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Journal of Jedediah Smith: First Expedition to California

Ordered to San Diego

8th December 1826 At this time the Mercury ranges from 50 to 70. Today the Corporal received orders to forward me to San Diego to pay a visit to his excellency Hosea Maria De Acheondia.  Capt Cunningham of the Ship Courier of Boston arrived about the same time from San Diego.

9th December 1826 Capt Cunningham had been trading on this coast since the preceding July exchanging Dry goods Groceries and hardware for hide and Specie. The population not admiting of a wholesale business the sales are made in Retail while passing along the coast from Acapulco to St Francisco. At that time he expected to be on the coast about a year longer. He spoke Spanish and manifested the most friendly disposition and a willingness to render me all the assistance in his power. It was therefore with great pleasure that I learned he was about to return to San Diego and that we could travel in Company. At 11 O Clock all preparations being made we started. My horses were furnished by government some being driven along for the purpose of having a change. A soldier was sent by the Commandant for a guide to take charge of the Loose horses and catch one if necessary. Just before starting the Comdt took care to tell me that he was instructed to send a good and careful Soldier. In this country horses are so plenty and cheap and the people have so little feeling for these noble animals (as I shall soon show) that they indulge freely in the common disposition for fast riding secure that when a horse is no longer able to travel another may be cheaply and easily procured. We therefore fell in with the spirit of the time and people and moved off at a gallop over a fine level country. Four miles from St Gabriel we crossed a stream 50 yards wide and shallow and sandy.  On the right a country gently undulating extended to the Ocean a distance of 20 or 30 miles and on the left a range of high and rough hills.

About 18 miles from the first mentioned creek we crossed another 80 yards wide in appearance like the first and three miles further came to a farm. In this distance we had passed many herds of cattle belonging to the residents of the Angel village and some thousands of wild horses. The wild horses become so abundant at times as to eat the grass quite clean. My guide informed me that the inhabitants of the village and of the vicinity collect whenever they consider the country overstocked and build a large and strong pen with a small entrance and two wings extending from the entrance some distance to the right and left. Then mounting their swiftest horses they scour the country and surrounding large bands they drive them into the enclosure by hundreds. They will there perhaps Larse a few of the handsomest and take them out of the pack. A horse selected in this manner is immediately thrown down and altered blindfolded saddled and haltered (for the Californians always commenc with the halter). The horse is then allowed to get up and a man is mounted. when he is firmly fixed in his seat and the halter in his hand an assistant takes off the blind the several men on horseback with handkerchiefs to frighten and some with whips to whip raise the yell and away they go. The poor horse having been so severely punished and frightened does not think of flouncing but dashes off at no slow rate for a trial of his speed. After running until he is exhausted and finding he cannot get rid of his enemies he gives up. He is then kept tied for 2 or 3 days saddled and rode occasionally and if he proves docile he is tied by the neck to a tame horse until he becomes attached to the company and then turned Loose. But if a horse from the moment he is taken from the pen proves refractory they do not trouble themselves with him long but release him from his bondage by thrusting a knife to his heart. Cruel as this fate may seem it is a mercy compared to that of the hundreds left in the pack for they are shut up to die a death most lingering and most horrible, enclosed within a narrow space without the possibility of escape and without a morsel to eat they gradually loose their strength and sink to the ground making at time vain efforts to regain their feet and when at last all powerful hunger has left them but the strength to raise their heads from the dust with which they are soon to mingle their eyes that are becoming dim with the approach of death may catch a glimpse of green and wide spread pastures and winding streams while they are perishing from want. one by one they die and at length the last and most powerful sinks down among his companions to the plain. No man of feeling can think of such a scene without surprise indignation and pity. Pity for the noblest of animals dying from want in the midst of fertile fields. Indignation and surprise that men are so barbarous and unfeeling. A fact so disgraceful to the Californians was not credited from a single narrator but has since been corroborated.

