The Silver Dons, 1833-1865
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Empires of Cattle
The crack of the cattle whip echoed along worn El Camino Real as the rancheros and their vaqueros drove their herds north to the gold country. Cattle were reported bringing $75 a head in San Francisco, and in May of 1852 Cave Couts wrote to his brother-in-law, Abel Stearns, that he was leaving the Soledad with 800 head of cattle, large and small, and using one hundred mares, and Bandini was preparing a corral in which he hoped to gather a thousand head, mostly from Lower California.
The long drives were handled by the majordomo and four or five vaqueros. They started from San Diego when the winter grass reached maturity, and moved from ten to fifteen miles a day along the mission road through Soledad Valley, back of Del Mar, and across Rancho Santa Fe and through to Mission San Luis Rey, and then to San Gabriel. There, they left the mission trail and were taken across Tehachapi Mountains into the San Joaquin Valley. At San Jose and at Sacramento, or along the shores of San Francisco Bay, the cattle were fattened and then sold to supply the demands of the gold market.
With the Indian problem at least temporarily relieved, all of the rancheros had their stock on the trail that spring, through a countryside so heavy in yellow mustard weed that they often lost sight of the cattle. Stampedes and thieves plagued their steps. Couts tells of outwitting a nest of thieves at Santa Clara, but others were not so fortunate, John Forster, José Antonio Estudillo, the Machados and others losing large numbers.
The market was not as good as had been reported that summer, though Couts sold 943 cattle at $20 a head at San Joaquin City. Buyers reported that at least 50,000 loose cattle were roaming the interior valleys and it was feared they would depress the market, and more cattle were reported on the trail to California from Texas. It was the California gold trail which established the cattle industry in the Southwest. Although some cattle had been driven from the Texas ranges northward to Missouri and eastward to New Orleans for a number of years, 1500-mile treks to California were the first major American drives, though they have received little place in the literature of the Great West.
Large herds began to appear on the Gila Trail as early as 1849, though generally they were part of the many immigrant trains. By 1853, with the cattle market still strong in San Francisco and Stockton, thousands upon thousands of cattle bought for as low as $5 a head in Texas were driven across the blazing deserts, their progress marked by the bones of lost or parched animals.
The Herald on November 11,1854, reported:
“A man recently in from the Colorado informs us that there are large parties of emigrants on the road — most of them will go up the country by the way of the Monte and San Gabriel. They have a large amount of stock and they are generally better fitted-out than the emigration of any previous year. There is a large amount of stock being driven over this year — mostly from Texas — amounting during the past eight weeks to something like 6000 head of cattle across the Colorado. Among the others, Mr. Dunlap has crossed 500 head; Erskine, 800 and a Mr. Ryne, who lost so many cattles last year by the Apaches, has over a 1000.”
The diary of Michael Erskine tells of crossing the desert in October with 800 to 900 cattle, and coming upon a place where a drive just ahead of them had lost 100 to 125 cattle from poisoned feed or water, and that their own cattle had stampeded time and again. Four of the animals were so worn they fell dead while the herders were trying to force them up over Box Canyon. The cattle often were rested and fattened in the mountain valleys of the Lagunas and Cuyamaca, before being taken back on the trail.
In December, Couts was able to report to Stearns from San Francisco that “cattle are the highest & in greater demand than ever before. Good beef cattle. If you can, at this season, part with from five hundred to a thousand head of fat cattle, and turn them over to me on shares, I will defer my trip to the states for the present and drive them up.” If they could be brought up fat, “my word for it they will pay handsomely.”
Prosperity rushed upon the ranchos and the future of Southern California was determined for many years to come. Horace Bell, in his “Reminiscences of a Ranger,” says that rancheros paid as much as $2000 for silver trappings for their horses and $1000 for their costumes. While the population of Northern California grew swiftly, and industrialization followed upon the gold mining, the South remained largely a pastoral country and its counties became known as the “cow counties.” Statehood had not solved political problems and the Southerners were resentful of domination by the North. Taxation without representation became an issue that led to repeated movements to divide California into two states. New Town experienced a temporary revival of activity because of the arrival during the year of several hundred more persons, with all of the houses occupied, but in Old Town the Colorado House and several stores had been closed down, and signs of decay were beginning to creep over old adobe walls. John Russell Bartlett, with the second United States Boundary Commission, wrote in his “Personal Narrative” that San Diego, like Monterey, was noted for its excellent society:
“There remain many of the old Castillian families here, who have preserved their blood from all mixture with the Indians. In this circle all Americans and foreigners visiting the place have experienced much pleasure, for such is its refined and social character, that one almost imagines himself once again enjoying the delights of home. The California ladies are said to possess all the fine qualities of their sex, whether of the head or heart, and make the most excellent wives. Such have been the attractions of these fair señoritas for the young American officers, that many have been induced to relinquish their commissions in the U.S. Army, and become planters and stock raisers in California.”
