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Chapter 3

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Year of Decision

by
Bernard DeVoto

published by Little, Brown and Company,
Boston, 1943

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 5
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p99  Chapter 4:
Equinox

On Sunday the younger Channing told the Brook Farmers to be pure upon their mission. As the crusaders sacrificed so much to restore the tomb of the buried Lord, how much more ought George Ripley's phalanx to sacrifice, whose work it was to restore the whole earth. As the monks and nuns withdrew from the world to be free from temptations and sin and to become pure, how much greater need had the phalanx of earnest devotedness, whose work it was to regenerate and purify the world.

On Monday carpenters went to work on the Phalanstery again, resuming after the winter's lull. It was not such a mountainous edifice as the "Palaces" which Fourier's trance reared against the clouds — twenty-two feet twenty‑two hundred feet long, wings five hundred, grand square twelve hundred, with parallel ranges of outbuildings and columned porticoes passing among trees and shrubbery.​1 It was just a three-story frame structure, as formless as a summer hotel in the White Mountains, a hundred and seventy-five feet long, but it was the Farm's most ambitious undertaking. The attic was a hive of single rooms, the second and third floors were divided into fourteen family apartments, and the ground floor held a kitchen, a vast dining room, "two public saloons, and a spacious hall and lecture room." Also it was mortgaged. Some of the Farmers felt that it was badly planned and cheaply built, others that the community was unwise to sink so much capital in it. But, designed to be the nerve center of the community, it was the embodiment in fragrant white pine of the Brook Farm vision and the symbol of the hope to be.

Tuesday evening there was dancing in the Hive, the original farmhouse — cotillions, waltzes, hops, the blue and brown blouses pleasant in the dining room. They were a high-spirited company, the Archon, the Poet, the Hero, the Time-Keeper, the Admiral, the General, the Parson — the Farming Group, the Amusement Group, the Dormitory Group, the Kitchen Group. Their genial and very learned repartee flashed through the candlelight, and doubtless one heard above the music the terrible puns that Association had come to love. (Is Mr. ——— much of a carpenter? not a bit of  p100 it, that's plain. These Grahamites will never make their ends meet, you may stake your reputation on that. Italics supplied without fee.) . . . The dance was to celebrate resumption of work on the Phalanstery. And, passing the Phalanstery, Mr. Salisbury saw a light in an upper window. A moment later the revels at the Hive were halted by an awful cry: "The Phalanstery is on fire."

They saved the Eyrie, the little square house near by, though its paint blistered. They could not save the Phalanstery. They could only watch it burn. Marianne Dwight, the artist, noted the liquid turquoise of the flames, and John Codman, the florist, how his camellias and azaleas were "glorified in the transcendent light." Crowds gathered from as far away as Cambridgeport; the Dedham engine got stalled in a snowdrift; rivals from Jamaica Plain, Newton, and Brookline could only soak the embers after the walls fell in. Only two hours of transcendental flame, then the thing was over and there were guests to feed. The colonists "made coffee, brought out bread and cheese and feasted about 200 of the fatigued, hungry multitude," and Mr. Orange ran about West Roxbury borrowing milk. Then the world's people departed and darkness closed over the faithful. Marianne Dwight saw the calm radiance of Orion and was reminded of the unchanging, the eternal.

There was an ecstatic renewal of devotion, but the burning of America's first Phalanstery brought a belated realism to Brook Farm. John Codman's family called him home. The General left, Peter Baldwin the baker, saying that the new order had not succeeded — and the Association lost a humble worker who had done much for it. The Poet was next, John Sullivan Dwight, ex‑minister, fine teacher, fine musician, a sweet and troubled soul. He left to lecture and teach and raise money, intending to send it back to the Farm. But before he could begin his remittances Brook Farm was ending: after the first fissure it split rapidly. By October there were only the children's school and the Phalanx left of all that aspiration. Just a year after the fire the farm was for rent at $350 a year, and two years the City of Roxbury bought it at auction for $19,150 — $1704 above the mortgage.

They had lived in dream and they had lived on capital. Gifts from admirers, the board bills of transcendental visitors, and a trickle of profits from the industries had a little slowed the steady consumption of the paid‑in shares, but they had been consumed and all the Yankee inheritance of the Associates knew that spending capital was the unforgivable sin. They kept asserting that if they had had more capital they could have succeeded, and seem neither to have seen the paradox in joint-stock exploitation  p101 of "a radical and universal reform" nor to have understood that there was not enough capital in "Incoherence or Civilization" to support their experiment.

