Settling aling the big river, Yolo County, California
From: The History of Yolo County, California
History By: Tom Gregory
The Historical Record Company.
Los Angeles, California 1913


The merchants at Fremont and other places in the vicinity received their merchandise from San Francisco by river steamer, and the old freight bills on the goods are curiosities. Among the items are forty pounds potatoes, $6; one sack flour, $10; two pounds lead, thirty cents; pair shears, $1; ten pounds coffee, $6; twenty seven pounds dried apples, $10.80; one wooden faucet, $8; one pair spurs, $16; four pounds butter, $3; one set knives and forks, $2.50. Naturally, the cost of living was somewhat high, but the "dust" was coming down from the mines and prices did not appear "lofty." The "feast" at a Fourth of July celebration that year at the home of William Wadsworth on Cache creek was pickled pork, codfish, a bottle of pickles, pancakes and molasses. The neighbors had assembled to help Wadsworth build his log house and after they had finished they concluded to be patriotic. Their flag was a combination of a blue blanket, a red shirt and some white cloth, but it was "the day we celebrate" and they truly observed the time in the old spirit of '76. It must not be understood that these primitive Yoloans were rude and rough even if the first sheriff did jump his job because it cost too much to run down horse thieves. There was a law making the theft of property valued at $50 or more grand larceny and punishable by imprisonment of from one to ten years, or by death, as the jury might decide. The early records show that the juries of those times were given to pronouncing the extreme penalty, and a man caught with a stray horse or steer in his possession had to get busy if he would save his neck. It is one of the old stories of the time and place that no less prominent a person than Judge J. C. Murphy of Mono county came near being a victim of a Yolo court, he being at that time a resident of this county.


One day while teaming through the country his loaded wagon became "stuck" in the mud, and seeing a number of horses in a corral in the vicinity, harnessed a span of the animals, added them to his team and hauled his outfit from the mud hole. But for his cleverness he got himself into a more serious difficulty, for before he could get the borrowed team back into the corral the owner caught him "with the goods." Murphy tried to clear himself of the felonious accusation, but no explanation would fit the case and a fierce constable soon had him before the local justice of the peace, who happened to be William Gordon, the owner of the horses. The prisoner demanded a jury trial, but the court decided that in this case there was no need of the delay of getting a jury, as the province of that body was only to determine the guilt or innocence of an accused person and here the court knew of its own knowledge that the prisoner was guilty, hence the jury was unnecessary. The constable was then ordered to take the prisoner immediately to some convenient place and hang him. Murphy's demand for a change of venue on the ground of the court's disqualification was disallowed and preparations were being made for the prisoner's decease when Archibald McDonald, a prominent resident of the county, appeared, and threw himself into the case. His work was so full of energy that Murphy got his change of venue to another court, where he was discharged from arrest.


While this class of unswerving, unbending justice occasionally overshot the mark, it did much in those "lawless" times to win from the mixed population a wholesome respect for the law. On the fertile plains and hills of the Sacramento valley livestock bred so rapidly that the bands roamed almost at will over the country, making cattle stealing an easy occupation—except when caught in the act. The high prices paid for beef encouraged this business, but the stockmen would quickly form themselves into posses under the direction of the sheriff, and make the industry unpopular. For the petty thieving the common penalty was flogging, the trials brief and the lashes well laid on. The stealing of a calf — value being less than $50 — generally won the convicted offender fifty lashes on the, bare back, and after receiving this donation he usually quit the business of selling veal in Sacramento for elk meat. Occasionally the sheriff and his volunteer posse would "raise" a camp of cattle thieves and there would be a battle and when the rifle smoke had blown away generally there would be a number of the thieves out of the business forever. This method of disposing of the cases was not unpopular, it being more deterrent in its effect on others and sooner over with.


