San Francisco History

Seventy-five Years in San Francisco


About September, 1838, there arrived at Yerba Buena the hermaphrodite brig Fearnaught, Captain Robert H. Dare, from Realejo, Central America, with a cargo mostly of panoche (hard sugar) put up in boxes in solid form, each box containing a cake of about three arrobas in weight, and resembling packages of maple sugar. The vessel also brought a little coffee. She remained in the harbor a long time. The panoche sold readily to the California people, who had a liking for sweet things and were very fond of it, the children eating it in lumps like candy, the grown people doing the same. Captain Dare was an Englishman, a regular John Bull, a very good sort of man, punctual and correct in all his business engagements. There also came in the vessel an American by the name of John Perry, who had lived at Realejo for many years as a merchant. He visited California on this trip for his health. He was a peculiar man, although very intelligent, possessed of wide information, and a Spanish scholar, speaking and writing the language fluently. He retained the friendship and confidence of his business associates to the time of his death. After the vessel had disposed of her goods she returned to Realejo. Perry remained here for about a year and a half; stopping with Spear and assisting in the business, taking charge of the store while I was cruising about the bay. Spear, of course, had a general oversight of affairs, but did not confine himself closely to the store at Yerba Buena, as he had a store at Monterey also, to which place he went frequently. He also made little trips into the country round about on matters of business. Besides this, having a smattering of medical knowledge and a good supply of medicines, he was called upon to attend the sick in various directions, which he did willingly, making no charge for his services.

Perry was married to one of the ladies of Realejo, and appeared to be very devoted to his wife and children. Having an intimate knowledge of the character, habits and manners of the people of Central America, he entertained us with descriptions of the country, its inhabitants and their history.

In 1838, and prior to that time, the Mexican law applicable to the department of California forbade anybody in any seaport building nearer the water than 200 varas, so that facilities for smuggling might not exist, as if the houses were close to shore. Under this agreement Jacob P. Leese and Captain Wm. A. Richardson were living on what is now Grant Avenue, and conducting business there. This was considerably beyond the 200-vara limit, and as they could not be down near the water, which they would have preferred for their business, they went higher up than was necessary under the law, this elevation giving them, however, a good view of the surrounding country and bay.

About the beginning of 1838, the Boston bark Kent, Captain Steel, was lying in the bay of San Francisco, and Spear bought of him a good-sized ship’s house, and placed it near the beach, at what is now the northwest corner of Clay and Montgomery streets. As a special friend, Alvarado, the governor, gave him permission to occupy it there, he then being the only person who was permitted to be near the margin of Loma Alta Cove. Very soon afterward he built a store adjoining “Kent Hall,” by which name the ship’s house was known, though only 12 by 18 feet in dimensions. About that time Spear and Leese dissolved their partnership and the business on the hill was discontinued, Leese still having his residence there. Spear opened business at the new place near the water. He had no title to the lot, simply a permission from the governor to occupy it. Perry, finding that the climate of California agreed with him and that his health had improved, determined to make Yerba Buena his home in the future. He was inclined to become a Mexican citizen.

Spear encouraged him in this inclination as being of great advantage, for thereby he might under the law become a grantee of such lands as the governor should be disposed to bestow upon him. He also thought Perry might assist him in acquiring a title to the lot occupied by his store. Perry went by land to Monterey with strong letters of introduction from Spear to Alvarado in the spring of ‘39. The governor made him a citizen of Mexico and granted to him, in his own name, the 50-vara lot occupied by Spear. Upon his return, Perry deeded the property to him, although under the law, strictly applied, Spear could not hold the land under such transfer. Governor Alvarado was always anxious for Spear to become a citizen of Mexico; the moment he did so, he would grant him a tract of land to the limit of the law, eleven leagues. In a short time Leese obtained a similar permit from the governor to build near the water, and did so. After that, Vioget and John Fuller did the same. They were followed by others as the town increased and foreigners came in. Spear continued to occupy the place until the change of government in 1846. Perry returned to Realejo in the spring of 1840, his health not firmly established, and died there within a year.

In 1839, early in the year, the brig Daniel O’Connell, an English vessel, Andrés Murcilla master, arrived at Yerba Buena from Payta, Peru, with a cargo of Peruvian and other foreign goods, having on board a considerable quantity of pisco or italia, a fine delicate liquor manufactured at a place called Pisco. He had also a considerable lot of vicuña hats, and a good many ponchos, similar to those brought from Mexico. Spear assisted the captain and supercargo in disposing of the goods. She left here for Peru in the spring of 1840 with a cargo of tallow.

In 1839 the brig Corsair, Captain William S. Hinckley, arrived from Monterey. Hinckley was afterward alcalde. While at Monterey he said something about evading the customhouse laws, and was heard to talk imprudently in Spear’s store. I cautioned him in a friendly way. A few days after, Don Pablo de Ia Guerra, a customhouse officer, and other officials, arrived from Monterey; Hinckley was arrested, and kept under arrest for about a week at Spear’s store while an examination was made by the officers. An inspection was made of the vessel, the sailing master and other officers were cross-questioned; but nothing could be proved against him, and he was discharged.

Hinckley, being a man with good powers of speech and persuasion, brought these personal forces to bear in his defense against the charge of smuggling. Besides this, he showed the officials all the attentions possible during the examination. This is the only instance, with the exception of A. B. Thompson, supercargo of the Loriot, that I remember, of an arrest in those days on a charge of evading the revenue laws.

