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[Illustration: Life at the Mission of Dolores, 1855]
CHARLES WARREN STODDARD
NEW AND ENLARGED EDITION
TO MY FATHER
SAMUEL BURR STODDARD, ESQ.
FOR HALF A CENTURY
A CITIZEN OF SAN FRANCISCO
THOUGH THE KINDNESS OF THE EDITORS
OF THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE,
THE CENTURY MAGAZINE, THE
OVERLAND MONTHLY, THE
AVE MARIA, NOTRE DAME, INDIANA,
THE VICTORIAN REVIEW, MELBOURNE
Since the first and second editions of “In the Footprints of the Padres” appeared, many things have transpired. San Francisco has been destroyed and rebuilt, and in its holocaust most of the old landmarks mentioned in the pages that follow as then existing, have been obliterated. Since then, too, the gentle heart, much of whose story is told herein, has been hushed in death. Charles Warren Stoddard has followed on in the footprints of the Padres he loved so well. He abides with us no longer, save in the sweetest of memories, memories which are kept ever new by the unforgettable writings which he left behind him. He passed away April 23, 1909, and lies sleeping now under the cypresses of his beloved Monterey.
Charles Warren Stoddard was possessed of unique literary gifts that were all his own. These gifts shine out in the pages of this book. Here we find that mustang humor of his forever kicking its silver heels with the most upsetting suddenness into the honeyed sweetness of his flowing poetry. Here, too, we find that gift of word-painting which makes all his writings a brilliant gallery of rich-hued and soft-lighted wonder. Of the green thickets of the redwood forests he says, in “Primeval California”: “A dense undergrowth of light green foliage caught and held the sunlight like so much spray.” So do Stoddard’s pages catch and hold the lights and shadows of a world which is the more beautiful because he beheld it and sang of it–for sing he did. His prose is the essence of poetry.
In my autograph copy of “The Footprints of the Padres” Stoddard wrote: “A new memory of Old Monterey is the richer for our meeting here for the first time in the flesh. We have often met in spirit ere this.” Whenever we would go walking together, he and I, through the streets of that old Monterey, old no longer save in memory, he would invariably take me to a certain high board fence, and looking through an opening show me the ruins of an adobe house–nothing but a broken fireplace left, moss-grown and crumbling away. “That is my old California,” he would say, while his sweet voice was shaken with tears. That desolated hearth seemed to him the symbol of the California which he had known and loved…. But no, the old California that Stoddard loved lives on, and will, because he caught and preserved its spirit and its coloring, its light and life and music. As the redwood thicket holds the sunlight, so do Stoddard’s words keep bright and living, though viewed through a mist of tears, the California of other days.
In this new edition of “The Footprints” some changes will be found, changes which all will agree make an improvement over the original volume. “Primeval California,” first published in October, 1881, in the old Scribner’s (now The Century) Magazine, when James G. Holland was its editor, is at times Stoddard at his best. “In Yosemite Shadows” shows us the young Stoddard full of boyish enthusiasm–he could not have been more than twenty when it was written and published, in the old Overland, then edited by Bret Harte. It is more than a gloriously poetic description of Yosemite, when Yosemite still dreamed in its virgin beauty; it is the revelation of a poet’s beginnings, for it gives us in the rough, just finding their way to the light, all those gifts which later won Stoddard his fame.
The third addition to this volume is “An Affair of the Misty City,” a valuable chapter, since it is wholly autobiographical, and at the same time embodies pen portraits of all the celebrities of California’s first literary days, that famous group of which Stoddard was one. Of all the group, Ina Coolbrith was closest and dearest to Stoddard’s heart. The beautiful abiding friendship which bound the souls of these two poets together has not been surpassed in all the poetry and romance of the world. These last added chapters are taken from “In the Pleasure of His Company,” which is out of print and may never be republished.
The “Mysterious History,” included in the original editions of “The Footprints” has wisely been left out. It had no proper place in the book: Stoddard himself felt that. The additions which have been supplied by Mr. Robertson, who was for years Stoddard’s publisher, and in whom the author reposed the utmost confidence, make a real improvement on the original book.
“We have often met in spirit ere this,” Stoddard wrote me. We had; and we meet again and again. I feel him very near me as I write these words; and I feel, too, that his gentle soul will visit everyone who reads the chronicles he has here set down, so that even though no shaft rise in marble glory to mark his last resting place, still in unnumbered hearts his memory will be enshrined. With his poet friend, Thomas Walsh, well may we say:
“Vain the laudation!–What are crowns and praise To thee whom Youth anointed on the eyes? We have but known the lesser heart of thee Whose spirit bloomed in lilies down the ways Of Padua; whose voice perpetual sighs On Molokai in tides of melody.”
Nineteen hundred and eleven.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Old Days in El Dorado–
I. “Strange Countries for to See” II. Crossing the Isthmus
III. Along the Pacific Shore
IV. In the Wake of Drake
V. Atop o’ Telegraph Hill
VI. Pavement Pictures
VII. A Boy’s Outing
VIII. The Mission Dolores
IX. Social San Francisco
X. Happy Valley
XI. The Vigilance Committee
XII. The Survivor’s Story
A Bit of Old China
With the Egg-Pickers of the Farallones
A Memory of Monterey
In a Californian Bungalow
In Yosemite Shadows
An Affair of the Misty City–
I. What the Moon Shone on
II. What the Sun Shone on
III. Balm of Hurt Wounds
IV. By the World Forgot
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Life at the Mission of Dolores, 1855 View of Montgomery, Post and Market Streets, San Francisco, 1858 Fort Point at the Golden Gate
The Outer Signal Station at the Golden Gate City of Oakland in 1856
Interior of the El Dorado
Warner’s at Meigg’s Wharf
The Old Flume at Black Point, 1856 Lone Mountain, 1856
Russ Gardens, 1856
Certificate of Membership, Vigilance Committee, 1856 West from Black Point, 1856
“China is Not More Chinese than this Section of Our Christian City.” “Rag Alley” in Old Chinatown
Murre on their Nests, Farallone Islands Monterey, 1850
San Carlos de Carmelo
“The Huge Court of that Luxurious Caravansary.” “The Gallery Among the Huge Vases of Palms and Creepers.” Meigg’s Wharf in 1856
Telegraph Hill, 1855
Sentinel Hotel, Yosemite, in 1869 San Francisco in 1856
THE BELLS OF SAN GABRIEL
Thine was the corn and the wine,
The blood of the grape that nourished; The blossom and fruit of the vine
That was heralded far away.
These were thy gifts; and thine,
When the vine and the fig-tree flourished, The promise of peace and of glad increase Forever and ever and aye.
What then wert thou, and what art now? Answer me, O, I pray!
And every note of every bell
Sang Gabriel! Rang Gabriel!
In the tower that is left the tale to tell Of Gabriel, the Archangel.
Oil of the olive was thine;
Flood of the wine-press flowing; Blood o’ the Christ was the wine–
Blood o’ the Lamb that was slain. Thy gifts were fat o’ the kine
Forever coming and going
Far over the hills, the thousand hills– Their lowing a soft refrain.
What then wert thou, and what art now? Answer me, once again!
And every note of every bell
Sang Gabriel! Rang Gabriel!
In the tower that is left the tale to tell Of Gabriel, the Archangel.
Seed o’ the corn was thine–
Body of Him thus broken
And mingled with blood o’ the vine– The bread and the wine of life;
Out of the good sunshine
They were given to thee as a token– The body of Him, and the blood of Him, When the gifts of God were rife.
What then wert thou, and what art now, After the weary strife?
And every note of every bell
Sang Gabriel! Rang Gabriel!
In the tower that is left the tale to tell Of Gabriel, the Archangel.
Where are they now, O, bells?
Where are the fruits o’ the mission? Garnered, where no one dwells,
Shepherd and flock are fled.
O’er the Lord’s vineyard swells
The tide that with fell perdition Sounded their doom and fashioned their tomb And buried them with the dead.
What then wert thou, and what art now?– The answer is still unsaid.
Sang Gabriel! Rang Gabriel!
In the tower that is left the tale to tell Of Gabriel, the Archangel.
Where are they now, O tower!
The locusts and wild honey?
Where is the sacred dower
That the bride of Christ was given? Gone to the wielders of power,
The misers and minters of money; Gone for the greed that is their creed– And these in the land have thriven.
What then wer’t thou, and what art now, And wherefore hast thou striven?
Sang Gabriel! Rang Gabriel!
In the tower that is left the tale to tell Of Gabriel, the Archangel.
CHARLES WARREN STODDARD.
IN THE FOOTPRINTS OF THE PADRES
[Illustration: View of Montgomery, Post and Market Streets, San Francisco, 1858]
OLD DAYS IN EL DORADO
“STRANGE COUNTRIES FOR TO SEE”
Now, the very first book was called “Infancy”; and, having finished it, I closed it with a bang! I was just twelve. ‘Tis thus the twelve-year-old is apt to close most books. Within those pages–perhaps some day to be opened to the kindly inquiring eye–lie the records of a quiet life, stirred at intervals by spasms of infantile intensity. There are more days than one in a life that can be written of, and when the clock strikes twelve the day is but half over.
The clock struck twelve! We children had been watching and waiting for it. The house had been stripped bare; many cases of goods were awaiting shipment around Cape Horn to California. California! A land of fable! We knew well enough that our father was there, and had been for two years or more; and that we were at last to go to him, and dwell there with the fabulous in a new home more or less fabulous,–yet we felt that it must be altogether lovely. We said good-bye to everybody,–getting friends and fellow-citizens more or less mixed as the hour of departure from our native city drew near. We were very much hugged and very much kissed and not a little cried over; and then at last, in a half, dazed condition, we left Rochester, New York, for New York city, on our way to San Francisco by the Nicaragua route. This was away back in 1855, when San Francisco, it may be said, was only six years old.
It seemed a supreme condescension on the part of our maternal grandfather that he, who did not and could not for a moment countenance the theatre, should voluntarily take us, one and all, to see an alleged dramatic representation at Barnum’s Museum–at that time one of the features of New York city, and perhaps the most famous place of amusement in the land. Four years later, when I was sixteen, very far from home and under that good gentleman’s watchful supervision, I asked leave to witness a dramatic version of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” enacted by a small company of strolling players in a canvas tent. There were no blood-hounds in the cast, and mighty little scenery, or anything else alluring; but I was led to believe that I had been trembling upon the verge of something direful, and I was not allowed to go. What would that pious man have said could he have seen me, a few years later, strutting and fretting my hour upon the stage?
