Project Canterbury

Early Days of My Episcopate
by the Right Rev. William Ingraham Kip, D.D.

New York: T. Whittaker, 1892.

Chapter XIII. Sacramento

A FEW days after my arrival, I had an earnest letter from the Vestry of the church at Sacramento, urging me to take the Rectorship and settle at that place. Although fully aware of the importance of Sacramento, as the second city in the State, very strong reasons impelled me to feel that San Francisco was the proper place for my residence. It is the headquarters of all influence in California, the port at which all from the East must necessarily land, and therefore I could probably do most for the general interests of the Church in this Diocese, by a residence at San Francisco. I determined, however, that Sacramento should be the first place in the interior I would visit, and arrangements were therefore made for my holding service there on the third Sunday after my arrival.

On Friday, February 4th, at four P. M., I left San Francisco for Sacramento. The steamers on these rivers are beautifully arranged, with staterooms, a handsome saloon, and every comfort that is found on the fine steamboats at the East. Travelling is, however, expensive in this country, either by land or water. To Sacramento the distance is one hundred and twenty miles, much less than that from New York to Albany. Leaving San Francisco in the afternoon you reach Sacramento at one or two o'clock the next morning. The fare is ten dollars, a stateroom three dollars more, and supper a dollar and a half.

After crossing the wide-spread bay of San Francisco, we reached the entrance of two straits. The most westerly leads out between the high opening known as the Golden Gate, and in the distance we can see the white waves of the Pacific rolling along with their heavy swell, and dashing up against the rocks. We took the other strait, which is about six miles long and leads into an inner bay called San Pablo. The strait is studded with little islands, which vary in color, some of them being of red rock, while some are perfectly white with guano. Toward night they are covered with the sea birds. The Bay of San Pablo is about twelve miles in diameter, and would furnish anchorage to the largest navy in the world. Several little streams empty into it, and on one side is an island which has received the name of Mare Island. In the early settlement of the country, before the wild game had been driven off into the interior, they who coasted along by these shores were accustomed to see roaming over this island a herd of elk, always accompanied by a wild mare, who seemed to act as leader and gallop at their head. She had left her natural associations with the wild horses pasturing on the neighboring hills, and made her home with these new friends.

We then entered the Straits of Carquinez, with the little village of Benicia (a military station) on the one side, and Martinez on the other. Seven miles distant on Napa River, is another little town--Vallejo. General Vallejo, who was military governor of the country before its occupation by Americans, so named these towns after his wife--Benicia Vallejo. Señora Vallejo thus has her name perpetuated on the coast.

For the whole distance, after leaving San Francisco, the ranges of mountains by which we were surrounded had the same appearance. Their shape impresses you with the idea that they have been formed by volcanic action. And so, undoubtedly, they were. The strata are rent asunder and piled up in confusion, showing traces of great convulsions. Since we have been in San Francisco there have been several shocks of earthquakes; some of which seemed to us quite severe, though no damage was done. There is something unmistakable in the motion. The tremulousness of the earth is unlike any other shock. In the southern part of the State they are more frequent. Sometimes, we are told, the earth rocks like a cradle and great damage ensues. The old Californians shake their heads significantly when they see the three and four story houses of San Francisco, and prophesy that one day there will come an earthquake which will shake them to the ground. Their own plan of building was certainly more suitable for the country,--houses one story high, with adobe walls two or three feet thick. These walls might crack, but could not easily be shaken so far from their centre of gravity as to come down. They are also warm in winter and cool in summer.

But to return to the mountains about San Francisco. No rocks are seen,--nothing but the round knolls and glades on the hill-sides, generally without a single tree. The meadows, however, at the base are fringed and dotted with clumps of trees, which sometimes extend up the little glens. But on the higher parts of the hills, which are exposed to the sweep of the summer winds, all is bare. As the rainy season was now closing, they were beginning to look green and fresh, and later they will be perfectly carpeted with flowers. Through the dry season they are covered with wild oats, yellow and almost golden, as if significant of the mineral treasures within. This furnishes abundant food to the numerous herds of cattle which are scattered over them, needing no shelter through the whole year, for even in winter--if the word is a proper one here--the mildness of the climate allows them to graze at large.