On this trip the Corsair landed at Yerba Buena, consigned to Spear & Hinckley, the machinery for a gristmill, from Callao, manufactured at Baltimore. Shortly after, the machinery was put up in a heavy-frame wooden building, two stories high, on the north side of Clay Street, in the middle of a fifty-vara lot between Kearny and Montgomery streets. This was the first gristmill in California. It was operated by six mules, Spear having some eighteen or twenty for this work. A man by the name of Daniel Sill was the miller. The mill made a considerable quantity of fine flour from wheat raised by the rancheros round the bay, each of them having a patch and some of them fields of good size.

The mill probably turned out twenty-five to fifty barrels of flour a day, which was put up in fifty and one hundred pound sacks and sold to farmers and to the vessels. A flourmill run by water was established about the same time at San Jose by William Gulnac, an American, who married a Lower California lady. He first emigrated to Honolulu, with his family, and from there came to Monterey in the bark Volunteer in 1833. He went thence to San Jose. Those two were the only flouring mills in the department for a long while, with the exception of the mill at the mission of San Jose built by the fathers, already mentioned. Prior to their establishment the ranchero made his flour by crushing the wheat by means of an apparatus composed of two circular stones a yard in diameter set up out of doors near the kitchen of his house, a shaft being affixed to the upper stone and turned by mule power. The grain thus ground fell upon a platform about eight or ten feet in diameter, under the lower stone; a hopper was affixed to the upper stone, into which the wheat was poured. After a quantity had gone through this process it was ground over again two or three times in the same manner; the flour was then sifted out in hand sieves and was ready for use. The poorer people who did not have a mill of this kind were provided with a metate, a flat stone, about twelve by eighteen inches, with a little rim on the two long sides and supported on three legs five or six inches high of unequal length, the flat surface inclining at an angle of about thirty-five degrees. The operator, resting on his knees, crushed and abraded the grain by moving a hand stone forcibly downwards over the flat surface until the grain was well cracked. At the foot of the incline it fell into a dish placed beneath. The process was repeated several times and until the grain was sufficiently pulverized for use. If corn was crushed for tortillas or tamales, the whole of the grain was made use of. The metate was also used for grinding chili pepper when dry, for seasoning; also for meat, instead of chopping.

Sill, the miller, was an old mountaineer who had come across the plains in 1831 or ‘32, and lived about the bay of San Francisco, either at a mission or with a ranchero. He was industrious and useful, possessed of a deal of common sense but of no education; quiet and well behaved; a splendid hunter and marksman, having brought from his eastern home his old rifle, of a very primitive pattern but unerring in execution in his hands. If he ever drew it upon a coon, a bear or a lark, the result was that the game had to come down. While employed as miller he was fond of going out Sunday mornings for a little hunt. I was often invited to accompany him. We would start about nine o’clock and go over to a place called Rincon, a flat between Rincon Hill and Mission Bay, and a resort for deer, the place being covered with a thick growth of scrub oak and willows which afforded them good shelter. Presently, perhaps four or five deer would appear in sight, and Sill, drawing his old rifle to his shoulder, always got one. “Now, William,” he would say, “go for the yellow horse.” This was one of Spear’s animals, and was known as the deer horse. I would go and saddle him, and ride over to the hunting ground. By that time Sill usually had another deer. Slinging the two carcasses across the animal, we would return in triumph to town.

The native Californians were not fond of hunting, and so the deer were little disturbed save by the few hunters who came into the country from other parts. Sill spent a portion of his time in the Sacramento Valley trapping beaver and land otter for their skins, which were very valuable. He also killed elk for their hides and tallow. There was a blacksmith’s shop connected with the mill, and Sill, who had a natural aptitude for all trades, was the blacksmith as well as the miller, the first one in San Francisco. Afterward, old Frank Westgate was employed as blacksmith. He understood that work but was a hard drinker. Sill remained as miller for Spear until about 1842 or ‘43, when his disposition to rove impelled him to take his departure. He went to the upper Sacramento Valley and lived a while with Peter Lassen, a Dane, who had settled there under a grant. At times he stopped with some of the other settlers; with Sutter for a while at New Helvetia. As he always made himself useful, he was welcomed wherever he went.

About March, 1841, the Ecuadorian brig Joven Carolina from Guayaquil arrived, commanded by an Ecuadorian who was always known as Captain Miguelón (which signifies “Big Michael”). The captain was of a broad and liberal nature, kind and humane in his treatment of the men on board his vessel; the friend of everybody; overflowing with good humor, though at the same time an excellent business man. Being one of the jolliest and best-natured of gentlemen, he took great delight in the society of ladies. They often visited him on board the brig. The vessel brought a cargo mostly of cocoa, with a quantity of coffee, from Central America, and some Peruvian commodities. She remained at Yerba Buena until November, disposing of the goods, all of them being sold in the bay, a portion to vessels trading on the coast. The Californians were fond of cocoa and chocolate; the manufacture of the latter from the cocoa was done by women, who prepared a choice article with the hand mill or metate.

The vessel went back to Guayaquil, and thence to Peru, with tallow. Shortly before she sailed, Captain Miguelón, who owned the vessel, urged me to go to Guayaquil with him, saying that on arrival there I should be supercargo; we would then return to California and dispose of the goods. The offer was an excellent one, but I declined it, thinking I could do better by remaining where I was.

One day in January, 1842, after I had joined Captain Paty as supercargo, I started with Edward L. Stetson, the young clerk of the vessel, accompanied by a vaquero from Don Domingo Peralta’s rancho near the present site of Berkeley, for the pueblo of San Jose. Stetson had just come from Charlestown, Massachusetts.

