California Historical Articles
( Originally Published Early 1911 )California came into the sisterhood of the States violently, at the mouth of the cannon, with the rattle of musketry and accompanied by unfortunate but, as it would seem, unavoidable bloodshed. She was never a territory of the United States except in theory, but entered the Union as a full-fledged state almost immediately as she emerged from the control of Mexico. She took her place as the thirty-first sovereign commonwealth of the Union. The republic of the United States was then in the seventy-fourth year of its independence.
The Republic of California, commonly called the "Bear Flag Republic," ceased to exist by the unanimous consent of the Americans who composed it, the moment that Commodore John D. Sloat raised the Stars and Stripes at Monterey on the morning of July 7, 1846. Thus the Bear Flag Republic had been in existence twenty-four days. Not only had it been the desire but the full intention of the Bear Flag people to turn California over to the United States had it devolved upon them to perform the task of wresting the Province from Mexico. Consequently the news that came from Monterey was exactly the news they wanted to hear. The Bear Flag was taken down from every pole and staff upon which it floated and was folded away with its short but vivid memories to await the judgment of Time.
It is necessary to clearly understand the situation in California as it was on July 7, 1846, the day Sloat hoisted the Stars and Stripes over Monterey. To begin with, the United States was then at war with Mexico. Commodore Sloat raised the flag in accordance with instructions he had received from the Government at Washington to seize the Port of San Francisco and other ports of California and to hold possession of them against Mexico and all other nations. But he had no instructions to set up any form of government in California on behalf of the United States. Don Pio Pico was then the Mexican Civil Governor of California and General Jose Castro was the Mexican Military Chief. Immediately upon landing his men at Monterey and raising the American flag, Commodore Sloat addressed a letter to General Castro at San Juan Bautista and also dispatched a message to Governor Pico at Los Angeles.
In his letter to General Castro, Commodore Sloat stated that actual war existed between the United States and Mexico, and he called upon Castro to surrender his troops, munitions of war and public property to the end that bloodshed and the unnecessary sacrifice of human life might be avoided. The letter invited Castro to a conference at Monterey in order that a capitulation might be arranged, at the same time assuring Castro that he would be treated with respect and that the safety of himself, his officers and his men would be guaranteed. The message to Pico was much in the same vein and it also contained an invitation to the Governor to proceed to Monterey for a conference.
In order to allay the fears of the Californians—and by the term "Californians" is meant the Mexican inhabitants and not the Americans—and also to make his position clear, Commodore Sloat issued a proclamation prior to raising the flag at Monterey. This proclamation is herewith given as well for its historical value as for the reason that it will serve to make clear in the minds of the present-day reader the exact situation at that time, from Sloat's position and point of view.
The proclamation was addressed "To the Inhabitants of California" and was as follows :
"The central Government of Mexico having commenced hostilities against the United States of America by invading its territory and attacking the troops on the north side of the Rio Grande, and with a force of 7000 men under . . . General Arista which army was totally destroyed . . . on the 8th or 9th day of May last by a force of 2300 men under .. . General Taylor, and the City of Matamoras taken.. . and the two nations being actually at war by this transaction, I shall hoist the standard of the United States at Monterey immediately, and shall carry it throughout California. I declare to the inhabitants of California that, although I come armed with a powerful force, I do not come among them as an enemy to California; on the contrary, I come as their best friend, as henceforward California will be a portion of the United States and its peaceful inhabitants will enjoy the same rights and privileges as the citizens of any other portion of that territory with all the rights and privileges they now enjoy, together with the privilege of choosing their own magistrates and other officers for the administration of justice among themselves; and the same protection will be extended to them as to any other state in the Union. They will also enjoy a permanent government under which life, property and the constitutional right and lawful security to worship the Creator in the way most congenial to each one's sense of duty, will be secured, which, unfortunately, the central government of Mexico cannot afford them, destroyed as her resources are by internal factions and corrupt officers, who create constant revolutions to promote their own interests and oppress the people.
Under the flag of the United States California will be free from all such troubles and expense; consequently the country will rapidly advance and improve both in agriculture and commerce, as, of course, the revenue laws will be the same in California as in all other parts of the United States, affording them all manufactures and produce of the United States free of any duty and all foreign goods at one-quarter of the duty they now pay. A great increase in the value of real estate and the products of California may also be anticipated. With the great interest and kind feeling I know the Government and the people of the United States possess towards the citizens of California, the country cannot but improve more rapidly than any other on the continent of America. Such of the inhabitants of California, whether natives or foreigners, as may not be disposed to accept the high privileges of citizen-ship and to live peaceably under the Government of the United States will be allowed time to dispose of their property and to remove out of the country if they choose, without any restrictions ; or remain in it, observing strict neutrality. With full confidence in the honor and integrity of the inhabitants of the country I invite the judges, alcaldes, and other civil officers to retain their offices, and to execute their functions as heretofore that the public tranquillity may not be disturbed, at least until the government of the territory can be more definitely arranged. All persons holding titles to real estate or in quiet possession of lands under a color of right shall have those titles and rights guaranteed to them. All churches and the property they contain, in the possession of the clergy of California, shall continue in the same rights and possessions they now enjoy. All provisions and supplies of every kind furnished by the inhabitants for the use of the United States' ships and soldiers will be paid for at fair rates; and no private property will be taken for public use with-out just compensation at the moment."
Pio Pico did not deign to make any answer whatever to the message from Sloat. Castro wrote an evasive reply to the letter which he had received from the Commodore and at once followed it up by writing a letter to Pico at Los Angeles in which he stated that he was on his way with one hundred and seventy men and that he hoped that Governor Pico would promptly order all the military to be mobilized and all Californians called to arms to defend their country against the American invaders. Pico called the provincial assembly together, and there was a great deal of talk about a determined stand and the annihilation of the Americanos, but it amounted to nothing.
At just about this time when all California was buzzing like an angry bee hive, Commodore Robert F. Stockton arrived in the Port of Monterey with the United States Frigate Congress from the Hawaiian Islands. The date was July 15, 1846. Stockton was heartily welcomed by Commodore Sloat, whose health was failing. In addition to his bad physical condition it appears that Sloat was mentally sick of the whole California business, although he had reason to believe that the American conquest of California was already a success. Sloat deter-mined to leave and he did so on July 29, sailing in the Levant for Mazatlan and Panama. He transferred his authority to Stockton and left that officer in charge of the whole business so far as he was able to do so.
