John Vonderlin: This is "La Purissima," 1891

From John Vonderlin
Email John (
La Purissima
I found this article in the San Francisco “Morning Call,” April 8th, 1891 edition. It fills in very well what was going on in Purissima in its heydays. The OCR version of this had hundreds of errors, but I think I got most of them. To think the stream had already been fished out and polluted by oil wells in 1891 is amazing. It seems like the falls were higher then or he was using fishermen’s measurements. I’ll research some of the folks mentioned in the article and send it along soon. I never knew why they called them anglers, but now I know thanks to this article. Enjoy. John
A   Favorite   Resort   of   Old-
Time   Anglers.
The   Beautiful   Brook   in   the   Daytime.
The   Comfortable   Inn   at
This   is   the   season   for   the   angler.   Every
nook   and   stream   within   mi!es of   San   Fran – 
cisco   where   by   any   chance   a   trout   has
been   permited   to   lurk   till   the   Ist   of   April
is   now   eagerly   sought   and   industriously
fished   by   old   as   well   as   young   Waltonians.
“We   may   say   of   angling   as   Dr.   Boteler
said   of   strawberries,”   writes   old   lsaak   in
“The   Complete   Angler.”   “Doubtless   God
could   have   made   a   better   berry,   but
doubtless   God   never   did.   and   so,   if   I
might   be   judge,   God   never   did   make   a
more   calm,   quiet,   innocent   recreation   than
Alexander   Pope   comes   very   near   de – 
scribing   the   situation   in   California   at   this
season   of   the   year,   when   he   sings   in   his
poem   of   “Windsor   Forest”:
ln   genial   spring,   beneath   the   quivering   shade
When   cooling   vapors   breathe   along   the   mead,
The   patient   fisher  takes   his   silent   stand.
Intent,   his   angle   trembling   in   his   hand,
With   looks   unmoved,   he   hopes   the   scaly   breed
And   eyes   the   dangling   ash   and   bending   reed.
Pope   could   not   have   better   pictured   one
particular   place   in   San   Mateo   County   if
he   had   had   it   in   his   mind   when   he   wrote
those   lines,   and   to   which   the   thoughts   of
many   an   old   angler   in   .San   Francisco   re – 
vert   when   the   open   season   arrives.   It   is
a   bright,   sparkling   little   stream,   between
Spanishtown   (Jim   Denison’s   theater  of action
 in  his  lifetime)  and   Pescadero,
about   thirty-eight   miles   from   the   city,
called   by   the   Spanish   name,   La   Puri – 
sima,   which   as   everybody   knows   means
“the   purest.”   The   name   was   well   applied
to   its   limpid   water’s   thirty   years   or   more
ago.   but   can   hardly   be   so   now   on   account
of   several   abandoned   oilwells   that   con – 
taminate   the   stream   and   impart;   a   dis – 
agreeable   flavor   to   fish   caught   near   and
below   them.
La   Purisima   was   a   famous   trout   stream
in   its   early   days.   Fish   were   found   there
in   great   numbers   and   of   a   kind   not   known
elsewhere   in   California;   they   were   pecu – 
liar   to   the   brook   itself.   This   creek   was
the   favorite   resort   of   anglers   from   San
Francisco,   and   when   the   April   winds   grew
soft   you   might   find   parties   of   them   at   Buz – 
zell’s—as   it   was   known   then—now   Dough – 
.   erty’s   comfortable   little   inn,   past   which
the   waters   of   La   Purisima   coursed.   Good
 fellows   always,   and   jolly   enough   to   in – 
spire   an   American   Shenstone   to   write   in
 praise   of   the   inn   and   its   tenants.   Rising
in   the   Gabilan   Sierra   Moreno,   now   known
as   the   Santa   Cruz   range,   this   creek   has   but
a   short   distance   to   run   oceanward.   Within
a   few   hundred   yards   of   the   inn   the   waters
fall   into   ttie   vast   Pacific’s   arms   over   a   ledge
about   eighty   feet   high.   In   the   rainy   sea – 
son   this   fall   is   a   cascade,   in   the   dry   sum – 
mer   months   the   stream,   shrunken   in
volume,   spreads   over   the   rocks   like   a   veil
hiding   their   ruggedness,   and   with   a   musi – 
cal   tinkling   that   is   pleasant   to   the   ear.
