Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

was known to exist at San Fernando, at the south, and yet was not

considered of much value. Colonel Mason then handed me a letter

from Captain Sutter, addressed to him, stating that he (Sutter) was

engaged in erecting a saw-mill at Coloma, about forty miles up the

American Fork, above his fort at New Helvetia, for the general

benefit of the settlers in that vicinity; that he had incurred

considerable expense, and wanted a "preemption" to the quarter-

section of land on which the mill was located, embracing the

tail-race in which this particular gold had been found. Mason

instructed me to prepare a letter, in answer, for his signature. I

wrote off a letter, reciting that California was yet a Mexican

province, simply held by us as a conquest; that no laws of the

United States yet applied to it, much less the land laws or

preemption laws, which could only apply after a public survey.

Therefore it was impossible for the Governor to promise him

(Sutter) a title to the land; yet, as there were no settlements

within forty miles, he was not likely to be disturbed by

trespassers. Colonel Mason signed the letter, handed it to one of

the gentlemen who had brought the sample of gold, and they

departed. That gold was the first discovered in the Sierra Nevada,

which soon revolutionized the whole country, and actually moved the

whole civilized world. About this time (May and June, 1848), far

more importance was attached to quicksilver. One mine, the New

Almaden, twelve miles south of San Jose, was well known, and was in

possession of the agent of a Scotch gentleman named Forties, who

at the time was British consul at Tepic, Mexico. Mr. Forties came

up from San Blas in a small brig, which proved to be a Mexican

vessel; the vessel was seized, condemned, and actually sold, but

Forties was wealthy, and bought her in. His title to the

quicksilver-mine was, however, never disputed, as he had bought it

regularly, before our conquest of the country, from another British

subject, also named Forties, a resident of Santa Clara Mission, who

had purchased it of the discoverer, a priest; but the boundaries of

the land attached to the mine were even then in dispute. Other men

were in search of quicksilver; and the whole range of mountains

near the New Almaden mine was stained with the brilliant red of the

snlphuret of mercury (cinnabar). A company composed of T. O.

Larkin, J. R. Snyder, and others, among them one John Ricord (who

was quite a character), also claimed a valuable mine near by.

Ricord was a lawyer from about Buffalo, and by some means had got

to the Sandwich Islands, where he became a great favorite of the

king, Kamehameha; was his attorney-general, and got into a

difficulty with the Rev. Mr. Judd, who was a kind of prime-minister

to his majesty. One or the other had to go, and Ricord left for

San Francisco, where he arrived while Colonel Mason and I were

there on some business connected with the customs. Ricord at once

made a dead set at Mason with flattery, and all sorts of spurious

arguments, to convince him that our military government was too

simple in its forms for the new state of facts, and that he was the

man to remodel it. I had heard a good deal to his prejudice, and

did all I could to prevent Mason taking him, into his confidence.

We then started back for Monterey. Ricord was along, and night and

day he was harping on his scheme; but he disgusted Colonel Mason

with his flattery, and, on reaching Monterey, he opened what he

called a law-office, but there were neither courts nor clients, so

necessity forced him to turn his thoughts to something else, and

quicksilver became his hobby. In the spring of 1848 an appeal came

to our office from San Jose, which compelled the Governor to go up

in person. Lieutenant Loeser and I, with a couple of soldiers,

went along. At San Jose the Governor held some kind of a court, in

which Ricord and the alcalde had a warm dispute about a certain

mine which Ricord, as a member of the Larkin Company, had opened

within the limits claimed by the New Almaden Company. On our way

up we had visited the ground, and were therefore better prepared to

understand the controversy. We had found at New Almaden Mr.

Walkinshaw, a fine Scotch gentleman, the resident agent of Mr.

Forbes. He had built in the valley, near a small stream, a few

board-houses, and some four or five furnaces for the distillation

of the mercury. These were very simple in their structure, being

composed of whalers' kettles, set in masonry. These kettles were

filled with broken ore about the size of McAdam-stone, mingled with

lime. Another kettle, reversed, formed the lid, and the seam was

luted with clay. On applying heat, the mercury was volatilized and

carried into a chimney-stack, where it condensed and flowed back

into a reservoir, and then was led in pipes into another kettle

outside. After witnessing this process, we visited the mine

itself, which outcropped near the apex of the hill, about a

thousand feet above the furnaces. We found wagons hauling the

mineral down the hill and returning empty, and in the mines quite a

number of Sonora miners were blasting and driving for the beautiful

ore (cinnabar). It was then, and is now, a most valuable mine.