Their aim was to destroy (by developing past it) the competitive organization of industry. But in withdrawing from the system, they had to premise the continuation of competition to support them. They had to compete with the competitive order, and competed with it on hopeless terms — gentle, unskilled, literary amateurs against "the dwarfed and mutilated" who had been shaped to win. As the paradox hardened they could by successive "retrenchments" reduce their living fare to little more than bread, cheese, and beautiful ideas, but they got no farther and wondered why the paying guests fell off. And though they began by sawing the little sticks they must, as Henry Thoreau told them, sooner or later saw the great sticks too. The biggest stick of all was that they had to produce. It was all very well to establish an eight-hour day for winter and a ten‑hour day for summer — but if there was still hay to rake after ten hours, there would be more hay to buy out of capital next winter. They could paint wildflowers on lampshades for Boston stores and so raise the equivalent of a patch sewing society's fund for a new melodeon. They could set up a workshop to make sashes and blinds, a hothouse for the cultivation of flowers, a truck garden, similar attractive "industries" for which they felt one or another of Fourier's passional attractions. But philosophers achieved a low index of production relative to that of journeyman cabinetmakers, and they had to incorporate in their group an alien element of the skilled who worked for profit and did not share, or only partly shared, the vision. Once that began, it was no longer possible to maintain the subterfuge. Frankly, they could not love the hard-handed and malformed as they loved one another. Brook Farm endured as the communion of amateurs, as the ineffectiveness of amateurs it ended, and Mr. Emerson wrote an indorsement in his journal: —

Tell children what you say about writing and laboring with the hands. I know better. Can you distill rum by minding it at odd times? or analyze soils? or carry on the Suffolk Bank? or the Greenwich Observatory? or sail a ship through the Narrows by minding the helm when you happen to think of it or serve a glass-house or a steam-engine, or a telegraph, or a railroad express or accomplish anything good or anything power­ful in this manner? Nothing whatever. And the greatest of all arts, the subtlest and most miraculous effect, you fancy is to be practised with a pen in one hand and a crowbar or a peat-knife in the other.

p102 They were even amateur reformers. It is significant that of the generation's men and women who accomplished something toward the reduction of social chaos and the furtherance of justice, opportunity, and good sense — of the effective reformers, only one or two were Brook Farm associates and they but briefly. The Associators were, in a word, generous, high-minded, self-sacrificing people, literary folk mostly, who felt the world's pain and lacked a sense of reality. Like most literary dreams, Brook Farm was a flight, a withdrawal from the dust and wounds. The destructive element did not bear them up because they did not submit themselves to it.

But Marianne Dwight wrote, after gazing at the charred beams of hope's Phalanstery, "It does seem as tho' in this wide waste of the world, life could not possibly be so rich as it has been here." She was right. Though they were amateurs, though all their activities bring to mind young Francis Parkman's sneer at them, "the she‑philosophers of West Roxbury," nevertheless they had been members one of another. Probably nothing they did left any mark, except that their school for children picked up education where Alcott's had left off, substituted some intelligence for the traditional stupidities, and so, as the children grew up, left an expectation here and there that better things can be. But they had so good a time that all of them, even the agnostic Dana (who, like thirteen others, found a wife there), always looked back on West Roxbury as the time of idyl and belief, the planting and the spring.

So much laughter, so much honest weariness after work, so much dreaming together! The time when Mr. Allen brought back an orphaned child and many of the colonists caught the smallpox, and the women waiting on the sufferers in the Hive. The day the bull broke loose and chased an ox out of the barn. The sweet grave face of the Dwight girl at her wedding, when all the colonists made a ring round her in the Pilgrim House. Always the singing — in the fields, at supper, at the shocking, in the long winter evenings. The poet Cranch's gifted imitations of animal cries. The search by night for a rumored highwayman through the woods at Muddy Pond. Spring festival with roses and jasmines from the greenhouse and the great name Fourier on the wall with his beehive, and the Archon making a splendid speech. The long hours of talking together while we raked hay or sewed bonnets for the industries and the heart swelled with generous indignation for the poor — and Mr. Brisbane's eloquence a fierce flame, and the dream stretching out till God was almost come again. And over all the great hope so near fulfillment, "the light of universal principles in which all differences, whether of religion, or politics, or philosophy, are reconciled, and the dearest and most private hope of every man has the  p103 promise of fulfillment" — the great belief that "the Infinite Power ordained social laws so universal and equitable that the fulfillment of them would make all unqualifiedly happy, and that it is the mission of this race of beings to be attracted to this earth, to this universe, until their happy human destiny is accomplished."

