Part 1 out of 4
A BACKWARD GLANCE AT EIGHTY
Recollections & Comment
CHARLES A. MURDOCK
Humboldt Bay 1855
San Francisco 1864
[Illustration: A CAMERA GLANCE AT EIGHTY]
THIS BOOK IS GRATEFULLY DEDICATED
TO THE FRIENDS WHO INSPIRED IT
I. NEW ENGLAND
II. A HIDDEN HARBOR
III. NINE YEARS NORTH
IV. THE REAL BRET HARTE
V. SAN FRANCISCO--THE SIXTIES
VI. LATER SAN FRANCISCO
VII. INCIDENTS IN PUBLIC SERVICE
VIII. AN INVESTMENT
X. CONCERNING PERSONS
XII. OCCASIONAL VERSE
A CAMERA GLANCE AT EIGHTY
HUMBOLDT BAY, WINSHIP MAP
FRANCIS BRET HARTE (Saroney, 1874)
THE CLAY-STREET OFFICE THE DAY AFTER
THOMAS STARR KING (Original given Bret Harte)
HORATIO STEBBINS, SAN FRANCISCO, 1864-1900
HORACE DAVIS, HARVARD IN 1836
OUTINGS: THE SIERRAS, HAWAII
In the autumn of 1920 the Board of Directors of the Pacific Coast
Conference of Unitarian Churches took note of the approaching eightieth
birthday of Mr. Charles A. Murdock, of San Francisco. Recalling Mr.
Murdock's active service of all good causes, and more particularly his
devotion to the cause of liberal religion through a period of more than
half a century, the board decided to recognize the anniversary, which
fell on January 26, 1921, by securing the publication of a volume of Mr.
Murdock's essays. A committee was appointed to carry out the project,
composed of Rev. H.E.B. Speight (chairman), Rev. C.S.S. Dutton, and Rev.
Earl M. Wilbur.
The committee found a very ready response to its announcement of a
subscription edition, and Mr. Murdock gave much time and thought to the
preparation of material for the volume. "A Backward Glance at Eighty" is
now issued with the knowledge that its appearance is eagerly awaited by
all Mr. Murdock's friends and by a large number of others who welcome
new light upon the life of an earlier generation of pioneers.
The publication of the book is an affectionate tribute to a good
citizen, a staunch friend, a humble Christian gentleman, and a fearless
servant of Truth--Charles A. Murdock.
In the beginning, the publication of this book is not the deliberate act
of the octogenarian. Separate causes seem to have co-operated
independently to produce the result. Several years ago, in a modest
literary club, the late Henry Morse Stephens, in his passion for
historical material, urged me from time to time to devote my essays to
early experiences in the north of the state and in San Francisco. These
papers were familiar to my friends, and as my eightieth birthday
approached they asked that I add to them introductory and connecting
chapters and publish a memorial volume. To satisfy me that it would find
acceptance they secured advance orders to cover the expense.
Under these conditions I could not but accede to their request. I would
subordinate an unimportant personal life. My purpose is to recall
conditions and experiences that may prove of historical interest and to
express some of the conclusions and convictions formed in an active and
I wish to express my gratitude to the members of the committee and to my
friend, George Prescott Vance, for suggestions and assistance in
preparation and publication.
My very early memories alternate between my grandfather's farm in
Leominster, Massachusetts, and the Pemberton House in Boston. My father
and mother, both born in Leominster, were schoolmates, and in due time
they married. Father was at first a clerk in the country store, but at
an early age became the tavern-keeper. I was born on January 26, 1841.
Soon thereafter father took charge of the Pemberton House on Howard
Street, which developed into Whig headquarters. Being the oldest
grandson, I was welcome at the old homestead, and I was so well off
under the united care of my aunts that I spent a fair part of my life in
My father was a descendant of Robert Murdock (of Roxbury), who left
Scotland in 1688, and whose descendants settled in Newton. My father's
branch removed to Winchendon, home of tubs and pails. My grandfather
(Abel) moved to Leominster and later settled in Worcester, where he
died when I was a small boy. My father's mother was a Moore, also of
Scotch ancestry. She died young, and on my father's side there was no
family home to visit.
My mother's father was Deacon Charles Hills, descended from Joseph
Hills, who came from England in 1634.
Nearly every New England town was devoted to some special industry, and
Leominster was given to the manufacture of horn combs. The industry was
established by a Hills ancestor, and when I was born four Hills brothers
were co-operative comb-makers, carrying on the business in connection
with small farming. The proprietors were the employees. If others were
required, they could be readily secured at the going wages of one dollar
My grandfather was the oldest of the brothers. When he married Betsy
Buss his father set aside for him twenty acres of the home farm, and
here he built the house in which he lived for forty years, raising a
family of ten children.
I remember quite clearly my great-grandfather Silas Hills. He was old
and querulous, and could certainly scold; but now that I know that he
was born in 1760, and had nineteen brothers and sisters, I think of him
with compassion and wonder. It connects me with the distant past to
think I remember a man who was sixteen years old when the Declaration
of Independence was signed. He died at ninety-five, which induces
My grandfather's house faced the country road that ran north over the
rolling hills among the stone-walled farms, and was about a mile from
the common that marked the center of the town. It was white, of course,
with green blinds. The garden in front was fragrant from Castilian
roses, Sweet Williams, and pinks. There were lilacs and a barberry-bush.
A spacious hall bisected the house. The south front room was sacred to
funerals and weddings; we seldom entered it. Back of that was grandma's
room. Stairs in the hall led to two sleeping-rooms above. The north
front room was "the parlor," but seldom used. There on the center-table
reposed Baxter's "Saints' Rest" and Young's "Night Thoughts." The
fireplace flue so seldom held a fire that the swallows utilized the
chimney for their nests. Back of this was the dining-room, in which we
lived. It had a large brick oven and a serviceable fireplace. The
kitchen was an ell, from which stretched woodshed, carriage-house,
pigpen, smoking-house, etc. Currant and quince bushes, rhubarb,
mulberry, maple, and butternut trees were scattered about. An apple
orchard helped to increase the frugal income.
We raised corn and pumpkins, and hay for the horse and cows. The corn
was gathered into the barn across the road, and a husking-bee gave
occasion for mild merrymaking. As necessity arose the dried ears were
shelled and the kernels taken to the mill, where an honest portion was
taken for grist. The corn-meal bin was the source of supply for all
demands for breakfast cereal. Hasty-pudding never palled. Small incomes
sufficed. Our own bacon, pork, spare-rib, and souse, our own butter,
eggs, and vegetables, with occasional poultry, made us little dependent
on others. One of the great-uncles was a sportsman, and snared rabbits
and pickerel, thus extending our bill of fare. Bread and pies came from
the weekly baking, to say nothing of beans and codfish. Berries from the
pasture and nuts from the woods were plentiful. For lights we were
dependent on tallow candles or whale-oil, and soap was mostly home-made.
Life was simple but happy. The small boy had small duties. He must pick
up chips, feed the hens, hunt eggs, sprout potatoes, and weed the
garden. But he had fun the year round, varying with the seasons, but
culminating with the winter, when severity was unheeded in the joy of
coasting, skating, and sleighing in the daytime, and apples, chestnuts,
and pop-corn in the long evenings.
I never tired of watching my grandfather and his brothers as they worked
in their shops. The combs were not the simple instruments we now use to
separate and arrange the hair, but ornamental structures that women wore
at the back of the head to control their supposedly surplus locks. They
were associated with Spanish beauties, and at their best estate were
made of shell, but our combs were of horn and of great variety. In the
better quality, shell was closely imitated, but some were frankly horn
and ornamented by the application of aquafortis in patterns artistic or
grotesque according to the taste and ability of the operator. The horns
were sawed, split, boiled in oil, pressed flat, and then died out ready
to be fashioned into the shape required for the special product. This
was done in a separate little shop by Uncle Silas and Uncle Alvah. Uncle
Emerson then rubbed and polished them in the literally one-horsepower
factory, and grandfather bent and packed them for the market. The power
was supplied by a patient horse, "Log Cabin" by name, denoting the date
of his acquisition in the Harrison campaign. All day the faithful nag
trod a horizontal wheel in the cellar, which gave way to his efforts and
generated the power that was transmitted by belt to the simple machinery
Uncle Emerson generally sung psalm-tunes as he worked. Deacon Hills, as
he was always called, was finisher, packer, and business manager. I was
interested to notice that in doing up the dozen combs in a package he
always happened to select the best one to tie on the outside as a
sample. That was his nearest approach to dishonesty. He was a
thoroughly good man, but burdened and grave. I do not know that I ever
heard him laugh, and he seldom, if ever, smiled. He worked hard, was
faithful to every duty, and no doubt loved his family; but soberness was
inbred. He read the _Cultivator_, the _Christian Register_, and the
almanac. After the manner of his time, he was kind and helpful; but life
was hard and joyless. He was greatly respected and was honored by a
period of service as representative in the General Court.
My grandmother was a gentle, patient soul, living for her family, wholly
unselfish and incapable of complaint. She was placid and cheerful,
courageous and trusting. I had four fine aunts, two of whom were then
unmarried and devoted to the small boy. One was a veritable ray of
sunshine; the other, gifted of mind and nearest my age, was most
companionable. Only one son lived to manhood. He had gone from the home,
but faithfully each year returned from the city to observe Thanksgiving,
the great day of New England.
Holidays were somewhat infrequent. Fourth of July and muster, of course,
were not forgotten, and while Christmas was almost unnoticed
Thanksgiving we never failed to mark with all its social and religious
significance. Almost everybody went to meeting, and the sermon, commonly
reviewing the year, was regarded as an event. The home-coming of the
absent family members and the reunion at a bountiful dinner became the
universal custom. There were no distractions in the way of professional
football or other games. The service, the family, and plenty of good
things to eat engrossed the day. It was a time of rejoicing--and
Sunday was strictly observed. Grandfather always blacked his boots
before sundown of Saturday night, and on Sunday anything but going to
meeting was regarded with suspicion, especially if it was associated
with any form of enjoyment. In summer "Log Cabin" was hitched into the
shafts of the chaise, and with gait slightly accelerated beyond the
daily habit jogged to town and was deposited in the church shed during
the service. At noon we rejoined him and ate our ginger-bread and cheese
while he disposed of his luncheon of oats. Then we went back to
Sunday-school, and he rested or fought flies. In winter he was decked
with bells and hitched in the sleigh. Plenty of robes and a foot-stove,
or at least a slab of heated soap-stone, provided for grandmother's
The church when it was formed was named "The First Congregational." When
it became Unitarian, the word, in parentheses, was added. The Second
Congregational was always called "The Orthodox." The church building was
a fine example of early architecture. The steeple was high, the walls
were white, the pews were square. On a tablet at the right of the pulpit
the Ten Commandments were inscribed, and at the left the Beatitudes
The first minister I remember was saintly Hiram Withington, who won my
loyalty by his interest manifested by standing me up by the door-jamb
and marking my growth from call to call. I remember Rufus P. Stebbins,
the former minister, who married my father and mother and refused a fee
because my father had always cut his hair in the barberless days of old.
Amos A. Smith was later in succession. I loved him for his goodness.
Sunday-school was always a matter of course, and was never dreaded.
I early enjoyed the Rollo books and later reveled in Mayne Reid. The
haymow in the barn and a blessed knothole are associated with many happy
Reading has dangers. I think one of the first books I ever read was a
bound volume of _Merry's Museum_. There was a continued story recounting
the adventures of one Dick Boldhero. It was illustrated with horrible
woodcuts. One of them showed Dick bearing on a spirited charger the
clasped form of the heroine, whom he had abducted. It impressed me
deeply. I recognized no distinction of sex or attractiveness and lived
in terror of suffering abduction. When I saw a stranger coming I would
run into the shop and clasp my arms around some post until I felt the
danger past. This must have been very early in my career. Indeed one of
my aunts must have done the reading, leaving me to draw distress from
the thrilling illustrations.
