The Pioneer Years
Heading to California
The First Year
The Columbia River Country and Points
Point Reyes, Drakes Bay, and the Los Angeles
Puget Sound and the Gulf of Georgia
of James Lawson recounts the experiences of James S. Lawson,
an Assistant in the Coast Survey, who proceeded to the West
Coast with the famous George Davidson in 1850. This work is
unique, describing Lawson's experiences on the Pacific coast
of the United States when it was still a rough and wild pioneer
coast. It also is an invaluable record of his life and work
in the United States Coast Survey for a thirty-year period
beginning in 1848. This version of Lawson's autobiography,
presented by the NOAA Central Library, has received minor
editing to make it more understandable for the modern reader
but remains true to the original. As the Autobiography
of James Lawson was written as one continuous document,
headings and sub-headings have been added in order to separate
the work into manageable segments for presentation on the
Philadelphia, Penna, on Feb. 13th 1828. Attended the Master
Grammar School. In June, 1841 was admitted to Central High
School in same class with (now) Prof. Geo. Davidson, Asst.
U.S. Coast Survey, & in June 1845, graduated. At the time
of my admission to the C.H.S., Prof. Alex. Dallas Bache, afterward
Supt. U.S. Coast Survey, was the Principal. He had been President
of Girard College, and still had charge of the Magnetic Observatory
in the College grounds. The night observers were selected
from the pupils of the High School; of these I was one, and
served during the greater part of my last three years at school,
and until the closing of the Observatory, June 30, 1845.
1845, I was appointed Second Assistant Teacher in the Catherine
Grammar School, where I remained one year. I was then offered
a position as Assistant in the Friends' School at Wilmington,
Delaware, under charge of Samuel Allsoff.
1st 1848, I commenced duty as Clerk to Prof. A.D. Bache, Supt.
U.S.C.S., and remained in that capacity until May 1st 1850,
when I was detailed from the office, and ordered to report
to Mr. Davidson who was under instructions to proceed to the
Western Coast for field duty, Mr. D. having selected me as
one of his Aids.
to the sending out of the party of Mr. Davidson, there had
been two others on the Pacific Coast: viz:--
1 -- For
shore duty in all its branches -- Astronomy, Triangulation,
Magnetics and Topography -- in charge of Capt. Jas. S. Williams,
Assistant, --- Jos. S. Ruth, Sub-Assist.
2 -- For
Hydrography having the Schr. Ewing (formerly a Revenue
Cutter), in command of Lt. Wm. P. McArthur, U.S. Navy.
arrived in California early in 1849, but owing to the peculiar
condition of things at that time existing, the large prices
demanded for everything, labor included, the insufficiency
of appropriations, the difficulty of retaining hands &c.,
very little work was obtained. Some few detached surveys were
made, also a reconnaissance from San Francisco to the Columbia
River, with an examination of the Bar and Entrance of the
latter. In the execution of this work, it was necessary to
have the boat's crew in irons to prevent their desertion.
So great was the inducement to desert, that the men would
submit to any loss, resort to violence, and even attempt murder,
to get away. This was shown in the case of the boat's crew
of the Ewing in San Francisco Harbor, attempting to
murder Lt. Gibson, U.S.N., and then deserting taking the boat.
They were pursued, arrested on the Sacramento River, brought
back and tried by Court Martial. I think two of them were
hung, one from the Ewing and one from a naval vessel
then in the Bay....
credit of human nature, be it said, all were not of this class,
and one case stands out in bold relief, showing the sternest
integrity to obligations assumed. In the party of Capt. Williams
were a few men who had been brought from the East on account
of their experience in the work, and who were under contract
to serve for one year at a certain pay. This, at the then
ruling rates in San F. was a mere bagatelle. Some took advantage
of the intervals when no duty was required of them, to "turn
an honest" ounce, and when their services were wanted,
were hardly willing to obey. But one, Charley Moore, from
Philadelphia, firmly refused to place himself in a position
where he might not always be ready for service, if called
upon, he remained in his room, a little 7 by 9 affair, reading
all day, until Capt. Williams finding there was no prospect
of work, gave him his discharge. I afterwards (1853) met Moore
at Trinidad; he had a pack train running between that place
and the Klamath Mines, and I think had been quite successful.
success attending the parties previously sent, and the Supt.
being very anxious for some show of results from the Western
Coast, he determined to send another party, to be composed
entirely of young men, who had a record to make, and who would
not shrink from any necessary labor, or be daunted at any
inconveniences or even privations to which they might be subjected.
The command of this party was offered to George Davidson,
then Sub-Assistant, and he accepted on the condition that
he have the right to name his own Aids. This was granted,
somewhat reluctantly however; and Mr. D. selected Mr. A. M.
Harrison, a graduate of the Central High School of Phila.,
who had entered the C.S. in 1847, and myself. Afterwards Mr.
John Rockwell was added to the party. The pay of the Aids
was fixed at $30.00 per month, so that all should be on an
equal footing. To do this, my pay as Clerk was reduced $5.00,
Mr. Harrison's increased the same amount, and Mr. Rockwell's
I was seized
with the California fever early in 1849, when some of my friends,
among them O.P. Sutton, were preparing to start from Washington;
but my father strongly opposed the project, and I therefore
gave it up. But now that the opportunity offered to go under
the auspices of the Coast Survey, no objections, save the
natural ones of personal regrets at going so far from home,
Washington about the last day of April 1850 for my home in
Philadelphia, where I spent a few days in making necessary
preparations. Then I went to New York to procure certain articles
of outfit, instruments &c., for the party, and on the
5th of May Mr. Davidson, Rockwell and myself sailed on the
Steamer Philadelphia, Capt. Bob Pearson (I think).
I had previously been round Pt. Judith and paid the customary
tribute to Neptune; but this was my true experience of a "Life
on the Ocean Wave," and I was compelled to submit to all the
ceremonies of a thorough initiation. The trip was not marked
by any circumstances of unusual moment. We had the usual rough
sea while crossing the Gulf Stream, and the long swell in
the Caribbean Sea. With the exception that the steamer was
small and crowded with passengers, it was as pleasant as sea
trips usually are, or at least were in those days. All were
so anxious to reach the famous El Dorado that they were willing
to endure discomforts with composure.
time we came to anchor off the mouth of the Chagres River,
and got ashore as best we could, in boats or canoes, each
one or a party making their own arrangements. We stopped one
night at Chagres, just inside the mouth, and the next morning
started up the river. Having all our camp outfit, tents, instruments
&c., Mr. Davidson found it necessary to engage a large
canoe for ourselves, at a cost of $120.00 to Cruces, half
paid in advance and half at the end of the trip. Our crew
consisted of three natives, the Padron (Chief man) and two
oarsmen. In the still parts of the river oars were used; in
the strong currents the canoe was poled. We reached Cruces
on the third day, but the trip did not seem at all tedious.
All was novelty to us, the scenery, the verdure, the means
of locomotion, the inhabitants, the passing of boats, the
stopping at various places, all interested us, and tended
to make the time pass pleasantly. This result was also in
a great measure owing to the treatment of our boatmen. In
many of the canoes the passengers were urging their crew to
their utmost strength, some even threatening to use force,
firearms, & c. Mr. Davidson pursued a different policy.
Though the crew furnished their own food, they were supplied
every morning, noon and night with coffee, and in the middle
of fore and afternoon a drink of native liquor (aquardiente).
I had brought with me an accordion (christened by Davidson
a "leather jews-harp"), and on this would grind out some of
the Negro melodies of the day. "Mary Blane" seemed particularly
to strike their fancy, and they wanted it played all the time.
Finding it facilitated our progress, I did play it until the
tune and the instrument became positively distasteful. The
effect was good for us. When in company with other boats or
canoes, the crews would compare notes, and while others would
be cursing their passengers, we would invariably be complimented
as buenos pasajeros. The consequence was that no upward
bound boat, unless a small and light one, passed us. At Cruces
all our baggage was carefully taken from the canoe and placed
on shore, the remainder of the money paid, and with best wishes
for our trip the crew bade us Adios. "Like begets like."
Treat men as men, and it is very rarely indeed that a similar
return is not made. We never urged this crew; these natives
are fond of a bath at intervals of work, and we never evinced
any regret at the time apparently lost. They appreciated it
and when they resumed their oars or poles they made up for
of these natives is at times extremely primitive. One of our
boatmen, an Apollo in manly physique, was a large portion
of the trip in full dress when he had a small piece of red
tape around his left wrist.
at Cruces from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning, waiting
for mule transportation to Panama. On Sunday we had a good
opportunity of witnessing some of the peculiar manners and
customs of the people as regards their observance of the day.
