San Francisco History

Seventy-five Years in San Francisco


The Leidesdorff estate, when Howard took charge of it, was in debt $60,000. In its management and settlement he showed his business ability. It embraced a great deal of property. Everything was arranged by Howard in the most satisfactory manner. C. V. Gillespie was his managing assistant in this business. J.  L. Folsom, quartermaster, U. S. Army, in San Francisco, noticing the rapid rise in real estate, consequent upon the discovery of gold and the rush of people to California, and knowing that the Leidesdorff property would rapidly become valuable, slipped away from the city and proceeded to the island of St. Croix, one of the West Indies, where Leidesdorff was born, and where his mother Ann Maria Spark, and her family, were living. His father was a Dane who had emigrated to St. Croix.

Folsom bought of the heirs the entire estate in California, paying therefor the sum of $75,000 cash, and afterwards $15,000 or $20,000 more. On returning, after having secured the deed, the property was turned over to him, it being then worth several hundred thousand dollars.

I was elected to the ayuntamiento of San Francisco in 1848 and also in 1849. My friend Howard, having conceived the idea that I would like to be a member, insisted upon my taking the nomination, which I accordingly did. While a member of the council, I had the honor of suggesting the name of a street in San Francisco after its first citizen, William D. M. Howard, which suggestion was adopted.

He organized in the year 1849 the first military company in San Francisco, under the name of California Guard, composed of one hundred members, of whom I was one. He made a good commanding officer and drilled the company efficiently, taking much pleasure and pride in this work, having acquired in the East in his younger days considerable military skill. Without ambition for political office or civil position of any kind—although, with his talents and popularity, he might easily have attained any position in the department,—his aspirations were of a military character and his tastes were in that direction. At the same time he was a persistent and honest worker for his friends. If he thought that a certain man should fill a certain position in civil affairs, he would set the forces in motion to that end, electioneer for him, and by his efforts carry him through successfully.

Having a fine ear for music and great appreciation of it, Howard had also a taste for theatricals and was a good amateur actor. He happened to be at Santa Barbara with the Vandalia in 1845, while the ship Admittance was there. John C. Jones was going as passenger to Boston and had secured a cabin for his accommodation. Jones was considered a good actor of Shakespearean characters, and while the vessels were at Santa Barbara he and Howard got up a performance (in which both personated characters) for a large company assembled. It was very successful, affording a good deal of entertainment to themselves and the audience, being the first introduction of Shakespeare to this wild country.

Just after my marriage, in November, 1847, Howard serenaded us on two occasions with a band of music, at our house in Yerba Buena. When the band had played a number of airs on the piazza, we got up and dressed, opened the doors, and invited Howard and the musicians in. Mr. and Mrs. Estudillo being also with us, we had quite a party. Champagne was freely opened, and a few pleasant hours were enjoyed.

Mellus, having had an attack of apoplexy in 1850 which impaired his health, soon after sold out his share in the business to Howard and Green, receiving therefor $150,000 here, and also one-half of $40,000 which he and Howard had on deposit in Boston. After his withdrawal he retired to private life in that city. His brother Frank afterward went into the concern, but shortly withdrew.

Sometime in 1850 Talbot H. Green was recognized by H. P. Hepburn, a lawyer from Philadelphia, who had known him at the East, as Paul Geddes, a defaulting bank clerk, who left a wife and children there. Hepburn was walking in Montgomery Street with a number of gentlemen, among them Ferdinand Vassault, and, looking across the street, exclaimed, “Why, there’s Paul Geddes!” “That’s Talbot H. Green,” said one. “No,” responded Hepburn, “it is Paul Geddes; I know him as well as I do myself.” The circumstances under which he had suddenly left the East soon became known throughout the city, and the discovery created quite a sensation, as Green at the time was a candidate for the office of mayor of San Francisco. Howard had put him forward for that position.

Green stoutly denied that he was Paul Geddes and contradicted all the accusations, affirming that he was Talbot H. Green and always had been. To prove the truth of his statement, he offered to go East and obtain evidence to satisfy anybody interested of that fact. Vassault was called on by Howard and asked if it was correct, as reported, that Hepburn had made the disclosure about Green, in Vassault’s presence. The latter confirmed the report, and the former appeared much surprised and excited. Green soon left for the East and did not return for a number of years. Howard continued the business by himself.

