In the Footprints of the Padres
Charles Warren Stoddard
Part 2 out of 4
In that year a number of the missions were sold by public auction. The
Indian converts, formerly attached to some of the missions, but now
demoralized and wandering idly and miserably over the country, were
ordered to return within a month to the few remaining missions, _or
those also would be sold_. The Indians, having had enough of legislation
and knowing the white man pretty well by this time, no doubt having had
enough of him, returned not, and their missions were disposed of. Then
the remaining missions were rented and the remnants divided into three
parts: one kindly bestowed upon the missionaries, who were the founders
and rightful owners of the missions; one upon the converted Indians, who
seem to have vanished into thin air; one, the last, was supposed to be
converted into a new Pious Fund of California for the further education
and evangelization of the masses--whoever they might be. The general
government had long been in financial distress, and had often
borrowed--to put it mildly--from the friars in their more prosperous
days. In 1831 the Mexican Congress owed the missions of California
$450,000 of borrowed money; and in 1845 it left those missionaries
Let me not harp longer upon this theme, but end with a quotation from
the pages of a non-Catholic historian. Referring to the Franciscans and
their mission work on the Pacific coast, Josiah Joyce, assistant
professor of philosophy in Harvard College, says:
"No one can question their motives, nor may one doubt that their
intentions were not only formally pious but truly humane. For the more
fatal diseases that so-called civilization introduced among the Indians,
only the soldiers and colonists of the presidios and pueblos were to
blame; and the Fathers, well knowing the evil results of a mixed
population, did their best to prevent these consequences, but in vain;
since the neighborhood of a presidio was often necessary for the safety
of a mission, and the introduction of a white colonist was an important
part of the intentions of the home government. But, after all, upon this
whole toil of the missions, considered in itself, one looks back with
regret, as upon one of the most devout and praiseworthy of mortal
efforts; and, in view of its avowed intentions, one of the most complete
and fruitless of human failures. The missions have meant, for modern
American California, little more than a memory, which now indeed is
lighted up by poetical legends of many sorts. But the chief significance
of the missions is simply that they first began the colonization of
The old mission church as I knew it four and forty years ago is still
standing and still an object of pious interest. The first families of
the faithful lie under its eaves in their long and peaceful sleep,
happily unmindful of the great changes that have come over the spirit of
all our dreams. The old adobes have returned to dust, even as the hands
of those who fashioned them more than a century ago. Very modern houses
have crowded upon the old church and churchyard, and they seem to have
become the merest shadows of their former selves; while the roof-tree
of the new church soars into space, and its wide walls--out of all
proportion with the Dolores of departed days--are but emblematic of the
new spirit of the age.
[Footnote 1: In "California," 1886,--one of the admirable American
SOCIAL SAN FRANCISCO
Social San Francisco during the early Fifties seems to have been a
conglomeration of unexpected externals and surprising interiors. It was
heterogeneous to the last degree. It was hail-fellow-well-met, with a
reservation; it asked no questions for conscience's sake; it would not
have been safe to do so. There were too many pasts in the first families
and too many possible futures to permit one to cast a shadow upon the
other. And after all is said, if sins may be forgiven and atoned for,
why should the memory of a shady past imperil the happiness and
prosperity of the future? All futures should be hopeful; they were
"promise-crammed" in that healthy and hearty city by the sea.
It was impossible, not to say impolite, to inquire into your neighbors'
antecedents. It was currently believed that the mines were filled with
broken-down "divines," as if it were but a step from the pulpit to the
pickaxe. As for one's family, it was far better off in the old home so
long as the salary of a servant was seventy dollars a month, fresh eggs
a dollar and a quarter a dozen, turkeys ten dollars apiece, and coal
fifty dollars a ton.
In 1854 and 1855 San Francisco had a monthly magazine that any city or
state might have been proud of; this was _The Pioneer_, edited by the
Rev. Ferdinand C. Ewer. In 1851, a lady, the wife of a physician, went
with her husband into the mines and settled at Rich Bar and Indian Bar,
two neighboring camps on the north fork of the Feather River. There were
but three or four other women in that part of the country, and one of
these died. This lady wrote frequent and lengthy descriptive letters to
a sister in New England, and these letters were afterward published
serially in _The Pioneer_. They picture life as a highly-accomplished
woman knew it in the camps and among the people whom Bret Harte has
immortalized. She called herself "Dame Shirley," and the "Shirley
Letters" in _The Pioneer_ are the most picturesque, vivid, and valuable
record of life in a California mining camp that I know of. The wonder is
that they have never been collected and published in book form; for they
have become a part of the history of the development of the State.
The life of a later period in San Francisco and Monterey has been
faithfully depicted by another hand. The life that was a mixture of
Gringo and diluted Castilian--a life that smacked of the presidio and
the hacienda,--that was a tale worth telling; and no one has told it so
freely, so fully or so well as Gertrude Franklin Atherton.
"Dame Shirley" was Mrs. L.A.C. Clapp. When her husband died she went to
San Francisco and became a teacher in the Union Street public school. It
was this admirable lady who made literature my first love; and to her
tender mercies I confided my maiden efforts in the art of composition.
She readily forgave me then, and was the very first to offer me
encouragement; and from that hour to this she has been my faithful
friend and unfailing correspondent.
South Park and Rincon Hill! Do the native sons of the golden West ever
recall those names and think what dignity they once conferred upon the
favored few who basked in the sunshine of their prosperity? South Park,
with its line of omnibuses running across the city to North Beach; its
long, narrow oval, filled with dusty foliage and offering a very weak
apology for a park; its two rows of houses with, a formal air, all
looking very much alike, and all evidently feeling their importance.
There were young people's "parties" in those days, and the height of
felicity was to be invited to them. As a height o'ertops a hollow, so
Rincon Hill looked down upon South Park. There was more elbow-room on
the breezy height; not that the height was so high or so broad, but it
_was_ breezy; and there was room for the breeze to blow over gardens
that spread about the detached houses their wealth of color and perfume.
How are the mighty fallen! The Hill, of course, had the farthest to
fall. South Parkites merely moved out: they went to another and a better
place. There was a decline in respectability and the rent-roll, and no
one thinks of South Park now,--at least no one speaks of it above a
whisper. As for the Hill, the Hillites hung on through everything; the
waves of commerce washed all about it and began gnawing at its base; a
deep gully was cut through it, and there a great tide of traffic ebbed
and flowed all day. At night it was dangerous to pass that way without a
revolver in one's hand; for that city is not a city in the barbarous
South Seas, whither preachers of the Gospel of peace are sent; but is a
civilized city and proportionately unsafe.
A cross-street was lowered a little, and it leaped the chasm in an agony
of wood and iron, the most unlovely object in a city that is made up of
all unloveliness. The gutting of this Hill cost the city the fortunes of
several contractors, and it ruined the Hill forever. There is nothing
left to be done now but to cast it into the midst of the sea. I had
sported on the green with the goats of goatland ere ever the stately
mansion had been dreamed of; and it was my fate to set up my tabernacle
one day in the ruins of a house that even then stood upon the order of
its going,--it did go impulsively down into that "most unkindest cut,"
the Second Street chasm. Even the place that once knew it has followed
The ruin I lived in had been a banker's Gothic home. When Rincon Hill
was spoiled by bloodless speculators, he abandoned it and took up his
abode in another city. A tenant was left to mourn there. Every summer
the wild winds shook that forlorn ruin to its foundations. Every winter
the rains beat upon it and drove through and through it, and undermined
it, and made a mush of the rock and soil about it; and later portions of
that real estate deposited themselves, pudding-fashion, in the yawning
I sat within, patiently awaiting the day of doom; for well I knew that
my hour must come. I could not remain suspended in midair for any length
of time: the fall of the house at the northwest corner of Harrison and
Second Streets must mark my fall. While I was biding my time, there came
to me a lean, lithe stranger. I knew him for a poet by his unshorn locks
and his luminous eyes, the pallor of his face and his exquisitely
sensitive hands. As he looked about my eyrie with aesthetic glance,
almost his first words were: "What a background for a novel!" He seemed
to relish it all--the impending crag that might topple any day or hour;
the modest side door that had become my front door because the rest of
the building was gone; the ivy-roofed, geranium-walled conservatory
wherein I slept like a Babe in the Wood, but in densest solitude and
with never a robin to cover me.
He liked the crumbling estate, and even as much of it as had gone down
into the depths forever. He liked the sagging and sighing cypresses,
with their roots in the air, that hung upon and clung upon the rugged
edge of the remainder. He liked the shaky stairway that led to it (when
it was not out of gear), and all that was irrelative and irrelevant;
what might have been irritating to another was to him singularly
appealing and engaging; for he was a poet and a romancer, and his name
was Robert Louis Stevenson. He used to come to that eyrie on Rincon Hill
to chat and to dream; he called it "the most San Francisco-ey part of
San Francisco," and so it was. It was the beginning and the end of the
first period of social development on the Pacific coast. There is a
picture of it, or of the South Park part of it, in Gertrude Atherton's
story, "The Californians." The little glimpse that Louis Stevenson had
of it in its decay gave him a few realistic pages for _The Wrecker_.
I have referred to the surprising interiors of the city in the Fifties.
What I meant was this: there was not an alley so miserable and so muddy
but somewhere in it there was pretty sure to be a cottage as demure in
outward appearance as modesty itself. Nothing could be more unassuming:
it had not even the air of genteel poverty. I think such an air was not
to be thought of in those days: gentility kept very much to itself. As
for poverty, it was a game that any one might play at any moment, and
most had played at it.
This cottage stood there--I think I will say _sat_ there, it looked so
perfectly resigned,--and no doubt commanded a rent quite out of
proportion to its size. It had its shaky veranda and its French windows,
and was lined with canvas; for there was not a trowel full of plaster in
it. The ceiling bellied and flapped like an awning when the wind soughed
through the clapboards; and the walls sometimes visibly heaved a sigh;
but they were covered with panelled paper quite palatial in texture and
design, and that is one thing that made those interiors surprising.
At the windows the voluminous lace draperies were almost overpowering.
Satin lambrequins were festooned with colossal cord and tassels of
bullion. A plate-glass mirror as wide as the mantel reflected the
Florentine gilt carving of its own elaborate frame. There were bronzes
on the mantel, and tall vases of Sevres, and statuettes of bisque
brilliantly tinted. At the two sides of the mantel stood pedestals of
Italian marble surmounted by urns of the most graceful and elegant
proportions, and profusely ornamented with sculptured fruits and
flowers. There was the old-fashioned square piano in its carven case,
and cabinets from China or East India; also a lacquered Japanese screen,
marble-topped tables of filigreed teek, brackets of inlaid ebony. Curios
there were galore. Some paintings there were, and these rocked softly
upon the gently-heaving walls. As for the velvet carpet, it was a bed of
gigantic roses that might easily put to the blush the prime of summer in
a queen's garden.
I well remember another home in San Francisco, one that possessed for me
the strongest attraction. It was bosomed in the sandhills south of
Market Street,--I know not between what streets, for they had all been
blurred or quite obliterated by drifts of sifting sand. It was a small
house fenced about; but the fence was for the most part buried under
sand, and looked as if it were a rampart erected for the defense of this
isolated cot. Some few hardy flowers had been planted there, but they
were knee-deep in sand, and their petals were full of grit. One usually
blew into that house with a pinch of sand, but how good it was to be
Within those walls there was the unmistakable evidence of the feminine
touch, the aesthetic influence that refines and beautifies everything.
