The Silver Dons, 1833-1865
CHAPTER FIVE: A Manifest Destiny
San Diegans went to Mass on the morning of July 26 , in the chapel in the great house of José Antonio Estudillo, as they had done every Sunday since the abandonment of the little church in the Presidio. Only mounds of adobe marked the place where the first Christian service in California had been conducted by Fr. Junípero Serra in 1769.
They knew that Mexico was at war and that a time of change had come. No resistance as yet had been offered in California. A few had hoped that California would fall to England. Others had wanted independence. Most were apprehensive for the continued possession of the lands for which they had struggled against church and state for so many years. A few even saw themselves cast adrift as were the Indians. As for San Diego, it had been under American influence for several generations because of being the center of the hide trade for California. A dozen foreigners now resided in Old Town and at times a score or more of others lived in the hide houses and surrounding shacks at La Playa.
The turn of fortune had put at least four more Americans in the area at the time of the outbreak of hostilities. They were Albert B. Smith, Bill Marshall, Peter Wilder and Philip Crosthwaite. Smith’s background and manner of arrival are not known. Marshall deserted the whale ship Hopewell, from Providence, R. I., took up life with Indians in the mountains, married a native girl, and came to an end on a hangman’s rope in the Plaza. Wilder may have been in the San Diego area for some years, before the first mention of his name appears. He may have been the “P. Wilde” who was hired to search for deserters by the captain of the hide ship Admittance in 1844. In June of 1846 he married Guadalupe Machado and purchased the house of Andrés Ybarra. Crosthwaite was a native of Ireland, and though his family migrated to America while he was still a child, he was sent to Dublin for his education. On his return to the United States he shipped as a crewman on a vessel which he later insisted he thought was sailing for Newfoundland. Instead, he was taken to the Pacific and either deserted or was allowed to leave the ship at San Diego. He was otter hunting in Lower California with Julian Ames and William Curley, when they learned war had begun.
The conciliatory Commodore Sloat had been replaced in command of the conquest by Commodore Robert F. Stockton whose proclamations and aggressive attitude were beginning to stir resentments. Pío Pico and Gen. José Castro convoked the territorial assembly in Los Angeles, and decided to organize a militia and call upon every man in California to do his duty. That was on July 24. Pico appealed to Juan Bandini to join the assembly but he pleaded ill health though affirming his patriotism as a true Mexican.
On that same Sunday, July 26, when San Diegans went to Mass in the dread of uncertain times, the twenty-two gun American corvette, USS Cyane, set sail from Monterey for San Diego. Capt. Samuel F. du Pont in a letter dated August 4, to his wife, wrote:
“According to orders I sailed at 8 o’clock on Sunday morning, the time from daylight having been occupied in embarking, by means of all the boats of the squadron, the Cavalry Battalion of Major Frémont consisting of 165 American Arabs of the West . . . fifty of them have been his companions across the Rocky Mountains; the others, American settlers in the Valley of Sacramento . . . His party, of course, could not bring their horses but brought their saddles, packs, etc. Our own number on board is 120. You may conceive the condition of our decks, etc., with the addition of this motley group.”
The group included the Bear Flag revolutionists, Kit Carson, and five Delaware Indians who had been serving with Frémont and Capt. Archibald Gillespie, of the United States Marines, who, disguised as a merchant, had carried secret dispatches from President Polk to Frémont and Larkin in California by way of Veracruz, Mazatlán and Hawaii. Frémont’s instructions from Stockton were to advance by land, cut off any possibility of Castro’s retreat by way of the Colorado River and aid in the capture of Los Angeles.
In his “Memoirs of My Life,” Frémont wrote:
“My men were all greatly pleased at the novelty of a voyage in a man-of-war . . . But like many prospective enjoyments this one proved to be all in the anticipation. By the time we had been a few hours at sea we were all very low in our minds; and there was none of the expected enjoyment in the sparkling waves and the refreshing breeze, and the sail along the mountainous shore as the ship rolled her way down the coast. Carson was among those who were badly worsted by this enemy to landsmen, and many were the vows made to the winds that never again would they put trust in the fair-weather promises of the ocean.”
The Cyane raised Point Loma on Wednesday, July 29, and Capt. du Pont wrote:
“As we approached the land at a distance of two miles we entered the kelp and it was a remarkable and beautiful sight, as I remember seeing it . . . no language can convey an idea of this wonderful perfection of nature . . . the bright sun reflected its striking though grave colors, being all shades of a beautiful lightbrown and salmon. Though intent on watching the points of land and the breakers, I could not keep from exclaiming occasionally at so novel and brilliant a sight.”