All devoutly(!) attended Mass in the morning, the remainder
of the day was devoted to gambling of various kinds, cock
fighting and kindred pleasures, the priest (Padre) with the
others. I afterwards saw the same in Panama, where it was
no uncommon thing, I was informed, for the priests, despite
their vows, to have their mistresses and families of children.
church at Cruces was a large anchor, said to have been carried
there by the Buccaneers, intending to take it to Panama for
one of their vessels. In this they failed and left it.
morning we succeeded in procuring mules and started for Panama,
leaving all our equipage in the charge of a transportation
company. This was generally carried by the natives in cradles
fastened by straps around their shoulders & across the
breast. It was wonderful the weights some of them would carry.
One of our boxes weighed 180 lbs., and a man carried it the
whole distance, about 21 miles.
the ladies who crossed at the same time with us had very sensibly
provided themselves with Bloomer Costumes, and in riding sat
astride the animals. It was certainly a much more safe and
convenient way to get through the narrow gorges and over the
rough roads than the usual style of ladies' riding.
in Panama a couple of days after a riot between the Americans
and natives, caused, I believe, by the attempted arrest of
a native boy for stealing. In the disturbance, several persons
were killed. All was quite when we arrived, and continued
so during our stay of 10 days.
took up quarters at the American Hotel, but changed in a day
or two, & with quite a number of our fellow passengers
took lodgings in a large room in a building formerly used
for Government purposes. Only cot beds were furnished, each
one supplying his own bedding, of which a small quantity sufficed.
Our meals we took at a boarding house kept by an American
woman, whose husband had died at Panama.
the time spent there waiting for a steamer, our daily routine
was about as follows:-- up at sunrise, go to the beach outside
the walls and enjoy the luxury of a surf bath; then invest
a dime (or a real) in oranges just brought in the brugos
(canoes) fresh from the trees, the juice of the orange only
being sucked. After that a small cup of coffee; at 8 o'clock
breakfast, from which until 11 we roamed around, looking at
the city, visited the Cathedral and churches, and explored
the old ruins. During middle of the day we remained indoors,
reading, talking or enjoying a siesta as each chose.
About 3 P.M. we were out again, as in the morning, until dinner
time, (5 or 6 o'cl'k) after which we strolled to the ramparts
stopping to take a small cup of most excellent chocolate made
by a native woman. While at Panama we had some magnificent
moonlight evenings and the ramparts were a great place of
resort for Americans and others (said to number at that time
2500 to 3000) then awaiting transportation to California.
The brass guns and bombs, said to contain a large percentage
of silver, attracted much attention. On each was the date
and place of making (in Spain), the Spanish Crown, and a motto.
I understand these have since been sold and removed.
the happy day came when it was announced that we could get
on board the Steamer (Tennessee, Capt. Cole). As the
passengers of two steamers on the Atlantic side had to be
crowded on this one, some trouble was experienced in getting
all of our equipage on board, Capt. Stout, the agent of the
P.M.S.S. Co., refusing to allow it, Mr. Davidson explained
the necessity to Capt. Cole, and he kindly granted permission.
was the desire to reach California, that fabulous prices of
$800.00 to $1000.00, were paid for tickets from Panama to
San Francisco. It was said that some entered into this as
a regular business. Before passing through the gate, each
ticket and its holder were subjected to a strict scrutiny,
and of course some very unpleasant, as well as amusing, things
occurred. Among the latter was the presentation by a woman
of a ticket bearing a man's name. This, the old martinet Stout
rejected. Shortly afterwards the same ticket was presented
by one wearing a man's clothes, and was passed. It was the
same person who previously had shown it, and who on reaching
the steamer immediately assumed her proper garments.
was so crowded that the word "comfort" could not be said to
form part of our vocabulary. Staterooms were more than full,
every berth was taken, and numbers had to take up quarters
on deck, in boats, anywhere. Our berths were "down, down below,"
in a sort of "black hole of Calcutta," a place which I never
explored except when necessary for the toilet or change of
clothing, until within a few days of San Francisco, and had
the benefit of the cool N.W. wind. For sleeping accommodations
we generally stood ready about 10 P.M., when the tables were
cleared of gamblers and others, and took up squatters' titles
to as much as we could get and keep.
the delay on the Isthmus, the inconsiderate manner of living
of many while there, the free use of fruits and alcoholic
liquors at the same time, and the unwise exposure of themselves
during the middle of the day, and the crowded, uncomfortable
state of the steamer, I think the health of the passengers
was very good. Several were sick of Panama fever, but only
two died. We stopped but once on the trip, at Acapulco, where
we remained three days while the ship was being coaled. There
were none of the facilities then, that were to be found in
after years. Of course we did the town, explored all around
the old fort (San Carlos?) with its cracked walls and barefooted
garrison of almost a dozen natives, and obtained all the amusements
we could by seeing,---the hearing was not of
so much consequence to some of us inasmuch as we could not
include the knowledge of the Spanish language as one of our
the whole trip gambling was carried on to a very great extent.
From the clearing of the tables after breakfast until extinguishing
lights (10 P.M.), with the exception of the time occupied
at lunch and dinner, the cabin was transformed into a gambling
hall. For the participants in the games Sunday was a terrible
day, for then they could not continue their little game. Perhaps
it was to dissipate the ennui that induced a little
lawyer (M.) from Washington, to treat the passengers to a
dissertation on this habit. I think it was on the Sunday before
reaching San Francisco, we were far enough North to be within
the influence of the strong chilly Nor'Westers, so disagreeable
to those having passed several weeks in the tropics. A clergyman
on board held service on the upper deck, which was well attended.
At the conclusion, many rushed to the cabin for shelter, among
them Lawyer M. Seated there, reading the Book of all Books,
was an elderly gentleman, of staid, sober regular habits,
a veritable specimen of the orthodox Puritan, and this is
said with all deference, who hailed from the "State of Maine."
I never knew his name, but throughout the ship he was known
as "The State of Maine". Lawyer M. approached him, and requested
the loan of his Bible. The old gentlemen, knowing M's habits,
declined at first to grant the favor, but M., apparently divining
the causes that prompted the refusal, gave assurances that
he asked the favor from a good motive, not to make light of
the Book's holy teachings, or to infringe upon the religious
sentiments of any. On this assurance, "State of Maine," closed
his Bible and handed it to Lawyer M., who opened it haphazard,
and glancing hurriedly over the pages, selected two verses,
read them, closed the Book, and with these verses as his text
proceeded to discourse on gambling. A more terrific tirade
on gamblers and gambling, it has never been my lot to hear.
There was no term too strong to apply to gamblers, no tie
too sacred for them to keep. Father, Mother, Wife, Child,
all would be sacrificed to sustain the insatiable appetite.
No crime was too great for a gambler to commit; and could
he obtain no greater stakes, he would "steal the pennies off
a dead man's eyes." Knowing that gambling had been the occupation
to which M. had devoted himself during the trip, we hoped
he had seen the error of his ways, and "turned over a new
leaf." Our disappointment and disgust can be well imagined,
when the next morning, as soon as a portion of the table could
be secured, he was deeply as ever engaged in the mysteries
(and miseries) of vingt et un, a fitting illustration
of the saying, "Don't do as I do, but do as I say." What became
of him I do not know, but I am afraid his mania blasted what
might otherwise have been a useful life.
to anchor in San F. Harbor in the forenoon of June 19th 1850;
then began, each for himself, or for his associates, the scramble
for success. Of the passengers on this trip there were many
who became well known, among them I may mention John Chetwoo,
Jonathan Edwards, W.A. Darling, A.C. Whitcomb, Emanuel Berri,
Henry Haight, Chas. D.Judah, A.Mey, A.J. Moulder, David Chambers,
E.P. Flint, S.R. Throckmorton,----Dwinelle, J.H. Goodman,
A.J. Easton, etc.,etc.
Some of these
have returned East to enjoy their otium cum dignitate,
some remain on the coast and are well known and honored, and
some have "crossed the dark river."
time of our arrival, there were no wharves to which a large
vessel could come. Our landing was made in boats at the end
of "Howison's" pier, a small wharf, the only one San F. could
then boast of, at the foot of Sacramento St. On this wharf
was a wooden tramway on which was pushed a small car for carrying
trunks etc. to terra firma. Our luggage, however, did
not get taken quite so far. The fire of June 14th had laid
waste all that vicinity, burning the connection of the wharf
with the land, hence all our "traps" had to be carried from
the pier across a plank to the shore. My first astonishment
(after that they were innumerable) was seeing a man digging
a trench among hot ashes and burning embers to lay the sills
of a new structure. By noon of the next day the house, a skeleton
frame with cotton-cloth and sides, was finished, stocked with
goods, and stood conspicuously as a first class store.
care after getting on shore was to have our instruments, camp
equipage, and superfluous personal baggage, stored in some
safe place. Room for this purpose was granted by the Collector
of Customs (Col.Jas. Collier) in the building then used as
a Custom House, a large four story brick building on the corner
of California & Montgomery Sts. (on the same lot where
for many years Wells Fargo & Co's Express Co. had their
office and above them was the Union club; present building
erected by John Parrott.) This building was built of brick,
had iron doors and shutters, and was supposed to be fire-proof.
