What may be properly termed the Mexican era in the history of California began with the fall of Spanish power on the North American continent in the year 1822, and ended with American domination in 1846a period of twenty-five years. It was practically an era of inactivity, distinguished by anything except commercial progress. On the other hand, in the romance of California, it was the greatest era of all.
Looking at California’s Mexican era from one point of view, there is a feeling of regret in the heart that the color and the splendid,, happy idleness of it ever passed away. Those were the days when people were not concerned with the strenuous materialism and commercialism of modern life. There was no greed, very little ambition and a great deal of peace. California was then a country of vast estates. The cattle roamed on the hills, the fertile soil was taxed only to a degree that would give sustenance to the population. There was plenty of running water for man and beast ; the doors of the great Mission hospices were open with a welcome that was endless and without price to whoever might fare along El Camino Real. And the door of every man’s house was open in the same way. There was marriage and giving in marriage, many children, much joy, little hate and a contentment that was as vast as the sun and moon and stars that shone upon the white peaks of the Sierras, the swinging lomas and the flower-flamed vales that stretched between Sonoma in the Valley of the Seven Moons and San Diego lying warm in the embrace of the dreamy hills that close in upon the Harbor of the Sun.
During all those years California had no railroads, no bridges even, no telephones, no automobiles, no Boards of Trade and no intrusion from without except the visits of the Yankee traders who had rounded the Horn with New England merchandise to barter for the hides and tallow of the Missions, a Russian now and then from the north, an occasional American pioneer who had wandered through the mountain passes from the east, and may be a French-man or an Englishman once in a great while who came to see what might be seenthat was all.
Of course this picture is a picture only of the greater portion of the Mexican era. Toward the latter years of this period a great change took place. This specter of American invasion caused California to become very uneasy in those latter days. It was also known that England certainly, and France, perhaps, were looking upon California with covetous eyes. The great Mission establishments were undergoing a process of destruction at the hands of greedy vandals. Fremont was in the mountains, his presence in California being like a thorn in its side; the ships of alien enemies were constantly seen off the sun-lit coast, a menace by day and their white sails at night like specters in a bad dream.
How the Californiansfor so the people were called by foreignerslived and had their being in the day of the Mexican era, and what the great ranchos and the towns and pueblos were like constitute a colorful picture. The overlords of the Province were men of great standing, possessing unlimited means for hospitality and enjoyment. They gave great feasts and the marriages of their sons and daughters were attended by almost princely ceremony. All the people, high and low, were fond of dress and pleasure. Nobody seemed to have much if any actual money, but it was a poor man indeed who had not a good horse to ride. The pretty senorita who had not a satin shoe with which to trip a fantastic toe in the fandango was rare to find. There were no grand houses, and none were needed. It was from a little two-room, thatch-roofed dwelling that, as likely as not, would come the most richly attired girl or the most gorgeously clothed caballero.
The Yankee trader who brought a shipload of silks and satins, purple and fine linen and jewelry to California found no trouble in quickly exchanging those things for the hides, the tallow and other products of California. All ships bringing merchandise to California were required to enter their cargoes with the customs officer at Monterey, but to defeat the custom laws was as customary in those days as it has been ever since. To lighten the burden of taxation in-genius gentlemen’s agreements were formed, under the conditions of which ships from the Philippines and other portions of the Orient laden with merchandise would frequently put in at Santa Catalina or some of the harbors of nearby islands. The Yankee traders having entered their ships at Monterey and partially discharged their cargoes, would clandestinely meet the ships from the Orient at the Island harbors, take on a substantial cargo and then proceed with their trading as though their ships carried only the cargo which was entered at Monterey.
It was in this way that the women of California were enabled to appear in the finery of Cathay.
What the principal towns and pueblos of California were like in the days of the Mexican era has been vividly and faithfully described in a famous book entitled “Two Years Before the Mast,” written by Richard Henry Dana, Jr., an undergraduate of Harvard who shipped on the New England trading brig Pilgrim in the year 1835 as an ordinary seaman. Dana kept an accurate record of his visit to California and his book became invaluable for the information it contained as well as fascinating for its pen pictures of the people and the country he visited.
San Francisco was, in those days, the least important of all the coast towns of California, which fact, more than any other, enables us to make a contrast between the Mexican era and the era of the present. Here are Dana’s own words :
“It was in the winter of 1835-6 that the ship Alert [Dana had been transferred from the Pilgrim to the Alert] in the prosecution of her voyage for hides on the remote and almost unknown coast of California, floated into the vast solitudes of the Bay of San Francisco. All around was the stillness of nature. One vessel, a Russian, lay at anchor there, but during our whole stay not a sail came or went. Our trade was with the remote Missions which sent hides to us in launches manned by their Indians. Our anchorage was between a small island called Yerba Buena and a graveled beach in a little bight or cove of the same name, formed by two small projecting points. Beyond, to the westward of the landing place, were dreary sand hills, with little grass to be seen and few trees, and beyond them higher hills, steep and barren, their sides gullied by the rains. Some five or six miles beyond the landing place, to the right, was a ruinous presidio and some three or four miles to the left was the Mission of Dolores, as ruinous as the presidio, almost deserted, with but few Indians attached to it and but little property in cattle. Over a region far beyond our sight there were no other human habitations, except that an enterprising Yankee, years in advance of his time, had put up on the rising ground above the landing a shanty of rough boards where he carried on a very small retail trade between the hide ships and the Indians. Vast banks of fog invading us from the North Pacific drove in through the entrance and covered the whole bay; and when they disappeared we saw a few well-wooded islands, the sand hills on the west, the grassy and wooded slopes on the east, and the vast stretch of the bay to the southward where we were told lay the Missions of Santa Clara and San Jose, and still longer stretches to the northward and northeastward where we understood smaller bays spread out and large rivers poured in their tributes of waters. There were no settlements on these bays or rivers, and the few ranchos and Missions were remote and widely separated. Not only the neighborhood of our anchorage, but the entire region of the great bay, was a solitude. On the whole coast of California there was not a lighthouse, a beacon, or a buoy, and the charts were made up from old and disconnected surveys of British. Russian, and Mexican voyagers. Birds of prey and passage swooped and dived about us, wild beasts ranged through the oak groves and, as we slowly floated out of the harbor with the tide, herds of deer came to the water’s edge, on the northerly side of the entrance, to gaze at the strange spectacle.”
