The Silver Dons, 1833-1865
CHAPTER TWO: The Lash of Greed
The Californians fell upon the property of the missions and divided into quarreling factions. Revolutions were followed by uprisings of Indians released from mission control or being driven from ancestral lands. In the San Diego and San Luis Rey Mission districts, less than two years after secularization, eighteen ranchos had been carved out of former mission lands, or lands claimed by the missions, though seven had been occupied for some years. Santiago Arguello and José Antonio Estudillo, both former military comandantes, had acquired three ranchos each.
Many of the missionaries remained at their posts doing what they could to help the few Christian Indians who elected to remain at the missions, where many of them had been born and lived all their lives and were needed to maintain the fields, gardens and stock. Conditions grew steadily worse and at a meeting of the Ayuntamiento in January, 1836, it was decided to appeal to the territorial government for assistance against the Indians. The little adobe settlement of less than 500 persons, backed up against the sea, faced more than 10,000 Indians — Diegueños, Luiseños, Cahuillas and Yumas, living in the vast territory stretching all the way to the Colorado River, and comprising one of the most thickly populated regions of aboriginal America. The Californios were fortunate indeed that these Indians lacked the sustained courage and organization of the American Plains Indians.
Arguello, who had succeeded Osuna as Alcalde, insisted that an armed force must be sent to Santa Ysabel in the mountains, fifty miles from San Diego, as had been done once before. A junta of prominent citizens was called to list the damages being inflicted on all of the ranchos in the southern area. They said they no longer felt secure in their property, and even in the town itself. They could not count on the garrison for protection because the men were so badly paid and so poorly equipped.
Several days later Alcalde Arguello informed the military comandante of San Diego that the people were about to move out of town because of Indian thievery, that even then there were few men left to meet any attack, and he asked that the “violent” cannon be brought down from San Luis Rey. A month later Arguello instructed Capt. Pablo de la Portilla and his soldiers to proceed against an Indian force which was assembling in the mountains. The campaign was not successful, and Portilla laid the blame on the citizens for failing to provide sufficient help. Arguello was indignant at the accusation and replied that he looked “with contempt upon whatsoever calumny which he may impute to me.”
In the midst of the Indian troubles, Leandro Serrano was accused of stealing cattle from San Luis Rey Mission, having been found in possession of twenty-nine hides bearing the mission’s brand, and he was forced to turn over twenty-nine cattle. An Indian was found hanging from a peach tree in a garden, and according to custom, the first regidor and the secretary of the Ayuntamiento looked upon the body, asked it three times, in the name of the true God, who had killed it, and receiving no answer, they proceeded to examine the body, and being satisfied he had hung himself, they ordered it cut down and carried off to a cemetery.
In Mexico, a new revolution had overthrown the constitution of 1824. In faraway Texas, American settlers who had come to dominate a large territory of Mexico, after seeking vainly to ease restrictions imposed by Mexico, raised the Lone Star flag and moved toward independence. Many of their heroes died in the fall of the Alamo before the Mexican troops of the revolutionary general, Santa Anna.
In California, the North and the South contended for political domination, and San Diego and Monterey fought over location of the customs house, the chief source of revenue for the province. The question of loyalty to the government in Mexico City and the new centralist constitution further divided the state.
In one year after José Figueroa’s death California had four governors. Before his death Figueroa divided the political and military commands, with Lt. Col. Nicolás Gutiérrez as military leader and José Castro as Jefe politico. The South protested that the political leadership belonged to Estudillo of San Diego, as senior vocal of the Diputación, though he had been frequently absent from Monterey because of illness. The Northerners conspired against him and maneuvered the election of José Castro. In retaliation, José Antonio Carrillo, provisional deputy in the Mexican Congress, had Los Angeles instead of Monterey designated as the capital. The Diputación, formally recognized Castro and refused to move from Monterey, In the midst of the continuing dissension, Castro in January of 1836 transferred the jefatura to Gutiérrez, a maneuver that Bandini charged was designed to withhold the governorship from Estudillo.
Bandini had a plan; he always had a plan. He and others presented a memorial deploring the decay of the missions since secularization, the decline of trade and agriculture, and the lack of courts of justice, and suggesting that a general assembly of civil, military and missionary representatives should be called to reorganize California affairs without waiting for approval from Mexico. A record of the meeting was sent to Gutiérrez along with assurances of the loyalty of San Diegans. But Gutiérrez already was on the way out.
In April of 1836, Col. Mariano Chico came up from Mexico City as the newly appointed Mexican governor of the rebellious province, and assuming office in May announced that the new centralist constitution was now in effect. On May 29, the ceremony of swearing the bases, or the taking of oaths of allegiances, was carried out in San Diego by the Ayuntamiento as follows:
“This was done by the President and immediately after by the other gentlemen who are members of this corporation, this being witnessed by the majority of the citizens to solemnize this act, at the conclusion of which demonstrations of cheer and acclamations for the happiness and prosperity of the Supreme General Government and its worthy representatives were made; this act being solemnized with a salvo of artillery followed by a powerful ringing of the bells, it being ordered that same be repeated at noon and at sundown followed by corresponding illumination.”
