Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Up and Down California

Book:  Up and Down California: The Journal of William H. Brewer, 1860-1864
Author: William H. Brewer
Edition: eBook, scanned copy from Yosemite Library
Read: August 21, 2014
672 pages
Rated: 3 out of 5

This journal is really a series of letters to friends who were located in the eastern United States while Brewer was in California doing the Whitney survey. Brewer was the second in command of the 
“California State Geological Survey, and in reality was the chief of those who did the actual traveling through out the state. He started his travels in 1860 and completed it in 1865, going from Los Angeles in the south to Mt Shasta in the north. From San Francisco in the west to Washoe, Nevada in the east. He provides brief descriptions of the places he been too-more of his travels than the places.

In the Introductory biography, it is said that you will not find any hearsay. All of his publications were based upon observation. His notebooks corresponded to his writings, the only thing the writings did was to clothe the statistics with description.

But that is not to say that Brewer is without a sense of humor, you just have to look for it. He relays a few practical jokes played during the party's travels. Also some humorous insights. Some of this is used to skewer the State politicians of his time. Such as when he has not been paid for over a year and he and Dr Whitney have paid for the expenses of the Survey with their own money. Brewer notes that the politicians have no problem finding money for themselves, even during times when tight.

While it is easy to think that California being so far west was not affected by Civil War issues. But it is worthwhile remembering that Brewer is a Northerner landing in San Francisco the day Lincoln was elected. The first area which Brewer visited was Los Angeles. Here the question was should Southern California be considered a separate Southern state or part of California. Brewer exhibits his bias on this question by pointing out that the treaty with Mexico called for any Mexican in California when it became part of the Union to be considered an American citizen. Mexico regarded Indians, blacks, whites and Latinos all as citizens. There are smatterings of talk of the Secessionists and the Unionists. At one point he talks of camping in a Secessionist field while having a Union flag flying from their tents.

He makes his observation on page 86 There is a very strong Union sentiment prevailing here, although the governor is Secession, and there are thousands of desperadoes who would rejoice to do anything for a general row, out of which they could pocket spoils; yet the state is overwhelmingly Union. Later on he goes  on with concerns that even though there is popular sentiment for the Union amongst the populist, among the state politicians there is strong sentiment for secession. Also see his thoughts at the end of Book 4, Chp 4 where he talks some on the Secessionists, and what he feels is their generally corrupt ways.

The War played itself out in California in a lot of other ways. Around Lone Pine you have the Alabama Hills and and area where Kearsarge is a prominent name-Kearsarge was a name of a Union ship.

You hear about the Wild West. But at least I did not understand what that really meant until I read this book. Right from the get-go, Brewer talks about what the normal protection he usually carries: a Bowie knife and a navy revolver. But at camp they have carbines and rifles. Was this really needed? When they land at Los Angeles, there is 50 to 60 murders a year. This is out of a population of 4,000 people. This is just for the first two weeks of his visit to California. There is many other stories throughout the book which illustrate how this plays out in 1860,

The enormity of Brewer's project comes home to him. He had climbed up an area north west of Los Angeles, alone. He is a couple thousand feet up and sees sea shells. He ponders how long ago this ancient shore was by the ocean. It is here he realizes if he is just starting out on this survey of California, what else will this State bring to him? There is not despair, but awe.

“No place but California can produce such groups. (96) Brewer not only measured California, he also observed its people. He saw a true melting pot where somehow Mexicans, Chinese, Germans, English, French and a score of others somehow were able to make a go of things together. Not saying he did not observe problems, but that they lived side by side without  fighting constantly.  An Easter Sunday worship service exemplifies it.

He also meets plenty of individuals. Some them friendly, a few unsavory, but almost all interesting. He talks about this hermit hunter in Northern California, a good shot and hospitable old man with quite a history, More is his name. As a conclusion, he says, He is one of those erratic characters with which this state abounds. (268)

He also talks about the Indians of California. He thinks in terms of them being savages. But he also thinks of them terms of them being human beings. He talks about the inhuman treatment the Digger Indians received at the hands of the miners. Later on he observes a funeral of a Digger Indian. He thinks the ritual with the dancing and hopping is somewhat barbaric. But he turns around and wonders about how we observe a person's passing.