Time does not move with such leaden feet, after all. The child born in the desolation of Yerba Buena during the visit of Dana’s ship would not yet have passed very far beyond the prime of manhood to have beheld on that same spot one of the greatest cities of the world. Indeed, Dana himself, when he returned to San Francisco from New England, twenty-four years after his famous voyage before the mast, saw the little squalid pueblo which he described risen in that short span of time to the dignity of a world metropolis.
The inland pueblos of San Jose and Los Angeles were not important during the Mexican era, neither were they of good repute. It appears that the population of both these slow-growing towns was composed of a class of men whose ambitions were limited and whose sense of morality was not such as to be held up as an example to be followed. There was little or no attempt at industry and far too much drinking and gambling going on for the general good. No man could have dreamed that the San Jose and the Los Angeles of the Mexican era would develop into the splendid world-famed cities that they are today.
The coast pueblos, with the exception of San Francisco, were naturally the more important settlements, cleaner and with a better class of people. Santa Cruz, with its dream of a great industrial city of Branciforte, had wholly faded away, nothing being left there but the remains of the Mission establishment. Santa Barbara was a town of about one hundred white-washed, red-roofed adobe houses, and the great Mission standing back on the commanding hills, a mighty landmark to the mariner then as it is to this day. San Diego was an important trading point a town even larger then than Santa Barbara and perhaps more bustling. The Yankees liked San Diego then even as they like it now when they come to visit California. Owing to its fine natural harbor it was always believed that San Diego would grow to be an important place.
Monterey, the Capital of California during the Mexican era, as it had been during the Spanish era, was the most important place in California. Dana gives a description of it in his book : “We came to anchor within two cable lengths of the shore,” says he, “and the town lay directly before us, making a very pretty appearance; its houses being of white-washed adobe which gives a much better effect than those of Santa Barbara which are mostly of a lead color. The red tiles, too, on the roofs, contrasted well with the white sides, and with the extreme greenness of the lawn upon which the housesabout a hundred in numberwere dotted about, here and there, irregularly. There are in this place, and in every other town which I saw in California, no streets nor fences (except that here and there a small patch might be fenced in for a garden), so that the houses are placed at random upon the green. This, as they are of one story, and of the cottage form, gives them a pretty effect when seen from a little distance.”
Dana said that it seemed to him that every man he met in California in those far-away days of 1835 seemed to be on horseback, and he was struck by the beauty of the women and their love of dress, which latter statement merely proves that men and women in California were not different from their fellow human beings elsewhere in the world in those times or in any other time of which there is any record.
They were also a soft-spoken and very engaging people from the viewpoint of Dana’s keen observation. “Next to the love of dress,” he says, “I was most struck with the fineness of the voices and beauty of intonation of both sexes. Every common ruffian-looking fellow, with a slouch hat, blanket cloak, dirty under-dress and soiled leather leggins, appeared to me to be speaking elegant Spanish. It was a pleasure to simply listen to the sound of the language, before I could attach any meaning to it. They have a good deal of the Creole drawl, but it is varied by an occasional extreme rapidity of utterance, in which they seem to skip from consonant to consonant, until, lighting upon a broad open vowel, they rest upon that to restore the balance of sound. The women carry this peculiarity of speaking to a much greater extreme than the men, who have more evenness and stateliness of utterance. A common bullock driver, on horseback, delivering a message, seems to speak like an ambassador at a royal audience.”
It was during the Mexican era and especially towards its close in 1846 that California was cut up into those vast estates which, could they have been held by the descendants of the grantees for another fifty years or less, would have enriched them all beyond the dreams of avarice. It was these so-called Spanish grants and Mexican grants which formed the basis of later land titles, causing almost endless trouble to the American authorities when the United States Government came into possession of the country. In many instances the titles overlapped and altogether the question was productive of great entanglements and an enormous amount of legal work.
During the Spanish era only a few grants appear to have been made. In 1784 Governor Pedro Fages set aside for the sole use of Manuel Nieto a hugh slice of the present county of Los Angeles. He gave also in the same county 300,000 acres of land to one Santa Jose Maria Verdugo. The great bean ranches of Ventura county of the present day came originally into the possession of the Pico family in 1795, and miles upon miles of the coast northward from San Pedro were granted to Jose Dario Arguello about the same time.
But it remained for the Mexican Governors to give away the lands of California with princely improvidence. If a man wanted land he made his application to the Governor and, if he were a man who stood well, his petition was granted without the difficulty of much ceremony. There was plenty of land, and as things were then it is doubtful that a man who wanted any land at all displayed good judgment. The more land he had the poorer he was, and the acquirement of an estate meant only the shouldering of responsibility and the keeping up of grand appearances with little or nothing in the way of money on which to make good the display of wealth and power. Throughout all California can be found today many poor and humble families bearing great names who would now be immensely rich had it been possible for their progenitors and themselves to have held on to one-thousandth part of their original family possessions in real estate.
As a type of these great overlords of the Mexican era a description of Don Antonio Maria Lugo may very well serve for all. His contemporaries were much like him in their personalities, the power they wielded and the extent of their estates.
At the end of the nineteenth century there were men still living in California who remembered Lugo well, although even at that time a half century had passed since the day when, at a very old age, he lay down to his last sleep in the warm bosom of the little kingdom which was once all his own.
Don Antonio Maria Lugo was in many respects a great man. He was a native Californian, born of Spanish parents in 1775 at the Mission San Antonio de Padua, which is still beautiful in ruin under Santa Lucia’s peaks of glory. Doubtless the blessing of Junipero Serra himself was on Lugo’s cradle, for the Mission San Antonio de Padua was singularly dear to Father Serra’s heart.
When he was not much more than a boy, Lugo served valiantly in battle for the honor of Spain, in the days that he afterwards always referred to as “the good old days of the King.” It was for his services to the King that he was given a concession of lands in California in the year 1813. Seven leagues of land it was, watered by two rivers. Then, as children and grand-children grew, he was conceded more land, league by league. There was a time when he could ride for days and nights without touching foot on land that was not his own; from San Bernardino under the shadow of the Great Arrowhead and the Mountains of Mystery, westward to where the ships of Cabrillo once rocked in the Harbor of San Pedro, through what is now Pasadena and Los Angeles, it was all Don Antonio’s land with the exception of little specks of farms and pueblo gardens, here and there.
