San Francisco bay, first discovered the 25th of October, 1769. The first ship that ever entered the harbor was the San Carlos, June, 1775. The mission of Dolores founded by the Jesuit Fathers in 1769. Colonel Jonathan Stevenson arrived at California with one thousand men on the 7th of March, 1847. The treaty of Hidalgo ceding California to the United States by Mexico, officially proclaimed by the president, July 4, 1848. Gold first discovered by Marshall, January 9, 1848. January, 1848, the whole white population of California was fourteen thousand, January, 1849, the population of San Francisco was two thousand. The three most prominent publicmen at the time of my arrival in California were Colonel Freemont, who had conducted an expedition overland; Colonel Stevenson, who came by sea with one thousand men, appointed by William L. Marcy, who was secretary of war during the conflict with Mexico, from whom I had a letter of introduction as a family connection of Governor Marcy, similar to the following letter to Brigadier Major-General P.F. Smith, which was not delivered:
ALBANY, June 24, 1849.
My Dear Sir–I desire to present to your favorable notice, the bearer hereof, Dr. Daniel Knower. He is on the eve of departing for California. He is a family connection of mine, a gentleman of talents and respectability, and I commend him to your favorable notice.
WILLIAM L. MARCY.
BRIG.-GEN. P.F. SMITH.
I soon found the colonel one of the warmest of friends. Captain John A. Sutter, who was a captain in the Swiss Guards of Charles the Tenth of France, after the revolution of 1830 in that country, came to the United States, who some years previous had wandered across the country to Oregon, and the Russian Fur Company secured for him a large grant of land from Mexico in California, on which the city of Sacramento now stands, extending back from that city many miles to where the gold was first discovered. He was having a raceway dug on the American river for the purpose of erecting a saw-mill, as there was no lumber in the country. He had constructed a fort some miles back from the Sacramento river, where he made his home. The object of the Russian Fur Company was to have a place where they could purchase grain, as there was none raised there at that time, and they had a contract with him, and that they were to send a vessel at such a time, and he was to settle up the country and cultivate it. Sutter was the most social and generous of men. The latch-string of his cabin was always on the outside, and all callers were welcome, and the hospitalities of the fort extended to all callers.
At the time of my arrival, on August 18, 1849, there were several hundreds of ships anchored in the bay deserted by their crews, who had gone to the mines. They could make more in one day there than their wages would amount to in a month on the vessel.
In the city a large portion of its population were living in tents. There were not buildings enough. Vessels were constantly arriving loaded with people from all parts of the world. As my health permitted I investigated matters there. I took a walk out. I met what looked like a laboring man. I asked him how long he had been there? He said two months. I said to him: “And not gone up to the mines yet?” He said to me he was in no particular hurry. He said he had a row-boat and made $20 a day rowing passengers to and from the vessels (there was then no dock). He had his boy with him, who gathered mussels and sold them. Between the two they averaged $30 per day, which explained why he was in no hurry to go to the gold diggings.
Lumber was bringing fabulous prices. It looked very favorable for my house ventures. Mr. G., the Englishman, had been very anxious to buy them. He had seen the specifications of the carpenter on the steamer coming up. On Saturday P.M. I called at his office. He asked me if I had made up my mind to sell him the houses. I said to him: “If I should put a price on them you would not take me up.” He said “try me.” I named a price. He said he would take them and go to my lawyer to draw up the contract. I said I would just as soon go to his (which was a fatal mistake). I knew his was a State senator from Florida, and had come up on the steamer with us. We found the lawyer in his office, and he commenced drawing up the contract. I made my statement that I sold the houses from my carpenter’s specifications (not from any representations I made myself), and from the bills of lading and from my insurance policy, which ranked the ship Prince de Joinville, formerly a Havre packet, classed A, No. 1. He was to deposit bills of lading of the ship St. George from Liverpool, consigned to him, in value to the amount of $50,000, with a third party, as collateral security, that on the arrival of the Prince de Joinville, and the delivery of the houses, he was to pay me the sum agreed upon.
