Today's Hours: 8:00am - 10:00pm

Stanford University School of Medicine and the Predecessor Schools: An Historical Perspective
Part I. Background History & E.S. Cooper's Midwestern Years

Chapter 2. Elias Samuel Cooper and the American Frontier

"An Historical Perspective." This, the subtitle of our Book, refers to our special interest in exploring the historical background of individuals, institutions and events related to the origin and evolution of Stanford Medical School and its Predecessor Schools. Accordingly, we shall give in-depth consideration to the following selected themes in medical and world history:

Stanford Medical School owes its existence to Elias Cooper - reason enough to begin the School's history with an account of his life and work, placed in perspective by commentary on relevant aspects of the 19th century world in which he lived.

Elias Samuel Cooper, destined to be the founder of the first medical school on the Pacific Coast, was born on 25 November 1820. His parents were Quakers and lived on a farm about a mile from the village of Somerville in Southwestern Ohio. The now great city of Cincinnati, 30 miles to the south, was then a town of only 10,000, located on the banks of the Ohio (an Iroquois word meaning "Great River"). Elias's grandparents, William and Mary Cooper, and his father Jacob, who lived in South Carolina, migrated to the west in 1807 through the Cumberland Gap over the Wilderness Trail blazed in 1775 by Daniel Boone. They traveled in a wagon train with other Quakers who, like themselves, were leaving South Carolina in protest against the introduction of slavery into their district. The Coopers acquired a homestead near Somerville and were among the early settlers at a time when this was the western frontier of the nation.

In 1810, Jacob Cooper (Elias's father) married Elizabeth Walls and they had nine children — six daughters and three sons. Their three sons were:

  • Dr. Esaias Samuel Cooper (1819-1893)
  • Dr. Elias Samuel Cooper (1820-1862)
  • Professor Jacob Cooper (1830-1904)

Their eldest daughter, Hannah (1811-1863), married Ira Lane in 1827. They had nine children, four daughters and five sons. Their first child was a son, Levi Cooper Lane (1828-1902). He was Elias's nephew and successor in the medical school that Elias founded.

With tales of the family trek over the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Ohio frontier forever fresh among his childhood memories, Elias no doubt came easily by the decision early in his career to move west in search of opportunity. During his formative years and the beginning of his practice as a surgeon, he lived in several small towns just emerging from the stage of frontier settlement. The last of these was Peoria, Illinois. All these communities were located in the region then known as the Northwest. His later years were spent in the new state of California. Unquestionably, his career was shaped by a singular phenomenon of American Society at the time - the westward movement of people. During the period from 1800 to 1850, in one of the greatest migrations of mankind, the boundaries of the United States were extended from the Alleghenies to the Pacific.

American settlers advanced in wave after wave to occupy newly acquired western territories as soon as they became available. Hunters, trappers and traders were in the vanguard. Alone or in small parties they penetrated the wilderness, avoiding or making their peace with the Indians, often finding a wife among them. These rugged pathfinders were followed by hardy settlers like the Cooper family who cleared land for farming, withstood the rigors of frontier conditions and the perils of Indian hostility. They ultimately formed towns where pioneers with other vocations joined them to create the diverse institutions of urban society.

History Professor Jackson of Harvard has said that the "crucible of the frontier" molded the American character, endowing it with "that coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom".[1]

This sense of freedom was based on a seemingly boundless expanse of open land without barriers to the ruthless exploitation of its resources. The era of westward migration saw the vast buffalo herds destroyed on the plains, whole regions denuded of their virgin forests and the indigenous populations decimated and dispossessed. The nation's founders foresaw the day of reckoning that has now arrived. According to Chief Justice John Marshall, Jefferson thought that our government "will remain virtuous for many centuries," but only, he added with seer-like vision, "as long as. . . there shall be vacant land in America." Jefferson concluded that when the people "get piled upon one another in large cities as in Europe, they will become as corrupt as Europe."[2] Marshall himself predicted that "when population becomes so great that 'the surplus hands' must turn to other employment, a grave situation will arise. . . .As our country fills up, how shall we escape the evils which have followed a dense population?"[3]

Cooper lived and made his contribution to medical education during the great migration and the waning years of the American frontier. Clearly an historical frame of reference is needed if we are to appreciate the significance of his achievements.

The Northwest

Ohio was part of the vast wilderness called the Northwest Territory, lying south of the Great Lakes between the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers. The region was ceded to the United States by the British in the Treaty of Paris (1783) that ended the American Revolution (1775-1783). At the time of Elias Cooper's birth in 1820, the Territory was being rapidly populated by immigrants streaming in from the eastern seaboard. Although the states of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois had been admitted to the Union in 1803, 1816 and 1818, respectively, they were nevertheless still sparsely settled and, during Cooper's early manhood, the future states of Michigan (1837), Wisconsin (1848) and Minnesota (1858) were still an untamed western frontier.

We must digress briefly to pay respects to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 that defined the organization of the Territory. The Ordinance is justly regarded as one of the great creative contributions of American government. It was adopted on 13 July 1787 by the Congress of the Confederation of the 13 former Colonies convened in New York. On 21 February 1787 this same Congress had authorized the Federal Constitutional Convention which opened in Philadelphia on 25 May 1787. Less than four months later, on 17 September 1787, the Congress completed the draft of the Constitution of the United States.

The stimulus for the rapid drafting and approval of the Ordinance by the Congress was the application from General Rufus Putnam and Reverend Manassah Cutler (forebear of Stanford's Associate Medical Dean Robert Cutler), to purchase five million acres of government land in the Northwest Territory, just north of the Ohio River. Putnam and Cutler represented the recently organized Ohio Company and Associates, centered in Boston and one of the largest land-purchasing syndicates in the nation at the time. The Company had two telling assets: one was its very considerable capital, and the other was Reverend Cutler, who proved to be a most persuasive agent. Congress, attracted by the prospect of obtaining money urgently needed for the depleted federal treasury, acted promptly and with remarkable foresight to approve the Ordinance in 1787.

The Ordinance, sometimes called a bridge between wilderness and statehood, established principles applicable not only to the Northwest Territory, but to future lands acquired in the westward expansion of the United States. It provided that the region north of the Ohio be divided into not more than five, nor less than three territories, with a purely executive government of officials appointed by the Congress until the free adult male population of a territory reached 5000. At that point, an assembly was to be elected; and when the inhabitants reached 60,000 the territory was to have the right to statehood on the basis of complete equality with the original 13 states. The Ordinance further provided for an equivalent of the bill of rights; freedom of religion; habeas corpus; jury trial; and land reserved in every township for public schools.. Slavery was banned. It is difficult for us to imagine, heirs that we are to American constitutional government, how revolutionary were the concepts of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787. This legislation liberated the enormous potential of an independent American citizenry on the frontier, directing their energy into the productive channels of democratic government and social progress. Thirty-one of the 50 states have come into the Union under the principles of the Northwest Ordinance with the result that the United States today is a federal republic of 50 equal partners.[4]

It is opportune here to avoid confusion by pointing out that the territory designated by the term "northwest" changed as the national hinterland moved west. In time, the Northwest Territory (that we are now discussing) began to be called the "Old Northwest," and then the "Middle West" or "Middle America." The Pacific Northwest or Oregon Country was later sometimes referred to as the "New Northwest."

Returning now to distinctive features of the Northwest Territory where Elias Cooper was born and lived until 1855, we should remember that it was the original homeland and hunting-ground of many Indian tribes including the Chippewa, Fox, Miami, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Sauk, Shawnee, Sioux and Winnebago. The Indians were friendly with the easy-going and tolerant French pathfinders and traders who were the first to explore the upper Mississippi in the 1670's. And they continued to live on good terms with the French colonists who later established missions, forts and trading posts at strategic locations across the territory from Detroit in the northeast to Kaskaskia on the Mississippi in the southwest.

This Arcadian interlude of benign French dominion in the Northwest was followed by a long, grim period of sporadic Indian rebellion and imperial wars that began in 1754 with the French and Indian War (1754-1763), waged in Europe as the Seven Years War, by which the British wrested control of the Northwest from the French. This protracted conflict was followed directly in 1763 by a general uprising of the Indian tribes led by Pontiac, chief of the Ottawa. During Pontiac's War there was a reign of terror throughout the frontier which wiped out hundreds of pioneer families and resulted in loss of all the forts in the Northwest except Detroit. Later, the region was a crucial theater in the War of Independence (1775-1783) during which the Indians sided with the British.

After the Coopers' arrival in Ohio, the Territory was again the scene of bitter conflict during the War of 1812 - "the second war of independence" - between the Americans, and the British and their Indian allies. The Indian tribes who fought (and lost) with the British in that war were a grave danger to settlers like the Coopers whom they sought to drive back across the mountains. The Indians were organized into a formidable confederacy by a visionary and charismatic Shawnee, Tecumseh, for the purpose of putting an end to the sale of Indian lands, and to the ceaseless incursion of white settlers into the Territory. The threat of Indian raids on the Ohio frontier did not subside until after Tecumseh was killed in the battle of the Thames River north of Lake Erie on 5 October 1813. Upon his death, his confederacy dissolved.

