Seventy-five Years in San Francisco
Governor Pacheco, a boy in 1842, was sent to Honolulu to be educated. After remaining about two years, under the tuition of Mr. and Mrs. Johnstone, he returned. The ship Sterling, George W. Vincent master, then being in port, he went on board, and for a year or more traveled about in company with Thomas B. Park, supercargo, from whom he received a good deal of instruction in mercantile matters, it being a fine opportunity for the young man, who was bright and teachable. In 1861 he went to Europe on a tour of travel and observation. At that time, and prior, his stepfather, Captain Wilson, and his mother and the family owned several extensive ranchos in San Luis Obispo County, adjoining one another, which the captain had bought from different owners, and which contained fourteen to sixteen thousand head of cattle—a large number of cattle for a single owner at that date—and many horses. After the death of Captain Wilson, the family met with the misfortune of losing the cattle and horses by starvation in the dry season of 1863-64, nearly all of their stock perishing for lack of feed. At this time vaqueros were busily employed taking off the hides. They were obliged to work very speedily (so many cattle were dead, and others dying day by day), to save the skins in marketable condition. The hiring of men was expensive and left but little profit on the hides. The great loss was the beginning and cause of financial troubles, amid they lost nearly the whole of their land.
A statement of the export of hides and tallow from the department of
California, from 1826 to 1848, has been prepared by me, gathered partly
from actual knowledge of the cargoes taken by particular vessels, and partly
estimated from the size of the vessels which loaded previous to my residence
here, these vessels always taking full cargoes on their return to the Atlantic
|No. of hides|
|Ship Brookline, departure 1831||40,000|
|Ship Courier, Capt. Cunningham, departure 1828||40,000|
|Bark Louisa, Capt. Wood, departure 1831||25,000|
|Bark Volunteer, Capt. Carter, departure 1832||20,000|
|Ship California, departure 1833||40,000|
|Brig Newcastle, departure 1833||10,000|
|Brig Planet, tender to California, 1833||10,000|
|Schooner Harriet Blanchard, departure 1833||8,000|
|Bark Volunteer, Capt. Carter, departure 1834||20,000|
|Brig Roxana, tender to California, 1834||10,000|
|Brig Pilgrim, Capt. Faucon, departure 1834||10,000|
|Ship Alert, Capt. Frank Thompson, departure 1834||40,000|
|Ship Lagoda, Capt. Bradshaw, departure 1836||40,000|
|Bark Kent, Capt. Steel, departure winter 1836-37||30,000|
|Brig Bolivar Liberator, Capt. Nye, three or four
trips, departures 1836 to 1843
|Ship California, Capt. Arther, departure 1837||40,000|
|Ship Rasselas, Capt. Carter, Honolulu, departure 1837||35,000|
|Ship Alert, Capt. Penhallow, departure winter 1838-39||40,000|
|Bark Don Quixote, Capt. Paty, four or five trips to
Honolulu, departures 1838 to 1845
|Ship Alciope, Capt. Clap, departure 1840||30,000|
|Ship California, Capt. Arther, departure winter 1840-41||40,000|
|Ship Monsoon, Capt. Vincent, departure winter 1840-41||40,000|
|Bark Tasso, Capt. Hastings, departure winter 1841-42||35,000|
|Ship Alert, Capt. Phelps, departure winter 1842-43||40,000|
|Ship Barnstable, Capt. Hatch, departure 1843-44||40,000|
|Ship California, Capt. Arther, departure 1843-44||40,000|
|Ship Fama, Capt. Hoyer, departure 1843-44||20,000|
|Ship Admittance, Capt. Peterson, departure 1845||40,000|
|Ship Sterling, Capt. Vincent, departure 1845||30,000|
|Ship Vandalia, Capt. Everett, departure 1846||40,000|
|Ship Barnstable, Capt. Hall, departure winter 1846-47||40,000|
|Bark Tasso, Capt. Libbey, departure 1847||35,000|
|Bark Olga, Capt. Bull, departure winter 1847-48||25,000|
Probably an underestimate. The actual number of hides exported approximated one million and a quarter.
