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The Forty-Niners by Stewart Edward White

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The dominant people of California have been successively aborigines,
_conquistadores_, monks, the dreamy, romantic, unenergetic peoples of
Spain, the roaring melange of Forty-nine, and finally the modern
citizens, who are so distinctive that they bid fair to become a
subspecies of their own. This modern society has, in its evolution,
something unique. To be sure, other countries also have passed through
these same phases. But while the processes have consumed a leisurely
five hundred years or so elsewhere, here they have been subjected to
forced growth.

The tourist traveler is inclined to look upon the crumbling yet
beautiful remains of the old missions, those venerable relics in a
bustling modern land, as he looks upon the enduring remains of old
Rome. Yet there are today many unconsidered New England farmhouses older
than the oldest western mission, and there are men now living who
witnessed the passing of Spanish California.

Though the existence of California had been known for centuries, and the
dates of her first visitors are many hundreds of years old, nevertheless
Spain attempted no actual occupation until she was forced to it by
political necessity. Until that time she had little use for the country.
After early investigations had exploded her dream of more treasure
cities similar to those looted by Cortes and Pizarro, her interest
promptly died.

But in the latter part of the eighteenth century Spain began to awake to
the importance of action. Fortunately ready to her hand was a tried and
tempered weapon. Just as the modern statesmen turn to commercial
penetration, so Spain turned, as always, to religious occupation. She
made use of the missionary spirit and she sent forth her expeditions
ostensibly for the purpose of converting the heathen. The result was the
so-called Sacred Expedition under the leadership of Junipero Serra and
Portola. In the face of incredible hardships and discouragements, these
devoted, if narrow and simple, men succeeded in establishing a string
of missions from San Diego to Sonoma. The energy, self-sacrifice, and
persistence of the members of this expedition furnish inspiring reading
today and show clearly of what the Spanish character at its best is

For the next thirty years after the founding of the first mission in
1769, the grasp of Spain on California was assured. Men who could do,
suffer, and endure occupied the land. They made their mistakes in
judgment and in methods, but the strong fiber of the pioneer was there.
The original _padres_ were almost without exception zealous, devoted to
poverty, uplifted by a fanatic desire to further their cause. The
original Spanish temporal leaders were in general able, energetic,
courageous, and not afraid of work or fearful of disaster.

At the end of that period, however, things began to suffer a change. The
time of pioneering came to an end, and the new age of material
prosperity began. Evils of various sorts crept in. The pioneer priests
were in some instances replaced by men who thought more of the flesh-pot
than of the altar, and whose treatment of the Indians left very much to
be desired. Squabbles arose between the civil and the religious powers.
Envy of the missions' immense holdings undoubtedly had its influence.
The final result of the struggle could not be avoided, and in the end
the complete secularization of the missions took place, and with this
inevitable change the real influence of these religious outposts came to
an end.

Thus before the advent in California of the American as an American, and
not as a traveler or a naturalized citizen, the mission had disappeared
from the land, and the land was inhabited by a race calling itself the
_gente de razon_, in presumed contradistinction to human beasts with no
reasoning powers. Of this period the lay reader finds such conflicting
accounts that he either is bewildered or else boldly indulges his
prejudices. According to one school of writers--mainly those of modern
fiction--California before the advent of the _gringo_ was a sort of
Arcadian paradise, populated by a people who were polite, generous,
pleasure-loving, high-minded, chivalrous, aristocratic, and above all
things romantic. Only with the coming of the loosely sordid, commercial,
and despicable American did this Arcadia fade to the strains of dying
and pathetic music. According to another school of writers--mainly
authors of personal reminiscences at a time when growing antagonism was
accentuating the difference in ideals--the "greaser" was a dirty, idle,
shiftless, treacherous, tawdry vagabond, dwelling in a disgracefully
primitive house, and backward in every aspect of civilization.

The truth, of course, lies somewhere between the two extremes, but its
exact location is difficult though not impossible to determine. The
influence of environment is sometimes strong, but human nature does not
differ much from age to age. Racial characteristics remain approximately
the same. The Californians were of several distinct classes. The upper
class, which consisted of a very few families, generally included those
who had held office, and whose pride led them to intermarry. Pure blood
was exceedingly rare. Of even the best the majority had Indian blood;
but the slightest mixture of Spanish was a sufficient claim to
gentility. Outside of these "first families," the bulk of the population
came from three sources: the original military adjuncts to the missions,
those brought in as settlers, and convicts imported to support one side
or another in the innumerable political squabbles. These diverse
elements shared one sentiment only--an aversion to work. The feeling
had grown up that in order to maintain the prestige of the soldier in
the eyes of the natives it was highly improper that he should ever do
any labor. The settlers, of whom there were few, had themselves been
induced to immigrate by rather extravagant promises of an easy life. The
convicts were only what was to be expected.

If limitations of space and subject permitted, it would be pleasant to
portray the romantic life of those pastoral days. Arcadian conditions
were then more nearly attained than perhaps at any other time in the
world's history. The picturesque, easy, idle, pleasant, fiery,
aristocratic life has been elsewhere so well depicted that it has taken
on the quality of rosy legend. Nobody did any more work than it pleased
him to do; everybody was well-fed and happy; the women were beautiful
and chaste; the men were bold, fiery, spirited, gracefully idle; life
was a succession of picturesque merrymakings, lovemakings, intrigues,
visits, lavish hospitalities, harmless politics, and revolutions. To be
sure, there were but few signs of progressive spirit. People traveled on
horseback because roads did not exist. They wore silks and diamonds,
lace and satin, but their houses were crude, and conveniences were
simple or entirely lacking. Their very vehicles, with wooden axles and
wheels made of the cross-section of a tree, were such as an East African
savage would be ashamed of. But who cared? And since no one wished
improvements, why worry about them?

Certainly, judged by the standards of a truly progressive race, the
Spanish occupation had many shortcomings. Agriculture was so little
known that at times the country nearly starved. Contemporary travelers
mention this fact with wonder. "There is," says Ryan, "very little land
under cultivation in the vicinity of Monterey. That which strikes the
foreigner most is the utter neglect in which the soil is left and the
indifference with which the most charming sites are regarded. In the
hands of the English and Americans, Monterey would be a beautiful town
adorned with gardens and orchards and surrounded with picturesque walks
and drives. The natives are, unfortunately, too ignorant to appreciate
and too indolent even to attempt such improvement." And Captain Charles
Wilkes asserts that "notwithstanding the immense number of domestic
animals in the country, the Californians were too lazy to make butter or
cheese, and even milk was rare. If there was a little good soap and
leather occasionally found, the people were too indolent to make them in
any quantity. The earth was simply scratched a few inches by a mean and
ill-contrived plow. When the ground had been turned up by repeated
scratching, it was hoed down and the clods broken by dragging over it
huge branches of trees. Threshing was performed by spreading the cut
grain on a spot of hard ground, treading it with cattle, and after
taking off the straw throwing the remainder up in the breeze, much was
lost and what was saved was foul."

General shiftlessness and inertia extended also to those branches
wherein the Californian was supposed to excel. Even in the matter of
cattle and sheep, the stock was very inferior to that brought into the
country by the Americans, and such a thing as crossing stock or
improving the breed of either cattle or horses was never thought of. The
cattle were long-horned, rough-skinned animals, and the beef was tough
and coarse. The sheep, while of Spanish stock, were very far from being
Spanish merino. Their wool was of the poorest quality, entirely unfit
for exportation, and their meat was not a favorite food.

There were practically no manufactures on the whole coast. The
inhabitants depended for all luxuries and necessities on foreign trade,
and in exchange gave hide and tallow from the semi-wild cattle that
roamed the hills. Even this trade was discouraged by heavy import duties
which amounted at times to one hundred per cent of the value. Such
conditions naturally led to extensive smuggling which was connived at by
most officials, high and low, and even by the monks of the missions

Although the chief reason for Spanish occupancy was to hold the country,
the provisions for defense were not only inadequate but careless. Thomes
says, in _Land and Sea_, that the fort at Monterey was "armed with four
long brass nine-pounders, the handsomest guns that I ever saw all
covered with scroll work and figures. They were mounted on ruined and
decayed carriages. Two of them were pointed toward the planet Venus, and
the other two were depressed so that had they been loaded or fired the
balls would have startled the people on the other side of the
hemisphere." This condition was typical of those throughout the
so-called armed forts of California.

The picture thus presented is unjustly shaded, of course, for Spanish
California had its ideal, noble, and romantic side. In a final estimate
no one could say where the balance would be struck; but our purpose is
not to strike a final balance. We are here endeavoring to analyze the
reasons why the task of the American conquerors was so easy, and to
explain the facility with which the original population was thrust

It is a sometimes rather annoying anomaly of human nature that the races
and individuals about whom are woven the most indestructible mantles of
romance are generally those who, from the standpoint of economic
stability or solid moral quality, are the most variable. We staid and
sober citizens are inclined to throw an aura of picturesqueness about
such creatures as the Stuarts, the dissipated Virginian cavaliers, the
happy-go-lucky barren artists of the Latin Quarter, the fiery touchiness
of that so-called chivalry which was one of the least important features
of Southern life, and so on. We staid and sober citizens generally
object strenuously to living in actual contact with the unpunctuality,
unreliability, unreasonableness, shiftlessness, and general
irresponsibility that are the invariable concomitants of this
picturesqueness. At a safe distance we prove less critical. We even go
so far as to regard this unfamiliar life as a mental anodyne or
antidote to the rigid responsibility of our own everyday existence. We
use these historical accounts for moral relaxation, much as some
financiers or statisticians are said to read cheap detective stories for
complete mental relaxation.

But, the Californian's undoubtedly admirable qualities of generosity,
kindheartedness (whenever narrow prejudice or very lofty pride was not
touched), hospitality, and all the rest, proved, in the eyes of a
practical people confronted with a large and practical job, of little
value in view of his predominantly negative qualities. A man with all
the time in the world rarely gets on with a man who has no time at all.
The newcomer had his house to put in order; and it was a very big house.
The American wanted to get things done at once; the Californian could
see no especial reason for doing them at all. Even when his short-lived
enthusiasm happened to be aroused, it was for action tomorrow rather
than today.

For all his amiable qualities, the mainspring of the Californian's
conduct was at bottom the impression he could make upon others. The
magnificence of his apparel and his accoutrement indicated no feeling
for luxury but rather a fondness for display. His pride and
quick-tempered honor were rooted in a desire to stand well in the eyes
of his equals, not in a desire to stand well with himself. In
consequence he had not the builder's fundamental instinct. He made no
effort to supply himself with anything that did not satisfy this amiable
desire. The contradictions of his conduct, therefore, become
comprehensible. We begin to see why he wore silks and satins and why he
neglected what to us are necessities. We see why he could display such
admirable carriage in rough-riding and lassoing grizzlies, and yet
seemed to possess such feeble military efficiency. We comprehend his
generous hospitality coupled with his often narrow and suspicious
cruelty. In fact, all the contrasts of his character and action begin to
be clear. His displacement was natural when confronted by a people who,
whatever their serious faults, had wants and desires that came from
within, who possessed the instinct to create and to hold the things that
would gratify those desires, and who, in the final analysis, began to
care for other men's opinions only after they had satisfied their own
needs and desires.



From the earliest period Spain had discouraged foreign immigration into
California. Her object was neither to attract settlers nor to develop
the country, but to retain political control of it, and to make of it a
possible asylum for her own people. Fifty years after the founding of
the first mission at San Diego, California had only thirteen inhabitants
of foreign birth. Most of these had become naturalized citizens, and so
were in name Spanish. Of these but three were American!

