J. P Munro-Fraser.

History of Solano County...and histories of its cities, towns...etc. .. online

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to accomplish the journey.

Next to the Bedouin of the great African desert, if not equally with
him, the trapper of the wilds of the American continent worships the noble
horse, which not only proudly carries his owner up to the huge bison, when
hunger presses the hunter, and swiftly flees from the overpowering horde of
savages who seek his life ; but while the solitary, benighted, and fatigued
hunter snatches a few shreds of repose, stands a trusty sentinel, with ears
erect and penetrating eye, to catch the first movement of every object
within its view, or with distended nostril, to inhale the odor of the red man
with which the passing breeze is impregnated, and arouse his affectionate
master. What, then, were the feelings of these men, as they saw their
favorite steeds, which had long been their companions, and had been
selected for their noble bearing, reeling and faltering on those inhospitable
plains. Still worse when they were compelled to sever the brittle thread
of life, and dissolve all those attachments and vivid hopes of future com-
panionship and usefulness by the use of the rifle, which, at other times,
with unerring aim, would have sent death to the man who should attempt
to deprive them of their beloved animals.

They hastily cut from the lifeless bodies a few pieces of flesh, as the only
means of sustaining their own existence ; and in this manner they supported
life until they passed the desert and arrived on foot at the rendezvous.


A party was immediately organized, and, with such supplies as were
required for the company, left for California, Mr. Smith hastening his de-
parture. Traveling south, to avoid in some degree the snow and cold of
winter, he descended and crossed Grand river, of the Colorado, and, contin-
uing south-westerly, he approached the Colorado river from the east, near
the camp of the Mohave Indians. In the attempt to transport his party,
by means of rafts, over this river, in which he was aided by the Mohaves,
who professed great friendship and hospitality, he was suddenly surprised
by the treacherous Indians, who, upon a pre-concerted signal, simultaneously
attacked the men who were on each bank of the river, and upon a raft then
crossing, massacred the party, with the exception of two men and Mr.
Smith, who escaped, and after great suffering arrived at the Mission of San
Gabriel, in California. They were immediately arrested by the military
officer at that place, because they had no passports. This functionary
forwarded an account of the arrival and detention of the foreigners to the
commandant of San Diego, who transmitted the same to General Echandia,
then Governor and Commander-in-Chief of California.

After a harassing delay Mr. Smith was permitted to proceed to Monterey,
and appear before the Goverrior. Through the influence and pecuniary
assistance of Captain John Cooper, an American, then resident of Monterey,
he was liberated, and having procured such supplies as could be obtained in
that place, partially oh account of beaver-fur to be sent from the summer
quarters on the Sacramento river, and partly on credit, he hired a few men
and proceeded to the camp of the party which he had previously left in the
Sacramento valley. After forwarding the fur to Monterey, he travelled up the
Sacramento, making a most successful hunt up this river and its tributaries
within the valley. Ascending the western sources of the Sacramento, he
passed Shasta mountain, when he turned westerly and arrived on the coast,
which he followed south to the Umpqua river. While Mr. Smith and two men
were in a canoe, with two or three Indians, engaged in examining the river
to find a crossing, his camp was unexpectedly surprised by the Indians, who
had, up to this time, shown the most friendly disposition, and the entire
party, with the exception of one man, were murdered. Mr. Smith and the
men with him in the canoe, after wandering many days in the mountains,
where they were obliged to secrete themselves by day and travel by night,
to avoid the Indians, who were scouring the country in pursuit, succeeded
in escaping from their vicinity, and arrived at Fort Vancouver, a post of
the Hudson's Bay Company, on the Columbia river. The man who escaped
from the camp at the massacre of the party was badly wounded, and without
arms to defend himself or procure food, succeeded in sustaining life and
making his way through many vicissitudes for a period of thirty-eight days,
when he reached Fort Vancouver. On his arrival there Mr. Smith con-
tracted with the superintendent to sell him the large quantity of fur which


