Early History of California
Early History of San Francisco
"Ranch and Mission Days in Alta California," by Guadalupe Vallejo
"Life in California Before the Gold Discovery," by John Bidwell
William T. Sherman and Early Calif. History
William T. Sherman and the Gold Rush
California Gold Rush Chronology 1846 - 1849
California Gold Rush Chronology 1850 - 1851
California Gold Rush Chronology 1852 - 1854
California Gold Rush
Chronology 1855 - 1856
California Gold Rush
Chronology 1857 - 1861
California Gold Rush
Chronology 1862 - 1865
An Eyewitness to the
Masons Report on the Discovery of Gold
A Rush to the Gold Washings
‹ From the California Star
The Discovery ‹
as Viewed in New York and London
Steamer Day in the
Sam Brannan Opens
New Bank - 1857
The principal sources of revenue which the Missions
enjoyed were the sales of hides and tallow, fresh beef, fruits, wheat, and other
things to ships, and in occasional sales of horses to trappers or traders. The Russians
at Fort Ross, north of San Francisco, on Bodega Bay, bought a good deal from the
Missions. Then too the Indians were sent out to trade with other Indians, and so
the Missions often secured many valuable furs, such as otter and beaver, together
with skins of bears and deer killed by their own hunters.
The embarcadero, or landing, for the Mission
San José was at the mouth of a salt-water creek four or five miles away.
When a ship sailed into San Francisco Bay, and the captain sent a large boat up
this creek and arranged to buy hides, they were usually hauled there on an ox-cart
with solid wooden wheels, called a carreta. But often in winter, there being no
roads across the valley, each separate hide was doubled across the middle and placed
on the head of an Indian. Long files of Indians, each carrying hide in this manner,
could be seen over the unfenced level land through the wild mustard to the embarcadero,
and in a few weeks the whole cargo would thus be delivered. For such work the Indians
always received additional gifts for themselves and families.
A very important feature, was the wheat harvest. Wheat
was grown more or less at all the Missions. If those Americans who came to California
in 1849 and said that wheat would not grow here had only visited the Missions they
would have seen beautiful large wheat fields. Of course at first many mistakes were
made by the fathers in their experiments, not only in wheat and corn, but also wine
making, in crushing olives for oil, in grafting trees, and in creating fine flower
and vegetable gardens. At most of the Missions it took them several years to find
out how to grow good grain. At first they planted it on too wet land. At the Mission
San José a tract about a mile square came to be used for wheat. It was fenced
in with a ditch, dug by the Indians with sharp sticks and with their hands in the
rainy season, and it was so deep and wide that cattle and horses never crossed it.
In other places stone or adobe walls, or hedges of the prickly pear cactus, were
used about the wheat fields. Timber was never considered available for fences, because
there were no saw-mill and no roads to the forests, so that it was only at great
expense and with extreme difficulty that we procured the logs that were necessary
in building, and chopped them slowly, with poor tools, to the size we wanted. Sometimes
low adobe walls were made high and safe by a row of the skulls of Spanish cattle,
with the long curving horns attached. These came from the matanzas or high Spanish
came the matanzas, or slaughter-corrals, where there were thousands of them lying
in piles, and they could be so used to make one of the strongest and most effective
of barriers against man or beast. Set close and deep, at various angles, about the
gateways and corral walls, these cattle horns helped to protect the inclosure from
When wheat was sown it was merely scratched in
with a wooden plow, but the ground was so new and rich that the yield was great.
The old Mission field is now occupied by some of the best farms of the valley, showing
how excellent was the fathers judgment of good land. The old ditches which
fenced it have been plowed in for more than forty years by American farmers, but
their course can still be distinctly traced.
A special ceremony was connected with the close of the
wheat harvest. The last four sheaves taken from this large field were tied to poles
in the form of a cross, and were then brought by, the reapers in the harvest
procession to the church, while the bells were rung, and the father, dressed
in his robes, carrying the cross and accompanied by boys with tapers and censers,
chanting the Te Deum as they marched, went forth to meet the sheaves. This was a
season of Indian festival also, and one-fifth of the whole number of the Indians
were sometimes allowed to leave the Mission for a certain number of days, to gather
acorns, dig roots, hunt, fish, and enjoy a change of occupation. It was a privilege
that they seldom, or never, abused by failing to return, and the fact shows how
well they were treated in the Missions.
