New Light on the Donner Party
What I Saw in California
by Edwin Bryant
In Northern California, September 3-November 12, 1846.
California Indians—Captain Sutter—Difficulties in making his first settlement in California — Laboring Indians — Propensity for gambling — Captain Sutter’s coin — Account of their games — Food of the Indians — Captain Sutter’s wheat crops in 1846 — Scarcity of flouring-mills — Waterpower — Hemp — Dine with Captain Sutter; description of the dinner — Oppressive impost-duties of the Mexican government — Indian rancherias — Indian orgies — Sacramento river — Salmon — New Helvetia — Indian sweat-house — Reported Indian invasion by the Walla-Wallas — Description of the Walla-Wallas.
Sept. 3.—We remained encamped near Sutter’s Fort, or Fort Sacramento, as
subsequently it has been named. This morning we were visited by numerous
Indians from the neighboring rancherias, who brought with them
watermelons, muskmelons, and strings of pan-fish, taken from a small pond
about half a mile distant, with a sort of hand-trap. The Indians wade into
the pond with their traps in hand, and take with them the fish, sometimes by
dozens at a haul. These they wished to trade for such small articles as we
possessed, and the cast-off clothing of the members of our party. Some of
these Indians were partially clothed, others were entirely naked, and a
portion of them spoke the Spanish language. They exhibited considerable
sharpness in making a bargain, holding their wares at a high valuation, and
although their desire to trade appeared to be strong, they would make no
sacrifices to obtain the articles offered in exchange for them. But such was
the desire of our men to obtain vegetables, of which they had been for so
long a time deprived, that there was scarcely any article which they
possessed, which they would refuse to barter for them.
The Indians generally are well made and of good stature, varying from five feet four inches to five feet ten and eleven inches in height, with strong muscular developments. Their hair is long, black, and coarse, and their skin is a shade lighter than that of a mulatto. They appear to be indolent and averse from labor of every kind, unless combined with their sports and amusements, when they are as reckless of fatigue and danger as any class of men I have seen.
By invitation of Captain Sutter, addressed to myself and Mr. Jacob, we visited and dined at the fort. The fort is situated near the confluence of the Rio de los Americanos and the Rio Sacramento. The valley of the Sacramento is here of great width, and consequently the fort is surrounded by an extensive plain, bounded by distant mountains on the east and on the west. This plain exhibits every evidence of a most fertile soil. The grasses, although they are now brown and crisp from the periodical drought, still stand with their ripened seeds upon them, showing their natural luxuriance. Groves or parks of the evergreen oak relieve the monotony of the landscape, and dot the level plain as far as the eye can reach.
Captain Sutter received us with manifestations of cordial hospitality. He is a gentleman between forty-five and fifty years of age, and in manners, dress, and general deportment, he approaches so near what we call the "old school gentleman," as to present a gulfy contrast from the rude society by which he is surrounded. Captain Sutter is a native of Switzerland, and was at one time an officer in the French army. He emigrated to the United States, and was naturalized From thence, after a series of most extraordinary and romantic incidents, to relate which would furnish matter for a volume, he planted himself on the spot where his fort now stands, then a savage wilderness, and in the midst of numerous and hostile tribes of Indians. With the small party of men which he originally brought with him, he succeeded in defending himself against the Indians, until he constructed his first defensive building. He told me, that several times, being hemmed in by his assailants, he had subsisted for many days upon grass alone. There is a grass in this valley which the Indians eat, that is pleasant to the taste and nutritious. He succeeded by degrees in reducing the Indians to obedience, and by means of their labor erected the spacious fortification which now belongs to him.
The fort is a parallelogram, about five hundred feet in length and one hundred and fifty in breadth. The walls are constructed of adobes, or sun-dried bricks. The main building, or residence, stands near the centre of the area, or court, enclosed by the walls. A row of shops, store-rooms, and barracks, are enclosed within, and line the walls on every side. Bastions project from the angles, the ordnance mounted in which sweep the walls. The principal gates on the east and the south are also defended by heavy artillery, through portholes pierced in the walls. At this time the fort is manned by about fifty well-disciplined Indians, and ten or twelve white men, all under the pay of the United States. These Indians are well clothed and fed. The garrison is under the command of Mr. Kern, the artist of Captain Fremont’s exploring expedition.
The number of laboring Indians employed by Captain Sutter during the seasons of sowing and harvest, is from two to three hundred. Some of these are clothed in shirts and blankets, but a large portion of them are entirely naked. They are paid so much per day for their labor, in such articles of merchandise as they may select from the store. Cotton cloth and handkerchiefs are what they most freely purchase. Common brown cotton cloth sells at one dollar per yard. A tin coin issued by Captain Sutter circulates among them, upon which is stamped the number of days that the holder has labored. These stamps indicate the value in merchandise to which the laborer or holder is entitled.
They are inveterate gamblers, and those who have been so fortunate as to obtain clothing, frequently stake and part with every rag upon their backs. The game which they most generally play is carried on as follows. Any number which may be concerned in it seat themselves cross-legged on the ground, in a circle. They are then divided into two parties, each of which has two champions or players. A ball, or some small article, is placed in the hands of the players on one side, which they transfer from hand to hand with such sleight and dexterity that it is nearly impossible to detect the changes. When the players holding the balls make a particular motion with their hands, the antagonist players guess m which hand the balls are at the time. If the guess is wrong it counts one in favor of the playing party. If the guess is right, then it counts one in favor of the guessing party, and the balls are transferred to them. The count of the game is kept with sticks. During the progress of the game, all concerned keep up a continual monotonous grunting, with a movement of their bodies to keep time with their grunts. The articles which are staked on the game are placed in the centre of the ring.
The laboring or field Indians about the fort are fed upon the offal of slaughtered animals, and upon the bran sifted from the ground wheat. This is boiled in large iron kettles. It is then placed in wooden troughs standing in the court, around which the several messes seat themselves and scoop out with their hands this poor fodder. Bad as it is, they eat it with an apparent high relish; and no doubt it is more palatable and more healthy than the acorn, mush, or atóle, which constitutes the principal food of these Indians in their wild state.
The wheat crop of Captain Sutter, the present year, (1846,) is about eight thousand bushels. The season has not been a favorable one. The average yield to the acre Captain S. estimates at twenty-five bushels. In favorable seasons this yield is doubled; and if we can believe the statements often made upon respectable authority, it is sometimes quadrupled. There is no doubt that in favorable seasons, that is when the rains fall abundantly during the winter, the yield of wheat, and all small grains in California, is much greater per acre of land than in any part of the United States. The wheat-fields of Captain S. are secured against the cattle and horses by ditches. Agriculture, among the native Californians, is in a very primitive state, and although Captain S. has introduced some Amen-can implements, still his ground is but imperfectly cultivated. With good cultivation the crops would be more certain and much more abundant. The crop from the same ground the second and third years, without sowing, is frequently very good.
Wheat is selling at the fort at two dollars and fifty cents per fanega, rather more than two bushels English measure. It brings the same price when delivered at San Francisco, near the mouth of the Bay of San Francisco. It is transported from the Sacramento valley to a market in launches of about fifty tons burden. Unbolted flour sells at eight dollars per one hundred pounds. The reason of this high price is the scarcity of flouring-mills in the country. The mills which are now going up in various places will reduce the price of flour, and probably they will soon be able to grind all the wheat raised in the country. The streams of California afford excellent water-power, but the flour consumed by Captain Sutter is ground by a very ordinary horse-mill.
I saw near the fort a small patch of hemp, which had been sown as an experiment, in the spring, and had not been irrigated. I never saw a ranker growth of hemp in Kentucky. Vegetables of several kinds appeared to be abundant and in perfection, but I shall speak more particularly of the agricultural productions of California in another place, when my knowledge of the country and its resources becomes, from observation, more general and perfect.
Captain Sutter’s dining-room and his table furniture do not present a very luxurious appearance. The room is unfurnished, with the exception of a common deal table standing in the centre, and some benches, which are substitutes for chairs. The table, when spread, presented a correspondingly primitive simplicity of aspect and of viands. The first course consisted of good soup, served to each guest in a china bowl with silver spoons. The bowls, after they had been used for this purpose, were taken away and cleansed by the Indian servant, and were afterwards used as tumblers or goblets, from which we drank our water. The next course consisted of two dishes of meat, one roasted and one fried, and both highly seasoned with onions. Bread, cheese, butter, and melons, constituted the desert. I am thus particular because I wish to convey as accurately as I can the style and mode of living in California of intelligent gentlemen of foreign birth, who have been accustomed to all the luxuries of the most refined civilization.
It is not for the purpose of criticising, but to show how destitute the people of this naturally favored country have been of many of the most common comforts of domestic life, owing to the wretched system of government which has heretofore existed. Such has been the extortion of the government in the way of impost-duties, that few supplies which are included among even the most ordinary elegancies of life, have ever reached the inhabitants, and for these they have been compelled to pay prices that would be astonishing to a citizen of the United States or of Europe, and such as have impoverished the population. As a general fact, they cannot be obtained at any price, and hence those who have the ability to purchase are compelled to forego their use from necessity.
With our appetites, however, we enjoyed the dinner as much as if it had been served up in the most sumptuously-furnished dining-saloon, with all the table appurtenances of polished silver, sparkling crystal, and snow-like porcelain. By our long journey we had learned to estimate the value of a thing for its actual utility and the amount of enjoyment it confers. The day is not distant when American enterprise and American ingenuity will furnish those adjuncts of civilization of which California is now so destitute, and render a residence in this country one of the most luxurious upon the globe. The conversation at dinner turned upon the events which have recently occurred in the country, and which I shall narrate in another place.
From the 3d to the 7th of September we remained encamped. Our camp is near an Indian rancheria. These rancherias consist of a number of huts constructed of a rib-work or frame of small poles or saplings in a conical shape, covered with straw, grass, or tule, a species of rush, which grows to the height of five or six feet. The huts are sometimes fifteen feet in diameter at their bases, and the number of them grouped together vary according to the number of the tribe which inhabits them. A different language in many respects is spoken at the different rancherias. In this remark I refer to the gentile Indians, as they are here called, and not to the christianized, the last of whom speak the Spanish. There was a large gathering at the rancheria on the night of the 6th to celebrate some event. Dancing, singing, loud shouting, and howling, were continued without intermission the whole night. One of their orgies consisted in fixing a scalp upon a pole and dancing around it, accompanying the dance with, at first, a low melancholy howl, then with loud shrieks and groans, until the performers appeared to become frantic with excitement of some kind, it would be difficult to tell what. The noise made by them was such as to prevent sleep, although a quarter of a mile distant from our camp.
The Sacramento river, at this point, is a stream nearly half a mile in width. The tide rises and falls some two or three feet. The water is perfectly limpid and fresh. The river is said to be navigable for craft of one hundred tons burden, at all seasons, a hundred miles above this place. In the season of high waters, from January to July, it is navigable a much greater distance. The Sacramento rises above latitude 42E north, and runs from north to south nearly parallel with the coast of the Pacific, until it empties into the Bay of San Francisco by several mouths in latitude 38E north. It is fringed with timber, chiefly oak and sycamore. Grape-vines and a variety of shrubbery ornament its banks, and give a most charming effect when sailing upon its placid and limpid current. I never saw a more beautiful stream. In the rainy season, and in the spring, when the snows on the mountains are melting, it overfills its banks in many places. It abounds in fish, the most valuable of which is the salmon. These salmon are the largest and the fattest I have ever seen. I have seen salmon taken from the Sacramento five feet in length. All of its tributaries are equally rich in the finny tribe. American enterprise will soon develop the wealth contained in these streams, which hitherto has been entirely neglected.
The site of the town of Nueva Helvetia, which has been laid out by Captain Sutter, is about a mile and a half from the Sacramento. It is on an elevation of the plain, and not subject to overflow when the waters of the river are at their highest known point. There are now but three or four small houses in this town, but I have little doubt that it will soon become a place of importance.
Near the embarcadero of New Helvetia is a large Indian "sweat-house," or Temascál, an appendage of most of the rancherias. The "sweat-house" is the most important medical agent employed by these Indians. It has, I do not doubt, the effect of consigning many of them to their graves, long before their appointed time. A "sweat-house" is an excavation in the earth, to the depth of six or eight feet, arched over with slabs split from logs. There is a single small aperture or skylight in the roof. These slabs are covered to the depth of several feet with earth. There is a narrow entrance, with steps leading down and into this subterraneous apartment. Rude shelves are erected around the walls, upon which the invalids repose their bodies. The door is closed and no air is admitted except from the small aperture in the roof, through which escapes the smoke of a fire kindled in the centre of the dungeon. This fire heats the apartment until the perspiration rolls from the naked bodies of the invalids in streams. I incautiously entered one of these caverns during the operation above described, and was in a few moments so nearly suffocated with the heat, smoke, and impure air, that I found it difficult to make my way out.
In the afternoon of the 7th, we received a note from Captain Sutter, stating that he had succeeded in obtaining a room in the fort for our accommodation, and inviting us to accept of it. He sent two servants to assist in packing our baggage; and accepting the invitation, we took up our lodgings in the fort. By this change we were relieved from the annoyance of mosquitoes, which have troubled us much during the night at our encampment. But with this exception, so long have we been accustomed to sleeping in the open air, with no shelter but our blankets and the canopy of the heavens, that our encampment was preferable to our quarters within the confined walls of the fort.
It is scarcely possible to imagine a more delightful temperature, or a climate which is more agreeable and uniform. The sky is cloudless, without the slightest film of vapor apparent in all the vast azure vault. In the middle of the day the sun shines with great power, but in the shade it is nowhere uncomfortable. At night, so pure is the atmosphere, that the moon gives a light sufficiently powerful for the purposes of the reader or student who has good eyesight. There is no necessity of burning the "midnight oil." Nature here, lights the candle for the bookworm.
On the 9th, we commenced preparations for leaving the fort, for San Francisco, a journey by land of about two hundred miles. Our intention was to leave early the next morning. While thus engaged, some couriers arrived from the settlements on the Sacramento, about one hundred miles north, with the startling information that one thousand Walla-Walla Indians, from Oregon, had made their appearance in the valley, for hostile purposes. The couriers, who were themselves settlers, appeared to be in great alarm, and stated that they had seen the advance party of the Walla-Wallas, and that their object was to assault the fort for a murder which they alleged had been committed one or two years since, by an American upon a chief of their tribe, and for some indebtedness of Captain Sutter to them, in cattle, &c. In the event of a failure in their assault upon the fort, then they intended to drive off all the cattle belonging to the settlers in the valley. This was the substance of their information. It was so alarming, that we postponed at once our departure for San Francisco, and volunteered such assistance as we could render in defending the fort against this formidable invasion.
The Walla-Wallas are a powerful and warlike tribe of Indians, inhabiting a district of country on the Columbia river. They are reported to be good marksmen and fight with great bravery and desperation. Their warriors are armed with good rifles and an abundance of ammunition, which they procure from the Hudson’s Bay Company. They are rapidly advancing in civilization, and many of them have good farms under cultivation, with numerous herds of cattle and horses.
Couriers were immediately dispatched in every direction to apprize the settlers in the valley of the invasion, and to the nearest military posts, for such assistance as they could render under the circumstances. The twelve pieces of artillery by which the fort is defended were put in order, and all inside were busily employed in preparing for the expected combat. Indian spies were also dispatched to reconnoitre and discover the position and actual number of the invaders.
The spies returned to the fort on the 11th without having seen the Walla-Walla invaders. A small party of some ‘forty or fifty only, are supposed to be about twenty-five or thirty miles distant, on the opposite side of the Sacramento. On the twelfth, Lieut. Revere of the Navy, with a party of twenty-five men, arrived at the fort from Sonoma, to reinforce the garrison; and on the morning of the thirteenth, it having been pretty well ascertained that the reported 1000 hostile Walla-Wallas were a small party only of men, women, and children, whose disposition was entirely pacific, we determined to proceed immediately on our journey to San Francisco.
Geographical sketch of California – Its political and
social institutions –
Colorado River – Valley and river of San Joaquin – Former Government– Presidios – Missions – Ports and commerce.
Before proceeding farther in my travels through Upper California, for the
general information of the reader, it will be proper to give a brief
geographical sketch of California, and some account of its political and
social institutions, as they have heretofore existed.
The district of country known geographically as Upper California is bounded on the north by Oregon, the forty-second degree of north latitude being the boundary line between the two territories; on the east by the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra de los Mimbres, a continuation of the same range; on the south by Sonora and Old or Lower California, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. Its extent from north to south is about 700 miles, and from east to west from 600 to 800 miles, with an area of about 400,000 square miles. A small portion only of this extensive territory is fertile or inhabitable by civilized man, and this portion consists chiefly in the strip of country along the Pacific Ocean, about 700 miles in length, and from 100 to 150 in breadth, bounded on the east by the Sierra Nevada, and on the west by the Pacific. In speaking of Upper California this strip of country is what is generally referred to.
The largest river of Upper California is the Colorado or Red, which has a course of about 1000 miles, and empties into the Gulf of California in latitude about 32̊ north. But little is known of the region through which this stream flows. The report of trappers, however, is that the river is caZoned between high mountains and precipices a large portion of its course, and that its banks and the country generally through which it flows are arid, sandy, and barren. Green and Grand Rivers are its principal upper tributaries, both of which rise in the Rocky Mountains, and within the territories of the United States. The Gila is its lowest and largest branch, emptying into the Colorado, just above its mouth. Sevier and Virgin Rivers are also tributaries of the Colorado. Mary’s River rises near latitude 42̊ north, and has a course of about 400 miles, when its waters sink in the sands of the desert, This river is not laid down on any map which I have seen. The Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers have each a course of from 300 to 400 miles, the first flowing from the north and the last from the south, and both emptying into the Bay of St. Francisco at the same point. They water the large and fertile valley lying between the Sierra Nevada and the coast range of mountains. I subjoin a description of the valley and river San Joaquin, from the pen of a gentleman (Dr. Marsh) who has explored the river from its source to its mouth.
"This noble valley is the first undoubtedly in California, and one of the most magnificent in the world. It is about 500 miles long, with an average width of about fifty miles. It is bounded on the east by the great Snowy Mountains, and on the west by the low range, which in many places dwindles into insignificant hills, and has its northern terminus at the Strait of Carquines, on the Bay of San Francisco, and its southern near the Colorado River.
"The river of San Joaquin flows through the middle of the valley for about half of its extent, and thence diverges towards the eastern mountain, in which it has its source. About sixty miles further south is the northern end of the Buena Vista Lake, which is about one hundred miles long, and from ten to twenty wide. Still farther south, and near the western side of the valley, is another and much smaller lake.
"The great lake receives about a dozen tributaries on its eastern side, which all rise in the great range of the Snowy Mountains. Some of these streams flow through broad and fertile valleys within the mountain’s range, and, from thence emerging, irrigate the plains of the great valley for the distance of twenty or thirty miles. The largest of these rivers is called by the Spanish inhabitants the river Reyes, and falls into the lake near its northern end; it is a well-timbered stream, and flows through a country of great fertility and beauty. The tributaries of the San Joaquin are all on the east side.
"On ascending the stream we first meet with the Stanislaus, a clear rapid mountain stream, some forty or fifty yards wide, with a considerable depth of water in its lower portion. The Mormons have commenced a settlement, called New Hope, and built some two or three houses near the mouth.
"There are considerable bodies of fertile land along the river, and the higher plains afford good pasturage.
"Ten miles higher up is the river of the Tawalomes [Tuolomne]; it is about the size of the Stanislaus, which it greatly resembles, except that the soil is somewhat better, and that it particularly abounds with salmon.
"Some thirty miles farther comes in the Merced, much the largest of the tributaries of the San Joaquin. The lands along and between the tributaries of the San Joaquin and the lake of Buena Vista form a fine pastoral region, with a good proportion of arable land, and a very inviting field for emigration. The whole of this region has been but imperfectly explored; enough, however, is known to make it certain that it is one of the most desirable regions on the continent.
"In the valleys of the rivers which come down from the great Snowy Mountains are vast bodies of pine, and red-wood, or cedar timber, and the streams afford water power to any desirable amount.
