San Francisco History

Seventy-five Years in San Francisco


The priests of California belonged to the Order of Franciscans. Their ordinary dress was a loose woolen garment made whole and put on over the head, reaching nearly to the ground, of a plain drab or brownish hue, which was the color of the Order. The dress was made with wide sleeves, a hood falling back on the shoulders, which could be drawn over the head when it was desired by the wearer if the weather was cold or unpleasant; and at the waist was a girdle and tassels of the same material tied around the dress or habit, the tassels hanging down in front. Sometimes they were left untied. One requirement of the Order was that every priest should have shaven on the crown of the head a circular spot about three or four inches in diameter. This I noticed among all of them. As the hair commenced growing it was again shaved, and this spot was always kept bare.

The priests at the various missions were usually men of very pure character, particularly the Spanish priests. The first priests who established the missions were directly from Spain. They were superior men in point of talent, education, morals and executive ability, as the success of the missions under their establishment and administration showed. They seemed to be entirely disinterested, their aim and ambition being to develop the country, and civilize and Christianize the Indians, for which purpose the missions were established. They worked zealously and untiringly in this behalf, and to them must be given the credit for what advancement in civilization, intelligence, industry, good habits and good morals pertained to the country at that day, when they laid the foundation of the present advanced civilization and development of the country.

After the independence of Mexico and its separation from Spain, the missions of California passed under the control of Mexican priests, who were also men of culture and attainments, generally of excellent character, but as a class were inferior to their predecessors. They were always hospitable to strangers, all visitors were kindly received and entertained with the best they could offer, and the table was well supplied. The wine which they made at the missions was of a superior quality and equal to any that I have drunk elsewhere.

In trading through the country and traveling from point to point it was customary for travelers to stop at the missions as frequently and as long as they desired. This was expected as a matter of course by the priests, and had the traveler neglected to avail himself of the privilege it would have been regarded as an offense by the good fathers. On approaching the mission the traveler would be met at the door or at the wide veranda by the padre, who would greet him warmly, embrace him and invite him in, and he was furnished with the best the mission afforded at the table, given one of the best rooms to sleep in, attended by servants, and everything possible was done to make him at home and comfortable during his stay. On leaving he was furnished with a fresh horse, and a good vaquero was appointed to attend him to the next mission, where he was received and entertained with the same hospitality, and so on as far as the journey extended.

The last of the Mexican priests was Father González, who presided in ‘38 at the mission of San Jose and who died some years ago at the mission of Santa Barbara at a very advanced age. He was a noble man, a true Christian, very much respected and beloved by all his people, and by all who knew him. Whenever I went there he always welcomed me in the most cordial manner, and the moment I saw him I felt drawn toward him as by a lodestone. He would take me in and say, “Siéntese usted, hijito” (“Sit down, my little son”), and, seating himself close by my side, he entertained me in such delightful manner by his conversation, which flowed easily and naturally in a continuous stream, that one hardly realized that he was only a humble priest. His people greatly honored and loved him, and he was known among them as “the saint on earth.” There were some exceptions among the priests as to general rectitude and excellence of character, as there are everywhere, but as a class they were a fine body of men of superior character and accomplished a vast deal of good. The priests were much respected by the people, who looked to them for advice and guidance

The supercargoes of the vessels that were trading on the coast of course had occasion to visit all the settlements in the interior or along the coast to conduct their business with the people and to travel back and forth up and down the country. In visiting down the coast they usually went on the vessels, which had a fair wind most of the time going south; but on coming up there was commonly a head wind, which made the voyage tedious, and the supercargoes then took to land and came up on horseback, accompanied by a vaquero, stopping along from one mission to another or at some rancho, where they were always welcome, and where they were supplied with fresh horses whenever they required them, free of charge, by the fathers or the rancheros. These horses were furnished as a matter of course with entire freedom and hospitality by the farmers and the padres. When the traveler reached another stopping place he was provided with a fresh horse, and such a thing as continuing the journey on the horse he rode the day before was not to be thought of, so polite and courteous were these generous Californians.

The traveler had no further care or thought in regard to the horse he had been using, but left him where he happened to be, and the padre or ranchero would undertake to send him back, or if this was not convenient it was no matter, as the owner would never ask any questions concerning his safety or return. It would have been considered impoliteness for the guest to express any concern about the horse or what was to become of him. Sometimes the traveler was furnished by the rancheros with part of a caponera, ten or twelve horses with a bell mare, and a vaquero, in order that he might continue his journey to the end without looking for other horses. He would travel along from day to day, changing his horse each day and sometimes oftener, and also that of his vaquero, and on reaching his journey’s end the vaquero would return with the horses.

