Time of the Bells, 1769-1835
CHAPTER ELEVEN: The Mountain Men
This was the era of the Mountain Men. They trapped, hunted, fought and explored their way across the Great Plains, found the passes through the Rocky Mountains, braved the vast western deserts, and, at last, broke through the high coastal barrier to reach the Pacific Ocean, to the astonishment of the little coastal settlements whose people still lived by the customs and traditions of Old Spain.
No stranger breed of men ever lived. Capt. B. L. E. Bonneville, a graduate of West Point who became a fur hunter, has memorialized the Mountain Men with this description of their costume and eccentricities:
“It is a matter of vanity and ambition with the free trapper to discard everything that may bear the stamp of civilized life, and to adopt the manners, habits, dress, gesture, and even walk of the Indian. You cannot pay a free trapper a greater compliment, than to persuade him that you have mistaken him for an Indian; and, in truth, the counterfeit is complete. His hair, suffered to attain a great length, is carefully combed out, and either left to fall carelessly over his shoulders, or plaited neatly and tied up in otter skins, or parti-colored ribbons. A hunting shirt of ruffled calico of bright dyes, or of ornamental leather, falls to his knees; below which, curiously fashioned leggins, ornamented with strings, fringes, and a profusion of hawks’ bills, reach to a costly pair of moccasins, of the finest Indian fabric, richly embroidered with beads. A blanket of scarlet, or some other bright color, hangs from his shoulders, and is girt round his waist with a red sash, in which he bestows his pistols, knife, and the stem of his Indian pipe. His gun is lavishly decorated with brass tacks and vermilion, and provided with a fringed cover, occasionally of buckskin, ornamented here and there with a feather. His horse is caparisoned in the most dashing and fantastic style; the bridles and crupper are weightily embossed with beads and cocades; and head, mane, and tail are interwoven with an abundance of eagles’ plumes, which flutter in the wind. To complete this grotesque equipment, the animal is bestreaked and bespotted with vermilion, or with white clay.”
While other Americans in ships hunted the sea otter fur along the Pacific Coast, for the aristocrats of China, the Mountain Men sought the fur of the river beaver, for the hats of English gentlemen. As the rivers were trapped out, they moved farther and farther West, to the muddy but rich Colorado and then, once into California, to the San Joaquin Valley and the High Sierra. Behind them, eventually, came a trickle of traders and immigrants, then a flood of gold seekers and settlers. California was swept up into a whirl of change.
Two of them left records of their wanderings, in which San Diego played a part. They were Jedediah S. Smith and James Ohio Pattie. Smith put down his experiences as he went along, and though they were later burned in a fire, a copy had been made by a friend and started: “A Manuscript Journal of the Travels of Jedediah S. Smith thro’ the Rocky Mountains and West of the same together with a description of the country and customs and manners of the Indians thro’ which he travelled.”
In a letter to a brother, Smith put down the personal creed of the Mountain Man:
“It is, that I may be able to help those who stand in need, that I face every danger – it is for this that I traverse the Mountains covered with eternal Snow – it is for this that I pass over the Sandy Plains, in heat of Summer, thirsting for water, and am well pleased if I can find a shade, instead of water, where I may cool my overheated Body – it is for this that I go for days without eating, & am pretty well satisfied if I can gather a few roots, a few Snails, or, much better Satisfied if we can affod our selves a piece of Horse Flesh, or fine Roasted Dog. . . ”
Pattie has left us a “Personal Narrative during an Expedition from St. Louis, through The Vast Regions between that place and the Pacific Ocean, and thence back through the City of Mexico to Vera Cruz, during journeys of six years; in which he and his Father, who accompanied him, suffered unheard of Hardships and Dangers, had Various Conflicts with the Indians, and were made Captives in which Captivity his Father died; together with a description of the Country, and the Various Nations through which they passed.” His father died when thrown into jail at San Diego, and lies buried somewhere on Presidio Hill. Actually, Pattie’s story was put together by a fiction writer, Timothy Flint, of Cincinnati, who insisted he had kept to the facts though some of Pattie’s experiences in San Diego hardly seem creditable. It doesn’t seem that the Mexicans could have been that officious and suspicious.