A very early trial was connected with a visit to a school. I was getting
proud of my ability to spell small words. A primer-maker had attempted
to help the association of letters with objects by placing them in
juxtaposition, but through a mistake he led me to my undoing. I knew my
letters and I knew some things. I plainly distinguished the letters
P-A-N. Against them I was puzzled by a picture of a spoon, and with
credulity, perhaps characteristic, I blurted out "P-a-n--spoon," whereat
to my great discomfiture everybody laughed. I have never liked being
laughed at from that day to this.
I am glad that I left New England early, but I am thankful that it was
not before I realized the loveliness of the arbutus as it braved the
snow and smiled at the returning sun, nor that I made forts or played
morris in the snow at school.
I have passed on from my first impressions in the country perhaps
unwarrantedly. It is hard to differentiate consistently. I may have
mixed early memories with more mature realization. I did not live with
my grandmother continuously. I went back and forth as convenience and
others' desires prompted. I do not know what impressions of life in the
Pemberton House came first. Very early I remember helping my busy
little mother, who in the spring of the year uncorded all the bedsteads
and made life miserable for the festive bedbugs by an application of
whale oil from a capable feather applied to the inside of all holes
through which the ropes ran. The re-cording of the beds was a tedious
process requiring two persons, and I soon grew big enough to count as
one. I remember also the little triangular tin candlesticks that we
inserted at the base of each of the very small panes of the window when
we illuminated the hotel on special nights. I distinctly recall the
quivering of the full glasses of jelly on tapering disks that formed
attractive table ornaments.
Daniel Webster was often the central figure at banquets in the
Pemberton. General Sam Houston, Senator from Texas, was also
entertained, for I remember that my father told me of an incident that
occurred many years after, when he passed through San Antonio. As he
strolled through the city he saw the Senator across the street, but,
supposing that he would not be remembered, had no thought of speaking,
whereupon Houston called out, "Young man, are you not going to speak to
me!" My father replied that he had not supposed that he would be
remembered. "Of course I remember meeting you at the Pemberton House in
I remember some of the boarders, regular and transient, distinguished
and otherwise. There was a young grocery clerk who used to hold me in
his lap and talk to me. He became one of the best of California's
governors, Frederick F. Low, and was a close friend of Thomas Starr
King. A wit on a San Francisco paper once published at Thanksgiving time
"A Thanksgiving proclamation by our stuttering reporter--'Praise God
from whom all blessings f-f-low.'" In my memory he is associated with
I well remember the famous circus clown of the period, Joe Pentland,
very serious and proper when not professionally funny. A minstrel who
made a great hit with "Jim Crow" once gave me a valuable lesson on table
manners. One Barrett, state treasurer, was a boarder. He had a standing
order: "Roast beef, rare and fat; gravy from the dish." Madame
Biscaccianti, of the Italian opera, graced our table. So did the
original Drew family.
The hotel adjoined the Howard Athenaeum, and I profited from peeping
privileges to the extent of many pins. I recall some wonderful trained
animals--Van Amberg's, I think. A lion descended from back-stage and
crawled with stealth upon a sleeping traveler in the foreground. It was
thrilling but harmless. There were also some Viennese dancers, who
introduced, I believe, the Cracovienne. I remember a "Sissy Madigan,"
who seemed a wonder of beauty and charm.
There was great excitement when the Athenaeum caught on fire. I can see
the trunks being dragged down the stairs to the damage of the banisters,
and great confusion and dismay among our boarders. A small boy was
hurried in his nightie across the street and kept till all danger had
passed. A very early memory is the marching through the streets of
soldiers bound for the Mexican War.
Off and on, I lived in Boston till 1849, when my father left for
California and the family returned to Leominster.
My first school in Boston was in the basement of Park Street Church.
Hermann Clarke, son of our minister, Rev. James Freeman Clarke, was a
fellow pupil. Afterward I went to the Mayhew Grammar School, connected
in my mind with a mild chastisement for imitating a trombone when a
procession passed by. The only other punishment I recall was a spanking
by my father for playing "hookey" and roaming in the public garden. I
remember Sunday-school parades through certain public streets. But the
great event was the joining of all the day schools in the great parade
when Cochituate water was introduced into the city. It was a proud
moment when the fountain in the frogpond on the Common threw on high the
water prodigiously brought from far Cochituate.
Another Boston memory is the Boston Theater, where William Warren
reigned. Cinderella and her pumpkin carriage are fresh in my mind. I
also recall a waxwork representation of the Birth in the Manger. I still
can see the heads of the cattle, the spreading horns, and the blessed
As I recall my early boyhood, many changes in customs seem suggested.
There may be trundle-beds in these days, but I never see them. No
fathers wear boots in this era, and bootjacks are as extinct as the
dodo. I have kept a few letters written by my mother when I was away
from her. They were written on a flat sheet, afterward folded and
fastened by a wafer. Envelopes had not arrived; neither had
postage-stamps. Sealing-wax was then in vogue and red tape for important
documents. In all well-regulated dwellings there were whatnots in the
corner with shells and waxworks and other objects of beauty or mild
interest. The pictures did not move--they were fixed in the family
album. The musical instruments most in evidence were jew's-harps and
harmonicas. The Rollo books were well calculated to make a boy sleepy.
The Franconia books were more attractive, and "The Green Mountain Boy"
was thrilling. A small boy's wildest dissipation was rolling a hoop.
And now California casts her shadow. My father was an early victim. I
remember his parting admonition, as he was a man of few words and seldom
offered advice. "Be careful," he said, "of wronging others. Do not
repeat anything you hear that reflects on another. It is a pretty good
rule, when you cannot speak well of another, to say nothing at all." He
must have said more, but that is all that I recall.
Father felt that in two years he would return with enough money to
provide for our needs. In the meantime we could live at less expense and
in greater safety in the country. We returned to the town we all loved,
and the two years stretched to six. We three children went to school, my
mother keeping house. In 1851 my grandfather died, and in 1853 my
grandmother joined him.
During these Leominster days we greatly enjoyed a visit from my father's
sister, Charlotte, with her husband, John Downes, an astronomer
connected with Harvard University. They were charming people, bringing a
new atmosphere from their Cambridge home. Uncle John tried to convince
me that by dividing the heavens I might count the visible stars, but he
did not succeed. He wrote me a fine, friendly letter on his returning
home, in 1852, using a sheet of blue paper giving on the third page a
view of the college buildings and a procession of the alumni as they
left the church Sept. 6, 1836. In the letter he pronounced it a very
good view. It is presented elsewhere, in connection with the picture of
a friend who entered the university a few years later.
School life was pleasant and I suppose fairly profitable. Until I
entered high school I attended the ungraded district school. It was on
the edge of a wood, and a source of recess pleasure was making
umbrageous homes of pine boughs. On the last day of school the school
committee, the leading minister, the ablest lawyer, and the best-loved
doctor were present to review and address us. We took much pride in the
decoration. Wreaths of plaited leaves were twisted around the stovepipe;
the top of the stove was banked with pond-lilies gathered from a pond in
our woods. Medals were primitive. For a week I wore a pierced ninepence
in evidence of my proficiency in mental arithmetic; then it passed to
According to present standards we indulged in precious little amusement.
Entertainments were few. Once in a while a circus came to town, and
there were organizations of musical attractions like The Hutchinson
Family and The Swiss Bell Ringers. Ossian E. Dodge was a name with which
to conjure, and a panorama was sometimes unrolled alternating with
dissolving views. Seen in retrospect, they all seem tame and unalluring.
The Lyceum was, the feature of strongest interest to the grownups.
Lectures gave them a chance to see men of note like Wendell Phillips,
Emerson, or William Lloyd Garrison. Even boys could enjoy poets of the
size of John G. Saxe.
Well do I remember the distrust felt for abolitionists. I had an uncle
who entertained Fred Douglass and was ready at any time to help a
fugitive slave to Canada. He was considered dangerous. He was a
shoemaker, and I remember how he would drop his work when no one was by
and get up to pace the floor and rehearse a speech he probably never
Occasionally our singing-school would give a concert, and once in a
farmers' chorus I was costumed in a smock cut down from one of
grandfather's. I carried a sickle and joined in "Through lanes with
hedgerows, pearly." I kept up in the singing but let my attention wander
as the farmers made their exit and did not notice that I was left till
the other boys were almost off the stage. I then skipped after them,
swinging my scythe in chagrin.
In the high school we gave an exhibition in which we enacted some Scotch
scene. I think it had to do with Roderick Dhu. We were to be costumed,
and I was bothered about kilts and things. Mr. Phillips, the principal,
suggested that the stage be set with small evergreen trees. The picture
of them in my mind's eye brought relief, and I impulsively exclaimed,
"That will be good, because we will not have to wear pants," meaning, of
course, the kilts. He had a sense of humor and was a tease. He pretended
to take me literally, and raised a laugh as he said, "Why, Murdock!"
One bitterly cold night we went to Fitchburg, five miles away, to
describe the various pictures given at a magic-lantern exhibition. My
share was a few lines on a poor view of Scarborough Castle. At this
distance it seems like a poor investment of energy.
I wonder if modern education has not made some progress in a generation.
Here was a boy of fourteen who had never studied history or physics or
physiology and was assigned nothing but Latin, algebra and grammar. I
left at fourteen and a half to come to California, knowing little but
what I had picked up accidentally.
A diary of my voyage, dating from June 4, 1855, vividly illustrates the
character of the English inculcated by the school of the period. It
refers to the "crowd assembled to witness our departure." It recounts
all we saw, beginning with Washacum Pond, which we passed on our way to
Worcester: "of considerable magnitude, ... and the small islands which
dot its surface render it very beautiful." The buildings of New York
impressed the little prig greatly. Trinity Church he pronounces "one of
the most splendid edifices which I ever saw," and he waxes into
"Opalian" eloquence over Barnum's American Museum, which was
"illuminated from basement to attic."
We sailed on the "George Law," arriving at Aspinwall, the eastern
terminal of the Panama Railroad, in ten days. Crossing the isthmus,
with its wonders of tropical foliage and varied monkeys, gave a glimpse
of a new world. We left Panama June 16th and arrived at San Francisco on
the morning of the 30th.
Let the diary tell the tale of the beginning of life in California: "I
arose about 4-1/2 this morning and went on deck. We were then in the
Golden Gate, which is the entrance into San Francisco Bay. On each side
of us was high land. On the left-hand side was a lighthouse, and the
light was still burning. On my right hand was the outer telegraph
building. When they see us they telegraph to another place, from which
they telegraph all over San Francisco. When we were going in there was a
strong ebb tide. We arrived at the wharf a little after five o'clock.
The first thing which I did was to look for my father. Him I did not
Father had been detained in Humboldt by the burning of the connecting
steamer, so we went to Wilson's Exchange in Sansome near Sacramento
Street, and in the afternoon took the "Senator" for Sacramento, where my
uncle and aunt lived.
The part of a day in San Francisco was used to the full in prospecting
the strange city. We walked its streets and climbed its hills, much
interested in all we saw. The line of people waiting for their mail up
at Portsmouth Square was perhaps the most novel sight. A race up the
bay, waiting for the tide at Benicia, sticking on the "Hog's Back" in
the night, and the surprise of a flat, checkerboard city were the most
impressive experiences of the trip to Sacramento.
A month or so on this compulsory visit passed very pleasantly. We found
fresh delight in watching the Chinese and their habits. We had never
seen a specimen before. A very pleasant picnic and celebration on the
Fourth of July was another attractive novelty. Cheap John auctions and
frequent fires afforded amusement and excitement, and we learned to
drink muddy water without protest.