Between '48 and '53 the golden lure swept floods of people into California, the mining counties at first getting not only the new metal, mad immigration, but many of the settlers in other parts of the state. Yet there were people here who were not dazed by the yellow glare of "the diggings," and the ranchos continued to receive new comers. Some people were mining gold on their agricultural claims. A German settler, it is related, named Schwartz, sat on his doorstep near Sacramento, and saw the droves of men plunging northward. They cheerily called him to join the "stampede," but he calmly smoked his pipe and let them pass. From his farm he raised and sold in Sacramento that year $30,000 worth of watermelons and other garden truck. From the rich, virgin soil of this incomparable valley he grew the "dust." While in the aggregate California volcanoed out the golden millions from her subterranean treasury, flashing a yellow gleam across the world, the average individual winnings from her great lottery were insignificant. The production of her mines for 1853, when the industry reached its highest point, was about $65,000,000, being to the 100,000 miners at work that year $650 per capita; $54.16 monthly; $1.80 daily — enough to buy his daily bacon, providing he was a small eater. The Schwartzs did better.

So the harvest of the mine was not the only harvest to be gathered from this wealth producing ground. The Spaniard or Mexican could get over countless leagues of land, but he seldom, if ever, got down in it. If he farmed he plowed with an iron pointed tree branch that scratched the soil surface, and then harrowed in the seed with the top of the tree that supplied the plow. After this he rolled a corn husk cigarette and left the crop to fight it out with the weeds or drought as the weather might be. As this manner of plowing and sowing encouraged the growth of the most backward weed, only the most propitious season produced anything in the way of a crop. So the Mexican colonist left it all "a manana," to the morrow, and if he raised enough corn for his tamales, enough wheat for his tortillas and enough peppers for his chile con came against the coming of the meal hour, that was as far as he ventured into the vast plant possibilities under and around him


The mission padres striving to vary and improve the fare of their retainers and converts planted slips of grape vines and fruit trees around the big adobe buildings. But the infant industry languished. The Californian could take the wine in light or heavy doses, but peaches, apples or even oranges did not appeal to his peculiar taste for food — or labor, and the few trees of that noble citrus planted at the Mission San Gabriel in 1851 did not grow in increase — or favor. While the mulberry and the silk industry did not get to the early agriculturist of California, the tree grows rapidly and strong here. Several years ago the legislature, to encourage sericulture, placed a bounty of $250 on every 5,000 mulberry trees two years old. It thus encouraged it with a vengeance, and only the repeal of the act saved the state from bankruptcy. Then the ten millions of trees in Southern California fell into innocuous desuetude and the silk worms in the trees fell into the English sparrows, one of California's unlucky importations which must be endured until somebody imports something to eat the sparrows.


With the first missionary expeditions to the Pacific coast came the Spanish horses, cattle and sheep. These animals were turned out on the wide plains and mesas to luxuriate in the mild climate and rich vegetation and become the countless herds of the great ranchos. No attempt was made to improve the breed, as a steer was worth only the little the hide on his carcass and the tallow within it would bring after shipping them around the Horn to an Atlantic port; and a blue ribbon bovine would bring no more. Milk and butter were unknown in a ranchero's home, as a Spanish cow with a young calf around to excite her maternal solicitude was about as safe for dairy purposes as a female panther. The vaquero aboard his mustang—and that animal almost as wild as the cow—was afraid of nothing that wore hoofs, but dismount him to do the milking, even with the fighting mad vaca roped and tied, would place him at a disadvantage. So she was left in peace to nourish her youngster and bring him up to the age when his hide and tallow were fit for the shoes and candles of commerce, and the rest of him for the coyotes. Should a milk demand be strong enough for action, they milked the goat. Robbing Nanny's kid was safer.


The mission fathers used the sheep in their scheme of salvation for the Indians. The wool was woven into a coarse cloth, and when the good padre caught a "native son" gentle enough to safely handle, the missionary put a shirt on him in the belief that decency is near godliness. The original Californian did not indulge in clothing except in the union suit he wore after a rich, sticky mud bath, and he was not particular about the fit of that if it was heating in winter and somewhat cold storage in summer. In general he objected at any season to be made a fashion plate, and if the father was too insistent, Lo shed his shirt and hiked for the distant rancheria. However, if the mission bells' call to prayer and beef was louder than the call of the wilds, he tolerated — under protest — his shirt, which made him more lousy and itchy, — and stood without hitching, a fairly good Injun.

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