WITH difficulty, we procured to-day something like a large farm -wagon, to drive out to the mission of San Diego. It is about six miles back in the country, our road being most of the way through a perfectly level valley between the hills. Just beyond the town of San Diego stands a single palm, which is the only tree to be seen for miles in any direction. The country, like the hills about the Plaza, is covered with low bushes.
Seventy years ago, California was almost entirely divided among these missions, founded originally by the Franciscans. All the arable land for miles around their residences was cultivated for the fathers by the Indians who were under their influence. They pretended to hold these lands merely as guardians of the Indians, though their care was often anything but disinterested. Several years before the occupation by the Americans, these possessions were most of them sequestered by the Mexican Government, and the mission buildings are generally falling to ruin. These old fathers, however, settled themselves with great judgment. They chose fine locations, erected solid buildings, and, by planting immense numbers of fruit trees about them, did much to advance the agricultural interests of the country.
The Mission of San Diego originally comprehended a large tract of country, embracing in its jurisdiction several minor Missions under its control. The buildings are on a hillside. They have an extensive view down the valley, and are substantially built of adobe. In the centre is a fine large church, which at that time they were preparing to transform into barracks for the soldiers. It is well proportioned, with an air of stateliness. The remains of the pulpit, solidly built of adobe cemented over--its steps still perfect,--and the chancel--its cross sunk into the wall above the place where the altar once stood--render its present desecration more melancholy. The low grounds around the Mission are covered with old olive trees, remains of the orchards originally planted by the priests.
Here, I had the pleasure of meeting the Rev. Mr. Reynolds, the first clergyman of this Diocese whom I had seen. He had been prevented from fulfilling his usual engagement in San Diego, the preceding Sunday afternoon, so that I had not before become acquainted with him. An hour was passed pleasantly with the family of one of the gentlemen attached to the army.
To-day one of the steerage passengers quartered in town died of the Isthmus fever. Poor fellow, he had just escaped the perils of the sea, to meet his end on land. He was from Pennsylvania, and as he was not a Romanist, they came to me to perform the funeral service. Some distance from the town, there is a little enclosure set apart for the interment of foreigners, and thither, towards evening, about a dozen of his late comrades carried him, when I read the service which committed his body "earth to earth." He had been to California once before, but was now going out again, to make arrangements preparatory to bringing out his family for a permanent residence.
In the course of the morning, I had, too, witnessed the funeral of an Indian child, in the Romish burying-ground. The coffin was covered with a gay-colored paper of the kind with which we cover our walls. The relatives crouched down on the ground around the grave, while the Padre read the service and sprinkled the holy water, and not a sound was heard until he had finished the prayers and turned to go. Then there burst forth a wild wail of grief, and all rushed forward to throw the first earth into the grave -with their hands.
Thursday morning, Jan. 26th, arrived the summons for us to repair to the Columbia, which was ready to sail for San Francisco; and with regret we took leave of our kind hosts, the Bandinis, by whom we hare been entertained for six days with a generous hospitality. Upon reaching the Plaza, we found that the Golden Crate, was lying in the inner harbor, having got off the day before. Fortunately, during this week had occurred the spring tides, when the water rises to a greater height than at any other time. Taking advantage of this, as the tide rose every night, by carrying out anchors, and having hawsers on board the Columbia to pull them, she was at length floated off, though leaking badly. During the past week, we had been accustomed to watch her progress anxiously, every morning climbing a hill back of the town, from which we could see her, though ten miles distant. Here, by taking several ranges with objects near us, we could judge whether her position had changed during the night. She was now anchored with the hulk into which her cargo had been discharged by her side, and the Columbia (which looked like a mere lighter in comparison with the Golden Gate,) next to it. After repairing the principal leaks, she managed to reach San Francisco about a week after our own arrival, and was sent up to Benicia to be repaired. It was a result which few expected at the time we left her, when it was generally supposed she could not be moved, and would have to be dismantled. As it was, the whole of this difficulty cost the company a hundred and forty thousand dollars.
We were rowed out to the Golden Gate, and after a pleasant dinner with Captain Isham, in the evening we were transferred to the Columbia, which sailed for San Francisco. After we got under way, one of our cabin passengers, a Mr. Gibson, was found to be missing. As he was known to have gone to bed on board of the Golden Gate, thinking that we should not sail till morning, his absence created considerable amusement, on the supposition that he had overslept himself, and would be annoyed next morning at finding himself left behind. We subsequently learned, that the next day he was found lying senseless in the hold of the hulk. To reach the Columbia, it was necessary to descend a plank from the Golden Gate, and cross the deck of the hulk to the other side where our steamer was lying. With the most culpable carelessness, the hatches of the hulk were left open, and I remember how, with many warnings, and by the aid of a lantern, Captain Isham piloted Mrs. Kip and myself around them to the steamer. In the darkness, and perhaps confusion of being just aroused from sleep, Mr. Gibson must, in crossing, have fallen down a distance of twenty-two feet.
There he lay, undiscovered, from nine in the evening until early next day. One side of his head was almost crushed in and his shoulder was broken. He was removed to the Golden Gate, where every attention was shown him, but he lived only three hours. It was he who had come to me, a few days before, to make arrangements for the funeral of the passenger we buried at San Diego, and now he was laid by his side.
The Columbia was, of course, excessively crowded, as she was not intended for one-third the number of passengers which were now on board of her. Yet the weather proved to be calm, so that the few days of our voyage passed without inconvenience. The most dangerous part of the passage is through the channel of Santa Barbara, which is only a few miles wide, with the coast on one side and a chain of rocky islands on the other. It is said, there is a variation of the compass here, owing to some local attraction, which renders it useless in passing through the channel. It is generally foggy, so that steamers run great risks in getting through. In this way, the Winfield Scott was lost, last month. The Captain, mistaking his position, drove her with a full head of steam on one of these islands, where the passengers remained, under tents, for several days, before they were taken off. As it was bright sunlight when we passed, we saw the wreck at a distance, the bows resting high on the rocks.
Sunday morning, the 29th, the fortieth day since we left New York, terminated our voyage. As day was breaking we found ourselves off the harbor of San Francisco. From its opening the inner harbor is distant several miles, forming one of the most magnificent places in the world for shipping. As we approached, a gun was fired from the steamer, which echoed far and wide over the hills on which the city is built. The first thing which struck us was the crowd of shipping at the wharves, reminding us of the wharves of New York. Another gun was fired, as we drew nigh the pier, when, early as it was, crowds were seen pouring down from the city. In addition to the passengers' friends who were anxiously expecting them, after so protracted a voyage, many came to learn the fate of the Golden Gate. As we touched the pier, a letter, from the Vestry of Trinity Church, was passed on board to me, stating that a committee had been appointed to meet us on our arrival, and to conduct us to lodgings which had been provided. A few moments after the plank was out, a member of the committee was on board, introducing himself to us, and thus, through considerate kindness, our arrival was deprived of that desolate feeling which can not but accompany one who comes, for the first time, to a strange place where there are no familiar faces.