The adit of the mine was at the apex of the hill, which drooped off

to the north. We rode along this hill, and saw where many openings

had been begun, but these, proving of little or no value, had been

abandoned. Three miles beyond, on the west face of the bill, we

came to the opening of the "Larkin Company." There was evidence of

a good deal of work, but the mine itself was filled up by what

seemed a land-slide. The question involved in the lawsuit before

the alcalde at San Jose was, first, whether the mine was or was not

on the land belonging to the New Almaden property; and, next,

whether the company had complied with all the conditions of the

mite laws of Mexico, which were construed to be still in force in


These laws required that any one who discovered a valuable mine on

private land should first file with the alcalde, or judge of the

district, a notice and claim for the benefits of such discovery;

then the mine was to be opened and followed for a distance of at

least one hundred feet within a specified time, and the claimants

must take out samples of the mineral and deposit the same with the

alcalde, who was then required to inspect personally the mine, to

see that it fulfilled all. the conditions of the law, before he

could give a written title. In this case the alcalde had been to

the mine and had possession of samples of the ore; but, as the

mouth of the mine was closed up, as alleged, from the act of God,

by a land-slide, it was contended by Ricord and his associates that

it was competent to prove by good witnesses that the mine had been

opened into the hill one hundred feet, and that, by no negligence

of theirs, it had caved in. It was generally understood that

Robert J. Walker, United States Secretary of the Treasury, was then

a partner in this mining company; and a vessel, the bark Gray

Eagle, was ready at San Francisco to sail for New York with the

title-papers on which to base a joint-stock company for speculative

uses. I think the alcalde was satisfied that the law had been

complied with, that he had given the necessary papers, and, as at

that time there was nothing developed to show fraud, the Governor

(Mason) did not interfere. At that date there was no public house

or tavern in San Jose where we could stop, so we started toward

Santa Cruz and encamped about ten miles out, to the west of the

town, where we fell in with another party of explorers, of whom

Ruckel, of San Francisco, was the head; and after supper, as we sat

around the camp-fire, the conversation turned on quicksilver in

general, and the result of the contest in San Jose in particular.

Mason was relating to Ruckel the points and the arguments of

Ricord, that the company should not suffer from an act of God,

viz., the caving in of the mouth of the mine, when a man named

Cash, a fellow who had once been in the quartermaster's employ as a

teamster, spoke up: "Governor Mason, did Judge Ricord say that?"

"Yes," said the Governor; and then Cash related how he and another

man, whose name he gave, had been employed by Ricord to undermine a

heavy rock that rested above the mouth of the mine, so that it

tumbled down, carrying with it a large quantity of earth, and

completely filled it up, as we had seen; "and," said Cash, "it took

us three days of the hardest kind of work." This was the act of

God, and on the papers procured from the alcalde at that time, I

understand, was built a huge speculation, by which thousands of

dollars changed hands in the United States and were lost. This

happened long before the celebrated McGarrahan claim, which has

produced so much noise, and which still is being prosecuted in the

courts and in Congress.

