The Silver Dons, 1833-1865
CHAPTER THREE: Winds of Change
A few years of comparative peace settled upon San Diego and the Californios lived off the fading prosperity of the missions, and stocked their ranches with cattle stolen from the mission ranchos, or “borrowed” from them by the provincial government on one pretext or another, or acquired in the settlement of debts real and imaginary. For the missionaries, it was like “being martyred with needles.”
An old Indian from San Juan Capistrano Mission, who had been let out to a rancher as a workman by the administrator, Santiago Arguello, got on a horse and rode to Monterey, where he was able to make a direct complaint to Gov. Alvarado:
“I am not an animal that I should be made to labor for masters who are not to my liking. Thou canst do two things with me; order me to be shot if thou wilt, or give me my liberty, if thou art a just man. It is all the same with me.”
In January of 1839, Gov. Alvarado appointed an inspector to look into the complaints of the Indians, that they were being robbed and abused, that the administrators and majordomos and their families were draining away the remaining wealth of the dying missions, and to report in general on the progress of secularization. He was William E. P. Hartnell, an Englishman who had come to California in the hide trade, had been naturalized, and was widely respected throughout the province. He began his inspections in San Diego.
After twenty-six years of serving the San Diego Mission, Fr. Fernando Martín had gone to his reward. He died on Oct. 19, 1838, at the age of 68. He had seen the mission structures slowly rise from the dust, prosper, and begin their swift decay. It was under his direction that a dam and aqueduct system, a marvel of early California, was built to bring water six miles down Mission Gorge to give life to the orchards and crops. He was born in Old Spain, and his remains lie beneath the floor of the present restored mission church. Fr. Vicente Pascual Oliva had come from San Luis Rey Mission to take over.
Hartnell found that the orchards and vineyards still were flourishing, with 8600 vines and 467 olive trees at the San Diego Mission and 8000 more vines at Rancho Santa Monica, or El Cajon Valley. Neglect had not yet brought them to ruin, though field crops were getting scarce and the Indians had fallen into a sad condition under José Joaquín Ortega, who had been appointed administrator in 1835:
“At La Compasión, the people were reduced to utter destitution. All the Indians presented themselves and supplicated the government to remove the administrator and to return them to the care of the Father, not because they had any complaint against Ortega, but because they realized that the mission was not in a condition to maintain them.”
At the little Indian town that had been established in San Dieguito Valley, with a handful of emancipated families, Hartnell reported:
“the Indians presented themselves and complained about Juan Osuna, the alcalde of San Diego, because he had taken from them the land which they had enclosed for their grain, and that he had left them nothing more than salinous soil which did not produce enough for their maintenance.”
Pío Pico and his brother, Andrés, were having their troubles administering the San Luis Rey Mission, the Indians accusing them of all sorts of misdeeds. Pico complained to Hartnell that the Indians were running away and that the missionary father had not accounted for all of the property. Fr. Narciso Durán, President of the missions of the South, in a reply directed to Hartnell, wrote:
“What about the hundred yoke of oxen and twelve carts? Does a friar conceal them up his sleeves that he should be made to give an account of them? It is Pico and not the missionary Father, who should be held to answer for, for it is he that enjoys the salary and appoints as majordomos whomsoever he pleases.”
As far as he was concerned, Pico “ought to be thrashed from head to foot.”
At San Gabriel Mission, Fr. Tomás Esténaga wrote that Juan Bandini, who had been appointed administrator, had assured him that during the whole month of February he with his entire family would be absent at his ranch:
“Thanks to the Lord! that at this mission they furnish some bread, though not every day, a little meat, at noon only, wine and brandy, and that is all. Just now the “holy” family of Santiago Arguello and that of the Estudillos are arriving. They will make provisions still more scarce. During the last three months, the mother of the three Picos, with her daughter, niece, grandchildren, male and female servants, besides Señora Luisa, the wife of Agustín Zamorano, with her six or seven children, have occupied the mission in grand style. Just now two carts filled with grand people have arrived for the greater consolation of the poor mission and its missionary.”