On the 15th the diary records: "Last night about 12 o'clock I woke, and
who should I behold, standing by me, but my father! Is it possible that
after a separation of nearly six years I have at last met my father? It
is even so. This form above me is, indeed, my father's." The day's entry
concludes: "I have really enjoyed myself today. I like the idea of a
father very well."
We were compelled to await an upcoast steamer till August, when that
adventurous craft, the steamer "McKim," now newly named the "Humboldt,"
resumed sea-voyages. The Pacific does not uniformly justify the name,
but this time it completely succeeded. The ocean was as smooth as the
deadest mill-pond--not a breath of wind or a ripple of the placid
surface. Treacherous Humboldt Bar, sometimes a mountain of danger, did
not even disclose its location. The tar from the ancient seams of the
Humboldt's decks responded to the glowing sun until pacing the deck was
impossible, but sea-sickness was no less so. We lazily steamed into the
beautiful harbor, up past Eureka, her streets still occupied by stumps,
and on to the ambitious pier stretching nearly two miles from Uniontown
to deep water.
And now that the surroundings may be better understood, let me digress
from the story of my boyhood and touch on the early romance of Humboldt
Bay--its discovery and settlement.
A HIDDEN HARBOR
The northwesterly corner of California is a region apart. In its
physical characteristics and in its history it has little in common with
the rest of the state. With no glamour of Spanish occupancy, its romance
is of quite another type. At the time of the discovery of gold in
California the northwestern portion of the state was almost unknown
territory. For seven hundred miles, from Fort Ross to the mouth of the
Columbia, there stretched a practically uncharted coast. A few headlands
were designated on the imperfect map and a few streams were poorly
sketched in, but the great domain had simply been approached from the
sea and its characteristics were mostly a matter of conjecture. So far
as is known, not a white man lived in all California west of the Coast
Range and north of Fort Ross.
Here is, generally speaking, a mountainous region heavily timbered along
the coast, diversified with river valleys and rolling hills. A marked
peculiarity is its sharp slope toward the northwest for its entire
length. East of the Coast Range the Sacramento River flows due south,
while to the west of the broken mountains all the streams flow
northwesterly--more northerly than westerly. Eel River flows about 130
miles northerly and, say, forty miles westerly. The same course is taken
by the Mattole, the Mad, and the Trinity rivers. The watershed of this
corner to the northwest is extensive, including a good part of what are
now Mendocino, Trinity, Siskiyou, Humboldt, and Del Norte counties. The
drainage of the westerly slope of the mountain ranges north and west of
Shasta reaches the Pacific with difficulty. The Klamath River flows
southwest for 120 miles until it flanks the Siskiyous. It there meets
the Trinity, which flows northwest. The combined rivers take the
direction of the Trinity, but the name of the Klamath prevails. It
enters the ocean about thirty miles south of the Oregon line. The whole
region is extremely mountainous. The course of the river is tortuous,
winding among the mountains.
The water-flow shows the general trend of the ranges; but most of the
rivers have numerous forks, indicating transverse ridges. From an
aeroplane the mountains of northern California would suggest an immense
drove of sleeping razor-backed hogs nestling against one another to keep
warm, most of their snouts pointed northwest.
Less than one-fourth of the land is tillable, and not more than a
quarter of that is level. Yet it is a beautiful, interesting and
valuable country, largely diversified, with valuable forests, fine
mountain ranges, gently rolling hills, rich river bottoms, and, on the
upper Trinity, gold-bearing bars.
Mendocino (in Humboldt County) was given its significant name about
1543. When Heceta and Bodega in 1775 were searching the coast for
harbors, they anchored under the lee of the next northerly headland.
After the pious manner of the time, having left San Blas on Trinity
Sunday, they named their haven Trinidad. Their arrival was six days
before the battle of Bunker Hill.
It is about forty-five miles from Cape Mendocino to Trinidad. The bold,
mountainous hills, though they often reach the ocean, are somewhat
depressed between these points. Halfway between them lies Humboldt Bay,
a capacious harbor with a tidal area of twenty-eight miles. It is the
best and almost the only harbor from San Francisco to Puget Sound. It is
fourteen miles long, in shape like an elongated human ear. It eluded
discovery with even greater success than San Francisco Bay, and the
story of its final settlement is striking and romantic.
Neither Cabrillo nor Heceta nor Drake makes mention of it. In 1792
Vancouver followed the coast searchingly, but when he anchored in what
he called the "nook" of Trinidad he was entirely ignorant of a near-by
harbor. We must bear in mind that Spain had but the slightest
acquaintance with the empire she claimed. The occasional visits of
navigators did not extend her knowledge of the great domain. It is
nevertheless surprising that in the long course of the passage of the
galleons to and from the Philippines the bays of San Francisco and
Humboldt should not have been found even by accident.
The nearest settlement was the Russian colony near Bodega, one hundred
and seventy-five miles to the south. In 1811 Kuskoff found a river
entering the ocean near the point. He called it Slavianski, but General
Vallejo rescued us from that when he referred to it as Russian River.
The land was bought from the Indians for a trifle. Madrid was applied to
for a title, but the Spaniards declined to give it. The Russians held
possession, however, and proceeded with cultivation. To better protect
their claims, nineteen miles up the coast, they erected a stockade
mounting twenty guns. They called the fort Kosstromitinoff, but the
Spaniards referred to it as _el fuerte de los Rusos_, which was
anglicized as Fort Russ, and, finally, as Fort Ross. The colony
prospered for a while, but sealing "pinched out" and the territory
occupied was too small to satisfy agricultural needs. In 1841 the
Russians sold the whole possession to General Sutter for thirty thousand
dollars and withdrew from California, returning to Alaska.
In 1827 a party of adventurers started north from Fort Ross for Oregon,
following the coast. One Jedidiah Smith, a trapper, was the leader. It
is said that Smith River, near the Oregon line, was named for him.
Somewhere on the way all but four were reported killed by the Indians.
They are supposed to have been the first white men to enter the Humboldt
Among the very early settlers in California was Pearson B. Redding, who
lived on a ranch near Mount Shasta. In 1845, on a trapping expedition,
he struck west through a divide in the Coast Range and discovered a
good-sized, rapid river flowing to the west. From its direction and the
habit of rivers to seek the sea, he concluded that it was likely to
reach the Pacific at about the latitude of Trinidad, named seventy years
before. He thereupon gave it the name of Trinity, and in due time left
it running and returned to his home.
Three years passed, and gold was discovered by Marshall. Redding was
interested and curious and visited the scene of Marshall's find. The
American River and its bars reminded him of the Trinity, and when he
returned to his home he organized a party to prospect it. Gold was found
in moderate quantities, especially on the upper portions. The Trinity
mines extended confidence and added to the excitement. Camps sprang up
on every bar. The town of Weaverville took the lead, and still holds it.
Quite a population followed and the matter of provisioning it became
serious. The base of supplies was Sacramento, two hundred miles distant
and over a range of mountains. To the coast it could not be more than
seventy miles. If the Trinity entered a bay or was navigable, it would
be a great saving and of tremendous advantage. The probability or
possibility was alluring and was increasingly discussed.
In October, 1849, there were at Rich Bar forty miners short of
provisions and ready for any adventure. The Indians reported that eight
suns to the west was a large bay with fertile land and tall trees. A
vision of a second San Francisco, a port for all northern California,
urged them to try for it. Twenty-four men agreed to join the party, and
the fifth of November was set for the start. Dr. Josiah Gregg was chosen
leader and two Indians were engaged as guides. When the day arrived the
rain was pouring and sixteen of the men and the two guides backed out,
but the remaining eight were courageous (or foolhardy) and not to be
thwarted. With a number of pack animals and eight days' supplies they
started up the slippery mountainside. At the summit they encountered a
snowstorm and camped for the night. In the morning they faced a western
view that would have discouraged most men--a mass of mountains,
rough-carved and snow-capped, with main ridges parallel on a
northwesterly line. In every direction to the most distant horizon
stretched these forbidding mountains. The distance to the ocean was
uncertain, and their course to it meant surmounting ridge after ridge of
the intervening mountains. They plunged down and on, crossed a swollen
stream, and crawled up the eastern side of the next ridge. For six days
this performance was repeated. Then they reached a large stream with an
almost unsurmountable mountain to the west. They followed down the
stream until they found it joined another of about equal size. They had
discovered the far-flowing south fork of the Trinity. They managed to
swim the united river and found a large Indian village, apparently
giving the inhabitants their first view of white men. The natives all
fled in fright, leaving their camps to the strange beings. The invaders
helped themselves to the smoked salmon that was plentiful, leaving flour
in exchange. At dusk about eighty of the fighting sex returned with
renewed courage, and threateningly. It took diplomacy to postpone an
attack till morning, when powder would be dry. They relied upon a
display of magic power from their firearms that would impress superior
numbers with the senselessness of hostilities. They did not sleep in
great security, and early in the morning proceeded with the
demonstration, upon which much depended.
When they set up a target and at sixty yards pierced a scrap of paper
and the tree to which it was pinned the effect was satisfactory. The
Indians were astonished at the feat, but equally impressed by the
unaccountable noise from the explosion. They became very friendly,
warned the wonder-workers of the danger to be encountered if they headed
north, where Indians were many and fierce, and told them to keep due
The perilous journey was continued by the ascent of another
mountainside. Provisions soon became very scarce, nothing but flour
remaining, and little of that. On the 18th they went dinnerless to their
cold blankets. Their animals had been without food for two days, but the
next morning they found grass. A redwood forest was soon encountered,
and new difficulties developed. The underbrush was dense and no trails
were found. Fallen trees made progress very slow. Two miles a day was
all they could accomplish. They painfully worked through the section of
the marvelous redwood belt destined to astonish the world, reaching a
small prairie, where they camped. The following day they devoted to
hunting, luckily killing a number of deer. Here they remained several
days, drying the venison in the meantime; but when, their strength
recuperated, they resumed their journey, the meat was soon exhausted.
Three days of fasting for man and beast followed. Two of the horses
were left to their fate. Then another prairie yielded more venison and
the meat of three bears. For three weeks they struggled on; life was
sustained at times by bitter acorns alone.
At length the welcome sound of surf was heard, but three days passed
before they reached the ocean. Three of the animals had died of
starvation in the last stretch of the forest. The men had not eaten for
two days, and devoted the first day on the beach to securing food. One
shot a bald eagle; another found a raven devouring a cast-up fish, both
of which he secured. All were stewed together, and a good night's sleep
followed the questionable meal.
The party struck the coast near the headland that in 1775 had been named
Trinidad, but not being aware of this fact they named it, for their
leader, Gregg's Point.
After two days' feasting on mussels and dried salmon obtained from the
Indians, they kept on south. Soon after crossing a small stream, now
named Little River, they came to one by no means so little. Dr. Gregg
insisted on getting out his instruments and ascertaining the latitude,
but the others had no scientific interest and were in a hurry to go on.
They hired Indians to row them across in canoes, and all except the
doctor bundled in. Finding himself about to be left, he grabbed up his
instruments and waded out into the stream to reach the canoe, which had
no intention of leaving him. He got in, wet and very angry, nursing his
wrath till shore was reached; then he treated his companions to some
vigorous language. They responded in kind, and the altercation became so
violent that the row gave the stream its name, Mad River.
They continued down the beach, camping when night overtook them. Wood,
the chronicler of the expedition, [Footnote: "The Narrative of L.K.
