Dr. William Todd’s Advice

"Stay at home!"

August 13, 1846: Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Ill.)

INTERESTING FROM CALIFORNIA: Dr. Todd of this city, has politely furnished us with a letter from his son, William L. Todd, who went out with the emigration to California, in the spring of 1845, dated on the 17th of April, from which we make the following extracts. He states that the company in which he belonged, reached Fort Hall, without interruption. At Fort Hall, and on the road there, Mr. Todd and others, heard so many reports of the superior advantages of California over Oregon, that some of his company, including himself, changed their destination to that country. Nor had he regretted this change, although he was not in love with California.

He says, “We left Fort Hall on the 9th of August, in company with ten waggons, and on St. Mary’s river, we were joined by fifteen more. We went on smoothly until we reached the California mountains, which were about 300 miles from our destination. There we met with tribulation in the extreme. You can form no idea, nor can I give you any just description of the evils which beset us. From the time we left the lake on the north side of the mountains until we arrived at the Lake on the top, it was one continued jumping from one rocky cliff to another. We would have to roll over this big rock, then over that; then there was bridging a branch; then we had to lift our waggons by main force up to the top of a ledge of rocks, that it was impossible for us to reduce, bridge or roll our waggons over, and in several places, we had to run our waggons broadside off a ledge, take off our cattle, and throw our waggons round with handspikes, and heave them up to the top, where our cattle had been previously taken. Three days were passed in this vexatious way and at the end of that time, we found ourselves six miles from the lake on the north side of the mountain, and you never saw a set of fellows more happy than when we reached the summit. When night came, we were very glad to take a blanket or buffalo robe, and lay down on the softest side of a rock, and were sorry to be disturbed from our sweet repose, when we were called in the morning to our labor.

“Here our flour gave out, and we could not get any for love or money. We had to live about ten days on poor beef until we met the packers, who had gone on in advance to Capt. Sutter’s for provisions, where we got some flour for 20 cents per lb cash. On the top of the mountain we found a beautiful lake, but quite small, and a few miles farther we came to a fine prairie, about three miles long by three-fourths of a mile broad, full of springs of excellent water, and at the lower end a fine branch, which forms the head of Juba river, and the way we danced Juba there, was a caution to all future emigrants. The difficulty of getting down the mountain was not as great as in ascending it, though it was a work of labor, and looked at the first glance as impossible to be performed by horsemen, much more by teams and waggons.

“Solomon Sublette, of St. Louis, who passed us at the Lake on the north side of the mountain, told us afterwards that he had no idea we could get through with our waggons. In some places, we found it necessary to lock all four of the wheels coming down hill, and then our waggons came very near turning over hind part before, on to the cattle. At last, on the 20th of October, our hardships were ended by our arrival at Fort Suter, where we concluded to spend the winter in the mountains, that is, myself and waggon companions, five in number, and Mr. and Mrs. Roulette. We made our way to the place at which I am now writing.

“It is a beautiful valley, about ten miles long and two wide, situated between mountains, which are about 2,000 feet high, from the bed of Cache Creek, which runs through the valley. In the mountains, there are deer and bear in abundance, and about 15 miles from here there are plenty of elk. The valley is about 60 miles from the bay of San Francisco, about 40 from the Pacific ocean. Bodega is the nearest port. As yet I have seen but very little of the country, and must confess that in regard to the part I have seen I am not as much pleased as I expected that I should be.

“So far as I have seen the country generally is very mountainous, with here and there vallies suitable for cultivation. Those few vallies are generally taken up by the Mexicans; and should there be some not taken up, it would be impossible for foreigners to get hold of them — the recent laws of Mexico for-bidding any officers of this government to grant land to foreigners. In fact, the laws are framed to prevent foreigners from coming to the country unless they have passports. I have never been asked for my passports, but if I had, should have been inclined to do, as Dr. Ball did on a similar requisition, shew my rifle.

“I expect in a few weeks to visit the southern portion of this country, perhaps as far down as the Lower Pueblo, 350 miles. I wish to visit San Louis, San Joseph, Monterey, Yerby Benna (St. Francisco), and in the fall design to go up the coast on the north side of the bay as far as the mountains, for the purpose of examining that portion of California.

“I should be more pleased with this country if the seasons were more favorable. From the 1st of May to the 1st of October, it is one continued drouth; and from the 1st of October to the 1st of May, it rains, off and on, all the time. The only way by which crops can with tolerable certainty be secured, is by irrigation, or the overflow of the ground by some water course. There are many places where this can never be cultivated. The best locations are all taken up.

“If there are any persons in Sangamon who speak of crossing the rocky mountains to this country, tell them my advice is, to stay at home. There you are well off. You can enjoy all the comforts of life, live under a good government, and have peace and plenty around you — a country whose soil is not surpassed by any in the world, having good seasons and yielding timely crops. Here every thing is on the other extreme — the government is tyrannical, the weather unseasonable, poor crops, and the necessaries of life not to be had except at the most extortioned prices, and frequently not then. In the winter season, it is impossible for a horse to go about — the soil being so loose that the first rains make a perfect mortar of it, and your horse frequently sinks down so much that you are compelled to jump off in the mud knee deep to help him out.

“I do not, however, believe there was ever a more beautiful climate than we have in this country. During the whole winter we have delightful weather, except when it rains. We do not need fire except for cooking, — nor have I seen during the whole winter ice thicker than a window glass, although we are in sight of snow the whole year round. Most all day long, we could be seen in winter with our coats off walking in the neighborhood of our cabin — except when we were off hunting for a term of 4 or 6 days. The Mexicans talk every spring and fall here of driving the foreigners out of the country. They must do it this year, or they never can do it. There will be a revolution before long, and probably this country will be re-annexed to the United States. If here, I will take a hand in it.”

William L. Todd

(By the time this letter was published, Todd had been as good as his word. On June 14, 1846, he and other American settlers raised the Bear Flag in the plaza at Sonoma. Ed.)

August 20, 1846: Sangamo Journal

CALIFORNIA: The letter of Mr. Wm. L. Todd, published in our last paper, presents California as a point for emigration, in a most unfavorable light. So far as Mr. T’s personal knowledge extended, he has no doubt given a true representation. Mr. Skinner, another emigrant, who left Putnam county last spring a year, writes thus under date of New Helvetia, Upper California, 6th April, 1846, which, as far as it goes, confirms the statements of the letter before referred to.

“I have seen considerable of this country, and the coast part; it is a most delightful country, very productive, but a great scarcity of timber. In fact, there is but little or no timber in California, except in the mountains, where there is some excellent red wood and pine. Some of the red wood measures 22 1/2 feet in diameter, and three hundred feet high! This country is without a government, and as it is impossible for me to live without being governed, I shall pick up my traps and go to Oregon. California is a delightful country to live in, as regards climate, but I do not think the Sacramento will ever be much of a farming country, as all the land you plant needs watering to insure a crop.”