Things in California Observed by Lieut. Morrison Before Being Shot and Killed

Image from Bayard Taylor’s Eldorado at Dorothy Sloan – Books

Things in California.

[Extracts from the Journal of Lieut. Morrison, of the New York Regiment of Volunteers.]

Image by James Walker posted on CasCity forum with other images.


The dress of a Spaniard of tolerable means consists of a fine velvet or deer-skin jacket, generally of a green color, with numerous rows of gold or silver plated buttons upon it with a pair of pantaloons of velvet or deer-skin, open from the knee down, and with a row of silver buttons on each side of the opening, confined to the waist by a red silk sash. Over all is thrown the Serappo, a gaily colored blanket, all striped and figured, with a hole in the centre for the head. This, when placed on the shoulders, hangs to the ancle on either side; under the pantaloons are a pair of very wide and loose drawers, and over them, when riding, are wrapped the b?as, pieces of leather reaching to the knee, to protect the lower part of the legs from coating.

They ride very fast, spurring their horses to madness, to exhibit their horsemanship, and the ease with which they rest in their seats, when the horse is rearing, pitching and kicking, is really astonishing. The Mexican saddle, though awkward in appearance, is much superior to ours for riding. They have high peaks, before and behind; the one in front is arranged so that an end of the lasso can be attached to it, after the bullock is snared. The spurs are the most savage and uncivilized looking instruments that can well be imagined, about two inches long, with small bells or pieces of steel attached, which jingle at every step. The stirrups are made of wood, generally ?gnum vita, and weighing from two to three pounds.

Another James Walker piece found on the CasCity forum linked above.


Imagine a drove of fifteen hundred or two thousand cattle roving the plain. The boccaria or lasso-thrower on a horse trained to the purpose, rides into the midst of them, selects a fine fat bullock, steers for him thro’ the crowd, driving the cattle right and left before him; the doomed animal may turn and turn as he may, but the boccaria when within twenty yards of him commences to swing his lasso (a long strip of hide with a noose at the end) around his head, and presently it whizzes through the air and the animal selected is noosed as certainly as the lasso is thrown. The moment the well trained horse of the boccaria hears the lasso whiz he stops perfectly still and bracing himself sideways, waits for the shock. The other end of the lasso being fastened to the front peak of the saddle the bullock is brot’ up suddenly and tumbles to the ground. — The horse being perfectly prepared, his equilibrium is not disturbed. The animal is either killed on the spot, (after two more lassos are attached to his feet to prevent his rising) or lead to the coral (enclosure for cattle surrounded with a high adobe wall.) Wild horses are caught in the same way. — The horses that are broken and kept for riding, being staked out in the plain and bro’t in when wanted.


The gathering of hair to make the riatas or hair ropes which are almost exclusively used here, (hemp being unknow,) it an amusing scene, at least to a Yankee boy. A party of Indians belonging to Gen. Vallejo applied one afternoon for the use of the coral of the Quartel, to drive the horses for this purpose. Permission being given, about a hundred horses were driven in, wild as the beast of the forest, not one of which had been disgraced by bridle or burden. It may be only a mere poetic fancy of mine, but it has appeared to me that there is something more graceful and noble in the movements of an untamed horse, that never “felt the halter draw” — an air of freedom seems to pervade his muscle and motion and frame, that the highest mettled of our domestic steeds never exhibited. To proceed; the Indians bounded into their saddles as with the agility of a mountain cat; by an easy and graceful effort. The nostrils of their horses expanded to the utmost tension, their long black manes and tails streaming in the wind, eretis auribus begun coursing at the top of their speed about the coral. Presently the principal boccaria dashes in among them, (fixes his eye upon one with a luxuriant mane and tail,) and launches the unerring lasso; it encircles the horse’s neck. Another boccaria rides up and throws a lasso low that catches him by the hind legs, and between the two, the poor victim is dragged to the ground. Two or three other Indians spring to him, armed with shears and (pardon the doggrel)