It had been raining hard and the creeks were swollen, running over their banks, the country flooded all round, the winter having been a severe one. On reaching Alameda Creek at the crossing near Vallejo’s mill, we found it was overflowing and the current very swift. In that condition it was dangerous to cross. I had often crossed under similar circumstances, and I consulted with the vaquero as to the expediency of proceeding; he replied, “Just as you please.” Stetson said it looked very risky. I told him to keep perfectly cool and steady, as the horse would have all he could do to take him over, and he must not do anything to excite the animal or throw him off his balance. The vaquero went first, Stetson next and I followed. About halfway across, the vaquero’s horse, a large white colt, unbroken, lost his footing, and he and the rider rolled over and over in the stream, but after a hard tussle brought up on the opposite side, the vaquero having stuck to the horse all the time. When this happened Stetson began to weaken, got unsteady, nervous, and, turning round, looked very white, remarking that it was the worst scrape he ever got in. I told him not to look around, which might embarrass the horse, but to look ahead, to hold on and keep cool. However, he began to shake, and presently down the horse went, and the two began to roll over and over. He lost his hold upon the saddle and floundered about in the stream, his long limbs projecting here and there as the current swept him away. Notwithstanding the peril he was in, I could not resist laughing at his ridiculous appearance. The horse got across, and Stetson brought up on a little island. Getting across the stream dry on my horse, I called out to him to rest awhile and then swim ashore the best he could. Being a swimmer, he finally plunged in, and with hard work in the swift water reached shore, minus his hat and a fifty-dollar serape. We gave the vaquero a dollar and he returned in an hour with the serape, having been fortunate enough to recover it.

We resumed our horses, and on reaching the mission of San Jose were cordially welcomed by Father Muro. Stetson and the vaquero were furnished with clothing while their own was drying, the difficulty being to find garments which would accommodate Stetson’s long limbs, and at the best the bottom of his pantaloons came halfway up to the knee. Considerable merriment was had at his expense. We remained two nights waiting for the Coyote Creek to fall somewhat, as we had to cross that stream. The Coyote was not dangerous to cross, and we reached the old town of San Jose without mishap.

There were no bridges in those days. In April, 1839, a bridal party, numbering twenty or thirty persons, went from Pinole to the mission of San Jose. In crossing San Leandro, San Lorenzo and Alameda creeks they had difficulty because of the high water. In returning the next day they found the streams still higher and the difficulty increased. On coming to the San Leandro Creek they found the water so high that it was unsafe to cross, and the entire party was detained there several days.

The first steamer appeared on the bay of San Francisco in 1847. She was built by the Russians at Sitka and brought on one of their vessels to Bodega, where the machinery was put into her. She was a side-wheel boat, and was owned by William A. Leidesdorff, who had bought her of the Russians. On the trial trip in the bay she passed round Goat Island, when all the native and foreign residents gazed with curiosity and astonishment. The excitement was great and the day one of general rejoicing. The machinery, shortly proving a failure, was removed, and she became a sailing vessel about the bay.

When Captain John Paty landed General Micheltorena and the troops at San Blas he found there a man by the name of William M. Smith, whom he brought to Yerba Buena on the return voyage. He was afterward known as “Jim Crow” Smith on account of his ability to mimic Southern negroes. Coming originally from Georgia, he had been a circus rider in Mexico and was considerable of a pistol shooter, with a good deal of bravado about him. When in liquor, if crossed, he was a dangerous man. He could assume the air and manner of a gentleman, but through all the superficial polish the circus rider was discernible more or less. He had considerable native ability, though not much education, and spoke the Spanish language well. After an employment by William A. Leidesdorff to collect hides and tallow, he became a partner of Frank Ward in the fall of 1847, the firm being Ward & Smith, dealers in general merchandise. In the capacity of first auctioneer in Yerba Buena he built himself up and made money, as any man could do in those days who was industrious. He prospered, and secured the respect and confidence of the people. In 1848 he married the widow of William S. Hinckley, and in 1849 or ‘50 moved to Martinez, and built a residence about a mile from the town. Up to the latter part of ‘53 he behaved very well. Being an accurate shot with a pistol, he could knock the head off a bird or break the neck of a bottle at any reasonable distance. One day after he had been drinking with José Antonio Sánchez and some others, he requested Sánchez to stand off about twenty paces and put a bottle on his head and let him break it with a pistol shot. The latter complied, and Smith shattered the bottle, though intoxicated at the time. The performance was repeated several times. Fond of using his pistol, he finally committed suicide at his home in Martinez in 1854.


Don Ygnacio Martínez became comandante of the presidio of San Francisco in 1819, succeeding Don Luis Argüello, who was appointed provisional governor, and with his family lived at the presidio. In later years I had a conversation with one of his daughters, Doña Encarnación Altamirano, who at the time above mentioned was twelve years old. She remembers that there was a little baluarte, or fortification, of triangular shape, located near the intersection of Van Ness Avenue and the bay shore at what is now known as Black Point. The fort, she said, was mounted with a cannon pointing to the bay. There were no barracks at the place, no buildings of any kind. There was no guard, only this single gun mounted on the baluarte. I asked the object of the arrangement, and she replied it was intended for defense, to be availed of in the event vessels of an enemy succeeded in getting past Fort Point and corning up the bay. The little fort was in charge of the comandante, and the artillery was kept in good condition. It remained there for several years, and up to the time the family removed from the presidio to the Pinole rancho. The gun was occasionally fired at the celebration of some festival, the powder for this purpose being brought from the presidio. Shot for the gun was kept near it at the fortification, ready for use in case of necessity.

