San Francisco History

The Annals of San Francisco


THE general war continued for about a year after the reduction of California. At last, in the month of February, 1848, an armistice was entered into between the hostile parties, which endured till a formal treaty of peace was concluded. This was ratified by the Senate of the United States in March, and by the Mexican Congress in May following of the year just named. By this treaty a considerable territory was ceded by Mexico. The boundary line between it and the United States was declared to be the Rio Grande, up mid-channel of which it ran till about the thirty-second parallel; from whence, turning westward, along the southern limit of New Mexico till it cut the Gila, down the middle of which river it proceeded till its junction with the Rio Colorado; from whence it ran westward till it reached the Pacific, at a point about one league south of San Diego, nearly on latitude thirty-two and a half. Thus Texas, to its full extent, New Mexico and Upper California were altogether contained within the boundary line on the American side. The free navigation of the Rio Colorado, from the mouth of the Gila to the Gulf of California, as well as of the gulf itself, were likewise secured to the United States. To compensate, in some measure, for the cession of such a vast territory, the American Governlnent agreed to pay to Mexico the sum of $15,000,000; and, moreover, took upon itself all liability for the damages due by Mexico to American subjects, which, as before stated, was one of the original causes of the war. Each nation was to defray its own expenses in conducting hostilities. There were several minor stipulations in the treaty; but with these we have nothing here to do. It is sufficient merely to say, that California was now, wholly and legally, a portion of the American Union; and her people of Spanish or of ether origin, were henceforward American citizens.

Meanwhile the country was ruled, provisionally, by successive American governors, until a constitution could be granted by Congress, when it would be formally assumed as a Territory of the Union. Events, however, were about to happen which superseded the necessity of such a constitution, and hastened the development of California into a State, without passing through the intermediate stage of a territory. Like the Minerva on its public seal, it started into life a full grown being, ripe in all its faculties and powers, and at once fitted to contend with whoever and whatever should oppose its wonderful progress. This was owing to the discovery of gold in the country and consequent rush of immigration thither, with all its attendant effects.

But before this discovery took place, a vast immigration from all sides had begun to flow towards California. The previous advantages which the country had offered to the intending immigrant, were on a sudden immensely increased by the circumstance of its being now a portion of the American Union. Accordingly, large bodies of people were beginning to flock to the land; and agriculture, trade and commerce were greatly benefited by the accession of such numbers of active, intelligent and industrious settlers. In 1845, it was estimated that the white population had increased to about 8,000; while the domesticated Indians, who but a dozen years before had numbered nearly 30,000, now scarcely amounted to one-third of that number. As for the wild or “gentile” Indians, it was impossible to form any reasonable conjecture as to their numbers. They were, however, generally supposed, by different parties, to number from one to three hundred thousand. As they inhabited districts hitherto scarcely visited by the white man, their presence and numbers were considered as of no account in the progress of the country. The years 1846 and 1847 brought a very large accession to the white population. Colonel Stevenson’s regiment of New York volunteers alone gave a body of a thousand hardy settlers, as nearly the whole number, officers as well as men, remained in the country upon being disbanded, which indeed had been anticipated. But beside these, great numbers of Americans had journeyed from the Atlantic States across the Rocky and Snowy Mountains, and settled in California. Numerous companies of Mormons likewise either came direct from the Eastern States, or from their settlements beside the Great Salt Lake. A portion of these had formed the noted “Mormon Battalion” of the war. At the same time, far more than the usual proportion of stragglers, runaway seamen, and adventurers from all nations continued to pour into the country, so soon as the war and its first results were known. At the close of hostilities, it was estimated that the white population, of all nations, numbered between 12,000 and 15,000, which was not merely annually but daily increasing. Such was the beneficent influence and magic power of the American flag! People knew that they were safe under its folds, and free to run the race of a prosperous career.

But immeasurably exceeding all other causes in raising the swelling tide of immigration was the discovery of gold. This happened at Coloma, a valley and town situated between fifty and sixty miles east of Sacramento City, in the month of January, 1848; curiously enough, just when the land was ceasing to be Mexican. Many strange and improbable stories have been told as to the alleged earliest discoveries; but we believe that the only reliable account is that given by Captain Sutter, upon whose ground the precious metal was first found, and which we shall therefore adopt, without noticing the various fabulous statements alluded to.

