Posts Tagged ‘Erasmus French’

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

January 20, 2011

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