San Francisco History

Seventy-five Years in San Francisco


The news of Mervine’s defeat reaching Commodore Stockton, he sent orders to the captain to remain at San Pedro. In the meantime he actively organized a force to proceed south. The intelligence of this rebuff caused him to forward operations vigorously, his aim being to secure a sufficient force to make thorough work in overcoming the refractory Californians and establishing the American supremacy.

Small arms of all kinds were very scarce in the country, and Stockton was desirous of collecting all he could for his proposed expedition. One morning a midshipman from the Congress presented the commodore’s compliments and said the commodore desired me to purchase for him a quantity of small arms, pistols, rifles, etc. I sent out several of my clerks to the little shops, barrooms, and all the places in Yerba Buena where it seemed probable any arms could be found, and collected a considerable number, many of which were obtained from the Mormons, who had recently arrived. The arms were turned over to Commodore Stockton, who paid for them and also thanked me for the service.

About the latter part of October, 1846, the commodore sailed with the Congress for San Diego. The Portsmouth, Captain Montgomery, was ordered to proceed there also, and left sometime subsequent. These vessels, on reaching that point, were joined by the Savannah, Captain Mervine; the Cyane, Captain Dupont; and the sloop-of-war Dale. The sloop-of-war Warren, Captain Hull, remained at Yerba Buena.

Captain Montgomery was highly regarded by the people, and became a great favorite with all classes, both American and foreign, and also with the Californians. He was about fifty years of age, with a pleasant, intelligent face; a man of considerable ability, officer-like in appearance, and in demeanor polite to all; kind and conciliatory in his intercourse with the people, winning their esteem and affection. He was much liked by his officers, who spoke of him as one of the best commanders in the service. During six or seven months that he remained at Yerba Buena, he never had the slightest trouble with anyone. Captain Hull, who succeeded him in command of the district, on the contrary, was frequently in hot water; getting into various difficulties; inclined to be overparticular and fussy. Although a good officer, attending strictly to his duties, he showed an impatient disposition, noticing trifling affairs and matters; whereas Montgomery would not have taken notice of them. A man of small mind, Hull was unpopular with the people, but at the same time had his friends, among them Captain Grimes.

Two sons of Captain Montgomery came out in the Portsmouth with him, aged respectively twenty-one and seventeen years. Toward the latter part of November, 1846, these two young men were sent by their father in one of the Portsmouth’s boats, accompanied by a crew of eight sailors and a boatswain, with a considerable amount of money to pay the troops—to Sutter’s Fort, on the Sacramento. They were never heard of after their departure, and no trace of them or of the boat was ever found, nor any clue as to their fate. It is presumed that the boat capsized off Angel Island in crossing the bay and it and the occupants were swept out to sea. The winter commenced early that year; heavy southeast winds and rains prevailed, and it was stormy when the boat left. A thorough search was made and the whole country notified of the loss but with no result. The sad disaster was a great blow to Captain Montgomery and weighed very heavily upon him.

When Captain Montgomery and the people of Yerba Buena became aware that the boat had failed to reach Sacramento, they at once concluded that some disaster must have happened.  The first impression on the captain’s mind, and that of others, was that the two young men might have been murdered by the sailors in the boat for the sake of the money; who had then seized it and swamped the boat, and gone into the interior. That idea prevailed for some time, but after wide information had been given of the disappearance, and every effort made to get some intelligence, as none of the sailors were ever seen by anyone on shore, and they could not have stayed in the country nor have gone out of it without the fact being known, this belief gave way to the more plausible supposition that the boat was swamped and carried out to sea.

About the middle of November my brig arrived at Yerba Buena from Honolulu with a splendid cargo, consisting largely of liquors and a good assortment of miscellaneous goods well adapted to the market. It was one of the first cargoes, perhaps the very first, that paid duties in San Francisco under the American government.

When the vessel left for Honolulu in August, I ordered her to come back to Yerba Buena, being convinced, as the country had passed into our possession, this would be a port of entry by the time she got back, foreseeing that San Francisco was to be the commercial mart, and that Monterey would cease to be the headquarters for shipping.

The liquor was mostly New England rum, exported from Boston to the Islands. Having plenty of cash on hand, I at once paid the duties on the goods, which were thirty per cent on all articles of the invoice cost, amounting to five or six thousand dollars. The law required the duties to be paid as soon as goods were entered.

Captain William A. Richardson, of Sausalito, was appointed the first collector of the port by Commodore Stockton, in recognition of his services as pilot while on the Congress. In addition to other useful information given to the commodore by Richardson, after the revolt of the Californians had become known, he also explained to Stockton that the disturbance did not commence with the wealthier and better class of rancheros, but with officials and ex-officials who were desirous of remaining in power, and that they had stirred up the floating or irresponsible class, who had little or nothing to lose, in opposition to the new government.

