San Francisco History

Seventy-five Years in San Francisco


The Californians seldom intermarried with the Indians, but they mixed with them to a certain extent, and in visiting the missions one would sometimes see fine-looking children belonging to the Indian women, the offspring of their association with California men. In some cases, these children of Indian women were deserted by their parents; or their mothers were of so worthless a character that the children would have suffered in their hands and been neglected. They were then adopted into California families, christened with the name of the family, reared in a proper way by them, kindly treated, employed as nurses and domestics, and not regarded as common servants. In those days there were no foundling and orphan asylums, and the priests of the missions felt it incumbent upon them to exercise an oversight of unfortunate children. Sometimes they called the attention of the matrons of the families to them and thus secured their adoption. Children were also taken into families without any suggestion from the priest whatever. The Indian women of California were far better stock than those of Mexico, which accounts in a measure for their finer children. The climate may also have had an effect in the better development of Indian offspring in California than in Mexico. In some instances the priests advocated strongly the marriage of the people of the two races, both as an avoidance of immorality and to uphold the law of the Church. Up to the ‘thirties, or perhaps later, there were few single women of the Spanish race for the men to marry; hence the mixing of the races was compulsory according to the law of human nature. In some of the stories elsewhere I have mentioned the subject in a more extended form.

The French ship Lion, of about seven hundred tons, Captain Bonnet, arrived at Sausalito in 1844 and thence took a cargo of young cattle to the Society and Marquesas islands (which were under dominion of France) for breeding purposes—to stock the islands. There were three hundred head, most of them supplied by Captain Richardson. They were sold at six dollars apiece, which at that time was considered a good price, the regular price for heifers being three dollars. The same vessel returned the following year for another cargo of stock cattle, which was supplied by Captain Richardson as before, this time four hundred heifers.

In November, 1844, James McKinley and myself left San Diego and went overland to Santa Anita, a rancho situated a few miles north of the Mission San Gabriel, in a pretty valley about eight or nine miles easterly from Los Angeles. Hugo Reid, a Scotchman, lived at Santa Anita. He was a skillful accountant, and we brought along with us on a pack animal a large pile of account books belonging to the business of Paty, McKinley & Fitch, who were about dissolving their partnership. We remained at Reid’s house most of the months of November and December, adjusting and settling the books, with his aid. Reid had been disappointed in love in his own country, his intended bride having thrown him over, so to speak; and he left the country in disgust, vowing he should marry someone of the same name as she who had slighted him, even though an Indian woman. He came to California and fell in with a woman of pure Indian blood, named Victoria, the name of his former love, and married her.

Upon our visit at Reid’s house we found that they were living very happily together. They had one daughter, a beautiful girl of about eighteen, born some years before their marriage, of another English father. She was English in feature, with blue eyes and auburn hair, very luxuriant. We were surprised and delighted with the excellence and neatness of the housekeeping of the Indian wife, which could not have been excelled. The beds which were furnished us to sleep in were exquisitely neat, with coverlids of satin, the sheets and pillowcases trimmed with lace and highly ornamented, as with the Californians. It was one of the striking peculiarities of Californians that the chief expense of the household of the poorer families was lavished upon the bed; and though the other furniture may have been meager and other useful articles such as knives and forks, scanty in supply, the bed was always excellent, and handsomely decorated; sumptuously often, with those of more means. I never knew an exception in any household. This was an evidence of good taste and refinement and that they were peers of other civilized people.

In the fall of 1841 a French vessel, the schooner Ayacucho, laden with a valuable cargo, consisting of silks, brandy and other costly goods, commanded and owned by Limantour (afterwards well known in California in connection with land matters), arrived on this coast, intending to come to Yerba Buena. In seeking to come into the bay of San Francisco, an inlet near Point Reyes was mistaken for the entrance to the harbor, and she went ashore. The motive for coming to Yerba Buena first, with an after-design of entering the goods at the customhouse in Monterey and proceeding thence to Mazatlán, arose from the fact that under the Mexican laws she could land goods at Mazatlán by showing papers representing that she had paid duties at Monterey; and by entering the goods there rather than at Mazatlán money could be saved on the duties, as the customhouse officers were supposed to be less vigilant and less strict at the former place than at the latter. After the vessel went ashore, Limantour and his crew landed in boats near the point, were furnished with horses by a ranchero in the neighborhood, and came over to Sausalito.