The first to arrive at San Diego was Jedediah Smith. While most of the Mountain Men held that “God holds no man accountable after he crosses the Missouri River,” Smith was very religious and always carried a Bible, which he read daily. He presented a grotesque appearance, having been attacked and mutilated by a grizzly bear which charged his horse. Smith, as well as the horse, were knocked to the ground, several of Smith’s ribs were broken, and the bear took nearly all of Smith’s head into his jaws. Half his scalp was laid bare, and one ear was left dangling by a stringlike piece of skin. James Clyman, one of Smith’s companions, volunteered to attempt to dress the wound and sew the scalp back together, with the sewing kit always carried by Mountain Men. Clyman later told the story:
“I put in my needle, stitching it through and through and over and over and laying the lacerated parts together as nice as I could with my hands. Water was found in about a mile, when we all moved down and camped … this gave us a lisson on the character of the grizzly Baare which we did not forget.”
Smith trapped for a commercial organization in which he was a partner, and his expeditions were fairly large. The company that left the Bear River in northern Utah on Aug. 16, 1826, included 18 men and 50 horses, with the hope of crossing the deserts and attempting to reach the fresh, untrapped waters of California. Smith was convinced that lands beyond the Salt Lake were not as impassable as so many others believed them to be, and that there must be a river running west from the interior to the Pacific.
From their winter quarters in Bear Valley, in the upper Wasatch Range, northeast of the Great Salt Lake and on the border of the present states of Utah and Idaho, they went directly south until they met the Sevier River. They followed its course down the Wasatch Range into southern Utah, and somewhere in the vicinity of the Sevier and Virgin Rivers they crossed the divide. Now, where was the great river, that was supposed to exist and flow to the Pacific? They followed the Virgin River southwest through the comer of Utah into southern Nevada, to its junction with the Colorado River, and followed its banks along the California-Arizona border, to the Mojave Desert.
Two runaway Indians from the San Gabriel Mission showed them the way across the desert and to the old Spanish settlements and the fabled California. Nothing could have been more astonishing to the padres than the appearance of the Mountain Men. A land route to California, which had been denied the Spaniards and then the Mexicans by the fierce Yuma Indians, now was held by the Americans. But the padres made them welcome and the trappers rested for two months, enjoying the warm climate and abundant food of the fertile San Gabriel Valley. They had little conception of the historic role they had played in opening an American overland way to a California so weakly held by Mexico. The Mexican officials, and in particular, Gov. Echeandia, however, were somewhat alarmed and suspicious, and required the Smith party to forfeit their weapons during their stay. And as they did not have proper Spanish papers, Smith was ordered to San Diego to explain his reasons for his illegal entry. At the presidio, he showed his American passport, surrendered a diary he had been keeping and said he had come as far only because he was in need of supplies; that his motives were strictly honorable, and merely sought permission, now that he was here, to return by another route, up the California coast to Oregon and to the Columbia River. To this last request, the governor said “no.” He would have to leave the same way he had come into California.
Gov. Echeandia was suspicious and alert, and as he didn’t believe that Smith and his men had walked a thousand miles just to look for furs, accused him of being a spy. This was Echeandia’s favorite accusation. The captains of three American ships in the bay at the time, including William G. Dana, an uncle of Richard Henry Dana, later to etch his own name on the history of San Diego, all vouched for Smith, and when he was allowed to go free, one of them, Capt. William H. Cunningham, took him on the Courier to San Pedro, from where Smith made his way to San Gabriel.
When it came time to leave, one of Smith’s men, John Wilson, refused to leave California. He was the first of many. Two others who had gotten into a fight at San Diego also gave Smith trouble. Jim Reed got drunk, abused an Indian convert, and Smith, according to the harsh law of the frontier, had him taken out and flogged. Dan Ferguson turned up missing. Once through Cajon Pass, and out of the possible sight of the Mexican guards, Smith swung north along the base of the mountains and then re-crossed them to reach the San Joaquin Valley. The trapping was wonderful.
Smith left most of his party in California, while he undertook a return journey, making the first crossing of the Sierra Nevada, experiencing terrible suffering in volcanic hills and in the alkali deserts in which they had to cover themselves with sand to escape death from the heat. Back at his headquarters, he organized a second expedition for California, and while crossing the Colorado River, they were attacked by the Mojave Indians. Ten of his men were killed, only seven of his party managing to escape to the opposite shore, where they barricaded themselves, and with butcher knives tied to saplings, beat off an assault by 500 Indians. Under cover of darkness they slipped away.