It was not difficult to idealize in that atmosphere. It was the home of
a lady who chose to conceal her identity, though her pen-name was a
household word from one end of the coast to the other. She was a star
contributor to the weekly columns of the _Golden Era,_ a periodical we
all subscribed for and were immensely proud of. It was unique in its
way. Of late years I have found no literary journal to compare with it
at its best. It introduced Bret Harte, Mark Twain, Prentice Mulford,
Joaquin Miller, Ina Coolbrith, and many others, to their first circle of
admirers. In the large mail-box at its threshold--a threshold I dared
not cross for awe of it--I dropped my earliest efforts in verse, and
then ran for fear of being caught in the act.
Imagine the joy of a lad whose ambition was to write something worth
printing, and whose wildest dream was to be named some day with those
who had won their laurels in the field of letters,--imagine his joy at
being petted in the sanctum of one who was in his worshipful eyes the
greatest lady in the land! About her were the trophies of her triumph,
though she was personally known to few. Each post brought her tribute
from the grateful hearts of her readers afar off in the mountain mining
camps, and perhaps from beyond the Rockies; or, it may have been, from
the unsuspecting admirer who lived just beyond the first sandhill. This
was another surprising interior. There was plain living and high
thinking in the midst of a wilderness that was, to say the least,
uninviting; the windows rattled and the sand peppered them. Without was
the abomination of desolation; but within the desert blossomed as the
There were other homes as homely as the one I preferred--for there was
sand enough to go round. It went round and round, as God probably
intended it should, until a city sat upon it and kept it quiet. Some of
these homes were perched upon solitary hilltops, and were lost to sight
when the fog came in from the sea; and some were crowded into the thick
of the town, with all sorts of queer people for neighbors. You could,
had you chosen to, look out of a back window into a hollow square full
of cats and rats and tin cans; and upon the three sides of the
quadrangle which you were facing, you might have seen, unblushingly
revealed, all the mysteries and miseries of Europe, Asia, Africa, and
Oceanica; for they were all of them represented by delegates.
Of course there were handsome residences (not so very many of them as
yet), where there was fine art--some of the finest. But often this art
was to be found in the saloons, and the subjects chosen would hardly
find entertainment elsewhere. The furnishing of the houses was within
the bounds of good taste. Monumental marbles were not erected by the
hearth-side; the window drapery was diaphanous rather than dense and
dowdy. The markets of San Francisco were much to blame for the
flashiness of the domestic interior: they were stocked with the gaudiest
fixtures and textures, and in the inspection of them the eye was
bewildered and the taste demoralized.
Harmony survived the inharmonious, and it prevailed in the homes of the
better classes, as it was bound to do; for refinement had set its seal
there, and you can not counterfeit the seal of refinement. But I am
inclined to think that in the Fifties there was a natural tendency to
overdress, to over-decorate, to overdo almost everything. Indeed the day
was demonstrative; if the now celebrated climate had not yet been
elaborately advertised, no doubt there was something hi it singularly
bracing. The elixir of it got into the blood and the brain, and perhaps
the bones as well. The old felt younger than they did when they left
"the States,"--the territory from the Rockies to the Atlantic Ocean was
commonly known as "the States." The middle-aged renewed their youth, and
youth was wild with an exuberance of health and hope and happiness that
seemed to give promise of immortality.
No wonder that it was thought an honor to be known as the first white
child born in San Francisco--I'd think it such myself,--and I'm proud to
state that all three claimants are my personal friends.
How well I remember it--the Happy Valley of the days of old! It lay
between California Street and Rincon Point; was bounded on the east by
the Harbor of San Francisco, and on the west by the mission peaks. I
never knew just why it was called _happy_; I never saw any wildly-happy
inhabitants singing or dancing for joy on its sometimes rather
indefinite street corners. If there is happiness in sand, then, happily,
it was sandy. You might have climbed knee-deep up some parts of it and
slid down on the other side; you could have played at "hide-and-seek"
among its shifting undulations. From what is now known as Nob Hill you
could have looked across it to the heights of Rincon Point--and,
perchance, have looked in vain for happiness. Yet who or what is
happiness? A flying nymph whose airy steps even the sand can not stay
Down through this Happy Valley ran Market Street, a bias cut across the
city that was to be. Market Street is about all that saved that city
from making a checker-board of its ground-plan. Market Street flew off
at a tangent and set all the south portion of the town at an angle that
is rather a relief than anything else that I know of. Who wants to go on
forever up one street and down another, and then across town at right
angles, as if life were a treadmill and there were no hope of change
until the great change comes?
Happy Valley! I remember one cool twilight when a "prairie schooner,"
that was time-worn and weather-beaten, drifted down Montgomery Street
from Market Street, and rounded the corner of Sutter Street, where it
hove to. You know the "prairie schooner" was the old-time emigrant wagon
that was forever crossing the plains in Forty-nine and the early
Fifties. It was scow-built, hooded from end to end, freighted with goods
and chattels; and therein the whole family lived and moved and had its
being during the long voyage to the Pacific Coast.
On this twilight evening the captain of the schooner, assisted by a
portion of his crew, deliberately took down part of the fence which
enclosed a sand-lot bounded by Montgomery, Sutter and Post Streets;
driving into the centre of the lot; the horses--four jaded beasts--were
turned loose, and soon a camp-fire was lighted and the entire emigrant
family gathered about it to partake of the evening meal. On this lot now
stands the Lick House and the Masonic Hall--undreamed of in those days.
No one seemed in the least surprised to find in the very heart of the
city a scene such as one might naturally look for in the heart of the
Rocky Mountains and the wilds of the great desert, or the heights of the
Humboldt. No doubt they thought it a Happy Valley; and well they might,
for they had reached their journey's end.
A stone's throw from that twilight camp, on the south side of Market
Street, stood old St. Patrick's Church. It was a most unpretending
structure, and was quite overshadowed by the R.C. Orphan Asylum close at
hand. Both were backed by sandhills; and both, together with the sand,
have been spirited away. The Palace and Grand Hotels now stand on the
spot. The original St. Patrick's still exists; and, after one or two
transportations, has come to a final halt near the Catholic cemetery
under the shadow of Lone Mountain. It must be ever dear to me, for
within its modest rectory I met the first Catholic clergyman I ever
became acquainted with; and within it I grew familiar with the offices
of the Church; though I was instructed by the Rev. Father Accolti, S.J.,
at old St. Ignatius', on Market Street; and by him baptized at the St.
Mary's Cathedral, on the corner of California and Dupont Streets, now
the church of the Paulist Fathers. I have referred to dear old St.
Patrick's--which was dedicated on the first Sunday in September,
1851--in the story of my conversion, a little bit of autobiography
entitled "A Troubled Heart, and How It was Comforted at Last." The late
Peter H. Burnett, first Governor of California, was my godfather.
In 1855 St. Mary's Cathedral was the handsomest house of worship in the
city. For the most part, the churches of all denominations were of the
plainest, not to say cheapest, order of architecture. As a youth, I sat
in the family pew in the First Presbyterian Church, situated on Stockton
Street, near Broadway. Well I remember my father, with others of the
congregation--all members of the Vigilance Committee,--at the sound of
the alarm-bell, rising in the midst of the sermon and striding out of
the house to take arms in defence of law and order.
Perhaps the saddest sights in those early days were the neglected
cemeteries. There was one at North Beach, where before 1850 there were
eight hundred and forty interments. It was on the slope of Telegraph
Hill. The place was neglected; a street had been cut through it, and on
the banks of this street we could, at intervals, see the ends of coffins
protruding. Some were broken and falling apart; some were still sound.
It was a gruesome sight.
There were a few Russian graves on Russian Hill, a forlorn spot in those
days; but perhaps the forlornest of all was Yerba Buena cemetery, where
previous to 1854 four thousand and five hundred bodies had been buried.
It was half-way between Happy Valley and the Mission Dolores. The sand
there was tossed in hillocks like the waves of a sandy sea. There the
chaparral grew thickest; and there the scrub-oaks shrugged their
shoulders and turned their backs to the wind, and grew all lopsided,
with leafage as dense as moss.
No fence enclosed this weird spot. The sand sifted into it and through
it and out on the other, side; it made graves and uncovered them; it had
ever a new surprise for us. We boys haunted it in ghoulish pairs, and
whispered to each other as we found one more coffin coming to the
surface, or searched in vain for the one we had seen the week before; it
had been mercifully reburied by the winds. There were rude headboards,
painted in fading colors; and beneath them lay the dead of all nations,
soon to be nameless. By and by they were all carried hence; and those
that were far away, watching and waiting for the loved and absent
adventurers, watched and waited in vain. A change come o'er the spirit
of the place. The site is now marked by the New City Hall--in all
probability the most costly architectural monstrosity on this continent.
"From grave to gay" is but a step; "from lively to severe," another,--I
know not which of the two is longer. It was literally from grave to gay
when the old San Franciscans used to wade through the sandy margin of
Yerba Buena cemetery in search of pleasure at Russ' Garden on the
mission road. It flourished in the early Fifties--this very German
garden, the pride and property of Mr. Christian Russ. It was a little
bit of the Fatherland, transported as if by magic and set down among the
hillocks toward the Mission Dolores. Well I remember being taken there
at intervals, to find little tables in artificial bowers, where sat
whole families as sedate, or merry, and as much at ease as if they were
in their own homes. They would spend Sunday there, after Mass. There was
always something to be seen, to be listened to, to be done. Meals were
served at all hours, and beer at all minutes; and the program contained
a long list of attractions,--enough to keep one interested till ten or
eleven o'clock at night.
I can remember how scanty the foliage was--it resembled a little the
toy-villages that are made in the Tyrol, having each of them a handful
of impossible trees that breathe not balsam, but paint. I remember the
high wind that blew in bravely from the sea; the pavilion that was a
wonder-world of never-failing attractiveness; and how on a certain
occasion I watched with breathless anxiety and dumb amazement a man,
who seemed to have discarded every garment common to the race, wheel a
wheelbarrow with a grooved wheel up a tight rope stretched from the
ground to the outer peak of the pavilion; and all the time there was a
man in the wheelbarrow who seemed paralyzed with fright,--as no doubt he
was. The man who wheeled the barrow was the world-famous Blondin.
[Illustration: Russ Gardens, 1856]
Another sylvan retreat was known as "The Willows." There were some
willows there, but I fear they were numbered; and there was an _al
fresco_ theatre such as one sees in the Champs-Elysees; indeed, the
place had quite a Frenchy atmosphere, and was not at all German, as was
Russ' Garden. French singers sang French songs upon the stage--it was
not much larger than a sounding-board.
An air of gaiety prevailed; for I imagine the majority of the _habitues_
were from the French Quarter of the city. Of course there were birds and
beasts, and cages populous with monkeys; and there was an emeu--the
weird bird that can not fly, the Australian cassowary. This bird
inspired Bret Harte to song, and in his early days he wrote "The Ballad
of the Emeu";
O say, have you seen at the willows so green,
So charming and rurally true,
A singular bird, with the manner absurd,
Which they call the Australian emeu?
Ever seen this Australian emeu?
I fear the poet was moved to sarcasm when he sang of "the willows so
green, so charming and rurally true." Surely they were greener than any
other trees we had in town; for we had almost none, save a few dark
evergreens. Well, the place was charming in its way, and as rurally true
as anything could be expected to be on that peninsula in its native
wilderness. The Willows and Russ' Garden had their day, and it was a
jolly day. They were good for the people--those rural resorts; they were
rest for the weary, refreshment for the hungry and thirsty--and they
have gone; even their very sites are now obliterated, and the new
generation has perhaps never even heard of them.