Captain Richardson brought Limantour across the bay to Yerba Buena and communicated the first news of the loss of the vessel. The Don Quixote, Captain Paty, being in port, after several days of negotiations between Paty and Limantour the latter chartered the vessel for two or three thousand dollars to go up to the wreck and save what she could. The Don Quixote was a good sailer, easily handled, and Captain Paty took her quickly to the wreck and in two or three weeks was back in Yerba Buena with nearly the whole cargo, most of it in fine condition. The weather had been good and the sea smooth, the southerly winds not having commenced, which favored the saving of the goods. After the Don Quixote returned she was ordered to Monterey to enter and pay duties, and she went accordingly. Limantour, having lost his vessel, abandoned his trip to Mazatlán. His goods were disposed of to different vessels in port, some to residents.

Limantour established himself for a time at Yerba Buena, where he sold much of the merchandise, and then proceeded in a small schooner of forty or fifty tons down the coast and disposed of the remainder. Nathan Spear purchased some of the goods. The muslins and calicoes were of fine texture and fast colors and sold readily to the California women, who came from their ranchos purposely to obtain the choice French fabrics. The silks of this cargo were French and Italian, of the finest quality, as intended for the markets of the wealthy interior cities and towns in Mexico. Silk was largely used by the California ladies, the wealthier class dressing in that material. The rich men of the department were generous to their wives and daughters, never refusing them what they required in dry goods and other materials. Limantour’s silks therefore found ready purchasers. The vessel subsequently became a total wreck and went to pieces where she struck.

In the winter of 1844-45 a little incident occurred which produced some local excitement. Captain Libbey of the bark Tasso had made several voyages to the coast and had become enamored of a young California lady, who was also beloved by Chico Haro. Libbey was a good-natured man, but rather gross in his appearance. His attentions were not reciprocated by the lady. The two rivals met one day in Vioget’s saloon, which was kept at that time by Juan Padillo, who succeeded Hinckley as alcalde. They had imbibed rather freely of California aguardiente, which when newly made is very stimulating. Ramón Haro, brother of Chico, the brothers Francisco and Ysidro Sánchez, uncles of the two Haros, were present, and they all had drunk more or less. A drunken row ensued, high words were used, and during the melee Captain Libbey was stabbed by Chico Haro. His brother Ramón was supposed to be an accomplice in the matter. The Sánchez brothers were also more or less connected with it. This occurrence is mentioned because breaches of the peace were rare, disturbances of any kind being very unusual.

I have before stated that the Californians as a class were a sober people and drank little; but the Sánchez family was an exception; and though not habitual drunkards, they imbibed freely, one only of them, Don José de la Cruz Sánchez, being temperate. After the stabbing, Alcalde Hinckley did his duty promptly by arresting the two Haro brothers and Ysidro Sánchez. They were immediately tried, and Ysidro was released. The two Haros were found guilty and sentenced to the calaboose of the San Jose pueblo for six months each. The whole matter occupied but a brief time, Hinckley showing great alacrity in the administration of the law. Libbey was not dangerously stabbed, and presently recovered.

I have already spoken of the fine appearance and development of many of the Californians, and in this connection shall mention General Vallejo’s three brothers, all well-proportioned men, of large stature; one now living (1888) is over eighty years of age. The Bernals, of San Jose; the Berreyesas, of whom Don José de los Santos was particularly noble-looking and intelligent; the half-brothers of Governor Alvarado, at Monterey; the Estradas, the Soberanes family, the Munrás family, also of Monterey, were fine-looking men; also the Santa Cruz Castros, three or four brothers; Don Pablo de la Guerra’s brothers, at Santa Barbara, his equals in good looks; the Estudillos of San Diego and San Leandro; Vicente Peralta of Temescal; Ygnacio Peralta of San Leandro Creek; José and Vicente Martínez of Pinole.

