California Coast

Having followed the various little parties into which the great train had resolved itself when it began to feel the pressure of suffering and trouble which came with contact with the desert, followed them in their various ways till they came through to the Pacific Slope, the travels and experiences of the Author are again resumed.

It will be remembered that he had rested at Los Angeles, working for Mr. Brier who had temporarily turned boarding house keeper, and finally made arrangements with some drovers to assist in taking a small stock of horses north to the mines. His story is thus continued:–

We followed the wagon road which the companies that had gone on before had made, and got along very well. At night I acted independently–staked out my mule and ate my meal of dried meat and crackers–then joined the others around a large fire, and all seemed to enjoy the company. After a few days the two men who owned the horses proposed to me to let my mule carry the provisions, and they wanted me to ride one of their horses that was not carrying a pack, as they said it would keep it more gentle to ride it.

To please the old gentleman from Sacramento I agreed to the proposition, for I thought perhaps by being accommodating I could get along more pleasantly.

Thus we traveled on, over rolling hills covered with grass and wild flowers, and I was much pleased with all that I could see. For the first two days we did not pass a house, which shows how thinly settled the country was. Cattle were often seen, and sometimes horses, but people were very scarce. In time we went down a long, steep hill, then across a wide valley that supported a rank growth of vegetation, and came to a Mission called San Buena Ventura (good luck.) Here the men seemed scarce, but Indians and dogs plenty. The houses were of the same sort as at Los Angeles, except the church, all made of dried mud, and never more than one story high.

As we journeyed along we came to the sea shore, the grandest sight in the world to me, for I had never before seen the ocean. What a wide piece of water it was! Far out I could see small waves coming toward the shore, and the nearer they came the faster they seemed to rush and at last turned into great rollers and breakers which dashed upon the rocks or washed far up the sandy shore with a force that made the ground tremble. There was no wind and I could not see what it could be that so strangely agitated the water. Here the waves kept coming, one after another, with as much regularity as the slow strokes of a clock. This was the first puzzle the great sea propounded to me, and there under the clear blue sky and soft air I studied over the ceaseless, restless motion and the great power that was always beating on the shore. I tasted the water and found it exceedingly salt, and I did not see how anything could live in it and not become in the condition of pickled pork or fish. Where was the salt to make this mighty brine pond, and why did it keep so when the great rivers kept pouring in their torrents of fresh waters? I did not understand, and these are some of the thoughts that came to the boy who had been raised upon the prairie, and to whom the great ocean was indeed an unknown sea.

We followed along the road and in time came to another village and Mission called Santa Barbara. The village was near the shore, and the church farther back upon an elevated piece of ground near the foot of the mountain, overlooking the town and sea and much of the country to the south, west and east. The mountain was high and rough, and a point ran out into the sea making a sort of harbor. This town was built much as the others had been except perhaps the Mission which seemed better. The roofs were as flat as the floors and were covered with a sort of tar which made them water-proof. The material of the houses was sun-dried bricks, two feet long by one foot wide and four to six inches thick. There was no lime in the mortar of this mason work, and the openings in the walls had iron bars across them instead of sash and glass. Dried hides were spread upon the floors, and there was a large earthen jar for water, but not a table, bedstead or chair could be seen in the rooms we saw. A man came along, rode right in at the door, turned around and rode out again. The floor was so hard that the horse’s feet made no impression on it. Very few men, quite a number of Indians, more women, and a still larger quantity of dogs made up the inhabitants.

Leaving here the road led back from the sea shore and over quite a level table land, covered with a big growth of grass and some timber, and then down to the sandy shore again where the mountain comes so close that we were crowded down to the very water’s edge. Here the never-tiring waves were still following each other to the shore and dashing themselves to pieces with such a noise that I felt awed to silence. What a strange difference in two parts of the earth so little distance from each other! Here was a waste of waters, there was a waste of sands that may some time have been the bottom of just such a dashing, rolling sea as this. And here, between the two, was a fertile region covered with trees, grass and flowers, and watered with brooks of fresh, sweet water. Paradise and Desolation! They surely were not far apart. Here I saw some of the queer things that wash on shore, for we camped close to the beach.

It was a circumstance of great interest to me to see the sun slowly go down into the great ocean. Slowly and steadily it went, getting redder and redder as it went down, then it just touched the distant water and the waves dashed over more and more of its face till all was covered. Were it not for the strong, bright rays that still shot up across the sky one might think it was drowned forever, but in the morning it came up over the mountain top, having apparently made half the circuit of the globe.

Soon after this the road left the shore and turned into the mountains. Another Mission was on this road, Santa Ynez, situated in a beautiful place but apparently in decay, for the men had gone to the mines, leaving the Indians, women, and dogs as in other places. San Luis Obispo was another Mission similarly inhabited, but the surroundings did not seem so pleasant as those we had seen before, although it bore signs that considerable had been done. From here our road bore still more north and we had a long mountain to work over, very rocky, and in some places barren.

San Miguel was a Mission situated on the bank of a dry stream that evidently had seen plenty of water earlier in the season. The surrounding country was covered with scattering timber. Soledad was another place where there were some improvements, located on a small river, but nearly deserted like the other places. Prospects at the gold mines were so favorable that every man felt an irresistible desire to enrich himself, and so they left their families at the Missions and in the towns and rushed off to the mines. Nearly all of them expected to return by winter.

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