"I was terrified," writes Monica. "The cars pass over frightful chasms; the rails are laid on logs resting on pillars, whose only support are craggy rocks beneath." People held their breath. "It was only when safe on firm ground that conversation was resumed."
They reached San Francisco the evening of April 27, and 1914 miles and 106 hours from Omaha, they were "sadly in need of rest." The cars' constant, side-to-side jostling had made the sisters "completely dizzy."
On Saturday, April 30, they sailed to San Diego on the Orizaba. Henry "Ninety Fathom" Johnston captained the coal-fed side-wheel steamer renowned for its oak and chestnut planking. In 1869, because he admired the view, Johnston was the first to buy land on the scrub and chaparral hill above Old Town. First called "Johnston Heights" in his honor, the area is today's Mission Hills.
On the same Orizaba that would bring Kate Sessions to San Diego in 1884, Mother Ernmerentia, and Sisters Euphrasia and Martha got seasick, The ship docked Tuesday, May 3. The women lodged at a boarding house in Old Town.
San Diego in 1870 was splitting in two. Residents of Old Town began moving south to (Alonzo) Horton's Addition, which formed its Chamber of Commerce on January 1, and would become today's San Diego. New structures dotted wide, dusty streets. Wooden frames rose behind them.
Horton's Hall, a red-brick building on the corner of Sixth and F, was almost completed as the sisters arrived. It opened six days later: a 400-seat theater upstairs; a roller-skating rink on the ground floor. The theater doubled as a church for Catholics and Presbyterians. New Town swelled with prospectors on their way inland. Gold had been discovered near Julian.
The seven sisters were the first nuns in San Diego. During their stay, they met Father Antonio Ubach — whose parish," he said, ranged "from 16th Street to the Colorado River. Impressed by their courage, Ubach told the women to forget Tucson: begin a school in Old Town. Later, he traveled to Carondelet and begged for teachers. But the Reverend Mother said San Diego was too distant. In 1882, four Sisters of St. Joseph came west and founded the Academy Of Our Lady of Peace. And in 1887, Ubach got, his wish: Sisters of Carondelet established St. Anthony's Indian School in Old Town.
The seven sisters remained in San Diego four days, in part to recover from train- and sea-sickness, but also to wait for their escort. It never came. They learned much later that a message from Carondelet to the Bishop, announcing their plans, had been delayed. They had no escort, no idea which route to take through the wild west. What to do?
On Saturday, May 7, 1870, they hired a driver and covered wagon, and set forth for the sun-scorched Arizona Territory wearing heavy black wool habits, a wide white, bib-like guimpe, and black veils. Some had sturdy shoes.
The driver, whom Monica never names, was a thin, educated young man who'd made the trip before: His vehicle was a carriage-type wagon with a canvas, sun-shade canopy, two bench seats behind the driver's, and leather straps for suspension. Every bump and rut — especially in May, after winter rains carved deep rills — jerked riders side-to-side/forward-and-back. The constant spine-jouncing, said a prairie-schooner driver, was "hardly comfortable."
Two horses pulled the wagon. At least one of them wore a cowbell. Its dull, metallic rattle signaled the arrival of a solitary, wooden-wheeled carriage to coyotes, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes.
The vehicle averaged four miles an hour on good trails. Because it only seated six, Sister Ambrosia volunteered to sit with the driver. "It is beyond description," writes Monica, "what she suffered riding 200 miles without protection from the rays of a tropical sun. Yet poor Sister did this."
AB day dawned over the hills to their left, the driver packed provisions and "thumped water barrels fora full sound." Then the wagon headed south on a well-traveled, often tide-washed, dirt road.At 10:00 a.m. they passed the white post that still marks the southwest boundary of the United States (at Border Field State Park). They crossed the Tia Juana River, just a trickle in May, and entered Mexico.
The driver chose the Old San Diego Trail, a 195-mile, former military mail route from San Diego to Tecate, and on to Fort Yuma. For 50 miles, the trail runs south of the border, up the broad Tia Juana River Valley, studded with cottonwoods and autumn oaks; then hooks northeast into the high country.
At noon, they stopped at a stable for lunch. While the others rested, Monica and Maxime inspected flecks, bright as sunshine, on nearby boulders. With the fever of Julian prospectors, they skipped from rock to trock pecking samples, dreaming big — "Just think," Monica shouted with worldly glee, "a sack of gold!" — only to learn "That 'all that glitters...'"
After recrossing the border at the adobe customs house near Rancho Puerta Tecate, they spent their first night outdoors. They camped beneath Tecate Peak (not knowing that, according to Kumeyaay legend, it's' where the world was born). Since there wasn't enough room, Mother Emmerentia and two sisters bunked under the wagon; two others reclined on the seat- benches; Monica and Euphrasia had to sleep sitting up, in a corner. White sage scented the cool night air.
"We had scarcely closed our eyes when wolves began to howl. We feared they would consume our little store of provisions and thus let us perish in the wilderness." The driver calmed them.
Later, Euphrasia woke up screaming. Wolves? No. One of the horses licking her face.
Happy to see the new day, the sisters celebrated by forming a procession ahead of the wagon. Mother Emmerentia led them, holding a Spanish lily like a torch. As they sang hymns and trudged up and down the winding trail, the sisters imagined themselves "in Egypt with Joseph patron saint — leading them.
At noon, they came to a "cool, shady place" in the high desert: the 900-acre settlement of Campo, a general store/cantina, mill, large home, and blacksmith shop owned by Silas and Luman Gaskill. Five years later, these raw-boned, raven-eyed brothers would tight a famous shootout with banditos. The Gaskills ran the most important way-station in the region, providing food, stable-feed, and shelter for stagecoaches and mule-drawn freight wagons that had struggled up steep slopes to the west and east.