ECW Weekender: Visit the Site of the Broderick-Terry Duel

Broderick-Terry Obelisk

Are you in the San Francisco area and looking for something to do? Pack a picnic lunch and head over to Daly City to explore the site of the Broderick-Terry duel. The famous duel that ended dueling in California was fought in this small ravine near the shore of Lake Merced, in the early morning of September 13, 1859. The participants were U.S. Senator David C. Broderick and Chief Justice David S. Terry of the California Supreme Court. Senator Broderick was mortally wounded. The site is marked with a monument and granite shafts where the two men stood. The site is California Registered Landmark No. 19.

This little gem can be found at 1100 Lake Merced Blvd. in Daly City, a suburb of San Francisco. The streets are narrow and it is in a tiny greenspace surrounded by houses. There are nicely maintained walkways, picnic tables, and fire pits. The entrance is clearly marked, however it looks like you are entering someone’s backyard. Just trust me–the signs are correct.

Once you are in the park area, the sight is to the right and can be easily accessed by a short dirt trail. The trees are beautiful, there were flowers when I went, and the markers indicate where the duelists stood. Once you see them, you will wonder how you missed them the first time.

The site is open all day, but morning-early afternoon hours are best for avoiding freeway traffic. There is no cost, and the park has nice picnicking facilities. I think a wheelchair could make it with a little help–nothing is very strenuous about the paths or the grass areas.

The famous duel has been re-enacted at least once. This should encourage you and a friend to stand at the markers and face each other, thereby realizing just how close David C. Broderick and David S. Terry really were when shots were fired.


For more historical information about Broderick, Terry, and the Duel check-out my recent blog post.

A map can be found HERE and Siri can help you wind through the narrow Daly City streets.

5 Responses to ECW Weekender: Visit the Site of the Broderick-Terry Duel

  1. When Meg Groeling first posted this story of California’s last “legal” duel a couple of years ago, I had nothing to add, so did not respond.
    Recently, while studying “Why was Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston in California?” the story of the Broderick – Terry Duel emerged as sideshow of something… much larger, and potentially more sinister. On the eve of the American Civil War.
    Have you ever heard of the Pico Act of 1859 (calling for the division of California into two States, with the southern entity to be named “Colorado” and likely with Los Angeles as Capital)? Did you know the California Legislature approved the Pico Act? That Governor John B. Weller signed the approved Act; and that the voting population of the proposed State of Colorado (many of whom, arguably a majority, were pro-slavery) agreed to the split?
    So, WHY did not the 1860- proposed State of Colorado come into being?
    John Weller’s term as Governor was due to expire in January 1860. And during the Election of 1859 the contenders were Milton Latham (pro-Lecompton Democrat); John Curry (anti-Lecompton Democrat); and Leland Stanford (Republican). [ “Lecompton” terminology from the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution proposed, but discarded, during Bleeding Kansas.]
    As Meg Groeling records elsewhere, at the time of the Broderick – Terry Duel, David Broderick (an anti-Lecompton Democrat) was the U.S. Senator from California. And instantly on 13 SEP 1859 his seat became vacant.
    Milton Latham won the election for Governor; but he REALLY wanted to be the Senator from California. So, after serving five DAYS, Governor Latham (who had informed the State Legislature of his desire to become U.S. Senator) was selected; and he resigned as Governor and made his way to Washington D.C. And during his time in Washington, Senator Latham was “a strong advocate for creation of the State of Colorado; but with the emerging secession crisis, the proposal for Statehood never came to a vote.” [If the State of California had been split in two, the dividing line is approximated by the northern boundary of San Bernadino County.]
    Why did Albert Sidney Johnston request assignment to California late in 1860? That is a question still under investigation…

    1. The Washington Evening Star of 7 FEB 1860 page 2 col.1 has significant details of “Senator Latham’s pending arrival from California; and how as Governor he submitted a special message to the Senate on the proposed separation of the six southern counties in order to form a territory independent of California.”

    2. Although from Ohio, Milton Latham, born in 1827, developed such a pro-Southern outlook that many believed him to have been raised in the South. As mentioned in an earlier post, the new Senator from California, selected to fill the vacancy resulting from the death of David Broderick in a duel, arrived in Washington with intention of pushing forward the separation of six southern counties from California; but other, more pressing matters got in the way. Period newspapers indicate that Latham, who arrived March 5th, 1860 voted with the block that included Judah Benjamin, Stephen Mallory, Thomas Bragg, RMT Hunter, John Hemphill, James Mason, John Slidell and Jefferson Davis. In 1861, even after the firing on Fort Sumter, Senator Latham opposed expulsion of senators from seceded States. And when Jefferson Davis departed the U.S. Senate in January 1861, Milton Latham offered to buy his desk (he failed; but he did manage to take Davis’s Senate chair back to California.)

    3. But California was such a minor player in the events leading up to the Civil War (some would argue “California was a non-player.”) What could California possibly offer that Southerners might want? [Hint: How did David Broderick make his fortune?]

  2. And what of David Terry, victorious in the duel of September 1859? As Meg Groeling stated in the earlier article, “The Last Notable American Duel,” David Terry, at the age of 25 “came West with the Gold Rush,” from Texas. And he became active in California politics. At the time of the 1859 duel, Judge David Terry and soon-to-be Senator Milton Latham belonged to the same pro-Lecompton faction of the Democrat Party.
    Left behind in Texas were two brothers: Clinton, the youngest, became active in railroads and in 1853 was member of the leadership of the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railroad, which ran eighty miles west from near Houston. The oldest brother, Benjamin Franklin Terry, owned sugar plantations; but he was also involved in construction of the BBB & C R.R. Shortly after war erupted at Fort Sumter, Colonel Benjamin F. Terry got up the 8th Texas Volunteer Cavalry, better known as Terry’s Texas Rangers, and after September 1861 was part of General Albert Sidney Johnston’s command in Kentucky.
    On 17 DEC 1861, while engaged in a skirmish -cum-decoy action just northeast of Bowling Green, Colonel Terry was shot and killed. Four months later, Trooper Clinton Terry was killed Day One at Battle of Shiloh [as was General Johnston.] With both of his brothers KIA, David S. Terry of California joined Terry’s Texas Rangers end of 1863, and served briefly as Corporal, before transferring to the 37th Texas Cavalry, where he served as an officer until the end of the war. Returning to California via Mexico a few years after the war, he resumed the practice of law. And while involved in a contentious “division of Estate (following divorce)” case in 1889, Terry had an altercation at a California train station with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen J. Field; and Field’s personal bodyguard shot David Terry dead.

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