Old San Diego reached the height of its civic and social life. A grand ball, typical of ones being held in Old Town despite the roughness of the times, was given in April of 1852 by the newly-organized Pacific Pioneer Yacht Club. The Herald describes the event at the Gila House as follows:
“At half past eight P.M. a brilliant band, in their full uniform, marched through the public plaza and entered the salon to the tune “Come Haste to the Wedding.” At 9 the salon began to fill with the fashion and beauty of San Diego and vicinity; all the ranchos not further than a hundred miles, poured out their gay and graceful doñas, who with lidded eyes, bounding feet and palpitating hearts, might compare favorably for beauty, grace, symmetry and je ne sais quoi female attraction, with any other community on record. The officers of the United States Army and Navy made their appearance in large numbers, in full dress, while the brilliancy of their uniforms was admirably sustained by the courteous ease and their vanity of polished gentlemen.
“At 12:00, supper was announced, the long and glittering line of Señoritas and Caballeros marched in to the stirring strains of the well-appointed band playing “The Campbells are Coming.” The table presented a spectacle rarely seen in any country, never before in California. A large paté graced the center of the board and was composed of peacocks, whose gaudy plumage was artistically arranged with the most striking effect. Bears, hams, green turtles stewed in the shell, haunches of elk, antelope and deer, wild turkey and wild geese, canvas backed ducks and mallards, snipe, plover and curlews, grouse, partridges and . . . fish of the lakes, rivers and the ocean, oysters, clams, rozar fish, crayfish, pastry, fruits and flowers — in fine, everything that could be obtained or thought of, decked the festive board and insistent and merry popping of Champagne corks, french liqueurs, aromatic coffee and refreshing tea, gave proof of the abundance of good things in the liquid line.”
The grand Don of San Diego, José Antonio Estudillo, died in 1852 at the age of 47. With him passed much of the Spanish flavor that had lingered ever since the revolution in Mexico. The grace and ease of the pastoral days were gone. His home had been a fortress in time of trouble and its chapel had kept flickering the flame of Catholic faith.
He and his family held the adjoining ranchos of Janal and Otay, and his son, José G. Estudillo, went before the United States Land Commission, as did all of the Dons, to fight for the lands which had been granted to them which they thought had been guaranteed by the American invaders. The Land Act of 1851 made it necessary for all claimants to present their petitions for verification within two years or forfeit their rights, and as the burden of proof was placed on the Dons, they often were hard-pressed to locate the carelessly drawn titles and maps of by-gone days. Friends testified for each other as to boundaries that were both vague and altered by use and claims of squatters. The Land Commission hearings went on for ten years, and court hearings followed upon them, until lawyer fees and court costs had eaten up much of the wealth that the land had represented.
The right of the widow of Juan María Osuna to possession of San Dieguito Rancho, or Rancho Santa Fe, was challenged by the U.S. Attorney because she was unable to produce a map and could not prove she had built and occupied a home within one year of receiving the property. She produced her own sketch of the location of the home she said the family had built, and Santiago Arguello came to her defense, testifying that he knew of his own knowledge that a house had been built, and that he personally had defined the boundaries of the rancho in settlement of a boundary dispute.
Jesús Moreno was a witness for the widow of Capt. Snook on her claim for Rancho San Bernardo, and he testified that he was well acquainted with the boundaries as he had lived in the neighborhood for twenty-four years and that in passing by he had seen the servants of Capt. Snook piling up stones and was told these were the marks of Snook’s boundaries.
The children of Miguel and María Antonia Estudillo de Pedrorena were aided in their fight for possession of El Cajon Rancho by Santiago Arguello who said he knew that Señora Pedrorena had settled upon the rancho with her husband in the year 1845 and that they had built houses and corrals for their stock and occupied it with their family and cattle until the time of the death of Miguel Pedrorena, and harvested large crops from the land. Apolinaria Lorenzana, the orphan friend and benefactor of the Indians, had lived on her Jamacha Rancho but had removed her cattle and possessions as a consequence of the war. Her claim was challenged by the government on the contention she had no map outlining the boundaries and had failed to comply with the conditions of building a house and living in it.
And so they went. The Land Act had been written to aid the new settlers more than the old families, and squatters had torn down fences, moved known boundary markers, and occupied remote valleys, and the rancheros were finding it more difficult month after month to dislodge them. Though he was a successful petitioner before the Land Commission, Warner never returned to his trading post on the immigrant trail. After serving out his term as a state senator, and as a member of the first county Board of Supervisors which convened on January 1, 1853, he removed to Los Angeles in 1855. Sections of the ranch were sold off to satisfy creditors. In the Southern Californian of April 11, 1855, Bandini commented bitterly on decisions of the Commission:
“Of the lands mentioned, some have been in the quiet possession of the proprietors and their families for forty and fifty years. On them they have reared themselves homes — they have enclosed and cultivated fields — there they and their children were born — and there they lived in peace and comparative plenty. But now — “Our inheritance is turned to strangers — our houses to aliens. We have drunken our water for money — our wood is sold unto us. Our necks are under persecution — we labor and have no rest.” “
The first County Board of Supervisors was created in 1853 by the old San Diego Court of Sessions which had governed affairs of the county since 1850, and the seven elected members reported they found the books and accounts a “botch of botches,” incomplete and incomprehensible. One of the Board’s first acts was to order diversion of three-fifths of the poll tax levied on every able-bodied man to the support of roads and highways, and those not paying were required to work it off.
The sport of bullfighting continued in the Plaza for a number of years, and Ames, an editor from New England, looked upon the events with some distaste, reporting on occasion that “several . . . bulls were bothered or tortured to different degrees of insanity, but nobody suffered damage in the conflict.” If there wasn’t a bullfight, there was a horse race and betting. He was distressed by the lack of interest in establishing public or private schools, and deplored seeing “daily running in our streets ragged little urchins who have neither the modesty of youth nor the decency of shame.”
The deterioration of New Town, despite a temporary demand for its houses, continued, and in July of 1853 the Herald moved into the Colorado House in Old Town and Ames re-named it “The Herald Building.” The growing Protestant population made the Masons a strong factor in San Diego, and Fr. Holbein, who had administered the last rites to the Garra insurrectionists, forbade his flock to look upon their ceremonies, or even to go out into the streets during a Masonic procession. The Herald in September 1853 noted with great relief that Fr. Holbein was leaving Old Town. Because of the strong feelings which had been aroused, gifts to complete the Catholic Church had dwindled, and it was never finished. High water in the San Diego River in January of 1855 undermined the foundations and the building collapsed.
There was considerable worry about the future of San Diego because of the silting up of the bay. Frequent attempts by local residents to force the river back into its old channel, by erection of barriers of sand and brush, had failed. The U.S. Coast Survey warned in 1851 that the bay might be destroyed entirely “and this is an excellent harbour and its loss would be severely felt.”
On January 8, 1853, Lt. George Derby, of the U.S. Topographical Engineers, came to San Diego to report on what should be done. He had made a number of reconnaissances in the West for the Army and had explored the lower Colorado River in search of a suitable supply route to Fort Yuma. But Derby was known in later years, not for his contributions as an engineer and explorer, but as a humorist, writing under the name of John Phoenix. He contributed many articles to the San Diego Herald, even serving for a while as its editor while Ames was on one of his many unexplained trips to San Francisco, and reversing its political complexion from Democrat to Whig. Ames gave no indication of being outraged, continued to use Derby’s writings and took a collection of them to New York, where they were published in book form under the title, “Phoenixiana.”
As Derby’s ship pulled into San Diego Bay he saw “two crazy old hulks riding at anchor” and a bark he identified as the Clarissa Andrews, filled with coal for the Pacific Mail Steamship Co., “wherein dwells Captain Bogart, like a second Robinson Crusoe.” Capt. J. C. Bogart, once on the whaler Black Warrior, became the steamship agent at La Playa and later was active in politics.
A study of the river showed that while its bed usually was dry between May 1 to November 1, freshets occurred during the rainy season; the ordinary rapidity of the current was two to three miles an hour, and its greatest ordinary depth two to three feet, but during the freshets, its velocity would rise to five miles an hour, its depth five to six feet and its width from 100 to 400 feet. At times much of the entire plain between Old Town and Point Loma was covered with flood water, presenting the appearance of a lake.
The plan recommended by Derby, for a new and straight channel two miles in length leading directly to Mission Bay with the south or harbor side to be buttressed with an embankment of heavy construction, was not approved by the Board of Engineers. He was instructed to deepen the old twisting channel to Mission Bay. Sand excavated from the river bed was thrown southward to form a levee. Where his line crossed the existing river bed he erected a bulkhead of dirt and timber, which had the effect of turning the river into False Bay. In his report Derby warned that the whole plain had a substratum of quicksand and that any barrier on such a soil would be quickly undermined.
The work was begun in late September and Derby commented that he had come to San Diego to dam the river and he had damned it ever since. The job, done with Indian labor, was finished in November. The dike began to give way within two years, with the exceptionally heavy rains of 1855, and the river returned to its old channel into San Diego Bay. Flood water perhaps scoured out the burial grounds across the river, at the site of the ruined church, and at the foot of Presidio Hill near the aged palm trees, as it was about this time that a new cemetery south of town came into use.