Above every other object towers Mount Diabolo, three thousand feet high, rugged and scathed, bearing all the marks of an extinct volcano. It is probably for this reason that the early Spaniards bestowed upon it the name it bears, while everywhere else along the coast, they scattered the names of Apostles and Saints. On one side, blue and irregular, stretches the Coast Range, and then far on the eastern horizon, as the declining rays of the sun fall on their snowy peaks, we see, like a silvery chain, the mountains of the Sierra Nevada.

After the first fifty miles, our course was through broad plains, on which at times little groups of antelopes were seen grazing, or through waste marshes covered with rank vegetation. Through this, "the slough," as they call it, winds in every direction. We sail for ten miles, and have really advanced but two. We look over it and see the white sail of some vessel peeping out, as if it were anchored on the land. The slough is so narrow that at times it seems as if two vessels would hardly have room to pass, and so close do we often run to shore that it would be possible to jump from the deck of the steamer to the meadow at our side.

Sometimes, we turn angles so sharp that the stern of the boat grounds, and it requires some maneuvering to get round the corner. Here and there a squatter has established himself on the shore, and prepared a little patch of land to raise a crop of vegetables; or where the plains are interspersed with trees, a woodman has planted his shanty on the bank, and there the smaller steamers stop to "wood up." Then there is seen a scattered village of the Digger Indians, their little huts built of the tides, or thick reeds which cover the marshes.

Occasionally, on the way, we had pointed out to us the site of projected cities which existed on paper only. In the first rush of adventurers to this country, amid every other kind of speculation, that in land was very prominent. It was seen, of course, that there must be some large cities, and the only question was, "where." Speculators seized on sites which. seemed to offer good anchorage for commercial purposes, and cities were laid off, and diagrams published, and the lots offered for sale. Unfortunately for their golden dreams in this part of the country, San Francisco and Sacramento have monopolized the commercial business, and the other promising young cities have faded away into nothingness. We passed one of the most famous of these schemes, in Suisun Bay, about fifty miles from San Francisco. On a level plain, with the range of barren mountains behind it, stand three or four houses, which were intended to be the germ of a future metropolis rejoicing in the awkward name of "New York of the Pacific." As there is no particular reason why anyone should live there,--no trade, no productions but mosquitoes,--these houses will probably be abandoned before long, and the silence of the marshes will once more reign on the site of this aspiring city.

I awoke in the morning to find myself at Sacramento. It lies on a beautiful stream, Sacramento River, about three hundred yards in width. The country all about it is perfectly flat. There are no wharves, but hulks are moved close to the shore and fastened to the roots and trunks of trees which grow along the edge. Over these, steamers make their landings. A few hundred yards above, is the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers. Here the shore is lined with trees, so that looking away from the young city to the north, as the rays of the rising sun fell upon the masses of foliage, there was nothing to remind us that the busy haunts of men were growing up so near. With wonderful rapidity Sacramento has grown to be the second city in the state. It is laid out with the streets at right angles, those running north and south being named after the numbers, those east and west, after the letters of the alphabet. Standing, as it does, on a level plain, removed from the sea breezes, it is exceedingly hot during the summer months, the mercury rising to over a hundred degrees. Still, it is very healthy, for in these inland places there is a purity and a dryness in the atmosphere which seem to prevent the heat from being felt as much as it would at the East, when of the same degree. At the first settlement of the city, many of the forest trees were preserved, and oaks and sycamores, frequently six feet in diameter, lined some of the streets, throwing widely their boughs and furnishing in summer a most grateful shade. Shortly after, however, the city was swept by a desolating fire which left little of it standing, and the fine old trees shared the fate of the new wooden buildings which had been run up at their side.