Subsequent to 1822, however, the number of foreign residents rapidly
increased. These people were mainly of substantial character, possessing
a real interest in the country and an intention of permanent settlement.
Most of them became naturalized, married Spanish women, acquired
property, and became trusted citizens. In marked contrast to their
neighbors, they invariably displayed the greatest energy and
enterprise. They were generally liked by the natives, and such men as
Hartnell, Richardson, David Spence, Nicholas Den, and many others, lived
lives and left reputations to be envied.

Between 1830 and 1840, however, Americans of a different type began to
present themselves. Southwest of the Missouri River the ancient town of
Santa Fe attracted trappers and traders of all nations and from all
parts of the great West. There they met to exchange their wares and to
organize new expeditions into the remote territories. Some of them
naturally found their way across the western mountains into California.
One of the most notable was James Pattie, whose personal narrative is
well worth reading. These men were bold, hardy, rough, energetic, with
little patience for the refinements of life--in fact, diametrically
opposed in character to the easy-going inhabitants of California.
Contempt on the one side and distrust on the other were inevitable. The
trappers and traders, together with the deserters from whalers and other
ships, banded together in small communities of the rough type familiar
to any observer of our frontier communities. They looked down upon and
despised the "greasers," who in turn did everything in their power to
harass them by political and other means.

At first isolated parties, such as those of Jedediah Smith, the Patties,
and some others, had been imprisoned or banished eastward over the
Rockies. The pressure of increasing numbers, combined with the rather
idle carelessness into which all California-Spanish regulations seemed
at length to fall, later nullified this drastic policy. Notorious among
these men was one Isaac Graham, an American trapper, who had become
weary of wandering and had settled near Natividad. There he established
a small distillery, and in consequence drew about him all the rough and
idle characters of the country. Some were trappers, some sailors; a few
were Mexicans and renegade Indians. Over all of these Graham obtained an
absolute control. They were most of them of a belligerent nature and
expert shots, accustomed to taking care of themselves in the wilds. This
little band, though it consisted of only thirty-nine members, was
therefore considered formidable.

A rumor that these people were plotting an uprising for the purpose of
overturning the government aroused Governor Alvarado to action. It is
probable that the rumors in question were merely the reports of
boastful drunken vaporings and would better have been ignored. However,
at this time Alvarado, recently arisen to power through the usual
revolutionary tactics, felt himself not entirely secure in his new
position. He needed some distraction, and he therefore seized upon the
rumor of Graham's uprising as a means of solidifying his influence--an
expedient not unknown to modern rulers. He therefore ordered the prefect
Castro to arrest the party. This was done by surprise. Graham and his
companions were taken from their beds, placed upon a ship at Monterey,
and exiled to San Blas, to be eventually delivered to the Mexican
authorities. There they were held in prison for some months, but being
at last released through the efforts of an American lawyer, most of them
returned to California rather better off than before their arrest. It is
typical of the vacillating Californian policy of the day that, on their
return, Graham and his riflemen were at once made use of by one of the
revolutionary parties as a reinforcement to their military power!

By 1840 the foreign population had by these rather desultory methods
been increased to a few over four hundred souls. The majority could not
be described as welcome guests. They had rarely come into the country
with the deliberate intention of settling but rather as a traveler's
chance. In November, 1841, however, two parties of quite a different
character arrived. They were the first true immigrants into California,
and their advent is significant as marking the beginning of the end of
the old order. One of these parties entered by the Salt Lake Trail, and
was the forerunner of the many pioneers over that great central route.
The other came by Santa Fe, over the trail that had by now become so
well marked that they hardly suffered even inconvenience on their
journey. The first party arrived at Monte Diablo in the north, the other
at San Gabriel Mission in the south. Many brought their families with
them, and they came with the evident intention of settling in

The arrival of these two parties presented to the Mexican Government a
problem that required immediate solution. Already in anticipation of
such an event it had been provided that nobody who had not obtained a
legal passport should be permitted to remain in the country; and that
even old settlers, unless naturalized, should be required to depart
unless they procured official permission to remain. Naturally none of
the new arrivals had received notice of this law, and they were in
consequence unprovided with the proper passports. Legally they should
have been forced at once to turn about and return by the way they came.
Actually it would have been inhuman, if not impossible, to have forced
them at that season of the year to attempt the mountains. General
Vallejo, always broad-minded in his policies, used discretion in the
matter and provided those in his district with temporary permits to
remain. He required only a bond signed by other Americans who had been
longer in the country.

Alvarado and Vallejo at once notified the Mexican Government of the
arrival of these strangers, and both expressed fear that other and
larger parties would follow. These fears were very soon realized.
Succeeding expeditions settled in the State with the evident intention
of remaining. No serious effort was made by the California authorities
to keep them out. From time to time, to be sure, formal objection was
raised and regulations were passed. However, as a matter of plain
practicability, it was manifestly impossible to prevent parties from
starting across the plains, or to inform the people living in the
Eastern States of the regulations adopted by California. It must be
remembered that communication at that time was extraordinarily slow and
broken. It would have been cruel and unwarranted to drive away those who
had already arrived. And even were such a course to be contemplated, a
garrison would have been necessary at every mountain pass on the East
and North, and at every crossing of the Colorado River, as well as at
every port along the coast. The government in California had not men
sufficient to handle its own few antique guns in its few coastwise
forts, let alone a surplus for the purpose just described. And to cap
all, provided the garrisons had been available and could have been
placed, it would have been physically impossible to have supplied them
with provisions for even a single month.

Truth to tell, the newcomers of this last class were not personally
objectionable to the Californians. The Spanish considered them no
different from those of their own blood. Had it not been for an
uneasiness lest the enterprise of the American settlers should in time
overcome Californian interests, had it not been for repeated orders from
Mexico itself, and had it not been for reports that ten thousand Mormons
had recently left Illinois for California, it is doubtful if much
attention would have been paid to the first immigrants.

Westward migration at this time was given an added impetus by the Oregon
question. The status of Oregon had long been in doubt. Both England and
the United States were inclined to claim priority of occupation. The
boundary between Canada and the United States had not yet been decided
upon between the two countries. Though they had agreed upon the
compromise of joint occupation of the disputed land, this arrangement
did not meet with public approval. The land-hungry took a particular
interest in the question and joined their voices with those of men
actuated by more patriotic motives. In public meetings which were held
throughout the country this joint occupation convention was explained
and discussed, and its abrogation was demanded. These meetings helped to
form the patriotic desire. Senator Tappan once said that thirty thousand
settlers with their thirty thousand rifles in the valley of the Columbia
would quickly settle all questions of title to the country. This saying
was adopted as the slogan for a campaign in the West. It had the same
inspiring effect as the later famous "54-40 or fight." People were
aroused as in the olden times they had been aroused to the crusades. It
became a form of mental contagion to talk of, and finally to accomplish,
the journey to the Northwest. Though no accurate records were kept, it
is estimated that in 1843 over 800 people crossed to Willamette Valley.
By 1845 this immigration had increased to fully 3000 within the year.

Because of these conditions the Oregon Trail had become a national
highway. Starting at Independence, which is a suburb of the present
Kansas City, it set out over the rolling prairie. At that time the wide
plains were bright with wild flowers and teeming with game. Elk,
antelope, wild turkeys, buffalo, deer, and a great variety of smaller
creatures supplied sport and food in plenty. Wood and water were in
every ravine; the abundant grass was sufficient to maintain the swarming
hordes of wild animals and to give rich pasture to horses and oxen. The
journey across these prairies, while long and hard, could rarely have
been tedious. Tremendous thunderstorms succeeded the sultry heat of the
West, an occasional cyclone added excitement; the cattle were apt to
stampede senselessly; and, while the Indian had not yet developed the
hostility that later made a journey across the plains so dangerous,
nevertheless the possibilities of theft were always near enough at hand
to keep the traveler alert and interested. Then there was the sandy
country of the Platte River with its buffalo--buffalo by the hundreds of
thousands, as far as the eye could reach--a marvelous sight: and beyond
that again the Rockies, by way of Fort Laramie and South Pass.

Beyond Fort Hall the Oregon Trail and the trail for California divided.
And at this point there began the terrible part of the journey--the
arid, alkaline, thirsty desert, short of game, horrible in its monotony,
deadly with its thirst. It is no wonder that, weakened by their
sufferings in this inferno, so many of the immigrants looked upon the
towering walls of the Sierras with a sinking of the heart.

While at first most of the influx of settlers was by way of Oregon,
later the stories of the new country that made their way eastward
induced travelers to go direct to California itself. The immigration,
both from Oregon in the North and by the route over the Sierras,
increased so rapidly that in 1845 there were probably about 700
Americans in the district. Those coming over the Sierras by the Carson
Sink and Salt Lake trails arrived first of all at the fort built by
Captain Sutter at the junction of the American and Sacramento rivers.

Captain Sutter was a man of Swiss parentage who had arrived in San
Francisco in 1839 without much capital and with only the assets of
considerable ability and great driving force. From the Governor he
obtained grant of a large tract of land "somewhere in the interior" for
the purposes of colonization. His colonists consisted of one German,
four other white men, and eight Kanakas. The then Governor, Alvarado,
thought this rather a small beginning, but advised him to take out
naturalization papers and to select a location. Sutter set out on his
somewhat vague quest with a four-oared boat and two small schooners,
loaded with provisions, implements, ammunition, and three small cannon.
Besides his original party he took an Indian boy and a dog, the latter
proving by no means the least useful member of the company. He found at
the junction of the American and Sacramento rivers the location that
appealed to him, and there he established himself. His knack with the
Indians soon enlisted their services. He seems to have been able to keep
his agreements with them and at the same time to maintain rigid
discipline and control.

Within an incredibly short time he had established a feudal barony at
his fort. He owned eleven square leagues of land, four thousand two
hundred cattle, two thousand horses, and about as many sheep. His trade
in beaver skins was most profitable. He maintained a force of trappers
who were always welcome at his fort, and whom he generously kept without
cost to themselves. He taught the Indians blanket-weaving, hat-making,
and other trades, and he even organized them into military companies.
The fort which he built was enclosed on four sides and of imposing
dimensions and convenience. It mounted twelve pieces of artillery,
supported a regular garrison of forty in uniform, and contained within
its walls a blacksmith shop, a distillery, a flour mill, a cannery, and
space for other necessary industries. Outside the walls of the fort
Captain Sutter raised wheat, oats, and barley in quantity, and even
established an excellent fruit and vegetable garden.

Indeed, in every way Captain Sutter's environment and the results of his
enterprises were in significant contrast to the inactivity and
backwardness of his neighbors. He showed what an energetic man could
accomplish with exactly the same human powers and material tools as had
always been available to the Californians. Sutter himself was a rather
short, thick-set man, exquisitely neat, of military bearing, carrying
himself with what is called the true old-fashioned courtesy. He was a
man of great generosity and of high spirit. His defect was an excess of
ambition which in the end o'erleaped itself. There is no doubt that his
first expectation was to found an independent state within the borders
of California. His loyalty to the Americans was, however, never
questioned, and the fact that his lands were gradually taken from him,
and that he died finally in comparative poverty, is a striking comment
on human injustice.

