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


Shortly after his nomination the still youthful W. J. Howard decided to pay a visit to his mother in Galveston, Texas. Seven years had passed since the memorable day that he and Edward Burns had waved adieu to the people of the Island, and without doubt many changes would be seen in both mother and son.

This time he did not journey across desert and plain on horse and mule, but covered the distance by water. Embarking at San Francisco on a vessel under the command of Capt. Torrey, he touched at Nicaragua on the homeward voyage. The steamer Fashion, which sailed just ahead, carried William Walker, an ambitious and adventurous spirit, who indulged in great dreams of conquest. Born in Tennessee of good Scotch and Irish parentage, Walker had early shown intelligence beyond his years. Having finished his education at the Universities of Edinburgh, Paris, and Heidelberg, taking degrees in both law and medicine, he worked for a brief time on the San Francisco Herald, where an excellent opportunity presented itself to further his visionary scheme of conquest. One of his ambitions was to establish on the border of Sonora, Mexico, a military post to protect the State of California from Apache Indian raids.

As the two vessels prepared to come alongside at Nicaragua, some of the citizens gathered in the fort overlooking the bay, and fired upon the ship commanded by Captain Torrey, thinking that she carried Walker and his forces. One shot penetrated the vessel, killing a woman and child. When Captain Torrey asked for volunteers to cope with the situation, his daughter, observing an unwilling man, said: “Here, you take my clothes. Go down amongst the women and children, while I wear yours and join in the fighting.”

Sixteen men, including Captain Howard, volunteered; they were soon in the lifeboats and on their way to the other vessel, where they joined Walker and his soldiers. These reinforcements soon had an opportunity to show their daring, for at Walker’s command, they and his own soldiers tactfully got so close to the fort as to be below the range of the guns, scaled the walls, and hoisted the American flag at San Carlos. The Nicaraguans, on seeing the Stars and Stripes, fled in all directions. Thus began the desultory warfare which Walker carried on in Nicaragua for more than four years, until he was driven into Honduras and was there captured and shot in 1860.

After this brief adventure in filibustering, Howard returned to Captain Torrey’s vessel, and the remainder of the trip to Galveston proved quite uneventful. When he arrived at the Island home, his mother greeted him with tears in her eyes, while all the negro servants gathered around and plied him with questions about California. Naturally, every one regretted that Master William’s political activities forced him to make his visit brief. Before returning to California, he visited his first love, and found her a happy mother with three little children.

Back again among his old friends and political supporters, Howard and his colleague, Dan Showalter, commenced to canvass Mariposa County, which, in the days of 1857, took in a lot of territory. In his efforts to win his election to the Legislature, he mixed with all classes and nationalities, dining one day with miners and another with tillers of the soil.

The candidate’s great disadvantage, many of his friends thought, was that he did not drink any kind of intoxicants. As most of the political influence was obtained in those days through visits to the saloons and gambling dens, many believed that his votes would have been more numerous had he frequently bent the elbow. However, he was elected and represented Mariposa County at Sacramento in the exciting session of 1856 and 1857.

At that time there were four Democratic candidates for the position of United States Senator, as the party was split into two factions. Their names were Broderick, Gwin, Latham and Weller. They were all Democrats, but Broderick was supported by the Republican party. Money was spent freely in the Legislature, and Broderick and Gwin were elected to represent California in the Senate at Washington.

William Gwin was born in Tennessee of a cultured family; he was intellectual, subtle, brilliant and suave, had traveled extensively, was experienced in politics, and was looked upon as a pro-slavery candidate.

David C. Broderick was an Irish-American, about thirty years of age, a rough diamond, who had obtained his education through the school of hard knocks. He had a long upper lip and greyish blue eyes of extraordinary penetration. In his speeches he opposed slavery and advocated progressive policies, which included at that time the building of a railroad connecting California with the Mississippi Valley. On account of the two thousand miles of mountain and desert which intervened, this was considered a hazardous, expensive, and impossible undertaking. Nevertheless, it was accomplished within a dozen years, and the twentieth century finds people traveling from New York to California in five days.

Calling himself a Democrat to the day of his death, Senator Broderick stands in the history of California as the first great Republican of the Golden State. Possessing neither grace of manner nor tactfulness, he succeeded on account of his generosity and his ability to gather around him men of influence, position and brains. He was not born to a bed of roses, for his lack of social rank brought him troubles at the Capitol, and many Southerners besides were strongly opposed to him on account of his anti-slavery ideas.

