San Francisco History

The Beginnings of San Francisco

San Francisco, 1847-1850

The serenity of the little town on the bay of San Francisco was undisturbed either by wars or by rumors of wars. The American occupation was taken as a matter of course and was apparently accepted with equanimity by Californians as well as by Americans and other foreigners. Nothing more serious occurred during the conquest than the capture of Alcalde Bartlett and the subsequent battle of Santa Clara, from which the twelve mounted volunteers of Yerba Buena, under Captain William M. (Jim Crow) Smith, returned with all their members intact, to receive, in company with the other corps of the army, the commendation and thanks of the commanding officer (Mervine) for their efficiency in compelling the surrender of the "unrivaled cavalry of California"; to which the gallant captain replied: "Our watchword is inscribed upon our banner, and we trust you will find us, as it represents, and as we ever wish to be, semper paratus.” [1]

Early in February 1847 information reached San Francisco concerning the terrible plight of the Donner party in the Sierra Nevada, and steps were at once taken for their relief. A meeting of citizens was called at Brown's hotel and General Vallejo, Captain Mervine, Leidesdorff, Howard, Brannan, and others exerted themselves and raised some fifteen hundred dollars. Passed-midshipman Selim Woodworth volunteered to lead a party to the rescue of the survivors and under his command the party did good service in bringing out the sufferers. [Note 38]

The 4th of July 1847, was celebrated in San Francisco with appropriate ceremonies. The frigate Congress fired at midday a national salute and the big Spanish gun of the blockhouse took up the refrain and proclaimed the nation's birthday. At one o'clock a large collection of ladies and gentlemen at Brown's hotel listened to the reading of the Declaration of Independence by Mr. J. Thompson, and to an oration by Robert Semple. In the afternoon Elbert P. Jones gave an excellent dinner at the Portsmouth house to a number of gentlemen including the naval officers in the harbor and the officers of the volunteers. Toasts were drunk, speeches made, and songs sung. The next evening a grand ball was given at Brown's hotel, "where California's dark-eyed daughters mingled in the dance with the fair-haired belles of our own native land."

In September the people of San Francisco gave a ball in honor of Governor Mason and his aid, Lieutenant William Tecumseh Sherman, Third artillery. Mason, declining private accommodations, put up at Brown's hotel.

The population of the town had increased over one hundred per cent during the twelve months following the American occupation, and the opinion was expressed that San Francisco was destined to be the New York of the Pacific. The California Star estimated the population in June 1847, at four hundred and fifty-nine exclusive of the New York volunteers, and the number of buildings was one hundred and fifty-seven, half of which had been erected during the past four months. Before the gold excitement had begun to depopulate the town, in May and June 1848, the number of inhabitants had increased to about eight hundred and fifty, and that of buildings to two hundred.

Under the rule of Mexico lots were granted in Yerba Buena to settlers without other cost than a tax of twelve and a half dollars for a fifty vara and twenty-five dollars for a hundred vara lot. Only one lot was granted to a person and he was required to fence it in and build upon it. With the American occupation the alcaldes granted lots according to the practice of the late government. W. S. Clark, of Clark's Point, who arrived late in 1846, found that the rule prevented him from obtaining more than one lot. According to his own statement he employed a number of persons to apply for lots in their own names and then deed them to him. In this way he obtained possession of a large number. The alcalde, Bartlett, found this out and meeting Clark took him to task for his doings and asked him what he meant by such conduct. Clark informed him that he had spent six months in crossing the plains, that his outfit had cost him a good deal of money, that he had spent six months more in establishing himself in San Francisco, and that he intended to be paid for all the time he had spent and the expense to which he had been put. This declaration of rights settled the alcalde—according to Clark's story. Clark sold twelve of the lots so obtained for five thousand dollars apiece. On September 27, 1847, the council decided that lots should not be forfeited for failure to build and fence, and in October the alcalde's act in granting more than one lot to one person was approved. Some time thereafter thirty-six lots were granted to W. S. Clark and William C. Parker. So well did this enterprising American (Clark) use his opportunity that, in 1886, he was thought to be worth several million dollars. The case of Clark is but an example; he was one of many. A spirit of lawless speculation in lands developed almost immediately upon the raising of the American flag in California, and was the origin of all the confusion over titles to lands in San Francisco. The wise precautions of Spain and Mexico were set aside. The theory that but one lot could be granted to one person, and that if he failed to take actual possession of it and improve it, it would be taken from him and given to another, did not suit the American speculator. All the lots granted within the limits of the present city prior to July 7, 1846, were less than one hundred and twelve. During November and December 1846, the American alcalde granted thirty-four; in 1847, five hundred and forty-two; in 1848, three hundred and ninety-two, and in 1849, nine hundred and forty-nine. After the election of the ayuntamiento, the slow process of granting lots by petition was dispensed with, and they were put up at auction and knocked down to the highest bidder. In this manner, by the 5th of January 1850, three thousand one hundred and fifty-three fifty vara lots, equal to twelve hundred acres of land, exclusive of streets, in and around the heart of the city had been disposed of. [2] Alcalde and council laid aside conscience as a useless encumbrance, and plunged headlong into jobbing and speculation.

But the great opportunity of the land sharks came with the sale, under execution, of the greater part of the city's property. Under a regime of peculation and heedless extravagance a municipal debt of about one million dollars was incurred, and was rapidly growing under an interest charge of thirty-six per cen, and a depreciated scrip which caused creditors to endeavor to avoid loss by adding two or three hundred per cent to their bills. An attempt was made to fund the debt at ten per cent, but some of the holders of scrip, under the influence of land speculators, refused to surrender it, and brought suit against the city. Among these creditors was Doctor Peter Smith, the owner of a private hospital, who had in 1850 contracted with the city for the care of destitute sick, at four dollars a head per day. Smith procured judgments against the city for $64,431.00 and began to levy upon its property. The commissioners of the funded debt denounced the levy as illegal and warned the people against buying the city's property under these judgments. Other holders of scrip obtained judgments for their claims, and some two millions of property, including wharves, water lots, upland lots, the old city hall, etc., were purchased by speculators at a nominal figure. One parcel of four hundred and eighty fifty vara lots was sold, under a judgment obtained by Jesse D. Carr, for the sum of fifty dollars—less than ten and a half cents a lot. The people were inclined to treat the matter of the sales as a joke but their amusement was turned into dismay when sales were confirmed and the debt commissioners were enjoined from disposing of the property. A meeting of citizens was hastily called and the amount of the judgments was subscribed and tendered to the purchasers of the property; but it was refused on the ground that the tenderers were not entitled to the right of redemption. Before the city council could be induced to act the time of redemption had passed. Charges of connivance were made against the officials, but the city lost its property. A few men had seized almost the entire domain, made themselves very rich, created a landed aristocracy, and reduced all others to the necessity of paying immense prices for building lots or still more enormous ones in the shape of rents. In 1860 the supreme court held, that in the case of upland property, a sheriff's deed passed no title; that the common lands of the pueblo were held in trust for the future citizens and that they were not subject to sale under execution. But for many years the cloud hung over the city titles, depressing prices and rendering real estate unsalable. In addition to the uncertainty of land values and the unsettling of titles caused by the Peter Smith sales, claims were brought forward in 1853 which threatened confiscation of all lands south of California and west of Stockton streets. These subjects extend beyond the limits set to this work and I will touch but briefly upon them.

On the 5th of February 1853, José Yves Limantour, whom we have met in connection with the supplies furnished Micheltorena's cholos, presented to the land commission a most extraordinary claim to some six hundred thousand acres of land in California, the islands of the Farallones, Alcatraz, and Yerba Buena, the peninsula of Tiburon, and to four square leagues of land in San Francisco. These astonishing grants were signed by Governor Micheltorena and dated in 1843. Limantour claimed that the grants were made him in return for aid furnished to the government. The land commission rejected the six hundred thousand acre grants but confirmed those to the San Francisco leagues and to the islands. Consternation seized the citizens. The grants took in all the area between California street and the Mission creek, and between the old road leading from the presidio to the mission and the Pacific ocean—practically everything south of California and west of Divisadero streets. The reason Limantour gave for the delay of ten years in asserting his claim was that he had been engaged elsewhere in important matters and only now had the necessary time to look after his interests in California. Notwithstanding the fact that many able lawyers pronounced the claim fraudulent or illegal, and the opinion of Henry W. Halleck, an authority on Spanish titles, that the government of California could not grant to a single person nearly all the pueblo lands without the knowledge or consent of the municipal authorities, the panic stricken citizens began buying Limantour's titles to their property. The United States government appealed the case and appropriated two hundred thousand dollars to defend its rights to the presidio lands, the custom house, the mint, and other property. The citizens had paid to Limantour some three hundred thousand dollars when the United States district court pronounced the alleged grants forgeries, and much of the testimony introduced to sustain them perjury. The discovery of the fraudulent character of the documents was largely due to Professor George Davidson of the United States coast survey, who was called as an expert for the government. The court, in rendering its decision, pronounced the case without parallel in the judicial history of the country, and said: "It is with no slight satisfaction that the proofs of fraud are as conclusive and irresistible as the attempted fraud itself has been flagrant and audacious." Limantour was arrested and released on thirty thousand dollars bail. He deposited the money with his bondsmen and fled the country.