Wood," published many years after, and largely incorporated in Bledsoe's
"History of the Indian Wars of Northern California," is the source of
most of the incidents relating to Gregg's party embraced in this
chapter.] and Buck went in different directions to find water. Wood
returned first with a bucketful, brackish and poor. Buck soon after
arrived with a supply that looked much better, but when Gregg sampled it
he made a wry face and asked Buck where he found it. He replied that he
dipped it out of a smooth lake about a half mile distant. It was good
plain salt water; they had discovered the mythical bay--or supposed they
had. They credulously named it Trinity, expecting to come to the river
later. The next day they proceeded down the narrow sand strip that now
bounds the west side of Humboldt Bay, but when they reached the harbor
entrance from the ocean they were compelled to retrace their steps and
try the east shore. The following day they headed the bay, camping at a
beautiful plateau on the edge of the redwood belt, giving a fine view
of a noble landlocked harbor and a rich stretch of bottom land reaching
to Mad River. Here they found an abundant spring, and narrowly missed a
good supper; for they shot a large elk, which, to their great
disappointment, took to the brush. It was found dead the next morning,
and its head, roasted in ashes, constituted a happy Christmas
dinner--for December 25th had arrived, completing an even fifty days
since the start from Rich Bar.
They proceeded leisurely down the east side of the bay, stopping the
second day nearly opposite the entrance. It seemed a likely place for a
townsite, and they honored the water-dipping discoverer by calling it
Bucksport. Then they went on, crossing the little stream now named Elk
River, and camping near what was subsequently called Humboldt Point.
They were disappointed that no river of importance emptied into so fine
a bay, but they realized the importance of such a harbor and the value
of the soil and timber. They were, however, in no condition to settle,
or even to tarry. Their health and strength were impaired, ammunition
was practically exhausted, and there were no supplies. They would come
back, but now they must reach civilization. It was midwinter and raining
almost constantly. They had little idea of distance, but knew there were
settlers to the south, and that they must reach them or starve. So they
turned from the bay they had found to save their lives.
The third day they reached a large river flowing from the south,
entering the ocean a few miles south of the bay. As they reached it they
met two very old Indians loaded down with eels just taken from the
river, which the Indians freely shared with the travelers. They were so
impressed with them and more that followed that they bestowed on the
magnificent river which with many branches drains one of the most
majestic domains on earth the insignificant, almost sacrilegious name of
For two days they camped, consuming eels and discussing the future. A
most unfortunate difference developed, dividing the little group of men
who had suffered together so long. Gregg and three others favored
following the ocean beach. The other four, headed by Wood, were of the
opinion that the better course would be to follow up Eel River to its
head, crossing the probably narrow divide and following down some stream
headed either south or east. Neither party would yield and they parted
company, each almost hopeless.
Wood and his companions soon found their plan beset with great
difficulties. Spurs of the mountains came to the river's edge and cut
off ascent. After five days they left the river and sought a mountain
ridge. A heavy snowfall added to their discomfiture. They killed a small
deer, and camped for five days, devouring it thankfully. Compelled by
the snow, they returned to the river-bed, the skin of the deer their
only food. One morning they met and shot at five grizzly bears, but none
were killed. The next morning in a mountain gully eight ugly grizzlies
faced them. In desperation they determined to attack. Wood and Wilson
were to advance and fire. The others held themselves in reserve--one of
them up a tree. At fifty feet each selected a bear and fired. Wilson
killed his bear; Wood thought he had finished his. The beast fell,
biting the earth and writhing in agony. Wilson sensibly climbed a tree
and called upon Wood to do likewise. He started to first reload his
rifle and the ball stuck. When the two shots were fired five of the
bears started up the mountain, but one sat quietly on its haunches
watching proceedings. As Wood struggled with his refractory bullet it
started for him. He gained a small tree and climbed beyond reach. Unable
to load, he used his rifle to beat back the beast as it tried to claw
him. To his horror the bear he thought was killed rose to its feet and
furiously charged the tree, breaking it down at once. Wood landed on his
feet and ran down the mountain to a small buckeye, the bear after him.
He managed to hook his arm around the tree, swinging his body clear. The
wounded bear was carried by its momentum well down the mountain. Wood
ran for another tree, the other bear close after him, snapping at his
heels. Before he could climb out of reach he was grabbed by the ankle
and pulled down. The wounded bear came jumping up the mountain and
caught him by the shoulder. They pulled against each other as if to
dismember him. His hip was dislocated and he suffered some painful flesh
His clothing was stripped from his body and he felt the end had come,
but the bears seemed disinclined to seize his flesh. They were evidently
suspicious of white meat. Finally one disappeared up the ravine, while
the other sat down a hundred yards away, and keenly watched him. As long
as he kept perfectly still the bear was quiet, but if he moved at all it
rushed upon him.
Wilson came to his aid and both finally managed to climb trees beyond
reach. The bear then sat down between the trees, watching both and
growling threateningly if either moved. It finally tired of the game and
to their great relief disappeared up the mountain. Wood, suffering
acutely, was carried down to the camp, where they remained twelve days,
subsisting on the bear Wilson had killed.
Wood grew worse instead of better, and the situation was grave. Little
ammunition was left, they were practically without shoes or clothing,
and certain death seemed to face them. Wood urged them to seek their own
safety, saying they could leave him with the Indians, or put an end to
his sufferings at any time. Failing to induce the Indians to take him,
it was decided to try to bind him on his horse and take him along on
the hard journey. He suffered torture, but it was a day at a time and he
had great fortitude. After ten days of incredible suffering they reached
the ranch of Mrs. Mark West, thirty miles from Sonoma. The date was
February 17th, one hundred and four days from Rich Bar.
The four who started to follow the beach had experiences no less trying.
They found it impossible to accomplish their purpose. Bold mountains
came quite to the shore and blocked the way. They finally struck east
for the Sacramento Valley. They were short of food and suffered
unutterably. Dr. Gregg grew weaker day by day until he fell from his
horse and died from starvation, speaking no word. The other three pushed
on and managed to reach Sacramento a few days after the Wood party
arrived at Sonoma.
While these adventurous miners were prosecuting the search for the
mythical harbor, enterprising citizens of San Francisco renewed efforts
to reach it from the ocean. In December, 1849, soon after Wood and his
companions started from the Trinity River, the brig "Cameo" was
dispatched north to search carefully for a port. She returned without
success, but was again dispatched. On this trip she rediscovered
Trinidad. Interest grew, and by March of 1850 not less than forty
vessels were enlisted in the search.
My father, who left Boston early in 1849, going by Panama and the
Chagres River, had been through three fires in San Francisco and was
ready for any change. He joined with a number of acquaintances on one of
these ventures, acting as secretary of the company. They purchased the
"Paragon," a Gloucester fishing-boat of 125 tons burden, and early in
March, under the command of Captain March, with forty-two men in the
party, sailed north. They hugged the coast and kept a careful lookout
for a harbor, but passed the present Humboldt Bay in rather calm weather
and in the daytime without seeing it. The cause of what was then
inexplicable is now quite plain. The entrance has the prevailing
northwest slant. The view into the bay from the ocean is cut off by the
overlapping south spit. A direct view reveals no entrance; you can not
see in by looking back after having passed it. At sea the line of
breakers seems continuous, the protruding point from the south
connecting in surf line with that from the north. Moreover, the bay at
the entrance is very narrow. The wooded hills are so near the entrance
that there seems no room for a bay.
The "Paragon" soon found heavy weather and was driven far out to sea.
Then for three days she was in front of a gale driving her in shore. She
reached the coast nearly at the Oregon line and dropped anchor in the
lee of a small island near Point St. George. In the night a gale sprang
up, blowing fiercely in shore toward an apparently solid cliff. One
after another the cables to her three anchors parted, and my father said
it was with a feeling of relief that they heard the last one snap, the
suspense giving way to what they believed to be the end of all. But
there proved to be an unsuspected sandspit at the base of the cliff, and
the "Paragon" at high tide plowed her way to a berth she never left. Her
bones long marked the spot, and for many years the roadstead was known
as Paragon Bay. No lives were lost and no property was saved. About
twenty-five of the survivors returned to San Francisco on the "Cameo,"
but my father stayed by, and managed to reach Humboldt Bay soon after
its discovery, settling in Uniontown in May, 1850.
The glory of the ocean discovery remained for the "Laura Virginia," a
Baltimore craft, commanded by Lieutenant Douglass Ottinger, a revenue
officer on leave of absence. She left soon after the "Paragon," and kept
close in shore. Soon after leaving Cape Mendocino she reached the mouth
of Eel River and came to anchor. The next day three other vessels
anchored and the "General Morgan" sent a boat over the river bar. The
"Laura Virginia" proceeded north and the captain soon saw the waters of
a bay, but could see no entrance. He proceeded, anchoring first at
Trinidad and then at where Crescent City was later located. There he
found the "Cameo" at anchor and the "Paragon" on the beach. Remaining in
the roadstead two days, he started back, and tracing a stream of
fresh-looking water discovered the mouth of the Klamath. Arriving at
Trinidad, he sent five men down by land to find out if there was an
entrance to the bay he had seen. On their favorable report, Second
Officer Buhne was instructed to take a ship's boat and sound the
entrance before the vessel should attempt it. On April 9, 1850, he
crossed the bar, finding four and a half fathoms. Buhne remained in the
bay till the ship dropped down. On April 14th he went out and brought
her in. After much discussion the bay and the city they proposed to
locate were named Humboldt, after the distinguished naturalist and
traveler, for whom a member of the company had great admiration.
Let us now return to L.K. Wood, whom we left at the Mark West home in
the Sonoma Valley, recovering from the serious injuries incident to the
bear encounter on Eel River. After about six weeks of recuperation, Wood
pushed on to San Francisco and organized a party of thirty men to return
to Humboldt and establish a settlement. They were twenty days on the
journey, arriving at the shore of the bay on April 19th, five days after
the entrance of the "Laura Virginia." They were amazed to see the vessel
at anchor off Humboldt Point. They quietly drew back into the woods,
and skirting the east side of the bay came out at the Bucksport site.
Four men remained to hold it. The others pushed on to the head of the
bay, where they had enjoyed their Christmas dinner. This they considered
the best place for a town. For three days they were very busily engaged
in posting notices, laying foundations for homes, and otherwise
fortifying their claims. They named the new settlement Uniontown. About
six years afterward it was changed to Arcata, the original Indian name
for the spot. The change was made in consideration of the confusion
occasioned by there being a Uniontown in El Dorado County.
And so the hidden harbor that had long inspired legend and tradition,
and had been the source of great suffering and loss, was revealed. It
was _not_ fed by the Trinity or any other river. The mouth of the
Trinity was _not_ navigable; it did not boast a mouth--the Klamath just
swallowed it. The Klamath's far-northern mouth was a poor affair,
useless for commercial purposes. But a great empire had been opened and
an enormously serviceable harbor had been added to California's assets.
It aided mining and created immense lumber interests.
Strange as it may seem, Humboldt Bay was not discovered at this time.
Some years ago a searcher of the archives of far-off St. Petersburg
found unquestionable proof that the discovery was made in 1806, and not
in 1849-50. Early in the nineteenth century the Russian-American Company
was all-powerful and especially active in the fur trade. It engaged an
American captain, Jonathan Winship, who commanded an American crew on
the ship "Ocean." The outfit, accompanied by a hundred Aleut Indians,
with fifty-two small boats, was sent from Alaska down the California
coast in pursuit of seals. They anchored at Trinidad and spread out for
the capture of sea-otter. Eighteen miles south they sighted a bay and
finally found the obscure entrance. They entered with a boat and then
followed with the ship, which anchored nearly opposite the location of
Eureka. They found fifteen feet of water on the bar. From the large
number of Indians living on its shores, they called it the Bay of the
Indians. The entrance they named Resanof. Winship made a detailed sketch
of the bay and its surroundings, locating the Indian villages and the
small streams that enter the bay. It was sent to St. Petersburg and
entered on a Russian map. The Spaniards seem never to have known
anything of it, and the Americans evidently considered the incident of
Humboldt as a community developed slowly. For five years its real
resources were neglected.
[Illustration: HUMBOLDT BAY--FROM RUSSIAN ATLAS THE HIDDEN
HARBOR--THRICE DISCOVERED Winship, 1806. Gregg, 1849. Ottinger, 1850.]