"The whole country east of the San Joaquin, and the water communication which connects it with the lakes, is considered, by the best judges, to be particularly adapted to the culture of the vine, which must necessarily become one of the principal agricultural resources of California."
The Salinas River empties into the Pacific, about twelve miles above Monterey. Bear River empties into the Great Salt Lake. The other streams of California are all small. In addition to the Great Salt Lake and the Utah Lake there are numerous small lakes in the Sierra Nevada. The San Joaquin is connected with Tule Lake, or Lake Buena Vista, a sheet of water about eighty miles in length and fifteen in breadth. A lake, not laid down in any map, and known as the Laguna among the Californians, is situated about sixty miles north of the Bay of San Francisco. It is between forty and sixty miles in length. The valleys in its vicinity are highly fertile, and romantically beautiful. In the vicinity of this lake there is a mountain of pure sulphur. There are also soda springs, and a great variety of other mineral waters, and minerals.
The principal mountains west of the eastern boundary of California (the Rocky Mountains) are the Bear River, Wahsatch, Utah, the Sierra Nevada, and the Coast range. The Wahsatch Mountains form the eastern rim of the "great interior basin." There are numerous ranges in this desert basin, all of which run north and south, and are separated from each other by spacious and barren valleys and plains. The Sierra Nevada range is of greater elevation than the Rocky Mountains. The summits of the most elevated peaks are covered with perpetual snow. This and the coast range run nearly parallel with the shore of the Pacific. The first is from 100 to 200 miles from the Pacific, and the last from forty to sixty miles. The valley between them is the most fertile portion of California.
Upper California was discovered in 1548, by Cabrillo, a Spanish navigator. In 1578, the northern portion of it was visited by Sir Francis Drake, who called it New Albion. It was first colonized by the Spaniards, in 1768, and formed a province of Mexico until after the revolution in that country. There have been numerous revolutions and civil wars in California within the last twenty years; but up to the conquest of the country by the United States in 1846, Mexican authority has generally been exercised over it.
The following description of the political and social condition of Upper California in 1822 is extracted and translated from a Spanish writer of that date. I have thought that the extract would not be uninteresting: –
"Government . – Upper California, on account of its small population, not being able to become a state of the great Mexican republic, takes the character of territory, the government of which is under the charge of a commandant-general, who exercises the charge of a superior political chief, whose attributes depend entirely upon the president of the republic and the general congress. But, to amplify the legislation of its centre, it has a deputation made up of seven vocals, the half of these individuals being removed every two years. The superior political chief presides at their sessions. The inhabitants of the territory are divided amongst the presidios, missions, and towns.
"Presidios . – The necessity of protecting the apostolic predication was the obligatory reason for forming the presidios, which were established according to circumstances. That of San Diego was the first; Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Francisco were built afterwards. The form of all of them is nearly the same, and this is a square, containing about two hundred yards in each front, formed of a weak wall made of mud-bricks. Its height may be four yards in the interior of the square, and built on to the same wall. In its entire circumference are a chapel, storehouses, and houses for the commandant, officers, and troops, having at the entrance of the presidio quarters for a corps-de-garde.
"These buildings in the presidios, at the first idea, appear to have been sufficient, the only object having been for a defence against a surprise from the gentiles, or wild Indians in the immediate vicinity. But this cause having ceased, I believe they ought to be demolished, as they are daily threatening a complete ruin, and, from the very limited spaces of habitation, must be very incommodious to those who inhabit them. As to the exterior of the presidios, several private individuals have built some very decent houses, and, having evinced great emulation in this branch of business, I have no doubt but in a short time we shall see very considerable towns in California.
"At the distance of one, or at the most two miles from the presidio, and near to the anchoring-ground, is a fort, which has a few pieces of artillery of small calibre. The situation of most of them is very advantageous for the defence of the port, though the form of the walls, esplanades, and other imperfections which may be seen, make them very insignificant.
"The battalion of each presidio is made up of eighty or more horse soldiers, called cuera ; besides these, it has a number of auxiliary troops and a detachment of artillery. The commandant of each presidio is the captain of its respective company, and besides the intervention, military and political, he has charge of all things relating to the marine department.
"Missions . – The missions contained in the territory are twenty-one. They were built at different epochs: that of San Diego, being the first, was built in 1769; its distance from the presidio of the same name is two leagues. The rest were built successively, according to circumstances and necessity. The last one was founded in the year 1822, under the name of San Francisco Dolores, and is the most northern of all.
"The edifices in some of those missions are more extensive than in others, but in form they are all nearly equal. They are all fabricated of mud-bricks, and the divisions are according to necessity. In all of them may be found commodious habitations for the ministers, storehouses to keep their goods in, proportional granaries, offices for soap-makers, weavers, blacksmiths, and large parterres, and horse and cattle pens, independent apartments for Indian youths of each sex, and all such offices as were necessary at the time of its institution. Contiguous to and communicating with the former is a church, forming a part of the edifices of each mission; they are all very proportionable, and are adorned with profusion.
"The Indians reside about two hundred yards distant from the above-mentioned edifice. This place is called the rancheria. Most of the missions are made up of very reduced quarters, built with mud-bricks, forming streets, while in others the Indians have been allowed to follow their primitive customs; their dwellings being a sort of huts, in a conical shape, which at the most do not exceed four yards in diameter, and the top of the cone may be elevated three yards. They are built of rough sticks, covered with bulrushes or grass, in such a manner as to completely protect the inhabitants from all the inclemencies of the weather. In my opinion, these rancherias are the most adequate to the natural uncleanliness of the Indians, as the families often renew the, burning the old ones, and immediately building others with the greatest facility. Opposite the rancherias, and near to the mission, is to be found a small garrison, with proportionate rooms, for a corporal and five soldiers with their families. This small garrison is quite sufficient to prevent any attempt of the Indians from taking effect, there having been some examples made, which causes the Indians to respect this small force. One of these pickets in a mission has a double object; besides keeping the Indians in subjection, they run post with a monthly correspondence, or with any extraordinaries that may be necessary for government.
"All the missions in this California are under the charge of religious men of the order of San Francisco. At the present time their number is twenty-seven, most of them of an advanced age. Each mission has one of these fathers for its administrator, and he holds absolute authority. The tilling of the ground, the gathering of the harvest, the slaughtering of cattle, the weaving, and everything that concerns the mission, is under the direction of the fathers, without any other person interfering in any way whatever, so that, if any one mission has the good fortune to be superintended by an industrious and discreet padre, the Indians disfrute in abundance all the real necessaries of life; at the same time the nakedness and misery of any one mission are a palpable proof of the inactivity of its director. The missions extend their possessions from one extremity of the territory to the other, and have made the limits of one mission from those of another. Though they do not require all this land for their agriculture and the maintenance of their stock, they have appropriated the whole; always strongly opposing any individual who may wish to settle himself or his family on any piece of land between them. But it is to be hoped that the new system of illustration, and the necessity of augmenting private property, and the people of reason, will cause the government to take such adequate measures as will conciliate the interests of all. Amongst all the missions there are from twenty-one to twenty-two thousand Catholic Indians; but each mission has not an equal or a proportionate part in its congregation. Some have three or four thousand, whilst others have scarcely four hundred; and at this difference may be computed the riches of the missions in proportion. Besides the number of Indians already spoken of, each mission has a considerable number of gentiles, who live chiefly on farms annexed to the missions. The number of these is undetermined.
"The Indians are naturally filthy and careless, and their understanding is very limited. In the small arts they are not deficient in ideas of imitation, but they never will be inventors. Their true character is that of being revengeful and timid, consequently they are very much addicted to treachery. They have no knowledge of benefits received, and ingratitude is common amongst them. The education they receive in their infancy is not the proper one to develope their reason, and, if it were, I do not believe them capable of any good impression. All these Indians, whether from the continual use of the sweat-house, or from their filthiness, or the little ventilation in their habitations, are weak and unvigorous; spasms and rheumatics, to which they are so much subject, are the consequences of their customs. But what most injures them, and prevents propagation, is the venereal disease, which most of them have very strongly, clearly proving that their humours are analogous to receiving the impressions of this contagion. From this reason may be deduced the enormous differences between the births and deaths, which, without doubt, is one-tenth per year in favour of the latter; but the missionaries do all in their power to prevent this, with respect to the catechumens situated near them.
"The general productions of the missions are, the breed of the larger class of cattle, and sheep, horses, wheat, maize or Indian corn, beans, peas, and other vegetables; though the productions of the missions situated more to the southward are more extensive, these producing the grape and olive in abundance. Of all these articles of production, the most lucrative is the large cattle, their hides and tallow affording an active commerce with foreign vessels on this coast. This being the only means the inhabitants, missionaries, or private individuals have of supplying their actual necessities, for this reason they give this branch all the impulse they possibly can, and on it generally place all their attention.
"It is now six years since they began to gather in hides and tallow for commerce. Formerly they merely took care of as many or as much as they required for their own private use, and the rest was thrown away as useless; but at this time the actual number of hides sold annually on board of foreign vessels amounts to thirty or forty thousand, and about the same amount of arrobas (twenty-five pounds) of tallow; and, in pursuing their present method, there is not doubt but in three or four years the amount of the exportation of each of these articles will be doubled. Flax, linen, wine, olive-oil, grain, and other agricultural productions, would be very extensive if there were stimulants to excite industry; but, this not being the case, there is just grain enough sown and reaped for the consumption of the inhabitant in the territory.
"The towns contained in this district are three; the most populous being that of Angeles, which has about twelve hundred souls; that of St. Joseph’s of Guadaloupe may contain six hundred, and the village of Branciforte two hundred; they are all formed imperfectly and without order, each person having built his own house on the spot he thought most convenient for himself. The first of these pueblos is governed by its corresponding body of magistrates, composed of an alcalde or judge, four regidores or municipal officers, a syndic, and secretary; the second, of an alcalde, two regidores, a syndic, and secretary; and the third, on account of the smallness of its population, is subject to the commandancia of Monterey.
"The inhabitants of the towns are white, and, to distinguish them from the Indians, are vulgarly called people of reason . The number of these contained in the territory may be nearly five thousand. These families are divided amongst the pueblos and presidios. They are nearly all the descendants of a small number of individuals who came from the Mexican country, some as settlers, others in the service of the army, and accompanied by their wives. In the limited space of little more than fifty years the present generation has been formed.
"The whites are in general robust, healthy, and well made. Some of them are occupied in breeding and raising cattle, and cultivating small quantities of wheat and beans; but for want of sufficient land, for which they cannot obtain a rightful ownership, their labours are very limited. Others dedicate themselves to the service of arms. All the presidial companies are composed of the natives of the country, but the most of them are entirely indolent, it being very rare for any individual to strive to augment his fortune. Dancing, horse-riding, and gambling occupy all their time. The arts are entirely unknown, and I am doubtful if there is one individual who exercises any trade; very few who understand the first rudiments of letters, and the other sciences are unknown amongst them.
"The fecundity of the people of reason is extreme. It is very rare to find a married couple with less than five or six children, while there are hundreds who have from twelve to fifteen. Very few of them die in their youth, and in reaching the age of puberty are sure to see their grand-children. The age of eighty and one hundred has always been common in this climate; most infirmities are unknown here, and the freshness and robustness of the people show the beneficial influence of the climate; the women in particular have always the roses stamped on their cheeks. This beautiful species is without doubt the most active and laborious, all their vigilance in duties of the house, the cleanliness of their children, and attention to their husbands, dedicating all their leisure moments to some kind of occupation that may be useful towards their maintenance. Their clothing is always clean and decent, nakedness being entirely unknown in either sex.
"Ports and Commerce. – There are four ports, principal bays, in this territory, which take the names of the corresponding presidios. The best guarded is that of San Diego. That of San Francisco has many advantages. Santa Barbara is but middling in the best part of the season; at other times always bad. Besides the above-mentioned places, vessels sometimes anchor at Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, El Refugio, San Pedro, and San Juan, that they may obtain the productions of the missions nearest these last-mentioned places; but from an order sent by the minister of war, and circulated by the commandante-general, we are given to understand that no foreign vessel is permitted to anchor at any of these places, Monterey only excepted, notwithstanding the commandante-general has allowed the first three principal ports to remain open provisionally. Were it not so, there would undoubtedly be an end to all commerce with California, as I will quickly show.
"The only motive that induces foreign vessels to visit this coast is for the hides and tallow which they barter for in the territory. It is well known, that at any of these parts there is no possibility of realizing any money, for here it does not circulate. The goods imported by foreign vessels are intended to facilitate the purchase of the aforesaid articles, well knowing that the missions have no interest in money, but rather such goods as are necessary for the Indians, so that several persons who have brought goods to sell for nothing but money have not been able to sell them. It will appear very extraordinary that money should not be appreciated in a country where its value is so well known; but the reason may be easily perceived by attending to the circumstances of the territory.
"The quantity of hides gathered yearly is about thirty or forty thousand; and the arrobas of tallow, with very little difference, will be about the same. Averaging the price of each article at two dollars, we shall see that the intrinsic value in annual circulation in California is 140,000 dollars. This sum, divided between twenty-one missions, will give each one 6666 dollars. Supposing the only production of the country converted into money, with what would the Indians be clothed, and by what means would they be able to cover a thousand other necessaries? Money is useful in amplifying speculations; but in California, as yet, there are no speculations, and its productions are barely sufficient for the absolute necessary consumption. The same comparison may be made with respect to private individuals, who are able to gather a few hides and a few arrobas of tallow, these being in small quantities."
Sketch of the Bear revolution, and first conquest of California by the American troops — Capture of Lieut. De Arce — Capture of Sonoma, by Capt. Merritt and party, on the 14th of July — Proclamation of William B. Ide — Barbarous and brutal murder of Cowie and Fowler — Fourfingered Jack — Capt. Ford’s engagement with the Californians; defeat of the latter — Flight of De La Torre — Proclamations of Castro — Capt. Fremont joins the revolutionists at Sonoma, on the 25th of July — Commodore Sloat’s arrival in California — Raising of the U. S. flag at Monterey, San Francisco, Sonoma, and other places — Proclamation of Com. Sloat — Capt. Fremont occupies San Juan — Castro retreats to the south — Los Angeles captured by Com. Stockton — Com. Stockton’s proclamation.
I DEEM it proper to record here the events which occurred in California
immediately preceding my arrival, and which finally resulted in the conquest
of the country by the United States naval and military forces. For some of
the facts stated, in reference to the revolutionary movement, I am indebted
to ROBERT SEMPLE, Esq., who has been a resident of California for a number
of years, and was himself an eye-witness to, and a participator in, many of
the transactions described.
The population of California, in the spring of 1846, was estimated at about 10,000, exclusive of Indians. Two thousand of these were supposed to be foreigners, chiefly from the United States. The latter class had been rapidly increasing for several years; and it became apparent to the more intelligent of the Californians, that this population, if suffered to increase in the same ratio, would, in a few years, change the government and institutions of the country. A natural jealousy prompted a course of measures on the part of the government, founded upon apprehensions such as has been stated, which resulted in precipitating the event they were intended to guard against.
In 1845 a revolutionary movement, headed by Don José Castro, Alvarado, Pio Pico, and others, in which the foreigners participated, resulted in deposing Gen. Micheltorena, governor of California under the appointment of the government of Mexico. After the deposition of Micheltorena, the gubernatorial office was assumed by Pico. Gen. Castro, at the same time, assumed the command of the military. Gen. Castro, soon after he came into power, adopted a policy towards the foreigners highly offensive. Among his acts was the promulgation of a proclamation, requiring all Americans to leave the country. This was its interpretation by the latter. No immediate steps were taken to enforce this order, and but little attention was paid to it by those to whom it was addressed. Their intention from the first, however, was, doubtless, to resist any force that should attempt their expulsion from the country.
About the 1st of June, 1846, an order was issued by Gen. Castro to Lieut. Francisco de Arcé, commandant of the garrison at Sonoma, to remove a number of horses, the property of the government, from the Mission of San Rafael, to his headquarters, then at Santa Clara. This officer was accompanied by a guard of fourteen men. In the execution of the order, he was compelled to cross the Sacramento river at New Helvetia, the nearest point at which the horses could swim the stream. While travelling in that direction, he was seen by an Indian, who reported to the American settlers on the Sacramento, that he had seen two or three hundred armed men advancing up the Sacramento valley. At this time Captain Fremont, with his exploring party, was encamped at "the Buttes," near the confluence of the Rio de las Plumas and the Sacramento, and about sixty or seventy miles above Sutter’s Fort. This officer had previously had some difficulties with Gen. Castro, and the inference from the information given by the Indian was, that Castro, at the head of a considerable force, was marching to attack Captain Fremont. The alarm was spread throughout the valley with as much celerity as the swiftest horses could convey it, and most of the settlers joined Captain Fremont at his camp, to assist in his defence against the supposed meditated attack of Castro. They were met here, however, by a person (Mr. Knight) who stated that he had seen the party of Californians in charge of the horses, and conversed with the officer commanding it. Mr. Knight stated that the officer told him, that Gen. Castro had sent for the horses for the purpose of mounting a battalion of 200 men, with which he designed to march against the Americans settled in the Sacramento valley, and to expel them from the country. This being accomplished, he intended to fortify the Bear River Pass in the California mountains, and prevent the ingress of the emigrants from the United States to California. The recent proclamations of Castro gave strong probability to this report, and the American settlers determined at once to take measures for their own protection.
After some consultation, it was resolved that a force of sufficient strength for the purpose should pursue the Californians, and capture the horses. This measure would weaken Castro, and for the present frustrate his supposed designs. Twelve men immediately volunteered for the expedition, and Mr. Merritt, being the eldest of the party, was chosen captain. At daylight on the morning of the 10th of June, they surprised the party of Californians under the command of Lieut. De Arcé, who, without resistance, gave up their arms and the government horses. An individual travelling with this party claimed six horses as belonging to himself, which he was allowed to take and depart with, the leader of the Americans declaring that they would not seize upon or disturb private property.
The Californians, after they had delivered their arms and horses, were dismissed with a horse for each to ride, and a message to Gen. Castro, that if he wished his horses again he must come and get them. The revolutionary movement on the part of the American foreigners was now fairly commenced, and it became necessary, in self-defence, for them to prosecute what they had begun, with vigor. The party being increased to thirty-three men, still under the command of Mr. Merritt. marched directly to Sonoma, and on the morning of the 14th of June captured and took possession of that town and military post. They made prisoners here of Gen. Gaudaloupe, M. Valléjo, Lieut.-Col. Prudon, and Capt. Don Salvador Valléjo.
The writer from whom the foregoing facts are chiefly compiled, who was a member of the party, proceeds to say: that "Sonoma was taken without a struggle, in which place were nine pieces of artillery, about two hundred stand of small-arms, (public property.) There was also a large amount of private property and considerable money. A single man cried out, ‘Let us divide the spoils,’ but a unanimous indignant frown made him shrink from the presence of honest men; and from that time forward no man dared to hint any thing like violating the sanctity of a private house or private property. So far did they carry this principle, that they were unwilling to take the beef which was offered by the prisoners. General Valléjo sent for his caballada and offered them fresh horses, which were accepted, but with the determination of remunerating him as soon as the new government should be established. The party was composed mostly of hunters, and such men as could leave home at the shortest notice. They had not time to dress, even if they had had fine clothes, so that most of them were dressed in leather hunting-shirts. Taking the whole party together, they were about as rough-looking a set of men as could be imagined. It is not to be wondered at that one should feel some dread of falling into their hands, but the prisoners, instead of being dragged away with rough hands and harsh treatment, met with nothing but the kindest of treatment aud the most polite attentions from the whole party; and in fact, before five hours’ ride from their homes they seemed to feel all confidence, and conversed freely on the subject of the establishment of a better government, giving their opinions and their plans without any apparent restraint.
