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from Secretary Bancroft to Commodore Sloat, under date of July 12th, 1846, only two months after Forbes' contract had been signed:
"The object of the United States has reference to ultimate peace with Mexico; and if at that peace, the basis of the uti possidiiis shall be established, the government expects, through your forces, to be found in actual possession of Upper California. * * * After you shall have secured Upper California, if your force is sufficient, you will take possession and keep the harbors in the Gulf of California, as far down, at least, as Guaymoa. But this is not to interfere with the permanent occupation of Upper California."
This document clearly establishes the fact, that the acquisition of California was determined upon by the Federal Government, nearly two years before the discovery of gold, and was rendered imperative by the intrigues of the English government, to prevent the United States extending their influence on the Pacific coast.
Those who desire further information concerning the early history of California and the Pacific Coast, will find much interesting data in the voyages of Drake, La Pe'rouse, Vancouver, Beechey, and Perry; in the writings of Fathers Venegas and Palou, and in the works of Forbes, De Mofras, Greenhow, and Tuthill.
GEOGRAPHY AND TOPOGRAPHY.
Outline of Geography—The HarborR of California—San Francisco Bay—Tidal Influences— San Diego Harbor—San Pedro Bay—The Santa Barbara Channel—San Luis Obispo Bay—Monterey Bay—Santa Cruz Harbor—Half Moon Bay—Drake's Bay—Tomales Bay—Bodega Bay-- Humboldt Bay—Trinidad Bay—Crescent City Harbor—Improvements to be made —Islands on the Coast.
California is an extremely rugged country, a large portion of its surface being covered with hills and mountains. As much of its territory remains unsurveyed, and has been but partially explored, the details of its geography and topography are unavoidably incomplete but sufficient is known of both to enable us to describe its general outline, as well as many of its most conspicuous and interesting features.
In outline California forms an irregular parallelogram, its length averaging about seven hundred miles, extending southeast by northwest, from latitude 32°45' to latitude 42°, with an average breadth of nearly two hundred miles. It contains 158,687 square miles, or more than 100,000,000 statute acres, of which 35,000,000 acres are adapted for agricultural purposes; 23,000,000 acres for grazing; 5,000,000 acres are swamp and overflowed lands, which may be reclaimed. The lakes, rivers, bays, and other surface covered with permanent water, amount to nearly 4,000,000 acres; about 10,000,000 acres consist of arid plains and deserts, the balance, 23,000,000 acres being covered with rugged, and for the most part heavily timbered mountains.
Its mountains, which comprise the predominating geographical and topographical features, for the convenience of description, may be classed under two grand divisions: the Sierra Nevada ranges, which traverse the State along its eastern border, and the Coast Range, which, as its name implies, extends along its western border near the sea coast. These divisions, uniting on the south, near Fort Tejon, latitude Mo, and on the north, near Shasta City, latitude 40°35', enclose the valleys of the Sacramento and San Joaquin, which are nearly three hundred and fifty miles in length, and from forty to eighty miles wide at the points of their greatest divergence.
Each of these divisions embraces many separate groups of mountain chains of vast extent, differing in geological relations and mineral composition, presenting in many places scenes of rare beauty, or rugged wildness not surpassed by any mountains in the world; for here, the mighty forces of the volcano and earthquake, of the crushing, slow-moving, ponderous glacier, and of the swift-destroying flood, have each left evidence of their power.
When we state that the Coast Range and Sierra Nevada mountains, after separating as above mentioned, diverge from both points of contact with a tolerably even curve, until the divergence reaches its greatest limit, the reader may form some idea of the shape of the magnificent valleys they enclose, which contain nearly five eighths of all the level land in the State. It is this peculiarity of their form which renders a great portion of them subject to overflow during rainy seasons. The whole of the water which flows from nearly five hundred miles of the Sierra Nevada ranges, and from the eastern slope of the coast mountains, must find its way to the ocean through these valleys—the Sacramento flowing from the north, the San Joaquin from the south— giving names to the portions through which they pass, bring the accumulated waters to the head of Suisun Bay, where they unite. The only outlet for this bay, the Straits of Carquinez—a narrow channel, several miles in length and less than a mile in width—being too small for the passage of the waters as rapidly as they accumulate from such an extent of mountainous country, during extraordinarily wet seasons, they rise, and as the greater portion of the land of the valleys is but a few feet above the ordinary water level, they are speedily submerged, except where protected by levees.
It is much more difficult to convey an idea of the form and extent of the mountains within the State, by a mere description, than it is of its great valleys. Their stupendous proportions and complex structure are so entirely unparalleled that there are few points of comparison between them and other mountains to which we can refer the reader to assist in illustrating our description. The Sierra Nevada, or Snowy mountains which bound the Sacramento valley on the east, include a series of ranges, which, collectively, are seventy miles wide. The general name for the group is derived from the snow which is rarely absent from the higher peaks in the range.
