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March 22nd 1847
This will serve to introduce to your acquaintance, Col. Wm. H. Russell, Sec. of State of California, under Gov. Fremont. You will find him a pleasant, affable, & instructing acquaintance. If so an opportunity should offer that you could introduce the Colonel to Mother & Amelia, it will be a source of gratification to me. He will be enabled to inform all concerning this "El Dorado" of the west. No doubt through Jno. L. Stephens Esq., you heard from be dated February--since that time, I have remained here occupied as Assistant Quartermaster in the California Battalion & consequently one of Gov. Fremont's staff. My salary is good & amply sufficient for all present wants. My prospects too are flattering. The Gov. (as Col. R. will inform you) detailed me to accompany him to the States on secret duty to the Capital. but considering the expenses of traveling and elapse of time before I again returned to California, although my salary still continues & expenses paid, I would arrive here about as I would start. I accordingly respectfully declined the appointment, although I might gain "notoriety."
Quite a complicated political machinery is now in operation here as well as in the States. Commodore Stockton arrived on this coast sometime early last May, with instructions in case of war with Mexico to conquer the country & establish a civil government. At the same time Major Fremont received his commission of Lieut. Col. Fremont & was to cooperate with the Commodore. Recruiting officers were sent to meet the immigrants who to a man enlisted. Myself, Gov. Boggs, Capt. Reed, & one or two others did not at the time on account of sickness. I could then as early as Nov. last have obtained a Captaincy, but my health (having suffered with the camp fever) was an obstacle & again I desired to enter the broils of contending parties as little as I could--Stockton sailed for the southern coast & Fremont with 450 as hawkeyed riflemen as ever pulled triggers marched down through the country. Oh! that campaign & the spirits that formed that little army, fatigue, endurance, toil, hunger, & often time drenched with the heavy rains was all overcome & on we came.
Com. Stockton landed his marines & sailors numbering 400 men at San Diego, 165 miles south of this & marched his men on foot to meet Fremont, on the memorable plains of Kowango [Cahuenga]. But we had been detained for want of horses traveling over 600 miles in the most inclement season that Stockton, who was about five days travel nearer the focus: viz City of Angels, was met by the enemy on the 8th and 9th Jany & a severe skirmish ensued, which resulted in the defeat of the Mexicans & consequently he marched triumphantly in the city. Notwithstanding their defeat, the Mexicans on superior horses were not captured. They immediately presented themselves to Fremont who was now within 2 days of the city & surrendered which mortified the naval officers--The idea of their capitulating with the "barefoot Battalion."
What brought me amongst them is simply this, while selling a small consigment of goods at the head of [San] Francisco Bay, a messanger came with a request from Col. Fremont to proceed to Yerba Buena (the New York of California) & there procure a cannon, ammunition, etc. & deliver it to an officer who in the meantime would arrive at the head of the Bay.
On my return with the gun, my feelings were enlisted for the cause & I proceeded with the escort to Camp Johns, 120 miles south. Here Fremont tendered me with a Lieutcy in Co. H (all Indians) which I accepted & from that time on was in more perilous service than any other co. constantly as advance guard, except when on a horse raising expedition.
With a detachment of 10 as rascally redskins as ever drew breth, I succeeded in taking three prisoners & they were the first brought in camp in the campaign. So here am I now about 600 miles south of San Francisco hale, hearty, & busy.
But the politics. It appears that General Kearny with same instructions from Gov. as "Fighting Bob" arrived just after the conquest of the country & demanded to be recognized Governor. That was a pill neither Stockton & Fremont would swallow, accordingly for the time he withdrew, but still intent on the Governship. While this counciling was going on at [Los] Angeles, the Gov. sends another Governor in the person of Col. Mason from Virginia, who arrived at Monterey some 500 miles north of this. Com. Shubrick also arrived & succeeded Stockton, Biddle also arrived. Now the jealousy of the naval commanders to Stockton is well known & Kearney thinking to enlist them, proceeded immediately to Monterey. There after a long consultation Kearny was pronounced Governor, issued his proclamation & as a superior officer, ordered Fremont to report to him instantly. Fremont wisely relinquished his authority without transgressing any law, either civil or military & this morning started north. What the results will be time will develop. but all the officers (many very intelligent men too) concur in the opinion that Fremont is entitled to the Governorship & we are now daily looking for the return dispatch that was forwarded to Washington after the capitulation.
