Gold Seekers of '49 - Edwin Sabin

Into the Golden Gate

The captain's boat was returning from the landing at the hide-houses, accompanied by a large whale-boat filled with strangers. Gun barrels out-thrust from the mass, baggage was visible, and as the whale-boat drew nearer to the steamer the persons in it were seen to be tattered and gaunt, as if they had been through great hardships. The captain's boat contained a guest in United States Army uniform—an officer, evidently.

The captain and his guest climbed into the steamer; then the whale-boat unloaded. Goodness gracious, there were not only the travel-worn men, but two women also! Up the side they all toiled, the men lean and brown and whiskered, the two women fully as distressful looking, with their hair faded, and their skin tight over their cheek-bones. The majority of the men were clad in old deer-skins and moccasins, and carried only hand-baggage of bundles.

The passengers of the California, crowding curiously, respectfully gave way.

"Well, holy smoke!" exclaimed Mr. Grigsby, at sight of one of the men. "Is that you, Bentley?"

"Hello, Sam," wearily responded the man. "It's what's left of me."

"Where'd you come from?"

"From the States, by way of the Gila trail across the desert. Nigh starved to death, too."

"You look it," commented Mr. Grigsby. "Is this all your party?"

"No. Part of us branched off for Los Angeles, on this side of the Colorado Desert; part of us never got through, and some are buried and some aren't. The rest of us struck for the sea, by the San Diego fork, as fast as we could. And I tell you, this steamer looks mighty good!"

"Pshaw!" murmured Mr. Grigsby, while Charley felt a great wave of sympathy for Mr. Bentley and all. And the Fremonter added: "I suppose you're bound for the gold fields, like everybody else."

"Yes," answered the tattered emigrant. "But all the gold in Californy can't pay me for what I've gone through. Hunger and thirst and heat and cold and Injuns—we met 'em. It's a terrible trail, Sam, as I reckon you know. And queer enough, those two women—those two wives in the party—stood it without a whimper. Gentlemen," he spoke to the crowd, "those are the heroes."

"You bet," responded several voices. "And there are more women like 'em."

The emigrant Bentley passed on, following his fellows. Mr. Grigsby had known him in trapper days. They had hunted beaver together.

No one made any objection to taking these additional passengers aboard. Anyway, now it was only a few days to San Francisco. The new gold seekers all had harrowing stories to tell. As Mr. Bentley had said, the most of them had traveled from the Missouri River, in Arkansas and Missouri, by a southern route across New Mexico which included what is to-day Arizona, from Santa Fe striking west for the Gila River. It was a parched and barren country, rife with the Apaches and Navajos and Yumas and other fierce tribes, who stole their horses and cattle and harassed their camps. Skeletons of men and animals, from other parties, lined the trail; and there was one march of fifty miles without water.

Two in the company had even crossed Mexico, and had been lost, until they emerged from the mountains and sighted the desert of southern California. All in all, thought Charley (and his father agreed) people were taking astounding risks to get to California.

There was the trip clear around Cape Horn, by boat; and the trip across the Isthmus; and trips across Mexico, from Vera Cruz and other points; and the Gila River trail, through the dry desert; and several trails, further north, more crowded and almost as perilous. Why, the whole West and Southwest must be divided off every few hundred miles by regular processions of gold seekers! He hoped, did Charley, that Billy Walker would get through all right.

The army officer proved to be a young lieutenant—Lieutenant William T. Sherman, Third Artillery, now Adjutant General of the Division of the Pacific, with headquarters at San Francisco, whither he was returning. Mr. Adams managed to strike up a conversation with him, for the lieutenant was affable, especially with anyone like Mr. Adams, who had been a soldier under General Scott.

"Have you any news for us gold seekers, Lieutenant?" invited Mr. Adams.

"From where, sir?"

"From San Francisco and the gold fields."

"News!" exclaimed the lieutenant, smiling with his steady gray eyes. He had a long, rather stern face, of russet complexion, but he was pleasant. "There's news every hour. This crowd you've taken aboard is only a sample of the people who are pouring in by thousands."