In later years, say after 1844, some of the smaller rancheros gave more attention to horses than cattle, making it a specialty to have always on hand several fine caponeras for the accommodation of travelers, who in these latter years were accustomed to hire the number of horses they required for their journey, with a bell mare, and a vaquero to accompany them, or at times the owner of the horses himself went with them. Santa Barbara, and to some extent Los Angeles, were points especially where horses were furnished in this way.

Some of the supercargoes of the vessels owned their horses, to the number of twelve to fifteen, and employed a vaquero continuously. When the supercargoes were at sea the vaqueros looked after these horses and took them from point to point to meet the vessel when she would come into a certain port. When the supercargo landed he would find his horses there and journey with them from place to place as his business required. The vaquero, while waiting for the vessel, would stay with some family, probably one of his relatives, of whom he most likely had many in various parts of California, and the horses would feed in the vicinity. Many supercargoes preferred this method, as they could always have the horses and vaqueros to which they were accustomed.

As the supercargo came to a mission or rancho near a port, he would stop a few days waiting for the vessel to come along, and its approach was sometimes announced by a vaquero and sometimes by a gun from the vessel. The supercargo would then go down and take with him the customers to whom he was to bill the goods from the vessel. The rancheros would attend him with their loads of hides and tallow to pay their indebtedness incurred on a former trip or to make new purchases by exchanging them for goods. They would convey their hides and tallow in large wagons of very primitive fashion. The body of the vehicle was set on the axles, having no spring, but with four wheels (the smaller wagons with two) sawed out of a tree four feet in diameter and about a foot thick, a solid block or section, with a hole in the middle for the axle. Sticks were set up perpendicularly along the sides and covered with hides stretched across them, thus enclosing the body of the wagon. In this way they brought back the goods they bought.

The wagons were drawn by oxen, with a nearly straight yoke fitting the top of the neck just back of the horns and fastened with a piece of soft hide and attached thereto and to the wagon. Families sometimes took long journeys in these wagons fitted up with more style, the sides being lined with calico or sheeting, or even light silk, with mattresses on the floor of the wagon. With cooking and eating arrangements they went along comfortably, camping by a spring and sleeping in the wagon, traveling days at a time.

The people lived in adobe houses, and the houses had tile roofs; they were comfortable and roomy, warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Their furniture was generally plain, mostly imported from Boston in the ships that came to the coast to trade. Generally the houses had floors, but without carpets in the earlier days. Some of the humble people had no floors to their houses, but the ground became perfectly hard and firm as if cemented.

The women were exceedingly clean and neat in their houses and persons and in all their domestic arrangements. One of their peculiarities was the excellence and neatness of their beds and bedding, which were often elegant in appearance, highly and tastefully ornamented, the coverlids and pillow-cases being sometimes of satin and trimmed with beautiful and costly lace. The women were plainly and becomingly attired, but were not such devotees of fashion as at the present day, and did not indulge in jewelry to excess.

Their tables were frugally furnished, the food clean and inviting, consisting mainly of good beef broiled on an iron rod, or steaks with onions, also mutton, chicken, eggs, each family keeping a good stock of fowls. The bread was tortillas; sometimes it was made with yeast. Beans were a staple dish with them admirably cooked; corn, also potatoes; and red peppers were their favorite seasoning. A delicious dish was made of chicken and green corn, partly cooked and put together, then wrapped in the green leaves of the corn, tied with the same and boiled—called tamales. Their meat stews were excellent when not too highly seasoned with red pepper.

The people were sober, sometimes using California wine, but not to excess. They were not given to strong drink, and it was a rare occurrence to see an intoxicated Californian. The men were good husbands generally, the women good wives, both faithful to their domestic relations. The California women married or unmarried, of all classes, were the most virtuous I have ever seen. There were exceptions, but they were exceedingly rare. The single men were not so much so, associating to some extent with Indian women, although the married men were generally excellent husbands and kind fathers.

During my long and intimate acquaintance with Californians, I have found the women as a class much brighter, quicker in their perceptions, and generally smarter than the men. Their husbands oftentimes looked to them for advice and direction in their general business affairs. The people had but limited opportunities for education. As a rule they were not much educated, but they had abundant instinct and native talent, and the women were full of natural dignity and self-possession; they talked well and intelligently, and appeared to much better advantage than might have been supposed from their meager educational facilities.