With regard to the amount of tallow exported during the above period—I have already mentioned that the killing season was when the cattle were the fattest, each bullock producing on an average three to four arrobas (twenty-five pounds) of tallow, besides the manteca reserved for home use. In the winter season, when cattle were killed for home consumption and for the use of the vessels, the tallow would average perhaps not over one arroba to the bullock. Taking the whole year through, I place the product of tallow, for export, at two arrobas for each animal killed, which, for the million and a quarter, would give 62,500,000 pounds of tallow. [The author wrote further comments regarding his estimates at the end of Appendix N. Record of Ships Arriving From 1774 to 1847.]
The Californians cut up a great many hides for the use of the ranchos. Strips of the skins were used for reatas and in building corrals, also for covering wagons and for many other purposes. Many of the rancheros tanned their own leather, for corazas, mochilas, anqueras and tapaderas. Some of the sons of the rancheros were shoemakers and made shoes for home use. The soles of the shoes were made from the leather, and tanned deerskin was used for the uppers. The hides were also used to cover the trees of the saddles and for other purposes. Large quantities of tallow were used by the rancheros for candles and for soap. Large amounts of the latter were made by the rancheros of the valleys of San Jose, GiIroy and Pajaro and sold to the Russians for export to Alaska.
A vessel in the bay, about once a week ordered a bullock for ship’s use from one of the ranchos nearest by, which would be brought in alive by a vaquero, aided by a cabestro, to the meadow between Washington and California streets at the waterside. A little below Spear’s store there was a scaffolding, with fall and tackle, for hoisting the cattle by the horns after being killed, erected by some ship’s crew for the use of the vessel and left there. Each of the vessels in the bay had a signal deposited at the store, and when a bullock was brought in for a vessel, or if for any other purpose it was desirable to give notice, the signal was displayed. It was also hoisted to communicate with the vessels on business matters. If the tide was up to the beach, then a boat would be sent ashore, or if a bullock was expected, perhaps it would be sighted, with the aid of a glass, from the vessel, and the crew coming ashore, prepared with knives, the animal was dispatched, cut up, and the meat taken aboard, together with the hide, which was stretched above the deck, or against the main rigging, to dry. Sometimes the cattle were killed in the primitive method and cut up without hoisting, thus leaving more of the blood in the beef. They were so killed and the meat prepared at Thompson’s Cove, which was a little bay south of Clark’s Point, and between that and Buckelew or “Watchman’s” Point, where Thompson had a hide house. Cattle were likewise slaughtered at Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Pedro and San Diego, and at other ports or landings, on the beach, for the use of vessels. The cattle were slaughtered upon the ground, and cut up as they lay, no hoisting apparatus being used.
Joseph Steel was an early trader to this coast. He commanded the following vessels: Harbinger, 1826-1828; Planet, 1829-1830; Chalcedony, 1832-1833; Sarah and Caroline and bark Kent, 1836-1838. He was good-natured and jocular, a vegetarian, and during his stay never touched meat. The Fourth of July being celebrated in Yerba Buena in 1836, by a public dinner, Captain Steel was present, and also John Vioget, master of the Delmira, two men who were like Damon and Pythias—of the same disposition and temperament, and always around about the same time. At this banquet, Steel christened Vioget as Blucher (after the officer who saved Wellington from defeat at Waterloo). By that title he was afterward known on the coast; called by it even more than by his real name.
Vioget was one of the principals in an incident of somewhat ridiculous nature. In 1841 a Russian by the name of Don Andrés Hoeppner was employed for a considerable time by General Vallejo as teacher of music for his daughters, at Sonoma, and frequently visited Yerba Buena. Being an excellent musician—playing with taste and skill the piano, violin and guitar—he was popular and well liked, such men being much appreciated by the people, who had little in the way of good music or amusements. Being sociable and companionable he frequented Vioget’s saloon, and became a particular friend of the proprietor.
The latter was known on the coast as a great eater, and prided himself on that reputation. Hoeppner and several others being in the saloon one day enjoying themselves, the question of gormandizing was brought before the company, and he challenged Vioget to a contest to determine who was the biggest eater in the department. Hoeppner not being known or suspected in connection with gastronomic feats, the challenge was instantly accepted and a day was fixed for the contest. Invitations were sent out to the merchants to attend. I was invited, as were also Spear and others.
