San Luis Obispo
My dear Sister Anne
May 28th 1858
I had the pleasure of receiving from you a letter by last mail; the first I think, in two long years. You say that you have not failed to write to me from time to time. I can assure you that I have not yet received a letter from you that I have not answered. My last to you was sent through my mother, who acknowledged the receipt of it. That must have been about a year and a half ago.
I am glad to hear that you are about to increase your family and ____ that it will live to bless you, and not pass away, as mine have done. I have always been desirous of having offspring and have looked forward to them as a means of living hereafter in this world, in them. And yet I have been singularly unfortunate, having lost two in succession and only having one spared to me. I do not know whether to congratulate myself or to regret that my wife is again with child [Mercedes b. 30 Aug 1858], probably lacking only about three months to her confinement. I have no confidence whatever that the child will live, more especially as my wife is now in a state of continual fear and agitation, on account of circumstances which I shall recount to you. However I have no help for it. I can do nothing but await my lot and abide by it.
You say you are sorry that I am situated where I am, buried alive as it were, in San Luis Obispo. I am sure you cannot regret it more than I or have greater desires that I should emancipate myself from it. I have now lived nearly five years in this place. When I came here I had about nine thousand dollars. Now were I to dispose favorably I would not raise over six thousand. A clear deficit of three, with five years time thrown in. The fact is that in two years time I was to all intents and purposes a ruined man, and have since only been recuperating. During the past two years my prospects have been gradually brightening, which is the reason why I am now loth to leave. I lost a fortune by leaving Sonora when I did. If I had staid there I should now have been worth from $25,000 to $30,000. Such a fortune I cannot hope to gain here, but then I am afraid that if I leave precipitately or unadvisedly I may wreck myself again as I did here. My intention is to leave but to bide my time, and seize the exact moment when I can do so to advantage. I shall not fight or struggle for it as I did last year; I should rather give up the idea; but I think it likely from present appearances that I can command it without a struggle. Should I succeed in the election it would open up a new field to me in a more civilized part of the State, and would also afford me the chance to drop into my old and more congenial pursuit of a newspaper editor; perhaps to return to my old abiding place in Sonora. This is my present wish. I shall in no event take any rash step.
San Luis Obispo is very distasteful to me, and more so to my wife. If any of you quiet peaceable people were settled here, I have no doubt you would leave all you had at this time, and begin the world anew elsewhere rather than stay.
When I left off writing I was about to recount to you a series of recent occurrences, legitimate offspring of the state of morals existing in San Luis, which would explain fully the last paragraph. I was called away however on earnest business and ever since have been so agitated and harassed as to be unable to get a chance to finish my letters.
Now however, the atmosphere is a little cleared and I will open up to you a chapter in San Luis life which will perhaps make you wonder how brother and sister, reared alike, could exist for one moment in such different spheres as San Luis and old England.
You have heard of robberies and assassinations in this country. You have perhaps deemed newspaper accounts of them to be mere exaggerations. We here have lately passed through realities which shame fiction. You must know that the Southern Counties of California are cattle districts. From thence are drawn the large bands of cattle which supply the great bulk of the population of this country. Numbers of men make it their business to bring down money and horses from San Francisco and the mines, buy cattle here and below and drive them up. As these men are from one to three months away from home and travel from three to six hundred miles and back, their disappearance does not excite comment for a long time. Hence ever since 1849 it has been a common thing for such men to be laid in wait for and murdered for their money. Long before I came to San Luis, this place was celebrated for such occurrences. Scarcely three months have passed without the discovery at some point or another within 40 miles of here, of from one to three skeletons or corpses.
It has always been rumored that some of the evil-doers were residents of San Luis, and were protected by the native families. One man in particular, one Pio Linares, a young man of 21, married to a widow of the name of Maria Antonia, was suspected of these crimes. And yet this Pio and his wife ever since I have been here have been admitted into the native society almost on a par with the best of them. Men whispered, but they held out the hand of fellowship; they visited them and invited them and all passed off. Of one thing however, I can assure you, namely, that neither I nor my wife had anything to do with these wretches, for I had my eye on them from the first. The fellow had everybody scared. One day he would draw his pistol on one man, tomorrow his knife on another. Today he would bully this man, tomorrow that, and no one dared to prosecute him. However, the Americans here and I among them kept up a continual talk about him and determined as soon as we could throw light on his movements to bring him to account. In the meantime we all had to keep a good lookout, so much so, that several of us at different times were in great risk from him and his native followers.
At length, in last December, two Basque Frenchmen, going up with cattle disappeared, and one was found a day or two afterwards killed with pistol-balls. The other was not found. All stood aghast because no proof could be had and the infernal natives stood together to shield their suspected countrymen. I myself, although anxious to hang a dozen of them, defended the culprit who was arrested on suspicion. There was no evidence hardly against him. He turned out afterwards to be the spy or servant of the assassin party. The principals, including Pio Linares, flourished around town, danced at our balls, bullied our citizens, and when it was whispered that he was guilty, openly dared us to the proof; and offered to fight whoever should attempt it.