Commodore Stockton got busy at once. As Commander-in-Chief of the United States forces he issued an address to the people of California, verbally attacking Mexico with fierce invective and charging General Castro with "violating every principle of international law and national hospitality by hunting and pursuing with several hundred soldiers and with wicked intent, Captain Fremont of the United States Army, who came to refresh Ins' men, about forty in number, after a perilous journey across the mountains on a scientific survey, for which repeated hostilities and outrages military possession was ordered to be taken of Monterey and San Francisco, until redress should be obtained from the Government of Mexico." There was a whole lot more in the same vein, serving notice on the Californians, in no unequivocal language, that they might as well prepare to throw down their arms and quit. Commodore Sloat was not given a copy of the address until he was about to sail, and did not read it until he was at sea. But when he did read it, he wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Navy at Washington, protesting against the language used by Stockton and asserting that it did not state the situation correctly.
Thomas O. Larkin, the United States Consul at Monterey, counseled Stockton to proceed diplomatically, to treat with the Californians and endeavor to bring about a peaceful solution of the trouble. But Stockton was not the kind of man to act on advice of this nature. He sailed to San Pedro to take up his position there and, at about the same time, he dispatched Fremont to San Diego. Larkin had also written to Governor Pio Pico advising him to endeavor to make terms with Stockton. Castro and Pico were then together in Los Angeles and they sent a delegation to San Pedro to negotiate with Commodore Stockton as soon as news of his arrival reached them. In this delegation was Jose Maria Flores, who very soon afterward became Comandante General of the California military forces. Stockton absolutely declined to treat with Flores as the ambassador of Castro and Pico or in any other capacity. The Californians were bluntly informed that they had no standing whatever and that every man bearing arms in the Province, other than as a soldier of the United States, would be treated as a rebel.
Upon the receipt of the news of Commodore Stockton's attitude, emphatic as it was, Governor Pico and General Castro concluded that discretion was the better part of valor, so far as they were concerned, and they immediately set out for Mexico on the same day, which was. August 10. They did not travel together, however, as the old bitter feeling between them had not been smoothed over. There had been many a bitter political quarrel in California from first to last, but it may be said safely that the quarrel between Castro and Pico was the bitterest of which there is any record. As to the real reason why Pico and Castro abandoned the field, it is contended that they were not actuated by fear, but by the desire to escape inevitable humiliation at the hands of the Americans. Everything in the character of General Castro gives color to the belief that he was by no means a coward and that he was loyal to California to his heart's core. lie regarded England, France and the United States equally as the enemies of his country and he would have been glad to wipe them all from the face of the earth were he able to have done so. As to Pico's motives in running away, there must always remain more or less doubt. After he left he put his friends in danger by forcing them to conceal him. His career as a legislator and as a Governor of California stamps him all the way through as a shifty politician, always scheming for his own interests.
Commodore Stockton had brought Mr. Larkin, the Consul, with him to San Pedro. Landing his marines for the purpose of marching on Los Angeles, Larkin was sent ahead. The Consul found that Castro and Pico had fled and, so notifying Stockton, the Commodore sent a portion of his marines back to the ship and continued his march with the balance. On the way he was met by Fremont with his forces from San Diego. The entire force then, with bands playing and banners flying, entered Los Angeles without resistance. The American standard was raised and Commodore Stockton, in another characteristic pronunciamento, declared himself Governor of the Territory of California and commander of its military forces. He declared his intention of organizing a civil government, but beyond declaring himself Governor, he seems not to have carried this intention into effect. He appointed Fremont military commander of the Territory. Leaving Lieutenant Archibald H. Gillespie in command at Los Angeles, Stockton returned to Monterey by sea while Fremont and his force took the overland trail northward, the agreement being that the two commanders with their forces were to meet at San Francisco—then still known as Yerba Buena —on October 26.
The Americans at this time were rather resting easy in the belief that the Californians were incapable of making even a show of resistance to Stockton's program. But that this idea was a mistaken one, subsequent events amply proved. Lieutenant Gillespie's police regulations in Los Angeles were very drastic, indeed. It seems that personal liberties were greatly restricted. This the Californians in Los Angeles naturally resented. It was especially resented by a young fellow of rather wild and unmanageable disposition whose name was Serbulo Varela, together with several of his boon companions. They were mostly Sonorans. On the night of the twenty-third of September, Varela with about twenty others made an attack on the adobe house in which Gillespie's men were quartered.
The attack does not appear to have been a very serious matter and it was probably greatly exaggerated in Gillespie's mind, but be that as it may, its effects were serious. As a matter of fact it was the torch that set off the magazine of war. In an incredibly short space of time the Californians were up in arms from one end of the Province to the other and the American forces soon found that their supposed security had been based on mistaken judgment.
Varela's night attack on Gillespie at Los Angeles now assumed the proportions of an armed revolt. In a few days Varela himself had gathered together an organized force of three hundred men in which Castro's veterans assumed places as captains, not-withstanding that they were under parole and were now forfeiting their lives by the action which they were taking. Captain Jose Maria Flores, a man of considerable stamina and ability, was made Comandante General of the revolutionary forces, with Jose Antonio Carrillo and Captain Andres Pico next in command. They were ready to fight and, as we shall see, they did fight. Gillespie realized the seriousness of the situation and dispatched a courier to Commodore Stockton with a full statement of the conditions with which he found himself surrounded.
