The Expedition of the Donner Party and its Tragic Fate
Eliza Poor Donner Houghton
Part 4 out of 6
grandma's chimney, and knew that every nearer house was closed. In
order to avoid attracting the attention of a suspicious-looking cow on
the road, I was running stealthily along a rail fence, when,
unexpectedly, I came upon a family of sleeping swine, and before I was
aware of danger from that direction was set upon and felled to the
ground by a vicious beast. Impelled, I know not how, but quick as
thought, I rolled over and over and over, and when I opened my eyes I
was on the other side of the fence, and an angry, noisy, bristling
creature was glaring at me through the rails.
Quivering like a leaf and for a time unable to rise, I lay upon the
green earth facing the morning sky. With strange sensations and
wonderment, I tried to think what might have happened, if I had not
rolled. What if that space between fence and ground had been too narrow
to let my body through; what if, on the other hand, it had been wide
enough for that enraged brute to follow?
Too frightened to cry, and still trembling, I made my way to the end of
the field and climbed back over the fence near home. Grandma was
greatly startled by my blanched face, and the rumpled and soiled
condition of my clothes. After I related my frightful experience, she
also felt that had it not been for that fence, I should have been torn
to pieces. She explained, however, that I probably would not have been
attacked had I not startled the old mother so suddenly that she
believed her young in danger.
When oar menfolk returned from San Francisco, they were accompanied by
many excited treasure-seekers, anxious to secure pack animals to carry
their effects to the mines. They were made welcome, and in turn
furnished us news of the outer world, and distributed worn copies of
American and foreign newspapers, which our hungry-minded pioneers read
and re-read so long as the lines held together.
Those light-hearted newcomers, who danced and gayly sang,
O Susannah, don't you cry for me!
I'm bound to Californy with a tin pan on my knee,
were the first we saw of that vast throng of gold-seekers, who flocked to
our shores within a twelvemonth, and who have since become idealized in
song and story as the "Argonauts," "the Boys of '49."
They were unlike either our pioneer or our soldier friends in style of
dress and manner. Nor had they come to build homes or develop the
country. They wanted gold to carry back to other lands. Some had
expected to find it near the Bay of San Francisco; some, to scoop it up
out of the river beds that crossed the valleys; and others, to shovel
it from ravines and mountain-sides. When told of the difficulties
before them, their impatience grew to be off, that they might prove to
Western plodders what could be done by Eastern pluck and muscle.
Such packing as those men did! Mother's Bible, and wife and baby's
daguerreotype not infrequently started to the mines in the coffee pot,
or in the miner's boots, hanging across the mule's pack. The
sweetheart's lock of hair, affectionately concealed beneath the hat
lining of its faithful wearer, caught the scent of the old clay pipe
stuck in the hat-band.
With the opening season all available Indians of both sexes were hired
as gold-diggers, and trudged along behind their employers, and our
town was again reduced to a settlement of white women and children. But
what a difference in the feeling of our people! We now heard regularly
from the Bay City, and entertained transients from nearly every part of
the globe; and these would loan us books and newspapers, and frequently
store unnecessary possessions with us until they should return from the
San Francisco had a regular post office. One day its postmaster
forwarded a letter, addressed to ex-Governor Boggs, which the latter
brought out and read to grandma. She did not, as usual, put her head
out of the window and call us, but came from the house wiping her eyes,
and asked if we wanted to be put in a big ship and sent away from her
and grandma and Jakie.
Greatly alarmed, we exclaimed, "No, no, grandma, no!"
Taking us by the hand, she led us into the house, seated herself and
drew one of us to each side, then requested the Governor to read the
letter again. We two did not understand all it said, but enough to know
that it had been written by our own dear aunt, Elizabeth Poor, who
wanted Governor Boggs to find her sister's three little orphaned girls
and send them back to her by ship to Massachusetts. It contained the
necessary directions for carrying out her wish.
[Illustration: POST OFFICE, CORNER OF CLAY AND PIKE STREETS, SAN
[Illustration: OLD CITY HOTEL, 1846, CORNER OF KEARNEY AND CLAY
STREETS, THE FIRST HOTEL IN SAN FRANCISCO]
Grandma assured the Governor that we did not want to leave her, nor
would she give us up. She said she and her husband and Jakie had
befriended us when we were poor and useless, and that we were now
beginning to be helpful. Moreover, that they had prospered greatly
since we had come into their home, and that their luck might change if
they should part from us. She further stated that she already had
riches in her own right, which we should inherit at her death.
The Governor spoke of schools and divers matters pertaining to our
welfare, then promised to explain by letter to Aunt Elizabeth how
fortunately we were situated.
This event created quite a flutter of excitement among friends. Grandpa
and Jakie felt just as grandma did about keeping us. Georgia and I were
assured that in not being allowed to go across the water, we had
escaped great suffering, and, perhaps, drowning by shipwreck. Still, we
did wish that it were possible for us to see Aunt Elizabeth, whom
mother had taught us to love, and who now wanted us to come to her.
I told Georgia that I would learn to write as fast as I could, and send
her a letter, so she would know all about us.
We now imagined that we were quite large girls, for grandma usually
said before going away, "Children, you know what there is to do and I
leave everything in your care." We did not realize that this was her
little scheme, in part, to keep us out of mischief; but we knew that
upon her return she would see, and call attention to what was left
Once, when we were at home alone and talking about "endless work and
aching bones," as we had heard grown-up folks complain of theirs, we
were interrupted by a bareback rider who did not "tie up" under the
live oak, but came to the shade of the white oak in front of us at the
kitchen door. After a cheery "Howdy do" and a hand shake, he exclaimed,
"I heard at Napa that you lived here, and my pony has made a hard run
to give me this sight of you."
We were surprised and delighted, for the speaker was John Baptiste who
had wintered with us in the Sierras. We asked him to dismount, take a
seat under the tree, and let us bring him a glass of milk. He declined
graciously, then with a pleased expression, drew a small brown-paper
parcel from his trousers pocket and handed it to us, leaned forward,
clasped his arms about his pony, rested his head on its neck, and
smilingly watched Georgia unwrap it, and two beautiful bunches of
raisins come to view,--one for each. He would not touch a single berry,
nor let us save any. He asked us to eat them then and there so that he
could witness our enjoyment of the luxury he had provided for this, our
first meeting in the settlement.
Never had we seen raisins so large, translucent, and delicious. They
seemed far too choice for us to have, and John was so poorly dressed
and pinched in features that we hesitated about eating them. But he
would have his way, and in simple language told us that he wanted them
to soften the recollection of the hungry time when he came into camp
empty-handed and discouraged. Also to fulfil his assurance to our
mother that he would try to keep us in sight, and give us of the best
that he could procure. His last injunctions were, "Be good little
girls; always remember your mother and father; and don't forget John
He was gone when grandma got back; and she was very serious when told
what had occurred in her absence. She rarely spoke to us of our mother,
and feared it might lessen our affection for herself, if others kept
the memory of the dead fresh in our minds.
There were many other happenings before the year closed, that caused me
to think a great deal. Grandpa spent less time at the shop; he bought
himself a fleet-footed horse which he named Antelope, and came home
oftener to talk to grandma about money they had loaned Major Prudon to
send to China for merchandise, also about a bar-room which he was
fitting up near the butcher-shop, for a partner. Next, he bought
faithful Charlie, a large bay horse, with friendly eyes, and long black
mane and tail; also a small blue farm wagon in which Georgia and I were
to drive about the fields, when sent to gather loose bark and dry
branches for baking fires.
We were out for that purpose the day that we saw grandpa ride away to
the mines, but we missed seeing Jakie steal off, with his bunch of
cows. He felt too badly to say good-bye to us.
I was almost heart-broken when I learned that he was not coming back.
He had been my comforter in most of my troubles, had taught me to ride
and drive the horse, shown me the wood duck's nest in the hollow of
our white oak tree, and the orioles' pretty home swinging from a twig
in the live oak, also where the big white-faced owls lived. He had
helped me to gather wild flowers, made me whistles from branches cut
from the pussy willows, and had yodeled for me as joyfully as for loved
ones in his Alpine home. Everything that he had said and done meant a
great deal more to me now, and kept him in mind, as I went about alone,
or with grandma, doing the things that had been his to do. She now
moulded her cheeses in smaller forms, and we had fewer cows to milk.
When the season for collecting and drying herbs came, Georgia and I had
opportunity to be together considerably. It was after we had picked the
first drying of sage and were pricking our fingers on the saffron pods,
that grandma, in passing, with her apron full of Castilian rose petals,
stopped and announced that if we would promise to work well, and gather
the sage leaves and saffron tufts as often as necessary, she would let
us go to a "real school" which was about to open in town.
Oh, dear! to go to school, to have books and slate and pencil! What
more could be wished? Yes, we would get up earlier, work faster before
time to go, and hurry home after lessons were over. And I would carry
the book Aunt Lucy had given me. It was all arranged, and grandma went
to town to buy slates, pencils, speller, and a stick of wine-colored
ribbon to tie up our hair.
When the anticipated hour came, there were great preparations that we
might be neat and clean and ready on time. Our hair was parted in four
equal divisions; the front braids, tied with ribbon, formed a U at the
back of the neck; and we wore new calico dresses and sun-bonnets, and
carried lunch for two in a curious little basket, which grandma must
have brought with her from Switzerland. Joyfully we started forth to
the first American school opened in Sonoma.
Alas! it was not what our anticipations had pictured. The schoolroom
was a dreary adobe, containing two rows of benches so high that, when
seated, we could barely touch the earthen floor with our toes. The
schoolmaster told us that we must hold our slates on our laps, and our
open books in the right hand, and not look at the pictures, but study
all the time, and not speak, even to each other, without permission.
His face was so severe, his eyes so keen, and his voice so sharp that I
was afraid of him.
He had a chair with a back to it, and a table to hold his books; yet he
spent most of his time walking about with a narrow strap of rawhide in
his hand, and was ever finding some one whose book drooped, or who was
whispering; and the stinging bite of that strap would call the erring
The Misses Boggs, Lewis, Smith, and Bone were pretty young ladies, and
brought their own chairs and a table to sit around; and when they
whispered, the master never saw them; and when they missed in lessons,
he didn't keep them in, nor make them stand on the floor.
I learned my lessons well enough, but grandma was terribly shocked
because I got strapped nearly every day. But then, I sat between
Georgia and the other little girls in our row, and had to deliver
messages from those on both sides of me, as well as to whisper a little
on my own account. Finally, grandma declared that if I got a whipping
next day, she would give me a second one after reaching home. So I
started in the morning with the intention of being the best girl in
school; but we had hardly settled in line for our first lesson, when
Georgia whispered behind her book, "Eliza, see! Mary Jane Johnson has
got my nice French card, with the double queens on it, and I can't get
Forgotten were my good resolutions. I leaned out of line, and whispered
louder than I meant, "Mary Jane Johnson, that is my sister's card, and
you must give it back to her."