When the trial commenced, pancakes were brought on, plate after plate, and speedily devoured. Hoeppner was one plate ahead. The next course was beefsteaks, all of which disappeared as rapidly as had the other; Hoeppner led a little on the steaks. Next was gisado, a meat stew in the Spanish style—a delicious dish, several plates of which were consumed. Next came asado, or beef broiled on the spit, many plates; Hoeppner a little ahead. After this, beans, Spanish style, large quantities of which were disposed of; succeeded by tamales, corn prepared as before described, each of the contestants eating at least a dozen. An immense pudding then appeared, followed by pies of various kinds, which were largely consumed. All the food had been prepared in the nicest manner, and made inviting, by skilled cooks—old Jack Fuller and assistant. The windup was black coffee, but during the meal no drink was taken. Vioget gave out on the pies. Hoeppner, still eating, was declared the winner. All were astonished at the quantity of viands that went down the throats of those two men. After concluding their repast they got up and moved round, smoked, drank a little wine, played billiards, and appeared to suffer no inconvenience from the meal each had consumed.
Vioget was of large frame; Hoeppner taller, nearly six feet in height, slender, but well proportioned. I have no doubt each of the gormands ate food enough to satisfy a dozen hungry men. Both contestants were good musicians, Vioget playing the violin as finely as Hoeppner. The former was also an excellent civil engineer and had been employed by Captain Sutter in surveying his lands. Don Andrés Hoeppner’s wife was a Russian lady, a pretty little woman, and, like women in general at Yerba Buena, was much appreciated.
Vioget was afterward captain of the brig Euphemia, in 1848. Referring to his defeat in the eating match, he said that if he had been as young as Hoeppner the latter would not have had any show at all. He was some fifteen or twenty years older.
I went over to Honolulu in 1845 as supercargo of the Don Quixote, with Captain Paty, and while there a partnership was proposed between him, his brother William and myself under which the ownership of the vessel was to be transferred, one-half to me and one-fourth to each of the brothers; but we could not agree upon her valuation. William Paty thought the vessel was worth $8,000, which I thought was too high. Captain Meek agreed with me, saying that, considering her age, $5,000 or $6,000 would be a good price for the bark. The negotiations therefore fell through and my relations with Captain Paty ceased; under the circumstances, much to my regret.
Afterward, several merchants and firms at Honolulu, among them Stephen Reynolds, who had been the United States vice-consul, E. & H. Grimes, and Starkey, Janion & Co. (a heavy English house) made propositions to furnish me with a vessel to trade on the California coast, the business to be partly mine. The offer of E. & H. Grimes was accepted. We purchased the Euphemia, an English brig which had been employed by Henry Skinner & Co. in the Chinese trade. Then came a difficulty with regard to the papers and flag of the vessel, inasmuch as the Grimeses and myself were Americans. We had selected an Englishman by the name of Thomas Russom for captain, a very good man, who was then at Honolulu, and to sail under the English flag we should have been obliged to have the papers made out in the captain’s name; but we did not think it advisable to entrust so much to one man not directly interested with us, however responsible and trustworthy he might be. In order to avoid the difficulty, Hiram Grimes, who had a good deal of influence with the premier, Mr. Wyllie (an old Scotchman, who had lived in South America many years), succeeding in getting the vessel registered in his name under the Hawaiian flag.
We then purchased the cargo of the vessel, which occupied a month, selecting with care and judgment such articles as were suited to the California trade, picking here and there the best we could obtain. At the same time the Patys also purchased a cargo for the Don Quixote. The Euphemia, with her cargo, cost between $50,000 and $60,000, my share being $17,000 or $18,000. Having saved my salary for several years, and accumulated money by speculations with the whalers, etc., I was able to pay about half this amount into the concern, leaving the other payable in six months, for which I gave my note to E. & H. Grimes (the first note I ever gave). In contracting with them it was stipulated that the business on this coast should be done in the name of William H. Davis only, their names not appearing.
My mother was living in Honolulu and was wealthy, owning a large number of cattle, which were good property as they were always in demand by the ships of war, whalers and other vessels visiting the Islands. She offered me money to assist in carrying on the business, but I declined it, preferring to act within my own resources; and I really did not need it.