My New England rum cost in Honolulu one dollar per gallon; the duty of thirty cents made it a dollar thirty. Liquors at that time had become very scarce, and on the arrival of the vessel a great demand began for it. I sold it speedily at from three to four dollars per gallon; could hardly land it fast enough to supply the want. Going a short distance from my store, I would be hailed by one person or another, “Got any more of that New England rum? I want a cask of it.” Before returning to my store, I would have seven or eight orders in my head to put down in the order book. The whole invoice was disposed of at a splendid profit, most of it having been delivered from the vessel.

From the first trip of the Euphemia, business had been very prosperous. The last success in my transactions bought me up in wealth, influence and commercial importance, to a level with Mellus & Howard, whose establishment to that time had been considered the leading one.

Soon after the brig’s arrival I commenced preparing her for a trip south, to be near the seat of war. Landing some of the goods she recently brought from Honolulu, I put on board goods from the store, arranging the cargo especially to supply the wants of the army and navy, and not with reference to selling to rancheros. I had tea, coffee, sugar, clothing, boots and shoes, assorted liquors, foreign wines of the best quality, ale and porter, flour and other articles, which I knew would be in demand by the squadron and the military forces. We left the beginning of December and proceeded to Monterey, having on board Mrs. Thomas O. Larkin with some of her children.

Larkin, some time before, had been captured by the Californians at Salinas, while journeying from Monterey to Yerba Buena. Having dealt with them largely and always having treated them kindly, he naturally thought that the Californians would not molest him, but that he would be allowed to pass through the lines. He was mistaken. They thought it important to seize the former United States official. He was well treated, although there was one Californian, Joaquín de la Torre, who was inclined to be ugly and showed a disposition to harm Larkin. Whereupon, Don Manuel Castro put an immediate stop to any such proceedings. Castro ordered a guard of ten men placed over Larkin for his protection. This man De Ia Torre was considered among his countrymen as a person of low instinct.

Mrs. Larkin was much troubled about her husband’s imprisonment, and was despondent on the trip to Monterey, which occupied a day and a night. I did my best to cheer her, saying that her husband, having been acquainted with the Californians for so many years, was entirely safe. Nevertheless she continued dispirited and evidently felt anxious.

About this time, Bartlett, then alcalde, went into the country for some cattle, and while attending to the business he also was arrested and made prisoner by the Californians. Another occurrence took place. C. E. Pickett had uttered some remark offensive to Captain Hull, and on its coming to his ears he had Pickett arrested and ordered him to remain on my premises as a prisoner of war (which was an assumption—to make my shop a prison), saying to him that if he went away from my store he would have him imprisoned on board the Warren in close quarters. Pickett was very indignant, but thought it prudent to comply.

At Monterey I delivered ten casks of the rum, and also sold largely of other goods, nearly all the sales being for cash.

We proceeded thence to Santa Barbara, where I sold to Noriega, as before stated, and also sold to others.

On our way there from Monterey, on Christmas Day, 1846, we were off San Luis Obispo in a tremendous gale of wind from the southeast, with a boisterous sea. My excellent cook and steward, who still remained with me, had prepared a choice dinner, but the sea prevented our sitting at table and we were compelled to partake of the turkey and other viands in the bunks.

Money circulated freely at the points where the United States vessels of war visited, as disbursements were made at all these places, and the contents of the pursers’ strongboxes became much diminished, those who had anything to sell reaping the advantage.

The fitting out of the battalion by Commodore Stockton, before he left for the south, required a large expenditure on the part of the naval officers. The pursers could replenish their exchequers, however, by the issue of their bills drawn upon the government at Washington, there being plenty of money in the hands of the merchants.

While I was at Captain Noriega’s house in Santa Barbara, negotiating with him, there came to the house Major Snyder, Major Reading, and King, the commissary, all of whom I knew. They said Colonel Frémont desired to see me at his camp, about a mile from town. I told them I would call on the colonel as soon as I had finished my business with Captain Noriega. They replied that the colonel wished me to go without delay, whereupon I complied (it being wartime), somewhat against my will. I surmised the colonel wished to obtain supplies, and while I wanted to assist the government, and to do everything I could toward making the men under Frémont comfortable, at the same time I did not care to become his creditor.

My companions to the camp gave an account of the condition of the men composing the battalion, saying that their necessities were very great and that they were next to a starving condition, being without flour, sugar, tea or coffee, beef supplies being all they could procure, and that many of them were without shoes or hats. On reaching headquarters I noticed that many of the men were ragged and dilapidated.

