Chapter no 2

East of Eden

I must depend on hearsay, on old photographs, on stories told, and on memories which are hazy and mixed with fable in trying to tell you about the Hamiltons. They were not eminent people, and there are few records concerning them except for the usual papers on birth,

marriage, land ownership, and death. Young Samuel Hamilton

came from the north of

Ireland and so did his wife. He was the son of small farmers, neither rich nor poor, who had lived on one landhold and in one stone house for many hundreds of years.

The Hamiltons managed to be remarkably well educated and well read; and, as is so often true in that green country, they were connected and related to very great people and very small people, so that one cousin might be a baronet and another cousin a beggar. And of course they were

descended from the ancient kings of Ireland, as every Irishman is. Why Samuel left the stone house and the green acres of his ancestors I do not

know. He was never a

political man, so it is not likely a charge of rebellion drove him out, and he was scrupulously honest, which eliminates the police as prime movers. There was a whisper -not even a rumor but rather an unsaid feeling-in my family that it was love drove him out, and not love of the wife he married. But whether it was too successful love or whether he left in pique at unsuccessful love, I do not know. We always preferred to think it was the former. Samuel had good looks and

charm and gaiety. It is hard to imagine that any country Irish girl refused him.

He came to the Salinas Valley full-blown and hearty, full of inventions and energy. His eyes were very blue, and when he was tired one of them wandered outward a

little. He was a big man but delicate in a way. In the dusty business of ranching he seemed always immaculate. His hands were clever. He was a good blacksmith and carpenter and woodcarver, and he could improvise anything with bits of wood and metal. He was forever inventing a new way of doing an old thing and doing it better and quicker, but he never in his whole life had any talent for making money. Other men who had the talent took Samuel’s tricks and sold them and grew rich, but Samuel barely made wages

all his life.

I don’t know what directed his steps toward the Salinas Valley. It was an unlikely place for a man from a green country to come to, but he came about thirty years before the turn of the century and he brought with him his

tiny Irish wife, a tight hard little woman humorless as a chicken. She had a dour Presbyterian mind and a code of morals that pinned down and beat the brains out of nearly everything that was pleasant to do.

I do not know where Samuel met her, how he wooed her, married. I think there must have been some other girl printed somewhere in his heart, for he was a man of love and his wife was not a woman to show her feelings. And in spite of this, in all the years from his youth to his death in the Salinas Valley, there was no hint that Samuel ever went to any other woman.

When Samuel and Liza

came to the Salinas Valley all the level land was taken, the rich bottoms, the little fertile creases in the hills, the forests, but there was still

marginal land to


homesteaded, and in the

barren hills, to the east of

what is now King City,

Samuel Hamilton homesteaded. He followed the usual practice. He took a quarter-section for himself and a quarter-section for his wife, and since she was pregnant he took a quarter-section for the

child. Over the years nine children were born, four boys and five girls, and with each birth another quarter-section was added to the ranch, and that makes eleven quarter-sections, or seventeen hundred and sixty acres. If the land had been any good the Hamiltons would have been rich people. But the acres were harsh and dry. There were no springs, and the crust of topsoil was so thin that the flinty bones stuck through. Even the sagebrush struggled to exist, and the oaks were dwarfed from lack of moisture. Even in reasonably good years

there was so little feed that

the cattle kept thin running about looking for enough to eat. From their barren hills the Hamiltons could look down to the west and see the richness of the bottom land and the greenness around the Salinas River. Samuel built his house with his own hands, and he built a barn and a blacksmith shop. He found quite soon that even if he had ten thousand acres of hill country he could not make a living on the bony soil without water.

His clever hands built a well-boring rig, and he bored wells on the lands of luckier men. He invented and built a threshing machine and moved through the bottom farms in harvest time, threshing the

grain his own farm would not raise. And in his shop he

sharpened plows and mended harrows and welded broken axles and shod horses. Men

from all over the district brought him tools to mend and to improve. Besides, they loved to hear Samuel talk of the world and its thinking, of the poetry and philosophy that were going on outside the Salinas Valley. He had a rich deep voice, good both in song and in speech, and while he had no brogue there was a rise and a lilt and a cadence to his talk that made it sound sweet in the ears of the taciturn farmers from the valley bottom. They brought whisky too, and out of sight

of the kitchen window and the disapproving eye of Mrs. Hamilton they took hot nips from the bottle and nibbled cuds of green wild anise to cover the whisky breath. It was a bad day when three or four men were not standing around the forge, listening to Samuel’s hammer and his

talk. They called him a comical genius and carried his stories carefully home, and they wondered at how the

stories spilled out on the way, for they never sounded the same repeated in their own kitchens.


should have

been rich from his well rig and his threshing machine and his shop, but he had no

gift for business. His customers, always pressed for money, promised payment

after harvest, and then after Christmas, and then after-

until at last they forgot it. Samuel had no gift for reminding them. And so the Hamiltons stayed poor. The children came along as regularly as the years. The few overworked doctors of the county did not often get to the ranches for a birth unless the joy turned nightmare and went on for several days.