The important point for us at present is that Sutter's Fort happened to
be exactly on the line of the overland immigration. For the trail-weary
traveler it was the first stopping-place after crossing the high Sierras
to the promised land. Sutter's natural generosity of character induced
him always to treat these men with the greatest kindness. He made his
profits from such as wished to get rid of their oxen and wagons in
exchange for the commodities which he had to offer. But there is no
doubt that the worthy captain displayed the utmost liberality in
dealing with those whom poverty had overtaken. On several occasions he
sent out expeditions at his personal cost to rescue parties caught in
the mountains by early snows or other misfortunes along the road,
Especially did he go to great expense in the matter of the ill-fated
Donner party, who, it will be remembered, spent the winter near Truckee,
and were reduced to cannibalism to avoid starvation.[1]

[1: See _The Passing of the Frontier_, in "The Chronicles of America."]

Now Sutter had, of course, been naturalized in order to obtain
his grant of land. He had also been appointed an official of the
California-Mexican Government. Taking advantage of this fact, he was
accustomed to issue permits or passports to the immigrants, permitting
them to remain in the country. This gave the immigrants a certain
limited standing, but, as they were not Mexican citizens, they were
disqualified from holding land. Nevertheless Sutter used his good
offices in showing desirable locations to the would-be settlers.[2]

[2: It is to be remarked that, prior to the gold rush, American
settlements did not take place in the Spanish South but in the
unoccupied North. In 1845 Castro and Castillero made a tour through the
Sacramento Valley and the northern regions to inquire about the new
arrivals. Castro displayed no personal uneasiness at their presence and
made no attempt or threat to deport them.]

As far as the Californians were concerned, there was little rivalry or
interference between the immigrants and the natives. Their interests did
not as yet conflict. Nevertheless the central Mexican Government
continued its commands to prevent any and all immigration. It was rather
well justified by its experience in Texas, where settlement had ended by
final absorption. The local Californian authorities were thus thrust
between the devil and the deep blue sea. They were constrained by the
very positive and repeated orders from their home government to keep out
all immigration and to eject those already on the ground. On the other
hand, the means for doing so were entirely lacking, and the present
situation did not seem to them alarming.

Thus matters drifted along until the Mexican War. For a considerable
time before actual hostilities broke out, it was well known throughout
the country that they were imminent. Every naval and military commander
was perfectly aware that, sooner or later, war was inevitable. Many had
received their instructions in case of that eventuality, and most of
the others had individual plans to be put into execution at the earliest
possible moment. Indeed, as early as 1842 Commodore Jones, being
misinformed of a state of war, raced with what he supposed to be English
war-vessels from South America, entered the port of Monterey hastily,
captured the fort, and raised the American flag. The next day he
discovered that not only was there no state of war, but that he had not
even raced British ships! The flag was thereupon hauled down, the
Mexican emblem substituted, appropriate apologies and salutes were
rendered, and the incident was considered closed. The easy-going
Californians accepted the apology promptly and cherished no rancor for
the mistake.

In the meantime Thomas O. Larkin, a very substantial citizen of long
standing in the country, had been appointed consul, and in addition
received a sum of six dollars a day to act as secret agent. It was hoped
that his great influence would avail to inspire the Californians with a
desire for peaceful annexation to the United States. In case that policy
failed, he was to use all means to separate them from Mexico, and so
isolate them from their natural alliances. He was furthermore to
persuade them that England, France, and Russia had sinister designs on
their liberty. It was hoped that his good offices would slowly influence
public opinion, and that, on the declaration of open war with Mexico,
the United States flag could be hoisted in California not only without
opposition but with the consent and approval of the inhabitants. This
type of peaceful conquest had a very good chance of success. Larkin
possessed the confidence of the better class of Californians and he did
his duty faithfully.

Just at this moment a picturesque, gallant, ambitious, dashing, and
rather unscrupulous character appeared inopportunely on the horizon. His
name was John C. Fremont. He was the son of a French father and a
Virginia mother. He was thirty-two years old, and was married to the
daughter of Thomas H. Benton, United States Senator from Missouri and a
man of great influence in the country. Possessed of an adventurous
spirit, considerable initiative, and great persistence Fremont had
already performed the feat of crossing the Sierra Nevadas by way of
Carson River and Johnson Pass, and had also explored the Columbia River
and various parts of the Northwest. Fremont now entered California by
way of Walker Lake and the Truckee, and reached Sutter's Fort in 1845.
He then turned southward to meet a division of his party under Joseph

His expedition was friendly in character, with the object of surveying a
route westward to the Pacific, and then northward to Oregon. It
supposedly possessed no military importance whatever. But his turning
south to meet Walker instead of north, where ostensibly his duty called
him, immediately aroused the suspicions of the Californians. Though
ordered to leave the district, he refused compliance, and retired to a
place called Gavilan Peak, where he erected fortifications and raised
the United States flag. Probably Fremont's intentions were perfectly
friendly and peaceful. He made, however, a serious blunder in
withdrawing within fortifications. After various threats by the
Californians but no performance in the way of attack, he withdrew and
proceeded by slow marches to Sutter's Fort and thence towards the north.
Near Klamath Lake he was overtaken by Lieutenant Gillespie, who
delivered to him certain letters and papers. Fremont thereupon calmly
turned south with the pick of his men.

In the meantime the Spanish sub-prefect, Guerrero, had sent word to
Larkin that "a multitude of foreigners, having come into California and
bought property, a right of naturalized foreigners only, he was under
necessity of notifying the authorities in each town to inform such
purchasers that the transactions were invalid, and that they themselves
were subject to be expelled." This action at once caused widespread
consternation among the settlers. They remembered the deportation of
Graham and his party some years before, and were both alarmed and
thoroughly convinced that defensive measures were necessary. Fremont's
return at precisely this moment seemed to them very significant. He was
a United States army officer at the head of a government expedition.
When on his way to the North he had been overtaken by Gillespie, an
officer of the United States Navy. Gillespie had delivered to him
certain papers, whereupon he had immediately returned. There seemed no
other interpretation of these facts than that the Government at
Washington was prepared to uphold by force the American settlers in

This reasoning, logical as it seems, proves mistaken in the perspective
of the years. Gillespie, it is true, delivered some letters to Fremont,
but it is extremely unlikely they contained instructions having to do
with interference in Californian affairs. Gillespie, at the same time
that he brought these dispatches to Fremont, brought also instructions
to Larkin creating the confidential agency above described, and these
instructions specifically forbade interference with Californian affairs.
It is unreasonable to suppose that contradictory dispatches were sent to
one or another of these two men. Many years later Fremont admitted that
the dispatch to Larkin was what had been communicated to him by
Gillespie. His words are: "This officer [Gillespie] informed me also
that he was directed by the Secretary of State to acquaint me with his
instructions to the consular agent, Mr. Larkin." Reading Fremont's
character, understanding his ambitions, interpreting his later lawless
actions that resulted in his court-martial, realizing the recklessness
of his spirit, and his instinct to take chances, one comes to the
conclusion that it is more than likely that his move was a gamble on
probabilities rather than a result of direct orders.

Be this as it may, the mere fact of Fremont's turning south decided the
alarmed settlers, and led to the so-called "Bear Flag Revolution." A
number of settlers decided that it would be expedient to capture
Sonoma, where under Vallejo were nine cannon and some two hundred
muskets. It was, in fact, a sort of military station. The capture proved
to be a very simple matter. Thirty-two or thirty-three men appeared at
dawn, before Vallejo's house, under Merritt and Semple. They entered the
house suddenly, called upon Jacob Leese, Vallejo's son-in-law, to
interpret, and demanded immediate surrender. Richman says "Leese was
surprised at the 'rough looks' of the Americans. Semple he describes as
'six feet six inches tall, and about fifteen inches in diameter, dressed
in greasy buckskin from neck to foot, and with a fox-skin cap.'" The
prisoners were at once sent by these raiders to Fremont, who was at that
time on the American River. He immediately disclaimed any part in the
affair. However, instead of remaining entirely aloof, he gave further
orders that Leese, who was still in attendance as interpreter, should be
arrested, and also that the prisoners should be confined in Sutter's
Fort. He thus definitely and officially entered the movement. Soon
thereafter Fremont started south through Sonoma, collecting men as he

The following quotation from a contemporary writer is interesting and
illuminating. "A vast cloud of dust appeared at first, and thence in
long files emerged this wildest of wild parties. Fremont rode ahead, a
spare active looking man, with such an eye! He was dressed in a blouse
and leggings, and wore a felt hat. After him came five Delaware Indians
who were his bodyguard. They had charge of two baggage-horses. The rest,
many of them blacker than Indians, rode two and two, the rifle held by
one hand across the pummel of the saddle. The dress of these men was
principally a long loose coat of deerskin tied with thongs in front,
trousers of the same. The saddles were of various fashions, though these
and a large drove of horses and a brass field gun were things they had
picked up in California."

Meantime, the Americans who had collected in Sonoma, under the lead of
William B. Ide, raised the flag of revolution--"a standard of somewhat
uncertain origin as regards the cotton cloth whereof it was made,"
writes Royce. On this, they painted with berry juice "something that
they called a Bear." By this capture of Sonoma, and its subsequent
endorsement by Fremont, Larkin's instructions--that is, to secure
California by quiet diplomatic means--were absolutely nullified. A
second result was that Englishmen in California were much encouraged to
hope for English intervention and protection. The Vallejo circle had
always been strongly favorable to the United States. The effect of this
raid and capture by United States citizens, with a United States officer
endorsing the action, may well be guessed.

Inquiries and protests were lodged by the California authorities with
Sloat and Lieutenant Montgomery of the United States naval forces. Just
what effect these protests would have had, and just the temperature of
the hot water in which the dashing Fremont would have found himself, is
a matter of surmise. He had gambled strongly--on his own responsibility
or at least at the unofficial suggestion of Benton--on an early
declaration of war with Mexico. Failing such a declaration, he would be
in a precarious diplomatic position, and must by mere force of automatic
discipline have been heavily punished. However the dice fell for him.
War with Mexico was almost immediately an actual fact. Fremont's
injection into the revolution had been timed at the happiest possible
moment for him.

The Bear Flag Revolution took place on June 14,1846. On July 7 the
American flag was hoisted over the post at Monterey by Commodore Sloat.
Though he had knowledge from June 5 of a state of war, this knowledge,
apparently, he had shared neither with his officers nor with the public,
and he exhibited a want of initiative and vigor which is in striking
contrast to Fremont's ambition and overzeal.

Shortly after this incident Commodore Sloat was allowed to return "by
reason of ill health," as has been heretofore published in most
histories. His undoubted recall gave room to Commodore Robert Stockton,
to whom Sloat not only turned over the command of the naval forces, but
whom he also directed to "assume command of the forces and operations on

Stockton at once invited Fremont to enlist under his command, and the
invitation was accepted. The entire forces moved south by sea and land
for the purpose of subduing southern California. This end was
temporarily accomplished with almost ridiculous ease. At this distance
of time, allowing all obvious explanations of lack of training, meager
equipment, and internal dissension, we find it a little difficult to
understand why the Californians did not make a better stand. Most of
the so-called battles were a sort of _opera bouffe_. Californians
entrenched with cannon were driven contemptuously forth, without
casualties, by a very few men. For example, a lieutenant and nine men
were sufficient to hold Santa Barbara in subjection. Indeed, the
conquest was too easy, for, lulled into false security, Stockton
departed, leaving as he supposed sufficient men to hold the country. The
Californians managed to get some coherence into their councils, attacked
the Americans, and drove them forth from their garrisons.

Stockton and Fremont immediately started south. In the meantime an
overland party under General Kearny had been dispatched from the East.
His instructions were rather broad. He was to take in such small
sections of the country as New Mexico and Arizona, leaving sufficient
garrisons on his way to California. As a result, though his command at
first numbered 1657 men, he arrived in the latter state with only about
100. From Warner's Ranch in the mountains he sent word to Stockton that
he had arrived. Gillespie, whom the Commodore at once dispatched with
thirty-nine men to meet and conduct him to San Diego, joined Kearny near
San Luis Rey Mission.