The happiness didn’t last very long. After taking office Chico promptly issued an order prohibiting retail trading aboard foreign ships and requiring all goods to be sold in California to be landed at Monterey. He reported to Mexico City that armed foreign vessels, mostly American, were ignoring the national laws, slaughtering sea otters as they pleased, landing men and killing cattle, and attacking native fishermen.
Conditions generally were chaotic. Bands of rustlers from Sonora in northern Mexico were crossing the Colorado River and ranging over all the South, stealing cattle and horses and plundering ranches. Murders were common. There was no force to impose law and order, and no courts of justice.
Embittered and impoverished by the turn of affairs, Bandini accused Chico of being “scandalously avaricious.” Gutiérrez was sent to San Diego to investigate the situation and succeeded in making himself well hated. Bandini was never considered a true Californian, as he had been born in Lima, and was in disgrace with many Californians because of a conviction for smuggling while serving as collector of customs.
Events were treating him rather harshly. He wrote a letter to Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, military comandante in the North, lamenting the persecutions and injustices he said he had been suffering, and that injury had been added to insult by the theft by Indians of his cattle and horses from his Tecate Rancho, which was situated about fifty miles southeast of San Diego just below the present United States-Mexico border. All he had left, he wrote, were two mules and two horses:
“Terrible sorrows and tragedies are besieging our beloved land … and it is best not to write it down in pen and ink. Many tears are being shed, but some day, the Supreme Power will shower us again with blessings.”
In subsequent letters he begged for assistance:
“… send me what wheat and other things, which are used directly toward preserving life itself. To feed my family, is all that I worry about. My misfortune is such that I can no longer sleep and work ceaselessly to no avail. Yes, my dear friend, provide for this unhappy friend some leftovers or wastes from your abundant crops, and the generosity based on this request, will forever be engraved in my heart.”
Vallejo sent orders of flour, wheat, manteca, beans, horse mackerel, 120 pesos in money, and a draft on the Hudson Bay Company for another 400 pesos.
Pio Pico saw that unless conditions were quickly corrected the country would be beset with endless troubles. In his own correspondence with Vallejo, he wrote that:
“… so many rumors of war, so many fantastic tales have produced their effect, the Indians who before were satisfied with their lot and who worked with much pleasure, have turned evil and instead of taking care of the cattle, they slaughter it and sell the hide and the tallow … If the Californians were united, in a very short time this country would present a very praiseworthy aspect and instead of being worthy of only pity, we would be the most envied of all the inhabitants of the states that form the confederation of the Mexican Republic …”
News from Texas that Gen. Santa Anna had been defeated and captured, and that Texas had won its independence from Mexico, reached California and deeply stirred the American settlers and traders who were swiftly moving into public affairs.
When Chico requested troops from San Diego because of political troubles in the North, they were refused on the grounds that Indians were ravaging the Sonora frontier and threatening San Diego. Chico’s day was almost done. With him when he came to California was a mistress whom he had introduced as his niece. When he tried to force her upon the society of Monterey, the Californians chased both of them aboard a ship, and with Chico shouting he would “bring up crows to peck your eyes out,” they sailed for Mazatlán. He had lasted three months.
When Gutiérrez stepped back into office, the residents of Monterey also decided they had had enough and that California was entitled to choose its own governor in its own way. Juan Bautista Alvarado, then only 27, began a new revolution. He had been born in Monterey and was a relative or friend of nearly all Californios. His small force of Californians, carrying lances and with fife and drums, was reinforced by Americans, Mexicans and Indians led by an American hunter named Isaac Graham, who had settled in the North and built a distillery, an indispensable asset for a California revolution.
After marching his men around and around to make them appear more formidable than their numbers justified, Alvarado attacked Monterey on November 4, 1836, fired his single cannon ball at the governor’s mansion, and that was it. Gutiérrez joined Chico in Mexico. The province was declared to be independent as the “free and sovereign state of Alta California.” Though a Lone Star flag was raised by American volunteers, California was not to be another Texas and the Mexican flag continued to wave over the capitol. What the Californians desired was for Mexico to abandon its centralist ideas and return to the federalist constitution, and an end to the sending of unwanted governors. Alvarado was installed as governor, Monterey was recognized as the capital, and the Diputación transformed into a “constituent Congress.”
The Southerners, or Sureños, more loyal to the government of Mexico City, were not enthusiastic over these developments, particularly in Los Angeles, and a revolutionary fever boiled through the countryside. The San Diego Ayuntamiento was summoned to meet on November 22 and Bandini and Santiago E. Arguello, son of the alcalde, were named to go to Los Angeles and confer with representatives of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara on forming a provisional government of their own, one loyal to Mexico, and avenge the national honor. Majordomos at the San Diego and San Luis Rey and San Juan Capistrano Missions were requested to supply horses and whatever else they needed to speed them on their way. On their return they reported all were in agreement and full of loyalty and brave determination.
San Diego named three electors, Bandini, Santiago E. Arguello, and Juan Maria Marrón to participate in choosing a political leader. Pico was substituted later when Bandini became ill.
