The Bull Fight

A Bull Fight

There were bills posted about the city that three of the most celebrated fighters of Mexico would have an exhibition in the evening, and combat with animals. As my friend and myself never had seen one we thought we would go. It was an amphitheatre, with circular seats about the pit, with thick planks around it, the seats commencing about twenty feet from the bottom of the pit. There was a door at the side of the pit, which was raised by pulleys, which admitted the bull. They were wild ones. Our seat was about the fifth row back. The house was crowded and brilliantly illuminated. Then the bull-fighters were in the pit, one on horseback, two on foot, gorgeously and brilliantly dressed, with swords, the blades pointed like spears, with red flags in their hands to attract the bull. The door was raised and the animal came rushing in; he was a terrible one to look at. Blinded by the lights and the scene, he rushed and roared around the arena; I trembled in my seat, although I was in no possible danger. The first feat of the bull-fighters was to plant a rosette on the shoulders of the animal with a barb implanted in his flesh, which enraged him more, with colored ribbons, two or three feet in length, attached to the rosette, which was flying in the air as he went around, indicating to the audience the success of the feat. Then the same feat was performed on the other shoulder. Then when the bull attacked the man again, a rosette was implanted between his horns, and the man escaped, which was the most difficult of all. They had red flags in one hand to enrage and blind him, but this bull, he became so furious and enraged that they could not master him. He rushed upon the man on horseback, threw the horse and rider, and, with his horns, tore the entrails out of the horse and killed it. The man was wounded, but escaped. The rest of the fighters fled, and one climbed up the side of the paling and came within two inches of being impaled alive against the side by the bull’s horns. As I write I can, in imagination, hear the sound of the animal’s horns as they struck the boards in missing the man. The bull was master of the situation; he had cleared the ring. It was a terrible sight as he roared around in his fury. Then the most startling event of all occurred. It seems incredible, but it is the truth of history, and I must write it.

The Bull Fight
The Bull Fight

A greaser, with no weapon, but simply his seraper, a shawl that he wore around his shoulders, took that off and stretching it out in his hands, jumped down into the pit of the ring alone, to the entire astonishment of the audience, looked Mr. Bull in the eyes and dodged him with his shawl as the animal attacked him. He had probably been brought up among wild bulls. The audience all arose in excitement, expecting to see him torn to pieces, and crying out for him to escape. The professional bull-fighters got their red flags and drew the bull off, and the greaser escaped, and seemed to be surprised at the excitement of the audience. They succeeded in getting the bull out, and dragging out the dead horse, and letting in a less ferocious one. The same performance was gone through with him, as already described, except that this one was conquered. At last, when the bull pitched at the man, he holds his sword in such a way that the weight of the animal comes on it, and passes between his foreshoulders and penetrates his heart. In an instant the back wilts and the animal lies dead. It was the most sudden change, from full vitality to death; it startled you. It’s a shock to your nervous system. My friend and myself said it was the first and last bull-fight we would ever see.