Sutter's Mill.It appears that Captain Sutter, during the winter of 1847-48, was erecting a saw-mill for producing lumber, on the south fork of the American River, a feeder of the Sacramento. Mr. James W. Marshall contracted with Sutter for the building of this mill; and, in the course of his operations, had occasion to admit the river water into the tail-race, for the purpose of widening and deepening it by the strength of the current. In doing this, a considerable quantity of mud, sand and gravel was carried along with the stream, and deposited in a heap at the foot of the tail-race. Marshall, when one day examining the state of his works, noticed a few glittering particles lying near the edge of the heap. His curiosity being aroused, he gathered some of the sparkling objects; and at once became satisfied of their nature and the value of his discovery. All trembling with excitement, he turned to his employer, and told his story. Captain Sutter at first thought it was a fiction, and the teller only a mad fool. Indeed, he confesses, that he kept a sharp eye upon his loaded rifle, when he, whom he was tempted to consider a maniac, was eagerly disclosing the miraculous tale. However, his doubts were all at once dispelled when Marshall tossed on the table before him an ounce or so of the shining dust. The two agreed to keep the matter secret, and quietly share the golden harvest between them. But, as they afterwards searched more narrowly together, and gloated upon the rich deposits, their eager gestures and looks, and muttered, broken words, happened to be closely watched by a Mormon laborer employed about the neighborhood. He followed their movements, and speedily became as wise as themselves. As secrecy was of little importance to him, he forthwith divulged the extraordinary intelligence, and in confirmation of the story, exhibited some scales of gold which he had himself gathered. Immediately, every body in the neighborhood left his regular employment, and began to search for the precious metal. A large body of Mormon immigrants about this time was approaching California by the south pass of the Rocky Mountains; and, on hearing news of the discovery, hastened at once to the spot. Rumors of these circumstances speedily flew across the length and breadth of the land, variously modified by the warmth or coolness of fancy of the successive narrators, but all agreeing in this, that gold was to be had in large quantities, for the mere trouble of picking it up, at Sutter’s Mill, on the south fork of the Rio de los Americanos. To that quarter, then, all the loose population around instantly directed their steps. Soon the neighborhood swarmed with diggers; and, within a few days after the first discovery, upwards of twelve hundred people were busily at work, with spades, shovels, knives, sticks, wooden bowls, cradles, and all manner of implements, many of them of the rudest and most primitive fashion, excavating, riddling and washing earth for the precious particles it contained. Over all California the excitement was prodigious. Spaniard, American and foreigner were all alike affected. The husband left his wife; the father, his family; people tore themselves from the most pressing duties at home; men deserted their masters, and these followed their servants—all hurried to Sutter’s Mill. Some withstood the temptation for a short time; but, very soon, nearly the whole male population of the country, unable to resist the evidence of their senses when specimens of the newly found gold were exhibited before their dilated eyes, became suddenly infected with the maddened whirl of the “yellow fever,”—the auri sacra fames, and rushed off at a tangent, helter-skelter, to gather riches, as Aladdin had plucked fruits of priceless value in his fairy garden, in the bowels of the earth, among the valleys of the Snowy Mountains. Towns were dispeopled, ships in harbor deserted, all kinds of business sent to the dogs; the whole settled parts of the country were suddenly deprived of their inhabitants, or women and children alone formed the population, though even of these many flocked to the placers and the diggings, to see and be seen, to make money somehow, and as surely to spend it.

Meanwhile, other streams and other valleys were found to contain the auriferous sands. Not only the whole strip of country west of the Sierra Nevada, which was drained by feeders of the Sacramento, but that other strip, locally in connection with the former, and lying to the south, which was watered by the streams which fell into the San Joaquin, was ascertained also to possess auriferous deposits in large quantities. In fact it was believed that the gold regions could not be exhausted of their treasures during countless generations. There was enough, therefore, and to spare, for all comers, though their name should be “legion.” Individuals were daily making considerable fortunes, while all who chose to work steadily at the business, were sure to earn much larger wages than they could do at any other kind of labor in the country.

All this while, the few ships that were enabled to get away from the coast, and travellers and expresses by land, were spreading the news far and wide over remote seas and through foreign climes. The circles of excitement grew wider and wider, and scarcely lost strength as they spread farther distant. First,the Mexicans from the nearest, and then those from the remotest provinces, flocked to California. The indolent, yet adventurous, half-wild population of Sonora poured in its many thousands from the south; while Oregon from the north sent its sturdy settlers in almost equal numbers. The Sandwich Islands followed, with their strange medley of white and colored races. Peru and Chili then hurried an innumerable crowd, as fast as ships could be obtained to carry them to the fields of gold. Before long, China sent forward her thousands of thrifty wandering children, feeble, indeed, both in body and mind, but persevering, and from their union into laboring companies, capable of great feats. Australia likewise contributed her proportion of clever rascals, and perhaps as many clever adventurers who had not been convicted felons. The United States, which at all times contain a vast roving and excitable population, next were affected to their very centres; and armies—to use a moderate term, were on a sudden organized instantly to proceed to California and share in the golden spoil. The year 1848 was lost for the land passage; but by the early summer of 1849, great and numerous caravans were in full march, by various routes, across the Rocky Mountains. Many hardships were endured by these immigrants, and numbers died on the road. But their unburied bodies and bleaching skeletons were unheeded by the succeeding throng, or only pointed out to the weary yet restless travellers the paths where others had gone before, and which perhaps the new-comers should only avoid. On—on! to the land of gold! There, fortune smiled on all, while her worshippers revelled among riches. On—on Round Cape Horn fleets were bearing additional thousands; while through Mexico to all her eastern ports, and especially across the Isthmus of Panama, still other thousands were hurrying, by new ships on the Pacific, to the “Golden Gate.” Later in the year, and somewhat diminished in intensity, the excitement produced in Europe similar results. Many of the young, strong and adventurous, the idle, dissipated, reckless, sanguine youths of Great Britain, France and Germany, broke through the ties of home, friends and country, and perhaps of civilization itself, and embarked for California, to seize fortune in a bound, and with one eager clutch, or to perish in the attempt.

