San Francisco History

Seventy-five Years in San Francisco


Mrs. Bennett arrived in Yerba Buena from Missouri about 1842, with her husband and a large family of children. I mention her first, as she was unmistakably the head of the family—a large, powerful woman, uncultivated, but well-meaning and very industrious. Her word was law, and her husband stood in becoming awe of her. Their children were respectably brought up, the family being supported by sewing, washing, ironing; raising chickens, turkeys and ducks. I trusted her for goods frequently, not knowing, or caring much, whether they were ever paid for; but they always were. She was an honest, good woman, and while not regarded as an equal by the better-cultivated and more aristocratic ladies, she was always pleasantly received in their houses, as foreign ladies were scarce and class distinctions not rigidly observed.

The carnival festival which is celebrated with merriment and revelry in Catholic countries during the week preceding Lent was observed by the Californians. They had various little entertainments; among them, dancing parties, a supper served late in the evening being one of the agreeable features of these gatherings. The Californians made the most of all their festivals and, according to their usual habits, observed this one fully, giving themselves up to amusement during its continuance.

One of the amusements the Californians brought with them from Spain and Mexico was the custom, during the carnival season each year, of breaking upon the heads of the opposite sex eggshells filled with fine scraps of pretty-colored silver or gold paper, or with cologne water, or some harmless and agreeable substance. It was in the nature of a game or trick played upon one another, the idea being to catch the victim unawares and gently smash the egg and distribute its contents over the head. A gentleman, for instance, would call upon a lady and be pleasantly received and entertained. When his attention was attractively occupied, the fair hostess would deftly tap his head with the egg, which, breaking, would cover his head with the bright scraps of paper, or with the cologne, and a good laugh would ensue at the success of the stratagem. The gentleman, in turn, in calling upon the ladies, would go provided with these pleasant missiles and would seize opportunities to break them on the heads of the fair entertainers. This custom was observed all through the department. It has long been practiced in Spanish countries. Much maneuvering and various ingenious devices were resorted to by the ladies to catch the gentlemen off guard in order to accomplish the delicate feat. The gentlemen, at the same time, exercised all their tact and skill to get a similar advantage. When successful, and the lady’s or gentleman’s head received the contents of the egg, whatever company was present joined in the outburst of merriment. Only one egg at a time was broken, more than one being considered improper, though it was allowable to repeat the process with another shortly after, if the opportunity could be secured.

At this festival in 1841 I remember calling upon Señorita Doña Encarnación Briones, living at North Beach, who afterward became Mrs. Robert Ridley, a sprightly and pretty girl. I was provided with eight or ten of these festival eggs, hoping to break some of them upon the head of my entertainer, but notwithstanding my skillful designing and planning I entirely failed to dispose of one of them, while she, on the contrary, by her wit and cunning, got the advantage of me and broke several upon my head, throwing me off guard by her fascinations and feminine artifices. On my taking leave, feeling somewhat chagrined at my want of success, she playfully remarked, in the most graceful manner, “Usted vino a trasquilar, pero fué trasquilado.” (“You came to shear, but you have been shorn.”)

Mrs. Paty, Mrs. Larkin, Mrs. Spear, Mrs. Rae and the other ladies took delight in this amusement. Wm. D. M. Howard, who was ready for any fun, enjoyed the diversion greatly, and had great satisfaction in performing the feat of egg-breaking. The ladies, at the same time, regarded it as quite a victory when they secured the advantage of him. Henry and Francis Mellus were considered as ladies’ men and were very fond of this sport.

The captains, supercargoes and merchants here at the time regarded carnival week as a kind of visiting season, similar to our New Year’s Day. The ladies at this time were prepared for calls from the gentlemen. The festival was anticipated with pleasure. At the parties which took place egg-breaking was practiced; the contradances, waltzes and quadrilles were chiefly danced. There was a very ancient dance known as the jota, which was more particularly for the older people. As the dancing went on, all kinds of devices and schemes were contrived to break the eggs, but without interfering with the figures. The ladies at these times wore their hair unconfined and flowing gracefully over the shoulders, so that when the eggs were broken the cologne should dry quickly, or, if the eggs contained bits of gold and silver paper, the bright spangles showered upon the hair should present a pretty appearance, as it waved about them while they swept through the dance. At this time the floor became quite thickly strewn with eggshells, besides being well sprinkled with cologne water.

