A young boy and his parents are on the Brooklyn with other Latter-day Saints going to California in 1846. A storm so terrible that the captain of the ship told them to prepare to die was followed by being stuck under a blazing sun in the Doldrums. Finally a wind came up and blew the Brooklyn around Cape Horn—but it wouldn’t let them land in Chile! So they sailed 360 miles away from South America to an island where they got—for free—all the supplies needed to finish their voyage. Papa said that it was one of the times that God worked in a mysterious way to bless them.
As the Brooklyn sailed for the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) to deliver some freight, just the right amount of wind filled the sails. The bright green peaks that rose over Honolulu announced another tropical paradise like the Juan Fernández islands. We pulled up next to the Congress, an American warship anchored outside the reef. Commodore Robert F. Stockton came aboard the Brooklyn and told us that the United States was fighting against Mexico in California.
“I can’t believe it!” Papa said, shaking his head over the distressing news. “For five long, weary months, we’ve traveled to find a peaceful place to live. Now we’re heading for a war, instead!”
“Maybe it’s one of those things that seem awful at the time but turn out to be good,” I suggested in an effort to cheer him up.
“I don’t see how it could be,” he replied, “but I hope that you’re right.”
Commodore Stockton urged the Brooklyn passengers to help defeat Mexico. He proposed that our men capture Yerba Buena, the small settlement on San Francisco Bay, in the name of the United States.
Papa wasn’t the only one who was concerned about the situation. As we assembled for prayers that evening, there was a lot of discussion about what we should do. After the leaders of the company heard all the opinions, studied the options, and prayed, they decided to stay with the original plan to go to California. The Saints would prepare to fight, in case it became necessary.
While cargo was delivered and provisions replenished in Honolulu, Brooklyn passengers were free to explore the island. Hundreds of natives were waiting for us to land. They greeted us with wide smiles and twinkling black eyes.
Some of the Hawaiians came on board and were delighted when they saw the nine-month-old Kittleman twins, Hannah and Sarah, and asked to take them ashore to show them to their queen. After they had been gone for more than two hours, Sister Kittleman became alarmed, and the ship’s crew organized a posse. Just as the sailors were ready to start a search, two young girls came running toward the ship with the babies. Queen Kalama had sent many gifts for their mother.
After ten wonderful days in Honolulu, we set sail on the last leg of our long voyage. It was spent preparing for war. A former soldier trained the men for battle.
While we sailed, fifty to sixty men drilled for combat. They marched around the deck and practiced loading and aiming their guns. My friends and I had make-believe battles with my lead soldiers. The women kept busy stitching bolts of blue denim into uniforms for the troops.
On Friday, July 31, 1846, one month after leaving the Sandwich Islands—and nearly six months after leaving New York—we finally approached the California coast. Men, women, and children crowded the deck, eager to see where we would land at last. I tried to get a glimpse of land myself, but dense fog hung like a heavy, dark curtain in front of all of us.
The rocky shores of the Golden Gate strait were almost invisible when Captain Richardson carefully guided the Brooklyn through the narrow passage that opens into San Francisco Bay.
As eager as we were to land, we were even more anxious as to what awaited us. Would we find enemy ships in the harbor? Or Mexican soldiers on the shore? Did hidden spies watch as the Brooklyn moved slowly ahead?
Now and then the fog lifted over the bay and we could see the shore. There were no trees at all; the ground was the color of dry grass. Pelicans glided just above the surface of the water. They looked too heavy to fly any higher. Other birds, some dark, some white, soared and swooped over the waves. Occasionally we spotted bumps that looked like islands.
A shadowy shape gradually appeared in the distance. Was it a ship? Friend or foe? A wisp of something fluttered. Was it just a ribbon of fog streaking in the breeze, or was it a Mexican flag? I held my breath as we drew closer and saw a ship anchored in the harbor. The banner flapping in the wind was covered with stars and stripes! The American flag! Yerba Buena had already been captured for the United States. I couldn’t wait to go ashore, to have room to run and romp, to have a private place to think—and to eat a family meal cooked by Mama.
I studied the landing place. After the breathtaking beauty of the Juan Fernández and the Sandwich islands, Yerba Buena was downright ugly! There was nothing green at all. Skeletons of slaughtered cattle covered the sandy beach.
Droghers (clumsy barges) waited in the bay to carry their cargo of tallow and hides to the east coast. A few tired donkeys, loaded with bundles of wood, trudged along with their heads down. Some lazy loungers sprawled on the shore.
I also saw a few scrubby, gray oaks. Beyond them, a series of sand hills rose one behind the other. Several old shanties all leaned in the same direction.
While I stood on the deck, cannons from the battery boomed a salute, and the greeting was returned by the Brooklyn. A rowboat with uniformed officers from the Portsmouth, a United States military ship, approached us, and the men came aboard. One of them announced, “Ladies and gentleman, I have the honor to inform you that you are in the United States of America.”
The passengers aboard the Brooklyn gave three hearty cheers. Our long voyage was over at last.
Many of the Saints who traveled to California on the Brooklyn stayed there to work for funds to outfit themselves for the overland journey to the Salt Lake Valley. They met members of the Mormon Battalion (see the Friend, July 1996, pages 34–35), most of whom were also working to raise money before going to the Valley. Many members from both groups were working at Sutter’s Mill when gold was discovered. The faithful Saints, to the amazement of others, did not participate in the gold rush that followed but obeyed President Brigham Young’s counsel to rejoin the main body of the Church in the Salt Lake Valley.