Well, we all saw “Damon and Pythias” in Barnum’s “Lecture Room,” with real scenery that split up the middle and slid apart over a carpet of green baize. And ’twas a real play, played by real players,–at least they were once real players, but that was long before. It may be their antiquated and failing art rendered them harmless. And, then, those beguiling words “Lecture Room” have such a soothing sound! They seemed in those days to hallow the whole function, which was, of course, the wily wish of the great moral entertainer; and his great moral entertainment was even as “the cups that cheer but not inebriate.” It came near it in our case, however. It was our first matinee at the theatre, and, oh, the joy we took of it! Years afterward did we children in our playroom, clad in “the trailing garments of the night” in lieu of togas, sink our identity for the moment and out-rant Damon and his Pythias. Thrice happy days so long ago in California!
There is no change like a sea change, no matter who suffers it; and one’s first sea voyage is a revelation. The mystery of it is usually not unmixed with misery. Five and forty years ago it was a very serious undertaking to uproot one’s self, say good-bye to all that was nearest and dearest, and go down beyond the horizon in an ill-smelling, overcrowded, side-wheeled tub. Not a soul on the dock that day but fully realized this. The dock and the deck ran rivers of tears, it seemed to me; and when, after the lingering agony of farewells had reached the climax, and the shore-lines were cast off, and the Star of the West swung out into the stream, with great side-wheels fitfully revolving, a shriek rent the air and froze my young blood. Some mother parting from a son who was on board our vessel, no longer able to restrain her emotion, was borne away, frantically raving in the delirium of grief. I have never forgotten that agonizing scene, or the despairing wail that was enough to pierce the hardest heart. I imagined my heart was about to break; and when we put out to sea in a damp and dreary drizzle, and the shore-line dissolved away, while on board there was overcrowding, and confusion worse confounded in evidence everywhere,–perhaps it did break, that overwrought heart of mine and has been a patched thing ever since.
We were a miserable lot that night, pitched to and fro and rolled from side to side as if we were so much baggage. And there was a special horror in the darkness, as well as in the wind that hissed through the rigging, and in the waves that rushed past us, sheeted with foam that faded ghostlike as we watched it,–faded ghostlike, leaving the blackness of darkness to enfold us and swallow us up.
Day after day for a dozen days we ploughed that restless sea. There were days into which the sun shone not; when everybody and everything was sticky with salty distillations; when half the passengers were sea-sick and the other half sick of the sea. The decks were slimy, the cabins stuffy and foul. The hours hung heavily, and the horizon line closed in about us a gray wall of mist.
Then I used to bury myself in my books and try to forget the world, now lost to sight, and, as I sometimes feared, never to be found again. I had brought my private library with me; it was complete in two volumes. There was “Rollo Crossing the Atlantic,” by dear old Jacob Abbot; and this book of juvenile travel and adventure I read on the spot, as it were,–read it carefully, critically; flattering myself that I was a lad of experience, capable of detecting any nautical error which Jacob, one of the most prolific authors of his day, might perchance have made. The other volume was a pocket copy of “Robinson Crusoe,” upon the fly-leaf of which was scrawled, in an untutored hand, “Charley from Freddy,”–this Freddy was my juvenile chum. I still have that little treasure, with its inscription undimmed by time.
Frequently I have thought that the reading of this charming book may have been the predominating influence in the development of my taste and temper; for it was while I was absorbed in the exquisitely pathetic story of Robinson Crusoe that the first island I ever saw dawned upon my enchanted vision. We had weathered Cape Sable and the Florida Keys. No sky was ever more marvellously blue than the sea beneath us. The density and the darkness that prevail in Northern waters had gone out of it; the sun gilded it, the moon silvered it, and the great stars dropped their pearl-plummets into it in the vain search for soundings.
Sea gardens were there,–floating gardens adrift in the tropic gale; pale green gardens of berry and leaf and long meandering vine, rocking upon the waves that lapped the shores of the Antilles, feeding the current of the warm Gulf Stream; and, forsooth, some of them to find their way at last into the mazes of that mysterious, mighty, menacing sargasso sea. Strange sea-monsters, more beautiful than monstrous, sported in the foam about our prow, and at intervals dashed it with color like animated rainbows. From wave to wave the flying fish skimmed like winged arrows of silver. Sometimes a land-bird was blown across the sky–the sea-birds we had always with us,–and ever the air was spicy and the breeze like a breath of balm.
One day a little cloud dawned upon our horizon. It was at first pale and pearly, then pink like the hollow of a sea-shell, then misty blue,–a darker blue, a deep blue dissolving into green, and the green outlining itself in emerald, with many a shade of lighter or darker green fretting its surface, throwing cliff and crest into high relief, and hinting at misty and mysterious vales, as fair as fathomless. It floated up like a cloud from the nether world, and was at first without form and void, even as its fellows were; but as we drew nearer–for we were steaming toward it across a sea of sapphire,–it brooded upon the face of the water, while the clouds that had hung about it were scattered and wafted away.
Thus was an island born to us of sea and sky,–an island whose peak was sky-kissed, whose vales were overshadowed by festoons of vapor, whose heights were tipped with sunshine, and along whose shore the sea sang softly, and the creaming breakers wreathed themselves, flashed like snow-drifts, vanished and flashed again. The sea danced and sparkled; the air quivered with vibrant light. Along the border of that island the palm-trees towered and reeled, and all its gardens breathed perfume such as I had never known or dreamed of.
For a few hours only we basked in its beauty, rejoiced in it, gloried in it; and then we passed it by. Even as it had risen from the sea it returned into its bosom and was seen no more. Twilight stole in between us, and the night blotted it out forever. Forever?
I wonder what island it was? A pearl of the Antilles, surely; but its name and fame, its history and mystery are lost to me. Its memory lives and is as green as ever. No wintry blasts visit it; even the rich dyes of autumn do not discolor it. It is perennial in its rare beauty, unfading, unforgotten, unforgettable; a thing immutable, immemorial–I had almost said immortal.
Whence it came and whither it has gone I know not. It had its rising and its setting; its day from dawn to dusk was perfect. Doubtless there are those whose lives have been passed within its tranquil shade: from generation to generation it has known all that they have known of joy or sorrow. All the world that they have knowledge of has been compassed by the far blue rim of the horizon. That sky-piercing peak was ever the centre of their universe, and the wandering sea-bird has outflown their thoughts.
All this came to me as a child, when the first island “swam into my ken.” It was a great discovery–a revelation. Of it were born all the islands that have been so much to me in later life. And even then I seemed to comprehend the singular life that all islanders are forced to live: the independence of that life–for a man’s island is his fortress, girded about with the fathomless moat of the sea; and the dependence of it–for what is that island but an atom dotting watery space and so easily cut off from communication with the world at large? Drought may visit the islander, and he may be starved; the tornado may desolate his shore; fever and famine and thirst may lie in wait for him; sickness and sorrow and death abide with him. Thus is he dependent in his independence.
And he is insecluded in his seclusion, for he can not escape from the intruder. He should have no wish that may not be satisfied, provided he be native born; what can he wish for that is beyond the knowledge he has gained from the objects within his reach? The world is his, so far as he knows it; yet if he have one wish that calls for aught beyond his limited horizon he rests unsatisfied.
All that was lovely in that tropic isle appealed to me and filled me with a great longing. I wanted to sing with the Beloved Bard:
Oh, had we some bright little isle of our own, In the blue summer ocean, far off and alone!
And yet even then I felt its unutterable loneliness, as I have felt it a thousand times since; the loneliness that starves the heart, tortures the brain, and leaves the mind diseased; the loneliness that is exemplified in the solitude of Alexander Selkirk.
Robinson Crusoe lived in very truth for me the moment I saw and comprehended that summer isle. He also is immortal. From that hour we scoured the sea for islands: from dawn to dark we were on the watch. The Caribbean Sea is well stocked with them. We were threading our way among them, and might any day hear the glad cry of “Land ho!” But we heard it not until the morning of the eleventh day out from New York. The sea seemed more lonesome than ever when we lost our, island; the monotony of our life was almost unbroken. We began to feel as prisoners must feel whose _time_ is near out. Oh, how the hours lagged!–but deliverance was at hand. At last we gave a glad shout, for the land was ours again; we were to disembark in the course of a few hours, and all was bustle and confusion until we dropped anchor off the Mosquito Shore.
CROSSING THE ISTHMUS
We approached the Mosquito Shore timidly. The shallowing sea was of the color of amber; the land so low and level that the foliage which covered it seemed to be rooted in the water. We dropped anchor in the mouth of the San Juan River. On our right lay the little Spanish village of San Juan del Norte; its five hundred inhabitants may have been wading through its one street at that moment, for aught we know; the place seemed to be knee-deep in water. On our left was a long strip of land–the depot and coaling station of the Vanderbilt Steamship Company.
It did not appear to be much, that sandspit known as Punta Arenas, with its row of sheds at the water’s edge, and its scattering shrubs tossing in the wind; but sovereignty over this very point was claimed by three petty powers: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and “Mosquito.” Great Britain backed the “Mosquito” claim; and, in virtue of certain privileges granted by the “Mosquito” King, the authorities of San Juan del Norte–the port better known in those days as Graytown, albeit ’twas as green as grass–threatened to seize Punta Arenas for public use. Thereupon Graytown was bombarded; but immediately rose, Phoenix-like, from its ashes, and was flourishing when we arrived. The current number of _Harper’s Monthly_, a copy of which we brought on board when we embarked at New York, contained an illustrated account of the bombardment of Graytown, which added not a little to the interest of the hour.
While we were speculating as to the nature of our next experience, suddenly a stern-wheel, flat-bottom boat backed up alongside of the Star of the West. She was of the pattern of the small freight-boats that still ply the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. If the Star of the West was small, this stern-wheel scow was infinitely smaller. There was but one cabin, and it was rendered insufferably hot by the boilers that were set in the middle of it. There was one flush deck, with an awning stretched above it that extended nearly to the prow of the boat. It was said our passenger list numbered fourteen hundred. The gold boom in California was still at fever heat. Every craft that set sail for the Isthmus by the Nicaragua or Panama route, or by the weary route around Cape Horn, was packed full of gold-seekers. It was the Golden Age of the Argonauts; and, if my memory serves me well, there were no reserved seats worth the price thereof.
The first river boat at our disposal was for the exclusive accommodation of the cabin passengers, or as many of them as could be crowded upon her–and we were among them. Other steamers were to follow as soon as practicable. Hours, even days, passed by, and the passengers on the ocean steamers were sometimes kept waiting the arrival of the river boats that were aground or had been belated up the stream.
About two hundred of us boarded the first boat. Our luggage of the larger sort was stowed away in barges and towed after us. The decks were strewn with hand-bags, camp-stools, bundles, and rolls of rugs. The lower deck was two feet above the water. As we looked back upon the Star of the West, waving a glad farewell to the ship that had brought us more than two thousand miles across the sea, she loomed like a Noah’s Ark above the flood, and we were quite proud of her–but not sorry to say good-bye.
