San Francisco History

The Adventures of a Forty-Niner






Colonel Jonathan Stevenson,
Colonel John C. Freémont, and
Captain John A. Sutter,


(return to previous section)

image of Pursued by the Grizzlies


One warm afternoon my friend Mc and myself thought we would take a walk over to Pesedeo; that was about three miles to the Pacific ocean. The seal rocks is where the sea lions or seals can always be seen. It was the entrance to the Golden Gates, where the roar of the Pacific ocean is twice that of the Atlantic, it being six thousand miles broad, twice that of the Atlantic. On our way we stopped into a tent to get a drink of water. We found it occupied by three miners, one of whom was quite lame. I inquired of him what was the matter. He said his hip had been dislocated by the grizzlies. I asked him how it happened. He said they went up to the Trinity river to dig for gold. I knew that was the most remote gold river. He said they were lucky and found rich diggings, but after awhile their provisions gave out and they could not procure any unless they returned to the settlements. On their way, returning on horseback, they came to three grizzly bears grazing in a field. It was very dangerous to attack them, but they were very hungry. They thought if they could kill one of them it would supply them with meat, so they finally decided they would take their chances and fire on them, which they did, and wounded one. The other two took after the man whose hip was dislocated. He fled and came to a buckeye tree, the body of which slants, and he got up in it; the bears came on under it. After awhile they found they could not reach him. It being a low tree one of them commenced climbing it after him. He thought his last hour had come; all the events of his life seemed to rush on his mind, and a picture of the old-fashioned spelling book, where the man plays dead on the bear, came before him, which I distinctly recollected. He thought his only chance was to drop from the tree and hold his breath, and play dead on the bear, which he did, and fell on his face. One bear grabbed him by the shoulders and the other by the ankle, and in pulling, dislocated his hip. He had a thickovercoat on which they tore to pieces. He held his breath. After awhile they went off and left him. After a little while he raised his head to see if they were gone, and they came trotting back and smelt him all over again, and went away again, he holding his breath. Then he laid a long time, fearing to move, and his companions came up

    “Each fainter trace that memory holds
    So darkly of departed years,
    In one broad glance, the soul beholds,
    And all that was at once appears.”

In the cases of imminent danger such is said to be the case. It is evident that is what saved this man's life. Truth is stranger than fiction.

image of The Miner and The Grizzly

The State seal of California is Minerva, with a spear and shield and the grizzly bear at her feet. Before the discovery of gold they were quite numerous. They roamed in full possession, apparently, of the country--no one to molest them or make them afraid. It was a very formidable animal, weighing from seven to eight hundred pounds. When the rainy season set in, late in the fall, and the winter months, during which the grass commenced to grow, he fed on it in the valleys and fields, and became fat and powerful. In the spring, when the dry season set in and no rain for seven months, and fields dried up with a dusty brown, he fled to the tops of the mountains to browse on the leaves of the trees to support life until the next rainy season commenced. It is said he is not a ferocious animal if unmolested, and will not attack you if you let him alone, unless it is a she bear with cubs, or you shoot at them and wound them. They are very hard to kill. To be hit by a bullet has very little effect on them, unless hit in a vital spot. An acquaintance of mine was wlaking on a road in the interior and saw a big grizzly coming down the road in the opposite direction toward him. He knew it would not do to undertake to run. He had been posted on their natures, so he kept walking right on, as if he was undisturbed and had no fear, the bear coming nearer to him all the time, with his gait unchanged, or he his, until they passed each other, he looking the grizzly in the eye and treating each other with due respect and consideration as friends. As an illustration of their strength, an old Californian informed me that he knew of an instance where a grizzly came into a pack of live mules and took one off and carried it to his den and ate it. In corroboration of that fact, another man informed me that he saw a bear chasing a mule and fired on the bear and hit him, and the bear turned toward him, and the mule escaped.

image of The Man Who Escaped the Sandwich Islands

There was a Mr. W., who opened a fashionable hotel on the east side of the plaza. I was invited to be one of a party of twenty to give a complimentary dinner to a friend, who was about to return East. The bill was just $400, which was $20 apiece, the most I ever paid for a California dinner. The landlord became quite popular and was thought to be a very responsible person. A great many persons from the long voyages around Cape Horn arrived, sick with the scurvy, owing to want of vegetables at sea, most of whose systems underwent a change to become acclimated to the country; some seriously and others more mildly. It was thought it would be a good thing to do to erect a hospital for the benefit of the public and those arriving sick. There was $30,000 raised at the first meeting called, and Mr. W., the landlord, was elected treasurer.

One night he got betting against the game of Faro, lost, and I suppose got over excited, and in trying to recover his losses, lost every thing, including $30,000. Of course it was not known that he ever gambled or he would not have been trusted with the money. As soon as it was known it created great excitement and indignation, that so sacred a fund should have been wasted in that way. He fled, and the Mayor offered $3,000 reward for his apprehension. It seems he had escaped on a vessel to the Sandwich Islands, and had no money, and got in debt there and could not leave there as long as he owed any thing, according to their laws, and he was in despair, until one day fortune smiled upon him. Accidentally he came across a California paper in which was the $3,000 reward offered by the Mayor of San Francisco for his arrest, and this was his opportunity and he seized it at once. Then hope dawned upon him. He found a vessel about to sail for San Francisco. He took the paper and showed it to the captain and told him if he would advance the money so he could pay his debts, he would return with him to San Francisco and he could surrender him and they would divide the reward. The captain accepted his offer and delivered him up upon his arrival at San Francisco, and got the reward. Two or three months had elapsed since his departure, and that was more time than so many years in any other country, and all excitement about it had subsided, and I think it was called a breach of trust, and I have no recollection that he was punished in any other way.


When he wrote me that he had traded the blankets for flour, and had gone to the Yuba river with the flour, I knew that it was a lie, and that he was a rascal, and I found that blankets had been in great demand, at a high price, and likewise learned that he had been connected with a forgery in New York city, but that his brother was a respectable merchant there, so for the time I gave up my $800 as lost. What was my surprise after six weeks at my hotel (which was an expensive one), to see my man at the tea table. I greeted him most cordially and asked no questions about the blankets, but talked to him about the brig I owned and had running to Stockton; that I had been looking for him to come back; there was such a splendid chance for us to make purchases in San Francisco, and for him to take them up on my vessel and sell them out in the Southern gold mines, near that place; that what we had lost on the blankets we could more than make up on the first venture, and that there would be big money in that kind of a speculation. We spent the evening together most cordially. The next morning I detained him in conversation until about the time for the Miners' Bank to open, then we went out together. When we got opposite the bank I took out my watch and said to him, that I did not think it was so late. I said I had a note of $800 due there that morning; I asked him if he had the gold dust about him to that amount. He said yes. I said let me have it and I will take up my note. He said there was no place to weigh it. I said yes, here there was a place where I was acquainted. It was weighed and handed to me. I told him I would see him at dinner, which I did. I then opened on him, and told him how despicably he had acted when I so generously trusted to his honor. He made no reply; he virtually admitted the truth of my statement. I never saw him afterward. That was the only time I ever played the confidence game in my life, and my conscience has approved of it ever since.

My friend, Mr. R., had got his brewery well under way in Happy Valley, as they called that part of the city, had used up his $8,000 and commenced borrowing money on my indorsement, at ten per cent a month, the regular interest at that time. He had a friend, Lieutenant S., who resigned from the regular army, a graduate from West Point, who had been up in the country, and came back with a flaming account of a place on the Toulama river, which empties into the San Joaquin, which was the head of navigation on that river, and was the place to start a town, and if we would furnish him with $1,500 to do it with, we would each own a third of it. I did not take to it, but Mr. R. was so earnest about it, and had such confidence in his friend, that I finally let him have the money. There was quite a spirit of speculation of that kind at that time. Colonel Stevenson had laid out one on Suisan bay, at the mouth of the San Joaquin river, named New York of the Pacific. Marysville, on the Sacramento river, was laid out a short time previous, and proved a great success, making the fortunes of the projectors. Of course, a few were successful, and many failed. It seemed to have been a legitimate thing to do to make a fortune in a new country. I became acquainted with Broderick. It was Koyler & Broderick. They had an office in the same building with Colonel Stevenson. Broderick, who was afterward United States Senator from California, and I became very intimate. He was not intellectually a very brilliant man, but a solid, able and strictly honest man, and a thoroughly posted politician of his day. He had run as a Democratic candidate for Congress from the city of New York, but was not elected. In California he was first elected to the State Senate from the city. It was he who conceived the project of laying out the water lots on the bay, and got the bill through the Legislature. He advised me to buy one or more. I looked at where he suggested to me to buy, and found them six feet under water. Although they could be bought very cheap then, their prospective value seemed so remote to me I thought they were not worth the trouble of bothering with. It shows how easy it is to be mistaken in apprehending the future. I understand they are now the most valuable part of the city.