The season was observed with somewhat more display and pretension at Monterey and Los Angeles than elsewhere, the former being the capital, and the latter the largest town in the department. Picnic parties were attended at Point Pinos, near Monterey, the people taking with them baskets of choice eatables and enjoying the day. The ladies and gentlemen at these outdoor parties would watch for opportunities to break carnival eggs.

At the festival in 1843 the sport of egg-breaking with a party of ladies and gentlemen, in the courtyard, went beyond its legitimate bounds; those engaged finally commenced throwing water at each other, Mrs. Bennett being the leader of the feminines in the innovation. The practice of this amusement in the street, however, was entirely confined to those of the humbler position; and it happened but rarely.

The three holy days of Lent, Jueves Santo, Viernes Santo, Sábado de Gloria (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday) were rigidly observed by the Californians, the ladies dressing in black when attending church during these days. It was the practice of the Spanish vessels in the harbor to have their yards drawn nearly perpendicular alongside the masts, a custom always observed in Spanish countries. The vessels of other nationalities here at the time also fell in with the observance, out of deference to the religious views of the Californians and respect for their church. If a vessel neglected to comply, a request was made of the captain to do so by the alcalde or prefect. I have heard subprefect Guerrero request Captain Nye, of the brig Bolivar Liberator, to respect the holy days by drawing up the yards of the vessel.

The ship Alert arrived at the beginning of 1840, from Boston, in command of Captain William D. Phelps, the vessel and cargo consigned to Alfred Robinson and Henry Mellus. Captain Phelps was a Boston man, an extensive traveler and became popular on the coast. My brother Robert and myself were once invited to spend an evening on board the Alert, when Captain Phelps entertained us with an account of his travels over the world. He said that while his vessel lay in the Mediterranean Sea he conceived a great desire to visit Jerusalem—which he found means to gratify, so impressed was be with that city and its relation to the events narrated in the Scriptures. When in the sacred city, his religious emotions overcame him and he knelt and prayed several times. On this return to Boston he was impelled to join a church, and had retained his connection with it continuously since. At the same time, he was not bigoted, but entered heartily in all little festivities. He believed his visit to Jerusalem was the most valuable part of his experience and his observations there to be worth more than all he had seen in the rest of the world.

Captain Phelps was an excellent shot with the rifle, very fond of hunting deer, elk, rabbits, ducks, geese, quail and other birds, and kept his vessel in game while in port. Being an epicure, he always selected the choicest game to supply his table and that of his friends—Rae, Spear and others. Phelps, approaching the store on landing of mornings from the vessel, would meet Spear on the outside, leaning against the gate near the water, looking for the captain. The latter would call out, “Good morning, Don Natán” (foreigners having adopted the California style of addressing each other by their first names), and Spear would respond in the same cordial way. Captain Phelps had a curious peculiarity of hesitating and stammering as he commenced to talk, his right cheek quivering rapidly until he got along further in his speech and warmed up a little, when his language came fluently and the pulsation of the face ceased. He was a good observer and a man of excellent judgment, and also entitled to much credit, with others heretofore mentioned, for making California known on the Atlantic side by letters recording his observations and experiences. They were well written and calculated to make a good impression in regard to the department of California. He frequently read to us portions of the letters, and we recognized their truthfulness and his happy mode of communicating impressions of the country. He also visited Wilkes, and was handsomely entertained, and, like Paty, became a favorite of the commodore.

In speaking of those who did so much by their correspondence in the early days to make California known, I want to give credit to the ladies and gentlemen, especially Mrs. Paty among the former, from Massachusetts. The vessels which came to trade in the earliest days were almost exclusively from Boston. It was from their officers that the best information regarding the new country was communicated to the national authorities, who were thus made alive to the necessity of keeping an eye on the distant territory as having a bearing upon the growth and security of the Republic. It doubtless led to the frequent visits, and afterward almost constant presence, of United States vessels of war with unquestionably a purpose in view.


