The Expedition of the Donner Party and its Tragic Fate
Eliza Poor Donner Houghton
Part 3 out of 6
We were very proud of the new clothes she had made us; but the first
time she washed and hung them out to dry, they were stolen, and we were
again destitute. Sister Elitha thought perhaps strange Indians took
In May, the Fallon party arrived with horses laden with many packs of
goods, but their only refugee was Lewis Keseberg, from the cabin near
It was evening, and some one came to our door, spoke to Elitha and
Leanna in low tones and went away. My sisters turned, put their arms
about us and wept bitterly. Then, gently, compassionately, the cruel,
desolating truth was told. Ah, how could we believe it? No anxious
watching, no weary waiting would ever bring father and mother to us
[Footnote 13: Thornton.]
ORPHANS--KESEBERG AND HIS ACCUSERS--SENSATIONAL ACCOUNTS OF THE TRAGEDY
AT DONNER LAKE--PROPERTY SOLD AND GUARDIAN APPOINTED--KINDLY
INDIANS--"GRANDPA"--MARRIAGE OF ELITHA.
The report of our affliction spread rapidly, and the well-meaning,
tender-hearted women at the Fort came to condole and weep with us, and
made their children weep also by urging, "Now, do say something
comforting to these poor little girls, who were frozen and starved up
in the mountains, and are now orphans in a strange land, without any
home or any one to care for them."
Such ordeals were too overwhelming. I would rush off alone among the
wild flowers to get away from the torturing sympathy. Even there, I met
those who would look at me with great serious eyes, shake their heads,
and mournfully say, "You poor little mite, how much better it would be
if you had died in the mountains with your dear mother, instead of
being left alone to struggle in this wicked world!"
This would but increase my distress, for I did not want to be dead and
buried up there under the cold, deep snow, and I knew that mother did
not want me to be there either. Had she not sent me away to save me,
and asked God, our Heavenly Father, to take care of me?
Intense excitement and indignation prevailed at the Fort after Captain
Fallon and other members of his party gave their account of the
conditions found at the mountain camps, and of interviews had with
Keseberg, whom they now called, "cannibal, robber, and murderer." The
wretched man was accused by this party, not only of having needlessly
partaken of human flesh, and of having appropriated coin and other
property which should have come to us orphaned children, but also of
having wantonly taken the life of Mrs. Murphy and of my mother.
Some declared him crazy, others called him a monster. Keseberg denied
these charges and repeatedly accused Fallon and his party of making
false statements. He sadly acknowledged that he had used human flesh to
keep himself from starving, but swore that he was guiltless of taking
human life. He stated that Mrs. Murphy had died of starvation soon
after the departure of the "Third Relief," and that my mother had
watched by father's bedside until he died. After preparing his body for
burial, she had started out on the trail to go to her children. In
attempting to cross the distance from her camp to his, she had strayed
and wandered about far into the night, and finally reached his cabin
wet, shivering, and grief-stricken, yet determined to push onward. She
had brought nothing with her, but told him where to find money to take
to her children in the event of her not reaching them. He stated that
he offered her food, which she refused. He then attempted to persuade
her to wait until morning, and while they were talking, she sank upon
the floor completely exhausted, and he covered her with blankets and
made a fire to warm her. In the morning he found her cold in death.
Keseberg's vehement and steadfast denial of the crimes of which he
stood accused saved him from personal violence, but not from suspicion
and ill-will. Women shunned him, and children stoned him as he walked
about the fort. _The California Star_ printed in full the account of
the Fallon party, and blood-curdling editorials increased public
sentiment against Keseberg, stamping him with the mark of Cain, and
closing the door of every home against him.
Elitha and Leanna tried to keep us little ones in ignorance of the
report that our father's body was mutilated, also of what was said
about the alleged murder of our mother. Still we did hear fragments of
conversations which greatly disturbed us, and our sisters found it
difficult to answer some of our questions.
Meanwhile, more disappointments for us were brewing at the fort.
Fallon's party demanded an immediate settlement of its claim. It had
gone up the mountains under promise that its members should have not
only a _per diem_ as rescuers, but also one half of all the property
that they might bring to the settlement, and they had brought valuable
packs from the camps of the Donners. Captain Fallon also had two
hundred and twenty-five dollars in gold coin taken from concealment on
Keseberg's person, and two hundred and seventy-five dollars additional
taken from a cache that Keseberg had disclosed after the Captain had
partially strangled him, and otherwise brutally treated him, to extort
information of hidden treasure.
Keseberg did not deny that this money belonged to the Donners, but
asserted that it was his intention and desire to take it to the Donner
children himself as he had promised their mother.
Eventually, it was agreed that the Donner properties should be sold at
auction, and that "one half of the proceeds should be handed over to
Captain Fallon to satisfy the claims of his party, and the other half
should be put into the hands of a guardian for the support of the
Donner children." Hiram Miller was appointed guardian by Alcalde
Notwithstanding these plans for our well-being, unaccountable delays
followed, making our situation daily more trying.
Elitha was not yet fifteen years of age, and Leanna was two years
younger. They had not fully recovered from the effects of their long
privations and physical sufferings in the mountains; and the loss of
parents and means of support placed upon them responsibilities greater
than they could carry, no matter how bravely they strove to meet the
situation. "How can we provide for ourselves and these little
sisters?" was a question which haunted them by night and perplexed
them by day.
They had no way of communicating with our friends in Eastern States,
and the women at the Fort could ill afford to provide longer for us,
since their bread winners were still with Fremont, and their own
supplies were limited. Finally, my two eldest sisters were given
employment by different families in exchange for food, which they
shared with us; but it was often insufficient, and we little ones
drifted along forlornly. Sometimes home was where night overtook us.
Often, we trudged to the _rancheria_ beyond the pond, made by the
adobe-moulders who had built the houses and wall surrounding the fort.
There the Indian mothers were good to us. They gave us shreds of smoked
fish and dried acorns to eat; lowered from their backs the queer little
baby-beds, called "bickooses," and made the chubby faces in them laugh
for our amusement. They also let us pet the dogs that perked up their
ears and wagged their tails as our own Uno used to do when he wanted to
frolic. Sometimes they stroked our hair and rubbed the locks between
their fingers, then felt their own as if to note the difference. They
seemed sorry because we could not understand their speech.
The pond also, with its banks of flowers, winding path, and dimpling
waters, had charms for us until one day's experience drove us from it
forever. We three were playing near it when a joyous Indian girl with a
bundle of clothes on her head ran down the bank to the water's edge.
We, following, watched her drop her bundle near a board that sloped
from a rock into nature's tub, then kneel upon the upper end and souse
the clothes merrily up and down in the clear water. She lathered them
with a freshly gathered soap-root and cleansed them according to the
ways of the Spanish mission teachers. As she tied the wet garments in a
bundle and turned to carry them to the drying ground, Frances espied
some loose yellow poppies floating near the end of the board and lay
down upon it for the purpose of catching them.
Georgia and I saw her lean over and stretch out her hand as far as she
could reach; saw the poppies drift just beyond her finger tips; saw her
lean a little farther, then slip, head first, into the deep water. Such
shrieks as terrified children give, brought the Indian girl quickly to
our aid. Like a flash, she tossed the bundle from her head, sprang into
the water, snatched Frances as she rose to the surface, and restored
her to us without a word. Before we had recovered sufficiently to
speak, she was gone.
Not a soul was in sight when we started toward the Fort, all
unconscious of what the inevitable "is to be" was weaving into our
We were too young to keep track of time by calendar, but counted it by
happenings. Some were marked with tears, some with smiles, and some
stole unawares upon us, just as on that bright June evening, when we
did not find our sisters, and aimlessly followed others to the little
shop where a friendly-appearing elderly man was cutting slices of meat
and handing them to customers. We did not know his name, nor did we
realize that he was selling the meat he handed out, only that we wanted
some. So, after all the others had gone, we addressed him, asking,
"Grandpa, please give us a little piece of meat."
He looked at us, and inquired whose children we were, and where we
lived. Upon learning, he turned about, lifted a liver from a wooden peg
and cut for each, a generous slice.
On our way out, a neighbor intercepted us and said that we should sleep
at her house that night and see our sisters in the morning. She also
gave us permission to cook our pieces of liver over her bed of live
coals. Frances offered to cook them all on her stick, but Georgia and I
insisted that it would be fun for each to broil her own. I, being the
smallest child, was given the shortest stick, and allowed to stand
nearest the fire. Soon the three slices were sizzling and browning from
the ends of three willow rods, and smelled so good that we could hardly
wait for them to be done. Presently, however, the heat began to burn my
cheeks and also the hand that held the stick. The more I wiggled about,
the hotter the fire seemed, and it ended in Frances having to fish my
piece of liver from among the coals, burned in patches, curled over
bits of dying embers, and pretty well covered with ashes, but she knew
how to scrape them away, and my supper was not spoiled.
Our neighbor gave us breakfast next morning and spruced us up a bit,
then led us to the house where a number of persons had gathered, most
of them sitting at table laughing and talking, and among them, Elitha
and Leanna. Upon our entrance, the merriment ceased and all eyes were
turned inquiringly toward us. Some one pointed to him who sat beside
our eldest sister and gayly said, "Look at your new brother." Another
asked, "How do you like him?" We gazed around in silent amazement until
a third continued teasingly, "She is no longer Elitha Donner, but Mrs.
Perry McCoon. You have lost your sister, for her husband will take her
away with him." "Lost your sister!" Those harrowing words stirred our
pent feelings to anguish so keen that he who had uttered them in sport
was touched with pity by the pain they caused.
Tears came also to the child-wife's eyes as she clasped her arms about
us soothingly, assuring us that she was still our sister, and would
care for us. Nevertheless, she and her husband slipped away soon on
horseback, and we were told that we were to stay at our neighbor's
until they returned for us.
This marriage, which was solemnized by Alcalde John Sinclair on the
fourth of June, 1847, was approved by the people at the Fort. Children
were anxious to play with us because we had "a married sister and a new
brother." Women hurried through noon chores to meet outside, and some
in their eagerness forgot to roll down their sleeves before they began
to talk. One triumphantly repeated to each newcomer the motherly advice
which she gave the young couple when she "first noticed his affection
for that sorrowing girl, who is too pretty to be in this new country
without a protector." They also recalled how Perry McCoon's launch had
brought supplies up the river for the Second Relief to take over the
mountains; and how finally, he himself had carried to the bereaved
daughter the last accounts from Donner Camp.
Then the speakers wondered how soon Elitha would be back. Would she
take us three to live with her on that cattle ranch twenty-five miles
by bridle trail from the Fort? And would peace and happiness come to us
[Footnote 14: See Appendix for account of the Fallon party, quoted from
"GRANDMA"--HAPPY VISITS--A NEW HOME--AM PERSUADED TO LEAVE IT.
We were still without Elitha, when up the road and toward the Fort came
a stout little old woman in brown. On one arm she carried a basket, and
from the hand of the other hung a small covered tin pail. Her apron was
almost as long as her dress skirt, which reached below her ankles, yet
was short enough to show brown stockings above her low shoes. Two ends
of the bright kerchief which covered her neck and crossed her bosom
were pinned on opposite sides at the waist-line. A brown quilted hood
of the same shade and material as her dress and apron concealed all but
the white lace frill of a "grandma cap," which fastened under her chin
with a bow. Her dark hair drawn down plain to each temple was coiled
there into tiny wheels, and a brass pin stuck through crosswise to hold
each coil in place. Her bright, speaking eyes, more brown than gray,
gave charm to a face which might have been pretty had disease not
marred it in youth.