"Gold is plentiful?"

"It exceeds any reports, sir."

"How about other business? What is the chance in San Francisco?"

"San Francisco is growing at the rate of thirty houses and a hundred people a day. All kinds of supplies are in demand, and all kinds of labor and professions. The chief trouble is to get them. The harbor is full of vessels without crews, stores are without clerks and houses without servants, and the army almost without soldiers. You are aware, I suppose, that this very steamer, the first steamship into the harbor, last February, was immediately deserted by every sailor, who all put out to the mines. She was held at anchor for a week or two, trying to ship a crew so as to make the return trip to Panama. Whole companies of soldiers have followed the example of the sailors. Colonel Mason, when he was military governor of California, found himself obliged to cook his own meals; and General Persifor Smith, the present commander of the division, has been abandoned by every servant. We officers all are doing our own housework. As it is, ordinary laborers are getting ten and twenty dollars a day, and house servants ask and are getting $200 a month! Everybody figures on making twenty dollars a day at the mines, with chance of making much more; so ordinary wages don't tempt. The whole country is simply crazy." And Lieutenant Sherman turned on his heel and marched off, as if indignant—and well he might be, for it was soon found out that the army officers in California were having hard work to live within their small pay.

The California steamed northward, with the hilly California coast much in sight on the right, although distant. Some of the table-lands and hills shone yellow as if gold-plated, and raised high hopes among many of the passengers. Wasn't this the Land of Gold, at last? But Lieutenant Sherman and Mr. Grigsby, and a few others familiar with the country, explained that the yellow was immense fields of wild oats, already ripening.

At sunset was passed an island called Santa Catalina Island, inhabited by thousands of wild goats. It was owned by a Spanish family who annually killed the goats for their meat and hides. Out of sight inland, was said to be the town of Los Angeles, the largest inland town of California, and older than San Francisco.

The next stop would be Monterey. During the night the wind blew hard, kicking up the roughest sea of the whole voyage, and once throwing Charley out of his bunk, almost on top of Mr. Grigsby's cot.

"Hello," grunted the Fremonter, "hold fast, there. We must be rounding Cape Conception, above Santa Barbara. That's a sort of a Cape Horn of this coast, dividing it off. But we'll have fair sailing again, on the other side."

In the morning the storm had waned, but the seas still ran high, in immense white-crested waves that tossed and foamed, and leaping at the steamer tried to climb aboard. The sky was gloriously blue, without a cloud, and the air tasted salty crisp. Now the Coast Range of California loomed large; its hither bases spotted with the yellow of oats and the green of trees. Ramparts of high cliffs, separated by strips of green and brown low-lands, bordered the ocean.

After breakfast a long point, jutting out from the shore ahead, was hailed by the knowing ones aboard as Point Pinos (Pines Point), guardian of the harbor of Monterey. Gradually the steamer turned in; another harbor opened, with a cluster of white, red-roofed houses behind it, at the foot of the hills. Sweeping in past the pine-ridged point the California, with boom of gun, dropped anchor in the historic bay of Monterey.

The captain and Lieutenant Sherman, and any passengers who wished, went ashore here, for the California was to take on wood for fuel to San Francisco.

Monterey had long been the capital of Upper California, and was the first place captured by the United States, in July, 1846, after war with Mexico was begun. Mr. Grigsby knew it well, for hither he had marched from the north with Fremont's battalion of Volunteer Riflemen. It was a pleasant old town, of white-washed, tile-roofed clay buildings, a custom-house at the wharf, a large, yellow town hall, and an army post on the bluff overlooking town and bay. The town sloped to the low surf of the wave-flecked bay encircled by cliffs and bluffs. Beyond the town rose higher hills, well timbered with oaks and pines.