They were fly specks on the periphery of a globe which was swelling out in tidal promontories as a wandering sun drew near and pulled it out of shape — under the omen of a comet that had split in two. They have an essential innocence, asserting in blue tunics universal principles of benevolence at a moment when the disregardful country was pushing through the desert to its last boundary, when the newly manned machines were loosing a new and irresistible energy across the country they hoped to master with some gracious wishes, and when the armies formed for a war of which this year's war would be only a prologue. And yet they were members one of another. Something in the moment of their experience brought it partly out of dream. The American nation has formed so very slowly, for such brief times, in such haphazard symmetry! For a moment not pathetic only because it was ridiculous, the nation formed here, on some pleasant farmland a mile from West Roxbury, where some ineffective literary people worked, sacrificed, and dreamed together. It was not lost altogether and its small deposit is laid down. . . . Only, the nation needed hotter fires than the flame that consumed the Phalanstery. Only, welded in such fires, the Mormons, for one group, were members one of another much more truly than Brook Farm — and may leave our history the more; that Association needs the lowest common denominator. And, of course, Bill Bowen and his tribe watched the frost come out of the ground and turned westward.

* * *

Through March the inner tensions of the Democratic Party hastened so that the skin was like to burst, but in Congress everything was Oregon. Mr. Polk's design to reduce the tariff of '42 was in danger of getting lost from inattention, and the President reminded his callers that they were accountable. Mr. Calhoun, the metaphysician, twisted on the inadvertent rack. He had no simple emotions and if any of his ideas were simple they have been clear to no one else. And all his stands were at the third remove of calculation. But, without enthusiasm for Oregon and committed to appeasement by his negotiations as the previous Secretary of State, he had guessed that the party would plump for peace and he had had some hope of seizing its leadership. But it was now clear that the country wanted  p104 Oregon in earnest. He had to hedge and would not head the Democracy this year. (Here was the surface of deeper conflicts in Mr. Calhoun himself. He was committed to expansion as the hope and glory of the South, yet had some dim premonition that expansion must reduce the price of cotton forever and so destroy the economy of the Southern seaboard if not of the entire South. He was now logically committed also to the separation of the South, to secession, but saw drifting down that path ahead of him the specter of Great Britain. Even to the metaphysician it was clear that to divide the Union was to make Great Britain supreme in its hemisphere.) Others besides him read the nation's desire, and opposition to Polk's Oregon policy all but disappeared before the triumphant oratory of the Western states. But at the same time, the majority warhawks began to quarrel. They had to be vigilant against compromisers who might find a parliamentary or a sectional leverage and use it. Haywood, Cass Hannegan, Allen shouted in the Senate all day, then rushed to the White House to sound out Polk. He would not be sounded but grew irritated, for delay in terminating Joint Occupancy would be plain evidence to London that we were irresolute. He now felt that Allen and Cass, if not the others, were maneuvering not so much for Oregon as to succeed him in the White House. Buchanan's unsleeping candidacy had also got the idea: at Cabinet meetings he was suddenly firm about Oregon. So the month ran out in oratory and intrigue and the resolution to terminate Joint Occupancy did not come to a vote.

Toward the end of the month, Mexico came downstage. The President had been meditating on Colonel Atocha's suggestion; even with an army marching south, purchase would be such an agreeable way out. He mentioned to Mr. Ingersoll, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the convenience of providing the Executive with a secret fund of one million dollars. Remember, Mr. Jefferson had twice had such funds voted him, and from one of them had come Louisiana. Mr. Ingersoll agreed and would send up a trial balloon. This conversation was on March 25. On the twenty-eighth dispatches arrived from Slidell, saying that Paredes seemed likely to receive him as minister. That looked as if Santa Anna, as reported by Atocha, knew what he was talking about and the plan was going well. Slidell would propose the treaty of cession as soon as he was received, and "if our minister could be authorized upon the signing of the Treaty to pay down a half million or a million dollars, it would enable Gen'l Paredes to pay, feed, and clothe the army, and maintain himself in  p105 power until the Treaty could be ratified by the U. S." Everything Polk wanted — California, New Mexico, Texas to the Rio Grande — appear to be on the counter, for cash.