This battalion had been collected by Stockton before he left Yerba Buena. He caused it to be widely known that a battalion would be formed, and called for volunteers, and sent officers into the country in every direction to obtain recruits; and about four hundred were collected at Yerba Buena, consisting mainly of Americans, with a few English, Irish, Scotch, German, and of other nationalities. Some of them were rather rough, but many among them were intelligent men—Bryant, afterward alcalde of San Francisco, also William H. Russell, a big man from Kentucky, who came to Yerba Buena in 1846 across the plains. He was good-natured, but self-esteem was a great weakness in his composition. Sometimes this vanity was carried to a ridiculous extent in the telling of yarns. His friends laughed at his assumption of superiority and made jokes at his expense. Often, when they were ridiculing him with fictitious praises of his attainments and assumed a deference to his authority, he thought they were in earnest and that they were rendering tribute to his importance. He therefore never took offense at anything they said. I knew him very well; he was generally liked, and had no enemies.

The following anecdote in regard to him was frequently told: In coming to California overland, while camping at night, the owls were sometimes heard in the distance, calling out in their peculiar, deep tones, sounding not unlike the human voice. One evening after the colonel’s party had camped, he was perambulating outside, and, hearing the owls, fancied they were addressing him with “Who comes there?” He promptly responded in sonorous tones, “Colonel William H. Russell, of Kentucky—a bosom friend of Henry Clay.” This little performance was afterward a source of bantering among his friends.

Frémont was placed in command of the battalion by Stockton and he marched with it southward. The start was made in the winter. The weather being very severe, many hardships were suffered by the troops on the march, and when they arrived at Santa Barbara a considerable number of them were in weak condition. The arms I had collected for Stockton were put into the hands of these men, a good many of whom I knew—probably a hundred to a hundred and fifty out of the four hundred. Some of them told me that while crossing the Santa Ynez Mountains in the night Frémont showed considerable nerve in leading his men, the road being very steep and a tremendous storm raging.

On reaching Frémont’s tent I found him walking to and fro in front of it. After salutations, he said he had sent to see what I could do towards furnishing supplies for his troops, who were greatly in need, beef being about the only food in camp. I told him I would be happy to supply the battalion with flour, tea, coffee, sugar and clothing. He said that I could see the quartermaster and commissary and arrange with them about the quantities, etc.; that there was no money in the camp at that time, but that I would surely be paid; that they would doubtless capture Los Angeles within six weeks, and I could depend on getting my money then, and he pledged his word he would pay for the supplies within that time.

Major Snyder was quartermaster and King was the commissary. After consulting with them as to what they wanted, and they had given me acknowledgments of indebtedness amounting to about $6,000, the goods from the vessel were landed next day. Concluding my business at Santa Barbara, I proceeded to San Diego.


There was an understanding between Stockton and Frémont, as part of the former’s plan, that Frémont should approach Los Angeles, halt at a point not far from there at a specified time, and send word to Stockton at San Diego of that fact, when Stockton would advance from the south, and thus enclose the Californians between the two forces. Stockton waited at San Diego for that intelligence from Frémont, which, however, did not arrive. Having become impatient at the long and mysterious delay, Stockton decided to move on Los Angeles without tarrying further for Frémont.

While waiting, Stockton had not been idle. 0n the arrival of the fleet at San Diego he landed his sailors from the different vessels and moved up to the presidio, or old town of San Diego. By invitation of Bandini he took possession of a portion of his residence and made it the military headquarters. His sailors were encamped at that place, and the whole presidio was turned into a military camp. The commodore had also the band from the Congress quartered at the mansion.

The commodore was accustomed to have the band play during the dinner hour and to invite the Bandini family and ladies of San Diego to dine with him and to listen to the excellent music, which invitations they were pleased to avail themselves of, and afterwards spoke of these occasions with enthusiasm. The ladies also praised the commodore and his officers and evidently appreciated the courtesy and attention.

Don Juan Bandini had in his dwelling a very large hall where he gave dancing parties during the commodore’s stay in San Diego, at which he and his officers and the best families of the town participated, the band of the squadron furnishing the music. Bandini himself was a musician and was noted as a dancer. He understood fully how to manage an entertainment of the kind, with his charming wife. These gatherings were highly enjoyed by all who were present.

He owned the Guadalupe rancho in Lower California, comprising eleven leagues of land, with 4,000 or 5,000 head of cattle, 2,000 horses, and numerous sheep. In Riverside County he owned the Jurupa rancho, with 4,000 or 5,000 head of cattle and 2,000 or 3,000 horses. He had another rancho a few leagues below the boundary line between the United States and Mexico, called Tecate. He was a well-educated man, representing the department of California in the city of Mexico for some time.