The price of lumber and vegetables kept up. I paid forty cents a pound for potatoes in buying provisions for the hands on my brig. I furnished them enough to last them on the up trip, but not for the return, so they would hurry back. It was now time for the vessel with the houses to arrive, and I expected to buy a ship with the money, and to go to the Sandwich Islands and make, what I considered, a fortune for me, but alas! no Prince de Joinville came. It was hope deferred. Finally the rainy season set in in full blast, and all consumption of lumber stopped. The high price had stimulated shipments from everywhere. There was a big reaction in the price. The first prominent failure in the city took place, I think it was Ward & Co., commission merchants and private bankers. It was said it was owing to his large orders of shipments of lumber to that market. He shot himself with a pistol in the morning in his bedroom and died, knowing that he could not meet his creditors if he went to his place of business. About this time it was announced from Telegraph Hill that my vessel, with the houses, was entering the port two or three months after she was due, striking a glutted market. I had four or five thousand dollars to raise to pay the freight on them to get possession of them, or I would lose the capital invested. So instead of making $18,000 profit, which I might have made if they had come on time, I was running the risk of losing the capital invested in them. Colonel Stevenson had selected six of them some time before, which he wanted for his New York of the Pacific, which he said he would make me an offer on as soon as they arrived. I saw it was my only chance to save myself to close that sale. I was at his office in the morning as soon as there was any probability of they being there. I said to him: “The houses have arrived. I am ready to receive your offer for the six you selected.” He said he had no money now. I said I did not want any (which was a white lie). I said I would take a draft on Prosper, Whetmore & Co., of New York city, for $3,000, payable in ninety days, and his note for the balance, on his own time. He looked over the plan of the houses again. He said he would not give but so much. I said to him, that was not the question, what will you give? He said I will give you that amount, naming the sum. I said at once, they are sold, they are yours. He gave me the draft on Whetmore & Co., for $3,000, payable in ninety days. Just at this time, his partner, Dr. Parker, came in. The colonel informed him he had bought six of my houses. He said, you have made a mistake. Lumber is in a glutted market. It is falling rapidly. The colonel said, that makes no difference now, I have bought them. The colonel was considered rich. No one there questioned the soundness of his draft. I went with it to all the brokers in the city, but could get no offer for it. I then went to Charley Minton, the agent of the steamer Senator. I thought he could send it to New York to the owners of the steamer for its face value. He said, the best he could do with me was to give me $2,250 for it. Money was ten per cent a month, and scarce at that. Three months time, at the rate of interest there, would be $900. I said, I would take it. He gave me a check on his broker for that amount. He paid me in gold, $16 Spanish doubloon pieces. I tied them up in my handkerchief, and went to McCondery & Co., and said to him, the vessel, with my houses, I see, are consigned to you. I will pay you $2,000 now on the freight, and before they are all taken off of the ship, I will pay you the balance. He said, take them all off, and pay the balance at your convenience (we were acquainted and had come up on the same steamer, and played whist together). It cost me $800 to get them ashore. There were no wharves then. They had to be taken ashore on lighters. I expected my brig down from Stockton soon, with $2,000 freight money, so I was out of the woods financially for the present. I then made arrangement with the colonel to have them landed on the North Beach on land owned by him, where I could retail out my other six houses, which I had to sell, when I got a proper price for them. We formed a copartnership. I was to take one of my smallest houses, and have it erected there, to be used for an office, and to use the grounds as a lumber yard to sell on commission, and as a place for storage, which was very scarce then. There were quite a number who had taken the liberty of piling lumber and other articles on it, using it as public ground. I took formal possession of it in the name of Colonel Stevenson, and gave notice to the different parties that if they did not remove their materials from the premises in ten days they would be charged so much for storage. Some removed, and others did not. I recollect the German house that did not remove it in thirty days after the ten days of notice. It was a wealthy house, and I handed them a bill of $250 for storage, at which they demurred very seriously, questioning our title; but they paid it. When I went out to the ship to see about taking my houses off, I met the first mate, whom I got acquainted with in New York. I told him I thought the ship had been lost; that all the old tugs of ships had got in ahead of them. He said to me, I have had the worst time I ever had in my life. I have had to carry that old man on my shoulders (referring to the captain) all the way. Whenever we had a good breeze and sails were all full, he would come on deck and order shorten sail to check our speed, or we might have been here a month sooner. That told the whole story. I saw them take freight, in my presence, when they were offered $1.50 per foot, when they told me there was no room for the other half of my houses to go on the ship, when I had a legal contract with them at sixty cents per foot. My freight alone would have made a difference of two or three thousand dollars by excluding it and taking the other in at the difference in the price of it. There is no doubt they served many other shippers and put their goods on other vessels, and kept theirs back until the other ships would get to San Francisco ahead of them, so that they could deliver the freight according to their bills of lading on the arrival of the Prince de Joinville. That was why my speculation was ruined by their dishonesty. Instead of being the fastest ship, it was a fraud, a decoy, a dead trap on those who were unfortunate enough to ship by it. When I saw the captain he was very humble. He had all kinds of apologies to make, and invited me to go to China with him. I could have the best state-room on his ship. It should not cost me a dollar. I could go around the world with him. I saw that my speculation was ruined by their dishonesty, and there was no remedy, and, like all human events, that ended it, and I had to abandon my Sandwich Island expedition and throw my anticipated fortune from it to the winds. Mr. Meighs, the one who failed and ran away to Chili, and built the railroad in that country from Valparaiso to its capital, and then organized a company and constructed railroads in Peru, had a lumber yard side of me. I sold, after a while, my other six houses, one at a time, retailing them out, and, by careful management, just succeeded in saving my original capital.