Governor Neve proposed sowing wheat. I have heard, in
1776, and none had been sown in California before that time. At the pueblo of San
José, which was established in 1777, they planted wheat for the use of the
presidios, and the first sowing was at the wrong season and failed, but the other
half of their seed did better. The fathers at San Diego Mission sowed grain on the
bottom lands in the willows the first year, and it was washed away; then they put
it on the mesa above the Mission, and it died; the third year they found a good
piece of land and it yielded one hundred and ninety-five fold. As soon as the Missions
had wheat fields they wanted flour, and mortars were made. Some of them were holes
cut in the rock, with a heavy pestle, lifted by a long pole. When La Pérouse,
the French navigator, visited Monterey in 1786, he gave the fathers in San Carlos
an iron hand-mill, so that the neophyte women could more easily grind their wheat.
He also gave the fathers seed-potatoes from Chili, the first that were known in
California. La Pérouse and his officers were received with much hospitality
at San Carlos. The Indians were told that the Frenchmen were true Catholics, and
Father Palou had them all assembled at the reception. Mrs. Ord, a daughter of the
De la Guerra family, had a drawing of this occasion, made by an officer, but it
was stolen about the time of the American conquest, like so many of the precious
relics of Spanish California. La Pérouse wrote: It is with the sweetest
satisfaction that I shall make known the pious and wise conduct of these friars,
who fulfill so perfectly the object of their institution. The greatest anchorites
have never led a more edifying life.
Early in the [nineteenth] century flour-mills by water
were built at Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, San José and San Gabriel. The
ruins of some of these now remain; the one at Santa Cruz is very picturesque. Horse-power
mills were in use at many places. At the time that the Americans began to arrive
in numbers the Spanish people were just commencing to project larger mill enterprises
and irrigation ditches for their own needs. The difficulties with land titles put
an end to most of these plans, and some of them were afterward carried out by Americans
when the ranches were broken up.
One of the greatest of the early irrigation projects
was that of my grandfather, Don Ygnacio Vallejo, who spent much labor and money
in supplying San Luis Obispo Mission with water. This was begun in 1776, and completed
the following year. He so planned to carry the water of the Carmel River to Monterey;
this has since been done by the Southern Pacific Railway Company. My father, Don
J. J. Vallejo, about fifty years ago made a stone aqueduct and several irrigation
and mill ditches from the Alameda Creek, on which stream he built an adobe flour-mill,
whose millstones were brought from Spain.
I have often been asked about the old Mission and ranch
gardens. They were, I think, more extensive, and contained a greater variety of
trees and plants, than most persons imagine. The Jesuits had gardens in Baja California
as early as 1699, and vineyards and orchards a few years later. The Franciscans
in Alta California began to cultivate the soil as soon as they landed. The first
grapevines were brought from Lower California in 1769, and were soon planted at
all the Missions except Dolores, where the climate was not suitable. Before the
year 1800 the orchards at the Missions contained apples, pears, peaches, apricots,
plums, cherries, figs, olives, oranges, pomegranates, At San Diego And San Buenaventura
Missions there were also sugar canes, date palms, plantains, bananas, and citrons.
There were orchards and vineyards in California sufficient to supply all the wants
of the people. I remember that at the Mission San José we had many varieties
of seedling fruits which have now been lost to cultivation. Of pears we had four
sorts, one ripening in early summer, one in late summer, and two in autumn and winter.
