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Summer Suns in the Far West
Chapter VI. Los Angeles

ON our return journey we again spent a night and part of two days at Wawona. From Wawona to Raymond we had a very lively ride. Not only had we lively company, but we had a remarkable coachman. A theological topic started in conversation set him off at the nail. He not only understood theology, but he knew the Bible, and he could give his objections to current theological dogmas with great felicity and force. There was more than one clergyman beside him, and laymen who were quite aufait in the discussion; but he spoke as well as any of them, and, without being offensive, with all that self-possession and self respect which Americans feel in talking to persons who (according to our notion) are socially above them. Some one tried to give a practical turn to the discussion by dropping a remark about minding the life to come. “It’s not easy to mind the life to come,” he said, “and drive a stage.” He said this in a regretful tone. he had no Sabbath and no church, and those among whom he lived were in the same predicament. The mystery of his controversial power was solved when we learned that he had boon a Baptist minister, but had abandoned that calling. In the States ex-clergymen have often to resort to strange occupations. But this is infinitely less thought of there than it would be with us.

And really these coachmen have a difficult task; but they seemed all steady and capable men. There are hundreds of places where want of care and vigilance might overturn the coach and cost many lives. A combination of dash and caution is needed, which does not often occur. I could not help recalling an incident in my visit to the White Mountains nine years before. My wife and daughter had gone with me in the railway to the top of Mount Washington, where we spent the night. Next morning my daughter and I decided to descend on foot, while the elder lady took a place on the stage. After the coach passed us pedestrians, and we saw the break-neck precipices along which it had frequently to go, we became somewhat alarmed about its safety. I comforted myself with the thought that I had seen no place on Mount Washington where the driver could have got drink, and that therefore he could not but be sober. We “forgathered” with an American gentleman who knew the road well. At a turn of it, in a wood, I observed a strange gap and signs of smash-up among the trees. “Do you know the cause of that?” I asked. “Yes, sir. The coach was upset there a month ago, and the coachman and one of the passengers were killed.” “But how could the coach be upset in such a place?” “I believe, sir, the man was drunk!”

At Raymond we had our third meal. You may call the meals breakfast, dinner, and tea or supper if you like, but really they are pretty much the same, and to us they were rather much of a good thing. In one of our journeys afterwards we sympathized with the remark of an eminent medical gentleman, who, like ourselves, had omitted the middle meal, “I cannot eat three dinners a day.”

From Raymond again to Berenda in the train. Another long wait at Berenda, from dusk to four o’clock next morning; but instead of revisiting the hotel, we took sleeping-berths in a car. When the south-going train from San Francisco caught us up, we were carried at first over a fairly-cultivated but not very interesting country; but as the forenoon wore on, it became more and more desolate, and at last culminated in the great Mojave desert. We travelled through the great central valley of California, with the range of the Sierra Nevada on our left and the Coast Range on our right. Near what is called “The Loop,” the one range has a crossing to the other, and the railway has to make another memorable climb. It turns upon itself, buries itself in tunnels, reverses its direction, bewilders you as you try to find your bearings, and does all the other funny things a railway must do when it cannot get a level to run on. To us the idea of danger hardly suggested itself; but it is not long since a train going down escaped from the control of the breaks, and was dashed over a precipice at a fearful speed, causing many deaths and mutilations, and that, too, in the darkness of night. The mountains through which we passed were often beautiful in form, but naked and dry, and therefore less interesting. We were suddenly startled from our languor by coming on some beautiful specimens in full flower of the Yucca gloriosa, known among the people as the Spanish bayonet. They towered up, the stem ten or twelve feet in height, while the pure white bells clung to the stem in hundreds, full-formed and perfect in symmetry. Soon after, we came on a great hill-side swarming with them from top to bottom. And now and again we had patches of them for many miles till we got near Los Angeles.