Capt. du Pont met with difficulty in entering the harbor. Owing to the wind he could not reach the deepest water, and ugly shoals could be seen under his lee. They put on more sail, and crossed the bar with six inches to spare and put into the anchorage at La Playa in gallant style. Du Pont said Frémont was so excited he could scarcely breathe.
“My orders were to send an officer to wait upon the authorities and propose to them to hoist the flag. If they declined (which they did) I was to take possession and defend the place. I dispatched Mr. Rowan with the marines; for I did not like his going alone, the town of the Presidio being about four miles, generally called five.”
The log of the Cyane tells what happened:
“At 3:40 the launch Alligator under command of Lieutenant Rowan, and the Marine Guard under Lieutenant Maddox, left the ship to take possession of the town of San Diego and hoist the American flag.”
The two officers were Lt. Stephen C. Rowan, USN, and Lt. William A. T. Maddox, USMC. It was Lt. Rowan who commanded the raising of the flag.
More than three hundred years of history came to an end that day. The green, red and white Mexican flag had flown over San Diego for only twenty-four years, merely an interlude in the long possession and occupation of California. San Diego Bay was discovered by Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in 1542, but 227 years passed before the Sacred Expedition of Fr. Serra and Gaspar de Portolá arrived to raise the red and gold flag of Spain and bring Christianity to the upper Pacific Coast. Now it was all over, and there were few to weep. Mexico had not been a good stepmother.
Du Pont said they arrived just in time to prevent the sailing of the Juanita, a hermaphrodite brig that had entered the bay with a Mexican pass, but immediately upon seeing the Cyane hoist her colors, had showed the Hawaiian flag:
“She gave out that she was bound for San Pedro but if the report that Castro is nine miles from here be true, my impression is that he was to have embarked on her this afternoon, if not, to go on board her at some near point on the coast.”
He took possession of the ship to cut off Castro’s retreat by sea. As soon as sufficient time had been allowed for the raising of the flag at the Plaza, Frémont was landed with a portion of his troops. From the ship, du Pont said they saw horses, some belonging to Americans, being driven away from La Playa by Andrés Pico and that he directed Lt. Rowan to secure him and offer him parole. Andrés evaded capture, though the horses were returned to La Playa. Horses, the captain wrote, are “the sinews of war in this country.” Rowan returned to the ship:
“He reports the authorities are with us in feeling, but fearing to compromise themselves in case of the flag coming down, declined active cooperation. Great joy prevailed among women and children at the appearance of our people, they having been kept in constant terror by Castro.”
The rest of Frémont’s men were landed on the following day, and a report of Castro being in the vicinity was contradicted, and “Andrés Pico left last evening, not having been seen except while the flag of truce was flying.”
In a dispatch to Stockton on July 31, du Pont described how he went into the town and was waited upon by the civil authorities who said that while they were friendly toward the movement, they had received their offices from other powers and would have to resign.
“They proposed a meeting of the citizens to appoint their successors, subject to my approval; this, of course, I encouraged, and the meeting was held, but of the persons elected, Capt. Fitch, one of them, declined serving. The late civil authority is therefore at an end in San Diego; but the very small population, their quiet and orderly character, and their friendly feelings toward us, keep me from apprehending much trouble in consequence.”
He said there was one exception to the general resignation from office:
“Don Pedro Carrillo, a very prepossessing person, speaking English fluently and a son-in-law of Señor Bandini, offered the hospitalities of his house and agreed to continue as administrator of the customs. The people of San Diego have resisted all the appeals of Castro’s agents to join him, and are naturally in terror lest before the war be brought to a close, they should be left unprotected.”
On the same date he informed Stockton:
“On going to town Friday, I learned from Major Frémont he had been advised of the possibility of a night attack by Castro and his forces, under the impression the town was defended only by our Marine guard, his troops having reached it only after nightfall on Wednesday, previous to which Andrés Pico had left for the pueblo (Los Angeles). A messenger was immediately dispatched to the ship and in an incredibly short time a reinforcement of about 100 seamen, under Lt. Rowan, came into the town wholly armed and marching like regular troops. A detachment was also left with the launch and gun, to defend the hide houses near the beach. But the enemy did not appear, nor was it possible on reconsideration of the distance for him to have done so.”
The first days passed pleasantly enough. Frémont scouted the interior to obtain horses, finally getting perhaps ninety, about half that were required for the projected march north to capture Los Angeles, and loaded oxcarts with supplies and saddles.
In his Memoirs, Frémont continues:
“Exploring for horses, we became well acquainted with the general character of this district. Every farm or rancho had its own spring or running stream sufficient for the supply of stock, which hitherto had made the chief object of industry in California. In this neighborhood there are places of extraordinary fertility. Cultivation has always been by irrigation, and the soil seems to require only water to produce vigorously. Among the arid, brush-covered hills south of San Diego we found little valleys converted by a single spring into crowded gardens, where pears, peaches, quinces, pomegranates, grapes, olives, and other fruits grew luxuriantly together, the little stream acting upon them like a principle of life. This southern frontier of Upper California seems eminently adapted to the cultivation of the vine and the olive. A single vine has been known to yield a barrel of wine, and the olive trees are burdened with the weight of fruit.
