Tinkham Chapter III

Chapter III.

MEXICAN CALIFORNIA EVENTS.

The Mexicans were intelligent enought to free their country from Spain, but they could not peacefully govern it. And during their twenty-five years' possession of California there was an almost continuous quarrel over civil and church affairs.

One cause of trouble was the location of the capital. In February, 182, the Imperial Congress appointed Jose Escheandia as Governor of Baja and Alta California. For convenience he selected San Diego as the capital seat. Monterey up to this time had always been the capital. When Luis Arguello, the retiring Governor, left Monterey to deliver the official documents to Escheandia he appointed no person as Governor. The council at Monterey, however, appointed Jose Estudillo Governor. There was a quarrel over the question of the capital, which continued for several months. The Congress then, to avoid all further dispute, appointed Manuel Victoria Governor. He selected Monterey as the capital seat.

After a short time in power, however, he left California. Before his departure he appointed ex-Governor Escheandia as Governor. He returned to San Diego. Then Monterey rose up in arms. Captain V. Zamaro of that pueblo raised a force and declared himself Governor. Los Angeles now came into the fight. The "junta" of that town elected Pio Pico as Governor and congratulated him on being "a son of the soil." Again, to settle the fight, the home government sent Jose Figueroa. Three years in office, Figueroa died at San Juan Baptista mission on September 29, 1935. Before his death the dying official appointed General Jose Castro, of Monterey, Governor. The Los Angeles citizens refused to recognize Castro. Doing politics, they succeeded in having their citizen, Nicholas Gutterrez, appointed Governor. They also succeeded in having the Mexican Congress pass a law that henceforth Los Angeles should be the capital of the territory.

The Los Angeles Governor was driven out of the country by Juan Baptista Alvarado and his army from Monterey. Alvarado was then proclaimed Governor. San Diego and Los Angeles, joining forces, revolted and proclaimed Carlos Carrillo Governor. He declred Los Angeles the capital. On the day of his inauguration, December 6, 1837, salutes were fired from the big cannon brought over from San Gabriel. "The city," says Guinn, "was illuminated for three successive evenings. Cards of invitation were issued to the people of the surrounding country to attend the ceremony, they to be dressed as decently as possible." As the Governor took the oath of office the artillery thundered forth a salute and the bells rang out a merry peal. The Governor made a speech, then all attended church, where high mass was celebrated and the "Te Deum" sung. An inauguration ball closed the celebration. Outside the ballroom the tallow dips flared and flickered from the portico, bonfires blazed in the streets and cannon boomed salvos from the old plaza.

Then Alvarado arose in his wrath and charged upon the happy Los Angeles people. He had as his assistants Jose Castro and Pio Pico, two of the best commanders in the territory. Organizing an "army" of 200 men, by forced marches they soon reached Los Angeles and routed the enemy. Soon after the surrender of the pueblo, word was received that the supreme government had appointed Alvarado as Governor.

At this time the Mexican government became alarmed at the rapid increase of foreigners. To check this immigration General Jose Mitcheltorena was sent to California with an army of 400 men. They were recruited pricipally from the jails and streets of Mexico.

Mitcheltorena came as Military Commandante and Governor of California. He landed at San Diego September, 1842. On his march to Monterey he was given an ovation all along the route. Los Angeles paid him high honors, for the people believed the Governor would make that pueblo the capital. The national fiesta, September 16 (independence day), was postponed until his arrival. Then salutes were fired, speeches made and for three days the city was illuminated "that the people might give expression to the joy that should be felt by all patriots in acknowledging so worthy a ruler." The general remained in Los angeles nearly a month. The citizens were glad to see him go, for his army of criminals had been committing all manner of thievery and other crimes.

The citizens of Monterey submitted to the criminal acts of this vagabond army until November, 1844. Then they arose in rebellion. They formed an organization with Pio Pico and Jose Castro as leaders. "Drive out the cholos!" was their battle cry. The Governor quieted the tumult and promised to ship the criminals from the territory. He broke his promise, however, when he learned that Captain John A. Sutter with 100 men, the Sutter rifles, were coming to his assistance. Sutter, leaving the fort with his company January 1, 1845, joined the Mitcheltorena forces near the Salinas river. Marching south near the Cahuenga pass, February 28 they were confronted by General Castro. Each general was in command of about 400 men, including many foreigners. The leading Americans persuaded all of the foreigners to withdraw from the fight. This so crippled Mitcheltorena's army that fter six hours' cannonading, in which no one was injured, he surrendered. A few weeks later Mitcheltorena and his 200 men were banished from California. They marched from Los Angeles to San Pedro "with all the honors of war, trumpets playing and drums beating," and embarked on the American brig Don Quixote. The citizens paid the captain, John Paty, $10,000 to carry the "army" to Mexico.

The cause of Mitcheltorena's banishment was his encouragement and the importation of criminals into California. That was not the first time that the government had sent criminals into the territory, and the citizens were determined to resent it. As early as 1816 a band of pirates burned and pillaged Monterey. The Governor, Pablo de Sola, had not sufficient soldiers to defend the capital, and the following year he requested the government to send him troops. Mexico sent him soldiers recruited from the lowest class of population. Sola shipped them back to Mexico as soon as possible. In 1829 the Mexican Secretary of Justice advised that all convicted prisoners be deported to California instead of Vera Cruz. Carrying out that advice, in 1829, 130 criminals were sent into the territory.

Early in the century hunters and trappers began moving westward; hunting and trapping, they opened a pathway over the trackless desert and blazed a way across the mountains into the great San Joaquin valley. Ofttimes they discovered safer and shorter routes of travel. In after years Kit Carson, Jim Beckworth, Jim Bridger and others acted as guides to immigrating parties. The trappers opened up trails and traveled to California, some by way of Santa Fe, New Mexico; others followed along the Platte river, Fort Laramie, Fort Bridger, Salt Lake, the sink of the Humboldt, Truckee and Sutter's Fort. One at least, Joe Walker, entered California through the pass which bears his name.

The first of these "men of the forest" to enter California was the trapper, Jedeid Smith. He arrived at San Diego in December, 1826, over the Santa Fe and Colorado route. Smith visited the settlement for a supply of food, and having no passport, he was arrested by Governor Escheandia as a spy. At the request of several foreigners he was released. The following year Smith as killed by Indians.

The same year, 1827, James Pattie, accompanied by his son, a boy of 15 years, led a trapping party into California. Visiting San Diego, Pattie and the boy were arrested as spies. While in prison the father died. The son on being released returned home. A minister, hearing a recital of the terrible suffering and hardships of the party, published a book. President Monroe in his message to Congress gave a short sketch of the trapper's life. Ewel Young, another well known trapper, in 1828 came into the territory in command of thirty men. Young returned in 1830, accompanied by the trapper, William Wolfskill, later one of the first fruit growers of Southern California. The party came from Santa Fe. They brought with them a large quantity of closely woven colored blankets. Mexican manufacture, which they proposed trading to the Indians for beaver and otter skins.

The trappers were preceded by many foreigners, who arrived in trading ships and whaling vessels. The first to arrive was the Scotchman John Gilroy, after whom the town of Gilroy was named. Gilroy landed in 1814 from the brig Isaac Todd. He became a naturalized Mexican citizen, married a Spanish senorita and grew up with the country. Thomas Doak, arriving at Monterey in 1816, was the first American settler. There were fourteen foreigners in the country in 1822, coming from England, Ireland, Portugal, Scotland and America. This number included Robert Livermore, after whom Livermore valley was named.

Among these foreigners there were a number of bright business men, who located in California for various causes. William Gale, an American, located at Monterey in 1821 for the purpose of opening a direct trade between Monterey and the Boston house of Bryan, Sturgis & Co. (a). This was the first foreign-established house in the territory. The next year, 1822, two Englishmen, W. E. P. Hartnell and William Richardson (b), the mate of a ship, located at Monterey. Hartnell came as the agent of the English firm, John Begg & Co., with a branch house in Lima, Peru. He was a fine scholar and readily spoke the English, Spanish and French languages. He established a trading house and, marrying one of the Carrillos, raised a family of twenty-seven children. He was followed in 1824 by the second American trader, Jacob Lesse (c). He was the first house building in Yerba Buena, San Francisco, and the father of the first white child born there. David Spence, the Scotchman, came to superintend the meat-packing establishment of Begg & Co, 1826. He was naturalized, married, obtained a large tract of land in Monterey county and held several government offices. John Marsh, arriving overland in 1836, located on a grant at the foot of Mt. Diablo, the Devil's mountain (d). Pierre Sansevain, a French carpenter, in 1839 arrived direct from France. Years after he became one of the leading vineyardists and winemakers of California. In that year, 1839, W. D. M. Howard, after whom Howard street, San Francisco, was named, arrived by water, and John A. Sutter came overland.

In 1840 there was considerable excitement in the western state regarding California. Many letters had been received by residents and the western press published articles and letters regarding the land beyond the Rockies. They told of the warm climate, the fertile soil and the land free of cost. It created a desire among the ever restless rovers to emigrate to the far west. One of the first parties to cross the plains was the Captain Bartelson company of 32 persons. It included Mrs. Benjamin Kelsey and her child, Josiah Belding, later judge of Santa Clara county; John Bidwell, founder of Chico and later nominee for Governor and for President of the United States, and Charles M. Weber, founder of Stockton. The party left Kansas May 18, 1842. They reached John Marsh's rancho November 4. Then followed the J. B. Chiles party of 1843. It comprised 28 persons, male, female and children, and included Samuel J. Hensley, who became prominent as a steamboat owner and San Jose capitalist, also Pierson B. Reading. In 1844 there was an immigration of 36 persons to California from Oregon. In that same year Elijah Stevens brought overland a party of 50, including the famous Murphy family of San Jose.

In 1846 the tide of immigration was moving towards the Pacific coast and, says Bancroft, "from May to July some 2,000 emigrants with about 500 teams of oxen, mules and horses plodded their way over the plains between Independence, Missouri, Fort Laramie and Fort Bridger." Some were traveling to Oregon, others were bound for California. Among those traveling to California was the Donner party, comprising of a company of ninety persons, over one-half being families. George Donner, the captain of the train, was quite wealthy, and, with an eye for business, he was carrying a stock of merchandise to California to be placed on sale. The company left the frontier, Independence (e), Missouri, in the spring of 1846. As they journeyed along, other emigrants joined their train as a protection against Indians. At one period the train was over two miles in length, and consisted of some 200 wagons and about 500 persons. The train divided July 22, about one-half turning north for Oregon.

On arrival at Wadsworth, now a railroad station, the Donner party was in a pitiful weak and starving condition. They had lost much time, twenty-two days, by the unfortunate mistake of trying to pass through Hastings cut-off. The Indians had stolen many cattle and horses, and, leg-weary and weak from starvation, the animals could only travel slowly. Fortunately, at this time, however, William T. Stanton, accompanied by two Indian Guides, met the party with seven mules loaded with beef and flour, generously provided by Captain Sutter. Realizing some weeks previous that the entire party would starve if relief were not obtained, Stanton and William McCutcheon started for Sutter's fort. McCutcheon was taken sick and could not return.

Arriving at what is now Reno, Nevada, they camped four days to rest. This was their most unfortunate mistake, for on arrival at Donner lake, October 30, that night two feet of snow fell. They tried to move out of the valley and failed. On the third night a heavy, blinding storm fell. The stock wandered away and perished in the drifting snow. The men succeeded in finding a few of the animals by means of long poles. They were saved for food.

