Jesuit Mission Stations

There were about sixteen Jesuit missionary stations in the country before the discovery of gold, and were there for the purpose of converting the Indians to the Catholic church, and when converted, generally made them work to sustain their missionary establishments.

I had returned to my office on the North Beach after my only trip to Stockton on my brig. My friend R. was progressing with his brewery. He had received a favorable letter from Lieutenant S. about our Touwalma city, and informing me that S. had a diamond ring that cost $800 in Rio Janeiro, at a broker’s office, as collateral security for $250 borrowed on it at ten per cent per month, and the time was about up. If I would redeem the ring I could keep it and wear it until he paid me. I went and saw the ring. It was as represented, and I redeemed it and wore it for a considerable time. One day R. came to me with a naming letter from S. that he had laid out the city and been elected alcalde, and we would make our fortune, and there was a friend of S. that was going up there, and if I would send up the ring by him he would appreciate it so much, and he would be responsible that I should not lose any thing by it. I was foolish enough to be persuaded by him and handed him the ring, for which act I have never forgiven myself. That was the last I ever saw of the ring or any of the money invested in Touwalma city, for it turned out a failure. It was never the head of navigation on the river, or any thing else that was ever heard of.

There were three unfortunate events that occurred in California in the winter months of 1849 and the beginning of 1850. The rainy season had destroyed all the dams constructed on the gold rivers and raceways, which had been constructed at great expense for the purpose of working the beds of the river for gold, the rivers often rising from ten to eighteen feet in a night, and the current running with terrible force. The second, the flooding of Sacramento, destroying large quantities of merchandise and carrying away and undermining the houses there. The third was the great fire in San Francisco, destroying one-third of the main business portion of the city, upon which there was no insurance. There were no companies organized or agents there to insure property then, as it was too risky. There was one four-story fire-proof building that was stored full of the most valuable goods, at a large price for storage, for it was considered absolutely fire-proof, but when the fire came the heat of the fire from the buildings around it caused the iron sides of it to expand, which let the roof fall in and burned every thing to the ground, so that nothing was saved. Instead of being a place of safety, it was the most destructive of all.

Some ships in the bay were burned. I succeeded in getting in the rear of the fire to save my brig. I ordered the men to hoist anchor and put out further in the bay, which saved it. These unfortunate events destroyed and marred the fortune of many. On the day before I called on a private banker, G., on the plaza, and presented my check for $800. He said to me, if it made no difference, it being steamer day (once a month they went East when the gold was shipped to the mint in Philadelphia by them), and if I would call in the morning for it, it would be an accommodation to him. I said I wanted to use it. He commenced weighing it out. I then thought it would make no difference to me and it was mean not to accommodate him, for I might want some favor of him. I said, if I can have it in three days without fail it would answer my purpose. He said, you can have it now, pouring the gold in the scales to weigh it. I said never mind, I don’t want it now. The fire came that night, burnt his place up and all his property. He was a ruined man. I never saw him afterward.

Mr. G., to whom I had bargained to sell my houses to arrive, (and he backed out) was an Englishman from Liverpool. He had about all the consignments of shipments from that city (evidently being very popular there), to sell on commission at ten per cent; when the goods came and were sold, instead of remitting the capital to the owners and being satisfied with his commission, he used it in buying property and in erecting buildings in San Francisco. He had constructed a fire-proof building which he rented to the government for a post-office, at a large sum per month, likewise the first theatre in the city, and other buildings. He informed me at one time how much his rents amounted to per month; the sum was several thousand dollars. Money was worth but three to five per cent in England per year to the owners of the merchandise; while in California it was in demand at ten per cent per month. I suppose he thought he would make a great fortune for himself and then return to England (where he had a wife and children) and pay up all his obligations with extra allowance, for the use of the money, and make all satisfactory; but the great fire destroyed all his buildings, and he was a ruined man, there being no insurance in the city then. I met a friend in New York about two years after my return from California; I asked him when he saw Mr. G. last. He said, “it was about 11 o’clock one day at a hotel where he invited some friends to take a drink. Mr. G. was there, he declined; but afterward called him to one side and asked him to loan him $1, saying he had had no breakfast that morning.” Such was an example of some of the fluctuations of fortune in those days.