Los Angeles reported it was in fear of attack from Gov. Alvarado and appealed for help. The San Diego Ayuntamiento on January 11 instructed Alférez Juan Salazar, at the Presidio, to send aid, but, as he was a friend of José Castro, who had been named by Gov. Alvarado to lead a citizens’ army, he interposed many objections, claiming that he lacked supplies and would need six horses, two wagon wheels, a wagon, six blankets and twelve pesos in reales. The troops stationed at San Luis Rey as well as those at San Diego also refused duty, insisting that if they were going to do any fighting they expected their pay, which was long overdue. Pio Pico promised to lend aid if they returned to their posts and did their duty like soldiers.
His efforts evidently were successful as he and Regidor Francisco M. Alvarado started north with a force of twenty men and expected to pick up more on the way. It was later charged that Capt. Fitch had supplied them with moist powder.
When the San Diegans reached Los Angeles, it was too late, perhaps fortunately. The promised resistance to Alvarado and his forces had melted away. A temporary truce was struck with an agreement for election of a new legislative body and a petition to Mexico City for the restoration of federalism and to allow California to govern itself.
As for the San Diegans, Gov. Alvarado dismissed them as braggarts who would do nothing but talk and to whom “the Supreme Being had denied the gift of veracity.” The soldiers who had marched north with Pico and Regidor Alvarado disbanded and never returned.
Pio Pico, José Joaquin Ortega and Martin S. Cabello informed San Diego that they had done all in their power to retain “the fundamental laws of our sacred charter” and now was the time to assure public tranquility. San Diego was left alone and feared the worst. The residents accused their representatives of having compromised them. When reports were received that Alvarado’s “army” was about to march on San Diego, the remnants of the old Presidio cavalry company fled into Lower California, where they joined Capt. Agustin V. Zamorano, a former governor and a political refugee from the North.
In a letter to the Mexican Minister of Relations, from his ranch at “Ti Juan,” also below the present international border, written on March 6, 1837, the elder Arguello begged the government to dispatch troops to California on assurance that the rebel army most certainly wouldn’t fight. He stated that the administrators of the San Diego and San Luis Rey Missions had been friendly with the rebels and their cause, and that in the North, Alvarado had sold a house to raise money for the purchase of 500 shotguns and munitions in the Sandwich Islands which was to be accomplished through two foreigners.
“This is not surprising of the Americans who reside in the Sandwich Islands … for it is known that there one lives without any obedience to any government. They have contracted an American schooner-brigantine called Loriot and another they hope to purchase called Leonidas, and have placed their own administrators in the missions to kill all the cattle they possibly can, securing for this purpose the most perverse and the worst thieves possible who have distinguished themselves in this type of plundering, so that the only means this country has will be devastated; this has already begun.”
The Ayuntamiento had other problems with which to concern itself for a time. Up for decision was the question of whether San Diego most needed a church or a jail. The jail won. It was decided that the people would be asked to contribute to the construction of a “casa consistorial” which would be used as a jail, courthouse and town hall. On March 18, the Ayuntamiento in a solemn session formally decided not to recognize Alvarado as governor, as he had failed to submit necessary proof of his right to the office, nor any other governor not named by the Territorial Diputación. Judge Benjamin Hayes, who copied the original document from the old San Diego Archives, noted that it was conspicuous by the precautionary lack of signatures.
A little later came a report that 200 Sonorans, Indians and Americans were advancing on California from along the Colorado River, and though it proved to be false, Alvarado sent a force to San Diego with orders to remove or spike all guns, leave not a single horse between San Diego and San Gabriel, and redistribute supplies and rations so they would not fall into the hands of enemies, whoever they might be. The records on this incident are not clear.
Santiago Arguello in his correspondence refers to an event of about the same time, when he wrote that when a militia of fifty men from Los Angeles, under the command of Eugenio Montenegro, was reported approaching, most of the population abandoned San Diego. The militia, however, was seeking enlistments and finding the town virtually deserted, proceeded to walk off with the “violent” cannon on the Plaza and all the ammunition they could find. They loaded it on the brig Catalina to be taken North. Subsequently, according to Arguello, Montenegro united his militia with Castro’s forces at San Gabriel. In a report dated April 24, Estudillo said that Montenegro had seized the secretary of the Ayuntamiento, José Maria Mier y Terdn, and the town attorney, Domingo Amado, apparently in connection with the Ayuntamiento’s action of March 18 in refusing to recognize Alvarado as governor. The two San Diego revolutionists managed to escape and flee across the border to join the other refugees.
Presumably most San Diegans trickled back to their homes except for the fighting opposition which rallied at a place called Campo de la Palma, on the Arguello ranch about seventeen miles inside Lower California. Under the leadership of Arguello, Zamorano, Nicanor Estrada, Antonio Maria Zavaleta, Bandini and José Maria Mier y Terán, they counted forty men, among them eight cavalrymen from the old San Diego company and some twenty volunteers.
