Story from John Vonderlin
Email John ([email protected])
This is the story of an intercontinental serial killer at the end of the 1800’s, who some say had an English royal family connection behind his many names and crimes, a connection that was protected even after his execution. Its relevance to the Coastside is through the Farallone Islands, but also the growing-more-remote possibility of live pigeons having anything to do with the naming of Pigeon Point. If carrier pigeons were used to relay messages about ship passings at Pigeon Point, before the wreck of the Carrier Pigeon, I can find no record of it. It is possible, as the usage of carrier pigeons, to carry messages, is thousands of years old, often used in warfare, or to relay expeditions’ progress, or even as part of a prescription delivery service more recently. But, other then this story, I can find no other Coastside connection in the 1800s.
The excitement of the public, or at least the newsmen, that engendered this complex usage of carrier pigeons to announce Butler’s arrival reminded me of the “Slow Speed White Bronco Chase,” mania that gripped the news media.
The arrival and trial are well-covered in “The Call” issues from early 1897. Those can be brought up by a “Frank Butler” search at the “Chronicling America website. Just five months later, the July 17th, 1897 issue of “The Daily Alta,” had a small article that says:
BUTLER IS EXECUTED
On the Scaffold He Confesses
Having Committed Three Murders
Sydney N.S. W. July 16—Frank Butler was hanged here yesterday for the muder of Captain Lee Weller, Shortly before the execution Butler confessed that he had not only killed Weller, but murdered two other men Preston and Burgess in a similar manner. He also confessed other crimes.
THE SAN FRANCISCO CALL, SUNDAY, JANUARY 17, 1897.
HOMING PIGEONS TO ASSIST
IN THE CAPTURE OF BUTLER
The Coming of the Murderer to Be Heralded by
NOVEL USE FOR HOMERS
Speed of Birds Will Be Pitted
Against the Craft of a
WILL FLY FROM FARALLON.
As Soon as the Swanhilda Is Sighted
the News Will Be Winged to This Ciiy.
This morning there will start for sea on
the pilot-boat Lady Mine, otherwise
known as the bar boat, a cote of doves, or
homing pigeons, their destination being
the Farallone Islands. Their mission is
unique— for they have a mission— one of
importance, and of singular and timely
interest. They are sent out to do some-
thing unparalleled in history.
Journeying toward San Francisco on
the four-masted ship Swanhilda, Frank
Butler is, supposedly, approaching a crisis
in his life. Reputed to be the most atro-
cious of all modern murderers, public an-
ticipation has by him been put on edge,
and there is much anxiety to learn as
early as possible of the first ap-
pearance of the Swanhilda. Strangely
enough, and beyond all probable chance
of failure, the gentlest of all animate
things, a dove, will bring in the earliest
news of the coming of the most ferocious
murderer. It is for this purpose that the
homing pigeons will to-day go out on the
Lady Mine, which will make a trip to the
Farallones for the sole purpose of carry-
Mixed in with the generally grewsome
(sic)flavor which attends this exciting man
hunt on the high sea is something of ro-
mance in the combination of methods of
communication for tbe purpose in hand
when considered in the light of the pecu-
liar circumstances attending.
Foremost among the birds to be carried
to the Farallones as message bearer is
Daisy, which is supposed after many tests
of speed to be with very little doubt the
most rapid homing pigeon on the Pacific
Coast. It has won laurels by flying from
Fresno and all intermediate points and
from Oroville and all intermediate points
to the lofts of A. Carlisle in Berkeley.
Strong of wing and remarkably sagacious,
Daisy was selected to bring the first mes-
sage ever sent from tbe Farallones to San
Francisco by wing power. Consequently
Daisy knows the way and has proved it’s
Now when the Swanhilda comes boom-
ing along the first place from which she
will be seen is the Farallones. High above
the surface of the surrounding ocean rises
the lighthouse, the base of which is be-
tween 300 and 400 feet above the sea level.
At the lighthouse there is a powerful tele-
scope, with which objects coming to the
horizon line can be made out clearly.
The Swanhilda is of a peculiar rig. The
nautical eye could easily distinguish her
among other sailing ships. The descrip-
tion of her has been sent forward to the
Farallones, so that she cannot well be
mistaken for any other vessel whenever
she may loom into view.
