Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Story of the Golden Gate -- May 29, 2012

Cincinnatus Heine "Joaquin" Miller, "the Poet of the Sierras" was a decent poet and a master of self promotion. John C. Frémont, the Pathfinder, was a US Army officer who led several surveying expeditions across the American west. During the Civil War, he proved to be a poor general.

Albert Bierstadt was a German-born painter. I do not know if his painting of the Golden Gate survives. There is a Castle Rock Regional Recreation Area in Walnut Creek, but Castle Rock is a very common geographic name.  

Update 30-May-2012:  Friends suggest that the "Fremont road" from Berkeley to Mills College may be Grizzly Peak Road.  It looks good to me. 

From the 16-August-1896 San Francisco Call.  

The Story of the Golden Gate 

by Joaquin Miller


The glory of the Golden Gate speaks forever for itself. Yet how few now living in these headlong days know the story of its discovery and name. Nine men in ten will tell you, even here as they look out upon the great ocean through the gate that it was named by the Argonauts and that the name was born of the golden fleece. But the simple truth is John C. Fremont gave it that name years before gold was found.

Mrs. Fremont, writing from Los Angeles, May, '96, in connection with this fact, and the spot from which General Fremont took his observations and gave the gate its name, says, quoting first from Fremont's reports to Congress and then adding a paragraph of her own:

The bay of San Francisco is separated from the sea by low mountains. Looking from the peaks of the Sierra Nevada the coast mountains present an apparently continuous line, with only a single gap, resembling a mountain pass. This is the entrance to the great bay and is the only water communication from the coast to the interior country. Approaching from the sea the coast presents a bold outline. On the south the bordering mountains come down in a narrow ridge of broken hills, terminating in a precipitous point, against which the sea breaks heavily. On the northern side the mountain presents a bold promontory, rising in a few miles to a height of two or three thousand feet. Between these points is the strait —- about one mile broad in the narrowest part and five miles long from the sea to the bay.

Passing through this gate (called Chryspolae on the map on the same principle that the harbor of Byzantium (Constantinople afterward) was called Chryoceras (Golden Horn). The form of the harbor and its advantages for commerce, and that before it became an entrepot of Eastern commerce, suggested the name to the Greek founders of Byzantium. The form of the entrance into the bay of San Francisco, and its advantages for commerce, Asiatic inclusive, suggests the name which is given to this entrance), the bay opens to the right and left, extending in each direction about thirty-five miles, having a total length of more than seventy and a coast of about 275 miles. Within the view presented is of a mountainous country the bay resembling an interior lake of deep water lying between parallel ranges of mountains. * * * Directly fronting the entrance, mountains, a few miles from the shore, rise about 2000 feet above the water, crowned by a forest of the lofty cypress, which is visible from the sea, and makes a conspicuous landmark for vessels entering the bay. Behind, the rugged peak of Mount Diablo, nearly 4000 feet high (3770), overlooks the surrounding country of the bay and San Joaquin.

[From a geographical memoir and map of explorations by J. C. Fremont, prepared as ordered by the United States Senate in 1847, and printed in Washington, D. C, in June, 1848. On this map is given, for the first time, the name of Golden Gate, and by J. C. Fremont.]

J. B. Fremont.

The Fremont road, that bends above Oakland from Berkeley to Mills Seminary, after being closed for half a century, is once more open.

You want to see San Francisco? Well, you must go over to Oakland to see San Francisco. And do you want to see Oakland and San Francisco and the bay of all bays on the globe and the Golden Gate at a glance and all together? Then you must go two miles to the northeast and one mile perpendicular. In short, you must climb to the once famous Fremont road and to the camp where Fremont tented half a century ago and from which spot he named the now famous Golden Gate years before gold was found.

And now please let me tell you how to get there. Mrs. Fremont, as before noted, confirms and locates beyond doubt the spot from which California's first Senator looked upon this marvel of nature in all its gorgeous magnificence and gave this opulent and color-crowned name to our doorway.

It is a bit remarkable that the bay of San Francisco was discovered by land. It is none the less noticeable that the Golden Gate was named, not by any navigator or voyager by sea, but from the solid land, by a man who bore the dust of 3000 miles of wilderness and desert on his leathern garments.