José Prudencio Santillan, Indian parish priest of San Francisco, claimed a grant of three leagues of land in San Francisco supposed to have been made by Governor Pico, February 10, 1846. Santillan sold the claim to James R. Bolton who transferred it to a Philadelphia association. The claim was allowed by the land commission, was appealed to the district court, and so busy were the government and lot owners in fighting Limantour that the case was hastened through the district court almost unchallenged. Having defeated the Limantour grant the people awoke to the danger from the Santillan, or Bolton grant, as it was called and petitioned the supreme court to send the case back for new trial. The supreme court examined the claim and rejected it without referring it to the lower court. This claim covered much of the property previously granted (?) to Limantour and extended from the so-called Vallejo line to the northern boundaries of the ranchos Laguna de la Merced and Buri Buri. [3]

San Francisco began to improve immediately after the American occupation and its future greatness as the metropolis of the Pacific was clearly foreseen. The people recognized the necessity for wharves to deep water and for filling in and building upon the mud flats lying before the town. A public meeting was held on the plaza February 15, 1847, and a petition to the governor was signed asking for a grant to the town of the tide lands of Yerba Buena cove. In response to this action General Kearny, on March 10th, granted and released to the town all the right, title, and interest of the United States and of the territory of California, to the beach and water lots between Fort Montgomery (Clark's Point) and the Rincon, excepting such lots as should be selected for government use; the lots so given were to be sold at public auction for the benefit of the town. The alcalde, Edwin Bryant, employed Jasper O'Farrell to make a survey of the lots and announced a sale for June 29th. The sale was postponed to July 20th—23d, when two hundred and forty-eight lots, forty-five by one hundred and thirty-seven and a half feet, were sold. Some of the lots on the beach sold as high as six hundred dollars apiece, while those under water sold from fifty to four hundred dollars. I believe it was considered that General Kearny had no authority to make such a grant, but in 1851 the state ceded the beach and water lots to the city for a period of ninety-nine years and confirmed previous sales.

At the foot of Clay street a little pier had been built at which small boats could land at high tide, but the principal landing place was at the Punta del Embarcadero, or Clark's Point—now the corner of Broadway and Battery street. Here was deep water and boats could come alongside the rocks. William S. Clark built in 1847 a small wharf at the point, at which ships could lie. The first vessel to dock here was the brig Belfast in October 1848, the first ship, it is said, to discharge cargo in San Francisco without lighters. Clark says he built a wharf and warehouse on piles, making a pile driver of twelve hundred pounds of pig iron obtained from a whaler at Sausalito, and raising it by a windlass. Clark, a native of Maryland, came with the Harlan party in 1846, and was one of the Yerba Buena volunteers in the Santa Clara campaign. Clark's Point was named for him. General Sherman referred to Clark as a Mormon who refused to pay tithes to Sam Brannan, but Clark says Sherman was mistaken; he was not and never had been a Mormon.

In October 1847, the council authorized the extension of the little Clay street wharf five hundred and forty-seven feet into the bay, also the construction of a pier at the foot of Broadway, one hundred and fifty feet in length. Eleven thousand dollars was appropriated for the Clay street pier and four thousand for that of Broadway. Work on these was continued into January 1848, when funds gave out and the work was stopped. No other work was done on the water front in 1848, beyond a beginning at the filling of the lagoon at Jackson street. In the spring of 1849 a joint stock company was formed, with a capital of one hundred and twenty thousand dollars, which began in May the construction of a wharf extending from the bank in the middle of the block between Sacramento and Clay streets, where Leidesdorff street now is, eight hundred feet into the bay. The principal stockholders were Mellus and Howard, Cross, Hobson and Company, James C. Ward, Joseph L. Folsom, De Witt and Harrison, and Sam Brannan. Mellus and Howard gave the wharf right of way across the block between Sansome and Battery streets; the alcalde, with the consent of the ayuntamiento, gave the right of way across the next block east; Colonel Stevenson and W. C. Parker, the right of way across the next block, and the city, the right across the block following, to Drumm street—to which the wharf was extended by October 1850. Here was sufficient depth of water to allow the Pacific Mail steamers to lie alongside. The wharf was two thousand feet long, thirty-five feet wide, and cost one hundred and eighty-one thousand dollars. At the shore end (Leidesdorff street), was the office of the Pacific Mail Steamship company, a wooden building of two stories. This was destroyed by the fire of June 1850, which also seriously damaged the wharf, and the steamship office was then moved to the corner of Sacramento and Leidesdorff streets. Central, or Long wharf, as it was called, became the favorite promenade. Buildings perched on piles sprang up quickly on either side, and commission houses, groceries, saloons, mock auctions, cheap-John shops, and peddlers did a thriving business. Central wharf is now Commercial street.

The immediate success of Central wharf started similar enterprises upon every street along the front from California street to Broadway, and by October 1850, California street was extended into the cove by a wharf four hundred feet long by thirty-two feet wide; Sacramento street (Howison's Pier) was extended eleven hundred feet by forty feet; Clay street, starting from the bank at Montgomery street, ran a pier forty feet wide alongside of Sherman and Ruckle's store, nine hundred feet into the water, leaving in its rear imbedded in the mud on the northwest corner of Sansome and Clay streets, the ship Niantic, and in the next block the ship General Harrison. The pier that formed the extension of Washington street ran two hundred and seventy-five feet into the water; that of Pacific street, two hundred and fifty feet, and that of Broadway, the same. North of Broadway was Cunningham's wharf between Vallejo and Green streets. Buckalew' s wharf was a continuation of Green street; Law's wharf was between Green and Union streets, and Cowel's wharf, between Union and Filbert streets. Most of these wharves were private enterprises and yielded large returns to the projectors. A few belonged to the municipality, which soon absorbed the rest as they were converted into streets. [4]

Where Leidesdorff's warehouse stood, on the beach at California street, there was a small wharf for landing at high tide. From this point northward to Clay street, a narrow levee, piled and capped, marked the boundary of the tide waters along the beach, and formed the westerly line of Leidesdorff street. From the corner of California and Leidesdorff streets, the beach took a turn to the southeast corner of California and Sansome streets; and where the building of the Mutual Life Insurance Company now stands, there stood in 1849 the store of Dewey and Heiser. This building rested upon piles, the tide flowed and ebbed under the store, and at high water lighters received and discharged cargoes from the rear of this and all the other stores on Sansome street between California and Jackson. Diagonally across from Dewey and Heiser's store, Captain Folsom in 1850 built on piles the Jones house, afterwards called the Tehama house, on the northwest corner of California and Sansome streets, a rendezvous of army officers and a favorite hotel of wealthy rancheros. This well-known hotel stood until 1864, when it was removed to make way for the building of the Bank of California. It was taken to the corner of Montgomery street and Broadway where it stood until destroyed by the fire of April 1906. At the Broadway wharf were the offices of the harbor master, of the river and bar pilots, and of the Sacramento steamer. On this wharf was also the Steinberger butcher shop. Baron Steinberger conceived the idea of making a large fortune by purchasing cattle from the rancheros and selling beef to the people of San Francisco. Sherman says that Steinberger brought letters to General Persifer F. Smith and Commodore Jones. He was a splendid looking fellow and carried things with a high hand. He bought cattle from Don Timoteo Murphy at Mission San Rafael, sold the beef from twenty-five to fifty cents a pound, and paid Murphy nothing. [5]

Before the extension of Central wharf (Commercial street) to deep water, a little wharf at the foot of Sacramento street assumed prominence as a reception place for merchandise. A narrow strip, just wide enough for a handcar tramway with room on each side for one person to walk, was extended on the south side of Sacramento street. When it came to the easterly line of Sansome street a little pier was extended northward, just large enough to accommodate the store of Dall and Austin. After a while a narrow row of piles was driven northward from this pier to Commercial street and on to Clay, and then extended to Washington, to Jackson, and to Pacific where it joined terra firma at the east side of Sansome street. Upon these piles was laid a narrow plank walk about four feet wide, without rail or protection of any kind, and along this narrow way pedestrians passed and repassed. This was the beginning of Sansome street. [6]

As the piers grew seaward the lines of crossing streets were marked by piles extended north and south on which were erected buildings for stores and offices. Many people lived in these buildings, and it is estimated that in 1850 one thousand persons were living over the water, in buildings resting on piles, or in the hulks of vessels.

On the summit of Loma Alta a station was erected whereon the American flag was raised to announce the approach of a Panama steamer. Later a semaphore announced the character of the approaching steamer; hence the name, Telegraph hill.