The   usual   plan   adopted   by   the   stalwart
fisherman   who   had   made   up   his   mind   for   a
day’s   sport   in   the   creek   was   to   leave   tbe
Dougherty   inn—the   name   “inn,”   or,   as
the   country   pnople   had   it,   “tavern,”   is   to
be   preferred   because   thirty   years   ago   the
place   had   not   attained   the   dignity   of   a
modern   hotel—in   the   cool   gray   of   the
early   morning   and   walk   up   the   valley,
“brushing   with   hasty   steps   the   dews
away,”   like   the   young   man   in   Gray’s
Elegy,   a   distance   of   about   four   miles   to
where   ex-Supervisor   Lane,   one   of   the   City
Fathers   who   in   the   sixties   looked   after
the   municipal   interests   of   San   Francisco,
had   erected   a   sawmill.   Some   who   loved
their   ease   made   the   distance   by   a   vehicle,
but   your   true-spirited   angler   always   footed
it.   The   walk   was   just   far   enough
to   warm   a   vigorous   man   up   for
the   creek   work   to   follow.   Lane’s   mill
was   at   the   base   of   the   Santa   Cruz   range,
among   the   redwood,   from   which   the
creek   emerges   and   goes   on   its   way   down
through   the  meadows   to   tbe   sea.   Here’s
where   a   fisherman   out   for   a   day’s   work
always   began   it,   facing   toward   his   point
of   departure   In   the   morning.   If   you   went
up   beyond   the   sawmill   into   the   redwoods,
you   had   hard   climhing,   besides   a   compara – 
tively   slender   thread   of   water   and   only
fingerlings   to   reward   the   toil.   One   of   the
desirable   features   as   a   fishing-place   of   the
Purislnia   is,   by   the   way,   the   location   of
Dougherty’s   inn,   in   relation   to   the   route
the   angler   has   to   traverse.   Starting   in   at
the   old   sawmill,   and   fishing   down   stream,
he   has   tbe   satisfaction   of   knowing   that
every   step   takes   him   nearer   his   hostelry,
and   by   the   time   be   has   made   his   last   cast,
when   the   sun   is   westering   behind   the
Gabilan   mountain,   and   his   creol   has   be – 
come   heavy—wlich  was   more   often   the
case   in   the   days   of   which   I   write,   when
the   fish   were   plenty   and   tbe   fishers   few,
than   at   present—it   does   not   need   a   walk   of
more   than   100   yards   to   make   the   Inn,   to
 disembarrass   himself   of   the   pleasing   load,
which   the   angler   of   average   industry
nearly   always   bears   in   the   shape   of   a   well – 
filled   basket,   and   rest   from   their   whole-
some   tire   his   strong   and   sinewy   limbs.
One   of   the   most   skillful   and   at   the   same
time   most   ardent   anglers   of   tlie   period   and
 the   place   was   Harlow S.   Love,   father   of
 John   Lord   Love,   ex-Attoruey-General   of
this   State.   Mr.   Love   often   made   Dough – 
erty’s   cozy   little   inn   on   the   banks   of   the
Purisima   his   home   for   a   month   or   two   in
the   open   season.   He   was   a   lawyer   of
much   reputation   in   that   day,   as   his   son   is
at   present,   and   conducted   The   Call   as
the  earliest   legal   adviser   of   its   then   pro-
prietors   through   many   perplexing   and
tortuous   lawsuits.   Mr.   Love   in   his   Wal – 
tonlan   pursuit   treated   the   elusive   trout
pretty   much   as   in   court   he   did   the
wary   witnesses   he   examined—he   had   them
in   the   creel,   as   the   Scotchman   calls   our
trout-basket,   almost   before   they   felt   they
were   hooked.   It   was   a   sight   to   see   this
lover   of   rod   and   reel,   in   his   fishing   equip – 
ment,   pushing   on   through   clumps   of
shrubbery,   regardless   of   poison   oak   or   any
other   baneful   plant,   to   reach   a   quiet   pool
under   a   gnarled   root   that   jutted   out   over
 tne   stream   from   an   ancient   redwood,   and
where   he   generally   basketed   a   couple   of
pounders.   He   was   a   model   American   dis – 
ciple   of   old   lzaak,   fully   able   to   cope   with
the   rougher   conditions   under   which   the
“gentle   art”   has   to   be   plied   in   California.
Gideon   J.   Denny,   the   painter,   was
 another   of   those   sport-loving   cits   who   was
often   beside   this   stream;   but   much   as   he
loved   trout-fishing   he   loved   his   pictorial
art   more.   Like   Alfred   Jingle,   the   poet,
who,   when   hunting,   varied   his   banging   of
the   fieldpiece   by   twanging   the   lyre,   “Gid,”
as   his   familiars   used   to   call   him,   dropped
his   rod   for   a sketch   when   a   good   bit   of   land – 
scape   caught   his   eye,   a   pretty   swirl   in   the
water   of   the   creek,   or   a   knot   of   cattle   ofl
in   the   meadow   that   reminded   him   of   a
Cuyp   he   had   seen   somewhere.   He   was   a
marine   painter,   as   a   general   proposition,
and   many of   his   sea   pictures   are   yet   on
the   walls   of   private   dwellings   and   public
places   in   this   city,   but   he   had   a   painter’s
eye   for   the   beautiful   in   nature   on   land   as
well   as   on   sea.   He   never   made   a   good
 showing   as   an   angler;   he   was   not   indus – 
trious enough.   Where   he  shone   brightest
was   in   the   great   room   of   the   Dougherty
inn   when   the   “ev’en   had   brought   it’   hame,”
and   the   anglers,   the   flagellants   of   the
brook,   narrated   their   adventures   of   a   day.