She saw the master watching, but I did not, until he called me to hold
out my hand. For once, I begged, "Please excuse me; I won't do it
again." But he wouldn't, and I felt greatly humiliated, because I knew
the large girls had heard me and were smiling.
After recess, a new boy arrived, little Willie McCracken, whom we had
seen on the plains, and known at Sutter's Fort, and he knew us as soon
as he reached his seat and looked around. In a short time, I nudged
Georgia, and asked her if I hadn't better roll him the little knot of
dried apples that grandma had put in the basket for my lunch. She said,
yes, if I wanted to. So I wiggled the basket from under the seat with
my foot, and soon thereafter, my bit of hospitality was on its way to
the friend I was glad to see again.
Instead of his getting it, however, the master stepped down and picked
it up, with the hand that didn't have the strap in it. So, instead of
being the best, I was the worst child in school, for not one had ever
before received two strappings in a forenoon.
It must have been our bad day, for Georgia felt her very first bite
from the strap that afternoon, and on the way home volunteered not to
tell on me, if grandma did not ask. Yet grandma did, the first thing.
And when Georgia reluctantly said, "Yes," grandma looked at me and
shook her head despairingly; but when I announced that I had already
had two strappings, and Georgia one, she burst out laughing, and said
she thought I had had enough for one day.
A few weeks later, the large boys drove the master out of school on
account of his cruelty to a little fellow who had played truant.
In that dingy schoolroom, Georgia and I later attended the first
Protestant Sunday school and church service held in Sonoma.
FEVER PATIENTS FROM THE MINES--UNMARKED GRAVES--THE TALES AND TAUNTS
THAT WOUNDED MY YOUNG HEART.
A short experience in the mines cured grandpa's "mining fever," but
increased his rheumatism. The accounts he brought of sufferings he had
witnessed in the camps prepared us for the approaching autumn's work,
when many of the happy fellows who had started to the gold-fields in
vigorous health and with great expectations returned haggard, sick, and
out of luck.
Then was noble work done by the pioneer women. No door was closed
against the needy. However small the house might be, its inmates had
some comfort to offer the stranger. Many came to grandma, saying they
had places to sleep but begging that she would give them food and
medicine until they should be able to proceed to San Francisco.
Weary mortals dragged their aching limbs to the benches under her white
oak tree, dropped upon them, with blankets still across their
shoulders, declaring they could not go another rod. Often, she turned
her face aside and murmured, "God help the poor wanderers"; but to them
she would say encouragingly, "You be not very sick, you will soon be
rested. There be straw in the stack that we will bring for your bed,
and me and the children will let you not go hungry."
Ere long, beds had to be made on the floor of the unfinished house.
More were needed, and they were spread under the great white oak.
On a block beside each fever patient stood a tin cup, which Georgia and
I were charged to keep full of cold water, and it was pitiful to see
the eyes of the sick watch the cooling stream we poured. Our patients
eagerly grasped the cup with unsteady hands, so that part of its
contents did not reach the parched lips. Often, we heard the fervid
prayer, "God bless the women of this land, and bless the children too!"
Soon we learned to detect signs of improvement, and were rejoiced when
the convalescents smiled and asked for more to eat. Grandma carried
most of the food to them and sent us later for the empty dishes.
Of the many who came to us that season, there was but one who never
proceeded on his way. He was a young German, fair of face, but terribly
wasted by disease. His gentle, boyish manner at once made him a
favorite, and we not only gave him our best care, but when a physician
drifted into town, grandma sent for him and followed his directions. I
remember well the day that John seemed almost convalescent, relished
his breakfast, wanted to talk a while, and before we left him, had us
bring him a basin of warm water and his beflowered carpet bag, from
which he took a change of clothing and his shaving outfit.
When we saw him later, his hair was smoothly combed; he looked neat and
felt encouraged, and was sure that he should soon be up and doing for
himself. At nightfall, grandma bade us wipe the dishes quickly as
possible, at which Georgia proposed a race to see whether she could
wash fast enough to keep us busy, and we got into a frolicsome mood,
which grandma put an end to with the sobering remark:
"Oh, be not so worldly-minded. John ist very bad to-night. I be in a
hurry to go back to him, and you must hold the candle."
We passed out into the clear cold starlight, with the burning candle
sheltered by a milk pan, and picked our way between the lumber to the
unfinished room where John lay. I was the last to enter, and saw
grandma hurriedly give the candle to Georgia, drop upon her knees
beside the bed, touch his forehead, lift his hand, and call him by
name. The damp of death was on his brow, the organs of speech had lost
their power. One long upward look, a slight quivering of the muscles of
the face, and we were alone with the dead. I was so awed that I could
scarcely move, but grandma wept over him, as she prepared his body for
The next afternoon, we three and grandpa and a few friends followed him
to his final resting-place. After he was gone, grandma remembered that
she did not know his name in full, the land of his birth, nor the
address of his people. Expecting his recovery, she had not troubled him
with questions, and the few trinkets in his carpet bag yielded no
identifying clue. So he lies in a nameless grave, like countless other
youth of that period.
We had patients of every type, those who were appreciative and
grateful, and those who rebelled against confinement, and swore at the
pain which kept sleep from their eyes, and hurled their things about
regardless of consequences. The most trying were the chronic grumblers,
who did not know what they wanted, nor what they ought to have, and
adopted the moody refrain:
But the happy times are over,
I've only grief and pain,
For I shall never, never see
Susannah dear again.
The entrance of Georgia and myself would occasionally turn their
thoughts into homeward channels, and make them reminiscent of their
little children and loved ones "back in the States." Then, again, our
coming would set them to talking about our early disaster and such
horrible recounts of happenings in the snow-bound camps that we would
rush away, and poor Georgia would have distressing crying spells over
what we had heard.
At first no tears dimmed my eyes, for I felt, with keen indignation,
that those wounding tales were false; but there came hours of suffering
for me later, when an unsympathetic soldier, nicknamed "Picayune
Butler," engaged me in conversation and set me to thinking.
He was a great big man with eyes piercing as a hawk's, and lips so thin
that they looked like red lines on his face, parting and snapping
together as he repeated the horrible things he had read in _The
California Star._ He insisted that the Donner Party was responsible for
its own misfortune; that parents killed their babies and ate their
bodies to keep themselves alive; cut off the heads of companions and
called them good soup bones; and were as thievish as sneaking Indians,
even stealing the strings from the snowshoes of those who had come to
their rescue. He maintained that Keseberg had murdered my mother and
mutilated my dead father's body; and that he himself felt that the
miserable wretches brought from starvation were not worth the price it
had cost to save them.
Too young, too ignorant, and too distressed to disprove the accusations
or resent his individual view, I could only take refuge behind what I
had heard and seen in camp, and declare, "I know it is not true; they
were good people, and loved their babies, and were sorry for
How could I believe his cruel words? While I had come from the
mountains remembering most clearly the sufferings from cold, hunger,
thirst, and pitiful surroundings, I had also brought from there a
child's mental picture of tenderest sympathies and bravest
self-denials, evinced by the snow-bound in my father's camp, and of
Mrs. Murphy's earnest effort to soothe and care for us three little
sisters after we had been deserted at the lake cabins by Cady and
Stone; also her motherly watchfulness over Jimmie Eddy, Georgia
Foster, and her own son Simon, and of Mr. Eddy's constant solicitude
for our safety on the journey over the mountains to Sutter's Fort.
Vain, however, my efforts to speak in behalf of either the dead or the
absent; every attempt was met by the ready assertion, "You can't prove
anything; you were not old enough to remember or understand what
Oh, how I longed to be grown, to have opportunities to talk with those
of the party who were considered old enough to remember facts, and
would answer the questions I wanted to ask; and how firmly I resolved
that when I grew to be a woman I would tell the story of my party so
clearly that no one could doubt its truth!
THANK OFFERINGS--MISS DOTY'S SCHOOL--THE BOND OF KINDRED--IN JACKET AND
Grandma had a fixed price for table board, but would not take pay for
medicines, nor for attendance on the sick; consequently, many of her
patients, after reaching San Francisco, sent thank offerings of
articles useful and pleasing to her. Thus, also, Sister Georgia and I
came into possession of pretty calico, Swiss, and delaine dresses, and
shoes that filled our hearts with pride, for they were of Morocco
leather, a red and a green pair for each. We had seen finely dressed
Spanish children wear such shoes, but never supposed that we should be
After the first dresses were finished, there came a Sunday when I was
allowed to go to the Mission Church with Kitty Purcell, the baker's
little daughter, and I felt wonderfully fine in my pink calico frock,
flecked with a bird's-eye of white, a sun-bonnet to match, and green
The brilliantly lighted altar, decked with flowers, the priests in
gorgeous vestments, the acolyte with the swinging censer, and the
intoned service in foreign tongue, were bewildering to me. My eyes
wandered from the clergy to the benches upon which sat the rich and
the great, then back to the poor, among whom I was kneeling. Each
humble worshipper had spread a bright-bordered handkerchief upon the
bare floor as a kneeling mat. I observed the striking effect, then
recollecting my shoes, put my hand back and drew up the hem of my
dress, that my two green beauties might be seen by the children behind
me. No seven-year-old child ever enjoyed finery more than I did those
Gifts which grandma considered quite unsuitable came one day in two
neat wooden boxes about thirty inches in length, and eight in width and
depth. They were addressed to us individually, but in grandma's care.
When she removed the cover and a layer of cotton batting from
Georgia's, a beautiful French lady-doll was revealed, exquisitely
dressed, with a spray of flowers in her hair, and another that looped
one side of her lovely pink skirt sufficiently high to display an
elaborately trimmed petticoat. She was so fine in lace and ribbons,
yes, even watch and chain, that grandma was loath to let us touch her,
and insisted she should be handled in the box.
My gift was a pretty young Swiss matron in holiday attire, really more
picturesque, and quite as costly as Georgia's, but lacking that
daintiness which made the lady-doll untouchable. I had her to hug and
look at only a few moments; then both boxes with their precious
contents were put away for safe keeping, and brought forth only on
state occasions, for the inspection of special visitors.
Grandma did not want any nonsense put into our heads. She wished us to
be practical, and often quoted maxims to the effect that, "As the twig
is bent, the tree's inclined"; "All work is ennobling if well done";
"Much book-learning for girls is not conducive to happiness or
success"; and "The highest aim of a girl should be honesty, chastity,
Still, she was so pleased when I could write a little with ink and
quill, that she dictated several letters to Jakie, who was in the dairy
business near Stockton; and in an unguarded moment she agreed that I
should attend Miss Doty's school. Then she hesitated. She wished to
treat us exactly alike, yet could not spare both at the same time.
Finally, as a way out of the difficulty, she decided that we should
attend school alternate months, during the summer; and that my sister,
being the elder, should begin the course.
It seemed to me that Georgia's month at school would never end. My own
sped faster than I wished. Miss Doty helped me with my lessons during
part of the noon hour, and encouragingly said, "Be patient, keep
trying, and you will gain your reward."