In the Sacramento Valley they joined the men who had been left behind. Smith didn’t want to give up the hope of finding the mythical San Buenaventura River which was supposed to flow from the Rocky Mountains all the way to the Pacific Ocean, and he continued trapping in the north. The Mexicans weren’t happy to find him back in California. He was locked up at San Jos6 Mission and accused of claiming United States sovereignty over the valley where they had been camping. Though that charge was dismissed, Smith was removed to Monterey, jailed again, and taken before his old accuser, Gov. Echeandia, on a charge of having violated a pledge to leave California. One of the Smith’s men, who had been wounded in the Colorado River fight, had been left behind in the south and wound up in the San Diego jail. He was released to rejoin Smith, and all agreed to leave California. The party of 20 started north and had an encounter with grizzly bears in which one man was seriously mauled, and Smith himself barely escaped with his life. On the way to Oregon they camped on the Umpqua River. While Smith and two companions scouted ahead upstream, Indians fell upon the camp, and in one minute slaughtered 14 men and one boy. Not a shot had been fired in defense. When Smith returned, he heard the sounds of Indian revelry, slipped up close and saw the mutilated bodies of his men, and the Indians dancing with the grizzly scalps. The three survivors melted into the woods and finally worked up to the protection of an English fort on the Columbia River.
It was the third massacre of a Smith party in five years. He never found the river for which he had searched so long. It never existed. It was Smith, though, who had firmly established the South Pass through the Rocky Mountains, which later became a virtual “Panama Canal” through which immigrant trains crossed from the Great Plains to the Western deserts and drove for California. Five years later, Smith met death when another expedition he was leading ran out of water in the Oklahoma country and he set out to see if he could find a stream or water hole. At the Cimarron River, he was surprised by a band of Comanche Indians, who frightened his horse by flashing mirrors and waving blankets. The horse veered and Smith was turned broadside to his attackers. They closed in on him, and though he managed to kill some of the Indians, he was lanced to death. This was on May 27, 1831.
After Jedediah Smith came others. Of some of the expeditions, such as that of Richard Campbell, little is known. After the American occupation of New Mexico, Lt. James H. Simpson, who was instructed to make a survey for a wagon route from New Mexico to San Diego or Los Angeles, reported that he talked with a Richard Campbell, at Santa Fe, who “informs me that in 1827, with a party of 35 men and a number of pack animals, he travelled from New Mexico to San Diego by way of Zuñi, and the Valley of the Rio de Zuñi, and found no difficulty the whole distance. He further states there is no question that a good wagon route was possible and wood, water and grass can be found in this direction, both to San Diego and the puebla de Los Angeles.” Smith’s narrative after his leaving San Diego and reaching the Northwest, has the following allusion: “In the meantime news came from the south that another party of Americans were near Too Larra Lake. I … was well convinced there were no Americans there… ” Too Larra Lake was Tulare Lake in San Joaquin Valley.
As far as San Diego is concerned, the visit of James Ohio Pattie holds the most interest. He became well acquainted with San Diego’s jail and experienced Echeandia’s official displeasure. Strange winds blew through the hearts of Mountain Men. They were forever restless and forever seeking. The first of the Patties followed Daniel Boone into the Kentucky wilderness; his son, Sylvester, pushed his way into Missouri, and his son, James, joined his father in the long trail to the Colorado and Gila Rivers and to California. They trapped, and sometimes mined, up and down the continent, visiting the Grand Canyon and the Black Canyon, wandering as far north as the Yellowstone, and back to Santa Fe, and into Mexico. At Santa Fe, we pick up a journey of the Patties and six companions to the Gila River and then down the Colorado, in search of Spanish settlements which they believed existed at the mouth of the river, trapping and catching as many as 60 beavers a night, seeing animals resembling the African leopard, which presumably were jaguars, and keeping a close eye on the Yumas, the Cocopa and the Pima Indians. On Jan. 1, 1828, 100 miles below the confluence of the Colorado and the Gila, they ran into trouble. An Indian tribe showered them with arrows. They fired back and brought down six, and “the remainder fell flat, and began to dodge and skulk on all fours, as though the heavens had been loaded with thunder and mill stones, which were about to rain on them from the clouds … the fallen lay on the sandy beach.”
The climate was getting hot and the beaver scarce, and no Spanish settlement, at which they hoped to sell the furs for foreign export, came into sight. The river began to betray them. They experienced the tidal bore, when the tide forces the sea up through the narrowing Gulf of California and against the pressure of the oncoming flow of the Colorado River. The terrifying effect, when the waters can rise or drop 40 feet, was first noted by Francisco de Ulloa who explored the Gulf in 1539.
“On the 18th, we first perceived that we had arrived on the back water of the tide; or rather we first attributed the deadness of the current to the entrance of some inundated river, swollen by the melting of the snow on the mountains. We puzzled our brains with some other theories, to account for the deadness of the current. This became so entirely still, that we began to rig our oars, concluding that instead of our hitherto easy progress of floating gently onward, we had henceforward to make our head-way down stream by dint of the machinery of our arms.