The man in his tent, who had squatted on Rincon Point, an elevated locality, that commanded a grand view of the bay, informed me that when he squatted there with his tent, that he could find no person who claimed the land. He had been there but a few days, when some parties came to him and offered to give him so much a month for the privilege of putting up their tent near his. He said he had no objections. They paid him. Then other parties who wanted to put up their tents were referred to him. From these various persons he was getting a very liberal income. He informed me that as long as it lasted, he was in no hurry to go to the mines.


About this time was the first appearance of the celebrated clipper ships. They anchored off of Happy Valley and attracted great attention; they could make the trip around Cape Horn from New York to San Francisco in three or four months; they run wet; their bows were very sharp, and, in a rough sea, instead of mounting the waves, they cut them, and the bows ran under water, and their progress was not impeded by the waves, saving two or three months' time, which was of great consideration then. There was no railroad across the Isthmus then, and there was no other way of transporting freight between the cities of New York and San Francisco except around Cape Horn. They had great fame then. England conceded their superiority over all other sailing vessels for speed; but they have passed away, the railroad reducing the time to from five to eight days; of course, there is a great difference between that and three or four months. The days of sailing vessels, however great their speed, to a great extent, is gone. Besides, there are regular lines of steamers to most every port of the world, and the ocean is covered with tramp steamers.

That winter a convention was called to organize a State government and apply for admission to the Union. The Southern element there wanted to make it a slave State. The Northerners, including both Whigs and Democrats, wanted it free. They did not want to be brought in competition with slave labor in the mines, and have their occupation degraded in that way. Their pride, as well as interest, was at stake, and there was great feeling on the subject. Meetings were called all through the mines and addresses made and candidates nominated. The average of intelligence there was away above any other part of the country. For they were men of enterprise, or they would not have been there in that early day. At Mormon Island, one of the miners got up and made a speech. He so impressed them with his ability that they unanimously nominated him as their candidate to the Constitutional Convention. He was an old acquaintance of mine. In 1847 to 1848 he was a Democratic member of the Legislature of the State of New York, from Washington county, and was chosen by that body to deliver the oration on Washington's birthday. His name was George Washington Sherwood. He was elected to the Constitutional Convention of California, and wrote its first Constitution, copied after that of his native State, New York. The Northern element prevailed in that convention, and California came in a free State by its unanimous vote. Broderick headed the Northern sentiment; Gwin, who had been a United States Marshal in Mississippi, the Southern. I met him often. He would come into a bar-room and say: “I did not come here to dig gold, but to represent you in the United States Senate.” He would then say: “Come up all, and take a drink.” I thought that was a strange way to inspire the people with the idea that he was the proper person to represent them in the United States Senate. He was elected, with Colonel Freemont, the first two United States Senators from California. At the next election for United States Senators, Broderick got absolute control, and although Gwin had fought him bitterly, they were the two senators to be elected again. Broderick had the magnanimity to induce his friends to go for Gwin and had him elected with him, and Gwin showed his ingratitude by going at once to Washington and securing from Buchanan the control of all the appointments of the government in the State of California. So when Broderick came there, there were none to give his friends. Gwin was afterward very prominent in the rebellion. He went out in a boat in Charleston harbor, crying out from it his advice to Major Anderson, advising him to surrender at the time of the attack on Fort Sumter. (This is a matter of history that occurred after the time of which I am writing.)


image of The Bull Fight

There were bills posted about the city that three of the most celebrated fighters of Mexico would have an exhibition in the evening, and combat with animals. As my friend and myself never had seen one we thought we would go. It was an amphitheatre, with circular seats about the pit, with thick planks around it, the seats commencing about twenty feet from the bottom of the pit. There was a door at the side of the pit, which was raised by pulleys, which admitted the bull. They were wild ones. Our seat was about the fifth row back. The house was crowded and brilliantly illuminated. Then the bull-fighters were in the pit, one on horseback, two on foot, gorgeously and brilliantly dressed, with swords, the blades pointed like spears, with red flags in their hands to attract the bull. The door was raised and the animal came rushing in; he was a terrible one to look at. Blinded by the lights and the scene, he rushed and roared around the arena; I trembled in my seat, although I was in no possible danger. The first feat of the bull-fighters was to plant a rosette on the shoulders of the animal with a barb implanted in his flesh, which enraged him more, with colored ribbons, two or three feet in length, attached to the rosette, which was flying in the air as he went around, indicating to the audience the success of the feat. Then the same feat was performed on the other shoulder. Then when the bull attacked the man again, a rosette was implanted between his horns, and the man escaped, which was the most difficult of all. They had red flags in one hand to enrage and blind him, but this bull, he became so furious and enraged that they could not master him. He rushed upon the man on horseback, threw the horse and rider, and, with his horns, tore the entrails out of the horse and killed it. The man was wounded, but escaped. The rest of the fighters fled, and one climbed up the side of the paling and came within two inches of being impaled alive against the side by the bull's horns.

As I write I can, in imagination, hear the sound of the animal's horns as they struck the boards in missing the man. The bull was master of the situation; he had cleared the ring. It was a terrible sight as he roared around in his fury. Then the most startling event of all occurred. It seems incredible, but it is the truth of history, and I must write it.

A greaser, with no weapon, but simply his seraper, a shawl that he wore around his shoulders, took that off and stretching it out in his hands, jumped down into the pit of the ring alone, to the entire astonishment of the audience, looked Mr. Bull in the eyes and dodged him with his shawl as the animal attacked him. He had probably been brought up among wild bulls. The audience all arose in excitement, expecting to see him torn to pieces, and crying out for him to escape. The professional bullfighters got their red flags and drew the bull off, and the greaser escaped, and seemed to be surprised at the excitement of the audience. They succeeded in getting the bull out, and dragging out the dead horse, and letting in a less ferocious one. The same performance was gone through with him, as already described, except that this one was conquered. At last, when the bull pitched at the man, he holds his sword in such a way that the weight of the animal comes on it, and passes between his foreshoulders and penetrates his heart. In an instant the back wilts and the animal lies dead. It was the most sudden change, from full vitality to death; it startled you. It's a shock to your nervous system. My friend and myself said it was the first and last bull-fight we would ever see.

The price of lumber and vegetables kept up. I paid forty cents a pound for potatoes in buying provisions for the hands on my brig. I furnished them enough to last them on the up trip, but not for the return, so they would hurry back. It was now time for the vessel with the houses to arrive, and I expected to buy a ship with the money, and to go to the Sandwich Islands and make, what I considered, a fortune for me, but alas! no Prince de Joinville came. It was hope deferred. Finally the rainy season set in in full blast, and all consumption of lumber stopped. The high price had stimulated shipments from everywhere. There was a big reaction in the price. The first prominent failure in the city took place. I think it was Ward & Co., commission merchants and private bankers. It was said it was owing to his large orders of shipments of lumber to that market. He shot himself with a pistol in the morning in his bedroom and died, knowing that he could not meet his creditors if he went to his place of business. About this time it was announced from Telegraph Hill that my vessel, with the houses, was entering the port two or three months after she was due, striking a glutted market. I had four or five thousand dollars to raise to pay the freight on them to get possession of them, or I would lose the capital invested. So instead of making $18,000 profit, which I might have made if they had come on time, I was running the risk of losing the capital invested in them. Colonel Stevenson had selected six of them some time before, which he wanted for his New York of the Pacific, which he said he would make me an offer on as soon as they arrived. I saw it was my only chance to save myself to close that sale. I was at his office in the morning as soon as there was any probability of they being there. I said to him: “The houses have arrived. I am ready to receive your offer for the six you selected.” He said he had no money now. I said I did not want any (which was a white lie). I said I would take a draft on Prosper, Whetmore & Co., of New York city, for $3,000, payable in ninety days, and his note for the balance, on his own time. He looked over the plan of the houses again. He said he would not give but so much. I said to him, that was not the question, what will you give? He said I will give you that amount, naming the sum. I said at once, they are sold, they are yours. He gave me the draft on Whetmore & Co., for $3,000, payable in ninety days. Just at this time, his partner, Dr. Parker, came in. The colonel informed him he had bought six of my houses. He said, you have made a mistake. Lumber is in a glutted market. It is falling rapidly. The colonel said, that makes no difference now, I have bought them. The colone was considered rich. No one there questioned the soundness of his draft. I went with it to all the brokers in the city, but could get no offer for it. I then went to Charley Minton, the agent of the steamer Senator. I thought he could send it to New York to the owners of the steamer for its face value. He said, the best he could do with me was to give me $2,250 for it. Money was ten per cent a month, and scarce at that. Three months time, at the rate of interest there, would be $900. I said, I would take it. He gave me a check on his broker for that amount. He paid me in gold, $16 Spanish doubloon pieces. I tied them up in my handkerchief, and went to McCondery & Co., and said to him, the vessel, with my houses, I see, are consigned to you. I will pay you $2,000 now on the freight, and before they are all taken off of the ship, I will pay you the balance. He said, take them all off, and pay the balance at your convenience (we were acquainted and had come up on the same steamer, and played whist together). It cost me $800 to get them ashore. There were no wharves then. They had to be taken ashore on lighters. I expected my brig down from Stockton soon, with $2,000 freight money, so I was out of the woods financially for the present. I then made arrangement with the colonel to have them landed on the North Beach on land owned by him, where I could retail out my other six houses, which I had to sell, when I got a proper price for them. We formed a copartnership. I was to take one of my smallest houses, and have it erected there, to be used for an office, and to use the grounds as a lumber yard to sell on commission, and as a place for storage, which was very scarce then. There were quite a number who had taken the liberty of piling lumber and other articles on it, using it as public ground. I took formal possession of it in the name of Colonel Stevenson, and gave notice to the different parties that if they did not remove their materials from the premises in ten days they would be charged so much for storage. Some removed, and others did not. I recollect the German house that did not remove it in thirty days after the ten days of notice. It was a wealthy house, and I handed them a bill of $250 for storage, at which they demurred very seriously, questioning our title; but they paid it. When I went out to the ship to see about taking my houses off, I met the first mate, whom I got acquainted with in New York. I told him I thought the ship had been lost; that all the old tugs of ships had got in ahead of them. He said to me, I have had the worst time I ever had in my life. I have had to carry that old man on my shoulders (referring to the captain) all the way. Whenever we had a good breeze and sails were all full, he would come on deck and order shorten sail to check our speed, or we might have been here a month sooner. That told the whole story. I saw them take freight, in my presence, when they were offered $1.50 per foot, when they told me there was no room for the other half of my houses to go on the ship, when I had a legal contract with them at sixty cents per foot. My freight alone would have made a difference of two or three thousand dollars by excluding it and taking the other in at the difference in the price of it. There is no doubt they served many other shippers and put their goods on other vessels, and kept theirs back until the other ships would get to San Francisco ahead of them, so that they could deliver the freight according to their bills of lading on the arrival of the Prince de Joinville. That was why my speculation was ruined by their dishonesty. Instead of being the fastest ship, it was a fraud, a decoy, a dead trap on those who were unfortunate enough to ship by it. When I saw the captain he was very humble. He had all kinds of apologies to make, and invited me to go to China with him. I could have the best stateroom on his ship. It should not cost me a dollar. I could go around the world with him. I saw that my speculation was ruined by their dishonesty, and there was no remedy, and, like all human events, that ended it, and I had to abandon my Sandwich Island expedition and throw my anticipated fortune from it to the winds. Mr. Meighs, the one who failed and ran away to Chili, and built the railroad in that country from Valparaiso to its capital, and then organized a company and constructed railroads in Peru, had a lumber yard side of me. I sold, after a while, my other six houses, one at a time, retailing them out, and, by careful management, just succeeded in saving my original capital.