The families of the wealthier classes had more or less education; their contact with the foreign population was an advantage to them in this respect. There were no established schools outside the missions, and what little education the young people obtained, they picked up in the family, learning to read and write among themselves. They seemed to have a talent and taste for music. Many of the women played the guitar skillfully, and the young men the violin. In almost every family there were one or more musicians, and everywhere music was a familiar sound. Of course, they had no scientific and technical musical instruction.

The houses of the rancheros were usually built upon entirely open ground, devoid of trees, generally elevated, overlooking a wide stretch of the country round in order that they might look out to a distance on all sides and see what was going on and notice if any intruders were about the rancho for the purpose of stealing cattle or horses, in which way they were occasionally annoyed by the Indians, or perhaps by some vicious countrymen; and the house was placed where there was a spring or running water. These houses stood out bare and plain, with no adornment of trees, shrubbery or flowers, and there were no structures, except the kitchens attached to the main buildings. Even in the towns it was a rare thing to see flowers or shrubbery about the houses of the Californians.

I have often inquired of the rancheros, on seeing a beautiful and shaded spot, why they did not select it for their residence, and they would always answer it was too near the forest—they having in view always security against the Indians.


Occasionally the Indians who had been at the missions and had become well informed in regard to the surrounding neighborhood and the different ranches in the vicinity would desert the missions, retreat to their old haunts and join the uncivilized Indians. At times they would come back with some of the wild Indians to the farms for the purpose of raiding upon them and capturing the domesticated horses. They would come quietly in the night and carry off one or two caponeras of horses, sometimes as many as five or six, and drive them back to the Indian country for their own use.

In the morning a ranchero would discover that he was without horses for the use of the ranch. He would then borrow some horses from his neighbor, and ten or twelve men would collect together and go in pursuit of the raiders. They were nearly always successful in overtaking the thieves and recovering their horses, though oftentimes not without a fierce fight with the Indians, who were armed with bows and arrows, and the Californians with horse carbines. At these combats the Indians frequently lost some of their number, and often as many as eight or ten were killed. The Californians were sometimes wounded and occasionally killed. Once in a while, but very seldom, the Indians were successful in eluding pursuit and got safely away with the horses, beyond recovery.

In the early part of ‘39, nearly all the saddle horses belonging to Captain Ygnacio Martínez at the Rancho Pinole were thus carried off by the Indians, and his son Don José Martínez (whose niece I afterward married), with eight or ten of his neighbors, went in pursuit of them, and though they succeeded in recovering the animals they lost one of their number, Felipe Briones, who was killed by an arrow. The fight on that occasion was exceedingly severe, and the Indians became so incensed, and their numbers increased so much, that the little party deemed it too hazardous to continue the fight and retreated, taking with them the recovered horses, but were compelled to leave the body of Briones on the field. Two days afterward the party went back and recovered it, but found it terribly mutilated. Some eight or ten of the Indians were killed by the Californians in that fight.

Juan Prado Mesa was the comandante of the San Francisco presidio and frequently left his post to go in campaigns against the Indians with part of his command. He was always considered a successful Indian fighter. He was a brave and good man. On several occasions he was wounded with arrows, which ultimately carried him to his grave. He was blessed with a large family. I became very well acquainted with him, and he frequently furnished me with fine saddle horses and a vaquero to make my business circuit around the bay. He was under the immediate command of General Vallejo, with whom he was intimate, and sometimes he confided to me secret movements of the government.

The Californians were early risers. The ranchero would frequently receive a cup of coffee or chocolate in bed, from the hands of a servant, and on getting up immediately order one of the vaqueros to bring him a certain horse which he indicated, every horse in a caponera having a name, which was generally bestowed on account of some peculiarity of the animal. He then mounted and rode off about the rancho, attended by a vaquero, coming back to breakfast between eight and nine o’clock.

This breakfast was a solid meal, consisting of carne asada (meat broiled on a spit), beefsteak with rich gravy or with onions, eggs, beans, tortillas, sometimes bread and coffee, the latter often made of peas. After breakfast the ranchero would call for his horse again, usually selecting a different one, not because the first was fatigued, but as a matter of fancy or pride, and ride off again around the farm or to visit the neighbors. He was gone till twelve or one o’clock, when he returned for dinner, which was similar to breakfast, after which he again departed, returning about dusk in the evening for supper, this being mainly a repetition of the two former meals.

Although there was so little variety in their food from one day to another, everything was cooked so well and so neatly and made so inviting, the matron of the house giving her personal attention to everything, that the meals were always relished.

