Project Canterbury

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

New York: T. Whittaker, 1892.

Chapter XIV. Stockton

My first visit to Stockton was by appointment for Sunday, February 17th, 1854, in the month after my arrival. The steamer leaves San Francisco at four o'clock in the afternoon, and reaches there before daylight the nest morning, unless detained by fogs or lowness of water in the river. After proceeding for some hours by the same route as to Sacramento, passing Benicia, we turn aside and enter the San Joaquin River. Until dark, I found the scenery the same as that of the Sacramento River,--broad meadows covered with tules, and the river winding tortuously.

I arose at daylight, and learned that we were still a few miles from Stockton, while the mist which had detained us was gradually rolling off the wet marshes as the sun's rays penetrated through it. The whole scenery below Stockton--meadows covered with rank, luxurious vegetation--reminded me vividly of the Pontine Marshes. Formerly, they were tenanted by herds of elk, which were often lassoed by the native vaqueros, but the increasing population has driven them farther into the recesses of the country. Antelopes, at some seasons of the year, are still seen in bands, feeding on the herbage,--the coyotes (a small species of wolf) make there their home--while innumerable large gray squirrels and flocks of water fowl find their hiding places in the weeds and tall reeds.

As we approached Stockton, we entered a "slough" of the river, which leads up through the centre of the town, where it is crossed by several bridges. The town itself, like Sacramento, stands on a level, and although it would seem from its situation that it must be exposed to a deadly malaria, yet it is tolerably healthy. Some intermittent fever prevails in the autumn, but it seems to be of a mild type and readily to give way to medical treatment. During the summer, a breeze from the sea sets up the valley in the latter part of the day, which moderates the excessive heat and at the same time sweeps away malaria.

The earliest white men who visited this place were the trappers from the North,--they were hardly permanent enough to be called settlers. These sloughs of the river once abounded with beaver, which are still occasionally seen in their waters. Thither came little parties sent out by the North West Company. They penetrated through the country wherever traces of beaver were found--encamping by the side of these streams,--leading a wild life, like that of the Indians themselves, to whom they assimilated in their habits, and whose squaws often became their wives. When the season closed, loaded with pelfries, they repaired to the nearest trading post of the Company. There, the winter was often spent in revelry, until spring found them penniless and ready to set out once more on a new expedition. Many of those who came to Stockton were Canadian French, some of whose descendants still remain at a little settlement on the plains, about six miles from Stockton, called French Camp.

The first permanent settler, however, was Mr. Webber, a German gentleman, who in 1844 obtained a Government grant of a tract of land, covering the country for about eleven leagues, and embracing within its bounds the whole site of the present city, which he took active measures to have colonized. His residence is just below the town, on the borders of the slough. At immense expense, he has thrown up banks to protect himself from the rising of the water, and formed flower gardens which give a cheerful air to his place. Few persons, however, would have chosen the location he has selected, when, by going back a mile on his grant, he might have found beautiful sites covered with old oak trees.

Stockton is admirably situated for inland trade, being surrounded by mining districts to which it furnishes supplies! The placers and gulches on the Stanislaus and the Tuolumne Rivers are less than seventy miles distant; while those on the Mokelumne, on Carson Creek, and at "Murphy's Diggings," are less than sixty. To some of these places the supplies can be carried by mules only, while to others, huge wagons, drawn by a long train of mules, can find a road. We saw them loading at the store-houses in town, and preparing to set out on their toilsome journey across the plains and up through the ravines of the mountains. The drivers are generally Mexicans, whose Spanish opposition to change is seen in the very equipments of their mules. Their harness was probably unchanged since their fathers came to this country. It is found of the same pattern now on the plains of Andalusia--the same array of tinkling bells and plated ornaments, as perhaps in the days of Cervantes.

We reached the wharf on the slough at seven o'clock, when I was met by the warden of the church, Mr. Eastman, and I conducted to the Magnolia Hotel, where I was to stay. Saturday was spent in investigating the situation and prospects of the Church, and in making preparation for service the next day. The parish here was organized in August, 1850. The Rev. O. Harriman, Jr., (the same who was at Sacramento for a time) officiated for about a month, when, not receiving an adequate support, he abandoned the field. In 1851, the warden, Mr. Bissell, commenced lay reading, which he continued for about two years, when, to the great regret of the parish, he returned to Philadelphia. From that time, except during visits from Rev. Dr. O. Clark, Rev. John Morgan and Rev. John Reynolds, Chaplain U. S. A., there were no services, and while the organization was preserved, the Church existed only in name. On Saturday, in company with the warden, I visited those who were known to be favorable to the Church, to awaken their interest in its behalf. This, indeed, is the only way in which anything can be done in this country. Men are too much immersed in business, to give heed when addressed in masses. They must be sought out and appealed to, personally, to enlist them in any cause, particularly one which is removed from the interests of this lower world, and which holds out no prospect of a golden harvest.

Notice of our service bad been given in the public papers, and a large room in the court house was provided, where the judge's seat made a good pulpit and the jury room answered for a vestry room. There were about three hundred persons present. The number of Prayer Books produced, and the nature of the responses, gave evidence of a degree of churchmanship which argued well for the founding of a strong congregation in this place. We had service both morning and afternoon.