While still her pupil, I wrote my long-planned letter to Aunt
Elizabeth. Georgia helped to compose it, and when finished, we carried
it to our friend, the postmaster. He banteringly held it in his hand,
until we told its contents and begged that it go to Aunt Elizabeth as
fast as possible. He must have seen that it was incorrectly addressed,
yet he readily promised that if an answer should come addressed to
"Miss Georgia Ann Donner," or to "Miss Eliza Poor Donner," he would
carefully save it for us.
After many fruitless trips to the post-office, we were one day handed a
letter for grandma. It was not from our aunt, however, but from our
sister Elitha, and bore the sad news that her husband, while on the
range, had been thrown from his horse, and lived but a few moments
after she reached him. She also stated that her little daughter
Elisabeth and her sister Leanna were with her on the ranch, and that
she was anxious to learn how Georgia and I were getting on.
By advice of short-sighted friends, grandma sent a very formal reply to
the letter, and told us that she did not want Elitha to write again.
Moreover, that we, in gratitude for what she had done for us, should
take her name and call her "mother."
This endeavor to destroy personal identity and family connection, met
with pathetic opposition. Of our own accord, we had called her grandma.
But "mother"--that name was sacred to her who had taught our infant
lips to give it utterance! We would bestow it on no other.
Under no circumstance was there difficulty in finding some one ready to
advise or help to plan our duties. With the best of intentions? Yes,
but often, oh, how trying to us, poor little waifs of misfortune!
One, like a thorn in the flesh, was apportioned to me at the approach
of the Winter of 1849 and 1850. We needed more help in the dairy, but
could get no one except Mr. Marsh, who lived in bachelor quarters half
a mile south on the creek bank. He drove in the bunch of cows found in
the mornings grazing on their homeward way, but was too old to follow
after those on the range. Moreover, he did not know how to milk.
Grandma, therefore, was obliged to give up going after the cows
herself. She hesitated about sending us alone, for of late many
stragglers had been seen crossing the valley, and also Indians
loitering about. Furthermore, Georgia was again coughing badly.
At a loss what to do, she discussed the situation with a neighbor, who
after reflection asked,
"Why not dress Eliza in boy's clothes and put her on old Charlie?"
Grandma threw up her hands at the bare suggestion. It was scandalous,
improper! Why, she had even taught me to shun the boys of the village.
However, she felt differently later in the day when she called me to
her. But in vain was coaxing, in vain was scolding, I refused
positively to don boy's clothing.
Then she told in strictest confidence that Georgia was very frail,
would probably die young, certainly would not reach twenty-five; and I
ought not to hesitate at what would make her life easier. Still, if I
had no regard for my sister's comfort, she would be compelled to send
us together afoot after the cows, and the exposure might be very bad
for Georgia. This was enough. I would wear the hated clothes and my
little sister should never learn from me the seriousness of her
condition, lest it should hasten her death.
My suit of brown twill, red flannel shirt, boots, and sou'wester, with
ear muffs attached, were ready for me before the heaviest winter storm.
The jacket and trousers were modelled for a boy of nine, instead of a
girl not yet eight, but grandma assured me that being all wool, the
rain would soon shrink them to my size, also that the boots, which were
too wide in the heel and hurt my toes, would shape themselves to my
feet and prevent the old frost bites from returning.
I was very unhappy while she helped me to dress, and pinned up my
braids, and hid them under my storm hat; and I was absolutely wretched
when she kissed me and said,
"It would be hard to find a prettier little boy than you are."
After again admonishing me to let no one on the range know I was a
girl, and to answer all questions civilly and ride on quickly after my
string of cows, she promised that if I helped her thus through the
short days of the rainy season, she would give back my "girl clothes"
in the Spring, and never again ask me to wear others.
She led me to where Charlie was tied to a tree. I stepped on to a
block, from there to a stump, put my foot into the stirrup, and
clumsily raised myself into the seat of an old dragoon saddle. My eyes
were too full of tears to see, but grandma put the reins in my hand and
started me away. Away where? To drive up the cows? Yes,--and into wider
fields of thought than she recked.
After I got beyond our road, I stopped Charlie, and made him turn his
face toward mine, and told him all that had happened, and just how I
felt. The good old horse seemed to understand, for no friend could be
more faithful than Charlie thenceforth proved to me. He learned to
separate our cows from the many strange ones on the plain; to move
faster when it rained; to choose the crossings that were safe; and to
avoid the branches that might scrape me from his back. Grandma was
pleased to learn that drivers on the range, when inquiring about
strays, addressed me as "Bubbie." My humiliation, however, was so great
that, though Georgia and I were room-mates, and had secret day
meetings, I never went near her when others were by.
She was allowed to play oftener with neighbors' children, and
occasionally spent a week or more with Mrs. Bergwald, helping her to
care for her little daughter. While away, she learned fine needlework,
had fewer crying spells, and was more contented than at home with
This happiness in her life added much to mine, and it came to pass that
the duty which had seemed such a bitter task, became a pleasure. As the
days lengthened, chum Charlie and I kept earlier hours, and crept
closer to the heart of nature. We read the signs of the day in the dawn
tints; watched the coyotes and other night prowlers slink back to their
lairs; saw where the various birds went to housekeeping, and how they
cared for their young; knew them also by their call and song. We could
show where Johnnie-jump-ups and baby-blue-eyes grew thickest; where the
cream cups were largest; and where the wild forget-me-nots blossomed.
We explored each nook and corner for miles around, and felt that
everything that God had made and man had not put his mark upon was
The aged boughs heaped by the wind in wild confusion about the maimed
and storm-beaten tree-trunks seemed to assume fantastic shapes and
expressions as we approached from different directions, or viewed them
under light and shadow of changing weather. Gnarled and twisted, they
became elves and goblins, and the huge piles of storm wreckage were
transformed into weird old ruins and deserted castles like those which
grandma had described to me in legends of the Rhine. At twilight I was
often afraid to pass, lest giants and ghosts should show themselves
between uncanny arches. Then all that was needed was a low cluck to
Charlie, and off he would start on a run past imaginary dangers.
It was late in the Spring when grandma gave back my "girl clothes" and
wearily told me she had hired a boy to drive in the cows, and a man to
help to milk; and that Georgia was to look after the house, and I to
take her own place in the corrals, because she was sick and would have
to be cupped and bled before she could be better.
Grandpa came home early next day and everything was ready for the
treatment immediately after the noon meal. Grandma looked so grave, and
gave so many instructions about household and dairy matters, that
Georgia and I feared that we might lose her. I verily believe we would
have slipped away during the operation, had grandpa not commanded us to
stay near, as he might need assistance. In dread we watched every
movement, saw what made grandma's face pale, and where the sore spots
were. Indeed our sympathies were so strained, our fingers fumbled
awkwardly as we adjusted the covers about her weakened form.
As soon as her illness became known, neighbors came from far and near
to help with the dairy work or nursing; and keen was their
disappointment when she replied, "I thank you for your kind offers, but
the children are handy and know my ways."
Regularly she asked me about the cows, and if the goats had been
milked, the eggs gathered, and the pigs fed. She remembered and planned
the work, but did not regain strength as rapidly as she wished; nor did
she resume her place in the corrals, even after she was up and around,
but had a way of coming unexpectedly to see if her instructions were
being carried out.
One day she became quite angry on finding me talking with a stranger.
He was well dressed and spoke like a gentleman, touched his hat as she
drew near and remarked, "This little girl tells me she is an orphan,
and that you have been very kind to her." Grandma was uncivil in her
reply, and he went away. Then she warned me, "Beware of wolves in
sheep's clothing," and insisted that no man wearing such fine clothes
and having such soft hands could earn an honest living. I did not
repeat what he had told me of his little daughter, who lived in a
beautiful home in New York, and was about my age, and had no sister;
and his wish that I were there with her. I could not understand what
harm there was in his questions or my answers. Did I not remind him of
his own little girl? And had I not heard lonely miners tell of times
when they gladly would have walked ten miles to shake hands and talk a
few moments with a child?
CAPT. FRISBIE--WEDDING FESTIVITIES--THE MASTERPIECE OF GRANDMA'S
YOUTH--SENORA VALLEJO--JAKIE'S RETURN--HIS DEATH--A CHEROKEE INDIAN WHO
HAD STOOD BY MY FATHER'S GRAVE.
Captain Frisbie spent much time in Sonoma after Company H was
disbanded, and observing ones remarked that the attraction was Miss
Fannie Vallejo. Yet, not until 1851 did the General consent to part
with his first-born daughter. Weeks before the marriage day, friends
began arriving at the bride's home, and large orders came to grandma
for dairy supplies.
She anticipated the coming event with interest and pleasure, because
the prolonged and brilliant' festivities would afford her an
opportunity to display her fancy and talent in butter modelling. For
the work, she did not charge, but simply weighed the butter for the
designs and put it into crocks standing in cold water in the adobe
store-house where, in the evenings, after candle-light, we three
Her implements were a circular hardwood board, a paddle, a set of
small, well pointed sticks, a thin-bladed knife, and squares of white
muslin of various degrees of fineness. She talked and modelled, and we
listening watched the fascinating process; saw her take the plastic
substance, fashion a duck with ducklings on a pond, a lamb curled up
asleep, and a couched lion with shaggy head resting upon his fore-paws.
We watched her press beads of proper size and color into the eye
sockets; skilfully finish the base upon which each figure lay; then
twist a lump of butter into a square of fine muslin, and deftly
squeeze, until it crinkled through the meshes in form of fleece for the
lamb's coat, then use a different mesh to produce the strands for the
lion's mane and the tuft for the end of his tail.
In exuberant delight we exclaimed, "Oh, grandma, how did you learn to
make such wonderful things?"
"I did not learn, it is a gift," she replied.
Then she spoke of her modelling in childhood, and her subsequent
masterpiece, which had won the commendation of Napoleon and Empress
At that auspicious time, she was but eighteen years of age, and second
cook in the principal tavern of Neuchatel, Switzerland. Georgia and I
sat entranced, as with animated words and gestures she pictured the
appearance of the buglers and heralds who came weeks in advance to
announce the date on which the Emperor and Empress would arrive in that
town and dine at the tavern; then the excitement and enthusiastic
preparations which followed. She described the consultations between
the _Herr Wirth_ and the _Frau Wirthin_ and their maids; and how,
finally, Marie's butter-piece for the christening feast of the child of
the Herr Graf was remembered; and she, the lowly second cook, was told
that a corner in the cellar would be set apart for her especial use,
and that she should have her evenings to devote to the work, and three
_groschen_ (seven and a half cents) added to her week's wages, if she
would produce a fitting centrepiece for the Emperor's table.
Five consecutive nights, she designed and modelled until the watchman's
midnight cry drove her from work, and at three o'clock in the morning
of the sixth day, she finished. And what a centrepiece it was! It
required the careful handling of no less than three persons to get it
in place on the table, where the Emperor might see at a glance the
groups of figures along the splendid highway, which was spanned by
arches and terminated with a magnificently wrought gateway, surmounted
by His Majesty's coat of arms.