These astonishing circumstances soon gathered into California a mixed population of nearly a quarter of a million of the wildest, bravest, most intelligent, yet most reckless and perhaps dangerous beings ever before collected into one small district of country. Gold, and the pleasures that gold could buy, had allured them to the scene. They were flushed with hope and excitement. Chiefly young men, they were naturally boisterous and riotous. When their “blood was up” they would dare all things, heedless of consequences. Rich or poor—fortunate, or the reverse in their search for gold, they were almost equally dangerous members of the community. If unsuccessful, they were moody and discontented, fit and ready for any new and desperate enterprise if fortunate, the excesses of warm youthful constitutions, the gaming table, women and drink, were certain to produce a prolific crop of vice, crime and all social disorders. Without family ties, without the restraining and softening charms of home and modest female society, the strange mixed population of California at this time was like the dormant volcano, which at some unexpected moment may break forth and devastate all within its influence. Or it maybe compared to the swelling flood of a mighty river which threatens every instant to overleap or burst its banks, and overwhelm the great country through which it rolls, and which, when the stream is confined within proper limits, it only fertilizes and enriches. The good sense of the community, and the speedy establishment of a legal constitution could alone save California from the threatened manifold evils of its heterogeneous population, and direct its immense and wavering energies into the best and most profitable channels for their reception.

The cooler and more intelligent settlers in California early foresaw the urgent necessity of a regular constitution being adopted. The provisional government subsisting since the conquest of 1847 was but a make-shift at the best; fit perhaps to regulate the concerns of such a limited community as then inhabited California, but by no means able to satisfy the wants of the great, growing and dangerous population which now so strangely and suddenly had arisen. Probably, Congress, at a distance, was not sufficiently alive to the pressing need of adequate measures being instantly taken to remedy the alarming state of things described, by means of a formal territorial government. At any rate, the most honest, intelligent and influential inhabitants of California believed that they could wait no longer the slow movements of Congress, and conceived that their own social safety would be best consulted by at once improvising governments of their own. Accordingly, attempts were soon severally made, by the people of San Francisco, Sonoma and Sacramento, to form legislatures for themselves, which they invested with supreme authority. Other portions of the country prepared to follow the example of the places named. It was quickly found, however, that these independent legislatures threatened occasionally to come into collision with each other, while the existence in a limited country of so many different supreme courts, each governed by its own maxims and principles of procedure, betrayed an anomalous state of things too uncertain and unsatisfactory to be longer patiently borne. A general feeling therefore became evident that the sooner such partial legislation was put a stop to the better for the country; and that nothing less than a general constitution and complete civil government would be held satisfactory by the people.

Great meetings for these purposes were held at San José, San Francisco, Monterey, Sonoma, and other places, in the months of December and January, 1848-49. It was there resolved that such a civil organization was expedient, and that delegates should be chosen by popular election, from each district of the country, who should afterwards assemble at San José, though the place of meeting was subsequently changed to Monterey. The period of meeting was first fixed for the 8th of January, then extended to the 5th of March, next to the 1st of May, and finally, in order to give ample time to every district to make the necessary arrangements, to the first Monday in August. The delegates to meet at this convention were to frame the constitution desired. The resolutions adopted at these primary meetings were forwarded to and exchanged between the principal districts and towns of the country for their consideration and approval; by which places they were unanimously approved of. These initiatory movements were not dictated by political faction; but were the true and honest result of popular feeling on the subject. There were no partisans in the matter, where there was only one great party, and that included the whole thinking population.