“We soon were thoroughly enlightened in regard to the slackness of the water. It began to run down again, and with the rapidity of six miles an hour; that is, double the ordinary current of the stream. We were all much surprised, for though I had seen the water of the Pacific at Ymus, (Guaymas) none of us had ever felt the influence of the tides, or been in a craft on the ocean waters before.
“We floated on, having had a beautiful evening’s run, and did not come to land, until late; we then pitched our camp on a low point of land, unconscious, from our inexperience of the fact, that the water would return, and run up stream again. We made our canoes fast to some small trees, and all lay down to sleep, except my father, who took the first watch. He soon aroused us, and called on us all to prepare for a gust of wind, and a heavy rain, which he thought betokened by a rushing noise he heard. We realized in a few moments that it was the returning tide. Still, so strongly impressed were we, that a shower was approaching, that we made all the customary arrangements of preparation, by stretching our blankets to keep out the water from above. But our enemy assailed us from another quarter. Our camp was inundated from the river. We landsmen from the interior, and unaccustomed to such movements of the water, stood contemplating with astonishment the rush of the tide coming in from the sea, in conflict with the current of the river. At the point of conflict rose a high ridge of water, over which came the sea current, combing down like water over a milldam. We all sprang to our canoes, which the rush of the water had almost capsized, though we held the fasts with our hands. In 20 minutes the place where we lay asleep, and even our fire place was three feet under water, and our blankets were all afloat. We had some vague and general ideas of the nature of the tide, but its particular operations were as much unknown to us, as though we never had heard of it at all. In the consternation of our ignorance, we paddled our crafts, as well as we could, among the timber, not dreaming in the course of a few hours, the water would fall again. As it was, we gathered up our floating blankets, got into our canoes, and held fast to the brushes, until the water fell again, leaving us and our canoes high and dry. We were now assailed by a new alarm, lest the Indians, taking advantage of this new position in which we were placed, would attack and murder us.”
In some apprehension they passed the night, and in the morning, with their spirits renewed and their clothes dried, they resumed their journey down the river, still expecting to find the Spanish settlements, until Jan. 28. When the tide ran out, the surf came up the river in a surging commotion.
“Here we were placed in a new position, not the least disheartening or trying, among the painful predicaments, in which fortune had placed us. The fierce billows shut us in from below, the river current from above, and murderous savages upon either hand on the shore. We had a rich cargo of furs, a little independence for each one of us, could we have disposed of them as we had hoped, among the Spanish people, whom we expected to have found here. There were no such settlements. Every side on which we looked offered an array of danger, famine and death. In this predicament, what were furs to us? Our first thought was to commit our furs to the waters, and attempt to escape with our lives. Our second resolve was to ascend the river as far as we could, bury our furs, and start on foot for some settlement. We saw that the chances were greatly against us, that we should perish in the attempt; for the country yielded little to subsist on, and was full of Indians who are to the last degree savage and murderous, and whom nothing can subdue to kindness and friendship. We had no idea of ever putting ourselves in their power, as long as one of us could fire a pistol, or draw a knife.
“We now began to ascend with the tide, when it served us, and lay by when it ran down, until we arrived at the point where it ceased to flow. We then applied our oars, and with the help of setting-poles, and at times the aid of a cordelle, we stemmed the current at the rate of one, and sometimes two miles an hour, until the 10th of February, when we met a great rise of the river, and found the current so strong, that we had no power to stem it in any way. So we concluded to abandon our canoes, come to shore, bury our furs, and make our way across the peninsula to the coast of California, which we thought from the information of the Indians, could not be very distant.”
Then began an epic journey across the wastes of Baja California, one that does not suffer in the telling. They worked their way through the river grass, weeds brush and vines of the river bottom, and came to the edge of a large salt plain.
“Here we struck a northwest course, and traveled the remainder of this hot and fatiguing day without finding any water. We began to suffer severely from thirst. The earth, also, was so loose and sandy, that at every step we sank to our ankles, the sun beaming down a fierce radiance the while; which made it seem as if the heavens and the earth were on fire. Our tongues became so parched, that not a particle of moisture flowed into our mouths. In this miserable and forlorn condition, abandoned by strength, courage and hope, we found some little alleviation of our misery, when the blaze of the sun was gone, and the cool night enabled us to throw down our weary and exhausted bodies under its dewy shade.”
