Now, this sea-faring man had armed his heels with the large Spanish spurs so common in the country, and bringing them in contact with the force due to considerable impatience, Mr. Mule was quite suddenly and painfully aware of the result. This was harsher treatment than he could peaceably submit to, and at the second application of the spurs a pair of small hoofs were very high in the air and the captain very low on his back in the mud and water, having been blown from the hurricane deck of his craft in a very sudden and lively style. The philosophical mule stood very still and looked on while the white coat and pantaloons were changing to a dirty brown, and watched the captain as he waded out, to the accompaniment of some very vigorous swear words.
Both the man and beast looked very doubtful of each other's future actions, but the man shook the water off and bestowed some lively kicks on his muleship which made him bounce into and through the mud-hole, and the captain, still holding the bridle, followed after. Once across the pool the captain set his marine eye on the only craft that had been too much for his navigation and said "Vengeance should be mine," and in this doubtful state of mind he cautiously mounted his beast again and fully resolved to stick to the deck, hereafter, at all hazards, he hurried on and soon overtook the train again, looking quite like a half drowned rooster. The others laughed at him and told him they could find better water a little way ahead, at the river, and they would see him safely in. The captain was over his pet, and made as much fun as any of them, declaring that he could not navigate such a bloody craft as that in such limited sea room, for it was dangerous even when there was no gale to speak of.
The ladies did not blush at the new and convenient costumes which they saw in this country, and laughed a good deal over the way of traveling they had to adopt. Any who were sick were carried in a kind of chair strapped to the back of a native. Passengers were strung along the road for miles, going and coming. We would occasionally sit down awhile and let the sweat run off while a party of them passed us. Some were mounted on horses, some on mules, and some on donkeys, and they had to pay twelve dollars for the use of an animal for the trip.
Our night at this wayside deadfall was not much better than some of the nights about Death Valley, but as I was used to low fare, I did not complain as some did. This seemed a wonderful country to a northern raised boy. The trail was lined on both sides with all kinds of palms and various other kinds of trees and shrubs, and they were woven together in a compact mass with trailing and running vines. The trees were not tall, and the bark was as smooth as a young hickory. The roots would start out of the tree three feet above the ground and stand out at an angle, and looked like big planks placed edgewise.
It seemed as if there were too many plants for the ground to support, and so they grew on the big limbs of the trees all around, the same as the mistletoe on the oak, only there were ever so many different kinds.
The weather was very clear, and the sun so hot that many of the travelers began to wilt and sit down by the roadside to rest. Many walked along very slowly and wore long faces. The road from Panama to Crucez, on the Chagres River, was eighteen miles long, and all were glad when they were on the last end of it. The climate here seems to take all the starch and energy out of a man's body, and in this condition he must be very cautious or some disease will overtake him and he will be left to die without burial for his body if he has no personal friends with him.
We started on the next morning, and on our way stepped over a large ship anchor that lay across the trail. I suppose the natives had undertaken to pack it across the isthmus and found it too heavy for them. Perhaps it was for Capt. Kidd, the great pirate, for it is said that he often visited Panama in the course of his cruising about in search of treasures.
Passing along a sandy place in the trail, a snake crossed and left his track, big as a stovepipe it seemed to be, and after this we kept a sharp watch for big snakes that might be in waiting to waylay us for game.
There were plenty of monkeys and parrots climbing and chattering around in the trees. The forest is here so dense that the wind never blows, and consequently it never gets cool. The sun, ever since we got down near the equator, was nearly overhead, and the moon seemed to be even north of us.
When we reached the Chagres River we hired a boat of an Irishman for the trip down. I wondered if there was a place on earth so desolate that the "Paddy" would not find it. The boat for the journey cost two hundred dollars, and would hold passengers enough so that it would cost us ten dollars each, at any rate, and perhaps a little more. Two natives had charge of the boat and did the navigating. There were two ladies among the passengers, and when the two natives, who I suppose were the captain and mate of the craft, came on board, clad very coolly in Panama hats, the ladies looked at them a little out of the corners of their eyes and made the best of it. Our two navigators took the oars and pulled slowly down the stream.
Nothing but water and evergreen trees could we see, for the shore on either hand was completely hidden by the dense growth that hung over and touched the water. On a mud bar that we passed a huge alligator lay, taking a sun bath, and though many shots were fired at him he moved away very leisurely. No one could get on shore without first clearing a road through the thick brushes and vines along the bank. On the way one of our boatmen lost his hat, his only garment, into the river, and overboard he went, like a dog, and soon had it and climbed on board again. I wondered why some of the big alligators did not make a snap at him.
The water in the run looked very roily and dirty, and no doubt had fever in it. The only animals we saw were monkeys and alligators, and there were parrots in the trees. The farther we went down the stream the wider it became, and the current slacker so that we moved more slowly with the same amount of rowing. At a place called Dos Hermanos (two brothers) we could see a little cleared spot near the bank, which seemed to be three or four feet above the water. There were no mountains nor hills in sight, and the whole country seemed to be an extensive swamp. It was near night that we came to a small native village of palm huts, and here our boatmen landed and hid themselves, and not being able to find them we were compelled to stay all night, for we dare not go on alone. The place looked like a regular robbers' roost, and being forced to sleep outside the huts, we considered it safest to sleep with one eye open. We would have gone on with the boat only that we were afraid the river might have more than one outlet, and if we should take the wrong one we might be too late for the steamer, which even now we were afraid would not wait for us, and getting left would be a very serious matter in this country.
We had very little to eat, and all we could buy was sugar cane, bananas, monkeys and parrots. We kept a sharp eye out for robbers, keeping together as much as we could, for we knew that all returning Californians would be suspected of having money. Most all of them were ready for war except myself who had no weapon of any kind. All of these people had a bad name, and every one of them carried a long bladed knife called a Macheta, with which they could kill a man at a single blow. But with all our fears we got through the night safely, and in the morning found our boatmen who had hidden away. We waited not for breakfast, but sailed away as soon as we could, and reached Chagres, near the mouth of the river, before night.
The river banks here are not more than three feet high, and farther back the land fell off again into a wet swamp of timber and dense vegetable growth. The town was small and poorly built, on the immediate bank, and the houses were little brush and palm affairs except the boarding house which was "T" shaped, the front two stories high, with a long dining room running back, having holes for windows, but no glass in them.
Before the bell rung for meals a long string of hungry men would form in line, and at the first tap would make a rush for the table like a flock of sheep. After all were seated a waiter came around and collected a dollar from each one, and we thought this paid pretty well for the very poor grub they served afterwards.
No ship had as yet been in sight to take us away from this lowest, dirtiest, most unhealthful place on earth, and the prospect of remaining here had nothing very charming about it. The river was full of alligators, so the bathing was dangerous, and the whole country was about fit for its inhabitants, which were snakes, alligators, monkeys, parrots and lazy negroes. It could not have been more filthy if the dregs of the whole earth had been dumped here, and cholera and yellow fever were easy for a decent man to catch.
My companion and I went out on the beach a mile or two to get the salt water breeze, and leave the stinking malaria for those who chose to stay in the hot, suffocating village, and here we would stay until nearly night. Across a small neck of water was what was called a fort. It could hardly be seen it was so covered with moss and vines, but near the top could be seen something that looked like old walls. There was no sign of life about it, and I should judge it was built at some very early day. Surely there was nothing here to protect, for the whole country did not seem able to support even a few barefooted soldiers.
Some men who wandered along up the river bank, following a path, said they had seen some dead human bodies thrown into the swamp and left, probably because it was easier than putting them under ground.
For a bedroom I hired a little platform which a store keeper had placed before his store, where I slept, and paid a dollar for the privilege. Some one walked around near me all night, and I dared not close more than one eye at a time for fear of losing a little bag of gold dust. This little bag of gold was getting to be a great burden to me in this sickly climate, and the vigilant guard I had to keep over so small a treasure was very tiresome.
The second night no steamer came, but on the third morning the steamer was riding at anchor three or four miles out, and soon after a ship came in from the Atlantic end of the Nicaragua route with one thousand passengers, there being no steamer there for them to take a passage home on, and so they had to come here for a start. This filled the little town to overflowing, but as the ship that had arrived was the Georga, one of the largest afloat, all could go if they only could endure the fare.
We now had to go in small boats from the shore to the ship, and the trip cost two dollars and a half. I waited till I had seen some of the boats make a trip or two, and then choosing one that had a sober skipper, I made the venture. It was said that one drunken boatman allowed his boat to drift into some breakers and all were lost.
I tell you I was over anxious to get out of this country, for I well knew that if I stayed very long I should stay forever, for one like myself raised in a healthful climate, could not remain long without taking some of the fatal diseases the country was full of.
We made the trip to the vessel safely, and as our boat lay under the ship's quarter, the men holding the ropes, I looked up, and when I saw the swinging rope ladder on which I was expected to climb up to the ship's deck, it seemed a pretty dangerous job; but I mustered up courage and made the attempt. The sea was pretty rough out here for the small boats, and the ship rolled some, so that when persons tried to get hold of the ladder they were thrown down and sometimes hurt a little. A man held on to the lower end of the ladder so that the one who was climbing might not get banged against the side of the ship and have his breath knocked out of him, I mounted the ladder safely and climbed away like a monkey, reaching the deck all right. Ladies and weak people were hauled up in a sort of chair with a block and rope.