Sacramento is one of the most bustling cities in the State. It is one of the principal points from which the mines are supplied, and as you walk through its streets you see the huge wagons, with their six or eight mules, loading with goods; or you, meet them on the plains in the broad Sacramento Valley, slowly toiling on to the mountains. Twenty-two lines of stages leave the city every day. The inhabitants have shown a degree of enterprise and energy in building up this place for which it would be difficult to find a parallel in any part of the world. They have been desolated, not only by fire, but by water. During the rainy season the river rises above the level of the plain on which the city stands, and there have been times when the streets were passable only in boats. A levee has, however, been thrown up on the river bank, so high, as, probably, effectually to remedy this evil. In addition to these drawbacks, the city commenced with a competitor. Three miles down the river, the town of Sutter was founded, which it was supposed would be a formidable rival. It stands on rising ground, and seems to be in a more pleasant situation than Sacramento. But it did not prosper. There was need for one town only, and therefore, as Sacramento grew, Sutter dwindled away. It is now almost depopulated. Four or five brick buildings, one of them as large as a first class hotel, stand in lonely dignity overlooking the plain below--mere memorials of disappointed hopes.

It seems strange that in a city of this size and importance the Church has not been securely established. I find many Church people scattered about among its population; some, for the present, are attending the services of the different denominations, with the danger of becoming entirely alienated, and, at all events, having their children grow up in utter ignorance of the Church in which their fathers were reared; while others go nowhere and are relapsing into utter indifference on the subject. The Church in Sacramento has indeed been singularly unfortunate. In September, 1849, the Rev. Mr. Burnham, of New Jersey, came here in feeble health, and after officiating for a few weeks, became too weak to continue the services and died in the early part of the following year. It is a strange proof of the facility with which we are forgotten, that I found it difficult to obtain the name of this young missionary, four years after his death. Even the gentleman in whose house he died could not recollect it! Then, the Rev. Mr. M. visited the parish and held occasional services for a few months, when he abandoned the ministry and left the country. In October, 1850, the Rev. Orlando Harriman assumed the charge, but his health failing, he returned to New York in March, 1852. Then occasional services were held by the Rev. Mr. Pennell, a clergyman of the Church of England, the Rev. Orange Clark, D. D., chaplain to the U. S. Marine Hospital at San Francisco, the Rev. John Reynolds, chaplain of the U. S. A., the Rev. Augustus Fitch, and the Rev. John Morgan. The three last mentioned .returned to the East. None of these seemed to find sufficient encouragement, and abandoned the field. At one time the subject of the permanent establishment of the Church was taken up by the people with considerable energy, and a sufficient sum of money subscribed to purchase a lot. While deliberating on its location, in November, 1852, occurred the fire which swept off a great portion of the town, and for a time paralyzed everything. Everybody had lost heavily,--some everything,--and it became with many a struggle for their very existence. All the minutes of the meetings of the Vestry with other parochial papers, (including the subscription paper,) had been burned, the hopes of Churchmen were destroyed, and for a time nothing further was done towards founding the Church. In this state I found them at this visit in February, 1854.

Standing at the foot of J Street, the principal business street, it presents a strange appearance. There is scarcely a house in it more than one story high.

These slight wooden structures with canvas partitions were put up hastily after the fire, and their occupants have not yet been able to replace them with better buildings.

Not knowing any one in Sacramento, I went to the Orleans Hotel, where shortly after breakfast, Jos. W. Winans, Esq., called on me and invited mo, with my son, to stay with him at a house, where in company with several other young men, he was keeping bachelor's hall; an invitation which we accepted. This indeed is the usual style of living, even the married men having in few instances, as yet, brought out their families, as they are only trying an experiment here. There are therefore but few ladies, and the number of families is small.

