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The Last of the California Rangers (1928) by Jill L. Cossley-Batt


The history of every nation is fraught with instances of individual heroism, sacrifice, and adventure. Many pages of the great life-book of the American Republic are stained with the blood of martyrs and heroes. In the veins of the native American flows the same brave blood with which the nation was baptized in its infancy, and the Western march of civilization was accomplished only after incredible suffering and almost insurmountable obstacles had been overcome.

As a fitting tribute to the memory of the thousands who blazed the trail, “Old Glory” proudly floats on the breezes from old New England to the golden shores of California.

The early history of California was enacted long after the birth of the American Nation; there is no other State in the Union, however, whose history is so replete with tragedy, romance and real adventure. Not many old-time pioneers, men who actually took part in the shaping of this early history—in fact, only one or two, and these very advanced in years—still survive, thus making it difficult for one to take a story from them personally.

One day in June, 1922, while sojourning in the scenic city of Portland, Oregon, I was invited to have tea in a quaint old-fashioned home near Portland Heights. Here it was my good fortune to meet one of California’s old pioneers, a wiry, aristocratic-looking, white-haired Soldier of Fortune, who was soon to celebrate his ninety-sixth birthday. The exceptionally interesting life of this old gentleman, and his early activities in the making of Western history, so impressed me that I was persuaded to undertake the compilation of this book. Then one day, after I had been working on it industriously for almost four years, I grew disheartened and threw the manuscript into the heap of “forgotten things.” A little later I heard from the California Historical Society that Mr. Charles Camp, of the University of California, was searching the country for me, and I immediately got into communication with him. We lunched on the campus, and during our conversation he inspired and encouraged me so much that I came away fully determined to complete my book.

Such is the story of how I came to write this account of the most stirring experiences in the long life of Captain William James Howard— as a mounted ranger, legislative administrator and diplomat—from materials furnished by himself, chiefly through spoken narrative. The whole course of his border career had been varied and rugged, and looking back over the panorama of the past, he conjured up many scenes of general human interest, especially for this age of historical research.

Captain Howard had a most interesting career; he was born August 26, 1826, and up to the time of his death in January, 1924, retained his keen intellect and retentive memory. His life, told in detail, would fill many volumes; therefore I shall be brief about some of his adventures, merely remarking that he lived in the days of the wine-cup and the guitar, the days when women were comparatively scarce and the jealous love of brave young men resulted in desperate duels.

One of Howard’s chief distinctions is that, at the time the facts which have been embodied in this book were taken, he was the last surviving member of the “California Rangers,” an intrepid band of frontiersmen, known also as “Harry Love’s Rangers,” organized at the request of the Legislative body of the Golden State in its early period of development, to suppress the activities of the “California Banditti,” of whom Joaquin Murieta was the leader and most daring member.

In the pages of this book I specially stress Captain Howard’s life with the Indians, his deeds as a Ranger, his activities in the Yosemite his work in the Detective Service, and his service in the California Legislature. Many old letters dealing with early California politics, with Joaquin Murieta, and with the pioneers in the Yosemite Valley, are here reproduced for the first time; also a few unique illustrations, including a copy of the painting of Murieta, which was done by a young priest.

James Wilson Marshall and Major James D. Savage have special space, because Howard knew them both very intimately, and appeared anxious that the world should know them as they really were. Unusual incidents connected with the lives of General Sam Houston, Senator Broderick, Judge David Terry, General U. S. Grant, General Connor, Colonel Edward Baker, Joaquin Murieta and others—facts that had been suppressed for political reasons—are brought to light for the first time in these pages.

Many volumes have been written about the early days of the South and the West, some of them extremely far-fetched and others deficient in detail. Captain Howard’s narrative doubtless contains a few contradictions of statements already published, but the facts of my story, supplemented by California travel and much historical research, are exactly as he related them. His veracity was unquestioned, and it was his dying wish to give to the world a true color of life as it was in his pioneering days, His knowledge of languages, his political and detective ability, in addition to his intimate friendship with the leading men of the land, placed him in a position to know the “ins and outs” of all the great events which took place when the mad rush for gold ushered in a new historical epoch—an epoch that furnished an unusual impetus toward the Western trend of civilization, which has prevailed for more than two thousand years.

All these facts he imparted to me in detail, and I now pass them on to the public as part of a word-picture of California life in its most romantic epoch, trusting that the whole may have particular appeal to both youth and adult.

Jill L. Cossley-Batt.

September 20, 1928.

Next: 1. Early ChildhoodContentsPrevious: Preface

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Online Library: Title Author California Geology History Indians Muir Mountaineering Nature Management