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A Short Ramble in Central California (1857), by "O'M."


After its "discovery" in the winter of 1852, the fame of Yosemite Valley's scenery spread far and wide. In September 1857, the citizens of Mariposa had the opportunity to admire its portrayal in a mechanical panorama, painted by M. Claveau: this was to be exhibited at the upcoming State Fair in Stockton.

The writer shares his personal experience of Yosemite in Ramble #5. Earlier episodes describe his travels from San Francisco, via Stockton, to Hornitas, Mariposa, Millerton and the "Frezno" Indian reservation, where he observed a dance ceremony.

Daily Alta California, 11 July 1857

RAMBLES — No. 1.

Under this head we shall publish from time to time, a series of articles, descriptive of the country between Stockton and Yo Semity Falls, the Falls themselves and the Indian reservations in the southern section of the State, contributed by a gentleman who has just returned from the trip. The following is the first of the series:


I left San Francisco on the Stockton boat Cornelia, on Thursday afternoon, and by four o'clock next morning was at Stockton. Nothing of interest occurred on the trip up the river. By six o'clock I had taken my seat alongside the driver of one of Fisher & Co.'s Mariposa line of stages, and soon we were wheeled out of sight of Stockton city. The morning was cool and pleasant, there was very little dust upon the road for the first twelve miles, and with a light load, fresh horses and fine roadsters too, a good seven miles an hour pace was steadily kept up. The driver kindly pointed out to me along the road all that was worthy of special observation, and he seemed to know the name of every dweller on our route. We breakfasted twelve miles out from Stockton, changed horses, and were again under good speed for the next stopping place at the Stanislaus river.

Such observation as was afforded me of the crops throughout this section of the country, showed them to be by no means nourishing. Indeed, a few of the farmers had opened away the fences to their grain lands, and let in their stock to feed upon the otherwise unprofitable crops. Had some of the land owners taken the precaution to fairly irrigate their farms, it is my impression, that instead of worthless or short crops, they might have been tolerably well rewarded for their labor.

For instance, some miles from Stockton is the farm of Messrs. Lee & Bennett, the Circus proprietors. They have under cultivation a large tract, through a portion of which courses a small stream. From this, ditches lead over their lands, and much labor has been expended in communicating a sufficiency of water to the growing cereals. Their enterprise has been handsomely rewarded by good crops of wheat, oats and barley, and in addition they have a beautiful and luxuriant garden spot, in which grows nearly every vegetable known in the State. Their fruit trees were thriving likewise, and throughout the place prosperity in every department was visible. And all this from irrigation, and close attention to their farm. Immediately surrounding them I saw fields of grain that certainly would not pay for the seed it took to plant them, and for harvesting, yet the soil seemed as good, the same facilities were offered for irrigation, and I could discover no reason, other than a lack of enterprise in the preparation of the soil, and inattention to true farming science, why these should not produce as well as the farm of Messrs. L. & B.

After leaving the "Twelve Mile House" a mile or two behind, a strong breeze sprung up, and raised such volumes of dust from the road, which floated directly in our faces, that in short time we were completely enveloped in its greyish coating. Unlike our sandy, coarse dust of San Francisco, this is almost impalpable and clings to one like flour to a miller. It is useless to attempt brushing it off with ordinary appliances. Vigorous, continued alternate beating and brushing only can remove it. It fills the ears, eyes, penetrates the nostrils, explores the mouth, and every inhalation carries grains of it towards the lungs which brings a feeling of oppressiveness akin to strangulation.

In good time we reached the river. So far our road was over one vast plain, with only two or three interruptions, such as the beds of small streams, now dry. Here we met Mr. Alvin Fisher, who was going over the route to better arrange stage conveniences. The river was quite high, and flowed at from three to four miles an hour rapidly. The ferry is similar to those usually found across our mountain streams, and one of the best of its sort. A few days' labor upon the road, just near the bank on either side, would be not amiss, however. Ten minutes delay in changing horses here, and away we went again. Between the Stanislaus and Tuolumne rivers the country is more undulating than that we had passed over. There is the same scarcity of trees, the same parched and arid soil, and poor inducements offer to either the farmer or the stock raiser. Still, along the road here and there, are sections taken up, built upon and worked ; though these are very few, and seem to have been located more to supply the wants of teamsters and of travellers than for agricultural purposes. This rolling, undulating country extends beyond the Tuolumne to within a few miles of Merced Valley, and from the south bank of that river onward to the valley, there is scarcely a tree to be seen. On either hand east and west, far off in the dim distance, can be seen the Sierra Nevadas and the Coast Range, almost to their respective bases — the former with its snow-capped summits towering amidst the clouds ; the latter blue and bleak, and desolate in appearance.

The heat had become almost intolerable. The driver said it was at once the hottest and the dustiest day, so far, of the season. The sun's rays came full upon me, my boots fairly blistered the tops of my feet, and the skin upon my face was painful to the slightest touch. Still, it were better to ride outside and suffer all this, than to take an inside seat among the Chinese and low Mexican passengers that were there, and endure worse torments from the villainous odors these people give out, and also from the inhalation of such fearful clouds of dust as continually flowed within.