"The writer cannot leave this part of the subject without telling an anecdote, which will illustrate the character of one of the actors in this scene. A year or two previous, one of the prisoners, (Salvador Valléjo,) in an official capacity, had fallen in with Mr. Merritt, the leader of the revolutionary party, and under the pretence that Mr. Merritt had harbored a runaway man-of-war’s man, beat him severely with his sword. With all the keen resentment of a brave man, Mr. Merritt suddenly found this same man in his power. The blood rushed to his cheeks, and his eyes sparkled; he leaned forward like a mad tiger in the act of springing upon his prey, and in an energetic but manly tone, said: ‘When I was your prisoner, you struck me; now you are my prisoner, I will NOT STRIKE YOU.’ The motives which had prompted him to act in the present contest, were too high, too holy to permit him for a moment to suffer his private feelings to bias him in his public duties. However able may be the pen which shall record these events, none but those who have witnessed the moderation and discreet deportment of the little garrison left at Sonoma, can do them justice; for there has been no time in the history of the world, where men without law, without officers, without the scratch of a pen, as to the object had in view, have acted with that degree of moderation and strict observance of the rights of persons and property as was witnessed on this occasion. Their children, in generations yet to come, will look back with pleasure upon the commencement of a revolution carried on by their fathers, upon principles high and holy as the laws of eternal justice."
A small garrison was left at Sonoma, consisting of about eighteen men, under command of William B. Ide, which in the course of a few days was increased to about forty. On the 18th of June, Mr. Ide, by the consent of the garrison, published a proclamation, setting forth the objects for which the party had gathered, and the principles which would be adhered to in the event of their success.
"A Proclamation to all persons and citizens of the district of Sonoma, requesting them to remain at peace, and follow their rightful occupations without fear of molestation.
"The Commander-in-chief of the troops assembled at the fortress of
Sonoma, gives his inviolable pledge to all persons in California, not found
under arms, that they shall not be disturbed in their persons, their
property, or social relations, one with another, by men under his command.
"He also solemnly declares his object to be, first, to defend himself and companions in arms, who were invited to this country by a promise of lands on which to settle themselves and families; who were also promised a Republican Government, when having arrived in California they were denied the privilege of buying or renting lands of their friends; who, instead of being allowed to participate in or being protected by a Republican Government, were oppressed by a military despotism; who were even threatened by proclamation, by the chief officers of the aforesaid despotism, with extermination if they should not depart out of the country, leaving all their property, arms, and beasts of burden; and thus deprived of their means of flight or defence, we were to be driven through deserts inhabited by hostile Indians, to certain destruction.
"To overthrow a government which has seized upon the property of the missions for its individual aggrandizement; which has ruined and shamefully oppressed the laboring people of California, by their enormous exactions on goods imported into the country, is the determined purpose of the brave men who are associated under my command.
"I also solemnly declare my object, in the second place, to be to invite all peaceable and good citizens of California, who are friendly to the maintenance of good order and equal rights, and I do hereby invite them to repair to my camp at Sonoma, without delay, to assist us in establishing and perpetuating a Republican Government, which shall secure to all civil and religious liberty; which shall encourage virtue and literature; which shall leave unshackled by fetters, agriculture, commerce, and manufactures.
"I further declare that I rely upon the rectitude of our intentions, the favor of Heaven, and the bravery of those who are bound and associated with me, by the principles of self-preservation, by the love of truth, and the hatred of tyranny, for my hopes of success.
"I furthermore declare, that I believe that a government to be prosperous and happy, must originate with the people who are friendly to its existence ; that the citizens are its guardians, the officers its servants, its glory its reward.
(Signed,) WILLIAM B. IDE.
"Headquarters, Sonoma, June 18th, 1846."
"About the time the foregoing proclamation was issued, two young men, Mr.
T. Cowie and Mr. Fowler, who lived in the neighborhood of Sonoma, started to
go to the Bodega. On their way they were discovered by a small party of
Californians, under the command of one Papilla, and taken prisoners. They
were kept as prisoners for a day and a half, and then tied to trees and cut
to pieces in the most brutal manner. A Californian, known as Four-fingered
Jack, was subsequently captured, and gave the following account of that
horrid scene : — The party, after keeping the prisoners a day or two, tied
them to trees, and stoned them. One of them had his jaw broken. A riata
(rope) was then made fast to the broken bone, and the jaw dragged out.
They were then cut up by piecemeal, and the pieces thrown at them, or
crammed into their throats. They were finally dispatched by cutting out
"Fortunately for humanity, these cold-blooded, savage murders were soon put to an end, by the very active measures taken by the garrison at Sonoma. Having heard nothing of the arrival of Cowie and Fowler at their place of destination, it was suspected that they had been taken and probably killed; and hearing that three others were prisoners in Papilla’s camp, Captain Ford (then 1st lieutenant at Sonoma) headed a party of twenty-two men, officers included, and took the road for the enemy’s camp, which had been reinforced by Captain Joaquin de la Torre, with seventy men. It was reported that their headquarters were at Santa Rosa Plains, to which point Ford proceeded. Finding that they had left, he followed them in the direction of San Rafael; and after travelling all night, making about sixty miles in sixteen hours, came up with the enemy twelve miles from San Rafael, where they had stopped to breakfast.
"The enemy occupied a position at a house on the edge of the plains, about sixty yards from a small grove of brushwood. Captain Ford, having several prisoners, left four men to guard them, and with the remainder advanced upon the enemy. Reaching the brushwood, he directed his party to tie their horses, and take such positions as would cut off the Californians, but by no means to fire until they could kill their man; which order was so well obeyed, that out of twenty or twenty-five shots fired by the Americans, eleven took effect. Eight of the enemy were killed, two wounded, and one horse shot through the neck. One party of the Californians, led by a sergeant, charged up handsomely; but the deadly fire of Ford’s riflemen forced them to retire, with the loss of the sergeant and several of his men. The fall of the sergeant seemed to be the signal for retreat. The whole party retired to a high hill, about a mile from the field of battle. Ford and his gallant followers waited a short time, and finding that the enemy showed no disposition to return to the fight, released the prisoners who had been taken by them, and then went to a corral, where they found a large caballada of horses, and exchanged their tired horses for fresh ones. They then returned to Sonoma. The Californians, on this occasion, did not sustain the reputation they had previously gained. They were eighty-six strong, while Captain Ford had but eighteen men engaged."
Captain Fremont having heard that Don Jose Castro was crossing the bay with 200 men, marched and joined the garrison at Sonoma, on the 25th of June. Several days were spent in active pursuit of the party under Captain De la Torre, hut they succeeded in crossing the bay before they could be overtaken. With the retreat of De la Torre, ended all opposition on the north side of the bay of San Francisco.
On the 17th June, after the receipt of the news of the taking of Sonoma, Don Jose Castro issued two proclamations, one addressed to the old citizens, and the other to the new citizens and foreigners. The following are translations of these proclamations:
The citizen Jose Castro, lieutenant-colonel of cavalry in the Mexican army, and acting general-commander of the department of California.
Fellow-citizens : — The contemptible policy of the agents of the
United States of North America, in this department, has induced a portion of
adventurers, who, regardless of the rights of men, have daringly commenced
an invasion, possessing themselves of the town of Sonoma, taking by surprise
all that place, the military commander of that border, Colonel Don Mariano
Guadaloupe Valléjo, Lieutenant-colonel
Don Victor Prudon, Captain Don Salvador Valléjo,
and Mr. Jacob P. Leese.
Fellow-countrymen — The defence of our liberty, the true religion which our fathers possessed, and our independence, calls upon us to sacrifice ourselves, rather than lose these inestimable blessings; banish from your hearts all petty resentments, turn you, and behold yourselves, these families, these innocent little ones, which have unfortunately fallen into the hands of our enemies, dragged from the bosoms of their fathers, who are prisoners among foreigners, and are calling upon us to succor them. There is still time for us to rise "en masse," as irresistible as retributive. You need not doubt but that divine providence will direct us in the way to glory. You should not vacillate because of the smallness of the garrison of the general headquarters, for he who first will sacrifice himself will be your friend and fellow citizen.
HEADQUARTERS, SANTA CLARA, June 17th, 1846.
Citizen Jose Castro, lieutenant-colonel of artillery in the Mexican army,
and acting general-commander of the department of Upper California.
All foreigners residing among us, occupied with their business, may rest assured of the protection of all the authorities of the department, whilst they refrain entirely from all revolutionary movements.
The general commandancia under my charge will never proceed with vigor against any persons, neither will its authority result in mere words, wanting proof to support it; declaration shall be taken, proofs executed, and the liberty and rights of the laborious, which is ever commendable, shall be protected.
Let the fortune of war take its chance with those ungrateful men, who, with arms in their hands, have attacked the country, without recollecting they were treated by the undersigned with all the indulgence of which he is so characteristic. The imparative inhabitants of the department are witnesses to the truth of this. I have nothing to fear — my duty leads me to death or to victory. I am a Mexican soldier, and I will be free and independent, or I will gladly die for these inestimable blessings.
HEADQUARTERS, SANTA CLARA, June 17th, 1846.
Captain Fremont, with about 170 men, after the retreat of De la Torre,
returned, via Sonoma, to the mouth of the Rio de los Americanos, near
Sutter’s Fort, for the purpose of crossing his horses and baggage at that
point, and then marching to Santa Clara, understood to be the headquarters
of General Castro.
A small party of ten men commanded by R. Semple was ordered to cross the Bay of San Francisco to the town of San Francisco, and if practicable to make prisoner the captain of the Port, Mr. R. T. Ridley. This service was performed, and Mr. Ridley was conveyed to New Helvetia, where the other prisoners were confined. The party reached New Helvetia on the eighth of July.
Commodore Sloat arrived at Monterey in the United States Frigate Savannah, on the second of July. He had heard of the first difficulties between the Mexican and the United States forces on the Rio Grande, at Mazatlan, but had not heard of the declaration of Congress that war existed. On the seventh of July he determined to hoist the American flag in Monterey, which act was performed by Capt. Mervine, commanding 250 marines and seamen. After the raising of the flag, amidst the cheers of the troops and foreigners present, a salute of twentyone guns was fired by all the ships in the harbor, and the following proclamation was read and posted in English and Spanish:
TO THE INHABITANTS OF CALIFORNIA.
The central government of Mexico having commenced hostilities against the
United States of America, by invading its territory, and attacking the
troops of the United States stationed on the north side of the Rio Grande,
and with a force of 7000 men under the command of Gen. Arista, which army
was totally destroyed, and all their artillery, baggage, &c., captured on
the eighth and ninth of May last, by a force of 2300 men, under the command
of Gen. Taylor, and the city of Matamoras taken and occupied by the forces
of the United States, and the two nations being actually at war by this
transaction, I shall hoist the standard of the United States at Monterey
immediately, and shall carry it throughout California.
I declare to the inhabitants of California, that, although I come in arms with a powerful force, I do not come among them as an enemy to California: on the contrary, I come as their best friend, as henceforth California will be a portion of the United States, and its peaceable inhabitants will enjoy the same rights and privileges they now enjoy, together with the privilege of choosing their own magistrates, and other officers for the administration of justice among themselves, and the same protection will be extended to them as to any other State in the Union. They will also enjoy a permanent government, under which life, property, and the constitutional right and lawful security to worship the Creator in the way most congenial to each one’s sense of duty, will be secured, which, unfortunately, the central government of Mexico cannot afford them, destroyed as her resources are by internal factious and corrupt officers, who create constant revolutions to promote their own interests and oppress the people. Under the flag of the United States, California will be free from all such troubles and expenses; consequently, the country will rapidly advance and improve both in agriculture and commerce, as, of course, the revenue laws will be the same in California as in all other parts of the United States, affording them all manufactures and produce of the United States, free of any duty, and all foreign goods at one quarter of the duty they now pay. A great increase in the value of real estate and the products of California may also be anticipated.
With the great interest and kind feelings I know the government and people of the United States possess towards the citizens of California, the country cannot but improve more rapidly than any other on the continent of America.
Such of the inhabitants of California, whether native or foreigners, as may not be disposed to accept the high privileges of citizenship, and to live peaceably under the government of the United States, will be allowed time to dispose of their property, and to remove out of the country, if they choose, without any restriction; or remain in it, observing strict neutrality.
With full confidence in the honor and integrity of the inhabitants of the country, I invite the judges, alcaldes, and other civil officers, to execute their functions as heretofore, that the public tranquillity may not be disturbed; at least until the government of the territory can be more definitely arranged.
All persons holding titles to real estate, or in quiet possession of lands under color of right, shall have those titles guarantied to them.
All churches and the property they contain in possession of the clergy of California, shall continue in the same rights and possession they now enjoy.
All provisions and supplies of every kind furnished by the inhabitants for the use of the United States ships and soldiers, will be paid for at fair rates; and no private property will be taken for public use without just compensation at the moment.
JOHN D. SLOAT,
Commander-in-chief of the U. S. Naval force in the Pacific Ocean.
On the sixth of July, Commodore Sloat dispatched a courier to Commander
Montgomery of the sloop-of-war Portsmouth, lying at San Francisco, notifying
him of his intention to hoist the American flag at Monterey, and requiring
him, if his force was sufficient, to do the same at San Francisco and
elsewhere in the upper portion of the territory. On the morning of the
eighth, Coin. Montgomery at the head of seventy sailors and marines landed
and hoisted the American flag in the public square, under a salute of
twenty-one guns from the Portsmouth. A volunteer corps of American
foreigners was immediately organized for the defence of the place.
On the tenth, a flag dispatched by Com. Montgomery to Sonoma was received and raised there with shouts of satisfaction from the revolutionary garrison. The United States flag was soon after unfurled, without serious opposition, at every principal place in the northern part of California.
On the eighth, the next day after the raising of the United States flag at Monterey, Purser Fauntleroy, of the Savannah, was ordered to organize a company of dragoons, volunteers from the ships and citizens on shore, to reconnoitre the country and keep the communication open between Monterey and the more northern posts, in possession of the Americans. On the seventeenth, this corps marched to the Mission of San Juan, about thirty miles east of Monterey, for the purpose of raising at that place the United States flag, and of taking possession of guns and other munitions said to have been concealed there.
Capt. Fremont having left his position on the Sacramento on the twelfth, had reached San Juan about an hour before Purser Fauntleroy, and taken possession of the Mission without opposition. There were found here 9 pieces of cannon, 200 old muskets, 20 kegs of powder, and 60,000 pounds of cannon-shot. Both parties marched into Monterey the next day.
The fortification of Monterey was commenced immediately after the raising of the United States flag. On the twenty-third, Com. Sloat sailed in the Levant for the United States, via Panama, leaving Com. Stockton, who had arrived at Monterey in the Congress on the fifteenth, in command of the Pacific squadron. Immediately after, the Cyane, Com. Dupont, with Capt. Fremont and volunteers on board, sailed for San Diego, and the frigate Congress, Com. Stockton, sailed for San Pedro, the port of Los Angeles, the then capital of California. The frigate Savannah remained at Monterey, and the sloop Portsmouth at San Francisco.
Gen. Castro in the mean time had formed a junction at Santa Barbara with Gov. Pio Pico, their joint forces numbering about 600. From Santa Barbara they marched to Los Angeles, arriving at that place early in August. Capt. Fremont with the volunteers landed at San Diego about the same time. San Diego is 130 miles south of Los Angeles, and Com. Stockton landed his force of marines and sailors from the Congress at San Pedro. Com. Stockton marched immediately towards Los Angeles, hauling his artillery with oxen. As he approached the camp of the enemy on the Mesa, they fled with precipitation and without making any resistance. The Commodore marched into the city of Angels and took possession of it and the public property without opposition. Capt. Fremont, owing to the difficulty of procuring horses, did not arrive at Los Angeles until several days after the occupation of the town by Com. Stockton. Castro with a few followers fled to Sonora.
On the 1lth of August Commodore Stockton issued the following proclamation, declaring California in the full and peaceable possession of the United States, and authorizing and requesting the election of civil officers throughout the country.
TO THE PEOPLE OF CALIFORNIA.
On my approach to this place with the forces under my command, José
Castro, the commandant-general of California, buried his artillery and
abandoned his fortified camp "of the Mesa," and fled, it is believed,
With the sailors, the marines, and the California battalion of mounted riflemen, we entered the "City of the Angeles," the capital of California, on the 13th of August, and hoisted the North American flag.
The flag of the United States is now flying from every commanding position in the territory, and California is entirely free from Mexican dominion.
The territory of California now belongs to the United States, and will be governed, as soon as circumstances may permit, by officers and laws similar to those by which the other territories of the United States are regulated and protected.
But, until the governor, the secretary, and council are appointed, and the various civil departments of the government are arranged, military law will prevail, and the commander-in-chief will be the governor and protector of the territory.
In the mean time the people will be permitted, and are now requested, to meet in their several towns and departments, at such time and place as they may see fit, to elect civil officers to fill the places of those who decline to continue in office, and to administer the laws according to the former usages of the territory.
In all cases where the people fail to elect, the commander-in-chief and governor will make the appointments himself.
All persons, of whatever religion or nation, who faithfully adhere to the new government, will be considered as citizens of the territory, and will be zealously and thoroughly protected in the liberty of conscience, their persons, and property.
No persons will be permitted to remain in the territory who do not agree to support the existing government; and all military men who desire to remain, are required to take an oath that they will not take up arms against it, or do or say any thing to disturb its peace.
Nor will any persons, come from where they may, be permitted to settle in the territory, who do not pledge themselves to be, in all respects, obedient to the laws which may be from time to time enacted by the proper authorities of the territory. All persons who, without special permission, are found with arms, outside of their own houses, will be considered as enemies, and will be shipped out of the country.
All thieves will be put to hard labor on the public works, and there kept, until compensation is made for the property stolen.
The California battalion of mounted riflemen will be kept in the service of the territory, and constantly on duty, to prevent and punish any aggressions by the Indians, or any other persons, upon the property of individuals, or the peace of the territory; and California shall hereafter be so governed and defended as to give security to the inhabitants, and to defy the power of Mexico.
All persons are required, as long as the territory is under martial law, to be within their houses from ten o’clock at night until sunrise in the morning.
R. F. STOCKTON,
Commander-in-Chief, and Governor of the Territory of California.
CIUDAD DE LOS ANGELES,
August 17th, 1846.
Resume my travels – Leave New Helvetia for San Francisco – Cosçumne River – Mickélemes River – Ford of the San Joaquin – Extensive plain – Tule marshes – Large droves of wild horses and elk – Arrive at Dr. Marsh’s – Vineyard – Californian grape – Californian wine– Aguardiénte– Mormon settlements on the San Joaquin – Californian beef – Cattle – Grasses of California – Horses – Breakfast – Leave Dr. Marsh’s – Arrive at Mr. Livermore’s – Comforts of his dwelling – Large herds of cattle – Sheep – Swine – Californian senora – Slaughtering of a bullock – Fossil oyster-shells – Skeleton of a whale on a high mountain – Arrive at mission of San José – Ruinous and desolate appearance of the mission – Pedlars – Landlady – Filth – Gardens of the mission – Fruit orchards – Empty warehouses and workshops – Foul lodgings.
September 13th – We commenced to-day our journey from New Helvetia to San Francisco. Our party consisted, including myself of Colonel Russell. Dr. McKee of Monterey, Mr. Pickett, a traveller in the country, recently from Oregon, and an Indian servant, who had been furnished us by Captain Sutter. Starting about 3 o’clock P.M., we travelled in a south course over a flat plain until sunset, and encamped near a small lake on the rancho of Mr. Murphy, near the Cosçumne River, a tributary of the Sacramento, which heads near the foot of the Sierra Nevada. The stream is small, but the bottom-lands are extensive and rich. Mr. Murphy has been settled in California about two years, and, with his wife and several children, has resided at this place sixteen months, during which time he has erected a comfortable dwelling-house, and other necessary buildings and conveniences. His wheat crop was abundant this year; and he presented us with as much milk and fresh butter as we desired. The grass on the upland plain over which we have travelled is brown and crisp from the annual drought. In the low bottom it is still green. Distance 18 miles.