No step could be taken in California in those days unless a pronunciamento had first been issued. The Spanish and Mexicans, as well as their California successors, were master hands in the framing of pronunciamentos which bristled with sonorous and extremely eloquent phrases. The Americans seem also to have had a weakness for this kind of document. There were so many of them from time to time that thev become tiresome on the pages of California's history. But the pronunciamento framed and posted by Serbulo Varela when he launched his famous re-volt against the Americanos in 1846 is rather exceptional and demands reproduction here if only for the reason that it reflects the state of feeling which the Californians were in, or which they believed themselves to be in. Behold the immortal declaration of Serbulo Varela and his devoted men :
"Citizens : For a month and a half, by a lament-able fatality resulting from the cowardice and incompetence of the Department chief authorities, we see ourselves subjugated and oppressed by an insignificant force of adventurers from the U. S. of N. America, who, putting us in a condition worse than that of slaves, are dictating to us despotic and arbitrary laws by which, loading us with contributions and onerous taxes, they wish to destroy our industries and agriculture, and to compel us to abandon our property, to be taken and divided among themselves. And shall we be capable of permitting our-selves to be subjugated, and to accept in silence the heayy shame of slavery? Shall we lose the soil inherited from our fathers, which cost them so much blood? Shall we leave our families victims of the most barbarous servitude? Shall we wait to see our wives violated, our innocent children beaten by the American whip, our property sacked, our temples profaned, to drag out a life full of shame and disgrace? No ! a thousand times no, compatriots ! Death rather than that! Who of you does not feel his heart beat and his blood boil on contemplating our situation? Who will be the Mexican that will not be indignant and rise in arms to destroy our oppressors? We believe there will be not one so vile and cowardly. Therefore, the majority of the in-habitants of this district, justly indignant at our tyrants, we raise the cry of war, and with arms in our hands, we swear with one accord to support the following articles:
"1. We, all the inhabitants of the Department of California, as members of the great Mexican nation, declare that it is and has been our wish to belong to her alone, free and independent.
"2. Therefore the intrusive authority appointed by the invading forces of the U. S. is held as null and void..
"3. All North Americans being foes of Mexico, we swear not to lay down our arms until we see them ejected from Mexican soil.
"4. Every Mexican citizen from 15 to 60 years of age who does not take up arms to carry out this plan is declared a traitor, under penalty of death.
"5. Every Mexican or foreigner who may directly or indirectly aid the foes of Mexico will be punished In the same manner.
"6. All property of resident North Americans, who may have directly or indirectly, taken part with or aided the enemies of Mexico, will be confiscated and used for the expenses of the war, and their per-sons will be sent to the interior of the Republic.
"7. All who may oppose the present plan will be put to death.
"8. All inhabitants of Santa Barbara and the northern districts will be immediately invited to accede to this plan."
Thus in September of 1846 were the dogs of war again unleashed and the sunny hills and valleys surveyed by old Mars for another blood-drenching.
The first battle of the war took place at the Chino Rancho about twenty-five miles east of Los Angeles in the neighborhood of which Commodore Stockton had directed some twenty Americans to keep in close touch with one another for the purpose of guarding the San Bernardino frontier against the possible return of General Castro and an armed force from Mexico.
On September 26-27, 1846, Flores sent Serbulo Varela with about fifty men to route the Americans at Chino. Jose del Carmen and others, marching from the opposite direction, joined forces with Varela. The Americans were attacked in the adobe ranch house where they had assembled. Neither side was supplied with much ammunition. The Californians on their horses assaulted the house, firing their guns from the backs of the animals. The Americans re-turned the fire, but the Californians succeeded in getting close under the walls of the house and setting the roof on fire. The Americans then came out and surrendered and were taken prisoners to the camp of the Comandante, Flores, just outside of Los Angeles.
The result of the battle was one Californian killed and several wounded and three Americans wounded seriously. The entire Californian forces now threatened Gillespie in Los Angeles and, finding themselves in a serious situation, the Americans withdrew from their quarters and posted themselves on Fort Hill. They were outnumbered ten to one by the enemy. The Californians, though short of ammunition, had splendid horses which they rode splendidly, and they were flushed with their victory at Chino. Above all, they were thirsting to revenge the death of their comrade who had been killed in the recent fight.
Flores called on Gillespie to surrender, pointing out to the Americans that their situation was hope-less and that any resistance offered on their part could result only in an unnecessary sacrifice of human life. The Californian Commander offered to permit Lieutenant Gillespie and his men to withdraw with their colors and arms and all the honors of war. Flores also offered an exchange of prisoners. These terms Gillespie finally accepted and departed for San Pedro with his forces, accompanied by the ex-changed American prisoners and several American residents. Four or five days later the Americans embarked on the American ship Vandalia, on board of which they remained in the harbor awaiting instructions from the north.
The courier sent out by Gillespie from Los Angeles found Commodore Stockton at San Francisco, and the news appeared to alarm him. Certainly the Commodore was surprised, since he had but a short time before officially declared that the conquest of California was complete, the country at peace and all that remained for him to do was to establish a civil government. He now saw that he had counted his chickens before they were hatched. He resolved upon immediate action. Ordering Fremont to proceed by water to Santa Barbara, Stockton then pre-pared to sail with a force to San Pedro for the relief of Gillespie and the recapture of Los Angeles.
On the way down the coast the ship Sterling, in which Fremont with one hundred sixty men had set sail, met the Vandalia from San Pedro, and Fremont then learned of the situation at Los Angeles. Taking matters in his own hands, as he frequently had done before, he determined to return to Monterey. The ship met with bad weather and when it
got to Monterey Fremont's men were half starved. There forces were joined by other Americans and, proceeding to San Juan Bautista, he began his march southward on November 26, the army consisting of about five hundred men, fairly well mounted and equipped with muskets in addition to four brass field-pieces.
In the meantime, as Stockton was sailing for San Pedro, he was informed that Monterey, which he believed to be unprotected, was threatened with attack, so he hastened to that point and sent Captain Mervine on to San Pedro. Upon reaching San Pedro, on October 6, Mervine's forces, joined by those of Gillespie, numbering all told about three hundred fifty men, landed and proceeded to attack the Californians at Los Angeles. When they had proceeded about half way on the road they were met by a party of Californians. A fight ensued in which the Americans were defeated with the loss of five men killed and several wounded. The Californians had a cannon hitched to some horses which they would fire and then retreat, and then fire again. The Americans tried in vain to capture this cannon, but finally retreated to San Pedro where they embarked on board the Savannah to wait for Stockton.
A few days afterward Stockton arrived and, after a conference, determined to sail with the whole expedition to San Diego, having doubtless been convinced that the Californians were not to be so easily whipped as he had supposed. His plan was to secure a safer anchorage for the ships in the harbor of San Diego and after a thorough reorganization at that port, march his forces up through the interior and prosecute the war by land.
