The Silver Dons, 1833-1865
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Journey of Death
Old San Diego was entering its final phase. Nature and war added their blows to the mistakes and the poor foresight of the ranchers. The Franklin House, now in possession of George Tebbetts, the Colorado House and two boarding houses were open but the Gila House had been dismantled. Louis Strauss and Hyman Mannasse, a nephew of Joseph Mannasse, sold off the goods in their large stores and closed up. Bad debt suits filled the court calendar and the Grand Jury noted that the town was filled with idlers and vagrants.
The Herald published complaints that the town had no tailor, no watchmaker, no gunsmith, and was in need of mechanics of every description. It said:
“San Diego is now the largest and thinnest populated county in the state, yet it could be made the richest, most populous. A little wise statesmanship and masterly activity is all that is necessary to make everybody rich, happy and contented.”
The Herald ceased publication on April 7, 1860, and Editor Ames removed to San Bernardino to start another newspaper. In a year, with the admonishments of his father that he should “shun wine and women” long forgotten, Ames was dead of over-drinking.
Though the population of the county increased from 798 to 4324 in the decade from 1850 to 1860, most of the people did not reside in town but had taken up farming or ranching in the public domain, the open lands that had not been granted away in the Spanish and Mexican days, or operated mills or stores of one kind or another in the hills and mountain valleys. Trade was concentrated in Old Town but the bustling frontier days were over. The vibrant tide that had swirled across the continent had been slowed or diverted, and the Civil War was to cut it off completely. The war also would see the seizure of a large part of the whaling fleet.
The national census of 1860 indicated that the number of cattle in California had risen to more than a million, far above the needs of the state, and there were no alternative markets. The cattle drives over the Gila Trail had dropped away. Once again, as in days gone by, cattle would be killed for the money that could be realized by selling the hides for leather and the tallow for soap and candles. The wool of thousands of sheep would go uncut. Many of the rancheros still enjoyed a life of ease and plenty. Others had lost their land and lived in the past. The Spanish dress of the pastoral days of the Dons had become incongruous and the rich mantas, the gold embroidered vests and the ornamented breeches laid aside. The silver trappings for their horses had eaten up much of the money that was needed as times became bad. The money lenders were always on hand with quick credit or loans — sometimes at ten per cent a month.
Some glimpses of the changes of life on the ranchos, not related in time, have come down from the Notes made by Benjamin Hayes as he rode the trails as a circuit judge. He found that Couts had made Guajome Rancho into what he described as a paradise. “In summer especially, when all the country is dry, one feels that Guajome is like an ‘oasis in the desert.’ The twenty miles leading to it, from Temecula, present no cultivation at all . . . through the thirty-eight miles toward the town of San Diego, there are two small vineyards — Buena Vista and Encinitas — nothing more. All is to the eye ‘a dreary waste’ save where nature has sown the grass and wild oak and chance flower.”
In Soledad Valley, formerly the town commons of the old pueblo, he stopped to water his mule, and the young widow of Don Bonifacio López who, as the owner of large numbers of horses had been known in Old Town as “The King,” came out of her garden to greet him, her eyes smiling under a man’s hat. Opposite her dwelling, he said, there was a narrow trail up the side of a steep hill “. . . up which Don Bonifacio used to gallop his horse, full speed, wheeling in an instant, down again at the same time . . . to the infinite admiration of his countrymen at the rodeo, themselves no inferior horsemen. He weighed near 300 pounds. If I lived there . . . it seems it might haunt me in my sleep.”
He rode to Rincón del Diablo Rancho, now the site of Escondido, to call upon Henry Clayton and his wife, the widow of Capt. Snook, whose father had been granted the ranch in 1843, and wrote, “it is bad to wake up some men out of the siesta; nevertheless, we had a pleasant chat . . . Nothing can surpass the uniform kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Clayton. One leaves them with regret.” The Claytons sold their interest in the property to Oliver S. Witherby and he eventually came into sole possession.
