Page images

Indians, who dive for them to the depth of twenty or more feet, and of whom a large proportion are annually drowned or devoured by sharks. A company, formed at London in 1825, sent Lieutenant Hardy to the Californian coast, with two vessels, carrying diving-bells, by the aid of which it was expected that the pearl fishery might be conducted more safely, as well as profitably, than by the ordinary means; but, unfortunately, it proved that the oysters always lie in crevices of the rocks, to which no access can be had by persons in the diving-bell, and the enterprise was, in consequence, abandoned. The value of the pearls obtained appears to be trifling when compared with the time and labor employed in the search for them. In 1825, eight vessels engaged in the business collected together five pounds of pearls, which were worth about ten thousand dollars. Occasionally, however, a single stone is found of value sufficient to afford compensation for years of fruitless labor; and some of the richest pearls in the regalia of Spain are the produce of the fishery in the Californian Gulf.

The territory extending east from the Californian Gulf to the summit of the great dividing chain of the Anahuac Mountains, forms two political divisions of the Mexican republic, of which the northern is called Sonora, (a corruption of Señora,) and the southern Sinaloa. These countries are, as yet, thinly inhabited: from the general productiveness of their soil, the salubrity of their climate, and the number and richness of their mines of gold and silver, they seem calculated for the support of a large population, for which the gulf, and the many rivers flowing into it from the mountains on the east, will afford the means of communicating with other lands. The port of Guaymas, in Sonora, in latitude of 27 degrees 40 minutes, is said to be one of the best on the Pacific side of America. Mazatlan, in Sonora, at the entrance of the Californian Gulf, has been, hitherto, more generally frequented; but it is neither so secure as Guaymas, nor is the territory in its vicinity so productive or healthy. South-east of Mazatlan, in latitude of 27 degrees 29 minutes, is Can Blas, the principal commercial port of Mexico on the Pacific, one of the hottest and most unhealthy spots on the globe; and still farther, in the same direction, are Navidad, Acapulco, and the harbor of Tehuantepec, all celebrated, in former times, as places of trade, but now decaying and deserted.

The peninsula of California is about one hundred and thirty miles in breadth where it joins the continent, under the 32d parallel, that is to say, nearly in the same latitude with the city of Savannah, in Georgia. Thence it extends south-eastward, varying, but generally diminishing, in breadth between the Pacific on the west and the Californian Gulf on the east, to its termination in two points — Cape San Lucas, the southwesternmost, in latitude of 22 degrees 52 minutes, corresponding nearly with that of the city of Havanna, in Cuba — and Cape Palmo, 60 miles east by north of the other, at the entrance of the Californian Gulf.

Continental California extends, upon the Pacific, from the 32d parallel of latitude, where it joins the peninsula, about seven hundred miles north-westward to Oregon, from which it is divided, nearly in the course of the 420 parallel,—that is, nearly in the latitude of Boston,-by a chain of highlands called the Snowy Mountains, the Sierra Nevada of the Spaniards. Its boundaries on the west are not, as yet, determined politically by the Mexican government; nor do geographers agree with regard to its


natural limits in that direction. By some, it is considered as embracing, like Chili, only the territory between the Pacific and the summit of the great mountain chain, which borders the western side of the continent: others extend its limits to the Colorado; while others include in it, and others again exclude from it, the entire regions drained by that river. The only portion occupied by the Mexicans, or of which any distinct accounts have been obtained, is that between the great chain of mountains and the ocean; the country east of that ridge to the Colorado appears to be an uninhabitable desert.

The Californian peninsula is merely the southern portion of the great westernmost chain of mountains, prolonged through the Pacific. consists entirely of high, stony ridges, separated by narrow, sandy valleys, and contains no tracts of level ground of any extent. At its southern extremity, the earth is sometimes visited by showers in the summer, but never at any other period of the year: near its junction with the continent, rain is seen only in winter; and in the intermediate portion, many years in succession pass by without the appearance of a drop of water from the heavens, or indeed of a single cloud, while the rays of the sun, thus uninterrupted in their passage, produce a heat as intense as that in any other region of the world. Under such circumstances, as might be supposed, the springs of water are few and slender, and the surface is almost every where destitute of vegetation. The peninsula is, on the whole, an irreclaimable desert : yet, wherever irrigation is practicable, the productiveness of the soil is extraordinary; and the little oases formed by the passage of a slender rivulet through a narrow, sandy defile, may thus be made to yield all the fruits of tropical climes in abundance, and of the finest quality.

The southern portion of the peninsula contains several mines of gold, which have been worked, though not extensively. The only mine as yet discovered in continental California is one of gold, situated at the foot of the great westernmost range of mountains, on the west, at the distance of twenty-five miles from Angeles, the largest town in the country. It is said to be of extraordinary richness.