A force of Californians, however, under command of one Andres Pico had
been hovering about the hills watching the Americans. It was decided to
attack this force. Twenty men were detailed under Captain Johnston for
the purpose. At dawn on the morning of the 6th of December the Americans
charged upon the Californian camp. The Californians promptly decamped
after having delivered a volley which resulted in killing Johnston. The
Americans at once pursued them hotly, became much scattered, and were
turned upon by the fleeing enemy. The Americans were poorly mounted
after their journey, their weapons were now empty, and they were unable
to give mutual aid. The Spanish were armed with lances, pistols, and the
deadly riata. Before the rearguard could come up, sixteen of the total
American force were killed and nineteen badly wounded. This battle of
San Pascual, as it was called, is interesting as being the only
engagement in which the Californians got the upper hand. Whether their
Parthian tactics were the result of a preconceived policy or were merely
an expedient of the moment, it is impossible to say. The battle is also
notable because the well-known scout, Kit Carson, took part in it.

The forces of Stockton and Kearny joined a few days later, and very soon
a conflict of authority arose between the leaders. It was a childish
affair throughout, and probably at bottom arose from Fremont's usual
over-ambitious designs. To Kearny had undoubtedly been given, by the
properly constituted authorities, the command of all the land
operations. Stockton, however, claimed to hold supreme land command by
instructions from Commodore Sloat already quoted. Through the internal
evidence of Stockton's letters and proclamations, it seems he was a
trifle inclined to be bombastic and high-flown, to usurp authority, and
perhaps to consider himself and his operations of more importance than
they actually were. However, he was an officer disciplined and trained
to obedience, and his absurd contention is not in character. It may be
significant that he had promised to appoint Fremont Governor of
California, a promise that naturally could not be fulfilled if Kearny's
authority were fully recognized.

Furthermore, at this moment Fremont was at the zenith of his career, and
his influence in such matters was considerable. As Hittell says, "At
this time and for some time afterwards, Fremont was represented as a
sort of young lion. The several trips he had made across the continent,
and the several able and interesting reports he had published over his
name attracted great public attention. He was hardly ever mentioned
except in a high-flown hyperbolical phrase. Benton was one of the most
influential men of his day, and it soon became well understood that the
surest way of reaching the father-in-law's favor was by furthering the
son-in-law's prospects; everybody that wished to court Benton praised
Fremont. Besides this political influence Benton exerted in Fremont's
behalf, there was an almost equally strong social influence." It might
be added that the nature of his public service had been such as to throw
him on his own responsibility, and that he had always gambled with
fortune, as in the Bear Flag Revolution already mentioned. His star had
ever been in the ascendant. He was a spoiled child of fortune at this
time, and bitterly and haughtily resented any check to his ambition. The
mixture of his blood gave him that fine sense of the dramatic which so
easily descends to posing. His actual accomplishment was without doubt
great; but his own appreciation of that accomplishment was also
undoubtedly great. He was one of those interesting characters whose
activities are so near the line between great deeds and charlatanism
that it is sometimes difficult to segregate the pose from the

The end of this row for precedence did not come until after the
so-called battles at the San Gabriel River and on the Mesa on January 8
and 9, 1847. The first of these conflicts is so typical that it is worth
a paragraph of description.

The Californians were posted on the opposite bank of the river. They had
about five hundred men, and two pieces of artillery well placed. The
bank was elevated some forty feet above the stream and possibly four or
six hundred back from the water. The American forces, all told,
consisted of about five hundred men, but most of them were dismounted.
The tactics were exceedingly simple. The Americans merely forded the
river, dragged their guns across, put them in position, and calmly
commenced a vigorous bombardment. After about an hour and a half of
circling about and futile half-attacks, the Californians withdrew. The
total American loss in this and the succeeding "battle," called that of
the Mesa, was three killed and twelve wounded.

After this latter battle, the Californians broke completely and hurtled
toward the North. Beyond Los Angeles, near San Fernando, they ran
head-on into Fremont and his California battalion marching overland from
the North. Fremont had just learned of Stockton's defeat of the
Californians and, as usual, he seized the happy chance the gods had
offered him. He made haste to assure the Californians through a
messenger that they would do well to negotiate with him rather than with
Stockton. To these suggestions the Californians yielded. Commissioners
appointed by both sides then met at Cahuenga on January 13, and
elaborated a treaty by which the Californians agreed to surrender their
arms and not to serve again during the war, whereupon the victors
allowed them to leave the country. Fremont at once proceeded to Los
Angeles, where he reported to Kearny and Stockton what had happened.

In accordance with his foolish determination, Stockton still refused to
acknowledge Kearny's direct authority. He appointed Fremont Governor of
California, which was one mistake; and Fremont accepted, which was
another. Undoubtedly the latter thought that his pretensions would be
supported by personal influence in Washington. From former experience he
had every reason to believe so. In this case, however, he reckoned
beyond the resources of even his powerful father-in-law. Kearny, who
seems to have been a direct old war-dog, resolved at once to test his
authority. He ordered Fremont to muster the California battalion into
the regular service, under his (Kearny's) command; or, if the men did
not wish to do this, to discharge them. This order did not in the least
please Fremont. He attempted to open negotiations, but Kearny was in no
manner disposed to talk. He said curtly that he had given his orders,
and merely wished to know whether or not they would be obeyed. To this,
and from one army officer to another, there could be but one answer, and
that was in the affirmative.

Colonel Mason opportunely arrived from Washington with instructions to
Fremont either to join his regiment or to resume the explorations on
which he had originally been sent to this country. Fremont was still
pretending to be Governor, but with nothing to govern. His game was
losing at Washington. He could not know this, however, and for some time
continued to persist in his absurd claims to governorship. Finally he
begged permission of Kearny to form an expedition against Mexico. But it
was rather late in the day for the spoiled child to ask for favors, and
the permission was refused. Upon his return to Washington under further
orders, Fremont was court-martialed, and was found guilty of mutiny,
disobedience, and misconduct. He was ordered dismissed from the service,
but was pardoned by President Polk in view of his past services. He
refused this pardon and resigned.

Fremont was a picturesque figure with a great deal of personal magnetism
and dash. The halo of romance has been fitted to his head. There is no
doubt that he was a good wilderness traveler, a keen lover of adventure,
and a likable personality. He was, however, over-ambitious; he
advertised himself altogether too well; and he presumed on the
undoubtedly great personal influence he possessed. He has been nicknamed
the Pathfinder, but a better title would be the Pathfollower. He found
no paths that had not already been traversed by men before him. Unless
the silly sentiment that persistently glorifies such despicable
characters as the English Stuarts continues to surround this interesting
character with fallacious romance, Fremont will undoubtedly take his
place in history below men now more obscure but more solid than he was.
His services and his ability were both great. If he, his friends, and
historians had been content to rest his fame on actualities, his
position would be high and honorable. The presumption of so much more
than the man actually did or was has the unfortunate effect of
minimizing his real accomplishment.



The military conquest of California was now an accomplished fact. As
long as hostilities should continue in Mexico, California must remain
under a military government, and such control was at once inaugurated.
The questions to be dealt with, as may well be imagined, were delicate
in the extreme. In general the military Governors handled such questions
with tact and efficiency. This ability was especially true in the case
of Colonel Mason, who succeeded General Kearny. The understanding
displayed by this man in holding back the over-eager Americans on one
side, and in mollifying the sensitive Californians on the other, is
worthy of all admiration.

The Mexican laws were, in lack of any others, supposed to be enforced.
Under this system all trials, except of course those having to do with
military affairs, took place before officials called _alcades_, who
acknowledged no higher authority than the Governor himself, and enforced
the laws as autocrats. The new military Governors took over the old
system bodily and appointed new _alcaldes_ where it seemed necessary.
The new _alcaldes_ neither knew nor cared anything about the old Mexican
law and its provisions. This disregard cannot be wondered at, for even a
cursory examination of the legal forms convinces one that they were
meant more for the enormous leisure of the old times than for the
necessities of the new. In the place of Mexican law each _alcalde_
attempted to substitute his own sense of justice and what recollection
of common-law principles he might be able to summon. These common-law
principles were not technical in the modern sense of the word, nor were
there any printed or written statutes containing them. In this case they
were simply what could be recalled by non-technical men of the way in
which business had been conducted and disputes had been arranged back in
their old homes. But their main reliance was on their individual sense
of justice. As Hittell points out, even well-read lawyers who happened
to be made _alcaldes_ soon came to pay little attention to
technicalities and to seek the merit of cases without regard to rules or
forms. All the administration of the law was in the hands of these
_alcaldes_. Mason, who once made the experiment of appointing a special
court at Sutter's Fort to try a man known as Growling Smith for the
murder of Indians, afterwards declared that he would not do it again
except in the most extraordinary emergency, as the precedent was bad.

As may well be imagined, this uniquely individualistic view of the law
made interesting legal history. Many of the incumbents were of the rough
diamond type. Stories innumerable are related of them. They had little
regard for the external dignity of the court, but they strongly insisted
on its discipline. Many of them sat with their feet on the desk, chewing
tobacco, and whittling a stick. During a trial one of the counsel
referred to his opponent as an "oscillating Tarquin." The judge roared
out "A what?"

"An oscillating Tarquin, your honor."

The judge's chair came down with a thump.

"If this honorable court knows herself, and she thinks she do, that
remark is an insult to this honorable court, and you are fined two

Expostulation was cut short.

"Silence, sir! This honorable court won't tolerate cussings and she
never goes back on her decisions!"

And she didn't!

Nevertheless a sort of rough justice was generally accomplished. These
men felt a responsibility. In addition they possessed a grim commonsense
earned by actual experience.

There is an instance of a priest from Santa Clara, sued before the
_alcalde_ of San Jose for a breach of contract. His plea was that as a
churchman he was not amenable to civil law. The American decided that,
while he could not tell what peculiar privileges a clergyman enjoyed as
a priest, it was quite evident that when he departed from his religious
calling and entered into a secular bargain with a citizen he placed
himself on the same footing as the citizen, and should be required like
anybody else to comply with his agreement. This principle, which was
good sense, has since become good law.

The _alcalde_ refused to be bound by trivial concerns. A Mexican was
accused of stealing a pair of leggings. He was convicted and fined
three ounces for stealing, while the prosecuting witness was also fined
one ounce for bothering the court with such a complaint. On another
occasion the defendant, on being fined, was found to be totally
insolvent. The _alcalde_ thereupon ordered the plaintiff to pay the fine
and costs for the reason that the court could not be expected to sit
without remuneration. Though this naive system worked out well enough in
the new and primitive community, nevertheless thinking men realized that
it could be for a short time only.

As long as the war with Mexico continued, naturally California was under
military Governors, but on the declaration of peace military government
automatically ceased. Unfortunately, owing to strong controversies as to
slavery or non-slavery, Congress passed no law organizing California as
a territory; and the status of the newly-acquired possession was far
from clear. The people held that, in the absence of congressional
action, they had the right to provide for their own government. On the
other hand, General Riley contended that the laws of California obtained
until supplanted by act of Congress. He was under instructions as
Governor to enforce this view, which was, indeed, sustained by judicial
precedents. But for precedents the inhabitants cared little. They
resolved to call a constitutional convention. After considerable
negotiation and thought, Governor Riley resolved to accede to the wishes
of the people. An election of delegates was called and the
constitutional convention met at Monterey, September 1, 1849.