When the rancheros thus rode about, during the leisure season, which was between the marking time and the matanza or killing time, and from the end of the matanza to the springtime again, the more wealthy of them were generally dressed in a good deal of style, with short breeches extending to the knee, ornamented with gold or silver lace at the bottom, with botas (leggings) below, made of fine soft deerskin, well-tanned and finished, richly colored, and stamped with beautiful devices (these articles having been imported from Mexico, where they were manufactured), and tied at the knee with a silk cord two or three times wound around the leg, with heavy gold or silver tassels hanging below the knee. They wore long vests, with filigree buttons of gold or silver, while those of more ordinary means had them of brass. They wore no long coats, but a kind of jacket of good length, most generally of dark blue cloth, also adorned with filigree buttons. Over that was the long serape or poncho, made in Mexico and imported from there, costing from twenty to a hundred dollars, according to the quality of the cloth and the richness of the ornamentation.

The serape and the poncho were made in the same way as to size and cut of the garments, but the former was of a coarser texture than the latter, and of a variety of colors and patterns, while the poncho was of dark blue or black cloth, of finer quality, generally broadcloth. The serape was always plain, while the poncho was heavily trimmed with gold or silver fringe around the edges and a little below the collars around the shoulders.

They wore hats imported from Mexico and Peru, generally stiff, the finer quality of softer material—vicuña, a kind of beaver skin obtained in those countries. Their saddles were silver-mounted, embroidered with silver or gold, the bridle heavily mounted with silver, and the reins made of the most select hair of the horse’s mane, and at a distance of every foot or so there was a link of silver connecting the different parts together. The tree of the saddle was similar to that now in use by the Spaniards and covered with the mochila, which was of leather. It extended beyond the saddle to the shoulder of the horse in front and back to the flank, and downwards on either side halfway between the rider’s knee and foot. This was plainly made, sometimes stamped with ornamental figures on the side and sometimes without stamping. Over this was the coraza, a leather covering of finer texture, a little larger and extending beyond the mochila all around, so as to cover it completely. It was elaborately stamped with handsome ornamental devices.

Behind the saddle, and attached thereto, was the anquera, of leather, of halfmoon shape, covering the top of the hindquarters of the horse but not reaching to the tail; which was also elaborately stamped with figures and lined with sheepskin, the wool side next to the horse. This was an ornament, and also a convenience in case the rider chose to take a person behind him on the horse. Frequently some gallant young man would take a lady on the horse with him, putting her in the saddle in front and himself riding on the anquera behind.

The stirrups were cut out of a solid block of wood, about two and a half inches in thickness. They were very large and heavy. The strap was passed through a little hole near the top. The tapadera was made of two circular pieces of very stout leather, about twelve to fifteen inches in diameter. the outer one a little smaller than the inner one, fastened together with strips of deerskin called gamuza, the saddle strap passing through two holes near the top to attach it to the stirrup, so that when the foot was placed in the stirrup the tapadera was in front, concealed it, and protected the foot of the rider from the brush and brambles in going through the woods.

This was the saddle for everyday use of the rancheros and vaqueros, that of the former being somewhat nicer and better finished. The reins for everyday use were made of deer- or calfskin or other soft leather, cut in thin strips and nicely braided and twisted together, and at the end of the reins was attached an extra piece of the same with a ring, which was used as a whip. Their spurs were inlaid with gold and silver, and the straps of the spurs worked with silver and gold thread.

When thus mounted and fully equipped, these men presented a magnificent appearance, especially on the feast days of the saints, which were celebrated at the missions. Then they were arrayed in their finest and most costly habiliments, and their horses in their gayest and most expensive trappings. They were usually large, well-developed men, and presented an imposing aspect. The outfit of a ranchero and his horse, thus equipped, I have known to cost several thousand dollars.

The gentleman who carried a lady in this way before him on a horse was considered as occupying a post of honor, and it was customary when a bride was to be married in church, which was usual in those days, for a relative to take her before him in this fashion on his horse to the church where the ceremony was to be performed. This service, which involved the greatest responsibility and trust on the part of the gentleman, was discharged by him in the most gallant and polite manner possible.

On the occasion of my marriage, in 1847, the bride was taken in this way to the church by her uncle, Don José Martínez. On these occasions the horse was adorned in the most sumptuous manner, the anquera and coraza being beautifully worked with ornamental devices in gold and silver thread. The bride rode on her own saddle, sometimes by herself, which was made like the gentleman’s but a little smaller, and without stirrups, in place of which a piece of silk—red, blue or green—perhaps a yard wide and two or three yards long, joined at the two ends, was gracefully hung over the saddle, puffed like a bunch of flowers at the fastening, and hung down at one side of the horse in a loop, in which the lady lightly rested her foot.