A fine figure of a man was Don Antonio, six feet tall in his stockings, spare but sinewy, lithe and strong as a mountain lion, his hair black as the raven’s wing, his jaw square cut and firm, his eyes dark as night, piercing yet gentle and easily moved to tenderness. He was a pure type of the noblest Spaniard.
In all the Californias, Lugo was the best and most noted horseman, and that was saying a great deal in a land of horsemen. It is related that in 1846 when he had become an old man, he rode from Los Angeles to Monterey to pay a visit to his sister, the Dona Maria Antonia Lugo de Vallejo. They had been long absent, the one from the other. As he rode into Monterey with his two companions, Dona Maria was seated on the porch of her house, a considerable distance away on an eminence which overlooked the city and the beautiful bay. As the horsemen came into view at a turn of the road, Dona Maria shaded her eyes, gazed long, and exclaimed, “There comes my brother!” A young girl who sat beside the old lady answered her, saying, “O grandmother, yonder come three horsemen, it is true, but no one can tell who they are at that distance.” Dona Maria replied, quickly, “But, girl, my old eyes are sharper than yours. That tall man in the middle is my brother whom I have not seen for twenty years. I know him by his seat in the saddle. No man in California rides like him. Hurry off, girl, call your mother and aunts, your brothers, sisters and cousins, and let us go forth to welcome him.”
Notwithstanding that it was a part of Don Antonio’s duties to assist in keeping the coast free of pirates, and that his sword and carbine were frequently called into play, he lived a long life. He had relations with all the Spanish governors of California except the first three, and he saw California pass under the rule of three flags. His descendants were and are still numerous, and wherever they are found today in either a high or a low estate, it is their proudest boast that his blood flows through their veins.
The concessions of land granted to residents of California by both the Spanish Governors and the Mexican Governors, and which were recognized and con-firmed by the United States, amounted all told to approximately nine million acres. There is a total area of one hundred million acres in California, so that these grants formed really a small part of the territory, especially in view of the fact that both Spain and Mexico regarded California as being of a much vaster extent than it is now known to be.
It is to be remembered, further, that these grants embraced in many instances thousands of acres of mountain land which even to this day are non-productive. The grantees are not to be associated in the mind with the large land speculators who followed later and who profited by colonization schemes which enabled them to parcel out holdings at large profit. The chief industry of early days was stock-raising, and to accommodate the thousands of head of cattle it was thought desirable to acquire large tracts. Again, in those days it was the practice to make what is now considered large grants, because the value of the lands, intrinsically, was very small. Not only did the custom prevail in New Spain but in the eastern portion of the United States, under the rule of England.
From a commercial and political aspect the Mexican era of California is a record of wretchedness and decadence, and yet it began very promisingly, in spite of the foolish and self-destructive laws put in force by the Mexican Government. Luis Antonio Arguello, the first Mexican Governor of California, was a man of large mental capacity and excellent judgment who had the courage and the good sense to disregard the handicap with which the Government endeavored to hamper California. Had Arguello been allowed to re-main in power, California’s commercial progress and her political dignity might not have suffered as it did. But Arguello was not allowed to remain very long in office and the Government afterward, through its representative, harassed him with such persistence that he took to drink and died a broken, disappointed man at the early age of forty-six years. He was buried in the churchyard of the Mission Dolores and a handsome marble tomb, still to be seen, was erected over his grave.
Hides of cattle, tallow and otter skins formed nearly the whole basis of trade in California when Arguello came into power in 1822in November of that year. The hide and tallow products were derived almost wholly from the Mission establishments, while the trade in otter skins had drifted quite as wholly into the hands of the Russians at Bodega, Fort Ross and other points on the coast. Arguello made a bargain with the Russians by which they were to give the Government half the otter skins secured.
The Government in Mexico passed a law, or rather issued an edict, prohibiting California from conducting any kind of trade whatever with foreigners. This law seemed to work great hardship on the Californians, who were much in need of cotton goods and other staples which they could secure only through American and other foreign trading ships arriving at California ports. Besides, what was to be done with the hides and tallow and other products of the Province if they could not be disposed of to foreign traders? At the very beginning of Mexican domination in California this anti-trading law was designed to cripple the Province fatally and it would have done so had not Governor Arguello risen to the stature of greatness.
In 1823 there were several American and English ships in the port of San Francisco endeavoring to trade with the Missions and it seems that, despite the prohibitory law, Father Payeras entered into a contract with William P. Hartnell, an English merchant, to sell him hides and other products for a period of three years. In a short time after this, John Rogers Cooper, owner and Captain of the schooner Rover, of Boston, arrived at the port of Monterey, ready to trade and to do business with the Californians. Captain Cooper became immediately informed of the existence of the law prohibiting him from entering into trade with the people of the Province, and in the hope that he might find some way around it, he promptly presented himself to Governor Arguello.
Greatly to the satisfaction of the people, the Governor decided to disregard the anti-trading law and granted permission to Cooper to dispose of his cargo by trade or sale upon payment of a reasonable custom duty. Afterward, Governor Arguello, well pleased with Captain Cooper, entered into an agreement by which Cooper was to sail to China with a cargo of otter skins. This agreement Cooper carried out to the satisfaction of all concerned. The Missions loaned Arguello the money to make Cooper’s China voyage possible and when it appeared the voyage did not realize sufficient to pay back the debt in full, the padres cancelled the balance out of respect to Arguello and in recognition of his efforts for the good of the country. The next year, 1824, William A. Gale, an American, and William E. P. Hartnell, the English trader, established business houses, each man acting separately for himself and his firm at Monterey. These were the first mercantile institutions ever founded in California. They were very successful for many years afterwards.
Another thing that happened for the good of California during the time of Arguello was the inter-marriage of Americans and Englishmen and some-times Russians with the native women of California that is to say, with the women of Spanish descent connected with what might be called the aristocratic families. This was a good thing for California from every point of view.
