- Historic Sites
“To A Distant And Perilous Service”
Westward with the course of empire Colonel Jonathan Drake Stevenson took his way in 1846. With him went the denizens of New York’s Tammany wards, oyster cellars, and gin mills—the future leaders of California.
June/July 1979 | Volume 30, Issue 4
Three weeks later, in a millrace on the American River in northern California, John Marshall spotted the flicker of gold. By the end of summer, 1849, the Los Angeles garrison, like every other encampment of the New York volunteers, was abandoned, the harbinger of Anglo-Saxon civilization scattered to the hills, the coastal towns and villages of California half-deserted. The little port of San Francisco had become the focus of world migration. Captain Folsom, the staff quartermaster, having secured appointment as collector of the port, was on his way to becoming a millionaire. The Russ family, purveyors of Moroccan leather and holiday fireworks, had opened a jewelry shop and begun assembling an empire of hotels, beer gardens, office buildings, and residential blocks. Sergeant John C. Pulis, late of Lippitt’s monstrous Company F, had become the first sheriff of San Francisco. Lieutenant Edward Gilbert was editing the Alta California , the leading newspaper in the territory; Captain Naglee (he of the bathtime rebellion) had founded the territory’s first bank; Lieutenant Hewlett had opened a boardinghouse; Captain Frisbee had started a commission agency and was in prospect of marrying the eldest daughter of General Vallejo; Lieutenant Vermeule, the plague of Abel Stearns, had set himself up as a lawyer and would soon be elected a delegate to the California constitutional convention and a member of the state legislature; and the Reverend Mr. Thaddeus M. Leavenworth, chaplain to the regiment, had attained the quasi-judicial position of alcalde of San Francisco and was granting homesteads and auctioning public lands with a Christian generosity that scandalized even his former associates.
As for the colonel, he was well on his way to a second career (and a second marriage and a second family) as a legal counselor, politician, and founder of a grandiose ghost city called New-York-of-the-Pacific, which endures today only in the name of a slough on the edge of San Francisco Bay.
The former New York boys were scattered by then throughout California, styling themselves doctors, lawyers, judges, or capitalists. A few in San Francisco called themselves the “Hounds”—or, on formal occasions, the “Regulators.” They were the first recognizable New York—style drinking-and-marching society in the Far West, and their raucous behavior soon aroused the more orderly citizens of the town to form the prototype of San Francisco’s several committees of vigilance.
For better or worse, the Americanization of California had begun.