The ladies were domestic and exceedingly industrious although the wealthier class had plenty of Indian servants. They were skillful with their needles making the garments for their families, which were generally numerous. The women were proficient in sewing. They also did a good deal of nicer needlework of fancy kinds—embroidery, etc.—in which they excelled, all for family use. Their domestic occupations took up most of their time.

Both men and women preserved their hair in all its fullness and color, and it was rare to see a gray-headed person. A man fifty years of age, even, had not a single gray hair in his head or beard, and I don’t remember ever seeing, either among the vaqueros or the rancheros, or among the women, a single bald-headed person. I frequently asked them what was the cause of this remarkably good preservation of their hair, and they would shrug their shoulders and say they supposed it was on account of their quiet way of living and freedom from worry and anxiety. The early retiring and rising, the constant outdoor exercise on horseback, looking after the stock, which was a source of amusement to them always, and the regularity of life in almost everything contributed probably to this cause, and the climate itself. The women were fond of open-air exercise on horseback and meriendas during the dry months of the year.

The native Californians were about the happiest and most contented people I ever saw, as also were the early foreigners who settled among them and intermarried with them, adopted their habits and customs, and became, as it were, a part of themselves.

Among the Californians there was more or less caste, and the wealthier families were somewhat aristocratic and did not associate freely with the humbler classes; in towns the wealthy families were decidedly proud and select, the wives and daughters especially. These people were naturally, whether rich or poor, of a proud nature, and though always exceedingly polite, courteous and friendly, they were possessed of a native dignity, an inborn aristocracy, which was apparent in their bearing, walk and general demeanor. They were descended from the best families of Spain and never seemed to forget their origin, even if their outward surroundings did not correspond to their inward feeling. Of course, among the wealthier classes this pride was more manifest than among the poorer.

In my long intercourse with these people, extending over many years, I never knew an instance of incivility of any kind. They were always ready to reply to a question and answered in the politest manner, even the humblest of them; and in passing along the road, the poorest vaquero would salute you politely. If you wanted any little favor of him, like delivering a message to another rancho, or anything of that sort, he was ready to oblige, and did it with an air of courtesy and grace and freedom of manner that were very pleasing. They showed everywhere and always this spirit of accommodation, both men and women. The latter, though reserved and dignified, always answered politely and sweetly, and generally bestowed upon you a smile, which, coming from a handsome face, was charming in the extreme. This kindness of manner was no affectation, but genuine goodness, and commanded one’s admiration and respect.

I was astonished at the endurance of the California women in holding out, night after night, in dancing, of which they never seemed to weary, but kept on with an appearance of freshness and elasticity that was as charming as surprising. Their actions, movements and bearing were as full of life and animation after several nights of dancing as at the beginning, while the men, on the other hand, became wearied, showing that their powers of endurance were not equal to those of the ladies. I have frequently heard the latter ridiculing the gentlemen for not holding out unfatigued to the end of a festival of this kind.

The rancheros and their household generally retired early, about eight o’clock, unless a bailecito casero (little home party) was on hand, when this lasted till twelve or one. They were fond of these gatherings, and, almost every family having some musician of its own, music and dancing were indulged in and a very pleasant time enjoyed. I have attended many of them and always was agreeably entertained. These parties were usually impromptu, without formality, and were often held for the entertainment of a guest who might be stopping at the house. The balls or larger parties were of more importance and usually occurred in the towns. On the occasion of the marriage of a son or daughter of a ranchero they took place on the rancho, the marriage being celebrated amid great festivities lasting several days.

Fandango was a term for a dance or entertainment among the lower classes, where neighbors and others were invited in and engaged themselves without any great degree of formality. The entertainments of the wealthy and aristocratic class were more exclusive in character; invitations were more carefully given, more formality observed, and of course more elegance and refinement prevailed. An entertainment of this character was known as a baile.

In November, 1838, I was a guest at the wedding party given at the marriage of Don José Martínez to the daughter of Don Ygnacio Peralta, which lasted about a week, dancing being kept up all the night with a company of at least one hundred men and women from the adjoining ranchos, about three hours after daylight being given to sleep, after which picnics in the woods were held during the forenoon, and the afternoon was devoted to bullfighting. This program was continued for a week, when I myself had become so exhausted for want of regular sleep that I was glad to escape. The bride and bridegroom were not given any seclusion until the third night.