I was in a ticklish position. My client, Nieves Robles, would have confessed all to me had I pressed him - he was so frightened, but I did not dare do it. My life would not have been safe from the main villains. Public opinion among this bastard people was not strong enough to have sustained me, and I might have been off before my time, and none to have said "God help him". I cleared the man, or rather the astuteness of the villains in leaving no witness of their guilt, cleared him and at the same time I and many other Americans resolved to act when the time should come. Law could not help us. Law could not force a confession from a criminal. And law was powerless anyhow before a jury of Californians. A few short months and the time arrived.
On the 12th of May, only a fortnight before I commenced this letter, a party of eight men, two of whom were accomplices in the murder above accounted, went to the rancho of San Juan Capistrano, where two Frenchmen named Baratie and Borel, had recently settled, about 40 miles from here, and made a general attack upon the premises. They murdered both the Frenchmen, and one of them carried off Baratie's wife, a countrywoman of my wife's - forced her to submit to his embraces, and finally accompanied her to a place of safety after a week's travel through a wilderness. The plan was to lay [the] murder upon two servants of the Frenchmen, Californians, who were to have been murdered at a distance from the house, where their bodies could not be found. The two men, however, who were charged with this part of the plot spared the servants' lives, without informing their comrades that they had done so. The result was that one of the servants went to the nearest rancho and informed Capt. Mallagh, a friend of mine, of the murder, when he immediately saddled up and brought word to me. The spoil obtained at this murder was $2700, besides watches and jewelry. It was divided up between the men before the eyes of the owners.
When Mallagh brought me the news I took the servants' deposition and got out warrants to arrest eight persons, names unknown. In the meantime the villains, as usual, had returned to town, thinking that no trace had been left behind of their guilt. One of them [Santos Peralta] was recognized by the witness and immediately clapped in jail. The rest fled. That night we visited the jail and endeavored to make the assassin disclose his accomplices. He was silent as the grave. We left him hanging from the roof of his cell. His countrymen cried innocent! but we afterwards learned that he was the very one who had killed M. Baratie before his wife's eyes.
In the morning a party of 15 men started in pursuit. They caught sight of the villains and recognized four of them but they escaped by leaving their horses and taking to the brush. The party staid out about eight days, returning with one prisoner, unconnected with the late murder but an old and hardened offender, one Joaquin Valenzuela.
This Pio Linares, the head villain, had not taken part in the last murder having returned before getting to the house on account of his horse throwing and hurting him. This man remained in his house with his wife while our party was in search of the others, trusting to his long impunity. Our party, however, had resolved to take him, and on their return, before coming into town, and before anyone knew of their approach, they surrounded his house, at about 3 o'clock, A.M. and demanded his surrender. He refused to give up whereupon they set fire to his roof, and on his running greeted him with a shower of balls. I have his rifle now, which he carried in his hand. The stock is riddled with balls and buckshot, but he remained uninjured.
That day we formed a Vigilance Committee and hanged our prisoner, Joaquin Valenzuela, in broad daylight, before the united people of San Luis. The most respectable Americans, Italians, and Spaniards forming our Executive Committee of 12. All the Americans and foreigners formed the body of the general committee. Only two Californians joined. The biggest rancheros, however, furnished us with money, arms and horses.
We now knew all our men. Six men were implicated in the first murder, eight in the second. Two of them were in both, making a round dozen in all. We offered a reward of $3000 for their delivery, dead or alive and a proportionate part for each. Parties were sent out in different directions. The first man that was brought in was Luciano Tapia, the Mesteno, or wild man [Sp. "mesteño" = "mustang"] - he who had taken off the woman. By this time we had sent to San Francisco and brought her down. She recognized him. He confessed his guilt. The priest was called to him - he received absolution and was strung up summarily.
The next man brought in was one of the actors in the first murder [José Antonio Garcia]. The head conspirator of all, an Irish-American Gambler and horse-racer [Jack Powers] - well known in Santa Barbara, had inveigled him into the murder. He maintained that he had fired no shot, although he confessed that he saw it done, and got $200 for his share of the booty. He too was strung up.
Then we had a lull. Half our men were out hunting these fellows at a distance, and no results. At length, last Tuesday, came intelligence that one had been seen in a willow grove at Capt. Wilson's rancho, nine miles from here. Thirty men, of whom I was one, saddled up on the instant and proceeded thither. We hunted all morning unsuccessfully on horseback. In the afternoon I proposed dismounting and searching into the wood on foot. We did so and in an hour's time we came across three horses, two saddles and a bag of provisions, just inside the edge of the wood. We found where they had been trying to make a well. We took their horses etc. and we tried to set fire to the wood, but with little success. The rascals were then quietly waiting for us a little inside, lying down on their bellies, with their pistols cocked. Here every rascal carries his Colt's revolver - a tremendous weapon.
