The Diary of Sister Berchmans, "Voyage and Travel to Tucson 1876"

Diary of Sister M. J. Berchmans Hartrich

An Account of the Journey of 
Mother Basil Morris
Sister Mary Rose Dorna
Sister Eutichiana Piccini
Sister M. John Berchmans Hartrich

From the Mother House
of the Sisters of St. Joseph Carondelet,
St. Louis, Missouri to Tucson, Arizona

April 17, 1876 to June 8, 1876
53 Days
St. Louis to Tucson 1876

To Our Reverend Mother and Dear Sisters:

A Journal containing a little description of our journey from Carondelet to Tucson.

After bidding our dear Mother and Sisters farewell, we commenced our journey, Easter Monday, April the 17th, 1876. We assisted as Mass and received Holy Communion at the Franciscan church about half-past five in the morning, then ate our breakfast in the carriage. Our trip from St. Louis to Kansas City was made very agreeable by some of the passengers, who entertained us by singing Methodist hymns; and a colored gentleman, who played on three instruments at the same time. We arrived in Kansas City at 11:00 o'clock p.m. The Sisters were all sound asleep and of course we had to make a loud noise to arouse them.

We left Kansas City for Denver Thursday morning, the 20th. The country at a distance of about 75 miles is pretty well cultivated. From Topeka to Denver the plains were like a vast wilderness, neither trees nor grass to be seen. The villages consisted of a depot and a few mud houses underground similar to a cellar. The inhabitants numbered about ten or twelve. We saw a great number of deer and little prairie dogs not larger than a rat. At the distance of about 30 miles from Denver we saw the first mountains. You cannot imagine what a contrast there is between the high mountains and the level plains.

We reached Denver Friday evening, April 21st. We stopped with the Sisters of Loretto, who received us very kindly. At first they took us to be some of their Sisters whom they were expecting. The Sisters have a beautiful place; they have a great many boarders. Now, I will give you a description of the town. It is situated at the foot of the mountains; the mountains are on the northern side. The streets are very wide and shaded on both sides with trees. We also visited the Cathedral; it is very small. Really the poorest country church looks better than it did. The only thing worth noticing was a beautiful statue of our Lady of Lourdes. The Sisters of Charity are also building a hospital.

We left Denver Sunday evening for Cheyenne; we arrived there about nine o'clock the same evening; we were obliged to remain at the hotel until the next day at one o'clock when we took the cars for Ogden. The mountains are all covered with snow.

The scenery in the Rocky Mountains is grand; some of the rocks looked as if split and almost ready to fall on us; and others appeared as if a great quantity of red paint had been spilt over them and then run down all sides; the substance was hard. They say it was caused by volcanic eruptions. We passed another place called the Devil’s Gate; the name is very applicable. It is a small stream formed by melting snow, it rushes furiously on dashing the water against the rocks, which causes it to foam and roar, so that it makes the cold chill run through a person, then suddenly it disappears in an opening in the rock, then comes out on the other side. We passed through several tunnels and a great number of snowsheds.

We arrived at Ogden Tuesday, the 25th. Through the wild Territory of Nevada the snow was no less than twenty feet deep in some places; that is on the mountains. After riding for about 3 hours under continual snowsheds winding round the summit of the mountains, all a person could see was nothing but snow and tall pine trees and firs measuring in height about 50 feet. As soon as we entered the state of California, we suddenly passed from the depth of winter into the middle of spring.

At Elko, the first station in California, there were strawberries for sale, and the mountains were covered with beautiful flowers which filled the air with fragrance. We also had a view of the gold mines at a place called Goldrun. Not far from there, a gentleman presented Mother with a five dollar gold piece as a gift. We arrived in Sacramento City Thursday, April 27th at 11:00 o'clock a.m. The city is situated on a plain with the mountains on the east. The streets are wide and lined on both sides with large trees. Each house is surrounded with beautiful flower gardens.

The largest building we saw was the capital or courthouse; it resembled in size and beauty the one in St. Louis. Between Sacramento and San Francisco the farmers were cutting their hay; the wheat was already in heads. They raise two crops a year. We also saw large lemons twice the size of the common lemon. They grow in California, also oranges. The small towns near San Francisco are beautiful. The finest gardens, fruits of all kinds are cultivated. Peaches were then the size of small hickory nuts. The cherries were getting ripe; at least, we tasted some before we left San Francisco! I must say that California is the Eden of the U.S.

The territory of Arizona makes up for it. In all my days I never saw such a barren, sandy, deserted place, as out here. I must return to San Francisco. We reached there Thursday evening, April 27th about five o'clock p.m. I cannot describe in words the warm welcome the good Sisters of Mercy gave us. In a word, they made us feel perfectly at home. They treated us as their own. We assisted at their recreations and also took our places with them in their chapel.

