03 February 2014

Camp of the Women - An Excursion from Santa Barbara

An Excursion from Santa Barbara to Gaviota Pass.

Five Independent Young American Women Camping Out in Southern California - A Pleasant Outlook - California Birds.

From the Courier-Journal.

Camp Content, May 16. — Kate Bronson is a native of New York. She has deep blue eyes, black hair, and a most exquisitely fair complexion. She is a fine musician and a devout Presbyterian — one of those sweet, unselfish girls who have not a bit of originality, never have been known to make a witty speech, but who are beloved by every one, and to whom people turn for help and comfort instinctively when trouble overtakes or death berates them.

Abbie Hails is a native of Massachusetts. She is a brunette, slender and wiry in form, quick and nervous in motion, decided and sensitive in her opinions, affectionate in heart, and demonstrative in manner. As the "Hooster school-master" says "she is a Methodist, and likewise a Christian." She is also a poetess, botanist, mineralogist, conchologist and taxidermist.

San Louie Anderson is a native of Ohio. She has golden hair, blue eyes, dark eyelashes and eyebrows, slender form, fascinating manners, and independent ways. She is a Unitarian of argumentative turn of mind. The languages and bones are her specialties. She can say more original and fancy things than any one ever knew. She is known here by her friends as Jo, that nickname having been given her at Ann Arbor.

As even the oldest inhabitants had never heard of five ladies starting alone on a camping tour, and as the men shook their heads and the old ladies held up their hands in horror when the subject was suggested, it was thought by the young ladies to be worth a trial. Three young professors of Santa Barbara College hinted at dangers, and suggested it an escort was desired they would be happy, & c.; but the girls held a meeting in our parlor, and, while agreeing that the professors were nice young men, and the most agreeable gentlemen in Santa Barbara, they preferred to take this camping trip entirely alone.

We hired a quiet, gray-haired teamster, who furnished his help, wagon and mules for $6 a day. We borrowed a tent and packed two barrels with provisions, took four blankets and a pillow (at which old campers laugh) apiece, a bottle of whiskey for snake bites, and fishing tackle, gun and rifle, and, dressed in the oldest scarecrow things we could find, we started early Saturday morning for the celebrated Gaviota Pass. At noon the tablecloth is spread under a moss-draped oak, by the side of a rocky stream. After lunch we pack everything hurriedly into the barrel again, and then, wrapped in our blankets, we lie under the trees, and watch the floating clouds and dancing leaves. Mr. Bishop sits at a distance on a boulder, smoking his pipe contentedly. Peace broods over us, and our first halting place we christen Camp Content.

The Camp.

Campus Mulierum, Saturday Evening, 10 o'clock. — You notice we have branched out into the classics. In plain English our camp is termed "The Camp of the Women," and as we have so few Latin friends, I see no use in putting it in that language. We got here after dark, our singletree having broken, and the ropes with which it was repaired not being strong enough to bear the weight of the whole party, we took turns in walking up hill. Our progress was slow, but after dark we reached a fine ground in sight of the ocean, shaded by oaks, and watered by a clear, cold brook. We soon have a rousing camp fire, and while we get supper Mr. Bishop pitches our tent. I make the coffee good and strong. I am writing by the firelight, sitting in my tent door. Jo has a long pole, and is jumping by its aid over the fire. Percy is wrapped in a carriage robe of white and red, and standing by the fire with her hair hanging in two long braids down her back. Kate and Abbie are unpacking things from the wagon.

Outside the oak trees' shadow, the moonlight floods the scene, showing us blossoms all about, and the towering mountains near by. We see moving things in the bushes, and already hear the coyotes howling in the distance, but we are very brave, of course. As last I say, "Come, girls, it's time to turn in." Katie brings her little bible from the tent, and, standing by the camp fire, reads a chapter, and then we all join in a hymn, and I think God's angels are not far away when in the forests of California our girls say their evening prayers.

This evening I leave three of the party asleep in the tent, and the other one sits under a tree cleaning her guns. I wander alone down the grassy ravine that leads to the ocean. What more fitting place shall I find to spend the closing hours of a Sabbath day. Everything about me is so peaceful, so lonely, so beautiful. Back of me, in a green hollow our tent stands under a giant oak, and back of that a mountain rises, and back of that other mountains lift their heads. On either hand I see flower-decked hills; and the little brook that chatters over the stones has followed after me, and run with its noisy story down to the sea. Before me the great Pacific rolls her ceaseless song. Flitting over the blue waves the tiny sail-boats hover and snowy-breasted gulls are rocked.