I was satisfied with San Francisco, with my interest in the lumber yards, and with my partnership with Colonel Stevenson on the North Beach. My interest in my brig, when it came down, and my prospective interest in what was to be the city of Toulom, and my associations with Mr. R., who was building the first brewery on the Pacific, which I was backing up with my endorsement, and I was to have one-third interest when it was completed, if I wanted it, at first cost, looked like a very favorable investment for me at that time. I was living an active and enterprising life, with bright hopes of future fortune. One morning when I went down to the North Beach I found there had been a house erected on our land in the night. I, of course, informed the colonel at once. He informed me it was a man by the name of Colton, who pretended to have a title under what he called the “Colton Grant,” and that it was bogus, and that he had the building erected to try and force his title. The colonel said he would see the judge of the court in the city, and get an order for its removal. In about two hours he sent a messenger with an order from the judge authorizing us to remove it. He instructed me to employ all the men that were necessary, and have the material removed from the premises and he would pay the bill, which I did, and our title was not disputed after that.

I had never been on a trip to Stockton, and I had chartered the freight capacity of the brig to a man for $1,800. He was to put in it all the freight he chose to. I thought it would not be for his interest to overload it. If the vessel sunk there was no insurance–his cargo would be a total loss. I had reserved the deck and the passenger room. The conditions of the charter were that the freight was to be delivered in Stockton by a certain date or I was to forfeit the $1,800. The freight was aboard; he had loaded the vessel deeper than I had expected. I had a number of passengers at $15 each. They were to furnish their own provisions, but to have the privileges of the cooking stove on deck. The vessel was anchored out in the bay, to sail at 2 P.M., when the tide was most favorable. I had a new chain for the anchor, and the captain said he wanted a kedge anchor for safety, so I ordered one from McCondery & Co., for $35, on condition that, without fail, they would have it on board before 2 P.M. We were all on board by 1 o’clock, waiting for the favorable tide, to start. At 1:30 no anchor and the bay was very rough. The captain said it would not come, they would not venture out in that sea in a small boat. I said it would be there certain, I knew my man. Sure enough, in a few moments we could just see a boat in the distance, two men rowing and one guiding the rudder. They came alongside and we had the anchor aboard in five minutes. In the stern was Mr. Watson, one of the firm. He said he was afraid to trust his men in that sea for fear they would fail to deliver it. The profit on it to them was only $3.50, and it was a very wealthy firm, but they had pledged their word to me that they would have it there at that time. (Would that there were more of such honorable men.) We hoisted anchor, the tide in our favor and a stiff breeze blowing. We passed out of the bay of San Francisco into the bay of Los Angles, and crossed that into the Straits of Benica, which is four miles long and connects with Suisan bay. The Straits of Benica was a perfectly safe anchorage. It was approaching night, and blowing almost a gale. I was in hopes and expected that the captain would come to anchor in the straits and wait until morning before venturing out into the Suisan bay, which was twenty miles across to the mouth of the San Joaquin river, where we were bound. The bay was almost like the open sea; you could get out of sight of land. I think he would have come to anchor if I, the owner, had not been on board, and had not urged upon him the importance of having the vessel in Stockton in time. As he was the captain I felt sensitive about interfering with his business, and had hoped and expected, all the way through the straits, that he would come to anchor, and not undertake to cross the bay that night. Darkness was setting in, but he did not come to anchor. The gale increased to a hurricane; all sails were taken in, and we were scudding under bare poles, and had a lantern hung up in the rigging. The captain came to me and said, loaded as we were, we could not live in that gale; he would have to seek a place to anchor on the side of the bay. I said to him, he was the captain. The line was thrown out every few minutes. At last we found sounding, and the anchor was cast. We had been there but a short time before another vessel, more than twice as large as ours, came aside of us, with a heavy deck-load of lumber, and got entangled in our anchor chain, and kept drawing us nearer to them. If they had struck our vessel we knew we were lost. They would have sunk us at once. Seven times they came down on us and each time, by superhuman efforts, we warded the blow, all hands and passengers doing their best, fully realizing the danger they were in. It seems to me that I hear now the oaths of the captain of the other vessel rising above the sounds of the terrific hurricane as he was ordering his men, for they, too, were in danger if they collided with us. Of course, he was on the bare poles. As he came on us the eighth time they hoisted their jib sail. As the wind struck