Part 2 out of 4
we call San Francisco.
What a mighty surprise was that sixty miles of peaceful water that had
so long remained hidden from European explorers, baffling the anxious
gaze of Cabrillo, the faithful explorations of Ferrelo, the eagle eyes
of Drake, and the earnest search of Vizcaino!
Pushing steadily on toward Point Reyes, Ortega encountered a second
surprise, when from the Presidio hills he looked down on beautiful
Golden Gate, whose rumpled waters seemed to say:--
"No farther can you come. We keep guard here."
Seeing that it was quite impossible for him to reach Point Reyes, Ortega
decided to return to Portola. He found the commander and his party so
weakened by sickness and the lack of food that it had been decided to
explore no farther, but to return at once to the southern mission. After
a painful march of sixty days the party reached San Diego.
Bitter was the disappointment of Padre Junipero Serra at the failure to
found the mission of Monterey. he did not believe, as many of the party
reported, that the bay was filled up with sand. Keener still was his
grief when Portola, after looking over the supply of food, announced
that unless the ship San Antonio or the sloop San Jose arrived by a
certain date with provisions, they would have to abandon Upper
California and return to the peninsula.
The padre at once called the people together for a nine days' session of
prayer and other church services at which to pray for the coming of the
relief boat. Portola, though he attended the services, went steadily on
with his preparations for departure. On the morning of the day before
the one set for the beginning of the march toward Lower California, the
padres went to the heights overlooking the bay, where they remained
watching and praying. At sea a heavy fog hung over the water. Hour after
hour passed as they gazed out on the lovely bay. Noon came, but they
would not return to the mission to rest or eat. The afternoon wore away,
the sun sank in the clouds above the horizon, then, as all hope seemed
gone, the fog was lifted by a sunset breeze, and there, far out at sea,
they saw a white sail. The good men fell on their knees in thanksgiving,
while their Indian servants ran to carry the news to camp.
This vessel, the San Antonio, brought not only abundant provisions but
fresh orders from Galvez to hurry the work at Monterey. The settlement
of Upper California was now made certain.
An expedition by land and the San Antonio by sea immediately started
northward. A few weeks later Padre Junipero wrote to Padre Palou: "By
the favor of God, after a month and a half of painful navigation, the
San Antonio found anchor in this port of Monterey, which we find
unvarying in circumstances and substance as described by Don Sebastian
They even found Vizcaino's oak. Indeed, it is said on good authority,
that the oak remained standing until 1838, when the high tides washed
the earth from its roots so that it fell.
Soon the land expedition arrived, and one June morning in 1770 the
members of the two parties, all in their best attire, were gathered on
the beach for the purpose of founding the second mission. It must have
been a pretty scene,--the stanch little vessel San Antonio, gay with
bunting, swinging at anchor a short distance out, while on shore were
grouped the sailors in the bright dress of seamen of those times, the
soldiers in leather uniform, the governor and his staff in the handsome
costumes of Spanish officials, and the padres in their gray robes. Close
beside the oak a brush house had been built, bells hung, and an altar
erected. While the bells tolled, the solemn service of dedication was
held by Padre Junipero, and so was founded the Mission San Carlos de
Borromeo at Monterey.
Near each of the earlier coast missions there was also founded a
military station called a presidio, a name borrowed from the Roman
presidium. The word meant a fort or fortified town. These presidios were
intended to guard the safety of the missions from the wild Indians, and
to defend the coast from ships of other countries.
After the religious services Governor Portola proceeded to found the
presidio and take formal possession in the name of the king of Spain by
hoisting and saluting the royal banner, pulling up bunches of grass, and
casting stones, which was an ancient manner of taking possession of a
piece of land or country. The presidio of Monterey was for a long time
the site of the capital of Upper California and therefore most important
in the history of the state.
For the sake of better land and water the mission site was soon removed
about six miles, to the Carmelo River. Although not so wealthy as some
of the missions, it was the home of Padre Junipero Serra, president of
all the missions, and so its history is especially interesting.
The news of the settlement of San Diego and Monterey was received in
Mexico with great joy, and it was resolved to found five more missions
above San Diego. Four of these were San Gabriel, near the present site
of Los Angeles; San Luis Obispo, farther north; San Antonio; and San
Francisco. Before leaving the peninsula, Padre Serra had asked Galvez,
"And for Father Francisco, head of our order, is there to be no mission
for him?" To which Galvez had replied, "If Saint Francis wants a
mission, let him cause his port to be found and it will be placed
there." When the beautiful bay was discovered by Sergeant Ortega, it was
thought that this might be the harbor Saint Francis intended for
himself, but before naming it for the head of the order it was necessary
that it should be explored. Although two land expeditions were sent up
for this purpose, they were unsuccessful; and it was not until August,
1775, about four months after the eventful battle of Lexington had taken
place on the Atlantic coast, that white men first entered the Bay of San
Francisco in a ship.
Lieutenant Ayala of the Spanish navy, with the San Carlos, had the honor
of conducting this expedition.
He reached the entrance to the bay just as night was coming on. Not
liking to trust his vessel in a strange harbor, he sent forward a boat
to make explorations, and then, as it was a little slow in returning, he
daringly pushed on in the darkness into the unknown water. His small
craft bobbed and plunged in the rough water of the bar, darted through
Golden Gate, and came safely to anchor near North Beach. Soon after this
exploration it was settled that here Saint Francis should have his
Padre Junipero Serra appointed his friend Francisco Palou, who had now
joined him in his work in Upper California, to make this settlement, and
on the 9th of October, 1776, there was founded in that portion of San
Francisco known as the Mission District, at the corner of Sixteenth and
Dolores streets, the mission of San Francisco. This is often called
Mission Dolores from the name of a small lake and stream beside which it
was built. To-day the name San Francisco rests not only on the old
mission building, with its white pillars, but on the beautiful city
which is the metropolis of our western coast.
As fast as possible Padre Junipero hastened the establishment of
missions, choosing those places where there were the largest native
settlements. In the vicinity of Monterey Bay there were, besides the San
Carlos mission, Santa Cruz on the northern curve of the bay, and in the
fertile valley back of the Santa Cruz Mountains the missions of Santa
Clara, San Jose, and San Juan Bautista. Farther south on a lonely height
stood Soledad, and much farther south, San Miguel.
The Indians along the Santa Barbara Channel, of whom there were a great
many, were more intelligent and industrious than in other portions of
the country settled by the missionaries, and here were the missions of
Santa Barbara, San Buenaventura, La Purisima, and Santa Inez.
In the south, in the fertile valley where are now the great grain fields
of Los Angeles county, San Fernando was founded. Between San Gabriel and
San Diego were placed San Juan Capistrano, San Luis Rey, and the chapel
of Pala. San Rafael and Solano, to the north of San Francisco Bay,
complete the list of twenty-one missions of Upper California.
It is impossible to give more than the names of most of these missions,
although about each many true and beautiful stories might be told. It
would be well if those who live near one of these noble ruins would seek
out its particular history and the stories connected with it. This would
be interesting and helpful work for the students in the schools of the
The story of the missions seems like a fairy tale, wonderful and unreal.
Into a wilderness inhabited only by savage men and wild animals,
hundreds of miles from any civilized settlement, there came these men
trained as simple priests.
Two by two they came, bringing with them, for the starting of each
mission, a few soldiers, seven to ten, a few converted Indians from the
missions of Lower California, a little live stock, some church
furniture, and always the bells; yet in a little over forty years they
had succeeded in founding a chain of missions whose sweet-toned bells
chimed the hours and called to prayer from San Diego to the Bay of San
Churches were built larger and often of a purer type of architecture
than those in the civilized well-settled portions of the land,--
buildings that have lasted for a hundred years and may last many years
longer if care is taken to preserve them. Canals of stone and cement and
dams of masonry were constructed that would do credit to our best
workmen of to-day.
The little packages of wheat and other grains, seeds from Spanish
oranges and olives, little dried bundles of grapevines from Mexico,
developed, under their care, into the great fields of grain, groves of
oranges and olives, and the wide-spreading vineyards of the mission
ranches. All these wonders were performed with Indian workmen trained by
But what the missionaries cared for more than their success in building
and planting were the thousands of baptized Indians at each mission.
These they instructed daily for the good of their souls in the truths of
the Christian religion, while for their bodily needs they were taught to
plow the earth, to plant seed, to raise and care for domestic animals.
They learned also many useful trades; and music, frescoing, and art were
taught those who seemed to have an especial taste for such things.
At the head of this great work was gentle Padre Junipero Serra, the most
interesting character in the history of the missions. He was frail and
slender and much worn by constant labor of head and hands, but his every
thought and action seemed to be for others. Back and forth from Monterey
to San Diego, from mission to mission, he traveled almost constantly,
teaching, baptizing, confirming thousands of his dusky charges. He was
president of all the missions, and besides this was bishop, doctor,
judge, and architect, as well as steward of the mission products and
Associated with him in his work were a group of noble men whose lives
were spent in caring for the native people with whom they worked and
among whom they finally died. The inhabitants of California may well
honor the mission padres for their earnest, unselfish lives, and in no
way can this be done so fully as in the preservation of the grand old
buildings they left behind, which are indeed fitting monuments to their
devotion, energy, and skill.
Beginning with San Diego, let us, in fancy, visit the missions in the
early part of the nineteenth century.
It is a winter day in the year 1813 when we ride up the broad,
wind-swept road which leads to the newly dedicated mission building of
San Diego. The wide plain that surrounds it is green with native grass
and the blades of young wheat. Of the two hundred cattle, one hundred
sheep, one hundred horses, and twenty asses brought up by Padre Junipero
in 1769 to be divided among the earlier missions, San Diego had only its
due share; yet under the wise management of the padres, they have now at
this mission, feeding on the green plains, thousands of cattle, horses,
and sheep, which are tended by comfortably clothed Indian herders. Near
the mission are the green and gold of orange orchards, the gray of the
olive, and the bare branches of extensive vineyards. At one side we see
a large kitchen garden where young Indians are at work planting and
As we draw up in front of the church, Indian servants come out to take
our horses. We dismount, and a padre who is superintending work in the
orchard comes and welcomes us with gentle courtesy. He sends us a
servant to show us to our room, a small square apartment with a hard
earthen floor and bare, whitewashed walls with no ornament but a cross.
The beds are of rawhide stretched over a frame. The covering consists of
sheets of coarse cotton grown and woven at the southern missions, and
blankets, coarse but warm, made by the Indians from the wool of the
Dinner at the padre's table we find most enjoyable. There is beef and
chicken, the frijole, or red bean of Spain, and other vegetables
prepared in a tasty manner peculiar to Spanish cooking, so we do not
doubt that the cook has been taught his trade by the padre himself. The
Indian boys who wait on the table also show careful training, performing
their duties quickly and quietly. Here we can find for bread the
tortilla,--still the food of the Indian and Mexican people of
California. It is a thin cake made of meal or flour and water, and baked
without grease on a hot stone or griddle. Wines made at the mission, the
favorite chocolate, thick and sweet, and some fruit from the padre's
garden complete the meal.
