Another Russian in California

Fort Ross in 1828.

Fort Ross in 1828.

From 1838 to 1841 Alexander Gavrilovich Rotchev was the last manager at Fort Ross, the Russian-American Fur Company’s outpost in California. The Company sold the Fort and all its assets to John Sutter in 1841, and Rotchev was the man who negotiated that sale, although personally he opposed it. He believed that the Company should hold on to Russia’s foothold in the New World. We can only speculate how events might have differed if the Russians still had a presence in California in 1849.

But by 1849 Rotchev was back in St. Petersburg, where, having left the employ of the Russian-American Company, he supported himself by writing and translating. In 1849, stimulated by the newly awakened world-wide interest in California, he wrote his impressions of life in northern California before the Gold Rush.

The Overland Journal has recently published James R. Gibson’s new translation of A New Eldorado in California, by Alexander Rotchev. The following quotes are taken from his article.

What an enchanting land is California! For eight months of the year the sky is always clear and cloudless, and during the remaining months, beginning with the last days of November, it rains periodically; the heat in the shade does not exceed 25 degrees Reaumur.

That would be 88 degrees Fahrenheit, but he was on the coast, not in the Central Valley.

In January everything comes to life–the flora is in full bloom, everything is fragrant, and iridescent hummingbirds flutter and sparkle on a stalk or quiver like precious stones over the blossoms.

The virgin soil of California bears astounding fruit: I happened to see a wheat harvest of one hundred and fifty-fold there! Corn and frijoles a thousand, one hundred and fifty-fold! And with what slight effort: a pointed, curved branch, the end of which is shaped into a kind of blade, is a plow, and after scratching one and a half vershoks the plowman starts to sow.

A vershok is an obsolete Russian unit of measurement equaling 1 3/4 inches, so the farmer is planting his seed about 2 1/4 inches deep.

You pick a peach from the tree and the discarded stone falls to the ground, and after three years on that same spot you will see a mature tree and watch them pick and use its fruit!

I really think our Russian correspondent is exaggerating here, or passing on a tall tale. He was only in California three years, so I don’t think he personally witnessed this prodigy of nature. Still, California is a great place to grow fruit!

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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