It was merely the shipping point from which the mines of the Trinity
and Klamath rivers were supplied by mule trains. Gradually agriculture
was developed, and from 1855 lumber was king. It is now a great domain.
The county is a little less than three times the size of the state of
Rhode Island, and its wealth of resources and its rugged and alluring
beauty are still gaining in recognition.
Its unique glory is the world-famous redwood belt. For its entire
length, one hundred and six miles of coast line, and of an average depth
of eight miles, extends the marvelous grove. Originally it comprised
540,000 acres. For more than sixty years it has been mercilessly
depleted, yet it is claimed that the supply will not be exhausted for
two hundred years. There is nothing on the face of the earth to compare
with this stand of superb timber. Trees reach two hundred and fifty feet
in height, thirty feet in diameter, and a weight of 1,250,000 pounds.
Through countless centuries these noble specimens have stood, majestic,
serene, reserved for man's use and delight. In these later years fate
has numbered their days, but let us firmly withstand their utter
demolition. It is beyond conception that all these monuments to nature's
power and beauty should be sacrificed. We must preserve accessible
groves for the inspiration and joy of those who will take our places.
The coast highway following down one of the forks of the Eel River
passes through the magnificent redwood belt and affords a wonderful
view of these superb trees. Efforts are now being made to preserve the
trees bordering the highway, that one of the most attractive features of
California's scenic beauty may be preserved for all time. California has
nothing more impressive to offer than these majestic trees, and they are
an asset she cannot afford to lose.
NINE YEARS NORTH
Uniontown (now Arcata) had enjoyed the early lead among the Humboldt Bay
towns. The first consideration had been the facility in supplying the
mines on the Trinity and the Klamath. All goods were transported by
pack-trains, and the trails over the mountains were nearer the head of
the bay. But soon lumber became the leading industry, and the mills were
at Eureka on deep water at the center of the bay, making that the
natural shipping point. It grew rapidly, outstripping its rival, and
also capturing the county-seat.
Arcata struggled valiantly, but it was useless. Her geographical
position was against her. In an election she shamelessly stuffed the
ballot box, but Eureka went to the legislature and won her point.
Arcata had the most beautiful location and its people were very
ambitious. In fruitless effort to sustain its lead, the town had built a
pier almost two miles in length to a slough navigable to ocean steamers.
A single horse drew a flat car carrying passengers and freight. It was
the nearest approach to a railroad in the state of California at the
time of our arrival on that lovely morning in 1855.
We disembarked from the ancient craft and were soon leisurely pursuing
our way toward the enterprising town at the other end of the track. It
seemed that we were met by the entire population; for the arrival of the
steamer with mail and passengers was the exciting event of the month.
The station was near the southwest corner of the plaza, which we crossed
diagonally to the post-office, housed in the building that had been my
father's store until he sold out the year before, when he was elected to
the Assembly. Murdock's Hall was in the second story, and a little way
north stood a zinc house that was to be our home. It had been shipped
first to San Francisco and then to Humboldt. Its plan and architecture
were the acme of simplicity. There were three rooms tandem, each with a
door in the exact middle, so that if all the doors were open a bullet
would be unimpeded in passing through. To add to the social atmosphere,
a front porch, open at both ends, extended across the whole front. A
horseman could, and in fact often did, ride across it. My brother and I
occupied a chamber over the post-office, and he became adept in going to
sleep on the parlor sofa every night and later going to bed in the store
without waking, dodging all obstructing objects and undressing while
We were quite comfortable in this joke of a house. But we had no pump;
all the water we used I brought from a spring in the edge of the woods,
the one found by the Gregg party on the night of Christmas, 1849. The
first time I visited it and dipped my bucket in the sunken barrel that
protected it I had a shock. Before leaving San Francisco, being a
sentimental youth and knowing little of what Humboldt offered, I bought
two pots of fragrant flowers--heliotrope and a musk-plant--bringing them
on the steamer with no little difficulty. As I dipped into the barrel I
noticed that it was surrounded by a solid mass of musk-plants growing
wild. The misapprehension was at least no greater than that which
prompted some full-grown man to ship a zinc house to the one spot in the
world where the most readily splitting lumber was plentiful.
One of the sights shown to the newcomer was a two-story house built
before the era of the sawmill. It was built of split lumber from a
single redwood tree--and enough remained to fence the lot! Within a
stone's throw from the musk-plant spring was a standing redwood, with
its heart burned out, in which thirteen men had slept one night, just to
boast of it. Later, in my time, a shingle-maker had occupied the tree
all one winter, both as a residence and as a shop where he made shingles
for the trade.
We had a very pleasant home and were comfortable and happy. We had a
horse, cows, rabbits, and pigeons. Our garden furnished berries and
vegetables in plenty. The Indians sold fish, and I provided at first
rabbits and then ducks and geese. One delicious addition to our table
was novel to us. As a part of the redwood's undergrowth was a tall bush
that in its season yielded a luscious and enormous berry called the
salmon-berry. It was much like a raspberry, generally salmon in color,
very juicy and delicate, approximating an inch and a half in diameter.
Armed with a long pole, a short section of a butt limb forming a sort of
shepherd's crook, I would pull down the heavily laden branches and after
a few moments in the edge of the woods would be provided with a dessert
fit for any queen, and so appropriate for my mother.
California in those early days seemed wholly dependent on the foreign
markets. Flour came from Chile, "Haxall" being the common brand; cheese
from Holland and Switzerland; cordials, sardines, and prunes from
France; ale and porter from England; olives from Spain; whiskey from
Scotland. Boston supplied us with crackers, Philadelphia sent us boots,
and New Orleans furnished us with sugar and molasses.
The stores that supplied the mines carried almost
everything--provisions, clothing, dry goods, and certainly wet goods. At
every store there was found an open barrel of whiskey, with a convenient
glass sampler that would yield through the bunghole a fair-sized drink
to test the quality. One day I went into a store where a clever Chinaman
was employed. He had printed numerous placards announcing the stock. I
noticed a fresh one that seemed incongruous. It read, "Codfish and
Cologne Water." I said, "What's the idea?" He smilingly replied, "You
see its place? I hang it over the whiskey-barrel. Some time man come to
steal a drink. I no see him; he read sign, he laugh, I hear him, I see
There was no school in the town when we came. It troubled my mother that
my brother and sister must be without lessons. Several other small
children were deprived of opportunity. In the emergency we cleaned out a
room in the store, formerly occupied by a county officer, and I
organized a very primary school. I was almost fifteen, but the children
were good and manageable. I did not have very many, and fortunately I
was not called upon to teach very long. There came to town a clever man,
Robert Desty. He wanted to teach. There was no school building, but he
built one all by his own hands. He suggested that I give up my school
and become a pupil of his. I was very glad to do it. He was a good and
ingenious teacher. I enjoyed his lessons about six months, and then felt
I must help my father. My stopping was the only graduation in my
My father was an inveterate trader, and the year after our coming he
joined with another venturer in buying the standing crop of wheat in
Hoopa Valley, on the Trinity River. I went up to help in the harvesting,
being charged with the weighing of the sacked grain. It was a fine
experience for an innocent Yankee boy. We lived out of doors, following
the threshers from farm to farm, eating under an oak tree and sleeping
on the fragrant straw-piles. I was also the butt of about the wildest
lot of jokers ever assembled. They were good-natured, but it was their
concerted effort to see how much I could stand in the way of highly
flavored stories at mealtime. It was fun for them, besides they felt it
would be a service to knock out some of the Boston "sissiness." I do not
doubt it was. They never quite drove me away from the table.
In the meantime I had a great good time. It was a very beautiful spot
and all was new and strange. There were many Indians, and they were
interesting. They lived in rancherias of puncheons along the river. Each
group of dwellings had a musical name. One village was called Matiltin,
another Savanalta. The children swam like so many ducks, and each
village had its sweathouse from which every adult, to keep in health and
condition, would plunge into the swiftly flowing river. They lived on
salmon, fresh or dried, and on grass-seed cakes cooked on heated stones.
They were handsome specimens physically and were good workers. The river
was not bridged, but it was not deep and canoes were plenty. If none
were seen on the side which you chanced to find yourself, you had only
to call, "Wanus, matil!" (Come, boat!) and one would come. If in a
hurry, "Holish!" would expedite the service.
The Indian language was fascinating and musical. "Iaquay" was the word
of friendly greeting. "Aliquor" was Indian, "Waugee" was white man,
"Chick" was the general word for money. When "Waugee-chick" was
mentioned, it meant gold or silver; if "Aliquor-chick," reference was
made to the spiral quill-like shells which served as their currency,
their value increasing rapidly by the length. [Footnote: In the Hawaiian
Islands short shells of this variety are strung for beads, but have
little value.] There are frequent combined words. "Hutla" is night,
"Wha" is the sun; "Hutla-wha" is the moon--the night-sun. If an Indian
wishes to ask where you are going, he will say, "Ta hunt tow ingya?"
"Teena scoia" is very good. "Skeena" is too small. "Semastolon" is a
young woman; if she is considered beautiful, "Clane nuquum" describes
The Indians were very friendly and hospitable. If I wanted an
account-book that was on the other side of the river, they would not
bother for a canoe, but swim over with it, using-one hand and holding
the book high in the air. I found they had settled habits and usages
that seemed peculiar to them. If one of their number died, they did not
like it referred to; they wished for no condolence. "Indian die, Indian
no talk," was their expression.
It was a wonder to me that in a valley connected with civilization by
only a trail there should be found McCormick's reapers and Pitt's
threshers. Parts too large for a mule's pack had been cut in two and
afterwards reunited. By some dint of ingenuity even a millstone had been
hauled over the roadless mountains. The wheat we harvested was ground at
the Hoopa mill and the flour was shipped to the Trinity and Klamath
All the week we harvested vigorously, and on Sunday we devoted most of
the day to visiting the watermelon patches and sampling the product. Of
course, we spent a portion of the day in washing our few clothes,
usually swimming and splashing in the river until they were dry.
The valley was long and narrow, with mountains on both sides so high
that the day was materially shortened in the morning and at night. The
tardy sun was ardent when he came, but disturbed us little. The nights
were blissful--beds so soft and sweet and a canopy so beautiful! In the
morning we awoke to the tender call of cooing doves, and very soon lined
up for breakfast in the perfectly ventilated out-of-doors. Happy days
they were! Wise and genial Captain Snyder, Sonnichsen, the patient cook,
Jim Brock, happy tormentor--how clearly they revisit the glimpses of the
Returning to Uniontown, I resumed my placid, busy life, helping in the
garden, around the house, and in the post-office. My father was wise in
his treatment. Boylike I would say, "Father, what shall I do?" He would
answer, "Look around and find out. I'll not always be here to tell
you." Thrown on my own resources, I had no trouble in finding enough to
do, and I was sufficiently normal and indolent to be in no danger of
finding too much.
The post-office is a harborer of secrets and romance. The postmaster and
his assistants alone know "Who's Who." A character of a packer, tall,
straight, and bearded, always called Joe the Marine, would steal in and
call for comely letters addressed to James Ashhurst, Esq. Robert Desty
was found to be Mons. Robert d'Esti Mauville. A blacksmith whose letters
were commonly addressed to C.E. Bigelow was found entitled to one
inscribed C.E.D.L.B. Bigelow. Asked what his full name was, he
replied, "Charles Edward Decatur La Fitte Butterfield Bigelow." And,
mind you, he was a _blacksmith_! His christening entitled him to it all,
but he felt that all he could afford was what he commonly used.
Phonetics have a distinct value. Uncertain of spelling, one can fall
back on remembered sound. I found a letter addressed to "Sanerzay." I
had no difficulty in determining that San Jose was intended. Hard labor
was suggested when someone wrote "Youchiyer." The letter found its
resting-place in Ukiah.