While the people of California were thus working out for themselves the great problem of a State constitution, the military governor, General Riley, thought fit to interfere. On the 3d of June, 1849, he issued a proclamation, in which was fairly enough stated the anomalous and unsatisfactory position of the country, both in its local and general governments; and he thereupon ordained the inhabitants in certain specified districts to return delegates to a convention, which would meet at Monterey on the 1st of September, to frame a State Constitution, and which should afterwards be submitted to the people for their approval. In the same proclamation he likewise made provision for the election of certain district officials to complete the temporary local organization. The people in many parts of the country considered the interference of the military authority to be unnecessary as it was uncalled for. As, however, matters could not be improved, the different districts were content to adopt the provisions of General Riley’s proclamation, and chose their delegates accordingly.

These delegates were forty-eight in number, and while they nominally represented only different parts of California, they might have been taken as a fair representation of every State in the Union. They likewise included natives of various European countries. They were chiefly men of comparatively youthful years, many of them not much accustomed, at least of late, to the study of those abstract questions which might have been anticipated in devising the constitution of a State. But they were all fully impressed with the importance of their trust, and determined to do their duty in the best manner possible. Among the number were individuals of high talents, whose wisdom, despatch and aptitude for legislation were eminently displayed. As these delegates cannot be too well known, we give the following list of their names, and the districts they represented:—

San Diego.
Charles T. Botts
William M. Stewart
Miguel de Pedrorena
Pacificus Ord
Francis J. Lippitt
Henry Hill
Lewis T. Dent
A. J. Ellis
Rodman M. Price

Los Angeles.
Stephen C. Foster
José Antonio Carillo
Hugo Reid
Manuel Dominguez
Abel Stearns

San José.
Joseph Aram
Kimball H. Dimmick
J. D. Hoppe
Antonio M. Pico
Elam Brown
Julian Hawks
Pedro Sansevani

San Joaquin.
Thomas Lloyd Vermeule
O. M. Wozencroft
B. F. Moore
J. M. H. Hollingsworth
J. M. Jones
Benjamin S. Lippincott

Santa Barbara.
Pablo de la Guerra
Jacinto Rodriguez

San Luis Obispo.
Henry A. Tefft
José M. Covarrubias

Henry W. Halleck
Thomas O. Larkin

Joel P. Walker
Robert Semple
Mariano G. Vallejo

San Francisco.
Edward Gilbert
Myron Norton
William M. Gwin
Joseph Hobson

Jacob R. Snyder
Winfield S. Sherwood
L. W. Hastings
John McDougal
William E. Shannon
John A. Sutter
Elisha O. Crosby
M. M. McCarver

Monterey.The delegates, at their first regular meeting on the 4th of September, chose, by a large majority of votes, Dr. Robert Semple as president of the convention; Captain William G. Marcy was then appointed secretary, and the other necessary offices were properly filled up. The house in which the delegates met was a large handsome two-story stone erection, called “Colton Hall,” and was perhaps the best fitted for their purposes of any building in the country.

Without narrating the particular incidents and debates that occurred among the delegates, it may be sufficient to say, that, after rather more than a month’s constant labor and discussion, the existing constitution of California was drafted and finally adopted by the convention. This noble document was formed after the model of the most approved State constitutions of the Union, and was framed in strict accordance with the most liberal and independent opinions of the age. Some indeed of its provisions may be open to cavil, as for instance, whether the judges—supreme ones particularly—should be chosen by direct election of the people, and for only a limited period, and whether the free descendants of the black and red races should be excluded from the rights of suffrage and election. But, taking it as a whole, the constitution, which is essentially democratic in its nature, must certainly be pronounced, in its declaration of rights and the various divisions regulating the election, powers and duties of the legislative, executive and judicial departments, as well as the portion respecting education, a wonderful advance and improvement in the modern art of government. Among other things, it expressly rejected slavery and “involuntary servitude,” and declared the right of women to hold as their own separate property after marriage, the estates, both real and personal, which they possessed before it, or which they might afterwards acquire by gift, devise or descent. But it is unnecessary in our narrow limits to dwell on the peculiar features of this celebrated constitution. We refer our readers to the document itself, which should be in the hands of every Californian. It will bear keen criticism, and merits the close study of statesmen of every country.

On the 13th of October, the delegates signed the precious instrument; and so finished the labors they were appointed to perform. While the signatures were being affixed, shot after shot slowly boomed from the guns of the fort in honor of the Union, and as the thirty-first and last was heard, which was a little louder, the listeners thought, than those that had gone before, the suppressed feelings of the people broke forth, and all joyously exclaimed—”That’s for California!“—and so it was.

Thus was completed the great duty of 1849. From this time forward, the history of the State demands a separate volume. In this, we have only aimed at giving a mere sketch of its previous history, as a proper introduction to the “Annals of San Francisco.” Our next chapter will contain a short account of the physical geography, and of the commercial, agricultural, pastoral and mineral capabilities of the country, which will conclude PART FIRST of the present work.

Source: Frank Soulé, John H. Gihon, M.D., and James Nisbet. The Annals of San Francisco. 1855: San Francisco.

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