How we wondered at and gloried in the Oriental Hotel! It was the queen
of Western hostelries, and stood at the corner of Battery and Bush
Streets. And the Tehama House, so famous in its day! It was Lieutenant
G.H. Derby, better known in letters as John Phoenix, and Squibob--names
delightfully associated with the early history of California,--it was
this Lieutenant Derby, one of the first and best of Western humorists,
who added interest to the hotel by writing "A Legend of the Tehama
House." It begins, chapter first:
"It was evening at the Tehama. The apothecary, whose shop formed the
southeastern corner of that edifice, had lighted his lamps, which,
shining through those large glass bottles in the window, filled with
red and blue liquors--once supposed by this author, when young and
innocent, to be medicines of the most potent description,--lit up the
faces of the passers-by with an unearthly glare, and exaggerated the
general redness and blueness of their noses."
The third and last chapter concludes with these words: "The Tehama House
is still there." The laughter-making and laughter-loving Phoenix has
long since gone to his reward. Of the Oriental Hotel scarcely a
tradition remains. The Tehama House--what there is left of it--has been
spirited to the north side of Broadway within a stone's-throw of the
city and county jail. The cliffs of Telegraph Hill browbeat it. It is,
one might say, the last of its race.
Another hospice--if it _was_ a hospice--I remember. It stood on the
corner of Clay and Sansome Streets, and was a very ordinary building,
erected over the hulk of a ship that had been stranded there in the days
of Forty-nine. I saw the building torn down and the bones of the hulk
disinterred years after the water lots that had been filled in for
several squares, between it and the old harbor, were covered with
substantial buildings. When that bark was buoyant it had weathered Cape
Horn with a small army of argonauts. They had gone their way to dusty
death; she had buried her nose on the water-front and had been
smothered to death in the mire. Docks, streets, grew up around her; a
building had snuffed her out of sight and mind. The old building gave
place to a new one; the bark was resurrected in order to lay a solid
foundation for the new block that was to be. In the hold of this
forgotten bark was discovered a forgotten case of champagne. It had been
sunk in mud and ooze for years. When the bottles were opened the corks
refused to pop, and nobody dared to touch the "bilge" that was within.
All this was on the happy hem of Happy Valley--and still I was not
THE VIGILANCE COMMITTEE
It was May 14, 1856. I chanced to be standing at the northwest corner of
Washington and Montgomery Streets, watching the world go by. It was a
queer world: very much mixed, not a little fantastic in manner and
costume; just the kind of world to delight a boy, and no doubt I was
"Bang!" It was a pistol-shot, and very near me--not thirty feet away. I
turned and saw a man stagger and fall to the pavement. Then the streets
began to grow dark with people hurrying toward the scene of the tragedy.
I fled in fright; I had had my fill of horrors. The pistol-shot was
familiar enough: it punctuated the hours of day and night out yonder.
But I had never witnessed a murder, and this was evidently one.
When I reached home I was dazed. On the witness stand, under oath, I
could have told nothing; but very shortly the whole town was aware that
James King--known as James King of William (i.e., William King was his
father)--the editor of the _Evening Bulletin_ had been shot in cold
blood by James Casey, a supervisor, the editor of a local journal, an
unprincipled politician, an ex-convict, and a man whose past had been
exposed and his present publicly denounced in the editorial columns of
This climax precipitated a general movement toward social and political
reform in San Francisco. It was James P. Casey, a graduate of the New
York state-prison at Sing Sing, who stuffed a ballot-box with tickets
bearing his own name upon them as candidate for supervisor, and as a
result of this stuffing declared himself elected. Casey was hurried off
to jail by his friends, lest the outraged populace should lynch him on
the spot. A mob gathered at the jail. The mayor of the city harangued
the people in favor of law and order. They jeered him and remained there
most of the night. One leading spirit might have roused the masses to
riot; but the hour was not yet ripe.
In 1851 a Vigilance Committee had endeavored to purge the politics of
the town and rid it of the criminals who had foisted themselves into
office. Some ex-members of this committee became active members of the
committee of 1856. Chief among them was William T. Coleman, a name
deservedly honored in the annals of San Francisco.
James King of William was shot on Tuesday, the 14th of May. He died on
the following Monday. That fatal shot was the turning-point in the
history of the metropolis of the Pacific. A meeting of the citizens was
immediately called; an executive committee was appointed; the work of
organization was distributed among the sub-committees. With amazing
rapidity three thousand citizens were armed, drilled, and established in
temporary armories; ample means were subscribed to cover all expenses.
Several companies of militia disbanded rather than run the risk of being
called into service against the Vigilantis; they then joined the
committee, armed with their own muskets. Arms were obtained from every
quarter, and soon there was an ample supply. A building on Sacramento
Street, below Battery, was secured and made headquarters of the
committee. A kind of fortification built of potato sacks filled with
sand was erected in front of it. It was known as Fort Gunny Bags. This
secured an open space before the building. The fort was patrolled by
sentinels night and day; military rule was strictly observed.
All things having been arranged silently, secretly, decently and in
order--the members of the committee were under oath as well as under
arms--they decided to take matters into their own hands; and in order to
do this Casey must be removed from jail--peaceably if possible, forcibly
if necessary--and given a lodging and a trial at Fort Gunny Bags.
On Sunday morning, the 19th of May, chancing be under the weather, and
consequently at home sitting by a window, I saw people flocking past the
house and hastening toward the jail. We were then living on Broadway,
below Montgomery Street; the jail was on Broadway, a square or two
farther up the street; between us was a shoulder of Telegraph Hill not
yet cut away, though it had been blasted out of shape and an attempt had
been made to tunnel it. The young Californian of that day was
keen-scented and lost no opportunity of seeing whatever was to be seen.
Forgetting my distemper, I grabbed my cap and joined the expectant
throngs. We went over the heights of the hill like a flock of goats: we
were used to climbing. On the other edge of the cliff, where we seemed
almost to overhang the jail and the street in front of it, we paused and
caught our breath. What a sight it was! It seems that on Saturday
twenty-four companies of Vigilantis were ordered to meet at their
respective armories, in various parts of the city, at nine o'clock on
Sunday morning. Orders were given to each captain to take up a certain
position near the jail. The jail was surrounded: no one could approach
it, no one escape from it, without leave of the commanders of the
The streets glistened with bayonets. It was as if the city were in a
state of siege; so indeed it was. The companies marched silently,
ominously, without music or murmur, to their respective stations.
Citizens--non-combatants but all sympathizers--flocked in and covered
the housetops and the heights in the vicinity. A hollow square was
formed before the jail; an artillery company with a huge brass cannon
halted near it; the cannon was placed directly in front of the jail and
trained upon the gates. I remember how impressive the scene was: the
grim files of infantry; the gleaming brass of the cannon; one closed
carriage within the hollow square; the awful stillness that brooded over
[Illustration: Certificate of Membership, Vigilance Committee, 1856]
Two Vigilance officials went to the door of the jail and informed
Sheriff Scannell that they had come to take Casey with them. Resistance
was now useless; the door of the jail was thrown open to them and they
entered. At their approach Casey begged leave to speak for ten minutes
in his own defense,--he evidently expected to be executed on the
instant. He was assured that he should have a fair trial, and that his
testimony should be deliberately weighed in the balance. This act of an
outraged and disgusted people was one of the calmest, coolest, wisest,
most deliberate on record. Law, order, and justice were at bay. Casey,
under guard, walked quietly to the carriage and entered it. In the jail
at the time was Charles Cora, a man who had murdered United States
Marshal Richardson. He had been tried once; but then the jury
disagreed--as they nearly always agreed to in those barbarous days.
Hanging was almost out of the question. Cora was invited to enter the
carriage with Casey, and the two were driven under military escort to
Fort Gunny Bags.
On the day following, Monday, James King of William died. On Tuesday
Casey was tried by the executive committee. John S. Hittell, the
historian of San Francisco, says:
"No person was present at the trial save the accused, the members of the
Vigilance Committee, and witnesses. The testimony was given under oath,
though there was no lawful authority for its administration. Hearsay
testimony was excluded; the general rules of evidence observed in the
courts were adopted: the accused heard all the witnesses, cross-examined
those against him, summoned such as he wanted in his favor, had an
attorney to assist him, and was permitted to make an argument by himself
or his attorney, in his own defence."
Casey and Cora were both convicted: their guilt was beyond the shadow of
On Wednesday James King of William was laid to rest at Lone Mountain.
The whole city was draped in mourning; all business was suspended; the
citizens lined the streets through which the feral cortege proceeded, or
followed it until it seemed interminable.
As that procession passed up Montgomery Street and crossed Sacramento
Street, those who were walking or driving in it looked down the latter
street and saw, two squares below, the lifeless bodies of James P. Casey
and Charles Cora dangling by the neck from two second-story windows of
the headquarters of the Vigilance Committee. Justice was enthroned at
"The Vigilance Committees of San Francisco in 1851 and 1856," as Hittell
says, "were in many important respects unlike any other extra-judicial
movement to administer justice. They were not common mobs: they were
organized for weeks or months of labor, deliberate in their movements,
careful to keep records of their proceedings, strictly attentive to the
rules of evidence and the penalties for crime accepted by civilized
nations; confident of their power, and of their justification by public
opinion; and not afraid of taking the public responsibility of their
The committee of 1856 was never formally dissolved. The reformation it
had accomplished rendered it inactive. Some of the worst criminals in
California had been officials. A thousand homicides had been committed
in the city between 1849 and 1856, and there were but seven executions
in seven years.
Richard Henry Dana, Jr., the author of "Two Years before the Mast," who
spent the greater portion of two years--1834-35--on the coast of
California, and who revisited the Pacific coast in 1859, observes:
"And now the most quiet and well-governed city in the United States is
San Francisco. But it has been through its seasons of heaven-defying
crime and violence and blood; from which it was rescued and handed back
to soberness and morality and good government by that peculiar invention
of Anglo-Saxon republican America--the solemn, awe-inspiring Vigilance
Committee of the most grave and respectable citizens; the last resort of
the thinking and the good, taken only when vice, fraud, and ruffianism
had entrenched themselves behind the forms of law, suffrage, and
San Francisco was undoubtedly the most disreputable city in the Union.
It is now one of the most reputable. As I think of it to-day there is no
shudder in the thought. And yet I saw James King of William shot; I saw
Casey and Cora transferred from the jail to the headquarters of the
Vigilance Committee; and I saw them hanging as the body of James King of
William was being borne by a whole city, bowed in grief, to his last
resting-place. And my venerated father was a member of that
never-to-be-forgotten Vigilance Committee of San Francisco in the year
of Our Lord eighteen hundred and fifty-six.
THE SURVIVOR'S STORY
It is not much of a story. It is only the mild adventure of a boy at
sea; and of a small, sad boy at that. This boy had an elder brother who
was ill; and the physicians in consultation had decided that a long
sea-voyage was his only hope, and that even in this case the hope was a
very faint one.
There was a ship at anchor in the harbor of San Francisco,--a very
famous clipper, one of those sailors of the sea known as Ocean
Greyhounds. She was built for speed, and her record was a brilliant one;
under the guidance of her daring captain, she had again and again proved
herself worthy of her name. She was called the _Flying Cloud_. Her
cabins were luxuriously furnished; for in those days seafarers were
oftener blown about the world by the four winds of heaven than propelled
by steam. Yet when the _Flying Cloud_, one January day, tripped anchor
and set sail, there were but three strangers on the quarter-deck--a
middle-aged gentleman in search of health, the invalid brother, in his
eighteenth year, and the small, sad boy.
[Illustration: West from Black Point, 1856]
The captain's wife, a lady of Salem who had followed him from sea to
sea for many a year, was the joy and salvation of that forlorn little
company. How forlorn it was only the survivor knows, and he knows well
enough. Forty years have scarcely dimmed the memory of it. Through all
the wear and tear of time the remembrance of that voyage has at
intervals haunted him: the length of it, the weariness of it, and the
almost unbroken monotony stretching through the ninety odd days that
dawned and darkened between San Francisco and New York; the solitary
sail that was blown on and on, and becalmed and buffeted between the
blue waste of waters and the blue waste of sky; the lonesomeness of it
all--no land, no lights flashing across the sea in glad assurance; no
passing ships to hail us with faint-voiced "Ahoy!"--only the
ever-tossing waves, the trailing sea-gardens, the tireless birds of the
air and the monsters of the deep.