The New Englanders and other foreigners were fond of keeping up the custom of turkey shooting on Christmas Eve. A shooting match of the kind occurred on Christmas, 1841, at which were present William G. Rae, Captain Phelps, William S. Hinckley, Vioget, Nathan Spear, Henry Mellus, my brother Robert, myself and others; all taking part in the sport. Captain Phelps had left his rifle in the corner of Spear’s store on the night of shooting the turkeys. The second day, the 26th, he came ashore about breakfast time. The captain took up the rifle, confident that it was not loaded, but had been discharged when last in use. Placing a cap on the nipple, he told my brother to hold the muzzle against his (Phelps’) ear and pull the trigger, so that he might feel if any air came from the gun and thereby ascertain if it was clean. My brother obeyed. The cap exploded, but the gun was not fired. He put on another cap, and told my brother to hold his hand out straight. The captain then placed the muzzle in the center of the palm, pulled the trigger and fired. This time a ball came out, passing through Robert’s hand, through the wall separating the store from the dining room, and through the opposite wall, lodging in an adobe beyond. On taking a line between the two bullet holes in the dining room it was ascertained that if Mrs. Spear had occupied her seat at the breakfast table the bullet would have passed directly through her chest.

The chief Christmas amusements of the Californians were horse racing and cockfighting. The finest Christmas dinners I ever partook of were at their tables.

Among the early vessels which came to the coast was the ship Eagle of Boston, owned and commanded by my father, William Heath Davis. The middle name was given to him by his uncle, General Heath, one of Washington’s fighting generals of Revolutionary times. The vessel was brought by him to the Sandwich Islands about 1814, thence sailed over to the Russian settlements in Alaska, thence to California about 1816. Numerous other trips were made by my father to California, during one of which my mother accompanied him, shortly after their marriage. He also traded in his ship Eagle subsequently between the Sandwich Islands and China, taking from the Islands cargoes of sandalwood, which was plentiful and cheap there, but valuable in China and used by the Chinese in religious ceremonies in their Joss houses arid temples, and for other special purposes. It commanded a high price. Silks, teas, lacquered wares and other goods were brought from China, of which he sold a portion in the Islands, and then went across to the Russian possessions on the northwest coast of America, thence to California, to dispose of the remainder.

On trips to California he went into some of the less prominent ports. At the time he was accompanied by his wife the vessel called in at Refugio, a rancho about fifteen or twenty miles west of Santa Barbara. Many of the wealthier Californians came to this place and purchased from the vessel choice articles of merchandise, as also did the padres. The captain did not take hides and tallow in payment, but the rancheros and the priests brought with them bags of Spanish doubloons and paid for their purchases in coin, or in sea-otter skins, which were then plentiful.

The padres were the chief customers of the vessels, and spent freely from their well-filled coin bags or from their ample stores of otter skins which they had accumulated. They did what they could to stimulate and increase the hunting of the sea otters, inducing the Californians and others who were skilled in the work to go out and shoot them; frequently fitting out the boats and furnishing and paying the hunters themselves or buying the skins from men not in their employ. The otters were taken largely in the bay of San Francisco and all along the coast. The padres considered themselves the rightful owners, and were jealous of the Russians, who at that time were making immense fortunes out of the business; and so did all they could to get a portion of it into their own hands. They collected the skins for the enrichment of the missions, being desirous of making their missions wealthy and conducting them in an extensive and liberal manner—with thousands of Indians around to civilize and Christianize. They also had immense herds of cattle and horses to look after. Seeing this opportunity to add to their wealth, they eagerly availed themselves of it. The goods which they bought from the vessel were not for their personal use and enjoyment, but most of them were resold to the rancheros at a profit and so helped to swell the funds of the missions over which they presided. The good fathers had no strongboxes in those days to keep their coin and other valuables in; they concealed their treasure under the tile flooring of their rooms. The padres also received, from members of the church, money simply for safekeeping—a practice of the Catholic people which is continued to this day, showing implicit confidence in their spiritual advisers. The first iron safe in this part of the country was brought here in 1846.

While trading at this trip, my mother was much interested in observing the padres, clad in their peculiar dress, and also the rancheros, with their fine costumes and equipment. The vessel, at Refugio, was visited by Don Ygnacio Martínez, then comandante of the presidio of Santa Barbara. Learning that a strange vessel was anchored twenty miles to the west, he, in his official capacity, dressed in full military costume, accompanied by an officer and two soldiers, went off to the vessel, where he was received in the most friendly and gracious manner and entertained with sumptuous dinners. He afterward said he was overwhelmed by the kindness and entertainment he met with on board the vessel and that he could only accept half what was proffered with such grace and generosity. My mother, in describing the occurrences to me, recounted the admirable appearance of the comandante, and that she never saw so many piles of gold (Spanish doubloons) as were collected on board the vessel—the result of sales of goods to the rancheros and padres. Speaking of these events to me and asked how much my father realized from his cargo, she said, many thousands in gold, and a large number of sea-otter skins, which were taken to China, where they brought from $80 to $100 each.