“While we remained between San Diego and Los Angeles during this month, the days were bright and hot, the sky pure and entirely cloudless, and the nights cool and beautifully serene. In this month fruits generally ripen melons, pears, peaches, prickly-fig (cactus-tuna), and others of like kind — and large bunches of ripe grapes are scattered numerously through the vineyards, but do not reach maturity until in September. After the vintage, grapes are hung up in the houses and so kept for use during the winter. On one of these excursions we came upon a pretty spot where the noon-day heat enticed us into making a halt. It was in garden grounds, not far from the house of the rancho, where the water from a little stream was collected in a basin about fifteen feet across, around which ran a low cement-covered wall. Fruit trees, among them pomegranates, hung over the basin, making a cool, pleasant place with the water and shade. With a portion of lamb, which we got at the house and cooked ourselves, we had a hearty luncheon after our own fashion, with appetites the better for their later interruption by the sea.”
Du Pont became well acquainted with the leaders of San Diego:
“Don Juan Bandini . . . has long been a friend to this province, but after trying in vain to induce Mexico to pay attention to its interests, by doing something for California . . . is now disgusted, and ready for the change. He is employed on the history of the country, has a good house, three grown daughters by a first wife (two married); has now a second wife much younger than himself, and quite handsome. His house has been thrown open to us, and is the resort of the other society of the place. The single daughter, Doña Isidora, plays well on the harp-guitar and with the ordinary one, they contrive to have music and dancing every night, the sola diversion in California. Don Juan, although over sixty, is the most infatigable and active of the dancers, saying it is muy inocente. His son-in-law, Don Pedro Carrillo, was educated in Boston and speaks English well. Don Miguel Pedrorena also speaks it fluently. These people are all intelligent and make it a much more agreeable place than Monterey where I saw no society whatsoever.”
He visited the old mission, and found it in a mournful state of decay:
“The miserable naked Indians were around the piazza. We were received most hospitably by the old padre, a Franciscan, a perfect Friar Tuck, who was what sailors’ term `two sheets in the wind.’. . . We looked at the dilapidated church and tattered paintings. Remains of gardens and vineyards were on either hand and near the latter were the Indians’ thatched wigwams. A more miserable and naked sight I never saw. Under a dead bush stuck down to keep off the sun lay an object covered with a sheepskin; a silvery head peeked from under it, laying on the bare ground, the whole shriveled and shrunked half a man’s size. It was an old Indian, 110 years old. They seem the last connecting link between the human species and the creation. Indeed the donkeys around their huts seem much more natural.”
Frémont and his “American Arabs” left San Diego on August 8 with the major astride “an uncommonly beautiful” sorrel horse which had been presented to him by Bandini with its tail and mane plaited and tied with green ribbons. This was a strange “army.” San Diegans have left no description of it but Lt. Fred Walpole, on the USS Collingwood, in his book, “Four Years in the Pacific,” told of seeing Frémont and his men in Northern California:
“Here were true trappers. These men had passed years in the wilds, living on their own resources. They were a curious set. A vast cloud of dust appeared first, and thence in long file emerged this wildest wild party. Frémont rode ahead, a spare, active-looking man, with such an eye! He was dressed in a blouse and leggings, and wore a felt hat. After him came five Delaware Indians, who were his body-guard; they had charge of two baggage-horses. The rest, many of them blacker than the Indians, rode two and two, the rifle held by one hand across the pommel of the saddle. Thirty-nine of them are his regular men, the rest are loafers picked up lately. His original men are principally backwoodsmen from Tennessee . . . The dress of these men was principally a long loose coat of deer-skin, tied with thongs in front; trousers of the same, of their manufacture, which, when wet through they take off, scrape well inside with a knife, and put on as soon as dry. The saddles were of various fashions, though these and a large drove of horses, and a brass field-gun, were things they had picked up in California. The rest of the gang were a rough set; and perhaps their private, public, and moral characters had better not be too closely examined. They are allowed no liquor . . . and the discipline is very strict.”
Frémont never liked this description and took pains to refute its particulars in his own Memoirs.
Instructions to sail for the north and not to leave any force behind, also had been received by du Pont:
“. . . in consequence of which the inhabitants of San Diego were in great terror, and were left in a defenseless state. Fortunately, Gillespie remains for some days, until his men can get horses, or I know not how I could have got away from the kind people of the village, who should not have been left that way.”