We scarcely winked as we listened to the rest of the happenings on that
memorable day. She recounted how she had dropped everything at the
sound of martial music and from the tiny open space at the window
caught glimpses of the passing pageant--of the royal coaches, of the
maids of honor, of Josephine in gorgeous attire, of the snow-white
poodle snuggled close in the Empress's arms. Then she told how she
heard a heavy thud by the kitchen fire, which made her rush back, only
to discover that the head cook had fallen to the floor in a faint!
She gave the quick call which brought the Frau Wirthin to the scene of
confusion, where in mute agony, she looked from servant to servant,
until, with hands clasped, and eyes full of tears, she implored,
"Marie, take the higher place for the day, and with God's help, make no
Then she went on to say that while the dinner was being served, the
Emperor admired the butter-piece, and on hearing that it was the work
of a young maidservant in the house, commanded that she be brought in
to receive commendation of himself and the Empress. Again the Frau
Wirthin rushed to the kitchen in great excitement, and--knowing that
Marie's face was red from heat of the fire, that she was nervous from
added responsibilities, and not dressed for presentation--cried with
"Ah, Marie! the butter-piece is so grand, it brings us into trouble.
The great Emperor asks to see thee, and thou must come!"
She told how poor, red-faced, bewildered Marie dropped her ladle and
stared at the speaker, then rolled down her sleeves while the Frau
Wirthin tied her own best white apron around her waist, at the same
time instructing her in the manner in which she must hold her dress at
the sides, between thumb and forefinger, and spread the skirt wide, in
making a low, reverential bow. But Marie was so upset that she realized
only that her heart was beating like a trip-hammer, and her form
shaking like an aspen leaf, while being led before those august
personages. Yet, after it was all over, she was informed that the
Emperor and Empress had spoken kindly to her, and that she, herself,
had made her bow and backed out of the room admirably for one in her
position, and ought to feel that the great honor conferred upon her had
covered with glory all the ills and embarrassments she had suffered.
To impress us more fully with the importance of that event, grandma had
Georgia and me stand up on our cellar floor and learn to make that
deferential bow, she by turns, taking the parts of the Frau Wirthin,
the Emperor, and the Empress.
She now finished her modelling with a dainty centrepiece for the
bride's table, and let me go with her when she carried it to the
Vallejo mansion. It gave great satisfaction; and while the family and
guests were admiring it, Senora Vallejo took me by the hand, saying in
her own musical tongue, "Come, little daughter, and play while you
She led me to a room that had pictures on the walls, and left me
surrounded by toys. But I could not play. My eyes wandered about until
they became riveted on one corner of the room, where stood a child's
crib which looked like gold. Its head and foot boards were embellished
with figures of angels; and a canopy of lace like a fleecy cloud
hovered over them. The bed was white, but the pillows were covered with
pink silk and encased in slips of linen lawn, exquisite with rare
needlework. I touched it before I left the room, wondering what the
little girl dreamed in that beautiful bed; and on the way home, grandma
and I discussed all these things.
The linen pillow-slips were as fine as those Senorita Isabella Fitch
showed me, when she gave me the few highly prized lessons in simple
drawn-work; and her cousin, Senorita Leese, had taught me hemming.
These young ladies were related to the Vallejos and also lived in large
houses facing the plaza, and were always kind to Georgia and me. In
fact, some of my sweetest memories of Sonoma are associated with these
three Spanish homes. Their people never asked unfeeling questions, nor
repeated harrowing tales; and I did not learn until I was grown that
they had been among the large contributors to the fund for the relief
of our party.
I have a faint recollection of listening to the chimes of the wedding
bells, and later, of hearing that Captain Frisbie had taken his bride
away; but that is all, for about that time dear old Jakie returned to
us in ill health, and our thoughts and care turned to him. He was so
feeble and wasted that grandma sent for the French physician who had
recently come among us. Even he said that he feared that Jakie had
stayed away too long. After months of treatment, the doctor shook his
head saying: "I have done my best with the medicines at hand. The only
thing that remains to be tried is a tea steeped from the nettle root.
That may give relief."
As soon as we could get ready after the doctor uttered those words,
Georgia and I, equipped with hoe, large knife, and basket were on our
way to the Sonoma River. We had a full two miles and a half to walk,
but did not mind that, because we were going for something that might
take Jakie's pains away. Georgia was to press down the nettle stems
with a stick, while I cut them off and hoed up the roots.
The plants towered luxuriantly above our heads, making the task
extremely painful. No sooner would I commence operations than the
branches, slipping from under the stick, would brush Georgia's face,
and strike my hands and arms with stinging force, and by the time we
had secured the required number of roots, we were covered with fiery
welts. We took off our shoes and stockings, waded into the stream and
bathed our faces, hands, and arms, then rested and ate the lunch we had
brought with us.
As we turned homeward, we observed several Indians approaching by the
bushy path, the one in front staggering, and his squaw behind, making
frantic motions to us to hurry over the snake fence near-by. This we
did as speedily as possible, and succeeded none too soon; for as we
reached the ground on the safe side, he stopped us, and angrily
demanded the contents of our basket. We opened it, and when he saw what
it contained he stamped his wabbling foot and motioned us to be off. We
obeyed with alacrity, for it was our first experience with a drunken
Indian, and greatly alarmed us.
The tea may have eased Jakie's pain, but it did not accomplish what we
had hoped. One morning late in Summer, he asked grandpa to bring a
lawyer and witnesses so that he could make his will. This request made
us all move about very quietly and feel very serious. After the lawyer
went away, grandma told us that Jakie had willed us each fifty dollars
in gold, and the rest of his property to grandpa and herself. A few
weeks later, when the sap ceased flowing to the branches of the trees,
and the yellow leaves were falling, we laid Jakie beside other friends
in the oak grove within sight of our house.
Grandma put on deep mourning, but Georgia and I had only black
sun-bonnets, which we wore with heartfelt grief. The following Spring
grandpa had the grave enclosed with a white paling; and we children
planted Castilian rose bushes at the head and foot of the mound, and
carried water to them from the house, and in time their branches met
and the grave was a bed of fragrant blossoms.
One day as I was returning from it with my empty pail, a tidy,
black-eyed woman came up to me and said,
"I'm a Cherokee Indian, the wife of one of the three drovers that sold
the Brunners them long-horned cattle that was delivered the other day.
I know who you are, and if you'll sit on that log by me, I'll tell you
We took the seats shaded by the fence and she continued with
unmistakable pride: "I can read and write quite a little, and me and
the men belong to the same tribe. We drove our band of cattle across
the plains and over the Sierras, and have sold them for more than we
expected to get. We are going back the same road, but first I wanted to
see you little girls. I heard lots about your father's party, and how
you all suffered in the mountains, and that no one seems to remember
what became of his body. Now, child, I tell the truth. I stood by your
father's grave and read his name writ on the headboard, and come to
tell you that he was buried in a long grave near his own camp in the
mountains. I'm glad at seeing you, but am going away, wishing you
wasn't so cut off from your own people."
So earnest was she, that I believed what she told me, and was sorry
that I could not answer all her questions. We parted as most people did
in those days, feeling that the meeting was good, and the parting might
ELITHA, FRANCES, AND MR. MILLER VISIT US--MRS. BRUNNER CLAIMS US AS HER
The spring-tide of 1852 was bewitchingly beautiful; hills and plain
were covered with wild flowers in countless shapes and hues. They were
so friendly that they sprang up in dainty clusters close to the house
doors, or wherever an inch of ground would give them foothold.
They seemed to call to me, and I looked into their bright faces, threw
myself among them, and hugged as many as my arms could encircle, then
laid my ear close to the ground to catch the low sound of moving leaf
and stem, or of the mysterious ticking in the earth, which foretells
the coming of later plants. Sometimes in my ecstasy, I would shut my
eyes and lie still for a while, then open them inquiringly, to assure
myself that all my favorites were around me still, and that it was not
all a day-dream.
This lovely season mellowed into the Summer which brought a most
unexpected letter from our sister Frances, who had been living all
these years with the family of Mr. James F. Reed, in San Jose.
Childlike, she wrote:
I am happy, but there has not been a day since I left Sutter's Fort
that I haven't thought of my little sisters and wanted to see them.
Hiram Miller, our guardian, says he will take me to see you soon,
and Elitha is going too.
After the first few days of wondering, grandma rarely mentioned our
prospective visitors, nor did she show Georgia or me the letter she
herself had received from Elitha, but we re-read ours until we knew it
by heart, and were filled with delightful anticipations. We imagined
that our blue-eyed sister with the golden curls would look as she did
when we parted, and recalled many things that we had said and done
together at the Fort.
I asked grandma what "guardian" meant, and after she explained, I was
not pleased with mine, and dreaded his coming, for I had not forgotten
how Mr. Miller had promised me a lump of sugar that night in the
Sierras, and then did not have it for me after I had walked the
required distance; nor could I quite forgive the severe punishment he
administered next morning because I refused to go forward and cried to
return to mother when he told me that I must walk as far as Georgia and
Frances did that day.
Autumn was well advanced before the lumbering old passenger coach
brought our long-expected guests from the _embarcadero_, and after the
excitement of the meeting was over, I stealthily scanned each face and
figure. Mr. Miller's stocky form in coarse, dark clothes, his cold gray
eyes, uneven locks, stubby beard, and teeth and lips browned by
tobacco, chewing, were not unfamiliar; but lie looked less tired, more
patient, and was a kindlier spoken man than I had remembered.
Elitha, well dressed, tall, slender, and regular of feature, had the
complexion and sparkling black eyes which mark the handsome brunette. I
was more surprised than disappointed, however, to see that the girl of
twelve, who slipped one arm around Georgia and the other around me in a
long, loving embrace, had nothing about her that resembled our little
sister Frances, except her blue eyes and motherly touch.
The week of their visit was joyous indeed. Many courtesies were
extended by friends with whom we had travelled from time to time on the
plains. One never-to-be-forgotten afternoon was spent with the Boggs
family at their beautiful home amid orchard and vineyard near the
On Sunday, the bell of the South Methodist Church called us to service.
In those days, the men occupied the benches on one side of the
building, and the women and children on the other; and I noticed that
several of the young men found difficulty in keeping their eyes from
straying in our direction, and after service, more than one came to
inquire after grandma's health.
Mr. Miller passed so little time in our company that I remember only
his arrival and his one serious talk with grandma, when he asked her
the amount due her on account of the trouble and expense we two
children had been since she had taken us in charge. She told him
significantly that there was nothing to pay, because we were her
children, and that she was abundantly able to take care of us. In
proof, she handed him a daguerreotype taken the previous year.