it, it seemed to lift their vessel out of the water, and, thank God, we were freed from it. It was forty-five years ago, and, as I write, it all lives before me as visible as if it were yesterday. The captain of the other vessel had seen our light, and, supposing we were in the right channel, had followed us. We had escaped what seemed almost certain death, but were not out of danger. Our new good chain was attached to our bad chain, and the captain had let out all our chain to free us from the other vessel, so we were actually hanging by our bad chain in the open roadstead, not in the protection of a harbor, and liable to drag our anchor or break our chain and be wrecked; but we could do nothing more than submit to our fate. I thought I would get into my berth and try and get to sleep, and, if I found myself alive in the morning, we might be saved. I did sleep, and when I awoke it was daylight. The gale was subsiding. We had dragged our anchor. The bow of our brig was very sharp; the banks were soft mud, and we had struck it with such force that we were wedged in. The tide was low and we were almost out of water. We fortunately had struck the land with our bow, and that was what saved us. If we had struck with the side of the vessel we would have been wrecked. So, ever since we had been freed from the other vessel, we had been in safety and did not know it. We waited for the tide to rise and then got our kedge anchor out and pulled the vessel out off the bank as the tide rose. The sea was very rough, but the gale had subsided, and by 11 o’clock we were entering the mouth of the San Joaquin river in safety. It was forty miles up the river to Stockton. The river was in a valley of Tullieries. The land seemed to be in the course of formation. There was but one tree between the mouth and Stockton, a willow, called the Lone Tree. The only place on its banks where the soil had formed solid enough to produce one, surrounded by hills at that season of the year, covered with beautiful wild flowers. The scenery was magnificent. As the river curved we could see the white sails of other vessels. They looked as if they were in a field. You could not see the water at a little distance, the river being narrow. We could almost jump from our deck to the banks. We felt in perfect safety. Contrasting that with the night before in that terrible hurricane and in the death struggles for our lives, it produced a supreme feeling of ethereal ideal happiness that this earth seemed almost a Paradise. The captain informed me that there was one place on the river where we might have to anchor. It was called the Devil’s Elbow. There was a sharp turn in the river and the current was rapid, and we might have to pull the vessel around it; but sometimes, if it was favorable, he could sail around it, and if done successfully, then the vessels that had come to anchor could find no fault; otherwise you had to come to behind the others and take your turn. When we were coming to it, he was at the helm and I at his side, to see what was the best to do. As we approached, we saw several vessels had come to for the purpose of pulling around. The last was a large vessel that the captain said could never get around. If we anchored behind it we might not be able to deliver our freight according to the charter. We had put an English sailor in the hold to let the anchor go, in case we did not succeed, if we gave him the signal to do so. As we came to the place with all sails set, there was a breeze sprung up, filling all the sails. I said to the captain, let her go. As we passed the vessels that had come to anchor there was a howling and yelling from them of derision and anger at us for going by them. Just as we got two-thirds of the way around, the sailor in the hold let the anchor go without orders. He got frightened. If he had not, we would have made it successfully. As it was, we got ahead of all the other vessels, and got to Stockton in ample time. The next morning there was a drove of mules at the side of the brig, and the cargo was being discharged and packed on their backs to be taken to the mining camps, as there were no good roads there in those early days. About all the grain and flour came from Valparaiso and Chili, put up very nicely in fifty and one hundred pound sacks, so it was easy to handle. As soon as all the mules were packed, the head mule, who had on a bell fastened around his neck, which rang as he went, was started first, and all the rest, in single file, followed him, and they were going for the different mining camps in the interior. In two or three days we were unloaded, and we were prepared to return. The freight money was paid to me in gold, at $16 per ounce in full, all being satisfactory to the shipper. I had delivered it within the time specified. One of the passengers who came up with me, a tailor, from Salem, Mass., asked me if I would not give him a free passage back on the vessel to San Francisco; that he wanted to try to get home; he was discouraged. I said to him you have traveled eighteen thousand miles to get to the gold mines, and now you are within half a day of them and want to go home without trying your fortune. If you do go, you will never forgive yourself, but go to the mines and try your luck; then, if you are discouraged and want to go back, I will give you a free passage, as we have no passengers on our return trip.

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