From the lighthouse a telephone line
leads down to the houses in which the
lighthouse-keepers and their families live
and the line is also connected with the
schoolhouse in which Daisy Annette
Doud, who recently went to the Farallones,
officiates as schoolteacher. So when the
observer at the lighthouse sees the Swan-
hilda, which in all probability will be
earlier tban any other person near the
California coast line, he wil! be able to
signal the fact instantaneously to Miss
Doud, who, already practiced in the flying
of pigeons, will hold herself alert to dis-
patch Daisy in a few seconds to this City.
The dovecote recently established by
A. Carlisle at the Farallones for the benefit
of shipping and the weather bureau is
only a few steps from Farallones school
house. In this dovecote the fifty pigeons
to be taken out on the Lady Mine to-day
will be placed before to-night. The sec-
ond that Miss Doud hears the message
over the telephone from the lighthouse
she will run to the dovecote, and in five
minutes from tbe time that the Swanhilda
is sighted, she will have dispatched the in-
teresting news by Daisy.
The distance from the Farallones to
Berkeley is forty-five miles. ___Daisy knows
every foot of the way and has flown it. If
the west wind blows Daisy will be in
Berkeley in a very little more than an
hour after the Swanhilda is first seen.
This time is reasonably fixed from recent
tests taken as examples. Daisy has flown
over the course, with a northeast wind
blowing at the rate of twenty miles per
hour, in one hour and twenty-five min
utes. Therefore, under ordinary circum
stances, Daisy will be in her cote within
the time mentioned.
There will be no mistake about the
arrival of Daisy in Berkeley and no delay
in making known the arrival. On the
cote to which Daisy will fly there is a bell
which the pigeon must ring when it enters
the cote. This is an electric bell, so that
wben it is rung a signal will be im-
mediately rung in Mr. Carlisle’s house.
Every one in that house will be on the
alert. Upon the ringing in of this signal
the message will be taken from the cham-
pion messenger and the facts in it will be
immediately telephoned to Mr. Carlisle at
his place of .business on Montgomery
street in this City. Mr. Carlisle will.
therefore be in the enviable position of
knowing first of any one in San Francisco
that the Swanhilda has actually been
In fact the pigeon, Daisy, ought to be the
means of receiving the news here hours
before it can come by any other means or
route. Supposing that the Swanhilda is
first sighted at 10 a. m. the time schedule
would be something like this:
10:00i/2 — Miss Doud notified.
10:02 — Message written.
10:05 — ” Daisy” flies for home.
11:05— ” Daisy” Reaches Berkeley.
11:05 1/2— Telephone Rings for Sunset.
11:10 (at latest)— News Reaches Mr.
Total time, 1 hour 9 minutes.
The message which will be brought by
the homer Daisy will be inclosed in a
watertight aluminum cylinder, weighing
only eight grains, which’ will not impede
the speed of the messenger. Miss Doud
has a supply of these cylinders convenient
for use, and also the paper prepared es
pecially for the reception of messages.
To make sure that everything shall be
arranged perfectly, T. D. Yarrington, an
expert with pigeons, will go out with the
birds on the Lady Mine to-day. Mr. Yar
rington goes under the directions of Mr.
Carlisle. He will give the birds to Miss
Doud, pointing out Daisy to her, that the
champion may be selected to make the
Mr. Carlisle said last night that this
opportunity to get into prompt communi
cation with the Farallones on this interest
ing occasion has been afforded through
the courtesy of the Pilot Commissioners,
especially Captain Charles Mayo and Cap
tain Barker, the efficient secretary of the
commission. Through them the pilot
boat was provided especially to carry out
tbe homers. Mr. Beemer, the principal
ligbtkeeper at the Farallones, will un
The birds, other than Daisy, will for the
most part be used for bringing in mes-
sages from the Farallones concerning ships
and weather for the use of the commer-
cial community and Weather Bureau.
Several birds may be used to send in news
from the Swanhilda describing her prog-
ress. This is probably the first time on
earth that a dove has been employed in
helping to bring to justice a fugitive mur-
Captain Merry, secretary of the Cham
ber of Commerce, who has largely helped
to establish the pigeon line at the Faral-
lones, is much interested in this exploit.