Seventy-five Years in San Francisco
The first discovery of gold in California to be made public was in 1840 in the valley of San Fernando, in the present county of Los Angeles. It was made by some Mexicans from Sonora who were passing through going north. They were familiar with the gold placers in their own country, had their attention attracted to the locality, and made the discovery. A good deal of gold from this source found its way to Los Angeles into the hands of the storekeepers. Henry Mellus, in trading along the coast, used to visit Los Angeles, his vessel lying meanwhile at San Pedro. In his business with the merchants there he collected about $5,000 in gold dust, which was of fine quality, in scales as from placer diggings. Other merchants also collected some. Mellus remitted $5,000 in gold dust to Boston by the ship Alert, and also made other similar remittances. I saw at Yerba Buena, and handled, some of the dust which Mellus had obtained. That year and the next, probably $80,000 to $100,000 worth of gold dust was taken from these diggings. The finding of gold continued there for several years, up to the time of what is known as the big gold discovery in the Sacramento Valley, but the results were small.
The coin generally used by the merchants was Spanish and Mexican doubloons (gold); also American gold coin. Silver money of Mexican, Peruvian and United States coin was likewise in circulation. I never saw in California any of the paper money in use in the East.
In the early days, while California was still under Spanish rule, the proportion of men who had immigrated to the new country was largely in excess of the women. To equalize the difference, and furnish wives for the single men, more particularly for the soldiers, a representation was made by the governor of the department to the Spanish authorities of the facts, whereupon the home government made arrangements for the conveyance to California of a considerable number of women of Spanish extraction, from Mexico. Some came by water, by vessels chartered by the government expressly for this purpose, and others came by land, under official auspices.
The motive was to prevent, so far as possible, the mixing of the Spanish race in California with the native Indians of the country. The Spaniards were naturally proud of their own blood and wanted to keep it uncontaminated; hence this movement on the part of the government. The want of women was thus supplied in a measure, but as late as 1838, and along up to 1846, the men exceeded the women in number and some mixture with the Indians occurred.
It was customary for the young men of the Californians to marry early. In this they were encouraged by their parents, partly because they desired to have the sparsely settled country populated as rapidly as possible, and partly also that the young men might thereby escape being drafted into the army. Under the Mexican law the commanding general of the army had power to levy upon the people for as many men as he might want, to recruit his military force. From time to time he designated such young men of different families as he chose to be taken for the purpose. It was nothing less than most arbitrary conscription. There was no redress. The rancheros were compelled to give up their sons when called upon, however wealthy, as money would not be accepted in lieu of the services of the young men.
The unmarried only were taken, the commanding general being so considerate as to leave the married men to care for their families. The motive for early marriage, therefore, was strong, in frequent instances boys of sixteen and seventeen taking wives unto themselves. The designs of the commander were often thus frustrated and draft evaded by young men who were on the alert to escape military service.
A squad of ten soldiers, commanded by a sergeant, was sent out in 1838 by General Vallejo from Sonoma for the purpose of picking up recruits at the ranchos. A young man living in the vicinity of the general’s headquarters, getting information of this movement and of the direction in which the squad was going, rode off posthaste to Suscol and across the Rancho Nacional. As fast as one horse tired he lassoed another. Continuing on his course he reached the Straits of Carquinez, where he abandoned horse and saddle and was quickly ferried across in a tule balsa by the Indians. Taking his chances of lassoing on foot one of Don Ygnacio Martínez fine horses, rather a difficult feat, he rapidly pursued his journey until he reached San Pablo. There he gave information of the coming of the recruiting squad to his friend Castro, then a boy fifteen or sixteen years old, who immediately mounted a fleet horse and rode to the rancho of his neighbor, Martínez, and informed his son of about the same age that the conscripting officer was coming. The two then rode off rapidly southward, changing their horses when necessary and stopping at the ranch houses along for food and a little rest, until they reached the old mission of San Juan Bautista, which was located in a wide valley of remarkable beauty halfway between Castroville and Gilroy. At the mission they were within a district under command of General José Castro, who was a relative of one of the boys, and could feel at ease. They remained there until they thought it safe to return home. The following year both of these young men were married, Castro to the sister of his friend Martínez, and the latter to a daughter of Don José Joaquín Moraga, at the time owner of the valuable Moraga grant of six leagues. The Californian parents had dread of their sons being drafted into the army, and the young men themselves had no liking for it. Some of the more wealthy rancheros had prearranged and reliable communications with their relations or friends living in Sonoma, who gave them information whenever a squad of soldiers was about to be sent out to gather up recruits, and of the direction the squad would take. At such times young men would be sent off for a month or two from the rancho, either hunting game or to the great San Joaquin Valley to lasso some of the numerous wild horses there.