In the middle of the afternoon we reached Snelling's, the county seat of Merced, in the Merced Valley, built near the north bank of the Merced river. It is a rather pretty little place, and I was told, is one of the most flourishing towns in that section of the State. The valley is truly one of the finest to look upon, as it is one of the most prolific in its soil, that I have seen. The farmers generally have bestowed great care in abundantly supplying their grounds with water, by means of ditches leading from the river, and their crops clearly indicated how beneficial and how profitable was the enterprise. Just in the line of the road leading into the town, upon the outer coping of a ditch, early in the spring, a continuous row of small willow stakes had been drove through the earth for the purpose of merely adding strength to the wall of the ditch. So rich is the soil, however, that now the worthy proprietor is rewarded for his care by having a line of beautiful, thrifty willows stretching across the entire front of his fence. Nothing was farther from his imagination than that his willow stakes would sprout and flourish ; but now that the knowledge is patent, his neighbors will follow his example, so that in a few years Snelling's will be one vast willow grove.

As soon as fresh horses were harnessed to the heavy stage wagon, which is at this point substituted for the coach, the road onward to Hornitas and Mariposa being very rough and hilly, we were again upon our journey. Five miles further on, at Bludworth's, a post office, we stopped long enough to have the mail assorted, and new there were to be no more stoppages, until we reached Hornitas, the end of this day's journey.

We crossed the Merced at Murray's Bridge, one of the longest and most substantial structures in California. From this point our rough travelling began. Much labor has been expended upon the road, yet it is one of the most rocky highways it has ever been my fortune to ride over. The driver was a master of his calling, careful and skilful. How he manages to run over the route at night, as he does, without upsetting, for the life of me I cannot conjecture. Still, I was informed, no accident had ever occurred to him. Surely, Miller, (I believe this is his name,) you deserve the praises of every one whose good chance it may be to ride with you.

Ten minutes before six o'clock, P. M., the stage drew up before the depot in Hornitas, and soon I was enjoying the luxury of a room bath to rid myself of the dust and mud (for intense perspiration had to converted the dust upon my face and neck) gathered on the way. And here let me commend to those who shall travel thitherward, and may desire the dust to be well shaken from their raiment, the services of  "old Jack," the tailor and patcher, whose shop is near the office of my good friend Baer, of the Democrat. Faith he did the thing for me famously.

The fresh visitor should not form an impression of the wee town of Hornitas too quickly. It is much better than it looks. The proprietors and occupants of many of its tents and cloth houses, have no lack of money to build of brick, or stone, or wood, if so they wish to. But they never yet have had a great fire, and until one does come I opine very little improvement will be attempted in their style of building. Should a fire occur now and destroy the almost valueless tents, nobody much would care, and thereafter quickly the sites of them would be honored with good substantial buildings. There are already some very fine stone and frame stores, and there is no lack of public spirit which suggests the erection of others at a proper period.

As I was to start next morning early for Mariposa, I did not stroll much about the town, nor see, nor hear much of its attractions. I was too fatigued to either talk or listen to one or two who seemed to be most civil to me, and so excused myself from further attention at their hands, and withdrew to my lodging room. As a matter of interest to the travelling community, I beg to say neither flea, nor mosquito, nor any other of the tribe of insect night tormentors, came to harass me. My host gave me a good bed and clean bed-clothes, more than is usually furnished in mountain towns.

Daily Alta California, 13 July 1857

RAMBLES — No. 2.


At 5 o'clock, Saturday morning, the servant commenced thumping at my door, with the notification that if I wished to leave Hornitas that day. for Mariposa, I must " hurry up," and then " hurry down." I did both, and just as soon as I did get down, I got up again upon the stage wagon seat, and at dashing pace we quit the little town.

A two-miles' drive brought us to Quartzburg, once a noted gold quartz-rock district settlement, though now sadly shorn of its prestige and its business. There were three years ago two large quartz mills in the place. They are gone, machinery and all. There were then some half-a-dozen trading houses, two or three liquor shops, a hotel, a blacksmith shop, and, I believe, a barber. Now, there are two lonely places where commodities are sold or bought ; no hotel. I am not quite certain about the blacksmith, but I'll fearlessly assert that the barber is not there. The Post Office alone remains as an evidence of the town's former glory. The body of a large team wagon which was " suspended " by chains from the lower limb of a mournful looking oak tree, upon the outskirts of the place, is truly indicative of business in Quartzburg.

Six miles on, over a hilly and a rocky road, and we were at our breakfasting place — the Widow Corbett's. We had a good breakfast, too, with fresh butter and eggs, and pure cream ; we had good broiled ham, and delicious hot biscuit. I regret to say the coffee was not equal in excellence to the rest ; still it was fair.

The widow is truly deserving of patronage. She came to the country some four years ago with her husband, a worthy, clever man. They opened the house, where she still resides, as a tavern, and, until his death, everything went well with them. But great calamity befell the widow in the fullness of her happiness. A butcher, of whom her husband purchased meat, called one evening to collect what he said was due him. Corbett disputed the correctness of the charge. High words passed : but through the intervention of some teamsters who were stopping there for the night, the matter was evidently satisfactorily settled, and the butcher paid, He then said he would stop all night at the house, and did so. In the morning early he came down, and walked about the place until the teamsters and others stopping there had left. He then brought up his own horse in front of the door, and nobody being about the premises but Corbett, his wife and little ones, to oppose him, the fiend walked up to within a few feet of where Corbett stood, instantly pulled out a Colt's revolver, and shot the unprotected, unsuspecting man dead upon the spot. The murderer then leaped upon his horse and rode away. Some hours had elapsed before the grief-stricken widow could gather strength sufficient to enable her to stand. The house was four miles remote from any other, and she was in such a condition as to preclude her from taking violent exercise. She was soon to give birth to another infant. In her distress she must await patiently the coming of some traveller to her house. It was noon before any came. As quickly as possible the alarm was given, and men were in pursuit, but the wretch had got too much the start, and escaped. The Masons of the county, of which order Corbett had been a prominent member, offered a large reward for the apprehension of his assassin, but never, I believe, has the villain been found.

