IT was in May after my arrival that I made my first visit to San Jose and the first service of our Church was held there. This was followed by other visits at intervals, and although five years have now elapsed, and, owing to the want of clergy, we have never had a resident minister there, yet, in pursuance of my plan, I record the visit as the first effort in behalf of our Church in that place, and, therefore, when the Church is established and San Jose has lost all its old California features, to be a matter of interest.
We left San Francisco, on Monday morning at eight o'clock. The stage had nine inside, all but ourselves being French. For the first few miles the road was over hills like those which immediately surround San Francisco, with scarcely a tree to be seen. Then we came to the wide-spread plains, stretching, far as the eye can reach, towards the edge of the ocean. For miles there will be no fences or enclosures--no houses, only one vast prairie. Here and there we see herds of the wild cattle, easily distinguished from the domestic by their large branching horns, or groups of wild horses grazing about. Then, a herdsman, wrapped in his scrape, would pass, with his huge spurs jingling like bells.
Having been up very early and finding the monotony of the road rather tiresome, I had fallen asleep, when, shortly after eleven, I was awakened by the stopping of the vehicle. I roused up, and opening my eyes, seemed to have dropped into another country. The stage was standing before a tasteful house and around us were groves of noble trees. On the other side of the road were cultivated pleasure grounds, while through the foliage was seen a country seat, with its conservatory on one side. I rubbed my eyes and asked where I was. I found we had reached San Mateo, one of the favorite summer resorts of the San Franciscans. With a mild atmosphere, freed from the high winds which prevail nearer the ocean, these secluded valleys furnish a pleasant change from the city.
Beyond San Mateo, the country is diversified with fine rolling surface and groups of old trees extending to the horizon. Occasionally we passed noble ranches comprising thousands of acres. Sometimes a single field of grain will contain three hundred acres. It was a delightful drive through the mild and balmy air, and at three o'clock in the afternoon we reached Santa Clara. This is a little village, the houses of which are about equally divided between the old Spanish adobe buildings, as usual one story high, and the new, pert looking residences of the late American settlers. At the edge of the town is a three-storied, red brick building, without an attempt at ornament, or a tree or a shrub near it; looking very uncomfortable and very much out of place, as if it had wandered away from some city. This, I was told, was a school belonging to the Methodists, which rejoiced in the magnificent title of--"The University of the Pacific."
This place is the seat of the old Romish Mission of Santa Clara. The old church, with its low walls, covers a great extent of ground. The front has a coat of white plaster gaudily painted with figures in the Spanish style. The old mission buildings attached to the church have been converted into a college, which contains a large number of pupils.
The Alameda from Santa Clara to San Jose--three miles in length--is exceedingly beautiful, being arched the whole distance with trees. They were planted by the old priests, in the days of their rule, and stand in three rows, one on one side, and two on the other where the footpath ran. You look down the road, through a vista of foliage, far as the eye can reach, and so it continues to the very entrance of San Jose.
This place is considerably larger than Santa Clara, and has the same mixture of American and old Californian population. The valley in which it is situated is about twenty miles broad by a hundred long, hemmed in by mountains. With a climate of perpetual summer, it is considered one of the garden spots of California, and when the projected railroad connecting it with San Francisco is finished, this valley will be filled with the villas of citizens who will take refuge here at times from the crowded city. The legislature once met here, but it proved to be too dull a place for their taste and they preferred the bustle of Sacramento. It is indeed as quiet as can well be conceived, presenting a strange contrast to the usual excitement of California. We look out from the balcony of the house where we are staying, and opposite are Spanish adobe Louses, the inmates of which seem to be lounging about, enjoying the "dolce far niente," never excited except when on horseback. Afternoon comes, warm and quiet; the whole population seems to be taking its siesta; and you hear no sound except the insects wheeling round and droning in the air.
Tuesday. We drove out for about a mile, to a ranch on which is an artesian well. The proprietor was boring for water, when, at about seventy-five feet below the surface the instrument fell out in a stream of water three and a half feet deep, and a rapid current at once gushed forth. The head of water is seven inches in diameter, and placing in it a pipe five feet high, it rose at once with great force to the top. There is sufficient volume of water to irrigate a farm of one thousand acres. On the next ranch, a short distance off, the experiment was tried again -with the same success. These were the first efforts of the kind, but since then water has been obtained, not only for the town, but for any part of the valley, thus supplying the only need which was felt,--water in the dry season. There is evidently a subterranean stream running under the valley.