The farmers were peace-loving men and disliked to have their children forced into the army. They would protest, in the presence of their friends, against General Vallejo’s or Castro’s taking their boys for soldiers, asking what they wanted of them when the country was at peace, not at war or likely to be, saying that the general had a hundred or two soldiers already, which was a force amply sufficient to send out to capture or chastise wild Indians, and that any further increase must be only for the purpose of gratifying personal ambition and love of power and display; that if the Americans came to take the country, if they ever would, the few hundred soldiers he might have under him would not prevent the carrying out of their designs.
After Captain Sutter had settled at Fort New Helvetia he was in the habit, at times, of sending fresh salmon to Yerba Buena. The fish were fresh-salted or smoked. Nathan Spear, who was an epicure, and lover of good things, appreciated these fish very highly. The idea suggested itself to his mind that something profitable might be done in salmon fishing on the Sacramento River. Not wishing to trespass upon Captain Sutter’s ground, although, of course, Sutter had no exclusive right to the fish in the river, Spear wrote to him on the subject and received encouragement to go up and engage in fishing there for salmon. He made several trips in 1840 and ‘41 in the schooner Isabella, camping on the bank of the Sacramento in a comfortable tent, and superintended the catching of the fish by the crew of his schooner and by Indians experienced in fishing, furnished by Captain Sutter. He took large quantities of salmon, filling the hold of the Isabella with fish packed in bulk, transported them to Yerba Buena, and disposed of them at satisfactory prices, packed in barrels and kegs of different sizes, to visiting vessels and to residents, making a good profit.
To Nathan Spear, therefore, is due the credit of having inaugurated the salmon fishery on this coast as a business, and of developing, to a considerable extent, an enterprise which has since grown to large proportions. On the last trip to the river in salmon catching Mrs. Spear accompanied her husband.
While John Parrott was United States commercial agent at Mazatlán in 1844 or ‘45, and also engaged in trade, an English brig named the Star of the West arrived there from England with a cargo consigned to Parrott, the invoice cost of which was $120,000. The duties on this cargo would have amounted to that sum, probably more. Parrott wished to save paying a large proportion of them, and thinking he could do better by entering the vessel at Monterey than at Mazatlán he hoisted sail and started for the former place. Just before reaching Monterey, the vessel went ashore at Punta de los Lobos, Carmel Bay, and became a total wreck. All persons on board were saved; also a large part of the cargo, one-half or two-thirds. The goods were originally intended to be taken from Mazatán into the interior of Mexico, upon mules, this being the only mode of transportation, and had been packed in England with reference to that, in not very bulky square packages, admirably put up, solid and compact, and encased with waterproof wrapping. So securely were they covered that although many of them were taken from the water in the hold of the vessel and others picked up while floating about the bay, yet the contents were not in the least injured and were in as good a condition as if they had been landed from a vessel at the wharf. When the wreck became known at Monterey, the people of that place flocked by hundreds to the spot and commenced saving as much of the cargo as possible. There being nothing to prevent, each became a wrecker on his own account and saved what he could for his own benefit.
Captain J. B. R. Cooper was successful in securing a large amount of these goods. He took down from Monterey a number of the old-fashioned, solid-wheel wagons drawn by oxen, the creaking and screeching of the vehicles, for want of grease on the axles, being heard for miles. With the aid of sailors whom he brought to the wreck he secured a large share of the spoils, many wagonloads, took them to Monterey, and made a small fortune out of the proceeds. Cooper was an old sea captain and understood the business. Others saved smaller quantities. The customhouse permitted them to be taken as “damaged goods,” without payment of duty, although no damage was apparent on opening the packages. The landing of the goods was attended with great risk and danger, three of the native Californians losing their lives at this time—José Antonio Rodríguez, Francisco González and Francisco Mesa. None of the wrecked goods was recovered by Mr. Parrott. His protests and demands were ignored. It was a scramble, and he could not procure men or teams.