Dinner over, we visit the church and admire the striking contrast
between the red tiles of the roof and the creamy white of the walls. All
the buildings are made of bricks molded from a clay called adobe and
dried slowly in the sun. Each brick is twelve inches square by four
inches thick, and the walls are laid two or three bricks deep, those of
the church itself being nearly four feet in thickness. It seems almost
impossible that so large and well made a building could have been
constructed by untrained workmen. Next to the church are the rooms of
the padres, then the dining room and the quarters of the mission guard,
which consists apparently of but two men, the rest being at the
presidio, several miles away. Adjoining these are the storehouses and
shops of the Indian workmen, all of which open on the great courtyard.
In the courtyard is a busy scene. Blacksmiths with hammer and anvil make
sounding blows as they work up old iron into needed farm utensils. The
soap maker's caldron sends up a cloud of ill-smelling steam. At one side
carpenters are at work trimming and cutting square holes in logs for the
beams of new buildings which the padres wish to put up. Saddle makers,
squatted on the ground, are busy fashioning saddletrees, carving, and
sewing leather. The shoemaker is hard at work with needle and awl. These
and many other trades are all going on at once. These courts, which are
called patios, were generally several acres in extent and at the most
flourishing period of the missions each settlement often gave shelter to
over a thousand people.
Behind the central court is the home of the unmarried women. This, and
the rooms for their work, open on a separate square where there is shade
from orange and fig trees and a bathing pond supplied by the zanja, or
water ditch. Here square-figured, heavy-featured Indian girls are busy
spinning and weaving thread into cloth. Others are cutting out and
sewing garments. Some, squatted on the ground, are grinding corn into a
coarse meal for the atole, or mush. At the zanja several are engaged in
washing clothes. Here these girls live under the care of an old Indian
woman, and unless she accompanies them they may not, until they are
married, go outside these walls. Near the mission we visit a long row of
small adobe buildings, the homes of the families of the Christian
Indians; a neat, busy settlement where the little ones, comfortably
clothed, play about attended by the older children, while the mothers
work for the padres four or five hours daily.
Leaving San Diego and traveling northward along "El Camino Real," the
highway which leads from mission to mission, we reach San Luis Rey,
"King of the Missions," as it is sometimes called. Its church is the
largest of all those erected by the padres, being one hundred and sixty
feet long, fifty-eight feet wide, and sixty feet high. Its one square,
two-story tower has a chime of bells, the sweet clear tones of which
reached our ears while we were yet miles from the mission. Counting the
arches of the long corridor, we find there are two hundred and
fifty-six. This mission became very wealthy. At one time it had a
baptized Indian population of several thousand, owned twenty-four
thousand cattle, ten thousand horses, and one hundred thousand sheep,
and harvested fourteen thousand bushels of grain a year.
Its prosperity was due in a great measure to good Padre Peyri, who had
charge of it from its beginning. Many years afterwards, as we shall see,
the padres were ordered by the Mexican government to leave their
missions, the wealth they had gathered, and the Indians they had taught
and cared for. Father Peyri, knowing how hard it would be for him to get
away from his Indian children, as he called them, slipped off by night
to San Diego. In the morning the Indians missed him. Learning what had
happened, five hundred of them mounted their ponies in hot haste and
galloped all the way to San Diego, forty-five miles, to bring him back
by force. They arrived just as the ship, with Padre Peyri on board, was
weighing anchor. Standing on deck with outstretched arms, the padre
blessed them amid their tears and loud cries. Some flung themselves into
the water and swam after the ship. Four reached it, and, climbing up its
sides, so implored to be taken on board that the padre consented and
carried them with him to Rome, where one afterwards became a priest.
The next link in our chain, the most beautiful of all the missions, is
that of San Juan Capistrano. It was founded in 1776, the year of our
Declaration of Independence, but in 1812 it was destroyed by an
earthquake, the massive towers and noble arch falling in on the Indians,
who were assembled in the church for morning prayers. Many of them were
killed. The church has never been rebuilt.
It is Christmas Day when we reach San Gabriel, the next station on El
Camino Real. Inside the great cactus fence which incloses the square
about the mission we see a strangely mixed company,--Indians in their
best clothes, their faces shining from a liberal use of mission soap and
water; soldiers in their leather suits freshened up for the holiday; a
few ranchmen in the gay dress of the times, riding beautiful horses;
women and girls each brilliant in a bright-colored skirt with shawl or
scarf gracefully draped over head and shoulders.
The Christmas Day morning service, held at four o'clock and known by the
common people as the Rooster Mass, is long since over. The crowd is now
gathered for the Pastorel, which, like the miracle plays of the Middle
Ages, is a drama with characters taken from the Bible.
First to appear on the scene is an orchestra composed of young Indians
playing violins, bass viols, reeds, flutes, and guitars. Closely
following come the actors, representing San Gabriel and attendant
angels, Satan, Blind Bartimeus, and a company of shepherds. The
entertainment is very simple. There is the announcement of the birth of
the Savior, the adoration of the babe, and the offering of gifts. The
play concludes with a protracted struggle between San Gabriel and Satan
for the possession of Blind Bartimeus, in which the saint finally comes
off victor while the orchestra plays lively music. After the Pastorel
there are games, dancing, and feasting. Every one seems happy, and it is
with regret that we leave the gay scene.
Through the hills to the north, across the Arroyo Seco, not dry now, but
a swift stream turbulent from the winter rains, we journey on. We pass
Eagle Rock, a great bowlder high upon the green hillside, one of the
landmarks of the region, and enter the valley of the Los Angeles River.
After traveling for several hours, we come to a large plantation of
trees, vines, and grainfields, in the midst of which lies the mission of
San Fernando. Its land extends for miles on every side and is
exceedingly fertile. In front of the beautiful cloisters, under tall and
stately palm trees, a fountain sends high its sparkling water, which
falls back with pleasant tinkle into a basin of carved stone.
When we reach San Buenaventura, the next mission on our route, we find
priests and Indians exceedingly busy, for word has come from Monterey
that a Yankee trading vessel will soon sail for the south, and cattle
must be killed and the fat rendered into tallow for the market. As hides
and tallow are about the only commodities the padres have for sale, this
is an important event. Indians tend the caldrons of bubbling grease, and
keep up the fires under the kettles. When the tallow is slightly cooled,
they pour it into sacks made from the skins of animals. These, when
filled with the hardened tallow, look as though each again held a plump
Traveling up the coast we come one afternoon to
A golden bay 'neath soft blue skies
Where on a hillside creamy rise
The mission towers whose patron saint
Is Barbara--with legend quaint.
Here spring is merging into summer, and we are in time to see the
ceremony which closes the wheat harvest. The workmen gather the last
four sheaves from the field, and, fastening them in the form of a cross,
carry them, followed by a long procession of dusky reapers, up the
ascent to the church. As they approach, the bells burst out in a joyous
peal, and from the mission doors the padres come forth, one bearing a
cross, another the banner of the Virgin. A choir of Indian boys follows,
chanting a hymn. All advance slowly down the avenue to meet the sheaf
bearers, then counter march to the church, where the harvest festival is
Passing by other missions, we must close our journey with a visit to San
Carlos, the Monterey mission, most prominent of all in the history of
the church and state. It was from the first the special charge of Padre
Junipero Serra, and, at the time we see it, his monument as well; for in
it at last his weary body was laid to rest beside his friend Padre Juan
Crespi, to whose writings, next to those of Padre Francisco Palou, we
are most indebted for our knowledge of Junipero Serra and his great
work. In 1813, with its graceful arched front and two towers, San Carlos
was a noble-looking building, but since that time one tower has fallen.
We are reminded, as we look, of the scene when Junipero lay dying. Ever
since morning the grief-stricken people had been waiting, listening for
the news from the sick room. When the tolling of the bell announced that
the beautiful life was ended, crowds came weeping and lamenting, anxious
to see again the beloved face.
It was with great difficulty that the Indians could be kept from tearing
the padre's robe from his body, so earnestly did they desire to possess
some relic of the father they had loved so long.
Here we notice the daily life of the Indian, which (in 1813) is the same
at all the missions. At sunrise comes the sound of the bells calling to
the morning prayers, and we see the natives hurrying to the church.
After service they gather for breakfast of mush and tortillas. As the
flocks and herds have increased, meat forms part of the daily food,
sometimes from the freshly killed beeves, but generally in a dried state
called carne seco. After breakfast the workers go in groups to their
various employments. Dinner is served at eleven, and they have a resting
period until two. Then work is again taken up and continued until an
hour before sunset, when the bells call to evening prayer. Supper
follows the evening service, after which the Indians can do as they like
until bedtime. We see some engaged in a game of ball. Many are squatted
on the ground playing other games,--gambling, we suspect. In one group
there is dancing to the music of violin and guitar. There is laughter
and chattering on all sides, and to us they seem happy, at least for the
The life led by the Indians at the missions was not generally a hard
one. No doubt when they first came, or were brought, into the
settlements, from their free wild life, they found it harder to keep the
regular hours of the missions than to perform the work, which was seldom
very heavy. When disobedient or lazy, they were punished severely,
judging by the standards of to-day, but really no harder than was at
that time the custom in schools and in navies the world over. When the
soldiers came in contact with the natives, there was generally cruel
treatment for the latter. But as far as possible the padres stood
between their charges and the soldiers, always placing the mission as
far from the presidio as the safety of the former would allow.
At San Diego, about five years after its settlement, wild Indians
surprised the mission guard, and killed the padre and several of the
converted Indians in a most cruel manner. The Spanish government gave
orders that the murderers should be taken and executed and this mission
abandoned; but Padre Junipero begged so hard for the culprits, who, he
said, knew no better, having no knowledge of God, that he was finally
allowed to have his way. Gentleness and patience won the day; not only
the Indians who made the attack were converted, but many more of their
tribe, and the mission became a flourishing settlement. There was once a
rebellion among the Santa Clara and San Jose Indians, led by a young
convert from Santa Clara, which required soldiers from Monterey to put
down. Generally, however, the mission life was peaceful, the Indians
being fond of their padres.
When Mexico became free from Spain, no more money was sent up to pay the
soldiers or run the government in Upper California, and for a long time
the missions advanced the money for the expenses of the government.
After a time the new priests who came up from Mexico were not generally
men of such education and noble character as the early mission padres.
They cared less for missionary work, and were not so energetic. Their
influence was not always good for the Indians, who quickly saw the
difference between them and their old padres. They had little confidence
in the newcomers, so at the few missions where such as these were in
charge the Indians were disobedient, and received harsh punishments from
the padres; and trouble followed.
In 1833 the Mexican government decided to confirm the mandate issued by
Spain several years before in regard to the breaking up of the mission
settlements. By this law each Indian was to have his own piece of land
to own and care for. He was to be no longer under the control of the
church, but to be his own master like any other citizen. As for the
padres, they were to give up their wealth and lands, and leave for other
missionary fields. That this would create a great change in California
all realized; still it was no new idea, but the plan Spain had in mind
when the missions were first founded. The mistake was in supposing that
it was possible for a people to rise in so short a time from the wild
life of the California Indian to the position of self-supporting
citizens in a civilized country.
When the Indians understood this order, some were pleased and, like
children when freed from restraint, ceased to work and became
troublesome. Many, however, when they found that the padres were to
leave them, became very unhappy; some, it is said, even died from
homesickness for the mission and the padre. One committed suicide.
It was soon seen that they were not fitted to look after themselves.