Captain Martínez saw me the first time in Yerba Buena, at Spear’s store, in 1838, and, without introduction, came forward and embraced me cordially, saying, “I am sure you are the son of Don Guillermo Davis, whom I knew, and whose vessel I visited”; and expatiated upon the kind treatment he had received on board. He had recognized me by my likeness to my father.

Captain John Meek commanded and owned a part of the Don Quixote when on this coast in 1832, that vessel being then engaged in trading between here and the Sandwich Islands. Meek was among the early pioneers, having arrived in the ship Eagle, as first officer, with my father, about 1816. He made two voyages subsequently in the same position on the same vessel. He was from Marblehead, Massachusetts. He has stated to me that my father’s voyages in the Eagle were very successful; and that on each voyage he realized about $25,000 profit, in Spanish doubloons and sea-otter skins, from sales in California, aside from profits in the Russian settlements. He said that my father’s vessel was among the first that came from Boston to trade here (perhaps the very first), which gave him a great advantage, as he had no rivalry or competition; and besides he spoke Spanish fluently. Probably his success, when it became known in Boston, on his return from China with a cargo of China goods, stimulated others to engage in the trade and brought other vessels here.

Captain Meek discoursed to me upon the fine appearance of the California men and the beauty of the women. He remembered Don Ygnacio Martínez and his visit to the Eagle when stopping at Refugio, as before described. In one of his first voyages here in the Don Quixote he received a present from Martínez, who was then comandante of the presidio at San Francisco, of three heifers and a young bull, in recognition of the kindness of my father and Captain Meek to him during his visits to the Eagle. On his return to the Islands, Captain Meek carried these animals with him.

In 1871 I visited Honolulu and called on the captain, and the history of these cattle was recounted, he having then between four and five thousand head on his “Big Tree Rancho,” about thirty miles from Honolulu. He had been supplying that city and the foreign men-of-war, and other vessels, for many years with beef cattle—all from the increase of the little band presented to him by Martínez. In later years the stock had been improved by the introduction of blooded bulls from England and the United States. At the time of receiving the cattle from Martínez, the captain presented to his daughter, then Mrs. Estudillo, a China camphorwood trunk covered with black leather with the captain’s initials (J. M.) upon it, which were also the initials of the recipient’s maiden name—Juana Martínez. This señora during the last years of her life devoted much of her time at her daughter’s home. She was a woman of fine mind and had a very retentive memory. I have enjoyed her narrations of olden times for hours after dinner, over the linen cloth and crumbs, a custom among the best people.

During this visit I saw a California horse from Santa Barbara, thirty-three years old, which had been in color a dark iron-gray but was then nearly milk-white from his great age. He was perfectly sound, and Captain Meek drove him nearly every day round the city. He was about sixteen hands high. With the exception of a slight rheumatism in his hind legs, the horse had remained well during the many years of the captain’s ownership.

About 1833 Don Antonio José Cot, a Spanish merchant of the department, chartered and loaded the Don Quixote with tallow, for Callao, Peru. She there took aboard an assorted cargo, and proceeded thence to Honolulu, where she landed a portion of it, and came to this coast with the remainder. On this trip from Callao to the Islands she averaged two hundred miles a day for nearly the whole distance, the quickest passage known at that time. I doubt whether any sailing vessel has beaten it since. She was a very fast sailer, noted for speedy voyages. Once she went from Boston to Smyrna, on the Mediterranean Sea, and back to Boston, at a speed averaging nine knots an hour both ways. In the spring of 1846 she made the run from Honolulu to Monterey in ten days.

When Mrs. Estudillo’s father returned from his visit to the Eagle at the Refugio, bringing with him the fine presents he had received, and the purchases he had made—silks, satins, crape shawls, fancy silk handkerchiefs, satin shoes, sewing silk of all colors, and other elegant finery of various kinds, with beautiful articles of lacquered ware, she and the family were quite overcome with astonishment and delight, for they had never seen anything so rich and beautiful.