The great fire of 1851, which destroyed the business portion of San Francisco and in fact almost the whole city, leaving a little rim on the outside like the tire of a wheel—the wheel itself being gone,—burned out Howard, who at the time had a large stock of goods, and also his buildings in different parts of the town. He became so crippled in consequence that he was on the verge of bankruptcy.

The town was rebuilt, however, and in 1853 real estate had increased so much in value that he had not only recovered his losses by the fire, but had become a rich man. He visited Boston in that year. The fact of the resuscitation of San Francisco and the great increase in the value of property there were of course well known at the East. When Howard reached Boston he was looked on as a millionaire. This excited the jealousy of Mellus, who, although wealthy himself, was not satisfied, and he instituted a suit against Howard, employing the famous Rufus Choate as his counsel, his complaint being that he was not in his right mind at the time of his settlement with Howard in 1850 and that he had not received the full value of his share of the partnership property at that time. The suit was, however, abandoned, as Howard could prove unquestionably that Mellus was sufficiently sane to know what he was about and had sold his interest with full knowledge of its value. Besides, at the time of settlement, the friends of Mellus, his brothers and others, were consulted; they were aware that in the transaction there was no deception on the part of the purchaser.

After his return from Boston, in 1854, he was so enraged at Mellus’ unfriendly action in commencing suit that he caused the name of the street which had been called after him to be changed to “Natoma,” which name it still bears.

Howard was the leader and one of the most active organizers in the establishment of the California Pioneer Society in 1850, and due credit should be given him for these efforts. He was the first president of the society, and remained as such till 1853. At the Pioneer Hall was a portrait of him, but I regret it was not a very correct likeness; a better one is in the possession of his son William H. Howard.

I never knew Howard to decline granting a favor or refuse to contribute to a charitable enterprise. In any scheme of the kind he was always one of the first to act, not from ostentation or a desire for display, but from real philanthropy and generosity. Among other things, I remember his subscribing $300 to build the first Catholic church, on Vallejo Street, in the fall of 1848, for which I made some collections at the request of Judge (afterward Governor) Burnett, and I was a treasurer of the fund.

In 1850 or 1951 Mellus and Howard purchased in Boston a first-class fire engine, one of such machines as were in use in those days, worked by hand, selected by Mellus while he was East on a visit, the firm paying for it, and the freight also, from their private funds. On its arrival in 1851 they presented it to the city of San Francisco, this being among the first, if not the very first, of the engines which the city possessed. It was named the “Howard.”

A fire company was organized, of which Howard was made foreman. Charles R. Bond was secretary; Ferdinand Vassault, William Burling, A. S. Dungan, G. B. Post. R. S. Watson, Charles Warner, R. L. Ogden, Thomas J. Haynes and other well-known gentlemen—all merchants, the first citizens of San Francisco—were original members; also Beverly C. Sanders, banker, and collector of the port; Sam Brannan and George H. Howard, capitalists. In fact, all the members of this company were men of wealth and high standing, none others being admitted. At the organization of the company and the election of officers there was a jolly time. One of the participants once remarked to me that the champagne was unlimited. There were about forty members, and they had their headquarters in an iron building, imported from England, situated on the west side of Montgomery Street a little south of California, where the engine was kept. On occasions of fires, Howard, as foreman, and the other members of the company, appeared in their firemen’s caps and uniforms and worked the engine—aided by volunteers from the outside, when necessary.

The subject of this sketch may be regarded as one of the founders of San Francisco. His enterprise, energy and wealth helped build it up and stimulated its prosperity. He had its interests always at heart, and where he could be of service in anything tending to its growth and advancement he was foremost.

In personal appearance, he can be described as an ideal nobleman, six feet in height, erect, of commanding figure, with sandy beard (generally clean-shaven), full, ruddy cheeks, laughing eyes, and soft and musical voice. His weight was about 250 pounds.

During his visit to Boston in 1853 Howard contracted a severe cold which settled on his lungs. After his return here in 1854 he commenced to pine away. He gradually grew worse, until he became hardly more than a skeleton of his former self, having lost perhaps half his weight. He was then living at the Oriental Hotel, Bush and Battery streets, with his family.