The Old Town of Derby’s day had about 100 houses, some of wood but mostly yet of adobe, and contained about 700 inhabitants, “two thirds whom are `native and to the manor born,’ the remainder a mixture of American, English, German, Hebrew, and Pike County . . .” He stopped at the Exchange Hotel, which he noted was maintained “by Hoof (familiarly known as Johnny, but whom I have christened `Cloven’) and Tibbets, who also is called Two-bitts, in honorable distinction from an unworthy partner he once had, who obtained unenviable notoriety as `Picayune Smith.”‘
He referred to George P. Tebbetts, whose name sometimes appears in the record as “Tibbitts,” and P. H. Hooff.
As acting editor of the Herald he reported:
“Very little news will be found in the Herald this week: the fact is, there never is much news in it, and it is well that it is so; the climate here is so delightful, that residents, in the enjoyment of the dolce far niente, care very little about what is going on elsewhere, and residents of other places care very little about what is going on in San Diego.”
When he brought his bride from San Francisco, he resided in a two-story frame house owned by Juan Bandini which a son-in-law, Charles Johnson, had been occupying. It later became the property of the Pendleton brothers, George A. and Eugene. George Pendleton married Concepción Estudillo, daughter of José Antonio Estudillo. Derby visited the Gardiner and Bleecker Store at La Playa, “than the inside of which nothing could be bleaker, for there’s nothing in it,” and saw the ruins of two of the hide houses immortalized by Dana and commented that “from present appearances one would be little disposed to imagine that the Playa in five or six years might become a city of the size of Louisville, with brick buildings, paved streets, gas lights, theaters, gambling houses, and so forth. It is not all improbable, however, should the great Pacific Railroad terminate at San Diego. . .”
The political battle over the selection of a route for a transcontinental railroad kept the Congress busy for many years. At one point Sen. Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri quoted Kit Carson as saying the Southwest was so desolate a wolf could not make a living in it, and ridiculed the idea of a railroad running along and at times below the international border as had been recommended by Emory, stating that “it takes a grand national school like West Point to put national roads outside of a country and leave the interior without one.”
Waving aloft a map of San Diego which had been termed a “paper city,” and referring to investments there of Maj. Emory and other military officers, he said:
“It is said to belong to the military — to the scientific corps — and to be divided into many shares, and expected to make fortunes of the shareholders or lot holders as soon as Congress sends the Pacific Railroad to it.”
In a letter to his mother, Thomas Whaley wrote:
“. . . I have a Rockaway waggon which will hold four or six persons comfortably and a fine span of sorrels with silver mounted harness, so that we enjoy ourselves to the envy of a great many. We all talk about the great railroad and believe that it must terminate here. And if it does I have enough land to make me as rich as any man can wish to be. For this alone, I am induced to remain in this dreary place, the inhabitants of which (many of them) are from the rough-scruff of creation. But when things take a change and we have more people here, the villains who trample upon honest men now will sink into insignificance and become the inmates of a prison or poor house. Let this suffice for the present dear mother. . .”
All the hopes of San Diego now rested on the topographical surveys to locate suitable passes through the Sierra Nevada and Coast Range for a railroad route to connect California with the East. The expedition of Lt. R. S. Williamson first explored five passes in the Sierras, of which only two were found practicable, and then examined the passes into Los Angeles and San Diego. Three passes were found, New Pass connecting the desert with Santa Clara River valley north of Los Angeles, Cajon Pass, which led to Los Angeles, and San Gorgonio Pass, which was pronounced the best.
The report was a blow to San Diego. It found that there was no feasible route between the Gila River and San Diego, that both Warner’s Pass and Jacumba Pass were impracticable. Enroute to San Diego, with his only barometer broken, Williamson reported that “the wagon road on which we travelled is so utterly impractical that it would have been wasting time to have attempted more than a with the eye.” As for Jacumba, or Jacum pass, as it was known, he reported that Lt. J. G. Parke had made a rapid reconnaissance and “the mountains were high and rugged and it was almost impossible to travel by muleback off the trail.” Parke also followed the San Luis Rey River west from Warner’s ranch to the mission, and passed through rocky canyons which he said were impassable even for mules.
But early in November of 1854 as a result of Southern agitation for a railroad route along the 32nd parallel, San Diegans organized the San Diego & Gila, Southern Pacific & Atlantic Railroad Company, for the purpose of building a railroad to Yuma, where it could connect with any line coming West along a southern route, the dream of the old South.