September 14. – We crossed the Cosçumne
River about a mile from our camp, and travelled over a level plain covered
with luxuriant grass, and timbered with the evergreen oak until three
o’clock, when we crossed the Mickélemes
River, another tributary of the Sacramento, and encamped on its southern
bank in a beautiful grove of live oaks. The Mickélemes,
where we crossed it, is considerably larger than the Cosçumnes.
The soil of the bottom appears to be very rich, and produces the finest
qualities of grasses. The grass on the upland is also abundant, but at this
time it is brown and dead. We passed through large tracts of wild oats
during the day; the stalks are generally from three to five feet in length.
Our Indian servant, or vaquero, feigned sickness this morning, and we discharged him. As soon as he obtained his discharge, he was entirely relieved from the excruciating agonies under which he had affected to be suffering for several hours. Eating his breakfast, and mounting his horse, he galloped off in the direction of the fort. We overtook this afternoon an English sailor, named Jack, who was travelling towards Monterey; and we employed him as cook and hostler for the remainder of the journey.
A variety of autumnal flowers, generally of a brilliant yellow, are in bloom along the beautiful and romantic banks of the rivulet. Distance 25 miles.
September 15. – Our horses were frightened last night by bears, and this morning, with the exception of those which were picketed, had strayed so far that we did not recover them until ten o’clock. Our route has continued over a flat plain, generally covered with luxuriant grass, wild oats, and a variety of sparkling flowers. The soil is composed of a rich argillaceous loam. Large tracts of the land are evidently subject to annual inundations. About noon we reached a small lake surrounded by tule . There being no trail for our guidance, we experienced some difficulty in shaping our course so as to strike the San Joaquin River at the usual fording place. Our man Jack, by some neglect or mistake of his own, lost sight of us, and we were compelled to proceed without him. This afternoon we saw several large droves of antelope and deer. Game of all kinds appears to be very abundant in this rich valley. Passing through large tracts of tule, we reached the San Joaquin River at dark, and encamped on the eastern bank. Here we immediately made large fires, and discharged pistols as signals to our man Jack, but he did not come into camp. Distance 35 miles.
September 16. – Jack came into camp while we were breakfasting, leading
his tired horse. He had bivouacked on the plain, and, fearful that his horse
would break loose if he tied him, he held the animal by the bridle all
The ford of the San Joaquin is about forty or fifty miles from its mouth. At this season the water is at its lowest stage. The stream at the ford is probably one hundred yards in breadth, and our animals crossed it without much difficulty, the water reaching about midway of their bodies. Oak and small willows are the principal growth of wood skirting the river. Soon after we crossed the San Joaquin this morning we met two men, couriers, bearing despatches from Commodore Stockton, the governor and commander-in-chief in California, to Sutter’s Fort. Entering upon the broad plain, we passed, in about three miles, a small lake, the water of which was so much impregnated with alkali as to be undrinkable. The grass is brown and crisp, but the seed upon it is evidence that it had fully matured before the drought affected it. The plain is furrowed with numerous deep trails, made by the droves of wild horses, elk, deer, and antelope, which roam over and graze upon it. The hunting sportsman can here enjoy his favourite pleasure to its fullest extent.
Having determined to deviate from our direct course, in order to visit the rancho of Dr. Marsh, we parted from Messrs. M`Kee and Pickett about noon. We passed during the afternoon several tule marshes, with which the plain of the San Joaquin is dotted. At a distance, the tule of these marshes presents the appearance of immense fields of ripened corn. The marshes are now nearly dry, and to shorten our journey we crossed several of them without difficulty. A month earlier, this would not have been practicable. I have but little doubt that these marshes would make fine rice plantations, and perhaps, if properly drained, they might produce the sugar-cane.
While pursuing our journey we frequently saw large droves of wild horses and elk grazing quietly upon the plain. No spectacle of moving life can present a more animated and beautiful appearance than a herd of wild horses. They were divided into droves of some one or two hundred. When they noticed us, attracted by curiosity to discover what we were, they would start and run almost with the fleetness of the wind in the direction towards us. But, arriving within a distance of two hundred yards, they would suddenly halt, and after bowing their necks into graceful curves, and looking steadily at us a few moments, with loud snortings they would wheel about and bound away with the same lightning speed. These evolutions they would repeat several times, until, having satisfied their curiosity, they would bid us a final adieu, and disappear behind the undulations of the plain.
The herds of elk were much more numerous. Some of them numbered at least two thousand, and with their immense antlers presented, when running, a very singular and picturesque appearance. We approached some of these herds within fifty yards before they took the alarm. Beef in California is so abundant, and of so fine a quality, that game is but little hunted, and not much prized. Hence the elk, deer, and even antelope are comparatively very tame, and rarely run from the traveller, unless he rides very near them. Some of these elk are as large as a medium sized Mexican mule.
We arrived at the rancho of Dr. Marsh about 5 o’clock P.M., greatly fatigued with the day’s ride. The residence of Dr. M. is romantically situated, near the foot of one of the most elevated mountains in the range separating the valley of the San Joaquin from the plain surrounding the Bay of San Francisco. It is called "Mount Diablo," and may be seen in clear weather a great distance. The dwelling of Dr. M. is a small one-story house, rudely constructed of adobes, and divided into two or three apartments. The flooring is of earth, like the walls. A table or two, and some benches and a bed, are all the furniture it contains. Such are the privations to which those who settle in new countries must submit. Dr. M. is a native of New England, a graduate of Harvard University, and a gentleman of fine natural abilities and extensive scientific and literary acquirements. He emigrated to California some seven or eight years since, after having travelled through most of the Mexican States. He speaks the Spanish language fluently and correctly, and his accurate knowledge of Mexican institutions, laws, and customs was fully displayed in his conversation in regard to them. He obtained the grant of land upon which he now resides, some ten or twelve miles square, four or five years ago; and although he has been constantly harassed by the wild Indians, who have several times stolen all his horses, and sometimes numbers of his cattle, he has succeeded in permanently establishing himself. The present number of cattle on his rancho is about two thousand, and the increase of the present year he estimates at five hundred.
I noticed near the house a vegetable garden, with the usual variety of vegetables. In another inclosure was the commencement of an extensive vineyard, the fruit of which (now ripe) exceeds in delicacy of flavour any grapes which I have ever tasted. This grape is not indigenous, but was introduced by the padres, when they first established themselves in the country. The soil and climate of California have probably improved it. Many of the clusters are eight and ten inches in length, and weigh several pounds. The fruit is of medium size, and in colour a dark purple. The rind is very thin, and when broken the pulp dissolves in the mouth immediately. Although Dr. M. has just commenced his vineyard, he has made several casks of wine this year, which is now in a state of fermentation. I tasted here, for the first time, aguardiénte, or brandy distilled from the Californian grape. Its flavour is not unpleasant, and age, I do not doubt, would render it equal to the brandies of France. Large quantities of wine and aguardiénte are made from the extensive vineyards farther south. Dr. M. informed me that his lands had produced a hundredfold of wheat without irrigation. This yield seems almost incredible; but, if we can believe the statements of men of unimpeached veracity, there have been numerous instances of reproduction of wheat in California equalling and even exceeding this.
Some time in July, a vessel arrived at San Francisco from New York, which had been chartered and freighted principally by a party of Mormon emigrants, numbering between two and three hundred, women and children included. These Mormons are about making a settlement for agricultural purposes on the San Joaquin River, above the rancho of Dr. Marsh. Two of the women and one of the men are now here, waiting for the return of the main party, which has gone up the river to explore and select a suitable site for the settlement. The women are young, neatly dressed, and one of them may be called good looking. Captain Gant, formerly of the U.S. army, in very bad health, is also residing here. He has crossed the Rocky Mountains eight times, and, in various trapping excursions, has explored nearly every river between the settlements of the United States and the Pacific Ocean.
The house of Dr. Marsh being fully occupied, we made our beds in a shed, a short distance from it. Suspended from one of the poles forming the frame of this shed was a portion of the carcass of a recently slaughtered beef. The meat was very fat, the muscular portions of it presenting that marbled appearance, produced by a mixture of the fat and lean, so agreeable to the sight and palate of the epicure. The horned cattle of California, which I have thus far seen, are the largest and the handsomest in shape which I ever saw. There is certainly no breed in the United States equalling them in size. They, as well as the horses, subsist entirely on the indigenous grasses, at all seasons of the year; and such are the nutritious qualities of the herbage, that the former are always in condition for slaughtering, and the latter have as much flesh upon them as is desirable, unless (which is often the case) they are kept up at hard work and denied the privilege of eating, or are broken down by hard riding. The varieties of grass are very numerous, and nearly all of them are heavily seeded when ripe, and are equal, if not superior, as food for animals, to corn and oats. The horses are not as large as the breeds of the United States, but in point of symmetrical proportions and in capacity for endurance they are fully equal to our best breeds. The distance we have travelled to-day I estimate at thirty-five miles.
September 17. – The temperature of the mornings is most agreeable, and
every other phenomenon accompanying it is correspondingly delightful to the
senses. Our breakfast consisted of warm bread, made of unbolted flour,
stewed beef, seasoned with chile colorado, a species of red pepper, and
frijoles, a dark-coloured bean, with coffee. After breakfast I walked with
Dr. Marsh to the summit of a conical hill, about a mile distant from his
house, from which the view of the plain on the north, south, and east, and
the more broken and mountainous country on the west, is very extensive and
picturesque. The hills and the plain are ornamented with the evergreen oak,
sometimes in clumps or groves, at others standing solitary. On the summits,
and in the gorges of the mountains, the cedar, pine, and fir display their
tall symmetrical shapes; and the San Joaquin, at a distance of about ten
miles, is belted by a dense forest of oak, sycamore, and smaller timber and
shrubbery. The herds of cattle are scattered over the plain, – some of them
grazing upon the brown but nutritious grass; others sheltering themselves
from the sun under the wide-spreading branches of the oaks. The tout
ensemble of the landscape is charming.
Leaving Dr. Marsh’s about three o’clock P.M., we travelled fifteen miles, over a rolling and well-watered country, covered generally with wild oats, and arrived at the residence of Mr. Robert Livermore just before dark. We were most kindly and hospitably received, and entertained by Mr. L. and his interesting family. After our mules and baggage had been cared for, we were introduced to the principal room in the house, which consisted of a number of small adobe buildings, erected apparently at different times, and connected together. Here we found chairs, and, for the first time in California, saw a side-board set out with glass tumblers and chinaware. A decanter of aguardiénte, a bowl of loaf sugar, and a pitcher of cold water from the spring, were set before us, and, being duly honoured, had a most reviving influence upon our spirits as well as our corporeal energies. Suspended from the walls of the room were numerous coarse engravings, highly coloured with green, blue, and crimson paints, representing the Virgin Mary, and many of the saints. These engravings are held in great veneration by the devout Catholics of this country. In the corners of the room were two comfortable-looking beds, with clean white sheets and pillow-cases, a sight with which my eyes have not been greeted for many months.
The table was soon set out, and covered with a linen cloth of snowy whiteness, upon which were placed dishes of stewed beef, seasoned with chile colorado, frijoles, and a plentiful supply of tortillas, with an excellent cup of tea, to the merits of which we did ample justice. Never were men blessed with better appetites than we are at the present time.
Mr. Livermore has been a resident of California nearly thirty years, and, having married into one of the wealthy families of the country, is the proprietor of some of the best lands for tillage and grazing. An arroyo, or small rivulet fed by springs, runs through his rancho, in such a course that, if expedient, he could, without much expense, irrigate one or two thousand acres. Irrigation in this part of California, however, seems to be entirely unnecessary for the production of wheat or any of the small grains. To produce maize, potatoes, and garden vegetables, irrigation is indispensable. Mr. Livermore has on his rancho about 3500 head of cattle. His horses, during the late disturbances, have nearly all been driven off or stolen by the Indians. I saw in his corral a flock of sheep numbering several hundred. They are of good size, and the mutton is said to be of an excellent quality, but the wool is coarse. It is, however, well adapted to the only manufacture of wool that is carried on in the country, – coarse blankets and serápes . But little attention is paid to hogs here, although the breeds are as fine as I have ever seen elsewhere. Beef being so abundant, and of a quality so superior, pork is not prized by the native Californians.
The Senora L. is the first Hispano-American lady I have seen since arriving in the country. She was dressed in a white cambric robe, loosely banded round the waist, and without ornament of any kind, except several rings on her small delicate fingers. Her complexion is that of a dark brunette, but lighter and more clear than the skin of most Californian women. The dark lustrous eye, the long black and glossy hair, the natural ease, grace, and vivacity of manners and conversation, characteristic of Spanish ladies, were fully displayed by her from the moment of our introduction. The children, especially two or three little senoritas, were very beautiful, and manifested a remarkable degree of sprightliness and intelligence. One of them presented me with a small basket wrought from a species of tough grass, and ornamented with the plumage of birds of a variety of brilliant colours. It was a beautiful specimen of Indian ingenuity.
Retiring to bed about ten o’clock, I enjoyed, the first time for four months, the luxury of clean sheets, with a mattress and a soft pillow. My enjoyment, however, was not unmixed with regret, for I noticed that several members of the family, to accommodate us with lodgings in the house, slept in the piazza outside. To have objected to sleeping in the house, however, would have been considered discourteous and offensive.
September 18. – Early this morning a bullock was brought up and slaughtered in front of the house. The process of slaughtering a beef is as follows; a vaquero, mounted a trained horse, and provided with a lasso, proceeds to the place where the herd is grazing. Selecting an animal, he soon secures it by throwing the noose of the lasso over the horns, and fastening the other end around the pommel of the saddle. During the first struggles of the animal for liberty, which usually are very violent, the vaquero sits firmly in his seat, and keeps his horse in such a position that the fury and strength of the beast are wasted without producing any other result than his own exhaustion. The animal, soon ascertaining that he cannot release himself from the rope, submits to be pulled along to the place of execution. Arriving here, the vaquero winds the lasso round the legs of the doomed beast, and throws him to the ground, where he lies perfectly helpless and motionless. Dismounting from his horse, he then takes from his leggin the butcher-knife that he always carries with him, and sticks the animal in the throat. He soon bleeds to death, when, in an incredibly short space of time for such a performance, the carcass is flayed and quartered, and the meat is either roasting before the fire or simmering in the stew-pan. The lassoing and slaughter of a bullock is one of the most exciting sports of the Californians; and the daring horsemanship and dexterous use of the lariat usually displayed on these occasions are worthy of admiration. I could not but notice the Golgotha-like aspect of the grounds surrounding the house. The bones of cattle were thickly strewn in all directions, showing a terrible slaughter of the four-footed tribe and a prodigious consumption of flesh.
A carretada of fossil oyster-shells was shown to me by Mr. Livermore, which had been hauled for the purpose of being manufactured into lime. Some of these shells were eight inches in length, and of corresponding breadth and thickness. They were dug from a hill two or three miles distant, which is composed almost entirely of this fossil. Several bones belonging to the skeleton of a whale, discovered by Mr. L. on the summit of one of the highest elevations in the vicinity of his residence, were shown to me. The skeleton when discovered was nearly perfect and entirely exposed, and its elevation above the level of the sea between one and two thousand feet. How the huge aquatic monster, of which this skeleton is the remains, managed to make his dry bed on the summit of an elevated mountain, more experienced geologists than myself will hereafter determine. I have an opinion on the subject, however; but it is so contrary in some respects to the received geological theories, that I will not now hazard it.
Leaving Mr. Livermore’s about nine o’clock A.M., we travelled three or four miles over a level plain, upon which immense herds of cattle were grazing. When we approached, they fled from us with as much alarm as herds of deer and elk. From this plain we entered a hilly country, covered to the summits of the elevations with wild oats and tufts or bunches of a species of grass, which remains green through the whole season. Cattle were scattered through these hills, and more sumptuous grazing they could not desire. Small streams of water, fed by springs, flow through the hollows and ravines, which, as well as the hill-sides, are timbered with the evergreen oak and a variety of smaller trees. About two o’clock, p.m., we crossed an arroyo which runs through a narrow gorge of the hills, and struck an artificial wagon-road, excavated and embanked so as to afford a passage for wheeled vehicles along the steep hill-side. A little farther on we crossed a very rudely constructed bridge. These are the first signs of road-making I have seen in the country. Emerging from the hills, the southern arm of the Bay of San Francisco came in view, separated from us by a broad and fertile plain, some ten or twelve miles in width, sloping gradually down to the shore of the bay, and watered by several small creeks and estuaries.
We soon entered through a narrow street the mission of San José, or St. Joseph. Passing the squares of one-story adobe buildings once inhabited by thousands of busy Indians, but now deserted, roofless, and crumbling into ruins, we reached the plaza in front of the church, and the massive two story edifices occupied by the padres during the flourishing epoch of the establishment. These were in good repair; but the doors and windows, with the exception of one, were closed, and nothing of moving life was visible except a donkey or two, standing near a fountain which gushed its waters into a capacious stone trough. Dismounting from our mules, we entered the open door, and here we found two Frenchmen dressed in sailor costume, with a quantity of coarse shirts, pantaloons, stockings, and other small articles, together with aguardiénte, which they designed retailing to such of the natives in the vicinity as chose to become their customers. They were itinerant merchants, or pedlars, and had opened their wares here for a day or two only, or so long as they could find purchasers.
Having determined to remain here the residue of the day and the night, we inquired of the Frenchmen if there was any family in the place that could furnish us with food. They directed us to a house on the opposite side of the plaza, to which we immediately repaired. The senora, a dark-skinned and rather shriveled and filthy specimen of the fair sex, but with a black, sparkling, and intelligent eye, met us at the door of the miserable hovel, and invited us in. In one corner of this wretched and foul abode was a pile of raw hides, and in another a heap of wheat. The only furniture it contained were two small benches, or stools, one of which, being higher than the other, appeared to have been constructed for a table. We informed the senora that we were travellers, and wished refreshment and lodgings for the night. " Esta bueno, senores, esta bueno," was her reply; and she immediately left us, and, opening the door of the kitchen, commenced the preparation of our dinner. The interior of the kitchen, of which I had a good view through the door, was more revolting in its filthiness than the room in which we were seated. In a short time, so industrious was our hostess, our dinner, consisting of two plates of jerked beef, stewed, and seasoned with chile colorado, a plate of tortillas, and a bowl of coffee, was set out upon the most elevated stool. There were no knives, forks, or spoons, on the table. Our amiable land lady apologized for this deficiency of table furniture, saying that she was " muy pobre " (very poor), and possessed none of these table implements. "Fingers were made before forks," and in our recent travels we had learned to use them as substitutes, so that we found no difficulty in conveying the meat from the plates to our mouths.
Belonging to the mission are two gardens, inclosed by high adobe walls. After dinner we visited one of these. The area of the inclosure contains fifteen or twenty acres of ground, the whole of which was planted with fruit trees and grape-vines. There are about six hundred pear trees, and a large number of apple and peach trees, all bearing fruit in great abundance and in full perfection. The quality of the pears is excellent, but the apples and peaches are indifferent. The grapes have been gathered, as I suppose, for I saw none upon the vines, which appeared healthy and vigorous. The gardens are irrigated with very little trouble, from large springs which flow from the hills a short distance above them. Numerous aqueducts, formerly conveying and distributing water over an extensive tract of land surrounding the mission, are still visible, but as the land is not now cultivated, they at present contain no water.
The mission buildings cover fifty acres of ground, perhaps more, and are all constructed of adobes with tile roofs. Those houses or barracks which were occupied by the Indian families are built in compact squares, one story in height. They are generally partitioned into two rooms, one fronting on the street, the other upon a court or corral in the rear. The main buildings of the mission are two stories in height, with wide corridors in front and rear. The walls are massive, and, if protected from the winter rains, will stand for ages. But if exposed to the storms by the decay of the projecting roofs, or by leaks in the main roof, they will soon crumble, or sink into shapeless heaps of mud. I passed through extensive warehouses and immense rooms, once occupied for the manufacture of woollen blankets and other articles, with the rude machinery still standing in them, but unemployed. Filth and desolation have taken the place of cleanliness and busy life. The granary was very capacious, and its dimensions were an evidence of the exuberant fertility of the soil, when properly cultivated under the superintendence of the padres . The calaboose is a miserable dark room of two apartments, one with a small loop-hole in the wall, the other a dungeon without light or ventilation. The stocks, and several other inventions for the punishment of offenders, are still standing in this prison. I requested permission to examine the interior of the church, but it was locked up, and no person in the mission was in possession of the key. Its length I should suppose is from one hundred to one hundred and twenty feet, and its breadth between thirty and forty, with small exterior pretensions to architectural ornament or symmetry of proportions.
