Posts Tagged ‘George Horatio Derby’

Fourth of July, 1854 – Old Town San Diego

July 1, 2009
Old Town (Image from

Old Town (Image from

Phoenix on “the Fourth,” in San Diego.

The immortal John Phoenix has furnished the Herald with a report of the celebration of the late national anniversary in San Diego. We extract as follows:

At 8 A.M. a procession was formed, and moved to the sound of a military band, consisting of a gong and a hand bell, across the Plaza, where it separated into two divisions, one proceeding to the Union House, the other to the Colorado Hotel. At each of these excellent establishment and elegant dejeuner was served up of the sumptuousness of which the following bill of fare will give some faint idea:

Coffee,    Cafe, con sucre,
Bread,     Pan,
Butter,    Montequilla,
Fried Beefsteaks,    Carne,
Hash,      No se.

At 9 A.M. precisely, the San Diego Light Infantry, in full uniform, consisting of Brown’s little boy, in his shirt-tail, fired a national salute with a large bunch of fire-crackers. This part of the celebration went off admirably; with the exception of the young gentleman having set fire to his shirt tail, which was fortunately immediately extinguished without incident.

At 12 M., an oration was delivered by a gentleman in the Spanish language, in front of the Exchange, of which your reporter regrets to say he has been unable to remember but the concluding sentence, which, however, he is informed, contains many fine ideas.

It was nearly as follows:

“Hoy es el dia de Santa Refugia! — Hio, los Americanos son abajos, no vale nada! Hio [or Hie?], nada, nada, nada, hiccup! Mira! hombre, dar me poco de aquadiente. Carajo [e?]!”

This oration was remarkably well received, and shortly after, the band commencing its performance, the procession was again formed, and, dividing as before moved off to dinner.

The afternoon passed pleasantly away it witnessing the performance of a gentleman who had been instituting a series of experiments to test the relative strength of various descriptions of spiritous liquors, and who becoming excited and enthusiastic thereby, walked round the Plaza and howled dismally.

Mountain Democrat, The (Placerville, California) Sep 9,  1854

Image from Phoenixiana

Image from Phoenixiana

From The Journal of San Diego History:


Fear that the San Diego River would silt up the San Diego Bay to the extent that its value as a harbor would be lessened, caused the government to send Lt. George Horatio Derby, of the U. S Corps of Topographical Engineers, here in 1853, to deflect the river into False (now Mission) Bay.

Derby employed sixty Indian laborers in the raising of a levee from Old Town across the flats to the nearest high land to the west – about twelve hundred yards away. The dike was washed out, and the Army built another, and parts of a later one until recently could be seen a few yards north of Frontier at Midway Drive.

The dike is remembered because it brought Derby here. As “John Phoenix” he was America’s leading humorist. His delightful descriptions of San Diego life a century ago were best-selling literature before the Civil War.

And from Save Our Heritage Organization:

Derby is perhaps best remembered as one of the foremost humorists of the nineteenth century, whose “typically American” style inspired Mark Twain, Artemus Ward, and other later authors. Squibob and John Phoenix were two of his pseudonyms and in 1855 he published his best-known work, Phoenixiana.


When searching  Google for a picture for this post, I ran across Phoenixiana in Google Book Search. It includes the above transcribed newspaper article.