According to Shawnee tradition, Tecumseh's older brother, Chiksika, was a prophet. He, like Tecumseh, died fighting to reclaim the ancestral land from a foe of whom he said: "When we allow one white man to build his cabin, soon there are two, then ten and then more until there is little room left. By then the white man has forgotten that the land is the Indians' and he has only been allowed to be there. Suddenly he looks upon the Indian as being an intruder on his land and tells the Indian he must move away to make room for more white men....The white race is a monster who is always hungry and what he eats is land." Prophetic words indeed.[5]

The Black Hawk War of 1832 that terrorized western Illinois (when Elias Cooper was 12 years old) was precipitated by the continuing influx of white settlers. The Indians were badly defeated and were never again able to challenge the settlement of the Territory. Black Hawk's band of Sauk warriors was virtually annihilated and he and his men were driven west of the Mississippi, removing the last deterrent to immigration by the Americans. Years later, in 1838, an aged Black Hawk, resigned to the fate of his tribe, made a poignant speech at a Fourth of July celebration shortly before his death at 71. He said: "Rock River (Illinois) was a beautiful country. I liked my town, my cornfields and the home of my people. I fought for it. It is now yours. Keep it, as we did. It will produce you good crops."[6]

During the Black Hawk War a tall, ungainly man of 23 from Sangamon County in central Illinois named Abraham Lincoln was among the first to respond to the Governor's call for volunteers, and was at once elected captain of his company. About this time many of the families on the Illinois frontier sought refuge in a small settlement called Peoria, named after the Peoria Indian tribe. The village, consisting of 15 to 20 log cabins and two frame houses, was protected by a local force of 25 men styled the "Peoria Guards." Twelve years later, in 1844, Elias Cooper set up surgical practice in Peoria. By then the population was about 2000, and frontier conditions were giving way to a bustling community life.[7][8][9]

Such Indian leaders as Pontiac, Tecumseh and Black Hawk bitterly resisted the encroachment of frontier settlements and never accepted the validity of land sales by tribal chiefs to white men or their government. Nevertheless, cessions of land were made by the Indians, sometimes under duress, so that their way of life as hunters, ranging freely over a pristine expanse of forest and prairie, was forced to change. Settlement of the frontier by white Americans, progressing at an incredible pace, ruthlessly displaced Native Americans and forced many of them onto reservations.

In Peoria, Cooper gained an enviable reputation as a surgeon and teacher of anatomy. Nevertheless, by 1855 he had reached a professional plateau and his ambition led him unerringly to follow the "westward course of empire" to California.

The Far West

The innate human craving for land, and the imperial instincts of political leaders, convinced Americans of their "manifest destiny" to expand south to the Rio Grande and west to the sea - that is, to incorporate Texas and the Southwest, and California and the New Northwest into the Union. Conquest of all the land from the Alleghenies to the Pacific, and establishment within that immense domain of a durable social order in the 50-year period from 1800 to the statehood of California in 1850 was an accomplishment unparalleled in history. It can be attributed to the American form of government, the ethos of the people - and the extraordinary resources that fell into their hands.

The human tide that streamed across the country peaked in California following the Gold Rush of 1849. The port city of San Francisco developed at an unprecedented rate, creating the opportunity for which Cooper had been waiting.

Spanish Discovery and Occupation of Alta California

The California stage on which Cooper played the final stormy act of his career was, prior to 1844, little known to the American public by whom it was vaguely perceived as a mysterious and romantic land called Alta (Upper) California. The region was claimed for Spain in 1542 by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a skilled and intrepid navigator of Portuguese origin. He sailed up the Pacific Coast on a voyage of exploration from Baja (Lower) California to as far north as Northwest Cape near Fort Ross, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. He passed Monterey Bay, the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay without seeing them. Cabrillo's voyage preceded Francis Drake's visit in 1579 to the California coast just north of San Francisco Bay by 37 years, and the founding of the first English settlement in North America at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 by 65 years.[10]

Preoccupied with the southern territories of New Spain, as their American colonies were called, the Spanish initially showed little interest in Alta California. This changed when they became alarmed by rumors that the Russians were planning settlements on the west coast of North America, and by a report in 1767 from the Spanish minister to the Russian court that the Empress was considering expeditions to the area. Furthermore, the British had acquired Canada in the Treaty of Paris (1763) that concluded the Seven Years' War in Europe (French and Indian War in America). This raised the possibility that the Russians and British might encroach on California from the north.

It was to counter these threats that Spain moved for the first time to begin the occupation of Alta California. For this crucial task, the government was fortunate in the choice of Don Gaspar de Portola (c. 1723-1784), first governor of Las Californias (Baja and Alta), and Franciscan Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784), first President of the California Missions. Portola and Serra set out in early 1769 from Baja California on a combined sea and land expedition to colonize the ports of San Diego and Monterey. San Diego was occupied and the first presidio, military town and mission in Alta California were established there in 1769 in spite of frightful loss of life. Over two-thirds of the men from the San Carlos and San Antonio, supply ships of the expedition, died of disease and malnutrition, chiefly scurvy.

Portola, who was not deterred by this disaster, began the overland trek from San Diego to Monterey in July of 1769 with a force of 64 men. On 5 October his party had reached, according to their reckoning, the location of Monterey Bay which had been chosen as the site for the second colony. To their dismay, they found the shoreline wide open to the sea. They saw no sign of the fine, enclosed harbor sheltered from the winds that early navigators had so graphically described. Believing that Monterey Bay must lie farther to the north, the expedition pressed on.

Their path took them near the future Stanford Campus where a huge Sequoia so impressed them that they named it El Palo Alto (The Tall Tree). Years later the town of Palo Alto took its name from this lofty redwood. Today the scraggly remnant of an ancient, double-trunked Sequoia may be seen in Palo Alto where Alma Street meets San Francisquito Creek, hard by the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. In the small park that surrounds the base of the tree a bronze plaque was placed in 1926 proclaiming that: "Under this giant redwood, the Palo Alto, November 6 to 11, 1769, camped Portola and his band on the expedition that discovered San Francisco Bay. This was the assembling point of their reconnoitering parties." However, to the chagrin of Palo Altans, subsequent historical research suggests that the tattered, double-trunked redwood described on the plaque could not be the surviving vestige of Portola's famous landmark, now believed to have had a single massive trunk. And so we must conclude that the original El Palo Alto somehow perished long ago, leaving not a trace to show where it once stood.[11]

Continuing their northward march, Portola and his sick and exhausted men, eleven of them carried in litters between mules, were on 11 October 1769 astonished to find their path blocked by a great arm of the sea extending inland from the Pacific, and stretching southeastward as far as the eye could see - the Bay of San Francisco. The records of early Spanish navigators imply that several of them may have sighted the entrance to the Bay and even sailed through it for a short distance in search of food and water. But it was Portola who first explored its shores. History therefore credits him with the Bay's discovery.

On his return journey to San Diego, Portola again looked for the fabled harbor of Monterey Bay, but was once more unable to find it. Undaunted, in the Spring of 1770 he again marched north from San Diego to resume the search. At last, in May of 1770, he had no difficulty in recognizing the beautiful Monterey Bay exactly as it had been described by Spanish mariners more than a century before. Also in 1770 Portola founded in Monterey the second presidio and military town in Alta California, and Father Serra founded the second mission.

It was Spanish policy in colonizing Alta California to accompany the sword by the cross. That is, their military forces were accompanied by priests of the Franciscan order, the Jesuit friars having been banned from all the provinces of New Spain by Carlos III, King of Spain, in 1767. The long-range plan of the Spanish called for selected strategic locations to be occupied by special settlements that were established and supported by the government. These settlements were comprised of a presidio (military compound or fortress), a presidial pueblo (military town) and a Franciscan mission. San Diego (1769), Monterey (1770) and San Francisco (1776) were the first outposts of this type. We have seen how San Diego and Monterey were founded by Governor Portola and Father Serra. In view of our special interest in San Francisco, let us now take note of its origin in Spanish colonial times.

At the recommendation of Father Serra, whose counsel was greatly respected, a new Spanish viceroy in 1775 sent the San Carlos under the command of Juan Manuel de Ayala to explore the unnamed bay accidentally discovered by Portola. Ayala's report convinced the government that this "great arm of the sea" was of immense strategic importance, and worthy of the high distinction of being dedicated to the patron Saint Francis. Thus it was christened the Bay of San Francisco.

