San Francisco History

Seventy-five Years in San Francisco


After my return to the coast with the brig Euphemia in March, 1846, an idea came into my mind that in the course of business events I would prepare a voyage for Callao, Peru, with the Euphemia or some other vessel, carrying a cargo of tallow for that market. In this I was inspired by the big gains of vessels that were fitted out from Callao with assorted merchandise for the coast of California. In return for goods the vessels brought here, they went back to Peru with tallow as a remittance, which was sold at one hundred per cent profit over the cost of the same here. In the fall of 1847 I commenced getting ready for the new field of operations. At Sausalito I deposited the tallow collected from debtors to myself around the bay, and from vessels trading on the coast, in exchange for hides. In December following, the brig sailed for San Diego, to touch at intermediate ports for collections of more tallow. I had contracted with Don Eulogio de Célis for a lot of tallow he had stored at San Diego, to make up a full cargo. Before the brig reached Monterey she encountered a southeast gale of wind and sprung a leak. In the course of a week a courier arrived from Monterey with a letter from R. M. Sherman, who was supercargo, informing me that they had arrived there and that the vessel was in a leaky condition. The bark Natalia of Valparaíso, Manuel Luco owner and supercargo, was leaving for Monterey at the time the bad news reached me, and I took passage on her. The brig returned to San Francisco, the voyage to Callao having been abandoned for lack of a vessel to convey the cargo. Had she been favored with her usual luck the venture would have been carried out, with a prospect of a profitable result for her owners. The proceeds of the tallow would have been invested in general merchandise, as Callao was then a depository for goods from Europe and the United States. But the adage, “Man proposes, God disposes,” proved true in this instance and the vessel was sent to Honolulu for repairs, with her cargo of tallow, Mr. Sherman as supercargo. The tallow was sold there at a loss.

While the Euphemia was being overhauled and put in order, Sherman was busy buying a return cargo, and his selections proved suitable for the mines, which were discovered during his absence. The Euphemia arrived at San Francisco just in the nick of time, in June, 1848, a few days after the first appearance here of the gold from Sacramento.

On the evening of Mr. Sherman’s arrival, Mr. W. D. M. Howard invited eight of his intimate friends (among the number the writer) to partake of a fine dinner in honor of and to welcome Sherman’s return. It was in the early hours of morning that this group of young argonauts retired to their homes after an hilarious and enjoyable feast. Of the number only three are living, R. M. Sherman, H. F. Teschemacher and the writer.

In the fall of 1849 the Euphemia was chartered by W. D. M. Howard, Hiram Grimes, Joseph P. Thompson, Eulogio de Célis and myself for a voyage to Mazatlán for Mexican goods, with a capital of $45,000 in gold dust. Célis furnished $15,000 and went as supercargo; Howard and myself, $10,000 each, and the other two of the company $5,000 apiece. At my suggestion, Howard and I called on board the flagship Ohio and asked Commodore Jones to give the Euphemia an American flag, instead of the Hawaiian, which he readily did. The occasion of the interchange of flags was celebrated with sparkling wine on board the brig by a large company of friends, including Commodore Jones. The voyage to Mexico proved to be a success to those interested in the enterprise.

Sometime in 1850 I sold the Euphemia to the city of San Francisco, to be used as a prison brig, and she was moored alongside Central Wharf. The common name for this pier was Long Wharf.

Thus ended the career of one of the luckiest vessels to her owners that I have known in my long business experience. She was homely and a slow sailer, but carried more than double her tonnage in freight. On her first voyage to California she cleared $30,000 the day I obtained the receipt for the duties and customhouse permission to trade up and down the coast. Her numerous voyages to Honolulu and San Francisco were very prosperous financially, and during my ownership only one accident occurred to the Euphemia.

The Jóven Guipuzcoana was owned by Mr. Aguirre, as I have before stated. In the beginning of December, 1848, Major Reading, of the firm of Hensley, Reading & Co., of Sacramento, was in my store one morning. The subject of conversation between the major and myself on that occasion was the high price of flour that ruled in the market. Reading suggested getting up a voyage to Oregon for a cargo of flour. I replied, “Yes, I have a vessel in port already manned, belonging to Aguirre.” The major wanted to know how soon she could sail. I said, “Right away, as she is already prepared for sea.” Reading asked how much money would be required for the speculation. I replied, “Fifteen thousand dollars, in this manner: Hensley, Reading & Co. should pay in five thousand—Aguirre and myself ten thousand.” I then asked Reading who would go supercargo, and suggested one of his partners, Jacob R. Snyder.

In two days from that time the bark was on her way to Portland with a spanking breeze at her stern from the southeast. She arrived at the Columbia River and went to Portland in remarkably quick time. Three or four days after her arrival, Mr. Snyder succeeded in buying a full cargo of flour for the vessel at reasonable prices. While she was getting ready to start on the return voyage the Columbia River froze over, and the vessel remained from December, 1848, to April, 1849, walled in by ice. During the time the bark was detained many vessels arrived from Chile with flour. The consequence was, when our flour reached here it had no price in the market. It was sent in the vessel to Sacramento and jobbed out at fair prices, so that we lost no money, but made some profit.

P. B. Reading was the Whig candidate for governor of California in the election of 1851, against John Bigler, the Democratic candidate for the same office. Being a Whig, I voted for the former, who was defeated by Bigler.

The American flag was raised at Yerba Buena by Captain Montgomery of the Portsmouth, as before stated, July 9, 1846.

The ship Brooklyn, Captain Richardson, arrived from New York about the last of the same month. The vessel brought passengers to the number of two hundred and thirty, and I was the first aboard after she dropped anchor, to welcome the newcomers to our embryo American town. It was on this occasion I met Sam Brannan for the first time, who was a passenger. The Brooklyn came with an organized military company, at the head of which was Brannan as its leader. They arrived a little too late for their object—to hoist our national standard, as the good work had already been accomplished by our squadron.

Many of the newcomers pitched their tents on a lot of mine on Washington Street near Montgomery. These additions to our small village proved to be desirable, as they were an industrious, hard-working and thrifty class of people, intelligent and sober. Among them were carpenters and house builders. After their arrival the echoes of mechanics’ hammers vibrated through the sand hills of Yerba Buena. From every direction in the village the signs of progress under the change and that of the American system became apparent.

