WHEN we landed from the Golden Gate, the usually quiet shore of San Diego presented an unaccustomed scene. Instead of a solitary individual moving here and there, nearly a thousand people were scattered about the beach. And a most desolate looking and feeling company we were! As many as possible had taken refuge under the few roofs there were, while the rest were in parties on the shore, seated on their trunks and wondering what they should do for the night. The hills back of the Plaza are covered with low straggling bushes, as far as the eye can reach, without a single tree, and therefore furnished no fuel as a means of cooking for the crowd which had been fasting since morning. I afterwards learned there was much suffering through that night. Many had of course to camp out in the open air, while ladies, who were fortunate enough to obtain a shelter, found that this was all they had secured. It was generally an entirely vacant room, with nothing in the shape of bed or bedding. In addition to hunger, we suffered from cold, for though the days at this season are warm, the nights are chilly, particularly for those whose resting-place is the bare ground and their covering the canopy of heaven. Some walked up to San Diego, four miles distant, but the majority remained where they were, making bonfires of the old hide houses, and of everything which could be torn down. They had not even water to drink, for the place furnishes none, and all that is used here is brought from the town.
Towards evening a steamer was seen coming in, which proved to be the Columbia from San Francisco. On the report of the Uncle Sam, that she had spoken us, lying-to, disabled in a rough sea, it was naturally supposed that we would get into some place to refit. The Columbia was therefore at once despatched by the agents of the company, with a hundred picked men and the proper machinery for a wreck. The Captain had instructions to look into every port on her way down, until he found us, and to render us any assistance we might need. Her arrival certainly was most opportune. The Southerner and Goliah sailed next morning, with such passengers as chose to go in them, having been chartered by the company for that purpose. As they, however, were small and excessively crowded, our own party were advised to remain and await the departure of the Columbia, which would go in a few days, after doing what she could for the Golden Gate.
As it was, "the lines had fallen to us in pleasant places." It was my good fortune to recognize in the United States collector at the Plaza, Mr. Bleecker, an old New Yorker, who promptly took every step necessary for our comfort. Our luggage was placed in his storehouse, while he at once mounted his horse, and rode up to San Diego, to charter a large wagon to take us thither. Mr. Bleecker returned towards evening, with an invitation from Don Juan Bandini, for our party to partake of his hospitality. Our road wound around the border of the bay, and after crossing the bed of a river, which at this season is nothing but dry sand, though a month later it will be a rapidly-rolling stream, at about eight o'clock we reached our destination.
"My party "--which Don Juan invited--really consisted of Mrs. Kip and my son; but some of our steamer friends, hearing there was an opening for obtaining lodgings, at once joined us and mounted the wagon. I scarcely knew what to say to them, when I found that "my party," children included, amounted to nearly a dozen. Our host, however, gave us a most hospitable welcome. An admirable supper in the Spanish style--tortillas and frijoles of course included, with native wine from his own ranch--made amends for the day, while comfortable beds compensated us for the last two nights of wakefulness on the steamer. Don Juan is the leading man in this part of California. Belonging to an old Spanish Mexican family, he has retained much of his landed possessions, and the vast herds of cattle, which in this country constitute wealth. He has a number of ranches (or farms), in this State and in the Mexican province of Lower California, one of which was mentioned as covering eleven leagues. We were told that his son-in-law, during the past year, had sold, from one of his ranches, three thousand head of cattle, at sixteen dollars each, and that he could continue doing this, year after year, without diminishing his stock. This is a specimen of the nature of California wealth among the old Spanish inhabitants.
Until the coming of the Americans, these people led a life of ease and quiet, in the midst of the fullest abundance of everything they could desire. Kind hearted and hospitable, their houses were always open to strangers who were worthy of their confidence. Their lives were spent, indeed, in idleness, for, in this climate and with this soil, but little was demanded of them. The Indian population furnished them with servants, and their time was passed in those amusements which their fathers had brought with them from old Spain. Then came our countrymen, who robbed their ranches, seized their lands, and drove them to the wall. At the very time that Don Juan was showing this unbounded hospitality to a party of American strangers, who had no claim upon him--several of whom could not even speak his language--his son arrived from one of his ranches on the other side of the line, ninety miles distant. He had ridden in on a single horse in one night, to announce to his father, that Walker's company of filibusters had killed the cattle, driven off the horses, and completely stripped the ranch. And this is not by any means the first time he has been thus plundered.
His residence at San Diego, at which we have now been domesticated for nearly a week, is just on the edge of the town. It is built in the Spanish style, around the sides of a quadrangle into which most of the windows open, and is only one story high, with massive walls of adobes (sun-dried bricks). Everything here is conducted with such ease that we feel as much at home as if we had lived here for months. Nothing is omitted that could conduce to our comfort, and in the elegance with which the Senora Bandini presides over her household and entertains her guests, we found our ideas of the grace and dignity of the Spanish ladies fully realized.