Returning from our rambles about the mission, we found that our landlady had been reinforced by an elderly woman, whom she introduced as "mi madre," and two or three Indian muchachas, or girls, clad in a costume not differing much from that of our mother Eve. The latter were obese in their figures, and the mingled perspiration and filth standing upon their skins were any thing but agreeable to the eye. The two senoras, with these handmaids near them, were sitting in front of the house, busily engaged in executing some needlework.
Supper being prepared and discussed, our landlady informed us that she had a husband, who was absent, but would return in the course of the night, and, if he found strange men in the house, he would be much offended with her. She had therefore directed her muchachas to sweep out one of the deserted and half-ruined rooms on the opposite square, to which we could remove our baggage, and in which we could lodge during the night; and as soon as the necessary preparations were made, we retired to our dismal apartment. The "compound of villanous smells" which saluted our nostrils when we entered our dormitory for the night augured unfavourably for repose. The place had evidently been the abode of horses, cattle, pigs, and foul vermin of every description. But with the aid of a dark-coloured tallow-candle, which gave just light enough to display the murkiness and filth surrounding us, we spread our beds in the cleanest places, and laid down to rest. Distance travelled, 18 miles.
Armies of fleas – Leave the mission – Clover – Wild mustard – A carreta – Family travelling – Arrive at Pueblo de San José – Capt. Fisher – Description of the Pueblo – The embarcadero – Beautiful and fertile valley of the Pueblo – Absence of architectural taste in California – town squirrels – Fruit garden – Grapes – Tropical fruits – Gaming-rooms – Contrast between Californian and American gamesters – Leave San José – Beautiful avenue – Mission of Santa Clara – Rich but neglected lands – Effects of a bad government – A senora on the road-side – Kindness of Californian women – Fast riding – Cruel treatment of horses – Arrive at the mission of San Francisco – A poor but hospitable family – Arrive at the town of San Francisco – W. A Leidesdorff, Esq., American vice-consul – First view of the bay of San Francisco – Muchachos and Muchachas – Capt. Montgomery – U. S. sloop-of-war, Portsmouth – Town of San Francisco; its situation, appearance, population – Commerce of California – Extortion of the government and traders.
September 19. – Several Californians came into the mission during the
night or early this morning; among them the husband of our hostess, who was
very kind and cordial in his greetings.
While our man Jack was saddling and packing the mules, they gathered around us to the number of a dozen or more, and were desirous of trading their horses for articles of clothing; articles which many of them appeared to stand greatly in need of, but which we had not to part from. Their pertinacity exceeded the bounds of civility, as I thought; but I was not in a good humour, for the fleas, bugs, and other vermin, which infested our miserable lodgings, had caused me a sleepless night, by goring my body until the blood oozed from the skin in countless places. These ruinous missions are prolific generators, and the nurseries of vermin of all kinds, as the hapless traveller who tarries in them a few hours will learn to his sorrow. When these bloodthirsty assailants once make a lodgment in the clothing or bedding of the unfortunate victim of their attacks, such are their courage and perseverance, that they never capitulate. "Blood or death" is their motto; – the war against them, to be successful, must be a war of extermination.
Poor as our hostess was, she nevertheless was reluctant to receive any compensation for her hospitality. We, however, insisted upon her receiving a dollar from each of us (dos pesos), which she finally accepted; and after shaking us cordially by the hand she bade us an affectionate adios, and we proceeded on our journey.
From the Mission of San José to the Pueblo of San José, the distance is fifteen miles, for the most part over a level and highly fertile plain, producing a variety of indigenous grasses, among which I noticed several species of clover and mustard, large tracts of which we rode through, the stalks varying from six to ten feet in height. The plain is watered by several arroyos, skirted with timber, generally the evergreen oak.
We met this morning a Californian carreta, or travelling-cart, freighted with women and children, bound on a pleasure excursion. The carreta is the rudest specimen of the wheeled vehicle I have seen. The wheels are transverse sections of a log, and are usually about 2 ½ feet in diameter, and varying in thickness from the centre to the rim. These wheels are coupled together by an axletree, into which a tongue is inserted. On the axletree and tongue rests a frame, constructed of square pieces of timber, six or eight feet in length, and four or five in breadth, into which are inserted a number of stakes about four feet in length. This frame-work being covered and floored with raw hides, the carriage is complete. The carreta which we met was drawn by two yokes of oxen, driven by an Indian vaquero, mounted on a horse. In the rear were two caballeros, riding fine spirited horses, with gaudy trappings. They were dressed in steeple-crowned glazed sombreros, serapes of fiery colours, velvet (cotton) calzoneros, white cambric calzoncillos, and leggins and shoes of undressed leather. Their spurs were of immense size.
The party halted as soon as we met them, the men touching their heavy sombreros, and uttering the usual salutation of the morning, " Buenos dios, senores," and shaking hands with us very cordially. The same salutation was repeated by all the senoras and senoritas in the carreta . In dress and personal appearance the women of this party were much inferior to the men, Their skins were dark, sallow, and shriveled; and their costume, a loose gown and reboso, were made of very common materials. The children, however, were all handsome, with sparkling eyes and ruddy complexions. Women and children were seated, a` la Turque, on the bottom of the carreta, there being no raised seats in the vehicle.
We arrived at the Pueblo de San José about twelve o’clock. There being no hotels in California, we were much at a loss where to apply for refreshments and lodgings for the night. Soon, however, we were met by Captain Fisher, a native of Massachusetts, but a resident of this country for twenty years or more, who invited us to his house. We were most civilly received by Senora F., who, although she did not speak English, seemed to understand it very well. She is a native of the southern Pacific coast of Mexico, and a lady of fine manners and personal appearance. Her eldest daughter, about thirteen years of age, is very beautiful. An excellent dinner was soon set out, with a variety of the native wines of California and other liquors. We could not have felt ourselves more happy and more at home, even at our own firesides and in the midst of our own families.
The Pueblo de San José is a village containing some six or eight hundred inhabitants. It is situated in what is called the "Pueblo Valley," about fifteen miles south of the southern shore of the Bay of San Francisco. Through a navigable creek, vessels of considerable burden can approach the town within a distance of five or six miles. The embarcadero, or landing, I think, is six miles from the Pueblo. The fertile plain between this and the town, at certain seasons of the year, is sometimes inundated. The "Pueblo Valley," which is eighty or one hundred miles in length, varying from ten to twenty in breadth, is well watered by the Rio Santa Clara and numerous arroyos, and is one of the most fertile and picturesque plains in California . For pastoral charms, fertility of soil, variety of productions, and delicious voluptuousness of climate and scenery, it cannot be surpassed. This valley, if properly cultivated, would alone produce breadstuffs enough to supply millions of population. The buildings of the Pueblo, with few exceptions, are constructed of adobes, and none of them have even the smallest pretensions to architectural taste or beauty. The church, which is situated near the centre of the town, exteriorly resembles a huge Dutch barn. The streets are irregular, every man having erected his house in a position most convenient to him. Aqueducts convey water from the Santa Clara River to all parts of the town. In the main plaza hundreds, perhaps thousands, of squirrels, whose abodes are under ground, have their residences. They are of a brownish colour, and about the size of our common gray squirrel. Emerging from their subterraneous abodes, they skip and leap about over the plaza without the least concern, no one molesting them.
The population of the place is composed chiefly of native Californian land-proprietors. Their ranchos are in the valley, but their residences and gardens are in the town. We visited this afternoon the garden of Senor Don Antonio Sugnol. He received us with much politeness, and conducted us through his garden. Apples, pears, peaches, figs, oranges, and grapes, with other fruits which I do not now recollect, were growing and ripening. The grape-vines were bowed to the ground with the luxuriance and weight of the yield; and more delicious fruit I never tasted. From the garden we crossed over to a flouring-mill recently erected by a son-in-law of Don Antonio, a Frenchman by birth. The mill is a creditable enterprise to the proprietor, and he will coin money from its operations.
The Pueblo de San José is one of the oldest settlements in Alta California . Captain Fisher pointed out to me a house built of adobes, which has been standing between 80 and 90 years, and no house in the place appeared to be more substantial or in better repair. A garrison, composed of marines from the United States’ ships, and volunteers enlisted from the American settlers in the country, is now stationed here. The post is under the command of Purser Watmough, of the United States sloop-of-war Portsmouth, commanded by Captain Montgomery. During the evening I visited several public places (bar-rooms), where I saw men and women engaged promiscuously at the game of monte . Gambling is a universal vice in California . All classes and both sexes participate in its excitements to some extent. The games, however, while I was present, were conducted with great propriety and decorum so far as the native Californians were concerned. The loud swearing and other turbulent demonstrations generally proceeded from the unsuccessful foreigners. I could not but observe the contrast between the two races in this respect. The one bore their losses with stoical composure and indifference; the other announced each unsuccessful bet with profane imprecations and maledictions. Excitement prompted the hazards of the former, avarice the latter.
September 20. – The morning was cloudy and cool; but the clouds broke
away about nine o’clock, and the sun shone from a vapourless sky, as usual.
We met, at the Pueblo, Mr. Grove Cook, a native of Gerrard county, Ky., but
for many years a resident of California . He is the proprietor of a rancho
in the vicinity. We determined to leave our mules in charge of Mr. Cook’s
vaquero, and proceed to San Francisco on hired horses. The distance from the
Pueblo de San José to San Francisco is
called sixty miles. The time occupied in performing the journey, on
Californian horses at Californian speed, is generally six or seven hours.
Procuring horses for the journey, and leaving our baggage, with the
exception of a change of clothing, we left the Pueblo about eleven o’clock
The mission of Santa Clara is situated about two and a half miles from the town. A broad alameda, shaded by stately trees (elms and willows), planted by the padres, extends nearly the entire distance, forming a most beautiful drive or walk for equestrians or pedestrians. The motive of the padres in planting this avenue was to afford the devout senoras and senoritas a shade from the sun, when walking from the Pueblo to the church at the mission to attend mass. A few minutes over the smooth level road, at the rapid speed of our fresh Californian horses, brought us to the mission, where we halted to make our observations. This mission is not so extensive in its buildings as that of San José, but the houses are generally in better repair. They are constructed of adobes; the church was open, and, entering the interior, I found the walls hung with coarse paintings and engravings of the saints, etc., etc. The chancel decorated with numerous images, and symbolical ornaments used by the priests in their worship. Gold-paper, and tinsel, in barbaric taste, are plastered without stint upon nearly every object that meets the eye, so that, when on festive occasions the church is lighted, it must present a very glittering appearance.
The rich lands surrounding the mission are entirely neglected. I did not notice a foot of ground under cultivation, except the garden inclosure, which contained a variety of fruits and plants of the temperate and tropical climates. From want of care these are fast decaying. Some excellent pears were furnished us by Mrs. Bennett, an American lady, of Amazonian proportions, who, with her family of sons, has taken up her residence in one of the buildings of the mission. The picture of decay and ruin presented by this once flourishing establishment, surrounded by a country so fertile and scenery so enchanting, is a most melancholy spectacle to the passing traveller, and speaks a language of loud condemnation against the government.
Proceeding on our journey, we travelled fifteen miles over a flat plain, timbered with groves and parks of evergreen oaks, and covered with a great variety of grasses, wild oats, and mustard. So rank is the growth of mustard in many places, that it is with difficulty that a horse can penetrate through it. Numerous birds flitted from tree to tree, making the groves musical with their harmonious notes. The black-tailed deer bounded frequently across our path, and the lurking and stealthy coyotes were continually in view. We halted at a small cabin, with a corral near it, in order to breathe our horses, and refresh ourselves. Captain Fisher had kindly filled a small sack with bread, cheese, roasted beef, and a small jug of excellent schiedam. Entering the cabin, the interior of which was cleanly, we found a solitary woman, young, neatly dressed, and displaying many personal charms. With the characteristic ease and grace of a Spanish woman, she gave the usual salutation for the hour of the day, " Buenas tardes, senores caballeros ;" to which we responded by a suitable salutation. We requested of our hostess some water, which she furnished us immediately, in an earthen bowl. Opening our sack of provisions, we spread them upon the table, and invited the senora to partake of them with us, which invitation she accepted without the slightest hesitation, and with much good-nature, vivacity, and even thankfulness for our politeness. There are no women in the world for whose manners nature has done so much, and for whom art and education, in this respect, have done so little, as these Hispano-American females on the coast of the Pacific. In their deportment towards strangers they are queens, when, in costume, they are peasants. None of them, according to our tastes, can be called beautiful; but what they want in complexion and regularity of feature is fully supplied by their kindliness, the soul and sympathy which beam from their dark eyes, and their grace and warmth of manners and expression.
While enjoying the pic-nic with our agreeable hostess, a caballada was driven into the corral by two vaqueros, and two gentlemen soon after came into the house. They were Messrs. Lightson and Murphy, from the Pueblo, bound for San Francisco, and had stopped to change their horses. We immediately made ready to accompany them, and were soon on the road again, travelling at race-horse speed; these gentlemen having furnished us with a change of horses, in order that we might be able to keep up with them.
To account for the fast travelling in California on horseback, it is necessary to explain the mode by which it is accomplished. A gentleman who starts upon a journey of one hundred miles, and wishes to perform the trip in a day, will take with him ten fresh horses and a vaquero . The eight loose horses are placed under the charge of the vaquero, and are driven in front, at the rate of ten or twelve miles an hour, according to the speed that is required for the journey. At the end of twenty miles, the horses which have been rode are discharged and turned into the caballada, and horses which have not been rode, but driven along without weight, are saddled and mounted and rode at the same speed, and so on to the end of the journey. If a horse gives out from inability to proceed at this gait, he is left on the road. The owner’s brand is on him, and, if of any value, he can be recovered without difficulty. But in California no one thinks of stopping on the road, on account of the loss of a horse, or his inability to travel at the rate of ten or twelve miles an hour. Horseflesh is cheap, and the animal must go as long as he can, and when he cannot travel longer he is left, and another horse is substituted.
Twenty-five miles, at a rapid gait over a level and fertile plain, brought us to the rancho of Don Francisco Sanchez, where we halted to change horses. Breathing our animals a short time, we resumed our journey, and reached the mission of San Francisco Dolores, three miles from the town of San Francisco, just after sunset. Between the mission and the town the road is very sandy, and we determined to remain here for the night, corraling the loose animals, and picketing those we rode. It was some time, however, before we could find a house to lodge in. The foreign occupants of the mission buildings, to whom we applied for accommodations for the night, gave us no satisfaction. After several applications, we were at last accommodated by an old and very poor Californian Spaniard, who inhabited a small house in one of the ruinous squares, formerly occupied by the operative Indians. All that he had (and it was but little) was at our disposal. A more miserable supper I never sat down to; but the spirit of genuine hospitality in which it was given imparted to the poor viands a flavour that rendered the entertainment almost sumptuous – in my imagination. A cup of water cheerfully given to the weary and thirsty traveller, by him who has no more to part with, is worth a cask of wine grudgingly bestowed by the stingy or the ostentatious churl. Notwithstanding we preferred sleeping on our own blankets, these poor people would not suffer us to do it, but spread their own pallets on the earth floor of their miserable hut, and insisted so strongly upon our occupying them, that we could not refuse.
September 21. – We rose at daylight. The morning was clear, and our
horses were shivering with the cold. The mission of San Francisco is
situated at the northern terminus of the fertile plain over which we
travelled yesterday, and at the foot, on the eastern side, of the coast
range of mountains. These mountains are of considerable elevation. The shore
of the Bay of San Francisco is about two miles distant from the mission. An
arroyo waters the mission lands, and empties into the bay. The church of the
mission, and the main buildings contiguous, are in tolerable repair. In the
latter, several Mormon families, which arrived in the ship Brooklyn from New
York, are quartered. As in the other missions I have passed through, the
Indian quarters are crumbling into shapeless heaps of mud.
Our aged host, notwithstanding he is a pious Catholic, and considers us as heretics and heathens, gave us his benediction in a very impressive manner when we were about to start. Mounting our horses at sunrise, we travelled three miles over low ridges of sandhills, with sufficient soil, however, to produce a thick growth of scrubby evergreen oak, and brambles of hawthorn, wild currant and gooseberry bushes, rose bushes, briers, etc. We reached the residence of Wm. A. Leidesdorff, Esq., late American vice-consul at San Francisco, when the sun was about an hour high. The morning was calm and beautiful. Not a ripple disturbed the placid and glassy surface of the magnificent bay and harbour, upon which rested at anchor thirty large vessels, consisting of whalemen, merchantmen, and the U. S. sloop-of-war Portsmouth, Captain Montgomery. Besides these, there were numerous small craft, giving to the harbour a commercial air, of which some of the large cities on the Atlantic coast would feel vain. The bay, from the town of San Francisco due east, is about twelve miles in breadth. An elevated range of hills bounds the view on the opposite side. These slope gradually down, and between them and the shore there is a broad and fertile plain, which is called the Contra Costa . There are several small islands in the bay, but they do not present a fertile appearance to the eye.
We were received with every mark of respectful attention and cordial hospitality by Mr. Leidesdorff. Mr. L. is a native of Denmark; was for some years a resident of the United States; but subsequently the captain of a merchant vessel, and has been established at this place as a merchant some five or six years. The house in which he resides, now under the process of completion, is the largest private building in the town. Being shown to a well-furnished room, we changed our travel-soiled clothing for a more civilized costume, by which time breakfast was announced, and we were ushered into a large dining-hall. In the centre stood a table, upon which was spread a substantial breakfast of stewed and fried beef, fried onions, and potatoes, bread, butter, and coffee. Our appetites were very sharp, and we did full justice to the merits of the fare before us. The servants waiting upon the table were an Indian muchachito and muchachita, about ten or twelve years of age. They had not been long from their wild rancherias, and knew but little of civilized life. Our host, however, who speaks, I believe, nearly every living language, whether of Christian, barbarian, or savage nations, seemed determined to impress upon their dull intellects the forms and customs of civilization. He scolded them with great vivacity, sometimes in their own tongue, sometimes in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, German, and English, in accordance with the language in which he was thinking at the moment. It seemed to me that the little fat Indians were more confused than enlightened by his emphatic instructions. At the table, besides ourselves and host, was Lieutenant W. A. Bartlett, of the U.S. sloop-of-war Portsmouth, now acting as Alcalde of the town and district of San Francisco.
The Portsmouth, Commander Montgomery, is the only United States vessel of war now lying in the harbour. She is regarded as the finest vessel of her class belonging to our navy. By invitation of Lieutenant Bartlett, I went on board of her between ten and eleven o’clock. The crew and officers were assembled on deck to attend Divine service. They were all dressed with great neatness, and seemed to listen with deep attention to the Episcopal service and a sermon, which were read by Commander Montgomery, who is a member of the church.
In the afternoon I walked to the summit of one of the elevated hills in the vicinity of the town, from which I had a view of the entrance to the bay of San Francisco and of the Pacific Ocean. A thick fog hung over the ocean outside of the bay. The deep roar of the eternally restless waves, as they broke one after another upon the beach, or dashed against the rock-bound shore, could be heard with great distinctness, although some five or six miles distant. The entrance from the ocean into the bay is about a mile and half in breadth. The waters of the bay appear to have forced a passage through the elevated ridge of hills next to the shore of the Pacific. These rise abruptly on either side of the entrance. The water at the entrance and inside is of sufficient depth to admit the largest ship that was ever constructed; and so completely land-locked and protected from the winds is the harbour, that vessels can ride at anchor in perfect safety in all kinds of weather. The capacity of the harbour is sufficient for the accommodation of all the navies of the world.
