Previous chapter   Table of Contents   Next chapter


The part played by the dispersed wanderers from Nauvoo in the romantic saga of the building of the West will perhaps never be completely told. There are few States west of the Mississippi into which some colony of these despised ones did not go to begin life anew. They had learned their lesson; they now found their resting places far from the haunts of their fellow men. Not only Utah, but Missouri, California, Illinois, Texas, Iowa, Minnesota, Arizona, Wisconsin, Idaho, Nevada, and others must give credit to this "peculiar people" when they call the roll of their pioneers.

Perhaps of all these colonies none had a more romantic history than the one that sailed around South America to California on the good ship "Brooklyn." Samuel Brannan, an elder in New York City and vicinity who later became prominent in California history, conceived the idea of taking his flock by water to California and there meeting the company who had left under Brigham Young, presumably for the same port.

Samuel Brannan, who a decade and a half later was to share the headlines of New York newspapers only with important news from the Civil War, was young then, only twenty-six, but already he had lived much. Born in Maine in 1819, he had been bound out to an Ohio printer, bought his time at seventeen, and became a literary journeyman. An ambitious "literary weekly" having died on his hands in New Orleans, he went to Indianapolis and started a new venture which also failed. Just at what time in his career he became a Latter Day Saint, we do not know. His name first appears among those "blessed in consequence of their labor on the House of the Lord" in Kirtland, on March 7, 1835, so he must have joined the church while still serving his printer's apprenticeship.

The death of Joseph Smith and the proposed westward move of the majority of the Twelve and their followers found him in charge of the church in New York, and publisher of the church paper, The Messenger.

A conference was held in American Hall, New York, on November 12, 1845, in which a series of preambles and resolutions was offered by Samuel Brannan, broaching the subject of a removal west in no uncertain terms. A part of them read:

Resolved, that the church in this city move, one and all, west of the Rocky Mountains, between this and next season, either by land or water; and that we most earnestly pray all our brethren in the eastern country to join with us in this determination, and carry it out effectually, to the delivery of the people of God from the daughters of Babylon, and not one left behind.

Resolved, that there are no apologies required of those who do not go, but old age, sickness, infirmities, and poverty. "For he that will not forsake father and mother, houses and lands, wives and children for me and my name's sake, is not worthy of me."l

Elder Brannan then laid before the conference his amazing plan, and asked all who wished to go with him to come forward and sign their names.

Arrangements were perfected, and a list published of those selected to make the trip.

These names, among whom may be found many of the pioneers of the church in California were: William C. Reamer and family, John Phillips, William Stout and family, Stephen H. Pierce, John Joice and family, John Hairbaird and family, Mary Murry, Daniel P. Baldwin, William Atherton and family, Susan A. Searls, Eliza Savage, Darwin Richardson and family, Simeon Stanley and family, Moses Meeder and family, J. M. Farnsworth and the names he signed, Jones Cook, Isaac Leigh and family, Manena Cannon and family, the Tompkins family, Henry Roulam, William Flint and

family, Joseph Nichols and family, Newel Bullen and family, Julius Austin and family, Ambrose T. Moses and family, Isaac Adison and family, Silas Eldridge and family, Barton Morey and family, Isaac R. Robbins and family, John R. Robbins and family, Jacob Hayes, Charles Russel and family, James Embly and family, William Glover and family, Robert Smith and family, Alandus D. Ruckland and family, John Eagar, Samuel Smith, Isabella Jones, James Light and family, Peter Pool and family, Joseph France and family, John J. Sirrine and family, George W. Sirrine, Samuel Brannan and family. Doubtless some of these did not go, while others not named were on the "Brooklyn" when she sailed from New York on Wednesday, February 4, 1846.2

Brannan, the leader of the group, was a man of vivid personality "deep-chested, broad-shouldered, shaggy-headed." His dress was fashionable, almost "dandified," his appearance impeccable in his then fashionable, "sideburns" and "imperial," his face lit up by flashing black eyes. And we are told, "his courage and generosity were boundless." The "Brooklyn," a three hundred seventy ton ship, with Captain Richardson, master, was chartered for the occasion. Into the hold, with amazing foresight, went the press of The Messenger, and two complete flour mills, dismantled but lacking nothing, and other supplies for colonizing in California, which was then on the road to nowhere, and completely out of the jurisdiction of the United States.

February 4 dawned cold, dreary, and rainy. Upon the wharf lingered a few friends and several curious and cynical strangers, looking upon the crowded old emigrant ship "Brooklyn" with her strange cargo as she left the wharf bound for a strange land outside the domains of the United States.