Take off all the hair,
They think he can spare;

and away they go to continue their wild sport. Three or four horses are generally sacrificed in the onslaught. This afternoon a very fine mare, with foal, was killed by the rude violence with which they handled her. But a wild horse is of small account to those who own over two thousand each, as Gen. V., and many others do. The prices of horses here range from ten to fifty dollars, according to their speed and the care with which they have been broken. Bottom is very little thought of, as the inhabitants always ride as fast as the horse can carry them, until he is exhausted, when they mount another, if on a long journey. Instead of slackening speed and dismounting in a civil and christian-like, manner, they keep their utmost speed, and when they reach the terminus suddenly rein back with all their might, throw the animal upon its haunched, and leap from the saddle.

The contrast between men and things here, and our own Estado Unidos, is striking enough. A fertile soil, under the soft influence of its sunny clime, enables the inert, unambitious Spaniard to live and “drag his slow length along” in indolent ease, without any effort of regular habitual industry so necessary to physical, moral and political health, and with no notions of substantial comfort, as understood by us at home. It is, indeed, a matter of surprise to see in this progressive Nineteenth Century Spanish gentlemen, not only of ample means but of great wealth, with costly Parisian furniture in houses of sun dried clay, (adobe) while materials for brick are around them, and without a chimney. We want the energies of the Yankee character to rouse the people to action, create a newness of life and spirit, and prompt them on to improvements. As it is here now, it is Old Spain in her mummyhood, in which the pulse of life is mute, no blood to circulate, no heart to beat, no soul to move with her. *  *


I hope that those who intend to emigrate by land here, will be careful that they are not overtaken by storms, and snows, or want of provisions, on their toilsome journey across the Rocky Mountains. I have seen those who started from the borders of Missouri, hale and stalwart men, hobble down into the plains of California crippled for life.

I have seen brothers who, in the madness of hunger, have fought for the last bit of their father’s dead body, having shared the rest at previous meals! — having been encompassed by snow on the tops of those dreadful mountains. Maidens who left their homes rejoicing in the pride of youth and beauty, in joyous anticipations from this far off land, by the horrors and suffering of that fearful journey, despoiled of their loveliness and bloom, withered into premature old age.

Watertown Chronicle (Watertown, Wisconsin) Feb 14, 1849


The New Zealander – Sep 8, 1849

Posted on a message board on

“A Long Road to Stony Creek,” by Rufus Burrows and Cyrus Hall, a California Gold Rush memoir published in 1971, refers to the “killing of Lt Roderick M Morrison of the New York Volunteers by Dr Erasmus French.”

This book only has a “preview” on Google books, so I could only see the following tidbits:



Anybody know the rest of the story?

Looks like a worthwhile read, if you can find the book.  Dorothy Sloan – Books has this description:

729.     BURROWS, Rufus & Cyrus Hull. A Long Road to Stony Creek, Being the Narratives…of Their Eventful Lives in the Wilderness West of 1848-1858. Introduction and Annotations by Richard Dillon. Ashland: Lewis Osborne, 1971. [1] 70 [2] pp., text illustrations, endpaper maps. 8vo, original beige buckram. Very fine in plain white d.j.

Limited edition (#66 of 650 copies). Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 102. Mattes, Platte River Road Narratives 294. Mintz, The Trail 67: “A nice printing of these two short, but dramatic, overland narratives.” Burrows hired on as a herder with Tanner at Sutter’s Fort in 1848 and in the 1850s tried his hand at stockraising in the Umpqua Valley; he gives much detail on these topics in his narrative. He went on to become a successful sheep rancher in Colusa County. His father-in-law Hull also raised sheep in Colusa County and gives some account of how he was faring in that regard in 1875.            $70.00

UPDATE: After receiving additional information from two very knowledgeable persons in the comments (Thanks, Donald and Nannette!) I was able to locate a couple more news clips:

New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian – Oct 10, 1849

The above, sent from “Stanislaus Diggings,” five miles. from the River, was signed by S.W., whose correspondence to the newspaper began with:

Gentlemen — Thinking that yourselves and your numerous readers will be gratified by any news of this remarkable and rich region, I devote a little leisure to give you the benefit of my mining knowledge and observation, and will do so from my daily “log.” I arrived at this place on the 7th April. It is named in honour of Mr. James, who is an Alcalde, and who dispenses food and justice to the satisfaction of all. Hundreds were busy in the ravines washing out the treasures of the gold-laden streams with various success. Sunday 8th. The day is delightful and the scene in the valley is worthy of a painter’s skill, or the pen of an enthusiast.

The next clip is in regards to the death of Dr. Fruend (Donald noted the name change in the comments) :

Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle –  Jun 23, 1858

Tags: , , , , , ,

12 Responses to “Things in California Observed by Lieut. Morrison Before Being Shot and Killed”

  1. Nannette Says:

    What else do you wish to know about this story? What is your interest in Lt. Morrison?

    • mrstkdsd Says:

      I was just curious what caused the shooting incident to begin with. Was he trying to kill the doctor? If so, why? It sounds like the Dr. was defending himself, just based on the bits of information I could find.

      I don’t have any connection to Lt. Morrison; I ran across the main article while researching the California Gold Rush and thought it was an interesting piece of history.


  2. Donald Moffitt Says:

    Lieutenant Morrison (a cousin of my wife’s) was shot to death not by Dr Erasmus French but by Dr Henry Freund, a German and a fellow veteran of Colonel Stevenson’s First Regiment of New York Volunteers. I believe that the Burrows’ manuscript, which cannot now be found, identified the shooter only as “Dr Freund.” The name apparently was mistranscribed by an editor later as “Dr French” and mistakenly identified as referring to Dr Erasmus French, who did exist. Lieutenant Morriison saw Dr Freund at Carson Creek on a horse that the lieutenant thought had been stolen from him, and attacked Dr Freund with a Bowie knife when he refused go give the animal up. Dr Freund fired his pepperbox pistol in self-defense. Lieutenant Morrison was the son of Roderick Norman Morrison, a New York lawyer and politician, who learned of his son’s death from a San Francisco newspaper he saw in Chile while en route to California to join his son. He went on to become San Francisco’s first county judge and to practice law with his nephew, Frank Morrison Pixley, founder and publisher of the Argonaut. Dr Freund became a hermit and was killed and butchered by bandits a few years after the Morrison shooting.

    • mrstkdsd Says:


      Thank you as well for the additional information. A fascinating story, something I am sure happened more than once during that time. When i found the first article describing what he had observed, I was excited, thinking I would be able to find more of his accounts in the newspapers, but then was so disappointed to find he had been killed. What a shame he died so soon.


  3. Nannette Says:

    I’m the biographer of Lt. Morrison’s father. In a nutshell, Lt. Morrison believed that Dr. Henry J. Freund (not Dr. Erasmus French) had stolen his horse, but Freund denied it. Morrison was drunk and attacked Dr. Freund, trying to make him give up the horse. Afterward, Freund was banished from the mines for one year. Several years later, he was brutally murdered by two outlaws.

  4. mrstkdsd Says:


    Thank you very much for the background story to the incident. Sound like Freund got what he deserved eventually.

    I wondered what the correct name was, so thanks for clarifying that as well.


  5. Nannette Says:

    Freund’s murder was quite horrible–he was hatcheted, burned, and partially eaten by dogs. Lt. Morrison is said to have written and published a book in 1848 about his California adventures, titled “Oceana,” but this has never been confirmed. I know of just one other letter of his, besides his 1846 poem, “The Volunteer’s Vision.” If Morrison’s “Oceana” can ever be found or confirmed, it would be of great interest to historians. You did a wonderful and thoughtful job illustrating this posting with historic images. Donald (who posted above) and I are working to publish Lt. Morrison’s full story.