Soon after Brannan’s arrival he commenced business in a spirit of push and energy and at once manifested an interest in California’s prosperity, which he has assisted materially to develop, and in promoting her varied resources. He was always found at the front, with open purse, in any enterprise to forward the interest of the state of his adoption. If there is a man who is deserving of recognition from the state of California and the city of San Francisco, it is Sam Brannan. He assisted to lay the cornerstone of the city’s commercial greatness.

After the discovery of gold at Sutter’s millrace in January, 1848, and the news had spread over the Pacific Ocean, vessels began to come in with merchandise from Honolulu, Mazatlán, San Blas, Valparaíso, Callao, Chinese and other Pacific ports.

By the time the first steamer arrived from Panama with Eastern passengers there were already anchored in the bay of San Francisco quite a fleet of vessels of nearly all nations, which had come to receive their share of the newly discovered treasure in exchange for goods which were in much demand to supply the wants of those who had gone in great numbers to the mines from all portions of the department and of the passengers by vessels. In the month of June, 1848, two miners came to my store with fine scale gold dust. I had seen similar gold from the San Fernando mines in Los Angeles County, but withal I was in doubt as to the genuineness of the bright metal before me. The miners and myself called on James C. Ward, a neighboring merchant. He proved to be incompetent to determine whether it was gold or not. We four men went to Buckelew, a jeweler and watchmaker. Mr. Buckelew applied the aquafortis, and at once pronounced the metal pure gold. I bought the dust, over $100 worth, at $16 per ounce, from the two miners, and paid them half in coin and half in goods.

This gold was the first to arrive in San Francisco to be used in trade and I was the first purchaser of the product of the mines. All merchants transacted an immense business, and there was no trouble in selling goods if we had them to sell. The receipts of gold from the mines was so great, and the means of weighing it so limited, that we had trouble from the scarcity of scales. Buckelew, being the only maker of scales, was kept at work from morning till night manufacturing to fill orders.

Gold and silver coin became very scarce in the market. The duties on goods from foreign ports had to be paid in coin, and the merchants were unable to comply with the customs laws. An arrangement was made with the collector of the port to receive gold dust on deposit from them at $10 per ounce, for duties, redeemable at the end of sixty days with coin. Most of the gold pledged for duties was sold at auction by the government, at the expiration of the time, for about $10 per ounce, and less in some instances. This action of the government was a great hardship to the merchants, as they incurred a loss of $6 for each ounce thus sold, and particularly when it was known at the Treasury department in Washington that the true value of the gold was from $18 to $20 per ounce, assayed and made into coin at the mint in Philadelphia.

David Carter, of Boston, in the summer of 1848, formed a co-partnership with me, for carrying on commercial business between California and the Eastern states. Mr. Carter left here in the fall of 1848 by way of Central America. He carried with him about $30,000 in gold dust to be coined at the United States mint above named, and it was the first gold coined at that time from California. I had a small interest in this gold shipment.

One bright morning in February, 1849, the California, the first steamer from New York, arrived here from Panama with the first gold-seekers from the Atlantic states. As she rounded Telegraph Hill the vessel careened to the shore side, from the rush of passengers to get a look at the town. The United States Pacific naval squadron was anchored between Telegraph and Rincon hills. Commodore Jones’ flagship was the Ohio, eighty guns. The other vessels were the Portsmouth, St. Mary’s, Cyane, Dale and Warren.

The sight of the steamer, with her immense load of humanity, inspired the commodore to order a general salute from the vessels of the fleet simultaneously. After the first broadsides from them they were enveloped in a cloud of smoke until the end of the greeting of twenty-one guns from each ship. The handling of the guns was so admirable that the firing appeared as if from one only. The echoes of the cannonading vibrated among the hills and valleys of the surrounding country of the bay, as heralding the future greatness of California.

Commodore Jones, who first planted the American flag in California, in 1842, was the first to fire the memorable salute in the bay of San Francisco welcoming the immigrants who came subsequent to the discovery of gold. The commodore was proud of being the first of our naval officers to welcome the new immigration that subsequently laid the foundation of California, destined to assume the front rank among the states of the Union. The scene is fresh in my mind, the view of the spectacle being grand, inspiring and awakening the deepest enthusiasm. In this steamer came the agent, Alfred Robinson, of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, which had just been organized in New York; and the California was the first vessel built by that company and sent out to the Pacific coast as the forerunner of a commercial fleet propelled by steam.

Don Alfredo Robinson came to California in the ship Brookline, of Boston, in 1829, as assistant supercargo. He arrived at Monterey and in the same year came to San Francisco. He has now attained the ripe age of over four score years and is mentally and physically hale and strong, with the exception that he has become almost totally blind. Of the very earliest settlers of California Mr. Robinson stands first on the list of the few remaining argonauts, William Heath Davis comes second, J. J. Warner number three and Jacob P. Leese fourth in the order of arrival. It will not take many more years before the names here mentioned will disappear as things of the past.

Immediately below my home, north of Jackson and west of Stockton Street, there existed a hollow or little valley with low rolling hills on each side. In it, in the summer of 1849, quite a village of tents was temporarily inhabited by people from all parts of the world, preparatory to departing for the mines. One night in the early hours of morning my slumber was disturbed by screams of women and children from the hamlet of canvas. While I was reflecting, in a half-awake and half-asleep condition, as if emerging from a dream or nightmare, I heard a sharp knock at the door of my dwelling. In opening it, there stood before me several women, trembling with fright. They had escaped from their temporary homes; the poor creatures came to my house for protection, which I gave them. One of the number, who proved to be a cultivated Chilean lady, Doña Rosa Gaskell, asked my wife to permit them to remain for the rest of the night. Mrs. Gaskell was terribly alarmed for her life. Her husband had gone to the mines. During the melee at the scene of disturbance, the tents and their fixtures were destroyed and many persons were injured bodily by the hands of a band of ruffians who styled themselves the “Hounds.”

The town became alarmed and excited over this affair, and energetic measures were at once adopted to prevent a repetition of the outrage by these desperadoes. Mr. Samuel Brannan took the lead in the matter. Under his directions we organized patrols, and the town was divided into districts, each district guarded by a body of men under arms. I was appointed the head of seven, to guard north of Washington and east of Montgomery streets, running to the bay from these thoroughfares. For several weeks I shouldered one of Uncle Sam’s shining muskets with bayonet, parading all night near the habitations of the roughest elements of the town.