In transmitting this letter to Hartnell, Fr. Durán added that:
“Now I ask what has Señor Bandini done with all his boasted activity? Why, with the abundant profit which he reaped, did he not purchase some cattle? The most incompetent friar would, by this time, have two or three thousand cattle.”
A month later Fr. Esténaga wrote again that:
“Thirty eight white people must be supported and are at home at this mission, without counting the male and female servants of the mission, nor those of the Arguellos, Estudillos, and the whole brood. This evening, Señor Bandini undeceived me, when he said that there was not a tallow candle on hand for a light, nor any tallow to make a candle, nor have the few cattle at the mission any in reality. What will happen in time if we are to continue thus?”
Hartnell finally removed the Picos, under threat of force, and turned the management of the San Luis Rey Mission over to José Antonio Estudillo. Juan Osuna replaced Ortega at the San Diego Mission. At San Juan Capistrano, Hartnell appointed José Ramón Arguello, another son of Santiago, as majordomo, but the Indians complained about all of the Arguellos, and he too was removed and replaced with August Janssens, the Belgian who had aided the San Diegans in the rebellion against Alvarado. Bandini, however, was absolved by Hartnell of any serious wrongdoing at San Gabriel Mission, though he relinquished its administration and Juan Pérez was appointed majordomo.
In 1840 also Alvarado issued a new reglamento designed to correct some of the mismanagement, and to protect the fathers in their religious jurisdiction and the Indians from abuse.
The tide of bad feeling flowed back and forth but for the padres their day was drawing to a close. The future of so large and rich a territory could not be kept forever as a preserve for aboriginals who were culturally so far behind the invaders. Time, too, was pressing down on the Californios who were to labor not but deck themselves in silver and gaze on their cattle roaming over a thousand hills.
San Diego struggled back to life. In the district which included San Diego, and the mission areas of San Luis Rey and San Juan Capistrano, a census of 1840 showed only 150 white people, seven of them foreigners who resided at Old Town and had been naturalized or licensed to live in California. Most of the work was still being done by about 2250 Indian neophytes who lived at the missions or were in private service in town or on the ranchos.
The old Leatherjackets, army regulars and early settlers were dying off. Capt. Ruiz was disposing of property and land he had accumulated. He deeded his Old Town orchard to his godchildren, the children of Joaquín and María López de Carrillo who had been married in the presidial chapel in 1809. Just before his death Joaquín Carrillo attempted to sell the orchard, but his wife petitioned the government to prevent the sale as it was the only means of sustaining the family. The widow took her unmarried children to Northern California, to begin life anew. Capt. Ruiz came back to the pueblo from his ranch at Los Peñasquitos and died in the Carrillo home which was then occupied by Capt. Fitch and Señora Fitch, a Carrillo daughter.
On January 17, 1840, the remnants of the fort on Ballast Point were sold to Don Juan Machado for $40, though, from the evidence of what occurred at San Diego in later events, the remaining cannon were not removed from their sites. An investigation in 1839 had revealed the presence of nine cannon, two of them still serviceable, with fifty canisters of grape and 300 balls. The same year saw the wandering San Diego River finally close off its own channel into False, or Mission Bay, and pour its choking silt into the harbor that had so entranced all explorers since the days of its discovery by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo.
The hide trade at the port of San Diego was shifting entirely away from the missions to the ranches. The English explorer Capt. Sir Edward Belcher reached San Diego on October 17, 1839, on Her Majesty’s ship Sulphur, on a round the world voyage, remained for five days, and reported that “the port of San Diego, for shelter, deserves all the commendation that previous navigators have bestowed on it.”
He remarked, however, on the heavy kelp beds which forced ships two miles out of their way to round the tongue of kelp and enter the harbor. An old sailor in port related that he had seen the whole bank of kelp forced into the harbor, by a southerly gale. The bank was three miles long and one-fourth mile wide.
