1857: Big City Writer Checks Out His Back Yard

From John Vonderlin
Email John ([email protected])
Hi June,
    This is another travelogue by a San Franciscan visiting the boondocks of the Coastside. This one, from 1857, is the earliest I’ve found so far. Unlike some of the later-dated ones I’ve sent you, this guy is no friend of sea lions. However, it is  wise to remember that this is pre-Civil War writing.  Slavery still existed and “Manifest Destiny,”  had already gained a strong hold on the thinking of those settling the West. I’m going to check out some of the names mentioned herein and see if I can find out who they are. Enjoy. John
Headline: Daily Alta California  
Newspaper:    Daily alta California
Date: July 7, 1857
Content Type:    Article
Daily Alta California
A Trip To The Coast–The Road— Crystal Springs — Crossing The Coast Range– Half Moon Bay — Spanishtown — Agricultural Prospects— The Beach— The Sea Lion Fishery — Incidents of Travel.
   Many persons have lived for years in San Francisco without making themselves acquainted with any of the many pleasant and interesting localities which abound in the vicinity of our city. Many persons, who complain of the wine and dust, and noise and bustle of the city, neglect to take advantage of any opportunity to get out of it for a day or two, which everybody might do once or twice a year, and which, if they would do it, would give them an agreeable recreation and relaxation from business, as well as make them familiar with the country about us. Fully aware of our own delinquencies in this respect, on the morning of the Fourth of July, undetermined (sic) to get away from the din and hubbub which we had every reason to believe, from the premonitory symptoms which developed themselves during the night, would reign over the city on the glorious anniversary, when a great deal of patriotism is expended in smoke, and to take a trip into a section of country, which, although very near us and well worth visiting, is but little known to our citizens. Having received some days previously an invitation from a friend, who resides on the coast, about thirty-five miles from here, beyond Half- Moon Bay, to pay him a visit, we took a horse and buggy and wended our way in that direction. The road from here toward Half-Moon Bay, for the first eighteen miles, is over the travelled stage route to San Jose, with which most of our readers are familiar. At the end of this distance, we passed through a gate on the righthand side of the road, and turned our horse’s head toward the coast. The road, we learned, was a public one, but that the owner of the land on either side had taken the convenient means of putting up a gate in order to avoid the necessity of fencing. About five miles beyond the gate, the road descends into a beautiful little valley, after traveling up which a short distance we reached the  “Crystal Springs,” a quiet little place, embosomed among the shady foliage of the brilliantly green live oak trees, and where an excellent hotel is kept by Edward Wehler, one of the pioneers, who came to California with Col. Stevenson, and who settled on this place about three years ago. Afterwards finding the land belonged to the estate of the late Wm. D. M. Howard, Mr. Wehlex purchased a hundred acres, a good portion of which he has improved, and if calm, quiet, natural beauty of locality, pleasant drives and rambles in the vicinity, hunting and fishing, and an excellent hotel, are any inducements ” Crystal Springs” will, ere long, become a place of considerable resort. After resting the animal, ” stabulating” him, and donating to him a certain quantity of a cereal known as the oat, and also furnishing our inner man with some fried eggs, with bread and fresh butter, to which our morning ride enabled us to do ample justice, we started on our continued journey to the coast. For a mile or so beyond the Springs, the road reminded us more of one of the old New England home roads in the still summer time, than any we have seen before in California. It it level and gravelly, shaded with willows and with oaks, which arch above it, pawing at times through clear, purling brooks, and then over bridges, with birds flitting among the branches, and grasshoppers humming in the fields at the roadside. About a mile beyond the springs, however, we left this road, and leaving on our right the beautiful place of Mr. Harazthy, we struck up the hillside. Now, we had heard there were hills to be climbed, and some ” pretty steep” places to go up, and some quite as steep to go down, and we had a very good general idea that between us and the Pacific stretched the Coast Range of mountains which it would be necessary for us to cross before we reached the ocean, but our travelling had been so limited of late that we had almost forgotten the height, and ruggedness. and perpendicularity of California hills, and so we rode on a couple of miles, all unconscious of the climbing up and climbing down which was in store for us, But at the end of this distance, we found ourselves at the foot, of the genuine Coast Range of mountains, the mother of all the little hills we had come over, and commenced the ascent. Horses seem to have a natural inborn objection to going up hill when they can avoid it, and their indisposition to ascend, seems to be decidedly augmented by the fact of having buggies attached to them, and particularly when these buggies contain bipeds who are capable, as the horse doubtless knows of walking. We found that our horse was not an exception to the general, well known rule, and after a futile attempt to enforce our at first modestly uttered request to him to ” get up,” we concluded it better to walk, which we did, leading the animal and his appendages up to the top of the mountain. For one unaccustomed to climbing, the ascent was a long and tedious one, although by no means dangerous and considered as nothing by those who are in the habit of doing it. The view however from the summit, is one which fully compensates for the labor required to reach it. From here, both the bay and the ocean are visible, the one lying still and placid in the summer sunshine, the other lashing itself and foaming up against our rugged coast From here the view extends on either side, a great distance. Far off in the blue ocean it reaches until the vision is closed upon the meeting of the sea and the sky, and on the other side, over the valley and the bay, to the grand mountains which rise up away in the distance. We stopped and gazed awhile upon the one side, and the other, and then commenced our descent. In addition to discovering the remarkable fact that horses are constitutionally opposed to going up hill, we ascertained, without much trouble, that they  prefer, of the two, going down, and we found while ours had taken the matter slowly and philosophically on the way up, he was slightly inclined to go down in a hurry. So we got out and held him back a little, and managed to walk him along quite peaceably and respectably until we thought we had nearly reached the base of the mountain. Here, while resting on a table land in the road, we were met by an individual coming up on horseback, who had been apparently getting up a little extra patriotic ardor on the “Glorious Fourth.” In answer to our question as to the distance to Spanishtown, he informed us it was only about three miles; but “boys,” said he, “ye never’ll get down that way.”  “Why not?  “Well,” said our friend, “I’ve travelled a good deal first and last, and up and down a good many hills but, there’s a place yer a little further down that for steepness jest knocks the centre out of any buggy road I ever did see. Ye never can get down unless ye lock your wheels. Ye’ll have the buggy pitchin right over the horse’s head. Some o’ the way it’s straight up and down like a yard o’ pumpwater.”  “Well,” said we. “What shall we do, we haven’t anything to lock our wheels with, and I think we better go back to the Springs and give up a trip to the coast for the present.” “O no boys,” said our friend, ” don’t go back; it’s a lovely spot when you get to it, and yer can go down easy enough if you just lock your wheels.”   “But,” we reiterearted again, ” we have nothing to lock with.”   “Well, boys,” he said, holding up a piece of rope about ten feet long, “yer’s a piece of rope I can let you have, come, what’ll yer give me for it?”   “Well,” we said, “what’s it worth?”   ” It cost me four bits and I think I ought to make two bits on it, so it’s yours for six bits.”