The town of San Francisco is situated on the south side of the entrance, fronting on the bay, and about six miles from the ocean. The flow and ebb of the tide are sufficient to bring a vessel to the anchorage in front of the town and carry it outside, without the aid of wind, or even against an unfavourable wind. A more approachable harbour, or one of greater security, is unknown to navigators. The permanent population of the town is at this time between one and two hundred,* and is composed almost exclusively of foreigners. There are but two or three native Californian families in the place. The transient population, and at present it is quite numerous, consists of the garrison of marines stationed here, and the officers and crews attached to the merchant and whale ships lying in the harbour. The houses, with a few exceptions, are small adobes and frames, constructed without regard to architectural taste, convenience, or comfort. Very few of them have either chimneys or fire-places. The inhabitants contrive to live the year round without fires, except or cooking. The position of San Francisco for commerce is, without doubt, superior to any other port on the Pacific coast of North America. The country contiguous and contributory to it cannot be surpassed in fertility, healthfulness of climate, and beauty of scenery. It is capable of producing whatever is necessary to the sustenance of man, and many of the luxuries of tropical climates, not taking into the account the mineral wealth of the surrounding hills and mountains, which there is reason to believe is very great. This place is, doubtless, destined to become one of the largest and most opulent commercial cities in the world, and under American authority it will rise with astonishing rapidity. The principal merchants now established here are Messrs. Leidesdorff, Grimes and Davis, and Frank Ward, a young gentleman recently from New York. These houses carry on an extensive and profitable commerce with the interior, the Sandwich Islands, Oregon, and the southern coast of the Pacific. The produce of Oregon for exportation is flour, lumber, salmon, and cheese; of the Sandwich Islands, sugar, coffee, and preserved tropical fruits.
California, until recently, has had no commerce, in the broad signification of the term. A few commercial houses of Boston and New York have monopolized all the trade on this coast for a number of years. These houses have sent out ships freighted with cargoes of dry goods and a variety of knick-knacks saleable in the country. The ships are fitted up for the retail sale of these articles, and trade from port to port, vending their wares on board to the rancheros at prices that would be astonishing at home. For instance, the price of common brown cotton cloth is one dollar per yard, and other articles in this and even greater proportion of advance upon home prices. They receive in payment for their wares, hides and tallow. The price of a dry hide is ordinarily one dollar and fifty cents. The price of tallow I do not know. When the ship has disposed of her cargo, she is loaded with hides, and returns to Boston, where the hides bring about four or five dollars, according to the fluctuations of the market. Immense fortunes have been made by this trade; and between the government of Mexico and the traders on the coast California has been literally skinned, annually, for the last thirty years. Of natural wealth the population of California possess a superabundance, and are immensely rich; still, such have been the extortionate prices that they have been compelled to pay for their commonest artificial luxuries and wearing-apparel, that generally they are but indifferently provided with the ordinary necessaries of civilized life. For a suit of clothes, which in New York or Boston would cost seventy-five dollars, the Californian has been compelled to pay five times that sum in hides at one dollar and fifty cents; so that a caballero, to clothe himself genteelly, has been obliged, as often as he renewed his dress, to sacrifice about two hundred of the cattle on his rancho. No people, whether males or females, are more fond of display; no people have paid more dearly to gratify this vanity; and yet no civilized people I have seen are so deficient in what they most covet.
* This was in September, 1846. In June, 1847, when I left San Francisco, on my return to the United States, the population had increased to about twelve hundred, and houses were rising in all directions.
Climate of San Francisco – Periodical winds – Dine on board the Portsmouth – A supper party on shore – Arrival of Commodore Stockton at San Francisco – Rumours of rebellion from the south – Californian court – Trial by jury – Fandango – Californian belles – American pioneers of the Pacific – Reception of Commodore Stockton – Sitca – Captain Fremont leaves San Francisco for the south – Offer our services as volunteers.
FROM the 21st of September to the 13th of October I remained at San
Francisco. The weather during this period was uniformly clear. The climate
of San Francisco is peculiar and local, from its position. During the summer
and autumnal months, the wind on this coast blows from the west and
north-west, directly from the ocean. The mornings here are usually calm and
pleasantly warm. About twelve o’clock M., the wind blows strong from the
ocean, through the entrance of the bay, rendering the temperature cool
enough for woollen clothing in midsummer. About sunset the wind dies away,
and the evenings and nights are comparatively calm. In the winter months the
wind blows in soft and gentle breezes from the south-east, and the
temperature is agreeable, the thermometer rarely sinking below 50 deg. When
the winds blow from the ocean, it never rains; when they blow from the land,
as they do during the winter and spring months, the weather is showery, and
resembles that of the month of May in the same latitude on the Atlantic
coast. The coolness of the climate and briskness of the air above described
are confined to particular positions on the coast, and the description in
this respect is not applicable to the interior of the country, nor even to
other localities immediately on the coast.
On the 21st, by invitation of Captain Montgomery, I dined on board of the sloop-of-war Portsmouth. The party, including myself, consisted of Colonel Russell, Mr. Jacob, Lieutenant Bartlett, and a son of Captain M. There are few if any officers in our navy more highly and universally esteemed, for their moral qualities and professional merits, than Captain M. He is a sincere Christian, a brave officer, and an accomplished gentleman. Under the orders of Commodore Sloat, he first raised the American flag in San Francisco. We spent the afternoon most agreeably, and the refined hospitality, courteous manners, and intelligent and interesting conversation of our host made us regret the rapidly fleeting moments. The wines on the table were the produce of the vine of California, and, having attained age, were of an excellent quality in substance and flavour.
I attended a supper-party given this evening by Mr. Frank Ward. The party was composed of citizens of the town, and officers of the navy and the merchant and whale ships in the harbour. In such a company as was here assembled, it was very difficult for me to realize that I was many thousand miles from home, in a strange and foreign country. All the faces about me were American, and there was nothing in scene or sentiment to remind the guests of their remoteness from their native shores. Indeed, it seems to be a settled opinion, that California is henceforth to compose a part of the United States, and every American who is now here considers himself as treading upon his own soil, as much as if he were in one of the old thirteen revolutionary states. Song, sentiment, story, and wit heightened the enjoyments of the excellent entertainment of our host, and the jovial party did not separate until a late hour of the night. The guests, as may be supposed, were composed chiefly of gentlemen who had, from their pursuits, travelled over most of the world – had seen developments of human character under every variety of circumstance, and observed society, civilized, barbarous, and savage, in all its phases. Their conversation, therefore, when around the convivial board, possessed an unhackneyed freshness and raciness highly entertaining and instructive.
On the 27th of September, the U.S. frigate Congress, Captain Livingston, bearing the broad pennant of Commodore Stockton, and the U.S. frigate Savannah, Captain Mervine, anchored in the harbour, having sailed from Monterey a day or two previously. The arrival of these large men-of-war produced an increase of the bustle in the small town. Blue coats and bright buttons (the naval uniform) became the prevailing costume at the billiard-rooms and other public places, and the plain dress of a private citizen might be regarded as a badge of distinction.
On the 1st of October a courier arrived from the south with intelligence that the Californians at Los Angeles had organized a force and rebelled against the authority of the Americans – that they had also captured and American merchant-vessel lying at San Pedro, the port of the city of Angels, about thirty miles distant, and robbed it of a quantity of merchandise and specie. Whether this latter report was or was not true, I do not know – the former was correct. The frigate Savannah sailed for Los Angeles immediately.
Among those American naval officers whose agreeable acquaintance I made at San Francisco, was Mr. James F. Schenck, first-lieutenant of the frigate Congress, brother of the distinguished member of congress from Ohio of that name, – a native of Dayton, Ohio, – a gentleman of intelligence, keen wit, and a most accomplished officer. The officers of our navy are our representatives in foreign countries, and they are generally such representatives as their constituents have reason to feel proud of. Their chivalry, patriotism, gentlemanlike deportment, and professional skill cannot be too much admired and applauded by their countrymen. I shall ever feel grateful to the naval officers of the Pacific squadron for their numerous civilities during my sojourn on the Pacific coast.
Among the novelties presented while at San Francisco was a trial by jury – the second tribunal of this kind which had been organized in California . The trial took place before Judge Bartlett, and the litigants were two Mormons. Counsel was employed on both sides. Some of the forms of American judicial proceedings were observed, and many of the legal technicalities and nice flaws, so often urged in common-law courts, were here argued by the learned counsel of the parties, with a vehemence of language and gesticulation with which I thought the legal learning and acumen displayed did not correspond. The proceedings were a mixture, made up of common law, equity, and a sprinkling of military despotism – which last ingredient the court was compelled to employ, when entangled in the intricate meshes woven by the counsel for the litigants, in order to extricate itself. The jury, after the case was referred to them, were what is called "hung;" they could not agree, and the matters in issue, therefore, remained exactly where they were before the proceedings were commenced.
I attended one evening a fandango given by Mr. Ridley, an English gentleman, whose wife is a Californian lady. Several of the senoras and senoritas from the ranchos of the vicinity were present. The Californian ladies dance with much ease and grace. The waltz appears to be a favourite with them. Smoking is not prohibited in these assemblies, nor is it confined to the gentlemen. The cigarita is freely used by the senoras and senoritas, and they puff it with much gusto while threading the mazes of the cotillon or swinging in the waltz.
I had the pleasure of being introduced, at the residence of Mr. Leidesdorff, to two young ladies, sisters and belles in Alta California . They are members of an old and numerous family on the Contra Costa. Their names are singular indeed, for, if I heard them correctly, one of them was called Donna Maria Jesus, and the other Donna Maria Conception. They were interesting and graceful young ladies, with regular features, symmetrical figures, and their dark eyes flashed with all the intelligence and passion characteristic of Spanish women.
Among the gentlemen with whom I met soon after my arrival at San Francisco, and whose acquaintance I afterwards cultivated, were Mr. E. Grimes and Mr. N. Spear, both natives of Massachusetts, but residents of this coast and of the Pacific Islands, for many years. They may be called the patriarchs of American pioneers on the Pacific. After forming an acquaintance with Mr. G., if any one were to say to me that
"Old Grimes is dead, that good old man,"
I should not hesitate to contradict him with emphasis; for he is still
living, and possesses all the charities and virtues which can adorn human
nature, with some of the eccentricities of his name-sake in the song. By
leading a life of peril and adventure on the Pacific Ocean for fifty years
he has accumulated a large fortune, and is a man now proverbial for his
integrity, candour, and charities. Both of these gentlemen have been largely
engaged in the local comerce of the Pacific. Mr. S., some twenty-five or
thirty years ago, colonized one of the Cannibal Islands, and remained upon
it with the colony for nearly two years. The attempt to introduce
agriculture into the island was a failure, and the enterprise was afterwards
On the evening of the third of October, it having been announced that Commodore Stockton would land on the fifth, a public meeting of the citizens was called by the alcalde, for the purpose of adopting suitable arrangements for his reception, in his civic capacity as governor. The meeting was convened in the plaza (Portsmouth Square). Colonel Russell was appointed chairman, and on motion of E. Bryant a committee was appointed to make all necessary and suitable arrangements for the reception of his excellency, Governor Stockton. The following account of this pageant I extract from the "California" newspaper of October 24th, 1846.
"Agreeable to public notice, a large number of the citizens of San
Francisco and vicinity assembled in Portsmouth Square for the purpose of
meeting his excellency Robert F. Stockton, to welcome his arrival, and offer
him the hospitalities of the city. At ten o’clock, a procession was formed,
led by the Chief Marshal of the day, supported on either hand by two aids,
followed by an excellent band of music – a military escort, under command of
Captain J. Zeilen U.S.M.C. – Captain John B. Montgomery and suite –
Magistracy of the District, and the Orator of the day – Foreign Consuls –
Captain John Paty, Senior Captain of the Hawanian Navy –
Lieutenant-Commanding Ruducoff, Russian Navy, and Lieutenant-Commanding
Bonnett, French Navy. The procession was closed by the Committee of
Arrangements, captains of ships in port, and a long line of citizens.
"General Mariano Guadaloupe Valléjo, with several others who had held office under the late government, took their appropriate place in the line.
"The procession moved in fine style down Portsmouth Street to the landing, and formed a line in Water Street. The Governor – General landed from his barge, and was met on the wharf by Captain John B. Montgomery, U.S.N., Judge W. A. Bartlett, and Marshal of the day (Frank Ward), who conducted him to the front of the line, and presented him to the procession, through the orator of the day, Colonel Russell, who addressed the commodore."
When the governor and commander-in-chief had closed his reply, the procession moved through the principal streets, and halted in front of Captain Leidesdorff’s residence, where the governor and suite entered, and was presented to a number of ladies, who welcomed him to the shores of California . After which a large portion of the procession accompanied the governor, on horseback, to the mission of San Francisco Dolores, several miles in the country, and returned to an excellent collation prepared by the committee of arrangements, at the house of Captain Leidesdorff. After the cloth was removed, the usual number of regular toasts, prepared by the committee of arrangements, and numerous volunteer sentiments by the members of the company, were drunk with many demonstrations of enthusiasm, and several speeches were made. In response to a complimentary toast, Commodore Stockton made an eloquent address of an hour’s length. The toasts given in English were translated into Spanish, and those given in Spanish were translated into English. A ball in honour of the occasion was given by the committee of arrangements in the evening, which was attended by all the ladies, native and foreign, in the town and vicinity, the naval officers attached to the three ships of war, and the captains of the merchant vessels lying in the harbour. So seductive were the festivities of the day and the pleasures of the dance, that they were not closed until a late hour of the night, or rather until an early hour in the morning.
Among the numerous vessels of many nations at anchor in the harbour is a Russian brig from Sitca, the central port of the Russian-American Fur Company, on the north-western coast of this continent. She is commanded by Lieutenant Ruducoff of the Russian navy, and is here to be freighted with wheat to supply that settlement with bread-stuff. Sitca is situated in a high northern latitude, and has a population of some four or five thousand inhabitants. A large portion of these, I conjecture, are christianized natives or Indians. Many of the crew of this vessel are the aborigines of the country to which she belongs, and from which she last sailed. I noticed, however, from an inscription, that the brig was built at Newburyport, Massachusetts, showing that the autocrat of all the Russias is tributary, to some extent, to the free Yankees of New England for his naval equipment. On the 11th of October, by invitation of Lieutenant Ruducoff, in company of Mr. Jacob and Captain Leidesdorff, I dined on board this vessel. The Russian customs are in some respects peculiar. Soon after we reached the vessel and were shown into the cabin, a lunch was served up. This consisted of a variety of dried and smoked fish, pickled fish-roe, and other hyperborean pickles, the nature of which, whether animal or vegetable, I could not determine. Various wines and liquors accompanied this lunch, the discussion of which lasted until an Indian servant, a native of the north-pole or thereabouts, announced dinner. We were then shown into a handsomely furnished dining-cabin, where the table was spread. The dinner consisted of several courses, some of which were peculiarly Russian or Sitcan, and I regret that my culinary knowledge is not equal to the task of describing them, for the benefit of epicures of a more southern region than the place of their invention. They were certainly very delightful to the palate. The afternoon glided away most agreeably.
On the 12th of October, Captain Fremont, with a number of volunteers destined for the south, to co-operate with Commodore Stockton in the suppression of the reported rebellion at Los Angeles, arrived at San Francisco from the Sacramento. I had previously offered my services, and Mr. Jacob had done the same, to Commodore Stockton, as volunteers in this expedition, if they were necessary or desirable. They were now repeated. Although travellers in the country, we were American citizens, and we felt under obligation to assist in defending the flag of our country wherever it had been planted by proper authority. At this time we were given to understand that a larger force than was already organised was not considered necessary for the expedition.
Leave San Francisco for Sonoma – Sonoma creek – "Bear men." – Islands in the bay – Liberality of "Uncle Sam" to sailors – Sonoma – Beautiful country – General Valléjo – Senora Valléjo – Thomas O. Larkin, U.S. Consul – Signs of rain – The seasons in California – More warlike rumours from the south – Mission of San Rafael – An Irish ranchero – Sausolito – Return to San Francisco – Meet Lippincott – Discomfort of Californian houses.
October 13. – This morning the United States frigate Congress, Commodore
Stockton, and the merchant-ship Sterling, employed to transport the
volunteers under the command of Captain Fremont (one hundred and eighty in
number), sailed for the south. The destination of these vessels was
understood to be San Pedro or San Diego. While these vessels were leaving
the harbour, accompanied by Mr. Jacob, I took passage for Sonoma in a cutter
belonging to the sloop-of-war Portsmouth. Sonoma is situated on the northern
side of the Bay of San Francisco, about 15 miles from the shore, and about
45 miles from the town of San Francisco. Sonoma creek is navigable for
vessels of considerable burden to within four miles of the town.
Among the passengers in the boat were Mr. Ide, who acted so conspicuous a part in what is called the "Bear Revolution," and Messrs. Nash and Grigsby, who were likewise prominent in this movement. The boat was manned by six sailors and a cockswain. We passed Yerba Buena, Bird, and several other small islands in the bay. Some of these are white, as if covered with snow, from the deposit upon them of bird-manure. Tens of thousands of wild geese, ducks, gulls, and other water-fowls, were perched upon them, or sporting in the waters of the bay, making a prodigious cackling and clatter with their voices and wings. By the aid of oars and sails we reached the mouth of Sonoma creek about 9 o’clock at night, where we landed and encamped on the low marsh which borders the bay on this side. The marshes contiguous to the Bay of San Francisco are extensive, and with little trouble I believe they could be reclaimed and transformed into valuable and productive rice plantations. Having made our supper on raw salt pork and bread generously furnished by the sailors, as soon as we landed, we spread our blankets on the damp and rank vegetation and slept soundly until morning.
October 14. – Wind and tide being favourable, at daylight we proceeded up
the serpentine creek, which winds through a flat and fertile plain,
sometimes marshy, at others more elevated and dry, to the embarcadero, ten
or twelve miles from the bay. We landed here between nine and ten o’clock,
A.M. All the passengers, except ourselves, proceeded immediately to the
town. By them we sent for a cart to transport our saddles, bridles,
blankets, and other baggage, which we had brought with us. While some of the
sailors were preparing breakfast, others, with their muskets, shot wild
geese, with which the plain was covered. An excellent breakfast was prepared
in a short time by our sailor companions, of which we partook with them. No
benevolent old gentleman provides more bountifully for his servants than
"Uncle Sam." These sailors, from the regular rations served out to them from
their ship, gave an excellent breakfast, of bread, butter, coffee, tea,
fresh beefsteaks, fried salt pork, cheese, pickles, and a variety of other
delicacies, to which we had been unaccustomed for several months, and which
cannot be obtained at present in this country. They all said that their
rations were more than ample in quantity, and excellent in quality, and that
no government was so generous in supplying its sailors as the government of
the United States. They appeared to be happy, and contented with their
condition and service, and animated with a patriotic pride for the honour of
their country, and the flag under which they sailed. The open frankness and
honest patriotism of these single-hearted and weather-beaten tars gave a
spice and flavour to our entertainment which I shall not soon forget.
From the embarcadero we walked, under the influence of the rays of an almost broiling sun, four miles to the town of Sonoma. The plain, which lies between the landing and Sonoma, is timbered sparsely with evergreen oaks. The luxuriant grass is now brown and crisp. The hills surrounding this beautiful valley or plain are gentle, sloping, highly picturesque, and covered to their tops with wild oats. Reaching Sonoma, we procured lodgings in a large and half-finished adobe house, erected by Don Salvador Valléjo, but now occupied by Mr. Griffith, an American emigrant, originally from North Carolina. Sonoma is one of the old mission establishments of California ; but there is now scarcely a mission building standing, most of them having fallen into shapeless masses of mud; and a few years will prostrate the roofless walls which are now standing. The principal houses in the place are the residences of Gen. Don Mariano Guadaloupe Valléjo; his brother-in-law, Mr. J. P. Leese, an American; and his brother, Don Salvador Valléjo. The quartel, a barn-like adobe house, faces the public square. The town presents a most dull and ruinous appearance; but the country surrounding it is exuberantly fertile, and romantically picturesque, and Sonoma, under American authority, and with an American population, will very soon become a secondary commercial point, and a delightful residence. Most of the buildings are erected around a plaza, about two hundred yards square. The only ornaments in this square are numerous skulls and dislocated skeletons of slaughtered beeves, with which hideous remains the ground is strewn. Cold and warm springs gush from the hills near the town, and supply, at all seasons, a sufficiency of water to irrigate any required extent of ground on the plain below. I noticed outside of the square several groves of peach and other fruit trees, and vineyards, which were planted here by the padres ; but the walls and fences that once surrounded them are now fallen, or have been consumed for fuel; and they are exposed to the mercies of the immense herds of cattle which roam over and graze upon the plain.