Don Antonio María Lugo, of Los Angeles, was genial and witty, about eighty years of age, yet active and elastic, sitting on his horse as straight as an arrow, with his reata on the saddle, and as skillful in its use as any of his vaqueros. He was an eccentric old gentleman. He had a wife aged twenty or twenty-two—his third or fourth. In 1846 I visited him. After cordially welcoming me, he introduced me to his wife, and in the same breath, and as I shook hands with her, said, in a joking way, with a cunning smile, “No se enamore de mi joven esposa.” (“Don’t you be falling in love with my little wife.”) He had numbers of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Los Angeles was largely populated from his family. Referring to this circumstance, he said to me, quietly, “Don Guillermo, yo he cumplido con mi deber a mi país.” (“William, I have done my duty by my country.”)

At Los Angeles, also, were Don Tomás Yorba and his brothers, splendid-looking, proud and dignified in address and manners, the cream of the country. The wife of Don Tomás was Doña Vicenta, a graceful woman. The Supúlvedas, of Los Angeles, also were fine physical specimens of the people. At San Diego, the Argüellos, sons of the prefect, were finely formed men, well proportioned. Mrs. General Castro, of Monterey, Doña Modesta, was beautiful, queenly in her appearance and bearing. The wife of David Spence, sister of Prefect Estrada, was of medium size, with fine figure and beautiful, transparent complexion. The two sisters of General Vallejo, one the widow of Captain Cooper, the other the wife of Jacob P. Leese, were also striking in beauty. The latter, Doña Rosalía, was considered in former days a very attractive woman, fascinating and vivacious. Mrs. Leese learned from her husband the use of the rifle, shooting with the greatest accuracy. Jacob P. Leese was among the sharpshooters in early Indian campaigns. On the Fourth of July celebration in 1839 I saw a specimen of her skill with the rifle, which was wonderful, shooting at birds on the wing at a great distance and killing them.

When James McKinley and myself were on our way from San Diego to Santa Anita in November, 1844, to visit Hugo Reid, we stopped a day and night at the mission of San Luis Rey, where we met Father José María Zalvidea, one of the last of the old priests from Spain still remaining in California. He was strong and healthy although about eighty years of age. There was also a Mexican priest in charge of the mission.

Father Zalvidea spent most of his time in walking back and forth in the spacious piazza of the mission with his prayerbook open in his hand, saying his prayers hour after hour. I stood there for some time observing him, and every time he reached the end of the piazza he would give me a little side glance and nod of recognition, and say “Vamos, sí señor” (equivalent to murmuring in an abstracted way, “Yes, yes, my friend; yes indeed”) a number of times in succession. Whenever he met me or anyone else through the day or evening he would make the same greeting, and never anything else. If anyone spoke to him he would listen attentively until the speaker had finished, apparently hearing and understanding everything that was said, but he made no reply other than the words I have quoted. During such interviews he would never look a person square in the face, but always gazed a little one side, round the corner, as it were. One might have supposed he was demented from this singular conduct. I inquired if this was so of Mr. McKinley, who bad known him for ten years or more, and he replied that he was always the same; that his mind was perfectly clear and unimpaired; that he was so absorbed in his devotions that he did not care to hold any intercourse with the world or converse on worldly topics, but gave his whole life and attention to religion.

Father Zalvidea was much beloved by the people, who looked upon him as a saint on earth on account of the purity and excellence of his character. Among his eccentricities was his custom at meals of mixing different kinds of food thoroughly together on one plate—meat, fish, vegetables, pie, pudding, sweet and sour—a little of everything. After they were thoroughly mingled he would eat the preparation instead of taking the different dishes separately or in such combinations as were usual. This was accounted for by others as being a continual act of penance on his part. In other words, he did not care to enjoy his meals and so made them distasteful, partaking of food merely to maintain existence. Whenever any ladies called on him, as they frequently did, to make some little present as a mark of their esteem, he never looked at them, but turned his face away, and extending his hand to one side received the gift, saying, “Vamos, sí señora; muchas gracias.” (“Yes, yes; many thanks.”) He never offered his hand in salutation to a lady. At times, in taking his walks for exercise in the vicinity of the mission, the priest was seen to touch his head lightly on either side with a finger, throw his hands out with a quick, spasmodic motion, and snap his fingers, as if casting out devils. On such occasions he was heard to exclaim, “Vete, Satanás!” (“Get thee behind me, Satan!”)—some improper thought, as he conceived, probably having entered his mind.