The Spanish names of there pears were the Presidenta, the Bergamota, the Pana, and
the Lechera. One of them was as large as a Bartlett, but there are no trees of it
left now. The apples, grown from seed, ripened at different seasons, and there were
seedling peaches, both early and late. An interesting and popular fruit was that
of the Nopal, or prickley pear. This fruit, called tuna, grew on great hedges which
protected part of the Mission orchards and were twenty feet high and ten or twelve
feet thick. Those who know how to eat a tuna, peeling it so as to escape the tiny
thorns on the skin, find it delicious. The Missions had avenues of fig, olive, and
other trees about the building, besides the orchards. In later times American squatters
and campers often cut down these trees for firewood or built fires against the trunks,
which killed them. Several hundred large and valuable olive trees at the San Diego
Mission were killed in this way. The old orchards were pruned and cultivated with
much care, and the paths were swept by the Indians, but after the sequestration
of the Mission property they were neglected and ran wild. The olive-mills, and wine-presses
were destroyed, and cattle were pastured in the once fruitful groves.
The flower gardens were gay with roses, chiefly a pink
and very fragrant sort from Mexico, called by us the Castilian rose, and still seen
in a few old gardens. Besides roses, we had pinks, sweet-peas, hollyhocks, nasturtiums
which had been brought from Mexico, and white lilies. The vegetable gardens contained
pease, beans, beets, lentils, onions, carrots, red peppers, corn, potatoes, squashes,
cucumbers, and melons. A fine quality of tobacco was cultivated and cured by the
Indians. Hemp and flax were grown to some extent. A fine large cane, a native of
Mexico, was planted, and the joints found useful as in the blanket factory, and
for many domestic purposes. The young shoots of this cane were sometimes cooked
for food. Other kinds of plants were grown in the old gardens, but these are all
that I can remember.
In the old days every one seemed to live out-doors.
There was much gaiety and social life, even though people were widely scattered.
We traveled as much as possible on horseback. Only old people or invalids cared
to use the slow cart, or carreta. Young men would ride from one ranch to another
for parties, and whoever found his horse tired would let him go and catch another.
In 1806 there were so many horses in the valleys about San José that seven
or eight thousand were killed. Nearly as many were driven into the sea at Santa
Barbara in 1801, and the same thing was done at Monterey in 1810. Horses were given
to the runaway sailors, and to trappers and hunters who came over the mountains,
for common horses were very plenty, but fast and beautiful horses were never more
prized in any country than in California, and each young man had his favorites.
A kind of mustang, that is now seldom or never seen on the Pacific coast, was a
peculiar light cream-colored horse, with silver-white mane and tail. Such an animal,
of speed and bottom, often sold for more than a horse of any other color. Other
much admired colors were dapple-gray and chestnut. The fathers of the Mission sometimes
rode on horseback, but they generally had a somewhat modern carriage called a volante.
It was always drawn by mules, of which there were hundreds in the Mission pastures,
and white was the color often preferred.
Nothing was more attractive than the wedding cavalcade
on its way from the brides house to the Mission church. The horses were more
richly caparisoned than for any other ceremony, and the brides nearest relative
or family representative carried her before him, she sitting on the saddle with
her white satin shoe in a loop of golden or silver braid, while he sat on the bear-skin
covered anquera behind. The groom and his friends mingled with the brides
party, all on the best horses that could be obtained, and they rode gaily from the
ranch house to the Mission, sometimes fifteen or twenty miles away. In April and
May, when the land was covered with wild-flowers, the light-hearted troop rode along
the edge of the uplands, between hill and valley, crossing the streams, and some
of the young horsemen, anxious to show their skill, would perform all the feats
for which the Spanish-Californians were famous. After the wedding, when they returned
to lead in the feasting, the bride was carried on the horse of the groomsman. One
of the customs which was always observed at the wedding was to wind a silken tasseled
string or a silken sash, fringed with gold, about the necks of the bride and groom,
binding them together as they knelt before the altar for the blessing of the priest.
A charming custom among the middle and lower classes was the making of the satin
shoes by the groom for the bride. A few weeks before the wedding he asked his betrothed
for the measurement of her foot, and made the shoes with his own hands; the groomsman
brought them to her on the wedding-day.
But few foreigners ever visited any of the Missions,
and they naturally caused quite a stir. At the Mission San José, about 1820,
late one night in the vintage season a man came to the village for food and shelter,
which were gladly given. But the next day it was whispered that he was a Jew, and
the poor Indians, who had been told that the Jews had crucified Christ, ran to their
huts and hid. Even the Spanish children, and many of the grown people, were frightened.