And now away, into the very heart of a Central American forest! And hail to the new life that lay all before us in El Dorado! The river was as yellow as saffron; its shores were hidden in a dense growth of underbrush that trailed its boughs in the water, and rose, a wall of verdure, far above our smokestacks. As we ascended the stream the forest deepened; the trees grew taller and taller; wide-spreading branches hung over us; gigantic vines clambered everywhere and made huge hammocks of themselves; they bridged the bayous, and made dark leafy caverns wherein the shadows were forbidding; for the sunshine seemed never to have penetrated them, and they were the haunts of weirdness and mystery profound.
Sometimes a tree that had fallen into the water and lay at a convenient angle by the shore afforded the alligator a comfortable couch for his sun-bath. Shall I ever forget the excitement occasioned by the discovery of our first alligator! Not the ancient and honorable crocodile of the Nile was ever greeted with greater enthusiasm; yet our sportsmen had very little respect for him, and his sleep was disturbed by a shower of bullets that spattered upon his hoary scales as harmlessly as rain.
Though the alligator punctuated every adventurous hour of that memorable voyage in Nicaragua, we children were more interested in our Darwinian friends, the monkeys. They were of all shades and shapes and sizes; they descended in troops among the trees by the river side; they called to us and beckoned us shoreward; they cried to us, they laughed at us; they reached out their bony arms, and stretched wide their slim, cold hands to us, as if they would pluck us as we passed. We exchanged compliments and clubs in a sham-battle that was immensely diverting; we returned the missiles they threw at us as long as the ammunition held out, but captured none of the enemy, nor did the slightest damage–as far as we could ascertain.
Often the parrots squalled at us, but their vocabulary was limited; for they were untaught of men. Sometimes the magnificent macaw flew over us, with its scarlet plumage flickering like flame. Oh, but those gorgeous birds were splashes of splendid color in the intense green of that tropical background!
There were islands in this river,–islands that seemed to have no shores, but lay half submerged in mid-stream, like huge water-logged bouquets. There were sand-bars in the river, and upon these we sometimes ran, and were brought to a sudden stand-still that startled us not a little; then we backed off with what dignity we might, and gave the unwelcome obstructions a wide berth.
Perhaps the most interesting event of the voyage was “wooding up.” A few hours after we had entered the river our steamer made for the shore. More than once in her course she had rounded points that seemed to block the way; and occasionally there were bends so abrupt that we found ourselves apparently land-locked in the depths of a wilderness which might well be called prodigious. Now it was evident that we were heading for the shore, and with a purpose, too. As we drew nearer, we saw among the deep tangle of leaves and vines a primitive landing. It was a little dock with a thatched lodge in the rear of it and a few cords of wood stacked upon its end. There were some natives here–Indians probably,–with dark skins bared from head to foot; they wore only the breech-clout, and this of the briefest. Evidently they were children of Nature.
Having made fast to this dock, these woodmen speedily shouldered the fuel and hurried it on board, while they chanted a rhythmical chant that lent a charm to the scene. We were never weary of “wooding up,” and were always wondering where these gentle savages lived and how they escaped with their lives from the thousand and one pests that haunted the forest and lay in wait for them. Every biting and stinging thing was there. The mosquitoes nearly devoured us, especially at night; while serpents, scorpions, centipedes, possessed the jungle. There also was the lair of larger game. It is said that sharks will pick a white man out of a crowd of dark ones in the sea; not that he is a more tempting and toothsome morsel–drenched with nicotine, he may indeed be less appetizing than his dark-skinned, fruit-fed fellow,–but his silvery skin is a good sea-mark, as the shark has often confirmed. So these dark ones in the semi-darkness of the wood may, perhaps, pass with impunity where a pale-face would fall an easy prey.
At the Rapids of Machuca we debarked. Here was a miry portage about a mile in length, through which we waded right merrily; for it seemed an age since last we had set foot to earth. Our freight was pulled up the Rapids in _bongas_ (row-boats), manned by natives; but our steamer could not pass, and so returned to the Star of the West for another load of passengers.
There was mire at Machuca, and steaming heat; but the path along the river-bank was shaded by wondrous trees, and we were overwhelmed with the offer of all the edible luxuries of the season at the most alarming prices. There was no coin in circulation smaller than a dime. Everything salable was worth a dime, or two or three, to the seller. It didn’t seem to make much difference what price was asked by the merchant: he got it, or you went without refreshments. It was evident there was no market between meals at Machuca Rapids, and steamer traffic enlivened it but twice in the month.
What oranges were there!–such as one seldom sees outside the tropics: great globes of delicious dew shut in a pulpy crust half an inch in thickness, of a pale green tinge, and oozing syrup and an oily spray when they are broken. Bananas, mangoes, guavas, sugar-cane,–on these we fed; and drank the cream of the young cocoanut, goat’s milk, and the juices of various luscious fruits served in carven gourds,–delectable indeed, but the nature of which was past our speculation. It was enough to eat and to drink and to wallow a muddy mile for the very joy of it, after having been toeing the mark on a ship’s deck for a dozen days or less, and feeding on ship’s fodder.
Our second transport was scarcely an improvement on the first. Again we threaded the river, which seemed to grow broader and deeper as we drew near its fountain-head, Lake Nicaragua. Upon a height above the river stood a military post, El Castillo, much fallen to decay. Here were other rapids, and here we were transferred to a lake boat on which we were to conclude our voyage. Those stern-wheel scows could never weather the lake waters.
We had passed a night on the river boat,–a night of picturesque horrors. The cabin was impossible: nobody braved its heat. The deck was littered with luggage and crowded with recumbent forms. A few fortunate voyagers–men of wisdom and experience–were provided with comfortable hammocks; and while most of us were squirming beneath them, they swung in mid-air, under a breadth of mosquito netting, slumbering sonorously and obviously oblivious of all our woes.
If I forget not, I cared not to sleep. We were very soon to leave the river and enter the lake. From the boughs of overarching trees swept beards of dark gray moss some yards in length, that waved to and fro in the gathering twilight like folds of funereal crape. There were camp-fires at the wooding stations, the flames of which painted the foliage extraordinary colors and spangled it with sparks. Great flocks of unfamiliar birds flew over us, their brilliant plumage taking a deeper dye as they flashed their wings in the firelight. The chattering monkeys skirmished among the branches; sometimes a dull splash in the water reminded us that the alligator was still our neighbor; and ever there was the piping of wild birds whose notes we had never heard before, and whose outlines were as fantastic as those of the bright objects that glorify an antique Japanese screen.
Once from the shore, a canoe shot out of the shadow and approached us. It was a log hollowed out–only the shell remained. Within it sat two Indians,–not the dark creatures we had grown familiar with down the river; these also were nearly nude, but with the picturesque nudeness that served only to set off the ornaments with which they had adorned themselves–necklaces of shells, wristlets and armlets of bright metal, wreaths of gorgeous flowers and the gaudy plumage of the flamingo. They drew near us for a moment, only to greet us and turn away; and very soon, with splash of dipping paddles, they vanished in the dusk.
These were the flowers of the forest. All the winding way from the sea the river walls had been decked with floral splendor. Gigantic blossoms that might shame a rainbow starred the green spaces of the wood; but of all we had seen or heard or felt or dreamed of, none has left an impression so vivid, so inspiring, so instinct with the beauty and the poetry and the music of the tropics, as those twilight mysteries that smiled upon us for a moment and vanished, even as the great fire-flies that paled like golden rockets in the dark.
ALONG THE PACIFIC SHORE
All night we tossed on the bosom of the lake between San Carlos, at the source of the San Juan river, and Virgin Bay, on the opposite shore. The lake is on a table-land a hundred feet or more above the sea; it is a hundred miles in length and forty-five in width. Our track lay diagonally across it, a stretch of eighty miles; and when the morning broke upon us we were upon the point of dropping anchor under the cool shadow of cloud-capped mountains and in a most refreshing temperature.
Oh, the purple light of dawn that flooded the Bay of the Blessed Virgin! Of course the night was a horror, and it was our second in transit; but we were nearing the end of the journey across the Isthmus and were shortly to embark for San Francisco. I fear we children regretted the fact. Our life for three days had been like a veritable “Jungle Book.” It almost out-Kiplinged Kipling. We might never again float through Monkey Land, with clouds of parrots hovering over us and a whole menagerie of extraordinary creatures making side-shows of themselves on every hand.
At Virgin Bay we were crowded like sheep into lighters, that were speedily overladen. Very serious accidents have happened in consequence. A year before our journey an overcrowded barge was swamped at Virgin Bay and four and twenty passengers were drowned. The “Transit Company,” supposed to be responsible for the life and safety of each one of us, seemed to trouble itself very little concerning our fate. The truth was they had been paid in full before we boarded the Star of the West at Pier No. 2, North River.
Having landed in safety, in spite of the negligence of the “Transit Company,” our next move was to secure some means of transportation over the mountain and down to San Juan del Sur. We were each provided with a ticket calling for a seat in the saddle or on a bench in a springless wagon. Naturally, the women and children were relegated to the wagons, and were there huddled together like so much live stock destined for the market. The men scrambled and even fought for the diminutive donkeys that were to bear them over the mountain pass. A circus knows no comedy like ours on that occasion. It is true we had but twelve miles to traverse, and some of these were level; but by and by the road dipped and climbed and swerved and plunged into the depths, only to soar again along the giddy verge of some precipice that overhung a fathomless abyss. That is how it seemed to us as we clung to the hard benches of our wagon with its four-mule attachment.
Once a wagon just ahead of us, having refused to answer to its brakes, went rushing down a fearful grade and was hurled into a tangle of underbrush,–which is doubtless what saved the lives of its occupants, for they landed as lightly as if on feather-beds. From that hour our hearts were in our throats. Even the thatched lodges of the natives, swarming with bare brown babies, and often having tame monkeys and parrots in the doorways, could not beguile us; nor all the fruits, were they never so tempting; nor the flowers, though they were past belief for size and shape and color and perfume.
Over the shining heights the wind scudded, behatting many a head that went bare thereafter. Out of the gorges ascended the voice of the waters, dashing noisily but invisibly on their joyous way to the sea. From one of those heights, looking westward over groves of bread-fruit trees and fixed fountains of feathery bamboo, over palms that towered like plumes in space and made silhouettes against the sky, we saw a long, level line of blue–as blue and bluer than the sky itself,–and we knew it was the Pacific! We were little fellows in those days, we children; yet I fancy that we felt not unlike Balboa when we knelt upon that peak in Darien and thanked God that he had the glory of discovering a new and unnamed ocean.
Why, I wonder, did Keats, in his famous sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” make his historical mistake when he sang–
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout _Cortez_ when with eagle eyes, He stared at the Pacific,–and all his men Looked at each other with a wild surmise– Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
It mattered not to us whether our name was Cortez or Balboa. With any other name we would have been just as jolly; for we were looking for the first time upon a sea that was to us as good as undiscovered, and we were shortly to brave it in a vessel bound for the Golden Gate. At our time of life that smacked a little of circumnavigation.