In case you think Brewer is somebody who smears others, he also looks at his own kind and sees an equal amount of distress in them. When a ship he was on strikes a rock, several men become panicked and try to be the first on the life rafts. Brewer's comment is: I really felt ashamed for my sex, for manhood, when I saw what arrant cowards some of the men were. About two-thirds were as cool as if nothing had happened, but some of the remainder showed a cowardice most disgraceful. (Book

 the wife pro tem of two or three miners. (95). Such an interesting term. The wife for the moment, rotating between several miners. Sort of makes it like the women has a job as a substitute wife.

Wherever Brewer met a woman, he generally gave an estimate on the physical attractiveness of the person. I am not sure if this was for the benefits his friends or if he just had that kind of streak in him. There does not seem to be any indication he chased after them, just an appreciation of their appearance.  Such as The Misses Walkinshaw were even more lovely and agreeable than usual. We had a pleasant time. Book II, Chapter 4. It is more just interesting to see his thoughts in that direction. As a note: right before he obtained his position with the Survey, he lost both his wife and daughter.

This Spanish grant land-title system is one of the great drawbacks of this country. One man will make an immense fortune from that ranch, but the public suffers. Book II, Chp 4 The problem which Brewer sees is that you have these vast tracts of land which are in the hands of a few families. This hampers the ability for the State to accommodate the influx of people. Usually the ranchoes which were developed from the land grants were the best parts of land in the state for mineral and grazing.

In places, Brewer can be a good story teller. He tells of stepping on a rattlesnake, but not getting bitten. Then killing it. Later on after beheading it, he is struck by its body. There was fright from that. But he notes that much more was made of getting a skunk away from camp. Book II, Chp 4

Brewer notes in several places a phenomenon he observed. When he is sleeping inside, like in the cities, he catches cold. But if he is outside, even in the rain, he remains well.

Brewer's position was mostly the operations and science manager for the Survey. As such, he was the man in the field while Whitney was the political man. Brewer was involved with trying to maintain the fiscal solvency of the survey so he had connections with the politicians of the day. In his letter/journal he says the work is in advance of the intelligence of the state, and is, therefore, not appreciated; and, a more potent one, that several prominent politicians have hoped to use the Survey for personal, private speculations in mining matters and have failed—they will oppose us. (Book III, chp 7) He has a pretty low opinion of California politics of the time. I wonder what he would think of today's politics? What he observes then is similar today. Unless there is an immediate payoff, we do not want to spend for something which will bring benefit 10-50 years in the future.

In Book 4, Chp 5 he talks about the toll roads. He talks about how the State of California spent $100,000 to build a road over the Sierra's south of Tahoe. When silver and other metals proved to have some value, the mining companies improved the road and started charging tolls.  These rights were "sold" by the legislature, not necessarily to the public good.

Earthquakes. These mysterious quakings and throes of Mother Earth affected me as no other phenomenon of nature ever did. (Book III, Chp 7) Sounds so understated for earthquakes.

A good description of a mining town in Book 4, Chp 5 where he talks about Silver mountain:  Silver Mountain (town) is a good illustration of a  new  mining town. We arrive by trail, for the wagon road is left many miles back. As we descend the canyon from the summit, suddenly a bright new town bursts into view. There are perhaps forty houses, all new (but a few weeks old) and as bright as  new, fresh lumber, which but a month or two ago was in the trees, can make them. This log shanty has a sign up, “Variety Store”; the next, a board shanty the size of a hogpen, is “Wholesale & Retail Grocery”; that shanty without a window, with a canvas door, has a large sign of “Law Office”; and so on to the end. The best hotel has not yet got up its sign, and the “Restaurant and Lodgings” are without a roof as yet, but shingles are fast being made. On the south of the town rises the bold, rugged Silver Mountain, over eleven thousand feet altitude; on the north a rugged mountain over ten thousand feet. Over three hundred claims are being “prospected.” “Tunnels” and “drifts” are being run, shafts being sunk, and every few minutes the booming sound of a blast comes on the ear like a distant leisurely bombardment