Only a few years had passed since they were savages, knowing nothing of
civilized life, and they still needed some one to guide them. They not
only began to drink and gamble, but were cheated and ill-treated on all
sides, until many of them became afraid of living in towns and went back
to wild life. For this they were no longer fitted, and they suffered so
much from hunger and cold that great numbers of them died.
Because the Indians were not capable of caring for themselves at the
time of the secularization of the missions, the padres are often
severely blamed. It is said that they tried to keep the natives without
knowledge, in fact something like slaves. But the truth is that the
padres taught them by thousands, not only to cultivate the soil, to
irrigate wisely, to raise domestic cattle, but to work at every trade
that could be of use in a new country. They were encouraged to choose
from among themselves alcaldes, or under officers of the mission. In
this way every inducement was given to the Indian showing himself
capable of self-control, to rise to a prominent position in his little
world, where he generally ruled his fellow-workmen wisely and kindly.
Added to this, the Indians acquired, through the teaching and example of
the padres, a religion that has lasted through generations. The breaking
up of the mission settlements scattered the Indians through the country,
many of them going back to the wild life in the forest and mountains,
where they no longer had any religious instructions. Yet to-day, after
all the years that have passed, there are few Indians from San Diego to
San Francisco who do not speak the language of the padres and follow,
though it may be but feebly, the teaching of the Catholic faith, the
"Santa Fe" of the padres.
Some of the mission buildings, many of the flocks, and much of the land
fell into the hands of men who had no possible right to them. Orchards
and vineyards were cut down, cattle killed and stolen, and there was
only ruin where a short time before there had been thousands of busy
people leading comfortable lives. Soon the churches were neglected and
began to crumble away, bats flew in and out of the broken arches,
squirrels chattered fearlessly in the padre's dining room, and the only
human visitor was some sad-hearted Indian worshiper, slipping timidly
into the desolate building to kneel alone before the altar where once
Sweet strains from dusky neophytes
Rose up to God in praise,
When life centered 'round the missions
In the happy golden days.
For hundreds of years poets have written and singers have sung of the
loveliness of a country life, where there is no gathering together of
the inhabitants in great cities, no struggle to make money, where the
people live much out of doors, are simple in their tastes, healthy and
These dreams of an ideal life the Spanish-speaking settlers of early
California made real. In this land of balmy airs, soft skies, and gentle
seas there lived, in the old days, a people who were indifferent to
money, who carried their religion into their daily pleasures and
sorrows, were brotherly toward one another, contented, beautiful,
About the time that the mission of San Francisco was founded, the
Spanish government decided to lay out two towns, or pueblos, where it
was thought the fertile character of the soil would lead the settlers to
raise grain and other supplies, not only for themselves but for the
people of the presidios. Up to this time a large part of the food had
been brought, at a considerable cost, from Mexico.
We know that the governor, Felipe de Neve, chose the town sites with
care, for in the whole state there are nowhere more beautiful and
fertile spots than San Jose, near the southern end of San Francisco Bay,
and Los Angeles, near the famous valley of the San Gabriel River. In
founding these two pueblos, and a third which was located where Santa
Cruz now stands, the plan pursued was interesting and somewhat different
from the methods of settlement on the eastern coast of our country.
First there was chosen a spot for the plaza, or central square, care
being taken that it was not far from good grazing land suitable for the
settlers' stock. Around the plaza, lots were set apart for the
courthouse, town hall, church, granaries, and jail. Next were the lots
for the settlers, who each had, besides his home spot, several acres of
farming land with water, and the right to use the pasture lands of the
town. To each family was given, also, two horses, two cows, two oxen, a
mule, several goats, sheep, chickens, farming implements, and a small
sum in money.
Instead of asking tax money of the town people, some of the land was
reserved as public property to be rented out, the proceeds to be used
for the expenses of the government. Many people believe that this is the
wisest plan man has yet discovered for managing the expenses of a city,
town, or country.
Los Angeles had for many years a large amount of this land near the
center of the town, belonging to the city government. Gradually it was
taken up by settlers or appropriated by officials until, when the place
grew large and thriving, it was found that the land had become private
property; and finally the city had to pay large sums for parks and land
for public buildings.
Each pueblo was ruled by an alcalde, or mayor, and council, chosen by
the people. To advise with these officers, there was a commissioner who
represented the governor of the country. During the first few years the
pueblo was governed largely by the commissioner. Presidios, which were,
at first, forts with homes for the commander, officers, soldiers, and
their families, and were ruled by the commanding officer or comandante,
gradually became towns; and then they, too, had their alcalde and
council. There were four presidios--Monterey, San Francisco, San Diego,
and Santa Barbara.
In spite of all the gifts of free land, stock, and money, it was hard to
secure a suitable class of settlers. Many of those who came up from
Mexico to live in the pueblos were idle or dissipated, and nearly all
uneducated. When, after several years, a Spanish officer was sent down
from Monterey to convey to the Los Angeles settlers full title to their
lands, he found that not one of the twenty-four heads of families could
sign his name. Later a much better class of people came into the country
--men of education, brave, hardy members of good Spanish families, who
obtained grants of land from the government, bought cattle from the
mission herds, and began the business of stock raising.
This was the beginning of the pastoral or shepherd life. Each rancho was
miles in extent, its cattle and horses numbered by thousands. The homes
were generally built around a court into which all the rooms opened, and
were constructed of adobe bricks such as were used at the missions. In
the better class of homes several feet of the space in the courtyard
next the wall were covered with tile roofing, forming a shaded veranda,
where the family were accustomed to spend the leisure hours. Here they
received visitors, the men smoked their cigaritos, and the children made
merry. In the long summer evenings sweet strains of Spanish music from
violin and guitar filled the air, and the hard earthen floor of the
courtyard resounded to the tap-tap of high-heeled slippers, the swish of
silken skirts, and the jingle of silver spurs, as the young people took
part in the graceful Spanish dances.
It was no small matter to rule one of these great households. La Patrona
(the mistress) was generally the first one up. "Before the sun had
risen," said a member of one of the old families, "while the linnets and
mocking birds were sounding their first notes, my mother would appear at
our bedside. 'Up, muchachos, up, muchachas, and kneel for your Alba!'
The Alba was a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving for care during the
night, with a plea for help through the dangers and temptations of the
day. No excuse for lying abed was accepted; up, and on the floor we
knelt, then she passed on to where the mayordomo, or foreman, and his
men were gathering in the courtyard. Here, too, was the cook with the
Indian maids, busy making tortillas for the morning meal. 'Your Albas,
my children,' my mother would say in her clear, firm voice. Down would
drop mayordomo, vaqueros, cook, and Indian girls, all devoutly reciting
the morning prayer.
"After their prayer the children might, if they chose, return to their
beds, but before sleep could again overtake them there would probably
come from a distant room the voice of their aged grandfather asking them
questions from the Spanish catechism.
"'Children, who made you?' he would call in a quavering voice.
"A chorus of small voices would sing-song in response, 'El Dios' [God].
"Again he would question, 'Children, who died for you?'
"Again the reply, 'El Dios.'
"By the time the questions were all answered there was no chance for
Nothing was taken with the morning coffee but the tortilla. This was a
thin cake made of meal from corn ground by Indian women who used for the
grinding either a stone mortar and pestle, or a metate. The metate was a
three-legged stone about two feet in length and one in breadth, slightly
hollowed out in the center; grain was ground in this by rubbing with a
smaller stone. It took a great number of tortillas to serve the large
household. One Indian maid, kneeling beside a large white stone which
served as table, mixed the meal, salt, and water into balls of dough.
These she handed to another girl, who spatted them flat and thin by
tossing them from one of her smooth bare arms to the other until they
were but a little thicker than a knife blade. The cook then baked them
on a hot dry stone or griddle, turning them over and over to keep them
El Patron (the master) usually rose early, and after his coffee, put on
his high, wide-brimmed sombrero, and, attended by his sons, if they were
old enough, and his mayordomo, rode over his estate, looking after the
Indian vaqueros and workmen. One gentleman, a member of a fine Spanish
family which lived in the southern part of the state, used to ride out
with his sixteen sons, all of whom were over six feet in height.
Generally the families were large, often comprising twelve children or
more. These made merry households for the little people.
After breakfast it was the duty of the mistress to set the host of
Indian girls to their tasks. The padres were always glad to let the
young Indian girls from the mission go into white families where there
was a wise mistress, that they might be trained in both religious and
domestic duties. Going to the gate of the courtyard, the Patrona would
call, "To the brooms, to the brooms, muchachas," adding, if it were
foggy, "A very fine morning for the brooms, little ones;" and out would
come running a cluster of Indian girls carrying each a broom. At the
work they would go, sweeping as clean as a floor the courtyard and
ground for a large space about the house.
Next they flocked to the sewing room, often sixteen or eighteen of these
girls, to take up their day's work under the mistress's eye. Some made
garments for the ranch hands, those who were better work women attended
to the making of clothing for the family, while the girls who were the
most skillful with the needle fashioned delicate, fine lace work and
The children were seldom indoors unless it rained. There were no
schools; there were few ranches where there were teachers, and the
fathers and mothers generally had their hands too full to devote
themselves to their children's education, so in the early days it was
all playtime. Later, schools were started for boys, and dreadful places
As General Vallejo describes them, they were generally held in a narrow,
badly lighted room, with no adornment but a large green cross or some
picture of a saint hanging beside the master's table. The master was
often an old soldier in fantastic dress, with ill-tempered visage. The
scholar entered, walked the length of the room, knelt before the cross
or picture, recited a prayer, then tremblingly approached the master,
saying, "Your hand, Senor Maestro," when with a grunt the hand would be
extended to him to be kissed. Little was taught besides the reading of
the primer and the catechism.
Ranch boys early learned to ride, each having his own horse and saddle.
Every year there was a rodeo, or "round-up," held in each neighborhood,
where cattle from all the surrounding ranches were driven to one point
for the purpose of counting the animals and branding the young. Each
stock owner had to be there with all the men from his ranch who could
ride, nor must he forget his branding irons. These brands were recorded
in the government book of the department, and any one changing the form
of his iron in any manner without the permission of the judge was guilty
of a crime.
To the boys the rodeo was the most interesting time of the whole year.
The coming of the strange herds and vaqueros, the counting and the
separating of the animals, and the branding of the young stock made a
period of excitement and fun. Here was offered a chance for the display
of good horsemanship. Sometimes as the cattle were being gradually
herded into a circular mass, an unruly cow or bull would suddenly dart
from the drove and run away at full speed. A vaquero on horseback would
immediately dash after the animal, and, coming up with it, lean from the
saddle and seizing the runaway by the tail, spur his horse forward. Then
by a quick movement he would give a jerk and suddenly let go his hold,
when the animal would fall rolling over and over on the ground. By the
time it was up again it was tamed. Many a boy earned his first praise
for good riding at a rodeo.