The lawyer, after writing a little, complained of a headache, and asked if it made any difference if he put it off until Monday morning. I said, Mr. G. had been very anxious to buy the houses, and I had not cared about selling them to arrive, preferring to take my chances when the vessel got here, but since I had consented to sell them, I preferred to have it on the solid. I said, I supposed the transaction was not of great importance to Mr. G., but I had all that I was worth in the world at stake on the venture, and would prefer to have it closed now. He commenced writing, and again complained of the headache. I then consented to put it off until Monday morning at 10 o’clock. We both pledged our honor to meet there at that time and consummate it. I was there on Monday morning at the time designated. Mr. G. came in at 11 o’clock and said he had changed his mind and would not take the houses. I said all right, but his word of pledge of honor would have no value with me hereafter.
I would have made $18,000 profit, but I was selling them for a good deal less than they would have brought if they had been there. Lumber was selling as high as from three to four hundred dollars per thousand feet in San Francisco at that time. But I was making certain of a good profit and running no risk of what might happen in the future.
I had another offer of a number of lots on Stockton street, the next street above the plaza in the heart of the city, for six of the smaller ones, which, if I had consummated, would have made my fortune. “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, if taken at the flood tide, leads on to fortune, or, if not seized, are forever lost.” (Shakespeare.)
The ideas of the people there at that time was, that a railroad across the continent, connecting California with the East, was entirely impracticable. That there were one thousand miles of desert to cross, where there was no water, and the Sierra Nevada mountains presented an impassable barrier, and they thought how could it ever be an agricultural country, when there was no rain for more than seven months in the year. The idea of irrigation was not thought of then. How different every thing has turned out since, I have nothing to do with. I must be true to my subject, the days of the Forty-niners.
As it would be, at least, three months before the ship could come in with my houses, and my health had improved, I was anxious to get up to the mines. I was informed that there was a party from Albany at the Dutch bar, on the south fork of the American river, about eight miles from Coloma, where gold was first discovered, with whom I was acquainted. I found a sloop about to sail for Sacramento (there were no steamers then) the starting point to the northern mine. I took passage on board with all the passengers the boat could accommodate. I noticed on the passage up that the mosquitoes were very large, with penetrating bills. It was as much as we could do to protect our faces.
The only important event on the passage was that a Jew had potatoes that he was taking up on speculation, and that he was going to treat his fellow passengers to some, one day at dinner. We were a little disappointed when we found they were sweet ones, but still they were a treat. Vegetables were scarce, potatoes selling from forty to sixty cents per pound. After a few days we arrived at Sacramento, it being about one hundred miles from San Francisco by water. There were no hacks at the landing, nobody that wanted a job to carry your baggage. Governor Shannon, of Ohio, was among the passengers. He had been minister to Mexico, yet he had to carry his own baggage, and make several trips to do it. One of the passengers assisted him. He was president of a mining company organized in Ohio.
It was evening. We stopped at a hotel, and I slept in my Mackinaw blanket that I carried with me, on the dining-room floor. The next morning after breakfast, about 9 o’clock, I went out on the front portico to take observations of the place. The landlord was there. There was a loaferish-looking fellow going by on the opposite side of the street. The landlord cries out to him: “Bill, what will you charge to chop wood for me from now until night?” He cries back, “What will you give?” He replies, “$10.” Bill answers back, “Can’t chop for less than an ounce,” which was $16, and walked right on. It was evident that common labor was not suffering there for want of employment. I was there some days, and could find no one to post me how to get to Coloma. All was excitement and bustle. While there, Sam. Brannan–who had built a new hotel there (just finished), called the City Hotel–gave a free entertainment for one day to the public. He must have expended $1,000 for refreshments. He had been a Mormon preacher, and was a captain in Colonel Stevenson’s regiment. He was very enterprising and generous, a prominent figure with the “Forty-niners.”
