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The Atlantic to the Pacific: What to See and How to See it (1873), by John Erastus Lester

California for Settlers

California for Settlers.The Agricultural Lands. —I append the following extracts from Mr. Nordhoff’s book, which gives the best general view of the country which I have ever met with.

The greater part of the farming lands of California lies in the two large valleys of the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, including the Tulare. The Sacramento Valley is forty miles wide, bounded on the West by the Coast Range, and on the East by the Sierra Nevada. It is an immense fertile plain, containing about 5,000,000 of acres, becoming mountainous in its Northern part, but having a vast area of fertile land, much of which never needs irrigation, and produces fine crops in the driest years. In the spring of 1871, when a drought prevailed all over California, I saw a field of oats of 1,000 acres at Chico on the California and Oregon Railroad, so high that I could and did tie the oats over my head.

Northern California—namely, the Sacramento Valley and the counties which lie on the same parallel with it—has a climate mild compared with that of our Eastern States; but it has frosts and some light snows, and the semi-tropical fruits do not flourish there, except in certain favoured localities. Southern California, which includes the San Joaquin Valley and its extensions, the Tulare and Kern Valleys, as well as the sea-coast counties parallel with these, is the real garden of the State.

At Stockton begins the San Joaquin Valley, which has an area of about 7,000,000 of acres. This stretches from Stockton to the Tejon Pass, a length North and South of 300 miles. It has, without including the foot-hills, an average width of 40 miles, or, with the foot-hills, which contain excellent land, 50 miles. With the foot-hills on each side and the smaller mountain valleys, this region has over 18,000,000 of acres of land, of which not less than 10,000,000 are susceptible of highly profitable cultivation. The plains alone contain nearly 7,000,000 acres of land, of which less than 700,000 were cultivated last year.

. . . The San Joaquin, Tulare and Kern Valleys, included in the general term of San Joaquin, form the ‘new country’ of the State. Its soil is the richest, its plains are the broadest, its climate is semi-tropical; and in it already the orange, cotton, ramie, the sugar-beet, as well as corn and wheat, and the other cereals, have been grown.

What is needed in Southern California especially is a system of irrigation, and already capitalists are making investments in ditches and canals, from which they will receive a profit, as well as the farmer who takes the water from them upon his lands.

The merits of California for any other purpose than mining, even its own people have been slow to discover. As placer-mining has slowly given out, the people apparently believed that the State was again to be abandoned to wild cattle and horses. Now they are slowly being convinced that agriculture will pay. Plains, which were treeless and almost bare of any vegetation, have been made to yield fifty to eighty bushels of wheat, and the same persons are now as amazed at the agricultural wealth of California as they were at her richness in gold and silver. The State can to-day be said to be a country where mining has been exhausted and agriculture has not become general. The true wealth of California is in her

Yosemite Falls, from Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley
[click to enlarge]
productive soil. She only wants people to come within her borders and win the prizes from her soil, as golden as those which her mines formerly gave.


Southern California.—This designation is rather indefinite, but it seems to include all that part of the State which lies to the south of Stockton, but for the purposes of this paragraph I refer more particularly to the country south of Visalia, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and San Bernardino, are the principal cities, and their names indicate their Spanish origin and character. This part of the State is especially interesting to the invalid, but is also attracting the actual settler, as the processes of farming, especially irrigation, and growing of tropical fruits as well as the vine, are becoming better understood. San Diego is the most promising city, more especially since it has been made the terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Its climate is the mildest and the sunniest in winter of any of the coast towns. The scenery for thirty miles around has some attractions, but is very monotonous. The streets are bare of trees, although broad; the shops are well supplied with merchandise, and the hotel and private boarding-houses are uncommonly good. The society is high-toned, and as a residence for the months of December and January cannot be surpassed, hardly equalled, on either continent. It is reached by steamer from San Francisco. San Bernardino is situated seventy miles from the sea, is highly esteemed as a residence by many who have tried the place, but unfortunately is without ample accommodation for visitors. It lies in a great plain, surrounded on three sides by mountains. It is reached by stage or carriage in sixty miles from Los Angeles. By an examination of a map of California it will be seen that the coast line at Point Conception makes a sharp turn to the east, and Santa Barbara lies beyond this trend of the coast, facing directly south, and completely protected from all the cold sea breezes. The position can only be described by the word ‘charming,’ and all tourists ought to visit the old town. The climate is amazingly equable and mild. Los Angeles is the largest of the Southern cities; it lies twenty-three miles from San Pedro, which is its sea-port, and with which it is connected by a railroad. The city will soon be connected with San Francisco by rail, but at present it is reached by steamer. The old Spanish town lies at one end of the city around the old Mission church, founded in 1781; then the business streets, and beyond these the new section occupied by the Americans. It is noted for its fair climate, sweet oranges, and excellent wine. A week spent in the city will be enjoyed to the full.

