Jonas Spect and his River Metropolis, California
From: The History of Yolo County, California
History By: Tom Gregory
The Historical Record Company.
Los Angeles, California 1913


At the opening of the year 1848 Yolo, or the locality now Yolo county, had about thirty settlers who were steadily establishing their permanent homes, increasing their farm stock and acreage of grain lands. But the discovery of gold checked for the time this agricultural growth. James W. Marshall digging a water ditch for Sutter's new sawmill at Coloma on the south fork of the American river, uncovered the yellow metal. Marshall and Sutter at first tried to keep the find a secret, but that task was too large, and soon the world knew of it and the would be miners from all points of the compass were hurrying to the new Eldorado. Among the settlers in the state who dropped all other work and joined the rush towards Coloma were the Yoloites and for a time the ranches of that locality may be said to be depopulated. Rich placer mines were soon developed along the rivers, principally because these streams afforded better means of transportation. Hence towns and trading posts on these lines of travel seemed to be the practical thing. In March, 1849, Jonas Spect freighted a schooner in San Francisco and ascended the Sacramento seeking a site for his proposed city. It was to be "Fremont," in honor of the Pathfinder and great surveyor soldier of the Pacific slope. As he was twenty days reaching Sacramento one may realize the difficulties of the early navigation of this river. He was several days more getting to his destination, which was on the Yolo shore opposite the mouth of the Feather river, and this was Fremont.


The store and hotel which Speet quickly erected was built of willows, tules and canvas, but it was the beginning of business. For a time the young riparian metropolis was promising. It seemed that it would premanently be the head of navigation on the Sacramento. Parties bound for the placer mines passed through the city, and with the help of the Indians a ferry was established. Feather river, having a sandbar at its mouth, was fordable here, consequently teamsters and packers could go in any direction. The popularity of Fremont grew by leaps and bounds. Such prominent men as Sam Brannan, William McD. Howard and Lieutenant Maynard, and others well known in the early history of this state, were visitors there. Howard, representing a large commercial firm in San Francisco, offered Spect and his partner, T. B. Winston, $150,000 for their townsite and its privileges Among the arrivals from Oregon was a Presbyterian parson, Rev. John E. Braly, and his divine services during his stay in Fremont did much to temper the frontier rudeness of the town. Other pioneer citizens were Hon. C. F. Reed, Judge H. H. Hartley, Judge C. P. Hester, I. N. Hoag, C. H. Gray, afterwards sheriff of the county, and H. B. Wood, subsequently partners in a Woodland firm, were merchants in Fremont. Miss Matilda McCord, of Bloomington, Ill., probably the pioneer "school-marm" of the state, opened a school that year ( '49) with all the infantile Fremonters in attendance. Naturally the drinking places and gambling resorts sprang up, as it were, in the night, as the wagon and pack trains, overland, came in, and as the vessels made their way, from San Francisco, up the river. A soldier belonging to a company of United States Infantry, camped near town, became involved in a quarrel with a gambler and was shot dead. The shooter said to the crowd: "This is a very solemn occasion, boys; let's take a drink." That ended the matter. In fact, taking a drink seemed to be the cheerful manner of ending disagreeable matters in those philosophical days of '49.


Having "plenty of sand" is another distinctly California expression which may be said to have come in vogue from a Fremont incident: A professional gambler had pretty well cleaned out all who had tackled him with the cards, and D. W. Edson, later of Knight's Landing, tackled him with a new and novel game. The two started in with Edson betting in gold dust, which was a common medium of exchange in the vicinity of the mines when the coin supply ran low. As Edson appeared to be a miner with much dust, passing the winter "in town," he was permitted to win a good amount in the preliminary bets, and to exhibit some of his real gold, and then the gambler got down to business. Edson soon seemed to grow excited over the first loss, and hauling from his pocket a fat buckskin bag of dust, swore he would lose its contents or "break" his opponent. Betting with dust was done by the ounce, value $16, the weighing out generally done at the close of the game. The other man bet coin, which, when he lost Edson pocketed, but as the unopened bag remained in view on the table all appeared safe. After Edson had lost about every ounce the bag contained he declined to continue the play and asked the alcalde of the town who was present to measure out the loss to the winner and if there was any dust left "just treat the crowd to the drinks." Then he cleared out, while the bag was being opened, and this was well, for it was full of sand. Edson had been betting and losing sand, ounce by ounce, occasionally winning, and keeping, good money. When the sport was hunting and threatening the invisible Edson a bystander advised him that the absentee had more "sand," but of a dangerous kind and he had better let the matter drop.


The people were flocking into the country and it was soon seen that the territory could not kick along under the laws of sleepy Mexico, so a constitutional convention was called by General Bennet Riley, U. S. A., the military governor. The territory was divided into ten districts, Sonoma district, to which Yolo was attached, embracing all the country north of the bays, east of the ocean, west of the Sacramento river and south of Oregon. By an election August 1, General Vallejo, Dr. Semple and J P Walker, all residents of Pueblo Sonoma, were elected delegates to the convention which was held in Monterey. At the adjournment of this body Governor Riley called an election for the adoption of this constitution, and for the election of a legislature in accordance with its provisions. The governor's proclamation for the election November 15 designated as polling places only those that had been used in the constitutional convention election. The ambitious city of Fremont now made her debut in politics and selected her first citizen, Jonas Spect, for the State Senate. He received one hundred and one votes in that place, while his opponent received one vote. Other places in what is now Yolo and Colusa gave Spect a large majority which his opponent, M. G. Vallejo, appears to have overcome in other parts of the district, namely, Sonoma, Benicia and Napa. Mr. Spect took his seat in the Senate and G. W. Crane in the Assembly, but as the result of the contest they were unseated, it appearing that the correct returns gave Vallejo and Bradford majorities. It was also contended that the Fremont vote was not legal, not being named as a polling place in the election call. J. E. Brackett was the other Assemblyman from the district. Next year G. W. Crane was again a candidate for the Assembly and was given a certificate of election by the county clerk, but was unseated again by a vote of the Assembly and H. P. Osgood was the successful aspirant. The first time Crane served one day, and the next year he served one month and two days in the Assembly.

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