Some parties came with various kinds of machinery that was to make a certain fortune for them, and was taken up into the interior at great expense. I never knew of one that was successful. About all the companies that were formed in the States to go around Cape Horn for mining purposes generally dissolved after arriving in California, but what they brought with them for supplies, sold for so high a price that it generally sold for more than the cost of their passage, and they had money coming to them. Some companies bought the ships as they came in and hired the captain. I recollect one, called the Mechanics’ Own. Every person joining their company in the States had to be voted in and pay $1,000. They put on airs and talked quite aristocratic of their captain as their boy.

Three persons started the first bank in San Francisco, called the Miners’ Bank, on the northwestern corner of the plaza. Mr. Haight, who was from Rochester, N.Y., and the sutler of Colonel Stevenson’s regiment, was one of them. It was said that at first they bought gold as low as $8 per ounce, when it was worth more than $18 at the mint East. The owners of the bank made $100,000 each in three or four years.

Before the discovery of gold the then small places on the Pacific Coast obtained their supplies from small trading vessels that sailed along the coast and stopped at their towns occasionally. After the discovery of gold, at first goods went up four or five times their previous value, and when one of these vessels was seen entering the port, parties would put out in small boats to get aboard of them before they came to anchor (they on board knowing nothing about the discovery of the gold), would bargain with them for some of their goods, and finally offer them so much for all their cargo. It being beyond their expectations the offer was generally accepted, and thus some big speculations were made.

A lieutenant of Stevenson’s regiment, who had been down in Monterey and had not heard of the gold discovery, on his first day in San Francisco, informed me that he did not know what to make of things. Most of his old acquaintances wanted to know if he did not want to borrow some money; they had some that he could have as well as not.

The steamers came in once a month with letters and papers. Then long lines were formed to the post-office. Sometimes it took half a day to get there. The New York papers at first sold for $1 each. Then they got down to fifty cents. I sold the New York Herald, that was more than a month old, that contained the latest news there from the States in the interior, for $5, and the man coaxed it out of me at that, for I wanted to give it to a party of friends I was going to see in the mining districts. I knew it would be a great treat to them. It is almost impossible to recall all the exact scenes of those days, so as to have them fully realized by the reader.

The city of San Francisco was extending more rapidly in what they called the Happy Valley district, which was toward the Mission of Dolores, established by the Jesuits. I visited it when the building was intact. I recollect a painting of an Indian warrior, with his bows and arrows, the implements of war, represented as a saint ascending to heaven–I suppose to create favorable impression on Indians and make converts of them.

My friend was going on with his brewery, and borrowing money and getting me deeper on his paper. He heard that I had $2,500 deposited with McCondery & Co., and pleaded with me to let him have it as it would carry him through. I had lost all confidence in him, and felt it would be like throwing it in the sea. I informed him that I had shipped it the day before, which I had not, but went right down and gave an order for its shipment, for fear he might over-persuade me to let him have it, and I thus saved it. When most completed, a barrel of alcohol that was in the building bursted, and it ran down to the furnace and set it on fire, and burnt it up. That was the fate of the first brewery started in California. Since then there have been millions made in that business there.

The North Beach property, after I had sold all my houses out, I closed my interest in. It proved a failure to use for a wharf or shipping point.

During the seven months of summer the north-west wind blew there so hard every afternoon that it was not a safe place for vessels, and the property would never have any value for that purpose, and I do not think it has ever been used since for that.