Larkin went up to the hotel one day to see him. He looked about the parlor, passing a man sitting there, and was continuing his search when the man in the chair called out, “For God’s sake, Larkin, why don’t you speak to me?”—and, to his astonishment, he perceived that it was Howard, so changed that he hardly knew him. His death was much lamented, laudatory obituary notices appearing in the Alta and Herald. The columns of the latter were dressed in mourning as a token of respect. After the death of Howard I was invited by letter to be one of the pallbearers, but could not serve, as I was absent from home in Alameda County.

Howard left a fine estate, which was divided between his widow and son. His widow afterward married his brother George, and after the latter’s death she married her present husband, Mr. Bowie.


After the change of flag, the laws of Mexico (civil and criminal) were continued as the predominating laws of the department, but the United States military commander of the territory was at the head. If a doubt arose concerning any alleged illegal exercise of authority by an alcalde (who was an elective officer) or by prefects (who were appointed by the governor), the dispute could be referred to the military governor, and his decision thereon might be final; he had power, for cause, to remove the alcalde from office; but I know of no instance of the arbitrary exercise of this power.

Pío Pico was the last of the governors under the Mexican regime, holding office from January, 1845, to the time of hoisting the American flag at Monterey, July 7,1846.

Commodore J. D. Sloat, of the U. S. Navy, was the first military commander under our flag. He was succeeded by Commodore R. F. Stockton in July, 1846. Colonel Frémont was the military governor during a part of 1847. The latter was succeeded by General Kearny, and he, by Colonel Mason. The last of the military governors was General Riley, during whose administration the first constitution of the state was formed at Monterey in 1849. It was ratified at the general election, November 13, 1849, the population at that time being about 120,000, of whom 80,000 (estimated) were American, 20,000 foreigners, and 20,000 native Californians.

Peter H. Burnett was elected governor at that election, under the constitution. On the 20th of December, 1849 (before the admission of the state into the Union, September, 1850), he entered upon the discharge of his duties at the capital, the pueblo of San Jose. Before the expiration of his term of office he resigned the governorship, and John McDougal, the lieutenant-governor, served out the remainder of the term, a little less than a year. Governor McDougal was jolly and open-hearted, but his habits were against him, and occasionally he would imbibe too much.

The next election took place in the fall of 1851, John Bigler being elected governor of the state for the term of two years from January 1, 1852. His majority was 441 votes over P. B. Reading, the Whig candidate, the whole vote being about 50,000.

In 1849, Central Wharf was built in San Francisco, so named from Central Wharf of Boston. It was located where Commercial Street is now, commencing a little to the west of Sansome Street and running four hundred feet into the bay. Howard was one of the most active movers in this enterprise and owned a large amount of the stock. The wharf proved to be useful and was a valuable piece of property, bringing in a large income. At the public sale of tidelands by Alcalde Hyde, in October, 1847, Mellus and Howard bought the block bounded by Clay, Sacramento, Sansome and Battery streets, and they gave the company a slip of land about thirty-five feet wide for the building of the wharf. Its construction and use enhanced the value of the remainder of the block and increased the wealth of the firm.

Afterward, in 1849, the alcalde, with the approval of the ayuntamiento, granted to the Central Wharf Company a block of tideland east of this block, and the wharf was extended to Front Street the same width as the portion before built. In 1850 Colonel J. D. Stevenson and Dr. W. C. Parker secured the title to the block in front of that just mentioned, bounded by Front, Clay, Davis and Sacramento streets, and they granted to the Central Wharf Company, for a consideration, a strip the width of the wharf for a further extension, which was made as far as where Davis Street now is. After that the city gave the company the right of way as far as Drumm Street, and the wharf was built to that point.

The first section of wharf, extending to Battery Street, cost $110,000, and from Battery to Drumm $200,000. On the organization of the wharf company, C. V. Gillespie was elected president and I was chosen treasurer. At the first meeting after the organization I reported having collected $23,000 from the stockholders. The stock was paid for as soon as subscribed. At the second meeting I reported that the subscriptions had all been paid in, amounting to $200,000. I then relinquished my position as treasurer, having more business on hand of my own than I could find time to attend to. I had accepted the position at first solely to oblige Howard.