Stockton’s sailors were drilled in military tactics at the presidio of San Diego and practiced in various army evolutions as soldiers—infantry, artillerymen and cavalry—in preparation for the coming campaign. The commodore wanted to do his work thoroughly and make sure of conquering.

The Californians had risen quite generally through that part of the country. Stockton’s preparations were extensive, and his organization complete and effective. The necessity was urgent of at once bringing the whole department into subjection to the new order of affairs. Meanwhile Santiaguito Argüello, Don Miguel de Pedrorena and Hensley were actively recruiting and gathering horses for Stockton’s command.

While these preparations were going forward, news was received of General Kearny’s arrival at or near Warner’s rancho, in San Diego County, from New Mexico, to take the position of commander-in-chief of the United States forces in California. The information was brought by Captain Snook, who has been mentioned in connection with Commodore Jones’ taking possession of Monterey in 1842. He had given up sea voyaging and bought a rancho in San Diego County in the vicinity of San Pasqual. On getting this intelligence, Lieutenant Beale was sent out by the commodore to meet Kearny and guide him to San Diego.

On reaching San Pasqual, at which place Kearny had then arrived, Beale found that the general had from 120 to 130 men with him, all suffering severely from cold and lack of food. The winter was an unusually severe one, snow and frost prevailing, which was very seldom known in that latitude, and the men had experienced many hardships on the way from New Mexico to this point. They had no horses, only mules. Lieutenant Beale informed General Kearny that be had been sent by the commodore as a guide and that it would be advisable to avoid meeting Don Andrés Pico and his force of cavalry, consisting of about 90 men, who were then in the vicinity of San Diego, having been dispatched from the main body of Californians near Los Angeles for the purpose of watching Stockton’s movements and preparations, and communicating information of the same to headquarters. Commodore Stockton, knowing of Pico’s presence in the neighborhood, and that he had a well-mounted force, in fine condition, thought it best for Kearny’s troops not to meet them, probably surmising that the latter were not in very good fighting condition after their long march during the cold weather; or, probably, he had been informed of this by Captain Snook. Upon Lieutenant Beale’s communicating Commodore Stockton’s views to Kearny, the latter promptly responded, “No, sir; I will go and fight them,” and declined to act upon the suggestion of the commodore.

Beale had observed the starved appearance of the men and their bad circumstances generally. He intimated to Kearny that as they were worn out with their recent march and had not found time to recruit they were hardly in a fit condition to meet the Californians, who were numerous, as well as brave, and not to be despised as enemies. He also represented that the mules would be no match for the horses in a battle, even if in the best condition. Kearny declined to be influenced by the argument, being determined to have a fight. He was saved the necessity of moving to meet the Californians, however, for the latter, having learned of Kearny’s force at San Pasqual, shortly appeared there, and, led by Don Andrés Pico, made an attack upon the 6th of December.

When the Californians observed the appearance of Kearny’s men and how they were mounted, they remarked to each other, “Aquí vamos hacer matanza.” (“Here we are going to have a slaughter.”) They were mounted on fresh horses, and were armed with sharp-pointed lances and with pistols, in the use of which weapons they were very expert. A furious charge was made upon Kearny’s force, whereupon all the mules ran away as fast as their legs would convey them, pursued by the Californians, who used their lances with great effect, killing about twenty-five of Kearny’s men and wounding a large number (including General Kearny) of the remainder (nearly all of them in the back), who were all in the predicament of being unable to control the half-starved mules which they rode at the time of the stampede. The general, however, managed to rally his men and the mules, and, taking a position, held it against the attacking forces, who were not able to dislodge him. The Californians withdrawing from the immediate scene of action, Kearny buried his dead, while expecting that at any moment the enemy would renew the fight.

In this conflict Beale was slightly wounded in the head. At his suggestion Kearny moved his force to the top of Escondido Mountain, which lay in the direction of San Diego, marching in solid form, so as to be able the better to resist any attack that might be made, the mountain offering advantages for defense which could not be procured below. While there encamped they were surrounded and besieged by Pico and his troops, who made another attack but without success.

In the battle just described, Don Andrés Pico, who was brave and honorable, displayed so much courage and coolness as to excite the admiration of the Americans. He never did an act beneath the dignity of an officer or contrary to the rules of war, and was humane and generous. If he saw one of the enemy wounded he instantly called upon his men to spare the life of the wounded soldier. Kind and hospitable, Pico was held in great esteem by the Americans who knew him.