In the winter months, which is generally the rainy season, the wind blows from the south for five months, and the other seven months it blows from the north-west over six thousand miles of ocean, and, consequently, is not impregnated with any decayed vegetable matter, and is as pure as air can be. In San Francisco the sun would rise in a clear sky every morning and there would be a perfect calm; by 11 A.M. there would be a little breeze; by 2 or 3 o’clock, a gale. When the sun set the wind would subside and there would be a perfect calm again. Every day would be the same, month after month. What was almost a gale on the coast would be a gentle breeze up in the mining district, in the interior. The next day that air would be displaced by another gale from over the thousand miles of ocean, for it is impossible to imagine any other country with purer air.

During that time there were various visionary reports of new discoveries of gold regions, one of a lake that the sands of its banks were rich with gold. All you had to do, to make your fortune, was to wash it out, which produced quite a sensation, and parties were organized to go there, but they never found it. The next year after the purchase of my brig, there were small steamers constructed to run to Stockton, and they had already some sailing vessels put on, built there, and the price of freight had commenced falling, and I thought I had better sell my vessel while I could get a good price for it. There was a man who came to me and said he wanted to buy it; that he had been a captain of a boat on Lake Erie. I stated to him my price for it. He said that was not out of the way, but he would like to try it one trip before closing the purchase, and referred me to a mercantile house there as his reference. They said he had run vessels for them on Lake Erie when they were doing business in Buffalo. I concluded that was entirely satisfactory; that that had evidently been his regular business. He said he wanted to employ all his own hands. I had the vessel, at the time, half loaded with freight, which I turned over to him. I paid my men and discharged them, and told them the vessel was about to change owners, and put him in full possession of it. Of course I had nothing more to do with it until he returned from the trip to Stockton; then I expected he would close the purchase as he said that the price was satisfactory to him. After a few weeks I commenced looking for the return of my brig, but it did not come. Finally I heard a rumor that the captain had left the vessel at Stockton, but did not believe it, but thought that some accident might have happened. I had borrowed a spy-glass to investigate the bay. I could have recognized my vessel by the red streak around it. Finally, after it had been gone long enough to make several trips, I discovered it at anchor in the bay. I went and supplied myself with money, in case it should prove true that the captain had left the vessel, to pay his men in full before they got ashore, because the vessel was liable for their wages, whoever might have employed them; so I hired a boat to row me out to it. I met a man on the deck that seemed to be in command. I inquired of him where the captain was. He said he had run away. I spoke to him in a sharp tone of voice and said, how do you know that? He said, because I saw him on the back of a mule going over the plain. Then he asked me, are you the owner? I said, yes. Then I said, you have all got your pay before he went; I did not employ you. He said, some of them have got some.

As you seem to be in command, I suppose you have kept an account of how it stands. He said, “Come down in the cabin and I will show it to you.” I said, “It was hard on me to be robbed of all my freight money, but it was also hard for them to be cheated out of their hard earnings, and I would see what I could do for them.” He presented the statement of what each man had received and what was due them. I was surprised at his correctness. I said: It seems all right and I would pay them, which I did, and took their receipt. I was afraid if they went ashore and found the vessel was liable for their wages they might make any kind of demands, so I got possession of my vessel again, very much damaged. Before leaving the port he had let the steamer Senator run into the bows of the vessel, and it cost me $700 to have it repaired, ship carpenters’ wages being $20 per day, payable in gold. The events which I had anticipated of the decline of that kind of property had come, and, after it was repaired, I put it up at auction and sold it, so that rascal cost me several thousand dollars. Such was life in California in the days of the Forty-niners.

Having some leisure I thought I would take a trip up the mining regions, and make a visit to my old friends there. More than a year had passed, and greater changes had taken place than would have occurred in any other country in many years. The population of California increased one hundred thousand the first year after the discovery of the gold, which had accounted for the great changes which had taken place since my previous trip. I went up on the steamer Senator to Sacramento, which had become quite a city, and the next morning started for Coloma in a stage full of passengers, drawn by mules. I took a seat aside of the driver. I got in conversation with the driver. I asked him what pay he received? He said, only $450 per month and his board. I asked him if he had driven stages before? He said, yes, out of Boston. I said, at what wages? He said, $14 a month. I said that there was a big difference between that and $450. He said, yes, but that this was his last trip. He took a party of three up only a few weeks ago, and he brought them down yesterday, and they had between $3,000 and $4,000 apiece, and he was not going to waste his time driving for $450 a month. He was going to the mines the next day. It was quite probable that the party referred to had made an unusual lucky strike, for I had met parties that had done the same thing. I had had in my hands at one time, in San Francisco, a piece of solid gold metal, something in the shape of the cover of a sugar loaf, that was worth $4,500, found by a couple of green Irishmen. They inquired of some miners in the interior where was a good place to dig. The miners said in fun, dig there in that sand bank behind you. The Irishmen took them up in earnest and went to digging. In a short time they found that chunk of gold, where no experienced miner would think of digging.