The records are vague. A lone guard, a Frenchman named Ancelin, was left at San Diego when Capt. Gillespie followed Frémont north. Commodore Stockton personally led the conquest of Southern California, landing at San Pedro with a force to meet Frémont. Los Angeles was captured on August 13, and Gillespie placed in command.
Bandini, who had assured Pico he was a loyal citizen of Mexico, and Santiago Arguello issued a joint appeal to their fellow Californians not to resist the Americans, that the separation of California from Mexico had been inevitable, that a new government could bring the protection and stability necessary to prosperity, and anyway, events had progressed to where now it was a matter of self-preservation. Estudillo maintained a distant reserve. The Osunas, the Carrillos and the Marróns remained loyal to Mexico. The old families, though so closely intermarried, turned against each other, and a little civil war began. It was too late for Pico and Castro to turn back from their course, even if they had wanted to, and all that was left for them was flight.
In a proclamation to the people of California on August 10, Pico declared:
“My Friends: Farewell! I take leave of you, I abandon the country of my birth, my family, property and everything that a man holds most dear, all to save the National Honor; but I have the sweet satisfaction that you will never favor the deceitful ideas of the crafty foe; that your loyalty and courage shall be the impregnable wall against which the machinations of the invaders shall fall to pieces. Conserve your honor at all cost, and observe that the eyes of the entire universe are fixed upon you, and that your . . . fidelity will gain the sympathies of the nations of the earth!”
Castro slipped away through San Gorgonio Pass to the Colorado River and took the Sonora route into Mexico. He never saw California again. Pico went to Santa Margarita Rancho where he found his flight cut off by the advancing Americans. He was hidden by his brother-in-law, the Englishman, John Forster.
The governor’s secretary, José Matías Moreno, hid out at San Luis Rey Mission, where Juan Osuna was serving as administrator for its owners. While Moreno rested in the living room, Osuna’s daughter, Felipa Marrón, went outside and saw the arrival of Frémont who was scouring the countryside in search of the fleeing officials. She had Don Matías undress, tie a cloth around his head, and climb into bed. To Frémont’s men, he was a “sick nephew.” Felipa lamented in her memoirs that Frémont’s adventurers stole food and goods and Gillespie also took, on account, twenty-five horses and never paid for them.
When the Americans had left, Moreno sent a note to Santiago Emilio Arguello, for a reason unknown to Felipa, as Arguello was with the Americans at the time. Soon after, Arguello and Gillespie appeared at the Mission, but Moreno evaded capture and slipped away to join Pico at Santa Margarita. Accompanied by Sgt. Macedonio González, who had led the search nine years before for the kidnapped Leiva girls, they managed to escape into Baja California, and finding West Coast ports blocked by American ships, they wandered in the desert and mountains for six weeks and reached Múlege, far down the peninsula on the Gulf of California, on October 22. Later, from Guaymas, across the gulf, Pico appealed to Mexico City for men and arms and money, but nobody even really bothered to answer his letters.
San Diego, its lot already cast with the Americans, heard reports of bands of Sonorans roaming the mountains, of a ruffian element of California organizing for action, and of Indians preparing to take advantage of circumstances. On guard was the lone French-born sentinel. Capt Fitch sent an appeal for help to Gillespie at Los Angeles and the frontiersman, Ezekiel Merritt, now a captain with the Volunteers, arrived with fifteen men on September 15. Gillespie aroused the Angeleños with restrictions on their conduct and pleasure. You could take the Californios’ province but to forbid their pastimes, was something else. Sérbulo Varela led a band of semi-outlaws in an attack on the Americans at Los Angeles, and eventually Gillespie was driven out and allowed to retreat to San Pedro. A number of engagements followed in which the Californians were victorious, but more American forces were converging on rebellious Southern California. Frémont was marching south from Monterey with 300 men. Stephen W. Kearny, just promoted to brigadier general, had captured Santa Fe, New Mexico, on August 18, and leaving the larger part of his command there, had taken the Gila Trail to California with 300 men. Disaster lay ahead.
The defeat of Gillespie at Los Angeles brought the disorder that so many had feared. All of Southern California was in turmoil. José María Flores assumed command of dissident forces and sent Francisco Rico and fifty men to recapture San Diego. John Bidwell, one of the Sacramento Valley settlers who had joined Frémont, had been left in charge of the San Luis Rey Mission and he hurriedly pushed a small cannon into a mud hole and with his handful of men fled to San Diego. There they joined Merritt’s men, who had returned from reconnoitering in the vicinity of Agua Caliente, where, Bidwell later recalled, “the road from Sonora first strikes civilization and by which rumor said Castro might return with forces from Mexico, having heard of the country being in revolt. . .” Merritt and Bidwell decided to abandon San Diego, and accompanied by some Americans and Californios who had been supporting the conquest, including Santiago Arguello and Miguel Pedrorena, they boarded a small “smelly” old whaler, the Stonington, of New London, Conn., which had arrived in port with its supplies of food almost exhausted. Its captain, George W. Hamley, lost no time in enlisting his vessel in the war.