October 15. – I do not like to trouble the reader with a frequent reference to the myriads of fleas and other vermin which infest the rancherias and old mission establishments in California ; but, if any sinning soul ever suffered the punishments of purgatory before leaving its tenement of clay, those torments were endured by myself last night. When I rose from my blankets this morning, after a sleepless night, I do not think there was an inch square of my body that did not exhibit the inflammation consequent upon a puncture by a flea, or some other equally rabid and poisonous insect. Small-pox, erysipelas, measles, and scarlet fever combined, could not have imparted to my skin a more inflamed and sanguineous appearance. The multitudes of these insects, however, have been generated by Indian filthiness. They do not disturb the inmates of those casas where cleanliness prevails.
Having letters of introduction to General Valléjo and Mr. Leese, I delivered them this morning. General Valléjo is a native Californian, and a gentleman of intelligence and taste far superior to most of his countrymen. The interior of his house presented a different appearance from any house occupied by native Californians which I have entered since I have been in the country. Every apartment, even the main entrance-hall and corridors, were scrupulously clean, and presented an air of comfort which I have not elsewhere seen in California . The parlour was furnished with handsome chairs, sofas, mirrors, and tables, of mahogany framework, and a fine piano, the first I have seen in the country. Several paintings and some superior engravings ornamented the walls. Senora Valléjo is a lady of charming personal appearance, and possesses in the highest degree that natural grace, ease, and warmth of manner which render Spanish ladies so attractive and fascinating to the stranger. The children, some five or six in number, were all beautiful and interesting. General V. is, I believe, strongly desirous that the United States shall retain and annex California . He is thoroughly disgusted with Mexican sway, which is fast sending his country backwards, instead of forwards, in the scale of civilization, and for years he has been desirous of the change which has now taken place.
In the afternoon we visited the house of Mr. Leese, which is also furnished in American style. Mr. L. is the proprietor of a vineyard in the vicinity of the town, and we were regaled upon grapes as luscious, I dare say, as the forbidden fruit that provoked the first transgression. Nothing of the fruit kind can exceed the delicious richness and flavour of the California grape.
This evening Thomas O. Larkin, Esq., late United States Consul for California, arrived here, having left San Francisco on the same morning that we did, travelling by land. Mr. L. resides in Monterey, but I had the pleasure of an introduction to him at San Francisco several days previously to my leaving that place. Mr. L. is a native of Boston, and has been a resident in California for about fifteen years, during which time he has, amassed a large fortune, and from the changes now taking place he is rapidly increasing it. He will probably be the first American millionnaire of California.
October 17. – The last two mornings have been cloudy and cool. The rainy
season, it is thought by the weather-wise in this climate, will set in
earlier this year than usual. The periodical rains ordinarily commence about
the middle of November. It is now a month earlier, and the meteorological
phenomena portend "falling weather." The rains during the winter, in
California, are not continuous, as is generally supposed. It sometimes rains
during an entire day, without cessation, but most generally the weather is
showery, with intervals of bright sunshine and a delightful temperature. The
first rains of the year fall usually in November, and the last about the
middle of May. As soon as the ground becomes moistened, the grass, and other
hardy vegetation, springs up, and by the middle of December the landscape is
arrayed in a robe of fresh verdure. The grasses grow through the entire
winter, and most of them mature by the first of May. The season for sowing
wheat commences as soon as the ground is sufficiently softened by moisture
to admit of ploughing, and continues until March or April.
We had made preparations this morning to visit a rancho, belonging to General Valéjo, in company with the general and Mr. Larkin. This rancho contains about eleven leagues of land, bordering upon a portion of the Bay of San Francisco, twenty-five or thirty miles distant from Sonoma. Just as we were about mounting our horses, however, a courier arrived from San Francisco with despatches from Captain Montgomery, addressed to Lieutenant Revere, the military commandant at this post, giving such intelligence in regard to the insurrection at the south, that we determined to return to San Francisco forthwith. Procuring horses, and accompanied by Mr. Larkin, we left Sonoma about two o’clock in the afternoon, riding at the usual California speed. After leaving Sonoma plain we crossed a ridge of hills, and entered the fertile and picturesque valley of Petaluma creek, which empties into the bay. General Valléjo has an extensive rancho in this valley, upon which he has recently erected, at great expense, a very large house. Architecture, however, in this country is in its infancy. The money expended in erecting this house, which presents to the eye no tasteful architectural attractions, would, in the United States, have raised a palace of symmetrical proportions, and adorned it with every requisite ornament. Large herds of cattle were grazing in this valley.
From Petaluma valley we crossed a high rolling country, and reached the mission of San Rafael (forty-five miles) between seven and eight o’clock in the evening. San Rafael is situated two or three miles from the shore of the bay, and commands an extensive view of the bay and its islands. The mission buildings are generally in the same ruinous condition I have before described. We put up at the house of a Mr. Murphy, a scholastic Irish bachelor, who has been a resident of California for a number of years. His casa, when we arrived, was closed, and it was with some difficulty that we could gain admission. When, however, the occupant of the house had ascertained, from one of the loopholes of the building, who we were, the doors were soon unbarred and we were admitted, but not without many sallies of Irish wit, sometimes good-natured, and sometimes keenly caustic and ironical. We found a table spread with cold mutton and cold beef upon it. A cup of coffee was soon prepared by the Indian muchachos and muchachas, and our host brought out some scheidam and aguardiénte . A draught or two of these liquids seemed to correct the acidity of his humour, and he entertained us with his jokes and conversations several hours.
October 18. – From San Rafael to Sausolito, opposite San Francisco on the
north side of the entrance to the bay, it is five leagues (fifteen miles),
generally over elevated hills and through deep hollows, the ascents and
descents being frequently steep and laborious to our animals. Starting at
half-past seven o’clock, we reached the residence of Captain Richardson, the
proprietor of Sausolito, about nine o’clock in the morning. In travelling
this distance we passed some temporary houses, erected by American emigrants
on the mission lands, and the rancho of Mrs. Reed, a widow. We immediately
hired a whale-boat from one of the ships, lying here, at two dollars for
each passenger, and between ten and eleven o’clock we landed in San
I met, soon after my arrival, Mr. Lippincott, heretofore mentioned, who accompanied us a portion of the distance over the mountains; and Mr. Hastings, who, with Mr. Hudspeth, conducted a party of the emigrants from fort Bridger by the new route, via the south of the Salt Lake, to Mary’s River. From Mr. Lippincott I learned the particulars of an engagement between a party of the emigrants (Captain West’s company) and the Indians on Mary’s River, which resulted, as has before been stated, the death of Mr. Sallee and a dangerous arrow wound to Mr. L. He had, however, recovered from the effects of the wound. The emigrants, who accompanied Messrs. Hastings and Hudspeth, or followed their trail, had all reached the valley of the Sacramento without any material loss or disaster.
I remained at San Francisco from the 18th to the 22d of October. The weather during this time was sufficiently cool to render fires necessary to comfort in the houses; but fire-places or stoves are luxuries which but few of the San Franciscans have any knowledge of, except in their kitchens. This deficiency, however, will soon be remedied. American settlers here will not build houses without chimneys. They would as soon plan a house without a door, or with the entrance upon its roof, in imitation of the architecture of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico.
Boat trip up the bay and the Sacramento to New Helvetia – An appeal to the alcalde – Kanackas – Straits of San Pueblo and Pedro – Straits of Carquinez – Town of Francisca – Feather-beds furnished by nature – Mouth of the Sacramento – Islands – Delaware Tom – A man who has forgotten his mother tongue – Salmon of the Sacramento – Indian fishermen – Arrive at New Helvetia.
October 22. – Having determined to make a trip to Nueva Helvetia by
water, for the purpose of examining more particularly the upper portion of
the bay and the Sacramento River, in conjunction with Mr. Larkin, we
chartered a small open sail-boat for the excursion. The charter, to avoid
disputes, was regularly drawn and signed, with all conditions specified. The
price to be paid for a certain number of passengers was thirty-two dollars,
and demurrage at the rate of twenty-five cents per hour for all delays
ordered by the charter-party, on the trip upwards to Nueva Helvetia. The
boat was to be ready at the most convenient landing at seven o’clock this
morning, but when I called at the place appointed, with our baggage, the
boat was not there. In an hour or two the skipper was found, but refused to
comply with his contract. We immediately laid our grievance before the
alcalde who, after reading the papers and hearing the statements on both
sides, ordered the skipper to perform what he had agreed to perform, to
which decision he reluctantly assented. In order to facilitate matters, I
paid the costs of the action myself, although the successful litigant in the
We left San Francisco about two o’clock P.M., and, crossing the mouth of the bay, boarded a Mexican schooner, a prize captured by the U.S. sloop-of-war Cyane, Captain Dupont, which had entered the bay this morning and anchored in front of Sausolito. The prize is commanded by Lieutenant Renshaw, a gallant officer of our navy. Our object in boarding the schooner was to learn the latest news, but she did not bring much. We met on board the schooner Lieutenant Hunter of the Portsmouth, a chivalrous officer, and Lieutenant Ruducoff, commanding the Russian brig previously mentioned, whose vessel, preparatory to sailing, was taking in water at Sausolito. Accepting of his pressing invitation, we visited the brig, and took a parting glass of wine with her gallant and gentlemanly commander.
About five o’clock P.M., we proceeded on our voyage. At eight o’clock a dense fog hung over the bay, and, the ebb-tide being adverse to our progress, we were compelled to find a landing for our small and frail craft. This was not an easy matter, in the almost impenetrable darkness. As good-luck would have it, however, after we had groped about for some time, a light was discovered by our skipper. He rowed the boat towards it, but grounded. Hauling off, he made another attempt with better success, reaching within hailing distance of the shore. The light proceeded from a camp-fire of three Kanacka (Sandwich island) runaway sailors. As soon as they ascertained who we were and what we wanted, they stripped themselves naked, and, wading through the mud and water to the boat, took us on their shoulders, and carried us high and dry to the land. The boat, being thus lightened of her burden, was rowed farther up, and landed.
The natives of the Sandwich islands (Kanackas, as they are called) are, without doubt, the most expert watermen in the world. Their performances in swimming and diving are so extraordinary, that they may almost be considered amphibious in their natures and instincts. Water appears to be as much their natural element as the land. They have straight black hair, good features, and an amiable and intelligent expression of countenance. Their complexion resembles that of a bright mulatto; and, in symmetrical proportions and muscular developments, they will advantageously compare with any race of men I have seen. The crews of many of the whale and merchant ships on this coast are partly composed of Kanackas, and they are justly esteemed as most valuable sailors.
October 23. – The damp raw weather, auguring the near approach of the
autumnal rains, continues. A drizzling mist fell on us during the night, and
the clouds were not dissipated when we resumed our voyage this morning.
Passing through the straits of San Pablo and San Pedro, we entered a
division of the bay called the bay of San Pablo. Wind and tide being in our
favour, we crossed this sheet of water, and afterwards entered and passed
through the Straits of Carquinez . At these straits the waters of the bay
are compressed within the breadth of a mile, for the distance of about two
leagues. On the southern side the shore is hilly, and cañoned in some
places. The northern shore is gentle, the hills and table-land sloping
gradually down to the water. We landed at the bend of the Straits of
Carquinez, and spent several hours in examining the country and soundings on
the northern side. There is no timber here. The soil is covered with a
growth of grass and white oats. The bend of the Straits of Carquinez, on the
northern side, has been thought to be a favourable position for a commercial
town. It has some advantages and some disadvantages, which it would be
tedious for me now to detail.
[Subsequently to this my first visit here, a town of extensive dimensions has been laid off by Gen. Valléjo and Mr. Semple, the proprietors, under the name of "Francisca." It fronts for two or three miles on the " Soeson," the upper division of the Bay of San Francisco, and the Straits of Carquinez. A ferry has also been established, which crosses regularly from shore to shore, conveying travellers over the bay. I crossed, myself and horses, here in June, 1847, when on my return to the United States. Lots had then been offered to settlers on favourable conditions, and preparations, I understand, were making for the erection of a number of houses.]
About sunset we resumed our voyage. The wind having lulled, we attempted to stem the adverse tide by the use of oars, but the ebb of the tide was stronger than the propelling force of our oars. Soon, in spite of all our exertions, we found ourselves drifting rapidly backwards, and, after two or three hours of hard labour in the dark, we were at last so fortunate as to effect a landing in a cove on the southern side of the straits, having retrograded several miles. In the cove there is a small sandy beach, upon which the waves have drifted, and deposited a large quantity of oat-straw, and feathers shed by the millions of water-fowls which sport upon the bay. On this downy deposit furnished by nature we spread our blankets, and slept soundly.
October 24. – We proceeded on our voyage at daylight, coasting along the southern shore of the Soeson . About nine o’clock we landed on a marshy plain, and cooked breakfast. A range of mountains bounds this plain, the base of which is several miles from the shore of the bay. These mountains, although of considerable elevation, exhibit signs of fertility to their summits. On the plain, numerous herds of wild cattle were grazing. About two o’clock, P.M., we entered the mouth of the Sacramento. The Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers empty into the Bay of San Francisco at the same point, about sixty miles from the Pacific, and by numerous mouths or sloughs as they are here called. These sloughs wind through an immense timbered swamp, and constitute a terraqueous labyrinth of such intricacy, that unskilful and inexperienced navigators have been lost for many days in it, and some, I have been told, have perished, never finding their way out. A range of low sloping hills approach the Sacramento a short distance above its mouth, on the left hand side as you ascend, and run parallel with the stream several miles. The banks of the river, and several large islands which we passed during the day, are timbered with sycamore, oak, and a variety of smaller trees and shrubbery. Numerous grape-vines, climbing over the trees, and loaded down with a small and very acid fruit, give to the forest a tangled appearance. The islands of the Sacramento are all low, and subject to overflow in the spring of the year. The soil of the river bottom, including the islands, is covered with rank vegetation, a certain evidence of its fertility. The water, at this season, is perfectly limpid, and, although the tide ebbs and flows more than a hundred miles above the mouth of the river, it is fresh and sweet. The channel of the Sacramento is remarkably free from snags and other obstructions to navigation. A more beautiful and placid stream of water I never saw.
At twelve o’clock at night, the ebb-tide being so strong that we found ourselves drifting backwards, with some difficulty we effected a landing on one of the islands, clearing a way through the tangled brush and vines with our hatchets and knives. Lighting a fire, we bivouacked until daylight.
October 25. – Continuing our voyage, we landed, about nine o’clock, A.M.,
at an Indian rancheria, situated on the bank of the river. An old Indian,
his wife, and two or three children, were all the present occupants of this
rancheria . The woman was the most miserable and emaciated object I ever
beheld. She was probably a victim of the "sweat-house." Surrounding the
rancheria were two or three acres of ground, planted with maize, beans, and
melons. Purchasing a quantity of water and musk-melons, we re-embarked and
pursued our voyage. As we ascended the stream, the banks became more
elevated, the country on both sides opening into vast savannas, dotted
occasionally with parks of evergreen oak.
The tide turning against us again about eleven or twelve o’clock, we landed at an encampment of Walla-Walla Indians, a portion of the party previously referred to, and reported to have visited California for hostile purposes. Among them was a Delaware Indian, known as "Delaware Tom," who speaks English as fluently as any Anglo-Saxon, and is a most gallant and honourable Indian. Several of the party, a majority of whom were women and children, were sick with chills and fever. The men were engaged in hunting and jerking deer and elk meat. Throwing our hooks, baited with fresh meat, into the river, we soon drew out small fish enough for dinner.
The specimens of Walla-Wallas at this encampment are far superior to the Indians of California in features, figure, and intelligence. Their complexion is much lighter, and their features more regular, expressive, and pleasing. Men and women were clothed in dressed skins. The men were armed with rifles.
At sunset we put our little craft in motion again, and at one o’clock at night landed near the cabin of a German emigrant named Schwartz, six miles below the embarcadero of New Helvetia. The cabin is about twenty feet in length by twelve in breadth, constructed of a light rude frame, shingled with tule . After gaining admission, we found a fire blazing in the centre of the dwelling on the earth-floor, and suspended over us were as many salmon, taken from the Sacramento, as could be placed in position to imbibe the preservative qualities of the smoke.
Our host, Mr. Schwartz, is one of those eccentric human phenomena rarely met with, who, wandering from their own nation into foreign countries, forget their own language without acquiring any other. He speaks a tongue (language it cannot be called) peculiar to himself, and scarcely intelligible. It is a mixture, in about equal parts, of German, English, French, Spanish, and rancheria Indian, a compounded polyglot or lingual pi – each syllable of a word sometimes being derived from a different language. Stretching ourselves on the benches surrounding the fire, so as to avoid the drippings from the pendent salmon, we slept until morning.
October 26. – Mr. Schwartz provided us with a breakfast of fried salmon
and some fresh milk. Coffee, sugar, and bread we brought with us, so that we
enjoyed a luxurious repast.
Near the house was a shed containing some forty or fifty barrels of pickled salmon, but the fish, from their having been badly put up, were spoiled. Mr. Schwartz attempted to explain the particular causes of this, but I could not understand him. The salmon are taken with seines dragged across the channel of the river by Indians in canoes. On the bank of the river the Indians were eating their break-fast, which consisted of a large fresh salmon, roasted in the ashes or embers, and a kettle of atole, made of acorn-meal. The salmon was four or five feet in length, and, when taken out of the fire and cut open, presented a most tempting appearance. The Indians were all nearly naked, and most of them, having been wading in the water at daylight to set their seines, were shivering with the cold whilst greedily devouring their morning meal.
We reached the embarcadero of New Helvetia about eleven o’clock, A.M., and, finding there a wagon, we placed our baggage in it, and walked to the fort, about two and a half miles.
Disastrous news from the south – Return of Colonel Fremont to Monterey – Call for volunteers – Volunteer our services – Leave New Helvetia – Swimming the Sacramento – First fall of rain – Beautiful and romantic valley – Precipitous mountains – Deserted house – Arable land of California – Fattening qualities of the acorn – Lost in the Coast Mountains – Strange Indians – Indian women gathering grass-seed for bread – Indian guide – Laguna – Rough dialogue – Hunters’ camp – "Old Greenwood" – Grisly bear meat – Greenwood’s account himself – His opinion of the Indians and Spaniards – Retrace our steps – Severe storm – Nappa valley – Arrive at Sonoma – More rain – Arrive at San Francisco – Return to New Helvetia.
I REMAINED at the fort from the 27th to the 30th of October. On the 28th,
Mr. Reed, whom I have before mentioned as belonging to the rear emigrating
party, arrived here. He left his party on Mary’s River, and in company with
one man crossed the desert and the mountains. He was several days without
provisions, and, when he arrived at Johnson’s, was so much emaciated and
exhausted by fatigue and famine, that he could scarcely walk. His object was
to procure provisions immediately, and to transport them with pack-mules
over the mountains for the relief of the suffering emigrants behind. He had
lost all of his cattle, and had been compelled to cache two of his wagons
and most of his property. Captain Sutter generously furnished the requisite
quantity of mules and horses, with Indian vaqueros, and jerked meat and
flour. This is the second expedition for the relief of the emigrants he has
fitted out since our arrival in the country. Ex-governor Boggs and family
reached Sutter’s Fort to-day.