An engineer, Charles H. Poole, was hired and he surveyed a 200-mile railroad route to Yuma that followed the bed of the San Diego River, climbing 1087 feet gradually in thirty-nine miles through Mission Gorge, Santee, Lakeside, and Capitan Gorge and northeast through the steep-walled canyon to the base of Eagle Peak. From there the grade became increasingly steep for the next seven and a half miles, climbing 1255 feet out of the canyon to the floor of Santa Ysabel Valley, near where Coleman Creek flows into the San Diego River. The last mile and a half from the canyon to the southern edge of the valley floor was to be a climb of 452.7 feet per mile through what Poole called Santa Ysabel Gulch. But the grade was more than 8.5 per cent, virtually impassable. >From Santa Ysabel, the route was to follow the wagon route to Warner’s and down San Felipe Pass. Other surveys were to be made and many arguments advanced, and the hopes of San Diego lingered on until buried by the Civil War.
In the next few years three routes were used to climb up into the mountain valleys, but they remained largely horse and mule trails, over which supplies sometimes could be moved by wagon. But no wagon train was to make its way over the mountain barrier except through Warner’s pass, a route far more favorable to Los Angeles than to San Diego.
In 1853 the Board of Supervisors was making every effort possible to open an easier way to Temecula, by which San Diego could tap into the main wagon route to Los Angeles and San Bernardino, and also make San Diego the port for the products of an inland empire that slowly was developing. This effort also was to go on for a century.
Sometime shortly after 1854 two former Army teamsters, Joe Swycaffer and Sam Warnock, received a contract to carry Army mail between San Diego and Yuma, and it is believed their first runs were made over the old military route discovered by Capt. Nathaniel Lyon in the spring of 1851, through Spring Valley, around the north side of Lyons Peak and southeast into the high country near Campo, and down by way of Jacumba, where the Army had established a small pack train base in 1853.
A trail over which lumber and some milled products moved to San Diego followed the general route of Interstate Highway 8 from El Cajon to Alpine, through Viejas Valley, Guatay, and then into Green Valley and Cuyamaca Valley. In a civil suit years later Swycaffer testified that he delivered government mail by way of Green Valley, from where he followed an old Indian trail down the mountains to join the regular road from Vallecito to Warner’s. Returning, he indicated, he came up Oriflamme Canyon, a route first discovered by the Spanish, into Cuyamaca Valley. In 1856 the Supervisors were to appropriate money to try and improve the main wagon route that led up San Pasqual hill to Ramona, Santa Ysabel and Warner’s. A new route, selected to eliminate San Pasqual hill, turned east about a mile north of Lakeside and went up the hill into the San Vicente grant and connected with the Kearny route near Ramona.
The years passed more slowly and uneventfully. Long lists of delinquent taxes in the Herald indicated that the boom was over. By the spring of 1853 there was little left of New Town but empty buildings, a deserted wharf and the few Army buildings at the depot and the coral block. George Hooper had sold out in 1851, as had E. W. Morse after the Indians killed his partner, Slack. Ames and Pendleton were the last to go. Eugene Pendleton took over management of Davis’ wharf and he and Ames moved their business to Old Town. As were many American towns, San Diego was a melting pot. A native of Prussia, Joseph S. Mannasse, found his way to Old Town in 1853, opened another small store, and was to take on a partner four years later, another native of Prussia, Marcus Schiller.
The first Protestant services, Episcopalian, were conducted in 1853 in the little brick courthouse on the Plaza, by an Army chaplain, though they lasted for less than a year, and from then on there were only intermittent services by occasional visiting ministers.
The steamer Golden Gate, working up the coast from Panama with a broken propeller shaft, put into the bay on January 18, 1854, for supplies. She headed out into a heavy storm that same evening, and was driven back onto Zuñiga Shoal at the harbor entrance. Her passengers remained on the stricken vessel all night, and were taken off in the morning and distributed among San Diego residences, until they were able to continue their journeys on other vessels. The Golden Gate was pulled off the shoal and a week later made her way to San Francisco. One of the passengers was the Very Rev. William Ingraham Kip, the first Episcopal Bishop of California, who became the guest of Juan Bandini, and he held services for those who had died on the voyage. On Sunday, January 22, he conducted a public service in the courthouse, with Lt. Derby assisting.
The first regular school was established in 1854, and by early the next year it had thirty pupils, with a Miss Fanny Stevens as teacher.
Louis Rose built a tannery in Rose Canyon and prospected for gold and copper without too much success. The gold that would stir new life into a fading town was still hidden in the high mountains. The federal government began erecting a lighthouse high on Point Loma, overlooking the entrance to the harbor through which Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo had first sailed more than 300 years before. But the lanterns and lenses from Paris cast their beams above the overcast which so often clings to the coast.