While we were protecting the place Mr. Brannan was active and did good work. The breakers of the peace were arrested as fast as they were found and identified. They were placed on board the sloop-of-war Warren, in irons, preparatory to their trial by a court of the territory.

Mr. and Mrs. C. V. Gillespie arrived here in the American brig Eagle from Canton in the beginning of February, 1848. With this vessel another American lady was added to the number of the very few that were already here, who with the male population were all very glad to welcome this estimable lady to the new American town.

Hall McAllister brought letters of introduction to Mr. Gillespie from the East at the time when the “Hound” excitement was at its highest pitch. Horace Hawes was the prosecuting attorney against the evildoers and disturbers of the tranquillity of the town. C. V. Gillespie, who was a member of the committee of safety, suggested to Mr. Hawes the name of Mr. McAllister as a young man of talent and learned in the profession of the law, to be associated with him in the prosecution of the “Hounds.” This was the cause of his participating in those events. He prosecuted the prisoners for the territory with marked ability. That trial established his legal talent, which developed up to the time of his demise and stamped him the foremost barrister of the city of San Francisco and of the state of his adoption. I may safely remark here that he probably had no superior in the Union in the law, considering that Mr. McAllister was master of all branches of practice in his profession. The “Hounds” were convicted after a stubborn and able defense by their attorney, Myron Norton. They were as wicked as escaped convicts. The leader, whose name was Roberts, was the worst of them all. R. M. Sherman and Wm. H. Tillinghast were appointed a committee to board the Warren to interview some of the prisoners.

Some years after this occurrence, a young lady, a cousin of Sherman, met an older lady accidentally in New York. The subject of their conversation turned on California. The former mentioned that she had a cousin in California named Richard M. Sherman. The latter replied that she was familiar with a part of the early history of the Golden State. She had a son, by the name of Higgins, who was one of the gang of “Hounds” that were tried and convicted for the crime above named. It was a singular coincidence that Sherman, who was active in the exciting event and had waited on Higgins in his official capacity as a committeeman, was a relative of the young woman. Higgins, the “Hound,” was the son of the older lady.

The pressure was great for the first twelve months or more after the discovery of gold to transport passengers and goods more speedily to the mines. The only transporters of passengers and goods were sailing schooners and launches. Early in 1849 Mr. John Parrott suggested to me the project of building a steam vessel for commerce on these inland waters. Captain William A. Richardson, John Parrott and myself were to form a co-partnership with a cash capital of $45,000 as a beginning for our enterprise. Mr. Parrott was to leave for New York immediately and to contract with a builder for a steamboat of about 200 tons capacity to ply between San Francisco and Sacramento with passengers and freight. He departed on the U. S. flagship Ohio by way of Mazatlán for New York in February, 1849; and on arriving there, he found that Jim Blair was then constructing a stern-wheel boat for the bay of San Francisco and rivers adjacent thereto. In a letter from Mr. Parrott to Richardson and myself he discouraged our scheme, for the reason that the steamer already under construction for Blair would supply the demand of the increasing trade with the interior, and he thought that our undertaking would prove financially disastrous. This news was anything but pleasant to the captain and myself, as the traffic with the mines had multiplied to such an extent that every man living here was astonished to witness the millions of wealth that were pouring into the town of tents.

I wrote to Mr. Parrott that there was business enough for our steamboat if she was built; yea, and eight or ten more with her, to meet the commercial demands of the bay and its tributaries. In his answer to my letter, he thought that my judgment was erroneous and that he was right. The project was abandoned, through him, to the injury of himself and his associates. The business would have produced for us hundreds of thousands, if not a million or more, of dollars. I am sustained in this assertion by events that transpired subsequently in this line of business.

Richardson and myself got our money back from New York after waiting a long while. Blair’s boat was called Sutter after the pioneer of the Sacramento Valley, and she did a large and profitable business for her owner.

Mr. Lafayette Maynard was the owner of a part of a block of real estate bounded by Sacramento, Sansome and California streets which bore his name. He had been a lieutenant in the U. S. Navy and was familiar with the art of surveying harbors and rivers. He took Wilkes’ survey of the Sacramento River and examined it critically, for an object. He went to capitalists in New York, explained and demonstrated to them that it was practicable and feasible for a deep-sea steamer of 700 or 800 tons measurement to navigate the river to Sacramento City. The steamer Senator was purchased by a syndicate for the purpose suggested by Maynard, and he was included in the company. At the time of the transaction she was a packet out of New York, running on the Sound. She departed immediately for San Francisco through the Straits of Magellan and arrived here early in September, 1849. Samuel Brannan, W. D. M. Howard (and, I think), Bezer Simmons, and myself, made up the party of four who boarded her soon after she dropped anchor. Mr. Brannan. who was the originator of the project, was selected by us as our spokesman. He soon made known the object of our visit and offered the captain or agent of the steamer the large sum of $250,000 in gold dust at $16 for her sale to us. This offer was rejected with smiles by those representing the steamer. Mr. Brannan again asked them what would they take for the vessel. The answer came that she was not for sale. So ended our trip to the most historic vessel of the days of ’forty-nine.

It was often remarked that the Senator had carried enough gold from Sacramento to San Francisco to sink her two or three times over with the weight of the precious metal. Add to this the passage and freight money, the former two ounces for the trip, and the latter from $40 to $80 per ton, and the amount received was enormous. It would probably take two or three similar steamers to convey the freighted gold and the gold and silver coin she had earned for her owners during the height of our gold production.

The “Old Senator,” by which name she was familiarly known, is now moored in the waters of Australia as a coal vessel. Had she possessed intelligence, she might have been too proud of her nationality, and of her deeds of the past in the accumulation of wealth to the country of her birth, to become a naturalized subject of a British colony by the change of flags. It was a great pity that she was not kept in the bay of San Francisco as a memento of the state of California, as she assisted so materially in the development of this golden land.

Had Mr. Parrott exercised his known foresight and great business ability, our steamboat would have been one of the early conveyances on the waters of the bay of San Francisco in competing for our pro rata of the enormous business, done principally by a few vessels moved by steam, of a commerce that excited the wonder of the business men of the world.


