CHAPTER XI. Santa Barbara

  Picturesque situation 
  Fertility of the country 
  Leave Santa Barbara 
  Mission of St. Buenaventura 
  Fine gardens 
  Meet a party of mounted Californians 
  They retreat before us 
  Abundance of maize 
  Arrival of couriers from Com. Stockton 
  Effects of war upon the country 
  More of the enemy in sight 
  News of the capture of Los Angeles, by Gen. Kearny and Com. Stockton 
  Mission of San Fernando 
  The Maguey 
  Capitulation of the Californians 
  Arrive at Los Angeles 
  General reflections upon the march 
  Meet with old acquaintances.

The battalion remained encamped at Santa Barbara, from the 27th of December to the 3rd of January, 1847. The U.S. flag was raised in the public square of the town the day after our arrival.

The town of Santa Barbara is beautifully situated for the picturesque, about one mile from the shore of a roadstead, which affords anchorage for vessels of any size, and a landing for boats in calm weather. During stormy weather, or the prevalence of strong winds from the south-east, vessels, for safety, are compelled to stand out to sea. A fertile plain extends some twenty or thirty miles up and down the coast, varying in breadth from two to ten miles, and bounded on the east by a range of high mountains. The population of the town I should judge, from the number of houses, to be about 1200 souls. Most of the houses are constructed of adobes, in the usual architectural style of Mexican buildings. Some of them, however, are more Americanized, and have some pretensions to tasteful architecture, and comfortable and convenient interior arrangement. Its commerce, I presume, is limited to the export of hides and tallow produced upon the surrounding plain; and the commodities received in exchange for these from the traders on the coast. Doubtless, new and yet undeveloped sources of wealth will be discovered hereafter that will render this town of much greater importance than it is at present.

On the coast, a few miles above Santa Barbara, there are, I have been told, immense quantities of pure bitumen or mineral tar, which, rising in the ocean, has been thrown upon the shore by the waves, where in a concrete state, like resin, it has accumulated in inexhaustible masses. There are, doubtless, many valuable minerals in the neighbouring mountains, which, when developed by enterprise, will add greatly to the wealth and importance of the town. For intelligence, refinement, and civilization, the population, it is said, will compare advantageously with any in California. Some old and influential Spanish families are residents of this place; but their casas, with the exception of that of Senor Don Jose Noriega, the largest house in the place, are now closed and deserted. Senor N. is one of the oldest and most respectable citizens of California, having filled the highest offices in the government of the country. One of his daughters is a resident of New York, having married Alfred Robinson, Esq., of that city, author of "Life in California."

The climate, judging from the indications while we remained here, must be delightful, even in winter. With the exception of one day, which was tempestuous, the temperature at night did not fall below 50 deg., and during the day the average was between 60 deg. and 70 deg. The atmosphere was perfectly clear and serene, the weather resembling that of the pleasant days of April in the same latitude on the Atlantic side of the continent. It is a peculiarity of the Mexicans that they allow no shade or ornamental trees to grow near their houses. In none of the streets of the towns or missions through which I have passed has there been a solitary tree standing. I noticed very few horticultural attempts in Santa Barbara. At the mission, about two miles distant, which is an extensive establishment and in good preservation, I was told that there were fine gardens, producing most of the varieties of fruits of the tropical and temperate climates.