had fallen into the hands of the Indians on the Umpqua, provided he would
assist in recovering it, and to furnish a guide to lead a trapping party into
the Sacramento valley. A company was fitted out under the command of
Lieutenant McLeod, which proceeded to the scene of disaster, and after re-
covering the fur, with which Mr. Smith returned to the fort, continued
south, under the guidance of one of Smith's men, to the Sacramento valley,
where a most valuable hunt was made. A large number of horses from
California were also obtained, with which the party attempted to return in
the fall of 1822. In crossing the mountain they were overtaken by a violent
snow-storm, in which they lost all their horses. From the hasty and un-
suitable manner in which they attempted to secrete their valuable stock of
fur from the observation and discovery of the Indians or other body of
trappers, it was found in a ruined state by a party sent to convey it to the
fort in the following spring, and McLeod was discharged from the service of
the company for his imprudence in attempting to cross the mountains so
late in the fall.

Another band was fitted out from Fort Vancouver, by the Hudson
Bay Co., under Captain Ogden, of New York, who for some time had been
in the employ of that corporation, with which Mr. Smith left the fort on
his final departure from the Pacific shore, for the rendezvous of the Rocky
Mountain Fur Co. This company traveled up Lewis river, in the direction
of the South Pass, when Mr. Smith pursuing his journey with a few men,
Captain Ogden turned south, and traveling along the eastern base of the
Sierra Nevada, entered the valley of the Tulares, on the trail which Smith
had made in 1826. McLeod having left the valley before he was en-
countered by Ogden, who spent the winter of 1828-9, and the following
summer returned to the Columbia river with a valuable hunt.

One of the survivors of the massacre of Smith's party on the Rio Colorado
remained in California. He was a blacksmith by trade, and obtained em-
ployment at the Missions of San Gabriel and San Luis Key. His name was
Galbraith, and while in the mountains previous to his advent to California,
was recognized as the most fearless of that brave class of men with whom
he was associated. His stature was commanding, and the Indians were
awed by his athletic and powerful frame, while the display of his Herculean
strength excited the surprise of all. Many were the incidents that occurred
in California during his residence, of which he was the principal actor. On
one occasion, while employed at the Mission of San Luis Bey, he became
riotous while under the exciting influence of agwadiente, and was warned
that unless he conducted himself with greater propriety it would be necessary
to confine him in the guard-house. This served to exasperate instead of to
quiet his unruly passions. A corporal with two men were ordered to arrest
Galbraith. On their arrival at the shop, they found the follower of Vulcan
absorbed in anathemas, which he was pouring fprth in rapid succession


against the Reverend Father, soldiers, and neophites. Having delivered
himself he enquired what they wanted. On the corporal's replying that he
had been sent to conduct him to the guard-house, Galbraith seized a sledge,
and swaying it above his head rushed upon the soldiers, who, intimidated at
the gigantic size of the blacksmith, whose broad and deep chest was swell-
ing with infuriated passion, horror stricken fled in dismay. With uplifted
hammer he pursued them across the court of the Mission, and to the guard
house in front of the Mission, where the affrighted corporal and soldiers
arrived among their comrades, closely followed by the terrific mountaineer,
who, alike fearless of Spanish soldiers as he had ever been of Indians, drove
the trembling forces, a sergeant and twelve men, to their quarters, where
they were imprisoned. He then hastily loaded with grape shot a fine piece
of artillery which stood in front of the quarters, and directing its mouth
towards the Mission, he gathered up the arms which the soldiers in the
confusion had abandoned, and prepared to act as exigencies might require.
The priest, seeing the course events were taking, sent a messenger to open
communications with the victor, who, from the sudden burst of passion and
violent exercise had dispelled the effects of the brandy, and with its removal
his choler had subsided.

In the early part of 1839 a company was made up in St. Louis, Missouri,
to cross the plains to California consisting of D. G. Johnson, Charles Klein,
David D. Dutton and William Wiggins. Fearing the treachery of the
Indians this little party determined to await the departure of a party of
traders in the employ of the American Fur Company, on their annual tour
to the Rocky Mountains. At Westport they were joined by Messrs. Wright,
Gegger, a Doctor Wiselzenius and his German companion, and Peter Lasson,
as also two missionaires with thier wives and hired man, bound for Oregon,
as well as a lot of what were termed fur trappers, bound for the mountains,
the entire company consisting of twenty-seven men and two women.

