Tinkham Chapter IV

Chapter IV.

THE CALIFORNIA CONQUEST.

The American immigration to California was no chance movement, but a well understood scheme to colonize the land and make of it an independent territory like Texas, or at the proper time assist the United States in its acquisition.

It was well known that the South desired California, and the government, says Rhodes, was "goading on to war" the Mexican nation. The object of the war was aptly explained by Lowell in his Biglow Papers:

		"They just wanted this Californy
		So's to lug new slave states in,
		To abuse ye and to scorn ye,
		And to plunder ye like sin."

The United States was not alone in this desire for Mexican domain. France had upon this coast eight naval vessels, and her Vice Consul, M. Eugene Deflot de Mofras, declared "California will belong to any nation that will take the trouble to send a ship of war and 200 soldiers." From 1842 until 1846 he remained in the territory working in the interest of France.

Did England desire to annex California? The Hudson Bay Company's agent, George Simpson, declared "San Francisco will, to a moral certainty, sooner or later fall into the possession of the Americans unless England takes it." And England at that time, 1842, had four men-of-war cruising the Pacific waters. Each of these nations had a Pacific coast fleet superior to that of the United States, and for what purpose is not publicly known. The United States believed that they had been sent to this coast to seize the territory as soon as Mexico declared war.

In the spring of 1842 Commodore Ap Catesby Jones in command of five vessels of war was lying at Callao, Peru, "awaiting events." His instructions from the government were to immediately sail and seize California if war be declared between Mexico and the United States.

He was cut off from all communication with Washington, and he had no means of knowing if war be declared except by reports. Early in September, however, he believed the fight was on. Sailing September 7, on October 19 he anchored in Monterey bay.

The following morning 150 marines landed on the beach and took possession of the pueblo. The Mexican flag was lowered and the stars and strips broken to the breeze. Commodore Jones then issued his proclamation. It was read to the people in English, then in the Spanish language.

The following day Jones learned that all of the newspaper reports were untrue. Neither Thomas O. Larkin nor any of the Mexicans had heard of any war. The Commodore, now believing that he had been over hasty, ordeed the marines to again board the ships. The Mexicans again raised aloft their flag. Jones, firing a salute to the Mexican standard, October 21 sailed from the harbor.

After the Monterey affair the Californians became very suspicious of the Americans, and when, in January, 1846, Captain John C. Fremont appeared at Monterey drssed in the full uniform of a United States officer, General Castro inquired his business. Fremont replied that he was engaged in an exploring (a) expedition. His men were on the frontier of the department. They were out of supplies, and he had come to purchase food and clothing.

Fremont asked permission, which was granted, to winter his men and animals in the San Joaquin valley. Two months later Castro was surprised to learn that Fremont and his "explorers" were camped at Hartnell's rancho, in the Salinas valley, Monterey. A messenger from General Castro the following day commanded Fremont to leave the department, such being the orders of the supreme government.

Instead of complying with the request, Fremont rode to the summit of the Gabrilian mountains. Selecting a good location near Hawk's peak, he erected a strong earthen fortification and raised "Old Glory" and awaited events.

General Castro at San Juan raised a company of some 200 harsemen. They maneuvered back and forth over the plains in sight of Fremont's command, loading and firing three pieces of cannon. They made no movement towards attacking the camp. As Bancroft states, "it would have been foolish for Castro to lead his men up the steep sides of Gabrilian peak against a force of 60 expert riflemen, protected by a barrier of earth and logs."

Fremont remained in camp until the night of March 9. He then began his march for Oregon. While in camp on Lake Klamath he was much surprised late one evening to receive private dispatches from Washington. The bearer, Archibald Gillespie, had come direct from the seat of government. What were these dispatches? The public has never learned. they were of sufficient importance, however, to cause Fremont to retrace his steps. May 28 he was in camp at the Marysville buttes, just north of Sutter's fort.

On arrival Fremont found the settlers in that vicinity were greatly excited over the report that General Castro intended to drive all of the Americans from the country. A second rumor said that he had instigated the Indians to massacre all of the families and burn all of the crops. This was indeed alarming news, but it was not true.

For some time previous the trappers in that vicinity had been talking of making California an independent territory. Many of them were daring, reckless men, anxious for a fight, and they declared it a good time to seize Sonoma and declare their independence of Mexico. Under the command of Merritt, who had been elected captain, the party left the buttes at midnight, June 14, 1846, and at dawn the following day they reached the pueblo. The number had increased to 32, and Robert Semple declared "all of them dressed in leather hunting shirts, many of them very greasy and as rough a looking set of men as one could imagine."

The Merritt company easily captured the town. Then, quietly surrounding the home of General Vallejo about daylight, four of the party entered the house and took M. G. Vallejo, Victor Prudon and Salvator Vallejo prisoners. The general, with his accustomed liberality, brought out his finest wines and liquors, and soon the entire party was sleepy drunk (b). Later Jacob Leese was arrested and all of the prisoners were taken to Sutter's fort.

Some of the party became much alarmed when they learned that Fremont had not commanded the capture of Sonoma. They wanted to retreat and fly with their families into the mountains, fearing the vengeance of the Mexicans. Then the hero of the occasion, William Ide, arose. He defied the enemy (c). His bravery gave encouragement to his companies and they elected Ide captain. the down was then fortified, the bear flag manufactured (d) and with cheers it was raised upon the Mexican flagstaff. That night Ide wrote his famous proclamation, and it was sent all along the coast.

Some time after this William Todd, who was going to Yerba Buena on business, was taken prisoner by the Mexicans. As soon as the settlers learned of his capture a party of 19 picked men were selected to effect his rescue. Unexpectedly the company under the command of Lieutenant Ford camp upon a body of 60 Mexicans under the command of Lieutenant Joaquin de la Torre near San Rafael. The Californians charged upon the Mexicans. The trappers were dead shots. Eight riderless horses galloped over the plains. Torre's men then turned and fled at full speed. Ford's men quickly followed. In the running three more Mexicans fell dead. Two badly wounded fell from their saddles. The Americans found their companion in the camp uninjured. This was the first battle of the Mexico-California war.

In the meantime very important events were taking place along the coast. Commodore John D. Sloat, who had been lying at Mazatlan in command of the Savannah, Cyane and Levant, left that port June 2, 1846 and, sailing to Monterey, July 7, took possession of the pueblo. As the flag was raised over the custom house the man-of-war fired a salute of 21 guns. Word was sent to Captain Montgomery, then at Yerba Buena, to take possession of the place. Landing 50 marines, they marched up to the custom house and, lowering the Mexican flag, broke to the breeze the starry banner (e). Flags were also sent to Sonoma and Sutter's fort. The courier reached the fort just before dark. The next morning, July 12, "Old Glory" was flung to the breeze and given a salute of 21 guns.

Commodore sloat was releaved from duty July 15 by the arrival of Commodore Robert F. Stockton in the famous man-of-war Congress. He was received with great enthusiasm. His fame was national and his exploits known throughout the world. He was a brave and conscientious commander, but extremely self conceited, hot headed and imprudent. He believed that force only could accomplish results; and refusing to listen to the peaceful measures proposed by the leading Americans, he caused the California war and blood was unnecessarily shed.

The policy of the government was not in accord with the actions of Stockton. Commodore Sloat declared when he took possession of Monterey: "I declare to the inhabitants * * * I do not come among them as an enemy; * * * I come as their best frined * * * and its peaceful citizens will enjoy the same rights and privileges as those of other territories." Bancroft, then Secretary of the Navy, wrote to Sloat, June 24, 1845: "You will be careful to preserve, if possible, the most friendly relations with the inhabitants." It was this same peace policy which the Americans such as Thomas O. Larkin, Charles M. Weber, John Marsh, Alexander Forbes and others were trying to adopt when they persuaded the Americans in the Castro and Mitcheltorena armies to withdraw. They pointed out the fact that if the settlers fought in the factional fights they would make enemies of each side and thus destroy the peaceful settlement of the territory later on. General Castro was on the parade ground with his company when he learned of the capture of Monterey. Turning to his men, he exclaimed: "What can I do with a handful of men against the United States? All who wish to follow me, right about fact; I am going to Mexico." Later, changing his mind, he and Pio Pico fortified Los Angeles.

When Commodore Stockton learned of Castro's stand at Los Angeles, he immediately made preparations to capture the town. Fremont, who had come to Monterey from Sutter's fort with his battalion (f), was ordered to San Diego. he was to take that place, and marching north, meet Commodore Stockton near Los Angeles. Fremont sailed July 26 on the Cyane.

The Commodore a week later, August 1, in the Congress with 350 marines and sailors, left for San Pedro. After a week of drilling land tactics, they began their thirty-mile march to Los Angeles. During the march messengers from Castro tried several times to effect proposals of peace. Stockton, however, rejected all terms of peace. Then Castro tried a bluff, and sent word to Stockton that "if he marched upon the town he would find it the graves of his men." Then came the Commodore's laconic reply, "Tell the General to have the bells ready to toll, as I shall be there tomorrow." That night the Californians made a hasty retrest. The following afternoon, August 13, with band playing and colors flying, Commodore Stockton and Major Fremont entered Los Angeles, thus far not a man killed nor gun fired.

A few days later Stockton declared the town under martial law (g). Leaving Captain Gillespie in command of fifty marines, the Commodore sailed for Yerba Buena. He was there received with ditinguished honors, a procession, a collation and a ball forming part of the celebration. The ball took place in Leidsdorff's house, September 8, 1846, and it was the first one under the stars and stripes. About 100 Mexicans and Americans were present, including the officers of the Portsmouth.

The placing of the pueblo under martial law greatly angered the Californians. A revolt was started by General M. Flores, and over 300 Mexicans took a solemn oath not to lay down their arms until they had driven out "the accursed Americans." A few days later nearly 600 well-armed Mexicans surrounded the town and demanded its surrender. As Gillespie was caught in a trap, with a few men only, and no supplies, September 30 he surrendered. He was permitted to march out with all honors. He retired to San Pedro. Before his surrender John Brown, an American, called by the Mexicans Juan Flaco (Lean John), succeeded in breaking through the Mexican lines. Riding with all speed to Yerba Buena he delivered to Commodore Stockton a dispatch from Gillespie. It was rolled in a cigarette paper and fastened in his hari (h).

Immediately Captain Mervine in command of 400 marines was ordered to Los Angeles. Landing at San Pedro, he began his march for the pueblo. Before traveling many miles he was attacked by over 200 Californians. A severe battle was fought. The result to the Americans was disastrous. they lost some fifteen or twenty men and Mervine was compelled to retreat to the Cyane (i). A few days later Commordore Stockton arrived at San Pedro on his way to San Diego. He wisely concluded to continue on his course and retake Los Angeles from the south.

As Stockton's future movements will end the California war, as briefly as possible we will review the events in central California. It was feared that the Flores revolt would incite the northern Mexicans to kill the settlers' families, and also the incoming immigrants. Scouts were sent out to inform the immigrants of the war between the two nations, and guide them as quickly as possible to the Santa Clara and San Jose settlements. To guard the towns two companies were organized, Joseph Aram, an immigrant of 1842, being in command at Santa Clar, and Captain Charles M. Weber (j) of the San Jose volunteers guarded that pueblo.

While the company wa sout "rounding up" horses for Fremont's battalion, word was received by Captain Weber that Lieutenant Bartlett (k) of the sloop Warren had been taken prisoner by Francisco Sanchez. Captain Hull requested Weber to rescue Bartlett, if possible. As Sanchez had over 200 men under his command, Captain Marston with a company of marines and artillery was sent to assist the San Jose volunteers. Snchez heard of the coming of the marines and anticipating an easy vistory, he exclaimed, "No we will have good American rifles and overcoats."

In a summer dry creek near Santa Clara grew a thick, heavy growth of mustard. It was impossible to proceed except by roadway. The Californians made no attack until the marines entered the mustard patch. Then the Californians made an assault, firing and then retreating around the hillside. This nearly demoralized the regulars. They could neither open fire, nor could they rapidly advance. Upon reaching the open ground a battle took place. After a two hours' fight Sanchez withdrew with four killed and four wounded. The Americans had only two wounded. This was the famous battle of Santa Clara (l), fought January 8, 1847. Sanchez was soon after taken prisoner, Lieutenant Washington A. Bartlett was found and he and his men were exchanged for Mexican prisoners. Later Bartlett was mayor of San Francisco and Governor of California.

We left Commodore Stockton on his way to San Diego. On arrival he found himself in a peculiar position. He had no supplies, and the Californians would not sell anything to him. Hence he had to skirmish for food. While the men were engaged in making repairs, word was brought to Commodore Stockton that General Kearny wished to open communication with him. Captain Gillespie with 26 men was ordered to meet Kearny, and that evening, December 3, 1846, he left for Kearny's camp.

In May, 1846, General Stephen A. kerny was instructed by William G. Marcy, Secretary of State, to organize what was known as the "Army of the West." This army was in two divisions, the Mormon battalion forming the first division. The second division comprised some 300 dragoons. Leaving Fort Leavenworth July 6, 1846, the dragoons arrived at Santa Fe in August. The pueblo surrendered to Kearny without any resistance. Continuing on to California by way of the Rio grande, he was surprised, October 6, to meet Christopher Carson. The scout, accompanied by 15 men, was on his way to Washington, bearing dispatches from Commodore Stockton, then in Los Angeles. The dispatches were sent on by Lieutenant Fitzpatrick. Carson was commanded to act as Kearny's guide to California. Two hundred dragoons were ordered back to Santa Fe, as Carson stated that the California war was ended.

With 100 dragoons and two mountain howitzers Kearny road on. the march was long and weary and men and animals almost starved. On arrival December 2 at Warner's rancho seven men alone ate a full-grown sheep, so hungry were they.

Captain Gillespie, meeting General kearny December 5 at the Santa Maria rancho, informed the General that a force of Californians were camped about seven miles away. Kearny was rashly anxious to route the "stupid mexicans," as he called them. Kit Carson strongly advised him not to make such a foolish attack, for his men and animals were in no condition to rout a strong body of mounted Californians.

Kearny, like Stockton, was overly wise, and made his attack at dawn, December 6. Throughout the day they fought, and that night both sides rested. Kearny, however, had met with a heavy loss, two captains, four non-commissioned officers and twelve dragoons being killed.

Early on the morning of December 7 he began his march for San Diego. The Mexicans now began a guerrilla warfare and during the day Kearny lost five men. That night he camped on the San Bernardino river. The next day the Mexicans, now 230 strong (100 more having come from Los Angeles), made a furious charge. Kearny, retreating to the hills, found himself trapped. He was surrounded on all side by Mexicans and the men could get neither food nor water for themselves or their animals. In the consultation regarding their situation, Carson declared "If we stay here we are all dead men," and he offered to go to San Diego for assistance. He was accompanied by Lieutenant Edward F. Beale and the two brave men that night started on foot on their dangerous journey.

While they were absent the Mexicans attempted to drive a band of horses into the Kearny camp. Their object was to stampede, if possible, the animals of the camp. the effort failed, but three fat horses were killed by the Americans, and "they formed, in the shape of gravy-soup, an agreeable substitute for the poor steaks of our own worked-down brutes, on which we had been feeding for a number of days."

The Americans could not have withstood the siege very long, but fortunately Carson and Beale succeeded in reaching Stockton's camp, and December 11 Lieutenant Gray arrived in command of 180 marines, with plenty of food and clothing. Kearny the following day resumed his march unmolested and December 12 he was courteiously received by Commodore Stockton.

The combined army now numbered nearly 600 men. On December 29 they began their march for Los Angeles. At two points on the march while crossing the San Gabriel river and upon the "Plains of Mesa" the Mexicans, 600 in number, tried to rout the troops. They were each time repulsed, the Americans losing three killed and nine wounded. The Mexican loss was nine killed and fourteen wounded. Stockton again took possession of Los Angeles January 10, 1847, the Mexicans making no resistance.

Two days later Lieutenant Colonel Fremont ended the California war by his treaty of peace at Cahuenga.

After the war was over troops continued to arrive. In January, 1847, the Lexington anchored at Monterey. She had on board company F, Third artillery. In the company were several notable men, among them Lieutenant William T. Sherman and henry W. Halleck, both famous generals in the Civil war, and Private Benjamin Kooser, editor and newspaper proprietor for many years. The famous Stevenson regiment, numbering over 800 men, also arrived a few months later. The first ships to arrive were the Thomas Perkins, March 6; the Susan Drew, March 19; the Loo Choo, March 30, and the Brutus, April 2, 1847. In the following year, February, 1848, the ships Isabella and Sweden arrived. A lieutenant on the vessel last named was Colonel Thomas E. Ketcham. He was a colonel in the Civil war California Volunteers, and is now living in Stockton, 92 years of age.

The population of California in 1842, as given by the Frenchman Duflot de Mofras, was about 5,000, not including the Indians. He classified them as follows: 4,000 native sons or Californians, 90 Mexicans, 90 Germans, Italians and Portuguese, 80 Spaniards, 80 Frenchmen and 360 Scotchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen. Bancroft says at the close of 1847 the population had increased to 14,000, the natives counting 6,000. The only pueblo with a population of any size was Yerba Buena. In August, 1847, Edward Gilbert, a lieutenant in Stevenson's regiment, found the population to be 459. Six months later, says the Annals, the population was nearly 900, with merchants, mechanics and professional men numbering 157.

One of the leading firms of the town previous to 1846 was the Hudson Bay Company, an English corporation dating back to 1808. Employing several thousand men, French-Canadians principally, they trapped throughout Canada and British Columbia, and as early as 1825 found their way into California. For several seasons they trapped and hunted in the San Joaquin valley, near Stockton. The Mexicans named the locality Campo de los Frances, "the camp of the Frenchmen."