While Kearny was thus besieged, Lieutenant Beale volunteered to make his way through the enemy’s lines and communicate to Stockton the intelligence of the general’s position and circumstances. It was an act of great daring; but by traveling in the night only, and part of the time crawling on his hands and knees, to avoid discovery, he finally reached San Diego, nearly dead from exhaustion, his hands and limbs badly scored.

When he came into San Diego he was little more than a skeleton; his friends hardly knew him. He gave an account of what had transpired and of the condition of Kearny’s force. As soon as his mind was relieved of the message he became utterly prostrated from the sufferings he had undergone, and shortly after was delirious. It was some time before he recovered. Stockton and the other officers of the squadron showed him every attention.

A force of two hundred men, with some light artillery, was immediately sent to rescue Kearny’s troops and escort them to San Diego; also conveyances for the wounded, with full supplies of provisions. The Californians moved back as this force approached, not venturing further demonstrations. The troops, with the wounded, were brought to San Diego.

Stockton continued his preparations on an extensive scale for the conflict. He delayed a further movement in order to allow the recovery of the wounded men. Kearny demanded of Stockton the position of commander-in-chief of the territory by virtue of an appointment to that place by the President. The navy officer declined to yield the command, claiming that the men whom he had organized and drilled for the conflict belonged to the United States ships which he commanded; that he had spent his time and labor in making preparations; had transformed his sailors into soldiers; had exercised and trained them in military tactics; that he had gathered horses and men, had organized a force of cavalry, and had made all his arrangements to conquer the Californians and show them that the country was now a part of the United States. He claimed the honor of accomplishing this, and declined to be superseded by another.

There was more or less controversy about their respective ranks, which was not definitely settled.

Meanwhile, Stockton continued his preparations. Kearny having made his demand and Stockton having refused to comply, the former could do nothing but quietly submit. When the expedition was ready to start, he volunteered to join with such of his dragoons as were able to do service, about eighty in all, which offer was accepted by Stockton, Kearny simply commanding his own men under the commodore’s orders. When they moved forward, about the 1st of January, 1847, Stockton had between seven hundred and eight hundred men, including Kearny’s force.

During the march, and afterward, the natives in Stockton’s army were mounted as cavalrymen and were assigned to picket duty, a very responsible service—which showed the confidence the commodore placed in them. They were specially adapted for this duty, being genuine horsemen and knowing the country thoroughly. They were, moreover, faithful and trustworthy.

Arriving at the San Gabriel River, the Californians were found in force on the opposite side, in an advantageous position. The river was swollen from previous heavy rains. On the 8th, the two armies commenced an artillery fight, in which Stockton exhibited great skill, coolness and bravery. During the engagement one of the artillerymen was killed by a shot from the enemy, while firing his gun. Stockton, who was near by, immediately took charge of the gun, and so accurate was his aim that he did marked execution in the enemy’s ranks. In the navy the commodore was known as a practical artillerist, and afterward was the inventor of a powerful piece of ordnance. Under cover of the artillery fire his force crossed the river, the movement being accomplished with considerable difficulty, and was followed by the artillery.

The fighting continued on that day and the next, the Californians making several charges upon the United States troops. The commodore had formed his army into a hollow square, which the enemy attacked on every side simultaneously; but they were unable to penetrate it, and were repulsed each time. The Californians were all mounted, there being no infantry in their army. They relied upon their horsemanship and their lances to break Stockton’s lines; but he knew their mode of attack and was prepared for it. The line of troops in front kneeled down and received the charge of the cavalry at the point of the bayonet, those in the rear thus being enabled to fire over the heads of those in the front rank.

Twenty-five or thirty of the Californians were killed, and a great many wounded; while Stockton’s loss did not exceed ten killed, with a few wounded. Doubtless the actual number of the Californians killed will never be known, they having concealed their loss, not being willing to make a statement in regard thereto.

Many more of the Californians would have been killed and wounded during their charges upon Stockton’s force but for skillful maneuvers in horsemanship which they employed in making their attacks. Forcing their horses forward, in approaching Stockton’s line, every horseman in their ranks threw himself over to one side, bending far down so that no part of his body except one leg appeared above the saddle. When the columns met amid the horseman was required to use the lance or do other effective service, he remained but a few seconds in the saddle; and in the retreat he threw himself over along the side of the horse and rode rapidly in that position, guiding the steed skillfully at the same time. By these tactics the cavalry of the enemy avoided presenting themselves as conspicuous marks for the riflemen.

Stockton had three or four hundred head of beef cattle which he had brought from San Diego, or had gathered along the route, for the use of his army. In forming the square to receive the attacks of the Californians, the cattle were placed within the lines, and also his baggage wagons and supplies. The enemy made desperate attempts to break through at the point where the cattle were stationed, but without success.