It is a great pity that Governor Arguello could not have been left to work out the destinies of the splendid territory which had been committed to his care and guidance. Owing to his capacity for administration, his broad liberality of view and his general all-around strength of character, he was able, while in power, to successfully cope with the many difficulties that afterward, when Arguello had been deposed, were immediately renewed with the result that California was made extremely wretched.
While he was by no means a partisan of the Missions, Arguello recognized their importance and realized that the Franciscan establishments were the only institutions in existence which were able to keep alive a struggling commerce. He was friendly to the foreigners who came to the shores of his Province, and was particularly friendly with such of them as remained in the country and intermarried with his people. If he had been left alone he would undoubtedly have built up a strong government in California, although it was threatened from without and from within by enemies. He had to face very bad conditions. The government in Mexico was puerile and rottena government which, instead of rendering assist. nee to the people of California, unloaded upon them shipload after shipload of convicts and outlaws and the very scum of humanity. In addition to all this, the bad Indians of the Province became restive and formed a conspiracy to murder all the whites.
One of the Indian uprisings with which Arguello dealt successfully was a really serious matter. The neophytes of Purisima and Santa Ynez Missions were the original conspirators who were soon able by means of couriers to assure themselves of the assistance of the Indians at San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Buenaventura and San Fernando. Every movement was conducted with remarkable and successful secrecy. Evidently the Indians had learned how to combine.
The uprising was fixed to take place on the morning of Sunday, February 22, 1824, while the white population was in churches attending Mass. But on the Saturday afternoon preceding, the Indians of Santa Ynez, finding themselves armed and painted and otherwise prepared to begin their murderous work, were too impatient to wait, and determined to commence at once with the murder of Father Uria, the Mission padre, who was, at the time, enjoying his siesta. But Uria was warned by a faithful little Indian boy. Springing from his couch, the padre seized a musket and, by a striking exhibition of marksmanship, shot three of the attacking party. Meanwhile the soldiers were aroused from their quarters and an additional small company of soldiers unexpectedly arrived on the ground. Thus the at-tack on Santa Ynez failed, though the Indians did much damage by setting the buildings on fire. The attack on Purisima also failed, though it was quite spirited ; and it appears that there was considerable blood shed at the other Missions included in the up-rising. The news soon reached Governor Arguello, who sent out a little army of about a hundred men which promptly succeeded in inflicting summary punishment on the dusky insurrectos and reducing them to a state of total subjugation.
It will thus be seen that Governor Arguello was rendering splendid service to the Province in every way, but his good work was cut short by the arrival at San Diego, on June 22, 1825, of Jose Maria de Echeandia, who had been appointed to succeed Arguello as Governor. The progress that had so promisingly begun was to be superseded by an administration diametrically opposed to all of Arguello’s ideas. Governor Echeandia came to California determined to carry out both in letter and spirit the policy of Mexico towards foreigners. He determined to not only put an end to the trade with outsiders but to drive all intruders peremptorily from the Province. And thereby hangs the tale of Captain Jedediah Smith, who brought with him into California the first party of Americans that ever came by the overland route.
There is probably no greater hard luck story on the pages of any book than that which is furnished by the experiences of Captain Jedediah Smith and his party of trail-blazing traders. His historic trek out of the desolation of the land of the Great Salt Lake over mountains and through deserts, beating his precarious march through the passes of the Sierra Madre down into San Diego and from thence north-ward out through the Sierra Nevada into Utah, from where he then started back again into California the way he came at first, his hardships, sufferings and trials outshine in their grim glory the memorable march of Juan de Anza, the famous Captain of Tubac, who first blazed the inland trail from Sonora to Monterey, in 1771.
Captain Jedediah Smith, under license from the Government of the United States, had gone into the Rocky Mountain country with an organized expedition of hunters and trappers of which he was in command. In August of the year 1826, having drifted for many weeks to the southwestward over an unmapped country and theretofore untrodden trails, they at length found themselves in the blazing desert near the Colorado River in desperate circumstances and practically without subsistence. Both the men and the horses of the expedition were on the verge of starvation.
In his predicament on the Colorado, Captain Smith learned that his party were within three hundred miles of the Mission San Gabriel, in California, and as it was fully five hundred miles back to his base of supplies at Salt Lake, he determined to make a desperate attempt to reach San Gabriel, which he succeeded in doing by a most terrible effort. When they flung themselves at last at the ever-welcoming doors of the old hospice of the Missions near Los Angeles, the entire party was pitifully exhausted.
Doubtless it was the good padres at San Gabriel who conveyed to Captain Smith and his party the knowledge that they had come upon forbidden ground. Not desiring to bring greater troubles upon the heads of himself and his men, Captain Smith directed a respectfully worded letter to Governor Echeandia at San Diego in which the pathetic strait the expedition was in was duly set forth. The Governor immediately ordered Captain Smith to San Diego that he might give an account of himself. But his account when given was not believed by Escheandia, so that the Americans found themselves in a tight place at San Diego. Fortunately, however, the captains of several American trading vessels in the Harbor joined in a signed appeal to the Governor to allow them to furnish Captain Smith and his party with supplies in order that the expedition be permitted to peacefully depart. To this Governor Echeandia consented with the proviso that Smith and his men depart from California by exactly the same route over which they had entered.
For what, no doubt, were good and sufficient reasons, Captain Smith did not obey the Governor’s orders to leave California by the route over which he had entered. The horror of the waterless deserts of the Colorado was before him and he is not to be blamed for determining to avoid a renewal of that unpleasant acquaintance. The party passed San Gabriel, marched northward and entered the San Joaquin Valley from which they attempted to cross the Sierra Nevada, but they found that this could not be done. It was now January and the Sierras were blockaded with snow. Their attempt to cross the mountains resulted in the loss of a large number of horses, so they came back to the valley again, passing onward through the great sun-swept solitudes, threading the passes of the hills that beckoned to them until they found themselves in the Valley of Santa Clara and camped near the Mission San Jose almost within view of the waters of San Francisco Bay.
As has been stated, the Californians were at this time in such a state of mind that they viewed the presence of foreigners, and particularly Americans, with the utmost suspicion and distrust. Nobody could have been more unwelcome than Captain Smith and his men, who really did not seem to be able to give a good account of themselves, notwithstanding they were simply hunters and trappers, wholly innocent of any wrong intention whatever, and who were, as a matter of fact, merely wanderers who had lost their way. But Smith learned that there was considerable commotion occasioned within the walls of the Mission San Jose as the result of the unexpected appearance of his party.