Nowhere in the world were there better and more graceful riders. Horses
used for pleasure were fine, spirited animals. The saddle and the bridle
were generally handsomely inlaid with silver or gold. A California
gentleman in fiesta costume, mounted on his favorite horse, was a
delight to the eyes. His hat, wide in the brim, high and pointed in the
crown, was made of soft gray wool and ornamented with gold or silver
lace and cord, sometimes embroidered with rubies and emeralds until it
was very heavy and exceedingly valuable. His white shirt was of thin,
embroidered muslin, and the white stock, too, was of thin stuff wrapped
several times around the neck, then tied gracefully in front. The jacket
was of cloth or velvet, in dark colors, blue, green, or black, with
buttons and lace trimmings of silver or gold, often of a very elaborate
design. About the waist was tied a wide sash of soft material and gay
color, the ends hanging down at the side. The breeches were of velvet or
heavy cloth, dark in color, save when the rider was gay in his taste,
then they might be of bright tints. They either ended at the knee, below
which were leggings of deerskin, or fitted the figure closely down to
just above the ankle, where they widened out and were slashed at the
outer seam, showing thin white drawers, which puffed prettily between
the slashes. A gentleman in Los Angeles still has the trimmings for such
suit, consisting of three hundred and fifty pieces of silver filigree
Every one seemed to live out of doors, and though the ranchos were
widely scattered, there was much visiting and social gayety. All who
could, traveled on horseback; while the mother of the family, the
children, and old people used the clumsy carreta with its squeaking
One of the prettiest sights was a wedding procession as it escorted the
bride from her home to the mission church. Horses were gayly
caparisoned, and the riders richly dressed. The nearest relative of the
bride carried her before him on the saddle, across which hung a loop of
gold or silver braid for her stirrup, in which rested her little
satin-shod foot. Her escort sat behind her on the bearskin saddle
blanket. Accompanying the party were musicians playing guitar and
violin, each managing horse and instrument with equal skill.
The California woman generally wore a full skirt of silk, satin, wool,
or cotton, a loose waist of thin white goods, and, in cold weather, a
short bolero jacket of as rich material as could be obtained. A
bright-colored ribbon served for a sash, and a lace handkerchief or a
muslin scarf was folded over the shoulders and neck. In place of bonnet
and wrap a lace or silk shawl, or a narrow scarf called a rebosa, was
gracefully draped over the head and shoulders.
Children were dressed like the older people, and very pretty were the
girls in their low-necked, short-sleeved camisas or waists, and full gay
skirts, their hair in straight braids hanging down over the shoulders.
The short breeches, pretty round jackets, and gay sashes were very
becoming to the boys.
At night the daughters of the house, big and little, were locked into
their rooms by their mother, the father attending in the same manner to
the boys. In the morning the mother's first duty was to unlock these
Various games were played. Blindman's buff was a great favorite for
moonlight nights. There was also a game called cuatrito, in which the
players threw bits of stone at a mark drawn on the ground at a certain
"In my time," said a prominent Californian of to-day, "we used to play
this game with golden slugs instead of stones; there was always a basket
of slugs sitting door. We liked them because they carried well, and we
thought it nothing unusual to use them as playthings. They were abundant
in most of the houses; my mother and her friends used them as soap
dishes in, the bedrooms.
"In the spare rooms was always a little pile of money covered by a
napkin, from which the visitor was expected to help himself if he
needed. We would have considered it disgraceful to count the guest
"Our parents were very strict with us," said another Californian, "much
more so than is the custom to-day. Sometimes while the parents,
brothers, and sisters were eating their meal, a child who was naughty
had for punishment to kneel in one corner of the dining room before a
high stool, on which was an earthen plate, a tin cup, and a wooden
spoon. It was worse than a flogging, a thousand times. As soon as the
father went out, the mother and sisters hastened to the sorrowful one
and comforted him with the best things from the table."
The clothes were not laundered each week, but were saved up often for
several weeks or even a month or two, and then came a wash-day frolic.
Imagine wash day looked forward to as a delightful event! So it was,
however, to many California children. Senorita Vallejo, in the Century
Magazine (Vol. 41), thus describes one of these excursions:--
"It made us children happy to be waked before sunrise to prepare for the
'wash-day expedition.' The night before, the Indians had soaped the
clumsy carreta's great wheels. Lunch was placed in baskets, and the
gentle oxen were yoked to the pole. We climbed in under the green cloth
of an old Mexican flag which was used as an awning, and the white-haired
Indian driver plodded beside with his long oxgoad. The great piles of
soiled linen were fastened on the backs of horses led by other servants,
while the girls and women who were to do the washing trooped along by
the side of the carreta. Our progress was slow, and it was generally
sunrise before we reached the spring. The steps of the carreta were so
low that we could climb in or out without stopping the oxen. The
watchful mother guided the whole party, seeing that none strayed too far
after flowers, or loitered too long. Sometimes we heard the howl of
coyotes and the noise of other wild animals, and then none of the
children were allowed to leave the carreta.
"A great dark mountain rose behind the spring, and the broad, beautiful
valley, unfenced and dotted with browsing herds, sloped down to the bay
[of San Francisco]. We watched the women unload the linen and carry it
to the spring, where they put home-made soap on the clothes, dipped them
in the spring, and rubbed them on the smooth rocks until they were white
as snow. Then they were spread out to dry on the tops of the low bushes
growing on the warm, windless southern slopes of the mountain." After a
happy day in the woods came "the late return at twilight, when the
younger children were all asleep in the slow carreta and the Indians
were singing hymns as they drove the linen-laden horses down the dusky
As at the missions, soon the ranchos, little was raised for sale save
hides and tallow from the cattle. It was not the fault of the settlers
that, living in so fertile a country, they made so little use of its
productiveness. Spain's laws in regard to trade were made entirely in
the interests of the mother country, the settlers of New Spain,
especially of Alta California, having no encouragement to raise more
than they needed for use at home. They could not sell their produce to
ships from foreign countries, for the penalty for that was death to the
foreigner and severe punishment for the colonist. All trade had to be
carried on in Spanish vessels, and it was forbidden to ship olive oil,
wine, or anything that was raised or made in the home country. As
California and Spain were much alike in climate and soil, this law
really stopped all outside trade except that arising from cattle.
After the territory became a Mexican province, the rules were not so
severe in regard to foreign trade, and finally the New England vessels
freely entered the ports by paying certain duties to the government.
To the young people upon the ranchos the arrival of a trading vessel was
a great event. If the port was not far from the house, the Patrona and
the young ladies sometimes went on board to select for themselves from
the miscellaneous cargo the things they desired; but as they were
generally afraid of the water, especially of trusting themselves in the
ship's boats, the father and boys often represented the family on such
When news arrived that a ship was coming down the coast, elder sisters
became very kind and attentive to younger brothers, who accepted panocha
(a coarse brown sugar cast in square or scalloped cakes) and other gifts
contentedly, knowing well they would be expected to "coax Father" to buy
the ring, sash, necklace, or fan which the good sister particularly
desired. Often a ranchero would go down to the harbor with ten or
fifteen ox carts loaded with hides, skins, and tallow, and return with
ranch implements, furniture, dishes, sugar, other food, clothes, and
ornaments of all kinds. Such laughing, chattering, and excitement as
there was when the squeaking ox carts came into the courtyard! The whole
household, from the Patrona and her guests to the Indian mothers with
their children from the kitchen precincts, gathered to watch the slow
unloading of the purchases. Slow, indeed, seemed the process to the
eager children of the family. Except on horseback for a short dash, the
Californian never hurried. For a journey the usual gait was a little jog
trot, hardly faster than a walk.
Senorita Vallejo, in the Century Magazine, describes the loading of a
ship's cargo: "The landing place for the mission of San Jose was at the
mouth of a salt water creek several miles away. When a trading vessel
entered San Francisco Bay, the large ship's boat would be sent up this
creek to collect the hides and tallow; but if the season was a wet one,
the roads would be too bad for the ox carts; then each separate hide was
doubled across the middle and placed on the head of an Indian. Sometimes
long files of Indians might be seen, each carrying hides in this manner,
as they trotted across the wide, flat plains or pushed their way through
the little forest of dried mustard stalks to the creek mouth."
No such thing was known as a Californian breaking his word in regard to
a debt. Yankee ship owners trusted him freely. Once, when a ship was in
port, the captain left it for a little while in charge of the clerk
whose business it was to sell the goods, but who had never been in
California before and knew nothing of its customs. Down to the shore
came a ranchero attended by servants and ox carts. He came on board and
bought many things, intending to pay later with hides and tallow which
were not then ready. When he ordered the goods taken ashore with never a
word as to payment, the clerk informed him that he must either give
money or else give some writing saying that he would pay.
Now this Californian, though rich in lands and stock, could neither read
nor write. When he understood that he was being distrusted, he gravely
drew from his beard a hair, and, handing it to the clerk, said: "Give
this to your master and tell him it is a hair from the beard of Agustin
Machado. You will find it sufficient guarantee." The clerk saw that he
had made a mistake, and, taking the hair, placed it in the leaves of his
note book and allowed the goods to be taken away. When the captain
returned, he was mortified that there had been any distrust shown.
While California was a Spanish province its chief ruler was appointed by
the home government and was always an educated gentleman of good family,
generally an officer of the army. The coming of a new governor was a
great event in the colony and was celebrated with all possible ceremony
In 1810 Mexico began its revolt against Spain. In California the people
were in sympathy with the mother country and had no doubt of her final
success. For a long time they received little news of how the war was
progressing. They only knew that no more money was sent up to pay the
soldiers or the expenses of government, that the padres no longer
received any income from the Pius Fund, that even the trading vessels
from Mexico upon which they depended for their supplies had ceased to
Times became so hard that the local government turned for aid to the
missions, which had become largely self-supporting. Many of them were
indeed wealthy communities, and the padres responded generously to the
demand for help. For several years they furnished food and clothing to
the soldiers, and money for the expenses of government, for the most of
which they never received payment.
Gradually the fine clothes of the Californians wore out, no vessels
arrived from which they could purchase more, and again it was the
missions which came to the rescue. Their cotton and woolen goods were in
great demand. Indian spinners and weavers were busy from morning until
night making clothes for the "gente de razon," or "people of reason,"
which was the term by which the white settlers were distinguished from
In 1822 a vessel came up from the south, bringing to the governor
official notice that the war had been decided in favor of Mexico, and
that California was therefore a Mexican province. This was disagreeable
news to the Californians, but after consultation held by the governor,
his officers, the padre who was the president of the missions, and some
of the leading citizens, it was decided that they were too far away from
Spain to be able to resist, and that they should take the oath to be
true to the Mexican government. For the padres, who were all Spaniards
and loyal to the home government, this was a hard thing to do, and they
never became reconciled to the change.
From this time California was not so well governed. Mexico, which was
then an empire but soon became a republic, had its hands full looking
after its own affairs, and little attention was paid its far-off
province. Its best men were needed at home, and the governors sent up
the coast were not always wise or pleasing to the people. There were
several revolutions with but little bloodshed. One governor was sent
back to Mexico. At one time the Californians declared that theirs was a
free state, and a young man named Alvarado was made governor. General
Vallejo, who was his uncle, was given command of the army. But soon the
Californians quarreled bitterly among themselves, so that this
government did not last long and the territory went back under the rule
of Mexico. That government, in order to have peace in the province,
confirmed Alvarado and Vallejo in their positions.
During the war between Mexico and Spain a South American pirate paid a
visit to the coast of Upper California. Monterey was attacked and partly
destroyed, also the mission of San Juan Capistrano and the rancho El
Refugio, the home of Captain Ortega, the discoverer of San Francisco
Bay. In the crew of the pirate ship was a young American named Chapman,
who had found life among his rough associates not so interesting as he
had hoped it would be, so he deserted, but was taken prisoner by the
Californians and imprisoned in a canyon near the present site of
Pasadena. Later he was brought down to Los Angeles and set at liberty.