These vessels both left Honolulu February 26, 1846. A strong southeasterly gale sprang up, which was in their favor, and in less than two weeks’ time the bark anchored at Monterey. Our brig had occasion to touch at a lower coast port before calling at Monterey and did not reach that place until the last day of March. The Don Quixote was then ready to leave for San Blas, she having been chartered to take Castillero as commissioner to represent California in the city of Mexico.
Soon after we anchored, I went on board that vessel and was warmly greeted by Captain Paty and Eli Southworth, they having feared that some misfortune had happened, on account of the long delay of the brig. I then went ashore and called on General Castro, comandante-general of the department.
During this visit I ventured upon a little diplomacy in order to place myself on a good footing with the officials, as this was my first venture of any magnitude on my own behalf. I noticed that the window and doorframes and woodwork about the headquarters were unpainted, and mentioned to the general that I had on board my vessel some paints and oils, and with his approval I would send a few kegs ashore for his use. He said those materials were scarce and he should receive them with a great deal of pleasure.
On this occasion I was accompanied by United States Consul Larkin. While we were there I was introduced to Mrs. General Castro and we chatted for some time very pleasantly. I saw by the general’s expression, when she went into the next room for a few minutes, that he was proud of her. Larkin found an opportunity to communicate, enthusiastically. “Isn’t she beautiful?” and I responded, with equal enthusiasm, “Indeed she is.”
On returning to my vessel I sent and borrowed two cannons from the bark, got them aboard, and fired a salute in honor of the Mexican flag, which was promptly returned by the comandante from the fort. Thus my introduction to the port of Monterey as a merchant in my own behalf was happily accomplished and everything made smooth for future trade.
Then I called on the collector, Don Pablo de la Guerra. He was living with his sister, Mrs. Jimeno. He said at once that the other vessel had been there two or three weeks and that my brig had only just got in; as both had sailed the same day, he wanted to know how that was. I said to him, “Look at the brig. She is more like a box than anything else. She is no sailer.” He responded that I was correct; that she was indeed like a box, and it was not surprising that she had made a long voyage. I sent to Don Pablo from my cargo a basket of champagne, and to Mrs. Jimeno some sweet potatoes and coconuts, which were regarded as luxuries at Monterey.
It was customary when a vessel came into port to enter, to give the management of the customhouse business to a shore merchant, who acted as broker. He made the entry, assuming the responsibility of the transaction—paving the way if any difficulties arose. Larkin, Hartnell, Spear and Spence sometimes acted in a similar capacity. The merchant received a proper commission for the service. On this occasion I employed Larkin to make the entry.
The law required the collector and his officers to go on board any vessel arriving with dutiable goods and make a thorough examination. Captains or supercargoes would invite merchants from on shore and other friends to accompany the officials. Quite a party assembled, the event being made one of entertainment. A handsome collation was provided of meats, fowls, jams, jellies, pies, cakes, fruits, champagne and other wines, of which all would partake, and an enjoyable time be had. We spread a table, and received and entertained the guests as handsomely as anyone could. Among those present were: Henry Mellus, Captain Eliab Grimes, Don José Abrego, Larkin, De la Guerra, the collector, and two or three of his officers, one of whom was Don Rafael Pinto, an attaché of the customs service (aduana) for a great many years.
The customhouse inspector was a curious old Mexican who had lost his teeth, and his sentences were mumbled in a queer way; but he was polite and gentlemanly withal, and while going through the formality of looking about the vessel to examine her I accompanied him. The main hatch was off, and I said that if he wished to go down into the hold I would have a ladder brought for his accommodation and that he should be assisted down. He replied that he was not very particular. I remarked that there were a good many scorpions among the cargo. These creatures had got in at the Islands and in the warm latitude they had bred very fast. When I mentioned scorpions be stepped back, really frightened, and, making up a ludicrous face, declared vehemently that he had no desire to go into the hold—thoroughly alarmed at the idea. The duties on the cargo amounted to $10,000.
