During the period that its owner was commandante of the northern frontier, the Vallejo home was headquarters for high officials of the province. But after Commodore Sloat raised the Stars and Stripes at Monterey, General Vallejo espoused the cause of the United States, put aside much of his Spanish exclusiveness, and opened his doors to Americans as graciously as to friends of his own nationality.
A historic souvenir greatly prized by Americans in town and valley was the flag pole, which in Sonoma's infancy had been hewn from the distant mountain forest, and brought down on pack animals by mission Indians under General Vallejo's direction. It originally stood in the centre of the plaza, where it was planted with sacred ceremonials, and where amid ringing cheers of "Viva Mexico!" it first flung to the breeze that country's symbolical banner of green, white, and red. Through ten fitful years it loyally waved those colors; then followed its brief humiliation by the Bear Flag episode, and early redemption by order of Commodore Sloat, who sent thither an American flag-bearer to invest it with the Stars and Stripes. Thereafter, a patriotic impulse suggested its removal to the parade ground of the United States Army post, and as Spanish residents looked upon it as a thornful reminder of lost power they felt no regret when Uncle Sam's boys transplanted it to new environments and made it an American feature by adoption.
But the Mexican landmark which appealed to me most pathetically was the quaint rustic belfry which stood solitary in the open space in front of the Mission buildings. Its strong columns were the trunks of trees that looked as though they might have grown there for the purpose of shouldering the heavy cross-beams from which the chimes hung. Its smooth timbers had been laboriously hewn by hand, as must be the case in a land where there are no saw mills. The parts that were not bound together with thongs of rawhide, were held in place by wooden pegs. The strips of rawhide attached to the clappers dropped low enough for me to reach, and often tempted me to make the bells speak.
Mission padres no longer dwelt in the buildings, but shepherds from distant folds came monthly to administer to the needs of this consecrated flock. Then the many bells would call the faithful to mass, and to vespers, or chime for the wedding of favored sons and daughters. Part of them would jingle merrily for notable christenings; but one only would toll when death whitened the lips of some distinguished victim; and again, while the blessed body was being borne to its last resting-place.
During one of my first trips to town, Jakie and I were standing by grandpa's shop on the east side of the plaza, when suddenly those bells rang out clear and sweet, and we saw the believing glide out of their homes in every direction and wend their way to the church. The high-born ladies had put aside their jewels, their gorgeous silks and satins, and donned the simpler garb prescribed for the season of fasts and prayer. Those to the manor born wore the picturesque rebosa of fine lace or gauzy silk, draped over the head and about the shoulders; while those of humbler station made the shawl serve in place of the rebosa. The Indian servants, who with mats and kneeling cushions followed their mistresses, wore white chemises, bright-colored petticoats, and handkerchiefs folded three-cornerwise over the head and knotted under the chin. The costumes of the young girls were modelled after those of their mothers; and the little ladies appeared as demure and walked as stately as their elders. The gentlemen also were garbed in plainer costumes than their wont, and, for custom's sake, rode on horseback even the short distances which little children walked.
The town seemed deserted, and the church filled, as we started homeward, I skipping ahead until we reached a shop window where I waited for Jakie and asked him if he knew what those pretty little things were that I saw on a shelf, in big short-necked glass jars. Some were round and had little "stickers" all over them, and others looked like birds' eggs, pink, yellow, white, and violet.
He told me the round ones were sugar plums, and the egg-shaped had each an almond nut under its bright crust; that they were candies that had come from France in the ships that had brought the Spanish people their fine clothes; and that they were only for the rich, and would make poor little girls' teeth ache, if they should eat them.
Yet, after I confided to him how mother had given me a lump of loaf sugar each night as long as it lasted, and how sorry we both felt when there was no more, he led me into the shop and let me choose two of each kind and color from the jars. We walked faster as I carried them home. Jakie and grandma would not take any, but she gave Georgia and me each a sugar plum and an egg, and saved the rest for other days when we should be good children.
GOLD DISCOVERED—"CALIFORNIA IS OURS"—NURSING THE SICK THE U.S. MILITARY POST—BURIAL OF AN OFFICER.
In the year 1848, while the settlers and their families were contentedly at work developing the resources of the country, the astounding cry, "Gold discovered!" came through the valley like a blight, stopping every industry in its wake.
Excited men, women, and children rushed to town in quest of information. It was furnished by Alcalde Boggs and General Vallejo, who had been called away privately two weeks earlier, and had just returned in a state of great enthusiasm, declaring that gold, "in dust, grains, and chunks had been discovered at Coloma, not more than a day's journey from Sutter's Fort."
"How soon can we get there?" became the all-absorbing problem of eager listeners. The only hotel-keeper in the town sold his kettles and pans, closed his house, and departed. Shopkeepers packed most of their supplies for immediate shipment, and raised the price of those left for home trade. Men and half-grown boys hardly took time to collect a meagre outfit before they were off with shovel and pan and "something big to hold the gold." A few families packed their effects into emigrant wagons and deserted house and lands for the luring gold fields.
Crowds from San Francisco came hurrying through, some stopping barely long enough to repeat the maddening tales that had started them off to the diggings with pick and shovel. Each new rumor increased the exodus of gold-seekers; and by the end of the first week in August, when the messenger arrived with the long-hoped-for report of the ratification of the treaty of peace, and General Mason's proclamation officially announcing it, there were not enough men left in the valley, outside of the barracks, to give a decent round of cheers for the blessing of peace.
Grandpa brought the news home, "California is ours. There will be no more war, no more trouble, and no more need of soldiers."
Yet the women felt that their battles and trials had just begun, since they had suddenly become the sole home-keepers, with limited ways and means to provide for the children and care for the stock and farms. Discouragement would have rendered the burdens of many too heavy to carry, had not "work together," and "help your neighbor," become the watchwords of the day. No one was allowed to suffer through lack of practical sympathy. From house to house, by turns, went the strong to help the weak to bridge their troubles. They went, not with cheering words only, but with something in store for the empty cupboards and with ready hands to help to milk, wash, cook, or sew.
Grandma was in such demand that she had little time to rest; for there was not a doctor nor a "medicine shop" in the valley, and her parcels of herbs and knowledge of their uses had to serve for both. Nights, she set her shoes handy, so that she could dress quickly when summoned to the sick; and dawn of day often marked her home-coming.
Georgia and I were led into her work early, for we were sent with broths and appetizers to the sick on clearings within walking distances; and she would bid us stay a while at different houses where we could be helpful, but to be sure and bring careful reports from each home we entered. Under such training, we learned much about diseases and the care of the suffering. Anon, we would find in the plain wooden cradle, a dainty bundle of sweetness, all done up in white, which its happy owner declared grandma had brought her, and we felt quite repaid for our tiresome walk if permitted to hold it a wee while and learn its name.
We were sent together on these missions, in order that we might help each other to remember all that was told us; yet grandma had us take turns, and the one whom she commissioned to make the inquiries was expected to bring the fuller answers. Sometimes, we played on the way and made mistakes. Then she would mete out to us that hardest of punishments, namely, that we were not to speak with each other until she should forgive our offence. Forgiveness usually came before time to drive up the cows, for she knew that we were nimbler-footed when she started us off in happy mood.
Each cow wore a bell of different tone and knew her own name; yet it was not an easy task, even in pleasant weather, to collect the various strings and get them home on time. They mixed, and fed with neighbors' cattle on the range, and hid themselves behind clumps of trees and other convenient obstructions. Often grandma would get her string in by the main trail and have them milked before we could bring up the laggards that provokingly dawdled along, nibbling stray bunches of grass. When late on the road, we saw coyotes sneaking out for their evening meal and heard the far-away cry of the panther. But we were not much afraid when it was light enough, so that imagination could not picture them creeping stealthily behind us.
Our gallant Company C, officered by Captain Bartlett and Lieutenants Stoneman and Stone, was ordered to another post early in August; and its departure caused such universal regret that no one supposed Company H, under Captain Frisbie, could fill its place. Nevertheless, that handsome young officer soon found his way to the good-will of the people, and when Captain Joe Hooker brought him out to visit grandma's dairy, she, too, was greatly pleased by his soldierly bearing. After he mentioned that he had heard of her interest in the company which had been called away, and that he believed she would find Company H equally deserving of her consideration, she readily extended to the new men the homelike privileges which the others had enjoyed. Thus more friends came among us.
Notable among mine was the old darkey cook at headquarters, from whom Georgia and I tried to hide, the first time she waddled out to our house. She searched us out, saying:
"Now, honeys, don't yo be so scared of dis ole Aunt Lucy, 'cos she's done heared Captain Hooker tell lots 'bout yos, and has come to see yos."
Her face was one great smile, and her voice was so coaxing that she had little difficulty in gaining our favor, the more so, as upon leaving, she called back, "I's surely g'wine ter make dat little pie and cake I's promised yos, so yos mustn't forgit to come git it."
On one occasion, when I was sent to the post on an errand, she had no pie or cake; but she brought out a primer and said thoughtfully, "I's g'wine ter give yo dis A-B-C book, 'cos I want yo should grow up like quality folks."
Its worn leaves showed that its owner had studied its first few pages only; and when I replied, "Grandma says that I must not take everything that is offered me," she chuckled and continued:
"Lawd, honey, yo needn't have no 'punctions 'bout takin' dis yer book, 'cos I couldn't learn to read nohow when I was a gal, and I's too ole to now. Now, I wants yo to be nice; and yo can't, lessen yo can read and talk like de Captain done tole me yo mudder done."
