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November 2, 1861: Napa Valley

November 2, 2011

Napa 04

Napa riverfront; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Camp 64

[This] morning we started, first to Napa, five miles, then on to this place, nine or ten farther. We had gone but a short distance when we came on a large flock of geese, several hundred feeding in a stubble field close by the road. They are very sagacious, always keeping several on watch while feeding, and never allowing a man to approach on foot. But they are not so afraid of horses and wagons going along the road. We stopped and loaded our double-barrel shotgun. Peter walked behind a mule to within eighty yards, then shot. The geese rose, but three fell; two we got, the other fell in the tule where we could not get him.

The various tricks that hunters resort to, to kill these geese, are ingenious, and the sagacity of the geese is as marked. The hunters lie in the bushes and shoot the geese as they fly over, but the geese learn in a few days to fly high over these bushes. Sometimes they train a horse, but the geese soon learn to avoid a horseman. On the San Joaquin plain, where there are multitudes of cattle, which can approach the geese, an ox is trained so that a man can walk behind into the very flock and bang away with both barrels and kill several, but the geese soon learn which ox is the suspicious one. The geese bring a good price in market. (N.B.—Mike is now roasting a goose outside the tent—I smell the savor thereof—I wish you could dine with us.)

Napa 07

Napa County Courthouse (1878); by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

To go on—Napa is a pretty, American town, on a stream large enough for a small steamer to ply to San Francisco, and is a place of much trade. We stopped a few minutes. I got letters, one from Professor Whitney, one from home—which I read after mounting, as I rode along.

We came on nine miles farther up the valley. Pretty farms, neat farmhouses, fine young orchards, lined the way. The bottom is three to five miles wide most of the way, very fertile land, and the fields have scattered over them many most grand oaks, which would be an ornament to any park with their broad spreading branches, drooping at the ends like those of an elm—majestic trees.

But the feature of that nine miles was the dust, dust! DUST! The road has been much used, hauling grain, and from fence to fence the dust is from two to six inches deep, fine as the liveliest plaster of Paris, impalpable clay, into which the mules sink to the fetlock, raising a cloud out of which you often cannot see. Each team we met was enveloped in a cloud, so that often you could not see whether it was a one-, two-, four-, or eight-horse team we were meeting; the people, male and female, were covered with dust—fences, trees, ground, everything covered. Need I say that on our arrival to camp a wash was one of the first performances?

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