As she drew near, her wonderful eyes looked into our faces and won from
our lips a timid "Good morning, grandma."
That title, which we had been taught to use when speaking to the aged,
was new and sweet to her, who had never been blessed with child. She
set the basket on the ground, put the pail beside it, and caressed us
in a cheery way, then let us peep in and see what she had brought
especially for us. How did it happen? That is something we were to
learn later. Such luxuries,--eggs, bread, butter, cheese, and milk in
the dear little tin pail!
Seeing how thin and hungry we looked she gave each a piece of buttered
bread before going with us to our neighbor's house, where she left the
food, with instructions, in broken English, that it was for us three
little girls who had called her "grandma," and that we must not be
given too much at a time.
When next grandma came she took puny Georgia home with her, and left me
hugging the promise that I also should have a visit, if I would await
my turn patiently.
Who can picture my delight when Georgia got back and told me of all she
had seen? Cows, horses, pigs, and chickens, but most thrilling of all
was about the cross old sheep, which would not let her pass if she did
not carry a big stick in sight. Still, I should not have been so eager
to go, nor so gleeful on the way, had I known that the "good-bye" kiss
I gave my sister Frances at parting that day, would be the last kiss in
five long years.
Grandma was as happy as I. She could understand English better than she
could speak it, and in answering my questions, explained largely by
signs. "Courage," her gray poodle, left deep footprints in the dust,
as he trotted ahead over the well-known road, and I felt an increasing
affection for him upon learning that he, too, had crossed the plains in
an emigrant wagon and had reached the Fort at about the same time I had
reached the snow. He was so small that I imagined he must have been a
wee baby dog when he started, and that he was not yet half grown. My
surprise and admiration quickened beyond expression when grandma
assured me that he could do many tricks, understood French and German,
and was learning English.
Then she laughed, and explained that he was thus accomplished because
she and Christian Brunner, her husband, and Jacob, her brother-in-law,
had come from a place far away across lands and big waters where most
of the people spoke both French and German and that they had always
talked to Courage in one or the other of these languages.
As soon as we got into the house she opened the back door and called
"Jacob!" Then turning, she took a small cup of rennet clabber from the
shelf, poured a little cream over it, put a spoon in it, and set it on
the table before me. While I was eating, a pleasant elderly man came in
and by nods, motions, and words, partly English and partly something
else, convinced me that he liked little girls, and was glad to see me.
Then of a sudden, he clasped his hands about my waist and tossed me in
the air as father did before his hand was hurt, and when he wanted to
startle me, and then hear me laugh. This act, which brought back
loving memories, made Jacob seem nearer to me; nearer still when he
told me I must not call him anything but Jakie.
Everything about the house was as Georgia had described. Even the big
stick she had used to keep the old sheep from butting her over was
behind the door where she had left it.
When Christian Brunner got home from the Fort, grandma had supper
nearly ready, and he and I were friends the instant we looked into each
other's face; for he was "grandpa" who had given us the liver the
evening we did not find our sisters. He had gone home that night and
said: "Mary, at the Fort are three hungry little orphan girls. Take
them something as soon as you can. One child is fair, two are dark. You
will know them by the way they speak to you."
Grandpa had now hastened home to hold me on his lap and to hear me say
that I was glad to be at his house and intended to help grandma all I
could for being so good as to bring me there. After I told how we had
cooked the liver and how good it tasted, he wiped his eyes and said:
"Mine child, when you little ones thanked me for that liver, it made me
not so much your friend as when you called me 'grandpa.'"
As time went on, grandma declared that I helped her a great deal
because I kept her chip-box full, shooed the hens out of the house,
brought in the eggs, and drove the little chicks to bed, nights. I
don't recollect that I was ever tired or sleepy, yet I know that the
night must have sped, between the time of my last nod at the funny
shadow picture of a rabbit which Jakie made hop across the wall behind
the lighted candle, and Courage's barking near my pillow, which grandma
said meant, "Good-morning, little girl!"
It was after one of these reminders of a new day that I saw Leanna. I
don't know when or how she came, but I missed Frances and Georgia the
more because I wanted them to share our comforts. Nevertheless a
strange feeling of uneasiness crept over me as I noticed, later, that
grandpa lingered and that the three spoke long in their own tongue, and
glanced often toward me.
Finally grandpa and Jakie went off in the wagon and grandma also
disappeared, but soon returned, dressed for a trip to the Fort, and
explained that she had heard that Georgia was sick and she would take
me back and bring her in my place. I had known from the beginning that
I was to stay only a little while, yet I was woefully disturbed at
having my enjoyment so abruptly terminated. My first impulse was to
cry, but somehow, the influence of her who under the soughing pines of
the Sierras had told me that "friends do not come quickly to a cry-baby
child" gave me courage, and I looked up into the dear old face before
me and with the earnestness of an anxious child asked, "Grandma, why
can't you keep two of us?"
She looked at me, hesitated, then replied, "I will see." She kissed
away my fears and rode off on old Lisa. I did not know that she would
ride farther than the fort and imagined she had gone on horseback so
that she might the easier bring back my little sister.
Leanna washed the dishes and did the other work before she joined me in
watching for grandma's return. At last she came in sight and I ran up
the road craning my neck to see if Georgia were really behind on old
Lisa's back, and when I saw her pinched face aglow with smiles that
were all for me, I had but one wish, and that was to get my arms around
One chair was large enough to hold us both when we got into the house,
and the big clock on the wall with long weights reaching almost to the
floor and red roses painted around its white face, did not tick long
before we were deaf to its sound, telling each other about the doings
of the day.
She knew more than I, who listened intently as she excitedly went on:
"Me and Frances started to find you this morning, but we wasn't far
when we met Jacob in the wagon, and he stopped and asked us where we
was going. We told him. Then he told us to get in by him. But he didn't
come this way, just drove down to the river and some men lifted us out
and set us in a boat and commenced to paddle across the water. I knew
that wasn't the way, and I cried and cried as loud as I could cry, and
told them I wanted to go to my little sister Eliza, and that I'd tip
the boat over if they did not take me back; and one man said, 'It's too
bad! It ain't right to part the two littlest ones.' And they told me if
I'd sit still and stop crying they would bring me back with them by
and by, and that I should come to you. And I minded.
"Then they taked us to that house where we sleeped under the carpet the
night we didn't get to the Fort. Don't you remember? Well, lots of
people was there and talked about us and about father and mother, and
waited for grandma to come. Pretty soon grandma come, and everybody
talked, and talked. And grandma told them she was sorry for us, and
would take you and me if she could keep Leanna to help her do the work.
When I was coming away with grandma, Frances cried like everything. She
said she wanted to see you, and told the people mother said we should
always stay together. But they wouldn't let her come. They've gived her
to somebody else, and now she is their little girl."
We both felt sorry for Frances, and wished we could know where she was
and what she was doing.
While we were talking, grandma kept busily at work, and sometimes she
wiped her face with the corner of her apron, yet we did not think of
her as listening, nor of watching us, nor would we ever have known it,
had we not learned it later from her own lips, as she told others the
circumstances which had brought us into her life.
Some days later Georgia and I were playing in the back yard when Leanna
appeared at the door and called out in quick, jubilant tones:
"Children, run around to the front and see who has come!"
True enough, hitched to a stake near the front door was a bay horse
with white spots on his body and a white stripe down his face, and tied
to the pommel of his saddle was another horse with a side saddle on its
back. It did not take us long to get into the house where we found
Elitha and our new brother, who had come to arrange about taking us
away with them. While Elitha was talking to grandma and Leanna, Georgia
stood listening, but I sat on my new brother's knee and heard all about
his beautiful spotted horse and a colt of the same colors.
Elitha could not persuade Leanna or Georgia to go with her, nor was I
inclined to do so when she and grandma first urged me. But I began to
yield as the former told me she was lonesome; wanted at least one
little sister to live with her, and that if I would be that one, I
should have a new dress and a doll with a face. Then my new brother
settled the matter by saying: "Listen to me. If you'll go, you shall
have the pinto colt that I told you about, a little side saddle of your
own, and whenever you feel like it, you can get on it and ride down to
see all the folks." The prospects were so alluring that I went at once
with Leanna, who was to get me ready for the journey.
Leanna did not share my enthusiasm. She said I was a foolish little
thing, and declared I would get lonesome on such a big place so far
away; that the colt would kick me if I tried to go near it, and that no
one ever made saddles for colts. She was not so gentle as usual when
she combed my hair and gave my face a right hard scrubbing with a cloth
and whey, which grandma bade her use, "because it makes the skin so
nice and soft."
Notwithstanding these discouragements, I took my clothes, which were
tied up in a colored handkerchief, kissed them all good-bye, and rode
away sitting behind my new brother on the spotted horse, really
believing that I should be back in a few days on a visit.
ON A CATTLE RANCH NEAR THE COSUMNE RIVER--"NAME BILLY"--INDIAN GRUB
We left the Fort and grandma's house far behind, and still rode on and
on. The day was warm, the wild flowers were gone, and the plain was
yellow with ripening oats which rustled noisily as we passed through,
crowding and bumping their neighborly heads together. Yet it was not a
lonesome way, for we passed elk, antelope, and deer feeding, with
pretty little fawns standing close to their mothers' sides. There were
also sleek fat cattle resting under the shade of live oak trees, and
great birds that soared around overhead casting their shadows on the
ground. As we neared the river, smaller birds of brighter colors could
be heard and seen in the trees along the banks where the water flowed
between, clear and cold.
All these things my sister pointed out to me as we passed onward. It
was almost dark before we came in sight of the adobe ranch house. We
were met on the road by a pack of Indian dogs, whose fierce looks and
savage yelping made me tremble, until I got into the house where they
could not follow.
The first weeks of my stay on the ranch passed quickly. Elitha and I
were together most of the time. She made my new dress and a doll
which, was perfection in my eyes, though its face was crooked, and its
pencilled hair was more like pothooks than curls. I did not see much of
her husband, because in the mornings he rode away early to direct his
Indian cattle-herders at the _rodeos_, or to oversee other ranch work,
and I was often asleep when he returned nights.
The pinto colt he had promised me was, as Leanna had said, "big enough
to kick, but too small to ride," and I at once realized that my
anticipated visits could not be made as planned.
Occasionally, men came on horseback to stay a day or two, and before
the summer was over, a young couple with a small baby moved into one
part of our house. We called them Mr. and Mrs. Packwood and Baby
Packwood. The mother and child were company for my sister, while the
husbands talked continually of ranches, cattle, hides, and tallow, so I
was free to roam around by myself.
In one of my wanderings I met a sprightly little Indian lad, whose face
was almost as white as my own. He was clad in a blue and white shirt
that reached below his knees. Several strings of beads were around his
neck, and a small bow and arrow in his hand. We stopped and looked at
each other; were pleased, yet shy about moving onward or speaking. I,
being the larger, finally asked,
"What's your name?"
To my great delight, he answered, "Name, Billy."
While we were slowly getting accustomed to each other, a good-natured
elderly squaw passed. She wore a tattered petticoat, and buttons,
pieces of shell, and beads of bird bones dangled from a string around
her neck. A band of buckskin covered her forehead and was attached to
strips of rawhide, which held in place the water-tight basket hanging
down her back. Billy now left me for her, and I followed the two to
that part of our yard where the tall ash-hopper stood, which ever after
was like a story book to me.
The squaw set the basket on the ground, reached up, and carefully
lifted from a board laid across the top of the hopper, several pans of
clabbered milk, which she poured into the basket. Instead of putting
the pans back, she tilted them up against the hopper, squatted down in
front and with her slim forefinger, scraped down the sides and bottom
of each pan so that she and Billy could scoop up and convey to their
mouths, by means of their three crooked fingers, all that had not gone
into the basket. Then she licked her improvised spoon clean and dry;
turned her back to her burden; replaced the band on her forehead; and
with the help of her stick, slowly raised herself to her feet and
quietly walked away, Billy after her.
Next day I was on watch early. My kind friend, the choreman, let me go
with him when he carried the lye from the hopper to the soap fat
barrel. Then he put more ashes on the hopper and set the pans of milk
in place for the evening call of Billy and his companion.
[Illustration: PAPOOSES IN BICKOOSES]
[Illustration: SUTTER'S MILL, WHERE MARSHALL DISCOVERED GOLD, JANUARY
He pointed out the _rancheria_ by the river where the Indian herders
lived with others of their tribe, among them, Billy and his mother.
He also informed me that the squaws took turns in coming for the milk,
and that Billy came as often as he got the chance; that he was a nice
little fellow, who had learned a few English words from his white papa,
who had gone off and left him.
Billy and I might never have played together as we did, if my
brother-in-law had not taken his wife to San Francisco and left me in
the care of Mr. and Mrs. Packwood. Their chief aim in life was to
please their baby. She was a dear little thing when awake, but the
house had to be kept very still while she slept, and they would raise a
hand and say, "Hu-sh!" as they left me, and together tip-toed to the
cradle to watch her smile in her sleep. I had their assurance that they
would like to let me hold her if her little bones were not so soft that
I might break them.
They were never unkind or cross to me. I had plenty to eat, and clean
clothes to wear, but they did not seem to realize how I yearned for
some one to love. So I went to Mr. Choreman. He told me about the
antelope that raced across the ranch before I was up; of the elk, deer,
bear, and buffalo he had shot in his day; and of beaver, otter, and
other animals that he had trapped along the rivers. Entranced with his
tales I became as excited as he, while listening to the dangers he had
One day he showed me a little chair which I declared was the cunningest
thing I had ever seen. It had a high, straight back, just like those in
the house, only that it was smaller. The seat was made of strips of
rawhide woven in and out so that it looked like patchwork squares. He
let me sit on it and say how beautiful it was, before telling me that
he had made it all for me. I was so delighted that I jumped up, clasped
it in my arms and looked at him in silent admiration. I do not believe
that he could understand how rich and grateful I felt, although he
shook his head saying, "You are not a bit happier than I was while
making it for you, nor can you know how much good it does me to have
Gradually, Billy spent more time near the ranch house, and learned many
of my kind of words, and I picked up some of his. Before long, he
discovered that he could climb up on the hopper, and then he helped me
up. But I could not crook my fingers into as good a spoon as he did
his, and he got more milk out of the pan than I.
We did not think any one saw us, yet the next time we climbed up, we
found two old spoons stuck in a crack, in plain sight. After we got
through using them, I wiped them on my dress skirt and put them back.
Later, I met Mr. Choreman, who told me that he had put the spoons there
because I was too nice a little girl to eat as Billy did, or to dip out
of the same pan. I was ashamed and promised not to do so again, nor to
climb up there with him.
As time passed, I watched wistfully for my sister's return, and thought
a great deal about the folks at grandma's. I tried to remember all that
had happened while I was there, and felt sure they were waiting for me
to pay the promised visit. A great longing often made me rush out
behind a large tree near the river, where no one could see or hear me
feel sorry for myself, and where I would wonder if God was taking care
of the others and did not know where I lived.
I still feel the wondrous thrill, and bid my throbbing heart beat
slower, when I recall the joy that tingled through every part of my
being on that evening when, unexpectedly, Leanna and Georgia came to
the door. Yet, so short-lived was that joy that the event has always
seemed more like a disquieting dream than a reality; for they came at
night and were gone in the morning, and left me sorrowing.
A few months ago, I wrote to Georgia (now Mrs. Babcock), who lives in
the State of Washington, for her recollections of that brief reunion,
and she replied:
Before we went to Sonoma with Grandma Brunner in the Fall of 1847,
Leanna and I paid you a visit. We reached your home at dusk. Mr.
McCoon and Elitha were not there. We were so glad to meet, but our
visit was too short. You and I were given a cup of bread and milk
and sent to bed. Leanna ate with the grown folks, who, upon learning
that we had only come to say good-bye, told her we must for your
sake get away before you awoke next morning. We arose and got
started early, but had only gone a short distance when we heard your
pitiful cry, begging us to take you with us. Leanna hid her face in
her apron, while a man caught you and carried you back. I think she
cried all the way home. It was so hard to part from you.
Mr. Packwood carried me into the house, and both he and his wife felt
sorry for me. My head ached and the tears would come as often as any
one looked at me. Mrs. Packwood wet a piece of brown paper, laid it on
my forehead, and bade me lie on my bed until I should feel better. I
could not eat or play, and even Mr. Choreman's bright stories had lost
"Come look, see squaw, papoose! Me go, you go?" exclaimed Billy
excitedly one soft gray morning after I had regained my spirits. I
turned in the direction he pointed and saw quite a number of squaws
trudging across an open flat with babies in bickooses, and larger
children scampering along at various paces, most of them carrying
With Mrs. Packwood's permission, Billy and I sped away to join the
line. I had never been granted such a privilege before, and had no idea
what it all meant.
As we approached the edge of the marsh, the squaws walked more slowly,
with their eyes fixed upon the ground. Every other moment some of them
would be down, digging in the earth with forefinger or a little stick,
and I soon learned they were gathering bulbs about a quarter of an inch
in thickness and as large around as the smaller end of a woman's
thimble. I had seen the plants growing near the pond at the fort, but
now the bulbs were ripe, and were being gathered for winter use. In
accordance with the tribal custom, not a bulb was eaten during harvest
time. They grew so far apart and were so small that it took a long
while to make a fair showing in the baskets.
When no more bulbs could be found, the baskets were put on the ground
in groups, and the mothers carefully leaned their bickooses against
them in such positions that the wide awake papooses could look out from
under their shades and smile and sputter at each other in quaint Indian
baby-talk; and the sleeping could sleep on undisturbed.
That done, the squaws built a roaring fire, and one of them untied a
bundle of hardwood sticks which she had brought for the purpose, and
stuck them around under the fuel in touch with the hottest parts of the
burning mass. When the ends glowed like long-lasting coals, the waiting
crowd snatched them from their bed and rushed into the low thicket
which grew in the marsh. I followed with my fire-brand, but, not
knowing what to do with it, simply watched the Indians stick theirs
into the bushes, sometimes high up, sometimes low down. I saw them
dodge about, and heard their shouts of warning and their peals of
laughter. Then myriads of hornets came buzzing and swarming about. This
frightened me so that I ran back to where the brown babies were cooing
Empty-handed, but happy, they at length returned, and though I could
not understand anything they were saying, their looks and actions
betokened what a good time they had had.
Years later, I described the scene to Elitha, who assured me that I had
been highly favored by those Indians for they had permitted me to
witness their annual "Grub Feast." The Piutes always use burning fagots
to drive hornets and other stinging insects from their nests, and they
also use heat in opening the comb cells so that they can easily remove
the larvae, which they eat without further preparation.
With the first cold snaps of winter, my feet felt the effect of former
frost bites, and I was obliged to spend most of my time within doors.
Fortunately Baby Packwood had grown to be quite a frolicsome child. She
was fond of me, and her bones had hardened so that there was no longer
danger of my breaking them when I lifted her or held her on my lap. Her
mother had also discovered that I was anxious to be helpful, pleased
when given something to do, and proud when my work was praised.
I was quite satisfied with my surroundings, when, unexpectedly, Mr.
McCoon brought my sister back, and once more we had happy times
I RETURN TO GRANDMA--WAR RUMORS AT THE FORT--LINGERING HOPE THAT MY
MOTHER MIGHT BE LIVING--AN INDIAN CONVOY--THE BRUNNERS AND THEIR HOME.
The Spring of 1848 was at hand when my brother-in-law said to me,
"Grandma Brunner wants you to come back to her; and if, you would like
to go, I'll take you to the Fort, as soon as the weather changes, and
leave you with the people who are getting ready to move north and are
willing to take you with them to Sonoma, where grandma now lives."
The storm was not over, but the day was promising, when my bundle of
clothes was again on the pommel of the saddle, and I ready to begin my
journey. I was so excited that I could hardly get around to say
good-bye to those who had gathered to see me off. We returned by the
same route that we had followed out on that warm June day, but
everything seemed different. The catkins on the willows were forming
and the plain was green with young grass.
As we neared the Fort we passed a large camp of fine-looking Indians
who, I was told, were the friendly Walla-Wallas, that came every spring
to trade ponies, and otter, and beaver-skins with Captain Sutter for
provisions, blankets, beads, gun caps, shot, and powder.
A large emigrant wagon stood near the adobe house where my new
brother-in-law drew rein. Before dismounting, he reached back, took me
by the arm and carefully supported me as I slid from the horse to the
ground. I was so stiff that I could hardly stand, but he led me to the
door where we were welcomed by a good-natured woman, to whom he said,
"Well, Mrs. Lennox, you see I've brought the little girl. I don't think
she'll be much trouble, unless she talks you to death."
Then he told her that I had, during the ride, asked him more questions
than a man six times his size could answer. But she laughed, and
"'lowed" that I couldn't match either of her three boys in asking
questions, and then informed him that she did not "calculate on making
the move until the roads be dryer and the weather settled." She
promised, however, that I should have good care until I could be handed
over to the Brunners. After a few words with her in private Perry
McCoon bade me good-bye, and passed out of my life forever.
I was now again with emigrants who had crossed the plains in 1846, but
who had followed the Fort Hall route and so escaped the misfortunes
that befell the Donner Party.
Supper over, Mrs. Lennox made me a bed on the floor in the far corner
of the room. I must have fallen asleep as soon as my head touched the
pillow, for I remember nothing more until I was awakened by voices, and
saw the candle still burning and Mrs. Lennox and two men and a woman
sitting near the table. The man speaking had a shrill voice, and his
words were so terrifying that I shook all over; my hair felt as though
it were trying to pull itself out by its roots; a cold sweat dampened
my clothes. I was afraid to move or to turn my eyes. Listening, I tried
to remember how many Indians he was talking about. I knew it must be a
great many, for it was such a long word. After they went away and the
house was dark, I still seemed to see his excited manner and to hear
"Mrs. Lennox, we've got to get out of here right away, for I heard tell
at the store before I come up that there's bound to be an Injun
outbreak. Them savages from Sonora are already on their way up, and
they'll kill and scalp every man, woman, and child they can ketch, and
there's nothing to keep them from ketching us, if we stay at this here
little fort any longer."