Seventy miles from Los Angeles we passed Lancaster, a place of which we had often heard from one who had made trial of it, but had been forced to leave it because it had no water. The little village with its two or three dozen houses appeared to us raw enough, and the country bleak enough; nevertheless it maintained two weekly newspapers, of one of which we possessed ourselves, and found it rather at a loss for topics, except when it had occasion to pound away at its rival. Then we passed through a prettier valley, and at seven o’clock we reached Los Angeles. The railway station had been moved, just a little before, from the near to the far end of the town; but in America railways have no scruple running along the streets, without fence or guard, counting it enough to ring a bell—an arrangement which may do well enough in the daytime, but is sometimes very disastrous by night. As we moved along we had a good view of the older part of Los Angeles, and also of its Chinatown, the Chinese hieroglyphics and strange names, “Ling Lung Lee’s Laundry,” “Wun Lung,” and what not, being new to us, and therefore interesting.

Before speaking of the city, it will be well to go back a little and glance at the history of the country. It needs to be remembered that California is a very large state, and that the whole of California is not in the state. The most southerly part, known as Lower California, is still part of Mexico. But even American California is equal in area to eight other states combined, and some of them big ones —New York, Now Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Ohio. If it were asked what its size is relative to Great Britain, I should be reminded of a remark of my friend, George H. Stuart of Philadelphia, when presiding some years ago at a meeting in Paris held to commemorate the success of the Bible kiosk at one of the Exhibitions, he began by remarking that he came from America; that America was a very largo country, much larger than England, much larger even than France—all which remarks (except the last) were well received. It is so big, he continued, that if you cut the area of France and England out of it, it would never be missed. The translator fancied his meaning to be that America was so great a country that if you blotted England and France out of existence they would never be missed, and he sternly refused to translate so atrocious a remark! But it is literally true that the area of England might be cut out of California, and if you cut it out of the mountainous and desert tracts, it would hardly be missed.

In the distant past California was peopled thinly enough by a race respecting the origin of which our learned men are much puzzled. Humboldt reckoned the population in his day at fifteen thousand five hundred natives and thirteen hundred of other races. It comes into the sphere of history in the days of the Spanish occupation. The most notable fact connected with that period is the mission of Jesuit fathers, undertaken with a view to the conversion of the natives to Christianity. But Spain fell out with the Jesuits, who were expelled from all her borders, and the California mission was transferred to the Franciscans. How little permanent mark the original inhabitants left on the country is apparent from the fact that almost everywhere, at least in Southern California, the native names of places have given way to those introduced by the mission fathers. There is hardly a place but bears the name of some saint or saintess. San Francisco is named after the great founder of the order, and San Diego, San Pedro, San Gabriel, Santa Paula, Santa Barbara, Santa Anna, Santa Monica, and a hundred more, are all taken from the calendar. Certainly if sacred names could make a sacred land, California should be a holy country. As for Los Angeles, it was judged too heavenly a place to bear the name of any mere saint. Its full name is said to be “La Ciudad do la Reina do los Angeles”—the city of the queen of the angels. This, however, is shortened into Los Angeles. According to the Spanish pronunciation, which the older inhabitants retain, the “o” in Los is sounded distinctly, but not too long; “ang" is sounded as in angle, and with a nasal intonation as in Spanish. The old native name was Yang Na, and the river on which it is situated, now also called the Los Angeles, was Poreuincula. Under the mission fathers the country was but little changed. The natives came to profess Christianity of a sort, but remained little civilized. The fathers introduced good breeds of sheep, oxen, and horses on the hills, and near the villages the grape and other fruit trees; and to this day a kind of grape, excellent for wine but not for raisins, is called the mission-grape. Of late years, however, a strange blight has fallen upon the whole of this species, and it looks as if it would be exterminated.

Then came the time, early in this century, when Mexico revolted from Spain and set up for itself. California was in turn a department of the Mexican empire and a province in the Mexican republic. And during this period the Mexican Government came down heavily on the missions. These missions had got possession of large and valuable lands. The Mexican Government secularized a great part of them. The missions were reduced to comparative poverty, and now they are insignificant factors in the history of the country. Now, also, although there are some families of pure Spanish blood, the Spaniards and the aborigines have got mixed together. They form a mixed race, usually called Mexicans, who forty years ago were the chief inhabitants of the country, but are now almost buried under the Anglo-Saxon invasion.