The military commander at La Paz, José Maria Mata, reported to the Minister of War that he had dispatched troops to the frontier, though only to protect Lower California from the Northern rebels.
At this hour, the Indians decided to strike in force. Serious trouble had been building for more than a year. Marrón’s rancho, Cuero de Venado, had been attacked in the spring of 1836, though several of the raiders were killed by Christian Indians. A mission creamery in El Cajon Valley, where the padres made cheese, was raided and three Indian helpers killed. Efforts to establish a garrison at Santa Ysabel had been unsuccessful, though several punitive expeditions were sent into the mountains, and at one point Don Silvestre de la Portilla, brother of Capt. Portilla, offered to conquer the Indians at his own expense if allowed to keep any captives as servants. The Diegueños of San Diego and some Yumas from the Colorado River joined in raiding and plundering nearly all the ranchos, burning buildings, driving off livestock, and even plotting to capture San Diego and kill its inhabitants.
The most tragic incident occurred at the Jamul Rancho of Pio Pico, about twenty-five miles southeast of San Diego. There are a number of versions of this attack and all vary in some degree as to details, even as to exact date. It was in April of 1837. Two of the most detailed stories were related in later years by Doña Juana Machado, widow of the American sailor, Thomas Wrightington, and by Apolinaria Lorenzana, in her Memorias, as she was living at the time on her nearby Jamacha Rancho. Pio Pico was not at Jamul, being busy with other San Diegans in revolutionary plotting. His widowed mother, Doña Eustaquia López, and his unmarried sisters, Feliciana, Jacinta and Ysidora, were at the ranch, however, according to the story of Doña Juana Machado. As she had never learned to write, as was common among women in Spanish and Mexican days, she dictated a narrative which follows in part, to Thomas Savage, in Old Town on January 11, 1878:
“Early one afternoon an Indian woman named Cesarea came to where Doña Eustaquia was sitting at the door looking toward the street and in a loud voice as: ked her for salt. The mistress ordered that salt be brought her, but the Indian woman, by sign, gave her to understand that she wished to give it to her, herself The mistress got up and the Indian woman followed her. Arriving at a secluded spot the Indian woman in a tongue which Doña Eustaquia understood well, told her that the Indians were going to rise, kill the men, and make captives of the women.
“Doña Eustaquia with much prudence went to the room where her daughters were sewing; she told them to leave their work, take their rebozos (all of the women wore rebozos at that time), and go for a walk along the edge of the cornfield, saying she would soon follow them.
“With much secrecy she called the mayordomo, a relative of hers named Juan Leiva, and told him what Cesarea had revealed to her and saying besides that she herself had for some days noticed things among the Indians which had made her suspicious, although these had not been great.”
Leiva assured her there was no danger, advising her to calm herself, and said he had men and twelve firearms. She urged him to place her and her family in safety, and when he still refused, she ordered him to bring up a carreta with oxen and she drove down the road, picked up her daughters, and arrived in the middle of the night at the Jamacha Rancho of Doña Apolinaria. After warning her of the imminent danger, she and her daughters continued to San Diego and reported to Alcalde Estudillo. Doña Juana Machado continues:
“The Indians did not attack the same night, but the following; of a sudden they fell upon servants at the ranch; who were the mayordomo, Juan Leiva, his son, Antonio, a youth named Molina, and another from Lower California named Comancho. They killed all at the cornfield, except Juan Leiva, who broke away towards the house to defend his family.
“When he went towards the gun room an Indian cleaning woman of the house who had locked that room and put the key in her pocket, mockingly showed him the key, saying that there were no hopes in that direction.
“Leiva ran to the kitchen and with coals of fire defended himself for a while; but at the end they killed him and threw his body into the hall of the house. Afterward they overcame his wife Doña Maria, a little son named Claro, and his two daughters, Tomasa and Ramona (15 and 12 years old respectively).
“The Indians were going to kill Doña Maria and the boy when the supplications of Doña Tomasa made them desist. They took off all the woman’s clothes and those of the boy, and in spite of the screams and moans of all the family they carried off the two girls towards the Colorado River. Before starting they removed everything from the ranch, taking with them horses, cattle and all other things of value; and burned the house.
“Poor Doña Maria covered her nakedness with grasses and thus reached Mission San Diego, which was in charge of Fathers Vicente Pasqual Olivas, and Fernando Martin.”
One story says that the attack became known when the mother, naked and almost out of her mind, was found wandering toward San Diego with her young son. She never recovered and died of grief.
Arguello appealed to Alvarado for military help but there is no record that it was forthcoming. Mexican troops along the frontier came up from Lower California, under Sgt. Macedonio González, who is believed to have been an uncle of the girls and, joined by others from San Diego, a search for the kidnappers was begun. Entering the mountains they sighted the two girls atop a rocky hill, guarded by Indians. Their bodies were smeared with white paint and their hair was cut in Indian fashion. They called out to the men, while the Indians tried to cover their mouths to keep them quiet. Though the soldiers attacked and managed to kill some of the Indians, the first attempt at rescuing the girls failed.