In 1826 the ship Blossom, a British man-of-war, Captain Beechey, visited the bay of San Francisco and remained several weeks. The captain made the first discovery of the sunken obstruction to navigation known as Blossom Rock, which he named after his ship, and laid it down on his chart. I have known of a number of vessels getting on this rock. In 1830 the East India ship Seringapatam came into the bay for supplies. She was loaded with East India goods—silks and other articles adapted to the Mexican trade, being bound to ports in Mexico. She remained a week or two. In leaving, she struck on the rock, and hung there until a change of tide, when she floated off and proceeded on her voyage. Being built of teakwood in the strongest manner, the ship received no injury. She was commanded by English officers, who were attired in the East India Company uniform. The crew was composed entirely of Malays. It will be remembered that Blossom Rock was blown up and removed under the direction of engineer A. von Schmidt.

One of the characteristics of Californians in early days was the great respect which the children showed their parents. I have observed instances of this deference, among which, the son coming into the presence of his parents, in their own house, removed his hat with politeness and always remained standing, perhaps in conversation with them, until he was asked to be seated. I have known the sons of José J. Estudillo, coming in his presence, always to observe this ceremony.

The Californians were not given to drinking, though fond of tobacco smoking, the habit being universal amongst the men. Sometimes the ladies of southern California indulged in smoking in order to be sociable; and some of the women of northern California were addicted to the same habit—a few among the lower classes. The Mexican ladies, however, were fond of smoking, the rich as well as the poor. This was the custom in their own country, and those who came to California brought it with them. The cigaritos which they smoked were small, made of delicate paper, and the tobacco very fine.

The Mexican as well as the California ladies were noted for their small feet and hands, which is a characteristic of the Spanish race. The Mexican ladies when smoking were in the habit of holding the cigarito between the thumb and finger, the rich using a gold or silver holder to prevent staining the fingers with the tobacco, and the poorer classes a holder made of gamuza, or fine deerskin—with two little pockets, into which they slipped the thumb and finger. Holding up the cigarito, as they placed it in the mouth or removed it, they displayed their pretty little hands to advantage, the fingers extended with an air of coquetry, all very graceful and becoming, and quite captivating to the observer.

But, however habituated to the indulgence, no boy or man, though the latter might be sixty years of age, ever smoked in the presence of his parents. I remember this regulation was conformed to while Don Ygnacio Peralta was one time visiting his father Don Luis at the latter’s house in the pueblo of San Jose, the son, then over sixty years, standing until the old gentleman requested him to be seated. During a long interview, in which they talked continually, the son, though ill at ease, refrained from smoking, the father meanwhile enjoying himself happily in that way; but such a breach of decorum and filial respect as for the other to smoke at the same time was not to be thought of. If a young man was smoking in the street and met an old man coming along, so great was the feeling of respect and deference for the latter that the former would cease smoking and throw his cigar away and politely raise his hat in salutation, whether they were acquainted or total strangers. The vaqueros and other servants of the house showed the same politeness to their masters, always removing their hats when they came into their presence and never smoking before them.

Notions of propriety and morality were so strict among the people that young people engaged to be married were permitted little association by themselves. They were scarcely allowed to see each other or to converse together except in the presence of their parents. This was my own experience in an engagement of over two years. The courtship was usually arranged by the mother of the young lady, or sometimes a favorite aunt was sought and first consulted by the young gentleman who desired the daughter or niece in marriage. If the suitor was considered a worthy person by the father, the young lady was communicated with, after which a request in writing came from the young man to the father. If the application was deemed satisfactory he sent a written reply. Time, however, was taken for consideration, and no haste displayed. It would be an excellent thing if, in this respect, the old Spanish custom, having so much of simplicity and purity, prevailed today. Although the young ladies were not so highly educated as at the present time, yet on going into a family one could see at a glance that artlessness, affection and modesty were the characteristics of the feminine portion thereof, and these merits in my estimation transcend all others.

There was a habit among the people of retiring early, and usually eight o’clock would find them in bed. In a family it was the rule to retire to their bedrooms at the same time. The sons and daughters would go to their parents first, kiss their hands, making a low bow, and say “Buenos noches”; and silence soon prevailed through the house.

In November, 1838, having been invited to a wedding, together with Captain Hinckley I crossed the bay in the schooner Isabella and arrived just before sunset of a clear November afternoon at the embarcadero on San Antonio Creek (East Oakland). Reaching the landing, we were met by a younger brother of the bridegroom, mounted on a splendid black horse, both horse and rider being attired in the richest manner and presenting a very attractive sight. At the same time there appeared upon the brow of the hill, perhaps twenty yards away, a full caponera of palominos, or cream-colored horses, for the wedding cavalcade. They raised their heads, pausing a moment, startled it seemed at sight of the vessel, and as the bright sun struck full upon them, their colored bodies, of light golden hue, and dazzling manes, shone resplendent. The picture has ever since remained in my mind. They were attended by vaqueros, who cast their lassoes and secured two of them for Captain Hinckley and myself; we having brought our saddles with us, a necessity in those days, though you were a guest. The bridegroom had two caponeras for the use of the bridal party; one of canelos, or red roan horses, and the other of twenty-five black horses. Horses of mixed color were better animals than those of a single color.

On returning from the wedding, which took place at the San Jose mission, as the bridal party approached the mansion at Pinole a salute of welcome was fired by the father of the bridegroom from a brass cannon which he, as a military man, kept mounted in the little plaza in front of his dwelling for the protection of the family.

The spring was the dullest season of the year, as the cattle then became quite poor, and not many were killed. Cattle were killed for the use of the rancheros in winter. They were in good condition until spring. The merchants made collections of hides and tallow which accumulated from the slaughter for farm use. In the spring of 1840, business being quiet, I took the schooner Isabella over to Yerba Buena Island, now Goat Island, with four men, and camped there for a week, the men cutting the scrub oak on the island and filling up the schooner. Permission had been asked of the alcalde to go over and cut wood, which he had granted. I took my fishing tackle and books along. While the men were cutting wood I fished from the shore, and passed a week very pleasantly as I have related elsewhere.