I saw an article in the paper a few years ago from a California correspondent, giving a biography of him; that he was, at one time, worth several millions, and went into some big enterprise–which I cannot now recall–and was unfortunate and lost all his wealth, and that he was, at that time, in San Francisco at a twenty-five-cent lodging-house, and that he told him that he passed two men that day who had crossed the street to avoid him, to whom he had furnished the money from which they had made their fortunes. Well, I finally found an Oregon man with a yoke of oxen, who was freighting goods up to Coloma. He said he had seven hundred and fifty acres of land in Oregon, but no cattle on it. He thought he would come to California and get gold enough to buy them, and his wife was keeping a cake and pie stand on the streets of that city. I never saw him after that trip, but coming with so modest expectations, I have no doubt he was successful.
We started on our journey in the afternoon. The country through which we traveled looked as if it had been an old-settled land, and deserted by its inhabitants. It seemed that we must come to a farm-house, but there was none. There were scattering trees in the country and occasionally a woods, but no dense forest. We made eight miles, then camped for the night on the edge of a woods. I had brought no provisions with me, so I offered him $1 per meal to eat with him, which was accepted. He made tea, cooked some Indian meal, and had a jug of molasses; so we made a very good supper. I got my satchel out of the wagon for a pillow, and with my blankets made my bed on the ground under the wagon. I thought it would keep the dew off, but there was none.
There is no danger of taking cold sleeping on the ground in the dry season, when it does not rain for seven months. He had set fire to a dead tree to keep the grizzly bears off, and about the time I got comfortably laid down, there was a pack of coyote wolves came howling around. Amid those surroundings, the burning of the fire to keep the grizzlies off and howling of the wolves, I fell asleep and did not wake until morning, refreshed from my slumbers. After a breakfast similar to the meal the night before, we proceeded on our journey, but the ox team traveled so slow that in walking I got away ahead of it, and then got tired of waiting for it to come up to me, and so went on alone. Toward night I came to Mormon Island, the first gold diggings. I inquired if there was a place where I could get quarters for the night. They said I might, at the hospital. It was a log cabin with bunks in it, and what was my astonishment to find the proprietor, a doctor from Troy, N.Y., an old acquaintance. I was more than welcome. We were both delighted to see each other. I to find such comfortable quarters, and he to meet with a friend in the wilderness, and to hear the latest news from the East. He got for me the best supper that the surroundings would afford; as I had eaten nothing since morning, it was very acceptable, and he provided for me the most comfortable of his bunks for sleeping. He informed me that it was twenty-five miles from Coloma, and there was but one place on the way where I could get water to drink. I started after breakfast, refreshed. After travelling some miles, I came to the smoke of the camp-fire of Indians, just ahead of me. It was rumored that the Oregon men were in the habit of shooting an Indian on sight when they had a chance. The Indians killed white men in retaliation, as they could not make peace until they had killed as many whites as they had lost, according to their ideas of equity. As I did not care particularly about being one to make up the number, I struck off in a ravine and passed around so as to avoid their camping ground and came to the road beyond them. What truth there was about the shooting of them I could not say, but it was currently reported at the time. About 4 o’clock, P.M., I got to a stopping place six miles from Coloma. There I met a man with a long beard, slouched hat, a sash around his body, a flannel shirt, evidently a miner. I had a long talk with him. He posted me about the gold diggings and I him about the news from the States. As we were about to part, he asked me to take a drink. He inquired of the proprietor if he had champagne? He said, yes, at $10 a bottle. The man said, pass us down a bottle, which we drank together. He, evidently, had struck good diggings. We parted, as I was anxious to get to Coloma before dark, which I did, just as the sun was setting, having made twenty-five miles in one day on foot. I found a regular tavern here, kept by a man from Mississippi, with his family. I sat down to a regular table for my supper, which seemed quite a treat. He informed me that he had no bed-room for me; that I could sleep on the dining-room floor, or in his barn. He had just had some new hay put in. I chose the latter. It was a kind of a shanty building, but the soft bed of new hay was a luxury after my twenty-five miles walk.
