San Francisco History

Seventy-five Years in San Francisco


Commodore Jones called on Micheltorena at Los Angeles, with his suite of officers, in full uniform, and the commodore and the new governor had a long conference in regard to the taking of Monterey, lasting several days. The explanations of the former were politely received by the latter and a cordial understanding arrived at between the two.

During his stay there a banquet was given to Commodore Jones and his officers by Micheltorena, winding up with a grand ball. Mr. Henry Mellus was present, and has informed me it was a brilliant affair. All the wealth and beauty of Los Angeles and surrounding country were present. The commodore and his officers expressed themselves as highly delighted. They also spoke flatteringly of Los Angeles and its neighborhood, calling it the Eden of the earth. They were charmed with the vineyards and orchards, with the orange groves, seeing the golden fruit hanging on the trees in the month of January. The most extensive cultivator at that time (1843) was Louis Vignes, who invited them to his place and entertained them. They were delighted with his California wines, of different vintages, some as much as eight or ten years old, of fine quality. They were interested in going through his cellars, where the wines of different years were stored in large quantities in pipes. Vignes presented the commodore and the officers with several barrels of this choice wine, which were gratefully accepted. He remarked that he desired them to preserve some of it to take to Washington to give to the President of the United States, that he might know what excellent wine was produced in California.

Don Luis, as the Californians called him, was a Frenchman, who came to Monterey in the bark Louisa with me in 1831 from Boston, touching at Honolulu and Sitka. From Monterey he went to San Pedro, shortly afterward established himself at Los Angeles, and before long had the largest vineyard in California. At that early day he imported cuttings of different varieties of grapes, in small quantities, which were put up with great care and sent from France to Boston; thence they came out in the vessels trading on this coast, to be experimented with in wine producing. He took great pride in the business. I regard him as the pioneer not only in wine making but in the orange cultivation, he being the first man to raise oranges in Los Angeles and the first to establish a vineyard of any pretension. It is true the missionaries were the first to plant vines and make wine, but to a limited acreage and quantity only, as a church wine and for their own consumption.

In 1833 I called to see him at his house and found him well established. My old friend was overjoyed to see me and received me most hospitably; I remained two or three days with him. I was a boy at that time, and he said to me most warmly: “William, I only regret that I am not of your age. With my knowledge of vine and orange cultivation and of the soil and climate of California, I foresee that these two are to have a great future; this is just the place to grow them to perfection.” On my leaving his hospitable quarters there were some golden oranges peeping from between the rich foliage of a large tree which had been left purposely for the enjoyment of his visitors. To view oranges still on the tree in the month of May was a novelty. Don Luis politely remarked that he was sorry of his inability to proffer me an orange or two. He was then about fifty years old, full of zeal and enterprise. He was one of the most valuable men who ever came to California, and the father of the wine industry here. He had an intelligent appreciation of the extent and importance of this interest in the future.

In 1842, nine years afterward, I again called to see him. He asked me if I remembered what he had said to me when I was last there, about the California wine, its importance and value, and remarked that he would now prove to me that his predictions were correct, and would show me what he could do for California. He then took me and a friend who was with me into his cellar and showed us the different vintages stored there, and brought out several bottles of his old wine, which were tested and commended. He said he had written home to France representing the advantages of California for wine making, telling them that he believed the day would come when California would rival “Ia belle France” in wine producing of all varieties, not only in quantity, but in quality, not even excepting champagne; and that he had also induced several of his relations and a number of his more intelligent countrymen to come to California to settle near Los Angeles, and engage in the business. He also manufactured aguardiente in considerable quantities, as did other wine producers. This liquor was considered by the old settlers as a superior article when three or four years old. Beyond that, it still further unproved in quality, being of a finer flavor, entirely pure, and was regarded as a wholesome drink. It was made from the old mission grapes. When first produced it was clear and colorless, like gin or alcohol, but gradually assumed a slight tint with age, and when six, eight or ten years old, became of fine amber color, and was then a rich, oily liquor, very palatable.

The merchants bought the aguardiente and also the wines, in considerable lots, directly from the vineyards, and sold it to their customers at Monterey, Yerba Buena, and other points along the coast. At that time I was familiar with wines of different kinds, and was regarded as an expert in determining their quality and value, and I considered the aguardiente as vastly superior to the brandy made in those days. Some of it is probably still kept at Los Angeles.