I was delighted with the book, and told her so, and hugged it all the way home; for it had a beautiful picture near the back, showing a little girl with a sprinkling pot, watering her garden of stocks, sweet-williams, and hollyhocks. Her hair was in four long curls, and she had trimming on her dress, apron, and long pantalets. I was also impressed by the new words which I had heard Aunt Lucy use, "'punctions," and "quality folks." I repeated them over and over to myself, so that I should be able to tell them to Georgia.
Our last visit to Aunt Lucy must have been prearranged, for as she admitted us, she said, "I's mighty glad yos done come so soon, 'cos I been 'specting yos, and mus' take yos right in to de General."
I had never seen a general, and was shy about meeting one, until after she assured me that only cowards and bad men feared him.
We walked down the corridor and entered a large room, where an elderly gentleman in uniform sat writing at a table. Aunt Lucy stopped beside him, and still holding each by the hand, bowed low, saying, "General Smith, I's brung der two little Donner gals in to see yo, sah"; then she slipped out.
He was as courteous to us as though we were grown ladies, shook hands, asked how we felt, begged us to be seated, and then stepped to a door and called, "Susan! Susan!" I liked the name. A sweet voice answered, "Coming!"
Presently, a pretty dark-eyed Southern lady appeared, who called us "honeys," and "dear little girls." She sat between us, joining with her husband in earnest inquiries about our stay in the mountains and our home with grandma. Georgia did most of the talking. I was satisfied just to look at them and hear them speak. At the close of our visit, with a knowing look, she took us to see what Aunt Lucy had baked.
The General and she had recently come to pay a last visit to a sick officer, who had been sent from San Francisco with the hope that our milder climate would prolong his life. They themselves stayed only a short time, and their friend never left our valley. The day he died, the flag swung lower on the staff. Soldiers dug his grave on the hillside north of town, and word came from army headquarters that he would be buried on the morrow at midday, with military honors. Georgia and I wanted to know what military honors were, and as it came time for the funeral, we gathered with others on the plaza, where the procession formed. We were deeply impressed.
The emigrants uncovered and bowed their heads reverently, but the soldiers in line, with guns reversed, stood erect and motionless as figures in stone, while the bier of the dead was being carried through open ranks to the waiting caisson. The coffin was covered with a flag, and upon it lay his chapeau, gauntlets, sash, and sword. His boots, with their toes reversed, hung over the saddle of a riderless horse, led behind the caisson. The solemn tones of fife and muffled drum led the way through the town, past the old Mission bells and up the hillside. Only soldiers stood close around the grave and heard what was read by the officer who stood at its head, with an open book in one hand and a drawn sword in the other. Three times the file of soldiers fired a volley over the grave, then the muffled drum sounded its farewell taps, and the officers, with their men and the funeral caisson, returned to their quarters in silent order.
REAPING AND THRESHING—A PIONEER FUNERAL—THE HOMELESS AND WAYFARING APPEAL TO MRS. BRUNNER—RETURN OF THE MINERS—SOCIAL GATHERINGS—OUR DAILY ROUTINE—STOLEN PLEASURES—A LITTLE DAIRYMAID—MY DOGSKIN SHOES.
Reaping and threshing were interesting events to us that summer. Mission Indians, scantily clothed, came and cut the grain with long knives and sickles, bound it in small sheaves, and stacked it in the back yard opposite grandma's lookout window, then encircled it with a rustic fence, leaving a wide bare space between the stack and the fence, which they swept clean with green branches from live oak trees.
After many days, Mexican drivers brought a band of wild mares to help with the work. A thick layer of unthreshed grain was pitched on to the bare space surrounding the stack and the mares were driven around and around upon it. From time to time, fresh material was supplied to meet the needs of the threshers. And, at given signals from the men on the stack, the mares were turned out for a short rest, also in order to allow the Indians a chance to throw out the waste straw and to heap the loose grain on the winnowing ground. So they did again and again, until the last sheaf had been trodden under foot.
When the threshing was finished, the Indians rested; then prepared their fires, and feasted on the head, feet, and offal of a bullock which grandpa had slaughtered.
Like buzzards came the squaws and papooses to take what was left of the food, and to claim a share from the pile of worn-out clothes which grandma brought out for distribution. Amid shouts of pleasure, gesticulations, and all manner of begging, the distribution began, and when it ended, our front yard looked as though it were stocked with prize scarecrows.
One big fellow was resplendent in a battered silk hat and a tattered army coat; another was well dressed in a pair of cast-off boots and one of grandma's ragged aprons. Georgia and I tried to help to sort the things as they should be worn, but our efforts were in vain. Wrong hands would reach around and get the articles, and both sexes interchanged suits with apparent satisfaction. Grandma got quite out of patience with one great fellow who was trying to put on a petticoat that his squaw needed, and rushed up to him, jerked it off, gave him a vigorous push, and had the garment on his squaw, before he could do more than grunt. In the end they went away caring more for the clothes that had been given them than for the money they had earned.
Before the summer waned, death claimed one of our own brave women, and immigrants from far and near gathered to do her honor. I do not recollect her name, but know that she was tall and fair, and that grandma, who had watched with her through her last hours, told Georgia and me that when we saw the procession leave the house, we might creep through our back fence and reach the grave before those who should walk around by the road. We were glad to go, for we had watched the growth of the fresh ridge under a large oak tree, not far from our house, and had heard a friend say that it would be "a heavenly resting place for the freed sufferer."
Her family and nearest neighbors left the house afoot, behind the wagon which carried the plain redwood coffin. At the cross-road several fell in line, and at the grave was quite a gathering. A number came in their ox wagons, others on horseback; among them, a father afoot, leading a horse upon whose back sat his wife with an infant in arms and a child behind clinging to her waist; and several old nags, freighted with children, were led by one parent, while the other walked alongside to see that none should lose their balance and fall off.
No minister of the Gospel was within call, so, after the coffin was placed upon the bars above the open grave, and the lid removed, a friend who had crossed the plains with the dead, offered a prayer, and all the listeners said, "Amen."
I might not have remembered all these things, if Georgia and I had not watched over that grave, when all others seemed to have forgotten it. As we brought brush to cover it, in order to keep the cattle from dusting themselves in the loose earth, we talked matters over, and felt as though that mother's grave had been bequeathed to us. Grandma had instructed us that the graveyard is "God's acre," and that it is a sin to live near and not tend it. Still, no matter how often we chased the cattle away, they would return. We could not make them understand that their old resting-place had become sacred ground.
About the middle of October, 1848, the last of the volunteers were mustered out of service, and shortly thereafter the excess of army stores were condemned and sold. Ex-soldiers had preference over settlers, and could buy the goods at Government rates, plus a small cost of transportation to the Pacific coast. Grandma profited by the good-will of those whom she had befriended. They stocked her store-room with salt pork, flour, rice, coffee, sugar, ship-bread, dried fruit, and camp condiments at a nominal figure above what they themselves paid for them.
This was fortunate, for the hotel was still closed, and the homeless and wayfaring appealing to grandma, easily persuaded her to make room for them at her table. The greater the number, the harder she worked, and the more she expected of us. Although we rose at dawn, and rolled our sleeves high as she rolled hers, and like her, turned up our dress skirts and pinned them behind under our long belt aprons, we could not keep pace with her work.
Nevertheless, we were pleasing reminders of little girls whom she had known in her native village, and she was proud of us, and had two little white dresses fashioned to be worn on very special occasions. After they were finished, we also were proud, and made many trips into the room to see how beautiful they looked hanging against the wall under the curtain.
Marvellous accounts of the extent and richness of the gold-diggings were now brought to town by traffickers in provisions for mining-camps. This good news inspired our home-keepers with renewed courage. They worked faster while planning the comfort they should enjoy after the return of the absent.
The first to come were the unfortunate, who sought to shake off rheumatism, lung trouble, or the stubborn low-grade fever brought on by working in the water, sleeping on damp ground, eating poorly cooked food, or wearing clothing insufficient to guard against the morning and evening chill. Few had much to show for their toil and privation; yet, not disheartened, even in delirium, they clamored to hasten back for the precious treasure which seemed ever beckoning them onward.
When wind and weather drove them home, the robust came with bags of gold rolled in their snug packs. They called each other "lucky dogs," yet looked like grimy beggars, with faces so bewhiskered, and clothing so ragged, or so wonderfully patched, that little children cried when they drew near, and wives threw up their hands, exclaiming, "For the land's sake! can it be?" Yet each home-comer found glad welcome, and messengers were quick to spread the news, and friends gathered to rejoice with the returned.
Now each home-cooked dish was a feast for the camp-fed to contrast with their fare at Coloma, Wood's Camp, and sundry other places, where flour, rice, ship-bread, and coffee were three dollars a pound; salt pork and white beans, two dollars a pound; jerked beef, eight dollars a pound; saleratus, sixteen dollars an ounce; and salt, sugar, and raisins were put on the scales to balance their weight in gold dust; where liquor was fifty cents a tablespoonful, and candles five dollars each. It was not the prices at which they complained, but at the dearth of these staples, which had forced them home to wait until spring should again open the road to supply-trains.
The homeless, who in the evenings found comfort and cheer around grandma's table, would take out their treasure bags and boxes and pour their dust and grains of gold in separate piles, to show the quality and quantity, then pass the nuggets around that all might see what strange figures nature had moulded in secret up among the rocks and ravines of the Sierras.