   Glad to get in our possession the means of “locking the wheels,” we completed the purchase and although we were by this time a little suspicious that the steepness of the descent had been somewhat exaggerated by our friend, for the purpose of effecting the sale of his rope, we fastened the two hind wheels with it to the axletree, and started on. We soon found, however, there had been no exaggeration at all, and that for about fifty yards just previous to reaching the valley there was a little nearest to “straight up and down” buggy road it had ever been our fortune to travel. But our wheels were locked and below us lay, the valley green and smiling, inviting us down,  and down we went , without really much trouble.
   About two miles from the foot of the mountain is “Spanishtown,” a collection of a couple of dozen adobe houses, in the principal one of which the natives had gathered to spend the Fourth of July. The appearance of things about here reminded us more of California in its ante-golden days than anything we have seen before in this vicinity. The gente had gathered from the neighboring ranches, and were lolling listlessly across their saddles, smoking cigaritos, ” talking horse,” and swearing, looking as happy, and as careless, and as sleepy as we have often seen them in the early times, before this Anglo-Saxon race broke in upon  them, and woke them from their lazy slumbers. We learned there had been two or three horse races during the day, and that there was to be a ” fandango ” at night. But we were to push up the valley to stay the night, and about dark we reached the house of Mr. Selleck, some three miles from Spanishtown, where we found our friend Martin, who received us kindly, and whom we were certainly glad to meet after our day’s eventful, yet pleasant journey. After a good supper, and seeing the beast well cared for, we went to bed and soon fell asleep, while listening to the mournful, requiem-like monody (sic) of the surf as it broke with violence against the rugged coast. Agriculturally considered, this is one of the finest sections of country in California. It is level, with a very rich soil, naturally moist, and easy of tillage. For a distance of about three miles, down the coast from Spanishtown, the land was originally embraced in the Miramontez grant, from which most of those now living there, and who originally ” settled ” on the land, have purchased. There are about thirty American families living on the tract, and from a waste, as it was a few years ago, it has been made a perfect garden. The crops of wheat, oats, barley, potatoes, and onions, are very superior, and the farmers attribute this, in part, to the fact that the growing crops are kept moist by the coast fogs. A great many onions are raised here, Mr. Selleck, at whose house we remained over night, having about twenty acres in, and promising to turn out finely. The produce is shipped to San Francisco, from Half-Moon Bay. After on excellent night’s rest and a good breakfast, in company with some other “citizens,” who had strayed away from San Francisco, we took a walk down to the beach, distant about half a mile, to see ” the lions ” — literally to see “the lions” — to see the ” sea lions ” — which congregate in that vicinity, in great numbers, and whose howls and barks, mingled with the, beating of the surges, make a singular musical compound at night. Arrived on the bluff bank, ahove the beach, we saw the lions — at least a thousand of them — basking in the sunshine, on a huge rock, at a distance of fifty yards from the shore. Some of them, with their young, were lying on the beach and sporting, in their clumsy playfulness, with the waves as they came in. Some of these fellows are monsters — some as large as an ox, and we were informed that one had been killed, during this season, which weighed two thousand pounds. On the bluff a crane has been erected and some ” try-works” put up, for the purpose of hoisting up and ” trying out ” the blubber of these lions, which are first shot and then easily taken. These works, however, have, from some cause, been abandoned, and it is surprising that, in a country so full of enterprise as this is, this fishery is not prosecuted with greater vigor. From April to September, the ” lions ” gather about these rocks in immense numbers, and each one will turn out from five to twenty gallons of oil, which is said, for burning purposes, to be fully equal to the best whale oil. Here in a chance for those who are ” out of business,” to go into the ” lion ” fishery. After taking a walk upon the beach, and rousing up a few young lions, and capturing a seal, we returned to Mr. Selleck’s; and, after taking dinner, harnessed up, and after ascending and descending once more the Coast Range, reached Crystal Springs, where we spent the night, and drove in freshly to San Francisco the next morning, well pleased, and feeling much better for our trip. A stage formerly ran to Spanishtown, but now only goes as far as Crystal Springs, the driver not meeting sufficient encouragement to keep his line on the whole distance. With a little improvement in the roads over the mountains, the trip would be a delightful one ; and, as it is, is pleasant to those who love a little adventure, something out of the hum-drum routine of every-day life. On horseback, there is no difficulty in going up and down, and the residents there travel with buggies and wagons, without considering the task a severe one. We can safely recommend the trip as an agreeable one, and would simply suggest to those who go in buggies, to profit by our experience, and carry something by which to “lock their wheels.”

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