More than forty years ago the United States were at war with Mexico. The dispute arose about Texas, which, before joining the Union, had been Mexican territory. In 1848, when the war was brought to a close, California was ceded to the States on their paying fifteen million dollars, and taking over debts of three or four millions more. Mexico was not able to hold it, and once there was some word of its passing into the hands of Great Britain. But the American Government was desirous to have a hold on the Pacific coast, and on this account bought the country, little dreaming what a valuable possession they would be found to have obtained when the resources of California should be laid bare.

Up to this time the visits of the Anglo-Saxon to California had been few and far between. The adventurous fur-trader or the daring sportsman might occasionally cross the Rocky Mountains, or the sturdy sailor from the isthmus of Panama might anchor in the bay of San Diego or of San Francisco; and, more rarely, the agriculturist might acquire a ranch and devote himself to the breeding of cattle. After the country became American, many Mexicans were ready to dispose of their ranches and move southwards to what still remained Mexican soil. More American settlers thus came to California. The discovery of gold at Sutter Hills, in the north, the year after it was ceded to America, brought a vast mass of people to the northern part of the state, mongrel enough in many ways, but all with a raging gold-fever. To Southern California the steps of a quieter race of settlers were directed by the cheapness of land which Mexican owners were willing to dispose of. There are traditions that these American settlers behaved very cruelly and unjustly to the Mexican owners. Tales of flagrant wrong and cruel eviction were everywhere in Mexican mouths. I have been told that this may partly be accounted for by the fact that the Mexicans, who were an easy-going people and careless financiers, would borrow money on mortgage, over their properties, and failing to pay interest, became legally liable to the loss of their property, of which the lender took possession. But we all know that under colour of law there may be great injustice doing in this way to the poor and helpless, and it is quite likely that Mexicans suffered bitterly. A novel called “Pamona" which has been very extensively read, has for its object to expose the cruel wrongs which were inflicted on the original inhabitants. It is a powerfully-written romance, and one feels that if the half of it be true the Mexicans must have had hard lives.

And now, as we have said, the Mexicans are hardly an appreciable part of the population. There are yet settlements of them, as at San Gabriel, near Los Angeles, the oldest of the mission stations; and if one desires to see Mexicanism in full play, to study the Mexican face and character, or to examine the old Mexican church, and sundry other memorials of the olden time, let him bend his footsteps thither. But the Mexicans were not a vigorous race. They just dodged along. Many of them had joined the vices of Spain to their own. When Los Angeles was a Mexican town (which it was less than twenty years ago), its tastes were low and its manners rowdy. Sunday was the great day for jollity and revelry. If an American should show himself on the streets, he was liable to be surrounded by Mexicans threatening to shoot him if he did not take them into a saloon and treat them.

Though California is all one state to-day, it seems very likely that, like Dakota, it will one day be cut in two. It is inconvenient to have the capital, Sacramento, live hundred miles distant from San Diego, the most southern town. And, really, the two parts of the state, are sufficiently diverse to call for separation. The great features of Southern California are its fruit and its climate. In both of these respects it surpasses the north. It draws to itself a class of people of a somewhat different type. The seven counties reckoned to Southern California have an area of above fifty-six thousand square miles, and an estimated population of three hundred and twelve thousand. The other day the county of Los Angeles was divided, and a new county, Orange— a suggestive name—was made out of it. Here is the area and the population of the seven counties:—

The population is sufficient for a state, and there is spirit enough in Los Angeles to aspire to the distinction. But I suppose that when that dignity is obtained not a little expense must be incurred in the erection of a State House and all the rest of it; and as the present times are not very prosperous financially, it seems prudent in the southerners to delay proceedings in that direction.