The Coast Range, which bounds it on the west, also consists of a series of chains aggregating forty miles miles in width, bordering the State from its northern to its southern boundary. There is a most remarkable difference in the structure and conformation of the two series. The Sierra Nevada ranges may be traced in consecutive order for an immense distance. The whole country, for nearly five hundred miles in length, and nearly one hundred miles in width—their extent within the limits of the State—being subordinate in configuration to two lines of culminating crests, which impart a peculiar character to its topography, while in the Coast Range all is confusion and disorder. Each mountain in the whole series appears to be the product of causes singularly local in their effects—the mineral composition of many high mountains, in close proximity to each other, being very different. There are peaks in this range which reach from fifteen hundred to eight thousand feet above the sea level, but there is no connection in the direction of such culminating peaks.
If we compare this peculiarly local structure of the Coast Range with the remarkable continuity in the direction of the Sierra Nevada ranges, we may comprehend some of the peculiarities which form the most interesting features in the two series of California mountains—its Alps and Appalachians. The highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada, from Mount Shasta on the north, including Lassen's Butte, Spanish Peak, Pilot Peak, the Downieville Buttes, Pyramid Peak, Castle Peak, Mounts Dana, Lyell, Brewer, Tyndall, Whitney, and several others not yet named, which reach from 10,000 to 15,000 feet above the level of the sea, are nearly all in a line running N. 31° W. On the eastern side of this culminating line of peaks is situated a series of lakes, the principal of which are the Klamath, Pyramid, Mono, and Owens', lying wholly to the east of the Sierra, and Tahoe, occupying an elevated valley at a point where the range separates into two summits. . The confluence of the Gila and Colorado rivers forms the southern limit of the depression in which these lakes are located. A somewhat similar depression exists on the western slope of this ridge of high peaks, which is also about fifty miles wide, and terminated by another series of peaks, remarkably continuous in their direction, and also containing a series of lakes. This remarkable continuity in the main features of the topography of so large a portion of the State, has induced geographers to divide it into four sections, which differ from each other in soil, climate, and productions. That section which lies to the east of the range of culminating peaks, is generally termed the "Eastern Slope." The depression on the west of this range, and the subordinate range of peaks which bound this depression on the west, is considered as the Sierra proper. The depression between the foot hills of this subordinate range and the Coast Range, is called the California valley—the Coast Range forming a separate section. The State is further divided, geographically, by a line drawn from west to east, in the locality of Fort Tejon; all south of such line is considered southern California; all the territory north of another line, intersecting Trinity, Humboldt, Tehama, and Plumas counties, being considered as northern California ; the country between these two lines being central California. This central division contains seven eighths of the population and wealth of the State.
From Point Concepcion, in latitude 34°20', to Cape Mendocino, in latitude 40°20', the mountains of the Coast Range present a rocky barrier, with numerous projecting headlands, against which the waves of the Pacific Ocean break with great fury during the prevalence of easterly or westerly gales. Between these two points, and sheltered by these projecting headlands, the mariner finds the best harbors along the coast. Coming from the north, and sailing south, ho meets with Bodega bay, in Sonoma county; Tomales, and Drake's bay, in Marin county; San Francisco bay; Half Moon bay, in San Mateo county; Santa Cruz bay, Santa Cruz county; Monterey, and Carmel bays, in Monterey county; Estero, and San Luis bays, in San Luis Obispo county. North of Cape Mendocino is Humboldt bay, in Humboldt county; Trinidad bay, in Klamath county; Light and Pelican bays, in Del Norte county. South of Point Concepcion there are sandy plains, twenty to forty miles wide, between the mountains and the sea. Along these flat shores are the harbors of Santa Barbara, in Santa Barbara county; Wilmington and Anaheim Landing, in Los Angeles county; San Luis Rey, and San Diego, in San Diego county.
It will be perceived by this list of harbors along the coast of California, that it possesses great facilities for carrying on an extensive coasting trade. In addition to the harbors above named there are several estuaries and rivers indenting the coast, which afford convenient anchorage for vessels to load lumber, grain, firewood, and other products of the coast range.
Those portions of this range which skirt the coast in Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties, between latitude 38° and 40°, are tolerably well timbered; but south of Bodega bay, and north of Mendocino county, except about Monterey bay and Santa Cruz, the coast line presents a bleak and sterile appearance. All the valleys in the range, which are open to the coast, are narrow and trend nearly east and west. The Salinas, the most extensive of these coast valleys, is nearly