The party proceeded on their journey and in due time arrived at the
Platte river, but here their groceries and breadstuff gave out ; happily the
county was well stocked with food, the bill of fare consisting henceforward
of buffalo, venison, cat-fish, suckers, trout, salmon, duck, pheasant, sage-fowl,
beaver, hare, horse, grizzly bear, badger and dog. The historian of this expedi-
tion thus describes this latter portion of the menu. " As much misunderstand-
ing seems to prevail in regard to the last animal alluded to, a particular
description of it may not be uninteresting. It is, perhaps, somewhat larger
than the ground squirrel of California, is subterranean and gregarious in its
habits, living in ' villages ; ' and from a supposed resemblance in the feet,
as well as in the spinal termination, to that of the canine family, it is in
popular language known as the prairie dog. But in the imposing technology
of the mountain graduate it is styled the canus prairie cuss, because its
cussed holes so often cause the hunter to be unhorsed when engaged in the


After enduring a weary journey, accompanied by the necessary annoy-
ances from treacherous and pilfering Souix, hail-storms, sand-storms, rain
and thunder-storms, our voyagers arrived at Fort Hall, where they were
disappointed at not being able to procure a guide to take them to California-
This was almost a death-blow to the hopes of the intrepid travelers ; but
having learned of a settlement on the Willamette river, they concluded to
proceed thither in the following spring, after passing the winter at this fort-
Here Klein and Doctor Wiselzenius determined to retrace their steps ; thus
the party was now reduced to five in number — Johnson going ahead and
leaving for the Sandwich Islands. In September, 1839, the party reached
Oregon, and sojourned there during the winter of that year ; but in May,
1840, a vessel arrived with Missionaries from England, designing to touch
at California on her return, Mr. William Wiggins, now of Monterey, the
narrator of this expedition, and his three companions from Missouri, among
whom was Mr. David D. Dutton, now a resident of Vacaville township, in
Solano county, got on board ; but Mr. W., not having a dollar, saw no hope
to get away ; as a last resort, he sent to one of the passengers, a compara-
tive stranger, for the loan of sixty dollars, the passage-money, when, to his
great joy and surprise, the money was furnished — a true example of the
spontaneous generosity of those early days. There were three passengers
from Oregon, and many others who were " too poor to leave." In June,
they took passage in the " Lausenne," and were three weeks in reaching
Baker's bay, a distance of only ninety miles. On July 3rd, they left the
mouth of the Columbia, and, after being out thirteen days, arrived at Bo-
dega, now in Sonoma county, but then a harbor in possession of the Russians.
Here a dilemma arose of quite a threatening character. The Mexican Com-
mandant sent a squad of soldiers to prevent the party from landing, as they
wished to do, for the captain of the vessel had refused to take them farther
on account of want of money. At this crisis, the Russian Governor arrived,
and ordered the soldiers to leave, be shot down, or go to prison ; they, there-
fore, beat a retreat. Here were our travelers, at a stand-still, with no means
of proceeding on their journey, or of finding their way out of the inhospit-
able country ; they, therefore, penned the following communication to the
American Consul, then stationed at Monterey :

" Poet Bodega. July 25, 1840.

" To the American Consul of California :

" Dear Sir — We, the undersigned citizens of the United States, being
desirous to land in the country, and having been refused a passport, and
been opposed by the Government, we write to you, sir, for advice, and claim
your protection. Being short of funds, we are not able to proceed further
on the ship. We have concluded to land under the protection of the Rus-
sians ; we will remain there fifteen days, or until we receive an answer from


you, which we hope will be as soon as the circumstances of the case will
permit. We have been refused a passport from General Vallejo. Our ob-
ject is to get to the settlements, or to obtain a pass to return to our own
country. Should we receive no relief, we will take up our arms and travel,
consider ourselves in an enemy's country, and defend ourselves with our

" We subscribe ourselves,

" Most respectfully,

David Dutton,
John Stevens,
Peter Lasson,
. Wm. Wiggins,
J. Wright."