The merchants, when they entered goods, used to pay about half the duties in cash and give their notes for the remainder, payable in sixty or ninety days, the customhouse allowing them this accommodation. Not having sufficient money to pay these duties—although Captain Grimes and other merchants offered to procure it for me, which offer I declined,—a plan was adopted to realize more speedily upon the cargo than could have been done on the vessel and selling there, as was common. Obtaining the use for a short time of a large room in the customhouse, with ample space for my purpose, the crew brought the cargo ashore, and the ship’s carpenter put up a table eighty feet long in the room so secured, on which I sampled the goods for sale. William F. Swasey, who had recently come to the coast, was looking for employment and I engaged him to assist me.
The plan was an admirable success. Men, women and children gathered in crowds, finding it much more convenient than to go aboard the vessel, where the goods couldn’t have been seen to advantage. They were also attracted by the novelty of the arrangements. They bought in quantities to suit. Within a week I had taken some $5,000 in cash on sales amounting to $15,000, so that I was able to pay half of the cash duties demanded and had some money left. My notes went into the customhouse for the remainder.
The collector and his officers were always in debt to the merchants for goods. The notes they gave were sometimes turned in for duties, the customs officers arranging the matter with the government. The collector of course reported to the government all duties collected, this being its only source of revenue; and if in need of money for government use, the governor would direct the collector to negotiate to the best advantage with merchants what paper he had, at a discount. Or frequently the government owed merchants for supplies used by the troops, such as muskets, ammunition, shoes and other clothing, and would require money for the troops, who were regularly paid; and used the notes in settlement with the merchants, and to obtain money to pay the troops. The merchants were glad to take notes (which had been given for duties), either in liquidation of their claims or for cash loaned, as they would be paid at maturity in hides and tallow by the parties who signed them. Mellus was at Monterey before I arrived, and he waited until I came, and secured in part liquidation of his firm’s claim against the government most of the notes I gave the collector.
On my arrival, Captain Eliab Grimes was at Consul Larkin’s house. He greeted me gruffly, and said, “Well, Hiram has been playing the devil down there, buying a vessel and cargo for $50,000 or $60,000, and sending her up here!” The captain, being the main man of the concern, naturally felt some doubt about his nephew and myself (who were young men) succeeding in this speculation. I told him I had paid about $9,000 in cash on my interest, and was owing about as much more, to be paid in six months. “Well, do you expect to pay it?” he asked, rather savagely. “I hope to do so,” was my reply. Producing the well-known liquor case, which he carried with him wherever he went, we had a glass or two together, and he asked for all the details of the venture in partnership with his nephew and himself.
I narrated the transactions in full, at which he seemed to feel reassured. He had been greatly concerned about our buying the vessel and cargo. He was also pleased afterward when I informed him of my success in the sale of the goods at the customhouse, of which he had expressed doubt when I first mentioned the plan to him—having thought it would fail; and Mellus was of the same opinion. The goods not disposed of were taken on board again and we sailed for Santa Cruz. I made many sales there, taking my pay in lumber and hides and tallow to be delivered at a future time. I then sent the vessel to Yerba Buena and came up by land, making sales at San Jose, Santa Clara and other places, by invoice, to the rancheros and merchants—doing well. Reaching Yerba Buena about the 25th of April, I found that Spear had vacated his store and moved to Napa on account of ill health. Hinckley was in town. Bob Ridley was keeping the Vioget house, with his family, and I lodged with him.
The next morning I met Howard, who was here with the Vandalia, and for a day or so was a guest on board his vessel until my own arrived, while I sold to rancheros round the bay until I had no goods remaining. Josiah Belden assisted me in this work as one of my clerks. The vessel then went over to Sausalito to get in a supply of water. While she was there, Spear, who had come down from Napa, Hinckley and myself went over to spend a night on board. We had a good supper and a jolly time—talking over old matters, smoking, singing and drinking champagne nearly the whole night. Captain Russom was an admirable singer, and he entertained us with songs, and the whole company also sang.
This was the 20th of May, 1846, a heavy southeast gale blowing, and during the evening the captain went on deck to order the second anchor dropped for the greater security of the vessel. It rained hard all night.
The next day I visited Captain Richardson. The day after, Captain and Mrs. Richardson, Miss Richardson and Miss Estudillo came on board the brig by my invitation. Our steward and cook prepared a choice dinner, which the guests enjoyed. I invited the ladies to the salesroom and made them some presents. I remember having given Mrs. Richardson some white silk handkerchiefs and fancy goods, from the cargo. Meeting her a few years ago she still had the handkerchiefs.