He found the people of the pueblo planning to build a church on the
plaza, and he told them that if they would let him have some Indian
workmen he would get some large timbers down from the canyon. He
accomplished this successfully, and it was considered a wonderful work.
The stumps of the trees can yet be seen far up on the mountain side, and
the timbers are still in the plaza church.
Visiting San Gabriel, young Chapman found the padres having trouble to
keep the flour which they ground in their new stone mill from being
dampened by water from the mill wheel. Knowing something of machinery,
the American remedied the defect by means of a flutter wheel, and there
was no more trouble.
For years the catching of otters for their fur along the lagoons and
bays about San Francisco and Monterey brought considerable money to the
northern missions. Chapman, finding that the padres of San Gabriel were
anxious to engage in this trade, built for them the first sea-going boat
ever constructed in southern California. It was a schooner, the various
parts of which he made in the workshop of the mission. They were then
carried down to San Pedro, where he put them together and successfully
launched the vessel.
Finally, to close his history, it is recorded of Mr. Chapman that he
fell in love with the pretty daughter of Captain Ortega, whose home he
had helped his pirate associates to attack, that he married her and
lived to a good old age. The country had few more useful citizens than
this capable man, the first American to settle in the southern part of
With the secularization of the missions in 1833-34 came a change in the
peaceful pastoral life. In each section all that was of interest had
from the first centered around its mission. One of the chief pleasures
of the early Californians was the feast day, "La Fiesta," which
celebrated a saint's birthday. During the year there were many of these
festivals. First there were religious exercises at the mission church;
then in the great square there followed dancing, games, and feasting, in
which all classes took some part. These happy church festivals ceased
with the breaking up of the mission settlements. Some of the Indians
disturbed the community by disorderly conduct, and the ill treatment and
suffering of the rest of these simple people caused sorrow and dismay in
the hearts of the better portion of the settlers. There was a wild
scramble for the lands, stock, and other wealth which had been gathered
by the missionaries and their Indian workmen.
Many of the beautiful churches were sold to people who cared nothing for
the faith they represented. In some, cattle were stabled. The mission
bells were silent, and many of the mission settlements, once so busy and
prosperous, were solitary and in ruins.
Life in the great ranchos still went on much as before, but it was no
longer so simple and joyous. A change had begun, and not many years
later, with the coming of the Americans at the time of the Mexican war,
the peaceful, happy life of Spanish California was brought to an end.
The Footsteps of the Stranger
At no point does the early history of California come in contact with
that of the colonies of the Eastern coast of the United States. The
nearest approach to such contact was in the year 1789, when Captain
Arguello, commander of the presidio of San Francisco, received the
following orders from the governor of the province:--
"Should there arrive at your port a ship named Columbia, which, they
say, belongs to General Washington of the American States, you will take
measures to secure the vessel with all the people aboard with
discretion, tact, cleverness, and caution." As the Columbia failed to
enter the Californian port, the Spanish commander had no chance to try
his wits and guns with those of the Yankee captain.
It would seem as though the Californians lived for a time in fear of
their Eastern neighbors, since prayers were offered at some of the
missions that the people be preserved from "Los Americanos;" but after
the coming of the first two or three American ships, when trade began to
be established, there arose the kindliest feeling between the New
England traders and the Californians. The ship Otter, from Boston, which
came to the coast in 1796, was the first vessel from the United States
to anchor in a California port.
La Perouse, in command of a French scientific expedition, was the first
foreigner of prominence to visit California. Of his visit, which
occurred in the fall of 1786, he writes in his journal: "The governor
put into the execution of his orders in regard to, us a graciousness and
air of interest that merits from us the liveliest acknowledgments, and
the padres were as kind to us as the officers. We were invited to dine
at the Mission San Carlos, two leagues from Monterey, were received upon
our arrival there like lords of a parish visiting their estates. The
president of the missions, clad in his robe, met us at the door of the
church, which was illuminated as for the grandest festival. We were led
to the foot of the altar and the Te Deum chanted in thanksgiving for the
happy issue of our voyage."
La Perouse's account of the country, the people, and the missions is of
great value in giving us a picture of these times. In regard to the
Indians he said that he wished the padres might teach them, besides the
principles of the Christian religion, some facts about law and civil
government, "Although," said he, "I admit that their progress would be
very slow, the pains which it would be necessary to take very hard and
Captain Vancouver, with two vessels of the British navy, bound on an
exploring voyage round the world, was the next stranger to visit,
California. So much did he enjoy the courtesy of the Spanish officers
that when his map of the coast came out it was found that he had honored
his hosts of San Francisco and Monterey by naming for them two leading
capes of the territory, one Point Arguello and the other Point Sal.
As early as 1781 Russia had settlements in Sitka and adjacent islands,
for the benefit of its fur traders, and in 1805 the Czar sent a young
officer of his court to look into the condition of these trading posts.
Count Rezanof found the people suffering and saw that unless food was
brought to them promptly, they would die from starvation. San Francisco
was the nearest port, and though he knew that Spain did not allow trade
with foreign countries, the Russian determined to make the attempt to
get supplies there. Loading a vessel with goods which had been brought
out for the Indian trade of the north coast, he sailed southward. The
story of his visit is well told by Bret Harte in his beautiful poem,
"Concepcion de Arguello."
Rezanof was warmly welcomed and generously entertained by Commander
Arguello of the presidio of San Francisco, but in vain did he try to
trade off his cargo for food for his starving people. The governor and
his officers dared not disobey the laws of Spain in regard to foreign
trade. While they were arguing and debating, however, something happened
which changed their views. The Count fell in love with the commander's
beautiful daughter, Concepcion. Then, as the poem has it,--
". . . points of gravest import yielded slowly one by one,
And by Love was consummated what Diplomacy begun."
It seemed to the governor that the man who was to be son-in-law in the
powerful family of Arguello could not be considered as a foreigner, and
therefore the law need not apply in his case. Thus the Count got his
ship load of food and sailed away, promising to return as soon as
possible for his betrothed wife. One of the most interesting pictures of
early California is the poem which tells of this pathetic love story.
Count Rezanof was so pleased with the beauty and fertility of California
that his letters interested the Czar, who decided to found a colony on
the coast. An exploring expedition was sent out, and the territory about
Russian River in Sonoma County was purchased of the Indians for three
blankets, three pairs of trousers, two axes, three hoes, and some beads.
Fort Ross was the main settlement, and was the home of the governor, his
officers and their families, all accomplished, intelligent men and
women. Besides the soldiers there were a number of mechanics and a
company of natives from the Aleutian Islands, who were employed by the
Russians to hunt the otter. Up and down the coast roamed these wild sea
hunters, even collecting their furry game in San Francisco Bay and
defying the comandante of the presidio, who had no boats with which to
pursue them, and so could do nothing but fume and write letters of
remonstrance to the governor of Fort Ross. Spain, and later Mexico,
looked with disfavor and suspicion upon the Russian settlement, but the
people of California were always ready for secret trade with their
In 1816 Otto von Kotzebue, captain of the Russian ship Rurik, visited
San Francisco and was entertained by the comandante, Lieutenant Luis
Arguello. With Captain Kotzebue was the German poet, Albert von
The Russian captain, with brighter faith and keener insight than any
other of the early visitors to the coast, says of the country: "It has
hitherto been the fate of these regions to remain unnoticed; but
posterity will do them justice; towns and cities will flourish where all
is now desert; the waters over which scarcely a solitary boat is yet
seen to glide will reflect the flags of all nations; and a happy,
prosperous people receiving with thankfulness what prodigal nature
bestows for their use will dispense her treasures over every part of the
In the writings of Albert von Chamisso can be found a most interesting
description of his visit. To him is due the honor of giving to our
Californian poppy its botanical name.
In 1841, the supply of otter having become exhausted, the Russians sold
their property and claims about Fort Ross to the Swiss emigrant, the
genial John Sutter. In 1903, through the agency of the Landmarks
Society, this property and its still well-preserved buildings came into
the possession of the state of California.
As early as 1826 there were a number of foreigners settled in
California. These were mostly men from Great Britain or the United
States who had married California women and lived and often dressed like
their Spanish-speaking neighbors. Captain John Sutter, the Swiss who
bought out the Russians of Fort Ross, came to California in 1839. He
obtained from the Mexican government an extensive grant of land about
the present site of Sacramento, and here he erected the famous Sutter's
Fort where all newcomers, were made welcome and, if they desired, given
work under this kindest of masters. Around the fort, which was armed
with cannon bought from the Russians, he built a high stockade. He
gained the good will of the Indians and had their young men drilled
daily in military tactics by a German officer.
Governor Alvarado, at the time of his revolution in 1837, had in his
forces, under a leader named Graham, a company of wandering Americans,
trappers and hunters of the roughest type. Although there was no real
war, and no fighting occurred, yet when Alvarado and his party were
successful, Graham and his men demanded large rewards, and because the
governor would not satisfy them they began to persecute him in every way
possible. Alvarado says: "I was insulted at every turn by the drunken
followers of Graham; when I walked in my garden they would climb on the
wall and call upon me in terms of the greatest familiarity, 'Ho,
Bautista, come here, I want to speak to you.' It was 'Bautista' here,
To express dissatisfaction they held meetings in which they talked
loudly about their country's getting possession of the land, until
Governor Alvarado, having good reason to believe that they were plotting
a revolution, expelled them from the territory and sent them to Mexico.
The United States took up the defense of the exiles and insisted on
their being returned to California. It does not seem that the better
class of Americans who had been long residents of the country
sympathized with Graham and his followers, but from this time there were
less kindly relations between the Californians and the citizens of the
United States who came into the territory.
We come now to the story of the conquest.
At the beginning of the year 1845 the United States and Mexico were on
the verge of war over Texas, which had been formerly a Mexican province,
but through the influence of American settlers had rebelled, declaring
itself an independent state, and had applied for admission to the
American Union. Because the question of slavery was concerned in this
application, it caused intense excitement throughout the United States.
The South was determined to have the new territory come in as a
slave-holding state, while the men of the North opposed the annexation
of another acre of slave land.
Eight Northern legislatures protested against its admission. Twelve
leading senators of the North declared that "it would result in the
dissolution of the United States and would justify it." On the other
hand, the South resolved that "it would be better to be out of the Union
with Texas than in it without her." The South won its point. Texas was
admitted, and at once a dispute with Mexico arose over the boundary
lines, and war at length followed, being brought on in a measure by the
entrance of United States troops into the disputed territory. During the
long discussion over Texas the United States was having trouble with
Great Britain over Oregon, which was then the whole country lying
between the Mexican province of California and the Russian possessions
on the north coast (now Alaska). Before the invention of steam cars and
the construction of railroads, the Pacific coast region had been thought
of little value. The popular idea was expressed by Webster when he said:
"What do we want of this vast, worthless area, this region of savages
and wild beasts, of deserts, of shifting sands and whirlwinds of dust,
of cactus and prairie dogs?" But now the United States was waking up,
and things looked different. Of Oregon the Americans were determined to
have at least a portion. California, so far away from Mexico and so
poorly governed, they would like to take under their protection,--at
least the region around the great Bay of San Francisco.