Looking at the ruins of the mission, he thought it likely the whole country would before long either fall back into the hands of the Indians, or find other rulers:
“During our visit they were very apprehensive for an attack and had been one night at quarters, their arms (in the Nineteenth Century) consisting of bows and arrows, inasmuch as they had no powder for any firearms they might have possessed. The garden, also famed in former days, has now fallen entirely into decay, and instead of thousands of cattle and horses to take care of them, not twenty four-footed animals remain…The trade of the port consists entirely of hides and tallow, but not, as formerly, from the missions; for they have long been fleeced…”
He saw that Americans such as Capt. Fitch and Alfred Robinson, were marrying into the Spanish families, and thus moving in on the only real trade of the coast:
“It is necessary that one of the parties should remain on the spot, probably marrying into some influential family, (i.e. in hides and tallow), to insure a constant supply for the vessels when they arrive. It is dangerous for them to quit the port, as some more enterprising character might offer higher prices and carry off the cargo.”
The foreigners in California in some instances were becoming troublesome. Of the 380 listed in the census of 1840, fifty had come with overland parties and the rest by various sea routes. Gov. Alvarado turned on the Americans who had assisted him in gaining control of the government and seized Isaac Graham, the former trapper, and between fifty and sixty more foreigners, Americans as well as Englishmen. More were taken into custody at Santa Barbara and the arrest of others at San Diego was ordered. The records are not clear. An American, George Nidever, later related how he and several others escaped while their prison ship, the Jóven Guipuzcoana, was in San Diego Bay, and William Lumsden, an English pilot, was put ashore. In the end, about forty-seven foreigners, evidently none from San Diego, were delivered to authorities at San Blas, and released only after long negotiations with the United States and England. Taxes were imposed on the hide-salting establishments of foreigners at La Playa as had been done in 1834.
What had happened to the foreigners who had taken up new lives in the pueblo of San Diego, or had cast their lot with the riff-raff collected on the sands of La Playa?
Thomas Wrightington, the one-eyed shoe craftsman from Fall River, was operating a pulpería in Old Town, a competitive shop to the one maintained by Capt. Fitch. Thomas Russell, an American sailor who had been picked up at Santa Barbara by the Pilgrim, the hide ship of Richard Henry Dana, and installed at San Diego as beachmaster for its hide house, joined another American, Peter Weldon, in 1836 in a fruitless search for a hidden treasure in the ruins of the two missions on the Colorado River which had been destroyed when the Yuma Indians massacred a half hundred colonists and four missionaries in 1781. Upon their return Russell and Weldon were arrested when they failed to produce any gold. The legend of buried mission treasures persists to this day. Unnoticed, virgin gold sparkled in the streams and from outcroppings in the San Diego mountains, as elsewhere in California.
La Playa swarmed with the castoffs and half-breeds of a dozen lands who prepared the hides for the long voyages around the Horn. Richard Henry Dana, in his “Two Years Before the Mast,” wrote about Thomas Russell and this strange lot of beachcombers:
“Of the same stamp was Russell, who was master of the hide-house at San Diego while I was there, but had been afterward dismissed for his misconduct. He spent his own money, and nearly all the stores, among the half-bloods upon the beach, and went up to the presidio, where he lived the life of a desperate “loafer,” until some rascally deed sent him off “between two days,” with men on horseback, dogs, and Indians, in full cry after him, among the hills. One night he burst into our room at the hide-house, breathless, pale as a ghost, covered with mud, and torn by thorns and briers, nearly naked, and begged for a crust of bread, saying he had neither eaten nor slept for three days. Here was the great Mr. Russell, who a month before was Don Thomas, Capitan de la playa, Maestro de la casa, etc. etc., begging food and shelter of Kanakas and sailors. He stayed with us till he had given himself up, and was dragged off to the calabozo.”
In December of 1837, Russell was banished temporarily from Old Town for escaping from jail.
There were so many sailors and Hawaiian natives, who were known as Kanakas on the beach, that the liquor business became important. A third store, identified as a dram shop, was opened in the pueblo by Andrés Ybarra and Rafaela Serrano, but they gave the authorities some trouble in refusing to pay their taxes and were threatened with the confiscation of their liquor. San Diegans in general kept a safe distance from La Playa, where, on Dec. 20, 1841, an outbreak of disorder resulted in one or two deaths.