In 1842 or ‘43 Spear and Fuller, having obtained possession of five or six goats from Captain Nye of the ship Fama, placed them upon Yerba Buena Island by permission of the alcalde. They found subsistence there, multiplied rapidly, and in 1848 and ‘49 amounted in number to several hundred. From this circumstance the place derived its name of Goat Island. Spear would occasionally send over to the island to get a kid or two for his table, the meat being very palatable, and would invite the neighbors to partake.

In the fall of ‘48 and the early part of ‘49, after the rush of adventurers to California in the gold excitement, some of them amused themselves by going over to Goat Island and shooting the goats. Meat was scarce; goat meat was considered acceptable and commanded a good price. Spear and Fuller caused notices to be published in the newspapers forbidding the killing of the goats by trespassers, but those who thought it fine sport to shoot the goats scampering over the island, wholly wild and untamed, gave no heed to the notices.

After this commenced, Spear said to me one day, “Give me my price for my half interest in the goats on the island.” I replied that I did not need them. He said that he did not want to be bothered and I had better take them, whereupon, to oblige the old gentleman, I gave him a previously stipulated sum for the goats. It proved a poor investment, for nearly all the goats were killed by the reckless shooters and not a cent of value did I ever get out of the speculation.

Old Jack Fuller, by which name he was familiarly known, was an Englishman, good-looking, with soft blue eyes, and an excellent cook. He had been employed by Spear in that capacity. He was also a butcher, and on special occasions, such as festivals, acted as caterer and could get up an excellent dinner or feast when required. He was well liked by everybody, and met with great success in this line of business. He came originally with Spear to the coast in the schooner Thaddeus, from Boston, in 1823. He owned property on Kearny Street, cornering on Sacramento and California streets, which became valuable about the time of his death. His daughter, Doña Chonita Ramírez, resembled the father in good looks and inherited her gracefulness from her mother.

Old Jack was always good-natured, and never dangerous, but would occasionally imbibe too much and run off the track. While in this condition he was given to the most astounding stories, of an innocent kind, however, and that never harmed anybody. He was a carrier of gossip, and he knew the inside history of the town thoroughly. If anything unusual occurred in a household he told the story in such a harmless way that the parties concerned were never incensed at the news-carrier but always looked upon it as one of his jokes. In this particular he was very much like Robert F. Ridley as a storyteller, elsewhere mentioned. They were both cockneys from London. John Fuller was very much attached to Nathan Spear, and it was reciprocated.

In the fall of 1843 I erected on the beach, between Clay and California streets, about midway between Montgomery and Sansome, a large hide shed, roughly built of boards, securely enclosed and convenient, so at high tide the vessels that brought hides to the place could come right to the door of the house and deliver them. In the summer of ‘44 I had about 4,000 hides collected there, awaiting shipment. On the afternoon of the 18th of August there came a heavy rain which lasted continuously for eighteen hours, quite as severe as rains in December or January, very remarkable for a summer in California. As the house was not built for protection against the rains, but only for summer use, my hides got thoroughly wet through, as did those of other persons who had houses near and at other points on the bay. I was obliged to take them all out and dry them on the beach.

When Captain Grimes was settled at Sacramento on his ranch he still made his headquarters at Yerba Buena with Spear, and when here occupied Kent Hall. The captain, though temperate, and never getting the worse for liquor, was fond of a glass now and then, as most old captains are, and always kept a liquor case well supplied with the choicest brands of liquors. This was known to his friends, and it was always considered a treat to join the old gentleman in a glass. Kent Hall and the liquor case became quite a byword among his associates. Various expedients were used to get the captain into good humor preliminary to taking advantage of the hospitality, and many purely original yarns were given out as sober fact for his entertainment and edification. Looking sternly over his spectacles at the narrator, he would refuse to lend a willing ear or would apply to their talk some emphatic and disparaging epithet. He had traveled extensively over the world, was intelligent and well read, sensible, a man of liberal ideas, and not easily humbugged. It was therefore necessary for those who had designs upon his liquor case to sharpen up their wits and present very plausible, comical stories to interest the old captain sufficiently to persuade him to the point. William D. M. Howard and William G. Rae were the chief leaders in these movements. They would always succeed in bringing the old gentleman round by telling something a little more ridiculous or astonishing than had been before related; and when the liquor case was opened—to their satisfaction and delight, those who were near at hand were also invited.

I have heard the captain say repeatedly, “Howard will never pull the wool over my eyes again with his nonsensical and fabricated stories in order to get me to open the old case. I have got the hang of him now”; and when he was telling it the old gentleman was considerably warmed up. This would be reported to Howard, and as he was a man of resources he would study out another story with the assistance of Rae. Howard would then approach the captain very carefully and in a most serious manner begin to tell the new story. About the end of it Rae would make his appearance as prearranged and in the most plausible manner affirm what Howard said. There were many harmless jokes played on the old captain which always brought out the old case, because everybody loved him.


Little festivals and recreations among neighbors, without much formality, were usual with the California families, there being scarcely any amusements. On the hills toward the ocean between the presidio and Fort Point, and south as far as Lake Lobos, there were large patches of wild strawberries, which grew very plentifully and ripened in the spring. At that time families would resort to the place for the purpose of gathering and partaking of the fruit, camping out for several days at a time, many coming from the surrounding country north and south of the bay and as far as Sonoma and Santa Clara. This innocent and healthful recreation was a great enjoyment.

I joined a party gathering strawberries in 1844, the camp consisting of the Families of Wm. G. Rae, Captain Richardson, Nathan Spear, Captain Prado Mesa, Don Francisco Guerrero, Bob Ridley and some others. Other camps were scattered about in the neighborhood. The little village of Yerba Buena was nearly depopulated for the time. We were absent about a week.