One Roman Catholic claimed as his choicest prize a perfectly shaped cross of free gold, which he had cradled from the sands in the bed of a creek. Another had an image of the Virgin and Child. A slight stretch of the imagination turned many of the beautifully fretted pieces into miniature birds and other admirable designs for sweetheart brooches. The exhibition over, each would scrape his hoard back into its receptacle, blow the remaining yellow particles on to the floor so that the table should not show stain, and then settle himself to take his part in relating amusing and thrilling incidents of life in the mining camps. Not a window was closed, nor a door locked, nor a wink of sleep lost in those days, guarding bags of gold. "Hands off" was the miners' law, and all knew that death awaited him who should venture to break it.
Heavy purses made willing spenders, and generous impulses were untrammelled. Nothing could be more gratifying or touching than the respect shown by those homeless men to the pioneer women and children. They would walk long distances and suffer delays and inconveniences for the privilege of passing a few hours under home influences, and were ever ready to contribute toward pleasures in which all might participate.
There were so few young girls in the community, and their presence was so greatly desired, that in the early winter, Georgia and I attended as welcome guests some of the social gatherings which began at early candle-light, and we wore the little white dresses that were so precious in our eyes.
Before the season was half over, heavy rain was followed by such bitter cold that all the ground and still waters were frozen stiff. Although we were well muffled, and grandma warmed us up with a drink of hot water and sweetened cream before starting us out after the cows, the frost nipped at our feet until the old scars became so angry and painful that we could scarcely hobble about the house. Many remedies were tried, to no purpose, the most severe being the early foot bath with floats of ice in the water. It chilled us through and through, and also made grandma keep us from the fire, lest the heat should undo the benefit expected from the cold. So, while we sat with shivering forms and chattering teeth looking across the room at the blazing logs under the breakfast pots and kettles, our string of cows was coming home in care of a new driver.
We were glad to be together, even in misery, and all things considered, were perhaps as useful in our crippled condition as before, for there was enough to keep our hands busy while our feet rested. Grandma thought she made our work lighter by bringing it to us, yet she came too often for it to seem easy to us.
First, the six brass candlesticks, with hoods, snuffers, and trays had to be brightened; and next, there were the small brass kettles in which she boiled the milk for coffee, to be polished inside and out. However, we did not dread the kettles much, unless burned, for there was always a spoon in the bottom to help to gather the scrapings, of which we were very fond.
But when she would come with a large pan of dried beans or peas to be picked over quickly, so that she could get them soaked for early cooking, we would measure its contents with critical eyes to make sure that it was not more than we had had the previous day. By the time we would get to the bottom of the pan, she would be ready to put before us a discouraging pile of iron knives, forks, and pewter spoons to scour with wood ashes. How we did hate those old black knives and forks! She said her sight was poor—but she could always see when we slighted any.
The redeeming work of the day was sorting the dried fruit for sauce or pies. We could take little nibbles as we handled it, and knew that we should get an extra taste when it was ready for use. And after she had put the upper crust on the pies, she would generally permit us to make the fancy print around the edges with a fork, and then prick a figure in the centre to let the steam escape while baking.
Sometimes she received a dollar apiece for these pies; and she had so many customers for them and for such loaves of bread as she could spare, that she often declared the farm was as good as a gold mine.
We were supposed not to play with dolls, consequently we durst not ask any one to step around and see how our little house in the back yard was weathering the storms, nor how the beloved nine in it were getting along. Though only bottles of different sizes, to us they were dear children, named after great personages whom the soldiers had taught us to honor.
The most distinguished had cork stoppers for heads, with faces marked on the sides, the rest, only wads of paper or cloth fastened on the ends of sticks that reached down into the bodies. A strip of cloth tied around each neck, below the bulge, served as make-believe arms, suitable for all ordinary purposes, and, with a little assistance, capable of saluting an officer or waving to a comrade.
We worried because they were clothed in fragments of cloth and paper too thin for the season; and the very first chance we got, we slipped out and found our darlings in a pitiable plight. Generals Washington and Jackson, and little Van Buren were mired at the foot of a land slide from the overhanging bank. Taylor, Webster, Clay, and Benton had been knocked down and buried almost out of sight. Martha Washington's white shawl and the chicken plumes in her hat were ruined; and Dandy Jim from North Carolina lay at her feet with a broken neck!
Such a shock! Not until we realized that everything could be restored was our grief assuaged—that is, everything but Dandy Jim. He was a serious loss, for he was our only black bottle and had always been kept to wait on Martha Washington.
We worked fast, and had accomplished so much before being called into the house that we might have put everything in order next day, had Georgia not waked up toward morning with a severe cold, and had grandma not found out how she caught it. The outcome was that our treasures were taken to the store-room to become medicine and vinegar bottles, and we mourned like birds robbed of their young.
New duties were opened to me as soon as I could wear my shoes, and by the time Georgia was out again, I was a busy little dairymaid, and quite at home in the corrals. I had been decorated with the regulation salt bag, which hung close to my left side, like a fisherman's basket. I owned a quart cup and could milk with either hand, also knew how to administer the pinch of salt which each cow expected. After a little practice I became able to do all the "stripping." In some cases it amounted to not more than half a pint from each animal. However, much or little, the strippings were of importance, and were kept separate, because grandma considered them "good as cream in the cheese kettle."
When I could sit on the one-legged stool, which Jakie had made me, hold a pail between my knees and milk one or more cows, without help, they both praised my cleverness—a cleverness which fixed more outside responsibilities upon me, and kept me from Georgia a longer while each day. My work was hard, still I remained noticeably taller and stronger than she, who was assigned to lighter household duties. I felt that I had no reason to complain of my tasks, because everybody about me was busy, and the work had to be done.
If I was more helpful than my little sister, I was also a source of greater trouble, for I wore out my clothes faster, and they were difficult to replace, especially shoes.
There was but one shoemaker in the town, and he was kept so busy that he took a generous measure of children's feet and then allowed a size or more, to guard against the shoes being too small by the time he should get them finished.
When my little stogies began to leak, he shook his head thoughtfully, and declared that he had so many orders for men's boots that he could not possibly work for women or children until those orders were filled. Consequently, grandma kept her eye on my shoes, and as they got worse and worse, she became sorely perplexed. She would not let me go barefooted, because she was afraid of "snags" and ensuing lockjaw; she could not loan me her own, because she was saving them for special occasions, and wearing instead the heavy sabots she had brought from her native land. She tried the effect of continually reminding me to pick my way and save my shoes, which made life miserable for us both. Finally she upbraided me harshly for a playful run across the yard with Courage, and I lost my temper, and grumbled.
"I would rather go barefooted and get snags in my feet than have so much bother about old shoes that are worn out and no good anyway!"
I was still crying when Hendrik, a roly-poly Hollander, came along and asked the cause of my distress. Grandma told him that I was out of humor, because she was trying to keep shoes on my feet, while I was determined to run them off. He laughed, bade me cheer up, sang the rollicking sailor song with which he used to drive away storms at sea, then showed me a hole in the heel of the dogskin boots he wore, and told me that, out of their tops, he would make me a beautiful pair of shoes.
No clouds darkened my sky the morning that Hendrik came, wearing a pair of new cowhide boots then squeaked as though singing crickets were between the heavy soles; for he had his workbox and the dogskins under his arm, and we took seats under the oak tree, where he laid out his tools and went to work without more ado.
He had brought a piece of tanned cowhide for the soles of my shoes, an awl, a sailor's thimble, needles, coarse thread, a ball of wax, and a sharp knife. The hair on the inside of the boot legs was thick and smooth, and the colors showed that one of the skins had been taken from the body of a black and white dog, and the other from that of a tawny brindle. As Hendrik modelled and sewed, he told me a wondrous tale of the great North Polar Sea, where he had gone in a whaling vessel, and had stayed all winter among mountains of ice and snow. There his boots had worn out. So he had bought these skins from queer little people there, who live in snow huts, and instead of horses or oxen, use dogs to draw their sleds.
I liked the black and white skin better than the brindle, so he cut that for the right foot, and told me always to make it start first. And when I put the shoes on they felt so soft and warm that I knew I could never forget Hendrik's generosity and kindness.
The longer I wore them the more I became attached to them, and the better I understood the story he had told me; for in my musings they were not shoes, but "Spot" and "Brindle," live Eskimo dogs, that had drawn families of queer little people in sleds over the frozen sea, and had always been hungry and ready to fight over their scanty meals. At times I imagined that they wanted to race and scamper about as happy dogs do, and I would run myself out of breath to keep them going, and always stop with Spot in the lead.
When I needed shoestrings, I was sent to the shoemaker, who only glanced up and replied, "Come to-morrow, and I'll have a piece of leather big enough."
The next day, he made the same answer, "Come to-morrow," and kept pegging away as fast as he could on a boot sole. The third time I appeared before him, he looked up with the ejaculation, "Well, I'll be damned, if she ain't here again!"
I was well aware that he should not have used that evil word, yet was not alarmed, for I had heard grandpa and others use worse, and mean no harm, nor yet intend to be cross. So I stood quietly, and in a trice he was up, had rushed across the shop, brought back two round pieces of leather not larger than cookies, and before I knew what he was about, had turned them into good straight shoestrings. He waxed them, and handed them to me with the remark, "Tell your grandma that since you had to wait so long, I charge her only twenty-five cents for them."