It took the most of two days to get the people on board, and when they were counted up there were one thousand four hundred and forty, all told. This steamer had a very long upper deck and a comparatively short keel, and rolled very badly; and as for me, I had swallowed so much of the deadly malaria of the isthmus that I soon got very seasick, and the first day or two were very unpleasant. I went to the bar and paid two bits for a glass of wine to help my appetite, but it staid with me no longer than time enough to reach the ship's side. When night came the decks were covered with sleepy men, and if the weather had been rough and all sick, as was the case when we left San Francisco, we should have had more filthy decks than we had even on that occasion.
Approaching the harbor at Havana, Cuba, we seemed to be going head foremost against a wall of solid rock, but when within speaking distance an officer came in sight on the fort right before us, and shouted through his speaking trumpet, saying:—"Why don't you salute us?" Our officer said, "You know us well enough without." Our ship had a small cannon on the forecastle, but did not choose to use it, and I suppose the Cuban officer felt slighted. We now turned short to the right and entered the beautiful harbor, which is perfectly landlocked and as still as a pond. The city is all on the right side of the bay and our coal yard was on the left at a short wharf at which we landed.
A lot of armed soldiers were placed a short distance back on the high ground and no one was allowed to go beyond them. We now had a port officer on board who had entire charge of the ship, and if anyone wanted to go to the city, across the bay two or three miles, he had to pay a dollar for a pass. This pass business made the blue bloods terribly angry, and they swore long and loud, and the longer they talked the madder they got, and more bitter in their feelings, so that they were ready to fight (not with sugar-bowls this time.)
The weather here was very warm and the heat powerful, and as these fellows saw there was only one course to be pursued if they wanted to get on shore, they slowly took passes good for all day and paid their dollar for them, and also another dollar each to the canoe men to take them to the city. Myself and companion also took passes and went over.
Arriving at the city we walked a short distance and came to the plaza, which is not a very large one. Here was a single grave nicely fenced in, and across the plaza were some large two-story houses in front of which was stationed a squad of cavalry standing as motionless as if every man of them was a marble statue. We kept on the opposite side of the street, and chancing to meet a man whom we rightly supposed to be an Englishman, we inquired about the grave on the plaza and were informed that it was that of Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America.
Just then we noticed the cavalry moving up the street at a slow gallop, and so formed that a close carriage was in the center of the squad. As they rushed by and we gazed at them with purely American curiousity, our new English friend raised our hats for us and held them till the cavalcade had passed, merely remarking that the Governor General was within the carriage. We spoke perhaps a bit unpleasantly when we asked him why he was so ungentlemanly in his treatment of us as to remove our hats, but he said:—"My friends, if I had not taken off your hats for you as a friend, some of those other fellows would have knocked them off, so I did for you an act of greatest kindness, for every one removes his hat when the Governor General passes." He also informed us that the special occasion for this rather pompous parade was the execution of some criminals at a park or prison not far away, and that this was done by beheading them.
Our friend proposed that we also walk out in that direction, and we went with him to the edge of the city, but when he turned into a by path that did not seem much frequented, we declined to follow farther, and turned back along the open road. The path looked to us a sort of robber's route, and not exactly safe for unarmed men like us in a strange country.
The man followed us back and took us into a large, airy saloon, in the center of which a big fountain was playing, and the great basin in which the water fell was filled with beautiful fish. Our friend called for an iced drink for each of us, and as we sat at the table we tasted it and found it rather intoxicating. For this they charged us one dollar each, but we noticed that our friend paid nothing, and we set him down as a sort of capper, after the style we had seen at the gold mines. We sat a few minutes and then so coolly bade our friend good-bye that he had not the face to follow us further, and continued our walk about the streets which seemed to us very narrow, and the houses generally two stories high.
A chaise passed us, containing two young ladies with complexions white and fair, and eyes and hair black, in striking contrast. The carriage was drawn by two horses tandem, the horse in the shafts being mounted by a big negro of very dignified appearance, dressed in livery and having top boots that came to his knees. This was the only vehicle of the kind we saw on the streets.
We did not dare to go very far alone, for with our ignorance of the Spanish language we might go astray and not get back to the ship within the lifetime of our passes, and not knowing how much trouble that might cause us, we were naturally a little timid; so we took a boat back to the ship, and when on board again we felt safe. We had only about four dollars cash left.
A big gang of darkies were coaling the ship. Each one carried a large tub full of coal upon his head and poured it down into the ship's hold. All the clothes these fellows wore was a strip of cloth about their middle. When they were let off for dinner they skimmed off all they could get from the ship's slop barrel which stood on the wharf alongside, to help out their very scanty food. The overseer stood by them all the time with a big whip and made them hurry up as fast as possible, talking Spanish pretty vigorously, and though we could not understand, we made up our minds that a good part of it was swearing.
The next morning the steamship Prometheus came in and tied up near us, and soon word was brought that she would take the New Orleans passengers on board and sail immediately for that port. It now occurred to me that I could get nearer home by going up the Mississippi River than by way of New York, so I went on board the Prometheus, and we soon sailed out of the harbor, passing under the gate of the fortress called, I think, San Juan de Ulloa.
Nothing special occurred during our passage till we were near the mouth of the Mississippi River, when, in the absence of a pilot boat or tug, our Captain thought he would try to get in alone, and as a consequence we were soon fast in the mud. The Captain now made all the passengers go aft, and worked the engine hard but could not move her at all. The tide was now low, and there was a prospect that we should have to wait full six hours to get away. We worked on, however, and after a few hours a tug came to our assistance and pulled us out of the mud and towed us into the right channel, up which we steamed on our way to New Orleans, one-hundred-twenty miles away.
The country on both sides of us was an immense marsh—no hills in sight, no timber, nothing but the same level marsh or prairie. When we were nearer the Crescent City some houses came in sight; then we passed General Jackson's battle-field, and in due time reached the city.
On board this ship I became acquainted with Dick Evans who lived in the same county that I used to in Wisconsin, near Mineral Point, so the three of us now concluded to travel together.
New Orleans seemed to be a very large city. Near the levee a large government building was in course of construction for a Custom House. It was all of stone, and the walls were up about two stories. We put up at a private boarding house, and the first business was to try and sell our gold dust. So we went to the mint and were told we would have to wait ten days to run it through the mill, and we did not like to wait so long. We were shown all through the mint and saw all the wonders of coin making. Every thing seemed perfect here. Beautiful machinery was in operation making all sizes of gold coins, from a twenty dollar piece down. Strips of gold bands about six feet long and of the proper thickness for twenty dollar pieces are run through a machine which cuts out the pieces, and when these are cut they can stamp out the pieces as fast as one can count.
This was the most ingenious work I ever saw, and very wonderful and astonishing to a backwoodsman like myself, for I supposed that money was run in moulds like bullets.
As we could not wait we went to a bank and sold our dust, getting only sixteen dollars per ounce, the same price they paid in California. We now took the cars and rode out to Lake Ponchartrain—most of the way over a trestle work. We found a wharf and warehouse at the lake, and a steamer lay there all ready to go across to the other side. The country all about looked low, with no hills in sight.
When we returned to the city we looked all about, and in the course of our travels came to a slave market. Here there were all sorts of black folks for sale; big and little, old and young and all sorts. They all seemed good-natured, and were clean, and seemed to think they were worth a good deal of money. Looking at them a few minutes sent my mind back to St. Joseph, Missouri, where I saw a black sold at auction. From my standpoint of education I did not approve of this way of trading in colored people.
We continued our stroll about the city, coming to a cemetery, where I looked into a newly dug grave to find it half full of water. On one side were many brick vaults above ground. The ground here is very low and wet, and seemed to be all swamp. The drainage was in surface gutters, and in them the water stood nearly still. It seemed to me such water must have yellow fever in it.
For a long way along the levee the steamboats lay thick and close together, unloading cotton, hemp, sugar, hoop poles, bacon and other products, mostly the product of negro labor.
Here our friend Evans was taken sick, and as he got no better after a day or two, we called a doctor to examine him. He pronounced it a mild case of yellow fever. His skin was yellow in places, and he looked very badly. The doctor advised us to go on up the river, saying it was very dangerous staying here with him. Evans gave me most of his money and all of his gold specimens to take to his wife, and when he got well he would follow us. We bade him good-bye, and with many wishes for his speedy recovery, we took passage on a steamer for St. Louis. This steamer, the Atlantic, proved to be a real floating palace in all respects. The table was supplied with everything the country afforded, and polite and well-dressed darkies were numerous as table waiters. This was the most pleasant trip I had ever taken, and I could not help comparing the luxuriance of my coming home to the hardships of the outward journey across the plains, and our starvation fare.
Our boat was rather large for the stage of water this time of year, and we proceeded rather slowly, but I cared little for speed as bed and board were extra good, and a first cabin passage in the company of friends, many of whom were going to the same part of Wisconsin as myself, was not a tedious affair by any means.
At night gambling was carried on very extensively, and money changed hands freely as the result of sundry games of poker, which was the popular game.
We reached St. Louis in time, and here was the end of our boat's run. The river had some ice floating on its surface, and this plainly told us that we were likely to meet more ice and colder weather as we went north. We concluded to take the Illinois River boat from here to Peoria, and paid our passage and stepped on board. We were no more than half way through this trip when the ice began to form on the surface of the water, and soon became so thick and strong that the boat finally came to a perfect standstill, frozen in solid.