I make the following extracts from the diary of Bishop Kip, of his visit to San Diego in February 1873, as published in the ‘Spirit of Missions,’ a magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States for May last.

. . . We sailed in the steamer Mohongo. The bar was rough as we went out of the Golden Gate, and most of the passengers disappeared. But at noon the next day the sea was perfectly smooth, the rolling of our steamer had ceased, and the weather continued calm and beautiful till we reached San Diego. Most of our passengers are going to San Diego. Of those in the cabin thirty-two are to land here, and only fourteen go on to Panama. The beauty of the climate is becoming known, and the place is a resort for invalids. Of these we had a number on board, whose fearful coughing suggested a doubt whether they had not waited too long for this change of climate. We reached the wharf on Sunday morning at seven o’clock, where we were met by the Rev. Mr. Chetwood and Mr. Evans, a kind friend, whose guests we were to be at the hotel where he resided. This place has one great advantage in the Horton House, admirably adapted to the wants of invalids. With its broad airy halls and sunny rooms, it furnishes exactly what they need, and might adopt for its name one of the queer titles which the Chinese in their own country, bestow upon some of their hotels—the ‘Hotel of Accomplished Wishes.’

.         .         .         .         .         .         .         .

This is every year becoming a more important point. The number of those who resort here for health or to escape the Eastern winter will be each year increasing. They come from every State on the Atlantic coast and in the West.

.         .         .         .         .         .         .         .

Monday.—The climate is perfectly delightful, reminding me of that at Sorrento, in the neighbourhood of Naples. We are sitting to-day with our windows open.

. . . It was at Old San Diego, four miles distant, that I performed my first service in this diocese, in January 1854 Our steamer had been wrecked opposite this port, and after going on shore in a tornado, and crashing there for a whole night, during which we expected her to go to pieces every time she struck, as soon as the boats could live in the breakers we were landed. I went up to the old Spanish town of San Diego, where for a week my family were the guests of Don Juan Bandini. The following Sunday a room was procured, and I held service. Three years ago I held service there again, when Rev. Mr. Wilbur was Missionary, and a Sunday-school was organised by him, the Superintendent of which came every Sunday from New Town. But the American population was so small that they found there was too little material to keep it up.

Tuesday.—We drove over to Old San Diego. It is within sixteen miles of the Mexican line, most of the houses being adobe—sun-dried brick—one story high, and built, as all Spanish towns here are, about a plaza or square. This answers, on Sunday afternoons, for the place in which to hold the bull-fights, which are still kept up. The American population, always small, has been diminished since New Town was founded, until scarcely any are left.

We drove on, seven miles, to the old Franciscan Mission, founded just a century ago. It is a beautiful drive up the valley, until at its end we find the Mission buildings on a rising ground. Like all places selected by the old Padres, it is remarkable for the beauty of its situation. There is a wide view for miles down the whole length of the valley, while directly in front the grove of old olive-trees planted by the Fathers, by their silvery whiteness of foliage, contrast beautifully with the green of the palm-trees dispersed among them, which give so tropical an air to the scene.