[Footnote 16: Now Jamestown.]
MEXICAN METHODS OF CULTIVATION—FIRST STEAMSHIP THROUGH THE GOLDEN GATE—"THE ARGONAUTS" OR "BOYS OF '49"—A LETTER FROM THE STATES—JOHN BAPTISTE—JAKIE LEAVES US—THE FIRST AMERICAN SCHOOL IN SONOMA.
By the first of March, 1849, carpenters had the frame of grandma's fine new two-story house enclosed, and the floors partly laid. Neighbors were hurrying to get their fields ploughed and planted, those without farming implements following the Mexican's crude method of ploughing the ground with wooden prongs and harrowing in the seed by dragging heavy brush over it.
They gladly turned to any tool that would complete the work by the time the roads to the mountains should be passable, and the diggings clear of snow. Their expectations might have been realized sooner, if a bluff old launch captain, with an eye to business for himself and San Francisco, had not appeared on the scene, shouting, "Ahoy" to everybody.
"I say, a steamship anchored in the Bay of San Francisco two days ago. She's the California. Steamed out of New York Harbor with merchandise. Stopped at Panama; there took aboard three hundred and fifty waiting passengers that had cut across country—a mixture of men from all parts of the United States, who have come to carry off the gold diggings, root and branch! Others are coming in shiploads as fast as they can. Now mark my words, and mark them well: provisions is going to run mighty short, and if this valley wants any, it had better send for them pretty damn quick!"
By return boat, farmers, shopkeepers, and carpenters hastened to San Francisco. All were eager for supplies from the first steamship that had entered the Golden Gate—the first, it may be added, that most of them, even those of a sea-going past, had ever seen.
During the absence of husbands, we little girls were loaned separately nights to timid wives who had no children to keep them company. Georgia went earlier and stayed later than I, because grandma could not spare me in the evenings until after the cows were turned out, and she needed me in the mornings before sunrise. Those who borrowed us made our stays so pleasant that we felt at home in many different houses.
Once, however, I encountered danger on my early homeward trip.
I had turned the bend in the road, could see the smoke curling out of grandma's chimney, and knew that every nearer house was closed. In order to avoid attracting the attention of a suspicious-looking cow on the road, I was running stealthily along a rail fence, when, unexpectedly, I came upon a family of sleeping swine, and before I was aware of danger from that direction was set upon and felled to the ground by a vicious beast. Impelled, I know not how, but quick as thought, I rolled over and over and over, and when I opened my eyes I was on the other side of the fence, and an angry, noisy, bristling creature was glaring at me through the rails.
Quivering like a leaf and for a time unable to rise, I lay upon the green earth facing the morning sky. With strange sensations and wonderment, I tried to think what might have happened, if I had not rolled. What if that space between fence and ground had been too narrow to let my body through; what if, on the other hand, it had been wide enough for that enraged brute to follow?
Too frightened to cry, and still trembling, I made my way to the end of the field and climbed back over the fence near home. Grandma was greatly startled by my blanched face, and the rumpled and soiled condition of my clothes. After I related my frightful experience, she also felt that had it not been for that fence, I should have been torn to pieces. She explained, however, that I probably would not have been attacked had I not startled the old mother so suddenly that she believed her young in danger.
When our menfolk returned from San Francisco, they were accompanied by many excited treasure-seekers, anxious to secure pack animals to carry their effects to the mines. They were made welcome, and in turn furnished us news of the outer world, and distributed worn copies of American and foreign newspapers, which our hungry-minded pioneers read and re-read so long as the lines held together.
Those light-hearted newcomers, who danced and gayly sang,
O Susannah, don't you cry for me! I'm bound to Californy with a tin pan on my knee,
were the first we saw of that vast throng of gold-seekers, who flocked to our shores within a twelvemonth, and who have since become idealized in song and story as the "Argonauts," "the Boys of '49."
They were unlike either our pioneer or our soldier friends in style of dress and manner. Nor had they come to build homes or develop the country. They wanted gold to carry back to other lands. Some had expected to find it near the Bay of San Francisco; some, to scoop it up out of the river beds that crossed the valleys; and others, to shovel it from ravines and mountain-sides. When told of the difficulties before them, their impatience grew to be off, that they might prove to Western plodders what could be done by Eastern pluck and muscle.
Such packing as those men did! Mother's Bible, and wife and baby's daguerreotype not infrequently started to the mines in the coffee pot, or in the miner's boots, hanging across the mule's pack. The sweetheart's lock of hair, affectionately concealed beneath the hat lining of its faithful wearer, caught the scent of the old clay pipe stuck in the hat-band.
With the opening season all available Indians of both sexes were hired as gold-diggers, and trudged along behind their employers, and our town was again reduced to a settlement of white women and children. But what a difference in the feeling of our people! We now heard regularly from the Bay City, and entertained transients from nearly every part of the globe; and these would loan us books and newspapers, and frequently store unnecessary possessions with us until they should return from the mines.
San Francisco had a regular post office. One day its postmaster forwarded a letter, addressed to ex-Governor Boggs, which the latter brought out and read to grandma. She did not, as usual, put her head out of the window and call us, but came from the house wiping her eyes, and asked if we wanted to be put in a big ship and sent away from her and grandma and Jakie.
Greatly alarmed, we exclaimed, "No, no, grandma, no!"
Taking us by the hand, she led us into the house, seated herself and drew one of us to each side, then requested the Governor to read the letter again. We two did not understand all it said, but enough to know that it had been written by our own dear aunt, Elizabeth Poor, who wanted Governor Boggs to find her sister's three little orphaned girls and send them back to her by ship to Massachusetts. It contained the necessary directions for carrying out her wish.
Grandma assured the Governor that we did not want to leave her, nor would she give us up. She said she and her husband and Jakie had befriended us when we were poor and useless, and that we were now beginning to be helpful. Moreover, that they had prospered greatly since we had come into their home, and that their luck might change if they should part from us. She further stated that she already had riches in her own right, which we should inherit at her death.
The Governor spoke of schools and divers matters pertaining to our welfare, then promised to explain by letter to Aunt Elizabeth how fortunately we were situated.
This event created quite a flutter of excitement among friends. Grandpa and Jakie felt just as grandma did about keeping us. Georgia and I were assured that in not being allowed to go across the water, we had escaped great suffering, and, perhaps, drowning by shipwreck. Still, we did wish that it were possible for us to see Aunt Elizabeth, whom mother had taught us to love, and who now wanted us to come to her.
I told Georgia that I would learn to write as fast as I could, and send her a letter, so she would know all about us.
We now imagined that we were quite large girls, for grandma usually said before going away, "Children, you know what there is to do and I leave everything in your care." We did not realize that this was her little scheme, in part, to keep us out of mischief; but we knew that upon her return she would see, and call attention to what was left undone.
Once, when we were at home alone and talking about "endless work and aching bones," as we had heard grown-up folks complain of theirs, we were interrupted by a bareback rider who did not "tie up" under the live oak, but came to the shade of the white oak in front of us at the kitchen door. After a cheery "Howdy do" and a hand shake, he exclaimed,
"I heard at Napa that you lived here, and my pony has made a hard run to give me this sight of you."
We were surprised and delighted, for the speaker was John Baptiste who had wintered with us in the Sierras. We asked him to dismount, take a seat under the tree, and let us bring him a glass of milk. He declined graciously, then with a pleased expression, drew a small brown-paper parcel from his trousers pocket and handed it to us, leaned forward, clasped his arms about his pony, rested his head on its neck, and smilingly watched Georgia unwrap it, and two beautiful bunches of raisins come to view,—one for each. He would not touch a single berry, nor let us save any. He asked us to eat them then and there so that he could witness our enjoyment of the luxury he had provided for this, our first meeting in the settlement.
Never had we seen raisins so large, translucent, and delicious. They seemed far too choice for us to have, and John was so poorly dressed and pinched in features that we hesitated about eating them. But he would have his way, and in simple language told us that he wanted them to soften the recollection of the hungry time when he came into camp empty-handed and discouraged. Also to fulfil his assurance to our mother that he would try to keep us in sight, and give us of the best that he could procure. His last injunctions were, "Be good little girls; always remember your mother and father; and don't forget John Baptiste."
He was gone when grandma got back; and she was very serious when told what had occurred in her absence. She rarely spoke to us of our mother, and feared it might lessen our affection for herself, if others kept the memory of the dead fresh in our minds.
There were many other happenings before the year closed, that caused me to think a great deal. Grandpa spent less time at the shop; he bought himself a fleet-footed horse which he named Antelope, and came home oftener to talk to grandma about money they had loaned Major Prudon to send to China for merchandise, also about a bar-room which he was fitting up near the butcher-shop, for a partner. Next, he bought faithful Charlie, a large bay horse, with friendly eyes, and long black mane and tail; also a small blue farm wagon in which Georgia and I were to drive about the fields, when sent to gather loose bark and dry branches for baking fires.
We were out for that purpose the day that we saw grandpa ride away to the mines, but we missed seeing Jakie steal off, with his bunch of cows. He felt too badly to say good-bye to us.