We now engaged a farm wagon to take us to Peoria, from which place we took regular stages for Galena. Our driver was inclined to be very merciful to his horses, so we were two days in reaching that town, but perhaps it was best, for the roads were icy and slippery, and the weather of the real winter sort. From here we hired a team to take four of us to Plattville, and then an eighteen-mile walk brought me to Mineral Point, the place from which I started with my Winnebago pony in 1849. I had now finished my circle and brought both ends of the long belt together.
I now went to a drug store and weighed Mr. Evans' specimens, wrapping each in a separate piece of paper, with the value marked on each, and took them to his wife, to whom I told the news about her husband. In two week's time he came home sound and well.
I was quite disappointed in regard to the looks and business appearance of the country. It looked thinly settled, people scarce, and business dull. I could not get a day's work to do, and I could not go much farther on foot, for the snow was eight or ten inches deep, and I was still several hundred miles from my parents in Michigan. So my journey farther east was delayed until spring. The hunting season was over, and when I came into Mineral Point without a gun, and wore good clothes, making a better appearance than I used to, they seemed to think I must be rich and showed me marked attention, and made many inquiries about their neighbors who started for California about the same time I did. The young ladies smiled pleasantly when near me, and put on their best white aprons, looking very tidy and bright, far superior to any of the ladies I had seen in my crooked route from San Francisco through Acapulco, Panama, the West Indies and along the Mississippi.
After a few days in town I went out into the neighborhood where I used to live and stopped with Mr. E.A. Hall, who used to be a neighbor of Mr. Bennett, as he had invited me to stay with himself and wife, who were the only occupants of a good house, and all was pleasant. But notwithstanding all the comfort in which I was placed, I grew lonesome, for the enforced idleness, on account of the stormy weather, was a new feature in my life, and grew terribly monotonous.
After some delay I concluded to write to my parents in Michigan and give them a long letter with something of a history of my travels, and to refresh my memory I got out my memorandum I had kept through all my journey.
As my letter was liable to be quite lengthy I bought a quantity of foolscap paper and begun. I took my diary as my guide, and filled out the ideas suggested in it so they would understand them. I soon ran through with my paper and bought more, and kept on writing. The weather was cold and stormy, and I found it the best occupation I could have to prevent my being lonesome; so I worked away, day after day, for about a month, and I was really quite tired of this sort of work before I had all the facts recorded which I found noted down in my diary. My notes began in March, 1849, in Wisconsin, and ended in February, 1852, on my return to Mineral Point. I found, as the result of my elaboration, over three hundred pages of closely written foolscap paper, and I felt very much relieved when it was done. By the aid of my notes I could very easily remember everything that had taken place during my absence, and it was recorded in regular form, with day and date, not an incident of any importance left out, and every word as true as gospel. I had neither exaggerated nor detracted from any event so far as I could recollect.
I now loaned Mr. Hall, with whom I lived, six hundred dollars to enable him to cross the plains to California and try to make his fortune. To secure this I took a mortgage on his eighty-acre farm, and he set out to make the journey. I had another eighty acres of land near here which I bought at government price before going to California, but I could not now sell it for what it cost me. When I went away I had left my chest and contents with my friend Samuel Zollinger, and he had kept it safely, so I now made him my lawful agent. I placed my narrative and some other papers in the chest and gave the key into his charge, while I went north, across the Wisconsin River, to visit my old hunting and trapping friend, Robert McCloud. Here I made a very pleasant visit of perhaps a week, and the common prospects of the country were freely talked over. It seemed to us as if the good times were still far off; every day was like Sunday so far as anything going on; no money in circulation, many places abandoned, and, like myself, many had gone to California to seek gold instead of lead. (The mines at Mineral Point are mostly of lead, with some copper.)
Looking at matters in this light it did not need a great deal of McCloud's persuasion to induce me to go back with him to California, all the more so as my little pile seemed to look smaller every day, while three or four years ago it would have seemed quite large. Deciding to go, I wrote to Mr. Zollinger to send the account I had written to my parents in Michigan, reading it first himself, and admonishing him not to lend it. I also wrote to my parents telling them what they might look for in the mails, and cautioning them never to have it printed, for the writing was so ungrammatical and the spelling so incorrect that it would be no credit to me.
I afterward learned that in time they received the bundle of paper and read it through and through, and circulated it around the neighborhood till it was badly worn, and laid it away for future perusal when their minds should incline that way. But the farm house soon after took fire and burned, my labor going up in smoke.
When the news of this reached me I resolved to try to forget all the trials, troubles and hardships I had gone through, and which I had almost lived over again as I wrote them down, and I said to myself that I would not talk about them more than I could help, the sooner to have them vanish, and never write them down again, but a few years ago an accident befell me so that I could not work, and I back-slid from my determination when I was persuaded so earnestly by many friends to write the account which appeared a few years ago in the Santa Clara Valley now the Pacific Tree and Vine, edited by H.A. Brainard, at San Jose, California. The diary was lost, and from memory alone the facts have been rehearsed, and it is but fair to tell the reader that the hardest and worst of it has never been told nor will it ever be.
McCloud and I now took his skiff, and for two days floated down the Wisconsin River till we reached the Mississippi, boarded the first steamboat we could hail, and let our own little craft adrift. In due time we reached St. Louis and boarded another steamer for New Orleans.
At a wood-yard, about dark, a lot of negroes, little and big, came on board to sell brooms. The boat's clerk seemed to know negro character pretty well, so he got out his violin and played for them. For a while the young colored gentry listened in silence, but pretty soon he struck a tune that suited them, and they began to dance in their own wild style.
In seven days from St. Louis we landed in New Orleans, and found the government steamer, Falcon, advertised to sail in two days. We went together to one of the slave warehouses. Outside and in all was neat end clean, and any day you could see men, women and children standing under the shed as a sign of what they had within, and the painted signs "For Sale" displayed conspicuously. We were very civilly treated, and invited to examine the goods offered for sale. There were those of all ages and all colors, for some were nearly white and some intensely black, with all the shades between. All were to be sold, separately, or in families, or in groups as buyers might desire. All were made to keep themselves clean and neatly dressed, and to behave well, with a smile to all the visitors whether they felt like smiling or not. Some seemed really anxious to get a good master, and when a kind, pleasant looking man came along they would do their utmost to be agreeable to him and inquire if he did not want to buy them. We talked it over some between ourselves, and when we thought of the market and the human chattels for sale there, McCloud spoke up and said:—"I am almost persuaded to be an abolitionist."
I now went on board the steamer Falcon, in command of a government officer, to try to learn something about the family of Capt. Culverwell who perished alone in Death Valley. He told me he had once belonged to the Navy and had his life insured, and as I was an important witness for his family I wanted to learn where they lived. The Captain looked over a list of officers, but Culverwell's name was not there. I then wrote a letter to Washington stating the facts of his death, and my own address in Sacramento, California. I also stated that I would assist the widow if I could, but I never received an answer.
We soon started down the river, having on board about one hundred passengers, men going to work on the Panama Railroad. At Chagres we found a small stern wheeled river steamer and took passage on it for Gorgona, as far as the steamer could well go up the river. While going up we met a similar boat coming down, and being near a short bend they crashed together, breaking down our guards severely, but fortunately with no damage to our wheel. A few miles above this a dark passing cloud gave us rain in streams, and we had to drift in near shore to wait for the storm to pass. I never before saw water fall so fast, and yet in half an hour the sun was out and burning hot.
Before we reached Gorgona we got acquainted with a man named John Briggs from Wisconsin, and Lyman Ross from Rhode Island, and concluded to travel in company. Our fare thus far was ten dollars, and two horses to Panama for which we paid twelve dollars each. We now rode and walked turn about, and when we inquired about the road we were told that being once in it we could not possibly get out except at the other end, and would need no guide, and at the end of a very disagreeable day's work we reached the big gate at Panama and entered the ancient city.
We waited but little here before taking the steamer Southerner, bound for San Francisco. Three days after we sailed away one of our passengers went overboard, a corpse, and three or four more died and were buried alongside before we reached Acapulco.
Here we took on water and coal and were soon at sea again. McCloud soon had to take his place in the sick ward, and I attended him most of the time, but was not allowed to give him anything without a permit from the doctor, and the long delays between the administrations of medicine made the sickness hard to endure. The sick could see the dead sewed up in blankets with a bucket of coal for a weight; then resting on a plank with sailors on each side, the mate would read the brief services appropriate to a burial at sea, the plank was tilted, and the lifeless body slid down into the depths. Such scenes were no benefit to the suffering, for each might think his turn was next, when a bright hope and prospect would be better for his recovery.
One forenoon the fire gong rang out sharply, and all was in confusion, supposing the ship to be on fire, but nothing could be seen but a dense fog, except as a gentle wind lifted it a little and there, dead ahead, was a rocky island, against which it seemed we must dash to destruction, for there was no beach and very little chance for any one to be saved. Ten minutes more in this direction and we were lost, but the officers quickly changed the course, and we passed the pile of rocks scarcely a rifle shot away. Whose fault it was, this danger so miraculously avoided, we did not know, the captain's or the imperfect chart, and opinions were freely given both ways.