Among my miscellaneous occupations was the pasturage of mules about to
start on the return trip to the mines. We had a farm and logging-claim
on the outskirts of town which afforded a good farewell bite of grass,
and at night I would turn loose twenty to forty mules and their beloved
bell-mare to feed and fight mosquitoes. Early the next morning I would
saddle my charger and go and bring them to the packing corral. Never
shall I forget a surprise given me one morning. I had a tall, awkward
mare, and was loping over the field looking for my charges. An innocent
little rabbit scuttled across Kate's path and she stopped in her tracks
as her feet landed. I was gazing for the mule train and I did not stop.
I sailed over her head, still grasping the bridle reins, which, attached
to the bit, I also had to overleap, so that the next moment I found
myself standing erect with the reins between my legs, holding on to a
horse behind me still standing in her arrested tracks. Remounting, I
soon found the frisky mules and started them toward misery. Driven into
the corral where their freight had been divided into packs of from one
hundred to one hundred and fifty pounds, they were one by one saddled,
cinched, and packed. A small mule would seem to be unequal to carrying
two side-packs, each consisting of three fifty-pound sacks of flour, and
perhaps a case of boots for a top-pack. But protests of groans and
grunts would be unavailing. Two swarthy Mexicans, by dint of cleverly
thrown ropes and the "diamond hitch," would soon have in place all that
the traffic would bear, and the small Indian boy on the mother of the
train, bearing a tinkling bell, would lead them on their way to Salmon
River or to Orleans Bar.
Another frequent duty was the preparation of the hall for some public
function. It might be a dance, a political meeting, or some theatrical
performance. Different treatment would be required, but all would
include cleaning and lighting. At a dance it was floor-scrubbing,
filling the camphene lamps, and making up beds for the babies to be
later deposited by their dancing mothers. Very likely I would tend door
and later join in the dance, which commonly continued until morning.
Politics interested me. In the Fremont campaign of 1856 my father was
one of four Republicans in the county, and was by no means popular. He
lived to see Humboldt County record a six hundred majority for the
Republican ticket. Some of our local legislative candidates surprised
and inspired me by their eloquence and unexpected knowledge and ability.
It was good to find that men read and thought, even when they lived in
the woods and had little encouragement.
Occasionally we had quite good theatrical performances. Very early I
recall a thespian named Thoman, who was supported by a Julia Pelby. They
vastly pleased an uncritical audience. I was doorkeeper, notwithstanding
that Thoman doubted if I was "hefty" enough. "Little Lotta" Crabtree was
charming. Her mother traveled with her. Between performances she played
with her dolls. She danced gracefully and sang fascinatingly such songs
as "I'm the covey what sings." Another prime favorite was Joe Murphy,
Irish comedian and violinist, pleasing in both roles. I remember a
singing comedian who bewailed his sad estate:
"For now I have nothing but rags to my back,
My boots scarce cover my toes,
While my pants are patched with an old flour-sack,
To jibe with the rest of my clo'es."
The singing-school was pleasure-yielding, its greatest joy being
incidental. When I could cut ahead of a chum taking a girl home and
shamelessly trip him up with a stretched rope and get back to the
drugstore and be curled up in the woodbox when he reached his final
destination, I am afraid I took unholy joy.
Not long after coming we started a public library. Mother and I covered
all the books, this being considered an economical necessity. Somewhat
later Arcata formed a debating society that was really a helpful
influence. It engaged quite a wide range of membership, and we discussed
almost everything. Some of our members were fluent of speech from long
participation in Methodist experience meetings. Others were self-trained
even to pronunciation. One man of good mind, always said "here_dit_ary."
He had read French history and often referred to the _Gridironists_ of
France. I have an idea he was the original of the man whom Bret Harte
made refer to the Greek hero as "old Ashheels." Our meetings were open,
and among the visitors I recall a clerk of a commander in the Indian
war. He afterwards became lieutenant-governor of the state, and later a
senator from Nevada--John P. Jones.
An especial pleasure were the thoroughness and zest with which we
celebrated the Fourth of July. The grown-ups did well in the daylight
hours, when the procession, the oration, and the reading of the
Declaration were in order; but with the shades of night the fireworks
would have been inadequate but for the activity of the boys. The town
was built around a handsome plaza, probably copied from Sonoma as an
incident of the Wood sojourn. On the highest point in the center a fine
flagstaff one hundred and twenty feet high was proudly crowned by a
liberty-cap. This elevated plateau was the field of our display. On a
spot not too near the flagstaff we planned for a spectacular center of
flame. During the day we gathered material for an enormous bonfire. Huge
casks formed the base and inflammable material of all kinds reached high
in the air. At dark we fired the pile. But the chief interest was
centered in hundreds of balls of twine, soaked in camphene, which we
lighted and threw rapidly from hand to hand all over the plaza. We could
not hold on to them long, but we didn't need to. They came flying from
every direction and were caught from the ground and sent back before
they had a chance to burn. The noise and excitement can be easily
imagined. Blackened and weary boys kept it up till the bonfire was out
and the balls had grown too small to pick up. Nothing interfered with
our celebrations. When the Indians were "bad" we forsook the redwoods
and built our speaker's stand and lunch tables and benches out in the
open beyond firing distance.
Our garden was quite creditable. Vegetables were plentiful and my
flower-beds, though formal, were pleasing. Stock-raising was very
interesting. One year I had the satisfaction of breaking three heifers
and raising their calves. My brother showed more enterprise, for he
induced a plump young mother of the herd to allow him to ride her when
he drove the rest to pasture.
Upon our arrival in Uniontown we found the only church was the
Methodist. We at once attended, and I joined the Sunday-school. My
teacher was a periodically reformed boatman. When he fell from grace he
was taken in hand by the Sons of Temperance, which I had also joined.
"Morning Star Division, No. 106," was never short of material to work
on. My first editorial experience was on its spicy little written
journal. I went through the chairs and became "Worthy Patriarch" while
still a boy. The church was mostly served by first-termers, not
especially inspiring. I recall one good man who seemed to have no other
qualification for the office. He frankly admitted that he had worked in
a mill and in a lumber-yard, and said he liked preaching "better than
anything he'd ever been at." He was very sincere and honest. He had a
uniform lead in prayer: "O Lord, we thank thee that it is as well with
us as what it is." The sentiment was admirable, but somehow the manner
grated. When the presiding elder came around we had a relief. He was
wide-awake and witty. One night he read the passage of Scripture where
they all began with one accord to make excuses. One said: "I have
married a wife and cannot come." The elder, looking up, said, "Why
didn't the pesky fool bring her with him?"
In the process of time the Presbyterians started a church, and I went
there; swept out, trimmed the lamps, and sang in the choir. The preacher
was an educated man, and out of the pulpit was kind and reasonable; but
he persisted that "Good deeds were but as filthy rags." I didn't believe
it and I didn't like it. The staid pastor had but little recreation, and
I am afraid I was always glad that Ulrica Schumacher, the frisky sister
of the gunsmith, almost always beat him at chess.
He was succeeded by a man I loved, and I wonder I did not join his
church. We were good friends and used to go out trout-fishing together.
He was a delightful man, but when he was in the pulpit he shrank and
shriveled. The danger of Presbyterianism passed when he expressed his
doubt whether it would be best for my mother to partake of communion, as
she had all her life in the Unitarian church. She was willing, but
waited his approval. My mother was the most saintly of women, absolutely
unselfish and self-sacrificing, and it shocked me that any belief or
lack of belief should exclude her from a Christian communion.
When my father, in one of his numerous trades, bought out the only
tinshop and put me in charge he changed my life and endangered my
disposition. The tinsmith left the county and I was left with the tools
and the material, the only tinsmith in Humboldt County. How I struggled
and bungled! I could make stovepipe by the mile, but it was a long time
before I could double-seam a copper bottom onto a tin wash-boiler. I
lived to construct quite a decent traveling oilcan for a Eureka sawmill,
but such triumphs come through mental anguish and burned fingers. No
doubt the experience extended my desultory education.
The taking over of the tinshop was doubly disappointing, since I really
wanted to go into the office of the _Northern Californian_ and become a
printer and journalist. That job I turned over to Bret Harte, who was
clever and cultivated, but had not yet "caught on." Leon Chevret, the
French hotelkeeper, said of him to a lawyer of his acquaintance, "Bret
Harte, he have the Napoleonic nose, the nose of genius; also, like many
of you professional men, his debts trouble him very little."
There were many interesting characters among the residents of the town
and county. At times there came to play the violin at our dances one
Seth Kinman, a buckskin-clad hunter. He became nationally famous when he
fashioned and presented elkhorn chairs to Buchanan and several
succeeding Presidents. They were ingenious and beautiful, and he himself
was most picturesque.
One of our originals was a shiftless and merry Iowan to whose name was
added by courtesy the prefix "Dr." He had a small farm in the outskirts.
Gates hung from a single hinge and nothing was kept in repair. He
preferred to use his time in persuading nature to joke. A single
cucumber grown into a glass bottle till it could not get out was worth
more than a salable crop, and a single cock whose comb had grown around
an inserted pullet breastbone, until he seemed the precursor of a new
breed of horned roosters, was better than much poultry. He reached his
highest fame in the cure of his afflicted wife. She languished in bed
and he diagnosed her illness as resulting from the fact that she was
"hidebound." His house he had never had time to complete. The rafters
were unobstructed by ceiling, so she was favorably situated for
treatment. He fixed a lasso under her arms, threw the end around a
rafter, and proceeded to loosen her refractory hide.
One of our leading merchants was a deacon in the Methodist church and so
enjoyed the patronage of his brother parishioners. One of them came in
one day and asked the paying price of eggs. The deacon told him "sixty
cents a dozen."
"What are sail-needles?"
"Five cents apiece."
The brother produced an egg and proposed a swap. It was smilingly
accepted and the egg added to the pile of stock.
The brother lingered and finally drawled, "Deacon, it's customary, isn't
it, to _treat_ a buyer?"
"It is; what will you take?" laughingly replied the deacon.
"Sherry is nice."
The deacon poured out the sherry and handed it to his customer, who
hesitated and timidly remarked that sherry was improved by a raw egg.
The amused deacon turned around and took from the egg-pile the identical
one he had received. As the brother broke it into his glass he noticed
it had an extra yolk. After enjoying his drink, he handed back the empty
glass and said: "Deacon, that egg had a double yolk; don't you think you
ought to give me another sail-needle?"
When Thomas Starr King was electrifying the state in support of the
Sanitary Commission (the Red Cross of the Civil War), Arcata caught the
fever and in November, 1862, held a great meeting at the Presbyterian
church. Our leading ministers and lawyers appealed with power and
surprising subscriptions followed. Mr. Coddington, our wealthiest
citizen, started the list with three hundred dollars and ten dollars a
month during the war. Others followed, giving according to their
ability. One man gave for himself, as well as for his wife and all his
children. On taking his seat and speaking to his wife, he jumped up and
added one dollar for the new baby that he had forgotten. When money gave
out other belongings were sacrificed. One man gave twenty-five bushels
of wheat, another ten cords of wood, another his saddle, another a gun.
A notary gave twenty dollars in fees. A cattleman brought down the house
when he said, "I have no money, but I will give a cow, and a calf a
month as long as the war lasts." The following day it was my joy as
secretary to auction off the merchandise. When all was forwarded to San
Francisco we were told we had won first honors, averaging over
twenty-five dollars for each voter in the town.
One interesting circumstance was the consignment to me of the first
shipments of two novelties that afterward became very common. The
discovery of coal-oil and the utilization of kerosene for lighting date
back to about 1859. The first coal-oil lamps that came to Humboldt were
sent to me for display and introduction. Likewise, about 1860, a Grover
& Baker sewing-machine was sent up for me to exhibit. By way of showing
its capabilities, I sewed the necessary number of yard-widths of the
length of Murdock's Hall to make a new ceiling, of which it chanced to
stand in need.