From April 1, 1849, to the end of the year, more than seven hundred vessels entered the harbor. [7] To meet the demand for freight and ship money, cargoes were sold at auction and the market was glutted with goods of all kinds. This condition, together with the scant storage room, falling prices, and the extraordinary cost of labor, was such that in some instances it did not pay to unload cargoes. Many vessels were beached and converted into storage ships, shops, and lodging houses. Here we have the spectacle of a gallant ship, metamorphosed into a form and likeness that is neither of land nor sea, but partakes of both, rounding out her career of  usefulness by a service equally important if less dignified. The growing wharves push by her resting place, crossing piers hem her in, and buildings grow up between her and deep water; her retreat cut off, she gazes helplessly through her cabin windows upon the busy traffic of surrounding streets.

At the northwest corner of Clay and Sansome streets was anchored the well-known ship Niantic. Soon after the sailing of the California from Panama with the first of the Argonauts, the Niantic arrived at that port and brought up to San Francisco about two hundred and fifty of the immigrants at one hundred and fifty dollars a head. On the northwest corner of Clay and Battery streets was the General Harrison. The Apollo was on the northwest corner of Sacramento and Battery streets, and the Georgean, between Washington and Jackson, west of Battery street. These ships were all burned in the fire of May 3,1851. On the site of the Niantic was built the Niantic hotel, which gave way in 1872 to the Niantic block. William Kelly writes: "On enquiring where my friend Mr. S—— was located, I was told I could be landed at a stair-foot leading right to it; and was not a little surprised when we pulled alongside a huge dismantled hulk, surrounded with a strong and spacious stage, connected with the street by a substantial wharf, to find the counting house on the deck of the Niantic, a fine vessel of one thousand tons, no longer a bouyant ship, surmounted by lofty spars, and 'streamers waving in the wind,' but a tenement anchored in the mud, covered with a shingle roof, sub-divided into stores and offices and painted over with signs and showboards of the various occupants. To this 'base use' was my friend obliged to convert her rather than let her rot at anchor, there being no possibility then of getting a crew to send her to sea. Her hull was divided into large warehouses, entered by spacious doorways on the sides, and her bulwarks were raised about eight feet, affording a range of excellent offices on the deck, at the level of which a wide balcony was carried round, surmounted by a verandah, approached by a broad handsome stairway. Both stores and offices found tenants at higher rents than tenements of similar dimensions on shore would command, and returned a larger and steadier income, as my friend told me, than the ship would earn if afloat.” [8]

Some ships were sent up the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers; some were sold for port dues and broken up for building material; others rotted and sank at their moorings, and it was years before the channel was cleared of the hulks.

Before the inrush of gold seekers the principal business house in San Francisco was that of Mellus and Howard, already noted. Into this firm was admitted in 1849 Talbot H. Green, whose arrival in 1841 with the first overland immigrant party we have seen. Green was a good business man, prominent in all public affairs, and member of the ayuntamiento of 1849-50. In 1851 he was recognized and denounced as Paul Geddes of Pennsylvania, a defaulting bank clerk, who had left a wife and children in the east. Green, protesting his innocence, started for the east with the avowed purpose of clearing his reputation, being escorted to the steamer by a large company of prominent citizens. The charge proved true, and Green passed from the life of California. It was reported later that he had joined his first wife and family. He had married, in California, the widow of Allan Montgomery who came with her husband in the Stevens party of 1844. [9] Green street was named for him.

Another mercantile house, prior to the gold discoveries, was Ward and Smith. Their store was on the east side of Montgomery street, north of Clay. Frank Ward, the head of this firm, came on the ship Brooklyn in 1846. He was a very popular man and a prominent citizen. His partner was William M. Smith, whom we have seen as commander of the Yerba Buena company at the battle of Santa Clara. Smith came in 1845. He was an amusing fellow who had been a circus rider, and was known as "Jim Crow" Smith. In August 1848, Smith married Susana Martinez, widow of Captain Hinckley. Next to Ward and Smith was the store of Sherman and Ruckel, on the northeast corner of Clay and Montgomery. In 1847 Sherman bought the southern half of the corner fifty vara lot, and erected a wooden store building. It was built on the flat below the bank and had a bridge from the front door to Montgomery street. On the northwest corner of Montgomery and Washington streets, Charles L. Ross had his "New York Store." On April 1, 1849, the steamship Oregon arrived, bringing Colonel John W. Geary, the newly appointed postmaster, and a mail of five thousand letters. Geary was the first postmaster, and his mail was the second opened in San Francisco. Previous to the American occupation correos (messengers) were employed by the government to carry letters and during and after the conquest letters brought by ships were left at the stores or shipping houses on the water front. C. L. Ross who had been appointed temporary postmaster and had distributed the mail brought by the California, took the postmaster into his store and gave him floor space, eight by ten feet, on which Geary drew chalk lines and in the squares distributed the letters. Then knocking a pane of glass out of the window, he opened the general delivery. Ross was a native of New Jersey who came in 1847, and was a prominent man in San Francisco for a number of years.

Robert A. Parker, a native of Boston, came in 1847 as supercargo on the ship Mt. Vernon, and opened a store in the casa grande of Richardson's on Dupont street. Later he kept the City hotel, and in 1849 built and kept the famous Parker house on Kearny street facing the plaza. In 1846 William H. Davis bought out the business of his uncle, Nathan Spear, and did a large business in the store built by Spear next to "Kent Hall." The store of DeWitt and Harrison was, in 1848, on the northwest corner of Sansome and Pacific streets. This house was later DeWitt, Kittle and company, then Kittle and company, and was continued in business until very recently.

On the arrival of the Loo Choo in March 1847, J. C. Christian Russ and his sons obtained from the ship some second-hand lumber and built, out in the suburbs, a shanty for the shelter of the family. Here they lived for several years, building additions from time to time as their needs grew. This house was, until after the breaking out of the gold fever, the southern limit of settlement, and was separated from the town by a sand-hill. It was on the southwest corner of Pine and Montgomery streets. Russ and his sons ascertained that town lots were to be had for the asking, and being men of thrifty habits they managed to secure quite a large number. In their shanty they had a store for the manufacture and sale of jewelry, and after the discovery of gold, added assaying and refining to their work. They built the American hotel on the west side of Montgomery street between Pine and Bush streets. They owned the two fifty vara lots on Montgomery street and the middle fifty vara on Bush street in this block. When the great immigration came they built thirty-five or forty little shanties on their property which they rented to good advantage. These were removed later to build the Russ house, so well known to Californians, which property still remains in possession of the family. In 1850 the head of the family went far into the wilderness and built on Harrison and Sixth streets, on a little dry knoll in the middle of a swamp, a residence where he lived for a number of years and which became, in 1856, the famous Russ Gardens. A narrow causeway was built from Folsom street to the gardens, and woe to the unlucky rider who deviated from the narrow road; both horse and rider were likely to be engulfed.

Of the hotels of San Francisco, the City hotel on Clay and Kearny streets has been already described; the Parker house, built by Robert A. Parker and John H. Brown on Kearny street, facing the plaza, was destroyed by fire three times and as many times rebuilt. It was then incorporated with other property, in the Jenny Lind Theatre building. This was, in turn, destroyed by fire twice, and finally replaced by a handsome stone structure, which, proving unsuccessful as a theatre, was sold to the city for a city hall at the price of two hundred thousand dollars—a deal that was put through by the jobbers of 1852. This building, known to San Franciscans of the present day as the "Old City Hall," to which was added the four story "El Dorado" on the north as a hall of record, stood until taken down in 1895 to make way for the Hall of Justice, destroyed by the fire of 1906, and now in process of reconstruction.

The St. Francis hotel, a four story building, stood on the southwest corner of Clay and Dupont streets, on the lot whereon Jacob P. Leese erected the first house in Yerba Buena. The sleeping apartments in the St. Francis were the best in California, and the charge for room and board—one hundred and fifty dollars a month—was unusually cheap. No gambling was permitted. On the south side of Clay street, above the City hotel, and facing the plaza, was the Ward house, a good hotel, kept by Colonel J. J. Bryant, whose contest for the shrievalty against Colonel Jack Hays, the Texas ranger, in April 1850, was long remembered. Bryant entertained liberally at the Ward house; wine flowed and drinks were free; but when the famous Texas ranger rode into the plaza on his curveting, prancing black steed, his dash and horsemanship carried the day, and the hotel man was defeated. The Graham house, a four story wooden edifice lined on two sides by continuous balconies, was imported bodily from Baltimore and set up on the northwest corner of Kearny and Pacific streets. It was bought by the council, April 1, 1850, for a city hall, for the sum of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The building succumbed to the fire of June 1851. These were the principal hotels up to the time the Jones, or Tehama house of Captain Folsom, and the Union of Selover and company, were built. The latter was of brick, four and a half stories high, and cost, with furniture, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. It was on the east side of Kearny street between Clay and Washington streets, with a frontage of twenty-nine feet, and was burned in 1851. The Oriental hotel, spoken of by Richard H. Dana, in his "Twenty-four Years After," was begun in 1850. It stood on the corner of Bush and Battery, and was an elegantly appointed house. A large number of cheaper hotels and innumerable lodging houses and restaurants provided accommodation to those who could pay for it, while out-of-door stands sold hot coffee, pies, and hard-boiled eggs on the streets. On the southwest corner of Bush and Sansome streets was a large, high sand-hill, on the top of which, in a hollow, hidden from sight of passers on the beach, was a colony of thieves, burglars, escaped convicts, and desperadoes of every nationality. In this retreat they had their tents and shanties, whence they issued forth by night in search of prey. [10] The Rassette house was afterwards built on the site of this sand-hill and still later it was occupied by the Cosmopolitan hotel. It is now a business block.