Only the missionary father had ever before seen a Jew, and when he found that it
was impossible to check the excitement he sent two soldiers to ride with the man
a portion of the way to Santa Clara.
A number of trappers and hunters came into Southern
California and settled down in various towns. There was a party of Kentuckians,
beaver-trappers, who went along the Gila and Colorado rivers about 1827, and then
south into Baja California to the Mission of Santa Catalina. Then they came to San
Diego, where the whole country was much excited over their hunter clothes, their
rifles, their traps, and the strange stories they told of the deserts, and fierce
Indians, and things that no one in California had ever seen. Captain Paty was the
oldest man of the party, and he was ill and worn out. All the San Diego people were
very kind to the Americans. It is said that the other Misdons, such as San Gabriel,
sent and desired the privilege of caring for some of them. Captain Paty grew worse,
so he sent for one of the fathers and said he wished to become a Catholic, because
he added, it must be a good religion, for it made everybody so good to him. Don
Pio Pico and Doña Victoria Dominguez de Estudillo were his sponsors. After
Captain Patys death the Americans went to Los Angeles, where they all married
Spanish ladies, were given lands, built houses, planted vineyards and became important
people. Pryor repaired the church silver, and was called Miguel el Platero.
Laughlin was always so merry that he was named "Ricardo el Buen Mozo."
They all had Spanish names given them besides their own. One of them was a blacksmith,
and as iron was very scarce he made pruning shears for the vineyards out of the
old beaver traps.
On Christmas night, 1828, a ship was wrecked near Los
Angeles, and twenty-eight men escaped. Everybody wanted to care for them, and they
were given a great Christmas dinner, and offered money and lands. Some of them staid,
and some went to other Missions and towns. One of them who staid was a German, John
Gronigen, and he was named Juan Domingo or, because he was lame, Juan
Cojo. Another, named Prentice, came from Connecticut, and he was a famous
fisherman and otter hunter. After 1828 a good many other Americans came in and settled
down quietly to cultivate the soil, and some of them became very rich. They had
grants from the governor, just the same as the Spanish people. It is necessary,
for the truth of the account, to mention the evil behavior of many Americans before,
as well as after, the conquest. At the Mission San José there is a small
creek and two very large sycamores once grew at the Spanish ford, so that it was
called la aliso. A squatter named Fallon, who lived near the crossing, cut down
these for firewood, though there were many trees in the cañon. The Spanish
people begged him to leave them, for the shade, but he did not care for that. This
was a little thing, but much that happened was after such pattern, or far worse.
In those times one of the leading American squatters
came to my father, Don J.J. Vallejo, and said, There is a large piece of your
land where the cattle run loose, and your vaqueros have gone to the gold fields.
I will fence the field for you at my expense if you will give me half. He
liked the idea, and assented, but when the tract was inclosed the American had it
entered as government land in his own name, and kept all of it. In many similar
cases American settlers in their dealings with the rancheros took advantage of the
laws which they understood, but which were new to the Spaniards, so robbed the latter
of their lands. Notes and bonds were considered unnecessary by a Spanish gentleman
in a business transaction, as his word was always sufficient security.
Perhaps the most exasperating feature of the coming-in
of the Americans was owing to the mines, which drew away most of the servants, so
that our cattle were stolen by thousands. Men who are now prosperous farmers and
merchants were guilty of shooting and selling Spanish beef without looking
at the brand, as the phrase went. My father had about ten thousand head of
cattle, and some he was able to send back into the hills until there were better
laws and officers, but he lost the larger part. On one occasion I remember some
vigilantes caught two cattle-thieves and sent for my father to appear against them,
but he said that although he wanted them punished he did not wish to have them hanged,
and so he would not testify, and they were set free. One of them afterward sent
conscience money to us from New York, where he is living in good circumstances.
The Vallejos have on several occasions received conscience money from different
parts of the country. The latest case occurred last year (1899), when a woman wrote
that her husband, since dead, had taken a steer worth twenty-five dollars, and she
sent the money.