In 1840 or ‘41 there arrived at Yerba Buena from Mazatlán two Americans, one named Hiram Teal, a merchant, the other Rufus Titcomb, his clerk. Teal brought on a vessel about $20,000 worth of Mexican goods, such as silk and cotton rebozos, serapes, ponchos, mangas, costly and ordinary; silver-mounted and gilt spurs; saddles, ornamented and ordinary; armas de pelo, or riding robes for protecting the legs and body up to the waist; silver headstalls for horses, hair bridle reins, and other fancy and ornamental goods; an assortment of Mexican products. Teal opened a store and sold these goods to the hacendados principally. Many were also sold to Captain Sutter, who paid for them in land-otter and beaver skins. Teal was here about two years disposing of his merchandise, and he made probably $30,000 out of the venture; and had also bought some of Limantour’s goods, which he sold with his own.
I have heard him speak highly of the people of New Mexico with whom he had lived, in respect to their honesty and fair dealing; that during the whole mercantile course there, of several years, during which he dealt largely with them, giving them credit for their purchases when required, he never lost a dollar in all his transactions. They were kind and hospitable; their kindness was genuine, and not affected. He said the happiest part of his life was spent among them. He obtained his goods for his store at Santa Fe, mostly from St. Louis, overland, commencing there with three or four thousand dollars. The $20,000 worth of goods he brought from Mazatlán to Yerba Buena showed how successful he had been in New Mexico. At Yerba Buena he was much respected by Spear, Rae, and other prominent merchants, and liked by the people in general. He was fond of chess and also made frequently one of a party at whist, playing chess in the daytime with Rae and whist in the evening. After selling his goods here, Teal returned to New Mexico. Both he and Titcomb were originally from New England.
The existence of gold in the Sacramento Valley and vicinity was known to the padres long prior to what is commonly known as the gold discovery of 1848. Many of the Indians connected with the missions were from that part of the country, and after becoming civilized they were permitted to go to and fro between the missions and their old homes, leave of absence being granted for the purpose. Sometimes on returning to the mission after a visit of this kind an Indian would bring little pieces of shining metal to the priest, approach him with an air of mystery indicating he had something to communicate, and display what he had found. The priest was to the Indian the embodiment of all wisdom and knowledge and naturally the one to whom he would disclose anything of importance. Probably he had a suspicion that these shining bits were gold, having some indefinite idea of the value of that metal. He would be asked where he had obtained it, and would name the spot, a certain slough or river bottom, where he had picked it up, or say that in digging for some root he had unearthed it. Upon getting all the information the Indian could give, the priest, with a solemn air, would caution the Indian not to impart to anyone else knowledge of the discovery, assuring him if he further divulged such information the wrath of God would be visited upon him. Having the most entire confidence in the priest and in everything he said, the Indian never uttered a word in regard to finding the gold and kept the matter secret in his own breast.
In my business trips about the bay of San Francisco and neighborhood I visited the missions and became intimately acquainted with Father Muro of the mission of San Jose and Father Mercado of the mission of Santa Clara. Both these priests always welcomed me. Father Mercado, whenever I was in the neighborhood transacting my business with the people, would send a messenger for me to come and dine with him. His table was bountifully supplied; and during Lent, when meat was forbidden, he had everything else that was allowable, fish of different kinds, eggs cooked in various styles, and little delicacies of one kind and another, furnishing a meal of which a prince might have partaken with the greatest satisfaction.
The priests naturally had confidence in the merchants who supplied them with goods and whose position gave them influence, and it was through them that they had communication with the world outside.
Father Muro, while I was visiting him along in 1843 or 1844, at the time I was agent of Paty, McKinley & Co., at Yerba Buena, mentioned to me his knowledge of the existence of gold in the Sacramento Valley as a great secret, requiring me to promise not to divulge it. I have never mentioned it to this day to anyone. Afterward, in conversation with Father Mercado, the same subject was gradually and cautiously broached and he confided to me his knowledge of the existence of gold in the same locality. Both of the priests stated that their information was obtained from Indians. Father Mercado was a brilliant conversationalist and talked with greatest fluency in a steady stream of discourse hour after hour, and I greatly enjoyed hearing him. After he had imparted the news of gold in the Sacramento Valley, I would interrupt the discourse and, for the sake of argument, suggest that it would be better to make the matter known to induce Americans and others to come here, urging that with their enterprise and skill they would rapidly open and develop the country, build towns, and engage in numberless undertakings which would tend to the enrichment and prosperity of the country, increase the value of lands, enhance the price of cattle, and benefit the people. He would answer that the immigration would be dangerous; that they would pour in by thousands and overrun the country; Protestants would swarm here, and the Catholic religion would be endangered; the work of the missions would be interfered with; and as the Californians had no means of defense, no navy nor army, the Americans would soon obtain supreme control; that they would undoubtedly at some time come in force, and all this would happen; but if no inducements were offered, the change might not take place in his time.