But alas! for the frailty of human opinions, the fire of May
6th 1851 completely destroyed it with all our worldly goods
powers are inadequate to give even a fair idea of what San
F. was in those days. This has been often done by abler &
better pens, and to them reference must be had.
held forth at the "St. Francis" Hotel, where Mr. Davidson
has secured rooms; this was then the "nobby" hotel of the
town. Just before turning the corner from Dupont St. into
Clay St. I suddenly came face to face with my old friend O.P.
Sutton, and never shall I forget the look of astonishment
with which he greeted me. Such surprises became so common
in those days, however, that the effect was but momentary.
of days' experience at the St. Francis amply demonstrated
the fact that such grand prices of living ($7.00 per diem)
were not in keeping with our own pay, or with the purse and
projects of Venerable Master (U.S.). We took a room in a small
wooden building on the opposite corner from the St. Francis,
and got our meals where we chose.
in San. F. about 17 days, during which time, Mr. Davidson
made a general review of the work, made a selection of Pt.
Conception as his first station, and laid his plans accordingly.
Previous to this date the charts of the Western Coast were
very defective. Latitudes of prominent points were much in
error, and longitudes varied from 5' to 20'.
a most fortunate circumstance for Navigators that all errors
in Longitude were in favor of safety. The land was shown too
far to the Westward, so that the Mariner did not find it as
soon as anticipated. An error in the opposite direction might
have been productive of terrible losses of life & property.
This error was general, all along the coast Southward. I have
seen the track of a steamer plotted by Capt. Ned Miller from
actual observations, where she ran over the top of the Coast
Range of Mountains.
is one of the most notable points on the California coast,
and its accurate position was particularly desirable, as it
marked, in fact is the key to, the Northern entrance to the
Santa Barbara Channel.
everything in readiness we started on the Bark Burnham,
Capt. James Hall, an old habitue of this coast, who
was mentioned in Dana's "Three [two] years before the mast."
The party consisted of Mr. Davidson, Chief, Rockwell and myself
as Aids, not even a man to assist. On the vessel Mr. D. hired
as cook, a Mexican who lived at Santa Barbara, as he was en
route for home, at $125.00 per month, more than the
whole three of us together were getting. The sum total
of his accomplishments in the culinary line, was to be able
to fry a piece of pork or bacon, and to make a pot of very
Pt. Conception in a couple of days. The vessel anchored off
the mouth of the Valley "El Coxo," and as rapidly as possible
we and all our impedimenta were dumped ashore on the
beach. Here, in a strange land, with only a couple of Indian
spectators, from whose meaningless faces nothing could be
gained, and seeing the vessel gradually leaving us, very surely
the prospect was anything but a cheering one. But with the
elasticity of youth we set to work, selected our site for
camp, packed everything up there, and before night were as
comfortably fixed as possible under the circumstances.
In a few
days we became somewhat domesticated, had built the observatory
on the plateau above the valley, and the instruments (transit
and zenith telescope) were in position. All this meant work;
everything, lumber, instruments, &c. had to be carried
up the steep face of the plateau. The hardest part of all
was the carrying of the stand of the transit. This was one
piece of cast iron, weighing at least 300 lbs. Davidson &
I got it on our shoulders, it was so short that we had to
walk in a "lock step"; the utmost care was necessary that
no false or mis-step should be made; and we did not dare to
stop or rest until we reached the Observatory.
or not it was our rough style of living on coarse food, and
horribly cooked, or the unusual strain to which we had been
subjected, or perhaps both combined, it was not long before
camp presented the appearance of a hospital. Davidson was
very sick; Rockwell was by no means in good condition, and
I did not feel very well myself. I kept up, and tried to interest
myself in making some wooden stools; I was not equal to the
task, and deferred it until a more convenient season. After
that we could only complain of good appetites, and vulgarly
us the Burnham went to Santa Barbara, where she reported
our landing. Don Anastasio Carillo, the owner of the Pt. Conception
rancho, became alarmed lest it might be a step on the part
of Los Americanos to deprive him of his property; and
therefore despatched his son Don Luis, to investigate. Rockwell
was the only one of us who had any knowledge of Spanish, and
Don Luis' English education was confined to one particular
branch, in which, however, he was very proficient. The explanations
offered in regard to our duties and the objects of the work
were satisfactory. Don Luis remained with us several days,
during which time he asked many questions, and was evidently
desirous of obtaining all the information he could concerning
the United States and its people. Many things told him taxed
his credulity to the utmost, some he would not believe. Being
accustomed to see the one-storied adobe house of the orthodox
native California style, and never having seen any structure
larger than the Mission Church, he was unwilling to believe
that there ever was such a building as that of a mill, several
stories high, a representation of which was on the wrapper
of a package of letter paper. His conception of the greatest
speed attainable in land travel, was that of a horse; when
the rate of railroad traveling and means employed were described,
he gently intimated that we were in danger of transgressing
the truth; but when the telegraph was explained, he was morally
certain that we lied.
A few weeks
after our arrival at Pt. C., Mr. Harrison joined us. Until
then our mess table furniture was of rather a primitive, but
substantial nature -- tin cups, tin plates &c. Our better
dish was an abalone shell, which we had taken from the rocks.
Mr. H. brought from Santa Barbara some white earthenware dishes,
and the first time I saw our table set with these, the contract
was so great that we seemed to be reveling in luxury.
of the party consisted of the determination of the Latitude,
Longitude, and Magnetic Variation, and also the topographical
survey of the vicinity, including the selection of a site
for a Light House. For the prosecution of this work the weather
was remarkably favorable, out of 60 nights, observations were
obtained on 50. The dense fogs were all carried seaward, they
rarely reached us, and so continuous were they that for six
weeks after our arrival we did not see the islands San Miguel,
Santa Rosa &c forming the Western boundary of the Santa
Barbara Channel. We had almost begun to think they did not
exist. After that we had some splendid exhibitions of mirage,
inverted and direct images of these islands, three and four
in number were frequently seen.
heard and read of "Italian skies" and the salubrity of the
climate, but I much doubt if these can excel what we enjoyed
at "El Coxo." During our stay there, 2 ½ months, I
never wore a cravat or collar; our clothing was almost reduced
to a minimum, not quite, however, to the full costume of our
Apollo of the Chagres River. Occasionally when feeling a little
chilly in the observatory at nights, I put on a thin knitted
jacket, but very soon found it oppressive, and laid it aside.
Many a time have I laid down on the bare ground, or selected
the soft side of a board, and gone to sleep without any covering
save the clothes I had on. This I think was mainly owing to
the kind of life we led; -- plenty of work and exercise in
the open air, a surf bath at sunrise, no high living (we could
not have had it, even if wanted) a clear conscience, and with
naturally a good constitution; -- if these do not produce
health and contentment, I do not know what will.
October, the work being completed, we went to Santa Barbara,
a pack train being hired for the transportation of instruments,
camp equipage, baggage &c. Then saddle horses were provided
for the four of us, as one, each in his turn, had to walk
to carry the chronometers.
