News & Tall Tales. 1800s.
January 1, 1856, Wide West
River Scene on the Isthmus of Panama
By a beautiful analogy between the animal and vegetable kingdoms, we are enabled to trace in the productions of a country the prominent characteristics of its natives. The forests of the South are remarkable for luxuriance and profusion of growth; those of the North for the hardihood and vigor of their members. Rapid maturing, early perfection, and decay from very excess of nutriment form the history of tropical vegetation, and such is not an inapt sketch of the lives of the natives of tropical clinics. Vines, and trees, and underbrush interweave with each other in a promiscuous mingling typical of the social intercourse of the tropics, and with drooping boughs and overhanging luxuriance of leaf, they indolently wave and swing to and fro as the soft, south winds wander through their mazes.
It would seem to be a law of our existence that where Nature does most Man attempts least; his energies are called forth by her requirements rather than her gifts; and right well do the children of the South fulfil the law.
Our artist has made his picture tell its own story. We can add little to its effect by a lengthy description. Those who have floated over the bosoms of the rivers in countries near the Equator, will admit his skill and fidelity in depicting the scene. Nought disturbs the placid surface of the stream but the movement of the canoe and the dipping of the paddles. The rays of the sun scarcely find their way through the thick overgrowth of the trees, which bend their laden boughs gracefully toward the silently flowing water that bathes their roots: while here and there a leaf more daring than the rest, dips into the stream as if to kiss its mirrored image.
The features of the two natives in the canoe are truthfully depicted; the coarse, unclassic face of the male forming an appropriate contrast to the more refined and not unpleasing countenance of the female. Who can tell what scenes those silent streams may have witnessed, or whether events of the future may change their solemn solitude for the noise, and hurry, and bustle that characterize the rivers in the active regions of the North?
On the shores of the Pacific, Destiny smiles. The dream of the Spaniard, which pictured an El Dorado in the West, is in our age of marvels, a sober fact, delusive only to those who misunderstand it. The Seasons, that elsewhere are mingled smiles and frowns, here succeed each other in harmonious regularity. The unclouded sky of summer, under which the earth grows generous and lavishes on Toil the richest fruits that spring from her surface, is only hidden amid the showers of winter, that Labor may win its reward from the sands the depths of the soil have yielded to its earnest efforts. The very air that gives health to her habitants and vigor to her vegetation is purer and clearer in California than in climes that earlier greet the rising sun; and Heaven seems to have marked by her borders the spot where the race whose progress has placed the Indies in the West may find their most perfect work, may reap their richest reward.
Miraculous as her mineral wealth has seemed, marvelous as has been the influence she has exerted on the world, socially, politically and commercially, her future promises results greater, if less rapid, than those which her Present displays, as trophies gained from the Past. Her sons have learned that gold is not her only treasure, and from her broad bosom they have gathered the grain and the fruits which she has yielded in a tenfold return for the seed they have sown. In her wild woods the hardy hunter follows the flying game, gift of Diana to the daring, and the ringing of his rifle pointed as his prey never foretells a failure. Over her fertile fields roam countless cattle, herding hither and thither as the ranchero rides through their thronged ranks, lassoing where he lists. And as her boarders stretch westward, views of the vine and the fair fig tree, and the oil-giving olive gladden the gaze. From her coast and inland waters the net and line drag forth fish; while from North to South, from East to West, rise here and there happy homesteads, made musical with the voices of mothers and children.
Cities have sprung upon her soil, and the church, the free school and the library are not rare within her bounds. The toil of the mechanic is honored and repaid, and the merchant thrives and fails here as elsewhere. The telegraph too, even here, gains moments on the flight of Time, as he pauses to wonder at the death of Distance; and the germ of an iron road forms the first threat of the future network of travel that shall make California populous. Stately ships and steamers enter her harbors bearing to and from us their living loads; and the day has come when they are useful in export as well as import. And the promise of the Future grows nearer to completion as the facilities for trade with the Indies (in goods, not men) slowly develop themselves, and call for the road from sea to sea, from the Land of the Pilgrim to the modern Ophir.
No work is perfect save that of Nature. To whom much has been given, of them much shall he required. Like a prodigal heir too early in possession of his patrimony, we have not been as heedful of the proper use of our advantages as we should have been. Our physical development has been marvelous; our intellectual advancement creditable. But in moral improvement we can claim little. And in the disasters of the past year we may see the results of our neglect. Still, slow as in the forging of the dawn, we may not despair of its arrival. Let each cultivate a nobler ambition than the lust of lucre. Let each do his duty as a citizen, and the day will come when the sons of California may proudly claim the reward offered by the development of her resources.
To the resolute man nothing is impossible.
We pride ourselves on our domestic associations, and complacently assert our superiority over those nations whose language has no synonym for " home," but we seldom call to mind how little of this is due to our individual characteristics. The climate, not the people, makes the homes of a nation. We cluster around the family fireside simply because it is uncomfortable to be out of doors. It is true that social enjoyments, intellectual culture, and other domestic blessings follow, but they owe their origin to the cause we have named. Our domestic habits are a consequence, not a cause, of our happy homes . . . The muchacho employs his little hands and eyes in indolent examination of a leaf, while the eldest of the males, in a crowning act of laziness, lounges in a hammock, almost incapable of the exertion of smoking, and wonders while he rejoices that his brethren should have taken so much trouble to bring home game on so hot a day. And thus day after day, passes away life in the tropics; indolently, but far more innocently than that of many a highly educated denizen of a civilized community.
Map: New California. Vandermaelen, 1827. Sites and townships specific to this map include San Francisco and Monterey. Featured: a narrative, in French, of California's development, at the time. A table on the opposite side shows development of the populations of cities in North America.
Alta California: "From January 1, 1849 to April 11, 1849, there were a great many arrivals by sea, including at least 3,000 seamen who abandoned their ships upon reaching San Francisco.