I awoke the next morning refreshed. After my breakfast I took in the place and went to the raceway where the first piece of gold was discovered. There were three or four stores in the place to supply the miners of the surrounding region. I got my direction how to find the Dutch Bar, eight miles from there. Proceeding on my way, after going about five miles, I came to a person, his face covered with a long beard, whom I recognized, by the expression of his eyes, as a person who I knew in Albany, and who belonged to the party I was seeking. He informed me that I was within three miles of them, and he gave me plain directions how to find them. I soon came to their camp and there was a genial meeting and exchange of news. There were five in the company. They had a tent and owned a pair of mules. I joined them, as I had not come to depend on mining, as I never had been accustomed to physical labor. At first I thought it was awful hard work, and that it was lucky for me that I had not come to California depending on it, but after a short time I got used to it and liked it. They took turns in cooking, so each one had one day in the week that he did the cooking. We lived on fried pork and flapjacks made from wheat flour fried in the fat of the pork, tin cups for our tea and coffee, and tin dishes. We each had stone seats, and a big one in the center for our table. At night we slept under our tent. The gold rivers were not navigable. They were sunk way down deep in the earth. When the rainy season sets in during the winter months, and sometimes rains every day in the month, causing the snow to melt on the Sierra Nevada mountains, where these streams take their rise, will cause the water to rise often from ten to twenty feet in a night, and in the course of ages has worn their depth down into the earth, and is supposed to have washed out of the earth the scales of gold that are found on the banks of the rivers. The first mining was a very simple process. A party of three could work together to the best advantage. A virgin bar was where the river had once run over and now receded from it. Three persons worked together, one to clear off the sand on the ground to within six inches of the hardpan. The top earth was not considered worth washing, the scales of gold, being heavier, had settled through it, but could not penetrate that portion of the earth called the hardpan, so the earth within six inches of it was impregnated with more or less gold, and one to carry the bucket to the rocker, and the other to run the rocker, which was located close to the water. The rocker was a trough about three feet in length with three slats in it and a sieve at the upper end, on which the bucket of earth was thrown. The man worked the rocker with one hand and dipped the water out of the river with a tin-handled dipper. As he worked the rocker the fine earth and scales of gold passed through the holes of the sieve and settled behind the slats in the trough, and the stones and large lumps in which there was no gold were caught in the sieve and thrown away. After a certain number of buckets of earth had been run through in that way, the settlings behind the slats in the trough were put in a milk-pan and the water was allowed to run in the pan and the fine earth and sand would float on the top of the water. You would let that run off.
After a few operations of that kind you would see the yellow scales of gold on the edge of the sand. You would continue that process until there was but a little of the sand left; then you would take it with you when you went to the tank and warm it by a fire to dry the sand; then with your breath you would blow away the sand and have the gold, which you carried in a buckskin bag, which was the currency of the country, at $16 per ounce, and at the mint in Philadelphia was worth $18.25. I have carried three hundred buckets in a day, and at twenty-five cents worth of gold in a bucket, it would amount to $75, $25 to each man for his day’s work, which was frequently the average. In those days all it cost for a party of three for capital to start mining was about $15. Then you had the chances of striking a pocket. That was a cavity in the rocks where gold had settled. In the course of ages, and where the strong currents of the streams, when the rivers were high, could not reach it to wash it out, I have known a person to take out $800 of gold in less than an hour. The first miners, when they found gold on the banks of the river, thought if they could only dig in the deep holes of the bed they would find chunks of it, and they went to a big expense, and those who had money hired laborers to assist in constructing raceways at $16 per day, to change the current of the river; but when they had effected their object and dug there they found no gold, for there was nothing to prevent the strong current from carrying it off; but I knew a party to draw off the water and expose the bed of the river, where there were rapids, and they were successful, and the gold had settled down between the crevices of the rocks, and the currents could not disturb it.