The morning brought no relief but in the afternoon they came in the sight of a little lake, and their joy knew no bounds. The water was too salty to drink, and in their sorrow and distress, they could look up to the high Sierra de Juarez Mountains, in north central Baja California, with their tantalizing snow-topped peaks glittering in the winter sun. They crossed the lake, probably one of the lower beds of the salt plain that farther north forms the Laguna Salada and which are filled periodically by tidal flow from the Gulf of California. Many American fliers have met death when forced down in this grim land.
Ascending some small hills they came upon an Indian encampment, made themselves sick drinking water, and were welcomed after assuring the Indians they were Christians and friendly Americans. One of them, however, to satisfy the curiosity of the Indians, especially of the women, had to strip himself so they could pinch and admire his white skin. The young girls had hair that reached almost to the ground. The chief agreed to supply guides to direct them to the Spanish settlements which, however, were not below them but to the west, on the coast, and beyond the mountains.
They pushed on:
“What with the fierce sun and the scorching sand, and our extreme fatigue, the air seemed soon to have extracted every particle of moisture from our bodies. In this condition we marched on until nearly the middle of the day, without descrying any indication of water in any quarter. A small shrubby tree stood in our way, affording a tolerable shade. We laid ourselves down to get a few minutes rest. The Indians sternly beckoned us to be up and onward, now for the first time clearly explaining to us, that there was no water until we reached the mountains in view. This unseasonable and vet necessary information, extinguished the last remainder of our hope, and we openly expressed our fears that we should none of us ever reach it.
“We attempted to chew tobacco. It would raise no moisture. We took our bullets in our mouths, and moved them round to create a moisture, to relieve our parched throats. We had traveled but a little farther before our tongues had become so dry and swollen, that we could scarcely speak so as to be understood. In this extremity of nature, we should, perhaps, have sunk voluntarily, had not the relief been still in view on the sides of the snow covered mountains.
“Two of our companions here gave out, and lay down under the shade of a bush. Their tongues were so swollen, and their eyes so sunk in their heads, that they were a spectacle to behold. We were scarcely able, from the condition of our own mouth, to bid them an articulate farewell. We never expected to see them again, and none of us had much hope of ever reaching the mountain, which still raised its white summit at a great distance from us. It was with difficulty that we were enabled to advance one foot before the other. Our limbs, our powers, even our very resolutions seemed palsied. A circumstance that added to our distress, was the excessive and dazzling brightness of the sun’s rays, so reflected in our eyes from the white sand that we were scarcely able to see our way before us, or in what direction to follow our guides, They, accustomed to go naked, and to traverse these burning deserts, and be unaffected by such trials, appeared to stand the heat and drought, like camels on the Arabian sands. They, however, tried by their looks and gestures to encourage us, and induce us to quicken our pace. But it was to no purpose. However, we still kept moving onward, and had gained a few miles more, when night brought us shelter at least from the insupportable radiance of the sun, and something of coolness and moisture.”
At dark, camp was made, a fire lighted and shots fired to encourage the companions they had left behind. They answered and believing water had been found, pulled themselves ahead. They cursed with bitterness and said they wished they had been left behind to die in peace. With daylight, all crawled or dragged themselves onward until they sank into despair trying to climb a sandy hill.
“The sun was now so high, as to beam upon us with the same insufferable radiance of yesterday. The air which we inhaled, seemed to scald our lungs. We at length concluded to travel towards the north, to reach, if we might, some point where the hill was not so steep to ascend. At two in the afternoon we found a place that was neither so steep nor so high, and we determined here to attempt to cross the hill. With great exertions and infinite difficulty, a part of us gained the summit of the hill; but my father and another of our company, somewhat advanced in years, gave out below, though they made the most persevering efforts to reach the summit of the hill with the rest. Age had stiffened their joints, and laid its palsying hand upon their once active limbs, and vigorous frames. They could endure this dreadful journey no longer. They had become so exhausted by fruitless efforts to climb the hill, that they could no longer drag one foot after the other. They had each so completely abandoned the hope of ever reaching the water, or even gaining the summit of the hill, that they threw themselves on the ground, apparently convinced of their fate, and resigned to die.”
There, Pattie left his father and another trapper by the name of Slover, and few of the party ever thought they would see them alive again. But water had to be found, or all would perish. Climbing a second sandy hill they beheld a stream. To them it seemed a miracle. Pattie rushed back to take water to his father.
“We found them in the same position in which we had left them, that is, stretched on the sand at full length, under the unclouded blaze of the sun, and both fast asleep; a sleep from which, but for our relief, I believe they would neither of them ever have awakened. Their lips were black, and their parched mouths wide open. Their unmoving posture and their sunken eyes so resembled death, that I ran in a fright to my father, thinking him, for a moment, really dead. But he easily awakened, and drank the refreshing water.”
Eight days later after crossing the summit of the mountains, they met some Christian Indians and learned that the Dominican Mission of Santa Catalina, on the headwaters of the San Quintin River, was only four days’ march away. Pattie injured a foot, had to be temporarily left behind, then carried to the mission by Indians. Being foreigners, all were promptly thrown in the guardhouse by Mexican soldiers. They remained there a week and then were taken under guard, to a mission which Pattie identified as St. Sebastian. There was no mission by that name, so it must have been San Vicente, near the coast, southwest from Santa Catalina. Although still in custody, they were treated with courtesy while the sergeant got in touch with the post commander who was away at San Diego. Word finally came — Pattie’s party was to be taken to the port of San Diego under guard. They went by way of Mission Santo Tomás, south of Ensenada, and San Miguel, 55 miles below San Diego, arriving at the presidio on March 26, 1828.
“In the evening we came in sight of San Diego, the place where we were bound. In this port was one merchant vessel, the ship Franklin of Boston.”
They were asked to surrender their arms, as they were considered to be prisoners, and reluctantly obeying, were again, locked up, this time in the jailhouse on Presidio Hill. Hoping for a fair hearing, they gave themselves up to rest.
“We forgot our past troubles, opened our bosom to hope, and resigned ourselves to profound sleep. It is true, innumerable droves of fleas performed their evolutions, and bit all their pleasures upon our bodies. But so entire was our repose, that we scarcely turned for the night. No dreams of what was in reserve for us the following day floated across our minds; though in the morning my body was as spotted as though I have measles, and my shirt specked with innumerable stains of blood, let by the ingenious lancets of these same Spanish fleas.”
Evidently San Diego was rife with suspicion and trouble. In the morning they were taken into the general’s office, with their hats in hand, and Gov. Echeandia began an official interrogation of Pattie, who knew Spanish from his operations in New Mexico and Sonora.
“The first question was, who we were? We answered, Americans. He proceeded to ask us, how we came on the coast, what was our object, and had we a passport? In answer to these questions we again went over the story of our misfortunes. We then gave him the passport which we had received from the governor of Santa Fe. He examined this instrument, and with a sinister and malicious smile, observed that he believed nothing of all this, but considered us worse than thieves and murderers; in fact, that he held us to be spies for the old Spaniards, and that our business was to lurk about the country, that we might inspect the weak and defenseless points of the frontiers, and point them out to the Spaniards, in order that they might introduce their troops into the country; but that he would utterly detect us, and prevent our designs. This last remark he uttered with a look of vengeance; and then reperused the passport, which he tore in pieces, saying, it was no passport, but a vile forgery of our own contrivance.”
Pattie was astounded. He insisted that all of them were fullblooded republicans and would rather die than be the spies and instruments of the Spanish King, or any other king. The general ordered them into silence, saying he didn’t want to hear any long speeches, and, they didn’t have valid papers of entry, they were going to stay in jail. Their guns were locked up, they were searched and their knives taken from them. They were ordered confined in separate cells, despite the pleading of father and son that they wanted to remain together.
“My prison was a cell eight or 10 feet square, with walls and floor of stone. A door with iron bars an inch square crossed over each other, like the bars of window sashes, and it grated on its iron hinges, as it opened to receive me. Over the external front of this prison was inscribed Destinación de la Cattivo. Our blankets were given us to lie upon. My father had a small package of medicines which he gave in charge to the sergeant, binding him on his word of honor not to part with it to any one. My door was locked, and I was left to reflect upon our position and my past misfortunes; and to survey the dreary walls of my prison. Here, I thought, was my everlasting abode. Liberty is dear to every one, but doubly dear to one, who had been from infancy accustomed to free range, and to be guided by his own will. Put a man, who has ranged the prairies, and exulted in the wilderness, as I have for years, in a prison, to let him have a full taste of the blessings of freedom, and the horror of shackles and confinement! I passed the remainder of the day in fierce walking backwards and forwards over my stone floor, with no object to contemplate, but my swarthy sentinel, through the grate. He seemed to be true to his office, and fitly selected for his business, for I thought I saw him look at me through the grate with the natural exultation and joy of a bad and malicious heart in the view of misery.