For three weeks the party endeavored to leave its snow-bound prison. Every effort left them weaker and less liable to succeed. Finaly 14 of the immigrants, known as the "forlorn" party, concluded to start for Sutter's fort and obtain assistance. The party included William Stanton and five mothers of families. They said the food supply would last a little longer if they were gone. They left the camp December 16 on snow shoes which they had made. They took six days' supply of food only, this consisting of slices of beef, a little coffee and sugar. they suffered terrible hardships from code and starvation. During a heavy storm they were compelled to lie buried between their blankets under the snow for thirty-six hours. Christmas day six of the band had died of cold, weakness and starvation, this including the brave and self-sacraficing Stanton, a bachelor, who had not a relative or kin in the party. The food supply had long since been eaten and they subsisted on human flesh and pieces of moccasin. Seven of the party on January 27, 1847, succeeded in reaching Johnson's rancho. Word was sent to the fort that a party of immigrants was in a starving condition at Truckee Meadows. A relief party of trappers was immediately organized and with pack mules loaded with food they started for the lake. On arrival, February 19, they saw a terrible scene. The cabins were covered deep with snow. Within, many of the occupants were dead, and those alive, scarcely able to walk, were living on human flesh, cattle bones and rawhide, softened in boiling water. The party carried with them twenty of the survivors to the settlement. The second and third relief party brought out all but five. The fourth relief party found only one person alive. Ninety persons that eventful night camped on the shore of beautiful Lake Donner, so named after the party; only forty-eight lived to see the settlements. General Stephen Kearny on his way east in 1847 camped at that spot and burned all the evidence of that horrible tragedy.

The most useful population immigrating to California at this time was the Mormons. Driven out of Nauvoo in 1845 because of their polygamous practices, they were seeking some place of rest. Thousands marched westward and located at Salt Lake. About 500 joined what was known as the "army of the west." Under the command of General Stephen Kearny they left Council Bluffs July 20, 1846. Traveling by the Santa Fe route, they arrived at Warner's rancho, near San Diego, January 21, 1847. Accompanying the battalion were nearly fifty women. It was a march of great danger and suffering. On several occasions the army came near starving to death. From Santa Fe the army was under the command of Colonel St. Cooke and Lieutenant George Stoneman, in 1887 Governor of California.

Another party of Mormons, comprising of 70 males, 68 females and 100 children, left New York February 4, 1846, in the 370-ton ship Brooklyn. they were in charge of Elder Samual Brannan (f). The ship was loaded with everything necessary for founding a colony, such as agricultural implements, tools of every kind, seeds and plants, the machinery for three flour mills and the complete newspaper plant of Brannan's New York paper, "The Prophet." After an uneventful voyage around Cape Horn, the Brooklyn anchored in San Francisco bay July 31, after a ten days' stop at Honolulu. when the ship left New York war had not been declared, and they believed that they were going to Mexico, and when the Mormons saw the United States flag flying over the fort and the custom house they were bitterly disappointed. Brannan is reported as exclaiming, "There is that damned flag again!"

This immigration was, as I have stated, of great benefit to the territory. They were all industrious and of the hard-working class. If a pick and shovel man was wanted, there was a Mormon ready to do the work; if a blacksmith, carpenter or painter, there was a handy man. The women were also industrious, and they did sewing, washing or housework. For a season the Mormons in Yerba Buena were in the majority. At that time, 1847, William Leidsdorff gave a ball in honor of Commodore Stockton, and nearly all of the women present were Mormons.

Trouble with their leader, Branna, soon after their arrival broke up the colony. Some traveled south and founded San Bernardino, making it a beautiful town. Brigham Young in 1858 called all of the faithful home to Zion. Selling all of their property at a sacrifice, they returned to Utah. Quite a number of colonists under Brannan's direction founded a settlement on the Stanislaus river, which they called New Hope. They built a sawmill, cabins and fences and planted 80 acres of grain. They irrigated it in ditches from the river water. They soon quarreled, however, and abandoning the place, in 1851 returned to Salt Lake.


  1. Up to this time all merchant ships touched at Chinese ports before coming to California.

  2. William Richardson became a naturalized citizen and married into a prominent Spanish family. He opened up a general merchandising business, but in 1833 he removed to Yerba Buena (good herb). His reason for the removal, Governor Figueroa made him a warden of that port. Richardson was also given a pueblo lot, 100 varas square. A vara is 33 1-3 feet. Richardson selected a lot on Dupont, now Grant street, midway between Clay and Washington. he carried on an extensive business, exchanging goods for hides, tallow and furs. Whaling ships now began entering the harbor in large numbers. They anchored in what is known as Richardson bay. The enterprising Englishman removed to that point, and purchasing two sailing vessels of the mission fathers, began an extensive business with the whaling ships.

  3. Jacob Leese first began business in Los Angeles, Governor Chico and many ship captains advised him to remove to Yerba Buena, and in 1836 he located there. Selecting a lot 200 vara square on the southwest corner of the streets now known as Clay and Grant, he erected a small one-story building from lumber shipped from Santa Cruz. It was the first wood-built structure in California. It was completed July 4, 1836, and in it was held the first 4th of July celebration. Upon one end of the roof floated the stars and strips, and upon the opposite gable fluttered the Mexican standard. About sixty persons from across San Francisco bay came to the celebration. Leese provided a dinner and the event closed with a dance, which continued throughout the following day. While in Santa Cruz Leese met the sister of General Jallejo and April 7, 1837, they were marreid. The following year at Yerba Buena, April 14, 1838, a daughter was born, Rosalie, the first white child in California.

    The merchant was doing a $12,000 business and for accommodation he now erected a two-story building. He also took in as partners William Hinckley and Nathan Spear. After the gold discovery Leese, visiting China, purchased a costly lot of China goods and in the bay town opened up a magnificent bazaar. He built the first wharf at the spot known as Clark's point. Later he established a line of steamers between Yerba Buena, China and Japan.

  4. Regarding the origin of this peculiar name, there is an Indian legend and a Spanish story. The Indians said that many moons ago fire belched from the mountain top and the mountain split asunder. It is of volcanic formation, say the geologists. One day a party of Spaniards camped there. The devil came out to drive them away. They lassoed his majesty, but he wiggled out of the riatas and ran back into the hill. The Spaniards named it because of this event, El Diablo.

  5. St. Louis and Independence were the two cities from which all emigrants started for the far west. Thousands of pioneers would gather there during the winter preceding their emigration and purchase goods, food, etc., for the long journey. These were known as the frontier towns.

  6. Samuel Brannan, born in Saco, Maine, in 1819, was a natural speculator, and early in life he traveled in every state of the Union, speculating in land. On arrival in San Francisco he immediately took the lead in every social, commercial, political and reformatory event. He surprised thousands of persons by his reckless extravagance of money, his bold speculations, his bravery in defying the criminal class and finally his dissipation, for he became a continuous boozer. He spent thousands of dollars for and with his friends, and died a pauper, crippled and diseased, almost alone, in Excondito, Mexico, May 7, 1889.

    His enterprises were many. He established a store at Coloma, founded a colony on the Stanislaus river, built two flour mills, engaged in the China trade (1849), purchased a large number of San Francisco lots and built houses upon them. "They were distinguished for their strength and magnificence," said the Annals, " formed some of the most striking and beautiful features of the city." In that same year, 1851, he visited the Sandwich islands, bought land and built houses. He gave liberally to churches, schools, individuals and various charities. He imported breeds of sheep and blooded horses, reclaimed tule lands, invested in railroad, telegraph and express company stock, stimulated small farming, opened Calistoga springs, Sonoma county, as a health resort.


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