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Next: 27. YosemiteContentsPrevious: 25. Family Feud

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


With the discovery of the Nevada Silver Mines, the spirit of gambling and speculation again gripped a large number of Californians. This period was known as the “Terrible Seventies,” and according to Captain Howard, the prevailing excitement was greater than that of the gold rush, for people completely lost their heads. They expected to be millionaires within a few months by investing all their worldly possessions in the Bonanza mines, and this sent Nevada stocks up to incredible figures. Even women sold stocks on the street-curbs, and so great were the investments that the New California Stock Exchange was opened to accommodate speculators.

Thousands did not survive this nerve-racking orgy of speculation. The unnatural inflation produced only a few huge fortunes, notably those of Rawlston, Lucky Baldwin, Fair, Flood, O’Brien, Sharon, Sutro and Mills. These newly made millionaires built beautiful palaces on Nob Hill, San Francisco, where they entertained on an elaborate scale.

One of the outstanding personalities of this period was William C. Rawlston, whose life-ambition was to make San Francisco the greatest city in the Union. He built a Norman chateau at Belmont, thirty miles from the Golden Gate, where his magnificent entertainments gained for him the title of “The New World Monte Cristo.” The original beauties of his home, together with his different moods and various modes of entertainment, were a constant source of surprise and pleasure to his many friends. Daily his four-horse char-a-banc carried large parties of people from all over the world through the scenic beauties of Central California. He was one of the first men to take world visitors through the Yosemite Valley, and in that way did much to make this great scenic wonder famous. Unfortunately, while still in his prime, he was drowned while taking his morning swim in the Bay off Black Point.

Rawlston organized the Bank of California, which was obliged to close its doors on August 26, 1875, and some people said that he committed suicide on account of the difficulties into which his bank had fallen. In any event, California owes a great deal to this generous man, for during his lifetime he promoted various manufacturing establishments, purchased property for the opening of New Montgomery Street, planned and partly built the Palace Hotel. He also advocated substantial buildings, beautiful architecture, and man-made parks, but did not live to see the realization of his dream, a great San Francisco.

Captain Howard entertained Rawlston on several occasions at his home. He stated that this man, tho small of stature, was ahead of his time, and that his resourceful and constructive brain was never fully appreciated until he was slumbering under the sod.

Another outstanding personality in the Nevada mining days was Elias Jackson Baldwin. He came from Ohio and is referred to in Bancroft’s history as one of the builders of California. Arriving in the Golden State in 1853, he engaged in the real estate and hotel business, and was so fortunate in every undertaking that the people named him “Lucky Baldwin.” He was a prominent figure at the faro tables and on the race-course, where good luck seemed to rain upon him.

Baldwin owned some of the best horses in California and was the first man to compete for honors on the Eastern turf. Being a pioneer in business, his generosity, enterprise, and creative power, in addition to his extraordinary ability to plan and execute, made him a beneficial character. He possessed good judgment, was extremely sensitive to the fine arts, and spent a great deal of time at his Santa Anita Ranch, which covered several thousand acres. In his stables he kept 400 to 500 pedigreed race-horses, noted not only for their speed but for their staying qualities. Among the most famous was a roan gelding called “Chino Jim,” who, immediately following a drive of forty miles, made a three-mile heat in 2:14, 2:15, 2:14, with only one break.

On Black Friday, August 26, 1865, when the Bank of California closed its doors, Baldwin played a great part in its rehabilitation and thus averted a financial crisis. He died at the age of eighty-one, and the Baldwin Hotel and Theater, containing beautiful paintings and interesting relics of the early days, stood for many years, until destroyed in the great San Francisco fire of 1906.

William Sharon became financially independent through controlling Nevada water interests and the Sutro Tunnel. The building of this tube was backed by Sharon, and when building commenced, was financed by the Bank of California. In 1867 the directors of the bank decided that they could not go through with the undertaking; but Sutro started a lecture campaign and obtained the financial aid of numerous shareholders, who helped him to complete the tunnel that thus came to bear his name. One of the outstanding characters in this enterprise was Charles Crocker, founder of the Crocker National Bank, who played a unique part in the banking history of California.

Captain Howard was not concerned financially in any of these projects, for his interests at this period were wholly centered in the building up of his racing stables at Buena Vista. In order to branch out in this enterprise he purchased a place on the Tuolumne, called Lake Farm. It was a delightful spot, and near the shores of a beautiful lake he built a new racetrack. The great pride of Mrs. Howard was in the flower and kitchen gardens, which were kept up by skilled Chinese gardeners. At the end of two years a terrible drought affected the whole district, however, and one night a plague of grasshoppers destroyed the gardens. This setback caused the whole family to return to their old ranch near Hornitos.