While Stockton was busy with his preparations for a campaign at San Diego he was surprised, on December 3, by the appearance in his camp of a man named Stokes who had come from Warner's Ranch, about forty-five miles to the north, with a message from General Stephen W. Kearney of the United States Army. Kearney's message to Stockton was as follows :
"Headquarters, Army of the West, Camp at Warners, Dec. 2, 1846. Sir. I this afternoon reached here, escorted by a party of the First Regiment of Dragoons. I came by order of the pres. of the U. S. We left Santa Fe on the 25th Sept., having taken possession of N. Mex., annexed it to the U. S., established a civil govt. in that territory and secured order, peace and quietness there. If you can send a party to open communication with us on the route to this place and to inform me of the state of affairs in Cal. I wish you would do so and as quickly as possible. The fear of this letter falling into Mexican hands prevents me from writing more. Your express by Mr. Carson was met on the Del Norte and your mail must have reached Washington ten days since. You might use the bearer, Mr. Stokes, as a guide to con-duct your party to this place. Very respectfully, etc."
In an era that was without railroads or telegraph lines in the west, and the Government at Washington with the Mexican War on its hands, it is easy to understand that Stockton and Fremont were with-out information concerning what was going on at Washington in regard to California. Both Stockton and Fremont at the beginning of December, 1846, knew only that they were on the ground to hold California for the United States and this they were doing to the best of their ability. Kearney's presence in California was explained in his instructions which he had received at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in June. In order that the present-day reader of this history may understand the conditions under which General Kearney had come to California, the instructions of the Secretary of War to him are here-with given, as follows :
"It has been decided," said the Secretary of War in his instructions to Colonel Kearney at Fort Leavenworth, "by the pres. to be of the greatest importance in the pending war with Mex. to take the earliest possession of Upper Cal. An expedition with that view is hereby ordered and you are designated to command it. To enable you to he in sufficient force to conduct it successfully, this additional force of 1000 mounted men has been provided to follow you in the direction of Sta Fe. . . When you arrive at Sta Fe with the force already called and shall take possession of it, you may find yourself in a condition to garrison it with a small part of your command, as the additional force will soon be at that place and with the remainder press forward to Cal. . . It is understood that a considerable number of American citizens are now settled on the Sacramento River, near Sutter's establishment called New Helvetia, who are well disposed towards the U. S. Should you, on your arrival, find this to be the true state of things, you are authorized to organize and receive into the service of the U. S. such portions of these citizens as you may think useful to aid you to hold possession of the country. You will, in that case, allow them so far as you shall judge proper, to select their own officers. A large discretionary power is invested in you in regard to these matters as well as to all others. . . The choice of routes by which you will enter Cal. will be left to your better knowledge. . . It is expected that the Naval forces of the U. S., which are now, or soon will be in the Pacific, will be with you in the con-quest of Cal. . . Should you conquer and take possession of N. Mex. and Cal. or considerable places in either, you will establish temporary civil government therein, abolishing all arbitrary restrictions that may exist, so far as it may be done with safety. . You may assure the people of those provinces that it is the wish and design of the U. S. to provide for them a free govt. with the least possible delay, similar to that which exists in our territory. . . The rank of Brevet Brigadier-General will be conferred on you as you commence your movement towards Cal."
In pursuance of these instructions Kearney had proceeded to New Mexico, maintaining his headquarters in the old City of Santa Fe, and had established civil government, leaving the country in peace and quietness, as he stated in his message from Warner's Ranch to Commodore Stockton at San Diego. It was on September 25, 1846, that he left Santa Fe for California. He had with him three hundred men of the First Dragoons. They struck down the valley of the Rio Grande and marched on over mountain and desert through a wonderfully beautiful, yet desolate land, experiencing little of interest until October 6, when they reached a point about thirteen miles below the present town of Soccorro, New Mexico. At that point, something of very great interest in-deed, happened. As though they had sprung out of the ground, Kit Carson, the famous scout and trap-per, with fifteen men, including six Delaware Indians, stood face to face in that vast wilderness with Kearney and his troopers.
The presence of Carson on that spot was soon explained to General Kearney. The wonderful old frontiersman whose name has been familiar to many generations of American boys, was on his way to Washington with dispatches from Commodore Stock-ton. Probably General Kearney had never seen Kit Carson before and, as the gaunt trooper now looked down from his jaded charger on the famous scout and hunter, he saw a small, stoop-shouldered man with reddish hair, freckled face and soft blue eyes, who spoke in monosyllables. There was nothing in the man's modest demeanor or his physical makeup to indicate the prowess which had made his name a household word throughout the continent. He had but lately added to his fame by the daring and picturesque part he had taken in the Bear Flag war.
When Carson left Los Angeles bearing Stockton's dispatches to the seat of Government at Washington, everything in California was quiet. Carson believed that the conquest had already been achieved and he so informed General Kearney. Bringing the inter-view to an end, Carson informed Kearney that he desired to proceed with the delivery of the dispatches in his possession. He had agreed to be back in California within one hundred and forty days from the day he started from Los Angeles. But General Kearney was not willing to lose the opportunity to attach to his expedition so valuable a guide and advisor as Kit Carson. He induced the scout to send the dispatches forward by those who had accompanied him, and return with the dragoons to California. To this Carson reluctantly agreed, and under his assurances that California was not offering resistance to American authority, General Kearney sent back two hundred of his men under Major Sumner to Santa Fe, proceeding with the remaining one hundred on the march and arriving at Warner's Ranch on the California frontier, December 2, 1846, as has been stated.
Upon receipt of Kearney's message, Commodore Stockton detailed Lieutenant Archibald Gillespie with a body of volunteers to make connections with the newly arrived force for the purpose of conducting it into San Diego. Gillespie and Kearney met at a place known as Santa Maria, which is distant from San Diego about forty miles. From Gillespie General Kearney learned that the Californians were in open and active revolt, being in possession of Los Angeles and occupying various other points in the field with armed and organized forces.
At this time Captain Andres Pico with about one hundred men was in the neighborhood of San Luis Rey Mission on the watch for Stockton's expected advance from San Diego. Pico's instructions from Flores, the Comandante at Los Angeles, were to impede the American advance as much as possible, should it take place, the plan of the Californians being that Flores with the main body of his army should move south to Pico's assistance as events might make it necessary.
