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Squibob - A Trip to Oregon (excerpt)
What follows is an excerpt from Squibob An Early California Humorist this book can be purchased from the Friends of Fort Vancouver Bookstore in person or on the Friends of Fort Vancouver Alibris site at http://fortvancouver.alibrisstore.com/
A Trip to Oregon
First Printed in the San Francisco Herald, October 18, 1855
On the 16th day of September I received a letter from my correspondent in Australia which convinced me that flour was about to make an unprecedented and unheard of rise. I have been nipped slightly heretofore in flour speculations; green and inviting appeared the floury paths before my mental vision, and I regret to say that I returned from their pursuit with just a shade of the greenness adhering to me, in a figurative point of view; but this time I determined to make a sure thing of it.
The last quotations from Oregon (which land I never hear mentioned without associating it with the idea of Bartlett pears at one dollar a piece and particularly rotten inside) showed that flour might be purchased there for five dollars per barrel. "If, then," said I to Mrs. Butterfield, "I repair to Oregon, my dear, and purchase two thousand barrels of flour at five dollars per barrel, and returning to San Francisco, incontinently sell the same at eleven dollars per ditto, our circumstances will be slightly improved."
Mrs. Butterfield had seen at Guerin's a perfect love of a velvet mantle; a brown velvet mantle profusely embroidered, for which they asked but one hundred and twenty-five dollars, and she said she thought "it would be a good thing." And so I went down to the steamship Columbia, and purchased A stateroom, and had my trunk "dragged into camp" in stateroom "A." I detest and despise going to sea; it makes me sick at my stomach and I cannot agree with that young man who, on being reminded that "a rolling stone gathers no moss," replied, "never mind the moss – let us roll." I do not like to roll at all, and I sincerely believe that the man who first invented going to sea was some most abandoned rascal, who could not under any circumstances be permitted to live on shore, and I wish from my heart he had been drowned, and the invention lost with him. So that when I had paid sixty dollars to purser Meade, who like the beverage that bears his name, is of a mild though sparkling disposition, and is moreover constantly effervescing with good humor, I went below, and gazing with a discontented air at stateroom "A," thought to myself I had given a very high price for an emetic. However, when one has made up his mind to be slain, it is certainly the best plan to employ a regular physician and have it done secundum artem, and it was a great relief to my mind to find the Columbia a clean and comfortable steamship, where if one had to die, he could at least die with decency. The Captain too had such a cheery good natured smile on his handsome face, such a roguish twinkle about his eye, such a strong expression of wishing to make every one happy about him that it was difficult to conceive that anything very disagreeable could happen where he commanded.
You must have heard of the "Dalls of the Columbia." Well, that may appear a slight digression, but the Captain is "one of them." The Columbia went to sea and I went to bed in the second berth in stateroom "A." As Lever's hero, Charles O'Malley, invariably remarks, after getting a lick on the back of the head, "I knew nothing more" until the arrival at Mendocino Mills. Confused visions of Mrs. Butterfield, nursing a fifty lb. sack of flour, which changed occasionally into a bowl of gruel, and then into a large wash basin, prevailed in my mind, I remember, during this period; but at Mendocino Mills I arose, girded up my loins, and the Columbia being very quiet, came forth like a young giant refreshed with new wine. In fact, as the Captain pleasantly remarked, I "open like a psalm book."
Then I ascertained that we had a small, though goodly company on board. There was Colonel I., going to Oregon to see if by chance his regiment, which he had vainly looked for elsewhere, might not be stationed in that Territory; and Professor D., whose genial smile gave evidence of a kindly heart, and was good for seasickness. But, above all, there was Miss Pellet – the Miss Pellet who delivers lectures on Temperance, Democracy, and the social virtues. I had read in some newspaper report, written by some scoffer, of Miss Pellet's lectures, wherein she was unsatisfactorily described as a "small, middle-aged female in spectacles," and was agreeably disappointed in finding her a fine looking young lady of twenty-four or five, with a very pleasant expression, sweet smile, and to all human appearance, not in the least degree strong-minded, that is, in the offensive sense of that term. That she has a kind heart and gentle disposition, one poor sea-sick lady, with a suffering baby --- I can warmly and truly testify --- and her kind and sisterly attention will be ever gratefully remembered. She was on her way to Portland, where she intended delivering some lectures, and then contemplated making a tour by land from Oregon to California. Success attend Miss Pellet.
Even a tortoise draweth suddenly in his head when smote from the rear by some evil disposed urchin with a stick; so suddenly did I disappear within the shell of stateroom "A," when the Columbia left Mendocino Mills. Then an interval elapsed, and we arrived at Trinidad. This place derives its name from the Latin words Trinis, three, and Dad, father, having been originally discovered by three Catholic priests. The town consists of about thirty mules, being packed with whiskey for the mines on Trinity river. Another interval of wash basin and gruel and we anchored at Crescent City. This little place has quite an active and bustling appearance. It is the depot of the Klamath mines and appears to be very much of a business place. At the door of the principal public house sat a forlorn, lost looking girl, who had once been beautiful; she was neatly and handsomely dressed, but there was a look of suffering about her pale and care worn face that I shall not soon forget. I was told she was the proprietor of the establishment. Poor Thing.
