No. 6

Donner Party Bulletin

July/August 1998

Some Keseberg Clippings

Here are several of the brief items about Louis Keseberg that I’ve collected over the years:

For Sale – That well known and long established Hotel on K Street, between Front and Second, known as the "Lady Adams Hotel" will be sold on Monday the 1st of November, at 11 o’clock, at public auction. Lot 20 by 65; house 20 by 60. The present proprietor [Louis Keseberg] is desirous of leaving for the States.
Sacramento Union, November 1, 1852.)
Cross Firing – Lewis Keseburg, proprietor of the Franklin Brewery, near the Fort, was arrested on Monday on a charge of assault and battery, preferred by Ernest Reimen, one of his employees. At the trial, which came of before the Mayor yesterday, the prosecuting witness testified that he was a member of the Methodist Church, and came into town on Sunday evening to attend service; that he returned to the brewery in company with defendant, who abused him on the way, calling him most opprobrious epithets in connection with his religious inclinations, and on arriving at the brewery drove him out of doors, and assaulted him with stones. Two or three witnesses examined on the part of the defense – attaches or employees of defendant – testified that Reimen had threatened to shoot defendant, and set fire to the brewery. The case was continued to procure additional and rebutting evidence on the part of the prosecution, after which Reimen was arrested on the complaint of Keseburg, for making the threats alluded to above. The personal appearance of Reimen is anything but suggestive of such a character as is attributed to him in this connection. (Sacramento Union, August 20, 1856.)

Convicted – Discharged. – We have already chronicled the fact that Lewis Keseberg was convicted in the Recorder’s

Court of an assault and battery on Ernest Reinnan [sic] at the Franklin Brewery on Sunday last; and that the latter, on complaint of the former, (proprietor of the brewery,) had been arrested for threatening to burn that establishment. The Recorder yesterday rendered judgment in the former case, imposing a fine of $30 and costs, or ten days imprisonment, whereupon the defendant gave notice of appeal. The case of Reinnan was tried immediately afterwards, resulting in its dismissal. Several respectable witnesses were introduced who gave the defendant an enviable character for integrity and quietness of demeanor. The defendant, who is in humble circumstances and unable to employ a lawyer in his defense, was profuse in his expressions of gratitude to Mr. Heacock, who nobly volunteered in his behalf.
Sacramento Union, August 22, 1856.)
Crazy Horse. – Mr. Keesberg of the Phœnix Brewery, near the Fort, was kicked on the leg yesterday afternoon, and badly injured, by a horse which he supposes to be crazy. The horse is one which Mr. K. has owned for some time, and he has been kind and gentle until now, when he is perfectly wild and unapproachable. He has been standing in the stable where the sun’s rays fell upon his head for the past few days, and it is supposed it has effected him to madness. (San Andreas Independent, July 2, 1859, reprinted from the Sacramento Bee.)

Suburban Sketches No. 3

... In 1853 Lewis Keseberg, of Donner Lake notoriety, turned a bar-room situated at the southeast corner of M and Twenty-eighth streets into the Phœnix Brewery. In 1860 he established a distillery in connection with the brewery, but the floods of 1861-2 washed away the greater portion of the buildings and filled the cellars with sediment even with the

Issue No. 6

ground. The loss to the proprietor was between $5,000 and $6,000. That phœnix might have arisen from the ashes, but it certainly never has from those floods, though Keseberg is still alive and actively engaged at Calistoga in the employ of Sam Brannan.
Sacramento Daily Union, July 15, 1872.)

To clarify the items above, this is what Keseberg told historian C. F. McGlashan about his days in Sacramento:

"In 1851 I purchased the Lady Adams hotel, in Sacramento. It was a valuable property, and I finally sold it at auction for a large sum of money. This money was to be paid the next day. The deeds had already passed. That night the terrible fire of 1852 occurred, and not only swept away the hotel, but ruined the purchaser, so that I could not collect one cent. I went back to Sutter’s Fort and started the Phœnix Brewery. I succeeded, and acquired considerable property. I finally sold out for fifty thousand dollars. I had concluded to take this money, go back to Germany, and live quietly the rest of my days. The purchaser went to San Francisco to draw the money. The sale was effected eight days before the great flood of 1861-2. The flood came, and I lost everything."
History of the Donner Party: A Tragedy of the Sierra (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1947), 222.)

Two Keseberg Anecdotes

Here are two examples of stories goldrushers told about Keseberg:

Within half a mile of our encampment, we saw the house of old Keysburg, the Cannibal, who revelled in the awful feast on human flesh and blood, during the sufferings of a party of emigrants near the pass of the Sierra Nevada in the winter of 1847: a painfully interesting description of which we received from the lips of our late lamented friend, John Sinclair, Esq., at whose house on the American River, the survivors of the party were received and entertained. A full and accurate account of these events have been furnished to the public by Mr. Bryant.

It is said that the taste which Keysburg then acquired has not left him, and that he often declares with evident gusto,

July/August 1998

"I would like to eat a piece of you;" and several have sworn to shoot him, if he ventures such fond declarations to them. We therefore looked at the den of this wild beast in human form with a good deal of disgusted curiosity, and kept our bowie-knives handy for a slice of him, if necessary.
Theodore T. Johnson, Sights in the Gold Region, and Scenes on the Way (New York: Baker & Scribner, 1849), 136-137.)

Riding up to a large unfinished frame building to make inquiries about the road, I was answered by a man who I afterwards learned was the notorious Keysburg, the same who came out with the emigration of 1846, and lived all winter among the mountains on the dead bodies of his companions. He was of a stout, large frame, with an exceedingly coarse, sensual expression of countenance, and even had I not heard his revolting history, I should have marked his as a wholly animal face. It remains in my memory now like that of an ogre, and I only remember it with a shudder. One of those who went out to the Camp of Death, after the snows were melted, described to me the horrid circumstances under which they found him— seated, like a ghoul, in the midst of dead bodies, with he face and hands smeared with blood, and a kettle of human flesh boiling over the fire. He had become a creature too foul and devilish for this earth, and the forbearance with which the men whose children he had devoured while they were toiling back to his succor through almost fathomless snow refrained from putting him to death is to be wondered at. He had not the plea of necessity in the use of this revolting food; for the body of an ox, which had been thawed out of the snow, was found untouched near his cabin. He spoke with a sort of fiendish satisfaction of the meals he had made, and the men were obliged to drag him away from them by main force, not without the terrible conviction that some of the victims had been put to a violent death to glut his appetite. There is no creation in the whole range of fiction so dark and awful in its character as this man.
Bayard Taylor, Eldorado, or, Adventures in the Path of Empire.... (London: H.G. Bohn, 1850), 170.)

Donner Party Bulletin is edited by
Kristin Johnson
Salt Lake City, UT
Kristin Johnson


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