Now, when Captain Gillespie came up from San Diego to meet Kearney, Pico learned of the move and prepared for an opportunity to pounce on the Americans and either annihilate them or take them prisoners. Pico had no knowledge of Kearney's presence in California. For the purpose of getting a chance to take advantage of Gillespie, Pico and his mounted lancers began to reconnoiter and the Americans became aware of his movements. On the night of December 5, Kearney learned that Pico's forces were camped ten miles distant at the Indian village of San Pasqual. Instead of making his way to San Diego without inviting difficulties, General Kearney determined for some strange reason to attack Pico at San Pasqual, going out of his way to do so. Perhaps Kearney thought that he might as well begin the task which he had been sent to California to per-form, or perhaps he thought he would create some diversion for his troopers by frightening the Californians whom Kit Carson told him were cowards. But, whatever the reason that actuated him may have been, subsequent events amply proved that Kearney made a mistake in bringing about the famous battle of San Pasqual.
It was the bloodiest fight that ever took place on California soil. The battle began in the grey of the morning. The air was bitter with winter's cold. It had rained in torrents all the night before and the American dragoons were benumbed and drenched to the skin. Only that portion of Kearney's forces which Captain Gillespie had brought up from San Diego were fresh and fit for battle. The dragoons who had marched with Kearney across plain and desert from Santa Fe were worn and jaded from the terrible journey. The mules they rode were stiffened and sore and half starved. The horses that Kearney had picked up on the Colorado were for the most part unbroken and quite unmanageable. On the other hand, the enemy were perhaps the best horsemen in the world and were mounted on horses as fine as were ever bred.
When morning broke, the Americans found them-selves upon a hilltop looking down into the village of San Pasqual. They saw Captain Pico and his Californians there encamped and it was at once decided to charge upon them. The charge was made by Captain Johnson with twenty men at full gallop. Pico did not see the remainder of Kearney's forces and, thinking that he had to contend with only twenty horsemen, he ordered his Californians to make a stand, which they did, discharging the few muskets and pistols in their possession and waiting with their lances set for the advancing shock. The Californians were compelled to depend almost wholly upon their lances, but the musket fire was not without results. Captain Johnson of the dragoons fell dead from a bullet through his head and one of his men fell beside him badly hurt. At this, the Americans fell back a little, whereupon Kearney's main force appeared, at the sight of which Pico and his Californians turned and fled.
Seeing the Californians in full flight, the Americans galloped after them pell-mell. Had they known the tactics which the Californians invariably employed in battle, there is no doubt that Kearney's pursuit would haye been less precipitate and certainly it would have been more cautious, but as it was, no caution whatever was exercised. The American forces were soon badly elongated for the reason that the troopers mounted on the good horses got far in advance, while those mounted on the old, stiff and half-starved mules trailed away in the rear. And this was exactly the situation that Captain Pico desired.
Suddenly the Californians wheeled around and came back on plunging horses at the Americans. The Americans fired, but with little or no effect, perhaps because many of the guns were ineffective from the rain in which they had been drenched the night before. Kearney had a howitzer to which a mule had been hitched, but the mule became unmanageable and ran away with the gun, dragging it fairly within the lines of the Californians, who promptly captured both gun and mule as well as the gunner.
Pico's men now fell upon the Americans in fierce charge with their lances against which the sabers and the clubbed guns of Kearney's dragoons proved quite unavailing. For perhaps a quarter of an hour the bloody hand-to-hand conquest was waged. The Americans stood their ground with desperate valor, but it was not until two additional howitzers had been brought up from the rear that the Californians again retreated from the slaughter.
Relieved of the enemy, General Kearney was given opportunity to survey the field of his pathetic defeat. He himself had been twice wounded in the battle. Three of his officers and fifteen men lay dead before him. Three more were fatally wounded, nineteen others were grievously hurt and one man was missing. Except Captain Johnson, all the dead had been killed by the lances of the Californians, and the wounded had been hurt in the same way. The bodies of both dead and wounded showed many lance cuts. In the fight Kit Carson had been unhorsed and his gun broken, but he came through without serious injury:
As the roll was called there was yet one other man in the shattered ranks whose head was bloody but unbowed. This man was Captain Archibald Gilles-pie. He is especially mentioned here as indeed he should be, not alone for the valorous part he bore in the battle of San Pasqual, but for many other noble though unheralded services which he rendered the nation in California. His country owed him much. He was one of those men who were always chosen to bear the burden when it was heavy and to take the risk when it was great. When Fremont was wandering nobody knew where, in unknown mountains and over the trackless plains of California, Gillespie had been sent to find him and he did find him where ten thousand other men would have fail-ed. In the face of no duty did he ever shirk, and no message was ever put into his hand by his superior that he failed to deliver, no matter how great the hazard or how terrible the danger. Throughout all the pages of the history of California that record the stirring deeds of the adventurous year of 1846, the name of Archibald Gillespie appears, yet he seems to have been little marked by the historian and no-body seems ever to have thought to honor him, though many have been honored whose services were much less than his. He was strong and brave and well beloved by those who shared the dangers with him.
The records of the battle of San Pasqual do not show that any of the Californians were killed. Andres Pico, however, did not make an effort to improve his victory. When night came he had flung his forces southward and was encamped between San Pasqual and San Diego, as though to again fight if Kearney attempted to join Commodore Stockton's forces. The Americans felt themselves to be in desperate straits and their one thought was to get a messenger through to San Diego for reinforcements. To carry this message was a hazardous undertaking, but Kit Carson, with two companions, successfully accomplished the task. Commodore Stockton immediately sent out a force to Kearney's relief. After some unimportant skirmishing Pico and his Californians withdrew from the scene and thus Kearney was permitted to reach San Diego without further molestation.