On this occasion Doña Rafaela Martínez, wife of Dr. Tennent and sister of the bridegroom, a young woman full of life and vivacity, very attractive and graceful in manner, seized upon me and led me onto the floor with the waltzers. I was ignorant of waltzing up to that moment. She began moving around the room with me in the waltz, and in some unaccountable manner, perhaps owing to her magnetism, I soon found myself going through the figure with ease. After that I had no difficulty in keeping my place with the other waltzers, and was reckoned as one of them. I waltzed with my fascinating partner a good portion of the night.

During this festivity, Don José Martínez, who was a wonderful horseman, performed some feats which astonished me. For instance, while riding at the greatest speed he leaned over his saddle to one side as he swept along and picked up from the ground a small coin which had been put there to try his skill, and then went on without slackening his speed.

Some years after that I was visiting him, and while we were out taking a ride over his rancho we came to an exceedingly steep hill, almost perpendicular; at the top was a bull quietly feeding. He looked up and said, “Do you see that bull?” “Yes,” said I. “Now,” said he, “we will have some fun. I am going up there to drive him down and lasso him on the way.” It seemed impossible, owing to the steepness of the declivity. Nevertheless, he did it, rode up to the top, started the bull down at full speed, and actually lassoed the animal on the way, threw him down, and the bull at once commenced rolling down the steep side of the hill, over and over, until he reached the bottom, José following on his horse and slackening up the reata as he went along. He was a graceful rider.

After many years of happiness with his excellent wife, during which they were blessed with six or eight children, Don José Martínez became a widower. A few years after this he married an English lady, a sister of Dr. Samuel J. Tennent, who was then living at the Pinole ranch and who married a sister of Don José Martínez. Dr. Tennent lived on a portion of the ranch inherited by his wife. The marriage of Don José to a lady outside of his own countrywomen was rather an unusual occurrence among the Californians. The marriage proved a happy one, and half a dozen children resulted therefrom. This lady is now living in San Francisco (1889).

Don José Martínez had the largest kind of a heart, and if anyone called at his house who was in need of a horse he was never refused, and the people of the surrounding country were constantly in receipt of favors at his hands. If one wanted a bullock and had not the means to pay for it, he would send out a vaquero to lasso one and bring it in and tie it to a cabestro (a steer broken for that purpose) so that the man could take it home, and told him he might pay for it when convenient, or if not convenient it was no matter. So with a horse which he might furnish, it didn’t matter whether the animal was returned or not. This generosity was continual and seemed to have no limit. At his death, which occurred in 1864, his funeral was attended by a vast concourse of people from all the surrounding country, who came in wagons, buggies and carriages to the number of several hundred vehicles, such was the high appreciation in which he was held by the community. I never saw such respect paid to the memory of any other person. If true generosity and genuine philanthropy entitle a man to a place in the kingdom of heaven, I am sure that Don José Martínez is received there as one of the chief guests.


Soon after I reached maturity, thoughts of domestic and settle-down life overtook me. I concluded I could manage my growing business more advantageously by being introduced in the court of hymen to a daughter of the soil of California of Spanish extraction.

In the fall of 1842 the historic bark Don Quixote was at anchor at Santa Barbara; also another historic bark, the Jóven Guipuzcoana, a Mexican vessel. Both were traders on the coast and were bound for the windward or northern ports. I was then the supercargo of the Don Quixote and was accustomed to visit all places of business in the towns, also the residences of the hacendados for orders for goods.

I remember one sunny afternoon being in the store of Don José Antonio Aguirre to sell him an invoice of goods to replenish his stock. A young lady whose face impressed me appeared there and made a small purchase. She and her father, Don Joaquín Estudillo, were guests of Mrs. Aguirre, a niece of the latter and first cousin of the former. Father and daughter were waiting for the departure of the Jóven Guipuzcoana to take passage on her for their home at San Leandro on the east side of the bay of San Francisco. It was on this trip the señorita was made prisoner of war by Commodore Jones when the Mexican bark was captured, which I have mentioned elsewhere. My relations with the rancheros as a merchant made me acquainted with Señor Estudillo and his family. He had known my father when he (Estudillo) was a customhouse officer sailing up and down the coast as a guard on various vessels at different times. My interest in the family increased as I called at the mansion during my journeys around the bay for my pro rata of the trade, and it was appreciated by the good people.

About the latter part of 1843 I found myself seriously in love with the young señorita I had previously seen at Santa Barbara. The program was soon made up in my mind, how I should proceed in this delicate dilemma. I approached the mother of the fair one and bluntly told her that I desired her daughter María for my life companion, remarking in a half-serious, half-playful manner that I knew it took two to make a bargain. The good señora smiled approvingly, as I thought, but without uttering a single word in reply to my suggestion. I continued to speak of my attachment which could only be completed by uniting the hands of those who had already exchanged the love of their hearts.

On an occasion like this, very often a favorite aunt of the lady sought in marriage would be appealed to for intercession in behalf of the suitor, and this stratagem was resorted to in my case. But I had strong opposition in the family in the person of an elder sister. Whenever I called at the house she expressed friendship, but it was assumed and fictitious. It was very apparent that she was envious of her younger sister’s marrying before herself. La Señorita María had numerous admirers who were also soliciting her hand, some of wealthy and influential families, and naturally she was proud of the adulations bestowed upon her and hesitated to make her choice.

I was located at Yerba Buena as agent for Paty, McKinley & Co. In the summer of 1845 I wrote a letter to Don Joaquín Estudillo, begging him to communicate my wish to his daughter and adding that if my proffer were agreeable, if he would write, I would come to San Leandro to visit the family. In the course of time a reply came in the negative, which was due to the work and influence of the elder sister with the parents and without the knowledge of Señorita María, as it subsequently proved.

The Don Quixote arrived in August of the same year. In the rush and multiplicity of business, the closing of the Yerba Buena house, preparatory to our departure for the leeward coast and Honolulu, my matrimonial affair disappeared from my mind, only to return after we had left the bay. In March, 1846, I arrived at Monterey in my own vessel with a cargo of goods for the California market. There I met Henry Mellus, who was awaiting one of his vessels from southern California. One starlight evening after dinner at the hospitable mansion of Thomas O. Larkin, our American consul on the coast, Mr. Mellus suggested that we stroll toward the beach and listen to the surf.

During our quiet walk he remarked to me: “Don Guillermo, I have something to impart to you that concerns you deeply, regarding one of the daughters of Don Joaquín Estudillo of San Leandro. I have heard the true story about your love affair, and my authority is undoubted, and when it was related to me it seemed incredible, but it was true nevertheless. La Señorita María never knew you had written her father, and she was in ignorance of the letter he sent you declining your proffer of marriage. I really pity the poor girl,” he said, “for what she has suffered during your absence from the coast. I am sure when she learns of your return she will be more than delighted to see you at her home.”

My vessel arrived at Yerba Buena in April, and my business kept me so incessantly employed during our short stay that I was unable to visit the eastern shore of the bay to call on Don Joaquín and his family.

The brig sailed to Sausalito to water before proceeding to the southern ports for trade. It was now the 20th of May, after the usual showers of that month, and the hills and mountains towering above us as we lay at our anchorage were in the height of their loveliness and splendor, and the scenery was enchanting in the extreme.

I learned to my delight that Miss María Estudillo was at the home of her favorite aunt, Mrs. Richardson, ostensibly on a visit to her but in reality to meet the one she esteemed. I called on the ladies and was cordially received with an embrace by Señora Richardson and a warm greeting from the señoritas. I observed that the young lady from San Leandro was impressed with my presence, which demonstrated clearly in my mind a rooted affection for the one seated by her side, and it was mutual.

The custom of embracing by the señoras or heads of families had existed since the foundation of the department. It was only practiced or extended to friends and acquaintances of long standing, by married ladies who had become mothers, as a mark of extreme courtesy. I have never known of an instance of a young woman or daughters of matrons extending this to others than near relatives, because it would be considered highly improper by the parents and others. This mode of salutation was an act demonstrating clearly to the visitor that the reception was genuine and the impulse of a noble nature. It was performed in the most modest and delicate manner: the lady would simply extend her arms around the gentleman and in return he would do the same; she looking to the right smilingly, he to the left. Our free and easy American style of kissing was not practiced.

I invited Captain Richardson, Señora Richardson, Miss Richardson and Miss Estudillo to dine on board my vessel as my guests. In addition to these, Nathan Spear, ex-Alcalde Wm. S. Hinckley, Captain Russom, R. M. Sherman, the clerk, and Mr. Lee, the first mate, were members of the party. The menu comprised chicken soup, chicken salad, boiled turkey and ham, roast muscovy ducks, sweet potatoes, other vegetables and fruits, custards, cakes and confections. Having arrived from Honolulu so recently, we were well supplied with poultry and other products of the Islands. California wine was not in general use at that time as a beverage, but we had claret, white wine, champagne, and sherry. The dinner passed off pleasantly.

