By Mary C. Morse
Ed. Note: Mary C. Morse (b. Walker), one of the
earliest woman school teachers in San Diego County, was born in
Methuen, Massachusetts in 1828. Her youth and early adult life were passed
entirely in New England. She graduated from Massachusetts State Normal in 1861.
On April 1, 1865, Miss Walker sailed from New
York for San Francisco via the Panama Canal, a voyage of some
four weeks. Upon her arrival in San Francisco she applied for a
teaching certificate, then endured two frustrating months of waiting
before the certificate was issued.
Finally, through State Superintendent Sweat, she
secured an opportunity to teach in San Diego at the Mason Street School,
at a salary of $65 per month.
Her arrival in San Diego on July 5, 1865, must
have been a rather discouraging experience. The description
of her first reactions, in a paper she wrote more than 30 years
later for the Ladies’ Pioneer Society, is graphic and revealing:
"Oh, the strange, foreign look as I stepped from my
stateroom and stood on deck as the steamer came to anchor. It was a most
desolate looking landscape. The hills were brown and barren; not a tree or green
thing was to be seen. The only objects to greet the sight were the government
barracks and two or three houses."
Some of the ways of this rough, brown land were
a shock to the lady’s maidenly New England sensibilities. She
" There were no wharves at that time. Passengers were taken in
the ships’ boats to shallow water, and were then carried on the backs of sailors
to the shore. Fortunately for me, a little skiff was over from the lighthouse,
which saved me the humiliating experience meted out to others."
Anyone who has enjoyed the quaint, quiet charm of
present day Old Town on a bright summer day, is certain to chuckle at
the impression it created in 1865 on the lady from
"The prospect as we neared the town was not encouraging, but
the climax was reached when we arrived at the plaza. Of all the dilapidated,
miserable looking places I had ever seen this was the worst. The
buildings were nearly all of adobe, one story in height, with no chimneys.
Some of the roofs were covered with tiles and some with earth. One of these
adobes, an old ruin, stood in the middle of the plaza. It has since been
removed. The Old Town of today (1898) is quite a modern town compared with the Old
Town of thirty-three years ago."
The school teacher from New England, with the toughness characteristic
of her Puritan forebears, resisted her initial
impulse to flee to greener lands and gentler folk. In her Own words:
". . . as winter approached and the hills were brown and
barren no longer, I realized the advantages we had here over a bleak New
One of the officials who welcomed the new teacher to San
Diego was Ephraim W. Morse, a County School Trustee. A romance soon
developed, and the couple was married a year and a half later.
The Morses were among the first residents to
remove to New San Diego when it was laid out. In 1871 Mr. Morse built
a home at 10th and G Streets, and here they resided until 1894 when
they moved to Alpine. Mrs. Morse died on May 17, 1899.
The following account by Mrs. Morse describes a trip to the mining area of Julian
in 1870. She writes with humor and delightful candor, and evidences a
well-developed power of description as well as a feeling for the
Julian City, Sept. 26th 1870
Here we are 4000 feet above San Diego and the sea. We started
from home after much packing of provisions, blankets, shawls and overcoats at 7
o’clock Thursday, September 21st. The weather was mild but cloudy for the first
20 miles, which made it all the more pleasant.
As this was designed as a pleasure trip we made no haste,
but proceeded leisurely on our way, intending to stop when
hunger or night should overtake us. We passed Old Town sleeping under its brown
hills and crept on six miles where trees begin to skirt the very small streams
of running water. Made a call on the lady of the Fisher Ranch. At this place and
beyond we saw large quantities of the jimson plant in full blossom. The blossom
is trumpet shaped, of a delicate lilac color and much resembles the "Gloria
Mundi" or the "apple of Peru." You in the East can scarcely understand how
flowers can bloom from a soil upon which so little rain has fallen for the past
fifteen months. Neither can your humble servant.
As long as we continued on the stage road we were constantly
meeting small parties of Spanish and Mexicans going to the Lower California
Mines. Several were taking their families with them, consisting of wife,
children and chickens. We called at the Sole-dad Ranch and got some
pomegranates which served as a dessert at lunch. Peñasquitas is a long narrow
valley with at this season a very small stream of water running through it. This
stream supports a growth of willows, and large spreading oaks and sycamores.