As early as 1840 the United States government urged its consul at
Monterey, an American named Larkin, secretly to influence the leading
Californians to follow the example of Texas, secede from Mexico, and
join the United States, where he was to assure them they would receive a
brother's welcome. Just as he felt he might be successful his plans were
One morning in 1842 there came sailing into Monterey Bay two American
men-of-war. Suddenly, to the consternation of those watching from the
shore, one of the ships was seen to fire upon an outgoing Mexican sloop.
After making it captive the three vessels proceeded to the anchorage.
Great was the excitement in Monterey. Neither the comandante nor the
American consul could imagine the reason for such strange conduct. It
was soon explained, however, by the arrival of a ship's boat bringing an
officer who delivered to the authorities a demand for the surrender of
the fort and place to the American commander of the Pacific fleet,
Commodore Jones, who was on board one of the newly arrived vessels.
The Mexican officials and the officers of the army were astonished; so,
too, was the United States consul. They knew of no war between these
countries. Since he had neither men nor arms to resist this strange
demand, Alvarado, who was acting for the absent governor, gave orders to
surrender, and the next day the Mexican flag and forces gave place to
those of the United States.
After the ceremony of taking possession, Commodore Jones had a talk with
the American consul, Mr. Larkin, and learned to his dismay that the
letters upon which he had acted and which indicated that war had been
declared were misleading, and from the latest news it was evident that
there was peace between the two countries.
The commodore saw at once that he had made a serious mistake, "a breach
of the faith of nations," as it was called, which was liable to involve
the United States in grave difficulties. How best to undo his rash
action was now his thought.
He apologized to the Mexican commander and gave back possession of the
fort. Next, he had the unhappy task of taking down the American flag and
replacing it with the cactus and eagle banner of Mexico, to which the
guns of his vessels gave a salute of honor. From Monterey he sailed away
to San Pedro. There he waited while he sent a messenger to Governor
Micheltorena, who was living in Los Angeles, asking permission to call
upon him and apologize in person. This request was granted, and
Commodore Jones and his staff came up to Los Angeles, where they were
the guests of their countryman, Don Abel Stearns, who, as he had been
working with Consul Larkin to win the Californians to the United States,
was most anxious to undo the mischief of the flag raising. For the
benefit of this history, Dona Arcadia Bandini, who was the beautiful
Spanish wife of Mr. Stearns, tells the story of the visit:--
"We gave a dinner to the governor, the commodore, and their attendants.
Everything was very friendly; they seemed to enjoy themselves, and the
uniforms of the two countries were very handsome. On the next day but
one the governor gave a ball. It was to be at his home, which was the
only two-story house in Los Angeles. To show the Americans how patriotic
the people of California were, the governor requested in the invitations
that all the ladies wear white with a scarf of the Mexican colors,--
red, green, and white. Of course we gladly complied, though some of us
had to work hard to get our costumes ready.
"The day of the ball came, but with it came rain, such a storm as I never
had seen. As it drew toward evening the water came down faster and
faster. The governor had the only carriage in California, and this he
was to send for the commodore, Mr. Stearns, Isadora, and myself; but the
poor young officers had to walk, and their faces were long when they
looked out at the rain and then down at their fine uniforms and shining
"Our California horses were not trained to pull loads and would not work
in the rain, so when the carriage came for us it was drawn by a number
of the governor's Cholo soldiers. We got in quite safely, and it was
only a short distance we had to go, but as I was getting out the wind
suddenly changed and down came a torrent of water on me. It was clear
that I could not go to the ball in that condition, but the governor
immediately ordered the soldiers to pull the carriage back to my home,
where I soon made another toilet. The ball was delightful. The governor
and the commodore vied with each other in exchanging compliments and
It was a sad fact, however, that in spite of apologies, dinners, and
balls, Consul Larkin now found it difficult to persuade his California
neighbors that the United States looked upon them as brothers, and they
began to regard with suspicion the host of American emigrants who were
coming into the territory.
In 1842 Lieutenant Fremont, under orders from the United States
government, made the first of his wonderful journeys over deserts and
rough mountain ranges into the great unknown West. Soon he was to become
famous, not only in his own country but in Europe, as the "Pathfinder,"
the road maker of the West. Already many an Oregon emigrant had blessed
the name of Fremont for making plain the trail for himself and his loved
In 1846 Captain Fremont, conducting an exploring and scientific
expedition, entered California with sixty men and encamped in the valley
of the San Joaquin. Later he moved down into the heart of the California
settlements and encamped on the Salinas River. Possibly, knowing that
war would soon be declared between his country and Mexico, he had
determined to see as much of the enemy's position as possible, not
caring particularly what the Mexican authorities might think.
As a natural result, General Castro, commander of the California forces,
objected; Fremont defied him, and there seemed a likelihood of immediate
war. There was no actual fighting, however, and in a day or two Fremont
continued his journey toward Oregon.
He had gone but a little way when he was overtaken by a captain of the
navy named Gillespie, bringing him letters from the officers of the
government at Washington. Upon reading these, Fremont immediately turned
about and marched swiftly back to Sutter's Fort, where he encamped. Just
what orders the messages from Washington contained, no one knows; but it
is thought that perhaps they informed Fremont that war would be declared
very soon and that the government would be pleased if he could quietly
get possession of California.
If this was so, he had the best of reasons for his later actions. If
not, then in his eagerness to obtain for his country the valuable
territory he so well appreciated and in his desire to win for himself
the honor of gaining it, he brought on a war that caused the loss of
many lives and much property, and the growth of a feeling of bitterness
and distrust between Americans and Californians that has not yet
entirely passed away. Still it is by no means certain that California
could have been won without fighting, even had Fremont and the American
settlers been more patient.
Soon many Americans were gathered about Fremont's camp; but though there
were a number of rumors as to what General Castro was going to do to
them, there was no action contrary to the previous kindly treatment all
had received from the hands of the Californians. Still the emigrants
felt that as soon as war was declared an army from Mexico might come up
which would not be so considerate of them and their families as had been
their California neighbors.
Having good reason to feel certain that Fremont would stand back of them
if they began the fight, a company of Americans attacked one of Castro's
officers, who, with a few men, was taking a band of horses to Monterey.
Securing the horses, but letting the men who had them in charge get
away, they hurried them to Fremont's camp, where they left them while
they went on to Sonoma. Here they made prisoner General Vallejo,
commander of that department of the territory, together with his brother
General Vallejo was one of the leading Californians of the north, a man
of fine character, quiet and conservative, generous toward the needy
emigrants and favorable to annexation with the United States. When he
saw the rough character of the men surrounding his house that Sunday
morning, he was at first somewhat alarmed. A man named Semple, who was
one of the attacking party, describing the event in a Monterey paper
sometime afterward, says: "Most of us were dressed in leather hunting
shirts, many were very greasy, and all were heavily armed. We were about
as rough a looking set of men as one could well imagine." When they
assured the general that they were acting under orders from Fremont, he
seemed to feel no more anxiety, gave up his keys, and arranged for the
protection of the people of his settlement. He was first taken to
Fremont's headquarters, then for safe keeping was sent on to Sutter's
Meanwhile the party which had been left in charge of affairs at Sonoma
chose one of their number, a man named Ide, as their leader. Realizing
that they had begun a war, they felt the need of a flag, and not daring
to use that of the United States, they proceeded to make one for
themselves. For their emblem they chose the strongest and largest of the
animals of California, the grizzly bear. The flag was made of a Mexican
rebosa or scarf of unbleached muslin about a yard in width and five feet
long. To the bottom of this they sewed a strip of red flannel; in one
corner they outlined a five-pointed star, and facing it a grizzly bear.
These were filled in with red ink and under them in black letters were
the words "California Republic." The temporary government of the
followers of the Bear Flag is generally known as the "Bear Flag
As soon as it seemed probable that the Californians under General Castro
were marching to attack the Americans, Captain Fremont joined his
countrymen, and from that time the United States flag took the place of
the banner of the bear. A little later Captain Fremont took the presidio
and port of San Francisco, and to him is due the honor of naming
beautiful Golden Gate.
About two weeks after the capture of Sonoma, Commodore Sloat, with two
vessels of the United States navy, entered the harbor of Monterey.
Although he had come for the purpose of taking the territory for his
country, and had orders to see to it that England did not get possession
of California ahead of him, yet he had been cautioned to deal kindly
with the Californians, and he hesitated to take decided steps. It took
him six days to make up his mind, and then he came to a decision partly
on account of the actions of Fremont and his men. Slowly up the
flagstaff on the fort of Monterey rose the Stars and Stripes. Unfolded
by the sea breeze, the beautiful flag of the United States waved again
over the land of the padres, and this time to stay. A few days later
Commodore Stockton reached California to take command in place of
Commodore Sloat, who returned home. Stockton appointed Fremont commander
of the American forces on land, and together they completed the conquest
of the territory.
It was unfortunate that Commodore Stockton had so lately arrived from
the East that he did not fully understand the state of affairs. As he
believed the wild rumors which, falsely, accused the Californians of
treachery and cruelty, his proclamations were harsh and unjust to the
proud but kindly people whom he was conquering. Many of the late
historians find much to blame in the treatment given by the Americans to
the people of California. Severity was often used when kindness would
have had far better effect.
Los Angeles and San Diego were taken by Stockton and Fremont without any
fighting, and leaving a few troops in the south, both commanders
returned to Monterey. They were soon recalled by the news that the
people of Los Angeles had risen against the harsh rule of Captain
Gillespie, who had been left in command; that the Americans had
surrendered but had been allowed to retire to San Pedro, and that all
the south was in a state of active rebellion.
Landing at San Pedro, Stockton waited a few days, then fearing the enemy
was too strong for his forces, sailed away to San Diego. Here the
Americans received a hearty welcome, and much-needed assistance, from
the Spanish families of Bandini and Arguello.
Mr. Bandini escorted a body of the United States troops to his home
rancho on the peninsula of Lower California, where he gave them cattle
and other food supplies. For this aid to the invaders he was forced to
remove his family from their home there, and on the journey up to San
Diego. Mrs. Bandini made what was probably the first American flag ever
constructed in California. As they neared San Diego the officer in
command discovered that he had neglected to take with him a flag. He did
not wish to enter the settlement without one, and when the matter was
explained to Mrs. Bandini, who was journeying in a carreta with her
maids and children, she offered to supply the need.
From the handbag on her arm came needle, thimble, thread, and scissors,
and from the clothing of her little ones the necessary red, white, and
blue cloth. Under the direction of the young officer she soon had a very
fair-looking flag, and beneath its folds the party marched into the
town. That night the band of the flagship Congress serenaded Mrs.
Bandini in her San Diego home, and the next day Commodore Stockton
called to thank her in person. The flag, it is said, he sent to
Washington, where it is still to be found with other California
The most severe battle of the war in the state of California was fought
on the San Pasqual rancho in San Diego County. The forces engaged were
those of General Andres Pico, who commanded the Californians, and
General Stephen Kearny, who had marched overland, entered the territory
on the southwest, and was on his way to join Stockton. Hearing that the
country was conquered and the fighting over, the American officer had
sent back about two hundred of his men, but he was afterward reinforced
by Captain Gillespie and fifty men sent by Stockton to meet him. Several
American officers were killed in the battle of San Pasqual, and their
brave commander severely wounded.
