Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

him with General Kearney. We spent several days very pleasantly at

Los Angeles, then, as now, the chief pueblo of the south, famous

for its grapes, fruits, and wines. There was a hill close to the

town, from which we had a perfect view of the place. The

surrounding country is level, utterly devoid of trees, except the

willows and cotton-woods that line the Los Angeles Creek and the

acequias, or ditches, which lead from it. The space of ground

cultivated in vineyards seemed about five miles by one, embracing

the town. Every house had its inclosure of vineyard, which

resembled a miniature orchard, the vines being very old, ranged in

rows, trimmed very close, with irrigating ditches so arranged that

a stream of water could be diverted between each row of vines. The

Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers are fed by melting snows from a

range of mountains to the east, and the quantity of cultivated land

depends upon the amount of water. This did not seem to be very

large; but the San Gabriel River, close by, was represented to

contain a larger volume of water, affording the means of greatly

enlarging the space for cultivation. The climate was so moderate

that oranges, figs, pomegranates, etc.... were generally to be

found in every yard or inclosure.

At the time of our visit, General Kearney was making his

preparations to return overland to the United States, and he

arranged to secure a volunteer escort out of the battalion of

Mormons that was then stationed at San Luis Rey, under Colonel

Cooke and a Major Hunt. This battalion was only enlisted for one

year, and the time for their discharge was approaching, and it was

generally understood that the majority of the men wanted to be

discharged so as to join the Mormons who had halted at Salt Lake,

but a lieutenant and about forty men volunteered to return to

Missouri as the escort of General Kearney. These were mounted on

mules and horses, and I was appointed to conduct them to Monterey

by land. Leaving the party at Los Angeles to follow by sea in the

Lexington, I started with the Mormon detachment and traveled by

land. We averaged about thirty miles a day, stopped one day at

Santa Barbara, where I saw Colonel Burton, and so on by the usually

traveled road to Monterey, reaching it in about fifteen days,

arriving some days in advance of the Lexington. This gave me the

best kind of an opportunity for seeing the country, which was very

sparsely populated indeed, except by a few families at the various

Missions. We had no wheeled vehicles, but packed our food and

clothing on mules driven ahead, and we slept on the ground in the

open air, the rainy season having passed. Fremont followed me by

land in a few days, and, by the end of May, General Kearney was all

ready at Monterey to take his departure, leaving to succeed him in

command Colonel R. B. Mason, First Dragoons. Our Captain

(Tompkins), too, had become discontented at his separation from his

family, tendered his resignation to General Kearney, and availed

himself of a sailing-vessel bound for Callao to reach the East.

Colonel Mason selected me as his adjutant-general; and on the very

last day of May General Kearney, with his Mormon escort, with

Colonel Cooke, Colonel Swords (quartermaster), Captain Turner, and

a naval officer, Captain Radford, took his departure for the East

overland, leaving us in full possession of California and its fate.