The viceroy assigned high priority to the establishment of a settlement on the Bay, and ordered Juan Bautista de Anza (1735-1788), an able and humane soldier, to lead an overland expedition of colonists (consisting mainly of poor peasants) from Sonora province in Mexico. Lieutenant Colonel Anza set out on 23 October 1775 with a company of 240 men, women, and children and led them in winter through a pass in the San Jacinto Mountains, a southern spur of the Sierra Nevada. This he accomplished without loss of life, a notable feat. The expedition then traveled north, stopping at Monterey while Anza went ahead to reconnoiter the Bay of San Francisco. At the corner of Embarcadero and Middlefield Roads in Palo Alto, a mile from the Stanford campus, there is a bronze plaque that reads: "Lt. Col. Juan Bautista de Anza and party crossed this area in March 1776 en route to select sites for the Presidio and Mission of San Francisco." Having selected the sites, Anza returned to Mexico, and the colonists proceeded from Monterey to San Francisco Bay where a presidio was dedicated on 17 September 1776 at the location of the present Presidio of San Francisco. A mission was dedicated on 3 October 1776 by Father Francisco Palou, acting for Father Serra, at the location of the present Mission Dolores on Dolores Street near Sixteenth in San Francisco.

The original settlement of Alta California was not accomplished by a voluntary, irrepressible surge of acquisitive, self-sufficient and self-governing pioneers and homeseekers as on the American frontier, but by peasant colonists recruited as described above. These were followed by relatively affluent Spanish colonials who received large grants of land from a government that continued to provide logistical support and administration for the province. As might be expected, the society that evolved in Alta California reflected the Spanish philosophy and method of colonization. In the end, it suffered a fatal collision with free-lance American pioneers.

This outcome was foreshadowed by the predominantly pastoral way of life of the Spanish Alta Californians during the colonial period. The upper class lived on privately owned ranchos acquired through the generous land grants they received to encourage settlement. These ranchos, thousands of acres in size in many cases, were stocked with cattle, sheep and horses to produce hides and tallow for trading, and other products to meet domestic needs. Agriculture was not intensive; manufacturing was minimal; tools, vehicles and farm equipment were antiquated; much of the manual work was done by the Indians; and the country's resources were not exploited. Hides and tallow were the main items of export and source of foreign exchange in a modest maritime commerce.

Spanish colonial life and the trade in hides and tallow along the California coast are unforgettably portrayed in Richard Henry Dana's Two Years Before the Mast. In 1834, at the end of his junior year at Harvard, Dana was forced to interrupt his studies because of illness. To regain his health, he served the next twenty-five months as an ordinary seaman aboard sailing vessels. After a voyage around Cape Horn to California he spent a year in 1835-36 making port from San Diego to San Francisco Bay, picking up cargo from the ranchos and missions along the way. Thus he described the Bay of San Francisco where he entered in the winter of 1835 as an ordinary seaman on the sailing ship Alert[12].

In the prosecution of her voyage for hides on the remote and almost unknown coast of California, (the Alert) floated into the Bay's vast solitude. All around was the stillness of nature. One vessel, a Russian, lay at anchor there, but during our stay not a sail came or went. Our trade was with remote missions, which sent hides to us in launches manned by their Indians. Our anchorage was between a small island, called Yerba Buena, and a gravel beach in a little bight or cove of the same name. . . Some five or six miles beyond the landing-place, to the right was a ruinous presidio, and some three or four miles to the left was the Mission of Dolores, as ruinous as the presidio, almost deserted, with but few Indians attached to it, and but littler property in cattle. Over the region far beyond our sight there were no other human habitations, except that an enterprising Yankee, years in advance of his time, had put up, on the rising ground above the landing, a shanty of rough boards, where he carried on a very small retail trade between the hide ships and the Indians. Vast banks of fog, invading us from the North Pacific, drove in through the entrance, and covered the whole bay.

The Californians themselves cultivated a relaxed and congenial style of living, devoted to family, friends and their Catholic faith. Their generosity and hospitality were legendary. Circumstances were generally comfortable, the country was normally stable and peaceful, human predators were few, and the martial arts were neglected - although the men did tend to be fiery on points of personal honor. By and large the Californians tended to be aristocratic in temperament, indisposed to arduous common labor, and satisfied with the standards and amenities of the society they had created in their geographic and cultural isolation. The California weather spared them the rigors of less temperate climes, and the economic environment was not competitive. In many ways the Spanish times in California were idyllic (for the dominant class, that is) but clouds were appearing on the eastern horizon. In spite of the laws forbidding immigration, Americans from across the Sierra began to filter into the province - trappers, traders and frontiersmen at first, but soon followed by homesteaders who settled on the land. This was increasingly worrisome to the government, but little was done about it by the local authorities who lacked either the means or the will to enforce the immigration laws.[13]

Imminent, however, was a development more disruptive than immigration to the Californian society. This was the revolution that ended Spanish colonial rule, and founded the Mexican Republic on 19 November 1823. Independence from Spain was followed by chronic instability of the Mexican central government. Political dissent and conflict were thereafter more or less continuous in Alta California except for a temporary respite during the term of the popular Jose Figueroa who was Mexican governor of the province from 1833 to 1835.[14]

Governor Figueroa is credited with founding the town of Yerba Buena on San Francisco Bay in 1835 by inducing William A. Richardson, an English master mariner who had become a Mexican citizen, to settle there. Richardson moved across the Bay from Sausalito and set up a temporary dwelling of rough boards on Yerba Buena Cove, and in return Figueroa made him Collector of the Port. The main attraction of the site, located three miles east of the Presidio, was the good anchorage for ships provided by the small cove. Growth of the little village of Yerba Buena was quite slow, and in 1845 it contained only about 20 buildings and 125 inhabitants, mostly foreigners. The area had long been known as El Parage de Yerba Buena (The Little Valley of the Good Herb) because of the aromatic vine (Micromeria chamissonis) growing there in profusion. This accounts for the town's original name of Yerba Buena. On 23 January 1847, by order of Lieutenant Washington A. Bartlett, first American mayor of the place, the name was changed to San Francisco.

The shoreline of San Francisco Bay is no longer indented by the diminutive Yerba Buena Cove. It has been completely obliterated by an extensive landfill which now supports the financial district of the city of San Francisco. Originally, the Bay entrance to the Cove corresponded to the eight block section of Battery Street from Bush to Broadway, and from there the Cove extended maximally inland to the corner of Montgomery and Jackson, a distance of two blocks.[15][16][17]

As already mentioned, the United States public was poorly informed about the province of Alta California prior to 1844. It was in this year that Second Lieutenant John C. Fremont of the topographical corps of the United States Army published a report of his expedition in 1843-44 to explore that remote territory. In the era before Fremont's visit the province was sparsely populated, as is readily apparent from the following estimates. The native population was possibly 100,000 to 150,000 Indians, some of whom were attached to the 21 Spanish missions established in 1796-1823 and located a day's journey apart from San Diego in the south to Sonoma in the north. In the period between 1810 and 1826 when the Spanish colonies in South America and Mexico were engaged in rebellion against Spain, the Spanish-speaking population in Alta California probably numbered little more than 3,000. Two thousand of these were soldiers and their families, priests, and the people employed at or living near the missions, while less than 1,000 were residents of pueblos (small towns) or private ranches. Increase of Spanish-speaking population occurred chiefly by births rather than immigration. The foreign male population not of Spanish blood (i.e., immigrants) has been given as 150 in 1830, 300 in 1835, 380 in 1840, and 680 in 1845. Small wonder that the wide-open and unguarded spaces of Alta California were an irresistible attraction to land hungry pioneers from east of the Sierra.[18][19]

In recognition of the greater importance of the upper province, Monterey was made the capital of Las Californias (Alta and Baja) in 1775. It was thereafter the seat of government and residence of the Governor (except when transferred temporarily and in name only to its southern rival, the pueblo of Los Angeles, during the regime of interim Governor Guitierrez in 1836 and that of Governor Pico in 1845). Even though it was the center of government, Monterey retained the unhurried, gracious milieu of a small colonial jewel, basking in the California sun on the shore of its incomparable bay. Other towns in the northern province were small and scattered and the missions maintained their separate, ascetic and regimented enclaves under the Franciscan padres. There was no preparation for the gathering storm.