Their headquarters were at Vancouver, British Columbia. In 1841 Sir James Douglas, coming from that point to Monterey, succeeded in establishing trade relations with the Mexicans, with headquarters at Yerba Buena. William Rae, a brother-in-law of Chief James McLaughlin, was sent to the bay to take charge of the new firm. Rae purchased the two-story Leese building. He was not a commercial success. He was, however, a good customer of John Barleycorn. After losing about $15,000 on January 19, 1845, he shot and killed himself. His was the first inquest in San Francisco. the body was buried in the yard, and in 1854 uncovered by workme digging a sewer. This was one of San Francisco's historic spots, as later the banking house of James King of William was located there.


  1. Fremont's explorers comprise sixty rought, hardy pathfinders, together with twelve Delaware Indians. The men were all dead rifle shots. Each man was armed with a tomahawk, two pistols and a rifle. They were led by the famous scout, Christopher (Kit) Carson.

  2. In writing of this affair Ide said: "As he entered the house, there sat Dr. Semple, just modifying a long string of articles of capitulation. There sat Ezekiel Merritt, his head fallen; there sat Wm. Knight, no longer able to interpret, and there sat our new captain, Grigsby, as mute as the seat he sat upon. The bottles had well nigh vanquished the captors."

  3. Ide shouted, "Saddle no horse for me. I will lay my bones here before I will take upon myself the ignominy of commencing an honorable work and then fleeing like a coward, like a thief, when no enemy is in sight. We are robbers or we must conquer."

  4. The flag was made of unbleached cotton cloth. A strip of red flannel about four inches in width was sewn lengthwise along the lower edge. In the upper left hand corner Wm. Todd with India ink outlined a grizzly bear; beneath the bear he painted the words, "Califonria Republic." In commemoration of this event, June 14, 1914, a bear flag monument was unveiled at Sonoma.

  5. Montgomery street, San Francisco, was named after Captain Montgomery. Portsmouth square, where now stands the Stevenson monument, was named after Montgomery's flagship Portsmouth.

  6. Walter Colton in describing this cavalcade as they entered Monterey says: "Fremont riding ahead, dressed in a blouse, leggins and felt hat, was followed by his men, riding two and two, the rifle held in one hand across the pommel of the saddle. Their dress was a long loose coat of deerskin, tied in front with thongs, with pants of the same material. Their long knives, pistols and rifles glittered in the sunlight, while their untrimmed locks, flowing out from under their foraging caps, and their black beards and white teeth gave them a wild, savage aspect. They were allowed no liquor and their discipline was very strict."

  7. This law prohibited any of the inhabitants from carrying arms, and all persons must be in their houses from ten o'clock until sunrise in the morning.

  8. This life and death ride is one of the most remarkable on record. Juan Flaco rode the entire distance from Los Angeles to San Francisco in six days, and with scarcely any rest. He left Los Angeles about eight o'clock at night, pursued by the Mexicans, who mortally wounded his horse. Carrying his spurs and reata in his hand, he traveled 27 miles and there obtained a second animal. Riding over rocky mountain pathways and swimming streams, he reached Monterey, says Colton, on the evening of the 29th. he had then ridden 460 miles in 52 hours. He expected to find Stockton at Monterey. Taking a little coffee only, and sleeping some three hours, he was up and away for Yerba Buena, 140 miles distant. Gillespie in the Los Angeles Star said, May 28, 1858: "Before sunrise on the 30th Brown was hiding in the bushes in front of the Congress, waiting the arrival of the early market boat from the frigate. Before seven o'clock Commodore Stockton had the dispatches."

  9. In this battle, Captain Weber informed me, the Mexicans fired copper bullets, and many of the marines died in terrible agony. The day was very hot and over-heated, thirsty men, finding a barrel of aguardiente, a vile Mexican liquor, drank large quantities of it and became beastly drunk. Many died from its effects.

  10. Captain Charles M. Weber, a naturalized German, came to California in 1842. For several months he worked at Sutter's fort. In 1843 he opened a general merchandise store at San Jose, and also engaged in the cattle and horse raising business. His commercial relations with the Mexicans placed him on very friendly terms with them, and at one time General Castro offered to make Weber a captain of the Mexican militia. He refused, as he believed to be an American was the highest honor that could be conferred. He also wished to avoid any troublesome alliances with the Mexicans, as he foresaw the trend of events. During the war Weber was commissioned as captain by Hull of the sloop Warren. he obtained a tract of land in the San Joaquin valley, there built the first house and founded Stockton. He named it after Commodore Stockton. He was born in February, 1814, and died in May, 1881.

  11. Bartlett with five men went on shore to purchase cattle for food. They were warned by the settlers to beware of the Mexicans, and soon fell into Sanchez's hands.

  12. The women stood on the housetops at Santa Clara and anxiously watched the battle. After the battle the regulars marched into the pueblo and were given a rousing reception and a dinner.


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