I have dug gold in the cellar of the brewery in San Francisco. I think most all the soil of that part of California is impregnated with gold. But the point is to find it in sufficient quantities to pay to dig it. As an illustration, if you knew that in a certain piece of ground there was $5,000 worth of gold, and it cost you $10,000 to wash all the ground to get it, of course that land would have no gold value. I found at Coloma that my friends had left the Dutch bar and gone to the middle fork of the American river, some distance from there. I got directions how to get there and started on foot. Toward night I met a young man who had just came overland and had separated that day from his party to get work in the mining camp. I told him where I was going, and that he had better go with me, and that he could get from $10 to $16 per day to work for other parties, or to join two others and work a claim for himself, which he did. So as it was getting toward night, we camped under a tree and slept until morning, and took a fresh start. That day we found the middle fork of the American river and my friends. The river was sunk way down in the earth. It seemed almost a mile down to the water where they were to work. It was quite a large mining place. The excitement there every day was when the “dummy” went into the river. It was a diving armor that had been used in the gulf of Lower California to go down in the deep waters to hunt for pearls, and had been bought by a party of five, each putting in $800, making $4,000, expecting to make their fortunes by getting into the deep water of the gold rivers. (As I have shown before, the torrents and force of the currents had prevented any gold from ever lodging there.) Every day at such an hour, it was announced that the “dummy” was a going in the river. The other miners quit their work to see it, and the proprietors of the “dummy” always treated the crowd in the most lavish manner. Its credit was good for any store bills. Its always treating the crowd had made it popular, and nobody would trade with the storekeeper who would not trust it, so it was death to the prosperity of the storekeeper, whether he trusted it or not. They never got any gold while there through “dummy,” and when he left to go further down the river to try another place, the main storekeeper there lost $800 by trusting it, which broke him. These stores were tents, to supply immediate wants of the miners. I never heard of “dummy” afterward. I have no doubt he operated on all the store tents until he came to grief like all evil-doers.

The productiveness of the gold rivers had not diminished any that I could perceive. I talked to a man who had been off a little ways to prospect in another place. I asked him what luck? He said, there was nothing there. I said, was there no gold? He said; yes, there was some, but of no value. He said a man could make $10 a day, and who was a going to waste their time on that. My visit over, I returned to San Francisco. My friend R.’s brewery was not completed. I was informed he had been borrowing money from a Jew at twenty per cent a month. It was no use for me to back him any more, however valuable it might be, if completed, and I had no doubt there was a fortune in it, but neither he nor I had the capital to do it.

I had some other financial entangling matters, and I was afraid if I kept on with them I might get broke, and the only way I saw of getting out with them was to announce that I was going to leave, and going down to Relago, Central America.