American Immigration

American immigration to California in the early 1840s was slight compared to the flow of settlers to the much better known Oregon Country, an extensive wilderness region that included not only the present state of Oregon, but also Washington, Idaho, part of Montana, and British Columbia. The northern or Canadian sector of this territory was claimed by Great Britain and the southern sector was claimed by the United States. The first exploration of the American sector was ordered by President Jefferson who sent Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark of the United States Army to explore the country and, in particular, to determine whether there was a "water communication across the continent." The Lewis and Clark Expedition left St. Louis on 14 May 1804, reached the Pacific coast at the mouth of the Columbia River on 7 November 1805, and returned to St. Louis on 23 September 1806. Jefferson was delighted with their remarkable achievement. They found no water communication through the Rockies to the Pacific (for there is none), but their report provided a description of the territory and of a passable land route across plains and mountains to be followed by the wagon trains of future settlers.[20]

In 1818 the United States and Great Britain began negotiations over partition of the Oregon Country and the boundary between their jurisdictions. Their failure to agree on these issues was a troublesome problem. In frustration the two governments adopted a renewable Convention of Joint Occupation that allowed freedom of trade and settlement for both nations. This did not satisfy either the vocal expansionists in the American public or the prospective immigrants who wanted to know under what flag they would be living. As a result there was enthusiastic support for Senator Tappan when he declared that thirty thousand settlers with their thirty thousand rifles in the valley of the Columbia River would quickly settle all questions of title to the country.[21]

In spite of uncertainty about land titles, enthusiasm for Oregon ran high, and heavy westward migration of land-hungry homeseekers once again became a significant factor in the territorial expansion of the United States. The Oregon Trail became a national highway. Pioneers from the frontiers of Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky converged on Independence, Missouri, to join up into wagon trains of as many as a hundred "prairie schooners", as the covered Conestoga wagons were called. With an elected leader in command, an experienced trapper or fur trader as a guide, and perhaps as many as a thousand cattle on the hoof, they set off across the plains in the Spring. The Trail led through the South Pass of the Rockies in southwestern Wyoming, then veered north to Fort Hall in southeastern Idaho near the headwaters of the westward flowing Snake River. From there, and after six months on the Trail, they reached their destination in the valley of the upper Columbia River, or of the Willamette, one of its tributaries in western Oregon. Parties were fortunate to complete the journey without loss of life, and some disappeared without a trace along the way, through starvation after getting lost or Indian attack.

Although there are no accurate records, it is probable that 5000 to 6000 Americans settled in the Oregon Country in 1843-1845. The rapidly growing presence of citizens in the territory, and political clamor for annexation of "All Oregon", hardened the determination of the American government to settle the boundary dispute with the British on conditions favorable to the United States. Finally, after 28 years of intermittent negotiations and increasing tension, the British agreed to the Oregon Treaty substantially on American terms. This agreement fixed the present northwestern boundary of the United States along latitude 49 degrees N to Puget Sound. The Treaty was ratified by the United States Senate on 15 June 1846 during the Administration of President James K. Polk (1845-49). Thus was completed the final section of the 3000-mile transcontinental boundary between Canada and the United States as it exists today.

But the expansionist ambitions of President Polk (shared widely by the public) were not to be satisfied until California was brought into the Union. The settlement of the Oregon Question was but a dress rehearsal for the acquisition of California on which the President was now intent. And there was little time to lose. England and France were rapidly acquiring colonial empires in the Pacific and would take any opportunity to obtain California from the faltering Mexican government, by purchase if possible as the United States had already attempted to do, or by seizure if the occasion presented.

Events in the American southwest were already conspiring to achieve all of President Polk's territorial objectives within his term of office. His predecessor, President Tyler (1841-1845), had succeeded on 28 February 1845, the last day of his presidency, in securing congressional approval for the admission of the Lone Star Republic to the Union as the State of Texas. The political maneuvering in Texas, Mexico and the United States was intense, and Texas' willingness to join the Union hung in the balance from 28 February to 18 June 1845 when the Congress of the Lone Star Republic finally voted to approve annexation of Texas by the United States.

As to the origin and fortunes of the Lone Star Republic, a brief account will suffice. By 1835 American immigrants, chiefly from the South, had gained control in the northern part of the Mexican State of Coahuila-Texas. In that year they seceded from Mexico. In 1836 they set up a provisional government, proclaimed the independence of the Lone Star Republic of Texas, and defeated the forces under Mexican President Santa Anna who tried to retake the territory. In defiance of the laws of Mexico, the Americans had introduced slavery. As a result there was a bitter and lengthy controversy in the United States over admitting Texas to the Union for it would upset the balance of power between slave and free states. This was primarily responsible for the 10-year delay from 1835 to 1845 in admitting Texas as the twenty-eighth state, and for President Tyler's stratagem of securing statehood for Texas on the last day of his term by a joint resolution of both houses of Congress, which did not require a two-thirds vote. The heated debate over the admission of Texas was marked by zealous advocacy of slavery by many otherwise respectable American political leaders at a time when the British had abolished slavery in their empire, and were devoting naval forces to interdiction of the slave trade. After the admission of Texas, sectional antagonisms in the United States over slavery increased, culminating in the national catastrophe of Civil War from 1861 to 1865. We have already seen how slavery affronted the moral principles of the Quakers and caused the Cooper family to emigrate from South Carolina to Ohio in 1807, thus determining where Elias was born and spent his formative years.

Mexico protested the annexation of Texas, severed diplomatic relations with the United States, made a futile military effort to recover the territory, and suffered complete defeat by the American armed forces. This, in a few words, is the history of the Mexican War that was declared by President Polk on 11 May 1846 and concluded by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This highly significant treaty was signed in Mexico City on 2 February 1848, approved by the United States Senate on 10 March, and by the Mexican Congress on 24 May. Morison et al. summarize the provisions of the treaty as follows:

Mexico ceded Texas with the Rio Grande boundary, New Mexico, and Upper California (including San Diego) to the United States. The region embraced what would become the states of California, Utah, and Nevada, large sections of New Mexico and Arizona, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming. The victor assumed unpaid claims and paid $ 15 million to boot....

Also according to Morison, the United States rounded out her continental area substantially to the present limits by the "Gadsden purchase" from Mexico in 1853 of the Gila river valley in southern Arizona. This acquisition completed the southwestern boundary of the United States from Gulf of Mexico to Pacific Coast as it now exists.

With the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States received more than a third of Mexico's territory and realized the goal of western expansionists. By potentially increasing the number of free states, however, the acquisition also heightened conflict over slavery and moved the nation toward Civil War.[22][23]

The American Conquest of California

Meanwhile in Alta California, the halcyon days of the Spanish colonial period had only a brief revival during the benign administration of the Mexican Governor Figueroa (1833-1835), but were never to return after his death in 1835. On 7 November 1836 the disputation or provincial assembly of Alta California issued a proclamation declaring the province a "free and sovereign state" until such time as the Mexican government would restore the Federalist Constitution of 1824. After this threat of secession, the governors of the province appointed by the Mexican government were forced to contend with a stubborn and increasingly militant demand by the native Alta Californians for "home rule" in their internal affairs. Political confrontations and armed skirmishes occurred repeatedly between the Californians and the Mexican government, and between north and south factions in the province of Alta California. The attendant intrigue and sectional dissension served to demonstrate the military unpreparedness and tenuous authority of the Republic of Mexico in Alta California. These conditions were not lost on the American, British and French navies, each of which was standing by and prepared to annex Alta California on the first convenient pretext.

Commodore Thomas Ap Catesby Jones of the American Navy was the first to move. In the fall of 1842, while keeping a close eye on the movements of French and British vessels, Commodore Jones received information which led him to believe that Mexico and the United States were at war over Texas, and that three British men-of-war were headed north toward Alta California. In light of the instructions he had earlier received to take prompt action under such circumstances, the Commodore entered Monterey Bay with two warships on 13 October and demanded surrender of the post to the United States. Governor Alvarado, citing the futility of resistance against "the powerful force" brought against him, promptly signed articles of surrender, and the American supplanted the Mexican flag over the government house at Monterey. There was no fighting or bloodshed and after a few weeks in Monterey, during which relations between the Californians and Americans were friendly, it was learned that such rumors as war with Mexico, movement of the British fleet, and cession of Alta California to Britain were all without foundation. Whereupon, the Commodore withdrew his garrison from Monterey, apologized to the Governor and, after firing a parting salute to the Mexican flag which had been restored to its rightful place over government house, sailed away.[24]

Commodore Jones' premature conquest of Monterey from the sea in 1842 had all the fanciful airiness of comic opera. Fortunately it did not seriously disrupt American relations with Mexico, yet it did heighten Mexican indignation and apprehension about American designs on Alta California. It was also a reminder to European nations that any intrusion by them would be forcefully rebuffed, as had been declared by President Monroe (1817-1825) in his annual message to Congress on 2 December 1823 (The Monroe Doctrine): "The American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers...."