To allay the fears of the people of the Mission, Captain Smith addressed a letter to the good Father Narcisco Duran, in which he set forth with an appealing frankness and truthfulness his situation and the accident which brought about his presence at that point. “I am a long ways from home,” said Captain Smith, in his touching message, “and am anxious to get there as soon as the nature of the case will admit. Our situation is quite unpleasant, being destitute of clothing and most of the necessaries of life at this time, wild meat being our principal subsistence. I am, Reverend Father, your strange but real friend and Christian brother.”
This letter no doubt resulted in placing Captain Smith right with the padres at the Mission and pleasant relations were established. Otherwise Smith would not have determined to leave a portion of his party behind him at the Mission San Jose while he with some others marched away with the object of reaching Salt Lake, picking up the rest of his expedition there, returning with them to the Mission San Jose, and then proceeding northward to the Columbia River where it was thought a field for their trapping and hunting operations awaited them.
Arriving at Salt Lake and gathering together the eighteen men, two women and horses that were there, he again struck out for California with the object of joining forces with those of his party whom he had left behind at Mission San Jose. His trip across the mountains had evidently conyinced him of the impracticability of recrossing them with his entire party, so he took the same route he had traveled be-fore and at length again found himself on the Colorado where he had been exactly a year previous. Here ten of his men and the two women were massacred by Indians and all his horses killed or captured. Escaping the slaughter with eight of his men, Captain Smith set out on foot for San Bernardino. Arriving at that place he left two men there who had fallen sick and went down to San Diego with the others and secured passage in an American ship for San Francisco, immediately putting out from that port for San Jose, where he had left his party.
Although he threw himself upon the hospitality of the people of San Jose, the inhabitants were obsessed with the belief that the stranger was a hostile invader, heading a force of men whose object was to seize California. They threw the poor wanderer into jail. A second time he wrote to Governor Echeandia and he was ordered to Monterey where the Governor then was. Smith’s reasons for a second appearance in California were demanded and he gave them, but they were unavailing and he was ordered back to prison. Heartsick and suffering as he was, the captains of the ships at Monterey interceded for him as the other captains had done at San Diego, whereupon Governor Echeandia ordered him forthwith out of the country, refusing to allow his hunters to accompany him. Again did Captain Jedediah Smith turn his face to the wilderness, striking across the mountains and, it is supposed, reaching the plains beyond. He was never heard of again. Probably the Indians killed him, or he may have died from thirst and hunger.
Other Americans began now to filter through the mountain passes into California by the overland route, always to the distress of mind of the Californians. They were thoroughly unwelcome. Nor were they the only visitors who came unbidden. Every now and then there was a strange sail on the sea manned by a captain and crews whom the Californians did not like and whose motives were darkly suspected.
As the story of Captain Jedediah Smith serves to illustrate the exasperation of the Californians against the appearance of invaders by land, so does the visit of Captain Pedro Angulo serve to illustrate the harassment that occurred from the sea. There were plenty of pirates preying on the shores of California as there were marauding bandits inland, but it appears that Angulo with his ship, the Aquila, was a detachment of a fighting fleet which had been whipped to a frazzle on the coast of Peru. Two other ships of the same fleet had arrived at Monterey and surrendered to the Governor. This was in the time of Arguello. Captain Pedro Angulo had lagged behind and while the other ships were in Monterey he was sailing the Aquila into the roadstead of Santa Barbara.
Wherever he got it, Angulo was in possession of a magnificent uniform, and it was in it that he placed himself, all bedecked with gold lace and ribbons and fine plumes for his hat. He caused himself to be put ashore and demanded from the awestricken but ad-miring proletariat of Santa Barbara to be led to the house of the Comandante.
Now the Comandante of Santa Barbara at that time was the renowned Jose Antonio de la Guerra y Noriega, and, as it happened, there was a wedding at full swing within the walls of his Casa at the fateful hour Pedro Angulo, arrayed as was no admiral be-fore, thundered for admittance at the oaken door of the Comandante. Within, all was music and light and feasting. A daughter of the house had just been solemnly wed by a padre of the old Mission to William E. P. Hartnell, the English trader who had lately become a citizen of California. The music suddenly stopped and the great dark eyes of the senoritas opened wider, the gallant caballeros stood rooted to the floor and it may be that the padres piously crossed themselves. There could be no question that Captain Pedro Angulo had created great astonishment in his glittering uniform.
As soon as the assemblage could recover, the visitor was invited to enjoy the traditional hospitality of an illustrious house. Captain Pedro growled in reply that he wanted no hospitality and that he couldn’t speak anything but French anyway. At this, the bridegroom addressed this gorgeously arrayed seafaring creature in the tongue of his preference. It was then discovered that he preferred not to speak even in the language of his choice. It is said that he turned contemptuously on his heel, strode from the house and returned to his ship. Ordering all sails spread, he stood out to sea, but just before he left the harbor the cannon from his deck spat out a flame of fire and the ball from its iron throat went crashing through the Presidio of Santa Barbara. And that was the last that was heard of Pedro Angulo save for the rumor that he had sailed back for South America and had surrendered himself at Valparaiso.
While on the subject of weddings, the records of the old Mexican days teemed with great memories of wonderful celebrations of this character. What was perhaps the most celebrated wedding that ever occurred in California took place in the time and the reign of Echeandia. It was a double wedding, binding in wedlock Augustin Zamorano, the Governor’s secretary, to Luisa, the daughter of Santiago Arguello, and of Romualdo Pacheco to Romona, daughter of Joaquin Parrillo. This famous double wed-ding took place at San Diego, the young men and their brides being alike eminent for their aristocratic birth, wealth and good looks.