Los Angeles has a fine situation. It is built on heights rising from the Los Angeles river, street rising above street; and while some of the suburbs spread over spacious meadows, others, as is indicated in such names as Angelina Heights, Boyle Heights, etc., straggle, over gentle hills, while the horizon is splendidly bounded by a high, picturesque mountain-range. The city itself is more than a hundred years old; but as a thing of life, its origin is within the last twenty. So late as 1880 its population was only twelve thousand; now it is variously reckoned at from fifty thousand to eighty thousand. Its rapid rise was due to an extraordinary “boom” about three years ago, which came on the place like a great epidemic, and for the time being afflicted the whole people with a speculative madness. It was not the first “boom,” however. I was told by an old inhabitant (that is, one who had been there about a dozen years) that soon after he came there was a similar “boom,” which seemed likely to “boom” the place out of existence. The reaction was very serious: the principal bank failed; many of the leading people failed; and the state of Arizona coming into notice, with its mineral treasures, seemed likely to drain the place of all its people. But Los Angeles picked itself up again even after that disaster, and it has not gone down in any such way after the recent “boom.” There have not been many failures; the price of real estate, though lower, shows no plunge downwards; and many buildings and other operations are going on that indicate a steady progressive movement.

There is still enough to show what the old Mexican city was like, stretching along a single line of unpaved, unlighted street, with its one-storied adobe cottages, and its long, low-roofed, very plain Roman Catholic church. I made it a business to find out the oldest American inhabitant who had been born in the city. I think I discovered this interesting object in the person of a young married lady of twenty-five. She remembered quite well the little Mexican city with but one two-storied house. One thing that contributed in a considerable degree to the rapid improvement of the place was the ambition of leading citizens to rear “blocks,” called after their name, that would rival, if not eclipse, all that their neighbours had built. You have the Temple Block and the Nadeau Block, and all manner of other blocks. And a fine city they have made of it. It has quite a character of its own—is not a mere little Chicago, or a lesser San Francisco, but just itself. Probably the finest feature is the suburbs. Villas shaded by leafy groves, or adorned by palms and bananas, with bright green lawns kept verdant by the daily play of the house, greet you in many directions. You see a greater regard to taste than in many new cities of America, and more respect to the tout ensemble, to a certain harmony of the parts, though, of course, this last is not easily realized.

Two or three of the subordinate features of Los Angeles are well worth attention. One is the street cars. Except in the case of San Francisco, I have seen no town with such a service of cable-cars. And cable-cars, when they are safe, are far the nicest. No smoke or smell of engine, no sight of panting and smoking horses, no slow, wearied pull uphill, or sound of hissing brake as you go down, ever distresses you. You travel as fast up the steepest hill as on level ground, and it makes no difference whether the car be empty, or the very platform be so crowded as to double the natural number of passengers. Los Angeles is beautifully and plentifully served with cars of all kinds —horse-cars, donkey-cars, mule-cars—in every direction. When I was there, a company, said to consist of Chica gentlemen, had just expended two million dollars in cable-lines—a proof that they had confidence in the growing prosperity of the city. Then there is the telephone system. The multitude of wires overhead reminds one of Chicago or New York, except that in New York they are now laying the wires underground. In fact, as we passed through New York we witnessed a somewhat difficult operation—the hewing down of telephone-posts, calling to one’s mind the early days when clearing away the forests was the first step of civilization. And lastly, the electric-lighting of the city. This is splendidly done, and at no little cost. The lights surmount huge poles, that look like the masts of a man-of-war, and must have been furnished from the matchless forests of Mariposa or Oregon, At night you see them at the distance of many miles with a lustre that eclipses stars of the first magnitude, and makes you think what a blessing it would be if the light of truth and holiness streamed forth from Los Angeles with corresponding brightness.