The handful of foreign settlers at San Diego, however, began to take over the coastal shipping and merchandising that Californians had so neglected. Capt. Edward Stokes, another Englishman, who arrived by way of Honolulu, married Doña Refugio, the daughter of José Joaquín Ortega. From Lima in South America came Miguel de Pedrorena, who as supercargo of coastal vessels, became more and more involved in the affairs of San Diego. But it was Capt. Fitch who played the dominant role in the commercial life of early San Diego, both as a trader and merchant.
Trade was conducted over a vast area of the Pacific Ocean, from California ports to the Sandwich Islands, as the Hawaiian Islands were known, and as far south as Lima, Peru, and up through the coastal ports of Acapulco, Mazatlán and Guaymas on the Mexican mainland. Products from the Far East, the United States and Europe, from cotton to scissors, were sold and exchanged for the hides, tallow, soap, fruit and furs of California.
The West Coast of Mexico was still experiencing a richness of life brought by trade with China and the Philippines. As late as 1852, John Russell Bartlett, United States Boundary Commissioner, enroute to San Diego, found the stores of Acapulco stocked with Chinese silks, cotton, spices, aromatics, jewelry and jade. San Blas, farther north, the old supply port for the missions and the military garrisons of Lower and Upper California, was fading away. But Mazatlán, still farther up the coast, had a population of between 10,000 and 12,000 and the streets were lined with well-built houses. Bartlett wrote in his Personal Narratives of Explorations and Incidents:
“We found Mazatlán considerably in advance of any town we had yet seen…the style is wholly that of Old Castilian, with short columns, Moorish capitals and ornaments. Many houses present long lines of colonnades. The richness of their goods vie with the fashionable stores of New York. The Spanish ladies are fond of dress; and I have no doubt the manufacturers of Lyons sell as rich a silk in Mexico as they do in Paris or London.”
Next to Acapulco, he wrote, Guaymas, located far up on the Gulf of California, was the best port on the Mexican coast:
“…the town stands close on the margin of the bay, occupying a narrow strip about a mile in length and not exceeding a quarter of a mile in width, when the mountains rise and hem it closely in…The houses are built of stone, brick and adobe. Those in the best part of town are plastered, which gives them a respectable appearance. There are several families of wealth here, whose houses are handsomely furnished and who enjoy the luxuries of residence near the coast. The streets are lighted at night, a convenience not noted elsewhere…”
There were many large and well filled warehouses and department stores stocked with French and English, but not American goods.
The fur trade which had opened the ports of Spanish California persisted, though the waters were being hunted out. Among the hunters, who were financed by Capt. Fitch and other foreigners, were George Nidever and Allen Light, the Negro deserter from the Pilgrim, who was known as “Black Steward.” Sea otters were killed in expeditions to the Channel Islands and down along the coast of Lower California. Light eventually prospered to a point where he was able to finance his own expeditions. At times they had to fight it out with savage Northwest Indians employed as hunters by northern rivals.
In his voluminous business correspondence, preserved in The Bancroft Library of the University of California, Fitch writes of his many trading trips to the Islands and Mexico, and of the struggle to conduct a business dependent so greatly on barter and credit. His store evidently was located in the home originally built by Ylario Poinciano, on the west side of the Plaza, and which later was sold by his widow to Fitch in 1841. On one trip to the Islands, he left his store in charge of James Orbell, another English sailor who had dropped off at San Diego, and cautioned him to keep a sharp eye on a brother English sea captain, William Williams, who was in charge of the hide house in which Fitch stored his hides and furs:
“Sir: During my absence, which in all probability will be about four months, I recommend to your care my interests which I have in your charge.
“I wish you to tell every person that you have orders not to trust any one but you can always trust the persons whose names are on the list. I leave you from four to eight Dollars each. If you give any more it will be on your own responsibility and you will be answerable for the same.
“In case there should be any danger from Indians or other causes I wish you to pack up the goods and take them to Mr. Celis’ hide house on the beach and deposit them until the danger is over or if requisite, embark them on board of some vessel.
“In time of danger you can assist with powder and ball any expedition that is sent out but give no more than is absolutely necessary and when it is over get back what is possible.
“You can let my wife have what she wishes for out of the shop, charging me the same as any one else. You can also let her have what little money she might want for necessary expenses, bread…eggs…fruits, etc.
“I wish you to keep a good look out for Capt. Williams’ hide house and if Wm. Williams does not conduct himself properly you are authorized to put some person in his stead.