Ah, well-a-day! There was a solemn and hushed circle listening to family
prayers that morning,--the morning of the 4th of January. The father's
voice trembled as he opened the Bible and read from that beautiful
"They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great
waters, these see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep. For
He commandeth and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves
thereof. They mount up to the heaven; they go down again to the depths;
their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro and
stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end. Then they cry
unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their
distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are
still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so He bringeth them
unto their desired haven. Oh, that men would praise the Lord for His
goodness and for His wonderful works to the children of men!"
The small, sad boy looked smaller and sadder than ever as he stood on
the deck of the _Flying Cloud_ and waved his last farewell. He tried his
best to be manly and to swallow the heart that was leaping in his
throat, and at the earliest possible moment he flew to his journal and
made his first entry there. He was going to keep a journal because his
brother kept one, and because it was the proper thing to keep a journal
at sea--no ship is complete without its log, you know; and, moreover, I
think it was a custom in that family to keep a journal; for it was, more
or less, a journalistic family.
Now we are nearing the anniversary of that boy's journal: it runs
through January, February and March; it is more than forty years old
this minute. And because it is a boy's journal, and the boy was small
and sad, I'm going to peep into it and fish out a line or two. With an
effort he made this entry:
"CLIPPER SHIP, FLYING CLOUD,
"January 4, 1857.
"I watched them till we were out of sight of them, and then began to
look about to see what I could see. It begins to get rough. I tried to
see home, but I could not. The pilot says he will take a letter ashore
for us. Now I will go to bed."
Then he cried unto the Lord in his trouble with a heart as heavy as
"JAN. 5.--The day rather rough, with little squalls of rain. We are
passing the Farallone Islands, but I feel too bad to sketch them. I get
homesick when I think of the dear ones I left behind me. I hope I may
see them all in this world again."
That was the gray beginning of a voyage that had very little color in
it. The coast-line sank apace; the gray rocks--the Farallones, the haunt
of the crying gull--dissolved in the gray mist. The hours were all
alike: all dismal and slow-footed.
"I don't feel very well to-day," said the small, sad boy, quite
plaintively. On the 6th he brightens and begins to take notice. History
would have less to fasten on were there not some such entries as this:
"A list of our live-stock: 17 pigs; 12 dozen hens and roosters; 3
turkeys; 1 gobbler; a cockatoo and a wild-cat. We have a fair breeze,
and carry 26 sails.
"JAN. 7.--The day is calm. I began to read 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' I like
it. The captain's wife was going to train the wild-cat when it bit
her--but not very hard.
"8.--There was not much wind to-day. We fished for sea-gulls and caught
four. I caught one and let it go again. Two hens flew overboard. The
sailors in a boat got one of them; the gulls killed one.
"9.--The day has been rather gloomy. I caught another sea-gull but let
him go again. On deck nearly all day.
"10.--The cockatoo sits on deck and talks and talks.
"11.--It makes me feel bad when I think of home. I want to be there."
The long, long weary days dragged on. It is thought worth while to note
that there were fresh eggs for breakfast, fresh pork for dinner, fresh
chicken for supper; that a porpoise had been captured, and that his
carcass yielded "three gallons of oil as good as sperm oil"; that no
ship had been seen--"no sail from day to day"; that they were in the
latitude of Panama; that it was squally or not squally, as the case
might be; that on one occasion they captured "four barrels of oil," the
flotsam of some ill-fated whaler, and that it all proved "very
exciting"; that a dolphin was captured, and that he died in splendor,
passing through the whole gamut of the rainbow--that the words of
tradition might be fulfilled; that the hens had suffered no sea-change,
but had contributed from a dozen to two dozen eggs per day. Still
stretched the immeasurable waste of waters to the horizon line on every
hand. Day by day the small boy made his entries; but he seemed to be
running down, like a clock, and needed winding up. This is how his
"JAN. 20.--The day is very pleasant, with some wind. We crossed the
equator. I sat up in one of the boats a long time. I wish my little
brothers were here to play with me.
"21.--The day is very pleasant, with a good breeze. We are going ten or
eleven knots an hour.
"22.--The day is very pleasant. A nine-knot breeze. Nothing new happened
"23.--The day is pleasant. Six-knot breeze."
It came to pass that the small, sad boy, wearying of "Uncle Tom" and his
"cabin," was driven to extremes; and, having obtained leave of the
captain--who was autocrat of all his part of the world,--he climbed into
one of the ship's boats, as it hung in the davits over the side of the
vessel. It was an airy voyage he took there, sailing between sea and
sky, soaring up and down with the rolling vessel, like a bird upon the
He rigged a tiny mast there--it was a walking-stick that ably served
this purpose; the captain's wife provided sails no larger than
handkerchiefs. With thread-like ropes and pencil spars he set his sails
for dreamland. One day the wind bothered him; he could not trim his
canvas, and in desperation he set it dead against the wind, and then the
sails were filled almost to bursting. But his navigation was at fault;
for he was heading in a direction quite opposite to the _Flying Cloud_.
Then came a facetious sailor and whispered to him: "Do you want ever to
get to New York?"--"Yes, I do," said the little captain of the midair
craft.--"Well, then, you'd better haul in sail; for you're set dead agin
us now." The sails were struck on the instant and never unfurled again.
I wonder why some people are so very inconsiderate when they speak to
children, especially to simple or sensitive children? The small, sad boy
took it greatly to heart, and was cast down because he feared that he
might have delayed the bark that bore him all too slowly toward the
far-distant port. This was indeed simplicity of the deepest dye, and
something of that simplicity the boy was never to escape unto the end
of time. We are as God made us, and we must in all cases put up with
What a lonely voyage was that across the vast and vacant sea! Now and
then a distant sail glimmered upon the horizon, but disappeared like a
vanishing snowflake. The equator was crossed; the air grew colder; storm
and calm followed each other; the daily entry now becomes monotonous.
"FEBRUARY 2.--To-day for the first time we saw an albatross.
"7.--Rather rough and cold; I have spent all day in the cabin. It makes
me homesick to have such weather.
"14.--I rose at five o'clock and went on deck, and before long saw land.
It was Terra del Fuego; it was a beautiful sight. Here lay a pretty
island, there a towering precipice, and over yonder a mountain covered
with snow. We made the fatal Cape Horn at two o'clock, and passed it at
four o'clock. Now we are in the Atlantic Ocean.
"WASHINGTON'S BIRTHDAY.--Rough weather: a sixteen-knot breeze. To-day we
got our one thousandth egg, and the hens are doing well. At
twelve--eight bells--we saw a sail on our weather-bow: she was going the
same way as we were. At two, we overtook and spoke her. She was the
whaler _Scotland_ from New Zealand, bound for New Bedford, with
thirty-five hundred barrels of oil. We soon passed her. I wish her good
I will no longer stretch the small, sad boy upon the rack of his dull
journal. He had a glimpse at Juan Fernandez, but the island of his
dreams was so far off that he had to climb to the maintop in order to
get a sight of its shadowy outline. When it had faded away like the
clouds, the lonely little fellow cried himself to sleep for love of his
One night the moon--a large, mellow tropical one,--rose from a bank of
cloud so like a mountain's chain that the small one clapped his hands in
glee and cried: "Land ho!" But, alas! it was only cloud-land; and his
eyes, that were starving for a sight of God's green earth, were again
bedewed. Indeed he was bound for a distant shore, a voyage of ninety-one
days; and during all that voyage he was in sight of land for five days
only. It may be said that the port he was bound for, and where he was
destined to pass two years at school, four thousand miles from his own
people, may be called "The Vale of Tears."
Off the Brazilian coast a head-wind forced the ship to tack repeatedly;
she was sometimes so near the land that people could be seen moving,
like black dots, along the shore. Native fishermen, mounted upon the
high seats of their catamarans--the frailest rafts,--drifted within
hailing distance; and over night the brave ship was within almost
speaking distance of Pernambuco. The lights of the city were like a bed
of glowworms,--but the small, sad boy was blown off into the sea again,
for his hour had not yet come.
Here is the last entry I shall weary you with, for I would not abuse
"APRIL 5, 1857.--I was _awoke_ this morning by the noise the pilot made
in getting on board. At ten o'clock the steam-tug Hercules took us in
tow. We had beautiful views of the shore [God knows how beautiful they
were in his eyes!], and at three o'clock we were at the Astor House,
with Captain and Mrs. Cresey, Mr. Connor, and the Stoddard boys--all of
the _Flying Cloud_,--where we retired to soft beds to spend the night."
There is a plaintive touch in that reference to _soft beds_ after three
months in the straight and narrow bunk of a ship. And there is more
pathos in all those childish pages than you wot of; for, alas and alas!
I am the sole survivor,--I was that small, sad boy; and I alone am left
to tell the tale.
A BIT OF OLD CHINA
"It is but a step from Confucius to confusion," said I, in a brief
discussion of the Chinese question. "Then let us take it by all means,"
replied the artist, who had been an indulgent listener for at least ten
minutes. We were strolling upon the verge of the Chinese Quarter in San
Francisco, and, turning aside from one of the chief thoroughfares of the
city, we plunged into the busiest portion of Chinatown. From our
standpoint--the corner of Kearny and Sacramento Streets--we got the most
favorable view of our Mongolian neighbors. Here is a goodly number of
merchant gentlemen of wealth and station, comfortably, if not elegantly,
housed on two sides of a street that climbs a low hill quite in the
manner of a tea-box landscape.
A few of these gentlemen lodge on the upper floors of their business
houses, with Chinese wives, and quaint, old-fashioned children gaudily
dressed, looking like little idols, chatting glibly with one another,
and gracefully gesticulating with hands of exquisite slenderness.
Confucius, in his infancy, may have been like one of the least of these.
There are white draymen and porters in the employ of these shrewd and
civil merchants, and the outward appearance of traffic, as conducted in
the immediate vicinity, is rather American than otherwise.
Farther up the hill, on Dupont Street, from California to Pacific
Streets, the five blocks are almost monopolized by the Chinese. There
is, at first, a sprinkling of small shops in the hands of Jews and
Gentiles, and a mingling of Chinese bazaars of the half-caste type,
where American and English goods are exposed in the show windows; but as
we pass on the Asiatic element increases, and finally every trace of
alien produce is withdrawn from the shelves and counters.
Here little China flaunts her scarlet streamers overhead, and flanks her
doors with legends in saffron and gold; even its window panes have a
foreign look, and within is a glimmering of tinsel, a subdued light, and
china lamps flickering before graven images of barbaric hideousness. The
air is laden with the fumes of smoking sandal-wood and strange odors of
the East; and the streets, swarming with coolies, resound with the
echoes of an unknown tongue. There is hardly room for us to pass; we
pick our way, and are sometimes curiously regarded by slant-eyed pagans,
who bear us no good-will, if that shadow of scorn in the face has been
rightly interpreted. China is not more Chinese than this section of our
Christian city, nor the heart of Tartary less American.
Turn which way we choose, within two blocks, on either hand we find
nothing but the infinitely small and astonishingly numerous forms of
traffic on which the hordes around us thrive. No corner is too cramped
for the squatting street cobbler; and as for the pipe cleaners, the
cigarette rollers, the venders of sweetmeats and conserves, they gather
on the curb or crouch under overhanging windows, and await custom with
the philosophical resignation of the Oriental.