I was satisfied with San Francisco, with my interest in the lumber yards, and with my partnership with Colonel Stevenson on the North Beach. My interest in my brig, when it came down, and my prospective interest in what was to be the city of Toulom, and my associations with Mr. R., who was building the first brewery on the Pacific, which I was backing up with my indorsement, and I was to have one-third interest when it was completed, if I wanted it, at first cost, looked like a very favorable investment for me at that time. I was living an active and enterprising life, with bright hopes of future fortune. One morning when I went down to the North Beach I found there had been a house erected on our land in the night. I, of course, informed the colonel at once. He informed me it was a man by the name of Colton, who pretended to have a title under what he called the “Colton Grant,” and that it was bogus, and that he had the building erected to try and force his title. The colonel said he would see the judge of the court in the city, and get an order for its removal. In about two hours he sent a messenger with an order from the judge authorizing us to remove it. He instructed me to employ all the men that were necessary, and have the material removed from the premises and he would pay the bill, which I did, and our title was not disputed after that.

I had never been on a trip to Stockton, and I had chartered the freight capacity of the brig to a man for $1,800. He was to put in it all the freight he chose to. I thought it would not be for his interest to overload it. If the vessel sunk there was no insurance--his cargo would be a total loss. I had reserved the deck and the passenger room. The conditions of the charter were that the freight was to be delivered in Stockton by a certain date or I was to forfeit the $1,800. The freight was aboard; he had loaded the vessel deeper than I had expected. I had a number of passengers at $15 each. They were to furnish their own provisions, but to have the privileges of the cooking stove on deck. The vessel was anchored out in the bay, to sail at 2 P.M., when the tide was most favorable. I had a new chain for the anchor, and the captain said he wanted a kedge anchor for safety, so I ordered one from McCondery & Co., for $35, on condition that, without fail, they would have it on board before 2 P.M. We were all on board by 1 o'clock, waiting for the favorable tide, to start. At 1:30 no anchor and the bay was very rough. The captain said it would not come, they would not venture out in that sea in a small boat. I said it would be there certain, I knew my man. Sure enough, in a few moments we could just see a boat in the distance, two men rowing and one guiding the rudder. They came alongside and we had the anchor aboard in five minutes. In the stern was Mr. Watson, one of the firm. He said he was afraid to trust his men in that sea for fear they would fail to deliver it. The profit on it to them was only $3.50, and it was a very wealthy firm, but they had pledged their word to me that they would have it there at that time. (Would that there were more of such honorable men.) We hoisted anchor, the tide in our favor and a stiff breeze blowing. We passed out of the bay of San Francisco into the bay of Los Angles, and crossed that into the Straits of Benica, which is four miles long and connects with Suisan bay. The Straits of Benica was a perfectly safe anchorage. It was approaching night, and blowing almost a gale. I was in hopes and expected that the captain would come to anchor in the straits and wait until morning before venturing out into the Suisan bay, which was twenty miles across to the mouth of the San Joaquin river, where we were bound. The bay was almost like the open sea; you could get out of sight of land. I think he would have come to anchor if I, the owner, had not been on board, and had not urged upon him the importance of having the vessel in Stockton in time. As he was the captain I felt sensitive about interfering with his business, and had hoped and expected, all the way through the straits, that he would come to anchor, and not undertake to cross the bay that night. Darkness was setting in, but he did not come to anchor. The gale increased to a hurricane; all sails were taken in, and we were scudding under bare poles, and had a lantern hung up in the rigging. The captain came to me and said, loaded as we were, we could not live in that gale; he would have to seek a place to anchor on the side of the bay. I said to him, he was the captain. The line was thrown out every few minutes. At last we found sounding, and the anchor was cast. We had been there but a short time before another vessel, more than twice as large as ours, came aside of us, with a heavy deck-load of lumber, and got entangled in our anchor chain, and kept drawing us nearer to them. If they had struck our vessel we knew we were lost. They would have sunk us at once. Seven times they came down on us and each time, by superhuman efforts, we warded the blow, all hands and passengers doing their best, fully realizing the danger they were in. It seems to me that I hear now the oaths of the captain of the other vessel rising above the sounds of the terrific hurricane as he was ordering his men, for they, too, were in danger if they collided with us. Of course, he was on the bare poles. As he came on us the eighth time they hoisted their jib sail. As the wind struck it, it seemed to lift their vessel out of the water, and, thank God, we were freed from it. It was forty-five years ago, and, as I write, it all lives before me as visible as if it were yesterday. The captain of the other vessel had seen our light, and, supposing we were in the right channel, had followed us. We had escaped what seemed almost certain death, but were not out of danger. Our new good chain was attached to our bad chain, and the captain had let out all our chain to free us from the other vessel, so we were actually hanging by our bad chain in the open roadstead, not in the protection of a harbor, and liable to drag our anchor or break our chain and be wrecked; but we could do nothing more than submit to our fate. I thought I would get into my berth and try and get to sleep, and, if I found myself alive in the morning, we might be saved. I did sleep, and when I awoke it was daylight. The gale was subsiding. We had dragged our anchor. The bow of our brig was very sharp; the banks were soft mud, and we had struck it with such force that we were wedged in. The tide was low and we were almost out of water. We fortunately had struck the land with our bow, and that was what saved us. If we had struck with the side of the vessel we would have been wrecked. So, ever since we had been freed from the other vessel, we had been in safety and did not know it. We waited for the tide to rise and then got our kedge anchor out and pulled the vessel out off the bank as the tide rose. The sea was very rough, but the gale had subsided, and by 11 o'clock we were entering the mouth of the San Joaquin river in safety. It was forty miles up the river to Stockton. The river was in a valley of Tullieries. The land seemed to be in the course of formation. There was but one tree between the mouth and Stockton, a willow, called the Lone Tree. The only place on its banks where the soil had formed solid enough to produce one, surrounded by hills at that season of the year, covered with beautiful wild flowers. The scenery was magnificent. As the river curved we could see the white sails of other vessels. They looked as if they were in a field. You could not see the water at a little distance, the river being narrow. We could almost jump from our deck to the banks. We felt in perfect safety. Contrasting that with the night before in that terrible hurricane and in the death struggles for our lives, it produced a supreme feeling of ethereal ideal happiness that this earth seemed almost a Paradise. The captain informed me that there was on place on the river where we might have to anchor. It was called the Devil's Elbow. There was a sharp turn in the river and the current was rapid, and we might have to pull the vessel around it; but sometimes, if it was favorable, he could sail around it, and if done successfully, then the vessels that had come to anchor could find no fault; otherwise you had to come to behind the others and take your turn. When we were coming to it, he was at the helm and I at his side, to see what was the best to do. As we approached, we saw several vessels had come to for the purpose of pulling around. The last was a large vessel that the captain said could never get around. If we anchored behind it we might not be able to deliver our freight according to the charter. We had put an English sailor in the hold to let the anchor go, in case we did not succeed, if we gave him the signal to do so. As we came to the place with all sails set, there was a breeze sprung up, filling all the sails. I said to the captain, let her go. As we passed the vessels that had come to anchor there was a howling and yelling from them of derision and anger at us for going by them. Just as we got two-thirds of the way around, the sailor in the hold let the anchor go without orders. He got frightened. If he had not, we would have made it successfully. As it was, we got ahead of all the other vessels, and got to Stockton in ample time. The next morning there was a drove of mules at the side of the brig, and the cargo was being discharged and packed on their backs to be taken to the mining camps, as there were no good roads there in those early days. About all the grain and flour came from Valparaiso and Chili, put up very nicely in fifty and one hundred pound sacks, so it was easy to handle. As soon as all the mules were packed, the head mule, who had on a bell fastened around his neck, which rang as he went, was started first, and all the rest, in single file, followed him, and they were going for the different mining camps in the interior. In two or three days we were unloaded, and we were prepared to return. The freight money was paid to me in gold, at $16 per ounce in full, all being satisfactory to the shipper. I had delivered it within the time specified. One of the passengers who came up with me, a tailor, from Salem, Mass., asked me if I would not give him a free passage back on the vessel to San Francisco; that he wanted to try to get home; he was discouraged. I said to him you have traveled eighteen thousand miles to get to the gold mines, and now you are within half a day of them and want to go home without trying your fortune. If you do go, you will never forgive yourself, but go to the mines and try your luck; then, if you are discouraged and want to go back, I will give you a free passage, as we have no passengers on our return trip.