I was almost heart-broken when I learned that he was not coming back. He had been my comforter in most of my troubles, had taught me to ride and drive the horse, shown me the wood duck's nest in the hollow of our white oak tree, and the orioles' pretty home swinging from a twig in the live oak, also where the big white-faced owls lived. He had helped me to gather wild flowers, made me whistles from branches cut from the pussy willows, and had yodeled for me as joyfully as for loved ones in his Alpine home. Everything that he had said and done meant a great deal more to me now, and kept him in mind, as I went about alone, or with grandma, doing the things that had been his to do. She now moulded her cheeses in smaller forms, and we had fewer cows to milk.
When the season for collecting and drying herbs came, Georgia and I had opportunity to be together considerably. It was after we had picked the first drying of sage and were pricking our fingers on the saffron pods, that grandma, in passing, with her apron full of Castilian rose petals, stopped and announced that if we would promise to work well, and gather the sage leaves and saffron tufts as often as necessary, she would let us go to a "real school" which was about to open in town.
Oh, dear! to go to school, to have books and slate and pencil! What more could be wished? Yes, we would get up earlier, work faster before time to go, and hurry home after lessons were over. And I would carry the book Aunt Lucy had given me. It was all arranged, and grandma went to town to buy slates, pencils, speller, and a stick of wine-colored ribbon to tie up our hair.
When the anticipated hour came, there were great preparations that we might be neat and clean and ready on time. Our hair was parted in four equal divisions; the front braids, tied with ribbon, formed a U at the back of the neck; and we wore new calico dresses and sun-bonnets, and carried lunch for two in a curious little basket, which grandma must have brought with her from Switzerland. Joyfully we started forth to the first American school opened in Sonoma.
Alas! it was not what our anticipations had pictured. The schoolroom was a dreary adobe, containing two rows of benches so high that, when seated, we could barely touch the earthen floor with our toes. The schoolmaster told us that we must hold our slates on our laps, and our open books in the right hand, and not look at the pictures, but study all the time, and not speak, even to each other, without permission. His face was so severe, his eyes so keen, and his voice so sharp that I was afraid of him.
He had a chair with a back to it, and a table to hold his books; yet he spent most of his time walking about with a narrow strap of rawhide in his hand, and was ever finding some one whose book drooped, or who was whispering; and the stinging bite of that strap would call the erring to order.
The Misses Boggs, Lewis, Smith, and Bone were pretty young ladies, and brought their own chairs and a table to sit around; and when they whispered, the master never saw them; and when they missed in lessons, he didn't keep them in, nor make them stand on the floor.
I learned my lessons well enough, but grandma was terribly shocked because I got strapped nearly every day. But then, I sat between Georgia and the other little girls in our row, and had to deliver messages from those on both sides of me, as well as to whisper a little on my own account. Finally, grandma declared that if I got a whipping next day, she would give me a second one after reaching home. So I started in the morning with the intention of being the best girl in school; but we had hardly settled in line for our first lesson, when Georgia whispered behind her book, "Eliza, see! Mary Jane Johnson has got my nice French card, with the double queens on it, and I can't get it."
Forgotten were my good resolutions. I leaned out of line, and whispered louder than I meant, "Mary Jane Johnson, that is my sister's card, and you must give it back to her."
She saw the master watching, but I did not, until he called me to hold out my hand. For once, I begged, "Please excuse me; I won't do it again." But he wouldn't, and I felt greatly humiliated, because I knew the large girls had heard me and were smiling.
After recess, a new boy arrived, little Willie McCracken, whom we had seen on the plains, and known at Sutter's Fort, and he knew us as soon as he reached his seat and looked around. In a short time, I nudged Georgia, and asked her if I hadn't better roll him the little knot of dried apples that grandma had put in the basket for my lunch. She said, yes, if I wanted to. So I wiggled the basket from under the seat with my foot, and soon thereafter, my bit of hospitality was on its way to the friend I was glad to see again.
Instead of his getting it, however, the master stepped down and picked it up, with the hand that didn't have the strap in it. So, instead of being the best, I was the worst child in school, for not one had ever before received two strappings in a forenoon.
It must have been our bad day, for Georgia felt her very first bite from the strap that afternoon, and on the way home volunteered not to tell on me, if grandma did not ask. Yet grandma did, the first thing. And when Georgia reluctantly said, "Yes," grandma looked at me and shook her head despairingly; but when I announced that I had already had two strappings, and Georgia one, she burst out laughing, and said she thought I had had enough for one day.
A few weeks later, the large boys drove the master out of school on account of his cruelty to a little fellow who had played truant.
In that dingy schoolroom, Georgia and I later attended the first Protestant Sunday school and church service held in Sonoma.
FEVER PATIENTS FROM THE MINES—UNMARKED GRAVES—THE TALES AND TAUNTS THAT WOUNDED MY YOUNG HEART.
A short experience in the mines cured grandpa's "mining fever," but increased his rheumatism. The accounts he brought of sufferings he had witnessed in the camps prepared us for the approaching autumn's work, when many of the happy fellows who had started to the gold-fields in vigorous health and with great expectations returned haggard, sick, and out of luck.
Then was noble work done by the pioneer women. No door was closed against the needy. However small the house might be, its inmates had some comfort to offer the stranger. Many came to grandma, saying they had places to sleep but begging that she would give them food and medicine until they should be able to proceed to San Francisco.
Weary mortals dragged their aching limbs to the benches under her white oak tree, dropped upon them, with blankets still across their shoulders, declaring they could not go another rod. Often, she turned her face aside and murmured, "God help the poor wanderers"; but to them she would say encouragingly, "You be not very sick, you will soon be rested. There be straw in the stack that we will bring for your bed, and me and the children will let you not go hungry."
Ere long, beds had to be made on the floor of the unfinished house. More were needed, and they were spread under the great white oak.
On a block beside each fever patient stood a tin cup, which Georgia and I were charged to keep full of cold water, and it was pitiful to see the eyes of the sick watch the cooling stream we poured. Our patients eagerly grasped the cup with unsteady hands, so that part of its contents did not reach the parched lips. Often, we heard the fervid prayer, "God bless the women of this land, and bless the children too!"
Soon we learned to detect signs of improvement, and were rejoiced when the convalescents smiled and asked for more to eat. Grandma carried most of the food to them and sent us later for the empty dishes.
Of the many who came to us that season, there was but one who never proceeded on his way. He was a young German, fair of face, but terribly wasted by disease. His gentle, boyish manner at once made him a favorite, and we not only gave him our best care, but when a physician drifted into town, grandma sent for him and followed his directions. I remember well the day that John seemed almost convalescent, relished his breakfast, wanted to talk a while, and before we left him, had us bring him a basin of warm water and his beflowered carpet bag, from which he took a change of clothing and his shaving outfit.
When we saw him later, his hair was smoothly combed; he looked neat and felt encouraged, and was sure that he should soon be up and doing for himself. At nightfall, grandma bade us wipe the dishes quickly as possible, at which Georgia proposed a race to see whether she could wash fast enough to keep us busy, and we got into a frolicsome mood, which grandma put an end to with the sobering remark:
"Oh, be not so worldly-minded. John ist very bad to-night. I be in a hurry to go back to him, and you must hold the candle."
We passed out into the clear cold starlight, with the burning candle sheltered by a milk pan, and picked our way between the lumber to the unfinished room where John lay. I was the last to enter, and saw grandma hurriedly give the candle to Georgia, drop upon her knees beside the bed, touch his forehead, lift his hand, and call him by name. The damp of death was on his brow, the organs of speech had lost their power. One long upward look, a slight quivering of the muscles of the face, and we were alone with the dead. I was so awed that I could scarcely move, but grandma wept over him, as she prepared his body for burial.
The next afternoon, we three and grandpa and a few friends followed him to his final resting-place. After he was gone, grandma remembered that she did not know his name in full, the land of his birth, nor the address of his people. Expecting his recovery, she had not troubled him with questions, and the few trinkets in his carpet bag yielded no identifying clue. So he lies in a nameless grave, like countless other youth of that period.
We had patients of every type, those who were appreciative and grateful, and those who rebelled against confinement, and swore at the pain which kept sleep from their eyes, and hurled their things about regardless of consequences. The most trying were the chronic grumblers, who did not know what they wanted, nor what they ought to have, and adopted the moody refrain:
But the happy times are over, I've only grief and pain, For I shall never, never see Susannah dear again.
The entrance of Georgia and myself would occasionally turn their thoughts into homeward channels, and make them reminiscent of their little children and loved ones "back in the States." Then, again, our coming would set them to talking about our early disaster and such horrible recounts of happenings in the snow-bound camps that we would rush away, and poor Georgia would have distressing crying spells over what we had heard.
At first no tears dimmed my eyes, for I felt, with keen indignation, that those wounding tales were false; but there came hours of suffering for me later, when an unsympathetic soldier, nicknamed "Picayune Butler," engaged me in conversation and set me to thinking.
He was a great big man with eyes piercing as a hawk's, and lips so thin that they looked like red lines on his face, parting and snapping together as he repeated the horrible things he had read in The California Star. He insisted that the Donner Party was responsible for its own misfortune; that parents killed their babies and ate their bodies to keep themselves alive; cut off the heads of companions and called them good soup bones; and were as thievish as sneaking Indians, even stealing the strings from the snowshoes of those who had come to their rescue. He maintained that Keseberg had murdered my mother and mutilated my dead father's body; and that he himself felt that the miserable wretches brought from starvation were not worth the price it had cost to save them.
Too young, too ignorant, and too distressed to disprove the accusations or resent his individual view, I could only take refuge behind what I had heard and seen in camp, and declare, "I know it is not true; they were good people, and loved their babies, and were sorry for everybody."