On Dupont Street, between Clay and Sacramento Streets--a single
block,--there are no less than five basement apartments devoted
exclusively to barbers. There are hosts of this profession in the
quarter. Look down the steep steps leading into the basement and see, at
any hour of the day, with what deft fingers the tonsorial operators
manipulate the devoted pagan head.
There is no waste space in the quarter. In apartments not more than
fifteen feet square three or four different professions are often
represented, and these afford employment to ten or a dozen men. Here is
a druggist and herb-seller, with huge spectacles on his nose, at the
left of the main entrance; a butcher displays his meats in a show-window
on the right, serving his customers over the sill; a clothier is in the
rear of the shop, while a balcony filled with tailors or cigar-makers
hangs half-way to the ceiling.
[Illustration: "China is Not More Chinese than this Section of Our
Close about us there are over one hundred and fifty mercantile
establishments and numerous mechanical industries. The seventy-five
cigar factories employ eight thousand coolies, and these are huddled
into the closest quarters. In a single room, measuring twenty feet by
thirty feet, sixty men and boys have been discovered industriously
rolling _real_ Havanas.
The traffic which itinerant fish and vegetable venders drive in every
part of the city must be great, being as it is an extreme convenience
for lazy or thrifty housewives. A few of these basket men cultivate
gardens in the suburbs, but the majority seek their supplies in the city
markets. Wash-houses have been established in every part of the city,
and are supplied with two sets of laborers, who spend watch and watch on
duty, so that the establishment is never closed.
One frequently meets a travelling bazaar--a coolie with his bundle of
fans and bric-a-brac, wandering from house to house, even in the
suburbs; and the old fellows, with a handful of sliced bamboos and
chairs swinging from the poles over their shoulders, are becoming quite
numerous; chair mending and reseating must be profitable. These little
rivulets, growing larger and more varied day by day, all spring from
that great fountain of Asiatic vitality--the Chinese Quarter. This
surface-skimming beguiles for an hour or two; but the stranger who
strolls through the streets of Chinatown, and retires dazed with the
thousand eccentricities of an unfamiliar people, knows little of the
mysterious life that surrounds him.
Let us descend. We are piloted by a special policeman, one who is well
acquainted with the geography of the quarter. Provided with tapers, we
plunge into one of the several dark recesses at hand. Back of the highly
respectable brick buildings in Sacramento Street--the dwellings and
business places of the first-class Chinese merchants--there are pits and
deadfalls innumerable, and over all is the blackness of darkness; for
these human moles can work in the earth faster than the shade of the
murdered Dane. Here, from the noisome vats three stories underground to
the hanging gardens of the fish-dryers on the roofs, there is neither
nook nor corner but is populous with Mongolians of the lowest caste. The
better class have their reserved quarters; with them there is at least
room to stretch one's legs without barking the shins of one's neighbor;
but from this comparative comfort to the condensed discomfort of the
impoverished coolie, how sudden and great the change!
Between brick walls we thread our way, and begin descending into the
abysmal darkness; the tapers, without which it were impossible to
proceed with safety, burn feebly in the double night of the
subterranean tenements. Most of the habitable quarters under the ground
are like so many pigeon-houses indiscriminately heaped together. If
there were only sunshine enough to drink up the slime that glosses every
plank, and fresh air enough to sweeten the mildewed kennels, this highly
eccentric style of architecture might charm for a time, by reason of its
novelty; there is, moreover, a suspicion of the picturesque lurking
about the place--but, heaven save us, how it smells!
[Illustration: "Rag Alley" in Old Chinatown]
We pass from one black hole to another. In the first there is a kind of
bin for ashes and coals, and there are pots and grills lying about--it
is the kitchen. A heap of fire kindling wood in one corner, a bench or
stool as black as soot can paint it, a few bowls, a few bits of rags, a
few fragments of food, and a coolie squatting over a struggling
fire,--coolie who rises out of the dim smoke like the evil _genii_ in
the Arabian tale. There is no chimney, there is no window, there is no
drainage. We are in a cubic sink, where we can scarcely stand erect.
From the small door pours a dense volume of smoke, some of it stale
smoke, which our entry has forced out of the corners; the kitchen will
only hold so much smoke, and we have made havoc among the cubic inches.
Underfoot, the thin planks sag into standing pools, and there is a
glimmer of poisonous blue just along the base of the blackened walls;
thousands feed daily in troughs like these!
The next apartment, smaller yet, and blacker and bluer, and more
slippery and slimy, is an uncovered cesspool, from which a sickening
stench exales continually. All about it are chambers--very small
ones,--state-rooms let me call them, opening upon narrow galleries that
run in various directions, sometimes bridging one another in a marvelous
and exceedingly ingenious economy of space. The majority of these
state-rooms are just long enough to lie down in, and just broad enough
to allow a narrow door to swing inward between two single beds, with two
sleepers in each bed. The doors are closed and bolted; there is often no
window, and always no ventilation.
Our "special," by the authority vested in him, tries one door and
demands admittance. There is no response from within. A group of
coolies, who live in the vicinity and have followed close upon our heels
even since our descent into the under world, assure us in soothing tones
that the place is vacant. We are suspicious and persist in our
investigation; still no response. The door is then forced by the
"special," and behold four of the "seven sleepers" packed into this
air-tight compartment, and insensible even to the hearty greeting we
The air is absolutely overpowering. We hasten from the spot, but are
arrested in our flight by the "special," who leads us to the gate of the
catacombs, and bids us follow him. I know not to what extent the earth
has been riddled under the Chinese Quarter; probably no man knows save
he who has burrowed, like a gopher, from one living grave to another,
fleeing from taxation or the detective. I know that we thread dark
passages, so narrow that two of us may not cross tracks, so low that we
often crouch at the doorways that intercept pursuit at unexpected
intervals. Here the thief and the assassin seek sanctuary; it is a city
of refuge for lost souls.
The numerous gambling houses are so cautiously guarded that only the
private police can ferret them out. Door upon door is shut against you;
or some ingenious panel is slid across your path, and you are
unconsciously spirited away through other avenues. The secret signals
that gave warning of your approach caused a sudden transformation in the
ground-plan of the establishment.
Gambling and opium smoking are here the ruling passions. A coolie will
pawn anything and everything to obtain the means with which to indulge
these fascinations. There are many games played publicly at restaurants
and in the retiring rooms of mercantile establishments. Not only are
cards, dice, and dominos common, but sticks, straws, brass rings, etc.,
are thrown in heaps upon the table, and the fate of the gamester hangs
literally upon a breath.
These haunts are seldom visited by the officers of justice, for it is
almost impossible to storm the barriers in season to catch the criminals
in the very act. To-day you approach a gambling hell by this door,
to-morrow the inner passages of the house are mysteriously changed, and
it is impossible to track them without being frequently misled;
meanwhile the alarm is sounded throughout the building, and very
speedily every trace of guilt has disappeared. The lottery is another
popular temptation in the quarter. Most of the very numerous wash-houses
are said to be private agencies for the sale of lottery tickets. Put
your money, no matter how little it is, on certain of the characters
that cover a small sheet of paper, and your fate is soon decided; for
there is a drawing twice a day.
Enter any one of the pawn-shops licensed by the city authorities, and
cast your eye over the motley collection of unredeemed articles. There
are pistols of every pattern and almost of every age, the majority of
them loaded. There are daggers in infinite variety, including the
ingenious fan stiletto, which, when sheathed, may be carried in the hand
without arousing suspicion; for the sheath and handle bear; an exact
resemblance to a closed fan. There are entire suits of clothes, beds and
bedding, tea, sugar, clocks--multitudes of them, a clock being one of
the Chinese hobbies, and no room is completely furnished without at
least a pair of them,--ornaments in profusion; everything, in fact, save
only the precious _queue_, without which no Chinaman may hope for honor
in this life or salvation in the next.
The throngs of customers that keep the pawn-shops crowded with pledges
are probably most of them victims of the gambling table or the opium
den. They come from every house that employs them; your domestic is
impatient of delay, and hastens through his daily task in order that he
may nightly indulge his darling sin.
The opium habit prevails to an alarming extent throughout the country,
but no race is so dependent on this seductive and fatal stimulant as the
Chinese. There are several hundred dens in San Francisco where, for a
very moderate sum, the coolie may repair, and revel in dreams that end
in a deathlike sleep.
Let us pause at the entrance of one of these pleasure-houses. Through
devious ways we follow the leader, and come at last to a cavernous
retreat. The odors that salute us are offensive; on every hand there is
an accumulation of filth that should naturally, if it does not, breed
fever and death. Forms press about us in the darkness,--forms that
hasten like shadows toward that den of shades. We enter by a small door
that is open for a moment only, and find ourselves in an apartment
about fifteen feet square. We can touch the ceiling on tiptoe, yet there
are three tiers of bunks placed with head boards to the wall, and each
bunk just broad enough for two occupants. It is like the steerage in an
emigrant vessel, eminently shipshape. Every bunk is filled; some of the
smokers have had their dream and lie in grotesque attitudes, insensible,
ashen-pale, having the look of plague-stricken corpses.
Some are dreaming; you see it in the vacant eye, the listless face, the
expression that betrays hopeless intoxication. Some are preparing the
enchanting pipe,--a laborious process, that reminds one of an
incantation. See those two votaries lying face to face, chatting in low
voices, each loading his pipe with a look of delicious expectation in
every feature. They recline at full-length; their heads rest upon blocks
of wood or some improvised pillow; a small oil lamp flickers between
them. Their pipes resemble flutes, with an inverted ink-bottle on the
side near the lower end. They are most of them of bamboo, and very often
are beautifully colored with the mellowest and richest tints of a wisely
smoked meerschaum. A small jar of prepared opium--a thick black paste
resembling tar--stands near the lamp.
The smoker leisurely dips a wire into the paste; a few drops adhere to
it, and he twirls the wire in the flame of the lamp, where they fry and
bubble; he then draws them upon the rim of the clay pipe-bowl, and at
once inhales three or four mouthfuls of whitish smoke. This empties the
pipe, and the slow process of feeding the bowl is lazily repeated. It is
a labor of love; the eyes gloat upon the bubbling drug which shall anon
witch the soul of those emaciated toilers. They renew the pipe again and
again; their talk grows less frequent and dwindles to a whispered
We address them, and are smiled at by delirious eyes; but the ravenous
lips are sealed to that magic tube, from which they draw the breath of a
life we know not of. Their fingers relax; their heads sink upon the
pillows; they no longer respond, even by a glance, when we now appeal to
them. Here is the famous Malay, the fearful enemy of De Quincy, who
nightly drugged his master into Asiatic seas; and now himself is basking
in the tropical heats and vertical sunlight of Hindostan. Egypt and her
gods are his; for him the secret chambers of Cheops are unlocked; he
also is transfixed at the summit of pagodas; he is the idol, the priest,
the worshipped, the sacrificed. The wrath of Brahma pursues him through
the forests of Asia; he is the hated of Vishnu; Siva lies in wait for
him; Isis and Osiris confront him.
What is this key which seems for a time to unlock the gates of heaven
and of hell? It is the most complicated drug in the pharmacopoeia.
Though apparently nothing more than a simple black, slimy paste,
analysis reveals the fact that it contains no less than five-and-twenty
elements, each one of them a compound by itself, and many of them among
the most complex compounds known to modern chemistry. This "dread agent
of unimaginable pleasure and pain," this author of an "Iliad of woes,"
lies within reach of every creature in the commonwealth. As the most
enlightened and communicative of the opium eaters has observed:
"Happiness may be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat
pocket; portable ecstasy may be had corked up in a pint bottle; peace of
mind may be set down in gallons by the mail-coach."