There can be no doubt that the victory at San Pasqual—for victory it really was—flushed the Californians and helped to create in their minds the greatly mistaken idea that they could withstand and even repulse the Americans to an extent that the invaders would finally abandon the attempt to conquer California. Captain Andres Pico dispatched a messenger to Los Angeles and the Commander-in-Chief, Flores, was awakened at four o'clock in the morning to receive the "glorious" news. In words that were at once airy and contemptuous and worthy of Caesar writing from. Gaul an account of a skirmish between the short swords of his veterans and a covey of naked savages, Captain Pico informed the Comandante Flores that "the victory was gained without other casualty on our side than eleven wounded, none seriously, since the action was decided a pura arma blanca." On the other hand, General Kearney in his report appears to have belieyed that the Americans didn't get the worst of the battle, by any means. "The number of their dead and wounded," said Kearney, "must have been considerable, though I have no means of ascertaining how many, as just previous to their final retreat they carried off all excepting six." But the General was mistaken. He had inflicted no harm worth mentioning on the Californians.
It must have been a sad scene as the Americans buried their dead in the darkness of the night following the battle. The bodies of the slain troopers, cruelly torn by the lances of Pico's splendid horse-men, were left lying in the soft mold of the warm California earth under the solemn and drooping branches of a willow tree east of the camp. At a later day the remains of the heroic dead were removed to San Diego and laid to rest in quiet graves that are now long since forgotten.
About three weeks prior to the battle of San Pasqual there had been a desperate fight at a place called Natividad, a few miles northeast of the present city of Salinas. Captain Charles Burroughs, an American who had recently arrived in California, and five other Americans were killed in this encounter and five or six more were badly wounded. The American loss may have been even greater than this. The Californians were commanded by Don Manuel Castro, a brother of the famous General Castro who had fled to Mexico and from whom the Californians were always vaguely hoping for help. The tactics. employed at Natividad by the Californians were about the same as those employed by Andres Pico and his men at San Pasqual, later on. Natividad was not nearly so great a victory for the Californians as San Pasqual, but it was an encounter which, like that at Chino and skirmishes at other places, led the Californians into the error of supposing that in their own way and by their own methods they could finally drive the Americans out at the points of their lances.
After San Pasqual, when the forces of Kearney and Stockton united at San Diego, and Fremont, who had by this time received his commission as Lieutenant-Colonel in the United States Army, was on his way south with his riflemen, the tide quickly turned against the Californians.
On December 29, 1846, the combined forces of Commodore Stockton and General Kearney marched from San Diego to advance on Los Angeles. The army consisted of about six hundred men traveling on foot with the exception of Captain Gillespie's volunteer riflemen, who were mounted. The impedimenta were carried in ten ox-carts, additional oxen as well as food supplies being picked up on the way. Commodore Stockton, himself, has left us the following brief but yivid description of the appearance of the expedition.
"Our men were badly clothed," said he, "and their shoes generally made by themselves out of canvas. It was very cold and the roads heavy. Our animals were all poor and weak, some of them giving out daily, which gaye much hard work to the men in dragging the heavy carts, loaded with ammunition and provisions, through deep sands and up steep ascents, and the prospect before us was far from being that which we might have desired; but nothing could break down the fine spirit of those under my command, or cool their readiness and ardor to per-form their duties; and they went through the whole march of one hundred and forty miles with alacrity and cheerfulness."
While on the march Stockton and Kearney received word that Fremont with his battalion was marching on Los Angeles from the north and that the Californians, six hundred strong, were on the way to meet him and give him battle. It may be that this information was brought by three men from Los Angeles who came down to meet Stockton and Kearney for the purpose of arranging a truce. They came from the Comandante Flores. Commodore Stockton told these men, one of whom was William Workman, an American, that he could not negotiate with Flores because of the fact that that gentleman had broken his parole as a Mexican officer. Stockton told the delegation that if he could catch Flores he would have him shot. The Americans passed through San Luis Rey, San Juan Capistrano and where now the present city of Santa Ana is, and on January 8, reached the lower ford of the San Gabriel river. Here the Californians appeared and opposed the advance.
Having reason to believe that his advance would be easier at the upper ford of the San Gabriel, Stockton's forces swerved to the right to the point mentioned. Here, however, the Americans found the Californians well prepared for them. Flores had five hundred men posted on a bluff above the river with two cannons commanding the ford. Two squadrons of horsemen under Andres Pico and Manuel Garcias were stationed on the right and another squadron on the left under Jose Antonio Carrillo. A hot fight ensued. Lieutenant Emery, who was a member of Kearney's force and who afterwards wrote a good deal about California, states that Kearney ordered the guns unlimbered before crossing the ford, which was undoubtedly the most prudent course, but Stockton countermanded the order. Half way across, Kearney sent a message that it would be impossible to pull the guns through as there was quicksand, but Stockton dismounted, seized the ropes and declared, "quicksand or no quicksand, the guns shall pass over." There was the hottest kind of fighting for a matter of two days on the San Gabriel; no end of powder was burned and shot poured from the muskets and cannon, yet the casualties were very slight. There were only two Americans killed and two Californians. Eight Americans were wounded, but how many Californians were wounded is not known.
Finally, on the morning of the tenth of January, three men from Los Angeles came to Stockton's camp under a flag of truce and with a message that no further resistance would be made. A few hours later the American forces entered the city in military order with flying colors and the band playing. Commodore Stockton, as Governor and Commander-in-Chief, in his orders the following day, congratulated the "officers and men of the southern Division of U. S. forces in California on the brilliant victory obtained by them over the enemy, and upon once more taking possession of the Ciudad de Los Angeles." At the same time Stockton wrote a brief report to the Secretary of War at Washington, in which he said : "We have rescued the country from the hands of the Insurgents, but I fear that the absence of Colonel Fremont's Battalion will enable most of the Mexican officers who have broken their parole to escape to Sonora."
From this report it will be seen that Fremont had not yet reached Los Angeles. Inquiring as to his whereabouts we find that he left Santa Barbara on January 3, 1847, seven days before Stockton and Kearney recaptured and entered Los Angeles. On January 9 he was in camp at San Fernando and there he received a letter from Stockton which was dated at San Luis Rey, January 3. It was indeed a very interesting communication, showing that the Americans, while fearless and no doubt fully confident of their ability, had at the same time a whole-some respect for certain qualifications which the Californians possessed in the art of warfare. The letter was as follows :
"My dear Colonel: We arrived here last night from S. Diego, and leave today on our march for the City of the Angels, where I hope to be in five or six days. I learn this morning that you are at Sta. Baroara, and send this dispatch by way of S. Diego, in the hope that it may reach you in time. If there is one single chance for you, you had better not fight the rebels until I get up to aid you, or you can join me on the road to the Pueblo. These fellows are well prepared, and Mervine and Kearney's defeat have given them a deal more confidence and courage. If you do fight before I see you, keep your forces in compact order. Do not allow them to be separated, or even unnecessarily extended. They will probably try to deceive you by a sudden retreat or pretend to run away and then unexpectedly return to the charge after your men get into disorder in the chase. My advice to you is to allow them to do all the charging and running and let your rifles do the rest. In the art of horsemanship, of dodging and running, it is vain to attempt to compete with them."