I lay awake a long while. I did not dare call out because I imagined
some of those Indians might have got ahead of the rest and be sneaking
up to our house at that very moment. I wondered where I could hide if
they should climb through the window, and I felt that Georgia would
never know what had become of me, if they should kill and scalp me.
As soon as Mrs. Lennox stirred in the morning, I ran to her and had a
good cry. She threatened all sorts of things for the man who had caused
me such torture, and declared that he believed everything he heard. He
did not seem to remember how many hundred miles away Sonora was, nor
how many loaded cannon there were at the Fort. I felt better satisfied,
however, when she told me that she had made up her mind to start for
Sonoma the next day.
After breakfast her younger boys wanted to see the Walla-Wallas, and
took me along. A cold breath from the Sierra Nevadas made me look up
and shiver. Soon Captains Sutter and Kern passed us, the former on his
favorite white horse, and the latter on a dark bay. I was delighted to
catch a glimpse of those two good friends, but they did not know it.
They had been to see the Indian ponies, and before we got to the big
gate, they had gone in and the Walla-Wallas were forming in line on
both sides of the road between the gate and the front of the store.
Only two Indians at a time were allowed to enter the building, and as
they were slow in making their trades, we had a good chance to see them
all. The men, the boys, and most of the women were dressed in fringed
buckskin suits and their hands and faces were painted red, as the Sioux
warriors of Fort Laramie painted their cheeks.
The Lennox boys took greatest interest in the little fellows with the
bows and arrows, but I could not keep my eyes from the young princess,
who stood beside her father, the chief. She was all shimmering with
beads. They formed flowers on her moccasins; fringed the outer seams of
her doeskin trousers and the hem of her tunic; formed a stripe around
her arm holes and her belt; glittered on a band which held in place the
eagle plume in her hair; dangled from her ears; and encircled her neck
and arms. Yet she did not seem to wear one too many. She looked so
winsome and picturesque that I have never forgotten the laughing,
We started back over ground where my little sisters and I had wandered
the previous Spring. The people whom I remembered had since gone to
other settlements, and strangers lived in the old huts. I could not
help looking in as we passed, for I still felt that mother might not be
dead. She might have come down the mountain alone and perhaps I could
find her. The boys, not knowing why I lagged behind, tried to hurry me
along; and finally left me to go home by myself. This, not from
unkindness, but rather love of teasing, and also oblivion of the vain
hope I cherished.
Mrs. Lennox let me dry the dishes for her after the noon meal, then
sent me to visit the neighbor in the next house, while she should stow
her things in the wagon and get ready for the journey. I loved this
lady in the next house as soon as she spoke to me, and I was
delighted with her baby, who reached out his little arms to have me
take him, and raised his head for me to kiss his lips. While he slept,
his mother sewed and talked with me. She had known my parents on the
plains, and now let me sit at her feet, giving me her workbox, that I
might look at its bobbins of different-colored thread and the pretty
needle-book. When I told her that the things looked a little like
mother's and that sometimes mother let me take the tiniest bit of her
wax, she gave me permission to take a tiny taste of that which I held
in my hand to see if it was like that which I remembered.
Only she, the baby, and I sat down to tea, yet she said that she was
glad she had company, for baby's papa was away with Captain Fremont,
and she was lonesome.
After I learned that she would have to stay until he came back, I was
troubled, and told what I had heard in the night. She assured me that
those in charge of the Fort heard every day all that was going on for
miles and miles around, and that if they should learn that fighting
Indians were coming, they would take all the white people and the good
Indians into the fort, and then shoot the bad ones with the cannon that
peeped through its embrasures.
The dainty meal and her motherly talk kept me a happy child until I
heard the footsteps of the Lennox boys. I knew they were coming for me,
and that I should have to sleep in that dark room where I had been so
afraid. Quickly slipping from my chair, under the table, and hiding
behind my new friend's dress skirt, I begged her not to let them know
where I was, and please, to let me stay with her all night. I listened
as she sent the boys back to tell their mother that she would keep me
until morning, adding that she would step in and explain matters after
she put her baby to bed. Before I went to sleep she heard me say my
prayers and kissed me good-night.
When I awoke next morning, I was not in her house, but in Mrs. Lennox's
wagon, on the way to Sonoma.
The distance between the Fort and Sonoma was only about eighty miles,
yet the heavy roads and the frequent showers kept us on the journey
more than a week. It was still drizzling when we reached the town and
Mrs. Lennox learned where the Brunners lived. I had been told that they
would be looking for me, and I expected to go to them at once.
As we approached the west bank of the creek, which winds south past the
town, we could see the branches on the trees in grandma's dooryard
swaying. Yet we could not reach there, because a heavy mountain storm
had turned a torrent into the creek channel, washed away the foot
bridge, and overflowed the low land. Disappointed, we encamped on high
ground to wait for the waters to recede.
Toward evening, Jakie gathering his cows on the opposite side, noticed
our emigrant wagon, and oxen, and as he drew nearer recognized Mrs.
Lennox. Both signalled from where they stood, and soon he descried me,
anxious to go to him. He, also, was disappointed at the enforced delay,
and returned often to cheer us, and to note the height of the water. It
seemed to me that we had been there days and days, when a Mission
Indian on a gray pony happened to come our way, and upon learning what
was wanted, signalled that he would carry me over for a Mexican silver
dollar. Jakie immediately drew the coin from his pocket and held it
between thumb and forefinger, high above his head in the sunshine, to
show the native that his price would be paid.
Quickly the Indian dismounted, looked his pony over carefully, cinched
the blanket on tighter, led him to the water's edge, and turned to me.
I shuddered, and when all was ready, drew near the deep flowing current
tremblingly, yet did not hesitate; for my loved ones were beyond, and
to reach them I was willing to venture.
The Indian mounted and I was placed behind him. By sign, he warned me
not to loosen my hold, lest I, like the passing branches, should become
the water's prey. With my arms clasped tightly about his dusky form,
and his elbows clamped over them, we entered the stream. I saw the
water surge up around us, felt it splash over me! Oh, how cold it was!
I held my breath as we reached the deepest part, and in dread clung
closer to the form before me. We were going down stream, drifting past
where Jakie stood! How could I know that we were heading for the safe
slope up the bank where we landed?
The Indian took his dollar with a grunt of satisfaction, and Jakie bade
me wave to the friends I had left behind, as he put me on old Lisa's
back and hurried off to grandma, Leanna, and Georgia, waiting at the
gate to welcome me home.
Georgia had a number of patches of calico and other trinkets which she
had collected for me, and offered them as soon as we had exchanged
greetings, then eagerly conducted me about the place.
Grandma was more energetic and busier than at the Fort, and I could
only talk with her as she worked, but there was so much to see and hear
that before nightfall my feet were heavy and my brain was weary.
However, a good sleep under the roof of those whom I loved was all the
tonic I needed to prepare me for a fair start in the new career, and
grandma's assurance, "This be your home so long as you be good," filled
me with such gladness that, childlike, I promised to be good always and
to do everything that should be required of me.
Most of the emigrants in and around the Pueblo of Sonoma were Americans
from the western frontiers of the United States. They had reached the
province in the Summer or early Autumn of 1846, and for safety had
settled near this United States Army post. Here they had bought land
and made homes within neighboring distance of each other and begun life
anew in simple, happy, pioneer fashion. The Brunners were a different
type. They had immigrated from Switzerland and settled in New Orleans,
Louisiana, when young, and by toil and economy had saved the snug sum
of money which they brought to invest in California enterprises.
They could speak and read French and German, and had some knowledge of
figures. Being skilled in the preparation of all the delicacies of the
meat market, and the products of the dairy, they had brought across the
plains the necessary equipment for both branches of business, and had
already established a butcher shop in the town and a dairy on the
farm, less than a mile from it.
Jakie was busy and useful at both places, but grandpa was owner of the
shop, and grandma of the dairy. Her hand had the cunning of the Swiss
cheese-maker, and the deftness of the artist in butter moulding. She
was also an experienced cook, and had many household commodities
usually unknown to pioneer homes. They were thus eminently fitted for
life in a crude new settlement, and occupied an important place in the
A public road cut their land into two unequal parts. The cattle corrals
and sheds were grouped on one side of the road, and the family
accommodations on the other. Three magnificent oaks and a weird,
blackened tree-trunk added picturesqueness to the ground upon which the
log cabin and outbuildings stood. The trim live oak shaded the adobe
milk-room and smoke-house, while the grand old white oak spread its
far-reaching boughs over the curbed well and front dooryard.
[Illustration: PLAZA AND BARRACKS OF SONOMA]
[Illustration: ONE OF THE OLDEST BUILDINGS IN SONOMA]
The log cabin was a substantial three-roomed structure. Its two outer
doors opened with latch strings and were sawed across just above the
middle, so that the lower sections might be kept closed against the
straying pigs and fowls, while the upper part remained open to help the
windows opposite give light and ventilation. The east end formed the
ample store-room with shelves for many stages of ripening cheese. The
west end served as sleeping apartment for all except Jakie. The large
middle room was set apart as kitchen and general living room.
Against its wall were braced the dear old clock and conveniences for
holding dishes, and the few keepsakes which had shared the wanderings
of their owners on two continents.
The adobe chimney, which formed part of the partition between the
living and the sleeping apartment, gave a huge fireplace to each. From
the side of the one that cheered the living room, swung a crane worthy
of the great copper cheese kettle that hung on its arm. In tidy rows on
the chimney shelf stood bottles and boxes of medicine, two small brass
kettles, and six bright candlesticks with hoods, trays, and snuffers to
match. On the wide hearth beneath were ranged the old-fashioned
three-legged iron pots, dominated by the large round one, used as a
bake oven. Hovering over the fire sat the iron tea-kettle, with its
slender throat and pointed lips, now warmed to song by the blazing
logs, now rattling its lid with increasing fervor.
A long table with rough redwood benches around it, a few
straight-backed chairs against the wall, and Jakie's half-concealed
bed, in the far corner, constituted the visible furnishings of this
memorable room, which was so spick and span in German order and
cleanliness, that even its clay floor had to be sprinkled in regular
spots and rings before being swept.
It was under the great oaks that most of the morning work was done.
There the pails and pans were washed and sunned, the meats chopped, the
sausage made, head-cheese moulded, ham and bacon salted, and the lard
tried out over the out-door fires. Among those busy scenes, Georgia
and I spent many happy hours, and learned some of our hardest lessons;
for to us were assigned regular tasks, and we were also expected to do
the countless little errands which save steps to grown people, and are
supposed not to tire the feet of children.
Grandma, stimulated by the success of her mixing and moulding, and
elated by the profit she saw in it, was often too happy and bustling to
remember how young we were, or that we got tired, or had worries of our
own to bear.
