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Upper California

Sangamo Journal, 6 January 1838

From the Missourian.


City of Angese, U. California,
Oct. 10, 1837.

Dear Sir—I have now been in California about nine months, and have obtained some general knowledge of the country which may not be destitute of interest to you. This country, as you are well aware, has of late excited much interest in some parts of the United States, and as the "Ultima Thule" of the American continent, has been the subject of many high encomiums upon the much beloved maxim that "what is the farthest off, and least known, must be the best." Lower California, or as it has sometimes been called, Old California, is a dry, hot and barren desert. Stupendous mountains, rocky hills, and plains of sand, are its prominent features. It extends from Point St. Lucas in 22? deg. to St. Diego, in about 32 deg. N. lat. and its soil, climate, productions, and I may add inhabitants, it is the Arabia of North America. Figs, grapes and peaches are nearly all its exports, except near the southern end, are some mines of silver, and a small extent of good land. Upper California, leading from San Diego, in about lat. 32, to the Russian establishment of Bodega in about [38] — comprehending an extent of about 600 miles of sea coast, is one of the most fertile countries on earth. This long strip of good land, has perhaps an average breadth of seventy of eighty miles, but is much the widest ?? It is intersected with several ranges of mountains which in some places approach quite to the coast, and in others, are nearly a hundred miles distant.

The climate is pre-eminently delightful and healthy, much more so than any part of the U. States. Snow never falls in this country, except in the mountains, and although I have been told that ice has been seen of the thickness of window glass, I have never yet seen any, although I arrived here in the middle of January. The climate is so remarkably different from that of our country, that it needs a more particular description. There is the wet and the dry — There is really no winter here. What is called the rainy season, is from the first of November to the first of April—not that it rains all or near half the time, but that rains are common from May to September, inclusive, it never rains at all. October and April in some years are wet, and in others dry months. During the wet seasons the prevailing winds are from the S. E. and in the dry from the N. W. That is, the winds blow from the sea towards the mountains, from 10 or 11 o'clock in the morning, until near sun set, and the mountains towards the sea, until the sea breeze sets in the next morning, which prevents the weather from being very hot. The warmest time of the day is about 10 o clock.

Every kind of vegetable that is cultivated in any part of the U. States flourishes well here. Sugar cane has never been much cultivated, but some small lots have succeeded well. The kind of crop that appears to me best adapted both to the soil and climate is cotton and tobacco, neither of which are cultivated here, and are sold at high prices.— Inferior is brought from Boston, and sold by quintal, out of the ship, at from 40 to 50 cents a pound. All our Yankee notions about agriculture are completely set at defiance. Seed time and harvest are all the year. Wheat, however, is commonly sown in December or January and reaped in May or June, but any other time of the year would do nearly as well. ?? is that ?? the beginning of the rainy season, do not need watering. Corn is planted in March, April, May, June or July, and seldom fails to do well.

Two crops in the year can be made on the same ground. It has been sold since I have been here at three dollars per bushel. It is now selling for one, and is seldom less. Wheat is now worth from two to three dollars, and is in great demand. The fact is, the people are too lazy to cultivate anything except just enough to keep them from starving. The principal, and indeed almost all the occupation of the people of California, is breeding cattle. Some of the inhabitants of this town have herds of more than twenty thousand. Hides and tallow are the great staples of the country, and indeed, almost the only articles of commerce. They depend entirely on foreigners, and mostly on the Bostonians for all their wants.