It pictured herself comfortably seated, and one of us standing at
either side with an elbow resting upon her shoulder, and a chubby face
leaning against the uplifted hand. She was arrayed in her best cap,
handsome embroidered black satin dress and apron, lace sleeve ruffs,
kerchief, watch and chain. We were twin-like in lace-trimmed dresses of
light blue dimity, striped with a tan-colored vine, blue sashes and
hair ribbons; and each held a bunch of flowers in her hand. It was a
costly trinket, in a case inlaid with pink roses, in mother of pearl,
and she was very proud of it.
Grandma's answer to Mr. Miller was a death-knell to Elitha's hopes and
plans in our behalf. Her little daughter had been dead more than a
year. Sister Leanna had recently married and gone to a home of her own,
and the previous week the place made vacant by the marriage had been
given to Frances, with the ready approval of Hiram Miller and Mr. and
Mrs. Reed. She had now come to Sonoma hoping that if Mr. Miller should
pay grandma for the care we had been to her, she would consent to give
us up in order that we four sisters might be reunited in one home.
Elitha now foresaw that such a suggestion would not only result in
failure, but arouse grandma's antagonism, and cut off future
communication between us.
GREAT SMALLPOX EPIDEMIC--ST. MARY'S HALL--THANKSGIVING DAY IN
"Mrs. Brunner has become too childish to have the responsibility of
young girls," had been frequently remarked before Elitha's visit; and
after her departure, the same friends expressed regret that she had not
taken us away with her.
These whispered comments, which did not improve our situation, suddenly
ceased, for the smallpox made its appearance in Sonoma, and helpers
were needed to care for the afflicted. Grandma had had the disease in
infancy and could go among the patients without fear. In fact, she had
such confidence in her method of treating it, that she would not have
Georgia and me vaccinated while the epidemic prevailed, insisting that
if we should take the disease she could nurse us through it without
disfigurement, and we would thenceforth be immune. She did not expose
us during what she termed the "catching-stage," but after that had
passed, she called us to share her work and become familiar with its
details, and taught us how to brew the teas, make the ointments, and
I do not remember a death among her patients, and only two who were
badly disfigured. One was our pretty Miss Sallie Lewis, who had the
dread disease in confluent form. Grandma was called hurriedly in the
night, because the afflicted girl, in delirium, had loosened the straps
which held her upon her bed, and while her attendant was out of the
room had rushed from the house into the rain, and was not found until
after she had become thoroughly drenched. Grandma had never before
treated such serious conditions, yet strove heroically, and helped to
restore Miss Sallie to health, but could not keep the cruel imprints
from her face.
The other was our arch-enemy, Castle, who seemed so near death that one
night as grandma was peering into the darkness for signal lights from
the homes of the sick, she exclaimed impulsively, "Hark, children!
there goes the Catholic bell. Count its strokes. Castle is a Catholic,
and was very low when I saw him to-day." Together we slowly counted the
knells until she stopped us, saying, "It's for somebody else; Castle is
not so old."
She was right. Later he came to us to recuperate, and was the most
exacting and profane man we ever waited on. He conceived a special
grudge against Georgia, whom he had caught slyly laughing when she
first observed the change in his appearance. Yet months previous, he
had laid the foundation for her mirth.
[Illustration: MRS. BRUNNER, GEORGIA AND ELIZA DONNER]
[Illustration: S.O. HOUGHTON, Member of Col. J.D. Stevenson's First
Regiment of N.Y. Volunteers]
[Illustration: ELIZA P. DONNER]
He was then a handsome, rugged fellow, and particularly proud of the
shape of his nose. Frequently had he twitted my sensitive sister about
her little nose, and had once made her very angry in the presence of
others, by offering to tell her a story, then continuing: "God and the
devil take turns in shaping noses. Now, look at mine, large and finely
shaped. This is God's work; but when yours was growing, it was the
devil's turn, and he shaped that little dab on your face and called it
Georgia fled, and cried in anger over this indignity, declaring that
she hated Castle and would not be sorry if something should happen to
spoil his fine nose. So when he came to us from the sick-room, soured
and crestfallen because disease had deeply pitted and seamed that
feature which had formerly been his pride, she laughingly whispered,
"Well, I don't care, my nose could never look like his, even if I had
the smallpox, for there is not so much of it to spoil."
Our dislike of the man became intense; and later, when we discovered
that he was to be bartender at grandpa's bar, and board at our house,
we held an indignation meeting in the back yard. This was more
satisfaction to Georgia than to me, for she had the pleasure of
declaring that if grandma took that man to board, she would be a
Schweitzer child no longer, she would stop speaking German, make her
clothes like American children's; and that she knew her friend Mrs.
Bergwald would give her a home, if grandma should send her away.
Here the meeting was suddenly interrupted by the discovery that grandma
was standing behind us. We did not know how long she had been there nor
how much she had overheard, nor which she meant to strike with the
switch she had in her hand. However, we were sitting close together and
my left arm felt the sting, and it aroused in me the spirit of
rebellion. I felt that I had outgrown such correction, nor had I
deserved it; and I told her that she should never, never strike me
again. Then I walked to the house alone.
A few moments later Georgia came up to our room, and found me dressing
myself with greatest care. In amazement she asked, "Eliza, where are
you going?" and was dumbfounded when I answered, "To find another home
In the lower hall I encountered grandma, whose anger had cooled, and
she asked the question Georgia had. I raised my sleeve, showed the welt
on my arm, and replied, "I am going to see if I can't find a home where
they will treat me kindly."
Poor grandma was conscience-stricken, drew me into her own room, and
did not let me leave it until after she had soothed my hurts and we had
become friends again.
Georgia went to Mrs. Bergwald's, and remained quite a while. When she
came back speaking English, and insisting that she was an American,
grandma became very angry, and threatened to send her away among
strangers; then hesitated, as if realizing how fully Georgia belonged
to me and I to her, and that we would cling together whatever might
happen. In her perplexity, she besought Mrs. Bergwald's advice.
Now, Mrs. Bergwald was a native of Stockholm, a lady of rare culture,
and used the French language in conversing with grandma. She spoke
feelingly of my little sister, said that she was companionable,
willing, and helpful; anxious to learn the nicer ways of work, and
ladylike accomplishments. She could see no harm in Georgia wishing to
remain an American, since to love one's own people and country was
Thereafter grandma changed her methods. She gave us our dolls to look
at, and keep among our possessions, likewise most of our keepsakes. She
also unlocked her carefully tended parlor and we three spent pleasant
evenings there. Sometimes she would let us bring her, from under the
sofa, her gorgeous prints, illustrating "Wilhelm Tell," and would
repeat the text relating to the scenes as we examined each picture with
We were also allowed to go to Sunday school oftener, and later, she
sent me part of the term to the select school for girls recently
established by Dr. Ver Mehr, an Episcopalian clergyman. In fact, my
tuition was expected to offset the school's milk bill, yet that did not
lessen my enthusiasm. I was eager for knowledge. I also expected to
meet familiar faces in that great building, which had been the home of
Mr. Jacob Leese. But upon entering I saw only finely dressed young
ladies from other parts of the State promenading in the halls, and
small girls flitting about in the yard like bright-winged butterflies.
Some had received letters from home and were calling out the news;
others were engaged in games that were strange to me. The bell rang, I
followed to the recitation hall, and was assigned a seat below the
rest, because I was the only small Sonoma girl yet enrolled.
I made several life-long friends at that institute; still it was easy
to see that "St. Mary's Hall" was established for pupils who had been
reared in the lap of wealth and ease; not for those whose hands were
rough like mine. Nor was there a class for me. I seemed to be between
grades, and had the discouragement of trying to keep up with girls
older and farther advanced.
My educational advantages in Sonoma closed with my half term at St.
Mary's Hall, grandma believing that I had gone to school long enough to
be able to finish my studies without teachers.
Georgia was more fortunate. When Miss Hutchinson opened "The Young
Ladies' Seminary" in the Fall, grandma decided to lend it a helping
hand by sending her a term as a day scholar. My delighted sister was
soon in touch with a crowd of other little girls, and brought home many
of their bright sayings for my edification.
One evening she rushed into the house bubbling over with excitement and
joyously proclaimed: "Oh, Eliza, Miss Hutchinson is going to give a
great dinner to her pupils on Thanksgiving Day; and I am to go, and you
also, as her guest."
Grandma was pleased that I was invited, and declared that she would
send a liberal donation of milk and cheese as a mark of appreciation.
I caught much of Georgia's spirit of delight, for I had a vivid
recollection of the grand dinner given in commemoration of our very
first legally appointed Thanksgiving Day in California; I had only to
close my eyes, and in thought would reappear the longest and most
bountifully spread table I had ever seen. Turkey, chicken, and wild
duck, at the ends; a whole roasted pig in the centre, and more than
enough delicious accompaniments to cover the spaces between. Then the
grown folk dining first, and the flock of hungry children coming later;
the speaking, laughing, and clapping of hands, with which the old home
customs were introduced in the new land.
There, I wore a dark calico dress and sun-bonnet, both made by poor
Mrs. McCutchen of the Donner Party, who had to take in sewing for a
livelihood; but to the Seminary, I should wear grandpa's gift, a costly
alpaca, changeable in the sunlight to soft mingling bluish and greenish
colors of the peacock. Its wide skirt reached to my shoetops, and the
gathers to its full waist were gauged to a sharp peak in front. A wide
open V from the shoulder down to the peak displayed an embroidered
white Swiss chemisette. The sleeves, small at the wrist, were trimmed
with folds of the material and a quilling of white lace at the hand.
On the all-important morning, grandma was anxious that I should look
well; and after she had looped my braids with bows of blue ribbon and
fastened my dress, she brought forth my dainty bonnet, her own gift.
Deft fingers had shirred the pale-blue silk over a frame which had
been cut down from ladies' size, arranged an exquisite spray of
Marechal Niel rosebuds and foliage on the outside, and quilled a soft
white ruching around the face, which emphasized the Frenchy style and
finish so pleasing to grandma.
Did I look old fashioned? Yes, for grandma said, "Thou art like a
picture I saw somewhere long ago." Then she continued brightly, "Here
are thy mits, and thy little embroidered handkerchief folded in a
square. Carry it carefully so it won't get mussed before the company
see it, and come not back late for milking."
The Seminary playground was so noisy with chatter and screams of joy,
that it was impossible to remember all the games we played; and later
the dining-room and its offerings were so surprising and so beautifully
decorated that the sight nearly deprived me of my appetite.
"Mumps. Bite a pickle and see if it ain't so!" exclaimed a neighbor to
whom Georgia was showing her painful and swollen face. True enough, the
least taste of anything sour produced the tell-tale shock. But the most
aggravating feature of the illness was that it developed the week that
sister Elitha and Mr. Benjamin W. Wilder were married in Sacramento;
and when they reached Sonoma on their wedding tour, we could not visit
with them, because neither had had the disease.
They came to our house, and we had a hurried little talk with a closed
window between us, and were favorably impressed by our tall "Brother
Ben," who had very blue eyes and soft brown hair. He was the second of
the three Wilder brothers, who had been among the early gold-seekers,
and tried roughing it in the mines. Though a native of Rhode Island,
and of Puritan ancestry, he was quite Western in appearance.