Barbara we remained about three weeks, and by invitation of
Don Anastasio Carillo, were quartered at his house, taking
our meals at the house of a widow lady. During our stay, we
did the town, visited the old Mission, the sulphur
(hot and cold) springs in the Coast Range, talked with the
old otter hunters John (or as he was generally known Don
Juan) Sparks [possibly Lawson's memory failed him on this
point as Isaac Sparks was a famous otter hunter on the California
coast and had been a partner of George Nidever] and George
Nidever -- in fact anything we could to pass the time, except
one by which we could each have made $750.00.
left the East it was with expressed understanding with the
Superintendent, and by his direction, that we should accept
no offers of work that would interfere with that of private
surveyors. Others had done this to the neglect of official
duties. While at Santa Barbara, an offer was made to Mr. Davidson
of three thousand dollars to make a survey and plat of the
town. In the work and pay we would all have shared, but in
keeping with our agreement the offer was declined. Just after
our arrival in the East on our first leave of absence, D.
and I were dining with the Supt. and among others of our Western
Coast experiences this was told. The Supt. laughed heartily,
and did not hesitate to intimate plainly that we were fools,
and we began to think so too.
watched anxiously for the return of the Steamer Goldhunter
from a trip to some Mexican ports, hoping to obtain passage
on her to San Francisco. Days lengthened into weeks, and still
no appearance of the steamer. In addition to our own party,
there were a number of others who wanted to go, so we chartered
a fishing smack, the Empire. There were about a dozen
passengers, among whom was Matthew Killer ("Don Mateo," as
we called him), who has for so many years been among the most
prominent of the viniculturists of Los Angeles. He was a genuine
son of the Green Isle, full of mother wit, overflowing in
fun and humor, possessing a rich fund of anecdote, which he
could tell splendidly, and thus assisted greatly in relieving
the tedium of an eight days' trip.
at San F. about the end of October, and remained until after
the middle of December, during which time all the party were
engaged in making the necessary computations, duplicates of
records, platting, &c. of the work done at Pt. Conception.
In December Mr. Davidson received orders to proceed to Pt.
Pinos, near Monterey, and about the 20th we started on the
Schooner Ewing, then in command of Acting Master J.H.
Moore, U.S.N., Lieut. Wm. P. McArthur had started East a short
time previous to this; he died on the steamer just before
or rather attempted one, was rather unpleasant. We started
with a S.E. wind, which increased to a gale, and drove us
back in a somewhat dilapidated condition, having lost boats,
anchor and chain, and broken the fore-gaff. We returned to
port, crossing the bar through breakers, fortunately without
any mishap there. We remained in San F. until Jan 1st 1851,
and then left on the Propeller Carolina, Capt. Dick
Whiting. On our arrival at Monterey, there being no wharf,
the steamer was run alongside of an old hulk, at anchor, the
Nueva (or Buena?) Fortuna,
to which all our instruments, camp equipage and stores were
transferred, and left in charge of our crew. This being done
we were set ashore by a boatman, and took up quarters for
the night at the hotel.
no one in Monterey, we preferred to remain around the bright
fire in the old fashioned fire-place in the dining room, rather
than wander about at night. In this we were joined by a man
who had been a fellow passenger on the Carolina, and
with that free and easy manner, then and for years after so
marked a characteristic of this coast we fell into conversation.
He was from Philadelphia, so were three of us, but from different
portions. Though we had no acquaintances in common, there
were localities, incidents &c. of a general nature of
which all could speak. I am even yet, undecided as to what
made him so communicative, whether it was a clannish
feeling from being "townies," or, finding that we belonged
to the Coast Survey, it was "confirmation strong as Holy Writ"
that there was no possibility of "making a raise" from us.
At all events, he spoke of himself as a professional gambler,
and that he had started on the trip for Panama with the intention
of drawing those on board into a little game, and fleecing
them. Unfortunately, however, Capt. Whiting discovered this,
and gave him notice to quit at Monterey. He spoke freely of
the tricks of his trade; how he had won $20,000 from his brethren
of the pasteboard before they discovered his dodge, and how
they brought him to bed-rock on another.
morning while we were dressing (all our party occupied one
large room), Mr. Davidson was laying out the plans of work
for the day, in midst of which one of our men came in with
the startling news that the old hulk had sunk in the night!
Of course visions of lost instruments, tents, stores, everything,
flashed instantaneously through our minds, and the fellow
seemed to enjoy our distress for a while; then leisurely he
told us that all the instruments, and most valuable part of
equipage was saved, and also of the circumstances attending
the disaster. In transferring our impedimenta from
the steamer to the hulk hurriedly, it was all placed on one
side, and this caused her to list over a little. Her topsides
had shrunk considerably, opening the seams and through these
water poured in. It might have been that the steamer in coming
alongside struck with sufficient force to cause a strain of
the planking. At all events, nothing was feared until nearly
midnight, one of the men, all of whom were on the hulk, thought
he heard water rushing in. A search was instituted and such
was found to be the case. An old boat was found on deck; this
was launched but there were no oars, but improvising spades
(they were trumps to good purpose this time) for paddles,
the alarm was given to some vessels in the Bay, & by the
boats sent from them, a large proportion of our material was
saved. Some of our personal baggage was lost. I had a valise
stolen; it contained many things which I prized greatly on
account of their associations. Unfortunate as the case was,
we were thankful that it was not worse, and that no lives
day a site for camp was selected at edge of the woods about
half a mile East of Pt. Pinos. The observatory was erected,
and instruments mounted. These were the same as used at Pt.
Conception, viz: -- transit instrument for determination of
Time and Longitude, and the Zenith Telescope for Latitude.
These operations were conducted by Mr. Davidson with Mr. Rockwell
as Aid. The topographical work was executed by Mr. Harrison,
with myself as Aid, using the planetable. On this survey,
and from personal examinations of the localities, Mr. D. presented
a report in regard to the location of a Light House.
Pt. Pinos was completed early in March, and on the 9th we
left Monterey for San Diego on the Steamer Constitution
(now and for years past the Barkentine of that name engaged
in the lumber trade between San F. and Puget Sound). At the
Playa (beach) just inside the Bay, and the usual anchorage
for vessels, was a government building, erected as Military
Quarters. These being vacant, Mr. D. obtained permission from
the Quartermaster, then stationed at the "New Town", to occupy
them. Our work here was of the same character as at Pt. Pinos.
was a small collection of houses, among which was the Custom
House, a common board shanty. Lining the beach, and near high
water mark, were several large buildings formerly used for
storing the hides collected by the old "hide-droghers" in
their trading with the Rancheros, and there stored
until a sufficient quantity was obtained to load a vessel
when they were shipped East. Over the doors of some of these
store-houses were the quarter-boards with names of vessels
engaged in this trade; these I now forget, but an interesting
account of them, of all this section of the country, and of
the hide trade will be found in Dana's "Three [Two] Years
before the Mast."
frequent visits from the Officers garrisoned at the Old Mission,
some miles up the valley, as also those connected with the
Quartermasters Department at New Town. Among these were Cap.
Nathaniel Lyon (afterwards Gen. L. who was killed in
Missouri in the early part of the Rebellion), Capt. Cave J.
Couts, Major McKinstry and Capt. T.D. Johns.
de cuisine was a Scotchman and an artist. When
applying for the position, Mr. D. asked him if he was a cook.
He replied, "I hae cook-ed for twa Breet-ish noblemen, an'
I think I can cook for ye." "You are my man", said D. He was
not only a cook, but a confectioner, and brewer. He exercised
considerable genius and taste in devising various dishes and
in the ornamentation, some of the latter causing considerable
mirth at their originality. His confectionery became proverbial,
and rarely ever did our visitors leave without a supply of
dulces for their senorita friends.
River Country and Points South
at San Diego until about June 12th, and then to San Francisco,
and got quarters in the house then kept by Dr. O.M. Wozencraft,
N.E. corner Washington and Stockton Sts. We there remained
until Saturday June 21st when we started for Columbia River
on the Steamer Columbia, Capt. Wm. H. Dall. The day
after we left the fire occurred which swept nearly all that
part of the city between Powell and Sansome, and Clay to Broadway
Sts. When at Santa Barbara, on our way from San Diego, we
heard of the formation of the Vigilance Committee at San Francisco,
and the hanging of Jenkins on the plaza.
passengers on the Columbia on this trip was Capt. Wm.
Tichenor, so well known on this coast. He was strongly impressed
with the advantages of Port Orford, Oregon, as a summer seaport,
and for the location of a town, the trade, and consequently
the prosperity of which was to depend upon a road to be made
from there into the interior of Southern Oregon. By this route
all the traffic of Southern Oregon was to be carried on, thus
saving to merchants, and of course to consumers, the extra
outlay, in expense and time, necessarily required by shipping
via Columbia River and Portland, of which place Port Orford
was to be the rival.
of weeks previously, Capt. T. had left a party of men there
to commence the settlement, and make the explorations for
the proposed road. To ascertain the condition and prospects
of this party the steamer stopped there. "Not a sound was
heard" save the roll of the sea, the sighing of the wind thro'
the trees, and the discordant greeting of a few gulls. When
Capt. T. went ashore, he found none of his party, only the
evidences of a battle with the Indians, and a hurried flight.
There being no necessity for delay, we resumed our course
towards the Columbia River.
time the fate of Tichenor's party was in doubt, but all anxiety
was removed by the news of their safety.
thought I had in my scrap book a detailed account of this
fight and the wanderings of the party back to the settlements
in Oregon as given by Col. T'Vault, but I cannot find it.
the North Head of the Entrance to Columbia River, being Mr.