When a person was attacked with it, it seemed the worst kind of malady, as it would take them months to return if they had the money to pay their passage. Many were married men, separated a great distance from their wives and children. Others, young men, who had their engaged ones waiting for them to return, with their fortunes made in the gold mines, to marry them. I can recall several instances where I have known them to lie down and die from despair. I was talking with an old Californian of those days. He said he had once given up and made up his mind to wander off by himself on the mountains and die, which he did. As he lay there in despair, after a while he thought he would look around him, and he saw the hill was covered with every variety of beautiful wild flowers. He said their beauty seemed to refresh and revive his mind, and give him new resolution, and he decided to try his fortune again, and he became successful and returned to the States with a competency.

image of The Despondent Miner

The early pioneers had some conflict with the Indians in the interior of the country. Five Oregon men were massacred by them when engaged in digging gold, but a terrible retribution was visited upon those Indians concerned in it by the enraged Forty-niners. The Indians, at first, had nothing but bows and arrows, and, of course, could not compete with rifles. Several other small engagements were rumored, but they soon gave up all contests with the whites, for they saw it was useless. There was an acorn that was quiet plenty in California, being longer than ours, but not of a bitter taste. The squaws made flour of them. The Digger Indians were the next tribe east of them; they were probably the lowest grade. They would set fire to the prairie grass to burn the grasshoppers, and pick them up and eat them. They deemed them a luxury. The Oregon tribes were a higher grade, a warlike race, and superior in every respect. The highest grade of them, in the United States now, are the Choctaws and Chicksaws that formerly occupied the northern parts of the State of Mississippi. When a young man, I spent three weeks in their nation, travelling alone, and was treated with great hospitality by them. They are quite intelligent, and they have laws and customs as civilized nations. We generally look upon all of them as alike, but such is not the case--there is as great a difference between different tribes as much as between different white nations. The California Indians were not naturally warlike, and when the early pioneers expected any trouble from them, they would appoint a committee to go and see them, and they generally settled their difficulty without any conflicts.


There were about sixteen Jesuit missionary stations in the country before the discovery of gold, and were there for the purpose of converting the Indians to the Catholic church, and when converted, generally made them work to sustain their missionary establishments.

I had returned to my office on the North Beach after my only trip to Stockton on my brig. My friend R. was progressing with his brewery. He had received a favorable letter from Lieutenant S. about our Touwalma city, and informing me that S. had a diamond ring that cost $800 in Rio Janeiro, at a broker's office, as collateral security for $250 borrowed on it at ten per cent per month, and the time was about up. If I would redeem the ring I could keep it and wear it until he paid me. I went and saw the ring. It was as represented, and I redeemed it and wore it for a considerable time. One day R. came to me with a flaming letter from S. that he had laid out the city and been elected alcalde, and we would make our fortune, and there was a friend of S. that was going up there, and if I would send up the ring by him he would appreciate it so much, and he would be responsible that I should not lose any thing by it. I was foolish enough to be persuaded by him and handed him the ring, for which act I have never forgiven myself. That was the last I ever saw of the ring or any of the money invested in Touwalma city, for it turned out a failure. It was never the head of navigation on the river, or any thing else that was ever heard of.

There were three unfortunate events that occurred in California in the winter months of 1849 and the beginning of 1850. The rainy season had destroyed all the dams constructed on the gold rivers and raceways, which had been constructed at great expense for the purpose of working the beds of the river for gold, the rivers often rising from ten to eighteen feet in a night, and the current running with terrible force. The second, the flooding of Sacramento, destroying large quantities of merchandise and carrying away and undermining the houses there. The third was the great fire in San Francisco, destroying one-third of the main business portion of the city, upon which there was no insurance. There were no companies organized or agents there to insure property then, as it was too risky. There was one four-story fire-proof building that was stored full of the most valuable goods, at a large price for storage, for it was considered absolutely fire-proof, but when the fire came the heat of the fire from the buildings around it caused the iron sides of it to expand, which let the roof fall in and burned every thing to the ground, so that nothing was saved. Instead of being a place of safety, it was the most destructive of all.

Some ships in the bay were burned. I succeeded in getting in the rear of the fire to save my brig. I ordered the men to hoist anchor and put out further in the bay, which saved it. These unfortunate events destroyed and marred the fortune of many. On the day before I called on a private banker, G., on the plaza, and presented my check for $800. He said to me, if it made no difference, it being steamer day (once a month they went East when the gold was shipped to the mint in Philadelphia by them), and if I would call in the morning for it, it would be an accommodation to him. I said I wanted to use it. He commenced weighing it out. I then thought it would make no difference to me and it was mean not to accommodate him, for I might want some favor of him. I said, if I can have it in three days without fail it would answer my purpose. He said, you can have it now, pouring the gold in the scales to weigh it. I said never mind, I don't want it now. The fire came that night, burnt his place up and all his property. He was a ruined man. I never saw him afterward.

Mr. G., to whom I had bargained to sell my houses to arrive, (and he backed out) was an Englishman from Liverpool. He had about all the consignments of shipments from that city (evidently being very popular there), to sell on commission at ten per cent; when the goods came and were sold, instead of remitting the capital to the owners and being satisfied with his commission, he used it in buying property and in erecting buildings in San Francisco. He had constructed a fire-proof building which he rented to the government for a post-office, at a large sum per month, likewise the first theatre in the city, and other buildings. He informed me at one time how much his rents amounted to per month; the sum was several thousand dollars. Money was worth but three to five per cent in England per year to the owners of the merchandise; while in California it was in demand at ten per cent per month. I suppose he thought he would make a great fortune for himself and then return to England (where he had a wife and children) and pay up all his obligations with extra allowance, for the use of the money, and make all satisfactory; but the great fire destroyed all his buildings, and he was a ruined man, there being no insurance in the city then. I met a friend in New York about two years after my return from California; I asked him when he saw Mr. G. last. He said, “it was about 11 o'clock one day at a hotel where he invited some friends to take a drink. Mr G. was there, he declined; but afterward called him to one side and asked him to loan him $1, saying he had had no breakfast that morning.” Such was an example of some of the fluctuations of fortune in those days.

Some parties came with various kinds of machinery that was to make a certain fortune for them, and was taken up into the interior at great expense. I never knew of one that was successful. About all the companies that were formed in the States to go around Cape Horn for mining purposes generally dissolved after arriving in California, but what they brought with them for supplies, sold for so high a price that it generally sold for more than the cost of their passage, and they had money coming to them. Some companies bought the ships as they came in and hired the captain. I recollect one, called the Mechanics' Own. Every person joining their company in the States had to be voted in and pay $1,000. They put on airs and talked quite aristocractic of their captain as their boy.

