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December 7, 1860: Los Angeles

December 7, 2010
Los Angeles State Historic Park at the Cornfield

Robert Garcia/The City Project on Flickr - Creative Commons Non-Commercial Attribution Share Alike

Well, we are in camp. It is a cold rainy night, but I can hardly realize the fact that you at home are blowing your fingers in the cold, and possibly sleighing, while I am sitting here in a tent, without fire, and sleeping on the ground in blankets, in this month. We are camped on a hill near the town, perhaps a mile distant, a pretty place.

Los Angeles is a city of some 3,500 or 4,000 inhabitants, nearly a century old, a regular old Spanish-Mexican town, built by the old padres, Catholic Spanish missionaries, before the American independence. The houses are but one story, mostly built of adobe or sun-burnt brick,

Los Angeles from hill, ca. 1882-1897

by SMU Central University Libraries, on Flickr

with very thick walls and flat roofs. They are so low because of earthquakes, and the style is Mexican. The inhabitants are a mixture of old Spanish, Indian, American, and German Jews; the last two have come in lately. The language of the natives is Spanish, and I have commenced learning it. The only thing they appear to excel in is riding, and certainly I have never seen such riders.

Here is a great plain, or rather a gentle slope, from the Pacific to the mountains. We are on this plain about twenty miles from the sea and fifteen from the mountains, a most lovely locality; all that is wanted naturally to make it a paradise is water, more water. Apples, pears, plums, figs, olives, lemons, oranges, and “the finest grapes in the world,” so the books say, pears of two and a half pounds each, and such things in proportion. The weather is soft and balmy—no winter, but a perpetual spring and summer. Such is Los Angeles, a place where “every prospect pleases and only man is vile.”

As we stand on a hill over the town, which lies at our feet, one of the loveliest views I ever saw is spread out. Over the level plain to the southwest lies the Pacific, blue in the distance; to the north are the mountains of the Sierra Santa Monica; to the south, beneath us, lies the picturesque town with its flat roofs, the fertile plain and vineyards stretching away to a great distance; to the east, in the distance, are some mountains without name, their sides abrupt and broken, while still above them stand the snow covered peaks of San Bernardino. The effect of the pepper, fig, olive, and palm trees in the foreground, with the snow in the distance, is very unusual.

This is a most peculiar climate, a mingling of the temperate with the tropical. The date palm and another palm grow here, but do not fruit, while the olive, fig, orange, and lemon flourish well. The grapes are famous, and the wine of Los Angeles begins to be known even in Europe….

It is cold, wet, and cheerless, so good night! Rain patters on the tent and dribbles within.

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