It was under the friendly shade of these that we dismounted from our vehicle,
unharnessed our faithful Ned, and proceeded to make coffee and prepare lunch. An abler pen
than mine must describe the appetite given to persons on a camping expedition.
It is beyond my capacity. Suffice it to say that we lunched.
The Peñasquitas valley is owned by Capt. Johnson, who
occupies the only house upon it. We called to pay our respects to his wife, who
is a Spanish lady, taut speaks English quite fluently. Here we were treated to
some delicious grapes fresh from the vines. We said " muchas gracias" and "adios"
and passed on.
Near sunset we saw "Mule Hill" a sharp rocky mountain rising
out of the valley where during the Mexican war the Americans were surrounded, and were obliged to kill their
mules for food. There is a fine prospect in this vicinity of the distant mountain
ranges rising one above another as far as the eye can reach.
Arriving at Deep Canon at sunset, we concluded to camp for the night. We left
the road a short distance and selecting a large tree whose branches would afford
shelter for our bed, we built a fire and took supper by the light thereof,
leaving Ned, who was tied to the same tree, to munch his barley in peace. We
spread our bed early and retired, but not to sleep, The reason is
obvious when I tell you it is not well to tie your horse to the same
tree under which you are sleeping- especially if your bed is made of hay.
Rising early we delivered up what was left of our bed to Ned,
who soon devoured it, and after taking breakfast we proceeded on our journey
somewhat wiser for the night’s experience.
Second day took lunch on the edge of Santa Maria ranch. This
ranch contains eighteen thousand acres and could be sold for several thousand
dollars, but belonging as it does to Spanish it is used only for pasturing
cattle and horses.
The second night brought us to Mr. S’s, an old customer of
Mr. Morse’s when he was in a store. Of course we were invited to ‘light and
spend the night. They live on a cattle ranch and have given very little
attention to the comforts of life generally. Their accommodations for entertaining company are limited
as they have an adobe house with eight small children. The dirt floors are kept
hard by sprinkling and sweeping every morning. Its windows are scarce; the doors
must necessarily be kept open for light, consequently a litter of motherless
pigs ran races through the house at regular intervals and several domesticated
hens made themselves generally useful by picking up any stray crumb that might
fall from the children’s bread.
A novel form of bedstead was offered for our use at night,
namely the kitchen table. The offer so kindly made was cordially accepted and a
night’s experience proved it to be (with a few exceptions) quite comfortable. Parties occupying such
a bedstead, however, should approximate somewhat in weight, otherwise
disastrous consequences might ensue from the upsetting of the table.
We left our friendly entertainers before noon of the third
day and passed on towards the mines. Took lunch at Witch Creek. Soon after
passing which we saw a wild cat, resembling our domestic cats. The only
difference being that it was larger and had longer legs and a short tail.
We descended to San Isabel, a level plain containing 18,000
acres. On the farther side we could see an old Indian ranchería. At this point
we left the old road, and turning abruptly to the right, crossed
the plain and commenced the ascent of the mountains.
The road is a grade cut along their sides and exceedingly steep the most of the
way for 3 miles. As we ascended the air becomes rare, and it is with difficulty
that a person can breathe in walking up these heights. Our horse was affected by
the rarity of the air and we were obliged to stop at every available point for
him to take breath. For the first mile or two the surrounding country lay spread
out beneath us like a map, but as we ascended the road wound through a forest
of oaks which obstructed the view but gave us a grateful shade, In the midst of
this forest is the toll house where we paid 25 cents for passing over a very
dusty and crooked road.
When we had gained the highest point of the road and emerged
from the forest, there was nothing to remind us that we were 4000 feet above
the ocean, a lovely landscape appeared before us, diversified with plain and
hill, spreading trees and running streams. No sign of human habitation as yet appeared.
Solitude reigned supreme. The miner’s pick had not here disfigured the fair face
of nature by tearing out her rocky deposits in search of gold But where was
Julian City? Could we have missed the road? No, we had followed the only one
there was. On we went for several miles momentarily expecting to come upon the town.
