"Remnants of 1852 wagon road and toll house just below Pacheco Pass," photographer, date unknown. Larger.
Many of California's early emigrants had extraordinary tales about their experiences in the Golden State. But few could match Thomas Jefferson Mayfield's tales of his early childhood among among a band of San Joaquin Valley Yokuts
Mayfield's stories reflect his love for the outdoors, a love reinforced by living among native people but also stimulated by a young boy's natural curiosity about an extraordinary new home, the San Joaquin Valley.
Finally we started on and passed down the long ridge, which my daddy called a "hog's back," to the small valley below. There we found the grass we had seen from above to be wild oats. They stood as high as our stirrups and were as thick as they could grow. My daddy said that was the finest country he had ever seen.
We followed along El Arroyo de San Luis to where it passed through a narrow opening in the bare hills to the San Joaquin plains below. . . .
I have never seen anything to equal the virgin San Joaquin Valley before there was a plow or a fence within it. I have always loved nature and have liked to live close to her. Many times when traveling alone and night has overtaken me, I have tied my horse and rolled up in my saddle blanket and slept under a bank, or among the wild flowers, or on the desert under a bush. I remember those experiences as the greatest of my life. The two most beautiful remembrances I have are the virgin San Joaquin and my mother.
Mayfield's remembrance evokes a nostalgia for a landscape we'll never see again, but it's real power comes from the emotional appeal of straight-forward declarations of loyalty to the land—as well as his touching loyalty to absent family.
"Canoe of Tules — Pomo," The North American Indian; v.14
, photographed by Edward S. Curtis, 1924. Larger.
Tule elk, tule fog, Tulare County, and after an especially hard rain, we still have Tulare Lake
. So what's all this fuss about a slender bulrush?
As a boy, Thomas Jefferson Mayfield crested Pacheco Pass
with his family in 1850. He loved the San Joaquin Valley
from the first time he saw it, and in a late-life remembrance recaptured the novelty of the valley's distinctive flora, including an impressive and ubiquotous sedge known as the tule.
As we approached the river we found the water quite high and had some difficulty in reaching the river. We finally reached the bank over some high ground. The river was too high to ford. So my daddy unloaded the pack animals and made them swim across. . . .
On the east side of the river we experienced a great deal more trouble than we had on the west. It took us several hours to find our way around and through the sloughs that extended many miles east of the San Joaquin River.
The things I remembered best about this portion of our trip across the San Joaquin Valley were the great clouds of blackbirds that arose as we passed and the great growth of tules. Those tules must have been twenty feet high and two or more inches in thickness. We were as completely lost in them as we would have been in a forest.
Just before his death in 1928, Thomas Jefferson Mayfield shared stories of his life in the San Joaquin Valley with ethnographer Frank F. Latta.