Resuming my business in Yerba Buena in April, 1845, after my return from the south, I visited old customers around the bay, and was very successful in making collections prior to and during the killing season of that year; and I accumulated many hides, bags of tallow and furs, and had sold out the entire stock of goods by the time the Don Quixote arrived again in August, after having safely landed Micheltorena and his troops at San Blas.


William Sturgis Hinckley joined Nathan Spear in the latter part of 1838 in business at Yerba Buena. Hinckley was a native of Hingham, Massachusetts, nephew of William Sturgis, of Boston. He was an educated man, of pleasant address. He had been some years engaged in business in the Sandwich Islands, whence he came to this coast and traded awhile in vessels until he established himself at Yerba Buena. He was popular with both the foreign and the native population. When I arrived at Santa Barbara, in May, 1838, Hinckley was there and visited Alvarado’s headquarters frequently, the two being intimate friends. Hinckley highly estimated Alvarado’s talent and had a warm esteem for him, which feeling was reciprocated by the governor, who was in the habit of communicating his plans to Hinckley confidentially. Alvarado was much appreciated by intelligent foreigners, who recognized his general superiority, he being an excellent-looking man and possessing great geniality and tact.

At this time Carrillo was in active opposition to the governor, seeking to oust him from his position. Hinckley greatly assisted Alvarado with advice and suggestions regarding his preparations to repress Carrillo. One evening they were engaged in private conversation in the governor’s rooms, discussing their plans. Alvarado had a one-eyed secretary, who was a fellow capable and accomplished enough, with talent for writing official dispatches and papers, and a useful man, but withal prying and inquisitive. Gas was not in use in those days, and sperm and adamantine candies were rare. Bullock and elk tallow candles were commonly used for lights, with old-fashioned snuffers, having a little square box attached to receive the wick when snuffed off. The secretary, on this occasion, every few minutes dodged into the room where Alvarado and Hinckley were engaged in conversation, ostensibly for the purpose of snuffing the candles, showing thereby his politeness and attention, but really to catch the drift of the conversation and find out what was going on. He was so assiduous in the performance of his self-imposed duty that the two gentlemen presently discovered his intention. Not liking to be so frequently interrupted, Hinckley, who was fond of a practical joke, emptied the snuffers of the bits of burnt wick and poured in a little gunpowder (it being wartime, gunpowder was handy), and the two gentlemen then retired to a remote corner of the room. Soon after, the faithful secretary came again and applied the snuffers, when an explosion followed that startled and nearly capsized him. He immediately broke out of the room, and the two gentlemen indulged in a burst of laughter. From the adjoining apartments the governor’s aides and General Castro hurried in, alarmed at first by the explosion, but relieved by hearing the laughter that followed. On being informed, they joined in and added to the general merriment. The secretary finally made his appearance and shared in the fun, admitting that he had been victimized.

In 1839 Hinckley went to Callao and brought the brig Corsair, of which he was part owner and supercargo, to Yerba Buena, loaded with assorted merchandise. In 1840 he became a permanent resident here. In 1842 he married Doña Susana, daughter of Don Ygnacio Martínez, his first wife having died in 1840 in Massachusetts. In 1844 he was elected first alcalde of the district of San Francisco, headquarters at Yerba Buena. Being well fitted for the office of alcalde, he discharged the duties of the position in a manner very creditable to himself and to the satisfaction of the Californians and foreign residents.