The animals originally found in California were buffaloes, - though in small numbers, compared with those east of the Rocky Mountains, — deer, elk, bears, wild hogs, wild sheep, ocelotes, beavers, foxes, and many others, generally of species different from those in the Atlantic regions of the continent. Sea otters were very abundant on the northern parts of the coasts, but they have disappeared. Cattle and horses were introduced by the Spaniards from Mexico, and have increased in an extraordinary degree, particularly the cattle, with which the valleys near the coast of the continental portion are covered. One of the scourges of this country is the chapul, a kind of grasshopper, which appears in summer, especially after a mild winter, in clouds resembling the locusts of Southern Asia, destroying every vegetable substance in their way.

The aborigines of California are placed, by those who have had the best opportunity of studying their character and disposition, with the Hottentots, the Patagonians, and the Australians, among the lowest of the human race ; those of the continental portion being considered less ferocious, but more indolent and vicious, than the natives of the peninsula. The Spaniards made many attempts, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to found settlements in the country, all of which proved abortive; until, at length, in 1699, the Jesuits, by permission of the king of Spain, undertook to convert the natives to Christianity, and to initiate them into the usages and arts of civilized life. With this view, they formed a number of missions, near the east coasts of the peninsula, and, by untiring assiduity, they had succeeded partly in their objects before 1763, when the Jesuits were, in execution of a decree issued at Madrid, expelled from the Spanish dominions ; their establishments were then confided to the Dominicans, under whose charge they have since remained with little advantage in any way.

The number of persons in the peninsula at present has been variously estimated; from the best accounts, it does not exceed five thousand, of whom a small proportion only are Mexicans, and very few are of European origin. The principal places now occupied by the Mexicans are - Loreto, formerly the principal mission of the Jesuits, and now the capital of Old California, a miserable village of about two hundred persons, situated near the gulf, opposite the Island of Carmen, in latitude of 25 degrees 14 minutes — La Paz, on the Bay of Pichilingue, a little farther south, the port of communication with Mexico — and Port San José, near Cape San Lucas, where an establishment has been recently formed in a plain, watered by a slender rill. From these places, small quantities of tortoise shells, dried meat, cheese, and dried fruits, the latter said to be excellent, are sent to San Blas, in Mexico, or sold to trading vessels which occasionally enter the golf during their tour along the coasts. There are several other spots on the gulf offering good harbors for vessels, though they present no facilities for settlements; among which the principal is the Bay of Mulege, near the latitude of 274 degrees.

On the west, or Pacific, side of the peninsula no settlement has ever been formed or attempted by a civilized nation. This coast offers many excellent harbors, but the want of fresh water in their vicinity must ever prove an effectual obstacle to their occupation. The principal harbors are, the Bay of La Magdalena, in latitude of 25 degrees, which is separated from the ocean by the long island of Santa Margarita, and appears to stretch much farther inland than had been supposed ; the Bay of Sebas, tian Vizcaino, under the 28th parallel, east of the Isle of Cedars; Port San Bartolomé, called Turtle Bay by the British and American traders, and Port San Quintin, an excellent harbor, with fresh water near it, in latitude of 30 degrees 20 minutes, called by the old Spanish navigators the Port of the Eleven Thousand Virgins, which was 1800 by Captain O'Kean, a fur-trader from Boston. At the distance of a hundred and twenty miles from this coast, under the parallel of 28 degrees 45 minutes, is the small, rocky island of Guadelupe, the existence of which, after it had been denied by many navigators, has been ascertained.

Northward from the peninsula, the great westernmost chain of moun. tains continues nearly parallel with the Pacific coast, to the 34th degree of latitude, under which rises Mount San Bernardin, one of the highest peaks in California, about forty miles from the ocean. Farther north, the coast turns more to the west, and the space between it and the summit line of the mountains becomes wider, so as to exceed eighty miles in some places; the intermediate region being traversed by lines of hills, or smaller mountains, connected with the main range. The principal of these inferior ridges extends from Mount San Bernardin north-westward to its termination on the south side of the entrance of the great Bay of San Francisco, near the 38th degree of latitude, where it is called the San Bruno Mountains. Between this range and the coast run the Santa Barbara Mountains, terminating in the north at the Cape of Pines, on the south-west side of the Bay of Monterey, near the latitude of 364 degrees.

North of the San Bruno Mountains is the Bolbones ridge, bordering the Bay of San Francisco on the east; and still farther in the same direction are other and much higher lines of highlands, stretching from the great chain, and terminating in capes on the Pacific.

The southernmost of these regions of continental California, between the Pacific and the great westernmost chain of mountains, resembles the adjacent portion of the peninsula in climate ; being very hot and dry, except during a short time in the winter. Farther north, the wet season increases in length, and about the Bay of San Francisco the rains are almost constant from November to April, the earth being moistened during the remainder of the year by heavy dews and fogs. Snow and ice are sometimes seen in the winter on the shores of this bay, but never farther south, except on the mountain-tops. The whole of California is, however, subject to long droughts; thus little or no rain fell in any part of the country during 1840 and 1841, in which years the inhabitants were reduced to the greatest distress.