"The flag was raised July 7, Forty-six, over this custom-house," stated Mr. Grigsby. "Commodore Sloat sent ashore 250 men from the flag-ship Savannah, and the ships Cyane, Warren and Levant, which he had in the bay; and Lieutenant Edward Higgins did the raising, at ten in the morning. Purser Rodney Price made the proclamation to the people."

"Where were you, then?" asked Charley.

"Oh, I was up north at Sutter's Fort, with Fremont and the rest, waiting to get supplies—this shirt, among other things." For Mr. Grigsby had donned his star-collar shirt, as if in honor of the occasion. "We marched in later."

Monterey seemed to be a very quiet, sleepy old place. The majority of the citizens were the native Californians, wearing their picturesque costumes of slashed velvet trousers loose at the bottom and tight at the knee, red sashes about their waists, silk shirts and short velvet jackets, and peaked, wide-brimmed, tasseled felt hats. The morning air was chilly, although the sun shone brightly. In front of many of the stores and in the plaza or square little fires had been built, around which the people were huddling, to get warm. Mr. Grigsby explained that there wasn't a stove in town, probably, that everybody cooked in small fireplaces, and that until the Americans came and introduced the bonfire the natives were "too blamed lazy" to do more than shiver themselves warm!

"Why, these natives wouldn't walk across a street," he said. "They all rode—that is, the men. And why not, when horses were to be had for nothing. Ten dollars would buy the best horse in the territory."

Considerable of a crowd had gathered in front of the town hall, clustered and craning and gazing at some object in their midst. Mr. Grigsby, stalwart and proud in his Fremont shirt, sauntered to see. Presently he called and beckoned.

"Here you are. Here's what you're looking for."

So Mr. Adams and Charley crossed, also. The crowd gave way courteously, exposing a smiling, good-looking Californian, leaning against the heavy saddle of his horse.

"Here you are," repeated Mr. Grigsby, who was fingering the contents of a small canvas sack, evidently the property of the horseman. "You want to see gold? Take a look at it."

Following his father, Charley peeped within. The canvas sack was half full of dull yellow—a yellow like the yellow which the buckskin sack had contained, in St. Louis. However, this yellow was coarser.

"Flake gold," announced Mr. Grigsby. "Straight from the mines. Is that not so, amigo?"

"Si, senors," smilingly answered the native. And continued, in good English: "From the American River."

"Did you get—find it?" queried Charley, eagerly.

"Yes, and more. Everybody finds it who looks."

"How long were you gone?" asked Mr. Adams.

"Who knows, senor? Coming and going, perhaps two weeks, but I stopped with friends along the way."

"How long were you in finding this, then?"

"Four, maybe five, days. It is easy."

"What will you do with it, senor?" inquired Mr. Grigsby.

The man shrugged his shoulders.

"Who knows? When one has money he has friends. For a few days I can be rich. When I am poor again, there is plenty more gold to be had."

"Were there many other people searching?" asked Mr. Adams.

"An army, senor. They are working like ants."

They thanked the man for his courtesy, and returning him his treasure started on, for the town hall doorway.

"He'll spend that before another morning," declared Mr. Grigsby. "That's the curse of easy money—especially out here, where the natives can get along on a little. Wait a minute. I'll go in and find the alcalde—he's the mayor. Colton's his name. He was chaplain on the frigate Congress, and was appointed alcalde after Monterey was captured. I knew him in Forty-six. Fine man. Maybe we can call on the governor, General Bennet Riley, and pay our respects."

Mayor Colton sent word that he'd be pleased to see them, but that the governor was in San Francisco. However, the mayor (who, as Mr. Grigsby had said, was a minister, a navy chaplain, and indeed a fine man) showed them through the town hall, which he had caused to be built out of the fines and fees in the town treasury. It had been finished only this March, and contained a large public hall on the second floor, and a school and jail and other departments on the ground floor. It certainly was a credit to Monterey, away out here in California.