Humboldt County was an isolated community. Sea steamers were both
infrequent and uncertain, with ten days or two weeks and more between
arrivals. There were no roads to the interior, but there were trails,
and they were often threatened by treacherous Indians. The Indians
living near us on Mad River were peaceful, but the mountain Indians were
dangerous, and we never knew when we were really safe. In Arcata we had
one stone building, a store, and sometimes the frightened would resort
to it at night. In times of peace, settlers lived on Mad River, on
Redwood Creek, and on the Bald Hills, where they herded their cattle.
One by one they were killed or driven in until there was not a white
person living between the bay and Trinity River. Mail carriers were shot
down, and the young men of Arcata were often called upon at night to
nurse the wounded. We also organized a military company, and a night
duty was drilling our men on the plaza or up past the gruesome
graveyard. My command was never called out for service, but I had some
fortunate escapes from being waylaid. I walked around the bay one
morning; a few hours later a man was ambushed on the road.
On one occasion I narrowly escaped participation in warfare. In August,
1862, there had been outrages by daring Indian bands, killing
unprotected men close to town. Once a few of us followed the tracks of a
party and traced the marauders across Mad River and toward a small
prairie known to our leader, Ousley the saddler. As we passed along a
small road he caught the sign. A whiff of a shred of cotton cloth caught
on a bush denoted a smoky native. A crushed fern, still moist, told him
they had lately passed. At his direction we took to the woods and
crawled quietly toward the near-by prairie. Our orders were to wait the
signal. If the band we expected to find was not too large, we should be
given the word to attack. If there were too many for us, we should back
out and go to town for help. We soon heard them plainly as they made
camp. We found about three times our number, and we retired very quietly
and made for the nearest farmhouse that had a team.
In town many were anxious to volunteer. My mother did not want me to go,
and I must confess I was in full accord with her point of view. I
therefore served as commissary, collecting and preparing quantities of
bread, bacon, and cheese for a breakfast and distributing a packed bag
to each soldier. The attack at daylight resulted in one death to our
command and a number to the Indians. It was followed up, and a few days
later the band was almost annihilated. The plunder recovered proved them
guilty of many late attacks. This was toward the end of the Indian war
that had for so many years been disastrous to the community, and which
in many of its aspects was deeply pathetic. Originally the Indian
population was large. The coast Indians were spoken of as Diggers, and
inferior in character. They were generally peaceful and friendly while
the mountain dwellers were inclined to hostility. As a whole they did
not represent a very high type of humanity, and all seemed to take to
the vices rather than to the virtues of the white race, which was by no
means represented at its best. A few unprincipled whites were always
ready to stir up trouble and the Indians were treacherous and when
antagonized they killed the innocent rather than the guilty, for they
were cowards and took the fewest possible chances. I have known an
Indian hater who seemed to think the only good Indian was a dead one go
unmolested through an entire campaign, while a friendly old man was shot
from behind while milking his cow. The town was near the edge of the
woods and no one was secure. The fine character whom we greatly
respected,--the debater of original pronunciation,--who had never
wronged a human being of any race, was shot down from the woods quite
near the plaza.
The regular army was useless in protection or punishment. Their
regulations and methods did not fit. They made fine plans, but they
failed to work. They would locate the enemy and detail detachments to
move from various points to surround and capture the foe, but when they
got there the bushes were bare. Finally battalions of mountaineers were
organized among men who knew Indian ways and were their equals in
cunning. They soon satisfied the hostiles that they would be better off
on the reservations that were provided and the war was at an end.
It was to the credit of Humboldt County that in the final settlement of
the contest the rights of the Indians were quite fairly considered and
the reservations set aside for their residence were of valuable land
well situated and fitted for the purpose. Hoopa Valley, on the Trinity,
was purchased from its settlers and constituted a reservation protected
by Fort Gaston and a garrison. It was my pleasure to revisit the scene
of my boyhood experience and assist in the transfer largely conducted
through the leadership of Austin Wiley, the editor and owner of the
_Humboldt Times_. He was subsequently made Superintendent of Indian
Affairs for the state of California, and as his clerk I helped in the
administration. When I visited the Smith River reservation, to which the
Bay Indians had been sent, I was hailed with joy as "Major's pappoose,"
whom they remembered of old. (My father was always called Major.)
Among the warm friendships formed at this time two stand out. Two boys
of about my age were to achieve brilliant careers. Very early I became
intimate with Alexander Brizard, a clerk in the store of F. Roskill, a
Russian. He was my companion in the adventure of following the Indian
marauders, and my associate in the church choir and the debating club.
In 1863 he joined a fellow clerk in establishing a modest business
concern, the firm being known as A. Brizard & Co.; the unnamed partner
was James Alexander Campbell Van Rossum, a Hollander. They prospered
amazingly. Van Rossum died early, Brizard became the leading merchant of
northern California, and his sons still continue the chain of stores
that grew from the small beginning. He was a strong, fine character.
The other boy, very near to me, was John J. DeHaven, who was first a
printer, then a lawyer, then a State Senator, then a Congressman, and
finally a U.S. District Judge. He was very able and distinguished
himself in every place in life to which he advanced.
In 1861, when my father had become superintendent of a Nevada County
gold mine, he left me to run the post-office, cut the timothy hay, and
manage a logging-camp. It was wartime and I had a longing to enlist. One
day I received a letter from him, and as I tore it open a startling
sentence caught my eye, "Your commission will come by the next steamer."
I caught my breath and south particulars. It informed me that Senator
Sargent, his close friend, had secured for me the appointment of
Register of the Land Office at Humboldt.
[Illustration: Presidential Commission as Registrar of the Land Office
at Humboldt, California]
There had been a vacancy for some time, resulting from reduction in the
pay from $3000 in gold to $500 in greenbacks, together with commissions,
which were few. My father thought it would be good experience for me and
advised my acceptance. And so at twenty-two I became a Federal
officeholder. The commission from President Lincoln is the most
treasured feature of the incident. I learned some valuable lessons. The
honor was great and the position was responsible, but I soon felt
constrained to resign, to accept a place as quartermaster's clerk, where
I had more pay with more work. I was stationed at Fort Humboldt, where
Grant spent a few uncomfortable months in 1854. It was an experience
very different from any I had ever had. Army accounting is wholly unlike
civilian, books being dispensed with and accounts of all kinds being
made in quadruplicate. I shed quantities of red ink and made my monthly
papers appear well. I had no responsibility and obeyed orders, but I
could not be wholly comfortable when I covered in all the grain that
every mule was entitled to when I had judicial knowledge that he had
been turned out to grass. Nor could I believe that the full amount of
cordwood allowed officers was consumed when fires were infrequent. I was
only sure that it was paid for. Aside from these ethical informalities
the life was socially agreeable, and there is glamour in the military.
My period of service was not very long. My father had settled in San
Francisco and the family had joined him. I was lonely, and when my
friend, the new Superintendent of Indian Affairs, offered me employment
I forsook Fort Humboldt and took up my residence in the city by the
THE REAL BRET HARTE
Before taking up the events related to my residence in San Francisco I
wish to give my testimony concerning Bret Harte, perhaps the most
interesting character associated with my sojourn in Humboldt. It was
before he was known to fame that I knew him; but I am able to correct
some errors that have been made and I believe can contribute to a more
just estimate of him as a literary artist and a man.
He has been misjudged as to character. He was a remarkable personality,
who interpreted an era of unusual interest, vital and picturesque, with
a result unparalleled in literary annals. When he died in England in
1902 the English papers paid him very high tribute. The _London
Spectator_ said of him: "No writer of the present day has struck so
powerful and original a note as he has sounded." This is a very unusual
acknowledgment from a source not given to the superlative, and fills us
with wonder as to what manner of man and what sort of training had led
Causes are not easily determined, but they exist and function. Accidents
rarely if ever happen. Heredity and experience very largely account for
results. What is their testimony in this particular case?
Francis Bret Harte was born in Albany, New York, February 25, 1836. His
father was a highly educated instructor in Greek, of English-Jewish
descent. His mother was an Ostrander, a cultivated and fine character of
Dutch descent. His grandmother on his father's side was Catherine Brett.
He had an elder brother and two younger sisters. The boys were voracious
readers and began Shakespeare when six, adding Dickens at seven. Frank
developed an early sense of humor, burlesquing the baldness of his
primer and mimicking the recitations of some of his fellow pupils when
he entered school. He was studious and very soon began to write. At
eleven he sent a poem to a weekly paper and was a little proud when he
showed it to the family in print. When they heartlessly pointed out its
flaws he was less hilarious.
His father died when he was very young and he owed his training to his
mother. He left school at thirteen and was first a lawyer's clerk and
later found work in a counting-room. He was self-supporting at sixteen.
In 1853 his mother married Colonel Andrew Williams, an early mayor of
Oakland, and removed to California. The following year Bret and his
younger sister, Margaret, followed her, arriving in Oakland in March,
He found the new home pleasant. The relations with his cultivated
stepfather were congenial and cordial, but he suffered the fate of most
untrained boys. He was fairly well educated, but he had no trade or
profession. He was bright and quick, but remunerative employment was not
readily found, and he did not relish a clerkship. For a time he was
given a place in a drugstore. Some of his early experiences are embalmed
in "How Reuben Allen Saw Life" and in "Bohemian Days." In the latter he
says: "I had been there a week,--an idle week, spent in listless outlook
for employment, a full week, in my eager absorption of the strange life
around me and a photographic sensitiveness to certain scenes and
incidents of those days, which stand out in my memory today as freshly
as on the day they impressed me."
It was a satisfaction that he found some congenial work. He wrote for
_Putnam's_ and the _Knickerbocker_.
In 1856, when he was twenty, he went to Alamo, in the San Ramon Valley,
as tutor in an interesting family. He found the experience agreeable and
A letter to his sister Margaret, written soon after his arrival, shows a
delightful relation between them and warm affection on his part. It
tells in a felicitous manner of the place, the people, and his
experiences. He had been to a camp-meeting and was struck with the
quaint, old-fashioned garb of the girls, seeming to make the ugly ones
uglier and the pretty ones prettier. It was raining when he wrote and he
felt depressed, but he sent his love in the form of a charming bit of
verse wherein a tear was borne with the flowing water to testify to his
tender regard for his "peerless sister." This letter, too personal for
publication, his sister lately read to me, and it was a revelation of
the matchless style so early acquired. In form it seemed perfect--not a
superfluous or an ill-chosen word. Every sentence showed rhythm and
balance, flowing easily and pleasantly from beginning to end, leaving an
impression of beauty and harmony, and testifying to a kindly, gentle
nature, with an admiring regard for his seventeen-year-old sister.
From Alamo he seems to have gone directly to Tuolumne County, and it
must have been late in 1856. His delightful sketch "How I Went to the
Mines" is surely autobiographical. He says: "I had been two years in
California before I ever thought of going to the mines, and my
initiation into the vocation of gold-digging was partly compulsory." He
refers to "the little pioneer settlement school, of which I was the
somewhat youthful, and, I fear, not over-competent master." What he did
after the school-teaching episode he does not record. He was a stage
messenger at one time. How long he remained in and around the mines is
not definitely known, but it seems clear that in less than a year of
experience and observation he absorbed the life and local color so
thoroughly that he was able to use it with almost undiminished freshness
for forty years.
It was early in 1857 that Bret Harte came to Humboldt County to visit
his sister Margaret, and for a brief time and to a limited extent our
lives touched. He was twenty-one and I was sixteen, so there was little
intimacy, but he interested and attracted me as a new type of manhood.