It might seem difficult to keep a large body of rodeo cattle within the military square during the progress of a battle. But the animals were placed in charge of the mounted Californians of Stockton’s force. They were rancheros and were thoroughly familiar with the handling of stock; they made it their duty to see that the cattle were kept intact on this occasion. The creatures gradually became accustomed to the movements of the army and were held in place even during the discharge of cannon and small arms. Stockton’s infantry and artillery repulsed the attacks, and he managed the animals so well that no part of his square was broken on any side. The Californians, finding that our army was too powerful for them, finally withdrew from the field.


The Californians retreated toward the San Fernando mission, near which point they were confronted by Frémont’s battalion, which had advanced that far on the way south; and they capitulated to him. This was the whole of Frémont’s participation in the conflict.

Meanwhile, Stockton marched his army into Los Angeles to the tune of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Frémont also soon arrived

The Californians, finding themselves beaten and seeing the number and determination of their opponents and their superiority in arms, in military organization and in generalship, quietly yielded, dispersed, and went about their business, refusing to contend further against the United States.

The city of Los Angeles, after our army entered and took possession, was orderly and not at all disturbed; the citizens moved to and fro, in the usual way, as if her angelic sanctity was not in the least ruffled.

Stockton appointed Frémont governor of California. He perhaps was influenced to this course by Kearny’s previous abrupt demand for the position of commander-in-chief. Frémont took the office, and Stockton returned to San Diego with his army, including Kearny’s force. He embarked his men on the vessels and took command of the squadron again.

I arrived at San Diego about the time of the battle, with the Euphemia, in company with the bark Tasso. The two vessels left Santa Barbara at the same time, a heavy gale having then abated. A light easterly wind prevailed which required us to beat down all the way. We sailed so near to each other that we carried on a conversation from one vessel to the other. The Tasso lowered a boat, and Captain Libbey and supercargo Teschemacher came aboard our vessel, staying for an hour or two and partaking of refreshments. On reaching San Diego we waited for war news.

Meanwhile, I sold to the different vessels of the squadron $3,000 to $4,000 worth of provisions, its own stores having been largely used for the supply of the troops; received purser’s bills in payment; also sold to Bandini and to my old friend Captain Fitch, who were merchants there.

The dragoons of Kearny’s force who were wounded in the battle of San Pasqual, about twenty or thirty in number, when brought into San Diego had been distributed among the different families. Dr. R. T. Maxwell, then surgeon of the Cyane, was in attendance on the men. He took me and Teschemacher with him to visit them. They all had the utmost horror of Californians. The attack upon them had been sudden and vigorous, and they had been pursued by the Californians relentlessly and grievously wounded, the lances having been wielded with such skill and precision that many of the dragoons were killed. This was an entirely new experience to the American soldiers. As there had been no opportunity offered to face their enemy in a fair fight, a terrible impression had been made upon their minds of the warlike character of the native Californians.

One young man in particular, of about twenty, with an intelligent face, suddenly became delirious while we were visiting him, and called out in terror thinking the Californians were upon him. The San Diego ladies were very kind to these men, visiting and nursing them, preparing little delicacies for them and doing all in their power to make them comfortable.

After the troops had returned to San Diego from the battle of San Gabriel, Kearny made inquiries for a young Californian of the opposing force who had distinguished himself in the battle of San Pasqual by his courage and valor. He had singled out General Kearny individually and sprung at him as chief of the enemy. When he had succeeded in wounding the general, and the latter had fallen, the young Californian desisted from the attack and spared his life. After some inquiry Kearny succeeded in finding out who he was. Upon his solicitation the young man called on the general, who greeted him warmly and praised him for his bravery and soldierly behavior.

As soon as we received news of Stockton’s victory over the Californians, Teschemacher and myself started by land for Los Angeles, ordering our vessels to proceed to San Pedro. The first night out we slept at the rancho of Santa Margarita, in charge of Don José Antonio Pico. He was called “Teniente” (Lieutenant) Pico from his long service in the army. I had known him in 1841, ‘42, ‘43, in Sonoma, in General Vallejo’s army. This rancho was owned by Governor Pico and Don Andrés Pico, and was one of the most beautiful places in the country. Here I saw the first sugarcane growing in California, around a mound near the house, in the center of which, at the top, was a natural spring of water. Some of the stalks were nearly as large as my arm.

Arriving in the evening, we were received with great hospitality by Don Antonio and his family; had an excellent supper; and talked and smoked, and sipped California wine to a late hour, enjoying ourselves heartily.