The widow still retains the place. She is a very neat, rather fine looking woman, and her little ones are exceedingly fair and pretty. Let who may pass that way, remember the Widow Corbett.

Two hours more and we stopped at Mount Ophir, noted for the rich quartz veins in its immediate vicinity. It was here that a wealthy English company expended nearly a million of dollars in the erection of a quartz mill, sinking shafts, constructing roads, etc., to facilitate their operations, and after all this enormous outlay, sold out the whole concern,— claim mill, vein, and all, to the Merced Mining Company for a mere trifle. This latter company are now prosecuting the extraction of gold from the quartz rock with profit, and if they can only rid themselves of the perplexing litigation that at present trammels them, a rapid fortune to its heavy stockholders is certain to be acquired. The affairs of the company are managed by Smyth Clark, formerly City Treasurer, and John Van DeWater, an ex-Alderman of this city. The quartz is found in great abundance, is rich, and the mill is kept in operation day and night during the week. On Sunday it is stopped for the purpose of clearing out the gold, and for making any repairs that may be required. Ophir contains some dozen houses, the residences, offices and houses of the managers and operatives of the company.

From Ophir to Mariposa the distance is seven miles. The road, like all the rest of it from Hornitas up, is hilly and rocky. On the way, beyond a high hill, the driver pointed out to me the valley into which the notorious bandit chief, Joaquin, used to drive and keep his stolen cattle.

Near Mariposa is the farm of Mr. Owens, an old frontier man, said to be the wealthiest man in Mariposa, and also to have the best cultivated farm in the county. His grain fields certainly looked much better than any I had seen from Merced valley on.

Before ten o'clock Saturday morning, I was set down in front of the Stage Hotel, and in very brief time had got myself up in quite respectable style again. The weather was oppressively warm, and fortunately in the mountain towns, too strict attention to dress is not demanded. One can go without a cravat if he so chooses.

Mr. Newcomb, an enterprising gentleman of Mariposa, had got in a supply of snow-ice from the mountain tops some fifteen to twenty miles from town, and very soon I had refreshed myself with a commingling of it with good Hock.

In strolling about the place, I could discover a very trifling improvement in its appearance since 1 had seen it before in '53. In point of business prosperity, a five days sojourn there, satisfied me that it had fallen off in these four years, and so I think it is destined to do until greater attractions are offered for immigration to that county. Mariposa is really second to no county in the State in mineral wealth, nor in the natural advantages she possesses to fully develop this wealth, by the aid and cooperation of water. Yet she has lain dormant in everything pertaining to the introduction of water into her rich mining placers, for years past, while her no richer adjoining sister county, Tuolumne, has miles and miles of adequate and lucrative ditches, which ensures the miner in proceeding there, because he is certain to be supplied with water to wash out his auriferous earth in good time, and therefore is not constrained to await the long advent of the rainy season before he shall reap the products of his hard toil. Introduce water abundantly throughout Mariposa, and I predict that in very few years, there will not be a more populous, nor a richer, nor more prosperous mining county in California, in ratio to her square miles.

Long time back, one of her enterprising and public spirited citizens. Major M'Neil, late member of the Senate, did project the construction of a great ditch which, if ever completed, will amply supply the wants of a great bulk of the richest mining region within Mariposa's borders. He proposes to take the water from high up on the Merced river, whence he can be ensured sufficient elevation to carry it over the highest mining localities. Being a thorough practical civil engineer and surveyor himself, Maj. M'Neil is just the man for so important and so great an undertaking, and I was glad to learn that at length fair hopes were entertained from proffers of assistance recently made him, that before another year, the work is likely to be successfully prosecuted. Let this be done, and no longer will Mariposa remain in her present inertness.

While I was in Mariposa, Mr. Tatman, one of the oldest inhabitants, had the good fortune to pick from off the surface, a piece of quartz rock, from which was extracted four hundred dollars worth of the precious metal, and other smaller amounts had been secured by him previously.

Just in front of the hotel where I stopped, kept by Mr. Vincent, a very worthy man, by the way, and an attentive host, — and underneath the house opposite, a party of Frenchmen had excavated to the extent of the whole foundation of the building, and notwithstanding the expenses they were put to in being obliged to safely place props under the house thus undermined, they were making good wages, and had done so.

Other localities that I visited, adjacent to the town, I found were profitably worked, with even a scant supply of water, while already early in the season as it was, some of the higher and richer placers were obliged to be abandoned simply from lack of water.

