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November 04 , 2007

The Golden Canyon


In the month of August, 1856, the bark Northampton was lying in the harbor of San Diego. In spite of the awning spread over her deck the heat was almost unbearable. Not a breath of wind was stirring in the land-locked harbor, and the bare and arid country round the town afforded no relief to the eye. The town itself looked mean and poverty-stricken, for it was of comparatively modern growth, and contained but a few buildings of importance. Long low warehouses fringed the shore, for here came for shipping vast quantities of hides; as San Diego, which is situated within a few miles of the frontier between the United States and Mexico, is the sole sheltered port available for shipping between San Francisco and the mouth of the Gulf of California. Two or three other ships which were, like the Northampton, engaged in shipping hides, lay near her. A sickening odor rose from the half-cured skins as they were swung up from boats alongside and lowered into the hold, and in spite of the sharp orders of the mates, the crew worked slowly and listlessly. "This is awful, Tom," a lad of about sixteen, in the uniform of a midshipman, said to another of about the same age as, after the last boat had left the ship's sides, they leaned against the bulwarks; "what with the heat, and what with the stench, and what with the captain and the first mate, life is not worth living. However, only another two or three days and we shall be full up, and once off we shall get rid of a good deal of the heat and most of the smell."
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