The first brick building of more than one story erected in San Francisco was commenced in September, 1849, by the writer, at the northwest corner of Montgomery and California streets; forty feet on the first and eighty feet on the latter street, four stories high, with a cellar. The bricks and cement, and other materials, were brought from Boston. The winter of 1849-50 was so rainy that the work on the structure was stopped early in November and recommenced in April, 1850. The rains were heavy, and teaming difficult on Montgomery between California and Jackson streets, and California, Sacramento, Clay, Washington and Jackson streets. The miniature city of that day was a lake of mud. To enable the pedestrians to move about, boxes of Virginia tobacco and kegs of New England nails were placed along the streets, about a foot or two apart, for sidewalks. On these goods the people traveled, by leaping from a box to a keg, and from a keg of nails to a box of tobacco, and thus the inhabitants managed to reach their places of business and their homes. The influx of tobacco and nails was so great that the articles had no market value, but they were of use for the purposes above described.

One lovely morning in April, 1850, Commodore Jones approached me where my building was being put up and said he had a business proposition for my consideration. The naval commander of the Pacific squadron immediately gave me the details of it; which was for me to stop building and to undo what had been done, and he would transport all the materials of my structure to Benicia in one of his ships of war, free of charge for freight.

He and other Benicians were to deed to me a very eligible piece of real estate in the city of the Carquinez free of cost, conditioned that I should erect a large brick building on the site. The commodore went into the particulars of the commercial advantages of Benicia over San Francisco in extended and able remarks such as a man of talent and of vast information would surely make. After listening to the historic naval officer’s praises of the interior deep-sea harbor, with all due respect to his high rank I said: “I beg to differ with you. In my judgment San Francisco is destined to be the harbor and business emporium on the bay of San Francisco, from her geographical position and accessibility for vessels from the ocean.” I thanked the commodore for having spent more than an hour in attempting to convince me from his standpoint of the superior advantages possessed by Benicia for being the future big city of California, but was compelled to differ with him nevertheless. At this time and previously there had been a vigorous move oil the part of a few men to locate San Francisco at Benicia for all time as the great city on the waters of San Francisco Bay. Among the schemers were Robert Semple, General Vallejo, Thomas O. Larkin, Henry D. Cook, William M. Steuart, and the heads of the U. S. Army and Navy on the coast. I was talked to by some of the parties above named before Commodore Jones interviewed me, who made propositions of magnitude in my interest, from their view of the subject. They wanted me to give up the city that I had assisted to build from its infancy and to establish my large business at Benicia, which was something that I could not accede to.

That building, after it was finished, I leased to the United States government in June, 1850, for a customhouse. The rental was to be $3,000 a month, or $36,000 a year for three years to run. In the great fire of May, 1851, the customhouse succumbed to the devouring element; also other buildings and merchandise I owned, both of which produced me an income of over $10,000 monthly, before the fire. The collector retained possession of the premises for over a month, guarding the treasure which was saved in the vault, which proved to be thoroughly fireproof. The structure was filled with bonded goods from cellar to top. The lease terminated with the destruction of the building and ended one of my monthly incomes. But I demanded of the collector pay for the detention of the premises after the fire—the sum of $6,000. He referred me to the Treasury department at Washington for my compensation. In the course of many months I received $3,000 through Colonel J. D. Stevenson, who was my attorney in the matter.

Thomas Butler King was the collector of the port at that time. The removal of the treasure from the ruins of my building to the new customhouse, Palmer, Cook & Co.’s old banking house, northwest corner of Kearny and Washington streets, constituted a procession of about fifty armed men which was headed by the collector with pistol in hand. This action on the part of King was ridiculed and censured by the citizens as doubting the honesty of the inhabitants of the young city. The numerous law-abiding citizens that lined Montgomery Street to view the transfer of the treasure would have protected the government funds from any attack that might have been made, without the aid of the accompanying guard.

One evening in December, 1848, Señor Aguirre and myself were seated by a blazing fire in the sitting room of my house in San Francisco. The wind was blowing from the southeast, the windows of the dwelling rattled with the storm, and the piazza was drenched by the spattering of the silvery drops that fell from the dark clouds overhead. I said to Don José Antonio that the Jóven Guipuzcoana sailed but a week or two since for Oregon for a cargo of flour, and I had another business proposition in my mind to make for his consideration: “You and I both have money lying idle. Let us arrange a voyage to China for a cargo of Chinese goods for this market.” He replied that he had confidence in my business ability, and any suggestion coming from me he would gladly assist to carry out. I said, ‘‘Let us charter the ship Rhone for the object and I will prevail on her owners to join us.”

Mr. Aguirre was an old merchant who traded between Mexico and China, mentioned previously, and was familiar with the cost of goods in China; also with the prices of the articles when sold here. I asked him what capital we would require for the expedition. He said, not less than $100,000, to make it profitable, and that $120,000 would be still better. I replied, “All right; we will put in $40,000, and I think Finley, Johnson & Co. will invest $40,000; and I am sure Cross, Hobson & Co., will make up the balance.” He suggested that I had better move in the matter soon. The following day I arranged with the two firms above named, and by noon the Rhone was chartered. The beginning of January, 1849, the American ship Rhone departed for Canton via Honolulu. She took with her $120,000 in gold dust at $16 per ounce, less $4,000 which Cross, Hobson & Co. were unable to provide to make up the full amount of their portion.

Mr. Finley, who was also an old China trader, between Baltimore and China, went as supercargo to attend to the business of the Rhone. The ship returned to San Francisco in the summer of 1849 with a cargo of goods.

Mr. Finley had a written instruction, on the eve of his departure, to invest the funds under his charge wholly for China goods and no other. About half of the cargo proved to be European and American goods, and the market of San Francisco was glutted with such articles. The entire cargo of the vessel was sold peremptorily at auction by Brannan & Osborn. During the sale W. D. M. Howard and I were standing side by side and offering bids to the auctioneer. Mr. Howard said to me, “Why, if the invoice of the Rhone had all been Chinese goods, the Rhone’s cargo would have yielded you a very large profit over the capital you invested.” The owners of the cargo made a profit of more than 100 per cent on the Chinese goods, but lost on the other goods, in consequence of Finley’s acting contrary to his instructions. Had Mr. Finley followed the old adage, “Obey orders or break owners,” the rule would have been reversed in this instance to “Obey orders and enrich owners.”