This made it Polk's turn to sound out his party leaders. Mr. Benton would vote the money. Mr. Houston, newly returned as Senator from Texas to the Washington that had been the stage for his romantic heartbreak, would vote it. Mr. Allen likewise, but he foresaw trouble with Calhoun. Summoned to the White House, Calhoun would be glad to pay up to $25,000,000 for the Western lands, but saw an opening and had his price. The existence of a secret fund would be public knowledge, he said, and would embarrass the Oregon negotiations. Wherefore the President would be wise to compromise on 49°, Calhoun's own stand. The President said hotly that Great Britain would not compromise even on 49° unless the Senate speedily passed the pending resolution. He went on lining up Senators behind his secret fund.

Too bad. Just a week earlier Slidell had been notified that he would not be received. The Paredes government had decided that it could not maintain itself if it made a move for peace. Mexico was for war, Mr. Slidell had asked for his passports, and his dispatch conveying the decisive news was on its way to Washington.

Diplomacy, however, had already been superseded. Marcy's order of January 13 — which had only recently been made known to Congress — directing Taylor to march to the Rio Grande had reached Corpus Christi on February 3. A number of reasons had prevented Taylor from obeying it promptly — among them his failure to organize his command for maneuver and his failure to investigate the country which it would have to cross. Taylor bought mules and wagons frantically, prepared to transfer his sea base to Point Isabel near the mouth of the Rio Grande, and hurried out the cavalry to reconnoiter. On March 8, the Dragoons and some artillery marched out of Corpus Christi, and by the eleventh Taylor's whole army was under way.

It was about 4000 strong, less those who had taken fevers at Corpus Christi and those who had deserted through the swamps. As it marched, two of the senior officers, Brevet Brigadier General Worth and Colonel Twiggs, quarreled fiercely over seniority, and the quarrel had already aligned their juniors in cliques and given Polk his first military headache. The question was whether a brevet (honorary) promotion enabled a man to rank one who was senior in the line. General Scott, the head of the army, had decided in favor of the brevet rank, and from Corpus Christi Lieutenant Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hitchcock had published a letter supporting the line,  p106 firing by battery at Scott and denouncing all Congressman who had taken Scott's side. . . . The army was badly supplied, the insufficient trains trailing far behind it It had little discipline, its equipment was scanty and shoddy, and its arms were a chaos of diverse and mostly obsolescent models — smoothbore muskets, flintlock and percussion‑cap rifles, a handful of Hall's breech-loaders, a good many of the "Harpers Ferry" rifles mostly made by Eli Whitney, Jr., and even a few repeaters. It had never moved as an army. Neither Taylor nor any of his juniors could maneuver it. Textbooks of drill tactics were in everybody's saddlebags, for consultation en route, and Taylor had a healthy democratic contempt of the West Pointers who knew the things he badly needed to know.

But anything was better than the stagnation of Corpus Christi, and they were off for the Halls of Montezuma. There were swamps at first, then a waterless stretch, finally the chaparral country. Food was bad and there was never enough water under the Southern sun. It was a land rich only in rattlesnakes, which buzzed by the hundred underfoot and slid into blankets by night. Mirages flared across the horizon and there were more rumors than rattlesnakes and mirages lumped together.

On March 20 the advance reached the Arroyo Colorado, a salt pond, where General Mejía, who commanded at Matamoros, drew up some skirmishers and informed the Americans that if they came any farther they would begin a war. The advance splashed through; the first headlong flight of the Mexican army was well started before they reached the farther bank. Three days later Taylor took part of his force off at an angle to Point Isabel and got there just as his transports and supply ships made harbor. He ordered the place fortified and started back toward his army. Under General Worth (the leader of the brevet faction, next to Scott the best-dressed man in the military establishment, and the most contentious of all that quarrelsome crew) it had reached the Rio Grande opposite Matamoros on March 28.

They ran the flag up opposite the town on the north bank of the river, which either was or was not foreign soil, and the Army of Occupation had become the American Expeditionary Force. With less haste than dignity Taylor began to fortify his camp, and to write Marcy demanding reinforcements. He needed them. Also he began to exchange letters and proclamations with Mejía, soon to be superseded by General Ampudia, who had more rank and a longer record. It was a kind of warfare in which Old Rough and Ready was under a handicap, the Mexicans having a far more formidable rhetoric. He was at the further disadvantage of having to represent his presence here as entirely benevolent. Theme: the A. E. F. had  p107 come to co‑operate with the Mexican army in keeping the uninhabited frontier quiet while their governments were engaging. Not too good. What Taylor needed was the baroque style of Winfield Scott.