Before the camp broke up that year, Don Francisco Guerrero gave a grand merienda or picnic in a little valley north of our camp looking toward the ocean. He provided, among other things, several bullocks and calves, which were prepared as carne asada—meat roasted on spits over a bed of coals, this being much superior to other modes of cooking the meat. Guerrero invited to this festival all the people who were camped on the strawberry grounds, numbering several hundred men, women and children, and they enjoyed themselves heartily. Rae, Spear and myself insisted on furnishing the wine for the occasion although Guerrero had intended doing it himself. While camping, we were visited by W. D. M. Howard and Henry Mellus, supercargoes and agents of vessels, and by other supercargoes and captains of vessels in port at the time. Their visit added greatly to the variety and enjoyment of the occasion. Most prominent among those furnishing fun and amusement for the camp was Howard. One evening he retired into a tent and, unknown to the ladies, blackened his face with burnt cork, put on a crushed hat and some old clothes, and in this guise appeared among the company as a Southern negro, acting out the character to perfection. At first the ladies were frightened, and it was some time before his identity was disclosed. On another evening he appeared as a down-east Yankee, dressed in the peculiar garments suited to that character, and created a great deal of diversion by the representation.

On the way home, after the breaking up of the camp, our special company halted at the Mission Dolores. Here Guerrero gave a baile in the hall of the mission, in which all participated and had a grand time, winding up our strawberry festival. Evenings at the camp were spent in singing, telling stories and playing twenty-one and whist.

These gatherings commenced with the first settlement of the country by the Spaniards, the Indians making known the place the strawberries grew. After the custom of camping had been inaugurated, it was regularly kept up year after year, and continued until the change of government and the country became thickly settled.

Captain John Paty first visited this coast in the schooner Clarion from Honolulu, in 1836. This schooner was afterward the California. She was sold to Governor Alvarado for the use of the government, and commanded by J. B. R. Cooper. Captain Paty, who had been a sailor all his life, was probably as good a navigator as ever lived. He had visited nearly all parts of the world, and was very popular in California, much liked by everybody; also highly regarded by the officers of the local government. The government employed him several times, with his vessel. He took Micheltorena and his troops from California to San Blas. Subsequently Señor Castillero, in April, 1846, went in Paty’s vessel to San Blas as commissioner sent by Governor Pico to treat with the home government on some business. Paty was fond of letter writing and in his communications with friends at the East he spoke well of the climate, soil, advantages and capabilities of California, and dwelt upon the benefit which would result if the American government should obtain possession, and what a misfortune it would be if it should fall into the hands of any other power. After the change of government he and some others started a line of packets between San Francisco and Honolulu. They afterward combined with J. C. Merrill & Co. in the business. His line was the first started between these places. Captain Paty commanded one of the vessels, and his vessel was so popular as a carrier that he took a great many persons between these ports. They would wait to go with him, he being a favorite. On his arrival in San Francisco, on the completion of his hundredth voyage between this port and the Islands, about 1865 or ‘66, the event was celebrated by his many good friends in San Francisco by a banquet given in his honor. On his return to Honolulu a similar celebration took place in which his family, then at Honolulu, joined.

Rae, Spear and Grimes were especial friends of Paty, he being, as has been said, one of the circle of whist players at Rae’s rooms. The captain’s wife and two children accompanied him on some of the trips of the vessel to San Francisco in 1842 and ‘43.

Theodore Cordua, a Prussian, came to the coast in the Don Quixote from Honolulu as a passenger in 1842, his first visit here. He was an old acquaintance of Captain Sutter in his native country. When Sutter settled in the Sacramento Valley, he corresponded with Cordua and urged him to come here. After his arrival he visited Sutter. Through the latter’s influence he was granted eleven leagues of land by the Mexican government, first having become naturalized. The grant was made to him by Micheltorena. The tract in the Sacramento Valley known as the Cordua ranch is a part of his grant. He was a large, portly man, and a general favorite with everybody. He spoke excellent English. Whenever he came to Yerba Buena he was much sought after by the people on account of his companionable qualities, being a great whist player and very fond of the game.

There was another German, Charles W. Flügge, who came in 1843 and went to Sutter’s place. He was intelligent, and a thorough business man, but exceedingly high-tempered; was an intimate friend of Cordua, both being from the same country. FIügge opened a store at New Helvetia in company with Sutter. He knew nothing of Spanish on his arrival, but by diligent study and intercourse with the Indians about the fort (many of whom were old mission Indians, and had learned Spanish) he became proficient in that language and wrote and spoke it fluently. In 1844 he went to Los Angeles and established himself in business with James McKinley. At that time I bought of him for $40 the fifty-vara lot at the northwest corner of California and Montgomery streets, where Wells, Fargo & Co.’s office was situated for many years.

Flügge lived at Los Angeles, where he carried on a large retail business. He became very much enamored of Señorita Adelaida Johnson, a handsome woman, who was a sister to the wife of Henry Mellus. Eventually Doña Adelaida became Mrs. Mellus by marriage with Francis Mellus, a brother of Henry. One day Flügge wandered away from his place of business, and his dead body was found some distance out of town seven days after he was missing. It was supposed that his love affair affected his mind and that he starved to death.

The Californians of the present day are a good deal degenerated, as compared with their fathers—the old stock as I found them when I first came to the country and for several years succeeding, up to the time of the change of government in 1846. I distinctly remember how they impressed me when I first saw them as a boy in 1831 and 1833, a race of men of large stature and of fine, handsome appearance. There are several causes for the deterioration in these people which is now so apparent, the chief of which is the unjust treatment they received from the American government in the matter of their landed property. Before the change of government they were in full and happy possession of their ranchos under the titles emanating from the Spanish and Mexican governments and considered themselves entirely secure in their properties.