On the boat were two men, traveling for pleasure, and the shipload of nearly three hundred Latter Day Saints. There proved to be little pleasure. First, they lay long becalmed in the tropics and then were in a dreadful storm, during which women and children were lashed to their berths, for in no other way could they keep from being flung out. Furniture rolled back and forth. The waves swept over the deck and even reached the staterooms below. The only light was from two lamps hung outside in the hall, dim and wavering beacons in the storm. No one present ever forgot the whining and howling of the wind, the creaking of the ship's timbers, children crying, mothers soothing or scolding, the deep voices of the men trying to inspire courage, the cries of the sick, and yet it is said that through it all the most of the passengers were cheerful, and no one doubted for a moment that he would ultimately reach his destination. The old captain who had seen many a storm at sea finally came down, and while the passengers crowded around him, they made out these words above the din of the storm: "My friends, there is a time in every man's life when it is fitting that he should prepare to die. That time has come to us, and unless God interposes we shall all go to the bottom; I have done all in my power, but this is the worst gale I have known since I was master of a ship."

One woman answered him, "Captain Richardson, we left for California, and we shall get there." Another said, "Captain, I have no more fear than though we were on solid land." The captain gazed at the little company speechless, then turning said to another of the crew as he went up again, "They are either fools and fear nothing, or they know more than I do."

The storm passed, but as they passed Cape Horn, they encountered another in which a sailor was washed overboard and Mrs. Laura Goodwin, one of the passengers, while descending the stairs was thrown forward, causing premature confinement and death. The captain, more willing to accommodate the passengers than was the captain of the "Timeoleon" who buried Knowlton K. Hanks at sea, went ashore at the earliest opportunity, which happened to be on the convict island of Juan Fernandez (77 degrees west longitude, 38 degrees south latitude) to bury her. Here Mrs. Goodwin was laid to rest, leaving her saddened husband and six little children to continue the journey alone. In spite of the sad occasion, being ashore made a break in the monotonous sea voyage. The passengers bathed, washed their clothing, caught fish and eels, cooked and ate them, gathered fruit, and as they left, decorated their dead sister's grave with shells they had gathered, and took the six sobbing, motherless little ones back to the boat.

Supplies on the boat began to get low, and their diet soon consisted of poor bread and salt pork. The drinking water grew thick and ropy with slime and had a dreadful taste. One pint a day was measured out to each passenger to take to his room to use for drinking, washing, everything. The ship's condition grew rapidly worse. Rats, cockroaches, and smaller vermin infested everything--even the diminishing stock of provisions. Every mouthful had to be watched.

The passenger list meantime had been increased by two, a boy named Atlantic, and a girl named Pacific, their names signifying circumstances attending their birth.

Even amid such dismal surroundings the old dream of Zion still unfulfilled was in the hearts and minds of those poor wanderers, and they drew up a covenant, agreeing to give the proceeds of their labors for three years into a common fund from which all were to draw their living as a start towards the United Order. Some fulfilled that pledge through prosperity and adversity.

On July 31, 1846, the old emigrant ship "Brooklyn" labored through the "Golden Gate." A fog covered the harbor of Yerba Buena, shutting all sight of shore from their eager eyes. At length they could distinguish some dim shapes of ships, whalers, and even men-of-war, and flying from the flagstaff, mysterious and welcome sight, was the Flag of their country! There came a salute from the dim gray fort on the shore, and the "Brooklyn" responded. Now they saw a rowboat approaching, and uniformed men scrambled on the deck, not Mexicans, but Americans. The officer in command, with uncovered head said, "Ladies and gentlemen, I have the honor to inform you that you are in the United States of America." And a cheer--three cheers--went up from the wan, thin skeletons aboard the old "Brooklyn," from hearts weary but hopeful, and loyal to their country still. For just three weeks before, California had become United States soil, and the Stars and Stripes went up over Yerba Buena, now San Francisco.

One of the passengers says: "They crowded upon the deck, women and children, questioning husbands and fathers, and studied the picture before them--they would never see it just the same again--as the foggy curtains furled towards the azure ceiling. A long, sandy beach, strewn with hides and skeletons of slaughtered cattle, a few scrubby oaks, farther back, low sand hills rising behind each other as a background to a few old shanties that leaned away from the wind, old adobe barracks, a few donkeys plodding dejectedly along beneath towering bundles of wood, a few loungers stretched lazily upon the beach as though nothing could astonish them; and between the picture and the emigrants still loomed up here and there, at the first sight more distinctly, the black vessels--whaling ships and sloops of war--that was all, and that was Yerba Buena, now San Francisco, the landing place for the pilgrims of faith."3

Soon all were happily unloading the ship. Tents were erected, and sixteen families crowded into the old adobe barracks. Cooking of course had to be done outdoors. Soon a place was selected for the colony to settle--on the north bank of the Stanislaus River near the junction with the San Joaquin--and with a faith that was almost pathos, they named the place New Hope. Here they put in crops and prepared to welcome the body of Saints they still believed to be coming overland.

The women of the "Brooklyn" were quite an addition to the population of Yerba Buena, which up until their arrival boasted

only "two white ladies." "Polygamy was not in their creed, and they maintained good relations with the Gentiles. The men were industrious, public-spirited; the women, chaste; the children well behaved."4

In a letter written the first of the next year, Brannan, with characteristic Latter Day Saint optimism says, "Since our departure from New York we have enjoyed the peculiar care of our Heavenly Father; everything in a most miraculous manner has worked together for our good, and we find ourselves happily situated in our new home, surrounded with peace and prosperity."5 He also spoke of a paper they would commence publishing the following week, "which will be the government organ by the sanction of Colonel Fremont, who is now our Governor."

Brannan proceeded to set up and operate the first California flour mills; in a little redwood structure back of "Old Adobe," he put up his press, and issued the first newspaper in Yerba Buena, The California Star. In the first number of his paper, Brannan promised to "eschew with the greatest caution everything that tends to the propagation of sectarian dogma," a promise he kept faithfully. In the Star, he immediately launched a campaign for a schoolhouse, and by his efforts the first little red schoolhouse appeared on the Plaza, south of Old Adobe. This building, grandly designated as the "Public Institute," served the infant San Francisco as school, church, town hall, and eventually as tribunal of the vigilance committee and jail. Samuel Brannan, the dauntless Latter Day Saint elder, performed the first marriage ceremony and preached the first sermon in Yerba Buena after the American Flag went up over that city. He has been dubbed the first "Californian," for he printed a special 2,000 edition of the Star and sent it East by the first pony express.

But his exuberance over his new-found home was destined to receive a rude jolt.

Spring came, and still no colony from Nauvoo. Brannan and some of the Saints set out to meet them, leaving the famous post of Captain Sutter on April 25. They crossed the mountains of California, a distance of forty miles, with eleven head of horses and mules, traveling on foot and driving the animals before them in the deep snow, making the distance in record time, one day and two hours. They had to swim rivers and climb mountains on their way. On June 30, 1847, Brannan met the Utah "pioneers" on Green River in what is now Wyoming and accompanied them to Great Salt Lake Valley. When Brigham Young decided to stop there, Brannan was disappointed and angry and soon started back for California. "He will find that I was right and he was wrong and will come to California,"6 Brannan said when he met, on September 6, 1847, a detachment of what was known as the Mormon Battalion.7 These men were told by Brannan that Brigham Young had sent word to all who had not money enough to come to Salt Lake to return to California and get work. About half of the men turned back with Brannan.

Smarting with an indignation toward the church leaders in Utah, from which he never recovered, Brannan took his way back to the new country, whose fortunes he had so readily made his own. Good fortune led him to the right place at the right time--the famous Fort Sutter, where the genial Swiss, Captain Sutter, held dominion over a large area of territory on the Sacramento River, five days journey above San Francisco. Sutter had just contracted with the firm of Marshall, Weimer, and Bennett to put him up a sawmill on the south fork of the American River, where Colonia stands, forty miles northeast of the fort. Brannan was

suddenly inspired to stop here and set up a store, for the builders had only consented to build the mill on condition that all necessary supplies be furnished them on Sutter's credit until the mill was in running order. The members of the "Mormon Battalion" who were with him, stopped also to work on the mills.

It was the fall of 1847. All the world knows the rest of the story. Gold was discovered at the bottom of Sutter's new mill race on January 24, 1848. And it was Samuel Brannan who carried the news to San Francisco, where Kemble, a youth from the "Brooklyn," was editing the Star in his absence. As Sam ran through the Plaza, brandishing a flask of gold dust above his head, and shouting "Gold! Gold! From the American River" the Star expired in the flash of a second, as its subscribers, editor, printer, and printer's devil dropped everything and followed Sam Brannan back to the American River.

Brannan's enterprise at the fort flourished, and of course, he also found diggings of his own. Meals now cost $5 each, eggs $1 apiece, and other necessities in proportion. From a humble Latter Day Saint elder, Brannan soon became California's first millionaire, but he never lost the characteristics that had made him successful in his ministry, for the old-time Latter Day Saint elder must possess courage of that rare variety that is willing to do and dare without counting the cost, for the missionary of that day who had great respect for the safety of his own skin was never a missionary long.

There was no law in California except public opinion, but now that lack began to be keenly felt. Lawless gangs from eastern cities moved into San Francisco en masse. When a gang of desperadoes calling themselves "Hounds" robbed and plundered a group of Chilean immigrants, committing murder and rape, Brannan added another to his long list of firsts. Inflamed with righteous indignation, he organized the first Vigilantes for action. "Brannan had just the oratorical gifts needed, deep feeling, pro-

found courage, and a powerful, penetrating voice. His fine eyes flashing fire, his shaggy mane tossing, his utterance half-choked by emotion, with sledge hammer eloquence, he wielded the throng into unity." He had no thought of lynch law, he insisted on a grand jury, and punctiliously provided the culprits with counsel. On June 1, 1851, the first regular vigilance committee was organized in Brannan's office, with Sam as its resident and spokesman. Before the end of the month, five or six hundred members had enrolled.

Bancroft says, "Peculiar as he was in some respects, I cannot but regard his connection with the first Vigilance Committee as the brightest epoch in his eventful life and so long as society holds its course in San Francisco, his name should be held in honor and grateful remembrance."

During the slavery struggle, Sam Brannan held his place on the front page news of New York City and the East. He owned nearly all the land abutting on Market Street in San Francisco, and nearly a quarter of Sacramento, and spent money on a lavish and prodigal scale that has seldom been surpassed. He entertained the whole city of Sacramento one day at his new "City Hotel" at cost of $150,000. When Mexicans wanted to shake off the yoke of Maximilian, they came to Brannan, and Sam paid the bills liberally. The American Legion down there named themselves the "Brannan Contingent." Only with the men in Utah, whom he had once called brethren, was he niggardly, and when, it is said, Brigham Young sent an apostle to collect the "Lord's tenth," he sent back word that he would not relinquish his tithing until Brigham sent back a receipt signed by the Lord, so that he could be sure the money went to its presumed destination, He was excommunicated, as one whose course in life was unfitting a Latter Day Saint.

The remaining days of Sam Brannan's history had little to do with the old life. Eventually he lost his enormous fortune, or nearly all, and when his wife took her children and left him, in one last burst of prodigality he settled upon her every cent of the remainder, and became a drunkard, a pariah, an outcast from society, living in penury and squalor. Sometimes he stole back to his dream city, San Francisco, to bunk in a two-bit flophouse, and watch men whom he had started in business cross the street to avoid him.

"Then the miracle happened," says his biographer. "Mexico actually paid him $49,000, a meager enough interest on his huge loan but that was not the miracle. Sam, renegade, adventurer, drunkard, spendthrift, rake--took every dollar of that money and paid his debts with it, quit drinking ... and died at the rounding of his 70th milestone, redeemed through the power of his will."9

When he died, May 5, 1889, in Escondido, California, he had not a cent, and lay in the city morgue for some days until a friend bought six feet of earth in Mt. Hope Cemetery and paid for his burial. Here (in division 4, section 2, lot 7) as late as 1925, his grave was marked by only a two-inch stake. An unimportant street in San Francisco bears his name.

As for the colony he had brought "round the Horn," learning that their brethren did not intend to locate in California, the valiant little group at New Hope dispersed and scattered, many of them becoming miners in the gold rush. Some went to Utah, but many remained in California to unite with the Reorganization when the first missionaries crossed the great desert to bring them the message of the coming of Young Joseph. Those messengers were E. C. Briggs, Alexander H. Smith, James W. Gillen, and William Anderson.

1 Times and Seasons, Volume 6, page 1037.
2 Ibid., pages 1113, 1114; Church History, Volume 3, page 181.
3 Historical Record, Volume 8, page 876; Church History, Volume 3, page 186.
4 The First Forty-Niner, by James A. B. Scherer, New York, 1925, pages 23, 33.
5 Millennial Star Volume 9, page 306.
6 Historical Record, Volume 8, page 930.
7 A battalion furnished the United States by the "Mormons" for the Mexican War. The battalion recruited at Council Bluffs, Iowa, from the camp for the Saints, marched to Fort Leavenworth. They arrived at Santa Fe in October; here they were divided. Ninety who were sick were sent to Pueblo; the remainder marched for California. They arrived after much suffering at San Luis Rey Mission on January 21, 1847. After active service, they were mustered out at Los Angeles, July 16, 1847. The main body of these met Brannan on the Truckee River.
8 The First Forty-Niner, by James A. B. Scherer.
9 The First Forty-Niner, by James A. B. Scherer, page 124. New York, 1925.

Previous chapter   Table of Contents   Next chapter