“At present I have nothing more to advise you of. Hoping that you will do the best for my interest, I remain, Yours truly, H. D. Fitch.”
Upon his return, the correspondence discloses, Fitch obtained from Orbell, a document, which, in part, stated:
“I, the undersigned, do affirm that I have this day adjusted accounts with Mr. H. D. Fitch from whom I have received at several times goods to a considerable amount for sales or return on his account and I acknowledge myself deficient in, to the value of six thousand and one hundred and forty one dollars and four reales.”
He agreed to make restitution, as best he could.
As the Americans and other foreigners prospered in trade, and as the Californians themselves experienced the beginnings of wealth in cattle and crops, their children were sent away to school, some to Mexico, or even to Spain; others to an American missionary school in the Sandwich Islands, and some even all the way around the Horn to New England or other Atlantic seaboard towns.
One son of Fitch was sent to Honolulu to be educated; two others were sent to a brother in Charlestown, North Carolina. From Charlestown, Fitch received a letter, dated July 4, 1841, in which the following was appended:
“My Dear Brother: Having left a little space thought I would fill it up just to tell you we love your little boys dearly and Henry is called the best behaved boy in the village. I never had occasion to give him a sour word and as to strike him, I should as soon think of cutting my right hand off. He says the reason he did not use to give you an answer was because he was so frightened he could not; he says he likes the schools here, for they do not flog boys to make them learn. He says in San Diego it was “flog, flog, flog,” all the time and he did not like to go. He nor Fred, have not the least desire to go back.”
At times Fitch became discouraged with the lax and indifferent Californians, and in a letter to a business associate in 1842, from Los Angeles, he mentioned that he was sailing for the windward ports, or the Islands, and would touch at Santa Barbara, San Luis and Monterey, and try to make collections:
“I am tired of running after them. I have been out to Williams’, Bandini’s, Palomares and…they all promise to pay but God knows when…I cannot conceive how you could trust so many vagabonds. There are upwards of forty, and some of them such as Leonardo Cota and others I think will never pay.”
There were others, though, who saw over the horizon and envisioned the California to come. One of them was the young trapper Jonathan Trumbull Warner. He had been in California only a few years, when he returned to the United States and went on the lecture platform to describe for wondering Americans a new land lying beyond the deserts and mountains of the West. His remarks, in which he urged the construction of a railroad from Boston to the mouth of the Columbia River in the Oregon Territory, were printed and reprinted, even in London.
Warner warned that another harbor, presumably San Francisco, would be needed for the defense of Oregon:
“I am confident that unless Upper California is purchased of Mexico, it will cost the United States a greater sum to defend the Oregon Territory from the rivalry of California, than the purchase would now amount to. For we must not suppose that California is to remain stationary or under the control of the Mexican government, while all the parts of the earth are in movement, if not advancing. It must soon fall to some more enterprising nation than the Mexicans.”
The New York Journal of Commerce commented:
“Some of his views will perhaps seem extravagant, but extravagance itself can scarcely equal the onward march of civilization and improvement on this continent within the last fifty years, and in indulging his anticipations of the future, he is liable to no graver charge than at the commencement of that period would have been laid at the door of any man who had predicted what has since become a matter of history.”
To Catholic California the biggest event of 1841 was the arrival of its first bishop, as a result of the separation of both Upper and Lower California from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Sonora. Pope Gregory XVI appointed Fr. García Diego y Moreno as bishop and assigned him to San Diego.
The news of his impending arrival with his retinue of twelve aboard the English vessel Rosalind from San Blas, created considerable excitement and the alcalde ordered the streets of San Diego cleared of cattle.
