Excerpts from the Diary of A. Benton Harvey
Hermosillo to Guaymas
Businesses in Plumas and Lassen County did not bring Isaac or Benton their pot of gold. So, Benton set out for New Mexico Territory to try his luck finding gold and silver mines there. His diary of that trip shows him to be, like his sisters and father, an observant and articulate man, who wasted few words.
Opening his pocket diary at the Bancroft library (BANC MSS 74/104c), one also sees he wasted little space, every page, front and back, is crammed with entries. Even more remarkable was that entries were made with just one hand; Benton’s left hand and arm were amputated after arriving in California in 1850. There are few photos of Benton. One that does exist shows Benton with left arm and tie dangling.
Benton departed from San Francisco on February 11, 1864 and landed four days later at the port in Los Angeles, at the time just a village. He was not impressed,
The cattle are poor and dying of starvation. Sheep and horses fare no better. The country is dry and burnt, and nature’s breast refuses to yield her children the proper nourishment. I don’t remember to have ever seen a more dreary and desolate country inhabited by civilized man.
He hired a team and headed east passing through Ft. Yuma, along the Rio Gila to the Pima Villages. He was disappointed in what he saw, mining for gold or silver offered little chance of any return. He turned south to Sonora, Mexico, laying over in Hermossilo, and Guaymas before boarding a ship back to San Francisco, 5 months after he began.
The following excerpts described Benton leaving Hermosillo and staying in Guaymas, an old port town on the Baja coast. They are typical of his writings.
Left Hermosillo in the morning at 4 a.m.
Mud-wagon with six wild mules attached. They are hitched to the wagon in a style I never saw practiced in other land. Two to the pole and four abreast in the lead. The passengers in the wagon first – then the mules are fastened and the driver mounts to his seat, and taking the reins the four are swung into place. While two men hold them, a third fastens traces and, at the word, the holders let go and we are off at a full run. A regular stampede – every mule running his full speed. We left the city before it was light and drove 18 miles to breakfast at six o’clock – changed mules for a thirty mile drive. Wild, untamed mules – we are off like a shot. All the driver tried to do is to keep them in the road for the first six or seven miles. Reached station at 10:30 and changed mules again. Here we go the wildest team of the route. They are also the smallest and also the quickest. We left the station at a runaway gait and never slackened for twelve miles to a station where we dine – then another drive of 35 miles and we hitch on a wild team of six mares and run into Guaymas at 9 in the evening – having stopped at each station about one hour.
Henry C. Pratt’s 1852 watercolor of the Gila River valley overlooking the Pima Villages. From Bartlett’s West by Robert V. Hine. Used by permission.
Guaymas is pleasantly located on a beautiful bay, but as it is surrounded by mountains, it is the hottest place in all Sonora. It is not so large as Hemosillo and, for the only seaport, is very dull. It appears to be drying out. Many homes are unfinished and appear to have been so for years, as the brick and mortar are decaying. No bustle and life as in “American” seaports. By American I mean the U. S. I think Guaymas at one time must have had much greater trade than at present. I cannot fathom the cause of the decay, except that the mines have proved unremunerative.
Last night we had music by the band in the plaza in front of the hotel where we are stopping. All the people and their children were out to see and hear. During the playing a funeral procession left the wharf and rowed across the bay. The lights twinkling over the waters, and knowing the sad mission, and listening to the music produced feelings never to be forgotten.
Am stopping at a French Hotel – fare good. Coffee when you rise, breakfast at nine and dinner at four. We have about a dozen courses at dinner. Sleep in the street. Everybody sleeps in the street because it is the coolest and the only place you can get a breath of fresh air. With nothing on but shirt and drawers at first one has a curious feeling endeavoring to sleep upon a cot in the street with hundreds passing every moment.
This morning I was awakened by the merry chattering of a dozen senoritas as they passed my cot on their way to mass. Young and pretty, and not over sixteen. My first impulse was to cover up, but that was impossible as there was nothing on the cot but myself and a sheet. I begin to think I will make a fair Sonoran in a few more weeks. I have got about as lazy as any of them and they do nothing but keep cool and flirt with the senoritas. I can go half-way the program already.