About those days the air felt cooler the fog less dense, and the foggy rain-bows we had seen so much when the sun tried to shine, were scarce, while a more northern wind created a coolness that made sick folks feel refreshed and hopeful. It gave me a chance to cheer up my sick friend who was still in bed, and tell him it would continue to be cooler as we went.
On the Fourth of July the officers produced the ship's full supply of flags, and the sailors climbed high and low, fastening them to every rope till we had a very gay Independence day appearance. In this gay dress we steamed into San Diego harbor to leave the mail for a few soldiers stationed there, and get their letters in return.
I could see no town in San Diego, but a beautiful harbor, and some poor looking mustard wigwams some way off seemed to contain the good people of that place.
A boat with a small crew pulled out and came alongside to get the mail and deliver theirs, and then we turned to sea again. The country all around this beautiful little harbor looked mountainous and extremely barren, and no one wanted to go on shore.
About dark we had made sufficient offing and turned northward, plowing through large fields of kelp. The next morning the forward watch announced land ahead, which could dimly be seen as the fog rose. The officers rushed on deck and could see not far ahead a sandy beach, and a moment more showed that we were headed directly for it, and that it was not more than a quarter of a mile away. Quickly the helmsman was given orders to steer almost west instead of the north course he had been following. He was asked why he kept on his north course when he saw danger ahead, and answered:—"It is my business to steer according to orders, even if the ship goes ashore, and I can not change course unless ordered to." The Captain now examined his chart and decided he was in San Pedro harbor, off Los Angeles.
The sun came out bright and clear a little later, and I got McCloud out of his bed and gave him a seat at the ship's side where he could see the green grassy hills near the beach, and larger hills and mountains farther back. We could see cattle feeding in the nearest pastures, and the whole scene was a pleasant one; and as we sat on the eastern side of the ship and snuffed the cool breeze which came from the north, we thought we were comparatively happy people, and hoped that, if no accident befell, we would soon be at the end of our voyage.
On the seventh day of July, 1851, we entered the Golden Gate, this being my second arrival in California. On our trip from Panama seven or more had died and been buried at sea, but the remainder of us were quite safe and sound. We found the heart of the city still smoking, for a fire had broken out on July fourth and burned extensively, and these broad, blackened ruins were the result. Some said the work had been done by the Sidney "ducks" and their numerous helpers, who were really the rulers of the city. The place now looked much worse than it did when I left in November before. These Sidney "ducks" were English convicts from Australia, and other thieves and robbers joined them as agreeable companion, making a large class that seemed to glory in destruction and a chance for booty.
I walked around over the hills where I could see the burned district and the destruction of so much valuable property, and when I thought the civil law was not strong enough to govern, it seemed to me it would be a good place for such men as the Helms brothers of Georgetown to come down and do a little hanging business, for they could here find plenty to do, and they could carry out their plan of letting no guilty man escape.
About four o'clock one afternoon we went aboard the Sacramento steamer, Antelope, paying our passage with half an ounce apiece, and were soon on our way past the islands and up the bay. When we were beyond Benicia, where the river banks were close, McCloud sat watching the shore, and remarked that the boat ran like a greyhound, and it seemed to him, beat the old ocean steamer pretty bad.
He seemed to be nearly well again, and complimented me as the best doctor he ever saw. Since he had been sick I had paid him all the attention I could, and he gave me all the praise I deserved, now that he was getting to feel himself again.
At Sacramento we changed to another boat bound for Marysville, which place we reached without special incident. Here we invested in a four-ounce donkey, that is, we paid four ounces of gold for him, just an ounce apiece for four of us—W.L. Manley, Robert McCloud, Lyman Ross and John Briggs. We piled our blankets in a pack upon the gentle, four-ounce donkey, and added a little tea and coffee, dried beef and bread, then started for the Yuba River, ourselves on foot. We crossed the river at Park's Bar, then went up the ridge by way of Nigger Tent, came down to the river again at Goodyear Bar, then up the stream to Downieville. This town was named after John Downie, a worthless drunkard. I remember that he once reformed, but again back-slid and died a drunkard's death.
We found this a lively mining town about sixty miles above Marysville, on the north fork of the Yuba River, and only reached by a pack trail, but everything was flush here, even four aces. The location was a veritable Hole-in-the-Ground, for the mountains around were very high, and some of them wore their caps of snow all summer, particularly those on the east. The gold dust we found here was coarser than it was where I worked before, down south on the Merced River. Before I came to California I always supposed that gold dust was really dust, and about as fine as flour.
We went up the North Fork about a mile or two above town and camped on Wisconsin Flat to begin our mining operations. Our luck was poor at first, and all except myself were out of money, and more or less in debt to me. We made expenses, however, and a little more, and as soon as Mr. Ross got his small debt paid he said he was discouraged mining, and with blankets on his shoulders started up the trail towards Galloway's ranch, on the summit south of town. Mr. Ross said the work was too hard for him, for he was not strong enough to handle pick and shovel, and he believed he could go down to Sacramento and make more by his wits than he could here. I went with him to town and saw him start off with a fair load on his back, and watched him as he toiled up the steep mountain trail for about two miles, when he went out of sight.
The rest of us kept on mining. Our luck was not very good, but we persevered, for there was nothing to be gained by fainting by the way. I went into an old abandoned shaft about ten feet deep and found the bottom filled with a big quartz boulder, and as I had been a lead miner in Wisconsin, I began drifting, and soon found bed rock, when I picked up a piece of pure gold that weighed four ounces. This was what I called a pretty big find, and not exactly what I called gold dust. It was quite a surprise to me, for the gravel on the bed rock was only about three or four inches thick.
We kept on drifting for some time, sometimes making good wages, and on the whole so satisfactory that we concluded to stay. We now located some claims back in the flat where the ground would be thirty feet deep, and would have to be drifted. These we managed to hold until winter, and in the meantime we worked along the river and could make something all the time.
We put in a flume between two falls on the Middle Fork, but made only wages, and I got my arm nearly broken, and had to work with one hand for nearly a month.
One afternoon I went crevicing up the river, and found a crevice at the water's edge about half an inch wide, and the next day we worked it out getting forty ounces, and many of the pieces were about an inch long and as large around as a pipe-stem.
Winter was now near by, and we set to work to build a cabin and lay in a stock of grub, which cost quite a good deal, for the self-raising flour which we bought was worth twenty cents a pound, and all kinds of hog meat fifty cents, with other supplies in proportion. Our new claims now paid very well. Snow came down to the depth of about four feet around our cabin, but as our work was under ground, we had a comfortable place all winter.
In the spring McCloud and I went to Sacramento and sold our chunks of gold (it was all very coarse) to Page, Bacon & Co. who were themselves surprised at the coarseness of the whole lot. When our savings were weighed up we found we had made half an ounce a day, clear of all expenses, for the entire year.
We now took a little run down to San Francisco, also to Santa Clara where we staid a night or two with Mr. McCloud's friend, Mr. Otterson, and then went back to our claims again. In taking care of our money we had to be our own bankers, and the usual way was to put the slugs we received for pay into a gallon pickle jar, and bury this in some place known only to our particular selves, and these vaults we considered perfectly safe. The slugs were fifty dollar pieces, coined for convenience, and were eight-sided, heavy pieces. In the western counties the people called them "Adobies," but among the miners they were universally known as "Slugs."
The winter proved a little lonesome, the miners mostly staid at home and worked. During the year we had been here I had not seen a respectable woman in this mining country. There were few females here, and they were said to be of very doubtful character. As a general thing people were very patient with their wickedness, but not always.
Twice only in the history of California were women made the victims of mob violence, once at Los Angeles and once at Downieville. The affair at the last-named place occurred in 1851, and the victim was a pretty little Spanish woman named Juanita. She and her husband, like many another couple at that time, kept a monte game for the delectation of the miners who had more money than sense, but beyond this fact absolutely nothing was said against her character.
There was an English miner named Cannon living in town, who was very popular among a large number of gamblers and others. He got drunk one night and about midnight went to the house occupied by the Spanish woman and her husband and kicked the door down. Early the following morning he told his comrades that he was going to apologize to the woman for what he had done. He went alone to the house, and, while talking with the husband and wife, the woman suddenly drew a knife and stabbed Cannon to the heart. What had been said that provoked the deed was never known, further than that Juanita claimed she had been grossly insulted.
She was given a mock trial, but the facts of the case were not brought out, as the men who were with Cannon were too drunk to remember what had happened the previous night. It was a foregone conclusion that the poor woman was to be hanged, and the leaders of the mob would brook no interference. A physician examined Juanita and announced to the mob that she was in a condition that demanded the highest sympathy of every man, but he was forced to flee from town to save his life. A prominent citizen made an appeal for mercy, but he was driven down the main street and across the river by a mob with drawn revolvers, and with threats of instant death. The well-known John B. Weller was in town at the time, and was asked to reason with the mob, but refused to do so.
The execution was promptly carried out. A plank was put across the supports of the bridge over the Yuba, and a rope fastened to a beam overhead. Juanita went calmly to her death. She wore a Panama hat, and after mounting the platform she removed it, tossed it to a friend in the crowd, whose nickname was "Oregon," with the remark, "Adios amigo." Then she adjusted the noose to her own neck, raising her long, loose tresses carefully in order to fix the rope firmly in its place, and then, with a smile and wave of her hand to the bloodthirsty crowd present, she stepped calmly from the plank into eternity. Singular enough, her body rests side by side, in the cemetery on the hill, with that of the man whose life she had taken.