Let me remark right here that it was the unanimous wish of the charterers of the Rhone that I should go as supercargo instead of Finley, and the latter urged me over and over to accept the appointment and relieve him of the responsibility of the undertaking. Had I gone, one thing is certain: I would have obeyed my instructions to the letter. In the end, however, we lost no money, but made a profit.

In the summer of 1849, and after the arrival of the ship Rhone from Canton, my friend Aguirre conceived the idea for a business voyage to the southern ports of California. He had in my safe between $100,000 and $200,000 in doubloons and gold dust, and he was eager to do something with it.

The bark Rochelle of Boston was in port and Aguirre wanted me to charter her for our joint account, and I did so. Captain John Paty was in town without a ship, and he was engaged for master of the vessel. In a short time she was filled with goods, on freight for different points on the coast, and with merchandise on our own account, most of which was China goods from the Rhone. She sailed for Monterey, and after she had passed Point Pinos in the night the wind shifted to the southeast. In order to reach the anchorage of Monterey she had to make tacks and beat against the wind. In standing in towards the shore on which were the picnic grounds of olden times, south of Point Pinos, she struck on a rocky point in the darkness and sprung a leak. Captain Paty, however, managed to get her off and came to anchor. In a few days after the accident a courier arrived from Monterey with letters from Aguirre and Paty informing me of the mishap. At that time I was the owner of a Baltimore-built bark of about three hundred tons burden, named Hortensia, which was lying here in the stream preparatory to a departure later in the year for Valparaíso in ballast for a cargo of flour on my own account for this market. This unexpected news changed the program of the Hortensia’s intended voyage to Chile. In twenty-four hours after the receipt of my mail from Monterey the Hortensia was on her way to the scene of the disaster with her owner as passenger. The cargo of the disabled vessel was transferred to the Hortensia and she performed the delivery of the goods at ports south of Monterey as far as San Diego. The Rochelle venture, after all the serious and costly accident, proved profitable finally.

This was the first misfortune that had occurred to Captain Paty during his long career on the coast as mariner and ship master. He looked very much depressed when he reached the deck of the Hortensia after we had dropped anchor. The misfortune of the Rochelle was a good thing for the Hortensia, as it proved afterward. The influx of flour from Chile during the winter of 1849-50 was so great that its price came down and the shippers of the article suffered heavy losses.

In 1850 and part of 1851, Mrs. Davis lived at San Diego in her own house. During a visit to her in the latter year I was invited by a nephew of one of the early governors of California to join him and his brothers in a gold-hunting expedition to Lower California. Our company consisted of the three Argüellos, myself, two servants, and two pack mules for our baggage and provisions. During our journey through the sparsely populated country to the mission of Santo Tomás we camped every night near a spring or stream of running water. Don Ramón Argüello, who acted as our guide, would pitch our tents, after the ground had been cleared of bushes and scrub oak, in a circle of about three hundred feet circumference, the boundary of which was encircled with a rim of fire. This was done to protect us from nightly attacks of rattlesnakes while we slept. The territory was infested with these repulsive and dangerous reptiles. Every day during our march, Don Ramón would kill, on an average, a dozen of these snakes. He would eat a portion of their bodies, after it was broiled over a hot fire, and often remarked to me that it was more nutritious than the meat of a fat chicken. He tried to prevail on his brothers to share with him in his “tidbits,” as he called them.

We stopped as we moved along at the rancheros’ old adobes and received their hospitalities—a repetition of the treatment of strangers in Upper California in the days gone by. We drank very good native wine from the vineyards of the pioneers of the department. We were several days in reaching Santo Tomás, where we camped in the ancient olive orchard of the mission, under the shade of its trees. The trees were lofty, their planting having been the work of the early missionaries more than a century before my visit there.

Here Don Manuel Castro, who was the military commander of this part of the country, joined our party with five soldiers and a corporal as an escort to our journey of discovery. General Castro also provided us with an Indian, who was to interpret for us with an old chief for whom we were in search to obtain information of the hidden bonanza.

The expedition arrived at Trinidad, a valley in a mountain of over four thousand feet above the level of the sea, twenty to thirty miles back from the Pacific Ocean. Here we dispatched the interpreter with another Indian for Chief Zapaje. In three day’s time our couriers returned with the chief and other aborigines. Our camp fed them well before our big talk took place over the object of our visit with Zapaje. General Castro was a talented man and a man of persuasive power of language. He commenced first to convince the chief that, if he would make known the coveted spot and uncover it to us, he would present him with a manada of mares, ten saddle horses, and twenty-five head of cows for himself and his tribe. The old man was unmoved with this generous proposition from Castro. The latter asked him through the interpreter what was his objection to lead us where the placer existed after this offer of so much property. He replied that more than seventy years ago he was instructed by the fathers of Santo Tomás never to divulge to anyone outside of the Church the covered wealth of Lower California; if he did he would incur the wrath of God and would die instantly. These early teachings of the fathers were indelible in the minds of these Christianized mission Indians. who were deeply impressed with the Church’s notions of keeping the world ignorant of the whereabouts of this buried ore.

Don Santiaguito Argüello next argued with the chief to tell him where the gold existed, and offered him one hundred head of cows, one manada of mares, and five tame horses, if he would reveal the secret. The chief turned a deaf ear to this proffer and told the interpreter to tell Señor Argüello, whom he had known when a youth, that he would die soon after telling it.

I was the third to have the final argument with the stubborn Indian. I commenced telling him that I was a merchant of San Francisco, the owner of bales of Turkey-red handkerchiefs, calico, brown sheeting, colored blankets, tobacco, and other articles suitable to the Indian tastes of California; if he would show us where the mine was located, I would give him two bales of handkerchiefs, two of calico, two of cotton, fifty pairs of blankets, tobacco and other articles of value; conditioned that he bring us some of the gold first; after that we would meet him at this place with our presents amid follow him with the animals and goods to the location of the placer, where the whole property would be delivered to him. His answer to my liberal proposition was the same as already mentioned.

Here our hopes vanished for discovering the rumored deposits of gold known to exist in primitive days of missionary regime. It was well known to the early inhabitants of that part of the peninsula that gold existed, and the priests handled plenty of it through the Indians of the missions. But the secret of the deposits was kept by the priests as a matter of policy and from political and religious convictions, and by the Indians because of their superstitions.

On our way back to San Diego we were intercepted at the ruins of the mission of San Vicente by Don Emigdio Vega. He was a member of a prominent family of that name in Los Angeles County, who were large cattle owners. Señor Vega offered to sell me 700 head of tame milch cows, many of them with suckling calves, and 50 head of cabestros, for $7,000. I said to him I had no time to spare to go and see his cattle. He referred me to one of the Argüellos who was present. The latter said that he had seen the stock and that they were large fine cattle. I accepted Vega’s offer and bought the animals.

In May, 1852, I visited San Diego, and received from Argüello the cattle I had bought of Vega the year before. On my way north with the band of cattle I stopped at Los Angeles about two weeks, during which time I bought of Don Eulogio de Célis 700 large steers for $13 each. With this purchase it made the drove a large one. The band arrived at San Leandro in August, where they were rebranded and re-earmarked with my iron and earmark. The stock was removed to “San Joaquín,” a part of the Rancho Pinole, in the fall of 1852, and José Antonio Estudillo, a brother of Mrs. Davis, took charge of them, the consideration for his care over my cattle being one-half of the increase from the cows.


Previous to my departure for southern California I had a corral built, large enough to contain my cattle, on my mother-in-law’s portion of the Pinole rancho, which I had named “San Joaquín” after the husband of the proprietress of the land she had inherited from her father and mother, Don Ygnacio and Doña Martina Martínez. Mrs. Estudillo added to her interest by purchases from several of her sisters, who were also heirs of the Pinole. In titling the new rancho I simply added San to the Joaquín; then it became the name of a saint. The Californians were in the habit generally of naming their ranchos after saints, probably from religious convictions that the Ruler on High in all things would aid and guide them in their daily pursuits. But it did not save them from the avaricious enemies of the Spanish and Mexican grants.

Señora Doña Juana Estudillo was the possessor of over 7,000 acres of valuable land, a part of the original “Pinole.” She had the tract enclosed and improved with good fences and buildings. Under ordinary management it could have been made to produce from rents of the land enough income to have supported Mrs. Estudillo and her children. But the rancho was subsequently sold for $38,000.

Probably the present owner and the original purchaser from Mrs. Estudillo of the “San Joaquín” would not sell it for half a million dollars. The Central and Southern Pacific railroads have acquired rights of way through the estate (1884). A small portion of this tract was sold to a company for slaughtering cattle, for $200,000 or $300,000. The town of Rodeo is situated there.

In the end, my cattle speculation proved a success, for many steers were sold in the fall and winter of 1853 and 1854 for $50, $60 and as high as $70 for each animal. There were many of them stolen from the rancho for lack of watchfulness on the part of the man who had the supervision of the animals. Schooners and launches came to the beach along the northern boundary of the rancho in the night, and the very vaqueros under pay from José Antonio Estudillo to guard the cattle against thieves were the men (villains) delivering to the boats, not only my cattle but also those that were owned by the Estudillos themselves. My loss in this way amounted to more than $10,000.

In 1853 the cattle at San Leandro were pretty well hemmed in by the squatters and deprived of their pasturage on their native soil, so it was compulsory on the part of the owners to remove them to “San Joaquín” for grazing, to keep them from dying for want of grass and water.

My cattle and the herd from San Leandro made a rodeo of over 4,000 cattle, a very respectable number compared with the roundup of the early days of the department.

Don José Ramón Estudillo, another brother of Mrs. Davis, was fond of the sport of lassoing elk. He told me once that on this identical spot of “San Joaquín” he had seen many of these beasts of the forest grazing with the stock of the Pinole rancho.

After New San Diego was laid out, lumber was wanted for building purposes by the projectors of the newly made plot and by others; also by the quartermaster of the post, for government improvements.

About the latter end of the summer of 1850, the brig Cybele, of 350 tons burden, arrived from Portland, Maine, loaded with a cargo of lumber and bricks. Mr. Bond, of the firm of Hussey, Bond & Hale, offered me, soon after the Cybele dropped anchor, the brig with her load of 300,000 feet of pine lumber, eight or ten houses already framed, and 40,000 bricks, for $10,000, and I bought the vessel and cargo just as she came from the East. The following day she sailed for San Diego with the same captain that brought her to San Francisco.

The purchase proved profitable. About 80,000 feet of the same lumber was reshipped to San Francisco from San Diego in the winter of 1851-52, and I realized from it $70 per thousand feet, free of freight. At the time of the arrival of the Cybele, building materials were a glut in the market of San Francisco. The vessel was similar to the Euphemia as a great carrier for her tonnage. I have forgotten the name of the captain of the Cybele, but he was a good type of the New Englander and had explored every nook and corner of the universe, including California. He admired the bay of San Francisco and predicted that the young city of its name was destined to be the metropolis of the Pacific Coast. “I presume,” said he, “the old brig will find here her final resting place. I have commanded this vessel a great many voyages out of Portland, Maine. She is still seaworthy, being built of live oak, although more than thirty years old. On my voyage here the pumps were seldom used.”

It was evident after the change of flag that the growth of San Francisco would be rapid, even without subsequent discovery of gold and the influx of immigration caused by it. The resources of the department were endless, as an agricultural and horticultural country; also, for grazing purposes. The latter had been demonstrated by the early settlers under the Mexican rule. This prospective wealth of California was sufficient to build and support one large city on the coast, San Francisco being geographically well situated for the commerce of the world, with her rich country bordering on the bay and rich valleys accessible by water.

In my travels around the bay on business I had observed a picturesque spot for a town on the estuary of San Antonio, due east from San Francisco. The site was known in early times as Encinal de Temescal, on Vicente Peralta’s portion of the division of the Rancho San Antonio, segregated by Don Luis Peralta, his father. This site is the present city of Oakland.

My relation with Don Vicente was good, socially and commercially. In the fall of 1846 he was in my store making purchases. I told him I had a proposition to make for his consideration, and I desired him to dine with me that evening. After dinner I broached the matter by saying to him, “You are the owner of the Encinal de Temescal and there is a spot on that part of your rancho that pleases me for a town.” He wanted to know the exact location of the place, and I pointed it out to him on a rough map I had prepared for the purpose. I offered him $5,000 cash for two-thirds of the Encinal, to build a church of his faith, also to construct a wharf and run a ferryboat from San Francisco to the intended town, all of which to be at my cost and expense. Whenever sales of lots were made, we would both sign the deeds and each take his pro rata of the money. Don Vicente, in reply to my talk, said that he would take the matter under advisement and let me know.