Though not a wealthy man, he had a competency, for he and his elder
brother were owners of an undivided half of Ranchos de los Cazadores
(three leagues of land in Sacramento Valley), which was well stocked
with horned cattle and good horses. He was also interested in a stage
line running between Sacramento and the gold regions. He encouraged
Elitha in her wish to make us members of their household, and the home
they had to offer us was convenient to public schools; yet for obvious
reasons they were now silent on the subject.
IDEALS AND LONGINGS--THE FUTURE--CHRISTMAS.
At the time of which I now speak, I was in my eleventh year, but older
in feeling and thought. I had ideals and wanted to live up to them, and
my way was blocked by difficulties. Often, in the cowyard, I would say
to the dumb creatures before me,
"I shall milk you dry, and be kind to you as long as I stay; but I
shall not always be here doing this kind of work."
These feelings had been growing since the beginning of grandpa's
partnership in that bar-room. Neither he nor grandma saw harm in the
business. They regarded it as a convenient place where men could meet
and spend a social evening, and where strangers might feel at home.
Yet, who could say that harm did not emanate from that bar? I could not
but wish that grandpa had no interest in it. I did not want to blame
him, for he was kind by nature, and had been more than benefactor to
Georgia and me.
Fond recollection was ever bringing to mind joys he had woven into our
early childhood. Especially tender and precious thoughts were
associated with that night long ago when he hurried home to inspect a
daguerreotype that had just been taken. Grandma handed it to him with
the complaisant remark, "Mine and Georgia's sind fine; but Eliza's
shows that she forgot herself and ist watching how the thing ist being
Grandpa looked at it in silence, observing that grandma's likeness was
natural, and Georgia's perfect, in fact, pretty as could be; while I,
not being tall enough to rest my elbow comfortably upon grandma's
shoulder, stood awkwardly with my flowers drooping and eyes turned,
intently watching in the direction of the operator. Regretfully, I
"Grandpa, mine was best two times, for Georgia moved in the first one,
and grandma in the next, and the pictureman said after each, 'We must
try again.' And he would have tried yet again, for me, but the sun was
low, and grandma said she was sorry but this would have to do."
Lovingly, he then drew me to his side, saying, "Never mind, _mein
Schatz_ (my treasure); let grandma and Georgia keep this, and when that
pictureman comes back, grandpa will sit for his picture, and thou shalt
stand at his knee. He'll buy thee a long gold chain to wear around thy
neck, and thou shalt be dressed all in white and look like an angel."
Being younger than grandma, and more fond of amusements, he had taken
us to many entertainments; notably, Odd Fellows' picnics and dinners,
where he wore the little white linen apron, which we thought would be
cute for our dolls. He often reminded grandma that she should teach us
to speak the high German, so that we might appear well among
gentlefolk; and my cherished keepsakes included two wee gold dollars
and a fifty-cent piece of the same bright metal, which he had given me
after fortunate sales from the herds. But dearest of all is remembrance
of the evening long ago when he befriended us at Sutter's Fort.
Still, not even those tender recollections could longer hold in check
my resentment against the influences and associations which were
filtering through that bar-room, and robbing me of companions and
privileges that I valued. More than once had I determined to run away,
and then desisted, knowing that I should leave two lonely old people
grieving over my seeming ingratitude. This question of duty to self and
to those who had befriended me haunted my working hours, went with me
to church and Sunday school, and troubled my mind when I was supposed
to be asleep.
Strange, indeed, would it have seemed to me, could I then have known
that before my thirtieth year, I should be welcomed in the home of the
military chief of our nation. Strange, also, that the young Lieutenant,
William Tecumseh Sherman, who when visiting in Sonoma, came with his
fellow-officers to the Brunner farm, should have attained that dignity.
Equally impossible would it have been then to conceive that in so short
a time, I, a happy mother and the wife of a Congressional
Representative, should be a guest at the brilliant receptions of the
foreign diplomats and at the Executive Mansion in the city of
Washington. Is it any wonder that in later years when my mind reverted
to those days, I almost questioned my identity?
Georgia's return from Mrs. Bergwald's before Christmas gave me a chance
to talk matters over with her, and we decided that we must leave our
present surroundings. Yet, how to get away, and when, puzzled us. Our
only hope of escape seemed to be to slip off together some moonlight
"But," my sister remarked gravely, "we can't do it before Christmas!
You forget the white flannel skirt that I am embroidering for grandma,
the pillow-slips that you are hemstitching and trimming with lace for
her; and the beautiful white shirt that you have for grandpa."
She was sure that not to stay and give them as we had planned, would be
as bad as breaking a promise. So, we took out our work and hid
ourselves to sew a while.
My undertaking was not so large or elaborate as hers, and when I
finished, she still had quite a piece to do, and was out of floss. She
had pin-pricked from an embroidered silk shawl on to strips of white
paper, the outline of a vine representing foliage, buds, and blossoms;
then basted the paper in place around the skirt. The colors were shaded
green and pink. Unable to get the floss for the blossoms, she had
bought narrow pink silk braid and outlined each rose and bud, then
embroidered the foliage in green. Some might have thought it a trifle
gaudy, but to me it seemed beautiful, and I was proud of her
I washed, starched, and ironed the pillow-slips while grandma was from
home, and they did look well, for I had taken great pains in doing my
work. Several days before the appointed time, grandma, in great good
humor, showed us the dresses she had been hiding from us; and then and
there, like three children unable to keep their secrets longer, we
exchanged gifts, and were as pleased as if we had waited until
THE WIDOW STEIN AND LITTLE JOHNNIE--"DAUGHTERS OF A SAINTED
MOTHER"--ESTRANGEMENT AND DESOLATION--A RESOLUTION AND A VOW--MY PEOPLE
ARRIVE AND PLAN TO BEAR ME AWAY.
On the first of September, 1855, a widow, whom I shall call Stein, and
her little son Johnnie, came to visit grandma. She considered herself a
friend by reason of the fact that she and her five children had been
hospitably entertained in our home two years earlier, upon their
arrival in California. For grandpa in particular she professed a high
regard, because her husband had been his bartender, and as such had
earned money enough to bring his family from Europe, and also to pay
for the farm which had come to her at his death.
Mother and son felt quite at home, and in humor to enjoy their
self-appointed stay of two weeks. Despite her restless eye and sinister
smile, she could be affable; and although, at first, I felt an
indescribable misgiving in her presence, it wore away, and I often
amused Johnnie while she and grandma talked.
As if to hasten events, Mrs. Bergwald had sent for Georgia almost at
the beginning of the visit of the Steins; and after her departure, Mrs.
Stein insisted on helping me with the chores, and then on my sitting
with her during grandma's busiest hour.
She seemed deeply interested in California's early history, and when I
would stop talking, she would ply me with questions. So I told her how
poor everybody was before the discovery of gold; how mothers would send
their boys to grandma's early morning fire for live coals, because they
had no matches or tinder boxes; how neighbors brought their coffee and
spices to grind in her mills; how the women gathered in the afternoons
under her great oak tree, to talk, sew, and eagerly listen to the
reading of extracts from letters and papers that had come from friends
away back in the States. I told her how, in case of sickness, one
neighbor would slip over and cook the family breakfast for the sick
woman, others would drop in later, wash the dishes, and put the house
in order; and so by turns and shares, the washing, ironing, and mending
would be done, and by the time the sick woman would be up and around,
she would have no neglected work to discourage her. Also we talked of
how flags were used for day signals and lights by night, in calls for
Our last talk was on Saturday morning between work. She questioned me
in regard to the amount, and location of the property of the Brunners,
then wanted to hear all about my sisters in Sacramento, and wondered
that we did not go to live with them. I explained that Elitha had
written us several times asking us to come, but, knowing that grandma
would be displeased, we had not read her those parts of the letters,
lest she forbid our correspondence entirely. I added that we were very
sorry that she could not like those who were dear to us.
Finally, having exhausted information on several subjects, Mrs. Stein
gave me a searching glance, and after a marked silence, continued: "I
don't wonder that you love grandpa and grandma as much as you tell me,
and it is a pity about these other things that aren't pleasant. Don't
you think it would be better for you to live with your sister, and
grandma could have some real German children to live here? She is old,
and can't help liking her own kind of people best."
I did not have an unkind thought in mind, yet I did confess that I
should like to live well and grow up to be like my mother. In
thoughtless chatter I continued, that more nice people came to visit
grandma and to talk with us before the town filled with strangers, and
before Americans lived in the good old Spanish houses, and before the
new churches and homes were built.
She led me to speak of mother, then wondered at my vivid recollections,
since I had parted from her so young. She was very attentive as I told
how Georgia and I spoke of her when we were by ourselves, and that
friends did not let us forget her. I even cited a recent instance, when
the teacher had invited us, and two other young girls, to go to the
Vallejo pear orchard for all the fruit we wished to eat, and when he
offered the money in payment, the old Spanish gentleman in charge said,
"Pay for three."
"But we are five," said the teacher.
Then the Don blessed himself with the sign of the cross, and pointing
to Georgia and me, replied, "Those two are daughters of a sainted
mother, and are always welcome!"
At noon grandma told me that she and the Steins would be ready to go
down town immediately after dinner, and that I must wash the dishes and
finish baking the bread in the round oven. We parted in best of humor,
and I went to work. The dishes and bread received first attention. Then
I scrubbed the brick floor in the milk-house; swept the store-room and
front yard; gathered the eggs, fed the chickens, and rebuilt the fire
for supper. I fancied grandma would be pleased with all I had
accomplished, and laughed to myself as I saw the three coming home
leaning close to each other in earnest conversation.
To my surprise, the Steins went directly to their own room; and grandma
did not speak, but closed her eyes as she passed me. That was her way,
and I knew that it would be useless to ask what had offended her. So I
took my milk pails, and, wondering, went to the cow corrals. I could
not imagine what had happened, yet felt hurt and uncomfortable.
Returning with the milk, I saw Johnnie playing by the tree, too near
the horse's feet, and warned him. As he moved, grandma stepped forward
and stood in front of me, her face white with rage. I set my buckets
down and standing between them listened as she said in German:
"Oh, false one, thou didst not think this morning that I would so soon
find thee out. Thou wast not smart enough to see that my friend, Mrs.
Stein, was studying thee, so that she could let me know what kind of
children I had around me. And thou, like a snake in the grass, hast
been sticking out thy tongue behind my back. Thou pretendest that thou
art not staying here to get my money and property, yet thou couldst
tell her all I had. Thou wouldst not read all in the letters from thy
fine sisters? Thou wouldst rather stay here until I die and then be
rich and spend it with them!"
She stopped as if to catch her breath, and I could only answer,
"Grandma, I have not done what thou sayest."
She continued: "I have invited people to come here this night, and thou
shalt stand before them and listen while I tell what I have done for
thee, and how thou hast thanked me. Now, go, finish thy work, eat thy
supper, and come when I call thee."