At Monserrate, a rancho of more than 13,000 acres on the upper San Luis Rey River Hayes found the original owner, Don Ysidro María Alvarado: “I do not know why he has not prospered more. He lives almost in Indian style, on the banks of the river San Luis Rey; seems to have few cattle; nor has there been much ground in cultivation.”
The Southerners who had come to California had exchanged cotton for cattle and Negroes for Indians, and resenting domination by the more heavily-populated North, hoped to bring about a secession of the “cow counties,” including San Diego, and form the Territory of Colorado. A bill authorizing this legislation was submitted by Andrés Pico in 1859 and approved by the California Legislature by a two-thirds vote and sent to Washington for approval. It died in the confusion of events leading up to the Civil War.
In 1860 Abraham Lincoln, the candidate for the new Republican Party, was elected President. On December 20th of that year South Carolina seceded from the Union. By the summer of the next year, ten other Southern states had voted to follow the lead of South Carolina. The first battle of Bull Run was fought on July 21. San Diego was at the end of the most southerly trail, and though the battles were being waged a long distance away, there were relatives and friends on both sides, and the division in San Diego, as elsewhere, was sharp and bitter. The sympathy of the majority of its citizens, however, remained with the South throughout the war. The Bear Flag once raised for an independent California was flown again as the banner of State’s Rights. The Butterfield Stage Line’s southern service by way of Warner’s, which had connected Southern California with the East, came to a halt on July 1, 1861, and Butterfield began running from St. Joseph, Mo., to Central California, by way of Salt Lake City.
California as a whole remained loyal and furnished more than 15,000 volunteers, most of them from the North, for Union service which consisted largely of duty within the state. Southern sympathizers, however, who included many of the leading state officials, organized the Knights of the Golden Circle, the Knights of the Columbia Star and the Committee of Thirty. They are believed to have numbered more than 30,000, in large part Californios who had been persuaded that a new government would speed up their land claims and that squatters and other lawless trespassers would be dispossessed. Arms were kept ready and ammunition stolen from Union depots in the expectation of guerrilla warfare. The loaded wagons from the gold fields disappeared. Cave Couts, the native of Tennessee and a graduate of West Point, respected but hot-tempered, became an acknowledged leader of Southern sympathizers, and it was indicated in correspondence that if he so chose he could have led a regiment from Southern California to join the Rebel cause. Many were willing to follow his leadership. Many Democrats voted Republican throughout the state, however, in the hope of averting disorder or any attempt to organize a new Pacific Republic.
Brig. Gen. George Wright, who succeeded to the command of Union forces in California, seized all boats and ferries on the Colorado River and gave orders that no one was to be permitted to cross the river without a special permit, and that all persons approaching the frontier were to be arrested for questioning.
Gen. Wright expressed the fear that a French fleet, acting in sympathy with the South, might seize the West Coast ports of Mexico, and he repeatedly urged that he be permitted to invade Sonora and capture the port of Guaymas, to keep open the Gulf of California for ferrying supplies up the Colorado. Two infantry companies were at Fort Yuma. His request went unheeded.
A request for two twenty-four-pounders, to control “as much as possible the harbor of San Diego,” was made by Brev. Maj. L. A. Armistead, of the 6th Infantry stationed at New San Diego, and with a small force he went to “Oti” or Otay, near the border, to send warning to Indians not to take part in any troubles developing in Lower California. On June 18, 1861, Capt. G. A. Haller, another officer and fifty-two men of the 4th Infantry, arrived after a march of 387 miles in eighteen days from Fort Mojave, New Mexico, to relieve Armistead and his company.
In a letter, Whaley reported that secessionists were being arrested in San Diego “and there is no telling how soon there may be a row of some sort down here.”
Continuing his efforts to halt the steady flight of Southern sympathizers into Confederate territory, Gen. Wright sent units of the new California Volunteers to reinforce Fort Yuma and established a military prison there. He also established a camp at Warner’s on the route the secessionists were using through the mountains. This was on October 18, 1861, with Maj. Edwin A. Rigg in command. A month later it was moved about a dozen miles north to the Oak Grove area, and it was named Camp Wright.