How could I believe his cruel words? While I had come from the mountains remembering most clearly the sufferings from cold, hunger, thirst, and pitiful surroundings, I had also brought from there a child's mental picture of tenderest sympathies and bravest self-denials, evinced by the snow-bound in my father's camp, and of Mrs. Murphy's earnest effort to soothe and care for us three little sisters after we had been deserted at the lake cabins by Cady and Stone; also her motherly watchfulness over Jimmie Eddy, Georgia Foster, and her own son Simon, and of Mr. Eddy's constant solicitude for our safety on the journey over the mountains to Sutter's Fort. Vain, however, my efforts to speak in behalf of either the dead or the absent; every attempt was met by the ready assertion, "You can't prove anything; you were not old enough to remember or understand what happened."
Oh, how I longed to be grown, to have opportunities to talk with those of the party who were considered old enough to remember facts, and would answer the questions I wanted to ask; and how firmly I resolved that when I grew to be a woman I would tell the story of my party so clearly that no one could doubt its truth!
THANK OFFERINGS—MISS DOTY'S SCHOOL—THE BOND OF KINDRED—IN JACKET AND TROUSERS—CHUM CHARLIE.
Grandma had a fixed price for table board, but would not take pay for medicines, nor for attendance on the sick; consequently, many of her patients, after reaching San Francisco, sent thank offerings of articles useful and pleasing to her. Thus, also, Sister Georgia and I came into possession of pretty calico, Swiss, and delaine dresses, and shoes that filled our hearts with pride, for they were of Morocco leather, a red and a green pair for each. We had seen finely dressed Spanish children wear such shoes, but never supposed that we should be so favored.
After the first dresses were finished, there came a Sunday when I was allowed to go to the Mission Church with Kitty Purcell, the baker's little daughter, and I felt wonderfully fine in my pink calico frock, flecked with a bird's-eye of white, a sun-bonnet to match, and green shoes.
The brilliantly lighted altar, decked with flowers, the priests in gorgeous vestments, the acolyte with the swinging censer, and the intoned service in foreign tongue, were bewildering to me. My eyes wandered from the clergy to the benches upon which sat the rich and the great, then back to the poor, among whom I was kneeling. Each humble worshipper had spread a bright-bordered handkerchief upon the bare floor as a kneeling mat. I observed the striking effect, then recollecting my shoes, put my hand back and drew up the hem of my dress, that my two green beauties might be seen by the children behind me. No seven-year-old child ever enjoyed finery more than I did those little shoes.
Gifts which grandma considered quite unsuitable came one day in two neat wooden boxes about thirty inches in length, and eight in width and depth. They were addressed to us individually, but in grandma's care. When she removed the cover and a layer of cotton batting from Georgia's, a beautiful French lady-doll was revealed, exquisitely dressed, with a spray of flowers in her hair, and another that looped one side of her lovely pink skirt sufficiently high to display an elaborately trimmed petticoat. She was so fine in lace and ribbons, yes, even watch and chain, that grandma was loath to let us touch her, and insisted she should be handled in the box.
My gift was a pretty young Swiss matron in holiday attire, really more picturesque, and quite as costly as Georgia's, but lacking that daintiness which made the lady-doll untouchable. I had her to hug and look at only a few moments; then both boxes with their precious contents were put away for safe keeping, and brought forth only on state occasions, for the inspection of special visitors.
Grandma did not want any nonsense put into our heads. She wished us to be practical, and often quoted maxims to the effect that, "As the twig is bent, the tree's inclined"; "All work is ennobling if well done"; "Much book-learning for girls is not conducive to happiness or success"; and "The highest aim of a girl should be honesty, chastity, and industry."
Still, she was so pleased when I could write a little with ink and quill, that she dictated several letters to Jakie, who was in the dairy business near Stockton; and in an unguarded moment she agreed that I should attend Miss Doty's school. Then she hesitated. She wished to treat us exactly alike, yet could not spare both at the same time. Finally, as a way out of the difficulty, she decided that we should attend school alternate months, during the summer; and that my sister, being the elder, should begin the course.
It seemed to me that Georgia's month at school would never end. My own sped faster than I wished. Miss Doty helped me with my lessons during part of the noon hour, and encouragingly said, "Be patient, keep trying, and you will gain your reward."
While still her pupil, I wrote my long-planned letter to Aunt Elizabeth. Georgia helped to compose it, and when finished, we carried it to our friend, the postmaster. He banteringly held it in his hand, until we told its contents and begged that it go to Aunt Elizabeth as fast as possible. He must have seen that it was incorrectly addressed, yet he readily promised that if an answer should come addressed to "Miss Georgia Ann Donner," or to "Miss Eliza Poor Donner," he would carefully save it for us.
After many fruitless trips to the post-office, we were one day handed a letter for grandma. It was not from our aunt, however, but from our sister Elitha, and bore the sad news that her husband, while on the range, had been thrown from his horse, and lived but a few moments after she reached him. She also stated that her little daughter Elisabeth and her sister Leanna were with her on the ranch, and that she was anxious to learn how Georgia and I were getting on.
By advice of short-sighted friends, grandma sent a very formal reply to the letter, and told us that she did not want Elitha to write again. Moreover, that we, in gratitude for what she had done for us, should take her name and call her "mother."
This endeavor to destroy personal identity and family connection, met with pathetic opposition. Of our own accord, we had called her grandma. But "mother"—that name was sacred to her who had taught our infant lips to give it utterance! We would bestow it on no other.
Under no circumstance was there difficulty in finding some one ready to advise or help to plan our duties. With the best of intentions? Yes, but often, oh, how trying to us, poor little waifs of misfortune!
One, like a thorn in the flesh, was apportioned to me at the approach of the Winter of 1849 and 1850. We needed more help in the dairy, but could get no one except Mr. Marsh, who lived in bachelor quarters half a mile south on the creek bank. He drove in the bunch of cows found in the mornings grazing on their homeward way, but was too old to follow after those on the range. Moreover, he did not know how to milk. Grandma, therefore, was obliged to give up going after the cows herself. She hesitated about sending us alone, for of late many stragglers had been seen crossing the valley, and also Indians loitering about. Furthermore, Georgia was again coughing badly.
At a loss what to do, she discussed the situation with a neighbor, who after reflection asked,
"Why not dress Eliza in boy's clothes and put her on old Charlie?"
Grandma threw up her hands at the bare suggestion. It was scandalous, improper! Why, she had even taught me to shun the boys of the village. However, she felt differently later in the day when she called me to her. But in vain was coaxing, in vain was scolding, I refused positively to don boy's clothing.
Then she told in strictest confidence that Georgia was very frail, would probably die young, certainly would not reach twenty-five; and I ought not to hesitate at what would make her life easier. Still, if I had no regard for my sister's comfort, she would be compelled to send us together afoot after the cows, and the exposure might be very bad for Georgia. This was enough. I would wear the hated clothes and my little sister should never learn from me the seriousness of her condition, lest it should hasten her death.
My suit of brown twill, red flannel shirt, boots, and sou'wester, with ear muffs attached, were ready for me before the heaviest winter storm. The jacket and trousers were modelled for a boy of nine, instead of a girl not yet eight, but grandma assured me that being all wool, the rain would soon shrink them to my size, also that the boots, which were too wide in the heel and hurt my toes, would shape themselves to my feet and prevent the old frost bites from returning.
I was very unhappy while she helped me to dress, and pinned up my braids, and hid them under my storm hat; and I was absolutely wretched when she kissed me and said,
"It would be hard to find a prettier little boy than you are."
After again admonishing me to let no one on the range know I was a girl, and to answer all questions civilly and ride on quickly after my string of cows, she promised that if I helped her thus through the short days of the rainy season, she would give back my "girl clothes" in the Spring, and never again ask me to wear others.
She led me to where Charlie was tied to a tree. I stepped on to a block, from there to a stump, put my foot into the stirrup, and clumsily raised myself into the seat of an old dragoon saddle. My eyes were too full of tears to see, but grandma put the reins in my hand and started me away. Away where? To drive up the cows? Yes,—and into wider fields of thought than she recked.
After I got beyond our road, I stopped Charlie, and made him turn his face toward mine, and told him all that had happened, and just how I felt. The good old horse seemed to understand, for no friend could be more faithful than Charlie thenceforth proved to me. He learned to separate our cows from the many strange ones on the plain; to move faster when it rained; to choose the crossings that were safe; and to avoid the branches that might scrape me from his back. Grandma was pleased to learn that drivers on the range, when inquiring about strays, addressed me as "Bubbie." My humiliation, however, was so great that, though Georgia and I were room-mates, and had secret day meetings, I never went near her when others were by.
She was allowed to play oftener with neighbors' children, and occasionally spent a week or more with Mrs. Bergwald, helping her to care for her little daughter. While away, she learned fine needlework, had fewer crying spells, and was more contented than at home with grandma.
This happiness in her life added much to mine, and it came to pass that the duty which had seemed such a bitter task, became a pleasure. As the days lengthened, chum Charlie and I kept earlier hours, and crept closer to the heart of nature. We read the signs of the day in the dawn tints; watched the coyotes and other night prowlers slink back to their lairs; saw where the various birds went to housekeeping, and how they cared for their young; knew them also by their call and song. We could show where Johnnie-jump-ups and baby-blue-eyes grew thickest; where the cream cups were largest; and where the wild forget-me-nots blossomed. We explored each nook and corner for miles around, and felt that everything that God had made and man had not put his mark upon was ours.
