Buffalo Express
13 November 1869

Around the World: Letter No. 3

California -- Continued


There are other kinds of climate in California -- several kinds -- and some of them very agreeable. The climate of San Francisco is mild and singularly equable. The thermometer stands at about seventy degrees the year round. It hardly changes at all. You sleep under one or two light blankets Summer and Winter, and never use a mosquito bar. Nobody ever wears Summer clothing. You wear black broadcloth -- if you've got it -- in August and January, just the same. It is no colder, and no warmer, in the one month than the other. You don't use overcoats and you don't use fans. It is just as pleasant a climate as could be contrived, and is the most unvarying in the whole world. The wind blows there a good deal in the Summer months, but then you can go over to Oakland, if you want to -- three or four miles away -- it don't blow there. It has only snowed twice in San Francisco in nineteen years, and then it only remained on the ground long enough to astonish the children, and set them to wondering what the feathery stuff was.

During eight months of the year, straight along, the skies are bright and cloudless and never a drop of rain falls. But when the other four months come along, the most righteous thing you can do will be to go and steal an umbrella. Because you'll need it. Not just one day, but one hundred and twenty days in unvarying succession. When you want to go visiting, or attend church, or the theatre, you never look up at the clouds to see whether it is likely to rain or not -- you look at the almanac. If it is winter, it will rain -- there is little use in bothering about that -- and if it is summer, it won't rain, and you can not help it. You never see a lightning-rod, because it never thunders and it never lightens. And after you have listened for six or eight weeks, every night, to the dismal monotony of these quiet rains, you will wish in your heart the thunder would leap and crash and roar along those drowsy skies once, and make everything alive -- you will wish the prisoned lightnings would cleave the dull firmament asunder and light it with the red splendors of hell for one little instant. You would give any thing to hear the old familiar thunder again and see the lightning strike somebody. And along in the Summer, when you have suffered about four months of lustrous, pitiless sunshine, you are ready to go down on your knees and beg for rain -- hail -- snow -- thunder and lightning -- anything to break the monotony -- you'll take an earthquake, if you can't do any better. And the chances are that you'll get it, too.


San Francisco is built on sand hills, but they are prolific sand hills. They yield a generous vegetation. All your rare flowers, which people in "the States" rear with such patient care in parlor flower pots and green houses, flourish luxuriantly in the open air there all the year round. Calla lilies, all sorts of geraniums, passion flowers, moss roses -- I don't know the names of a tenth part of them. I only know that while New Yorkers are burdened with banks and drifts of snow, Californians are burdened with banks and drifts of flowers, if they only keep their hands off and let them grow. And I have heard that we have here that rarest and most curious of all flowers, the beautiful Espiritu Santo, as the Spaniards call it -- or flower of the Holy Spirit -- though I never have seen it anywhere but in Central America -- down on the Isthmus. In its cup is the daintiest little fac-simile of a dove, as pure and white as snow. The Spaniards have a superstitious reverence for it. The blossom has been conveyed to the States, submerged in ether; and the bulb has been taken thither also, but every attempt to make it bloom after it arrived, has failed.