With Stockton and Kearney in full possession of Los Angeles and Fremont encamped in the old Mission San Fernando, a few miles away, the Californians gave up all hope and tried to make the best terms they could with the conquerors. They seemed to think they would fare better with Fremont and accordingly they sent a delegation to him from their hiding places in the hills. Fremont received the messengers courteously and gave them to understand that he would accept their surrender. He moved his forces southward through the Cahuenga pass to a point which was probably the outskirts of Hollywood, and there on January 13, 1847, the famous treaty of capitulation was signed, bearing the signatures of Colonel John C. Fremont as Commander of the American forces on the ground, and of Andres Pico, Comandante of the Californian forces. Flores, the Californian Commander-in-Chief, was not present, he having turned over the command to Andres Pico just before this meeting and, taking to his heels, had fled to the far-away haven of Sonora.
The treaty was drawn up in both Spanish and English and stipulated that the Californians should deliver up their artillery and public arms, return peaceably to their homes, conform to the laws and regulations of the United States and aid and assist in placing the country in a state of peace and tranquillity. Colonel Fremont on his part guaranteed the Californians protection of life and property whether on parole or otherwise.
Colonel Fremont sent the document to General Kearney at Los Angeles and the next day proceeded with his forces to that city. The war was at an end.
Many bitter controversies and wretched quarrels grew out of the conflicting claims of the various military and naval officers who participated in the conquest of California, and out of the maze of testimony, pro and con, it is difficult to determine who was right and who was wrong. Indeed, in the light of the evidence furnished from many sources it appears that there was a measure of justice in the claims of both the military and naval authorities in California. Kearney and Stockton, Fremont and Mason were all men of action and ambition. California was a long way from the seat of government. Instructions had been issued from both the War and Navy Departments at Washington to respective officers. Had there been greater unity of action at Washington, and clearer expression of the President's wishes with respect to the occupation of California, it is probable that much of the friction which sprung up on the Pacific might have been avoided.
It appears clear that Kearney, whose instructions have been heretofore quoted, made known to Stock-ton at San Diego that he felt himself authorized to assume supreme authority in California. Stockton later testified that he offered to relinquish authority at San Diego and that Kearney declined or neglected to assume it. Kearney was then suffering from wounds inflicted at San Pasqual and had lost several of his officers and men who had marched across the plains with him, and to whom he must have been deeply attached. Doubtless the physical and mental conditions produced by these facts and his realization that Stockton had a large naval force and had really made considerable headway in the occupation of California, led Kearney to defer the assumption of the authority with which his instructions vested him. In any event Stockton assumed full command of the forces in the march to Los Angeles and continued the extension of his claims as Governor. Kearney, on reaching Los Angeles, began to resent Stockton's assumption of authority, and with this attitude on his part came a more determined position on the part of Stockton.
Fremont, who was approaching Los Angeles, reported to Kearney on learning that Kearney was at Los Angeles, but upon the signing of the treaty at Cahuenga (Hollywood), perhaps suspicioning that there might be a clash of authority, he sent an officer to Los Angeles with the treaty, instead of immediately going himself. Kearney at last formally re-quested Stockton to exhibit his authority for the pro-posed organization of a civil government, stating that if he was without such authority he must demand that Stockton cease his activities in that line. Stockton replied that a civil government had been established before the arrival of Kearney. and that he would not yield to Kearney's request. He at once suspended or attempted to suspend Kearney from command of the forces at Los Angeles. So far as the order related to sailors and marines, he probablv was within his powers. Kearney then exhibited his authority from the War Department to Fremont and issued certain instructions regarding the management of troops under Fremont's command. Fremont refused to obey on the grounds that he had accepted his instructions from Stockton, had been appointed Governor of California by Stockton and that he recognized Stockton as having superior authority. Finding himself without power to enforce his instructions and commands, Kearney at once marched with his dragoons back to San Diego, four days after the signing of the treaty at Cahuenga.
A battalion of Mormon volunteers, three hundred strong, had now arrived at San Diego, and these troops were left at San Luis Rey while Kearney sailed for Monterey. At Monterey Kearney found Commodore W. Branford Shubrick, who had arrived on January 22, to succeed Stockton. Commodore Shubrick had already addressed a communication to Fremont, not knowing of General Kearney's presence in California. Stockton, on January 19, left Fremont in charge at Los Angeles, having commissioned him Governor, and sailed north. Stock-ton had also appointed a Legislative Council on the sixteenth, but no session of that body was ever held, due principally to the unwillingness of those selected to serve. For a period of about fifty days Fremont was recognized by a portion of the population of California, at least, as Governor.
On February 12, Colonel Richard B. Mason arrived in San Francisco with instructions from Washington which clearly indicated that the senior officer of the land forces was to be Civil Governor. Mason was sent to succeed Kearney, as soon as Kearney could shape matters to leave. Commodore Shubrick, who had succeeded Stockton and who had alreadv recognized Kearney's authority, now joined Mason in a public statement wherein Mason was declared to be Governor and Monterey the capital. On March 2, Commodore Biddle arrived to succeed Shubrick. All officers, naval and military, with the exception of Stockton and Fremont, were acting in harmony. About this time there arrived at San Francisco the first detachment of a regiment sent out under Colonel Stevenson from New York.