Three persons started the first bank in San Francisco, called the Miners' Bank, on the north-western corner of the plaza. Mr. Haight, who was from Rochester, N.Y., and the sutler of Colonel Stevenson's regiment, was one of them. It was said that at first they bought gold as low as $8 per ounce, when it was worth more than $18 at the mint East. The owners of the bank made $100,000 each in three or four years.

Before the discovery of gold the then small places on the Pacific Coast obtained their supplies from small trading vessels that sailed along the coast and stopped at their towns occasionally. After the discovery of gold, at first goods went up four or five times their previous value, and when one of these vessels was seen entering the port, parties would put out in small boats to get aboard of them before they came to anchor (they on board knowing nothing about the discovery of the gold), would bargin with them for some of their goods, and finally offer them so much fo all their cargo. It being beyond their expectations the offer was generally accepted, and thus some big speculations were made.

A lieutenant of Stevenson's regiment, who had been down in Monterey and had not heard of the gold discovery, on his first day in San Francisco, informed me that he did not know what to make of things. Most of his old acquaintances wanted to know if he did not want to borrow some money; they had some that he could have as well as not.

The steamers came in once a month with letters and papers. Then long lines were formed to the post-office. Sometimes it took half a day to get there. The New York papers at first sold for $1 each. Then they got down to fifty cents. I sold the New York Herald, that was more than a month old, that contained the latest news there from the States in the interior, for $5, and the man coaxed it out of me at that, for I wanted to give it to a party of friends I was going to see in the mining districts. I knew it would be a great treat to them. It is almost impossible to recall all the exact scenes of those days, so as to have them fully realized by the reader.

The city of San Francisco was extending more rapidly in what they called the Happy Valley district, which was toward the Mission of Dolores, established by the Jesuits. I visited it when the building wa intact. I recollect a painting of an Indian warrior, with his bows and arrows, the implements of war, represented as a saint ascending to heaven--I suppose to create favorable impression on Indians and make converts of them.

My friend was going on with his brewery, and borrowing money and getting me deeper on his paper. He heard that I had $2,500 deposited with McCondery & Co., and pleaded with me to let him have it as it would carry him through. I had lost all confidence in him, and felt it would be like throwing it in the sea. I informed him that I had shipped it the day before, which I had not, but went right down and gave an order for its shipment, for fear he might over-persuade me to let him have it, and I thus saved it. When most completed, a barrel of alcohol that was in the building bursted, and it ran down to the furnace and set it on fire, and burnt it up. That was the fate of the first brewery started in California. Since then there have been millions made in that business there.

The North Beach property, after I had sold all my houses out, I closed my interest in. It proved a failure to use for a wharf or shipping point.

During the seven months of summer the north-west wind blew there so hard every afternoon that it was not a safe place for vessels, and the property would never have any value for that purpose, and I do not think it has ever been used since for that.

In the winter months, which is generally the rainy season, the wind blows from the south for five months, and the other seven months it blows from the north-west over six thousand miles of ocean, and, consequently, is not impregnated with any decayed vegetable matter, and is as pure as air can be. In San Francisco the sun would rise in a clear sky every morning and there would be a perfect calm; by 11 A.M. there would be a little breeze; by 2 or 3 o'clock, a gale. When the sun set the wind would subside and there would be a perfect calm again. Every day would be the same, month after month. What was almost a gale on the coast would be a gentle breeze up in the mining district, in the interior. The next day that air would be displaced by another gale from over the thousand miles of ocean, for it is impossible to imagine any other country with purer air.

During that time there were various visionary reports of new discoveries of gold regions, one of a lake that the sands of its banks were rich with gold. All you had to do, to make your fortune, was to wash it out, which produced quite a sensation, and parties were organized to go there, but they never found it. The next year after the purchase of my brig, there were small steamers constructed to run to Stockton, and they had already some sailing vessels put on, built there, and the price of freight had commenced falling, and I thought I had better sell my vessel while I could get a good price for it. There was a man who came to me and said he wanted to buy it; that he had been a captain of a boat on Lake Erie. I stated to him my price for it. He said that was not out of the way, but he would like to try it one trip before closing the pruchase, and referred me to a mercantile house there as his reference. They said he had run vessels for them on Lake Erie when they were doing business in Buffalo. I concluded that was entirely satisfactory; that that had evidently been his regular business. He said he wanted to employ all his own hands. I had the vessel, at the time, half loaded with freight, which I turned over to him. I paid my men and discharged them, and told them the vessel was about to change owners, and put him in full possession of it. Of course I had nothing more to do with it until he returned from the trip to Stockton; then I expected he would close the purchase as he said that the price was satisfactory to him. After a few weeks I commenced looking for the return of my brig, but it did not come. Finally I heard a rumor that the captain had left the vessel at Stockton, but did not believe it, but thought that some accident might have happened. I had borrowed a spy-glass to investigate the bay. I could have recognized my vessel by the red streak around it. Finally, after it had been gone long enough to make several trips, I discovered it at anchor in the bay. I went and supplied myself with money, in case it should prove true that the captain had left the vessel, to pay his men in full before they got ashore, because the vessel was liable for their wages, whoever might have employed them; so I hired a boat to row me out to it. I met a man on the deck that seemed to be in command. I inquired of him where the captain was. He said he had run away. I spoke to him in a sharp tome of voice and said, how do you know that? He said, because I saw him on the back of a mule going over the plain. Then he asked me, are you the owner? I said, yes. Then I said, you have all got your pay before he went; I did not employ you. He said, some of them have got some.

As you seem to be in command, I suppose you have kept and account of how it stands. He said, “Come down in the cabin and I will show it to you.” I said, “It was hard on me to be robbed of all my freight money, but it was also hard for them to be cheated out of their hard earnings, and I would see what I could do for them.” He presented the statement of what each man had received and what was due them. I was surprised at his correctness. I said: It seems all right and I would pay them, which I did, and took their receipt. I was afraid if they went ashore and found the vessel was liable for their wages they might make any kind of demands, so I got possession of my vessel again, very much damaged. Before leaving the port he had let the steamer Senator run into the bows of the vessel, and it cost me $700 to have it repaired, ship carpenters' wages being $20 per day, payable in gold. The events which I had anticipated of the decline of that kind of property had come, and, after it was repaired, I put it up at auction and sold it, so that rascal cost me several thousand dollars. Such was life in California in the days of the Forty-niners.

Having some leisure I thought I would take a trip up the mining regions, and make a visit to my old friends there. More than a year had passed, and greater changes had taken place than would have occurred in any other country in many years. The population of California increased one hundred thousand the first year after the discovery of the gold, which had accounted for the great changes which had taken place since my previous trip. I went up on the steamer Senator to Sacramento, which had become quite a city, and the next morning started for Coloma in a stage full of passengers, drawn by mules. I took a seat aside of the driver. I got in conversation with the driver. I asked him what pay he received? He said, only $450 per month and his board. I asked him if he had driven stages before? He said, yes, out of Boston. I said, at what wages? He said, $14 a month. I said that there was a big difference between that and $450. He said, yes, but that this was his last trip. He took a party of three up only a few weeks ago, and he brought them down yesterday, and they had between $3,000 and $4,000 apiece, and he was not going to waste his time driving for $450 a month. He was going to the mines the next day. It was quite probable that the party referred to had made an unusual lucky strike, for I had met parties that had done the same thing. I had had in my hands at one time, in San Francisco, a piece of solid gold metal, something in the shape of the cover of a sugar loaf, that was worth $4,500, found by a couple of green Irishmen. They inquired of some miners in the interior where was a good place to dig. The miners said in fun, dig there in that sand bank behind you. The Irishmen took them up in earnest and went to digging. In a short time they found that chunk of gold, where no experienced miner would think of digging.

I have dug gold in the cellar of the brewery in San Francisco. I think most all the soil of that part of California is impregnated with gold.

But the point is to find it in sufficient quantities to pay to dig it. As an illustration, if you knew that in a certain piece of ground there was $5,000 worth of gold, and it cost you $10,000 to wash all the ground to get it, of course that land would have no gold value. I found at Coloma that my friends had left the Dutch bar and gone to the middle fork of the American river, some distance from there. I got directions how to get there and started on foot. Toward night I met a young man who had just came overland and had separated that day from his party to get work in the mining camp. I told him where I was going, and that he had better go with me, and that he could get from $10 to $16 per day to work for other parties, or to join two others and work a claim for himself, which he did. So as it was getting toward night, we camped under a tree and slept until morning, and took a fresh start. That day we found the middle fork of the American river and my friends. The river was sunk way down in the earth. It seemed almost a mile down to the water where they were to work. It was quite a large mining place. The excitement there every day was when the “dummy” went into the river. It was a diving armor that had been used in the gulf of Lower California to go down in the deep waters to hunt for pearls, and had been bought by a party of five, each putting in $800, making $4,000, expecting to make their fortunes by getting into the deep water of the gold rivers. (As I have shown before, the torrents and force of the currents had prevented any gold from ever lodging there.) Every day at such an hour, it was announced that the “dummy” was a going in the river. The other miners quit their work to see it, and the proprietors of the “dummy” always treated the crowd in the most lavish manner. Its credit was good for any store bills. Its always treating the crowd had made it popular, and nobody would trade with the storekeeper who would not trust it, so it was death to the prosperity of the storekeeper, whether he trusted it or not. They never got any gold while there through “dummy,” and when he left to go further down the river to try another place, the main storekeeper there lost $800 by trusting it, which broke him. These stores were tents, to supply immediate wants of the miners. I never heard of “dummy” afterward. I have no doubt he operated on all the store tents until he came to grief like all evil-doers.

