California gold rush land values

In the very early days of settlement before the gold rush California land values were of little account. Before 1846 land was worth less than a penny per acre. Mexico gave land away and encouraged people to occupy it. From 1846, and the advent of the War with Mexico, until 1849 there was little change and except for spots near pueblos, missions and springs, the value of cattle and other stock far outweighed that of the land they roamed. Starting at about 1850 and lasting for the next fifteen … [Read more...]

James King of William

It was in the midst of this period of economic depression that James King of William began publication of the Evening Bulletin, an act that would lead to his murder and the second coming of the Committee of Vigilance. Born January 22, 1822, a native of the Georgetown in the District of Colombia, he began his career as a clerk in a bank in Washington in 1841 and married two years later. He assumed the title “of William” about this time to distinguish himself from all the other James King’s in … [Read more...]

The citrus industry in California

Another early Californian who contributed much to the growth of a major state industry was William Wolfskill, a neighbor and contemporary of Jean Louis Vignes. But while Vignes devoted himself to wine making Wolfskill specialized in oranges and other orchard fruits. But unlike Vignes who was born in France, Wolfskill was a true American pioneer. He was born in 1798 in Kentucky and his family moved to Boone’s Lick, Mississippi in 1809. Then in 1822 Wolfskill headed west and was among the first … [Read more...]

The start of California wineries

In the years before California became a part of the United States there were many important men who already exerted a large influence over the events to come. Among the most widely known were John Marsh, Thomas Larkin, John Sutter, Pearson Reading and John Bidwell, but there were others who added their own special talents to the evolution of the great state of California. One of these men was Jean Luis Vignes, born and raised near Bordeaux, France, he came first to Honolulu in what was then the … [Read more...]

The origin of California’s gold

Millions of years ago, underneath today’s California, molten hot magma containing a large amount of gold forced its way toward the surface through fissures in the hard quartz rock, cooling before it spewed out in a volcanic eruption. In some places earth’s tectonic plates folded up one over another along California’s coast, grinding the gold bearing quartz into gravel. The early miners who found these deposits thought they were the remains of ancient riverbeds still filled with gold. Elsewhere … [Read more...]

The first wagon train leaves for California

In 1840 John Bidwell, a 20 year-old schoolteacher in Weston, Missouri met Antoine Robidoux, a French fur trader who raved about the distant territory of California. Bidwell was so moved that he pledged to leave for California the next spring. On May 19, 1841 sixty people crossed the Missouri River to the Kansas prairie and began the long trek west. While under the command of John Bartleson they were actually led by the noted mountain man Thomas ‘Broken Hand’ Fitzpatrick, the former head of the … [Read more...]

President Polk and war with Mexico

In the Presidential campaign of 1844 two primary issues were of concern, the annexation of Texas, and the question of westward expansion or manifest destiny and the Oregon Territories, then claimed jointly by both the United States and Great Britain. With the support of Andrew Jackson, James Polk narrowly won over his opponent, Henry Clay. Just before his inauguration, on February 28, 1845, congress passed a resolution calling for the annexation of Texas, independent from Mexican rule since … [Read more...]

Political intrigue in early California

A grandson of the man who gave Paul Revere the horse he used in his famous ride, Thomas O. Larkin landed at Yerba Buena Cove in April 1832. By the next year he had enough money to marry and in 1835 he built his wife a house in Monterey that today is known as the Larkin House and is a National Historic Landmark. For a while he avoided the intrigues of politics but in 1843 President Tyler appointed Larkin US Consul. The next year he stopped a British attempt to take over California. Then, in … [Read more...]

San Francisco’s buried gold rush ships

In 1847 William W. Clark built a small wharf near Battery and Broadway as this was the best spot for boats to land in Yerba Buena Cove. Then in early 1848 the Central Wharf, or long wharf, was built between Clay and Leidesdorff Streets and stretched 800 feet into the bay. In 1850 it was extended to 2000 feet and is the location of today’s Commercial Street. Soon everything east of Montgomery between Broadway and California Streets was filled with wharves. After the discovery of gold, … [Read more...]

Bronze Spanish cannon guard San Francisco

Battery Street, running from Pier 29 at the Embarcadero, across Broadway, past the Embarcadero Center to Market Street, is now a major artery in San Francisco’s bustling Financial District, but once it was an integral part of the waterfront of the small Mexican village of Yerba Buena. It was named after a short-lived America fortification atop a bluff known as Punta del Embarcadero at the edge of Yerba Buena Cove, between the modern Vallejo and Green Streets. On July 9, 1846 the USS … [Read more...]