  6. mrstkdsd Says:

    Well, I guess Freund didn’t deserve that, especially if he was merely protecting himself and his property. I didn’t really think through my comment before posting it.

    Best of luck on publishing his story. I think it will make a fascinating story and will look for it.

    Thanks again for sharing all this additional information.


    • Donald Moffitt Says:

      Just a bit more to this tragic story: Soldiers who knew Doctor Freund described him as a large, usually gentle and soft-soften man, but given to violent outbursts when provoked. Before the Morrison affair he had been exiled from an American River goldfield for threatening violence. He did appear to be genuinely remorseful over killing Lieutenant Morrison, which he did not intend to do. Living as a hermit in his last few years (in San Luis Obispo County, if memory serves), he doctored his neighbors, often without compensation except for the food and supplies they gave him. Some thought he chose to live that way because of the emotional damage he suffered from the Morrison shooting. He also changed his name, to “Enrique Freu,” and was known by that name at the time he was butchered by outlaws to whom he had given medical treatment and temporary housing in his mountain shack.

  7. mrstkdsd Says:


    Thanks for adding more to the story. Gosh, it just keep getting sadder and more tragic! Now I feel really bad for the poor guy.


  8. Donald Moffitt Says:

    I neglected to compliment you on the beautiful layout you made of Lieutenant Morrison’s letter. Here’s some additional information on the lieutenant. He had a gift for language and had done especially well in Latin at Yale, where he was a member of a prestigious fraternity and a secret society, but flunked out at the end of his junior year in 1845, and enlisted in Colonel Stevenson’s New York volunteer regiment as a private the next year. The regiment was an important project to President Polk, who had it sent to California to seize and colonlize the place even before it could be legally wrested from Mexico. Lieutenant Morrison’s last Army assignment before fellow Lt William Tecumseh Sherman mustered him out in the summer of 1848 was to accompany Major James Hardie on a trip to Northern California to mollify Indians who were unhappy with their treatment by white settlers and gold seekers. Though Morrison did not identify the major by name, in a letter home that was published in a New York newspaper he described the major’s conversion to Catholicism through his infatuation with a beautiful native California girl who attended Mass with him at Mission Dolores in San Francisco. That at least was soldiers’ gossip. Major, later General, Hardie did became a Catholic but it isn’t known that his supposed infatuation had much or anything to do with his conversion. Morrison wrote a lengthy, amusing parody of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” aboard his troop ship in the South Pacific in February, 1847, foreseeing the typical volunteer as a homeless, poverty-stricken wretch in a brown and barren California that was nothing like the paradise it had been billed as. The volunteer of the ballad was represented as a New York “Bowery Boy,” the stereotype of Stevenson’s volunteers. Although there were some riff-raff in the regiment, most of the ordinary soldiers were young middle-class adventurers from respectable families — but they did become somewhat insubordinate, mutinous, and “unruly” at times. Many became early prominent citizens of the state of California. There’s an old California ditty: “The miners came in ’49, the whores in ’51; and when they got together they produced the native son.” But the New York volunteers came before either and really produced some of the state’s first native sons. And they had a large hand in writing the state’s first constitution late in 1849.

    • mrstkdsd Says:

      Hi Don,
      Sorry for the delay in my reply. I was busy and the time, so I flagged your comment to return later, then forgot to do it.
      I appreciate all the extra insight into the Lt. Morrison’s life; it helps to paint a much more vivid picture of a very interesting man.

      I love the ditty, by the way, haha. I hadn’t heard it, but am writing it down so I will remember it.

      Thank you for the compliment. I like to add pictures to the articles I transcribe to add interest and aid understanding of times long ago. In addition, all the searching to find them helps me learn more history! It’s a win-win for me.

      Thanks again for being so willing to share so much of what you know about Lt. Morrison.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: