CALIFORNIA COAST TRAILS
CHAPTER VII

Fording the Ventura River — Tramps in clover — Hospitality unfailing — Carpinteria — Origins of Spanish place-names — A huge grapevine — Summerland: oil-wells in tide-water — Montecito and millionaires — Santa Barbara: as Dana saw it, and to-day — The Mission — A link with the past — The de la Guerra mansion — Santa Barbara of the far future.

FROM Ventura the coast takes a northwesterly sweep, the mountains now pressing closely down to the shore. There are two roads from here to Santa Barbara; the inland one, preferred by automobilists, which crosses the mountains by the Casitas Pass, and another, more to my mind, which follows the coast, in company with the railway.

The bridge over the Ventura River had been demolished by the floods of the previous winter, and the ford was rather too wide and deep for Chino's peace of mind. When in mid-stream he became nervous, finding the water touching his belly, and proposed to turn back; but I had seen another horseman cross the day before, and knew we could get through; so, punching him industriously with my heel, I got him over, though not without getting both saddle-bags and boots water-logged.

All day we travelled an attractive coast, while I let the monotone of the surf lull me into a mood of reverie. Houses were few, and hour after hour passed without sight of other travellers. Occasionally a train whirled by, breaking the indolent summer quiet with clatter of wheel and rhythmic clangor of bell. By now we had been passed several times, since starting, by regular trains, and the trainmen began to toot whistles and wave friendly hands to us as they flashed past.

Numerous cañons led back into a maze of rough though not high mountains, which culminated some miles to the north in the long ridge of the Santa Ynez Range; and at longer intervals capes ran seaward, shutting off the view of the farther coast, and providing constant material for curiosity and imagination. Now and then a distant vessel drew my gaze, and raised a lazy speculation whether its freight were lumber, oil, or humanity, and whether it was bound to a near-by port or on some romantic voyage to, say, Valparaiso or Zanzibar. The Channel Islands, looming faintly in southern haze, were no less interesting for the opposite reason, namely, on the score of their being almost uninhabited.

Just beyond the promontory of Punta Gorda was a tiny village, lying a little off the road. A trio of tramps were sitting about a fire, over which steamed a sooty coffee-pot. A lordly steak reposed on a newspaper awaiting its turn, together with onions and half a loaf of bread. I wondered whether the villagers could have paid such a heavy assessment willingly.

Mid-afternoon found us at Rincon Point. A homelike farm, shady with palms and olives, occupies the level land of the point, and Rincon Creek marks the boundary of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. It seemed an auspicious spot for a camp, so I boldly entered an open gate of the farm fence, and found an inviting nook among the trees beside the stream. There were one or two trouty-looking pools near by, and I spent a profitable hour with my fly-rod. As I sat by my evening fire, tracing Chino's wanderings on the hillside above by the jingle of his bell, I received a visit from the owner of the farm. My apologies for trespassing were at once discounted by his friendly manner as he dismounted for a chat, remarking that I ought to have come and put up at the house. I may say here that in the whole course of the trip I found the milk of human kindness always flowing, plentiful and rich, whenever I had occasion to draw upon it.

The road here leaves the shore, and for a few miles lies through a fine farming country stretching back to where the Santa Ynez Mountains rise abruptly to nearly four thousand feet. It would be hard to imagine a more desirable location for a farming life than this belt of richest soil, backed by opaline mountains and fronted by the calmest of seas. Here and there a clump of feathery eucalyptus or a rank of sombre cypresses marked the place of a farm, and supplied the one element that Nature had omitted from an otherwise perfect landscape.

To this succeeded the lemon and orange groves of Carpinteria, an old and small but pretty settlement; or rather, two settlements, the old, Spanish and decrepit, and the new, American and thriving. If report speaks the truth, the prosperity of one local landowner was gained by methods which entitle him to the special contempt, not only of his defrauded Mexican neighbors, but of all persons whose sympathies go with one Naboth in a well-known incident of Israelitish history.

The name of this village offers an example of the manner in which a great number of places in the State came by their titles. This and many other points on the coast were named by members of the expedition (of which Father Paloú was the historian) which passed up the coast by land from San Diego to Monterey in the year 1769. At this spot some Indians were found engaged in building a canoe, and from that circumstance the soldiers of the party named the place by the Spanish word for a carpenter's shop. Similarly, from nothing more important than the killing of a gull, a point a few miles to the west was named Gaviota. That the clergy also took their full share in the work of bestowing titles is plain enough from the generous manner in which the saints were remembered.

I had heard of a celebrated grapevine hereabouts which proclaims itself the Goliath of its kind. I turned aside to see it, and found the monster in an enclosure behind a little house which stands on the site of a vanished adobe. When I viewed the enormous trunk, nearly ten feet in girth, I could easily credit its claim as to size, and the statement of its owner that it bore from six to twelve tons of fruit yearly. The limbs (one of which I measured and found it three and a half feet around) cover a space a hundred feet square, and are supported on a framework of massive timbers. There is a legend that it dates from the year 1809, the birth year of so many great men; but be that as it may, it shows no sign of decay, and should be good for many a decade, in proof of one "tall California story," at least. I bought a bottle of juice made from its grapes, and ate my lunch under the ample shade, looking, I was aware, like a sort of modern and commonplace Silenus.

From the increasing number of automobiles that bequeathed us their superfluous dust and odors, I knew that we were nearing Santa Barbara. We were, in fact, already within the limits of the generous grant of lands which belonged of old to the Spanish pueblo. A few miles brought us to Summerland, where a number of black and oily derricks built on wharves are robbing Neptune of a long unsuspected asset. The place, which was originally a Spiritualist colony, now resounds with the creak and groan of pumping-plants, and at night might, I should think, still be a congenial rendezvous for ghosts.

On the right now appeared the wooded slopes of Montecito, a lovely expanse of rolling country sacred to millionaires. A green cañon of oaks and sycamores suggested thoughts of camping, but there was something almost sacrilegious in the idea, and I hastened on. Oak-shaded villas gave place to acres of sweet-peas and trim orchards of walnut and orange, and beyond ran the dreamy blue mountains with the peak of La Cumbre overlooking all. Soon the dust of the road was exchanged for asphalt, and gay parties of Barbareños appeared in automobiles and on horseback in quest of appetites for dinner. By early evening I rode into Santa Barbara, and for a day or two we went into city quarters.

When, in 1835, Dana sailed into Santa Barbara Bay on the Pilgrim, he found (to quote his own words) "the large bay without a vessel in it; the surf roaring and rolling in upon the beach; the white Mission, the dark town, and the high, treeless mountains. The three quarters of a century that has elapsed since that time has been highly eventful to California as a whole, but as usual the caprices of fortune have had their effect. Santa Barbara then, notwithstanding the poor impression Dana received of it, was the place of second importance in the Californias, outranked only by Monterey, the capital. San Francisco was "a newly begun settlement, mostly of Yankee Californians, called Yerba Buena, which promises well"; and Los Angeles, though then the largest town in California, could hardly have dreamed, with her interior position, of contesting for the southern supremacy with the better placed settlements on the coast.

The modern city of Santa Barbara is a place of about twelve thousand people, which, wisely following the lines of least resistance, has attained a fame of its own as a particularly delightful place of residence. Its climate, mild, equable, and the reverse of stimulating, is just suited to the enjoyment of its attractions of coast and mountain scenery; and tourists, who nowadays "with extensive View, survey Mankind from China to Peru," naturally have not overlooked Santa Barbara. Two giant hotels provide the superlative of comfort for the wealthy traveller, and streets of pretty houses in flower-crammed gardens are inhabited by fugitives from blizzard-stricken States in East and North.

There are not many traces, except in the names of several of the streets, of the older Santa Barbara. Of what remains of it the Mission stands first in interest. It dates from 1786, and, standing on the high ground at the rear of the city, the gray old building, drowsing in the sun, with its red-tiled corridors and twin domed belfries, sheds an air of Spanish languor, of perpetual siesta, over the city.

The Mission of Santa Barbara

THE MISSION OF SANTA BARBARA
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

While I sat on a bench beside the fountain in the open space before the Mission, I heard the patter of naked feet beside me, and, turning, saw the arch face of a Mexican boy of seven or eight years only a few paces away. He had noticed my camera, and was skirmishing in hope of some interesting photographic incident, but was ready for flight at a moment's notice. When I spoke to him he came and talked frankly, telling me his name, José, and those of his father and a considerable array of brothers and sisters. The surname was that of one of the soldiers who formed the escort of Padre Lasuen at the time of the founding of the Mission, and as it was an unusual name I had little doubt that this curly-pated youngster was one link of a chain which, if I could trace it, would lead back to that event, — one of some importance in the history of the State.

The Mission possesses a great collection of the material of California history. In the library of the building I found the genial and scholarly Father Zephyrin Engelhardt, deep in learned labors over his great "History of the Franciscan Missions," now issuing from the press. It is a worthy task, and Protestants as well as Catholics may well regard with respect the work of Father Serra and his helpers on these shores, which, a century and a quarter ago, were more remote and savage than Central Africa is to-day.

On a quiet side street I found another remnant of Santa Barbara's historic past, — the old mansion of the de la Guerras, a family so identified with the city that its history might almost be said to be their own. Readers may remember that it is the marriage of one of the daughters of this house, Doña Anita de la Guerra de Noriega y Carrillo, that Dana describes with so much vivacity. The bridegroom was Mr. Alfred Robinson, the agent of the owners of the Pilgrim and the Alert. (There is a volume, now rare, entitled "Life in California, by an American," written by this Mr. Robinson, which gives much very interesting information as to manners and affairs in California a decade or two before the grand transition from hides and tallow to gold.)

I noticed over the main doorway of the house the words, in quaint lettering, "La paz sea en esta casa" (Peace be to this house), followed by the name of the family. There seemed an odd disparity between the sentiment and the martial name (for de la Guerra signifies, literally, "of the war"). I wondered whether the incongruity could have been unnoticed by the old don who had the words cut there, or whether there may not have been some particular occasion for the little joke.

I believe it has been found that the western coast of this continent is slowly rising. If that be so, and the movement is to go on, and no wholly unthinkable change is to arise in the course of human affairs, why, I wondered, may not this sleepy city be a far future metropolis of the Western Hemisphere, lying at the head of a huge bay protected by a great arm of land on which the present Channel Islands would be prominent peaks? But no doubt, long before that could come to pass, ports, steamships, and all the rest of our modern paraphernalia will be matter of very ancient history: and meanwhile Santa Barbara fulfils her comfortable destiny, dozing among palms and roses beside the bluest of seas.