Busy as Bees.

At camp I find them all busy. Jo has just brought in some quail, and the work of cleaning them is no easy manner; but when the evening shadows gather in the glen we are all seated around a big bed f oak coals, each of us holding a slender stick five feet in length, on which quail are strung, and when the birds turn brown and the juice begins to bubble through the tender skin, we exclaim wildly, "Who says women can't kill quail?" And Jo again finishes the mocking strain, "Yes, who says it? Who says women can't eat quail? Show me who says it." And we all flourish the quail above our heads and shout.

Camp Buena Vista, Wednesday, 9 p.m. — The time for the past two days has been so occupied that I have neglected writing. The country through which we have passed has been a panorama of lovely views. Up hill and down continually; from one wooded canon over a high elevation and down into another wooded canon, in the bottom of which a stream has always to be forded. We have scarcely been out of sight of the ocean during the whole trip. Yesterday was Percy's birthday, and we got up a grand dinner for her, and drank her health in Jamaica ginger. She had received eight letters from her home and friends before leaving Santa Barbara, marked "Not to be opened until the 4th." She brought them with her, and yesterday morning we gathered around her to see what the birthday letters contained. They are leaving home letters from the father and mother, from whom she has been parted two years. They hope in a few weeks to see her at home again, entirely cured of the rheumatism, for the relief of which she came to this climate. If they could look at her now, during this trip — sleeping on the bare ground, tramping around in the dewy grass, sitting bareheaded by the campfire until twelve o'clock at night, getting her feet soaking wet on the beach — they would not recognize their invalid daughter.

A Collection of Birds.

Our camp to-night looks like a regular trappers' den. Abbie is making a collection of the wild birds of California. Jo shoots them, we all help skin them, and for pay Abbie has offered to stuff duplicates of some of her birds for us. We have now drying on our tent one pelican, two seagulls, one road runner, two orioles, two doves, six quail, six black birds (red, yellow, white and black-winged), one snipe, two blue birds, four red-breasted grosbeaks, eight woodpeckers, three linnets, one robin, one ruby-crested humming bird. Forty-two birds in forty-eight hours. I have always supposed it to be a very delicate and tedious task to prepare birds for stuffing, and under Abbie's tuition we have succeeded admirably. As soon as the bird is dead we smooth the feathers carefully and run a string through the nostrils, and hang the bird up by the head for twelve hours, until the feathers are set. Then an incision is made in the breast with a penknife, the skin drawn back carefully from the breast to the knee joints, which are severed by the knife, the wing joints are broken in the same manner, then the skin is pulled over the head to the eyes, which are separated by the point of a hair-pin, and a few strokes of the penknife around the beak completes the work, and the body drops from the feathered epidermis as neat and smooth as an apple from a patent peeler. A little alum, salt-petre, and arsenic are sprinkled on the bird skin, and after being exposed to the air a few hours it is ready to pack, and can be set up or mounted years hence. It may seem to persons, as it did to me a few weeks since, to be a heartless and unwomanly thing to be able to tear the dear little songsters to pieces, and that it required nerve to do it. But any woman who has nerve to scald and pull the feathers out of a dead chicken's beast can skin a bird.

Interesting Specimens.

Not only have we the birds to show for our forty-eight hours' labor, but rocks, shells and fossil remains are packed in tree-moss in one of our provision barrels; and a patent herbarium contains flowers, scientifically analyzed and classified, and pencil sketches are in the portfolio. I wish you could see, or I could describe, the brilliant wild flowers we have gathered — scarlet pinks, wild mignonette, wild tulips, wild lilacs, wild lilies, wild verbenas. The wild gooseberries here have scarlet blossoms with inner purple petals, like fuchsias; they are about half the size of our ordinary fuchsia.

Every night, after our day's work is completed, we sit around the fire that sends its glittering sparks into the moonlit sky, and tell stories or sing. Kate has a cultivated contralto voice that blends exquisitely with Jo's soprano. Not only do we sing hymns and college songs, but often on the still mountain air, the gems of Ernani, Trovatore, and Sonnambula salute the forest solitudes.

To-morrow we expect to reach Gaviota Pass — a natural roadway, so narrow that only in a few places can two teams pass. the pass is about three miles long, and is sliced down perpendicularly through the great rocky walls of the coast range. It affords the only pass or road through the mountains along this coast, all other traveled highways being over the mountains' summit.

July 2, 1876. New York Sun 43(293): 6.