There was an English steamer advertised to sail for that port and Panama. I thought I would go for sixty days and then return and commence again and manage my affairs in a more conservative way, and what I could control. Well I closed my matters out the best I could and engaged my passage on the steamer for Relago. There was considerable excitement at this time about the Nicaragua route. The above place would be the terminus on the Pacific coast, and, consequently, a place of importance. As I had missed it in trading six of my houses for lots in San Francisco, there might be a chance to get some there in advance of any rise on them. Any way, I wanted to get out of my entangling alliances and take a fresh start. The night before I sailed Mr. Brady (Colonel Stevenson’s son-in-law) came to me and said the colonel did not like to have me go. I told him I had paid my passage, $200. He said the colonel understood that. He put his hand in his vest pocket and pulled out a roll of bills. He said, here is the $200, which he told me to give you, so you will not lose any thing by not going. There was once a lady, the wife of one of the officers of his regiment, who arrived there, expecting to meet her husband, but he was up in the country. The colonel asked me to go down to the steamer and meet her, and escort her to a boarding-house to stay until her husband arrived, which I did. I told him that she was short of funds, having expected to meet her husband. He gave me $150 and told me to give it to her, as if I loaned it to her, and when her husband paid me I could return it to him. I mention these little incidents to show that whatever faults he may have had, he was the most generous of friends.

Colonels Stevenson, Freemont and Captain Sutter will stand pre-eminent in the future history of the State as its most prominent founders.

I sailed out of the port of San Francisco on the steamer Ecuador for Relago, Central America, expecting to return to California within sixty days. In a few days, out at sea, we began to hear unfavorable rumors about our vessel; that the engineer had left the day before our sailing; that he did not consider it safe to go in it; that it could not carry coal enough to take it to Acapulco, the next coaling place. And we were informed that it was a steamer that had been running from Panama to Valparaiso, and had been bought up by a speculator and sent up to San Francisco as an experiment, to see if it would pay. The officers and men had never been up the coast before, and knew nothing about the port. One day we were startled in mid ocean by the stopping of the engine. We soon found the cause. The captain was about to try his sails so as to save coal (which verified the reports about being short of coal). We made some headway with the sails, but lost it again when the wind subsided, by the currents of the ocean; so that project was abandoned, and after some days we put into the port of San Blas, in Mexico, for fuel. There was no coal there, so we laid in all the wood we could to try and reach Acapulco (here we could not buy any thing with our $5 gold pieces, but they were ready to sell for silver). The cholera had been there, they said, but had left. The priests had had a procession, and, with their incense boxes, had marched through the streets and driven it out. We took in all the wood we could get and started to make the port of Acapulco, the regular coaling port for all the steamers on that coast. It was Sunday P.M. We could raise fuel enough to make only four knots an hour. It was an iron steamer. We were burning what there was of the woodwork of the vessel, for if we could not make the port before dark we were lost. The officers were not acquainted with the coast. We had not fuel enough to keep steam up all night, and we would be on the broad Pacific ocean, six thousand miles across, without the remotest possibility of meeting any other vessel, without any control of our steamer, subject to be driven in any direction. I heard the mate talking to the captain about the propriety of wrecking the vessel and saving what lives they could, although we were in sight of land. The captain said the under-tow was so great that none could be saved in that way. It is twice as great on the Pacific as the Atlantic. There were no female passengers. One man said he had $10,000 in gold with him; if his wife and children only had that he would be content to meet his fate, under the circumstances, but it was hard to leave them without it. All the passengers had more or less gold, or they would not have been returning.

You can imagine with what anxiety we watched every indication of the coast to see if there was any chance of us nearing the port. Finally, toward night, we saw a high projection of land on the coast, and that was predicted that it was the entrance to the port. If we could reach that point before dark, we might be saved. The passengers went to work to break up any thing for the fires that would make steam. The captain made no objections, but told them to burn all woodwork on the vessel to save their lives. At dark we reached the point we had in view, and it was fortunate for us that it was the entrance to the port. As the vessel turned to enter, you could see, coming over the waters of the ocean, a tropical storm, accompanied with wind, thunder and lightning. Twenty minutes later it would have reached us, and we would have been lost. As soon as we got safely in port (and it was very dark), I can hear now, in imagination, the sound of the anchor as it was let down in the water, which assured our entire safety. It thundered and lightning, and blowing a high gale, which was music in our ears, as we knew we were out of danger, and feeling the supreme gratification of knowing what we had escaped. Blessed to us was the high mountains which surrounded the port. The entrance to it is narrow, but when you get inside it is one of the safest harbors in the world, being perfectly land-locked. The next day opened on a happy lot of passengers. I felt as if I was commencing life anew. We went ashore expecting to be there several days, as they proposed to take in a full supply of coal. This place had been once quite a city, but many years ago had been partly destroyed by an earthquake. It was said that the water went out of the bay most to the tops of the mountains, and then reacted to its usual level in the harbor; that there was a French ship carried up to the sides of the mountains, and when the water reacted, carried back in safety in the harbor. Hundreds of buildings were destroyed, the ruins of which are now visible where the city once extended.