The first newspaper published in California appeared in Monterey, August 15, 1846, edited by Walter Colton and Robert Semple and called The Californian. A portion of its contents was printed in Spanish. The printing apparatus was an old press and type belonging to the Mexican government at Monterey, which had not been in use for several years, so that the type had to be scoured, and rules and leads made from tin plate. The paper was the Spanish foolscap used for official correspondence. It appeared every Saturday until May 1847, when it was transferred to San Francisco and was later merged in the California Star.

Sam Brannan, Mormon chief and elder, a printer by trade, had published for several years in New York a church organ called The Prophet. [Note 39] He brought with him on the Brooklyn the press and outfit of this paper, and on January 9, 1847, published in San Francisco the first number of the weekly California Star with Elbert P. Jones as temporary editor, succeeded later by Edward C. Kemble. It was a sheet of eight and a half by twelve inches of print. The paper was temporarily suspended during the gold excitement in the summer of 1848, but from November the publication was regular. It had been slightly enlarged in January 1848, and when publication was resumed in November of that year, Kemble bought out The Californian and consolidated it with his own paper under the name of the California Star and Californian. In January 1849, the name was changed to the Alta California, with Edward Gilbert as editor, and Kemble, proprietor. The Alta California became a great daily and was published continuously until June 2, 1891, when it was suspended. Kemble came with Brannan on the Brooklyn, though he was not a Mormon. He took an active part in the politics of the town and was connected with the paper until he went east in 1855.

Soon after the American occupation educational matters began to engage the attention of the people. The California Star of January 16, 1847, urged the importance of establishing a school for the children of the rapidly growing town and offered to contribute a lot and fifty dollars in money towards the erection of a school house. In April 1847, J. D. Marston opened a private school in a shanty on the west side of Dupont street between Broadway and Pacific. This was the first school in San Francisco and was attended by some twenty or thirty children. It lasted but a few months. At a meeting of the council, September 24th, W. A. Leidesdorff, William Glover, and W. S. Clark were appointed a committee to attend to the building of a school house. The building was erected on the western side of the plaza, and on April 3, 1848, the school was opened under Thomas Douglas, a graduate of Yale college, with Dr. Victor J. Fourgeaud, C. L. Ross, Dr. John Townsend, John Sirrine, and William Heath Davis as trustees. The school prospered until the gold excitement carried teacher and trustees to the mines. From the date of its completion in December 1847, the school house served the purpose of town hall, court house, people's court for trial of culprits by the first vigilance committee, school, church, and finally, jail. Owing to the range and variety of its uses, the building was dignified by the name of Public Institute. In April 1849, school was resumed under the management of the Rev. Albert Williams, a Presbyterian clergyman who arrived on the Oregon April 1st, and who, on May 20th, organized the First Presbyterian church with six members, and held services in a tent on the west side of Dupont street between Pacific street and Broadway. [11]

From the second Sunday after their arrival at San Francisco, the Mormons held religious services in Captain Richardson's casa grande on Dupont street, where Sam Brannan exhorted the saints to remain faithful in this land of gentiles, but some twenty of them "went astray after strange gods," as did their eminent leader a few years later. On the 8th of May 1847, a public meeting was held under the auspices of the Rev. Thaddeus M. Leavenworth (Episcopalian) who had come as chaplain of the Stevenson regiment, and a committee was appointed to gather subscriptions for the building or lease of a house of public worship. The committee never reported. On May 16th, 1847, Rev. James H. Wilbur of the Oregon Methodist mission, passenger on the ship Whiton, stopped on his way to Oregon and organized a Sunday school which was to meet every Sunday forenoon at the alcalde's office. J. H. Merrill was appointed superintendent. This Sunday school met the fate of the secular school—closed by a stampede to the mines. On Sunday July 25, 1847, Chaplain Chester Newell, of the United States frigate Independence, preached in the new building on the northwest corner of Washington and Montgomery streets, the store built for Gelston & Company, and occupied later by C. L. Ross. This is the first record of divine service, but it is likely that other services were held by chaplains of ships in the harbor. The first sermon preached after the mines were opened, of which we have any notice, was on September 3, 1848, in the public institute, by the Rev. Elihu Anthony, a native of New York, of the overland immigration of 1847, a Methodist preacher. For several weeks following Mr. Anthony's advent, Captain L. H. Thomas, of the English brig Laura Ann, read the English service at the public institute, and Mrs. C. V. Gillespie revived the Sunday school. In this building a meeting of citizens was held November 1, 1848, to organize a Christian society. Edward H. Harrison presided; C. E. Wetmore, C. L. Ross, C. V. Gillespie, Joseph Bowden, and Edward H. Harrison were chosen trustees, and the Rev. Timothy Dwight Hunt, a native of Rochester, N. Y., who had lately arrived from Honolulu, was appointed chaplain for one year at a salary of twenty-five hundred dollars. This was the only organized institution for Protestant worship in the city until the spring of 1849, when the first coming ships brought, with the seekers of the Golden Fleece, several missionary preachers. In August 1849, the following Protestant organizations were holding services in the city:

1. The Chaplaincy, Rev. T. D. Hunt, Public Institute.
2. First Presbyterian, Rev. Albert Williams, in a large tent on Dupont street, near Pacific.
3. First Baptist, Rev. O. C. Wheeler, church on Washington street, near Stockton.
4. Protestant Episcopal, Rev. Flavil S. Mines, in house of J. H. Merrill.

On the 8th of October, a Methodist Episcopal church, shipped from Oregon and set up on a Powell street lot, was dedicated by the missionary minister, Rev. William Taylor, assisted by the Rev. Mr. Hunt, Rev. Albert Williams, and Rev. O. C. Wheeler.

The burial ground in 1846-47 was the fifty vara lot on the southeast corner of Vallejo and Sansome streets. There were no burials there after 1847, the place of burial being established in the North Beach region near Washington square; and in February 1850, the Yerba Buena cemetery—the present city hall lot—was opened for burials, and to it the bodies were removed from North Beach.

On the 1st of April 1848, the California Star express carried a mail from San Francisco to Independence, Missouri, in sixty days. Fifty cents postage was charged on letters. A special edition of the newspaper was prepared for eastern distribution and sent by this express. It consisted of six pages, and contained an article by Dr. Victor J. Fourgeaud on The Prospects of California. This was a most able presentation of facts concerning the climate, soil, resources, minerals, lumbering, and fishing facilities of California, and the writer predicted that with its agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing prospects, California would become one of the happiest portions of the globe. Doctor Fourgeaud's article attracted much attention, and he continued to publish, from time to time, articles on California and did much to correct false impressions gained from the writings of careless observers and disappointed, prejudiced adventurers. [12]

The great and sudden immigration following the discovery of gold completely changed the aspect of the town. The necessity for shelter for the forty odd thousand of people who landed in 1849 was such that everything that would, in a measure, afford protection from the winds and rains was utilized. The range was from a dry goods box to a tent, or a hastily constructed shanty lined with bunks.

The space from California street to the line of Market street was a region of high sand-hills covered with a scattering growth of brush and scrub oak; but following the curving shore of the cove to the south, one came to a little valley protected on the west by the sand-hills of Market street. Here, sheltered from the harsh winds, tents had been set up and the place named Happy valley. This was between First, Second, Market, and Mission streets. It was supplied with a good spring of water and contained, in the winter of 1849-50, about one thousand tents. To the south as far as Howard street, was Pleasant valley. The beach afforded good walking into town and served for a pleasant stroll on Sunday afternoons. Around the plaza were grouped houses of the better sort, the tents dotting the hills in the rear and spreading around the base of Telegraph hill to the north. This region, abounding in public houses of the lowest order, frequented by convicts and ticket-of-leave men from Australia, bore the significant title of Sidney Town. West of this section, and reaching from Kearny to Stockton streets, between Broadway and Green street, was Little Chili, where the Chilenos and Peruanos were gathered. Westerly between Powell and Mason streets, Washington street and Broadway, was Spring valley, while Saint Ann's valley, not yet occupied, was between Geary, Eddy, Jones, and Stockton streets.

Water for domestic use was obtained from wells, and for drinking, an extra good quality was brought from Sausalito in tanks and sold by the gallon from carts in the street.