"Gold?" exclaimed Alcalde Colton, waving his hands in despair at the mention of it. "Yes, I've been up to the mines myself, on several occasions. I was there as early as last September, and dug some for myself. But it's the ruination of Monterey and the rest of the coast. Nobody'll work, except we Government and other public officers who have to; everybody's crazy, talking and dreaming only of easy riches; and even an old woman cook of mine, too feeble to go away, won't clean a fowl until she's examined its crop for a nugget."

"By the way, where's Colonel Fremont?" queried Mr. Grigsby. "Is he still out here?"

"Certainly. You're a Fremont man, I see. He's here, and so are his wife and daughter. They came out just ahead of you, on the Panama. They make their home in Monterey, but they're up north now, with the colonel. He's mining on his big Mariposa ranch, in the interior back of San Jose. They have the only four-wheeled vehicle in the territory—a surrey brought around the Horn for them."

However, interesting as Monterey was, nobody aboard the California wanted to stay long here. San Francisco was only about twelve hours ahead; and then, the gold!

On again steamed the California, threshing the waves with her huge paddles, and all the passengers scrutinizing the shore line, many of them rather expecting to see gold out-cropping on the cliffs and ridges.

"We'll probably get in at evening, and spend the night aboard," remarked Charley's father.

During the day the coast grew more bare and sandy, with sandy, rolling hills behind it. In the afternoon it appeared to bulge out, before, and in the bulge appeared a gap.

"There you are," directed Mr. Grigsby, to Charley, and pointing. "See that gap? Yes? It's the Golden Gate channel into the Bay of San Francisco."

"The gate to the Land of Gold, eh?" mused another passenger, near.

"That's what it's reckoned at, now," assented the Fremonter. "But it was named before gold was discovered. Fremont named it; you'll see it on his map of Forty-seven. It's the Golden Gate, whichever way you look at it—from the outside, toward the land, or from the inside, toward the sunset."

True enough. Even now the sun had set, and all the wide west fronting the gateway was a deep golden sheen, and the water and the shore was dyed with the richness. Turning her stern on the sunset, the steamer headed in, for the golden shore.

The gap opened, wider and wider, to form a broad strait. In it an island gleamed white.

"That's Alcatraz Island, at the inside end of the channel," explained Mr. Grigsby, who served as a very good guide. "You'll see Yerba Buena Island—some call it Goat Island—in a minute, on the right of it, and Angel Island on the left. That big round peak straight ahead, on the mainland, is Mount Diablo. Now we're getting opposite Fort Point; see the flag. The town is around on our right, other side of this first line of hills separating the bay from the ocean."

Through the Golden Gate was slowly and majestically steaming the California. The gate was really a pair of jaws, set half-open—great promontories of rock and sand, the one on the left or the north being almost a mountain chain. Within the jaws was the bay, like the mouth. Everything was tinged with the wondrous golden glow.

Several sailing boats were beating in and out of the strait, which was narrowest at Fort Point. Beyond Fort Point the tips of masts began to appear, over the tops of the lower hills on the right; and as the California gradually rounded the further side of this peninsula, ships at anchor came into sight. The bay itself opened, extending on right and left of the entrance, against a background of rolling, yellowish hills.

"Around the corner, now—and there you'll see San Francisco," announced Mr. Grigsby, he peering as intently as anybody.

Between Alcatraz Island and Goat Island passed the California, swinging to the right more and more, describing a half circle; the ships at anchor increased to a dense mass floating many flags; and then, hurrah, on the near shore, against the hills of this the west side of the bay appeared a straggling jumble of low buildings, already enshadowed by dusk and dotted with lights, some stationary, others moving. The murmur of many voices, punctuated by shouts and hammering, floated across the smooth water, and from the shipping sounded frequent hails. Through the shipping weaved the California, with all her passengers peering excitedly; then "Boom!" spoke her signal gun, and not far from the water-front, where a clear place had been left, she dropped anchor. From her decks arose a mighty cheer; and listen—the people running down to the water-front replied! So everybody cheered again, Charley swinging his hat and "hooraying" as hard as anybody.