Upon conclusion of the marriage ceremony and a great feast at San Diego at which the entire population turned out, a bridal tour to Monterey was begun. The Governor and his entourage, accompanied by a military escort, traveled with the wedding party, word of the movements of which was carried ahead by courier from rancho to rancho and from Mission to Mission across the hills and through the valleys and along all the stretches of the shores of the sunset ocean. The beauty and the high social standing of the brides with their distinguished, hand-some husbands, coupled with the great honors paid to them by the Governor’s court, aroused all the spirit of romance that was so rife in California in those pleasure-loving days. At every point along the sun-swept leagues of the King’s Highway where any sort of establishment existed, a bridal feast and all manner of carnival for the happy travelers was in waiting. There had been many another wedding in California before this and there has been many an-other since, but never one to equal the wedding of Zamorano and Pacheco to the dark-eyed, lovely daughters of Santiago Arguello and Joaquin Parrillo.
But there was a sad sequel to this wedding, at least so far as Romualdo Pacheco was concerned. Some years afterward, in the time of Manuel Victoria, the fourth Mexican Governor of California, this hot-headed and tyrannical ruler found himself face to face with a serious insurrection against his government. The cause of the revolt was Victoria’s refusal to call together the territorial deputation or council, which was a matter obligatory upon him under the law. The people murmured and, finally, in November, 1831, the insurrection assumed tangible proportions.
A movement of revolt was commenced in San Diego by the issuance of a pronunciamento signed by Pio Pico, Juan Bandini and Jose Antonio Carrillo, in which it was set forth that they were loyal to the supreme government in Mexico “but that they felt themselves obliged to rise against the tyrant, whose criminal abuses of power had become intolerable. God, who knew their hearts, knew that they did so with pure intentions ; that it was love of country and respect for the laws which actuated them; that they took up arms in behalf of justice and public right; that it was not against the Government or any of its institutions that they demanded redress; but only against the individual, Manuel Victoria, who under cover of his high office had violated almost every principle of the fundamental basis upon which the government rested. He had attempted to suppress the Territorial Deputation, destroy popular representation and establish absoluteism; he had sup-pressed the Ayuntamiento of Santa Barbara; he had inflicted capital punishment in cases not warranted by the laws ; he had arbitrarily and without justification expatriated Jose Antonio Carrillo and Abel Stearns and committed many other offenses, treating legal proofs and representations which were in any respect opposed to his own arbitrary will with disrespect and contempt : he had jeopardized the peace and tranquillity of the country and the person and property of all its citizens.”
If all this were true there would seem to be no doubt that Governor Victoria was a rather powerful political machine in himself and that folks who were not his friends were not likely to enjoy themselves to any extent by a continued residence in California. It is true enough that the man was a tyrant and totally unfitted by temperament to occupy the office of Governor. The insurrectionists demanded that he be deposed from his office of Comandante-General, political chief and Governor of the Territory. They also, of course, made a demand for the immediate convocation of the Territorial Deputation.
The insurrectionists succeeded in inducing the troops at the presidio of San Diego to join the revolt. Echeandia, the former Governor, was proclaimed to supersede Victoria, and at the beginning of December, Pablo de Fortilla, Comandante of the presidio of San Diego, marched to Los Angeles with thirty soldiers for the purpose of throwing Victoria out of office. The Alcalde at Los Angeles was opposed to the revolt, but the people of the pueblo were in favor of it. Fortilla gathered new recruits into his army at Los Angeles until he was able to put himself at the head of an armed force of two hundred men. In the meantime Governor Victoria had become informed of the revolt and attended only by a force that might be designated as a corporal’s guard, he left the capital and marched southward in the full belief that his mere appearance at Los Angeles would result in the dispersing of the insurrectos. On his way down the Governor picked up thirty additional men at Santa Barbara whom he placed under command of Captain Romualdo Pacheco, one of the happy bridegrooms of that famous wedding journey of a few years before, over which all . California had been en fete.
The insurrectionists, with Fortilla their commander in the saddle, marched out to a hill. at the out-skirts of Los Angeles and there intercepted the Governor with his little force of men under Captain Pacheco. The insurrectionist leader tried to avoid a fight, if for no other reason that the conflict would be so unequal, and Captain Pacheco also realized that he stood no chance of victory by opposing his thirty men against the two hundred soldiers of Fortilla. Pacheco begged Governor Victoria to retire to San Fernando in the hope of reinforcement.
Governor Victoria, however, was no coward, whatever else he may have been. He flew into a violent temper and ordered Captain Pacheco to attack the rebels and disperse them or stand accused of fear. Pacheco’s blood grew hot at this and he ordered a charge which he himself led. In an instant the Captain’s horse and the horse of Jose Maria Avila, an insurrectionist, were breast to breast and it was Pacheco’s sword against Avila’s lance. Avila warded off the blow of Pacheco’s saber, drew his pistol and shot the gallant young Captain dead. Lifeless and bloody in the dust of El Camino Real, where but a few years before he had passed happy and feasting with his lovely bride, poor Romualdo was picked up, never to be glad again.
But the battle went on fast and furious, and, strange as it may seem, Victoria was the victor. His very fury and his great prowess in the battle frightened the rebels. They broke and fled. Victoria was carried to the Mission San Gabriel, nearby, terribly wounded. His life was saved only by the fortunate presence at the Mission of an English surgeon. The Governor’s life hung as by a thread for many weeks. Upon his recovery he decided that he had had quite enough of the strenuous life in California. He abdicated and delivered over the government to Echeandia and retired to Mexico, but his retirement was of his own free will and not at the dictation of his enemies. Overbearing and tyrannical he was, but no man was ever braver. As the ghosts of the old swash-bucklers of the past stand on California’s haunted hills under the dim stars of summer nights, Manuel Victoria takes his place at their head as the Captain of them all.
Insurrections of the character of the one just described were frequent enough in California during the Mexican era, but many of them were without importance except as they indicated the turbulent state of the people. Perhaps the most important revolt of all was the one organized by the Carrillos against the government of Juan Batista Alvarado. The trouble lay in the fact that what was called the “Supreme Government” in Mexico was as unstable, or even more so, as the government of California. There were revolutions and new Presidents, Dictators and Emperors following one another with great rapidity in Mexico in those days. California had great difficulty in knowing just to whom its allegiance was due. The scheme of government was that California should send a delegate to the Mexican Congress, but that the Governors of California should always serve under appointment of the Supreme Government.
For a period of six years beginning with December, 1836, the Governor of California was Juan Batista Alvarado, a man of parts. As in the case of every man of strong character and positive nature, bitter enemies as well as loyal friends rose up about him. It was in Alvarado’s time, mainly, that we begin to hear a good deal about the Picos, Jose Castro, Mariana Guadalupe Vallejo and other men whose names are still famed in California, some of whom were friends and some enemies of Alvarado.
In 1837 Jose Antonio Carrillo, who had been a delegate to the Mexican Congress from California, managed to secure the appointment of his brother, Carlos Antonio Carrillo, as Governor, from the then President of Mexico, who held sway under the eloquent if not euphonious name of Bustamante. The Carrillos did all in their power to wheedle Alvarado into an acceptance of a successor in office, but he refused to acquiesce. It was not that he would not have been glad to acquiesce in any lawful procedure which would have been for the good of California, for he was a man who had the interest of the Province at heart. But he had no faith in the Carrillos. He knew them to be malcontents who were forever scheming in their own selfish interests. He knew that they were hand in glove with Pio Pico and Andres Pico in every manner of mean and underhanded work and that they were especially active in efforts to forward the pet scheme of Pio Pico to move the Capital from Monterey to Los Angeles. The reason that Pio Pico wanted the Capital removed to Los Angeles was simply that it would put money in his pocket. Neither in this nor in any of his other acts was he actuated by purely patriotic motives. He was for Pico first and California afterwards. In all the history of California there is no name with a falser ring than the name of Pio Pico, and yet the man’s memory has been made much of and attempts have even been made to glorify him.
It seems that the Carrillos determined to oust Alvarado from office. They made an appeal to their adherents and actually resorted to arms. They stirred up sectional feeling. Every once in a while, even now, some fervid orator or vivid writer revives the proposition to cut California in two. Juan Bandini, Ensign Macedonio Gonzalez, the redoubtable Captain Pablo de la Portilla and others in the south promptly arrayed themselves under the Carrillo colors. Andres Pico, forgetting for the nonce the traditional craftiness of his family, publicly espoused the Carrillo cause, but it seems that Pio Pico was wise enough to express no opinion one way or the other. The fox is always wary.
The moment Governor Alvarado got wind of the revolution in the south he acted with characteristic promptness and force and it was during this episode that we first begin to take notice of General Jose Castro, whose name is immortal in the annals of California. Castro was Alvarado’s friend and, upon notification, he at once placed himself at the head of a military detachment and marched south from Monterey to bring the Carrillo conspiracy to an end. He passed through the Rincon, dragging the Spanish cannon after him. At the dawn of a morning soon afterwards his eight-pounder was trained on the camp of the insurrecto outposts at San Buenaventura. For two days the opposing forces fired numberless shots at each other, whereupon the revolutionists fled. Happily, only one man was killed and it does not appear that any others were seriously hurt. Castro then marched to San Fernando where he was later joined by Alvarado himself, accompanied by reinforcements. They discovered that Carrillo and his fellow conspirators had retreated to San Diego for the purpose of reinforcing their army. Leaving Castro to keep his eye on Los Angeles, Alvarado immediately set forth with his forces for San Diego to beard the lion in his den, or rather to scotch the snake in his hole.
Alvarado learned on the way that Carrillo with his forces was returning northward to give battle. Reaching the Indian pueblo Los Flores, near San Juan Capistrano, Alvarado planted his forces on a hill. The revolutionists soon appeared. Alvarado opened a terrific fire upon them. Carrillo, the leader, promptly turned tail and ran away as fast as his legs could carry him. Left without a leader, his troops surrendered. Governor Alvarado was very kind to them, telling them to go home and to keep clear of conspirators in the future. Carrillo was afterwards permitted to return to his home at San Buenaventura, where he was allowed to remain undisturbed on the promise of his wife that she would see to it that he stirred up no more devilment. Thus ended the war against Alvarado.
Sleeping in the sun, lonely but lovely, near beautiful San Juan Capistrano, lies the famous battlefield of Los Flores. It is a battlefield undrenched and unstained by human blood, and yet it was the scene of an important if not a fateful event.
In the meantime Castro had captured the brother of Carrillo, Andres Pico, Jose Ramirez, Ignacio Palomares and other leaders of the insurrection. Alvarado sent them for safe-keeping to General Vallejo at Sonoma, remarking as he did so that “if he sent them to the devil, they would not get what they deserved, and he therefore sent them to Vallejo.” And it appears to be true enough that while Vallejo kept out of the fight until the fight was won, he was now very eager to secure the good will of Alvarado by making it hard for the Governor’s enemies who were in his hands. He refused to speak to the prisoners and starved them as much as he dared without causing their death. He counseled Alvarado to exile them from the country.
The name of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, very famed in California, is another name like that of Pio Pico, around which there clings a glamor as false as it is unwarranted. Vallejo was a trimmer, pure and simple, always trying to play safe.
The reputation which he acquired for cruelty and which doubtless incited Governor Alvarado to say that the next best thing to sending prisoners to the devil was to send them to Vallejo, arose from an infamous incident when Vallejo was an ensign at Monterey. It was in the time of Governor Echeandia, in the spring of the year 1829. There had been a revolt of neophyte Indians connected with the Missions of San Jose and Santa Clara. They had fortified themselves near the San Joaquin River and had successfully repelled an attack of troops under Sergeant Antonio Soto. It was then that a hundred men were sent out from the presidio of Monterey under Vallejo’s command. This force was considerably augmented by recruits picked up from San Francisco and San Jose. The Indian forces were vigorously attacked, falling under a terrific fire of musketry and cannon, notwithstanding that they made a valorous and heroic defense. It was then that the most cowardly, the most barbarous and the most murderous butchery in the history of California took place at the hands of Vallejo’s forces. The Indian auxiliaries that had fought in Vallejo’s ranks against their own people, were formed in a circle and the captured Indians were sent into that circle, one after another, to be used as targets. It was great sport for Vallejo and his men. Nothing more cruel can be imagined. Other Indian prisoners were hung to trees with grapevines and the women were shot in cold blood. For this awful act of barbarity, Father Duran, who was then President of the Missions, did all in his power to have Vallejo prosecuted, but his efforts were in vain. It is a stain on California’s escutcheon that the Government did not accede to Father Duran’s petition and by some condign punpunishment make a public example of Vallejo, whose brutish and sayage deed deserved punishment if ever deed deserved it.