San Juan del Sur! It was scarcely to be called a village,–a mere handful of huts scattered upon the shore of a small bay and almost surrounded by mountains. It had no street, unless the sea sands it fronted upon could be called such. It had no church, no school, no public buildings. Its hotels were barns where the gold-seekers were fed without ceremony on beans and hardtack. Fruits were plentiful, and that was fortunate.
There, as in every settlement in Central America, the eaves of the dwellings were lined with Turkey buzzards. These huge birds are regarded with something akin to veneration. They are never molested; indeed, like the pariah dogs of the Orient, they have the right of way; and they are evidently conscious of the fact, for they are tamer than barnyard fowls. They are the scavengers of the tropics. They sit upon the housetop and among the branches of the trees, awaiting the hour when the refuse of the domestic meal is thrown into the street. There is no drainage in those villages; strange to say, even in the larger cities there is none. Offal of every description is cast forth into the highways and byways; and at that moment, with one accord, down sweep the grim sentinels to devour it. They feast upon carrion and every form of filth. They are polution personified, and yet they are the salvation of the indolent people, who would, but for the timely service of these ravenous birds, soon be wallowing in fetid refuse and putrefaction under the fierce rays of their merciless sun.
In the twilight we wandered by a crescent shore that was thickly strewn with shells. They were not the tribute of northern waters: they were as delicately fashioned and as variously tinted as flowers. All that they lacked was fragrance; and this we realized as we stored them carefully away, resolving that they should become the nucleus of a museum of natural history as soon as we got settled in our California home.
We had crossed the Isthmus in safety. Yonder, in the offing, the ship that was to carry us northward to San Francisco lay at anchor. For three days we had suffered the joys of travel and adventure. On the San Juan river we had again and again touched points along the varying routes proposed, by the Maritime Canal Company of Nicaragua and the Walker Commission, as being practical for the construction of a great ship canal that shall join the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. We had passed from sea to sea, a distance of about two hundred miles.
The San Juan river, one hundred and twenty miles in length, has a fall of one foot to the mile. This will necessitate the introduction of at least six massive locks between the Atlantic and the lake. Sometimes the river can be utilized, but not without dredging; for it is shallow from beginning to end, and near its mouth is ribbed with sand-bars. For seventy miles the lake is navigable for vessels of the heaviest draught. Beyond the lake there must be a clean-cut over or through the mountains to the Pacific, and here six locks are reckoned sufficient. Cross-cuts from one bend in the river to another can be constructed at the rate of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, or less, per mile. The canal must be sunk or raised at intervals; there will, therefore, at various points be the need of a wall of great strength and durability, from one hundred and thirty to three hundred feet in height or depth.
The annual rain-fall in the river region between Lake Nicaragua and the Caribbean Sea is twenty feet; annual evaporation, three feet. These points must be considered in the construction and feeding of the canal, even though it is to vary in width. The dimensions of the proposed canal, as recommended by the Walker Government Commission, are as follows: total length, one hundred and eighty-nine miles; minimum depth of water at all stages, thirty feet; width, one hundred feet in rock-cuts, elsewhere varying from one hundred and fifty to three hundred feet–except in Lake Nicaragua, where one end of the channel will be made six hundred feet wide.
Nearly fifty years ago, when a canal was projected, the Childs survey set the cost at thirty-seven million dollars. Now the commissioners differ on the question of total cost, the several estimates ranging from one hundred and eighteen million to one hundred and thirty-five million dollars. The United States Congress at its last session authorized the expenditure of one million by a new commission “to investigate the merits of all suggested locations and develop a project for an Isthmus Canal.”
And so we left the land of the lizard. What wonders they are! From an inch to two feet in length, slim, slippery, and of many and changeful colors, they literally inhabit the land, and are as much at home in a house as out of it; indeed, the houses are never free of them. They sailed up the river with us, and crossed the lake in our company, and sat by the mountain wayside awaiting our arrival; for they are curious and sociable little beasts. As for the San Juan river, ’tis like the Ocklawaha of Florida many times multiplied, and with all its original attractions in a state of perfect preservation.
All the way up the coast we literally hugged the shore; only during the hours when we were crossing the yawning mouth of the Gulf of California were we for a single moment out of sight of land. I know not if this was a saving in time and distance, and therefore a saving in fuel and provender; or if our ship, the John L. Stevens, was thought to be overloaded and unsafe, and was kept within easy reach of shore for fear of accident. We steamed for two weeks between a landscape and a seascape that afforded constant diversion. At night we sometimes saw flame-tipped volcanoes; there was ever the undulating outline of the Sierra Nevada Mountains through Central America, Mexico, and California.
Just once did we pause on the way. One evening our ship turned in its course and made directly for the land. It seemed that we must be dashed upon the headlands we were approaching, but as we drew nearer they parted, and we entered the land-locked harbor of Acapulco, the chief Mexican port on the Pacific. It was an amphitheatre dotted with twinkling lights. Our ship was speedily surrounded by small boats of all descriptions, wherein sat merchants noisily calling upon us to purchase their wares. They had abundant fruits, shells, corals, curios. They flashed them in the light of their torches; they baited us to bargain with them. It was a Venetian _fete_ with a vengeance; for the hawkers were sometimes more impertinent than polite. It was a feast of lanterns, and not without the accompaniment of guitars and castanets, and rich, soft voices.
After that we were eager for the end of it all. There was Santa Catalina, off the California coast, then an uninhabited island given over to sunshine and wild goats, now one of the most popular and populous of California summer and winter resorts–for ’tis all the same on the Pacific coast; one season is damper than the other, that is the only difference. The coast grew bare and bleak; the wind freshened and we were glad to put on our wraps. And then at last, after a journey of nearly five thousand miles, we slowed up in a fog so dense it dripped from the scuppers of the ship; we heard the boom of the surf pounding upon the invisible shore, and the hoarse bark of a chorus of sea-lions, and were told we were at the threshold of the Golden Gate, and should enter it as soon as the fog lifted and made room for us.
[Illustration: Fort Point at the Golden Gate]
IN THE WAKE OF DRAKE
We were buried alive in fathomless depths of fog. We were a fixture until that fog lifted. It was an impenetrable barrier. Upon the point of entering one of the most wonderful harbors in the world, the glory of the newest of new lands, we found ourselves prisoners, and for a time at least involved in the mazes of ancient history.
In 1535 Cortez coasted both sides of the Gulf of California–first called the Sea of Cortez; or the Vermilion Sea, perhaps from its resemblance to the Red Sea between Arabia and Egypt; or possibly from the discoloration of its waters near the mouth of the Rio Colorado, or Red River.
In 1577 Captain Drake, even then distinguished as a navigator, fitted out a buccaneering expedition against the Spaniards; it was a wild-goose chase and led him round the globe. In those days the wealth of the Philippines was shipped annually in a galleon from Manila to Acapulco, Mexico, on its way to Europe. Drake hoped to intercept one of these richly laden galleons, and he therefore threaded the Straits of Magellan, and, sailing northward, found himself, in 1579, within sight of the coast of California. All along the Pacific shore from Patagonia to California he was busily occupied in capturing and plundering Spanish settlements and Spanish ships. Wishing to turn home with his treasure, and fearing he might be waylaid by his enemies if he were again to thread the Straits of Magellan, he thought to reach England by the Cape of Good Hope. This was in the autumn of 1579. To quote the language of an old chronicler of the voyage:
“He was obliged to sail toward the north; in which course having continued six hundred leagues, and being got into forty-three degrees north latitude, they found it intolerably cold; upon which they steered southward till they got into thirty-eight degrees north latitude, where they discovered a country which, from its white cliffs, they called Nova Albion, though it is now known by the name of California.
“They here discovered a bay, which entering with a favorable gale, they found several huts by the waterside, well defended from the severity of the weather. Going on shore, they found a fire in the middle of each house, and the people lying around it upon rushes. The men go quite naked, but the women have a deerskin over their shoulders, and round their waist a covering of bulrushes after the manner of hemp.
“These people bringing the Admiral [Captain Drake] a present of feathers and cauls of network, he entertained them so kindly and generously that they were extremely pleased; and afterward they sent him a present of feathers and bags of tobacco. A number of them coming to deliver it, gathered themselves together at the top of a small hill, from the highest point of which one of them harangued the Admiral, whose tent was placed at the bottom. When the speech was ended they laid down their arms and came down, offering their presents; at the same time returning what the Admiral had given them. The women remaining on the hill, tearing their hair and making dreadful howlings, the Admiral supposed they were engaged in making sacrifices, and thereupon ordered divine service to be performed at his tent, at which these people attended with astonishment.
“The arrival of the English in California being soon known through the country, two persons in the character of ambassadors came to the Admiral and informed him, in the best manner they were able, that the king would visit him, if he might be assured of coming in safety. Being satisfied on this point, a numerous company soon appeared, in front of which was a very comely person bearing a kind of sceptre, on which hung two crowns, and three chains of great length. The chains were of bones, and the crowns of network, curiously wrought with feathers of many colors.
“Next to sceptre-bearer came the king, a handsome, majestic person, surrounded by a number of tall men dressed in skins, who were followed by the common people, who, to make the grander appearance, had painted their faces of various colors; and all of them, even the children, being loaded with presents.
“The men being drawn up in line of battle, the Admiral stood ready to receive the king within the fences of his tent. The company halted at a distance, and the sceptre-bearer made a speech half an hour long; at the end of which he began singing and dancing, in which he was followed by the king and all the people; who, continuing to sing and dance, came quite up to the tent; when, sitting down, the king took off his crown of feathers, placed it on the Admiral’s head, and put on him the other ensigns of royalty; and it is said he made him a solemn tender of his whole kingdom; all which the Admiral accepted in the name of the Queen his sovereign, in hope that these proceedings might, one time or other, contribute to the advantage of England.
“The people, dispersing themselves among the Admiral’s tents, professed the utmost admiration and esteem for the English, whom they looked upon as more than mortal; and accordingly prepared to offer sacrifices to them, which the English rejected with abhorrence; directing them, by various signs, that their religious worship was alone due to the supreme Maker and Preserver of all things….
“The Admiral, at his departure, set up a pillar with a large plate on it, on which were engraved her Majesty’s name, picture, arms, and title to the country; together with the Admiral’s name and the time of his arrival there.”
Pinkerton says in his description of Drake’s voyage: “The land is so rich in gold and silver that upon the slightest turning it up with a spade these rich materials plainly appear mixed with the mould.” It is not strange, if this were the case, that the natives–who, though apparently gentle and well disposed, were barbarians–should naturally have possessed the taste so characteristic of a barbarous people, and have loved to decorate themselves even lavishly with ornaments rudely fashioned in this rare metal. Yet they seemed to know little of its value, and to care less for it than for fuss and feathers. Either they were a singularly stupid race, simpler even than the child of ordinary intelligence, or they scorned the allurements of a metal that so few are able to resist.