Parenthetically it is to be noticed that this event took place a
considerable time after the first discovery of gold. It can in no sense
be considered as a sequel to that fact. The numbers from the gold rush
came in later. The constitutional convention was composed mainly of men
who had previous interests in the country. They were representative of
the time and place. The oldest delegate was fifty-three years and the
youngest twenty-five years old. Fourteen were lawyers, fourteen were
farmers, nine were merchants, five were soldiers, two were printers, one
was a doctor, and one described himself as "a gentleman of elegant

The deliberations of this body are very interesting reading. Such a
subject is usually dry in the extreme; but here we have men assembled
from all over the world trying to piece together a form of government
from the experiences of the different communities from which they
originally came. Many Spanish Californians were represented on the
floor. The different points brought up and discussed, in addition to
those finally incorporated in the constitution, are both a valuable
measure of the degree of intelligence at that time, and an indication of
what men considered important in the problems of the day. The
constitution itself was one of the best of the thirty-one state
constitutions that then existed. Though almost every provision in it was
copied from some other instrument, the choice was good. A provision
prohibiting slavery was carried by a unanimous vote. When the convention
adjourned, the new commonwealth was equipped with all the necessary
machinery for regular government.[3]

[3: The constitution was ratified by popular vote, November 13, 1849;
and the machinery of state government was at once set in motion, though
the State was not admitted into the Union until September 9. 1850.]

It is customary to say that the discovery of gold made the State of
California. As a matter of fact, it introduced into the history of
California a new solvent, but it was in no sense a determining factor in
either the acquisition or the assuring of the American hold. It must not
be forgotten that a rising tide of American immigration had already set
in. By 1845 the white population had increased to about eight thousand.
At the close of hostilities it was estimated that the white population
had increased to somewhere between twelve and fifteen thousand. Moreover
this immigration, though established and constantly growing, was by no
means topheavy. There was plenty of room in the north for the Americans,
and they were settling there peaceably. Those who went south generally
bought their land in due form. They and the Californians were getting on
much better than is usual with conquering and conquered peoples.

But the discovery of gold upset all this orderly development. It wiped
out the usual evolution. It not only swept aside at once the antiquated
Mexican laws, but it submerged for the time being the first stirrings of
the commonwealth toward due convention and legislation after the
American pattern. It produced an interim wherein the only law was that
evolved from men's consciences and the Anglo-Saxon instinct for order.
It brought to shores remote from their native lands a cosmopolitan crew
whose only thought was a fixed determination to undertake no new
responsibilities. Each man was living for himself. He intended to get
his own and to protect his own, and he cared very little for the
difficulties of his neighbors. In other words, the discovery of gold
offered California as the blank of a mint to receive the impress of a
brand new civilization. And furthermore it gave to these men and,
through them, to the world an impressive lesson that social
responsibility can be evaded for a time, to be sure, but only for a
time; and that at the last it must be taken up and the arrears must be



The discovery of gold--made, as everyone knows, by James Marshall, a
foreman of Sutter's, engaged in building a sawmill for the Captain--came
at a psychological time.[4]The Mexican War was just over and the
adventurous spirits, unwilling to settle down, were looking for new
excitement. Furthermore, the hard times of the Forties had blanketed the
East with mortgages. Many sober communities were ready, deliberately and
without excitement, to send their young men westward in the hope of
finding a way out of their financial difficulties. The Oregon question,
as has been already indicated, had aroused patriotism to such an extent
that westward migration had become a sort of mental contagion.

[4: January 24, 1848, is the date usually given.]

It took some time for the first discoveries to leak out, and to be
believed after they had gained currency. Even in California itself
interest was rather tepid at first. Gold had been found in small
quantities many years before, and only the actual sight of the metal in
considerable weight could rouse men's imaginations to the blazing point.

Among the most enthusiastic protagonists was one Sam Brannan, who often
appeared afterwards in the pages of Californian history. Brannan was a
Mormon who had set out from New York with two hundred and fifty Mormons
to try out the land of California as a possible refuge for the
persecuted sect. That the westward migration of Mormons stopped at Salt
Lake may well be due to the fact that on entering San Francisco Bay,
Brannan found himself just too late. The American flag was already
floating over the Presidio. Eye-witnesses say that Brannan dashed his
hat to the deck, exclaiming, "There is that damned rag again." However,
he proved an adaptable creature, for he and his Mormons landed
nevertheless, and took up the industries of the country.

Brannan collected the usual tithes from these men, with the ostensible
purpose of sending them on to the Church at Salt Lake. This, however,
he consistently failed to do. One of the Mormons, on asking Sutter how
long they should be expected to pay these tithes, received the answer,
"As long as you are fools enough to do so." But they did not remain
fools very much longer, and Brannan found himself deprived of this
source of revenue. On being dunned by Brigham Young for the tithes
already collected, Brannan blandly resigned from the Church, still
retaining the assets. With this auspicious beginning, aided by a burly,
engaging personality, a coarse, direct manner that appealed to men, and
an instinct for the limelight, he went far. Though there were a great
many admirable traits in his character, people were forced to like him
in spite of rather than because of them. His enthusiasm for any public
agitation was always on tap.

In the present instance he rode down from Sutter's Fort, where he then
had a store, bringing with him gold-dust and nuggets from the new
placers. "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!" shouted Brannan, as
he strode down the street, swinging his hat in one hand and holding
aloft the bottle of gold-dust in the other. This he displayed to the
crowd that immediately gathered. With such a start, this new interest
brought about a stampede that nearly depopulated the city.

The fever spread. People scrambled to the mines from all parts of the
State. Practically every able-bodied man in the community, except the
Spanish Californians, who as usual did not join this new enterprise with
any unanimity, took at least a try at the diggings. Not only did they
desert almost every sort of industry, but soldiers left the ranks and
sailors the ships, so that often a ship was left in sole charge of its
captain. All of American and foreign California moved to the foothills.

Then ensued the brief period so affectionately described in all
literalness as the Arcadian Age. Men drank and gambled and enjoyed
themselves in the rough manner of mining camps; but they were hardly
ever drunken and in no instance dishonest. In all literalness the miners
kept their gold-dust in tin cans and similar receptacles, on shelves,
unguarded in tents or open cabins. Even quarrels and disorder were
practically unknown. The communities were individualistic in the
extreme, and yet, with the Anglo-Saxon love of order, they adopted rules
and regulations and simple forms of government that proved entirely
adequate to their needs. When the "good old days" are mentioned with
the lingering regret associated with that phrase, the reference is to
this brief period that came between the actual discovery and
appreciation of gold and the influx from abroad that came in the
following years.

This condition was principally due to the class of men concerned. The
earliest miners were a very different lot from the majority of those who
arrived in the next few years. They were mostly the original population,
who had come out either as pioneers or in the government service. They
included the discharged soldiers of Stevenson's regiment of New York
Volunteers, who had been detailed for the war but who had arrived a
little late, the so-called Mormon Battalion, Sam Brannan's immigrants,
and those who had come as settlers since 1842. They were a rough lot
with both the virtues and the defects of the pioneer. Nevertheless among
their most marked characteristics were their honesty and their kindness.
Hittell gives an incident that illustrates the latter trait very well.
"It was a little camp, the name of which is not given and perhaps is not
important. The day was a hot one when a youth of sixteen came limping
along, footsore, weary, hungry, and penniless. There were at least
thirty robust miners at work in the ravine and it may well be believed
they were cheerful, probably now and then joining in a chorus or
laughing at a joke. The lad as he saw and heard them sat down upon the
bank, his face telling the sad story of his misfortunes. Though he said
nothing he was not unobserved. At length one of the miners, a stalwart
fellow, pointing up to the poor fellow on the bank, exclaimed to his
companions, 'Boys, I'll work an hour for that chap if you will.' All
answered in the affirmative and picks and shovels were plied with even
more activity than before. At the end of an hour a hundred dollars'
worth of gold-dust was poured into his handkerchief. As this was done
the miners who had crowded around the grateful boy made out a list of
tools and said to him: 'You go now and buy these tools and come back.
We'll have a good claim staked out for you; then you've got to paddle
for yourself.'"

Another reason for this distinguished honesty was the extent and
incredible richness of the diggings, combined with the firm belief that
this richness would last forever and possibly increase. The first gold
was often found actually at the roots of bushes, or could be picked out
from the veins in the rocks by the aid of an ordinary hunting-knife.
Such pockets were, to be sure, by no means numerous; but the miners did
not know that. To them it seemed extremely possible that gold in such
quantities was to be found almost anywhere for the mere seeking.
Authenticated instances are known of men getting ten, fifteen, twenty,
and thirty thousand dollars within a week or ten days, without
particularly hard work. Gold was so abundant it was much easier to dig
it than to steal it, considering the risks attendant on the latter
course. A story is told of a miner, while paying for something, dropping
a small lump of gold worth perhaps two or three dollars. A bystander
picked it up and offered it to him. The miner, without taking it, looked
at the man with amazement, exclaiming: "Well, stranger, you are a
curiosity. I guess you haven't been in the diggings long. You had better
keep that lump for a sample."

These were the days of the red-shirted miner, of romance, of Arcadian
simplicity, of clean, honest working under blue skies and beneath the
warm California sun, of immense fortunes made quickly, of faithful
"pardners," and all the rest. This life was so complete in all its
elements that, as we look back upon it, we unconsciously give it a
longer period than it actually occupied. It seems to be an epoch, as
indeed it was; but it was an epoch of less than a single year, and it
ended when the immigration from the world at large began.

The first news of the gold discovery filtered to the east in a
roundabout fashion through vessels from the Sandwich Islands. A
Baltimore paper published a short item. Everybody laughed at the rumor,
for people were already beginning to discount California stories. But
they remembered it. Romance, as ever, increases with the square of the
distance; and this was a remote land. But soon there came an official
letter written by Governor Mason to the War Department wherein he said
that in his opinion, "There is more gold in the country drained by the
Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers than would pay the cost of the late
war with Mexico a hundred times over." The public immediately was alert.
And then, strangely enough, to give direction to the restless spirit
seething beneath the surface of society, came a silly popular song. As
has happened many times before and since, a great movement was set to
the lilt of a commonplace melody. Minstrels started it; the public
caught it up. Soon in every quarter of the world were heard the strains
of _Oh, Susannah!_ or rather the modification of it made to fit this

"I'll scrape the mountains clean, old girl,
I'll drain the rivers dry.
I'm off for California, Susannah, don't you cry.
Oh, Susannah, don't you cry for me,
I'm off to California with my wash bowl on my

The public mind already prepared for excitement by the stirring events
of the past few years, but now falling into the doldrums of both
monotonous and hard times, responded eagerly. Every man with a drop of
red blood in his veins wanted to go to California. But the journey was a
long one, and it cost a great deal of money, and there were such things
as ties of family or business impossible to shake off. However, those
who saw no immediate prospect of going often joined the curious clubs
formed for the purpose of getting at least one or more of their members
to the El Dorado. These clubs met once in so often, talked over details,
worked upon each other's excitement even occasionally and officially
sent some one of their members to the point of running amuck. Then he
usually broke off all responsibilities and rushed headlong to the gold

The most absurd ideas obtained currency. Stories did not lose in travel.
A work entitled _Three Weeks in the Gold Mines_, written by a mendacious
individual who signed himself H.I. Simpson, had a wide vogue. It is
doubtful if the author had ever been ten miles from New York; but he
wrote a marvelous and at the time convincing tale. According to his
account, Simpson had only three weeks for a tour of the gold-fields, and
considered ten days of the period was all he could spare the unimportant
job of picking up gold. In the ten days, however, with no other
implements than a pocket-knife, he accumulated fifty thousand dollars.
The rest of the time he really preferred to travel about viewing the
country! He condescended, however, to pick up incidental nuggets that
happened to lie under his very footstep. Said one man to his friend: "I
believe I'll go. I know most of this talk is wildly exaggerated, but I
am sensible enough to discount all that sort of thing and to disbelieve
absurd stories. I shan't go with the slightest notion of finding the
thing true, but will be satisfied if I do reasonably well. In fact, if I
don't pick up more than a hatful of gold a day I shall be perfectly

Men's minds were full of strange positive knowledge, not only as to the
extent of the goldmines, but also as to theory and practice of the
actual mining. Contemporary writers tell us of the hundreds and hundreds
of different strange machines invented for washing out the gold and
actually carried around the Horn or over the Isthmus of Panama to San
Francisco. They were of all types, from little pocket-sized affairs up
to huge arrangements with windmill arms and wings. Their destination was
inevitably the beach below the San Francisco settlement, where, half
buried in the sand, torn by the trade winds, and looted for whatever of
value might inhere in the metal parts, they rusted and disintegrated, a
pathetic and grisly reminder of the futile greed of men.