Our small troubles, however, were soon forgotten, when we could slip
away for a while to the lovely playhouse which Leanna had secretly made
for us in an excavation in the back yard. There we forgot work, used
our own language, and played we were like other children; for we owned
the beautiful cupboard dug in the wall, and the pieces of Delft and
broken glass set in rows upon the shelves, also the furniture, made of
stumps and blocks of wood, and the two bottles standing behind the
brush barricade to act as sentries in case of danger during our
One stolen visit to that playhouse led me into such disgrace, that
grandma did not speak to me the rest of the day, and told Jakie all
In the evening, when no one else was near, he called me to him. I
obeyed with downcast head. Putting his hand under my chin, and turning
my face up, he made me look straight into his eyes, as he asked,
"Who broke dat glass cup vat grandma left on die dinner table full of
milk, and telled you watch it bis Hendrik come to his dinner, or bis
she be done mit her nap?"
I tried to turn my eyes down, but he would not let me, and I faltered,
"The chicken knocked it off,--but he left the door open so it could get
Then, he raised his other hand, shook his finger, and in awe-inspiring
tone continued: "Yes, I be sure die chicken do dat, but vot for you
tell grandma dat Heinrick do dat? Der debil makes peoples tell lies,
and den he ketch sie for his fire, und he vill ketch you, if you do dat
some more. Gott, who you mutter telled you 'bout, will not love you. I
will not love you, if you do dat some more. I be sorry for you, because
I tought you vas His little girl, and mine little girl."
Jakie must have spent much time in collecting so many English words,
and they were effective, for before he got through repeating them to
me, I was as heart-sore and penitent as a child could be.
After he had forgiven me, he sent me to grandma, later to acknowledge
my wrong to Hendrik, and before I slept, I had to tell God what a bad
child I had been, and ask Him to make me good.
I had promised to be very careful and to try never to tell another lie,
and I had been unhappy enough to want to keep the promise. But, alas,
my sympathy for Jakie led me into more trouble, and it must have been
on Sunday too, for he was not working, but sitting reverently under the
tree with his elbows upon a table, and his cheeks resting in the
hollows of his hands. Before him lay the Holy Scriptures from which he
was slowly reading aloud in solemn tones.
Georgia and I standing a short distance from him, listened very
intently. Not hearing a single English word, and not understanding many
of the German, I became deeply concerned and turning to her asked,
"Aren't you awful sorry for poor Jakie? There he is, reading to God in
German, and God can't understand him. I'm afraid Jakie won't go to
heaven when he dies."
My wise little sister turned upon me indignantly, assuring me that "God
sees everybody and understands everybody's talk." To prove the truth of
her statement, she rushed to the kitchen and appealed to grandma, who
not only confirmed Georgia's words, but asked me what right I had to
believe that God was American only, and could not understand good
German people when they read and spoke to Him? She wanted to know if I
was not ashamed to think that they, who had loved me, and been kind to
me would not go to Heaven as well as I who had come to them a beggar?
Then she sent me away by myself to think of my many sins; and I,
weeping, accepted banishment from Georgia, lest she should learn
wickedness from me.
Georgia was greatly disturbed on my account, because she believed I had
wilfully misrepresented God, and that He might not forgive me. When
Jakie learned what had happened, he declared that I had spoken like a
child, and needed instruction more than punishment. So for the purpose
of broadening my religious views, and keeping before me the fact that
"God can do all things and knows all languages," grandma taught me the
Lord's Prayer in French and German, and heard me repeat it each night
in both languages, after I had said it as taught me by my mother.
It was about this time, that Leanna confided to me that she was
homesick for Elitha, and she would go to her very soon. She said that I
must not object when the time came, for she loved her own sister just
as much as I did mine, and was as anxious to go to Elitha as I had been
to come to Georgia. She had been planning several weeks, and knew of a
family with which she could travel to Sutter's Fort. Later, when she
collected her things to go away, she left with us a pair of beautifully
knit black silk stockings, marked near the top in fine cross-stitch in
white, "D," and under that "5." The stockings had been our mother's.
She had knit them herself and worn them. Georgia gave one to me and
kept the other. We both felt that they were almost too sacred to
handle. They were our only keepsakes.
Later, Georgia found a small tin box in which mother had kept important
papers. Recently, when referring to that circumstance, Georgia said:
"Grandma for a long time had used it for a white-sugar box, and kept it
on a shelf so high that we could see it only when she lifted it down;
and I don't think we took our eyes from it until it was put back. We
felt that it was too valuable for us ever to own. One day, I found it
thrown away. One side had become unsoldered from the ends and the
bottom also was hanging loose. With a full heart, I grasped the
treasure and put it where we could often see it. Long afterwards, Harry
Huff kindly offered to repair it; and the solder that still holds it
together is also regarded as a keepsake from a dear friend."
[Footnote 15: Mrs. Andrew J. Grayson, wife of the well-known
ornithologist, frequently referred to as the "Audubon of the West."]
MORAL DISCIPLINE--THE HISTORICAL PUEBLO OF SONOMA--SUGAR PLUMS.
Grandma often declared that she loved me, and did not want to be too
severe; but, for fear that I had learned much wickedness from the
little Indians with whom I had played after I left her at the Fort, she
should watch me very closely herself, and also have Georgia tell her
whenever she should see me do wrong. Consequently, for a while after I
reached Sonoma, I was frequently on the penitential bench, and was as
often punished for fancied misdoings as for real ones. Yet, I grant
that grandma was warranted in being severe the day that she got back
from town before I was ready for her.
She had left us with the promise that she would bring us something nice
if we would be good children and do certain work that she had planned.
After we had finished the task, we both became restless, wondered how
soon she would come back, and what we could do next to keep from being
lonesome. Then I espied on the upper shelf the cream-colored sugar
bowl, with the old-fashioned red roses and black foliage on its cover
and sides. Grandma had occasionally given us lumps of sugar out of it;
and I now asked Georgia if I hadn't better get it down, so that we
could each have a lump of sugar. Hesitatingly, she said, "No, I am
afraid you will break it." I assured her that I would be very careful,
and at once set a chair in place and climbed up. It was quite a strain
to reach the bowl, so I lifted it down and rested it on the lower
shelf, expecting to turn and put it into Georgia's hands. But, somehow,
before I could do this, the lid slipped off and lay in two pieces upon
the floor. Georgia cried out reproachfully,
"There, you know I didn't want you to do it, and now you will get a
good whipping for breaking grandma's best sugar bowl!"
I replied loftily that I was not afraid, because I would ask God to
mend it for me. She did not think He would do it, but I did. So I
matched the broken edges and put it on the chair, knelt down before it
and said "Please" when I made my request. I touched the pieces very
carefully, and pleaded more earnestly each time that I found them
unchanged. Finally, Georgia, watching at the door, said excitedly,
"Here comes grandma!"
I arose, so disappointed and chagrined that I scarcely heard her as she
entered and spoke to me. I fully believed that He would have mended
that cover if she had remained away a little longer; nevertheless, I
was so indignant at Him for being so slow about it, that I stood
unabashed while Georgia told all that had happened. The whipping I got
did not make much impression, but the after talks and the banishment
from "good company" were terrible.
Later, when I was called from my hiding-place, grandma saw that I had
been very miserable, and she insisted upon knowing what I had been
thinking about. Then I told her, reluctantly, that I had talked to God
and told Him I did not think that He was a very good Heavenly Father,
or He would not let me get into so much trouble; that I was mad at Him,
and didn't believe He knew how to mend dishes. She covered her face
with her apron and told me, sobbingly, that she had expected me to be
sorry for getting down her sugar bowl and for breaking its cover; that
I was so bad that I would "surely put poor old grandma's gray hair in
her grave, who had got one foot there already and the other on the
This increased my wretchedness, and I begged her to live just a little
longer so that I might show her that I would be good. She agreed to
give me another trial and ended by telling me about the "beautiful,
wicked angel who had been driven out of paradise, and spends his time
coaxing people to be bad, and then remembers them, and after they die,
takes them on his fork and pitches them back and forth in his fire."
Jakie had told me his name and also the name of his home.
Toward evening, my head ached, and I felt so ill that I crept close to
grandma and asked sorrowfully if she thought the devil meant to have me
die that night, and then take me to his hell. At a glance, she saw that
I suffered, and drew me to her, pillowed my head against her bosom and
soothingly assured me that I would be forgiven if I would make friends
with God and remember the lesson that I had learned that day. She told
me, later, I must never say "devil," or "hell," because it was not nice
in little girls, but that, instead, I might use the words, "blackman,"
and "blackman's fires." At first, I did not like to say it that way,
because I was afraid that the beautiful devil might think that I was
calling him nicknames and get angry with me.
Notwithstanding my shortcomings, the Brunners were very willing to keep
me, and strove to make a "Schweitzer child" of me, dressed me in
clothes modelled after those which grandma wore when she was small, and
by verse and legend filled my thoughts with pictures of their Alpine
country. I liked the German language, learned it rapidly and soon could
help to translate orders. Those which pleased grandma best were from
the homes of Mr. Jacob Leese, Captain Fitch, Major Prudon, and General
Vallejo; for their patronage influenced other distinguished Spanish
families at a distance to send for her excellent cheese and fancy pats
of butter. Yet, with equal nicety, she filled the orders that came from
the mess-room of the officers of our own brave boys in blue, and always
tried to have a better kerchief and apron on the evenings that officers
and orderly rode out to pay the bills.
Visitors felt more than a passing interest in us two little ones, for
accounts of the sufferings of the Donner Party had been carried to all
the settlements on the Pacific coast and had been sent in print or
writings to all parts of the United States as a warning against further
emigration to California by way of Hastings Cut-Off. Thus the name we
bore awakened sympathy for us, and in the huts of the lowly natives as
well as in the homes of the rulers of the province, we found welcome
and were greeted with words of tenderness, which were often followed by
prayers for the repose of the souls of our precious dead.
Marked attentions were also shown us by officers and soldiers from the
post. The latter gathered in the evenings at the Brunner home for
social intercourse. Some played cards, checkers, and dominoes, or
talked and sang about "_des Deutschen Vaterland_." Others reviewed
happenings in our own country, recalled battles fought and victories
won. And we, sitting between our foster grandparents, or beside Jakie,
listening to their thrilling tales, were, unwittingly, crammed with
crumbs of truth and fiction that made lasting impressions upon our
Nor were these odd bits of knowledge all we gained from those soldier
friends. They taught us the alphabet, how to spell easy words, and then
to form letters with pencil. They explained the meaning of fife and
drum calls which we heard during the day, and in mischievous
earnestness, declared that they, the best fighters of Colonel
Stephenson's famous regiment of New York Volunteers, had pledged their
arms and legs to our defence, and had only come to see if we were
worth the price they might have to, pay. Yet they made grim faces when,
all too soon, the retreat call from the barracks sounded, and away they
would have to go on the double quick, to be at post by the time of roll
call, and in bed at sound of taps.
On those evenings when grandma visited the sick, or went from home on
errands, we children were tucked away early in our trundle bed. There,
and by ourselves, we spoke of mother and the mountains. Not
infrequently, however, our thoughts would be recalled to the present by
loud, wailing squeak-squawk, squeak-squawks. As the sound drew nearer
and became shriller, we would put our fingers in our ears to muffle the
dismal tones, which we knew were only the creakings of the two wooden
wheels of some Mexican _carreta_, laboriously bringing passengers to
town, or perhaps a cruder one carrying hides to the _embarcadero_, or
possibly supplies to adjacent _ranchos_. We wondered how old people and
mothers with sick children could travel in such uncomfortable vehicles
and not become distracted by their nerve-piercing noises. Then, like a
bird-song, pleasanter scenes would steal in upon our musings, of gay
horseback parties on their way to church feasts, or fandangos, preceded
or followed by servants in charge of pack animals laden with luggage.