Commodore Stockton, on his march from San Diego to Los Angeles, twice
engaged the enemy, once at the crossing of the San Gabriel River and
once on the Laguna rancho just east of the city. The Californians
behaved with great bravery. All of them were poorly armed, many having
only lances and no fire-arms, and what powder they had was almost
worthless; yet three times they dashed upon the square of steadily
firing United States marines.
This was the last battle in the territory. The Californians retreated
across the hills to the present site of Pasadena. Here, at the little
adobe house on the banks of the Arroyo Seco, they separated. General
Flores, their commander, was to ride with his staff through the stormy
night, down El Camino Real toward Mexico. General Andres Pico, upon whom
devolved the duty of surrender, was to ride with his associates to the
old Cahuenga ranch house, the first station on the highway from Los
Angeles to Santa Barbara. There he met Captain Fremont, and the treaty
was signed which closed hostilities. The terms proposed by Fremont were
favorable for the Californians and did much to make way for a peaceful
settlement of all difficulties.
At the Touch of King Midas
It was by chance that gold was discovered in both northern and southern
California, and by chance that many great fortunes were made.
Juan Lopez, foreman of the little ranch of St. Francis in Los Angeles
County, one morning in March, 1842, while idly digging up a wild onion,
or brodecia, discovered what he thought lumps of gold clinging to its
roots. Taking samples of the metal, he rode down to Los Angeles to the
office of Don Abel Stearns, who recognized it as gold.
Soon Juan and his companions were busy digging and washing the earth and
sands in the region where the little wild flowers grew. These mines were
called "placer," from a Spanish word meaning loose or moving about,
because the metal was loosely mixed with sand and gravel, generally in
the bed of a stream or in a ravine where there had once been a flow of
water which had brought the gold down from its home in the mountains.
From these mines Don Abel Stearns sent, in a sailing vessel round Cape
Horn, the first parcel of California gold dust ever received at the
United States mint, and it proved to be of very good quality.
The San Fernando mines, as they were called, because they were on a
ranch that had once belonged to San Fernando mission, yielded many
thousand dollars' worth of gold dust. It is on record that one firm in
Los Angeles, which handled most of the gold from these and other mines
of southern California, paid out in the course of twenty years over two
million dollars for southern gold.
The true golden touch, however, was to come in a different part of the
territory among people of another race and tongue. It was to transform
California from an almost unknown land with slight and scattered
population to a community so rich as to disturb the money markets of the
world; a community sheltering a great host of people, all young, all
striving eagerly for the fortunes they had traveled thousands of miles
After the signing of the treaty of Cahuenga between Colonel Fremont and
General Pico, the Spanish-speaking people settled down quietly and
peacefully. The only disagreements were between the American leaders,
General Kearny and Commodore Stockton, and between Kearny and Fremont,
who had been appointed by Stockton military governor of the territory.
This appointment General Kearny disputed. General Vallejo tells in one
of his letters of having received on the same day communication from
Kearny, Stockton, and Fremont, each signing himself commander-in-chief.
Whoever was right in the quarrel, Fremont was the chief sufferer, for
General Kearny, after Stockton left, ordered him to return East under
arrest and at Washington to undergo a military trial or court-martial
for mutiny and disobedience of orders. Although the court found him
guilty and sentenced him to be dismissed from the army, the President,
remembering his services in the exploration of the West, and quite
possibly thinking him not the person most to blame, pardoned and
restored him to his position. Fremont, feeling that he had done nothing
wrong, refused the pardon and resigned from the army. The next year the
new President, Taylor, showed his opinion of the matter by appointing
Fremont to conduct the important work of establishing the boundaries
between the United States and Mexico.
General Kearny, when he departed for the East, left Colonel Mason, of
the regular army, as military governor of California. Mason chose as his
adjutant, or secretary, a young lieutenant named Sherman, who, years
later, in the Civil War, by his wonderful march through the heart of the
South, came to be considered one of the greatest generals of his time.
Soon after the Mexican war many settlers were gathered about Sutter's
Fort and San Francisco Bay. There were about two thousand Americans,
most of them strong, hardy men, all overjoyed that the territory was in
the hands of the United States and all eager to know what would finally
be decided in regard to it. Reports kept arriving of parties of
emigrants that were about to start overland for California.
"They are as certain to come as that the sun will rise to-morrow," said
genial Captain Sutter, "and as the overland trail ends at my rancho, I
must be ready to furnish them provisions. They are always hungry when
they get there, especially the tired little children, and the only thing
for me to do is to build a flour mill to grind my grain."
"Well and good," said James Marshall, one of his assistants, an American
by birth, a millwright by trade; "but to build a flour mill requires
lumber, and lumber calls for a sawmill."
"We will build it, too," said Sutter. "Take a man and provisions and go
up toward the mountains; there must be good places on my land. I leave
it all in your hands." The place was found on a swift mountain stream.
Near the present site of Coloma, in the midst of pine forests, on the
water soon to be so well known as the American River, the sawmill was
located. Marshall also marked out a rough wagon road forty-five miles
long down to the fort. Captain Sutter was delighted.
"Set to work as soon as you like, Marshall," he exclaimed. "This is your
business." Soon the mill was built and almost ready for use.
"You may let the water into the mill race to-night," said Marshall to
his men. "I want to test it and also to carry away some of the loose
dirt in the bed."
Down came the water with a rush, carrying off before it the loose earth;
all night it ran, leaving the race with a clean, smooth bed. The next
day, Monday, January 24, 1848,--wonderful day for California--James
Marshall went out to look at the mill race to see if everything was
ready to begin work.
"To-morrow," thought he, "we will commence sawing, and put things
through as fast as possible. The men are waiting, we have plenty of
trees down, there is nothing to hinder;" but at that moment as he walked
beside the bed of the tail race he saw some glittering yellow particles
among its sands. He stopped and picked one up. The golden touch had
The following is Marshall's own description as published in the Century
Magazine (Vol. 41). "It made my heart thump, for I was certain it was
gold. Yet it did not seem to be of the right color; all the gold coin I
had seen was of a reddish tinge; this looked more like brass. I recalled
to mind all the metals I had seen or heard of, but I could find none
that resembled this. Suddenly the idea flashed across my mind that it
might be iron pyrites. I trembled to think of it."
Finally, to make sure, Marshall, like Juan Lopez, mounted his horse and
rode away to find some one with more knowledge than himself. That some
one was Captain Sutter, who looked in his encyclopedia, probably the
only one in the territory at that time, and by comparing the weight of
the metal with the weight of an equal bulk of water found its specific
gravity, which proved it to be gold. Still Sutter thought that he should
like better authority. General Sherman, in Memoirs, tells how the news
came to Monterey, where, he was the governor's gay young military
"I remember one day, in the spring of 1848, that two men, Americans,
came into the office and inquired for the Governor. I asked their
business, and one answered that they had just come down from Captain
Sutter on special business and they wanted to see Governor Mason in
person. I took them in to the colonel and left them together. After some
time the colonel came to his door and called to me. I went in and my
attention was directed to a series of papers unfolded on his table, in
which lay about half an ounce of placer gold.
"Mason said tome, 'What is that?' I touched it and examined one or two
of the larger pieces and asked, 'Is it gold?' I said that if that were
gold it could be easily tested, first by its malleability and next by
acids. I took a piece in my teeth and the metallic lustre was perfect. I
then called to the clerk, Baden, to bring in an ax and hatchet from the
backyard. When these were brought, I took the largest piece and beat it
out flat, and beyond doubt it was metal and a pure metal. Still we
attached little importance to the fact, for gold was known to exist at
San Fernando at the south and yet was not considered of much value."
About this time some of the business men who had settled in the little
town of Yerba Buena, finding that all ships that entered the harbor were
sent by their owners not to Yerba Buena, of which they knew nothing, but
to San Francisco, persuaded the town council to change the name of the
settlement from Yerba Buena to San Francisco, which was already the name
of the mission and presidio.
"Gold! Gold!! Gold!!! from the American River," cried a horseman from
the mines, riding down Market Street, waving his hat in one hand, a
bottle of gold dust in the other.
When words like these dropped from the lips of a messenger in any of the
little communities, the result was like a powerful explosion. Everybody
scattered, not wounded and dying, however, but full of life, ready to
endure anything, risk anything, for the sake of finding the precious
metal which enables its owner to have for himself and those he loves the
comfortable and beautiful things of the world.
The result at San Francisco is thus described in one of its newspapers
of 1848: "Stores are closed, places of business vacated, a number of
houses tenantless, mechanical labor suspended or given up entirely,
nowhere the pleasant hum of industry salutes the ear as of late; but as
if a curse had arrested our onward course of enterprise, everything
wears a desolate, sombre look. All through the Sundays the little church
on the plaza is silent. All through the week the door of the alcalde's
office remains locked. As for the shipping, it is left at anchor; first
sailors, then officers departing for the mines."
And how was it at the logging camp where Marshall made his great
discovery? The new sawmill, built with such high hopes, was soon silent
and deserted. No more logs were cut, and no lumber hauled down for the
flour mill. There were no men to be found who were willing to cut and
saw logs, build mills, or put in the spring wheat when they might be
finding their fortunes at the mines.
The newly arrived emigrants suffered no doubt from hunger; maybe the
children cried for bread; but most of the men, as soon as they had
rested a little and knew what was going on, got together money enough to
buy the simple implements of knife, pan, pick, and cradle, which were
all the tools necessary for the easy placer mining of those days, and
joined the endless procession of those who were pushing up toward the
streams and canyons round Sutter's famous sawmill.
As summer came on, the excitement became intense. Not only from the
region around San Francisco Bay, but from San Diego and Los Angeles,
people came flocking to the mines. Reports were current of men finding
hundreds of dollars' worth of gold a day, gaining a fortune in a few
weeks. It was almost impossible to hire laborers either in San Francisco
or on the ranches. Even the soldiers caught the gold fever and deserted.
In the summer, Governor Mason and Lieutenant Sherman visited the mines.
Upon their return to Monterey, having seen for themselves that many even
of the wildest rumors were true, they made arrangements to send on to
Washington official announcement of the discovery.
How this was accomplished is interesting. A lieutenant of the army was
appointed by the governor for the important office, and a can of sample
gold was purchased.
The only vessel on the coast ready for departure was a boat bound for
Peru. On this ship the lieutenant with his pot of gold and the
governor's report embarked at Monterey. He reached the Peruvian port
just in time to catch the British steamer back to Panama. Crossing the
Isthmus on horseback, he took a steamer for Kingston, Jamaica. There he
found a vessel just leaving for New Orleans. Reaching that city he at
once telegraphed the news to Washington, trusting it would be in time to
form part of the President's message.
On December 5, 1848, the President, in his message to Congress, after
speaking of the discovery of gold in California, said, "The accounts of
the abundance of gold in that territory are of such extraordinary
character as would scarcely command belief but for the authentic reports
of officers in the public service who have visited the mineral districts
and drew the facts which they detail from personal observation."
The certainty that the wonderful reports of the gold country were true,
electrified not only the whole country but the whole civilized world.
Large numbers of people began immediate preparation for making the
overland journey as soon as the weather should permit; while others, too
impatient to wait, left for California by the way of the Isthmus.