Every Mission and ranch in old times had its calaveras,
its place of skulls, its slaughter corral, where cattle and sheep were
killed by the Indian butchers Every Saturday morning the fattest animals were chosen
and driven there, and by night the hides were all stretched on the hillside to dry.
At one time a hundred cattle and two hundred sheep were killed weekly at the Mission
San José, and the meat was distributed to all, without money and without
price. The grizzly bears, which were very abundant in the country,
for no one ever poisoned them, as the American stock raisers did after 1849,
used to come by night to the ravines near the slaughter-corral where the refuse
was thrown by the butchers. The young Spanish gentlemen often rode out on moonlight
nights to lasso these bears, and then they would drag them through the village street,
and past the houses of their friends. Two men with their strong rawhide reatas could
hold any bear, and when they were tired of this sport they could kill him. But sometimes
the bears would walk through the village on their way to or from the corral of the
butchers, and so scatter the people. Several times a serenade party, singing and
playing by moonlight, was suddenly broken up by two or three grizzlies trotting
down the hill into the street, and the gay caballeros with their guitars would spring
over the adobe walls and run for their horses, which always stood saddled, with
a reata coiled, ready for use, as a saddle bow. It was the custom in every family
to keep saddled horses in easy reach, day and night.
Innumerable stories about grizzlies are traditional
in the old Spanish families, not only in the Santa Clara Valley, but also through
the Coast Range from San Diego to Sonoma and Santa Rosa. Some of the bravest of
the young men would go out alone to kill grizzlies. When they had lassoed one they
would drag him to a tree, and the well-trained horse would hold the bear against
it while the hunter slipped out of the saddle, ran up, and killed the grizzly with
one stroke of his broad-bladed machete, or Mexican hunting knife. One Spanish gentlemen
riding after a large grizzly lassoed it and was dragged into a deep barranca. Horse
and man fell on the bear, and astonished him so much that he scrambled up the bank,
and the hunter cut the reata and gladly enough let him go. There were many cases
of herdsmen and hunters being killed by grizzlies, and one could fill a volume with
stories of feats of courage and of mastery of the reata. The governor of California
appointed expert bear hunters in different parts of the country, who spent their
time in destroying them, by pits, or shooting, or with the reata. Don Rafael Soto,
one of the most famous of these men used to conceal himself in a pit, covered with
heavy logs and leaves, with a quarter of freshly killed beef above. When the grizzly
bear walked on the logs he was shot from beneath. Before the feast- days the hunters
sometimes went to the foothills and brought several bears to turn into the bull-fighting
corral, The principal bull- fights were held at Easter and on the day of the patron
saint of the Mission, which at the Mission San José was March 19. Young gentlemen
who had trained for the contest entered the ring on foot and on horseback, after
the Mexican manner. In the bull and bear fights a hind foot of the bear was often
tied to the forefoot of the bull, to equalize the struggle, for a large grizzly
was more than a match for the fiercest bull in California, or indeed of any other
country. Bull and bear fights continued as late as 1855. The Indians were the most
ardent supporters of this cruel sport.
The days of the rodeos, when cattle were driven in from
the surrounding pastures, and the herds of the different ranches were separated,
were notable episodes. The ranch owners elected three or five juezes del campo to
govern the proceedings and decide disputes. After the rodeo there was a feast. The
great feast-days, however, were December 12 (the day of our Lady Guadalupe), Christmas,
Easter, and St. Josephs Day, or the day of the patron saint of the Mission.
Family life among the old Spanish pioneers was an affair
of dignity and ceremony, but it did not lack in affection. Children were brought
up with great respect for their elders. It was the privilege of any elderly person
to correct young people by words, or even by whipping them, and it was never told
that any one thus chastised made a complaint. Each one of the old families taught
their children the history of the family, and reverence toward religion. A few books,
some in manuscript, were treasured in the household, but children were not allowed
to read novels until were grown. They saw little of other children, except their
near relatives, but they had many enjoyments unknown to children now, and they grew
up with remarkable strength and healthfulness.