General Kearney, now having adequate moral and military support, sent instructions to Fremont and other officers in command in the south. Among other things, Fremont was directed to report at Monterey. After instructing Captain Owens, in command of the battalion at San Gabriel, to refuse to obey any instructions that might reach him from any source save himself, Fremont left for Monterey, arriving there on March 25. On the same evening in the company of Thos. O. Larkin he paid a formal call on Kearney. The next day an interview was arranged between Kearney and Fremont. Fremont objected to the presence of Colonel Mason. At this point Kearney demanded that Fremont state whether he intended to obey his orders or not. Fremont left Kearney's presence without committing himself, but later in the day expressed a willingness to obey instructions, having first tendered his resignation from the army, which was refused. Fremont then returned to Los Angeles. Mason followed early, in April and called on Fremont fora list of appointments made by him and for all records, civil and military, in his possession. Before leaving Los Angeles, Colonel Mason became involved in a quarrel with Fremont which led to a challenge for a duel which was never fought, though both parties doubt-less had the spirit and courage to end their difficulties in that manner.
After much friction between Fremont and the officers in the north, General Kearney on May 31, with an escort, left Monterey for Washington by a north-ern route. Under orders of Kearney, Fremont was required to accompany him. Fort Leavenworth was reached on August 22, and here Fremont was placed under arrest and ordered to report to the Adjutant General at Washington.
About a month later Stockton himself followed across the plains, accompanied by Gillespie and an escort. Fremont arrived in Washington about the middle of September and an order convening a court-martial was issued September 27. After a hotly contested trial, in which affairs in California generally were well illuminated, Fremont was found guilty on all the twenty-three specifications of the charges made against him, and he was sentenced to dismissal from the army. President Polk accepted the verdict but remitted the sentence. Fremont declined to resume service, but was permitted to resign. In 1849 he again reached California with a private exploring party.
The removal of Kearney, Stockton and Fremont from California left affairs in charge of Colonel Richard B. Mason. The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848, had ended the war with Mexico and resulted in California becoming a Province of the United States, without a government save such as might be arbitrarily given it by the President of the United States. News of the close of the war did not reach California until late in the summer, and in the meantime gold had been discovered at Sutter's Mill, Coloma, and the news had gone forth to the world.
At the beginning of hostilities with Mexico, the American population in California was small, but Americans were now coming literally by thousands. The population of California at the close of 1848 was a heterogeneous one, with a preponderance of sentiment in favor of the adoption of laws common to the United States. Under Mexican rule there had been little more than a color of government, and to enforce old laws under the old system until recognition could be secured from Congress was a difficult task. And yet there was great need for good government, for, with the great surging masses of humanity were coming many lawless characters. The President had repeatedly urged on Congress the necessity of action, without avail. The problem of slavery was beginning to loom large on the horizon and as California was not likely to become a slave state, those members who were seeking to preserve the balance between slave-holding and non-slave-holding states were unwilling to give statehood at once to the new territory.
In April, 1848, Governor Mason was succeeded by General Bennet Riley. Riley, like his predecessor, was a broad-gaged, efficient official, who realized the necessity of something being done to bring order out of chaos. The feeling of unrest and dissatisfaction which had been growing among the people for a government finally crystallized into a convention which was held in Colton Hall at Monterey, September 3, 1849. The history of the United States furnishes no parallel to this proceeding. Here was gathered a body of men representing all portions of the state for the purpose of forming a state out of an unorganized Territory, wholly on their own initiative. Dr. Robert Semple, who had taken such an active part in the Bear Flag war, was chosen chair-man. This body of men gathered to create a commonwealth without color of authority must have been an interesting sight. Here were lawyers, doctors, merchants, bankers and printers and farmers, yet nearly all engaged in mining. It was a collection of individuals who, by the very nature of their lives, were endowed with initiative, with self-reliance, with courage and intelligence.
There seems to have been little thought of organizing a Territory. The framing of a constitution proceeded rapidly and the completed document was signed on October 13, 1849. Its most important pro-vision was doubtless one which declared against slavery in the new state. The boundary of the state as it exists today was fixed and the convention throughout was marked by harmony. As soon as possible after the close of the convention, copies of the constitution were distributed through the state. November 13 had been fixed as election day and a spirited campaign was waged. The rainy season had begun and only a light vote was cast, but it was sufficient to ratify the constitution. Peter H. Burnett was elected Governor and John McDougall, Lieutenant-Governor. Edward Gilbert and Geo. W. Wright were elected to Congress. On December 15 the newly elected Legislature convened at San Jose, which be-came the new capital of the state.
The first important action of the new Legislature was the election of United States Senators, John C. Fremont and William M. Gwin being selected. The newly-elected senators and congressmen left at once for Washington to exercise their influence in securing admission of California to statehood. It is need-less to say that they were not welcomed, especially by those members of Congress from the south. After four years of delay, during which time California's claims had repeatedly been the subject of bitter discussion, statehood was finally granted on September 9, 1850. Fremont drew the short senatorial term, which gave him only a few weeks in which to represent the state whose fortunes had been so closely linked with his own.
San Jose remained the capital of the state for two years, after which the seat of government was removed to Vallejo, where it remained until 1853. For one year the capital was at Benecia, but in 1854 the seat of the state government was removed to the city of Sacramento, where it has remained until the present time.
In 1849 Mayor Robert Selden Garnett of the U. S. Army designed the great seal of the State of California. An explanation of the design is officially entered in the records of the State of California as follows: "Around the bend of the ring are represented thirty-one stars, being the number of states of which the Union will consist upon the admission of California. The foreground figure represents the Goddess Minerva, having sprung full-grown from the brain of Jupiter. She is introduced as a type of the political birth of the State of California, without having gone through the probation of a Territory. At her feet crouches a grizzly bear feeding upon the clusters from a grape-vine, emblematic of the peculiar characteristics of the country. A miner is en-gaged with his rocker and bowl at his side, illustrating the golden wealth of the Sacramento, upon whose waters are seen shipping, typical of commercial greatness; and the snow-clad peaks of the Sierra Nevada make up the background, while above is the Greek motto `Eureka' (I have found it), applying either to the principle involved in the admission of the state, or the success of the miner at work."
Thus was completed the American conquest of California three hundred and eight years after the discovery of its golden shores by the immortal Portuguese mariner, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who sailed in his Spanish galleon from Old Mexico in 1542, fifty years after the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus.
About California | California Hotels and Resorts | California Attractions | California Art and Entertainment
California Restaurants and Dining | Shopping | California Real Estate
California Visitor Information | California Calendar of Events | Visit California Online Home Page
all contents copyright © ci-Interactive
design and programming by ci-Interactive