This is the chief, the inevitable dissipation of our coolie tribes; this
is one of the evils with which we have to battle, and in comparison with
which the excessive indulgence in intoxicating liquors is no more than
what a bad dream is to hopeless insanity. See the hundred forms on opium
pillows already under the Circean spell; swarms are without the chambers
awaiting their turn to enter and enjoy the fictitious delights of this
While the opium habit is one that should be treated at once with wisdom
and severity, there is another point which seriously involves the
Chinese question, and, unhappily, it must be handled with gloves.
Nineteen-twentieths of the Chinese women in San Francisco are depraved!
Not far from one of the pleasure-houses we intruded upon a domestic
hearth smelling of punk and pestilence. A child fled with a shrill
scream at our approach. This was the hospital of the quarter. Nine cases
of small-pox were once found within its narrow walls, and with no one to
care for them. As we explored its cramped wards our path was obstructed
by a body stretched upon a bench. The face was of that peculiar
smoke-color which we are obliged to accept as Chinese pallor; the trunk
was swathed like a mummy in folds of filthy rags; it was motionless as
stone, apparently insensible. Thus did an opium victim await his
In the next room a rough deal burial case stood upon two stools; tapers
were flickering upon the floor; the fumes of burning punk freighted the
air and clouded the vision; the place was clean enough, for it was
perfectly bare, but it was eminently uninteresting. Close at hand stood
a second burial case, an empty one, with the cover standing against the
wall; a few hours more and it would find a tenant--he who was dying in
rags and filth in the room adjoining. This was the native hospital of
the quarter, and the mother of the child was the matron of the
I will cast but one more shadow on the coolie quarter, and then we will
search for sunshine. It is folly to attempt to ignore the fact that the
seeds of leprosy are sown among the Chinese. If you would have proof,
follow me. It is a dreary drive over the hills to the pest-house.
Imagine that we have dropped in upon the health officer at his city
office. Our proposed visitation has been telephoned to the resident
physician, who is a kind of prisoner with his leprous patients on the
lonesome slope of a suburban hill. As we get into the rugged edge of the
city, among half-graded streets, strips of marshland, and a semi-rustic
population, we ask our way to the pest-house. Yonder it lies, surrounded
by that high white fence on the hill-top, above a marsh once clouded
with clamorous water-fowl, but now all, all under the spell of the
quarantine, and desolate beyond description. Our road winds up the
hill-slope, sown thick with stones, and stops short at the great solid
gate in the high rabbit fence that walls in the devil's acre, if I may
so call it. We ring the dreadful bell--the passing-bell, that is seldom
rung save to announce the arrival of another fateful body clothed in
The doctor welcomes us to an enclosure that is utterly whitewashed; the
detached houses within it are kept sweet and clean. Everything connected
with the lazaret is of the cheapest description; there is a primitive
simplicity, a modest nakedness, an insulated air about the place that
reminds one of a chill December in a desert island. Cheap as it is and
unhandsome, the hospital is sufficient to meet all the requirements of
the plague in its present stage of development. The doctor has weeded
out the enclosure, planted it, hedged it about with the fever-dispelling
eucalyptus, and has already a little plot of flowers by the office
window,--but this is not what we have come to see. One ward in the
pest-house is set apart for the exclusive use of the Chinese lepers, who
have but recently been isolated. We are introduced to the poor creatures
one after another, and then we take them all in at a glance, or group
them according to their various stages of decomposition, or the peculiar
character of their physical hideousness.
They are not all alike; with some the flesh has begun to wither and to
slough off, yet they are comparatively cheerful; as fatalists, it makes
very little difference to them how soon or in what fashion they are
translated to the other life. There is one youth who doubtless suffers
some inconveniences from the clumsy development of his case. This lad,
about eighteen years of age, has a face that is swollen like a sponge
saturated with corruption; he can not raise his bloated eyelids, but,
with his head thrown back, looks downward over his cheeks. Two of these
lepers are as astonishing specimens as any that have ever come under my
observation, yet I have morbidly sought them from Palestine to Molokai.
In these cases the muscles are knotted, the blood curdled; masses of
unwholesome flesh cover them, lying fold upon fold; the lobes of their
ears hang almost to the shoulder; the eyes when visible have an inhuman
glance that transfixes you with horror. Their hands are shapeless stumps
that have lost all natural form or expression.
Of old there was a law for the leprosy of a garment and of a house; yet,
in spite of the stringency of that Mosaic law, the isolation, the
purging with hyssop, and the cleansing by fire, St. Luke records: "There
met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off; and they lifted up
their voices and cried, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" And to-day,
more than eighteen hundred years later, lepers gather on the slopes of
Mount Zion, and hover at the gates of Jerusalem, and crouch in the
shadow of the tomb of David, crying for the bread of mercy. Leprosy once
thoroughly engrafted on our nation, and nor cedar-wood, nor scarlet, nor
hyssop, nor clean birds, nor ewes of the first year, nor measures of
fine flour, nor offerings of any sort, shall cleanse us for evermore.
Let us turn to pleasanter prospects--the Joss House, for instance, one
of the several temples whither the Chinese frequently repair to
propitiate the reposeful gods. It is an unpretentious building, with
nothing external to distinguish its facade from those adjoining, save
only a Chinese legend above the door. There are many crooks and turns
within it; shrines in a perpetual state of fumigation adorn its nooks
and corners; overhead swing shelves of images rehearsing historical
tableaux; there is much carving and gilding, and red and green paint. It
is the scene of a perennial feast of lanterns, and the worshipful enter
silently with burn-offerings and meat-offerings and drink-offerings,
which they spread before the altar under the feet of some colossal god;
then, with repeated genuflections, they retire. The thundering gong or
the screaming pipes startle us at intervals, and white-robed priests
pass in and out, droning their litanies.
At this point the artist suggests refreshments; arm in arm we pass down
the street, surfeited with sight-seeing, weary of the multitudinous
bazaars, the swarming coolies, the boom of beehive industry. Swamped in
a surging crowd, we are cast upon the catafalque of the celestial dead.
The coffin lies under a canopy, surrounded by flambeaux, grave
offerings, guards and musicians.
Chinatown has become sufficiently acclimatized to begin to put forth its
natural buds again as freely as if this were indeed the Flowery Land.
The funeral pageant moves,--a dozen carriages preceded by mourners on
foot, clad in white, their heads covered, their feet bare, their grief
insupportable, so that an attendant is at hand to sustain each mourner
howling at the wheels of the hearse. An orchestra heads the procession;
the air is flooded with paper prayers that are cast hither at you to
appease the troubled spirit. They are on their way to the cemetery among
the hills toward the sea, where the funeral rites are observed as
rigorously as they are on Asian soil.
We are still unrefreshed and sorely in need of rest. Overhead swing huge
balloon lanterns and tufts of gold flecked scarlet streamers,--a sight
that maketh the palate of the hungry Asiatic to water; for within this
house may be had all the delicacies of the season, ranging from the
confections of the fond suckling to funeral bake-meats. Legends wrought
in tinsel decorate the walls. Here is a shrine with a vermilion-faced
god and a native lamp, and stalks of such hopelessly artificial flowers
as fortunately are unknown in nature. Saffron silks flutter their
fringes in the steams of nameless cookery--for all this is but the
kitchen, and the beginning of the end we aim at.
A spiral staircase winds like a corkscrew from floor to floor; we ascend
by easy stages, through various grades of hunger, from the economic
appetite on the first floor, where the plebian stomach is stayed with
tea and lentils, even to the very house-top, where are administered
comforting syrups and a _menu_ that is sweetened throughout its length
with the twang of lutes, the clash of cymbals, and the throb of the
Servants slip to and fro in sandals, offering edible birds'-nests,
sharks' fins, and _beche de mer_,--or are these unfamiliar dishes
snatched from some other kingdom? At any rate, they are native to the
strange people who have a little world of their own in our midst, and
who could, if they chose, declare their independence to-morrow.
We see everywhere the component parts of a civilization separate and
distinct from our own. They have their exits and their entrances; their
religious life and burial; their imports, exports, diversions,
tribunals, punishments. They are all under the surveillance of the six
companies, the great six-headed supreme authority. They have laws within
our laws that to us are sealed volumes. Why should they not? Fifty years
ago there were scarcely a dozen Chinese in America. In 1851, inclusive,
not more than 4,000 had arrived; but the next year brought 18,000,
seized with the lust of gold. The incoming tide fluctuated, running as
low as 4,000 and as high as 15,000 per annum. Since, 1868 we have
received from 10,000 to 15,000 yearly.
After supper we leaned from the high balcony, among flowers and
lanterns, and looked down upon the street below; it was midnight, yet
the pavements were not deserted, and there arose to our ears a murmur
as of a myriad humming bees shut in clustering hives; close about us
were housed near twenty thousand souls; shops were open; discordant
orchestras resounded from the theatres; in a dark passage we saw the
flames playing upon the thresholds of infamy to expel the evil shades.
Away off in the Bay in the moonlight, glimmered the ribbed sail of a
fishing junk, and the air was heavy with an indefinable odor which to
this hour puzzles me; but it must be attributed either to sink or
sandal-wood--perchance to both!
"It is a little bit of old China, this quarter of ours," said the
artist, rising to go. And so it is, saving only a noticeable lack of
dwarfed trees and pale pagodas and sprays of willowy bamboo; of clumsy
boats adrift on tideless streams; of toy-like tea gardens hanging among
artificial rocks, and of troops of flat-faced but complaisant people
posing grotesquely in ridiculous perspective.
[Illustration: The Farallones]
WITH THE EGG-PICKERS OF THE FARALLONES
Those who have visited the markets of San Francisco during the egg
season may have noticed the abundance of large and singularly marked
eggs, that are offered for sale by the bushel. The shells of these eggs
are pear-shaped, parti-colored, and very thick. They range in color from
a light green to grey or brown, and are all of them profusely spotted,
or blotted, I might say spattered, with clots of black or brown. Some
are beautiful, with soft tints blended in a delicate lace-like pattern.
Some are very ugly, and look unclean. All are a trifle stale, with a
meat of coarse texture and gamy flavor. But the Italians and the Coolies
are fond of them, and doubtless many a gross finds its way into the
kitchens of the popular cheap restaurants, where, disguised in omelets
and puddings, the quantity compensates for the lack of quality, and the
palate of the rapid eater has not time to analyze the latter. These are
the eggs of the sea-gull, the gull that cries all day among the shipping
in the harbor, follows the river boats until meal-time, and feeds on the
bread that is cast upon the water. How true it is that this bread
returns to us after many days!
The gulls, during incubation, seek the solitude of the Farallones, a
group of desolate and weather-beaten rocks that tower out of the fog
about thirty miles distant from the mouth of the harbor of San
Francisco. Nothing can be more magnificently desolate than the aspect of
these islands. Scarcely a green blade finds root there. They are haunted
by sea-fowl of all feathers, and the boom of the breakers mingles with
the bark of the seals that have colonized on one of the most
inaccessible islands of the group. It is here that myriads of sea-birds
rear their young, here where the very cliffs tremble in the tempestuous
sea and are drenched with bitter spray, and where ships have been cast
into the frightful jaws of caverns and speedily ground into splinters.
The profit on sea-eggs has increased from year to year, and of late
speculators have grown so venturesome that competition among
egg-gatherers has resulted in an annual naval engagement, known to the
press and the public as the egg-war. If two companies of egg-pickers
met, as was not unlikely, the contending factions fell upon one another
with their ill-gotten spoils--the islands are under the rule of the
United States, and no one has legal right to take from them so much as
one egg without license--and the defeated party was sure to retire from
the field under a heavy shower of shells, the contents of which, though
not fatal, were at least effective.
I have before me the notes of a retired egg-picker; they record the
brief experience of one who was interested in the last campaign, which,
as it terminated the career of the egg-pirates, is not without
historical interest. I will at once introduce the historian, and let him
tell his own tale.
"On Board the Schooner 'Sierra.'--
"Off the City Front.