I was introduced to General Alvarado. He was the most prominent man in Mexico, on the Pacific coast, at that time, and afterward became very prominent in the public affairs of his country. On our return to the vessel that evening there was quite an excitement on board. Among the passengers was a party of three who had been quite successful in Sacramento in the bottling of soda and summer beer, and peddling it out through the city. They had picked up by chance an old acquaintance from Waterford who belonged to an aristocratic family there, and by his habits of dissipation was a mortification to them. So when the California excitement broke out, they furnished him the money to go to the gold regions. It would either reform him or they would get rid of him. Of course, such men were no good in California, and he had spent his money and wanted to return. These men came across him and told him they were going to return East in sixty days, and if he would keep straight, and drive one of their wagons for them, they would take him home with them. When they went ashore the first day they left him in charge of their baggage, and promised him that he could go ashore the next. They had their private store of wines and brandy. He had found it and tried it and got full, and treated all the sailors and everybody on board that would drink with him, and was the most popular man on board with the sailors. He repented the next day and begged their forgiveness, and they took him home with them. Like a bad penny, he returned as he was before. Distance did not reform him.

Well, our next port was Relago my destination. Just after dark one day we got opposite to what, according to the charts, was that port. It was necessary for them to wait until morning before they could undertake to enter it, as they had never been there before, and there were no pilots, and they decided not to let the steam go down, and they concluded that they would sail slowly around in a circle, so as to be opposite to the port in the morning. When morning came it was foggy, and we could not see the land. But they had such confidence in the correctness of their chart that they determined to enter it. Instead of the port, we came to the white caps, dashing against the rocks almost mountains high, and we came within an ace of being dashed to pieces against them. If the engineer had not reversed the movement of the engine the instant he did, we would have been wrecked. The captain was now completely befogged. In a short time he came to me with a paper to sign agreeing to go to Panama. It should cost me nothing extra for my passage there; that the few other passengers for that port had signed it. I thought I had better sign to go anywhere than to take any more chances in that steamer. Come to find out afterward, instead of being opposite the port that morning, we were twenty miles from it, the currents of the ocean having carried us that distance while we were sailing around in a circle, which they had not ciphered on, and thus came so near wrecking us. By chance we saw a sailing vessel. The captain gave orders for the steamer to follow it, and, when we overtook it, we found it was bound for Relago. There was a man on board of it who was acquainted with the port. They got him to come on our steamer and had him pilot us to that port, so I expected to go ashore, and got my baggage in readiness, and, when the time came, had it brought up on deck. They did not enter the port, but came to outside. There were two passengers, it seems, that would not sign the paper to go to Panama, and it was to land them he had come to, and when I went to have my baggage put in the small boat the captain informed me I had signed to go to Panama, and some of the other passengers said I was very foolish to risk my life in that sea in so small a boat. Before I scarcely knew it the boat had pushed off without me, and, consequently, the whole current and course of my life was changed. Upon such little incidents often do the events of human life depend. It may have been fortunate for me that I did not land there.

There was in Nicaragua at the time a filibustering expedition under the command of Captain Walker, who went from California to overthrow the government there by taking sides with the revolutionary movement that had been started, and to get an American control of the government, which I did not approve of, for I considered it a dishonorable movement; but still, if I had landed, they being my countrymen, I might have got mixed up with them. They were conquered and all sentenced to death, and shot. It is barely possible I might have shared their fate. I have often thought since I made a good escape by not landing.


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