The great day was December 10. The Rosalind dropped anchor at night and a friar went ashore to notify the military commander and to make preparations for a reception. Two cannons were fired to announce the good news to all who could hear. The Bishop went ashore the following day, and was borne in a sedan chair to the spacious home of Juan Bandini. The Bishop took a look around at the muddy pueblo and penned a note:
“San Diego, December 12, 1841. My Son, Brother and most beloved Father — Yesterday I reached this insignificant town in good and sound health, thanks be to God…”
With the Bishop came a number of school teachers and attendants, one of whom was Fr. Francisco Sánchez, whom Helen Hunt Jackson later made famous in her novel Ramona as Fr. Salvierderra. It was obvious that San Diego, with a population of perhaps 150 persons and with a mission church falling into decay, was no place for the seat of such a large diocese and the residence of the Bishop of California. After administering the Sacrament of Confirmation to 125 young people at the old presidial chapel, he departed by ship for Santa Barbara. He never saw San Diego again.
On one of his trips south, Capt. Fitch’s trading ship put into Mazatlán and he learned about a new governor for California, Gen. Manuel Micheltorena, who had fought with Gen. Santa Anna in Texas, and had arrived at Tepic, near the port of San Blas, with a military force of convicts and some regular soldiers, who, presumably, were along to guard the convicts. “California,” wrote Capt. Fitch, “will be in a devil of a mess after their arrival.” The relative peace in California was about to come to an end. The central government of Mexico had begun to fear the growing domination of California affairs by foreigners and had decided to re-establish its authority over the distant provinces. Micheltorena was given extraordinary powers and even allowed to “select” the convicts for his “army.” It was accompanied by the usual female camp followers.
The new governor and his army, beset by desertions, embarked at Mazatlán in four ships. The general arrived at San Diego on August 25, 1842. With him were Col. Agustín Zamorano, in a dying condition, and Capt. Nicanor Estrada, both of whom had played such leading roles in the rebellions in Southern California. The ships arrived separately over a period of nine days. Many of the convicts died on the long sea voyage and others were seasick or disgruntled. None of the reports agree as to how many actually reached here, the estimates ranging all the way from 300 to 600.
Alfred Robinson the American hide merchant, was at San Diego when the general arrived, and his own ship had to fire the salute as the guns of Fort Guijarros had been dismounted and there was no powder in San Diego. Five days later he watched the landing of the first ninety soldiers and their families:
“I saw them land, and to me they presented a state of wretchedness and misery unequalled. Not one individual among them possessed a jacket or pantaloons; but naked, and like the savage Indians, they concealed their nudity with dirty, miserable blankets. The females were not much better off; for the scantiness of their mean apparel was too apparent for modest observers. They appeared like convicts; and, indeed, the greater portion of them had been charged with the crime either of murder or theft. And these were the soldiers sent to subdue this happy country! These were to be the enforcers of justice and good government! Alas! poor California! when such are to be thy ministers, thou art indeed fallen!”
The Diegueños locked up their women and hid everything they could, but the ragged and hungry convicts stripped gardens and seized anything else they could find. Micheltorena managed to clothe them in white uniforms and tried to have them kept busy marching and drilling in the Plaza. It was a period of terror for San Diego.
At last, in late September, Micheltorena and his cholos, as they were contemptuously called, started northward, and after a long stay at Los Angeles they arrived at San Fernando, where they received some startling news — a United States fleet had captured Monterey and war was under way.
This unexpected turn of events had come about as the result of a report received by Commodore Thomas Apt Catesby Jones, USN, commanding an American fleet, that war had broken out between Mexico and the United States. Fearing that California might be seized by the English, he sailed north from Peru with the USS Cyane, a ship San Diego would come to know very well, and the USS United States. The men o’war put into Monterey harbor on October 19, 1842, and “captured” the town. Micheltorena fired a lot of angry words from the safe vantage point of San Fernando, and then prudently retired to Los Angeles.
At San Diego, when Capt. W. D. Phelps of the American hide ship Alert learned of the capture of Monterey, and heard that Micheltorena had dispatched a force of his ex-convicts to San Diego to seize the ship and its cargo and all other American property, he began loading 30,000 hides stored at La Playa.
Phelps, who was the author of the often-quoted “Fore and Aft,” described how the Americans spiked the guns of Fort Guijarros, in the following words:
“There were five beautiful long brass eighteens and three iron twenty-fours in the battery, but no garrison; therefore, to spike the guns, pick up a barrel of copper shot that would fit the ship’s guns, and throw all the rest overboard, was not a difficult job.”