Now I'll describe their grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. It was really so natural; the iron railing, the fountain, the vines and little trees, everything was there, except the church on the mountain. While there, we assisted at Mass, said in the grotto, so you may judge its size.

Opposite the grotto of our Lady of Lourdes they have the chapel of our Lady of La Salette, that is, the three statues in different positions in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to the children, also the statues of the little boy and girl.

Mother Baptist took us to see their house of correction for young girls. They also keep women who are addicted to drinking. The Sisters teach these young girls all kinds of needlework; They embroider vestments and the like; the work is beautiful. They have a large garden and such beautiful flowers and shrubs; their burial ground lies quite near the house; it is covered with nice green grass, divided in squares of about 30 by 40 feet. They have the Stations, or Way of the Cross, in their grave-yard; in the center there is a little chapel, in that they have a large crucifix, life-size, and the statues of the Blessed Virgin and St. John, one on each side of the cross and Mary Magdalen kneeling at the foot of the cross.

We also visited three of the principal churches, St. Patrick’s, the Cathedral and the Jesuits' church. St. Patrick’s is the largest. They are not as nice as I expected to find them. The city is nicely laid out, part of it is built on three hills, one of the hills is over 500 ft. above the level of the sea. The houses are nearly all wood. They are painted so as to resemble stone or brick; their sidewalks are planks; it is difficult to walk without tripping sometimes.

The climate is pleasant, the air pure and healthy, the nights very cool, and during the day there is always a nice breeze. We met a great number of Chinese, so many, that you almost think yourself in China; they have several streets here which are entirely occupied by them. I must bid adieu to San Francisco.

On May the 6th we bid farewell to the good Sisters of Mercy and embarked on the steamer Newburn, commanded by the kind Captain Metzger. We were determined not to get sick, so we remained on deck quite a while. Coming out of the bay it was pretty rough so that a person could not stand without having a firm hold; but pretty soon we were obliged to retire to our cabins, where the performance began. Mother, Sisters Eutichiana and M. Rose were very sick, but I was determined not to give up.

After struggling quite a while, I was compelled to go through the same ordeal. I could not keep from laughing, as sick as I felt. The others were too sick to laugh. You may imagine four of us in a little room, hardly place to stir, and each one with her basin. At first we only had two but getting so sick we were obliged to call for two more. I have to laugh whenever I think about it. Mother never felt well on sea, but still she was not as sick as when she was coming from Europe.

The second day of our journey we were over a hundred miles from the coast; all we could see was the sky and water. At night the sky is so clear the stars shine brighter than in the middle states. We saw the Southern Cross too while at sea.

I enjoyed the trip on the ocean very much. On the llth, the first port we reached was a small town on Magdalena Bay on the west coast of Lower California. The town consisted of about seven or eight houses, including the custom house. The only business carried on is the manufacturing of a pink dye from sea moss. The 12th we arrived at Cape Lucas, where we stopped about an hour; this was a small village of only three houses.

There was some green to be seen, coconut trees and other tropical fruits. The weather was not as warm as we expected to find it. We were then in the torrid zone. You will be no less surprised when I tell you that we were obliged to wear our shawls when passing the cape, the wind was so strong and cool.

It was there they brought six head of cattle on board; the vessel being about a mile from shore, about six men went ashore in a small canoe. The Mexicans drove the cattle in the water as far as the boat, then tied three on each side by the horns. The poor things looked as if they were almost drowned; then they were hoisted up by having a rope tied around their head.

We left the same evening for Mazatlan on the coast of Mexico. We arrived there on Monday the 14th, p.m. This was quite a large place, although we could see but a portion of it from the steamer. At Mazatlan they were having their yearly feast, which lasts from the 1st of May till the 15th. They have a great time of it; the principal amusements consist in gamboling and dancing. It is a great practice among Mexican ladies and even children to gambol (tribal dances). It is very amusing to see the ladies wear heavy winter shawls on their heads instead of sun bonnets or hats. The men, that is the poorer class, wear their shirts over the pants. I suppose they find it much cooler.

At Mazatlan the number of passengers was increased; the Governor’s lady and family were of the number and remained with us as far as La Paz. The Governor’s lady is very anxious to have the Sisters go there. She promised to do all in her power in assisting the Sisters if they go there. She did not speak a word of English, nothing but Spanish.