Fremont also left California with General Kearney, and with him

departed all cause of confusion and disorder in the country. From

that time forth no one could dispute the authority of Colonel Mason

as in command of all the United States forces on shore, while the

senior naval officer had a like control afloat. This was Commodore

James Biddle, who had reached the station from China in the

Columbus, and he in turn was succeeded by Commodore T. Ap Catesby

Jones in the line-of-battle-ship Ohio. At that time Monterey was

our headquarters, and the naval commander for a time remained

there, but subsequently San Francisco Bay became the chief naval


Colonel R. B. Mason, First Dragoons, was an officer of great

experience, of stern character, deemed by some harsh and severe,

but in all my intercourse with him he was kind and agreeable. He

had a large fund of good sense, and, during our long period of

service together, I enjoyed his unlimited confidence. He had been

in his day a splendid shot and hunter, and often entertained me

with characteristic anecdotes of Taylor, Twiggs, Worth, Harvey,

Martin Scott, etc., etc, who were then in Mexico, gaining a

national fame. California had settled down to a condition of

absolute repose, and we naturally repined at our fate in being so

remote from the war in Mexico, where our comrades were reaping

large honors. Mason dwelt in a house not far from the Custom-

House, with Captain Lanman, United States Navy; I had a small

adobe-house back of Larkin's. Halleck and Dr. Murray had a small

log-house not far off. The company of artillery was still on the

hill, under the command of Lieutenant Ord, engaged in building a

fort whereon to mount the guns we had brought out in the Lexington,

and also in constructing quarters out of hewn pine-logs for the

men. Lieutenant Minor, a very clever young officer, had taken

violently sick and died about the time I got back from Los Angeles,

leaving Lieutenants Ord and Loeser alone with the company, with

Assistant-Surgeon Robert Murray. Captain William G. Marcy was the

quartermaster and commissary. Naglee's company of Stevenson's

regiment had been mounted and was sent out against the Indians in

the San Joaquin Valley, and Shannon's company occupied the

barracks. Shortly after General Kearney had gone East, we found an

order of his on record, removing one Mr. Nash, the Alcalde of

Sonoma, and appointing to his place ex-Governor L. W. Boggs. A

letter came to Colonel and Governor Mason from Boggs, whom he had

personally known in Missouri, complaining that, though he had been

appointed alcalde, the then incumbent (Nash) utterly denied

Kearney's right to remove him, because he had been elected by the

people under the proclamation of Commodore Sloat, and refused to

surrender his office or to account for his acts as alcalde. Such a

proclamation had been made by Commodore Sloat shortly after the

first occupation of California, announcing that the people were

free and enlightened American citizens, entitled to all the rights

and privileges as such, and among them the right to elect their own

officers, etc. The people of Sonoma town and valley, some forty or

fifty immigrants from the United States, and very few native

Californians, had elected Mr. Nash, and, as stated, he refused to

recognize the right of a mere military commander to eject him and

to appoint another to his place. Neither General Kearney nor Mason

had much respect for this land of "buncombe," but assumed the true

doctrine that California was yet a Mexican province, held by right

of conquest, that the military commander was held responsible to

the country, and that the province should be held in statu quo

until a treaty of peace. This letter of Boggs was therefore

referred to Captain Brackett, whose company was stationed at

Sonoma, with orders to notify Nash that Boggs was the rightful

alcalde; that he must quietly surrender his office, with the books

and records thereof, and that he must account for any moneys

received from the sale of town-lots, etc., etc.; and in the event

of refusal he (Captain Brackett) must compel him by the use of

force. In due time we got Brackett's answer, saying that the

little community of Sonoma was in a dangerous state of

effervescence caused by his orders; that Nash was backed by most of

the Americans there who had come across from Missouri with American

ideas; that as he (Brackett) was a volunteer officer, likely to be

soon discharged, and as he designed to settle there, he asked in

consequence to be excused from the execution of this (to him)

unpleasant duty. Such a request, coming to an old soldier like

Colonel Mason, aroused his wrath, and he would have proceeded

rough-shod against Brackett, who, by-the-way, was a West Point

graduate, and ought to have known better; but I suggested to the

colonel that, the case being a test one, he had better send me up

to Sonoma, and I would settle it quick enough. He then gave me an

order to go to Sonoma to carry out the instructions already given

to Brackett.

I took one soldier with me, Private Barnes, with four horses, two

of which we rode, and the other two we drove ahead. The first day

we reached Gilroy's and camped by a stream near three or four

adobe-huts known as Gilroy's ranch. The next day we passed

Murphy's, San Jose, and Santa Clara Mission, camping some four

miles beyond, where a kind of hole had been dug in the ground for

water. The whole of this distance, now so beautifully improved and

settled, was then scarcely occupied, except by poor ranches

producing horses and cattle. The pueblo of San Jose was a string

of low adobe-houses festooned with red peppers and garlic; and the

Mission of Santa Clara was a dilapidated concern, with its church

and orchard. The long line of poplar-trees lining the road from

San Jose to Santa Clara bespoke a former period when the priests

had ruled the land. Just about dark I was lying on the ground near

the well, and my soldier Barnes had watered our horses and picketed

them to grass, when we heard a horse crushing his way through the

high mustard-bushes which filled the plain, and soon a man came to

us to inquire if we had seen a saddle-horse pass up the road. We

explained to him what we had heard, and he went off in pursuit of

his horse. Before dark he came back unsuccessful, and gave his

name as Bidwell, the same gentleman who has since been a member of

Congress, who is married to Miss Kennedy, of Washington City, and

now lives in princely style at Chico, California.