Shortly after, the Euphemia left Sausalito, bound south, and we took on board at a southern coast port an additional cargo of merchandise. About the last day of May we arrived at San Pedro, and sold there twenty-five thousand dollars’ worth of goods. Thence we sailed to Santa Barbara, where additional sales were made, to the extent of eight or ten thousand dollars; thence to Monterey, arriving in July, 1846. On rounding Point Pinos we were surprised to see the United States vessels of war at anchor, and the Stars and Stripes floating from the staff over the town.
On the voyage up, Captain Russom, myself and the two mates, Lee and Colbath, and also the clerk, R. M. Sherman, who were New England men, had many little discussions about the probability of Monterey being taken by the English. Owing to the rumors of war between the United States and Mexico, we were expecting it. The captain being an Englishman, we Americans teased him, and boasted that our country would certainly be the foremost. He descanted upon the pluck and enterprise of his countrymen and declared that they would certainly plant their flag in Monterey before the Americans had a chance. As we rounded the Point and saw our flag floating serenely over the town we called out exultantly, “There it is, Captain Russom! See the American flag flying!” He was discomfited, but made the best of it, frankly saying that his countrymen were beaten. The Euphemia was the first vessel to enter Monterey after the American acquisition.
Going ashore, on ascending the steps of the wharf I was met by United States Consul Larkin, who introduced me to Commodore Sloat, standing by his side. The commodore extended his hand and said, “I am glad to make your acquaintance, my dear sir, and to welcome you to American soil!”
In the course of his conversation he said, “Thank God we have got ahead of Seymour!” He said that he had determined to take the country at all hazards, and he had done it. The commodore was an agile, nervous little man, and was extremely well satisfied with the exploit, his face being illumined with a perpetual smile of satisfaction.
My vessel happened to have a variety of stores of which the vessels of the squadron were in need, and these wants I supplied, visiting the purser of the flagship frequently in the transactions. There I made the acquaintance of Post-Captain Mervine, and saw him every day the week I remained there, sometimes visiting him in his cabin by his invitation. He was portly, well proportioned, quick and energetic in his manner, and impressed me as a man of resolution and decision of character. He gave me a little account of matters prior to the fleet’s arrival. He said the Savannah and Cyane were at Mazatlán, oscillating between that port and San Blas, waiting for the news of the declaration of war and the English ship Collingwood, Admiral Seymour, was there at the same time. Captain Mervine said they were watching Seymour and he was watching them. If the Savannah ran from Mazatlán to San Blas, the Collingwood followed her; or, if the Collingwood ran from one place to another, the Savannah was after her. Commodore Sloat, while on shore, having received, unofficially, private information that war had been declared between the United States and Mexico, slipped away one night with his vessels and sailed for Monterey, making all speed possible, not knowing but they should find the Collingwood there before them. Arriving first, however, on July 2nd, Commodore Sloat hesitated as to what he should do.
On the night of the 6th of July a council of war was called, at which were present the commodore, Captain Mervine, Captain Dupont of the Cyane, and other officers of the squadron, to discuss the matter, and to settle upon a line of action.
Captain Mervine declared to me that Sloat still seemed irresolute. At the council the captain said: “You hesitate, Commodore Sloat, but delay is dangerous; the Collingwood is right at our heels. You know when we approached this port we thought we might find her here before us and the English flag raised on shore, in which case we should have had to fight. It is more than your commission is worth to hesitate in this matter. Although you have no direct information of the declaration of war between the two countries, the unofficial news is to the effect that war has been declared. If we don’t hoist the American flag, the English will take possession of this capital; so there is no time to be lost. It is our duty to ourselves and to the country to run up the flag at once.”
Captain Mervine remarked further that he talked so emphatically at the council of war that his suggestions prevailed. The next morning the United States flag floated over the town.
Mervine was outspoken and frank, unquestionably a better qualified officer than Sloat. He was impatient at the commodore’s slowness and vacillation. It was owing to the captain’s decision and right comprehension of the situation, in my opinion, that the flag was raised.