In San Diego in 1855 there was only one unmarried American girl, and Thomas Rylan Darnall, who owned a store and later became a County Supervisor, wrote that “she can neither read nor write. Scarcely any of the native Californians can read or write.” Though they might not be able to read, the California girls were great dancers, and Darnall commented that on this “they excel any girls I ever saw. They likewise beat all creation in eating. A party of 20 California girls will eat more than 100 American girls.” In the summer the weather was so humid that Darnall wrote “I go bathing almost every evening in the ocean, and every Sunday certain, for the girls go along and Oh! what a luscious time! `we does has.’ That is a luxury I never enjoyed in the States.”
The San Diego Guards was organized as a militia company in August of 1856, with George A. Pendleton as captain, and the state sent forty percussion muskets, and while no battles were in immediate sight, the Guard was available to fire the necessary salutes at all formal ceremonies and dedications. Judge Hayes describes a series of severe storms in 1856, with lightning and thunder as never heard before in San Diego, and on September 20, a heavy earthquake was felt throughout the county. “We are informed that at Santa Ysabel the shock was so severe as to shake down the plastering of rooms of some of the buildings. The cattle on the farms stampeded . . . and havoc was created among all the Indians in the vicinity.”
A company of Mormons, remnants of the old Mormon Battalion, began digging on Point Loma for coal that had been discovered in 1855. San Diego had long figured in the Mormon dream of a corridor from their Deseret Empire to the coast, through which the Mormons of the world could come by sea and reach the inland haven. The Mormons had methodically been extending their settlements westward, with the most distant outpost at San Bernardino. San Diego as a port of entry for Mormons did not prove out, as few ships then were arriving here from distant lands. But the industrious Mormon colony in San Diego in 1856 began boring a prospect hole from the surf line on the ocean side of Point Loma, and passed through five veins of coal less than a foot in thickness and struck a vein four and a half feet thick at eighty-six feet. The prospect hole is still visible in the surf line at the foot of the bluff 7400 feet north of the Point Loma Light, though the cliff has receded at least ten feet through erosion. The entrance to the main shaft, perhaps 150 feet deep, lies about 100 feet east of the shoreline and at an elevation of 150 feet. Its entrance has been closed. Laterals extended from the main shaft, one perhaps 300 feet, the second seventy-five feet ending at a vein of coal ten feet thick. No significant amounts of coal were removed, and as the mine had to be continually pumped out, it was abandoned.
When the Catholic church across the river had been washed away, the people resumed holding services in the Estudillo house, but in 1856 Don José Antonio Aguirre promised them that if he won a court case against Abel Stearns involving $20,000, he would build a new church. Benjamin Hayes, who was riding circuit as the district judge for Southern California, was skeptical of the vow: “These two old men, each tottering on the edge of the grave, will fight over this sum, until they sink beneath the turf, and leave the controversy to their heirs — in all probability.” But Aguirre evidently won some kind of a settlement, as the adobe home of John Brown was purchased for $350 and remodeled into a church and dedicated on November 27,1858, as the Church of the Immaculate Conception, with Fr. Juan Molinier in charge. It still stands.
The large brick, two-story residence and store now known as the Whaley House was completed by Thomas Whaley on San Diego Avenue in the spring of 1857, and with the passing of so many of the old Dons, who so long had dominated affairs, it became the center of a new social life.
Adventurers, disillusioned when the quick returns in the gold fields ended with the fading of placer mining, or still burning with the expansionist fever of “Manifest Destiny,” organized filibustering expeditions. The first was that of Gen. Joseph C. Morehead, who had failed to subdue the Yuma Indians. In 1851 his vessel stopped at San Diego and it was searched for guns, but none were found. He planned to capture Lower California with arms evidently sent overland, but most of his men deserted and he was forced to return to the United States. Three expeditions from California, led by French immigrants, one with as many as 500 men, were directed against Lower California and Sonora. They too failed, and two of the three Frenchmen were slain. The most famous filibusterer was William Walker, a journalist and lawyer, who in 1854 announced his intention of organizing an expedition to seize Lower California and Sonora and declare them independent republics. Eventually they were to be annexed to the United States as slave states. This plan, too, came to nothing and the remnants of his men finally surrendered to American authorities at Tijuana in May. Many of Walker’s proclamations and decrees were published in the Herald, which he employed more or less as his official “voice.” Walker was tried in San Francisco for violating the neutrality laws, was found not guilty, and then he undertook two expeditions to Nicaragua. He was shot in Honduras in 1860.
The last and most tragic California filibustering figure was Henry A. Crabb, a prominent politician in Northern California whose wife claimed that she was a descendant of Juan Bautista de Anza. He hatched a plot to colonize Sonora in cooperation with a Mexican political leader, with the intention of having it annexed to the United States. In 1857 he organized a company of more than 100, including a half dozen prominent persons, and they went through San Gorgonio Pass and down the Colorado River to Fort Yuma, and eventually into Sonora. He was betrayed by the Mexican who had induced him to undertake the venture, and after a brief encounter with Mexican forces at Sonoita, he surrendered himself and his men. They were taken out in squads of five and ten and executed. Crabb himself was shot more than 100 times, and his body decapitated. That ended all the enthusiasm for filibustering.