  Brewer was a man of his times. While he believed in the Union cause, he also had the attitude of a white man concerning other races. Such as in Book 4, Chp 8 he notes there was a lot of intermarrying between Indians and white men, resulting in mixed races. He then talks about What is to become of these half-breeds, and what their situation is to be in the future society of various parts of this country, is a serious problem. It is a good American doctrine that a man not entirely white has few rights or privileges that a pure white is bound to respect, and as abuse and wrong has thus far failed to civilize and raise the Indian, it is, indeed, a serious problem. I think he was right in that as we approach change in a society, we need to understand what this change means-I do not think he was right concerning the rights of non-whites. As a society, we are marching head long into gay rights and abortion. How will this change our society in 50 years.? Will we be thinking this is the right road or say, what were they thinking in 2015?

Some things are pretty cyclical. Such as drought. In 1864 Calif suffered through a terrible drought. Brewer talks about the ranch as San Luis-currently where the reservoir is-which had over a thousand head of cattle. He had to sell all of them-no water or feed. Have we learnt anything once then?

The soldiers brought back a lot of newspapers from the camp at Fort Miller—papers from the East, from various parts of this state—old many of them, but very acceptable.  Yesterday, after washing my clothes, I spent the rest of the day in reading. There is a sort of fascination in reading about what is going on in the busy world without, in the noisy marts of trade and commerce, in society and politics, in the busy strife of war, of brilliant parties and gay festivities, and sad battles, and tumultuous debate, while we are here in these distant mountain solitudes, alike away from the society and the strife of the world.  Book 5, Chp 3

Talking about Nevada becoming a state: It has just been made a state, but I see no elements here to make a state. It has mines of some marvelous richness, but it has nothing else, nothing to call people here to live and found homes. Every man of any culture hopes to make his fortune here, but to enjoy it in more favored lands. The climate is bad, water bad, land a desert, and the population floating.  Book 5, Chp 4. Being a Californian, I sort of endorse his view of Nevada.

Up and Down California is a series of letters written to family and friends by William Brewer while he was on the California State Geological Survey, from 1860 through 1865. This was the Whitney Survey which gave the first good natural resources description of California. As a book or literature, it is dry. But when read as a honest and personal travel journal, you can imagine yourself traveling this state.

Reading the journal for good writing, there are several of his contemporaries which do better such as King. But for a straightforward account of the Whitney Survey and the times, this is pretty good.

New Words:

  • compendious (11):  containing or presenting the essential facts of something in a comprehensive but concise way.
  • Californian sabboth (34): cards, songs, whiskey
  • alpengluhen (54): (alpine glow)-is an optical phenomenon in which a horizontal red glowing band is observed on the horizon opposite to the sun. This effect occurs when the Sun is just below the horizon. Alpenglow is easiest to observe when mountains are illuminated but can also be observed when the sky is illuminated through backscattering.
  • Panoli (60): a village in the Ankleshwar Tehsil of Bharuch district in the Indian state of Gujarat
  • Guirado (71): 
  • Sancha (80): The woman that your man is cheating on you with. 
  • vivaparoa  (89): the tule perch is found in freshwater habitats
  • Palaver (97): prolonged and idle discussion.
  • California gallop (101): 
  • misanthropic (78): disliking humankind and avoiding human society
  • Asphaltum (84):  asphalt
  • Billed shirt (85): 
  • Palmetto (86): meaning "little palm"
  • expatiated (94): speak or write at length or in detail
  • arabesque (Book II, chp 4): an ornamental design consisting of intertwined flowing lines, originally found in Arabic or Moorish decoration
  • desideratum (Book II, chp 5): something that is needed or wanted.
  • anthracite (book II,chp 5): a hard, compact variety of coal that has a high luster. It has the highest carbon content, the fewest impurities, and the highest calorific content of all types of coal, which also include bituminous coal and lignite.
  • Bituminous (Book II, chp 5):  coal or black coal is a relatively soft coal containing a tarlike substance called bitumen. It is of higher quality than lignite coal but of poorer quality than anthracite. Formation is usually the result of high pressure being exerted on lignite
  • palliated (Book II, chp 5): make (a disease or its symptoms) less severe or unpleasant without removing the cause.
  • meerschaum (Book III, chp 2): a German word meaning sea foam. The geologist knows the light, porous Meerschaum as hydrous magnesium silicate. The pipe smoker knows it as the perfect material for providing a cool, dry, flavorful smoke.
  • pommeling (Book III, chp 6): The upper front part of a saddle; a saddlebow.
  • jocosely (Book III, chp 6): given to or characterized by joking; jesting; humorous; playful:
  • peregrinationsy (Book III, chp 7):travel from one place to another, especially on foot.