The first question asked by the novice in roadcraft and camp life is, "Why did Fremont and Kit Carson keep along these rugged Contra Costa steeps instead of the level valley?'' Water. The one and only answer is, water. In all the broad levels from San Pablo Bay to the pleasant brooks of old San Jose Mission, there was not a drop of fresh water at certain seasons of the year. True, there were vast herds of cattle here when Fremont came, but these cattle had to take to the foothills for water in tbe aiid months of August and September. General Beale, afterward our Minister to Austria, but "Midshipman Beale" at the time, as Fremont calls him in his early reports of his explorations, speaks of killing "Spanish elk" for supplies from his boat on San Pablo Bay, but these cattle watered from the hills. Of course, boats plied, at long periods, up and down the Sacramento from New Helvetia (Sacramento) to Yerba Buena (San Francisco), but no travel passed up and down the river bank; that way was not only impassable by water, but perilous from savages and lawless Mexicans.  One of the most pathetic chapters in our naval history is the loss of a ship's boat and its entire crew in passing between these two points. Fremont had, as an army officer, procured from a man-of-war a large sum of money with which to pay his men at Sutter's Fort. The naval commander dispatched his boat with the money in charge of two of his officers and a picked crew to Fremont by way of the Sacramento River.  Neither boat, men nor money was ever heard of any more.

The names of the officers and marines were carried forward on the payroll for ten years, but no tidings of any sort ever came, and at the end of that time they were given up as lost.  Probably a sudden squall and the boatload of silver and the brave men are still together in the bottom of San Pablo or the Carquinez Straits; for it is not recorded in all our naval or military history that any officer ever betrayed such a trust. But such dalliance as this with every dramatic story of olden days and there will be no end. We must get on to the Fremont road.

The Old Road as It Appeared In 1854.

I first passed over this road in tbe fall of 1854, as bellboy and cook along with Mountain Jo, one of Fremont's former men, who was driving a band of half-wild horses from Southern to Northern California. The road was not in his line of travel, but there were two things almost indispensable to Mountain Jo and his horses, whisky and water. My duties were to ride an old bell mule in the lead of his band of wild horses and wilder Mexicans and look out for "wood, water and grass," and there pitch camp. Jo could find the whisky without any help from his "roustabout boy."

My recollection of the road, after breaking camp at the "Embarcadero," near what is now the new pier of F. M. Smith's narrow-gauge Walnut Creek railroad, is mainly of the beautiful wooded and watered Jack Hays Canyon. I think it was then called Temescal. Now and then there were peeps through the pines and red woods as the dusty trail rose and fell up and down the billowy but ever ascending foothills. The trail was knee-deep in dust; and wild oats, rusty, dusty and golden green, rose on either side to my shoulders as I climbed and climbed. Great long ox teams now and then covered the trail, plodding sleepily down toward what is now Oakland, and then we came to a little steam sawmill, and a young man by the name of Moody had charge of the camp. He is now president of the First National Bank in Oakland.  We spent the night here, the Mexicans and the cook. Jo did not come up till morning. Here we struck a great wagon road. It was belly-deep with dust in some places. As we went up the precipitous hill before coming to what is now the Redwood road, we met Immigrants with trees tied to their wagons to keep them from pushing too hard on their poor starved and staggering oxen. This made the dust nearly intolerable and wore the roads into deep ruts that may be seen to the left of the new road to this day a dozen feet deep. But enough and more than enough of the old days.

To get on with the road go to Berkeley first and then go steeply up to the south of the university for ten minutes through the town, a roar of hammers on either hand (for this place is building with marvelous rapidity), and there you strike the university end of the new Fremont road, only now made passable all the way, but far from complete. The other end is in the region of Mills Seminary. The entire trip up and around the new moon that bends about the Contra Costa hills is twenty miles that is from one extreme side of Oakland around and back to the other extreme side.  Strangely enough there is no dust as of old. The adobe is packed down and, as a rule, is hard as steel. Wheelmen make the entire circuit. True, the road is a bit billowy as yet, but no fault is found with it.

You must not look hard for the first half mile. You might see what you please to call the University of California. It is a monstrosity in burnt mud. Monstrosity on top of monstrosity and a dozen together; the only question is which is the ugliest.  Stanford's is built right down on the grass, with no outlook at all, and yet Stanford's is comparatively a bird's nest in an oak, while this is a squirrel's hole in a hillside.  And yet magnificent young men house here; the biggest and the best hearts — the heart and the hope of the State.

Gazing Down on Cities From Above the Clouds.

And now look below! Bowling along over the high billowy Contra Costa foothills you are above the clouds, the cities! The clouds under you to your right are like cotton. There are people who have no sense of color, or contour, or anything else but cents, who will always speak of these mobile and snowy garmentings of mother earth as "fog." Heavens! What fogs envelop so many of us and make as blind, blind, blind! "And God looked upon all that he had made and behold it was very good."