The backwash of the Gold Rush also brought a rise in crime in the late 1850’s, with desperadoes on both sides of the border ranging freely and little effective enforcement of laws even within communities.
Disaffected elements banished from Baja California by the governor assembled in the vicinity of San Diego under a leader named Juan Mendoza and, aided by some Americans, slipped across the border and started a war of their own. From reports in the Alta California a number of skirmishes were fought with Mexican troops along the Tijuana River bed. The newspaper’s local correspondent bewailed the lack of fortifications along the border and contended that the governor of Baja California had afforded San Diego more protection for ten years than had the United States.
While Joaquín Murietta was the most notorious of the California bandits, Tiburcio Vásquez and Juan Flores were active throughout Southern California. A band led by Juan Flores raided San Juan Capistrano in 1857, murdered a German shopkeeper, sacked several stores, and fled, threatening to strike at Couts’ ranch and even at San Diego. A search party from San Gabriel captured three of them. Two were hanged, and the other shot. Three others were captured by Andrés Pico.
A party of horse thieves in 1856 raided Jamacha Rancho, which had come into the possession of Robert Kelly, a native of the Isle of Man, and Asher R. Eddy, a former Army lieutenant, through some process which Apolinaria Lorenzana never understood. Kelly was shot three times but escaped with his life. The majordomo of San Vicente Rancho was identified as a cattle thief and given one hundred lashes, with a physician standing by to make sure he was left with a spark of life. A sheriff’s posse, with a burst of unusual concern, arrived at Pala in the nick of time to prevent the hanging of three Indians, a mother and her crippled son and her Spanish-speaking daughter. They had been accused of bewitching Manuelito, the respected chief of the Luiseños, and causing him to become ill. They had been duly tried and convicted as witches, and a large crowd had gathered to witness their execution.
The streets of Old Town also reflected some of the atmosphere that in later years would mark Western towns from Arizona to Montana. A man identified as William Leroy walked into Lewis Franklin’s store and slashed the arm of Henry Whaley, a brother of the merchant, so severely it had to be amputated. Leroy was captured but escaped from jail. A rowdy walked into a home in Old Town and shot a youth to death, and the Herald commented that he continued to walk around the town, armed and unmolested. An Indian strode up to another Indian and ripped him open with a knife, as quietly, the Herald said, “as if he were cutting a watermelon.”
Indians, naturally indolent and degraded by liquor and servitude, often were harshly treated, but did have their defenders. Cave Couts was indicted by the grand jury twice in 1855, on charges of beating two Indians with a rawhide riata. One of them was a boy, and in his case Couts was acquitted of a charge of assault. In the other case, an Indian named Halbani died as a result of the beating and Couts was tried on a charge of manslaughter brought by the Grand Jury of which Charles H. Poole was foreman, and the district attorney, J. R. Gitchell. Couts’ attorney, 0. S. Witherby, won a dismissal on the contention one of the grand jurors was an alien.
With cattle by the thousands roaming the unfenced hills, and with subsequent disputes as to ownership, judges of the plains, surviving from Spanish days, were the most important officials in the county. Rules describing their duties were defined in 1857. There were to be three judges of the plains at large and each township was to have at least one. It was required that they be advised of all killings of cattle, that hides be kept at least two days for inspection as to brands, which were required for all ranches, and that all persons buying hides were to maintain records of them, and that cattle pens were to be inspected to be sure that “cows and calfs corresponded.” Roundups, or rodeos, were conducted at all of the ranchos, and neighbor rancheros were notified, so they could come and separate their own stock. Judges of the plains settled all disputes.
The cattle market had been depressed in 1855, prices falling as low as five dollars a head, and the winter of 1856-57 was a terribly dry one, and parched lands and dying cattle foretold a still greater tragedy of nature that in a few years would bring the last of the Dons on their knees.
In April the Herald said that the absence of rain had completely destroyed all the crops in the county:
“Not one solitary blade of barley, wheat or other cereal is left. Every blade of grass this side of San Bernardino is parched up and withered and our ranchos are selling off their cattle at any price that is offered. But for the money realized from the sale of stock, which will enable our farmers to purchase from abroad what, under other circumstances, they would produce at home, two-thirds of the rancheros in the county would be obliged to abandon their farms and seek a home in some more favorable part of the state. For the few cattle that are left remaining here will have to be driven back into the mountains where there is grass and it will be a miracle if any escape the starving Indians . . .”
On one day in March a hot wind blowing in from the east increased to a gale in twenty minutes. At dawn the hillsides had been covered with verdure and wildflowers. At dusk, they were a withered waste.
