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Chapter 6: White conquerors.

“guess you'll say here's a place,” whispers Colonel Brown, a settler in these parts. “If this valley had a little more rain, a little more soil, and a little less sun and wind, it would be a place! You bet?”

Leaving the open sewers and pretty balconies of Monterey behind, we cross the amber dunes, and twenty miles from the sea we strike the Rio Salinas, near the base of Monte Toro, and a few steps farther, on a creek called Sanjon del Alisal, we find a new city, called Salinas, rising from the earth.

Nine years ago the Rio Salinas flowed through a desert, over which wild deer and yet wilder herdsmen roved in search of grass and pools. The soil was dry, the herbage scant. Bears, foxes, and coyotes disputed every ravine with the hunters. Ducks and widgeons covered the lagunes and creeks. A trapper's gun was rarely heard among these hills, [47] and save the ruins of an old Mission-house at Soledad, no trace of civil life was found between the heights of Monte Toro and the summits of Gavilano range.

To-day, a pretty English town, with banks, hotels, and churches, greets you on the bridge of Sanjon del Alisal. A main street, broad, well-paved and neatly built, runs out for nearly half a mile. Unlike the timber-sheds of Monterey, the stores and banks of this new town are built of brick, striking, as one may say, their roots into the earth. A fine hotel adorns the principal street, every shop in which is stocked with new and useful things, just like a shop in Broadway or the Strand. You buy the latest patterns in hats and coats, in steam-ploughs and grass-rollers, in pump-handles and waterwheels. Salinas has her journals, her lending-libraries, her public schools. A jail has just been opened, for the herdsmen of the district are unruly, and the prison of San Jose is a long way off. Pigeons flutter in the roadways, lending to the town an air of poetry and peace. Some offshoots flow from Main Street into open fields, in which Swiss-like chalets nestle in the midst of peaches, grapes, and figs. One church [48] stands on the left, a second on the right of Main Street, and folks step in and out of these churches as neatly dressed as visitors at Shanklin and Torquay.

“Now here's a place to open your eyes like a cocktail, eh, Colonel? ” cries the settler.

“I am not a colonel. So far as I have anything to do with arms, I serve Queen Victoria as a private in the Inns of Court Volunteers.”

“Then you are equal to a colonel! Sir, a man must have a title if he wishes to escape notice, as a gentleman in this country would like to do. Once I was crossing Firebaugh ferry, on San Joaquin River over here, beyond the range, when the old boatman stopped in the middle of his passage, and enquired my name. “Mister Brown,” said I. “Mister Brown?” said lhe, resting on his oars, evidently puzzled in his head. “ What name, stranger?” he inquired once more. “Mister Brown.” He looked distressed, but said no more until I stepped on shore and offered him his fare. “Excuse me, sir,” he cut in quickly, “I cannot take your money. Keep it in memory of this remarkable day. Boy and man, I have kept this ferry on the San Joaquin River for twenty-two. [49] years, and you are positively the first person named Mister, whom I have had the pleasure to put across.” On that date I commissioned myself as Colonel Brown. Come, Colonel, bet you don't beat this place in the old country, nohow?”

Yet Salinas is an English town.

Captain Sherwood, an officer in the English army, who had served in the Crimea, came to California with a sum of money to be spent in buying real estate. He bought a cattle-run in Salinas Valley, getting the title from one of the unthrifty natives for a song. Major Bucknall, tempted by a chance of shooting bear and snaring snipe and duck, came down to see his comrade. Sport being good, the Major stayed. One day, while musing at the water-side, a notion flashed into the sportsman's brain. Wanting a hut, in which to keep his gun and cook his bird, the Major said to himself: “Why not myself build a house? A few logs, a hammer, a bag of nails, and the thing is done. Nothing easier. But let me see. A house-why not a town?” At night he spoke to Sherwood-“ Let us build a city on the lake.” Thinking of his cattle-run, the Captain smiled. A city for whom? What wretch would [50] live in such a desert as Salinas Valley, except a wretch who wanted to herd cattle and shoot widgeon?

All the drovers and herdsmen who then strayed into Salinas Valley were of Bedouin type, half-naked savages, tawny of skin and black of eye, with curly beards and golden earrings; nomads as wild and reckless as the bulls they chased and slew. Pitching their cabins in the hills, or dropping to the river beds, according to the time of year, these herdsmen lead a lonely and nomadic life; faring from day to day, feeding from hand to mouth, much as their cattle fared and fed. The country being unfenced, they were free to wander at their will. Untouched by human arts, these herdsmen had no pleasures, save in dancing the fandango, gambling for their last dollar, drinking away their senses, and ripping at each other's sides. If they had any other passion, it was the love of roaming as they pleased, driving their herds afield, unchecked by any fence, unscared by any gun. Such fellows seemed to Sherwood far from pleasant neighbours, and by no means likely settlers in a town.

Yet Major Bucknall meant to try his luck- [51] “Come, let us build a city.” He believed White men would come in, and occupy the Salinas pastures. Sherwood gave him a scrap of ground, on which he reared a log shanty. Six weeks after he began to build his hut, a fellow with an eye for coming customers, opened a grog shop. Then the drovers and herdsmen came this way for drams. A third man, seeing these drovers hang about, threw up a booth for dancing. Only six months after Bucknall had first thought of building a shanty in which he might keep his gun and cook his game, twenty-five houses were clustered round his hearth. Twenty-five houses means a hundred persons, more or less; a force of forty or fifty guns in case of need. All fear of a surprise by savages was laid aside.