I heard her call, but don't know how I got into the room, nor before
how many I stood. I know that my head throbbed and my feet almost
refused to support my body, as I listened to grandma, who in forceful
language declared that she had taken me, a starveling, and reared me
until I was almost as tall as she herself; that she had loved and
trusted me, and taught me everything I knew, and that I had that day
blackened the home that had sheltered me, wounded the hand that had fed
me, and proved myself unworthy the love that had been showered upon
me. Mrs. Stein helped her through an account of our morning chat,
misconstruing all that had passed between us.
I remained silent until the latter had announced that almost the first
thing that she had noticed was that we children were of a selfish,
jealous disposition, and that Georgia was very cross when her little
Johnnie came home wearing a hat that grandpa had bought him. Then I
turned upon her saying, "Mrs. Stein, you forget that Georgia has not
seen that hat. You know that grandma bought it after Georgia went
She sprang toward me, then turned to grandma, and asked if she was
going to let an underling insult a guest in her house.
I did not wait for the reply. I fled out into the dark and made my way
to the weird old tree-trunk in the back yard. Thence, I could see the
lights from the windows, and at times hear the sound of voices. There,
I could stand in the starlight and look up to the heavens. I had been
there before, but never in such a heartsick and forlorn condition. I
was too overwrought to think, yet had to do something to ease the
tension. I moved around and looked toward Jakie's grave, then returned
to the side of the tree-trunk which had escaped the ravages of fire,
and ran my finger up and down, feeling the holes which the red-headed
woodpecker had bored and filled with acorns.
A flutter in the air aroused me. It was the old white-faced owl leaving
the hollow in the live oak for the night's hunt. I faced about and saw
her mate fly after her. Then in the stillness that followed, I
stretched both arms toward heaven and cried aloud, "O God, I'm all
alone; take care of me!"
The spell was broken. I grew calmer and began to think and to plan. I
pictured Georgia asleep in a pretty house two miles away, wondered how
I could get word to her and what she would say when told that we would
go away together from Sonoma, and not take anything that grandpa or
grandma had given us.
I remembered that of the fund which we had started by hemming new, and
washing soiled handkerchiefs for the miners, there still remained in
her trunk seven dollars and eighty-five cents, and in mine seven
dollars and fifty cents. If this was not enough to take us to
Sacramento, we might get a chance as Sister Leanna had, to work our
I was still leaning against the tree-trunk when the moon began to peep
over the eastern mountains, and I vowed by its rising that before it
came up in its full, Georgia and I should be in Sacramento.
I heard grandma's call from the door, which she opened and quickly
closed, and I knew by experience that I should find a lighted candle on
the table, and that no one would be in the room to say good-night. I
slept little, but when I arose in the morning I was no longer trouble
tossed. I knew what I would say to grandma if she should give me the
Grandpa, who had come home very late, did not know what had happened,
and he and I breakfasted with the men, and grandma and the Steins came
after we left the room. No one offered to help me that morning, still I
got through my duties before grandma called me to her. She seemed more
hurt than angry, and began by saying:
"On account of thy bad conduct, Mrs. Stein is going to shorten her
stay. She is going to leave on Tuesday, and wants me to go with her.
She says that she has kept back the worst things that thou hast told
about me, but will tell them to me on the road."
Trembling with indignation, I exclaimed, "Oh, grandma, thou hast always
told us that it is wrong to speak of the faults of a guest in the
house, but what dost thou think of one who hath done what Mrs. Stein
hath done? I did say some of the things she told thee, but I did not
say them in that way. I didn't give them that meaning. I didn't utter
one unkind word against thee or grandpa. I have not been false to thee.
To prove it, I promise to stay and take care of everything while thou
goest and hearest what more she hath to tell, but after the
home-coming, I leave. Nothing that thou canst say will make me change
my mind. I am thankful for the home I have had, but will not be a
burden to thee longer. I came to thee poor, and I will go away poor."
The Brunner conveyance was at the door on Tuesday morning when grandma
and her guest came out to begin their journey. Grandpa helped grandma
and the widow on to the back seat. While he was putting Johnnie in
front with the driver, I stepped close to the vehicle, and extended my
hand to grandma, saying, "Good-bye, don't worry about the dairy while
thou art gone, for everything will be attended to until thy return; but
remember--then I go."
On the way back to the house grandpa asked why I did not treat the
widow more friendly, and I answered, "Because I don't believe in her."
To my surprise, he replied, "I don't either, but grandma is like a
little child in her hands."
I felt that I ought to tell him I should soon go away, but I had never
gone to him with home troubles, and knew that it would not be right to
speak of them in grandma's absence; so he quietly went to his duties
and I to mine. Yet I could not help wondering how grandma could leave
me in full charge of her possessions if she believed the stories that
had been told her. I felt so sure that the guilty one would be found
out that it made me light-hearted.
Mrs. Blake came and spent the night with me, and the following morning
helped to get the breakfast and talked over the cleaning that I wished
to do before grandma's return on the coming Saturday morning. But
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform,
and unseen hands were shaping a different course for me! I had the milk
skimmed, and a long row of clean pans in the sunshine before time to
hurry the dinner for grandpa and the three men. I was tired, for I had
carried most of the milk to the pig troughs after having finished work
which grandma and I had always done together; so I sat down under the
tree to rest and meditate.
My thoughts followed the travellers with many questions, and the wish
that I might hear what Mrs. Stein had to say. I might have overstayed
my time, if the flock of goats had not come up and smelled my hands,
nibbled at the hem of my apron, and tried to chew the cape of my
sun-bonnet. I sprang up and with a shout and clap of my hands,
scattered them, and entered the log kitchen, reclosing the lower
section of the divided door, to keep them from following me within.
I prepared the dinner, and if it lacked the flavor of grandma's
cooking, those who ate it did not tell me. Grandpa lingered a moment to
bestow a meed of praise on my work, then went off to the back corral to
slaughter a beef for the shop. I began clearing the table, and was
turning from it with a vegetable dish in each hand when I caught sight
of the shadow of a tall silk hat in the open space above the closed
half door. Then the hat and its wearer appeared.
Leaning over the edge of the door, he gazed at me standing there as if
I were nailed to the floor. I was speechless with amazement, and it
seemed a long while before he remarked lightly, "You don't seem to know
"Yes, you are Mr. Wilder, my brother-in-law," I stammered. "Where is
[Illustration: SACRAMENTO CITY IN THE EARLY FIFTIES]
[Illustration: FRONT STREET, SACRAMENTO CITY, 1850]
He informed me that she and their little daughter were at the hotel
in town, where they had arrived about noon, and that she wanted Georgia
and me to be prompt in coming to her at four o'clock. I told him that
we could not do so, because Georgia was at Mrs. Bergwald's, grandma on
a journey beyond Bodego, and I at home in charge of the work.
In surprise he listened, then asked, "But aren't you at all anxious to
see your sister and little niece?"
Most earnestly, I replied that I was. Nevertheless, as grandma was
away, I could not leave the place until after the day's work was done.
Then I enumerated what was before me. He agreed that there was quite
enough to keep me busy, yet insisted that I ought to keep the
appointment for four o'clock. After his departure, I rushed out to
grandpa, told him who had come and gone, and what had passed between
us. He too, regretted the situation, but promised that I should spend
the evening at the hotel.
I fairly flew about my work that afternoon, and my brain was as active
as my hands and feet. I was certain that brother and sister had come
for us, and the absorbing query was, "How did they happen to arrive at
this particular time?" I also feared there was more trouble before me,
and remembered my promise to grandma with twinges of regret.
At half-past four, I was feeding the hens in the yard, and, looking up,
saw a strange carriage approaching. Instantly, I guessed who was in it,
and was at the gate before it stopped. Elitha greeted me kindly, but
not cordially. She asked why I had not come as requested, and then
said, "Go, bring the silver thimble Frances left here, and the coral
necklace I gave you."
In my nervous haste I could not find the thimble, but carried out the
necklace. She next bade me take the seat beside her, thus disclosing
her intention of carrying me on, picking up Georgia and proceeding to
Sacramento. She was annoyed by my answer and disappointed in what she
termed my lack of pride. Calling my attention to my peculiar style of
dress and surroundings, to my stooped shoulders and callous hands, she
bade me think twice before I refused the comfortable home she had to
When assured that I would gladly go on Saturday, but was unwilling to
leave in grandma's absence, she did not urge further, simply inquired
the way to Georgia, and left me.
I was nursing my disappointment and watching the disappearing carriage,
when Mr. Knipp, the brewer, with his load of empty kegs drew up, and
asked what I was thinking about so hard. It was a relief to see his
jolly, good-natured face, and I told him briefly that our people were
in town and wished to take us home with them. He got down from his
wagon to say confidentially:
"Thou must not leave grandpa and grandma, because the old man is always
kind to thee, and though she may sometimes wag a sharp tongue, she
means well. Be patient, by-and-by thou wilt have a nice property, the
country will have more people for hire, and thou wilt not have so hard
When I told him that I did not want the property, and that there were
other things I did care for, he continued persuasively:
"Women need not so much learning from books. Grandma would not know how
to scold so grandly if she remembered not so many fine words from
'Wilhelm Tell' and the other books that she knoweth by heart." And he
climbed back and drove off, believing that he had done me a good turn.
To my great satisfaction, Georgia arrived about dark, saying that
Benjamin had brought her and would call for us later to spend the
evening with them. When we reached the hotel, Elitha received us
affectionately, and did not refer to the disappointments of the
afternoon. The time was given up to talk about plans for our future,
and that night when we two crept into bed, I felt that I had been eased
of a heavy burden, for Benjamin was willing to await grandma's return.
He also told us that early next morning he would go to Santa Rosa, the
county seat, and apply to be made our guardian in place of Hiram
Miller, and would also satisfy any claim grandma might have to us, or
against us, adding that we need not take anything away with us, except
GRANDMA'S RETURN--GOOD-BYE TO THE DUMB CREATURES--GEORGIA AND I ARE OFF
Meanwhile, grandma and her friends had reached Bodego and spent the
night there. She had not learned anything more terrible that I had said
about her, and at breakfast told Mrs. Stein that she had had a dream
foreboding trouble, and would not continue the journey to the Stein
home. The widow coaxed and insisted that she go the few remaining miles
to see her children. Then she waxed indignant and let slip the fact
that she considered it an outrage that American, instead of European
born children should inherit the Brunner property, and that she had
hoped that grandma would select two of her daughters to fill the places
from which Georgia and I should be expelled.
Grandma took a different view of the matter, and started homeward
immediately after breakfast.
That very afternoon, on the Santa Rosa road, whom should she pass but
our brother Ben. They recognized each other, but were too astonished to
speak. Grandma ordered her driver to whip up, saying that she had just
seen the red-whiskered imp of darkness who had troubled her sleep, and
she must get to town as fast as possible.