Davidson's objective point, Capt. Dall kindly took his vessel
into Baker's Bay, thus saving the party considerable time
and expensive transportation from Astoria. The site for camp
was selected in the bight under the Eastern extremity of Cape
D. and inside a small island, now occupied, I believe, by
quarters and offices belonging to Fort Canby. Here all our
equipage, instruments and stores were landed, and camp was
of the party was the same as at previous stations. The Astronomical
station was selected on the highest part of the Cape. The
Magnetic station was at first near camp, but large discrepancies
and irregularities in the observations being noticed, Mr.
Davidson sought for the cause, and found it in the black sand
on the beach, in which were also found faint traces of gold.
The Magnetic station was then removed to the Astronomical.
The topographical work comprised the survey of Cape D., on
the outside including MacKenzie's Head, and on the inside
to or near the site of Pacific City; of Sand Id., in the Entrance
of the River; and of a portion of Pt. Adams, the South Pt.
of the mouth.
City, just referred to, was located on the North side of Baker's
Bay, somewhat more than a mile from our camp. The scheme for
building a city here, and which was intended to be the seaport
town at the mouth of the Columbia in opposition to Astoria,
emanated from the busy and disordered brain of a Dr. White.
I think it was gotten up as a speculation, from which he hoped
to reap a harvest, so there might have been "a method in his
madness." I do not know whether or not he made any money out
of the scheme, but he did succeed in making a number of dupes,
among whom was Jas. D. Holman, who put up a large building
for hotel, store &c, which with other improvements cost
him about $28,000.00. Of course, as a city, the place was
a failure. It had no advantages of location, no attractions,
save those existing in the perverted imagination of its founder.
The park filled with deer, which he described as one of the
attractions of the place, or the schoolhouses, hotel, residences,
&c., indicating its progress towards civilization, instead
of which was only the original forest, and a few temporary
shanties, might be looked upon as somewhat ironical, or an
overweening confidence in the future, had the result not been
so disastrous to those he succeeded in misleading. Mr. Holman
afterwards vacated the hotel, and he took himself to a claim
in the vicinity. All this was afterwards included in the Military
Reservation for Fort Canby. Mr. H. has been endeavoring to
obtain compensation from the Government. I hope he has succeeded.
Baker's Bay I was a frequent visitor at Mr. Holman's, and
had many a romp with his little children. There I met several
persons from up the river, who had come for the benefit of
sea air and bathing, (among them Judge Kelly, Ex-Senator of
Oregon, Mrs. Gen. Lovejoy, of Oregon City) and this seemed
about the only attraction the locality possessed.
completion of the topographical surveys of Cape Disappointment,
Pt. Adams and Sand Id., a party consisting of Judge Kelly,
Mr. Hopkins (who had been brought to Pacific City by Dr. White
to be a teacher in the public school (!), Mr. Harrison and
myself, started in a small sloop belonging to Mr. Holman,
for a trip up the Columbia River. Not being pressed for time,
we stopped at any place deemed interesting, or wherever fancy
dictated. After spending a delightful evening with the family
of Gen. Adair, Collector of Customs, at Astoria, we ran up
to Tongue Pt. There we anchored, and spent a day in improving
the sanitary condition of the vessel by removing all her old
ballast, giving her a thorough cleaning, and putting fresh
Id Channel thro' Cathlamet Bay, was not then known, so we
followed the one then used. From Tongue Pt. we stood over
to the North bank of the river, towards Gray's Bay, then up
along that shore, past Pillar Rock & Under "Jim Crow"
Hill (one of the marks used by the Bar pilots). Off one of
the low islands near Birnie's, now the town of Cathlamet,
we anchored, and Hopkins, Harrison and myself went ashore
to an Indian village. While returning to the sloop we discovered
that we were carrying back passengers, some millions more
or less, for which we had not bargained. We were covered with
fleas to such an extent that from foot to knee the color of
our pantaloons could not be distinguished. The scene was entirely
too animated for our taste. Knowing the torments that
would ensue if we went on board the sloop in that condition,
we went under her stern & made fast the boat's painter;
then stripping, leaving all our clothes in the boat, we jumped
over board, and after swimming around for a while climbed
on board over the bow, and donned fresh clothing. The next
day we dipped every article into boiling water, and without
the slightest compunction of conscience, enjoyed a grand "Massacre
of the Innocents." Continuing on our way we stopped at and
ascended Mt. Coffin, formerly a famous burial place for the
Indians, but unfortunately burnt over by the negligence of
some of the men belonging to the U.S. Exploring Expedition
(Capt. Wilkes in 1841). Passing Coffin rock, another Indian
burial place, we continued on, by the mouth of the Willamette
River to Vancouver, then the Chief station of the Hudson's
Bay Co. All their stores, storehouses, offices, &c, were
within a large wooden stockade, with two bastions at the diagonal
corners, in which were some small iron guns for defense in
case of an Indian attack.
near Vancouver, is the head of tide water, beyond which the
current of the river is always down, but having fair winds
we ran as far as Lady's Id. Here the wind changed to the Eastward,
and we were compelled to anchor, it being impossible to beat
against the current.
there a day, and having no prospect of a fair wind, we determined
to proceed in the dinghy; so the next morning, leaving Judge
Kelly in charge of the sloop, Hopkins, Harrison and myself
started, taking turns in pulling. It was uphill work against
the current, but by taking advantage of eddies, we managed
to make some headway. The boat was a very small one, there
was no room to move about. The day turned out very rainy,
though not stormy; we were soon drenched, but the novelties
of the scenery made us forget all the disagreeable part of
the trip. Cape Horn, with its basaltic cliffs rising from
500 to 700 ft. perpendicularly from the water, flanked by
hills of some 2000 ft., with its numerous streams trickling
down the mountainsides like threads of silver until they tumble
from the edge of the precipice, and from that dizzy height
become a mass of spray, is grand in the extreme. At several
places along the fall of this point are cones rising hundreds
of feet, each, on its sides and top, bearing some of the native
pines, presenting the idea of sentinels on the battlements
of a huge castle. Farther up, and on the other side of the
river (now Oregon proper--it was all Oregon Territory in 1851)
are numerous beautiful falls, varying from a few hundreds
to a thousand or fifteen hundred ft. in perpendicular descent.
I would that I possessed the power to picture in words these
great natural beauties, but they have been so often, and so
much better described than I can do, that I will not make
the attempt. Besides, the series of splendid photographs by
Watkins and others have placed before the world so many of
these beauties as to make them almost familiar.
the middle of the afternoon, seeing a log house on the bank,
we concluded to stop there for the night. The place seemed
deserted, but we soon had a roaring fire in a cooking stove,
and began a consultation among ourselves as to the possibilities
of getting a supper, I must confess we were somewhat startled
by a deep sepulchral sort of voice, demanding "What in H--l
are you doing there?" Looking around in a dark corner we found
in a bunk, the owner of the mansion in the full enjoyment
of an ague chill. We explained to him our position, and he
freely offered all the hospitalities his place afforded. Pointing
to a large chest he said we would find a ham-bone, and some
biscuit which a woman had made for him a few days before.
When he said bone, he was preeminently correct; but
when he said biscuit -- "Heaven save the mark!" they
would have made good shot for a six pounder. But "necessity
knows no law," so we did the best we could off the biscuit
and bone, and after getting partially dried, felt better.
We slept in our wet clothes, and early next morning, after
partaking of the delicacies left from our supper, and gathering
a lot of wood (we split up his fence rails) for our host,
we bade him Good Bye with many thanks for his kindness and
made an early start for the Cascades, reaching the foot of
the lower rapids about noon. Making our boat fast, we walked
to the Upper Cascades, a distance of five or six miles, examining
every point of interest, and from which we could get the best
view of this mass of tumultuous waters. From the Middle Cascades
on the North bank, there was then a wooden tramway for facilitating
the transfer of goods up and down. This years ago had to give
way, in the march of improvement, and increase of business,
to the modern style of railway. There were then no steamboats
plying on this part of the river, or above; today there are
"floating palaces," the largest stern wheel steamers in the
in possession of full and reliable data, I will not attempt
a description of the Cascades. Doubtless some of your contributors
will do this and in a manner to do the subject full justice.