There was but little attempt at permanent construction in San Francisco in 1849. Few of the people contemplated a permanent residence, and for the short time they intended to remain in California, were satisfied with almost any kind of shelter. Houses were built of the flimsiest construction, and most of them, when finished at all inside, were lined with cotton cloth in lieu of plaster. They had soon good reason to repent of hasty and careless building. Early on December 24, 1849, a fire broke out in Dennison's exchange, a rickety gambling house on Kearny street opposite the plaza, and in a few minutes the flames spread through the block. Some fifty houses were burned and the loss was about one million dollars. The adjoining blocks were saved by pulling down buildings and by covering houses with blankets saturated with water. Among the fire fighters was David Colbert Broderick, a New York fireman, of whom California was to hear more. The buildings were quickly replaced and by the end of January 1850, no vestige of the fire remained. This was the first of the great fires from which San Francisco was to suffer, and the only one that comes within the scope of this work. Within a year and a half, San Francisco was devastated six times by fire, and twenty-four million dollars worth of property was destroyed. Each time the destroyed portion of the city was rebuilt with better buildings, until the business section presented a substantial appearance. The walls of many buildings that remained standing after the great earthquake and fire of 1906 attest the fidelity of the construction of 1851. The havoc made by the first great fire of December 1849, aroused the people to the necessity for protection, but the fire department was not formally organized until June 1850, when the Empire Engine Company, No. 1 was formed, with David C. Broderick as foreman. The Empire was immediately followed by Protection No. 2, and Eureka No. 3. The Eureka was changed to the Howard, in honor of W. D. M. Howard, who presented the company with an engine. Five other companies were organized before the close of the year, together with hook and ladder and hose companies.

Owing to the cost of lumber and of labor, many houses were made in Boston and elsewhere and shipped to San Francisco in sections. Bayard Taylor speaks of seventy-five houses imported from Canton and put up by Chinese carpenters. In Happy valley, W. D. M. Howard put up a number of cottages that he had made in Boston, in one of which he lived.

Though houses sprang up by hundreds over night, they could not begin to hold the thousands who came in 1849. The miner returning in the winter could scarcely recognize his surroundings. He left a town of tents and shanties containing five or six thousand inhabitants. He found a city of houses extending along the shore from Clark's Point to the Rincon, reaching out a long arm through the "puertezuela" towards the Golden Gate, and stretching to the topmost heights back of the town; while lofty hotels with verandas and balconies furnished luxurious quarters, and presented bills of fare set out with the choicest of dainties. True, the streets left something to be desired—particularly after the rains came—and the city was infested with the plague of rats. These pests swarmed everywhere—into bedchambers, ovens, kneeding troughs, and one could hardly walk the street at night without being brought into contact with them. [13] They could be seen swimming in the bay, visiting ship after ship. There were black rats, brown rats, gray rats, of monstrous size, fierce, voracious, and destructive.

The rainy season of 1849-50 was long and severe. The early coming of the rains brought distress to the belated immigrants in the sierra, and to the people of San Francisco exceeding discomfort. With the shedding torrents from the clouds the streets, uneven and irregular, became, by the continual passage of men and of horses and drays, so cut up as to be almost or quite impassable. So deep was the mud that horse and wagon were sometimes literally swallowed up in it, while the owner narrowly escaped a similar fate. Upham says: "It was no uncommon occurrence to see at the same time a mule stalled in the mud of the street with only his head above the mud, and an unfortunate pedestrian, who had slipped off the plank side walk, being fished out by a companion." [14] It is said that even human bodies have been found engulfed in the mire of Montgomery street. The authorities caused a number of loads of brush wood and limbs of trees to be thrown into the streets. General Sherman says: "I have seen mules stumble in the streets and drown in the liquid mud. Montgomery street had been filled up with brush and clay, and I always dreaded to ride on horseback along it because the mud was so deep that a horse's legs would become entangled in the brush below and the rider was likely to be thrown and drowned in the mud." [15] Nobody troubled to remove rubbish, but inmates of tents and houses would put a few planks or boxes of tobacco or other goods along the worst parts of the roads to enable them to reach their own dwellings. The inflow of shipments was such that many cargoes contained goods in excess of the demand, and entire lines of sidewalk were constructed of expensive merchandise whose storage would cost more than its actual or prospective value, while tons of wire sieves, iron, rolls of sheet lead, cement, and barrels of beef were sunk in the mud. Tobacco in boxes was found to be excellent foundation material for small buildings. The narrowness of the pathways made progress dangerous. Lanterns were indispensable at night, and even in daylight not unfrequently a pedestrian would lose his balance and find himself floundering in the mud. These were the conditions under which the mixed population of San Francisco conducted business in the winter of 1849-50. Before the following winter, which was exceedingly dry, the streets in the central parts of town were graded and planked, and Montgomery, Kearny, and Dupont streets, were sewered from Broadway to Sacramento street. The plaza, or Portsmouth square, as it was now called, around which were the principal gambling houses, was for many years neglected. Neither tree, shrub, nor grass adorned it, but it contained a rude platform for public speaking, a tall flag staff, and a cow pen enclosed by rough boards.

Bad as were the physical conditions in 1849, the social conditions were even worse. The town was full of gamblers, thieves, and cut-throats from every quarter of the globe. Society there was none. Every man was a law to himself and by midsummer disorder reigned. An organization, formed from the riffraff of the disbanded regiment of New York volunteers, joined by Australian convicts and the scum of the town, paraded the streets with drum and fife and streaming banners, spreading terror and dismay among the people. They called themselves Hounds or Regulators, and under pretense of watching over public security, intruded themselves in every direction and committed all sorts of outrageous acts. Relying on strength of numbers and arms they levied forced contributions upon the merchants for the support of their organization. Their meeting place was a tent, on what is now the corner of Kearny and Commercial streets, which they called "Tammany Hall." The culmination of their reign was reached when, on the night of July 15, 1849, they made an attack in force upon the Chileno quarter at the foot of Telegraph hill, robbing, beating, and seriously wounding the inhabitants and destroying their tents and houses. The people of the town, now seriously alarmed, assembled on the plaza and under the leadership of Brannan, Ward, Bluxome, and others, organized for defence and public order. Four companies of volunteers of one hundred men each were formed, under command of McAllister, Ellis, Bluxome, and Lippitt, with Captain Spofford as chief marshall. Two hundred and thirty men were enrolled as special police. Tammany Hall was invaded and the nest broken up. The regulators scattered in all directions. Nineteen men were arrested, including the leader, Sam Roberts, an ex-member of company E, New York volunteers. A grand jury was formed, the prisoners were regularly indicted and were put on trial at the public institute. William M. Gwin and James C. Ward were appointed to "assist" the alcalde. [16] Hall McAllister and Horace Hawes volunteered to appear for the people, while P. Barry and Myron Norton were appointed to act for the accused. Nine were convicted, and though there was some talk of hanging them it was finally determined to ship them out of the country, and they were sent to Washington on one of the war ships.

Hall McAllister, who was active in the work, was a native of Savannah, Georgia, born February 9, 1826; was a graduate of Yale college and a lawyer of high standing. He came on the Panama, June 4, 1849, bringing letters of introduction to Charles V. Gillespie. Governor Riley appointed McAllister second lieutenant of the California Guards, September 8, 1849, and on the 25th of the same month appointed him attorney for the district of San Francisco at a salary of two thousand dollars per annum. His father, Mathew Hall McAllister, was the first judge of the United States Circuit court at San Francisco. Hall McAllister's name, given to McAllister street, attests the regard in which the people held this distinguished jurist. His statue in bronze stands in front of the city hall, on McAllister street.

For more than two years the Americans had been in possession of San Francisco; the gold mines had been discovered, the pueblo had grown to a city of ten or fifteen thousand inhabitants, and yet it had no municipal government but that of the alcaldes. No modern city had a greater need of a strong and efficient local government, based directly upon public opinion, responsible to it, and controlled by it. A meeting of citizens was held on the plaza, February 12, 1849, for the purpose of organizing such a form of government. The people had previous notice of the meeting, it was largely attended, and by some of the most prominent of the citizens. Resolutions were adopted calling for the election of a "Legislative Assembly" consisting of fifteen members, whose power, duty, and office was to make such laws as they in their wisdom might deem essential to promote the happiness of the people. The resolutions provided for the election of three justices of the peace to administer the law and hear and adjudicate all civil and criminal issues in the district, according to the common law of the United States.

On February 21st the election was held; three justices and fifteen members of the district legislature were elected, and the assembly was organized March 5th, with Francis J. Lippitt, speaker, and J. Howard Ackerman, clerk. The assembly held its sessions in the public institute and on March 10th reported to General Persifer F. Smith, commanding the Pacific division, its proceedings, asking his recognition of their body and concurrence and aid in the execution of its laws. General Smith declined to recognize the legislative assembly and pointed out to the petitioners that the "legislative assembly" was a body wholly unknown to the law. He suggested to them that the best government, unless well-founded and secure in a validity that could carry it safely through judicial scrutiny, was only weaving a thread of endless trouble and litigation for its people. He also assured them that so far as the alleged misconduct of officers of the existing government was concerned, any charge preferred would be thoroughly examined and that there was, in the government, not only the disposition, but the law and power to remove and punish any officer proved to be guilty. This referred to charges made against Alcalde Leavenworth of maladministration and of favoring land speculators in the granting of city lands.

