Saturday, June 9, 2012

New Hope aka Stanislaus City Revisted Part II

In my previous post, I talked about the establishment of New Hope.
This post will explore why it was so short lived.  This blog explores why New Hope was so short lived.  Returning to the book written by Earle Williams  I am including most of the quote because it explains this better than I could.
 It was truly a Garden of Eden and the little band of Mormons named it New Hope, and went to work.  They had all come well armed with small arms, rifles, and fishing gear, but one man in a few hours could get the whole settlement enough food to last for a week.  They had come intending to stay and the little schooner that had brought them, the first probably that had ever ascended the San Joaquin river, was loaded with wheat, a wagon and horses, and farm implement to found a colony and put in a crop.
They had brought with them a Pulgas red-wood sawmill which they had obtained at Searsville on the Peninsula, and they soon completed one large log house and two smaller ones on the Western style, sawing the boards from oak logs which they found on the ground.  These boards they used for sheathing, siding, and floor.  They then covered the houses with oak shingles split from the same oak logs.
When the houses were completed they plowed the ground and sowed eight acres of wheat.  They then fenced it in to keep out wild horses, bears and other animals.  They made the fence by cutting up the fallen oak trees, rolling the butts and large pieces into a line and covering them with the limbs.  Like the houses, this was after the Western style; a practice that they borrowed from the native Californians. 
Although the Indians were numerous along the river, there being several tribes of them, the Mormons were never troubled in their colony.  They were always alert, however, and kept a guard around the houses nightly.
The settlement was made and the crops were sowed and enclosed by the middle of January, 1847, and the Mormons rested from their labors, secure in their houses of oaken logs.  But with more than twenty active men, cooped up in the houses in the middle of winter with nothing to do, dissension was bound to arise.  They had become increasingly dissatisfied with their leader, a man named Stout, who, after the sowing of the wheat was done and the land fenced in, made them a speech, substantially as follows, according to Colonel F.T. Gilbert in his History of San Joaquin County, published in 1879:
‘Now boys, we have put in our drop and have fenced it in.  No go to work, each of you, and select a good farm of 160 acres, and fence it in, and we will all go to work to build houses, one at a time, so by the time of harvest you will all have your houses and farms.  But I selected this place; this house and this farm are mine.”
The hostile feeling that had been growing was culminated, and Samuel Brannan was sent for to hear their grievances.  He came and held a church meeting in the larger of the three houses at which a resolution was adopted with great unanimity, dedicating the houses and the farm with its enclosing fence to the Twelve Apostles.  Stout left and never returned; but…Well, it could have been that the Twelve Apostles didn’t want the house and farm.
In locating the settlement there Stout and Samuel Brannan had failed to take into account the rivers.  A mile to the south was the mouth of the Stanislaus, where it flowed in the San Joaquin.  The two rivers then flowed down north into Sturgeon Bend near the Mormon settlement, where the San Joaquin reversed direction and, lopping around completely to the west, follow up another channel for nearly a mile, clear to the San Joaquin-Stanislaus County line, reversed again to the west and flowed down north again... .
To visualize the strange meandering of the river completely it is necessary to fly over it in a small place, as the writer did the other day, or follow the river’s course on a map of San Joaquin County .  From the air and on the map it looks just as if the river changed its mind at Sturgeon Bend and decided to flow, for a while, in the other direction.
To the east of the Mormon settlement was Laird Slough, trending northward from a point well above Grayson past the settlement and back into the San Joaquin well below San Joaquin City.  At times of flooding at the mouths of the Stanislaus and Tuolumne this slough had relieved the pressure by allowing surplus flood water to by-pass Sturgeon Bend and the main San Joaquin channel, but river sand had blocked its entrance near Grayson.
A little above the settlement the Stanislaus river turned sharply to the south as if to meet the San Joaquin at a sharp angle.  At the point where the Stanislaus burned a narrow channel trended directly across to the outer perimeter of Sturgeon Bend, by-passing the mouth of the Stanislaus at flood tide.
The by-pass was short, steep, and direct.  So violent were the overflow waters coming through it that they had at times past created a giant whirlpool at Sturgeon Bend, gouging out a great river hole in the soft sands there, where the San Joaquin reverses itself to the south. 
When Samuel Brannan selected the sylvan river terrace for settlement of New Hope the rivers must have been low and the great river hole at Sturgeon Bend quiescent and at rest, it great depths teeming with fish of every description, from great sturgeon weighing in excess of 600 pounds to the lowly cars and catfish; ...just as the writer has seen it more than fifty years ago.
Certainly Sam Brannan or any of his little bard of Mormons did not realize that a great rainstorm coming down out of the north over the western slope of the snowy Sierras would cause the Stanislaus to rise quickly to flood proportions.  Continuing south the storm would cause in succession, raging torrents to rise and flow down the steep mountain channels of the Tulumne, the Merced, the Kings, and the Kern, all of these rivers joining the San Joaquin in the low, flat valley.  And finally, if the storm should progress that far south, there were the headwaters of the San Joaquin river, bringing with the melted snows from the great mountains to the east of the southern San Joaquin Valley.
Sturgeon  Bend on the San Joaquin river was only a mile east of the future site of San Joaquin City, and very close to the beautiful river terrace where the colony of Mormons had made their settlement in the fall of 1846.  It was a place where all the rivers met, and in the spring of 1847 they met with a vengeance, river crowding on river and meeting a high tide until the outlet of the Stanislaus river was blocked.
The Stanislaus backed up and spilled its waters down the steep, narrow overflow channel that sped them at  great speed and pressure into the outer periphery of the reverse curve of Sturgeon Bend, creating a giant whirlpool of water that tossed its sands high on the banks around its outside circumference, building its own walls to contain itself.  But the inevitable happened, the pressure becoming so great that the water finally broke over its self-made rim as if from a giant whirling goldpan...
It was the spillage and the break from the counter-clockwise rotation of the waters of Sturgeon Ben that flooded the river terrace where Sam Brannan’s Mormons had built their houses, seeded their wheat, and enclosed it all with the California fence in the spring of 1847.
It must have been a time of terror and privation for them, but they did escape with their lives.
After that the group was disheartened and afraid of the power of the river, and they disbanded.  By the summer of 1847 only one man remained and he was gone by November.
So in this essay we are given two reasons for the failure of New Hope, the internal grumbling of the party, but also the flood of 1847.  I want to explore a third reason, the direction of the Lord through his prophet, in another blog.

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