On the next day we crossed over the Santa Cruz Mountains, from

which we had sublime views of the scenery, first looking east

toward the lower Bay of San Francisco, with the bright plains of

Santa Clara and San Jose, and then to the west upon the ocean, the

town of Monterey being visible sixty miles off. If my memory is

correct, we beheld from that mountain the firing of a salute from

the battery at Monterey, and counted the number of guns from the

white puffs of smoke, but could not hear the sound. That night we

slept on piles of wheat in a mill at Soquel, near Santa Cruz, and,

our supplies being short, I advised that we should make an early

start next morning, so as to reach the ranch of Don Juan Antonio

Vallejo, a particular friend, who had a large and valuable

cattle-ranch on the Pajaro River, about twenty miles on our way to

Monterey. Accordingly, we were off by the first light of day, and

by nine o'clock we had reached the ranch. It was on a high point

of the plateau, overlooking the plain of the Pajaro, on which were

grazing numbers of horses and cattle. The house was of adobe, with

a long range of adobe-huts occupied by the semi-civilized Indians,

who at that time did all the labor of a ranch, the herding and

marking of cattle, breaking of horses, and cultivating the little

patches of wheat and vegetables which constituted all the farming

of that day. Every thing about the house looked deserted, and,

seeing a small Indian boy leaning up against a post, I approached

him and asked him in Spanish, "Where is the master?" "Gone to the

Presidio" (Monterey). "Is anybody in the house?" "No." "Is it

locked up?" "Yes." "Is no one about who can get in?" "No."

"Have you any meat?" "No." "Any flour or grain?" "No." "Any

chickens?" "No." "Any eggs?" "No." "What do you live on?"

"Nada" (nothing). The utter indifference of this boy, and the

tone of his answer "Nada," attracted the attention of Colonel

Mason, who had been listening to our conversation, and who

knew enough of Spanish to catch the meaning, and he exclaimed

with some feeling, "So we get nada for our breakfast." I felt

mortified, for I had held out the prospect of a splendid

breakfast of meat and tortillas with rice, chickens, eggs, etc., at

the ranch of my friend Josh Antonio, as a justification for

taking the Governor, a man of sixty years of age, more than

twenty miles at a full canter for his breakfast. But there was

no help for it, and we accordingly went a short distance to a

pond, where we unpacked our mules and made a slim breakfast; on

some scraps of hard bread and a bone of pork that remained in our

alforjas. This was no uncommon thing in those days, when many a

ranchero with his eleven leagues of land, his hundreds of horses

and thousands of cattle, would receive us with all the

grandiloquence of a Spanish lord, and confess that he had nothing

in his house to eat except the carcass of a beef hung up, from

which the stranger might cut and cook, without money or price, what

he needed. That night we slept on Salinas Plain, and the next

morning reached Monterey. All the missions and houses at that

period were alive with fleas, which the natives looked on as

pleasant titillators, but they so tortured me that I always gave

them a wide berth, and slept on a saddle-blanket, with the saddle

for a pillow and the serape, or blanket, for a cover. We never

feared rain except in winter. As the spring and summer of 1848

advanced, the reports came faster and faster from the gold-mines at

Sutter's saw-mill. Stories reached us of fabulous discoveries, and

spread throughout the land. Everybody was talking of "Gold!

gold!" until it assumed the character of a fever. Some of our

soldiers began to desert; citizens were fitting out trains of

wagons and packmules to go to the mines. We heard of men earning

fifty, five hundred, and thousands of dollars per day, and for a

time it seemed as though somebody would reach solid gold. Some of

this gold began to come to Yerba Buena in trade, and to disturb the

value of merchandise, particularly of mules, horses, tin pans, and

articles used in mining: I of course could not escape the

infection, and at last convinced Colonel Mason that it was our duty

to go up and see with our own eyes, that we might report the truth

to our Government. As yet we had no regular mail to any part of

the United States, but mails had come to us at long intervals,

around Cape Horn, and one or two overland. I well remember the

first overland mail. It was brought by Kit Carson in saddle-bags

from Taos in New Mexico. We heard of his arrival at Los Angeles,

and waited patiently for his arrival at headquarters. His fame

then was at its height, from the publication of Fremont's books,

and I was very anxious to see a man who had achieved such feats of

daring among the wild animals of the Rocky Mountains, and still

wilder Indians of the Plains. At last his arrival was reported at

the tavern at Monterey, and I hurried to hunt him up. I cannot

express my surprise at beholding a small, stoop-shouldered man,

with reddish hair, freckled face, soft blue eyes, and nothing to

indicate extraordinary courage or daring. He spoke but little, and

answered questions in monosyllables. I asked for his mail, and he

picked up his light saddle-bags containing the great overland mail,

and we walked together to headquarters, where he delivered his

parcel into Colonel Mason's own hands. He spent some days in

Monterey, during which time we extracted with difficulty some items

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