According to Bidwell:
“Several brass cannon spiked during some Mexican revolution years before were found near the entrance to the harbor. Two of these were brought on board the whale ship and the work of drilling out the spikes and mounting them began.”
Thus at least two of the abandoned cannons at Fort Guijarros, which had been spiked in 1842 by the crew of the Alert, were placed back in service. The women remained, huddled together for protection behind the five-foot thick walls of the Estudillo House. Estudillo quit San Diego, retiring first to San Ysidro, near the border, then to the Cajon Rancho of his daughter and son-in-law, Miguel de Pedrorena, who was aiding the Americans. Estudillo was held in such high regard that his desire to be neutral was respected by both sides.
Rico and his men never arrived. They were recalled to Los Angeles after reaching Santa Margarita Rancho. But other Californians loyal to the flag of Mexico, and led by Sérbulo Varela, ransacked San Diego and the ranchos for guns, knives, lances and ammunition, and seized horses which Dupont had described as the “sinews of war.”
More than 800 miles to the east, along the Rio Grande River south of Socorro, New Mexico, Kit Carson, bearing dispatches for President Polk from Stockton and Frémont, met the Army of the West. Gen. Kearny, upon reading the dispatches, dated twenty-six days earlier, that the conquest of California was all but over, ordered most of his men back to Santa Fe. He persuaded Carson to lead the remaining 110 men to the coast, and the messages of “victory” were entrusted to other couriers. Continuing west with Kearny were Lt. W. H. Emory and a detachment of Topographical Engineers. Emory has left a detailed record of the long march and the fateful events in their path. Considerably behind Kearny was the Mormon Battalion, well on its historic trek to open a military wagon road from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to San Diego. In return for volunteer military service, the 500 members expected to be allowed to re-settle in California. On the Pacific Coast, however, the Americans were precariously holding only the ports of San Diego, Monterey and San Francisco.
While the Stonington cruised off the coast, and with food becoming more and more scarce, Bidwell and a crew of four, and accompanied by Russell, the ex-beachcomber of La Playa, sailed a small boat to San Pedro, to seek assistance and supplies of Capt. William Mervine, USN, in command of the USS Savannah. They arrived about October 7 or 8, but Mervine was not there. Merritt and his men returned to the whaler, after a hazardous storm-tossed voyage down the coast in which they lost all the food and supplies they had obtained at San Pedro. There was no recourse except to go ashore and fight it out, and Bidwell recalled:
“The cannon were taken ashore the next day and twenty-five men including some of the sailors of the whale-ship began the march to retake the town of San Diego three miles distant. The road lay all the way through soft sand, the dragging of the cannon was very difficult, requiring most of the way all the men to move a single piece. When about half way our movements were discovered. Flores came out with his men in line of battle. All were mounted.
“But our march continued without the slightest hesitation, one of the brass pieces being hauled a hundred yards or so was left in charge of three or four men and while they were aiming and firing, the rest went back to bring up the other and so on alternately, loading and firing till Flores fled with all his force and we entered and took possession of the town, raising the flag where it has floated from that day to this.
“At that time all the country between San Diego and Monterey was in a state of revolt. Stockton also had failed to repossess Los Angeles and the flag floated at no place south of Monterey except at San Diego.”
Varela’s guerrillas retreated to positions of safety on the hilltops, along the line of the ridge from the Presidio to what is now known as Fort Stockton, from where they could fire down upon the Plaza.
The Stonington then sent its whale boat back to San Pedro, with Pedrorena aboard, and Midshipman Robert C. Duvall entered the following in the log of the Savannah under the date of October 12-13:
“. . . at l0.AM a whale Boat from the whale Ship Stonnington at San Diego arrived with Don Miguiel de Pedrorena 40 hours from said place having despatches from Captain Merritt saying that he had landed with his men about 40. in all, and had retaken the place in the face of 75. of the Enemy all mounted and having also one piece of artillery which he succeeded in capturing the Enemy cowardly deserting it and leaving it charged to the muzzle with grapshots he then took up his quarters in the edge of the town conveniant to water, where he was determined to remain at all hazzards until he could be reinforced. fearing that the Enemy would increase their force, he asked for Fifty men and then bid defiance to all California to unplace him.”
At San Pedro, the whaler Magnolia, of New Bedford, Mass., was chartered by the United States Government and Lt. George Minor, two midshipmen, including Duvall, and thirty-five sailors and fifteen Volunteers were ordered to proceed to San Diego to the aid of Merritt. The Magnolia arrived on the 16th, and that night, the men were landed near the mouth of the San Diego River, or at least near the outlet of one of its smaller channels, and selecting a site near boggy ground, where the enemy would have difficulty in advancing, they began building a fortification.