My impressions of its picturesque beauties are almost indescribable;
every turn, every step reveals a new feature that entrances,
and each seems more beautiful than the last. I could not,
however, but notice the difference in the geological formation
of this wonderful passage. On the one hand (now Wash.Ter),
is for some distance back a comparative plain; on the Oregon
side steep, rugged high mountains -- "Ossa supra Pelion."
towards the Upper Cascades I saw some Indian graves. These
were rudely built houses, 8 or 10 ft. square and about 6 ft.
high, the sides and roof being made of boards split from the
trunks of trees. Some of these graves were very old, and so
decayed that they had partially fallen. Looking into one I
saw a fine specimen of a flattened skull which I determined
to secure on my return. Knowing the strong feeling entertained
by the Indians in regard to any tampering with, or desecration
of their burial places, it was very necessary to be sure that
I was not observed. In this I was successful, but not a moment
too soon. I had just secured the skull, wrapped it in my handerchief
and regained the trail, when a party of Indians suddenly appeared
from around a point of woods. I must confess that for a few
minutes my feelings were not of the most pleasant character;
I was alone and unarmed, and had in my hand the evidence of
being a resurrectionist. I advanced toward the Indians with
as unconcerned an air as possible, bade them a pleasant Kla-how-ya,
which was as pleasantly returned, and continued on in an easy
walk until I was out of their sight; then I stood not on the
order of my going, but ran full speed for the boat.
neither mast nor sail, but a couple of sticks rigged as "shears"
served as the former, and a blanket for the latter. With a
fair wind and favorable current we reached the sloop at midnight,
making the distance in about one-third the time it took us
to pull up. During this evening we witnessed a most beautiful
display of Aurora Borealis, accompanied with the rosy
tint so rarely seen.
morning we started down the river. Leaving the Columbia we
entered the Willamette and went to Portland. At this place
and Oregon City we spent two or three days.
these towns were then in their infancy, and their appearance
indicated but a little of the immense strides in population
and wealth they now present.
Cape Disappointment was closed in October, and Mr. Davidson
selected Port Orford as the next scene of operations, taking
passage on the Sea Gull, Capt. Wm. Tichenor. Our camp
was pitched on the rising ground West of, and about half way
between the town, and the point. The usual routine of work
as at other places, was carried on.
were at Port Orford, the war with the Coquille River Indians
was carried on, and brought to a successful issue. Port O.
was the base of operations and supplies. The commanding officer
of the expedition was Col. (afterwards Gen.) Casey. Among
the other officers were Lts. (afterwards Gen.) Geo. H. Stoneman,
R.S. Williamson (now Col., and for many years Engineer Officer
attached to Light house districts on this Coast), and Wyman,
who at the close of the Indian troubles was left with his
company at Port O. The names of others I cannot now recall.
Since that time, I have met Williamson repeatedly, officially
and socially; Stoneman but once, and Wyman not at all. It
may not be out of place here to recall an incident in Stoneman's
career, as evidencing his character and the effect produced
upon men by their leaders. Stoneman belonged to the Dragoon
Corps; it was impossible, without great expense for transportation,
to have his company mounted when in active operations at Coquille
River, and he would not use a horse himself. When he started
on his march from Port O. to the seat of war, he walked
at the head of his company. Reaching Elk River, five miles
above Port O., where I was that day at work, there were no
boats or canoes to ferry the troops across. Without a moment's
hesitation Stoneman waded in, waist deep, and against a strong
current, crossed the steam; all followed him. With such an
example, there were no laggards. The moral effect was to bring
into requisition the best qualities, and the confidence of
his men, who would exert every energy to sustain such a leader.
28th I left Port Orford, being ordered to accompany Mr. Harrison,
who was detached from Mr. Davidson's party and placed in charge
of a separate one, and proceeded to San Francisco where all
the outfit for a new camp was obtained. On Christmas Eve we
left on the Steamer Sea Bird, Capt. Bob Haley, for
San Diego. Very stormy (S.E.) weather had prevented sailing
for some days, but on that afternoon the storm seemed to be
abating, and the Capt. determined to start. It was dark when
we reached the Golden Gate. The bar was breaking heavily,
but this was not seen until we were too far out to attempt
to turn back. Quite a number of the passengers were native
Californians, among whom the consternation was great. One
poor fellow, I never knew who he was, while engaged in paying
tribute to Neptune over the bow of the steamer was struck
by a heavy sea, and thrown on a pile of chain lying on the
deck; one side of his face fearfully torn.
in crossing the bar safely. This was my second experience
of that kind at that place. I certainly do not desire another.
The storm raged heavily throughout that night and the next
day. I cannot say it was a "Merry Christmas," and on the morning
of the 26th we reached an anchorage at Monterey, where we
remained until the abatement of the gale. We then proceeded
on our way, and in due time arrived at San Diego, disembarking
at the New Town.
for our camp was selected on the bank of a small stream running
through Sweetwater Valley, about 7 miles from the New Town
towards the head of the Bay. From this camp all the topographical
detail, from where the work of the previous year closed, up
to the Boundary line between U.S. and Mexico fixed under the
terms of the Guadalupe-Hidalgo Treaty, was completed.
this camp, the party of Col. Gray, then in charge of the Survey
of this Boundary, reached San Diego. Coming in detached squads,
their appearance furnished the best representations of our
modern idea of "tramps" of which I can conceive. They had
seen hard service, & had been subjected to many privations.
Among them was a friend of ours, Malcolm Seaton, formerly
of the Coast Survey; he often visited us, as did the others,
and many a merry laugh and joke was passed at their outlandish
appearance on their arrival.
completion of this part of the work, our camp was removed
to the back of the San Diego River opposite the town, from
which was carried on North & West from that of the previous
year so as to include False Bay.
with Mr. Harrison until March 7th 1852, when I received orders
to report to Mr. Davidson, as topographical Aid, and left
on the steamer the same day.
On my arrival
at San Francisco, I found Mr. Davidson's party encamped in
the small valley east of the Presidio, where an Astronomical
Station was being determined, but he was absent on the steamer
Active, (the old Gold Hunter) Lieut. James Alden,
U.S.N., Commanding for the purpose of determining Latitudes
and Longitudes required in the Reconnaissance of the Coast
South of San Francisco to the Mexican Boundary. This work
was delayed by reason of the Active's returning to
San F. before completion to bring the mails of one of the
P.M.S.S. Co's vessels (the California, I think), which
was found at San Pedro, disabled. The Active afterwards
returned and the work was completed.
12th we started on the Active, and in about 5 or 6
days arrived at Nee-ah Bay, 6 miles East of Cape Flattery,
in the Straits of Juan de Fuca. The cape was really Mr. Davidson's
objective point, but the Bay presented the best location for
camping, and from there all operations could be conducted.
of Indians--Mah-Kah (See how Mr. J.G. Swan spells this
name, and adopt his orthography) was not then particularly
friendly towards the whites, and before going into camp it
was deemed best to have an understanding with them. For this
purpose a hy-as wah-wah (big talk) was appointed to
take place with the Chief Clis-seet and his tribe at
the Warm House (summer village) between Nee-ah Bay
and Cape F., the next day. At the time appointed as many of
the Indians as could be accommodated in the house of the chief
were there congregated. All who could be spared from the Active
were sent, the Officers in uniform, the men being in the boats,
and all armed. The talk was conducted through Mr. Samuel
Hancock (now of Whidbey Id.) as interpreter. It was explained
to them that we did not come to take away their lands, or
interfere with their rights in any way; that our mission was
for the benefit of shipping, and that in this they would share
by having a trade with the whites in selling their fish, oil,
&c, in return getting such articles, blankets, clothes,
beads &c. as they desired; that ours was a peaceable mission,
and that if any attack was made upon us, or injury inflicted,
a retribution was sure to follow. The Indians, while not exactly
impudent, were quite independent, and said that while they
were willing to be at peace, they were equally willing to
come to blows. This was especially the case with Flattery
Jack, a most incorrigible scoundrel, who by force of
mental power and rascality had made himself of some importance
in the tribe. It was finally understood that we should remain
there, and that the tribe would not interfere with us. Accordingly
a site was selected, a few hundred yards east of the stream
running by the winter village in the bay; the bushes were
cleared away, and as soon as possible, tents were erected,
and camp established. The "Active" then went up the Straits,
making a reconnaissance of the South shore to Port Townsend,
and preliminary surveys of New Dungeness Bay and Port Angeles,
Mr. Davidson occupying astronomical stations at the latter
place and Port Townsend. Returning, after leaving Mr. D. at
Neeah Bay, the Active went to Shoalwater Bay to make
a survey, and at the close of the season was to return for
in camp there were but nine of us, and when it is considered
that in 24 hours about 500 Indians could be mustered against
us, this might be considered a small force. But while we feared
no danger we deemed it well to be prepared. We had in camp
sufficient arms, rifles, revolvers, cavalry pistols and shotguns,
to fire over sixty shots without stopping to reload. For a
number of days after our settling at camp and the departure
of the Active everything went on in the usual quiet
routine. One day quite a large fleet of canoes, containing
at least from 150 to 200 Indians, came from Vancouver Id.,
and in the evening, instead of camping on the beach, they
remained in their canoes, anchoring them to the kelp. This
we simply regarded as a precautionary measure, lest some of
the individuals of the two tribes might engage in a quarrel,
and thus embroil all; but we were soon awakened from our fancied
safety by Mr. Hancock, who knowing considerable of the native
dialect, had heard some Indians talking, and was told by some
of the Mah-Kah women, of a plot to attack camp that
night, kill us all, and divide the plunder. The Mah-Kahs,
on account of threats of punishment, were afraid to commit
the deed, but the Vancouver Id. Indians were to do so, and
after sharing the spoils the latter would return home. We
were quickly on the alert, saw that our arms were in order,
and each man supplied, and then "mounted Guard." Frequently
during the night an Indian would walk along the beach in front
of camp as if to reconnoiter, but he always found an armed
man on watch. No attack was made, and the next day the Vancouver
Indians returned to their homes. To prepare for any future
emergency we built a breast-work of logs, with loop-holes,
and guard was kept every night afterward.
in camp a good supply of ammunition, Mr. Davidson thought
a reasonable expenditure of this, besides enabling us to know
that our arms were always ready for use, might exercise a
very restraining influence upon our neighbors. About once
in a week or ten days, all our arms were discharged, cleaned
and reloaded. They were fired at a target about 100 yds. distant,
all the guns and pistols being placed on a temporary table.
In using the revolvers we always fired more than one shot
but not all, and while one of us would examine the
target and mark the score, the pistol was laid down. Then
another person would shoot taking great care not to pick up
the pistol used last, if the shots had been expended. Seeing
these pistols fired so often without being reloaded, the Indians
thought they could always be so fired, that they were possessed
of the Masacha Timanoas (Bad Spirit), and hence had
a wholesome dread of them. Still they wanted to purchase them,
and the Chief offered what in his estimation was a fabulous
price; but knowing the security they gave us we dared not
let our secret be known. We never went from camp without each
having his pistol; many a time I have not had a single charge
in mine, yet the fact of having a revolver was all the protection
of our target practice were generally selected when there
were a number of Indians about that they might witness the
results; we took care, however, never to discharge all our
arms at once, nor permit them to see our cleaning and reloading
of the revolvers. Particularly was it desirable that the Chief
Clisseet, known also as the White Chief, from
his fair complexion, should be present. On one occasion, after
the firing had stopped, he walked to the target, and placing
his thumb and forefinger at an average distance of the shots
from the bull's eye, he measured off how many times it required
to pass across his breast; then dropping his hand, and shaking
his head as though to say, "Poor chance for an Indian there"
he walked slowly and sedately back, and without a word, seated
himself. It was one of the most expressive movements I ever
beginning of my work I was much annoyed by the Indians stealing
the pieces of cotton cloth used as flags on my station marks.
This occurred one day when I was chaining my base line in
front of camp. Without thinking of the possible results, I
dropped my note book and pencil, and drawing my pistol I ran
after them. They were fleeter on foot than I, and got into
the woods. On my return I had to pass the village, which by
this time was in a grand uproar. With pistol in hand I passed
them all, not an Indian daring to touch me, but I could not
resist presenting a leaden messenger to one of their dogs
who came too inconveniently close. I sent for "Flattery Jack"
and through Mr. Hancock as interpreter, I presented my ultimatum;
that any Indian man I caught destroying my signals, I would
kill on the spot; women or boys I would bring into camp and
have publicly whipped. I had no further cause for complaint
on that score.
subsist almost entirely by fishing; they hunt but little except
duck shooting. Their traveling is almost always in canoe;
hence we remarked the comparatively small development of the
legs as compared with the arms and chest. Their fishing gear
was very primitive, their lines being the smaller parts of
kelp, which wet are quite strong and easily handled, but when
dry are very brittle. In the article contributed by James
G. Swan, to the Smithsonian Institution, on the Mah-Kah Indians,
all the details are more fully given than I can now do. Of
their manner of catching the whale & black-fish, I had
an opportunity to be a witness. Their method is to attach
to the whale a number of large floats made from the intestines
of large fish and inflated like bladders, until the fish cannot
sink below the surface of the water. It is then at their mercy.
The Harpoon heads were made of the abalone shell, sharpened
on the edge, the concavity being filled with the pitch of
the pine tree, holding in place pieces of elk or deer horn
forming an inverted V, which was pressed on to the end of
a wooden shaft, some 12 or 15 ft. long. These harpoons, with
the floats attached, were driven into the fish wherever a
surface was exposed. When it could no longer sink, and had
to raise its head to blow, the harpooner would seize the opportunity
to strike it under the pectoral fin, and by pushing would
drive the harpoon head to a vital part. When forced in as
far as possible the shaft is turned, and withdrawn, leaving
the head, and then another is driven and so until the fish
is murdered. On the occasion referred to, Clis-seet was the
harpooner. Perfectly naked he stood in the bow of the canoe,
one foot on each gunwale, a perfect specimen of an athlete,
and never failed to strike his mark. We did not reach the
scene until so many floats were made fast that the fish could
not sink; we caught one of the lines from the floats, and
the poor thing in its dying struggles towed us along quite
a distance. I had a great desire to jump upon its back and
take a ride. As soon as the fish was dead or nearly so, a
signal was made; immediately all the canoes from the village
were started; they made fast, and the prey was towed ashore.
Such an event is always the occasion of a grand feast, which
means a great gormandizing on blubber and nastiness.
station was at camp. This has now been lost. The year after
we were there the small-pox raged fearfully at Neeah Bay,
being introduced by some clothing brought there by Indians
who had been to San Francisco. In their superstitious ideas,
it was said by some of them that we had left it buried in
the bottles left to mark the Astron. Station; hence they proceeded
to dig them up and destroy them. Had they been sufficiently
enlightened to have known the story of Pandora's box they
would probably have left them intact. The topographical work
embraced from Cape Flattery and Tatoosh Id. to two miles East
of Neeah Bay. From this survey a site for the Light house
on Tatoosh Id. was selected; this was reported on by Mr. Davidson,
and adopted by the L. H. Board.
As a souvenir
of my trip to the Cascades last year, I had an attack of chills
and fever. They first attacked me before leaving San F. for
Neeah Bay, and there they came regularly every alternate day.
While at work I was continually wet, from the moment I started
in the morning until I returned at night. On the day I first
visited Tatoosh Id. I tried a dose of 40 grains of quinine;
it was a case of "kill or cure"--the kill part for
a while seemed the more sure. I remember the men laying me
down in the bottom of the canoe and wanting to take me back
to camp, but I would not permit them; I had started for T.
Id., putting up signals on the way & I was going there.
By the time I returned in the evening I was much better, but
evidently under the effects of the quinine. While describing
the shores, and T. Id., I noticed a peculiar manner in my
campmates that, in my irritable condition, vexed me, and in
a moment I was ready for a fight; but Mr. D. immediately explained
that I was yelling loud enough to be heard at the other end
of the bay. I was sensible of a most terrible ringing in the
ears, but I had no idea that I was making such a spectacle
of myself. I subsided, and left my explanations and reports
for the next day.
Neeah Bay we witnessed an Indian marriage, a brief account
of which may be interesting. The groom was a son of a chief
of a tribe South of Cape Flattery--the Quillehyutes, I think--and
was accompanied by a large number of his people, in several
canoes, bringing with them the presents (blankets, guns, pistols,
&c.) for the purchase of the bride, who was the daughter
of a Medicine Man of the Mah-Kahs. For sometime after the
arrival of the visitors, they kept to themselves, apparently
arranging the proceedings, and plans for opening negotiations.
These being decided on, a procession was formed, and marched
to a short distance from the house of the bride's father,
where a halt was made and the orator of the party made a grand
speech. Not being versed in these Indian dialects, we could
only guess at its import, the greatness of the chief, his
wealth in blankets, slaves, stores of fish, canoes, guns,
&c., & the virtues of the young man; and he ended
by demanding the girl in marriage, proffering a large number
of blankets, guns and pistols. To all this there was no response.
The old Medicine Man kept himself and family within his house,
permitting none to enter. The visitors returned to their canoes,
and held another council. After a while a second trial was
made with an increased offer of presents, but with a similar
result. This scene was repeated several times, and at last
the old man yielded, he had doubtless held out as long as
possible to get as much as he could for his daughter. In all
these negotiations the prospective groom never appeared in
as it was understood that the offer was accepted, all waited
in silence until the coming of the bride. She had been taken
in charge by some of the women of her own tribe & dressed
in her best blanket, her long black hair combed down her back
and shoulders, and plentifully sprinkled over with very fine
white feathers resembling swans down. Presently she was led
forth, supported by a woman on each side, and followed by
her friends, the visitors joining the procession, and was
thus conducted to her husband who was gravely seated on a
log some distance from her home. A few steps in advance of
the groom's position two of his slaves, perfectly naked, were
lying on the beach face down. As the bride was led forward
she had to pass over these slaves, which she did by stepping
upon their backs, apparently as indicating their subjection
to her as the wife of their Chief's son, and she was seated
on the log at the left of her husband, who did not look at,
or even speak to, her. Quite a return of presents was made
by the girl's father, and soon after preparations were made
for departure of the bridal party. As soon as all was in readiness
the new husband rose and leaving his wife walked to his canoe,
and made himself as comfortable as possible in his blankets
and mats. Then some women escorted the bride to the same canoe,
placing her by her husband. In the whole proceeding, the only
evidences of feeling or courtesy were manifested by the women;
they attended on the bride & saw to her comfort, even
to placing a box on the beach as a step to assist her in getting
into the canoe. In a few minutes all had left, and the excitement
of the day ended.
the persistence of the Indians in the employment of their
own Medicine men in times of serious illness, it was quite
amusing to see with what avidity they would apply for, and
take, any of our Boston (American) drugs, for any minor
ailment. The most noted in this way was Clis-seet, and so
often did he appear for this purpose, that it became somewhat
of a bore. It was concluded that, the next time he presented
himself, a joke should be perpetrated. Before many days had
passed, he came to camp complaining of a violent pain in the
ear. On this occasion, Mr. Rockwell was the one taking charge
of the case, the others, standing around with solemn faces,
assisting in the consultation. An examination showed that
an application of some warm water and soap would be the most
effectual remedy, but something more was necessary to prevent
any suspicions on the part of the patient. Accordingly some
red ink was added to the preparation, and with a syringe,
a supply, so liberal that it ran down over the chief's shoulder
and blanket (his only and usual garment) was injected. The
next day he returned, and reported a perfect cure.
Davidson was sent for to attend an infant, a nephew of the
grandson of the Chief. It was in convulsions, and their doctors
were only making its condition worse by their rough manipulations,
done, as they said, to cast out the evil spirit. Indians often
have a very unpleasant habit of holding doctors responsible
for the lives of their patients; and in case of death it is
no uncommon thing for the doctor to be killed by some near
relative of the dear departed. Being well aware of this, Mr.
D. demanded that he should not be held responsible if death
ensued; they refused, hence he could do nothing. The child
died in a few hours.
Active left us at Neeah Bay she went to Shoalwater
Bay, of which a reconnaissance of the shores, and a hydrographic
survey were made. It was agreed that she should return for
us on October 1st, and this fact we made known to the Indians,
always insisting the exact date. They rather doubted such
punctuality; we wanted to impress them with our knowledge,
but as the day approached and we had not heard a word from
her, we did begin to have some misgivings. On the morning
of Oct. 1st there was a dense fog, giving but little hopes
of the steamer's arrival. The Indians were as keenly on the
watch as we, each evidently praying for the other's disappointment.
I know we prayed for theirs. Between one and two o'clock P.M.
the fog began to lift, and in a few minutes we saw the Active
coming in. Her promptness seemed to give the Indians a great
respect for "Boston" intelligence. By her we received letters
and papers, the first since leaving San F. Immediate preparations
were made for packing up, the next day camp was struck, and
every thing put on board, and early the following morning
left Neeah Bay without a single regret......
was bound for San F., calling en route at Columbia River,
but Mr. Davidson intended stopping at Cape Mendocino to determine
its true Astronomical position, and make a topographical survey
of the locality. Arriving off the Cape it was found that the
heavy surf utterly precluded a safe landing, and we were compelled
to keep on for San F.
Reyes, Drakes Bay, and the Los Angeles Base Line
the winter of 1852-3 Mr. Davidson occupied an Astronomical
Station on Telegraph Hill; I, under his instructions, made
a plane table survey of Pt. Reyes and part of the shores of
Drake's Bay, going there on a little schooner (the Commerce)
employed by Dr. Randall (afterwards killed by Hetherington,
who was hung by the Vigilance Committee), and others in transporting
beef for the San F. market.
was a very wet one. In December I had but two clear
days, and one of these was a Sunday I made use of for work.
Becoming much disgusted with my enforced inactivity, I concluded
to make a trip to San F. in my boat. I made two ineffectual
attempts, being driven back both times by stormy weather.
It was not until after Jan 1st/53, that I succeeded, nearly
paying for my temerity with my life. I had three of my own
party, and two young men belonging at San Rafael. These had
been drifted out of San F. Bay in a sloop, over the bar, and
at last had been driven ashore in Drake's Bay, where the sloop
I left camp was bright and clear, and I hoped to have a fair
wind; it was calm all day and we had to use the oars. Just
before dusk we reached the bar, and found it breaking heavily.
Just then came a light land breeze which carried us away from
danger. All night we drifted around, and in the morning found
ourselves almost back to Pt. Reyes. I concluded to give up
my trip and return to camp; but even here the fates were against
me. A strong North wind came, we could not pull against it,
and I had no recourse but to run before it. Before reaching
the bar, the wind died out, and a fog settled down for an
hour or two. All this time--some 36 hours-- we had been without
food or water, the men having neglected to provide any as
I had directed. Finding we could not pull in against the strong
current I landed on the sand beach outside of Pt. Bonita to
get some water. There was but little surf at the time, but
soon seeing it increase I called a start. One of my passengers
concluded to leave here and walk to Saucalito, and thence
get home. In getting through the surf, the other passenger
dropped his oar. I had no spare one, and could not afford
to lose it. In the attempt to regain it, the boat got into
the trough of the sea, and the next breaker upset her, and
so quickly that we were all underneath. One of the men had
tried to jump, but only got partially out, the gunwale falling
across his loins. He managed to crawl out, and found he was
the only one. After a few moments, they seemed hours to us
underneath, he watched the chance when the next breaker would
lift the boat off the sand, and then suddenly lifting by the
gunwale, she turned over. I saw quite a light over my head,
and almost immediately some one seized me by the collar, and
was dragging me up the beach. While under the boat I made
an attempt, by getting on all fours, and putting my back under
a thwart, to lift her, but could not; then deeming all hope
gone, I thought of my Mother. Only a little time before I
had heard of the death by drowning of a younger brother. My
thoughts took form in these words: "Mother, you have just
lost one boy, here goes another," and I immediately commenced
breathing salt water to be out of misery as soon as possible.
several ineffectual attempts to get off, but the surface had
become too heavy. At last a hole was stove in the bottom,
and she was useless to us. Taking all the oars, sails, &c,
and placing them upon the bluff, we started for Saucalito.
I had lost my shoes, so had to travel in my stocking feet.
Part of our tramp was through a pond (Rodeo Lagoon), and then
over the high hills. We reached Saucalito after dark. I hired
a boat to take us across, landing at one of the wharves near
Clarke's Pt. after 10 o'clock. I was then so numbed that I
could not use my fingers; a cup of coffee procured at a stand,
I had to take up between my wrists. I made my way to Mr. Davidson's
quarters on Telegraph Hill. Here I was stripped, plunged into
a bath, then got a most unmerciful rubbing (before they got
through I thought they must be using currycombs), a good supper,
then was packed off to bed. The next morning I was as fresh
as a lark. I remained in San. F. a few days, then returned
to camp, thoroughly cured of ocean trips in open boats.
at Pt. Reyes until March 23rd, 1853, when I returned to San
Francisco. Just before this Mr. Davidson had made a reconnaissance
for site of a primary base line on the plains between San
Pedro and Los Angeles, and for the locating of some of the
connecting triangulation stations. The party went there, camp
being located West of the long ridge, about 9 miles from Los
Angeles. The base line was laid out, the ends marked, a measurement
made. A portion of this line passed through a pond, about
three-quarters of a mile long, and from 12 to 16 inches deep.
In making the contacts of the bars, Mr. Davidson had to stoop,
getting wet to his waist. This, with the effect of the Westerly
winds drawing across the plains, brought on a severe attack
of rheumatism, from which he has severely suffered.
coming in from work, we were almost blinded by a flight of
small, black beetles--to protect our eyes we had to use our
hankerchiefs as veils. Our tents were covered with them. They
remained, tho' not flying in swarms, all the time we were
there, and we never pretended to go to bed, without first
turning down the clothes and sweeping out the beetles, and