On the evening of the 28th, a courier arrived with letters from Colonel Fremont, now at Monterey. The substance of the intelligence received by the courier was, that a large force of Californians (varying, according to different reports, from five to fifteen hundred strong) had met the marines and sailors, four hundred strong, under the command of Captain Mervine, of the U.S. frigate Savannah, who had landed at San Pedro for the purpose of marching to Los Angeles, and had driven Captain Mervine and his force back to the ship, with the loss, in killed, of six men. That the towns of Angeles and Santa Barbara had been taken by the insurgents, and the American garrisons there had either been captured or had made their escape by retreating. What had become of them was unknown. * Colonel Fremont, who I before mentioned had sailed with a party of one hundred and eighty volunteers from San Francisco to San Pedro, or San Diego, for the purpose of co-operating with Commodore Stockton, after having been some time at sea, had put into Monterey and landed his men, and his purpose now was to increase his force and mount them, and to proceed by land to Los Angeles.
On the receipt of this intelligence, I immediately drew up a paper, which was signed by myself, Messrs Reed, Jacob, Lippincott, and Grayson, offering our services as volunteers, and our exertions to raise a force of emigrants and Indians which would be a sufficient reinforcement to Colonel Fremont. This paper was addressed to Mr. Kern, the commandant of Fort Sacramento, and required his sanction. The next morning (29th) he accepted of our proposal, and the labour of raising the volunteers and of procuring the necessary clothing and supplies for them and the Indians was apportioned.
It commenced raining on the night of the twenty-eighth, and the rain fell heavily and steadily until twelve o’clock, M., on the twenty-ninth. This is the first fall of rain since March last. About one o’clock, P.M., the clouds cleared away and the weather and temperature were delightful.
About twelve o’clock, on the 30th, accompanied by Mr. Grayson, I left New Helvetia. We crossed the Sacramento at the embarcadero, swimming our horses, and passing ourselves over in a small canoe. The method of swimming horses over so broad a stream as the Sacramento is as follows. A light canoe or "dug-out" is manned by three persons, one at the bow one at the stern and one in the centre; those at the bow and stern have paddles, and propel and steer the craft. The man in the centre holds the horses one on each side, keeping their heads out of water. When the horses are first forced into the deep water, they struggle prodigiously, and sometimes upset the canoe; but, when the canoe gets fairly under way, they cease their resistance, but snort loudly at every breath to clear their mouths and nostrils of the water.
Proceeding ten miles over a level plain, we overtook a company of emigrants bound for Nappa valley, and encamped with them for the night on Puta creek, a tributary of the Sacramento. Five of the seven or eight men belonging to the company enrolled their names as volunteers. The grass on the western side of the Sacramento is very rank and of an excellent quality.
It commenced raining about two o’clock on the morning of the 31st, and continued to rain and mist all day. We crossed from Puta to Cache creek, reaching the residence of Mr. Gordon (25 miles) about three o’clock P.M.
1 The garrison under Captain Gillespie, at Los Angeles, capitulated. The garrison at Santa Barbara, under Lieutenant Talbot, marched out in defiance of the enemy, and after suffering many hardships arrived in safety at Monterey.
Here we enrolled several additional emigrants in our list of
volunteers, and then travelled fifteen miles up the creek to a small
log-house, occupied temporarily by some of the younger members of the family
of Mr. Gordon, who emigrated from Jackson county, Mo., this year, and by
Mrs. Grayson. Here we remained during the night, glad to find a shelter and
a fire, for we were drenched to our skins.
On the morning of the 1st of November the sun shone out warm and pleasant. The birds were singing, chattering, and flitting from tree to tree, through the romantic and picturesque valley where we had slept during the night. The scenery and its adjuncts were so charming and enticing that I recommenced my travels with reluctance. No scenery can be more beautiful than that of the small valleys of California . Ascending the range of elevated mountains which border the Cache creek, we had a most extensive view of the broad plain of the Sacramento, stretching with islands and belts of timber far away to the south as the eye could penetrate. The gorges and summits of these mountains are timbered with large pines, firs, and cedars, with a smaller growth of magnolias, manzanitas, hawthorns, etc., etc. Travelling several miles over a level plateau, we descended into a beautiful valley, richly carpeted with grass and timbered with evergreen oak. Proceeding across this three or four miles, we rose another range of mountains, and, travelling a league along the summit ridge, we descended through a crevice in a steep rocky precipice, just sufficient in breadth to admit the passage of our animals. Our horses were frequently compelled to slide or leap down nearly perpendicular rocks or stairs, until we finally, just after sunset, reached the bottom of the mountain, and found ourselves in another level and most fertile and picturesque valley.
We knew that in this valley, of considerable extent, there was a house known as "Barnett’s," where we expected to find quarters for the night. There were numerous trails of cattle, horses, deer, and other wild animals, crossing each other in every direction through the live oak-timber. We followed on the largest of the cattle trails until it became so blind that we could not see it. Taking another, we did the same, and the result was the same; another and another with no better success. We then shouted so loud that our voices were echoed and re-echoed by the surrounding mountains, hoping, if there were any inhabitants in the valley, that they would respond to us. There was no response – all was silent when the sound of our voices died away in the gorges and ravines; and at ten o’clock at night we encamped under the wide-spreading branches of an oak, having travelled about 40 miles. Striking a fire and heaping upon it a large quantity of wood, which blazed brightly, displaying the Gothic shapes of the surrounding oaks, we picketed our animals, spread our blankets, and slept soundly.
It rained several hours during the night, and in the morning a dense fog filled the valley. Saddling our animals, we searched along the foot of the next range of mountains for a trail, but could find none. Returning to our camp, we proceeded up the valley, and struck a trail, by following which two miles, we came to the house (Barnett’s). The door was ajar, and entering the dwelling we found it tenantless. The hearth was cold, and the ashes in the jambs of the large fire-place were baked. In the corners of the building there were some frames, upon which beds had been once spread. The house evidently had been abandoned by its former occupants for some time. The prolific mothers of several families of the swinish species, with their squealing progenies, gathered around us, in full expectation, doubtless, of the dispensation of an extra ration, which we had not to give. Having eaten nothing but a crust of bread for 24 hours, the inclination of our appetites was strong to draw upon them for a ration; but for old acquaintance’ sake, and because they were the foreshadowing of the "manifest destiny," they were permitted to pass without molestation. There were two or three small inclosures near the house, where corn and wheat had been planted and harvested this year; but none of the product of the harvest could be found in the empty house, or on the place. Dismounting from our horses at a limpid spring-branch near the house, we slaked our thirst, and made our hydropathical breakfast from its cool and delicious water.
Although the trail of the valley did not run in our course, still, under the expectation that it would soon take another direction, we followed it, passing over a fertile soil, sufficiently timbered and watered by several small streams. The quantity of arable land in California, I believe, is much grater than has generally been supposed from the accounts of the country given by travellers who have visited only the parts on the Pacific, and some few of the missions. Most of the mountain valleys between the Sierra Nevada and the coast are exuberantly fertile, and finely watered, and will produce crops of all kinds, while the hills are covered with oats and grass of the most nutritious qualities, for the sustenance of cattle, horses, and hogs. The acorns which fall from the oaks are, of themselves, a rich annual product for the fattening of hogs; and during the period of transition (four or five weeks after the rains commence falling) from the dry grass to the fresh growth, horses, mules, and even horned cattle mostly subsist and fatten upon these large and oleaginous nuts.
We left the valley in a warm and genial sunshine, about 11 o’clock, and commenced ascending another high mountain, timbered as those I have previously described. When we reached the summit, we were enveloped in clouds, and the rain was falling copiously, and a wintry blast drove the cold element to our skins. Crossing this mountain three or four miles, we descended its steep sides, and entered another beautiful and romantic hollow, divided as it were into various apartments by short ranges of low conical hills, covered to their summits with grass and wild oats. The grass and other vegetation on the level bottom are very rank, indicating a soil of the most prolific qualities. In winding through this valley, we met four Indians on foot, armed with long bows, and arrows of corresponding weight and length, weapons that I have not previously seen among the Indians. Their complexions were lighter than those of the rancheria Indians of California . They evidently belonged to some more northern tribe. We stopped them to make inquiries, but they seemed to know nothing of the country, nor could we learn from them whence they came or where they were going. They were clothed in dressed skins, and two of them were highly rouged.
Ascending and descending gradually over some low hills, we entered another circular valley, through which flows a stream, the waters of which, judging from its channel, at certain seasons are broad and deep. The ground, from the rains that have recently fallen and are now falling, is very soft, and we had difficulty in urging our tired animals across this valley. We soon discovered fresh cattle signs, and afterwards a large herd grazing near the stream. Farther on, we saw five old and miserably emaciated Indian women, gathering grass-seed for bread. This process is performed with two baskets one shaped like a round shield, and the other having a basin and handle. With the shield the top of the grass is brushed, and the seed by the motion is thrown into the deep basket held in the other hand. The five women appeared at a distance like so many mowers cutting down the grass of a meadow. These women could give us no satisfaction in response to inquiries, but pointed over the river indicating that we should there find the casa and rancheria. They then continued their work with as much zeal and industry as if their lives were dependent upon the proceeds of their labour, and I suppose they were.
Crossing the river, we struck a trail which led us to the casa and rancheria, about two miles distant. The casa was a small adobe building, about twelve feet square, and was locked up. Finding that admission was not to be gained here, we hailed at the rancheria, and presently some dozen squalid and naked men, women, and children made their appearance. We inquired for the mayor domo, or overseer. The chief speaker signified that he was absent, and that he did not expect him to return until several suns rose and set. We then signified we were hungry, and very soon a loaf made of pulverized acorns, mingled with wild fruit of some kind, was brought to us with a basket of water. These Indians manufacture small baskets which are impervious to water, and they are used as basins to drink from, and for other purposes.
I knew that we had been travelling out of our course all day, and it was now three o’clock, P.M. Rain and mist had succeeded each other, and the sun was hidden from us by dark and threatening masses of clouds. We had no compass with us, and could not determine the course to Nappa Valley or Sonoma. Believing that the Indian would have some knowledge of the latter place, we made him comprehend that we wished to go there, and inquired the route. He pointed in a direction which he signified would take us to Sonoma. We pointed in another course, which it seemed to us was the right one. But he persisted in asserting that he was right. After some further talk, for the shirt on my back he promised to guide us, and, placing a ragged skin on one of our horses, he mounted the animal and led the way over the next range of hills. The rain soon poured down so hard upon the poor fellow’s bare skin, that he begged permission to return, to which we would not consent; but, out of compassion to him, I took off my over-coat, with which he covered his swarthy hide, and seemed highly delighted with the shelter from the pitiless storm it afforded him, or with the supposition that I intended to present it to him.
Crossing several elevated and rocky hills, just before sunset, we had a view of a large timbered valley and a sheet of water, the extent of which we could not compass with the eye, on account of the thickness of the atmosphere. When we came in sight of the water, the Indian uttered various exclamations of pleasure; and, although I had felt but little faith in him as a pilot from the first, I began now to think that we were approaching the Bay of San Francisco. Descending into the valley, we travelled along a small stream two or three miles, and were continuing on in the twilight, when we heard the tinkling of a cow-bell on the opposite side of the stream. Certain, from this sound, that there must be an encampment near, I halted and hallooed at the top of my voice. The halloo called forth a similar response, with an interrogation in English, "Who the d – I are you – Spaniards or Americans?" "Americans." "Show yourselves, then, d – n you, and let us see the colour of your hide," was the answer.
"Tell us where we can cross the stream, and you shall soon see us," was our reply.
"Ride back and follow the sound of my voice, and be d – d to you, and you can cross the stream with a deer’s jump."
Accordingly, following the sound of the voice of this rough colloquist, who shouted repeatedly, we rode in the dark several hundred yards, and, plunging into the stream, the channel of which was deep, we gained the other side, where we found three men standing ready to receive us. We soon discovered them to be a party of professional hunters, or trappers, at the head of which was Mr. Greenwood, a famed mountaineer, commonly known as "Old Greenwood." They invited us to their camp, situated across a small opening in the timber about half a mile distant. Having unsaddled our tired animals and turned them loose to graze for the night, we placed our baggage under the cover of a small tent, and, taking our seats by the huge camp fire, made known as far as was expedient our business. We soon ascertained that we had ridden the entire day (about 40 miles) directly out of our course to Nappa Valley and Sonoma, and that the Indian’s information was all wrong. We were now near the shore of a large lake [Clear Lake], called the Laguna by Californians, some fifty or sixty miles in length, which lake is situated about sixty or seventy miles north of the Bay of San Francisco; consequently, to-morrow we shall be compelled to retrace our steps and find the trail that leads from Barnett’s house to Nappa, which escaped us this morning. We received such directions, however, from Mr. Greenwood, that we could not fail to find it.
We found in the camp, much to our gratification after a long fast, an abundance of fat grisly bear-meat and the most delicious and tender deer-meat. The camp looked like a butcher’s stall. The pot filled with bear-flesh was boiled again and again, and the choice pieces of the tender venison were roasting, and disappearing with singular rapidity for a long time. Bread there was none of course. Such a delicacy is unknown to the mountain trappers, nor is it much desired by them.
The hunting party consisted of Mr. Greenwood, Mr. Turner, Mr. Adams, and three sons of Mr. G., one grown, and the other two boys 10 or 12 years of age, half-bred Indians, the mother being a Crow. One of these boys is named "Governor Boggs," after ex-governor Boggs of Missouri, and old friend of the father. Mr. Greenwood, or "Old Greenwood," as he is familiarly called, according to his own statement, is 83 years of age, and has been a mountain trapper between 40 and 50 years. He lived among the Crow Indians, where he married his wife, between thirty and forty years. He is about six feet in height, raw-boned and spare in flesh, but muscular, and, notwithstanding his old age, walks with all the erectness and elasticity of youth. His dress was of tanned buckskin, and from its appearance one would suppose its antiquity to be nearly equal to the age of its wearer. It had probably never been off his body since he first put it on. "I am," said he, "an old man – eighty-three years – it is a long time to live; – eighty-three years last – . I have seen all the Injun varmints of the Rocky Mountains, – have fout them – lived with them. I have many children – I don’t know how many, they are scattered; but my wife was a Crow. The Crows are a brave nation, – the bravest of all the Injuns; they fight like the white man; they don’t kill you in the dark like the Black-foot varmint, and then take your scalp and run, the cowardly reptiles. Eighty-three years last – ; and yet old Greenwood could handle the rifle as well as the best on 'em, but for this infernal humour in my eyes, caught three years ago in bringing the emigrators over the de-sart." (A circle of scarlet surrounded his weeping eyeballs.) "I can’t see jist now as well as I did fifty years ago, but I can always bring the game or the slinking and skulking Injun. I have jist come over the mountains from Sweetwater with the emigrators as pilot, living upon bacon, bread, milk, and sich like mushy stuff. It don’t agree with me; it never will agree with a man of my age, eighty-three last – ; that is a long time to live. I thought I would take a small hunt to get a little exercise for my old bones, and some good fresh meat. The grisly bear, fat deer, and poultry and fish – them are such things as a man should eat. I came up here, where I knew there was plenty. I was here twenty years ago, before any white man see this lake and the rich land about it. It’s filled with big fish. Thar’s beer-springs here, better than them in the Rocky Mountains; thar’s a mountain of solid brimstone, and thar’s mines of gold and silver, all of which I know’d many years ago, and I can show them to you if you will go with me in the morning. These black-skinned Spaniards have rebelled again. Wall, they can make a fuss, d – m ‘em, and have revolutions every year, but they can’t fight. It’s no use to go arter’em, unless when you ketch’em you kill ‘em. They won’t stand an’ fight like men, an’ when they can’t fight longer give up; but the skared varmints run away and then make another fuss, d – m 'em." Such was the discourse of our host.
The camp consisted of two small tents, which had probably been obtained from the emigrants. They were pitched so as to face each other, and between them there was a large pile of blazing logs. On the trees surrounding the camp were stretched the skins of various animals which had been killed in the hunt; some preserved for their hides, others for the fur. Bear-meat and venison enough for a winter’s supply were hanging from the limbs. The swearing of Turner, a man of immense frame and muscular power, during our evening’s conversation, was almost terrific. I had heard mountain swearing before, but his went far beyond all former examples. He could do all the swearing for our army in Mexico, and then have a surplus.
The next morning (Nov. 3rd), after partaking of a hearty breakfast, and suspending from our saddles a sufficient supply of venison and bear-meat for two days’ journey, we started back on our own trail. We left our miserable Indian pilot at his rancheria. I gave him the shirt from my back, out of compassion for his sufferings – he well deserved a dressing of another kind. It rained all day, and, when we reached Barnett’s (the empty house) after four o’clock, P.M., the black masses of clouds which hung over the valley portended a storm so furious, that we thought it prudent to take shelter under a roof for the night. Securing our animals in one of the inclosures, we encamped in the deserted dwelling. The storm soon commenced, and raged and roared with a fierceness and strength rarely witnessed. The hogs and pigs came squealing about the door for admission; and the cattle and horses in the valley, terrified by the violence of elemental battle, ran backwards and forwards, bellowing and snorting. In comfortable quarters, we roasted and enjoyed our bear-meat and venison, and left the wind, rain, lightning, and thunder to play their pranks as best suited them, which they did all night.
On the morning of the fourth, we found the trail described to us by Mr. Greenwood, and, crossing a ridge of mountains, descended into the valley of Nappa creek, which empties into the Bay of San Francisco just below the Straits of Carquinez. This is a most beautiful and fertile valley, and is already occupied by several American settlers. Among the first who established themselves here is Mr. [George C.] Yount, who soon after erected a flouring-mill and saw-mill. These have been in operation several years. Before reaching Mr. Yount’s settlement we passed a saw-mill more recently erected, by Dr. [Edward T.] Bale. There seems to be an abundance of pine and red-wood (a species of fir), in the cañadas. No lumber can be superior for building purposes than that sawed from the red-wood. The trees are of immense size, straight, free from knots and twists, and the wood is soft, and easily cut with plane and saw. Arriving at the residence of Dr. Bale, in Nappa Valley, we were hospitably entertained by him with a late breakfast of coffee, boiled eggs, steaks, and tortillas, served up in American style. Leaving Nappa, after travelling down it some ten or twelve miles, we crossed another range of hills or mountains, and reached Sonoma after dark, our clothing thoroughly drenched with the rain, which, with intermissions, had fallen the whole day. I put up at the same quarters as when here before. The house was covered with a dilapidated thatch, and the rain dripped through it, not leaving a dry spot on the floor of the room where we slept. But there was an advantage in this – the inundation of water had completely discomfited the army of fleas that infested the building when we were here before.
It rained incessantly on the fifth. Col. Russell arrived at Sonoma early in the morning, having arrived from San Francisco last night. Procuring a boat belonging to Messrs. Howard and Mellus, lying at the embarcadero, I left for San Francisco, but, owing to the storm and contrary winds, did not arrive there until the morning of the seventh, being two nights and a day in the creek, and churning on the bay. Purchasing a quantity of clothing, and other supplies for volunteers, I sailed early on the morning of the eighth for New Helvetia, in a boat belonging to the sloop-of-war Portsmouth, manned by U.S. sailors, under the command of Midshipman Byres, a native of Maysville, Ky. We encamped that night at the head of "Soeson," [Suisun] having sailed about fifty miles in a severe storm of wind and rain. The waves frequently dashed entirely over our little craft. The rain continued during the ninth, and we encamped at night about the mouth of the Sacramento. On the night of the tenth we encamped at "Meritt’s camp," the rain still falling, and the river rising rapidly, rendering navigation up-stream impossible, except with the aid of the tide. On the night of the eleventh we encamped fifteen miles below New Helvetia, still raining. On the morning of the twelfth the clouds cleared away, and the sun burst out warm and spring-like. After having been exposed to the rain for ten or twelve days, without having the clothing upon me once dry, the sight of the sun, and the influence of his beams, were cheering and most agreeable. We arrived at New Helvetia about twelve o’clock. [Next]
What I Saw in California:
Part 1: Independence, Missouri, to the Green River
Part 2: Hastings Cutoff to California
Part 3: The Donner Party
Part 4: In Northern California
Part 5: To Southern California and Back
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