They were then a wealthy people, probably more so than the people of any other Spanish country, according to the number of the population; that is, their average wealth was greater than that of the people of Spain or any of the countries peopled from Spain originally. For a time after California passed into the hands of the United States their wealth increased, owing to the demand for horses and cattle (of which their wealth consisted) for the supply of the troops that were sent here, and of the United States squadron and vessels, and ships of other nations that began to arrive.

After the discovery of gold, when the people came in large numbers, this good fortune continued for a time, until the Californians had troubles in regard to their land titles, arising first from the inroads of squatters who trespassed upon their ranchos, took possession of considerable portions of the land, drove off cattle, interfered with the grazing, annoyed and despoiled the ranchos and invaded the rights of the possessors.

The first settlers had to fight with the Indians for possession of the land and some of them lost their lives in the conflicts. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo recognized the rights of the Californians to their lands under the Mexican titles; but by subsequent legislation of Congress they were required to prove their titles before the United States Land Commission and the courts. This was an unnecessary hardship imposed upon them, and involved them in litigation and expense, which was a new and perplexing experience even if no unfair advantage had been taken of them. They did not understand our language and in order to be properly represented before the commission and the courts they were obliged to employ American counsel. Many of these lawyers were quite unscrupulous and took advantage of the Californians, who were honest and simple-hearted. Where they could not pay ready money for the legal services, which were charged at a high rate, the lawyers required promissory notes of them. When the notes became due and remained unpaid, the holders attached their land and obtained possession of it. The depredations of the squatters continued, and of others also, who by one means or another had obtained possession; or the owners were so much involved in efforts to defend themselves that they became dispirited, crushed, poor and miserable. The sons of noble families grew up in want and poverty; became dissipated and demoralized. Thus the old stock rapidly deteriorated and went into decay. The subject of the land troubles of the Californians will be further alluded to.

A few old California families have retained a considerable portion of their property. They have maintained their dignity and pride. They are the same as in the earlier days, unchanged, kind, hospitable and honorable. I may mention as among these exceptions Don Francisco Galindo, the owner of the Galindo Hotel in Oakland. His father died some years ago (1890), nearly one hundred years of age.

Recently (1888), in San Diego, I met the widow of Captain John Paty. She was on a visit to one of her married daughters who resided there, the wife of Lieutenant Benson, of the U. S. Army. Another daughter married a lieutenant in the U. S. Navy and lived at Vallejo. I remarked to the mother that she was well represented in the American government. I found her a well-preserved lady of over sixty, plump and fine-looking. She had recently arrived from Honolulu, near which she then resided. The lady had a beautiful home in Nuuanu Valley, at the foot of which is Honolulu.

Mrs. Paty came to the Islands the first time in 1834, in the brig Avon, of about one hundred and eighty tons, commanded by her husband. In 1836 Mrs. Paty returned to Boston with her husband. On this trip the bark was loaded with sperm oil from the wreck of an American whaleship. The outer harbor of Honolulu is nothing more than an open roadstead, exposed to southerly winds. The whaler, driven from her mooring there onto a reef, was unable to get off, and finally went to pieces, the cargo of oil being saved. While the Don Quixote was moored at Long Wharf, Boston, on this trip, the bark Cervantes was at the same pier, the two vessels almost touching each other. This was thought to be a singular coincidence, meeting of barks having such memorable names—one the actor and the other the writer, so renowned throughout the civilized world. The two captains were proud of their vessels, and both became great friends during their stay in Boston. Mrs. Paty made her home at Honolulu after 1837, and while her husband was engaged in trading between the Islands, Valparaíso and Callao, and the coast of California. In 1842 she accompanied him from Honolulu, and arrived at Monterey about June. She went in the vessel south and back again to Monterey, arriving there in October, 1842, just after Commodore Jones had taken and given it up, as before described. She was from Charlestown, Massachusetts; a woman of fine character, good education, of great intelligence and with excellent conversational powers. I think she was the third American lady who came to this coast, Mrs. T. O. Larkin and Mrs. Nathan Spear preceding her. She was a pioneer of whom the country might well be proud. These ladies, being then the only American women on the coast, were treated with the greatest courtesy and distinction by the officers of the United States squadron.

On arriving at Monterey she was invited to the flagship and entertained in the pleasantest manner. The invitation was several times repeated, the presence of the ladies being considered a great compliment to those aboard the vessel. It certainly was a most agreeable surprise and gratification to the officers to find in this remote part of the world some of their countrywomen, so refined and intelligent.

I was present on one of the occasions aboard the flagship, when Mrs. Paty remarked, in a facetious manner, “What a pity, Commodore Jones, that you gave up this beautiful department after having taken possession.” He replied that he would gladly have kept it, but he was compelled to relinquish it; that he took it in order not to be behind time in case the British contemplated a similar movement, supposing at the time that war existed between the United States and Mexico; but he had found this was an error; having no good reason for holding on, he gave it up. When I told Mrs. Paty, at my last interview, that I should give a sketch of her husband in an account of California and its people, she expressed her gratification and said she hoped I would do him full justice, for he was deserving of everything I could say in his favor. She added, “You must call him Commodore Paty, and not simply Captain Paty.” In February, 1846, the king of the Sandwich Islands had conferred on Captain Paty the title of commodore, officially, and he became to some extent the representative of the Sandwich Islands to protect their interests on this coast. He wore on special occasions the Hawaiian uniform. The merchants of San Francisco recognized and confirmed his title of commodore. Among themselves they bestowed on him the title of commodore of all the fleet trading between the Islands and this port.