Drake was not the first navigator to touch upon those shores. The explorer Juan Cabrillo, in 1542-43, visited the coast of Upper California. A number of landings were made at different points along the coast and on the islands near Santa Barbara. Cabrillo died during the expedition; but his successor, Ferralo, continued the voyage as far north as latitude 42 deg.. Probably Drake had no knowledge of the discovery of California by the Spaniards six and thirty years before he dropped anchor in the bay that now bears his name, and for many years he was looked upon as the first discoverer of the Golden State. Even to this day there are those who give him all the credit. Queen Elizabeth knighted him for his services in this and his previous expeditions; telling him, as his chronicler records, “that his actions did him more honor than his title.” Her Majesty seems not to have been much impressed by his tales of the riches of the New World–if, indeed, they ever came to the royal ear,–for she made no effort to develop the resources of her territory. No adventurous argonauts set sail for the Pacific coast in search of gold till two hundred and seventy years later.
There seems to have been a spell cast over the land and the sea. We are sure that Sir Francis Drake did not enter the Bay of San Francisco, and that he had no knowledge of its existence, though he was almost within sight of it. In one of the records of his voyage we read of the chilly air and of the dense fogs that prevailed in that region; of the “white banks and cliffs which lie toward the sea”; and of islands which are known as the Farallones, and which lie about thirty miles off the coast and opposite the Golden Gate.
In 1587 Captain Thomas Cavendish, afterward knighted by Queen Elizabeth, touched upon Cape St. Lucas, at the extremity of Lower California. He was a privateer lying in wait for the galleon laden with the wealth of the Philippines and bound for Acapulco. When she hove in sight there was a chase, a hot engagement, and a capture by the English Admiral. “This prize,” says the historian of the voyage, “contained one hundred and twenty-two thousand _pesos_ of gold, besides great quantities of rich silks, satins, damasks, and musk, with a good stock of provisions.” In those romantic and adventurous days piracy was legalized by formal license; the spoils were supposed to consist of gold and silver only, or of light movable goods.
The next English filibuster to visit the California coast was Captain Woodes Rogers–arriving in November, 1709. He described the natives of the California peninsula as being “quite naked, and strangers to the European manner of trafficking. They lived in huts made of boughs and leaves, erected in the form of bowers; with a fire before the door, round which they lay and slept. Some of the women wore pearls about their necks, which they fastened with a string of silk grass, having first notched them round.” Captain Rogers imagined that the wearers of the pearls did not know how to bore them, and it is more than likely that they did not. Neither did they know the value of these pearls; for “they were mixed with sticks, bits of shells, and berries, which they thought so great an ornament that they would not accept glass beads of various colors, which the English offered them.”
The narrator says: “The men are straight and well built, having long black hair, and are of a dark brown complexion. They live by hunting and fishing. They use bows and arrows and are excellent marksmen. The women, whose features are rather disagreeable, are employed in making fishing-lines, or in gathering grain, which they grind upon a stone. The people were willing to assist the English in filling water, and would supply them with whatever they could get; they were a very honest people, and would not take the least thing without permission.”
Such were the aborigines of California. Captain Woodes Rogers did not hesitate to take whatever he could lay his hands on. He captured the “great Manila ship,” as the chronicle records. “The prize was called Nuestra Senora de la Incarnacion, commanded by Sir John Pichberty, a gallant Frenchman. The prisoners said that the cargo in India amounted to two millions of dollars. She carried one hundred and ninety-three men, and mounted twenty guns.”
The exact locality of Drake’s Bay was for years a vexed question. So able an authority as Alexander von Humboldt says: “The port of San Francisco is frequently confounded by geographers with the Port of Drake, farther north, under 38 deg. 10′ of latitude, called by the Spaniards the Puerto de Bodega.”
The truth is, Bodega Bay lies some miles north of Drake’s Bay–or Jack’s Harbor, as the sailors call it; the latter, according to the log of the Admiral, may be found in latitude 37 deg. 59′ 5″; longitude 122 deg. 57-1/2′. The cliffs about Drake’s Bay resemble in height and color, those of Great Britain in the English Channel at Brighton and Dover; therefore it seems quite natural that Sir Francis should have called the land New Albion. As for the origin of the name California, some etymologists contend that it is derived from two Latin words: _calida fornax_; or, as the Spanish put it, _caliente fornalla_,–a hot furnace. Certainly it is hot enough in the interior, though the coast is ever cool. The name seems to have been applied to Lower California between 1535 and 1539. Mr. Edward Everett Hale rediscovered in 1862 an old printed romance in which the name California was, before the year 1520, applied to a fabulous island that lay near the Indus and likewise “very near the Terrestrial Paradise.” The colonists under Cortez were perhaps the first to apply it to Lower California, which was long thought to be an island.
The name San Francisco was given to a port on the California coast for the first time by Cermenon, who ran ashore near Point Reyes, or in Drake’s Bay, when voyaging from the Philippines in 1595. At any rate, the name was not given to the famous bay that now bears it before 1769, and until that date it was unknown to the world. It is not true, as some have conjectured, that the name San Francisco was given to any port in memory of Sir Francis Drake. Spanish Catholics gave the name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. Drake was an Englishman and a freebooter, who had no love for the saints.
That the Bay of San Francisco should have so long remained undiscovered is the more remarkable inasmuch as many efforts were made to survey and settle the coast. California was looked upon as the El Dorado of New Spain. It was believed that it abounded in pearls, gold, silver, and other metals; and even in diamonds and precious stones. Fruitless expeditions, private or royal, set forth in 1615, 1633 and 1634; 1640, 1642 and 1648; 1665 and 1668. But nothing came of these. A hundred years later the Spanish friars established their peaceful missions, and in 1776 the mission church of San Francisco was dedicated.
[Illustration: The Outer Signal Station at the Golden Gate]
* * * * *
At last the fog began to show signs of life and motion. Huge masses of opaque mist, that had shut us in like walls of alabaster, were rent asunder and noiselessly rolled away. The change was magical. In a few moments we found ourselves under a cloudless sky, upon a sparkling sea, flooded with sunshine, and the Golden Gate wide open to give us welcome.
ATOP O’ TELEGRAPH HILL
Perhaps it is a mile wide, that Golden Gate; and it is more bronze than golden. A fort was on our right hand; one of those dear old brick blockhouses that were formidable in their day, but now are as houses of cards. Drop one shell within its hollow, and there will be nothing and no one left to tell the tale.
Down the misty coast, beyond the fort, was Point Lobos–a place where wolves did once inhabit; farther south lie the semi-tropics and the fragrant orange lands; while on our left, to the north, is Point Bonita–pretty enough in the sunshine,–and thereabout is Drake’s Bay. Behind us, dimly outlined on the horizon, the Farallones lie faintly blue, like exquisite cloud-islands. The north shore of the entrance to the Bay was rather forbidding,–it always is. The whole California shore line is bare, bleak, and unbeautiful. It is six miles from the Golden Gate to the sea-wall of San Francisco. There was no sea-wall in those days.
We were steaming directly east, with the Pacific dead astern. Beyond the fort were scantily furnished hill-slopes. That quadrangle, with a long row of low white houses on three sides of it, is the _presidio_–the barracks; a lorner or lonelier spot it were impossible to picture. There were no trees there, no shrubs; nothing but grass, that was green enough in the rainy winter season but as yellow as straw in the drouth of the long summer. Beyond the _presidio_ were the Lagoon and Washerwoman’s Bay. Black Point was the extremest suburb in the early days; and beyond it Meigg’s Wharf ran far into the North Bay, and was washed by the swift-flowing tide.
San Francisco has as many hills as Rome. The most conspicuous of these stands at the northeast corner of the town; it is Telegraph Hill, upon whose brawny shoulder stood the first home we knew in the young Metropolis. After rounding Telegraph Hill, we saw all the city front, and it was not much to see: a few wooden wharves crowded with shipping and backed by a row of one or two-story frame buildings perched upon piles. The harbor in front of the city–more like an open roadstead than a harbor, for it was nearly a dozen miles to the opposite shore–was dotted with sailing-vessels of almost every description, swinging at anchor, and making it a pretty piece of navigation to pick one’s way amongst them in safety.
As the John L. Stevens approached her dock we saw that an immense crowd had gathered to give us welcome. The excitement on ship and shore was very great. After a separation of perhaps years, husbands and wives and families were about to be reunited. Our joy was boundless; for we soon recognized our father in the waiting, welcoming throng. But there were many whose disappointment was bitter indeed when they learned that their loved ones were not on board. Often a ship brought letters instead of the expected wife and family; for at the last moment some unforeseen circumstance may have prevented the departure of the one so looked for and so longed for. In the confusion of landing we nearly lost our wits, and did not fully recover them until we found ourselves in our own new home in the then youngest State in the Union.
How well I remember it all! We were housed on Union Street, between Montgomery and Kearny Streets, and directly opposite the public school–a pretentious building for that period, inasmuch as it was built of brick that was probably shipped around Cape Horn. California houses, such as they were, used to come from very distant parts of the globe in the early Fifties; some of them were portable, and had been sent across the sea to be set up at the purchaser’s convenience. They could be pitched like tents on the shortest possible notice, and the fact was evident in many cases.
Our house–a double one of modest proportions–was of brick, and I think the only one on our side of the street for a considerable distance. There was a brick house over the way, on the corner of Montgomery Street, with a balcony in front of it and a grocery on the ground-floor. That grocery was like a country store: one could get anything there; and from the balcony above there was a wonderful view. Indeed that was one of the jumping-off places; for a steep stairway led down the hill to the dock two hundred feet below. As for our neighbors, they dwelt in frame houses, one or two stories in height; and his was the happier house that had a little strip of flowery-land in front of it, and a breathing space in the rear.
The school–our first school in California–backed into the hill across the street from us. The girls and the boys had each an inclosed space for recreation. It could not be called a playground, for there was no ground visible. It was a platform of wood heavily timbered beneath and fenced in; from the front of it one might have cast one’s self to the street below, at the cost of a broken bone or two. In those days more than one leg was fractured by an accidental fall from a soaring sidewalk.
Above and beyond the school-house Telegraph Hill rose a hundred feet or more. Our street marked the snow-line, as it were; beyond it the Hill was not inhabited save by flocks of goats that browsed there all the year round, and the herds of boys that gave them chase, especially of a holiday. The Hill was crowned by a shanty that had seen its best days. It had been the lookout from the time when the Forty-Niners began to watch for fresh arrivals. From the observatory on its roof–a primitive affair–all ships were sighted as they neared the Golden Gate, and the glad news was telegraphed by a system of signals to the citizens below. Not a day, not an hour, but watchful eyes sought that signal in the hope of reading there the glad tidings that their ship had come.