About this time William and his brother Thomas decided to dissolve partnership, so Buena Vista was sold for a large sum of money. Thomas returned to Texas with a well filled money belt, and on arrival at Galveston, where his mother, Mrs. Taliaferro Howard, was spending the last few years of her life, he purchased an adjoining island. Here he built a, beautiful home, but the day previous to moving into it, a cyclone destroyed everything. In due course of time another house was built, where Thomas Howard and his mother resided for many years.

Having disposed of Buena Vista, Captain Howard and his family camped for about nine months at Pea Ridge, in Mariposa County. Later he purchased a new home, six miles from the town of Mariposa, called Lora Vale. It eventually became the permanent home of the Howards.

As soon as they became settled in their new house, William was again nominated for the Legislature, and with headquarters in Mariposa, made a thorough campaign of his county. His opponent was a man named Snyder, and there was an exciting race, which resulted in Howard’s defeat by six votes. At the conclusion of this campaign he filled the unexpired term of the District Attorney, and dropped out of the political field until 1879. In that year he again took a hand in politics, and served in the Constitutional Convention, becoming one of the signers of the New Constitution of California. During his presence at this Convention, which met in Sacramento, he received the following letters, which may prove readable for those interested in the Yosemite Valley and the political history of the Golden State.

San Francisco, January 20, 1879.

Dear Mr. Howard:

There can not well be too much said to induce a wise provision concerning the Yosemite Valley in the New State Constitution, as the following facts will show:

In 1855 commenced the first Tourist Travel to that remarkable “cleft or gorge,” and from that time to 1864— the year my family and myself first made it our place of residence—the aggregate number of visitors was about 650. In the latter year, 1864, the number was 147. This included every man, woman and child that entered it, of whatever color or condition. In 1865 the number was increased to 369; in 1866 to 438; in 1867 to 502; in 1868 to 623; in 1869, the year the great overland road was completed for passenger travel, to 1,122; in 1870 to 1,735; in 1871 to 2,137; in 1872 to 2,354; in 1873 to 2,530; in 1874 to 1,711; in 1875 the number was 2,423; 1876, it was 2,017; 1877 it was 1,392; 1879 (estimated by data furnished) it was about 1,200, making a grand total of 22,350. Then it should be remembered that besides this number of actual visitors many were attracted to the State by the name and fame of the Yosemite and the big trees, who were either physically or financially unable to make the journey thither.

This would materially swell the number; but even excluding these, I am assured by competent judges that the average individual expenditure of each of the 22,350 would exceed $600 each and make the interesting total expended in this State for those years of $13,410,000!! And supposing the annual army of visitors should only reach 2,500 (and by popular management it can be increased to many times that number), it would give an annual revenue to the people of this State of $1,500,000, and that too while increasing our population by a very desirable class—many of whom are tempted to become permanent residents.

Hoping some good Article can be drafted on the Constitution that shall meet the wants of this (one of the most valuable) resources of the State,

I remain

Ever sincerely yours,    

J. M. Hutchings.

P. S. Please excuse haste in scratching this off. H.


Private and Strictly Confidential.

120 Sutter St., San Francisco, July 21, 1879.

Dear Mr. Howard:

Since the nomination of Wilcox for Senator, and knowing his antecedents, there is a strong feeling among the New Constitution Party that he cannot be trusted with its interests. Now I drop you this line to ask you, whether or no you could not beat Wilcox if you went in as the New Constitution candidate. To do this you will have to pledge yourself opposed to the C. P. R. R., and all monopoly interests. Can you conscientiously do this?

Then you, being familiar with the feeling of the general public in Merced and Mariposa Counties, would form a good idea of your chances as such a candidate. Think it over soon and give me your ideas. This was talked over in my hearing by one of the principal writers for the S, F. Chronicle—hence the inquiry. If your chances are good to beat Wilcox—he being emphatically a C. P. R. R. or anything-else-candidate for pay—let me know—soon, as I can be of use to you.

Burn this immediately you have read it.

Truly yours,    

J. M. Hutchings.

Strictly Confidential.

120 Sutter St., San Francisco, July 22, 1879

Dear Mr. Howard:

My hurried note of yesterday I have no doubt kept your thoughts busy. To-day I enclose a cutting (editorial) from the Chronicle. You can see its tenor—you can also see that that paper would be an earnest supporter of an outspoken New Constitution Candidate, whether Democratic, Republican or Independent. Now I have thought that your chances were good if you early secured the services and cooperation of influential friends—not from monetary considerations, but for establishing the new order of things brought about by the New Constitution.