The next morning I was up early, and, on going out, saw the sugarcane. I expressed my surprise to Don Antonio, who was already out on the porch (with a black silk handkerchief tied over his head, the four ends meeting at the back of his neck). On receiving permission to cut some of the sugarcane, I feasted on its sweetness before breakfast.

We got an early start, Don Antonio insisting that he should send back to San Diego the horses and vaqueros we had engaged there to take us to Los Angeles; furnishing us, with true California hospitality, six of his own horses and a Vaquero to continue the journey, three of the horses to go ahead loose, to be used when those we started with had become tired. Not wishing to slight his generosity, we accepted them, and proceeded.

We stopped next at the rancho of Santa Ana, owned by the beautiful and fascinating widow of Don Tomás Yorba, who had extensive land possessions and great numbers of cattle and horses. She managed her rancho with much ability. The lady was one of my best customers. In June, 1846, I sold her from $2,000 to $3,000 worth of goods, she having come to the vessel at San Pedro to buy them. Here we passed the night. She also insisted upon furnishing us with fresh horses to Los Angeles, having herself before we appeared in the morning dispatched ours and the vaquero back to “Teniente” Pico.

Returning the vaqueros and horses was frequently done when guests remained overnight. She provided us with two horses and another vaquero. It had been raining for some days, and the Santa Ana River was high.

While we were making our preparations to start, Doña Vicenta, her fine hair streaming over her shoulders, a picture of womanly grace and beauty, gave orders to her mayordomo to group four or five manadas, which was done. Having the horses together, the vaqueros drove them into the river, across to the other shore, and then immediately back to the same place. As they returned, Doña Vicenta said, “The river is now prepared for you to cross.” The object of the movement of the large number of horses had been to trample down and harden the soft sediment or river quicksand at the bottom so that we could cross on our horses with greater ease and safety, without risk to horse or man. When we were all prepared to start, the band of horses was driven over the river again at the same place and we followed immediately in their wake.

This proceeding, which I have frequently seen in other places, for the same purpose, showed the extreme kindness of the lady to her guests. While there, we drank some good California wine five or six years old manufactured by Tomás Yorba, Doña Vicenta’s deceased husband. They had a large vineyard, and made wine for their use, and also for sale to others, and I purchased of her several hundred dollars’ worth of wine and aguardiente to be transported to my vessel at San Pedro and resold. There was no higgling about the price; she simply named it when she said I could have the articles.

The common custom in dealings between the merchants and the Californians was for the purchaser not to take occasion to ask the price, the seller quietly naming it at once. There was a perfect understanding between the parties, and confidence was felt on both sides that no advantage would be taken; the price stated was at once accepted as the correct one. Mrs. Yorba was the aunt of Mrs. Garfias, wife of the American consul at Tepic, Mexico, before mentioned. She lived afterwards at Anaheim, where her married daughters also resided.

After crossing the Santa Ana, the next important stream was the San Gabriel, which we reached toward the end of the day, having made rather slow progress in the muddy roads. We found the river very swift, and, halting at the brink, looked inquiringly towards each other. Addressing the vaquero by name I said, “Que le parece a usted? El río está bravo.” (“What do you think? The river is mad.”) He replied, it was dangerous but we could manage to cross. I asked Teschemacher what he thought, and he said he supposed we should have a try. We went in, at the suggestion of the vaquero all three abreast so that he could keep us in sight. About a third of the way across, the vaquero’s horse suddenly turned over and went under the swift water. He came up again, the vaquero still clinging fast to him. The animal gave a snort, shook the water from his ears and went forward to shore. Teschemacher’s horse made a side motion as if to turn over, but the rider leaned to the other side, and the animal, regaining his balance, swam across. My horse had no trouble, but took me steadily and safely over. The horses had to swim most of the way. We got to Los Angeles about seven or eight o’clock p.m. We were going to Don Abel Stearns’ house; as we approached, Charles W. Flügge met us and took us to his apartments, where he prepared some hot punch, which warmed us, after which Doña Arcadia Stearns provided us with an excellent supper. Dry garments and shoes were given us, and several hours were spent there talking, enjoying ourselves, and drinking California wine until we felt in a very happy frame of mind, though none of us were intoxicated. Mrs. Stearns provided each of us a room, and we slept very comfortably in her excellent beds.

The captains, supercargoes and merchants in the early days of California were nearly all good drinkers. They partook freely of California wine and aguardiente, which, from its excellence and purity, seemed to have no deleterious effect. I never knew of an instance of a drunkard among them.