A member of the expedition was Vicente Romero, a saddler who had been born in Loreto and was serving at the time as a soldier on La Frontera, guarding the Lower California missions of San Vicente, San Tomás and Descanso. He said Gonzalez’ force consisted of eighteen regular soldiers and thirty friendly Indians under the noted chief Jatanil, and they started from Descanso, about fifty miles below the pueblo of San Diego.
They passed, he said:
“… Through Tecate, Las Juntas, Milquatay, Jacum, Matacawat, Guatay, Cuyamaca Valley, and round to Valle de las Viejas, being out four months. During this time we had several encounters with the Indians, and killed many of them; but, finally, at a place known as Matadera, in the Jacum mountains, our ammunition having fallen into the hands of the Indians, by a surprise of the guard, we abandoned our horses at night and returned to the presidio at San Diego. In this battle were Yumas from the Colorado as well as Cuyamaca Indians.”
Romero’s testimony was given many years later before a United States surveyor-general for California in connection with conflicting land claims over Cuyamaca Valley, and his affidavit makes no mention of the expedition having ever seen the two girls. Macedonio, however, told the story of seeing the girls to Mrs. Wrightington.
The expedition came up through northern Lower California to Tecate, on the border, swung eastward along the age-old Indian trails that led through mountain passes at Jacumba, from where they split off into the desert regions, and turned north in a wide arc through the Jacumba, In-Ko-Pah and Laguna Mountains, then westward through Pine Valley to Guatay and then up into Cuyamaca Valley, where the Indians, who had never come under the influence of the missionaries, had their principal rancheria “in a pile of rocks just north of a sharp-pointed peak.” This was 5000 foot Stonewall Mountain. From there they doubled back on a hopeless quest.
Apolinaria Lorenzana heard it said that the Indians had taken the girls to be sold at the Colorado River. She thought that Tomasa was 18 or 19 years of age and Ramona 10 or 12. A few years later one of her servants, by the name of Muñoz, wished to go to Sonora and during his absence his wife and son died. Upon his return, he assured Apolinaria that on his way back he had seen the younger of the two Leiva girls sitting in the back of a house, and that when he greeted her, she answered in Spanish and told him of her capture, and begged him to take her back. He didn’t dare do so, he related, because he had only one “beast,” or horse, and it was too tired to make the journey with two persons, and the Indians would find them and kill them both. The girls were never seen again, though there were reports over the years that they had been taken as wives by Indian chiefs.
The Jamul Ranch has remained almost intact through the years. The ruins of the original Pico house lie at the point of a broad, gently sloping promontory at the foot of Jamul Mountain, overlooking the junction of Jamul and Dulzura Creeks. The ruins, about fifty feet above the valley floor and visible from the Otay road, include stone and mortar foundations, mounds of washed down adobe, a small reservoir, and traces of several thousand feet of aqueduct. Treasure hunters have potted the area with holes. The surrounding hills, with the exception of the north slope of the San Ysidro Mountains across the valley, are dry and quiet.
San Diego itself was in danger of a massacre. In her Recuerdos dated Jan. 26,1878, Felipa Osuna, daughter of Juan Maria Osuna and widow of Juan Maria Marrón, related that she began to notice the frequent visits of a group of Indians with one of her Diegueño servants named Juan, and that upon eavesdropping on their conversation, as she knew their language, she learned of a plot to rob the store of Capt. Fitch, who was away on a business trip, to kill an American there by the name of Lawrence Hartwell, and kidnap Fitch’s wife, Josefa Carrillo de Fitch, and herself. She identified two of the other Indians as being from the Fitch household, and one as a cook of the Estudillos. Arrows had been hidden in the ruins of the old Presidio. The attack was to begin while Señora Fitch was preparing to make her bread during the evening.
The plan was allowed to run its course. When Josefa started to roll her dough, two tall Indians entered and blocked the doorway. Hartwell and Felipa’s husband, Marrón, who had been hiding in the building, attacked the Indians who offered no resistance. The next morning, Sgt. Macedonio González and his men arrested all the Indians suspected of being in the plot, together with Fitch’s servants and the cook, Juan Antonio, from the Estudillo house and shot them. Señora Marrón’s own servant, Juan, had gone to get wood early in the morning and never returned.
Much of what actually took place lies buried in old memories. Doña Juana Machado recalls that she believes the plot was first overheard by Señora Fitch’s Indian maid named Candelaria. The only men present in San Diego were Bandini, Arguello, Estudillo and a Spaniard named Don Rafael, known as El Gachupín. It was decided that the women should go to the huts, or hide houses, at La Playa, used by the Boston ships, to where they would be nearer El Castillo, the old fort on Ballast Point. She recalls:
“We arrived there at sunset and passed the night there, the Picos, my family; we were many. The foreigners were some eight or ten who protected us. The morning following they came with us to the pueblo and remained on guard for a week, more or less, until the Indian ringleaders had been shot.”
