“I saw man after man shot down by the troops. Most of these were ghouls. One man made the trooper believe that one of the dead bodies lying on a pile of rocks was his mother, and he was permitted to go up to the body. Apparently overcome by grief, he threw himself across the corpse. In another instant the soldiers discovered that he was chewing the diamond earrings from the ears of the dead woman. ’Here is where you get what is coming to you,’ said one of the soldiers, and with that he put a bullet through the ghoul. The diamonds were found in the man’s mouth afterward.”
Others were shot to save them from the horror of being burned alive. Max Fast, a garment worker, tells of such an instance. He says:
“When the fire caught the Windsor Hotel at Fifth and Market Streets there were three men on the roof, and it was impossible to get them down. Rather than see the crazed men fall in with the roof and be roasted alive the military officer directed his men to shoot them, which they did in the presence of 5,000 people.”
He further states: “At Jefferson Square I saw a fatal clash between the military and the police. A policeman ordered a soldier to take up a dead body to put it in the wagon, and the soldier ordered the policeman to do it. Words followed, and the soldier shot the policeman dead.”
Among the many stories of this character on record is that of a concerted effort to break into and rob the Mint, which led to the death of fourteen men, who were shot down by the guard in charge. They had disregarded the command of the officer in charge to desist. They disobeyed, and the death of nearly the whole of them followed.
As may well be imagined, the privilege given to fire at will was very likely to lead to examples of unjustifiable haste in the use of the rifle. Such haste is not charged against the United States troops, but the militia and volunteer guards showed less judgment in the use of their weapons. Thus we are told that one man was shot for the minor offense of washing his hands in drinking water which had been brought with great trouble for the thirsty people gathered in Columbia Park. It is also said that a bank clerk, searching the ruins of his bank under orders, was killed by a soldier who thought he was looting. More than one seems to have been shot as looters for entering their own homes.
Among the reports there is one that two men were shot through the windows of their houses because they disobeyed the general orders and lit candles, and one woman because she lighted a fire in her cook stove. Yet, if such unwarranted acts existed, there were others better deserved. It is said that three men were lined up and shot before ten thousand people. One was caught taking the rings from a woman who had fainted, another had stolen a piece of bread from a hungry child, and the third, little more than a boy, was found in the act of robbing tents. One thief who escaped the bullet richly deserved it. He came upon a Miss Logan when lying unconscious on the floor of the St. Francis Hotel after the earthquake, and, rather than take the time to wrench some valuable rings from her hand, cut off the finger bearing them, and left her to the horrors of the coming fire.