American Exceptionalism, How Things Work, Race and Culture

California…Proof that “Sky Determines”

This below is a letter I found from the son of prominent doctor in Springfield, Illinois, who had moved to California a year earlier, proving the notion that “Sky determines” the way a culture and society will turn out.

If there are any persons speaking of coming to this region, tell them my advice is to stay at home. There you are well off. You can enjoy all the comforts of life at home in Springfield—live under a good government and have peace and plenty around you—a country whose soil is not surpassed by any in the world, having good seasons and timely crops. Here in California everything is in the other extreme; the government is tyrannical, the weather unseasonable, poor crops, and the necessaries of life not to be had except at the most extortionate prices, and frequently, not then.

I do not, however, believe there is ever a more beautiful climate than we have in this country. During the whole winter we have delightful weather except when it rains. Most all day long we could be seen in winter with our coats off, walking the neighborhood of our house, except when we were off hunting for a term of four to six days.

Now, just in the type and style of this letter you can tell it was not written recently, for not one in twenty young people of the past thirty years could put together as many as 200 words to convey a single thought, or possess the observational skills to actually notice things, and certainly not go out on a hunt for a week. Even Carolina bubbas never stay out more then a night.

So, if you’re wondering where this letter came from, I’ll finish it here:

The Mexicans talk every spring and fall of driving the foreigners out of the country. They must do it this year or they will never do it.  There will be a revolution before long, and if there is I’ll take a hand in it.

This letter was written in March, 1846, when there were as few as 700 Americans in California and it still belonged to Mexico. It was taken from a book by (in my estimation) the greatest historian of America’s Way West, Bernard DeVoto. 1846, The Year of Decision, (1942) is the second of his trilogy about the filling in of the American map, beginning with the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark exploration. DeVoto was also America’s greatest chronicler of the mountain men, 1820-1848, whose star was just beginning to fade in this period, having blazed every trail across the West in that period. This was their last dance, while still playing instrumental roles in the Oregon Trail, California Trail, the Mexican War, and the Mormon exodus to the Great Salt Lake.

DeVoto was one of those self-taught “classical liberals” who fought for academic freedom yet believed the highest form of being American were those men who rarely lived past 40, but blazed the path for just about everyone west of Cincinnati, and often as not, couldn’t spel all that good.

He generally believed that the people who followed after those trail-blazers never deserved them. And he let us know we never deserved the shoulders we stand on.

In that vein, here I only want to make the single point that every bad thing the early chroniclers had to say about California was rightly attributed to the indolence-inducing lifestyles offered by the climate found there. For every sin, from the corruption the Americans blamed the Mexican governors for creating and mismanaging, to the general indolence of the people who’d lived there for 300 years…even the Indians they’d enslaved were layabouts…in just a short 150 years would all fall on the heads of those children of Yankees from Illinois, Massachusetts and the Carolinas in the 1840s to fix it.

California…Sky Determines.



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