It was painful to Felipa Osuna to see Gonzalez’ men running after the Indians as hunted animals. Some were forced out of houses, others, running wildly about trying to get away, were lassoed. One sought refuge in her house, but he too was taken. Felipa relates that she felt terribly guilty and that other women of the town were saddened at what was happening to the Indians, and turned against her for informing on them. But what else could she have done, she asks? Wasn’t it her duty to inform on this terrible plot endangering the lives of others? What would have been the lot of the women of San Diego, if the Indians had started kidnapping them?
Another version of the “sad night” was provided by William Heath Davis, in his book, “Seventy-five Years in California.” He said the Indians taken from the various houses all expressed the desire to die as Christians, and after their confession, they were shot and their bodies rolled into pre-prepared graves. One Indian accused of being a spy had one of his ears cut off, and was threatened with the immediate loss of the other and that he would be mutilated little by little, unless he confessed. He did. As he was a non-Christian he was shot without ceremony.
When the Indian troubles seemed to be subsiding, Juan Bandini, who had been advised to keep out of sight, as only native-born Californians were being allowed to “dance at this ball;” Santiago E. Arguello and Pico, were joined by Capts. Portilla and Zamorano. They advanced on San Diego, where on May 21, 1837, in conjunction with the Ayuntamiento, they proclaimed a new Plan of San Diego to recognize the authority of Mexico and to treat those who participated in the Monterey rebellion as “erring brothers worthy of pity and forgiveness.”
Bandini and Santiago E. Arguello were selected to present the San Diego Plan to friendly conspirators at Los Angeles, and on May 26, 1837, Bandini and Arguello led a small force quietly into the northern pueblo, the few soldiers there being surprised at a game of cards. They quickly surrendered and gave up the “violent” cannon that had been taken from the Plaza at San Diego. The report of more Indian troubles sent Bandini and Arguello hastening back to San Diego with the captured cannon, and they were welcomed as heroes and conquerors.
The situation in California, and especially in San Diego, remained chaotic. Capt. Zamorano wrote to the Minister of War from San Diego, on June 5, 1837, that the people of San Diego were still loyal and that he was in temporary command while Capt. Portilla campaigned against the Indians. Reports had been received from an Indian spy that a large band of Indians had gathered two leagues away and planned to attack San Diego at midnight. Most of the men were away, and only fifteen were available to defend the town. At the request of Capt. Fitch, the hide ship Alert, then in the harbor, supplied ten sailors, and the force of twenty-five drove the Indians back into the mountains. A few additional details were published later in the Sandwich Island Gazette, Dec. 2, 1837, apparently on information obtained from the crew of the Alert. This report said the Indians fled when the Alert fired some of its guns.
Upon learning that Castro and eighty men had reached Los Angeles, the San Diegans recalled their troops from the campaign against the Indians, made grape shot for their cannon and bullets for the muskets, and, gathering up seventy men, prepared for war.
Victor Eugene August Janssens, a Belgian who had come up from Mexico as a colonist, was sent out to recruit as allies a band of Indian traders from New Mexico led by a crippled French-Canadian named Chalifoux. In his “The Life and Adventures in California,” Janssens noted that the business of Chalifoux and his Chaguanoso Indians was to trade for horses “but they stole more than they traded.”
Janssens found the group encamped in a woods at Agua Caliente, now Warner’s Hot Springs, and came near being shot by a couple of their sentries as he approached the camp. Chalifoux agreed to help and promised Janssens at least twenty-five armed men from his group. The night before they were to march for Rancho Los Nietos, now the site of the town of Downey south of Los Angeles, where the force was forming, the Indians wanted permission to go purchase some extra supplies. Janssens says they were allowed to go in groups of five. They all got drunk on brandy and Janssens had to load them into carts to start for Rancho Los Nietos.
Each of the Chaguanosos was armed with a good rifle, a hatchet, a dagger and a bow and arrow. Janssens says they volunteered to lend their assistance without pay, that they were eager for the fight but that Chalifoux exacted strict discipline and obedience from the Indians.
The unexpected appearance in San Diego of Capt. Andrés Castillero, who had fled California with Gutiérrez, changed the course of events. He presented himself as commissioner for the Mexican government and had brought with him a copy of the new centralist constitution. It was posted in San Diego on June 12, and all the people enthusiastically swore to uphold it. The Plan of San Diego was abandoned, but not the campaign. Castillero joined Bandini and Capt. Zamorano and at San Luis Rey, the Army of the Supreme Government of Mexico, now grown to 125 men, and with Capt. Portilla in command, started North.
Castro hurled defiance at Bandini and Zamorano from his camp at Santa Rita east of Monterey:
“Let the Californians alone and they will come out all right. If you continue among them you will cause the country’s ruin and that of their families and persons. If Don Pio Pico, Andrés Pico or the Arguellos were leading that division everything would be settled, but you are very evil men, you have no prestige, nor a cent of money. If I say nothing about Don Pablo de la Portilla it is because he is a very good man. Watch out, I am not far from you, and if I did not have good intentions, it would be another thing. We shall soon see each other.”
When the column encountered a Castro force at Rancho Santa Ana, they attacked, and the enemy fled. Portilla’s main force dropped the pursuit at Los Angeles, which they entered on June 16, but Chalifoux’s Indians pursued the enemy all the way to San Fernando.