The aged boughs heaped by the wind in wild confusion about the maimed and storm-beaten tree-trunks seemed to assume fantastic shapes and expressions as we approached from different directions, or viewed them under light and shadow of changing weather. Gnarled and twisted, they became elves and goblins, and the huge piles of storm wreckage were transformed into weird old ruins and deserted castles like those which grandma had described to me in legends of the Rhine. At twilight I was often afraid to pass, lest giants and ghosts should show themselves between uncanny arches. Then all that was needed was a low cluck to Charlie, and off he would start on a run past imaginary dangers.
It was late in the Spring when grandma gave back my "girl clothes" and wearily told me she had hired a boy to drive in the cows, and a man to help to milk; and that Georgia was to look after the house, and I to take her own place in the corrals, because she was sick and would have to be cupped and bled before she could be better.
Grandpa came home early next day and everything was ready for the treatment immediately after the noon meal. Grandma looked so grave, and gave so many instructions about household and dairy matters, that Georgia and I feared that we might lose her. I verily believe we would have slipped away during the operation, had grandpa not commanded us to stay near, as he might need assistance. In dread we watched every movement, saw what made grandma's face pale, and where the sore spots were. Indeed our sympathies were so strained, our fingers fumbled awkwardly as we adjusted the covers about her weakened form.
As soon as her illness became known, neighbors came from far and near to help with the dairy work or nursing; and keen was their disappointment when she replied, "I thank you for your kind offers, but the children are handy and know my ways."
Regularly she asked me about the cows, and if the goats had been milked, the eggs gathered, and the pigs fed. She remembered and planned the work, but did not regain strength as rapidly as she wished; nor did she resume her place in the corrals, even after she was up and around, but had a way of coming unexpectedly to see if her instructions were being carried out.
One day she became quite angry on finding me talking with a stranger. He was well dressed and spoke like a gentleman, touched his hat as she drew near and remarked, "This little girl tells me she is an orphan, and that you have been very kind to her." Grandma was uncivil in her reply, and he went away. Then she warned me, "Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing," and insisted that no man wearing such fine clothes and having such soft hands could earn an honest living. I did not repeat what he had told me of his little daughter, who lived in a beautiful home in New York, and was about my age, and had no sister; and his wish that I were there with her. I could not understand what harm there was in his questions or my answers. Did I not remind him of his own little girl? And had I not heard lonely miners tell of times when they gladly would have walked ten miles to shake hands and talk a few moments with a child?
CAPT. FRISBIE—WEDDING FESTIVITIES—THE MASTERPIECE OF GRANDMA'S YOUTH—SENORA VALLEJO—JAKIE'S RETURN—HIS DEATH—A CHEROKEE INDIAN WHO HAD STOOD BY MY FATHER'S GRAVE.
Captain Frisbie spent much time in Sonoma after Company H was disbanded, and observing ones remarked that the attraction was Miss Fannie Vallejo. Yet, not until 1851 did the General consent to part with his first-born daughter. Weeks before the marriage day, friends began arriving at the bride's home, and large orders came to grandma for dairy supplies.
She anticipated the coming event with interest and pleasure, because the prolonged and brilliant festivities would afford her an opportunity to display her fancy and talent in butter modelling. For the work, she did not charge, but simply weighed the butter for the designs and put it into crocks standing in cold water in the adobe store-house where, in the evenings, after candle-light, we three gathered.
Her implements were a circular hardwood board, a paddle, a set of small, well pointed sticks, a thin-bladed knife, and squares of white muslin of various degrees of fineness. She talked and modelled, and we listening watched the fascinating process; saw her take the plastic substance, fashion a duck with ducklings on a pond, a lamb curled up asleep, and a couched lion with shaggy head resting upon his fore-paws. We watched her press beads of proper size and color into the eye sockets; skilfully finish the base upon which each figure lay; then twist a lump of butter into a square of fine muslin, and deftly squeeze, until it crinkled through the meshes in form of fleece for the lamb's coat, then use a different mesh to produce the strands for the lion's mane and the tuft for the end of his tail.
In exuberant delight we exclaimed, "Oh, grandma, how did you learn to make such wonderful things?"
"I did not learn, it is a gift," she replied.
Then she spoke of her modelling in childhood, and her subsequent masterpiece, which had won the commendation of Napoleon and Empress Josephine.
At that auspicious time, she was but eighteen years of age, and second cook in the principal tavern of Neuchatel, Switzerland. Georgia and I sat entranced, as with animated words and gestures she pictured the appearance of the buglers and heralds who came weeks in advance to announce the date on which the Emperor and Empress would arrive in that town and dine at the tavern; then the excitement and enthusiastic preparations which followed. She described the consultations between the Herr Wirth and the Frau Wirthin and their maids; and how, finally, Marie's butter-piece for the christening feast of the child of the Herr Graf was remembered; and she, the lowly second cook, was told that a corner in the cellar would be set apart for her especial use, and that she should have her evenings to devote to the work, and three groschen (seven and a half cents) added to her week's wages, if she would produce a fitting centrepiece for the Emperor's table.
Five consecutive nights, she designed and modelled until the watchman's midnight cry drove her from work, and at three o'clock in the morning of the sixth day, she finished. And what a centrepiece it was! It required the careful handling of no less than three persons to get it in place on the table, where the Emperor might see at a glance the groups of figures along the splendid highway, which was spanned by arches and terminated with a magnificently wrought gateway, surmounted by His Majesty's coat of arms.
We scarcely winked as we listened to the rest of the happenings on that memorable day. She recounted how she had dropped everything at the sound of martial music and from the tiny open space at the window caught glimpses of the passing pageant—of the royal coaches, of the maids of honor, of Josephine in gorgeous attire, of the snow-white poodle snuggled close in the Empress's arms. Then she told how she heard a heavy thud by the kitchen fire, which made her rush back, only to discover that the head cook had fallen to the floor in a faint!
She gave the quick call which brought the Frau Wirthin to the scene of confusion, where in mute agony, she looked from servant to servant, until, with hands clasped, and eyes full of tears, she implored, "Marie, take the higher place for the day, and with God's help, make no mistake."
Then she went on to say that while the dinner was being served, the Emperor admired the butter-piece, and on hearing that it was the work of a young maidservant in the house, commanded that she be brought in to receive commendation of himself and the Empress. Again the Frau Wirthin rushed to the kitchen in great excitement, and—knowing that Marie's face was red from heat of the fire, that she was nervous from added responsibilities, and not dressed for presentation—cried with quivering lips:
"Ah, Marie! the butter-piece is so grand, it brings us into trouble. The great Emperor asks to see thee, and thou must come!"
She told how poor, red-faced, bewildered Marie dropped her ladle and stared at the speaker, then rolled down her sleeves while the Frau Wirthin tied her own best white apron around her waist, at the same time instructing her in the manner in which she must hold her dress at the sides, between thumb and forefinger, and spread the skirt wide, in making a low, reverential bow. But Marie was so upset that she realized only that her heart was beating like a trip-hammer, and her form shaking like an aspen leaf, while being led before those august personages. Yet, after it was all over, she was informed that the Emperor and Empress had spoken kindly to her, and that she, herself, had made her bow and backed out of the room admirably for one in her position, and ought to feel that the great honor conferred upon her had covered with glory all the ills and embarrassments she had suffered.
To impress us more fully with the importance of that event, grandma had Georgia and me stand up on our cellar floor and learn to make that deferential bow, she by turns, taking the parts of the Frau Wirthin, the Emperor, and the Empress.
She now finished her modelling with a dainty centrepiece for the bride's table, and let me go with her when she carried it to the Vallejo mansion. It gave great satisfaction; and while the family and guests were admiring it, Senora Vallejo took me by the hand, saying in her own musical tongue, "Come, little daughter, and play while you wait."
She led me to a room that had pictures on the walls, and left me surrounded by toys. But I could not play. My eyes wandered about until they became riveted on one corner of the room, where stood a child's crib which looked like gold. Its head and foot boards were embellished with figures of angels; and a canopy of lace like a fleecy cloud hovered over them. The bed was white, but the pillows were covered with pink silk and encased in slips of linen lawn, exquisite with rare needlework. I touched it before I left the room, wondering what the little girl dreamed in that beautiful bed; and on the way home, grandma and I discussed all these things.
The linen pillow-slips were as fine as those Senorita Isabella Fitch showed me, when she gave me the few highly prized lessons in simple drawn-work; and her cousin, Senorita Leese, had taught me hemming. These young ladies were related to the Vallejos and also lived in large houses facing the plaza, and were always kind to Georgia and me. In fact, some of my sweetest memories of Sonoma are associated with these three Spanish homes. Their people never asked unfeeling questions, nor repeated harrowing tales; and I did not learn until I was grown that they had been among the large contributors to the fund for the relief of our party.
I have a faint recollection of listening to the chimes of the wedding bells, and later, of hearing that Captain Frisbie had taken his bride away; but that is all, for about that time dear old Jakie returned to us in ill health, and our thoughts and care turned to him. He was so feeble and wasted that grandma sent for the French physician who had recently come among us. Even he said that he feared that Jakie had stayed away too long. After months of treatment, the doctor shook his head saying: "I have done my best with the medicines at hand. The only thing that remains to be tried is a tea steeped from the nettle root. That may give relief."