"May 4, 1881.
"5 p.m.--There are ten of us all told; most of us strangers to one
another, but Tom and Jim, and Fred, that's me, are pals, and have been
these many months. So we conclude to hang together, and make the most of
an adventure perfectly new to each. At our feet lie our traps; blankets,
woolen shirts, heavy boots, with huge nails in the soles of them,
tobacco in bulk, a few novels, a pack of cards, and a pocket flask, for
the stomach's sake. A jolly crew, to be sure, and jollily we bade adieu
to the fellows who had gathered in the dock to wish us God-speed.
Casting loose we swung into the stream, and then slowly and clumsily
made sail. The town never looked prettier; it is always the way and
always will be; towns, like blessings, brighten just as they get out of
reach. Drifting into the west we began to grow thoughtful; what had at
first seemed a lark may possibly prove to be a very serious matter. We
have to feed on rough rations, work in a rough locality, among rough
people, and our profits, or our share of the profits, will depend
entirely upon the fruitfulness of the egg-orchard, and the number of
hundred gross that we are able to get safely into the market. No news
from the town, save by the schooner that comes over at intervals to take
away our harvest. No society, save our own, good enough always, provided
we are not forcibly confined to it. No amusements beyond a novel, a
pipe, and a pack of cards. Ah well! it is only an experience after all,
and here goes!
"Sea pretty high, as we get outside the Heads, and feel the long roll of
the Pacific. Wind, fresh and cold; we are to be out all night and
looking about for bunks, we find the schooner accommodations are
limited, and that the captain and his crew monopolize them. We sleep
anywhere, grateful that we are able to sleep at all.
"10 p.m.--A blustering head wind, and sea increasing. What little supper
we were able to get on board was worse than none at all, for it did not
stay with us--anything but fun, this going to sea in a bowl, to rob
gull's nests, and smuggle eggs into market.
"Woke in the early dawn, everything moist and sticky, clammy is the
better word, and that embraces the whole case; stiff and sore in every
joint; bacon for dinner last night, more bacon for breakfast this
morning, and only half-cooked at that. Our delicate town-bred stomachs
rebel, and we conclude to fast until we reach the island. Have sighted
the Farallones, but are too miserable to express our gratitude; wind and
sea still rising; schooner on beam ends about once in forty seconds,
between times standing either on her head or her tail, and shaking
herself 'like a thing of life.'
"At noon off the landing, a buoy bobbing in the billows, to which we are
expected to make fast the schooner, and get to shore in the exceedingly
small boat; captain fears to tarry on account of heavy weather;
concludes to return to the coast and bide his time; consequently makes
for Bolinas Bay, which we reach about 9 p.m., and drop anchor in
comparatively smooth water; glad enough to sleep on an even keel at
last; it seems at least six months since we left the shining shores of
San Francisco, yet it is scarce thirty hours--but such hours, ugh!
"Bolinas Bay, May 6th.
"Wind blowing a perfect gale; we are lying under a long hill, and the
narrow bay is scarcely rippled by the blast that rushes over us, thick
with flying-scud. Captain resolves to await better weather; some of the
boys go on shore, and wander out to a kind of reef at the mouth of the
bay, where in a short time they succeed in gathering a fine mess of
mussels; the rest of us, the stay-on-boards, rig up a net and catch
fifteen large fat crabs; with these we cook a delicious dinner, which we
devour ravenously, like half-starved men; begin to realize how
storm-tossed mariners feel, and have been recounting hair-breadth
escapes, over our pipes on deck; there will be much to tell the fellows
on shore, if we are ever so fortunate as to get home again.
"Though the weather is still bad enough to discourage us landsmen, we
put to sea, and once more head for the Farallones. They are hidden in
mist, but we beat bravely about, and by-and-by distinguish the faint
outlines of the islands looming through the fog! We try to secure the
buoy, tacking to and fro; just at the wrong moment our main halyards
part, and the sail comes crashing to the deck. To avoid being cast on
the inhospitable shore, we put to sea under jib and foresail, and are
five miles away before damages are repaired and we dare venture to
return; head about, and make fast this time. Hurrah! After several trips
of the small boat, succeed in landing luggage and provisions above
high-water mark on the Farallones; each trip of the boat is an event,
for it comes in on a big breaker, and grounds in a torrent of foam and
"We find two cabins at our disposal; the larger one containing
dining-room and kitchen, and chambers above; seven of our boys store
their blankets in the rude bunks that are drawn by lot. Tom, Jim, and I
secure the smaller cabin, a single room, with bunks on three sides, a
door on the fourth.
"9 p.m.--We have dined and smoked and withdrawn to our respective
lodges; the wind moans without, a thin, cold fog envelopes us; the sea
breaking furiously, the night gloomy beyond conception, but the captain
and his crew on the little schooner are not so comfortable as the
egg-pickers whom they have left behind.
"We all rose much refreshed, and after a hearty breakfast, such as would
have done credit to a mining-camp in pioneer days, set forth on a rabbit
chase. The islands abound in rabbits. Where do they come from, and on
what do they feed? These are questions that puzzle us.
"We resolve to attack them. Having armed ourselves with clubs about two
feet in length, we proceed in a body until a rabbit is sighted, then,
separating, we surround him and gradually close him in, pelt him with
stones or sticks until the poor fellow is secured; sometimes three or
four are run down together; it is cruel sport, but this is our only hope
of fresh meat during the sojourn on the islands; a fine stew for dinner,
and some speculation on the prospect of our egg-hunt to-morrow.
"We did the first work of the season to-day. At the west end of the
islands is a chasm, through which the wind whistles; the waves, rushing
in from both sides, meet at the centre and leap wildly into the air.
Across this chasm we threw a light suspension bridge about forty feet in
length and two in width; one crosses it by the aid of a life-line. On
the further rock the birds are nesting in large numbers, and to-morrow
we begin the wholesale robbery of their nests.
"When the bridge was completed, being pretty well fagged and quite
famished, we returned to the cabin, lunched heartily, and spent the
afternoon in highly successful rabbit chasing. Plenty of stew for all of
us. If Robinson Crusoe had been cast ashore on this island, I wonder how
he would have lived? As it is, the rabbits sometimes succeed in escaping
us, and without powder and shot it would be quite impossible for one or
two persons to bag them. We are beginning to lose faith in the
delightful romances of our youth, and to realize what a desert island
"In front of us we each carry a large sack in which to deposit eggs; our
boots are clumsy, and the heavy nails that fill their soles make them
heavy and difficult to walk in. We also carry a strong staff to aid us
in climbing the rugged slopes. About us is nothing but grey,
weather-stained rocks; there are few paths, and these we cannot follow,
for the sea-birds, though so unused to the presence of man, are wary and
shy of his tracks; the day's work has not proved profitable. Few of us
gathered any eggs; one who was more successful, and had secured enough
to make it extremely difficult for him to scale the rocks, slipped, fell
on his face, and scrambled all his store. His plight was laughable, but
he was scarcely in the mood to relish it, as he washed his sack and
blouse in cold water, while we indulged in cards.
[Illustration: Murre on their Nests, Farallone Islands]
"Built another bridge over a gap where the sea rushes, and which we call
the _Jordan_. If the real Jordan is as hard to cross, heaven help us.
Eggs not very plentiful as yet; we are rather early in the season, or
the crop is late this year. More rabbits in the p.m.; more wind, more
fog; and at night, pipes, cards, and a few choruses that sound strange
and weird in the fire lights on this lonely island.
"Eggs are so very scarce. The foreman advises our resting for a day. We
lounge about, looking off upon the sea; sometimes a sail blows by us,
but our islands are in such ill-repute with mariners, they usually give
us a wide berth, as they call it. A little homesick towards dusk; wonder
how the boys in San Francisco are killing time; it is time that is
killing us, out here in the wind and fog.
"Have been hunting abalones all day, and found but a baker's dozen;
their large, shallow shells are glued to the rock at the first approach
of danger, and unless we can steal upon these queer fish unawares, and
thrust something under their shells before they have shut down upon the
rock, it is almost impossible to pry them open. Some of the boys are
searching in the sea up to their waists--hard work when one considers
how tough the abalone is, and how tasteless.
"This morning all our egg-pickers were at work; took in the west end,
only the high rock beyond the first bridge; gathered about forty dozen
eggs, and got them safely back to camp; in some nests there were three
eggs, and these we did not gather, fearing they were stale. In the p.m.
tried to collect dry grass enough to make a thin mattress for my bunk;
barely succeeded; am more than ever convinced that desert islands are
"It being Sunday, we rest from our labors; by way of varying the
monotony of island life, we climb up to the lighthouse, 300 feet above
sea level. The path is zig-zag across the cliff, and is extremely
fatiguing. While ascending, a large stone rolled under my foot, and
went thundering down the cliff. Jim, who was in the rear, heard it
coming, and dodged; it missed his head by about six inches. Had it
struck him, he would have been hurled into the sea that boiled below; we
were both faint with horror, after realizing the fate he had escaped.
Were cordially welcomed by the lighthouse keeper, his wife, and her
companion, a young woman who had come to share this banishment. The
keeper and his wife visit the mainland but twice a year. Everywhere we
saw evidence of the influence of these charming people. The house was
tidy--the paint snow-white. The brass-work shone like gold; the place
seemed a kind of Paradise to us; even the machinery of the revolving
light, the multitude of reflectors, etc., was enchanting. We dreaded to
return to our miserable cabins, but were soon compelled to, and the
afternoon was spent in the customary rabbit chase, ending with a stew of
no mean proportions.
"More eggs, and afterwards a fishing excursion, which furnished us
material for an excellent chowder. We are beginning to look for the
return of the schooner, and have been longing for news from shore.
"A great haul of abalones this p.m. We filled our baskets, slung them
on poles over our shoulders Coolie fashion, and slowly made our way back
to camp. The baskets weighed a ton each before we at last emptied them
by the cabin door. Built a huge fire under a cauldron, and left a mess
of fish to boil until morning. The abalones are as large as steaks, and
a great deal tougher. Smoke, cards, and to bed; used up.
"Same program as yesterday, only the novelty quite worn off, and this
kind of life becoming almost unendurable.
"More eggs, more abalones, more rabbits. No signs of schooner yet.
Wonder, had Crusoe kept a diary, how many days he would have kept it
before closing it with chagrin.
"Spent the p.m. in getting the abalone shells down to the egg-house at
the landing. We have cleaned them, and are hoping to find this
speculation profitable; for the shells, when polished and cut, are much
used in the market for inlaying and setting in cheap jewelry. We loaded
a small tram, pushed it to the top of an incline, and let it roll down
the other side to the landing, which it reached in safety. This is the
only labor-saving machine at our command.
"We seem to be going all to pieces. The day commenced badly. Two of the
boys inaugurated it by a violent set-to before breakfast--an old grudge
broke out afresh, or perhaps the life here has demoralized them. I have
lamed my foot. Tide too high for abalone fishing. Eggs growing scarce,
and the rabbits seem to have deserted the accessible parts of the
island. Everybody is disgusted. We are forgetting our table-manners, it
is 'first come first served' now-a-days. I wonder if Robinson--oh, no!
he had no one but his man Friday to contend against. No schooner; no
change in the weather; tobacco giving out, and not a grain of good humor
to be had in the market. To bed, very cross.
"No one felt like going to work this morning. Affairs began to look
mutinous. We have searched in vain for the schooner, now considerably
overdue, and are dreading the thought of having to fulfill a contract
which calls for six weeks' labor on these islands. Some of the other
islands are to be visited, and are accessible only in small boats over a
sea that is never even tolerably smooth. This expedition we all dread a
little--at least, I judge so from my own case--but we say nothing of it.