There were some other kinds of diggings discovered different from the river mining, called canons, one I know of, called the Oregon. It was described like a tunnel, deep down in the earth, where a party of three persons from near our locality went and returned in about three weeks and had from three to five thousand dollars apiece, which they showed me. It was not scale gold, but nuggets of all sizes. Of course, they had unusual luck.
On the river mining each person was entitled to so many feet, as long as they left any implements of labor on it. No person would trespass upon it; but if he took every thing away, then it was inferred he had given it up, and anybody had a right to take it. All regulations were strictly respected and every thing was safe, and a person told me that he would not be afraid to leave his bag of gold in his tent. Every thing was honorable and safe until the overland emigrants from western Missouri arrived there.
They were a different kind of people; more of the brute order. When they saw a party of two or three that had a good claim, and they were the strongest, they would dispossess them. (I suppose the same class that raided Kansas in John Brown’s time.) They became so obnoxious that a respectable man would deny his State.
And another corrupt element arrived by sea, the ex-convicts from Sidney.
I went to Coloma one day to get supplies for the party. I rode one of the mules, the other followed to be packed with the purchases. When I bought what was wanted, I handed the storekeeper my bag of gold to pay him. When he returned it to me, I found his statement made was between three and four dollars less than I knew was in it. I informed him of the discrepancy. He said he did not see how that could be; that he weighed it right. He came in in a few minutes and apologized, saying that he had weighed it in the scales that he used when he traded with the Indians. It needs no comment to know that the Christian man is not always superior to the Indian in integrity. There was an Indian who had struck a pocket. He came to Coloma with $800 in gold dust that he got out in a short time. He invested it all with the storekeepers in a few hours. He had dressed himself in the height of fashion, including a gold watch. He was dressed as no California Indian ever had been before. The gold he could not eat nor drink.
How the gold came there is one of the mysteries of nature. One theory is, that the Sierra Nevada mountains were once the banks of the Pacific ocean, and all California had been thrown up from the bottom of the sea from that depth where gold was a part of the formation of the earth, in connection with quartz, and as all gold appears in a molten state, which would go to corroborate this theory. A person informed me that he went through a ravine where one side of the road was half of a large rock, and on the other side, the other half. He could see where the two halves would match each other exactly. Well, I lived that life for two months. We had an addition to what I have described to eat–pork and beans on Sunday, and Chili pudding. It had been baked and sweetened, and then ground up like flour and put in bags. All you had to do was to moisten it with water to eat it. All our flour came from that country, put up in sacks of fifty and one hundred pounds each, but we had no vegetables. One day we heard that they had dried-apple sauce at the hotel at Coloma for dinner. The next day, Sunday, three of us walked eight miles to get there to dinner to get a taste of it. We paid $2 apiece for our dinner, and they had the sauce; it tasted so good that we did not begrudge the price of the dinner and the walk back again. We were fully satisfied.
The rainy season set in. It rained three days, and although it was three or four weeks before it would be possible for my houses to arrive, yet it was a new country and no bridges. The streams might get up so as to be impassable, and the houses were consigned to me, and no one but myself to receive them. I thought I had better get back to San Francisco at once. What I was making in the mines was mere nothing to what I had at stake in the houses. Although, to tell the truth, I never left a place with more regret, as hard as the fare was. We were interested every day in the work for gold, and did not know when we might make a rich strike. My last day there it rained. Notwithstanding, a companion and myself went out to dig for a couple of hours. When we returned, we had $25 worth. That was the last of my mining. I started the next morning for Sacramento afoot. I sold my pistol and blankets for an ounce each, $16 apiece. On my route I met a man bound for the same place. We joined teams and became very intimate.