I was told of a snake fight which was witnessed by a party of surveyors a few miles from Mariposa, that may interest some of your readers, and so I will give it:

A large snake, known as the chicken snake, was seen eagerly pushing for its hole, closely pursued by a much smaller and very beautiful serpent called the king snake. Both are harmless to human kind. Soon the king snake managed to dart and seize his victim by the tail, around which he coiled so tightly as to paralyze the other. Continuing his hold for a few moments he suddenly unwound himself, glided quickly towards the head of his stiffened enemy, and then with another dart, coiled close around just back of the large snake's neck, and immediately commenced a series of sharp bites upon the head. At this juncture, one of the observing party beat off the king snake with a blow from his rod, when the vanquished snake revived, and managed to crawl bleeding to his hole before the other could again overtake him, and so ended the fight. The length of the chicken snake was stated as above six feet, while that of his victor was not more than three feet. And so ends my story.

Daily Alta California, 25 July 1857

RAMBLES — No. 3.


During my sojourn in Mariposa, I collected much valuable information regarding the condition of the county— its resources, prospects, etc., etc. At noon of my sixth day there, I started for Hornitas, there to take the stage next morning for the Fresno Indian Reservation, at which place I contemplated a stay of two weeks or more.

We reached Hornitas in good time of afternoon, and as my ride had given me no fatigue, opportunity was afforded me of looking about the place. From a few of its oldest and first citizens, I gathered a general idea of its trade and growth. Doubtless, in short time, it will become one of the most prosperous towns in that section of the State, for I saw more real enterprise and business activity there than at Mariposa.

Thursday morning I took the stage wagon for the Reservation. Six miles on, we passed through the little town of Santa Cruz, the only settlement of any note between Hornitas and Millerton, a distance of nearly sixty miles.

As far as Santa Cruz, the country we passed through presented a cheerful aspect. There are a succession of slight hills and pretty valleys, well studded with oak trees and clad with rich verdure. But beyond this, all the way to the Fresno Farm, little inducement is offered either to the agriculturist or stock raiser. Barren, rolling lands ; broad and sterile plains, only relieved at long intervals by the lines of trees that grow upon the banks of crossing rivers and streams. There are not a dozen houses along the whole route. And yet the road is much travelled, as it is the great highway to all the country south — Millerton, King's river, Visalia, Four Creeks, Tule river, White's, Kern river and Tejon.

We stopped at Gwin, a "town" with a single house, where we dined and fed the two poor horses that had slowly dragged themselves and us along thus far, and must yet travel 25 miles further before a rest would be given them. The host was very kind to me, and, as good Democratic brethren, we at once affiliated. I monopolized his whole attention, for my only travelling companion was a Chinaman, and the boy-driver was too busy with his team to do aught else.

Two hours' drive from Gwin brought us to the Chowchilla river, almost a dried-up institution, its bottom one broad expanse of clear white sand and gravel, without a stone amongst it all big as a "piece of chalk."

By five o'clock we reached Arnold's, from which I dispatched word of my arrival, to the Reservation, six miles further on. One of Arnold's sons was kind enough to carry the message for me, and, for his trouble, declined any compensation. But, during his absence, his precious father and myself had a lively time of it.

I was somewhat affected with fever, and the long ride under the full glare of the almost burning sun, the dust that I had inhaled, the sweltering perspiration that oppressed me, and the jarring that the miserable vehicle had occasioned me, caused me to become quite ill and faint. I sat down in the doorway of the rude cabin, so that I might get whatever of fresh air there was stirring, and at the same time be protected from the hot rays of the sun.

Old Arnold, with an eye to business, immediately set about getting a meal ready. He built a whopping fire in his stove, that nearly scorched me, even in the doorway—caught and killed, and quickly prepared a chicken for the pot; went to his barn and got some eggs, and made such other arrangements that in brief time there was spread upon his table a meal fit for a President. He asked me to sit by, and partake. I then told him that I was quite unwell, and begged to be excused. He pressed me; I again respectfully declined. He urged me just to taste the chicken, and to take only a sup of coffee. I declined the taste, but, in compliment, purely, said I would sup the coffee. And, taking the cup to the doorway, for the room was too hot for me to remain in, I proceeded to sip it. This raised the old man's anger, apparently, and he first urged, and next really demanded, that I should sit at table with him. This I tried to explain to him I could not do, simply because of my illness.

The old fellow said not another word until he finished his meal. Then he came towards me, and told me, bluntly, that I had insulted him most grossly, and that neither under his own roof nor elsewhere, had such indignity been offered him as from me. Of course, I endeavored to disabuse his mind from any such impression, and again assured him it was my illness, and that only, which had caused me to decline his hospitable offerings. All would not do. He reiterated that I had wantonly, grievously insulted him, and that, too, under his own roof, and finally hinted, that the true cause was, because I deemed myself too good to sit at the table of a poor man as he was. This roused me. I forgot my illness, and repelled any and all such insinuations with the full force of the true indignation that, for the moment, fired me. For me to be too proud to sit at a poor man's table, forsooth! I, who had travelled throughout the State, and roughed it equal to any other man, who had only that day sat side by side with a Chinaman at dinner, had done so frequently in my stage travels over the country, and stand prepared to do so over and over again (if I cannot avoid it, for John don't smell very nice); for me, calling myself a true Democrat, too, I told him, to refuse for the reason alleged, was simply ridiculous to think of. Nor, were I that sort of codfish aristocracy, even, could I be so rude as to decline sitting at the table of any man under whose roof I had sought and obtained shelter and protection.

Faith, I talked famously to that old man, though the absence of any other witness to my speech other than my Chinaman fellow passenger, constrains me to proclaim it for myself. But the truth is, Arnold had been imitating somebody that drank whiskey, and tried the thing a little too often that afternoon. My eloquence (that's my forte, dear reader), my indignation, my explanations, all, were vain against that old man's stubborn impression. Then I took other, rabid, very different ground, and for about five minutes time, such opinions of Mr. Arnold escaped my lips, as, I fear me, will seriously affect my position in the church.