How would it be if you were to have an immediate talk with some of the leading supporters of that instrument? It may be you could secure the Republican vote—or at least a large share of it—as against such a trickster as Wilcox. This with the Democratic votes in favor of the New C. might elect you.

Think it quietly over—with the ways and means for winning the race—and let me know at once.

Of course, this is not a question of party, but of principle. Whether monopolists or the masses should rule the State, in its vital interests.

You would have to encounter opposition from all such pliant tools and wire-workers as J. C. Smith, who will support Wilcox, so as to use him in favor of the old Brand of Commissioners, owned and manipulated by the aforesaid J. C. S. If we can keep out Wilcox there is a hope for a new and glorious day dawning on Yosemite; but should he be elected he will do his best to keep the old order of things there, and altho the State itself should lose millions of dollars by such a great misfortune, J. W. and J. C. S. would not care, so that each could make everything profitable personally to themselves.

By the New Constitution every officer of the State from a Constable to a Governor will be legislated out of office, including the Yosemite Comissioners. They being appointed by the Governor makes them State Officers, beyond question. Here then is a chance. How does Coffman stand on the New Constitution? (He’s against the Com., I know).

Truly yours,    

J. M. Hutchings.

P. S.—I mail you to-day’s Chronicle, from whence I cut the enclosed, but thought the slip in a letter would be more likely to reach you promptly. H.

The final letter in this group recalls the stormy days when Kearney and his “Sand Lot” politicians dominated San Francisco and terrorized the community:

1149 Market Street, San Francisco,
16th June, 1879.    

Hon. W. J. Howard,
Dear Sir:

If you remember, I told you one day in the Convention last winter that Wm. F. White would be the nominee for Governor on the Working Men’s ticket. I believe I asked you to make particular note of it as a test of my knowledge of the political horoscope, and I now write this to make sure one man in California will look upon me as a true prophet—“save”!

I am not prophet enough, tho, to say whether his nomination is equivalent to an election; in fact, I am doubtful whether any man on that ticket will be elected. I am more inclined to the opinion that the whole ticket will be beaten, and if it is not it ought to be, because it does not represent what I conceive to be the decent part of the Working Men’s party. It represents Kearney and his headquarters ring, and nobody else. Kearney and his State Convention missed their opportunity to give a fixed national existence to the party and have degraded the whole concern to a level with the ordinary “piece club.” No American citizen who respects himself can further consent to be used as a tail to the kite of this ignorant crowd. I did hope the W. P. C. would rise in the scale, so that men of character who respected themselves might stand together on its platform, but Kearney has been growing more arrogant and tyrannical, and vulgar, and the utterances of himself and his obsequious slaves in that Convention can only find their counterpart in the wild ravings of the “Sans Culottes” and Canaille during the French Revolution.

He has made it a personal faction where we hoped to have a National Party, and its principles, platform, and all is contained in that one word, Kearney, and the choice offered in their ticket for the people of California is simply that and nothing more—Kearney or no Kearney!

Very many of the ex-delegates are in my fix; they won’t have any more in theirs; if the W. P. C. can not rise, it must stop; that is what we want, and if all the decencies and proprieties of life as Americans have been raised to practise and observe them, must be sacrificed and discarded at the bidding of this red-mouthed Caesar from Cork, we will no more of it. The Czar of Russia was never more arbitrary in his rulings than Kearney has grown to be. It is singular that such a body of men could be found in a Convention in California to bow the cringing slavish knee to such a dictator. I would never have believed it, had not my eyes beheld it. No hearsay evidence could have made me think it possible. We blush to acknowledge the fact. Any slavery I could think of would be preferable to me, than such as this. If our reforms must come through such means, by such roads, then excuse me. I want no more reforms.

In my role as prophet I here proceed to set down the prediction that the people of California will “set down” on this whole ticket, with the exception, possibly, of Ayres of Los Angeles. He may get in. I am sorry Crop of Nevada is on the ticket. I hope he may yet decline. He is too decent a man to be slaughtered in such a lot of mangy hogs.

In the election of the City and County officers, we will have the issue squarely put, “Kearney or no Kearney,” and the people will have to choose in that issue. There is a silent, almost solemn resolution in the decent and solid elements here, that San Francisco must emancipate herself in that election from the domination of the Sand Lots. It must be done. I am still true to the principles of the W. P. C., but I want no Caesar in mine—no Kearney.

As you will see by the enclosed card, I am hack at the old trade. I never feel so independent as when I have the overalls on, and if any one of your friends has a house or sign to paint I would be thankful for the patronage.

Hoping this may find yourself and family well and prosperous, and that the friends of the New Constitution may be wide awake,

I am truly your friend,    

Wm. Proctor Hughey.

Next: 27. YosemiteContentsPrevious: 25. Family Feud

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