Modern education has not given us men who write better epitaphs or men who build better houses. It has given us men who are afraid to write epitaphs and leave it to the vicar. It has given us men who are afraid to build houses and leave it to the architect. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of the Great Republic - Helene Guerber

Early Times in California

The land taken from Mexico included, as we have seen, our present state of California. This new section was still little known, although more than three hundred years had passed since the Spaniards first visited it. They named it California because a fabulous story of the time claimed that there was a rich province of that name near India. As people then fancied that India could not be very far away from this part of America, the Spaniards considered this name most appropriate for the newly discovered region.

Some time later California was visited by Sir Francis Drake in the course of his famous journey around the world. He renamed it New Albion, and is said to have discovered San Francisco Bay and the one bearing his name, near by. We are even told that he landed on the shores of Drake Bay to refit his vessel, and that he made such friends with the Indians that they begged him to stay with them and be their king.

Drake was followed, early in the seventeenth century, by a Spaniard who not only discovered the bays of San Diego and Monterey, but claimed the whole region for his sovereign. Nevertheless, for nearly a century, and a half after that no lasting settlement was made in California. But at the end of that time some Franciscan friars came from Mexico to preach the gospel to the Indians.

These good men built churches and a score of mission stations in some of the most charming "garden spots" in California. Here they preached to such good purpose that at the end of about fifty years—in 1820—there were nearly thirty thousand Christian Indians. Indeed, the natives felt such awe for the priests that they obeyed them at a word, and worked so hard that the missions soon became very rich.

Spanish Mission

The Spanish had hitherto been the only white men in California, with the exception of a few trappers and traders. The trappers roamed about the pathless woods and wild mountains, while the traders, who were mainly New Englanders, sailed up and down the coast, landing from time to time to exchange calicoes and groceries for the hides which the herders had to sell.

Sometimes these traders carried the hides to China and exchanged them for tea, but as a rule they went home again and sold their cargoes in Boston or New York. The two-year journey around the Horn was not only long, but often very tedious, for ships were often becalmed, or driven out of their course by unfavorable winds.

Still, both traders and trappers told such wonderful stories of the land they had visited in the far West, that a number of adventurers longed to go there. But the journey across the plains, through the deserts, and over the mountains, was so long and painful that only the bravest and strongest dared undertake it.

These men generally followed the road pointed out by the trappers, who often served as guides for the travelers, and beguiled the way by their many stories. Some of these were quite true, but others were told in fun to see if people would really believe them.

For instance, James Bridges, a famous trapper, used to tell of an awful snowstorm in the Great Salt Lake valley which lasted seventy days and stopped only when there were seventy feet of snow on the ground. He said that vast herds of buffaloes perished from the cold, and that their meat was kept fresh by the snow in which they were buried. When spring came, and the snow melted, he tumbled the frozen buffaloes into Great Salt Lake, where the water was so briny that it pickled all the meat perfectly. Thus, he had food enough to last several years for himself and for a whole tribe of Ute Indians. Of course this story was pure nonsense, but it shows what kind of stories some of these backwoodsmen told.


Front Matter

The Beginning of the U.S
Franklin's Return
Troubles After the War
The Constitution
The First President
Washington's Troubles
A Wonderful Invention
Death of Washington
The U.S. Buys Land
War With African Pirates
Death of Somers
The First Steamboat
The Gerrymander
The War of 1812
"Don't Give Up the Ship"
The Star-Spangled Banner
Clinton's "Big Ditch"
More Land Bought
Jackson Stories
Jackson's Presidency
New Inventions
Whitman's Ride
The Mormons
The First Telegraph
The Mexican War
The Slavery Quarrel
Daniel Webster's Youth
Webster's Speeches
Early Times in California
Discovery of El Dorado
Rush to California
The Underground Railroad
The First World's Fair
John Brown's Raid
Lincoln's Youth
The First Shot
The Call to Arms
The President's Decision
Admiral Farragut
The Monitor and Merrimac
The Penninsular Campaign
Barbara Frietchie
Lincoln's Vow
The Battle of Gettysburg
The Taking of Vicksburg
Riots, Raids, and Battles
The Burning of Atlanta
The March to the Sea
Sheridan's Ride
The Doings of the Fleet
Lee's Surrender
Decoration Day
Lincoln Stories
Lincoln's Rebukes
A President's Son
A Noble Southerner
Hard Times in the South
The Atlantic Cable
Best Way to Settle Quarrels
Our One Hundredth Birthday
Gold for Greenbacks
A Clever Engineer
Death of Garfield
The Celebration at Yorktown
The Great Statue
A Terrible Flood
Lynch Law
The Great White City
The Explosion of the Maine
The Battle of Manila
Hobson's Brave Deed
Surrender of Santiago
The Hawaiian Islands
The Annexation of Hawaii
The Philippine War
Assassination of McKinley
The Panama Canal
Roosevelt's Administration
Two Presidents
German Views
The World War
Since the World War