They were constantly harrassed by the gunfire of the Californios who refused an open encounter, and Duvall wrote:
“The first two or three weeks were employed in getting Guns from the old Fort and mounting them, in our Barracks, which was situated in the west end of the town on the edge of the Bank bounding the Plane, and conveniant to Water, our forces being too weak to admit of being divided, in occupying the Hill or East end of the town, the Enemy frequently visiting that end of the town by night and appeared to be content to appear on the Hill and fiering into us at long distance, especially when our Flag was hoisted and lowered, but always avoiding our efforts to engage them and as they were mounted, of course, the distance allowed between us was left entirely to their own wishes, in addition to our Barracks we carried adobes from the town and built Two Bastions at the two corners commanding the town and the Plane in the rear, in which we mounted six Brass nine pounders, from the old Fort.
“From the movements of the Enemy we soon found out the manner in which war would be waged, which was to drive into the mountains all the cattle & removing from the adjacent Ranchos every kind of subsistance and by that means starve us out, and they are certainly entitled to credit for having performed their intentions so effectively. They kept sentrys by day and night on the Hills over looking the town, and on the different roads and passes leading into the country, and by that means prevented us from sending out “spys” to asscertain where we might manage to obtain supplys. For a time our situation was extremely precarious being reduced to almost the last extreme.”
An Indian whom Duvall said was the chief “of a numerous tribe” agreed to go thirty-five miles down the coast, into Lower California, where many sheep had been reported, and drive them up to the bay and onto a sandy island which was connected with the mainland at low tide. This may have been North Island, Duvall writing under the impression it was an island more than part of a peninsula. A few days later a fire on the island signaled the return of the Indian. He had driven 600 sheep up the coast, though a companion had been captured and killed. The harassed garrison was aided in transporting the sheep to their barricades by the crew of the Stonington, which also had been taken over by the government, and to which “we owe in great measure our success.”
Duvall tells of several expeditions to the southward, “using the whale ship Stonington to land our forces at different places along the Coast, and succeeded in getting both cattle and Horses, though the Horses were very poor.” Many years later, in a civil suit involving Pío Pico and John Forster, Pedro C. Carrillo signed a deposition which included information that one of these expeditions, commanded by Merritt and which included Carrillo, Pedrorena and Santiago E. Arguello, went as far south as San Vicente, 200 miles below the border, and raised the American flag, whereupon the people swore allegiance to the United States.
The siege continued for thirty or forty days, the men sleeping with their guns at their side, waiting for help they were sure would come. San Diego was kind of a no man’s land. Judge Hayes recalled that Manuel Rocha, son of Don José Juan Rocha, called down from the hill to his aunt, Doña Victoria, and mischievously asked her to send him some clothing and chocolate. Nor did they deal in words only. Hayes wrote that:
“One day A. B. Smith, climbing the staff on the Plaza to clear the flag, hurried down, feeling the propinquity of a bullet. The shot came from Don José María Orosco, reputedly a famous shot.
“On one occasion this was rather annoying to Capt. Miguel de Pedrorena, who was escorting Doña Felipa Marrón and was recognized by his red uniform jacket as they passed out of the gate of Doña María Ybañes’ residence into Juan Street to her own residence. Two pretty close shots he stood, taking off his hat and politely waving it to the hill; the third from Orosco’s rifle (as were the others) hurried his steps, but after all disappointed Orosco who “merely wanted to see if he could make Miguel run!” “
Varela’s men began to melt away and Gen. Flores sent Ramón Carrillo and Leonardo Cota to take command at San Diego. Forster, the Englishman, later told of a council of war being held at Rancho Santa Margarita, under a sycamore tree that was still standing in 1963. He recalled that an expedition to re-take San Diego was to be led by Cota and José Alipás.
The situation changed at the beginning of November. The USS Congress rounded Point Loma on October 31, bringing Commodore Stockton and Capt. Gillespie with forty Marines and California Volunteers. The Congress struck attempting to cross the bar, and though managing to slip off, was forced to anchor outside the harbor. Stockton was disturbed by the desperate condition of the garrison and its defenders, the men having abandoned the town to serve with one side or the other, leaving the women and children dependent on the Americans. On the day of his arrival the enemy attacked, and Duval wrote:
“The Enemy sudenly appeared to the Number of between 80 and 100 and knowing that we would be reinforced by the Congress, charged on us headed by José Antonio Carrillio, one of their Bravos, but were repulsed, their loss not ascertained, one of them had his foot shot off (the end of his heel being found) by a 9 lb shot passing also through his Horses Body, which ran into our ranks with his entrails dragging the ground. The man afterwards died with 3 others we know of.”