Broderick was in the habit of holding his political meetings in the First Baptist Church, San Francisco. On one occasion Judge David Terry of the State Supreme Court and a man named McDougal, members of the opposition party, entered the rear of the building, ran down the aisle, and commandeered the front seats. As Broderick entered by another door and called the meeting to order, great tension prevailed. When nominations were about to be made for the chairmanship of an important committee, two men, McGowan and McDougal, jumped on the platform. McGowan was nominated, and this caused pandemonium to break out. There was screaming, brandishing of knives, fists and pistols, for all politicians went everywhere fully armed.

Amid the confusion, a pistol went off, which caused the less warlike spirits to make their exit through a stained glass window. Amid the confusion, Senator Broderick remained like a statue, quiet and unperturbed, even when one of the men present brandished a revolver in his face. By nine o’clock both sides were tired out, the uproar having lasted five hours, and in the end Broderick prevailed. All old-timers agree that he was a great force, and must be commended for the skill with which he fought his way to the top, in spite of the fact that his methods were not always scrupulous.

By one vote only, Sacramento had been chosen as the State Capital, instead of Benicia; and at the session of 1856, when Captain Howard served as Representative of Mariposa County, he played a prominent part in the social functions of the capital city. Here he renewed old friendships and made new ones, for many parties and balls were given in honor of visiting politicians.

One of the outstanding personalities at all the festivities was Colonel Edward Baker; he was exceptionally brilliant as a soldier, lawyer, and political leader, and during his residence in San Francisco was the acknowledged head of the California Bar. Later he moved to Oregon, and represented that State in the national Senate. While a Senator, he enlisted in the Civil War, attaining the rank of Brigadier-General. Once during a stormy political debate he appeared in his military uniform fresh from the battlefield and electrified his audience by one of the most eloquent speeches ever delivered in the halls of Congress.

Being of the same political party, Howard and Baker became intimate friends. Both were handsome, extremely courteous, and excellent dancers, therefore very popular with the young ladies at Sacramento, who loved their polished manners and conversation. At a special ball both were introduced to a young girl about sixteen; she was a graceful dancer, and possessed so much charm that every one present declared her the “belle.” Her father was a prominent Judge, named Holton, and William had an exciting time trying to secure more than one dance with her on that eventful evening.

Several days later he was invited to Judge Holton’s home, and the acceptance of this invitation gave him the opportunity to become better acquainted with Isabelle. Her pet name was “Belle,” and she had many admirers, but encouraged the attentions of the young member for Mariposa.

Shortly after this meeting, the legislative session closed and William returned to Mariposa with wonderful dreams of the young girl he intended one day to make his wife. Naturally, on arrival in his home town he gave an account of his political activities in Sacramento, but the meeting of his new love he kept treasured in his heart. In letters to her he told of all the wonderful thoughts that her image conjured up in his mind. Daily he dreamed of the happiness which was to be theirs, and meanwhile he worked so purposefully that he grew in wealth and political prominence.

As springtime approached, an irresistible force drew him again to Sacramento, where he renewed his ardent courtship of the girl of his dreams. Many were the walks that the lovers took together through the beautiful countryside, where the mystic world-mother had come forth in her most wonderful spring robes. Eventually, with the permission of Judge Holton, William and Belle became engaged, and at the close of the session a very impressive ceremony took place in the First Baptist Church, Sacramento, where, amidst a crowd of friends and politicians, the Honorable William J. Howard and Miss Isabelle Holton took the vows of holy matrimony.

After the wedding reception, William and his girl-wife left Sacramento for Mariposa. It was the first week in July, 1857, when the bride and

Captain Howard and his bride (Isabelle Holton) on their wedding day

[click to enlarge]

bridegroom arrived at the ranch. A friend, Dr. Gray, had worked very hard to make the place attractive. The one-story adobe house, with stone outhouses and walls, was much improved by beautifully-laid-out garden-plots, artistically divided with pink-and-white quartz. The drive was lined with fig and castor-bean trees, while miniature fountains played and sparkled in the sunshine. All this beauty must have made a lasting impression upon the mind of the young bride, and one can picture her walking between the garden-beds, while her eyes gaze dreamily on the glories of nature amidst the hum of the insect world.

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