On the Alameda we passed a splendid tract of land of three thousand acres, surrounded by a wire fence, which was purchased by Commodore Stockton at the first annexation of the country. It was then an old Spanish grant owned by Ignacio Vallejo. The greater part of it is now under cultivation.
In the afternoon a gentleman called to take me driving. We crossed the plain to the mountains about seven miles distant. For the greater part of the way there was no road, but we were guided by taking for our direction the point in the mountains to which we wished to go. Part of the way was through grass which almost concealed our horse and wagon, and then we would drive over a large unfenced tract, the crop from which had just been reaped and was lying on the ground. It was what they call "the volunteer crop." After the grain has been gathered in, there springs up at once, without any planting, another crop which can be reaped in a few months, not of course equalling the first, but yet often surpassing the ordinary yield in. the Atlantic States.
We were going to visit a gentleman from New York, who was owner of a wide tract of land at the base of the hills, which he was placing under cultivation. We found his primitive wooden house on the first knoll at the base of the high mountains rising stage after stage behind it. From the front we had a magnificent panoramic view of the plains, bounded at the distant horizon by mountains, except at one spot where we saw dimly the blue line of (he ocean. Below us stretched out his wide fields--thousands of acres under cultivation, without a single fence. It was agriculture on a scale which dwarfed into insignificance most of our Northern and Eastern farms. His cattle had free range over the mountains, and we saw them several miles distant coming over the hills, driven home by his herdsmen on horseback, to be shut up for the night. His corral (enclosure for cattle) was in a ravine through which a stream of water flowed. The great advantage of farming here is, that no forage need be hoarded up for winter. Stock feed out the whole year and take care of themselves. In the dry season, they find food in the ravines through which the streams flow, or feed on the wild oats on the hills. The winter, too, is so mild that they require no shelter. At the East, the prominent object on a farm is the barn. Here, you never see one. "All out doors" is the barn, and for the cattle the corral is all that is necessary.
We reached the village again at evening, often puzzled to determine the direction we should take, as we were so buried in the tall grass .;s to be able to see nothing about us. I can readily understand, how on these, to the eye, boundless plains, travelers are often lost, and wander for days before they regain the proper direction.
On our way, we passed a little wooden building, which my companion pointed out to me as a school-house, in which a curious assembly meets two evenings in the week It is composed of grown up and even middle aged people,--generally Westerners who had originally no advantages of education--gathered there to learn spelling. Though the object was highly praiseworthy, their efforts--he said--were sometimes most ludicrous.
Wednesday 24th. At San Jose the Romanists have founded the largest female seminary they have in the State. It is an extensive brick building, with one side left unfinished that a wing may be added. Its cost, so far, has been about seventy-five thousand dollars. On visiting it, we were received by one of the sisters, who conducted us through the different departments. There is one room for the California (Spanish) girls, who bore on their countenances the unmistakable marks of their race, another for the English girls, and a third for the smallest children. The dormitories and other rooms are all exceedingly neat, and the charges, as shown by their printed circular, apparently very cheap. I understand, however, from those who have had daughters there, that "extras" make the school as expensive as any other.
There are fourteen sisters in charge of the establishment, and about one hundred and fifty pupils. Of the latter, one half are Americans and very many are Protestants. All are obliged to attend Mass, and I satisfied myself, that, notwithstanding great professions to the contrary, the sisters do exert a constant, although silent, influence to draw pupils to their faith. Of this we had a convincing proof before our visit was ended. When we entered the little chapel, I was surprised to see the young lady (a pupil) who was conducting us around, kneel and cross herself most devoutly. Upon inquiry, I found she was a "convert," made so before she had been there three months, and baptized without the knowledge of her parents. These women, therefore, to whose care her training had been committed, instructed her to begin her religious life by violating one of her first duties. But while Protestant parents will continue sending their children to such places, they must expect like results.
From there we walked to the parish church of San Jose. It was locked, but a sub-prêtre, whom we found in the porch of a cottage near by, sent a boy to open it for us. Like all other churches of the kind, it is of adobe, and is built in the shape of a cross. Its very thick walls and small square windows remind one of the crypts in old Italian churches. The paintings and engravings on the walls are crude. There are perhaps not more than six pews on each side of the nave, while, scattered over the floor of the transepts, are the little square carpets on which the Spanish women kneel to pray.
At evening we had our first service. The Presbyterian house of worship had been courteously given us for the occasion. The building, which was small, was well filled, and I found later that there were many Church people in the neighborhood. Among those present was a classmate of mine at Yale College--Mr. Douglas--whom I had not seen since we graduated in 1831. He became a Congregational minister and had since been a teacher in the Young Chief's School at the Sandwich Islands. He came here in 1847, to join his brother, who is the owner of a ranch in the neighborhood.