In February, 1849, there arrived at Monterey the Panama, the first
steamboat to visit the coast. The whole population turned out to see and
welcome it. The Californians as they compared it with the stately
frigates and ships they had been accustomed to see, exclaimed, "How
ugly!" Although it was not a beautiful vessel, its arrival was an event
of great importance, for it was the first of a line of steamers which
were under contract to ply monthly between San Francisco and Panama, and
with its coming began such an immigration as the world has seldom known.
In 1849 nearly twenty-five thousand people came by land and almost as
many more by sea, from the States alone. There were between thirty and
forty thousand from other parts of the world.
San Francisco at the time of the discovery had about seven hundred
inhabitants, and shortly after only the population of a hamlet, because
so many had gone to the gold fields. Now it suddenly found itself called
upon to give shelter to thousands of people bound for the mines, and
many also returning, some successful, others penniless and eager to get
work at the very high wages offered, sometimes as much as thirty dollars
There were streets to be surveyed, houses and warehouses to be built,
lumber and brick to be provided. People were living in tents, in brush
houses, even in shelter made by four upright green poles over which were
spread matting and old bedding. Hundreds of ships lay helpless in the
harbor waiting for crews, often for men to unload the cargoes. No longer
could the papers complain of lack of business. The town was like a hive,
but such a disorderly one as would have driven wild any colony of bees.
All was mud flats or water where are now the water front and some of the
leading business streets of the city. On these flats old unseaworthy
vessels were drawn up and did duty side by side with rough board
buildings as dwellings and stores. In the rainy seasons the streets were
lakes of mud where mules and drays were sometimes literally submerged.
The arrival of the mail steamer was the event of the month to this host
of people so far away from home and loved ones. Guns were fired, bells
rang to announce the approach of the vessel, then there was a wild rush
to the post office, where the long lines of men, most of them wearing
flannel shirts, wide hats, and high boots, extended far down the street.
Very high prices were sometimes paid, as high even as one hundred
dollars, by a late corner to buy from some one lucky enough to be near
the head of the line a position near the delivery window. Then if no
letter came, how great was the disappointment!
One man thus described the mines:--
"I was but a lad and my party took me along only because I had a knack
at cooking and was willing to do anything in order to see the place
where such wonderful fortunes were made. It was a hot summer afternoon
when, crossing a region of low, thinly wooded hills, we looked down upon
American River; away to the east were high mountain ranges, their peaks,
although it was still August, snow-tipped.
"From them came swiftly down the already famous river. Its volume was
evidently diminished from the heat, and along its gravelly bed men were
digging the sand and gravel into buckets. As I reached them and watched
them work I was greatly disappointed. It seemed like very ordinary dirt
they were handling; I saw no gleam of the yellow sands of which I had
heard such stories. I followed one of the men who carried the buckets of
earth to something that looked very like our family cradle with the
footboard knocked out. Where the slats might have been there was nailed
a piece of sheet iron punched full of holes. Above this was a chute in
which the dirt was emptied. The cradle was then rocked violently while
water was poured over its contents. The lighter earth and gravel were
carried away, while the gold, being heavier, rested either on the sheet
iron or between the slats on the cradle bottom.
"Some of the men had no cradle, only a large pan made of sheet iron.
This pan, when half filled with dirt, was sunk in the water and shaken
sidewise until the dirt and gravel were washed away and only heavy
grains of gold remained. There were enough of these to make my eyes open
wide. The men who had the cradle were making pretty steadily from
eighteen to twenty dollars a day apiece.
"After a day or two I visited the dry diggings. Here I saw things that
were more astonishing to me than anything that I had seen at the placer
mines. Some men were at work in a little canyon, and I sat on the
bowlder and watched them digging into the earth with their knives and
picking up every few minutes spoons of earth in which there were plainly
visible little lumps of gold the size of a pea. This was considered a
rich find; the men were joyful over their success. Suddenly one of the
older ones, looking up at me, sang out:--
"Say, Sonny, why do you sit there idle? Out with that bread knife of
yours and dig for your fortune. Across this ridge is another ravine. It
may be like this. Try your luck, anyway.'
"Somehow, until that moment, it had not entered my boyish mind, that I
might join this great mad race for wealth. I sprang to my feet. My heart
began to pound faster than it did on the glorious day when in my boyhood
home I had won the mile race at the county fair. There was a singing in
my ears; for the minute I could scarcely breathe. I had heard of the
gold fever, and now I had caught it.
"I dashed up the hillside, fairly rolled down into the rocky little
valley beyond, and began to dig wildly; but I found only good honest
earth, rich noble soil so like our fertile bottom lands at home. My
spirits began to sink, my heart to resume its natural beats. I worked
half an hour or so without finding any sign, as it was called, and began
to feel discouraged. In the canyon, which was very narrow, a large
bowlder blocked my progress. I determined to dig it loose. This was the
work of some time, but finally I succeeded in dislodging it, and drawing
up my legs out of its way watched with a youngster's delight its wild
dash down the mountain side to the stream far below.
"Slowly I turned to resume my work, but what I saw brought me to my feet
with a yell. The socket where the stone had rested was dotted with
yellow lumps of gold as big as a pea, some even larger. Down I went upon
my knees and I fell to work with a will--the strength of a man seemed
in my arms. Off came my coat, and spreading it out I scooped the rich
dirt into it by the handful. I had happened on a pocket, as it was
called; a turn in the bed of some old mountain stream. The dirt from
this when washed yielded me about five hundred dollars, but it was all
except cook's wages that I ever made at the mines.
"Before I left the gold fields I saw some small attempt at hydraulic
mining which later proved so successful. From a stream up in a canyon
some enterprising men had built a log flume and connected with it a
large hose and nozzle they had brought up from the coast. Turning the
water in this on a dry hill rich in gold deposit, they easily and
rapidly washed the dirt down into a sluice or trough below. This had
bars nailed across, and water running through carried the dirt away
while the gold dropped into the crevices between the bars." This method
of mining and also quartz mining, that is, digging gold and other metals
from rock, is described in another chapter.
The gold-bearing earth extended along the west slope of the Sierra
Nevada and their base, from Feather River on the north to the Merced
River on the south, a territory about thirty miles wide by two hundred
and fifty long. In this district are still some of the richest mines in
The Great Stampede
The rush of people to the Pacific coast after the gold discovery may
well be called a stampede. The terrible overland journey, over thousands
of miles of Indian country, across high mountains and wide stretches of
desert, was often undertaken with poor cattle, half the necessary
supplies of food, and but little knowledge of the route. On the other
hand, those who preferred going by water would embark in any vessel,
however unsafe, sailing from Atlantic ports to the Isthmus.
In New York the excitement was especially great. Every old ship that
could be overhauled and by means of fresh paint made to look seaworthy
was gayly dressed in bunting and advertised to sail by the shortest and
safest route to California. The sea trip is thus described by an elderly
gentleman who made the journey when a boy of ten:--
"Together with the news of the discovery of gold came also reports of a
warm, sunny land which winter never visited, where life could be spent
in the open air,--a favorable spot where sickness was almost unknown.
It was, I think, as much on account of my mother's health as to make his
fortune that my father decided to go to California. The water route was
chosen as being easier for her.
"The saying good-by to our relatives had been hard; but by the time we
were three miles from home we children ceased to grieve, so interested
were we in new sights and experiences.
"I had never seen salt water until that morning in New York, when we
boarded the gayly trimmed brig, the Jane Dawson, which was to carry us
to the Isthmus. To my sister and myself it was a real grief that our
vessel had not a more romantic name. We decided to call it the Sea
Slipper, from a favorite story, and the Sea Slipper it has always been
"On the deck there were so many unhappy partings that we became again
downhearted, a feeling which was intensified in the choppy seas of the
outer bay to the utter misery of mind and body. We got ourselves somehow
into our berths, where, with mother for company, we remained for many
hours. Finally the sea grew calmer and we were just beginning to enjoy
ourselves when off Cape Hatteras a severe storm broke upon us. The
vessel pitched and rolled; the baggage and boxes of freight tumbled
about, threatening the lives of those who were not kept to their berths
"Although I was not seasick I dared not go about much. One night,
however, growing tired of the misery around me, I crawled over to the
end of the farther cabin, which seemed to be deserted. Presently the
captain and my father came down the stairs and I heard the officer say
in a hoarse whisper. 'I will not deceive you, Mr. Hunt; the mainmast is
down, the steering gear useless, the crew is not up to its business, and
I fear we cannot weather the night!' I almost screamed aloud in my
fright, but just then a long, lanky figure rose from the floor where it
had been lying. It was one of the passengers, a typical Yankee.
"'See here, captain,' he said, 'my chum and I are ship carpenters, and the
other man of our party is one of the best sailors of the Newfoundland
fleet; just give us a chance to help you, and maybe we needn't founder
yet awhile.' The chance was given, and we did not founder.
"Some days later we anchored in the harbor of Chagres. There were many
vessels in the bay, and a large number of people waiting to secure
passage across the Isthmus. They crowded around the landing place of the
river canoes and fought and shouted until we children were frightened at
the uproar, and taking our hands mother retired to the shade of some
trees to wait.
"It was almost night when father called to us to come quickly, as he had
a boat engaged for us. It lay at the landing, a long canoe, in one end
of which our things were already stored. Some men who were friends of
father's and had joined our party stood beside it with revolvers in hand
watching to see that no one claimed the canoe or coaxed the boatmen
away. Mother and Sue were quickly tucked beneath the awning, the rest of
us tumbled in where we could, and at once our six nearly naked negro
boatmen pushed out the boat and began working it up the stream by means
of long poles which they placed on the bottom of the river bed, thus
propelling us along briskly but with what seemed to me great exertion.
"To us children the voyage was most interesting. On either side the
banks were covered with such immense trees as we had never dreamed of.
The ferns were more like trees than plants, and the colors of leaves and
flowers so gorgeous they were dazzling. The fruits were many and
delicious, but our father was very careful about our eating, and would
not allow us to indulge as we desired.
"The night came on as suddenly as though a great bowl had been turned
over us. For an hour or more we watched with delight the brilliant
fireflies illuminating all the atmosphere except at the end of the boat,
where the red light of a torch lit the scene. After we had lain down for
the night the moon rose and I could not enough admire the beauty of the
tropical foliage, with the silvery moonlight incrusting every branch and
"The second day we left the boats and took mules for the rest of the
journey. To my delight I was allowed an animal all to myself. Sue rode
in a chair strapped to the back of a native, and our luggage was taken
in the same manner, the porters carrying such heavy loads that it did
not seem possible they could make the journey.
"To my sister and me, the city of Panama was amazingly beautiful, with
its pearl oyster shells glittering on steeple and bell tower, and the
dress of the people as magnificent as the costumes described in the
'Arabian Nights.' In Panama we waited a long time for a steamer. The
town was crowded and many people were ill. My mother was constantly
helping some one until my father forbade her to visit any stranger,
because cholera had broken out and many were dying.
"It was a joyful morning when we boarded the steamer California, steamed
out on the blue Pacific, and headed northward. We had more comfortable
quarters and better food than when on the Atlantic; but never on the
steamer did we feel the sense of grandeur and power that came to us on
the brig when, with white sails all set, she rushed like a bird before
"Toward the close of the voyage there was so much fog that our captain
did not know just whereabouts we were, and for that reason kept well out