He inquired the extent of the land I sought to purchase. I described it to him on my sketch, which made Fifteenth Street from the bay to Lake Merritt the northern boundary, and thence from Lake Merritt, following the meandering of the shore boundary of the present city of Oakland, to the intersection of Fifteenth Street with the shoreline of the bay of San Francisco. When we met again Don Vicente was not prepared to give me an answer.

While my mind was full of my project, I interviewed and explained to W. D. M. Howard, Sam Brannan, Henry Mellus, Alcalde Hyde, James C. Ward, Wm. A. Leidesdorff, Robert Ridley, Frank Ward, Hiram Grimes, Wm. M. Smith, Robert A. Parker, Francisco Guerrero, Josiah Belden, Bezer Simmons, C. L. Ross, R. M. Sherman, and many others of the leading citizens of San Francisco my program for a “Brooklyn” for San Francisco—an outlet for the coming city. Each of these gentlemen was willing and anxious to buy a block or more of land for a retreat so near the metropolis whenever I completed my arrangements with Peralta and mapped the town.

During my numerous conversations with him at various times on the subject before me, I told him that if he declined to accept my generous offer he would suffer essentially, from a business standpoint; that his land would be squatted on, and his cattle slaughtered without his knowledge at night by evildoers, and the meat shipped to San Francisco and sold. (Beef was selling here at retail from three-quarters of a dollar to one dollar per pound. I paid the latter price to supply my table with meat in the winter of 1849-50.) That if he sold me the land I would have the tract inclosed at once with a good fence; I would start the town with the best and wealthiest people of San Francisco, which would be a bodyguard against the appropriation of his property without his knowledge and consent. “WelI,” he said, ‘‘I must get the consent of my father for my action in the matter.” This was simply done to put me off, as he hated to part with any land, although convinced it would be for his benefit to put some of his possessions into money. It was the old notion of the big rancheros of the department to have leagues of land with thousands of animals.

I went to see his father at the city of San Jose, accompanied by James Alex. Forbes (British vice-consul for California, who was married to a sister of Mrs. Vicente Peralta), who knew the old man well. Old Peralta said that the land I desired to buy from his son Vicente absolutely belonged to the latter. I persevered in my project year after year, to induce Don Vicente to yield to my liberal offer, as I considered I was doing him a kindness. But it was of no avail, and the stubborn man stood alone in his singular notion, against the judgment and advice of his good wife, of the British vice-consul (his brother-in-law), of the Catholic priest, and other friends of Don Vicente, all of whom advised him to accept my proposition by all means.

In the meantime, boatmen from San Francisco were bringing meat from the cattle belonging to Vicente Peralta to the city. These cattle were killed with rifles in the night, under the shadow of the Encinal, by parties who had already squatted on his lands. At one time Peralta and a vaquero came suddenly on a party of men, in the night, who were quartering a beef preparatory to shipment to San Francisco. The squatters immediately pointed their guns at Peralta and his vaquero, who departed in order to save their lives. This slaughtering of his animals began as early as 1848, before the discovery of gold. In the forepart of 1850 I made my last call on Don Vicente on this business, to renew once more my offer. At this time the Encinal de Temescal was well covered with squatters. But I received the same reply as before. Probably the loss to Peralta in cattle would exceed $100,000. I have heard it estimated by others much above my figures.

He sold the site that I wanted to buy from him in the fall of 1850 to Colonel Jack Hays, Major John C. Caperton, Colonel Irving, Alexander Cost, John Frener and others, for $11,000, after spending more than the amount he received, in fruitless lawsuits, for the possession of his lands from the squatters. Everything that I had predicted to Peralta, several years before the date above named, proved to be reality, and he lost a large fortune by his stupidity in refusing to have me associated with him in the ownership of some of his land. I had selected the best men in San Francisco as founders of the new town I had conceived to build. Probably we should have made arrangements with Carpentier, Adams, Moon and others who were squatters to buy out title.

Several years after the above event, one bright spring morning I met Don Vicente accidentally on Broadway in Oakland. He was glad to see me and invited me to a costly French breakfast. During our enjoyable meal he referred to our old social and business relations, and at last he broke out with an expression in his own language, ‘‘Yo fui muy tonto, de no haber aceptado su proposición, tocante al Encinal de Temescal.” (“I was very foolish not to have accepted your proposition in regard to the Encinal de Temescal.”) In reply I said to him, “Es inútil llorar por leche derramada.’’ (‘‘It is useless to cry over milk already spilt.”)

The following narrative concerning an historic rancho in Alameda County is a fair illustration of certain events throughout the state generally, after the change of government, in respect to the difficulties and annoyances endured by the early settlers, and legal owners of the land and rightful possessors, in retaining their homes from the grasp of unscrupulous squatters and adventurers.

In 1834 and 1835, Don José Joaquín Estudillo was living at the presidio of San Francisco, and was elected first alcalde of the district at the time. In the latter part of 1835 or the beginning of 1836 he removed to Rancho Pinole, and in the same year he located with his family at San Leandro.

José Joaquín Estudillo settled on the Rancho San Leandro in 1836. He first obtained a written permit from the governor of the department to occupy the land. After he had located there with his family, he petitioned Governor Alvarado for a title. While the governor had the matter under consideration, Guillermo Castro, who owned the adjoining Rancho San Lorenzo of six leagues, to the east of San Lorenzo, was intriguing with Alvarado to obtain a grant of the same land. Governor Alvarado had married a first cousin of Castro. Although the former was on intimate terms with Estudillo, the governor was rather inclined to favor his cousin.

Estudillo and Castro were both summoned by the governor to appear before him, to determine the petitions of the two applicants. Estudillo triumphed over Castro in the controversy. The former received his title papers in 1842 for one league of land, more or less, within and according to the following boundaries: on the west the bay of San Francisco, on the north the Arroyo San Leandro, on the east the first ridge of mountains or hills, and on the south the Arroyo San Lorenzo. The consideration of the grant was the military services rendered by the grantee to his country. At the time that Don Joaquín settled on this land he commenced with three hundred vaquillas to breed from. On his death in 1852 he left to his heirs about three thousand head of cattle, the increase of the original number after those he used and sold. Señor Estudillo had a peculiar idea of breeding white cattle; it was that it would enable him to see his stock at a great distance. In his large herd you could observe them more distinctly from their whiteness over the other cattle of the rancho.