Fleeing California at the same time was Daniel Showalter, an assemblyman of Mariposa County, who had just shot to death the assemblyman of San Bernardino, Charles W. Piercy, in a political duel fought with rifles. Showalter and seventeen well-armed and well-mounted men took the trail toward the Colorado, but when they reached Temecula, in order to avoid Camp Wright, they dropped down into San Luis Rey Valley and took a southeasterly course through the mountains toward San Jose Valley. Maj. Rigg intercepted two advance men and then, acting on reports received from Indians, encountered the rest of the party at the ranch of John Minter at Mesa Grande, about two and a half miles southwest of Lake Henshaw. They were taken to Camp Wright, and Maj. Rigg made the following report:
“They now regret that they did not resist. If they had they would have given us a hard fight. There is no doubt but every one of them is a rank secessionist, and are on their way to lend aid and comfort to the enemy.”
While not denying Southern sympathies, and though incriminating letters on them indicated they were going into Mexico only to avoid seizure and questioning at Fort Yuma, they insisted they were on their way to Sonora to engage in mining, and all signed oaths of allegiance to the United States. However, they were ordered taken to the prison at Fort Yuma. After a few months they were released. Showalter became a lieutenant colonel and fought with the Confederates in a number of major engagements.
About the time of the capture of the Showalter party, John J. Warner, as a member of the Home Guard of Los Angeles, and in spite of all the unfriendly treatment he had received at the hands of the U.S. military, made a reconnaissance for the Union command, to check on reports of other bands of armed men, one of which was reported heading for Jacumba Pass, but he reported he found only prospectors carrying guns for protection against the Indians. The regular Army infantry was withdrawn from San Diego and replaced for the rest of the war by various units of the California Volunteers. As the winter was a cold one, and with a heavy rainfall of more than fifteen inches, the Volunteers tore down Davis’ old warehouse at New Town and ripped wood from his wharf to be used as firewood. At one time the Volunteers at Camp Wright were in a state of mutiny, with twelve in the guardhouse and others refusing to drill with packed knapsacks. The flight of Confederate sympathizers across the Colorado continued for the duration of the war.
The Bars and Stars were raised in late February of 1862 over Tucson by a Confederate force which succeeded in capturing an advance force of California Volunteers. When the main companies of Volunteers from Camp Drum at Wilmington and Camp Wright in San Diego County moved across the Colorado River and advanced toward Tucson, and with the news of a Union victory in New Mexico, the Rebels left Arizona for El Paso.
Grand warnings were issued for the Confederates to keep their ships out of the Pacific, and a fleet of six small wooden vessels, with less than 100 guns and 1000 men, patrolled the coast from Alaska to Panama, to protect the whaling fleet centered in Hawaiian waters, and American ships engaged in trade off China and Japan. The sloops of war were the Lancaster, Saranac, Wyoming, Narragansett, St. Mary’s and once more, the Cyane. One ship was replaced and two were added in 1863. A privateer being outfitted at San Francisco was seized and the crew arrested.
The war deepened the depression in San Diego. In a letter written to Whaley on March 5, 1861, A. S. Ensworth wrote:
“The fact is, there is literally & truly no money in this country . . . The Mexicans have nearly all got rid of their cattle . . . Mannasse (Jo) during the last month, has been riding about the county collecting cattle for old debts, which he intends to start with up the country about the 1st of April. Hinton is now at work getting his cattle off of the mountain & bringing them down to Agua Hideunda. The Estudillos will start nearly all their cattle up the country this spring, & sell them to pay debts. As a specimen of the way these people are in debt (those who have any cattle left) I will observe, Antonito Serrano owes Jo. M. & Co. $2800 & Jesus Machado owes them about $1500. Neither of them could pay these debts with all their property. Bill Williams is flat, & is living in town. B. Lopez’s estate will not pay the debts. Sylvester Marron owes Jo. M. & Co. more than he can pay. Soto is the only one that holds his own, & his wife was in here the other day asking for credit, & because I would not give it to her got into a great passion. The fact is, things down this way, have come to a head.”
