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August 22, 1861: Morgan Hill

August 22, 2011


Morgan Hill Sunset (El Toro in the background); by dsearls, on Flickr

Camp 47

Two days were spent examining the hills to the east of the valley, from the summits of which (near two thousand feet above the valley) are to be had most magnificent views. One sharp peak rose near camp, on the west, conspicuous from every direction1. It was very sharp, and rose very steeply (over thirty degrees on each side), more than eleven hundred feet above the valley. The view from its top was superb. It has been burned over this summer, and its black cone is a grand object, whether seen by day or by the clear moonlight of these lovely nights.

Peter had been sent to San Juan to see about Old Sleepy, the mule that had been left there. He found him still unfit for traveling, so he sold him for twenty dollars, which was five less than he has cost us since he gave out. He cost us a hundred last December.

We camped under the trees and did not pitch our tent. A camp scene may repay writing. [This] evening Mike resolved on a “treat,” so he bought a keg of lager beer and some cigars and brought them into camp. After supper I went to the house to read the news and when I returned a fine fire was lighted, the beer tapped, the moon was bright, and all were happy.

Morgan Hill Mustard Field

Morgan Hill mustard field; by Glenn Franco Simmons, on Flickr

I only wish you might have beheld the scene. Five large oaks, their branches festooned with lichens, are our canopy. The bright fire lights up their trunks and foliage and the group around. The moonlight lies soft on the plain and lights up the black mass of the peak, Ojo de Agua de la Coche, that rises back of the camp, its black outlines sharp against the blue sky.

But it is the group near the fire that demands our attention. The baggage and equipage are piled against a tree—saddles, axes, instruments, provisions—back stands the wagon in the shadow, the harness hanging on the pole. A Sharp (rifle) is leaning against a tree, while from the trunk of another are suspended barometers, thermometers, etc. Some piles of blankets lie on the sod, ready for their occupants at bed time. The bread chest stands modestly in the distance. The light is reflected from the bright tin canisters of tea, coffee, etc., and the grim kettles and gridiron stand against them. The water pails and washbasins are near too, and a few towels hanging on a limb flutter in the gentle breeze. The table stands under the largest tree, a few notebooks and maps on it.

But these are only the background of the picture. Nearer the fire are the group. Beside that tree, on a box of specimens, a beer keg is poised, a pitcher and four glasses standing on the ground near it until distributed; soon this takes place. That man on a camp stool, his California hat on one side, his legs crossed with ease, his plaid overshirt brilliant in the firelight, but not entirely concealing the luxurious “biled shirt” which he has on today, puffing a cigar with the dignity of a senator, is Peter. Between him and the beer keg sits Michael, the host of the evening. His red shirt is doubly brilliant by the bright firelight, his face beams with more than his usual good humor, it even seems to me that his light hair curls tighter—he evidently enjoys it, and he puffs his cigar with gravity worthy of the occasion.

Beyond the fire, on the manta (saddle-cover), with the grace of a Turk on the divan in his harem, reclines Hoffmann, our topographer. His well used red pipe lies beside him—a cigar has taken its place—and maps, bearings, and topography are forgotten as the smoke curls up lazily, only interrupted by taking another glass from time to time. His black shirt looks somber, in keeping with night. That great mass lying between him and the fire is not an outcropping of metamorphic rock, as it might at first be taken for, but his mountain shoes, from the soles of which those stupendous nails loom up and glitter grandly in the firelight.

That demure, modest looking individual on the ground, leaning against a tree (but close to the beer keg) is the humble botanist. His face is indistinctly seen, as it is modestly hid behind a huge stone pipe, a native “California Meerschaum” from which occasionally curls up a blue column of smoke as from the crater of a half-sleeping volcano. His last pair of pants are a little torn, and a flag of truce is displayed in the rear—emblem of peace, even if not of plenty.

Song follows story, and laughs follow both, until the oaks echo again with their ring. The keg is finished, the cigars are smoked, the embers have ceased blazing, the moon is higher and its shadows shorter, the lights are out at the house near, and the owls are hooting among the trees as we turn in to our blankets and sleep closes and covers the scene.

1El Toro

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2011 8:47 pm

    An irony is that I shot that first picture while driving by the very place that Brewer stopped, at a speed no horse could fly.

  2. William H. Brewer permalink*
    August 27, 2011 6:33 am

    Heh. Yeah, I think about that often–about how I’m able to cover in a day what would have taken Brewer two weeks or more.
    –Tom Hilton

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