Don Luis was truly one of the most enlightened pioneers of the coast. In May, 1852, I saw him again for the last time, visiting him at his home, accompanied by John H. Saunders, who recently died at San Rafael. Vignes was then quite old, but his intellect was unimpaired. The Don was full of history of wine matters, and kept up a constant stream of conversation, proud of his success and overflowing with brilliant anticipations of the future of this interest in which he was so wrapped up, as bearing upon the prosperity of the state and its commercial importance. His vineyard was entered by an immense gate just outside of which there was a splendid sycamore tree of great age. From this circumstance Vignes was known as Don Luis del Aliso, aliso being the Spanish word for sycamore. He greatly admired the huge tree and was proud of it and of being called by that name, by which he was more familiarly known. His choice old wine could be drunk with impunity. It had an agreeable, exhilarating and strengthening effect, but no unpleasant after-consequences. He was known by everybody in the vicinity of Los Angeles, and appreciated. He was generous to the poor; in their distress he helped them in bread, money and wine. When they came to him he advised the mothers of young children to give them a little wine as an internal antiseptic, so that they might grow up strong, as in his own country; or on the same principle, perhaps, that doctors prescribe whisky and milk as a cure for diphtheria.

I am sure that all of the residents of California who were living here at the time of Don Luis will endorse what I have said in regard to him and his influence upon the prosperity of the country. It is to be hoped that historians will do justice to his character, his labors and foresight.

Luis Vignes at his death left a fine estate to his relatives, but they allowed it to be frittered away and the whole became obliterated. I knew one of his nephews, Pedro Sainsevain, who married a daughter of Antonio Suñol of the pueblo San Jose.


Some of the foreigners at Santa Barbara dated their residence at that place back to 1830 and 1831. Among them were William G. Dana, a nephew of my father; Daniel Hill, Francis Branch and A. B. Thompson, who were all natives of Massachusetts. They were engaged in merchandising and stock raising. Isaac Sparks and George Nidever were natives of Kentucky, and otter hunters by profession. Lewis T. Burton was also an otter hunter, who left an only son a considerable fortune in land. Michael Burke was a native of Ireland, and Robert Elwell was a native of Boston. The latter was a comical character, with a peculiar sharp countenance, a prominent nose and a queer look. He had considerable native wit and made fun for others. He himself was made fun of by the captains, supercargoes and merchants who came to the place, and was altogether of use as a clown. He married a daughter of Don Juan Sánchez, a prominent ranchero.

After 1833, Dr. Nicholas A. Den, a native of Ireland, came to Santa Barbara and practiced his profession there. He married a daughter of Daniel Hill, who had married into the Ortega family. Dr. Den was as homely a man as I ever saw. His wife, still living (1887), preserves her beauty. Her hair was remarkable in its color of melcocha, or pulled candy made from molasses. It was very luxuriant, falling profusely over her shoulders nearly to her feet. Dr. Den was an intelligent, educated and accomplished gentleman, and much liked. He has a brother, a physician, now (1889) living at Los Angeles and commonly known in southern California as Don Ricardo, a man of learning, and universally respected.

At Santa Barbara also was Captain Thomas M. Robbins, formerly a shipmaster, a Boston man, married to a daughter of Don Carlos Carrillo. When I was there in 1842 he kept a store of general merchandise which was a kind of headquarters for the captains and supercargoes of vessels lying in port. It was a famous place for hearing stories of adventures from all parts of the world and racy bits of gossip from every part of this country. He was generous and liked by everybody. At his table, as well as at Mrs. Wilson’s, the captains and supercargoes of vessels were always welcome.

Captain Paty and myself were dining with him in 1842, and he told us of an old Indian cook who had been with him many years and had been carefully instructed, as indeed his good dinners testified. He said that although the man was faithful and quiet, and attended well to his duties, he was obliged about every six months to give him a tremendous whipping; only because at those times the Indian came and begged his master to give him a good thrashing, saying it was necessary, to make him a good cook for the next six months. Robbins felt forced to comply, much against his will, for he was a kindhearted man and treated his servants well; but the Indian assured him it must be done, otherwise he would become lazy and negligent.

Captain Robbins had before mentioned this several times, and on this occasion in order to fortify his statement, while we were busy with our dinner and talking and laughing with the wife of our host and their beautiful children, he whispered to a servant in the dining room to call the old Indian. Presently in he came, a stalwart man weighing probably 200 pounds, strong and well preserved, with rather a pleasing cast of countenance, and polite in his manners the result of his good training in the family. Captain Robbins addressed him in Spanish, saying, “I have said to my guests that I have had to whip you soundly, against my will, about once in six months, because you desired it and persisted in having it done, to make you a good cook for the next half year. Is it so?” The old Indian looked sharply at Captain Paty and myself and answered, ‘‘Es verdad, señores.” (“It is true, sirs.”) A roar of laughter followed from all present as the cook retreated to the kitchen laughing heartily himself.

In my father-in-law’s family at San Leandro there was an Indian by the name of Juan José, now (1887) seventy years of age, well preserved and strong, who was taken when a child, reared and always retained by them. He was usually obedient and tractable, but occasionally would become lazy and insolent, when it was found necessary to give him a good whipping; which was done (not by his own request, however); whereupon he became civil and obedient and attended faithfully to his duties. The effect of this management has always been apparent, goodness, as it were, being whipped into him.