I never heard from anyone, except the two priests, of gold in northern California prior to its discovery in 1848 at Sutter’s mill. In the year 1851, I, with others, made an expedition into Lower California from San Diego in search of gold. There information had been given by Indians to priests under similar circumstances.
About the year 1837 there was an Indian outbreak in what is now San Diego County. A family by the name of Ybarra, consisting of the father, the mother, two young daughters, and a son about twelve years of age, lived at the rancho of San Ysidro. They had in their employ an old Indian woman, who had been Christianized at the mission, a very faithful and good woman, a comadre to her mistress, the godmother of one of the Indian woman’s children. This relation was frequently assumed by the California ladies, it being a mandate of the Catholic Church everywhere, that any child that is christened shall be attended by a godfather and godmother, and the Californians performed this religious duty toward the children of the poorer classes, including the Indians. The serving woman got information of an attack upon the rancho which had been planned by Indians in the mountains, and a week before the occurrences here mentioned she warned the family of the approach. She urged and begged that they at once remove to the presidio of San Diego for protection. Her mistress was anxious to follow the advice, but Ybarra himself discarded it. He did not believe that the Indians contemplated a movement.
The Californians were a brave people, especially in opposition to the Indians, whether they went out in pursuit of them to recover stolen horses or otherwise. They were always prepared to resist an attack by them in their own homes, and did not fear them, but considered that three or four, or eight or ten of their number were sufficient to vanquish ten times that many Indians.
Ybarra had with him two vaqueros on the ranch, and did not think it necessary to pay heed to the statement of the woman, who, the night before the attack, repeated with emphasis her advice for the family to leave, saying the next day the Indians would surely be there and carry out their plans. The next morning at nine o’clock, while Ybarra and his vaqueros were at the corral, about a hundred and fifty yards from the house, engaged in lassoing horses, with the intention of starting for San Diego, the Indians stealthily approached, to the number of seventy-five or a hundred. The three men in the corral, seeing them very near, immediately ran toward the house to secure arms. This design, however, was thwarted by a little Indian boy employed in the family, who, seeing them coming as they neared the house, shut and barred the door and prevented them from entering. He must have had knowledge of the designs of the Indians, and been in complicity with them, as by this act of the little villain the three unarmed men were left outside at the mercy of the miscreant savages, and were speedily killed. The Indians then broke into the house and made a movement immediately to kill Doña Juana, the mistress, but the old Indian woman defended her at the peril of her own life, interceded with the Indians, and supplicated them to spare her mistress. This they did. The two daughters were also captured by the Indians and made prisoners. All the houses of the rancho were burned. The mother was ordered by the savages to leave the house, and go on foot to San Diego. She set forth entirely disrobed. On approaching the San Diego mission she was clothed by a friendly woman who came out and met her. In proceeding through a wheat field on the rancho she met her little son, who had gone out in the morning and had not encountered the savages. He now learned from his mother of the murder of his father and the two vaqueros and the capture of his sisters. He was sent ahead to give information of the attack to the first Californian he might meet.
News of what had happened was immediately communicated to the Rancho Tía Juana, owned and occupied by Don Santiago Argüello, a beautiful piece of land having a fine stream of living water running through it. At that time several California families were encamped there, spending a portion of the summer; the Bandinis, Alvarados and others. There were also several young ladies and girls, one of them Miss Estudillo.
At the Rancho Tía Juana the intelligence created much consternation and the camps of the several families were immediately broken up. They proceeded to San Diego, accompanied by the Argüello family, who took with them as many of their horses as they conveniently could. The Indians shortly after reached the place, burned the houses, and secured the stock which the owner had left behind in the fields.