Samuel Hamilton delivered

all his own children and tied the cords neatly, spanked the bottoms and cleaned up the mess. When his youngest was born with


small obstruction and began to turn black, Samuel put his mouth against the baby’s mouth and blew air in and sucked it out until the baby could take over for himself. Samuel’s hands were so good and gentle that neighbors from twenty miles away would call on him to help with a birth. And he was equally good with mare, cow, or woman.

Samuel had a great black book on an available shelf and it had gold letters on the

cover- Dr. Gunn’s Family Medicine. Some pages were bent and beat up from use, and others were never opened to the light. To look through

Dr. Gunn is to know the

Hamiltons’ medical history. These are the used sections- broken bones, cuts, bruises, mumps, measles, backache,

scarlet fever, diphtheria,

rheumatism, female

complaints, hernia, and of course everything to do with pregnancy and the birth of children. The Hamiltons must have been either lucky or moral for the sections on gonorrhea and syphilis were never opened. Samuel had no equal for soothing hysteria


bringing quiet to a frightened child. It was the sweetness of his tongue and the tenderness of his soul. And just as there was a cleanness about his body, so there



cleanness in his thinking.



to his blacksmith shop to talk and listen dropped their cursing for a while, not from any kind of restraint but automatically, as though this were not the

place for it.

Samuel kept always a foreignness. Perhaps it was in the cadence of his speech, and this had the effect of

making men, and women too,

tell him things they would not tell to relatives or close friends. His slight strangeness set him apart and made him

safe as a repository. Liza Hamilton was a

very different kettle of Irish. Her head was small and round and it held small round convictions. She had a button nose and a hard little set-back chin, a gripping jaw set on its course even though the angels of God argued against it. Liza was a good plain cook, and her house-it was always her


brushed and pummeled and washed. Bearing her children did not hold her back very

much-two weeks at the

most she had to be careful. She must have had a pelvic arch of whalebone, for she had big children one after the other. Liza had a


developed sense



Idleness was a sin, and card playing, which was a kind of idleness to her. She was suspicious of fun whether it involved dancing or singing or even laughter. She felt that people having a good time were wide open to the devil. And this was a shame, for Samuel was a laughing man, but I guess Samuel was wide open to the devil. His wife protected him whenever she could. She wore

her hair always pulled tight back and bunned behind in a hard knot.

And since I can’t remember how she dressed, it must have been that she wore clothes that matched herself exactly. She had no spark of humor and only occasionally a blade of cutting wit. She frightened her grandchildren because she

had no weakness. She

suffered bravely and

uncomplainingly through life, convinced that that was the





everyone to live. She felt that rewards came later.


When people first came to the West, particularly from the

owned and

fought-over farmlets of Europe, and saw so much land to be had for the signing of a paper and the building of a foundation, an itching land-greed seemed to


over them. They

wanted more and more land -good land if possible, but land anyway. Perhaps they had filaments of memory of feudal Europe where great families

became and

remained great because they owned things. The early settlers took up land they didn’t need and couldn’t use; they took up worthless land just to own it. And all

proportions changed. A man who might have been well-to-do on ten acres in Europe was rat-poor on two thousand in California.

It wasn’t very long until all the land in the barren hills

near King City and San Ardo was taken up, and ragged families


scattered through the hills, trying their best to scratch a living from the thin flinty soil. They and the coyotes lived clever, despairing, submarginal lives. They landed with no money, no equipment, no tools, no credit, and particularly with

no knowledge of the new country and no technique for using it. I don’t know whether it was a divine stupidity or a great faith that let them do it. Surely such venture is nearly gone from the world. And the families did survive and grow. They had a tool or a weapon that is also nearly gone, or perhaps it is only dormant for a while. It is argued that because they believed thoroughly in a just, moral God they could put

their faith there and let the smaller securities take care of themselves. But I think that

because they trusted

themselves and

respected themselves as individuals, because they knew beyond doubt that they were valuable and potentially moral units- because of this they could give God their own courage and dignity and then receive it back. Such things have disappeared perhaps because men do not trust themselves any more, and when that happens there is nothing left except perhaps to find some strong sure man, even though he may be wrong, and to dangle from his coattails.

While many

people came to the Salinas Valley penniless, there were others

who, having sold out somewhere else, arrived with money to start a new life. These usually bought land, but good land, and built their houses of planed lumber and had carpets and colored-glass

diamond panes

in their

windows. There were

numbers of these families and they got the good land of the valley and cleared the yellow mustard away and planted wheat. Such a man was Adam Trask.

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