In these days of trade, bustle, and confusion, when
many thousands of people live in the Californian valleys, which formerly were occupied
by only a few Spanish families, the quiet and happy domestic life of the past seem
like a dream. We, who loved it, often speak of those days, and especially of the
duties of the large Spanish households, where so many, dependents were to be cared
for, and everything was done in a simple and primitive way.
There was a group of warm springs a few miles distant
from the old adobe house in which we lived. It made us children happy to be waked
before sunrise to prepare for the wash-day expedition to the Agua Caliente.
The night before the Indians had soaped the clumsy carretas great wheels. Lunch
was placed in baskets, and the gentle oxen were yoked to the pole. We climbed in,
under the green cloth of an old Mexican flag which was used as an awning, and the
white-haired Indian ganan, who had driven the carreta since his boyhood, plodded
beside with his long garrocha, or ox-goad. The great piles of soiled linen were
fastened on the backs of horses, led by other servants, while the girls and women
who were to do the washing trooped along by the side of the carreta. All in all,
it made an imposing cavalcade, though our progress was slow, and it was generally
sunrise before we had fairly reached the spring. The oxen pulled us up the slope
of the ravine, where it was so steep that we often cried, Mother, let us dismount
and walk, so as to make it easier. The steps of the carreta so low that we
could climb, in, or out without stopping the oxen. The watchful mother guided the
whole party, seeing that none strayed too far after flowers, or loitered too long
talking with the others. Sometimes we heard the howl of coyotes, and the noise of
other wild animals in the dim dawn, and then none of the children were allowed to
leave the carreta.
A great dark mountain rose behind the hot spring, and
the broad, beautiful valley, unfenced, and dotted with browsing herds, sloped down
to the bay as we climbed the cañon to where columns of white steam rose among
the oaks, and the precious waters, which were strong with sulphur, were seen flowing
over the crusted basin, and falling down a worn rock channel to the brook. Now on
these mountain slopes for miles are the vineyards of Josiah Stanford, the brother
of Senator Leland Stanford, and the valley below is filled with towns and orchards.
We watched the women unload the linen and carry it to
the upper spring of the group, where the water was best. Then they loosened the
horses, and let the pasture on the wild oats, while the women put home-made soap
on the clothes, dipped them in the spring, and rubbed them on the smooth rocks until
they were white as snow. Then they would spread out to dry on the tops of the low
bushes growing on the warm, windless, southern slopes of the mountain. There was
sometimes a great deal of linen to be washed, for it was the pride of every Spanish
family to own much linen, and the mother and daughters almost always wore white.
I have heard strangers speak of the wonderful way in which Spanish ladies of the
upper classes in California always appeared in snow-white dresses, and certainly
to do so was one of the chief anxieties of every household. Where there were no
warm springs the servants of the family repaired to the nearest arroyo, or creek,
and stood knee-deep in it, dipping and rubbing the linen, and enjoying the sport.
In the rainy season the soiled linen sometimes accumulated for several weeks before
the weather permitted the house mistress to have a wash-day. Then, when at last
it came, it seemed as if half the village, with dozens of babies and youngsters,
wanted to go along too and make a spring picnic.
The group of hot sulphur-springs, so useful on wash-days,
was a famed resort for sick people, who drank the water, and also buried themselves
up to the neck in the soft mud of the slope below the spring, where the waste waters
ran. Their friends brought them in litters and scooped out a hole for them, then
put boughs overhead to shelter them from the hot sun, and placed food and fresh
water within reach, leaving them sometimes thus from sunrise to sunset. The Paso
Robles and Gilroy Springs were among the most famous on the coast in those days,
and after the annual rodeos people often went there to camp and to use the waters.
But many writers have told about the medicinal virtues of the various California
springs, and I need not enlarge upon the subject. To me, at least, one of the dearest
of my childish memories is the family expedition from the great thick-walled adobe,
under the olive and fig trees of the Mission, to the Agua Caliente in early dawn,
and the late return at twilight, when the younger children were all asleep in the
slow carreta, and the Indians were signing hymns as they drove the linen-laden horses
down the dusky ravines.
Go to Part I of Ranch
and Mission Days.
The Century Magazine
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