San Diego is a little Spanish town of about a thousand inhabitants, built in a straggling style, and with a perfectly foreign air. The houses are mostly constructed of adobes, except that here and there some white painted, clapboard shop tells us of the occupancy of one of our countrymen. As usual, the town is built around a large Plaza, where the population, Spaniards and Indians, wrapped in their ample mantles, sun themselves and lounge; and here, on Sundays, are their amusements. Through the week, however, it is as quiet as possible. The climate is delicious, said to be the most healthy on the coast, reminding me indeed of that of Naples. The people do not seem disposed to show any activity, except when on horseback. Now and then some cavalier, mounted on a fine horse, dashes across the Plaza, lasso in hand, his huge spurs and stirrups jingling as he goes. The American population, is gradually coming in, and in a few years the place will lose its Spanish characteristics. During the Mexican war, San Diego was taken by Commodore Stockton, and on the hill above, are the remains of the breastwork he threw up to command the town.
Opposite to Don Juan's is a long Spanish house, the residence of the Padre, one end of which is fitted up as a Chapel. I looked into it when passing, but found everything, pictures, images, etc., in the worst possible state of tawdriness. One of our countrymen--a steerage passenger from the ship--followed me in, and lounged round the place with his hat on and a cigar in his mouth! Four miles further up the harbor is New Town, a more recent settlement, where several of our army officers are quartered; while six miles farther back in the country, at the old Mission of San Diego, a force of about one hundred soldiers is stationed. This is at present the residence also of the Rev. Mr. Reynolds, one of our clergy, who is a Chaplain in the United States Army. He officiates there on Sunday morning, and in the afternoon comes down to San Diego and holds service,--the only one, except the Romish, in the place.
San Diego, just now, is unusually lively. Our passengers have most of them moved up to the town, where the cabin passengers provide themselves with lodgings as they best can. The steerage passengers, numbering about three hundred, have been most of them quartered in a deserted hotel, just beyond the town. Here they are divided into messes, and daily rations are given them by the purser of the steamer.
A schooner, chartered by the company, has just arrived. The agent is trying to induce a hundred of the steerage passengers to go in her, to prevent the Columbia from being overloaded; but though he offers them live dollars apiece premium, besides a dollar a day during the voyage, they hold back, suspicious of some deception. In the meanwhile, the Columbia is exerting all her force to get off the Golden Gate.
Sunday has come--our first Sunday in California. Opposite to us, near the little Romish Chapel, are four bells, tied to a frame-work by thongs of ox-hide. When it is time for Mass, two little boys mount the fence by them, and beat them with stones in each hand. They have been ringing at different hours this morning, and the people crowding to the Chapel until it was filled to overflowing. The Indian population are all dressed in their gayest garments, while a party of filibusters, armed to the teeth, are lounging in the plaza, preparing to march to-day to join Walker, who is a hundred miles distant, in Lower California. The higher classes are clashing about on horseback, though to-day it is more quiet than usual, as no public exhibition, (bear baiting or bull fight), is to take place. With the Indians, however, it is a day of revelling and intoxication, which often ends in bloodshed. It was so at this time, for, towards evening, seeing a little group collected near Don Juan's, we found, on inquiry, that one Indian in a quarrel bad just stabbed another to the heart. Passing one of their mud-houses, a short time after, I heard a sound of sorrow, and, looking in, saw the murdered man lying half-caked on the floor, and his mother wailing over him. Such an occurrence is too common to excite any attention. The murderer was arrested by the American authorities, but suffered to escape during the night.
I was requested, by some of the residents, to hold service, and was, of course, happy to comply. We had the room used as the court-room, which is occupied by Mr. Reynolds in the afternoon. There was no opportunity of giving much notice, and service was not expected, as Mr. Reynolds is never here in the morning; yet there were about fifty persons present, including several of the army officers and their families. We returned thanks for our late escape from the perils of the sea, and, by a singular coincidence, the Psalm for this morning,--the twenty-second day of the month--contained that description so applicable to our late situation:--
"They that go down to the sea in ships, and occupy their business in great waters; "These men see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.
"For at His word the stormy wind ariseth, which lifteth up the -waves thereof.
"They are carried up to the heaven, and down again to the deep; their soul melteth away because of the trouble.
"They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end.
"So when they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, He delivereth them out of their distress.
"For he maketh the storm to cease, so that the waves thereof are still.
"Then are they glad, because they are at rest; and so He bringeth them unto the haven where they would be."