As soon as we could get ready after the doctor uttered those words, Georgia and I, equipped with hoe, large knife, and basket were on our way to the Sonoma River. We had a full two miles and a half to walk, but did not mind that, because we were going for something that might take Jakie's pains away. Georgia was to press down the nettle stems with a stick, while I cut them off and hoed up the roots.
The plants towered luxuriantly above our heads, making the task extremely painful. No sooner would I commence operations than the branches, slipping from under the stick, would brush Georgia's face, and strike my hands and arms with stinging force, and by the time we had secured the required number of roots, we were covered with fiery welts. We took off our shoes and stockings, waded into the stream and bathed our faces, hands, and arms, then rested and ate the lunch we had brought with us.
As we turned homeward, we observed several Indians approaching by the bushy path, the one in front staggering, and his squaw behind, making frantic motions to us to hurry over the snake fence near-by. This we did as speedily as possible, and succeeded none too soon; for as we reached the ground on the safe side, he stopped us, and angrily demanded the contents of our basket. We opened it, and when he saw what it contained he stamped his wabbling foot and motioned us to be off. We obeyed with alacrity, for it was our first experience with a drunken Indian, and greatly alarmed us.
The tea may have eased Jakie's pain, but it did not accomplish what we had hoped. One morning late in Summer, he asked grandpa to bring a lawyer and witnesses so that he could make his will. This request made us all move about very quietly and feel very serious. After the lawyer went away, grandma told us that Jakie had willed us each fifty dollars in gold, and the rest of his property to grandpa and herself. A few weeks later, when the sap ceased flowing to the branches of the trees, and the yellow leaves were falling, we laid Jakie beside other friends in the oak grove within sight of our house.
Grandma put on deep mourning, but Georgia and I had only black sun-bonnets, which we wore with heartfelt grief. The following Spring grandpa had the grave enclosed with a white paling; and we children planted Castilian rose bushes at the head and foot of the mound, and carried water to them from the house, and in time their branches met and the grave was a bed of fragrant blossoms.
One day as I was returning from it with my empty pail, a tidy, black-eyed woman came up to me and said,
"I'm a Cherokee Indian, the wife of one of the three drovers that sold the Brunners them long-horned cattle that was delivered the other day. I know who you are, and if you'll sit on that log by me, I'll tell you something."
We took the seats shaded by the fence and she continued with unmistakable pride: "I can read and write quite a little, and me and the men belong to the same tribe. We drove our band of cattle across the plains and over the Sierras, and have sold them for more than we expected to get. We are going back the same road, but first I wanted to see you little girls. I heard lots about your father's party, and how you all suffered in the mountains, and that no one seems to remember what became of his body. Now, child, I tell the truth. I stood by your father's grave and read his name writ on the headboard, and come to tell you that he was buried in a long grave near his own camp in the mountains. I'm glad at seeing you, but am going away, wishing you wasn't so cut off from your own people."
So earnest was she, that I believed what she told me, and was sorry that I could not answer all her questions. We parted as most people did in those days, feeling that the meeting was good, and the parting might be forever.
ELITHA, FRANCES, AND MR. MILLER VISIT US—MRS. BRUNNER CLAIMS US AS HER CHILDREN—THE DAGUERREOTYPE.
The spring-tide of 1852 was bewitchingly beautiful; hills and plain were covered with wild flowers in countless shapes and hues. They were so friendly that they sprang up in dainty clusters close to the house doors, or wherever an inch of ground would give them foothold.
They seemed to call to me, and I looked into their bright faces, threw myself among them, and hugged as many as my arms could encircle, then laid my ear close to the ground to catch the low sound of moving leaf and stem, or of the mysterious ticking in the earth, which foretells the coming of later plants. Sometimes in my ecstasy, I would shut my eyes and lie still for a while, then open them inquiringly, to assure myself that all my favorites were around me still, and that it was not all a day-dream.
This lovely season mellowed into the Summer which brought a most unexpected letter from our sister Frances, who had been living all these years with the family of Mr. James F. Reed, in San Jose. Childlike, she wrote:
I am happy, but there has not been a day since I left Sutter's Fort that I haven't thought of my little sisters and wanted to see them. Hiram Miller, our guardian, says he will take me to see you soon, and Elitha is going too.
After the first few days of wondering, grandma rarely mentioned our prospective visitors, nor did she show Georgia or me the letter she herself had received from Elitha, but we re-read ours until we knew it by heart, and were filled with delightful anticipations. We imagined that our blue-eyed sister with the golden curls would look as she did when we parted, and recalled many things that we had said and done together at the Fort.
I asked grandma what "guardian" meant, and after she explained, I was not pleased with mine, and dreaded his coming, for I had not forgotten how Mr. Miller had promised me a lump of sugar that night in the Sierras, and then did not have it for me after I had walked the required distance; nor could I quite forgive the severe punishment he administered next morning because I refused to go forward and cried to return to mother when he told me that I must walk as far as Georgia and Frances did that day.
Autumn was well advanced before the lumbering old passenger coach brought our long-expected guests from the embarcadero, and after the excitement of the meeting was over, I stealthily scanned each face and figure. Mr. Miller's stocky form in coarse, dark clothes, his cold gray eyes, uneven locks, stubby beard, and teeth and lips browned by tobacco, chewing, were not unfamiliar; but he looked less tired, more patient, and was a kindlier spoken man than I had remembered.
Elitha, well dressed, tall, slender, and regular of feature, had the complexion and sparkling black eyes which mark the handsome brunette. I was more surprised than disappointed, however, to see that the girl of twelve, who slipped one arm around Georgia and the other around me in a long, loving embrace, had nothing about her that resembled our little sister Frances, except her blue eyes and motherly touch.
The week of their visit was joyous indeed. Many courtesies were extended by friends with whom we had travelled from time to time on the plains. One never-to-be-forgotten afternoon was spent with the Boggs family at their beautiful home amid orchard and vineyard near the foothills.
On Sunday, the bell of the South Methodist Church called us to service. In those days, the men occupied the benches on one side of the building, and the women and children on the other; and I noticed that several of the young men found difficulty in keeping their eyes from straying in our direction, and after service, more than one came to inquire after grandma's health.
Mr. Miller passed so little time in our company that I remember only his arrival and his one serious talk with grandma, when he asked her the amount due her on account of the trouble and expense we two children had been since she had taken us in charge. She told him significantly that there was nothing to pay, because we were her children, and that she was abundantly able to take care of us. In proof, she handed him a daguerreotype taken the previous year.
It pictured herself comfortably seated, and one of us standing at either side with an elbow resting upon her shoulder, and a chubby face leaning against the uplifted hand. She was arrayed in her best cap, handsome embroidered black satin dress and apron, lace sleeve ruffs, kerchief, watch and chain. We were twin-like in lace-trimmed dresses of light blue dimity, striped with a tan-colored vine, blue sashes and hair ribbons; and each held a bunch of flowers in her hand. It was a costly trinket, in a case inlaid with pink roses, in mother of pearl, and she was very proud of it.
Grandma's answer to Mr. Miller was a death-knell to Elitha's hopes and plans in our behalf. Her little daughter had been dead more than a year. Sister Leanna had recently married and gone to a home of her own, and the previous week the place made vacant by the marriage had been given to Frances, with the ready approval of Hiram Miller and Mr. and Mrs. Reed. She had now come to Sonoma hoping that if Mr. Miller should pay grandma for the care we had been to her, she would consent to give us up in order that we four sisters might be reunited in one home. Elitha now foresaw that such a suggestion would not only result in failure, but arouse grandma's antagonism, and cut off future communication between us.
GREAT SMALLPOX EPIDEMIC—ST. MARY'S HALL—THANKSGIVING DAY IN CALIFORNIA—ANOTHER BROTHER-IN-LAW.
"Mrs. Brunner has become too childish to have the responsibility of young girls," had been frequently remarked before Elitha's visit; and after her departure, the same friends expressed regret that she had not taken us away with her.
These whispered comments, which did not improve our situation, suddenly ceased, for the smallpox made its appearance in Sonoma, and helpers were needed to care for the afflicted. Grandma had had the disease in infancy and could go among the patients without fear. In fact, she had such confidence in her method of treating it, that she would not have Georgia and me vaccinated while the epidemic prevailed, insisting that if we should take the disease she could nurse us through it without disfigurement, and we would thenceforth be immune. She did not expose us during what she termed the "catching-stage," but after that had passed, she called us to share her work and become familiar with its details, and taught us how to brew the teas, make the ointments, and apply them.
I do not remember a death among her patients, and only two who were badly disfigured. One was our pretty Miss Sallie Lewis, who had the dread disease in confluent form. Grandma was called hurriedly in the night, because the afflicted girl, in delirium, had loosened the straps which held her upon her bed, and while her attendant was out of the room had rushed from the house into the rain, and was not found until after she had become thoroughly drenched. Grandma had never before treated such serious conditions, yet strove heroically, and helped to restore Miss Sallie to health, but could not keep the cruel imprints from her face.
The other was our arch-enemy, Castle, who seemed so near death that one night as grandma was peering into the darkness for signal lights from the homes of the sick, she exclaimed impulsively, "Hark, children! there goes the Catholic bell. Count its strokes. Castle is a Catholic, and was very low when I saw him to-day." Together we slowly counted the knells until she stopped us, saying, "It's for somebody else; Castle is not so old."