The only incident of importance was when we got within five miles of Sacramento. We stopped at a log cabin and ordered dinner. A short time after my companion came to me in some excitement and said he had looked through the window and that they were cooking potatoes for dinner. I could not believe the good news, and so went and looked for myself and found it was true. I had not tasted one in two months. We took the steamer Senator that evening for San Francisco. It had been a Long Island steamboat and had arrived since my departure for the mines. It was the first steamer that had ever sailed the interior waters of California, and had been put on to run from San Francisco to Sacramento. I think it belonged to Grenell, Minton & Co., a prominent shipping firm of New York city. Charley Minton had charge of it. Of course its profits were great. But I could not sleep in my state-room berth; I had been so long used to a hard bed I was restless, but we arrived safe the next morning at San Francisco. The bulk of my book will be events that occurred during my residence in that city. I scarcely know how to begin to describe it. My efforts will be to portray them truthfully. To do so I must continue in the form of a personal narrative. That is the only way I can recall the events to my mind of so long ago.
At this time more changes took place there in a month than in most any other place in a year. Every thing was done by the month. Buildings were rented by the month; money was loaned by the month; ten per cent per month was the regular interest. There was but one bank, called the Miners’, on the corner of the plaza, owned by three parties. During my absence a great boom had taken place–influenced by new arrivals and most favorable news from the gold mining sections. This was the fall of 1849. The lots that I had thought of trading six of my houses for had tripled in value, but lumber was still bringing fabulous prices and every thing looked favorable for a big strike on my houses when they arrived. Montgomery street was on the banks of the bay. There was one pier at this time constructed from it in the bay, and a temporary pier by Colonel Stevenson at the north beach. The city was growing up toward Happy Valley. Portsmouth Square, the plaza, still had some of the adobe buildings on it. The best hotel was the Parker House, on the west corner of it. The plaza was sand, no vegetation on it.
Rincon Point, on Telegraph Hill, was the spot where ships and steamers were signaled. Steamers coming in but once a month, they brought the last news from the East. The New York papers were peddled at $1 each. Long lines of people were formed to get the mail, and you had to take sometimes half a day before you could reach the office. Oakland, opposite the bay, had no existence. Goat Island had plenty of wild goats on it, and we could never imagine how the first goat ever got there. There was no scarcity of meat–plenty of beef and grizzly bears were hung out at the doors of the restaurants as a sign, and plenty of venison. I can recall now to my mind, venison steaks that we would get in the evening with their rich jellies on it. The luxuries of Asia were coming in there. Many China restaurants with their signs from Canton or Pekin. But there was a great scarcity of vegetables. Onions and potatoes sold for forty cents per pound.
A day or two after my arrival, my friend who came down with me from the mines came to me and said that there were a lot of blankets to be sold at auction; that he had no money, or he would buy them; that if I would buy them he would take them up in the mines and peddle them out for me for half of the profit. As I knew they were in great demand there–I had sold, when I left there, mine for $16–I told him if he could buy them for $4 per pair to bid them off and I would furnish the money to pay for them. He came back in a short time and said he had bought them, and that they came to $800. We had them taken to the steamer Senator to ship to Sacramento. We paid $10 a load to have them carted from the store where they were bought to the steamer. (The result of this speculation later on.)
There were at this time several hundred vessels anchored in the bay, deserted by their officers and crews. A ship could be bought for probably one-third of what it was worth in New York, and I conceived the project of buying a ship as soon as I sold my houses, which I expected soon to arrive, being on so fast a ship as the Prince de Joinville, and going myself to the Sandwich Islands and buying a load of onions and potatoes, as I was informed that they could be bought as cheap there as in the States, and ciphered out that one successful venture of that kind would make my fortune. So I went among the idle ships to see what I could do in that line, and to have one selected, ready to close the bargain as soon as the houses arrived. I came across a brig that had been running to Sacramento, but was condemned as a foreign bottom, when Collier, the collector, arrived there, a short time before, and extended the marine laws of the United States over California. The captain and crew were aboard. The captain was an Englishman; the crew, cosmopolitan–a Hindostan, a Mexican named Edwin Jesus, an English sailor and an American. I inquired of the captain about the history of the vessel. He said she had been built at Quavqiel, down the coast, and had belonged to a Mexican general, and was built partially of an American whaler that had been wrecked on the coast, so I got American timbers in her. They wanted to sell the vessel. I told him I might buy her. I would let them know in a day or two. So I went to Colonel Stevenson and gave him a history of it, and asked him if he would see Collier, the collector of the port, and see if I could not get her papers as an American vessel, which he did, and informed me the next day that it was all right. I went at once and bought the brig. As soon as I got its American papers it was worth twice what I had to pay for it. I kept the same captain, as he knew the navigation of the rivers, which few did at that time. I gave him $250 per month and put a supercargo at $150 per month, and kept the same crew. I had it put up for Stockton, the head depot for the Southern lines. The first month it made two trips. Its receipts were $3,100; its expenses, $1,100; so it earned me $2,000 clear.