I well remember the occasion of the visit of Doña Martina, the mother of Mrs. Estudillo, to San Leandro in 1850. Mrs. Martínez viewed the rancho of San Leandro from the cupola of her daughter’s residence. She admired Don Joaquín’s idea of breeding white cattle because she saw they could be distinguished when far away. This lady was the owner of the Pinole rancho with thousands of animals.

In 1851 men commenced settling on the San Leandro rancho against the wishes of its legal owner. The squatters had started a story that Estudillo had changed his title papers from one league to two leagues of land. Estudillo’s grant called for one league, more or less, in accordance with the diseño (plat), and all the land contained therein belonged to the grantee. It was so decided by the government of the United States, and a patent was issued to Estudillo for 7,010 acres of land. Don José Joaquín was an educated, intelligent and upright man, and he had nothing to gain from a pecuniary standpoint in making the alterations as alleged by the squatters, as the ownership of the tract was already in him. Besides, all title papers before delivery to the grantee were recorded in the government archives at Monterey. The scheme of the enemies of the title was inconsistent with the facts. Squatting first made its appearance along the banks of San Lorenzo Creek at a place subsequently known as “Squatterville.” It soon spread over the entire rancho. From the incipiency of the epidemic, the sons and sons-in-law of Señor Estudillo opposed the evildoers in seizing the land. At times when we encountered these men in their different holdings there was a tendency or appearance towards a bloody affray, but among them there were conservative counselors and prudent squatters, who invariably prevailed on the rougher class to avoid bloodshed.

Only in one instance was this good advice disregarded. A young, intelligent man from Vermont, by the name of Albert W. Scott, was severely wounded by a pistol shot through the body, by one of the leaders of the squatters named Caleb Wray. Young Scott was helping John C. Pelton, who had been employed by the family to erect fences on the rancho to prevent further invasion of the land, if possible, by the wrongdoers. Scott recovered after many months of good nursing by the mother of the Estudillos. Since his narrow escape from death in protecting the rightful owners of the San Leandro, Mr. Scott has become a prominent merchant in San Francisco, and he has met with good success in business. He has been elected once or twice to the board of education in this city; also, he was elected several times as supervisor of his district in the city.

Once in the spring of 1852, during my temporary absence in the southern country, the cattle of the rancho that were raised along the San Lorenzo creek and vicinity suffered greatly for want of water. The squatters had fenced in the entrance to the creek and prevented the stock from getting to the only place where they could be enabled to drink. John B. Ward happened to know Captain Chisholm, one of the squatters on the creek, and he prevailed upon him to allow the poor animals to take their daily beverage of pure fresh water and keep them from dying from thirst.

Some of these men were very malicious, and they often shot and wounded horses and cattle that were raised on the rancho and they always did so under the cover of darkness.

While the controversy with the squatters was progressing in these exciting times of 1851, 1852, 1853 and 1854, Mr. Ward and myself were asked by the lawyers of the rancho to bring them the title papers. Mr. Ward undertook to do so and carried the papers in his breast coat pocket. On leaving the embarcadero of San Leandro in a small launch, in the night, on his way to San Francisco he assisted the crew of the craft in poling and rowing through the meandering of the creek. While thus engaged, the papers fell out of his pocket into the water and in the darkness of the night were lost. This created another furore by the enemies of the title. During all these turbulent times the members of the family were in constant fear for their personal safety.

The family instituted several ejectment suits against the squatters. In each trial the jury disagreed, but the majority of them in each case were against the wrong holders of the land. Thereupon John B. Ward, the lawyers and myself formed a plan which afterward proved successful in bringing the squatters to terms. An interest in the land was deeded to one Clément Boyreau, an alien. This enabled us to reach the jurisdiction of the United States Circuit Court. The squatters were sued by Boyreau in that court. The trial lasted several weeks, and Judge Hoffman, who had been sitting with Judge McAllister during the trial, rendered a decision favorable to the plaintiff. The just verdict of the federal court overthrew the squatters. They then took leases from the family, pending the decision of the United States Supreme Court on the appeal regarding the title proper.

After the compromise in 1856 with the squatters, those that occupied the lands at Squatterville bought at thirty dollars per acre one thousand acres; terms, one-third cash, the remaining unpaid amount in one and two years in equal payments, at ten per cent interest per annum.

In 1854 or 1855 the voters of Alameda County were dissatisfied with the location of the county seat at Alvarado because it was not central, being within a short distance of the northern boundary of Santa Clara County. There was an election ordered for a choice of the county seat by popular vote. There were several candidates in the field, among them San Leandro, which succeeded over the other competitors. The county seat was removed from Alvarado, and the family mansion of the Estudillos was surrendered to the county for a temporary courthouse.

This structure was subsequently destroyed by fire in the night. There were many conjectures by the people of the county as to the origin of the fire. Probably it was the work of a vicious man, in order that the county seat might be removed back to Alvarado. After the fire the county seat still remained at San Leandro. The people of Alvarado eventually succeded in getting back the records, through some technicality of the law. But again it was put back to San Leandro, where it remained for years. Subsequently there was a law enacted for its removal to Oakland.

While Mr. Ward and myself were canvassing the county for San Leandro a plan was submitted by us to Mrs. Estudillo and her children to lay out a town for the coming county seat, if we were successful. San Leandro succeeded in the election, and a deed was executed to the county by the family, of a site for the county buildings. Two hundred acres of land were also reserved and a town was mapped, which is the present town of San Leandro. A fine hotel was built by the family and named after the founder of San Leandro, “Estudillo.”

In 1856 and 1857, which were the last years of my management of the San Leandro with Ward, the income of the rancho was more than $40,000 yearly for rents of land. This enabled Mr. Ward and myself to discharge most of the liabilities that were incurred in our expensive litigation to recover the productive lands of the rancho. It thereafter produced a large revenue to the family from the very men who originally were adverse to our title. When I ceased to be one of the business managers, I left the estate with more money due from the sales of land than the rancho was owing for our costly lawsuits. The San Leandro rancho was considered by many good judges of land the best and richest soil under the canopy of heaven. The income of it was enough for two, yea, three Estudillo families.

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

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