Refugio was the rancho of the Ortega family. The Eagle arriving there the first time, my father was very watchful and cautious, as it was a strange coast and he didn’t know how he would be received. On his visits to the Russian settlements, at the north, he had obtained such information as he could in regard to California, the missions, etc. His purpose in coming here was to secure as many sea-otter skins as possible and to enter into communication with the padres. He therefore went as near to Santa Barbara and the other missions in that part of the country as he thought prudent, and anchored off the rancho of Ortega. Noticing that some of the people had come down to the beach to investigate, he questioned if it would be safe to go ashore, not knowing but he and his crew might be made prisoners. The strangers appearing harmless and quiet, he and his second officer ventured off from the ship in a boat, and, introducing himself in Spanish, he was courteously received.

Asked what the vessel was doing there, my father replied that he would like some beef for the ship’s use. He engaged in conversation with the Californians in their own language and invited Señor Ortega on board the ship. The invitation was accepted and he was entertained on board. On leaving the vessel he was presented with a number of choice and elegant articles from the cargo, which not only pleased him but had an excellent effect upon the Californians in leading them to favorably regard their visitors. Information of the vessel’s arrival was communicated to Santa Barbara, which resulted in the comandante’s coming up, as before described.

The presents he received increased the good opinion of the inhabitants for the newcomers, and no difficulty whatever was encountered after such happy beginning of the acquaintance.

In the three voyages of the Eagle to this coast, stopping at Refugio each time my father collected, in payment for goods sold, beside the money received, about fifteen hundred sea-otter skins, allowing in barter thirty dollars for each.


The padres had stores at the missions to supply the wants of the Indians as well as the Californians in the employ of the missions. Their stock was necessarily large. They also supplied the rancheros with goods, taking in payment hides, tallow, fur and cattle. They also traded with the fur hunters, and gave, in exchange for skins, goods and also gold and silver coin. The fathers were first-class merchants. When they made purchases from vessels trading on the coast, they exhibited good judgment in their selections and were close buyers. The Volunteer, in 1833, sold to the missions bordering on the bay considerable quantities of goods, for cash. I remember that our supercargo, Sherman Peck, spoke of the missionaries as shrewd purchasers and strictly reliable men. It was a pleasure to deal with them. The padres bought goods cheaper than the rancheros; their purchases being always larger, a reduction was made in prices, as a matter of policy, and to encourage good relations already existing.

One mission would assist another with hides and tallow, or with fur, skins or money, in payment for goods which it had purchased. The priest sometimes gave an order on another mission, in favor of the supercargo, to furnish what was required. While my father was trading at the Refugio, the vessel had to wait several days for payment for a portion of the goods sold to the mission of Santa Barbara. Having paid over such gold and otter skins as it had on hand, this mission sent out to the mission of San Buenventura at the east, and Santa Ynez on the west, for a further supply of skins and coin to pay for the balance of the goods. These numerous missions were in reality one institution, with a common interest. The advancement of one was the general good and welfare of all. The goods purchased by one mission were sometimes sent to others. partly for use and in part for sale, as the range of distribution was thus widened. When one mission had furnished another with money, or fur skins, or hides, or tallow, to assist it in paying for a large purchase, although there was no obligation to return the same, yet the fathers were proud men and it was their custom to return what they had borrowed, when they were able to do so from their new accumulations. While their interests were one, there was at the same time a friendly ambition on the part of each to conduct his mission successfully and not be outdone by any other mission.

The padres were the original pioneers of California, beyond all others. They have left behind them, as mementos of their zeal and industry in the work in which they were engaged, the missions they built and conducted, besides other evidences, less tangible, of their influence for the welfare of the people of California and the whole world.

It is a curious fact that many of the men prominent in otter and beaver hunting in the early days of California were from the Southern or slave states of the Union. Isaac J. Sparks, of Santa Barbara, who died some years ago, was from Maine. George Nidever, who lived at Santa Barbara, was from Tennessee. Lewis T. Burton, of Santa Barbara, who died in May, 1870, was a native of Tennessee, and arrived in Santa Barbara in 1833 or before, and followed the occupation of otter hunting until it was no longer profitable. Samuel J. Hensley, of San Francisco and San Jose, who at one time was president of the California Steam Navigation Company, and who died some years since, was from a Southern state, Kentucky, as was also Isaac Graham. Daniel Sill was a native of Connecticut. P. B. Reading, who was the Whig candidate for governor of California against John Bigler in 1851, was a native of New Jersey.