Nor was this excitement confined to the eastern United States. In France
itself lotteries were held, called, I believe, the Lotteries of the
Golden Ingot. The holders of the winning tickets were given a trip to
the gold-fields. A considerable number of French came over in that
manner, so that life in California was then, as now, considerably
leavened by Gallicism. Their ignorance of English together with their
national clannishness caused them to stick together in communities.
They soon became known as Keskydees. Very few people knew why. It was
merely the frontiersmen's understanding of the invariable French phrase
_"Qu'est-ce qu'il dit?"_ In Great Britain, Norway, to a certain extent
in Germany, South America, and even distant Australia, the adventurous
and impecunious were pricking up their ears and laying their plans.

There were offered three distinct channels for this immigration. The
first of these was by sailing around Cape Horn. This was a slow but
fairly comfortable and reasonably safe route. It was never subject to
the extreme overcrowding of the Isthmus route, and it may be dismissed
in this paragraph. The second was by the overland route, of which there
were several trails. The third was by the Isthmus of Panama. Each of
these two is worth a chapter, and we shall take up the overland
migration first.



The overland migration attracted the more hardy and experienced
pioneers, and also those whose assets lay in cattle and farm equipment
rather than in money. The majority came from the more western parts of
the then United States, and therefore comprised men who had already some
experience in pioneering. As far as the Mississippi or even Kansas these
parties generally traveled separately or in small groups from a single
locality. Before starting over the great plains, however, it became
necessary to combine into larger bands for mutual aid and protection.
Such recognized meeting-points were therefore generally in a state of
congestion. Thousands of people with their equipment and animals were
crowded together in some river-bottom awaiting the propitious moment for
setting forth.

The journey ordinarily required about five months, provided nothing
untoward happened in the way of delay. A start in the spring therefore
allowed the traveler to surmount the Sierra Nevada mountains before the
first heavy snowfalls. One of the inevitable anxieties was whether or
not this crossing could be safely accomplished. At first the migration
was thoroughly orderly and successful. As the stories from California
became more glowing, and as the fever for gold mounted higher, the pace

A book by a man named Harlan, written in the County Farm to which his
old age had brought him, gives a most interesting picture of the times.
His party consisted of fourteen persons, one of whom, Harlan's
grandmother, was then ninety years old and blind! There were also two
very small children. At Indian Creek in Kansas they caught up with the
main body of immigrants and soon made up their train. He says: "We
proceeded very happily until we reached the South Platte. Every night we
young folks had a dance on the green prairie." Game abounded, the party
was in good spirits and underwent no especial hardships, and the Indian
troubles furnished only sufficient excitement to keep the men
interested and alert. After leaving Salt Lake, however, the passage
across the desert suddenly loomed up as a terrifying thing. "We started
on our passage over this desert in the early morning, trailed all next
day and all night, and on the morning of the third day our guide told us
that water was still twenty-five miles away. William Harlan here lost
his seven yoke of oxen. The man who was in charge of them went to sleep,
and the cattle turned back and recrossed the desert or perhaps died
there.... Next day I started early and drove till dusk, as I wished to
tire the cattle so that they would lie down and give me a chance to
sleep. They would rest for two or three hours and then try to go back
home to their former range." The party won through, however, and
descended into the smiling valleys of California, ninety-year-old lady
and all.

These parties which were hastily got together for the mere purpose of
progress soon found that they must have some sort of government to make
the trip successful. A leader was generally elected to whom implicit
obedience was supposed to be accorded. Among independent and hot-headed
men quarrels were not infrequent. A rough sort of justice was, however,
invoked by vote of the majority. Though a "split of blankets" was not
unknown, usually the party went through under one leadership. Fortunate
were those who possessed experienced men as leaders, or who in hiring
the services of one of the numerous plains guides obtained one of
genuine experience. Inexperience and graft were as fatal then as now. It
can well be imagined what disaster could descend upon a camping party in
a wilderness such as the Old West, amidst the enemies which that
wilderness supported. It is bad enough today when inexperienced people
go to camp by a lake near a farm-house. Moreover, at that time everybody
was in a hurry, and many suspected that the other man was trying to
obtain an advantage.

Hittell tells of one ingenious citizen who, in trying to keep ahead of
his fellow immigrants as he hurried along, had the bright idea of
setting on fire and destroying the dry grass in order to retard the
progress of the parties behind. Grass was scarce enough in the best
circumstances, and the burning struck those following with starvation.
He did not get very far, however, before he was caught by a posse who
mounted their best horses for pursuit. They shot him from his saddle
and turned back. This attempt at monopoly was thus nipped in the bud.

Probably there would have been more of this sort of thing had it not
been for the constant menace of the Indians. The Indian attack on the
immigrant train has become so familiar through Wild West shows and
so-called literature that it is useless to redescribe it here. Generally
the object was merely the theft of horses, but occasionally a genuine
attack, followed in case of success by massacre, took place. An
experience of this sort did a great deal of good in holding together not
only the parties attacked, but also those who afterwards heard of the

There was, however, another side to the shield, a very encouraging and
cheerful side. For example, some good-hearted philanthropist established
a kind of reading-room and post-office in the desert near the headwaters
of the Humboldt River. He placed it in a natural circular wall of rock
by the road, shaded by a lone tree. The original founder left a lot of
newspapers on a stone seat inside the wall with a written notice to
"Read and leave them for others."

Many trains, well equipped, well formed, well led, went through without
trouble--indeed, with real pleasure. Nevertheless the overwhelming
testimony is on the other side. Probably this was due in large part to
the irritability that always seizes the mind of the tenderfoot when he
is confronted by wilderness conditions. A man who is a perfectly normal
and agreeable citizen in his own environment becomes a suspicious
half-lunatic when placed in circumstances uncomfortable and
unaccustomed. It often happened that people were obliged to throw things
away in order to lighten their loads. When this necessity occurred, they
generally seemed to take an extraordinary delight in destroying their
property rather than in leaving it for anybody else who might come
along. Hittell tells us that sugar was often ruined by having turpentine
poured over it, and flour was mixed with salt and dirt; wagons were
burned; clothes were torn into shreds and tatters. All of this
destruction was senseless and useless, and was probably only a blind and
instinctive reaction against hardships.

Those hardships were considerable. It is estimated that during the
height of the overland migration in the spring of 1849 no less than
fifty thousand people started out. The wagon trains followed almost on
one another's heels, so hot was the pace. Not only did the travelers
wish to get to the Sierras before the snows blocked the passes, not only
were they eager to enter the gold mines, but they were pursued by the
specter of cholera in the concentration camps along the Mississippi
Valley. This scourge devastated these gatherings. It followed the men
across the plains like some deadly wild beast, and was shaken off only
when the high clear climate of desert altitude was eventually reached.

But the terrible part of the journey began with the entrance into the
great deserts, like that of the Humboldt Sink. There the conditions were
almost beyond belief. Thousands were left behind, fighting starvation,
disease, and the loss of cattle. Women who had lost their husbands from
the deadly cholera went staggering on without food or water, leading
their children. The trail was literally lined with dead animals. Often
in the middle of the desert could be seen the camps of death, the wagons
drawn in a circle, the dead animals tainting the air, every living human
being crippled from scurvy and other diseases. There was no fodder for
the cattle, and very little water The loads had to be lightened almost
every mile by the discarding of valuable goods. Many of the immigrants
who survived the struggle reached the goal in an impoverished condition.
The road was bordered with an almost unbroken barrier of abandoned
wagons, old mining implements, clothes, provisions, and the like. As the
cattle died, the problem of merely continuing the march became worse.
Often the rate of progress was not more than a mile every two or three
hours. Each mile had to be relayed back and forth several times. And
when this desert had sapped their strength, they came at last to the
Sink itself, with its long white fields of alkali with drifts of ashes
across them, so soft that the cattle sank half-way to their bellies. The
dust was fine and light and rose chokingly; the sun was strong and
fierce. All but the strongest groups of pioneers seemed to break here.
The retreats became routs. Each one put out for himself with what
strength he had left. The wagons were emptied of everything but the
barest necessities. At every stop some animal fell in the traces and had
to be cut out of the yoke. If a wagon came to a full stop, it was
abandoned. The animals were detached and driven forward. And when at
last they reached the Humboldt River itself, they found it almost
impossible to ford. The best feed lay on the other side. In the
distance the high and forbidding ramparts of the Sierra Nevadas reared

One of these Forty-niners, Delano, a man of some distinction in the
later history of the mining communities, says that five men drowned
themselves in the Humboldt River in one day out of sheer discouragement.
He says that he had to save the lives of his oxen by giving Indians
fifteen dollars to swim the river and float some grass across to him.
And with weakened cattle, discouraged hearts, no provisions, the
travelers had to tackle the high rough road that led across the

Of course, the picture just drawn is of the darkest aspect. Some trains
there were under competent pioneers who knew their job; who were
experienced in wilderness travel; who understood better than to chase
madly away after every cut-off reported by irresponsible trappers; who
comprehended the handling and management of cattle; who, in short, knew
wilderness travel. These came through with only the ordinary hardships.
But take it all in all, the overland trail was a trial by fire. One gets
a notion of its deadliness from the fact that over five thousand people
died of cholera alone. The trail was marked throughout its length by
the shallow graves of those who had succumbed. He who arrived in
California was a different person from the one who had started from the
East. Experience had even in so short a time fused his elements into
something new. This alteration must not be forgotten when we turn once
more to the internal affairs of the new commonwealth.



In the westward overland migration the Salt Lake Valley Mormons played
an important part. These strange people had but recently taken up their
abode in the desert. That was a fortunate circumstance, as their
necessities forced them to render an aid to the migration that in better
days would probably have been refused.

The founder of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, Jr., came from a
commonplace family.

Apparently its members were ignorant and superstitious. They talked much
of hidden treasure and of supernatural means for its discovery. They
believed in omens, signs, and other superstitions. As a boy Joseph had
been shrewd enough and superstitious enough to play this trait up for
all it was worth. He had a magic peep-stone and a witch-hazel
divining-rod that he manipulated so skillfully as to cause other boys
and even older men to dig for him as he wished. He seemed to delight in
tricking his companions in various ways, by telling fortunes, reeling
off tall yarns, and posing as one possessed of occult knowledge.