English settlers came into the valley, looking out for sheep-runs, followed by Americans with a scent for corner lots. In less than seven years, the Major's cabin on the lake has grown into a city of three thousand souls! Already Salinas is a more important place than Monterey.

A White colonist has three main ways of taking possession of Californian soil.

The first plan is to marry an estate, like David [52] Spence. Dark women like fair men, and if a half-breed girl is taken from her people young, she may be trained in English ways, until she learns to be a decent wife. If there are brothers in the house, the fields and runs must be divided; but the lads will go to the dogs in time; the faster for a little help; and then the lots may all come back. An English hunter after an estate is seldom foiled by an inferior race.

The second plan is for a thrifty stranger, having ready money in his purse, to lend small sums to any reckless native, known to have good sheep-runs and extensive water-rights. Your mixed breed, whether brown or sallow, has an empty pocket and a dozen wants. He wants to buy a horse, to give a dance, to bribe a sheriff, or to play seven-up. Tempted by the sight of gold, he borrows where he has no hope of paying back. Loan follows loan, each spent as fast as got, until the lender closes the account, and presses for his debt. The hybrid has no coin. What will the lender take instead of gold? A league or so of pasture land — a ranch with mill and water-wheel — a bit of hill-side like an English park? His debt being paid, the stranger has a [53] footing on the soil, which in a few years more will be his own.

The third plan is for three or four squatters, strong in thews and sinews, handy with bowie knives and rifles, to form a league or club (a White league, an Anglo-Saxon club), of which the members swear to stand by each other, shoulder to shoulder, rifle to rifle, in their march to fortune. Having sworn their oaths, they drive their herds afield, not caring on whose land they stray, if grass and water suit them. Throwing up a fence and cabin, they challenge any one who chooses to dispute their claim. The owner has a choice of evils. He may try to drive them oft by either force or law. If force is used, blood will be shed ; his blood or that of others ; and the native, though alert and reckless, has a wholesome dread of English guns. If he appeals to law, his title must be proved, and hardly any Mexican deed will bear the scrutiny of an American judge. The owner yields, and his submission to one act of violence brings a swarm of squatters on his land. In one of the big ranches lives a young Scotch settler, the story of whose life, as told me by himself, might stand for that of many a neighbour. [54]

“I was rather wild,” he says, “ in my young days, and my father, a Scotch minister, with a large family and a small stipend, was bothered what to do with me. I liked to tear about on ponies, and we had no ponies at the grange. Ha! ha! the dear old dad! He put me on board a ship for Sydney, paid my passage in the steerage, and sent me with a sixpence out into the world. Landing in Australia without a penny in my pouch, I had to take service, anything that offered. A sheep farmer hired me, and I went up country to the runs. A wild life suited me, and after a spell at the diggings, I returned to the runs as partner with my late master, and remained with him three or four years. A man from California gave me the notion of settling here, and I came over with some money and more experience. I stayed in San Francisco five or six weeks, looking round, and feeling for an opening, but the sharpers of that city would have peeled and picked me to the bone. I came down south, and finding two or three ranches in this valley built by English fellows, I thought the place would suit me, and I stayed.”

“ How long ago?” [55]

“Five or six years or so; just when Salinas was a sprinkle of log huts.”

“And you have now a good run?”

“My run extends from the Salinas River right across the Galivano range, to San Benito River.”

“Why, that is an estate as big as a Scotch county? ”

“Yes, the dear old dad will stare when I go home some day, and tell him what his scapegrace son has been doing for the last twelve years. Ha! ha! the dear old dad will stare when I tell him he sent me out with sixpence, and I ask him to come and see what I have bought with his sixpence-a little place in California, about the size of County Linlithgow! ”

The lands all round Salinas are in English and American hands. Jackson, one of the first arrivals in San Francisco; Hebbron, lately a detective, practising his art in London; Beasley, one of three brothers living in the place; Spence, the first English colonist in Monterey; Johnson, a sheepherder, who has given his name to a high peak; Leese, the gentleman who wedded Vallejo's sister; Beveridge, a young and thriving Scot; these are the [56] chief owners of land around Salinas. They are all of British birth.

On taking possession of the land, such strangers fence the fields, and drive intruders from the cattleruns. Worse still, they go into the female market and raise the price of squaws. By offering more money than a Mestizo can afford to give, they have their choice of “helps,” and pay in honest money where a native is disposed to steal. In every ranch we see these Indian girls; at every agency we hear of loud complaints. Young men, not of full blood but only mixed, assert that these English and American strangers take their prettiest damsels, leaving them only the old women and the cast-off squaws.

“ You seem to like my girls,” laughs one of the English settlers; “well, you look at them a good deal. Ha, ha! you think me a monstrous wicked fellow: Lovelace, Lothario, Don Juan all in one! Bless you, it's a fearful bore. Don't pray for a country in which there are no White women, that's my advice! Do you suppose I prefer a dirty squaw who only speaks ten words of English, to a rosy lassie out of Kent? All fiddlesticks. Our proper helps are parted from us by an ocean and a continent. [57] What can a fellow do? This country yields us squaws, just as it gives us fruit and herbs; and till you send me that rosy lassie out of Kent, I must put up with squaws from San Pascual.”

Seeing his fields invaded, and his women carried off, the herdsman's blood boils up. Are not these woods and fields his feeding-ground? Are not these girls his natural mates? No one can deny that these pastures were the properties of his mother's tribe. Is he not the proper heir of these hunting-grounds, the natural husband of these Indian squaws?

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