The productiveness of the gold rivers had not diminished any that I could perceive. I talked to a man who had been off a little ways to prospect in another place. I asked him what luck? He said, there was nothing there. I said, was there no gold? He said, yes, there was some, but of no value. He said a man could make $10 a day, and who was a going to waste their time on that. My visit over, I returned to San Francisco. My friend R.'s brewery was not completed. I was informed he had been borrowing money from a Jew at Twenty per cent a month. It was no use for me to back him any more, however valuable it might be, if completed, and I had no doubt there was a fortune in it, but neither he nor I had the capital to do it.

I had some other financial entangling matters, and I was afraid if I kept on with them I might get broke, and the only way I saw of getting out with them was to announce that I was going to leave, and going down to Relago, Central America.

There was an English steamer advertised to sail for that port and Panama. I thought I would go for sixty days and then return and commence agin and manage my affairs in a more conservative way, and what I could control. Well I closed my matters out the best I could and engaged my passage on the steamer for Relago. There was considerable excitement at this time about the Nicaragua route. The above place would be the terminus on the Pacific coast, and, consequently, a place of importance. As I had missed it in trading six of my houses for lots in San Francisco, there might be a chance to get some there in advance of any rise on them. Any way, I wanted to get out of my entangling alliances and take a fresh start. The night before I sailed Mr. Brady (Colonel Stevenson's son-in-law) came to me and said the colonel did not like to have me go. I told him I had paid my passage, $200. He said the colonel understood that. He put his hand in his vest pocket and pulled out a roll of bills. He said, here is the $200, which he told me to give you, so you will not lose any thing by not going. There was once a lady, the wife of one of the officers of his regiment, who arrived there, expecting to meet her husband, but he was up in the country. The colonel asked me to go down to the steamer and meet her, and escort her to a boarding-house to stay until her husband arrived, which I did. I told him that she was short of funds, having expected to meet her husband. He gave me $150 and told me to give it to her, as if I loaned it to her, and when her husband paid me I could return it to him. I mention these little incidents to show that whatever faults he may have had, he was the most generous of friends.

Colonels Stevenson, Freemont and Captain Sutter will stand pre-eminent in the future history of the State as its most prominent founders.

I sailed out of the port of San Francisco on the steamer Ecuador for Relago, Central America, expecting to return to California within sixty days. In a few days, out at sea, we began to hear unfavorable rumors about our vessel; that the engineer had left the day before our sailing; that he did not consider it safe to go in it; that it could not carry coal enough to take it to Acapulco, the next coaling place. And we were informed that it was a steamer that had been running from Panama to Valparaiso, and had been bought up by a speculator and sent up to San Francisco as an experiment, to see if it would pay. The officers and men had never been up the coast before, and knew nothing about the port. One day we were startled in mid ocean by the stopping of the engine. We soon found the cause. The captain was about to try his sails so as to save coal (which verified the reports about being short of coal). We made some headway with the sails, but lost it again when the wind subsided, by the currents of the ocean; so that project was abandoned, and after some days we put into the port of San Blas, in Mexico, for fuel. There was no coal there, so we laid in all the wood we could to try and reach Acapulco (here we could not buy any thing with our $5 gold pieces, but they were ready to sell for silver). The cholera had been there, they said, but had left. The priests had had a procession, and, with their incense boxes, had marched through the streets and driven it out. We took in all the wood we could get and started to make the port of Acapulco, the regular coaling port for all the steamers on that coast. It was Sunday P.M. We could raise fuel enough to make only four knots an hour. It was an iron steamer. We were burning what there was of the woodwork of the vessel, for if we could not make the port before dark we were lost. The officers were not acquainted with the coast. We had not fuel enough to keep steam up all night, and we would be on the broad Pacific ocean, six thousand miles across, without the remotest possibility of meeting any other vessel, without any control of our steamer, subject to be driven in any direction. I heard themate talking to the captain about the propriety of wrecking the vessel and saving what lives they could, although we were in sight of land. The captain said the under-tow was so great that none could be saved in that way. It is twice as great on the Pacific as the Atlantic. There were no female passengers. One man said he had $10,000 in gold with him; if his wife and children only had that he would be content to meet his fate, under the circumstances, but it was hard to leave them without it. All the passengers had more or less gold, or they would not have been returning.

You can imagine with what anxiety we watched every indication of the coast to see if there was any chance of us nearing the port. Finally, toward night, we saw a high projection of land on the coast, and that was predicted that it was the entrance to the port. If we could reach that point before dark, we might be saved. The passengers went to work to break up any thing for the fires that would make steam. The captain made no objections, but told them to burn all woodwork on the vessel to save their lives. At dark we reached the point we had in view, and it was fortunate for us that it was the entrance to the port. As the vessel turned to enter, you could see, coming over the waters of the ocean, a tropical storm, accompanied with wind, thunder and lightning. Twenty minutes later it would have reached us, and we would have been lost. As soon as we got safely in port (and it was very dark), I can hear now, in imagination, the sound of the anchor as it was let down in the water, which assured our entire safety. It thundered and lightninged, and blowing a high gale, which was music in our ears, as we knew we were out of danger, and feeling the supreme gratification of knowing what we had escaped. Blessed to us was the high mountains which surrounded the port. The entrance to it is narrow, but when you get inside it is one of the safest harbors in the world, being perfectly land-locked. The next day opened on a happy lot of passengers. I felt as if I was commencing life anew. We went ashore expecting to be there several days, as they proposed to take in a full supply of coal. This place had been once quite a city, but many years ago had been partly destroyed by an earthquake. It was said that the water went out of the bay most to the tops of the mountains, and then reacted to its usual level in the harbor; that there was a French ship carried up to the sides of the mountains, and when the water reacted, carried back in safety in the harbor. Hundreds of buildings were destroyed, the ruins of which are now visible where the city once extended.

I was introduced to General Alvarado. He was the most prominent man in Mexico, on the Pacific coast, at that time, and afterward became very prominent in the public affairs of his country. On our return to the vessel that evening there was quite an excitement on board. Among the passengers was a party of three who had been quite successful in Sacramento in the bottling of soda and summer beer, and peddling it out through the city. They had picked up by chance an old acquaintance from Waterford who belonged to an aristocratic family there, and by his habits of dissipation was a mortification to them. So when the California excitement broke out, they furnished him the money to go to the gold regions. It would either reform him or they would get rid of him. Of course, such men were no good in California, and he had spent his money and wanted to return. These men came across him and told him they were going to return East in sixty days, and if he would keep straight, and drive one of their wagons for them, they would take him home with them. When they went ashore the first day they left him in charge of their baggage, and promised him that he could go ashore the next. They had their private store of wines and brandy. He had found it and tried it and got full, and treated all the sailors and everybody on board that would drink with him, and was the most popular man on board with the sailors. He repented the next day and begged their forgiveness, and they took him home with them. Like a bad penny, her returned as he was before. Distance did not reform him.

Well, our next port was Relago my destination. Just after dark one day we got opposite to what, according to the charts, was that port. It was necessary for them to wait until morning before they could undertake to enter it, as they had never been there before, and there were no pilots, and they decided not to let the steam go down, and they concluded that they would sail slowly around in a circle, so as to be opposite to the port in the morning. When morning came it was foggy, and we could not see the land. But they had such confidence in the correctness of their chart that they determined to enter it. Instead of the port, we came to the white caps, dashing against the rocks almost mountains high, and we came within an ace of being dashed to pieces against them. If the engineer had not reversed the movement of the engine the instant he did, we would have been wrecked. The captain was now completely befogged. In a short time he came to me with a paper to sign agreeing to to Panama. It should cost me nothing extra for my passage there; that the few other passengers for that port had signed it. I thought I had better sign to go anywhere than to take any more chances in that steamer. Come to find out afterward, instead of being opposite the port that morning, we were twenty miles from it, the currents of the ocean having carried us that distance while we were sailing around in a circle, which they had not ciphered on, and thus came so near wrecking us. By chance we saw a sailing vessel. The captain gave orders for the steamer to follow it, and, when we overtook it, we found it was bound for Relago. There was a man on board of it who was acquainted with the port. They got him to come on our steamer and had him pilot us to that port, so I expected to go ashore, and got my baggage in readiness, and, when the time came, had it brought up on deck. They did not enter the port, but came to outside. There were two passengers, it seems, that would not sign the paper to go to Panama, and it was to land them he had come to, and when I went to have my baggage put in the small boat the captain informed me I had signed to go to Panama, and some of the other passengers said I was very foolish to risk my life in that sea in so small a boat. Before I scarcely knew it the boat had pushed off without me, and, consequently, the whole current and course of my life was changed. Upon such little incidents often do the events of human life depend. It may have been fortunate for me that I did not land there.