By the end of the year he was commenting that the rancheros so lacked money even for sacks of flour that “many is the time they have come after dark for it, for fear of being seen by some man whom they were owing…”
San Diego also was facing competition from San Pedro as a port for Southern California, and a report from a correspondent, “Selden” in a San Francisco newspaper, belittled the future prospects of San Diego and stated facts which Ensworth, in a letter to Whaley, charged were inaccurate:
“They are thrown out for the purpose of retaining troops, Gov’t transportation and depot, in the vicinity of that place, and to build that humbug town, San Pedro, about which more gass has been expended, & more ink wasted, than relative to any other point in the state . . . Vive Humbug!”
The correspondent “Selden” was J. J. Warner, the former state senator from San Diego, who also was publishing a pro-Democrat, but anti-slavery newspaper in Los Angeles and earning the enmity of many of his former friends.
A divided and disturbed little town was lashed by a storm in January, 1862, that for a time threatened to wash away the adobe walls of the mansions which had stood for more than thirty years. A letter written by A. S. Ensworth and addressed to Thomas Whaley reads:
“It was not only a flood of waters falling from the Heavens, but such a South-Easter I have never known, the tide backing up the waters of the bay which was running in from the river to a hight (sic) never before witnessed by Americans . . . all the old walls around town, which were not well protected, have gone down to rise no more.”
The waters washed away the walls of the corrals at the rear of the Bandini and Estudillo houses, and in back of the Franklin House, and damaged many of the business structures. All the rivers of the county ran full, from hill to hill, and Hayes said that a George P. Abbotts thought a good-sized vessel might have gone a mile or more up the San Luis Rey River. A coffin from the old Catholic burial ground was swept down the river and into the bay. Late in the month Capt. T. L. Roberts, in command of the California Volunteers stationed at San Diego, was ordered to march his company to Warner’s but he reported it would be impossible to move wagons over any roads for at least two months. They were able to make the trip in February, however. Roads were washed out over all Southern California, and there are reports that perhaps several hundred persons were drowned and that at least 200,000 head of cattle were lost either by drowning or starvation.
The river was still running heavily in May when at noon on Tuesday the 26th an earthquake, which was described as the worst since the one of 1811 that destroyed the San Juan Capistrano Mission, rocked the town and caused the river to wash over its banks. The entire population, Benjamin Hayes wrote, rushed into the streets and the public square, in terror, and for many nights thereafter many did not sleep in their homes, and some experienced nauseating sensations. Adobe homes were cracked or otherwise damaged. In many sections of La Playa the steep bank of Point Loma fell in, and the waters of the bay were reported considerably agitated, the tide rising several feet above normal. Between noon and 8 o’clock that night there were six lighter shocks. On Thursday morning there was a shock as severe as the one of Tuesday. Other slight shocks occurred on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The reports from Vallecito indicated the quake had been very severe in the desert.
The heavy rains of 1861-62 produced bountiful grazing which caused the cattle and sheep to grow fat and multiply. Droughts followed the rains and destroyed the ranges. Smallpox brought death and a fear greater than that caused by the earthquake. The countryside dried out in one of the worst disasters ever to sweep California. Only 3.87 inches of rain fell in San Diego in the winter of 1862-63, and only 5.14 inches in the following winter.
In November of 1862 Couts, in letters to Abel Stearns, wrote:
“Small pox is quite prevalent — six to eight per day are being buried in S. Juan Capistrano — Indians generally. One case in San Dieguito and two in San Mateo is (sic) the nearest to us. I vaccinated the whole rancheria at San Luis some six weeks since, & hope they may escape, thus saving our community of the terrible disease.”