To John R. Wolfskill is the honor due of being the first American settler
in Solano county. In 1838, his brother William and himself came to Los
Angeles, and there remained until 1842, when the former received a grant of
four leagues of land, situated on both sides of the Rio de los Putos, which,
under a family arrangement, the latter located on in that year. John R. Wolf-
skill, being, therefore, the actual American pioneer of the county, we have made
it our duty to personally consult him by visiting him at his magnificent man-
sion on Putah creek. Having ridden on horseback from Los Angeles, where
he had been laboring for years for a miserable pittance, he drove with him
ninety head of cattle, and ultimately arrived at his destination after a weary
journey, cheered by no society save the growling of wild beasts and the low-
ing of his own kine. When he arrived on the northern side of the bay of San
Francisco, he made for Napa, and here procured a horse from George Yount,
the pioneer of that county, and crossing the mountains, struck into Green
valley, and thence into that of Suisun, and thus travelling, passed through
the present site of Vacaville, and arrived on the banks of the Putah. On
his attaining his haven, the country had the appearance of never having
known the foot of man ; Indians there were none ; cattle there were none
save those which he had brought with him ; but there were evidences on
every hand of bears, and other wild animals. Mr. Wolfskill, inured as he
had been to hardship almost from his birth, thought little of these things ;
he had early served a hunter's craft in the wilds of unsettled Missouri,
whither he had accompanied his father in the year 1809, from his native
State of Kentucky; had learned the bitterness of being cooped up in
Cooper's Fort, now Howard County, Mo., during the war of 1812, and
could check-mate the tricky savage at his own game, and prove a match for
the ferocious grizzly on his own ground. The first night on his new domain
the lonely voyager passed high up on the fork of a tree away from the
possible hug of prowling bears and the presence of creeping things ; the


dawn found him with gun on shoulder on the search for food ; no time was
lost in making arrangements for a permanent location. A position for his
future home was chosen on a site near to that where now stands the house
of his brother, Sarshel Wolf skill, and, half a mile from his own present
dwelling ; what timber was necessary was cut, and in a short time, with
the assistance of a stray Indian or Mexican, the pioneer hut was completed,
and the energetic backwoodsman had once more the comfort of a roof over
his head, with more ample security from the lurking animals without.

At this time Wolfskill's nearest English-speaking neighbors were, on the
one hand, at Napa, on the other, at Sutter's Fort, now Sacramento ; dis-
tances of forty-five and thirty miles, respectively. Many a time was the
never-ending solitude broken by a ride and return on the same day to these
places, undertaken simply for the pleasure of a short conversation, which,
when accomplished, again would recur a season of prolonged lonesomeness,
varied only by the toil of clearing ground, the pursuit of game, and the
prosecution of a deadly war with grizzlies, of which Mr. Wolfskill has killed
a large number. One evening alone he having, in a distance of a mile and
a half, while riding along the course of the Putah creek, sent five to their
long account.

Uncle John Wolfskill, as he is familiarly spoken of in the district in
which he resides, carries his seventy-five years well, and, but for the extreme
whiteness of his beard and a slight bend of his shoulders, would still be
considered a man in the prime of life. Fortune has smiled upon him in the
fullness of his years. Portions of his estate he has sold or rented, but he,
with his son and brother, have a large tract under cultivation. His resi-
dence stands nearly three hundred yards from the banks of the Putah creek,
surrounded on every side by a splendid orchard of fruit trees of every
variety, including oranges, olives, figs, and grapes, one vine having tendrils
of forty feet in length that form a magnificent arbor ; while the building-
is of fine, soft, smooth stone, found on the property in considerable quanti-
ties, which has a beautiful appearance, and combines all the comfort of an
old country establishment, with the advantages of habitation, which a
glorious climate affords.

Thus we have satisfactorily traced the establishment of the first American
in Solano county, but emigration had not, as yet, come into California, for
no sign of gold had then been found, nor, indeed, had the remarkable adapt-
ability of the soil for agricultural as well as pastoral purposes been given
to the world. Those who occupied the lands did so in peace, and continued
so to do for years. It was not until 1846 that any positive influx in the
population of the county made itself apparent. In this year Benicia was
first settled, but ere relating this portion of Solano's history, let us draw
attention to the circumstances which induced to the selection of the site by
Doctor Robert Semple.