All of those named followed the profession of trapping beavers and land otters on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and tributaries. These men were experts in the pursuit of fur-producing animals and were the earliest trappers of Anglo-Saxon extraction. They made a good deal of money, beavers and otters being numerous at that time. Sparks and Nidever also hunted otter off Santa Barbara.

Among the early otter hunters in California was George Yount, who came from Missouri, probably about 1831 or ‘32, and settled in Napa Valley. Tim Black came from Scotland about the same time and lived at San Rafael. Timothy Murphy also resided at San Rafael. Francis Branch, who arrived in Santa Barbara in 1833, and afterward removed to San Luis Obispo, where he owned a large ranch, was a native of one of the New England states.

The priests had instructed some of the mission Indians before the arrival of the early foreigners, in the work of trapping otters. The missions in the neighborhood of the bay of San Francisco secured large quantities of furs from the Indian trappers.

During my business intercourse with Father Muro, in charge of Mission San Jose, I received from him in the year 1844 several thousand dollars’ worth of beaver and land-otter skins which had been collected by his Indians on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. On my visiting the Mission Dolores in 1833 with Mr. Peck, supercargo, and Captain Shaw, of the bark Volunteer, we went into the “otter room,” so-called, a large apartment in the upper story or attic of the building. From the rafters and additional light timbers which had been placed across the room were hung the otter skins which the mission had collected and had on hand at that time, there being probably eighty to one hundred ready for sale or exchange in trade. We got them all.

Otter skins were preserved, on board vessels taking them to China, in empty rum casks, which were dry and clean but still retained the odor of rum. The furs were packed, with heads put in the casks, and they were thus secure against moths and other insects and not exposed to dampness. All the vessels adopted this mode, which proved to be an excellent one.

The exportation of sea-otter skins and river furs was very large. Besides those exported by the Russians, the Boston ships took a great many home with them, as did also vessels to other ports.

As the hunting increased, the animals diminished and the exportations became less; but as late as 1840 and along to 1844 Henry Mellus made shipments of sea-otter, land-otter and beaver skins amounting to $15,000 or $20,000 each. Land otters and beavers were then not so scarce as sea otters.

Among the Californians it was a custom to call all persons, of either sex, by a Christian name, the younger people especially being so addressed. The older persons, if men, had the prefix of “Don” or “Señor Don” given to their Christian names and were rarely known by their surnames. The ladies were addressed with the prefix of “Doña” or “Señorita Doña” to Christian names, if unmarried, and “Señora Doña,” if married.

Shortly after arriving at Monterey in the bark Louisa, in 1831, I was playing about the deck one day with Louis Vignes, he having come from Honolulu in the same vessel. The main hatch being uncovered for the discharge of the cargo, in running round the opening I slipped, lost my balance and fell into the hold. Taken up insensible, I remained so for some hours, having broken my arm. Our consul at Honolulu, Mr. J. C. Jones, was a stepfather of mine. He came over on the same trip and was on shore. Word having been sent to him, he brought aboard Dr. Douglas, who set my arm carefully and treated me very kindly. This doctor was a Scotchman, of learning and extensive scientific acquirements, a naturalist who also gave attention to botany and was a collector of rare and curious specimens from the animal and vegetable kingdoms. He had traveled all about the world; had come recently from South America and was making the tour of California. He was a grand, good man.

At Monterey the doctor was the guest of David Spence, his countryman. Having visited the various missions and made the acquaintance of the padres, for whom he had great respect and attachment, he spoke of their learning and of the great good being done by them in this wild and unsettled territory, and commended their missionary work—with the limited means at command— not only in Christianizing and educating the Indians in schools and churches, but in teaching various useful trades.

Dr. Douglas, being brave and fearless, usually traveled on foot through the country and refused the services of guides or vaqueros whom the good fathers or rancheros would urge him to take with him. Two or three years after the accident, the doctor visited the Sandwich Islands for the purpose of pursuing his researches and traveled over the island of Hawaii unattended, engaged in procuring specimens. Here he became widely known and much esteemed. At that time large numbers of wild cattle ranged in the mountains of the island, portions of different bands that had strayed away. The younger cattle, from long neglect, had become uncontrollable, and roamed without restraint of any kind, no one claiming ownership in them. They were hunted by foreigners and natives, and trapped in pits five or six feet deep, dug along the mountainsides and covered lightly with branches of trees and brush. The cattle, in ranging, fell into these holes, and being unable to extricate themselves, hunters could easily dispatch them. If the meat was fit for food a portion of it would be saved, but the main object of the slaughter was the securing of hides and tallow.