The buildings, with adobe walls 4 or 5 feet thick, present a front of about 250 feet, at the end of which is the church. When I first visited the place, in 1854, the buildings were entirely uninjured. The church, particularly, seemed just as it was left by the Padres. The pulpit was standing, and it might at once have been used for service. Afterwards, Government took it as a military station, and of course everything was altered by the troops. Now that it has been again abandoned, it is almost in ruins. The stately old church has had a floor built through it, making it two stories, until you can hardly trace its original form. The uncovered adobe walls melt away by degrees in every rainy season, and, in a few years more little will be left but a pile of ruins. This was the first Mission established by the Franciscans in California. . . .

Every time I visit Southern California, I am impressed more deeply with the idea of its future importance. In a few years, when the Southern Pacific Railroad, through Texas to San Diego, is finished, there will be a perfect rush of people from the South-western States. The advantages of soil and climate will be every year more fully recognised. Already

We hear the tread of pioneers—
  Of nations yet to be—
The first low wash of waves where soon
  Shall roll a human sea.


The part of California which I have thus described contains the only tropical climate of which the United States can boast, and it is a tropical climate without the usual penalties attached thereto. Persons seeking such conditions will find Southern California the most favoured spot upon this earth, for here the English race find a congenial home, surrounded by all the wealth of the tropics, and where they enjoy the robust health of the North.


Wine-growing.—It is often said that in a few years California will produce wine and brandy for the world. The area on which the vine can be grown is very large— thirty-five out of the forty-four counties having successfully produced wine. The larger part of the wine is, however, produced in Sonoma, Napa, Los Angeles, El Dorado, Yuba, Solana, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Tulare, and Sacramento counties. With the perfect climate of California which ensures the ripening of good crops every year, it is not surprising that even within a few years a great business should have been established. Its magnitude is not conceived by those who have not been in the State, and journeyed through the counties mentioned.

On a pleasant June afternoon a number of gentlemen, who had taken up their homes in San Francisco as music-teachers, started upon an excursion to the cliffs around the Golden Gate. As they walked on, they picked by the roadside some fully-ripened grapes, which they took along with them to add to the completeness of their luncheon. Afterwards one of the party, as they sat upon the cliff partaking of the grapes, called the attention of the others to the similarity in appearance of the Mission grapes which they were eating, to some of the varieties which grew in Germany, and from which they themselves had assisted in making wine. This little circumstance turned Kühler and Flohling from musicians into wine-makers. They began their experiments with the Mission grape, and in 1854 they had a few barrels of wine. As an evidence of the rapid increase of this enterprise, we find the great house of Kühler and Flohling now occupying extensive premises, and sending out hock, claret, sherry, muscatel, and port wines and brandy, of such qualities as have made them well known in the trade.

How the Mission grape was introduced in California has been a subject of much discussion; but it seems to have come from Spain, among the raisins brought by the old Padres, and to have taken kindly to the soil, and either by propagation from cuttings, or by natural seeding, to have spread itself over the central part of the State. Other than a reasonable theory, nothing can be said with exactness about the Mission grape and its introduction.

Colonel Agoston Haraszthy early took a great interest in the introduction of foreign varieties of the vine into California; and having proved beyond a doubt that the barren hills of Sonoma would grow the grape, the State of California commissioned him to go to Europe, make examination of the vineyards there, collect cuttings and seedlings of the best varieties, and report the results. During the years 1856 and 1857 he introduced nearly 300 distinct varieties into California. As was expected, not all of these proved successes, although I was told that so far not a variety had been found which would not flourish in Sonoma Valley; but as to fruiting, there was great difference.

Spreading over the State we have now a large number of acres given up to the vine, but only a very small percentage of the land adapted for their growth has as yet been planted. The elder Haraszthy did not live to see the enterprise, to which he had given his fostering care and the best days of his life, become an established business; but his sons are reaping the reward of their father’s zeal and knowledge. One son is a member of the house of Landsberger & Co., who are carrying on the most extensive business in the production of champagne and sparkling wines. By the politeness of Mr. Haraszthy we were shown the various processes, and were amazed to see such vast quantities of wine stored away for future use. The demand upon this house far exceeds their capacity to supply, and but little of their wine finds its way east of St. Louis.