At first the Mexicans, who were winning the manifestoes paragraph by paragraph and had no orders from Paredes, let the situation stand. When a patrol captured a couple of dragoons, Mejía punctiliously returned them, with his card.

In all this Lieutenant Colonel Hitchcock saw nothing to admire. He was so sick that he had done most of the march in an ambulance, though resolved to lead the 3d Infantry in person if action should come. If it should come, he thought, the enemy would have a walkaway. Hitchcock's brigade commander could not give the simplest command except at an adjutant's prompting. None of the brigades had been maneuvered; of the regiments only his own had been trained as a unit. "General Taylor knows nothing of army movement," and the camp site could not have been more dangerously exposed if the enemy engineers had chosen it in advance. No systematic reconnoissance was made but the air vibrated with rumors. Maybe a rumored force in the rear was going to attack; maybe it consisted of disaffected troops who were waiting a favorable moment to join the invaders as allies. Maybe a levée en masse was preparing, the whole countryside to rise and throw the gringos out. Or maybe, since this was "Northern Mexico," which was known to be on the edge of revolt, the states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León were going to secede and come under the flag now brought to their border. Was this enterprise war or was it peace? Whichever it was, "my heart is not in this business; I am against it from the bottom of my soul as a most unholy and unrighteous proceeding." For, finally, "It looks as if the government sent a small force on purpose to bring on a war, so as to have a pretext for taking California and as much of this country as possible; for, whatever becomes of this army, there is no doubt of a war between the United States and Mexico."

* * *

At the beginning of March, Frémont was continuing his northward progress toward Oregon by moving west over the Santa Cruz Mountains and south toward Monterey. In violation of his agreement and in defiance of the authorities. They now took action. On March 5, at the Hartnell ranch near Salinas, an officer of the California militia rode into his camp and gave him letters from the prefect and the comandante. Both directed him to take his force out of the department at once. The hero worked on a  p108 hair trigger. He ordered the lieutenant out of camp with a red‑fire message for his superiors, moved hastily into the hills, set up a breastwork of logs on the top of Gavilán Peak, nailed Old Glory to a pole, and prepared to be sacrificed. "If we are unjustly attacked," he wrote to Larkin, "we will fight to extremity and refuse quarter, trusting our country to avenge our death. . . . If we are hemmed in and assaulted here, we will die, every man of us, under the flag of our country." . . . He had been told to get out, on the ground that he had broken faith with the officials, lied about his instructions and intentions, broken the law, defied the courts, and condoned the misbehavior of his men. There had been no thought of killing him.

Nobody was ready to confer martyrdom on him, and though his mountain men were hot for a go with the greasers he got nothing for his brave words except an artist's pleasure in the style. Consul Larkin found so little intelligence in his actions that he supposed Frémont could not have understood the official orders and wrote explaining them — meanwhile asking Don Castro not to get rough but to talk things over with the hero in simple language. Also, seeing his patient intrigue all but ruined by this dramaturgy, he hastily asked for a man-of‑war at Monterey, to persuade all parties to dampen their powder. As for Don José, he mustered what militia he could, circularized an already agitated countryside with proclamations, and paraded his forces under the spyglasses trained on them from Gavilán Peak. That was the traditional way of using force in California.

It worked. In his lofty fortress Frémont reverberated with the most dramatic emotions but his position was impossible in both law and tactics, as he realized when the McGuffey phase had passed. He was here without the slightest authority of his government, which could only disavow him, and the Californians had ordered him out on sufficient grounds and altogether within their rights. They were unlikely to attack him on the Gavilán and, if they had attacked, his mountain men could have shot them to pieces. But they must eventually have starved him out and then ridden him down with the long lances that were to win them San Pascual. However stirring his compositions and however humiliating the retreat, no great deed was possible and he had to get out. After three days of Hollywood fantasy, his flagpole fell down and he told his men that this showed they had done enough for honor. He moved out, most slow and dignified.