I spent Saturday with Mr. Winans in visiting the principal people who were known to have been attached to the Church at home, or who had shown any predilection for it, to kindle up anew their zeal and prepare them for exertion it its favor. Sunday morning came, rainy and cold. The flat, unpaved streets were lying in pools of water, and it seemed almost impossible to get from one side of the city to the other. Yet we had a good congregation. The Methodist place of worship, (only the basement story of which had been erected), was kindly offered for our use, a courtesy which was extended to us on all my future visits during the year--subsequently, on the arrival of their clergyman, the congregation worshipped in a public hall. In the afternoon I baptized two infants, and again had service in the evening.

The next day I met several of the gentlemen of the church, with reference to its re-organization. As a result they shortly after procured a new incorporation, (Mr. Winans and Dr. J. F. Montgomery, Wardens,) and a clergyman was called from the East.

While in Sacramento, I drove out with a gentleman over the plains which compose the Valley of the Sacramento. It extends--I think about sixty miles--to the foothills, and is covered with scattered oak trees, like a rolling oak prairie in some of our western states. About a mile above the city, on the river, we passed an old adobe house at what was the embarcadero (or place of landing,) when General Sutter first came into the valley. Two miles farther, on the plain, is Sutter's fort. It is a parallelogram, about four hundred feet each side, thus giving room within for the buildings and also for enclosures for the cattle. Here, in the early days of California, the old General ruled like a feudal lord. With grants from the Mexican government of many leagues of land, he had a territory much larger than most of the German principalities, and with a small band of determined white men about him--trappers and hunters from their youth,--from his fort he controlled the Indians on the plains. When gold was discovered and the rush of Americans came, he received the hundreds of immigrants who arrived, with open-handed hospitality. His cattle were killed for their use, and often his land was freely given to them. He became thus the prey of sharpers, who gradually stripped him of his possessions. The patriarch of California and the pioneer--all she has given him is the empty title of Major General of the militia, a cocked hat and a pair of epaulets! His fort, which is historical in the annals of California, is now deserted,--the wall broken down,--and the annual rains are gradually destroying the adobe walls.

The old General now lives at the Hock Farm, on Feather River, some ten miles below Marysville. As he happened to be in Sacramento at this time, he called on me, but as I was absent, he saw my son. He talked over his past history with him and "fought his battles o'er again." A Swiss by birth, he had served in the European armies, and at one time occupied the same tent with Louis Napoleon. But the old General's day is over. He could not contend against the tide of Anglo-Saxon energy which is sweeping over this land, and it is probable that not an acre of his once vast possessions will be bequeathed to his children.

May 11th.--Wednesday, I was again in Sacramento, for the purpose of holding a service the next evening. The claims of business are so great, that it is hard for many to break away from their week-day cares and devote themselves for an hour to the calls of the other world. The Legislature, too, was just breaking up and held an evening session. Notwithstanding, the attendance was good, and everything I see convinces me that they need only a clergyman of proper spirit and talents, to build up a strong congregation.

It is strange how unexpectedly persons' paths in life cross each other. Two years before this, in the depth of winter, I had been lecturing at Rochester, N. Y., before the Young Men's Association, when, the next morning, on entering the cars for Albany, I met one of the Mr. Rochesters. He requested me to take charge of his cousin, Mrs. B., who had come with her children from Kentucky, and was on her way to New York, to sail for California, where she was to join her husband. I did so, and when we reached Albany, at evening, took her to the ferry-boat by which she was to cross to take the night train for New York. Here I took leave of her, feeling that she was going to the ends of the earth, and certainly never expecting to see her again. From that time she scarcely crossed my mind until unexpectedly I met her at Sacramento, which is now her home.

In the course of the day, I visited the Legislature, a body which in this State seems to have the power of locomotion to a great degree. The primary meetings, when the Constitution was formed, were held at Monterey. Then it met at Yallejo, and then at San Jose. Then it removed to Benicia, and in the middle of this session it transported itself to Sacramento. As the Governor, of course, follows the Legislature around the State, by remaining in office for a few years, he has a good opportunity to become acquainted generally with his constituents in various parts.