Hard times were upon them. Couts commented that “I am badly in want of money. I have some debts, taxes on hand, no goods in my shop & no money.” Many of the settlers as well as the old rancheros were deserting California for newly-discovered gold fields in the Colorado River country of Arizona. The grass that appeared on the ranges in October was drying up by November. The nights were cold and frosty. By late November cattle were being sent into Lower California, Couts reporting that probably 10,000 head had been taken there and thousands more were to be put on the trail within a short time.
In January a police force was organized for San Diego City to be under the sheriff, and all “Indians and Cholos” were ordered to leave the town. A frame building at the San Diego Mission was converted into a receiving hospital for smallpox victims, and funds were requested from the state to hire nurses and attendants.
Sentinels were posted at the ranchos to keep anyone from approaching without notice. Henry Clayton returned to San Diego from Los Angeles at night by stage and no door was open to him. The Ysidro Alvarado family was stricken. Both he and his wife succumbed. Mexicans who were to have buried the body of Don Ysidro, had instead left it on the road, gotten drunk and one of them tried to break into Couts’ ranch house. The victims of smallpox in the vicinity of Couts’ rancho were being buried in the San Luis Rey Mission and he commented, a “grave cannot be dug without striking human bones . . . they were digging little holes, barely deep enough to cover the coffins . . .” He sent his brother, Blounts, to remonstrate against it, and he was attacked by a Sonoran with a knife, Blounts killed him.
One of those who died of the smallpox was Juan Antonio, the captain-general of the Cahuillas, who had ambushed the leaders of the Indians who had threatened to ravage the white settlements. A correspondent writing for the Los Angeles Star, reported on Feb. 28, 1863:
“Old Juan Antonio and four other Indian chiefs have died of smallpox and I have been informed that the bodies have not been buried and that they are being mutilated by hogs and dogs. Of course it is a matter of much annoyance to the whites in the neighborhood.”
The smallpox ran its course by late spring, but the ranchos were sick with the loss of cattle and beset by the frantic efforts of squatters to feed their own stock at any cost. John Forster, who had acquired possession of Santa Margarita Rancho from Pío and Andrés Pico, indicated in a letter that he had “been under arrest . . . until today, when I was released, arrested again, and am now at liberty de nuevo, the charges are killing and slaying fifteen squatters, tearing down fences and playing the dickens generally. In both cases the plaintiffs have not gotten farther than entering very lamed omplaints . . .”
As far as possible all cattle were being driven into the mountains, and conditions generally, as reported in the Los Angeles News, were discussed as follows:
“The cattle of Los Angeles County are dying so fast in so many places, for want of food, that the larger rancheros keep their men busily engaged in obtaining the hides. Thousands of carcasses strew the plains in all directions, from the city, and the sight is harrowing in the extreme . . .”
The spring continued dry, and in the summer there came strong north winds. Grasshoppers appeared and finished stripping much of the remaining grass. Conditions in San Diego County were much of the same. Forster, in a civil suit years later, testified:
“. . . The climate was bone dry . . . There was no moisture and our cattle died off in very great numbers. About that winter, almost the whole country from north to south became almost depopulated of cattle from the fact that the country had been entirely overstocked about that time. Before the year 1864 had passed away, there was a perfect devastation. Such a thing was never before known in California.”
In May of 1864, when the drought was at its height, a sudden storm beat down on the weakened cattle and Forster said he lost three hundred in one night at Santa Ysabel and that the next day the rest of the cattle had to be turned loose to move about and keep up their circulation. Despite taking the cattle into the mountains, Forster estimated his loss at about fifty per cent. Others fared worse. Of a herd of between 6000 to 8000 cattle owned by Don Juan Avila of San Juan Capistrano, only some 800 were left after the drought. Debts were paid with cattle or hides at $2.50.
County records indicate that at assessment time in 1863 there were 13,206 cattle, 1793 horses and 5784 sheep subject to taxation on San Diego County ranches. A year later, at the same time there were only 8364 cattle, 1384 horses and 2823 sheep. Cattle decreased again in the following year, though sheep were on the increase. Surprisingly, a demand for wool from California began to develop in the Union states, as the normal supply from the South had been cut off by the war. The decline in the number of horses to 499 indicated that hundreds had been slaughtered or driven over the brinks of canyons, or over ocean cliffs, to save the grass for the cattle and sheep. It was said that fences could be built with bones.