The third night the Indians intended to fall upon the Rancho Jesús María, occupied by Don José López with his wife and two daughters. News of the Indian outbreak reaching San Diego, it was resolved to send out a force for his protection and to rescue, if possible, the two girls captured at San Ysidro.
Don José López had a large vineyard and manufactured wine, of which he occasionally imbibed more than was consistent with a well-regulated head. On the evening when the Indians were to attack him he was filled with wine, which led him to some extraordinary demonstrations. He went out and built a number of large bonfires in the vicinity of his house and then commenced shouting vociferously, making a great noise for his own entertainment only. As the Indians approached the place they sent out a spy in advance to reconnoiter and ascertain if everything was favorable for attack. The spy, seeing the fires burning and hearing this loud and continued shouting, concluded that the Californians were there in force and so reported to the main body of Indians, who deemed it prudent to retire. This is the only instance I remember where any particular benefit resulted from the freaks of an intoxicated man, who probably could not have done anything better to drive away the Indians had he been aware of their presence and designs.
The next day the force arrived, and López and family were escorted to San Diego, the main body of the troops going in pursuit of the Indians.
Ybarra, at the time he was murdered, had in San Diego two sons, who joined the company in pursuit, as they were anxious to learn everything possible regarding the fate of their sisters. They were soon informed by a captured spy that two of the chiefs had made them their wives. The company followed into the mountains until they reached a rugged and broken country wholly inaccessible to horses and were obliged to stop, the narrow defiles affording innumerable hiding places for Indians and giving them an advantage over the approaching enemy. Had the Californians attempted to advance on foot they would have met with certain death, for the Indians swarmed in force, knew the region intimately, and would have picked the troops off one by one. The two brothers Ybarra, however, urged on by the desire to rescue their sisters, advanced further into the mountains than the rest of the company, actually saw the girls in the midst of the savages, and got within a short distance of them, but were so badly wounded by the arrows showered upon them that they were compelled to return. After that, up to the time Miss Estudillo left San Diego, in 1842, nothing further was heard of the two girls.
Opposite the house where she was living with her aunt was the residence of Ybarra’s two sons and their families. Doña Juana, the mother, lived with them in San Diego up to the time of her death, which occurred about a year after her husband was murdered, this terrible occurrence and the loss of her daughters also, proving too great a blow for her. During this time she never ceased to lament their sad fate. It was heart-rending to listen to her expressions of grief, weeping and wailing for the loss of her husband and children, like Rachel refusing to be comforted. Her distress often made the people weep who heard her lamentations.
Prior to the incidents above related, the same tribe of Indians had made several attacks upon the presidio of San Diego for purposes of plunder and the capture of women, but were frustrated; and also pursued and severely chastised. The savages in that part of the country had the reputation of being braver and better fighters than those in the north. The San Diego Indians ate the meat of horses as well as of cattle.
In 1838 there were living at the presidio of San Diego the following families: the Estudillos, the Argüellos, the Bandinis, the Alvarados. Governor Pico’s family, the Marróns, the Machados, the Ybarras, the Serranos, the Carrillos, the López family, the Fitch family and a number of others.
One of the daughters of the Alvarado family married Captain Snook. After her marriage two of her younger sisters resided with her a portion of the time. One of them had acquired considerable knowledge of Indian speech. Several of these families had Indian men for cooks. One evening after supper, the young lady just mentioned, Doña Guadalupe Alvarado, overheard the cooks in earnest conversation in the Indian language. As soon as the words were caught by her ear she was startled and surprised, and drawing nearer heard all that was said. She discovered that the Indian cooks from the different families had gathered in the kitchen of the house and were discussing a plan of attack upon the town by members of their tribe. It appeared that arrangements had been completed for the capture of the town the following night and that the cooks in the several families were to lend their aid.