There was in Nicaragua at the time a filibustering expedition under the command of Captain Walker, who went from California to overthrow the government there by taking sides with the revolutionary movement that had been started, and to get an American control of the government, which I did not approve of, for I considered it a dishonorable movement; but still, if I had landed, they being my countrymen, I might have got mixed up with them. They were conquered and all sentenced to death, and shot. It is barely possible I might have shared their fate. I have often thought since I made a good escape by not landing.


The course of the steamer is frequently in sight of land. The storms I have referred to were tropical storms, lasting but a short time. The ocean is generally very mild all the distance, three thousand five hundred miles from Panama to San Francisco. North of San Francisco the storms are somewhat similar to the Atlantic ocean storms. The passengers on the return trip were in the best of spirits; they were returning home; all of them had been more or less successful in California, and I can recall to my mind many pleasant times we had on board the steamship. The porpoise are very numerous on the Pacific ocean; there were often, for days, schools of them on the sides of the steamer, throwing themselves out of the water, and then diving in again; great numbers, at the same time, seeming like the motion of a revolving wheel. Occasionally we would hear the cry, “There she blows;” a jet of water being thrown up many feet high in the air--a sperm whale had come up to breathe. We frequently saw flying fish. One day there was a school of them landed on the steamer; they are similar to other fish, except having wings, but not of a very large size. At another time a booby bird came on the steamer. It got its name from its stupidity. We frequently saw them on the water, floating on a piece of board or a stick of wood; sailors say they have seen them five hundred miles out to sea in that way. This one you could take up and handle; it made no resistance. On the coast of Central America we saw two mountain peaks of great height, standing out, individually, like the Pyramids, said to be extinct volcanoes that were thrown up from the internal fires of the earth, and which, at one time, belched forth melted lava and fire.

We arrived safe in Panama. I was so near home that I thought I might as well return and see my friends, and take a fresh start for California, and try my fortune once more. They had commenced building the railroad over the Isthmus, but it was not completed, so we crossed over to Cruize, the head of navigation on the Chagres river, and went down that to its mouth, and there took the steamer Georgia for New York, commanded by Captain Porter, of the United States navy--the man who had control of the vessels in going down the Mississippi river and successfully passing Vicksburg, which had so much to do with its capture. He was a perfect gentleman, and commanded your admiration with the skill of his management of the vessel. There were on the vessel well-dressed pickpockets, who went from New York to the Isthmus, to return by the steamers to the city, for the chances of robbing the returning Californians of their gold dust, as all of them had more or less of it on their persons. One unfortunate victim of their wiles appealed strongly to my sympathies. He was an English sailor, and had been two or three years up in the gold mines, and had $3,000 or $4,000 in gold dust in a buckskin bag on his person. He showed it to me. I advised him to deposit it with the purser for safety; that I had done so with mine. He said they could not rob him. He was about the happiest man I ever saw. He was richer, in feeling, than the Vanderbilts. He said he had a wife and children in Liverpool, and would take the first steamer from New York for that port. He said he had not seen his family for several years, and now that he had the gold he could make them all happy. He was in the steerage. A few days after I heard he was sick. He had fainted. Some parties had helped him up; evidently pickpockets had taken that opportunity to rob him; his gold was all gone. I explained his case to Captain Porter, but nothing could be done. There was no way to identify his gold dust from any other; it was all alike. When he arrived in New York, he would have to go to the hospital until he got well enough to ship on some other vessel for $14 per month, and not be able to return to his wife and children with his gold, and make them happy, while these black-hearted villians were spending his money, his hard earnings of years. I entered in a bond, with myself, that if I were ever on a jury I would never show any mercy to a thief.

As we were sailing along many ships and schooners came in sight. We were evidently nearing the great port of New York. The land of Staten Island soon came in sight covered with snow. It was late in the fall. It was the first I had seen since my departure from the same port, except on the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Here ends my personal adventures of the days of the Forty-niners, to be continued by the peroration on California.


On my return, in looking over my finances, I was no poorer than when I left. It must be evident to the reader that I had acquired no wealth to astonish my friends with my riches, which was the visionary expectation of the early pioneers to the gold Eldorado. I have been writing from personal recollections of events that occurred forty-five years ago. Of course, there was nothing in my enterprises, or the little fluctuations of fortune that would be of particular interest to any one; but in the form of a personal narrative, it was the only way I could recall vividly to my mind, the events of so long ago. There were a series of articles published in the Century magazine two years ago, which I read with great interest, for they were truthful, but no book has ever been published that took in fully those two years when common labor was $16 per day, payable in gold. Such an event was never known to occur before, and probably never will again. I have not drawn on my imagination in the least in this narrative. I have simply attempted to portray from memory events that actually occurred under my own observation. Any Forty-niner will concede the truth of my narrative. I did not return to California as I had expected. Cupid's arrow pierced my heart in the person of a young lady, and sealed my fate. I had a cottage built in the quiet and beautiful valley of Schoharie, where I have passed more than thirty years of happy married life. While not possessing the wealth of the successful pioneer, I have been content.


“Interview with Doctor Knower, who has Charge of It -- Some Interesting Reminiscences of Forty-niners.

“A monument to be erected in the Old Stone Fort Cemetery to Jacob A. L. Fisher, a Union soldier, by Abraham Schell, his uncle, of California.

“A draft of the above monument is before us. It is quite an affair, about twenty-seven feet high, with a full length statue of a soldier on top. It is now being constructed in Des Moines, Iowa, to be shipped by the 1st of May, and unveiled on the 4th day of July, 1894, with appropriate ceremonies. Dr. Knower, in 76, in laying the corner-stone to the David Williams State monument, gave the grandest celebration that ever occured in this county. This one he expects to rely to a great extent on the local army organizations of the county, as this honor paid to one of their compatriots in arms is an honor to them.

“We have before us a copy of the Stockton (Cal.) Evening Mail of November 9, 1983, containing a seven column article descriptive of Abraham Schell's vineyard at Knight's Ferry, Cal. We quote from it: 'A characteristic act of Abraham Schell was to give a deed to the entire place and all of its appurtenances, last summer, to Herrick R. Schell, his nephew, who had served him faithfully as assistant and business associate for twenty-six years.' The property conveyed consisted of three thousand acres, upon which Mr. Schell had expended at the time the deed was given a quarter of million of dollars. We see by the same article that Abraham Schell's landed purchases in that locality, in the early days, amounted to fifteen thousand five hundred and thirty-five acres.

“Mr. Schell joined a company formed by Dr. Knower (who made an investment in it, and was then a resident of Albany), which sailed on the ship Tarolinton from the port of New York, on the 13th of January, 1849. The doctor, the following spring, shipped from Albany, twelve houses around Cape Horn, the freight on which was $5,000, he going by the way of the Isthmus, arriving in San Francisco on the 25th of September, 1849. On the steamer going up from Panama was Judge Terry, of Louisiana, who killed United States Senator Broderick in a duel, and who was years afterward assassinated.

“In these early days there was a contest between Northern and Southern pioneers whether California should come in the Union a free or a slave State. Broderick, a Democrat from the city of New York, represented the Northern sentiment, and was supported by the Whigs of the State. Common labor at that time was $16 per day, payable in gold. It was more from pride than from anything to do with the moral question of slavery. They did not want to come in competition with slave labor. The Northern element predominated, and California came in a free State. Its first constitution was written by George Washington Sherwood, who was a Democratic member of the New York Legislature from Washington county, and copied after the constitution of this State.

“California may be said to be the child of the State of New York; her citizens may be said to have been pre-eminent in its development and present greatness.

“Abraham Schell was born in Gallupville, and proposes to be buried in the neighboring village of Middleburgh, his wife's native place, where he has erected a monument.

“They say that all Forty-niners who remained in California either became millionaires or paupers. It seems that Mr. Schell was one of the former. He was an unconditional Union man in the rebellion, visiting the hospitals of the wounded soldiers, and assisting them by his means, and the erection of this monument to his nephew for his services in that war is but in accord with his acts of patriotism at that time.”

The above article inspired this undertaking at this time. I expected to find my friend on at the dedication of the monument, and thought I would have the manuscript ready on his arrival and submit it to him, and propose to have him go in partnership with me in its publication, and have him revise it with me. He was a man of high literary attainments, and an experienced Forty-niner, who could have added many important events to it that did not come under my observation. He was wealthy, and had the means to bring it properly before the public.


Intelligence reaches us of the death of Abraham Schell, at his home at Knight's Ferry, California, in the early part of February. Mr. Schell was seventy-six years old, and was a native of this county, having been born in the town of Wright.