The San Diegans who were supporting the Americans had been given military ranks in a Volunteer battalion, and in his manuscripts, Hayes put down their recollections as to the events and the roles they played in the engagements that eventually drove the enemy into the interior:
“On the eighth day of the “seige,” a company of soldiers, under command of Capt. Santiago E. Arguello, ascended the steepest declivity of the hill, rapidly and gallantly.
“One ball from the fort slightly wounded Capt. A. in the leg. This did not stop his progress. The Californians were forced to withdraw down the northeastern slope. They planted themselves behind the adobe ruins of the Presidio at the distance of a few hundred yards, and continued firing at the Americans. In a short time, they retreated through the valley toward the Mission.
“It appears their leader was a native of Sonora, and commonly known by the name of Hermosillo: considered to be a militar. Don Ramón Carrillo had joined him, with a party of men . . . The greatest part of his force he had left at the rancho of Peñasquitos, eighteen northwest miles from San Diego.
“A company under Capt. Miguel de Pedrorena, was sent in pursuit. About a mile up the valley, he encountered the small Californian advance guard, headed by Don Leandro Osuna. Several shots were exchanged, before they fell back. The main body was concealed from view of the Cañada de la Soledad a mile short of the Mission: so that in the approach of the Mission, an enemy at first was not visible. An American soldier, going to water his mule at a well . . . was fired at and killed. Capt. Pedrorena at once charged the Californians, who were behind the old walls. The affair was soon over. A shot from Carrillo whizzed past Pedrorena. He returned a “Roland” that barely grazed behind the sword belt of Carrillo. Capt. Pedrorena brought back prisoners, Carrillo and others.”
The Cañada de la Soledad mentioned by Hayes was Murphy Canyon which is west of the Mission and leads up toward the mesa and to Soledad Valley or Sorrento, where the padres going north turned into El Camino Real.
If Ramón Carrillo was taken prisoner, he soon escaped as Americans were to see much more of him. Duvall’s log of events also gives a different picture, both as to the battle on the day of Stockton’s arrival, and of subsequent incidents:
“On this day the volunteers proved themselves as on evry other occasion to be worthless, having left the Barracks, where they were stationed at the Guns in case of an attack and took to the old Houses and Brush fenses. Mr. Morgan, myself and 40 Marines & Sailors receiving the Enemy fire and preventing them from charging into the town. A party afterwards succeeded in getting from us about 40 head of cattle, after this they were seldom seen around us.
“On one of the Expeditions one of our men was Lanced and died shortly afterwards. He had strayed off before day light for the purpose of giving his horse some water (with one other who escaped), about 300 yds. from the camp, where some of the Enemy were in ambush, and succeeded in Lancing him.”
While the Congress took Stockton back to San Diego, the Marines routed the enemy from their positions on the hill and extended their operations in an ever-widening circle. A small force was sent out to intercept some Californios who were reported driving a large number of cattle and horses through the countryside about twenty miles south of San Diego. The enemy learned of their approach, abandoned camp, and disappeared.
“We afterwards found out the reason for their having left their intended camp so suddenly, which was through the treachery of an Englishman who had been allowed to come and go out to his family at his pleasure on Parole, alledging that should he remove his family from his Ranch the Enemy would destroy his property, a fair specimen of an Englishman’s sincerity & feelings toward us.”
The Englishman has gone unidentified.
Commodore Stockton returned on November 18, to prepare for an advance on Los Angeles from the south, and Hayes wrote:
“Don Juan Bandini and family received the Commodore elegantly at their mansion and entertained him sumptuously. A portion of his men were quartered in the house of Doña María Ybañes; another, at the Arguello house, on the west side of town. The women and children were collected within the strong walls of the Estudillo house for greater safety, in event of battle. Rations were served out to the inhabitants.”
One morning, along the road from the mission, came Alcalde Juan María Marrón, the husband of Felipa Osuna, carrying a white flag. He wanted to visit his wife. Pedrorena took him into custody, but Stockton finally gave Felipa and her husband a pass through the lines, to go to their rancho. With their children they walked all the way to San Luis Rey Mission, where another band of Californios seized them and threatened to shoot Marrón for having collaborated with the Americans. They released him but stripped his Agua Hedionda Rancho of horses and cattle.
Though many Californios were giving up and wandering into San Diego, the main bodies of insurgents were organizing and re-equipping, and Flores planned to re-capture San Diego as soon as enough powder could be made available.
Gillespie ranged the valleys and low mountains searching for Andrés Pico and José Antonio Carrillo, whom Flores had placed in charge of two of his three “armies.” Pico’s was known as “Los Galgos,” or the Greyhounds, and Carrillo’s as “Los Hilachos,” or the Ragged Ones. Each had about 130 men at his command.
