Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/157

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139
Early California

thence around south to California, but, before the "Days of '49," although Ogden, Jedediah Smith, and Frémont had dared the mid-passage across the Great Basin, there was no real route directly to the rich, inviting mission settlements of the Franciscan friars: settlements that were a world unto themselves delightfully described by Alfred Robinson in Life in California During a Residence of Several Years in that Territory, Etc. By an American (1846). And in Two Years Before the Mast (1840) R. H. Dana has some interesting chapters on this primitive California paradise. The historical side is presented by Fr. Zephyrin Englehardt in an extensive work, The Missions and Missionaries of California (1911).

In the early forties California was nothing more than a detached colony nominally belonging to Mexico but ruled over, so far as it was ruled at all, by the Mission friars and the military governor in an arbitrary and personal fashion. Its rich soil and attractive coast were coveted by France, by Great Britain, and by the United States. This great prize slipping from Mexico's fist had its northern limit at the forty-second parallel and its eastern along the upper Arkansas and down that river to the 100th meridian, down that to Red River, along that stream to a point north of the Sabine, and by the Sabine to the Gulf of Mexico. Texas took away the portion from the Sabine to the Nueces and claimed to the Rio Grande. Thus matters stood at the time of the annexation of Texas, with its claim of a western boundary at the Rio Grande which the United States had undertaken to maintain with the sword.

There was one statesman in Congress who had a clear perception of conditions and possibilities. This was Thomas Hart Benton, whose home was in St. Louis and was the rendezvous for leading trappers and explorers. His famous phrase as he pointed to the sunset and said "There lies the road to India" recognized the approach to each other of Europe and Cathay westward across the Rocky Mountains and has appropriately been carved on his monument. In his Thirty Years View . . . 1820 to 1850 (1861) there is continual evidence of his firm belief in the phenomenal value of the Far West region and in a development which has since taken place. Benton was one of the chief political figures of the time. Biographies of him