Eight days thereafter the Collingwood came into the bay. My vessel then lay at Santa Cruz, and we heard the salutes. James Alexander Forbes, British vice-consul at the time, was in Monterey shortly after the Collingwood arrived. He learned from the officers of the ship, as he informed me, that as they rounded the Point and the United States men-of-war were discovered and the American flag came in sight, floating over the town, the British admiral stamped his foot in rage and flung his hat upon the deck. His chagrin at the advantage which the Americans had gained over him in this matter caused these demonstrations.
The American flag was flying in Yerba Buena when I reached there overland from Santa Cruz. The United States ship Portsmouth, Captain Montgomery, was in port. I made the acquaintance of the captain and breakfasted with him one morning, by his invitation, aboard the ship. He said, among other discussions regarding the situation, that he felt some anxiety about the relations of our government with England in connection with the Oregon question, or the boundary-line dispute between the United States and British Columbia; he thought that any time we might learn that war had been declared between the two countries; that the vessel was ready for action, although he was short of his full fighting complement, as his marines were ashore, on guard, under Captain Watson; yet he believed he could do good execution with his vessel should an enemy be encountered.
While we were talking, it was reported to the captain that a strange vessel was in sight coming up the bay; whereupon he ran out on deck to sight her and gave orders to have the men immediately beat to quarters. This was done—a pretty sight which interested me very much. Every man stood at his post ready for action. It might have been an English war vessel approaching, and the captain thought it best to be prepared for hostilities. Soon discovering it to be a merchant vessel, we returned to the cabin. Washington A. Bartlett, third lieutenant on the Portsmouth, afterward alcalde at Yerba Buena, told me this was a not unusual occurrence on board—beating the men to quarters and getting ready as a vessel came in sight.
When my brig arrived, I took possession of Spear’s vacant premises and transferred the remainder of the cargo, opening a store for the sale of the goods. The vessel was then sent to Santa Cruz to load with lumber for Honolulu. Leaving the store in charge of employees, I went by land to meet the vessel about the time the loading of cargo was completed and there found that the captain, and Sherman, the clerk, were somewhat worried at my delay of a day or two, fearing I might have been murdered by Indians in crossing the Santa Cruz Mountains. The brig being just ready, we took her over to Monterey, where I prepared her papers and accounts.
At this time I found Commodore Stockton had arrived there in the Congress, had relieved Commodore Sloat, and taken command of the forces on the Pacific coast. Post-Captain Mervine had taken out some of the guns of the frigate Savannah and mounted them on the fort overlooking the bay. His men were drilling there, and were practicing in firing at water targets—throwing bombs, to see at what distance they would explode—all with reference to the possibility of war with England. He invited me to the fort once or twice to witness the practice, which was very interesting.
The Euphemia was dispatched to Honolulu with the cargo of lumber and some furs. Remittances were also sent by her in what were known as “purser bills,” which I took in exchange for supplies furnished the United States vessels, these bills being drawn by the pursers on the department in Washington and countersigned by the commander. It was a convenient method of remittance, the bills being at a premium. I also sent $1,800 in gold. Returned to Yerba Buena shortly after, when the United States flagship Congress came into the bay, with the commodore on board.
When Commodore Stockton first arrived at Monterey with the Congress, he sent for Captain Richardson to come from Sausalito to pilot the vessel. In August the Congress left Monterey for San Pedro. From there Stockton went to Los Angeles to confirm and more fully establish the possession of the country by the United States, to make himself known to the people, to begin friendly relations with them as their commander-in-chief, to make the acquaintance of the wealthy rancheros and to endeavor to impress upon them that he was their friend.
The Congress soon returned to Monterey, and came from there to Yerba Buena, Captain Richardson pilot, who, while on the vessel, gave the commodore valuable information about the country and the people. These two men became great friends.
Upon the arrival of the Congress several of the citizens of Yerba Buena called on Commodore Stockton aboard the vessel to pay their respects, among whom, I remember, were Spear, Captain Grimes, Howard and Leidesdorff—perhaps seven or eight in all, including myself. We were handsomely received by the commodore and were favorably struck with his appearance, which was that of a gentleman and thorough commander. He was fine-looking, of dark complexion; frank and off hand in manners and conversation; active and energetic. There was nothing weak or effeminate about him. He at once impressed us as a strong man and of decided ability. We remained about half an hour, the commodore making us feel at home, inquiring individually of the pioneers about their first coming to the country, their experience here, etc., so that we were soon well acquainted with him.