But to return to this digression the farm of which I have before spoken belonged to Don Thomas (the remainder of his name I have forgotten).  he was not at home but his wife invited us into a house of 2 or three rooms and informed us that her husband was soon expected. we therefore concluded to wait his arrival. I observed some sugar cane growing in the garden which appeared quite thrifty. It was not long before we were called to eat the attention of these people being in that respect truly proverbial. we sat down to a table where the Table cloth Napkins and plates were clean and the spoons of Silver but neither knives or forks were there for the common people of this country seldom have these articles. Our repast consisted of a hash highly seasoned with peper. Tortioes (pan cakes) and wine. The blessing was asked by a boy 8 or 9 years old standing at the end of the table with his hands raised. not being pronounced in the usual hurried manner it had much more the appearance of devotion I then thought as now that some of the learned fathers might learn the air of devotion if not the substance from this little boy. Soon after we had finished eating Don Thomas arrived having ascertained our wants he said as his horses were some distance off we could have to remain all night or if we were in a great hurry we could start at one or two O Clock in the morning by which time he could have the horses. At two O Clock we started on our journey and at 8 O Clock arrived at the Mission of San Juan a distance of about 25 miles.  The first part of this distance being traveled in the night I could not so well form an Idea of its appearance. but it seemed much like that we had passed and judging from the noise the wild horses made in running when scared off by our approach or when taking the wind I would think them as numerous as in the country before described. As we approached the Ocan the country became much more hilly.

The Mission of San Juan is about a mile from the Ocan in a country hilly and barren. The buildings are similar in construction and arrangement to those at St Gabriel. In the year 1811 the church of this mission was nearly destroyed by an earthquake sinc which time service has been performed in one of the smaller buildings. The number of Indians is not great at this Mission nor is it more than half as rich as that of St Gabriel. On our arrival at San Juan the people were at church as soon as service was over the Steward invited us to take a cup of Chocolate which is a beverage of which the Spaniards are verry fond and of which the higher class make great use particularly in the morning. To Americans they generall offer tea as they have an idea that we are verry fond of it. I have seen them grind tea as they would coffee which is an evidence that they do not make much use of it. My soldier presented his instructions to the Corporal at the Mission who soon supplied us with fresh horses and a new Soldier. we then pushed on: our way leading us for some miles directly along the beach of the Ocean.  The country back rough and hilly. To an old an nearly deserted Mission there being but an overseer and a few indians to occupy it.  From this place our course was S E through hills covered with Bastard cedar till just at night when we arrived at the handsome Mission of San Louis Rey a distance from St Juan I think about 50 miles. This Mission is beautifully situated on a rising piece of ground between two small creeks. The building were similar to those at San Gabriel but appeared better from having been lately whitewashed. On the East Side a Portico extended the whole Length of the buildings.

Remaining there during the night and in the morning making an exchange of soldiers and horses we proceeded on through a hilly country about 30 miles to San Diego. When we arrived at the Presidio I was taken to the office of the Lieutenant and on the arrival of an interpreter procured by Capt Cunningham I was informed that I could not see the Gov until the next day. Presently Capt Dana of the Ship Waverly from the Sandwich Islands came and invited me to his quarters. Having ascertained that I would be at Liberty to choose my residence I accompanied him to a private house about 1/4 of a mile from the Presidio where Capt Cunningham and himself always put up when on shore. Capt Dana was a Bostonian and a verry friendly man.

The following day I went to see the Gov or Genl (as he is known here by both of those titles although when at Mexico I am told he ranked as a Major). When I let him know my situation and my wants he told me it would be some days before he could give me an answer as it would be necessary to call a Council of officers &c. In the mean time he observed I should be furnished with a Room and every necessary with such clothing as I wanted for as I had on my leather Hunting shirt he readily supposed a change would be desirable. I thanked him for his kindness but told him as Capt Cunningham was my Countryman I would prefer remaining with him and being under obligations to him for any supplies I might want. He acquieseed and I accompanied Capt Cunningham on board his Ship Courier and was told to consider it my home. I there became acquainted with Mr Shaw the super cargo Mr Theodore Cunningham 1st mate a brother of the Capt and Mr Blackder 2d Mate.

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