On our way up the Gulf, we saw a great number of fish. The swordfish, it has a kind of sword projecting above its mouth, porpoises, flying fish, seals, sharks, and two whales. The seals, there were quite a number of them together, it was very amusing to see them jump one after another out of the water. In Magdalena Bay we saw a great quantity of lobsters. The sand appeared red from the number of dead ones, which were thrown on the beach by the tide. Jelly fish - they are the strangest looking things I ever saw; in size they looked like a ground turtle; the color, a light blue; round the neck it has a dark ring with an edging of white spots; these we saw only in the torrid zone. We also saw a great number of pelicans on and near the coast of Mexico.

Wednesday morning, the 16th, we arrived at La Paz in Lower California. It is the prettiest of the Mexican ports. It is situated in such a manner that you have a view of the whole town from the bay; the houses are all one story in height with flat roofs; there are very few brick buildings to be seen; they are all made of mud but the walls nicely white-washed. The streets are shaded with different kinds of trees. It is very warm during the day; at noon the people all go to rest; the town at that hour is quiet, almost as at night. In this part of the country the people nearly all sleep outdoors at night, the heat is so intense.

Friday morning, the 18th, we reached Guaymas on the coast of Mexico. This little port is entirely surrounded by high mountains, perfectly barren, only covered with sand and cacti, which bear a red fruit which is good to eat. All the mountains are like those in Lower California and Arizona. The heat is intense; it never, or seldom ever rains. They are obliged to bring the water they use from the mountains. They bring it down on the backs of mules. I think if I were to stay there I would dry up into nothing. It was there a gentleman on board showed us a piece of solid gold valued at $4,000.

We left Guaymas at 9:00 o'clock a.m. Saturday, the 19th. After sundown the same day we had a pretty strong wind which lasted only a little while; otherwise our trip was very pleasant. We could not have wished it better. Sunday morning, May the 20th, we arrived at the mouth of the Colorado River, where the other boat was waiting for us. The river steamer is so much smaller than the boats on the Mississippi River.

The Colorado River is so shallow even when the river is overflowing. In some places the bank was not any higher than two or three feet; the water is very muddy. We started up the river Monday morning, May 22nd; the boat stopped every evening in order to avoid the dangers of striking sand bars. We four Sisters and Dr. Lighburn from St. Louis were the only passengers on board. We saw a great number of Indians along the river; they wear very little clothing; all they have to cover them is a little piece of calico or other material about a yard in width; some of the men wear a shirt and no pants; others have only a coat on. Some of the children go without anything on them. Wednesday, the 24th at 10:00 o'clock a.m. we arrived in Ft. Yuma.

The Sisters had an ambulance waiting for us. They were so glad to see us you may be sure; we were too. I must give you a description of the convent in Yuma. It is a mud house, one story high with twelve rooms including the Chapel. Sometimes they lay a foundation of rocks about one or two feet high, then the balance of the wall is built of adobe or mud bricks; these are made of mud and straw and dried in the sun. The general size is about 1~% ft. in length, 1 ft. in width, 1/2 ft. in thickness; the walls are about two ft. thick; the ceiling or roof is made of logs; and those who can afford it have joists. Over these are placed small round sticks with straw over them; then a thick layer of mud forms the roof and ceiling.

If you wish to have a better idea, just look at a hay loft. Of course, some are not as bad as that. The floors are not of boards; very few have them. The ground is very hard; some put a thin layer of coarse sand to prevent mud when the floors are watered, which is done once or twice a day to make it cool and keep down the dust which is very plentiful here.

Lumber is so scarce; it is hard enough to get boards to make tables and benches, much less to make wooden floors. You have no idea how cool these houses are. If it were not for these beautiful adobe houses, I think people would melt with the heat, especially in Yuma. During the day, the heat is intense; you could almost imagine yourself in a bake oven. The dust and sand in the street are no less than 3 inches deep. They have frequent high winds; then is the time to look out for your eyes, nose and mouth, if you don't wish to have them filled with snuff. In town and surrounding country there is nothing green, except along the bank of the river.

There are plenty of snakes and lizards in this part of the country. One day I was sitting on the bed swing when suddenly I felt something pulling our habit; turning my head to see what it was, to my great fright, I saw a lizard crawling on my lap. You may be sure I sent him flying.

May 29, 1876 Off to Tucson
Tuesday the 29th, we started for Tucson in a private conveyance. It took us fully ten days; the distance is nearly 300 miles from Yuma to Tucson; the road is very good, only in some places it was sandy and rocky and very dusty. The only houses on the way are the stations; and these are generally twenty, thirty, forty miles apart. At each of them, we were obliged to fill our canteens with fresh water. The first night we camped out, we will never forget - only the four of us and the driver. It was the middle of the road, surrounded by brush and high grass.