What would the world do without clouds? And at no two hours of the day no two minutes, indeed, are the views along here alike. You see the higher streets of San Francisco above the rolling surging sea mist. The great cross of the Lone Mountain Cemetery lifting in grand and solemn loneliness above all things and looking strangely tall and vast.

On and on, up and down and yet surely upward you wheel across the billowy lower foothills and then you dip down into the historic ever green and watered Jack Hays canyon. A rich man, founder of the rival Oakland waterworks, houses here. The valley is set with palms, flower-houses and all that goes to make up civilization in a California country seat.

On and on! Schoolhouses, churches, long lanes of stately trees. Yet all these any California seaport may have, but not the scene below. The clouds have rolled above Oakland, lifted, rifted a little, and church spires are pointing up and through the sea of snow that undulates, lifts, pulses at your feet. The whole bay is a mobile floor of silver. Not a suggestion of the sea! Tamalpais, with its winding track and trains above the clouds that conceal San Pablo Bay, a white lighthouse on the head lands below, Black Point, Sutro Heights, Fort Alcatraz, the tips and topmasts of sail, that is all —






Where phantom ships unchallenged pass
The gloomy guns of Alcatraz.


Twelve o'clock and not a cloud— not a cloud above or about the peaceful fair visage of beautiful Oakland below you. And yet do not miss the clouds, God's garments' hem. Truly, all that is good or great is veiled, garmented in mist, clouds, mystery. The priest has his sacred place, the house of God has its holy of holies. All things in nature have their mantled mysteries. The little seeds take life in the dark mold; all life begins in secret, silence, majestic mystery, the large solemnity of night.  So that if the clouds should close the door below and lock the Golden Gate, even mantle and quite envelop you as you ascend the Fremont Road, as may happen, do not find fault with nature, as so many new people do — New York, Boston people, who can only see "fog" in it all or out of it all.

The Spot Where Bierstadt Painted His Famous Picture.


After five miles you come in sight of the spot where Bierstadt painted his famous picture of the Golden Gate for Fremont. This was in 1863. Of course, this work was the sensation, in an art way, of the day, and there are still many men and women in San Francisco who crossed the bay and climbed the hills to see the spot from which the Gate was named and to see the artist at work.

A mountaineer by nature and trade, I was of those who took a deep interest in the matter. A party of us, toting our blankets on our backs, pitched camp near the site of the little sawmill before mentioned. We camped about a week here, living mainly by hunting. One day (this was after Bierstadt and bis friends had all gone away, leaving the place, now a barren sheep ranch quite empty of human life) we found on retiring to camp that our entire stock of bread and bacon had been eaten by wild beasts. A hunting party was organized out of the sheepherders and a few ranchers, and the result was: Two black bears, a California lion and lots of smaller game.

The spot where the picture was made is a conspicuous little red hill, now set with a little diadem of pines from the black forest of Germany and Italian cypress trees from the grave of Shelley, in Rome. It is near the foot of the Arbor day cross planted by Mayor Sutro, General Howard, Senator Perkins and others, and is only a few rods from the road to the left as you go from the university to Mills Seminary. Mrs. Fremont says of this picture and the story of it in a letter to the writer dated Los Angeles, May, 1896:

"When Bierstadt went to California to study its scenery (and the Rocky Mountains en route) we gave him letters to Starr King and other friends. It was about April of 1863. In giving him a commission to paint for us the Golden Gate, with the setting sun lighting the pathway into it, both of us, Mr. Fremont and myself, gave him fully our feeling. I clearly remember Mr. Fremont saying we must see the sunset from the Contra Costa, as he had to realize the force and splendid appropriateness of the name in its scenic sense, apart' from the other idea of the gateway of commerce. Bierstadt made a grand picture. When we had to sell what would bring needed money Commodore Garrison bought this for $4000, just what we had given Bierstadt.

"My daughter, who was from her seventh year a constant companion of her father on long horseback rides and days of working explorations on the Mariposas, as well as many a long ride around San Francisco — as often in quieter times on the Hudson— remembers many and many a talk on views, on physical geography, on beautiful camps, for she has her father's silent delight in nature and is his true child in loving to read of, study and inform herself of geographical travel. She says she feels sure you are right."