Castillero and Alvarado met at Santa Barbara. Alvarado agreed to take an oath of allegiance to the new constitution and restore California to the republic. Alvarado was left in control of California, though the idea of independence had vanished, and Bandini, after some reflection, decided he had been “vilely deceived” by his pretended friend and ally, Castillero.
Thus, Alvarado, once he was convinced that all political power was safely in his hands, passed easily from one constitutional position to another. But Mexico City was yet to be heard from.
The bitterness over the failure of the military to protect San Diego continued. In late June, the elder Arguello told the comandante that he had lost hope of getting any aid, that he had not even received any answers to his remonstrations, and that now it was his duty to help assure the town’s defense. He outlined a plan to form a guard to maintain a constant surveillance. Ten days later, in the early morning hours of July 6, 1837, Indians fell upon the Rancho of St. Bernardo, one of the San Diego Mission properties, killing the corporal, a soldier, and a shepherd, and wounding the “juggler’s son.” A few days later Arguello protested the summary execution by the military of two Indians accused of being “asesinos,” one at La Soledad and the other at San Dieguito.
Later, that summer, frontier soldiers handed over to Alcalde Estudillo a gentile, or non-Christian Indian by the name of Claudio who was suspected of having led the raid on St. Bernardo Rancho, and a band of natives from the Indian pueblo of San Pasqual asked that Claudio be turned over to them, to be killed as nine others of his band had been killed in the attack. Estudillo hoped that this would be done because he was not sure that he would be able to hold Claudio a prisoner for very long.
In August, the elder Arguello sat down and wrote a letter to his brother, Gervasio, in Mexico, in which he accused Pio Pico of having aided and abetted Alvarado, and in commenting on the kidnapping of the two girls, something that had never happened before in California, charged that “you will be amazed at this barbarity, for do you know that the rebels of Monterey gave this plan to the Indians … there is no doubt, my brother, the very same Indians have declared it…” He told of the enemies he had made and described “the Carrillos as the principal agents of revolution.”
He warned that unless help arrived from the Supreme Government “California will become foreign, as North American military personnel already were numerous and more were arriving, from Cape Mendocino to the Columbia River. You must not keep this information from the government, keep it very much in mind as I fear that California will follow the example of Texas.”
The Carrillos — not the family of Joaquin Carrillo of San Diego, but a related branch -now entered deeper waters of California politics.
José Antonio Ezequiel Carrillo, once a San Diego school teacher, a former alcalde at Los Angeles and more recently territorial congressman in Mexico, appeared in California with the news that his brother, Carlos, had been appointed governor, an objective for which José Antonio had been maneuvering for a long time.
Castillero, however, on his return to Mexico City submitted a report in which he described Carlos Carrillo as a man of little character who craved money and always sought the winning side, and as for his brother, José Antonio, he was the worst man in all California, had no morals and no good habits, and took part in every revolution that came along. Alvarado was described as a man of good habits but very ambitious. As for Juan Bandini, the South American, he was the one who sowed the seeds of revolt and always controlled the authorities.
As Alvarado had no intention of surrendering the governorship to a Carrillo, he stalled, waiting for the effects of Castillero’s report to possibly produce a change of attitude in Mexico City.
Carlos took the oath as governor at Los Angeles on December 6, and the action was ratified at San Diego three days later. San Diego, however, was finished as a self-governing pueblo. Because of a lack of sufficient population, San Diego henceforth would be a part of the prefecture of Los Angeles and entitled only to a justice of the peace, and this would go into effect on January 1, 1838. Estudillo, who had been alcalde, became the juez de paz. Carrillo, however, issued a decree establishing the custom house at San Diego which San Diego most desired. Trading was more important even than politics. Everything was quiet for two months, but with Alvarado still showing resistance, José Antonio Pico took a body of San Diegans to Los Angeles, where they joined more men under Carrillo and marched northward to lay siege to Santa Barbara. The Santa Barbara garrison joined the Alvarado forces under Castro and the two “armies” squared off at San Buenaventura. Castro captured Rincon Pass, lobbed cannon balls into the Southerners, and it was all over. Carrillo retreated. One of Castro’s men was left dead on the battlefield. Castro pursued the fleeing Southerners, captured seventy of them, including Andrés Pico, and entered Los Angeles in triumph on April 1.
Up from Sonora, by the overland route, came Capt. Juan José Tobar, renowned Indian fighter, to take command of the demoralized forces at San Diego. A force of 100 composed of volunteers from San Diego, refugees from Los Angeles, and frontier adventurers, marched northward again. After passing Mission San Luis Rey, and in the vicinity of its asistencia, Mission Las Flores, seven and one-half miles north of the present city of Oceanside, they heard that Castro was approaching. An adobe building was converted into a barracks and three cannon were mounted in a corral. Hides and saddles were used to protect the gunners. Bandini and both Carrillos were present. On or about April 21, Castro’s force of about 200 men pulled up in formation in front of the improvised fort. Several cannon shots were exchanged and then a flag of truce was raised by one side, with a demand, not for surrender, but for negotiation. Tobar was anxious for action. Carlos Carrillo forbade any more shooting and was accused of cowardice. Tobar withdrew in disgust and with many of his companions crossed back into Mexico. After several days of talking, Carrillo agreed to disband his troops and continue the conversations at San Fernando.