From the standpoint of long range American objectives, immigration of settlers to Alta California now became a potentially critical factor. It was the American view that their presence in sufficient number, as in Oregon and Texas, would have a major influence on the future of the province. We have already referred to the preference shown by settlers for the Oregon Country, but favorable reports in the press began to arouse increasing interest in California. The "First Emigrant Train to California" left Independence, Missouri, on 19 May 1841 and, after incredible hardships, arrived almost six months later on 4 November at the vast Rancho Los Meganos (The San Dunes) purchased in 1837 by John Marsh and located near the base of Mt. Diablo 40 miles east of San Francisco Bay.[25]

This first group of immigrants to travel overland directly to California did so in response to a letter about the magnificent opportunities in California written by Marsh, who gave a detailed description of the route to be taken over the Sierra Nevada (Snowy Range). John Marsh was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1799 to an old and respected family with Puritan and Revolutionary roots. He graduated from Harvard with a B.A. degree in 1823. We introduce him here as he fled on horseback down the Santa Fe Trail in 1836 to avoid the creditors of his bankrupt store in Independence, Missouri. He was also seeking to evade arrest by the U.S. Army for selling guns to enemy Indians from his frontier store in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, during the Blackhawk War in 1832. En route to California, he was captured by the Comanches, from whom he miraculously escaped. When he arrived at last in the Pueblo of Los Angeles, he was penniless. Undismayed by his predicament, he announced that he was "Doctor John Marsh", and applied for a license to practice medicine and surgery. He had in fact gained some medical knowledge from anatomy courses that he took at Harvard, and a brief apprenticeship with Doctor John Dixwell of Boston, but he had no formal medical schooling and no medical degree. Nevertheless, he obtained a license to practice by submitting his Harvard B.A. diploma to the Mexican authorities. They believed that the inscrutable Latin in which the document was written signified that he had been awarded an MD degree by Harvard. Thenceforth he was known in California as "Doctor Marsh." Through his considerable success in medical practice in Los Angeles, and later in the vicinity of the Pueblo of San Jose and Yerba Buena, he earned enough money to purchase the extensive Rancho Los Meganos in the shadow of Mt. Diablo - after he had first met the requirements of the law by being baptized into the Catholic Church and becoming a Mexican citizen.

John Marsh has been sometimes referred to as the "first American doctor in California." With greater validity, he is credited with having had a major influence on immigration to California by his convincing advocacy of its mild and healthful climate, fertile valleys and other resources. There is much more to tell of John Marsh's life on six frontiers, a story that ended tragically with his brutal murder in 1856 by aggrieved ranch hands, but this will suffice as a glimpse of medical standards and fortune hunting in Alta California about the time of the first immigrant caravan.[26]

California immigrants arriving by the overland route increased yearly and in 1845 at least 250 persons entered the province. The year 1846 saw the entry into California over the Sierra Nevada of over 500 men, women and children, the greatest overland migration to date. The pioneers of '46 included the unfortunate Donner Party that set out from Sangamon County in central Illinois on 15 April to seek new homes in California. They were trapped by early snow for four months in the high Sierra at Donner Lake near Truckee, California. The survivors were rescued in the Spring of 1847 by the heroic efforts of men from Sutter's Fort near Sacramento. The total number of deaths in the Donner Party, mainly from starvation and disease, was 36. Forty-five, including five men, eight women and 32 children finally reached Sutter's Fort alive where John Sutter did all he could to restore them. The Donner experience is often cited as an example of the perils and disasters that threatened the California immigrant trains.

The name of John Augustus Sutter (1803-1880) is remembered not only for his humanitarian aid to the Donner Party, but also for his involvement in many other memorable aspects of California history. Captain Sutter, as he was called, emigrated from Switzerland to the United States in 1834. After spending four years in Indiana and points west, including Missouri where he made his declaration to become an American citizen, Sutter set out in 1838 for the Oregon Territory with a trapping expedition. While in Oregon, he conceived the idea of founding a colony in Alta California, which he eventually reached by a circuitous sea route which took him to Hawaii, thence to Alaska, and eventually to Yerba Buena, where he arrived in 1839. He obtained permission from the Mexican authorities to occupy a tract of land where the American joins the Sacramento River in the environs of the present city of Sacramento. He became a Mexican citizen and received a grant for 50,000 acres of land where he founded a colony known as New Helvetia. He also built a fort which was the center of his increasingly prosperous business and ranching enterprises. Sutter's Fort (now the site of an historic park in Sacramento) was located on the main line of overland migration and became a major trading and rendezvous point for immigrant trains coming down from the Sierra into the valley. Captain Sutter's hospitality and generous assistance earned him the gratitude of the new arrivals, and his sterling qualities of character and leadership secured him the respect of settlers and native Californians alike. Yet, by a cruel twist of fate, an excess of good fortune loosed around the Captain a tempest of lawlessness and greed that swept away his princely holdings, leaving him in his old age a pensioner of the State of California and a futile supplicant to the American Congress.[27]

It is impossible to know with certainty how many American immigrants came over the mountains into California during the years from 1843 to 1846, but Hunt and Sanchez believe that it was a total of about 1500, presumably counting men, women and children. It is significant that most of them were homeseekers who planned to settle permanently and develop the country, whereas itinerant trappers and traders had predominated in an earlier period.[28]

This is an opportune moment for a reminder of the unreliability of California population estimates during the years prior to statehood. It is not possible to reconcile the various reports on this subject. Some data seem to refer to men only, some to adults only, and some to men, women and children. No census in the modern sense was conducted. Some of the available population statistics are the guesses of contemporary observers, and some are the result of later scholarly efforts at retrospective calculation. Let us turn then for help on this question to John Marsh of Rancho Los Meganos with whom we are already acquainted. In 1846 he was regarded as being among "the most prominent men in California" according to a list provided to President Polk by Mr. Thomas Larkin who was American Consul and confidential informant (that is, intelligence agent) of the State Department living at Monterey. Larkin sought Marsh's cooperation in acquainting the American government and people with the natural beauties and resources of Alta California. Marsh obliged by writing a letter in 1846 to his friend and former patron in the Old Northwest, U.S. Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan. The letter included the following estimate of California's population: 7000 persons of Spanish descent; 10,000 civilized or domesticated Indians; 700 Americans; 100 English, Irish and Scotch; about 100 French, Germans and Italians. (These data seem to refer to male population only.) For want of a better estimate for 1846, we will accept Marsh's approximation of California population in that year as a baseline for comparison with later years. Marsh's figures are frequently quoted, and had considerable circulation in the United States at the time since Senator Cass saw that Marsh's letter was widely published.[29]

The fateful year of 1846 was a turning point in the affairs of Alta California. As already pointed out, the political situation in the Mexican Republic deteriorated after independence from Spain in 1823. The unstable central government was ineffectual in maintaining control over the rebellious and essentially self-governing northern province, itself the scene of internal dissension and disorder. As the caravans continued to bring in American settlers, it was forecast in the United States that the immigrants would sooner or later band together and secede - and that Alta California would go the way of Texas. Although the Americans were outnumbered ten to one in the province, predictions were that they could easily overcome the disorganized and quarreling native Californians.

At the same time, Thomas Larkin was on another tack, one presumably favored by the American government. His secret instructions were to cultivate the Californians privately, to impress upon them the political and economic advantages of requesting annexation by the United States, and to assure them that the United States would welcome such a request. We shall never know whether this covert approach would have achieved its goal of peaceful annexation of Alta California for events took another course, as we shall now relate, but only in the barest outline.

As one might expect, the Californians (i.e. the Mexican citizens of California) were agitated by the rumors of impending war between Mexico and the United States over the annexation of Texas. They were increasingly suspicious of the intentions of the growing number of American settlers who were, in turn, fearful that the Californians were planning to expel them from the province. Tension between the American settlers and the Californians was further heightened when Captain John C. Fremont, who had entered Alta California on his third exploring expedition, built a log fort on Gavilan (Hawk's) Peak not far from Monterey, and on 6 March 1846 raised the American Flag. He abandoned the fort after three days and retired to the north, but only after being confronted with the superior force of General Jose Castro, military commandant of Alta California.[30]

What Captain Fremont intended to accomplish by this provocative maneuver is unclear, but this and subsequent incidents led American settlers in the inland valleys to believe that an attempt by the Californians to expel them was imminent. It was also concluded by the settlers, who had not yet learned of the declaration of war against Mexico on 11 May 1846, that Fremont's presence in the area was a signal that the American government would sanction a revolt by the settlers. There followed the implausible episode known as the Bear Flag Revolution during which a party of 32 or 33 Americans, chiefly roving immigrants and hunters who had the backing of Fremont, seized the small, drowsy pueblo of Sonoma just north of San Francisco Bay on 14 June 1846. At daybreak on this quiet Sunday morning, what appeared to be a band of uncouth and menacing strangers in leather hunting-shirts entered the home of the distinguished General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo who was arrested, required to give up the keys to public property, and taken as a prisoner to Sutter's Fort. Since the General was the respected former military commandant of Alta California, friendly to the Americans, and among the influential native Californians who favored voluntary entrance of the province into the Union, his haughty treatment during the Bear Flag incident not only inflamed the Californians, but was also an embarrassment to the United States.

The insurgents improvised a crude red, white and blue flag emblazoned with the painted outline of a grizzly bear to serve as the ensign of the Bear Flag Republic which, Texas-fashion, they formally proclaimed. This impetuous filibuster by American settlers, precipitated by the belligerent stance and encouragement of Captain Fremont, was an incredibly disorganized affair. Fortunately, no one was injured. It did, however, undermine the American government's plan being pursued by Larkin to gain the goodwill and voluntary allegiance of the Californians. They were, instead, thoroughly incensed and as a result probably mounted a more determined resistance to American forces during the imminent conquest of California than might otherwise have been the case. On the whole, the practical effect of this colorful episode on the conquest was probably not significant, although there has been considerable speculation on this point among historians.[31][32][33]

As for the Bear Flag Party, they gladly disbanded to join American forces and participate in the general conquest of California which soon followed. Their original flag was lost in the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, but rose from the ashes on 3 February 1911 when the Bear Flag was adopted as the California State Flag. As for Fremont, his military service in California was marked by further rash and arrogant behavior, leading to his court-martial for insubordination. The remainder of his public service was also attended by controversy. However, it should be remembered that early in his career Fremont was an intrepid and observant explorer of California and the West whose expeditionary reports were of great value. In one of these reports, he compared the entrance of San Francisco Bay to the Golden Horn of Byzantium, and gave the name of Chrysopylae or Golden Gate to the Bay's majestic inlet from the sea. Little did he suspect how vividly the felicity of his classical allusion would be affirmed by future events.[34]

Unwittingly, Fremont and the Bear Flag Party were at least fortunate in the timing of their revolt. On 7 July 1846, three weeks after the Bear Flag Revolution, Commodore John D. Sloat, commander of United States Naval Forces on the Pacific, upon learning that war with Mexico had begun, occupied Monterey, raised the American Flag, and issued a proclamation declaring that "henceforward California will be a portion of the United States". It was in this fashion that the United States took formal possession of California. The Spanish-speaking Californians rose in arms but in spite of their spirited and temporarily successful defensive action in Southern California, they were rapidly overcome by the American forces who took Los Angeles on 10 January 1847, thus completing the conquest of California. Later that year, at dawn on 17 September, Mexico City surrendered to the Americans. This ended the fighting in the Mexican War. As already noted, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in Mexico City on 2 February 1848, and was finally approved by the Mexican Congress on 24 May 1848.

The California Gold Rush

In an historic coincidence with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, there now occurred a climactic event in Alta California - the discovery of gold by James Marshall on 24 January 1848 at Captain Sutter's sawmill on the American River.

The Captain had engaged Marshall to build a sawmill on the south branch of the American River 40 miles northeast of Sutter's Fort at a place known by the Indians as Cullomah ("beautiful vale"), now the town of Coloma. To obtain water power for the mill, Marshall and his crew constructed a brush dam across the river. Water from behind the dam was diverted through a sluice gate into a ditch, dug parallel to the river, that carried water through the mill to turn the mill wheel. As it left the mill, the water was returned to the river downstream by a continuation of the ditch, this portion of the ditch being called the "tail race". When the tail race proved to be too small to convey the volume of water required to turn the mill wheel, Marshall set his crew to digging it deeper and wider. Each night, after the day's work, Marshall would open the sluice gate to flush out from the tail race all the sand and gravel accumulated from the day's digging. Each morning, he would close the gate and inspect the ditch to see how the work was progressing. Now in his own words: "One morning in January, - it was a clear, cold morning; I shall never forget that morning; - as I was taking my usual walk along the race after shutting off the water, my eye was caught with the glimpse of something shining in the bottom of the ditch. There was about a foot of water running then. I reached my hand down and picked it up; it made my heart thump; for I was certain it was gold." And more gold was found in the walls and debris of the ditch, and round about.[35][36]

Captain Sutter and Marshall tried to keep the finding secret in order to gain time to complete the sawmill, and to assure land rights to the gold field. But the information was too exciting to contain, and word of mouth carried it at first surreptitiously and then openly in an ever widening circle. Within a few weeks small groups of men began to arrive at the sawmill. They were allowed to search for gold in the area and soon returned to San Francisco with bottles, tin cans and buckskin bags of gold from the American River, its banks and tributaries. As a result, early skepticism regarding the importance of the discovery was dispelled. On 15 March 1848 the Californian, one of the two weekly newspapers then published in San Francisco, ran a brief notice to the effect that gold had been found in considerable quantities at Sutter's sawmill.

Then, in early May (according to one version of the story) Samuel Brennan - flamboyant Mormon preacher, proprietor of a general store at Sutter's Fort and editor of San Francisco's first newspaper The California Star - rode in from Sutter's Fort and strode down the main street of San Francisco, brandishing his hat in one hand and a bottle of gold dust in the other, shouting: "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!". By the month of June, all doubts of the existence of a bonanza in the Sierra foothills had disappeared, and gold fever swept through the populace of the Bay area.[37][38]

This is the account in the Annals of San Francisco of the effects on that city and the countryside of reports of gold at Sutter's sawmill:

In consequence of such representations, the inhabitants began gradually, in bands and singly, to desert their previous occupations, and betake themselves to the American River and other auriferous parts of the great Sacramento Valley. Labor, from the deficiency of hands, rose rapidly in value, and soon all business and work except the most urgent, was forced to be stopped. Seamen deserted from their ships in the bay, and soldiers from the barracks. All over the country the excitement was the same. Neither threats, punishments, nor money could keep the men to their most solemn engagements. Gold was the irresistible magnet that drew human souls to the place where it lay, rudely snapping asunder the feebler ties of affection and duty.[39]

Marshall's discovery occurred just nine days before the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe in Mexico City, and exactly four months before its final approval by the Mexican Congress. Within months the news of the discovery, duly exaggerated in the telling, leaped the oceans and spread around the world, and from every quarter of the globe the stampede for the gold fields of California was on. The Argonauts came in droves - by wagon train across the plains, by ship from the east coast via the Isthmus or around the 'Horn, and by sea from its farthest shores.

When the United States took over the province of Alta California in 1846, Yerba Buena was still a frontier village with only 25 to 50 buildings, mostly shanties, and 100 to 200 inhabitants. This was the year when its population was more than doubled by the arrival of Sam Brennan and his Mormon brigade of 250 aboard his chartered ship, the Brooklyn. They intended to create a great Mormon empire of disciplined community life on San Francisco Bay, but their goal was preempted by Brigham Young's founding of Salt Lake City in 1847.

In January of 1847, the month in which Yerba Buena's name was changed to San Francisco, the population was about 500. A year later in January 1848, when gold was discovered, the population was about 850. In mid 1848, on the day that Sam Brennan led a cavalcade out of San Francisco and up the Sacramento River to the gold fields, only seven men remained behind in San Francisco.[40][41]

Before taking leave of the legendary Sam Brennan (1819-1898), a contemporary of Elias Cooper, we should relate how he made a fortune not from gold but from real estate. It is said that he at one time owned a fourth of Sacramento and a fifth of San Francisco. He was the latter city's first millionaire, and without doubt the best known man in town. His generosity and public spirit were boundless, as was his contempt for the lawless class that terrorized San Franciscans. He was above all a man of action. When the first Vigilance Committee was formed in 1851, he was one of its founding members. But, in the end, prosperity was the undoing of Sam Brennan. Alcohol destroyed his judgment and his health and speculation depleted his fortune until, deserted by family and friends and bereft of his Midas touch, he moved to Southern California where he died penniless in Escondido at 69. So ended his dream of a disciplined community life on San Francisco Bay.[42]

By the beginning of 1849 San Francisco had become a vortex of heterogeneous people arriving overland and on a myriad fleet of vessels. Hundreds of them were vacated and left swinging at anchor in Yerba Buena Cove, abandoned by passengers and crew alike who decamped for the diggings. Population of the town was placed at 3000 in March 1849; 5000 in July; 15,000 in October; and by the end of the year, 30,000. In 1850 the population was 35,000, and still it grew. San Francisco was mainly an encampment of tents and flimsy shelters improvised of planks, brush or earth, ranked row on row along the hills above the Cove. Open fires were necessary for cooking and warmth. Wildfires kindled by them, and by arsonists, swept repeatedly through the shanty town, that was promptly rebuilt. Supplies and services of every sort were rapidly exhausted and prices quickly rose to fantastic heights. To add to the hardship and peril of the immigrants, there was among the new arrivals, mostly male, a disproportionate representation of the restless and disorderly who created a reign of crime including murders and heinous lawlessness of every kind. The depredations of the criminals, and the corrupt politicians who took over city government, were controlled ultimately only by intervention of the Vigilance Committees of 1851 and 1856 in which, incidentally, several of the original faculty of the Medical Department of the University of the Pacific played important roles, as we shall later see.[43][44]

During the chaotic Gold Rush and its aftermath, achievement of even a modicum of social progress would seem in retrospect an unlikely prospect. And such might well have been the case had not the polyglot multitude who descended upon California included a strain of citizenry whose experience and values prepared them for just such a challenge. A majority of these were American immigrants who streamed into the province from all walks of life and from all parts of the nation, including the frontier states and territories. Among them were Elias Cooper and his cosponsors of medical education on the Pacific Coast.

As examples of the challenges faced by the new Californians, and how they responded to them, let us briefly consider two major issues of the day - mining of gold and governance of the province.


Visions of striking it rich were kept alive in a motley host of inexperienced argonauts by two circumstances: first, the extraordinary prevalence in California's gold fields of gold dust and nuggets in strata of sand, gravel and rocks near the surface of the earth and in the beds of streams; and second, the simplicity of placer mining, a process already practiced by prehistoric man. Placer mining was well suited to the California frontier. Tools consist of a shallow pan, a pick and a shovel. A pan full of sand and gravel is shaken gently in running water. The dust and nuggets, which are heavier, sink to the bottom of the pan, while the sand and gravel are flushed away by the water. More elaborate equipment for handling large volumes of sand and gravel may be constructed by those able to afford it, but the principle of separating the gold by gravity from the lighter debris remains the same. Lode mining is a more complex and costly process, used in areas where the gold is found in a vein of quartz. It consists of mining the rock bearing the quartz vein, and crushing and pulverizing the rock in a stamp mill. Mercury, which has a strong affinity for gold, is then mixed with the pulverized material where it forms an amalgam with the gold. In a final step, the amalgam is collected and put through a process that separates the gold from the mercury.[45]

It was the individual freedom to prospect for gold and claim it for themselves that spurred a horde of restless and eager miners to scour the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, establishing innumerable camps, and towns that sometimes sprang up (and sometimes disappeared) overnight. Towns with picturesque names like Angel's Camp, Lazy Man's Canyon, Git-Up-And-Git, Rough and Ready, and Hell's Delight. Through a combination of the mining methods just described, pursued with a fervor that only private enterprise for the noble purpose of personal gain can engender, the gold of California flowed into the channels of commerce in a swelling stream, and financed a new commonwealth in the West

Gold had profoundly adverse effects on California society. The annual yield of the gold fields in dollars was an incredible 10 million in '48; 40 million in '49; 50 million in '50; and an average of 60 million each year from '51 to '57. According to the State census there were 255,000 Californians in '52, about 100,000 or one-third of whom were miners. If the annual yield of gold was 60 million dollars in '52, the average annual earnings per miner would be $600 or about $2 per day - except that some individual miners made fortunes, while the struggling majority averaged little more than a dollar a day at a time when the wages for common labor were four or five times higher. So much for the hopes of striking it rich in the California gold fields. Add the isolation, hardship and dearth of family life to the inadequate and precarious income of most miners, and we can understand how gold mining contributed to the loosening of moral restraint. The result was a plague of vice and crime during the Gold Rush, especially in San Francisco.

Lest one assume that physicians fared well in Gold Rush days, a letter dated 29 October 1850 from Dr. Thomas M. Logan of Sacramento to his brother-in-law, Dr. E.D. Fenner of New Orleans is excerpted here:

I am sorry to inform you that, like many articles of merchandise with which our country has been flooded, we physicians are at the most ruinous discount, and the ancient and time honored doctorate is in most cases held in so low repute that many a worthy physician studiously conceals his title. I have seen M.D.'s driving ox-teams through highways - laboring in our streets like good fellows - serving at bar-rooms, monte tables, boarding houses, etc., and digging and delving among the rocks and stones, to gather together their allotment of California's produce, the precious gold. Labor, however, is honorable to man, and it is not because some are obliged to put their shoulder to the wheel that the profession is rated so low a standard. It is because many, and among them those who assume without any moral or legal right the title of Doctor, in their grasping cupidity, and impatience to amass in the shortest possible time their "pile" have, while taking advantage of the necessities of their sick and dependent fellow creatures, drained the poor miner of all his hard-earned dust, be it more or less, for a few professional visits. These incidents of medical rapacity have become so numerous and aggravated as to create a distrust on the part of the community toward the profession generally and to bring odium on its practitioners. Hundreds who are able to pay a reasonable fee, would rather perish than lose all their means of support in satisfying the exorbitant fees of a physician. I do not suppose that in any part of the civilized world such enormous fees were ever charged and collected, as have been enacted in California....[46]

We shall later report how in 1855 Elias Cooper sought and gained the cooperation of Dr. Logan, by that time a leading figure in the Sacramento Medical Society, in founding the California State Medical Society.

The good Captain Sutter could have been expected to benefit from his gold field, but this was not to be. After the discovery, his property was at first respected, but felons and trespassers among the immigrants soon moved in like jackals. They forcibly stripped his extensive ranch of wood and forage, stealing his horses, hogs and cattle, and settling on his land. By January 1852 squatters, under the pretext that his ranch was in the public domain, had occupied all his land capable of settlement or appropriation, and all his stock had been stolen except for a small portion he sold himself. Help from the law was insignificant. In retreat, he removed himself and his family to a farm on the Feather River in the county that now bears his name. He was never successful in his legal claims for remuneration for losses suffered at the hands of the immigrants. As already mentioned, this honored citizen was reduced to becoming a pensioner of the State of California in his declining years.[47]

"On the other hand", says Bancroft, eminent California historian:

On the other hand must be considered the great and enduring good effected by gold-mining, and the movements to which it gave rise; the impulse received by trade and industries throughout the world through the new markets and traffic, besides affording additional outlets for surplus population; the incentive and means for exploring and unfolding resources in adjoining and in new regions and enriching them with settlements.... The United States was at one step placed a half-century forward in its commercial and political interests on the Pacific, as marked by the opening of the sealed ports of China and Japan, partly by steamers which completed the steamship girdle round the world, by the construction of the Panama railway, and by the great transcontinental steam line. The democratic principles of the republic received, moreover, a brilliant and effective demonstration in the equality, organizing skill, self-government, and self-advancement displayed on the Pacific coast. That is to say, at one breath, gold cleared a wilderness and transplanted thither the politics and institutions of the most advanced civilizations of the world.[48]


With respect to governance, the new Californians were precocious. From the date when Commodore Sloat took possession of California for the United States on 7 July 1846, the province was conquered territory and subject to temporary military control. In accordance with international law, the military announced that the laws of Mexico previously obtaining in California would be continued. But the Americans complained about the inadequacy of the Mexican legal system and began independently to promulgate their own laws which quickly supplanted the obsolete Mexican statutes.

Meanwhile, resolution of the question of territorial governance was repeatedly deferred by changes in the military command; by the requirement to complete the pacification of California by a short military campaign; and by the failure of the U.S. Congress to decide the matter before it adjourned on 14 August 1848. Thoroughly exasperated by these delays, the citizens of California began a movement of their own to organize a suitable government as soon as possible. When General Bennett Riley arrived on 12 April 1849 to be the military commander of California and to serve as acting governor, he learned that Congress had still not provided for a territorial government, and that a citizens' movement to decide the question was afoot. He promptly responded to the public demand for action by issuing a proclamation on 3 August 1849 authorizing the selection of delegates to a general convention which should convene in Monterey on 1 September for the purpose of forming either a State constitution or a plan for territorial government. And, relying on his own common sense, he acted without congressional authorization.

Progress was now rapid. The Constitutional Convention of 1849 met in Monterey on 1 September at the height of the Gold Rush, and was organized by election of officers on 4 September. There were 48 delegates representing the 10 districts (San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, San Jose, Sonoma, San Francisco, San Joaquin and Sacramento). The delegates were able and earnest men of various nationalities but mostly of American birth, ranging in age from 25 to 53 with an average age of 36. We have already made the acquaintance of several of them. The dignified and sagacious General Mariano G. Vallejo aged 42 of Sonoma was among the seven native-born Hispano-Californian delegates; Captain John A. Sutter, a Swiss aged 47 from Sutter's Fort in Sacramento district, was preeminent among the five European-born delegates; and we remember Thomas O. Larkin aged 47 from Monterey who has gone down in history as "the first and last American Consul to California".[49]

In spite of the widely divergent interests and cultural backgrounds of the delegates, and the intense social and economic pressures created by the transition from Mexican rule in 1846 followed by the Gold Rush in 1849, the task of framing a constitution for the State was accomplished by the Convention with extraordinary proficiency and wisdom, and was signed by the delegates on 13 October 1849 after a session of 43 days. The result of their labors was submitted to the people on 13 November 1849 and was adopted by them as the Constitution of the State of California by a vote of over 12,000 ayes to 800 noes.[50]

Article I.-The Declaration of Rights. Section 18. of the State Constitution reads as follows:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, unless for the punishment of crimes, shall ever be tolerated in this State.