From the time of the building of the first portion, the wharf became an important feature of the city, and in the winter of 1849-50 it presented a scene of bustle and activity, day after day, such as, I presume, hardly has been equalled elsewhere in the world at any time. An immense fleet of vessels from all parts of the globe, numbering eight or nine hundred, were anchored in the bay east of the city between Clark’s Point (now about Broadway) and the Rincon (now about Harrison Street), presenting a very striking picture—like an immense forest stripped of its foliage. Central Wharf was the thoroughfare for communication with the vessels, and was crowded from morning till night with drays and wagons coming and going. Sailors, miners, and others of all nationalities, speaking a great variety of tongues, moved busily about; steamers were arriving and departing, schooners were taking in merchandise for the mines, boats were crowding in here and there—the whole resembling a great beehive, where at first glance everything appeared to be noise, confusion and disorder.

The city of San Francisco of 1905, with its extensive commerce and 400,000 people, presents no such grand spectacle of enterprise and activity as was centered at that pier in its infancy. The wharf at that time was a prominent feature of the view from the hill residences west. On leaving my home at Stockton and Jackson streets for the store on a fine morning, looking down, the sight was panoramic in the extreme—the living mass of human beings moving to and fro seeming in the distance not unlike an army in battle on the edge of a forest, represented by the wilderness of masts of vessels majestically riding at their moorings, gathered from all parts of the known world. The scene was one of the most memorable within my recollection.

Visiting the missions of Carmel, Santa Barbara and San Diego in 1831, I was impressed with the neatness and order about them, and the respectable appearance of the Indians. The men dressed in white shirts and blue drill or cotton pants; many of them with shoes, which were manufactured at the missions, from bullock hides, deer and elk skins, dressed and tanned there. The government of the Indians was systematic and well designed. A few of the Indians, in whom the padres had confidence, were selected to act as alcaldes or capitanes, each over a certain number, for whose good conduct he was held in some degree responsible. If any offense against the regulations of the mission was committed, the case was reported to the padre, who determined what punishment should be inflicted on the culprit. The good impression was confirmed by a visit to the Mission Dolores in 1833, where were gathered from two thousand to twenty-five hundred Indians, the order and discipline among them being so apparent and perfect as to excite the admiration of the beholder. It seemed like a military camp.

Captain Shaw, of the Volunteer, was a severe disciplinarian, and his vessel was as neat in every respect as a man-of-war; he also remarked upon the neatness and good order of the people, and everything connected with the mission, saying the system could not be surpassed on a war vessel. There were no ragged children or vulgar-looking women. In visiting other missions during that year I noticed a similar condition; good order and cleanliness prevailed. I made the same observations at the mission of San Jose in 1838, where two or three thousand Indians were collected—all having an appearance of neatness, and all being under good discipline. At that time the mission of Santa Clara was falling into decay, owing to the loss of some of its lands, and it was made a center for military operations.

At the mission of San Jose in 1839 I saw an Indian whipped on the bare back for some offense he had committed, this being one of their punishments. The mission was not then under the charge of Father González, but of Don José Jesús Vallejo. In a year or two the control was again given to the padre, and Don José withdrew. This was the richest mission in the department at that time.

Among the Indians who were educated at the missions, two became prominent—Stanislaus at the mission of San Jose, after whom Stanislaus River and County were named; and Yoscolo, at the mission of Santa Clara. They were educated by the fathers. Both showed ability and promise in their youth. Yoscolo when twenty-one years of age was made the chief of the whole body of Indians at the mission, responsible, of course, to the padres for the management of them. In this position he displayed tact in the control of the Indians.

At one time some of them committed trespasses which displeased the padres and they proposed punishing Yoscolo, who refused to submit to it. At this stage he was joined by five hundred of the Indians over whom he had command, and they all assumed a hostile attitude. The Indians were armed with bows and arrows, having been allowed to retain these weapons, as it was considered there was no danger in their doing so, and they were needed in killing game. The outbreak occurred in the night. The five hundred, led by Yoscolo, broke open the mission stores and helped themselves to blankets and whatever articles they could easily carry away.

A small guard was usually placed at each mission by the governor, consisting of ten or fifteen soldiers from the troops of the nearest presidio, under the charge of a corporal or sergeant. At the mission of Santa Clara there was a guard of this kind, under the command of Juan Prado Mesa; but against so large a force it would have been powerless.