Here in a saddle of the mountains are many springs, and, being the last fresh waters on the road to the bay below the old camp of Fremont, was a favorite camping spot. This was the famous dueling ground where many deadly encounters were had, the most noted of which was the one when Colonel Woodleaf fell at the hand of young Kewen, brother of the late Congressman Kewen of Los Angeles. Kewen fell with Walker at Rivas, Nicaragua, dying with the same rifle in hand with which he had killed Woodleaf.

Where Fremont Stood When He Named the Golden Gate.

The exact spot where Fremont took observations and named the Golden Gate, according to his own account, is nearly half a mile further on, at a great rock with a fountain bursting from its base. There can be no mistaking the place. The rock is down on the maps and charts as Castle Rock. For be it remarked that all this sightly region, once wooded and watered, was first denuded by the sawmills and then fire after fire swept the country; then sheep held possession for about forty years while the roads were obstructed and travel went by other ways, and all these years the place was abandoned and forgotten. The disposition of the ubiquitous and multitudinous small boy to detach and roll rocks had made Fremont's rock an unsightly heap and the fountain had become obstructed by broken stones, but it has at last been somewhat restored and the loose fragments turned into a wall. The new road passes only a few hundred feet below the great rock. Mrs. Fremont says:

"The great rock stamps it. He loved a mass of detached rock. * * * When I was written to by a New Yorfc friend of an intended monument to the general I asked that they would spare him the commonplaces that make such sadly mourning-stones usurp our finer ideas. If they must, then put up a great rock, a rough mass of granite, such as he had carved the emblem of the cross upon 'according to the custom of early travelers' — for he felt the strong, invisible power that grasped the heavens and the earth — and on it put only bis name."

But the very finest view of the Golden Gate, San Francisco, "The Sleeping Beauty or Tamalpais. Oakland, Alameda, and, in truth, the whole under world of land and water, is from a point still a little further on and across the small bridge here, at a small grove of cypress trees set to mark the favored spot.

At morning, noon or night, especially night, when the heavens and the earth are on fire — for you cannot tell where the lights leave off and the stars begin — the scene is the most gorgeously magnificent on all the globe.










Deep below as lies the valley,
Steep below as lies the town,
Where great seaships ride and rally
And the world walks up and down.
On the sea of lights far streaming.
When the thousand flags are furled
And the gleaming bay lies dreaming
As it duplicates the world!


The finest days here are the stormy or winter days, when there are no forest fires to make a haze and the clouds are at work below in all their mobile and ever-changing glory. Early spring is quite as effective. At that time the clouds are being driven out from the Oregon Edens by the naming swords of approaching summer, and they surge down the coast as if terrified and pour in at the Golden Gate like flying fugitives, the California sun spilling all its golden opulence on this surging, inflowing sea; a ship's masts piercing through, a church spire, the green hills of San Francisco beyond — but how idle are all words here!

It is noticeable that at each equinox the sun, from this — Fremont's — point of view, falls down exactly into the Golden Gate, and it is always at such times in credibly vast, blocking for a few moments the whole gate with its disk of gold.

I once saw a black cloud— black as midnight and as boundless— hang above this ball of gold as it rolled down into the golden chasm of the Golden Gate. But the sun did not heed the cloud. The cloud was only blacker from the brightness of the golden globe, and the gate and the walls of the gate, and the bay, and the City, and all the cities up and down, and the islands, and the ships, and, indeed, all the world, the heavens and the earth, all things, save tnat awful nightmare of black cloud above the golden sun, were for a moment nothing but molten gold. Then the sun sank, sank suddenly into the sea, as if it had, indeed, been a mighty ball of gold, and the blackness fell down as suddenly in his place, and blackness was only blackness, as if God himself had closed the gate with a bang, and forever.

The Poet Completes the Journey Over the Crescent Way.

Five miles more of this. Passing to the left, the great track in the old road where immigrants used to let their wagons down by trees, and you climb up and then down to the Redwood road and begin to descend, with Mills Seminary before you. Five miles of levels after this and you enter Alameda, Oakland.

This is only an outline, a sort of blazing out of a trail. l am too wise at my trade to attempt the impossible.

Chauncey Depew — and who could be better authority? — last spring pronounced the seventeen-mile drive at Monterey the grandest on the globe. But he had not seen this Fremont road. It was not then completed.

It is conceded that the Monterey drive is grand, restful, inspiring, and a glory and an honor to the State; but as compared to this new moon that bends above and about Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda, it is but a nursemaid's path for babies' little wagons.

(signed) Joaquin Miller




No comments: