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Written by Joaquin Miller
for the Oakland Tribune
May 6, 1906

Photograph I am too tired to think. I have been working on the stone wall all day, because the earthquake doesn't come this way and my walls will stand till the cows come home.

Earthquakes come like Christmas – once a year – or, rather, once a century. I have lived in Japan, Honolulu and Naples, and these are the earthquake countries. They quake only now and then, and as a rule more people die from stale fruit in the tropics than from earthquakes. An earthquake is as innocent as a kid. Keep out of the way of the kid. In truth I know nothing in nature quite so innocent as an earthquake. Look around you in every little village here. Half a dozen houses, and half a dozen happy families, but everything built close down to the ground, with all California to build over. I don't see why we have to crowd into one little plot of land. House piled on house. Ten stories built as if we were walled in like Babel, of old, with such swift transportation, where everybody came and went. There is no sense in piling house on house, putting our time going up and down stairs.

Were I to rebuild San Francisco, I would put all that and San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Jose, Milpitas, Alameda, Oakland, and Berkeley, all in one broad city of one and two-story houses as in the City of Mexico, and I'd call the whole bunch San Francisco.

I despise these small towns, their multitudinous mayors, their egotisms, their vanities, their big houses and their small ideas. Like the old Spaniards we must suit ourselves to the climate and the conditions. Let New York go her way, but we must go ours if we expect to rival New York, and there is no half reason why we may not pass New York in the next ten years if we only use common sense and get over our vanities and our village notions and names that mean nothing. There's room for just one city, and that is San Francisco, because it has the most glorious bay on the globe. Of course the heart of it may be Oakland, but by name and nature, San Francisco, the Garden City, the University City [San Jose and Palo Alto] – all should be freezed into one.

I think that fires are good, especially in hell. San Francisco was not a clean city, like Chicago and Boston – she was nasty.

From what I can read the city is much healthier than it was before, and the people are much better behaved. Before the fire I was overrun here by bullies, egotists, adventurers – they were loud and vulgar. It was hard to keep them off my grounds – my grounds are graveyards, where my mother and children are buried, and should I go to Mountain View cemetery or San Francisco and yell and howl and roar, as these San Francisco people have done here for years, I would be in jail in less than an hour, but since the fire I've had quiet. The fire has done me good. I've had peace from this time on.

It seemed like a tremendous fire in Kit Carson's camp, when the plains were aflame, but there was one great difference – there was no wind. An earthquake is always quiet.

The birds hid when the earthquake came. My chapel was open at the time. It is always open except when strangers come and I have to shut them out, but I was lying in bed after five and wide awake, for I always go to bed with the birds and get up with the birds, and the first I knew my cattle began to low and my cats came into my chapel, and I thought there might be a strange dog.

I got up, and looked out for the dog, but it was nothing of the sort. The cats were under my great brass bed and I never witnessed such stillness. I lay down again and then the sun burst over the hills and San Francisco was silver and gold.

The streets seemed wide, bright and steep, and I've never seen the city so large, but the stillness was terrible and the light was unnatural, and then two little talented birds came into the chapel and a humming bird out of the apple tree came in and there was a bump and a thump as if I were in a small boat bumping against a wharf.

I felt about four of these bumps and got up and went to my chapel door, and saw one of my Japanese boys at my right hand, and one at my left.

I said "Earthquake?" and they answered "earthquake," and we went back to bed. The cats went out and everything seemed satisfactory.

After breakfast I went out to work in my garden, then the smoke began to curl up, and it curled up high and strong, for there had never been such a rich city in the history of the world – rich in rye and bourbon from Kentucky – rich in all brands of wines. Never had there been a fire so richly fed.

From every corner you could see the flames bursting higher and higher from these costly stores which no city had ever had before, and the clouds for all three days and nights were most wonderful to behold.

California was great from the start, but she was never so entirely great as now. The main improvement in San Francisco will be turning all Nob Hill into a public park. Nob Hill was an affectation. Nobody ever liked it. Nobody ever liked to live there, and everybody who owned property got out after a brief experience.

Of course I am not a city man. I live in the country and I cultivate my cabbage, but I have no doubt that San Francisco will be restored to her people. The eyesores will be gone, and the place will be one of undimmed loveliness.

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