And this brings me to the, Churches. There are no very imposing church buildings, but in the newer erections (all are of wood) there is manifest improvement. I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with most of the leading clergy, and found them to be earnest men, for the most part lively preachers, and with catholic hearts. There is no little vigour, too, in the undertakings which flow out of the Churches. The Young Men’s Christian Association has just entered a large and very handsome building. There is a feeling prevalent among American gentlemen of influence that this is a proper and necessary adjunct of a large city, and out of a kind of national pride, as well as from higher motives, they are ready to contribute much larger sums for this purpose than our people give. Then there is a very handsome temperance temple. There are missions to the Chinese carried on by the Churches with a fair measure of success, and some of the Chinese are members of the ordinary congregations of the city. There is no little activity on the part of the Christian women in various directions. The prayer-meetings are much better attended than with us. The first meeting I attended was the week-night prayer-meeting of the First Presbyterian Church, when there were nearly two hundred present. I observed that most of the office-bearers were present, and a full choir. The meeting was warm and cordial.

The provision for education in California is excellent. The school buildings are large and handsome, and fitted up, as is usual in America, in a much more comfortable style than is usual in our country. The education, as every one knows, is free, and even the advanced classes are attended by both sexes alike. The salaries of teachers and assistants range from some three thousand dollars to one thousand. The schools were in vacation most of the time I was in the country, but I had some opportunities of seeing the work. J was much struck with the quiet orderliness of the classes, and especially with the great skill of some of the female teachers teaching Greek or mathematics, and the profound respect with which they were listened to even by moustached young men.

In Southern California not much has been done as yet for university education. The foremost body in this department are the Methodists. They have been working for some years at “The University of Southern California.” They have reared colleges in five or six different places, united into a university. For example, they have an agricultural college at Ontario. They have a theological college, if I remember rightly, at San Diego. Their department of arts and literature. is in the suburbs of Los Angeles. I had the pleasure of being invited to the trustees’ meeting, and of being asked to address a large assemblage in the hall of the university. Of students, the female part seemed considerably to outnumber the male. Among others whom I had the pleasure of meeting on that occasion was a very distinguished man, now well-stricken in years, General John C. Fremont, who many years before was employed by the Government to make the first survey of the region of the Rocky Mountains and all the country to the west. The results of this undertaking are given in two large quarto volumes, in the form of the General's Life; a work full of interest, but rather long for the general reader. Fremont had an active part, too, in the Mexican war, and I think he fell under censure, not for lack of service, but for the very opposite reason. He was of a daring and independent spirit, and somewhat like Lord Nelson when he put the telescope to his blind eye and declared he could not see the signal! His wife shared his love of enterprise, though his expedition separated her from him almost immediately after their marriage. There is a story that, after he was appointed, and when all his arrangements had been made, then came a letter from Government recalling the expedition. His wife opened the letter, and, seeing what it was, took care not to let him have it till several days after he had set out, so that he could tell the Government with a good conscience that he had not got their letter till it was too late!

I cannot say a great deal for the newspapers of Los Angeles. There are four daily and some weekly papers. They are very loyal to their city, and do their best to promote its material welfare; but there is too much of the sensational in them. Robberies, murders, and scandals are too conspicuous. A tone of exaggeration marks the narratives, making it difficult to rely on the statements. Three of the four, I deeply regret to say, are published on Sundays as well as week-days. They sometimes try to get clergymen to write serious articles for the Sundays; a wretched device, when the obvious tendency of the Sunday publication is to obliterate all traces of the sanctity of the day. To me personally the editors were very kind, and some of them would fain that I should contribute to their papers, but with this request I did not comply.