Thursday. A party was formed to-day to drive out to the celebrated Almaden Quicksilver Mines. After going a few miles, we crossed the plain and entered the mountains, where the scenery was beautiful, as we drove around the hills covered with park-like oaks. The road wound by a running stream, and now and then we passed the ranch of a Californian.
The quicksilver works are very extensive, the mine being the richest in the world. This year, the company makes one million of dollars worth of quicksilver. The cinnabar is so rich that it yields seventy per cent. The works are of brick, and we were shown the large reservoirs filled with quicksilver. The atmosphere is most stifling, and must be destructive to health, as we were told that breathing it sometimes salivated the workmen.
The ascent to the mines is by a winding path leading up the mountain for more than a mile, and then there is a descent of some three hundred steps. I did not attempt this entrance into the bowels of the earth, but contented myself with the report of those who did go. Most persons make such expeditions merely to boast of them. Chateaubriand, when a week at Cairo, could not spare an extra day to visit the pyramids, but begged a friend to write his name on that of Gizeh, that it might hereafter be believed that he was there.
From the side of the hill a spring wells out. The water has a strong medicinal quality, resembling soda water, and effervesces in the same way, when mixed with syrup.
We lunched under the trees, picnic fashion. By the side of us ran a stream, and just within sight were some canvas and reed houses which the Californians erect for the hot weather. Their inmates, however, make but little use of them, except for sleeping, their days being spent in the open air.
The drive back was delightful, the air as balmy as that of Italy. In San Jose everything was so quiet that it seemed as though the whole town must be asleep. Likely most people were taking a siesta, as enough of the old Spanish population remains, to counteract in a degree the restlessness of the Americans among them.
Friday. We left in the stage at seven in the morning, to return to San Francisco by a different route on the other side of the bay. For almost the whole distance, the road led over wide-spread plains, sometimes for miles without a fence or a house. The country has a "sealike sweep," while the hills are set round it like a mighty frame. Often the road could hardly be marked, while the wild mustard, with its yellow flowers, was higher than the horses' backs. Occasionally, nestling in a sunny nook, we would pass some milpas,--Indian huts of weeds or brush,--or an old California house with the occupants lounging out of doors--or the more comfortable looking wooden house of some American settler, who had "located" on the plain and enclosed his garden about him. Several times we drove over the dry pebbly beds of the arroyos, showing the places of streams which in the rainy season it would perhaps be difficult to ford.
After a ride of about twelve miles, we turned aside to what was once the Mission of San Jose. The Mission house, a spacious adobe building, with long corridors, is now occupied by Mr. Beard. The church, like all the old Spanish churches, covers a great deal of ground, and bears on its front traces of once having had fresco paintings. It is still held by the priests. The little settlement around it consists of a tavern and a few adobe houses, occupied principally by Spaniards and Californians. Everything around them is primitive--even the low carts standing at their doors, with two wheels about two feet high, each cut in the most clumsy style out of a solid block of wood. The long ranges of native huts, once occupied by the Indian converts, are still visible, but broken down and roofless, while each rainy season wears away the adobe walls, so that they will soon be reduced to the level of the plain. A little beyond the settlement is the old burying ground, but its fence is gone and the tall black cross in the centre is tottering to its downfall.
Mr. Beard, the present owner of the Mission building, is one of the greatest agriculturists in California. He claims the whole plain for some leagues around, and from the Mission you see his fields stretch over the lower ground for miles. They are well fenced in and show the energy of American cultivation.
Here we took in two new passengers--Spanish women, with their rebozos over their heads in place of bonnets, and dressed in rich silks and ornaments, as if for a ball. They conversed in Spanish and smoked their cigarettes. At one place we passed a vineyard surrounded by a hedge of roses which served as a fence. The whole country seemed covered with potatoes or wheat. The latter was in fields of sometimes a thousand acres each, often the volunteer crop, but promising abundantly. A railroad is greatly needed to open a market for these crops, as, with wages and freight at present rates, it does not pay to transport them to San Francisco. At one place, we saw a mound of potatoes, about five hundred feet long, by ten wide and five high, left to rot upon the ground.
We stopped once at a little hamlet called Union City, to change horses, and again at a tavern built upon Castro's Ranch, to dine. At three o'clock we reached the Bay--passed through the growing towns of Alameda, Clinton and Oakland, within a mile of each other, situated among groves of oak trees, and soon to be covered by the villas of the San Franciscans--and taking the ferry, in three quarters of an hour, arrived at home.