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July 2, 1861: San Juan Bautista

July 2, 2011

San Juan Bautista 03

Masonic Hall (1854), San Juan Bautista; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Camp 38

My last letter was sent three days ago, but I fear for its safety; while the secession troubles last in Missouri the Overland may be troubled. I shall send the next by Wells & Fargo’s Express. Way mails in this state are so uncertain that all important letters are carried by a private express in government envelopes. The company sends three-cent letters for ten cents, and to the states, ten-cent letters for twenty cents. Here in this state it is used very largely, the Wells & Fargo mail being often larger than the government mail. We avail ourselves of it, even on so short a distance as from here to San Francisco, if the letter has any special importance or needs to go with certainty of dispatch. I have had letters two weeks in getting where they ought to go in two days with a daily mail. I very strongly suspect that some of the letters between here and home that were so long delayed were delayed on this side. One letter was from the first to the eighteenth of June coming from San Francisco to this place, one day’s ride.

War news becomes more and more exciting; the “Pony” brings all the general news far in advance of the mails. I do not dare to think where it will all end; but I trust that in this, as in other matters, an All-ruling Providence will bring all things to work together for good in the end. The Stripes and Stars wave from the peak of our tent, the ornament of the camp….

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Cactus at Mission San Juan Bautista; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

This morning at ten, when the thermometer was 80°, I laid it out in the sun and in fifty minutes it ran up fifty degrees, or to 130°. There the graduation stopped, so I could not measure the actual heat; it was probably about 140°, although it sometimes rises to 165° or 170° F. in some of the valleys of this state! Surely the state is rightly named from calor, heat, and fornax, furnace—a heated furnace, literally.

I have not been so active today; it is too hot to enjoy work. Iron articles get so hot that they cannot be held in the hand; water for drinking is at blood heat; the fat of our meats runs away in spontaneous gravy, and bread dries as if in a kiln. You can have no idea of the dryness of the air. When I wash my handkerchief I don’t “hang it out” to dry, I merely hold it in my hand, stretched out, and in two or three minutes it is dry enough to put in my pocket.

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