The cattle market was further depressed by the arrival of tremendous flocks of sheep. In 1858 one flock alone of 35,000 sheep went through San Diego bound for Los Angeles. More than 100,000 sheep crossed the Colorado River at Yuma by late winter and 46,000 more were reported strung back along the Gila Trail.
The Herald deplored the announcement that the Army post at the mission would be abandoned, and the troops withdrawn from Southern California, and warned that “the Cahuilla Indians alone could muster enough warriors to accomplish the destruction of all the American population of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego in eight and forty hours.”
San Diegans working copper and silver deposits in Lower California were threatened with death in the aftermath of a lynching perpetrated by William Cole and two other San Diegans. They captured an American named Bill Elkins and a Mexican in Lower California and put them to death as horse thieves. This deed greatly excited the people there, and Cole and his companions were seized for trial. Thomas R. Darnall went to Santo Tomás to see what he could do to obtain their release, and he, too, was imprisoned. San Diegans threatened to go to their rescue and all Mexican citizens below the frontier were summoned to arms and guards were posted on all roads. San Diego sent to Los Angeles for additional volunteers. Darnall soon was freed, and presumably the others also, though the records are not at all clear.
The following year San Diego was swept with reports of bands of outlaws from Lower California intending to attack San Diego, and at a public meeting it was decided to place a guard of twelve persons around the town each night. Cattle thefts became so numerous that desperate measures were proposed. The Herald said that whipping “has gotten to be of small account in deterring the Indians and we have come to the conclusion that the delectable and efficious remedy of hanging is about the best remedy of all. One fellow whom they whipped out near Santa Ysabel the other day got so mad about it that he just walked off about 100 yards and lay down and died.” The Herald commented that “how long this state of things is to continue, God only knows.”
The following fall San Diego experienced one of the worst gales in its history. At 11 o’clock on the morning of October 2, a terrific gale sprang up from the south southeast and continued with fury until 5 p.m. when rain commenced to fall. The Herald said it blew with such violence and the air was filled with such dense clouds of dust that it was impossible to see across the Plaza, and it was with the greatest difficulty the pedestrians could walk the streets. Damage to property was considerable; houses were unroofed and blown down; trees uprooted and fences destroyed. The cottage of Ames, editor of the Herald, situated on the flat across the river, was lifted from its foundations, thrown over and completely demolished. The roof of the house of Matías Moreno was blown off and carried some distance into a neighboring corral. The south portico of the Gila House was torn down, the roof stripped of its zinc covering and the house otherwise materially damaged. The house of Andrew Kriss on the flat was completely destroyed. The portico of Col. Ferrell’s house was blown down. The schooners Plutus and Lovely Flora were driven on the beach. The schooner X.L., on the ways being repaired, was blown over. The Clarissa Andrews and Teresa rode out the gale without damage. At Point Loma, the lighthouse keeper was obliged to leave at noon fearing the tower would fall.
The absences of Ames from the Herald became more frequent and conditions in San Diego grew more listless. One company of soldiers, Company G, 6th Infantry, under Capt. W. S. Ketchum, returned to San Diego in December of 1858, providing some stimulus to the community, and they took up quarters at the old New Town depot in buildings which the Herald said “had been the homes and dwelling places of owls and Indians.” That ended a decade of use of the mission as a military post, and its buildings, left to the hazards of weather, slid faster into decay. On April 3 Leandro Osuna, who had shot to death a captain of the U.S. Dragoons in the Battle of San Pasqual, committed suicide in the Osuna family home on San Dieguito rancho. He shot himself with a borrowed gun while lying in bed. He was 37 years of age. Receiving much less attention was the death of Juan Bandini in Los Angeles on November 12, 1859, after a brief illness. Bandini had sought to recuperate his fortunes in Lower California, but once again had been forced to flee revolutionary troubles in which he had chosen the wrong side. The Herald reminded San Diegans that Juan Bandini had been a prominent citizen and left a large circle of friends “who sincerely mourn his demise.” Thus passed, with only casual mention, one of the stormy figures of California politics, who had been an instrument of both agitation and progress under the flags of three nations, Spain, Mexico, and the United States.
Return to Books.
THE SILVER DONS
Ch. 1 California in 1830
Ch. 2 The Lash of Greed
Ch. 3 Winds of Change
Ch. 4 Rise of the Ranchos
Ch. 5 A Manifest Destiny
Ch. 6 The Bloody Lances
Ch. 7 End of the Pueblo
Ch. 8 The Burning Trail
Ch. 9 Life on a Frontier
Ch. 10 The Garra Uprising
Ch. 11 Empires of Cattle
Ch. 12 The West is Linked
Ch. 13 Chasing the Whale
Ch. 14 Journey of Death
Ch. 15 Last of the Dons