A few days afterward, upon the first landing of the commodore, a celebration was held which was a grand success. Extensive preparations had been made. Notice having been sent into the surrounding country, the people came to town in great numbers.
Colonel Wm. H. Russell made a speech, welcoming the commodore as he landed from his barge, which came close to shore (the tide being high) at about where Clay Street is now, between Montgomery and Sansome. Russell spoke in bombastic, spread-eagle style, saying, “I meet and welcome you on the shore”—giving much emphasis to the consonants.
A procession was formed, which marched from the corner of Sacramento and Montgomery streets to Washington Street, up Washington to Kearny, to Clay, to Dupont, along Dupont to Washington, thence down the hill to Montgomery again. These streets, with the exception of Kearny, had been named by Bartlett. Some blocks were enclosed by fences—the three bounded by Montgomery and Kearny streets, east and west, and by Jackson and Sacramento, north and south,—these blocks being identical with those between these streets today; also a portion of the block between Sacramento and California streets, the southeast corner of that block being separately enclosed (a fifty-vara lot by itself), parties owning in that block having built cross-fences. On reaching Montgomery Street, those who had formed the procession gathered about a platform which had been erected near where Clay Street now intersects Montgomery. The commodore was invited to make a speech, which he did in the most enthusiastic manner and quite at length, and referred facetiously to Russell’s eloquent speech of welcome to California.
At that time the news had been received of the revolt of some of the Californians and the recapture by them of points which the Americans had taken possession of; and Stockton, in his address, referred to this, saying he was there to protect and defend the country, to fight her battles, if need be, and to establish and maintain her interests.
Guerrero, the Sánchez brothers, Vásquez, and all the rancheros in the immediate vicinity, had each sent in a number of horses for the procession—the choicest from their caponeras, the largest and most handsome numbering one hundred or more. After the speaking was over, an escort of horsemen rode with the commodore to the presidio, which he desired to visit; thence across to the Mission Dolores, getting back to Yerba Buena near sunset, when we dispersed. We rode very rapidly, Stockton himself being a fine horseman. On our return the horses were covered with foam.
The procession was the first that ever took place in California in a civil celebration. It attracted large numbers of women and children from all the neighborhood. It was a demonstration of welcome, not only by Americans proper, but by those of all nationalities who had made this new country their home and (with some exceptions) by the Californians also, who, although their government was now to be superseded by that of strangers, nevertheless accepted the situation gracefully. On this occasion most of the Californians joined in the celebration, entering into it with spirit and contributing to its success. For that early day it was an imposing display and very creditable to the people.
The ovation was unexpected by Commodore Stockton, and much appreciated since it showed the good feeling of the masses of the people toward the American government and for him as its representative, and that the Californians regarded him as a friend rather than an enemy.
When the news was received, shortly after the Congress arrived, that the Californians at Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and other points in the south had revolted, and replaced the Mexican flag, Stockton dispatched orders to Monterey for Captain Mervine to proceed with the Savannah to San Pedro to protect American interests at Los Angeles. Mervine, on reaching San Pedro, landed his marines and most of his crew, with some artillery. Taking command, he moved towards Los Angeles. He had some animals with which to transport his guns. To prepare for anticipated conflicts with the Californians, it was the custom for the commanders and officers of the government vessels, while lying at the different ports, to drill the crews for army service. The officers themselves possessed more or less military knowledge, but they familiarized themselves still further with that branch of the service. In the various expeditions inland a portion of the naval force on the coast was utilized as infantrymen and, occasionally, as cavalrymen, according to circumstances. As Mervine proceeded, the Californians began to surround the little army and disturb it with threatened attacks. When the rancho of Manuel Domínguez was reached, about halfway between the port and Los Angeles, a battle ensued, lasting several hours, in which Mervine displayed great daring in leading his men forward, but without avail; it resulted in the defeat of the Americans, who retreated to San Pedro and boarded their vessel. Several of the sailors and marines were killed in the engagement. The leader of the Californians was José María Flores, who was titled a general. General Flores was a native of Mexico proper.