We rarely stayed awake long enough to say all we wished about the
Spanish people. Their methods of travel, modes of dress, and
fascinating manners were sources of never-ending discussion and
[Illustration: OLD MEXICAN CARRETA]
[Illustration: RESIDENCE OF JUDGE A.L. RHODES, A TYPICAL CALIFORNIA
HOUSE OF THE BETTER CLASS IN 1849]
We had seen princely dons of many leagues ride by in state; dashing
_caballeros_ resplendent in costumes of satin and velvet, on their way
to sing beneath the windows of dark-eyed _senoritas;_ and had stood
close enough to the wearers of embroidered and lace-bedecked small
clothes, to count the scallops which closed the seams of their outer
garments, and to hear the faint tinkle of the tiny silver bells which
dangled from them. We had feasted our eyes on magnificently robed
_senoras_ and _senoritas_; caught the scent of the roses twined in
their hair, and the flash of jewels on their persons.
Such frequent object-lessons made the names and surroundings of those
grandees easy to remember. Some lived leagues distant, some were near
neighbors in that typical Mexican Pueblo of Sonoma, whose adobe walls
and red-tiled roofs nestled close to the foot of the dimpled hills
overlooking the valley from the north, and whose historic and romantic
associations were connected with distinguished families who still
called it home.
Foremost among the men was General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, by whom
Sonoma was founded in 1834, upon ground which had twice been
consecrated to Mission use. First by Padre Altemera, who had, in 1823,
established there the church and mission building of San Francisco
Solano. And four years later, after hostile Indians had destroyed the
sacred structures, Padre Fortune, under protection of Presidio Golden
Gate, blessed the ashes and rebuilt the church and the parochial
houses named last on the list of the historic Missions of California.
The Vallejo home covered the largest plot of ground on the north side
of the plaza, and its great house had a hospitable air, despite its
lofty watchtower, begrimed by sentry holes, overlooking every part of
During the period that its owner was _commandante_ of the northern
frontier, the Vallejo home was headquarters for high officials of the
province. But after Commodore Sloat raised the Stars and Stripes at
Monterey, General Vallejo espoused the cause of the United States, put
aside much of his Spanish exclusiveness, and opened his doors to
Americans as graciously as to friends of his own nationality.
A historic souvenir greatly prized by Americans in town and valley was
the flag pole, which in Sonoma's infancy had been hewn from the distant
mountain forest, and brought down on pack animals by mission Indians
under General Vallejo's direction. It originally stood in the centre of
the plaza, where it was planted with sacred ceremonials, and where amid
ringing cheers of "_Viva Mexico!_" it first flung to the breeze that
country's symbolical banner of green, white, and red. Through ten
fitful years it loyally waved those colors; then followed its brief
humiliation by the Bear Flag episode, and early redemption by order of
Commodore Sloat, who sent thither an American flag-bearer to invest it
with the Stars and Stripes. Thereafter, a patriotic impulse suggested
its removal to the parade ground of the United States Army post, and
as Spanish residents looked upon it as a thornful reminder of lost
power they felt no regret when Uncle Sam's boys transplanted it to new
environments and made it an American feature by adoption.
But the Mexican landmark which appealed to me most pathetically was the
quaint rustic belfry which stood solitary in the open space in front of
the Mission buildings. Its strong columns were the trunks of trees that
looked as though they might have grown there for the purpose of
shouldering the heavy cross-beams from which the chimes hung. Its
smooth timbers had been laboriously hewn by hand, as must be the case
in a land where there are no saw mills. The parts that were not bound
together with thongs of rawhide, were held in place by wooden pegs. The
strips of rawhide attached to the clappers dropped low enough for me to
reach, and often tempted me to make the bells speak.
Mission padres no longer dwelt in the buildings, but shepherds from
distant folds came monthly to administer to the needs of this
consecrated flock. Then the many bells would call the faithful to mass,
and to vespers, or chime for the wedding of favored sons and daughters.
Part of them would jingle merrily for notable christenings; but one
only would toll when death whitened the lips of some distinguished
victim; and again, while the blessed body was being borne to its last
During one of my first trips to town, Jakie and I were standing by
grandpa's shop on the east side of the plaza, when suddenly those bells
rang out clear and sweet, and we saw the believing glide out of their
homes in every direction and wend their way to the church. The
high-born ladies had put aside their jewels, their gorgeous silks and
satins, and donned the simpler garb prescribed for the season of fasts
and prayer. Those to the manor born wore the picturesque _rebosa_ of
fine lace or gauzy silk, draped over the head and about the shoulders;
while those of humbler station made the shawl serve in place of the
_rebosa_. The Indian servants, who with mats and kneeling cushions
followed their mistresses, wore white chemises, bright-colored
petticoats, and handkerchiefs folded three-cornerwise over the head and
knotted under the chin. The costumes of the young girls were modelled
after those of their mothers; and the little ladies appeared as demure
and walked as stately as their elders. The gentlemen also were garbed
in plainer costumes than their wont, and, for custom's sake, rode on
horseback even the short distances which little children walked.
The town seemed deserted, and the church filled, as we started
homeward, I skipping ahead until we reached a shop window where I
waited for Jakie and asked him if he knew what those pretty little
things were that I saw on a shelf, in big short-necked glass jars. Some
were round and had little "stickers" all over them, and others looked
like birds' eggs, pink, yellow, white, and violet.
He told me the round ones were sugar plums, and the egg-shaped had each
an almond nut under its bright crust; that they were candies that had
come from France in the ships that had brought the Spanish people their
fine clothes; and that they were only for the rich, and would make poor
little girls' teeth ache, if they should eat them.
Yet, after I confided to him how mother had given me a lump of loaf
sugar each night as long as it lasted, and how sorry we both felt when
there was no more, he led me into the shop and let me choose two of
each kind and color from the jars. We walked faster as I carried them
home. Jakie and grandma would not take any, but she gave Georgia and me
each a sugar plum and an egg, and saved the rest for other days when we
should be good children.
GOLD DISCOVERED--"CALIFORNIA IS OURS"--NURSING THE SICK THE U.S.
MILITARY POST--BURIAL OF AN OFFICER.
In the year 1848, while the settlers and their families were
contentedly at work developing the resources of the country, the
astounding cry, "Gold discovered!" came through the valley like a
blight, stopping every industry in its wake.
Excited men, women, and children rushed to town in quest of
information. It was furnished by Alcalde Boggs and General Vallejo, who
had been called away privately two weeks earlier, and had just returned
in a state of great enthusiasm, declaring that gold, "in dust, grains,
and chunks had been discovered at Coloma, not more than a day's journey
from Sutter's Fort."
"How soon can we get there?" became the all-absorbing problem of eager
listeners. The only hotel-keeper in the town sold his kettles and pans,
closed his house, and departed. Shopkeepers packed most of their
supplies for immediate shipment, and raised the price of those left for
home trade. Men and half-grown boys hardly took time to collect a
meagre outfit before they were off with shovel and pan and "something
big to hold the gold." A few families packed their effects into
emigrant wagons and deserted house and lands for the luring gold
Crowds from San Francisco came hurrying through, some stopping barely
long enough to repeat the maddening tales that had started them off to
the diggings with pick and shovel. Each new rumor increased the exodus
of gold-seekers; and by the end of the first week in August, when the
messenger arrived with the long-hoped-for report of the ratification of
the treaty of peace, and General Mason's proclamation officially
announcing it, there were not enough men left in the valley, outside of
the barracks, to give a decent round of cheers for the blessing of
Grandpa brought the news home, "California is ours. There will be no
more war, no more trouble, and no more need of soldiers."
Yet the women felt that their battles and trials had just begun, since
they had suddenly become the sole home-keepers, with limited ways and
means to provide for the children and care for the stock and farms.
Discouragement would have rendered the burdens of many too heavy to
carry, had not "work together," and "help your neighbor," become the
watchwords of the day. No one was allowed to suffer through lack of
practical sympathy. From house to house, by turns, went the strong to
help the weak to bridge their troubles. They went, not with cheering
words only, but with something in store for the empty cupboards and
with ready hands to help to milk, wash, cook, or sew.
Grandma was in such demand that she had little time to rest; for there
was not a doctor nor a "medicine shop" in the valley, and her parcels
of herbs and knowledge of their uses had to serve for both. Nights, she
set her shoes handy, so that she could dress quickly when summoned to
the sick; and dawn of day often marked her home-coming.
Georgia and I were led into her work early, for we were sent with
broths and appetizers to the sick on clearings within walking
distances; and she would bid us stay a while at different houses where
we could be helpful, but to be sure and bring careful reports from each
home we entered. Under such training, we learned much about diseases
and the care of the suffering. Anon, we would find in the plain wooden
cradle, a dainty bundle of sweetness, all done up in white, which its
happy owner declared grandma had brought her, and we felt quite repaid
for our tiresome walk if permitted to hold it a wee while and learn its
[Illustration: MISSION SAN FRANCISCO SOLANO, LAST OF THE HISTORIC
MISSIONS OF CALIFORNIA]
[Illustration: RUINS OF THE MISSION AT SONOMA]
We were sent together on these missions, in order that we might help
each other to remember all that was told us; yet grandma had us take
turns, and the one whom she commissioned to make the inquiries was
expected to bring the fuller answers. Sometimes, we played on the way
and made mistakes. Then she would mete out to us that hardest of
punishments, namely, that we were not to speak with each other until
she should forgive our offence. Forgiveness usually came before time
to drive up the cows, for she knew that we were nimbler-footed when she
started us off in happy mood.
Each cow wore a bell of different tone and knew her own name; yet it
was not an easy task, even in pleasant weather, to collect the various
strings and get them home on time. They mixed, and fed with neighbors'
cattle on the range, and hid themselves behind clumps of trees and
other convenient obstructions. Often grandma would get her string in by
the main trail and have them milked before we could bring up the
laggards that provokingly dawdled along, nibbling stray bunches of
grass. When late on the road, we saw coyotes sneaking out for their
evening meal and heard the far-away cry of the panther. But we were not
much afraid when it was light enough, so that imagination could not
picture them creeping stealthily behind us.
Our gallant Company C, officered by Captain Bartlett and Lieutenants
Stoneman and Stone, was ordered to another post early in August; and
its departure caused such universal regret that no one supposed Company
H, under Captain Frisbie, could fill its place. Nevertheless, that
handsome young officer soon found his way to the good-will of the
people, and when Captain Joe Hooker brought him out to visit grandma's
dairy, she, too, was greatly pleased by his soldierly bearing. After he
mentioned that he had heard of her interest in the company which had
been called away, and that he believed she would find Company H
equally deserving of her consideration, she readily extended to the new
men the homelike privileges which the others had enjoyed. Thus more
friends came among us.
Notable among mine was the old darkey cook at headquarters, from whom
Georgia and I tried to hide, the first time she waddled out to our
house. She searched us out, saying:
"Now, honeys, don't yo be so scared of dis ole Aunt Lucy, 'cos she's
done heared Captain Hooker tell lots 'bout yos, and has come to see
Her face was one great smile, and her voice was so coaxing that she had
little difficulty in gaining our favor, the more so, as upon leaving,
she called back, "I's surely g'wine ter make dat little pie and cake
I's promised yos, so yos mustn't forgit to come git it."