According to Joseph's autobiography, the discovery of the Mormon Bible
happened in this wise: on the night of September 21, 1823, a vision fell
upon him; the angel Moroni appeared and directed him to a cave on the
hillside; in this cave he found some gold plates, on which were
inscribed strange characters, written in what Smith described as
"reformed Egyptian"; they were undecipherable except by the aid of a
pair of magic peep-stones named Urim and Thummim, delivered him for the
purpose by the angel at Palmyra; looking through the hole in these
peep-stones, he was able to interpret the gold plates. This was the
skeleton of the story embellished by later ornamentation in the way of
golden breastplates, two stones bright and shining, golden plates united
at the back by rings, the sword of Laban, square stone boxes, cemented
clasps, invisible blows, suggestions of Satan, and similar mummery born
from the quickened imagination of a zealot.

Smith succeeded in interesting one Harris to act as his amanuensis in
his interpretation of these books of Mormon. The future prophet sat
behind a screen with the supposed gold plates in his hat. He dictated
through the stones Urim and Thummim. With a keen imagination and natural
aptitude for the strikingly dramatic, he was able to present formally
his ritual, tabernacle, holy of holies, priesthood and tithings,
constitution and councils, blood atonement, anointment, twelve apostles,
miracles, his spiritual manifestations and revelations, all in
reminiscence of the religious tenets of many lands.

Such religious movements rise and fall at periodic intervals. Sometimes
they are never heard of outside the small communities of their birth; at
other times they arise to temporary nation-wide importance, but they are
unlucky either in leadership or environment and so perish. The Mormon
Church, however, was fortunate in all respects. Smith was in no manner a
successful leader, but he made a good prophet. He was strong physically,
was a great wrestler, and had an abundance of good nature; he was
personally popular with the type of citizen with whom he was thrown. He
could impress the ignorant mind with the reality of his revelations and
the potency of his claims. He could impress the more intelligent, but
half unscrupulous, half fanatical minds of the leaders with the power of
his idea and the opportunities offered for leadership.

Two men of the latter type were Parley P. Pratt and Sidney Rigdon. The
former was of the narrow, strong, fanatic type; the latter had the cool
constructive brain that gave point, direction, and consistency to the
Mormon system of theology. Had it not been for such leaders and others
like them, it is quite probable that the Smith movement would have been
lost like hundreds of others. That Smith himself lasted so long as the
head of the Church, with the powers and perquisites of that position,
can be explained by the fact that, either by accident or shrewd design,
his position before the unintelligent masses had been made impregnable.
If it was not true that Joseph Smith had received the golden plates from
an angel and had translated them--again with the assistance of an
angel--and had received from heaven the revelations vouchsafed from time
to time for the explicit guidance of the Church in moral, temporal, and
spiritual matters, then there was no Book of Mormon, no new revelation,
no Mormon Church. The dethronement of Smith meant that there could be
no successor to Smith, for there would be nothing to which to succeed.
The whole church structure must crumble with him.

The time was psychologically right. Occasionally a contagion of
religious need seems to sweep the country. People demand manifestations
and signs, and will flock to any who can promise them. To this class the
Book of Mormon, with its definite sort of mysticism, appealed strongly.
The promises of a new Zion were concrete; the power was centralized, so
that people who had heretofore been floundering in doubt felt they could
lean on authority, and shake off the personal responsibility that had
weighed them down. The Mormon communities grew fast, and soon began to
send out proselyting missionaries. England was especially a fruitful
field for these missionaries. The great manufacturing towns were then at
their worst, containing people desperately ignorant, superstitious, and
so deeply poverty-stricken that the mere idea of owning land of their
own seemed to them the height of affluence. Three years after the
arrival of the missionaries the general conference reported 4019
converts in England alone. These were good material in the hands of
strong, fanatical, or unscrupulous leaders. They were religious
enthusiasts, of course, who believed they were coming to a real city of
Zion. Most of them were in debt to the Church for the price of their
passage, and their expenses. They were dutiful in their acceptance of
miracles, signs, and revelations. The more intelligent among them
realized that, having come so far and invested in the enterprise their
all, it was essential that they accept wholly the discipline and
authority of the Church.

Before their final migration to Utah, the Mormons made three ill-fated
attempts to found the city of Zion, first in Ohio, then in western
Missouri, and finally, upon their expulsion from Missouri, at Nauvoo in
Illinois. In every case they both inspired and encountered opposition
and sometimes persecution. As the Mormons increased in power, they
became more self-sufficient and arrogant. They at first presumed to
dictate politically, and then actually began to consider themselves a
separate political entity. One of their earliest pieces of legislation,
under the act incorporating the city of Nauvoo, was an ordinance to
protect the inhabitants of the Mormon communities from all outside legal
processes. No writ for the arrest of any Mormon inhabitants of any
Mormon city could be executed until it had received the mayor's
approval. By way of a mild and adequate penalty, anyone violating this
ordinance was to be imprisoned for life with no power of pardon in the
governor without the mayor's consent.

Of course this was a welcome opportunity for the lawless and desperate
characters of the surrounding country. They became Mormon to a man.
Under the shield of Mormon protection they could steal and raid to their
heart's content. Land speculators also came into the Church, and bought
land in the expectation that New Zion property would largely rise.
Banking grew somewhat frantic. Complaints became so bitter that even the
higher church authorities were forced to take cognizance of the
practices. In 1840 Smith himself said: "We are no longer at war, and you
must stop stealing. When the right time comes, we will go in force and
take the whole State of Missouri. It belongs to us as our inheritance,
but I want no more petty stealing. A man that will steal petty articles
from his enemies will, when occasion offers, steal from his brethren
too. Now I command you that have stolen must steal no more."

At Nauvoo, on the eastern bank of the Mississippi, they built a really
pretentious and beautiful city, and all but completed a temple that was,
from every account, creditable. However, their arrogant relations with
their neighbors and the extreme isolation in which they held themselves
soon earned them the dislike and distrust of those about them. The
practice of polygamy had begun, although even to the rank and file of
the Mormons themselves the revelation commanding it was as yet unknown.
Still, rumors had leaked forth. The community, already severely shocked
in its economic sense, was only too ready to be shocked in its moral
sense, as is the usual course of human nature. The rather wild vagaries
of the converts, too, aroused distrust and disgust in the sober minds of
the western pioneers. At religious meetings converts would often arise
to talk in gibberish--utterly nonsensical gibberish. This was called a
"speaking with tongues," and could be translated by the speaker or a
bystander in any way he saw fit, without responsibility for the saying.
This was an easy way of calling a man names without standing behind it,
so to speak. The congregation saw visions, read messages on stones
picked up in the field--messages which disappeared as soon as
interpreted. They had fits in meetings, they chased balls of fire
through the fields, they saw wonderful lights in the air, in short they
went through all the hysterical vagaries formerly seen also in the
Methodist revivals under John Wesley.

Turbulence outside was accompanied by turbulence within. Schisms
occurred. Branches were broken off from the Church. The great temporal
power and wealth to which, owing to the obedience and docility of the
rank and file, the leaders had fallen practically sole heirs, had gone
to their heads. The Mormon Church gave every indication of breaking up
into disorganized smaller units, when fortunately for it the prophet
Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob. This martyrdom
consolidated the church body once more; and before disintegrating
influences could again exert themselves, the reins of power were seized
by the strong hand of a remarkable man, Brigham Young, who thrust aside
the logical successor, Joseph Smith's son.

Young was an uneducated man, but with a deep insight into human nature.
A shrewd practical ability and a rugged intelligence, combined with
absolute cold-blooded unscrupulousness in attaining his ends, were
qualities amply sufficient to put Young in the front rank of the class
of people who composed the Mormon Church. He early established a
hierarchy of sufficient powers so that always he was able to keep the
strong men of the Church loyal to the idea he represented. He paid them
well, both in actual property and in power that was dearer to them than
property. Furthermore, whether or not he originated polygamy, he not
only saw at once its uses in increasing the population of the new state
and in taking care of the extra women such fanatical religions always
attract, but also, more astutely, he realized that the doctrine of
polygamy would set his people apart from all other people, and probably
call down upon them the direct opposition of the Federal Government. A
feeling of persecution, opposition, and possible punishment were all
potent to segregate the Mormon Church from the rest of humanity and to
assure its coherence. Further, he understood thoroughly the results that
can be obtained by cooeperation of even mediocre people under able
leadership. He placed his people apart by thoroughly impressing upon
their minds the idea of their superiority to the rest of the world. They
were the chosen people, hitherto scattered, but now at last gathered
together. His followers had just the degree of intelligence necessary to
accept leadership gracefully and to rejoice in a supposed superiority
because of a sense of previous inferiority.

This ductile material Brigham welded to his own forms. He was able to
assume consistently an appearance of uncouth ignorance in order to
retain his hold over his uncultivated flock. He delivered vituperative,
even obscene sermons, which may still be read in his collected works.
But he was able also on occasions, as when addressing agents of the
Federal Government or other outsiders whom he wished to impress, to
write direct and dignified English. He was resourceful in obtaining
control over the other strong men of his Church; but by his very success
he was blinded to due proportions. There can be little doubt that at one
time he thought he could defy the United States by force of arms. He
even maintained an organization called the Danites, sometimes called the
Destroying Angels, who carried out his decrees.[5]

[5: The Mormon Church has always denied the existence of any such
organization; but the weight of evidence is against the Church. In one
of his discourses, Young seems inadvertently to have admitted the
existence of the Danites. The organization dates from the sojourn of the
Mormons in Missouri. See Linn, _The Story of the Mormons_, pp. 189-192.]

Brigham could welcome graciously and leave a good impression upon
important visitors. He was not a good business man, however, and almost
every enterprise he directly undertook proved to be a complete or
partial failure. He did the most extraordinarily stupid things, as, for
instance, when he planned the so-called Cottonwood Canal, the mouth of
which was ten feet higher than its source! Nevertheless he had sense to
utilize the business ability of other men, and was a good accumulator of
properties. His estate at his death was valued at between two and three
million dollars. This was a pretty good saving for a pioneer who had
come into the wilderness without a cent of his own, who had always spent
lavishly, and who had supported a family of over twenty wives and fifty
children--all this without a salary as an officer. Tithes were brought
to him personally, and he rendered no accounting. He gave the strong men
of his hierarchy power and opportunity, played them against each other
to keep his own lead, and made holy any of their misdeeds which were not
directed against himself.

The early months of 1846 witnessed a third Mormon exodus. Driven out of
Illinois, these Latter-day Saints crossed the Mississippi in organized
bands, with Council Bluffs as their first objective. Through the winter
and spring some fifteen thousand Mormons with three thousand wagons
found their way from camp to camp, through snow, ice, and mud, over the
weary stretch of four hundred miles to the banks of the Missouri. The
epic of this westward migration is almost biblical. Hardship brought out
the heroic in many characters. Like true American pioneers, they adapted
themselves to circumstances with fortitude and skill. Linn says: "When a
halt occurred, a shoemaker might be seen looking for a stone to serve as
a lap-stone in his repair work, or a gunsmith mending a rifle, or a
weaver at a wheel or loom. The women learned that the jolting wagons
would churn their milk, and when a halt occurred it took them but a
short time to heat an oven hollowed out of the hillside, in which to
bake the bread already raised." Colonel Kane says that he saw a piece of
cloth, the wool for which was sheared, dyed, spun, and woven, during the

After a winter of sickness and deprivation in camps along "Misery
Bottom," as they called the river flats, during which malaria carried
off hundreds, Brigham Young set out with a pioneer band of a hundred and
fifty to find a new Zion. Toward the end of July, this expedition by
design or chance entered Salt Lake Valley. At sight of the lake
glistening in the sun, "Each of us," wrote one of the party, "without
saying a word to the other, instinctively, as if by inspiration, raised
our hats from our heads, and then, swinging our hats, shouted, 'Hosannah
to God and the Lamb!'"