The pacific letter of the general was not well received, and the assembly proceeded to abolish the office of alcalde and ordered Mr. Leavenworth to turn over to the sheriff the books and records of his office. Leavenworth appealed to General Smith and was assured by that officer that he was still alcalde and chief magistrate of the district of San Francisco, notwithstanding any law, enactment, or resolution of the district legislature to the contrary, and advised him to retain possession of his office, his books, and his papers. He also advised him that the commander of the department, Colonel Mason, was civil governor of California and would apply whatever correction the case demanded.

On April 13, 1849, Brigadier-general Bennet Riley succeeded Mason as military commander and civil governor. One of Riley's first acts was to send the steam transport Edith to Mazatlan to ascertain what action congress had taken in regard to a government for California, and on her return with the information that congress had adjourned without providing a government for California, he issued a proclamation, dated June 3, 1849, for the election of the necessary executive and judicial officers under the existing (Mexican) laws and at the same time ordered the election of delegates to a general convention to meet at Monterey, September 1st, to form a state constitution or plan for territorial government to submit to congress.

In the meantime charges against Alcalde Leavenworth were laid before the governor, who, on May 6th suspended him from office and appointed a commission consisting of Talbot H. Green, James C. Ward, and Henry A. Harrison to investigate. I have seen no report of this commission, but on June 1st, Governor Riley restored the alcalde to his office and four days later Leavenworth resigned. On May 31st the sheriff appointed by the legislative assembly, accompanied by a body of armed men, violently entered the alcalde's office and forcibly removed from the alcalde's custody the public records. The report of this act and of certain ill-advised talk of "independence" having reached the governor, he issued a proclamation, dated June 4th, denouncing the so-called legislative assembly as an unlawful body which had usurped the powers of congress, and called upon all good citizens to assist in restoring the records to their lawful keeper, the alcalde, and warned all persons against giving them countenance either by paying them taxes or by supporting or abetting their officers.

Riley was thoroughly acquainted with conditions in San Francisco and was also aware that the men constituting the legislative assembly were among the best in California. Having administered his rebuke, he proceeded on the following day, in a most courteous letter addressed to these same persons and others, to point out their remedy under the law by the election of an ayuntamiento. He appointed nine of them judges of election, and assured them of his entire sympathy with their efforts for the security of property and the rights of citizens. After some talk and denunciation of military interference, the good sense of the leaders prevailed and without formal action the "Legislative Assembly of the District of San Francisco" passed into history.

In accordance with the proclamation of the governor the civil organization of the territory was completed by the election, on August 1st, of judges of superior court, prefects, alcaldes, justices of the peace, and town councils (ayuntamientos). The higher offices were, under the law, to be filled by executive appointment; but the governor announced that he would appoint to those offices the persons receiving the plurality of votes in their respective districts. The people of San Francisco elected Horace Hawes, prefect; Joseph R. Curtis and Francisco Guerrero, sub-prefects; John W. Geary, first alcalde; Frank Turk, second alcalde; twelve councilmen (ayuntamiento), with Frank Turk and Henry L. Dodge, secretaries.

The prefect, Horace Hawes, was a native of New York and first visited California in 1847, on his way to Tahiti where he had been appointed United States consul. He returned to California in 1849, and spent the rest of his life in San Francisco. He was a lawyer of great ability, a man of honor, but eccentric to a degree and exceedingly unpopular. He became involved in a controversy with the ayuntamiento, and accused certain members of profiting by their knowledge of contemplated improvements. The ayuntamiento retaliated by preferring counter-charges and by inducing the governor (Burnett) to suspend the prefect. From my knowledge of the men involved I have little doubt that the prefect was in the right. Hawes was a member of the assembly for two terms and of the state senate in 1863-64. He earned the gratitude of the people of San Francisco by his services in connection with the consolidation act, of which he was the author, which put a check upon the plunderers of the city. He died in 1871, at the age of fifty-eight, leaving a large estate, the bulk of which was to be devoted to the establishment of a university; but his heirs, who had been comfortably provided for, contested the will and succeeded in breaking it on the ground of the testator' s insanity.

John W. Geary was born in Pennsylvania and served during the Mexican war with the Second Pennsylvania volunteers, rising to the rank of colonel. He came on the first voyage of the Oregon April 1, 1849, bringing a commission as postmaster. He served as postmaster a short time, and hearing that Jacob B. Moore had been appointed to succeed him, he turned the office over to W. P. Bryan, temporary postmaster. Geary was the first mayor of San Francisco under the charter. In 1852 he returned to Pennsylvania, served with distinction in the war of secession, and became governor of his native state. Geary street was named for him.

The ayuntamiento organized a complete municipal service with surveyor, tax collector, treasurer, and other officers. Malachi Fallon was appointed chief of police and given a force of thirty men—later increased to fifty. To facilitate the course of justice, the governor appointed William B. Almond judge of first instance, with civil jurisdiction; criminal cases remaining with the first alcalde. Almond was a man of coarse manners and had a habit of adjourning court to go out for a drink. He had been a peanut peddler and knew little about law. In hearing his cases he would sometimes listen to one or two witnessess on one side, and then cut short the attorneys of the other side, saying he wanted to hear no more.

The town was but poorly provided with jail facilities, and the ayuntamiento used the first money coming into its hands in the purchase of a prison ship. They bought the brig Euphemia on October 8, 1849, and anchored her off the Sacramento street wharf, corner of Battery street. The brig was soon overcrowded, and the prisoners were put to work on the streets under charge of a chain-gang overseer. As soon as the council was organized they applied to the governor for a loan from the civil fund. Governor Riley informed them that while he had no authority to loan any of the public funds in his possession, he would direct the treasurer to pay over to the municipality ten thousand dollars to purchase or erect a district jail and court house, provided that an equal amount was raised and appropriated by the city for that purpose. The council had plans for a city hall, hospitals, wharves, and other public improvements, and to meet these costs arranged a sale of water lots, now coming into eager demand. The sale was held in January 1850, and yielded six hundred and thirty-five thousand dollars. Three hundred thousand of this was at once appropriated for the extension of the California and Market street wharves, and in place of building a city hospital the council entered into the contract with Doctor Peter Smith which resulted so disastrously for the city.

Notwithstanding the large amount of coin brought into the country by immigrants and the millions of gold dust used as currency, the specie basis was very small in comparison with the volume of business transacted. In August 1848, Colonel Mason reported to the commissary general that, owing to the scarcity of specie, drafts on the subsistence department could not be negotiated except at a ruinous discount. The merchants of San Francisco asked to be allowed to pay custom dues in gold dust, and were informed by Governor Mason that his instructions gave him no discretion, but required him to collect duties "exclusively in gold and silver coin" before the goods could leave the custody of the collector. He was willing, however, to permit the goods to go at once into the market and to wait three and six months for the duties, provided, that gold dust be deposited as security at a rate low enough to insure its redemption at the expiration of the period. Like all other commodities in California the price of gold was subject to violent fluctuations. Its value was not well understood, and so great was the quantity produced it was feared its value would greatly decrease. [17] It sold at the mines during 1848-49, at four to nine dollars an ounce. The gold Colonel Mason sent to the war department with his report of August 17, 1848, he paid ten dollars an ounce for, and it was worth at the mint eighteen dollars. The price of gold dust was, however, largely governed by the needs of the owner and the supply of coin. Brown says that at first the gamblers would not play for it and the miners would come to him at the bar of the City hotel for money to play. He bought their dust at six to eight dollars, according to his supply of coin. The Indians, who mined much of the gold, would sell it weight for weight for any article they wished to buy. They have been known to sell an ounce of gold for fifty cents in silver coin, or for a drink of whiskey. Sixteen dollars an ounce ultimately became the ruling price at which the gold dust was taken in trade and in a transaction of any size a handful more or less did not count with the easy-going miner.

The profits of the merchants were enormous, particularly at the mining camps. At the close of 1848 the most extravagant prices prevailed at the mines. Sales of flour are reported at eight hundred dollars a barrel; pork, four hundred; a pair of boots, a blanket, a gallon of whisky, and hundreds of other things, one hundred dollars each; eggs, three dollars each; drugs, one dollar a drop; pills, one dollar each; doctor's visits, fifty to one hundred dollars; all paid in gold dust at eight to ten dollars an ounce. Some dealers kept special price lists and special scales and weights for trading with the Indians, considering it quite legitimate to rob them. I do not think such practices were at all general, but there is no doubt that they were altogether too prevalent, and it was no uncommon thing for a trader to make a fortune in a single season.

The forced and ruinous sales of cargoes in the fall of 1849, with the enormous cost of lighterage and storage caused a rapid fall in prices. [18] The heavy rains at the beginning of winter closed interior traffic and increased the stagnation. Beef and pork which had ranged from twenty to sixty dollars a barrel fell to ten dollars; flour fell from sixty to ten dollars; coffee from seventy-five cents a pound to nine; molasses from four dollars a gallon to sixty-five cents, and other importations in like ratio.