After breaking into the stores and helping themselves, they entered the convent attached to the mission and seized about two hundred young Indian girls whom they took away with them.

It is probable that the sole object of the émeute was to secure possession of the girls and that Yoscolo had planned for some time to effect this purpose; that the offense for which he had incurred the displeasure of the fathers and rendered himself amenable to punishment was committed as a pretext for the outbreak; that his five hundred followers had all been fully instructed beforehand as to the performance; and that the weapons had also been secured, and everything prearranged. Yoscolo was a young man of talent and bravery, as afterward was shown, and capable of conducting an intrigue of this kind. Besides the plunder from the stores, and the two hundred girls, about two thousand head of horses belonging to the mission of Santa Clara and also some owned by the citizens of the pueblo of San Jose. were taken by the Indians. As they went on south they gathered in the stock of others. They made good their retreat and reached the Mariposa Mountains without opposition.

An instance is not known of Indians doing harm to any of the padres, so great was the respect in which the fathers were held.

Stanislaus had sometime previous left the mission of San Jose and taken command of numerous tribes at Mariposa, numbering about 4,000. He, also, was well educated, brave and talented, but preferred the freedom of wild life and the exercise of authority over the tribes to the tame civilization of the missions. Yoscolo sought Stanislaus, cultivated his friendship, and the two joined forces, the former becoming the leader.

These events occurred in May, 1831. The government took steps immediately to pursue and chastise the offenders. General Vallejo collected a force from the different presidios and called also for volunteers. In two or three weeks he had organized a body of two hundred men, armed and equipped, for the pursuit.

The Indians were encamped on the Stanislaus River to the number of several thousand, men, women and children, for fishing and general enjoyment. The Californians reached the camp and prepared to attack it. As soon as the presence of the troops was known, the enemy formed an ingenious plan to evade them. A large number of bundles of grass were set afloat down the stream, and as the current took them past General Vallejo’s camp, in the indistinct light of the moon the soldiers mistook them for Indians and supposed that their wily foes were getting away in a body; whereupon, the entire force set out in pursuit of the supposed aborigines, who, after being followed some distance down the stream, were discovered actually to be men of straw. Meanwhile, the real Indians had taken up their march to the interior where they were safe from all pursuit, as no white man would follow them into those wellnigh inaccessible retreats.

Some time after, Yoscolo, with about two hundred picked men, made an attack in the night upon the mission of Santa Clara for the purpose of plunder. Breaking into the stores, they helped themselves to whatever they chose to carry off, making good their escape. They took up their position at a pass in the Santa Cruz Mountains known as “La Cuesta de los Gatos,” which name was given from the circumstance that wildcats in great numbers were about there in former times. Here Yoscolo relied upon his ability to hold out against any attack of the Californians.

This new outrage on the part of these Indians aroused the military spirit of the Californians anew. Juan Prado Mesa gathered a hundred men in a few days, with whom he marched against the enemy, taking with him also a piece of artillery.

Mesa was a great Indian fighter. He knew his enemies, and did not underestimate their cunning and ability; yet, at the same time, he had no fear of them. Yoscolo, seeing him approach, came out from his retreat and with his force went part way down the mountain to meet him. A desperate encounter ensued in which both sides showed great intrepidity. The Indian leader marshaled his forces in the form of a square, in true military style, and ordered his men to lie down and discharge the arrows from a recumbent position, in which there would be less risk of being hit by the bullets of their opponents, who were armed with old-fashioned muskets, carbines and flintlock pistols. T he battle raged all day, the savages showing great stubbornness in continuing it. Only when their arrows had all been discharged did they finally yield to the Californians. Their leader, when taken, was found to be wounded. He and the more prominent of the band under him were immediately beheaded. The remainder were turned over to the mission of Santa Clara to be civilized and Christianized anew. About one hundred Indians were killed and wounded in this battle. Of the Californians only eight or ten were killed, but a large number were wounded. Among the killed were two brothers Cibrián, of a well-known family of the pueblo of San Jose.

Yoscolo’s head was affixed by the hair to the top of a pole planted in front of the church at Santa Clara, and remained there for several days as a warning to other Indians.