Meantime the first emigration from winter quarters was under way, and in
the following spring Young conducted a train of eight hundred wagons
across the plains to the great valley where a city of adobe and log
houses was already building. The new city was laid off into numbered
lots. The Presidency had charge of the distribution of these lots. You
may be sure they did not reserve the worst for their use, nor did they
place about themselves undesirable neighbors. Immediately after the
assignments had been made, various people began at once to speculate in
buying and selling according to the location. The spiritual power
immediately anathematized this. No one was permitted to trade over
property. Any sales were made on a basis of the first cost plus the
value of the improvement. A community admirable in almost every way was
improvised as though by magic. Among themselves the Mormons were sober,
industrious, God-fearing, peaceful. Their difficulties with the nation
were yet to come.

Throughout the year, 1848, the weather was propitious for ploughing and
sowing. Before the crops could be gathered, however, provisions ran so
low that the large community was in actual danger of starvation. Men
were reduced to eating skins of slaughtered animals, the raw hides from
the roofs of houses, and even a wild root dug by the miserable Ute
Indians. To cap the climax, when finally the crops ripened, they were
attacked by an army of crickets that threatened to destroy them utterly.
Prayers of desperation were miraculously answered by a flight of white
sea-gulls that destroyed the invader and saved the crop. Since then this
miracle has been many times repeated.

It was in August, 1849, that the first gold rush began. Some of
Brannan's company from California had already arrived with samples of
gold-dust. Brigham Young was too shrewd not to discourage all mining
desires on the part of his people, and he managed to hold them. The
Mormons never did indulge in gold-mining. But the samples served to
inflame the ardor of the immigrants from the east. Their one desire at
once became to lighten their loads so that they could get to the
diggings in the shortest possible time. Then the Mormons began to reap
their harvest. Animals worth only twenty-five or thirty dollars would
bring two hundred dollars in exchange for goods brought in by the
travelers. For a light wagon the immigrants did not hesitate to offer
three or four heavy ones, and sometimes a yoke of oxen to boot. Such
very desirable things to a new community as sheeting, or spades and
shovels, since the miners were overstocked, could be had for almost
nothing. Indeed, everything, except coffee and sugar, was about half the
wholesale rate in the East. The profit to the Mormons from this
migration was even greater in 1850. The gold-seeker sometimes paid as
high as a dollar a pound for flour; and, conversely, as many of the
wayfarers started out with heavy loads of mining machinery and
miscellaneous goods, as is the habit of the tenderfoot camper even unto
this day, they had to sell at the buyers' prices. Some of the
enterprising miners had even brought large amounts of goods for sale at
a hoped-for profit in California. At Salt Lake City, however, the
information was industriously circulated that shiploads of similar,
merchandise were on their way round the Horn, and consequently the
would-be traders often sacrificed their own stock.[6]

[6: Linn, _The Story of the Mormons_, 406.]

This friendly condition could not, of course, long obtain. Brigham
Young's policy of segregation was absolutely opposed to permanent
friendly relations. The immigrants on the other hand were violently
prejudiced against the Mormon faith. The valley of the Salt Lake seemed
to be just the psychological point for the breaking up into fragments of
the larger companies that had crossed the plains. The division of
property on these separations sometimes involved a considerable amount
of difficulty. The disputants often applied to the Mormon courts for
decision. Somebody was sure to become dissatisfied and to accuse the
courts of undue influence. Rebellion against the decision brought upon
them the full force of civil power. For contempt of court they were most
severely fined. The fields of the Mormons were imperfectly fenced; the
cattle of the immigrants were very numerous. Trespass cases brought
heavy remuneration, the value being so much greater for damages than in
the States that it often looked to the stranger like an injustice. A
protest would be taken before a bishop who charged costs for his
decision. An unreasonable prejudice against the Mormons often arose
from these causes. On the other hand there is no doubt that the
immigrants often had right on their side. Not only were the Mormons
human beings, with the usual qualities of love of gain and desire
to take advantage of their situation; but, further, they belonged
to a sect that fostered the belief that they were superior to the
rest of mankind, and that it was actually meritorious to "spoil the

Many gold-diggers who started out with a complete outfit finished their
journey almost on foot. Some five hundred of these people got together
later in California and compared notes. Finally they drew up a series of
affidavits to be sent back home. A petition was presented to Congress
charging that many immigrants had been murdered by the Mormons; that,
when members of the Mormon community became dissatisfied and tried to
leave, they were subdued and killed; that a two per cent tax on the
property was levied on those immigrants compelled to stay through the
winter; that justice was impossible to obtain in the Mormon courts; that
immigrants' mail was opened and destroyed; and that all Mormons were at
best treasonable in sentiment. Later the breach between the Mormons and
the Americans became more marked, until it culminated in the atrocious
Mountain Meadows massacre, which was probably only one of several
similar but lesser occurrences. These things, however, are outside of
our scope, as they occurred later in history. For the moment, it is only
necessary to note that it was extremely fortunate for the gold
immigrants, not only that the half-way station had been established by
the Mormons, but also that the necessities of the latter forced them to
adopt a friendly policy. By the time open enmity had come, the first of
the rush had passed and other routes had been well established.



Of the three roads to California that by Panama was the most obvious,
the shortest, and therefore the most crowded. It was likewise the most
expensive. To the casual eye this route was also the easiest. You got on
a ship in New York, you disembarked for a very short land journey, you
re-embarked on another ship, and landed at San Francisco. This route
therefore attracted the more unstable elements of society. The journey
by the plains took a certain grim determination and courage; that by
Cape Horn, a slow and persistent patience.

The route by the Isthmus, on the other hand, allured the impatient, the
reckless, and those who were unaccustomed to and undesirous of
hardships. Most of the gamblers and speculators, for example, as well as
the cheaper politicians, went by Panama.

In October, 1848, the first steamship of the Pacific Steamship Company
began her voyage from New York to Panama and San Francisco, and reached
her destination toward the end of February. On the Atlantic every old
tub that could be made to float so far was pressed into service.
Naturally there were many more vessels on the Atlantic side than on the
Pacific side, and the greatest congestion took place at Panama. Every
man was promised by the shipping agent a through passage, but the
shipping agent was careful to remain in New York.

The overcrowded ships were picturesque though uncomfortable. They were
crowded to the guards with as miscellaneous a lot of passengers as were
ever got together. It must be remembered that they were mostly young men
in the full vigor of youth and thoroughly imbued with the adventurous
spirit. It must be remembered again, if the reader can think back so far
in his own experience, that youth of that age loves to deck itself out
both physically and mentally in the trappings of romance. Almost every
man wore a red shirt, a slouch hat, a repeating pistol, and a
bowie-knife; and most of them began at once to grow beards. They came
from all parts of the country. The lank Maine Yankee elbowed the tall,
sallow, black-haired Southerner. Social distinctions soon fell away and
were forgotten. No one could tell by speech, manners, or dress whether a
man's former status was lawyer, physician, or roustabout. The days were
spent in excited discussions of matters pertaining to the new country
and the theory and practice of gold-mining. Only two things were said to
be capable of breaking in on this interminable palaver. One was dolphins
and the other the meal-gong. When dolphins appeared, each passenger
promptly rushed to the side of the ship and discharged his revolver in a
fusillade that was usually harmless. Meal time always caught the
majority unawares. They tumbled and jostled down the companionway only
to find that the wise and forethoughtful had preempted every chair.
There was very little quarreling. A holiday spirit seemed to pervade the
crowd. Everybody was more or less elevated in mood and everybody was
imbued with the same spirit of comradeship in adventure.

But with the sight of shore, the low beach, and the round high bluffs
with the castle atop that meant Chagres, this comradeship rather fell
apart. Soon a landing was to be made and transportation across the
Isthmus had to be obtained. Men at once became rivals for prompt
service. Here, for the first time, the owners of the weird
mining-machines already described found themselves at a disadvantage,
while those who carried merely the pick, shovel, and small personal
equipment were enabled to make a flying start. On the beach there was
invariably an immense wrangle over the hiring of boats to go up the
river. These were a sort of dug-out with small decks in the bow and in
the stern, and with low roofs of palmetto leaves amidships. The fare to
Cruces was about fifteen dollars a man. Nobody was in a hurry but the

Chagres was a collection of cane huts on level ground, with a swamp at
the back. Men and women clad in a single cotton garment lay about
smoking cigars. Naked and pot-bellied children played in the mud. On the
threshold of the doors, in the huts, fish, bullock heads, hides, and
carrion were strewn, all in a state of decomposition, while in the rear
was the jungle and a lake of stagnant water with a delicate bordering of
greasy blue mud. There was but one hotel, called the Crescent City,
which boasted of no floor and no food. The newcomers who were unsupplied
with provisions had to eat what they could pick up. Unlearned as yet in
tropical ways, they wasted a tremendous lot of nervous energy in trying
to get the natives started. The natives, calm in the consciousness that
there was plenty of demand, refused to be hurried. Many of the
travelers, thinking that they had closed a bargain, returned from
sightseeing only to find their boat had disappeared. The only safe way
was to sit in the canoe until it actually started.

With luck they got off late in the afternoon, and made ten or twelve
miles to Gatun. The journey up the lazy tropical river was exciting and
interesting. The boatmen sang, the tropic forests came down to the banks
with their lilies, shrubs, mangoes, cocos, sycamores, palms; their
crimson, purple, and yellow blossoms; their bananas with torn leaves;
their butterflies and paroquets; their streamers and vines and scarlet
flowers. It was like a vision of fairyland.

Gatun was a collection of bamboo huts, inhabited mainly by fleas. One
traveler tells of attempting to write in his journal, and finding the
page covered with fleas before he had inscribed a dozen words. The gold
seekers slept in hammocks, suspended at such a height that the native
dogs found them most convenient back-scratchers. The fleas were not
inactive. On all sides the natives drank, sang, and played monte. It
generally rained at night, and the flimsy huts did little to keep out
the wet. Such things went far to take away the first enthusiasm and to
leave the travelers in rather a sad and weary-eyed state.

By the third day the river narrowed and became swifter. With luck the
voyagers reached Gorgona on a high bluff. This was usually the end of
the river journey. Most people bargained for Cruces six miles beyond,
but on arrival decided that the Gorgona trail would be less crowded, and
with unanimity went ashore there. Here the bargaining had to be started
all over again, this time for mules. Here also the demand far exceeded
the supply, with the usual result of arrogance, indifference, and high
prices. The difficult ride led at first through a dark deep wood in clay
soil that held water in every depression, seamed with steep eroded
ravines and diversified by low passes over projecting spurs of a chain
of mountains. There the monkeys and parrots furnished the tropical
atmosphere, assisted somewhat by innumerable dead mules along the trail.
Vultures sat in every tree waiting for more things to happen. The trail
was of the consistency of very thick mud. In this mud the first mule
had naturally left his tracks; the next mules trod carefully in the
first mule's footprints, and all subsequent mules did likewise. The
consequence was a succession of narrow deep holes in the clay into which
an animal sank half-way to the shoulder. No power was sufficient to make
these mules step anywhere else. Each hole was full of muddy water. When
the mule inserted his hoof, water spurted out violently as though from a
squirt-gun. Walking was simply impossible.

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