She stopped first at the butcher shop. Before grandpa could express
surprise at her unexpected return, she showered him with questions in
regard to happenings at home, and being informed, took him to task for
having permitted us to visit our people at the hotel. He innocently
remarked that he knew of no reason why we should not see our relatives;
that Georgia was spending the day with them; and that we both had his
permission to go again in the evening. In conclusion he said that I had
been a faithful, hard working little housekeeper, and she would find
everything in order at home.
Grandma arrived at home before sunset, too excited to be interested in
dairy matters. She told me all about her trip, even to the name she had
called my brother-in-law, adding that she knew he was "not
red-whiskered, but he was next door to it." Later, when he came, she
did not receive him pleasantly, nor would she let us go to Elitha.
Brusquely, she demanded to know if I had written to him to come for us,
and would not believe him when he assured her that neither he nor our
sisters had received letter or message from us in months.
After his departure, I could see that she was no longer angry, and I
dreaded the ensuing day, which was destined to be my last on that farm.
It came with a rosy dawn, and I was up to meet it, and to say good-bye
to the many dumb creatures that I had cared for. The tension I was
under lent me strength to work faster than usual. When the breakfast
call sounded, I had finished in the corrals, and was busy in the hen
houses, having taken care to keep out of grandpa's sight; for I knew
how he would miss me, and I did not want to say the parting words.
After he and the men were gone, grandma came, and watched me finish my
task, then said kindly,
"Come, Eliza, and eat thy breakfast."
I looked up and replied,
"Grandma, I ate my last meal in thy house last night. Dost thou not
remember, I told thee that I would take care of everything until thy
return, and then would not be a burden to thee longer? I have kept my
word, and am going away this morning."
"Thou are mine, and canst not go; but if thou wilt not eat, come and
help me with the dishes," she replied nervously.
I had planned to slip off and change my dress before meeting her, but
now, after a breath of hesitation, I went to dry the dishes, hoping
that our talk would soon be over. I knew it would be hard for both of
us, for dear, childish grandma was ready to forgive and forget what she
termed our little troubles. I, however, smarting under the wrong and
injustice that had been done me, felt she had nothing to forgive, and
that matters between us had reached the breaking-point.
She was still insisting on her right to keep me, when a slight sound
caused us both to turn, and meeting Georgia's anxious, listening gaze,
grandma appealed to her, saying,
"Thou hast heard thy sister's talk, but thou hast not been in this
fuss, and surely wilt not leave me?"
"Yes, I am going with Eliza," was the prompt answer, which had no
sooner left her lips, than grandma resorted to her last expedient: she
ordered us both to our room, and forbade us to leave it until she
should hear from grandpa.
What message she sent him by the milker we never learned. Georgia,
being already dressed for the journey, and her trunk containing most of
her possessions being at Mrs. Bergwald's, had nothing to do but await
I quickly changed my working suit for a better one, which had been
given me by a German friend from San Francisco. Then I laid out my
treasured keepsakes. In my nervous energy, nothing was forgotten. I
took pains that my clothes against the wall should hang in straight
rows, that the folded ones should lie in neat piles in my pretty
Chinese trunk, and that the bunch of artificial flowers which I had
always kept for a top centre mark, should be exactly in the middle;
finally, that the gray gauze veil used as a fancy covering of the whole
should be smoothly tucked in around the clothing. This done, I gave a
parting glance at the dainty effect, dropped the cover, snapped the
queer little brass padlock in place, put the key on the table, and
covered the trunk so that its embossed figures of birds and flowers
should be protected from harm.
We had not remembered to tell Elitha about the hundred dollars which
Jakie had willed us, so decided to let grandma keep it to cover some
of the expense we had been to her, also not to ask for our little
trinkets stored in her closet.
With the bundle containing my keepsakes, I now sat down by Georgia and
listened with bated breath to the sound of grandma's approaching
footsteps. She entered and hastily began,
"Grandpa says, if you want to go, and your people are here to take you,
we have no right to keep you; but that I am not to part with you bad
friends. So I came to shake hands and say good-bye. But I don't forgive
you for going away, and I never want to see you or hear from you
She did not ask to see what we were taking away, nor did her good-bye
seem like parting.
The fear that something might yet arise to prevent our reaching brother
and sister impelled us to run the greater part of the distance to the
hotel, and in less than an hour thereafter, we were in the carriage
with them on the way to Mrs. Bergwald's, prior to taking the road to
Off at last, without a soul in the town knowing it!
Georgia, who had neither said nor done anything to anger grandma, was
easier in mind and more comfortable in body, than I, who, fasting, had
borne the trials of the morning. I could conceal the cause, but not the
faint and ill feeling which oppressed me during the morning drive and
continued until I had had something to eat at the wayside inn, and a
rest, while the horses were enjoying their nooning.
I had also been too miserable to feel any interest in what occurred at
Mrs. Bergwald's after we stopped to let Georgia get her keepsakes. But
when the day's travel was over, and we were comfortably housed for the
night, Georgia and I left our brother and sister to their happy hour
with their child, and sat close together on the outer doorsteps to
review the events of the day. Our world during that solemn hour was
circumscribed, reaching back only to the busy scenes of the morning,
and forward to the little home that should open to us on the morrow.
When we resumed travel, we did not follow the pioneers' trail, once
marked by hoof of deer, elk, and antelope, nor the winding way of the
Spanish _cabellero,_ but took the short route which the eager tradesman
and miner had hewn and tramped into shape.
On reaching the ferry across the Sacramento River, I gazed at the
surrounding country in silent amazement. Seven and a half years with
their marvellous influx of brawn and brain, and their output of gold,
had indeed changed every familiar scene, except the snow-capped
Sierras, wrapped in their misty cloak of autumnal blue. The broad, deep
river had given up both its crystal floods and the wild, free song
which had accompanied it to the sea, and become a turbid waterway,
encumbered with busy craft bringing daily supplies to countless homes,
and carrying afar the long hidden wealth of ages.
The tule flat between the water front and Sutter's Fort had become a
bustling city. The streets running north and south were numbered from
first to twenty-eighth, and those east and west lettered from A to Z,
and thriving, light-hearted throngs were pursuing their various
occupations upon ground which had once seemed like a Noah's ark to me.
Yes, this was the very spot where with wondering eyes I had watched
nature's untamed herds winding through the reedy paths to the river
bank, to quench their morning and evening thirst.
As we crossed from J Street to K, brother remarked, "Our journey will
end on this street; which of you girls will pick out the house before
we come to it?"
Elitha would not help us, but smiled, when, after several guesses, I
said that I wished it to be a white house with brownish steps and a
dark door with a white knob. Hence, great was my satisfaction when near
the southeast corner of Eighteenth and K streets, we halted in front of
a cottage of that description; and it was regarded as a lucky omen for
me, that my first wish amid new scenes should be realized.
The meeting with Sister Frances and the novelty of the new situation
kept up a pleasurable excitement until bed-time. Then in the stillness
of the night, in the darkness of the new chamber, came the recollection
that at about that hour one week ago, I, sorrowing and alone, had stood
by a weird old tree-trunk in Sonoma, and vowed by the rising moon that
before it should come up again in its full, Georgia and I would be in
Sacramento. I did not sleep until I had thanked the good Father for
sending help to me in my time of need.
THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS OF SACRAMENTO--A GLIMPSE OF GRANDPA--THE RANCHO DE
LOS CAZADORES--MY SWEETEST PRIVILEGE--LETTERS FROM THE BRUNNERS.
It is needless to say that we were grateful for our new home, and tried
to express our appreciation in words and by sharing the household
duties, and by helping to make the neat clothing provided for us.
The first Monday in October was a veritable red-letter day. Aglow with
bright anticipations, we hurried off to public school with Frances. Not
since our short attendance at the pioneer school in Sonoma had Georgia
and I been schoolmates, and never before had we three sisters started
out together with books in hand; nor did our expectations overreach the
sum of happiness which the day had in store for us.
The supposition that grandpa and grandma had passed out of our lives
was soon disproved; for as I was crossing our back yard on the Saturday
of that first week of school, I happened to look toward Seventeenth
Street, and saw a string of wagons bringing exhibits from the fair
grounds. Beside the driver of a truck carrying a closed cage marked,
"Buffalo," stood grandpa. He had risen from his seat, leaned back
against the front of the cage, folded his arms and was looking at me.
My long black braids had been cut off, and my style of dress changed,
still he had recognized me. I fled into the house, and told Elitha what
I had seen. She, too, was somewhat disquieted, and replied musingly,
"The old gentleman is lonely, and may have come to take you girls back
His presence in Sacramento so soon after our reaching there did seem
significant, because he had bought that buffalo in 1851, before she was
weaned from the emigrant cow that had suckled and led her in from the
great buffalo range, and he had never before thought of exhibiting her.
The following afternoon, as we were returning from Sunday school, a
hand suddenly reached out of the crowd on J Street and touched
Georgia's shoulder, then stopped me. A startled backward glance rested
on Castle, our old enemy, who said,
"Come. Grandpa is in town, and wants to see you." We shook our heads.
Then he looked at Frances, saying, "All of you, come and see the large
seal and other things at the fair."
But she replied, emphatically, "We have not permission," and grasping a
hand of each, hurried us homeward. For days thereafter, we were on the
alert guarding against what we feared might happen.
[Illustration: Photographs by Lynwood Abbott. PINES OF THE SIERRAS]
[Illustration: GENERAL JOHN A. SUTTER]
[Illustration: COL. J.D. STEVENSON]
Our alarm over, life moved along smoothly. Elitha admonished us to
forget the past, and prepare for the future. She forbade Georgia and me
to use the German language in speaking with each other, giving as a
reason that we should take Frances into our confidence and thoughts as
closely as we took one another.
I was never a morbid child, and the days that I did not find a sunbeam
in life, I was apt to hunt for a rainbow. But there, in sight of the
Sierras, the feeling again haunted me that perhaps my mother did not
die, but had strayed from the trail and later reached the settlement
and could not find us. Each middle-aged woman that I saw ahead of me on
the street would thrill me with expectation, and I would quicken my
steps in order to get a view of her face. When I gave up this illusion,
I still prayed that Keseberg would send for me some day, and let me
know her end, and give me a last message. I wanted his call to me to be
voluntary, so that I might know that his words were true. These hopes
and prayers were sacred, even from Georgia.
On the twenty-fourth of March, 1856, brother Ben took us all to pioneer
quarters on Rancho de los Cazadores, where their growing interests
required the personal attention of the three brothers. There we became
familiar with the pleasures, and also the inconveniences and hardships
of life on a cattle ranch. We were twenty miles from town, church, and
school; ten miles from the post office; and close scrutiny far and wide
disclosed but one house in range. Our supply of books was meagre, and
for knowledge of current events, we relied on _The Sacramento Union_,
and on the friends who came to enjoy the cattleman's hospitality.
My sweetest privilege was an occasional visit to cousin Frances Bond,
my mother's niece, who, with her husband and child, had settled on a
farm about twelve miles from us. She also had grown up a motherless
girl, but had spent a part of her young ladyhood at our home in
Illinois. She had helped my mother to prepare for our long journey and
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