Among the valleys in this part of California are many streams, some of which discharge large quantities of water in the rainy season; but no river is known to flow through the maritime ridge of mountains from the interior to the Pacific, except perhaps the Sacramento, falling into the Bay of San Francisco, though several are thus represented on the maps. The valleys thus watered afford abundant pasturage for cattle, with which they are covered: California, however, contains but two tracts of country capable of supporting large numbers of inhabitants, which are, that west of Mount San Bernardin, about the 34th degree of latitude, and that surrounding the Bay of San Francisco and the lower part of the Sacramento; and even in these, artificial irrigation would be indispensable to insure success in agriculture.

The earliest settlements in continental California were made by the Spaniards, in 1769, immediately after the expulsion of the Jesuits from the peninsula. These establishments were at first missionary and military ; the charge of converting the natives being committed to the Franciscans, while forts and garrisons were placed at various points, for the occupation and defence of the country. Towns were subsequently laid out and settled, and farms were cultivated, for the most part by natives, under the direction of the friars and officers. All these establishments declined considerably after the overthrow of the Spanish power, in consequence of want of funds, and the diminution of the authority of the priesthood; but, on the other hand, the commerce of the country has increased, and many vessels, principally from the United States, resort to its ports, bringing manufactured articles, in return for which they receive hides, tallow, and other raw productions. In 1835, the number of missions was twentyone, and of the towns seven, to which were attached about twenty-three thousand persons, mostly of the pure aboriginal race, and many of mixed breed. Since that time several missions have been abandoned, while the towns have increased in number and population.

The most southern settlement on the Pacific side of California, and the

first established by the Spaniards, is San Diego, a small town of three hundred inhabitants, situated about a mile from the north shore of a bay which communicates with the ocean, in the latitude of 32 degrees 41 minutes. The bay runs about ten miles eastward into the land, being separated from the ocean, in its whole length, by a ridge of sand, and affords entrance to vessels of any size, which may anchor safe from all winds within a mile of the northern shore. The passage leading into it is defended by fortifications which, if properly armed and manned, might render the harbor completely secure from all attacks by sea. The mission stands about seven miles from the town, in a valley, through which a torrent rushes in the rainy season. About sixty miles farther north-west is San Juan, a small place on an unsafe and inconvenient harbor, in latitude of 33 degrees 27 minutes; and somewhat farther in the same direction is San Pedro, on a bay open to the south-west winds, but sheltered from the north-west. The country in the immediate vicinity of these places is sandy and barren, yielding little besides grass for cattle; in the interior, however, on the north-east, is the wide tract already mentioned, extending to Mount San Bernardin, which is said to be of great fertility wherever it is properly irrigated, producing wheat, vines, olives, and fruits of various kinds. In this tract, at the distance of thirty miles north from San Pedro, stands Pueblo de los Angeles, the largest town in California, containing a thousand inhabitants; and near it the mission of San Gabriel, the vineyards of which formerly yielded a large supply of good wine.

From Port San Pedro the Californian coast runs westward, more than a hundred miles, to Cape Conception, a point situated in latitude of 34 degrees 22 minutes, as much dreaded by navigators, on account of the violence and frequency of the storms in its vicinity, as Cape Hatteras, near the same parallel on the eastern side of the continent. Opposite this part of the coast are the Islands of Santa Barbara, eight in number, of which four, called Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Santa Catalina, and San Clemente, contain from twenty to fifty square miles of surface each; the others being mere rocks. Between the Island of Santa Cruz and the main land on the north is the channel of Santa Barbara, on the north side of which, the town, fort, and mission of Santa Barbara are situated, in a sandy plain, stretching from the coast to the Santa Barbara range of mountains. The harbor is an open roadstead, sheltered from the north and west winds, which there prevail from November to March, but affording no protection against the south-westerly storms, which are so violent and frequent during the remainder of the year.

At the distance of a hundred miles north of Cape Conception, the Santa Barbara Mountains end, as already said, in a point called the Cape of Pines, (Punta de Pinos,) in latitude of 36 degrees 37 minutes; between which and another point, twenty-four miles farther north, called Cape New Year, (Punta de Nuevo Año,) is included the extensive Bay of Monterey. This bay lies in an indentation of the coast, almost semi-circular; its southernmost part is, however, separated from the ocean by the point of land ending at the Cape of Pines, and thus forms a cove, near the southernmost part of which stands the town of Monterey, or San Carlos de Monterey, the seat of government of California. The town is a wretched collection of mud-built houses, containing about two hundred inhabitants; the castle, as it is termed, and the fort on the Cape of Pines, are merely mud walls, behind which are a few old guns, all ineffective.

« PreviousContinue »