In the early part of 1846 the United States and Mexico were at war. A
fine fleet of the best ships of the Union proudly bore the flag on the Pacific
ocean and along its coast. Fremont, the intrepid, with a small force of
regulars, were engaged on the frontier of California on a supposed scientific
survey. Great Britain and France, through their representatives, were
watching with keen anxiety the out-turn of affairs, being ready at a
moment's notice to take advantage of any loop-hole that might present
itself, and assume a protectorate over the coast, or take forcible- possession
of the country. The native Californians were not numerous ; those were
divided in council, scattered over a vast territory and poorly equipped with
defensive weapons. At this juncture affairs culminated to a point, and the
little town of Sonoma was called upon to play a part in the history of the
west, which was finally settled by the acquisition of California to the
United States.

On the morning of June lGth a band of thirty-three Americans, recruited
from Sutter's Fort and the adjacent .districts, marched into the town of
Sonoma, captured the garrison and took General Vallejo, the officer com-
manding the Province of California, a prisoner. The company who carried
out this hiffh-handed action were under the orders of one of their number
named Merritt, whom they had elected to the position of Captain. They
proceeded entirely on their responsibility, committed no excess, but still
were determined in their policy.

Being without authority/ to use the flag of the United States, a banner of
their own was therefore resolved upon, and three men, Ben Duell, (now of
Lake county) Todd, and Currie, manufactured the standard, the two former,
who were saddlers it is believed, sewing the stripes of red, white, and blue
together, while they with the bear, from which the color received its name,
were painted by the latter. A narrator of these events naively remarks :
" The material of which the stripes were made was not, as has been stated,
an old red flannel petticoat, but was new flannel and white cotton, which
Duell got from Mrs. W. B. Elliott, who had been brought to the town of Sono-
ma, her husband, W. B. Elliott, being one of the bear-flag party. Some blue
domestic was found elsewhere and used in making the flag. The drawing
was rudely done, and, when finished, the bear resembled a pig as much as
the object for which it was intended." The idea of adopting the insignia of
a bear was that having once entered the fight, there should be no surrender
until the thorough emancipation of California was accomplished. The
bear-flag is still preserved as a choice relic by the Society of California
Pioneers, and on notable occasions it sees the light in a procession by the

In the meantime after a few fights, and the murder of one or two of the
independents, Fremont made his appearance on the scene, and fitted out an
expedition to pursue the Californians whicn he did with much vigoi', finally


driving Castro, their commander, with his forces, out of the district. While
these events were being enacted, the American flag was hoisted at Monterey
on July 7th, by direction of Commodore Sloat ; on the following day it was
opened to the breeze on the plaza at Yerba Buena, and, on July 10th, the
revolutionists received one with every demonstration of joy ; down came the
flag of independence, the inartistic bear-flag, and up went the stars and
stripes, thus completing the conquest of the district of Sonoma of which
Solono county then formed a portion.

The detachment to escort General Vallejo to Sutter's Fort, wherein he
was to be held as a prisoner of war, was placed under the command of
Doctor Robert Semple, then a captain serving under the bear flag, who,
while proceeding by boat along the shores of the Carquinez straits, casually
observed to the general on the remarkable eligibility of the present site of
Benicia as one on which to found a city. At the time the matter was
referred to simply as a topic of conversation; on the return journey, how-
ever, after the short detention of the- General, he once more brought up the
subject, which terminated in his promise to make a concession for that
purpose of five miles of water front and one in depth ; this we find on
reference to the county records was finally carried out, by deed of gift, on
May 19th, 1847, the name of Thomas 0. Larkin, consul for the United State
at Monterey, being associated with those of General Vallejo and Doctor
Robert Semple, the deed containing certain provisions which will be treated
on in the history of the city of Benicia.

Thus the first town in Solono county was located and soon after settled.

We must now return to the doings of the year 1846. In this year
immigration was greater than on any previous one, among those arriving

Online LibraryJ. P Munro-FraserHistory of Solano County...and histories of its cities, towns...etc. .. → online text (page 6 of 57)