The Hill sloped suddenly, from the signal station, on every side. On the north and east it terminated abruptly in artificial cliffs of a dizzy height. The rocks had been blasted from their bases to make room for a steadily increasing commerce, and the debris was shipped away as ballast in the vessels that were chartered to bring passengers and provision to the coast, and found nothing in the line of freight to carry from it.
Upon those northern and eastern slopes of the Hill a few venturesome cottagers had built their nests. The cottages were indeed nestlike: they were so small, so compact, so cosy, so overrun with vines and flowering foliage. Usually of one story, or of a story and a half at most, they clung to the hillside facing the water, and looking out upon its noble expanse from tiny balconies as delicate and dainty as toys. Their garden-plots were set on end; they must needs adapt themselves to the angle of demarkation; they loomed above their front-yards while their back-yards lorded it over their roofs. Indeed they were usually approached by ascending or descending stairways, or perchance by airy bridges that spanned little gullies where ran rivulets in the winter season; and they were a trifle dangerous to encounter after dark. There were parrots on perches at the doorways of those cottages; and song-birds in cages that were hidden away in vines. There were pet poodles there. I think there were more lap-dogs than watch-dogs in that early California.
And there were pleasant people within those hanging gardens,–people who seemed to have drifted there and were living their lyrical if lonely lives in semi-solitude on islands in the air. I always envied them. I was sorry that we were housed like other folk, and fronted on a street than which nothing could have been more commonplace or less interesting. Its one redeeming feature in my eyes was its uncompromising steepness; nothing that ran on wheels ever ran that way, but toiled painfully to the top, tacking from side to side, forever and forever, all the way up.
Weary were the beasts of burden that ascended that hill of difficulty. There was the itinerant marketer, with his overladen cart, and his white horse, very much winded. He was a Yorkshire man, and he cried with a loud voice his appetizing wares: “Cabbage, taters, onions, wild duck, wild goose!” Well do I remember the refrain. Probably there were few domestic fowls in the market then; moreover, even our drinking water was peddled about the streets and sold to us by the huge pailful.
The goats knew Saturday and Sunday by heart. Every Saturday we lads were busier than bees. We had at intervals during the week collected what empty tin cans we might have chanced upon, and you may be sure they were not a few. The markets of California, in early times, were stocked with canned goods. Flour came to us in large cans; probably the barrel would not have been proof against mould during the long voyage around the Horn. Everything eatable–I had almost said and drinkable–we had in cans; and these cans when emptied were cast into the rubbish heap and finally consigned to the dump-cart.
We boys all became smelters, and for a very good reason. There was a market for soft solder; we could dispose of it without difficulty; we could in this way put money in our purse and experience the glorious emotion awakened by the spirit of independence. With our own money, earned in the sweat of our brows–it was pretty hot work melting the solder out of the old cans and moulding it in little pig-leads of our own invention,–we could do as we pleased and no questions asked. Oh, it was a joy past words,–the kindling of the furnace fires, the adjusting of the cans, the watching for the first movement of the melting solder! It trickled down into the ashes like quicksilver, and there we let it cool in shapeless masses; then we remelted it in skillets (usually smuggled from the kitchen for that purpose), and ran the fused metal into the moulds; and when it had cooled we were away in haste to dispose of it.
Some of us became expert amateur metallists, and made what we looked upon as snug little fortunes; yet they did not go far or last us long. The smallest coin in circulation was a dime. No one would accept a five-cent piece. As for coppers, they are scarcely yet in vogue. Money was made so easily and spent so carelessly in the early days the wonder is that any one ever grew rich.
A quarter of a dollar we called two “bits.” If we wished to buy anything the price of which was one bit and we had a dime in our pocket, we gave the dime for the article, and the bargain was considered perfectly satisfactory. If we had no dime, we gave a quarter of a dollar and received in change a dime; we thus paid fifty per cent more for the article than we should have done if we had given a dime for it. But that made no difference: a quarter called for two bits’ worth of anything on sale. A dime was one bit, but two dimes were not two bits; and it was only a very mean person–in our estimation–who would change his half dollar into five dimes and get five bits’ worth of goods for four bits’ worth of silver.
[Illustration: City of Oakland in 1856]
Sunday is ever the people’s day, and a San Francisco Sunday used to be as lively as the Lord’s Day at any of the capitals of Europe. How the town used to flock to Telegraph Hill on a Sunday in the olden time! They were mostly quiet folk who went there, and they went to feast their eyes upon one of the loveliest of landscapes or waterscapes. They probably took their lunch with them, and their families–if they had them; though families were infrequent in the Fifties. They wandered about until they had chosen their point of view, and then they took possession of an unclaimed portion of the Hill. They “squatted,” as was the custom of the time. The “squatter” claimed the right of sovereignty, and exercised it so long as he was left unmolested.
One man seemed to have as much right as another on Telegraph Hill. And one right was always his: no one disputed him the right of vision; he shared it with his neighbor, and was willing to share it with the whole world. For generations he has held it, and he will probably continue to hold it so long as the old Hill stands. From the heights his eye sweeps a scene of beauty. There is the Golden Gate, bathed in sunset glories; and there the northern shore line that climbs skyward where Mount Tamalpais takes on his mantle of mist. There is Saucelito, with its green terraces resting upon the tree-tops; and there the bit of sheltered water that seems always steeped in sunshine,–now the haunt of house boats, then the haven of a colony of Neapolitan fishermen; and Angel Island, with its military post; and Fort Alcatraz, a rocky bubble afloat in mid-channel and one mass of fortifications.
What an inland sea it is–the Bay of San. Francisco, seventy miles in length, from ten to twelve in width; dotted with islands, and capable of harboring all the fleets of all the civilized or uncivilized worlds! The northern part of it, beyond the narrows, is known as the Bay of San Pablo; the Straits of Carquinez connect it with Suisun Bay, which is a sleepy sheet of water fed by the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers.
To the east is Yerba-Buena, vulgarly known as Goat Island; and beyond it the Contra Costa, with its Alameda, Oakland, and Fruit Vale; then the Coast Range; and atop of all and beyond all Mount Diablo, with its three thousand eight hundred feet of perpendicularity, beyond whose summit the sun rises, and from whose peaks almost half the State is visible and almost half the sea,–or at least it seems so–but that’s another vision!
We had been but a few days in San Francisco when a new-found friend, scarcely my senior, but who was a comparatively old settler, took me by the hand and led me forth to view the town. He was my neighbor, and a right good fellow, with the surprising composure–for one of his years–that is so early, so easily, and so naturally acquired by those living in camps and border-lands.
We descended Telegraph Hill by Dupont Street as far as Pacific Street. So steep was the way that, at intervals, the modern fire-escape would have been a welcome aid to our progress. Sidewalks, always of plank and often not broader than two boards placed longitudinally, led on to steps that plunged headlong from one terrace to another. From the veranda of one house one might have leaped to the roof of the house just below–if so disposed,–for the houses seemed to be set one upon another, so acute was the angle of their base-line. The town stood on end just there, and at the foot of it was a foreign quarter.
In those days there were at least four foreign quarters–Spanish, French, Italian, and Chinese. We knew the Spanish Quarter at the foot of the hill by the human types that inhabited it; by the balconies like hanging gardens, clamorous with parrots; and by the dark-eyed senoritas, with lace mantillas drawn over their blue-black hair; by the shop windows filled with Mexican pottery; the long strings of cardinal-red peppers that swung under the awnings over the doors of the sellers of spicy things; and also by the delicious odors that were wafted to us from the tables where Mexicans, Spaniards, Chilians, Peruvians, and Hispano-Americans were discussing the steaming _tamal_, the fragrant _frijol_, and other fiery dishes that might put to the blush the ineffectual pepper-pot.
Everywhere we heard the most mellifluous of languages–the “lovely lingo,” we used to call it; everywhere we saw the people of the quarter lounging in doorways or windows or on galleries, dressed as if they were about to appear in a rendition of the opera of “The Barber of Seville,” or at a fancy-dress ball. Figaros were on every hand, and Rosinas and Dons of all degrees. At times a magnificent Caballero dashed by on a half-tamed bronco. He rode in the shade of a sombrero a yard wide, crusted with silver embroidery. His Mexican saddle was embossed with huge Mexican dollars; his jacket as gaily ornamented as a bull-fighter’s; his trousers open from the hip, and with a chain of silver buttons down their flapping hems; his spurs, huge wheels with murderous spikes, were fringed with little bells that jangled as he rode,–and this to the accompaniment of much strumming of guitars and the incense of cigarros.
Near the Spanish Quarter ran the Barbary Coast. There were the dives beneath the pavement, where it was not wise to enter; blood was on those thresholds, and within hovered the shadow of death. Beyond, we entered Chinatown, as rare a bit of old China as is to be found without the Great Wall itself. Chinatown has grown amazingly within the last forty years, but it has in reality gained little in interest. There is more of it: that is the only difference; and what there is of it is more difficult of approach. The Joss House, the theatre, with its great original “continuous performance”–its tragedy half a year in length,–flourished there. The glittering, spectacular restaurant was wide open to the public, and so was everything else. That fact made all the difference between Chinatown in the Fifties and Chinatown forty years later.
My companion and I tarried long on Dupont Street, between Pacific and Sacramento Streets. The shops were like peep shows on a larger scale. How bright they were! how gay with color! how rich with carvings and curios. Each was like a set-scene on the stage. The shopkeepers and their aids were like actors in a play. They seemed really to be playing and not trying to engage in any serious business. Surely it would have been quite beneath the dignity of such distinguished gentlemen to take the smallest interest in the affairs of trade. They were clad in silks and satins and furs of great value; they had a little finger-nail as long as a slice of quill pen; they had tea on tables of carved teak; and they had impossible pipes that breathed unspeakable odors. They wore bracelets of priceless jade. They had private boxes, which hung from the ceiling and looked like cages for some unclassified bird; and they could go up into those boxes when life at the tea-table became tiresome, and get quite another point of view. There they could look down upon the world of traffic that never did anything in their shops, as far as we could see; and, still murmuring to themselves in a tongue that sounds untranslatable and a voice that was never known to rise above a stage whisper, they could at one and the same moment regard with scorn the Christian, keep an eye on the cash-boy, and make perfect pictures of themselves.
[Illustration: Interior of the El Dorado]
In some parts of that strange street, where everybody was very busy but apparently never accomplished anything, there were no fronts to the rooms on the groundfloor. If those rooms were ever closed–it seemed to me they never were,–some one kindly put up a long row of shutters, and that end was accomplished. When the shutters were down the whole place was wide open, and anybody, everybody, could enter and depart at his own sweet will. This is exactly what he did; we did it ourselves, but we didn’t know why we did it. The others seemed to know all about it.