He was a kindhearted man. I never knew him to refuse a favor to anyone, though often he complied, when appealed to, much against his own interests. As his agent and business man I was mindful of his customers—as to their reliability, and while always ready to trust native Californians for whatever goods they wanted, knowing they would be sure to pay for them, I found it was not best to trust such foreign residents as were of doubtful financial responsibility. Men of this character would come to me and ask for credit which I was compelled to refuse. They would then sometimes go to Paty himself, stating their case; and he, full of the milk of human kindness, could not find it in his heart to refuse them. He would call me aside and say he thought we should accommodate them. I would remonstrate, and declare that we might as well charge the items to profit-and-loss account at once; that it was about the same as giving the goods away; that I knew it was for his interest not to, but if he gave me a peremptory order to deliver them I would do so. “Well,” he would say, “I hate to refuse; I think you had better.” The articles were delivered accordingly, and that was the last we knew of the transaction except as it remained on the books. On some of these occasions Mrs. Paty was present and, being of a firmer disposition than her husband in business matters, would intimate to the captain that it was foolish to interfere in behalf of the impecunious customers.

The doubtful purchasers were not those who had settled and built up homes, but mostly runaway sailors, some of whom used to go to the redwoods about the bay and to the redwoods of Santa Cruz and Monterey to cut lumber for building purposes, there being no sawmills in the department. They were rather uncertain and roving. Few of them settled down and became permanent residents. They generally spent money as fast as it was earned. The hunters and trappers who came across the mountains and remained in California were of a different type; though lacking in the graces of civilization, they were honorable, and true to their word, sober, and industrious in the line of their occupation (most of them continuing as hunters and trappers), and we could trust them confidently, knowing if they wanted goods they would pay.

At the time of Commodore Wilkes’ stay in the harbor of San Francisco, Captain Paty was here with his vessel. Having traveled extensively all over the world, and being an old sailor and splendid navigator, Wilkes enjoyed his society. Many of the places where Wilkes had been and others to which he intended to go, Paty had visited. He often went aboard the flagship to spend a few hours, when the two navigators would interchange ideas. Wilkes obtained information from him in regard to the Pacific Ocean and its islands, and the places at which he intended to touch. Paty was pleased with Wilkes because of his scientific acquirements, the old commodore making the interviews instructive, as he always did to the few for whom he felt respect and in whom he had confidence.

Mrs. Paty recalled to my mind, at San Diego, an incident which took place at the grand entertainment given by the citizens of Monterey upon the restoration of the town to the Mexican authorities after the capture by Commodore Jones. Captain Armstrong, of the flagship, was a heavy man, and Captain Paty was small and wiry. Both were fond of dancing, and there was an animated contest between them to see who could waltz the longest, to the amusement of the company. They continued on the floor a long time, the California ladies seeming never to tire of dancing. Paty secured a victory over his big rival, who succumbed to fatigue.

Another incident was also brought to mind. When Micheltorena and his troops were conveyed to San Blas, calling at Monterey, she quit the vessel before it left San Pedro, and it was my pleasure to convey Mrs. Paty to Los Angeles, where she was to remain at William Wolfskill’s house awaiting the captain’s return from Mexico. It was a beautiful, balmy morning in March, when the season in that part of the country is much more advanced than further north. We traveled in the old-fashioned primitive carriage or wagon, with solid wheels, drawn by oxen. The gañán, or driver, a Californian, was mounted on a horse and rode by the side of the oxen, armed with a slender stick with a sharp-pointed spike attached to the end for the purpose of urging the creatures along. Being a lighthearted young man he beguiled the monotony of the journey by singing sentimental songs in the Spanish language, in a melodious voice, which were also quite entertaining to us. The vehicle was comfortably furnished, and we were well provided with eatables—chickens, hams, etc., the journey occupying the whole day. I took precaution to instruct the driver to supply himself with sonic grease for the axles, to prevent the sharp squeaking and screeching which otherwise would have been heard for several miles. When I last saw Mrs. Paty, the novelty of her experience at that time was referred to—a refined Boston lady traveling in such rude fashion through a wild country. We had a good laugh over the reminiscences.

Wolfskill, of Los Angeles, above mentioned, had a vineyard which was then in good bearing, and second only in importance to that of Vignes.

During her stay at Los Angeles Mrs. Paty visited an Indian woman living in the neighborhood, a hundred and thirty years of age, and found her well preserved and in possession of her faculties, but her face was extremely wrinkled and resembled a piece of dried and crinkled parchment. She presented the appearance of a living mummy. She recalled the arrival of the first missionaries to the coast, being then a full-grown woman. Mrs. Paty had also found at Santa Barbara, previously, an Indian woman a hundred and sixteen years of age.

Mrs. Paty was as fully intelligent as her talented husband. She wrote many letters to her friends East, gentlemen as well as ladies, describing the country here and setting forth its beauties, thus doing a great deal to make it known to the rich and influential citizens of Boston and elsewhere. She did as much in this respect, and did as well, as any man could have done. Prior to my wife’s marriage, she and Mrs. Paty were friends, and in 1849 Mrs. Paty lived with us while her husband was away on one of his voyages. Recently they met at San Diego and were delighted to see each other and talk over old times. Since Captain Paty’s death great respect and polite attention by the captains of steamers and vessels on this coast, who held the commodore in high honor, had been accorded his widow, who was much gratified at this kindly regard for his memory. She had a son at Honolulu, John Henry Paty, a partner in the banking house of Bishop & Company.

Source: Davis, William Heath. Seventy-five Years in San Francisco. 1929: San Francisco.

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