The Union naval officer "in mass" are in favor of Fremont. A son of Louis McClane was a major in our Battalion, but Shubrick very cavallierly ordered him afloat & other similar instances. The popularity of Fremont among the natives [Californios] is unbounded. Threats are even made if Fremont is not Governor, they will raise another insurrection. Colonel Russell is now on secret business on this same subject. Col. Benton is father-in-law to Fremont. Calhoun is his warm friend, & through Russell formerly marshall of Missouri (Whig) he expects to conciliate the Whig Party. So long as good pay, so long am I here, etc.
I might have been more strongly induced to return but oh, that horrid trip over the mountains. If I do return, it will either be by sea or by Panama, but as I think at present some two or three years must elapse. In a commercial point of view, this country must attract considerable attention. [San] Francisco Bay particularly, but on beauty & safety exeed your far famed harbour. The principal trade is from the Sandwich Islands & goods of all descriptions are enormously high. The first ten days I was in the country I proceeded from Sutter's Fort on the Sacramento, to [San] Francisco Bay & there invested my funds after which (in ten days) I cleared in hard cash 107 doll. Again the next ten weeks while selling goods, some on consignment, some my own at head of bay, I cleared 120 dols. These are not occasional instances but daily occurances & will until an influx of Genuine Yankees & their wares flood the country. The resources of the country are not yet developed. Mines for instance abound in all quarters, lead in the north & at no future day a great trade will be opened with China. In this section gold & silver abound. This country like all that has been the scene of war the last 12 years, constant revolution has occurred which not only draw forth all the money, but decrease the stock which is (hide and tallow) the staple product tend to ruin the country. A description of the town's manners & customs of the inhabitants might employ me for some time & the accound would be exactly the description of Kendall's Santa Fe expedition or Hasting's work on California.
My letters were of material benefit at once introducing be to many business men, & consequent advantages. I have seen California from the head waters of Sacramento to San Diego (cast your eyes on Mitchell's may), but It does not suit me. Want of timber, want of water, want of communication except on horse back or by sea, & greatest of all objections a want of agricultural country. As a grazing district it exceeds any I have ever seen, and a man that does not own from 3 to 20 leagues, has no (rancho) or farm at all.
The Catholics with all their pomp & ceremony flourish here, but the Mormons who are fast congregating here create some jealousy. Now if Shep want health & to improve his affairs, let him start to Independence & from there here, astonishing as it may seem, invalids from the states pronounced passed [past] medical aid have started on this trip regainded their health & now are enjoying the best of health. No exaggeration when I say they kill a bullock, hang it up at their door, the air so pure & there [it] remains in their warmest weather until eaten by the family. I could write many a page.
Whether great inducement to return is my desire to see mother, to see all, but I know I would be sacrificing my expenses & eat up my earning. I have never been from home, that my desire was so strong to return.
Col. Fremont's offer made me unsettled and vacillating for a week, but my conclusion is settled & here I stay. My warmest thanks for all your kindness & my love to "all," don't let the least chances pass without writing & I shall answer every opportunity. Remember me kindly to Fletcher & introduce the Col. to him, also to Jno. L. Stephens Esq. & say to him, his kindness to me is remembered & I shall write him the first opportunity.
I introduced Major Talbot to you who left here on my express in February. You will find him much of a Gentl. Wm. H. Hanford was desirous to hear from me, tell him to come & see this country & no danger of his being dissatisfied. Now if Wm. would induce Bloom Hannond to invest every cent he could raise for staple articles of any knd for this market, he would make a good adventure. Many are the advantages open for any adventurer who invests his funds in your market. Mr. Frank Ward, a New Yorker, sailed in the Brooklyn, before I started, with $1500 in goods & now commands at least $10,000. He come to New York this year. I will write by him.
Remember Uncle Ben to all the little ones & tell them he often thinks of them. To Mother, Amelia, Clarence, the boys all, all my love,
Your affectionate Brother, Benj. S. Lippincott