There was a long table in the centre of each room; it was always surrounded by swarms of Chinamen. Not a few foreigners of various nationalities were there. They were all intensely interested in some game that was being played upon that table. We heard the “chink” of money; and as the players came and went some were glad and some were sad and some were mad. These were the gambling halls of Chinatown. They were not at all beautiful or alluring to the eye, but they cast a spell over the minds and the pockets of men that was irresistible. Nowadays the place is kept under lock and key, and you must give the countersign or you will be turned away from the door thereof by a Chinaman whose face is the image of injured innocence.
The authors of the annals of San Francisco, 1854, say:
“During 1853, most of the moral, intellectual, and social characteristics of the inhabitants of San Francisco were nearly as already described in the reviews of previous years. There was still the old reckless energy, the old love of pleasure, the fast making and fast spending of money; the old hard labor and wild delights; jobberies, official and political corruption; thefts, robberies, and violent assaults; murders, duels and suicides; gambling, drinking, and general extravagance and dissipation…. The people had wealth at command, and all the passions of youth were burning within them; and they often, therefore, outraged public decency. Yet somehow the oldest residenters and the very family-men loved the place, with all its brave wickedness and splendid folly.”
I can testify that the town knew little or no change in the two years that followed. The “El Dorado” on the plaza, and the “Arcade” and “Polka” on Commercial Street, were still in full blast. How came I aware of that fact? I was a child; my guide, philosopher and friend was a child, and we were both as innocent as children should be. It is written, “Children and fools speak the truth.” I may add, “Children and ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread.'” The doors of “El Dorado,” of the “Arcade,” and the “Polka” were ever open to the public. We saw from the sidewalk gaily-decorated interiors; we heard enchanting music, and there seemed to be a vast deal of jollity within. No one tried to prevent our entering; we merely followed the others; and, indeed, it was all a mystery to us. Cards were being dealt at the faro tables, and dealt by beautiful women in bewildering attire. They also turned the wheels of fortune or misfortune, and threw dice, and were skilled in all the arts that beguile and betray the innocent. The town was filled with such resorts; some were devoted to the patronage of the more exclusive set; many were traps into which the miner from the mountain gulches fell and where he soon lost his bag of “dust,”–his whole fortune, for which he had been so long and so wearily toiling. There he was shoulder to shoulder with the greaser and the lascar, the “shoulder-striker” and the hoodlum; and they were all busy with monte, faro, rondo, and rouge-et-noir.
There was no limit to the gambling in those days. There was no question of age or color or sex: opportunity lay in wait for inclination at the street corners and in the highways and the byways. The wonder is that there were not more victims driven to madness or suicide.
The pictures were not all so gloomy. Six times San Francisco was devastated by fire, and all within two years–or, to speak accurately, within eighteen months. Many millions were lost; many enterprising and successful citizens were in a few hours rendered penniless. Some were again and again “burned out”; but they seemed to spring like the famed bird, who shall for once be nameless, from their own ashes.
It became evident that an efficient fire department was an immediate and imperative necessity. The best men of the city–men prominent in every trade, calling and profession–volunteered their services, and headed a subscription list that swelled at once into the thousands. Perhaps there never was a finer volunteer fire department than that which was for many years the pride and glory of San Francisco. On the Fourth of July it was the star feature of the procession; and it paraded most of the streets that were level enough for wheels to run on–and when the mud was navigable, for they turned out even in the rainy season on days of civic festivity. Their engines and hose carts and hook and ladder trucks were so lavishly ornamented with flowers, banners, streamers, and even pet eagles, dogs, and other mascots, that they might without hesitation have engaged in any floral battle on any Riviera and been sure of victory.
The magnificence of the silver trumpets and the quantity and splendor of the silver trappings of those fire companies pass all belief. It begins to seem to me now, as I write, that I must have dreamed it,–it was all so much too fine for any ordinary use. But I know that I did not dream it; that there was never anything truer or better or more efficient anywhere under the sun than the San Francisco fire department in the brave days of old. Representatives of almost every nation on earth could testify to this, and did repeatedly testify to it in almost every language known to the human tongue; for there never was a more cosmical commonwealth than sprang out of chaos on that Pacific coast; and there never was a city less given to following in the footsteps of its elder and more experienced sisters. Nor was there ever a more spontaneous outburst of happy-go-luckiness than that which made of young San Francisco a very Babel and a bouncing baby Babylon.
[Illustration: Warner’s at Meigg’s Wharf]
A BOY’S OUTING
There was joy in the heart, luncheon in the knapsack, and a sparkle in the eye of each of us as we set forth on our exploring expedition, all of a sunny Saturday. Outside of California there never were such Saturdays as those. We were perfectly sure for eight months in the year that it wouldn’t rain a drop; and as for the other four months–well, perhaps it wouldn’t. It is true that Longfellow had sung, even in those days:
Unto each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary.
Our days were not dark or dreary,–indeed, they could not possibly be in the two-thirds-of-the-year-dry season. It did not rain so very much even in the rainy season, when it had a perfect right to; therefore there was joy in the heart and no umbrella anywhere about when we prepared to set forth on our day of discovery.
We began our adventure at Meigg’s Wharf. We didn’t go out to the end of it, because there was nothing but crabs there, being hauled up at frequent intervals by industrious crabbers, whose nets fairly fringed the wharf. They lay on their backs by scores and hundreds, and waved numberless legs in the air–I mean the crabs, not the crabbers. We used to go crabbing ourselves when we felt like it, with a net made of a bit of mosquito-bar stretched over an iron hoop, and with a piece of meat tied securely in the middle of it. When we hauled up those home-made hoop-nets–most everything seems to have been home-made in those days–we used to find one, two, perhaps three huge crabs revolving clumsily about the centre of attraction in the hollow of the net; and then we shouted in glee and went almost wild with excitement.
Just at the beginning of Meigg’s Wharf there was a house of entertainment that no doubt had a history and a mystery even in those young days. We never quite comprehended it: we were too young for that, and too shy and too well-bred to make curious or impertinent inquiry. We sometimes stood at the wide doorway–it was forever invitingly open, –and looked with awe and amazement at paintings richly framed and hung so close together that no bit of the wall was visible. There was a bar at the farther end of the long room,–there was always a bar somewhere in those days; and there were cages filled with strange birds and beasts,–as any one might know with his eyes shut, for the odor of it all was repelling.
The strangest feature of that most strange hostelry was the amazing wealth of cobwebs that mantled it. Cobwebs as dense as crape waved in dusty rags from the ceiling; they veiled the pictures and festooned the picture-frames, that shone dimly through them. Not one of these cobwebs was ever molested–or had been from the beginning of time, as it seemed to us. A velvet carpet on the floor was worn smooth and almost no trace of its rich flowery pattern was left; but there were many square boxes filled with sand or sawdust and reeking with cigar stumps and tobacco juice. Need I add that some of those pictures were such as our young and innocent eyes ought never to have been laid on? Nor were they fit for the eyes of others.
There was something uncanny about that house. We never knew just what it was, but we had a faint idea that the proprietor’s wife or daughter was a witch; and that she, being as cobwebby as the rest of its furnishings, was never visible. The wharf in front of the house was a free menagerie. There were bears and other beasts behind prison bars, a very populous monkey cage, and the customary “happy family” looking as dreadfully bored as usual. Then again there were whole rows of parrots and cockatoos and macaws as splendid as rainbow tints could make them, and with tails a yard long at least.
From this bewildering pageant it was but a step to the beach below. Indeed the water at high tide flowed under that house with much foam and fury; for it was a house founded upon the sand, and it long since toppled to its fall, as all such houses must. We followed the beach, that rounded in a curve toward Black Point. Just before reaching the Point there was a sandhill of no mean proportions; this, of course, we climbed with pain, only to slide down with perspiration. It was our Alp, and we ascended and descended it with a flood of emotion not unmixed with sand.
Near by was a wreck,–a veritable wreck; for a ship had been driven ashore in the fog and she was left to her fate–and our mercy. Probably it would not have paid to float her again; for of ships there were more than enough. Everything worth while was coming into the harbor, and almost nothing going out of it. We looked upon that old hulk as our private and personal property. At low tide we could board her dry-shod; at high tide we could wade out to her. We knew her intimately from stem to stern, her several decks, her cabins, lockers, holds; we had counted all her ribs over and over again, and paced her quarter-deck, and gazed up at her stumpy masts–she had been well-nigh dismantled,–and given sailing orders to our fellows amidships in the very ecstasy of circumnavigation. She has gone, gone to her grave in the sea that lapped her timbers as they lay a-rotting under the rocks; and now pestiferous factories make hideous the landscape we found so fair.
[Illustration: The Old Flume at Black Point, 1856]
As for Black Point, it was a wilderness of beauty in our eyes; a very paradise of live-oak and scrub-oak, and of oak that had gone mad in the whirlwinds and sandstorms that revelled there. Beyond Black Point we climbed a trestle and mounted a flume that was our highway to the sea. Through this flume the city was supplied with water. The flume was a square trough, open at the top and several miles in length. It was cased in a heavy frame; and along the timbers that crossed over it lay planks, one after another, wherever the flume was uncovered. This narrow path, intended for the convenience of the workmen who kept the flume in repair, was our delight. We followed it in the full assurance that we were running a great risk. Beneath us was the open trough, where the water, two or three feet in depth, was rushing as in a mill-race. Had we fallen, we must have been swept along with it, and perhaps to our doom. Sometimes we were many feet in the air, crossing a cove where the sea broke at high tide; sometimes we were in a cut among the rocks on a jutting point; and sometimes the sand from the desert above us drifted down and buried the flume, now roofed over, quite out of sight.
So we came to Fort Point and the Golden Gate; and beyond the Fort there was more flume and such a stretch of sea and shore and sunshine as caused us to leap with gladness. We could follow the beach for miles; it was like a pavement of varnished sand, cool to the foot and burnished to the eye. And what sea-treasure lay strewn there! Mollusks, not so delicate or so decorative as the shells we had brought with us from the Southern Seas, but still delightful. Such starfish and cloudy, starch-like jelly-fish, and all the livelier creeping and crawling creatures that populate the shore! Brown sea-kelp and sea-green sea-grass and the sea-anemone that are the floating gardens of the sea-gods and sea-goddesses; sea-birds, soft-bosomed as doves and crying with their ceaseless and sorrowful cry; and all they that are sea-borne along the sea-board,–these were there in their glory.
We hid in caverns and there dreamed our sea-dreams. We ate our lunches and played at being smugglers; then we built fires of drift-wood to warn the passing ships that we were castaways on a desert island; but when they took no heed of our signals of distress we were not too sorry nor in the least distressful.