The losses of 1849 checked importations for a time and prices grew steadier under reduced supplies. Wages continued high. A common laborer received a dollar an hour, or ten dollars a day; while the pay of a carpenter was sixteen dollars a day. The cost of living was frightful. A little house of four rooms rented for four hundred dollars a month. For offices, a cellar big enough to hold a desk and a few chairs rented for two hundred and fifty dollars a month. Stores rented from one to six thousand dollars a month, while the gamblers paid ten thousand dollars a month rent for a lower floor in the Parker house, and for other rooms in that hotel they paid from thirty-five hundred to six thousand dollars a month. Everything was on a cash basis and all rents were paid in advance. Rooms at the hotels could be had from twenty-five to two hundred and fifty dollars a week. A bunk in an enclosed porch of an adobe house cost twenty-one dollars a week. The price of board was thirty-five dollars a week. There were several cheap Chinese restaurants where meals could be had for one dollar, while at the higher class restaurants a dinner a la carte cost anywhere from three to ten or more dollars. Food was abundant; the ranchos supplied unlimited quantities of good beef, while all kinds of game and fish could be had for the taking. Milk, butter, fruit, and vegetables were more difficult to obtain. Milk cost one dollar a quart, butter from one dollar and a half to two dollars and a half a pound, according to its rank, and vegetables about what the dealer chose to ask. Bayard Taylor speaks of choice grizzly bear steaks at the restaurant, very solid, sweet, and nutritious, of a flavor preferable to that of the best pork.

With the general exodus to the mines in the summer of 1848, real estate in the town became almost worthless, and many of the faint hearted saw the finish of San Francisco and the rise of the rival city of Benicia on the straits of Carquines; but the beginning of the winter rains sent the inhabitants back to town, and the place was filled to overflowing. Building was resumed with feverish intensity, and lots that could hardy be given away in the summer, found ready purchasers at greatly advanced prices, and some on favored corners sold as high as ten thousand dollars. In the spring of 1849, real estate speculation again lagged with the departure of the miners, but with their return in the fall, laden with the gold of the placers, speculation went mad and prices advanced to unprecedented figures. The firm of Finley, Johnson & Company sold for three hundred thousand dollars real estate that had cost them the year before, twenty-three thousand. A lot on the plaza, bought in the spring for six thousand dollars, sold for forty-five thousand. Encouraged by the demand for lots, Dr. John Townsend and Cornelius de Boom laid out a suburban town in the Potrero Nuevo, on the beautiful sloping banks of Mission bay, [19] but owing to its distance from town it was long before there was a demand for lots. Many of the people who had to have houses and could not pay from three to six hundred dollars a thousand for lumber, went to the redwood forest of San Antonio, got out the lumber, and built for themselves. This was the case with Brother Taylor of the Methodist conference. Landing in San Francisco in September 1849, after a long trip around Cape Horn, he could find no shelter for his wife, weak from a recent confinement and the weary voyage, and for his children. From four to five hundred dollars a month was asked for the smallest house that would hold them. The small class he got together had no money and could not help him. He said he would take his axe and wedge, go to the redwoods, get out the lumber, and build him a house. The members of his flock tried to dissuade him, but he saw no other way. He would go, he said, to the redwoods, and would leave the outcome with the Lord. The fact that the aforesaid redwoods, belonged to the Peraltas seems to have troubled nobody. Brother Taylor did go to the redwoods, accompanied by a good brother who volunteered to help him, and after some weeks of arduous and unaccustomed labor, succeeded in getting his lumber and building his house on a lot another good brother helped him to buy.

General Smith, commanding the Pacific division, established a military post at Benicia, garrisoned by two companies of infantry, and made it the general depot for military supplies. He did not approve of San Francisco, and transferred all the military stores thence to Benicia. He reported to the adjutant-general that the harbor at Yerba Buena was a very inconvenient one—the sea too rough three days out of seven to load or unload vessels; and that the town of San Francisco was situated at the extremity of a long point cut off from the interior by an arm of the bay more than thirty miles long, having no good water and few supplies of food; with the only road by which it could be reached intersected by streams that rendered it at that time (in March) nearly impassable. The town of San Francisco, he says, "is no way fitted for military or commercial purposes; there is no harbor, a bad landing place, bad water, no supplies of provisions, an inclement climate, and is cut off from the rest of the country, except by a long circuit around the southern extremity of the bay." He hopes that in fixing the port of entry, capital, or other public places, the law will leave to the president the selection; "otherwise, private interest, already involved in speculation here, will, by misrepresentation, lead to a very bad choice." Early in April he made an exploring trip around the northern branch of the bay, selecting a site on Carquines straits for a military depot where, on an inclined plane, the town of Benicia was laid out; "a very favorable site for a town larger than is likely to exist anywhere here for a century to come." His own headquarters, he writes in June, he is about to remove to Sonoma, whence his dispatch of August 26th is dated.

As if to convict General Smith of prejudgment, San Francisco continued to grow vigorously, and its increasing prosperity was apparent not only in its business houses, hotels, etc., but also in the appearance of the people. The slouched hat gave way to the black beaver; the flannel shirt, to white linen; and dress and frock coats were taken from trunks and sea chests. The sombrero, a very convenient and becoming head-piece, was much affected by the younger men. The men of the earlier immigration long clung to the California costume: blue jacket or roundabout, black trousers, and soft hat. In summer the dress was white. The men of the interregnum—of the conquest—adopted the California dress and continued it well into 1850; but the fashion among the argonauts finally prevailed. The gamblers affected the Mexican style of dress, in part, with white shirt, diamond studs; sombrero, with perhaps a feather or squirrel's tail under the band, top-boots, and scarlet sash around the waist. Washing was very expensive, the usual charge being eight dollars a dozen. Linen was sent to Honolulu and even to Canton to be laundered. The favorite spot for laundry work was a little pond in the Western addition, separated from the waters of the bay by a low range of sand dunes, called by the Spaniards, Laguna Pequeña, and by the Americans, Washerwomen's lagoon. The site of this pond includes the blocks between Franklin, Octavia, Filbert, and Lombard streets, but it has long been filled up and built upon. In 1849 it was a place for excursions and picnics. Here the washermen and gardeners established themselves and plied their respective occupations. The land adjoining the pond was a rich, black loam and well repaid cultivation. The washerwomen, of whom there were a few, principally Mexicans and Indians, ranged themselves on one side and the washermen on the other. The men went into the business on a large scale, having their tents for ironing, their large kettles for boiling the clothes and their fluted washboards along the edge of the water. When one of these great, burly, long-bearded fellows got a shirt on the board the suds flew—and the buttons also. Nearer town, in the North Beach section, where two springs fed a little brook, on the corner of Mason and Francisco streets, Honest Harry Meiggs, later alderman, absconder, and railroad builder, erected a saw mill and had his lumber yard. His wharf was afterwards extended into the bay.

The road to the presidio led from Dupont street, through the "puertezuela," the little pass between the hills at Pacific and Jones streets, and past the Laguna Pequeña. This was also an excursion for those who wished to get away for a moment from the strenuous life of the sordid town. Past the long adobe barracks and cottages of the presidio the rider takes his way to the old Spanish fort upon the cliff that overhangs the foamy beach. The gray crumbling walls and mouldering ramparts that once echoed to the tread of "the swart commander in his leathern jerkin"; the decaying gun carriage with wheel half buried in the weeds and grass; the weather-worn embrasures that once framed the face of seaward-gazing sentry, now but the basking-place where seabirds rest and blink in the sunlight, all charm to rest, to forgetfulness of the present in the dream of the past.

“———the dying glow of Spanish glory
The sunset dream and last!"

From Dupont street (Calle de la Fundacion) another road led southward to the mission. This wound in and around the sand-hills reaching the line of Mission street, thence to the Mission Dolores. Another road or path to the mission was along Kearny, up Bush street to the hill, down Stockton street, where on the corner of Sutter, the rider (of 1851) came suddenly upon a most beautiful dwelling with porch, veranda, door-yard, and flowers, lying in the warm sunlight "like a sweet bit of our old home spirited across the continent by fairy's wand." This house was made in Boston for Judge Burritt and shipped to San Francisco. It occupied the fifty vara lot on the northwest corner of Sutter and Stockton streets. [20] Dr. A. J. Bowie lived here many years. It was afterwards added to and used as a beer garden, where light opera was given in the evening, and was known as the Vienna Gardens.