On the block now bounded by Washington, Jackson, Montgomery and Kearny streets was a salt-water lagoon, or little lake, connected with the bay by a small creek. When the tide came in the lake was filled. At all stages of the tide there was considerable water remaining in it. To reach Clark’s Point, to the north of the creek, the settled portion of the town being to the south of it, the people would have to get across the best way they could, by wading, or jumping across in some places. One of Captain Hinckley’s acts as alcalde was to cause the construction of a little bridge across the creek, thereby adding much to the convenience of the people who had occasion to go to the other side. This was regarded as a great public improvement, and people came from far and near to look at and admire it, especially the native Californians, who arrived from the mission and elsewhere, with their wives and children, to contemplate the remarkable structure.

During his administration as alcalde there were two or three little disturbances among the lower orders at Vioget’s saloon and elsewhere, this saloon then being rented to Juan Padillo, a Mexican. Alcalde Hinckley, on being informed, would immediately go to the spot and, raising his bastón, command them in tones of authority to desist from disturbance. Everything at once became quiet and the disorder ceased, showing the respect with which they regarded the American alcalde and his insignia of office.

Hinckley prevailed upon the prefect at Monterey to order a survey of Yerba Buena. The survey was made and a plan of the town drawn and mapped, being the first of the kind of any importance. He took great interest in having the streets properly located and the plan executed in the best manner. No names at that time were given to any of the streets.

When Governor Micheltorena was opposed by Alvarado and Castro, he was at first favored by Hinckley as the legal governor of the department. Respecting his own oath of office, he naturally felt it his duty to stand by the regularly constituted authorities. However, when Alvarado had succeeded in turning the current of popular feeling against Micheltorena and had roused the people to revolution, Hinckley could not resist the movement and joined the Alvarado party, becoming an active participant in its operations.

During the Bear Flag excitement Hinckley stood firmly by the Mexican government and was outspoken in its favor.

After the expiration of his term of office he retained his friendship for the Californians and Mexicans. Before his death, which occurred in June, 1846, talk of war between Mexico and the United States was prevalent. The sloop-of-war Portsmouth, Captain Montgomery, was then lying at Yerba Buena, and though Hinckley was an American his feeling in favor of the Mexican rule was so strong that he used to have some warm discussions on the subject with Captain Montgomery and other officers of the vessel.

Francisco Guerrero, I regarded as one of the most important men in the district. He was a Mexican by birth. Shortly after I made his acquaintance, in the year 1838, I found him to be an intellectual man. About 1839 he was made alcalde, or juez de paz, and a few years after was appointed subprefect. In these offices he performed his duties most strictly, but not discourteously. On the occasion of the detention of Spear and myself at the time of the general arrest of the foreigners, he came in person to Spear’s house and mentioned in the politest manner that he had an order from headquarters to arrest us, which he very much regretted, saying that Spear and myself need not feel any alarm; that everybody knew us, and that he would go with Spear part of the way as if they were traveling together and that no indignity should be put upon him as a prisoner, making the exercise of authority as light and as little disagreeable as possible. And so in the other arrests; he was so polite that those who were detained could not be otherwise than pleased with him. He knew them all and showed no domineering spirit, but treated them as friends rather than otherwise, and at the same time he did his duty strictly.

Guerrero encouraged the immigration of foreigners to California and their settlement, and defended them in their rights after they got here. He saw that the country must necessarily pass from the control of Mexico. In his administration of office he gave great satisfaction, showing no partiality to his countrymen over foreigners, treating all with equal justice. Albeit a thorough Mexican and loving his country, he had, as he often expressed it, no dislike to Americans. He admired them as a progressive people and saw that they would ultimately control. On one occasion, in conversation with him, I suggested that he had better look out for a rainy day and secure some land for himself; that Governor Alvarado, in consideration of’ his official services, would give him a grant and that the land about the bay of San Francisco would some day be valuable. He replied that he had already taken steps to secure a grant at Half Moon Bay, five or six leagues in extent; that he had received a permit from the government to occupy it, and in due time would get his title. He was very social in his nature and fond of little dances which were frequently had at his house, joining in the festivity with great enthusiasm.