Sister M. Rose and I took our blankets and pillows and spread them in front of the carriage. I slept very little that night. The least noise I heard, I thought it was a snake or some other wild animal coming to devour us. I was so glad when day came. The second night, we stopped at a place called Teamsters Camp; there were no houses, only a few wagons, conveying goods to Tucson. We had a little more courage, for we were not all alone. We insisted that Mother and Sister Eutichiana should sleep in the carriage; they did not take up much room. Sister M. Rose and I, we were too large; we would have pushed the other two out, if we got in.

One night it was very windy; we were thinking how we would manage to keep the dust from blowing in our mouths and noses. Of course there was no danger of it getting in our eyes for we intended to have a good sleep that night. We concluded we would fix our beds, one at each side of the wagon near the wheels; then we managed to tie an umbrella to the wheels in such a way so as to keep the dust from blowing on us.

Thursday night we had quite a nice place; there was nice green grass. We all slept out that night. I wish you could have seen us! Each one with her blanket and pillow fixing her bed; we often regretted that our pillows were not stuffed more; whenever we could not get a little straw or grass, I had to put our satchel under it to make it higher.

The nights were very cool; sometimes we would be shaking with the cold; one night it was so cold that Sister had to hang an old coffee sack in front of the carriage to keep warm. Nearly every night Mother would give me her blanket. I would sleep under the two and just feel comfortable.

Now I must describe our nice table and tablecloth. We have a few sacks; then we would spread a large napkin over that. Then our beautiful dishes consisting of tin plates and tin cups. One would wash the dishes, another would put them away and the other would look for wood to make the fire. Sister M. Rose would cook our meals.

I almost forgot to tell you the best part of our journey. The driver was a Mexican and of course could understand but a few words of English; but as luck happened we had a little translator containing English and Spanish. So whenever we wanted to tell him anything or ask a question, we would have to look for the words in the book; then after all, he could not understand what we meant. So we would be obliged to wait until we would get to the next station, where there was always someone who spoke both English and Spanish. We always found the people on our way very kind and obliging, much more so than in the states.

The people generally are very poor, but still are as happy as if they owned great possessions. I thought I would see some fine flowers in Arizona, but I saw none except large cacti; the stocks were so high that it was impossible to see the flowers unless a person knocked some of the blossoms down with a stone. I succeeded in throwing some down, the stock or plant is as round and large in circumference as a good-sized stovepipe, in height about 10 or 20 ft., perfectly straight, and plenty of stickers.

The flower is beautiful; it is similar to the tube rose, only three times its size. I brought some cuttings of different kinds of flowers from San Francisco in a small box, but only a few of them survived the journey. They died from the effects of the seasickness, I suppose. I only brought them as far as Yuma; there I willed them to Sister Monica. I am really glad I did. I think it is bad enough to have to buy water to drink much less to water the flowers.

June 7, 1876, Thursday Evening
Arrival in Tucson
About five miles from Tucson, Mother St. John, Sister Mary and Father Antonio came to meet us. You may imagine how glad we were to see them! The Sisters did not expect us until Friday morning, but we arrived Thursday evening. The convent is comfortably arranged; they also have a high wall around it. The town is large; all the houses are made of adobe except a few buildings which are made of brick.

The Cathedral is pretty large; part of the floor is boarded. They have only a few pews in about half of the church. The Feast of Corpus Christi we had the procession with the Blessed Sacrament. It is kept here as a day of obligation. Sunday afternoon we had a quite pleasant drive to the novitiate; it is in a pretty place. The house is not completed. We took our supper with us and enjoyed ourselves till evening.

Last Sunday in the Octave of Corpus Christi they celebrated the feast at San Xavier’s Mission about 9 miles south of Tucson - the Bishop, Fathers and all the Sisters except two. There was to be the procession, but the people and Indians had forgotten all about it and of course we were not prepared. We enjoyed ourselves very much in examining the ancient building. The church can be seen at a distance of about two miles. It is built in the form of a cross; the monastery is adjoining the church. The walls are of an immense thickness, nearly four or five feet at least.

There are two towers, one of them has never been finished; there are still five bells; some of them have been taken for other churches. The altars, five in number, are all made of brick covered with plaster. I never saw so little wood used in a building. The steps are all of brick, even those leading to the steeple. (One line here is indiscernable because of the fold in the paper.) wall of about 2 ft. in height, ornamented with heads of bears or lions, I don't know which. It must have been grand when new, when now it still retains some of its beauty and grandeur. I cannot tell you the feeling that came over me when kneeling before the altar.

I must close my Journal; although I have a great deal more to tell you, but it would take too much time. Please excuse all mistakes for this is my first attempt to write a journal.

Your grateful and affectionate child and Sister,
Sister M. J. Berchmans

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