“The church bell tolled eight in the morning. The drum rolled. A soldier came, and handed me in something to eat. It proved to be dried beans and corn cooked with rancid tallow! The contents were about a pint. I took it up, and brought it within the reach of my nostrils, and sat it down in unconquerable loathing. When the soldier returned in the evening to bring me more, I handed him my morning ration untasted and just as it was. He asked me in a gruff tone why I had not eaten it? I told him the smell of it was enough, and that I could not eat it. He threw the contents of the dish in my face, muttering something which amounted to saying, that it was good enough for such a brute as I was. To this I answered, that if being a brute gave claims upon that dish, I thought he had best eat it himself. On this he flung away in a passion, and returned no more that night, for which I was not sorry. Had the food even been fit to eat, my thoughts were too dark and my mind too much agitated to allow me appetite. In fact, I felt myself becoming sick.”
The sergeant of the post befriended Pattie as well as his father and brought him some palatable food. Soon he had regular visits, according to his story, from a woman of great personal beauty and of kind and affectionate nature, who promised to pray for him and to try and intercede on his behalf with the adamant general. Pattie identified her as a “Miss Peaks,” and Bancroft thinks she may have been the sister of the friendly Sgt. Pico. The captain, of the American ship Franklin in the harbor, John Bradshaw, asked permission of the general to visit Pattie, and it was denied.
“But Captain Bradshaw, like a true hearted American, disregarded the little brief authority of this miserable republican despot, and fearless of danger and the consequences, came to see me without leave. When I spoke to him about our buried furs, he asked me about the chances and the means we had to bring them in? And whether we were disposed to make the effort, and if we succeeded, to sell them to him? The prisoners, as he separately applied to them, one and all assured him, that nothing would give them more pleasure. He assured us, that he would leave nothing in his power undone, in making efforts to deliver us from our confinement. We thanked him for this proffered friendship, and he departed.”
Bradshaw attempted to have Pattie released temporarily as an interpreter, and also offered himself as a bond while Pattie returned to the Colorado River for the valuable furs, but all to no avail. It was jail and nothing else. A fortnight passed, and then Pattie received a note from his father, which was written in blood “drawn from his aged veins.” The father feared that he was dying. Thus, as Pattie wrote, passed the days of agony and suspense. “But no grief arrests the flight of time, and the 24th of April came in which the sergeant visited me and in a manner of mingled kindness and firmness told me that my father was no more.”
The funeral services were held the next day on Presidio Hill.
“At eight in the morning, a file of six soldiers appeared at the door of my prison. It was opened, and I once more breathed the fresh air! The earth and the sky seemed a new region. The glare of light dazzled my eyes, and dizzied my head. I reeled as I walked. A lieutenant conducted the ceremonies: and when I arrived at the grave he ordered the crowd to give way, that I might see the coffin that contained the remains of the brave hunter and ranger. The coffin was covered with black. No prayers were said. I had scarce time to draw a second breath, before the grave was half filled with earth. I was led back to my prison, the young lady walking by my side in tears.”
His narrative has a scene of the burial ceremony, which greatly exaggerates the appearance of the presidio walls and buildings, and probably the dress of those attending. Presumably the father was buried in the little cemetery beside the church, as were the early Spaniards and Mexicans, though no actual graves ever have been found.
Though there were other American ships in the port at the time, on the 27th of June, Captain Bradshaw was accused of smuggling on the Baja California coast and in the Gulf of California, of transferring cargo from one ship to another illegally, touching at Santa Catalina without authority, refusing to show his papers, and, worst of all, of insolence to the governor. The padres were ordered not to have any business with him. The difficulties at the port called for an interpreter, and Pattie was taken from jail to read English documents which the general had received. A more friendly atmosphere gradually developed, and the general even took to saluting him, finally promising that if he could prove he wasn’t a spy, he would be freed. A week of more disappointments went by, and when Pattie was called in again as an interpreter, he refused to serve, was whacked across the head with the general’s sword, and locked up tightly once more. Eventually, he and the other prisoners won a little freedom, and the long summer passed. In September he was allowed to make arrangements to send his men to the river to retrieve their furs, but on condition he remain as a hostage. If the others did not return, he would be executed.
Pattie stayed behind, was accused of intrigue with Capt. Bradshaw and again threatened with death. There was some debate, he says, whether he would be burned. The ship Franklin finally escaped from detention, and while Pattie’s narrative and Spanish and American documents do not all agree on what happened and when it happened, here is his version:
“A few days only elapsed before, the breeze serving, the Captain slipped anchor, and ran out of the port. He was compelled to perform this under a heavy shower of cannon balls poured forth from the fort, within two hundred yards of which he was obliged to pass. When he came opposite it, he hove to, and gave them a broadside in return, which frightened the poor engineers from their guns. His escape from the port was made without suffering any serious injury on his part. Their shots entered the hull of the vessel, and the sails were considerably cut by the grape. I was greatly rejoiced when I heard of their escape from these thieves. The general pretended great disgust at the cowardly conduct of the engineers, but, I believe, had he been there, he would have run too. I have no faith in the courage of these people, except where they have greatly the advantage, or can kill in the dark, without danger to themselves. This in my view is the amount of a Spaniard’s bravery.”