There is some surf at Crescent City, and unless you embark cautiously you are very liable to get your trowsers wet. I never do anything cautiously. We arrived at Port Orford one night and disembarked Lieut. Kautz and eight mules belonging to the 4th U.S. Infantry. Lieut. Kautz commands the military post at Port Orford I was told, but what the military post is, I am not informed; probably they use it to tie the mules to. Port Orford is a small place, a very small place. I heard that the Columbia once got up steam and left here, without casting off one of her stern lines, and accidentally towed the whole city up the coast about forty miles before the line parted, very much to the confusion of one Tichnor, who having been elected a member of the Oregon Legizlature, sailed off in a small schooner to find that body, but being unsuccessful, attempted to return to Port Orford but did not get in for some time owing to that accident.
Astoria is called because one Washington Irving (who I understood was a sargent in the rifle regiment) once made an ass of himself by writing a book about it, in which he completely exhausted the subject, or in other words, tore it all to pieces. However, Astoria will yet be a great city, as in some future letter I may demonstrate to you. Ah, how delightful was the voyage of the noble Columbia up the beautiful river whose name it bears. The sea-sickness, the wash basin, the gruel, even the flour, were all forgotten, and seated on the deck, oblivious of the past sorrow we gazed on the rich and varied scenery with ecstatic delight.
The trip of the Columbia was the eighty-eighth that she has made without an accident, a fact in these times certainly worth chronicling. Our pilot, the eminent Cladwell, I am informed had acquired such proficiency in the use of the sextant seeing two geese flying across the river, and having no gun, he brought them both down to the horizon with that instrument, and by moving the tangent screw, actually kept them there until the boat could be sent to pick them up. A merry gentleman named Trench told me this and remarked that the geese were so fat they could not be eaten. Goose meat is always very greasy eating.
Rainier on the Columbia. This place derives its name from a little circumstance that took place in 1848. Two gentlemen, arriving at this point encamped, and shortly after a little rain squall came up, which lasted two months and four days. And then set in for a long storm. One day, during a shower of unusual violence, one of the gentlemen who, by the way, had not spoken for about four months – for it rained so hard that they could not hear each other – turned over, and with the air of one who has made up his mind on the subject, remarked, "It is rainy here."
"Yes," replied the other with confidence, "It is certainly rainy here."
So they called it "rainy here," which has gradually been vulgarized and corrupted into Rainier.
From the Columbia River we had a glorious view of Mount Hood – that magnificent peak, towering far above the clouds, its snow-capped summit, plainly visible at a distance of one-hundred miles. For seventeen thousand feet it is one glittering sheet of snow and ice. Dryer, of the Oregonian a year or two since, procured a pair of shoes, the soles thickly studded with nails, and with a long staff with spikes in the end of it in his hand, essayed to ascend that fearful acclivity. He had, I should mention, nine pounds of pork in his coat tail pocket for provisions. Having reached an altitude of 13,480 feet, he thought he heard a noise behind him, and incautiously looking over his shoulder, up went his heels, and down came Dryer; with the velocity of the forked lightning he sped down that sheet of greased ice, making the entire descent in four and three-tenth seconds, and finally came into Portland a scratched and used up man. When he started his scent he had as good a black-swallow coat as you would with to see: when he reached the bottom, the coat had become a short jacket – it never reached the bottom as a coat – and the pantaloons – well on a clear day, with a good glass, from Vancouver, you can see very plainly on the side of the mountain the black streak that Dryer made when he slid down. He has despised mountain scenery and bushes ever since. I like to be considered a truthful person, so if any one will inform me just how much of this story they believe, I will be happy to take the rest of it back.
Portland is the largest city in Oregon; it contains 2,000 inhabitants, is situated on the Willamette River, and is called Portland because it is not a sea port. As the Columbia rounded to at the dock, every white male inhabitant of the City of Portland rushed down to meet her. She fired her gun, and every white male inhabitant shut his eyes and stooped down to dodge the wad. The arrival of the steamer is one of the great events in the lives of the people of Portland. It is supposed by Dr. Evans, the State or Territorial Geologist, (who found little latitude and longitude of the Oregon base line one day when he was out prospecting that they don't get much to eat except on these occasions, and gorging themselves to repletion when they have the opportunity, they relax into a state of supineness like amiable boa constrictors, in which they remain until the steamer comes again.
Imagine the feelings that animated my mind as we arrived – I sprang hastily from the steamer; I saw my friend Mr. Leonard & Green, the great Portland jobber and importer, on the dock. I seized him by the arm and led him to one side – "Butterfield," said he, "how do you do?"
"Never mind"" replied I, in a faltering voice; "I want to buy two thousand barrels of Oregon flour!"
Leonard & Green smiled; he was not at all excited, and he answered "Probably!" I gasped for breath. "Tell me," said I, "how is flour selling"
Leonard & Green looked me calmly in the ye and answered slowly "Eleven dollars and a half a barrel!"
I am not a profane man; I attend the Rev. Dr. Scott's church regularly, have family prayers in my household, and say grace over my frugal repasts; but dog gorn – never mind, as the man said, "I couldn't begin to do justice to the subject."
I wrote a letter, a doleful letter to Mrs. Butterfield that night, and the brown velvet embroidered mantle still hangs in Guerin's window. I walked up the street of Portland and heard a man scream out, "J. Neely Johnston is Governor of California, ho! ho! ho!"
Confound Portland and Oregon Territory; I wish from the very bottom of my heart that Pierce would appoint John Bigler Governor of it. Yours in deep disgust,
Flour & Pork
NEAR THE CORNER OF BATTERY AND FRON
Orders from the country promptly filled
Squibob An Early California Humorist p.191-197 ISBN: 0-9618577-6-5