On Sundays Downieville was full of men, none very old, and none very young, but almost every one of middle age. Nearly every man was coarsely dressed, with beard unshaved and many with long hair, but on any occasion of excitement it was not at all strange to see the coarsest, roughest looking one of all the party mount a stump and deliver as eloquent an address as one could wish to hear. On Sunday it was not at all unusual for some preacher to address the moving crowd, while a few feet behind him would be a saloon in full blast, and drinking, gambling, swearing and vulgar language could be plainly seen and heard at the same time, and this class of people seemed to respect the Sunday preacher very little. The big saloon was owned by John Craycroft, formerly a mate on a Mississippi River steamboat, who gained most of his money by marrying a Spanish woman and making her a silent partner.
One enterprising man who was anxious to make money easily, took a notion to try his luck in trade, so, as rats and mice were troublesome in shops and stores, he went down to the valley and brought up a cargo of cats which he disposed of at prices varying from fifty to one hundred dollars each, according to the buyer's fancy.
During the summer Kelley the fiddler came up in the mines to make a raise, and Craycroft made him a pulpit about ten feet above the floor in his saloon, having him to play nights and Sundays at twenty dollars per day. He was a big uneducated Irishman, who could neither read nor write, but he played and sang and talked the rich Irish brogue, all of which brought many customers to the bar. In the saloon could be seen all sorts of people dealing different games, and some were said to be preachers. Kelley staid here as long as he could live on his salary, and left town much in debt, for whiskey and cards got all his money.
One of the grocers kept out a sign, "CHEAP JOHN, THE PACKER," and kept a mule to deliver goods, which no other merchant did, and in this way gained many friends, and many now may praise the enterprise of Cheap John, the Packer. Prices were pretty high in those days. Sharpening picks cost fifty cents, a drink of whiskey one dollar, and all kinds of pork, fifty cents per pound. You could get meals at the McNutty house for one dollar. The faro and monte banks absorbed so much of the small change that on one occasion I had to pay five dollars for a two dollar pair of pants in order to get a fifty dollar slug changed.
No white shirts were worn by honest men, and if any man appeared in such a garment he was at once set down as a gambler, and with very little chance of a mistake. One Langdon had the only express office, and brought letters and packages from Sacramento. I paid one dollar simply to get my name on his letter list, and when a letter came I had to pay one dollar for bringing it up, as there was no Post Office at Downieville.
Newspapers were eagerly sought for, such was the hunger for reading. The Western folks bought the St. Louis papers, while Eastern people found the New York Tribune a favorite. One dollar each for such papers was the regular price. It may seem strange, but aside from the news we got from an occasional newspaper, I did not hear a word from the East during the two years I remained on Yuba river. Our evenings were spent in playing cards for amusement, for no reading could be got. The snow between Marysville and Downieville was deep and impassable in winter, but we could work our drifting claims very comfortably, having laid in a stock of provisions early in the season, before snowfall. The nights seemed tediously long and lonesome, for when the snow was deep no one came to visit us, and we could go nowhere, being completely hemmed in. All the miners who did not have claims they could work underground, went down below the winter snow-line to find work, and when the snow went off came back again and took possession of the old claims they had left.
After the snow went off three German sailors came up and took a river claim a short distance above us on a north fork of the north fork of the stream, where one side of the canon was perpendicular and the other sloped back only slightly. Here they put logs across the river, laid stringers on these, and covered the bottom with fir boughs. Then they put stakes at the sides and rigged a canvas flume over their bridge through which they turned the whole current of the river, leaving a nearly dry bed beneath. This we called pretty good engineering and management on the part of the sailor boys, for no lumber was to be had, and they had made themselves masters of the situation with the material on hand.
They went to work under their log aqueduct, and found the claim very rich in coarse gold. They went to town every Saturday night with good big bags of dust, and as they were open-hearted fellows, believing that a sailor always has the best of luck, they played cards freely, always betting on the Jack and Queen, and spent their money more easily than they earned it. They were quite partial to the ladies, and patronizing the bar and card tables as liberally as they did, usually returned to camp on Monday or Tuesday with a mule load of grub and whiskey as all the visible proceeds of a week's successful mining; but when Saturday night came around again we were pretty sure to see the jolly sailors going past with heavy bags of gold. They left one nearly pure piece of gold at Langdon's Express office that weighed five pounds, and another as large as a man's hand, of the shape of a prickly pear leaf.
They worked their claim with good success until the snow water came down and forced them out. I went one day to see them, and they took a pan of dirt from behind a big rock and washed it out, getting as much as two teacupfuls of nuggets, worth perhaps a thousand dollars. When they went away they said they would go to Germany to see their poor relatives and friends, and one of them really went home, but the other two had spent all their money before they were ready to leave San Francisco. These men were, without doubt, the inventors of the canvas flume which was afterward used so successfully in various places.
While I was still here the now famous Downieville Butte quartz mine was discovered, but there was no way then of working quartz successfully, and just at that time very little was done with it, but afterward, when it was learned how to work it, and the proper machinery introduced, it yielded large sums of bullion.
The miners had a queer way of calling every man by some nickname or other instead of his true name, and no one seemed offended at it, but answered to his new name as readily as to any.
It was nearly fall when we found we had worked our claims out, and there were no new ones we could locate here, so we concluded to go prospecting for a new locality. I bought a donkey in town of a Mr. Hawley, a merchant, for which I paid sixty dollars, and gave the little fellow his old master's name. We now had two animals, and we packed on them our worldly goods, and started south up the mountain trail by way of the city of six, where some half dozen men had located claims, but the ground was dry and deep, so we went on.
We still went south, down toward the middle Yuba River and when about half way down the mountain side came to a sort of level bench where some miners were at work, but hardly any water could be had. They called this Minnesota. We stayed here a day or two, but as there seemed to be no possible further development of water, concluded to go on further. Across the river we could see a little flat, very similar to the one we were on, and a little prospecting seemed to have been done on the side of the mountain. We had a terribly steep canon to cross, and a river also, with no trail to follow, but our donkeys were as good climbers as any of us, so we started down the mountain in the morning, and arrived at the river about noon. Here we rested an hour or two and then began climbing the brushy mountain side. The hill was very steep, and the sun beat down on us with all his heat, so that with our hard labor and the absence of any wind we found it a pretty hot place.
It was pretty risky traveling in some places, and we had to help the donkeys to keep them from rolling down the hill, pack and all. It took us four hours to make a mile and a half or two miles in that dense brush, and we were nearly choked when we reached the little flat. Here we found some water, but no one lived here. From here we could see a large flat across a deep canon to the west, and made up our minds to try to go to it. We went around the head of the canon, and worked through the brush and fallen timber, reaching our objective point just as night was coming on. This flat, like the one we had left, was quite level, and contained, perhaps, nearly one hundred acres. Here we found two men at work with a "long tom"—a Mr. Fernay and a Mr. Bloat. They had brought the water of a small spring to their claim and were making five or six dollars per day. We now prospected around the edge of this flat, and getting pretty fair prospects concluded we would locate here if we could get water.
We then began our search for water and found a spring about three quarters of a mile away, to which we laid claim, and with a triangle level began to survey out a route for our ditch. The survey was satisfactory, and we found we could bring the water out high on the flat, so we set to work digging at it, and turned the water in. The ground was so very dry that all the water soaked up within two hundred yards of the spring.
By this time we were out of grub, and some one must go for a new supply, and as we knew the trail to Downieville was terribly rough, I was chosen as the one to try to find Nevada City, which we thought would be nearer and more easily reached. So I started south with the donkeys, up the mountain toward the ridge which lies between the middle and south Yuba Rivers, and when I got well on the ridge I found a trail used some by wagons, which I followed till I came to a place where the ridge was only wide enough for a wagon, and at the west end a faint trail turned off south into the rolling hills. I thought this went about the course I wanted to go, so I followed it, and after two or three miles came to the south Yuba river. This seemed to be an Indian trail, no other signs on it. I climbed the mountain here, and when I reached the top I found a large tent made of blue drilling, and here I found I was four or five miles from Nevada City with a good trail to follow. The rolling hills I then passed through are now called North Bloomfield, and at one time were known as "Humbug."
I started along the trail and soon reached the city where I drove my donkeys up to a store which had out the sign "Davis & Co.." I entered and inquiring the prices of various sorts of provisions such as flour, bacon, beans, butter, etc., soon had selected enough for two donkey loads. They assisted me in putting them in pack, and when it was ready I asked the amount of my bill, which was one hundred and fifty dollars. This I paid at once, and they gave me some crackers and dried beef for lunch on the way. Davis said—"That is the quickest sale I ever made, and here the man is ready to go. I defy any one to beat it." Before sun down I was two or three miles on my way back where I found some grass and camped for the night, picketed the animals, ate some of Mr. Davis' grub for supper, and arranged a bed of saddle blankets. I arrived at camp the next day about sun down.
Next day I went on up the divide and found a house on the trail leading farther east, where two men lived, but they seemed to be doing nothing. There were no mines and miners near there, and there seemed to be very little travel on the trail. The fellows looked rough, and I suspected they might be bad characters. The stream they lived near was afterward called Bloody Run, and there were stories current that blood had been shed there.
Here was a section of comparatively level land, for the mountain divide, and a fine spring of good cold water, all surrounded by several hundred acres of the most magnificent sugar pines California ever raised, very large, straight as a candle, and one hundred feet or more to the lowest limbs. This place was afterward called Snow Tent, and S.W. Churchill built a sawmill at the spring, and had all this fine timber at the mercy of his ax and saw, without anyone to dispute his right. He furnished lumber to the miners at fifty dollars or more per thousand feet. Bloody Run no doubt well deserves its name, for there was much talk of killing done there.
I, however, went up and talked to the men and told them I wished to hire a cross cut saw for a few days to get out stuff for a cabin, and agreed to pay two dollars a day for the use of it till it came back.
We cut down a large sugar pine, cut off four six feet cuts, one twelve feet, and one sixteen feet cut, and from these we split out a lot of boards which we used to make a V-shaped flume which we placed in our ditch, and thus got the water through. We split the longer cuts into two inch plank for sluice boxes, and made a small reservoir, so that we succeeded in working the ground. We paid wages to the two men who worked, and two other men who were with us went and built a cabin.
I now went and got another load of provisions, and as the snow could be seen on the high mountains to the east, I thought the deer must be crowded down to our country, so I went out hunting and killed a big fat buck, and the next day three more, so fresh meat was plenty.
About this time a man came down the mountain with his oxen and wagon, wife and three or four children, the eldest a young lady of fifteen years. The man's name was H. M. Moore. We had posted notices, according to custom, to make mining laws, and had quite a discussion about a name for the place. Some of the fellows wanted to name it after the young lady, "Minda's Flat," but we finally chose "Moore's Flat" instead, which I believe is the name it still goes by. Our laws were soon completed, and a recorder chosen to record claims. We gave Mr. Moore the honor of having a prospecting town named after him because he was the first man to be on hand with a wife.
I became satisfied after a little that this place would be a very snowy place, and that from all appearances it would fall from two to four feet deep, and not a very pleasant place to winter in. An honest acquaintance of mine came along, Samuel Tyler and to him I let my claim to work on shares and made McCloud my agent, verbally, while I took my blankets and started for the valley.
The first town I passed through was a newly discovered mining town called French Corral. Here I found an old Wisconsin friend Wm. Sublet, the foster father of the accomplishen wife of Mayor S.W. Boring of San Jose. From here I went to Marysville. The storm had been raging high in the mountains for some days, and the Yuba river rising fast, overflowing its banks as I walked into town, and the next day the merchants were very busy piling their goods above high water mark. I went to a hotel and called for a bed. "Yes," says the landlord "Is your name John or Peter?" I told him William, which he set down in his book and we went up stairs to the best room which was fitted up with berths three tiers high on each side, and only one or two empty ones. He looked around for covers, but none could be found unoccupied, but one fellow who was sound asleep and snoring awfully, so he took the blanket off from him saying: "He wont know a thing about it till morning, be jabers, so don't say a word."
Next morning the river was booming, its surface covered with all sorts of mining outfit such as flume timber, rockers, various qualities of lumber, pieces of trees as well as whole ones, water wheels and other traps. The river between Downieville and here must have been swept clean of all material that would float, including "long Toms." The water continued to rise till it covered the Plaza, and in two days a steamer came up and sailed across the public square. This looked like a wet season to me, and when the boat was ready to go down the river I went on board, bound for Sacramento. Here it was also getting terrible wet and muddy, and the rain kept pouring down. In the morning I worked my way up J street and saw a six-mule team wading up the streets the driver on foot, tramping through the sloppy mud, occasionally stepping in a hole and falling his whole length in the mud. On the street where so much trouble was met by the teamsters, a lot of idlers stood on the sidewalk, and when a driver would fall and go nearly out of sight, they would, like a set of loafers, laugh at him and blackguard him with much noise, and as they were numerous they feared nothing.
Suddenly a miner, who had lately arrived from the mountains, raised his room window in the second story of a house, put out one leg and then his body, as far as he could, and having nothing on but his night clothes, shouted to the noisy crowd below:—"Say can't you d——d farmers plow now?" At this he dodged back quickly into his window as if he expected something might be thrown at him. The rain continued, and the water rose gradually till it began to run slowly through the streets, and all the business stopped except gambling and drinking whisky, which were freely carried on in the saloons day and night.
While here in Sacramento I was sufficiently prompted by curiosity to go around to the place on J street where the Legislature was in session. I stood sometime outside the enclosure listening to the members who were in earnest debate over a question concerning the size of mining claims. They wanted them uniform in size all over the state, but there was some opposition, and the debate on this occasion was between the members from the mining counties on one side and the "cow" counties on the other. The miners took the ground that the claims were of different richness in the different mining localities and that the miners themselves were the best judges of the proper size of claims, and were abundantly able to make their own laws as they had done under the present mining customs, and their laws had always been respected, making any further legislative action unnecessary.
While this wrangle was going on. Capt. Hunt, of San Bernardino (our guide from Salt Lake in 1849), came along and stopped where I stood, shaking me heartily by the hand, inquiring where I was from, and when I told him I was from the mines he said he thought the cow county fellows were trying to make the miners some trouble. I told him the present mining regulations suited us very well, and after he had talked with me a little he went inside and whispered to some of the silent members that the miners wanted no change, for he had just consulted a miner to that effect. When occasion offered he called for a vote which resulted in the defeat of the cow counties and a postponement of the measure indefinitely.
My next move was to try to find a dryer place so I took a boat for Benicia, then for Stockton, where I found a sea of mud, so that a man needed stilts or a boat to cross the street.
Here in a livery stable I found my old Platte River boss, Chas. Dallas, for whom I drove in 1849, but he did not seem to know me and took no notice of me, but talked "horse" and horse-racing to the bystanders very loudly. I suppose that Dallas had made money and did not care for a poor ox driver, and on my part I did not care very much for his friendship, so I walked away and left him without a word.
Every way I looked was a sea of black, sticky mud; dogs mired in the streets and died, and teams and animals had forsaken the usual route of travel. The gambling houses and saloons were crowded, gum boots in demand, and the only way to get out of town was by water. I took this way out, and on the same boat by which I came, going to San Francisco. This was high and dry enough to be above the highest floods of Yuba, Sacramento or San Joaquin, but all business except the saloons was dull. Fronting on Portsmouth Square was the Hall of Corruption. Inside was a magnificently furnished bar, more than one keeper and various gambling tables, most of them with soiled doves in attendance. The room was thronged with players and spectators, and coin and dust were plenty. The dealers drew off their cards carefully, and seemed to have the largest pile of coin on their side.
I climbed Russian Hill and to take a look over the city. It seemed poorly built, but the portion that had been burned in July 1852, had been built up again. The business part was near the beach and north of Market street.
I had never lived in a town and did not know its ways, so I strolled around alone, for without acquaintance I did not know where to go nor what to look for. I therefore thought I would see some other part of the country. I found that a schooner was about to sail for San Pedro, near Los Angeles. I took hold of a rope to help myself on board, when it gave way and I found myself floundering in the water. They helped me out and the Captain gave me a dry suit to put on, I was profoundly grateful for the favor, and found him a generous man.
We sailed away and stopped at Monterey for 24 hours which gave me a good chance for a good look at the old Capitol houses, which were of adobe, and to find that this city was also liberally supplied with gambling, card and billiard tables. The majority of the people were Spanish and fond of gaming, and the general appearance of the place was old and without good improvements, though there were more two-story houses than in most places in California.
Some houses were of stone, but more of adobe, and there seemed to be no fertile country round, and the hills about had small pines on them.
Some of the sailors went out and gathered a large bag of mussels and clams, from which they made a liberal allowance of chowder for the table. After seven or eight days we arrived in San Pedro, and found the town to consist of one long adobe house. The beach was low and sandy, and we were wet somewhat in wading through a light surf to get on shore. We had on board a Mr. Baylis, who we afterward learned came down with Capt. Lackey on a big speculation which was to capture all the wild goats they could on Catalina Island, and take them to San Francisco for slaughtering.
The goats were easily captured and taken on board the schooner, and thence to shore but many were drowned in the transit, and when driven to San Francisco the dead were scattered all along the route. Although wild they seemed to lack the vitality that tame goats possess. The speculation proved a disappointment to the projectors.
At the adobe house, kept by a Spaniard we had breakfast, then shouldered our packs for the march of ten leagues to Los Angeles for there was no chance to ride. It was night before we reached the City of Angels, and here I staid a day to take a look at the first city I saw in California in March 1850.
I inquired for my mining companion, W.M. Stockton who worked with Bennett and myself near Georgetown in 1850, and found he lived near the old mission of San Gabriel nine miles away, whither I walked and found him and family well and glad to see me. He had jumped an old pear orchard which was not claimed by the Mission Fathers, although it was only three-fourths of a mile away. The trees were all seedlings and very large, probably 50 or more years old. Some of the Mission buildings were falling down since they had been abandoned, and the Americans would go to these houses and remove the tile flooring from the porches and from the pillars that supported them. These tiles were of hard burned clay, in pieces about a foot square, and were very convenient to make fire places and pavements before the doors of their new houses. Out-side the enclosed orange and fig orchard at this place were some large olive and fig trees, apparently as old as the mission, being a foot or more in diameter and about 50 feet high. I had never seen olives, and when I saw these trees covered with plenty of fruit about the size of damson plums I took the liberty of tasting it and found it very disagreeable, and wondered of what use such fruit could be.
Mr. Stockton fenced his orchard by setting posts and tying sycamore poles to them to keep the stock away, built an adobe house on the claim and called the property his. I went to work for him at once, pruning the trees, which improved their appearance, and then turned on a little stream of water which ran through the place, and on down to the mission. With this treatment the trees did well without cultivation.
I bought one half the stock consisting of some Spanish cows, one yoke of oxen and some horses, worked enough to pay my board, watched the stock and still had plenty of time to ride around over the adjoining country.
When the pears were ripe the Spanish men, women and children eagerly bought them at 25 cents per dozen and some Sundays the receipts for fruit sold would be as high as $100. That taken to town would bring from $5. to $8. per box, the boxes being a little larger than those in present use. An Indian woman, widow of a Mr. Reed, claimed a vineyard near the orchard, and laid claim to the whole property, so Stockton gave her $1000 for a quit claim deed.
Near by was a small artificial lake made by a dam of cobble stones, laid in cement across a ravine, which was built perhaps 50 years before, and yet the tracks of a child who had walked across before the cement was dry, were plainly seen.
Stockton and I visited Mr. Roland, an old settler who lived south of San Gabriel river, and staid all night with him, finding him very sociable and hospitable. All his work was done by Indians who lived near by, and had been there as long as he. He had a small vineyard, and raised corn, squashes, melons and all that are necessary for his table, having also a small mill near by for grinding corn and wheat without bolting. The Indians made his wine by tramping the grapes with their feet in a rawhide vat hung between four poles set in the ground. The workmen were paid off every Saturday night, and during Sunday he would generally sell them wine enough to get about all the money back again. This had been his practice for many years, and no doubt suited Mr. Roland as well as the red men.
Roland was an old Rocky Mountain trapper who came to California long before gold was discovered, and during the evening the talk naturally ran to the subject of early days.
Mr. Roland related that while his party were in camp in the upper Colorado they were visited by a small band of Indians who professed friendship and seated themselves around the fire. Suddenly they made an attack and each trapper had an Indian to contend with, except Mr. Roland who was left to be dispatched afterwards. But as he ran, a squaw among them followed him, and after a while overtook him and showed friendship. He had neither gun or knife and so concluded to put faith in the woman who safely guided him in a long tramp across the desert where they both came near starving, but finally reached Los Angeles Valley, when the brave squaw mingled with her own people and he lost sight of her forever.
No white man could alone have traversed that desert waste and found food enough to last him half the journey.
He gradually learned to speak Spanish, and was granted the piece of land he applied for, and where he then lived; married a Spanish girl, with whom he had a happy home and raised a large family, and grew rich, for they were both industrious and economical. The first wife died, and he was persuaded to marry a Texas widow, and now had to buy the first carriage he ever owned, and furnish a fine turn-out and driver for the lady, who wore much jewelry and fine clothes, and spent money freely. Roland was not a society man, his thoughts and habits were different from his wife, and he staid at home, better contented there.
There were many other pioneers in the neighborhood, Dan Sexton, Col. Williams, of Chino ranch, Workman, B.D. Wilson, Abel Stearns, Temple, Wolfskill and many others, Scott and Granger were lawyers. Granger was the same man who read the preamble and resolutions that were to govern our big train as we were about to start from Utah Lake.
Scott was quite a noted member of the bar, and when Gen. Winfield Scott ran for President, some wide awake politicians caused the uneducated Spaniards to vote for their favorite lawyer instead of the redoubtable general, and they did this with a good will for they thought the famous avocado was the best man, and thus the manipulators lost many votes to the real candidate. Scott was afterward retained by many of the Spaniards to present their claims for their land to the U.S. Government and was considered a very able man.
Mr. Stockton related that when he left his family here to go to the mines he rented one half a house of Michael Blanco who had a Spanish wife and children, and these and his own were of course constant playmates. When he returned in the fall he found his children had learned to speak Spanish and nearly forgotten English, so that he had to coax them a great deal to get them to talk to him at all, and he could not understand a word they said.
I now tried to learn the language myself. I had money to loan, and the borrowers were Spanish who gave good security and paid from 5 to 25 per cent interest per month, on short time. Mrs. Stockton assisted me very much as an interpreter.
I bought young steers for $8. each and gradually added to my herd. I got along well until next spring when the beef eating population began to steal my fat cattle, and seemed determined I should get no richer. The country was over-stocked with desperate and lawless renegades in Los Angeles and from one to four dead men was about the number picked up in the streets each morning. They were of low class, and there was no investigation, simply a burial at public expense.
The permanent Spanish population seemed honest and benevolent, but there were many bad ones from Chili, Sonora, Mexico, Texas, Utah and Europe, who seemed always on an errand of mischief a murder, thieving or robbery.
Three or four suspicious looking men came on horseback and made their camp near the Mission under an oak tree, where they staid sometime. They always left someone in camp while the others went away every day on their horses, and acted so strangely that the report soon became current that they were stealing horses and running them off to some safe place in the mountains till a quantity could be accumulated to take to the mines to sell. On this information the Vigilance Committee arrested the man in camp and brought him to a private room, where he was tried by twelve men, who found him guilty of horse stealing, and sentenced to be hung at once, for horse stealing was a capital offence in those days.
To carry out the sentence they procured a cart, put a box on it for a seat, and with a rope around his neck and seated on the box, the condemned man was dragged off by hand to an oak tree not far away, whither he was followed by all the men, women and children of the place, who where nearly all natives. While preparations were being made under the tree some one called out that men were riding rapidly from the direction of Los Angeles, and from the dust they raised seemed to be more than usually in haste. So it was proposed to wait till they came up. It was soon known that an Indian had been sent to Los Angeles to give news to the man's friends there, and they had come with all the speed of their horses to try to save his life. They talked and inquired around a little and then proposed the question whether to hang him or to turn him over to the lawful authorities for regular trial. This was put to a vote and it was decided to spare him now. So the rope was taken off his neck, and he was turned over to Mr. Mallard the Mission Justice of the Peace, much to the relief of the fellow who saw death staring him in the face.
The Santa Anita ranch, now owned by E.J. Baldwin, was owned by Henry Dalton, an Englishman, who came with a stock of goods worth $75,000, years before, but now had only the ranch left. The Azuza, a short distance south was occupied by his brother.
I became well acquainted with many of these old California natives, and found them honest in their dealings, good to the needy and in all my travels never found more willing hands to bestow upon relatives, friends or strangers ready relief than I saw among these simple natives. Their kindness to our party when we came starving on the desert in 1850, can never be praised enough, and as long as I shall live my best wishes shall go with them.
I was one day riding with Vincent Duarte down toward Anaheim when he suddenly dismounted to kill a large tarantula by pelting him with stones. It was the first one I had seen, and seemed an over-grown spider. I asked him if the thing was harmful, and he replied with considerable warmth, "Mucho malo por Christianos" and I wondered if the insect knew saints from sinners.
This spring we concluded to go to the Mormon settlement at San Bernardino and secure some American bulls to improve our stock, and starting late one day I rode as far as the Azuza Rancho where I staid all night with Mr. Dalton, reaching the holy city, a branch of Brigham Young's harem next day. Here I found a town of log houses in a circle, enclosing a plaza. There was a passage between the houses. I stopped at the principal hotel kept by a vigorous and enthusiastic Mormon woman, who delighted to preach the doctrine.
Walking around on the outside of the fortifications I came across Capt. Hunt, the man who was hired in the fall of 1849 to bring the big train from Salt Lake to San Bernardino.
I told him who I was, and what I wanted, and he seemed to know me, inviting me in the most friendly and social manner to take supper with him, which I did. He sat at the head of the table and introduced me to his three wives. The furnishing of the house was cheap and common, but the table was fairly provided for. He said he would help me to find the animals I wanted, and in the morning showed me two which he had, that were young and suitable, and a larger one which he said I could have if I could drive him.
I soon found out that I had better move or sell my cattle, for with all my watching I could do they gradually disappeared, and hungry thieves who could live on beef alone, visited my little band of cattle too often and took what they wanted, and I could not detect them. I soon sold to four buyers from the north, L.D. Stevens, David Grant, Sam Craig and Mr. Wilson, and hired out with my two horses to help them drive the band north, at a salary of $100 per month.
Disposing most of my money with Palmer, Cook & Co., I went to see my mine at Moore's Flat. There were two boats leaving at about the same time, one for Stockton, and one for Sacramento, the latter of which I took, and Rogers the other. Both landed at Benecia, and when we swung away from that wharf Rogers and I saluted each other with raised and swinging hats, shouted a good bye, and I have never seen him since.
At Moore's Flat I found my mine well and profitably worked by Mr. Tyler and as his lease was not out I returned to San Jose, as I had learned from Rogers that Mr. A. Bennett was at Watsonville, and Mr. Arcane at Santa Cruz, and I desired to visit them. I rode back across the country and found Mr. Bennett and family at the point where the Salinas river enters Monterey Bay. They were all well, and were glad to see me for they did not know I was in California. Mrs. Bennett was greatly affected at our meeting and shed tears of joy as she shook hands.
