The Broderick-Terry Duel: Re-enacting San Francisco History

The Re-enactment of the Duel, 2009 photo by Thomas Levinson

On September 13, 1859, California State Supreme Court Chief Justice David S. Terry mortally wounded U.S. Senator David C. Broderick in a duel at Lake Merced, just outside San Francisco’s city limits.

Tomorrow, the History Guild of Daly City / Colma will be staging a re-enactment of the duel on the shore of Lake Merced to mark the event’s 150th anniversary. I asked members of the the History Guild about the research methods they used to investigate the duel in the course of developing their performance. How did they go about identifying possible sources about the duel? How did they evaluate those sources in terms of their authority or reliability? Richard Rocchetta responded that they primarily used online content – especially an uncredited article that appears on the Anchor Steam Brewery website.

That article was written by David Burkhart, who told me that his sources included Carroll Douglass Hall’s 1939 publication, The Terry-Broderick Duel; James O’Meara’s 1881 publication, Broderick and Gwin (now available in full text on Google Books); and John S. Hittell’s 1878 history of San Francisco (also now available in full text on Google Books). Burkhart used the online database of historical New York Times articles (available for free to anyone with a San Francisco Public Library card) and articles about the duel that appeared in the San Francisco press in 1859 (microfilmed versions of these articles can be consulted on the 5th floor of the San Francisco Main Public Library).

Richard Rocchetta specified one other source used to develop tomorrow’s re-enactment: an article that appeared in the May 12, 2001 edition of The Independent, a now-defunct Redwood City newspaper.  Entitled “An Old Fashioned Political Shootout,” the article was authored by College of San Mateo history professor Michael Svanevik and Shirley Burgett. Anyone interested in reviewing the article can obtain a copy from the archives at the San Mateo County History Museum.

The Broderick-Terry duel is widely covered not only in scholarly literature and standard reference works in California history; primary source material is also available in Bay Area archives and can be discovered using union archival databases like the Online Archive of California. Yet in my work as an archivist, I frequently encounter researchers who do exactly what members of the History Guild of Daly City / Colma reported doing: relying primarily or exclusively on the Internet for content. That is instructive for any of us who curate archives or teach methods of historical research: it prompts us to ask ourselves how to make the wealth of valuable historical content that exists beyond the Internet discoverable even to those who might not wish to go looking any further than Google.

Tomorrow’s re-enactment of the Broderick-Terry duel will take place at 2:00 p.m. at 1100 Lake Merced Boulevard in Daly City. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call (650) 757- 7177.

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Filed under Online Archive of California, San Mateo County History Museum

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