He went at last to the San Joaquin Valley, and from there moved to the Sacramento, reaching Sutter's Fort again on March 21. (On that day Jim Clyman wrote to him and, at Jalapa, Slidell was notified that Mexico would not receive a minister from Mr. Polk.) There was nothing to do but refit his party at Sutter's and carry out his original instructions. Heading  p109 toward Oregon, he got to Neal's Ranch on Butte Creek, March 28 (Neal had come out as his blacksmith on the Second Expedition and had stayed), and on the thirtieth reached Peter Lassen's place on Deer Creek, some two hundred miles out from Sutter's. . . . He took a frustrated spirit with him. The attitudes of a romantic hero must succeed altogether or they will be merely funny, and the greasers had dented this one so badly that it could hardly be refurbished even for Jessie's eyes, not to mention the great audience. And after the dream of glory a routine exploration would be an anticlimax. It would end in a drab return to the States, a party coming ingloriously home at a time when, Frémont was tormented by suspecting, officers of the army would be making glorious reputations in the Halls of Montezuma. Circumstance had turned against Childe Harold and his fate was more than he could bear.

Behind him Don José was jubilant, the war having gone according to ritual. Rhetoric had blown El Gringo away, which called for some more. "Compatriots, the act of unfurling the American flag on the hills, the insults and threats offered to the authorities, are worthy of execration and hatred from Mexicans; prepare, then, to defend our independence in order that united we may repel with a strong hand the audacity of men who, receiving every mark of true hospitality in our country, repay with such ingratitude the favors obtained from our cordiality and benevolence." The ungratefuls were already repelled but Don José had a warrior's license. Don Pío Pico, the governor, reproved him for usurping the privilege of manifesto, a civil monopoly, but the Californians took him quite seriously — and why shouldn't they? They knew mountain men as highwaymen and horse thieves. They knew Frémont as an army officer and knew that his country and theirs were on the verge of war. He had violated the terms agreed on for his visit, defied the alcalde's court, roused the Indians, flouted the authorities, and raised a hostile flag. Their clarity of understanding amounted to prescience.

There were about eight hundred Americans in California. Jim Clyman did not think much of them and his doubts hold for the majority. They varied from worthless beachcombers, deserters from the ships, resident horse thieves, and Diana's foresters up to a small, respectable, and potentially valuable company of ranchers, merchants, and traders. This last was the seed of the plantation to come, from the same winnowing as the emigration soon to leave the frontier, but they were joined to the rest in a common contempt of the Californians. This languorous society where no one worked hard, not even the Indian slaves, where no one set much value on wealth, industry, or sober righteousness, where the standard of living  p110 was far below the standard of manners, where progress was unheard of and the principles of laissez faire governed everything except the commerce to which they should apply only — in this society there was nothing whatever that the expansionist Yankees of the 1840's could admire. Furthermore they were committed to an implicit revolution; they were invaders and their land titles hung on the whim of a nation which had made an open move to dispossess them. They knew how brittle were the few remaining bonds that held the province to Mexico. They knew and freely assisted the vague apprehensions that one or another nation half the world away would hold out a hand to catch it as it fell. They knew that a sizable number of Californians, and those among the most substantial, hoped it would be an American hand and preferred that sovereignty to the grafters sent from Mexico to collect the revenue, the convicts sent to maintain them, and the native picaros who formally contended with both. . . . A mixed solution had reached the point of saturation; shake it ever so slightly and something must crystallize out.

"Facts more terrible than thunder, lightning, hurricane, volcanic eruptions!" This was the news of the tableau on Gavilán Peak, reaching John Marsh, A. B., Harvard '23, George Ripley's classmate, M. D. by apprenticeship veteran of the Black Hawk War, itinerant Rousseau, eccentric, landowner, colonizer by intention, and one of a good many who could see themselves as president of a California republic. Less than a year ago he had been up to his ears in the native revolution and had composed a manifesto calling on the Americans to unite, watch, and pray. For years he had been intriguing with native intenders and pretenders — and had the hour now struck? He could not tell but walked warily round Frémont's drama, and a good many compatriots walked with him, but under the unpleasantness that they suspected one another. . . . The ship Moscow lay at Monterey, taking on hides. The news reached her captain in even more urgent form, and he sent a courier galloping after Frémont to offer him sanctuary. And on his mountain creek at the head of Napa Valley, Jim Clyman heard on March 17 "that Capt. Fremont had raised the american flag in Monteray and all good citizens are caled on to appear forthwith at Sonoma armed and Equiped for service . . . to defend the rights and priviledges of Mexican citizens." He understood that the trouble had been provoked by Frémont's refusal "to apeare before some of the so caled Legal authorities," for whom Jim had no deep respect. Four days later he heard that Castro had four hundred troops, so his duty was clear. He wrote to Frémont offering his rifle and a serviceable collection of others.