After this last, and I confess it tolerably inelegant burst of language was concluded, I withdrew from his house, and sat upon a log some yards away, where I waited the coming of my good friend Hart, who was to take me to the Reservation. Now, that my passion was over, my illness returned in double increased degree, and disconsolate I sat upon that log a very sick fellow, indeed. Fortunately, in less than an hour, Mr. Hart came. He had an easy, light buggy, and a dashing pair of horses. We were little more than half an hour in reaching Fresno Farm. By this time the sun had gone down, the weather become comfortably cool, the full moon shone beautifully upon the earth, and I felt great relief from the suffering my inopportune visit at Arnold's had occasioned.

I afterwards learned that the old man had killed the chicken, and prepared the meal in his very best style, solely for my sake, in spirit of pure hospitality. It is due him to state this, and while I acknowledge the anger I bore him at the time, I now assure him of my thanks for his kind intentions.

Upon reaching the Reservation, Judge Lewis, the Superintendent, Judge Hoxie, and all the other gentlemen upon the place extended to me a most cordial welcome, and nothing within their power to do for me, was omitted. My illness abated almost from the moment I reached the Farm.

Daily Alta California, 6 August 1857

RAMBLES — No. 4.


It was on Thursday evening that I reached the Reservation. All day, Friday, I was confined to my room by the illness which had attacked me. On Saturday, however, I was sufficiently recovered to accompany my friend, Mr. Hart, to Millerton, the county seat of Fresno, some eighteen miles distant. The road is a very good one for most of the way, and only just before reaching Millerton for a mile or two, did the dust annoy us. On the way, we stopped at "Jerry Brown's;" and, though his is not a public house, we found himself and his excellent lady lacking in neither the essentials nor the disposition to refresh and handsomely entertain us.

We crossed the Fresno near the Reservation. In fact the river courses through the grounds belonging to the farm. About sixteen miles from there, is the crossing of the San Joaquin river, at Converse's Ferry. The river, at this point, is broad, deep, clear, and swift, one of the finest streams in the State. At the invitation of Mr. Converse, we stopped at his house for an hour or so, and I was given the pleasure of an acquaintance with his young, pretty, and excellent wife and her sister. It was, indeed, gratifying to meet such pleasant people, as I found these to be, and I was especially delighted at the opportunity, because, since leaving San Francisco, these were the first ladies it had been my good fortune to converse with.

We soon reached Millerton, and the day being too warm for walking about, I failed to go to the Fort, some distance above, on the river, as I first proposed to do. Millerton is upon the south bank of the San Joaquin, and contains about fifty buildings altogether. A fine hotel, called the "Oak House," is kept there by Messrs. McCray & Rivercomb, in style superior to any I had yet found in my rambles. But my praises are not required in compliment to these gentlemen. They are both known all the country around, as honest, clever, noble-hearted men. Hughes & Co. are the chief merchants of the place, and they carry on a much more extensive and profitable trade than first appearances would seem to warrant the belief of.

The Fort is one of the oldest military posts of our government in California, and is chiefly intended as a protection against Indian hostilities for the whites in that region, although of late years there has been little occasion for the active services of the troops stationed there, from this or any other cause. At a subsequent visit to Millerton, I visited the Fort, and, through the kindness of Lieut. Tipton, second in command, was shown over the grounds. At present the post is under the command of Lieut. Livingston, who has one company of infantry, only, with him. The buildings upon the place are, generally, well-constructed, roomy, and admirably adapted to guard against the intense heat of the weather, that continues there during the dry season, as well as to protect their occupants from cold and wet in winter. Everything about the place evinced the care, cleanliness, and discipline which prevailed.

We returned to the Reservation early in the evening, in time to witness a grand Indian dance. There assembled in the rear of the main building (the "old adobe," as it is known, erected by the late Major Savage,) some 100 Indian warriors, squaws, boys and girls. About half of them were dressed and decorated for the dance. These were daubed from head to foot in a most fantastic manner, with paint and earth grotesquely mixed. Their faces looked demoniac. Feathers, beads, bones, and whatever other articles of personal adornment they could get, were lavishly expended upon their persons, in a variety of styles. The men wore no clothing save a breech-cloth. The women were attired in long loose gowns, with a profusion of beads and fancy articles fastened about their necks and in their ears. Each one had a piece of bone about two inches long, and larger than an ordinary pipe stem, stuck through the cartilage of the nose.

A great fire of brush and faggots was made, and around this these mad devils leaped and danced, howling, shrieking, whistling, singing, as they went They wriggled, writhed, and made most painful contortions of the body. The women and outside Indians kept up the wild chant to which the dancers moved. Occasionally two or three of them would break from out the circle, and dart, howling, right through the fire. One of them, Bumble Bee by name, especially attracted my attention. The fellow would jump, stiff-legged, until I thought the jar would shake his teeth from their sockets, and instantly change off into such twistings of his body that D'Evani, the Indian rubber man, could scarce excel him. Bumble Bee is the great "chesara," or magician of his tribe, and as such is much feared by all the Indians. He is certainly a genius in his way. His face betrays the roguery that possesses him. at a glance, and a little observation of the fellow fully convinces one that he is a wizard, sure enough. On the farm he is very useful, however, and works faithfully. Lame Bill is another of the characters among the Indians. He is a young, good-looking fellow, and were it not for a deformed leg which gave him the sobriquet above, would be a splendidly formed man. Very smart in everything he attempts. Bill has made himself one of the most useful hands upon the farm, and has well merited his promotion as an overseer of one squad of harvest hands. Bill was a great horse thief, and tells with gusto yet how often he went upon marauding journeys among the native Californians' ranchos. It is hard to induce Bill to believe that it is wrong for an Indian to steal a Californian's horses. He has, besides, a very indefinite idea of "Uncle Sam," of whom he hears so much said upon the farm. Bill seems to locate the old gentleman at San Francisco, and once, when refused some extravagant clothing that he fancied, he declared that he would go to San Francisco, and "kill Uncle Sam, by G — d !" But he is now quite reconciled to our excellent uncle, and believes him to be a tolerably decent individual.

But the most noted Indian on the farm is the great Chief Ni-ack-a-wa, of the Hou-a-ches tribe, of whom but sixteen are now alive, though formerly they were the most numerous of all the southern tribes, as they were likewise the most formidable. Ni-ack-a-wa is the great chief of the Chu-chau-cees, Chow-chil-las, Po-to-eu-cies, and Po-on-no-chees, which formerly inhabited the broad range between the Chowchilla and San Joaquin rivers, and he alone, of all the Indians, can speak the language of all the tribes from Stockton to the Tulare lakes. In his prime, this warrior must have been a wonderful man indeed. More than a year ago a wild colt run against him in a corral, and, striking its forehead against his, both tumbled together. The collision fractured his skull, and for four days he lay lifeless, as it were. To this day he suffers from the wound, and his mind is woefully impaired in consequence. He is over six feet in height, powerfully framed, and of symmetrical form. In look and tone and manner, he is one of the most majestic men I ever saw. All his attitudes and gestures, whilst speaking, are exceedingly graceful, and for impressiveness of style, in his more impassioned moments, there are very few that can excel him. He is truly a great man.

Among other noted Indians upon the farm, is the Chu-chau-cees chief, a good and honest man, Wild Bill, a celebrated brave, Bafelista, chief of the Merced tribe, and the most formidable warrior of all the southern Indians. In the skirmishes with the whites that occurred in that section in 1850-1, it was Bafelista that put to flight Col. Benney's command, among whom was the celebrated late Major Savage. Afterwards a peace was made between Bafelista and the Americans, and with Commissioner Wozencraft and Captain Benton, U. S. A.; this chief visited Stockton and San Francisco, in order that he might learn something of the strength and numbers of our people. Then there is Howe, a little made Indian, who, less than a year ago, actually run down an antelope, Chaloo, also a fleet runner, and one of Major Savage's favorites; Tripas, the interpreter, Jim Wau-ton-pa. another of Savage's favorites, and Black Hawk, a trusty, active youth. All these work contentedly upon the farm; doing whatever they are bade, and, generally speaking, make most excellent hands. A few of the women are tolerably good looking — one of them, Ko-ne, formerly, belonging to Major Savage's household, is really a pretty faced, splendidly formed creature. The great majority of the squaws, however, are prodigiously ugly. They have a custom, too, not at all tended to improve their appearance, which is, to smear their faces over with black earth, in respect to their deceased relatives. At a distance, a stranger might mistake these women for men with irregular patches of black whiskers covering their faces.

Their young are treated in a manner that would terrify an American mother. They are either packed up in close grass baskets, with only an open space left for the head to project from, or left to roll around upon the ground in a state of perfect nudity. Still they seem to thrive well, and are never troubled with the want of Godfrey's Cordial nor paregoric.

Daily Alta California, 19 August 1857



One of the chief objects in setting out upon my rambles was to visit the wonderful Yo-Se-mite Valley. [And here let me correct the orthography and pronunciation of this name, as it is usually given. I have it, ex cathedra, from the Indians of the valley themselves, that it is Yo-Semite, as pronounced by them.]

Having communicated my wish to Major Lewis, that kind gentleman quickly arranged matters in such a way that I was insured in making the visit under the most auspicious circumstances. His duties as Indian Agent required his presence through the country leading directly to the valley, in a few days, and if I would wait, he offered to include me in his company. I gladly accepted the invitation. Accordingly on a Friday morning, we left the Reservation with two Indians, Wau-tou-pa and Bauptista, as servants and guides, all on mule back. Eight miles up the Fresno we stopped at Dr. Leach's store, to procure ample stores for the journey. Dr. L. was a partner of the late Major Savage, and during his long residence in that section, has merited and won the marked respect of the entire community. Two years ago he had the remains of Major "Savage" taken from their then resting place and brought to a spot near his store. There they rest, top of a lonely, small natural mound, a short distance from the Fresno, just where the gallant soldier had often sat in life, for it was a favorite resort of his. Over the grave is erected an obelisk, of Quincy granite, placed there by Dr. Leach, upon the east side of which is the inscription :


Upon the west side is another brief inscription, which I have lost my memorandum of.

By middle of the afternoon we reached " Roane's," upon the Fresno, twenty miles from the Reservation. There we halted for the day, in order to hire our mules shod. This is a miner's trading post, and Mr. Roane, the proprietor of the on!y store there, informed me that good wages were being made by all engaged in mining. The place, like all other small settlements in California, has its character. In "Old Ross," the blacksmith, the traveller will find a genius, a glorious old fellow, of sterling common sense, and generous impulses, that will say the best of things because he cannot help it.

Early next morning we started. To our party were added Mr. Charles Simpson, an enterprising miner, and a noble fellow, and Major Lewis had procured the services of Santini, the best Indian guide in the country. It was Santini who served as guide to Lieut. Moore, U. S. A., some years ago, when employed in making his interesting explorations through that portion of the State. We were to go no farther than "Artesian Valley " that day, only twelve miles. Long before noon we encamped. The road thither was rough and hilly, and to reach the Valley we had to descend a high mountain. Artesian Valley is owned by Judge Lewis, and occupied as a branch to the Fresno Farm, under the immediate superintendence of Mr. John Hunt, than whom a better man nor more efficient official can readily be found. It contains about 300 acres of good land, entirely shut in by surrounding high hills, and is one of the most beautiful spots I ever beheld. There is a rich growth of large oak trees covering about half the Valley, the balance being rich meadow land. Just in the centre of the Valley, within an area of three hundred yards, are five distinct springs of water, each one upon the summit of small mounds. The largest of them is strongly impregnated with sulphur; another is slightly chalybeate. The remaining three are, so well as I could judge, devoid of mineral impregnation, and afford an abundant supply, the whole year round, of most delicious cold water for every purpose of household requirements and for irrigation. We roamed about the lovely valley until dusk, when our Indians having prepared supper, we ate, and soon after spread our blankets under an umbrageous oak, and laid us down to sleep. Simpson and myself slept under the same covering that night, and somehow he thought the moon, which was nearly at full, cut some queer capers, which quite alarmed him, as the comet was expected to arrive in a day or two afterwards, and these seeming vagaries of Madame Lunar he regarded as certain forerunners of the universal smash anticipated.

By 5 o'clock next morning we had breakfasted, and were on our way. We must reach the foot of the Black Mountain — the last to climb before getting to Yo-Semite — that day, an honest thirty miles over a rough mountain trail. Two miles from Artesian Valley, we halted for a few minutes at the habitation of Messrs. Coffee & Nichols. The latter was to join our party. This was an accession that pleased us all very much, for Bob Nichols, besides being a truly good man, is celebrated for being about the best rifle shot in Fresno. Soon we were on our way again, Nichols with his long, trusty rifle slung over his shoulder, taking the lead, and with keen look for grizzly, deer, or other game that might be worth the shooting. The Indians finally encountered a huge rattle snake in the trail, and it was not long before Wau-tou-pa had presented me the fresh plucked rattles of the varmint. I counted eleven without the "button," which indicated the loss of some.

Before noon we were encamped at New Indian Diggings for dinner. Here was a rancheria of some fifty Indians, all of whom came down upon the banks of the river to see us. Among them was a low looking fellow with white skin, who told us that he was from Wheeling, Va. He had taken up his residence with the Indians, and had gone so far as to tattoo his chin with red stripes, to show how much he liked the Indian style of personal decoration. Before we departed I saw him down on his knees, making bread, in a hut where two great homely looking squaws were lying. Dinner over, we resumed our march. Seed-tic, a son of old Santini's, aged about 14, joined us at the diggings, and proved himself invaluable to us during the journey. But he had very little affection for his old father, I fear, for with the most provoking coolness would he order the old man to dismount and let him ride the mule whenever the trail was bad. About six o'clock, evening, we reached the camping ground at the foot of the Black Mountain, seventeen miles from Yo-Semite. There we met Major McNeil, formerly Senator from Mariposa, Fresno and Tulare, who promised us the pleasure of hit company to the Falls.

At sharp five o'clock next morning, we were on the move, and hoped to reach the Valley by noon. But we had reckoned little of the trail. Two hours did it take to climb the mountain. On top we found considerable snow, which gave to the atmosphere a cooling temperature we had not provided against in clothing. In another hour the temperature moderated, so that it was very comfortable. We crossed three great prairie swamps, through each of which coursed small clear streams that seemed to have no outlet.

At one point in the trail we were afforded a most gorgeous view of a long line of neighboring snow-clad peaks that glitters in the sun's rays, one of the grandest spectacles ever presented to my gaze. We had taken along an excellent telescopic glass, and through this the scene was unutterably grand.

Descending a small mountain about half way to the Valley, an ignorant drunken packer, with a negro boy seated behind him, rode up and in reply to an inquiry about the trail, told us as many lies in as short a time, as I ever heard. We let him slide.

From an eminence reached at twelve o'clock, about a mile from where the direct descent to the Valley commences, we obtained the first view of the massive walls to this valley of wonders. Just opposite we could see a silvery sheet of water gliding down the face of a steep sloping cliff, the height of which we could not contemplate. Eager, now that we had got this foretaste of the wonders that were in store for us, to witness all, faster on we urged our animals. The steep, winding, dusty, rocky descent was made — one of the party so dizzied by the sublime spectacle opened to the view, that he scarcely dared to look at it. The towering rock-walls reaching to the clouds — the incomprehensible depths below, where what proved to be giant pines, seemed scarce larger than a rose bush; the river running through the centre of the Valley, appearing like a single strip of glittering golden bands,and far away there shone the snow peaks, bright crowned monarchs of all they overlooked majestic, stern, sublime.