The second battle of San Diego apparently did more damage than the first one involving the Lelia Byrd. Duhaut-Cilly had been requested by the governor to provide a boat so he could put a guard on the Franklin, and while he stalled, the Franklin moved up nearer the port entrance, and on the morning of July 16, she slipped her anchor and sailed past Ballast Point, her crew hurling defiance at Fort Guijarros and shouting derision at the Mexican flag. The fort sent between 36 and 40 cannon balls her way. Once off the point, she fired a broadside of farewell and disappeared over the horizon. Duhaut-Cilly again met up with the Franklin in the Hawaiian Islands and learned that two holes had been driven through her hull, the rigging damaged, and Bradshaw himself slightly hurt.
Four of Pattie’s men returned from the Colorado, two having deserted, but without furs – they had been spoiled by an overflow of the river, as Pattie had feared. Thus was lost a small fortune.
Americans were becoming nothing but trouble to the officious Echeandia. His troops had seized another American, Charles Lang, whom Pattie identified as James Lang, at Todos Santos Bay, with an organ and two trunks of dry goods, who claimed he had left the American ship Alabama with the intention of settling in California. Echeandia suspected they were smugglers and seized the goods. Pattie and Lang made some attempts to join up and escape in the brig which Lang said was in southern waters, but nothing came of them. The goods confiscated from Lang and the two companions and two Hawaiians who were with him, were sold at auction and Lang’s case forwarded to Mexico City and then to a district judge at Guaymas for disposition. What eventually happened is not known.
The weeks and months rolled on, and until in December, a smallpox epidemic swept through the missions in Northern California, and according to Pattie’s narrative, the key to freedom was at hand. He had in his possession a new vaccine, and upon his promise to vaccinate one and all, he was granted the freedom of the presidio. He claims that from the 18th of January, to the 16th of February, 1829, he vaccinated all the people belonging to the fort and the Indian inhabitants of the Mission San Diego. In return, the general gave them parole for a year, an introduction to all priests along the coast, and received a pledge to vaccinate all the inhabitants of the coast. From there Pattie and his men went to San Luis Rey Mission, where he suggests, he vaccinated 3904 Indians. Strangely, the records of the period are silent as to these incidents and to a widespread epidemic of smallpox, though an unusual number of deaths is reflected in mission reports in Northern California for that period. At San Francisco, Pattie wanted to settle up with the authorities, for his invaluable services, and finally he was handed a paper which read:
“I certify that James 0. Pattie has vaccinated all the Indians and whites on this coast, and to recompense him for the same, I give the said James 0. Pattie my obligation for 100 head of cattle, and land to pasture them; that is, 500 cows and 500 mules. This he is to receive after he becomes a Catholic, and a subject of this government. Given in the Mission of St. Francisco on the 8th of July, in the year 1829.” – John Cabortes
Well, Pattie was outraged. He later turned up as a participant in California revolutions.
The first to follow the trappers were the traders. Out of the pioneering efforts of Pattie and Smith there developed a direct trade with New Mexico. New Mexicans first brought sarapes and frazadas for the Indians in exchange for beaver skins. In California the colorful blankets were traded to the natives for mules of a much larger and stronger breed than found in New Mexico and which were used on the Missouri and Santa Fe trails. Soon caravans of pack animals were making yearly trips to California, down the river routes, across the desert and up Cajon Pass to Los Angeles, from where agents would fan out over the province, from San Diego to San Francisco, trading the woolen fabrics of New Mexico for the silk and other goods brought in by sea from China.
Return to Books.
THE TIME OF THE BELLS
Ch. 1 The Ring of Faith
Ch. 2 The Fight to Live
Ch. 3 The Test by Fire
Ch. 4 Death on a River
Ch. 5 Opening the Land
Ch. 6 Fr. Serra’s Death
Ch. 7 George Vancouver
Ch. 8 The Boston Ships
Ch. 9 The Golden Age
Ch. 10 Capt. Duhaut-Cilly
Ch. 11 The Mountain Men
Ch. 12 The Hide Droghers
Ch. 13 Alfred Robinson
Ch. 14 Richard Henry Dana
Ch. 15 The Toll of Time