There are no mechanics in the country except a few Indians in some of the missions.— You may form some idea of the state of the arts of life, when you are informed that common rough cart wheels are brought from Boston, and sold for sixty dollars a pair. Next in importance to the breeding of cattle, with the inhabitants of this part of California, is the cultivation of the Vine. The vine-yards here are extensive and fine, and just now is the time of vintage. The slothful Spaniard who has passed all the year in doing little or nothing, is now a most active personage gathering his grapes, and making his wine and brandy. The grapes are abundant and fine; delicious, most delicious. The grape is certainly one of God's choicest gifts to man. How strange it is that our countrymen, with all their knowledge and enterprise, and activity, and cupidity, have not grapes ! They do not know how to cultivate them. They don't know what they are. They absolutely never saw any. I think there is no other kind of agriculture that repays human labor se well as the culture of the Vine. There is one little vineyard in this town of one acre of land, and containing one thousand vines that has in one year produced twenty barrels of brandy, worth at least fifty dollars each, and ten of wine worth twenty each — Twelve hundred dollars is a good crop for one acre. Two young Americans here, one of whom is Samuel Carpenter, from Clay county, Mo. have this year planted a vineyard of 12000 vines, and intend planting the same number next year. If they live a few years they cannot fail to be rich.

Nothing is wanting to make this one of the finest countries on earth, but a good government and an industrious population, of both of which particulars, it is woefully deficient. The Government cannot positively be called bad, because it is as near as possible no government at all. The government, when there is any, is in Monterey, and as far as I can understand, it consists of a man sent from Mexico, with the title of Political Chief, and a kind of Legislature of some ten members called Deputies, who are a little more than echoes of the former.— A man called the military Chief, who has command of the soldiers, and one called the Assessor, who is a judicial officer, whose function is something like the Attorney General. There are also five judicial districts, each governed Alcalde or justice of the peace, who is chosen annually, It is commonly said, and as commonly believed, that all these functionaries are open to bribery. The laws are nominally those of Mexico—in general copied from those of Old Spain, and are not only just and good, but well adapted to the wants and condition of the people, and the only fault is that they are wholly neglected, or badly administered.

The fact seems to be that the Governor, for the time being, is, if he chooses, an absolute despot, liable, however, like all other, to be deposed by the popular voice: an event which has already happened to more than one. When I arrived here there was no Governor: the late incumbent Gen. Figeree, having died a few months previous, and the place was filled ad interim, by Gutierez, the Military Chief. Early in the summer Don Mariano Chico, a member of the Mexican Congress arrived as Governor. He began his administration in a very harsh manner, with the apparent intention of frightening people into submission to his will. He treated a number of prominent individuals, and among them our countrymen, Stearns, in a most outrageous manner, and ordered them to prepare to leave the country as soon as he could procure a vessel to send them to Mexico. A small brig arrived just then from the Sandwich Islands—he chartered her immediately for the purpose, but was obliged to embark in her himself, and make good his retreat towards Mexico, for fear of worse consequences. In the mean time, the Government remains in the hands of the military chief, who is a native of Old Spain, and a popular man.

The question has already been discussed, of declaring California independent of Mexico, but it appears to me, to say the least, entirely premature, as the population is very inconsiderable, the white or whitish part of the inhabitants scarcely exceed 4000 souls in all Upper California. The Indians in the Missions are said to amount to twenty thousand; but in a political view they are scarcely of more importance than the herds of cattle. In point of character they are as different as possible from the Indians of the United States. They are peaceable, quiet, obedient and laborious. They perform all manual, and with the exception of a few foreigners, all the mechanical labor of the country. The common wages of the Indian is four or five dollars a month, or 25 cents a day. They are quite as good as our blacks and certainly cheaper. ?? and you can have 60 or 100 any day.

To good farmers and mechanics, if they can make up their minds to overcome some small difficulties and delays at the outset, will do well. I should not advise them to settle in this part of the country; for the reason that all the land is appropriated, and cannot easily be obtained, and that timber and wood of all kinds is very scarce. The country near the Bay of Francisco, is of better quality, unappropriated and of the best ?? in great abundance.— I expect in a short time to have a tract of land that will be large enough and good enough for me and all my friends who will ever want land in this country.

I had intended to have written more at length, but the man who takes this to Sonora cannot wait. After you have read it, please reinclose it and direct it to Samuel C. Owens, Independence, Mo.

Your friend, truly,

Source: "Sangamo Journal", Springfield; retrieved from the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection
Page created: 29-VII-2016
Last updated: 18-IX-2016