He explained that he was a surveyor, and had been in the lower

country engaged in surveying land; that the horse had escaped him

with his saddle-bags containing all his notes and papers, and some

six hundred dollars in money, all the money he had earned. He

spent the night with us on the ground, and the next morning we left

him there to continue the search for his horse, and I afterward

heard that he had found his saddle-bags all right, but never

recovered the horse. The next day toward night we approached the

Mission of San Francisco, and the village of Yerba Buena, tired and

weary--the wind as usual blowing a perfect hurricane, and a more

desolate region it was impossible to conceive of. Leaving Barnes

to work his way into the town as best he could with the tired

animals, I took the freshest horse and rode forward. I fell in

with Lieutenant Fabius Stanley, United States Navy, and we rode

into Yerba Buena together about an hour before sundown, there being

nothing but a path from the Mission into the town, deep and heavy

with drift-sand. My horse could hardly drag one foot after the

other when we reached the old Hudson Bay Company's house, which was

then the store of Howard and Mellus. There I learned where Captain

Folsom, the quartermaster, was to be found. He was staying with a

family of the name of Grimes, who had a small horse back of

Howard's store, which must have been near where Sacramento Street

now crosses Kearney. Folsom was a classmate of mine, had come out

with Stevenson's regiment as quartermaster, and was at the time the

chief-quartermaster of the department. His office was in the old

custom-horse standing at the northwest corner of the Plaza. He had

hired two warehouses, the only ones there at the time, of one

Liedsdorff, the principal man of Yerba Buena, who also owned the

only public-house, or tavern, called the City Hotel, on Kearney

Street, at the southeast corner of the Plaza. I stopped with

Folsom at Mrs. Grimes's, and he sent my horse, as also the other

three when Barnes had got in after dark, to a coral where he had a

little barley, but no hay. At that time nobody fed a horse, but he

was usually turned out to pick such scanty grass as he could find

on the side-hills. The few government horses used in town were

usually sent out to the Presidio, where the grass was somewhat

better. At that time (July, 1847), what is now called San

Francisco was called Yerba Buena. A naval officer, Lieutenant

Washington A. Bartlett, its first alcalde, had caused it to be

surveyed and laid out into blocks and lots, which were being sold

at sixteen dollars a lot of fifty vuras square; the understanding

being that no single person could purchase of the alcalde more than

one in-lot of fifty varas, and one out-lot of a hundred varas.

Folsom, however, had got his clerks, orderlies, etc., to buy lots,

and they, for a small consideration, conveyed them to him, so that

he was nominally the owner of a good many lots. Lieutenant Halleck

had bought one of each kind, and so had Warner. Many naval

officers had also invested, and Captain Folsom advised me to buy

some, but I felt actually insulted that he should think me such a

fool as to pay money for property in such a horrid place as Yerba

Buena, especially ridiculing his quarter of the city, then called

Happy Valley. At that day Montgomery Street was, as now, the

business street, extending from Jackson to Sacramento, the water of

the bay leaving barely room for a few houses on its east side, and

the public warehouses were on a sandy beach about where the Bank of

California now stands, viz., near the intersection of Sansome and

California, Streets. Along Montgomery Street were the stores of

Howard & Mellus, Frank Ward, Sherman & Ruckel, Ross & Co., and it

may be one or two others. Around the Plaza were a few houses,

among them the City Hotel and the Custom-House, single-story adobes

with tiled roofs, and they were by far the most substantial and

best houses in the place. The population was estimated at about

four hundred, of whom Kanakas (natives of the Sandwich Islands)

formed the bulk.

At the foot of Clay Street was a small wharf which small boats

could reach at high tide; but the principal landing-place was where

some stones had fallen into the water, about where Broadway now

intersects Battery Street. On the steep bluff above had been

excavated, by the navy, during the year before, a bench, wherein

were mounted a couple of navy-guns, styled the battery, which, I

suppose, gave name to the street. I explained to Folsom the object

of my visit, and learned from him that he had no boat in which to

send me to Sonoma, and that the only, chance to get there was to

borrow a boat from the navy. The line-of-battle-ship Columbus was

then lying at anchor off the town, and he said if I would get up

early the next morning I could go off to her in one of the

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