I saw the Legislature to disadvantage, as just at the close of the session every member is striving to have some favorite bill taken up. The election of a United States Senator, too, was absorbing all attention, and every other question was bending to it. These circumstances, therefore, doubled the confusion which often prevails in a legislative body.

The speaker of the assembly was introduced to me as Mr. Fairfax. As in my youth I had spent a winter in Virginia, and knew all his family, I inquired to which branch he belonged, and found that he was the present holder of the title, as "Burke's Peerage" entitles him, "Lord Fairfax of Cameron, the tenth baron." When I last saw him at his father's, he was three or four years old. Another curious meeting in this far-off land!

September 23rd. Summer had come and its heat was prevailing throughout the interior, when I found it necessary to go again to Sacramento, in answer to the appeal of a member of the Church, who, just recovering from a lingering illness, wrote to me of her "very great desire to join once more in the beautiful service." There were others, too, who needed spiritual services, and I felt I could not neglect the call.

The hills about had put on their deepest golden hue, as the wild oats had dried, it being five months since they had had any rain; and the evergreen trees which grow in the valleys and defiles were thrown out into strong relief. I awoke in the morning to find myself at the wharf, and in as different a climate as if I had dropped suddenly from the temperate into the tropic zone. When I left San Francisco the afternoon before, the cool sea breezes were blowing, and I wore an overcoat. At Sacramento I found it oppressively hot, and during the three days I was there, the mercury must have risen above 100°.

A month previous, another sweeping fire had desolated the city, when twelve squares were burned over. Some public buildings were destroyed, including the court house where the Legislature met, and the Congregational meeting house. Yet with Californian energy, the citizens at once began to repair their loss, which will prove a public benefit, as more substantial buildings replaced those that were burned. The walls of the Capitol were already several feet above ground.

The Vestry have lately had an answer from the clergyman to whom the call was forwarded. He declines the invitation, and they are again seeking an incumbent.

Saturday was spent, as usual, in visiting members of the congregation, and particularly one young man who was lying at the hotel, in the last stage of consumption. He had been confirmed at home, where he knew some members of my family, and had a few days before asked his attendants to procure for him, if possible, the attendance of a clergyman of the Church. Being sensible of his situation, it was a source of great consolation to him, to have her solemn rites brought to him in that hour. There is something indeed dreadful in thus dying, away from home, without a friend or relative to stand by the bed-side--to feel the longing for "old familiar faces" in that last hour of nature's feebleness, as, in this case, where, resigned to all that should befall him in the coming world, the sick boy declared his only regret to be that he could not see his family. And yet, how many die in this way in California--without even a friend to close their eyes,--abandoned to servants--or more frequently, in the interior, without any attendance at all. How many thousands, for whom friends at home are anxiously looking, have died without leaving even the record of a name behind them, and now are lying in nameless graves on the hill-sides or river banks!

On Sunday, I had two services as usual, and administered the Holy Communion to twenty-one communicants. I also baptized two children. In the afternoon I administered the Communion to the young man I have mentioned, it being the first time he had received that Sacrament. Three days afterwards, he died, and, as I had left the city, a layman read the burial service at his grave.

This was my last visit to the parish while it was without a clergyman. On the 19th of November, two months afterwards, the first Rector, the Rev. Horace L. E. Pratt, arrived and entered on his duties. From that time, the history of the parish is written in the annual parochial reports.

On Monday at noon, I left for home. The steamer was crowded with miners--stout, hairy, athletic fellows, most of them having revolvers strapped at their sides. Upon conversation with one of them, I learned that a flume had broken in the mountains a fortnight before, and as the supply of water was thus cut off from extensive "diggings," more than a thousand miners had been thrown out of employ. Some were going down to San Francisco for recreation; others were going home. Very few had succeeded in "making their pile."

Project Canterbury