This virtually ended opposition to Alvarado, except at San Diego. In November he received word that Castillero’s report as to the character of the Carrillos had been very effective. Carlos was out of the picture and he, Alvarado, a Californian, at long last was the recognized governor. Reports reached Santa Barbara of a renewed revolutionary spirit in San Diego, and Castro and twenty-five men were sent to San Diego. They arrived at the Plaza at midnight, on Christmas night, and a celebration was going on in Bandini’s grand house. Some say it was a ball; others, a pastorela. Castro surrounded the house, and the two Carrillos, two of the Pico brothers, and Joaquin Ortega were arrested, but Bandini and Estudillo escaped.
Benjamin Hayes, who gathered from the old residents the facts of what took place that Christmas period, writes:
“In the year 1838…. Don Carlos Antonio Carrillo was at San Diego, where the population sympathized with his pretensions to the governorship. Gen. Castro arrived in this neighborhood during the night. From his spies he learned that a grand ball was going on at the residence of Don Juan Bandini. Don Carlos, cynosure of all eyes; Don José Joaquin Ortega was there; young Pedro C. Carrillo, too … Gallant Castro tarried “till nearly dawn; desvelados all,” they fell an easy prey.
“Don José Antonio Estudillo, then Juez, or judge, was warned by Don José Maria Estudillo, through a window of the Estudillo house. Fearing the worst from Castro, even that he would be shot in the excitement, although they were raised boys together at Monterey, he took refuge in the loft above the great hall in which it was customary to hold the services of the church; it being arranged that the family should give out he had gone to La Playa, as the place was called where stood the hide houses, and the landing for the ships.
“His intrepid wife, Doña Victoria, in the morning observed Gen. Castro on the Plaza, writing with his paper upon a saddle. She sent José Maria, then eight years old, to deliver the key of the Juzgado and tell him he could write there. Receiving the message, the general enquired, “and your father, where is he?” Soon he came to the good lady, with a like inquiry. Then the fire of her resolute nature burst into a flame. Those who know her, can imagine her reply. Her high spirit was shown at the right time. They did not undertake to search the house.
“With his prisoners, Gen. Castro took the line of march for Los Angeles. He would have to pass San Luis Rey. Meanwhile an arrangement was made with Don Pio Pico, who was in charge of that establishment, to prepare him a banquet and give full play to his passion for the wine cup. On a certain night the Diegueños (San Diegans) would join such force as Don Pio could gather in that vicinity.
“Don José Antonio Estudillo led the party from San Diego and took post silently among the trees to the west of the mission. Notified by Don Pio of the auspicious moment, he relented, fearing to shed blood, and against their earnest appeals, conducted his men back to San Diego. Next day Castro with his “yellow jackets” marched on in triumph. To his natural goodheartedness, it is due to say, he could not withstand the tearful entreaty of Don Joaquin and released him soon upon leaving San Diego…”
All the recollections of the incident differ. Eventually all of the prisoners were released, but not, however, until they had been taken to sea aboard ship and subjected to the cruel and unusual punishment of seasickness. At San Diego, to guard against future surprise attacks, on the highest point of the hill overlooking Old Town, earth was thrown up, a ditch dug around it, and two or three cannon taken from El Castillo at Ballast Point placed in position.
There wasn’t much left for Carlos. Alvarado in his own history of California events says the President of Mexico ordered him to give Carrillo an island and send him off to live on it. Alvarado contemptuously added that he personally offered to provide a servant who would say every morning, “How has your Excellency slept?”
San Diego slipped deeper into a decline. A heavy storm with rain and snow in 1838 was very destructive to sheep. Indian troubles persisted through 1839 and few of the ranchos escaped plundering. José Antonio Pico, in a letter to Vallejo, said that nothing could be done as there was not a single soldier on duty, nor any ammunition. Except for the chapel, not a building was left standing in the old Presidio, and El Castillo, which once represented the power and glory of Spain, and was feared by all American fur smuggling ships, was disappearing. The heavy planking which had been brought down from the redwood coast was being stripped away to build shacks for foreign seamen and beach derelicts at La Playa. The remainder of the dozen cannon, which once sent shot through two armed American vessels, were sinking into the sand.
Return to Books.
THE SILVER DONS
Ch. 1 California in 1830
Ch. 2 The Lash of Greed
Ch. 3 Winds of Change
Ch. 4 Rise of the Ranchos
Ch. 5 A Manifest Destiny
Ch. 6 The Bloody Lances
Ch. 7 End of the Pueblo
Ch. 8 The Burning Trail
Ch. 9 Life on a Frontier
Ch. 10 The Garra Uprising
Ch. 11 Empires of Cattle
Ch. 12 The West is Linked
Ch. 13 Chasing the Whale
Ch. 14 Journey of Death
Ch. 15 Last of the Dons