Stanislaus, with a force of about eighty Indians, came down from the mountains in May, 1840, to the rancho of Guillermo Castro at San Lorenzo, and to the rancho of the Peraltas at San Antonio (East Oakland), and captured several hundred head of horses. A day or two after, Castro, with seventeen men, went in pursuit. A fight took place on the banks of the San Joaquin River. Stanislaus formed his men in military order and directed them to lie down and not to discharge the arrows at random, but to make sure of a white man each time. The battle lasted about three hours, during which two of the bravest of the fighters, the Romero brothers, were wounded. One of them could not help expressing admiration for the bravery of Stanislaus, as he noticed his conduct during the fight, and he informed Castro, who was in command, that it would be impossible to win, as the Indians were in superior force and were well supplied with arrows. The Californians then withdrew, with their recovered horses. The loss of the enemy could not be definitely ascertained, but it was considerable in killed and wounded.

In the summer of 1841 the Indians of the Clear Lake region committed some depredations, and troops to the number of fifty or sixty were sent out under command of Captain Salvador Vallejo to vanquish them. Reaching the Indians, he found them in their temescales, and as they emerged from the steaming huts, one or two at a time, they were barbarously shot or cut down, until about a hundred and fifty men, women and children had been slaughtered. When the news of the massacre reached Yerba Buena the people were horrified. I remember that Spear spoke of it as nothing but butchery for which there was no justification, and the officers of Wilkes’ expedition regarded it in the same light. No doubt the Indians deserved some chastisement for the offenses, or at least their leaders did, but no such punishment as was inflicted.

Solano, after whom Solano County was called, was a noted chief. He exercised great influence over the tribes and had the confidence and respect of General Vallejo, who conferred with him and communicated to him his wishes and views. He assisted the general in keeping the Indians in subjection.

In 1843, sixty or seventy Indians commanded by the brother of Yoscolo came to the Rancho San Pablo, stole several hundred horses, and then retreated. One of the owners of the rancho, Victor Castro, with his brother and four other Californians, and two domesticated Indians, went in pursuit. The thieves were found in the neighborhood of Mount Diablo. The little party approached, and succeeded in capturing two of the Indians, whom they put to instant death.

The main body of the Indians coming up, a fight took place, lasting two or three hours, during which the horse of the leader of the party was killed under him. He made a barricade of the body of the animal and fought behind it, and in the fight he shot the leader of the savages dead with his pistol—the same chief who had killed Briones in 1839. After the fall of their leader the others became dismayed, and retreated, leaving three or four dead upon the field and abandoning the stolen horses.

The Indians sometimes fought with poisoned arrows. In fighting expeditions the Californians were usually accompanied by an Indian doctor who was provided with an herb which he used as an antidote to the poison. Indians, themselves, also made use of it. When a man was wounded by an arrow the Indian doctor applied his mouth to the wound and sucked out the blood and the poison with it. He then chewed some of the herb and injected it into the wound.

Sometime prior to 1860 a man named O’Connor obtained possession of a portion of the Rancho San Pablo by purchase, transfer or otherwise. The ranchero, Victor Castro, permitted him to remain, respecting his claim, and did not distrust him so long as he remained upon his own premises, but would not allow the slightest encroachment upon the land the owner occupied as a homestead.

Squatters would take possession of lands belonging to the Californians. This same ranchero, by his coolness and bravery, succeeded in driving them from his premises and in keeping them off, sometimes facing guns and pistols. He never had to fire upon a man, though fully armed on these occasions and on the alert to use his weapons, if necessary. One day in 1860, riding over his land, mounted on a fine horse, with a reata on his saddle, Castro noticed that some laborers employed by O’Connor had come over the border and were at work upon his land. He peremptorily ordered them off and threatened to thrash them with the reata if they did not instantly obey. O’Connor, coming up to interfere, commenced an angry dispute, drew a pistol, and was in the act of firing at the ranchero when the latter quickly flung out the lasso and caught O’Connor round the neck. The rider putting spurs to his horse, the unfortunate man was dragged along at a furious rate. Luckily, the ranchero’s son happened to be near at hand, also mounted on a swift horse. He rushed forward in pursuit and dexterously cut the reata between horse and victim, thus saving the latter’s life. A witness, giving an account of the occurrence, said he never saw anything more admirable than the whole performance, in coolness, quickness and courage.