On one occasion, when I was sent to the post on an errand, she had no
pie or cake; but she brought out a primer and said thoughtfully, "I's
g'wine ter give yo dis A-B-C book, 'cos I want yo should grow up like
Its worn leaves showed that its owner had studied its first few pages
only; and when I replied, "Grandma says that I must not take everything
that is offered me," she chuckled and continued:
"Lawd, honey, yo needn't have no 'punctions 'bout takin' dis yer book,
'cos I couldn't learn to read nohow when I was a gal, and I's too ole
to now. Now, I wants yo to be nice; and yo can't, lessen yo can read
and talk like de Captain done tole me yo mudder done."
I was delighted with the book, and told her so, and hugged it all the
way home; for it had a beautiful picture near the back, showing a
little girl with a sprinkling pot, watering her garden of stocks,
sweet-williams, and hollyhocks. Her hair was in four long curls, and
she had trimming on her dress, apron, and long pantalets. I was also
impressed by the new words which I had heard Aunt Lucy use,
"'punctions," and "quality folks." I repeated them over and over to
myself, so that I should be able to tell them to Georgia.
Our last visit to Aunt Lucy must have been prearranged, for as she
admitted us, she said, "I's mighty glad yos done come so soon, 'cos I
been 'specting yos, and mus' take yos right in to de General."
I had never seen a general, and was shy about meeting one, until after
she assured me that only cowards and bad men feared him.
We walked down the corridor and entered a large room, where an elderly
gentleman in uniform sat writing at a table. Aunt Lucy stopped beside
him, and still holding each by the hand, bowed low, saying, "General
Smith, I's brung der two little Donner gals in to see yo, sah"; then
she slipped out.
He was as courteous to us as though we were grown ladies, shook hands,
asked how we felt, begged us to be seated, and then stepped to a door
and called, "Susan! Susan!" I liked the name. A sweet voice answered,
Presently, a pretty dark-eyed Southern lady appeared, who called us
"honeys," and "dear little girls." She sat between us, joining with her
husband in earnest inquiries about our stay in the mountains and our
home with grandma. Georgia did most of the talking. I was satisfied
just to look at them and hear them speak. At the close of our visit,
with a knowing look, she took us to see what Aunt Lucy had baked.
The General and she had recently come to pay a last visit to a sick
officer, who had been sent from San Francisco with the hope that our
milder climate would prolong his life. They themselves stayed only a
short time, and their friend never left our valley. The day he died,
the flag swung lower on the staff. Soldiers dug his grave on the
hillside north of town, and word came from army headquarters that he
would be buried on the morrow at midday, with military honors. Georgia
and I wanted to know what military honors were, and as it came time for
the funeral, we gathered with others on the plaza, where the procession
formed. We were deeply impressed.
The emigrants uncovered and bowed their heads reverently, but the
soldiers in line, with guns reversed, stood erect and motionless as
figures in stone, while the bier of the dead was being carried through
open ranks to the waiting caisson. The coffin was covered with a flag,
and upon it lay his chapeau, gauntlets, sash, and sword. His boots,
with their toes reversed, hung over the saddle of a riderless horse,
led behind the caisson. The solemn tones of fife and muffled drum led
the way through the town, past the old Mission bells and up the
hillside. Only soldiers stood close around the grave and heard what was
read by the officer who stood at its head, with an open book in one
hand and a drawn sword in the other. Three times the file of soldiers
fired a volley over the grave, then the muffled drum sounded its
farewell taps, and the officers, with their men and the funeral
caisson, returned to their quarters in silent order.
REAPING AND THRESHING--A PIONEER FUNERAL--THE HOMELESS AND WAYFARING
APPEAL TO MRS. BRUNNER--RETURN OF THE MINERS--SOCIAL GATHERINGS--OUR
DAILY ROUTINE--STOLEN PLEASURES--A LITTLE DAIRYMAID--MY DOGSKIN SHOES.
Reaping and threshing were interesting events to us that summer.
Mission Indians, scantily clothed, came and cut the grain with long
knives and sickles, bound it in small sheaves, and stacked it in the
back yard opposite grandma's lookout window, then encircled it with a
rustic fence, leaving a wide bare space between the stack and the
fence, which they swept clean with green branches from live oak trees.
After many days, Mexican drivers brought a band of wild mares to help
with the work. A thick layer of unthreshed grain was pitched on to the
bare space surrounding the stack and the mares were driven around and
around upon it. From time to time, fresh material was supplied to meet
the needs of the threshers. And, at given signals from the men on the
stack, the mares were turned out for a short rest, also in order to
allow the Indians a chance to throw out the waste straw and to heap the
loose grain on the winnowing ground. So they did again and again,
until the last sheaf had been trodden under foot.
When the threshing was finished, the Indians rested; then prepared
their fires, and feasted on the head, feet, and offal of a bullock
which grandpa had slaughtered.
Like buzzards came the squaws and papooses to take what was left of the
food, and to claim a share from the pile of worn-out clothes which
grandma brought out for distribution. Amid shouts of pleasure,
gesticulations, and all manner of begging, the distribution began, and
when it ended, our front yard looked as though it were stocked with
One big fellow was resplendent in a battered silk hat and a tattered
army coat; another was well dressed in a pair of cast-off boots and one
of grandma's ragged aprons. Georgia and I tried to help to sort the
things as they should be worn, but our efforts were in vain. Wrong
hands would reach around and get the articles, and both sexes
interchanged suits with apparent satisfaction. Grandma got quite out of
patience with one great fellow who was trying to put on a petticoat
that his squaw needed, and rushed up to him, jerked it off, gave him a
vigorous push, and had the garment on his squaw, before he could do
more than grunt. In the end they went away caring more for the clothes
that had been given them than for the money they had earned.
Before the summer waned, death claimed one of our own brave women, and
immigrants from far and near gathered to do her honor. I do not
recollect her name, but know that she was tall and fair, and that
grandma, who had watched with her through her last hours, told Georgia
and me that when we saw the procession leave the house, we might creep
through our back fence and reach the grave before those who should walk
around by the road. We were glad to go, for we had watched the growth
of the fresh ridge under a large oak tree, not far from our house, and
had heard a friend say that it would be "a heavenly resting place for
the freed sufferer."
Her family and nearest neighbors left the house afoot, behind the wagon
which carried the plain redwood coffin. At the cross-road several fell
in line, and at the grave was quite a gathering. A number came in their
ox wagons, others on horseback; among them, a father afoot, leading a
horse upon whose back sat his wife with an infant in arms and a child
behind clinging to her waist; and several old nags, freighted with
children, were led by one parent, while the other walked alongside to
see that none should lose their balance and fall off.
No minister of the Gospel was within call, so, after the coffin was
placed upon the bars above the open grave, and the lid removed, a
friend who had crossed the plains with the dead, offered a prayer, and
all the listeners said, "Amen."
I might not have remembered all these things, if Georgia and I had not
watched over that grave, when all others seemed to have forgotten it.
As we brought brush to cover it, in order to keep the cattle from
dusting themselves in the loose earth, we talked matters over, and felt
as though that mother's grave had been bequeathed to us. Grandma had
instructed us that the graveyard is "God's acre," and that it is a sin
to live near and not tend it. Still, no matter how often we chased the
cattle away, they would return. We could not make them understand that
their old resting-place had become sacred ground.
About the middle of October, 1848, the last of the volunteers were
mustered out of service, and shortly thereafter the excess of army
stores were condemned and sold. Ex-soldiers had preference over
settlers, and could buy the goods at Government rates, plus a small
cost of transportation to the Pacific coast. Grandma profited by the
good-will of those whom she had befriended. They stocked her store-room
with salt pork, flour, rice, coffee, sugar, ship-bread, dried fruit,
and camp condiments at a nominal figure above what they themselves paid
This was fortunate, for the hotel was still closed, and the homeless
and wayfaring appealing to grandma, easily persuaded her to make room
for them at her table. The greater the number, the harder she worked,
and the more she expected of us. Although we rose at dawn, and rolled
our sleeves high as she rolled hers, and like her, turned up our dress
skirts and pinned them behind under our long belt aprons, we could not
keep pace with her work.
Nevertheless, we were pleasing reminders of little girls whom she had
known in her native village, and she was proud of us, and had two
little white dresses fashioned to be worn on very special occasions.
After they were finished, we also were proud, and made many trips into
the room to see how beautiful they looked hanging against the wall
under the curtain.
Marvellous accounts of the extent and richness of the gold-diggings
were now brought to town by traffickers in provisions for mining-camps.
This good news inspired our home-keepers with renewed courage. They
worked faster while planning the comfort they should enjoy after the
return of the absent.
The first to come were the unfortunate, who sought to shake off
rheumatism, lung trouble, or the stubborn low-grade fever brought on by
working in the water, sleeping on damp ground, eating poorly cooked
food, or wearing clothing insufficient to guard against the morning and
evening chill. Few had much to show for their toil and privation; yet,
not disheartened, even in delirium, they clamored to hasten back for
the precious treasure which seemed ever beckoning them onward.
When wind and weather drove them home, the robust came with bags of
gold rolled in their snug packs. They called each other "lucky dogs,"
yet looked like grimy beggars, with faces so bewhiskered, and clothing
so ragged, or so wonderfully patched, that little children cried when
they drew near, and wives threw up their hands, exclaiming, "For the
land's sake! can it be?" Yet each home-comer found glad welcome, and
messengers were quick to spread the news, and friends gathered to
rejoice with the returned.
Now each home-cooked dish was a feast for the camp-fed to contrast with
their fare at Coloma, Wood's Camp, and sundry other places, where
flour, rice, ship-bread, and coffee were three dollars a pound; salt
pork and white beans, two dollars a pound; jerked beef, eight dollars a
pound; saleratus, sixteen dollars an ounce; and salt, sugar, and
raisins were put on the scales to balance their weight in gold dust;
where liquor was fifty cents a tablespoonful, and candles five dollars
each. It was not the prices at which they complained, but at the dearth
of these staples, which had forced them home to wait until spring
should again open the road to supply-trains.
The homeless, who in the evenings found comfort and cheer around
grandma's table, would take out their treasure bags and boxes and pour
their dust and grains of gold in separate piles, to show the quality
and quantity, then pass the nuggets around that all might see what
strange figures nature had moulded in secret up among the rocks and
ravines of the Sierras.
One Roman Catholic claimed as his choicest prize a perfectly shaped
cross of free gold, which he had cradled from the sands in the bed of a
creek. Another had an image of the Virgin and Child. A slight stretch
of the imagination turned many of the beautifully fretted pieces into
miniature birds and other admirable designs for sweetheart brooches.
The exhibition over, each would scrape his hoard back into its
receptacle, blow the remaining yellow particles on to the floor so that
the table should not show stain, and then settle himself to take his
part in relating amusing and thrilling incidents of life in the mining
camps. Not a window was closed, nor a door locked, nor a wink of sleep
lost in those days, guarding bags of gold. "Hands off" was the miners'
law, and all knew that death awaited him who should venture to break
Heavy purses made willing spenders, and generous impulses were
untrammelled. Nothing could be more gratifying or touching than the
respect shown by those homeless men to the pioneer women and children.