Book References:
  • The Metallic Wealth of the United States”, by Josiah Dwight Whitney
  • Geogolgy by Josiah Dwight Whitney
  • Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada” by Clarence King
  • The Yosemite Guidebook
  • Bleak House
  • Mountains of California by John Muir
  • Steep Trails by John Muir

Good Quotes:

  • First Line: I SHALL sail at noon tomorrow, and drop a line before starting. 
  • Last Line: I trust you have had as much pleasure in reading as I have in writing them.
  •   It is glorious to watch  the stars and moon before going to sleep, but unpoetical to turn in the night and bring yourself in contact with a portion of the blanket soaked with dew, and ugh, how cold! But I have always slept gloriously in the open air, whenever I have tried it.  Book I, Chp 6
  • We are doing and reaping as monarchists have often told us we would do—put designing, immoral, wicked, and reckless men in office until they robbed us of our glory, corrupted the masses, and broke us in pieces for their gain. Book I, Chp 6
  • Ah! camp is the place to sleep—sweet sleep—refreshing sleep. There is no canopy like the tent, or the canopy of Heaven, no bed so sweet as the bosom of Mother Earth. Book II, Chapter 1
  • It is only in a Roman church that one sees such a picturesque mingling of races, so typical of Christian brotherhood. Book II, Chp 1
  • one’s fear could not always be controlled by one’s reason. Book II, chp 4, Footnote 8
  • How I enjoyed those hours of solitude, so far from men, such a picturesque spot! Near me the grand forests, behind me the lovely valleys below, before me the grand old peak, its outlines so beautifully cut against the intensely blue sky. I gazed on it for hours, as I lay there, not with the awe that I did two days ago, but with even more admiration.  Book III, chp 5
  • You at home little know the blessed charm that letters can have, their true value to the person that wanders, homeless and desolate, especially when his bed is the ground and his canopy the sky, and when all he holds dear is so far away.  Book 4, Chp 7
  • the miner leaves only desolation in his track, and everywhere here he has left his traces.    Book 4, Chpt 7
Table of Contents:
Preface by Russell H. Chittenden     vii
Illustrations     xi
Introduction     xv

BOOK I—1860-1861
I.     To California via Panama     3
II.     Los Angeles and Environs     11
III.     More of Southern California     29
IV.     Starting Northward     43
V.     Santa Barbara     55
VI.     The Coast Road     73
VII.     Salinas Valley and Monterey     91

BOOK II—1861
I.     An Interlude     117
II.     New Idria     135
III.     New Almaden     149
IV.     Approaching the Bay     169
V.     The Mount Diablo Range     191
VI.     Napa Valley and the Geysers     213

I.     The Rainy Season     241
II.     Tamalpais and Diablo     255
III.     The Diablo Range South     275
IV.     Up the Sacramento River     291
V.     Mount Shasta     309
VI.     West and East of the Sacramento River     325
VII.     Closing the Year—A Miscellany     347

BOOK IV—1863
I.     In and about San Francisco     365
II.     Tejon—Tehachapi—Walker’s Pass     375
III.     The Big Trees—Yosemite—Tuolumne Meadows     397
IV.     Mono Lake—AurorA—Sonora Pass     415
V.     To Carson Pass and Lake Tahoe     429
VI.     The Northern Mines and Lassen’s Peak     451
VII.     Siskiyou     471
VIII.     Crescent City and San Francisco     489

BOOK V—1864
I.     San Joaquin Valley—Giant Sequoias     505
II.     The High Sierra of Kings River     517
III.     Owens Valley and the San Joaquin Sierra     533
IV.     The Washoe Mines     551
V.     Homeward Bound—Nicaragua     561

Itinerary     571
Index     589


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