In the council of the cooks it came out that each on the following night was to communicate with a spy from the main body of Indians, and to take station for this purpose on top of the hill overlooking the town, where the old presidio and first garrison quarters of the Spaniards in California formerly stood. They were to inform the spy of the condition of each family, whether or not it was sufficiently off guard at the time to warrant an attack. There happened to be present in the house Don Pío Pico and Don Andrés Pico, who were making a friendly call on the family. They were a good deal startled at the statement made by the young lady and represented that they would give the conspiracy immediate attention. The people of San Diego at that period had their houses well supplied with arms and were always on the watch for Indian movements. Accordingly, during the night they organized a company of citizens arid arranged that at daylight each house should be visited and the cook secured. This was successfully accomplished. As each of the conspirators came out of the house in the early morning he was lassoed, and all were taken a little distance from town, where it was proposed to shoot them. They expressed a desire to be allowed to die as Christians, to confess to the priest and to receive the Sacrament. This request was granted; the priest heard the confession of each and administered the rites of the Church. A trench of suitable depth was then dug and the Indians made to kneel close beside it. Then, on being shot, each fell into the ditch, where he was buried. Eight or ten Indians were executed at this time.
While these proceedings were taking place a messenger was sent to one of the Boston hide ships lying in the port requesting that a cannon might be loaned to the town to assist in its defense. The cannon was sent over, with a suitable supply of ammunition. At night a party of citizens visited the spot where the Indian spy was to appear and succeeded in capturing him. He steadily refused to confess, though assured that he would soon die as his friends had done before him. One of his ears was cut off, and he was given to understand that the other one would follow, and that he would be mutilated little by little until he made the statement required of him; whereupon his resolution gave way and he made a confession indicating where the Indians were encamped and telling all that he knew.
This mode of extorting a confession, although repulsive to those who participated in it, was the only way of securing the desired information. After the spy had divulged all he knew, he was shot without ceremony, he being an unconverted Indian and not desiring the services of the priest.
The next day the citizens were out in force, found and surprised the Indians and engaged them in battle; numbers of them were killed, but none of the Californians.
The last time Miss Estudillo saw any of these savages was in 1840 while visiting at the house of Don Juan Bandini, who owned and occupied the Rancho Jurupa, in what is now Riverside County. Her aunt, Doña Dolores Estudillo, was Bandini’s first wife, and at her death left several children. He afterward married a daughter of the prefect, Don Santiago Argüello, who at the time now mentioned was mistress of the household. The house was situated at an elevation and the view from it commanded a wide range of country. One day they all noticed from the house a body of Indians in the distance who were collecting horses they had stolen from the Mission San Gabriel and the Rancho Santa Ana in that neighborhood. As Bandini had but few men with him at the time, and the Indians were in large numbers, he did not deem it prudent to attack and attempt the rescue of the animals. He therefore permitted them to move off to their retreats without any pursuit.
In 1838, at Yerba Buena, I made the acquaintance of James Berry, an Irishman of intelligence and education who had come here from Mexico or South America. He had traveled all over the world. Spear was attracted to him, and Berry stayed at his house while in Yerba Buena. He spent a good deal of his time at the mission of San Rafael with Timothy Murphy, one of his countrymen, and Father Quijas. He was a Spanish scholar and spoke Spanish perfectly. In 1839 Governor Alvarado gave him a grant of eleven leagues of land at Punta Reyes, and he stocked the rancho with horses and cattle.
The ship Alciope of Boston, Captain Clap, arrived at Yerba Buena in the summer of 1840 with an assorted cargo, from Honolulu. She had been chartered by A. B. Thompson, who disposed of her goods here and then loaded her with hides and tallow. She went down the coast exchanging the tallow for hides, with the tallow vessels bound for Callao, and proceeded to the Islands; from there to Boston.
At the Fourth of July celebration while at Yerba Buena on this trip, being the only vessel in the bay at the time, she was handsomely decorated with flags of different nations. Salutes were fired by the vessel at sunrise noon and sunset. A grand picnic was held at the Rincon, which was attended by all Americans and other foreigners of the town, by the élite of the Californians from town and country, and by the officers of the vessel. The foreigners, English, Irish, Germans and French, joined in the festivities with all the enthusiasm of the Americans, and the Californians likewise, prominent among whom was Don Francisco Guerrero, who did all in his power to make the occasion enjoyable to those participating. In the evening there was a ball at Captain Richardson’s house on the hill, which was attended by those who had joined in the picnic. Late in the evening a splendid dinner was served, and dancing continued till daylight. The whole celebration passed off in the pleasantest manner and was greatly enjoyed by all. To enable the prominent families around the bay to attend, boats and schooners were sent to different points a day or two previous to the Fourth to bring them in, and they were returned in the same way after the event.