The exclusion of slavery from the new state was adamantly opposed by Southern members of Congress and was a major stumbling block to the admission of California to the Union. Eventually, after many stormy sessions and weeks of deadlock, the admission bill passed the Congress and was signed into law by President Fillmore on 9 September 1850. California became the 31st State of the Union, and had the distinction of entering the Union without going through the status of an organized American Territory as prescribed in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 - thanks to the pragmatic and decisive General Riley, and to the American genius for self-government.[51]


With these highlights of California history from Spanish colonial days to the Gold Rush and statehood, we conclude these cursory annals of the advancing American frontier between 1800 and 1850. We have seen how westward migration was an irrepressible impulse in American Society during that crucial half-century when the national boundary was expanded "from sea to shining sea." And now, with the benefit of historical perspective, we can recognize the migration of the Cooper family from South Carolina to the Northwest in 1807, and of Elias from the Northwest to California in 1855, as incidents in the westward movement - incidents of special interest to us because of their relevance to the history of Stanford Medical School.

This self-same westward current also bore Cooper's eminent contemporary, Leland Stanford (1824-1893), from the Northwest to California. Stanford abandoned his law practice in Port Washington, Wisconsin, to open a general store in the California gold country at Cold Springs, Eldorado County in 1852. Cooper's writings contain no hint that he was personally acquainted with Stanford, who became Governor of the State in 1862, the year of Cooper's death. But time has shown that the finest legacy of each was in the world of learning and, "bent by paths coincident", Cooper's medical school and Stanford's university were one day destined to merge.

We hope to better understand Cooper's efforts and accomplishments for having taken this broader view of the world in which he lived. We shall now consider some vital "intrinsic factors" that influenced the course of events, and shall propose that these factors were ultimately responsible for the initial success and long term survival of his enterprise.


  1. Turner, F. J. , The Frontier in American History (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964), p. 23 and p. 37.
  2. Albert J. Beveridge , The Life of John Marshall, Vol. 1 (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916), 315-16 and 373-74.
  3. Albert J. Beveridge , The Life of John Marshall, Vol. 4 (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916), 472.
  4. Merk, F. , History of the Westward Movement (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978), pp. 102-11.
  5. Eckert, A. W. , Gateway to Empire (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1983), pp. 51-2.
  6. Ogg, F. A. , The Old Northwest, The Chronicles of America Series, vol.19 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1920), p. 205.
  7. Ogg, F. A. , The Old Northwest, The Chronicles of America Series, vol.19 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1920), p. 201.
  8. Sandburg, C. , Abraham Lincoln, vol. 1, Laurel Edition (New York: Dell Publishing Co, 1975), pp. 61-6.
  9. History of Peoria County Illinois, ed. not specified (Chicago: Johnson & Co, 1880), pp. 451-52.
  10. Hunt, R. D. , and Sanchez, N. G. , A Short History of California (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co, 1929), pp. 22-8.
  11. Gullard, P. , and Lund, N. , History of Palo Alto: The Early Years (San Francisco: Scottwall Associates, 1989), pp. 20-3.
  12. Richard Henry Dana , Two Years before the Mast (New York: Bantam Books, 1959), p. 293.
  13. Hunt, R. D. , and Sanchez, N. G. , A Short History of California (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co, 1929), pp. 56-72, 89-121.
  14. Hunt, R. D. , and Sanchez, N. G. , A Short History of California (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co, 1929), pp. 247-63.
  15. Writers' Program, Work Projects Administration, comp., San Francisco: The Bay and Its Cities, American Guide Series (New York: Hastings House, 1947), pp.96-8. Lane Library catalog record
  16. Bay of San Francisco: A History, vol. 1, ed. not specified (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co.), pp. 199-201.
  17. Bancroft, H. H. , History of California, vol. 6, (1848-1859), Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, vol. 23 ( San Francisco: The History Co,1888), p. 8.
  18. Hunt, R. D. , and Sanchez, N. G. , A Short History of California (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co, 1929), pp. 84 and 180.
  19. Bancroft, H. H. , History of California, vol. 5, (1846-48), Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, vol. 22 ( San Francisco: History Co,1886), p. 524
  20. Morison, S. E. , Commager, H. S. , and Leuchtenburg , Growth of the American Republic, vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 340-42.
  21. White, S. E. , The Forty-Niners, Chronicles of America Series, vol. 25 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1920), pp. 20-1.
  22. Merk, F. , History of the Westward Movement (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978), pp. 265-329, 359-73.
  23. Morison, S. E. , Commager, H. S. , and Leuchtenburg , Growth of the American Republic, vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 526-45, 552-56.
  24. Hunt, R. D. , and Sanchez, N. G. , A Short History of California (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co, 1929), pp. 264-81, 342-46.
  25. Hunt, R. D. , and Sanchez, N. G. , A Short History of California (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co, 1929), pp. 319-22.
  26. Lyman, G. D. , John Marsh, Pioneer (New York: Charles Scribner' s Sons, 1930), pp. 394. Dr. George D. Lyman (1882-1949) received an AB from Stanford in 1905 and MD from Columbia in 1909. He practiced pediatrics in San Francisco. This excellent biography, subtitled "The Life Story of a Trail-blazer on Six Frontiers", is a fascinating account of harsh realities and a restless man during the western migration. Lane Library catalog record
  27. Shuck, O. T. , Representative and Leading Men of the Pacific (San Francisco: Bacon and Co, 1870), pp. 11-21. Lane Library catalog record
  28. Hunt, R. D. , and Sanchez, N. G. , A Short History of California (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co, 1929), pp. 316-35.
  29. Lyman, G. D. , John Marsh, Pioneer (New York: Charles Scribner' s Sons, 1930), pp. 270-1. Lane Library catalog record
  30. Hunt, R. D. , and Sanchez, N. G. , A Short History of California (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co, 1929), pp. 353-55.
  31. Hunt, R. D. , and Sanchez, N. G. , A Short History of California (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co, 1929), pp. 279-80.
  32. Bancroft, H. H. , History of California, vol. 5, (1846-48), Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, vol. 22 ( San Francisco: History Co,1886), pp. 101-21.
  33. Merk, F. , History of the Westward Movement (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978), pp. 357-58.
  34. Writers' Program, Work Projects Administration, comp., San Francisco: The Bay and Its Cities, American Guide Series (New York: Hastings House, 1947), p. 98. Lane Library catalog record
  35. Hunt, R. D.,, , and Sanchez, N. G. , A Short History of California (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co, 1929), pp. 347-51, 357-67, p. 375.
  36. Bancroft, H. H. , History of California, vol. 6, (1848-1859), Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, vol. 23 ( San Francisco: The History Co,1888), pp. 26-41.
  37. Bancroft, H. H. , History of California, vol. 6, (1848-1859), Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, vol. 23 ( San Francisco: The History Co,1888), pp. 52-66.
  38. Dickson, S. , Tales of San Francisco (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1968), pp. 10-18. Lane Library catalog record
  39. Hunt, R. D. , and Sanchez, N. G. , A Short History of California (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co, 1929), p. 377.
  40. Bancroft, H. H. , History of California, vol. 5, (1846-48), Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, vol. 22 ( San Francisco: History Co,1886), pp. 646-48.
  41. Writers' Program, Work Projects Administration, comp., San Francisco: The Bay and Its Cities, American Guide Series (New York: Hastings House, 1947), p.100. Lane Library catalog record
  42. Dickson, S. , Tales of San Francisco (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1968), pp. 10-18. Lane Library catalog record
  43. Bancroft, H. H. , History of California, vol. 6, (1848-1859), Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, vol. 23 ( San Francisco: The History Co,1888), pp. 164-68.
  44. Encyclopedia Americana, International ed., 1983 ed., s.v. " San Francisco," p. 204. Lane Library catalog record
  45. Merk, F. , History of the Westward Movement (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978), p. 413.
  46. Jones, J. R. , Memories, Men and Medicine: A History of Medicine in Sacramento, California (Sacramento: The Sacramento Society for Medical Improvement, 1950).The letter from Dr. Logan is quoted in the book by Dr. Jones on pp. 2-3 and is excerpted from there. Lane Library catalog record
  47. Shuck, O. T. , Representative and Leading Men of the Pacific (San Francisco: Bacon and Co, 1870), pp. 11-21. Lane Library catalog record
  48. Bancroft, H. H. , History of California, vol. 6, (1848-1859), Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, vol. 23 (San Francisco: The History Co,1888), pp. 423-26.
  49. Langley, H. G. , ed. State Register and Year Book of Facts: For the Year 1859, (San Francisco: Henry G. Langley and Samuel A. Morison, 1859), p. 267. Lane Library catalog record
  50. Morison, S. E. , Commager, H. S. , and Leuchtenburg , Growth of the American Republic, vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 563-67.
  51. Hunt, R. D. , and Sanchez, N. G. , A Short History of California (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co, 1929), pp. 411-24.