The Recent Floods in Sacramento Valley, CaliforniaThe Illustrated London News, vol. 40, no. 1137, p. 326.
March 29, 1862
Accounts have from time to time appeared in this Journal of the severe floods with which California was visited at the close of last year and the beginning of the present one. In the present Number we are enabled to give three Illustrations from sketches forwarded by Mr. Edward Vischer, of San Francisco, showing the lamentable condition of Sacramento City, which, as our readers are aware, suffered terribly from the floods. The Views were taken by Mr. Vischer whilst on a visit to Sacramento City immediately after the third flood. Our Artist, like many residents of San Francisco, went (he says) to witness the extraordinary sight of an inland lake thirty miles in width, with steam-boats plying over vast plains but lately furrowed by the plough, and all the customary means of communication reduced to the frail tenure of telegraph wires, or supplanted by feats of extraordinary daring. He went prepared to see misery and dejection, for the doom apparently sealed, of the commercial emporium of that region, the capital of the State; he returned convinced that Sacramento will survive the present calamity, and that Californian energy will recover from the heavy blow its interests have received. On arriving at the Levee in Sacramento, on the night of Jan. 23, the chaotic scene, faintly discernible by the light of the rising moon, with blocks of buildings emerging out of the engulfing waters, was impressive in the highest degree; It suggested the gloomiest forebodings; but a few hours later, with the rising sun, the gloom was dispelled. The impressiveness of the scene changed into the life and revelry of an aquatic carnival; and the jostling of hundreds of boats in those desolate streets, the merry shouts, the passing jest, gave the impression of a merry crowd indulging in some favourite sport. Even the Pavilion, the headquarters of the relief committee, which had been successively the refuge of thousands who had become homeless, and at the time was the asylum of some six hundred recipients of relief, seemed empty during the day. The main body was about, fighting the battle of life; and not until night would the hall be thronged with those who, having lost their all, had no other refuge.
The Engraving below shows the steam-boat landing-place in Sacramento City, on the Levee opposite K-street, at three o'clock on the morning of the 24th of January last, on the arrival of the Antelope from San Francisco during the third flood. On page 323 is a view taken at the corner of L and Fourth streets, looking eastwards towards the pavilion of the Agricultural Society, which was then the head-quarters of the Howard Benevolent Society, and, as before mentioned, the refuge of hundreds whose homesteads were destroyed by the floods. The relief-boat is shown going for orders from the committee. At the left of the picture are scows from the country bearing farmers and their stock; whilst in the background may be seen the Roman Catholic church and schools. Below it is given another view of the partially submerged city—Sixth-street, between M and N streets, looking south, towards the great break in the R-street Levee, through which numbers of houses were swept by the violence of the floods.
The condition of things in Sacramento City after the second and immediately before the third flood is described by a correspondent to a San Fransisco [sic] Francisco journal of the 14th of January last:—" This unfortunate city presented a sad picture when we arrived on Sunday night. Although they told us the water had lowered considerably still boats were plying from the Levee inwards through all the streets we could see. Yesterday morning the water had settled on Front-street, and some of the principal longitudinal streets—taking the line of the river as a diametrical one—were passable for short distances on muddy and slippery sidewalks. At the intersection of J and Second streets a piece of dry land was gradually rising from the surrounding waters. The water was falling fast, and it is very probable that before this time some sort of foot navigation is possible through several of the main business streets. The general appearance of the city yesterday was one of gloom and dampness. A dank, fresh-fishy smell pervades the atmosphere; and such houses as were open to public view bore evident signs of inundation on the walls and 'slumgullion' on the floors. The latter gave occupation to numberless men with brooms in their hands. Notwithstanding the great and severe loss of the people of Sacramento, their faces were not downcast. They seemed hopeful and sunshiny. Many were plying their brooms and tuning their voices at the same time; and not a few wore that genial expression which Lavater might translate to every-day minds by the cheerful line, 'We may be happy yet.' "
The effect of the floods on the city is detailed in a number of the Sacramento Bee published after the third flood. It says:—" Many lots and blocks of land in this city have been much elevated by deposits left by the flood. In the eastern portion whole blocks have been covered to the depth of four to eight feet with sandy soil, so that the eaves of one-story houses and outhouses are on a level with, the new-made soil. The east Levee in the vicinity of the Fort has secured a backing which no press of water can break through. In some young orchards the tree-tops just peep above the soil, while elsewhere the vines are all under. The R-street Levee is a total wreck for its entire length, there being in many places no semblance of it left, and the east Levee is not in much better condition. Rabel's tannery property and his dwelling seem to be secured against the current of the American. A great sandbar, very nearly as high as the natural surface of the bank, has been formed in front of his property, which directs the current from him and forces it to strike the bank lower down, where the break is through which the steamer Gem was carried by the force of the water. He has secured a permanent and most substantial bulkhead at that point."
Meanwhile—extracting from the catastrophe such comfort as we best can—it is certain that this dire calamity has called forth some of the best and loftiest feelings of human nature; so that one hardly knows which to admire most—the fortitude of those who were the immediate sufferers, the ready, devoted courage of those who rushed to their rescue at the risk of their own lives, or the warm, untiring charity of the community at large spared from the visitation, though not exempt from loss. Sacramento City has often been nearly destroyed by fire, yet has always been quickly restored and improved. So, it is to be hoped—as, indeed all accounts unite in averring—that the State capital will ere long lift its head above the floods and be re-established in more than it former greatness.
The United States' revenue steamer Schubric anchored in the stream near Rio Vista (of which we give an Engraving), was the rendezvous for the volunteer relief fleet of whale-boats and scows searching for sufferers from the flood over the plains on each side of the Sacramento. A passenger on board the Nevada, which started from San Francisco on Jan. 12 with a large supply of baked meats, bread, and other provisions hastily collected for the immediate relief of the destitute sufferers of Sacramento, thus describes the scene at Rio Vista:—"For some time before we reached this little town, numerous floating indications of the destruction above were visible on the water. Portions of houses, tables, chairs, fencing, and other débris were hurrying along on the current; but until we reached Rio Vista the stern reality of human misery was not presented to our view. Here was a whole town with the water reaching to the roofs of the one-story buildings. Many of them were careened over, and all, with the exception of the second story of the principal building, deserted. A few hundred yards from the town, on a neck of land, were huddled together the major part of its water-bound inhabitants, together with as much live stock as could be hastily gathered together. Here, without shelter, cold, wet, and hungry, were they destined to await the falling of the waters." By subsequent accounts we learn that the few buildings at first spared by the floods have since been washed away, so that not a vestige of this late pleasant and prosperous village remains.