After passing a ravine, and ascending a sharp and rocky hill,
the city of Julian in all its glory burst upon us. The sun was just setting and
shone upon the white roofs of the little town with that yellow light so peculiar
to California. No picture could be half as beautiful. I could have shouted with
very joy at the sight, The pines and oaks scattered over the hills immediately
about the town wore a magic green and every cabin and shanty nestling among them
had a strangely enchanted look. A mining town was associated in my mind with
huge excavations, ditches, tunnels, and a turning up generally of mother earth.
But nothing was seen to mar the quiet beauty of the scene. What prospecting has
been done, and tunnels dug, are not in sight as you enter the town.
As we passed up the one street to our friends’ cabin we seemed to attract
considerable attention, several old acquaintances rushing to
their doors, and hailing us. Arriving at our place of destination, we met a
cordial reception and proceeded to unpack our traps in true California style.
A description at this point of a miner’s cabin may not be
un-interesting to you. A rough board shanty of one room, with cracks sufficiently
wide for thorough ventilation, constitute (sic) the house. The furniture
consists of a stove, a large table of home manufacture, a bench to sit on in
front of it, and two bedsteads also home made. These last act a double purpose.
The upper part is designed for repose, while underneath are the picks, drills
and miners’ tools in general. A stray saddle, and a few pieces of rope are not
out of place here. Tin cups and plates grace the table, and the walls of the
room are ornamented with frying pans, baking tins, coffee pots and all the
peaceful implements of household service.
Four days we have spent in this cabin (when we were not out
looking at mines) most pleasantly. Our tour of inspection commenced next
morning after our arrival. We visited the ten stamp mill owned by Messrs.
Colton and Parsons which runs night and day
crushing rock from which the gold is washed, when the rock is sufficiently fine.
The gold is found in quartz rock which can be easily pulverized in an iron morter
(sic) by hand. Every miner has his morter and can at any time try his
rock and find out the amount of gold in it.
We afterwards visited the Washington, the first mine discovered. Here are
three tunnels running into the hill each about 150 feet in length, which
we examined following a guide with a lighted candle. It seemed to me a
gloomy place to work, but it is said that most miners prefer underground to
surface digging. A small portion of these tunnels is supported by posts, but the
greater portion supports itself. No accidents have as yet occurred from caving.
We walked over the hills finding ample evidence of
persistent and perserving search for hidden treasure, in the heaps of unearthed
rock and the numberless holes from which it had been taken. We came upon several
shafts and tunnels, abandoned probably for lack of funds to carry on the work.
From one of these hills we could see in the distant East Yuma desert one hundred
miles in width looking to us at this point like a far off sea.
The McMechan mill situated in Bransonville, one mile from
Julian makes its share of noise, and I believe gives quite as good satisfaction
in crushing rock as the other, although a mill of only two stamps. Its
gentlemanly prospector talks long and well He invited us to his very comfortable
house where he expatiated upon the mine, the prospects of the place, his own
prospects, and gently hinted that a wife would soon grace his now desolate home.
I cannot write you more of what we saw of the mines, for want
of time. Suffice it, that the day for our departure has nearly arrived, and I
shall be obliged to give you a description of our homeward journey after
arriving in San Diego.
After packing our specimens, provisions, blankets, and such curiosities
as we had collected, into our buggy, we bade
farewell to our friends and Julian City on the morning of Sept. 30th. In
returning we left the old road after travelling 15 miles, and took a new one
constructed since the mines were discovered. This gave us variety and gratified
my better half in his propensity for seeing something new.
We lunched on broiled venison, hot coffee, and other
substantials at our old place, Witch Creek, and camped at night in a beautiful
valley (name unknown) filled with large spreading sycamores. Our supply of
venison laid in at Julian still held out, and broiled on a bed of hot coals,
what could be nicer. Thus we supped. We retired early and slept the sleep of
The early morning saw us homeward bound. No finer view can be
had than in descending the Cajon Mountains. The valley dotted here and there
with farm houses lay spread out before us, while the windings of the river are
shown by the willows skirting its banks. We arrived in San Diego about noon, and found that
every-thing had been moving on in the even tenor usual to our little town. We
had returned to the routine of daily life once more, after living a gipsy life
for ten days. Thus endeth my description of our visit to the mines.
M. C. Morse