppard in the arm and chest.

Bob Paul makes the arrest

Paul, who was on foot patrol, heard the shots and ran toward the sound. He reached the stunned crowd and made his way through it, finding at its center Williams, with a proverbial “smoking gun” in hand, standing over the dying Sheppard.

Paul arrested Williams and detained him in Camp Seco’s makeshift jail. Sheppard lingered in great pain until he was finally relieved of it through death at 3:00 a.m.

The lynch mob forms

After word spread that the friendly Welshman had died, a crowd gathered, determined to take Williams by force from Paul’s custody and hang him immediately.

Paul, sensing the mob’s dangerous mood, hitched his horses to his buggy and loaded Williams inside, aiming for a quick departure from Camp Seco to the more secure jail in Mokelumne Hill. Bob sharply snapped the reins and navigated the dirt streets of Camp Seco.

However, as he encountered the approaching crowd blocking his way, Paul took a sharp turn to bypass the mob. This sudden maneuver flipped the buggy, sending Williams and Paul skidding to the roadside.

The mob quickly surrounded Paul, forcing him to fight his way through and seek refuge in a nearby house. He and his prisoner were joined by volunteers who, like Paul, believed that with a lawman in Camp Seco, the time for lynching without trial had passed. Despite this belief, the crowd forcefully broke into the house.

Paul consciously chose not to use his firearm. Instead, he engaged in a bare-knuckle fight with many mob members to protect his prisoner. Paul’s punches were effective, knocking down one attacker after another.

The intense struggle continued, but eventually, Paul and his volunteers were overwhelmed by the sheer number of their assailants. A noose was placed around the neck of Williams as he was dragged from the house. To their frustration, the mob discovered during the chaos that Paul had somehow shortened their rope, rendering it comically inadequate for hanging the prisoner.

Paul de-escalates the lynch mob

As the disorganized vigilantes pondered their next move, Paul and his loyal volunteers approached the group again. Paul, realizing the crowd’s anger had diminished somewhat after the initial encounter, decided to change tactics. He aimed to de-escalate the situation through meaningful dialogue and a determined demeanor.

Paul spoke calmly, making eye contact with several individuals and addressing some by name. Known for his reasoning skills and effective communication, Paul highlighted that lynching Williams would be as unlawful as Williams’ shooting of the Welshman.

He reminded the crowd that they had elected him to ensure that criminals like Williams were arrested, and he had honored that trust. Paul emphasized that their vote for him was also to ensure that justice would be served through legal means, not by mob rule.

The crowd listened and, moved by Paul’s words, returned Williams to Paul’s custody, even apologizing for their actions. With assistance from the now-persuaded mob, they righted Paul’s buggy and he continued transporting Williams to the jail in Mokelumne Hill.

A witness later reflected on the events, praising Paul and his volunteers for their steadfast and brave stand in upholding the law. Their actions effectively quelled the mob, ensuring the prisoner was safely returned to town. Their commitment to legal justice was seen as a victory for all law-abiding citizens.


Paul continued to make a significant impact across the West for 50 years, relentlessly pursuing dangerous criminals and establishing law and order wherever he went. It is only fitting that we, his philosophical descendants, not only remember this law enforcement legend but also venerate him.


1. Bossenecker, John. “The Bravest Lawman You’ve Never Heard Of.” True West, Oct. 2012.

2. Bossenecker, John. “When Law Was in the Holster, The Frontier Life of Bob Paul.”

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.