I knew Don Teodoro Arrellanes in Santa Barbara. He was a thorough ranchero. He was then perhaps fifty-five years of age, six feet in height, very straight, weighing 220 pounds; was genial and polite; had a numerous family, and owned extensive tracts of land, comprising many leagues; among them the Rancho Guadalupe, near Santa Maria, with as many as twenty thousand cattle and thousands of horses. Among the rancheros he was looked upon as a kind of chief in that portion of country, by reason of his good judgment and knowledge of matters pertaining to ranchos. On one occasion I said to him: “Don Teodoro, how is it you have accumulated so much wealth—such an immense number of cattle and horses?” He smilingly answered: “The labor is to get the first two thousand, and after that they increase very fast, under ordinary care and management. They require a great deal of care and thought, to make the best rodeo cattle and to prevent them from running entirely wild, and to make the horses useful for their purpose.” Sometimes cattle escaped from the ranchos to the mountains, forgot their former training, and became entirely wild; when vaqueros would go out into the mountains, lasso them, and bring them, tied to the cabestros, to be slaughtered or tamed.

John J. Warner, a native of Connecticut, came to California in 1831. He owned the ranchos Agua Caliente and Camajal y el Palomar in San Diego County, containing leagues of land. At Palomar, General Kearny’s force camped in 1846 just before the fight of San Pasqual. Also the Mormon battalion in 1847. Here Warner had much trouble with the Indians, notably at the time of the Pauma massacre. He resided there and also at Los Angeles; was somewhat a literary man, and he spoke Spanish fluently. He has represented Los Angeles and San Diego counties in the state legislature. The Californians valued his friendship, and also his good counsel whenever they were in need of advice. He is now over ninety years of age, totally blind but otherwise in good health.

The intermarriage of the foreigners in early times with the Californians produced a fine race of children, who partook of the characteristics of both parents. The stock, as usual, was improved by the mingling of the different nationalities.


The revolution against Micheltorena by Alvarado and Castro, in 1844, was not on account of bad government or misrule by Micheltorena, or from a dislike of him by the responsible men of the country. The wealthy ranch owners and others were not in favor of revolution. They desired peace, naturally, as they had everything to lose by conflict arid nothing to gain. It originated as much from the restless nature of Alvarado and his ambition to rule, as anything else. Having when young been connected with public affairs, and afterward governor of the department, he could not rest quietly and see the government administered by anybody else.

General Castro, who had been displaced when Micheltorena came into power, was ambitious, and naturally joined with Alvarado; and the two, having been intimately connected for a long time, stirred up the people to revolution. There was also a good deal of feeling by many against the troops who came into the country with Micheltorena, especially by the residents of Monterey, where the troops were quartered, they alleging that the soldiers stole their chickens and committed other small depredations. They might have done something worse, though there is no evidence of it.

Alvarado and Castro collected several hundred men about the bay of San Francisco and got them together on the Salinas plains, mounted, and armed with all kinds of weapons such as they could pick up, most of their arms being of no great efficiency. They had also a few old cannons. At this place they were met by Micheltorena and his force from Monterey, and a skirmish ensued. The insurgents retreated to the Laguna San Antonio, followed by Micheltorena. They remained there several days, during which some firing and maneuvering took place; but nobody was killed.

From that point, Alvarado and Castro with their troops retreated, and commenced a march south for the purpose of visiting the different ranchos, creating sympathy for their cause and obtaining recruits, horses and provisions.

Alvarado had great power of speech and argument. He was eloquent in behalf of his movement, and though the people generally disliked it he induced some of the rancheros to join him. Many of the younger men were taken against their will as recruits for his army. He also secured a large number of horses, some of which were given to him voluntarily and others taken by force.

I was at that time in Los Angeles. It was known by the people there that a revolution prevailed at the north. But the soldiers at the barracks and the rancheros were loyal to the government. Alvarado, knowing this, prevented any information going ahead of him to notify the military of his coming. He reached the neighborhood of Los Angeles and went into the town quietly before daylight and surprised the soldiers at quarters. Some resistance was made, two of the defenders being killed. The garrison was overpowered and obliged to yield the post, and a guard was placed over the captives. Alvarado took possession of the plaza, where the barracks were located, and also of the government offices, including those of the alcalde and prefect. The officers who resisted were made prisoners. He then set his wits to work to bring the people under his influence, and immediately had a conference with Don Pío Pico, a very wealthy ranchero in that place, a man of large influence, brother of Don Andrés Pico, also wealthy, popular and influential, the two owning sixty or seventy leagues of land in what are now Los Angeles and San Diego counties. This interview was followed by several others. Alvarado used his great powers of persuasion with Don Pío to induce him to join his cause and persuade the people of the surrounding neighborhood to come into the movement and contribute hundreds of their fine horses to the army. Among other inducements by him, he promised Pío Pico the governorship of the department if Micheltorena should be deposed. Being at that time president of the junta departamental, he was assured the place was lawfully his; and he was finally so influenced that he promised to aid Alvarado to the extent of his power. Don Andrés Pico was also prevailed upon to join the movement. Through the activity and great influence of the Pico brothers several hundred new recruits were collected and added to Alvarado’s army. Hundreds and hundreds of the finest saddle horses were contributed also. I saw caponera after caponera, day after day, brought to the military headquarters at the town plaza from the neighboring ranchos. Alvarado and Castro were busy in receiving recruits, distributing them and the horses to the different commands, and reorganizing the forces for the battle which was expected to take place. The work continued actively for several weeks. At that time military affairs took precedence of everything else in Los Angeles.