On one of these expeditions Gillespie seized and arrested “Long John” Warner, who operated a trading post at his rancho in San Jose Valley and had aroused suspicions by failing to join other American-born settlers though passing in and out of San Diego, and through the Californio lines, with impunity. This seemed strange in view of Warner’s known advocacy of American occupation of California and his service to Larkin, the United States Consul at San Francisco, but Gillespie, a number of years later in a letter explaining the imprisonment, said Warner had expressed himself as against the war, as unnecessary, had denounced President Polk, had excited the enemy against them, and had helped in driving horses and cattle into the mountains to prevent their capture by American forces. He later was released and evidently exonerated. But for years he was plagued by an unfounded charge that he had tried to lead Gillespie’s men into a trap in Sonora.
The Americans, preparing for a long defense of San Diego, began building a fort on the hill at the site of the one first laid out in 1838 for protection against the Nortenos. It was named Fort Stockton and is now a historical monument. The guns could sweep the broad mesa to the east and be pointed down on the town below.
Duvall provides a detailed description:
“The Commodore now commenced to fortify the Hill which over looked the town by building a Fort constructed by placing 300 Gallon casks full of sand close together, 30 yds by 20 square throwing a Bank of earth and small gravel up in Front as high as the Top of the casks & running a Ditch arround the whole. In the inside a Ball Proff house was built out of Plank lineing the inside with Adobes, on the top of which a swivel was mounted. The entrance was guarded by a Strong gate having a draw Bridge in front, the whole fortification was completed in about 3 weeks. Guns mounted and every thing complete notwithstanding the Plank, etc. had to be carried by the men near a mile and the ditch cut through a solid strata of gravel and rock, with but indifferent tools to do it with. It is a monument of the most excessive hard Labor our forces have as yet performed and notwithstanding they were on short allowance of Beef and wheat for a time without Bread Tea sugar or coffee, many destitute of shoes but few complaints were made.”
Though the nights were turning cool, the days were pleasant, the enemy no longer threatened the little village, and the Californians who had defied their countrymen to aid the Americans began to resume the pastoral existence they had known most of their lives.
Judge Hayes wrote:
“The population breathed freely; re-opened their pleasant dwellings; and quick gave rein to their natural inclination for enjoyment of life. “Stockton’s band” with sweet notes contributed to their amusement. To this day they speak exultingly of that music; and say: the band had many Spanish musicians . . . It in fact was composed . . . of Italians-thirty-seven in number. The private band of the Commodore, paid by himself, and sailing with him in the frigate Congress. Every evening they placed themselves around the flagstaff on the Plaza, and played and supplied the music for the “Bandini bailes.” “
While the band played on, the normally rather docile Luiseño Indians of the San Luis Rey Valley, who had been driven from their lands, and who no longer could turn to the padres for counsel and help, became ugly and emboldened, and began to roam the countryside, demanding food and wine and threatening the whites. At San Fernando Mission, above Los Angeles, and at Santa Margarita Rancho, where Andrés Pico’s men maintained headquarters, the Californios, still lacking guns and powder, shaped long lances out of laurel and ash and tipped them with long blades fashioned out of scrap iron or old razors. At San Diego, on December 3, a strange courier arrived with a message for Commodore Stockton. He was clad in a black velvet English hunting coat, black velvet trousers cut off at the knees, with white drawers showing, and wore long, clanking spurs. He was Edward Stokes, the English sea captain and rancher from Santa Ysabel. He brought a message reporting the arrival of Gen. Kearny at Warner’s Pass. The same evening, at 8 o’clock, Capt. Gillespie left the pueblo with a force consisting of Capt. Samuel Gibson’s Company of Mounted Riflemen, Volunteers twenty-seven strong, and Lt. Edward F. Beale, of the USS Congress, with a four-pounder known as the Sutter gun, and Passed Midshipman James M. Duncan with ten Carbineers. A lieutenant in the Volunteers identified by Gillespie as “Lt. Rhusan” probably was Hiram Rheusaw who served in the California Battalion throughout the war. The Sutter gun once was a Russian cannon at Fort Ross, the Russian fur trading post north of San Francisco. The American trader John A. Sutter, of New Helvetia, came into possession of the gun when he purchased the abandoned fort, but later the gun was captured in one of the California revolutions and then seized by the Americans.
From the large Pico house Mariquita, sister of Andrés Pico, watched the men file out in the cold, sharp night and take the padre road up Mission Valley in the direction of El Cajon. She scribbled a warning note and sent it to her brother. The word of the arrival of new American forces in California also passed from Indian to Indian from the Colorado River to Soledad Valley, where Pico was encamped with his Californios.
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