I offered to follow up the trail with six men but was over ruled. It was getting late and it was agreed to guard the wood till morning. Guards were placed on all sides. That night one of our guards received a shot through the instep. No other shots fired. Next morning we went into the woods again following up the trails. It was so dense that we were obliged to crawl on our bellies. We found the saddle bags of Pio Linares, the man whose roof had been burned off. In them we found a spy-glass, used to spy out the whereabouts of his victims, some powder, balls and shot, his frock coat and clean linen, needles and thread, and his wife's daguerreotype. While the rest were overhauling these things, I and another man pushed [on] a few more paces and as luck would have it received the first fire. I got shot through the fleshy part of my left arm, and my companion had the whole back of his coat ripped open with a rifle-ball. I could only see what I took to be a man's head, at which I fired three shots from my revolver. One shot went through Pio Linares's leg, slight wound, and another through his coat, and another through the hat I was firing at. The two last shots I fired after being wounded. The robbers fired about 6 or 8 times. We were only about 15 yards from them and in good sight.
I then began to feel faint from my wound and backed out. This led to the retiring of the whole party, who then took up a position on the outside to prevent egress. I went home and wrote letters all over the county. By night the wood was surrounded by over 100 men. In the morning Capt. Mallagh with 24 men entered again and after crawling over a mile again drew fire. They had a bush fight of about ten minutes, resulting in the death of one of our party, an American, and the severe wounding of two others, one by accident. Pio Linares was killed, shot through the head, and two others, Miguel Blanco and Desiderio Grijalva, were taken prisoners. This happened on Saturday last.
On Sunday the American was buried with all the honors of the Catholic Church, which, however were denied to the dead robber, as he refused to listen to the priest in his last agony. He was truly a devilish man and did most of the fighting. If he had not been killed so soon we should have lost several more men. As it was, our loss was surprisingly small. We gave the American a very decent burial - the best ever had in San Luis. 150 men and 30 ladies followed it. That day we took the confessions of the culprits. Both confessed fully. Next day they were both hanged on the same gallows, publicly as usual. Thus we have now a result of six men hanged and one shot in a month's time - all proved participators in murder. This is a result which the law could not have obtained in San Luis in ten years. We are in hot pursuit of another and expect two more down in the next steamer from San Francisco. All are bound to swing as soon as they come into our hands. All the County officers are with us and there is no opposition whatever.
All this you will say is horrible, and it is so, but it is necessary and we have no other way to defend our lives and property. The Californians have cowed down, and even are so candid as to acknowledge their countrymen's guilt and the justice of their punishment. Not one man as yet has suffered who was not either [a] participator or aiding and abetting it. The best commentary on this whole matter, however, is that it is a mighty unpleasant business and I wish I lived where I could be free from so terrible a necessity.
The first few days my wife was so frightened that I expected a miscarriage. Luckily, however, as we have gradually got the upper hand of the villains she has become pacified a little and now that Linares is killed she, as everyone else, breathes freely again. This Linares kept the others from surrendering. They had been four days without food, and stated that they preferred death to further wandering. Pio Linares, however, wanted to kill as many of us as he could. "Uno por otro", he shouted out, that is "one for another". They said they did not intend to shoot me, mistaking me for another man. My wound is not severe. The ball traversed the arm about a distance of four inches. I still carry my arm in a sling, and poultice it, but in another week I think I shall be all right.
I am not surprised at your amazement that I should attend the Catholic Church, because I know that you, like the Catholics, deny salvation to those who differ from your tenet. You and I differ from each other in this. My ideas of religion are something like those of Defoe or Goldsmith, in regard to Government. One of them says,
So I believe that there is not near as much difference between differing forms of religion as there is between the conduct of persons professing the same. And I conceive that a Buddhist might perchance reach the Christian heaven and a really true believer in the principles of Presbyterianism or the doctrines of the Brethren might find himself lacking at the great day. I am no Catholic - I abhor the Catholic doctrines. But what would you have me do? I am an honest God-fearing man! I am a married man, a man of family - I am thinking of old age. A man can attend a church without being a hypocrite, that I have learned, but I will defy a man to choose between attending two churches when there is but one. I happen to fall where there is but one, and that a Catholic, and I attend it. But I am very far from joining that or any other church.
"For forms of Government let Fools contest;
Whate'er is best administered is best!"
You seem to think it would be better for me to get to Boston or New York. When I left those places I was but a child. I do not know how I should be able to maintain myself there. England the same. I would sooner return home than go to some other country but I do not see my way clear. In California I can always make a living and increase my store. In a Spanish country also. This I know. How I should make out in an old settled country I have yet to learn, and I shrink from putting the problem to the test of experience. However, I think I shall pay a visit home, if not now, by next year. Quien sabe. [Sp. = "Who knows?"]
I thank you for the magazine you sent to my Eliza. She is only three years old [This does not add up: she must have been at least four, probably five - in the 1860 census she is seven years old] and although she speaks Spanish very well she speaks very little English. I intend to teach her all I know, in case I should not be able to have her taught more, but I did not want to overload her understanding, while yet so young. I should like very much to see your children and shall be delighted to receive their daguerreotypes. I should like also to get your and your husband's. A family portrait, all taken together, would perhaps be better. We have no daguerreotype establishment here. When I go to San Francisco ....
[The end of this letter is missing]