Ever since the conflict between Carrillo and Alvarado in 1838, and even prior to that time, there had existed a jealousy between the two sections of the country north and south, the northern portion of the people, say from San Luis Obispo north, being the Alvarado party, and the southern portion, from Santa Barbara south, the Carrillo and Pico party. The leaders in the north were Alvarado and General José Castro, but the master spirit was Alvarado. In the south the leaders were Don José Antonio Carrillo and his brother Don Carlos, and the brothers Pico. In this outbreak, General Vallejo was considered noncommittal, not taking active part, preferring to attend to his own affairs.

Alvarado, thus engaged, feared the influence of José Antonio Carrillo. After he had won over the Pico brothers, he approached him in the same way he had approached them, but found in him, as he had anticipated, more confirmed and strenuous opposition to his plans. Carrillo was superior to the Pico brothers in intellect, but Alvarado was superior to them all. He finally prevailed upon Don José Antonio to give him some assistance. José Antonio’s ambition originally, in the revolution of 1838, was to make his brother Don Carlos governor; to prove to Alvarado and to his countrymen, as I frequently heard him say, that he himself was the brains of the department.

After the skirmish near Salinas, Micheltorena was joined by Captain Sutter with fifty or sixty riflemen from the Sacramento Valley, among them Dr. John Marsh, one of the first comers, P. B. Reading, and other early settlers, who probably had no particular preference one side or the other in the revolution. Their aim and desire was to secure large grants of land in addition to what they already possessed, and which they would have undoubtedly obtained as a reward for military services in defending the country had Micheltorena remained in power. Sutter kept also in the Sacramento Valley three hundred Indian riflemen, whom he had trained as soldiers, for his own defense.

Micheltorena followed Alvarado southward; but as the main portion of his troops was infantry, and his cannons had to be transported, his progress was necessarily slow. When Alvarado and his force left Los Angeles to meet Micheltorena, several of the American residents and other foreigners who had joined his army accompanied him, among them Alexander Bell, a leading merchant. He requested me to take charge of his store during his absence, and in case he should meet the fate of a soldier I should turn everything over to his widow. In leaving, he gave me the key of his safe and said it contained considerable money. In those days there were no banks. Every merchant was his own banker. Bell was considered as always having a good supply of money on hand, and I felt a little nervous the first night; as there were a good many doubtful characters about Los Angeles, I feared that some of them might break in and take possession of the funds. I was not disturbed, however. Perhaps Alvarado had taken all this class along with him as part of his army.

In January, 1845, the two armies came together in the valley of San Fernando, one of the most beautiful portions of Los Angeles County. Alvarado had seven or eight hundred men, well mounted but poorly armed. About nine o’ clock one clear morning, a day or two after the departure of the troops, the first cannonading was heard in Los Angeles, and we knew that the battle had commenced. Directly to the north was a high hill. As soon as the firing was heard, all the people remaining in the town—men, women and children, ran to the top of this hill. As the wind was blowing from the north, the firing was distinctly heard, five leagues away on the battlefield, throughout the day. All the business places in town were closed.

The scene upon the hill was a remarkable one, women and children, with crosses in their hands, kneeling and praying to the saints for the safety and protection of their fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, lovers, cousins—that they might not be killed in the battle; indifferent to their personal appearance, tears streaming from their eyes, and their hair blown about by the wind, which had increased to quite a breeze. Don Abel Stearns, myself and others tried to calm and pacify them, assuring them that there was probably no danger; somewhat against our convictions, it is true, judging from what we heard of the firing and from our knowledge of Micheltorena’s disciplined force, his battery, and the riflemen he had with him. During the day the scene on the hill continued. The night that followed was a gloomy one, caused by the lamentations of the women and children.

It afterward proved that our assurances to the women were correct, for not a single person was killed in this remarkable battle, only a few horses being shot. The next day the strife ended; Micheltorena capitulated, and agreed to leave the country with his troops, arms and followers.

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

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