The day when we were heaving anchor, Captain Russom handed me a spyglass and directed my attention to two young ladies who were seated on a natural carpet of flowers covering the brow of a commanding hill which overlooked the vessel then unfolding her canvas to the breeze. One of these ladies was picking the wildflowers within her reach, while the other held her handkerchief to her face. Captain Russom was thoughtful, and showed his gallantry to the fair ones by dipping the flag, flying at the mizzen gaff, several times. And, of course, the author waved his handkerchief. In this act of farewell he was joined by Sherman, and we both waved until we were hidden from view as the brig approached the Golden Gate.

Later, our engagement was made formal in the presence of the family and I received an embrace from each of its members, including the elder sister.

There was a law of the Roman Catholic Church that no Protestant could marry a Catholic woman without the former becoming a convert. So, if a young man wished to obtain the hand of a California lady in marriage he was compelled to turn Catholic. I remember well when the two brothers Henry and Francis Mellus, who married sisters, were converted to the Roman faith before their marriages. They, however, proved to be sincere in their change from Protestantism, and were known to be devout. The author became a Roman Catholic several years before his wedding.

The rule of the Church was rigid regarding marriage in those days, but now, by dispensation from the Pope, it is permitted for Catholics and non-Catholics to marry in countries of mixed population.

During my wooing of over two years I do not remember having spoken a hundred words to the young lady when we were alone, but I was permitted to converse with her in the presence of her parents, especially her mother. This was an unwritten law or custom of Spanish families from time immemorial. Their sense of propriety demanded that during courtship the young people should talk and see each other only in the presence of relatives of the prospective wife. When this rule was invaded the young lady would expect or was prepared for a reprimand from her mother or father, who demanded that there should be no repetition of the indiscretion; hence it was a rare occurrence.

About a week before the wedding, Don Joaquín sent about twenty milch cows from his rancho around the bay to San Francisco to be used in the preparation of the marriage feast, for milk was scarce in town. He also sent a caponera of his fine horses for use during the festival. The animals were allowed to roam the hills and valleys of San Francisco, which was then a mere cow pasture with a population of less than one thousand inhabitants, including both Mission Dolores and the presidio. This livestock was under the constant care of vaqueros to prevent them retracing their steps over the same route by which they had come from San Leandro. Such was the instinct and attachment of these animals for the place of their nativity that if turned loose and not restrained in any way they would have arrived at the rancho in a short time. This has been known to occur.

The first alcalde under American occupation, Lieutenant Washington A. Bartlett, changed the dating of official documents from Yerba Buena to San Francisco in 1847. General Kearny, the military governor, approved of this, for it was but a restatement of the name which existed under Mexican rule as a district comprising Yerba Buena, Mission Dolores and the presidio, and had never been changed.

Miss María Estudillo and I were married at the mission of San Francisco de Asís, sometimes called Mission Dolores, in November, 1847. The bride was carried by her uncle, Don José Martínez, to the church on a spirited jet-black horse from Pinole, taken from his own caponera of blacks. It was in keeping with the ancient custom on such occasions for a relative thus to convey the bride, if she was not mounted by herself, as carriages and buggies were not in use at so early a period. The animal was superbly caparisoned with gold- and silver-mounted saddle and bridle, and Don José was dressed in the costly festal habiliments of olden times.

At the ball in the evening Don José was a prominent actor. He danced the jarabe, an ancient dance of the country, which is performed by a gentleman and lady facing each other. At a certain stage of the amusement both would stop, when one would deliver several verses in rhyme, at the end of which the dancing was resumed, the lady approaching in a circle, round and round her partner and back to her place, bowing gracefully to her companion, her dainty feet in full view. This was repeated by the don in a similar manner; and both would then dance with the rapidity of lightning in a circle of small diameter, going round and round artistically and with grace, accompanying their movements with appropriate gesticulations. Sometimes two ladies and gentlemen would dance the jarabe and then it was even more amusing and attractive. This elicited applause from the audience.

The order of dances embraced quadrilles, waltzes, contradances and la jota. The festivities were kept up continuously as the company was eager to commemorate the occasion with a genuine marriage festival such as was enjoyed by their forefathers. At intervals during the night a cold luncheon of poultry, ham, cakes, coffee, champagne and other wines was served.

Source: Davis, William Heath. Seventy-five Years in San Francisco. 1929: San Francisco.

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