Pursuing his favorite occupation for some time on the island, Dr. Douglas, disappearing suddenly, began to be inquired about by many. The British consul projected a search, assisted by the king, the American consul and other foreigners resident at Honolulu. Rewards were offered, and the governor of the island sent out to look for the doctor. After diligent search his body was discovered in one of the cattle pits, having evidently been there several days. A live bull was found in the hole with him. His faithful dog, who had accompanied him in all his travels, was found watching at the edge of the pit. It is supposed that the doctor approached too near the edge to look at the animal imprisoned there, and, slipping in accidentally, was killed by the bull.

I have before spoken in terms of commendation concerning the chastity existing with California women. So great was the horror of the older Californians to any exception in this respect that the guilty parties, when discovered, were dealt with severely. The man who offended was imprisoned for two or three years and put to hard work as a prisoner. The woman was disgraced by cutting off her hair close to the head. In San Diego, a man named Lavaleta had seduced a young girl. He was imprisoned; but the comandante of the presidio had compassion upon the woman and prevented her hair being cut. Taken into his family, she was kindly treated. She afterward married a respectable man and lived the life of a good woman.

I remember another case in San Diego where the parents of the young woman were very severe. Her hair was cut off close to her head, and she was placed in jail, and also put to work to sweep the streets of the town with the other prisoners. This punishment was so harsh, and seemed so cruel, that it made a deep impression on the señoras of the presidio and enlisted their warmest sympathy for the poor girl. The Estudillo señoras interceded with the authority in placing her in a family. She married well, made a good wife, and became the mother of numerous children. This occurred in 1839 and 1840.

The Indians of California used artfully constructed traps for bears. They dug a large hole, about five or six feet deep, directly under the branch of a tree, covered it with brush and a light coating of earth, and made all smooth on top. From the branch would be suspended a quarter of beef. Bruin would scent the meat and, approaching without suspicion, would fall headlong into the pit. Shooting with bow and arrows, the Indian, having come out of his place of concealment, would presently kill the bear. After he had acquired the use of firearms there was no delay in thus dispatching the animal. In 1840 and subsequent years, numbers of bears were trapped in the vicinity of San Leandro, about a mile and a half from the present town. The young men of a family, accompanied by an Indian servant, would go out and secure a bear, having great enjoyment in the sport.

Doña Luisa Avila de Garfias, a California lady, born in the city of Los Angeles, a relative of two noted families there of great wealth, and married to a citizen of Mexico, was attractive for her remarkably fine personal appearance and superior conversational powers. On Christmas, 1880, she was visiting in San Diego, and I was interested in her account of her life in the city of Mexico, where she had lived for a number of years. Although fifty-six years of age she had not a gray hair in her head, as was proven by loosening her hair and having the ladies present at the dinner party make an examination of the luxuriant tresses. Her teeth were very fine. The lady related that when Juárez was elected President of the Mexican Republic, Miramón, with his forces, opposed him, and designed effecting his capture so as to prevent him taking the office. Doña Luisa, having large estates in Los Angeles County, plenty of resources and ready money (as had also her husband), proposed to Juárez to furnish him with means, horses, escort, funds—everything needed, for him and his family to make a safe retreat to the mountains, where he could remain until such time as his friends should organize a sufficient force to defeat Miramón and his schemes, after which he could safely take the position of President of the Republic. Juárez accepted her proposal, and she actually carried the plans into effect with entire success. Juárez followed the advice to fly to the mountains, receiving from time to time intelligence of what was going on in the city. When it was prudent to return he did so, and took his seat as President, the designs of Miramón having been frustrated by the diplomacy, skill, generosity and energy of this magnanimous lady. Subsequently, during the administration of Juárez, her friendly services in his behalf were duly recognized, and appreciation accorded from Mrs. Juárez also. Garfias, the husband, distinguished himself in the engagement of the Californians against Commodore Stockton at San Gabriel, in the winter of 1846-47, having then a command in the native forces. In that fight he behaved bravely. Subsequently he acted as United States consul at Tepic.

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

Return to San Francisco Genealogy
Public Commons License