Frémont's reply shows romantic glory at its ebb mark, the hero marching  p111 northward with his back to the foe and nothing done.​2 (And part of its gloom springs from the fact that so few others had volunteered support.) He was, he confessed, in a peculiar position. "The Californian authorities object to my presence here and threaten to overwhelm me. If peace is preserved I have no right or business here [The furious Orlando had contrived to forget that all winter]; if war ensues I shall be out numbered ten to one and be compelled to make good my retreat pressed by a pursuing enemy. . . ." So, summing up these phantom dangers to assuage his hurt, he refused the alliance and dragged northward toward Oregon, a bedraggled knight with some tail feathers plucked, through chilly rain.

Well, all right, fight or fandango. Jim had offered his support and, since it was not wanted, would go on with his plans. He dried more meat and made packsaddles for the journey. Ready at last, he started down Napa Valley on March 31. He was turning back along the line of emigration and he had closed, or begun, another chapter in the outline of American history. For Jim Clyman's letter to Frémont is the first click of a completed circuit, the sign that the mixed brew of California affairs was ready to crystallize out the Bear Flag Revolt.

* * *

Down South crops were already out of the ground; in Texas Taylor's army suffered from the heat. Rain drenched the prairies and there was no bottom to the mud the Mormons trudged through. In New England it was not yet even mud time. They were plowing along the Sangamon, however, by the end of March, green streaked the yellow Missouri grass, and there were fruit blossoms in the Shenandoah Valley. But, snow, rain, or seed time, the sunwise turn had come; spring was at hand. April would see all the Bill Bowens on the move.

And by the end of March one of them had already begun his journey. Twenty‑two years old, an A. B. and LL.B. of Harvard, Francis Parkman was back from a winter trip to scenes in Pennsylvania and Ohio that would figure in his book and now he started with his cousin, Quincy Adams Shaw, for St. Louis. He was prepared to find it quite as alien to Beacon Hill as the Dakota lands beyond it, whither he was going. He was already an author (a poet and romancer), had already designed the great edifice his books were to build, and already suffered from the mysterious, composite illness that was to make his life a long torture. He hoped, in fact, that a summer on the prairies might relieve or even cure the malady that had impaired his eyes and, he feared, his heart and brain as well. He had done  p112 his best to cure it by systematic exercise, hard living in the White Mountains, and a regimen self-imposed in the code of his Puritan ancestors which would excuse no weakness.

But more specifically Parkman was going west to study the Indians. He intended to write the history of the conflict between imperial Britain and imperial France, which was in great part a story of Indians. The Conspiracy of Pontiac had already taken shape in his mind; beyond it stretched out the aisles and transepts of what remains the most considerable achievement by an American historian. So he needed to see some uncorrupted Indians in their native state.

It was Parkman's fortune to witness and take part in one of the greatest national experiences, at the moment and site of its occurrence. It is our misfortune that he did not understand the smallest part of it. No other historian, not even Xenophon, has ever had so magnificent an opportunity. Parkman did not even know that it was there, and if his trip to the prairie produced one of the exuberant masterpieces of American literature, it ought instead to have produced a key work of American history. But the other half of his inheritance forbade. It was the Puritan virtues that held him to the ideal of labor and achievement and kept him faithful to his goal in spite of suffering all but unparalleled in literary history. And likewise it was the narrowness, prejudice, and mere snobbery of the Brahmins that insulated him from the coarse, crude folk who were the movement he traveled with, turned him shuddering away from them to rejoice in the ineffabilities of Beacon Hill, and denied our culture a study of the American empire at the moment of its birth. Much may rightly be regretted, therefore. But set it down also that, though the Brahmin was indifferent to manifest destiny, the Puritan took with him a quiet valor which has not been outmatched among literary folk or in the history of the West.


The Author's Notes:

 (p487)  1 Duly adapted in the City of the Lord, which Joseph Smith, Jun., and his city planners worked out on paper.

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2 The date of Frémont's letter is in dispute. Camp concludes that it was written at this time.


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