Guerrero was one of the few real founders of San Francisco. A street at the mission was named after him. In 1851 he was murdered, in broad daylight, at the corner of Mission and Twelfth streets, by a Frenchman who came up behind him mounted on horseback, and struck him on the back of the head with a slungshot. It is supposed that parties interested in the Santillán land claim were the instigators of the murder. They wished to get Guerrero out of the way, as he would have been a damaging witness against their claim; being afraid of his influence and ability and independence of character; knowing he would not hesitate to expose the fraudulent nature of the claim. His widow is still living (1890) and maintains her fine and dignified appearance and the graceful walk of her earlier years.


There is not in existence, to my knowledge, any maritime or commercial report of arrivals, or statement of the volume of business, in the port of San Francisco (Yerba Buena) for the two decades preceding the latter part of the year 1846, at which time the United States government established a customhouse here, the first collector being appointed by Commodore Stockton, commander of the naval squadron.

It has been my purpose in these pages to furnish as complete a list as possible of the arrivals of vessels in the years from 1831 to 1846, both at Yerba Buena and at Monterey, the capital, where the only customhouse in the department was located.

The Boston ships which came here in early days with goods to sell, and took back hides, remained about two years, going up and down the coast several times. The round trip from San Diego touching at San Pedro, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, San Simeon, Monterey, Santa Cruz and Yerba Buena, occupied three or four months, so that during the two years they made seven or eight trips of this kind, selling their goods, collecting hides and tallow at different points, and on reaching San Diego deposited their collection of hides and tallow in warehouses, each of the vessels having a house for that purpose.

At that port the hides were prepared for shipment by soaking them for twenty-four or forty-eight hours in large vats of brine to preserve them against the attacks of moths and other insects. They were then spread out on the smooth sandy beach to dry, and afterward hung on ropes that were tied from post to post, long enough to admit of thirty or forty hides at a time, and beaten by the sailors with a sort of flail, a contrivance made of a wooden stick three and a half feet long, to which was fastened a strip of hide and a short piece of wood of heavier kind than the other, to swing freely. Armed with these beating sticks, two sailors passed along each side the row of hides and beat them thoroughly, removing all the dust and sand, after which they were put away preparatory to loading for Boston and other ports.

After two years, a full cargo having been gathered, and stored at San Diego, the ship was loaded, carrying to Boston 38,000 to 45,000 hides. In loading the vessel, a rude press, made of boards and worked with ropes and pulleys, was used to press the hides firmly together in the hold. I saw this done in 1831 at San Diego, when the cargo of the bark Volunteer was transferred to the bark Louisa. The vessels trading between California and Peru took no hides to Callao. If they collected any they exchanged them with the hide ships for tallow, no tallow going to Boston. Tallow vessels also had houses at San Diego for the deposit of bags of that article. The tallow was used in Peru for making soap and candles and for consumption in the silver mines of the country.

Prior to 1843, whalers from the Atlantic coast would occasionally touch at a California port, either San Diego, San Pedro, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, or the bay of San Francisco, for supplies of beef and vegetables, and for water. In 1843, ‘44, ‘45, a considerable number of whalers came to San Francisco Bay and anchored off Sausalito, as that was a convenient place to obtain water; Captain Richardson invited them to come and take what they wanted from his springs, which were reached from the beach. The shipping was generally supplied with water from those springs. There was also a spring of good water at about where the northeast corner of Clay and Montgomery streets is now, from which whalers and merchantmen sometimes got a supply. As many as thirty or forty whalers were in the bay at one time during each of these years. They were not required to enter at the customhouse. They generally had on board a few thousand dollars’ worth of goods for trading, and were allowed by the customhouse authorities to exchange goods for supplies for their own use, at any point where they touched along the coast, to the extent of $400, but were not allowed to sell goods for cash.

After 1842 there was an officer of the customs stationed at Yerba Buena to keep a general oversight of the shipping. The whalers, however, became so numerous in the bay that he found it impossible to attend to them all, not having guards sufficient to place one on each.

The farmers were much benefited by these vessels inasmuch as they obtained from them goods at a cheap rate in exchange for supplies. In consequence of there being so little supervision over them the whalers traded with the farmers and others for supplies freely, not adhering to the $400 rule, but doing pretty much as they pleased.

In making my usual trading expeditions the rancheros whom I met would ask me if I thought as many of the whalers would come another year as were there then. I told them I thought even more would come, as they had been encouraged by finding good supplies of vegetables and would probably come again and advise other ships to come. They asked my advice as to what they should plant for sale to the ships another year. I told them to plant Irish potatoes, cabbages, pumpkins and onions, as those were the vegetables the vessels mainly depended upon.

Among those who were most active and energetic in furnishing supplies of this kind, and interested in planting for the purpose, were Don Vicente Peralta, the Castros of San Pablo, Don Antonio María Peralta, Don Ygnacio Peralta, and Don José Joaquín Estudillo, all on the east side of the bay. The Californians, although mainly engaged in cattle raising, were fond of agriculture and would have engaged in it extensively had there been any market for their products. When an opportunity presented itself as in the case of supplying the whaleships, they availed themselves of it and commenced planting.

The vessels usually remained from four to six weeks getting in their supplies, which took some time, as they had to send out their boats to the different ranchos about the bay, there being no produce merchants in those days. They delayed also in painting and repairing, and waiting, perhaps, for the proper time to arrive when whales would be in season at the whaling ground. Most of the crews were given their liberty on shore and a sailor would occasionally desert and settle among the rancheros; if a good man, industrious and willing to work, especially if he had some mechanical skill at carpentry or other useful industry, he was encouraged by the rancheros to stay and was treated with kindness; but if indolent and worthless fellows deserted, while kindly treated, they were not encouraged to remain, but were presented with horses and perhaps some clothes and persuaded to ride away to some other rancho.

As the time for the whaling fleet to visit the port approached, the farmers who had raised a supply of vegetables looked forward to their coming, hoping to dispose of their produce and obtain goods in exchange at a low rate.

In 1843 or ‘44 a young Irishman named O’Farrell deserted from an American whaleship lying at Sausalito, having been employed as a cooper on board, and went to the mission of San Rafael, then under the charge of Timothy Murphy as administrator. From there he went to Bodega, bought a large tract of land, and engaged in cattle raising. He subsequently assisted as civil engineer in the survey of a portion of the city of San Francisco, as laid down on the present official map. Afterward he was elected to the state legislature from Sonoma County; for one term held the important position of state harbor commissioner; and Jasper O’Farrell’s name is prominent in the history of the state.

While acting as the agent of Paty, McKinley & Co., at Yerba Buena in 1843, ‘44 and ‘45, I occupied a large adobe building on the spot which is now the west side of Dupont Street near Clay. Requiring only a portion of it for my store and residence, three large rooms remained unoccupied. When the customs agent Benito Díaz (who was not very scrupulous) came to reside at Yerba Buena, I invited him to occupy these rooms with his family, free of charge; and he did so. He had under his command four boatmen, and a four-oared boat with which he went all around the bay to visit vessels. I was on friendly terms with him, and at times after he had come home for the day I would request and obtain the use of his boat and crew for the evening, he asking me no questions. Thus provided, I visited the whaleships, and purchased goods from them at a very low figure, white and brown cottons, calicoes, handkerchiefs, and other cheap stuffs, paying cash. My arrangements with Paty, McKinley & Co. were such that while I was conducting their business I was allowed to trade on my own account if such would not interfere with their trade. My goods were bought and sold for cash while theirs were sold only for hides and tallow. Although money was scarce I was enabled to sell articles so low that the rancheros managed to raise the funds to pay for them.

In securing commodities from the whaleships I had them landed by the captains in large water casks, each end of the cask being filled with Boston pilot bread to the depth of eighteen or twenty inches. The casks were landed on the beach and were supposed to be empty, but if any official felt curious enough to make an examination and open the cask the pilot bread would be seen. It was common to purchase bread supplies from the vessels for use on shore; there were no bakeries, and the pilot bread was much liked. It would therefore appear all right to the inquiring officers. Nathan Spear, William G. Rae, William A. Leidesdorff and others doing business at Yerba Buena got goods from the whalers by the same method and considerable trade was carried on in this covert manner. During these two or three years I made outside of my regular salary from my employers two or three thousand dollars.

The revenue regulations were so little respected and so loosely enforced that this traffic with whalers was safe. In 1845 the whaleship Magnolia, Captain Simmons, was at Yerba Buena. He was afterward of the firm of Simmons, Hutchinson & Co., at San Francisco, in 1849 one of the heaviest houses on the coast, doing a large business.

Captain Jim Smith of the whaleship Hibernia, from New Bedford, was here in 1844. He afterward established a line of packets between San Francisco and Honolulu. Captain Smith was a Democrat, and Captain Eliab Grimes, before mentioned in this narrative, was a Whig, and in 1844 they met in Nathan Spear’s parlor, which was a resort of prominent merchants and strangers in the town, and often engaged in very warm political discussions, both being men of intelligence, aptness of expression, and erudition in the history and doctrines of their political parties. Each ably defended his party and its men and measures, the discussions lasting usually several hours and attracting an interested audience of fifteen or twenty persons—captains, supercargoes and merchants, to whom anything of the kind was a great treat, in the dearth of other amusements.

Captain Smith had the advantage of Captain Grimes in keeping his temper and being always cool and collected, while Grimes would get very much heated and would swear furiously at his adversary. In that remote part of the country forty-five years ago (1844), in that little Mexican town of about seventy or eighty inhabitants, the influence of the fierce contest between Democrats and Whigs which was being waged all over the Union was felt and had an effect.

Captain Eliab Grimes, during the war with England in 1812, was a young lieutenant of an American privateer, an hermaphrodite brig, which did great service in our cause and captured many prizes, burning the vessels and landing the officers and crews at some convenient point after securing what money and other valuables were on board. So successful was the privateer that each officer acquired a little fortune. Giving an account of his experiences on board, he said that one morning they saw a vessel far off flying the English flag, supposed to be a merchantman, but on approaching she proved to be a British man-of-war and a fast sailer, which bore down upon them, a stiff breeze blowing at the time. The privateer began to run away as fast as her sails would carry her, but, the gale increasing, the war vessel made better headway and their capture seemed imminent. Fortunately the wind lightened, giving the American vessel an advantage, as she could sail faster than her pursuer in a light wind, and toward night she increased the distance between them and escaped.

William C. Rae, who was present when the captain related the adventure, remarked, with a touch of national pride, he being an Englishman, “Captain Grimes, if the wind hadn’t moderated, you would have had to surrender the brig.” “No!“ retorted Grimes, flashing up; “I’ll be d—d if we would; we would have scuttled the old brig and sunk her before we would have surrendered.” It is true; their decision and resolution would have proved unconquerable.

Rae and Grimes were on very friendly terms. They were given much to discussion, and for hours together opposed each other in wordy controversy about national matters, the American Revolution, the last war with Great Britain, ably defending to the utmost each his own country. Rae, having a liking for the Americans, was not offended with Grimes’ ebullitions, but took them all in good part, carrying on the discussion mainly as an intellectual pastime and for the entertainment of the listeners, who enjoyed the debates.

Captain Grimes was an intimate friend of my father. They made several voyages together, one as passenger in the other’s vessel, and my only brother was named after Captain Grimes. The captain was a noble-hearted man, very much esteemed and loved both at Honolulu and Yerba Buena. He was possessed of a big mind, and was a great judge of human nature, as he had made voyages all over the Atlantic Ocean, commencing before the mast, and worked up to a captaincy and owner of vessels. He was thoroughly read and had fine conversational powers. A thorough American every inch of him. In 1841 or 1842 he obtained from Alvarado a grant of eleven leagues of land near Sacramento City which afterward came into the possession of Sam Norris and was known as the Norris ranch, now owned by Tevis and Haggin.

When Captain Grimes died, in 1848, he had 16,000 or 18,000 head of rodeo cattle on his ranch, obtained in these few years by his good management, system and skill. He was attentive to details, such as having the right proportion of bulls to cows. I merely allude to this by way of comparing the American and Californian styles of management. He died in Yerba Buena in October, 1848, and the officers of the shipping in port and the whole town attended his funeral. He was buried on Sacramento Street near Kearny.

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

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