Bennett had a nice Whitehall boat and we had a genuine happy time hunting, fishing and gathering clams, and also in social visits among the neighbors and old acquaintances, among them one Jacob Rhodehouse of Wisconsin.
While here I rode my horse around to Monterey and to Carmel Mission, where I staid two or three days, with Mr. Gourley, a brother of Mrs. William M. Stockton, who was here engaged in raising potatoes. I walked along the beach near some rocky islands near the shore, and on these rocks were more sea lions and seals than I supposed the whole ocean contained—the most wonderful show of sea life on the California coast. Returning I staid all night at the crossing of the Salinas with a colored family who gave me good accommodations for self and horse. I heard afterward that this family was attacked by robbers and all but one murdered.
Mrs. Bennett's father D.J. Dilley lived near here also, and I had not seen him since the time in Wisconsin, when he hauled my canoe over to the river in 1849. One day while fishing on the beach we found the body of a man, which we carried above the tide and buried in the sand.
I gave one of my horses to Geo. Bennett, and went over to Santa Cruz, where I found Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Arcane and son Charles in a comfortable home, well situated, and overjoyed to see me.
He knew everyone in town, and as we went about he never missed to introduce me to every one we met, as the man who helped himself and family out of Death Valley, and saved their lives. Arcane was a very polite Frenchman and knew how to manage such things very gracefully, but with all his grace and heartiness it made me feel quite a little embarrassed to be made so much of publicly and among strangers. He took me in his buggy and we drove along the beach, and to the lime-kiln of Cowel & Jordan, also to the court house when court was in session.
Upon the hill I met Judge Watson, the father of Watsonville, and a Mr. Graham, an old settler and land owner, and on this occasion he pulled a sheet of ancient, smoky looking paper from beneath his arm, pointed to a dozen or so of written lines in Spanish and then with a flourish of the precious document in Watson's face dared him to beat that, or get him off his land. I must say that never in my life was I better entertained than here.
From Santa Cruz I crossed the mountain on a lonely and romantic trail to San Jose again, finding very few houses on the road. Here I went to work for R. G. Moody building a gristmill on the banks of the Coyote Creek, to be run by water from artesian wells. When the mill was done I went for my horse, and on my return I ran very unexpectedly upon Davenport Helms, to whom I had sold my little black mule in 1850. Our talk was short but he told me he had killed a man in Georgetown, and the sheriff was looking for him. He was now venturing to town for tobacco, and would hurry back to the hills again where he was herding cattle.
He said he kept them off at one time by getting in a piece of chaparral and presenting his gun to them when they came near, they dare not advance on him. Then he laughed and said—"And all the time my gun was empty, for I did not have a d——d thing to put into it." "I tell you they don't catch old Davenport. Now don't you tell on me. Good-bye." I saw him no more after that.
The town of San Jose was now more of a town than it was a few years before. The "Forty Thieves," and others, commenced building a city hall of brick on the top of old adobe walls, and this was the principal improvement, except the Moody mill near the Sutter house, one street north of Julian.
After finishing work on the mill I drew my money from the bank in San Francisco and started for the mines on horseback. Near French Camp, on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley, many cattle were feeding on the plains, and among them, much to my surprise I found "Old Crump," the ox that brought Bennett's and Arcane's children safe through from Death Valley in February, 1850. He was now fat and sleek and as kind and gentle as when so poor upon the terrible journey. I got off my horse and went up to him, and patted my old friend. I was glad to find him so contented and happy, and I doubt not that he too was glad. I met a man near by and asked him about the ox, and he said that the owner would not sell him nor allow him to be worked, for he knew of the faithful part he performed in the world, and respected him for it.
At Sacramento I deposited my money with Page, Bacon & Co., a branch of the St. Louis firm of the same name, considered the safest bank in the United States. Their bills were taken in payment of Government land. Some rascals had some counterfeit bills on their bank, and traded them off for gold with the Missourians who were going home, and the poor fellows found themselves poor on arrival.
Going to my mine, where I left only a cabin or two, I found quite a village with two hotels and a post office.
News soon came that the banks had closed their door, and Page and Bacon also, so I concluded that I was broke. The "Pikers" said Page and Bacon could not, nor would not fail, but news was against them. The boys now tried to persuade me to go to Sacramento, and try to get my money and if I succeeded, to bring up a good stock of goods and they would buy of me in preference to any one else. On this showing I went down, and finding my old friend Lyman Ross (well known in San Jose) who was keeping a fruit store. I told him my business and he took me to L.A. Booth, Carrol & Co., and I stated to him the facts about my money in the bank and the doors closed. I told him if he would assist me I would buy $2000 worth of his goods, and send them to Moore's Flat. I endorsed the certificate over to him, and in half an hour he came back with the coin. How he got it I never knew, but he did me a great favor, and we have been good friends ever since. I was no merchant, nor had I any mercantile education, so I took lessons from Mr. Booth, and allowed him to make out for me a bill of goods such as he well knew I needed. With these we loaded up two 6 mule teams, and started for the mountain.
I had about $700 left besides paying for the goods, but I felt a very little troubled as to my prospect for success, for it was a new business to me. Mr. Booth in a business way was a true father to me, and the much needed points in trade which he gave me were stored away for the use I knew I would make of them. Of all those whom I bear in grateful remembrance none stand higher than this worthy man.
I went first direct to Nevada City to take out a license that I might best protect myself against oppositions and from there I had a walk of 18 miles over a rough mountain trail to my selected place of business. Climbing the great hill of the S. Yuba river I often tired and sat down to rest, and I used this time to study my bill of goods, and add the freight and profit to the cost, so as to be well posted, and able to answer all questions readily when I unloaded the stock. The new trade seemed quite a task to learn, but I felt that I was compelled to succeed, and I worked manfully at it.
When I reached Moore's Flat I found that the boys had rented a store for me, and their welcome was very hearty when they found how lucky I had been in securing my money and starting out as their "grub supplier."
Four of us now located some mining claims, and began a tunnel both to drain the ground, and to work through the bed-rock. This we named The Paradise, and we expected that three or four months would elapse before we made it pay, but there was in truth two years of solid rock-work before we got under the ground, but it paid well in the end.
The largest nugget of gold ever found before this time was a quartz boulder from the Buckeye sluice, about 8 by 10 inches in size, and when cleaned up at the San Francisco mint the value was about $10,000.
Two of my partners in the work, L.J. Hanchett, and Jas. Clark ran out of funds at the end of the first year, and I took as much of the expense as I could upon my own shoulders.
About this time learning by a letter from her father that Mrs. Bennett was lying at the point of death at Mr. L.C. Bostic's in San Jose, I left H. Hanchett in charge of my business, and in four days I stood beside the bedside of my friend, endeared through the trials when death by thirst, starvation and the desert sands, stared us in the face with all its ghastliness.
She reached out her arms and drew me down to her, and embraced me and said in a faint whisper—"God bless you:—you saved us all till now, and I hope you will always be happy and live long." She would have said more, but her voice was so weak she could not be heard. She was very low with consumption, and easily exhausted. I sat with her much of the time at her request and though for her sake I would have kept back the tears I could not always do it. Two doctors came, one of them Dr. Spencer, and as I sat with my face partly turned away I over heard Dr. S. say to his assistant—"He is a manly man."
This presence and the circumstances brought back the trying Death Valley struggles, when this woman and her companions, and the poor children, so nearly starved they could not stand alone, were only prevented from sitting down to die in sheer despair by the encouraging words of Rogers and myself who had passed over the road, and used every way to sustain their courage.
She died the following day; with Mr. Bennett, I followed her remains to Oak Hill cemetery, where she was buried near the foot of the hill, and a board marked in large letters, "S.B." (Sarah Bennett) placed to mark the mound. The grave cannot now be found, and no records being then kept it is probably lost.
I went home with Mr. Bennett to his home near Watsonville, and spent several days, meeting several of our old Death Valley party, and Mr. D.J. Dilley, Mrs. Bennett's father. Mrs. Bennett left surviving her a young babe.
I returned to Moore's Flat, and soon sold out my store, taking up the business of purchasing gold dust direct from the miners, which I followed for about two years, and in the fall of 1859 sold out the business to Marks & Powers. I looked about through Napa and Sonoma Counties, and finally came to San Jose, where I purchased the farm I now own, near Hillsdale, of Bodley & McCabe, for which I paid $4,000.
In the fall of the same year my old friend W.M. Stockton of Los Angeles Co. persuaded me to come down and pay him a visit. His wife had died and he felt very lonely. I had been there but a few days when my old friend A. Bennett and his children also came to Stockton's. The children had grown so much I hardly knew them, but I was glad indeed to meet them.
I found Mr. Bennett to be a poor man. He had been persuaded to go to Utah, being told that a fortune awaited his coming there, or could be accumulated in a short time. He gave away the little babe left by his wife to Mrs. Scott, of Scott's Valley, in Santa Cruz Co. and sold his farm near the mouth of the Salinas River. With what money he had accumulated he loaded two 4 mule teams with dry goods, put his four children into his wagon, and went to Cedar City, Utah.
He gave a thrilling account of passing through Mountain Meadows, where he saw, here and there little groups of skeletons of the unhappy victims of the great massacre at that place of men, women and children, by J.D. Lee, and his Mormon followers and told me the terrible story, which I here omit.