I have spoken of the endless Winter of Mono, California, and the eternal Spring of San Francisco. Now if we travel a hundred miles in a straight line, we come to the eternal Summer of Sacramento. One never sees Summer clothing or mosquitoes in San Francisco -- but they can be found in Sacramento. Not always and unvaryingly, but about 143 months out of twelve years, perhaps. Flowers bloom there, always, you can easily believe -- people suffer and sweat, and swear, morning, noon and night, and wear out their dearest energies fanning themselves. It gets pretty hot there, but if you go down to Fort Yuma you will find it hotter. Fort Yuma is probably the hottest place on earth. The thermometer stays at 120 in the shade there all the time -- except when it relents and -- goes higher. It is a U.S. military post, and its occupants get so used to the terrific heat that they are bound to suffer without it. There is a tradition (attributed to John Phoenix) that a very, very wicked soldier died there, once, and of course he went straight to the hottest corner of perdition, ----, and the next day he telegraphed back for his blankets. There is no doubt about the truth of this statement -- there can be no doubt about it -- for I have seen the place where that soldier used to board. With a French lady by the name of O'Flannigan, and she lives there yet. Sacramento is fiery Summer always, and you can gather roses, and eat strawberries and ice-cream, and wear white linen clothes, and pant and perspire at eight or nine o'clock in the morning, and take the cars, and at noon put on your furs and your skates and go skimming over frozen Donner Lake, seven thousand feet above the valley, among snow banks fifteen feet deep, and in the shadow of grand mountain peaks that lift their frosty crags ten thousand feet above the level of the sea. There is a transition for you! Where will you find another like it in the Western hemisphere? And I have swept around snow-walled curves of the Pacific Railroad in that vicinity, 6000 feet above the sea, and looked down as the birds do, upon the everlasting summer of the Sacramento Valley, with its green fields, its feathery foliage, its silver streams, all slumbering in the mellow haze of its enchanted atmosphere, and all infinitely softened and spiritualized by distance -- a rich, dreamy, exquisite glimpse of fairy land, made all the more charming and striking that it was caught through a forbidding gateway of ice and snow and savage crags and precipices.


It was in this Sac Valley that a deal of the most lucrative of the early gold mining was done, and you may still see, in places, its grassy slopes and levels torn and guttered and disfigured by the avaricious spoilers of fifteen and twenty years ago. You may see such disfigurements far and wide over California -- and in some such places, where only meadows and forests are visible -- not a living creature, not a house, no stick or stone or remnant of a ruin, and not a sound, not even a whisper to disturb the Sabbath stillness -- you will find it hard to believe that there stood at one time a wildly, fiercely-flourishing little city, of two thousand or three thousand souls, with its newspaper, fire company, brass band, volunteer militia, bank, hotels, noisy Fourth of July processions and speeches, gambling hells crammed with tobacco smoke, profanity, and rough-bearded men of all nations and colors, with tables heaped with glittering gold dust sufficient for the revenues of a German principality -- streets crowded and rife with business -- town lots worth $400 a front foot -- labor, laughter, music, dancing, swearing, fighting, shooting, stabbing -- a bloody inquest and a man for breakfast every morning -- every thing that goes to make life happy and desirable -- all the appointments and appurtenances of a thriving and prosperous and promising young city, -- and now nothing is left but a lifeless, homeless solitude. The men are gone, the houses have vanished, even the name of the place is forgotten. In no other land do towns so absolutely die and disappear, as in the old mining regions of California.


It was a driving, vigorous restless population in those days. It was a curious population in those days. It was the only population of the kind that the world has ever seen gathered together, and it is not likely that the world will ever see its like again. For, mark you, it was an assemblage of 200,000 young men -- not simpering, dainty, kid-gloved weaklings, but stalwart, muscular, dauntless young braves, brimful of push and energy, and royally endowed with every attribute that goes to make up a peerless and magnificent manhood -- the very pick and choice of the world's glorious ones. No women, no children, no gray and stooping veterans, -- none but erect, bright-eyed, quickmoving, strong-handed young giants -- the strangest population, the finest population, the most gallant host that ever trooped down the startled solitudes of an unpeopled land. And where are they now? Scattered to the ends of the earth -- or prematurely aged and decrepit -- or shot or stabbed in street affrays -- or dead of disappointed hopes and broken hearts -- all gone, or nearly all -- victims devoted upon the altar of the golden calf -- the noblest holocaust that even wafted its sacrificial incense heavenward. California has much to answer for in this destruction of the flower of the world's young chivalry.

It was a splendid population -- for all the slow, sleepy, sluggishbrained sloths staid at home -- you never find that sort of people among pioneers -- you can not build pioneers out of that sort of material. It was that population that gave to California a name for getting up astounding enterprises and rushing them through with a magnificent dash and daring, and a princely recklessness of cost or consequences, which she bears unto this day -- and when she projects a new astonisher, the grave world smiles and admires as usual, and says, "well, that is California all over." -- Mark Twain

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