There was a friend of mine named R., who owned a third interest in a factory that belonged to a relative of mine who got the gold fever when I did, and got me to negotiate the sale of his interest in it to him, which I did for $8,000, so he could go to California with me. When he arrived there he proposed to build a brewery. His father had been a brewer in Scotland. He bought a lot, a part of the city called Happy Valley, and started to build the first brewery on the Pacific coast. He commenced to build one that would cost $30,000 with that capital, which was his mistake. If he had commenced in a small way he would have made his fortune. (In my personal narrative he had much to do with my affairs.)
At this point in writing my manuscript, I have just heard of the death of Colonel Jonathan Stevenson, aged ninety-four, in California, to whom I had a letter of introduction from Governor William L. Marcy. I found him the warmest, the truest and most generous friend. He was a little unpopular when I first met him, for what I conceived the most noble action of his life. There were in his regiment roughs from the city of New York, where it was organized, who, when the war was over with Mexico, would go into saloons and places and help them selves to what they wanted and refused to pay. They were termed “The Hounds.” There was a vigilance committee organized against them, which public sentiment, at that time, fully indorsed. They had seized a number of them and were about to hang them. Colonel Stevenson faced the excited crowd and asked to have them give the men a trial and punish the guilty. He said that when he returned to New York and their mothers asked him what had become of their sons, how could he face them if they were put to death in that way; but if he could say to them that they had a fair trial, were found guilty of crime, and had been punished according to law, it would be different. I think they were not executed, but banished; but it set up a cry against the colonel that he had taken the part of “The Hounds,” so unjust is often, for a time, public sentiment. That was the first vigilance committee; the great one came afterward, but I am confined to the days of the “Forty-niners.”
It was rumored, at the time, that there was a jealousy between him and Colonel Freemont. It was not on the part of Stevenson. I boarded at the same hotel with Freemont.
See illustration for bill which I received while at the hotel with Colonel Freemont:
The colonel asked me one day to speak to Freemont at dinner, and request him, if convenient, to stop in his office as he came from dinner, which I did. Stevenson’s office was on the plaza, but Freemont never called.
There was great difficulty about the title to lots at that time. There were contentions set up, and claims of property from different Mexican grants, as it became valuable. It was guaranteed by the United States, at the treaty of Hidalgo, when California was ceded to us, that all titles that were good under the Mexican government should be recognized by us. L., the chaplain of Stevenson’s regiment, seems to have been the butt of the boys before the gold was discovered.
They, as a farce, elected him alcalde of San Francisco, which position is a combination of mayor and judge, as we would understand it, and his election was declared illegal. Then they elected him for spite. He served one year. There was a Mexican law that in any village in that country a person had a right to settle on one hundred veras of land so many feet, about three hundred, and if he put up any kind of a building on it, and held undisputed possession for one year, he could go to the alcalde, and by paying $16, get a good and valid title. When the lots became so valuable in San Francisco, after the gold was discovered, many lots based on those kinds of grants became very valuable two or three years after the discovery of gold. L. became quite wealthy, it was said, by advances in real estate. There were rumors of bogus titles in the names of dead soldiers and others who had left the country, but could be traced to no authentic source. He was estimated to be worth several hundred thousand dollars, made in the rise of real estate. I met him but once and I sold him some lumber.
My shipping merchant who negotiated freight for my brig got a legal title of that kind.