They would walk long distances and suffer delays and inconveniences for
the privilege of passing a few hours under home influences, and were
ever ready to contribute toward pleasures in which all might
There were so few young girls in the community, and their presence was
so greatly desired, that in the early winter, Georgia and I attended as
welcome guests some of the social gatherings which began at early
candle-light, and we wore the little white dresses that were so
precious in our eyes.
[Illustration: GOLD ROCKER, WASHING PAN AND GOLD BORER]
[Illustration: SCENE DURING THE RUSH TO THE GOLD MINES FROM SAN
FRANCISCO. IN 1848]
Before the season was half over, heavy rain was followed by such bitter
cold that all the ground and still waters were frozen stiff. Although
we were well muffled, and grandma warmed us up with a drink of hot
water and sweetened cream before starting us out after the cows, the
frost nipped at our feet until the old scars became so angry and
painful that we could scarcely hobble about the house. Many remedies
were tried, to no purpose, the most severe being the early foot bath
with floats of ice in the water. It chilled us through and through, and
also made grandma keep us from the fire, lest the heat should undo the
benefit expected from the cold. So, while we sat with shivering forms
and chattering teeth looking across the room at the blazing logs under
the breakfast pots and kettles, our string of cows was coming home in
care of a new driver.
We were glad to be together, even in misery, and all things considered,
were perhaps as useful in our crippled condition as before, for there
was enough to keep our hands busy while our feet rested. Grandma
thought she made our work lighter by bringing it to us, yet she came
too often for it to seem easy to us.
First, the six brass candlesticks, with hoods, snuffers, and trays had
to be brightened; and next, there were the small brass kettles in which
she boiled the milk for coffee, to be polished inside and out. However,
we did not dread the kettles much, unless burned, for there was always
a spoon in the bottom to help to gather the scrapings, of which we were
But when she would come with a large pan of dried beans or peas to be
picked over quickly, so that she could get them soaked for early
cooking, we would measure its contents with critical eyes to make sure
that it was not more than we had had the previous day. By the time we
would get to the bottom of the pan, she would be ready to put before
us a discouraging pile of iron knives, forks, and pewter spoons to
scour with wood ashes. How we did hate those old black knives and
forks! She said her sight was poor--but she could always see when we
The redeeming work of the day was sorting the dried fruit for sauce or
pies. We could take little nibbles as we handled it, and knew that we
should get an extra taste when it was ready for use. And after she had
put the upper crust on the pies, she would generally permit us to make
the fancy print around the edges with a fork, and then prick a figure
in the centre to let the steam escape while baking.
Sometimes she received a dollar apiece for these pies; and she had so
many customers for them and for such loaves of bread as she could
spare, that she often declared the farm was as good as a gold mine.
We were supposed not to play with dolls, consequently we durst not ask
any one to step around and see how our little house in the back yard
was weathering the storms, nor how the beloved nine in it were getting
along. Though only bottles of different sizes, to us they were dear
children, named after great personages whom the soldiers had taught us
The most distinguished had cork stoppers for heads, with faces marked
on the sides, the rest, only wads of paper or cloth fastened on the
ends of sticks that reached down into the bodies. A strip of cloth tied
around each neck, below the bulge, served as make-believe arms,
suitable for all ordinary purposes, and, with a little assistance,
capable of saluting an officer or waving to a comrade.
We worried because they were clothed in fragments of cloth and paper
too thin for the season; and the very first chance we got, we slipped
out and found our darlings in a pitiable plight. Generals Washington
and Jackson, and little Van Buren were mired at the foot of a land
slide from the overhanging bank. Taylor, Webster, Clay, and Benton had
been knocked down and buried almost out of sight. Martha Washington's
white shawl and the chicken plumes in her hat were ruined; and Dandy
Jim from North Carolina lay at her feet with a broken neck!
Such a shock! Not until we realized that everything could be restored
was our grief assuaged--that is, everything but Dandy Jim. He was a
serious loss, for he was our only black bottle and had always been kept
to wait on Martha Washington.
We worked fast, and had accomplished so much before being called into
the house that we might have put everything in order next day, had
Georgia not waked up toward morning with a severe cold, and had grandma
not found out how she caught it. The outcome was that our treasures
were taken to the store-room to become medicine and vinegar bottles,
and we mourned like birds robbed of their young.
New duties were opened to me as soon as I could wear my shoes, and by
the time Georgia was out again, I was a busy little dairymaid, and
quite at home in the corrals. I had been decorated with the regulation
salt bag, which hung close to my left side, like a fisherman's basket.
I owned a quart cup and could milk with either hand, also knew how to
administer the pinch of salt which each cow expected. After a little
practice I became able to do all the "stripping." In some cases it
amounted to not more than half a pint from each animal. However, much
or little, the strippings were of importance, and were kept separate,
because grandma considered them "good as cream in the cheese kettle."
When I could sit on the one-legged stool, which Jakie had made me, hold
a pail between my knees and milk one or more cows, without help, they
both praised my cleverness--a cleverness which fixed more outside
responsibilities upon me, and kept me from Georgia a longer while each
day. My work was hard, still I remained noticeably taller and stronger
than she, who was assigned to lighter household duties. I felt that I
had no reason to complain of my tasks, because everybody about me was
busy, and the work had to be done.
If I was more helpful than my little sister, I was also a source of
greater trouble, for I wore out my clothes faster, and they were
difficult to replace, especially shoes.
There was but one shoemaker in the town, and he was kept so busy that
he took a generous measure of children's feet and then allowed a size
or more, to guard against the shoes being too small by the time he
should get them finished.
When my little stogies began to leak, he shook his head thoughtfully,
and declared that he had so many orders for men's boots that he could
not possibly work for women or children until those orders were filled.
Consequently, grandma kept her eye on my shoes, and as they got worse
and worse, she became sorely perplexed. She would not let me go
barefooted, because she was afraid of "snags" and ensuing lockjaw; she
could not loan me her own, because she was saving them for special
occasions, and wearing instead the heavy sabots she had brought from
her native land. She tried the effect of continually reminding me to
pick my way and save my shoes, which made life miserable for us both.
Finally she upbraided me harshly for a playful run across the yard with
Courage, and I lost my temper, and grumbled.
"I would rather go barefooted and get snags in my feet than have so
much bother about old shoes that are worn out and no good anyway!"
I was still crying when Hendrik, a roly-poly Hollander, came along and
asked the cause of my distress. Grandma told him that I was out of
humor, because she was trying to keep shoes on my feet, while I was
determined to run them off. He laughed, bade me cheer up, sang the
rollicking sailor song with which he used to drive away storms at sea,
then showed me a hole in the heel of the dogskin boots he wore, and
told me that, out of their tops, he would make me a beautiful pair of
No clouds darkened my sky the morning that Hendrik came, wearing a pair
of new cowhide boots then squeaked as though singing crickets were
between the heavy soles; for he had his workbox and the dogskins under
his arm, and we took seats under the oak tree, where he laid out his
tools and went to work without more ado.
He had brought a piece of tanned cowhide for the soles of my shoes, an
awl, a sailor's thimble, needles, coarse thread, a ball of wax, and a
sharp knife. The hair on the inside of the boot legs was thick and
smooth, and the colors showed that one of the skins had been taken from
the body of a black and white dog, and the other from that of a tawny
brindle. As Hendrik modelled and sewed, he told me a wondrous tale of
the great North Polar Sea, where he had gone in a whaling vessel, and
had stayed all winter among mountains of ice and snow. There his boots
had worn out. So he had bought these skins from queer little people
there, who live in snow huts, and instead of horses or oxen, use dogs
to draw their sleds.
I liked the black and white skin better than the brindle, so he cut
that for the right foot, and told me always to make it start first. And
when I put the shoes on they felt so soft and warm that I knew I could
never forget Hendrik's generosity and kindness.
The longer I wore them the more I became attached to them, and the
better I understood the story he had told me; for in my musings they
were not shoes, but "Spot" and "Brindle," live Eskimo dogs, that had
drawn families of queer little people in sleds over the frozen sea, and
had always been hungry and ready to fight over their scanty meals. At
times I imagined that they wanted to race and scamper about as happy
dogs do, and I would run myself out of breath to keep them going, and
always stop with Spot in the lead.
When I needed shoestrings, I was sent to the shoemaker, who only
glanced up and replied, "Come to-morrow, and I'll have a piece of
leather big enough."
The next day, he made the same answer, "Come to-morrow," and kept
pegging away as fast as he could on a boot sole. The third time I
appeared before him, he looked up with the ejaculation, "Well, I'll be
damned, if she ain't here again!"
I was well aware that he should not have used that evil word, yet was
not alarmed, for I had heard grandpa and others use worse, and mean no
harm, nor yet intend to be cross. So I stood quietly, and in a trice he
was up, had rushed across the shop, brought back two round pieces of
leather not larger than cookies, and before I knew what he was about,
had turned them into good straight shoestrings. He waxed them, and
handed them to me with the remark, "Tell your grandma that since you
had to wait so long, I charge her only twenty-five cents for them."
[Footnote 16: Now Jamestown.]
MEXICAN METHODS OF CULTIVATION--FIRST STEAMSHIP THROUGH THE GOLDEN
GATE--"THE ARGONAUTS" OR "BOYS OF '49"--A LETTER FROM THE STATES--JOHN
BAPTISTE--JAKIE LEAVES US--THE FIRST AMERICAN SCHOOL IN SONOMA.
By the first of March, 1849, carpenters had the frame of grandma's fine
new two-story house enclosed, and the floors partly laid. Neighbors
were hurrying to get their fields ploughed and planted, those without
farming implements following the Mexican's crude method of ploughing
the ground with wooden prongs and harrowing in the seed by dragging
heavy brush over it.
They gladly turned to any tool that would complete the work by the time
the roads to the mountains should be passable, and the diggings clear
of snow. Their expectations might have been realized sooner, if a bluff
old launch captain, with an eye to business for himself and San
Francisco, had not appeared on the scene, shouting, "Ahoy" to
"I say, a steamship anchored in the Bay of San Francisco two days ago.
She's the _California_. Steamed out of New York Harbor with
merchandise. Stopped at Panama; there took aboard three hundred and
fifty waiting passengers that had cut across country--a mixture of men
from all parts of the United States, who have come to carry off the
gold diggings, root and branch! Others are coming in shiploads as fast
as they can. Now mark my words, and mark them well: provisions is going
to run mighty short, and if this valley wants any, it had better send
for them pretty damn quick!"
By return boat, farmers, shopkeepers, and carpenters hastened to San
Francisco. All were eager for supplies from the first steamship that
had entered the Golden Gate--the first, it may be added, that most of
them, even those of a sea-going past, had ever seen.
During the absence of husbands, we little girls were loaned separately
nights to timid wives who had no children to keep them company. Georgia
went earlier and stayed later than I, because grandma could not spare
me in the evenings until after the cows were turned out, and she needed
me in the mornings before sunrise. Those who borrowed us made our stays
so pleasant that we felt at home in many different houses.
Once, however, I encountered danger on my early homeward trip.
I had turned the bend in the road, could see the smoke curling out of
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