Of a piece with this most horrible outrage was the massacre of the Indians committed by General Vallejo’s brother, Salvador Vallejo, at Clear Lake, in the spring of 1843. It was in the time of Governor Micheltorena. An account of it was given by a man named Bendeleven to the Surveyor General of the United States. From this letter Theodore Hittell, the historian, transcribed an account of the massacre as follows :
“It seems that a cow had been stolen in the neighborhood of Sonoma in the Spring of 1843 and that Vallejo fitted out an expedition consisting of a number of white men and Sonoma Indians which he placed under the command of his brother Salvador. What instructions were given does not appear; and it is probable that they acted without any. Be this as it may, they proceeded northward over valley and mountain and doubtless far beyond the limits of any rancheria that could have committed the theft, until they arrived at Clear Lake. Near the southern margin of that magnificent sheet of water there are several islands of great beauty, two of which, in particular, were inhabited by Indians who are said to have been of gentle disposition and who lived there, protected by their isolated situation, in fancied security.
“When Salvador and his party arrived at the border of the lake, the chief Indians of the Island passed over on their rafts to meet and communicate with them. The newcomers said, through an interpreter, that they had come on a peaceful mission, with the object of making an alliance, and requested to be carried over to one of the islands, where they should all meet. The natives, not for an instant suspecting treachery, readily complied. When they were all collected at the main rancheria, the Indians, under pretense of the treaty, were induced to lay aside their weapons and enter their large under-ground temescal or sweat-house. When they had done so, the whites and their auxiliaries drew their knives, such as were used for slaughtering cattle, and throwing themselves into the gloomy pen, began a horrid and indiscriminate butchery, respecting neither age, condition or sex.
“A few of the doomed creatures succeeded in breaking out of the gory inclosure and, plunging into the water, tried to escape by swimming to the main-land ; but they were all shot to death as they were thus desperately endeavoring to get away-all, with apparently one single exception. Among them was a woman with a child tied in a net on her shoulders. As she sank, struck by a musket ball, the child struggled in its net, when one of the whites, either less barbarous than the others, or more probably with an idea of securing a domestic servant, jumped on a raft and saved the half-suffocated infant. The narrator of the bloody story adds that he had seen the child, which was about a year old, and that whenever a white person approached it would utter a scream and go into convulsions of terror. And well it might ! And well might the narrator exclaim, as he did: `Que barbaria ! que ferocidad tan ! de unos hombres destituidos de todo sentimiento de humanidad!’ (`What barbarity! and what ferocity, too, of men destitute of every sentiment of humanity !’) ”
From this it is clear that the garrison which Gen. Vallejo maintained at Sonoma on the frontier did not Iack for good sport.
And it would also appear that the Picos in the south were quite as eager to have a hand in the same bloody game. No doubt it appealed particularly to the Picos because murdering Indians, as well as robbing them, was a pastime that could be pursued with little danger. The first act of Pio Pico when he became Governor of California in 1845 was to enter into a contract with two Americans, John Marsh and John Gantt, for the slaughter of Indians. Pico agreed to compensate the Americans with fiye hundred cattle and one-half of all the horses they could take from the Indians.
There were other minor exhibitions of cruelty against the Indians of those times, but with the exception of the two massacres just related, the Indians suffered more from petty persecutions and the loss of their property than in any other way. The Mexican Era was an era of unrest, conspiracy, insurrection, revolt and numerous quite bloodless battles on the one hand, and of feasting, dancing, marriage and giving in marriage on the other hand. Looking back upon that time it would seem that the happiness far outweighed the sorrow, and that amid all the intrigues, the firing of guns and crashing of swords, there was much gladness.
Not counting Sola, who served as a Mexican Governor for seven months after independence, ten men in all held the office of Governor in California during the Mexican era. They were as follows :
Luis Arguello, 1823-25 ; Jose Maria Echeandia, 1825-31; Manuel Victoria, 1831-32; Pio Pico, 1832-33, and again from February 22 to August 10, 1846; Jose Figueroa, 1833-35; Jose Castro, 1835-36; Nicolas Gutierrez, 1836; Mariano Chico, 1836; Juan Batista Alvarado, 1836-42 ; Manuel Micheltorena, 1842-45. It will thus be seen that Pio Pico, who served for the second time in 1846 was the last Mexican Governor of California. After long scheming, Pico had become legally the ruler of the Province, but the thunders were rumbling around his head and it was during his administration that Latin-American domination of California met its end.
The situation was that England, France and the United States were each waiting their chance to grab California. Pico was the civil Governor, but General Jose Castro was the military head of the Province. There was a bitter quarrel between Pico and Castro. When Castro saw that dissension only added to the weakness of California, and that in or-der to repel whatever enemies might attempt to seize the country it was necessary for all factions to unite, the old warrior pocketed his pride and begged Pico to stand with him in the country’s common cause against the invasion of its foes.
The third prominent figure in California affairs at this crisis was Vallejo of Sonoma. Believing that the fall of California was inevitable Vallejo, true to his instincts, took steps to ingratiate himself with the United States, which power he believed would prove victorious at the game that was being played. Pico took another view of the matter and did what he could to ingratiate himself with the powers that he thought would prove victorious, namely, France or England. The only man that stood out clear and brave and ready to die in the last ditch, against whomsoever appeared as an invader, was Jose Castro. While Pico and Vallejo were juggling, Castro pre-pared to fight, and he did fight like the soldier that he was.
On June 14, 1846, the Bear Flag of the California Republic was raised at Sonoma, and on July 7 of the same year the American flag was raised at Monterey. Vallejo was an easily taken prisoner at Fort Sutter and Pio Pico ran away.
This was the end of Pio Pico’s power and the end of Mexican rule in California. The death knell of Latin power in the Province was really sounded when William B. Ide issued his proclamation at Sonoma and the flag of the Grizzly Bear was hoisted on its swaying staff under the peaks of the Seven Moons.
The end of Latin power and authority, however, did not mean that California was soon, if ever, wholly to abandon the traditions which the first conquerors and colonizers had impressed upon her soil and her history. Spanish and Mexican speech and thought were destined long to linger as, indeed, they linger still. It is to be hoped that at least the poetry, the romance and much else that was sweet and alluring in the life of a people who were so great in so many ways will not entirely disappear.