So far as I had an opportunity of mixing with the society of Los Angeles, I found it very kind and hearty. Several of our fellow-travellers in the Yosemite Valley were exceedingly hospitable. I could almost wish to record the names of three whose kind attentions exceeded all we could have looked for. Some of them boarded in the Lincoln Hotel, and our head-quarters being in the country they made us as welcome to its accommodation from time to time as if it had been their private house and we their oldest friends. I cannot help expressing special acknowledgments to the Caledonian Club and its excellent president, Mr. J. O. Maclean. We were always welcome there. Hardly had I arrived when Mr. Maclean arranged that I should meet the club, and, by way of “talk,” give my lecture on the Life of Livingstone, which I did to a large and very interested audience. And when my worthy friend, the Rev. Dr. Ormiston of New York (a native of Lanarkshire) came to the city, a few weeks later, a grand reception was given to us both. Clergymen of all denominations and representative laymen sounded the praises of Scotland. And, of course, Dr. Ormiston and I were made out to be Scotsmen of the very highest order. 1 took it all cum nota, discounting everything by about ninety-five per cent. But it was amusing (perhaps in a quiet way gratifying) to see what a wonderful people the Scots were held by the Americans to be. The amusing thing was that every one claimed to have some connection with the country. An Episcopal clergyman said he was proud to pay honour to Scotsmen, because the first bishop of the American Episcopal Church had been consecrated in Scotland, when they would not consecrate one in England. And at the end the hand-shaking was wonderful. “Let me shake hands with you, for my wife’s grandmother was Scotch.” “I’m from Nova Scotia, and my people came originally from Scotland.” “I’m a Mac” “My name is Burns, and my boy is Robbie.” It was very funny; but we were very happy. I wished that we were worthy of the half of it, for we did seem rather much of a mutual-admiration society.

At least, I could not help feeling next morning that more might have been said to stimulate the Scotch and all the Christian people of Los Angeles to new exertions on behalf of their Sabbath, which in that city, and in the community at large, needs greatly to be contended for. I have referred to the Sunday newspapers. There are Sunday theatres, Sunday saloons, Sunday excursion-trains, and Sunday picnics without number. While we were there a glaring advertisement appeared on the streets that for a succession of Sundays a certain aeronaut would ascend in his balloon at Santa Monica, a seaside place some sixteen or twenty miles off, and come down in his parachute. The railways ran trains to the place as quickly as they could provide them to carry the thousands that hurried to see the sight. What the effect must have been in dissipating serious impressions, if any of the spectators should have been at church in the morning, and stimulating vanity and frivolity, I need not say. Both in preaching and writing I took occasion to press the serious obligation on all the Christian people of the state to be on their guard against the lowering influences of what was the common custom, and to charge themselves with a sacred mission—that of testifying for God’s truth and man’s duty, and striving in every way to elevate the religious standard. One must remember that many of the Christian people have arrived but recently, that they are imperfectly acquainted with one another, and that they have been much occupied in building churches, and in other work needing and almost absorbing their immediate attention. The old Mexican spirit has not died out, and the usual disorder of new communities has not passed away, great though the improvement be on former days. There is still need of something like a solemn league and covenant to storm the intrenchments of the enemy and gain California to Christ.*

* I am tempted to introduce here part of a letter from H. M. Stanley to myself which I referred to at Los Angeles in my lecture on Livingstone, all the more effectively that Stanley is the connecting-link between America and Livingstone. When Stanley was in Edinburgh, after being at Berlin at the concocting of the Congo treaty, he told Dr. Livingstone’s daughter (Mrs. A. L. Bruce) that he had read the “Personal Life” at Berlin, and that it had brought Livingstone so clearly before him that he felt new vigour in pleading for his plans. I had occasion to write to Mr. Stanley soon afterwards, and I asked him if he would be good enough to tell me whether he thought I had done justice to Livingstone. The following is from his reply: — “I read the ‘Personal Life of Livingstone’ on the Congo with very great pleasure, and as I closed the book I was convinced that it would be almost impossible to produce a more vivid or truthful picture of the good man than can be gathered by reading your book from beginning to end. There is no straining of the effect in it, but the Life reads smoothly as though writ by a master’s hand. We see the poor factory boy at his ill-paid work grow into manly fulness; then we follow him through a strange life's probation in wild lands and the troubled period of it, and the long, patient struggles of the heroic spirit to do its part well and bravely until it is finally worn out, and the silver cord of life has snapped, and the well cited eternal rest has been won. It is a poem, sir, of which you, the narrator of it, may well be proud of the privilege of having told it. Good-bye, and many thanks for your kind words to me.—Yours faithfully,

“Henry M. Stanley.”

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