At first it was thought that wine-growing would be overdone, and, as a business, would not be remunerative; but, year by year, it is proven that the demand increases much faster than the supply. True, there are many things to be learned—the hitherto wasteful mode of obtaining the juice, the care of the receptacles, and even much in the treatment of the vines, must be reformed. The wine product of 7,000,000 of gallons for 1872 will be increased within a few years to double that quantity, by the fruiting of vineyards already planted.

Land suitable for grape culture can be purchased at from 1l. to 5l. per acre, according to location and state of the land. The number of acres usually taken up are twenty-five to thirty-five,, unless the vineyardist desires to have steady help; then he can increase his number of acres according to his capital.

At the end of the third year, the vineyard will have cost for ploughing, planting, the cost of the vines, fencing and cultivation, 10l. per acre. This year, a small return from the vines may be expected, say 2l. per acre. After this, each year the vines will pay an increased profit. A very bad feature, as it seems to me, and one to be remedied as soon as possible, is, that each vineyardist is expected to make his own wine; and to do this he must have a cellar and all the appurtenances, which, for a thirty-acre vineyard, will cost at least 600l. I learn from trustworthy sources that some capitalists are about to erect cellars at convenient points, where they will receive the wine on storage, in casks furnished by the company. But when the business becomes systematised, no doubt the grape-grower will be able to sell his fruit direct to large wine-makers, and thus save himself the outlay for a cellar, &c. &c. I was informed that a fair estimate of profit on the investment in a vineyard, in a good location in California, would be, at the end of five years, 12l. per acre, from which must be deducted interest upon the money invested.

The Chinese do the work ‘in the vineyards. Without them wine-growing could not be carried on.

The raising of grapes, and making them into raisins, will no doubt increase from its infancy to-day, into an assured success, and add another to the many sources of wealth in California. It is not, then, too visionary to assert that within a decade this State will grow the wine for the whole world.


General Views. —On every side in California are evidences of hopes blasted, and many, very many, of those who seek the West would do better in the East; but, on the other hand, in every city and town, and all through the fertile valleys, were men who had braved the hardships of a new settlement, and were at ease in handsome properties. Of all the vast throng who early pushed across the plains, only those of the greatest physical strength succeeded in reaching their destination. Along the whole way are seen the graves of those who fell in their struggles to reach the land of gold. The cities and larger towns of California are overcrowded; the mining-camps are filled to repletion; and those who depend upon mining have a precarious living; for Chinamen, who can fare luxuriantly on ten cents a day, have come in to reduce wages, and even to dig over again the earth from which the American has extracted the gold as cleanly as he could afford to do. The agricultural lands are still open, and Mother-earth, year by year, yields her abundant harvests; but ranching is so different from Eastern farming, that it is only through many failures that the agriculturist has learned how to win her favours. The vineyard offers more inducements, and lands seemingly unfit for planting have been found well adapted for growing grapes. The wine interest has now become a very important industry. In this department it has only been after many years of trials and failures that success has been achieved, and Chinamen have come in to do all the work in the vineyard; indeed, they can fairly be said to have saved the wine-growing interests from irretrievable ruin.

I would not draw a picture which would induce anyone to expect that anywhere in California he could command success by the asking. If he goes to the shores of the Pacific, he must work; and working will anywhere bring its rewards. To the man of leisure, made independent by invested property, no portion of this earth has more attractions than California, wonderful in her scenery, unparalleled in her trees and plants, pleasing in her varied climates, and with a people noble in their hospitality. The great ease and comfort with which the journey is made over the Union and Central Pacific Roads warrants us in advising all, even those in delicate health, to make a visit to the Golden State. If there was nothing of interest at the end of their journey, they would be fully repaid by the pleasure and instruction gained by a ride over these two railroads, across vast prairies, over a great desert, and along the ‘gold diggings.’ Beyond these roads, you have the Yo-Semite, with the sublilnest scenery which man has yet beheld—of waterfalls higher and grander than all others, a valley unique in all its surroundings, and in its huge granite hills, rugged and isolated; all furnishing a series of pictures which should be seen by everyone who can spare the time and has the means.

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