Down Stockton street the rider passed, skirting the high sand-hill that filled Union square, through Saint Ann's valley to Yerba Buena cemetery, to the Hayes residence, where amid trees and flowers Colonel Thomas Hayes kept open house for his friends and dispensed generous hospitality. His residence occupied the block between Van Ness, Franklin, Grove, and Hayes streets, and that of his friend and neighbor, James Van Ness, the block between Van Ness, Franklin, Hayes, and Fell—the present public library lot. From here it was little over a mile to the mission. In the winter of 1850-51, a plank road was built from California south on Kearny to Third, thence to Mission street, and to the Mission Dolores. This road was owned by a stock company, cost ninety-six thousand dollars and paid in dividends nearly eight per cent a month on the investment. The charge was twenty-five cents for a caballero, seventy-five cents for a wagon and two horses, and one dollar for a four-horse team. The toll house was first on Kearny street, then on Third at the intersection of Stevenson, then at Fourth and Mission, and finally, further out. At Sixth street the road came to a marsh which was crossed by a bridge reaching from Sixth to Eighth streets. Just before coming to the bridge a road led to the cemetery and to the residence of C. V. Gillespie, nearly opposite the cemetery gate. In the block between Eleventh and Twelfth streets, on the northwesterly side of the road was the Grizzly road-side inn, where a chained bear was kept for the entertainment of callers. A little further on a brook crossed the road where some years later Robert B. Woodward established that most delightful place for the children of San Francisco, Woodward's Gardens. Woodward began his ministrations to the public on Pike street now Waverly Place, a short street running from Washington to Sacramento streets a little above Dupont, where he kept a coffee house. Later he made a fortune in the famous What Cheer house. At the mission was the Mansion house, where Bob Ridley and Charles V. Stuart entertained all comers. Here, in their adobe houses, lived the Guerrero, De Haro, Valencia, Bernal, Alviso, Sanchez, Galindo, and other well-known families whose names are perpetuated in our streets and hills.

In 1849 San Francisco was a city of men. Every man was his own housekeeper, doing, in many instances, his own cooking, washing, and mending. The men considered that they would be in California so short a time that it was not worth while to bring the families; besides, there was no place for them. This resulted in the dissolution of old conventionalities and the casting of society into new forms. Men were like children escaped from school. The new environment did not encourage moderation. A great increase of activity came upon the people, accompanied by a reckless and daring spirit. Men noted for prudence and caution took sudden leave of those qualities, and plunged into speculation so daring that newly arrived persons predicted a speedy and ruinous crash of the whole business fabric of San Francisco. The latent strength hitherto confined by lack of opportunity and conventional rules was brought into action, and leadership fell to those most fitted. Practical equality ruled among the members of the community and no honest occupation, however menial in its character, affected a man's standing. Sailors, cooks, or day laborers, frequently became heads of profitable establishments, while doctors, lawyers, and other professional men, worked for wages, even as waiters and shoeblacks. Said Broderick: "I represent a state, sir, where labor is honorable; where the judge has left his bench the lawyer and doctor their offices, and the clergyman his pulpit, for the purpose of delving in the earth; where no station is so high and no position so great that its occupant is not proud to boast that he has labored with his own hands. There is no state in the union, no place on earth, where labor is so honored and so well rewarded; no time and place since the Almighty doomed the sons of Adam to toil, where the curse, if it be a curse, rests so lightly as now on the people of California.” [21]

The exuberance of the Americans manifested itself in dangerous excesses, chief among which were drinking and gambling. The practice of drinking was widely prevalent, and perhaps no city in the world contained more drinking houses in proportion to population than San Francisco. Various explanations have been given for this wide-spread indulgence, such as lack of homes and higher recreations, influence of climate, and so on. I think the practice. was largely due to the excitement and strain which men were under, combined with freedom from restraint, lavishness, and an exaggerated spirit of good-fellowship. They were not, as a rule, solitary drinkers. Gambling grew and flourished, in spite of a strong and universal public sentiment against it. It was a part of the wildness in the blood—the craving for fresh excitement. The most reckless players were the richly-laden miners, and from them the professional gamblers reaped a harvest. In many instances the gamblers themselves were men who had led orderly and respectable lives at home. On arriving at San Francisco in September 1849, Brother Taylor asked a person who came on board the ship if there were any ministers of the gospel in San Francisco. "Yes," he said, "we have one preacher, but preaching won't pay here, so he quit preaching and went to gambling." The reply Mr. Taylor received well illustrates the reckless manner in which statements were made; statements as false and misleading as they were reckless. There were at that time, as we have seen, four places in the city where the gospel was regularly preached by ordained ministers. The wickedness of San Francisco has been well advertised and is, to this day, a favorite theme for discussion by those who can see only the surface of things and who accept, without investigation, the statements of those who prate of a "pleasure loving people" and of the "Paris of America.”

The other diversions offered the people were about on a par with the drinking saloon and gaming table; but with the growth of home influence men began to long for better things. They began to be interested in the development of the great resources of the country. Men sent for their families, and young men began to look for wives. As soon as they made up their minds to settle permanently in the country, their conduct underwent a great change for the better. They were interested in the establishment of schools and churches, a better observation of the Sabbath, and whatever they thought would improve social conditions. In spite of dissipating and disorganizing influences, the main stock of society was strong, vigorous, and progressive; and with the same energy with which they had plunged into earlier excesses, the Americans now set about the establishment of order, guided by an enlightened experience and the instinct of right. In a community which contained contributions from all the nationalities of Europe, Asia, America, and the islands of the sea, the men of the United States dominated by numbers, by right of conquest, by energy, shrewdness, and adaptability. From the worst elements of anarchy was evolved social order. With a freshly-awakened pride of country, which made every citizen jealously and disinterestedly anxious that California should acquit herself honorably in the eyes of the nation at large, the prejudices of sect and party were disclaimed, and all united in the serious work of forming the commonwealth.

The city has had her full share of trials and tribulations. Abused and degraded by pretended friends, betrayed into the hands of plunderers by her guardians, her people have twice risen and taken back into their hands the delegated powers of government; then when their work was done they have returned to their usual vocations, peaceful citizens and obedient subjects of the law.

On the 15th of April 1850, the legislature granted a city charter to San Francisco, assigning as boundaries: On the south, a line parallel to Clay street, two miles south from Portsmouth square; on the west, a line parallel to Kearny street, one and a half miles from the square; on the north and east, the county limits. The government was vested in a mayor and common council; and with the election of the new city officials, on May 1, 1850, the ayuntamiento passed out forever.

1. Californian, Feb. 6. 1847. [back]
2. Argument of William H. Shaw in case of Hart vs. Burnett, pp. 28, 29. [back]
3. Hoffman: Land Cases i, pp. 392-3. Bancroft: Hist. of Cal. vii, pp. 243-4. [back]
4. Soule: Annals, p. 292. [back]
5. Memoirs i, pp. 68-9. [back]
6. Barry and Patten: Men and Memories of San Francisco. [back]
7. Notwithstanding the great numbers of ships arriving at San Francisco during 1849 and the few years following, there was no light at the entrance of the harbor until 1854 when a light was erected on Alcatraz island, and in 1855 Point Bonita, the southeast Farallon and Fort Point each had a light. There were no tugs and but few experienced pilots. [back]
8. Kelly: A Stroll through the Diggings of California. [back]
9. Bancroft: Hist. of Cal. iii, p. 765. [back]
10. Barry and Patten: Men and Memories of San Francisco. [back]
11. Taylor: California Life Illustrated, p. 66. [back]
12. Many writers of 1849 denounced the country as unfit for agriculture and said that it must forever depend upon the eastern states, Oregon, Chili [sic], Australia, and the Hawaiian islands for its breadstuffs. As for the climate it was highly unhealthy.  /P/ Doctor Victor Jean Fourgeaud was born in Charleston, South Carolina, April 8, 1817, and died in San Francisco, January 2, 1875. He was a graduate of the University of France and of the Charleston Medical college. He came overland to California accompanied by his wife and son, and arrived in San Francisco October 20, 1847. While practicing medicine in San Francisco and the bay counties Doctor Fourgeaud studied the agricultural possibilities and the commercial prospects of California. He was actively interested in the affairs of the city, and he made the first assay of the gold found by Marshall at Sutter's mill. [back]
13. A well house bore the sign "Shut the door and keep out the rats—the nasty things." [back]
14. Upham (S. C.): Notes of a Voyage to California, p.268. Caleb T. Fay in his Statement of Historical Facts, p. 3, says "I have seen a mule in the rainy season go out of sight in the mud, at the corner of Montgomery and Clay streets, with the exception of his head." [back]
15. Sherman: Memoirs, p. 67. Some good Samaritan gave warning to the unwary by erecting a sign on the corner of Clay and Kearny streets, bearing the legend: "This street is impassable, Not even jackassable." [back]
16. Thaddeus M. Leavenworth. He was openly charged with being in sympathy with the regulators and of using them to further his political aspirations. [back]
17. Horace Greeley estimated that a thousand millions would be added to the world's supply within four years. Brown: Early Days, Chap. iv. [back]
18. Storage: Three dollars a month per barrel; drayage, three to four dollars a load. Doc. 17, pp. 31-2. [back]
19. In 1847, Dr. John Townsend built his residence and physician's office on his fifty vara lot on the south side of California street between Montgomery and Sansome, where the Merchant's Exchange now stands. John Cornelius de Boom, a native of Antwerp, came in 1849, from South America, with a cargo of goods, landing February 18th. He bought from Townsend his California street lot and became owner of a large amount of San Francisco property. He established the house of De Boom, Grisar & Co. of Valparaiso and San Francisco. [back]
20. Barry and Patten: Men and Memories of San Francisco. [back]
21. Speech of David C. Broderick in the United States Senate on the admission of Kansas. [back]
Source: Eldredge, Zoeth Skinner. The Beginnings of San Francisco. 1912: San Francisco.

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