While thus gloomily brooding over our plight, smoke was sighted on the
horizon; we ascended the hill to watch it. A steamer, doubtless, bound
for a sunnier clime, for no clime can be less sunny than ours of the
past fortnight.... It was a steamer, a small Government steamer, making
directly for our island. We became greatly excited, for nothing of any
moment had occurred since our arrival. She drew in near shore and cast
anchor. We gathered at the landing-cove to give her welcome. A boat was
beached in safety. An officer of the law said, cheerfully, as if he were
playing a part in a nautical comedy, 'I must beg you, gentlemen, to step
on board the revenue cutter, and return to San Francisco.' We were so
surprised we could not speak; or were we all speechless with joy, I
wonder? He added, this very civil sheriff, 'If you do not care to
accompany me, I shall be obliged to order the marines on shore. You will
pardon me, but as these islands are Government property, you are
requested to immediately withdraw from them.' We withdrew. We steamed
away from the windy rocks, the howling caverns, the seething waves, the
frightful chasms, the seabirds, the abalones, the rabbits, the gloomy
cabins, and the pleasant people at the top of the cliff within the white
walls of the lighthouse. Joyfully we bounded over the glassy waves, that
grew beautiful as the Farallones faded in the misty distance, and,
having been courteously escorted to the city dock, we were bidden
farewell, and left to the diversions of the hour. Thus ended the last
siege of the Farallones by the egg-pickers of San Francisco. (Profits
And thus I fear, inasmuch as the Government proposes to guard the
sea-birds until a suitable license is secured by legitimate egg-pickers,
the price of gulls' eggs will go up in proportion, and hereafter we
shall have to look upon them as luxuries, and content ourselves with the
more modest and milder-flavored but undecorated products of the less
romantic barn-yard fowl.
[Footnote 2: NOTE: The author has confused the murre with the sea-gull.
It was the egg of the murre that was marketed.]
A MEMORY OF MONTEREY
"Old Monterey"? Yes, old Monterey; yet not so very old. Old, however,
inasmuch as she has been hopelessly modernized; the ancient virtue has
gone out of her; she is but a monument and a memory. It is the Monterey
of a dozen or fifteen years ago I write of; and of a brief sojourn after
the briefer voyage thither. The voyage is the same; yesterday, to-day
and forever it remains unchanged. The voyager may judge if I am right
when I say that the Pacific coast, or the coast of California, Oregon
and Washington, is the selvage side of the American continent. I believe
this is evidenced in the well-rounded lines of the shore; the smooth
meadow-lands that not infrequently lie next the sea, and the
comparatively few island-fragments that are discoverable between Alaska
I made that statement, in the presence of a select few, on the promenade
deck of a small coaster then plying between San Francisco and Monterey;
and proved it during the eight-hour passage, to the seeming edification
of my shipmates. Even the bluffs that occasionally jutted into the sea
did the picturesque in a half-theatrical fashion. Time and the elements
seemed to have toyed with them, and not fought with them, as is the
annual custom on the eastern coast of the United States. Flocks of sheep
fed in the salt pastures by the water's edge; ranch-houses were perched
on miniature cliffs, in the midst of summer-gardens that even through a
powerful field-glass showed few traces of wear and tear.
And the climate? Well, the sunshine was like sunshine warmed over; and
there was a lurking chill in the air that made our quarters in the lee
of the smoke-stack preferable to the circular settee in the
stern-sheets. Yes, it was midsummer at heart, and the comfortable
midsummer ulster advertised the fact.
What a long, lonesome coast it is! Erase the few evidences of life that
relieve the monotonous landscape at infrequent intervals, and you shall
see California exactly as Drake saw it more than four centuries ago, or
the Argonaut Friars saw it a century later, and as the improved races
will see it ages hence--a little bleak and utterly uninteresting.
California secretes her treasures. As you approach her from the sea, you
would scarcely suspect her wealth; her lines, though fine and flowing,
are not voluptuous, and she certainly lacks color. This was also a part
of our steamer-talk under the lee of the smoke-stack; and while we were
talking we turned a sharp corner, ran into the Bay of Monterey, and
came suddenly face to face with Santa Cruz.
Ah, there was richness! Perennial groves, dazzling white cottages
snow-flaking them with beauty; a beach with afternoon bathers; and two
straggling piers that had waded out into deep water and stuck fast in
the mud. A stroll through Santa Cruz does not dissipate the enchantment
usually borrowed from usurious distance; and the two-hours'-roll in the
deep furrows of the Bay, that the pilgrim to Monterey must suffer, is
apt to make him regret he left that pleasant port in the hope of finding
something pleasanter on the dim opposite shore.
We re-embarked for Monterey at dusk, when the distant horn of the Bay
was totally obscured. It is seldom more than a half-imagined point,
jutting out into a haze between two shades of blue. Stars watched over
us,--sharp, clear stars, such as flare a little when the wind blows. But
the wind was not blowing for us. Showers of sparks spangled the
crape-like folds of smoke that trailed after us; the engine labored in
the hold, and the sea heaved as it is always heaving in that wide-open
In an hour we steamed into a fog-bank, so dense that even the head-light
of our ship was as a glowworm; and from that moment until we had come
within sound of voices on the undiscovered shore, it was all like a
voyage in the clouds. Whistles blew, bells rang, men shouted, and then
we listened with hungry ears. A whistle answered us from shore--a
piercing human whistle. Dim lights burned through the fog. We advanced
with fearful caution; and while voices out of the air were greeting us,
almost before we had got our reckoning, we drifted up under a dark pier,
on which ghastly figures seemed to be floating to and fro, bidding us
all-hail. And then and there the freedom of the city was extended to us,
saturated with salt-sea mist. Probably six times in ten the voyager
approaches Monterey in precisely this fashion. 'Tis true! 'Tis pity!
Having been hoisted up out of our ship--the tide was exceeding low and
the dock high; having been embraced in turn by friends who had soaked
for an hour and a half on that desolate pier-head--for our ship was
belated, groping her way in the fog,--we were taken by the hand and led
cautiously into the sand-fields that lie between the city and the sea.
Of course our plans had all miscarried. Our Bachelors' Hall fell with a
dull thud when we heard that the chief bachelor had turned benedict
three days before. But he was present with his bride, and he knew of a
haunt that would compensate us for all loss or disappointment. We
crossed the desert nursing a faint hope. We threaded one or two wide,
weedy, silent streets; not a soul was visible, though it was but nine
in the evening,--which was not to be wondered at, since the town was
divided against itself: the one half slept, the other half still sat
upon the pier, making a night of it; for old Monterey had but one shock
that betrayed it into some show of human weakness. The cause was the
Steam Navigation Co. The effect was a fatal fondness for tendering a
public reception to all steamers arriving from foreign ports, after
their sometimes tempestuous passages of from eight to ten hours. This
insured the inhabitants a more or less festive night about once every
week or ten days.
With rioutous laughter, which sounded harsh, yea, sacrilegious, in the
sublime silence of that exceptional town, we were piloted into an
abysmal nook sacred to a cluster of rookeries haggard in the extreme. We
approached it by an improvised bridge two spans in breadth. The place
was buried under layers of mystery. It was silent, it was dark with the
blackness of darkness; it was like an unholy sepulchre that gave forth
no sound, though we beat upon its sodden door with its rusted knocker
until a dog howled dismally on the hillside afar off.
Some one admitted us at the last moment, and left us standing in the
pitch-dark entrance while he went in search of candles, that apparently
fled at his approach. The great room was thrown open in due season and
with solemnity. It may have been the star-chamber in the days when
Monterey was the capital of the youngest and most promising State in the
Union; but it was somewhat out of date when we were ushered into it. A
bargain was hastily struck, and we repaired to damp chambers, where
every sound was shared in common, and nothing whatever was in the least
degree private or confidential. We slept at intervals, but in turn; so
that at least one good night's rest was shared by our company.
[Illustration: Monterey, 1850]
At nine o' the clock next morning we were still enveloped in mist, but
the sun was struggling with it; and from my window I inspected Spanish
or Mexican, or Spanish-Mexican, California interiors, sprinkled with
empty tin cans, but redeemed by the more picturesque _debris_ of the
early California settlement--dingy tiles, forlorn cypresses, and a
rosebush of gigantic body and prolific bloom.
We breakfasted at Simoneau's, in the inner room, with its frescos done
in beer and shoeblacking by a brace of hungry Bohemians, who used to
frequent the place and thus settle their bill. Five of us sat at that
uninviting board and awaited our turn, while Simoneau hovered over a
stove that was by no means equal to the occasion. It was a breakfast
such as one is reduced to in a mountain camp, but which spoils the
moment it is removed from the charmed circle of ravenous foresters. We
paid three prices for it, but that was no consolation; and it was long
before we again entered the doors of one of the chief restaurants of old
Before the thick fog lifted that morning we had scoured the town in
quest of lodgings. The hotels were uninviting. At the Washington the
rooms were not so large as the demands of the landlord. At the St.
Charles'--a summer-house without windows, save the one set in the door
of each chamber--we located for a brief season, and exchanged the
liveliest compliments with the lodgers at the extreme ends of the
building. A sneeze in the dead of night aroused the house; and during
one of the panics which were likely to follow, I peremptorily departed,
and found shelter at last in the large square chamber of an adobe
dwelling, the hospitable abode of one of the first families of Monterey.
Broad verandas surrounded us on four sides; the windows sunk in the
thick walls had seats deep enough to hold me and my lap tablet full in
the sunshine--whenever it leaked through the fog.
Two of these windows opened upon a sandy street, beyond which was a
tangled garden of cacti and hollyhock and sunflowers, with a great wall
about it; but I could look over the wall and enjoy the privacy of that
sweet haunt. In that cloistered garden grew the obese roses of the far
West, that fairly burst upon their stem. Often did I exclaim: "O, for a
delicate blossom, whose exquisite breath savors not of the mold, and
whose sensitive petals are wafted down the invisible currents of the
wind like a fairy flotilla!" Beyond that garden, beyond the roofs of
this town, stretched the yellow sand-dunes; and in the distance towered
the mountains, painted with changeful lights. My other window looked
down the long, lonesome street to the blue Bay and the faint outline of
the coast range beyond it.
Here I began to live; here I heard the harp-like tinkle of the first
piano brought to the California coast; here also the guitar was touched
skillfully by her grace the august lady of the house, who scorned the
English tongue--the more eloquent and rhythmical Spanish prevailed under
her roof. One of the members of the household was proud to recount the
history of the once brilliant capital of the State, and I listened by
the hour to a narrative that now reads to me like a fable.
In the year of Our Lord 1602, when Don Sebastian Viscaino--dispatched by
the Viceroy of Mexico, acting under instructions from Philip III. of
Spain--touched these shores, Mass was celebrated, the country taken
possession of in the name of the Spanish King, and the spot christened
Monterey in honor of Gaspar de Zuniga, Count of Monterey, Viceroy of
Mexico. In eighteen days Viscaino again set sail, and the silence of the
forest and the sea fell upon that lonely shore. That silence was
unbroken by the voice of the stranger for one hundred and sixty-six
years. Then Gaspar de Portola, Governor of Lower California,
re-discovered Monterey, erected a cross upon the shore, and went his
In May, 1770, the final settlement took place. The packet _San Antonio_,
commanded by Don Juan Perez, came to anchor in the port, "which"--wrote
the leader of the expedition to Padre Francisco Palou--"is unadulterated
in any degree from what it was when visited by the expedition of Don
Sebastian Viscaino in 1602. After this"--the celebration of the Mass,
the _Salve_ to Our Lady, and a _Te Deum,_--"the officers took possession
of the country in the name of the King (Charles III.) our lord, whom God
preserve. We all dined together in a shady place on the beach; the whole
ceremony being accompanied by many volleys and salutes by the troops and
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