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March 7, 1862: Sacramento

March 7, 2012

Its Only the River

Sacramento River near Tower Bridge; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

[Last night] some gamblers were playing within a few feet of me until near morning, and it was but poor sleep that I got. Early in the morning I went to a hotel in Sacramento and got my breakfast and brushed up for business. That dispatched, I had some time to look at the city. Such a desolate scene I hope never to see again. Most of the city is still under water, and has been for three months. A part is out of the water, that is, the streets are above water, but every low place is full—cellars and yards are full, houses and walls wet, everything uncomfortable. Over much of the city boats are still the only means of getting about. No description that I can write will give you any adequate conception of the discomfort and wretchedness this must give rise to. I took a boat and two boys, and we rowed about for an hour or two. Houses, stores, stables, everything, were surrounded by water. Yards were ponds enclosed by dilapidated, muddy, slimy fences; household furniture, chairs, tables, sofas, the fragments of houses, were floating in the muddy waters or lodged in nooks and corners—I saw three sofas floating in different yards. The basements of the better class of houses were half full of water, and through the windows one could see chairs, tables, bedsteads, etc., afloat. Through the windows of a schoolhouse I saw the benches and desks afloat.

It is with the poorer classes that this is the worst. Many of the one-story houses are entirely uninhabitable; others, where the floors are above the water are, at best, most wretched places in which to live. The new Capitol is far out in the water—the Governor’s house stands as in a lake—churches, public buildings, private buildings, everything, are wet or in the water. Not a road leading from the city is passable, business is at a dead standstill, everything looks forlorn and wretched. Many houses have partially toppled over; some have been carried from their foundations, several streets (now avenues of water) are blocked up with houses that have floated in them, dead animals lie about here and there—a dreadful picture. I don’t think the city will ever rise from the shock, I don’t see how it can. Yet it has a brighter side. No people can so stand calamity as this people. They are used to it. Everyone is familiar with the history of fortunes quickly made and as quickly lost. It seems here more than elsewhere the natural order of things. I might say, indeed, that the recklessness of the state blunts the keener feelings and takes the edge from this calamity.

It was [a] rainy, dull day. I left the city at 2 P.M….and as I came down the river saw the wide plain still overflowed, over farms and ranches—houses here and there in the waste of waters or perched on some little knoll now an island.


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