The election of September 5, 1863, saw the Democratic state ticket win a large majority in San Diego County, though in Old Town itself, where merchants and traders were in the majority, the first returns seemed to indicate a Republican victory. Ephraim Morse had shut his store and worked indefatigably to get Northern sympathizers to the polls. A party led by Robert Israel got out the anvils from the smithy and began exploding powder in celebration. The picture soon changed, as recorded in a letter from George Pendleton to Cave Couts:
“As the returns came in from the interior, however, they began to hang their heads. Now when you meet one of them you will find his hat pulled down for his eyes as if he had been guilty of some dirty trick of which he was ashamed. They feel mighty bad and I hope the result may physic them until they are purged thoroughly of their Black Republicanism . . . I have all those fellows here spotted who voted the Black Republican ticket and shall see that they are hereafter kept from . . . having any voice in our Democratic meetings.”
Republican enthusiasm revived somewhat with arrival of the news of the fall of Fort Sumter, and guns were fired off throughout the town. As the unhappy year wore on the bitterness increased, and Pendleton wrote to Couts, on December 6, 1863:
“The soldiers at New Town gave a fandango and supper at their post last night and of course all the hungry bellies acceded and what they consumed and carried off, it is supposed, will be sufficient to satisfy their appetites until next Christmas. A few years ago, to go to a soldiers’ fandango was not thought the right thing by many who attended last night, and to my mind they are evidently preparing themselves for that state of society which will exist should Old Abe succeed in his damnable designs . . .”
The turn of the year brought little change in San Diego. Ensworth, in a letter to Whaley, wrote:
“No news down this way — dull-dull very dull — stock dying — absolutely starving to death for want of grass. It is a devil of a year, Never, before, have I seen the time but what at some out of the way place — in some secluded nook or corner, a little hay could be cut. But this year the earth, from valley to hill top, is naked.”
A few days later he penned another letter in which he enclosed a draft for $165, but the stage driver refused to accept it, in fear highwaymen would kill him on the road.
United States currency was discounted with succeeding Confederate victories, and Charles Johnson sold many greenbacks to Cave Couts for sixty cents on the dollar. Rumors were circulated that privateers were being outfitted in ports of China to raid the California coast. Many Southern sympathizers and distressed Californios left the state for Mexico, which a French Army had invaded and where the Austrian Maximilian was to be installed as emperor. Official Union Army military reports contain references to the Californios as bitterly opposed to the Stars and Stripes and that they hoped to see the French flag also flying over California.
The tide of war slowly shifted, and in 1864, when President Lincoln came up for re-election, George B. McClellan, the Democrat, received 180 votes in San Diego County, though this did not include the Colorado River precinct, and Lincoln only 52. Old Town, however, voted in favor of Lincoln, 34 to 25. The vote at Fort Yuma, an Army post, was 63 for Lincoln and 18 for McClellan. Robert Israel had been sent to the Cuyamaca precinct with a supply of whiskey believed sufficient to swing a Republican majority there. The vote, however, was McClellan 30, Lincoln 1. José María Estudillo had assured Pendleton that although he was a Republican he would not attempt to influence any of his paisanos, but evidently he fell into the hands of Morse, drank too much and “was yelling all day for Lincoln.”
The news that Lincoln had swept all but two states arrived in San Diego by stage and “a lot of the boys about town made night hideous with their infernal howling, throwing coyotes completely in the shade . . . I cannot believe this report. It is too bad a dose to swallow… ”
Union military victories were celebrated with another Army baile and on the same night, Pendleton wrote, “we of the upper crust got off one at the Franklin House and had the elite of the town and the gals from the Punta . . . we kept it going until 41/2 o’clock when the cocks warned us it was time to quit.”