At the seal rocks we tarried long; for there are few spots within the reach of the usual sight-seer where an enormous family of sea-lions can be seen at home, sporting in their native element, and at liberty to come and go in the wide Pacific at their own sweet wills. There they had lived for numberless generations unmolested; there they still live, for they are under the protection of the law.
The famous Cliff House is built upon the cliff above them, and above it is a garden bristling with statues. Thousands upon thousands of curious idlers stare the sea-folks out of countenance–or try to; but they, the sons of the salt sea and the daughters of the deep, climb into the crevices of the rocks to sun themselves, unheeding; or leap into the waves that girdle them and sport like the fabled monsters of marine mythology. Seal, sea-leopard, or sea-lion–whatever they may be–they cry with one voice night and day; and it is not a pleasant cry either, though a far one, they mouth so horribly. Long ago it inspired a wit to madness and he made a joke; the same old joke has been made by those who followed after him. It will continue to be made with impertinent impunity until the sea gives up its seals; for the temptation is there daily and hourly, and the humorist is but human–he can not long resist it; so he will buttonhole you on the veranda of the Cliff House and whisper in your astonished ear as if he were imparting a state secret: “Their bark is on the sea!”
The way home was sometimes a weary one. After leaving the bluff above the shore, we struck into an almost interminable succession of sand-dunes. There was neither track nor trail there; there was no oasis to gladden us with its vision of beauty. The pale poet of destiny and despair has written:
In the desert a fountain is springing, In the wide waste there still is a tree; And a bird in the solitude singing,
Which speaks to my spirit of thee.
There was no fountain in our desert, and we knew it well enough; for we had often braved its sands. In that wide waste there was not even the solitary tree that moved the poet to song; nor a bird in our solitude, save a sea-gull cutting across-lots from the ocean to the bay in search of a dinner. There were some straggling vines on the edge of our desert, thick-leaved and juicy; and these were doing their best to keep from getting buried alive. The sand was always shifting out yonder, and there was a square mile or two of it. We could easily have been lost in it but for our two everlasting landmarks–Mount Tamalpais across the water to the north, and in the south Lone Mountain. Lone Mountain was our Calvary–a green hill that loomed above the graves where slept so many who were dear to us. The cross upon its summit we had often visited in our holiday pilgrimages. They were _holydays_, when our childish feet toiled hopefully up that steep height; for that cross was the beacon that lighted the world-weary to everlasting rest.
And so we crossed the desert, over our shoetops in sand; climbing one hill after another, only to slide or glide or ride down the yielding slope on the farther side. Meanwhile the fog came in like a wet blanket. It swathed all the landscape in impalpable snow; it chilled us and it thrilled us, for there was danger of our going quite astray in it; but by and by we got into the edge of the town, and what a very ragged edge it was in the dim long ago! Once in the edge of the town, we were masters of the situation: you couldn’t lose us even in the dark. And so ended the outing of our merry crew,–merry though weary and worn; yet not so worn and weary but we could raise at parting a glad “Hoorah for Health, Happiness, and the Hills of Home!”
THE MISSION DOLORES
I have read somewhere in the pages of a veracious author how, five or six years before my day, he had ridden through chaparral from Yerba Buena to the Mission Dolores with the howl of the wolf for accompaniment. Yerba Buena is now San Francisco, and the mission is a part of the city; it is not even a suburb.
In 1855 there were two plank-roads leading from the city to the Mission Dolores; on each of these omnibuses ran every half hour. The plank-road was a straight and narrow way, cut through acres of chaparral–thickets of low evergreen oaks,–and leading over forbidding wastes of sand. To stretch a figure, it was as if the sea-of-sand had been divided in the midst, so that the children of Israel might have passed dry-shod, and the Egyptians pursuing them might have been swallowed up in the billows of sand that flowed over them at intervals.
Somewhere among those treacherous dunes–of them it might indeed be said that “the mountains skipped like rams and the little hills like lambs,”–somewhere thereabout was located the once famous but now fabulous Pipesville, the country-seat of my old friend, “Jeems Pipes of Pipesville.” He was longer and better known to the world as Stephen C. Massett, composer of the words and music of that once most popular of songs, “When the Moon on the Lake is Beaming,” as well as many another charming ballad.
Stephen C. Massett, a most delightful companion and a famous diner-out, give a concert of vocal music interspersed with recitations and imitations, in the school-house that stood at the northwest corner of the plaza. This was on Monday evening, June 22, 1849; and it was the first public entertainment, the first regular amusement, ever given in San Francisco. The only piano in the country was engaged for the occasion; the tickets were three dollars each, and the proceeds yielded over five hundred dollars; although it cost sixteen dollars to have the piano used on the occasion moved from one side of the plaza, or Portsmouth Square, to the other. On a copy of the programme which now lies before me I find this line: “N.B.–Front seats reserved for ladies!” History records that there were but four ladies present–probably the only four in the town at the time. Massett died in New York city a few months ago,–a man who had friends in every country under the sun, and, I believe, no enemy.
I remember the Mission Dolores as a detached settlement with a pronounced Spanish flavor. There was one street worth mentioning, and only one. It was lined with low-walled adobe houses, roofed with the red curved tiles which add so much to the adobe houses that otherwise would be far from picturesque. The adobe is a sun-baked brick; it is mud-color; its walls look as if they were moulded of mud. The adobes were the native California habitations. We spoke of them as adobes; although it would probably be as correct, etymologically, to refer to brick houses as bricks.
There were a few ramshackle hotels at the mission; for in the early days it seemed as if everybody either boarded or took in boarders, and many families lived for years in hotels rather than attempt to keep house in the wilds of San Francisco. The mission was about one house deep each side of the main street. You might have turned a corner and found yourself face to face with the cattle in the meadow. As for the goats, they met you at the doorway and followed you down the street like dogs.
At the top of this street stood the mission church and what few mission buildings were left for the use of the Fathers. The church and the grounds were the most interesting features of the place, and it was a favorite resort of the citizens of San Francisco; yet it most likely would not have been were the church the sole attraction. Here, in appropriate enclosures, there were bull-fighting, bear-baiting, and horse-racing. Many duels were fought here, and some of them were so well advertised that they drew almost as well as a cock-fight. Cock-fighting was a special Sunday diversion. Through the mission ran the highway to the pleasant city of San Jose; it ran through a country unsurpassed in beauty and fertility. Above the mission towered the mission peaks, and about it the hillslopes were mantled with myriads of wild flowers, the splendor and variety of which have added to the fame of California.
The mission church was never handsome; but the facade with the old bells hanging in their niches, and the almost naive simplicity of its architectural adornment, are extremely pleasing. It is a long, narrow, dingy nave one enters. Its walls of adobe do not retain their coats of whitewash for any length of time; in the rainy season they are damp and almost clammy. The floor is of beaten earth; the Stations upon the walls of the rudest description; the narrow windows but dimly light the interior, and rather add to than dispel the gloom that has been gathering there for ages. The high altar is, of course, in striking contrast with all that dark interior: it is over-decorated in the Mexican manner–flowers, feathers, tinsel ornaments, tall candlesticks elaborately gilded; all the statues examples of the primitive art that appealed strongly to the uncultivated eye; and all the adornments gay, gaudy, if not garish. Do you wonder at this? When you enter the old church at the Mission Dolores you should recall its history, and picture in your imagination the people for whom the mission was established.
The Franciscans founded their first mission in California at San Diego in 1769. The Mission Dolores was founded on St. Francis’ Day, 1776. To found a mission was a serious matter; yet one and twenty missions were in the full tide of success before the good work was abandoned. The friars were the first fathers of the land: they did whatever was done for it and for the people who originally inhabited it. They explored the country lying between the coast range and the sea. They set apart large tracts of land for cultivation and for the pasturing of flocks and herds. For a long time Old and New Spain contributed liberally to what was known as the Pious Fund of California. The fund was managed by the Convent of San Fernando and certain trustees in Mexico, and the proceeds transmitted from the city of Mexico to the friars in California.
The mission church was situated, as a rule, in the centre of the mission lands, or reservations. The latter comprised several thousand acres of land. With the money furnished by the Pious Fund of California the church was erected, and surrounded by the various buildings occupied by the Fathers, the retainers, and the employees who had been trained to agriculture and the simple branches of mechanics. The presbytery, or the rectory, was the chief guest-house in the land. There were no hotels in the California of that day, but the traveller, the prospector, the speculator, was ever welcome at the mission board; and it was a bountiful board until the rapacity of the Federal Government laid it waste. Alexander Forbes, in his “History of Upper and Lower California” (London, 1839), states that the population of Upper California in 1831 was a little over 23,000; of these 18,683 were Indians. It was for the conversion of these Indians that the missions were first established; for the bettering of their condition–mental, moral and physical–that they were trained in the useful and industrial arts. That they labored not in vain is evident. In less than fifty years from the day of its foundation the Mission of San Francisco Dolores–that is in 1825–is said to have possessed 76,000 head of cattle; 950 tame horses; 2,000 breeding mares; 84 stud of choice breed; 820 mules; 79,000 sheep; 2,000 hogs; 456 yoke of working oxen; 18,000 bushels of wheat and barley; besides $35,000 in merchandise and $25,000 in specie.
That was, indeed, the golden age of the California missions; everybody was prosperous and proportionately happy. In 1826 the Mission of Soledad owned more than 36,000 head of cattle, and a larger number of horses and mares than any other mission in the country. These animals increased so rapidly that they were given away in order to preserve the pasturage for cattle and sheep. In 1822 the Spanish power in Mexico was overthrown; in 1824 a republican constitution was established. California, not then having a population sufficient to admit it as one of the Federal States, was made a territory, and as such had a representative in the Mexican Congress; but he was not allowed a vote on any question, though he sat in the assembly and shared in the debates.
In 1826 the Federal Government began to meddle with the affairs of the friars. The Indians “who had good characters, and were considered able to maintain themselves, from having been taught the art of agriculture or some trade,” were manumitted; portions of land were allotted to them, and the whole country was divided into parishes, under the superintendence of curates. The zealous missionaries were no longer to receive a salary–four hundred dollars a year had formerly been paid them out of the national exchequer for developing the resources of the State. Everybody and everything was now supposed to be self-sustaining, and was left to take care of itself. It was a dream–and a bad one!
[Illustration: Lone Mountain, 1856]
Within one year the Indians went to the dogs. They were cheated out of their small possessions and were driven to beggary or plunder. The Fathers were implored to take charge again of their helpless flock. Meanwhile the Pious Fund of California had run dry, as its revenues had been diverted into alien channels. The good friars resumed their offices. Once more the missions were prosperous, but for a time only. It was the beginning of the end. Year after year acts were passed in the Mexican Congress so hampering the friars in their labors that they were at last crippled and helpless. The year 1840 was specially disastrous; and in 1845 the Franciscans the pioneer settlers and civilizers of California, were completely denuded of both power and property.