Monday also was spent in visiting the members of the Church, and particularly one who was exceedingly ill. It was a great satisfaction to me to be able, in the last closing hours of life, to repeat in her hearing those familiar prayers to which for so many years she had been a stranger. She died that night, after my departure, and the burial service was read by the warden of the church.

I left in the steamer, at four o'clock. Through the whole evening, and as long as I remained on deck, the scenery around us was lighted up by fires. The dry tules which cover the marshes are thus burned over every season. Any accident which starts the fire--the carelessness of a party camping out, or even the sparks from a passing steamer, begins a conflagration which spreads over a wide extent of country. Sometimes the flame swept down near the river bank by which the steamer was passing, then it rolled away toward the horizon in lurid masses, lighting up the whole sky, and furnishing a spectacle which reminded us of Fenimore Cooper's descriptions of the burning of the prairies.

June, 1854. I went to Stockton a few weeks ago. to perform the marriage service, and again, last week, to spend Sunday. Until a Rector arrives, the only way of keeping the Church alive is by services of this kind.

The vestry have been endeavoring to get a lot, but owing to the unsettled land titles in this part of the country, they have been discouraged from attempting to acquire property. Nothing can be done until there is a legal decision on the validity of Mr. Webber's grant. They wrote me lately, however, that they had subscriptions for the support of a clergyman, to the amount of two hundred dollars a month. They have secured, too, for their services, the use of a larger and finer room in the court house. It is the handsomest and most convenient room for the purpose that I have seen outside of San Francisco,--windows curtained, handsome lamps hanging from the ceiling,--and without the desolate appearance which public rooms generally have. At our service, on Sunday, the whole floor of the room was filled with chairs, and the congregation, as in the winter, numbered at least three hundred. As in my former visit, I spent Saturday and Monday in visiting where anything could be said or done to advance the interests of the cause for which I went to Stockton.

On this occasion, I stayed with the Resident Physician of the State Insane Asylum. This institution is situated on the side of the river opposite that on which the greater part of the town is built, but, as I mentioned before, connected with it by bridges. This side is now building up with dwelling houses, which will make it the finest part of the city. The asylum is about a half a mile out, where the rolling prairie commences, and is surrounded by trees. From this place, for miles the country is covered with clumps and groves of oaks, just as it is in the Sacramento Valley. I rode over it, one day, for several miles, and found the same characteristics of scenery. Unless a person had some distant landmark in sight, he might easily lose his way on these extensive plains.

The asylum is a long brick building, having now only two stories, though an appropriation has been made, at the late meeting of the Legislature, to enlarge it. At present its one hundred and fifty patients are inconveniently crowded. I went through the wards with the Doctor, and was rather startled by overhearing the following conversation with B, patient who had been scrutinizing me for some time.

"Doctor! is that one of the directors?"


"Who is he?"

"He's a Bishop."

"What sort of a Bishop? A Methodist? "

"No; an Episcopal Bishop."

"I'm glad of it. If he had been a Methodist Bishop, I should have had to kill him. I'm commanded to kill all the Methodists."

In proportion to the population, insanity is perhaps five times more frequent in California than in any other country. Adventurers come here from every quarter of the globe, with extravagant hopes of speedy fortune. When these fail, the restless, undisciplined brain is easily upset.

The following is one of many instances I have known. One morning I was summoned to the door by a man in the dress of a miner, who said he wished to have some conversation with me. I, of course, invited him in, and, after we were seated, he took out a small Bible, and said that he had just come from the mines and desired to ask me some questions on religious subjects. I found in five minutes, that he was entirely deranged, his topics of conversation being a mixture of religion and mining. He had met with something in Job, about "the vein of gold and silver," and also about "the island of the innocent," and he wished to find them again. He wanted an explanation of the Book of Revelations, and also of the mystical connection between Job's "seven sons" and the "seven seals" of the Apocalypse. I said what I could to calm him--advising him to let the prophecies alone, and to confine his reading to the Gospels--and he left me, stating that he would soon return. Two days after, I recognized him in a description in the newspaper of a person who had committed suicide--as the coroner's jury correctly stated--"while in a state of insanity, arising from sickness and disappointment in the mines."

There is one peculiarity of the California Insane Asylum (which I trust will have been altered before these pages see the light), that should awaken the indignation of all the other states sending their citizens to the Pacific. In every other Christian country where I have been, the physician who presides over an insane asylum is carefully selected with regard to his fitness for the post, and then holds his office for life or during the continuance of good behavior. Here, the position is made a prize to reward political partisans. At every change of politics in the State, out goes the physician of this institution. Then commences a course of lobbying at the Legislature, and exertions of friends, and the place is finally given to one whose supporters can command most party influence. Thus, the life and intellect of hundreds of these poor invalids are made the sport of politicians.

Of course, if the power changes every two years, so often must the doctor. Even if he should be a good physician, (and this does not enter into the calculations of the politicians), he may have no particular skill in the treatment of insanity. This is a special gift. And even if he should have it, he has no time to study the cases, to watch their changes and conform his treatment to their peculiarities. The whole matter is a disgrace to humanity, and when it has been in agitation, and I have heard the claims of the incapables urged because their relatives had done service to the party, I have felt my blood boil at this infamous violation of all the laws of decency.

In November, the Rev. James S. Large arrived in Stockton and entered on his duties as Rector. With this visit, therefore, ended my charge as furnishing an occasional supply to the parish. For the future, my visitations were the usual ones made by a Bishop to the Church.

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