The reata was a slender woven cord about eighty feet in length and made of very strong leather or strips of hide untanned. In the hands of a Californian it was not only a very useful implement as well as means of amusement at times, but was also a powerful weapon, as has been shown by the instance just mentioned. It was carefully handled, as much so as a firearm, but accidents sometimes happened from its use.

A ranchero of my acquaintance, José Martínez, was once in the act of securing the reata to the pommel of the saddle, just after a steer had been lassoed, when his hand got under the lasso, between it and the saddle, and the strain which came at that instant almost severed the fingers of his hand from the remainder. In two or three weeks thereafter lockjaw set in, from which he died. There are numbers of instances where a Californian has lost a thumb or forefinger of the right hand by having it caught and cut off in the same manner by the reata while in the act of securing it to the saddle.

To the Californian the lasso was an indispensable part of his equipment on all occasions when he started away from home. In expeditions against the Indians and in military campaigns every man took his reata along with him, not only for use for ordinary purposes, but as a weapon of offense and defense in cases of necessity. If, on starting out, he had been compelled to choose between pistol and reata which to take with him, he would have chosen the latter as being the more useful of the two.

I remember where the use of the reata in an extraordinary way saved a man’s life. Between San Luis Obispo and Guadalupe the regular road in some parts was quite sandy. Traveling over it was heavy work. Another and at times better road ran nearer the ocean, part of the way along the beach when the tide served. Don Luis Estudillo, a brother of Señora Davis, happened to be going from Guadalupe to San Luis Obispo one day in the spring of 1875, and reached the Arroyo Grande at the moment a wagon and four horses, driven by a young man, were struggling in the water, after an attempt to ford, when the tide was high, at the point where the beach road crossed that estuary. Seeing the stranger in this plight, being borne out by the current into the ocean, and hearing his cries for help, Don Luis prepared to assist in a rescue. He knew it would not be prudent to plunge his horse into the swift tide, so he rode in only a short distance, and casting the reata the full length, with all his force, it just reached far enough. The loop passed over the young man’s head and went round his neck. Calling loudly to him to catch hold with his hands, so that he would not be strangled, Don Luis then gently drew him ashore, and saved his life. The horses and wagon were carried out to sea and lost.

About the year 1801 José de la Guerra y Noriega, a captain in the Spanish army, came from Mexico and located at Santa Barbara as comandante of that presidio. He was born about 1775 at Novales Santander, in Spain. When Mexico severed allegiance to Spain he resigned his commission in the army and was elected a diputado to represent the department at the capital city. During his residence in California he acquired immense wealth in lands, cattle, horses, sheep and money. He owned Las Pósitas rancho, of twelve leagues, and the Simí rancho, of fourteen leagues, about halfway between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, the two ranchos being nearly adjoining. Each rancho had from 5,000 to 6,000 head of cattle and about 2,000 horses. He also owned the Callegua rancho, of five leagues, with 2,000 head of cattle and a large number of horses; also El Conejo rancho, of three leagues, with 1,000 head of cattle and many horses, and the San Julián rancho, of eleven leagues, with 10,000 head of cattle and a large number of horses. His possessions covered a vast area and were equal to a small kingdom. In all these ranchos the horses aggregated 5,000 to 8,000. His sons were José Antonio, Francisco, Pablo, Joaquín Miguel, and Antonio María. His daughters were Teresa, wife of Hartnell; Angustias, wife of Jimeno; Anita, wife of Don Alfredo Robinson; and María Antonia, wife of Lataillade, and, after his death, of Gaspar de Oreña.

I became well acquainted with the old gentleman in 1842. He still retained his title of captain, by which he was always called. I sold him large quantities of goods at different times. He was a close buyer, generally paying cash (Mexican and Spanish doubloons). What money the vessels collected was used for the purchase of hides. Being introduced by Henry Mellus to the captain in 1842, he received me with a good deal of dignity and coolness and rather pompously, but on learning that I was the son of Don Guillermo Davis, who had visited the coast many years before, he welcomed me cordially, paying my father many compliments, saying that he knew him well and had bought from him largely. I was afterward quite a favorite of his and came to know him well. While supercargo of the Don Quixote in 1842 and ‘43 I made four or five sales to him, ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 each.