In another letter, Pendleton wrote:
“Numbers of people are leaving the state for Mexico driven from their own country by oppression and taxation. Would that the burden of the taxes could fall on those who re-elected Lincoln, but these very persons, I suppose, are exempt from taxation and stealings . . .”
The war was coming to an end but its aftermath left San Diego awash with troubles. Bands of mounted outlaws roamed the countryside around San Diego, raiding ranches of animals and supplies, and the alarmed residents were driven to appeal to the cavalry for protection. Starving Cahuilla Indians had left their mountain and desert homes to become idlers and thieves. A deputy sheriff of San Diego, F. L. Brill, was sent to attach 278 mares and colts and thirteen horses at Rancho de las Viejas, which was the property of Bill Williams, who had come down from Volcan Mountain, and the animals were turned over to another deputy named Andrew Kriss. That night most of the horses were run off by two Californios who were trailed into Lower California, where Kriss was shot to death. A William James who had been left in charge of a store Cyrus Kimble had built on the immigrant trail on Warner’s Ranch, was found slain beside his bed, and with money, goods and three horses missing. It was generally believed in San Diego that Kimble, a Republican, had been the intended victim of secessionists who hated him, and that James was killed by mistake. That was on June 3, 1865. Two months later Kimble and George Williams, camping with their families at the Santa Ana River on their way to Los Angeles, were surprised by a gang of a half dozen men or more and shot to death. Kimble was believed to have been carrying $1000.
A man identified as A. B. Smith, presumably the Albert B. Smith who climbed the Plaza flagpole to shake out the American flag during the United States conquest of California, and later a county superintendent of schools, walked up to the town jail, poked a six-shooter through the bars, and started shooting at the manacled prisoners, killing one of them, and threatened to shoot a deputy sheriff, if he tried to interfere with his sport. Smith finally was subdued and placed under $1000 bail. The local correspondent of the Alta California reported sadly:
“For years this has been the quietest burg and county in the state, but right now it holds an envious and high position in the calendar of crime, even if it is in California.”
The strife between the landholders and the squatters rose in intensity. In 1865 Cave Couts was indicted on a charge of murder, along with his brother, four Indians and a Negro workman. Details are missing from old records of the district court. Couts’ attorney, who again was O. S. Witherby, was successful once more in having the indictment dismissed, this time on the grounds the district attorney had not posted his bond of office. The judge was Benjamin Hayes. Another indictment of Couts came in 1866. He was tried and acquitted on a charge of murdering one Juan Mendoza, and this time Benjamin Hayes appeared as his defense counsel. Mendoza had worked for Couts as his majordomo, after a reputed career as a badman in Sonora. Couts’ defense was that he had discharged Mendoza, who then threatened to kill him on sight. For months Couts stayed away from San Diego, with Mendoza, armed with a six-shooter and a knife, holding forth at various bars and sending challenges to Couts. In time Couts appeared in San Diego, reportedly on business, and checked into the Colorado House. In the tradition of the Old West, either by design or by chance, they walked toward each other in the area of the Plaza. Couts was carrying a shawl. He dropped it, to reveal a shotgun. Mendoza, according to witnesses, turned to flee and was struck with a blast from both barrels. He staggered into a heap of reeds and fell dead.
The Pacific became a war zone when the French fleet blockaded Mexican ports. Peru and Spain engaged in military clashes. In the Spring of 1865 the ship Shenandoah sailed from London and once at sea unfurled the Confederate flag. Operating as a privateer under the command of James I. Waddell, she destroyed a million dollars worth of whalers and merchant vessels, and evaded capture by the Pacific fleet. On August 1, 1865, the United States barque Gen. Pike arrived in the harbor with the crews of seven more vessels which had been burned by the pirates. The commander of the privateer professed to believe that the rebels had not surrendered, that the war was yet going on, and he intended to sail to Arctic waters where there were eighty American whalers reported.
The following year the fleet was increased to eleven, and then to seventeen, to protect an expanding Pacific commerce, amid the French action against Mexico and Spanish attacks on Valparaiso and Callao.
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