He bore the marks of good breeding, education, and refinement. He was
quiet of manner, kindly but not demonstrative, with a certain reserve
and aloofness. He was of medium height, rather slight of figure, with
strongly marked features and an aquiline nose. He seemed clever rather
than forcible, and presented a pathetic figure as of one who had gained
no foothold on success. He had a very pleasant voice and a modest
manner, and never talked of himself. He was always the gentleman,
exemplary as to habits, courteous and good-natured, but a trifle
aristocratic in bearing. He was dressed in good taste, but was evidently
in need of income. He was willing to do anything, but with little
ability to help himself. He was simply untrained for doing anything that
needed doing in that community.
He found occasional work in the drugstore, and for a time he had a small
private school. His surviving pupils speak warmly of his sympathy and
kindness. He had little mechanical ability. I recall seeing him try to
build a fence one morning. He bravely dug postholes, but they were
pretty poor, and the completed fence was not so very straight. He was
genial and uncomplaining, and he made a few good friends. He was an
agreeable guest, and at our house was fond of a game of whist. He was
often facetious, with a neatness that was characteristic. One day, on a
stroll, we passed a very primitive new house that was wholly destitute
of all ornaments or trimming, even without eaves. It seemed modeled
after a packing-box. "That," he remarked, "must be of the _Iowan_ order
He was given to teasing, and could be a little malicious. A proud and
ambitious schoolteacher had married a well-off but decidedly Cockney
Englishman, whose aspirates could be relied upon to do the expected.
Soon after the wedding, Harte called and cleverly steered the
conversation on to music and songs, finally expressing great fondness
for "Kathleen Mavourneen," but professing to have forgotten the words.
The bridegroom swallowed the bait with avidity. "Why," said he, "they
begin with 'The 'orn of the 'unter is 'eard on the 'ill.'" F.B.
stroked his Dundrearies while his dark eyes twinkled. The bride's eyes
flashed ominously, but there seemed to be nothing she felt like saying.
In October, 1857, he removed to the Liscom ranch in the suburbs at the
head of the bay and became the tutor of two boys, fourteen and thirteen
years of age. He had a forenoon session of school and in the afternoon
enjoyed hunting on the adjacent marshes. For his convenience in keeping
run of the lessons given, he kept a brief diary, and it has lately been
found. It is of interest both in the little he records and from the
significant omissions. It reveals a very simple life of a clever,
kindly, clean young man who did his work, enjoyed his outdoor
recreation, read a few good books, and generally "retired at 9 1/2 P.M."
He records sending letters to various publications. On a certain day he
wrote the first lines of "Dolores." A few days later he finished it, and
mailed it to the _Knickerbocker_.
He wrote and rewrote a story, "What Happened at Mendocino." What
happened to the story does not appear. He went to church generally, and
some of the sermons were good and others "vapid and trite." Once in a
while he goes to a dance, but not to his great satisfaction. He didn't
dance particularly well. He tells of a Christmas dinner that he helped
his sister to prepare. Something made him dissatisfied with himself and
he bewails his melancholy and gloomy forebodings that unfit him for
rational enjoyment and cause him to be a spectacle for "gods and men."
He adds: "Thermometer of my spirit on Christmas day, 1857, 9 A.M., 40 deg.;
temperature, 12 A.M., 60 deg.; 3 P.M., 80 deg.; 6 P.M., 20 deg. and falling
rapidly; 9 P.M., at zero; 1 A.M., 20 deg. below."
His entries were brief and practical. He did not write to express his
At the close of 1857 he indulged in a brief retrospect, and an emphatic
statement of his determination for the future.
After referring to the fact that he was a tutor at a salary of
twenty-five dollars a month and board, and that a year before he was
unemployed, at the close he writes: "In these three hundred and
sixty-five days I have again put forth a feeble essay toward fame and
perhaps fortune. I have tried literature, albeit in a humble way. I have
written some passable prose and it has been successfully published. The
conviction is forced on me by observation, and not by vain enthusiasm,
that I am fit for nothing else. Perhaps I may succeed; if not, I can at
least make the trial. Therefore I consecrate this year, or as much as
God may grant for my services, to honest, heartfelt, sincere labor and
devotion to this occupation. God help me! May I succeed!"
Harte profited by his experience in tutoring my two boy friends, gaining
local color quite unlike that of the Sierra foothills. Humboldt is also
on the grand scale and its physical characteristics and its type of
manhood were fresh and inspiring.
His familiarity with the marsh and the sloughs is shown in "The Man on
the Beach" and the "Dedlow Marsh Stories," and this affords fine
opportunity for judging of the part played by knowledge and by
imagination in his literary work. His descriptions are photographic in
their accuracy. The flight of a flock of sandpipers, the flowing tides,
the white line of the bar at the mouth of the bay--all are exact. But
the locations and relations irrelevant to the story are wholly ignored.
The characters and happenings are purely imaginary. He is the artist
using his experiences and his fancy as his colors, and the minimum of
experience and small observation suffice. His perception of character is
marvelous. He pictures the colonel, his daughters, the spruce
lieutenant, and the Irish deserter with such familiarity that the reader
would think that he had spent most of his life in a garrison, and his
ability to portray vividly life in the mines, where his actual
experience was so very slight, is far better understood.
Many of the occurrences of those far-away days have faded from my mind,
but one of them, of considerable significance to two lives, is quite
clear. Uniontown had been the county-seat, and there the _Humboldt
Times_ was published; but Eureka, across the bay, had outgrown her older
sister and captured both the county-seat and the only paper in the
county. In frantic effort to sustain her failing prestige Uniontown
projected a rival paper and the _Northern Californian_ was spoken into
being. My father was a half owner, and I coveted the humble position of
printer's devil. One journeyman could set the type, and on Wednesday and
Saturday, respectively, run off on a hand-press the outside and the
inside of the paper, but a boy or a low-priced man was needed to roll
the forms and likewise to distribute the type. I looked upon it as the
first rung on the ladder of journalism, and I was about to put my foot
thereon when the pathetic figure of Bret Harte presented itself applying
for the job, causing me to put my foot on my hopes instead. He seemed to
want it and need it so much more than I did that I turned my hand to
other pursuits, while he mounted the ladder with cheerful alacrity and
skipped up several rungs, very promptly learning to set type and
becoming a very acceptable assistant editor.
In a community where popular heroes are apt to be loud and aggressive,
the quiet man who thinks more than he talks is adjudged effeminate.
Harte was always modest, and boasting was foreign to his nature; so he
was thought devoid of spirit and strength. But occasion brought out the
unsuspected. There had been a long and trying Indian war in and around
Humboldt. The feeling against the red men was very bitter. It culminated
in a wanton and cowardly attack on a tribe of peaceful Indians encamped
on an island opposite Eureka, and men, women, and children were
ruthlessly killed. Harte was temporarily in charge of the paper and he
denounced the outrage in unmeasured terms. The better part of the
community sustained him, but a violent minority resented his strictures
and he was seriously threatened and in no little danger. Happily he
escaped, but the incident resulted in his return to San Francisco. The
massacre occurred on February 5, 1860, which fixes the approximate time
of Harte's becoming identified with San Francisco.
His experience was of great advantage to him in that he had learned to
do something for which there was a demand. He could not earn much as a
compositor, but his wants were simple and he could earn something. He
soon secured a place on the _Golden Era_, and it became the doorway to
his career. He was soon transferred to the editorial department and
For four years he continued on the _Golden Era_. These were years of
growth and increasing accomplishment. He did good work and made good
friends. Among those whose interest he awakened were Mrs. Jessie Benton
Fremont and Thomas Starr King. Both befriended and encouraged him. In
the critical days when California hung in the balance between the North
and the South, and Starr King, by his eloquence, fervor, and magnetism,
seemed to turn the scale, Bret Harte did his part in support of the
friend he loved. Lincoln had called for a hundred thousand volunteers,
and at a mass meeting Harte contributed a noble poem, "The Reveille,"
which thrillingly read by Starr King brought the mighty audience to its
feet with cheers for the Union. He wrote many virile patriotic poems at
In March, 1864, Starr King, of the glowing heart and golden tongue,
preacher, patriot, and hero, fell at his post, and San Francisco mourned
him and honored him as seldom falls to the lot of man. At his funeral
the Federal authorities ordered the firing of a salute from the forts in
the harbor, an honor, so far as I know, never before accorded a private
Bret Harte wrote a poem of rare beauty in expression of his profound
grief and his heartfelt appreciation:
Came the relief. "What, sentry, ho!
How passed the night through thy long waking?"
"Cold, cheerless, dark--as may befit
The hour before the dawn is breaking."
"No sight? no sound?" "No; nothing save
The plover from the marshes calling,
And in yon western sky, about
An hour ago, a star was falling."
"A star? There's nothing strange in that."
"No, nothing; but, above the thicket,
Somehow it seemed to me that God
Somewhere had just relieved a picket."
This is not only good poetry; it reveals deep and fine feeling.
[Illustration: FRANCIS BRET HARTE]
Through Starr King's interest, his parishioner Robert B. Swain,
Superintendent of the Mint, had early in 1864 appointed Harte as his
private secretary, at a salary of two hundred dollars a month, with
duties that allowed considerable leisure. This was especially
convenient, as a year or so before he had married, and additional income
In May, 1864, Harte left the _Golden Era_, joining Charles Henry Webb
and others in a new literary venture, the _Californian_. It was a
brilliant weekly. Among the contributors were Mark Twain, Charles Warren
Stoddard, and Prentice Mulford. Harte continued his delightful
"Condensed Novels" and contributed poems, stories, sketches, and book
reviews. "The Society on the Stanislaus," "John Brown of Gettysburg,"
and "The Pliocene Skull" belong to this period.
In the "Condensed Novels" Harte surpassed all parodists. With clever
burlesque, there was both appreciation and subtle criticism. As
Chesterton says, "Bret Harte's humor was sympathetic and analytical. The
wild, sky-breaking humor of America has its fine qualities, but it must
in the nature of things be deficient in two qualities--reverence and
sympathy--and these two qualities were knit into the closest texture of
Bret Harte's humor."
At this time Harte lived a quiet domestic life. He wrote steadily. He
loved to write, but he was also obliged to. Literature is not an
overgenerous paymaster, and with a growing family expenses tend to
increase in a larger ratio than income.
Harte's sketches based on early experiences are interesting and
amusing. His life in Oakland was in many ways pleasant, but he evidently
retained some memories that made him enjoy indulging in a sly dig many
years after. He gives the pretended result of scientific investigation
made in the far-off future as to the great earthquake that totally
engulfed San Francisco. The escape of Oakland seemed inexplicable, but a
celebrated German geologist ventured to explain the phenomenon by
suggesting that "there are some things that the earth cannot swallow."
My last recollection of Harte, of a purely personal nature, was of an
occurrence in 1866, when he was dramatic critic of the _Morning Call_ at
the time I was doing a little reporting on the same paper. It happened
that a benefit was arranged for some charity. "Nan, the
Good-for-Nothing," was to be given by a number of amateurs. The _Nan_
asked me to play _Tom_, and I had insufficient firmness to decline.
After the play, when my face was reasonably clean, I dropped into the
_Call_ office, yearning for a word of commendation from Harte. I thought
he knew that I had taken the part, but he would not give me the
satisfaction of referring to it. Finally I mentioned, casually like,
that I was _Tom_, whereat he feigned surprise, and remarked in his
pleasant voice, "Was that you? I thought they had sent to some theater
and hired a supe."
In July, 1868, A. Roman & Co. launched the _Overland Monthly_, with
Harte as editor. He took up the work with eager interest. He named the
child, planned its every feature, and chose his contributors. It was a
handsome publication, modeled, in a way, on the _Atlantic Monthly,_ but
with a flavor and a character all its own. The first number was
attractive and readable, with articles of varied interest by Mark Twain,
Noah Brooks, Charles Warren Stoddard, William C. Bartlett, T.H. Rearden,