The captain was jealous of me, that is, of my calling on other business men before I made my visit to him. He wanted always the first pick of my invoice, and he would give one of his pleasant smiles. His sons or friends would say to him, “El buque de su amigo Don Guillermo Davis está en puerto” (“Your friend William Davis’ ship is in port”), when one of his servants would be on the look for me to go immediately to the captain, and I was glad to humor him. He would ask, “Adonde a vistitado usted primero?” (“Where have you been first on business?’’)

On these occasions Noriega took me to the attic of his house, where he kept his treasure, the room being used exclusively for that purpose. There was no stairway, the attic being reached by a ladder, which was removed when not in use. In this room were two old-fashioned Spanish chairs, and ranged round about were twelve or fifteen coras—strong, compactly-woven baskets, of different sizes, made by Indians, the largest holding, perhaps, half a bushel—all of which contained gold, some nearly full. The money amounted to a considerable sum in the aggregate. I was astonished to see so much coin in the possession of one person in a country where the wealth consisted mainly of horses and cattle. The old gentleman said that the attic was the safest place in which to keep it. I asked him how he managed to collect so much gold, and he replied that it was the accumulations of all the years he had been on the coast. The Spanish soldiers, when they were paid off, spent their money freely, and he had supplied them with what they wanted, having carried on a store of his own. When the captain commenced getting out gold to pay me, his handsome hand and tapering fingers would tremble and he would bring out a handful, but the second time he would ask me to perform the service, and henceforth I would do it for him.

Many articles were also required to supply his ranchos, and he paid his vaqueros in goods, as they had not much use for money, and on these he made more or less profit. He also sold his hides and tallow, besides otter and other fur skins, for cash; and had thus collected his great treasure. He had no occasion to spend money except for purchases from the vessels. Being a good merchant and shrewd manager, he knew how to take care of money. Noriega had also at Santa Barbara a vineyard, from which he made wine and aguardiente.

In 1846 I owned one third of the brig Euphemia, the other two thirds being owned by Captain Grimes and his nephew Hiram Grimes. I was supercargo, and absolute manager, and being at Santa Barbara with the vessel, Captain Noriega asked to see the invoice of my goods and seemed very anxious to purchase. That day and the next, I sold him about ten thousand dollars’ worth, for which he paid coin. After visiting San Diego on this trip, and returning in January, 1847, I sold him goods to the amount of three or four thousand dollars more, which he paid for in cash and in hides.

Some of the old gentleman’s boys were a little wild. Knowing that their father had plenty of money and the place where it was deposited, they devised a plan to secure some of it for their own use. The ladder was kept in the old captain’s bedroom, beyond their reach, so they climbed to the roof from the outside and took off two or three of the tiles, beneath which were standing these baskets of gold. Reaching down into the baskets with an improvised pitchfork, they drew out as many coins as they thought it advisable to take. How often this operation was repeated and how much of the old gentleman’s treasure thus disappeared is not known, but the trick was soon discovered and reported, and this mode of abstraction was brought to an end. As the captain did not know how much money he had in the baskets, of course he could not tell how much he had lost.

When I first knew him, he was nearly seventy and retained his striking personal appearance. He was the sire of many handsome sons and daughters. Noriega was conceded to have been the handsomest man who was ever in California.

Being the wealthiest man in that part of California and having so much ready money, at least $250,000, he was applied to by the rancheros for loans when they were in need of funds. The loans were made on promises to repay in beef cattle at the killing season or in heifers, or in hides and tallow after cattle had been killed, the lender taking the borrower’s word as security, as was the custom. He also supplied the supercargoes of vessels with coin to pay duties on invoices.

In the spring of the year, the number of heifers agreed upon would be delivered to him to add to his own stock, heifers being more easily domesticated in a new place than older cattle; or at the matanza season the beef cattle or the hides and tallow would be delivered, and the debt thus cancelled.

When cattle, old or young, were transferred from one rancho to another, as was frequently the case in the dealings of the rancheros with each other, it was generally done in the spring of the year, the new feed being then plentiful, and they were easier aquerenciado, or domesticated, in their new pasture than at any other season. A band of cattle taken to another rancho would be placed under the charge of vaqueros, and watched and herded at first very carefully. Becoming accustomed to the new place, and less restless and uneasy, they were allowed more liberty of range, and at night were corraled. After some weeks they were habituated to their new surroundings and turned in with the other cattle, becoming a part of the general band belonging to the rancho.

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

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