Gid   never   boasted   of   his   basket,   nor
mentioned   any   striking   work   by   the
brookside;   but   he   had   experiences   in   other
directions   that   were   equally   interesting,
and   he   told   them   racily,   like   the   man   of
the   world   he   was.
On   one   occasion   a   member   of   the   fishing
party   caught   a   three-pound   trout—said   to
 be   the   largest   fish   taken   out   of   the   Puri – 
sima’s   waters   since   the   American   occupa – 
tion,   or   in   the   memory   of   the   oldest   in – 
habitant.   There   was   a   howl   of   disgust
wheu   the   fortunate   angler   exhibited   his
prize   to   the   assembled   fishermen   in   the
evening,   and   decided   doubts   were   ex – 
pressed   that   it   was   ever   caught   by   a.   hook
and   line.
“Some   chap   has   a   trout   preserve   on   the
creek,   and   that   fish   was   caught   with   a
silver   hook.   How   much   did   you   pay   for
it?”   Such   was   the   kind   of   chaffing   that
parsed   round   the   circle.
Gid   saw   a   chance   for   his   pencil.   The
big   trout   was   laid   out   to   the   best   advan – 
tage,   and   measured   18   inches   from   tip   to
tip;   then   be   made   a   handsome   drawing   of
it,   which   was   hung   up   in   the   barroom   of
the   inn.   with   all   the   data   connected   with
its   capture.   Everybody   living   in   the   coun – 
tryside   round   about   came   to   see   the   pic – 
ture   of   the   great   trout,   to   talk   about
it   in   a   way   more   or   less   nonsensical.   The
main   point   was   that   there   was   a   good   deal
of   whisky   drunk   by   the   visitors   during
the   debate,   and   it   is   said   the   landlord   de – 
rived   enough   money   from   this   source   to
pay   his   taxes   for   that   year.   It   is   needless
to   say   Gid   was   made   free   of   the   bar   while
his   picture   was   on   exhibition.   The   fish   it – 
self   was   speedily   transferred   to   the   hand
of   the   best   cook   in   San   Francisco,   who
served   it   up   au   gratin,   the   mushrooms   and
truffles   plentiful,   and   it   was   discussed   in   a
more   material   way   by   two   or   three   epi – 
cures   of   the   fishing   party,   who   bathed   its
firm,   pinky   flakes   in   choice   sauterne.
Many   other   names   occur   to   the   writer,
and   he   turns   with   a   sigh   from   the   recollec – 
tion,   for   they   are   all   dead,   while   La   Pu – 
risima   is   still   singing   Tennyson’s   song   of
the   brook,   “Men   may   come   and   men   may
go,   but   I   go   on   forever.”
There   are   several   mesa-like   islets   lying
a   short   distance   off   shore   in   the   vicinity
of   Dougherty’s   inn   that   were   objects   of
great   interest   to   visitors   thirty   years   ago,
and   are   so   yet,   probably.   When   evening
drew   on   all   the   space   on   their   surface,
many   acres   in   area,   was   covered   by   enor – 
mous   sea-lions,   packed   as   closely   together
as   sardines   are   in   a   box,   and   they   fought
for   their   respective   places   all   the   live – 
long   night   and   roared   so   loudly   that   the
combined   noise   reached   the   inmates   of   the
inn   like   the   “sound   of   many   waters”   or   of
a   Niagara   in   the   distance.   At   one   time
these   animals   were   killed   for   their   oil,   and
the   beach   would   be   lined   with   monstrous
specimens   of   dead   phocae,   some   weighing
upward   of   a   thousand   pounds.   The   slaugh – 
ter,   however,   proved   unprofitable   and
was   finally   discontinued.
The   pursuit   of   the   California   black   fish
was   also   made   a   business   by   Buzzell,   the
predecessor   of   Dougherty.   It   was   hazard – 
ous   and   he   lost   his   life   by  it.   He   didn’t
happen   to   have   a   good   boat-steerer   with
him   at   the   time   he   was   fastened   to   a
fish,   and   when   it   fluked   and   stove   the   boat
in   the   old   man,   even   while   his   people   were
looking   on   from   the   shore,   sank   out   of
sight   into   the   ocean   witn   a   bubbling groan.

About June Morrall

1947 - 2010
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.