While we were proceeding from San Diego to Los Angeles, Stockton and his force passed in the opposite direction, by another road, going to San Diego. On the second day after reaching Los Angeles I called on Colonel Frémont, who was then governor of California. The first person I saw at headquarters was Colonel William H. Russell. He had been made secretary of state by Frémont, and he gave me a little account of the movements of the battalion, the capitulation, etc. I told him I had called to see Colonel Frémont on business and that I should like to make a settlement of my claim against him; that my vessel was at San Pedro, and I probably should not be at Los Angeles more than a week. He answered in his flourishing style that the colonel was extremely busy, that he had a great many callers and very important matters to attend to, and asked if it would make any difference if he did not present the matter to the colonel until the morrow. I told him that a day’s delay would make no difference.

Russell worshiped Frémont as a great hero, carrying his admiration to a ridiculous extent, thinking Frémont appreciated him. I called the next day at headquarters and was again put off by Russell, who told me that Colonel Frémont was engaged in writing dispatches to Washington and could not by any means be disturbed. Seizing me by both hands, and shaking them warmly, he said with a good deal of fervor that he should consider it a personal favor if I would call the next day, when he would secure the attention of the governor to my business; upon which the interview ended.

I called every day during the week and was each time unable to see Frémont, although Colonel Russell informed him I had called, the plea being that his great press of business would not admit of it. I became convinced that he was trifling and purposely avoided an interview. On the seventh day I sent to him by Colonel Russell the quartermaster’s and commissary’s receipts for the goods I had delivered and requested their approval by Frémont. I was told to call in the afternoon, at which time I at last succeeded in getting the papers, containing Frémont’s endorsement as governor of California.

Meanwhile, during this week, I was busy in making sales at Los Angeles and collecting wine and aguardiente, of which I purchased considerable quantities, taking much of it in pay for goods previously delivered; also collecting hides, tallow and money. I made large sales. The country having been at war, the supplies of the people had become exhausted.

I did not regret having furnished the supplies for the soldiers, knowing how much they were in need of them, nor the assistance I had rendered the government in so doing, thus indirectly aiding in conquering the country. Nor did I regret that I was not to receive my pay when I found it was not forthcoming, although it had been absolutely promised by Frémont; but I considered, in view of Colonel Frémont’s relation to me as a creditor and of the great accommodation I had rendered to him at Santa Barbara, when his force was in distress, and of his promise to settle on reaching Los Angeles, that I was entitled to courteous treatment. If he was not prepared to redeem his promise, he could at least have said so in a fair, square, and manly way.

In January, 1848, my partnership with Eliab and Henry Grimes was dissolved, and in settlement I turned these two papers over to them. Several years afterward I knew that the claim was still unpaid, though I think it eventually was settled.

Commodore Stockton became United States senator from New Jersey in 1851 and interested himself personally to see that the indebtedness which he had contracted, as agent of the government, for supplies on this coast received attention at Washington.

I may mention one instance: Don Santiaguito Argüello furnished large quantities of army supplies from his extensive rancho eleven or twelve miles from San Diego—several hundred head of cattle and horses, and for which he had a claim against the government amounting to $14,000. The claim was sent to Washington by Major Lee, commissary general for the Pacific Coast. Stockton’s attention being called to it, he exerted himself effectually in its settlement and in a few months Argüello received his money.

I regard Stockton as the real conqueror of California and as a man of very large mind, great judgment, and extraordinary foresight evinced in his whole career. His visit to Los Angeles shortly after coming to the coast and his friendly overtures to the Californians at that place, and afterward at Yerba Buena, showed his wisdom and discernment. When the news of the revolt of the Californians was received, he showed his good judgment in the preparations he made, first here in the north, and afterward in San Diego, looking months ahead for the conflict and arranging to meet it systematically and thoroughly. Instead of hastily going forward with a small and unorganized and imperfectly drilled army, he took pains to instruct his officers and men for their new work, and at the same time, no doubt, improved and qualified himself in army tactics. The gathering of recruits, horses and supplies from the country, and equipping, drilling and organizing his troops for the campaign, required laborious effort. In striking contrast to this mode of proceeding was Kearny’s hasty and ill-judged action in fighting Pico’s force with half-starved and fatigued men mounted on mules, which was precipitated by Kearny against the combined judgment of Stockton and Beale. We have another example of Stockton’s foresight and good sense in sending out a man to warn Kearny of there being in the vicinity a more powerful enemy (Pico), and to proceed to San Diego without meeting that foe. Had any less capable man than Stockton been commander-in-chief at that period on the Pacific coast, the insurrection of the Californians would have been a serious affair. The conflict might have been prolonged with further effusion of blood.

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

Return to San Francisco Genealogy
Public Commons License