From the base of the mountain to the usual camping ground in the valley is about six miles. We reached there a little after two o'clock. Two miles from the descent, to the right hand, in going up the valley, are the first falls. Here a body of water, full seventy feet across, falls, without break or diversion of volume, a clear depth of over 800 feet. Across from it, on the other side of the valley, is the trickling stream alluded to above, which washes down the giant rock, full 2,500 feet. The view of these, alone, more than compensates for the toil and fatigue in reaching them. Indeed, for my own part, I do not think the Falls the great wonder of the scene. The huge, towering, perpendicular rocks were to me the most astonishing to behold. To contemplate what monstrous convulsion of the earth could ever have wrought so singularly grand a phenomenon, is beyond the scope of human mind.

Proceeding up the valley, first to the left, after passing the Falls just mentioned, there rises, to the giddy height of 3,300 feet, the monster giant rock of all — the "Captain." It presents a double front, at sharp right angles, the salient line of which |s true as masonry could form it. From base to top, not even a shrub is growing on its face, nor edging upon its ragged top is vegetation to be seen. It is over a mile in length, and, like all its fellow-rocks, is, I believe, granite. Across again, opposite its upper termination, projects a huge, tower-shaped rock, of somewhat lesser height, and next adjoining to this, is another, faced in resemblance of old style cathedrals, with high Gothic facade, on either side of which rises, far above the peak, two massive towers — one surmounted with a spire, the other's top abrupt and seemingly worn rugged by time's destroying agency. From this on, to close by the great Falls — "a sketch of which was taken by Hutchings — there are no very striking views among the lofty rocks, that I care to especially notice. The valley, up to this point, ranges from half a mile to a mile in width; nearly through the centre of which the Merced flows, with one or two lateral branches, that unite below.

The great Falls cannot be seen until you come almost directly opposite to them, from below, nor for a wide space from above. The first clear fall is stated by scientific men, who have measured its altitudes, at 1,460 feet. The water leaps from a deep notch in the top of the cliff. We were told that it was eighty feet in width. About 300 feet below the top, the water breaks upon a slightly projecting rock, and thence downward to the first basin, falls in a thick spray of the most exquisite drapery that can be imagined. Now it shoots in numerous separate, pointed forms, widening to their tops ; anon it gathers in creamy folds, and changing yet again, sways gently into graceful windings, until quite near the bed below, whence rises the seeming welcoming lighter mist, as if to guard the falling water to its destination— and there, in sportive play, the spray and mist appear to ever linger. The water at this base fills upon a smooth, sloping rock, from which it flows along the projecting bench, that sends it over in a fall of some 300 feet, upon another bench below, from which it finally leaps 600 feet, and more, clear into the valley's lap.

Back of the usual camping ground, across from the Falls, is another monster rock, standing almost isolated from the others. It is called the Sentinel. Its height is given to be 2,800 feet. From the base to the summit is a very gradual slope, and it has a rounding top. Winding about its face half way up, is a ledge upon which numerous pines are growing. They look like shrubs. To those that have seen an old engraving professing to give an idea of the form of the Tower of Babel, in progress of erection, with the workmen going up its outer winding stairway, the resemblance of this monster Sentinel to it would at once occur to them.

On our second day in the valley, we went with our Indian guides to explore its upper limit. A walk of five miles brought us to a beautiful little lake, forming one of the indirect sources of the Merced, itself being supplied from a large lake on the top of the mountains above, visited by Lieut. Moore in his journeyings. The cliff scenery offered new wonders all along our route. There were the "Half Dome," 4,400 feet in height, just before us ; the "Dome," 3,500 feet, upon the opposite side; beside other, though lesser rocks, on either side of these — all with the same perpendicular frontings. We saw, besides, two other falls away in a niche to the right, and, crossing the river, visited the really largest falls of all, though their height is not so great as the others. These are situated in a sort of recess to the surrounding hills, difficult to reach. A greater body of water falls over the cliff here than at any other point, and forms the chief source of the Merced. The upper fall is 700 feet; the lower one, 520 feet in height. The expanse of water at the top is about 100 feet. The rock overlooking the lower one can be climbed by the curious, that are not apt to get giddy. Once on top there need be no fear, for nature has furnished a most reliable balustrade of solid rock, just high enough to ensure one against tumbling over, from which the visitor can look down into the chasm below, watching the water as it madly plunges down the awful void.

Towards the upper end of the valley, over one front of the "Dome" rock, is another sheet of water, which stealthily glides down the giddy height, which, with the sun shining full upon it, as we saw it, seemed a pouring of liquid gold.

On our way back to the camping ground, Bauptista picked for us a fine mess of strawberries, which served as rare desert to dinner.

We passed another day in the valley, and on the morning, early, of the next, took our departure. But while we stopped there, I could not forbear to gaze upon the wonders that surrounded us, and truly, each hour I saw them all, did I become more impressed with the great sublimity and unusual grandeur of the scene.

During our stay there were not more than thirty persons in the valley. Many we deterred from going, because of the hardship of the journey thither. But to any who care to withstand this, I'll warrant they will never regret their visit to the Yo-Semite. From Mariposa it is about fifty miles — a good two days' ride to the inexperienced in mule travelling.

Source: "Daily Alta California", in California Digital Newpaper Collection
Illustration: "Yosemite Valley", by Thomas Hill (1865) in NPS website
Created: 18-IX-2016
Updated: 20-IX-2016