At the time of the gold excitement in 1849 he was in the mercantile business in Albany, but sold out and joining a company of friends journeyed to California, where he invested his means to good advantage and became highly successful, amassing a large fortune. His vineyards and their product have long been celebrated. A man of independent thought and fine literary attainments, he was one of the sons of Schoharie county, whose enterprise and intellectual culture we may take just pride in.

His remains are deposited in a vault there, to be brought here in the spring by his nephew, and interred in their final resting place in the cemetery at Middleburgh, where he has a $2,000 monument erected.

We learn from Dr. Knower that the proposed monument to his nephew at Old Stone Fort will undoubtedly be erected, as it has been contracted for, but the full details he will not be posted on until the arrival of the nephew in the spring.

The above will show that death, which plays an important hand in the events of human life, intervened; so I have gone on alone and submit it to the public, such as it is. I hope and trust it may meet the approval of all Californians, more particularly of those of the days to which it refers. If they will give their approval, it will add to the happiness and gratification of one of their compatriots of those early days of the pioneers and founders of the State of California. What California has become since, we, at that time, had no realization of. Instead of conceiving it an utter impossiblity of ever building one railroad across the continent, we now have five. Instead of conceiving the idea that it would never be an agricultural country, it may be said to be the vineyard and wine producing country of the world, and it has a greater variety of productions than most any other land.

The city of San Francisco, when I first entered it, had not as many good buildings as a common eastern village. Now it has a population of nearly four hundred thousand, and edifices that cost millions. It has produced more millionaires, from persons that went there poor, than any other country before in the history of the world, and more money has been donated to science and education by those successful pioneers, who were the creators of their own fortune in the same time, than all the rest of the world in the past forty-five years, since the days of the Forty-niners.

Lick's institution for the science of astronomy, Leland Stanford's twenty millions to the Alto University of Learning, open to all students, are illustrations of the above statements.

The foundation of the fortunes of many bankers and wealthy capitalists of the East were made in California in the days of the Forty-niners. Mill, the owner of the great building at the corner of Broadway and Wall street, the ground on which it stands costing a million, who is many times a millionaire, went from Sing Sing, in this State, a poor boy in 1849. Armour, the great millionaire cattle dealer of Chicago, made his first money there in those days, which laid the foundation of his great fortune, and many others I can recall to mind too numerous to mention.

While all did not succeed, as they never do in any human enterprise, some got discouraged, others fell by the way and laid down and died from disappointment, yet others more than realized their most fabulous conception of wealth. I was told when I was a boy if I went where the sun set and dug for gold I would find it. When I became a man I went three thousand miles in the direction of the sun setting and dug and found gold. It is not a dream, for as I close this writing I see on my little finger a gold ring made from the gold I there dug, which has been there for forty-five years. It is so fine that it has been wearing away, and it is not more than one-fourth the size it was when I first put it on, and time is likewise wearing on me, and it will probably last as long as I do, and we will disappear together, as Shakespeare says, “besmeared with sluttish time.”



It was the brains and statesmanship of Wm. L. Marcy, when he was secretary of war under President Polk, that inaugurated and generaled the movements that resulted in our securing possession of California--by his expeditions, sent by sea and by land, of regular forces, followed by the volunteer regiment of one thousand men, under the command of Col. Jonathan Stevenson, as the following able State paper indicates:
WASHINGTON, June,3, 1846.
SIR.--I herewith send you a copy of my letter to the governor of Missouri for an additional force of one thousand mounted men. The object of thus adding to the force under your command is not, as you will perceive, fully set forth in that letter, for the reason that it is deemed prudent that it should not, at this time, become a matter of public notoriety; but to you it is proper and necessary that it should be stated.

image of W. L. Marcy

It has been decided by the president to be of the greatest importance in the pending war with Mexico to take the earliest possession of Upper California. An expedition with that view is hereby ordered, and you are designated to command it. To enable you to be in sufficient force to conduct it successfully this additional force of a thousand mounted men has been provided, to follow you in the direction of Santa Fe, to be under your orders or the officer you may leave in command at Santa Fe.

It cannot be determined how far this additional force will be behind that designated for the Santa Fe expedition, but it will not probably be more than a few weeks. When you arrive at Santa Fe with the force already called, and shall have taken possession of it, you may find yourself in condition to garrison it with a small part of your command (as the additional force will soon be at that place), and with the remainder, press forward to California. In that case you will make such arrangements as to being followed by the reinforcements before mentioned as in your judgment may be deemed safe and prudent. I need not say to you that in case you conquer Santa Fe (and with it will be included the department of the State of New Mexico), it will be important to provide for retaining safe possession of it. Should you deem it prudent to have still more troops for the accomplishment of the object herein designated, you will lose no time in communicating that opinion on that point, and all others connected with the enterprise, to this department. Indeed you are hereby authorized to make a direct requisition for it upon the governor of Missouri.

It is known that a large body of Mormon emigrants are en route to California for the purpose of settling in that country. You are desired to use all proper means to have a good understanding with them, to the end that the United States may have their co-operation in taking possession of and holding that country. It has been suggested here that many of these Mormons would willingly enter into the service of the United States and aid us in our expedition against California. You are hereby authorized to muster into service such as can be induced to volunteer; not, however, to a number exceeding one-third of your entire force. Should they enter the service they will be paid as other volunteers, and you can allow them to designate, so far as it can be properly done, the persons to act as officers thereof. It is understood that a considerable number of American citizens are now settled on the Sacramento river, near Sutter's establishment, called “Nueva Helvetia,” who are well disposed toward the United States. Should you, on your arrival in the country, find this to be the true state of things there, your are authorized to organize and receive into the service of the United States such portion of these citizens as you may think useful to aid you to hold the possession of the country. You will in that case allow them, so far as you shall judge proper, to select their own officers. A large discretionary power is invested in you in regard to these matters, as well as to all others, in relation to the expedition confided to your command.

The choice of routes by which you will enter California will be left to your better knowledge and ampler means of getting accurate information. We are assured that a southern route (called the Caravan route, by which the wild horses are brought from that country into New Mexico) is practicable, and it is suggested as not improbable that it can be passed over in the winter months, or at least late in autumn. It is hoped that this information may prove to be correct.

In regard to routes; the practicability of procuring needful supplies for men and animals, and transporting baggage is a point to be well considered. Should the president be disappointed in his cherished hope that you will be able to reach the interior of Upper California before winter, you are then desired to make the best arrangement you can for sustaining your forces during the winter, and for an early movement in the spring. Though it is very desirable that the expedition should reach California this season (and the president does not doubt you will make every possible effort to accomplish this object), yet if, in your judgment, it cannot be undertaken with a reasonable assurance of success, you will defer it, as above suggested, until spring. You are left unembarrassed by any specific directions in the matter.

It is expected that the naval forces of the United States which are now, or will soon be in the Pacific, will be in possession of all the towns on the seacoast, and will co-operat with you in the conquest of California. Arms, ordnance, munitions of war, and provisions to be used in that country, will be sent by sea to our squadron in the Pacific for the use of the land forces.

Should you conquer and take possession of New Mexico and Upper California, or considerable places in either, you will establish temporary civil government therein, abolishing all arbitrary restrictions that may exist, so far as it may be done with safety.

In performing this duty, it would be wise and prudent to continue in their employment all such of the existing officers as are known to be friendly to the United States, and will take the oath of allegiance to them. The duties of the custom-house ought, at once, to be reduced to such a rate as may be barely sufficient to maintain the necessary officers without yielding any revenue to the government. You may assure the people of these provinces that it is the wish and design of the United States to provide for them a free government with the least possible delay, similar to that which exists in our territories. They will then be called on to exercise the rights of freemen in electing their own representatives to the territorial legislature. It is foreseen that what relates to the civil government will be a difficult and unpleasant part of your duty, and much must necessarily be left to your own discretion. In your whole conduct you will act in such a manner as best to conciliate the inhabitants and render them friendly to the United States.

It is desirable that the usual trade between the citizens of the United States and the Mexican provinces should be continued, as far as practicable, under the changed condition of things between the two countries. In consequence of extending your expedition into California it may be proper that you should increase your supply for goods to be distributed as presents to the Indians. The United States

{Begin page no. 200}
superintendent of Indian affairs at St. Louis will aid you in procuring these goods. You will be furnished with a proclamation in the Spanish language, to be issued by you and circulated among the Mexican people on your entering into or approaching their country. You will use your utmost endeavors to have the pledges and promises therein contained carried out to the utmost extent.

I am directed by the president to say that the rank of brevet brigadier-general will be conferred on you as soon as you commence your movement toward California, and sent round to you by sea or over the country, or to the care of the commandant of our squadron in the Pacific. In that way cannon, arms, ammunition and supplies for the land forces will be sent to you.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
   W. L. MARCY,
   Secretary of War.
COLONEL S. N. KEARNEY, Fort Leavenworth, Missouri.

Source: Chambliss, William H. Chambliss' Diary; Or, Society As It Really Is. 1895: New York.  Library of Congress, "California as I Saw It:" First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900.

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