The Alert had six guns placed in position to command the route to the fort along the high bank on the bay side of Point Loma. The next day five canoes of otter hunters, two Americans in each canoe, including George Nidever and “Black Steward,” sought refuge aboard with $4000 worth of furs. Phelps remarked that they were expert rifle shots. Half of the ship’s cargo had been loaded when word came that the war had been a mistake. Commodore Jones had apologized, hauled down the United States flag, and restored Monterey to Mexico. But the die really had been cast and the American acquisition of California was not far away. Micheltorena assumed the governorship and found that the territorial treasury contained exactly twenty-five cents.
The first immigrant train started for California from Missouri in 1841, under the leadership of John Bartleson and John Bidwell. In later years Bidwell recalled how the members of the expedition had been stirred by the report of a trapper, Antoine Robidoux:
“Robidoux described California as a land of perennial spring and boundless fertility, and laid stress on the countless thousands of wild horses and cattle. He told about oranges and hence must have been at Los Angeles or the Mission of San Gabriel a few miles from it. Every conceivable question that we could ask him was answered favorably. Generally the first question which Missourians asked about a country was whether there was any fever or ague. I remember his answer distinctly. He said that there was but one man in California that ever had a chill there and that it was a matter of so much wonderment to the people of Monterey that they went eighteen miles into the country to see him shake.
“Nothing could have been more satisfactory on the score of health. He said that the Spanish authorities were most friendly, and that the people were the most hospitable on the globe. That you could travel all over California and it would cost you nothing for horses or feed. Even the Indians were friendly. His description of the country made it seem like a paradise.”
More than 500 persons applied to go along but when the train finally was assembled west of present Kansas City there were only sixty-nine men, women and children, with teams of oxen, mules and horses, and $100 in cash. The expedition was pronounced “the most unheard of, foolish, wild goose chase that ever entered into the brain of man.” It traversed the Western desert and forced a crossing of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the cold of October, the people suffering terrible hardships, and finally reached the rich San Joaquin Valley.
In the South, the San Diegans were so busy building up their ranchos that in June of 1842, when another Indian uprising took place, there were only five men in the pueblo capable of bearing arms, and three of them were foreigners. In November, Alférez Salazar made his final report on the old presidial company. He had a total force of fourteen men without arms or ammunition to guard the vast territory of Southern California. Gov. Micheltorena did his best to win the confidence and the friendship of the Californios. He married his mistress and returned twelve of the twenty-one missions, including San Diego, San Luis Rey, San Juan Capistrano and San Gabriel, to the care of the friars. The church was to retain possession of any remaining property and lands but could not reclaim land that already had been granted. It was an empty gesture. Mission San Diego had only about 100 Indians in its care and San Luis Rey about 400, and the missionaries were old, tired and disheartened and no longer burned with missionary zeal.
But the cholo army was too much for California and a revolution broke out in 1844, upon which Micheltorena promised to send his convicts back to Mexico. He didn’t, and aided by many Americans, he fought back and captured Los Angeles on January 20, 1845, in a battle in which several men were killed. A second battle followed on February 20 and 21, at Cahuenga Pass, near Los Angeles, in which two horses and a mule were the only casualties. When the foreign riflemen refused to help him, Micheltorena capitulated and agreed to leave California and take his cholos with him. The lines with Mexico now were almost completely severed and more Americans were streaming down through the mountain passes. Pío Pico, the old revolutionist from San Diego, took over as ad interim governor and José Castro as military comandante. Juan Bandini was designated, for a time, as secretary of state.
The United States was showing increasing interest in the Far West. A young lieutenant of the Army Topographical Engineers, John C. Frémont, in 1842 led a mapping expedition to the famed South Pass in the Rocky Mountains. The next year, as a captain, he led a second expedition to explore the country south of the Columbia River and lying between the Rockies and the Pacific Ocean, in which he was joined by Kit Carson. On March 8, 1844, he reached the trading post and the fort of John Sutter on the Sacramento River. He went south into the great inland valleys, out through Tehachapi Pass and crossed the Mojave Desert and followed the Old Spanish Trail eastward. The next year he was back once more, with instructions to find a shorter route to Oregon, and again joined by Kit Carson, he crossed Utah and Nevada into Northern California.
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